Rocket Lab’s first US launch: Big for the company and the site

Rocket Lab’s first US launch: Big for the company and the site

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Wallops Flight Center, VA — Off in the southwest, the last colors of sunset lit up the rim of the sky, as a crescent Moon and two planets lined up above. It was a gorgeous scene, but one that everyone was ignoring. Instead, all eyes were focused on a bright patch of artificial light on a barrier island a couple of miles away. The lights there were focused on a small, slender needle—small enough to be hauled to the launch pad by a pickup truck.

For years, the Electron rocket and the company behind it had been stuck in limbo at the Virginia launch site, waiting on various approvals—for regulatory agencies to share enough paperwork with each other to convince everyone that the launch was safe. Then weather and the end-of-year holidays kept pushing the launch back. But on Tuesday, everything went as smoothly as it is possible to imagine, and the Electron shot to orbit almost as soon as the launch window opened.

The launch is critical for Rocket Lab, which in some ways invested the future of the company in its Virginia operations. But it’s also critical for the launch site, which is billed as a spaceport but hasn’t seen much traffic leaving Earth.

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#commercial-space, #electron, #mars, #rocket-lab, #rockets, #science, #space, #wallops

NASA will join a military program to develop nuclear thermal propulsion

Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft.

Enlarge / Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft. (credit: DARPA)

Nearly three years ago, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its intent to develop a flyable nuclear thermal propulsion system. The goal was to develop more responsive control of spacecraft in Earth orbit, lunar orbit, and everywhere in between, giving the military greater operational freedom in these domains.

The military agency called this program a Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, or DRACO for short. The program consists of the development of two things: a nuclear fission reactor and a spacecraft to fly it. In 2021, DARPA awarded $22 million to General Atomics for the reactor and gave small grants of $2.9 million to Lockheed Martin and $2.5 million to Blue Origin for the spacecraft system.

At the same time, NASA was coming to realize that if it were really serious about sending humans to Mars one day, it would be good to have a faster and more fuel-efficient means of getting there. An influential report published in 2021 concluded that the space agency’s only realistic path to putting humans on Mars in the coming decades was using nuclear propulsion.

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#darpa, #draco, #nasa, #nuclear-thermal-propulsion, #science, #space

European launch chief insists there be no competition with Ariane rockets

A pathfinder version of the Ariane 6 rocket is seen at launch facilities in Kourou, French Guiana.

Enlarge / A pathfinder version of the Ariane 6 rocket is seen at launch facilities in Kourou, French Guiana. (credit: European Space Agency)

The development of a commercial launch industry in Europe lags behind the United States by about 10 or 15 years, but there are now about a dozen startups in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, and France building small rockets sometimes referred to as “microlaunchers.”

The European Space Agency and several of these nations have provided a modicum of support to these companies, often in the form of launch contracts worth a few million dollars. But so far, European space institutions have stopped short of assisting these commercial companies more substantially, as NASA did with the commercial cargo and crew programs for the International Space Station.

One reason for this is the entrenched launch monopoly in Europe, Arianespace. Owned by various aerospace suppliers across Europe, the Paris-based launch company markets and operates a small launcher in the form of the Vega C rocket and heavy-lift rockets in the form of the soon-to-be retired Ariane 5 and forthcoming Ariane 6 rocket.

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#ariane-6, #arianespace, #science, #space

SpaceX may perform a wet dress rehearsal of its Starship launch system today

A fully stacked Starship launch system is seen on January 9, 2023.

Enlarge / A fully stacked Starship launch system is seen on January 9, 2023. (credit: SpaceX)

After months of preparation, SpaceX is now approaching the critical test phase of its launch campaign for the massive Starship vehicle.

The company has evacuated nearby residents from the launch site in South Texas, near Boca Chica Beach, during the hours of 8 am CT (14:00 UTC) to 8 pm CT on Monday. If preparatory activities go well, the company will load both the Starship upper stage and Super Heavy booster with cryogenic methane and oxygen later today. The countdown will proceed toward liftoff but end just before the transfer of internal power to the launch vehicle.

There will be no engine ignition today. However this upper stage of this vehicle, Ship 24, previously underwent a successful static fire test of its six Raptor rocket engines on September 8, 2022. The first stage, Booster 7, has seen as many as 14 of its 33 Raptor engines test fired during activity back in November.

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#science, #space, #spacex, #starship

Rocket Report: SpaceX reaches ‘ludicrous’ cadence; ABL explains RS1 failure

A Falcon 9 rocket launches on Wednesday morning carrying a GPS III satellite into orbit.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches on Wednesday morning carrying a GPS III satellite into orbit. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 5.24 of the Rocket Report! I have a blurb about this below, but for me the news of the week is that SpaceX not only launched a Falcon Heavy rocket, but two other Falcon 9 missions on separate coasts as well in just five days. The operational challenges of this are immense and, I think, underappreciated outside of people directly involved in this kind of work.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

ABL updates on RS1 failure. On Wednesday ABL Space Systems provided an update on the January 10 failure of its RS1 launch vehicle. Long story short, the first stage of the vehicle suffered a “complete loss of power” at 10.87 seconds into flight, leading to a simultaneous shutdown of all nine of the vehicle’s main engines. The rocket impacted the ground about 20 meters from the launch site. “Approximately 95 percent of the vehicle total propellant mass was still onboard, creating an energetic explosion and over-pressure wave that caused damage to nearby equipment and facilities,” the company said.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

It looks like NASA will finally have an astronaut live in space for a full year

NASA's Frank Rubio is on track to become the first American astronaut to spend a full year in space.

Enlarge / NASA’s Frank Rubio is on track to become the first American astronaut to spend a full year in space. (credit: NASA)

Amid much fanfare, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned from space nearly seven years ago, landing on a barren, frozen steppe of Kazakhstan inside a hardy little Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA made much of this flight, billing it as the agency’s first year-long mission. PBS was among the broadcast television stations that did extended features on Kelly’s mission, its multi-episode series was titled “A year in space.” But the dirty little secret is that, due to the inevitable shuffling of schedules in spaceflight, Kelly and a Russia colleague, Mikhail Kornienko, spent 340 days in space rather than a full year of 365.25 days.

After Kelly’s mission, NASA health officials said they hoped to fly more one-year missions as they sought to better understand the biological effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans and how the agency might better mitigate bone loss and other deleterious effects.

