Buzz Aldrin wants NASA to privatize LEO and retire the ISS. At the 2017 Humans to Mars conference, according to Space.com, Aldrin remarked that “We must retire the ISS as soon as possible…We simply cannot afford $ 3.5 billion a year of that cost.” Aldrin’s plan for Mars is heavily dependent on “cyclers,” shuttle orbits between Earth and Mars that could enable the regular transport of cargo and crew between a Mars colony and Earth. But PCMag points out that the ISS is funded through 2024, so Aldrin’s vision isn’t likely to take off before then–at least not under the auspices of NASA. Private space companies, though, are another story.
Speaking of private space flight: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has had an impressive run, including its recent victory lap as the first previously flown rocket to launch and return to its landing pad again. Now SpaceX has successfully tested the rocket module at the core of the upcoming Falcon Heavy as well. The Falcon Heavy–essentially three Falcon 9’s strapped together–is critical to Elon Musk’s long-term plans for space exploration and Mars colonization. With the core stage having been successfully test-fired, the next step is to assemble all three of the Falcon Heavy’s rocket boosters and prepare for its first launch.
There’s some brain-candy type news from the TRAPPIST system. How have all its planets stayed in perfectly circular orbits, crammed into the relatively tiny space they occupy, without crashing into each other? They have integer orbital resonances. “For every 2 orbits of the outermost planet, the next one in does 3 orbits, the next one 4…, 6, 9, 15, and 24,” University of Toronto Scarborough astronomer Dan Tamayo told Gizmodo. “This is called a chain of resonances, and this is the longest one that has ever been discovered in a planetary system.”
Last but not least, Io also shows its angry, angry face in the news this week. Io, the fiery satellite of Jupiter known for being the solar system’s one moon most desperately in need of Alka-Seltzer, has long been known for its intense volcanism. Our ability to observe the specifics of the moon’s volcanic activity have been limited by the difficulty of direct observations from Earth and the relatively limited windows offered by missions like Juno and the earlier Voyager and Galileo missions. Recently, scientists were able to take advantage of a rare orbital alignment between Europa (the icy moon of Jupiter where life might exist in oceans deep below the frozen surface) and Io to track how quickly Io’s volcanos produce lava, and how fast that lava flows over the surface.
Scientists tracked lava waves as they moved across the Loki Patera, a formation larger than Lake Ontario. Their findings suggest that the periodic brightening of Loki Patera is caused by lava waves hardening and beginning to sink, at which point a ‘wave’ of fresh lava replaces them. Scientists recommend that anyone planning to vacation at one of Io’s scenic lava lakes pack SPF 5 billion and a full-body asbestos suit.
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