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Elon Musk says SpaceX could land on the moon in 2 years. A NASA executive says ‘we’ll partner with them, and we’ll get there faster’ if the company can pull it off.

  • Elon Musk says SpaceX may land cargo on the moon in two years, then people a year or two after that, using the company’s forthcoming Starship rocket system.
  • Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants NASA to land astronauts on the lunar surface in 2024 with its Artemis program.
  • Jeff DeWit, NASA’s chief financial officer, told Business Insider that if Musk and SpaceX pull off a private moon landing in 2021, “we’ll partner with them, and we’ll get there faster.”
  • But he added that the odds of that happening “are slim.”

Fifty years ago on Wednesday, the first humans to walk on the moon splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA is itching to launch astronauts back to the moon, with an immediate goal of putting boots on the lunar surface in 2024 with its Artemis program. But to accomplish that, the agency may wind up turning to private rocket developers like SpaceX.

Artemis isn’t meant to repeat the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, NASA wants to send cargo and supplies to the lunar surface, build up a permanent base there, and start looking for ice. Hundreds of millions of tons of water exist on the moon, and that resource can be mined, melted, turned into air, and split into rocket fuel to power voyages to Mars.

NASA plans to use government-funded Space Launch System rockets to return to the moon. But those vehicles won’t start launching until late 2021 (the first one was supposed to fly in 2017) and the program is billions of dollars over budget. Increasingly, Trump administration officials and NASA executives are signaling, contrary to congressional budgets, that the agency may look to SpaceX or Blue Origin for help.

“We’re not committed to any one contractor,” Vice President Mike Pence said in March. “If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will.”

More recently, Pence told Major Garrett on the podcast “The Takeout” that “if our traditional partners can’t do the job, we’re going to look to the private space industry to give us the rockets and the technology to get there.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX is sending signals back to the Trump administration and NASA in kind.

‘It may literally be easier to just land Starship on the moon than try to convince NASA that we can’

Elon Musk presenting an updated design of SpaceX’s next rocket system.

This month, Time’s Jeffrey Kluger interviewed Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, for “CBS Sunday Morning.” During that conversation, Musk suggested his company might attempt an uncrewed lunar landing before the end of 2021. SpaceX would ostensibly pull off this feat using Starship, a launch system it’s developing to transport people to the moon and Mars.

“This is going to sound pretty crazy, but I think we could land on the moon in less than two years. Certainly with an uncrewed vehicle I believe we could land on the moon in two years,” Musk said. “So then maybe within a year or two of that we could be sending crew.”

Musk added that executing a private mission might be easier than trying to persuade skeptics within NASA to partner with SpaceX in the development of its Starship system — and using taxpayer dollars for it.

“It may literally be easier to just land Starship on the moon than try to convince NASA that we can,” he said, adding: “‘Hey, look. Here’s a picture of landing there right now!’ That might be the better way to do it.”

NASA may turn to SpaceX if the company can pull off a lunar landing

An artist’s concept of a crewed Artemis mission to the moon’s surface in the 2020s.

We recently asked Jeff DeWit, NASA’s chief financial officer, about Musk’s statements for an upcoming episode of “Business Insider Today,” a top daily news show on Facebook.

DeWit, who’s in charge of helping the agency make the most cost-effective decisions, said he thought that the odds of SpaceX pulling off a private lunar landing with Starship before NASA can return there “are slim,” but he did not rule out the possibility of a NASA-SpaceX partnership on a moon mission. In fact, he underscored the possibility.

“More power to him. I hope he does it,” DeWit said of Musk. “If he can do it, we’ll partner with them, and we’ll get there faster.”

He added: “This isn’t about us doing it — it’s about America doing it. He’s [got] an American company. I’d love to partner with him and get that done.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment about DeWit’s statements.

DeWit also said NASA would “love to bring along” any commercial companies into the Artemis program that could help the agency achieve its goals. Though he named traditional aerospace companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, DeWit spoke most frequently about SpaceX and Blue Origin and its founder, Jeff Bezos, who in May debuted a lunar-landing spacecraft concept called Blue Moon.

“The fact that Elon Musk is out working for this goal is great,” DeWit said. “The fact that Jeff Bezos is out there working for this goal is great.”

To develop Starship, SpaceX has built a prototype rocket ship and test bed, called Starhopper, in South Texas. The company hopes to launch the vehicle on Wednesday, send it about 65 feet (20 meters) in the air, hover it, and land it.

Starhopper is not designed to fly to space. However, Musk said a larger prototype, called Starship Mark 1, could fly from Texas or Florida in two to three months and reach orbit by the end of the year.

In September, Musk said that SpaceX planned to use the system to launch a Japanese billionaire around the moon (but not land on its surface) in 2023.

Source www.businessinsider.com

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Our Galaxy’s Black Hole Suddenly Lit Up and Nobody Knows Why

In May, the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way became 75 times brighter in just two hours.

The supermassive black hole that lives at the center of our galaxy has been mysteriously sparkling as of late, and nobody knows the reason.

This dark behemoth, known as as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), is four million times as massive as the Sun. Though no light escapes its boundaries, astronomers can observe the hole’s interactions with bright stars or dust clouds that surround it.

On the night of May 13, 2019, UCLA astronomer Tuan Do and his colleagues were watching Sgr A* using the Keck Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. In a period of just two hours, they witnessed the black hole become 75 times brighter in the near-infrared band of the light spectrum.

