October 31, 2014

LeBlanc Joins Buzz Aldrin's ShareSpace Foundation (Source: SPACErePORT)
Linn LeBlanc has joined Buzz Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation as its Executive Director. The foundation is committed to promoting the sciences and arts to young children and will include activities such as: putting science kits in the hands of thousands of children for free, which they can explore and build themselves; empowering teachers in the STEAM arena; and engaging students personally by visiting schools and communities.

While very much a “start-up," ShareSpace is gaining momentum quickly. The foundation's main focus will be in the US, but its goal is to be a global presence, reaching as many communities and children as possible. Science literacy is a huge key to so many exciting doors for children to open. Visit the ShareSpace Foundation here. (10/30)

Correspondent Blames Virgin for Picking Engine That Would Never Reach Space (Source: CNN)
CNN interviewed former Washington Post reporter Joel Glen Brenner about the loss of SpaceShipTwo and one of its pilots, apparently a good friend of hers. Brenner scolded Virgin Galactic for taking her friend's life through their choice of a rocket engine that would never have gotten the company's customers to space. This flight tested a new hybrid rocket motor that replaced a different model using a different blend of fuels. (10/31)

Virgin Galactic Was Flight-Testing New Engine (Sources: SPACErePORT, Aviation Week, Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic was conducting a flight test of its new hybrid-fuel engine for SpaceShipTwo. The company had decided earlier this year to switch from an HTPB rubber-based fuel grain propellant to one based on polyamide (nylon). The HTPB engine, according to Parabolic Arc, "produced vibrations and oscillations so severe that the ship would have been shaken apart if it had been burned anywhere near full duration of about a minute."

The polyamide fuel mix produced a smoother burn for a longer duration, prompting the switch. But the mid-stream engine change caused a further delay in putting SpaceShipTwo into commercial service. Today's flight failure, though not yet linked to the engine, will certainly delay commercial flights further into 2015, if not longer. (10/31)

Spaceport America Can Expect a Longer Delay from Virgin Galactic (Source: SPACErePORT)
Spaceport America has already been feeling heat from New Mexico taxpayers and lawmakers for a multi-year delay in offering tourist flights to the edge of space. The latest plan was for Virgin Galactic to begin passenger service as early as the Spring of 2015, with Richard Branson on the first flight. The loss of SpaceShipTwo will almost surely push Virgin Galactic's commercial debut further into 2015. (10/31)

Virgin Galactic Suffers Loss of Vehicle, Pilot in SpaceShipTwo Test (Sources: NBC, Florida Today)
Virgin Galactic said its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane suffered an "in-flight anomaly" during a powered test flight on Friday — and other sources said the anomaly involved a catastrophic explosion and crash. Two pilots fly in SpaceShipTwo's cockpit during a test. Those pilots are equipped with parachutes, and after the anomaly, at least one chute was reportedly sighted over the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the base from which SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane took off.

The California Highway Patrol reported 1 fatality and 1 major injury after the accident. Virgin Galactic has been the front-runner in the fledgling space-tourism industry. SpaceShipTwo, typically flown by a crew of two pilots, has been under development at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Sir Richard Branson had said he hoped the company based out of Spaceport America in New Mexico would begin flying space tourists on suborbital trips by February or March of next year. (10/31)

Range Safety's Role in Antares Accident (Source: National Geographic)
Every time NASA launches a rocket, two safety officers have one weighty decision: They have to decide whether to push a self-destruct button if it appears the launch is going awry. If they make the wrong call either way, bad things can happen. Destroy a rocket prematurely, and millions of dollars in equipment and research go up in flames unnecessarily. Allow a malfunctioning rocket to continue, and the lives of people near the launch site could be at risk.

The flight safety officer and the range safety officer are tasked with deciding whether a rocket is operating properly and either disabling it for safety reasons or letting it proceed. There can be just seconds to decide. The explosion happened after safety officers, watching for any of ten specified problems, such as a gross deviation from the flight path, sent a signal from the flight termination system to disable the rocket, although damage from the malfunction may have already doomed it to collapse back to Earth.

