Showing: 1 - 4 of 4 RESULTS

Earth’s space junk problem is getting worse. And there’s an explosive component.

Before humans first started sending objects into Earth orbit, the pocket of space around our planet was clear and clean. But the launch of Sputnik 1 in October of 1957 changed everything. Since then, the space debris has been accumulating, with the amount of useless, defunct satellites vastly outnumbering the operational objects in our orbit.

A new annual report from the European Space Agency (ESA) has found that while we have become aware of the problem and taken steps in recent years to mitigate it, those steps are currently not keeping up with the sheer scale of space junk.

All spacefaring nations have contributed to the problem, which is significant: as more and more defunct objects populate near-Earth space, the risk of collision rises – which, as objects crash and shatter, produces even more space debris.

The hazards have been prominent in the last year. We have not only watched as two large dead satellites very nearly collided, but the International Space Station has had to undertake emergency manoeuvres three times to avoid colliding with space debris.

But collisions are not even close to being the biggest problem, according to the ESA’s report. In the last 10 years, collisions were responsible for just 0.83 percent of all fragmentation events.

“The biggest contributor to the current space debris problem is explosions in orbit, caused by left-over energy – fuel and batteries – onboard spacecraft and rockets,” said Holger Krag, head of the ESA’s Space Safety Programme.

“Despite measures being in place for years to prevent this, we see no decline in the number of such events. Trends towards end-of-mission disposal are improving, but at a slow pace.”

The causes of fragmentation events over the past decade.

The causes of fragmentation events over the past decade. (Image credit: ESA)

The space junk problem was first raised in the 1960s, but it took a long time for mitigation measures to be identified and implemented. Now, spacefaring nations are much better at planning for what happens to satellites and rockets at the end of their missions.

Reusable rockets are a big one, although the technology is still in its infancy. For decades, rocket boosters were just left to drift away once they’d delivered their payloads into low-Earth orbit. Some of those discarded boosters have been out there for decades.

Other mitigation measures include designing and building spacecraft that can better withstand the harsh environment of space without disintegrating; releasing stored energy and fuel to make defunct spacecraft less likely to explode; and, once a spacecraft’s mission is over, moving it to a safer orbit.

This would mean either a “graveyard orbit” high above the low-Earth space used for operational spacecraft, or bringing it down into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up on reentry as a neat disposal system.

But even with these measures in place, 12 fragmentation events have taken place every year for the past two decades. That number is rising, with each fragmentation event potentially introducing thousands of pieces of small debris in Earth orbit. At orbital velocities, even the tiniest pieces

America’s gifted education programs have a race problem. Can it be fixed?

This article about gifted education was produced in partnership with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. This is part 1 of the series “Gifted Education’s Race Problem.”

BUFFALO, N.Y. — On a crisp day in early March, two elementary school gifted and talented classes worked on activities in two schools, 3 miles and a world apart.

In airy PS 64 Frederick Law Olmsted, in affluent, white north Buffalo, 22 would-be Arctic explorers wrestled with how to build a shelter if their team leader had frostbite and snow blindness. Unusually for Buffalo’s public schools — where 20 percent of students are white and 46 percent are Black — about half of the fourth grade class was white.

In PS 61 Arthur O. Eve, on the city’s majority-Black East Side, 13 first graders, all of them Black, Latino or Asian American, folded paper airplanes in their basement classroom as part of an aerodynamics and problem-solving lesson. Unlike at Olmsted, the highest-scoring elementary school in the city, students at Eve scored around the dismal city average in math and English in 2019, when fewer than a quarter of students passed state tests.

The gifted program at Eve opened two years ago as a way to increase access to Buffalo’s disproportionately white, in-demand gifted and talented programs. Buffalo educators hoped Eve’s new program would give more children — particularly children of color — a chance at enrichment and advanced learning.

Yet two years in, Eve’s gifted classes are under-enrolled, while Olmsted always runs out of room — last year, more than 400 children applied for 65 gifted spots. And even though the district made it easier to apply for gifted classes, Olmsted gifted classrooms still don’t look like the rest of the district. White families flock to Olmsted, and eschew the new program at Eve, while families of color have come up against barriers, including an IQ test children take as young as 4, that experts say keep gifted education out of reach for kids who need it.

At PS 61 Arthur O. Eve on Buffalo’s East Side, Sarah Malczewski’s first grade gifted class prepares to launch the paper airplanes they designed to fly as far as possible.Danielle Dreilinger for The Hechinger Report

Buffalo’s struggle to create an integrated, equitable gifted program demonstrates a longtime challenge that has recently gained attention: Gifted education in America has a race problem.

Nearly 60 percent of students in gifted education are white, according to the most recent federal data, compared to 50 percent of public school enrollment overall. Black students, in contrast, made up 9 percent of students in gifted education, although they were 15 percent of the overall student population.

