A new ERA in space A different kind of perseverance
It is 11 meters long and has an even longer history: ERA (European Robotic Arm), developed and built by ESA, launched to the ISS with the Russian multipurpose laboratory module NAUKA. Its journey from idea to space underscores one more time: space is hard and it can take a long time to get there. Let’s take a look at this arm’s journey into space.
HERA for HERMES
The robotic arm was first conceived of as the Hermes Robot Arm (HERA), a “robot that will support the Hermes Spaceplane in its primary mission: the servicing of the Columbus Free Flyer”. As such it was presented in the 1992 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. The paper is available on the IEEE Explore site.
Let’s unpack this apparently simple sentence for fun. So HERMES was a proposed ESA space plane that was supposed to launch on Ariane 5 and carry crew to LEO. It was in essence a small Space Shuttle, complete with a cargo bay and the robotic arm to bring payloads from the cargo bay of the space plane onto a small space station. Planning started in the 80s, the first launch was planned for 1998, which then slipped to the early 2000s.
It’s initial destination was the Columbus Free Flyer – an ESA program to develop a space station. That was cancelled in 1991 while still in the planning stages. Aspects of the program were later realised in the Columbus science laboratory attached to the International Space Station (ISS).
So with no destination and – after the end of the cold war – with access to space for crewed missions through both NASA and the Russian space program, HERMES was cancelled in 1992. But the robot arm design did not go away.
The next proposed use was for MIR-2, a Soviet space station project initiated in 1976. This project went through different iterations, some smaller, some bigger. The one thing they had in common was that they were built around a core module called DOS-8, that would provide housing for the assembly crew. At one point the space station would have included up to four 90-tonne modules attached to the DOS-8 module. The huge modules were to be launched on Energia. That was a heavy lift rocket designed to bring payloads of up to 96 t to LEO or lift Buran, the Soviet space shuttle, into orbit.
Where the Soviets were planning MIR-2, the Americans were looking to build their own large space station called Freedom. But then, the Iron Curtain came down.
ISS – first attempt
in 1999 ESA published a short film outlining role ERA would play on the ISS.
Now plans were made to merge the two large scale space station projects into what would ultimately become the ISS. Those plans came to fruition fairly quickly. In 1993 Zarya was launched as the first module of the ISS, followed by the US built Unity connecting module and then – in 2000 – the russian modul Zvesda, otherwise known as DOS-8.
The European Robotic Arm (ERA), as it was by now called, was going to be placed on the Russian Science Power Platform, also part of the MIR-2 design. But at some point, as Philippe Schoonejans put it an episode of the ESA Explore Podcast, “that got canceled (…). And I think the Russians had then decided that it was OK for them to use the power coming from the very, very large American solar arrays on the American system.”
Canceled? Again? But wait: you get the power from another place, but it’s called Science Power Platform, so what about science (Nauka in Russian)?
Fourth time lucky? Planning for more Russian science modules to be attached to Zarya and Zvesda went back to the 90s. But a lack of funds caused many delays. Finally, in 2004, the decision was made to use the Zarya replacement module to build Nauka. The module had already been about 70% complete since 1998, and had not been needed because of the successful 1998 launch of Zarya. In 2005, it was agreed to launch ERA together with Nauka.
There were delays, of course, and technical difficulties. But now, not even 30 years after it was described in a paper, it has launched to the ISS atop a Proton-M carrier rocket.
ESA’S 2021 piece on the launch of ERA
The International Space Station of course already features two robotic arms: Canadarm2 and the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System. Both play a crucial role in berthing visiting vehicles and grappling external payloads on the US and Japanese modules. So why send another one? Just because it’s been on the books since 1992? Of course not. The Canadian and Japanese arms cannot reach the Russian segment of the International Space Station. The different types of base points and payload mounting units do not allow them to operate in other parts of the Station.
