How a Beam of Pellets Could Blast a Probe Into Deep Space

A team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara has proposed a new method to propel probes into deep space using a beam of pellets. The technique involves firing a beam of small pellets, each about the size of a grain of sand, at a probe to create a burst of energy that would propel it forward.

According to the team, the method could potentially solve one of the biggest challenges in deep space exploration: how to efficiently and cost-effectively send probes beyond our solar system.

“We wanted to find a way to get a spacecraft up to a very high speed using a method that doesn’t require a lot of propellant,” said Philip Lubin, a professor of physics at UCSB and one of the authors of the study. “And that’s what led us to the idea of using a beam of pellets.”

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Starfish Space raises $14M to advance development of satellite servicing vehicles

An artist’s conception shows an Otter servicing vehicle docked to a larger satellite. (Starfish Space Illustration)

Starfish Space, a startup based in the Seattle area and founded by two former employees of Blue Origin, has raised $14 million in Series A funding to develop spacecraft for satellite servicing. The company plans to use the funds to complete the Otter Pup, a prototype satellite servicing vehicle, and the full-size Otter spacecraft. Otter Pup is set to launch this summer as a rideshare payload on SpaceX’s Transporter-8 mission. If successful, the Otter Pup will use electrostatic-based capture to latch onto a docking target on the space tug.

Starfish Space has raised a total of $21 million in investment, including pre-seed and seed funding rounds, and has received technology development grants from NASA and the US Space Force’s SpaceWERX program.

According to Austin Link, one of the company’s founders, “The technology that [Otter Pup] can demonstrate around satellite rendezvous, proximity operations and docking” is a major focus for the company. The successful launch of Otter Pup will boost confidence in the development of the full-size Otter, which aims to do satellite life extension at scale and less expensively.

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ESA Set To Deploy 4-Armed Robots To Clean Space Junk in Orbit

ESA commissioned ClearSpace for the active space debris removal mission.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced its plan to tackle the issue of space debris with the deployment of four-armed robots. The robots, named “e.Deorbit,” will use nets and harpoons to capture space debris and bring it back to Earth. ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight, Josef Aschbacher, said in a statement, “Space debris is a growing problem that poses a threat to both space exploration and the safety of our planet. We are excited to launch the e.Deorbit mission as a crucial step in mitigating this issue.”

The e.Deorbit mission is expected to launch in 2025 and will target objects in low-Earth orbit. This is where most of the space debris is located and poses the most significant risk to spacecraft and satellites. The robots will be remotely controlled from the ground and capable of capturing debris up to 10 meters in size. The project is anticipated to be challenging due to the unpredictable environment and the significant amount of debris in orbit.

The ESA hopes that e.Deorbit will pave the way for future space debris cleaning technologies. As Aschbacher explained, “This mission will be a significant step towards developing sustainable space exploration practices. We look forward to working with international partners and industry to make this mission a success.”

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Artificial gravity habitats now have access to satellite ‘space tug’

Space station company Vast’s acquisition of startup Launcher will give it access to a space tug to build a permanently habitable space station in low Earth orbit.

VAST Space Systems, a space station startup, has recently announced the acquisition of Launcher, a rocket manufacturing company. This acquisition will allow VAST to develop their own rockets to launch payloads into orbit and to provide transportation services to their own space stations.

In a statement, VAST CEO, Dylan Taylor, expressed his excitement about the acquisition and the potential it holds for the company. “The acquisition of Launcher represents a major milestone for VAST as we look to expand our capabilities in space,” said Taylor. “With Launcher’s innovative rocket technology and our own unique approach to space station design, we are poised to revolutionize the way that humans live and work in space.”

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Low-Earth orbit: A launchpad for Europe’s spacetech startups

Satellites going, up to the skies

Low Earth orbit (LEO) is a popular destination for space tech startups due to its proximity to Earth and the potential for new innovations. In Europe, several companies are exploring the possibility of launching LEO launchpads to support these startups.

One such company is Isar Aerospace, a German startup that is developing a rocket capable of launching small satellites into LEO. CEO Daniel Metzler believes that LEO is the “next frontier for space tech startups,” and sees Isar Aerospace as a key player in this emerging market.

Another company, UK-based Orbex, is developing a 3D-printed rocket called Prime that is designed to launch small satellites into LEO. CEO Chris Larmour sees LEO as a “game-changer” for the industry and believes that Orbex can help European startups compete with larger US-based companies.

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Japanese startup announces balloon flights taking passengers up to space

A Japanese startup announced plans Tuesday to launch commercial space viewing balloon flights that it hopes will bring an otherwise astronomically expensive experience down to Earth.

The company plans to use high-altitude balloons to carry people and payloads to an altitude of approximately 100,000 feet (30,480 meters), which is above the Earth’s atmosphere.

The balloons will be equipped with a pressurized cabin that can accommodate up to eight passengers and two pilots. The cabin will be designed to provide a comfortable environment for the passengers during the flight, which is expected to last for approximately two hours.

Space BD is currently working on developing the technology required for the balloon flights, including the balloons themselves, the pressurized cabin, and the propulsion system. The company has partnered with several other organizations, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, to help develop the technology.

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Aerogel and uranium could be the keys to building a revolutionary space engine

Aerogel is a lightweight and highly porous material that has been used in space technology for several years. It is made by removing the liquid from a gel and leaving behind a solid material with a low density. Aerogel has a wide range of applications, including insulation, capturing stardust particles, and as a component in rocket fuel.

On the other hand, uranium is a radioactive element that has been used in nuclear reactors to generate electricity. In space technology, it has been used to power space probes and other spacecraft. The use of uranium in space technology is still controversial due to the potential risks involved in the handling and transportation of radioactive materials.

