Saturday, July 21, 2018

Martian Atmosphere Behaves as One

Understanding the Martian atmosphere is a key topic in planetary science, from its current status to its past history. Mars's atmosphere continuously leaks out to space and is a crucial factor in the planet's past, present, and future habitability - or lack of it. The planet has lost the majority of its once much denser and wetter atmosphere, causing it to evolve into the dry, arid world we see today. However, the tenuous atmosphere Mars has retained remains complex, and scientists are working to understand if and how the processes within it are connected over space and time. A new study based on 10 years of data from the radar instrument on Mars Express now offers clear evidence of a sought-after link between the upper and lower atmospheres of the planet. While best known for probing the interior of Mars via radar sounding, the instrument has also gathered observations of the Martian ionosphere since it began operating in 2005. "The lower and middle levels of Mars's atmosphere appear to be coupled to the upper levels: there's a clear link between them throughout the Martian year," says lead author Beatriz Sanchez-Cano of the University of Leicester, UK.


"We found this link by tracking the amount of electrons in the upper atmosphere - a property that has been measured by the MARSIS radar for over a decade across different seasons, areas of Mars, times of day, and more - and correlating it with the atmospheric parameters measured by other instruments on Mars Express."

The amount of charged particles in Mars's upper atmosphere - at altitudes of between 100 and 200 km - is known to change with season and local time, driven by changes in solar illumination and activity, and, crucially for this study, the varying composition and density of the atmosphere itself. But the scientists found more changes than they were expecting.

"We discovered a surprising and significant increase in the amount of charged particles in the upper atmosphere during springtime in the Northern hemisphere, which is when the mass in the lower atmosphere is growing as ice sublimates from the northern polar cap," adds Beatriz.

Mars's polar caps are made up of a mix of water ice and frozen carbon dioxide. Each winter, up to a third of the mass in Mars's atmosphere condenses to form an icy layer at each of the planet's poles. Every spring, some of the mass within these caps sublimates to rejoin the atmosphere, and the caps visibly shrink as a result.

"This sublimation process was thought to mostly only affect the lower atmosphere - we didn't expect to see its effects clearly propagating upwards to higher levels," says co-author Olivier Witasse of the European Space Agency, and former ESA Project Scientist for Mars Express.

"It's very interesting to find a connection like this."

The finding suggests that the atmosphere of Mars behaves as a single system.

This could potentially help scientists to understand how Mars's atmosphere evolves over time - not only with respect to external disturbances such as space weather and the activity of the Sun, but also with respect to Mars's own strong internal variability and surface processes.

Understanding the complex atmosphere of Mars is one of the key objectives of ESA's Mars Express mission, which has been operating in orbit around the Red Planet since 2003.

"Mars Express is still going strong, with one of its current key objectives being to explore exactly how the Martian atmosphere behaves, and how different layers of it are connected to one another," says ESA Mars Express Project Scientist Dmitri Titov.

"Having a long baseline of data is fundamental to our study of Mars - there's now over a decade of observations to work with. These data don't just cover a long time period, but also the entirety of Mars and its atmosphere.

"This wealth of comprehensive and complementary observations by different instruments on Mars Express makes studies like this one possible and, together with ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter and NASA's MAVEN mission, is helping us to unravel the secrets of the Martian atmosphere."

Friday, July 20, 2018

Technicians Ensure James Webb Space Telescope's Sunshield Survives Stresses Experienced During Liftoff

The sound associated with a rocket launch creates extreme vibrations that can adversely affect any satellite or observatory, so engineers put spacecraft through simulations to ensure they will remain operational. In this photo, technicians delicately inspect stowed sunshield membranes of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope on the forward side of the spacecraft. Acoustic testing exposes the spacecraft to similar forces and stress experienced during liftoff, allowing engineers to better prepare it for the rigors of spaceflight. The sunshield separates the observatory into a hot, sun-facing side (reaching temperatures close to 230 degrees Fahrenheit), and a cold side (approximately minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit) where the sunlight is blocked from interfering with the sensitive telescope instruments. The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.


Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sustained hypersonic flight-enabling technology patent granted to Advanced Rockets Corporation

Advanced Rockets Corporation has been granted a patent for the Advanced Rockets Vehicle (ARV) system design. The main technological breakthrough highlighted in this patent is the ability to operate within the atmosphere for prolonged periods of time and at very high Mach numbers; Sustained Hypersonic Flight. Othniel Mbamalu, President of Advanced Rockets Corporation, has stated, "the implications of this achievement are enormous across all of aerospace, enabling previously impossible applications and operational flight profiles." He continued with, "One of the biggest problems associated with flying at high speeds within the atmosphere is the associated extreme drag and aerodynamic heating. Our patent solves these problems and expands the possibilities of sustained atmospheric hypersonic flight." A major goal of launch systems and most aerospace programs is improving performance and reducing the cost of access. The technologies featured in this patent achieves this. The ARV patent offers a novel mix of unique processes, techniques and architecture.