Most of the launch crew were in a hardened blockhouse near the launchpad, but two had a very special role that required them to stand out in the open. In the early seconds of a launch, when the rocket is near the ground, there is too much interference from trees and nearby structures for radar and other monitoring systems to be accurate. So spotters watch the launch through wooden viewing frames fitted with guide wires. If the rocket crosses behind a wire, they know it's veering off track and they send up an alarm telling the safety officers to abort. Then they seek shelter. (10/31)

Environmental Impact from Antares Contained (Source: DelMarVa Now)
It appears the environmental effects of the rocket explosion were mostly contained to the southern third of Wallops Island, a NASA environmental team said after a preliminary assessment. A NASA industrial hygienist collected air samples in the vicinity immediately after the explosion and found no hazardous substances in the air at multiple nearby locations.

Eyewitnesses on Chincoteague and at the NASA Wallops Visitor Center reported an acrid smell in the air a while after the explosion, and Atlantic resident Robert E. Johnson said he smelled fumes there soon after it happened. An Orbital official shortly after the incident said solid fuel from the rocket's second stage and hypergolic fuel — hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide — that powers the Cygnus spacecraft are of more concern environmentally than is the first-stage liquid fuel, composed of oxygen and kerosene.

Editor's Note: The apparently limited environmental damage from the Antares failure could give a boost to Space Florida's efforts to establish a new launch site at Shiloh on NASA land at the north end of KSC. An Environmental Impact Statement is now being developed for Shiloh. (10/31)

Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps (Source: Parabolic Arc)
So, why did Sputnik quickly help spark a revolution that would transform life on Earth, while the Ansari X Prize led to 10 years of extravagant promises and desultory results? And what does this tell us about the role of prizes in moving technology forward? Click here. (10/31)

Thales Alenia Officials Flabbergasted as Range Safety Concerns Sideline Spaceplane Test Flight (Source: Space News)
Thales Alenia Space Italy officials reacted with stupefaction and incredulity that their miniature spaceplane experiment’s launch had been postponed indefinitely because of last-minute concerns over range safety. These officials said their 40-strong engineering team preparing the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) for a mid-November launch aboard a European Vega rocket — also Italian-led — had worked nights and weekends to make the November date.

The November launch, they said, would have shone a light on Italy’s space technology prowess on the eve of a conference of European space ministers that will decide Europe’s space station and launch vehicle future. With Italy’s government still apparently undecided about how much to invest in Vega upgrades, a new Ariane 6 heavy-lift rocket and the European share of the international space station, they said, a successful IXV flight and Pacific Ocean splashdown might have provided an important preconference impetus for further investment.

ESA and CNES officials said the launch would be delayed for an undetermined amount of time while they examine safety concerns about Vega’s equatorial flight path as it leaves Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana, which is French territory. It remains unclear why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago. (10/30)

Orbital Sciences Likely to Choose New Russian Engine for Antares (Source: Itar-Tass)
A Russian engine RD-193 produced by Energomash will be probably be mounted on modified models of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares. The decision to choose the engine for a next generation of Antares rockets was made several weeks ago, an Orbital Sciences official said.

Orbital Sciences does not confirm this decision in concrete, but also does not deny information that the company had chosen the RD-193 for Antares. Barron Beneski explained this by noting that Orbital Sciences was involved in several commercial deals and a news report about a new engine might hamper continued talks with partners. Details of the decision on choosing the engine are not announced yet, he noted.

Editor's Note: Choosing another Russian engine, even a newly produced one, would seem inconsistent with recent U.S. and Russian policy moves. How would this impact the competitiveness of Antares as it pursues new business from NASA and the Department of Defense? (10/31)

Ukraine Denies Role in Explosion of U.S. Rocket (Source: Moscow Times)
Ukrainian space industry firms had no involvement in the refurbishment of the Russian rocket engine used by the U.S. Antares rocket that exploded this week. A number of state-owned Russian media outlets began to characterize the Antares rocket as a Ukrainian-American rocket, after having characterized it as a Russian-American rocket after previous successful launches.

