99 (Red) Space Balloon Companies | Continuum
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Hello Continuum readers and Celestial Citizens,
Another Friday, another giant leap into the space news of the week! But, before we dive into the headlines that have kept this community buzzing, I wanted to share some of the hard-hitting questions that my children asked me this week. Mostly, because I want to crowdsource satisfying answers (since these had me coming up short)…
“Why does everyone want to put flags in the ground when they go to space?”
Okay…so I did have a response to this, however unfulfilling it might have been for both me and the five-year-old that asked it.
What is time?
Asked by one twin, and the other twin immediately responded with “time is nothing - it doesn’t exist.”
What happens at the end of the world?
I hope to never be able to answer this one.
Do aliens want to live on Earth?
Not at the moment I would expect.
So…yeah, it’s safe to say the kids are keeping the adults on their toes in our household. Got a succinct answer that is appropriate for a preschooler or kindergartener? Drop it in the comments below and make me look good to my kids!
And now, the space news content that you actually came here for…
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Lunar Time – A time zone for the moon? ESA has proposed standardizing Moon time for international use. Currently, lunar missions use the time zone of the country that manages it. And although an internationally recognized lunar time would make communications better for all, there’s a tiny snag - clocks move faster on the Moon than they do on Earth, with lunar clocks gaining “about 56 microseconds every 24 hours.” And of course, there is that other little detail - who will be responsible for establishing and maintaining moon time? Luckily, Open Lunar Foundation has already been putting a lot of thought into this issue of timekeeping on the moon, so maybe now with multiple parties taking an active interest in solving this challenge, someday soon we’ll all be syncing up our Zoom sessions to Lunar Standard Time!
Crew-6 – Crew-6 has made it to the ISS! Initially scheduled for Monday, it was postponed two and a half minutes before launch, with NASA citing a “technical glitch concerning the ignition fluid.” But this didn’t keep them down for too long, as the Falcon 9 rocket had a successful launch Thursday morning, bringing the Dragon capsule into orbit. The crew, composed of two NASA astronauts, one Russian cosmonaut, and one UAE astronaut will conduct science experiments on the ISS, which include “monitoring how spaceflight affects cellular immune functions in humans, and spacewalking to collect samples outside the ISS to see if the station releases microorganisms.”
Glitch – Speaking of glitches, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe had its Energetic Particle Instrument-Hi (EPI-Hi) shut down earlier this month, after it attempted to turn back on before a software batch had fully been downloaded. Officials aren’t too worried though – as they will be able to turn it back when there isn’t as much sun and solar radio frequency between it and Earth. They expect this to happen before March 12, which is when the probe will begin its 15th close encounter with the sun. These flybys happen every 5 months.
Space Force – Space Force has started a new initiative called the Commercial Augmentation Space Reserves to establish partnerships with commercial space companies in case of emergencies. They are looking to partner with companies that “manufacture satellites, operate launch vehicles and provide services like satellite-based communications and Earth imagery.” Additionally, a secretive office of the Space Force is “going to be a little bit more open” after launching a payload on a Falcon Heavy last month. The Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO) is a reorganization of the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS), the office was responsible for handling “fast-response space systems and smaller satellites.”
Texas – Texas seems to be betting big on space, with Governor Greg Abbott asking the state legislature for $350 million to create and fund the Texas Space Commission over the next two years. Although specifics on what the money would be used for have not been announced, in the budget request, Abbott wrote “Further investment will cement Texas as the preeminent location for innovation and development in this rapidly growing industry.” And with meteorites falling on the state just last week, perhaps it’s a sign!
Space Suit – $3.5 billion will be spent on making new space suits for a new generation of astronauts. The bulk of this money has been designated to Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace who have won contracts from NASA to pursue new designs. With Axiom working on new suits for the Artemis Moon missions, and Collins Aerospace working on new suits for the ISS, we can’t wait to see what this new generation of space explorers will be wearing! And we’ve gotten the first taste, with CNBC touring Collins facility!
Space Science– A lot happened over the last two weeks in the science community. So here is your gentle nudge to read more about “runaway black holes,” “a squishy Venus outer shell,” Auroras observed over the four major moons of Jupiter, and NASA’s new strategy for tracking dust and sandstorms on Earth.
The JWST Download
Don’t let the grainy images fool you, these galaxies are massive.
Looking at one of the Milky Way’s oldest globular clusters, Messier 92.
How JWST captured the same galaxy, three times, in one image.
Hubble spies on an impending galactic collision.
A Global Space
Israel - With NASA as a new partner and provider of launch services, the Israel Space Agency and Weizmann Institute of Science lead Israel’s first space telescope mission, which is set to launch into orbit in early 2026. The ULTRASAT, or Ultraviolet Transient Astronomy Satellite - will have the power to observe short duration events like supernova explosions and flare stars like never before, because of an extra-galactic volume 300 times larger than that of NASA’s GALEX.
Russia - Rivaled only by a Tolstoy novel, the leaky Soyuz saga continues on with Russia successfully launching their newest rescue craft to return their shipwrecked crew to Earth. The Soyuz MS-23 docked at the ISS on Saturday, February 25th around 8 p.m. Eastern, a week after they let another damaged craft of theirs undock from the ISS to crash into the South Pacific. Here’s hoping the MS-23 is the stable and leak-free spacecraft that cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio have been waiting for and will continue to wait for, as they won’t be able to leave the ISS until September when the next crew rotation can start. Perhaps unfazed by all the ISS drama, Roscosmos will look to launch their Luna-25 probe to the moon later this year.
