Aerospace Scientists Says Goodbye to Philae Lander

The German scientists behind the intrepid Rosetta space mission have given up hope of re-establishing communications with its Philae lander. The probe, which landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, has been silent since July 2015, and the team from the German Aerospace Center are now pessimistic that it will be able to wake it up.

“Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero, and we will no longer be sending any commands,” Stephan Ulamec, Philae Project Manager of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), said in a statement. “It would be very surprising if we received a signal now.”

While DLR has ceased any further attempts to communicate with Philae, the Rosetta mothercraft will continue to orbit 67P until September. So, if the little lander does wake up in the next seven months, Rosetta will still be listening:

The Rosetta space mission was overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA), with help from NASA. Rosetta chased 67P across our solar system for ten years, eventually rendezvousing with the comet in August 2014. Philae was launched at the comet on 12th November, 2014, and, despite its harpoon system failing, the probe successfully landed on its surface.

“The Philae mission was one-of-a-kind – it was not only the first time that a lander was ever placed on a comet’s surface, but we also received fascinating data,” Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board and a participating scientist on the mission, added. “Rosetta and Philae have shown how aerospace research can expand humankind’s horizon and make the public a part of what we do.”

UK Launches New Space Endeavour

The UK government has announced plans to launch a new National Space Policy in an effort make Great Britain the European hub for commercial space flight, The Independent reports. The government hopes that the initiative, which includes investment in space flight and microgravity research, will boost the country’s economy by £11.8 billion.

“For decades mankind has dreamt of space travel, and from today the UK will trigger the next scientific revolution to turn science fiction into science fact,” the UK’s Business Secretary Sajid Javid said. “Not only are we celebrating the launch of the first UK Government-backed astronaut, but our first-ever space policy will build on the inspiration he provides to grow our burgeoning space industry. Historically we haven’t been a major player in space programmes; this policy will change that.”

News of the move coincides as the UK’s first astronaut to visit the International Space Station (pictured) prepares to launch.

“I hope in future there will be more British astronauts. The International Space Station’s life will come to an end some time in the 2020s. The next project will be a lunar base. I would like us to be part of that, and also a [manned] mission to Mars looking further ahead,” former Science minister Lord Willetts said. “We were always a country that sent people out exploring, and the new frontier is space. It’s the same tradition as Captain Cook and Charles Darwin’s Beagle.”

Elon Musk Fearful World War III Could Prevent His Mars Mission

Entrepreneur and budding supervillain Elon Musk, founder of electric car company Tesla and astronautics outfit SpaceX, fears that his audacious plan to force a habitable atmosphere on to Mars by nuking it into submission could be put at risk by the possibility of a Third World War. Speaking to GQ magazine, Musk said that his ambitions for colonising Mars  – a task he sees as a moral responsibility for the good of future mankind – might be hampered by more terrestrial concerns.

“I mean, I don’t think we can discount the possibility of a third World War,” Musk said. “You know, in 1912 they were proclaiming a new age of peace and prosperity, saying that it was a golden age, war was over. And then you had World War I followed by World War II followed by the Cold War. So I think we need to acknowledge that there’s certainly a possibility of a third World War, and if that does occur it could be far worse than anything that’s happened before.”

Musk’s view of colonising Mars is almost childlike; he sees it the same way as a computer, saying, “You back up your hard drive…. Maybe we should back up life, too?”

NASA Confirms its “Impossible” EMdrive Thruster Works

NASA’s EMdrive – a fuelless electromagnetic propulsion system capable of pushing spacecraft to astronomical speeds once erroneously dubbed a real-world “warp drive” – has been branded “impossible” by the laws of physics, but the astronautics agency has confirmed during a second round of tests that, yes, it works. Scotty be damned.

Rewriting the fundamental principles of physics as we know them, the EMdrive, developed by NASA engineer Roger Shawyer, uses magnetron and microwaves to propel a spacecraft at speeds previously considered more appropriate to science fiction than reality. The microwaves are forced through a cone, through which it builds momentum as it loops back to push a vessel forward. The key here is that the action does not have an equal and opposite reaction, violating Newton’s Third Law.

Paul March, an engineer for NASA’s EagleWorks Labs, posted the following on NASA’s spaceflight forum:


I wish I could show you all the pictures I’ve taken on how we saluted and mitigated the issues raised by our EW Lab’s Blue-Ribbon PhD panel and now Potomac-Neuron’s paper, on the possible Lorentz force interactions.  That being the Lorentz Interactions with the dc currents on the EW torque pendulum (TP) with the stray magnetic fields from the torque pendulum’s first generation open-face magnetic damper and the Earth’s geomagnetic field, but I can’t due to the restrictive NASA press release rules now applied to the EW Lab.   

However since I still can’t show you this supporting data until the EW Lab gets our next peer-reviewed lab paper published, I will tell you that we first built and installed a 2nd generation, closed face magnetic damper that reduced the stray magnetic fields in the vacuum chamber by at least an order of magnitude and any Lorentz force interactions it could produce.  I also changed up the torque pendulum’s grounding wire scheme and single point ground location to minimize ground loop current interactions with the remaining stray magnetic fields and unbalanced dc currents from the RF amplifier when its turned on.  This reduced the Lorentz force interaction to less than 2 micro-Newton (uN) for the dummy load test.  Finally we rebuilt the copper frustum test article so that it is now fully integrated with the RF VCO, PLL, 100W RF amp, dual directional coupler, 3-stub tuner and connecting coax cables, then mounted this integrated test article at the opposite end of the torque pendulum, as far away as possible from the 2nd generation magnetic damper where only the required counterbalance weights now reside.  Current null testing with both the 50 ohm dummy load and with the integrated test article rotated 90 degrees with respect to the TP sensitive axis now show less than one uN of Lorentz forces on the TP due to dc magnetic interactions with the local environment even when drawing the maximum RF amp dc current of 12 amps.  