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#frank-rubio, #nasa, #science, #space

From start to finish, Sunday’s Falcon Heavy launch delivered spectacular imagery

Photo of a Falcon Heavy launch and reentry.

Enlarge / A Falcon Heavy rocket launched about 10 minutes after sunset on Sunday from Florida. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

The Falcon Heavy rocket made its fifth launch in five years on Sunday evening from Florida. However, this was the first launch of the triple-core booster in twilight, and this rare evening light provided some spectacular new insights into the liftoff and return of the rocket.

This post-sunset lighting can be seen in the introductory image above, which showcases reddish hues bouncing off the white cores and upper stage. That color comes from the rocket gaining enough altitude to be in line of sight with the Sun.

Now the second-most powerful rocket in the world after NASA’s Space Launch System, the Falcon Heavy always puts on a great show, with its 27 Merlin engines firing at once. It holds the record for the rocket with the most first-stage engines to reach orbit—at least, it will until SpaceX’s Starship rocket flies later this year.

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#falcon-heavy, #science, #space

After a slow start, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is about to hit its stride

A Falcon Heavy rocket rolls to the launch pad on Saturday January 14 2023.

Enlarge / A Falcon Heavy rocket rolls to the launch pad on Saturday January 14 2023. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Nearly five years have passed since the massive Falcon Heavy rocket made its successful debut launch in February 2018. Since then, however, SpaceX’s heavy lift rocket has flown just three additional times.

Why? It’s partly because there is simply not all that much demand for a heavy lift rocket. Another factor is that SpaceX has increased the performance of its Falcon 9 rocket so much that it can complete a lot of the missions originally manifested on the Falcon Heavy. However the main reason for the low cadence has been due to a lack of readiness of payloads for the new rocket, particularly from the US Department of Defense.

But now this trickle of Falcon Heavy launches may turn into a flood. As early as Saturday, from Florida, the first of potentially five launches of the heavy lift rocket this year could take place.

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#falcon-heavy, #science, #space, #spacex

Rocket Report: Starship may actually be near liftoff; China’s copycat booster designs

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is seen on the launch pad on January 9, 2023, ahead of its second OneWeb launch.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is seen on the launch pad on January 9, 2023, ahead of its second OneWeb launch. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 5.23 of the Rocket Report! It has been a difficult week for rocket aficionados, with the back-to-back failure of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, and ABL Space’s RS1 vehicles, on Monday and Tuesday. I certainly hope both companies can find and fix the technical problems, and get into orbit soon.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin Orbit launch from UK fails to reach orbit. After the Cosmic Girl aircraft made a much-hyped takeoff from Cornwall, England, on Monday night, Virgin Orbit’s mission ended in failure when the second stage did not properly put its nine payloads into orbit. In a statement published on Thursday morning, Virgin Orbit provided a little bit more information about the failure: “At an altitude of approximately 180 km, the upper stage experienced an anomaly. This anomaly prematurely ended the first burn of the upper stage.”

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Russia will abandon Soyuz on orbit, fly up a new one to bring crew home

Three hours after the coolant leak was initially detected Wednesday night, it remained ongoing.

Enlarge / Three hours after the coolant leak was initially detected Wednesday night, it remained ongoing. (credit: NASA TV)

Four weeks ago, as two Russian cosmonauts were preparing to conduct a spacewalk, a Soyuz spacecraft attached to the International Space Station started to leak uncontrollably.

The spacewalk was canceled, and since then, Russian and US spaceflight engineers have been analyzing the cause of the leak and its implications for future travel to and from the large laboratory in low-Earth orbit. They have now deduced that a micrometeoroid or small piece of orbital debris struck the external cooling loop of the Soyuz spacecraft, causing all of its coolant to vent into space, and put a recovery plan into place.

Although there were no immediate threats to the seven astronauts on board the space station, there was the not-insignificant question of how the three people who had ridden on board this Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft into orbit— cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA’s Frank Rubio—would subsequently get home.

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#roscosmos, #science, #soyuz-ms-22, #space

Even before Monday’s launch failure, Virgin Orbit’s finances were dismal

Virgin Orbit was founded by Sir Richard Branson.

Enlarge / Virgin Orbit was founded by Sir Richard Branson. (credit: Virgin Orbit)

On Monday night Virgin Orbit’s attempt to launch a rocket from the United Kingdom failed after a problem with the rocket’s second-stage engine.

The US-based launch company did not provide any additional details about the cause of the accident, which led to the loss of nine small satellites on board. In the wake of the failure, officials sought to put a brave face on the mission’s outcome and Virgin Orbit’s future.

“We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process,” said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit’s chief executive officer, in a prepared statement.

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#science, #space, #virgin-orbit

Last year marked the end of an era in spaceflight—here’s what we’re watching next

Getting the Artemis I mission off the ground marked the end of an important development era for NASA.

Enlarge / Getting the Artemis I mission off the ground marked the end of an important development era for NASA. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

This past year was a momentous one in spaceflight, bringing to a close many of the most significant storylines that have dominated this industry in the last 10 to 15 years.

Consider the state of play in 2010: A handful of large government space agencies dominated spaceflight activities. NASA was still flying the venerable space shuttle with no clear plan for deep space exploration. The James Webb Space Telescope remained in development hell. Russia was the world’s dominant launch provider, putting as many rockets into space that year as the United States and China combined. At the time, China’s longest human spaceflight was four days. Much has changed in the last decade or so.

2022 was a watershed moment because so many of the major stories since 2010 reached their denouement. In this sense, it feels like the end of an era and the opening of a new one in spaceflight. This story, therefore, will look back at five of these major space storylines and then attempt to forecast what some of the dominant storylines for the remainder of the 2020s will be.

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#artemis, #features, #science, #space, #starship

Virgin Orbit says it is ready to make history in the United Kingdom tonight

The "Above the Clouds" mission launches in January 2022.

Enlarge / The “Above the Clouds” mission launches in January 2022. (credit: Virgin Orbit)

After years of working through a thicket of regulatory matters, Virgin Orbit says it is finally ready to fly its LauncherOne rocket from the United Kingdom.

If all goes well, the modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl aircraft will take off from a spaceport in Cornwall on Monday evening, with a launch opportunity at 5:16 pm ET (22:16 UTC) over the Atlantic Ocean. This “Start Me Up” mission, bound for low Earth orbit, will carry satellites from seven customers in both the United States and United Kingdom.

