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Canadian astronaut to join NASA lunar missions through new agreement – Victoria Buzz

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(An artist’s concept of the Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA))

A Canadian astronaut will be part of a series of NASA missions intended to bring humans back to the surface of the Moon.

The astronaut will be given two opportunities to join the Artemis missions as part of an agreement between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Artemis is the name given to a program encompassing several lunar-based objectives, including putting a small station in orbit around the Moon and landing people on the lunar surface.

The agreement between the two countries will see Canada provide a next-generation robotic arm — the Canadarm3 — onboard the station, which will be called the Lunar Gateway.

“Canada was the first international partner to commit to advancing the Gateway in early 2019, they signed the Artemis Accords in October, and now we’re excited to formalize this partnership for lunar exploration,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The CSA will also provide robotic interfaces for two modules on the Gateway station.

In return, NASA will provide two opportunities for Canadian astronauts to crew Artemis missions: one to the Gateway and one on Artemis II, a crewed mission on an Orion spacecraft.

Artemis II will perform a slingshot maneuver around the Moon, using the gravity of the earth’s only natural satellite to retrieve data for mission planning and system performance for NASA’s eventual moon landing.

“This is a significant moment in Canada’s space history,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

“All eyes will look to the sky as one of our astronauts becomes the first Canadian to travel around the Moon.”

Canadian candidates for Artemis II, scheduled to launch in 2023, have not yet been announced.

18 American astronauts have been announced by NASA as candidates to take part in the Artemis missions. Half of them are women, signalling the U.S. intent to achieve another space exploration milestone by putting the first woman on the Moon.

NASA is also partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the Gateway station, which will be approximately one-sixth the size of the International Space Station.

Gateway will serve as a research station, launch point for landers, and potential transfer point for deeper exploration, such as missions to Mars.

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A Habitat at Ceres Could be the Gateway to the Outer Solar System – Universe Today

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In the near future, humanity stands a good chance of expanding its presence beyond Earth. This includes establishing infrastructure in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the surface of (and in orbit around) the Moon, and on Mars. This presents numerous challenges, as living in space and on other celestial bodies entails all kinds of potential risks and health hazards – not the least of which are radiation and long-term exposure to low gravity.

These issues demand innovative solutions; and over the years, several have been proposed! A good example is Dr. Pekka Janhunen‘s concept for a megasatellite settlement in orbit around Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Main Belt. This settlement would provide artificial gravity for its residents while the local resources would allow for a closed-loop ecosystem to created inside – effectively bringing “terraforming” to a space settlement.

Dr. Janhunen – a theoretical physicist based in Helsinki, Finland – is no stranger to advanced concepts. In addition to being a research manager with the Finnish Meteorological Institute, he is a visiting professor with the University of Tatu and a senior technical advisor to Aurora Propulsion Technologies – where he is overseeing the commercial development of the Electric Solar Wind Sail (E-sail) concept he proposed back in 2006.

Exterior view of a Stanford torus. Bottom center is the non-rotating primary solar mirror, which reflects sunlight onto the angled ring of secondary mirrors around the hub. Credit: Donald E. Davis

The paper that describes his concept recently appeared online and has being submitted for publication to the scientific journal Elsevier. It’s a concept that Dr. Janhunen described to Universe Today as, “[T]erraforming from the user perspective: creating an artificial environment, near Ceres and of Ceres materials, that can scale up to the same and larger population than Earth has today.”

Rotating space habitats are a time-honored proposal and a suggested alternative to (or in conjunction with) habitats on other celestial bodies. The first recorded instance was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s 1903 book, Beyond Planet Earth, where he described a pinwheel station in space that would rotate to provide artificial gravity.

This was followed by Herman Poto?nik’s expanded proposal in The Problem of Space Travel (1929), the Von Braun Wheel (1952), and Gerard K. O’Neill’s revolutionary proposal in The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (1976) that called for a rotating cylinder in space – aka. the O’Neill Cylinder. However, all these concepts were for stations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or at an Earth-Sun Lagrange Point.

As Dr. Janhunen told Universe Today via email, a megasatellite constellation in orbit of Ceres could leverage the local resources to create Earth-like conditions:

“They provide Earth-like 1 g gravity, which is essential for human health, in particular essential for children to grow to healthy adults with fully developed muscles and bones. Ceres has nitrogen for making the habitat atmospheres, and it is large enough to provide almost unlimited resources. At the same time it is also small enough that its gravity is rather low so that lifting material from the surface is cheap.”

