The plan for a precise navigation system by the European Space Agency (‘ESA’) holds the potential of bringing mankind to the next level of space travel. If successful, this initiative will allow spacecraft operators to identify where they are when moving around the Moon and aid in landing at a precise location on the Moon’s surface.
Known as ‘Moonlight’, the plan incorporates telecommunications and will provide the necessary infrastructure to enable astronaut teams to arrive at different areas of the Moon that are still unexplored to date. National space agencies around the world are raring to go with their spacecraft to experiment with this new system of lunar flight – NASA’s Project Artemis, the successor to the ground-breaking Apollo missions, will put human crews on the Moon for the first time in more than fifty years since Neil Armstrong did his famous moonwalk.
So who is involved? The ESA has recruited two European teams to define what an integrated sat-nav and telecoms system at the Moon would look like. Paul Verhoef, director of ESA’s navigation department, describes the system as “a constellation of at least three positioning-and-relay satellites to give global coverage, and will likely include some surface beacons to augment the accuracy of the navigation signals”.
One team will be led by the UK small satellite manufacturer, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (‘SSTL’). SSTL assembled the navigation payloads on the European Union’s Galileo sat-nav system. The other team will be led by the Italian space systems company Telespazio, which is a world leader in satellite telecommunications in transports such as ships and planes.
The Galileo Constellation is Europe’s navigation satellite system. It will assist the Pathfinder mission through delivering positioning, navigation and timing services to planet Earth.
In 2019, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission was able to determine its orbit using GPS signals when it was 116,300 miles (187,166 km) away, nearly half the distance from the Earth to the Moon. While most of the energy emitted by the antennas on the navigation satellites is directed back at Earth, there is enough signal radiating sideways to be useful in space, as long as a very strong antenna is used.
The Lunar Pathfinder communications satellite will use a high-gain antenna that homes in on the “side lobes” that radiate from the sides of radio beams emitted by Galileo and GPS satellites. This allows the high-sensitivity receiver to pick up sat-nav signals that are millions of times fainter than those received on Earth. According to the ESA, the Lunar Pathfinder will be able to fix its position to within 330 feet (100 m) while it circles the Moon in a highly stable orbit.
For those nations and companies thinking of sending spacecraft to the Moon within this decade, having access to the proposed ESA network would help to minimise the risks through reducing their costs.
There are many possibilities with this venture. Elodie Viau, ESA’s director of telecoms, predicts that “an astronomer could set up observatories on the far side of the Moon; rovers could travel more speedily on the lunar surface; and… we could be doing Skype on the Moon”.
Pathfinder will be set on a highly elliptical orbit (similar to the planet Mercury) to provide long periods of visibility and observations of the South Pole of the Moon. This happens to be the location that NASA is interested in for its early Artemis missions. If the project runs successfully, Pathfinder could be space-bound by 2023-24, bringing space exploration to a whole new level.
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NASA discovers double crater on the moon – CTV News
The moon has a new double crater after a rocket body collided with its surface on March 4.
New images shared by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the moon since 2009, have revealed the location of the unusual crater.
The impact created two craters that overlap, an eastern crater measuring 59 feet (18 metres) across and a western crater spanning 52.5 feet (16 metres). Together, they create a depression that is roughly 91.8 feet (28 metres) wide in the longest dimension.
Although astronomers expected the impact after discovering that the rocket part was on track to collide with the moon, the double crater it created was a surprise.
Typically, spent rockets have the most mass at the motor end because the rest of the rocket is largely just an empty fuel tank. But the double crater suggests that this object had large masses at both ends when it hit the moon.
The exact origin of the rocket body, a piece of space junk that had been careening around for years, is unclear, so the double crater could help astronomers determine what it was.
The moon lacks a protective atmosphere, so it’s littered with craters created when objects like asteroids regularly slam into the surface.
This was the first time a piece of space junk unintentionally hit the lunar surface that experts know of. But craters have resulted from spacecraft being deliberately crashed into the moon.
For example, four large moon craters attributed to the Apollo 13, 14, 15 and 17 missions are all much larger than each of the overlapping craters created during the March 4 impact. However, the maximum width of the new double crater is similar to the Apollo craters.
Bill Gray, an independent researcher focused on orbital dynamics and the developer of astronomical software, was first to spot the trajectory of the rocket booster.
Gray had initially identified it as the SpaceX Falcon rocket stage that launched the US Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, in 2015 but later said he’d gotten that wrong and it was likely from a 2014 Chinese lunar mission — an assessment NASA agreed with.
However, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the booster was from its Chang’e-5 moon mission, saying that the rocket in question burned up on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere.
No agencies systematically track space debris so far away from Earth, and the confusion over the origin of the rocket stage has underscored the need for official agencies to monitor deep-space junk more closely, rather than relying on the limited resources of private individuals and academics.
However, experts say that the bigger challenge is the space debris in low-Earth orbit, an area where it can collide with functioning satellites, create more junk and threaten human life on crewed spacecraft.
There are at least 26,000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth that are the size of a softball or larger and could destroy a satellite on impact; over 500,000 objects the size of a marble — big enough to cause damage to spacecraft or satellites; and over 100 million pieces the size of a grain of salt, tiny debris that could nonetheless puncture a spacesuit, according to a NASA report issued last year.
7 Amazing Dark Sky National Parks – AARP
Can’t afford to join a commercial space mission offered by Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson? Consider the next best thing: seeing a starry, starry night in a sea of darkness, unimpeded by artificial light, at one of the International Dark Sky Parks in the U.S. It’s a rare treat, since light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of Americans from seeing the Milky Way from their homes.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) has certified 14 of the nation’s 63 national parks as dark sky destinations. So visitors can take full advantage of such visibility, many of them offer specialized after-dark programs, from astronomy festivals and ranger-led full-moon walks to star parties and astrophotography workshops. If you prefer to stargaze on your own at a park, the National Park Service recommends bringing a pair of 7-by-50 binoculars, a red flashlight, which enhances night vision, and a star chart, which shows the arrangement of stars in the sky.
Here are seven of the IDSA-certified parks where you can appreciate how the heavens looked from the Earth before the dawn of electric light.
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Award-winning travel writer Veronica Stoddart is the former travel editor of USA Today. She has written for dozens of travel publications and websites.
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A Mystery Rocket Left A Crater On The Moon – Forbes
While we think of the moon as a static place, sometimes an event happens that reminds us that things can change quickly.
On March 4, a human-made object (a rocket stage) slammed into the moon and left behind a double crater, as seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission.
Officials announced June 23 that they spotted a double crater associated with the event. But what’s really interesting is there’s no consensus about what kind of rocket caused it.
China has denied claims that the rocket was part of a Long March 3 rocket that launched the country’s Chang’e-5 T1 mission in October 2014, although the orbit appeared to match. Previous speculation suggested it might be from a SpaceX rocket launching the DISCOVR mission, but newer analysis has mostly discredited that.
On a broader scale, the value of LRO observations like this is showing how the moon can change even over a small span of time. The spacecraft has been in orbit there since 2009 and has spotted numerous new craters since its arrival.
It’s also a great spacecraft scout, having hunted down the Apollo landing sites from orbit and also having tracked down a few craters from other missions that slammed into the moon since the dawn of space exploration.
It may be that humans return to the moon for a closer-up look in the coming decade, as NASA is developing an Artemis program to send people to the surface no earlier than 2025.
LRO will also be a valuable scout for that set of missions, as the spacecraft’s maps will be used to develop plans for lunar bases or to help scout safe landing sites for astronauts.
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