That spring evening, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole “reached much brighter flux levels in 2019 than ever measured at near-infrared wavelengths,” according to a forthcoming studyled by Do and published on the arXiv preprint server.

“The brightness of Sgr A* varies all the time, getting brighter and fainter on the timescale of minutes to hours—it basically flickers like a candle,” Do said in an email. “We think that something unusual might be happening this year because the black hole seems to vary in brightness more, reaching brighter levels than we’ve ever seen in the past.”

The peak flux, meaning the most luminous phase of the flare-up, soared to “twice the maximum historical flux measurements,” Do’s team said in the study. In other words, in the 20 years since astronomers have monitored Sgr A*, the next-brightest event has only been half as dazzling as this one.

This unusual sparkle at the galactic core was likely caused by close encounters between Sgr A* and objects surrounding it, according to the team.

The edge of a black hole, called an event horizon, is shaped by intense tidal forces that tear at anything that gets close. Once a black hole starts devouring nearby objects like stars or gas clouds, infalling material heats up at the event horizon, sparking light shows that can be picked up by telescopes.

Do and his colleagues speculate that a star called S0-2, which is about 15 times as massive as the Sun, may have been the object that juiced Sgr A*. In 2018, S0-2 came within 17 light hours of the supermassive black hole, and that close pass may have disturbed gases at the event horizon enough to cause the May 2019 brightening event.

This composite image shows the motion of the dusty cloud G2 as it closes in on, and then passes, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. These new observations with ESO’s VLT have shown that the cloud appears to have survived its close encounter with the black hole and remains a compact object that is not significantly extended. In this image the position of the cloud in the years 2006, 2010, 2012 and February and September 2014 are shown, from left to right. The blobs have been colourised to show the motion of the cloud, red indicated that the object is receding and blue approaching. The cross marks the position of the supermassive black hole.

Another possible culprit is a dust cloud known as G2, which passed about 36 light hours from Sgr A* in 2014. Scientists predicted that G2 would be torn apart by the hole, but the results were ultimately described as disappointing and “boring” for astronomers.

That initial letdown may have been premature, though, because we might be seeing the slow-burn “delayed reaction” to the gas cloud’s approach, the team said.

“Many astronomers are observing Sgr A* this summer,” Do noted. “I’m hoping we can get as much data as we can this year before the region of the sky with Sgr A* gets behind the Sun and we won’t be able to observe it again until next year.”

“Maybe the black hole is waking up—there’s a lot we don’t know at this point so we need more data to understand if what we are seeing is a big change in what is feeding the black hole or this is a brief event,” he said.

Source www.vice.com

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Milky Way galaxy is warped and twisted, not flat

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is “warped and twisted” and not flat as previously thought, new research shows.

Analysis of the brightest stars in the galaxy shows that they do not lie on a flat plane as shown in academic texts and popular science books.

Astronomers from Warsaw University speculate that it might have been bent out of shape by past interactions with nearby galaxies.

The new three dimensional map has been published in the journal Science.

The popular picture of the Milky Way as a flat disc is based on the observation of 2.5 million stars out of a possible 2.5 billion. The artists’ impressions are therefore rough approximations of the truer shape of our galaxy, according to Dr Dorota Skowron of Warsaw University.

“The internal structure and history of the Milky Way is still far from being understood, in part because it is extremely difficult to measure distances to stars at the outer regions of our galaxy,” she said.

To gain a more accurate picture, Dr Skowron and her colleagues measured the distances of some of the brightest stars in the Milky Way, called Cepheid variable stars. These are massive young stars that burn hundreds, if not thousands, of times brighter than our own Sun. They can be so bright that they can be observed at the very edge of the galaxy.

Not only that, they also pulsate at regular intervals at a rate that is directly related to their brightness.

Artists’ impressions which depict the Milky Way as a flat disk will have to be revised

This enables astronomers to calculate their distance with great precision.

Most of the stars were identified by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) at Las Campanas Observatory (LCO) in Chile’s southern Atacama Desert. Przemek Mroz, a member of the OGLE team, said that the results were surprising.

Warsaw Telescope and Milky Way Cepheids discovered by the OGLE survey

“Our results show that the Milky Way Galaxy is not flat. It is warped and twisted far away from the galactic centre. Warping may have happened through past interactions with satellite galaxies, intergalactic gas or dark matter (invisible material present in galaxies about which little in known).”

The Polish results support an analysis of Cepheid variable stars published in February in Nature Astronomy journal by astronomers from Macquarie University in Australia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Source www.bbc.co.uk

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SpaceX Starship update coming later this month

Image Credit: SpaceX / Elon Musk

Starship could carry the first astronauts back to the Moon.

Elon Musk’s private space firm has been developing a spacecraft capable of landing humans on other worlds.

Designed to serve as the reusable second stage of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), Starship will also be able to carry astronauts and cargo all the way to the surface of Mars.

The spacecraft has undergone several name changes since it was first announced, having previously transitioned from Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) to Interplanetary Transport System (ITS).

Now Elon Musk has revealed that a full update on the project will be coming on August 24th at either Cape Canaveral in Florida or Boca Chica in Texas, which is where a prototype was recently tested.

Writing on Twitter, he stated that the update would include a “detailed review of the first orbital Starship, explaining the pros and cons of each design decision.”

“We should have Starship Mk1 with 3 Raptors almost ready to fly by then,” he said.

It will certainly be interesting to see how things are progressing.

Source: Ars Technica

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