Map of space debris surrounding the EarthCredit: NASA
Map of space debris surrounding the Earth

Last Month in Space - August

Find our what happened in the space industry in August!

1. NASA announce first commercial crew

At the beginning of August, NASA announced its first crew of astronauts that will test fly and crew the first missions of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. These 9 astronauts will be the first to launch from US soil since the end of the space shuttle programme in 2011. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aims to achieve safe and reliable access to and from the International Space Station in a more cost effective way.

Find out more about the selected astronauts and the Commercial Crew Program here.

2. India to launch its first crewed mission

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced plans to launch its first crewed space mission by 2022, putting a crew of 3 people into low earth orbit for 5-7 days. Launching from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre the Gaganyaan spacecraft will be ejected into a low earth orbit. If all goes as planned, the mission will see two test flights before a crewed launch takes place in December of 2021.

More details of India’s human spaceflight mission can be found here.

3. The International Space Station springs a leak

Air pressure sensors on board the ISS detected a small pressure drop which is thought to have been caused by a collision with a micro-meteorite. Fortunately the 2mm hole has been located and according to mission controllers poses no danger to the crew. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst initially plugged the hole using his finger before it was taped over with duct tape, stabilising the situation while a permanent solution is worked on. Impacts from micro-meteoroids and space debris is a constant threat to the ISS with more than 166 million pieces of debris larger than 1mm orbiting the globe at 30,000 mph.

More information on the leaky ISS can be found here.

4. Skies over the Opportunity rover begin to clear

Communication with the Opportunity rover on Mars was lost over 2 months ago as the Red Planet was hit with a planet wide dust. Skies are now beginning to clear above Opportunity's resting point and mission managers are hoping to restore contact with the rover. However, due to the lack of contact the health of the rover is unknown and the team working on Opportunity are prepared for an extended period of silence. If no contact is made after 45 days the team will be forced to conclude that Opportunity has been lost from a combination of the sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold. The rover, initially scheduled for a 90 day mission, has surpassing all expectations having been active on the planet for 14 years.

For more about how NASA are hoping to regain contact with Opportunity click here.

5. Tracking turtles from space

An antenna has been attached to the International Space Station which will enable a cutting edge animal tracking system. As part of the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) Initiative, biodiversity researchers at the Max Planck-Yale Centre will be able to monitor animals such as baby turtles, parrots and fruit bats from space. Space technologies have previously been used to track animal migration and see how species respond to seasonal and climate changes but researchers will now be able to see both where an animal is and what it is doing, giving them a much more detailed picture about how animal populations behave.

More on how space technology is helping biodiversity research can be found here.

Things to keep an eye out for in September!

On September 21st Hayabusa-2 from the Japanese space agency is set to deploy the first of its scientific instruments onto the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. The container known as Minerva II-1 will release two robots, Rover 1A and Rover 1B. If all goes to plan, it will be the first time a spacecraft has successfully deployed landers on the surface of an asteroid.

On the 7th September, Neptune will be at opposition, ie closest approach to Earth with its face fully illuminated by the Sun. This will be the best time to view Neptune due to it being at its brightest, its face fully illuminated by the Sun.


Emma Collier

Emma studies Physics with Astronomy at the University of Southampton.

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