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NUS quantum satellite combines art with science

A satellite built by the National University of Singapore (NUS) entered orbit in June carrying both a high-tech quantum device from the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) and a quotation from a play written for the NUS Arts Festival.

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SpooQy-1, as the satellite is known, is testing a quantum light source that could enable future secure communication. Building on three years of art-science collaboration between CQT and the NUS Centre for the Arts (CFA), it also carries a quote from The Golden Record 2.0, first performed in 2018.

A new iteration on this play will be staged on 18 October this year as one of the NUS events marking Singapore’s bicentennial year.

The Golden Record 2.0 was inspired by the two Voyager spacecraft launched by NASA in the 1970s. These two craft are ferrying messages about Earth and humanity engraved into golden records out of the solar system.

Given the opportunity to select sounds, images and greetings that portray life on earth, what message would Singaporeans choose to communicate to the universe? That was the prompt for the innovative theatre project undertaken by the NUS Stage student group, with Director Edith Podesta and writer Corrie Tan.

The play’s script was assembled from interviews with some 30 people of different ages and backgrounds in Singapore, including students, a poet, a former director of the Singapore Zoo, a housewife, The President of the Astronomical Society of Singapore, a domestic worker and Professors of Law, English Language, Pharmacy and Biochemistry, among others.

The engraved plate on SpooQy-1 is just visible in this close-up taken from the International Space Station after the satellite’s deployment. Credit: NASA
CQT Principal Investigator Alexander Ling, who is also an Associate Professor in the NUS Department of Physics, was also among those interviewed. He leads the team that built SpooQy-1, a project funded by the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office Singapore.

Work on SpooQy-1 has led to a spin-off company called SpeQtral, which is developing quantum communication technology for space. The startup recently announced US$1.9 million in seed funding from international and Singapore-based investors.

In the play, Assoc Prof Ling speaks on the motivation for developing missions for space: “You can talk about the spin-offs, about the technology that comes with it, but it’s really curiosity driven…. I’m hoping that, as a scientist in NUS, I am part of the slow cultural change where people actually think of these fundamental questions with a bit more sense of wonder.”

CQT Director Professor Artur Ekert says “Scientists and artists have in common that they are curious explorers of the world. Through our collaborations, we hope to inspire more people to share our appetite for learning. Even people who think they aren’t interested in science may find they appreciate its value when they encounter it through the arts—and vice-versa.”

Assoc Prof Ling’s team, in partnership with the NUS CFA, selected a quote from The Golden Record 2.0 to engrave onto the outside of SpooQy-1. The quote is etched into an interstage panel—a 10cm by 3cm plate of aluminum that forms part of the standard structure of the shoebox-sized satellite.

“We are all different nationals, we are entangled together with all the races,” reads the quotation from Mrs Santha Bhaskar, Artistic Director of the NUS Indian Dance group and a recipient of the Singapore Cultural Medallion.

The quote from The Golden Record 2.0 staged by NUS Centre For the Arts is engraved onto an aluminium interstage panel. Credit: Robert Bedington, Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore
The selection of Mrs Bhaskar from the many voices in the play honors her long-standing contributions to NUS CFA and her previous collaboration with CQT. She choreographed a new work called Sambhavna that was staged in the 2016 and 2017 iterations of the NUS Arts Festival and was appointed as a CQT Outreach Fellow for the two-year development of that project.

“As we mark our national bicentennial, Mrs Bhaskar’s quote celebrates the strength of Singapore’s diversity and a hope for such understanding in a globalized world,” says NUS CFA Director, Sharon Tan. “This collaboration with CQT for The Golden Record exemplifies our efforts in encouraging cross disciplinary projects in NUS.”

The device inside SpooQy-1 is designed to create the quantum property of entanglement between pairs of light particles, as a route to creating encryption keys. The satellite gets its name from this, as Einstein once described entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.”

SpooQy-1 was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in April, arranged by Singapore Space and Technology Association through its partnership with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. On 17 June, astronauts on the ISS launched the satellite into orbit using a deployer onboard the Kibo science module of the Space Station.

Researchers at CQT have been in daily contact with the satellite since. On 2 July, they switched on the satellite’s scientific instrument to start making entangled light.

The scientific payload and Mrs Bhaskar’s quotation will be in orbit for approximately a year, while the team gathers data on the quantum device’s performance. SpooQy-1 will eventually fall into and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The Golden Record 3.0, the next installation of the NUS Stage theatre work, will be staged on 18 October and directed by Edith Podesta. Tickets will be available in early August via

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Hubble captures cosmic fireworks in ultraviolet

Hubble offers a special view of the double star system Eta Carinae’s expanding gases glowing in red, white, and blue. This is the highest resolution image of Eta Carinae taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Imagine slow-motion fireworks that started exploding nearly two centuries ago and haven’t stopped since then. This is how you might describe this double star system located 7500 light-years away in the constellation Carina (The Ship’s Keel). In 1838 Eta Carinae underwent a cataclysmic outburst called the Great Eruption, quickly escalating to become in 1844 the second brightest star in the sky by April of that year. The star has since faded, but this new view from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows that the spectacular display is still ongoing, and reveals details that have never been seen before.