Now that it has launched, things are far from done. If you want to listen to somebody go into more detail of how the thing is going to play out until it is finally fully installed and tested and then carry something for the first time maybe in March 2022, I recommend this ESA Explores Podcast episode with Philippe Schoonejans (ESA), ERA project Manager.
The ISS is very much about learning how to space. So ERA is not only a very serviceable tool, but it can also teach us lessons human-robotic interaction in space that will be very useful when we go on to the Moon and beyond.
ERA was largely funded by the Dutch government with Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands as its prime contractors. So on twitter you can find a thread by @DutchSatellites that shows some more early conceptual drawings from ESA and Fokker. It’s fun, have a look.
Say Hi to Euprymna scolopes
The special passenger on the officially uncrewed Commercial Resupply Mission SpX-22 I want you to meet today bears the official name of Euprymna scolopes, but is known as Hawaiian bobtail squid to friends. When it’s not going to space in the name of science, it mostly lives in the shallow coastal waters off the Hawaiian Islands and Midway Island – so it’s a native of the central Pacific Ocean.
Bobtail squids have eight suckered arms and two tentacles. Like cuttlefish, they can swim by either using the fins on their mantle or by jet propulsion. They come in different types and sizes, but they are generally quite small creatures. The ones that went up to space grow up to 30 mm in mantle length (the mantle is the main body of the squid). When they hatch, they weigh about 0.0005 g. Adults weigh up to 2.67 g.
So they are tiny and look cute. But why send them to space? Because these little ones have a relationship going that has made them interesting to scientists studying the beneficial interaction between animals and microbes. Bobtail squids are hunters, in the wild they feed on shrimps. And they let bacteria live in their mantle to turn them into stealth predators.
Bugs for stealth
Hawaiian bobtail squid have a symbiotic relationship with bioluminescent bacteria Aliivibrio fischeri. The squid provide them with their own place to live in a special organ in their mantle, feed them sugar and an amino acid solution. In return, the bacteria glow, which hides the squid from their prey when viewed from below, as the bioluminescence matches the sunlight from above.
These helpful bacteria obviously have to come from somewhere. Luckily, they live abundantly in sea water. So once the squid has hatched, it will start ventilating ambient seawater through its mantle cavity. Each ventilation round of about 2.6 ml of seawater will bring a single A. fischeri cell into the organ. The squid will do this about every second, so this and happy, multiplying bacteria being fed sugar will build up the number and fill the crypt space within about 10 – 12 hours after hatching.
This fairly well understood process has turned out to be a great model for the way animals and bacteria work together for mutual benefit. And we humans also depend on bacterial services for many tasks. There are more than 2000 identified bacterial species that form associations with humans. In our gut, for example, bacteria help us by synthesizing certain vitamins. Like squid we acquire our little helpers after birth (or some of apparently during birth). So there’s a lot we can learn from Hawaiian bobtail squid. But why send them to space?
We know that our symbiotic relationship with certain microbes, our microbiome, is important for our wellbeing. And we also know that microgravity has an impact on animal-microbial interaction. While most research into that has focused on the fewer than 100 species identified as human pathogens, it is necessary to conduct studies that care about the beneficial animal – microbial interactions.
Now it is time to meet our second hero: Jamie S. Foster, Ph.D.. She is a Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida and Principal Investigator of the ADSEP-UMAMI experiment (Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions). Her research is all about understanding how microbes interact with each other and their surrounding environment. And as Microbes play a significant role in the normal development of animal tissues, one of her lab’s research projects examines the effects of microgravity on the normal developmental interactions between an animal host and a bacterial symbiont. For that, Euprymna scolopes and its support, the luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri, are a great model.
Jamie Foster has been working with the bobtail squid for 28 years now, she noted. And she actually had them flying in space before. A small pilot experiment was flown on STS-134 – the penultimate shuttle mission, and again on the final mission of the Space Shuttle, STS-135. She has a page on her lab’s site that has a lovely short film on these missions.
And now, squids got to fly again – this time on the SpaceX Dragon.
