The crash of a Chinese Moon-Earth photographer

The last commands to Longjiang-2 were sent during a thunderstorm

You’ve probably seen photos like this one not so long ago:

The Longjiang-2 caught a snapshot of the Moon and Earth during the 2019 total solar eclipse on July 2nd. Photo: Harbin Institute of Technology, Camras, DK5LA

It was taken by the 48 kg heavy Chinese satellite Longjiang-2 that went into a 357 by 13704 kilometer orbit around the Moon in 2018.

But on July 31s the satellite was reduced to a crater on the Moons surface as its Chinese controllers ordered it to do some extreme lithobreaking in the Lunar regolith. The de-orbit maneuver was performed to prevent it from turning into a piece of space debris around the Moon after the mission had concluded.

During the mission, the scientists at Harbin Institute of Technology in China worked together with radio amateurs in Europe to up-link certain commands and receive data from the satellite. Reinhard Kühn from Sörup, Germany, had the task of telling the spacecraft when to take a picture. He did this with a radio antenna he has built in his garden.

Reinhard Kühn in his garden in Sörup, Germany, in front of his antenna. Photo: Sven Geißler.
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Launches, ride-shares and reusability – a busy week

The biggest news regarded the smallest orbital rocket.

Proton launched Monday, Ariane 5 rumbled the Amazon Tuesday, yesterday the Falcon 9 took to the sky, Ms. Tree caught a fairing and today the Atlas 5 gave the onlookers a spectacular show, as it lifted off into the sunrise.

At the same time there has been a steady stream of announcements regarding ride-share opportunities for small satellites – ArianeSpace will offer rides on the Ariane 64 for GEO while customers for SSO can get yearly rides on the Falcon 9 with SpaceX for as little as 2,5 million dollars. Roscosmos soon followed suit and offered similar prices.

The biggest story, though, came from the company that builds the smallest orbital rockets. Chief Executive of RocketLab, Peter Beck announced that the company will make their Electron rocket reusable, something he has earlier dismissed doing, because he thought it impossible. But data from the recent Electron flights have apparently given the RocketLab engineers confidence that it might actually work. Peter Beck stressed that the goal for the company right now is to produce a flight-ready booster once a week. Reusability will help the company speed up the flow of boosters going to the launch pad.

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SpaceX fisker i markedet for små satellitter

Kunder kan købe sig til en plads ombord på Falcon 9-raketten for helt ned til 2,5 millioner dollars.

Små satellitter er hotte. Sværmen af cubesats, microsats og nanosats i kredsløb om Jorden vokser i takt med, at elektronikken skrumper i både størrelse og pris. Den traditionelle satellit på størrelse med en bus og et budget på flere hundrede millioner dollars er efterhånden yt med undtagelse måske af de mest avancerede kommunikations – og overvågningssatellitter. I dag er de små satellitter så billige at selv Aarhus Universitet har haft råd til at sende en cubesat, Delphini 1, i kredsløb om Jorden.

Satellitternes krympen har også fået nye raketproducenter til at satse på små raketter, da det koster mere at bygge en stor raket frem for en lille. Den new zealandske virksomhed Rocket Lab sender eksempelvis satellitter på 150 kilo i kredsløb om Jorden for omkring fem millioner dollars. En opsendelse med SpaceX’ Falcon 9 raket koster til sammenligning 62 millioner dollars, men til gengæld kan den så også løfte 22,8 tons.

Men nu vil SpaceX også have en del af markedet for de små satellitter. Mandag skrev virksomheden på Twitter, at der fremover vil være faste afgange med Falcon 9 med plads til mange satellitter, vi ved endnu ikke hvor mange, på mellem 150 og 300 kilo; kunden køber sig til en plads, og hvis det viser sig, at man ikke kan nå afgangen, kan man ombooke til et senere tidspunkt mod et gebyr. Kunder, der bestiller 12 måneder i forvejen, og som har en satellit på 150 kilo, kan få en plads for 2,25 millioner dollars.

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Martian dust storms may eat mysterious methane

Using a modified washing machine, scientists at Aarhus University have simulated what happens during a dust storm on Mars.

Martian methane is a bit of a mystery. Some rovers and spacecraft have detected spikes of it, while others have been unable to register the molecule, which could be a sign of Martian life. If we are to believe the measurements, methane seems to suddenly appear and then quickly disappear on Mars and scientists have a hard time explaining this phenomenon.

I recently talked with the Danish geologist, Per Nørnberg, who has studied the Martian soil and atmosphere by simulating it in the MarsLab at Aarhus University. The MarsLab has been running since the 90s and has among other things provided a meteorological instrument for NASAs Phoenix lander.

I had actually contacted him to talk about sample return missions to Mars (Rød Jord, Weekendavisen), but during the interview, Per told me that the scientists at Aarhus University might have come up with an explanation for how the Martian methane disappears and that it has something to do with the planets frequent dust storms.

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Flying with giants: Review of Apollo 11

Oh bliss. Bliss and heaven.

As the lunar landscape rushed past below the LEM I noticed how fast my heart was beating as I sat there in the IMAX theater. The grey rocks came closer and closer. Speed was dropping. 1201 alarm. 1202 alarm. I clenched the leather armrests while the the beat of the bass increased as Neil Armstrong took over control of the Lunar lander and dodged crashing into a boulder field with less than thirty seconds of fuel left. I was in for the ride to the Moon on Apollo 11 – the motion picture.