Violent mass ejections are not uncommon in Eta Carinae’s history; the system has been blighted by chaotic eruptions, often blasting parts of itself into space But the Great Eruption was particularly dramatic. The larger of the two stars is a massive, unstable star nearing the end of its life, and what astronomers witnessed over a century and a half ago was, in fact, a stellar near-death experience.

The resulting surge of light was outshone only by Sirius, which is almost one thousand times closer to Earth, and for a time made Eta Carinae an important navigation star for mariners in the southern seas. This close call stopped just short of destroying Eta Carinae, and the light intensity gradually subsided. Researchers studying the star today can still see the signature of the Great Eruption on its surroundings; the huge dumbbell shape is formed of the dust and gas and other filaments that were hurled into space in the expulsion. These hot glowing clouds are known as the Homunculus Nebula, and have been a target of Hubble since its launch in 1990.

In fact, the volatile star has been imaged by almost every instrument on Hubble over more than 25 years. Astronomers have observed the cosmic drama play out in ever higher resolution. This latest image was created using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to map warm magnesium gas glowing in ultraviolet light (shown in blue).

Scientists have long known that the outer material thrown off in the 1840s eruption has been heated by shock waves generated when it crashed into material previously ejected from the star . The team who captured this new image were expecting to find light from magnesium coming from the complicated array of filaments seen in the light from glowing nitrogen (shown in red). Instead, a whole new luminous magnesium structure was found in the space between the dusty bipolar bubbles and the outer shock-heated nitrogen-rich filaments.

“We’ve discovered a large amount of warm gas that was ejected in the Great Eruption but hasn’t yet collided with the other material surrounding Eta Carinae,” explained Nathan Smith of Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, lead investigator of the Hubble programme. “Most of the emission is located where we expected to find an empty cavity. This extra material is fast, and it ‘ups the ante’ in terms of the total energy of an already powerful stellar blast.”

This newly revealed data is important for understanding how the eruption began, because it represents the fast and energetic ejection of material that may have been expelled by the star shortly before the expulsion of the rest of the nebula. Astronomers need more observations to measure exactly how fast the material is moving and when it was ejected.

Another striking feature of the image is the streaks visible in the blue region outside the lower-left bubble. These streaks appear where the star’s light rays poke through the dust clumps scattered along the bubble’s surface. Wherever the ultraviolet light strikes the dense dust, it leaves a long thin shadow that extends beyond the lobe into the surrounding gas. “The pattern of light and shadow is reminiscent of sunbeams that we see in our atmosphere when sunlight streams past the edge of a cloud, though the physical mechanism creating Eta Carinae’s light is different,” noted team member Jon Morse of BoldlyGo Institute in New York.

This technique of searching in ultraviolet light for warm gas could be used to study other stars and gaseous nebulae, the researchers say.

“We had used Hubble for decades to study Eta Carinae in visible and infrared light, and we thought we had a pretty full account of its ejected debris. But this new ultraviolet-light image looks astonishingly different, revealing gas we did not see in either visible-light or infrared images,” Smith said. “We’re excited by the prospect that this type of ultraviolet magnesium emission may also expose previously hidden gas in other types of objects that eject material, such as protostars or other dying stars; and only Hubble can take these kinds of pictures”.

The causes of Eta Carinae’s Great Eruption remain the subject of speculation and debate. A recent theory suggests that Eta Carinae, which may once have weighed as much as 150 Suns, started out as a triple system, and the 1840s mass ejection was triggered when the primary star devoured one of its companions, rocketing more than ten times the mass of our Sun into space. While the exact circumstances of that show-stopping burst of light remain a mystery for now, astronomers are more certain of how this cosmic light show will conclude. Eta Carinae’s fireworks display is fated to reach its finale when it explodes as a supernova, greatly surpassing even its last powerful outburst. This may already have happened, but the tsunami of light from such a blinding blast would take 7500 years to reach Earth.


Five Working Groups Considering Energy Actions to Recommend at UN Summit

Five technical working groups on sustainable energy are producing reports for consideration at a High-level Dialogue at the UN in September 2021. The multi-stakeholder working groups aim to identify concrete steps for a roadmap to achieving SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

The groups were established along five themes: energy transition, energy access, enabling the SDGs through just and inclusive transitions, energy finance and investment, and innovation. Following their first round of meetings in February and March 2021, the leaders of each working group have created annotated outlines on each topic.

In the annotated outline on Energy Transition, the co-leads propose that in order to make the targets of SDG 7 “more operational and aligned with SDG 13” (climate action), the group may introduce more specific targets, including:

100% access to modern energy services
3% annual efficiency improvement in at least xx countries across the world
100% increase in modern renewables capacity globally compared to 2020
Reduction of yy billion tonnes of GHG emissions per year in the energy sector
Stimulate economic growth and create yy million decent jobs (SDG 8 contribution)
The outline also indicates that the group may propose a set of compacts to address barriers and opportunities for energy sector transition related to: power systems; renewable energy; energy efficiency; transport; hard-to-abate sectors; financing the transition; and challenges for making the transition just, including in countries with large dependency on fossil fuels.

