Jodi Sorensen, Author at Spaceflight Industries – Page 2 of 6

Jodi Sorensen

Spaceflight to Launch Multiple Spacecraft from International Space Station via Cygnus

By contracting with Hypergiant SEOPS, the high-altitude ISS deployment provides a consistent, low-risk launch option for smallsats SEATTLE – July 10, 2019 — Spaceflight today announced it is providing mission management and rideshare integration services on an upcoming launch from the International Space Station (ISS) and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus launch vehicle. Spaceflight bought the capacity … Continued

Our first Rocket Lab launch is *this* close!

Just in: The cleverly named Rocket Lab mission “Make it Rain” is scheduled for a two-hour window June 27 opening at 0430 GMT (12:30 a.m. EDT; 4:30 p.m. New Zealand time). Rocket Lab says it has launch opportunities available through July 10, so the final countdown is ON. We’re excited for our inaugural rideshare mission … Continued

Global-3 launch readiness underway

We are happy to report that our Global-3 launch readiness campaign is in full swing! The satellite has arrived safely at the Rocket Lab facility in New Zealand and the launch processing campaign is nearing completion. Everything is on schedule and we’ve handed over the satellite to the Spaceflight team to start integration with … Continued

The Proposed Temporal Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale

Developing a new interpretability scale to adapt to the evolution of satellite imaging This blog post was written by Dr. Peter Wegner, chief strategy officer at Spaceflight Industries, and originally published in SatNews. You can find the original article here. As a geospatial intelligence company, BlackSky provides analytics products and services to customers worldwide. Our … Continued

Spaceflight’s First Rideshare Mission Aboard a Rocket Lab Electron Readies for Launch

As the sole customer, Spaceflight commissioned and coordinated launch of seven spacecraft Seattle – June 12, 2019 — Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshare and mission management provider, today announced it will launch seven spacecraft from five organizations later this month on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 at the southern tip of Mahia … Continued

BlackSky Awarded NRO Contract for Commercial Imagery to Support U.S. Government Mission Needs

Herndon, VA – June 3, 2019 — BlackSky, a leading provider of geospatial intelligence, satellite imaging, and global monitoring services, announced it has been awarded a Study Contract through the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to provide commercial satellite imagery. The NRO is responsible for providing the defense and intelligence communities with access to high-resolution commercial … Continued

BlackSky Begins Commercial Operations, Signs Agreement with HawkEye 360 to Include Radio Frequency Data in its Geospatial Platform

San Antonio – June 3, 2019 — At the USGIF-sponsored GEOINT Symposium in San Antonio, Texas today, BlackSky, a leading provider of geospatial intelligence, satellite imaging, and global monitoring services, announced it has signed an agreement with HawkEye 360, the first commercial company to use formation flying satellites to create a new class of radio … Continued

Relativity Signs Launch Services Agreement with Spaceflight for Rideshare Launches

Spaceflight to manifest launches on Terran 1, the world’s first 3D-printed rocket Los Angeles– May 6, 2019 — Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations, today announced it signed a Launch Services Agreement (LSA) with Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshareand mission management provider. Under the LSA, Spaceflight will manifest missions … Continued

BlackSky Presents Pioneering AI Technology to Government S&T Community at Innovators’ Showcase

Company presents break-through methods for transferring deep learning models across satellites in a constellation designed for rapid revisit monitoring Herndon, VA (May 2, 2019) – BlackSky, a leading provider of geospatial intelligence, satellite imaging, and global monitoring services, today presented its cutting-edge AI technology to leading scientists, technologists, and engineers from the U.S. Government at … Continued

Spaceflight is Proud to Announce Curt Blake has been Nominated for Via Satellite’s 2018 Satellite Executive of the Year Award

Spaceflight is Proud to Announce Curt Blake has been Nominated for Via Satellite’s 2018 Satellite Executive of the Year Award Satellite and Connectivity Professionals can vote to help Curt Blake win the industry’s most prestigious annual award, The Satellite Executive of the Year. April 19, 2019, Seattle – Spaceflight, the leading satellite rideshare and mission … Continued

Spaceflight Industries to sell rideshare business to Japanese firms

Spaceflight Industries to sell rideshare business to Japanese firms

WASHINGTON — Spaceflight Industries announced Feb. 11 it will sell its smallsat rideshare launch business to a pair of Japanese companies, allowing it to focus on its BlackSky geospatial business.

Spaceflight Industries said that Mitsui & Co., Ltd. and Yamasa Co., Ltd. will acquire its rideshare business, known as Spaceflight, Inc., for an undisclosed sum. Mitsui & Co. and Yamasa will own Spaceflight as a 50/50 joint venture. The companies said that they expect the deal to close in the second quarter of this year, after a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to examine any national security implications of the sale.

Spaceflight Industries said it will use the proceeds from the deal to accelerate the growth of BlackSky, its geospatial intelligence business that is developing a constellation of high-resolution imaging satellites. BlackSky has four satellites in orbit currently with another eight scheduled for launch this year.

“This is an exciting and monumental development for Spaceflight Industries, especially for our launch business,” Curt Blake, president and chief executive of Spaceflight, said in a statement announcing the deal. “The acquisition provides an opportunity to be a part of a high-growth international portfolio, which offers deep expertise and investment opportunities.”

Blake will remain president and chief executive of Spaceflight, which will operate as an independent U.S.-based company with its headquarters remaining in Seattle. The company will establish a new board of directors, the majority of whom will be U.S. persons.

Spaceflight is known for being a leading broker for smallsat launch services, primarily as secondary payloads on a range of launch vehicles. It has arranged the launch of 271 satellites on 29 missions. That includes SSO-A, a dedicated smallsat rideshare mission organized by Spaceflight that flew 64 smallsats on a single Falcon 9 in December 2018.

The company has touted its ability to move customers from one launch vehicle to another depending on their schedules or other needs. “We’re continuing to sort of be the grease between the different launch vehicles across the whole range of the market,” Blake said during a Feb. 5 panel discussion at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, California.

He noted in that discussion that those customers have changed over time. “Five years ago, our client base was a lot more cubesats. It’s now very much microsat-driven,” he said. The overall secondary payload market, he said, has also evolved. “For a long time, being a secondary passenger meant just living with whatever you got. That’s moved on to a much more customer-driven mentality.”

For Mitsui & Co., the acquisition is a way for the conglomerate, which is involved in fields from iron and steel to healthcare and information technology, to enter the space market. It had previously participated in Spaceflight Industries’ $150 million Series C round in March 2018.

“The acquisition of an industry leader is an optimal way for Mitsui & Co. to enter the space industry and expand its business by offering greater access for customers considering utilizing services related to space,” said Tomohiro Musha, general manager of aerospace systems and rail leasing division in Mitsui & Co., in the statement.

In its own statement, Mitsui & Co. said that after the acquisition Spaceflight will “utilize Mitsui’s network to develop and expand new services to better meet customer needs, while further collaborating with Japanese satellite development companies, launch operators and other stakeholders in the space industry.”

Brian O’Toole, president of Spaceflight Industries and chief executive of BlackSky, said the sale will help both BlackSky and Spaceflight. “Both companies are poised for a new phase of rapid growth. This acquisition is a significant step in driving our strategy forward,” he said in his company’s statement.

O’Toole added that BlackSky would continue to work with Spaceflight for the launch of its satellites. That includes the launch of four BlackSky satellites on India’s forthcoming Small Satellite Launch Vehicle later this year, a launch arranged by Spaceflight.

2018Highlights – Major events in spaceflight – Geospatial World

#2018Highlights – Major events in spaceflight

The year 2018 logged a myriad of milestones in spaceflight. While space launches carried out throughout the year surpassed 100 — the first time since 1990 – the year also saw intense activities in the areas of deep space explorations including Moon, Mars and the Sun, human spaceflight, and rocket innovation. And then there was the Starman in his brand new Tesla car flying towards Mars. Let’s take a look at some of the major events in spaceflight that marked 2018.

China dominates

A total of 113 launches have been carried on till December 26 with the 2018 tally expected to hit 116 with two more launches scheduled for the year. A China Long March 2D rocket will launch the Hongyan-1 mission on December 29 while a Delta 4-Heavy will deploy the massive payload for the US National Reconnaissance Office in a mission known simply as NROL-71 from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 6 on December 30. This is the first time the number exceeded 100 since 1990.

China in 2018 leads the world with 37 orbital launches as of Tuesday, followed by the US with 34 and Russia with 18. The year will mark the first year that China surpasses the US for space rockets in a year, a landmark for China’s space exploration efforts, Sputnik reported, a fact also validated by Elon Musk when he tweeted “Amazing space progress by China. This year they did more orbital launches than the US for the first time.”

Countries such as India and New Zealand also increased the number of space launches in 2018, while Japan and Russia reduced the number of space launches.

As expected, the Low Earth Orbit saw the maximum traction with a total of 66 launches (63 successful), followed by Geosynchronous (27) and Medium Earth (13). What is interesting is High Earth (3) and Heliocentric Orbits (4) saw some activity with the intense debates and discussions around Mars, Moon and interplanetary missions heating up.

ALSO CHECK OUT MORE #2018Highlights:

Rogue satellites launched

The year started on a somewhat sombre note with the controversy over four US nanosats launched on January 12 without proper license, in what could be perhaps the first time in the history of space missions. The four tiny satellites, launched aboard a ISRO PSLV, were developed by Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies, which it turned out didn’t have permission to launch. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency to regulate commercial satellites in the United States, had rejected its application for launch in early December because they were too small be tracked and therefore unsafe to put into orbit. On December 24, FCC announced that A $900,000 penalty will be imposed on Swarm Technologies. “Unauthorized deployment and operation of satellites risks satellite collisions and radio frequency interference, threatening critical commercial and government satellite operations,” FCC said in a statement. “To settle this matter, Swarm Technologies admits that it engaged in these unlawful acts, will implement a five-year compliance plan, and will pay a $900,000 civil penalty.”

SpaceX shines

A record number of 21 launches including 17 satellite launches, 3 resupply missions to the International Space Station and one Falcon Heavy test flight kept Elon Musk’s company in the news throughout the year. While SpaceX continued to wow the audience each time its Falcon rocket came back from space to sit back gracefully on its launchpad as if like a video in playback, it is Falcon Heavy’s test launch which made the world go crazy.

There was wild applause as the first Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in operation, successfully launched on February 6. Musk added his signature flamboyance to the launch by sending a real Tesla car to space in the rocket. Surreal live links from the video feeds of the car showed it cruising towards Mars complete with a dummy astronaut Starman in the driver’s seat and a “Don’t Panic” message on the dashboard. SpaceX successfully went onto separate the three rocket boosters of the heavy rocket, and landed two. Now, the company is attempting an impressive back to back launch of Falcon Heavy in the first half of 2019 for NASA.

Human spaceflight

SpaceX was again in news every time the topic of human spaceflight came up. The anticipated return of US to human spaceflight was further delayed to 2019 as SpaceX and Boeing both carried further tests throughout the year. While SpaceX unveiled its astronaut cab in August by inviting media persons to its HQ to get a close look at the Dragon Crew Dragon, NASA announced in November that it is targeting January 7, 2019 for the launch of its first commercial ferry ship on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station.

Meanwhile Boeing, which is working on its CST-100 Starliner, is planning an unpiloted test flight in March, followed by a piloted flight to the station in August.

If everything works well, one or both companies will be certified to begin operational crew rotation flights sometime next year, ending the Russian monopoly in the field of human spaceflight. Currently, the Soyuz is the only available transportation for not only the American but also for European, Canadian and Japanese astronauts since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle in 2011.

The hole in the Space Station

Speaking of Soyuz, in what could be considered one of the most bizarre stories of 2018 and what could possibly be the inspiration for a great Hollywood blockbuster some day, a leak was spotted on the International Space Station, leading to continuous fall in air pressure on the orbiting laboratory. The ISS crew, comprising three Americans, two Russians and one German astronaut at that time, found a small 2-mm hole in one of the Russian Soyuz capsule docked on the Russian side of the ISS.

The damage, which the astronauts managed to successfully plug at the time, was initially thought to have been caused by a micrometeorite piercing the spacecraft. Roscosmos then said the hole in the Soyuz capsule may have been drilled by a technician during its manufacturing. But since then, claims and counter claims and conspiracy theories and accusations have continued to float. Now Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopyev says that the hole was created from the inside. Russian investigators are now examining samples Prokopyev and crewmate Oleg Kononenko collected during a December 12 spacewalk in an effort to find out what caused the hole.

The jury is still out on that and while only a proper investigation can tell us what really happened, with increasing talks of human space missions, this incident has only highlighted the dangers involved.

Deep space explorations

The Moon and Mars may have made all the noise all through the year, but it actually stretched all the way from the sun to the edge of interstellar space. Space agencies launched missions to explore several planets in the solar system, as well as the sun.

The NASA InSight seismology probe, which launched in May 2018 and landed on Mars in November, sent some of the most stunning pictures of the Red Planet. But it was the seismic sensor that was placed in December and sent the first sounds from our neighbor that seemed to be more incredible.

Parker Solar Probe acquired this image – the first photo from inside the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona – when the craft was only 16.9 million miles (27.2 million km) from the sun’s surface. Courtesy NASA

Meanwhile the Parker Solar Probe, which was launched to explore the Sun in August 2018, managed to reach closest to the Sun than any other spacecraft. On December 12, NASA released the first photos from inside the sun’s atmosphere that the Parkar probe had sent back.

On 20 October ESA and JAXA launched BepiColombo to Mercury, on a 10-year mission featuring several flybys and eventually deploying two orbiters in 2025 for local study. The asteroid sampling mission Hayabusa2 reached its target Ryugu in June, and the similar OSIRIS-REx probe reached Bennu in December. China launched its Chang’e 4 lander/rover in December to attempt the first ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon.

Space 2018: biggest missions and rocket launches – The Verge

The biggest rocket launches and space missions we’re looking forward to in 2018

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Next year is already overflowing with exciting missions to space. NASA is launching a new lander to Mars, as well as a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than ever before. And two of NASA’s vehicles already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets: one will rendezvous with a nearby asteroid, while another will pass by a distant space rock billions of miles from Earth.

But it’s not just NASA that has a busy year ahead; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned, and the launch of one of the world’s most anticipated rockets, the Falcon Heavy, is slated for early 2018. And if all goes well, people may finally ride to space on private vehicles.

Here are all the missions and tests we’re looking forward to in 2018 and when you can expect to see them take off.

January 2018: Falcon Heavy launch

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first announced plans for the giant Falcon Heavy rocket in 2011 — a vehicle consisting of three reusable Falcon 9 rocket cores strapped together. Originally, the Falcon Heavy was due to launch in late 2013, but the vehicle’s inaugural flight has been consistently pushed back. In July, Musk admitted that engineering the rocket has been harder than expected.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on Dec 20, 2017 at 1:47am PST

Now, five years after the launch’s original target date, the Falcon Heavy’s flight seems imminent. Musk tweeted out pictures of the rocket almost fully assembled at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it’s due to start its maiden voyage. The payload for the mission — Musk’s red Tesla roadster — has been enclosed in the rocket’s nose cone. Now all that’s left is to test fire the rocket and then actually launch it. SpaceX claims all of this will happen in January. Whenever the vehicle does get off the ground, it’s guaranteed to be one of the most watched flights in years.

Early 2018: Rocket Lab test launch

US spaceflight startup Rocket Lab is still testing out its experimental rocket, the Electron, designed to send small satellites into orbit. There was already one test flight in May, though the rocket didn’t achieve orbit. Rocket Lab intended to do a second test flight in December, but the weather and some technical snags prevented the launch. Now, the company plans to launch again in early 2018, and if the flight goes well, Rocket Lab may stop test flights and go straight to commercial missions.

Rocket Lab’s Electron test rocket on the company’s New Zealand launch pad. Image: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab launches out of its own facility on a remote cliff in New Zealand. And the company plans to livestream this mission, too.

