by Jennifer Hurst
September 22, 2018

SpaceX Signs First Private Passenger for Lunar Mission on BFR Launch Vehicle

The first human to fly around the moon since the storied astronauts of the Apollo era will get there on SpaceX’s next-generation Big Falcon Rocket, the company said Thursday night, further teasing an event next week that will reveal details about the launch vehicle and passenger.

“SpaceX has signed the world’s first private passenger to fly around the moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle,” the California-based company said via Twitter, adding that it’s “an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space.” SpaceX will announce more details about BFR and the passenger on Monday at 9 p.m. — Florida Today


Elon Musk Just Gave the Most Revealing Look Yet at the Rocket Ship SpaceX is Building to Fly to the Moon and Mars

Elon Musk has provided several new, rare, and telling glimpses into how his rocket company, SpaceX, is building a spacecraft to reach Mars.

“It’s unusual for companies and even government agencies that develop rockets to reveal much about the hardware they’re developing. But what Musk wants to do is to bring along the public with him,” Marco Cáceres, a senior space analyst at the Teal Group, told Business Insider. “He lives and breathes this company. So when he has hardware that he’s excited about, he just wants to show it and be as transparent as possible.”

The BFR is designed to be a 39-story launch system made of two parts: a 180-foot-tall spaceship, from tip to tail, and a 230-foot-tall rocket booster (which the ship rides into orbit). Musk has said the spaceship is the “hardest part” of the system to build, so SpaceX is prototyping it first.

Musk’s vision is to launch the spaceship into orbit and refuel it while it circles Earth. Then the ship can fire up its engines, fly through space, land on Mars, and later rocket off of that planet and return to Earth. Because it’s designed to be 100% reusable, the system will supposedly be able to do all of this many times. — Business Insider

An illustration of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket launching into space. Here, the spaceship is shown detaching from the booster. SpaceX
Click Image to Enlarge

Inside a mandrel that SpaceX uses to build carbon-fiber-composite sections of the Big Falcon Rocket.SpaceX


They Made It! Japan’s Two Hopping Rovers Successfully Land on Asteroid Ryugu

The suspense is over: Two tiny hopping robots have successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu — and they’ve even sent back some wild postcards from their new home.

The tiny rovers are part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission. Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday (Sept. 21), but JAXA waited until today (Sept. 22) to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely. —

This spectacular photo shows the view from asteroid Ryugu from the Minerva-II1A rover during a hop after it successfully landed on Sept. 21, 2018. The probe is one of two that landed on Ryugu from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. It’s the first time two mobile rovers landed on an asteroid.
Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
Click Image to Enlarge


Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Touts Blue Origin Rockets at 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and aerospace company Blue Origin, was the keynote speaker at the 2018 air, space and cybersecurity conference held by the Air Force Association in Washington, DC. He talked about innovation, leadership and the developments in commercial space travel by his company Blue Origin.

During an appearance at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, the world’s richest man told the assembled officers and Pentagon officials that he plans to invest $1 billion next year in his rocket company to develop a heavy lift launch vehicle, known as New Glenn, scheduled to fly in late 2020.

“As far as I know we’re one of the only launch companies actually building and manufacturing on the space coast,” Bezos said, according to Space News. “I want people in this audience to know how committed we are to this,” he said. “We’re in.” — Fox News


SpaceX Gives us a Glimpse of its Mars Base Vision

It shows BFR’s new design, as well.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk has tweeted two photos that give us a peek into the company’s Martian dreams. One of the images shows the BFR, the massive rocket SpaceX is developing for deep space missions, while the other shows the BFR and what he called “Mars Base Alpha.” It’s no secret that the private space corporation wants to build a human settlement on the red planet. Back in 2017, it announced its plans to launch two BFR cargo missions to Mars by 2022 to prepare for the arrival of the first Martian settlers by 2024. Before any of that can happen, though, SpaceX has to be able to start testing its BFR system in the first half of 2019. — Engadget

Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems Lays Out a Roadmap for Hypersonic Rocket Planes

Air launch space company Stratolaunch Systems has unveiled study plans for a pair of hypersonic flying testbeds that could be launched from the company’s very large carrier aircraft currently in pre-flight testing at Mojave, California.

The testbeds, if developed, could provide a stepping stone towards Stratolaunch’s planned family of space launch vehicles, which includes a series of modular small to medium payload rockets and a fully reusable space plane. This medium-class payload concept, dubbed internally as the “Black Ice” project, also is targeted at carrying astronauts to low Earth orbit.

Stratolaunch Systems, the aerospace company created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, says it’s exploring the development of a series of rocket planes that would serve as a testbed for hypersonic flight.

Stephen Corda, Stratolaunch’s senior technical fellow for hypersonics, presented the concept this week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ International Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies conference in Orlando, Fla.

If Stratolaunch follows through on the concept, the company could use the world’s largest airplane as a launch platform for an uncrewed aerospace plane that travels at more than 10 times the speed of sound, or Mach 10. — Geek Wire

Stratolaunch’s swept-wing hypersonic testbed would be propelled by a rocket engine. (Stratolaunch Illustration)


SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Set To Launch Telstar 18 VANTAGE From Cape Canaveral

SpaceX is set to launch the Falcon 9 rocket carrying Telstar 18 VANTAGE from Cape Canaveral. The Telstar 18 VANTAGE satellite will provide broadcast, enterprise and government communications services over parts of India, China, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Ocean region. — Space Coast Daily


SpaceX is set to launch the Falcon 9 rocket carrying Telstar 18 VANTAGE from Cape Canaveral on Saturday, September 8. (SpaceX Image)



Defense Contractors Step Up Investments in Commercial Space Companies

Established military contractors with extra cash frequently invest in companies and technologies they see as key to their future. Space startups with products and services that have a national security applications have become especially attractive opportunities. Two major deals were announced yesterday. One is Boeing HorizonX Ventures’ investment in satellite communications firm BridgeSat. The company’s secret sauce is optical communications that enable connectivity in space through a network of ground stations and proprietary space terminals.

