DARPA moving forward with development of nuclear powered spacecraft

n the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, DARPA plans to develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine.

by Sandra Erwin 

The next phase of DRACO is a ‘full and open competition’

WASHINGTON – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on May 4 issued a solicitation for proposals for the next phase of a demonstration of a nuclear powered spacecraft. 

The project, called Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO), started over a year ago when DARPA selected a preliminary design for a rocket engine reactor developed by General Atomics, and chose two conceptual spacecraft designs by Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin.

The next phases of the program will focus on the design, development, fabrication and assembly of a nuclear thermal rocket engine. DARPA will conduct a “full and open competition” so this opportunity is not limited to the companies that participated in the first phase, a spokesperson told SpaceNews. Proposals are due Aug. 5.

The goal is to launch a flight demonstration of nuclear thermal propulsion in fiscal year 2026.

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Space station’s new robotic arm springs to life


By Trevor Mogg

Two spacewalkers at the International Space Station (ISS) activated the facility’s new robotic arm for the first time on Thursday, April 28.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev concluded their spacewalk at  6:40 p.m. ET after 7 hours and 42 minutes outside the ISS, with much of that time spent working on the European Robotic Arm (ERA).

The ERA arrived at the station in July last year but it remained covered with thermal blankets until Thursday.

NASA shared footage (below) of the two cosmonauts some 250 miles above Earth as they worked to release the robotic arm from its restraints ahead of its first workout.

Getting to this stage has been a long time coming. The ERA was designed more than 30 years ago, and various technical issues over the last 20 years caused it to miss three planned missions to the ISS.

But now European Space Agency (ESA) engineers can finally celebrate the arm’s first activation in space.

The new robotic arm is about 11 meters long, weighs 1,390 pounds (630 kilograms), and includes seven joints that offer a high degree of maneuverability.

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Space Startup Aims to Build Space Hotel With Artificial Gravity by 2025

An illustration of the Pioneer-class space station, which is designed to have five modules built around a gravity ring.

By Passant Rabie

The Pioneer-class stations are designed to accommodate 28 guests for up to two weeks.

Orbital Assembly Corporation announced plans to develop a space business park, complete with artificial gravity, that’s designed to accommodate 28 guests in five modules built around a rotating gravity ring. 

The startup, which is based in Huntsville, Alabama, is aiming to make its first Pioneer-class space station operational by 2025, in what is an ambitious and likely unrealistic timeline. That said, Orbital Assembly is intent on making this the first commercial, hybrid space station that can be leveraged for both research and leisure.

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Small spacecraft electric propulsion opens new deep space opportunities

An image of Northrop Grumman’s small electric propulsion thruster first light during testing at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Electric Power and Propulsion Laboratory.

by Nancy Smith Kilkenny

The path to the Moon, Mars, and beyond will require a fleet of spacecraft in many different shapes and sizes, including everything from massive rockets that produce millions of pounds of thrust to pioneering small electric propulsion thrusters that fit in the palm of your hand.

For decades, innovators at NASA’s Glenn Research Center have been developing large, high-power electric propulsion (EP) systems that harness the power of the Sun to energize inert gases and turn them into extremely efficient thrust. Higher fuel efficiency means less propellant is needed, lowering launch costs while allowing spacecraft designers to reduce overall spacecraft weight to carry more payload mass, like technology demonstrations or more powerful scientific instruments.

The agency’s primary EP efforts have centered on large exploration and science missions, like the 7-kilowatt (kW) NEXT-C gridded-ion system currently flying on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission and the 12-kW Advanced Electric Propulsion System used on the Power and Propulsion Element for NASA’s lunar orbiting space station known as Gateway.

However, over the last five years, the Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion (SSEP) project at NASA Glenn has been advancing high-performance sub-kilowatt (<1-kW) Hall-effect thruster and power processing technologies to enable smaller spacecraft. By utilizing smaller craft – those that could fit inside the trunk of your car versus being the size of your car – the agency opens more opportunities to conduct ambitious deep space missions at a fraction of the cost.

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Rocket Lab will try to snatch a rocket out of mid-air with a helicopter

The ambitious mission, happening this month, is part of a plan to develop a reusable orbital launch vehicle.

By K. Holt

Rocket Lab is developing Electron as a reusable orbital launch vehicle and it has revealed details about the next step of the program. After the rocket’s 26th launch, which is scheduled for later this month, the company will attempt to snatch the first stage out of mid-air with a helicopter.

The mission has a 14-day launch window starting on April 19th. Electron is scheduled to lift off from a launchpad in New Zealand and will carry satellites for a number of companies. 

Around an hour before launch, the helicopter will move into position approximately 150 miles off the coast. Two and a half minutes after lift off, the first and second stages of the rocket will separate, with the latter carrying the payload to orbit. The first stage will descend back to Earth. It will deploy a drogue parachute at an altitude of 13 km (8.3 miles) and its main parachute at an altitude of roughly 6 km (3.7 miles).

