Join us in our celebration of World Space Week 2021 by checking out our Editor’s choice of space-related research. We’re in awe of the (inter)stellar work that has been and is being undertaken all over the world, and we’re extremely proud to have published some of it!
Find out more about World Space Week 2021: https://bit.ly/3ahjHxQ
From analysing solar activity and searching for alien life, to monitoring the impact of spaceflight on our bodies and laying out guidelines for sustainable space exploration, researchers around the world continue to enhance our understanding of our solar system and the universe beyond. The emergence of a commercial space industry as part of the ‘NewSpace’ revolution has introduced new dreams and challenges, instigating the development of cheaper spacecraft components, and intensifying the need to investigate our impact on the space environment, as well as its impact on us.
Bringing space closer with 3D printing
2021 has been an historic year for space travel, with billionaires vying to successfully commercialise suborbital flight. In addition to reinstalling space travel at the centre of public consciousness, this new space race has catalysed attempts to democratise the production of space technology and bring literally astronomical costs down to Earth.
The development of 3D printed satellite components represents a significant contribution to this effort. 3D printed electrospray thrusters designed for nanosatellite propulsion have lower production costs than their traditional counterparts and are more fuel-efficient. Learn more about this new technology and its important role in enhancing the accessibility of space exploration here: https://bit.ly/3sn3peg.
Responses to spaceflight: The mouth as a mirror
The expansion of the commercial space industry and its ambition to bring spaceflight to a broader ‘lay’ audience over the next few decades also injects new urgency into research into the effects of spaceflight on human health.
During spaceflight, astronauts experience various physiological changes brought about by the extreme environmental conditions they experience. The near absence of gravity, for example, effects the cardiovascular system and causes ‘space motion sickness’.
Traditionally, blood is used to assess astronauts’ health; Professor Arthur Hand and Dr Maija Mednieks (University of Connecticut) suggest that saliva could be used as a non-invasive, easily collectible diagnostic fluid. Read more about their research here: https://bit.ly/2GBzRag.
Planetary Protection Policy: For sustainable space exploration and to safeguard our biosphere
Visions of higher traffic in space are naturally followed by concerns about our impact on the space environment, and the impulse to ensure that space exploration is conducted responsibly and sustainably.
The act of sending a spacecraft to explore a solar system object can compromise the object’s environment and result in harmful extra-terrestrial contaminants being brought back to Earth by accident.
COSPAR, the Committee on Space Research, regularly reviews the latest research to provide guidelines for the scientific investigation of celestial bodies. One of COSPAR’s core activities is to develop, maintain, and promote a Policy on Planetary Protection. The PPP protects investment in space science and exploration and shields the Earth’s environment from potential hazards introduced by spacecraft returning samples from missions. Find out more about their regulatory work here: https://bit.ly/3o47ly2.
Modern techniques for analysing solar activity
Fundamental to our investment in space exploration is our historic fascination with celestial bodies. Research by Dr Yusuke Iida explores the behaviour of one of our oldest muses, the Sun.
The surface of the sun is a complex, ever-changing environment. However, every eleven years, sunspots will appear and disappear in predictable patterns. It isn’t yet clear how these mysteriously reliable repeating dynamics can occur in such a hostile environment; this puzzle is referred to as the ‘Solar Dynamo Problem’.
In his research, Dr Iida draws upon previous attempts to solve this problem, suggesting new approaches which make use of the latest satellite observations and computer analysis techniques. Find out more about the mysteries of our nearest star here: http://bit.ly/33sjNyp.
Twinkle, twinkle: How astronomers investigate alien planets
The search for extra-terrestrial life continues to act as a primary driver for space exploration and discovery. One key part of this search is the investigation of exoplanets – planets which orbit stars outside our own solar system.
Scientists hunt for exoplanets using a method called transit photometry. This involves closely monitoring a star’s brightness. If an orbiting planet passes directly in front of, or transits, the star, the brightness will dip slightly before returning to normal.
Dr Howell has spent the last decade studying what he refers to as ‘transit-like’ events, contributing to research that will someday lead to the discovery of life on an alien world. Read more about his voyage of discovery here: https://bit.ly/3iqI15J.