This is the Fuel NASA Needs to Make it to the Edge of the Solar System — and Beyond

Just in time for the new year, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have unveiled the fruits of a different kind of energy research: For the first time in nearly three decades, they’ve produced a special fuel that scientists hope will power the future exploration of deep space.

The fuel, known as plutonium-238, is a radioactive isotope of plutonium that’s been used in several types of NASA missions to date, including the New Horizons mission, which reached Pluto earlier in 2015. While spacecraft can typically use solar energy to power themselves if they stick relatively close to Earth, missions that travel farther out in the solar system — where the sun’s radiation becomes more faint — require fuel to keep themselves moving.

Read more at: Washington Post

Lunar Leap: Europe is Reaching for a Moon Base by the 2030s

There is growing interest in Europe to prioritize the moon as humanity’s next deep-space destination.

The moon, supporters say, can serve as a springboard to push the human exploration of the solar system, with Mars as the horizon goal. So Europe is ratcheting up what it sees as the strategic significance of the moon by pushing forward on lunar-exploration missions that would involve both humans and robots.

Calling the effort a “comeback to the moon,” European space planners envision a series of human missions to the lunar vicinity starting in the early 2020s. Those missions, according to the plan, will include coordination between astronauts and robotic systems on the lunar surface. Robots would land first, paving the way for human explorers to set foot on the moon later.

Read more at: Space.com

Congress wants NASA to Build a Deep Space Habitat

NASA received $55 million from Congress to develop living quarters for future missions into deep space.

The 2016 government appropriations bill supports the space agency’s efforts to develop a habitation augmentation module, Space News reports. NASA intends to develop a more comfortable living facility for astronauts who will embark on long journeys into deep space, specifically Mars, where officials hope to go in the 2030s.

“NASA shall develop a prototype deep space habitation module within the advanced exploration systems program no later than 2018,” a report accompanying the spending bill says.

Read more at: Time

Analysts: More Problems Ahead for Russian Space Agency

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin liquidated the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, on Monday — and replaced it with a state corporation, still called Roscosmos. The plan, to take effect January 1, was decided a year ago following a series of embarrassing rocket failures and high-profile corruption.

Russia lost a defense satellite Dec. 5, 2015, when the satellite failed to separate from a Soyuz rocket. A failed Russian Proton rocket launch in May resulted in the loss of a Mexican communications satellite. Another Soyuz rocket breakdown in April failed to deliver cargo supplies to the International Space Station.

Read more at: Voa News

Reaction Engines Ltd has appointed Chris Allam of BAE Systems as a Board Director

The Board of Reaction Engines Ltd is pleased to announce the appointment of Chris Allam, Engineering Director at BAE Systems, as a Director of the Company. His appointment is part of the strategic investment and working partner relationship BAE Systems has entered into with Reaction Engines and he will co-ordinate BAE Systems’ collaboration on Reaction Engines’ development of its SABRE™ engine.

Chris Allam has been Engineering Director of BAE Systems’ Military Air & Information (MAI) business and a member of the MAI Board since 2013. In this role he is responsible for leadership and governance of all Engineering and Project Management activity within BAE Systems’ military aerospace business. Previous roles within BAE Systems include Senior Vice President of F-35 Lightning II (2011), Managing Director of Autonomous Systems and Future Capability (2008), and Project Director for Unmanned Air Vehicles within BAE Systems’ Future Systems division (2006).

Nigel McNair Scott, Chairman of Reaction Engines Ltd, commented: “I am delighted to welcome Chris Allam to the Board. His significant contributions to the Aerospace industry throughout his career make him an excellent choice, and we look forward to benefiting from his insight and experience as the company embarks on the next phase of its journey to demonstrate the SABRE engine.”

Source: Spaceref

Light Show in Las Vegas Skies – Soyuz Rocket Stage Burns Up Over United States

Just days after the blazing re-entry of the rocket from the launch of a three-man crew to the International Space Station dazzled observers in Newfoundland and Labrador, another Soyuz rocket stage was spotted re-entering over North America. The fiery demise of the Block I third stage from this week’s Progress MS cargo craft launch was seen around 2:10 UTC on Wednesday from the west coast of the United States with sightings confirmed from California, Nevada and Arizona.

Soyuz Block I rocket stages are often seen re-entering the atmosphere because of the rapid launch rate of the Russian workhorse, having made 16 launches this year, and due to the fact that these rocket bodies often end up in short-lived orbits, especially for crewed Soyuz missions and Progress cargo flights to ISS.

Read more at: SpaceFlight101

SpaceX’s Historic Landing Excites the Space Coast

Rick Littlefield sees all kinds of tourists as he drives them around Port Canaveral as part of the Cove Hopper tour. On Tuesday, there’s one big topic of conversation hard to ignore. “They’re saying they’ve never seen something so spectacular,” said Littlefield.

