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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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Space

Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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