The rocket's engine has been the focus of early speculation on the cause of the accident. "Ukrainian space industry companies did not participate in the production or modernization of the NK-33 rocket engines," the Ukrainian space agency was quoted as saying. Components made at the Yuzhmash plant in Ukraine, were used inside the rocket's body but these had nothing to do with the 40-year-old refurbished Russian rocket engine, the space agency said. (10/30)

Initial Damage Assessment Shows Antares Pad Intact (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Initial inspections of the Antares rocket’s launch pad in Virginia revealed the facility escaped major damage after sustaining nearly a direct hit from the booster as it fell to the ground in flames. Two of the launch facility’s four lightning protection towers were toppled in the fiery crash, but the pad’s 307-foot-tall water tower remains standing.

Even the rocket’s transporter, which routes electrical and fueling umbilicals to the launcher, survived the fireball as the booster impacted the ground feet from the pad’s launch mount. “A sounding rocket launcher adjacent to the pad, and buildings nearest the pad, suffered the most severe damage,” NASA said. (10/31)

Antares Failure Casts Doubt On U.S. Commercial Launch Strategy (Source: Forbes)
Three independent industry insiders said that blame for the Antares loss squarely rests on one of the rocket’s two Soviet-era engines. A launch engineer and industry expert said that before the rocket lost thrust it was evident that “there was a lot of unburned kerosene going into the exhaust stream” which he says suggests that it also lost engine pressurization.

“It wasn’t a failure in the fuel tanks, avionics, or navigation, but definitely with an engine,” said the launcher engineer.  “Seven seconds into the flight everything is fine and then suddenly the exhaust stream brightens noticeably.” How does Tuesday’s Antares failure affect long-term cargo resupply for the space station?

“It takes the U.S. companies doing [ISS cargo resupply] from two down to one for at least a while,” said the launcher engineer. “I’d be surprised if Orbital Sciences flies Antares again in a year. This definitely calls into question their long-term strategy of using these old Soviet engines.” (10/30)

Alliant Techsystems Tops 2Q Profit Forecasts (Source: AP)
Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) on Thursday reported earnings of $95.1 million in its fiscal second quarter. The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The aerospace and defense contractor posted revenue of $1.27 billion in the period, which missed Street forecasts. Analysts expected $1.28 billion. Alliant Techsystems expects full-year revenue in the range of $5.15 billion to $5.2 billion. (10/30)

Boeing Exec: NASA Crash Underscores Need for New U.S. Engine (Source: Reuters)
The crash of an unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket is a "wake-up call" to the U.S. space community about the need to develop a new U.S. rocket engine, the head of Boeing Co's defense division said on Thursday. Chris Chadwick said the incident underscored growing concerns about U.S. reliance on Soviet-era and Russian engines that power rockets used for U.S. civilian space, military and intelligence purposes. (10/30)

Ebola Outbreak May Hold Lessons for Handling Samples from Mars (Source: Space.com)
Measures taken in the current Ebola outbreak may hold some clues for how to handle samples brought back to Earth from Mars, a place that could potentially host extraterrestrial microbes. "While the Ebola situation bears no resemblance to a sample-return mission to Mars, there is a concern that the public could link the two if not properly informed," said John Rummel, a professor of biology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. (10/30)

Canada's MDA Suggests Lack of Govt. Interest May Prompt Another Move (Source: Space News)
Satellite and space hardware builder MDA Corp. on Oct. 30 warned the Canadian government that lukewarm government support for MDA activities was accelerating the company’s disengagement from Canada. MDA said Canada’s nonrenewal of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) services contract already pushed the company to relocate this business to Australia, whose government wants to continue, post-Afghanistan, its use of MDA’s UAV services business at least through 2017.

Canada’s seeming vacillation as to how to advance the nation’s specialty in space-based robotics was in part responsible for the company’s purchase of a small U.S. company that has since been folded into MDA’s satellite manufacturing business, Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, California. (10/31)

Pending NASA Budget Bill Would Likely Survive Senate Flip, Lobbyist Says (Source: Space News)
U.S. midterm elections Nov. 4 will determine exactly how Congress handles 2015 appropriations, but even if Republicans keep the House and takeover the Senate, NASA’s budget will likely resemble the one that cleared the Democrat-held Senate Appropriations Committee this summer, a veteran space lobbyist said here Oct. 29.

