Tag: space

Big Risk: Bezos Bros launch to space

Initial reactions to the announcement that Bezos is going to take one of his Blue Origin Shepard rockets to outer space include excitement and enthusiasm, and yes – we’re all excited that commercial spaceflight has seen such a surge over the past few years. The more progress, the better, right?

For $2.8 billion, who wouldn’t want to join in on that Bezos bros group hug?

As cool as it will be to see another manned rocket takeoff towards the stars, someone has to be the Dad speaking with a voice of reason.

There are two reasons that a crewed launch by Blue Origin might be too big of a risk to take:

  1. Passengers: The crew includes three civilian passengers – people that have not been formally trained as astronauts.
  2. Launch Vehicle: Blue Origin spacecraft has not yet carried humans, and has only done 16 flights total, launching only once in all of 2020. By contrast, SpaceX has done over a hundred launches, yet doesn’t expect to have its first civilian flight until 2023.

As much as we all want to see space travel rocket us into the future and beyond, it is important to take things one step at a time.

The last thing that anyone wants to happen is for someone to get injured or worse on a mission to space that is largely a vanity stunt.

There have been tragic incidents in spaceflight in the past. The tragedy of the Challenger spacecraft killed seven astronauts in 1986. In addition to grievances over the loss of loved ones, the macro impact of this horrific event resulted in a major setback to the crewed space program and suspension of the Shuttle program for 32 months. This horrible loss may have ultimately contributed to slowed progress in space travel overall.

The small risk that something goes wrong on a manned mission would leave a sour taste in the mouths of space fans across the globe, and could even cause stagnation in space technology progress.

In an age of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, it is a tremendous risk to launch living humans on a rocket unless the technology is advanced enough or it is absolutely necessary. Since the rocket is fully autonomous, why not let it perform a few more test launches to ensure it is re-tested and 1000% safe?

Assuming the technology is mature enough for manned space travel (it surely is), there’s just so many other things Blue Origin could do – like, work on getting to Mars, and perhaps start getting things setup for a propellant production facility there. Human flight will have its heyday, but we should focus on industrial and non-human cargo first. Life is precious.

On the other hand, I get the need to publicize the progress in space travel technology. The more eyeballs that are following space travel, the better. Bezos’ launch is extremely inspirational, and will definitely draw more attention means more interest, which could correspond to spaceflight companies raising more money for R&D, etc.

And for a hefty sum of $2.8 billion dollars, you could join the Bezos on their Super Space Bro’s mission to the stratosphere.

Look – this post sure can’t stop Bezos from going to space. I’ll be crossing my fingers and cheering him on, but it does make many of us nervous.

What do you think? Would you go?

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Recap of Starship SN10 Launch and Landing

Starship SN10 (the rocket that will take humans to Mars) performed a historic launch, test flight, and landing on March 3rd, 2020 in Boca Chica, Texas.

Averaging 1 test flight per month (3 flights have happened since December 9, 2020), SpaceX plans to one day have regularly occurring Starship flights carrying payloads including smallsats, Starlink satellites, and eventually humans.

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The high altitude flight test began much like previous Starship flights of SN8 as well as SN9, with much anticipation, a few delays, and thankfully a successful take off.

Early in the day SN10 had a launch attempt, but the computer stopped the countdown just before lift-off because the thrust of a raptor engine slightly exceeded the allowable limit.

The team did a few evaluations, and later decided that the engines were good to go, ready for a second attempt.

Close-up view of Starship exhaust. source: SpaceX

Launch delays have occurred quite often leading up to the previous launches of both Starship prototypes as well as Falcon 9 Starlink missions.

Purpose of Starship SN10 test flight:

The goal of the SN10 test flight is to launch and fly to an altitude of 10 km while gathering data on how well the flaps function to control the vehicle while it is horizontal.

According to SpaceX’s website:

“A controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, are critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth. This capability will enable a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.”

The rockets SpaceX is using for these test flights are not built to carry humans (yet) – they are very much prototypes built to be used as test vehicles.

During flight, SN10 engines shut down sequentially. The purpose of the engine shutdown is to reduce thrust, slow the rocket down, so that it doesn’t go higher and about 10 km as planned. Starship was not planning to enter orbit or reach higher altitudes.

Three raptor engines were intentionally shut off one by one and Starship was at one point accelerating vertically on just one engine.

As it reached apogee, peaking at around 10 km altitude, Starship hovered in equilibrium, where the engine thrust force was equal to the force of gravity.

Apogee is the point at which an object (such as a moon, satellite, or in this case, Starship) is furthest from Earth.

Finally, the last raptor engine shut off, and Starship began its free-fall descent. Controlled by the flaps, Starship rocket maintained aerodynamic control with a high degree of finesse.

The rocket continued falling, rotating into the famous “belly flop”.