Dr. Foster and her team want to study the effect of microgravity on the molecular and chemical interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts. They do that by looking at how the lack of gravity impacts how the bobtail squid initially acquire their beneficial microbial partners after hatching.
So the trick is to get newly hatched bobtail squid into space and then slowly introduce them to the microbes. When launched, they are in a state called paralarvae, which indicates that they have hatched, but are not yet adults. They live in the ADvanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP) hardware provided by Techshot, a company providing turnkey spaceflight equipment development and flight integration services. The ASEP automatically initiates and terminates the experiments aboard the Dragon spacecraft once it has docked with the International Space Station (ISS).
The ADSEP has two Fluid Processing Cassettes (FPC) with about 8 culture bags, each containing up to eight paralarvae. The paralarvae in one cassette, called the SYM cassette, are inoculated with filtered seawater containing 10,000 cells/mL of the symbiotic V. fischeri and incubated for 12 hours. The second is called the APO cassette, because the paralarvae in this one are inoculated with filtered seawater without bacteria to maintain an aposymbiotic control, i.e. a population without microbes. To get a timeline, experiments in both cassettes have RNAlater injected into the bags to terminate the experiment and euthanize the paralarvae at 0 hours, 2 hours, 6 hours, and 12 hours post-inoculation.
Once this has happened, the crew transfers the RNALater-preserved samples to -80°C cold stowage until return to Earth.
CRS-22 launched on June 3rd, 2021, which means at the time of writing, the squid are probably already frozen. The mission is expected to last until July 6th, when the Dragon will undock and return to earth. The ISS is a quite popular place at the moment and docking may become scarce sooner rather than later. As of June 5th, 2021, five spaceships were attached to the space station: the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon spaceships, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft, and Russia’s Soyuz MS-18 crew ship and ISS Progress 77 resupply ship. And on June 30th, the Progress 78 resupply ship has launched from Baikonur.
The preserved samples are returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (along with the FPC/ADSEP hardware) in an ISS cold stowage asset at -20°C. After splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean near the eastern coast of Florida, the sample bags are stored at -80°C freezer until the people from Techshot collect the samples and deliver them to Dr. Foster at the Space Life Science Lab at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
Here, the preserved tissues will be examined at the molecular level to examine how the transcriptome, or all the genes expressed at a given moment, have changed in the space environment under the presence or absence of their symbiotic bacteria. Yet another step in our understanding how these beautifully complex systems called animals behave under those conditions they have not evolved for.
Dinner With A View ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet: on his second mission to the ISS, he again brings dinner for the stars
The International Space Station Expedition 50 crew gather around the dining table in the Zvezda module for a Thanksgiving dinner – image ESA/NASA.
A Gastronautic Mission
No matter if you’re living with people, working with them or meeting them for the first time – sharing a meal is always the Great Facilitator. And it’s nice, especially if the food is good. But if you are stuck in a tin can for months on end, food becomes important, as the US Navy knows: Because nuclear subs stay submerged for as long as 90 days straight, serving better food is a way to make up for what is considered to be one of the toughest assignments in the military.
“When we’re out to sea, the highlight of the day is food. There is not much else to look forward to,” says senior mess specialist Salvador Rico, a petty officer 1st class and an 11-year veteran of the nation’s nuclear submarine fleet. (LA Times)
The same is true if said tin-can is in LEO. The view may be more spectacular by a mile up there, the days packed with science and maintenance, but food is important for the joy it brings and the joy of sharing. Today “crew members can choose from about 200 different items for their standard menu that can be augmented with some personal choices to include commercial off-the-shelf items. ” The U.S. and Russian crew members bring food and like to share it. And “Astronauts from the other ISS partner agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) often bring their own specialties that are shared among all the crew members.” (NASA – Space Station 20th: Food on ISS)
ESA regularly sends members of different nationality up to the ISS and has a tradition to tap culinary luminaries to create menus for their astronauts. They are meant as a greeting from their home country and meant to be shared on the ISS on a special occasion. Since Luca Parmitano’s spaceflight in 2013, each ESA astronaut has worked with a great cook from their own country to develop meals that remind them of their childhood or their favourite dish on earth. On Thomas Pesquet’s first flight, for example, he brought a special dinner with French flavors for New Years Eve 2016 created by star chef Thierry Marx.
