For the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA says it may soon have the capability to send astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. Critical milestones are on the horizon for Boeing and SpaceX, the space agency's commercial crew partners: Flight tests of their spacecraft, including crewed missions, are planned for 2018.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Instagram Wednesday to share the first photo of what the SpaceX suit looks like. Musk wrote in the post "that this actually works" and the stylish suit was not a mockup.
The jets will fly 70 miles apart, one in front of the other as they fly through the total eclipse zone that runs from Oregon to South Carolina. The jets, however, are launching from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. They’ll meet up with the eclipse 50,000 feet above Missouri, and will keep with it as it passes over Illinois and Tennessee.
SpaceX has gotten quite adept at launching its Falcon 9 rocket. In fact, it’s becoming commonplace for it to do something no one else can do -- land the first stage of that rocket for reuse. SpaceX is not content to just putter around in low-Earth orbit, though. The next big step for SpaceX is to begin flying the Falcon Heavy, a much more powerful version of the Falcon 9 that’s still intended to be reusable.
China is rushing to establish itself as a leader in the field. In 2013, a 1.2-tonne spacecraft called Chang'e-3 landed on the Moon, delivering a rover that used ground-penetrating radar to measure the lunar subsurface with unprecedented resolution. China's latest space lab, which launched in September 2016, carries more than a dozen scientific payloads. And four additional missions dedicated to astrophysics and other fields have been sent into orbit in the past two years, including a spacecraft that is conducting pioneering experiments in quantum communication.
Both NASA and the two companies developing commercial crew vehicles say those efforts remain on schedule for test flights that are in some cases less than a year away. NASA published July 20 what it called "the most recent publicly-releasable dates" of the test flights of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicles.
New launch vehicles promise cheaper access to space, either to Earth orbit and beyond or for suborbital missions. The cubesat revolution has made it cheaper than ever to build small but sophisticated spacecraft. That combination suggests that it’s feasible for scientists to develop missions without the need to go through government agencies for funding.
Launched in clusters, some staying in orbit just a year or two, the satellites would provide coverage necessary to execute a new military contingency plan called “Kill Chain.” It is the first step in a new strategy to use satellite imagery to identify North Korean launch sites, nuclear facilities and manufacturing capability and destroy them pre-emptively if a conflict seems imminent.
The design process is being headed by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The goal is to use a refrigerator-sized object to smash into and deflect an asteroid from Earth. Of course, there’s no way such a mission could stop an asteroid that’s poised to smack into the planet in the near future. However, a little nudge early enough might alter an object’s orbit and cause it to miss an impact with Earth.
This experiment was a crucial test for a budding technology called quantum cryptography, which uses quantum particles like photons to send secure information. But fragile quantum particles are notoriously difficult to transmit.