Watch: Recent Developments in the Race for Space

12 February 2018

Recent Developments in the Race for Space

We haven't gotten very far into the year 2018, and already it seems like this will be a banner year for developments in the world of satellites, rockets and space travel. Here are just a few of the recent headlines that caught our eye.

The Falcon Is Flying

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, made history this past week as it sent its Falcon Heavy into space – the first time a private corporation has launched a rocket this powerful, without the involvement of a government space agency like NASA. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said that his ultimate goal is to put people on Mars. Talking about the Falcon Heavy launch, Musk said that he hopes it would encourage others, both companies and countries, to aim for more ambitious goals in space and ignite a new "space race." And, speaking of racing, the payload for the Falcon Heavy's launch was Musk's own Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin driver behind the wheel. The car and driver are now expected to orbit the sun for hundreds of millions of years. Learn more.

Satellite Lost, Now Found
Speaking of SpaceX, earlier this year the company sent its Falcon 9 rocket into space on a highly-classified mission with a mysterious payload -- a satellite built by the Northrop Grumman Corporation for the United States government. It's presumed that the satellite, called Zuma, is some kind of spying device. Some sources have said that the satellite was lost during the mission due to an equipment malfunction, while others have said they believe the satellite is now orbiting Earth. The mystery led Scott Tilley, an amateur astronomer based in Canada, to search for traces of the mission with radio-frequency satellite tracking, or STRF. Tilley found something entirely different -- signals from a NASA satellite called IMAGE, which the agency had lost contact with more than 13 years ago. Turns out that the satellite, which was designed to study the Earth's magnetosphere, is still operational. NASA now plans to recreate IMAGE's operational software, which had been decommissioned, and to assess the potential of continuing to use the long-lost satellite. Learn more.

A Deep Space Clock for Navigation

Meanwhile, NASA is now testing its Deep Space Atomic Clock that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been perfecting for 20 years. The clock was made to greatly improve efficiency for spacecraft navigation, which currently relies heavily on two-way communications with ground-based antennas paired with ground-based atomic clocks. These communications can take hours as each side waits for signals to be transmitted and returned. The ability to access an atomic clock in deep space would allow for navigation to be done onboard and in real time. It would also free up ground stations to track multiple satellites at once, and with significantly greater accuracy. NASA sees the technology as a step toward giving future exploration missions the data needed to send humans back to the moon and traverse the solar system. Sounds like the space race is on! Learn more.

Now, remember to check out Engineering360 and Electronics360 for more news and information like this – plus engineering reference guides, product spec sheets and videos of interest. Thanks for watching the Engineering360 News Brief!

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