Welcome to This Week in Outer Space, where you’ll find a roundup of the best space coverage from Yahoo News and our partners over the past week or so. Last week we took an in-depth look at how NASA plans to spend $27.2 billion over the next year. This week we have the latest on one of his wish-list items: a “space tug”, a major budget request from the US Space Force, and Elon Musk’s plan to build a city for SpaceX in Texas. But first we have some groundbreaking space fashion news.
Project Launchpad: New space clothing for the modern on-the-go astronaut
On Wednesday, NASA and Axiom Space unveiled the brand new space suit that astronauts on the upcoming Artemis III mission will wear when they return to the moon in 2025. Yuri Gagarin to SpaceX, these new Extravehicular Suits, or EVAs, built to accommodate the Surviving the vacuum of space will mark the first major redesign from the ground up since the 1960s.
Sure, many of the tried-and-tested traits of old designs are now in place – a big, domed helmet, a backpack full of fun gimmicks, and a bulky fit to keep the pressure on. However, the new suit offers a host of new technologies and significantly improved freedom of movement. While the demo EVAs feature a handsome new design in black, blue and orange, those going to the moon will return to the classic all-white look lest the sun’s rays could cook the astronauts alive.
There are still a few unanswered questions about these new suits – how have they improved the overall bathroom situation? – but at least we’re now one step closer to being back on the moon.
NASA has eyed an expensive “space tug” to clean up our messy orbit
Earth has a little problem with space junk. In the decades since Sputnik, thousands of satellites have been launched into low orbit. However, we haven’t found a great solution as to what to do with them when they stop working or are replaced by newer models – and often they’re just left out there to orbit the earth forever. So, as an artificial ring continues to form around the Earth, it’s not just a minor eyesore, it also poses a massive risk to future space missions. And soon, NASA will have to do something about the biggest piece of space junk yet: the International Space Station.
Included in NASA’s proposed 2024 budget is $180 million to develop a deorbit capability for the ISS by the end of 2030. Speaking to reporters Monday, NASA officials said the space agency would enlist the private sector if the budget were approved to develop a “space tug” concept to lower the ISS’s orbit so that it can reenter Earth’s atmosphere and can burn there.
NASA had previously suggested using Russia’s Progress cargo spacecraft to exit the ISS, and officials said such an option is still on the table.
“We continue to work with our Russian colleagues on how to safely de-orbit the Progress vehicles,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA Space Operations, said during the call. “But we are also developing this US capability to have redundancy and to better support vehicle targeting and safe vehicle return.”
Lueders estimated that the total cost of the space tug would be about $1 billion — an expensive space tug indeed.
The Space Force still exists and wants $30 billion, thanks
As Congress weighs President Biden’s budget proposal, leaders of the US Space Force were called to Capitol Hill to sing for their dinner this week.
Yes, this Space Force. One Netflix and Steve Carell made a show that most people don’t really give much thought to. But the war in Ukraine and the deployment of Starlink satellites in support of the Ukrainian military could be just the thing to change the narrative for the real-life Space Force “Guardians.”
On Tuesday, General Chance Saltzman, the Space Force’s chief of space operations, testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces about the program’s vision and spending needs.
Saltzman outlined three areas the Space Force wants to prioritize: building “combat-ready” forces, strengthening the “guardian spirit,” and partnering with US allies to ward off an intergalactic challenge from China and Russia.
“Russia and China continue to deploy a variety of weapons targeting US space capabilities,” Saltzman told the panel. “Threats include cyber warfare activity, electronic attack platforms, directed energy lasers designed to blind or damage satellite sensors, and space-to-space orbital systems capable of attacking US satellites.”
The budget allocation, he said, would be used primarily to protect the Space Force and the nation from “space-based attacks.”
Oh, and about that so-called guardian spirit: Last week, the first all Space Force flight graduated from the US Air Force Officers School in Alabama. The recruiter from Montgomery, Alabama, reported that the 15 Wardens that made up Lima “Lasers” Flight completed the eight-week training course to serve as second lieutenants and will lead the newly created service.
James Webb’s latest photo series shows a dying star
“NASA Webb Telescope Captures Star On The Brink Of Death.”
That’s how the Associated Press somberly described the photo released by NASA earlier this week at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
The image, taken in June 2022, showed “gas and dust being flung into space by a huge, hot star 15,000 light-years away,” according to the news service. “Purple shimmering like a cherry blossom, the ejected material once formed the star’s outer layer.”
The Hubble Space Telescope “took an image of the same transitional star a few decades ago,” the AP added, but “it looked more like a fireball without the fine detail.”
“We’ve never seen it like this,” Macarena Garcia Marin, a scientist at the European Space Agency, told the AP. “It’s really exciting.”
Elon Musk may build a city for SpaceX (in Texas, not on Mars)
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the billionaire Tesla and SpaceX founder and owner of Twitter plans to build his own town in Bastrop County, Texas, where employees from SpaceX and Boring Company, Musk’s tunneling and infrastructure company, will live and live can work.
The newspaper obtained plans for the 3,500-acre, 110-home project about 35 miles from Austin.
Musk reportedly plans to name the town Snailbrook, after the Boring Company’s mascot, which he and his associates have described as “some kind of Texas utopia along the Colorado River.”
However, the visionary himself would not live there. According to the report, Musk’s private compound would likely be located outside of town.