The group is co-led by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

On Energy Access, the annotated outline provides the size of several gaps to be addressed:

Population to receive ‘affordable, reliable and modern energy services’ by 2030.
Population to be electrified by 2030.
Number of health and education facilities to be electrified by 2030.
Access to cooling.
Population to access clean cooking technologies and fuels by 2030
This report will provide targeted, operationally focused recommendations on 12 areas, including:

Ensure that a workable institutional and regulatory environment is in place focusing on all three markets segments (grid densification/extension, mini grids, off-grid technologies and electric cooking) to ensure deployment at scale;
Support human capital with a focus on capacity building and job creation;
Improve performance of national utilities, leveraging digital and other innovations;
Create environment that supports continued business model, financing and technology innovations;
Accelerate electrification of public institutions, while improving its sustainability;
Tailor solutions and approaches to the needs of the poor and vulnerable households to leave no one behind; and
Include access to electricity and clean cooking as part of COVID-19 stimulus/response packages and economic recovery plans.
The working group on energy access is co-led by: the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office for Least Developed, Landlocked and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), and the World Bank.

The annotated outline on Enabling the SDGs Through Inclusive, Just Energy Transitions describes a two-directional relationship between sustainable energy and the 2030 Agenda: “an inclusive, just energy transition helps promote progress along different SDGs, but its own success is also determined by progress in other SDGs themselves.” They say that SDG 7 is a key means of achieving other SDGs.

The report’s take-away message for policymakers, the outline indicates, will be a call to end silo thinking and move towards integrated policies. In this regard, SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) will be discussed as an enabler of change. An appendix to the report would provide concrete indicators to measure support for the 2030 Agenda, based on the interaction of SDG 7 and the other SDGs. Separate indicators would be provided for 2025, 2030, and 2050.

The co-leads of the Enabling the SDGs group are the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The annotated outline on Energy Finance and Investment proposes “ambitious innovative fit-for-purpose solutions” to mobilize public and private investment rapidly to finance energy access, the energy transition, and enabling of the other SDGs. Recommendations cover: direct and immediate measures to accelerate clean energy projects; targeted support to unlock the energy transition and leave no one behind; sound energy policy and regulatory frameworks to attract private investment; and a vibrant ecosystem of financial providers, entrepreneurs and companies that can support clean energy transitions.

This working group is co-led by the European Investment Bank (EIB), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

On Innovation, Technology and Data, the annotated outline indicates to a focus on the technologies and innovations that will make the biggest impact on energy access, just transition, energy-efficiency targets, and the clean energy transition by 2030 and the longer-term climate goals by 2050. It will present recommendations on creating the enabling conditions for speeding up progress. Recommendations will address, among other topics: finance for R&D and innovation; inter-sectoral linkages in energy transition policy, as well as water, agriculture, and environment-related policies; and the emerging role of energy as a service. On energy as a service, the outline includes a section on getting “out of the energy box” by designing services around the productive use of energy, not just energy supply.

The working group on innovation, technology, and data is co-led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

The five annotated outlines have been circulated to their respective group members for comment. The first draft of each report will be shared with members in early April 2021.

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Small step, giant memories: Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk remembered

Half a century has passed—but the moment Moon pioneer Neil Armstrong took his historic first step on the lunar surface is etched in the memories of those who tuned in.

The grainy pictures coming back on the night of July 20, 1969, from a quarter of a million miles (380,000 kilometres) away fascinated viewers young and old.

AFP spoke to some, who recalled their joy and emotion, including Dafydd Williams, now a Canadian astronaut with NASA who has twice been into space—in 1998 and 2007 but who was a schoolboy back then.


“It was a pretty remarkable day. The sixties was this decade of exploration and the highlight of the decade was humans walking on the surface of the Moon.

“If you were alive at that time, everybody remembers where they were.

“I was fifteen years old at the time, at home watching it with my family glued to the television set, which was black and white because we didn’t have money to afford a colour TV.

“It changed the course of history and for me it demonstrated the fact that the seemingly impossible is actually possible.

“Watching NASA going from never having flown humans in space in 1960 to have humans walking on the surface of the Moon in 1969… what an incredible decade!”

Canadian astronaut Dafydd Williams says the moon landing “changed the course of history”

Formula One champion Stewart was a friend of Armstrong and also of Eugene Cernan, the last man to date to walk on the Moon in December 1972.

“I was in the Playboy Club in New York with Roman Polanski and my wife Helen. I knew a lot of the astronauts because they were coming to see Formula One and Indycar races. I was blown away by what I was seeing,” said Stewart, who with his son Mark produced a 2014 documentary, “Last Man on the Moon.”


“I was in Normandy on that night of July 20-21,1969. I was shooting the Bear and the Doll,” recalled the French screen icon.

British former F1 driver Jackie Stewart recalls he was “blown away” by the emotion of the Americans’ achievement—and later produced a documentary “Last Man on the Moon with his son
“I watched this miracle without really believing it, it was so extraordinary, unachievable—and yet they did it.

“Human genius can reach the divine.”


The Italian actress, then aged 31, has hazy memories of exactly where she was when she saw the broadcast.

But “a few months later, Neil Armstrong, who was an amateur trumpeter, dropped by for a house party (in the Rome countryside), invited by Franco Cristaldi,” Cardinale’s first husband.

