Construction starts in Australia on the world’s largest radio telescope

Astronomers are now closer to a major technological upgrade. Australia has started construction of its portion of the Square Kilometer Array, a system that should become the world's largest radio telescope. The Australian portion, SKA-Low, will revolve around 131,072 antenna "trees" in the country's western Wajarri country. As the name implies, the array will focus on low-frequency signals. The Guardiannotes it's expected to be eight times more sensitive than existing telescopes, and map the cosmos about 135 times faster.

A counterpart with 197 conventional radio dishes, SKA-Mid, is coming to Meerkat National Park in South Africa's dry, unpopulated Karoo region. That element will study mid-range frequencies. The Australian segment is a joint effort between the dedicated SKA Organization and the country's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

The combined array, originally envisioned in 1991, is expected to transform radio astronomy. It will mainly be helpful for studying the early universe, and might provide new insights into the formation of the first stars during the reionization period. However, it should also help investigate dark energy and its potential effect on cosmic expansion. The extreme sensitivity may even be useful in the search for extraterrestrial life, although the resolution will limit the most detailed searches to relatively close stars. Director Dr. Sarah Pierce told The Guardian the telescopes could spot an airport radar on a planet "tens of light-years away."

Work on the Square Kilometer Array isn't expected to finish until 2028, and it will take some time after that for scientists to collect and decipher results. As with the James Webb Space Telescope, though, the lengthy wait is expected to pay dividends. This is a generational shift that could provide new insights into the universe, not just more detail — Pearce expects SKA to shape the "next fifty years" of radio astronomy.

FCC allows SpaceX to deploy 7,500 second-gen Starlink satellites

SpaceX first asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy 29,988 second-generation Starlink satellites back in 2020. Now, the FCC has granted its request — partially, at least. The commission has given the company the go-ahead to build, deploy and operate up to 7,500 satellites for its Gen2 constellation at the altitudes of 525 km, 530 km and 535 km. In its announcement, the FCC said approving 7,500 satellites for the constellation will allow SpaceX to provide broadband internet to users worldwide, even those living in far-flung areas. 

The FCC is limiting the number of satellites SpaceX can deploy for now, though, to address concerns about orbital debris and space safety. It says the limited grant will help maintain a safe space environment and protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference. Several companies and even NASA previously raised concerns about SpaceX's plan to deploy an additional 30,000 satellites, considering the FCC already granted it permission to launch 12,000 first-gen Starlink satellites. 

In NASA's letter to the commission, it talked about an expanded constellation's potential impacts to its science and human spaceflight missions. A massive number of Starlink satellites, it said, could cause an increase in collision risks and lead to fewer launch windows. That said, the FCC is only deferring "action on the remainder of SpaceX's application" for now, so it may approve additional deployments. 

SpaceX chief Elon Musk previously revealed that the second-gen Starlink satellites will be much bigger than their predecessor and will need to be launch on the company's Starship launch vehicle. One of the reasons they're bigger is because of their massive antennas that will have the capability to communicate with phones here on Earth, like mobile towers in the sky. Indeed, the the collaboration T-Mobile and SpaceX announced in August will depend on Starlink's second-gen satellites. The companies aim to end mobile deadzones with their partnership and to provide connectivity wherever there's a clear view of the sky, even if it's in the middle of the ocean. 

FCC allows SpaceX to deploy 7,500 second-gen Starlink satellites

SpaceX first asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy 29,988 second-generation Starlink satellites back in 2020. Now, the FCC has granted its request — partially, at least. The commission has given the company the go-ahead to build, deploy and operate up to 7,500 satellites for its Gen2 constellation at the altitudes of 525 km, 530 km and 535 km. In its announcement, the FCC said approving 7,500 satellites for the constellation will allow SpaceX to provide broadband internet to users worldwide, even those living in far-flung areas. 

