A Busy Six Months as Suborbital Spaceflight Comes Into its Own

New Shepard lands after the NS-21 flight. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

Part I of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For decades, the suborbital launch sector was largely a backwater. Militaries tested ballistic missiles, scientists conducted experiments, and engineers tested new technologies. A sounding rocket is small potatoes compared with orbital rocket launches and the glamor of human spaceflight. Few people paid much attention.

All that has changed in recent years as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and their billionaire owners — Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — started launching themselves and others on suborbital joyrides. Startups have been conducting suborbital flight tests of new orbital launch vehicles designed to serve the booming smalls satellite market. Suborbital has become a much more interesting sector.

This year has been no exception. The first half of 2022 saw Blue Origin send 12 people into space on two New Shepard flights, a Chinese company conduct six launches in a program to develop aa suborbital spaceplane and hypersonic transport, South Korea and Iran perform flight tests of three different smallsat launchers, Germany test technologies for reusable rockets, and first-ever commercial launch from Australia. And, a great deal of science was done.

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NASA Rockets Launch from Australia to Seek Habitable Star Conditions

The closest star system to Earth is the famous Alpha Centauri group. At a distance of 4.3 light-years, this system is made up of the binary formed by the stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, plus the faint red dwarf Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given us this stunning view of the bright Alpha Centauri A (on the left) and Alpha Centauri B (on the right). (Credits: ESA/NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On the heels of a successful launch on June 26, NASA is set to launch two more sounding rockets from northern Australia during the first half of July. These missions will help astronomers understand how starlight influences a planet’s atmosphere, possibly making or breaking its ability to support life as we know it.

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On the Quest for Other Earths

An international research team with members from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) has developed a new method for directly imaging smaller planets in the habitable zone of a neighbouring star system. This opens up new possibilities in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

by Felix Wuersten

ZURICH — In the search for planets capable of sustaining life, an international research team with members from ETH has taken a significant step forward. As the researchers reported recently in the journal Nature Communications, they found signs of a Neptune-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, a mere 4.4 light years away from Earth. This exoplanet is located in a zone that may offer suitable conditions for life. The team was able to collect data with unprecedented sensitivity, thus registering even very weak signals.

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BoldlyGo Institute Signs Space Act Agreement with NASA

NEW YORK (BoldlyGo Institute PR) — The BoldlyGo Institute (BoldlyGo) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have signed a Space Act Agreement to cooperate on “Project Blue,” a mission to search for potentially habitable Earth-size planets in the Alpha Centauri system using a specially designed space telescope.

“We’re pleased to be working with NASA on this ambitious public-private partnership,” said Dr. Jon Morse, CEO of BoldlyGo. “Much of the coronagraph imaging technology needed for Project Blue to take direct images of exoplanets from space has been developed through NASA-funded programs. Having access to NASA’s scientific and technical expertise throughout the mission lifecycle is invaluable,” Morse continued.

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Uwingu Announces Winner of Alpha Centauri Planet Naming Contest

uwingu_artworkBoulder, Colorado (Uwingu PR) — Space company UwinguTM announced the winner of its public engagement contest to solicit and vote on a popular name for the only known planet orbiting the nearest star to the Sun, Alpha Centauri.

The winning name from Uwingu’s competition to select a name for the planet is “Albertus Alauda”. This nomination was entered into Uwingu’s public planet name nomination database last November by Jason Lark, in honor of his late grandfather, Albert Lark. In the citation entered into Uwingu’s database, Lark said, “His name in Latin means Noble or Bright and to praise or extol. I think this is an apt description as my Grandfather was a noble man and bright of character and in this nomination I wish to honour (extol) him.”

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