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UK signs up to Nasa’s Moon exploration principles

Artwork: Moon lander
Artwork: Nasa aims to get astronauts back on the surface of the Moon in 2024

The UK has signed up to the principles that will guide the American-led return to the Moon this decade.

The US plans to put the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024, in a project called Artemis.

This would mirror the Apollo missions of the 1960s/70s but with the difference this time that astronauts would set up a permanent presence.

The so-called Artemis Accords are intended as a framework for best practice in space and on the Moon.

They cover areas such as the utilisation of resources, mining water-ice for drinking water and to make rocket fuel; common standards, open data, safe operations, and providing emergency assistance.

America, which devised the accords, has signed them, followed by the UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, Italy, Luxembourg and UAE. More countries are certain to follow.

The US space agency (Nasa) and the European Space Agency (Esa) are preparing a Memorandum of Understanding on their partnership activities at the Moon.

“It is very important that we have standards that we all adhere to when we explore space together,” Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine told BBC News.

“And that’s not just in space in general, but also on other celestial bodies like the Moon and eventually Mars. The Artemis Accords are about those foundational principles that we all agree on, so that when we go explore these worlds together, there’s a commonality of purpose.”

The accords, said Mr Bridenstine, were grounded in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which committed nations not to put weapons in space and to forego claims of ownership.

Britain was a key mover behind that landmark resolution – just as it was three decades later when it became an original signatory to the cooperation principles on the International Space Station.

Artwork: Lunar Gateway
The Lunar Gateway will be a staging post for operations on the surface

Britain is now seeking a number of roles in Artemis for its scientists and industrial sector. These include contracts to help build a lunar space station to be known as the Gateway.

This will be the jumping off point for astronauts as they shuttle back and forth to the Moon’s surface.

The British firm Surrey Satellite Technology Limited is also developing a communications relay satellite at the Moon called Lunar Pathfinder.

Not all spacefaring nations will sign the Accords. China very much does its own thing in space; and Russia too has indicated that Artemis, for the moment at least, is not part of its planning. This despite being a key partner to the US on the ISS.

“Our American partners are actively promoting [Artemis]. In our view Lunar Gateway in its current form is too US-centric. Russia is likely to refrain from participating in it on a large scale,” said Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

“This being said, we are interested in making sure that the design of the docking module

A well-timed Venus flyby looks for signs of life in the clouds

Just weeks after the reported discovery of phosphine on Venus – a potential sign of life in the clouds above its hellish surface – a robot spacecraft will study the planet as it swings by on its exploration of the solar system.

The BepiColombo space probe’s flyby above Venus at two minutes before midnight ET Wednesday is a coincidence.

The “gravity slingshot” was planned years ago, long before astronomers detected traces of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere.

But it’s the first spacecraft to get near Venus since the discovery – although probably not the last – and measure gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

“We will look at what we see in the data, and look for everything – the expected and the unexpected,” said Jörn Helbert of the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, who works on a BepiColombo instrument called the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer.

That might include phosphine, but also sulfur dioxide, which would be a sign of ongoing volcanism, he said.

Last month’s discovery came too late to allow trajectory changes, and BepiColombo will only get within 6,700 miles of the surface – probably too far to detect phosphine at the reported concentrations of 20 parts-per-billion, Helbert said in an email.

But the upcoming flyby will give a better chance of detecting phosphine on a second flyby in August 2021, when BepiColombo will get within 400 miles of the Venusian surface.

“We will use the lessons learned from this flyby to optimize our observing strategy for the next flyby,” Helbert said. “The closer we get, the better the signal.”

BepiColombo launched two years ago on a seven-year voyage to Mercury, where it will deploy two orbiters – one European and one Japanese – to carry out scientific observations of the closest planet to the sun.

Wednesday’s flyby will be its first of two around Venus, followed by six around Mercury itself, to accelerate or decelerate and change its orbit around the sun.

It’s the most complex journey carried out by any spacecraft, and the probe is named after the Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, who calculated the Mariner 10 probe could decelerate around Venus to get to Mercury, a flyby carried out in 1974.

Slingshots using a planet’s gravity are now commonly employed to conserve fuel as spacecraft explore the solar system.

The Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer is designed to study Mercury, and isn’t optimal for searching for phosphine on Venus, Helbert said.

It has a better chance, however, of measuring sulfur dioxide, which has been detected there at concentrations of up to 500 parts per billion – more than 20 times the estimated concentration of phosphine.