The air-launch mission has received considerable attention in the United Kingdom because it is being advertised as the first-ever orbital launch from the nation. It will, in fact, be the first orbital satellite launch from the UK or Western Europe. However, it will not be a vertical launch from UK soil. Spaceports capable of such launches are under construction in several locations around the nation but probably will not be ready for an orbital launch this year. And unlike British launch companies that aim to use those spaceports, Virgin Orbit’s technology was developed, built, and tested in the United States.

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#science, #space, #virgin-orbit

Blue Origin is developing a space tug for its New Glenn rocket

Blue Origin's concept art for a New Glenn rocket launch ascending to orbit.

Enlarge / Blue Origin’s concept art for a New Glenn rocket launch ascending to orbit. (credit: Blue Origin)

On Wednesday, the Washington-based space company Blue Origin posted a job opening for a position titled “Blue Ring Senior Program Manager.” However, the posting to the company’s Workday “Careers” page was taken down less than 24 hours later—perhaps because it contained details about an advanced program the company does not yet want to discuss publicly.

Asked about the short-lived post, a Blue Origin spokesperson told Ars on Friday that, “We’re updating the job requisition for this position.”

For now, the job posting remains live on LinkedIn. Although the requisition is now listed as “no longer accepting applications,” details about the job remain online. Intriguingly, the job posting states, “As the Program Manager, you will lead the development, manufacturing, and operations of a multi-mission, multi-orbit platform.”

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#blue-origin, #new-glenn, #science, #space

Rocket Report: “Crisis” for European launch industry; Japan’s H3 rocket nears debut

The Falcon 9 rocket first stage that launched the Transporter-6 mission returns to Earth on January 3, 2023.

Enlarge / The Falcon 9 rocket first stage that launched the Transporter-6 mission returns to Earth on January 3, 2023. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 5.22 of the Rocket Report, the first of the new year! I’m excited for what will happen in the world of launch in 2023, and expect that we will see the debut of a lot of big new rockets this year, including Japan’s H3, SpaceX’s Starship, and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. And there will be many small rockets. We’ll be here all year to follow it with you.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Vega rocket fails again. For the third time in its last eight flights, Europe’s Vega rocket failed a launch attempt in late December. The Vega vehicle was lost 150 seconds into its latest mission from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, the BBC reports, as it was carrying two French-built, high-resolution Earth imaging spacecraft into low Earth orbit. The failure puts further pressure on the European satellite sector, which no longer has use of Russian rockets and will see the retirement of the heavy-lift Ariane-5 launcher later this year.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

So long, Richard Shelby, and thanks for all the pork

Retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.

Enlarge / Retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. (credit: Scott J. Ferrell | Getty Images)

Every other year, luminaries of the air and space community gather in France for the famed Paris Air Show, the largest aerospace exhibition in the world. The show offers visitors the chance to see new technology and the opportunity to mix and mingle.

For the leaders of the largest and most powerful aerospace companies in the world, there is also an opportunity to kiss the ring. This would come on the one evening of the Paris Air Show, during which the Alabama legislative delegation rented out the top floor of the Eiffel Tower for a reception to host aerospace dignitaries.

The star attraction atop the historic tower was a US senator, Richard Shelby. The chief executives of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dynetics, and other industry firms would come to meet with Shelby, to see and be seen, and to show the state of Alabama the love. As chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee in the US Senate, Shelby’s voice was that of God when it came to funding US defense and civil space contracts.

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#richard-shelby, #science, #space

Space-based solar power hardware ready for actual testing in space

Image of a square framework attached to a collection of electronics.

Enlarge / The framework needed to deploy the hardware worked on Earth, so it’s time to test it in space. (credit: Caltech/Momentus)

Solar power has become the lowest-cost way to generate electricity on Earth. But building it on Earth places some significant limits on how much power it can generate, with the darkness and clouds that often get in the way. So there have always been a few people who liked the idea of putting solar panels where they could produce electricity around the clock: space.

While that would get you near-24/7 power production, it comes with a collection of very obvious drawbacks: high launch costs, inability to service the hardware, and the challenge of getting the power back down to where it’s needed. How these trade-offs play out in the energy marketplace has been difficult to determine, partly because the energy market is changing so rapidly, and partly because we don’t really know what the space-based solar hardware would look like.

Thanks to some funding from a private donor, however, California Institute of Technology researchers have quietly been working on developing the technology needed to get space-based solar to work. And they’re apparently ready to subject some test hardware to the rigors of space, thanks to this morning’s successful Falcon 9 launch.

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#caltech, #green, #renewable-power, #science, #solar-power, #space

After doubling launch record in 2022, can SpaceX take another step up in 2023?

One of SpaceX's 61 launches in the year 2022 was the CRS-25 supply mission for NASA to the International Space Station.

Enlarge / One of SpaceX’s 61 launches in the year 2022 was the CRS-25 supply mission for NASA to the International Space Station. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

On the penultimate day of 2022, SpaceX completed its final launch of the year, boosting an Israeli optical satellite into low Earth orbit. This was the company’s seventh launch in December and capped a year in which the Falcon family of rockets launched 61 times, all successful.

All but one of these missions flew on the Falcon 9 rocket, and more than 90 percent of these flights were on a previously used booster. The other launch took place on a Falcon Heavy. With these 61 flights, SpaceX tied a record set by the Soviet R-7 rocket, which in 1980 flew a combined 61 missions across its Soyuz, Molniya, and Vostok variants.

The Soviets accomplished this amid the Cold War, of course, with a large budget devoted to space surveillance and a massive government space program with tens of thousands of workers. SpaceX performed the same feat as a private company, flying both its Starlink satellites and a mix of missions for satellite companies and governmental space agencies. SpaceX also landed every first stage that attempted to return on a drone ship or landing site in 2022, for a total of 60 rockets, including two side-mounted boosters from the Falcon Heavy mission on November 1.

