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This isn’t the first time the world has been concerned about the possibility of an aging space station falling out of orbit.
I remember becoming aware of the possibility in 1997 thanks to season one of South Park. Kenny McCormick, the hoodie-wearing unfortunate who met his demise at least once every episode, was tragically squashed by Russian space station Mir while waiting for the school bus.
The problem was that Mir was allowed to operate well beyond its intended lifespan of five years, eventually orbiting for 15 years before burning up over the Pacific Ocean in 2001. By the end, Mir had suffered from a fire, a collision with a cargo ship, leaking coolant pipes, a loss of power from broken solar arrays, and constant computer crashes. No wonder people used to glance anxiously upwards whenever space stations were mentioned.
Today, space agency officials and lawmakers are having a similar discussion about the International Space Station (ISS). Although its modules were originally designed for a 15-year lifespan, the ISS is slated to operate until its 30th anniversary in 2028, and possibly beyond.
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s former Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, told a Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness in 2018: “We have a good operational life at least through 2028, and possibly a little bit further beyond that. We just need to continue to watch the station; continue to maintain it. What we don’t want to have happen is where we’re spending more time doing maintenance than we are doing research. At that point, the utility of the station starts to diminish.”
Safety and operational lifespan aside, the ISS has been incredibly expensive to develop, build, and maintain. With an estimated total cost of $150 billion and annual running costs of $3.5 billion, commentators including Buzz Aldrin are calling for the ISS to be retired to free up funding for humanity’s push to Mars and to make way for a new generation of commercial players in low-earth-orbit (LEO).
To be fair, the ISS isn’t a white elephant. Significant discoveries have been made in its laboratories in terms of advancing space exploration and Earth-based scientific progress, but there’s little chance of the ISS ever paying for itself in this respect.
Confirmed in 2018, the Leading Human Spaceflight Act will fund the ISS “as long as it is safe and functional” through to at least September 2030 or “until a demonstrated and sustainable lower-cost alternative can achieve NASA’s mission objectives.”
These objectives are to conduct scientific and exploration research, to benefit life on Earth, and to increase U.S. economic competitiveness and commercial participation. The Act makes it clear that commercial activities in low-Earth orbit are encouraged and lays out a series of specific steps for NASA to partner with the private sector to develop commercial capabilities in LEO. Russia has similar plans for extending the lifespan of the ISS.
It seems nearly certain that any successor to the ISS will be a commercial platform. The idea that the ISS itself could be privatized and taken over by a private entity, or series of entities, seems unlikely, as there has been scant commercial interest in the space station over the past 20 years. But the way is being paved for the private sector to build, launch, and operate LEO-based platforms for profit.
Potential players include Axiom Space, which is partnering with NASA to deliver three new modules — habitation, research, and manufacturing — to the ISS. These will detach and orbit independently when the ISS is eventually retired. Bigelow Aerospace has designed plug-in, inflatable modules to attach to the ISS and, like Axiom’s proposal, one day become free-flying space stations themselves.
How Will the ISS Be Retired?
Eventually — in 2028, 2030, or perhaps even later — the ISS will be deorbited. This involves pushing or pulling the space station out of orbit and into the Earth’s atmosphere, where most of it will burn up during re-entry. Preventing the creation of yet more space junk is an increasing priority in end-of-life planning for spacecraft.
The retirement of the ISS will likely mark the end of large state-owned platforms in space —for the U.S. at least — as space stations follow the wider trend in space exploration transitioning from government to commercial activity. However, the political and security view of this decision may change with the 2021 launch of China’s large modular space station.
Image Credit: Vadim Sadovski / Shutterstock.com
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A 'Beaver Full Moon' With Lunar Eclipse Happened This Morning—And Folks Took Some Stunning Photos – Good News Network
If you were up in the early hours of this morning, you may have noticed the full moon turning a shade or so darker and redder.
What you were seeing is called a penumbral lunar eclipse. Caused by the moon dipping behind the Earth’s fuzzy penumbra, or outer shadow, this subtle shading effect peaked at 4:32 am ET November 30, when—according to NASA—83% of the moon was in the shadow of our planet.
NASA has also given a list of the names November’s full moon is known by: The Algonquin tribes have long called this the Cold Moon after the long, frozen nights. Others know it as the Frost Moon, while an Old European Name is Oak Moon: perhaps because of ancient Druid traditions that involve harvesting mistletoe from oak trees for the upcoming winter solstice.
