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UKSA and Rolls-Royce to study nuclear-powered space travel
by Paul Hill
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) and Rolls-Royce have signed a research contract that will bring the two together to investigate nuclear energy as a source for deeper space exploration. UKSA said that nuclear is a plentiful source of energy that could propel spacecraft at huge speeds which could “revolutionise” space travel.
In terms of results, nuclear propulsion is expected to be twice as efficient as chemical engines which are in use today and a trip to Mars could be cut in half and take just three to four months. According to the government, the new agreement will also generate skilled employment across the country.
Commenting on the partnership, UKSA Chief Executive Dr Graham Turnock said:
Aside from faster travel, nuclear propulsion would help cut astronauts’ dosage of radiation that they get hit with when in space. UKSA said that the longer you spend in space, the greater the amount of radiation that you’re exposed to so faster journeys would mean less radiation exposure.
In the outer Solar System, the sunlight is too dim to power solar panels and fuel cells are not a reliable store of energy according to UKSA. Using nuclear power, therefore, would help to enable more missions in the outer Solar System.
By Ather Fawaz
"Mars, here we come!!" exclaims Elon Musk despite explosive ending to Starship's test flight
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Trevor Mahlmann (YouTube) The Starship initiative by SpaceX is meant to make spaceflights to Mars a reality. After a scrubbed launch yesterday courtesy of an auto-abort procedure in the Starship's Raptor engines, once again, SpaceX geared up for a re-run of the test a few hours back. This time, Starship SN8 successfully took flight from its test site in Boca Chica, Texas. A trimmed version of the complete event is embedded below from Trevor Mahlmann's YouTube channel.
Compared to the scrubbed launch, things went better on this one, but not entirely. The gargantuan 160-feet tall rocket, propelled by three Raptor engines, took flight, and intended to rise to a height of 41,000 ft (12,500 m). SpaceX founder Elon Musk called the ascent a success, but it's not clear whether the rocket reached its intended altitude. Nevertheless, after reaching its highest point, the rocket began its journey back to its earthly test site.
Image via Trevor Mahlmann (YouTube) The SN8 prototype performed a spectacular mid-air flipping maneuver to set itself on course to land vertically back to the earth—a feat we've all grown accustomed to seeing with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. The SN8 executed the landing flip successfully, and SpaceX tweeted a closer look at the event as it happened. Impressively, SpaceX claimed that by doing so, the SN8 became the largest spacecraft to perform a landing maneuver of this sort.
But as the rocket prepared to touch down and its boosters tried to slow down its descent to cushion the landing, the rocket's fuel header tank pressure got low. This caused the "touchdown velocity to be high & RUD," during the landing burn, Musk tweeted. Unfortunately, this meant that upon touchdown, the Starship SN8 prototype exploded into flames.
Image via SpaceX Livestream Notwithstanding the fiery, unfortunate event right at the final few moments, SpaceX and Musk hailed the test as a success. For the company, "SN8 did great! Even reaching apogee would’ve been great, so controlling all way to putting the crater in the right spot was epic!!" Musk tweeted, "We got all the data we needed. Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!", he continued; before following up with another tweet exclaiming "Mars, here we come!!"
Japan's asteroid return mission arrives on Earth
by Paul Hill
A Japanese space capsule carrying large quantities of rock from the asteroid Ryugu has landed back on Earth, more specifically, near Woomera in South Australia. According to BBC News, the capsule was captured on camera streaking across the sky before parachuting down to the ground. It was subsequently found at 19:47 UTC after it transmitted a beacon which was tracked from a helicopter.
The capsule which came back to Earth had been attached to the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft that originally collected the samples which weigh more than 100 grams. Hayabusa-2 detached the capsule at an altitude of around 200km. The capsule then came through the atmosphere with a fiery tail travelling at 11km/s before deploying its parachute and separating its heat shield. As it got closer to the Earth, a beacon began transmitting so that it could be found.
The 16kg capsule will undergo examination in Australia and then it’ll go to a JAXA facility in Sagamihara for further analysis and storage. The cargo that it’s carrying is significant because it will help scientists learn more about the history of the Solar System but also about asteroids like Ryugu.
Hayabusa-2 was launched on December 3, 2014, and rendezvoused with Ryugu on June 27, 2018. It spent about 18 months surveying the asteroid and took the samples. It began its return last November before arriving back several hours ago.
Source: JAXA via BBC News
UK set to help build space debris removal satellite
by Paul Hill
The UK government has announced a firm based in the UK will help build the Clearspace-1 satellite which aims to clear space debris. The satellite is jokingly called ‘The Claw’ and will begin its mission in 2025.
Once in space, The Claw will use a pincer motion to collect debris and then control it to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up. The debris that is sent into the atmosphere will be too small to make it through the atmosphere and pose a risk to life but if any does eke its way through there’s a very high likelihood it’ll end up in the sea.
According to the government, Elecnor Deimos in the UK will design Clearspace-1’s Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS), a vital part of the entity which helps to orientate and position the satellite to help grab space debris using power generators, thrusters, and antennas.
Commenting on the news, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:
The AOCS developed by Elecnor Deimos UK will be integrated into the satellite’s autopilot. Elecnor Deimos in Portugal and Germany are also developing parts of the satellite ready for the mission in 2025. As more and more satellites go into space, missions like Clearspace-1 become more and more necessary to avoid collisions.
By Ather Fawaz
Arianespace Vega rocket fails shortly after launch, Spanish and French satellites lost
by Ather Fawaz
Image via ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Arianespace, a European satellite launch company, lost its Vega rocket shortly after launch. The four-stage Vega rocket, jointly developed by France and Italy, lifted off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:52 PM EST (01:52 GMT, November 17), with two satellites onboard—one French and the other Spanish. Things appeared to go well in the initial stages of the flight but as the rocket neared the eight-minute mark, things started to go downhill as the rocket showed signs of going off-course. Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, later delivered the official statement, confirming that the mission is lost.
The problem, which is yet to identified, occurred shortly after the Vega rocket ignited its upper stage, and veered off course, indicating that the speed was not nominal anymore, apprised Israël. The rocket did not make its next expected contact with ground stations either.
The Vega 9 launch system had two satellites on board that it was expected to deploy. The first one was the Spanish Earth-watching satellite called SEOSAT-Ingenio, which came under the envelope of the European Space Agency's (ESA) plan to study our planet in greater detail. The second one was the French TARANIS satellite for the country's space Agency CNES. It was tasked to study visible-light flashes, including gamma-ray flashes, sprites, blue jets, and elves over the next four years.
"I want to present my deepest apologies to my customers for this mission," Israël continued. "Arianespace is presenting its apologies and we have now to analyze and to understand." This failed launch is Arianespace's second in the span of two years. The last one came last year in July in which another Vega rocket failed during the launch due to a faulty motor on the booster.
Whether this will be the case this time around as well, remains to be seen. Extrapolating from the loss of nominal speed, it seems that the upper stage did not produce the thrust required to keep the Vega on-course. But of course, we cannot say anything until the formal investigation committee passes a verdict on the incident and reveals its findings.
For the complete coverage of the event, you may check out this webcast from Arianespace.
Source: Arianespace (Livestream) via Space.com