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Space Update

Brynn Shaffer
August 2, 20228:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)

Buzz Aldrin Sells Prized Artifacts to Highest Bidder

August 2nd, 2022

“I know the sky is not the limit, because there are footprints on the Moon – and I made some of them!” tweeted Buzz Aldrin, who famously took those first steps in 1969 along with astronaut Neil Armstrong, sporting a white lunar space suit that now resides at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

On July 26th, the jacket that Aldrin wore underneath his suit sold for an astounding $2.77 million – the highest bid for any American space-flown artifact sold at an auction. The custom-fitted “FLOWN Inflight Coverall Jacket” has patches of both NASA and the Apollo 11 mission logos, as well as the American flag on the left sleeve, and Aldrin’s own name printed across the left breast. It was estimated to sell for between $1-2 million.

The unidentified winning auctioneer, who participated by phone, held the bid for over 9 minutes before closing the deal, calling it “the most valuable American space-flown artifact ever sold at auction.”

Aldrin, who is now 92 years old, is a hero beyond the realm of space exploration, known for flying on both the Apollo 11 and Gemini 12 missions. After a long and promising career, Aldrin said that “the time felt right to share these items with the world, which for many are symbols of a historical moment, but for me have always remained personal mementos of a life dedicated to science and exploration.”

The Buzz Aldrin: American Icon auction was handled by Sotheby’s in New York City, where 69 pieces of Aldrin’s personal memorabilia, spanning his career as an astronaut, were sold for a total of $8 million.

Among the other items sold included flight plans, space-flown artifacts, and all sorts of Earthly items from Aldrin’s private collection. An MTV Music Awards statuette modeled to depict the iconic image of Aldrin placing the American flag on the moon’s surface sold for $88,200, a Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed to Aldrin by President Richard Nixon sold for $277,200, and gold-colored lifetime passes to Major League Baseball games sold for $7,560.

There was only one item that did not sell, which is interesting considering its “small but mighty” significance: the famous broken circuit breaker switch that nearly ended Armstrong and Aldrin’s lives as well as the pen that was used to save them.

The story goes that as Armstrong and Aldrin were preparing to lift off from the Moon to return to the Command Module in orbit, where crewmate Michael Collins was waiting for them, a circuit breaker switch had broken off the instrument panel. In order to ignite the engine, Aldrin used the tip of a felt pen.

The auction came just less than a week after the 53rd anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. “July 20, 1969, the world witnessed one of the most important achievements in history – humans walking on the moon,” wrote Aldrin in a tweet. “Neil, Michael & I were proud to represent America as we took those giant leaps for mankind. It was a moment which united the world and America’s finest hour.”

Congress Seeks to Streamline UAP Reporting

July 30th, 2022

The House voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to create a secure government system for which reporting UAPs will be a much smoother process and which will hopefully help in unifying the disconnect between Congress and intelligence officials in regards to such spoken phenomena.

In May of this year, the House Intelligence subcommittee held the first hearing on UFOs in over 50 years and this new referendum comes just weeks after NASA announced plans to finance an independent UAP study of their own.

The amendment, which has strong bipartisan support, would create a secure reporting system for military-observed UAP sightings and would “prevent unauthorized public reporting or compromise of properly classified military and intelligence systems, programs, and related activities.”

Essentially, the bill would allow government personnel to report UAPs without fear of any type of retaliation. “I believe it’s possible that folks may be precluded from being fully transparent with Congress due to their being bound by non-disclosure agreements,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) regarding why an amendment is necessary. The hurdles of NDA’s make it almost impossible for officials to report UAPs today, which many believe is stunting scientific study on the phenomena.

The amendment would require an internal reporting system for the immediate sharing of information related to UAPs. It would also require the Department of Defense inspector general to conduct an independent assessment of compliance with the provision, one year after final passage.

Alongside Gallagher, Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) has been very vocal in pressing the Pentagon and intelligence officials to take UAP sightings more seriously and to be more transparent with Congress and the American public in their findings.