March 31st, 2018: Deadline for Google Lunar X Prize competition

Finally, we’ll find out which of the five remaining teams in the Google Lunar X Prize will complete their mission to the Moon before March 31st, 2018, the competition’s deadline — and the answer may be none. To win, a robotic spacecraft must land and explore the Moon. The first team to reach the lunar surface and complete all of the contest’s requirements before the deadline will receive a grand prize purse of $20 million.

However, it doesn’t seem likely that anyone will even launch before the deadline. Four of the five finalist teams have yet to complete their landers, and two still aren’t fully funded. A fifth team — Hakuto from Japan — has completed its lunar rover, but the vehicle is meant to ride to the Moon on another team’s unfinished lander. It’s unlikely we’ll see any X Prize missions before the deadline at all.

March 2018: TESS launch

NASA’s next exoplanet-hunting spacecraft, TESS, is going up this year. Like the space agency’s Kepler probe, TESS will look for planets as they pass in front of distant stars and slightly dim the stars’ light. But TESS will study stars throughout the entire night sky, expanding Kepler’s limited range. The plan is for TESS to find the closest rocky exoplanets to Earth, so that astronomers can figure out the types of atmospheres these worlds have and if they can potentially host life. TESS’s launch is currently planned for no earlier than March and no later than June on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

An artistic rendering of NASA’s TESS spacecraft. Image: MIT

April November: Commercial Crew test flights

This year could be the first test of two vehicles that are part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the space agency’s initiative to launch astronauts on privately made spacecraft. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been developing capsules to carry passengers to the space station — the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, respectively. SpaceX is scheduled to do an uncrewed test flight of the Dragon capsule in April, followed by the first crewed flight test in August. Boeing is targeting August for an uncrewed flight of the Starliner and a crewed flight for November.

An artistic rendering of Boeing’s Starliner in space. Image: Boeing

These test flights were originally scheduled for 2017, though, and it’s possible that they’ll be delayed again. In fact, the Government Accountability Office thinks that astronauts probably won’t fly on SpaceX or Boeing vehicles until 2019. The target dates stand for now, and Musk says he is confident the company will fly people in 2018.

All year: Testing at Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic

Many other commercial space companies will likely do big test flights of their own in 2018, too. Just before the end of 2017, Blue Origin pulled off another launch and landing of its New Shepard — a rocket designed to take paying customers to space to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Testing should continue into the new year, and it’s possible test pilots will start flying on board the rocket in 2018.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard successfully landing after a flight test. Image: Blue Origin

Meanwhile, fellow space tourism company Virgin Galactic should soon begin powered test flights of its spaceplane, VSS Unity, which is also designed to give passengers a short weightless experience in space. The company has been taking it slow with this vehicle, though. Virgin Galactic’s last powered test with Unity’s predecessor, VSS Enterprise, ended in failure: a test pilot was killed and the spacecraft was destroyed. So the company has only done a few unpowered glide flights with Unity since the vehicle’s debut in 2016. But Virgin has been preparing to ignite the spaceplane’s engine, and this may be the year.

The VSS Unity on one of its glide flights. Image: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s offshoot company, Virgin Orbit, also has big plans for the new year. The company has been developing a rocket launcher, which is designed to drop from the wing of an airplane, and then ignite — putting small satellites into orbit. The first test flight of the rocket could happen in early 2018, according to a vice president for Virgin Orbit.

May 5th, 2018: Launch of NASA’s InSight Mars lander

NASA’s InSight spacecraft is designed to land on the surface of Mars, where it will study the interior of the Red Planet and figure out how the world formed billions of years ago. The lander was originally supposed to launch in 2016, but the mission was delayed after a leak was spotted in one of the spacecraft’s instruments. Now the instrument, meant to analyze quakes on Mars, is fixed and the spacecraft is nearly ready for its trip. InSight’s launch on top of an Atlas V rocket is planned for sometime within a 30-day launch window that opens on May 5th. It should land on Mars around seven months later, on November 26th.

An artistic rendering of NASA’s InSight lander. Image: NASA

July 31st August 19th: Launch of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is being hailed as the first spacecraft that will “touch” the Sun, though it won’t actually plunge into the Sun’s surface. Instead, it’ll be a mere 3.9 million miles away from the solar surface, flying through the outer edges of the Sun’s atmosphere.

That will allow the spacecraft to study the origins of something called solar wind, streams of highly energetic particles that are ejected from the Sun’s atmosphere at super high speeds. Solar wind often zooms past Earth and can mess with our planet’s magnetic field, causing interference with our satellites and even our electrical grid. The Parker Solar Probe is meant to tell NASA how these particles get so sped up — a question that scientists have had for decades.

The probe is scheduled to launch on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket sometime between July 31st and August 19th.

August 2018: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at an asteroid

In September 2016, NASA launched its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, sending the probe on a journey to grab a sample from an asteroid named Bennu. The trip to Bennu takes about two years, though — so finally, in August, the spacecraft will “arrive” at the asteroid, coming within 1.2 million miles of the rock. OSIRIS-REx will then use its onboard engines to move closer and fly in formation with the asteroid.

An artistic rendering of OSIRIS-REx arriving at Bennu. Image: NASA

After that, it will be a while before the spacecraft grabs its sample. In October, OSIRIS-REx will begin a year-long survey of Bennu, mapping out the asteroid’s surface to find the best place to scoop up rocks. OSIRIS-REx does have a set of cameras on board so we might get some high-resolution pics of Bennu in the meantime.

October 2018: Launch of BepiColombo to Mercury

A new mission to Mercury, the least explored planet in our Solar System, is on the calendar: BepiColombo, a joint project between Europe and Japan, will send two spacecraft into orbit around the closest planet to the Sun. The spacecraft are set to launch combined on top of a European Ariane 5 rocket in October and will arrive at Mercury in 2025. Once in orbit, the two spacecraft will separate, with Europe taking control of one and Japan taking control of the other. Together, the two vehicles will analyze as much as possible about Mercury — from the planet’s magnetic field to its surface and interior.

November 26th: InSight lands on Mars

After its journey through space, InSight will arrive at Mars and land on its surface on November 26th. But landing on the Red Planet is tough: Mars has a very thin atmosphere, which provides little cushion to slow incoming spacecraft. Many other Mars-bound spacecraft have come in too fast during landing attempts and created new craters on the planet’s surface, like Europe and Russia’s ExoMars lander did in 2016.

InSight will use a combination of parachutes and onboard engines to gently lower itself down to the Martian surface. The entire landing will last just seven minutes, and if it’s successful, the spacecraft will spend the next two years studying Mars and its interior.

January 1st, 2019: NASA’s New Horizons flies by a distant icy space rock

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has been traveling even farther out into the Solar System after its encounter with Pluto in 2015. Early in the morning on New Year’s Day, the probe will fly by a small rock in the Kuiper Belt — the large cloud of icy bodies that orbit beyond Neptune. This is a first: no human crafts have ever visited one of these objects. New Horizons’ target is a rock dubbed 2014 MU69, though it’s possible that the object is actually two rocks orbiting close together. And the science team thinks the rock (or rocks) may even have a moon. We’ll know for sure when New Horizons flies by around 12:30AM ET on January 1st.

Yes, technically that’s in 2019, but it’s going to be the perfect way to cap off a busy year in space.

The Decade in Spaceflight: NASA Shuttles Retired as Private Spaceships Took Flight in the 2010s

The Decade in Spaceflight: NASA Shuttles Retired as Private Spaceships Took Flight in the 2010s

As not only 2019 but the whole 2010s come to a close, it’s time to review some of the biggest space science stories of the decade.

From, the space shuttle’s retirement to the rise of space startups, the past 10 years have seen some incredible spaceflights. Here are the top stories of the decade.

2010: NASA’s asteroid plan, SpaceX & Virgin Galactic

While NASA’s space shuttle days were numbered in 2010, the U.S. space agency wasn’t giving up on human spaceflight vehicles of its own.

© Provided by Space The 2010s marked the decade NASA’s space shuttles stopped flying, retiring to museums after thirty years of service.

On April 15, 2010, President Barack Obama unveiled a new plan for NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid on a true deep-space voyage. The project, later known as NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, replaced the canceled Project Constellation aimed at a return to the moon by the mid-2020s set down by the previous administration of George W. Bush.

The only survivor of Project Constellation was NASA’s Orion spacecraft, though elements of its heavy-lift Ares V rocket found new life in the agency’s current Space Launch System.

With NASA to private companies to eventually take its place as a low-earth orbit taxi, SpaceX was one of several companies already working with the agency on the issue. Enter SpaceX’s Dragon.

On Dec. 8, 2010, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched the first Dragon space capsule, an uncrewed spacecraft, on a short demonstration flight. The mission marked the first private spacecraft to launch into orbit and return safely to Earth.

On Oct. 10 of 2010, Virgin Galactic made its own bit of space history: the first solo flight of its SpaceShipTwo space plane.

The test flight was an unpowered glide flight for the VSS Enterprise, Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo spacecraft for passenger suborbital flights. The spacecraft glided back to Earth after being dropped from midair from its carrier plane, the WhiteKnightTwo.

It took 15 minutes for SpaceShipTwo to return to Earth, setting the stage for future powered tests using the vehicle’s novel hybrid rocket motor.

Related Slideshow: Famous milestones in space (Provided by Photo Services)

June 20, 1944: First man-made object in space

The MW 18014, a V-2 guided ballistic missile, was launched from the Peenemünde Army Research Center in Nazi Germany. It reached an altitude of 109 miles (176 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface.

Oct. 4, 1957: First artificial satellite in space

Weighing 184 pounds (84 kilograms), Sputnik 1, a metal sphere with a diameter of 23 inches (58 centimeters), was launched by the Soviet Union into an elliptical low-Earth orbit, giving the Russians a first ‘win’ in the Space Race. The spacecraft completed an Earth orbit every 96.2 minutes and transmitted a series of beeps that could be monitored around the world.

(Pictured) Replica of Sputnik 1.

Nov. 3, 1957: First animal to orbit the Earth

Laika, a three-year-old stray dog from the streets of Moscow, Russia, was sent up to space in Sputnik 2. Scientists believed animals could help understand the effect of space flight on humans. However, since they hadn’t yet, at the time, figured out the technology to de-orbit, it was a one-way flight. Laika died soon after her flight, possibly from overheating caused by a malfunctioning spacecraft.

Aug. 14, 1959: First photo of Earth from space

American satellite Explorer 6 transmitted crude pictures of a sunlit area of the Central Pacific Ocean and its cloud cover while it was crossing Mexico.

Oct. 7, 1959: First photos of another space object

Although no human has ever stood on the far side of the moon, Soviet-era space probe Luna 3 was the first to take photographs of the area. The probe took 29 images; they were of low-resolution but many features could still be identified, such as the Mare Moscoviense (the dark spot in the upper right corner).

March 11, 1960: First solar probe is launched

NASA launched the Pioneer 5 space probe, via a Thor-Able 4 rocket, to investigate the interplanetary space between Earth and Venus. The probe was designed to provide information on solar flares, radiation and interplanetary magnetic fields.

April 12, 1961: First man in space

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed an orbit of the Earth on the Vostok 1. This was Gagarin’s first and only spaceflight. The flight lasted 108 minutes and Gagarin parachuted out of the capsule when it was 4.3 miles (seven kilometers) from the planet’s surface. However, he didn’t man the mission – it was controlled either by an auto-pilot mechanism or from the ground.

May 5, 1961: First completed manned spaceflight

American astronaut Alan Shepard piloted the Mercury-Redstone 3 (also called Freedom 7) to demonstrate humans could withstand the high gravitational forces of launch and landing. He completed a 15-minute suborbital flight before landing in the North Atlantic, off the coast of the Bahamas.

June 16, 1963: First woman in space

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova completed 48 orbits of the Earth in three days. She was awarded the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” on return and the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace.

March 18, 1965: First spacewalk

Voskhod 2 pilot Alexey Leonov completed a 12-minute spacewalk when he left the craft to attach a camera to the end of the airlock. An endeavor to mark a space milestone, it could have cost Leonov his life since his suit was over-pressurized and he almost suffered a heatstroke. Fortunately, all ended well and the cosmonaut was recorded floating in space before safely re-entering the spacecraft.

July 15, 1965: First close-up photographs of another planet

NASA’s Mariner 4 became the first man-made object to successfully fly by Mars. It transmitted 21 images of the Martian surface, which showed deep craters (like those on the surface of the moon) and no signs of life.

Feb. 3, 1966: First soft landing on another celestial body

Russia’s Luna 9 accomplished a lunar landing by deploying a landing bag to survive the impact. The unmanned spacecraft landed undamaged near the Oceanus Procellarum and the on-board television camera system took photographs of the surface. This was the first time photos were transmitted to Earth from the surface of another celestial object.

Dec. 25, 1968: First manned mission escapes Earth’s orbit

Apollo 8 departed from Earth’s orbit at 6:10:17 UTC, going into lunar orbit and circling it 10 times. Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders marked a list of firsts that include: first humans to see the Earth as a whole, enter the gravitational force of another celestial object, to photograph Earth from space, see the far side of the moon and see an Earthrise.

July 20, 1969: First man on the moon

Apollo 11 Mission Commander Neil Armstrong made history when he set foot on the moon. Along with astronaut Buzz Aldrin (pictured), Armstrong landed the lunar module at 20:18 UTC and, six hours later, stepped outside. He was joined by Aldrin some 20 minutes later. Armstrong and Aldrin also became the first humans to take pictures on and off the moon.

Nov. 17, 1970: First lunar rover lands

Lunokhod 1 was the first of two unmanned rovers launched by the Soviet Union. Weighing 1,667 pounds (756 kilograms), it landed in the Mare Imbrium (also called Sea of Showers or Sea of Rains).

April 19, 1971: First space station

The Soviets launched the first space station of any kind, the Salyut 1 (R), to conduct tests and scientific research in low-Earth orbit. An accident on Soyuz 11 forced the Soviets to halt their space missions as their capsules had to be redesigned. This took too long and it was decided to terminate the Salyut 1 after 175 days.

(Pictured) Artist’s rendering of a Soyuz space craft docking with Salyut 1.

July 15, 1972: First mission to leave the inner Solar System

The Pioneer 10, launched on March 2, 1972, became the first spacecraft to enter the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It would become the first to fly by Jupiter in December 1973.

(Pictured) Artist’s rendering of Pioneer 10 moving away from the sun.

July 15, 1975: First international manned mission launches

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project’s aim was the first joint U.S.-Soviet spaceflight. With a mission to develop space rescue capability, the American unnumbered Apollo module and Soviet Soyuz 19 docked with each other in space on July 17, 1975, marking the first such link-up of spacecraft from the two nations. The mission also marked the end of the Space Race.

Oct. 22, 1975: First photos from the surface of another planet

The Venera 9 unmanned Soviet mission, that launched in June 8, 1975, became the first spacecraft to orbit Venus. The craft landed near the Beta Regio area on the planet and took images of the Venusian surface that were transmitted to the Earth.

April 12, 1981: First reusable shuttle launches

NASA’s maiden orbiter, Space Shuttle Columbia, was launched with two crew members – John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen. The mission was called STS-1 and Columbia orbited the Earth 37 times before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California, U.S., on April 14, 1981, becoming the first reusable, manned spacecraft.

Feb. 7, 1984: First untethered spacewalk

July 25, 1984: First woman to walk in space

Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya conducted an extravehicular activity (EVA) for over three hours, cutting and welding metal outside the Salyut 7 space station. She is, to date, the only Soviet woman to walk in space.

Jan. 28, 1986: Challenger explosion

Space Shuttle Challenger started breaking up 73 seconds after lift-off. It exploded shortly after, killing all seven crew members on-board, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe; she was a civilian selected from thousands of applications for the NASA Teacher in Space Project.

(Pictured, clockwise from L) Ellison Onizuka, McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Francis “Dick” Scobee and Michael J. Smith

Feb. 19, 1986: First long-term space station

Mir’s Base Block was launched into orbit by a Soviet Proton launcher, becoming the world’s first modular space station – assembled over the 10 years it was orbiting Earth. During its 15 years of service, it remained the largest artificial satellite in orbit.

