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Space Wars: The Private Sector Strikes Back

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[Infographic] Space Wars: The Private Sector Strikes Back

Space Wars: The Private Sector Strikes Back

Government agencies such as NASA have been the brains behind space exploration for decades with much success. Such agencies put the first man in space, landed on the moon, and built the first reusable space vessel.

However, since the private venture behind SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its series of manned flights, a new age of space exploration has begun.

In fact, many companies in the private sector have started to achieve great milestones. Our infographic today, created by Visual Capitalist, documents the companies in space that are now vying for space supremacy.

The Old Guard

Rooted in the lucrative government space contracts of the past, the Old Guard consists primarily of defense and aerospace behemoths such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital Sciences.

To put things in perspective, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed formed in 2006, charges the US Air Force a $1 billion retainer just to be “ready” to launch a satellite into space. To actually launch a satellite is another $380 million more.

Seeing this stagnant situation as a business opportunity were tech billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson, who have helped form The New Guard.

The New Guard

The price tag that is advertised for a launch of the Falcon 9 with SpaceX right now is $57 million. Compared to ULA prices above, this is a meaningful step in market disruption. It’s only the beginning.

Companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries plan to harvest asteroids in space for water and metals such as PGMs (platinum group metals). Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to bring super rich tourists to experience space in coming years for $250,000 a pop.

However, space isn’t for the faint of heart. Recent accidents in 2014 have made clear the elements of human and financial risk that space flight brings. In October, Orbital Sciences’ unmanned Antares rocket exploded over Virginia. A few days later, Virgin’s manned test flight of the SpaceShipTwo ended in calamity with one death and one serious injury to test pilots.

These challenging realities are part of embarking to new frontiers. So far, such incidents and risks have not deterred companies from their endeavours yet. Which companies will succeed in their quests in this new industry?

The truth is out there.

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Misc

A Map of Every Object in Our Solar System

Our solar system is a surprisingly crowded place. This incredible map shows the 18,000 asteroids, comets, planets and moons orbiting the Sun.

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A Map of Every Object in Our Solar System

View the high resolution version of this incredible map by clicking here

The path through the solar system is a rocky road.

Asteroids, comets, planets and moons and all kinds of small bodies of rock, metals, minerals and ice are continually moving as they orbit the sun. In contrast to the simple diagrams we’re used to seeing, our solar system is a surprisingly crowded place.

In this stunning visualization, biologist Eleanor Lutz painstakingly mapped out every known object in Earth’s solar system (>10km in diameter), hopefully helping you on your next journey through space.

Data-Driven Solar System

This particular visualization combines five different data sets from NASA:

Objects in solar system

Source: Tabletop Whale

From this data, Lutz mapped all the orbits of over 18,000 asteroids in the solar system, including 10,000 that were at least 10km in diameter, and about 8,000 objects of unknown size.

This map shows each asteroid’s position on New Year’s Eve 1999.

The Pull of Gravity

When plotting the objects, Lutz observed that the solar system is not arranged in linear distances. Rather, it is logarithmic, with exponentially more objects situated close to the sun. Lutz made use of this observation to space out their various orbits of the 18,000 objects in her map.

What she is visualizing is the pull of the sun, as the majority of objects tend to gravitate towards the inner part of the solar system. This is the same observation Sir Isaac Newton used to develop the concept of gravity, positing that heavier objects produce a bigger gravitational pull than lighter ones. Since the sun is the largest object in our solar system, it has the strongest gravitational pull.

If the sun is continually pulling at the planets, why don’t they all fall into the sun? It’s because the planets are moving sideways at the same time.

orbiting around the sun

Without that sideways motion, the objects would fall to the center – and without the pull toward the center, it would go flying off in a straight line.

This explains the clustering of patterns in solar systems, and why the farther you travel through the solar system, the bigger the distance and the fewer the objects.

The Top Ten Non-Planets in the Solar System

We all know that the sun and the planets are the largest objects in our corner of the universe, but there are many noteworthy objects as well.