Given all of the above TP wiring and test article modifications with respect to our 2014 AIAA/JPC paper design baseline needed to address these Lorentz force magnetic interaction issues, we are still seeing over 100uN of force with 80W of RF power going into the frustum running in the TM212 resonant mode, now in both directions, dependent on the direction of the mounted integrated test article on the TP.  However these new plus and minus thrust signatures are still contaminated by thermally induced TP center of gravity (cg) zero-thrust baseline shifts brought on by the expansion of the copper frustum and aluminum RF amp and its heat sink when heated by the RF, even though these copper and aluminum cg shifts are now fighting each other.  (Sadly these TP cg baseline shifts are ~3X larger in-vacuum than in-air due to the better insulating qualities of the vacuum, so the in-vacuum thrust runs look very thermally contaminated whereas the in-air run look very impulsive.)  So we have now developed an analytical tool to help separate the EM-Drive thrust pulse waveform contributions from the thermal expansion cg induced baseline shifts of the TP.  Not being satisfied with just this analytical impulsive vs thermal signal separation approach, we are now working on a new integrated test article subsystem mounting arrangement with a new phase-change thermal management subsystem that should mitigate this thermally induced TP cg baseline shift problem once and for-all. 

And yet the anomalous thrust signals remain…

Best, Paul March”

Tl;dr: it works!

While still in its infancy, and with the effects on humans of travelling at such speeds is yet to be determined, the EMdrive marks potentially the greatest single astronautics advancement since the rocket engine.

Image courtesy of Spaceflight Insider.

SpaceX Raises Over $7 Billion to Fund New Missions

Elon Musk’s astronautics startup SpaceX has announced that it has raised over $7 billion dollars in total after signing a series of new contracts to employ its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles for 60 new missions. It made the announcement at the World Satellite Business Conference in Paris, France on Monday.

“We are pleased to add these additional launches to our manifest,” Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operations Officer of SpaceX, said in a press release. “The diversity of our missions and customers represents a strong endorsement of our capabilities and reflects SpaceX’s efforts to provide a breadth of launch services to our growing customer base.”

SpaceX has long denied that it has reached a $10 billion valuation, but the funds from its new contracts and the fact that it raised another $1 billion from Google and Fidelity during a funding round back in January this year, it can’t be far off.

The new missions, which include the launch of a communications satellite for HISPASAT and a Saudi Arabian Arabsat 6A communications satellite, are due to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station sometime between late-2017 and 2018.

In related news, NASA has revealed that it may use SpaceX to extract rock and mineral samples from Mars as part of its ‘Red Dragon’ project, which could launch as early as 2022.

Thank you TechCrunch for providing us with this information.

Energy-Delivering Space Laser Patented

A professor from the University of Alabama has patented a revolutionary space-based laser system designed to generate and deliver energy to a nearby spacecraft. Dr. Richard Fork thinks his new innovation could even be used as the first line of defence in the event of a potential asteroid collision with the Earth.

“I see this patent as a useful step in making efficient and effective power infrastructures available to the regions of space surrounding an asteroid or planet orbiting a star,” Dr. Fork said. “The patent is significant in that it gives UAH an advantage in launching what may be the first enterprise designed to provide energy generated in space and delivered in space for commercial purposes, as well as for non-commercial applications of general interest, such as successfully redirecting asteroids or other objects that may threaten Earth.”

“This method is designed to use optical phenomena – again quantum optical phenomena – but very well proven and widely accepted optical quantum phenomena to maximize the efficiency and precision of the processes,” he added. “Sunlight does, of course, distribute energy in space. However, energy in the form of sunlight cannot be directed, delivered or concentrated nearly as precisely and efficiently, or at the peak energies that are maximally efficient for propulsive thrust, as can the coherent light generated by laser systems.

According to Dr. Fork, the technology is ready to be deployed, and could be of great interest to NASA, which funded the original concept, and Elon Musk’s private space enterprise, SpaceX.

“The underlying physical phenomena are non-trivial,” says Dr. Fork. “However, we believe we can clarify and evaluate a highly productive strategy we have in mind by exploring the basic phenomena here in our terrestrial laboratories at UAH given a year or so of adequate funding. I think that SpaceX and other companies might be interested in this patent although that is speculation on my part at this time.”

Thank you for providing us with this information.

SpaceX Releases Beautiful 4K Rocket Footage

Elon Musk’s astronautics company SpaceX has released a gorgeous two-minute supercut of Falcon 9 rocket launches in glorious 4K. The editor of the video pulled out all the tricks – HDR, slow-motion, and late zooming – though the obnoxious techno soundtrack seems an odd choice for footage so majestic.

SpaceX has a further Falcon 9 launch scheduled for this coming Monday, with the rocket designated to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. After it drops off its shipment, the Falcon 9, designed to be reusable, will attempt to make a successful landing on an autonomous sea platform drone, a feat which, after two attempts, no Falcon 9 rocket has so far completed.

Source: The Verge

SpaceX Successfully Launches Dragon Rocket, Fails to Make Landing

Elon Musk’s astronautics outfit SpaceX conducted a successful rocket launch on Saturday, but the landing left a little to be desired. The Dragon capsule was launched early on Saturday morning, and the rocket made it into orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station. However, the return journey – the landing of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle on an out-to-sea barge – was not as successful.

According to Musk, the force of the impact of the module on the barge caused significant damage to the support equipment onboard. He then speculated that the landing failure may have been caused by a hydraulic fluid leak from one of the module’s fins, affecting its stability.

Source: Ars Technica