Feb. 14, 1990: First photograph of the whole solar system

The Voyager 1, launched in 1977, took the first ever “family portrait” of the solar system. It was a mosaic of 60 images that only showed six planets since Mercury was too close to the sun to be seen, Mars could not be detected by the camera and Pluto was too small. The sun was seen in the center as just a point of light.

March 22, 1995: Longest human space flight

Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov lived aboard Mir Space Station for just over 437 days continuously. His combined space time, over multiple missions, is more than 22 months. His residency was helpful for scientists to study biomedical effects of long-term spaceflight.

July 4, 1997: First operational rover on another planet

Mars Pathfinder took four minutes to enter the Martian atmosphere and land in the Ares Vallis region. It deployed the Sojourner Rover soon after, which conducted experiments to analyze the atmosphere, climate and geology of the planet.

Nov. 20, 1998: Largest man-made object in space

The first module of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched by a Russian Proton rocket. The world’s first multinational space station would continue to grow over subsequent missions until it became the largest man-made object in Earth’s orbit and the largest satellite of Earth. The station has also been continuously occupied for more than 16 years, making it the longest continuous human presence in space.

March 6, 2009: First space telescope

A Delta II rocket carried Kepler, NASA’s first planet-hunting spacecraft, on its mission to look for Earth-like exoplanets. It would orbit the Sun every 372 days, observing an area and selecting stars for further study.

(Pictured) Artist’s rendering of Kepler spacecraft.

April 28, 2001: First space tourist

American millionaire and engineer Dennis Tito flew to the ISS on the Soyuz TM-32. He is believed to have paid $20 million and returned safely after an eight-day trip.

Feb. 12, 2001: First landing on an asteroid

The NEAR-Shoemaker space probe’s mission to Asteroid 433 Eros started in 1996 and ended with the probe landing on its surface. It collected data on the asteroid’s composition and magnetic field, with the last data signal being received by NASA on Feb. 28, 2001.

(Pictured) Visualization of 433 Eros.

May 22, 2012: First private company in space

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 delivered the unmanned Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit so that it could rendezvous with the International Space Station. The Dragon was also the first American vehicle to visit the International Space Station since the end of the space shuttle program.

(Pictured) The Dragon craft is grappled by ISS’ robotic arm.

Nov. 12, 2014: First comet landing

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe reached the orbit of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on Aug. 6, 2014, and its lander module Philae successfully landed on the comet’s surface.

July 14, 2015: Last encounter with one of nine original planets

New Horizons space probe, launched in 2006, performed its closest flyby of Pluto, becoming the first interplanetary space probe to reach and observe the dwarf planet.

Aug. 10, 2015: Fresh food is harvested in space

After decades of eating Earth-packed food, NASA astronauts aboard the ISS managed to grow, harvest and eat red romaine lettuce in space. They cleaned the greens with citric acid-based wipes before eating them.

March 2, 2016: First ISS year-long mission ends

Russian astronaut Mikhail Kornienko (R) and American Scott Kelly recorded the longest time in space for ISS crew members after their 340-day mission. They were part of a program to study the health effects of long-term spaceflight.

Feb. 15, 2017: 104 satellites launched at once

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) blasted off 101 smaller nano satellites and three Indian satellites in one go. The combined payload of 3,040 lbs (1,380 kgs) was aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

March 30, 2017: First reusable orbital rocket launched and landed

SpaceX sent a previously used Falcon 9 into space, carrying communication satellites. The first stage of the rocket had been used in an April 2016 NASA mission. It successfully returned to Earth and landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Feb. 6, 2018: SpaceX tests the most powerful launch vehicle in operation

The private space company successfully completed the flight of the Falcon Heavy that can lift up to 141,000 pounds (64 metric tons) – a mass greater than a 737 fully-loaded jetliner. During its demo flight, the huge rocket launched Elon Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster and its dummy astronaut, “Starman” (pictured), into orbit around the sun.

Oct. 29, 2018: Closest man-made object to the Sun

The Parker Solar Probe became the closest ever man-made object to the sun. The record of 26.55 million miles (42.73 million kilometers) was previously held by the Helios 2 spacecraft, which was launched jointly by NASA and Germany’s DFVLR. The Parker probe is expected to approach within 4.3 million miles (6.9 million kilometers) from the center of the sun and the mission goals include understanding the flow of energy around the corona (outer layer of the sun’s atmosphere).

(Pictured) United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launching Parker Solar Probe at Cape Canaveral in Florida, U.S. on Aug. 12, 2018.

Jan. 1, 2019: NASA explores furthest point in space

NASA spacecraft New Horizons traveled to Ultima Thule, a trans-Neptunian object located four billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. The journey, which was made in six hours and eight minutes, marks the furthest point in space humanity has explored to date. Photographs sent back from the flyby – the space craft was 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) away – show two sphere-like objects fused together. The largest is believed to be 21 miles (33 kilometers) long.

(Pictured) This image made available by NASA on Jan. 2, 2019, shows the size and shape of the object Ultima Thule.

Jan. 3, 2019: China lands probe on far side of the moon

On this day, the Chinese government claimed to have successfully landed a space probe on the far side of the moon. The probe – Chang’e-4 – landed in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, according to a statement issued by country’s space agency. The event now means China is one of only three countries in the world to have made soft-landings on the moon – the other two are the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

On Jan. 15, 2019, China National Space Administration revealed that seeds taken up to the moon by Chang’e-4 have sprouted, marking the first time any biological matter has grown there. “Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base,” said Professor Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer.

(Pictured) This photo, provided on Jan. 3, 2019, by China National Space Administration, shows the Chang’e-4 probe during its landing process.

April 10, 2019: First ever black hole image captured

The black hole was found in the distant galaxy M87, which is located in the Virgo galaxy cluster. Captured by the Event Horizon telescope, the image marks a first in space imaging technology. The Event Horizon telescope was built specifically to capture images of black holes, via a network of eight linked telescopes around the world.

Oct. 18, 2019: NASA astronauts conduct first all-female spacewalk

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history as they completed the first-ever spacewalk by an all-woman team. The spacewalk was guided by veteran NASA astronaut and capsule communicator Stephanie Wilson on ground and astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan on the International Space Station. It lasted for seven hours and 17 minutes, and the team’s job was to fix a broken part of the station’s solar power network.

(Pictured) Koch and Meir with Morgan at the International Space Station on Oct. 18, 2019.

Feb. 6, 2020: Longest-ever female spaceflight

NASA astronaut Christina Koch spent 328 days orbiting Earth on the International Space Station, returning on the Russian Soyuz craft that landed in Kazakhstan on Feb. 6. Her time spent on one continuous space journey exceeds the previously held record of 289 days set by fellow American Peggy Whitson in December 2019, and is shy of the all-time U.S. record of 340 days held by Scott Kelly.

(Pictured) Koch reacts after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-13 space capsule in a remote area southeast of Zhezkazgan in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan on Feb. 6, 2020.

2011: A space shuttle farewell

After 30 years of service, NASA retired its space shutle fleet in 2011 with the final flight of the Atlantis orbiter.

Atlantis landed back on Earth after its final mission on July 21, 2011. This was the 135th flight of NASA’s shuttle program and marked its end. While the craft did have many successes, including helping build the International Space Station, it did also see its fair share of tragedy. A total of 14 astronauts were killed on two shuttle missions, the Challenger accident of 1986 and the Columbia disaster of 2003.

With the retiring of the space shuttle, NASA became dependent on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to fly American astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

After 13 years of tedious construction, the International Space Station was completed after receiving its final major component in March 2011. While additional pieces can still be added to the station, this final component marked the completion of the initial framework. The station weighs in a 431-tons, is the size of a football field and has as much living space as a five-bedroom house.

The station hosts astronauts from around the world and allow them to work together to conduct a number of experiments in a weightless environment. The structure, coming in at $100 billion, is the most expensive structure ever built.

2012: A Dragon at ISS

During the summer of 2012, SpaceX performed the first flight of its Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station. This capsule was the first commercial spacecraft ever docked with the station and the second successful launch of the Dragon capsule by the company. These test missions were performed as part of a billion-dollar contract SpaceX has with NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

On June 16, 2012, China launched one of its most ambitious missions to date: the country’s first attempt at docking a crewed spaceflight. The spacecraft, Shenzhou 9, met up with the uncrewed Tiangong 1 space lab. From there the three astronauts aboard the spacecraft will spend 13-days on Tiangong 1 during which they will perform two docking exercises and a few science experiments.

This launch is also monumental because among its crew is China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang. Another astronaut aboard the spacecraft, Jing Haipeng, was the first astronaut to launch into space twice. The final crewmember, Liu Wang, was a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army and made his first spaceflight.

On Dec. 12, 2013, North Korea successfully placed a satellite in orbit after many previously failed attempts.

The launch was made by the country’s Unha-3 rocket and was quick to draw disapproval from countries like the U.S. and South Korea who called it a thinly veiled missile threat.

However, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint effort between the U.S. and Canada, said that the satellite or any potential debris did not pose a risk to North America.

2013: India, NASA launch to Mars

The Dulles-based space company, Orbital Sciences Corp., had a successful debut of its Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rocket in September 2013.

Once launched the Cygnus spacecraft was able to successful be captured by robotic arm at the International Space Station, and later be released and intentionally deorbited. The company (now Northrop Grumman Innovation System) launched the flight as part of a $1.9 billion contract to bring cargo to the space station.

In November 2013, India launched its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) to the Red Planet. The $73.5 million mission coincided with a NASA mission, MAVEN, which also launched toward Mars in the same month.

MAVEN is designed to study Mars’ atmosphere while MOM will instead focus on potential indicators of life, like methane.

In December 2013, China joined Russia and the United States as the third country to complete a successful soft landing on the lunar surface. It was China’s third moon mission, but the county’s first attempt at landing on the surface. The spacecraft, Chang’e-3, also marked the first extraterrestrial landing for the China National Space Administration. And Chang’e-3 wasn’t alone, it brought along with it a lunar rover, Yutu (or, Jade rabbit.)

Since Chang’e-3’s successful landing of the surface China has since landed Chang’e-4 on the dark side of the moon and is expected to land Chang’e-5 on the surface in 2020.

2014: India at Mars, Space Accidents

On Sept. 24, 2014 India became the fourth nation to have a spacecraft orbit Mars. The craft in question, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe, is joining the ranks of United States, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union, all of whom have crafts orbiting the Red Planet.

The $73 million project was largely a demonstration of technological might and proof that India’s spacecraft could reach Mars, but it’s also equipped with a few scientific instruments as well. In particular MOM is designed to study methane on Mars, a gas that is a key indicator of potential life on the planet and that has become more and more mysterious toward the end of the decade.

NASA experienced the first failure of its commercial cargo program when an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded just after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, destroying its robotic Cygnus cargo ship.

The rocket had a failure in one of its Russian-made engines. As it was an uncrewed cargo mission, no one was hurt, but Orbital Sciences (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) had to redesign the Antares rocket with different engines before returning to flight in 2016.

Also in 2014, Virgin Galactic experienced a tragic failure when its first SpaceShipTwo space plane, the VSS Enterprise, suffered a deadly accident on Oct. 31, 2014. While in the air the plane broke-up with two pilots, Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold onboard. Alsbury was killed during the incident and Siebold was injured but survived.

An FAA investigation later found that Alsbury unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s unique feather system, used during reentry, too early in the flight, leading to training and design changes to prevent the accident in the future. Virgin Galactic resumed SpaceShipTwo test flights in 2016 with a new SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity.

Also in 2014 NASA debuted its first spacecraft designed to take astronauts to Mars and asteroids: Orion.

NASA’s launched an uncrewed test Orion on Dec. 5 atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. It made two orbits around Earth and reached an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,793 kilometers.) During this test flight, which took 4.5 hours, the team was able to test key systems on board the craft.

2015: A Venus arrival, private spaceflight rises

After a long,5-year wait, the Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki finally made it to Venus!

The spacecraft had originally tried to reach the planet in 2010 but was sent off to orbit the sun instead after the death of one of its engines. After that setback, the spacecraft bided its time until another window of opportunity would present itself to make a move. And such a day came, exactly five years later.

Now in orbit with Venus, Akatsuki plans to study the planet’s clouds, atmosphere and weather in order to learn more about how it came to be such a hostile environment. This mission represents the second attempt — and first successful — interplanetary mission from Japan. Before Akatsuki, a previous mission to Mars had failed and a successful mission to the moon had ended.

SpaceX experienced big losses and big wins in 2015.

In June 2015 the company launched the seventh cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA, only to have its Falcon 9 rocket explode 3 minutes after liftoff — destroying the rocket and the cargo. SpaceX attributed the failure to faulty steel struts and immediately began re-evaluating and redesigning aspects of the rocket.

After the redesigns the rocket came back strong in December of 2015. The rocket not only made a successful delivery of 11 satellites for Orbcomm, but was also able to successfully land part of the Falcon 9 first stage. This, as well as a similar mission from Blue Origin, were the first to demonstrate how multi-use rockets could dramatically save flight costs.

2016: Big tests for human spaceflight

The year 2016 marked the end of a joint NASA and Roscosmos’ year-long mission in space. NASA astronaut (and twin,) Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko both spent 11-months aboard the International Space Stationto learn more about how long-term space travel might affect the human body. Kelly and Kornienko returned safely to Earth in March 2016.

In addition to looking at his own endurance during the year-long space mission, NASA was also able to look at Scott Kelly’s identical twin Mark Kelly, also a former astronaut, to compare how long-term space travel might affect genes and DNA between the two brothers. Since the mission ended researchers have observed small changes that took place between the brothers, including a change in Scott’s gut biome, a lengthening of his telemeres, and change in some of his gene expressions.

At the end of 2016, China launched the country’s second space station prototype. The space lab, called Tiangong-2, launched on Sept. 15 and followed China’s Tiangong 1 module, which launched in 2011.

Tiangong-2 and was visited in October by two Chinese astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, in the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft. Once docked with Tiangong-2, the two taikonauts spent a month aboard the science lab.

Related: Tiangong-2 in Pictures: China’s Second Space Lab

During their time onboard, Jing and Chen conducted experiments with silkworms as well as lettuce seeds. The pair returned safely to Earth in November, doubling the longest previous stint aboard the new station. In 2019, Tiangong 2 fell from space to end its mission. Unlike its predecessor Tiangong 1, which fell uncontrolled from space, Tiangong 2 was intentionally deorbited over the Pacific Ocean under the control of Chinese flight controllers.

In 2016, Virgin Galactic made its first debut since the fatal crash of its VSS Enterprise spacecraft in 2014.

The space company’s new SpaceShipTwo, called VSS Unity, was lifted off by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, and successfully glided back to Earth. This and a number of other glide flights are meant to prepare the VSS Unity for eventual commercial suborbital flights. Tickets for these flights are estimated to cost $250,000.

2017: Space Records and the moon

On Feb, 14, 2017 India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) sent 104 satellites into space, the largest number of satellites ever sent by a single rocket. The previous record, 37 satellites, had been held by Russia’s Dnepr booster.

The satellites aboard the PSLV were mostly small cubesats from a San Francisco based company, but other satellites aboard the rocket also came from the Netherlands, Israel, Kazakhstan and Switzerland.

After an already star-studded career as an astronaut, in 2017 Peggy Whitson added another achievement to the books: longest cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut. Over a handful of different missions Whitson has spent a total of 665 days in space. The previous U.S. record, 534 days, had been set just a year prior by Jeff Williams.

In Photos: Record-Breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson

However, Whitson still doesn’t hold the worldwide record for time in space. That is held by a Russian cosmonaut after spending 879 days in space over the course of five missions, some aboard the International Space Station and some aboard the Soviet-Russian station Mir.

On Dec. 11, 2017 President Donald Trump signed the “Space Policy Directive 1” which dictates that NASA’s next crewed missions will be heading back to the moon, instead of to a near-by asteroid as President Barack Obama’s administration had decided. Either way, these new moon missions are still meant to act as a stepping stone toward eventual crewed Mars missions.

Related: Presidential Visions for Space Exploration: From Ike to Trump

The mandate has resulted in the Artemis mission program, which plans on landing a crewed mission on the moon by 2024. NASA says these missions will allow astronauts to test important technology and methodology before making the leap to Mars.