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The first all-private mission to the ISS a huge step forward in commercial space travel 

The astronauts on board are all private citizens

It’s not long since billionaires were competing to get to the “edge of space”. Now, the first set of private citizens is getting ready to take a SpaceX shuttle up to the International Space Station (ISS). Unlike the short “joyrides” of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, this mission will be reaching the roughly 400km altitude needed to dock with the ISS.

The mission by the US commercial aerospace company Axiom Space is a major step forward in private space travel, and is part of a plan to build a private space station. With Russia recently pulling out of collaborating on the ISS, the world will be watching to see whether the private sector can be trusted to provide reliable access to space for peaceful exploration.

The Ax-1 mission is planned for launch on April 6, using a SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft – the same as that used by astronauts in 2020 – onboard a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission is planned to last ten days, eight of which will be on the ISS.

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South Korea says it successfully test-fired first solid-fuel space rocket

A South Korea-built, liquid-fuelled Nuri rocket launching from the Naro Space Centre south of Seoul on Oct 21, 2021.

SEOUL (REUTERS) – South Korea’s military said it had successfully test-fired a solid-fuel space rocket for the first time on Wednesday (March 30), a step it said will help eventually launch a constellation of satellites to better monitor threats such as North Korea.

The launch is the first such test since South Korea and the United States agreed last year to end decades of restrictions on the South’s ballistic missile and rocket development, and comes less than a week after North Korea conducted its highest missile test yet.

“The success of the test launch of this solid-propelled space launch vehicle is an important milestone in strengthening the defence power of our military’s independent space-based surveillance and reconnaissance field at a very critical time,” the Ministry of National Defence said in a statement, citing last week’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea.

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‘Groundbreaking moment’ UK to launch nuclear reactor in space to create unlimited energy

BRITAIN is poised to launch a nuclear fusion reactor into space by 2027, which could create limitless clean energy in a major breakthrough for the future of both interplanetary travel and energy security.

By JACOB PAUL

Pulsar Fusion Ltd, a UK nuclear fusion company based in Bletchley, is developing green rocket technology that could eventually send humans to distances further than our Solar System. Nuclear fusion is the energy process that powers the stars which scientists have been scrambling to create on Earth to produce unlimited supplies of low-carbon, low-radiation energy.

This could play an incredibly important role in the UK as the Government presses ahead with its net zero targets while seeking to slash its dependence on foreign imports.

Pulsar has claimed that this could be “the answer to the energy crisis”.

Bur Pulsar is also seeking to harness the process of nuclear fusion in space with its nuclear fusion reactors, which it says could enable rockets to access travel to planets beyond our solar system.

As fusion rocket technology only works in the vacuum of space, Pulsar has had to develop hybrid rocket engines, which it has been testing.

se lay the groundwork for the Pulsar’s hyper-speed propulsion engines, which could even slash the journey time from Earth to Mars by half, according to scientists.

According to Pulsar CEO Richard Dinan, the firm is looking to use this technology to launch its nuclear fusion reactors into space.

The first prototype for the propulsion engine is expected by 2025.

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A startup wants to provide high-speed internet on the Moon by 2024

The company will also provide asteroid detection data for planetary defense.

A startup called Aquarian Space announced that it just received $650,000 in seed funding to work on the development of a broadband internet connection that would link the Earth, Moon, and maybe even Mars.

The company announced on Thursday, March 17, that it had received funding from Draper Associates. The company aims to deploy its first lunar system as soon as 2024, according to a report from Space.

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Incredible new supersonic jet will fly from China to New York in 1 hour

By Joshua Hawkins

A Chinese company is developing a supersonic jet capable of traveling from New York to China in just one hour (via Robb Report). The company behind the jet is Space Transportation. It says that it is developing a “rocket with wings”, which will work for space tourism and point-to-point travel.

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How Long Does It Take To Get To The Moon?

By Noah Zelvis

At some point, mankind stopped looking at the Moon as some impossible object in the sky and started to decipher the science behind making the journey there. Since that time, many spacecraft have made the journey successfully to the Moon. In this article, we take a look at how long it took different types of craft to get to the Moon.

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Space factory startup aims for first UK launch

Space factory startup aims for first UK launch

By Nick Flaherty

Startup Space Forge is aiming to launch the first satellite from the UK later this year.

The company is developing a re-usable satellite that can be used to build materials in microgravity in orbit and return it to Earth safely.

The ForgeStar satellite will be launched as part of a joint UK-US mission with Virgin Orbit to open the country’s first domestic spaceport in summer 2022 from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay. This will use a launcher mounted on a Boeing 747 taking off from a traditional runway.

ForgeStar can also be deployed from conventional launchers, and the first launch will be used to test the return from space technology. This includes Aether, a predictive analytic tool that is ten times better at providing satellite and space body re-entry landing locations. The company is also working with EDA vendor Ansys on modelling tools.

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