Insights

This Week in Space News – August 29, 2014

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Quote of the Week

“I have not showered in 92 days.  Just needed to get that off my chest.” – Astronaut Reid Wiseman, who’s currently aboard the International Space Station

by Jill Cassidy

Space News took a little summer hiatus and jaunted around New England, the Holy City and Yucatán Peninsula – making it back just in time to catch the specials on lunch kits and pencil pouches.  We know; we missed you, too.

THINGS THAT REMIND US OF GRAVITY

Space debrisAka orbital debris.  Aka space junk.  Aka space waste.

That movie gave me nightmares.  Please tell me more.  There are nearly 2,000 commercial and government satellites orbiting our planet.  It is estimated that there are 300,000 pieces of space junk circling us like sharks.  They range in size from one-centimeter to the size of a bowling ball.  Space junk travels at speeds of about 17,500 miles an hour, so even the tiny pieces are terrifying.

What’s going to happen?  It’s been estimated that over the next decade, over $400 billion of capital investment projects are at risk at some level from space junk.  One really bad hit to a satellite would cause the geosynchronous band to be rendered useless for all satellites (translation: DEFCON 1 for global communications).

Umm…help?  Lockheed Martin agrees.  The U.S. defense contractor just struck a deal with Australian technology firm Electro Optic Systems to track space debris that can damage satellites.  The firm will use light-based technology systems, as opposed to radar-based systems, to detect, track and identify space junk.  Suffice to say, we’ll be crossing our fingers and sending really good vibes to the land down under.

THINGS THAT ARE DISRUPTIVE

In the technological sense, of course.  Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, and Penn State have developed a 3D printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another as a single object is being printed.

I know I’m supposed to understand what 3D printing is… 3D printing, sometimes referred to more formally as “additive manufacturing,” is a process for making a three-dimensional object of almost any shape from an electronic data source.  It’s sometimes called additive manufacturing because the “printing” is primarily through additive processes in which successive layers of material are quite literally laid down upon one another by a robot.

3D printing is already a thing though, right?  What makes this special?  This is the first time 3D printing has been used to produce a single object made of different metals or alloys – which has been a thorn in the 3D printing industry’s side, since many metal components in production applications are composed of more than one metal or alloy.  This new technique will almost definitely have trickle-down effects on other industries.  Couple that with the already out-of-this-world growth projections for the 3D printing industry.  Projections for the market range from $11 billion to $21 billion by the early 2020s.

REPEAT AFTER ME …

WHAT TO SAY TO RALLY YOUR COWORKERS AT MONDAY’S STAFF MEETING …

“The Mission is Simple.”  Students at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Space City, Texas have created an educational outreach project where NASA astronaut Michael Fincke sits down with some adorable kiddos and asks them questions about asteroids and Mars.  Their answers are completely unscripted, and if you ask us, hilarious.  We’re not that into gambling here, but we do think Astro Mike could give Beck Bennett a run for his money.

WHAT TO SAY TO YOUR FRIEND WHO’S CONSIDERING A MASTER’S DEGREE …

Think strongly about MIT.  The Cambridge-based research uni is loaning its graduate and undergraduate students original works of art for their dorm rooms.  The annual loan program kicks off on Friday with a lottery period.  The collection has more than 500 pieces – all for the taking, or … borrowing.  We hear there are Warhols involved.  Consider our attention piqued, MIT.

WHAT TO SAY WHEN YOU CAN’T FIND WHERE THE DOG BURIED YOUR KEYS …

A high-res aerial view would be nice.  Two weeks ago, commercial imagery company DigitalGlobe launched the world’s most powerful commercial satellite into space.  On Tuesday, it started sending back pictures.  The satellite can snap razor-sharp images down to a scale of 11.8 inches, which means that from space it can tell if the plant in your backyard is growing tomatoes.  DigitalGlobe’s satellite imaging is so precise, it’s actually illegal.  For Tuesday’s release, the pictures had to be rendered less sharp since 15.75 inch scale is the current going rate.  This all changes next year, thanks to a recent ruling by the U.S. Department of Commerce.  In the meantime, we’ll be taking bids for the best landscape architect.

THINGS TO KNOW

Twenty-five years ago this week, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune, the furthest planet from the sun.  The craft, which has been in operation for over 37 years, continues to transmit data back to Earth.  To mark the occasion, TIME put together the 10 best photos taken by Voyager 2.

There have never been more (or better) opportunities to invest in the future of space, according to our friends at NewSpace Global.

There are 970 thermal tiles on Orion’s (spacecraft) protective shell.

We’re sending good vibes and birthday wishes to our favorite guitar playing, Canadian astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, who turns 55 today.  To celebrate, we’ll be blasting “Space Oddity” over the PA system all day.

(Always give credit where credit is due. I owe everything I know about writing to theSkimm. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re missing out.)

Image Source: Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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