Under the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June but derailed by election-year politics that had nothing to do with space, NASA would get $17.9 billion for 2015, some $250 million more than in 2014. The bill included record-high appropriations for the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and commercial crew programs, de facto competitors for NASA human spaceflight funding. (10/31)

NASA Prepares To Host Hush-Hush Military Program at KSC (Source: Space News)
NASA intends to be a host for the Air Force’s classified X-37B program, which will lease two of the space shuttle’s mothballed processing hangars. The X-37B program, which currently consists of two nearly 9-meter-long robotic spaceplanes, is taking over Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) bays 1 and 2. Unlike the military’s shuttle missions, KSC personnel will not need extra security clearances to support the X-37B program.

“Our role now is something I like to call a ‘ground traffic controller.’ The facilities [at KSC] are separated, and with that advantage ... we’re able to keep different operations separate from each other … We have dozens of partnerships and our job is to make sure they don’t conflict with one another so we don’t site one partner in one facility that would interfere with operations with another partner in another facility,” he said.

Editor's Note: KSC's emerging role, as described, is essentially serving as a spaceport authority. This has recently put the center at odds with Space Florida, a state agency empowered as a spaceport authority. Since the 1990s, the state's spaceport authority has been developing and financing infrastructure projects on KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (collectively named the "Cape Canaveral Spaceport" in Florida law). (10/31)

Russia Puts Meridian Communications Satellite Into Orbit (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Meridian communications satellite has been put into orbit by a Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket, launched from Russia's Plesetsk space center. "The Soyuz-2.1a carrier-rocket, launched Thursday, has successfully put the Meridian satellite into orbit," Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said. (10/31)

Single Irishman Aiming for Mars (Source: Independent)
Astrophysicist Dr. Joseph Roche is still hopeful that he will become the first Irishman on Mars… despite the very real possibility that his potential ticket to space is one-way. Roche, who works at Trinity College’s School of Education, has been whittled down to the final 705 out of 200,000 hopeful candidates on Mars One. Needless to say, interest is at fever pitch in Roche’s Dublin office as the Big Brother-style elimination process continues apace.

“People tell me about stories they read about Mars One, and someone came into my office and said, ‘I read that if you go to Mars, you’ll die really quickly. The idea of dying quicker on Mars isn’t appealing, but it’s exciting that people are talking about it." His next duty will be to undergo gruelling training and testing before the highly publicized mission to Mars, which plans to leave within the next ten years. (10/31)

Russian Spaceport Construction Boss Arrested Embezzling $43 Million (Source: Moscow Times)
The former head of a company involved in building the vast new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East has been arrested and charged with embezzling 1.8 billion rubles ($43 million) from the project. Despite being labeled a vital national project by President Vladimir Putin, the Vostochny Cosmodrome has been beset with delays, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to take greater control over construction efforts this year.

The Investigative Committee's spokesman, Vladimir Markin, told Interfax that Yury Khrizman, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of construction firm Dalspetsstroi, had been nabbed after a probe into problems at the cosmodrome by Russia's security service, the FSB, in coordination with the Investigative Committee and the state's financial watchdog, the Audit Chamber. (10/30)

SpaceX Lawsuit Alleges California State Labor Law Violations (Source: LFN)
SpaceX is now facing two lawsuits over alleged labor law violations. One suit alleges that the company denied workers breaks and demanded that they work off the clock and through meal and rest breaks because of overloaded work schedules. Allegedly, none of the workers were paid for missed breaks or other off-the-clock work, told to round their hours worked to the nearest 15-minute increment (losing wages in the process), provided with tools needed to perform their jobs or reimbursed when they bought tools they needed.

In California, workers on shifts for over five hours must have 30-minute meal breaks. If they work more than 10 hours, they must receive a second 30-minute break. It is also mandated that for every four hours worked, there must be a 10-minute rest break. “If those breaks are not provided, employers must pay workers an extra hour for each day they did not get a meal break and pay another hour for each day they went without a rest break,” said Sacramento business attorney Deborah Barron. Barron is not involved in either case.

