NEWS

29 November 2022

Who is aboard Artemis I?

Who is aboard Artemis I?

There are no humans on board Artemis I. However, that doesn’t mean the passenger seats are empty. In this post, we take a look at the toys and mannequins aboard the first mission to the moon in fifty years, and at what they might be able to teach us about spaceflight.

There are no humans on board Artemis I. However, that doesn’t mean the passenger seats are empty. In this post, we take a look at the toys and mannequins aboard the first mission to the moon in fifty years, and at what they might be able to teach us about spaceflight. Learning how to protect astronauts In place of crew, Artemis I has three mannequins on board: Commander Moonikin Campos, Helga and Zohar. Hopefully, these mannequins will be able to tell us more about how to protect astronauts on journeys through space. Moonikin Campos is named after Arturo Campos, who helped safely return the crew of Apollo 13 to Earth in 1970 after one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks exploded. Moonikin is wearing the same type of suit human astronauts are expected to wear on later Artemis moon missions, and is strapped into a seat equipped with acceleration and vibration sensors. By measuring the actual acceleration and vibration astronauts will experience on Artemis rockets, engineers will be able to improve the accuracy of vibration tests astronauts go through on Earth. Helga and Zohar’s role is to tell us more about the potential impact of cosmic radiation on astronauts. On Earth, we’re largely protected from space radiation by our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field. However, astronauts in space don’t have that protection. Moonikin Campos also has two radiation sensors, but Helga and Zohar are designed to give us more detailed information about radiation. Although Helga and Zohar are made of plastic, they’re similar in density to actual human bodies, and they contain small crystals in parts of the body that are particularly vulnerable to radiation. These crystals can gather and store radiation, meaning they can tell us how much radiation the mannequins have been exposed to and where it’s concentrated. Similar mannequins are used in hospitals to inform cancer treatments. Unlike Helga, Zohar is wearing a radiation protection vest, so we’ll also be able to see how much of a difference this equipment makes to radiation exposure. Why is Shaun the Sheep going to the moon? Artemis I has a fourth passenger, who’s a bit of a celebrity: Shaun the Sheep, in toy form. As far as we know, Shaun isn’t equipped with any sensors and won’t be telling us much about radiation. Shaun’s already had a brush with alien life in the film Farmageddon, though, so perhaps that experience has left him wanting to know more about what’s beyond Earth. The European Space Agency (ESA) took Shaun through astronaut training in 2019 in preparation for his role in the film, and were evidently impressed enough by his performance to give him a seat on Artemis I. We also like to think Shaun’s excursion to the moon will help to capture the imagination of the next generation of astronauts. Why is Snoopy going to the moon? Snoopy, the dog from Charles M Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, is another animal celebrity joining the Artemis I mission. Snoopy is already an experienced astronaut; in 1990, he joined the STS-32 mission and spent about eleven days in space on the space shuttle Columbia. In fact, Snoopy’s history with space goes back even further than that. The lunar module for the May 1969 moon mission Apollo 10 was called Snoopy; the command module was named Charlie Brown, after Snoopy’s owner. Snoopy was used to investigate the planned landing site for Apollo 11, a mission that took place two months later, during which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon. Since 1968, there’s been a tradition within NASA of recognising outstanding achievements with the Silver Snoopy Award: a silver Snoopy pin that’s awarded to NASA employees and contractors by astronauts. Each Snoopy pin has previously been to space, and there are some aboard Artemis I to be issued to future award winners. Snoopy is also aboard Artemis I in the form of a small soft toy, equipped with his own custom-made flight suit; you can see him in this NASA video on YouTube. Unlike his mannequin crewmates, he’s not strapped into a seat, because his role is to serve as a zero gravity indicator. When Snoopy started to float on camera, the mission team watching from Earth knew that Artemis I had reached the apparent weightlessness of microgravity. Being small and soft, he can float around without causing any damage. Paving the way for people Although Artemis I isn’t carrying any people into space, it’s the first in a planned series of missions to bring humanity back to the moon and, ultimately, perhaps to Mars. The universe is a vast and fascinating place, and we’ve barely brushed the fringes of it. We’re looking forward to finding out what we discover by taking the next steps. If these new developments have put you in the mood to look back at the beginnings of space exploration, take a look at our article on Sputnik 1. Cover image: NASA/Joel Kowsky Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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15 November 2022

