Greetings, and welcome to Axios Space. I'm Miriam Kramer, your cosmic travel guide each Tuesday. Please send your scoops, tips, questions and alien abduction stories to email@example.com, or just reply to this newsletter.
🚨Situational awareness🚨: There's a major discovery being announced tomorrow from the Event Horizon Telescope — tasked with photographing a black hole for the first time. Follow our coverage.
So as they say in the rocket biz, let's light this candle, shall we? 🚀
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
The new era of space exploration is faster-moving, more international and open to far more players than ever before — all of whom stand to determine who can access and profit from space.
The big picture: Today's space age looks very little like the one that began 50 years ago. Space is now a consequential part of our daily lives. Our ability to consume media, navigate our commutes, predict weather and monitor developments on battlefields hinges on satellites orbiting the planet.
The commercial and state entities driving space exploration will shape geopolitics and national security on Earth — and determine whether we become a multi-planetary species.
"Space is going to look a lot like air, land, sea — for better and worse. That means more innovation, more participation and increased benefits for everyone. But it also means more congestion, more uncertainty, more competition and even the risk of conflict."— Brian Weeden, Secure World Foundation, tells Axios
What's happening: NASA is working toward landing people back on the moon by 2024, with an eye toward reaching Mars in the 2030s.
Between the lines: Private companies are equally powerful players today, transforming space into a realm that can be accessed by wealthy, motivated individuals, not just a handful of nations. The space industry is projected to be a $1.1 trillion market by the 2040s.
Yes, but: While rocket companies seem to be a dime a dozen at the moment, it's unclear who will survive in an increasingly crowded industry.
The bottom line: The new space age is about more than just a few nations making it to orbit and beyond. Private industry is leading the way, too.
Instead of just two superpowers — the former Soviet Union and the United States — battling it out for supremacy, there are myriad players aiming for the moon these days.
The big picture: Many of these new moon missions are aimed at turning our natural satellite into a base for pursuing deep space missions.
Reality check: It's easy to get carried away with the idea that we all might get the chance to feel some lunar dirt beneath our boots in the near future. Unfortunately, a moon base is still a long way off, even for the most motivated of nations. (Sorry, Elon.)
Earth from space. Photo: NASA
A new space weather model under development at Los Alamos National Laboratory could help give a 24-hour warning before a storm of charged particles from the sun bombards crucial satellites, potentially knocking them out of service.
The big picture: These "killer electrons" move more erratically during solar storms — a type of space weather where particles from the sun smack into Earth's magnetic field — so being able to predict that variability is key for spacecraft operators.
Chen is the lead author of a new study detailing the model in the journal Space Weather.
How it works: The model uses satellite measurements from a Department of Energy satellite and a weather satellite from NOAA to predict the erratic motions of these potentially harmful electrons.
The bottom line: If scientists can figure out how to better predict these kinds of events, we can protect satellites from "killer electrons" and the havoc they can wreak. However, there are still other space weather hazards that satellite operators will have to contend with.
The Whirlpool Galaxy as seen by DESI. Photo: DESI Collaboration
A new telescope instrument saw first light on April 1, a step toward untangling the mystery of dark energy — the invisible, mysterious force thought to drive the expansion of the cosmos.
The big picture: The instrument, called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), is made up of six large lenses that — once they're fully operational — are expected to help astronomers measure the distances between galaxies in order to clock the expansion of the universe propelled by dark energy.
DESI's first task was to take a look at the Whirlpool Galaxy, located about 31 million light-years away. This target was chosen as a test to be sure that the lenses were functioning as expected.
How it works: The light taken in by the telescope will be broken up into thousands of colors, allowing scientists to figure out the distances to those galaxies and how quickly they're moving.
What's next: By the end of the year, DESI should be able to measure galactic distances by looking at thousands of light sources instead of just one big picture of the sky.
A Solar Dynamics Observatory photo of the sun. Photo: NASA/SDO
NASA could soon use an artificial intelligence-fueled fix for a malfunctioning instrument on its Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observes solar activity in extraordinary detail.
Why it matters: Powerful solar storms — bursts of solar plasma and charged particles — can harm satellites in orbit and even cause major problems for power grids on Earth. And the SDO, which can spot solar storms in real-time, is a key part of that.
What they did: The SDO instrument in question is known as MEGS-A, and it was designed to keep an eye on ultraviolet radiation levels, which correlate with a ballooning of the Earth's outer atmosphere that can harm satellites in near-Earth orbit.
A deep-learning network that IBM created in 2018 may soon replace the failed instrument by inferring what ultraviolet radiation levels that instrument would detect based on what the other instruments on SDO are observing at any given time, NASA AI consultant Graham Mackintosh tells Axios.
"Imagine you've got an orchestra playing, and at some point, for some reason, partway through, one of the musicians playing the violin just stopped and walked off. Could you know enough about the way that music was playing to fill in the gap and re-create what you think that musician would have played if that musician was still sitting in the chair? That's sort of what we did."— Graham Mackintosh, NASA AI consultant
While NASA isn't yet using the fix operationally, the results are promising, Mackintosh added.
What to watch: AI models like this could also be used for other future missions, Mackintosh said. Instead of loading three instruments on a satellite to measure different aspects of the space environment, you could potentially launch two and use the data collected to infer the information that would have been measured by a third.
Illustration of a disintegrating planet around a white dwarf. Photo: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick
Why the Air Force still cannot identify more than a dozen satellites from one December launch (Loren Grush, The Verge)
Our nights are getting brighter, and Earth is paying the price (Nadia Drake, National Geographic)
Amazon to launch 3,236 satellites into orbit for global broadband project (Orion Rummler, Axios)
Sorry, but the Heat Death of the universe is actually the nice option (Katie Mack, Cosmos)
A photo taken of a mountain range in Asia in December 2018 from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA
This photo, taken from the International Space Station in December 2018, shows the Tien Shan mountain range in central Asia.
The full image (which is definitely worth gazing at) also shows the Taklimakan Desert next to the snow-covered mountain range. This photo proves yet again that Earth is the best object to check out from space.
Well, that was fun. See y'all again next Tuesday! 👽