SpaceX has had its share of labor issues lately. The latest blow was delivered by a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that SpaceX laid off hundreds of workers in July without proper notice and without compensation. The newest lawsuit also suggests the company made break and shift schedules that shortened or interrupted workers’ mandatory breaks before the layoffs. It asks the courts for back pay, damages and penalties. SpaceX could face a very large penalty for its violations of California’s labor laws. (10/31)

Is Space Tourism Safe or do Civilians Risk Health Effects? (Source: Liebert)
Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals according to a series of articles on space biomedicine published in New Space. Click here. (10/30)

Cecil Spaceport Prepares for 2016 Launch (Source: WJXT)
Many people in Jacksonville and north Florida may not be aware, but Cecil Field is also a spaceport. There are plans set to launch rockets from the old Navy base, but not like what most are used to seeing. There will not be vertical rockets, but horizontal launches. Small Rockets strapped to jets will fly out over the ocean and launch from there.

The first launch is set for December 2016, but there have already been tests run by Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch, or GO Launch for short. In July, it tested out a space flight that started at Cecil Spaceport and ended with a rocket launch over the ocean. It used a Learjet with a mock rocket attached. The test was to get a feeling of what workers need to do for the real thing. The rocket was never launched.

The Aviation Authority has spent several million dollars getting the permits and preparing to build a hanger for a much larger plane. "We have the infrastructure in place right now to do those operations," said Rusty Chandler, of Cecil Spaceport. GO Launch has teamed up with NASA to put small satellites into orbit that could be used in communications research and other areas. GO Launch CEO John Olds said the company is still getting ready and working on funding for the launch in December 2016. (10/29)

Spaceport America Hangar Architects Win Award (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America has been given a merit award by the American Institute of Architects Western Mountain Region. The hangar was selected from 145 projects submitted by architectural firms across six states including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

SMPC Architects, the Albuquerque-based archtect of record for the project, accepted the award on behalf of the design team, which is a collaboration with URS Corp. and London-based Foster + Partners. (10/29)

Ukraine's Yuzhnoye Launches Investigation of Antares Explosion (Source: Itar-Tass)
Experts of the Ukrainian design bureau Yuzhnoye, which took part in designing and manufacturing the Antares carrier rocket, have launched their own investigation of an explosion of the Antares rocket Tuesday. "We've begun the 'hotwash' already and are scrutinizing the possible causes of the explosion," the press service of the design bureau said. "The results will be reported later." (10/29)

Space Florida Gets State Funding for UAS Project (Source: EOG)
Space Florida was awarded a $38,500 grant to design, plan, and execute an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) component to the annual emergency response exercise at Camp Blanding, the state's largest National Guard installation. This grant will enhance the installation’s capability, and provide research and development for emergency response; thereby providing a springboard for more UAS-related activity in the state.

Senate President-Designate Andy Gardiner said, “This grant will help provide Space Florida the opportunity to play an important role in Camp Blanding’s annual emergency response exercise. We need to make sure Florida is prepared to respond to critical threats to our security and it is great to see Space Florida play a role in that important mission.

Senator Thad Altman said, “The Legislature and Governor Scott recognize the economic importance that our military installations have on state’s economy. We are pleased to be able to make a positive impact and continue to enhance the value Florida’s military bases.” (10/29)

Antares Rocket Crash in Virginia Investigation to Take up to Year (Source: Space Daily)
The investigation into the reasons of the Cygnus spaceship explosion during the launch at the US Wallops Flight Facility can take about a year, a NASA spokesperson said. "Investigation will take up to 6 month to a year," he said. (10/30)

Orbital Asked Judge on Day of Accident To Force Turnover of Launch Hardware (Source: Space News)
Shortly before its Antares rocket exploded Oct. 28, Orbital Sciences Corp. asked a federal judge to force a contractor to turn over hardware the Virginia company needs before it can launch a new version of its Cygnus cargo capsule that was supposed to debut in April. The timing of that mission is now in doubt following the failure of the company’s Antares rocket.

