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.
Continue reading “Using Balloons to Launch Rockets”
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 crews to the lunar surface by 2024.
Continue reading “SpaceX is Sure They’ll be Able to Land Starship on the Moon in 2022”
Yesterday (Tuesday, Aug. 26th), SpaceX conducted the second untethered test of its Starship Hopper – and nailed it! For this test, the prototype test vehicle took off from the Boca Chica test facility, ascended to an altitude of 150 m (~500 ft) and then landed again safely. This comes just a month after the first successful hop test and brings the company one step closer to tests using their full-scale prototype.
Continue reading “SpaceX Starship Hopper Prototype Makes its Highest Hop Test So Far!”
In May of 2019, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) selected Astrobotic to fulfill a contract to deliver 14 payloads to the Moon by 2021. The Pittsburg-based aerospace company plans to do this using their Peregrine Lander, a robotic lunar spacecraft that is capable of delivering payloads to the Moon for the competitive price of $1.2 million per kilogram (~$544,300 per lbs).
To get the Peregrine lander and NASA’s payloads to the Moon, Astrobiotic recently announced that it would be relying on United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide launch services. ULA will do this using their next-generation heavy-lift launch system known as the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will also be the inaugural launch of this new vehicle.
Continue reading “Astrobotic is Going to Use a Vulcan Rocket For its Lunar Lander in 2021”
In 2006, Peter Beck founded the US and New Zealand-based aerospace company Rocket Lab with the vision of reducing the costs of individual launches. Whereas companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have sought to do this through the development of reusable rockets, Beck’s vision was to create a launch service that would use small rockets to send light payloads into orbit with regular frequency.
However, in a recent statement, Mr. Beck revealed that his company plans to begin recovering and reusing the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle. This change in direction will allow Rocket Lab to further increase the frequency of its launches by eliminating the need to build first stage rockets from scratch for every individual mission.
Continue reading “Rocket Lab is Going to try to Re-use its First Stage Booster, Catching it in Mid-air With a Helicopter”
Yesterday, on Wednesday, July 24th, the prototype test vehicle for the Starship (the Starhopper) commenced its first untethered “hop test” at the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas. This test is an important milestone for SpaceX, intended to validate the Raptor engine in free flight and bring the company one step closer to creating the super-heavy launch system that will allow for trips to the Moon and Mars.
Unfortunately, the ground team was forced to abort the test due to a fire that began shortly after engine ignition. This comes shortly after a static fire test that took place last Tuesday, July 16th where the newly-installed Raptor engine erupted in a sudden and unexpected fireball. Though no damage appears to have been caused (again, thankfully!), this latest flare-up represents another technical glitch and another delay for the Starship.
Continue reading “First Free Flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper Aborted After Engine Fire”
The year of 2019 has not been very kind to SpaceX so far. Back in April, the company lost one of its new Crew Dragon capsules when an explosion occurred during a static firing test of their In-Flight Abort test vehicle. Earlier this week, the company revealed that they had determined the cause of the explosion, saying that it was due to a nitrogen tetroxide leak that occurred just prior to the final test.
And now, just a few days later, another accident has occurred, this time involving the Starhopper test vehicle. Once again, a fire occurred shortly after the vehicle conducted an engine test; fortunately, it resulted in no injuries. However, the Starhopper appears to have come through the fire completely unscathed, though it might cause a slight delay with the vehicle’s scheduled hop tests.
Continue reading “Starship Prototype Catches Fire After a Recent Test, But Appears Undamaged”
Since 2015, Virgin Orbit has been developing a launch system that will send satellites into space using a rocket launched from a modified 747. This is part of Sir Richard Branson’s plan to crack the burgeoning market of cost-effective satellite deployment. This market is especially lucrative considering how many satellites are expected to be launched into orbit in the coming years.
This week, the Virgin Orbit team achieved a major milestone by flying the LauncherOne rocket into the air and releasing it over the Mojave desert for the first time. This drop-test not only validated the design of the modified 747 (named Cosmic Girl) that serves as its flying launchpad, it also demonstrated the effectiveness of the launch system – which can rely on regular airstrips instead of launch pads to send satellites into space.
Continue reading “Virgin Orbit Tests its Satellite-Delivery Rocket for the First Time”
Virgin Galactic has reached another milestone in their fight test program. The VSS Unity spacecraft carried a third crew member on board, in its fifth rocket-powered test flight. It was the second time that the spacecraft reached space.
Continue reading “Virgin Galactic Sends Three People to the Edge of Space. Flights with Paying Customers Around the Corner Now”