Many factors contribute to this disparity. Gifted education has racism in its roots: Lewis Terman, the psychologist who in the 1910s popularized the concept of “IQ” that became the foundation of gifted testing, was a eugenicist. And admissions for gifted programs tend to favor children with

Rocket problem prompts NASA and SpaceX to delay next launch of astronauts

“We have a strong working relationship with our SpaceX partner,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human exploration and operations mission directorate, said in the post. “With the high cadence of missions SpaceX performs, it really gives us incredible insight into this commercial system and helps us make informed decisions about the status of our missions. The teams are actively working this finding on the engines, and we should be a lot smarter within the coming week.”

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

The mission, which had previously been scheduled for Oct. 31, would launch NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the space station for a stay of about six months.

It would be SpaceX’s first operational mission of flying full crews for extended stays after it successfully completed a shorter test mission with two astronauts in August to verify the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

NASA and SpaceX said that test mission, from launch, to docking to splashdown, went flawlessly. But since then SpaceX said that it had redesigned a portion of the capsule’s heat shield after noticing what Hans Koeigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and reliability, said was “a little more erosion than we wanted to see.” The erosion was in a few small areas where the crew capsule joins the spacecraft’s trunk, an unpressurized cargo hold that is discarded before the spacecraft slams into the atmosphere.

The friction between the thickening air and the speeding spacecraft generates temperatures as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit and engulf the capsule in a fireball. The heat shield covers the bottom of the spacecraft and keeps the crew safe.

Speaking to reporters recently, Koenigsmann stressed that there “was nothing to be concerned with at all times. The astronauts were safe, and the vehicle was working perfectly.”

Earlier this month, SpaceX scrubbed a pair of launches late in the countdown, prompting Musk’s plans for “a broad review of launch site, propulsion, structures, avionics & regulatory constraints this weekend.” He added that he would make a trip to Cape Canaveral “to review hardware in person.”

A launch on Oct. 2 of a GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force was scrubbed two seconds before liftoff after what Musk described as an “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator,” which helps power the rocket’s Merlin engines.

A day earlier, SpaceX scrubbed a launch of its Starlink satellites with 18 seconds to go in the count because of a problem with a ground sensor. After scrubbing the Starlink mission, SpaceX bounced back and launched the batch of 60 satellites on Tuesday. Still, SpaceX’s goal is to launch much more frequently, and Musk said on Twitter recently that: “We will need to make a lot of improvements to have a chance of completing 48 launches next year!”

The GPS launch has not yet been rescheduled.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket has flown more than 90 times, the

Washington coach Jimmy Lake’s College Football Playoff plan would solve one tricky Pac-12 problem

Jimmy Lake has a plan for a more perfect playoff.

It’s a six-team field, and the seeding is simple: All Power Five conference champions are automatic entrants in the field, with the College Football Playoff committee ranking them using the same criteria it currently employs. The sixth and final spot goes to a “wild card” — whether an independent (like Notre Dame in 2018), a Group of Five champion (like undefeated and subsequently snubbed Central Florida in 2017) or a second-place finisher in a Power Five conference (like Alabama in 2017).

In the first of three rounds, the top two seeds receive a bye and the winners of a 3-6 and 4-5 match up advance to the semifinals. Then, same as the existing format, the final four teams play for a spot in the title game.

Of course, the JLP (Jimmy Lake Plan) would essentially solve one prickly problem — a Pac-12 program has not been selected for the College Football Playoff since Washington in 2016. It would also put significantly less pressure on the committee, with the foremost responsibility being ranking the conference champions and selecting a single wild card.

“I think that way you take all the subjectivity out of it, all the politics, the East Coast (bias), all of that,” Lake, the Huskies’ first-year head coach, said in a Pac-12 coaches media webinar Wednesday. “Let the champions move on. Let the teams play, and we’ll see who the best team is at the end of the year.”

Lake is so passionate about the JLP, in fact, that he and his oldest son — Jimmy Jr. — recently reseeded every playoff since the CFP came into existence in 2014, using their system. (The coronavirus pandemic, without a doubt, has provided time for passion projects.) Lake declared Wednesday that fans and media “would drool over this schedule.”

And when it comes to UW fans, he’s probably right. In 2018, rather than meeting Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the Pac-12 champion Huskies would have matched up against undefeated Notre Dame in the opening round of the CFP.

“I know our fans would have loved to see that match up,” Lake said.

That’s certainly a safe assumption. But don’t expect the JLP to receive widespread support across college football. If, say, an SEC or Big Ten fan or administrator believes there are two (or three, or four) teams from their conferences that are better than the Pac-12 champion — as is the popular perception, right or wrong — then a permanent Pac-12 representative would theoretically steal a spot from a more deserving squad.

And even UCF, an undefeated Group of Five champion, still would not have cracked the six-team JLP field in 2017.

Lake, unsurprisingly (and perhaps correctly), believes the Pac-12’s best can compete with anyone in the country.

And the JLP would give the Pac-12 champion an annual opportunity to prove it.

“I have not shared this much with my peers, but I definitely have shared it internally —