In America, the November full moon is perhaps still best known as the Beaver Moon—with Native Americans associating it with a time when the beavers are scrabbling to finish building their dens from mud and sticks and rocks in preparation for winter.
While this was the last penumbral eclipse of the year, don’t worry if you missed the occurrence due to sleep or clouds.
For those who didn’t get to witness the phenomenon in person, from San Francisco to Michigan to the Sydney Opera House, here are some stunning pictures of this year’s last partial lunar eclipse.
P.S. The next full moon will be the Cold Christmas Moon on December 29, 2020.
The full moon captured with the San Francisco skyline view at Alameda
A peaceful scene from Mackinac Island in Michigan
Surreal views from Joshua Tree
The Columbia River Gorge became a moonrise kingdom
Cool blue views were taken by this photographer in Northumberland, England
This photographer in Russia caught an image straight from a folk tale
Clouds added interest and atmosphere to these photos taken in Preston, England
A calming moment was captured on Rhode Island
The moon united photographers everywhere last night. Here’s a view from Sydney.
SHARE These Far-Out Views With Friends on Social Media…
How to see a mysterious object that might be space junk fly near Earth today – CNET
The moon shouldn’t feel too jealous. Earth has another satellite right now, but it’s only a temporary fling. The exact identity of the object, named 2020 SO, is still a lingering question, but you can watch it on Monday, Nov. 30, when it gets close to Earth. The Virtual Telescope Project will livestream the flyby.
The Earth’s gravitational pull captured the object into our planet’s orbit earlier this month, which makes 2020 SO a sort of mini-moon.
Usually, we’d, and there are plenty of those flying around in space. But 2020 SO may have a more Earthly identity. The orbit of 2020 SO around the sun — which is very similar to Earth’s — has convinced researchers it’s probably not a rock, from a NASA mission.
The object’s closest approach to our planet will be on Dec. 1. The Virtual Telescope Project will offer a livestream starting at 2 p.m. PT on Nov. 30.
Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi already managed to capture a view of the tiny object on Nov. 22. It appears as a dot against a backdrop of stars.
Scientists with NASA JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) analyzed 2020 SO’s path and tracked it back in time.
“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” CNEOS Director Paul Chodas said in a NASA statement earlier in November. “It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”
NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 lander ended up crashing on the moon’s surface, but the Centaur rocket booster escaped into space.
NASA expects 2020 SO to stick around in an Earth orbit until March 2021 when it will wander off into a new orbit around the sun. The agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office shared a visual of the object’s journey around Earth.
The upcoming close approach should give astronomers a chance to dial in 2020 SO’s composition and tell us if it is indeed a relic from the 1960s.
Even with a telescope view, 2020 SO should look like a bright spot of light traveling against the dark of space. The cool thing is getting the chance to witness a piece of space history returning to its old stomping grounds.
Climate change has autumn leaves falling sooner, researchers say – CTV News
A new study based on European forest trees indicates that climate change is leading to longer growing seasons and causing leaves to fall earlier in the year.
Using a combination of experiments and long-term observational research dating back to 1948, scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Munich found that leaves are likely to fall three to six days sooner by the end of the 21st century, rather than lengthening by one to three weeks as current models have predicted.
Researchers say this predicted pattern will limit the capacity of temperate forests to mitigate climate change through carbon uptake.
In conducting their research, scientists obtained more than 430,000 phenological observations from 3,855 sites across Central Europe from 1948 to 2015.
According to the study, elevated carbon dioxide, temperature and light levels are causing an increase in spring and summer photosynthetic productivity. Leaves are emerging earlier and they’re also falling sooner than expected.
The new findings reveal the critical constraints on future length of growing-seasons and carbon uptake of trees.
Natural Resources Canada says forests can act as either carbon sources or carbon sinks, which means that a forest can either release more carbon than it absorbs or it can absorb more carbon than it releases.
“For decades we’ve assumed that growing seasons are increasing and that the autumn leaf-off is getting later,” co-researcher and professor at ETH Zurich Thomas Crowther told The Guardian. “However, this research suggests that as tree productivity gets higher, the leaves actually fall earlier.”
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