Artemis I: going back to the moon

Artemis I: going back to the moon

When humans first reached the moon in December 1968, aboard Apollo 8, it was an incredible moment for humanity: a powerful illustration of what science and curiosity could achieve. Less than a year later, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would step onto its surface: the first people to walk on the moon.

Between Apollo 8 in December 1968 and Apollo 17 in December 1972, twenty-four astronauts have been to the moon, and twelve of those people have walked on it. We haven’t been back since, though. Every human who’s travelled to the moon did so in the span of those four years.

Now, half a century after the last manned mission to the moon, NASA is hoping to return there with the Artemis programme, which is planned to kick off tomorrow with the launch of Artemis I.

When humans first reached the moon in December 1968, aboard Apollo 8, it was an incredible moment for humanity: a powerful illustration of what science and curiosity could achieve. Less than a year later, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would step onto its surface: the first people to walk on the moon. Between Apollo 8 in December 1968 and Apollo 17 in December 1972, twenty-four astronauts have been to the moon, and twelve of those people have walked on it. We haven’t been back since, though. Every human who’s travelled to the moon did so in the span of those four years. Now, half a century after the last manned mission to the moon, NASA is hoping to return there with the Artemis programme, which is planned to kick off tomorrow with the launch of Artemis I. Artemis I’s goal is to reach the moon, orbit it for six days and then return to Earth, testing the capabilities of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion is certified as human-rated by NASA, meaning it meets NASA’s standards for being able to carry humans safely. Although it doesn’t have a human crew on this occasion, it’s hoped that the Artemis I mission will demonstrate we’re ready to send humans to the moon again. International cooperation on Artemis I Although the Artemis programme is led by the American space agency NASA, it also relies on the support of space agencies from Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Canada (CSA). For example, ESA has contributed the European Service Module to the Orion spacecraft being used on Artemis missions. This module provides essentials such as oxygen, water, electricity and heating. International cooperation is a recurring theme in space; we can also see it in the International Space Station. Ultimately, broadening the horizons of our universe is something that benefits all of humanity. It’s no surprise that it can bring nations together. What is a launch window? Artemis I is currently scheduled for launch at 6.04 am GMT on 16 November 2022. This time wasn’t chosen at random; it had to be during a suitable launch window. But what is a launch window? Like other satellites, the moon is constantly moving along its orbital path. This means that getting to the moon isn’t just a matter of pointing a rocket at it and pressing the launch button. By the time the rocket reaches the moon’s altitude, the moon will be somewhere else. Because of this, it’s important to plan your launch so your rocket and its intended destination (the moon, in this case) will reach the same place at the same time. This is only possible at certain times, which will depend on factors like the location you’re launching from and the orbit of the satellite you’re trying to reach. This satellite won’t necessarily be the moon; you’ll also need to consider launch windows if, for example, you’re sending supplies to the International Space Station or trying to visit another planet in the solar system. If you want to send a satellite into a particular orbital path, you might also be able to save fuel if you calculate the best time to launch it, even if you’re not aiming to meet another satellite. In other words, the launch window is the period of time during which you’ll have to launch your spacecraft if you want it to reach its destination, particularly if that destination is a moving object. If the launch is delayed and you miss the window, you’ll have to wait until another launch window comes around. This has happened several times with Artemis I, which was originally scheduled to be launched on 29 August. Will humans go to the moon again? Artemis I has no humans on board; its crew instead consists of mannequins and small toys, which we’re planning to take a closer look at in a future article. If Artemis I goes well, though, we could be seeing crewed moon missions within the next couple of years. Artemis II is currently planned to launch in 2024, and will be the first crewed moon mission since Apollo 17. It’s expected to carry its crew around the moon and return to Earth. Artemis III is scheduled for 2025, and it’s hoped that this mission will let humans stand on the moon for the first time in over fifty years. We could end up going even further afield. Space agencies are already looking beyond the moon, at the prospect of sending the first crewed mission to Mars. If all goes as planned, humans could reach Mars as soon as the 2030s. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can learn from our solar system neighbour. Cover image: NASA/Cory Huston Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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1 November 2022