Brigitte Bardot, seen in Paris in 1966, dubbed the landing a “miracle”
“My brothers accompanied. We’d hired two trumpets—one got bent by Neil in a state of inebriated joy.”


“I was on the Champs-Elysees, with thousands of people, waiting for the dream to become reality,” said the fashion designer, then 47, now 96.

“When Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon I felt an immense satisfaction. We were all awaiting news and this triumph was greeted with a shriek of joy shared by the thousands of people around me.

“Nobody believed (it could happen) a few years earlier but I always was sure it would come to pass. It was a great leap forward for humanity,” said Cardin, who later would meet Armstrong and mission colleague Buzz Aldrin.

Claudia Cardinale says she remembers above all Armstrong dropping in some months later for a party in the Rome countryside

The Swiss psychiatrist and aviator was 11 at the time and recalled how “I was lucky enough to be invited to Cape Kennedy to watch the rocket take off on July 16 as my father worked for NASA.

“On July 20, I was at a restaurant with my family at Palm Beach, Florida, when a NASA official tipped off my mother that we had to hurry up and get back as the astronauts leaving (the module) had been brought forward two hours.

“We rushed home as quickly as we could. Shortly beforehand, my father had bought a television especially for the occasion.

“I remember the first step as if it were yesterday. I had the impression I was watching the most important event in the history of humanity. I still think so…

French Formula One star Alain Prost, 14 at the time, says the landing was a moment which “always stays with you”

Volynov was a 34-year-old Russian cosmonaut who saw his country, after taking an early lead in the space race, beaten to the Moon by the Americans.

“Of course we felt a certain rancour as we had our own Moon programme. I was myself in training to walk in lunar gravitation conditions. We had all dreamed of one day walking on the Moon,” said Volynov, who flew on two Soyuz missions.

“We feared the Americans were getting ahead of us as our programme was losing momentum,” said Volynov, adding that two competing Russian programmes meant that “we ended up being overtaken.”

He later met Armstrong.

“We quickly became friends, communicating via a Soviet translator. The pictures of us saluting one another were only declassified after the break-up of the Soviet Union.


French four-time Formula One champion Prost was just 14 when Armstrong made his great leap but “it’s one of those memories which always stay with you.

“My parents had a little studio at Cannes and we were on holiday. I still recall that day so clearly—I remember looking at the TV and the Moon simultaneously and saying to myself ‘what’s going on?’

“It’s a crazy memory —- you felt something is happening. At the time we thought it was totally impossible.”

French designer Pierre Cardin saluted “a great leap forward for humanity”

The composer of electronic music watched the broadcast live and recalls “celebrating the era when we had a vision and an appetite for the future—it was an absolute inspiration for musicians, filmmakers and writers. Pop culture was born at the same time as the beginning of the conquest of space.”

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How visions of the Moon inspired centuries of storytellers

By landing on the Moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin arrived at a place which, up until that point, had been the stuff of fantasy.

But even after they transformed fantasy into fact, it is a place that continues to capture the imagination of storytellers, as it has for centuries.

Literature, novels, cinema… from antiquity to the present, the Moon has been the object of any number of imaginary expeditions.

As far back as the second century BC, the satirist Lucian of Samosata, in “True Stories”, imagined a voyage to the Moon that saw the author and his fellow travellers find the King of the Moon caught up in a war with the King of the Sun.

In the 17th century, French writer Cyrano de Bergerac—the real one, not the character in Edmond Rostand’s famous play—wrote a tale titled “The Other World: Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon”.

Baron Munchausen travelled to the Moon in a flying boat in German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe’s 1785 fantasy.

And the 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler imagined demons on the Moon in his story titled “The Dream”.

In more modern times, science fiction pioneer H.G. Wells imagined a sophisticated race of insect-like creatures living below the satellite’s surface in “The First Men on the Moon”.

Wells’s adventurers reached the Moon using a substance that negated the forces of gravity.

Verne, in his 1865 tale “From the Earth the Moon”, was a little less fanciful, shooting his travellers across space in a giant cannon.

A century or so later Armstrong, travelling back from the Moon, referred to Verne’s tale in one of his television broadcasts.

More recently still, one of Herge’s 1950s Tintin adventures featured a visit to the Moon—and even Snowy, his loyal dog, got a spacesuit.

Changing face of the Moon

Cinema versions of the Moon have been equally fanciful.

The Apollo Moon landings may have changed our perspective of what is out there, but they have not eclipsed the different visions offered by the world’s storytellers
In George Melies extraordinary 1902 work “A Trip to the Moon”, the travellers find giant mushrooms and excitable natives.

He follows Verne with a cannon-propelled space capsule—and a splashdown at sea on their return.

As technology brought the possibility of a lunar flight closer, that seemed to dampen the market for the more fanciful lunar tales.

Classic sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein still used the Moon as the setting for his 1966 novel “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”.

But by this time, humans inhabit it—and Heinlein’s tale is about the revolt of the lunar colony against rule from Earth.

And just a year before the real Moon landings, Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 film “2001” has astronauts at an outpost on the Moon finding a mysterious obelisk there.

Here, as in Clarke’s original story, the Moon has become little more than the stage for something far more important.

Perhaps what the 1969 Apollo mission to the Moon did was not so much end the telling of tales about the satellite as change the kind of stories being told.

