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Universe Today

DNA from Star Trek’s doctor will ride to final frontier

A memorial spaceflight paying tribute to the cast and crew of the original “Star Trek” TV show has just added another star to the passenger list.

DeForest Kelley — who played Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the Starship Enterprise’s physician — will be represented by a thimble-sized sample of DNA on next year’s “Enterprise Flight.” Kelley passed away in 1999 at the age of 79, but the DNA was extracted from a hair sample that was preserved after his death.

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GeekWire

Satellites plus cellphones add up to a new frontier

Today’s big iPhone reveal adds Apple to the list of companies aiming to combine the power of satellite communications with the power of everyday cellphones — a list that includes other tech heavyweights such as T-Mobile and SpaceX, Amazon and Verizon, OneWeb and AT&T. Also on the list: a startup that’s carving out a niche on the satellite-cellular frontier.

“We’re years ahead of anybody else, and so we’re in a great position,” said Charles Miller, co-founder and CEO of Virginia-based Lynk. “We’ve been talking for a while about what a huge business this is, and a bunch of other companies are now starting to wake up.”

Specialized satellite phones have been around for decades, but the new crop of space-based telecom services is meant to make use of the billions of smartphones that are produced for the general market.

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GeekWire

NASA scrubs its second try to launch moon rocket

NASA called off today’s attempt to launch its Space Launch System rocket due to a hydrogen leak encountered during the process of fueling up the core stage.

The next opportunity for liftoff could come on Sept. 5 or 6, but NASA hasn’t yet decided the timing for the third launch attempt.

NASA’s uncrewed test mission, known as Artemis 1, is meant to blaze a trail for sending astronauts to the moon.

“We’ll go when it’s ready,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “We don’t go until then, and especially now, on a test flight, because we’re going to stress this and test it … and make sure it’s right before we put four humans up on the top of it. So, this is part of the space business.”

Today’s scrub at Kennedy Space Center in Florida came five days after an initial postponement, which was attributed to concerns about the procedure for cooling down the SLS’s rocket engines prior to launch.

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Cosmic Space

Webb Telescope captures its first photo of alien planet

NASA has released the first direct image of an exoplanet taken by the James Webb Space Telescope — and although there’s no chance that this particular alien world could harbor life as we know it, the picture serves as an early demonstration of the observatory’s power.

“We’ve only just begun,” Aarynn Carter, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz who led the analysis of the JWST image, said today in a NASA image advisory. “There are many more images of exoplanets to come that will shape our overall understanding of their physics, chemistry and formation.”

The planet in question, HIP 65426 b, is about 355 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Discovered five years ago, it’s a gas giant that’s roughly seven times as massive as Jupiter — and it’s about 100 times farther out from its parent star than Earth is from the sun.

That extreme distance from a dwarf star would make HIP 65426 b a prohibitively chilly ball of gas. But the distance also provides enough separation for JWST to distinguish the planet from the star.

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GeekWire

NASA schedules second attempt to launch moon rocket

One day after the first launch of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket had to be scrubbed due to an engine cool-down issue, mission managers announced that they’d try again on Sept. 3. In the meantime, engineers will work out the details of a go/no-go plan, just in case they face issues similar to those that forced this week’s scrub.

Sept. 3’s two-hour launch opportunity opens at 2:17 p.m. ET (11:17 a.m. PT) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If all systems are go, liftoff would mark the beginning of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight aimed at setting the stage for sending astronauts to the lunar surface in the mid-2020s.

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GeekWire

High-def Titanic video reveals previously unseen details

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate Expeditions set a new standard this year for documenting the condition of the 110-year-old wreck of the Titanic, thanks to a high-definition 8K video system that was installed aboard its submersible.

A sampling of the first-ever 8K video footage from the Titanic, captured during this summer’s dives in the North Atlantic, was released today. OceanGate plans to return to the wreck on an annual basis to track changes in the Titanic’s condition over time, in video resolution that’s roughly 8,000 pixels wide.

“The amazing detail in the 8K footage will help our team of scientists and maritime archaeologists characterize the decay of the Titanic more precisely as we capture new footage in 2023 and beyond,” Stockton Rush, president of OceanGate Expeditions, said in an emailed statement. “Capturing this 8K footage will allow us to zoom in and still have 4K quality, which is key for large screen and immersive video projects. Even more remarkable are the phenomenal colors in this footage.”

Rory Golden, a veteran Titanic diver who’s part of the OceanGate team, said the video revealed details he hadn’t seen before.

“For example, I had never seen the name of the anchor maker, Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd., on the portside anchor,” Golden said via email. “I’ve been studying the wreck for decades and have completed multiple dives, and I can’t recall seeing any other image showing this level of detail. It is exciting that, after so many years, we may have discovered a new detail that wasn’t as obvious with previous generations of camera technologies.”