The Advanced Rockets Vehicle (ARV) is designed to take advantage of the entire complement of the solutions identified in the patent in a single vehicle platform, although elements from the ARV design could also be applied to other operational launch vehicles and high-velocity projectiles.

Benefits unique to technologies in ARV Patents: + Sustained Hypersonic Flight

+ Full Reusability

+ Extremely Rapid Turnaround

+ High System Growth Potential

+ Easily Achieved Man-Rating

ARV's operational performance is aided by its design architecture that permits very low drag, ultra-high temperature and high mechanical stress tolerance, in a mix that will greatly improve a system's total fuel efficiency. ARV is designed for slightly over 400 flights per vehicle. Current reusable launch vehicles has a reuse rate per vehicle of about 10, so the cost savings implications of the ARV are enormous.
Mr. Mbamalu also added, "The ARV is highly mission specific configurable, considering factors such as orbital altitude, inclination and payload mass to orbit, eliminating "wasted capacity" and maximizing reusability."

ARC's business approach includes licensing its IP to interested companies, although it is open to pursue other avenues. The impact of ARV's patent is enhanced by ARC's patent pending novel propulsion solutions.

The ARV Engine (ARVE) is a standalone propulsion system capable of operating in sustained hypersonic flight environments within the atmosphere. A possible combination of the ARVE with the ARV is a match made in "launch system heaven" and represents potential for decades of market advantage.

Advanced Rockets Corporation was founded with the objective of researching and conceptualizing, protecting and commercializing launch systems and flight technologies. ARC's Othniel Mbamalu has a background in Mechanical Engineering and is the sole Inventor of all Advanced Rockets Corporation's technology patents. Mr. Mbamalu has led ARC from its inception, overseeing all key technological, financial, administrative and strategic decisions thus far.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Russia may use ISS Modules in Lunar Gateway Project

Russia may decide to stop the construction of its segment of the International Space Station (ISS) and to use the ordered modules for the Lunar Orbital Platform - Gateway (LOP-G) project, a source in Russia's rocket and space industry told Sputnik on Wednesday. "Due to the fact that the ISS operation is planned to be terminated in 2024, and the Russian segment is still not completed, there are proposals to complete its [ISS] creation in the current configuration, and the [Russian] ordered modules will be used to expand Russian participation in the Lunar Orbital Platform - Gateway project," the source said. The source specified that the proposal concerned a node module with six ports for docking as well as a scientific and energy module that could significantly expand the space on the lunar station. In September, Moscow and Washington signed an agreement on creation of a new space station dubbed Deep Space Gateway on the orbit of the moon, later its name was changed to the Lunar Orbital Platform - Gateway. According to preliminary accords, Russia could build a segment that would serve as an exit for astronauts going on spacewalks. The start of the LOP-G assembly is set for 2022.


Russia's State Space Corporation Roscosmos is planning to add a total of three modules to the ISS, including a Multipurpose Laboratory Module Nauka, expected in 2019, a hub module Prichal set to arrive in 2020, and Science-Power Module-1.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

NanoRacks Completes 14th CubeSat Deployment Mission from International Space Station

NanoRacks successfully completed the 14th CubeSat Deployment mission from the Company's commercially developed platform on the International Space Station. Having released nine CubeSats into low-Earth orbit, this mission marks NanoRacks' 185th CubeSat released from the Space Station, and 217th small satellite deployed by NanoRacks overall. The CubeSats deployed were launched to the Space Station on the ninth contracted resupply mission for Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) from Wallops Island, Virginia in May 2018. NanoRacks offered an affordable launch opportunity, payload manifesting, full safety reviews with NASA, and managed on-orbit operations in order to provide an end-to-end solution that met all customer needs. "This mission yet again displays the continued reliability and uncontested consistency of NanoRacks' CubeSat deployment platforms, and what that performance enables," says NanoRacks Senior Mission Manager, Henry Martin. "Our customer base is the epitome of the diverse CubeSat market, and following the successful deployment of RemDeb only a couple weeks ago, this 14th airlock deployment mission shows the critical role NanoRacks continues to play in the growth of the commercial space industry."