After the Apollo landings, the Moon became a focus for pop culture.

The heroes of the achingly kitsch 1970s science fiction television series “Space 1999” are based on the Moon—and have to cope with a nuclear accident that knocks it out of orbit and sends them hurtling into space.

The Moon also featured in any number of comic-book adventures and cartoon series from the 1970s onwards.

David Bowie released his Kubrick-inspired classic 1969 single “Space Oddity” the same month as the Moon landings.

A generation later, in the 2013 version, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield played his cover version of the song from the International Space Station.

And in 2009 Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, broke into the cinema mainstream with his cult hit—sci-fi puzzler “Moon”.

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5 moon landing innovations that changed life on Earth

Much of the technology common in daily life today originates from the drive to put a human being on the moon. This effort reached its pinnacle when Neil Armstrong stepped off the Eagle landing module onto the lunar surface 50 years ago.

As a NASA airborne astronomy ambassador and director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Manfred Olson Planetarium, I know that the technologies behind weather forecasting, GPS and even smartphones can trace their origins to the race to the moon.

1. Rockets

October 4, 1957 marked the dawn of the Space Age, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first human-made satellite. The Soviets were the first to make powerful launch vehicles by adapting World War II-era long-range missiles, especially the German V-2.

From there, space propulsion and satellite technology moved fast: Luna 1 escaped the Earth’s gravitational field to fly past the moon on January 4, 1959; Vostok 1 carried the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961; and Telstar, the first commercial satellite, sent TV signals across the Atlantic Ocean on July 10, 1962.

The 1969 lunar landing also harnessed the expertise of German scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, to send massive payloads into space. The F-1 engines in Saturn V, the Apollo program’s launch vehicle, burned a total of 2,800 tons of fuel at a rate of 12.9 tons per second.

Saturn V still stands as the most powerful rocket ever built, but rockets today are far cheaper to launch. For example, whereas Saturn V cost US$185 million, which translates into over $1 billion in 2019, today’s Falcon Heavy launch costs only $90 million. Those rockets are how satellites, astronauts and other spacecraft get off the Earth’s surface, to continue bringing back information and insights from other worlds.

2. Satellites

The quest for enough thrust to land a man on the moon led to the building of vehicles powerful enough to launch payloads to heights of 21,200 to 22,600 miles (34,100 to 36,440 km) above the Earth’s surface. At such altitudes, satellites’ orbiting speed aligns with how fast the planet spins—so satellites remain over a fixed point, in what is called geosynchronous orbit. Geosynchronous satellites are responsible for communications, providing both internet connectivity and TV programming.

At the beginning of 2019, there were 4,987 satellites orbiting Earth; in 2018 alone, there were more than 382 orbital launches worldwide. Of the currently operational satellites, approximately 40% of payloads enable communications, 36% observe the Earth, 11% demonstrate technologies, 7% improve navigation and positioning and 6% advance space and earth science.

3. Miniaturization

Space missions—back then and even today—have strict limits on how big and how heavy their equipment can be, because so much energy is required to lift off and achieve orbit. These constraints pushed the space industry to find ways to make smaller and lighter versions of almost everything: Even the walls of the lunar landing module were reduced to the thickness of two sheets of paper.

From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, the weight and energy consumption of electronics was reduced by a factor of several hundred at least—from the 30 tons and 160 kilowatts of the Electric Numerical Integrator and Computer to the 70 pounds and 70 watts of the Apollo guidance computer. This weight difference is equivalent to that between a humpback whale and an armadillo.

‘Earthrise,’ a view of Earth while orbiting the moon. Credit: Bill Anders, Apollo 8, NASA
Manned missions required more complex systems than earlier, unmanned ones. For example, in 1951, the Universal Automatic Computer was capable of 1,905 instructions per second, whereas the Saturn V’s guidance system performed 12,190 instructions per second. The trend toward nimble electronics has continued, with modern hand-held devices routinely capable of performing instructions 120 million times faster than the guidance system that enabled the liftoff of Apollo 11. The need to miniaturize computers for space exploration in the 1960s motivated the entire industry to design smaller, faster and more energy-efficient computers, which have affected practically every facet of life today, from communications to health and from manufacturing to transportation.

4. Global network of ground stations

Communicating with vehicles and people in space was just as important as getting them up there in the first place. An important breakthrough associated with the 1969 lunar landing was the construction of a global network of ground stations, called the Deep Space Network, to let controllers on Earth communicate constantly with missions in highly elliptical Earth orbits or beyond. This continuity was possible because the ground facilities were placed strategically 120 degrees apart in latitude so that each spacecraft would be in range of one of the ground stations at all times.

Because of the spacecraft’s limited power capacity, large antennas were built on Earth to simulate “big ears” to hear weak messages and to act as “big mouths” to broadcast loud commands. In fact, the Deep Space Network was used to communicate with the astronauts on Apollo 11 and was used to relay the first dramatic TV images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. The network was also critical for the survival of the crew on Apollo 13 because they needed guidance from ground personnel without wasting their precious power on communications.

Several dozen missions use the Deep Space Network as part of the continuing exploration of our solar system and beyond. In addition, the Deep Space Network permits communications with satellites that are on highly elliptical orbits, to monitor the poles and deliver radio signals.