SN10 belly flop. source: SpaceX

Starship continued to fall in its belly flop, reaching terminal velocity. Eventually the engines re-lit to make the entire vehicle to rotate vertically in preparation for landing.

From the viewer’s perspective, the rocket appeared to be somewhat slanted from vertical as it landed moved towards the landing pad.

Space enthusiasts across the globe held their breath in anticipation, watching live streams as Starship inched closer to the landing pad.

Creating a huge cloud of dust, Starship SN10 has history, successfully landing. There was no explosion on landing, as happened with both SN8 and SN9.

source: SpaceX

Starship gleamed in the south Texas sun on the landing pad, while the rocket’s reflective steel shell illuminated, signifying a job well done. Congrats, SpaceX team!

Post-flight ends with a big bang

Although the rocket did land successfully, SN10 would not have fit in with both SN9 and SN8 if it didn’t ultimately end with a rapid unplanned disassembly. As viewed from the streaming cameras of Everyday Astronaut and others, a few minutes after landing, SN10 exploded.

While Starship is of course still not passenger ready, viewers get to enjoy the excitement of a massive explosion that resembles something out of a Hollywood movie.

It is unclear what caused the explosion, but according to Toby Li’s tweet here, SN10’s landing legs may have been damaged.

Regardless, the high-altitude flight test of SN10 was a massive success.

The SpaceX YouTube channel provides footage and commentary from the SpaceX team. The commentator mentioned that the next test flight would be held with Starship SN11.

SpaceX was able to record a few segments of amazingly high-definition video. The ultra up close take-off and landing clips appear to have been taken via drone and are quite spectacular. Worth a watch below:

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How To Get Hired At SpaceX

What does it take to get a job at SpaceX?

SpaceX’s prime objective is to build a self sustaining colony on Mars.

Achieving a mission of this level of impact requires the company to hire the brightest minds in the world. If you have what it takes and believe in the mission, you should try to work there. What SpaceX is trying to do is not easy – the team needs all the help they can get.

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As of 2021, SpaceX wants to hire engineers, supervisors, and technicians for its Starship project.

The company’s career website mentions that it is looking for world-class talent ready to tackle challenging projects that will ultimately enable life on other planets.

The company of course mentions that they are an equal opportunity employer offering competitive salaries, comprehensive health benefits and equity packages.

“We hire great engineers as fast as we can find them” – Elon Musk.

They are also looking for hardware, software and firmware engineers. Firmware engineers are needed specifically for the Starlink project, which will be one of SpaceX’s first revenue streams to help fund missions to Mars.

Firmware is software (often written in C) that is stored on hardware device to make it run properly.

SpaceX Hiring Strategy:

“There’s no need even to have a college degree at all, or even high school” – Elon Musk

No Degree Required

You don’t need a college degree to work for SpaceX. CEO Elon Musk has both tweeted about this as well as mentioned it in multiple interviews.

When the founder of SpaceX was starting the company, he had no experience building rockets. Elon came from a background in the software industry. He reportedly cold-called rocket scientists to learn about building and launching rockets, and even apparently tried to buy a ballistic missile from Russia to use as a first test.

Elon mentioned that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, all did not graduate from college. However, if you had the opportunity to hire any of them, it would be a great idea.

Americans and Internationals:

SpaceX is legally prevented from hiring people from outside the US. According to the US Government, working on Rocket Technology in the United States requires employees to be a US Citizen or green-card holder.

How Does Elon Describe Hiring at SpaceX?

In an online video, when asked about what skills he wants people to have, CEO Elon says he is looking for evidence of exceptional ability.

He asks candidates share the story of their career. He specifically wants to know about challenging problems the candidate has dealt with and how they make decisions. Elon stated that he wants to know if the person was truly responsible for the accomplishment or if someone else was – he can ask for details and the one that was will have those details.

The SpaceX hiring team looks for at track record of exceptional achievement. In order to actually get to Mars, the company needs to hire people that have “some evidence of exceptional ability that includes innovation”. Since the company is creating new technology, they expect their employees to have a deep drive to do so too.

TechCrunch has called SpaceX “one of the world’s most demanding engineering companies.” As you can imagine, the hiring process at SpaceX is unsurprisingly grueling.

By hiring only the greatest minds, SpaceX’s strict approach to hiring let’s the company focus on that which truly matters: solving big problems.

Next steps for job seekers

I follow the company on LinkedIn and they publish new jobs all the time. The company is in fact rapidly hiring, albeit incredibly selective, and will be for many years (going to Mars is no small task).

Wanna give the SpaceX application process a shot? They have job openings on their website, or hit the company up on Twitter and maybe you’ll get lucky.

Recap of Starship SN9 Flight Test

SN9 Starship Test Flight

SN9 test flight of Starship was delayed a few times, but fortunately it finally launched last week.