NanoRacks is pleased to have to deployed seven satellites that were selected for flight by NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) as part of the 23rd installment of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, sponsored by the NASA Launch Services Program (LSP).

Additionally, NanoRacks is proud to have deployed the first satellites for two commercial startups.

Analytical Space's primary mission with their CubeSat, Radix, will be a demonstration of an optical data relay system. The satellite has the capability to receive transmissions at various frequency bands from the ground and/or from beta-test customer spacecraft already on orbit and store the data on board. Radix will then downlink the received data to the ground using laser communication.

EnduroSat One, the first Bulgarian amateur radio CubeSat mission, is a multipurpose CubeSat platform engineered for space application and research. The electrical power system and solar panels will provide power for the mission.

Two ultra-high frequency Transceivers type II and UHF deployable antenna will deliver a high-reliability communication system for tracking, telemetry and control (TT and C) and data. A network of actuators and sensors will enable spacecraft control and processing capabilities will be provided through the low power consumption and high performance onboard computer.

The CubeSats mounted externally to the Cygnus spacecraft from the May 2018 launch are scheduled to be deployed on Sunday, July 15th, pending nominal operations.

The satellites deployed were:

NASA ELaNa 23:

  • CubeRRT
  • EQUiSat
  • HaloSat
  • MemSat
  • RadSat-g
  • RainCube
  • TEMPEST-DCommercial CubeSats:
  • EnduroSat One (EnduroSat)
  • Radix (Analytical Space)
  • Monday, July 16, 2018

    Scotland chosen as site for first British space port

    The UK is set to build on its world leading expertise in aerospace with the development of vertical and horizontal spaceports. Business Secretary Greg Clark will today (Monday 16 July) launch the start of a Great British Space Age that will see vertically-launched space rockets and satellites take off from a new spaceport at Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland. The Government is also making available a new 2 million pound fund to boost further horizontal launch spaceport sites across Britain - such as Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia - subject to business case. Business Secretary Greg Clark said: "As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy. The UK's thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites. "This will build on our global reputation for manufacturing small satellites and help the whole country capitalise on the huge potential of the commercial space age." Initial funding of 2.5 million pounds will go to Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop the vertical launch site in Sutherland which could see lift-off from the early 2020s and create hundreds of jobs. It will use innovative rocket technology to pave the way for a world-leading spaceflight market in Britain.


    The UK Space Agency selected the Sutherland site because Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically-launched rockets.

    Horizontal launch sites have potential to play a key role in the UK's future spaceflight market. Sites such as Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia will be boosted by a new 2m pound fund to grow their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions.

    Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling said: "The space sector is an important player in the UK's economy and our recent Space Industry Act has unlocked the potential for hundreds of new jobs and billions of revenue for British business across the country.

    "Today's announcement is exciting for places like Newquay in Cornwall too, paving the way for further potential space ports in the future."

    The commercial space sector is estimated to be worth a potential 3.8 billion pounds to the UK economy over the next decade and will support Britain's modern Industrial Strategy by creating high-skilled jobs and boosting local economies.

    Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: "The UK Government has an exciting ambition to take the UK into the commercial space age by enabling small satellite launch and spaceflight from UK spaceports. Wales now has an exciting window of opportunity to take a leading role in shaping that future.

    "We have the right geography and a skilled engineering base in aerospace, electronics and the software industries, standing ready to diversify and to flourish in the fast-developing space market.

    "The opportunities are vast - for Britain's strategic capabilities and for Wales in terms of job creation, cross border synergies through the Northern Powerhouse, linking to our strong academic institutions and the potential economic impact. We must now stand ready to grasp them."

    Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: "This spaceport grant will help kick-start an exciting new era for the UK space industry, and this is only the beginning of our LaunchUK campaign. We are committed to supporting a commercial market for access to space in the UK, and we will continue to engage with any company who seeks to operate here."

    Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), said: "The decision to support the UK's first spaceport in Sutherland is tremendous news for our region and for Scotland as a whole. The international space sector is growing and we want to ensure the region is ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated from this fantastic opportunity."

    Will Whitehorn, Non-Executive Chairman of Clyde Space, said: "From designing and building the very first satellite in Scotland, Clyde Space has grown and become a front runner in small-satellite manufacturing. Having a spaceport located in Scotland will bring about a whole host of commercial advantages and not only to our operations in Glasgow, but to the entire space sector in the whole of the UK."

    Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global, said: "A spaceport in Scotland and the UK is fantastic news! Launch continues to be the most unpredictable part of the overall supply chain, with delays, often for months and sometimes years, being the norm.

