Welcome to This Week in Outer Space, where you'll find a roundup of the best space coverage from Yahoo News and our partners from the past week or so. Last week, we took a deep dive into how NASA intends to spend $27.2 billion next year. This week, we have the latest on one of the items on its wishlist: a "space tug," a big budget request by the U.S. Space Force, and on Elon Musk's plan to build a town for SpaceX in Texas. But first, we've got some breaking space-fashion news.
Project Launchpad: New space wear for the modern astronaut on the go
On Wednesday, NASA and Axiom Space unveiled the brand new spacesuit that astronauts on the upcoming Artemis III mission will wear when they return to the moon in 2025. Unlike intravehicular spacesuits, which are only worn inside spacecraft and have gone through dozens of iterations, from Yuri Gagarin to SpaceX, these new extravehicular suits, or EVAs, built to survive the vacuum of space, mark the first major ground-up redesign since the 1960s.
Now, sure, a lot of the tried and true features of old designs are there — a big, domed helmet, a backpack full of fun gizmos and a bulky fit, to maintain pressurization. The new suit, however, features a ton of new technology and a vastly improved range of motion. While the demo EVAs sport a handsome new black, blue and orange design, the ones that go to the moon will go back to the classic all-white look, because otherwise, solar radiation might cook the astronauts alive.
There are still a few unanswered questions about these new suits — like, have they improved upon the whole bathroom situation? — but at least now we're now one step closer to being back on the moon.
NASA eyes pricey 'space tug' to clean up our messy orbit
Earth has a bit of a space junk problem. In the decades since Sputnik, thousands of satellites have been shot into low orbit. However, we haven't figured out a great solution for what to do with them once they stop working or get replaced by newer models — and a lot of the time, they're just left out there to circle the Earth forever. So as an artificial ring continues to form around the Earth, it not only creates a bit of an eyesore but also poses a massive risk to any future space missions. And soon, NASA is going to have to do something about the biggest piece of space junk yet: the International Space Station.
Included in NASA's proposed 2024 budget is $180 million for developing a deorbit capability for the ISS by the end of 2030. During a call with reporters on Monday, NASA officials explained that if the budget is approved, the space agency would call on the private sector to come up with a "space tug" concept to lower the orbit of the ISS, so that it can reenter and burn up through Earth's atmosphere.
NASA had previously suggested using Russia’s Progress cargo spacecraft to deorbit the ISS, and officials said that such an option is still on the table.
"We're continuing to work with our Russian counterparts on how to deorbit safely with the Progress vehicles," Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA Space Operations, said during the call. "But we are also developing this U.S. capability as a way to have redundancy and be able to better aid the targeting of the vehicle and the safe return of the vehicle."
Lueders estimated that the total cost of the space tug would be around $1 billion — a pricey space tug, indeed.
Space Force still exists and would like $30 billion, thank you
As Congress weighs President Biden’s budget proposal, leaders from the U.S. Space Force were summoned to Capitol Hill this week to sing for their supper.
Yes, that Space Force. The one Netflix and Steve Carell made a show about that most people don’t really think about too much. But the war in Ukraine, and the deployment of Starlink satellites to aid the Ukrainian military, may just be the thing to change the narrative for the real-life Space Force “guardians.”
On Tuesday, Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzmantestified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the program's vision and spending needs.
Saltzman outlined three areas that Space Force intends to prioritize: fielding “combat-ready” forces, amplifying the “guardian spirit” and partnering with U.S. allies to fend off an intergalactic challenge from China and Russia.
“Russia and China continue to deploy a range of weapons aimed at U.S. space capabilities,” Saltzman told the panel. “The threats include cyberwarfare activities, electronic attack platforms, directed-energy lasers designed to blind or damage satellite sensors and space-to-space orbital systems that can attack U.S. satellites.”
The budget allocation, he said, would be used primarily to defend the Space Force and the nation from "space-enabled attacks."
Oh, and about that so-called guardian spirit: Last week, the first all-Space Force flight graduated from the U.S. Air Force's Officer Training School in Alabama. The Montgomery, Ala., Advertiser reported that the 15 guardians who comprised Lima "Lasers" Flight completed the eight-week training course to commission as second lieutenants, and will go on to lead in the newly created service.
James Webb’s latest photoset shows dying star
"NASA Webb telescope captures star on cusp of death."
That was how the Associated Press darkly described the photo released by NASA at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this week.
The image, captured in June 2022, showed “gas and dust flung into space by a huge, hot star 15,000 light-years away,” the news service said. “Shimmering in purple like a cherry blossom, the cast-off material once comprised the star's outer layer.”
The Hubble Space Telescope “snapped a shot of the same transitioning star a few decades ago” the AP added, but “it appeared more like a fireball without the delicate details.”
“We’ve never seen it like that before,” Macarena Garcia Marin, a scientist with the European Space Agency, told the AP. “It’s really exciting.”
Elon Musk may be building a town for SpaceX (in Texas, not on Mars)
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the billionaire founder of Tesla and SpaceX and owner of Twitter is looking to build his own town in Bastrop County, Texas, where employees of SpaceX and the Boring Company, Musk's tunneling and infrastructure company, can live and work.
The newspaper obtained plans for the 110-home, 3,500-acre project, about 35 miles from Austin.
Musk is reportedly planning to name the town Snailbrook, in a reference to the Boring Company's mascot, which he and his employees have described as a "sort of Texas utopia along the Colorado River."
The visionary would not actually live there himself, though. According to the report, a private compound for Musk would probably be located outside the town.