What a goddamn phenomenal journey this movie takes you on. On the surface it sounds plain and perhaps boring: Three astronauts board the capsule, they leave Earth, fly to the Moon, two of them land on it, rendezvous with the third in the command module and return to the Earth together – just as they had planned and trained for. But even if you’ve watched When we left Earth, Moon Machines, Apollo 13 and First Man, Apollo 11 is a portrayal like you’ve never seen it before, unless you were there yourself. Five out of five!

The quality of the footage that director Todd Douglas Miller and his team have used is unlike anything, I have ever seen from the era. The opening shots of the Saturn V, as it rolls out onto launch pad 39A, the people gathering to watch the launch and NASAs technicians, as they help Neil, Buzz and Michael suit up for their journey, are crisp as if they had been shot yesterday with a modern HD camera and yet the colors have that soft touch that only 1960s film could produce. You feel as if you could have been there, like in those black and white photos that Marina Amaral breathed new life into by colorizing them. Many of the shots before the astronauts go into orbit around the Earth come from 70 millimeter film rolls that have been lying around in an archive for 50 years. They have never been shown before on the big screen.

There is no modern footage of Cape Canaveral to break the immersion of being there 50 years ago, no wrinkled astronauts or mission controllers in interviews about how it was, no new and sleek 3D graphics. The words are those that were spoken right as it happened, the action is as it unfolded. It is difficult to call Apollo 11 a documentary, when it feels so much more like an experience. 

Three scenes shine vividly in my memory; Liftoff and Staging, Powered Descent and Rendez Vous. All three run uninterrupted by cuts and last for what feels like an eternity, in the best way you can imagine. In the case of Liftoff and Staging of the Saturn V I am tempted to say that it felt almost… orgasmic. The column of supersonic flames expands out from the five F1 engines, the tip of the rocket punches through first the sound barrier and then Max Q, while an epic bass-track hammers a slow rhythm the entire way to orbit:

Oh bliss. Bliss and heaven. Oh it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. I knew such lovely pictures.

A Clockwork Orange

Even in the case of some of the more iconic footage, the creators have had to use to show Neil and Buzz step out onto the Moon, they’ve managed to dig deep and find pictures that I have never noticed before. For example, in one still image, you see Neils face behind the protective glass, as he stands close to the flag. The realization that astronauts actually walked on the moon strikes so much harder, when you get a glimpse through the anonymous visor and see a human underneath the space suit.

I do have criticisms but they are few. In the IMAX theatre it could sometimes be hard to discern the dialogue between Houston and Apollo 11 with all the authentic radio static. After a while it was wearing on my eardrums a bit.

Also, I have one small nitpick – during the countdown, they kept returning to a shot from the launch pad looking up on the Saturn V without any vapor pouring out from the cryogenic tanks. Obviously, nobody were on the launch pad during the countdown, besides the astronauts in the capsule, and therefore the creators have had to use footage from before the rocket was fueled to fill in while tension builds up. Only rocket enthusiasts will notice this detail, however.

This is a movie where you stay seated for the credits, not least because they roll with post-landing footage of ticker-tape parades and engineers building the next rocket, the next capsule and the next lander. In a stroke of genius the credits end with John F. Kennedys speech at Rice Stadium, Texas, on a hot day in 1961, where the journey truly started:

“But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.”

They did it. They were bold. Go experience their boldness in theaters while you can.

European rover has better chance of discovering life than NASAs Mars 2020, says ESA project scientist

In 2020 three rovers, one from the US, one from Europe and one from China will depart for Mars with a single goal; to look for past or present life on The Red Planet.

The rovers will also provide a critical step in the efforts to return samples of Martian regolith to the Earth. This would give scientists the opportunity to learn a great many more details about Mars and its habitability, since laboratories on Earth have much more sophisticated instruments than the ones riding on the rovers on Mars.

The upcoming NASA rover Mars 2020 will cache surface samples during its mission in Jezero crater, which might, if ESA and NASA can agree to it, be collected by a joint American-European mission that would return the samples to Earth in 2028.

However, according to Jorge Vago, project scientist on the ESA-rover, ExoMars (also known as Rosalind Franklin ) that will land in Oxia Planum in 2021 along with the American and Chinese rovers, it might be worth reconsidering which samples would actually be the most valuable to send back to the scientists awaiting their arrival on Earth.

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Verdens største fly får måske ikke lov at flyve igen

For nogle måneder siden hørte du måske om, at verdens største flyvemaskine var lettet og gennemførte en succesfuld testflyvning; at den havde et vingefang, der var cirka lige så langt som måneraketten Saturn V, og at flyveren skulle bruges til at sende satellitter i kredsløb om Jorden med ved hjælp af raketter monteret under vingerne. Måske kan du huske en artikel her på Rumrejsen20NU med titlen Verdens største fly kan være dødssejler om den enorme flyvemaskine Roc og virksomheden bag, Stratolaunch. Siden april har Roc ikke fløjet igen.

Nu står Stratolaunch til at lukke. Det fortæller fire unavngivne kilder til Reuters.

Det kommer ikke helt som nogen overraskelse: Virksomhedens grundlægger, Paul Allen, døde i oktober 2018, og det fik folk til at sætte spørgsmålstegn ved Startolaunches fremtid. I lang tid arbejdede virksomheden på at udvikle sine egne rumraketter, men det valgte man at opgive, og i stedet satse på den ældre, og til sammenligning med moderne raketter noget dyrere, Pegasus-raket udviklet af Northrop Grumman – et risikabelt valg i en tid, hvor der skyder virksomheder op verden over, som tilbyder billigere og billiger adgang til rummet.

Indtil videre har Stratolaunch ikke ville kommentere på Reuters kilder. En talsperson fortæller til Reuters, at virksomheden fortsat er “operationel”.