    "In Spire, Scotland already sports Europe's most advanced and prolific satellite manufacturing capability, and with a space port right next door, enabling clockwork like launches, we can finally get our space sector supply chain to be truly integrated!"

    Saturday, July 14, 2018

    VERITAS supplies critical piece to neutrino discovery puzzle

    The VERITAS array has confirmed the detection of high-energy gamma rays from the vicinity of a supermassive black hole located in a distant galaxy, TXS 0506+056. While these detections are relatively common for VERITAS, this blackhole is potentially the first known astrophysical source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, a type of ghostly subatomic particle that can be made at astrophysical sources of ultra-high energy cosmic rays. The University of Utah is one of the founding collaborating institutions of the VERITAS observatory. Co-author Dave Kieda, professor of physics and astronomy and the dean of the U's graduate school, led the design, construction and upgrade of VERITAS that gave the instrument enhanced sensitivity to the lower-energy gamma rays critical to the discovery. Anushka Udara Abeysekara, research assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the U, is also a coauthor on the paper. "This is the first time we've seen high-energy gamma-rays and neutrinos being generated by a common astrophysical source. This is evidence that nearby and faraway galaxies with supermassive blackholes at their centers are actively creating high-energy cosmic rays," said Kieda. "It's one of the pieces of the puzzle needed to solve the mystery of where these cosmic rays come from."


    The University of Utah also operates the Telescope Array cosmic ray observatory based in Delta, Utah. In 2015, the University of Utah Telescope Array Group identified a potential hotspot of ultra-high energy cosmic rays coming from a broad region of the sky containing numerous potential extragalactic cosmic-ray sources. Because our Galaxy's magnetic field bends the trajectory of incoming cosmic particles, the Telescope Array was unable to pinpoint any individual galaxy as the origin of the high energy cosmic rays.

    The VERITAS gamma-ray discovery, in combination with the ICECUBE neutrino detection, provides a way to directly identify a single galaxy as a source of high energy cosmic rays. This "multi-messenger" approach to astronomy - employing joint observations of neutrinos, gamma-rays, X-rays and cosmic-rays - provides a major breakthrough in the understanding of the astrophysical origin of the most energetic particles in the universe.

    "The era of multi-messenger astrophysics is here," said National Science Foundation director France Cordova. "Each messenger - from electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves and now neutrinos - gives us a more complete understanding of the universe, and important new insights into the most powerful objects and events in the sky. Such breakthroughs are only possible through a long-term commitment to fundamental research and investment in superb research facilities." VERITAS supplies critical piece to neutrino discovery puzzle

    The VERITAS array has confirmed the detection of gamma rays from the vicinity of a supermassive black hole. While these detections are relatively common for VERITAS, this black hole is potentially the first known astrophysical source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, a type of ghostly subatomic particle.

    On September 22, 2017 the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a cubic-kilometer neutrino telescope located at the South Pole, detected a high-energy neutrino of potential astrophysical origin. However, IceCube is not capable of locating a source of neutrinos on the sky. For that, scientists needed more information.

    Very quickly after the detection by IceCube was announced, telescopes around the world including VERITAS (which stands for the "Very Energetic Radiation Telescope Array System") swung into action to identify the source. The VERITAS, MAGIC and H.E.S.S. gamma-ray observatories all looked at the neutrino position. In addition, other gamma-ray observatories that monitor much of the sky at lower and higher energies also provided coverage.

    These follow-up observations of the rough IceCube neutrino position suggest that the source of the neutrino is a blazar, which is a supermassive black hole with powerful outflowing jets that can change dramatically in brightness over time. This blazar, known as TXS 0506+056, is located at the center of a galaxy about 4 billion light years from Earth.

    Initially, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope observed that TXS 0506+056 was several times brighter than usually seen in its all-sky monitoring. Eventually, the MAGIC observatory made a detection of much higher-energy gamma rays about two weeks after the neutrino detection, while VERITAS, H.E.S.S. and HAWC did not see the blazar in any of their observations during the two weeks following the alert.

    Given the importance of higher-energy gamma-ray detections in identifying the possible source of the neutrino, VERITAS continued to observe TXS 0506+056 over the following months, through February 2018, and revealed the source but at a dimmer state than what was detected by MAGIC.

    The detection of gamma rays coincident with neutrinos is tantalizing, since both particles must be produced in the generation of cosmic rays. Since they were first detected over one hundred years ago, cosmic rays - highly energetic particles that continuously rain down on Earth from space - have posed an enduring mystery. What creates and launches these particles across such vast distances? Where do they come from?

