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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
By Ather Fawaz
Elon Musk urges SpaceX to consider Starship as the top priority
by Ather Fawaz
After successfully completing Crew Dragon's maiden manned flight to the International Space Station, SpaceX now wants to shift gears and prioritize other projects. As picked up by CNBC, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, wrote a company-wide email urging employees to primarily focus on the Starship initiative henceforth.
Musk asked his employees to consider devoting "significant time” to accelerate progress "dramatically and immediately" on the project. “Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship,” he stated in the email.
Since day one, the Starship project has been SpaceX's bold initiative to make space travel and the inhabitation of other planets a tangible reality. While we are beyond Musk's initial planned window to put the iconic stainless steel rocket in orbit, that is not to say that the company has not been working on the project at all.
Back in April, SpaceX released a user guide for the Starship rocket encapsulating its various configurations, and claimed that the project is "expected to allow for space-based activities that have not been possible since the retirement of the Space Shuttle and Space Transportation System or have never been possible before."
Furthermore, SpaceX is regularly carrying out test runs of Starship's various prototypes. On May 30, despite the SN4 prototype's explosion on the test stand, preparations for testing the SN5 prototype at Boca Chica, Texas, are already underway.
By Ather Fawaz
SpaceX unveils a Users Guide for its Starship rocket
by Ather Fawaz
SpaceX just released a Users Guide for its giant Starship rocket. The document provides a terse overview of the rocket that is designed to transport people, payloads, satellites, and cargo to a variety of orbits and Earth, Lunar, or Martian landing sites.
After giving a brief overview of SpaceX and the program itself, the guide goes through payload configurations and mechanical interfaces. A comparison is drawn between crewed and uncrewed configurations. Specifically, Starship, in its current configuration, is able to "transport up to 100 people from Earth into LEO and on to the Moon and Mars."
Alongside these, the guide also dabbles in the specifics apropos Acoustics, Environments, Payload Separation and Cargo Configurations. Further, the guide states that Starship is "expected to allow for space-based activities that have not been possible since the retirement of the Space Shuttle and Space Transportation System or have never been possible before." One detail that is missing, however, is cost. How much a ticket to space onboard Starship will cost is still a question mark.
Lastly, SpaceX stated that it is open to suggestions and the conceptualization of new ideas. So for anyone who wants to chime in, they may send an email to the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.