Spoiler – the flight ended much the same way that SN8 did – with a big, fiery explosion.

On 2/2/21, according to Twitter, Starship launch area was being cleared of vehicles. Launch anticipated for today and it happened! Starship SN9 launched.

On 1/26/21, Elon confirmed on Twitter that the FAA has reviewing the prospective test flight.

Starship launchpad update: on 1/19/21, SpaceX purchased two floating oil rigs which will become floating launchpads for Starship. The two launchpads have been called Deimos and Phobos, named after the two moons of Mars.

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SN9 UPDATE 1/14/21: Starship SN9 performed three static fire tests.

What is a “Static Fire”?
– A static fire is a planned system test that launch vehicles and ground support equipment undergo to verify that the rocket is ready for flight.
– During a static fire, the rocket’s engines briefly perform a test fire while staying bolted to the ground.
– The goal of a static fire test is to identify problems during the test, before the actual launch.

SN9 performed another static fire on January 6, 2020. A successful landing of SN9 would be a major milestone.

Delays of scheduled flights are common due to weather as well as the FAA regulations

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Recap of Starship SN8 Test Flight

Starship – the grand vessel that will take humans to Mars – performs its historic 12.5 km launch.

Starship SN8 Test Flight Recap

spacex starship hop 1
source: NASAspaceflight

On December 9th, 2020, people gathered on the beaches, parking lots and balconies in the surrounding areas of South Padre Island in Boca Chica, Texas. Space enthusiasts had flown in, YouTubers had their streaming cameras live and ready, and millions more tuned in remotely in anticipation of SpaceX Starship’s 12.5 km unmanned “hop”.

All day, people waited. Hours pass, with not much action. The first sign of advancement was the formation of a small condensation ring on the body of the spacecraft, just above the fins. This happens during fueling, caused by the overflow of liquid oxygen from the condenser as it fills the tanks. The rapid expansion of pressurized gas (in this case, liquified oxygen) is an endothermic process in which the gas loses heat energy, making the surroundings extremely cold.

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Liquid oxygen is an important component of the fuel, serving as the oxidizer. Starship uses liquid oxygen (aka LOX), and Methane (CH4) as rocket fuel.

Key Events from Starship Hop:

  • Successful ascent
  • Successful switchover to header tanks
  • Successful pivot
  • Flap control
  • Longest in-flight firing of a raptor engine
  • In control until the end
  • On target
  • Sufficient data gathered

Starship Launch

As the engines fire, there is no turning back. All or nothing, skyward.

spacex starship hop 2
source: nasaspaceflight.com

As the rocket takes off, as clouds instantly balloon to twenty times their size. As they grow larger, and seem to resemble exhaust smoke, the clouds are actually just steam, H2O water vapor. This is the main byproduct of the combustion reaction.

The other byproduct of the combustion reaction between methane and liquid oxygen is carbon dioxide, which is invisible.

spacex starship hop 3
source: Nasaspaceflight

Surprisingly, shortly after launch, one of the Raptor engines goes out, leaving the rocket with 2 engines to finish the remainder of the test flight.

From the multiple YouTube live-steams, including EverydayAstronaut, NasaSpaceflight.com, SpaceX, and more, there was some confusion among viewers.

spacex starship hop 4
source: SpaceX

It is unclear whether or not this was a planned outage or not, as Starship has three engines, and the other two can function completely fine on their own. Being down to two engines did not appear to interrupt the flight, and there is a chance this was done purposefully in order to control fuel loads.

As Starship progressed further towards the peak of its flight, another raptor engine apparently shut off, which is also believed to have been intentional. At this point, the rocket began to progress skyward on just a single engine. Moving at a slight angle it performing a couple of hover maneuvers, barely in view of the cameras.

At this point, the flight was over 4.5 minutes in total, 10:16:04 on nasaspaceflight video, and the rockets had been firing the entire time.

spacex starship hop 5
source: Nasaspaceflight

The Belly Flop

The next occurrence was the “belly flop”, a stunt where Starship will orient itself 90 degrees sideways, falling horizontal to the Earth’s surface at terminal velocity.

spacex starship hop 6
source: nasaspaceflight 10:16:23

The photos above and below were taken just 7 seconds apart, during which time the rocket appears to have repositioned itself by over 45 degrees. We can tell that Starship has quickly begun its free-fall because none of the engines are firing at this point.

spacex starship hop 7
source: Nasaspaceflight 10:16:30

As Starship continues to fall, it surprisingly further orients itself towards the Earth, nose down. Watching the video live, the nosedive appeared slightly nerve wracking, but it was in fact planned and supposed to happen, thankfully.

spacex starship hop 8
source: Nasaspaceflight 10:16:40

The wing-like flaps of the rocket, two on the front and two on the back, angle themselves skyward to apply air resistance drag to control the direction of its free-fall.

spacex starship hop 9
source: SpaceX

As Starship nears the Earth’s surface, the flaps are doing their job. Starship appears to float almost effortlessly towards Earth’s surface, during which time we getting the sense that terminal velocity doesn’t actually seem that fast when we’re watching such a massive vehicle.

spacex starship hop 10
source: SpaceX

When its time for the cigar-shaped rocket to begin preparing for the landing, two of its raptor engines re-engage, swiveling at an angle to control the degree to which it will turn. Within half a second, the ship has rotated ninety degrees, now facing vertically. Starship then re-orients itself vertically again for the landing.

