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Rolls-Royce and UK Space Agency launch study into nuclear-powered space exploration
by Staff Writers
London, UK (SPX) Jan 12, 2021

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The UK Space Agency and Rolls-Royce are joining forces for a unique study into how nuclear power and technologies could be used as part of space exploration.

This new research contract will see planetary scientists work together to explore the game-changing potential of nuclear power as a more plentiful source of energy, capable of making possible deeper space exploration in the decades to come.

Nuclear propulsion, which would involve channelling the immense energy released in splitting the atom to accelerate propellants, like hydrogen, at huge speeds, has the potential to revolutionise space travel.

By some estimates, this kind of engine could be twice as efficient as the chemical engines that power our rockets today. Spacecraft powered by this kind of engine could, conceivably, make it to Mars in just three to four months - roughly half the time of the fastest possible trip in a spacecraft using the current chemical propulsion.

Nuclear space power is anticipated to create new skilled jobs across the UK to support the burgeoning UK space economy.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: "As we build back better from the pandemic, it is partnerships like this between business, industry and government that will help to create jobs and bring forward pioneering innovations that will advance UK spaceflight.

"Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and this innovative study with Rolls-Royce could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the universe."

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: "Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond.

"This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft, and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before."

Dave Gordon, UK Senior Vice President, Rolls-Royce Defence said: "We are excited to be working with the UK Space Agency on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain.

"We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world and explore our universe."

It would not just mean a time saving - it would also radically reduce the dose of radiation taken on by astronauts that would be making future trips to Mars or other planets. The size of the dose increases the longer you spend in deep space, away from the bubble of protection given by the Earth's magnetosphere.

The appeal of a small nuclear power generator for propulsion also comes from the fact that power in space becomes increasingly precious with distance from the Sun. In the outer solar system, sunlight gets too dim for solar panels and other technologies like fuel cells are often too patchy as a source of energy.

Nuclear propulsion is an idea that has existed since the 1950's, when the United States attempted to develop a rocket propelled by small atomic bombs tossed out the back.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on 2nd try
By JOHN ANTCZAK
42 minutes ago

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Virgin Orbit Boeing 747-400 rocket launch platform, named Cosmic Girl, takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port, Mojave (MHV) on its second orbital launch demonstration in the Mojave Desert, north of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Hartman)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said.

A 70-foot-long (21.34-meter-long) LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later and soared toward space.

The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats developed and built as part of a NASA educational program involving U.S. universities.

The launch occurred after the Boeing 747-400 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out over the Pacific Ocean to a drop point beyond the Channel Islands.

 

“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!” Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers.”

The rocket’s upper stage coasted for a period, reignited to circularize the orbit and then deployed the nine CubeSats.

The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly livestreamed.

Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.

Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its rockets was nearing launch Sunday.

Virgin Orbit touts the flexibility of its capability to begin its missions by using airports around the globe.

Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020.

The rocket was released and ignited but only briefly flew under power before it stopped thrusting. The lost payload was only a test satellite.

The company later said an investigation determined there was a breach in a high-pressure line carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first-stage combustion chamber.

Virgin Orbit is separate from Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Branson to carry passengers on suborbital hops in which they will experience the sensations and sights of spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial operations this year in southern New Mexico.

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Six things to know about NASA's Mars helicopter on its way to Mars
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jan 22, 2021

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Ingenuity, a technology experiment, is preparing to attempt the first powered, controlled flight on the Red Planet.

When NASA's Perseverance rover lands on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it will be carrying a small but mighty passenger: Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter.

The helicopter, which weighs about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth and has a fuselage about the size of a tissue box, started out six years ago as an implausible prospect. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California knew it was theoretically possible to fly in Mars' thin atmosphere, but no one was sure whether they could build a vehicle powerful enough to fly, communicate, and survive autonomously with the extreme restrictions on its mass.

Then the team had to prove in Earthbound tests that it could fly in a Mars-like environment. Now that they've checked off those objectives, the team is preparing to test Ingenuity in the actual environment of Mars.

"Our Mars Helicopter team has been doing things that have never been done before - that no one at the outset could be sure could even be done," said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at JPL "We faced many challenges along the way that could have stopped us in our tracks. We are thrilled that we are now so close to demonstrating - on Mars - what Ingenuity can really do."

Ingenuity survived the intense vibrations of launch on July 30, 2020, and has passed its health checks as it waits to plunge with Perseverance through the Martian atmosphere. But the helicopter won't attempt its first flight for more than a month after landing: Engineers for the rover and helicopter need time to make sure both robots are ready.

Here are the key things to know about Ingenuity as the anticipation builds:

1. Ingenuity is an experimental flight test.

The Mars Helicopter is what is known as a technology demonstration - a narrowly focused project that seeks to test a new capability for the first time. Previous groundbreaking technology demonstrations include the first Mars rover, Sojourner, and the Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats that flew by Mars.