Former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo referred to the Gallagher-Gallego amendment as “one of the greatest efforts in recent history to foster transparency on this topic.” Elizondo, who is now a consultant to the U.S. Space Command on UAPs added that “this legislation may open the floodgates.”

In the words of Gallagher himself, Congress “must ensure the military and intelligence community are armed with the best possible information, capital, and scientific resources to defend our enemies and maintain military and technology superiority.”

Roscosmos Enters the War

July 13th, 2022

Independent Russian-language media outlet Meduza is reporting that Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin may step down from the space agency for a high-level post in the presidential administration of the Russian Federation. Meduza says they were given this information by three sources close to the Kremlin and it was confirmed by an associate of Rogozin.

According to the report, Rogozin could be installed by the Kremlin as a "curator" with oversight of the self-proclaimed DPR (Donetsk) and LPR (Luhansk), as well as the territories of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops." The post would make Rogozin the assistant to the president or deputy head of the Presidential Administration, taking the place of Dmitry Kozak, who has apparently angered Putin.

Rogozin has been vocal regarding his support for his country's invasion of Ukraine and has called for the removal of wartime sanctions placed on Russian officials and the country itself by western nations. Rogozin has publicly threatened to end cooperation with NASA numerous times while continuing to work with the agency behind the scenes. He even feuded with famed retired year-in-space NASA astronaut Scott Kelly on Twitter.

Meduza claims that Rogozin is loved by Putin and has been for a long time. Putin and Rogozin were seen together on two separate occasions since the invasion, on February 27th at the National Space Center in Moscow and on April 12th to celebrate Cosmonautics Day.

Just last week, Roscosmos released two photos of cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station holding both the tri-color flags of the Russian-controlled republics, Luhansk and Donetsk, the first public acknowledgment of Russia's invasion of Ukraine from the space station. The celebration of wartime victory by the cosmonauts goes against the understanding and acceptance that the ISS remains a platform for peace and cooperation between all nations.

Reported numbers have been largely unreliable but there is a consensus among embedded reporting agencies and the United Nations that thousands of civilians have died since the invasion with tens of thousands of soldiers killed on both sides.

The cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov, posed in photos that were published on the official Roscosmos Telegram channel, with the accompanying message: “Liberation Day of the Luhansk People’s Republic! We celebrate both on Earth and in space.”

The self-proclaimed territories of Luhansk and Donetsk are Ukrainian provinces that declared independence back in 2014. “The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world, regardless of ethnic affiliation,” said Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the separatist government, following the declaration. “For us, the history of Russia is our history.”

On Feb. 21, 2022, President Putin signed a presidential decree recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine as independent republics. And on July 3rd, 2022, Russia claimed total control over Luhansk when Ukrainian troops were forced to retreat from Lysychansk, the last major city in the region.

“Citizens of the allied Donetsk People’s Republic, wait!” continued the accompanying message, as Russian soldiers are still fighting to capture Donetsk.

NASA issued a statement citing the space agency “strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes.”

With additional reporting from the Supercluster editorial team.


CAPSTONE Experiencing Comms Issue After Successful Launch

July 5th, 2022

On June 28 at 9:55 p.m. local time, Rocket Lab launched the CAPSTONE lunar mission for NASA from New Zealand.

After a successful deployment a few days later on July 4th, CAPSTONE or Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment spacecraft, “experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network.” According to NASA, the mission’s team is attempting to determine what the issue is and re-establish a connection with the craft.

“The team has good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network,” said a statement from the agency. “If needed, the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post separation trajectory correction maneuver for several days. Additional updates will be provided as soon as possible”

The satellite will test a unique lunar orbit that has never been flown before, a near rectilinear halo orbit, as part of NASA’s Artemis expedition to return to the moon.

“We are going,” declared NASA in 2017 when they finally announced they would finance a program that returned humans to the moon’s surface by 2024....then updated to 2025 recently. Artemis, according to the agency's messaging, “will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.”

