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SpaceX launches record-breaking number of satellites
by Paul Hill
SpaceX successfully launched its Transporter-1 mission earlier today atop one of its Falcon 9 rockets. The mission is the first from the SmallSat Rideshare Program that lets organisations launch their satellites into different orbits for as low as $1,000,000. The mission broke records in terms of the number of satellites carried into space, the record was previously held by India which launched 104 satellites in 2017.
On today’s flight, SpaceX said there were 133 commercial and government spacecraft and 10 Starlink satellites. The commercial and government spacecraft consisted of CubeSats, microsats and orbital transfer vehicles while the Starlink satellites are the first of their kind to be going into a polar orbit which means they’ll pass over the North and South Poles each time they go around the Earth.
If you were not following along live, you can watch the entire mission as it happened below:
As with other SpaceX launches, the rocket’s first stage takes the satellites up so far before separating. After separating, the company said the first stage performed a flip manoeuvre, deployed the grid fans, made an entry burn and then underwent aerodynamic guidance before performing a vertical landing on a droneship which was sitting in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the company’s Rideshare page, it will be launching missions into Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) approximately every four months. As SpaceX continues to find more efficiencies in rocket launches it will be able to continue to drive down its already comparatively low satellite launch prices.
Japan agrees to provide important Lunar Gateway components
by Paul Hill
NASA and the Government of Japan have come to an agreement over the Lunar Gateway that will see the east Asian nation provide capabilities for the Gateway’s International Habitation module (I-Hab). The I-Hab is a key component of the modular space station as it includes life support capabilities and additional space where astronauts can live and work during Artemis missions.
According to the American space agency, JAXA’s planned contributions include I-Hab’s environmental control and life support system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components. Once developed, these parts will be integrated into the I-Hab module by the European Space Agency (ESA) which shows just how much of an international effort this new space station is.
Under a previous agreement between JAXA and Northrop Grumman, Japan will supply the batteries that’ll be used in Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Output (HALO) – the area of the station where astronauts will go first once arriving at Gateway. Japan has also decided to take a look at its HTV-X cargo resupply craft to see whether it can adapt it for use in Gateway logistics resupply missions.
Commenting on today’s partnership, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Dan Hartman said:
The Lunar Gateway, which is set to orbit the Moon, will begin launching in January 2024. Initially, the Power and Propulsion Element and the HALO modules will be launched and eventually will be joined many other modules. The I-Hab, which Japan is developing components for under today’s agreement is set for launch in 2026.
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 Abhay V
Major Flight Simulator update finally brings VR support, new locations, and a ton of fixes
by Abhay Venkatesh
As promised in last week’s development update, Microsoft has released Flight Simulator Sim Update 2, bringing new content, much-awaited support for VR, a ton of bug fixes, and other improvements. The update bears version number 184.108.40.206 and is rolling out to all users now.
The first of the content additions are 12 new “iconic landmarks” which feature festive holiday lights that the company wants users to discover. The firm urges users to tweet these locations when they find them, adding that it has added three bonus locations depending on the update served to users.
The other significant announcement today is the addition of support for VR. Users with OpenXR-compliant Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) can now play the game in a virtual reality setting by heading into the in-game menus and enabling the feature. As for other in-game additions, there are new Sam and Rufus liveries – from the holiday commercial – for the Aviat Pitts Special S2S, new Airbus A320neo training missions, free Aviators club livery for all airplanes, and much more.
Alongside the free content, the firm has fixed a multitude of bugs and performance issues across the simulator. These include overall game performance, UI and audio fixes, improvements to the ATC, and a huge list of fixes for airplanes. There are fixes for issues reported with copilot behavior, avionics, and other optimizations, which apply to all aircraft. There are also aircraft-specific fixes for General Aviation planes and Airliners.
Here is everything new that’s been added with Sim Update 2:
And here are the complete list of fixes and improvements:
There is, however, one known issue with the update:
Overall, the update is a welcome one for users and fans of the simulator, especially during the holidays. The fixes to all the aspects of the game should improve the sim experience for all users. The Redmond firm has also confirmed that it will be bringing Flight Simulator to the Xbox Series X | S next summer, so console gamers will have to wait longer.
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!!"