Another major Pentagon contractor, Raytheon, announced an alliance with commercial satellite company HawkEye 360. Raytheon is making a strategic investment in HawkEye 360 in exchange for “unique level of access to [geospatial] data, enhancing the company’s analytics services for government customers.” — Space News


DOD to Study Potential of Space Weapons

The U.S. Defense Department is studying, but has yet to endorse, proposals to place a missile defense system in space. At a panel discussion Tuesday, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said the Defense Department is following congressional orders by looking at the technological and security implications of putting interceptor missiles in space, but that agreeing to do so “are bridges yet to be crossed.”

The Pentagon is interested in placing new sensors in space in order to better track hypersonic missiles, although Rood said he didn’t consider development of such a system a “provocative act.” Another panelist, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, advocated for the development of hypersonic missiles by the United States. — Space News

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves and Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (from left to right) speak at a forum on Capitol Hill Sept. 4. Credit: SpaceNews


Inside the Crust of Neutron Stars, There’s Nuclear Pasta; the Hardest Known Substance in the Universe

Ever since they were first discovered in the 1930s, scientists have puzzled over the mystery that is neutron stars. These stars, which are the result of a supernova explosion, are the smallest and densest stars in the Universe. While they typically have a radius of about 10 km (6.2 mi) – about 1.437 x 10-5 times that of the Sun – they also average between 1.4 and 2.16 Solar masses.

At this density, which is the same as that of atomic nuclei, a single teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh about as much as 90 million metric tons (100 million US tons). And now, a  team of scientists has conducted a study that indicates that the strongest known material in the Universe – what they refer to as “nuclear pasta” – exists deep inside the crust of neutron stars. — Universe Today


NASA Detects ‘Unusual’ Infrared Light From Mysterious Neutron Star

A neutron star in the depths of space has been detected beaming out abnormally bright infrared radiation, in a development that has left astronomers perplexed.

The distant phenomenon was spotted using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and the team behind the discovery hope it will help them understand the development of these super-dense stars.

Neutron stars are objects formed from the collapsed cores of large stars following a supernova explosion. They are also known as pulsars due to the pulses of radiation they emit as they rotate at high speeds. — Independent


To Avoid Vision Problems in Space, Astronauts Will Need Some Kind of Artificial Gravity

Ever since astronauts began going to space for extended periods of time, it has been known that long-term exposure to zero-gravity or microgravity comes with its share of health effects. These include muscle atrophy and loss of bone density, but also extend to other areas of the body leading to diminished organ function, circulation, and even genetic changes.

For this reason, numerous studies have been conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to determine the extent of these effects, and what strategies can be used to mitigate them. According to a new study which recently appeared in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, a team of NASA and JAXA-funded researchers showed how artificial gravity should be a key component of any future long-term plans in space. — Universe Today

Click Image to Enlarge


Astronomers Find Planet Vulcan – 40 Eridani A – Right Where Star Trek Predicted It

Star Trek’s Spock comes from the planet Vulcan, which of course doesn’t exist. But new research might give us the next best thing—an exoplanet orbiting the real-life star that Vulcan is said to be orbiting in the Star Trek universe.

In 1991, Gene Roddenberry wrote a letter to Sky & Telescope about what kind of star the planet Vulcan was likely to orbit. In that letter, he specifically picks out one such star, 40 Eridani. Later, 40 Eridani became the canon Vulcan star system featured in a handful of episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise.

In real life, 40 Eridani is a triple star system located about 17 light-years from the Earth. The main star, 40 Eridani A, is about 84 percent as massive as our sun. The other two stars in the system are much smaller and orbit 10 times as far away from the main star as Pluto orbits from the sun.

While 40 Eridani isn’t the largest or brightest star in the night sky, it is pretty close to us, making it a good target for scientists searching for planets around other stars. Recently, a group of scientists at the Fairborn Observatory working with the Dharma Planet Survey took a good look at 40 Eridani and discovered a planet circling it, just like Gene Roddenberry said it would. — Popular Mechanics

Artistic impression of a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star. Credit: Gabriel Pérez/SMM (IAC)
Click Image to Enlarge


40 Eridani A is located invisible on a clear night in the southern Eridanus constellation. Credit: IAU/Sky and Telescope Magazine


This Beautiful Photo of Galaxy NGC 3981 was Taken by the Most Powerful Telescope in the World for no Scientific Reason at all. Just Because it’s Pretty

The world’s most powerful telescopes have a lot of work to do. They’re tasked with helping us unravel the mysteries of the universe, like dark matter and dark energy. They’re burdened with helping us find other habitable worlds that might host life. And they’re busy with a multitude of other tasks, like documenting the end of a star’s life, or keeping an eye on meteors that get too close to Earth.

But sometimes, they have to take a break. The ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) recently captured a glorious image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3981. — Universe Today

This image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3981 was captured by the FORS2 instrument on the ESO’s VLT. NGC 3981 is in the Crater constellation. Image: ESO
Click Image to Enlarge