Who is leading the private space race?

The space station sector has exciting potential as more private companies enter the conversation.

PETER WARD: When we think about the International Space Station we think of it rightly as the most expensive public project ever built in the entire history of humanity, but it's not just public anymore. There are a lot of private companies involved in it and in the future we could see a lot more private companies either on the International Space Station operating it or competing with it. The great thing about SpaceX and Blue Origin and other private companies making launch prices less costly means there's been a group of entrepreneurs that have come in behind them and they've been enabled in their mission. The transparency of the launch costs means that you can build a business plan now before you even go anywhere. And then you can get funding and then you can go. So there's a lot of smaller companies that are coming in behind SpaceX and Blue Origin which maybe you don't hear so much of, but doing fantastic things.

For example, NanoRacks is a company which is on the International Space Station right now. It has a really cool history of the company. Their CEO, a guy called Jeffrey Manber, he was actually in the negotiations between America and the Soviet Union over the International Space Station when it was first built. He was actually on the Russian side though because he saw Russia was going to get private space economy before America at that time. So, a really interesting character. He essentially what he does is he provides a service to anyone that wants it where they can launch a satellite or they can conduct experiments or use the International Space Station for research and they go through him rather than through NASA. So he owns a section of the International Space Station he essentially rents out and then any academic organization or country or anyone can go to NanoRacks and say we want to use this bit of space to do this research or we want to launch a satellite straight from the International Space Station. So that's a really cool company.

And there are several others in the space station. The space station sector is really fascinating because you have the International Space Station which is no one knows when it's going to happen but at some point it's going to be decommissioned or handed over to a private entity. So there are various companies that are either competing to become that private company that will take over the International Space Station or to launch their own International Space Station. And Jeffrey Manber at NanoRacks is one of those guys who wants to have a private space station. He wants to take the disused parts of rockets which go up and put them together and create a space station that way. There's Bigelow who has his inflatable modules who wants to make a space station that way possibly. And there's a few others. Axiom is a really serious organization. It's run by people who used to be in charge of the International Space Station for NASA so it's got some great expertise, it's got some great leaders.

I would say that the head of the race to – if a company were to take over the International Space Station it would probably be Axiom at this point. They're super serious. They know what they're doing and either they will take over the access or they'll launch their own. I think the one thing that they are doing is they've taken a kind of a – they're not going the inflatable route. They're going the way of building the entire space station on the ground and then sending it up which is quite expensive and not the most efficient. A lot of people would do it differently these days. There's more I guess innovative ways of doing it such as the inflatable modules and taking spent rocket parts and building it that way. But yes, they're the guys who know what they're doing. And then you have Orion Span which is a curious company. When I spoke to other people from the space station sector they didn't have the nicest things to say about Orion Span. I think they enjoy that there are more companies in the space. They enjoy the competition but what they don't want is people that aren't serious about it and don't have a serious business plan.

Orion Span says they're going to build a space station and they're going to take people to the space station on vacations. They're going to charge them I think it's $12 million. That is not possible to do and make a profit. It's completely impossible. Just to get people up there is going to cost millions. So that's not – when I spoke to people at the other companies they say it's great that have other companies involved but we don't want people who aren't serious and who don't have a serious business plan that are going to attract the headlines and also are going to attract money as well. Orion Span has gotten some alternative ways to get funding. They've gone the crowdfunding route. They've also got a cryptocurrency issue I think. I think you can donate to them in cryptocurrency. And it all comes across as this little not so serious to the guys who are already say on the ISS or who have worked on the ISS. Those guys don't see them as a serious competitor and I think what they are worried about is that it will be damaging overall to the mission. They will lose credibility because other companies are not as serious as they could be.

  • The International Space Station is the most expensive public project ever built in the history of humanity.
  • Companies like NanoRacks, SpaceX, and Blue Origin have already entered the conversation of what the future will look like for the ISS.
  • Now, it's important to entertain only the serious contenders in the space race.

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

Videos
  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

Study: Unattractive people far overestimate their looks

The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.

Sex & Relationships
  • Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
  • The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
  • Why this happens is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be due to a general inability to judge attractiveness.
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Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
Personal Growth
  • Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
  • Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
  • It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
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