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#falcon-9, #science, #space, #spacex

Top US launch companies of 2022—The Ars Technica power ranking

A Falcon 9 rocket launches the OneWeb-1 mission to orbit on Dec. 8, 2022.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches the OneWeb-1 mission to orbit on Dec. 8, 2022. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

A decade ago, only a handful of launch companies existed in the US; United Launch Alliance was the big dog, with SpaceX starting to nip at its heels. Since then, however, a multiplicity of new launch startups have arrived in the United States, many of which developed their own rocket engines. As a result, we are now in the golden age of rocketry, with many different startups and approaches to pushing payloads into space.

In my weekly Rocket Report newsletter, I pay attention to launch companies and state-owned enterprises around the world. But it can be difficult to measure Europe-based Arianespace against SpaceX against China’s vast state-owned launch providers. Therefore, for this list, we’re going to focus solely on commercial launch companies in the United States.

Please note this is a subjective list, although hard metrics such as total launches, tonnage to orbit, success rate, and more were all important factors in the decision. Also, the focus is on what each company accomplished in 2022, not what they might do in the future.

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#features, #launch, #rocket-report, #science, #space

Backup Soyuz can’t get to ISS before late February

Image of a spacecraft with solar panels and the Earth in the background.

Enlarge / A Soyuz spacecraft docked at the ISS. (credit: NASA)

Today, NASA held a press briefing to describe the situation on the International Space Station (ISS) in the wake of a major coolant leak from a Soyuz spacecraft that is docked at the station. At the moment, neither NASA nor Roscosmos has a clear picture of its options for using the damaged spacecraft. If it is unusable in its current state, then it will take until February to get a replacement to the ISS.

Soyuz spacecraft are one of two vehicles used to get humans to and from the ISS, and serve as a “lifeboat” in case personnel are required to evacuate the station rapidly. So, while the leak doesn’t place the ISS or its crew in danger, it cuts the margin for error and can potentially interfere with future crew rotations.

As Roscosmos indicated earlier this week, the impressive-looking plume of material originated from a millimeter-sized hole in a coolant radiator. Although the coolant system has redundant pumps that could handle failures, the leak resulted in the loss of all the coolant, so there’s nothing to pump at this point.

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#international-space-station, #nasa, #roscosmos, #science, #soyuz, #space

NASA’s InSight lander has probably phoned home for the last time

This is probably the last image taken by InSight on the surface of Mars and relayed back to Earth.

Enlarge / This is probably the last image taken by InSight on the surface of Mars and relayed back to Earth. (credit: NASA)

NASA’s InSight lander has probably phoned home for the last time from the planet Mars.

The space agency said the spacecraft did not respond to communications from Earth on Sunday, December 18. The lack of communications came as the lander’s power-generating capacity has been declining in recent months due to the accumulation of Martian dust on its solar panels. NASA said that it is “assumed” that InSight has reached the end of its operations but that it will still continue to try to contact the lander in the coming days.

Also on Monday, the InSight Twitter account shared a photo with a message saying this was probably the last photo it was sending from Mars.

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#insight, #nasa, #science, #space

Russia says it will take no immediate action on damaged Soyuz spacecraft

Three hours after the coolant leak was initially detected Wednesday night, it remained ongoing.

Enlarge / Three hours after the coolant leak was initially detected Wednesday night, it remained ongoing. (credit: NASA TV)

After working through the weekend to better characterize damage to its Soyuz spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, Russian specialists have decided to take no immediate action.

In a lengthy statement published Monday morning by Roscosmos (a VPN is required to access the site from Western nations), the Russian space corporation said it believed that a tiny piece of debris ruptured an external cooling loop that radiates heat from inside the Soyuz into space.

Working with NASA on Sunday to operate the long Canadarm2 manipulator arm, Russian specialists were able to get a clear look at the damaged area on the aft end of the Soyuz spacecraft. The area of the hole is about 0.8 mm across, which, although small, allowed all of the coolant in the external loop to be dumped into space last Wednesday. Importantly, the visual inspection discovered no other notable damage to the Soyuz vehicle from the debris strike.

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#russia, #science, #soyuz-ms-22, #space

RocketLab’s first North American launch set for Sunday

Image of a white rocket tilted horizontally and partially obscured by a concrete barrier.

Enlarge / The Electron rocket, covered in while protective material, on its side on its launch pad on Wallops Island. (credit: John Timmer)

On Sunday, RocketLab plans to send its small launch rocket, the Electron, into orbit from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, or MARS. The launch is scheduled for 6 pm US Eastern; we’ve embedded a livestream below.

This will be RocketLab’s first launch from MARS, and the first by any company not currently owned by Northrop Grumman, which has used the site for its Minotaur and Antares rockets. Prior to today, RocketLab has done all its launches from a site in New Zealand, where its Electron vehicles are built. MARS is located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, on the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, which separates Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.

RocketLab CEO Peter Beck told Ars that the site offers access to some additional orbital trajectories that can’t be reached from New Zealand, and allows the company to compete for business with US government agencies that have a requirement for US-based launches. MARS was appealing in part because the lower launch cadence there means that there’s less potential for scheduling conflicts.

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#commercial-space, #launches, #rocketlab, #rockets, #satellites, #science, #space

Here’s what we know, and what we don’t, about the damaged Soyuz spacecraft

The European robotic arm is seen investigating Soyuz MS-22 after a leak occurred Wednesday night.

Enlarge / The European robotic arm is seen investigating Soyuz MS-22 after a leak occurred Wednesday night. (credit: NASA TV)

Since a Soyuz spacecraft began to leak coolant uncontrollably on Wednesday night, flight controllers at Roscosmos, NASA, and other International Space Station partners have been closely studying data from the incident.

Although there is no immediate danger to the seven astronauts on board the space station, this is one of the most serious incidents in the history of the orbiting laboratory, which has been continuously occupied for nearly a quarter of a century. Among the most pressing questions: Is the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft safe to fly back to Earth? If not, when can a replacement, Soyuz MS-23, be flown up? And if there is an emergency, what do the three crew members slated to fly home on MS-22 do in the meantime?

NASA has not held any briefings since the incident and has only released a fairly bland update on its blog. But there is a lot happening behind the scenes, and this story will attempt to summarize what is known—and what is not—at this time.

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#nasa, #roscosmos, #science, #soyuz-ms-22, #space

Rocket Report: Meet the Blue Origin Space Rangers; methane rocket fails in debut

Image taken from the Hakuto-R spacecraft after it separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage, which can be seen at right.