Sulfur dioxide is quickly destroyed by ultraviolet light, so high concentrations would suggest a volcano had recently erupted, he said.

Caleb Scharf, the director of astrobiology at Columbia University in New York, said the question of Venus’ volcanic activity was important to explain the chemistry of both its surface and its clouds.

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A well-timed Venus flyby looks for signs of life

Just weeks after the reported discovery of phosphine on Venus – a potential sign of life in the clouds above its hellish surface – a robot spacecraft will study the planet as it swings by on its exploration of the solar system.

The BepiColombo space probe’s flyby above Venus at two minutes before midnight ET Wednesday is a coincidence.

The “gravity slingshot” was planned years ago, long before astronomers detected traces of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere.

But it’s the first spacecraft to get near Venus since the discovery – although probably not the last – and measure gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

“We will look at what we see in the data, and look for everything – the expected and the unexpected,” said Jörn Helbert of the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, who works on a BepiColombo instrument called the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer.

That might include phosphine, but also sulfur dioxide, which would be a sign of ongoing volcanism, he said.

Last month’s discovery came too late to allow trajectory changes, and BepiColombo will only get within 6,700 miles of the surface – probably too far to detect phosphine at the reported concentrations of 20 parts-per-billion, Helbert said in an email.

But the upcoming flyby will give a better chance of detecting phosphine on a second flyby in August 2021, when BepiColombo will get within 400 miles of the Venusian surface.

“We will use the lessons learned from this flyby to optimize our observing strategy for the next flyby,” Helbert said. “The closer we get, the better the signal.”

BepiColombo launched two years ago on a seven-year voyage to Mercury, where it will deploy two orbiters – one European and one Japanese – to carry out scientific observations of the closest planet to the sun.

Wednesday’s flyby will be its first of two around Venus, followed by six around Mercury itself, to accelerate or decelerate and change its orbit around the sun.

It’s the most complex journey carried out by any spacecraft, and the probe is named after the Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, who calculated the Mariner 10 probe could decelerate around Venus to get to Mercury, a flyby carried out in 1974.

Slingshots using a planet’s gravity are now commonly employed to conserve fuel as spacecraft explore the solar system.

The Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer is designed to study Mercury, and isn’t optimal for searching for phosphine on Venus, Helbert said.

It has a better chance, however, of measuring sulfur dioxide, which has been detected there at concentrations of up to 500 parts per billion – more than 20 times the estimated concentration of phosphine.

Sulfur dioxide is quickly destroyed by ultraviolet light, so high concentrations would suggest a volcano had recently erupted, he said.

Caleb Scharf, the director of astrobiology at Columbia University in New York, said the question of Venus’ volcanic activity was important to explain the chemistry of both its surface and its

Exolaunch signs pact with SpaceX and scouts U.S. location

SAN FRANCISCOExolaunch signed an agreement to secure rides for dozens of small satellites on SpaceX rideshare missions scheduled to launch later this year and in 2021.

Under the agreement announced Oct. 8, Germany’s Exolaunch plans to integrate 30 U.S. and European cubesats and microsatellites on Falcon 9 rideshare flights to sun-synchronous orbit scheduled to launch in December. Exolaunch plans to integrate roughly the same number of satellites on a SpaceX rideshare flight in mid-2021.

In response to growing demand for launch services, Exolaunch plans to open an office in the United States. The company has not yet selected a location.

“As we continue to sign on more U.S.-based customers, it makes sense strategically for Exolaunch to establish an additional office in the U.S,” Connor Jonas, Exolaunch program manager, said in a statement.

Exolaunch is continuing to sign up customers for the second and third Falcon 9 rideshare missions slated for 2021.

“SpaceX program is a game-changer for the rideshare launch industry giving new impetus for numerous constellations of small satellites,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, Exolaunch vice president of launch services. “Teaming up with SpaceX, we are able to offer our customers seamless, reliable and cost-effective launch solutions and expand access to space.”

Customers signed up for launches through Exolaunch include Loft Orbital, Swarm Technologies, NanoAvionics, the German Aerospace Center DLR and German universities.

On the Falcon 9 flights, Exolaunch will integrate satellites with its EXOport adapter and send satellites into orbit with its CarboNIX separation system.

Prior to the latest announcement, Exolaunch secured Falcon 9 rideshare flights in 2020 and 2021 for cubesats built by NanoAvionics of Lithuania.

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