Crew Dragon Will Be Launching on May 27th

NASA and SpaceX are targeting May 27, 2020 for an historic mission: the launch of the first astronauts on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, with the destination as the International Space Station (ISS). The crew, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, are scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 pm EDT that day from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. If all goes well, the Crew Dragon will autonomously dock with the space station about 24 hours later.

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Rocket Lab was Able to Catch Falling Inert Rocket Stage With a Helicopter, Continuing Their Path to Reusability

In the summer of 2017, the company Rocket Lab officially tossed its hat into the commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace) ring with the first test flights of their two-stage Electron Rocket. Dedicated to providing cost-effective launch services for the small satellite market, the company began conducting commercial launches from their complexes in New Zealand and California using the lightweight Electron.

Looking to cut the costs associated with individual launches further, Rocket Lab has decided to pursue reusability as well. In early March, before the isolation orders were issued, the company achieved a major milestone when it conducted a successful mid-air recovery of the test stage of an Electron Rocket – which involved a helicopter catching the test stage after its parachute deployed.

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Trump Signs an Executive Order Allowing Mining the Moon and Asteroids

An illustration of a Moon base that could be built using 3D printing and ISRU, In-Situ Resource Utilization. Credit: RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

In 2015, the Obama administration signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, or H.R. 2262) into law. This bill was intended to “facilitate a pro-growth environment for the developing commercial space industry” by making it legal for American companies and citizens to own and sell resources that they extract from asteroids and off-world locations (like the Moon, Mars, or beyond).

On April 6th, the Trump administration took things a step further by signing an executive order that formally recognizes the rights of private interests to claim resources in space. This order, titled “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” effectively ends the decades-long debate that began with the signing of The Outer Space Treaty in 1967.

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Want to Buy Flights on Starship? Here’s the New SpaceX Payload User’s Guide, no Prices, Unfortunately

The development of the Starship – SpaceX’s super-heavy launch system that will take cargo and crews to orbit, the Moon, and even Mars – has been fraught with setbacks and frustration. But Musk has no intention of stopping and is even planning ahead for the day when the Starship and Super Heavy are making regular flights.

In keeping with this, SpaceX recently released a Payload User’s Guide for consumers that lays out what kind of services the launch system will provide – once it’s up and running. While no price points have been established yet, the guide provides a good summary of the Starship’s technical specifications and capabilities.

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Stratolaunch Shows Off its New Hypersonic Testing Vehicle

A year ago, the high-altitude launch company Stratolaunch flew the world’s largest aircraft. Now, Stratolaunch has revealed the designs of two hypersonic aircraft plus a reusable space plane that will be launched from its giant Carrier Aircraft launch plane. The company hopes to begin test flights of these vehicles by 2022.

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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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