Fiction Science Club

‘Her Space, Her Time’ reveals hidden figures of physics

Quick: Name a woman scientist.

Chances are the name you came up with is Marie Curie, the physicist and chemist who won two Nobel Prizes more than a century ago for the discoveries she and her husband Pierre made about radioactivity.

But who else? In a new book titled “Her Space, Her Time,” quantum physicist Shohini Ghose explains why women astronomers and physicists have been mostly invisible in the past — and profiles 20 researchers who lost out on what should have been Nobel-level fame.

“This issue around having low representation of women in physics is something that’s common all around the world,” Ghose says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “And I’ve certainly faced it in my own experiences as a physicist growing up. I really didn’t know of any woman physicist apart from Marie Curie.”

Universe Today

How far will NASA’s UFO studies go? Stay tuned

BOULDER, Colo. — NASA says it’s going to play a bigger role in studying what’s behind unidentified anomalous phenomena, the newfangled name for what we used to call UFOs. But exactly how should NASA step into that role? The astrophysicist who helped get the ball rolling last year as NASA’s associate administrator for science is suggesting a quick and easy way to get started.

Thomas Zurbuchen, who left NASA at the end of 2022 and is now director of ETH Zurich Space, says his old employer could add unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAPs, to a list of targeted research topics that’s due to be released in four months or so.

“You basically say, ‘Here’s opportunities,’ and you squeeze them in,” Zurbuchen said Oct. 7 in Boulder at the ScienceWriters 2023 conference. “Generally speaking, I think it’s a lot easier to do that.”


Atlas V rocket sends Amazon’s first satellites into space

Amazon’s first satellites were launched today on a mission aimed at testing out the hardware and software for the Seattle company’s worldwide Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation.

Two prototype satellites — known as KuiperSat 1 and 2 — rode a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida into space at 2:06 p.m. ET (11:06 a.m. PT).

United Launch Alliance provided updates on what it called the Protoflight mission via its X / Twitter account. In a post-launch statement, ULA declared the mission to be successful and said that the Atlas V “precisely” delivered the satellites to orbit.

The satellites were sent into 311-mile-high (500-kilometer-high) orbits with a 30-degree inclination. In a status update, Amazon said Project Kuiper’s mission operations center in Redmond, Wash., confirmed first contact with both satellites within an hour after launch.

“Five plus years in the making. So much care, persistence, boldness and beauty,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in a posting to Instagram and Threads. “What an amazing endeavor. … Big milestone and much more to come!”

Project Kuiper, an ambitious program that was publicly unveiled in 2019, aims to provide broadband internet access — and satellite-based access to Amazon Web Services — to millions of people who are currently underserved. Amazon plans to use the prototypes — which were built at Project Kuiper’s HQ in Redmond — to test the hardware on the spacecraft, as well as ground operations and customer terminals.


Starfish Space will look into a plan to inspect space junk

Even as Starfish Space works to get its first orbital demonstration mission back on track, the Tukwila, Wash.-based startup has won a contract from NASA to look into an even more ambitious project to inspect orbital debris up close.

The newly announced study contract follows up on earlier work that Starfish has done to prove out features of its system for making a rendezvous with other spacecraft in orbit — and either servicing them or guiding them to their demise.

Some of those features — including Starfish’s Cetacean relative navigation software and its Cephalopod autonomous guidance software — could be tested sometime in the next few months on the company’s Otter Pup prototype spacecraft, which was sent into orbit in June but was forced into an unfortunate spin during deployment. Starfish stabilized the spin in August and is currently making sure that all of Otter Pup’s systems are in working order for future tests.

NASA’s follow-up contract, awarded through the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR, calls for Starfish Space to assess the feasibility of using its full-scale Otter satellite servicing vehicle to rendezvous with large pieces of space debris and inspect them.


Amazon satellites take their places for milestone launch

United Launch Alliance says the first prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband network have been placed atop their Atlas V rocket, with launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida set for Oct. 6.

The launch window will open on that day at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT), ULA said today in an online update.

Liftoff will mark a milestone for Project Kuiper, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into orbit to provide broadband internet access to millions of people around the world who are currently underserved. Kuiper is seen as a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, which already has more than 2 million subscribers.