Enlarge / Image taken from the Hakuto-R spacecraft after it separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage, which can be seen at right. (credit: Canadensys/ispace)

Welcome to Edition 5.21 of the Rocket Report. This the final edition of the Rocket Report for 2022. I will be taking about 10 days off for the holiday season this year, so the next newsletter will not be published until January 5. The good news? Ars and I have big things planned for coverage of space in 2023, so stay tuned for announcements about that. In the meantime, I hope everyone has an enjoyable holiday season!

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Almost time to get charged up for Electron. After more than two years of delays, NASA and Rocket Lab are finally ready to conduct the first Electron launch from Wallops Island in Virginia on Friday, Space News reports. The latest delays were caused by a poor weather forecast for Thursday, and then a need to close out final documentation. The launch is now targeted for no earlier than Sunday, December 18. The mission will place into orbit three satellites for HawkEye 360, which operates a constellation of spacecraft that perform radio-frequency surveillance.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

A Russian spacecraft started leaking uncontrollably on Wednesday night

A view of the aft end of the Soyuz spacecraft leaking what appears to be ammonia on Wednesday night.

Enlarge / A view of the aft end of the Soyuz spacecraft leaking what appears to be ammonia on Wednesday night. (credit: NASA TV)

A Russian spacewalk was canceled at the last minute on Wednesday night when a spacecraft attached to the International Space Station unexpectedly sprang a large leak.

Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin were dressed in spacesuits, with the airlock depressurized, when flight controllers told them to standby while the leak in a Soyuz spacecraft was investigated. The spacewalk was subsequently called off shortly before 10pm ET (03:00 UTC Thursday).

The leak appears to have originated in an external cooling loop located at the aft end of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. Public affairs officer Rob Navias, who was commentating on the spacewalk for NASA Television, characterized the spacecraft as leaking “fairly substantially.” Video of the leak showed particles streaming continuously from the Soyuz, a rather remarkable sight. This was likely ammonia, which is used as a spacecraft coolant, although Russian officials have not confirmed this.

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#leak, #russia, #science, #soyuz, #space

Space debris expert: Orbits will be lost—and people will die—later this decade

Moriba Jah is an astrodynamicist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Enlarge / Moriba Jah is an astrodynamicist at the University of Texas at Austin. (credit: MacArthur Foundation)

Up until about a decade ago, an average of 80 to 100 satellites per year were launched into varying orbits. Some reentered Earth’s atmosphere quickly, while others will remain in orbit for decades.

This now seems quaint. In the last five years, driven largely by the rise of communications networks such as SpaceX’s Starlink and a proliferation of small satellites, the number of objects launched into space has increased dramatically.

In 2017, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, the annual number exceeded 300. By 2020, the annual number of objects launched exceeded 1,000 for the first time. This year, the total has already surpassed 2,000. With more broadband-from-space networks like Amazon’s Project Kuiper on the way, further growth can be expected.

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#debris, #features, #jah, #science, #space

Bill Nelson came to NASA to do two things, and he’s all out of bubblegum

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has been a steady hand for the space agency.

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has been a steady hand for the space agency. (credit: NASA)

Not for the first time, I was wrong. And heading into an interview earlier this month with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, I knew it.

“Before I ask any questions, I just want to say something,” I said at the outset of our discussion. “I wrote some critical things about you at the time you were nominated to be the administrator. And I was just wrong about them.”

Nelson chuckled in response.

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#bill-nelson, #nasa, #science, #space, #uncategorized

After Russia’s exit from the Lunar Gateway, NASA has found a new partner in UAE

An artist's concept of the Lunar Gateway that includes elements from international partners.

Enlarge / An artist’s concept of the Lunar Gateway that includes elements from international partners. (credit: NASA/Alberto Bertolin)

Relations between NASA and Russia’s state-owned space corporation were fairly robust five years ago when the two parties signed a joint statement that discussed partnering on the development of a space station orbiting the Moon, called the Lunar Gateway. At the time, Russia’s Roscosmos was expected to provide an airlock for the facility.

Much has happened in the five years since then, of course. In 2020, as NASA began to more concretely formulate its plans for lunar exploration under the Artemis program, Russia started to pull away.

“In our view, the Lunar Gateway in its current form is too US-centric, so to speak,” said then-Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin. “Russia is likely to refrain from participating in it on a large scale.” At the time, Rogozin also expressed disdain for the “Artemis Accords” created by NASA, which established a set of principles to guide cooperation among nations participating in the agency’s 21st-century lunar exploration plans.

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#artemis-accords, #lunar-gateway, #science, #space, #uae

NASA official “very confident” Artemis spacesuits will be ready on time

NASA will need new spacesuits for the Artemis Program. Shown here is Buzz Aldrin, during Apollo 11.

Enlarge / NASA will need new spacesuits for the Artemis Program. Shown here is Buzz Aldrin, during Apollo 11. (credit: NASA)

With the successful conclusion of the Artemis I mission, NASA has taken a big step toward returning humans to the Moon. But a big rocket and a deep-space capable capsule are only the beginning of the new technologies needed for lunar surface operations.

Most notably, there’s the lander. Much attention has been given to this component of the program, especially after NASA selected SpaceX’s large Starship vehicle to fulfill that role in April 2021. Starship will rendezvous with the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit and ferry astronauts down to and up from the Moon. With Orion and the Space Launch System rocket having completed a critical flight test, Starship is now on the clock as NASA works toward a lunar landing later this decade.

But just as astronauts cannot go down to the Moon without Starship, they also cannot go outside on the lunar surface without new spacesuits.

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#artemis, #science, #space, #spacesuit

Here’s why NASA’s Artemis I mission is so rare, and so remarkable

NASA's Orion spacecraft descends toward the Pacific Ocean after a successful mission on Sunday.

Enlarge / NASA’s Orion spacecraft descends toward the Pacific Ocean after a successful mission on Sunday. (credit: NASA)

The first step of a journey is often the most difficult one. So it is worth pausing a moment to celebrate that NASA just took the essential first step on the path toward establishing a permanent presence in deep space.

Amidst a backdrop of blue skies and white clouds, the Orion spacecraft dropped into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday a few hundred kilometers off the Baja Peninsula. This brought to a close the Artemis I mission, a 25.5-day spaceflight that demonstrated NASA is just about ready to begin flying humans back into deep space once again.

This has not happened in half a century. At times, it seemed like it might never happen again. But now, it is most definitely happening.