The helicopter doesn't carry science instruments and isn't part of Perseverance's science mission. Ingenuity's objective is an engineering one: to demonstrate rotorcraft flight in Mars' the extremely thin atmosphere, which has just around 1% of the density of our atmosphere on Earth.

Ingenuity will attempt up to five test flights within a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) demonstration window. Its pioneering aspirations are similar to those of the Wright brothers' Flyer, which achieved the first powered, controlled flight on Earth.

2. Mars won't make it easy for Ingenuity to attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

Because the Mars atmosphere is so thin, Ingenuity is designed to be light, with rotor blades that are much larger and spin much faster than what would be required for a helicopter of Ingenuity's mass on Earth.

The Red Planet also has beyond bone-chilling temperatures, with nights as cold as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) at Jezero Crater, the rover and helicopter's landing site. These temperatures will push the original design limits of the off-the-shelf parts used in Ingenuity. Tests on Earth at the predicted temperatures indicate Ingenuity's parts should work as designed, but the team is looking forward to the real test on Mars.

"Mars isn't exactly pulling out the welcome mat," said Tim Canham, Ingenuity's operations lead at JPL. "One of the first things Ingenuity has to do when it gets to Mars is just survive its first night."

3. Ingenuity relies on the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission for safe passage to Mars and for operations on the Red Planet's surface.

Ingenuity is nestled sideways under the belly of the Perseverance rover with a cover to protect it from debris kicked up during landing. Both the rover and the helicopter are safely ensconced inside a clamshell-like spacecraft entry capsule during the 293-million-mile (471-million-kilometer) journey to Mars. The power system on the Mars 2020 spacecraft periodically charges Ingenuity's batteries on the way there.

To reach the Martian surface, Ingenuity rides along with Perseverance as it lands. The rover's entry, descent, and landing system features a supersonic parachute, new "brains" for avoiding hazards autonomously, and components for the sky crane maneuver, which lowers the rover onto Mars from a descent vehicle. Only about 50% of the attempts to land on Mars, by any space agency, have been successful.

Once a suitable site to deploy the helicopter is found, the rover's Mars Helicopter Delivery System will shed the landing cover, rotate the helicopter to a legs-down configuration, and gently drop Ingenuity on the surface in the first few months after landing. Throughout the helicopter's commissioning and flight test campaign, the rover will assist with the communications back-and-forth from Earth. The rover team also plans to collect images of Ingenuity.

4. Ingenuity is smart for a small robot.

Delays are an inherent part of communicating with spacecraft across interplanetary distances, which means Ingenuity's flight controllers at JPL won't be able to control the helicopter with a joystick. In fact, they won't be able to look at engineering data or images from each flight until well after the flight takes place.

So Ingenuity will make some of its own decisions based on parameters set by its engineers on Earth. The helicopter has a kind of programmable thermostat, for instance, that will keep it warm on Mars. During flight, Ingenuity will analyze sensor data and images of the terrain to ensure it stays on the flight path designed by project engineers.

5. The Ingenuity team counts success one step at a time.

Given Ingenuity's experimental nature, the team has a long list of milestones the helicopter must reach before it can take off and land in the spring of 2021. The team will celebrate each milestone:

+ Surviving the cruise to Mars and landing on the Red Planet
+ Safely deploying to the surface from Perseverance's belly
+ Autonomously keeping warm through the intensely cold Martian nights
+ Autonomously charging itself with the solar panel atop its rotors
+ Successfully communicating to and from the helicopter via a subsystem known as the Mars Helicopter Base Station on the rover

If the first experimental flight test on another planet succeeds, the Ingenuity team will attempt more test flights.

6. If Ingenuity succeeds, future Mars exploration could include an ambitious aerial dimension.

Ingenuity is intended to demonstrate technologies and first-of-its-kind operations needed for flying in the Martian atmosphere. If successful, these technologies and the experience with flying a helicopter on another planet could enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that might be part of future robotic and human missions to Mars. Possible uses of a future helicopter on Mars include offering a unique viewpoint not provided by current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground; high-definition images and reconnaissance for robots or humans; and access to terrain that is difficult for rovers to reach. A future helicopter could even help carry light but vital payloads from one site to another.

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2 hours ago, Kip Powick said:

That money could be used to help the unfortunate/clean up where ever he resides, not a 8 day vacation in space..

What a typically "Canadian" quote.  

If the guy has the money, and can afford it, I say why not ??

How do we know he doesn't do philanthropic work ??

Edited by AIP
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8 minutes ago, AIP said:

What a typically "Canadian" quote.  

If the guy has the money, and can afford it, I say why not ??

How do we know he doesn't do philanthropic work ??

I guess he may have the surplus cash to buy the adventure, others of us use our surplus cash to satisfy our more limited desires: car, bikes, trips, boats etc.  I guess we could all be faulted for not taking the money used for those unecessary expenses and donating it all to those more unfortunate but.........