2018: Close calls, big successes

On Feb. 6, 2018, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket became launched its first test flight into space. The 23-story rocket has the world’s most powerful rocket in use (and second most powerful in history behind NASA’s Saturn V), and the heaviest payload capacity at 141,000 lbs (64,000 kilograms). Though the payload this time, a Tesla roadster equipped with a dummy passenger named “Starman,” was certainly a little lighter.

The success of the Falcon Heavy paves the way toward a future of reusable rockets as well. Including the launch on Feb. 6, the Falcon rocket family has successfully launched and dozens of times. Musk hopes that this kind of technology can help pave the way toward space tourism as well.

Oct. 11, 2018 was a close call for NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin as their scheduled Soyuz flight to the International Space Staton was abruptly aborted due to a booster failure. The rocket had already launched and the two men began a ballistic descent back to Earth in their Soyuz spacecraft, which performed a harrowing emergency abort escape. They experienced up to 6.7 Gs on their way down.

Luckily, both men were unharmed and were quickly recovered at their landing site. The anomaly did however disrupt the station’s crew schedule and for a short period of time lowered the typical 6-crewed rotation to only three.

Virgin Galactic officially reached space on December 2018! Technically. During the Dec. 11 launch, two pilots aboard Virgin’s VSS Unity were able to pass the United States Air Force’s space demarcation line at 51.4 miles (82.7 km.) However that is still shy of the more popular Karman line, whose boundary lies at 62 miles, or 100 kilometers.

Nevertheless, the consumer spaceflight company has been attempting to achieve this milestone for more than a decade and has continued doggedly at the goal, even after experiencing a fatal crash in 2014. In the future the company hopes to use this craft for commercial, suborbital space flights.

2018 was also a big year for a smaller kind of spacecraft called a cubesat. These mini, science satellites are small payloads that can be used for data recovery.

In 2018, the California-based space company Rocket Lab successfully launched 13 cubesats into space for NASA with missions ranging from radiation testing to testing 3D-printed rocket arms.

2019: China & the Moon’s Far Side

China made history in 2019 by becoming the first country ever to soft-land a spacecraft and rover on the far side of the moon.

The Chinese Chang’e 4 lander and its Yutu rover landed Jan. 3 at Von Kármán crater, where both spacecraft continue to operate today. The mission also carried the first plant to the moon and found a weird substance on the surface.

NASA also hit a major milestone of human spaceflight in 2019 with the first-ever all woman spacewalk.

On Oct. 18, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir ventured outside together on the first spacewalk by an all-woman team. The two spacewalkers replaced a faulty battery component during the spacewalk and took a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump at the end.

For Koch, the spacewalk was just one milestone in a record-setting mission. She is currently on NASA’s longest single spaceflight by a woman, and will spend nearly a year in space by the time she returns in 2020.

SpaceX and Boeing both crept closer to crewed flights with their respective Crew Dragon and Starliner spacecraft in 2019.

In March, SpaceX launched the first uncrewed test flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft, with Boeing achieving a similar milestone in mid-December. Boeing’s test flight was marred by a mission clock error, preventing the Starliner from docking at the space station. Instead, it landed two days after launch.

SpaceX also hit a hurdle in April, when its Crew Dragon capsule exploded during abort system ground tests. The company has pinpointed the source of the malfunction, and aims to launch an In-Flight Abort test in early January.

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket for Spaceflight and 64-satellite flock – GeekWire

Third time’s the charm: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches a record 64 satellites for Spaceflight

by Alan Boyle on December 3, 2018 at 12:00 pm December 4, 2018 at 12:03 pm

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched Seattle-based Spaceflight’s first-ever dedicated rideshare mission, a satellite extravaganza aimed at placing 64 spacecraft in low Earth orbit.

Today’s liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California came off at 10:34 a.m. PT, sending the scorch-marked rocket into clear skies. The mission had been delayed several times over the past couple of weeks, due to concerns about upper-level winds and the need for more pre-launch inspections.

This mission delivered a first for SpaceX as well as for Spaceflight: It marked the first time SpaceX sent the same first-stage booster into space and back three times.

The upgraded Block 5 booster had its previous liftoffs in May and August, and today SpaceX recovered the booster yet again. Minutes after launch, it touched down on a drone ship stationed out in the Pacific Ocean, christened “Just Read the Instructions.”

SpaceX also sent out another ship, called Mr. Steven, to try recovering the rocket’s nose cone in a giant catcher’s-mitt net. Reusing the nose cone, also known as the fairing, could save millions of dollars for each launch.

In a tweet, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that Mr. Steven missed the catch, but that the ship’s crew recovered the two halves of the fairing from the water. “Plan is to dry them out and launch again,” he wrote. “Nothing wrong with a little swim.”

This mission for Spaceflight, known as “SSO-A: The SmallSat Express,” broke SpaceX’s record of 18 launches in a calendar year — a record set just last year.

Over the course of several hours, 64 satellites were to be deployed from the Falcon 9’s second stage and from two free-flying spacecraft designed by Spaceflight.

Spaceflight is a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, a venture backed by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s venture fund and other investors. One of the payloads aboard the SmallSat Express was an Earth observation satellite built for BlackSky, which is Spaceflight Industries’ other subsidiary.

BlackSky’s Global-2 satellite will join Global-1, which was launched just last week on an Indian PSLV rocket. Eventually, BlackSky aims to have a satellite constellation in low-Earth orbit to provide on-demand, near-real-time Earth imagery in a range of wavelengths.

Small satellites like Global-2 typically fly as secondary payloads, subservient to the needs of the mission’s primary payload. Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare model takes a different approach: Spaceflight purchased the entire launch capacity for a SpaceX Falcon 9, then sold portions of that capacity at retail prices.

“This model lowers the barriers to entry for people that want to get smallsats on orbit, and this enables all kinds of business plans to come to fruition,” Spaceflight CEO Curt Blake explained in a video about the mission.

The satellites on SmallSat Express are all destined to go into a nearly pole-to-pole, sun-synchronous orbit, which is in a stable alignment with respect to the sun and is considered particularly attractive for Earth imaging.

Here are the stats on SSO-A’s sats. Click on the image for a larger version. (Spaceflight Infographic)

Two Planet SkySat remote-sensing satellites were considered the lead customers for SmallSat Express, and three smaller Planet Dove satellites were also placed on board — but there’s a wide variety of other payloads, including:

  • Orbital Reflector: Artist Trevor Pagler and the Nevada Museum of Art sent up a nanosatellite with a sheet of reflective plastic packed inside. When the sheet is unfurled, it should shine in the night sky after sunset and before sunrise (potentially irritating astronomers in the process).
  • ENOCH: A 24-karat-gold, Egyptian-style canopic jar said to contain the soul of African-American astronaut Robert Lawrence was flown as an art project for sculptor Tavares Strachan and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Elysium Star 2: This nanosatellite carries the cremated remains of loved ones that will be dispersed in orbit as a “shooting star memorial.”
  • SpaceBEEs:Swarm Technologies sent up five small experimental two-way communication satellites, months after an unauthorized launch got the company in trouble with the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • FalconSat-6, STPSat-5, ICE-Cap, ORS-7: Several satellites were flown for Coast Guard and military researchers to test advanced technologies and study the space environment.
  • Capella-1: This Earth-imaging satellite, flown for Capella Space and dubbed “Denali,” will help the company fine-tune its synthetic-aperture radar imaging system.
  • Audacy Zero: Audacy will test a miniaturized Ka-band radio system that could serve as the foundation for the world’s first commercial relay satellite network.
  • HawkEye 360 Pathfinder: Three satellites will monitor radio signals to keep track of ships at sea, including “dark ships” that may be engaged in illegal activities.
  • IRVINE-02: Developed by high-school students from Irvine, Calif., to test an electric propulsion system and a laser communication system.
  • WeissSat-1: Developed by middle-school students at Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to test a lab-on-a-chip experiment aimed at assessing the viability of thawed-out bacteria in space.

Today’s 64-satellite launch set a U.S. record for the number of different payloads on a single launch vehicle. The world record is held by India’s PSLV, or Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which put 104 satellites (including nine that were signed up by Spaceflight) into orbit last year.

In a pre-launch interview, Blake told GeekWire that Spaceflight plans to continue offering dedicated rideshare missions on SpaceX’s Falcon 9, as well as smaller-scale launch opportunities on rockets including the PSLV, Europe’s Vega, Russia’s Soyuz and Dnepr, Northrop Grumman’s Antares, Rocket Lab’s Electron and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.

Blake compared the range of options to the assortment of trains, buses, taxis and rideshare vehicles that are available for on-the-ground travel. “We do rideshare on all the different vehicles,” he said.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s 20th launch of the year is scheduled for Tuesday, when a different Falcon 9 rocket is due to send a robotic Dragon cargo spaceship to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 in Florida.

Update for 5:24 p.m. PT Dec. 3: In a news release, Spaceflight said it successfully launched the 64 spacecraft via the Falcon 9, signaling the end of deployments. “It was a good day,” Spaceflight said in a tweet. Reports about deployments are filtering in from satellite operators as well. Here’s the current roundup:

SpaceX has successfully deployed four microsats and a pair of Spaceflight free-flying deployers in orbit. This ends SpaceX’s role in today’s mission, which is now in the hands of Spaceflight’s free-flyers to release 60 more satellites in the coming hours. https://t.co/paq40MckXs pic.twitter.com/xTKitu3Jhp

We’ve heard from Global-2! Data is flowing. Congrats to the whole team! Stay tuned for more updates. #blackskyconstellation #SSOA #smallsatexpress

Confirmed – ICEYE-X2 SAR satellite has separated successfully. Communications with the satellite have been established at 19:58 CET, December 3rd 2018. Thank you @SpaceX @SpaceflightInc! Launch success! Read more here: https://t.co/iRIPLflYTm

Our joint Ghalam-SSTL spacecraft operations team have successfully made contact with KazSTSAT – nominal telemetry received on this first pass. Our thanks to @SpaceflightInc & @SpaceX
Press Release at https://t.co/BsUhTzS6Fn pic.twitter.com/hZ5ow5BR6p

We’re in business. Data successfully received!

We’ve made contact with the two SkySats, the lead payload on @SpaceX’s SSO-A launch, who have joined the rest of Planet’s largest-ever high resolution fleet. The Doves are up next!

Flock 3s, reporting for duty! Our three Doves have made contact and joined the rest of our 130+ sats in low earth orbit. Thanks for the ride today, @SpaceX and @SpaceflightInc! Read more in our post-launch blog here: https://t.co/pyEFGgNMUi pic.twitter.com/20zn91ZLuu

All #ISILaunch20 satellites on #SSOA now confirmed to be deployed! First contacts to follow soon. A big thanks to our friends @SpaceflightInc for the service and the ride. @PWSat2 @HiberGlobal @S100Sat @cpfjo @MOVE_II

Telemetry confirms successful deployment of all three of HawkEye 360’s Pathfinder satellites! Thanks to @SpaceX and @SpaceflightInc for a great ride into orbit. #SSOA #smallsatexpress pic.twitter.com/2aNx6U97Lj

Nominal signal received from KAIST’s NextSat-l. Thanks for @SpaceflightInc and @SpaceX. NextSat-I is the first satellite to demonstrate Korea’s small/cube sat technology. Photo is inside the KAIST satellite office. (KAIST=Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) pic.twitter.com/n1j6Tebb7j

Preliminary TLE for #SSOA mission https://t.co/O9fm7uk9hM
The first beacon transmissions from @PWSat2 satellite is expected at 00:50 UTC. .

All eyes on Audacy Zero, our first satellite in space! This demo mission will test our very own Ka-band satellite radio that we designed and built, as well as our ground station in Napa Valley. Read more: https://t.co/0AgPvqhMGV pic.twitter.com/ZxVZDa0T0Z

Congratulations, high-fives and smiles all around upon hearing that payloads have reached desired orbit on @SpaceflightInc #SSOA #smallsatexpress mission @SpaceX; the #NewSpace community really pulls for one another because it knows how difficult, and rewarding, the work is pic.twitter.com/lYeAMAP0f8

Clarification for 3:23 p.m. PT Dec. 3: Some readers said the headline used on a previous version of this story implied that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster had previously flown three times, so we’ve changed it to avoid confusion.

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Rocket Rundown: A Review of Spaceflight in 2018, Rocket Rundown

Rocket Rundown: A Review of Spaceflight in 2018

A total of 114 orbital missions were launched during the 12 months of 2018. In addition to being a significant increase on the 90 launches of last year, it is also the most launched in a calendar year since 1990. The increase is in no small part due to the increased launch cadence from China. The country smashed all its previous records launching a staggering 39 missions.

In addition to being a bumper year for rocket launches, 2018 was a year marked by reliability. With just one partial failure and two failures, it was one of the safest in the history of spaceflight.

2018 spaceflight highlights

The last 12 months have been packed with firsts and finals. The year has given us the highs of the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy and the lows of the final moments of Dawn and Kepler. With 114 launches and the continued exploration of the cosmos, it is a year that we are sure to remember as a moment in history when the fascination for spaceflight was reinvigorated. Below are just a view of the most impactful spaceflight moments of 2018.

The Falcon Heavy lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on February 6, 2018 | Image credit: SpaceX

Maiden Falcon Heavy launch
After several delays, the maiden SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center carry a bizarre test payload. With a successful maiden launch, the Falcon Heavy became the most powerful rocket currently in service. Read more

The third flight of a Falcon 9 booster
In early December, SpaceX launched a record-breaking third mission utilising the same Falcon 9 Block 5 booster. The mission carried the largest rideshare ever launched from US soil with a staggering 64 individual payloads. Read more

China launch Chang’e 4 moon mission
China launched their Chang’e 4 lunar lander and rover on December 7. The lander is expected to touch down on the far side of the moon in early January. If successful, it will be the first time in history anyone has done so. Read more

First operational flight of Rocket Lab
Small launch vehicle developer, Rocket Lab completed three orbital missions in 2018 including their first commercial mission, “It’s Business Time”. Read more

InSight launch and landing
NASA newest Mars lander, Insight was launched on May 5. On November 26, the lander successfully touched down on the Martian surface. InSight is currently being put through extensive testing before beginning science operations in 2019. Read more

TESS launch
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) space telescope was launched aboard a Falcon 9 on April 18. The telescope has been tasked with searching the skies for exoplanets that could potentially harbour life. The launch was timed perfectly as NASA’s Kepler telescope (an older exoplanet hunter) ran out of fuel in late 2018. Read more

Orbital launches by country

This year, China accelerated its launch cadence surpassing the United States in total launches for the first time in history. The country launched a total of 39 orbital missions suffering just one failure, the maiden flight of the privately developed Zhuque-1 rocket. The United States, boosted largely by the 21 launches aboard SpaceX rockets, completed 34 orbital mission with a 100% success rate. Russia managed to maintain a 20-launch year (including Soyuz launches from Kourou) suffering a single failure, the Soyuz MS-10 mishap.

Orbital launches by rocket

SpaceX has, for a second year running, launched their Falcon 9 rocket more than any other. A total of 20 orbital missions were launched aboard Falcon 9 rockets with 11 being launched with flight-proven first stage boosters. China launched a total of 37 missions aboard Long March rockets, however, that includes launches aboard all Long March variants. 14 of China’s orbital missions were launched aboard Long March 3 rockets and 14 aboard Long Mach 2 rockets. Russia launched 9 missions aboard the Soyuz-2, 5 aboard the Soyuz-FG and 2 aboard the Soyuz-ST.

Orbital launches by spaceport

A total of seven countries hosted orbital rocket launches in 2018. The seven countries utilised a combined 16 spaceports to launch the 114 orbital missions. The United States’ Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center hosted the most launches with 17 each. China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center narrowly missed out on the top spot hosting 15 missions. The Jiuquan launch facility was, however, the only spaceport worldwide to suffer a total failure in 2018. New Zealand was the surprise newcomer of 2018 with a total of three orbital missions after launching their first ever in 2017. Small launch vehicle builder, Rocket Lab expects to boost the country’s launch cadence in the coming year.

The Greatest Spaceflight Stories of 2018, Space

The Greatest Spaceflight Stories of 2018!