Artist’s depiction of a pair of O’Neill cylinders. Credit: Rick Guidice/NASA Ames Research Center

According to his study, the megasatellite settlement would consist of spinning habitats attached to a disk-shaped frame through passive magnetic bearings. This would allow for simulated gravity within the habitats, facilitate intra-settlement travel and ensure that population density remains low.

Dr. Janhunen estimates that it could be kept to 500 people per km2 (190 people per mi2), whereas cities like Manhattan and Mumbai have densities of roughly 27,500 and 32,303 people per km2 (or 71,340 and 83,660 people per mi2), respectively. The settlement would initially be furnished with soil 1.5 m (~5 ft) in depth, which could be upgraded to 4 m (~13 ft).

This would allow for greenspaces with gardens and trees that would produce the settlement’s oxygen and scrub the atmosphere of CO2 (as well as additional radiation shielding). Similarly, Ceres is known to have abundant supplies of ammonia salts on its surface (particularly around the bright spots in the Occator crater) that could be imported to the settlement and converted to nitrogen for use as a buffer gas.

Planar and parabolic mirrors located around the frame would direct concentrated sunlight to the habitats, providing illumination and allowing for photosynthesis to occur. While the creation of such a settlement presents many technical challenges and would require a massive commitment in resources, it would actually be easier in many respects that colonizing the Moon or Mars.

A view of Ceres in natural colour, pictured by the Dawn spacecraft in May 2015. Credit: NASA/ JPL/Planetary Society/Justin Cowart

For that matter, it would also be much easier than terraforming the Moon or Mars. As Dr. Janhunen explained:

“In some aspects easier (no need of planetary landing, no dust-storms, no long night). In all cases the main challenge is probably bootstrapping the industry in a remote place – one needs some robotics and AI, but they are coming to existence now, broadly speaking.”

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this proposal is the fact that it allows for a space elevator! On Earth, such a structure remains impractical (as well as extremely expensive) because Earth’s gravity (9.8 m/s2, or 1 g) imposes some serious restrictions on space exploration. In short, a rocket must achieve an escape velocity of 11.186 km/s (40,270 km/h; 25,020 mph) to break free of Earth’s gravity.

On Ceres, however, the gravity is a fraction of what it is here on Earth – 0.28 m/s2 (less than 3%), which results in an escape velocity of just 510 meters per second (1.8 km/h; 1.14 mph). Combined with its rapid rotation, a space elevator is totally feasible and would be energetically cheap (compared to transporting them from other locations).

Of course, there’s also the benefit that such a settlement would have for exploring (and colonizing) the outer Solar System. With a large population and infrastructure around Ceres, ships destined for Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond would have a stopover point to refuel and take on supplies. Potential destinations for colonies could include the Galilean Moons, the moons of Saturn, or orbiting habitats in both systems.

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This would give humanity access to the abundant resources of these systems and usher in an age of post-scarcity. In the meantime, this Ceres megaconstellation would provide an Earth-like environment for a sizeable population within the Main Asteroid Belt, one that could be upgraded to make room for many more people. As Dr. Janhunen indicated:

“The Ceres megasatellite could scale up to hundreds of billions of people, probably, so it would suffice at least for a few centuries. Discussing future beyond that is hard, but in general, spreading to multiple places is what life generally does. On the other hand, people like to live in an interconnected world whose parts can [all] be accessed by travel.”

At its core, Dr. Janhunen’s concept is a marriage of space construction and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) with some key elements of terraforming thrown in. The end result of this is a design for a scalable settlement that could allow human beings to colonize otherwise uninhabitable parts of the Solar System. When addressing the future of humanity in space, both the challenges and the rewards are clear.

In order to get to the rewards, we need to get mighty creative and be prepared to commit!

Further Reading: arXiv

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Paleontologists finally have their first good look at a dinosaur butthole – CNET

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Here’s a digital reconstruction of a Psittacosaurus dinosaur illustrating how the cloacal vent may have been used for signaling during courtship.


Bob Nicholls/Paleocreations.com 2020

Paleontologists spend their entire academic careers studying the anatomy of dinosaurs. Now a team of scientists from the University of Bristol has finally described in detail a dinosaur’s cloacal or vent, which is used for everything from defecation and urination to attracting a mate to breed with (or, less scientifically, a jack-of-all-trades butthole).