The motion for a preliminary injunction Orbital filed Oct. 28 is the latest turn in a lawsuit centered around the Transporter Erector Launcher, the slow-moving mobile launch tower used to haul Antares out of its hangar and raise the rocket vertical at the pad. NASA’s day-after assessment of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A found that the Transporter Erector Launcher was among the ground hardware damaged when Antares erupted into a ball of flame and debris. (10/30)

Moon Express Plans Tests Soon at KSC (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Moon Express Inc., headquartered at the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field, California, will perform vehicle testing at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility as part of NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown or CATALYST initiative. The purpose of the Lunar CATALYST is to encourage the development of U.S. private sector robotic lunar landers, and this initiative is being executed by means of no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreements with U.S. private sector partners.

Editor's Note: NASA has entered into agreements with three companies to support their lunar landing concepts, including Moon Express, Masten, and Astrobotic. (10/30)

Range-Initiated Flight Termination May Have Saved Launch Pad (Source: SPACErePORT)
It looks like the Antares rocket was OK up to the L+15 seconds mark. "Evidence suggests the failure initiated in the first stage after which the vehicle lost its propulsive capability and fell back to the ground," says Orbital. Space Policy Online reports that a range-initiated "flight termination" signal was sent before the rocket fell back to the ground.

From photos I've seen, it appears that the flight termination system ripped open the vehicle's fuel tanks to ensure that no errant forward propulsion would be possible. The vehicle blew apart as it fell, avoiding a direct impact on the launch pad. Photos show that the launch complex suffered much less damage that I would have expected, given the size of the explosion. Perhaps the range's command-destruct action saved the launch pad from what could have been a much more damaging outcome. (10/30)

Virginia Braces for Aftershocks From Wallops Explosion (Source: Watchdog)
The failed launch and fiery explosion at the Wallops Island spaceport this week could blow up Virginia’s projected financial windfall at the commercial site. The state invested $26 million in 2009 to bring privately operated space flights to the Eastern Shore. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport was estimated to generate $4.25 billion for Virginia’s economy through 2020. Now the short-term outlook isn’t so rosy.

“The complex is pretty much toasted. It was like a tactical nuclear warhead going off,” said Keith Cowing, who edits NASAWatch.com. The question is: Who will pay for the massive repairs, the environmental cleanup and for the $200 million in lost cargo and equipment bound for the International Space Station? The rocket company, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., isn’t saying.

With questions still up in the air, neither the company nor NASA nor the state would speculate about the cost of restoring the Wallops site, or who would foot the bill. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office was looking into the legal ramifications, but had no answers Wednesday night. (10/30)

The 8 Incredible Details You Never Knew About Virgin Galactic (Source: Jaunted)
How about Paris for the weekend, or a two-week trip around Southeast Asia? Forget it—that's so 2014, so terrestrial. Should Virgin Galactic have their way, 2015 will be the year you book a vacation of suborbital space travel, or perhaps a supersonic 45-minute flight from California to London.

This month SpaceShipTwo completed her 54th test flight, improving the odds that next year will indeed be the one to finally kick off space tourism. In fact, Virgin Galactic has already begun the big move from Mojave, CA to Las Cruces, NM, the latter being home to Spaceport America and, hopefully soon, flights to space full of paying passengers (6, to be specific, plus 2 pilots). Click here. (10/30)

NASA's High Altitude Glider Can Fire Rockets Into Space from the Air (Source: Gizmodo)
It still costs an arm and a leg (and sometimes an entire Antares rocket) to lift crews and cargo into space. So until we get around to building that space elevator we've always wanted, NASA will just have to use this drone-towed, pilot-less, rocket-launching glider.

It's called the Towed Glider Air-Launch System (TGALS) and it's designed to launch orbital rockets from high altitude at a fraction of the cost of current methods. So instead of trying to dead lift loads straight up through the atmosphere (and directly against the pull of gravity) atop an SLS rocket, this method gives the launch a running—or rather, flying—start.

NASA successfully tested its 1/3-scale prototype (which still measured 27 feet wingtip to wingtip) earlier this week at Edwards AFB in California as part of the Game Changing Development program. This test did not include a rocket launch, but rather was a dry run to ensure that the glider's mix of OTS and custom built components could hold together during its powered flight and landing. Turns out, it totally did; bring on the rockets. (10/30)

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