NASA Wants Your Help Designing a Venus Rover Concept

An illustration of a concept for a possible wind-powered Venus rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is running a public challenge to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for a possible future Venus rover. The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge is seeking the public’s designs for a sensor that could be incorporated into the design concept.

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Was There Life on Mars? UK Scientists Play Key Part in NASA Mission to Red Planet

Panorama of Perseverance Rover’s landing site on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — After a seven-month journey, NASA’s car-sized Mars Perseverance rover will make its final descent to the Red Planet to begin its search for traces of life.

The rover’s mission – backed by the UK government – is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars. Supported by over £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help to decide which samples are sent to Earth in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

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Green Run Update: NASA Investigating Valve Performance Before Second Hot Fire

The core stage for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen in the B-2 Test Stand during a scheduled eight minute duration hot fire test, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The four RS-25 engines fired for a little more than one minute. The hot fire test is the final stage of the Green Run test series, a comprehensive assessment of the Space Launch System’s core stage prior to launching the Artemis I mission to the Moon. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (NASA PR) — NASA’s is reviewing the performance of a valve on the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket before proceeding with a second hot fire test at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

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Blue Origin Suddenly Gets Chatty, Announces Launch Delay

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Unlike other commercial space companies I could name (I know who they are, even if they don’t), Blue Origin rarely speaks unless it actually has something to say. So, when videos suddenly appeared on Twitter this morning with tours of the company’s facilities to show their progress on the new New Glenn rocket, I figured it had to be something important.

Sure enough, it was. New Glenn’s maiden flight is now delayed until the fourth quarter of 2022. The original plan was to launch in 2020, and then later this year. Things are clearly progressing slower than anticipated.

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Virgin Galactic Replaces CFO

The engine continued to fire for 60 seconds. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the appointment of Doug Ahrens as its new Chief Financial Officer, effective March 1, 2021. Ahrens will succeed Jon Campagna, who is stepping down as Chief Financial Officer following Virgin Galactic’s successful transition from private to public company.

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Virgin Galactic Announces Engineering & Aerospace Hires Ahead of Quarterly Earnings Call

SpaceShipTwo Unity on its second glide flight over Spaceport America. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the appointments of Swami Iyer as its President of Aerospace Systems and Stephen Justice as its Vice President of Engineering.

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Orbex Commissions Largest Industrial 3D Printer in Europe for Rapid Rocket Building

FORRES, UK (Orbex PR) — Orbex has commissioned AMCM to build the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe, allowing the innovative UK-based space launch company to rapidly print complex rocket engines in-house. The custom-made, large volume 3D printer will allow Orbex to print more than 35 large-scale rocket engine and main stage turbopump systems annually, as the company scales up its production capabilities for launches.

The multi-million pound deal was signed with AMCM, following a series of successful trials printing various large-scale rocket components over a number of months. AMCM will deliver a complete printing suite with post-processing machinery and ‘Machine Vision’ systems, providing automatic imaging-based inspection of printed components. To accommodate the new machinery, Orbex is expanding its factory floor space by an additional 1,000 m².

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ESA Explores Greener Way to Get Satellites Moving

A sustained test firing of a ‘green’ satellite thruster at Poland’s Institute of Aviation. (Credit: IIA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — A sustained test firing of a ‘green’ satellite thruster at Poland’s Institute of Aviation, intended as a future alternative to today’s hydrazine-based apogee engines, typically used by telecommunication satellites to manoeuvre into their final geostationary orbits.

Today hydrazine is the most common propellant employed by thrusters aboard satellites: it is highly energetic in nature but also toxic and corrosive, as well as dangerous to handle and store.

ESA initiated the Green Liquid Apogee Engine for Future Spacecraft project, GRACE, to evaluate more environmentally friendly thruster options, with testing culminating in a sustained 60-second thruster firing.

GRACE assessed various options, finding the most effective bipropellant combination used ‘high test peroxide’ (HTP) as oxidiser – a much purer version of the same chemical used to bleach hair, which is split into oxygen and water steam using a catalyst – plus TMPDA fuel.

This was a nearly all-Polish project, supported through ESA’s Polish Industry Incentive. Poland’s Institute of Aviation oversaw management, design and testing, with Jakusz providing the HTP, WB Electronics, represented by Flytronic manufacturing most thruster components. Thales Alenia Space in the UK provided requirements and guidelines for design and testing – including the provision of a 500 Newton kerosene-powered thruster, used as a model for the GRACE demonstrator.

“The programme successfully demonstrated a robust catalyst bed capable of sustaining a minute’s continuous firing,” notes ESA propulsion engineer Ferran Valencia Bel.

