Shots fired as SpaceX files against Blue Amazon’s patents for “Sea Landing of Launch Vehicles”
Last week Space X filed a dispute with the United States Patent Office against their rival’s patent for a powered vertical landing of rockets at sea, which forms a key part of Space X’s future plans.
Copenhagen Suborbital’s latest test writes off HEAT2X rocket
Everybody’s favourite amateur Danish rocket group had another engine test quite recently – while not everything went to plan, nobody could say it wasn’t spectacular. (more…)
Kerbal Space Program 0.24 Update Released!
The latest update of the award winning Kerbal Space Program adds a great deal of features to an already great game – we take a look at these additions and how they will force players to adapt.
UK Spaceport: Square, vaporware pegs being forced into bodged regulation and square site holes
Today the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority released (to great pre-released fanfare) a shortlist of sites being considered for the site of a UK spaceport. Unfortunately, I fear that this release is based much more on hype than solid capability. As the idea currently stands it is overtly speculative, based on designs that largely have yet to materialise, using a site that has yet to be chosen (while likely requiring large investment that hasn’t been announced yet) and requiring the formation of either dedicated government bodies and legislation, or the massive, rapid adaptation of existing ones.
Two Gliese 581 exoplanets revealed as data ghosts
A study released recently revealed that one of the most promising exoplanets discovered inside a nearby stars habitable zone might be no more than data ghosts caused by star activity.
Space X Receive FAA Approval to build Texas Spaceport
Everyone’s favourite space exploration company received approval from the FAA last week to build their own spaceport on the most south-eastern corner of Texas, just beyond the border with Mexico. (more…)
Space Telescopes Image Supernova in M82
In January a new supernova was spotted in the M82 galaxy – dubbed SN2014J is one of the closest supernovae to occur in the last couple of decades while active observation has been in effect. It is though to be a type Ia Supernova, formed when one of a pair of stars collapses into a white dwarf star which then accumulates material from its partner until enough materials has passed to the dwarf star for it to collapse in on itself – SN2014J is the closest type Ia supernova to occur since SN1972E whose observation forms much of the basis of understanding of type Ia supernovae.
NASA’s Spitzer infrared spectrum telescope took the main image on this article, comparing previous observation from 2005 to recent observations in the early-to-middle part of last month – although SN2014J peaked in intensity around January 31st.
Hubble also managed to get this snapshot of the new supernova, imaging M82 and SN2014J in the visible spectrum proving why Spitzer is such a great instrument with the view of M82 obscured by large wide bands of interstellar dust. Unfortunately this dust reduces the brightness of SN2014J by up to a point of magnitude so further observations are unlikely to be too helpful in defining the behaviour of Type 1a novae – but archive images from Hubble are being searched to see exactly what kind of stars formed SN2014J.
Images: NASA/JPL SST,HST.
Kristian von Bengtson leaves Copenhagen Suborbitals
In the last couple of days there has been a bit of a storm surrounding the Danish amateur rocket group as CS founder Kristian von Bengtson announced that he is leaving Copenhagen Suborbitals following an apparent division of opinion with co-founder Peter Madsen.
Copenhagen Suborbitals posted this statement on their website:
We are sad to announce that Kristian von Bengtson, one of the two founders of Copenhagen Suborbitals is leaving the project.
Together with Peter Madsen, Kristian started the project in 2008 and has since then been working full time leading the capsule development team and mission planning. Kristian and Peter are both very strong personalities, and over the past 6 years, it has been more difficult to overcome their differences in opinion.
“Peter and I have had 6 great years – but the way I have been treated lately is simply too much and as a result of that I have now decided to leave,” says Kristian von Bengtson.
Peter Madsen recognise(es) that he is to blame for Kristian’s decision to leave Copenhagen Suborbitals: “I’m fully aware that my temper is to blame for Kristian’s exit and I’m very sorry that it has come to this.”