The FCC is limiting the number of satellites SpaceX can deploy for now, though, to address concerns about orbital debris and space safety. It says the limited grant will help maintain a safe space environment and protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference. Several companies and even NASA previously raised concerns about SpaceX's plan to deploy an additional 30,000 satellites, considering the FCC already granted it permission to launch 12,000 first-gen Starlink satellites. 

In NASA's letter to the commission, it talked about an expanded constellation's potential impacts to its science and human spaceflight missions. A massive number of Starlink satellites, it said, could cause an increase in collision risks and lead to fewer launch windows. That said, the FCC is only deferring "action on the remainder of SpaceX's application" for now, so it may approve additional deployments. 

SpaceX chief Elon Musk previously revealed that the second-gen Starlink satellites will be much bigger than their predecessor and will need to be launch on the company's Starship launch vehicle. One of the reasons they're bigger is because of their massive antennas that will have the capability to communicate with phones here on Earth, like mobile towers in the sky. Indeed, the the collaboration T-Mobile and SpaceX announced in August will depend on Starlink's second-gen satellites. The companies aim to end mobile deadzones with their partnership and to provide connectivity wherever there's a clear view of the sky, even if it's in the middle of the ocean. 

Southern hemisphere’s largest radio telescope joins search for extraterrestrial tech

The largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere has joined the search for technosignatures, signals that indicate the presence of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence. A new instrument utilized by the MeerKAT radio telescope, which is in a remote region of South Africa, will increase the number of targets that Breakthrough Listen can observe by a factor of 1,000.

A team of engineers and astronomers involved with Listen, an initiative that's seeking signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, spent three years working on the instrument, which is said to be the most powerful equipment ever deployed to aid the search for technosignatures. The instrument is integrated with MeerKAT's control and monitoring systems.

Listen is already employing the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, the Parkes Telescope in Australia and others in its hunt for technosignatures. What's different about MeerKAT is that there's no need to physically move its antennas. Its 64 dishes can monitor an area of the sky 50 times larger than what GBT can view at once.

“Such a large field of view typically contains many stars that are interesting technosignature targets," Listen principal investigator Dr. Andrew Siemion said in a statement. "Our new supercomputer enables us to combine signals from the 64 dishes to get high resolution scans of these targets with excellent sensitivity, all without impacting the research of other astronomers who are using the array.”

Along with being able to monitor a larger area of the sky at a given time, the ability to scan 64 objects at once will help Listen to detect and dismiss interfering signals from spacecraft launched by humans, such as satellites. One of the first targets that the new instrument will observe is Alpha Centauri. In 2020, Listen detected an odd radio signal coming from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun and a member of the Alpha Centauri system.

“It will take us just two years to search over one million nearby stars," Listen project scientist Dr. Cherry Ng said. "MeerKAT will provide us with the ability to detect a transmitter akin to Earth’s brightest radio beacons out to a distance of 250 light years in our routine observing mode.”

Southern hemisphere’s largest radio telescope joins search for extraterrestrial tech

The largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere has joined the search for technosignatures, signals that indicate the presence of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence. A new instrument utilized by the MeerKAT radio telescope, which is in a remote region of South Africa, will increase the number of targets that Breakthrough Listen can observe by a factor of 1,000.

A team of engineers and astronomers involved with Listen, an initiative that's seeking signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, spent three years working on the instrument, which is said to be the most powerful equipment ever deployed to aid the search for technosignatures. The instrument is integrated with MeerKAT's control and monitoring systems.

Listen is already employing the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, the Parkes Telescope in Australia and others in its hunt for technosignatures. What's different about MeerKAT is that there's no need to physically move its antennas. Its 64 dishes can monitor an area of the sky 50 times larger than what GBT can view at once.

“Such a large field of view typically contains many stars that are interesting technosignature targets," Listen principal investigator Dr. Andrew Siemion said in a statement. "Our new supercomputer enables us to combine signals from the 64 dishes to get high resolution scans of these targets with excellent sensitivity, all without impacting the research of other astronomers who are using the array.”