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet gives a tour of the International Space Station’s kitchen and the special food he will share with his crewmates in space (ESA, 2016).
Not your usual take away.
Did I say “created”? The word should actually be “developed”. The ISS is a special place, and has some very specific requirements regarding food. It should, for example, not create crumbs – because you don’t want them floating around and clogging up air ducts. Food on the ISS is generally stored at ambient temperature and must remain stable at those conditions for quite a while. So no refrigerator (and the big one outside in the shade is hard to get to and way too cold). So foods are often freeze-dried or thermostabilized – i.e. heated foods to destroy pathogens, microorganisms, and enzymes that may cause spoilage – to achieve the required shelf-life.
So your lovely dish has to undergo quite a bit before it is acceptable for space travel – and it still has to taste like something. Development of these dishes starts anywhere from a year and half to two years before a mission, ESA crew support Susanne Altenburger explains: “We start selecting meals and testing well in advance because, as well as being approved by the astronaut, meals must be sent to the lab for safety and nutritional testing, after being freeze-dried, thermostabilised or vacuum packed,” she adds. (ESA)
This time around, Thomas Pesquet got to chose from two different chefs, six dishes in total that he hopes to share with his crewmates: “But there’s basically two full meals that I’m looking forward to sharing with my crew mates and maybe trading against some other food, there’s a lot of trading of food that happens on the space station.” (quoted from newschainonline) One of the chefs we know from Pesquet’s first trip to the ISS: Thierry Marx.
Thierry Marx is quite the famous chef. He held Michelin stars for his cuisine in more than one location, and was awarded two stars at the Relais et Château Cordeillan-Bages in 1999. Currently he is at the helm of several restaurants and a pastry counter. Marx is specialised in molecular cuisine, which is already very heavily involved in the physics and chemistry of cooking. So when it comes to creating space food, he is probably a perfect fit.
The recipes for Pesquet’s Alpha mission he developed together with researcher in physico-chemistry Raphaël Haumont, co-director of the Centre Français d’Innovation Culinaire at the University of Paris-Saclay, which he had founded in 2012 together with Thierry Marx.
The resulting dishes were then prepared and canned by Jean Hénaff, France’s leading brand of pâtés and rillettes. And this is what they cooked up:
Gâteau de pommes de terre / oignons de Roscoff truffés
A deceptively simple potato cake with truffled Roscoff onions. Those are special onions originating from the French region Finisterre. The Roscoff onion is very popular because of its delicious taste, vitamin C content, mildness, pretty pink colour and shelf life.
Bœuf de sept heures / sauce aux cèpes
Seven hour beef is just that: beef tenderly cooked for seven hours for special tenderness with a mushroom sauce. It requires red wine to make, but alcohol is a no-go on the ISS, so there were some special challenges to be overcome in developing this dish, as Raphaël Haumont points out: “Making a traditional alcohol-free wine sauce is the result of a long process. Ethanol should be extracted using a rotary evaporator. Fine analyzes (NMR) are then carried out to verify the absence of alcohol.”
Amandine poires caramélisées
This caramelised pear with almond garnish is a perfect fit for the occasion. Says Thierry Marx: “We have turned to low-sugar recipes with the shortest possible list of ingredients. This represents a new challenge. To make the amandine without adding sucrose, for example, we had to work on the texture of pear pectin which will provide us with natural sweetness and gelation.”