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49 minutes ago, AIP said:

What a typically "Canadian" quote.  

Yes, I hope I am a "typical Canadian"...trying, in my own small way  to leave this world for my grandkids in better shape than what I am partly to blame for.  You may think that is wishful thinking but when you have the time.......look around and you should be able to see that the money these guys are spending on an 8 day vacation could do so much down here,

Two weeks after they get back, no one will remember their name but.......build a school or two  for the benefit of mankind and perhaps their legacy will be remembered. JMO and I can live with it.?

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16 minutes ago, Kip Powick said:

Yes, I hope I am a "typical Canadian"...trying, in my own small way  to leave this world for my grandkids in better shape than what I am partly to blame for.  You may think that is wishful thinking but when you have the time.......look around and you should be able to see that the money these guys are spending on an 8 day vacation could do so much down here,

Two weeks after they get back, no one will remember their name but.......build a school or two  for the benefit of mankind and perhaps their legacy will be remembered. JMO and I can live with it.?

I suggest you look him up and all the philanthropic work his foundation does.

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This always comes up when someone spends THEIR money on something THEY want.

How many of you take a Vacation every year to some sunny resort for a week or 2 or more?  Well that money could feed a family for months. Why not donate it?

Its just scale.  This guys dream is to go to space and he has EARNED the funds to do so then let him have at it.  This is his week at a resort. 

I get a little tired of this "Oh you earned a million dollars this year, you should give it away" crap.  If someone chooses to support charity then they will, if they want to use the money to make a lifetime dream a reality then have at it.

The money is not going into space to be lost forever.  that money is being paid so it can again be paid to all of the support staff, contractors, employees, etc.  That $55M IS putting food on peoples tables.

 

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Mars Missions

 

UAE spacecraft to enter orbit around Mars in Arab world interplanetary first

 

 

A United Arab Emirates spacecraft is preparing to swing into orbit around Mars later today.

 

The step, if successful, would begin the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission and mark a victory for the oil-rich country seeking a future in space.

 

Having traveled some 300 million miles and seven months to Mars, the unmanned robot craft called Amal, Arabic for Hope, is poised for a its critical moment, Isabel DeBre reports from Dubai. 

 

Landmarks across the UAE, including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, have been glowing red for days to mark the occasion.

 

The probe will provide a complete glimpse for the first time of the Martian atmosphere during different seasons. The sheikhdom is hoping to join the elite club of nations exploring the red planet and accelerate its fledgling, ambitious space program. 

 

Six spacecraft are orbiting Mars now: three American, two European and one from India. The red planet is receiving plenty more traffic this month  — China’s Tianwen-1 mission is due to slip into Mars’ orbit in less than 24 hours and attempt a landing in May. And a rover from the U.S. named Perseverance is aiming for a landing on Feb. 18.

 

About 60% of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up or otherwise falling short in a testament to the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through Mars' thin atmosphere.

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Early crewed travel to Mars
by Staff Writers for Launchspace
Bethesda MD (SPX) Feb 12, 2021

here is no doubt that humans are going to Mars. It is simply a question of how and when. However, there are many fundamental concerns that must be dealt with. Some of these address crew safety, radiation exposure, long travel times, life support on Mars and return options. We already know that low energy methods of transfer can take eight months each way and minimum Mars surface time between return windows is about two years.

At a minimum, any Martian trip is going to be a major hassle. Transportation costs alone will surely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, or more. Slight errors in navigation could result in missing the planet and marooning the crew forever in the vacuum of the Solar System.

And for the rest of the article: Early crewed travel to Mars (spacedaily.com)

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34 minutes ago, Kip Powick said:

Easier to get a round trip trip to the middle of the Sahara Desert  and upon arrival find  living conditions  more tolerable.

Until the day I die , I will not understand why there is any desire to inhabit basically an uninhabitable planet....What "upside" beats the "downside" ?

Likely driven by the same gene that encouraged human flight despite the majority opinion that it would be impossible.

 

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1 hour ago, Kip Powick said:

Easier to get a round trip trip to the middle of the Sahara Desert  and upon arrival find  living conditions  more tolerable.

Until the day I die , I will not understand why there is any desire to inhabit basically an uninhabitable planet....What "upside" beats the "downside" ?

https://www.amazon.ca/Space-Novel-James-Michener-ebook/dp/B00H6JHM7C/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1613152338&sr=8-11
 

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29 minutes ago, Kargokings said:

Likely driven by the same gene that encouraged human flight despite the majority opinion that it would be impossible.

 

Sorry, don't agree.....whether it was gene driven or not, is not relevant. The start  of aviation benefited all mankind and basically made life easier for humans and as we moved on, it made life easier for millions....

As I said....what is the "upside" of getting humans living on Mars?

I will bow out now as you, and many more, certainly feel that I am just a constant negative echo when it come to spending trillions on desolate land development.?

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