5. Looking back at Earth

Getting to space has allowed people to turn their research efforts toward Earth. In August 1959, the unmanned satellite Explorer VI took the first crude photos of Earth from space on a mission researching the upper atmosphere, in preparation for the Apollo program.

Almost a decade later, the crew of Apollo 8 took a famous picture of the Earth rising over the lunar landscape, aptly named “Earthrise.” This image helped people understand our planet as a unique shared world and boosted the environmental movement.

Understanding of our planet’s role in the universe deepened with Voyager 1’s “pale blue dot” photo—an image received by the Deep Space Network.

People and our machines have been taking pictures of the Earth from space ever since. Views of Earth from space guide people both globally and locally. What started in the early 1960s as a U.S. Navy satellite system to track its Polaris submarines to within 600 feet (185 meters) has blossomed into the Global Positioning System network of satellites providing location services worldwide.

Images from a series of Earth-observing satellites called Landsat are used to determine crop health, identify algae blooms and find potential oil deposits. Other uses include identifying which types of forest management are most effective in slowing the spread of wildfires or recognizing global changes such as glacier coverage and urban development.

As we learn more about our own planet and about exoplanets—planets around other stars—we become more aware of how precious our planet is. Efforts to preserve Earth itself may yet find help from fuel cells, another technology from the Apollo program. These storage systems for hydrogen and oxygen in the Apollo Service Module, which contained life-support systems and supplies for the lunar landing missions, generated power and produced potable water for the astronauts. Much cleaner energy sources than traditional combustion engines, fuel cells may play a part in transforming global energy production to fight climate change.

We can only wonder what innovations from the effort to send people to other planets will affect earthlings 50 years after the first Marswalk.

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Five reasons future space travel should explore asteroids

On the same day that the Earth survived an expected near-miss with asteroid 367943 Duende, Russian dashcams unexpectedly captured footage of a different asteroid as it slammed into the atmosphere, exploded, and injured more than 1,000 people. That day in Chelyabinsk in February 2013 reminded the world that the Earth does not exist in a bubble.

Asteroids provide a direct connection between the Earth and interplanetary space. Craters such as the Barringer Crater in Arizona are a stark reminder. The dinosaurs died out due to a different impact not far away in the Gulf of Mexico. But elsewhere in the universe, asteroids may actually transport life between different planets.

While the world reflects on the first flight to the moon and our future on Mars, we think asteroids—the so-called “minor planets”—deserve recognition. Here’s why:

1. They could kill us

We did not see the Chelyabinsk meteor coming until the Russian dashcams caught it. Fortunately, nobody died as a direct result of the explosion. Next time we may not be so lucky. Even for known asteroids, there’s at least a very slim possibility that they may collide with Earth over the next few hundred years. There are currently six known asteroids with at least a 0.1% chance of impacting the Earth before the 23rd century.

And the same asteroid which would cause a few casualties by exploding over a forest could kill thousands by instead exploding over a large city.

The Barringer Meteor Crater from 36,000 ft (11,000 m) in Arizona, USA. Credit: Davezolis/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA
2. They could contain water

Astronomers debate the origin of Earth’s water, and whether it was delivered to our planet billions of years ago by comets and asteroids. NASA’s Dawn space probe visited the largest known asteroid, Ceres, and detected water on its surface. In fact, NASA classifies Ceres as a former “ocean world”, albeit one where the ocean of water and ammonia has since frozen and reacted with the silicate rocks to form mineral deposits which now pepper the landscape.

3. They reveal how the solar system formed

The surfaces of asteroids don’t erode like rocks on Earth because asteroids lack atmospheres. That means craters on asteroids are better preserved over long timescales, and give evidence of impacts from the last four billion years which would have long since washed away on Earth. In this way, asteroids can act as time capsules for evidence of the ancient universe.

The further back you go in time the trickier it becomes, as asteroids change in the hundreds of millions of years after their formation, shifting their positions and suffering collisions.

The star on the left shrinks and becomes the white dwarf in the middle of the image. On the right is our own sun, for comparison. Credit: RJHall/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA
4. They reveal how the solar system will die

More than six billion years from now, when the sun uses all of its hydrogen fuel, it will start to change, eventually becoming a white dwarf—the end state for most stars in the Milky Way galaxy. During this transformation, the sun will briefly enlarge enough to swallow Mercury, Venus and maybe Earth. But at least five of the sun’s planets and many asteroids will survive this transformation.

The asteroids then play an important role, as they are “kicked” towards the white dwarf by the gravitational field of the surviving planets when the asteroids approach them too closely. We regularly observe the broken up remains of asteroids inside the atmospheres of other white dwarf stars, allowing us to determine the asteroids’ chemical composition by performing an autopsy from afar.

This technique is the most direct way we can probe the chemical composition of planetary systems outside of our own. Asteroids in our own solar system might then provide the best means for future galactic civilisations to find out more about the planetary bodies orbiting our future sun, long after Earth is gone.