Darwin at the University of Glasgow transport strategy workshops

Darwin at the University of Glasgow transport strategy workshops

What is the public perception of autonomous vehicles, and what other challenges to adoption exist? The University of Glasgow’s transport workshops raised these interesting questions, and this post takes a look at the discussion around them.

We’ve already posted about the University of Glasgow’s Future of Transport workshop on 9 September 2022. This was followed by two more transport workshops on 23 September and 4 October respectively: ‘Designing Business Models for the Future of Transportation’, and ‘Co-Creating a Strategy for the Future of Transportation’. These workshops took place at the Darwin Business Innovation Lab at the University of Glasgow, although people were also welcome to attend remotely. The Business Innovation Lab offers expertise and support to organisations interested in refining their business models and strategies, and through these workshops the lab was able to encourage collaborative discussions between various stakeholders in the field of transportation. The discussion of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) was particularly interesting, and helped to highlight both how far CAVs have come and how far they still have to go. In this post, we take a look at some of the major points that came up with regard to the adoption of self-driving vehicles. Public perception of autonomous vehicles One point that came up was that current self-driving technology is more advanced than many people realise, and a lack of knowledge about autonomous vehicles can lead to a reluctance to use them. We’re already at the point of operating self-driving public transport services like the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle, which has autonomously travelled a distance of nearly 5,000 miles around Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, but people will sometimes hesitate to board an autonomous shuttle because it’s technology they’re not used to. The presence of the shuttle operator is particularly important at this stage in the development of autonomous vehicles, when the technology exists but most people haven’t yet experienced it. As a human aboard the shuttle who understands how it works, the operator can answer passengers’ questions and help to set them at ease. At the moment, having a trained operator aboard the shuttle is a legal requirement in the UK. In the future, when the operator is no longer required, it may be worth considering ways of ensuring passengers can still ask any questions they might have. For example, there could be a number for an information service displayed aboard the vehicle, or a button that connects the passenger directly to the service. At Darwin, we also aim to raise public awareness and understanding of autonomous vehicles through our news posts and our children’s book Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away. The road to full autonomy There are a few other challenges to the adoption of autonomous vehicles. For example, the legislation that would allow self-driving vehicles to coexist fully with human-driven vehicles isn’t yet in place in the UK. We’re helping to create this legislation through our collaboration with government agencies and with Aviva, which is using information from the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle to inform its approach to autonomous vehicle insurance. There are also further advances envisioned for the technology itself. Although self-driving technology has made huge strides, we don’t yet have autonomous vehicles that work at the same level as human drivers in every situation, meaning there are routes on which using a self-driving vehicle isn’t yet feasible. For example, Ranald Robertson of HITRANS brought up the example of a narrow, single-lane country road, where vehicles can only pass each other at specific passing points. Navigating these roads requires a number of complicated judgements. If a vehicle is coming the other way, you need to judge where the nearest passing point is and which of you is going to pull into it, which could require reversing. If faster vehicles are behind you, it’s polite to pull into a passing place and let them go past. At the moment, these are decisions that require a certain degree of human perception and empathy. For example, you need to be able to pick up on whether the driver blocking your path is planning to reverse into a passing place or is stubbornly waiting for you to get out of the way. Autonomous driving technology will need to improve before self-driving cars can reliably make these judgements. The high costs involved in developing autonomous vehicles is currently a challenge in the evolution of the technology. However, we’ve already seen impressive advancement, and we’re closer to achieving the dream of full vehicle autonomy than we’ve ever been before. If you’d like to know more about different autonomy levels, take a look at our article ‘What are the levels of driving automation?’ Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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18 October 2022

Darwin at GITEX Dubai 2022

Darwin at GITEX Dubai 2022

Large-scale technology events are a great opportunity for companies to come together and innovate, so we were delighted to attend GITEX 2022. This event took place from 10 to 14 October in Dubai and hosted thousands of organisations from over 170 countries.