Kristian von Bengtson will be deeply missed by all of us and the team will continue his work – trying to reach our goal to be the first non-profit and non-governmental organisation to put a human being into space.
Neither Kristian von Bengtson nor Peter Madsen have said exactly what the argument was about, but Madsen did say in his regular article on Ingenior.dk that some tensions have apparently been building for a while before this parting of the ways and that CS now faces one of its worst crises ever as the organisation transitions to a new structure. CS recently moved to a new site that also probably adds some complications.
However, there has been a trend over the past year of KvB resigning or offloading roles onto other people as the organisation expands.
So what does this mean now for Copehagen Suborbitals as a whole?
As the english-speaking face of Copenhagen Suborbitals, Kristian von Bengtson was the face of CS outside of Denmark, writing a regular column about the progress CS was making at Wired, one of the largest technology magazines on the internet. CS has a mission of making its information publicly available, but KvB made it publicly accessible in a way that could be explained to virtually anybody and with a platform on Wired to shout from he certainly spread the message far and wide. As the man responsible for designing the capsule that CS are relying on to take a man to space his work now needs to be divided up amongst the technical members of CS.
The danger now is that CS stalls for lack of leadership and interest as the vacuum created by KvB is filled by a new organisation and new public representative.
Image: Jens Dresling
Virgin’s Spaceship 2 goes higher than ever in latest test flight
Friday saw the latest test of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip 2, its third flight under power after 28 unpowered glide tests. During its flight on Friday SS2 reached Mach 1.4 after a 20 second burn of its hybrid rocket engine that boosted it to a total height of 71,000 ft.
This test was pretty good for Virgin – SS2 has never been this high before and some important new systems were tested. A new reflective coating on the tail booms designed to shield the fuselage from the intense heat produced during the rocket burn and an attitude control system for maneuvering in space were apparently successful – although Virgin restrained themselves very well, only saying that “all test objectives were met”.
You can see flight test footage in this video released by Virgin here:
Virgin is something of an outlier in terms of spaceflight development – other major players like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Orbital Sciences are focussed on getting commercial payloads into space about traditional rockets while Virgin is developing SpaceShip2 solely for passengers on suborbital flights as a form of space tourism.
Regardless, it is still a very impressive achievement.
International Space Station life extended to 2024
Good news, everyone! This week NASA announced that they plan to keep the International Space Station in operation until at least 2024.
Charles Boldren, the Administrator of NASA said in a statement that by keeping the International Space Station in orbit it will allow NASA and its commercial partners to shake out design issues and conduct research to solve problems that will be necessary for NASA’s manned missions to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030’s:
First, it will allow NASA to complete necessary research activities aboard the ISS in support of planned long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit—including our planned human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. NASA has determined that research on ISS is necessary to mitigate fully 21 of the 32 human-health risks anticipated on long-duration missions. A related critical function of ISS is testing the technologies and spacecraft systems necessary for humans to safely and productively operate in deep space. Extending ISS until 2024 will give us the necessary time to bring these systems to maturity.
Second, ISS extension will extend the broader flow of societal benefits from research on the Station. Research conducted on the ISS has already resulted in a number of discoveries with significant medical and industrial implications. Medical examples include potential vaccines for Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and a microencapsulation technique for delivering cancer treatment drugs to tumors without affecting healthy cells. Additionally, technologies advanced by the ISS have led to robotic surgical techniques that are opening the door to successful removal of tumors that were previously considered inoperable.
A further benefit of ISS extension is it will give NASA and its private-sector partners time to more fully transition to the commercial space industry the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit, allowing NASA to continue to increase its focus on developing the next-generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule necessary for deep-space exploration.
We’ve already seen some of these private sector partners take great strides in the last year – Space X’s Dragon and Orbital Science’s Cygnus have both made trips to the International Space Station carrying supplies. Space X in particular has its audience on tenterhooks with its big plans for vertical recovery of reusable launch vehicles.