The Rocket’s Downfall

spacex starship hop 11
source: SpaceX

In the moments leading up to landing something strange starts to happen as Starship gets closer to the landing pad.

The flame turns green, as if this is a prelude to some gnarly fireworks display. It is unclear what causes the color change.

Looking closely, the human eye can observe a slight angle between Starship and the landing pad, which is a sign that something is not quite right.

It was at this moment that we all knew destruction would be inevitable.

In the photo to the right, we know something is wrong for two reasons:

  1. Skewed angle of Starship
  2. There are no landing leg folding out

As soon as Starship hits the ground, it immediately explodes, disintegrating, leaving almost no remains. Apparently, the driving cause of this was “lack of header tank pressure”. This means there was not enough fuel to produce the required thrust to slow down the rocket before the landing pad.

In the inevitabilities of what seem to be failure, somehow, the company still managed to put on a show. SpaceX Starship SN8 hop test flight ended with a literal BANG.

spacex starship hop 12
source: SpaceX

It seems there is consensus among SpaceX that many test objectives were successfully achieved. The company was able to gather sufficient data, so… the mission was a success! (regardless of the fact that they didn’t quite “stick the landing”).

crash landing gif
source: the atlantic

All in all, the rocket was airborne for 6 minutes and 42 seconds, and was well in aerodynamic control the entire time up until the crash landing.

What did you expect? SpaceX has a long history of testing rockets, many of which have failed the first time. As with any innovative and new technology, there’s never any guarantee. But one thing is for sure – SpaceX Starship will fly again. There will be another test flight in the not too distant future. There were a few key wins and objectives complete, which we will stay updated about as we learn more.

Wins for Starship

  • “Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” – Elon
  • This was the longest in-flight firing of a raptor engine, ever.
  • The spaceship was in fine-tuned control almost the entire time.
  • Starship demonstrated a successful pivot
  • SpaceX gathered all the data they need.
  • The world has been inspired.

The victorious path towards Mars is well underway, its going to happen faster than we realize! Stay updated with the latest on Starship, missions to Mars, and more space technology by signing up for the newsletter.

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Sources & Streams that are worth checking out:

This Private Company is Exploring Deep Space

Xplore is Sending Missions to Deep Space

Headed for the Moon by 2021, with plans for Mars, Venus, and the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, Xplore is a company that specializes in sending ships beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space.

Deep space probes – sometimes confused with cubesats or smallsats – are special because they are not restricted to the orbit of any single celestial body. These vehicles travel beyond Earth orbit to untapped places in our solar system.

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Xplore focuses on a “Space as a Service” business model, which means that any company, university, or community can design their own mission into deep space.

The Space as a Service – or SaaS – acronym is a play on the large “Software as a Service” industry based around Silicon Valley tech companies.

This business model will enable greater partnerships to form with other companies and organizations to provide more opportunities for scientists study the unknown mysteries of deep space.

Xcraft: The Spaceship

Xcraft is a multi-mission spacecraft.

From a single launch, the goal is to be able to deploy multiple cubesats to orbit different planets and gather data from all over.

The Xcraft is Modular meaning it can scale to accommodate unique requirements, payloads, additional sensors, etc. The company can easily scale-up and increase the capabilities of the spacecraft based on the needs of a specific mission.

source: Xplore

Missions can last years because it use electric propulsion. The ability to do in-space refueling means the mission doesn’t have to end when fuel is gone, so it has the bandwidth to perform multiple objectives.

Xcraft is designed to be stable for high performance sensors.

Xplore Partnerships

Partnering with the Spaceil Arch Mission, Xplore has helped to send send human data to the Moon as an archive. We now have a 30 million page library documenting all of human history on the moon.

And for $12,500 you can send a tube of 1 gram of whatever material you want into deep space. Partnering with the company Celestis, you can send time capsules, engraved messages, data archives, genetic material, you name it. Some people use this as essentially as a space memorial service for loved ones.

source: Xplore

Beyond Earth Orbit

Great excitement and wonder about space lies beyond Earth orbit. There are these worlds that exist, of which we have fragmented, pixelated images of at best. There is SO much to learn and explore.

There might be life. No one knows the answer.

With the help of Xplore, humans are progressing onward towards deep space!

