Black hole collisions, Negev Space Accelerator's soaring demand, cutting-edge space suit developments, lunar training expeditions, and groundbreaking stellar archaeology discoveries. This Week in Space

Accelerating Space Innovation in the Israeli Negev

Over 50 startups have registered for the EXPAND program – an accelerator led by the Israeli company Creation-Space and the Tech7 innovation community, along with additional partners, supported by the Israeli Space Agency. Among these applicants, five companies will be chosen to receive comprehensive business and professional guidance tailored to the space sector, with a focus on developing projects to be implemented on the Moon, and possibly on other planets. This support aims to facilitate for the selected companies the submission of proposals to NASA's Artemis program, which plans to bring back humans to the Moon in the near future.

"The majority of the proposals submitted focus on construction-related innovations, ranging from excavation technologies or three-dimensional printing to energy production, food manufacturing, or medicine," said Creation-Space CEO Roy Naor to the Davidson Institute website. "We're in the process of conducting interviews with representatives from various companies, and the winners will be announced during the official launch event of the accelerator in Mitzpe Ramon in about a week"

The five selected companies will participate in an intensive mentoring program, which includes guidance in developing a business plan  tailored to the space sector, raising funds, working with authorities and navigating regulatory frameworks, and more. In September, they will present their products at an event attended by investors and representatives from the Israeli space community, where the winning company will be announced. The winning company will receive a grant of 100,000 shekels for further product development. All five companies will continue to receive professional mentorship from the accelerator team for approximately one year, alongside the launch of the accelerator's second cycle for additional companies.

"Israel holds tremendous potential to make significant contributions to the space sector and integrate into the Artemis program and other space initiatives," Naor said. "The aim of the program is to harness this potential and leverage the capabilities of Israeli enterprises. However, we are not not solely focused on applications exclusive for the space sector; we're also keen on identifying companies whose products hold substantial market potential here on Earth and can help address our challenges here, such as climate change."

טכנולוגיות לשימוש על פני הירח, אבל עם יישומים מועילים גם בכדור הארץ. הדמיה של אסטרונאוטים וכלי רכב על הירח | איור: אלון שיקאר, Creation-Space, באמצעות Midjourney

Technologies tailored for lunar utilization, but with practical applications on Earth as well. Visualization of astronauts near a lunar research station | Source: Gorodenkoff, Shutterstock


The Ancient Merger of Black Holes

An international team of scientists, using the James Webb Space Telescope, identified a collision of galaxies with black holes at their centers, which occurred during the time when the universe was young. This discovery suggests that such giant black holes formed faster than previously thought. The researchers identified the galaxy merger processes in a system known as ZS7, situated over 13 billion light-years away, appearing to us as it was when the universe was merely 740 million years old.

The black holes themselves cannot be seen through the telescope, as they absorb the light that reaches them. However, it is possible to identify their accretion disk—the area where matter orbits around them on its way to being swallowed—thanks to the emission of radiation at wavelengths characteristic of gasses and other materials affected by the black hole's immense gravity. “We found evidence for very dense gas with fast motions in the vicinity of the black hole, as well as hot and highly ionized gas illuminated by the energetic radiation typically produced by black holes in their accretion episodes,” explained the head of the research team, Hannah Übler of the University of Cambridge, UK. “Thanks to the unprecedented sharpness of its imaging capabilities, Webb also allowed our team to spatially separate the two black holes.”

The researchers calculated that one of the black holes has a mass 50 million times that of our Sun. Estimating the mass of the other black hole is more difficult, as it is hidden within a gas cloud, but the researchers believe it to be similar in size.

At the centers of most large galaxies known to us, there is a supermassive black hole, including the Milky Way, with its central black hole having a mass four million times that of our Sun. One of the open questions in astrophysics is how black holes reached such massive sizes and how they influenced the evolution of their galaxies. “Our findings suggest that merging is an important route through which black holes can rapidly grow, even at cosmic dawn,”  Übler added. “Together with other Webb findings of active, massive black holes in the distant Universe, our results also show that massive black holes have been shaping the evolution of galaxies from the very beginning.”

חדות ההדמיות של הטלסקופ איפשרה לזהות שזו התנגשות של גלקסיות עם חורים שחורים. מערכת ZS7 בהגדלה גדולה (מימין) ובמסגרת רחבה יותר בשתי התמונות האחרות | צילום: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, J. Dunlop, D. Magee, P. G. Pérez-González, H. Übler, R. Maiolino, et. al

The sharpness of the images from the telescope allowed the identification of the collision of galaxies with black holes. The ZS7 system captured in high magnification (right) and in a wider frame in the other two images | Photography: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, J. Dunlop, D. Magee, P. G. Pérez-González, H. Übler, R. Maiolino, et. al


SpaceX's New Suits

SpaceX has recently revealed its new line of space suits, designed for extravehicular activities, commonly known as "spacewalks" – where astronauts venture outside the spacecraft, relying solely on their suits for protection against the harsh conditions of space. These suits are set to be operationally tested for the first time during the Polaris 1 mission, also dubbed "Dawn" (or Polaris Dawn), the first-ever space mission to include a spacewalk by private astronauts.

