Episode 8: A Trip Beyond the Edge


ESA is going to Venus in the 2030s, Relativity Space is entering the larger launch market, Jeff Bezos is going to space and we look at an exoplanet.

This week on the show we look at the European Space Agency’s planned trip to Venus, new competition for SpaceX in the launch market and what is a solar eclipse?

We also launch a new feature – exoplanet of the week – where I trawl through NASAs vast exoplanet archive, pick one that looks interesting and go on a virtual vacation.

Envision is the name of the new ESA mission to Earth’s ‘evil twin,’ as the agency puts it. The probe will study the atmosphere nature and explore down to the core of the inhospitable world.

It will launch in the early 2030s and include NASA instruments, making it compatible with the DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions being sent to the world by the US agency.

Sticking with the European Space Agency, ESA has announced its science themes as part of its Voyage 2050 planning, outlining projects and missions that will happen from the 2030s onward.

‘The selection of the Voyage 2050 themes is a pivotal moment for ESA’s science programme, and for the future generation of space scientists and engineers,’ says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

Themes include habitability of the moons of the outer planets in the solar system, a search for temperate exoplanets and the less accessible regions of the Milky Way galaxy and probes of the early Universe.

SpaceX has more competition, this time in the form of the Relativity Space, 3D printed and fully reusable Terran R rocket, that will take on the Falcon 9.

It is a few years away from launch but a new $650 million funding round could bring that closer to reality sooner than previously expected, making them the latest, after Rocket Labs, to enter this heavier lift market.

Speaking of rocket firms, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, announced he’d be heading to space on the New Shepherd rocket on July 22. This flight will go up to about 100km, have 10 minutes weightless and return.

This could make Bezos the first of the three billionaire space firm founders to make it up into space on their own launch vehicle – beating out Sir Richard Branson, who is due to go up on VSS Unity later this year.

However, Branson confirmed that he was looking to go up on an earlier test flight – possibly the very next trip – potentially allowing him to beat Bezos into space by a few days or weeks.

This week also saw a partial solar eclipse across the UK and US, as well as a full ‘ring of fire’ eclipse in Canada, Greenland and Russia – but what is an eclipse and when is the next one?

I explore these questions and more, as I take a slightly more detailed look at our star and the unique relationship between the Earth, Moon and Sun.

Finally, Perseverance is heading south on Mars to explore the ancient lakebed of Jezero Crater in a bid to find traces of ancient microbial life.

This marks the end of system testing, and the start of the true purpose for the rover on the Red Planet. Driving to a low-lying scenic overlook to survey some of the oldest geologic features within the crater.

Exoplanet of the week: Kepler-452b (Earth’s Cousin)
Classic SciFi read: HG Well’s A Modern Utopia – Chapter 5

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