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Please find a 60-second overview video of Xplore below:

sources:

Mars Perseverance Rover 2021 Update

Purpose of the Mars Perseverance Rover

NASA’s Mars Perverance rover is on the way to Mars to find out if life ever existed there.

Perseverance will collect samples to try to find fossils, organic material, and more.

What will Perseverance Rover do?

The rover will land on Mars on February 18, 2021.

Landing in Jezero crater, an ancient lake the size of Lake Tahoe, Perseverance rover will explore riverbeds which appear to have provided inflow and outflow of the lake, as well as delta deposits.

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The Jezero crater is of particular interest because it represents the possibility that Mars had water about 4 billion years ago.

Perseverance rover 60-second summary:

NASA also has a website dedicated to the official updates for Perseverance Rover.

What technology does Perseverance have?

  • The stage that brings it to Mars uses hypergolic chemical propellants
  • Perseverance has 23 cameras with 20 megapixel color, 2 microphones, UV laser, Xray spectrometer
    • This is the first time we will have audio data (via the microphones) from a celestial object.
  • During descent a camera will scan the terrain and heat shields will protect it from friction temperatures of 2100 deg. C
  • After landing the sky crane will fly away but crash into the surface nearby
  • Self driving 200 meters per day, perseverance will run for 14 years, powering itself on a 45kg Radio-isotopic thermal electric generator, converting heat from plutonium-238 into electricity.
  • Perseverance rover carries a system to test oxygen production on Mars, called MOXIE. Oxygen production on Mars is an important part of in-situ resource utilization, which humans must take on if we are to ever colonize the red planet.
  • Perseverance also has a 4 pound drone helicopter and coring drill to search for microbial fossils.
  • NASA redesigned the wheels from Curiosity to avoid getting stuck, featuring a wider diameter and smaller tread-width.

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sources:

  • mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
  • additional info: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/timeline/landing/

55 Space Exploration Statistics for 2021

In order to benchmark human progress in space technology, we keep track of statistics related to spaceflight.

The 2021 spaceflight statistics include economic, satellite, commercial, NASA and government, as well as the International Space Station metrics.

The list is broken down between all-time human spaceflight statistics and those of the most recent calendar year.

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What happened in space this past year?

  1. 112 total launch attempts this year
    • 102 successful launches
    • 10 failed launches
  2. 7 countries / regions launched rockets this year:
    • United States (44)
    • China (38)
    • Europe (5)
    • India (2)
    • Japan (4)
    • Israel (1)
    • Russia (16)
    • Iran (2)
  3. 61 successful launches to low earth orbit
  4. There have been 561 satellites launched into orbit. (as of July 2020 – we’re trying to get the updated numbers ASAP.) [7]
  5. SpaceX Starlink accounted for over 412 of those satellites – dominating the market with 74%. [7]
  6. 21 unique global spaceports that have been used this year.
  7. Low-earth orbit was the most common destination, with 80 launches set for LEO.
  8. The SpaceX Crew Dragon became the first commercially-built space vehicle to carry humans into space, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

Beyond Earth Orbit missions of this past year:

  1. SolO: sun observing satellite launched February 10, 2020 by European Space Agency
  2. Mars Hope: Mars orbiting satellite launched July 19, 2020 by United Arab Emirates
  3. Tianwen-1: Mars orbiter, lander, and rover launched July 23, 2020 by China
  4. Mars 2020: Mars Perseverance rover launched July 30, 2020 by USA
  5. Chang’e 5: Lunar Sample return launched November 23, 2020 by China

All-Time Human Space Exploration Stats

General

spacewalk
source: NASA
  1. Two Space Stations: There are two working space stations in which humans can survive: the International Space Station (ISS) and the Tiangong 2.
  2. There are over 200 organizations that provide products and services to the space industry.
  3. Humans have discovered more than 4,324 exoplanets. [5]
  4. Bruce McCandless II was the first person to perform an untethered spacewalk.

Economics of Spaceflight

  1. Payload Cost to Low Earth Orbit, varying by launch vehicle type [3]:
    • Small-class: Chian Quxian launch vehicle: $17,300/kg and $5 million per launch
    • Small-class: Electron launch vehicle: $23,100/kg and $5 amillion per launch
    • Medium-class: LV3M launch vehicle: $8,000/kg and $63 million per launch
      • Atlas V 551: $5,685/kg
      • Falcon 9: $2,842/kg [9]
    • Heavy-class: Falcon Heavy launch vehicle: $951-1500/kg and $95 million per launch
  2. Revenue of the Global Space Industry: $423.8 billion USD. This is expected to increase by 50% by 2040.
  3. Revenue of the Global Satellite Industry: $271 billion USD