    "The potential connection between the neutrino event and TXS 0506+056 would shed new light on the acceleration mechanisms that take place at the core of these galaxies, and provide clues on the century-old question of the origin of cosmic rays," said co-author and Spokesperson of VERITAS Reshmi Mukherjee of Barnard College, Columbia University in New York, New York.

    "Astrophysics is entering an exciting new era of multi-messenger observations, in which celestial sources are being studied through the detection of the electromagnetic radiation they emit across the spectrum, from radio waves to high-energy gamma rays, in combination with non-electromagnetic means, such as gravitational waves and high-energy neutrinos," said co-author Marcos Santander of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

    Friday, July 13, 2018

    First space tourist flights could come in 2019

    The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights -- though neither has set a firm date. Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests -- with both companies using radically different technology. Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin's passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It's an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s. Having paid for a much cheaper ticket -- costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin -- the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet. The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins -- either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.


    At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.

    - Virgin Galactic -

    With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.

    The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft -- the WhiteKnightTwo -- from which it will then detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.) Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.

    Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.

    The descent is slowed down by a "feathering" system that sees the spacecraft's tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin's "spaceport" in the New Mexico desert.

    In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California's Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.

    In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.

    The company has now also reached a deal to open a second "spaceport" at Italy's Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.

    Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin told AFP.

    - Blue Origin -

    Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.

    On this journey, six passengers take their place in a "capsule" fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.

    After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.

    From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.

    Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin's West Texas site.

    But one of its directors, Rob Meyerson, said in June the first human tests would come "soon."

    Meanwhile, another company official, Yu Matsutomi, said during a conference Wednesday that the first tests with passengers would take place "at the end of this year," according to Space News.

    - What's next? -

    SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport NASA astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays -- a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.

    "If you're looking to go to space, you'll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before," Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science, told AFP.

    Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years -- but the project is still in its early stages.

    Thursday, July 12, 2018

    Aerojet Rocketdyne demonstrates 24-Hour turnaround of AR-22 Engine

    Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully fired its AR-22 booster rocket engine an unprecedented 10 times in 240 hours at NASA Stennis Space Center, demonstrating the feasibility of rapidly recycling the engine to enable a reusable launch vehicle capable of high-tempo, aircraft-like flight operations. "Aerojet Rocketdyne has continued to refine the reusable engine technology we originally developed for the Space Shuttle program," said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. "With the AR-22 we are taking reusability to the next level and have demonstrated that daily, affordable access to space is within reach." The highly anticipated test sequence was carried out as part of the collaboration between Boeing and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on the Experimental Spaceplane program. Boeing is designing and developing the Phantom Express spaceplane for this program and the successful engine test results will help improve the spaceplane's design. "Phantom Express is a disruptive, reusable launch system. Successfully completing this highly demanding rocket engine test series validated a new level of booster capability for this transformational launch vehicle," continued Drake.


    "Turning the AR-22 within 24 hours repeatedly over 10 days demonstrates the capability of this engine and the ability to enable rapid, responsive access to space."

    On Tuesday, July 3, DARPA director Steve Walker visited NASA Stennis Space Center to view one of the engine tests. He complimented the team on their support of national security, highlighting their demonstration of the importance of the speed of relevance.

    The liquid-oxygen and hydrogen-fueled AR-22 engine, capable of generating more than 375,000 pounds of thrust, fired at full throttle during the tests, each lasting at least 100 seconds in duration. After each firing, Aerojet Rocketdyne technicians carried out pre-planned inspections and data reviews in preparation for the next test.

    The 10 test firings took place in a test period conducted June 26 to July 6, 2018.

    "Aerojet Rocketdyne is very proud to have such an important role in a program that could literally revolutionize space access with a vehicle capable of launching on a daily basis," Drake added.

    "With the Defense Department and commercial sector anticipating a shift toward constellations of smaller satellites that can be replenished quickly, the Phantom Express is the right program at the right time for the nation."

    The Phantom Express spaceplane is designed to launch vertically and land horizontally to allow for aircraft-like operations in support of the U.S. government's resilient space vision and commercial missions. The vehicle will be equipped with an expendable second stage capable of placing up to 3,000 pounds or 1,361 kg of payload into low Earth orbit.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2018

    Israel plans its first moon launch in December

    An Israeli organisation announced plans Tuesday to launch the country's first spacecraft to the moon in December, with hopes of burnishing Israel's reputation as a small nation with otherworldly high-tech ambitions. The unmanned spacecraft, shaped like a pod and weighing some 585 kilogrammes (1,300 pounds) at launch, will land on the moon on February 13, 2019 if all goes according to plan, organisers SpaceIL told a news conference in Yehud, central Israel.The vessel will be launched via a rocket from American entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX firm and its mission will include research on the moon's magnetic field. Its first task, however, will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, organisers said. The project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered $30 million (25 million euros) in awards to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to come up with relatively low-cost moon missions.Three young Israeli scientists, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, decided to join the fray. "We met in a pub and started to discuss what it meant," Damari recalled.