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GeekWire

Synthetic peptide molecules open the way for new drugs

Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered how to create peptide molecules that can slip through membranes to enter cells — and they’ve also created a company to take advantage of the discovery for drug development.

The findings, which were published today in the journal Cell, could eventually lead to new types of oral medications for health disorders ranging from COVID-19 to cancer.

“This new ability to design membrane-permeable peptides with high structural accuracy opens the door to a new class of medicines that combine the advantages of traditional small-molecule drugs and larger protein therapeutics,” senior study author David Baker, a biochemist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a news release.

Small-molecule drugs — for example, aspirin — are small enough to slip through cell membranes to do their work. Protein therapeutics — for example, monoclonal antibodies — can target more complex ailments, but the protein molecules are typically too big to wedge their way through lipid-based cell walls.

Peptide drugs are made from the same building blocks as protein, and offer many of the advantages of protein-based drugs. They can bind protein targets in the body more precisely than small-molecule drugs, promising fewer side effects.

“We know that peptides can be excellent medicines, but a big problem is that they don’t get into cells,” said study lead author Gaurav Bhardwaj, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at the UW School of Pharmacy. “There are a lot of great drug targets inside our cells, and if we can get in there, that space opens up.”

The newly reported experiments used a couple of molecular design techniques to create types of peptide molecules that can get into cells more easily.

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GeekWire

Engine problem forces a delay for moon rocket’s launch

plumbing issue on a rocket engine has forced a postponement in the first launch of NASA’s most powerful rocket on a history-making round-the-moon flight.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket went far into the fueling process for today’s start of the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission, which is meant to test all the systems that will come into play during crewed missions to the moon.

During the countdown, engineers detected a problem with one of the core stage’s four rocket engines. The rocket is designed to “bleed off” some of its supercooled propellant to condition its engines — basically, to maintain the engines at the proper temperature for startup. But the hydrogen bleed procedure wasn’t working properly for engine No. 3.

Engineers tried various techniques to free up the plumbing snag, and NASA called an unplanned hold at T-minus-40 minutes to give them more time to come up with a fix. But in the end, mission managers decided to scrub the launch for today.

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GeekWire

SLS moon launch is about much more than a big bang

More than 100,000 people are expected to overwhelm Florida’s Space Coast on Aug. 29 to watch NASA’s most powerful rocket lift off on a history-making Artemis 1 mission to the moon and beyond — but if you can’t make it in person, watching the launch online may well be the next best thing.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B at 8:33 a.m. ET (5:33 a.m. PT), at the start of a two-hour launch window. Forecasters say there’s an 80% chance of acceptable weather at the beginning of the window, declining to 60% by the end.

No significant problems have turned up during the countdown, senior test director Jeff Spalding said today. “We are prepared for anything,” he told reporters. But if weather or technical issues force a postponement, Sept. 2 and 5 are the backup dates for launch.

Streaming video coverage is set to begin at 9 p.m. PT tonight on NASA TV with commentary on the SLS fueling operation. The coverage goes into full swing at 3:30 a.m. PT. (Check out the full schedule.)

The Artemis 1 mission calls for the first-ever SLS launch to send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a 42-day test flight that features a wide-ranging lunar orbit, coming as close as 62 miles to the moon and ranging as far as 40,000 miles beyond the moon. That will set a distance record for any spacecraft designed to carry astronauts.

At the end of the mission, the Orion capsule will come screaming back to Earth at 25,000 mph, heading for a Pacific Ocean splashdown. One of Artemis 1’s prime objectives is to test the performance of Orion’s heat shield at atmospheric re-entry temperatures ranging as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA and its commercial partners have been working toward this flight for more than a decade. Artemis 1 represents the first real-world test of the SLS-Orion system, setting the stage for Artemis 2’s crewed round-the-moon flight in the 2024 time frame and Artemis 3’s crewed moon landing in 2025 or 2026.

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GeekWire

Aerojet is working years ahead on NASA’s moon missions

REDMOND, Wash. — When NASA’s Space Launch System rocket sends an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon and back for the Artemis 1 mission, the trip will put rocket components built in Redmond to their sternest test.

But at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Redmond facility, where hardware for Artemis 1 was built years ago, engineers are already working years ahead. “We have delivered Artemis 1 and 2, and we’re just finishing up Artemis 3 right now so that acceptance testing will finish this summer,” said Erica Raine, the Aerojet program manager who’s overseeing work on the Orion capsule in Redmond.

And she’s just talking about the reaction control thrusters for Artemis 3’s Orion crew module — the vehicle that’s destined to transport astronauts to the moon by as early as 2025. Some of the components currently being assembled in Redmond are destined to become part of the Artemis 5 moon mission, set for 2028.

Aerojet’s production schedule goes to show how long it takes to put together the millions of pieces for the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule that are due for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 29.