Satellite Statistics

  1. Number of Satellites orbiting Earth: 2,787. [7]
  2. There are over 3200 additional satellites that are unusable.
  3. 1,918 satellites in a Low Earth Orbit.
  4. 137 satellites in a Medium Earth Orbit
  5. 554 satellites in a Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit, also known as a geostationary orbit.
  6. 57 satellites in an Elliptical Orbit. [6]

Government Agency Statistics

  1. NASA Budget $21.5 billion in 2019, which accounts for 0.4% of the entire US budget.
  2. $60 billion is the cumulative budget of government space agencies world-wide (roughly).
  3. Humans have been visiting space for 60 years. The first humans to travel into space did so in 1961.
  4. There have been nine launch vehicle designs that have successfully gone to space. They are: Vostok, Mercury, Vokshod, Gemini, Soyuz, Apollo Lunar Module, Space Shuttle, Shenzhou, Crew Dragon.
  5. The United States established the US Space Force.
  6. Russians have spent the most time in space, with 28,945 total person days.
  7. The United States has send the most individual people to space of any country, with 346 total people having visited outer space.

Commercial Spaceflight Statistics

  1. SpaceX Earth to Earth travel will enable point-to-point travel anywhere on Earth in under 1 hour.
  2. The X3 ion thruster is currently the most robust and powerful ion thruster for deep space exploration, capable of producing over 5 N of force.
  3. Between 1990 and 2017, there were 635 commercial space launches globally. [4]
  4. Space Tourism: no one really knows what space tourism might cost. Virgin Galactic has tossed around a ticket price of $250,000, but also stated prices may be different. SpaceX’s first commercial passenger, Yusaku Maezawa, has purchased every seat on the first trip to the moon and back for an undisclosed amount.
  5. SmallSat / Cubesat rideshare: SpaceX is offering dedicated rideshare missions starting around $1M, selling optional add-ons such as fuel and payload cargo insurance
  6. There are a few ways that the average person can invest in space exploration: This post covers space stocks, ETFs, and more.

International Space Station Statistics

  1. 396 spaceflights have been launched to the International Space Station
  2. 241 individuals have visited the International Space Station throughout history.
  3. Space Tourism: 8 people have visited the International Space Station as tourists, including 7 people from Russia, each of whom paid about 20 million per trip.
  4. People from 19 different countries have gone to the space station.
  5. The average crew size on the ISS is 6 people.
  6. The space station orbits the Earth 16 times per day.
  7. The surface area of all solar panels attached to the ISS covers more than 1 acre and is 240 feet wide.
  8. The world record for total time in space is 878.5 days, set by Gennady Padalka of Russia across 5 flights.
  9. The U.S. record has been set by Peggy Whitson, who spend 665 total days in space across 3 flights.
  10. The space station has six bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree view bay window
  11. 230 spacewalks have been conducted by astronauts at the space station for upgrades and maintenance.
  12. Cumulative crew time on the International Space Station amounts to over 7,300 days.
  13. The space station has been continuously occupied since November 2000
  14. It took 42 separate flights to send the cargo used to construct and build the ISS into space.
  15. The electrical power systems onboard use 8 miles worth of wiring. [10]
  16. The ISS has 8 ports where spaceships can dock.

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international space station arm
source: NASA

sources:

  1. wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_in_spaceflight
  2. statista.com/topics/5049/space-exploration/
  3. aerospace.csis.org/data/space-launch-to-low-earth-orbit-how-much-does-it-cost/
  4. bts.gov/content/worldwide-commercial-space-launches
  5. exoplanets.nasa.gov/discovery/exoplanet-catalog/
  6. pixalytics.com/satellites-orbiting-earth-2020/
  7. ucsusa.org/resources/satellite-database
  8. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight_records#Most_time_in_space
  9. web.archive.org/web/20080815163222/http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=18
  10. nasa.gov/feature/facts-and-figures

The Space 200

200+ Space Tech Companies

Recognizing over 200 standout organizations enabling space exploration.

From startups, to large companies, to government organizations – these 200+ companies are building products and services for the space economy – now and into the future.

You may download a copy of the list below (excel file) – it’s free.

the Space 200 Download

The list is constantly being added to, updated, and improved. Please let me know of any suggestions of comments.

Jupiter’s Moon, Europa

Jupiter’s moon, Europa, is one of the top places in our solar system where life might exist. Europa is one of the rare places in our solar system that holds all three requirements for life.

Why Explore Europa: Key Takeaways

  • A mission to Europa has a high return on investment of scientific data gathered
  • Europa is the sixth largest moon in the solar system, and one of Jupiter’s 79 known moons
  • The icy crust is between 20 and 180 million years old, relatively young for the planet’s age
  • Beneath the crust of Europa, a global ocean exists 62 miles deep – more than twice the volume of Earth’s ocean
  • The atmosphere is thin – so there is a high radiation exposure on the surface
  • The temperature is −160 °C / −260 °F at the equator

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Possible Life

The presence of water is exciting because it means the planet could possibly harbor life. Also, water is also an extremely important resource for humans in space.

hydrothermal vents
Hydrothermal vents on Earth.
source: NOAA

The excitement of a subsurface ocean of liquid water and possible presence of life brings up the question – why do we think there could be life on Europa?