The year 2018 saw a wide range of milestones in spaceflight, stretching all the way from the sun to the edge of interstellar space.

Space agencies launched missions to explore several planets in the solar system, as well as the sun. A long-running space-tourism company performed its first spaceflight (at least by one definition). And who can forget that rocket launch that carried a dummy astronaut and car toward a Martian orbit? [100 Amazing Space Photos from 2018]

Here are some of the highlights of this year’s spaceflight activities.

1) NASA’s InSight lands on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander placed its seismometer on Mars on Dec. 19, 2018. The event marked the first time a science instrument had ever been deployed directly onto the surface of the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s newest Red Planet spacecraft made a safe touchdown on Elysium Planitia on Nov. 26, ushering in a new era of Martian science. As a stationary lander, InSight is a departure from NASA’s roving trend; NASA’s last surface mission to Mars was the Curiosity rover, which touched down in 2012 (and is still healthy and active as it climbs Mount Sharp or Aeolis Mons); the space agency also plans to send another rover in 2020. But staying still is necessary for the science InSight will perform. It will listen for marsquakes and volcanic activity, track the wobble of the Red Planet’s axis and probe the structure of the Red Planet’s interior. (Also accompanying InSight on the flight to Mars were two cubesats, which are discussed later in this article.)

The arrival of InSight was all the sweeter because a leak in the spacecraft’s seismometer forced a two-year delay from its original launch date in 2016. At the time, NASA wasn’t even sure if the mission could go forward due to the increased cost that fixing the problem would entail. A science review determined that InSight’s mission is fundamental to understanding the interior of all rocky planets, including Earth, and that letting it fly would be the best decision on scientific grounds. InSight is now setting up its instruments and should be ready to start gathering science data soon.

2) Soyuz crew launch abort

A Russian Soyuz rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 11, 2018. The rocket suffered an in-flight failure, forcing an abort and emergency landing for its Soyuz capsule crew, NASA’s Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. (Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin were just minutes into their Expedition 57 flight to space on Oct. 11 when a deformed sensor on their Soyuz rocket forced a launch abort. The two men made an emergency landing in Kazakhstan (the country from which they launched). Hague and Ovchinin emerged in good physical shape and were immediately promised another spaceflight attempt (which was later scheduled for Feb. 28, 2019).

For a few weeks, it was uncertain what effect the anomaly would have on the International Space Station, which has been continuously crewed since 2000. The Expedition 56 crew on board said they were ready to stay in space as long as needed, but their flight was technically supposed to last only six months — until late December. After Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) quickly wrapped up the investigation and implemented a fix, the Expedition 58 launch was pushed three weeks earlier to Dec. 3 to let the orbiting crew come home on time. Space station activities will continue a normal rotation, but for the time being, crews will mostly consist of three people instead of six.

3) Parker Solar Probe launches to “touch” the sun

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe on Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

NASA’s latest sun mission, which was decades in the making, will allow a spacecraft to fly through the ultrahot corona for the first time. The Parker Solar Probe lifted off successfully on Aug. 12 on a journey that will see it dip multiple times into the sun’s outer atmosphere, giving unprecedented insights into the sun’s composition and inner mechanics.

One of our star’s key mysteries is why the corona is so darn hot. Temperatures there range between 1.8 million and 5.4 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million and 3 million degrees Celsius). Compare that with the surface of the sun, a far cooler 10,000 degrees F (5,500 degrees C). Scientists suspect that the sun’s convection and magnetic fields contribute to the corona’s high temperature, but they need observations to back up the theory. The specially shielded Parker will help them come up with the answers, they say.

The mission honors pioneering University of Chicago astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who predicted the solar wind (the constant stream of solar particles) in the 1950s. Parker, 91, is the first living person to have a NASA mission named after him. He attended the launch.

4) SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy makes incredible debut

Falcon Heavy Launch (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX sent an immense rocket to space with a clever public relations campaign that caught the attention of people around the world. The Falcon Heavy launched on Feb. 6, 2018 and quickly unveiled a treat to those watching the livestream: the primary payload was a dummy called “Starman,” riding in a Tesla X roadster (an homage to one of SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s other companies). The upper stage of the rocket fired the car and passenger out into deep space, toward the orbit of Mars. To say the launch went viral doesn’t begin to describe the magnitude of social-media excitement that day.

While the stunt caught most of the world’s attention, underneath is a serious attempt for SpaceX to break into the heavy-launch market — a very lucrative market that includes military satellites and the ability to launch scientific payloads to other planets on relatively short trips. SpaceX and Musk are heavy proponents of Mars exploration, and SpaceX is developing a giant new rocket-spaceship combo to get colonists there in the coming decades.

5) TESS launches in search of exoplanets

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 18, 2018. (Image credit: SpaceX)

NASA’s quest to find another Earth got a big boost on April 18, when the planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) made a flawless launch on its way to space. Unlike past satellites, TESS is designed to look for planets near stars in our own neighborhood. Finding planets close to Earth provides a few advantages, such as allowing other telescopes to quickly zero in on these worlds to learn more about their atmospheric composition. TESS will also act as a pathfinder observatory for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2021 on a science mission that will partly include exoplanet studies.

TESS was placed on a unique, highly elliptical, 13.7-day orbit that sees it zoom relatively close to Earth (67,000 miles, or 108,000 kilometers) to send data home before flying out again to 232,000 miles (373,000 km) to perform science observations. TESS will scan the entire sky during its two-year prime mission, although scientists hope that in its stable orbit it can last a lot longer. The probe’s first planetary find was announced on Sept. 19 — an evaporating super-Earth.

6) China lander launchers to the moon’s far side

Liftoff of China’s Chang’e 4 mission to the moon’s far side occurred on Dec. 8, 2018 at 2:23 a.m. Beijing Time (1:23 p.m. EDT/1823 GMT on Dec. 7). (Image credit: China National Space Administration)

China — which wowed the world with a robotic lunar rover mission in 2013 — is trying to accomplish another moon milestone: landing on the far side. The Chang’e 4 spacecraft flew from our planet on Dec. 7 on a quest to land a rover and a stationary lander in early January. Its expected destination is the Von Kármán Crater, which is 115 miles (186 km) wide. The crater is a part of the larger South Pole-Aitken Basin complex, which spans an incredible 1,600 miles (2,500 km).

The moon’s far side is not visible from Earth and, in fact, was not even imaged until the first Soviet satellites orbited the moon in the 1960s. Landing there presents another challenge because there is no way to communicate information back to Earth without a relay satellite. So China sent a satellite called Queqiao in May, which is poised at a gravitationally stable spot in space called the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2. At this location, beyond the moon, the satellite can send information to and from Chang’e 4 and mission control on Earth.

7) Goodbye, Kepler and Dawn

An artist’s illustration of NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which is out of fuel. Kepler team members beamed a decommissioning “goodnight” command to the observatory on Nov. 15, 2018. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA announced on Oct. 30 that its venerable planet-hunting telescope, Kepler, had run out of fuel, after working far beyond the lifetime of its original science mission. It was quite the incredible journey that yielded 70 percent of the 3,800 confirmed alien worlds to date. Kepler spent its first four years in space (2009 to 2013) gazing at a single patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation, an investigation that yielded 2,327 confirmed exoplanet discoveries to date. After the second of its four pointing devices failed, NASA came up with an innovative way to keep Kepler going; the craft would use the pressure of the sun to stay steady in space, and would study different sectors of the sky over time. This new K2 mission (which lasted four years) not only yielded exoplanets, but studies of comets, asteroids, supernovas and other phenomena.

Coincidentally, NASA announced the end of another long-running mission, Dawn, just two days after delivering the Kepler news. Dawn also ran out of fuel. The probe was the first to explore a protoplanet (Vesta) and a dwarf planet (Ceres) up close. Dawn launched in September 2007 and arrived at Vesta in July 2011. There, it remained for 14 months to scrutinize the asteroid’s surface; among its many discoveries was finding that liquid water (from meteorite impacts) once flowed on the surface. Dawn’s second and final destination was Ceres, where the probe found a bunch of bright spots — salts that were left behind after briny water underground came through Ceres’ surface and boiled off into space. Dawn is expected to remain in orbit around Ceres for at least 20 years, but could stay aloft for many decades beyond that.

8) Japan’s Hayabusa2 arrives at Ryugu

The Hayabusa2 mission’s MINERVA-II1B rover (OWL) snapped this photo of asteroid Ryugu right before hopping across the asteroid’s surface on Sept. 22, 2018, at 8:46 p.m. EDT (0046 a.m. GMT on Sept. 23). (Image credit: JAXA)

After a more than three-year journey through space, the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrived at asteroid Ryugu on June 27 and quickly got to work. The aim of Hayabusa2 is to return a sample of the asteroid back to Earth, just as the original Hayabusa spacecraft did nearly a decade ago. But first, Hayabusa2 dropped onto Ryugu two rovers and a lander, which sent back pictures of a bizarre surface.

The German-made MASCOT lander deployed on Oct. 3 and fell 6 minutes to the surface before touching down around the asteroid’s southern atmosphere. The little lander survived longer than expected on battery power (some 17 hours), allowing a comprehensive set of pictures to be sent back to Earth. Scientists were surprised at how rocky Ryugu is, compared with other asteroids studied up close.

In late September, Hayabusa2 deployed two tiny, solar-powered asteroid hoppers that are now known as HIBOU and OWL. (HIBOU stands for “Highly Intelligent Bouncing Observation Unit”; “hibou” is also “owl” in French. OWL is short for “Observation Unit with Intelligent Wheel Locomotion.”) The two bouncers — which remain active today — and the MASCOT lander together are expected to yield much information about Ryugu’s history and composition. Hayabusa2 still has another hopper on board that should be deployed sometime next year.

9) NASA’s OSIRIS-REx arrives at asteroid Bennu

The asteroid Bennu, as seen by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 50 miles (80 kilometers). (Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

The cleverly named OSIRIS-REx (“Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer”) arrived at its asteroid destination on Dec. 3 — the 1,640-foot-wide (500 m) space rock Bennu. Eventually, OSIRIS-REx will drop to Bennu’s surface to pick up a sample for shipment back to Earth. But first, scientists are taking their time to get to know the asteroid and its neighborhood before picking a spot to land.

The spacecraft has a full dance card for the next few months, with the first major milestone being getting into a safe orbit on Dec. 31. Over the past few weeks, mission managers have not only been surveying the tantalizing target of Bennu, but also figuring out how the spacecraft would get ready for orbit. OSIRIS-REx had already performed three surveys of Bennu by mid-December, covering about 30 percent of the asteroid’s surface in some detail.

10) Hole in Soyuz capsule at International Space Station

Circled in red, the hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that corresponded to a pressure leak on the International Space Station in August 2018. The hole, which was patched from the inside the station, was exposed and inspected by Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev, both Expedition 57 flight engineers, during a Dec. 11, 2018 spacewalk. (Image credit: NASA TV)

On Aug. 29, mission controllers monitoring the International Space Station saw a small dip in air pressure — a dip that was quickly traced to a 2-millimeter (0.08 inches) hole in a Soyuz spacecraft attached to the orbiting complex. The leak was never a real danger, but cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev (after consulting with mission controllers in the U.S. and Russia) quickly plugged the problem area with epoxy, a fix that appeared to address the issue.

To make sure, on Dec. 11 two Russian cosmonauts (Prokopyev and Oleg Kononenko) ventured on a spacewalk to rip away the Soyuz outer layers with a knife and scissors and inspect the fix, including collecting samples of the epoxy for later analysis. The hole was on a portion of the spacecraft that is not used for re-entry, so it posed no danger to the returning Expedition 56 astronauts.

The cause of the hole has not been fully determined, although reports in the fall suggested it was a manufacturing error that happened while the Soyuz was being constructed in Russia. A full investigation and report should be completed in 2019.

11) Voyager 2 reaches interstellar space

An illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. On Dec. 10, 2018, NASA announced that Voyager 2 had joined Voyager 1 in interstellar space. The two are now outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the sun that extends beyond the orbit of Pluto. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

One of NASA’s most famous spacecraft reached a cosmic milestone around Nov. 5, when Voyager 2 passed the boundary into interstellar space — the place where the influence of the sun gives way to that of other stars. It’s not NASA’s first spacecraft to do so; the probe’s twin, Voyager 1, made it to interstellar space in 2012. So, Voyager 2 now provides another data point about how the transition zone between the heliopause (the sun’s neighborhood) and interstellar space works.

The arrival was just the latest milestone for the long-running spacecraft, which launched in 1977 on a “grand tour” of the outer planets. It is the only NASA spacecraft to whiz by the four big outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — and its discoveries are numerous, including finding out that all four of these planets have ring features. The spacecraft’s plutonium supply will begin to run low in a few years, forcing it to turn off instruments until it falls silent forever around 2025, mission team members have said.

12) Virgin Galactic reaches space

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceliner captured this view of Earth against the blackness of space on Dec. 13, 2018. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

The space tourism market reached a milestone on Dec. 13 when Virgin Galactic — which has been working to get people into space for a decade and a half — finally saw a crew of two test pilots get to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 km), just past the United States Air Force’s space demarcation line. (The Karman line, the more popular space boundary, lies at 62 miles, or 100 km.) The pilots were at the helm of the six-passenger VSS Unity during the spaceliner’s fourth rocket-powered test flight.

Hundreds of people have put down deposits to fly to suborbital space with Virgin Galactic; the latest ticket price was $250,000. The recent milestone was a big step toward getting some of these customers aloft.

Virgin has persisted with its spaceflight plans through numerous development delays, the most famous being design changes implemented afterthe 2014 fatal crash of the previous test vehicle, VSS Enterprise, during a rocket-powered test flight.

13) BepiColombo launches to Mercury

An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket carrying the two BepiColombo Mercury spacecraft for Europe and Japan launches from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana on Oct. 19, 2018. (Image credit: Arianespace)

Mercury has a few years to get ready for its next extended close-up after the joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission blasted off on Oct. 19. The spacecraft will cruise for seven years around the solar system, picking up speed from planetary flybys, before going into Mercury orbit in 2025. The only mission that has orbited Mercury so far is NASA’s MESSENGER, so BepiColombo will provide a rare up-close look at the solar system’s innermost planet.

To be sure, the next seven years will still be busy for scientists, who have plenty of work as BepiColombo cruises through the inner solar system. For example, BepiColombo will perform precise measurements of Earth’s and Mercury’s orbits to look for where the theory of general relativity may fall short. Additionally, the two BepiColombo spacecraft will make multiple flybys (six of Mercury, two of Venus and one of Earth), providing ample opportunity to configure the instruments on board, as well as to look for something new or interesting on these planetary surfaces.

14) Cubesats make space exploration leaps

After relaying live communications during the touchdown of NASA’s Mars InSight lander on Nov. 26, 2018, the MARCO B cubesat sent back this farewell image of the planet, taken from a distance of about 4,700 miles (7,600 km). (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

Spaceflight startup Rocket Lab got a big boost in 2018, launching its first operational mission on Nov. 10 and its second on Dec. 16. On this latter flight, Rocket Lab’s Electron booster lofted 13 tiny satellites for NASA that reached their target orbit of 310 miles (500 km) above Earth. There, the satellites will perform a variety of missions, ranging from measuring radiation to testing the utility of 3D-printed rocket arms.

The California-based company aims to increase access to space by launching cubesats and other small satellites to orbit frequently and affordably. But cubesats are making waves even beyond Earth now; when the InSight mission launched in May of this year, it was accompanied by the first two cubesats to ever leave Earth orbit. WALL-E and EVE (as the two briefcase-size spacecraft were nicknamed) help beam home data from InSight as the lander came in for its Martian touchdown.

Frontiers, Expedition Cognition: A Review and Prospective of Subterranean Neuroscience With Spaceflight Applications, Human Neuroscience

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Cognitive Neuroscience

Edited by
Klaus Gramann

Technical University of Berlin, Germany

Reviewed by
Mathias Basner

University of Pennsylvania, United States

Jelena Brcic

University of the Fraser Valley, Canada

The editor and reviewers’ affiliations are the latest provided on their Loop research profiles and may not reflect their situation at the time of review.