    The trio formed SpaceIL and partnered with state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, envisioning a very small craft they believed could land on the moon by 2013.

    "As we went deeper into the project and the more people joined, we understood its complexity," Damari said.

    Although the Google prize expired in March without a winner having reached the moon, Israel's team pledged to push forward.

    A key figure to hop on board the project was Morris Kahn, a South African-born Israeli billionaire, who heard SpaceIL present their project.

    "I thought this was a great idea," he said, "and I asked them -- 'do you have any money?'"

    "They hadn't really thought about the financial side," Kahn said, relaying how he gave them an initial grant of $100,000, with his support growing with the project to largely cover the $95 million project.

    To Kahn, for Israel to have a stake on the moon alongside the three global powers already there -- the United States, Russia and China -- would be "a tremendous achievement" that "will give us a sense of pride we really need".

    - 'Backup plans' -

    Yossi Weiss, the CEO of IAI, said conquering space is not just a way to prove technological prowess, but also an increasingly urgent need for a human race rapidly dilapidating its resources.

    "We need to think about backup plans," Weiss said. "Earth is becoming small," and ultimately "the future of humanity is in space".

    While the planned landing of the small unmanned vessel is one small step toward that end, it is nonetheless "a very significant one", Weiss said.

    On the moon, the vessel will transmit data to the control centre at IAI for two days before its systems shut down.

    It is hoped the mission's success will inspire scientific curiosity among Israeli youth.

    "We're trying to replicate the Apollo effect in the US," Kahn said, referring to the US programme that landed the first humans on the moon in 1969.

    "If we're going to continue being the start-up country we've got to get engineers."

    But even before its launch, the pod and its project have stirred great interest among children, according to Damari.

    "They say kids are excited by space, robots and dinosaurs. We have a robotic spacecraft -- that's two out of three," he said.

    "When you meet school children and tell them about the project you can see the spark in their eye.

    "Even if they don't deal with space but enter another scientific or engineering field, we've realised the vision."

    Damari noted the shift his project created in the Israeli space industry, which has focused on security-related projects and long carried out satellite launches.

    "Since we began you can see more and more start-ups and projects that deal with space in the civilian aspect," he said.

    The relatively lean Israeli project, which was not initiated or funded by the state, could also mark a change in the way space-related projects are construed and performed, paving the way for more private initiatives.

    "It's going to show the way for the rest of the world" to send a spacecraft to the moon at a reasonable cost, said Ofer Doron, head of IAI's space division.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2018

    Largest-ever solid rocket motor poised for first hot firing

    This week, the largest solid rocket motor ever built in one piece will be test fired at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana for the first time. This important milestone validates the booster for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020. Fully loaded with solid fuel, the P120C rocket motor common to Europe's future launchers Vega-C and Ariane 6, will be held vertically in the test stand and ignited. Sensors will gather about 600 measures during the test. The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, contains 142 tonnes of solid propellant and provides a maximum thrust of 4615 kN (in vacuum) over a burn time of about 135 s. The design builds on existing expertise and lessons learned with Vega's P80 first stage motor. P120C will replace P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff. All main components of the motor such as nozzle, igniter, solid propellant, and insulated motor case have already been tested separately. This static firing will prove these technologies, materials and production techniques in combination and validate the behaviour of the assembled motor.


    The test stand with the tools and equipment that will secure the P120C for its test firing, have had to be modified or developed to accommodate this huge motor.

    Recently a full-scale model of the P120C filled with inert propellant allowed engineers to verify tools, check connections and perfect procedures.

    Information gathered during this static firing will allow engineers to compare their numerical models against observed reality to consolidate the P120C design.

    This will guide the design of the P120C qualification motor that will be static fired at the end of the year.

