writes: A researcher at the US Naval Research Laboratory has developed an electronic module that can be used to capture solar energy in space and transmit it to Earth via microwave beam.
NRL has been studying space-based solar-power systems for several years. It has identified a number of possible applications including supplying power to forward bases, synthfuel production, and powering bistatic radars, sensors, and UAVs.
The military, which often pays much higher prices for energy than civilian customers, especially in remote areas, is seen as a possible anchor tenant for space-based solar power.
writes: The International Astronomical Union has thrown a tantrum over a plan to crowdsource names for craters on Mars.
The IAU gives official scientific names to craters, but it has only bothered with craters that have "scientific significance." The science-funding platform Uwingu has launched a campaign to come up with popular names for the remaining craters. For as little as $5, a member of the public can name one of the craters on Uwingu's map, with the proceeds going to fund space science and education.
This caused the IAU to issue a statement condemning such crowdsourcing efforts. The IAU pointed out that it did allow the public to vote on names for two of Pluto's moons, in the past. In that case, however, the IAU rejected the winning name (Vulcan).
writes: The test article for Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft suffered a landing accident on Saturday when the left main landing gear failed to deploy, causing the vehicle to flip over. NBC News quotes a Sierra Nevada engineer saying that the pilot would have walked away.
Sierra Nevada Corporation is developing the Dream Chaser to support the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo program. It is not yet known what effect the mishap will have on Dream Chaser development.
A number of rocket vehicles have suffered landing-gear mishaps in the recent past. Several years ago, concerns over spacecraft gear design led to a call for NASA to fund a technology prize for robust, light-weight landing gear concepts.
writes: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a new program to develop a reusable first-stage launch vehicle. Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) would be capable of flying 10 times in 10 days, with a small ground crew, reaching speeds of Mach 10, and deploying a small upper stage to place a 3,000-pound satellite into orbit.
The XS-1 program is complementary to the Air Force's Boeing X-37, which is a reusable upper stage. The X-37 is currently launched by an expendable Atlas rocket but could be launched by a vehicle derived from XS-1 in the future.
Military planners have dreamed of a two-stage, fully reusable Military Spaceplane (MSP) for several years, but funding has not materialized up to now.
writes: The race to develop low-cost, suborbital spaceflight is heating up. On Thursday, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two successfully completed its second powered test flight, reaching a speed of Mach 1.4 and an altitude of 69,000 feet. Meanwhile, XCOR Aerospace has begun posting daily reports on the progress of its Lynx spaceplane, which is expected to begin flight tests sometime around the end of this year. This means one of both companies are likely to begin commercial service by the end of next year.
XCOR still plans to move its headquarters to Midland, Texas later this year, but Midland may not be the only suborbital spaceport in the Lone Star state. On Wednesday,the Houston Airport System revealed renderings of its proposed spaceport at Ellington Airport, near Johnson Space Center just south of Houston. Citizens in Space (also based in Texas) has begun training five citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators on the XCOR Lynx and evaluating biomedical sensors for use on the flights. Details of those astronaut activities were also released this week.
writes: Arduino, the popular open-source microcontroller board, is powering a revolution in low-cost space-mission design. San Francisco-based Planet Labs, a spinoff of NASA's PhoneSat project, has raised $13 million to launch a flock of 28 Arduino-based nanosatellites for remote sensing. Planet Labs launched two test satellites this spring; Flock-1 is scheduled to launch on an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket in 2014.
NanoSatisifi, also based in San Francisco-based company, is developing the Arduino-based ArduSat, which carries a variety of sensors. NanoSatisifi plans to rent time on ArduSats to citizen scientists and experimenters, who will be able upload their own programs to the satellites. The first ArduSat is scheduled for launch August 4 on a Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle carrying supplies to the International Space Station.
The cost of orbital launches remains a limiting factor, however. As a result, Infinity Aerospace has developed the Arduino-based ArduLab experiment platform, which is compatible with new low-cost suborbital spacecraft as well as higher-end systems such as the International Space Station.
The non-profit Citizens in Space has purchased 10 flights on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, which will be made available to the citizen-science community. Citizens in Space is looking for 100 citizen-science experiments and 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators. To help spread the word, it is holding a Space Hacker Workshop in Dallas, Texas on July 20-21. Infinity Aerospace will be on hand to teach Arduino hardware and software.
writes: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two broke the sound barrier this morning on its first rocket-powered flight. The flight began at 7:02 am Pacific, according to the press release from Virgin Galactic. The reusable suborbital spacecraft reached an altitude of 47,000 feet and a speed of Mach 1.2 with test pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury at the controls.
Companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace hope that suborbital spacecraft will make spaceflight routine and affordable for researchers and citizen space explorers. Customers are already lining up for the new vehicles. Hundreds of scientists are expected to attend the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in June. Hardware hackers who wish to become citizen scientists or citizen astronauts are preparing to attend the first Space Hacker Workshop for Suborbital Experiments this weekend (May 4-5).