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Review ARTICLE

Expedition Cognition: A Review and Prospective of Subterranean Neuroscience With Spaceflight Applications

  • 1 Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
  • 2 Department of Medicine, University of Udine, Udine, Italy
  • 3 Department of Psychology, Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
  • 4 Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine, Eurac Research – Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine, Bolzano, Italy
  • 5 Directorate of Human and Robotics, Exploration, European Space Agency, Köln, Germany
  • 6 Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada

Renewed interest in human space exploration has highlighted the gaps in knowledge needed for successful long-duration missions outside low-Earth orbit. Although the technical challenges of such missions are being systematically overcome, many of the unknowns in predicting mission success depend on human behavior and performance, knowledge of which must be either obtained through space research or extrapolated from human experience on Earth. Particularly in human neuroscience, laboratory-based research efforts are not closely connected to real environments such as human space exploration. As caves share several of the physical and psychological challenges of spaceflight, underground expeditions have recently been developed as a spaceflight analog for astronaut training purposes, suggesting that they might also be suitable for studying aspects of behavior and cognition that cannot be fully examined under laboratory conditions. Our objective is to foster a bi-directional exchange between cognitive neuroscientists and expedition experts by (1) describing the cave environment as a worthy space analog for human research, (2) reviewing work conducted on human neuroscience and cognition within caves, (3) exploring the range of topics for which the unique environment may prove valuable as well as obstacles and limitations, (4) outlining technologies and methods appropriate for cave use, and (5) suggesting how researchers might establish contact with potential expedition collaborators. We believe that cave expeditions, as well as other sorts of expeditions, offer unique possibilities for cognitive neuroscience that will complement laboratory work and help to improve human performance and safety in operational environments, both on Earth and in space.

Introduction

Human space exploration has been limited to orbital space flight since 1972 (Apollo 17), but due to renewed interest by traditional government entities and the private sector, this trend is about to change. Engineering challenges are being overcome that will allow for a return to the Moon, and extend exploration to deep-space asteroids and to Mars (Salotti and Heidmann, 2014; Thronson et al., 2016). However, the difficulties of future missions for which we are least prepared may be those in the human domain (Kanas and Manzey, 2008; De La Torre et al., 2012; Bishop, 2013; Sgobba et al., 2017a). Separation from family and friends, delays in communications with Earth, distortion of audio and visual signals, and limited privacy and personal space are important factors for crewmembers of long-term space missions (Sandal et al., 2006). Even the most highly selected and trained individual is subject to limitations of human physiology and psychology. The isolated, confined, extreme and otherwise unusual physical and social environments of long-duration missions will approach these limits, and potentially result in catastrophic failure (for an overview of incidents related to human error in manned space missions, see Sgobba et al., 2017a).

Risks to human health and performance can be mitigated through selection, training, mission and equipment design, and countermeasures (Kanas and Manzey, 2008), and can be investigated in a variety of ways (Bishop, 2013). The human nervous system itself is studied primarily under laboratory conditions, using neuroimaging methods such as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) to observe the brain and the neural correlates of behavior non-invasively, and through comparisons between healthy and impaired systems by studying patient populations. It is also common to probe circuit, cellular, and molecular-level processes using animal models. While laboratory work is essential to establish a basis for interpreting field results and is generally less costly and less constrained than is research conducted in space, it also has limitations; it rarely looks at complex environments that are representative of real operational environments, and laboratory conditions cannot adequately simulate the unique conditions of spaceflight.

To better understand physiological and cognitive adaptations of the nervous system under conditions of microgravity, a series of studies using data collected in flight or pre- and post-flight has been conducted on postural reactions, eye movements, spatial orientation illusions, and cognitive responses (reviewed in Clément and Ngo-Anh, 2013). Some of the effects of microgravity on body fluid distribution (in addition to more physiological topics of bone density and muscle loss) can be simulated using bedrest studies in which the head is inclined downwards by about six degrees (a procedure that has negative consequences for mental status, Ishizaki et al., 2002), and by observing the changes in brain anatomy from pre- to post-flight (Roberts et al., 2017).

Aside from microgravity itself, the most relevant conditions of spaceflight for many other research questions about the nervous system can be found or devised on Earth. These “space analogs” may arise incidentally from other human activities, such as during Antarctic expeditions, or may be planned to simulate complex interactions of environmental, physical, physiological, and social aspects during space missions (Pagel and Choukèr, 2016). Space analogs can therefore offer platforms partway between the laboratory environment and the operational spaceflight context for the scientific study of psychology, cognition and neuroscience (Keeton et al., 2011). Neurocognitive changes, fatigue, circadian rhythm alterations, sleep problems, changes in stress hormone levels, and immune function have all been observed in situations that mimic some aspects of prospective human space missions (Pagel and Choukèr, 2016). A particularly valuable aspect of expedition-based analogs is that participants are in real, physically demanding and potentially dangerous situations with additional effects on stress, sleep, and team interactions.

In addition to informing future space mission design, space analog environments offer possibilities for neuroscientists to investigate brain function and behavioral performance in unique situations. Extending the study of human neuroscience outside the lab could lead to insights for basic research and benefits for safety-critical occupations (i.e., medical teams, shift-workers, firefighters, or air traffic controllers). However, opportunities for mutual exchange have yet to be fully exploited, likely due to limited contact between laboratory researchers and expedition experts, and because portable equipment for measuring neurophysiological signals has only recently reached a level of maturation necessary to make high quality measurements in situ.

Our objective here is to foster an exchange between cognitive neuroscientists, and cave expedition and space analog experts, by providing an overview of how laboratory and field research in neuroscience and related areas (i.e., cognition, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology) can be bridged, using caving expeditions as an exemplar space analog and expedition environment.

Scope and Terminology

We first discuss the properties of available space analogs and their evaluation and discuss the particular characteristics of caves that make them suitable for exerting the physical and psychological challenges of spaceflight, in order to assist researchers’ selection of missions appropriate for their research questions. We review work that pertains to human neuroscience and cognition conducted to date in caves, and then explore how the few focus areas of that early work can be broadened to a range of current topics. We then outline tools and techniques that are suitable for use in cave environments. Finally, we suggest how researchers might establish contact with organizations and teams that conduct expeditions.

Neuroscience, cognitive science, neuropsychology, and psychology are broad overlapping fields that may each study the same or related processes with numerous tools. We will not attempt to distinguish between the purviews of these fields here; research questions from any domain that concern environment-brain-behavior relationships that affect human performance are our focus. These topics at times overlap with human physiology, human factors, sports psychology, and social psychology. Although it makes little sense to study human performance in isolation from other physiological processes and from a physical and social context, other resources exist that have dealt specifically with these topics. For references on medical and physiological matters (i.e., bone loss, radiation, extravehicular activities, balance, motion sickness and nutrition), and for information on physiological and neurophysiological studies conduced to date on the ISS (see Buckey, 2006; Clément and Ngo-Anh, 2013). For space flight human factors research methods, accident analysis and prevention, and human-automation interaction (see Sgobba et al., 2017b; Kanki, 2018b; Marquez et al., 2018; Wilson, 2018). Psychology, mental heath, team performance and group interactions in space are reviewed in (Suedfeld and Steel, 2000; Manzey, 2004; Kanas and Manzey, 2008; Kanas, 2015; Salas et al., 2015; Pagel and Choukèr, 2016; Sandal, 2018). For a discussion of current knowledge on neuroplastic changes in the human central nervous system associated with spaceflight (actual or simulated) as measured by magnetic resonance imaging-based techniques (see Van Ombergen et al., 2017). Cognitive functions, human error, and workload and fatigue are relevant to expedition cognition and are amenable to study in the cave environment as discussed here; useful references for further reading include (De La Torre et al., 2012; Gore, 2018; Kanki, 2018a).

Space Analogs and Assessment of Suitability

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and other space exploration organizations have created a variety of terrestrial and aquatic space analogs, as well as simulated missions. Each analog simulates a subset of space or extra-terrestrial conditions. Those analogs which are predominantly used to test equipment, validate procedures, and gain an understanding of system-wide technical and communication challenges emphasize the equivalence of physical factors, such as terrain, reduced gravity and communications delays; those with natural sciences foci might emphasize geological and biological properties of the analog (e.g., the yearly NASA/ESA–funded Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition in Norway is used for testing astrobiological hypotheses).

Other analogs have a human focus or mixed scientific uses including human research. For the purposes of human activities, the relevant conditions for a particular topic of interest may include additional factors that affect a crew member’s ability to carry out their work efficiently and safely. An important principle for assessing the relevance of various extreme environments as viable analogs for space or providing the basis for cross-comparison is that it is the experience of the environments rather than the environments themselves that must be considered (Suedfield, 1991; Bishop, 2013). Thus, an environment may provide an excellent analog for spaceflight without physically resembling it, provided that many of the stressors exerted upon human participants are paralleled. For example, as in space, the external environment in the Antarctic winter requires specialized equipment, planning, and procedures in order to safely conduct operations outside the habitat. Morphew enumerated the stressors of (long-duration) spaceflight (see Table 1; Morphew, 2001).

Table 1. Stressors of long duration space flights (Morphew, 2001).

In Antarctica, McMurdo Antarctic Research Station (population > 1,000) is used by NASA as a Mars analog because of terrain, temperature, and taxing conditions comparable to those of Mars’ surface (Morris and Holt, 1983). Psychiatric studies at McMurdo station have provided evidence that prolonged isolation can increase the risk for mental health disorders (Kanas, 2015). ESA collaborates with the smaller Franco-Italian Antarctic base Concordia (population

15) (Tafforin, 2009), at which some human research is conducted, for example on sleep quality and adaptation to high altitude conditions (Tellez et al., 2014). Although aquatic environments are not precise models for the physical conditions of asteroid, moon, or planetary exploration, underwater missions do mimic the stressors associated with safety, communication, and technological logistics related to long-term spaceflight and exploration. The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is an underwater research lab where crews are sent on missions up to 2 weeks long to focus on testing equipment and procedures for future spacewalks (Todd and Reagan, 2004), and the Pavillion Lake Research Project (PLRP; CSA/NASA) uses remotely operated, autonomous, and human explorers to investigate microbiology and remnants of early life.

Simulated missions provide a similar physical environment to a spacecraft or base habitat, as well as activities and schedules resembling those of astronauts. One of the most ambitious of such projects in recent history (2007, 2011) was Mars500 (ESA/Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems). In the longer of two experiments, six volunteers were confined in a mock-up spacecraft for over a year and a half in order to simulate a complete Mars mission. Mars500 included a number of experiments on human brain function and behavior whose results have been published. Research topics included the effect of exercise on prefrontal cortex activity (Schneider et al., 2013); circadian heart rate variability during isolation (Vigo et al., 2013); and the relationships between cortisol levels on brain activity, sleep architecture, and emotional states (Gemignani et al., 2014); sleeping patterns (Basner et al., 2013); and the relationship between feelings of loneliness and cognitive functions (Van Baarsen et al., 2012). Other recent/ongoing projects are exploring perception of time, sleep quality, concentration, and their biological clocks over periods of weeks (Lunares, Poland), and crew selection, team processes, self-guided stress management and resilience training, crew communications and autonomous behavioral countermeasures for spaceflight in missions of several months (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation; HI-SEAS; NASA/University of Hawaii).

Training courses that are designed as space analogs have also been proposed as suitable environments in which to conduct human research. ESA’s Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills (CAVES) program, in which astronauts conduct scientific and exploration tasks in subterranean environments, is one such possibility (Strapazzon et al., 2014). NASA uses the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to tests the ability of astronauts and candidates to work together in a challenging outdoor setting (Alexander, 2016). For more information about space analogs, please refer to Keeton et al. (2011), Lia Schlacht et al. (2016), Pagel and Choukèr (2016), and Kanki (2018b).

In order to categorize the wide variety of earth-space analogs, NASA created an Analog Assessment Tool (described in NASA/TP−2011-216146, Keeton et al., 2011) that helps investigators select an analog based on study goals. Initially, the tool arranges the analogs based on importance weightings where the research characteristics (such as team size or degree of physical isolation) and utility characteristics (such as relevance of the crew’s tasks or the cost of the study) are proposed. Fidelity weightings are calculated for each proposed analog based on the research and utility characteristics including the degree of their isolation, hostility, confinement, risk, prior knowledge (the accessibility of information about the environment that the mission crew has access to prior to expedition), natural lighting, logistics difficulty, remote communications, science opportunity, similarity to planet surface, and sensitivity (susceptibility to damage by humans of the environment). Both sets of weightings are combined to produce an overall ranking for all proposed analogs according to the goals of the mission (Keeton et al., 2011). ESA has also analyzed facilities that are suitable to be used as lunar analogs (Hoppenbrouwers, 2016). Table 2 presents a synthesis of the criteria commonly used to evaluate terrestrial space analogs against a research project’s goals.

Table 2. Summary of criteria for evaluating terrestrial space analogs.

Caves as Space Analogs

Approximately 20% of Earth’s landmass is karstic, i.e., consisting of topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum, and characterized by sinks, ravines, caves, and underground streams (Ford and Williams, 2007). Only a small portion has been explored, but many sites attract people for recreational and scientific purposes. It is estimated that at least 2,000,000 people in the US alone visit caves each year (Hooker and Shalit, 2000) and members of national speleological societies (e.g., approximately 10,000 members in the US National Speleological Society and about 7,000 in the French Federation of Speleology, gleaned from their websites) suggest that the number of people likely to be involved in rigorous expeditions worldwide is in the range of tens of thousands. Caves are, in fact, interesting to a variety of scientific disciplines, including geology, hydrogeology, and biology, but they also represent unusual challenges for the people who work, explore, rescue, and temporarily live within them. The majority of deaths of cave explorers are caused by falls related to human error, followed by rock falls, drowning, and hypothermia (Stella-Watts et al., 2012; Stella et al., 2015). Science conducted on cave expeditions therefore has the potential to significantly increase research to the benefit of spacefarers, and to improve safety in a widely practiced activity.

Caves have been identified as a naturalistic space analog for training purposes (Bessone et al., 2013; Strapazzon et al., 2014; Pagel and Choukèr, 2016). As space analogs, caves feature many logistic challenges and stressors (e.g., isolation and confinement, risk and reliance on technical equipment for safety, limited prior knowledge of the environment, unusual lighting and sensory conditions, communication and supply difficulties). The spaceflight stressors highlighted in Table 1 (in bold, italics) indicate those spaceflight stressors which are frequently present in caves conditions. Although speleological expeditions may vary in their coverage according to mission, team, and environmental properties, strong overlap is observed. Critically, cave expeditions (as well as some aquatic and polar analogs) fulfill the important psychological factor of being somewhat risky and safety-critical environments in which participants are reliant on equipment and teammates, with limited and slow rescue options (Stella-Watts et al., 2012; Bessone et al., 2013). Perceived risk is likely to cause neurophysical changes that affect many aspects of brain and behavior, from interpersonal interactions to sleep and cognitive function (Pagel and Choukèr, 2016). Cave exploration also requires discipline, teamwork, technical skills and a great deal of behavioral adaptation (Bessone et al., 2013). Martian caves and lava tubes have been proposed as suitable locations in which to construct habitats on Mars, due to thermal stability and shielding from radiation and micrometeorites (Moses and Bushnell, 2016), which would further increase the similarity of the model’s physical environment.

For these reasons, the European Space Agency (ESA) has carried out training activities in the subterranean environment since 2008. The multidisciplinary mission known as CAVES is used for training astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS) Partner Space Agencies (USA, Russia, Japan, Canada, and Europe) (Bessone et al., 2013; Strapazzon et al., 2014). During the 6-day mission, astronauts conduct exploration and scientific activities under similar scheduling and mission conditions as they will later experience in space as a means of eliciting and coaching behavioral competences (Bessone et al., 2008). The science program includes environmental and air circulation monitoring, mineralogy, microbiology, chemical composition of waters, and search for life forms adapted to the cavern environment, and increasingly, human experiments.