Ready for Launch
To get the delicious compositions ready for launch and ultimately a lovely dinner with a view, Jean Hénaff meticulously assembled the food by hand and packaged it fit for space: “Our expertise consists in perfectly crimping the boxes for absolute sealing and filling just what is needed in order to preserve the nutritional and taste properties of the recipes so that the astronauts find the flavors of the food intact. Earth and the pleasure of taste. The other challenge is to guarantee flawless microbiological safety,” says Carole Machut, R&D Manager of the Jean Hénaff Group. That the company has been designing around 2000 dishes per year for the ISS since 2011 and subsequently enjoys a USDA approval, certainly helped.
And of course they also took care of the presentation of the dishes. “The visual aspect of the dishes can have a comforting side for the astronaut. On the organoleptic profile, we want the dishes’ taste in space to be as close as possible to that on earth,” Carol Machut added. (quoted from archyde.com)
The other chef tasked with creating the culinary high-flyers is Francois Adamski, a celebrated chef in his own right, with a Michelin star and a Bocuse d’or. In 2019 he was appointed Coporate Chef at Servair, big, among other things, in airline catering.
Here, Pesquet got to choose between 10 suggestions – and he selected:
- Crunchy and creamy small spelt, melting celery and Périgord truffle (Petit épeautre croquant et crémeux, céleri fondant et truffe du Périgord
- Beef bourguignon, smoked farm breast, mushrooms and small glazed onions (le Bœuf bourguignon, poitrine fermière fumée, champignons et petits oignons glacés)
- Classic Crepes flambéed with Grand Marnier and orange zest, Suzette style (les Crêpes flambées au Grand Marnier et zestes d’orange, façon Suzette)
Those posed their own type of problems. For packaging they chose pouches rather than cans, says Boris Eloy (Executive Vice President, Innovation, Servair): “The real challenge was to develop a “gourmet” product with the constraints of heat treatment but also reduced sodium and alcohol content, all with a “dense” texture suitable for consumption in zero gravity. Unlike traditional canning, the flexible pouch technique made it possible to combine the preservation of the original flavours with a very long shelf life.”
Thomas Pesquet was invited to do a comparative tasting between the dishes prepared fresh and those sterilised in pouches. “For me, it was essential to preserve the flavors of the dishes, whether they were fresh or in sterilized bags.” François Adamski, Servair’s Corporate Chef, said. “We work diligently to adjust the seasonings every time until we obtained a product that was very close in taste to its non-space version” (quoted from servair press release).
Matter of Taste
While you can theoretically endeavor to follow the special food and cook it fresh as Pesquet is sharing it with his crewmates on the ISS, it will never quite the same – because of gravity: On Earth, gravity causes body fluids to settle toward the feet, but in space, those fluids can float freely throughout the body. The retention of fluids in the head can have the same effect as congestion from a cold or virus. Congestion lessens the ability to smell and, therefore, taste food, which can lead to a preference for hot peppers and other spicy items, as this npr-article pointed out.
“Your head sort of inflates like someone is squeezing the bottom of a balloon,” says Chris Hadfield, who also adds that the effect disappears after a few days, and food tastes the same.
Mission specialist Clayton Anderson, who spent 152 days on the ISS as a flight engineer for Expedition 15 in 2007, says he only suffered from congestion the first few days there, although it returned intermittently. Nevertheless, he found some foods to be bland, whereas others that he had tasted and disliked preflight, such Tvorg (a tangy Russian cottage cheese dish with fruit and nuts) became space station faves.(quoted in Scientific American)
Then there is also the odours in the ISS, although opinions there also seem to vary: Scott Kelly stated once, that the ISS smelt like prison: “I was touring the Harris County Jail, and there’s this room that smells like space station—combination of antiseptic, garbage, and body odor. You know how on Earth, with gravity, stuff tends to rise or fall depending on its weight compared to air? On the ISS, that doesn’t happen, so smells can kind of linger.” (quoted in wire.com). Kjell Norwood Lindgren though was surprised about how fresh the ISS appeared to him thanks to impressive technology in the space station’s life support system. “The air in the space station actually smelled great,” he said in a video. “The filters in the life support system do a great job cleaning the air. There were no issues at all.”