FAA finishes investigation of Blue Origin launch mishap

The Federal Aviation Administration says that it’s closed its investigation of last year’s mishap involving Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship, but that Jeff Bezos’ space venture isn’t yet cleared to resume flights.

New Shepard’s engine anomaly occurred during an uncrewed research flight on Sept. 12, 2022, and led to the suspension of further flights. The booster’s misfire marked a rare setback for the New Shepard program, which had conducted more than 20 successful launches at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas — including six missions that provided suborbital space trips to a total of 31 people.

During last year’s aborted mission, Blue Origin’s launch escape system worked as planned, blasting the capsule away from the booster for a parachute-assisted landing while the booster fell onto the Texas spaceport’s open terrain. The company said that if people had been in the capsule, they would have survived. No one was hurt on the ground.

This March, Blue Origin reported that the booster’s BE-3 rocket engine malfunctioned when its nozzle suffered a structural failure, due to engine operating temperatures that were higher than expected. The FAA said its final report reflects that conclusion.

The FAA also said Blue Origin was required to take 21 corrective actions to prevent a reoccurrence of the mishap. Those measures included a redesign of the engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance during operation, plus organizational changes.

Back in March, Blue Origin said it had already begun implementing corrective actions. “We’ve received the FAA’s letter and plan to fly soon,” the company said today in a posting to X / Twitter.


Blue Origin’s next CEO has a mission: Speed it up!

Jeff Bezos’ selection of Amazon devices chief Dave Limp as the next CEO of his Blue Origin space venture could well mark the start of a speed-up in the company’s tortoise-like pace.

For years, Bezos has sent out vibes that it might be OK to take it slow in the space race with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. He’d probably deny that’s the case, but it’s a fact that Blue Origin’s mascot is the tortoise rather than the hare in the tale from Aesop’s Fables, and that the company’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” — Latin for “Step by Step, Ferociously.” When it comes to space development, Bezos’ favorite sayings include “Slow Is Smooth, and Smooth Is Fast” and “We Don’t Skip Steps.”

Some in the space business would argue that going slow has put Blue Origin so far behind SpaceX that it’ll be difficult if not impossible to catch up.


Jeff Bezos picks Amazon exec to be Blue Origin’s CEO

Blue Origin has confirmed that Dave Limp, who is leaving his post as Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, will take over as the CEO of Jeff Bezos’ privately held space venture.

The current CEO, longtime aerospace executive Bob Smith, is retiring from the post but will stay on with Blue Origin until January to help with the transition, a company spokesperson told me in an email.

Limp presided over Amazon’s Echo hardware line and its Alexa voice assistant business, among other initiatives. The most relevant initiative for Blue Origin would be his oversight of Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite project, which is due to have its first prototype satellites launched as soon as next month. Those satellites will be sent into low Earth orbit on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, but Blue Origin is a major contractor for the Kuiper launches to come.

Reports about the transition began percolating out on social media today, after Blue Origin distributed internal memos to the company’s staff. In today’s emailed statement, Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin praised Limp’s record at Amazon.


NASA probe delivers asteroid sample — and moves on

Seven years and 4 billion miles after its launch, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has successfully dropped off a capsule containing a precious sample of one near-Earth asteroid — and is now on course to rendezvous with another one in 2029.

Rocket thrusters built at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in Redmond, Wash., have been guiding the bus-sized probe every step of the way.

Today marked the climax of OSIRIS-REx — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer. The billion-dollar mission is designed to let scientists examine pristine stuff from a space rock that could shed light on the chemistry of the primordial solar system, and give them a better idea of the resources that could someday be gleaned from asteroids.


Stoke Space puts its rocket through a short but sweet hop

A four-year-old Seattle-area startup called Stoke Space executed a successful up-and-down test of its “Hopper” developmental rocket vehicle today, marking a major milestone in its quest to create a fully reusable launch system.

Hopper2’s 15-second flight took place at Stoke’s test facility at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., at 11:24 a.m. PT. A hydrogen-fueled rocket engine sent the test vehicle to a height of 30 feet, with a landing 15 feet away from the launch pad, Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa told me.

“It’s the last test in our development program for Hopper, and by all accounts, it’s been very successful,” Lapsa said.

Today’s test follows up on work that was done this spring with an earlier prototype, Hopper1, and a static engine firing for Hopper2 that was conducted this month.