XCOR Co-Founders Establish New Company

Three co-founders of suborbital vehicle developer XCOR Aerospace who recently left the company have established a new company, one that was inspired by some of the development challenges they faced at XCOR.

XCOR announced Nov. 23 that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were leaving the company. The company said in a statement that the two were leaving “to turn their attention to pursue other interests,” but offered no additional details at the time. A third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, separately indicated she was also leaving the company.

The three left XCOR to found a new company, Agile Aero. That company, which, like XCOR, is based in Midland, Texas, will be focused on addressing a problem Greason says has afflicted XCOR and other aerospace companies: the inability to rapidly develop and test vehicles, be they high-speed aircraft or launch vehicles

Read more at: Space News

India’s First Manned Space Mission Likely to be Accomplished in 2021

Earlier reports of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had indicated Indian human Spaceflight programme will be accomplished in 2015. Later, it was envisaged to happen by 2017. Since budget for could not be included in the current five-year plan, now, India’s First Manned Space Mission is being planned for 2021.

The plans shared earlier had proposed that India’s manned flight programme envisages the development of a fully autonomous orbital vehicle capable of carrying the crew members. The proposal by ISRO had aimed at launching a two-man crew to Low Earth orbit.

The Indian manned capsule which is expected to weigh up to 4 tonnes is being planned to be launched by means of the heavy lift-off GSLV (MK-III) vehicle

Read more at: Merinews

DARPA Scraps Plan To Launch Small Sats from F-15 Fighter Jet

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has scrapped plans to launch small satellites from a modified F-15 fighter jet after two tests of a new rocket fuel ended in explosions this year.

Instead DARPA will spend the next year studying how to harness the volatile nitrous oxide-acetylene propellant and, in parallel, modifications to existing small rockets that would enable the agency place small satellites on orbit on 24 hours notice at a cost of less than $1 million.

In March 2014, Boeing Defense Space and Security of Huntington Beach, California, won a contract potentially worth $104 million to build and demonstrate the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) system. The program was intended to demonstrate the capability to launch up to 45 kilograms of payload into low Earth orbit on short notice for as little as $1 million.

Read more at: Space News

Space Tech Meets Aviation: The Hypersonic Revolution

London to Melbourne in 90 minutes? Paris to San Francisco in under an hour? That’s travel at 25 times the speed of sound — or barely enough time to take in an in-flight movie.

Few areas of aviation generate wilder predictions than hypersonic flight — but a team in Germany might just have cracked it. Hypersonic means speeds of Mach 5 or over, or more than five times the speed of sound. Supersonic is Mach 1, or the speed of sound. Since the withdrawal of the Concorde in 2003, commercial aviation has remained purely subsonic, but that could change in the coming decades.

Take new aircraft concepts like the Japanese HYTEX, capable of speeds of Mach 5, or the European Lapcat-II, expected to reach Mach 8. Then there’s the nascent space tourism industry, with companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace hoping to take a select few on leisure trips to the edge of space. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are taking their own approach. A team has applied space technology principles to propose what is possibly the world’s most advanced hypersonic airliner concept to date.

Read more at: CNN

Mission Space Food: Sugar-growing Bacteria go into Orbit

Matt Damon’s character in The Martian has to grow potatoes in his own faeces to survive on Mars. But there may be more appealing ways to make food in space, like using bacteria to make chemicals we can eat, such as sugar. “The first pilgrims who came to the Americas didn’t bring all their food for the rest of their lives,” says Lynn Rothschild of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “You need to live off the land.”

The idea is now set to be put to the test in space for the first time. Genetically modified bacteria will be sent up on a German satellite in 2017 to see if they can survive the launch and cosmic radiation, and function under reduced gravity.

The satellite will spin for six months at a speed that simulates Martian gravity, which is one-third that on Earth. It will also test the same bacteria under lunar and zero gravity, to see if they could function on the moon or a space station.

The sugar could be turned into not only food, but also fuel. And bacteria could also be engineered to make drugs and building materials (see “Bacterial origami“), slashing a spacecraft’s payload. “Launching things against Earth gravity is extremely expensive. This is the obvious way to break through the problem of ‘upmass’,” Rothschild says. The linchpin is a type of plankton called Anabaena, which uses photosynthesis to make sugars from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight.

Read more at: New Scientist

US Space Rocket Debris Found in Sea off Scilly

A large chunk of an American space rocket has been found in the sea off the Isles of Scilly. The section of the spacecraft, measuring about 10m (32ft) by 4m (13ft), was spotted on the surface between Bryher and Tresco. Coastguards believe it is from the unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 which exploded after take-off in Florida in June.