RankNameDiameterNotes
1Ganymede3,273 mi (5,268 km)Jupiter's largest moon
2Titan3,200 mi (5,151 km)Saturn's largest moon
3Callisto2,996 mi (4,821 km)Jupiter's second largest moon
4Io2,264 mi (3,643 km)Moon orbiting Jupiter
5Moon2,159 mi (3,474 km)Earth's only moon
6Europa1,940 mi (3,122 km)Moon orbiting Jupiter
7Triton1,680 mi (2,710 km)Neptune's largest moon
8Pluto1,476 mi (2,376 km)Dwarf planet
9Eris1,473 mi (2,372 km)Dwarf planet
10Titania981 mi (1,578 km)Uranus' largest moon

Source: Ourplnt.com

While the map only shows objects greater than 10 kilometers in diameter, there are plenty of smaller objects to watch out for as well.

An Atlas of Space

This map is one among many of Lutz’s space related visualizations. She is also in the process of creating an Atlas of Space to showcase her work.

As we reach further and further beyond the boundaries of earth, her work may come in handy the next time you make a wrong turn at Mars and find yourself lost in an asteroid belt.

“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!”

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Environment

As the Worlds Turn: Visualizing the Rotation of Planets

Rotation can have a big influence on a planet’s habitability. These animations show how each planet in the solar system moves to its own distinct rhythm.

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As the Worlds Turn: Visualizing the Rotations of Planets

The rotation of planets have a dramatic effect on their potential habitability.

Dr. James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japanese space agency who has the creative ability to visually communicate space concepts like the speed of light and the vastness of the solar system, recently animated a video showing cross sections of different planets spinning at their own pace on one giant globe.

Cosmic Moves: The Rotation of the Planets

Each planet in the solar system moves to its own rhythm. The giant gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) spin more rapidly on their axes than the inner planets. The sun itself rotates slowly, only once a month.

PlanetRotation Periods (relative to stars)
Mercury58d 16h
Venus243d 26m
Earth23h 56m
Mars24h 36m
Jupiter9h 55m
Saturn10h 33m
Uranus17h 14m
Neptune16h

The planets all revolve around the sun in the same direction and in virtually the same plane. In addition, they all rotate in the same general direction, with the exceptions of Venus and Uranus.

In the following animation, their respective rotation speeds are compared directly:

The most visually striking result of planetary spin is on Jupiter, which has the fastest rotation in the solar system. Massive storms of frozen ammonia grains whip across the surface of the gas giant at speeds of 340 miles (550 km) per hour.

Interestingly, the patterns of each planet’s rotation can help in revealing whether they can support life or not.

Rotation and Habitability

As a fish in water is not aware it is wet, so it goes for humans and the atmosphere around us.

New research reveals that the rate at which a planet spins is an essential component for supporting life. Not only does rotation control the length of day and night, bit it influences atmospheric wind patterns and the formation of clouds.

The radiation the Earth receives from the Sun concentrates at the equator. The Sun heats the air in this region until it rises up through the atmosphere and moves towards the poles of the planet where it cools. This cool air falls through the atmosphere and flows back towards the equator.

This process is known as a Hadley cell, and atmospheres can have multiple cells:

Hadley Cells

A planet with a quick rotation forms Hadley cells at low latitudes into different bands that encircle the planet. Clouds become prominent at tropical regions, which reflect a proportion of the light back into space.

For a planet in a tighter orbit around its star, the radiation received from the star is much more extreme. This decreases the temperature difference between the equator and the poles, ultimately weakening Hadley cells. The result is fewer clouds in tropical regions available to protect the planet from intense heat, making the planet uninhabitable.

Slow Rotators: More Habitable

If a planet rotates slower, then the Hadley cells can expand to encircle the entire world. This is because the difference in temperature between the day and night side of the planet creates larger atmospheric circulation.

Slow rotation makes days and nights longer, such that half of the planet bathes in light from the sun for an extended period of time. Simultaneously, the night side of the planet is able to cool down.

This difference in temperature is large enough to cause the warm air from the day side to flow to the night side. This movement of air allows more clouds to form around a planet’s equator, protecting the surface from harmful space radiation, encouraging the possibility for the right conditions for life to form.

The Hunt for Habitable Planets

Measuring the rotation of planets is difficult with a telescope, so another good proxy would be to measure the level of heat emitted from a planet.

An infrared telescope can measure the heat emitted from a planet’s clouds that formed over its equator. An unusually low temperature at the hottest location on the planet could indicate that the planet is potentially a habitable slow rotator.

Of course, even if a planet’s rotation speed is just right, many other conditions come into play. The rotation of planets is just another piece in the puzzle in identifying the next Earth.

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