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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!!"
By Ather Fawaz
NASA approves SpaceX and the Crew Dragon for regular crewed missions to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA/SpaceX It has been a big year so far for SpaceX. Back in May, its Crew Dragon spacecraft completed its first manned voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). With Elon Musk accrediting Starship as the top priority for the company, the famed project has also picked up pace. So has the Starlink initiative, with its recent expansion to include more beta customers. The firm is also gearing up for Dragon's second manned mission, Crew-1, to the ISS in a few days as well. Amidst all this, it has now finally gained NASA's approval that it has been striving towards with the Commercial Crew program.
The approval came after NASA signed the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system yesterday. The signing was completed after conducting a thorough flight readiness review ahead of the agency’s Crew-1 mission, with astronauts onboard, to the space station. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commended the success of the Commercial Crew Program and the achievements of both companies, stating:
The founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk marked it as an honor and a motivating force in the company's vision to make flights to the Moon and Mars a reality:
This is a milestone for both companies. For SpaceX, this system of the Crew Dragon plus the Falcon 9 rocket along with the associated ground systems is the first to be NASA-certified for regular manned flights since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. This obviously means that SpaceX's hefty investment in the Commercial Crew program has paid off. For NASA, this is the first time that the agency has certified a commercial spacecraft system in history that is capable of transporting humans to and from the ISS. This directly means that astronauts can regularly make trips to the ISS to and from American soil, which could be a vital step towards commercializing space flights.
SpaceX's Starlink internet beta expands to more customers, and it's expensive
by João Carrasqueira
SpaceX, the space exploration company owned by Elon Musk, has been working on its satellite-based internet service, Starlink, for a few years now, but it's taken some time for it to come to fruition. Today, the company is inviting customers to test the service in what it calls the "Better Than Nothing Beta", as reported by CNBC.
The name of the test program doesn't lie, and SpaceX is fairly upfront about what users are signing up for, telling users that it's "trying to lower" their initial expectations. The company says users can expect to see speeds varying from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency ranging from 20ms to 40ms over the next few months, as it continues to improve the system. At times, it's possible that service won't be available at all.
On top of the spotty internet service, the initial Starlink price is not for the faint of heart. Customers need to buy the Starlink kit to get set up, which includes a terminal to connect to the satellite network, a Wi-Fi router, and a mounting tripod. That costs $499, and on top of that, the service itself costs $99 per month. To help users get set up, a Starlink app is now available for Android and iOS, meant to help users find the best place to install the terminal, check for obstructions, and more.
Naturally, this isn't something that's meant for everyone to subscribe to just yet, and it remains to be seen how things will look when the service is fully available. On that note, the description for the app mentioned above says that this beta program will enable service in the United States and Canada this year, with near global coverage being attainable in 2021. Of course, that too is yet to be seen.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for Crew Dragon's second manned voyage to the ISS next month
by Ather Fawaz
SpaceX Crew-1. Image via SpaceX/NASA SpaceX and NASA are preparing to launch the Crew Dragon's second manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) next month. Dubbed Crew-1, the private spaceflight will be ferrying astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi to the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Weather permitting and barring unforeseen circumstances, the Crew Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT) on Saturday, November 15.
Although the companies planned to launch this mission back in August initially, they have faced numerous delays. Last week, NASA announced that they were considering a launch window sometime early to mid-November. November 15 falls within that period, and it will be less than six months after the Dragon's first voyage to the ISS back in May this year. The latest delay, NASA stated, was to provide "additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt".
Image via NASA Commercial Crew (Twitter) Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, 4 PM EDT, teams managing the Crew-1 mission will hold a media teleconference to get the media and the general public up to speed with what's in store for next month's launch. They will also be discussing results from the recent testing of Falcon 9 Merlin engines that have caused the latest delay. For those interested, you can join the live teleconference here.