If an asteroid struck the Earth it could eject fragments of life into space – potentially sending it to colonise a new planet. Credit: Andrzej Puchta/Shutterstock
5. They could transport life

We know the destructive nature of an asteroid impact, but what if it could instead act as a means of escape? A large enough impact by an asteroid would impart enough energy to eject material from the planet’s surface. If the planet is habitable, some of the ejected material could become a transportation vessel for hardy microorganisms, which could stand a chance of surviving the launch into space.

Of course, the launch is just the start of the overall adventure. To complete the hop from one planet to another, life must withstand the harsh conditions of space during its interplanetary voyage. Upon reaching its destination, it must survive entry to the new planet, including another surface impact. The wide range of planetary systems discovered by astronomers in recent years could help. Some of these are tightly packed with potentially habitable planets close together.

The TRAPPIST-1 system is just one example. This is a clutch of seven planets orbiting a star 12 times smaller than our own sun, a mere 39 light years away. All of the seven planets are roughly the same size as Earth and clustered fairly close together—meaning bacteria could feasibly hop between them if disturbed by an asteroid on a nearby planet. With favourable conditions in place on the destination planet, life could have a much better chance of surviving the journey than if a living organism was ejected from Earth and arrived on a different planet in our solar system.

The many hurdles involved in this interplanetary hop make an arduous battle for microorganisms looking for a new home. Nevertheless, the theory will continue to generate intrigue as astronomers uncover yet more weird and wonderful worlds shaped by the influence of asteroids. With each new world comes a greater understanding of the key role they play in shaping our universe.

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SpaceX has lost contact with three of its Starlink satellites

On May 23rd, 2019, SpaceX launched the first batch of its Starlink constellation, a fleet of satellites that will fulfill Elon Musk’s promise to provide broadband satellite-internet access to the entire planet. The deployment of these 60 satellites was the first in a series of six planned launches that would see around 720 satellites orbiting at an operational altitude of 550 km (340 mi).

Over the course of the past month, SpaceX announced that all 60 of the satellites were responsive, but recently indicated that contact had been lost with three of them. According to a statement issued by a company spokesperson on June 28th, these three satellites pose no danger as they will deorbit “passively” and burn up in the atmosphere.

When the first batch was launched in May, they rose to an altitude of 440 km (273 mi) before powering up their onboard propulsion rockets to raise their orbit to an operational altitude of 550 km (340 mi). After deploying from their Falcon 9 launch vehicle, observers noticed that some of the Starlink satellites had not initiated orbit raising.

According to the statement issued by the SpaceX spokesperson, the rest of the satellites are functioning well and almost all of them have successfully reached their operational orbit. In the near future, two will deorbit along with the three non-functioning ones in order to test the satellite’s ability to propulsively deorbit:

“Three satellites which initially communicated with the ground but are no longer in service will passively deorbit. Due to their design and low orbital position, all five deorbiting satellites will disintegrate once they enter Earth’s atmosphere in support of SpaceX’s commitment to a clean space environment.”

So far, 45 of the satellites have completed raising their orbit, five are still in the process of doing so, and another five are completing system checks before engaging rockets. Once they are all operational, these satellites will test the signal speed and capacity of the Starlink network, as well as its ability to deliver reliable low-latency, high-bandwidth internet services from space.

The plan for the proposed constellation has evolved considerably since Musk announced it back in 2015. Originally, the plan was to deploy 12,000 satellites to low-earth orbit (LEO) by the mid-2020s that would be capable of broadcasting in the Ka- and Ku-bands. However, in recent years, SpaceX decided to expedite things and opted to launch an initial batch of satellites to a lower orbit of 550 kilometers (340 mi).

These satellites also had a simplified design that was smaller, lighter, and which broadcast in the Ka-band alone. The modified nature of this batch of satellites was also indicated in the company statement issued on June 28th:

“SpaceX implemented slight variations across the 60 satellites in order to maximize operational capability across the fleet. While we are pleased with the performance of the satellites so far, SpaceX will continue to push the operational capabilities of the satellites to inform future iterations.”

The purpose of sending these satellites to a lower operational altitude was apparently made to reduce the risk of space junk. This is a growing problem as far as missions to LEO are concerned, and is only expected to get worse with all the next-generation satellites scheduled for launch in the coming years.

However, the lower altitude has benefits that go beyond orbital clutter. At 550 km (340 mi) above the Earth’s surface, signal lags (latencies) of around 15 milliseconds will be possible, unlike geostationary satellites that often have a half-second or more of signal lag. Last, but not least, a lower operational altitude also means SpaceX can send more satellites up sooner, which favors their expedited schedule.

Based on their current schedule, SpaceX plans to deploy the first half of their Phase I constellation (1,584 satellites) by April of 2024, followed by Phase II (another 2200 satellites) by November of 2027. In the meantime, SpaceX is facing competition from telecom providers that are ramping up their efforts to establish orbital internet constellations.

These include the U.K.-based company OneWeb and Canadian startup Kepler Communications. While the former launched the first six of its proposed 650-satellite constellation back in February of 2019, the latter launched two of its planned 140 a year prior. Jeff Bezos, not to be left behind, is also committed to creating an Amazon constellation, while airlines like Delta and American are also interested.

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Detection of spike-like structures near the front of a shock-driven solar radio burst

Type II solar radio bursts are the result of energetic electrons accelerated by a shock. This kind of burst appears on dynamic spectra as lanes drifting slowly from higher to lower frequencies. Often, scientists observe a fundamental harmonic structure, which sometimes exhibits a division on each band called band split.

