A Capsule With Antiviral Drugs Grown in Space Returns to Earth

The W-1 capsule landing at the Utah Test and Training Range. Credit: Vargas Space Industries

On Wednesday, February 21st, at 01:40 p.m. PST (04:40 p.m. EST), an interesting package returned to Earth from space. This was the capsule from the W-1 mission, an orbital platform manufactured by California-based Varda Space Industries, which landed at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). Even more interesting was the payload, which consisted of antiviral drugs grown in the microgravity environment of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The mission is part of the company’s goal to develop the infrastructure to make LEO more accessible to commercial industries.

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Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus Lander Begins Its Moon Odyssey

Odysseus launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rises from its Florida launch pad to send Intuitive Machines' Odysseus moon lander spaceward. (NASA via YouTube)

Now it’s Intuitive Machines’ turn to try making history with a robotic moon landing.

Today’s launch of the Houston-based company’s Odysseus lander marks the first step in an eight-day journey that could lead to the first-ever soft landing of a commercial spacecraft on the moon. Odysseus would also be the first U.S.-built spacecraft to touch down safely on the lunar surface since Apollo 17’s mission in 1972.

The lander — which is as big as an old-fashioned British phone booth, or the Tardis time portal from the “Doctor Who” TV series — was sent spaceward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 1:05 a.m. ET (0605 UTC).

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Space Force Chooses its First “Guardian” to go to Space

U.S. Space Force Col. Nick Hague will serve as the pilot on NASA’s Space X Crew-9 mission aboard the Dragon spacecraft that will take him and his crewmates to the International Space Station. Credit: U.S. Space Force.

Although the U.S. Space Force is tasked with military operations in regards to space, they’ve never actually sent one of their own into orbit. This week, the agency announced that Col. Nick Hague will launch to the International Space Station in August 2024 to pilot the Crew-9 mission, as part of SpaceX’s ninth crew rotation to the ISS for NASA. He’ll join two NASA astronauts and a cosmonaut on the trip to space and then work as a flight engineer, spending six months on the station doing research and operations activities.

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Now We Know Why Starship’s Second Flight Test Failed

The moment of separation between Superheavy and Starship. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is often in the headlines, unfortunlatey its not always good news. On 18th November we saw the second of the Starship and SuperHeavy booster get off the launchpad successfully, it failed before reaching orbit. In a recent event, Elon Musk explained how a fuel venting near the end of the burn was responbie but entirely avoidable next time!

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NASA is Pushing Back its Moon Landings to 2026

I wasn’t around for the Apollo program that took human beings to the Moon. I would have love to have seen it all unfold though. With NASAs Artemis program the opportunity will soon be with us again to watch humans set foot on another world, just not for the first time. Alas NASA announced on Tuesday that the Moon landings which form part of Artemis 3, have been pushed back one year to 2026. 

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SpaceX Tested Its Starship Again. Successful Launch But Both Vehicles Were Destroyed

The SN25 Starship and BN9 booster on the landing pad at Boca Chica, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

After months of waiting, SpaceX made its second attempt at an orbital flight this past Saturday (November 18th). During their previous attempt, which occurred back in April, a fully-stacked Starship (SN24) and Super Heavy (BN7) prototypes managed to make it off the landing pad and reach an altitude of about 40 km (25 miles) above sea level. Unfortunately, the SN24 failed to separate from the BN7 booster a few minutes into the flight, causing the vehicle to fall into an uncontrolled tumble and forcing the ground teams to detonate the onboard charges.

Things went better this time as the SN25 and BN9 prototypes took off at about 7:00 AM local time (8:00 AM EDT; 05:00 AM PDT) from the Starbase launch complex. The SN25 successfully separated from its booster two minutes and fifty seconds later – at an altitude of 70 km (43 mi) – and reached an altitude of about 148 kilometers (92 miles), just shy of SpaceX’s goal of 150 km (~93 mi). However, the booster stage was lost about 30 seconds after separation, exploding over the Gulf of Mexico. The SN25 also exploded about eight minutes into the flight, reportedly because its flight termination system was activated.

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Starship Could Be Ready to Launch on Friday

SpaceX Starship's Superheavy Booster, serial no. B7, being tested on the orbital launch pad at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas in February 2023.
SpaceX Starship's Superheavy Booster at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas (Credit : Mobilus In Mobili)

Space exploration should never be run of the mill nor something that finds itself on the back pages of the newspaper.  Captain James T. Kirk was right that space really is the final frontier and making it more accessible is one of the driving forces behind SpaceX.  Their mission to seek out new life and new civilisations, wait that’s wrong – that’s Starfleet.  The SpaceX mission ‘to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets is at the forefront of the development of the enormous Starship which may make another launch attempt as soon as this Friday 17th November. 

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SpaceX Test Fires a Raptor Engine, Simulating a Lunar Landing

A Raptor Vacuum engine was successfully cold-started during a test in August 2023. Via SpaceX.

When NASA astronauts return to the surface of the Moon in the Artemis III mission, the plan is to use a modified SpaceX Starship as their lunar lander. NASA announced last week that SpaceX has now demonstrated an important capability of the vacuum-optimized Raptor engine that will be used for the lander: an extreme cold start.  

A test last month successfully confirmed the engine can be started in the frigid conditions of space, even when the vehicle has spent an extended time in space, where temperatures will drop lower than a shorter low-Earth orbit mission. The Raptor vacuum engine was chilled to mimic conditions after a long coast period in space, and then was successfully fired.  

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China Has Begun Launching its Own Satellite Internet Network

China launches a new satellite to test satellite internet technology at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, July 9th, 2023. Credit: CMG

Since 2019, Elon Musk and SpaceX have led the charge to create high broadband satellite internet services. As of May 2023, the Starlink constellation consisted of over 4,000 satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and roughly 1.5 million subscribers worldwide. Several competitors began launching constellations years before Starlink began, and several companies have emerged since. This includes HughesNet, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems. But Starlink’s latest challenger could be its most fearsome yet: a company in China backed by the Beijing government!

On Sunday, July 9th, a prototype internet satellite was launched aboard a Long March 2C carrier rocket from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The satellite has since entered a predetermined orbit, where it will conduct several tests to validate the broadband satellite technology. The long-term aim of the project is to create a constellation of 13,000 satellites code-named “Guo Wang,” – which loosely translates to “state network” in Mandarin – reflecting Beijing’s vision for a state-run share of the satellite internet market.

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ESA's Euclid Mission is Off to Explore the Dark Universe

Artist impression of the Euclid mission in space. Credit: ESA

On Saturday, July 1st (Canada Day!), the ESA’s Euclid space telescope lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This next-generation astrophysics mission will spend the next few weeks flying to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange Point, where it will spend the next six years observing one-third of the sky. During that time, Euclid will observe billions of galaxies to a distance of 10 billion light-years, leading to the most extensive 3D map of the Universe ever created. This map will help astronomers and cosmologists resolve the lingering mystery of Dark Matter and Dark Energy (DM & DE).

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