By Kyle Glatz
May 20, 2020
The world might seem chaotic right now, but we should all take time to consider what is going on above our heads.
It is a difficult time to turn our collective gaze away from what is happening around the world. Still, if you have the chance to look away and turn your eyes to the sky, you might see that something amazing has happened. Beneath the glut of stories about that singular topic on everyone’s mind, several others have shown that humanity is continuing its efforts to push forward in science and technology. Here are some of the intriguing stories that have occurred in the last few weeks.
Starlink sightings have increased recently as regular launches of the satellites have continued schedule. SpaceX, a private aerospace manufacturer, created the Starlink program and seeks to provide internet access around the globe from thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit.
The launch of the Starlink satellites has garnered a fair amount of attention in recent weeks. For one thing, the satellites’ orbit keeps them very close to the Earth, allowing some people to see them with the naked eye. The satellites appear in the sky as “trains”, with several of them seemingly banded together. While the Starlink satellites are easily seen over certain areas of the world, their brightness will diminish over time, as will the apparent bunching of the satellites.
Excited amateur astronomers have sent pictures to news agencies around the globe, demonstrating their enthusiasm for seeing the next generation of wireless internet access.
Of course, there are some naysayers. Some astronomers have reported interference from the satellites as they look out into space. The reflection from the devices has inhibited some star-gazing devices in parts of the world. Starlink has promised that these effects will be less severe over time as the satellites settle into their orbit, and the next generation of satellites will feature a more effective means of dampening reflection.
The launch date for the Starlink internet services has not yet been announced, but it is supposed to debut at some point in 2020.
The Manned SpaceX Mission
Another interesting tidbit of news has appeared concerning SpaceX. The Falcon 9 launch vehicle is scheduled to send the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on May 27th. The replenishment mission is dubbed “Crew Dragon Demo-2”, and it is significant for two reasons.
First off, this will be the first time that American launch vehicles and an American spacecraft have sent humans to space since 2011. It’s been a long time coming.
Secondly, this is a new era of cooperation between NASA and a private company. SpaceX is not just a provider for launch vehicles. The company has pioneered a reusable launch system that has been successfully tested over the last few years. During that time, the Falcon 9 rocket has been reused three times, landing on platforms in remote locations. In 2016, SpaceX even landed a rocket on a platform at sea.
The reusable boosters are a way to cut costs for space travel, providing a quicker turnaround for launches with a lower budget. Thus, SpaceX was a logical choice for NASA because the company is dedicated to pushing the envelope without sacrificing the safety of the astronauts involved.
After the numerous tragedies that have befallen Americans in space, some people might be hesitant to trust a new company to take astronauts into space. SpaceX has conducted a vast number of test flights. The most significant test was an unmanned flight in 2019. Lacking any crew, the Crew Dragon vehicle successfully launched, docked at the International Space Station, and returned.
The tests are not the only indication of the Crew Dragon’s safety. SpaceX designed and tested an in-flight launch escape capability. Whether there is an anomaly on the launch pad or in flight, this escape feature can keep astronauts protected and get them away from the booster rockets.
While there are going to be fewer people watching the launch in-person than initially planned, it should be possible for people to watch on their television screens as America makes a triumphant return to space.
The last bit of news related to space is a little more unusual. On April 29th, The Pentagon released three videos containing what has been called “unidentified aerial phenomena” in flight. The videos were previously leaked in 2019, and the Navy has now decided to release the videos and confirm their authenticity so that there is no question by the public that what they’re seeing is real.
Two of the videos were recorded with infrared cameras with members of the Navy commenting on the speed with which the objects were moving and maneuvering. Luis Elizondo, a former employee of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, talked about seeing the capabilities of these phenomena in past videos similar to the ones that have been released. In a 2017 interview, he stated “These aircraft — we’ll call them aircraft — are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the US inventory nor in any foreign inventory that we are aware of.”
One of the pilots in the videos speculated that the object could be a drone. However, the video and another showed objects performing maneuvers at speeds that did not seem possible for a drone. Still, a lot of regular citizens are taking the release of these videos as confirmation that UFOs, and perhaps aliens, are real. These videos have reignited speculation that the military knows more about UFOs than it is letting on, and it also has made people wonder whether we’re alone in the universe.
It might be hard to pull our collective attention away from what is splashed across the front page of the news every day. If you can find the time and the muster the desire, then you should look at how we’re still moving forward as a nation. We are going back to space, innovating how we deliver the internet, and humanity might not be alone in the universe! Keep your eyes peeled for announcements about the upcoming SpaceX launch- it is bound to be interesting!