And finally – a tiny little TEDx talk
If you want to know more about the challenge of preparing a special meal for the ISS, I have a talk for you: it is a TEDx talk by Thorsten Schmidt. He is the Danish chef who prepared the meals for Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and he will take you through his journey to that goal.
On 10 September 2020 an asteroid missed our planet by 40 million kilometers, more than 100 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
It was detected only very recently by amateur astronomer Leonardo Amaral of the Campo dos Amarais observatory in Brazil.
To quote Planetary Society’s Chief scientist Bruce Betts: “the fact that this relatively large near-Earth object, or NEO, wasn’t detected until now serves as a reminder that there’s much work to be done when it comes to defending our planet from dangerous asteroids”.
Leonardo Amaral’s important discovery was supported by the members of The Planetary Society, which awarded Amaral an $8,500 Shoemaker NEO grant to purchase a more stable telescope mount for better tracking and longer camera exposures.
You, too, can become a Planetary Defender by donating. Every dollar will power our crucial planetary defense initiatives.
Mars Missions 2020
This year will see four missions launching to Mars. The timing is of course dictated by the orbits of Mars and Earth in relation to another, which open a good launch window every two years. But the number also shows how space exploration has become a global affaire instead of one conducted only by a few nations.
(Titel image ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO )
This is part two of a mission that started in 2016. Part one brought the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) into Mars orbit and released the Schiaparelli EDM lander. The TGO has since produced some interesting science. The lander did not land successfully, proving that a) space is hard, and b) you test to learn from your failures.
Part two will now deliver the Rosalind Franklin rover, named after the X-Ray cristallographer so instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. It will land using the Kazachok lander and descent stage.
One of the main instruments will be a drill to “retrieve samples from up to 2 m below the surface, delivering them to the onboard science laboratory for detailed analysis to sniff out signs of biological signatures.” (see this ESA-post for more details)
The entire mission is dedicated to help answer the question whether life has ever existed on Mars.
Mars 2020 / Perseverance
The mission will bring a rover to Mars now named Perseverance, that is based on the Curiosity rover but with all new instruments.
It will also have a drill. And it will also be about bio-signatures – to quote Wikipedia: “It will investigate an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment on Mars and investigate its surface geological processes and history, including the assessment of its past habitability, the possibility of past life on Mars, and the potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geological materials.”
It is also the first step for the proposed Mars sample return mission – which now looks like it could actually happen, as both ESA and NASA have been given budget to perform part of this complex mission.
There is also a NASA JPL fact sheet for the mission (PDF).
Here is the launch:
And here is the landing
Hope Mars Mission
The Hope Mars Mission – aka the Emirates Mars Mission – is a probe (not a lander) that wants to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers and so help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of 1 Martian year.
Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover - Tianwen-1
The Chinese Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover is now officially named Tianwen-1, meaning ‘questions to heaven’. The name was revealed on China Space Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the launch of China’s first satellite, DFH-1, on April 24th.
The priorities of the mission include finding both current and previous life, and evaluating the planet’s surface and environment. Solo and joint explorations of the Mars orbiter and rover will produce maps of the Martian surface topography, soil characteristics, material composition, water ice, atmosphere, ionosphere field, and other scientific data will be collected.
CNSA initially focused on the Chryse Planitia and on the Elysium Mons regions of Mars in its search for possible landing sites for the lander and its associated rover. However, in September 2019, during a joint meeting in Geneva of the European Planetary Science Congress-Division for Planetary Sciences, Chinese presenters announced that two preliminary sites in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars have instead been chosen for the anticipated landing attempt, with each site having a landing ellipse of approximately 100 by 40 kilometers.
These and more details can be found on the Huoxing-1 Wikipedia page
Let’s talk about the European Union’s plan for space for a moment. Because besides ESA, the European Union itself also funds various space activities, for example Galileo (the European Union’s Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS)) and Copernicus (European Programme for the establishment of a European capacity for Earth Observation).