The uncrewed Artemis-1 mission, a test launch of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, is expected to launch this fall from Kennedy Space Center. Meanwhile, at Starbase in Texas, Starship–NASA's choice for the Artemis Human Landing System–will be flown on its first orbital test flight when SpaceX receives the license to do so. Musk says July, we are predicting August.

In September 2020, NASA released a 74-page document detailing the specific intentions and agenda of Artemis.

Artemis Base Camp is a concept in which NASA wants to establish an outpost on the lunar South Pole. This will give astronauts and robots alike a place to live and work on the moon, where long-term exploration will be easily facilitated. Building local habitats will challenge humans to utilize the local resources they find, with the first step, of course, being to find and purify water to make it drinkable.

Beyond the campsite, and in collaboration with commercial and international partners, NASA wants to establish a multi-purpose space station around the moon called Gateway, which will serve as “the future space outpost that will support visiting astronauts on their way to the moon and beyond.” Gateway will orbit the moon and will function as a transfer station for astronauts between Orion and Starship. NASA proposes that Gateway will remain in orbit for more than a decade, giving scientists plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the laws of the moon.

At the beginning of the long road to NASA's Artemis dreams, CAPSTONE will do its part by orbiting the moon and testing the navigation system that will allow Gateway to thrive. The near rectilinear halo orbit requires the precise balance of gravity between both the moon and Earth. It will show future Artemis mission planners the behaviors of a spacecraft in a near rectilinear halo orbit, “validating the innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of this halo-shaped orbit.”

The orbit will bring CAPSTONE within 1,000 miles of the moon’s surface from one lunar pole and roughly 43,5000 miles from the other end. The tiny satellite will elapse roughly one rotation per week, gathering information about the uncharted flight path and sending signals down to scientists on Earth.

CAPSTONE will spend four months cruising to reach its halo path after launch, where it will then go on to remain in orbit for at least six months.

Six Months of Webb Anxiety

June 28th, 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope's dramatic adventure continued in space following its launch from the jungles of French Guiana. Let's recap the journey as the first extraordinary images will soon be made public.

Just under 30 minutes after liftoff on Christmas morning, Webb began a complex deployment process, first by separating itself from the launch vehicle. At 33 minutes, Webb’s solar array began to open up.

The unfolding process was a meticulous operation that went step-by-step through each instrument of the telescope. Engineers sent commands to deploy the mirrors on the space observatory and then latch them into place. This was followed by the deployment of antennas and the unfolding of various limbs, including the tennis court-sized plastic sheet that wraps around the base to shield the telescope’s hypersensitive camera sensors from heat radiation.

On Dec. 27, the telescope crossed the moon’s orbit of Earth as it passed 240,000 miles.

The few weeks before Webb reached its arrival point was considered “29 Days on the Edge.” During this time, Webb continued traveling at a cruising speed of 720 miles per hour towards its destination.

On Jan. 8, at around 10:30 AM EST, Webb completed the final step of its complex deployment phase by unfolding the last section of its golden mirrors and hearing them click into place. With this complete, Webb was deemed “fully deployed.”

The telescope finally reached its destination on Jan. 24, just one month after launch. “Webb, welcome home!” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson once the telescope reached L2 or Lagrange Point 2.

“A way to describe the orbit is that the Lagrange points always stay aligned with Earth as it orbits the Sun,” Dr. Stefanie Milam, Webb Deputy Project Scientist for Planetary Science told Supercluster in a previous feature. “Therefore, JWST’s orbit around L2 will go around the Sun with the Earth. It’s like we have a small puppy doing circles at the end of a leash as we walk around the Sun.”

NASA revealed that Webb captured its first images of starlight on Feb. 11th. The team identified light from the same star, HD 84406, a star in the constellation Ursa Major, in each of Webb's 18 primary mirrors.

