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Does Europa Have Plate Tectonics?
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Does Europa Have Plate Tectonics?

by Justin CowartSeptember 11, 2014

A paper published in Nature Geoscience on September 7 may hold the answer to a long-standing mystery regarding Europa’s icy shell.

(more…)

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Copenhagen Suborbital’s latest test writes off HEAT2X rocket
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Copenhagen Suborbital’s latest test writes off HEAT2X rocket

by AstroAggregatorSeptember 2, 2014

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…)

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Looking at Landforms on Churyumov-Gerasimenko
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Looking at Landforms on Churyumov-Gerasimenko

by Justin CowartAugust 15, 2014

After 10 years, Rosetta has arrived at Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its close-up views reveal an active world that harbors surprisingly complex terrain.

(more…)

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UK Spaceport: Square, vaporware pegs being forced into bodged regulation and square site holes
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UK Spaceport: Square, vaporware pegs being forced into bodged regulation and square site holes

by AstroAggregatorJuly 15, 2014

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.

(more…)

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Kristian von Bengtson leaves Copenhagen Suborbitals
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Kristian von Bengtson leaves Copenhagen Suborbitals

by AstroAggregatorFebruary 25, 2014

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

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University of Michigan crowdfunds cubesat plasma thruster experiment
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University of Michigan crowdfunds cubesat plasma thruster experiment

by AstroAggregatorDecember 21, 2013

The University of Michigan successfully crowdfunded their Cubesat Ambipolar Thruster on Kickstarter today, securing nearly $96,800 in funding.  According to the project lead, Ben Longmier, this funding will be enough to install a more finessed thruster design on the test cubesats that will result in greater efficiency and longer mission duration.

There has been a noticeable trend in recent years towards the technological development of small form factor satellites (Cubesats) and this kickstarter is apparently the next step of the process – taking those miniature satellites and turning them into miniature, affordable space probes able to take their instruments to other bodies by miniaturising plasma thruster technology.

Where the CAT diverges from existing plasma thruster designs is in the efficiency of producing thrust. A quick look at current plasma thrusters available for cubesats reveals that they are mainly about simply prolonging the life of a cubesat, periodically boosting the orbit to account for atmospheric drag. The ambipolar thruster also has the claimed advantage of being able to be developed to use water as a propellant – most plasma thrusters use relatively heavy mass elements like Xenon but using water down the line makes for a sustainable fuel that could also be mined from asteroids or other planets and moons.

So far the CAT has only been tested in a ground based vacuum chamber at the University of Michigan but this Kickstarter funding will provide the means to mount a CAT prototype to a cubesat and flight-validate the design with appropriate specialist instrumentation.

I have to admit that I’m not too solid on electric propulsion, but even I can see that this particular technology has certainly got some legs and bears watching closely in the future.

You can read more about the University of Michigan’s Cubesat Ambipolar Thruster either on the UoM website or their kickstarter page.

Image: Artists impression of a CAT-fitted cubesat under power. Image: UoM.

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