Sure, there was a beautiful nighttime rocket launch. But what they’re talking about is the landing. A rocket booster engine ignited, just seconds before slowly and gently landing at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was seen by countless crowds around the area, including Littlefield from his Cape Canaveral condo. “It was just amazing to see the booster come back and land,” he smiled.

It’s something never accomplished during a space mission. Blue Origin landed a rocket last month in Texas, but that was during a test flight, not an actual mission.

Read more at: Mynews13

First Launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome to be Set After Testing

The date of the first space launch from Russia’s Far East Vostochny Cosmodrome will be set once all tests are completed, a source in the Russian space agency Roscosmos said Thursday.

Earlier in the day, head of the Russian Progress research and manufacture space center Aleksandr Kirilin said that a Soyuz launch vehicle would be used in the launch from Vostochny on April 25, 2016.

“The date of the first launch [from] the Vostochny Cosmodrome, [currently] under construction, will be determined only after independent and complex tests have been completed,” the source told reporters.

Read more at: Space Daily

South Korea to Launch Lunar Exploration in 2016, Land Vessel by 2020

South Korea plans to launch a lunar exploration project next year with a 2020 timeframe of landing a lunar vessel, the country’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning said as quoted by local media

The ministry has earmarked an equivalent of over $17 million in 2016 for the $169-million project, according to the Yonhap news service. The project’s first 2016-2018 stage envisions sending an orbiter to the moon, followed by a landing vessel with an independently developed launch vehicle under the second phase.

Read more at: Sputnik News

Russia, India Agree to Boost Cooperation in Space Exploration

Russia and India have affirmed common dedication to further collaborate in developing space exploration, rocket manufacture and engine manufacture, according to a joint statement published Thursday following talks between the two countries’ leaders.

Earlier in the day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow. The sides positively assessed the June 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

The memorandum deals with developing cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including satellite navigation, human spaceflight program technologies and launch vehicle development. The memorandum is notable for being signed on the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first Indian satellite by a Soviet rocket, according to the statement.

Read more at: Space Daily

UK Astronaut Calls Wrong Number from International Space Station

Anyone can dial a wrong number, but it’s not often done from outer space.

British astronaut Tim Peake tweeted an apology on Christmas Day from the International Space Station after calling a wrong number.

He wrote “I’d like to apologize to the lady I just called by mistake saying ‘Hello, is this planet Earth?’ – not a prank call – just a wrong number!” The 43-year-old former army helicopter pilot did not say who he was calling.

Millions of Britons have been following his mission closely since he became Britain’s first publicly funded astronaut and the first Briton to visit the space station.

Read more at: Mynews13

Probing Mars, Charging Cars

Engineers developing a drill for probing Mars, the Moon and asteroids have created the world’s first portable charger to power up electric cars anywhere, anytime.

Drawing on the same voltage as a vacuum cleaner, the charger can be plugged into any household socket without blowing a fuse. The key lies in the tiny transformer, similar to the box on your laptop cable, which converts power from the grid to maintain a stable supply and cut charging times.

Norwegian company Zaptec are also developing a space drill under ESA funding, with the transformer powering a plasma drill for slicing through rock.

Read more at: ESA

Spectacular Polar Stratospheric Clouds Lighting Up Norway Skies

Auroras are famous for their beauty — but a lesser-known, though equally amazing, northern phenomenon has been taking place recently. Spectacular photos have emerged of polar stratospheric clouds (PSC) over Tromso skies in Norway.

The area is currently experiencing 24-hour darkness due to the polar nights currently taking place within the northern polar circles. “Here the sun is gone for now, but this beautiful view makes the winter darkness nice to be in as well,” he said.

The clouds are formed in the stratosphere, a layer of the atmosphere above where normal clouds are formed and where the surrounding air is colder, typically reaching about -85 degrees Celsius.

Read more at: ABC

China Launches Eagle-Eyed Satellite to Stare Down at Earth

China launched a high-altitude satellite Monday fitted with a powerful telescope to collect nearly continuous imagery of the Asia-Pacific from geostationary orbit, an apparently unique capability that could help track foreign naval activity, according to Chinese news reports.

The Gaofen 4 spacecraft lifted off at 1604 GMT (11:04 a.m. EST) Monday from the Xichang launch base in southwest China’s Sichuan province, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The 4.6-metric ton (10,141-pound) satellite flew into orbit on top of a Long March 3B rocket, reaching an oval-shaped transfer orbit about a half-hour after liftoff. U.S. military tracking data show the Gaofen 4 satellite in an orbit with a perigee, or low point, of about 200 kilometers (124 miles) and an apogee, or high point, of about 35,800 kilometers (22,245 miles), with a path inclined 23 degrees to the equator.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Watch 60 Years of Space Junk Accumulate in 1 Minute

Humans are messy, and not just here on Earth. Now, you can see all the junk we’ve launched into space for yourself with a data-driven animation created for the United Kingdom’s Royal Institution by Stuart Grey, an astronomer at University College London.

Read more at: Science magazine