NASA Tests Water Powered Spacecraft in Orbit

Picture two tissue box-sized spacecraft orbiting Earth.

Then picture them communicating, and using a water-powered thruster to approach each other. If you can do that, then you’re up to speed on one of the activities of NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP.) It’s all part of NASA’s effort to develop small spacecraft to serve their space exploration, science, space operations, and aeronautics endeavors.

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The Light Sail is Working… It’s Working!

Good news from The Planetary Society: LightSail 2’s solar sail is functioning as intended. After launching on June 25th, then deploying its solar sail system on July 23rd, mission managers have been working with the solar sail to optimize they way LightSail 2 orients itself towards the Sun. Now The Planetary Society reports that the spacecraft has used its solar sail to raise its orbit.

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Toyota is Building a Pressurized Lunar Rover for Japan

JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is teaming up with the nation’s largest company to build a lunar rover. Toyota, the second largest automobile company in the world (only Volkswagen makes more cars) has signed a development deal with JAXA that will last three years. The goal? To design, build, test and evaluate prototypes for a pressurized, crewed lunar vehicle that runs on fuel-cells.

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Drama In Low-Earth Orbit As LightSail2 Deploys Its Sails

LightSail 2 has successfully deployed its solar sails. Shortly after 12:00 pm PST The Planetary Society tweeted that the sails were deployed, and that the spacecraft was sailing with sunlight. We can all enjoy their success and start to wonder how solar sails will fit into humanity’s plans for space exploration.

Update: This article has been updated with new images from LightSail2.

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The Lunar Gateway Will be in a “Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit”

After months of discussion, the space agencies behind the Lunar Gateway have decided how the space station will orbit the Moon. NASA and the ESA are developing the Lunar Gateway jointly, and the orbital path that it will follow around the Moon is a key part of mission design. It’ll affect all the vital aspects of the mission, including how spacecraft will rendezvous and land at the station.

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MOONRISE: Melting lunar regolith with lasers to build structures on the Moon

The Moon is not just Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. It’s also a natural waypoint for any mission that will be going to Mars or beyond in the coming years. It’s little wonder then why space agencies like NASA, Roscosmos, the ESA and China are hoping to send crewed missions there in the near future and construct bases that could be used to resupply and refuel missions headed to deep space.

So far, all the proposals made for a lunar base have centered on in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and 3D printing – where robots will manufacture the base out of lunar regolith. For this purpose, the Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH) and the Institute of Space Systems (IRAS) at the Technical University of Braunschweig came together to develop a laser system capable of turning moon dust into building materials.

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Prototype of a Future Interstellar Probe was Just Tested on a Balloon

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, researchers with the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group (ECG) are currently working on ways to achieve the dream of interstellar flight. Under the leadership of Professor Philip Lubin, the group has dedicated a considerable amount of effort towards the creation of an interstellar mission consisting of directed-energy light sail and a wafer-scale spacecraft (WSS) “wafercraft“.

If all goes well, this spacecraft will be able to reach relativistic speeds (a portion of the speed of light) and make it to the nearest star system (Proxima Centauri) within our lifetimes. Recently, the ECG achieved a major milestone by successfully testing a prototype version of their wafercraft (aka. the “StarChip“). This consisted of sending the prototype via balloon into the stratosphere to test its functionality and performance.

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