Along with being able to monitor a larger area of the sky at a given time, the ability to scan 64 objects at once will help Listen to detect and dismiss interfering signals from spacecraft launched by humans, such as satellites. One of the first targets that the new instrument will observe is Alpha Centauri. In 2020, Listen detected an odd radio signal coming from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun and a member of the Alpha Centauri system.

“It will take us just two years to search over one million nearby stars," Listen project scientist Dr. Cherry Ng said. "MeerKAT will provide us with the ability to detect a transmitter akin to Earth’s brightest radio beacons out to a distance of 250 light years in our routine observing mode.”

Fusion power is ‘approaching’ reality thanks to a magnetic field breakthrough

Fusion power may be a more realistic prospect than you think. As Motherboardreports, researchers at the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered that a new magnetic field setup more than tripled the energy output of the fusion reaction hotspot in experiments, "approaching" the level required for self-sustaining ignition in plasmas. The field was particularly effective at trapping heat within the hotspot, boosting the energy yield.

The hotspot's creation involved blasting 200 lasers at a fusion fuel pellet made from hydrogen isotopes like deuterium and tritium. The resulting X-rays made the pellet implode and thus produce the extremely high pressures and heat needed for fusion. The team achieved their feat by wrapping a coil around a pellet made using special metals.

The notion of using magnets to heat the fuel isn't new. University of Rochester scientists found they could use magnetism to their advantage in 2012. The Lawrence Livermore study was far more effective, however, producing 40 percent heat and more than three times the energy.

Practical fusion reactors are still many years away. The output is still far less than the energy required to create self-sustaining reactions. The finding makes ignition considerably more achievable, though, and that in turn improves the chances of an energy-positive fusion system. This also isn't the end of the magnetism experiments. A future test will use an ice-laden cryogenic capsule to help understand fusion physics. Even if ignition is still distant, the learnings from this study could provide a clearer path to that breakthrough moment.

NASA’s Orion photographed the Earth and Moon from a quarter-million miles away

The Orion spacecraft's record-setting distance from Earth made for stunning photography, apparently. NASA has shared a photo taken by the Artemis I vehicle on Monday showing both Earth and the Moon in the background. Much like some Apollo photography or Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot," the picture puts humanity's home in perspective — our world is just one small planet in a much larger cosmos.

Orion took the snapshot around its maximum distance from Earth of 268,563 miles. That's the farthest any human-oriented spacecraft has traveled, beating even Apollo 13's record of 248,655 miles from 1970. Notably, Artemis I represents the first time explorers intended to travel this far out — Apollo 13 only ventured so far from Earth because NASA's emergency flight plan required the Moon as a slingshot.

Ars Technicanotes that this early Artemis flight has so far surpassed NASA's expectations. While the mission team has only completed 31 out of 124 core objectives so far, it's adding goals like extended thruster tests. About half of the remaining activities are in progress, with the rest largely dependent on returning to Earth.

Orion is expected to splash down off the San Diego coast on December 11th. The Artemis program has dealt with numerous delays, and now isn't expected to land humans on the Moon until 2025 or 2026. NASA originally hoped for a lunar landing in 2024. Still, Artemis I's current performance suggests the space agency's efforts are finally paying off.

NASA’s Orion photographed the Earth and Moon from a quarter-million miles away

The Orion spacecraft's record-setting distance from Earth made for stunning photography, apparently. NASA has shared a photo taken by the Artemis I vehicle on Monday showing both Earth and the Moon in the background. Much like some Apollo photography or Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot," the picture puts humanity's home in perspective — our world is just one small planet in a much larger cosmos.

Orion took the snapshot around its maximum distance from Earth of 268,563 miles. That's the farthest any human-oriented spacecraft has traveled, beating even Apollo 13's record of 248,655 miles from 1970. Notably, Artemis I represents the first time explorers intended to travel this far out — Apollo 13 only ventured so far from Earth because NASA's emergency flight plan required the Moon as a slingshot.