As CAVES participants are highly selected astronauts-in-training whose objectives are to explore and conduct scientific studies, it lies toward the higher-fidelity end of the spectrum of cave analog possibilities, and of possible experimental control. However, its capacity to support multiple experiments is limited by tight personnel scheduling. Expeditions of other organizations may therefore be more suitable for a given research question, taking into consideration the specific expedition’s space analog suitability (for recent examples of cave-based human research and a description of the cave conditions and mission, see Stenner et al., 2007; Antoni et al., 2017; Pinna et al., 2017). Cave expeditions may vary due to differences in cave environments (temperature, presence of water, remoteness and access, difficulty level, etc.), mission (duration, objectives, group size, group composition), organization (scientific, exploration, amateur), and the demographics of participants (age, sex, training, culture, language). These factors affect the nature of the data collection that is possible as well as its quality and applicability to other groups. In the section entitled “Connection to in-field study experts and cave community” we list some of the main speleological meetings and organizations through which expeditions appropriate to a research program might be found.

A Brief History of Early Neuroscientific Work Conducted in Caves

Health outcomes of humans living in isolation have been studied over the last 80 years. In the 1960s, researchers began to investigate how biological rhythms were affected when living underground, without “zeitgebers” (i.e., environmental cues that can alter the internal clock, the study of which is now included in the field of chronobiology). Early studies involving isolation in subterranean conditions are listed in Table 3, along with their findings. These studies, as well as those later studies found in Table 4, were identified by a literature search of life science electronic databases (Medline: 1966-Present, NASA Technical Reports Server: 1915-Present, Google Scholar: Present, Worldcat: 1971-Present, OPAC: 1831-Present, and PubMed: 1997-Present). Search terms included “cave/s,” “cave” AND “isolation” AND “human,” “free-running isolation,” “potholing/ers,” “caving,” “social isolation,” ‘subterranean” AND “isolation,” “spelunking,” and “underground environment.” Because many early studies were only reported in their original language, we additionally searched for Italian: “grotta/e,” “isolamento in grotto,” “isolamento spazio temporale,” and “Montalbini” (author); French: “grotte,” “sejours souterrain,” “Siffre” (author); and Spanish: “cueva,” “aisolamento in cueva,” “permanecer bajo tierra,” and “spelunka.” All studies reporting results from human subjects in subterranean environments with a neuroscience or cognitive component were retained (16 reports).

Table 3. Subterranean studies reported from 1938 to 1974.

Table 4. Subterranean studies reported from 1974 to 1994.

Reports from the early to mid 1900s on the effects of isolation on the human body are limited in their sample size and lack standardized methodology (Halberg et al., 1970). One of the first peer-reviewed studies to examine chronobiology was performed by Mills, who analyzed chronobiological aspects of his subject throughout 105 days in subterranean isolation (Mills, 1964). From the 1960s to the mid-1970s, similar studies documented renal rhythms, sleep-wakefulness cycles, time estimation, internal temperature, heart rate, and even menstrual cycles of their subjects as biomarkers for changes of their internal clocks (see Table 3). The majority of these earlier studies using basic physiological measures found that a rest-activity cycle persisted in the absence of any environmental synchronizer or deliberate scheduling, although it appeared to be slightly desynchronized/longer than 24 h (

24.5 h). These findings were interpreted as evidence that the internal clock does not need external cues such as intense light to regulate its biological rhythm (Halberg, 1965). Social cues (e.g., subjects sleeping in the same underground conditions nearby one another, subjects eating meals together) were also shown to affect circadian rhythm, as those of subjects isolated together tended to align (Apfelbaum, 1969).

Although some of the studies in Table 3 were able to look at physiological parameters such as the effects of isolation on vision, measures were mostly implemented prior to and after isolation as opposed to within the cave environment itself. During the expedition, circadian rhythms were observed using core body temperature, sleep-wake cycles, and subjective estimation of time.

Electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG), and electrooculography (EOG) are techniques that are used to record electrical activity in the brain, skeletal muscles, and eye movements, respectively. Due to advances in electrophysiological tools in the mid 1970s, it became possible to make physiological and neurophysiological measurements during subterranean isolation studies. One of the first cave research studies using EEG and EMG was performed by Chouvet et al. (1974), who characterized sleep architecture during isolation (i.e., the pattern of rapid eye-movement or REM sleep; light sleep or stages 1 and 2; and deep or slow-wave sleep, SWS, that occurs over a nights’ rest). From the mid-1970s to the 1990s, similar studies documented the effects of isolation with limited external time cues on circadian rhythms using EEG, EMG, and EOG, in addition to the previously mentioned physiological measures. These studies are listed in Table 4, along with their main findings.

The studies presented in Tables 3, 4 represent pioneering efforts investigating circadian rhythms in the absence of an externally imposed day-night cycle. Early observations that humans have endogenous rhythmicity in biological processes and alertness levels that can be modified by external cues stimulated further research on human circadian rhythms and sleep cycles which have grown into fields of scientific study with implications for health and disease (Kirsch, 2011). Many of these studies are noteworthy for their pioneering efforts, ingenuity of design, and commitment of their subjects; isolating individuals for long periods would now be considered highly unusual (if not unethical; although causality certainly cannot be inferred, one of the subjects isolated alone for 3 months later died by suicide Hillman et al., 1994b). However, today the data generated by these studies are primarily of interest for historical reasons; the very small sample sizes and lack of experimental control and methodological standardization between studies limit the interpretability and generalizability of the findings, and the tools and practices of measurement of human psychology and physiology have evolved considerably in the interim. Later work showed that some of the findings reported above were likely caused by the experimental procedures. Most notably, many studies in Tables 3, 4 suggested that the endogenous human circadian cycle is closer to 25 than 24 h. This was later attributed to phase shift due to exposure to bright artificial light that subjects were allowed to use while awake; in the absence of bright light, the intrinsic pacemaker is in fact very close to 24 h (Czeisler et al., 1999).

Research Topics: Opportunities, Considerations, and Collaborations

Studies in caves to date have only concerned themselves with a few of the topics for which the cave environment makes a good space analog (i.e., isolation, lighting). Figure 1 presents some of the (interrelated) topics within neuroscience, cognition, and psychology that could be usefully studied in cave expeditions, and might benefit from an intermediate research platform between the laboratory environment and space itself.

Figure 1. Potential topics in psychology, cognition, and neuroscience that could benefit from study in subterranean and expedition environments. Caves could also be a useful context within which to evaluate and optimize the effects of equipment interfaces and operational protocols on human cognition and performance, as well as within which to test the effectiveness of countermeasures.

Circadian Rhythm and Sleep

Sleep quantity and quality, circadian rhythm, and resulting alertness levels and performance proficiency are often altered in spaceflight for environmental and operational reasons (Mallis and DeRoshia, 2005). Due to logistic challenges with sleep measurements in the spaceflight environment, only a few astronauts have been studied using polysomnography (PSG), the gold-standard method for evaluating sleep. According to astronauts’ subjective reports and objective recordings of neurophysiology (i.e., EEG, PSG) and of activity levels (i.e., actigraphy; wrist-worn accelerometers) human sleep has been reported to be shorter and shallower during various missions including Skylab missions (Frost et al., 1975, 1976), space shuttle missions (Monk et al., 1998; Dijk et al., 2001), Mir missions (Gundel et al., 1997), and ISS Expeditions from 2006 to 2011 (Barger et al., 2014), compared to sleep on the ground. Barger and colleagues additionally found that the use of sleep-promoting drugs, which are known to alter sleep architecture and cognitive performance, were pervasive during spaceflight; the authors argued for the need to develop effective countermeasures to restore normal sleep in space (Barger et al., 2014).

The degree to which spaceflight sleep problems are caused by altered physiology due to the effects of microgravity itself or other factors such as isolation and confinement, noise, changes in physical activity, long or unusual sleep-wake and crew shift-work schedule, over-excitation, demographics, rapid succession of light and dark exposure, and ambient temperature is not yet known (Gundel et al., 1997; Pandi-Perumal and Gonfalone, 2016). However, results from space analogs also report significant changes in sleep patterns during Antarctic overwintering (Steinach et al., 2016) and during extended confined isolation (Basner et al., 2013), respectively, suggesting that sleep disturbance can be usefully studied in space analog conditions. In caves, mission-like levels of activity and scheduling, psychological pressures relating to factors such as risk and interpersonal interaction, new surroundings, temperature, humidity, and noise can all affect sleep timing, duration, and quality. Cave expedition constraints can also introduce circadian disturbances; for example, it is not uncommon for cave exploration activities to involve extended periods of wakefulness and near-continuous activity (>24 h and even up to 40 h), when sleeping within the cave is logistically difficult or impossible. These extended periods of wakefulness parallel those in spaceflight which can occur for operational requirements for example rendezvous and docking procedures, and in emergencies. Some cave expeditions may last weeks and require crew to adapt to sleeping and working conditions, providing a situation analogous to longer mission phases. Even when a normal sleep-wake cycle is maintained, important zeitgebers are absent or altered in caves, as in space exploration.

Inadequate sleep can affect daytime alertness levels, response time, vigilant attention, and error rates, learning, complex task performance, emotional evaluation, risk assessment, and fatigue; however, effects differ according to the type of task and degree of its complexity, characteristics of the individual, and the nature of the sleep deprivation (i.e., acute deprivation, or chronic restriction; Wickens et al., 2015; Bermudez et al., 2016; Havekes and Abel, 2017; Krause et al., 2017). In meta-analyses, mental fatigue was shown to also have some effect on physical and athletic performance (Van Cutsem et al., 2017; McMorris et al., 2018), which has relevance for more physically strenuous expedition activities such as climbing or extravehicular activities. Hypnotics (i.e., drugs used to treat insomnia) reduce sleep latency and increase sleep duration, but the resulting sleep shows abnormal sleep architecture (Cojocaru et al., 2017) and does not entirely restore impaired cognitive performance (Verster et al., 2016). Because sleep architecture is important to learning and memory consolidation (Diekelmann and Born, 2010; Ros et al., 2010), these effects are especially undesirable wherever learning is required, as it is during exploration and spatial navigation. People are not always good at assessing their own performance levels; devising means of assessing readiness to perform safety-critical tasks is important, as is knowing how well self-reported alertness levels accurately reflect subsequent cognitive performance (Boardman et al., 2017), and how well performance can be improved in the short term. Caffeine can mitigate some of the next-day cognitive performance effects of reduced sleep in a somewhat predictable fashion (Ramakrishnan et al., 2015). Interestingly, an individual’s performance impairments due to sleep restriction, or enhancement due to stimulants like caffeine, may not translate directly into group performance impairments and improvements, due to mediating factors of group dynamics (Faber et al., 2017), which would also be useful processes to understand under expedition conditions.

In addition to inadequate sleep quality and duration, sleep timing affects performance. Recent progress on the molecular-genetic basis of circadian rhythms indicates that they affect cognition, learning and memory, mood, and metabolism directly, in addition to indirectly through their influence on sleep (Kyriacou and Hastings, 2010). The effect of sleep restriction and circadian misalignment is a topic of concern in occupations that involve shift-work like emergency medicine, in which short-term cognitive deficits have been related to shift work schedules (Machi et al., 2012).

Sensation and Perception

Caves offer unusual sensory inputs that affect waking behavioral performance. In caves as in enclosed artificial environments such as spacecraft, olfactory input is monotonous sometimes negative (i.e., body odors), contributing to habitability and comfort issues. Noise is pervasive in artificial environments, and is known to cause annoyance, disturb sleep and daytime sleepiness, and to negatively affect patient outcomes and staff performance (in hospitals), increase the occurrence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and impair cognitive performance (Stansfeld and Matheson, 2003; Basner et al., 2014a). Operational limits on both continuous and intermittent noise exposure have been established for spaceflight, in order to provide an acceptable environment for voice communications and for restful sleep (Allen et al., 2018). However, recent evidence suggests that even low levels of noise, within the established limits, can cause neurophysiological changes that negatively affect health, learning, and memory performance (studied in rodents Cheng et al., 2011). In humans, noise increases the cognitive load associated with understanding speech and communicating, and the ability to do more than one task simultaneously (Rönnberg et al., 2010). Many cave environments have continuous background noise from wind and water movement that could be used to study its effect on individual stress levels, concentration, cognitive performance, fatigue, workload, communication, and interpersonal interaction.

Lighting in caves is produced by headlamps, which create partial, focal illumination of complex three-dimensional spaces and complicates movement and navigation. These perceptual conditions are likely to increase cognitive load and contribute to dual-task performance decrements, including communication and teamwork. The type and distribution of lighting on the exterior of spacecraft affects human visual performance and is an important factor in spacecraft design, particularly for extravehicular activities (Rajulu, 2018). Future extra-terrestrial cave/lava tube exploration may create related challenges.

Higher-level perceptual skills are also relevant for spaceflight. Visuo-spatial orientation skills refer to the ability of individuals to make use of information available in the environment to efficiently orient and navigate. This function relies on cognitive processes such as memory, attention, perception, mental imagery, and decision-making skills (Ekstrom and Isham, 2017). It allows individuals to become familiar with the environment and to integrate information about self-position and orientation into a spatial mental representation of the surroundings, known as a cognitive map (Tolman, 1948; Arnold et al., 2013). Cognitive maps allow any target location from anywhere within the environment to be reached, even by following novel routes when a known pathway is unavailable (Epstein et al., 2017). An accurate mental representation of the environment is crucial for a variety of cognitive tasks in near-space, such as those that involve reaching and grasping objects from a given location within the environment or directing attention to elements in space that are not necessarily within our focal vision. These skills are necessary for maneuvering safely in microgravity, during extra-vehicular activities, and for exploration of planet surfaces (Clément and Reschke, 2008).

The ability to form accurate mental representations of the environment implies the integrity of a complex extended network in the brain (Ekstrom and Isham, 2017; Ekstrom et al., 2017). Within this network, regions in the medial temporal lobe (i.e., hippocampus and parahippocampal cortex) are involved in the learning and memory aspects of orienting and navigating through the environment (Epstein et al., 2005; Iaria et al., 2007). Interestingly, these networks are among those implicated in sleep-related processes of memory consolidation, notably of memory involving spatial and contextual elements (Diekelmann and Born, 2010). Other brain regions used while moving throughout the environment and locating elements within it include the posterior parietal cortex, which is critical for integrating different sensory information processed through our visual, vestibular, somatosensory, and proprioceptive systems (Posner et al., 1984; Andersen, 1997); and the frontal and prefrontal cortex which are necessary for executive functions such as planning, mental imagery, and working memory (Owen et al., 1990; Petrides and Baddeley, 1996). Recent studies have shown that even a minimal functional alteration (not damage per se) of the neural networks described above is associated with impairments of spatial processing (He et al., 2007; Iaria et al., 2014; Kim et al., 2015). As with many complex skills, maintaining expertise in spatial orientation and navigation also requires consistent practice; reliance on GPS technology for example, which offloads the cognitive demands of navigation, is associated with lower navigational expertise (Ishikawa et al., 2008) and lower hippocampal volume and connectivity (Maguire et al., 2000; Iaria et al., 2014). Spatial orientation and navigation are a clear example of a cognitive process in which one must “use it or lose it” (Shors et al., 2012).

Stress, Decision-Making, and Risk-Taking Behavior

Factors affecting physiological and psychological well-being like increased social isolation, confinement, altered sleep, and higher stress levels are also known to affect cognitive skills. For example, visuo-spatial orientation and its neural correlates (Glasauer and Mittelstaedt, 1998; Stranahan et al., 2006; Lukavský, 2014; Valera et al., 2016). Poor quality sleep leads to slower performance and more errors navigating a newly-learned environment (Valera et al., 2016), and chronic stress is known to produce spatial orientation deficits (Mizoguchi et al., 2000; Kleen et al., 2006), likely by perturbing the neurochemistry of supporting networks (Conrad, 2008, 2010; Li et al., 2015). Spatial confinement may also have more direct effects on spatial orientation, for instance, Lukavský (2014) identified a marked difference in scene memory in the six participants of the Mars500 project. Relative to controls, these individuals developed a greater bias toward “boundary extension” while viewing distant scenes, i.e., falsely recalling a wider field of view or more distant perspective from these visual stimuli. Lukavský hypothesized that the lack of interaction with distal objects and scenes due to extended stays in a relatively confined environment will result in the deterioration of the perception and strategy use within larger environments.