The Polaris program is expected to include three missions, with the first scheduled for the upcoming summer, though final details are yet to be disclosed. Spearheaded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who previously funded and led the first private space mission to orbit Earth, Inspiration 4 in 2021, the inaugural Polaris mission will witness Isaacman and three other private astronauts orbiting the Earth aboard a Dragon spacecraft for five days.  During this time, they will conduct various experiments, with two astronauts undertaking a spacewalk to evaluate the functionality of the new suits.  Since the Dragon is a small spacecraft without an "airlock," all astronauts will wear space suits, meaning even those who do not go outside will be exposed to the space environment. This mission will mark not only the first spacewalk by private astronauts but also the first instance where four astronauts will simultaneously face space conditions.

SpaceX's latest space suit represents a significant advancement over the current attire worn by astronauts aboard Dragon spacecraft. While the existing suits are designed to protect astronauts in the event of spacecraft malfunction or external damage, they are not optimized for prolonged extravehicular activities. "Developed with mobility in mind, SpaceX teams incorporated new materials, fabrication processes, and novel joint designs to provide greater flexibility to astronauts in pressurized scenarios while retaining comfort for unpressurized scenarios," stated a SpaceX press release. According to the announcement, the suits include  3D-printed helmets, helmet-mounted cameras, improved face shields, and internal displays presenting vital data such as pressure, temperature, and humidity within the suit. They are also equipped with additional safety features including valves and seals engineered to uphold pressure integrity in the suit during activity and to protect the astronaut.

SpaceX emphasizes that this current development marks a significant stride toward mass-producing space suits tailored to various sizes and body types. These suits, which will enable many different people to go to space, constitute another step in SpaceX's broader plan to contribute to lunar colonization efforts and spearhead the establishment of human settlements on Mars.

Tailoring suits to pave humanity's way to other planets. The new SpaceX suit:

Training For The Moon

Currently, the only initiative underway actively working towards landing humans on the Moon again is NASA's Artemis program. Despite encountering delays and setbacks, the Artemis program continues to make steady progress, and even if NASA does not meet its planned goal of a manned landing by the end of 2026, it is hoped that humans will once again set foot on the lunar surface by the end of the decade. The agency continues its preparations, and this week two astronauts conducted a training session simulating lunar surface activity to test equipment and operational procedures in preparation for the Artemis 3 mission.

Astronauts Kate Rubins and Andre Douglas, dressed in simulation suits, tested a wide range of equipment and technologies in a volcanic valley in northern Arizona. The tests included a diverse array of equipment and technologies such as new devices for collecting soil samples, navigation and orientation in the field using virtual reality displays in their helmets, and a system for calibrating signals from the lunar landing vehicle.

“Field tests play a critical role in helping us test all of the systems, hardware, and technology we’ll need to conduct successful lunar operations during Artemis missions,” said NASA's Johnson Space Center field test director, Barbara Janoiko. “Our engineering and science teams have worked together seamlessly to ensure we are prepared every step of the way for when astronauts step foot on the Moon again.”  

להבטיח שנהיה מוכנים כשנגיע. רובינס (משמאל) ודגלאס בניסוי השדה באריזונה | צילום: NASA/Josh Valcarcel

 Ensuring we are prepared when we arrive. Rubins (left) and Douglas during the field trial in Arizona | Photography: NASA/Josh Valcarcel

Ancient Stars in Our Backyard

A team of researchers from the United States has discovered three of the oldest known stars, situated on the outskirts of our very own Milky Way galaxy. Led by Anna Frebel from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the researchers initially stumbled upon these celestial relics during a course on cosmic archaeology taught by Frebel herself. They estimate that these stars are between 12 to 13 billion years old, and that they were formed when the universe was very young and was composed predominantly of hydrogen and helium. Examination of their light spectrum indicates that they are extremely poor in other elements, such as iron, barium, and strontium, which are commonly found in stars that were formed later.

The stars were discovered as students in the course analyzed observations Frebel made a decade ago using the Magellan telescope in Chile. They found the stars in an area known as the "halo" around the Milky Way. The researchers calculated their orbits based on observations from the Gaia space telescope, which maps the Milky Way with high precision. They were surprised to find that these stars move in the opposite direction from most other stars orbiting the galaxy's center. Based on this finding, the researchers believe these stars were once part of dwarf galaxies that were gradually absorbed by the Milky Way, remaining as orphans at its edges, about 30,000 light-years from us, persisting in their ancient orbits for billions of years.

Frebel and her colleagues began scanning the scientific literature in search of reports on similar stars adrift at the galaxy's edges, exhibiting counter-directional movements, ultimately finding data on 65 such stars, which are also poor in strontium and barium. They believe there are many more, and now intend to search for them. “These oldest stars should definitely be there, given what we know of galaxy formation. They are part of our cosmic family tree. And we now have a new way to find them," said Frebel. " was the piece to the puzzle that we needed, and that I didn’t quite anticipate when we started.”

שרידים עתיקים בשולי הגלקסיה, במרחק 30 אלף שנות אור מאיתנו. גלקסיית שביל החלב במבט מבפנים, מכדור הארץ | צילום: Anton Kozyrev, Shutterstock

Ancient remnants on the edges of the galaxy, situated 30,000 light-years away from us. The Milky Way galaxy as viewed from Earth’s perspective | Photography: Anton Kozyrev, Shutterstock

Translated with the assistance of ChatGTP. Revised, expanded and edited by the staff of the Davidson Institute of Science Education