However many astronomers believe it is from a different mission due to the size and markings. Local boatmen towed the section to Tresco where it has now been removed from the beach.

Read more at: BBC

International Space Station and Crew Awaiting Atlas 5 Launch of Cygnus

Lending a helping hand to resume the stalled U.S. supply chain to the International Space Station, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will send a commercial Cygnus cargo craft in pursuit of the outpost Thursday.

With Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket and the SpaceX Falcon 9 both grounded by failures, a pair of Atlas 5 boosters stand ready as gap-fillers to launch Cygnus vessels over the next 100 days from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX and Orbital ATK — the two providers under NASA’s privatized Commercial Resupply Services program that took over after retirement of the space shuttles — have been the conveyer belts to ferry cargo, food and new science experiments to the station from U.S. soil since 2012.

But the Antares failure in October 2014 and the Falcon mishap this past June left the station solely dependent on its international partners to carry out resupply in the interim.

Read more at: SpaceFlightNow

Loss of Carbon in Martian Atmosphere Explained

Mars is blanketed by a thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere — one that is far too thin to keep water from freezing or quickly evaporating. However, geological evidence has led scientists to conclude that ancient Mars was once a warmer, wetter place than it is today. To produce a more temperate climate, several researchers have suggested that the planet was once shrouded in a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere. For decades that left the question, “Where did all the carbon go?”

The solar wind stripped away much of Mars’ ancient atmosphere and is still removing tons of it every day. But scientists have been puzzled by why they haven’t found more carbon — in the form of carbonate — captured into Martian rocks. They have also sought to explain the ratio of heavier and lighter carbons in the modern Martian atmosphere.

Now a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena, offer an explanation of the “missing” carbon, in a paper published today by the journal Nature Communications.

Read more at: NASA JPL

Tim Peake Arrives in Baikonur on His Last Stop Before Space

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Roscosmos commander Yuri Malenchenko arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today ahead of their launch to the International Space Station. Set for launch on 15 December, the trio will visit their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft for the first time tomorrow.

The run-up to launch includes preparing experiments, numerous medical checkups and physical training, as well as reviewing plans for the six-hour flight to the Space Station.

During this time the astronauts will minimise contact with people to avoid falling ill and bringing unwanted bacteria or viruses to their colleagues in space. The three will spend almost six months in space working on weightless experiments and maintaining the Station as it circles Earth some 400 km up.

Read more at: ESA

British Technology Company to ‘Transform’ Air and Space Travel with Pioneering New Engine Design

For a small technology company trying to revolutionise low-cost commercial space travel, the sale of a minority stake to aerospace giant BAE Systems could turn out to be the defining moment in its quest. Its Sabre engines for commercial air travel can go from zero to five times the speed of sound, and up to 25 times the speed of sound for space travel.

Experts believe hypersonic air travel could enable people to one day journey anywhere in the world within four hours. At Reaction Engines, based in Oxfordshire, they think this could be a reality within 10 to 15 years.

However, before last month’s deal, Reaction was a highly respected research business, but with limited funding had been effectively stuck as a start-up since its foundation in 1989. Now, with the backing of a major strategic partner, the 75-employee company and its team of rocket scientists should be course to expand their orbit. With BAE’s backing and an additional government funding commitment of £60m, Reaction will be able to move to the next critical engineering development stage, while remaining an independent company.

Read more at: Telegraph

NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne Restart RS-25 Production For SLS

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc., was awarded a contract by NASA to restart production of the RS-25 engine for the Space Launch System.

“SLS is America’s next generation heavy lift system,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “This is the rocket that will enable humans to leave low Earth orbit and travel deeper into the solar system, eventually taking humans to Mars.”

The $1.16 billion contract, which runs from November 2015 through Sept. 30, 2024, is to restart the production line for the RS-25 engine. These production lines have been significantly improved and made more efficient since the retirement of the space shuttle program.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for the RS-25, and four of these engines will fly on the bottom of the core stage of the SLS rocket, together producing more than two million pounds of thrust.

Read more at: Spaceref

SAGE III Leaves Langley for Journey to ISS

An autonomous, Earth-observing, ozone-measuring instrument is taking its first steps toward a new home in space. Thursday evening, the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III on the International Space Station, or SAGE III on ISS, rolled out of the gates at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, aboard a specially outfitted delivery truck.

It traveled south toward NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it is scheduled to blast into orbit next year aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SAGE III has an important job to do. The project will give NASA a new way to monitor Earth’s protective ozone layer and document its ongoing recovery.

