Billionaire-backed space startup Planetary Resources has officially unveiled its business plan to much fanfare and with few surprises. The company's principals--which include X-Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis, Space Adventures co-founder Eric Anderson, and former NASA Flight Director Chris Lewicki--today pledged that Planetary Resources would make the abundant resources of space available here on Earth, and introduced a couple of the company's own spacecraft that will make such space prospecting possible. The rush for space resources is officially on.
If you want to test an aircraft, a race car, a motorcycle, or just about anything that’s going to be slicing its way through the fluid that is air, you put it through wind tunnel trials. But how do you test a spacecraft? If you’re the German Aerospace Center (which goes by its German acronym DLR), you build a “space tunnel”: an 8,344 cubic foot vacuum chamber capable of space-like temperatures hovering just above absolute zero.
Today NASA announced a plan that was largely expected but is now official: Orion, the scrapped then not-scrapped crew module from the definitely scrapped Constellation Program, will serve as the backbone of a new NASA crew module slated to go into service by 2016. Lockheed Martin, which never stopped working on its Orion capsule, will continue developing the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), the next-gen rocket-launched capsule that will carry a crew of four on missions lasting up to three weeks.
IKAROS would do well to watch its back, for the Japanese solar-sailing spacecraft may just have some competition that's fast enough to catch up. The EU is funding a three-year project at the Finnish Meteorological Institute to build the fastest man-made device in the universe: an electric sail, or ESAIL, that researchers say could make Pluto in just five years' time.
Back in April, two teams of researchers caused a stir when they discovered the first-ever evidence of water ice and organic molecules riding around the solar system aboard an asteroid. Today, the same group has announced that it has found ice and organics on a second, larger asteroid as well, a finding that suggests water ice and organic molecules may be common passengers aboard asteroids throughout the solar system.
Japan’s IKAROS spacecraft is still solar sailing its way across the solar system in a proof of concept experiment that has gone, by all outward appearances, extremely well thus far. Marking another milestone for the mission, JAXA (Japan’s space agency) announced earlier this week the completion of another successful experiment as IKAROS executed attitude control using thin LCD panel devices built into the edges of its membrane-like solar sail.
It’s sink or sail time for Japan’s IKAROS spacecraft, and according to initial reports from JAXA the unfurling of the first solar sail deployed for actual deep space travel went off without a hitch.
But the successful sail deployment isn’t a guarantee of success. IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) still has to get moving, and mission handlers say in their blog posts today that it will be a few weeks before we know if the sail is really working the way it is supposed to.
The second phase of the Mars500 simulated mission to the Red Planet launched this morning as six men -- a Frenchman, an Italian, one Chinese man and three Russians -- were locked inside a 19,500-cubic-foot facility outside of Moscow, where they will remain for the next 520 days.