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#artemis, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is about to face its final test—and it’s a big one

Orion flew by the Moon on Monday as it prepared to return to Earth.

Enlarge / Orion flew by the Moon on Monday as it prepared to return to Earth. (credit: NASA)

NASA’s Artemis I mission is nearly complete, and so far Orion’s daring flight far beyond the Moon has gone about as well as the space agency could hope. However, to get a passing grade, the mission must still ace its final test.

This final exam will come on Sunday, when the spacecraft starts to enter Earth’s atmosphere at 12:20 pm ET (17:20 UTC). During the course of the next 20 minutes, before Orion splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, it will need to slow down from a velocity of Mach 32 to, essentially, zero before dropping into the water.

This is no small feat. Orion has a mass of 9 metric tons, about the same as two or three large elephants. Its base, covered with a heat shield designed to slowly char away during passage through Earth’s atmosphere, must withstand temperatures near 3,000 degrees Celsius.

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#artemis-i, #nasa, #orion, #science, #space

Rocket Report: Starship flight test slips to 2023; first methane launch is imminent

A Falcon 9 rocket lands Thursday evening after launching the OneWeb 1 mission. Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket is in the background, awaiting its debut launch.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket lands Thursday evening after launching the OneWeb 1 mission. Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket is in the background, awaiting its debut launch. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 5.20 of the Rocket Report! I have really enjoyed celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission this week. While it is bittersweet that humans have not been back to the Moon since, it is comforting to know that we are now following a sure and steady path that will lead us back in the not-too-distant future.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin Orbit launch from UK slips into 2023. Earlier this week Virgin Orbit sent out a news release indicating that the launch window for its LauncherOne mission from Cornwall, England, would open on December 14. But on Thursday, the company said its mission had been delayed for at least several weeks, BBC News reports. In a statement, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said, “With licenses still outstanding for the launch itself and for the satellites within the payload, additional technical work needed to establish system health and readiness, and a very limited available launch window of only two days, we have determined that it is prudent to retarget launch for the coming weeks to allow ourselves and our stakeholders time to pave the way for full mission success.”

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Fifty years later, remastered images reveal Apollo 17 in stunning clarity

Eugene Cernan is seen inside the Lunar Module after a long day's work on the lunar surface.

Enlarge / Eugene Cernan is seen inside the Lunar Module after a long day’s work on the lunar surface. (credit: Andy Saunders/Apollo Remastered)

Shortly after midnight, 50 years ago this morning, the Apollo 17 mission lifted off from Florida. With Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ron Evans on board, this was NASA’s sixth and final spaceflight to the lunar surface.

Cernan and Schmitt spent three days on the Moon, setting records for the longest distance traversed in their rover—7.6 km—and the amount of lunar rocks returned. But today, what the mission is perhaps most remembered for is the fact that it was the last time humans landed on the Moon—or even went beyond low Earth orbit.

Memorably, before he boarded the Lunar Module to blast off from the Moon’s surface, Cernan radioed back to Mission Control on Earth. People, he said, would return to the Moon “not too long into the future.” Speaking to him much later in life, it was clear from Cernan’s frustrations that he did not mean decades into the future.

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#apollo-17, #photos, #science, #space

After lunar flyby, NASA’s Orion spacecraft is set to splash down on Sunday

Orion, the Moon, and a crescent Earth on Monday.

Enlarge / Orion, the Moon, and a crescent Earth on Monday. (credit: NASA)

The Orion spacecraft swung by the Moon on Monday, flying to within 130 km of that world’s surface as it set course for a return to Earth this weekend.

In making this “powered flyby burn” to move away from the Moon, Orion’s service module performed its longest main engine firing to date, lasting 3 minutes and 27 seconds. After successful completion of the maneuver, NASA’s mission management team gave the “go” to send recovery teams out into the Pacific Ocean, where Orion is due to splashdown on Sunday, during the middle of the day.

By getting into an orbit around the Moon, and back out of it again during its deep space mission, Orion has now completed four main propulsive burns. This completes a big test of the spacecraft and its propulsive service module, which was built by the European Space Agency. Although a boilerplate version of Orion made a flight in 2014, it did so without a service module.

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#artemis-i, #orion, #science, #space

Dmitry Rogozin may be in some trouble in Russia

Dmitry Rogozin, second from left, has been active in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Enlarge / Dmitry Rogozin, second from left, has been active in the Donbas region of Ukraine. (credit: Dmitry Rogozin/Telegram)

It has been nearly five months since Dmitry Rogozin was sacked as director general of Roscosmos, the Russian state-owned space corporation. Later, a Russian space official acknowledged that Rogozin was removed from this high-profile post to ease tensions with NASA and other partners on the International Space Station. It has worked, as international spaceflight relations have improved.

Since his dismissal, it has been speculated that Rogozin might take some sort of leadership position in Russian-occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine. This has yet to happen, however, so Rogozin declared himself the head of the “Tsar’s Wolves” inspection group of volunteers. Rogozin’s stated aim has been to test and supply the advanced weapons technology needed by Russian troops to win the war.

As part of his efforts, Rogozin has been posting images and statements to his Telegram account from the Donbas region of Ukraine, visiting with troops. To look the part—and, knowing Rogozin, likely to build up his image as a “tough guy”—Rogozin has also posted images of himself dressed up as a soldier. At times, however, Rogozin’s actions have looked more like cosplaying than anything else, and some Russians (as well as prominent former NASA astronauts) have taken to mocking the Russian politician who was once close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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#prigozhin, #rogozin, #russia, #science, #space

After the Artemis I mission’s brilliant success, why is an encore 2 years away?

Orion, the Earth, and the Moon, captured during the Artemis I mission.

Enlarge / Orion, the Earth, and the Moon, captured during the Artemis I mission. (credit: NASA)

The launch of the Artemis I mission in mid-November was spectacular, and NASA’s Orion spacecraft has performed nearly flawlessly ever since. If all goes as anticipated—and there is no reason to believe it won’t—Orion will splash down in calm seas off the California coast this weekend.

This exploration mission has provided dazzling photos of Earth and the Moon and offered a promise that humans will soon fly in deep space again. So the question for NASA, then, is when can we expect an encore?

Realistically, a follow-up to Artemis I is probably at least two years away. Most likely, the Artemis II mission will not happen before early 2025, although NASA is not giving up hope on launching humans into deep space in 2024.

