A New Technique to Make Lighter Radiation Shielding For Spacecraft: Rust.

One of the biggest challenges of working and living in space is the threat posed by radiation. In addition to solar and cosmic rays that are hazardous to astronauts’ health, there is also ionizing radiation that threatens their electronic equipment. This requires that all spacecraft, satellites, and space stations that are sent to orbit be shielded using materials that are often quite heavy and/or expensive.

Looking to create alternatives, a team of engineers came up with a new technique for producing radiation shielding that is lightweight and more cost-effective than existing methods. The secret ingredient, according to their recently-published research, is metal oxides (aka. rust). This new method could have numerous applications and lead to a significant drop in the costs associated with space launches and spaceflight.

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NASA is Going to Add a Commercial Module to the Space Station

NASA’s plan to open up the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial activity is gaining ground. They have a vision for an economy in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) called the Plan for Commercial LEO Development. According to NASA, they intend to foster economic development in LEO and to drive innovation, all for the benefit of the American economy.

Now they’ve selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide a commercial habitation module for the ISS.

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Scientists Figure Out How to Continuously Watch the Entire Planet With Just 4 Satellites

For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out the minimum number of satellites that would be able to see every point on Earth. This question is motivated in part by the growing problem of space debris, but also by considerations of cost and efficiency. By the mid-1980s, researcher John E. Draim proposed a solution to this problem in a series of studies, claiming that a four-satellite constellation was all that was needed.

Unfortunately, his solution simply wasn’t practical at the time since a tremendous amount of propellant would be needed to keep the satellites in orbit. But thanks to a recent collaborative study, a team of researchers has found the right combination of factors to make a four-satellite constellation possible. Their findings could drive advances in telecommunication, navigation, and remote sensing while also reducing costs.

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New Project Headed by Apollo’s Charlie Duke to Send Messages to Space

When astronaut Charlie Duke walked on the Moon in April of 1972 during the Apollo 16 mission, he brought along a very personal memento with a message he wanted to leave behind.   

“When I walked on the Moon, I took a photo of my family along and wrote a brief message on the back of the photo to leave on the Moon,” Duke said. “I wanted my family to be part of my mission and it was my way of taking them with me – to celebrate my family.”

Duke has now helped spearhead a project that allows people on Earth to send their message into space. He says this project, called AstroGrams, enables anyone to celebrate, commemorate or communicate in space in a truly unique way.

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Using Balloons to Launch Rockets

Since the turn of the century, space exploration has changed dramatically thanks to the unprecedented rise of commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace). With the goal of leveraging new technologies and lowering the costs of launching payloads into space, some truly innovative and novel ideas are being put forth. This includes the idea of using balloons to carry rockets to very high-altitudes, then firing the payloads to their desired orbits.

Also known as “Rockoons”, this concept has informed Leo Aerospace‘s fully-autonomous and fully-reusable launch system – which consists of a high-altitude aerostat (balloon) and a rocket launch platform. With the first commercial launches slated for next year, the company plans to use this system to provide regular launch services to the microsatellite (aka. CubeSat) market in the coming years.

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SpaceX is Sure They’ll be Able to Land Starship on the Moon in 2022

Things are looking pretty good for Elon Musk and SpaceX, the company he founded back in 2002 with the intent of reinvigorating space exploration. In the last six months alone, SpaceX has deployed the first batch of its Starlink broadband internet satellites to space, conducted two successful untethered tests with the Starship Hopper, and finished work on the first orbital-class Starship test vehicle (the Mk.1).

And at the 70th International Astronautical Congress, which took place last week in Washington, DC, SpaceX president and Chief Operations Officer Gwynne Shotwell provided additional details about the Starship‘s mission timeline. As she indicated during a series of interviews, the company hopes to be sending the Starship to orbit next year, landing on the Moon by 2022, and sending payloads to the lunar surface by 2024.

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Skylon’s SABRE Engine Passes a Big Test

The UK aerospace company Reaction Engine Limited was founded in 1989 for the express purpose of creating engines that would lead to spaceplanes capable of horizontal take-off and landing (HOTOL). With support from the ESA, these efforts have resulted in the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE). Once complete, this system will combine elements of jet and rocket propulsion to achieve hypersonic speeds (Mach 5 to Mach 25).

Recently, Reaction Engines passed a major milestone with the development of their SABRE engine. As the company announced earlier this week (on Tues. Oct. 22nd), their engineers conducted a successful test of a vital component – the engine’s heat exchange element (aka. precooler). What’s more, the test involved airflow temperatures equivalent to speeds of Mach 5, which is in the hypersonic range.

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Robotic Spiders to Explore the Moon? Yes, Please!

There is no doubt that one of the hallmarks of the modern space age is the way it is becoming increasingly democratic. In addition to more space agencies entering the fray, private aerospace companies are contributing like never before. It is no surprise then that there are innovators and entrepreneurs that want to increase public access and participation in space exploration.

This is what UK startup Spacebit and its founder, Pavlo Tanasyuk, hope to accomplish with their decentralized aerospace company. Central to their vision is the Walking Rover, a four-legged robotic explorer that they plan to deploy to the lunar surface in the coming years. This rover will represent a number of firsts for space exploration, which includes being the first commercial lunar mission sent by the UK.

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NASA is Working on Electric Airplanes

One of the chief aims of space agencies and commercial aerospace these days is reducing the associated costs of space exploration. When it comes right down to it, it is still very expensive to send rockets into orbit, never mind sending them beyond Earth. But it’s not just the cost of sending payloads into space (and the pollution it causes) that concerns agencies like NASA.

There is also the cost (economic as well as environmental) associated with aviation. Jet fuel is not cheap either, and commercial air travel accounts for 4 to 9% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (and is on the rise). For this reason, NASA has partnered with the commercial industry to develop electric aircraft, which they hope will provide a fuel- and- cost-efficient alternative to commercial jets by 2035.

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Elon Musk Shows us What’s Inside the Starship

On Saturday, Sept.28th, Elon Musk stood before a crowd at SpaceX’s testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas. To the SpaceX employees, guests and reporters assembled (and the millions watching the live stream) Musk presented the fully-assembled Starship Mk.1 prototype. Musk also used the occasion, which also marked the seventeenth anniversary for SpaceX, to celebrate company milestones and update the world on the latest design of the finished Starship.

Once operational, this vehicle will fulfill Musk’s promise of conducting commercial flights to orbit, the Moon, and Mars and even the creation of off-world bases. And to give us a taste of what that would be like, Musk recently posted a video on Twitter of what the inside of the Mk.1‘s cargo bay looks like. Once operational, these bays will be where payloads and passengers destined for the Moon and Mars will stay.

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