Russia’s space agency, ROSCOSMOS, has previously announced plans to build their own space station in orbit, dubbed OPSEK or Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex. Its initial construction is intended to consist of russian modules salvaged when the ISS is decommissioned. ROSCOSMOS has not yet released a statement regarding this news and what this means for the proposed OPSEK station.
PocketQube micro-satellite shop set to go live
We recently covered some interesting news in the world of Cubesats, but did you know there’s an even smaller micro-satellite platform called a PocketQube? It was news to me, too. But I guess its also an inevitable development as the progress of miniaturisation of components marches on.
Small satellites are something of a zeitgeist at present – smaller satellites cost less to build, less to launch and they allow individuals (albeit individuals with surprisingly deep pockets) access to space with technology that while not bleeding edge is still at least part of the sword.
The Cubesat standardised form factor is a cube 10cm on a side and weighing a max of 1 kilogram. A PocketQube is one-eighth of that – only 50mm on a side and a maximum mass of 125g. They haven’t had that much exposure in the popular press compared to Cubesats, but I would imagine that this is all set to change due to advances in electronic miniaturisation. A couple have gone into space aboard the Russian Dnepr converted ICBM launch system like the $50sat pictured at the top of this page, a micro-satellite designed to test minaturised components for transmitting and receiving data from this new breed of tiny satellites.
They can also be very sophisticated despite their small size – this offering from Stadako UG, known as the WREN, has miniature pulsed plasma thrusters, reaction wheels and even has a camera that transmits images via slow scan TV (which is also a pretty cool Kerbal Space Program easter egg that Scott Manley does a great explanation of). It’s had a bit of a trouble life but if you’re an amateur ham radio operator you might be able to pick it up or even control it for a small stretch of time.
One of the people who wishes to be at the bleeding edge of PocketQube satellites is Tom Walkinshaw, a Glasgow-based entrepeneur who recently managed to fund his idea for a Pocketqube satellite component shop on Kickstarter. He’s not too far away from another satellite shop, Clyde Space, also based in Glasgow but only stocking Cubesat sized (and priced) components. Walkinshaw hopes that by launching the PocketQubeShop website on January 10th that virtually everybody from universities to the average guy in the street will be able to buy and launch a Pocketqube satellite for space based science experiments, comparing them to the rise of personal computers at home and in the workplace.
He makes a damn fine point – despite Cubesats being a lot cheaper than the full sized equivalent that would be launched by NASA, the military or a telecommunications company, they are still very expensive and generally out of reach to the average citizen or company. A simple 1U cubesat solar panel, for example, goes for about $2600 if it forms part of the side of the cube, or $5000 if its deployable (Clydespace). Not exactly an affordable prospect for the average citizen or a research organisation with a small budget.
Going for an even smaller form factor should mean smaller components and smaller power requirements which should mean they become a lot cheaper to build compared to Cubesats and as a smaller mass they should cost a lot less to launch to orbit which to date has always formed the majority cost of Cubesats. Tom claims the costs could be as small as 1/6th (for a IP 50x50x50mm cube) to 1/3rd (for a 2.5P 153x50x50mm cuboid) as launching a single 1U cubesat to orbit.
As an example he models a 1P Pocketqube as costing about $20,000 to get to orbit which is about £12,200 at the moment. Its still a big chunk of money, but compared to the Cubesat solar panels mentioned earlier you could either have a tiny 1P Pocketcube in space – or you could have a small pile of 1U Cubesat components sitting on your desk.
Given the current trends in small space technology, I believe that Tom stands a good chance with the PocketQube form factor being an attractive option for small satellite builders who want to go to space efficiently and economically.
Tom’s PocketQubeShop.com will open for business on January 10th, but you can follow him in the meantime at @PocketQubeShop.
Featured Image : The $50sat 1 .5U PocketQube satellite compared to a hand radio.