Fine structures are emissions with short duration and bandwidth embedded within all types of radio bursts, and constitute a useful tool for diagnostics of local parameters. Although spikes associated with Type III (Benz et al, 1982, 1996) and Type IV radio bursts have been analyzed, in Type II radio bursts, they have not been examined comprehensively. Most common fine structure reported in Type II radio bursts are herringbone. On the other hand, spike bursts have only been mentioned once in decametric wavelengths.

Using the high time resolution (10 millisecond) acousto-optic analyzer (SAO) of the Artemis-JLS radio spectrograph, researchers have now detected spike-like structures within Type II dynamic spectra.

They identified more than 100 Type II radio bursts using the ASG receiver (Figure 1) and selected four events that were recorded by the Artemis-JLS/SAO receiver in the 450-270 MHz frequency range. The high time resolution of the receiver facilitated the detection of small-scale bursts on the dynamic spectra. They identified 642 short and narrowband structures. These spike-like bursts mostly appeared in groups or chains that drifted almost parallel to the Type II front. Isolated bursts were also occasionally detected. Herringbones and pulsations were also observed to co-exist with these structures (Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Upper Panel: Artemis-JLS/SAO dynamic spectrum of the 3 November 2003 event; 10 sec segment and 110 MHz frequency range. Lower Panel: Artemis-JLS/SAO dynamic spectrum of the 4 February 2004 event; 8 sec segment and 110 MHz frequency range. In both cases the time derivative of the dynamic spectrum is displayed to enhance small time scale structures. Credit: Armatas et al (2019)
Their average duration (96 milliseconds) and relative bandwidth (1.7 percent) were measured and compared with similar structures observed within Type IV radio bursts.

In summary, Type II spikes constitute a new class of fine structure with properties similar to Type IV spikes. They are most probably manifestations of small sale reconnection events along the front of the shock.

The paper, “Detection of spike-like structures near the front of type-II bursts,” was published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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The highest-energy gamma rays discovered by the Tibet ASgamma experiment

The Tibet ASgamma experiment, a China-Japan joint research project, has discovered the highest energy cosmic gamma rays ever observed from an astrophysical source—in this case, the Crab Nebula. The experiment detected gamma rays ranging from > 100 Teraelectron volts (TeV) (Fig.1) to an estimated 450 TeV. Previously, the highest gamma-ray energy ever observed was 75 TeV by the HEGRA Cherenkov telescope.

Researchers believe the most energetic of the gamma rays observed by the Tibet ASgamma experiment were produced by interaction between high-energy electrons and cosmic microwave background radiation, remnant radiation from the Big Bang.

The Crab Nebula is a famous supernova remnant in the constellation Taurus. It was first observed as a very bright supernova explosion in1054 AD (see Fig.1). It was noted in official histories of the Song dynasty in ancient China as well as in Meigetsuki, written by the 12th century Japanese poet Fujiwara no Teika. In the modern era, the Crab Nebula has been observed using various types of electromagnetic waves including radio and optical waves, X-rays and gamma rays.

The Tibet ASgamma experiment has been operating since 1990 in Tibet, China, at an altitude of 4300 meters above sea level. The China-Japan collaboration added new water Cherenkov-type muon detectors under the existing cosmic-ray detectors in 2014 (see Fig.2). These underground muon detectors suppress 99.92 percent of cosmic-ray background noise (see Fig.3). As a result, 24 gamma-ray candidates above 100 TeV have been detected from the Crab Nebula with low background noise. The highest energy is estimated at 450 TeV (see Fig.2).

The left figure shows the Tibet ASgamma experiment (Tibet-III array+ Muon Detector array); The right figure shows an event display of the observed 449TeV photon-like air shower. Credit: IHEP
The researchers hypothesize the following steps for generating very-high-energy gamma rays: (1) In the nebula, electrons are accelerated up to PeV, i.e., peta (one thousand trillion) electron volts within a few hundred years after the supernova; (2) PeV electrons interact with the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) filling the whole universe; (3) A CMBR photon is kicked up to 450 TeV by the PeV electrons. The researchers thus conclude that the Crab Nebula is now the most powerful natural electron accelerator discovered so far in our galaxy.

This pioneering work opens a new high-energy window for exploring the extreme universe. The detection of gamma rays above 100 TeV is a key to understanding the origin of very-high-energy cosmic rays, which has been a mystery since the discovery of cosmic rays in 1912. With further observations using this new window, we expect to identify the origin of cosmic rays in our galaxy, namely, pevatrons, which accelerate cosmic rays up to PeV energies.

The China-Japan collaboration placed new water Cherenkov-type muon detectors under the existing cosmic-ray air-shower array in 2014. These underground muon detectors can suppress 99.92% of cosmic-ray background noise. Credit: IHEP
“This is a great first step forward,” said Prof. HUANG Jing, co-spokesperson for the Tibet ASgamma experiment. “It proves that our techniques worked well, and gamma rays with energies up to a few hundred TeV really exist. Our goal is to identify a lot of pevatrons, which have not yet been discovered and are supposed to produce the highest-energy cosmic rays in our galaxy.”