    Sunday, July 8, 2018

    Even dense neutron stars fall like feathers

    Einstein's understanding of gravity, as outlined in his general theory of relativity, predicts that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass or composition. This theory has passed test after test here on Earth, but does it still hold true for some of the most massive and dense objects in the known universe, an aspect of nature known as the strong equivalence principle? An international team of astronomers has given this lingering question its most stringent test ever. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, show that Einstein's insights into gravity still hold sway, even in one of the most extreme scenarios the universe can offer. Take away all air, and a hammer and a feather will fall at the same rate - a concept explored by Galileo in the late 1500s and famously illustrated on the Moon by Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott. Though a bedrock of Newtonian physics, it took Einstein's theory of gravity to express how and why this is so. To date, Einstein's equations have passed all tests, from careful laboratory studies to observations of planets in our solar system. But alternatives to Einstein's general theory of relativity predict that compact objects with extremely strong gravity, like neutron stars, fall a little differently than objects of lesser mass. That difference, these alternate theories predict, would be due to a compact object's so-called gravitational binding energy - the gravitational energy that holds it together.


    In 2011, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Green Bank Telescope (GBT) discovered a natural laboratory to test this theory in extreme conditions: a triple star system called PSR J0337+1715, located about 4,200 light-years from Earth. This system contains a neutron star in a 1.6-day orbit with a white dwarf star, and the pair in a 327-day orbit with another white dwarf further away.

    "This is a unique star system," said Ryan Lynch of the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, and coauthor on the paper.

    "We don't know of any others quite like it. That makes it a one-of-a-kind laboratory for putting Einstein's theories to the test."

    Since its discovery, the triple system has been observed regularly by the GBT, the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope in the Netherlands, and the NSF's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The GBT has spent more than 400 hours observing this system, taking data and calculating how each object moves in relation to the other.

    How were these telescopes able to study this system? This particular neutron star is actually a pulsar. Many pulsars rotate with a consistency that rivals some of the most precise atomic clocks on Earth.

    "As one of the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world, the GBT is primed to pick up these faint pulses of radio waves to study extreme physics," Lynch said. The neutron star in this system pulses (rotates) 366 times per second.

    "We can account for every single pulse of the neutron star since we began our observations," said Anne Archibald of the University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy and principal author on the paper.

    "We can tell its location to within a few hundred meters. That is a really precise track of where the neutron star has been and where it is going."

    If alternatives to Einstein's picture of gravity were correct, then the neutron star and the inner white dwarf would each fall differently toward the outer white dwarf.

    "The inner white dwarf is not as massive or compact as the neutron star, and thus has less gravitational binding energy," said Scott Ransom, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, and co-author on the paper.

    Through meticulous observations and careful calculations, the team was able to test the system's gravity using the pulses of the neutron star alone. They found that any acceleration difference between the neutron star and inner white dwarf is too small to detect.

    "If there is a difference, it is no more than three parts in a million," said coauthor Nina Gusinskaia of the University of Amsterdam. This places severe constraints on any alternative theories to general relativity.

    This result is ten times more precise that the previous best test of gravity, making the evidence for Einstein's strong equivalence principle that much stronger.

    "We're always looking for better measurements in new places, so our quest to learn about new frontiers in our universe is going to continue," concluded Ransom.

    Saturday, July 7, 2018

    Jupiter's moons create uniquely patterned aurora on the gas giant planet

    New images from the Juno spacecraft show an unusual "footprint" of Jupiter's moons on their parent planet's aurorae. The data reveal that, rather than casting one "shadow" in Jupiter's aurorae, the moon Io - Jupiter's fifth - casts several, in a double wing-shaped pattern, while Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, casts a double shadow. The stunning phenomenon of aurorae - beautiful colorful tendrils above the atmospheres of planets - occurs when electrically charged particles accelerate along the planet's magnetic field lines and then interact with the upper atmosphere. Jupiter's massive moons alter this phenomenon on the gas giant planet by directing the streams of charged particles. These large lunar bodies decorate the planet with unusual auroral patterns, previously seen as a bright spot "footprint" of each nearby moon in Jupiter's north and south hemispheres. Alessandro Mura and colleagues use new images from the Juno spacecraft, which provide much more detailed data on the planet's aurorae, to reveal not just one "footprint" from the moon Io, but a trail of many evenly spaced bright spots that are roughly the size of the moon itself.


    The pattern created resembles a trail of swirling vortices in both hemispheres, one that sometimes splits into two wing-shaped arcs. Similarly, the researchers found that the moon Ganymede generates a double auroral footprint, that was not previously observed.

    The authors speculate that these unusual patterns could be caused by magnetic interactions close to the moons, or by interference between giant waves of electrical particles.