“The entire Webb team is ecstatic at how well the first steps of taking images and aligning the telescope are proceeding. We were so happy to see that light makes its way into NIRCam,” said Marcia Rieke, principal investigator for the NIRCam instrument.

On June 8th, NASA announced Webb was hit by a micrometeoroid but thankfully escaped any major damage as engineers had already prepared for the possibility of a meteor strike. The telescope was likely hit between May 23rd and 25th and all mission requirements were still performing at higher-than-expected rates.

"Impacts will continue to occur throughout the entirety of Webb’s lifetime in space; such events were anticipated when building and testing the mirror on the ground," wrote NASA's Thaddeus Cesari. After a successful launch, deployment, and telescope alignment, Webb’s beginning-of-life performance is still well above expectations, and the observatory is fully capable of performing the science it was designed to achieve."

And although Webb was designed to have a mission lifespan of 5-10 years, experts say that due to the amount of jet fuel preserved from the launch and insertion, that timeline can double, with enough fuel to last more than 20 years.

Supercluster will be producing a second edition of our Webb "Reflection" Mission Patch. You can join the waitlist here.

Jenny Hautmann for Supercluster

The FAA Gives SpaceX Homework

June 21st, 2022

SpaceX moved one step closer to launching Starship into orbit when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a long-awaited assessment of the company’s proposed operations at Boca Chica (dubbed Starbase by SpaceX) in South Texas. In the assessment, SpaceX was met with an extensive list of peculiar action items which must be completed.

The FAA's concerns stem from locals who have had complaints about operations at Starbase, particularly from residents of the neighboring community, Boca Chica, where impacts could be seen on the surrounding wildlife and general quality of life.

SpaceX’s Starship prototypes are massive and are powered by the still-evolving Raptor engine. The launch system is an amalgam of the proven reusability technology being pioneered with numerous Falcon 9 and Dragon flights and is being designed to carry both crew and cargo to the moon and soon after, Mars. The reusability is key to Starship and making the vehicle's flight economically feasible.

And with all these aspirations, preparation has been long underway. Since November 2020, SpaceX has conducted numerous high-altitude flight tests with Starship prototypes. The vehicles are launched no more than 30,000 to 40,000 feet in the air before returning to land. Only one has successfully landed to live another day. The rest have ended in fiery explosions that spread debris across the area.

While SpaceX has been able to freely launch their testing prototypes without failure, they need to obtain a launch license from the FAA if they wish to actually launch Starship into orbit. On June 13, after a thorough investigation, the FAA concluded that SpaceX will be required to make 75 different environmental adjustments for this to even be considered.

The 43-page press release includes a broad scope of mitigation measures, including protections for water resources, limits on noise levels, and how to better control hazardous materials. Among the list of action items, SpaceX is required to coordinate with a “qualified biologist” to conduct lighting inspections in minimizing the lighting impacts to sea turtles, particularly during nesting season.

The FAA is also requiring SpaceX to operate and encourage the use of an employee shuttle between the city of Brownsville and Starbase to reduce the number of vehicles traveling to and from the project site.

Additionally, SpaceX will be required to perform quarterly cleanups of the local Boca Chica Beach, presumably due to the mass amount of rocket debris that lands in the ocean, as well as enhance access to fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico. The company will collaborate with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to restore wildlife habitats and even participate in wildlife photography. The report highlighted several species that may be endangered due to Starbase’s operations, including the ocelot, jaguarundi, piping plover, and red knot.

One of the more odd mitigation items requires SpaceX to prepare a book report of sorts detailing the events of the Mexican War and the Civil War battles that took place in the area that is now Starbase. The FAA also issued new rules for closing highway SH 4, ensuring the public road stays open for 18 listed holidays and most weekends. Beat reporters do appreciate this one as it may result in major operations being paused during these holidays.

Despite the out-of-the-box demands, SpaceX celebrated the FAA's assessment as a victory by viewing it as “one step closer” to receiving their launch license, as they were originally wanting to conduct orbital test flights starting last summer. 