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#artemis, #features, #nasa, #orion, #science, #space

After bankruptcy and war, OneWeb turns to a competitor for help

OneWeb satellites launch on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome earlier in 2022.

Enlarge / OneWeb satellites launch on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome earlier in 2022. (credit: OneWeb)

There’s one thing that can be definitively said about broadband communications company OneWeb: It’s a survivor.

The company has persisted through several different owners, a bankruptcy, having its satellites taken as hostages amid a regional war, and nearly completing a satellite Internet constellation in low-Earth orbit. Now, the London-based company is set to take the next step in its meandering but persistent journey toward success.

As early as Tuesday, December 6, a batch of 40 satellites is due to launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. SpaceX, of course, is a competitor in satellite broadband Internet.

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#internet, #oneweb, #science, #space

Rocket Report: SpaceX launch delayed indefinitely; Virgin Orbit cancels funding round

The Terran 1 rocket is shown in Relativity Space's hangar in Florida.

Enlarge / The Terran 1 rocket is shown in Relativity Space’s hangar in Florida. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 5.19 of the Rocket Report! Back from the Thanksgiving holiday, there is a lot of news to get to this week, including a report card on the SLS rocket’s performance (excellent) and some wild and woolly news from north of the US border. Read on for more.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin Orbit ends security offering. The US-based launch company announced on the evening before Thanksgiving a “cessation” of a securities offering. “Due to current market conditions, the company has elected not to proceed with an offering,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement. “Any future capital raising transactions will depend upon future market conditions.” Previously, in October, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company was seeking to raise additional capital after going public as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Astronomers say a new, huge satellite is as bright as the brightest stars

Observation of a BlueWalker 3 pass from Oukaimeden Observatory on Nov. 16 2022. The bright star lower left is Zeta Puppis.

Enlarge / Observation of a BlueWalker 3 pass from Oukaimeden Observatory on Nov. 16 2022. The bright star lower left is Zeta Puppis. (credit: CLEOsat/Oukaimeden Observatory/IAU CPS/A.E. Kaeouach)

Last month, a Texas-based company announced that it had successfully deployed the largest-ever commercial communications satellite in low-Earth orbit.

This BlueWalker 3 demonstration satellite measures nearly 65 square meters, or about one-third the size of a tennis court. Designed and developed by AST SpaceMobile, the expansive BlueWalker 3 satellite is intended to demonstrate the ability of standard mobile phones to directly connect to the Internet via satellite. Large satellites are necessary to connect to mobile devices without a ground-based antenna.

In this emerging field of direct-to-mobile connectivity, which seeks to provide Internet service beyond the reach of terrestrial cellular towers, AST is competing with Lync, another company that also has launched demonstration satellites. In addition, larger players such as Apple and a team at SpaceX and T-Mobile have announced their intent to provide direct connectivity services.

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#ast, #astronomy, #blue-walker, #science, #space

SpaceX set to launch two spacecraft to the Moon tonight

The Hakuto-R spacecraft is encapsulated in a Falcon 9 fairing.

Enlarge / The Hakuto-R spacecraft is encapsulated in a Falcon 9 fairing. (credit: ispace)

It has been a busy second half of the year for the Moon. Since late June, three US rockets have launched payloads to the Moon, and one more is set for early Friday morning.

Across these four launches—two on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, one on Rocket Lab’s Electron, and one on NASA’s Space Launch System—there have been a total of 15 spacecraft sent to fly by the Moon, enter orbit, or land there. The most notable of these, of course, is NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is due to return to Earth on December 11.

This represents a remarkable renaissance in lunar exploration. Consider that, from 1973 to 2022, NASA and the United States sent a total of 15 spacecraft to the Moon over a period of five decades. Now, thanks to a mix of commercial, academic, and government payloads, US rockets will launch 15 spacecraft to the Moon in about five months.

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#moon, #science, #space

SpaceX fires up 11 engines as it prepares massive rocket for orbital test

SpaceX's Booster 7 undergoes a static fire test with 11 engines on Tuesday in South Texas.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Booster 7 undergoes a static fire test with 11 engines on Tuesday in South Texas. (credit: SpaceX)

On Tuesday, SpaceX test-fired its Super Heavy rocket for about 12 seconds, making it the longest duration firing of the massive booster so far. The test, which ignited 11 of the 33 Raptor rocket engines, came as SpaceX continues working toward an orbital launch attempt of this Super Heavy first stage and its Starship upper stage.

Earlier this month, SpaceX fired 14 Raptor engines on this booster for a few seconds, so Tuesday’s test did not set a new record regarding the number of engines tested. However, this “long duration” firing is the longest period of time that so many Raptor engines have been fired at once.

So what happens now? The path to orbit for SpaceX and its Starship launch system is unclear. Previously, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the next step was to fire a subset of Super Heavy’s engines for about 20 seconds to test autogenous pressurization. This method of pressurizing fuel tanks uses gases generated on board the rocket rather than a separately loaded, inert gas such as helium.

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#raptor, #science, #space, #spacex, #starship

Orion flies far beyond the Moon, returns an instantly iconic photo

Orion, the Moon, and Earth in one photo.

Enlarge / Orion, the Moon, and Earth in one photo. (credit: NASA)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft reached the farthest outbound point in its journey from Earth on Monday, a distance of more than 430,000 km from humanity’s home world. This is nearly double the distance between Earth and the Moon and is farther than the Apollo capsule traveled during NASA’s lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

From this vantage point, on Monday, a camera attached to the solar panels on board Orion’s service module snapped photos of the Moon and, just beyond, the Earth. These were lovely, lonely, and evocative images.

“The imagery was crazy,” said the Artemis I mission’s lead flight director, Rick LaBrode. “It’s really hard to articulate what the feeling is. It’s really amazing to be here, and see that.”

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#nasa, #orion, #science, #space

The long, tangled journey of a European rover to Mars takes another twist

Artist's concept of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover on Mars.

Enlarge / Artist’s concept of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover on Mars. (credit: Adrian Mann/Stocktrek Images)

The more than two dozen nations that make up the European Space Agency concluded their high-level “ministerial” meeting on Wednesday, establishing a budget and priorities for the next three years.

