For years, China has been dropping hints about its Long March 9 (CZ-9) rocket, a three-stage super-heavy variant of the Long March family. This launch vehicle will reportedly be capable of transporting up to 150,000 kg (165 tons) to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and 54,000 kg (59.5 tons) to a trans-lunar injection. On March 2nd, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) announced (via the Chinese social media platform Weixin) that it had finished building the first propellant tank for the CZ-9.
The news was accompanied by pictures that showed the finished tank and the many components that went into making it – and they are massive!
Novel propulsion ideas for moving around space seem like they’re a dime a dozen recently. Besides the typical argument between solar sails and chemical propulsion lies a potential third way – a nuclear rocket engine. While we’ve discussed them here at UT before, NASA’s Institute of Advanced Concepts has provided a grant to a company called Positron Dynamics for the development of a novel type of nuclear fission fragment rocket engine (FFRE). It could strike the balance between the horsepower of chemical engines and the longevity of solar sails.
A prototype of ESA’s new heavy lift rocket is now fully assembled and sitting on the launchpad at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. But according to officials at a briefing last week, the space agency and the rocket’s prime contractor, ArianeGroup, have decided to delay the first flight of the Ariane 6 to the fourth quarter of 2023 after several issues were brought to the fore in an external review.
Over 60% of the launches in 2020 resulted in one or more rocket parts making an uncontrolled reentry into the atmosphere. While thankfully no one was hurt by that debris, with the expected rise in rocket launches over the coming decade the chances of a casualty are increasing. A new study paints the picture of how current methods of assessing risk are inadequate and new steps need to be taken.
Kessler syndrome seems to be a growing fear for those interested in space exploration. The condition where numerous non-functional pieces of junk block access to orbit appears to be inching closer to reality, spurred on by weekly news reports of dozens of more satellites launching that will eventually become precisely that kind of obsolete space junk. But that won’t happen if the US’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has anything to do with it – a new rule the commission adopted will require companies to deorbit their unused satellites in less than five years after decommissioning.
What’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard? Many people will say an aircraft engine unless they are lucky enough to have attended a rocket launch. And if there was one rocket that was louder than them all, it was the Saturn V, the behemoth that blasted the Apollo astronauts to the moon. But just how loud was it?
Reusable rocket engines have become all the rage lately, even as NASA’s continually delayed Artemis I mission attempts to launch with non-reusable technology. Realistically the only way to significantly lower launch costs is to reuse the engines rather than build them from scratch every time. Which is why every fan of space exploration should rejoice that another small start-up company, RocketLab, has successfully retested a rocket that has flown in space.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft now sits on the launchpad, ready for liftoff on a journey around the Moon. This is the first time since 1972 that NASA has a human-rated spacecraft is ready to go beyond Earth orbit.
There’s little doubt that we live in a new Space Age, defined by increasing access, greater competition, and the commercial space industry. The titans of this industry are well known and have even become household names. There are old warhorses like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance and fast-rising stars like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic, and others. But New Zealand and California-based company Rocket Lab has also made a name for itself in recent years, moving from low-cost expendable rocket launches to reusable rockets.
In particular, their new Neutron Rocket design has been turning some heads since it first debuted in late 2021. The most recent design of this rocket features some very interesting features, which include a new engine, a new shell, and a “Hungry-Hippo” reusable fairing built from advanced carbon composites. Beginning in 2024, Rocket Lab hopes to conduct regular launches with Neutron to service the growing “satellite megaconstellation” market. Thanks to an animator who goes by the handle Hazegrayart, we now have a video of what this might look like.
There are few things in this world that brings feelings of awe and wonder more than a rocket launch. Watching a literal tower of steel slowly lift off from the ground with unspeakable power reminds us of what humanity can achieve despite our flaws, disagreements, and differences, and for the briefest of moments these magnificent spectacles are capable of bringing us all together regardless of race, creed, and religion.