Putting Astronauts on Mars: NASA Lays Out Three-Phase PlanThe path to Mars goes through the moon — or the region of space near the moon, anyway.
NASA aims to put boots on Mars in the 2030s after first gathering human-spaceflight experience and expertise in low Earth orbit and the "proving ground" of cis-lunar space near the moon.
NASA has been working on this three-stage path to the Red Planet for some time, and the space agency lays out the basic plan in a 36-page report called "Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration," which was released Thursday (Oct. 8).
Surprise! Pluto Has Blue Skies (Photo)The more scientists learn about Pluto, the more interesting the dwarf planet gets.
During its historic flyby of Pluto this past July, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft discovered towering ice mountains and vast glaciers on the frigid body. And now, flyby images recently beamed home by New Horizons reveal that the faraway dwarf planet has blue skies similar to those of Earth.
"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?" New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement today (Oct. 8). The Kuiper Belt is the ring of icy bodies that lies beyond Neptune's orbit. "It's glorious."
Private Dream Chaser Space Plane Poised for New Flight Tests in 2016LAS CRUCES, New Mexico – A space plane that would continue the legacy of NASA's shuttle program is getting ready for a second stage of flight testing, according to representatives from the Sierra Nevada Corp.
At a gathering of the top leaders and innovators in the commercial spaceflight industry here yesterday (Oct. 7), Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada's space systems division, discussed the status of the two "Dream Chaser" space planes, which could one day fly astronauts or cargo to the International Space Station or other destinations. The vehicle will begin its second stage of testing at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in early 2016. The NASA research center is located in the Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.
A video of Dream Chaser's cargo ship role released in March offers a simulation of what the reusable space plane could be capable of. It shows the vehicle — which can operate with a human pilot or autonomously — hitching a ride on a large rocket, then unfurling itself when it reaches space. From there, the vehicle can rendezvous with the space station.
Blast-Off! US Spysat and Cubesats Launch Aboard Atlas V RocketThe United Launch Alliance rocket launched the NROL-55 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Oct. 8th, 2015 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 13 NRO's GRACE (Government Rideshare Advanced Concepts Experiment) cubesats also flew to orbit on the rocket.
Water on Mars: Exploration & EvidenceLiquid water may still flow on Mars, but that doesn't mean it's easy to spot. The search for water on the Red Planet has taken more than 15 years to turn up definitive signs that liquid flows on the surface today. In the past, however, rivers and oceans may have covered the land. Where did all of the liquid water go? Why? How much of it still remains?
Observations of the Red Planet indicate that rivers and oceans may have been prominent features in its early history. Billions of years ago, Mars was a warm and wet world that could have supported microbial life in some regions. But the planet is smaller than Earth, with less gravity and a thinner atmosphere. Over time, as liquid water evaporated, more and more of it escaped into space, allowing less to fall back to the surface of the planet.
Where is the water today?Liquid water appears to flow from some steep, relatively warm slopes on the Martian surface. First identified in 2011, features known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) were confirmed to be signs of salty water running on the surface of the planet today. The dark streaks appear seasonally on Martian slopes were found in images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Spectral analysis of RSL lead scientists to conclude they are caused by salty liquid water.
Blue Origin Reaches Milestone in BE-4 Rocket Engine DevelopmentWASHINGTON — Blue Origin said Sept. 30 that it has completed more than 100 developmental tests of its BE-4 engine, which the company is building both for United Launch Alliance and its own vehicle.
The company said in a statement that the staged-combustion tests, performed at the company's test site in West Texas, provided "measurable performance data" about the engine for its upcoming critical design review. That data covered various elements of the engine's design and its manufacturing techniques, including the use of 3-D printing.
"We tested a number of injector element designs and chamber lengths at a variety of operational conditions," said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, in the statement. "Rigorous component testing ahead of full-engine testing significantly increases confidence in the development schedule and projected performance.”
World View's Balloon-Based Space Tourism to Lift Off in 2017TUCSON, Arizona — A new type of space tourism is set to lift off two years from now, without the aid of a rocket.
Arizona-based World View Enterprises aims to start launching paying customers to the stratosphere in 2017 beneath a giant balloon, for $75,000 per seat. Passengers will spend two hours at an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,500 meters), where they'll be able to see the blackness of space and the curvature of Earth, company representatives say.
"I hear a lot of people say this: 'I don't want to have lived my entire life on this planet and never really seen it,'" World View chief technology officer Taber MacCallum told Space.com late last month here at the company's headquarters near Tucson International Airport.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — SpaceX expects to complete its final report on the June 28 failure of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle within a month, but does not yet have a firm timetable for resuming flights, a company official said Oct. 8.
Josh Brost, a business development executive with SpaceX, said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight here that the final report on the failure should be delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration, which licensed the launch, “maybe in the next month.”
On that launch, of a Dragon cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station, the vehicle broke apart less than two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. In a July 20 briefing, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said a strut holding down a helium bottle inside a propellant tank in the rocket’s upper stage broke. That caused the tank to overpressurize and burst, destroying the vehicle.
PARIS — Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat, fresh from a surprise win of a U.S. Navy contract for a broad mix of satellite bandwidth, on Oct. 8 said it expects to surpass competitors SES and Intelsat in business volume with the U.S. government.
London-based Inmarsat said the U.S. military has been particularly hungry to use the company’s new Global Xpress Ka-band service, whose third satellite is expected to enter service in December over the Pacific Ocean region, giving Global Xpress a global reach.
Like other commercial satellite fleet owners, Inmarsat has seen its U.S. government revenue, mainly from the Department of Defense, decline with the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — An Israeli team participating in the Google Lunar X Prize competition has a contract to launch its spacecraft on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2017, the first launch contract officially confirmed by the prize’s organizers.
Tel Aviv-based SpaceIL announced Oct. 7 that it has a contract to fly its lunar lander as one of the primary payloads on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch purchased in September by Spaceflight Industries. That launch, which will carry about 20 other spacecraft, is scheduled for the second half of 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.