A German delegate chosen to chair the meeting, Anna Christmann, said the space agency’s plans reflect a bold agenda for Europe to lead in climate science and maintain independent and launch capability. The goal is for Europe to stand alongside the United States and China as a major space power. “We’ve shown Europe is ambitious,” said Christmann at a media conference to discuss results of the meeting.

Germany, France, and Italy remain the major players in ESA, combining to contribute nearly 60 percent of its overall funding. The member nations agreed to contribute 16.9 billion euro ($17.5 billion) to agency programs over the next three years. This is less than the 18.5 billion euro sought by ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher but still significantly higher than the total for the previous three-year period of 14.5 billion euro.

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#esa, #exomars, #nasa, #rosalind-franklin, #science, #space

NASA’s new rocket blows the doors off its mobile launch tower

The Orion spacecraft approaches the Moon on Monday.

Enlarge / The Orion spacecraft approaches the Moon on Monday. (credit: NASA)

So far, NASA’s ambitious Artemis I mission seems to be going swimmingly. The Orion spacecraft has performed a number of propulsive burns, flying smoothly past the Moon, and will now test out its capabilities in deep space.

On Monday evening, after flying around the Moon, the spacecraft returned images of the flyby back to Earth via the Deep Space Network. While no humans are on board Orion during this test flight, they will be during its next mission. The views of the Moon from human spacecraft—the first in more than half a century—were brilliant.

“Today was a terrific day,” said Howard Hu, program manager for the Orion spacecraft, speaking about the spacecraft’s performance and its images. “This is a dream for many of us who work at NASA. We were like kids in a candy store.”

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#artemis-i, #nasa, #science, #space

Calling all space nerds: New documentary Good Night Oppy will give you all the feels

"Opportunity was our brave, intrepid explorer so we could see this unchartered world that we'd never seen before."

Enlarge / “Opportunity was our brave, intrepid explorer so we could see this unchartered world that we’d never seen before.” (credit: Prime Video)

For over 14 years, space nerds and the general public alike were riveted by the parallel journeys of Spirit and Opportunity, twin intrepid Mars rovers who launched and landed on the red planet three weeks apart and surpassed their original 90-day missions by many years. We watched from Earth as they explored the Martian surface and dutifully collected samples before finally giving up the ghost in 2010 and 2018, respectively. Now we can relive that journey all over again—while others can discover it for the first time—in Good Night Oppy, a dazzling, feel-good new documentary from Prime Video directed by Ryan White.

It’s easy to forget that the triumphant story of Spirit and Opportunity began against a backdrop of two previous failed missions to Mars: the Mars Climate Orbiter, a robotic space probe that lost communication as it went into orbit insertion, and the Mars Polar Lander, which never re-established communication after what was likely a crash landing. While the orbiting 2001 Mars Odyssey mission was a success, there was still tremendous pressure on the teams at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to finally land an autonomous solar-powered robotic rover on Mars. Another failure could have jeopardized the future of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program.

Fortunately, both launches went off without a hitch. There was a moment of terror when Spirit bounced dramatically upon impact, resulting in a nail-biting delay until the signal was re-established. (The engineers in Good Night Oppy joke that Spirit was always a bit of a drama queen.) But Spirit was fine, and Opportunity landed safely a few weeks later. Each rover spent the next several years exploring their respective regions of Mars, overcoming steep hills, getting stuck in the loose Martian soil, and bracing against dust storms to deliver oodles of valuable scientific insights back to mission control on Earth.

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#gaming-culture, #mars, #mars-rovers, #nasa, #opportunity-rover, #science, #space, #spirit-rover

Orion soars around the Moon with a lonely Earth in the distance

This image taken by NASA's Orion spacecraft shows its view just before the vehicle flew behind the Moon.

Enlarge / This image taken by NASA’s Orion spacecraft shows its view just before the vehicle flew behind the Moon. (credit: NASA)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft flew to within 130 km of the Moon’s surface on Monday morning after executing one of the most demanding maneuvers of its 25-day mission.

Since launching on top of the Space Launch System rocket last Wednesday, Orion’s European Service Module had conducted four “trajectory correction burns” on the way to the Moon. These were brief firings of the service module’s main engine, an Aerojet-built AJ10 engine. However, the propulsion system faced a stiffer test on Monday as part of a maneuver to enter orbit around the Moon. It passed with flying colors.

The AJ10 engine burned for 2 minutes and 30 seconds as Orion passed behind the Moon, out of contact with NASA back on Earth. When Orion reemerged from the lunar shadow, all was well, and the spacecraft was positioned to reach its temporary destination—a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.

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#nasa, #orion, #science, #service-module, #space

Rocket Report: Long March 6A breaks apart after launch; SLS soars in debut

The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft streak away from Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday morning.

Enlarge / The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft streak away from Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday morning. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 5.18 of the Rocket Report! What a year in spaceflight this has been. At the end of 2022 a European rocket put the James Webb Space Telescope successfully into space, and 11 months later NASA’s Space Launch System performed an on-target launch. This brings to a close two massive development projects I have tracked for much of my space writing career, and it is so nice that both have a happy ending.

Please note that there will be no newsletter next week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

NASA gets its mojo back with a stunning nighttime launch of the SLS rocket

NASA's Space Launch System rocket lifts off on Wednesday morning from Kennedy Space Center.

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket lifts off on Wednesday morning from Kennedy Space Center.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.—The skies were auspicious during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, as the Artemis I mission ticked down its final seconds until liftoff.

Ten, nine, eight seconds …

Shining brightly, near the southern horizon, was the constellation Orion, namesake to NASA’s new deep space vehicle.

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#artemis-i, #nasa, #science, #space

Is tonight the night that NASA’s massive SLS rocket finally takes flight?

NASA's rocket has been rolled out to the launch pad in Florida four times now this year.

Enlarge / NASA’s rocket has been rolled out to the launch pad in Florida four times now this year. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.—After writing about NASA’s Space Launch System rocket for a dozen years—certainly well into the hundreds of thousands of words—I’ve run out of things to say about the big, orange booster.

Well, almost. What I would like to say is that it is time, beyond time really, for this mission to fly.

As NASA has sought to build public interest in the Artemis program and spur momentum for the Artemis I launch of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the Moon and back, the space agency has increasingly used the slogan, “We are going.”

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#artemis-i, #nasa, #science, #sls, #space