October 6, 2016

Blue Origin Nails Test Flight for Inventive Crew Escape System (Source: Inverse)
Jeff Bezos promised a dramatic flight test of Blue Origin’s new crew escape system in West Texas today, and the live-streamed event was even more epic than anticipated. Not only did the crew capsule safely eject itself off of the New Shepard rocket, but the booster itself survived the maneuver, against all odds and expectations.

NS2 managed to right itself after the escape, continue to travel all the way up into space, and descend back to Earth for a soft and upright landing. The goal was only to recover the capsule and provide a gentle landing for its would-be astronauts, although crewed tests have yet to begin. On that measure, this test was a great success. If humans had been inside, they would have been in for a wild but ultimately safe ride up, and back down.

The escape system isn’t designed to be deployed except in cases where something goes wrong with the rocket, and so booster recovery isn’t part of the plan. When the capsule blasts off from the booster, it messes with the aerodynamics, and the Blue Origin team wasn’t at all sure the rocket would make it back in one piece after today’s test. (10/3)

Those Martian Settlements Sound Great, but Something Important is Missing (Source: Ars Technica)
While Elon Musk's recent speech about the glories of Martian colonies is still echoing in our ears, we should take a moment to consider what it means to colonize a planet. It's not just about setting up some habitat pods and sucking water out of the regolith. Acquiring food and a livable environment are just as important as manufacturing rocket fuel, which is why it made sense to make a botanist the brave hero of recent colonization epic The Martian. You might say that growing space potatoes is key to the interplanetary survival of our species.

Put another way: we need awesome rockets to get to Mars, but we need environmental science if we're going to stay there. Colonization requires us to settle—actually settle, like my ancestors did in the 19th century wilds of Texas—in an alien ecosystem. For all we know, that ecosystem might be teeming with life. Unfortunately, colonization also requires us to destroy that alien ecosystem and replace it with one we prefer. Click here. (10/5)

Trusted Ariane 5 Lays Foundation for Ariane 6 (Source: ESA)
With 74 successful launches in a row, Ariane 5 now matches the reliability of Ariane 4 – while an experiment is helping the development of Ariane 6. Arianespace announced liftoff at 20:30 GMT from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana for a dual payload mission lasting about 32 minutes. Sky Muster II, with a mass of 6405 kg at liftoff, was the first satellite to be released about 28 minutes into the mission. The 3404 kg GSAT-18 was released into it own orbit four minutes later. (10/5)

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