In a new study, published in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday, Scientists revealed a range of theories about the cloacal vent on a dog-sized dinosaur called Psittacosaurus, a relative of Triceratops from the early Cretaceous era, which lived about 120 million years ago.

“I noticed the cloaca several years ago after we had reconstructed the color patterns of this dinosaur using a remarkable fossil on display at the Senckenberg Museum in Germany which clearly preserves its skin and color patterns,” Dr. Jakob Vinther from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said in a statement on Tuesday. 

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A closer look at the preserved cloacal vent in Psittacosaurus.


Dr Jakob Vinthe

“It took a long while before we got around to finish it off because no one has ever cared about comparing the exterior of cloacal openings of living animals, so it was largely unchartered territory,” Vinther added.

The researchers reveal the dinosaur’s cloaca has similar features as cloacas on alligators and crocodiles. The dino’s outer cloaca areas were also likely highly pigmented. This pigmentation may have been used to attract a mate, much like baboons use theirs.

“We found the vent does look different in many different groups of tetrapods, but in most cases, it doesn’t tell you much about an animal’s sex.” Dr. Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts Amherst said. “Those distinguishing features are tucked inside the cloaca, and unfortunately, they’re not preserved in this fossil.”

It’s not just the appearance of the dino’s vent that got the attention of mates, but also its smell. The large, pigmented lobes on either side of the cloacas could have also included musky scent glands to get the attention of a mate.

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A Psittacosaurus specimen from Senckenberg Museum of Natural History —  preserving skin and pigmentation patterns and the first, and only known, cloacal vent.


Jakob Vinther, University of Bristol and Bob Nicholls/Paleocreations.com 2020

“Knowing that at least some dinosaurs were signaling to each other gives palaeo-artists exciting freedom to speculate on a whole variety of now plausible interactions during dinosaur courtship,” palaeo-artist and study artist Robert Nicholls said in a statement. 

“It is a game-changer!” 

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Satellogic signs multi-launch contract with SpaceX – SpaceNews

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WASHINGTON — Earth observation company Satellogic announced Jan. 19 it signed a contract with SpaceX covering several rideshare launches of its satellites through next year.

The multiple launch services agreement makes SpaceX Satellogic’s preferred provider for launching its constellation of microsatellites, after previously relying on Chinese, European and Russian vehicles, including a launch of 10 satellites as the primary payload on a Long March 6 Nov. 5.

In an interview, Emiliano Kargieman, chief executive of Satellogic, said the low prices and frequent launch opportunities that SpaceX offered led his company to sign up. “The new rideshare program that SpaceX has put together has reduced the price on the order of four or five times on a per-kilogram basis,” he said. “That really made the rideshare program compete very well in the market and it caused us to start having conversations with SpaceX.”

Satellogic plans to conduct its next four launches with SpaceX, starting in June. Additional launches will take place in December and in March and June of 2022. All will be rideshare missions going to sun-synchronous orbits, with at least four satellites on the June launch. The company, which has 13 operational satellites currently, projects having a constellation of about 60 satellites by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

The company also has the option of flying satellites as rideshare payloads on Starlink missions. Those would go to mid-inclination orbits, which Kargieman said would complement the bulk of the constellation in sun-synchronous orbits. “They give us more diversity in times for revisits for points of interest,” he said, noting the company has one satellite in such an orbit. “We are looking into deploying more mid-inclination satellites over the next 12–18 months, but we have not yet decided exactly when those launches are going to be.”

Another benefit of the agreement, he said, is the flexibility it offers in determining how many satellites to fly, as well as options for flying satellites on Starlink missions. “It gives us the possibility of making those decisions closer to the launch date.”

While SpaceX is Satellogic’s preferred launch provider, Kargieman did not rule out occasionally using other providers. “Because we might need some particular orbit, we might still decide to launch a dedicated rocket every once in a while to make sure we have the satellites where we want them,” he said.

Satellogic is seeing strong demand for the high-resolution imagery its satellites produce, he said, with that demand accelerating in the last year from government customers in particular. “On the government side it’s very clear that there is significant unsatisfied demand,” he said. “The pandemic has accelerated the demand for Earth observation data and geospatial analytics.”

That demand was a key factor in the decision to select SpaceX, with its launch services allowing Satellogic to accelerate deployment of its constellation. “That’s a good point to invest more,” Kargieman said. “We’re feeling strongly that this is a time for us to double down, scale and continue to bring this data to market at an affordable cost.”

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