Recently, researchers have been exploring the use of aerogel and uranium in combination for space engines. According to Dr. Jason Cassibry, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, this combination has the potential to revolutionize space travel. He said, “Aerogel and uranium together would make a very powerful engine because the aerogel would trap the energy given off by the uranium and then heat up, creating a lot of thrust.”

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Intuitive Machines to Shift IM-1 Mission’s Landing Site to Moon’s South Pole Region

An article on ExecutiveBiz reports that Intuitive Machines, a Texas-based aerospace and defense company, is moving the landing site for its IM-1 spacecraft to the south pole region of the moon. The author quotes Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines, who explains that the new landing site will enable the company to collect data and conduct experiments in an area that has not been explored before.

Altemus adds that “the south pole region of the moon is an exciting and important area to explore, and we believe that our mission will provide valuable insights into the moon’s geology and potential resources.”

The article also mentions that the IM-1 mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which aims to enable the delivery of scientific instruments and payloads to the moon. Intuitive Machines is one of several private companies that have been selected by NASA to participate in the program.

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NASA has announced the initial development and testing of its first full-scale rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) is complete, heralding technology that could aid in carrying humans to the moon in the near term, and may potentially also help facilitate deep space travel in the decades ahead.

The RDRE, a novel rocket engine design that could pave the way for new kinds of spacecraft propulsion, relies on detonation produced by supersonic combustion to create the thrust that moves it through space. The design is both more powerful and more efficient than current rocket engine spacecraft, making it ideal for crewed deep space missions to planets like Mars.

The development of the promising new system of propulsion was verified in recent days by engineering teams with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with assistance from Indiana-based IN Space LLC, who collaborated with the space agency to develop the engine and conduct more than a dozen “hot fire” tests last year.

The collaboration has relied on 3D printing and other efficient production methods to develop and test hardware used in the construction of the RDRE, which is capable of extended periods of operation and maintaining optimum performance, despite extremely hot and highly pressurized environments produced by detonation rocket propulsion.

NASA says the RDRE is able to achieve this by using its proprietary copper-alloy GRCop-42 paired with a process involving powder bed fusion additive manufacturing, which allows its continued operation under such extreme conditions.

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A Novel Propulsion System Would Hurl Hypervelocity Pellets at a Spacecraft to Speed it up

Graphic depiction of Pellet-Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough Space Exploration.

Today, multiple space agencies are investigating cutting-edge propulsion ideas that will allow for rapid transits to other bodies in the Solar System. These include NASA’s Nuclear-Thermal or Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NTP/NEP) concepts that could enable transit times to Mars in 100 days (or even 45) and a nuclear-powered Chinese spacecraft that could explore Neptune and its largest moon, Triton. While these and other ideas could allow for interplanetary exploration, getting beyond the Solar System presents some major challenges. 

As we explored in a previous article, it would take spacecraft using conventional propulsion anywhere from 19,000 to 81,000 years to reach even the nearest star, Proxima Centauri (4.25 light-years from Earth). To this end, engineers have been researching proposals for uncrewed spacecraft that rely on beams of directed energy (lasers) to accelerate light sails to a fraction of the speed of light. A new idea proposed by researchers from UCLA envisions a twist on the beam-sail idea: a pellet-beam concept that could accelerate a 1-ton spacecraft to the edge of the Solar System in less than 20 years. 

The concept, titled “Pellet-Beam Propulsion for Breakthrough Space Exploration,” was proposed by Artur Davoyan, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The proposal was one of fourteen proposals chosen by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program as part of their 2023 selections, which awarded a total of $175,000 in grants to develop the technologies further. Davoyan’s proposal builds on recent work with directed-energy propulsion (DEP) and light sail technology to realize a Solar Gravitational Lens.

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Rocket Lab’s Electron Booster Makes Its First US Liftoff And You Can Watch Live Here

Rocket Lab is scheduled to launch its Virginia Is For Launches mission later this evening. It will be the company’s first launch from Launch Complex 2 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport within NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

by Tim Sweezy 

While this will not be the first launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster, it will be the first time it will launch in the United States. Previously, the company launched 32 Electron missions from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The company touts the fact that Electron is “the most frequently launched small orbital rocket globally, and now with two launch complexes combined, Rocket Lab can support more than 130 launch opportunities every year.”

Launch Complex 2 was designed to support up to 12 missions per year. Rocket Lab operates an Integration and Control Facility within NASA’s Wallops Research Park, which includes state-of-the-art payload integration cleanrooms, vehicle processing facilities, and a mission control center. The upcoming launch pad and production complex for the company’s large reusable Neutron launch vehicle will also be located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

The rocket will reach supersonic speed within a minute of launch, with its main engine cutting off on the first stage around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. A few seconds later Stage 1 will separate from Stage 2, with Electron’s Stage 2 Rutherford engines igniting shortly after. The fairing will separate approximately three minutes post-launch, with the payload being deployed near the one-hour mark.

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New NASA Nuclear Rocket Plan Aims to Get to Mars in Just 45 Days

Concept art of the Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket.


We live in an era of renewed space exploration, where multiple agencies are planning to send astronauts to the Moon in the coming years. This will be followed in the next decade with crewed missions to Mars by NASA and China, who may be joined by other nations before long.

These and other missions that will take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and the Earth-Moon system require new technologies, ranging from life support and radiation shielding to power and propulsion.

And when it comes to the latter, Nuclear Thermal and Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NTP/NEP) is a top contender!

NASA and the Soviet space program spent decades researching nuclear propulsion during the Space Race.

A few years ago, NASA reignited its nuclear program for the purpose of developing bimodal nuclear propulsion – a two-part system consisting of an NTP and NEP element – that could enable transits to Mars in 100 days.

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