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The Sun is getting a long-overdue close-up thanks to a number of new missions designed to reveal the inner workings of our nearest star.
Why it matters: The mechanisms that govern the solar wind, the Sun's 11-year cycle and magnetic fields are still largely a mystery.
What's happening: The Solar Orbiter spacecraft — a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency — launched Sunday night.
The big picture: The Solar Orbiter and two other recent Sun-centered missions are allowing scientists to study how space weather — like solar flares — is generated and spread across the solar system.
The bigger picture: Learning more about the Sun could also help researchers piece together how other sunlike stars act and whether those solar systems might harbor habitable planets.
Details: The Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is studying the solar wind, picking apart the small particles not far from the Sun to understand how the star's atmosphere works.
Yes, but: All this new data doesn't immediately translate into better predictions of space weather.
The Moon, AKA the apple of NASA's eye. Photo: NASA
The Trump administration is going all-in on NASA's Artemis program to get astronauts back to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
Driving the news: The White House is asking Congress for a 12% boost to the space agency's budget for 2021, and it estimates NASA's Moon to Mars initiative will cost about $71.2 billion from 2021 to 2025.
The big picture: The budget request is a huge leap in funding for NASA, with much of it going to the agency's plans to establish a long-term presence on the Moon in the hopes of sending astronauts on to Mars eventually.
"[T]hey're putting money into significant lunar lander development, service operations, modernizing spacesuits. ... Tick off all the things you need to do to land on the Moon in the next few years, this budget is doing it."— Casey Dreier of the Planetary Society to Axios
Winners: Aside from the Artemis program, the budget also provides funding for the development of multiple robotic Mars missions that could pave the way for human exploration of the red planet.
Losers: The Trump administration is attempting to cancel funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is slated to be the space agency's next flagship astrophysics mission after the James Webb Space Telescope's expected launch in 2021.
Be smart: It's unlikely the president's budget will get enacted in its current form no matter how friendly to human exploration it is.
Sunrise from orbit. Photo: NASA
NewSpace Networks — which is emerging from stealth mode today — will focus its efforts on making data collection and communication from space cheaper and easier through software, not engineering new satellites and rockets.
Why it matters: The price of launching satellites to orbit has gotten cheaper in recent years, but it still costs millions, if not billions, of dollars for companies to deploy and operate their own constellations of satellites.
How it works: At the moment, getting data back from satellites is a cumbersome process involving ground stations, satellite links and an extensive infrastructure of fiber-optic cables and antennas on Earth.
But, but, but: The company's founders say it likely won't be easy to convince the old guard of the space industry that this kind of innovation is useful and necessary.
Boeing's uncrewed Starliner back on Earth after flight. Photo: NASA
SpaceX plans a spinoff, IPO for Starlink business (Ashlee Vance and Dana Hull, Bloomberg)
Trump seeks $15.4 billion for U.S. Space Force in 2021 budget (Sandra Erwin, SpaceNews)
Telescope detects fast radio burst hitting Earth every 16 days (Ryan F. Mandelbaum, Gizmodo)
Iran's space program again fails to put satellite into orbit (Ursula Perano, Axios)
Boeing's troubled Starliner mission could have been much worse (Axios)
Photo: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Olofsson, et al.
There's no match for the drama of a confrontation in deep space. Astronomers spotted this gas cloud created when one dying star became a red giant, growing large enough to encircle a companion star.
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