Read more at: SpaceDaily

Make Mine a Double-shot, Zero-G Espresso

Sometimes the little things in life can make all the difference — and when you are in orbit above the planet Earth, like the crew aboard the International Space Station, this is especially true. Did you know that astronauts are accustomed to drinking beverages from bags due to safety concerns over spillage? So you can imagine how six funky-looking cups crafted from a 3-D printed transparent polymer are making spending time in space a more enjoyable experience.

Astronauts’ responses when testing out the cups so far range from “Hey, you can smell the coffee,” to “This is eerily like drinking on Earth.” Or the cup simply elicits happy eruptions of laughter because the astronauts readily confess they hadn’t expected it to work.

Last year, it was big news when Italy sent an espresso machine up to the Space Station for Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian European Space Agency astronaut. This, of course, inspired a team of researchers to study the related strange fluids phenomena in low gravity — such as espresso crema formation and settling, capillary interfaces, and containment of potentially hazardous drinks within a spacecraft.

To do this, the researchers designed a cup that exploits surface tension as opposed to gravity and, during the American Physical Society’s 68th Annual Meeting of the Division of Fluid Dynamics, Nov. 22-24, 2015, in Boston, Mass., they’ll present their findings about how it’s working out aboard the Space Station.

Read more at: SpaceDaily

NASA Upgrades Orion’s Thermal Protection System for Next Mission

When it comes to spacecraft endurance, NASA’s Orion takes the cake, in terms of withstanding hot and cold temperatures in the process of going in and out of space.

Now, in a bid to bolster its efforts to prepare humans for deeper space missions, NASA engineers have refined the key thermal protection system of Orion — new exploration spacecraft designed to ferry astronauts to asteroid and Mars. Therefore, enhancing the overall system in advance of the spacecraft’s next mission – a flight that will put Orion through the harshest set of conditions yet, is NASA’s latest mission.

According to NASA, Orion’s thermal protection system is one of the most critical parts of the spacecraft and is responsible for protecting it and the future astronauts it will carry home from deep space destinations. It consists of the spacecraft’s main heat shield that faces into the atmosphere on re-entry to slow the spaceship down and also the grid of tiles known as the back shell. During Orion’s next mission atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the spacecraft will be in space for more than three weeks and return to Earth under even faster and hotter conditions than during its last flight.

Read more at: Zee News

Long-Lost Lander: Researchers Hunting for Soviet Moon Probe Luna 9

The search is on for the former Soviet Union’s Luna 9 moon probe, which made history’s first-ever successful soft landing on a body beyond Earth.

Luna 9 made it to the moon on Feb. 3, 1966, and shortly thereafter beamed home the first images taken from the lunar surface. When pieced together, those pictures offered a panoramic view of the moon’s bleak terrain and the horizon less than a mile away.

Now, nearly a half-century later, researchers are using NASA’s sharp-eyed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in an attempt to locate the final resting place of Luna 9, which is less than 2 feet (0.6 meters) wide and weighed about 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) back on Earth. (The spherical probe weighs about 37 lbs. [17 kg] in the moon’s low-gravity environment, though the craft’s mass remains constant everywhere.)

Read more at: Space.com

Milestone in Predicting Solar Flares

An international team of researchers, led by Queen’s University Belfast, has devised a high-precision method of examining magnetic fields in the Sun’s atmosphere, representing a significant leap forward in the investigation of solar flares and potentially catastrophic ‘space weather’.

Solar flares are massive explosions of energy in the Sun’s atmosphere. Experts have warned that even a single ‘monster’ solar flare could cause up to $2 trillion worth of damage on Earth, including the loss of satellites and electricity grids, as well the potential knock-on dangers to human life and health. A key goal of the $300 million Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), which will be the largest solar telescope in the world when construction is finished in 2019 on the Pacific island of Maui, is the measurement of magnetic fields in the outer regions of the Sun’s atmosphere.

Read more at: ScienceDaily

China’s New Hypersonic Weapon Capable of Defeating US Air Defense System

China successfully conducted a sixth flight test of its DF-ZF (previously known as WU-14) hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) designed to defeat US missile defenses. “The DF-ZF is an ultra-high-speed missile allegedly capable of penetrating US air defense systems based on interceptor missiles,” Bill Gertz of The Washington Free Beacon wrote.

“The DF-ZF flight was tracked by US intelligence agencies and flew at speeds beyond Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound,” Gertz noted. The DF-ZF HGV warhead is carried to the boundary between space and Earth’s atmosphere, roughly 100 km above the ground, by a ballistic missile booster.

Read more at: Sputnik News