The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex have a well-documented sensitivity to some of the negative factors associated with subterranean explorations. Rodents housed in confined, isolated, or simple environments have smaller hippocampi, comprised of fewer neurons (Kempermann et al., 1997) with fewer dendritic spines (Leggio et al., 2005), less neurogenesis (Olson et al., 2006), and poorer spatial abilities (Nilsson et al., 1999; Leggio et al., 2005). While the typical experiences of a lab rodent differ from that of an average human, these findings are generally supported by human research (Gianaros et al., 2007; Lupien et al., 2007; Ganzel et al., 2008; Prince and Abel, 2013). The prefrontal cortex is vulnerable to both acute and chronic stressors, with acute stress producing notable impairments in spatial working memory (Arnsten, 2009), as well as reducing the capacity to problem-solve and think flexibly. Paralleling the effects seen in the hippocampus, long-term exposure to stressors produces lower prefrontal cortex volumes (Cerqueira et al., 2007), reduced dendrite length and branching (Holmes and Wellman, 2009), and detriments to spatial memory (Cerqueira et al., 2007; Arnsten, 2009), vulnerabilities that appear to worsen with aging (McEwen and Morrison, 2013). Cave environments offer challenging three-dimensional environments in which to move and explore, simulating the challenging perceptual and mission conditions of spaceflight; they may also offer unique opportunities to contribute to knowledge of hippocampal function, dysfunction, and plasticity as it relates to sleep, stress, and confinement.

The perceived risk and danger aspect of expedition environments offers another set of research opportunities with spaceflight relevance. Communication with the outside world may be very limited. Though teams often set up a telephone line between an external base and a main cave base camp for extended expeditions, difficult terrain may still require hours or even days of movement before communication can be established, and rescue attempts could take much longer. In future long-duration space missions to Mars and for permanent stays on the Martian surface, transmissions between ground and space may be delayed up to 40 min or even blocked, and short-term rescue may be impossible; lack of a visual link to Earth will add to the feelings of isolation and autonomy (Horneck and Comet, 2006; Strapazzon et al., 2014). Under uncertain conditions, stress impacts decision-making and risk-taking behavior (reviewed in Morgado et al., 2015). These effects appear to be mediated by stress-related release of neurotransmitters that lead to alterations in neural firing, and if stress is chronic, to architectural changes in frontal lobe areas involved in higher-level cognition (Arnsten, 2015). The stress associated with risk and danger also affects interpersonal interactions and group dynamics, potentially leading to feedback cycles in communication that foment crew conflict (Kalish et al., 2015).

Interpersonal Interactions and Teamwork

The interaction of stressors that challenge cave and space explorers with interpersonal dynamics is a critical component of mission success (Bishop et al., 1999; Sandal, 2018). Although teamwork, team cohesion, team effectiveness, and resilience have been identified as knowledge gaps and are current topics of investigation for space exploration, there have been relatively few studies in extreme environments and space-analogs (for a summary, see Salas et al., 2015; Sandal, 2018), and studies within caves are scarce (for examples, see Bishop et al., 1999; MacNeil and Brcic, 2017).

The empirical study of team characteristics and processes has non-standard, evolving theoretical constructs and methodology (Cronin et al., 2011; Alliger et al., 2015; Kozlowski, 2015). Common techniques include behavioral observation (during simulations or training; in person, or by reviewing recordings) and self-report by surveys (during pauses in activity, or retroactively) (Brannick et al., 1997). These methods may require an uninvolved observer, rely on team members’ ability and desire for introspection, and may not capture how the team dynamically reacts and interacts to changing situations. Wearable physiological and neurophysiological measurement devices have been proposed as a means of unobtrusively tracking team dynamics, assessing the quality of teams’ performance in real time, and adaptively rearranging team or task components (Stevens et al., 2011; Salas et al., 2015; Santoro et al., 2015; Lederman et al., 2017). These promising approaches are in early development phases, and could be tested in cave environments.

Evaluating Interfaces and Countermeasures

As well as observing and characterizing the behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of environmental stressors (Alonso et al., 2015), (neuro) physiological indices of attention, workload, and emotional state can be used to measure how people interact with technology, for the purposes of evaluating equipment interfaces (Liapis et al., 2015) and to validate brain-computer interface (BCI) systems. Passive BCIs use these signals to adapt the behavior and functionality of highly complex and safety critical systems accordingly to the user’s actual mental state in real time, without requiring effort. They are promising means of optimizing interaction with technology for spaceflight applications as well as in various Earth-based applications (Coffey et al., 2010; Aricò et al., 2016; Arico et al., 2017). In cave exploration, interaction and supervision of swarms of robotic agents is a possible application (Fink et al., 2015; Kolling et al., 2016).

The cave environment could be used to test the feasibility and effectiveness of countermeasures. In a recent meta-analysis, mindfulness-based meditation was shown to reduce stress, depression, anxiety and distress, and improve quality of life in healthy individuals (Khoury et al., 2015). Neurofeedback, in which users are given a visual or auditory representation of certain features of their brain’s ongoing activity such that they can learn to modulate it (e.g., based on the amplitude of different frequency bands measured with EEG), might be tested as a means of maintaining function during expeditions. In a review of about 30 controlled studies, EEG-neurofeedback showed evidence of performance gains on sustained attention, orienting and executive attention, memory, spatial rotation, reaction time, complex psychomotor skills, implicit procedural memory, recognition memory, perceptual binding, intelligence, mood and well-being (Gruzelier, 2014).

Slow oscillations present in deep sleep can be enhanced using a method known as auditory closed-loop stimulation. Short bursts of quiet broadband noise are played to the user, precisely timed to the ascending phase of ongoing slow oscillations (Ngo et al., 2013). The brain’s reaction to the sounds strengthens the slow oscillations and improves some types of memory (i.e., hippocampus-dependent declarative memory; Arnal et al., 2017; Besedovsky et al., 2017). Another new method of enhancing learning is known as targeted memory reactivation (TMR), in which an olfactory or auditory stimulus is associated with a learning event. In the subsequent sleep period, the stimulus is repeated, presumably reactivating the memory and increasing the strength with which it is consolidated (learned) (Schouten et al., 2017). Although these methods are new and have shown improvements on only basic tasks that are far removed from those performed in the operational environment, further developments may make them usable to optimize learning in expedition environments; these could be tested in caves.

Thus, as early twentieth century researchers deduced, cave environments are useful for studying sleep and circadian processes. Though early studies only took advantage of the isolation and the absence of zeitgebers found in caves, a much larger set of questions can be asked during modern expeditions: of sleep and circadian rhythm, but also about sensation and perception, spatial navigation, interpersonal interactions and teamwork, human factors design, stress, and the impact of these stressors on wellbeing and performance. In the following section, we discuss several considerations for conducting human research in cave environments.

Methodological Considerations for Conducting Research in Caves

Because of the long planning time for many space and analog missions and because of the difference in the scale of research investment, the pace of progress is generally more rapid in mainstream neuroscience. The focus of analog research is likely to be establishing and characterizing phenomena under expedition conditions and assessing the effect of interventions, whereas a laboratory approach can investigate finer-grained mechanisms, in tightly controlled paradigms that isolate specific phenomena, possibly using highly specialized equipment. Both are valuable; to maximize the advantages of each, researchers might choose to include a lab-based control group for comparison, test subjects before an expedition in the lab to serve as a baseline, complement field studies with investigations of the same phenomenon using their full lab suite, or carefully validate field equipment and procedures against laboratory standards, according to the research question.

Scientists only familiar with the traditional academic research side may find the collection Space Safety and Human Performance Sgobba et al. (2018), as well as Clément and Ngo-Anh (2013) to be useful starting points to review studies conducted in space or space analogs to date. It can be helpful to obtain first- or second-hand knowledge of the cave expedition environment prior to planning experiments, such that environmental and mission constraints that could introduce problems, confounds, or poor quality data can be avoided. In field studies, in fact, we often have poor control over confounding environmental factors (Brugger et al., 2018), but choosing the right “cave setting” can offer a certain level of standardization.

Expedition or medical experts who might wish to add neuroscience questions to their programs may discover too late that their results are unpublishable. For example, in auditory cognitive neuroscience, it is considered essential to confirm that subjects have normal hearing thresholds such that experimental findings can be attributed to some condition of interest and not a hearing deficit. Norms and best practices such as this have evolved in each specialized sub-field in order to guard against artifacts and confounds, and ensure replicability and generalizability of findings, but may not be obvious to operations personnel. There are often means of satisfying such requirements, once they are known. In this example, the researcher could conduct a basic audiogram on-site or arrange (with the subject’s permission) to obtain equivalent information via previous medical reports. A more problematic issue concerns sample size and statistical validity of the proposed research design; (i) case studies or very small sample sizes are unlikely to be well regarded by many peers in neuroscience; (ii) small sample sizes (

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Keywords: spaceflight, space analog, astronauts, neuroscience, cognition, psychology, human factors, wearable measurement

Citation: Mogilever NB, Zuccarelli L, Burles F, Iaria G, Strapazzon G, Bessone L and Coffey EBJ (2018) Expedition Cognition: A Review and Prospective of Subterranean Neuroscience With Spaceflight Applications. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 12:407. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00407

Received: 05 June 2018; Accepted: 21 September 2018;
Published: 30 October 2018.

Klaus Gramann, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany

Jelena Brcic, University of the Fraser Valley, Canada
Mathias Basner, University of Pennsylvania, United States

Copyright © 2018 Mogilever, Zuccarelli, Burles, Iaria, Strapazzon, Bessone and Coffey. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Into orbit, and beyond: A history of Wi-Fi® in spaceflight, Wi-Fi Alliance

Into orbit, and beyond: A history of Wi-Fi® in spaceflight

1月 14, 2020 by Chatwin Lansdowne, NASA-JSC

NASA has many applications that leverage Wi-Fi ® to do more science with less engineering. Since the inception of IEEE 802.11 open standards and Wi-Fi Alliance ® industry certifications, worldwide investment in Wi-Fi has produced radios that are sophisticated, cognitive, adaptive, power efficient, miniaturized, platform-independent, inexpensive, and available in many designs from many vendors. But first, come with me on a journey, fifty years back in time, to the world before it was changed by Wi-Fi.

1969: Before Wi-Fi, a man landed on the moon

When we were going into space for the first time, there were no standards. In 1969, voice and video signaling were analog, and no terrestrial standard supported mixed signaling. The Apollo lander could carry one radio transponder, and it needed to transmit voice, video, and digital telemetry on a unified carrier, and it needed to be reliable. The performance we required was unique, and expensive, and it pushed the technology envelope. International cooperation that followed Apollo required compatible interfaces. Space shuttle missions had a duration of a couple weeks, and Mir missions were longer, so contact with family gained importance.

Space station had a LAN when 802.11b was released

Now, jump to 2001. IEEE 802.11b was being released, the space station already had one Wireless Access Point. The Proxim RangeLAN2 required Proxim-branded wireless client adapters. It supported 1.6Mbps of traffic on a 2.4GHz frequency-hopping physical layer. The inside of a space station module is a high-multipath environment, and there were initially 22 devices on the Operations LAN, most of them wired. Wireless networks began to be used to connect wireless barcode readers to manage the inventory of consumables.

NASA installs first Wi-Fi

In January of 2008, with the IEEE 802.11n standard in Draft 3, NASA installed our first Wi-Fi. This consisted of two Netgear RangeMax b/g access points, nominally providing 240 Mbps each. The APs were repackaged for NASA by Energia. (image 1)

Immediately our IBM Thinkpad A31P laptops were clients, and for logistics, we provided our crew with RFID barcode readers. Our network now supported 52 wired and wireless devices. Arriving at the end of the space shuttle program, SPHERES platforms used Wi-Fi for high-bandwidth applications like video surveys. (image 2) Perhaps you can see here an exciting use for Wi-Fi Location™.

Wi-Fi upgrades in the space station

As IEEE 802.11-2012 was being released, the access points inside the Space Station were upgraded with four industrial grade enterprise dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11n units. By the end of 2012, there were 180 wired and wireless devices on the network, which shared the original 150Mbps satellite backhaul link. For many applications, wireless connectivity became a solved problem. The iPad Air served as a crew support tablet, and our Russian partners experimented with a GoPro to record extra-vehicular activity (EVA). The GoPro had Wi-Fi inside the space station, before and after EVA.

Wi-Fi extends outside the space station

In May 2016, we extended our wireless network to the outside of the Space Station. In the photograph below, (image 3) the access point marked “Zenith” is prepared to connect through coaxial cables to antennas installed outside of the Destiny module. We lose a few decibels of performance, but an upgrade to a four antenna Wi-Fi 6 access point could be accomplished in twenty minutes. In 2016, our wireless data rates were still constrained by 100Mbps Ethernet.

Space station video infrastructure was designed for the analog NTSC standard of the 1990s. To support a high definition camera, we needed a new parallel digital infrastructure. This camera is a bolt-on. It is mounted to the existing standard definition camera, takes power from the luminaire, and streams the video back using Wi-Fi. Inside the box is a Nikon D4. It takes high quality photos and video. And if we connect these cameras to Ethernet, they will become Moxa access points that are mounted on the space station truss.

In March of 2018, we installed our third external access point. Shortly thereafter, we installed two fixed high-definition cameras connected by Ethernet, (image 4) to provide both video and Wi-Fi coverage of the docking corridor. For these, we installed Ethernet penetrations cabled to external access points. We now have five mixed-vendor access points and no wireless controller, so mobility needs to be managed by the clients.

Wi-Fi takes a space walk

Wi-Fi also became a part of the space suits this year! Other external payloads have been stationary, so the suits are our first mobile outdoor clients. (image 5) A cinematic and virtual reality camera was repackaged to record an immersive space experience. High definition video is flown to the ground, but the viewfinder is a compressed stream that can use Wi-Fi. This clamp-on wireless camera (image 6) first streamed high-definition video in August 2019.

Image 7 shows the new high-definition digital helmet camera. The helmet camera will stream HD to internal storage and through Wi-Fi for viewing by the crew and on the ground, together with the legacy selectable analog cameras. This evolutionary change reduces the required engineering rigor.

The future of Wi-Fi in space

Expect to see Wi-Fi coverage landing on the moon soon. NASA’s next human moon landing will be supported by the first lunar Gateway modules (image 8). We are already evaluating early Wi-Fi 6 products to provide indoor and outdoor shared wireless infrastructure for non-critical applications around the Gateway. A driving application is wireless streaming from a 4k video sensor outside in space, while the encoder and storage are located inside the Gateway.

We are still finalizing detailed objectives for our next human moon landing, but we know our wireless communication infrastructure must be small, lightweight, low power, versatile, and adaptive. Exploration goes off the grid, so high performance, standards-based on peer-to-peer mesh networking would be attractive. You can see why I would be interested in the possibilities of Wi-Fi HaLow™.

Where will Wi-Fi take us in the next 20 years?

From my timeline, you can see that space shuttle and space station programs have spanned several decades each. Our project cycles are longer than for consumer products. The Wi-Fi commitments to backward compatibility, ever-improving performance, vendor interoperability, and scalable architecture are a good match for space. Wi-Fi is now the first solution we consider for non-critical short-haul distances.

The possibilities for additional Wi-Fi applications at the space station are nearly endless. From more Wi-Fi in spacesuits, high definition (HD) helmet cameras, and streaming video to the space station and the ground to using external HD camera inspections via Wi-Fi prior to re-entry.

In twenty years Wi-Fi has changed the world, but Wi-Fi is also changing the way we explore space. So, what story will your next product be a part of?

The statements and opinions by each Wi-Fi Alliance member and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions or views of Wi-Fi Alliance or any other member. Wi-Fi Alliance is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by any member in posting to or commenting on this blog. Concerns should be directed to [email protected]

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Mr. Lansdowne presently serves as subsystem manager for the IEEE 802.11-based External Wireless Communications system on the International Space Station, while supporting standards development for lunar exploration through his participation in the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) Wireless Working Group

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