Large-scale technology events are a great opportunity for companies to come together and innovate, so we were delighted to attend GITEX 2022. This event took place from 10 to 14 October in Dubai and hosted thousands of organisations from over 170 countries. During our attendance, we connected with many organisations that will benefit from or contribute to our unique solutions. For an overview of these solutions, take a look at the Darwin leaflet we brought to the event. On day two, we presented Darwin’s autonomous vehicle solution to the UAE’s Roads & Transport Authority, Dubai Customs Authority and Community Development Authority, and to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Authority. On day three, we presented Darwin’s unique solution for continuous connectivity to potential clients and partners in the Middle East region, including Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior, Etisalat, Du Telecom, Dubai Customs, Saudi Information Technology Company (SITE), Huawei KSA and NEOM KSA. We had the valuable opportunity to introduce Darwin’s technology to major governmental, industrial and telecommunications organisations, and we’re looking forward to sharing what comes of the event. In the meantime, take a look at our photographs from GITEX Dubai below. Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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4 October 2022

Darwin Autonomous Shuttle trialled in Oxford

Darwin Autonomous Shuttle trialled in Oxford

Residents of Oxford may have spotted something unusual this September: a self-driving vehicle on the city’s streets. The Darwin Autonomous Shuttle usually operates at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, but it spent ten days in Oxford to demonstrate how autonomous public transport can coexist with live traffic in a busy city.

Residents of Oxford may have spotted something unusual this September: a self-driving vehicle on the city’s streets. The Darwin Autonomous Shuttle usually operates at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, but it spent ten days in Oxford to demonstrate how autonomous public transport can coexist with live traffic in a busy city. The Oxford trial ran from 20 to 30 September 2022, during which the shuttle travelled back and forth along Norham Gardens, Parks Road and part of Broad Street. The shuttle is a level 4 autonomous vehicle and doesn’t need a human driver, but a safety operator was aboard at all times to keep an eye on things. The goal of this trial is to inform connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) legislation and insurance, helping to pave the way for wider use of autonomous vehicles in the UK. Darwin Innovation Group already offers setup and operation services to organisations or councils that are interested in making use of autonomous vehicles. ‘It was a great experience, challenging but very satisfying as we managed to overcome all the challenges,’ said Paul Proteasa, one of Darwin’s safety operators aboard the shuttle. ‘We got a lot of attention while the shuttle drove itself around Oxford, with pictures and videos around every corner.’ The shuttle also showcases Darwin’s ubiquitous communications technology, which makes it possible to switch seamlessly between 5G and satellite communications on the move. The shuttle makes use of Virgin Media O2 and Hispasat’s networks to remain connected at all times. The Darwin Autonomous Shuttle is operated by Darwin Innovation Group and, in addition to STFC and Harwell Campus, is supported by Darwin’s partners, including the European Space Agency, the UK Space Agency, Aviva, Virgin Media O2, Hispasat, Cognizant, the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow. Darwin works with a number of CAV manufacturers, and this shuttle was built by Navya. The University of Oxford also played a significant role in the Oxford trial, particularly Lady Margaret Hall college. In addition, the trial in Oxford required the help of Oxford City Council, CCAV, the traffic commissioner, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Oxford police. ‘We are very grateful to Bart Ashton and all the staff at Lady Margaret Hall, who were very welcoming and helpful,’ Paul said. ‘It was a pleasure to be here, and I can say we really made some friends.’ Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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