”GRACE’s success demonstrates Poland’s technical excellence in the area of rocket propulsion, part of a larger ESA effort to put the space industry onto a more sustainable footing, finding non-toxic alternatives to legacy chemicals and materials.” 

Parker Solar Probe Offers Stunning View of Venus

When flying past Venus in July 2020, Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument, short for Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. Bright streaks in WISPR, such as the ones seen here, are typically caused by a combination of charged particles — called cosmic rays — sunlight reflected by grains of space dust, and particles of material expelled from the spacecraft’s structures after impact with those dust grains. The number of streaks varies along the orbit or when the spacecraft is traveling at different speeds, and scientists are still in discussion about the specific origins of the streaks here. The dark spot appearing on the lower portion of Venus is an artifact from the WISPR instrument. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher)

By Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

LAUREL, Md. — NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured stunning views of Venus during its close flyby of the planet in July 2020.

Though Parker Solar Probe’s focus is the Sun, Venus plays a critical role in the mission: The spacecraft whips by Venus a total of seven times over the course of its seven-year mission, using the planet’s gravity to bend the spacecraft’s orbit. These Venus gravity assists allow Parker Solar Probe to fly closer and closer to the Sun on its mission to study the dynamics of the solar wind close to its source.

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ClimaCell to Launch Constellation of Radar-Equipped Satellites into Space to Bring Critical Weather Radar Coverage to the Entire Globe

Credit: ClimaCell

BOSTON, Feb 24 2021 (ClimaCell PR) – ​Today ClimaCell, the world’s leading weather intelligence platform is excited to announce Operation Tomorrow Space. To improve global forecasting technology and capabilities, ClimaCell has designed proprietary radar-equipped satellites and will begin launching dozens into space over the coming years. Known for pioneering a number of weather technology advancements in recent years, ClimaCell’s radar-equipped small-satellite constellation represents a first in the history of the weather industry.

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ESA Plans Mission to Explore Lunar Caves

Three images of the Marius Hills pit imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This pit is about 34 metres deep and 65 by 90 metres wide. Marius Hills and other pits may be ‘skylights’ into extensive lava tubes. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

PARIS (ESA PR) — In a first step towards uncovering the Moon’s subterranean secrets, in 2019 we asked for your ideas to detect, map and explore lunar caves. Five ideas were selected to be studied in more detail, each addressing different phases of a potential mission.

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Orbit Fab and Benchmark Space Systems Team to Establish In-Space High-Test Peroxide-based Refueling, Servicing Infrastructure

SAN FRANCISCO  and  BURLINGTON, VT, February 23, 2021 (Orbit Fab PR) – Orbit Fab, the Gas Stations in Space™ company, and Benchmark Space Systems (BSS), a leading provider of in-space mobility solutions, today announced a green, hydrogen-peroxide-based refueling and servicing infrastructure partnership to extend satellite missions and provide the essential fuel for the evolving ecosystem in space.

As part of the teaming, Orbit Fab will bundle its RAFTI fluid transfer interface with Benchmark’s Halcyon thruster system to offer an integrated refillable, non-toxic propulsion package. The innovative refueling solution is set for a technical demonstration at the SpaceX launch pad and in space aboard Orbit Fab’s first operational fuel depot to be lifted into orbit on a Falcon 9 later this year.

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L3Harris Awarded $137 Million Contract for Four Additional Payload Mission Data Units for GPS III Follow-on

MELBOURNE, Fla. — L3Harris Technologies (NYSE:LHX) has received contracts totaling $137 million for four navigation payload Mission Data Units (MDU) for future GPS III Follow-on (GPS IIIF) satellites.

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for GPS III/IIIF, selected L3Harris in 2018 to design and build the first two fully-digital MDUs, the heart of the satellite’s navigation payload. The MDU generates more powerful GPS signals and assures clock operations for GPS users.

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In Lieu of Spaceflight, Virgin Galactic Presents….

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Monday marked the second anniversary of Virgin Galactic’s most recent flight above 50 miles, the altitude the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) judges to be the boundary of space.

In the days leading up to the anniversary, I kept thinking Virgin Galactic will announce something on Monday. Some bit of news to distract people from 24 months without a spaceflight. Something to show forward progress ahead of what is likely to be yet another quarterly earnings call on Thursday soaked in red ink.

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Space Crystals: Developing Laser Optics Products in Space

KDP seed crystals alongside the ICF Flight mission patch. (Credit: Redwire)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Redwire PR) — The Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) is a commercial in-space manufacturing device designed to provide proof-of-principle for diffusion-based crystallization methods to produce high-quality optical crystals in microgravity relevant for terrestrial use. ICF was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on Northrop Grumman’s CRS-15 on February 20. 

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