As far as we know, water is one of the requirements for life – as well as a source of energy and specific chemical presence (including carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur). Together, water, energy, and chemistry form the basis for life’s requirements.

Celestial bodies in the solar system often meet two out of three of these requirements. Almost nowhere has all three. Again, Europa is one of the rare places in our solar system that meets all three requirements for life.

If life were to exist within the depths of Europa’s global ocean, it may take a number of forms. To form hypotheses for what life may might look like, we can leverage what we know about the origin of life on our home planet Earth.

If anything lives in Europa’s ocean, single-celled organisms, microorganisms, and bacteria are most likely forms to be found. Given more time to evolve, there could be more complex life forms. On Earth, hydrothermal vents are home to a diverse array of life forms, which could be the same on Europa. If some hydrothermal vents exist at the bottom of Europa’s ocean, this may be a breeding ground for some life form, just like on Earth.

Life could also thrive by clinging onto the surface crust in some way, benefiting by periodic exposure to surface compounds or other non-polar molecules that accumulate near the surface.

Geological Features and Gravitational Impact

Europa’s thick ice sheet crust is beneficial for a number of reasons. For one, it protects the ocean (and any life that may inhabit it) from radiation. In addition, it allows heat from the core of the planet to stay within the, which may help the ocean maintain its liquid property by providing a layer of insulation.

Europa
source: NASA JPL
  • The force of gravity from Jupiter and its other moons affect Europa by causing tidal flexing, creating a constantly changing surface crust.
  • The constant shifting of the large glacier crust displays:
    • geysers
    • cracks
    • craters
    • volcanic activity
  • Non-synchronous rotation results in a macro movement in the liquid ocean beneath the surface.

More below on the impact that gravity has on the geological features of Europa.

Non-synchronous rotation: proof of a global ocean

Non-synchronous rotation means that the crust of the planet does not rotate at the same rate as the core. The Galileo probe found evidence of this on Europa due to the mass distribution. This rotational behavior means that there is a decoupling between the interior and exterior of the planet (between the core and the crust).

A fluidic insulation between the core and the crust means that the surface of Europa moves and changes much more than other planets.

According to Nature, because Europa spins faster than it orbits Jupiter, gravity data suggest that there may be an asymmetry in Europa’s interior mass distribution. This means that the surface of the planet is moving differently from the core of the planet. The decoupling between the rotation of the icy surface crust and the rocky core suggests that they may be separated by a layer of liquid – Europa’s global ocean. The Europan ocean is the most plausible hypothesis.

Tidal Flexing: Europa’s Forceful Energy Source

On Earth, the cause of tides is the gravitational interactions between Earth and our moon. This movement and shifting of the liquid interior mass creates tides just like in the oceans of Earth. Large movements of water within the interior of Europa cause the solid crust to crack like an eggshell, giving Europa a crust that constantly changes.

Why exactly does this happen?

Europa orbits Jupiter in an elliptical pattern, meaning that it moves nearer and further from Jupiter throughout one full orbit. When Europa is closer to Jupiter, the force of gravity between the two celestial bodies is stronger. The larger gravitational attraction causes fluidic turbulence in Europa’s liquid interior. This causes Europa to elongate like a bouncing rubber ball making impact with the floor. As Europa moves further from Jupiter, the force of gravity is lower, and the oval shape relaxes back into more of a spherical shape.

tidal flexing
tidal flexing
source: astronomynotes.com

This process, called tidal flexing, is similar to how a water balloon behaves haphazardly as it is tossed through the air. Fluid moves – and water does not simply maintain a completely spherical shape.

The constant tidal flexing motion of Europa’s interior causes macro-level friction and pressure, providing a source of heat, allowing its ocean to stay liquid while affecting geological features on the surface.

Europa’s Dynamic Crust

To determine the age of a celestial body, humans observe asteroid and meteor impacts on the surface. The record of craters creates a historical map, allowing us to date the age of planets.

Because Europa’s crust is made of massive global shell of ice, these ice sheets behave similarly to glaciers in that they are moving a little bit each year. The tectonic liveliness of these ice sheets effectively erases meteor craters and other surface impacts within about a hundred million years. This means that no Europan surface features last much longer. On a geological scale of billions of years (Earth for example 4.6 billion years old), a hundred million years is a relatively short amount of time.

On a shorter time-scale, the behavior of these large glacier like ice sheets surrounding the planet is not dissimilar from the plate tectonics on Earth. The ice sheets are constantly moving and shifting, and volcanic activity occurs from within cracks and pores in the surface just like we have volcanoes on Earth.

