Research Outreach Blog
August 12, 2022

Travel to Cornwall for your next holiday…then into space!

Idyllic beaches, rugged coastal lines and quaint seaside towns make Cornwall one of the most popular tourist destinations for staycationers and globetrotters alike. Yet, it’s also set to become the home of the UK’s first ever spaceport for space travel! Virgin Orbit is soon set to launch it’s fifth mission of putting thrill-seekers and space-tech clients into space from Cornwall. Research Outreach reports on this out-of-this-world development: one small step for space tourism, one giant leap for the UK’s space exploits.

Spaceports are set to become the next-generation of departure points for travel, allowing paying customers for the first time to voyage into the starry expanse above our heads. Our ancestors watched as ports began to disembark passengers into train stations, then train stations connected commuters to airports – now spaceports are joining the interconnected ranks of travel. Virgin Orbit will send its next people-carrying satellite into space from Cornwall, following on from its latest successful ‘Straight Up’ mission in California in July.

Later this year in 2022, the Virgin Orbit launch in Cornwall will mark the first time a rocket has been sent into space from the UK. ‘The success of the Straight Up mission is another exciting milestone on our way to seeing the first satellite launch from UK soil’, says UK Space Agency’s Director, Mathew Archer, who welcomes the news.

To celebrate this ground-breaking development and launch you into all the excitement, we’ve rounded up our favourite space exploration articles, podcasts and videos for you to get future-proofed for space travel. Learn how astronomers are investigating alien planets (perhaps to start scouting out the next future must-see travel destinations if the aliens are friendly) and how scientists are looking at ways to ensure that space exploration is sustainable. Simply can’t wait, but can’t afford the astronomical fare? Find out how 3D printing is making space travel a more affordable reality.

Twinkle, twinkle:How astronomers investigate alien planets

The NASA Kepler Space Telescope revolutionised our understanding of the universe. By continuously observing over half a million stars during its four-year mission, Kepler discovered thousands of exoplanets. Many hundreds of these are Earth-like in size and composition, and tens of them reside in the habitable ‘Goldilocks’ zone. Kepler and similar space-based telescopes like TESS discover planets purely by inference, never actually ‘seeing’ these planets. Instead, they watch for tell-tale periodic dips in brightness. When a star twinkles, suggesting an alien planet has been detected, Dr Steve B Howell at NASA’s Ames Research Centre has the job of determining what it is. Using some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth and a technique called speckle interferometry, the researchers are identifying the planets which might be best-suited to harbouring life.

Planetary Protection Policy: For sustainable space exploration and to safeguard our biosphere

The search for the origin of life amongst the planetary bodies in our solar system is a driving factor in space research. However, the simple act of sending a spacecraft to explore in situ solar system objects can potentially compromise their environments and cause harmful contamination when returning to Earth. Avoiding such biological contamination of planetary bodies (forward contamination) is essential in the scientific exploration of our solar system, as is protecting Earth’s environment from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter (backward contamination) from planetary missions. COSPAR, the Committee on Space Research, through an international panel of scientists regularly reviews the latest scientific research to provide guidelines and categorisation of space missions so as not to jeopardise future research and scientific investigation of celestial bodies.

Bringing space closer with 3Dprinting

To fulfil the promise of the “NewSpace” revolution and open the door to commercial space exploration that is accessible to everyone, low-cost space technologies are necessary. In order to lower the cost of spacecraft propulsion, Dulce Melo-Máximo from the Tecnológico de Monterrey in México and Luis Fernando Velásquez-García from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report on the first additively manufactured (3D-printed) electrospray thrusters to be used in nanosatellites. These thrusters are not only cheaper and quicker to manufacture, but they also use propellant fuel very efficiently. This important development is a significant contribution to the democratization of nanosatellite propulsion technology.

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