CEO Elon Musk thinks they could launch as early as July and says the company will aim for a monthly cadence. Supercluster is tracking the mission and our team will be on-site for Starship's historic orbital launch.

Pauline Acaline for Supercluster

NASA and Tom Delonge Walk Into a Bar

June 17th, 2022

NASA recently announced plans to finance an independent study on the UAP phenomenon from a science and data-collecting perspective.

The term UAP was coined after the heavily stigmatized term “UFO” greatly fell out of fashion with defense-industry professionals. While they both mean essentially the same thing, referring to sightings of unexplainable airborne objects, the term UAP is being used by the Department of Defense so that their witnesses and reporting are taken seriously by the national media.

Princeton Astrophysicist David Spergel will lead the team and they will begin in the fall for a duration of nine months. The study, which is to cost less than $100,000, “will focus on identifying available data, how to best collect future data, and how NASA can use these data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA. The agency says any findings will be shared publicly. 

According to a NASA press release, “there is no evidence that UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin.” However, it is not ruled out. In fact, it was only a month ago that a team from NASA’s JPL created a new message with hopes to reach foreign intelligence. Their message, called “Beacon in the Galaxy,” is just one of many attempts of METI, Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence. NASA is also supporting the search for alien megastructures.

Unlike many topics in today's political climate, UAPs seem to be a greater bipartisan issue as it relates to national security. U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), came together to include a UAP amendment in the FY22 NDAA. “We always need air dominance to defend this country,” said Sen. Gillibrand.

When we observe something flying that cannot be explained, and when the government has no answer, we have nothing to do but speculate. Could it be China? Russia? Or is it possible that we are witnessing something beyond the capabilities of human technologies? Russia's perceived military might is now under question following its invasion of Ukraine and China has formed its own UAP working group and has been uncharacteristically vocal about its concerns regarding the phenomena. It is fair to say that China, Russia, the United States, and SpaceX have relatively the same public-facing spaceflight capabilities at this point.

Fascination with UFOs skyrocketed alongside rocketry development during World War II. This inspired “Project Blue Book" the code name the United States Air Force gave to secrete their own investigation of UAPs, in which they compiled over 12,000 sightings, during the years 1947-1969. 

In 2017, the New York Times published two videos recorded by navy pilots in 2004 and 2015 depicting what seemed to be aircraft defying the laws of physics. A few months later, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, "a transmedia aerospace, and entertainment company," co-founded by self-proclaimed UFO researcher and Blink-182 front-man Tom Delonge, released a third. And in 2020, the Pentagon confirmed all three videos were real. 

Less than a year later, Congress ordered the Pentagon to compile an extensive transcript of their data on UAPs in order to assess the threat posed by UAPs and the progress made by the Department of Defense Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) in understanding this threat. The nine-page report mentioned 144 UAP sightings from 2004 to 2021.

The Pentagon defined their research as “largely inconclusive,” and was only able to identify one of the reported UAPs with high confidence. The outstanding 143 remain unexplained. 

NASA's announcement comes just weeks after Congress held a landmark hearing about UAPs, something that hasn’t been done in over 50 years. Previously classified images and videos were released depicting suspicious phenomena, though Pentagon officials testified under oath that the government has not collected materials from any alien landing on Earth. 

One video, in particular, captivated the committee. The footage, recorded from a fighter pilot’s cell phone shows a spherical object floating across several frames. As a whole, the congressional hearing served as a chance for lawmakers to acquire more information, as well as to vouch for greater transparency surrounding the broader investigation on UAPs.

While NASA’s study will remain independent from that of the Pentagon, the quest to declassify UAP research is certainly gaining traction. And although extraterrestrial speculation was once a topic of pure conspiracy, the government seems to be keeping an open mind about the verity of aerial phenomena, leaving the public wanting more.

Brynn Shaffer
August 2, 20228:00 PM UTC (UTC +0)