Because of its constant shift and changing ice crust, Europa is the smoothest surface of any other object in our solar system. There are no real massive mountains, nor are there big canyons like on Earth.

Again, tidal shifting of the ocean, drives this, and the smoothness is more proof that a water ocean exists beneath the crust.

Europa’s Chemistry

Aside from the water ice crust and liquid ocean, Europa is composed mostly of silicate rock. This is most similar in core structure to the rocky planets like Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. We believe that it has an iron-nickel core, which is radioactive and produces some amount of internal heat.

There is also evidence for hydrogen peroxide on the surface. This is a significant finding because hydrogen peroxide can react with water to produce an oxygen byproduct. Oxygen, of course, is yet another requirement for life as we know it, and this process could be an explanation for the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere.

Although Europa has an oxygen-based atmosphere, it is very thin and blocks almost no radiation. Based on the data we have, we still know a relatively small amount about the surface of Europa. Future missions to the moon would help us learn about the chemical composition of the surface and interior.

Craters

There are not many craters on Europa because the surface changes too quickly, removing most evidence of surface impacts. Quick, tectonically dynamic changes mean that any surface features relatively young, around 100 millions years old (as opposed to billions on planets with less dynamic surfaces).

One of the few craters that exists is the Pwyll crater, and is thought to be one of the moon’s youngest features, remaining the surface from a surface impact 26 km or 16 miles wide. Below is a picture of the Pwyll crater, taken by the Galileo orbiter.

europa pwyll crater
source: NASA JPL

Cracks

As tidal shifting is constantly a force of change, the slow flowing, shifting, and disruption of the solid icy crust cracks produce incredible streaking lines along the surface.

The image below is a 250 by 200 kilometer close-up photo (also taken by Galileo probe) that shows in detail some of the cracks on the surface of Europa. This image is taken about 1000km to the north of the Pwyll crater.

The reddish areas are associated with more recent internal geological activity.

europa linea
These lines are called linea
source: NASA JPL

The way the cracks are aligned in different directions has lead researchers to hypothesize that Europa’s axis of rotation has not been constant over time. At some point in the past, Europa may have spun around a tilted axis.

Geysers

Another unique occurrences that comes with having a global ocean beneath the surface of the moon is volcanic activity – in this case, geysers or plumes.

Hubble space telescope detected large geysers of water vapor from Europa, similar to the ones we know to exist on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.

The volcano-like plumes of Europa are reach than twenty times as high as mount Everest. Since these periodic events expel a large amount of vapor and compounds high into the atmosphere, this provides an opportunity for future missions to capture samples and more readily analyze the constituents in the search for life.

The advantage of this sampling technique is that we don’t have to land a spacecraft on the surface to get samples. This is much less energy intensive than landing, drill through ice and rock to collect material, and then launching from the surface again. Because of the relative ease with which this sampling process can be done, a mission to Europa has a higher return on investment for the gathering of scientific data compared to other destinations in the solar system.

Missions to Europa

Humans have observed the Europa moon during flybys of space probes since the 70s.

Past Missions

  • The first space probe flybys were Pioneer 10 and 11, which captured low resolution images of the icy surface in the 1970s.
  • Voyager 1 and 2 have visited destinations never before seen, in addition to Europa. The data sent back show images of the ice cracks and lines on the surface. Launched in 1977, these probes are still actively transmitting data back to Earth after 40 years.
  • Galileo orbiter probe orbited Jupiter for 8 years and was able to observe Europa’s surface. Galileo provided significant information about Europa’s icy surface, as well as data supporting evidence of the global ocean. It discovered important evidence for a sub-surface ocean. Overall, the total dollars invested in the probe was 1.39 billion.
  • NASA’s JUNO spacecraft captured data about Europa and the other moons of Jupiter in orbit.
  • Cassini-Huygens spacecraft flew by Europa on its way to Saturn and Saturn’ moon, Titan.
  • New Horizons mission flew by Europa on the way towards Pluto.

Planned Missions

  • ESA’s Juiper Icy Moon Explorer, which will also study Ganymede.
  • The Europa Clipper will be launched by NASA in 2025.
  • So far, we have never landed a spacecraft on Europa, but perhaps we will do so in the not too distant future.

This is part of a series where we discuss various Moons and Planets in our solar system, and why we might want to explore them. See more on Saturn’s moons: Titan and Enceladus.

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sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/34869
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-018-0450-z
life possibility on Europa: https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2001EOSTr..82..150S/abstract
chemistry for life on Europa: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/europa20130404.html
https://books.google.com/books?id=8GcGRXlmxWsC&pg=PA427#v=onepage&q&f=false
http://www.astronomynotes.com/solarsys/s14.htm
https://europa.nasa.gov/europa/life-ingredients/