Ars Technicanotes that this early Artemis flight has so far surpassed NASA's expectations. While the mission team has only completed 31 out of 124 core objectives so far, it's adding goals like extended thruster tests. About half of the remaining activities are in progress, with the rest largely dependent on returning to Earth.

Orion is expected to splash down off the San Diego coast on December 11th. The Artemis program has dealt with numerous delays, and now isn't expected to land humans on the Moon until 2025 or 2026. NASA originally hoped for a lunar landing in 2024. Still, Artemis I's current performance suggests the space agency's efforts are finally paying off.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft breaks Apollo 13 flight record

The Artemis 1 Orion crew vehicle has set a new record for a NASA flight. At approximately 8:40AM ET on Saturday, Orion flew farther than any spacecraft designed to carry human astronauts had ever before, surpassing the previous record set by Apollo 13 back in 1970. As of 10:17AM ET, Orion was approximately 249,666 miles ( from 401,798 kilometers) from Earth.

"Artemis I was designed to stress the systems of Orion and we settled on the distant retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that," said Jim Geffre, Orion spacecraft integration manager. “It just so happened that with that really large orbit, high altitude above the moon, we were able to pass the Apollo 13 record. But what was more important though, was pushing the boundaries of exploration and sending spacecraft farther than we had ever done before."

Of all the missions that could have broken the record, it’s fitting that Artemis 1 was the one to do it. As Space.com points out, Apollo 13’s original flight plan didn’t call for a record-setting flight. It was only after a mid-mission explosion forced NASA to plot a new return course that Apollo 13’s Odyssey command module set the previous record at 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) from Earth.

With a limited oxygen supply on the Aquarius Lunar Module, NASA needed to get Apollo 13 back to Earth as quickly as possible. The agency eventually settled on a flight path that used the Moon’s gravity to slingshot Apollo 13 back to Earth. One of the NASA personnel who was critical to the safe return of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise was Arturo Campos. He wrote the emergency plan that gave the Command and Service Module enough power to make it back to Earth. Artemis 1 is carrying a “Moonikin” test dummy named after the late Arturo.

Earlier this week, Orion completed a flyby of the Moon. After the spacecraft completes half an orbit around the satellite, it will slingshot itself toward the Earth. NASA expects Orion to splash down off the coast of San Diego on December 11th.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft breaks Apollo 13 flight record

The Artemis 1 Orion crew vehicle has set a new record for a NASA flight. At approximately 8:40AM ET on Saturday, Orion flew farther than any spacecraft designed to carry human astronauts had ever before, surpassing the previous record set by Apollo 13 back in 1970. As of 10:17AM ET, Orion was approximately 249,666 miles ( from 401,798 kilometers) from Earth.

"Artemis I was designed to stress the systems of Orion and we settled on the distant retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that," said Jim Geffre, Orion spacecraft integration manager. “It just so happened that with that really large orbit, high altitude above the moon, we were able to pass the Apollo 13 record. But what was more important though, was pushing the boundaries of exploration and sending spacecraft farther than we had ever done before."

Of all the missions that could have broken the record, it’s fitting that Artemis 1 was the one to do it. As Space.com points out, Apollo 13’s original flight plan didn’t call for a record-setting flight. It was only after a mid-mission explosion forced NASA to plot a new return course that Apollo 13’s Odyssey command module set the previous record at 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) from Earth.

With a limited oxygen supply on the Aquarius Lunar Module, NASA needed to get Apollo 13 back to Earth as quickly as possible. The agency eventually settled on a flight path that used the Moon’s gravity to slingshot Apollo 13 back to Earth. One of the NASA personnel who was critical to the safe return of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise was Arturo Campos. He wrote the emergency plan that gave the Command and Service Module enough power to make it back to Earth. Artemis 1 is carrying a “Moonikin” test dummy named after the late Arturo.

Earlier this week, Orion completed a flyby of the Moon. After the spacecraft completes half an orbit around the satellite, it will slingshot itself toward the Earth. NASA expects Orion to splash down off the coast of San Diego on December 11th.