Now about a year ago, the European Commission proposed a long-term budget for the 2021-2027 period. On 17th of April 2019, the European Parliament endorsed the provisional agreement reached by the co-legislators on the EU Space Programme for the next budget of 16 Billion € over the period from 2021 to 2027. It includes continuation for Galileo, Copernicus, Space Situational Awarness.
In the words of Massimo Salini, an Italian member of the EPP group “The navigation system and the earth observation improve the performance of transport services, that will produce many benefits at global and European level. A more efficient traffic management will reduce emissions and tackle the problem of climate change, an increased use of drones will improve delivery and postal services, better flight tracking will reduce flight cancellations and noise.”
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs stated: “With the new Space Programme we also introduce new security-related space initiatives: space and situational awareness (SSA) and Governmental Satellite Communication (GOVSATCOM). We will also put the European space sector in a better position to react to the ongoing changes the space sector is undergoing worldwide. In particular, we will support a European ‘New Space’ approach with innovative start-ups, reliable and cost-effective European launch solutions and increased European technological autonomy. Space matters for Europe.”
Now this budget ist not yet finalized – it has still to find the approval of the member states. As such, it may be caught up in whatever Brexit may yet have in store for us, even thought the Financial Times thinks that won’t be so because “The EU’s next long term budget is unlikely to come to a vote within the next year…”, which the EU space programme is subject to.
Image Copyright ESA-M. Cowan, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
How can we all do space
How can we all do space, @fillingspace recently asked me on Twitter. That’s a good question, because space still appears to be something huge that nations do or super-wealthy investors. But of course the question got me thinking, and there are definitely a few areas where all of us can do space. So I thought I’d collect a few here – which means that this is more of an ongoing post, that will undergo the occasional revision or may spawn a sequel at some point. So here we go.
This is a great way to participate in the scientific endeavor. Sometimes there are science projects that need a human eye to sift through reams of date – images, sounds – because we are still way better at detecting patterns than uncle AI. A kind of one stop shop for some of the loveliest projects is Zooniverse. There, for example, you can go hunt for Planet 9 if you so feel inclined. Other space related projects (loads) are available.
Engagement and Advocacy
For ways to get involved in person, there are also a few options – some depend on location, others not so much.
The Planetary Society offers several options. This US-Organization – originally founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman, and Bruce Murray – creates programs to raise awareness of space exploration, has projects like Lightsail, a solar sailing spacecraft slated to launch 2019 on the third Falcon Heavy launch and has become very active in advocacy in Washington, making the case for space exploration. To support their work, you can become a member or actually “become a space advocate” . They work they do in Washington seems to be quite successful.
I have yet to find a European counterpart that would allow citizens to make a coordinated advocacy effort. So if anybody knows anything, drop me a line on twitter please.
Or you can just have fun – by joining a Yuri’s Night Event near (or starting one yourself) or going to whatever the space place nearest to you has to offer. ESTEC in Noordwijk/NL has an annual open day in the fall, others may also do things – ESA is all over Europe.
There are a few fun choices out there to that allow you to stay on top of the issue.
Take a look at Emily Lakdawalla’s for beautiful imagery and insightful, detailed information.
Data & Dev
There are also almost always hackathons going on with ESA, EUMETSAT or NASA – and I try to post them on my twitter feed as I get aware of them. On big one is actinspace – next one is scheduled for April 2020.
If you want to get even more serious than that: ESA running a Business Incubation program with currently 21 local representations all over Europe (see list on ESA-website). They also rund regular events, competitions, etc.
There are always life choices you can make. Over the years I had the privilege to work with some marvellous people who had found their place in space.
One is Janja Avbelji. Her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and her love of figuring out how things work led her to become an engineer working on satellite data. Here is her TEDx-Talk:
And Kwame Adu Agyekum on how to hunt down pirates fishing where rightfully only fishers from Ghana are allowed to by using satellite data!
Or all videos from TEDxESA.
That’s all for today. If you know about something that should be added on here, let me know on @how2space.