Space news weekly recap: China space station module launch, Webb’s ‘purple swirl’,’ and more

From the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter being ‘grounded’ on the red planet due to it being winter and dust season there to China once again launching a space station module with its giant rocket, last week was an exciting period for all space enthusiasts. Here is our recap of the most important space news that happened over the last week.

This illustration made available by NASA depicts the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the red planet’s surface near the Perseverance rover, left. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter grounded

Ingenuity is a small solar-powered rotorcraft that landed on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021, along with the Perseverance rover. It completed the first powerful extra-terrestrial flight in human history on April 19 of the same year when it hovered and landed for a flight duration of 39.1 seconds.

But right now, it is winter and dust season on Mars. Due to this, there is more dust in the air and consequently, less sunlight that can recharge the solar-powered helicopter. NASA teams considered this and decided to give the helicopter a break for a few weeks so that its batteries can build their daily state of charge back up. The helicopter could be back in action in August, by when the dust clouds should have subsided.

James Webb Space Telescope’s purple swirl

It has just been weeks since NASA released the first few images from the Webb telescope, revealing the universe in such incredible detail that has never been seen before. But scientists around the world have already begun using the data from the advanced space observatory to reveal parts of the universe in incredible detail and beauty.

This image of the spiral galaxy NGC 628 taken with Webb looks like something straight out a science fiction movie. Gabriel Brammer of the University of Copenhagen created this image as a composite of three sets of data captured by Webb at different wavelengths. Brammer, who isn’t part of the Webb team, downloaded the data and translated each of the sets into red, green and blue images and combined them to produce the image.

Image credit: AP

NASA targeting SLS test flight for late August

NASA said that it will attempt a lunar test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with three mannequins but no astronauts as early as August 29 this year. The 98-metre tall combination of the rocket and Orion spacecraft is taller than the Statue of Liberty and if the spacecraft,s trip to the moon and back is successful, astronauts could board it for a trip to land on the moon as early as 2025.

The 30-storey tall SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft are currently at the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Centre after it had to be repaired due to issues that arose during its wet dress rehearsal attempts last month. The rocket, spacecraft and associated ground systems were plagued by fuel leaks and other technical issues during testing but NASA officials told AP the problems have been resolved.

A Long March-5B Y3 rocket, carrying the Wentian lab module for China’s space station under construction, takes off from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan province, China July 24, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS

China successfully launches second space station module

China successfully launched the second of three modules of its permanent space station, Tiangong in one of the final missions to complete the orbiting space station by the end of the year. The 23-tonne Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”) laboratory module launched on the back of Long March 5B, China’s most powerful rocket at 2.22 PM on July 24 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan.

The 17.9-metre long Wentian lab module will be where astronauts can carry out scientific experiments along with the third module Mengtian (“Dreaming of the heavens”) module that hasn’t yet been launched. The Wentian module comes with an airlock cabin that is designed to be the main exit and entry point for activities when the space station is complete. It will also be used as short-term living quarters for astronauts during crew rotations on the station.

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