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Photo illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
China is pushing deeper into space, but its human spaceflight goals don't directly compete with the U.S.
Why it matters: Much of the dialogue around the U.S. and China's orbital ambitions calls to mind a new space race. Rather, Chinese and U.S. interests — particularly when it comes to human spaceflight — run parallel to one another. If the world's two biggest economies and science and technology leaders were to collaborate, it could open up new avenues for space exploration.
The big picture: The Cold War era space race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union eventually yielded Russia as one of America's closest allies in orbit. The Chinese government is interested in collaborating internationally, but U.S. law prohibits cooperation with China in this high-tech realm.
What's happening: Analysts tell Axios that China has consistently followed through on its space ambitions, lending credibility to its future goals.
China has publicly maintained that its goals in space are peaceful. However, the nation's military is also working toward shoring up its capabilities in space, driving the U.S. to take stock of its own orbital defenses.
China's space plans have not been subject to the same political whiplash that NASA’s have, which has worked to the country's benefit.
What's next: China's long-term vision for space exploration, however, is murky.
"It's not clear that there is an 'ultimate' goal for the Chinese space efforts."— Dean Cheng, Heritage Foundation
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket taking flight. Photo: Trevor Mahlmann/Rocket Lab
Dozens of companies around the world are looking to tap into the market for launching small payloads into orbit. If they succeed, it could reshape the space industry.
Why it matters: Historically, small satellites have hitched rides to space as secondary payloads on large rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. But upstart rocket companies don’t think that small satellites, meant for beaming satellite internet to Earth, for example, should be forced to launch based on the readiness of a larger payload, like a communications satellite.
According to a survey released in 2018, there are 34 small launchers under development, but only a handful are starting to fly.
But, but, but: Launching small satellites using a small rocket may not actually be the best or cheapest way to get them to orbit.
“There will be a lot of small satellites, but a lot of them don’t need to ride in a taxi,” Christensen told Axios. “A lot of them can take the bus.”
The bottom line: The small launch industry could soon see a shakeup, with only a few small launchers remaining while others fold or merge.
Saturn as seen by Cassini. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
A new mission concept building on the legacy of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft would study Saturn’s rings, giving us an unprecedented view of the distant world’s most stunning feature.
Why it matters: While Cassini transformed our understanding of Saturn over the course of its 13-year mission, the spacecraft also left the science community with many questions to answer.
Details: Some of Cassini’s final orbits in 2017 brought the craft between Saturn and its rings, but the skimmer would be able to show the inner workings of the rings in extreme detail by getting a better view of them compared to Cassini.
But, but, but: This spacecraft is still far from a sure thing. The scientists behind the skimmer concept are planning to submit the idea to NASA for further consideration. Team members are also affiliated with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Idaho, the Southwest Research Institute, Harvard University and other institutions.
Asteroid Eros from close range. Photo: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL
This week, personnel from government agencies including NASA, FEMA and the Defense Department are gathered in Laurel, Maryland, to simulate a fictional — but ultimately realistic — scenario of what they would do if an asteroid was discovered to be on a collision course with Earth, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.
Why it matters: Americans say detecting asteroids and other objects that could hit the planet should be a top priority for NASA. The international community is making strides in asteroid science, including last month, when a Japanese spacecraft known as Hayabusa2 sent a bomb down to the surface of Asteroid Ryugu. Other future missions to monitor and eventually alter the orbit of near-Earth objects (NEOs) are planned.
Details: Scientists at the conference are presenting details of how we can better detect NEOs and predict where they're headed. In addition, plans are being solidified for missions that would seek to alter the eventual course of such objects, including the proposed Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission.
"We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies, that this is about protecting the only planet that we know right now to host life, which is planet Earth."— NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Monday
The bottom line: As of March 2019, scientists were aware of at least 794,810 asteroids. Of these, around 20,000 are NEOs, according to the European Space Agency, and 852 of these are in ESA's risk list, requiring further observations.
STEVE glows pink. Photo: Ryan Sault/AGU
The Internet’s favorite light in the night sky finally has an origin story.
Scientists have figured out what causes the cosmic phenomenon affectionately known as STEVE — a mauve-colored streak that appears farther south than where auroras typically are visible.
Details: A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggests that STEVE — short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement — isn’t an aurora at all, but is in fact a “skyglow” created by heated and shining particles in the ionosphere.
Background: STEVE rose to prominence in 2018, when news of the new kind of skyglow with the funny name spread on the internet. The unique glow was first noted by a sky-watchers’ Facebook group, with one of the members, Chris Ratzlaff, naming it STEVE, according to NASA. It wasn't until later on that STEVE received its acronym.
The Mars InSight lander's seismometer deployed on the surface of Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Gravitational waves hint at detection of black hole eating star (Davide Castelvecchi, Nature)
The race to develop the moon (Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker)
NASA workers told they can be fired for sharing photos after SpaceX accident (Chabeli Herrera, Orlando Sentinel)
NASA's InSight lander detects its first "Marsquake" (Axios)
The Serpens Nebula. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI
The Serpens Nebula glows 1,300 light-years from Earth. This photo of the nebula released by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2018 shows the early days of planet formation around a star like our sun.
The upper right part of the image actually shows the shadow of a ring of ice, rock and dust forming around a star, named HBC 672. That shadow stretches out to about 200 times the size of our solar system.
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