    Friday, July 6, 2018

    Cutting-Edge Heat Shield Installed on NASA's Parker Solar Probe

    The launch of Parker Solar Probe, the mission that will get closer to the Sun than any human-made object has ever gone, is quickly approaching, and on June 27, 2018, Parker Solar Probe's heat shield - called the Thermal Protection System, or TPS - was installed on the spacecraft. A mission 60 years in the making, Parker Solar Probe will make a historic journey to the Sun's corona, a region of the solar atmosphere. With the help of its revolutionary heat shield, now permanently attached to the spacecraft in preparation for its August 2018 launch, the spacecraft's orbit will carry it to within 4 million miles of the Sun's fiercely hot surface, where it will collect unprecedented data about the inner workings of the corona. The eight-foot-diameter heat shield will safeguard everything within its umbra, the shadow it casts on the spacecraft. At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core. The Sun-facing side of the heat shield is also sprayed with a specially formulated white coating to reflect as much of the Sun's energy away from the spacecraft as possible.


    The heat shield itself weighs only about 160 pounds - here on Earth, the foam core is 97 percent air. Because Parker Solar Probe travels so fast - 430,000 miles per hour at its closest approach to the Sun, fast enough to travel from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in about one second - the shield and spacecraft have to be light to achieve the needed orbit.

    The reinstallation of the Thermal Protection System - which was briefly attached to the spacecraft during testing at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, in fall 2017 - marks the first time in months that Parker Solar Probe has been fully integrated.

    The heat shield and spacecraft underwent testing and evaluation separately at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, before shipping out to Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, in April 2018. With the recent reunification, Parker Solar Probe inches closer to launch and toward the Sun.

    Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA's Living with a Star Program, or LWS, to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. LWS is managed by Goddard for the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory manages the Parker Solar Probe mission for NASA. APL designed and built the spacecraft and will also operate it.

    Thursday, July 5, 2018

    Dragon Now Installed To Station For Month-Long Stay

    Three days after its launch from Florida, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was installed on the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station's Harmony module at 9:52 a.m. EDT. The 15th contracted commercial resupply mission from SpaceX (CRS-15) delivers more than 5,900 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory. Among the research arriving to the U.S. National Laboratory is the Space Algae investigation, will discuss research to select algae strains adapted to space and sequence their genomes to identify growth-related genes. Algae consume waste carbon dioxide, can provide basic nutrition and may perceive microgravity as a trigger to produce algae oils rich in antioxidants that may help mitigate the harmful effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation during spaceflight. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory, is sponsoring the investigation. A technology demonstration arriving is an observational pilot study with the Crew Interactive MObile companioN (CIMON) that aims to provide first insights into the effects of crew support from an artificial intelligence (AI) in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space.


    After Dragon spends approximately one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with about 3,800 pounds of cargo and research, including an investigation to advance DNA sequencing in space and the Angiex cancer therapy investigation to improve understanding of endothelial cells that line the walls of blood vessels.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2018

    Airbus and Planet join forces to bring new geospatial products to market

    Airbus and Planet have entered into a partnership to facilitate access to each other's data and the co-development of new geospatial solutions, by establishing a framework agreement to explore opportunities for joint cooperation in new and existing markets, product offerings, sales and marketing efforts. Both partners aim at providing a comprehensive suite of global satellite data at multiple temporal and spatial resolutions, and developing new analytic products for a wide range of applications to the benefit of their customers. "By combining our strengths, we will provide a key capability to address all market needs, both in terms of data and value-added products, and to best serve our clients, whatever their industry and their requirements," said Francois Lombard, Director of the Intelligence Business at Airbus Defence and Space. "Airbus and Planet are truly complementary partners. Airbus brings long-standing success in serving reliable, high resolution remote sensing, and Planet brings its unique global coverage and temporal cadence, as well as agile aerospace iteration to get sensors quickly to space," said Will Marshall, CEO and co-founder of Planet. "Together we will be able to deliver sophisticated offerings to fit customer needs across international markets."


    The partnership reflects the high-value assets of each provider and their synergies for addressing ever-growing, demanding needs for continuous monitoring and accurate information.

    Benefitting from both companies' constellations, customers will have access to the entire Earth's landmass every day at 3m resolution with PlanetScope satellites, as well as to intra-daily sub-meter resolution imagery with Pleiades and SkySat constellations.

    In addition, they will also have the capability to order images with resolutions of 1.5m (SPOT 6/7), 5m (Rapideye) and 22m (DMC Constellation). Lastly, TerraSAR-X, TanDEM-X and PAZ radar satellites will allow the acquisition of images regardless of weather and daylight conditions, ensuring access to any place on Earth independent of the cloud coverage.

    Planet is an integrated aerospace and data analytics company that operates the largest fleet of Earth-imaging satellites, collecting a massive amount of information daily about our changing planet. Planet designs, builds and operates over 190 satellites, and develops the online software and tools that serves data and information to users making critical decisions.