Europe/ESA - Adding to a long history of astronomers gleaning information from planet transits, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter used Mercury’s crossing of the sun in January to enhance its visual of the sun’s atmosphere. Essentially, this dark object passing through the orbiter’s field of view allowed technicians to calibrate their imaging instruments to capture layers of the star in more detail. They plan to put this improved imaging capability to the test in April when the orbiter conducts another solar flyby.
Japan - Despite a disappointing failed rocket launch on February 17th, JAXA did share some exciting news this week, having selected two astronaut candidates to potentially participate in NASA’s Artemis program. The candidates - Makoto Suwa, a 46-year-old risk reduction specialist and Ayu Yoneda, a 28-year-old surgeon - will undergo a couple years of training before an assessment will be made. Yoneda would be Japan’s third woman to enter space after Chiaki Mukai and Naoko Yamazaki. JAXA’s six active astronauts at the moment are men.
China - Though they typically keep their cards close to their chest, China was very open this week about plans to expand its relatively new Tiangong Space Station. A new module would introduce six additional docking stations, transforming the station’s T-shape - completed only last fall - into a cross. The move is very much in line with China’s goal to attract space tourism and expand its international alliances outside of its existing partnerships with Russia. The expansion - along with further development of a satellite internet mega-constellation and satellite interference techniques - make the nation a rising threat to the United State’s control over Low Earth Orbit. But it’s not all roses for the country, as their Zhurong rover remains radio silent on Mars after its planned wake-up call in December. Without a way to override its hibernation, the Zhurong will have to just hope China wakes it up before they go-go.
South Korea - In an effort to “carve out a larger slice of the global space economy,” South Korea revoked a launch contract with Moscow, marking a departure from Russian reliance and the beginning of its own domestic rocket program.
If we’re going to get to space, we’re going to need a lot of help. In our Moonshot section, we’ll share highlights from some of the commercial companies that are taking us there:
The successful return of Crew 6’s Falcon 9 marks SpaceX’s 101st consecutive successful booster landing, after a landing failure in February 2021. They also successfully launched 21 of their newly upgraded Starlink satellites this week. But it’s not all wins for the company, as the FAA has announced it seeks to fine SpaceX for “failing to submit a collision-avoidance analysis” ahead of a Starlink launch last summer. The fine could be up to $175,000. But hey, at least we might have a Polaris Dawn launch this summer!
Despite their space transfer vehicle Orbiter SN1 failing after deployment, Launcher has been acquired by Vast Space - which aims to build a space station with artificial gravity.
Terran Orbital will be building 300 satellites for Rivada Space Networks under a $2.4 billion contract, in what Terran Orbital’s CEO Marc Bell is saying might be “the largest smallsat contract in history.”
Relativity Space is aiming to launch their 3D printed Terran 1 rocket from Cape Canaveral on March 8, with an apt mission name of “Good Luck, Have Fun.” If all goes according to plan, this will be a historic launch of the world’s first 3D printed rocket and also potentially set the stage for the larger and fully reusable Terran R rocket that the team is also working on.
And ULA is looking to launch their Vulcan rocket for the first time no earlier than May 4. The rocket will carry Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander, two demonstration satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper constellation, and a payload for space memorial company Celestis.
Iwaya Giken, a Japanese startup, hopes to “democratize space” with their commercial space viewing balloon. With the goal to make space travel “accessible,” it’s still not accessible to the masses (yet). To start, Iwaya Giken will charge $180k per seat, or 24 million yen, compared to space balloon competitors Space Perspective and Worldview which ask for $125k/seat and $50k/seat, respectively.
The mobile phone space race heats up – Apple lent satellite company Globalstar $225 million to “replenish its low Earth orbit constellation” which Apple uses to support its latest generation of iPhone, allowing the phones to “connect with one of Globalstar’s existing 24 satellites… for emergency services outside cellular coverage.” Also utilizing space capabilities is Bullitt, a British smartphone company. Their latest line of phones allows you to send text messages, via space (or more accurately, via satellites).
Can’t get enough stellar content? Here are some pieces of space-adjacent news we’ve been reading:
Don’t Look Up still got you down? Learn more about the current landscape of Planetary Defense in this explainer piece from Space.com.
And if you’ve still got asteroid anxiety, this article from Vice’s Becky Ferreira might help you sleep at night.
Ever wonder where all those cool space mission patches come from?
Epi-pens in space? These elementary school students in Canada made the incredibly helpful discovery that epi-pens actually turn poisonous when in a space environment.
A big thank you to Evan Yee and Tess Ryan for writing this edition with me, Mclee Kerolle for co-hosting Continuum podcast, and Victor Figueroa for his podcast editing expertise! We hope you enjoyed reading & listening to Continuum this week and will share it with your friends. And if you really, really like us, then consider becoming a paid subscriber or gifting a subscription to someone who you’d share a space balloon with. Until next time…
Keep it celestial people,
CEO of Celestial Citizen & Creator of Continuum
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Your kids ask great questions! You can tell them that these are exactly the kinds of things great scientists and thinkers ask themselves, and then talk about what kinds of knowledge they involve.