SpaceNews: September 29, 2015

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Student invents ion thruster that breaks NASA’s fuel efficiency record

NASA’s fuel efficiency record for space propulsion, held by NASA’s HiPEP system, has been shattered by an Australian doctoral student at the University of Sydney.

The exciting news was broken by the University of Sydney student newspaper Honi Soit, with the provocative headline: “University of Sydney Student Smashes NASA Record For Fuel Efficiency; Mars and Back on a Tank of Fuel.”

The record-breaking engine is a type of ion thruster, a kind of rocket that works by throwing particles backward really fast in order to propel a spacecraft forward. Called the Neumann Drive, it is named after its inventor, Patrick (Paddy) Neumann, who acknowledged his Masters and PhD supervisors for helping him “to narrow his focus and interpret any funky results that cropped up.”

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Mars shows signs of having flowing water, possible niches for life

Scientists have for the first time confirmed liquid water flowing on the surface of present-day Mars, a finding that will add to speculation that life, if it ever arose there, could persist now.

“This is tremendously exciting,” James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division, said during a news conference on Monday. “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.”

That represents a shift in tone for NASA, where officials have repeatedly played down the notion that the dusty and desolate landscape of Mars could be inhabited today.

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The best way to colonize Mars is even crazier than Elon Musk’s idea to drop nukes on the planet

We already know how to control a rocket strapped with a nuclear explosive, so it’s easier to imagine how we might bomb Mars rather than simply shoot an asteroid toward it.However, NASA is already working on technology to capture an asteroid — but not for the purpose of warming-up Mars.

NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will send the first robot in history to a near-earth asteroid. The robot will then collect a sample from the asteroid and place it in orbit around the moon for astronauts to visit, study, and possibly mine it by some time in the 2020s.And the technology NASA is designing for the ARM mission will pave the way for future manned mission to Mars.

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Blue Origin the only winner in failed NewSpace deal

Blue Origin has in the span of a week unveiled plans for a new reusable orbital rocket, a new Florida-based facility for manufacturing, testing, and launching the company’s rockets and rocket engines (including the BE-4). It also quietly provoked a competitor to put $2 billion on the table.

That marks a huge change in stature for Bezos’s secretive space startup, which has received far less federal money and attention than competitors like SpaceX (through NASA’s commercial crew program) or Aerojet Rocketdyne (as contractor for the main engine on the Space Shuttle and for NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System). Though the private spaceflight industry didn’t see a blockbuster multi-billion-dollar deal this past week, it may have witnessed something more significant behind the scenes.

“What’s happening right now is happening because of the relationship between ULA and Blue Origin and its affect on Aerojet,” Christensen says. “It’s just amazing that a truly commercial company is in there making that impact.”

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Ukraine working on low-risk rocket engine solution

In the process of searching for strategic suppliers for a new-generation liquid rocket engine to replace the RD-180 on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 and for potential use on the future ULA Vulcan launch vehicle, the U.S. Air Force issued a Draft Request for Proposal for development of a replacement engine. Proposals should consist of U.S.-based engine production, meet the requirements of the national security space community, complete development by no later than 2019, and ensure engine availability for purchase by all interested launch providers in the United States.

Presently two U.S. companies have the highest media profile in response to this requirement for a new U.S. engine: Blue Origin, which is developing the BE-4 engine utilizing liquid oxygen (LOX) and methane, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is working on development of the AR1 liquid oxygen-kerosene engine.

Both of these companies and their respective approaches entail unnecessary cost, schedule and technical risk.

LOX-rich staged combustion oxygen-kerosene engines have been in production for decades in Ukraine. The intricate requirements of staged combustion have long since been mastered by the Yuzhnoye State Design Office of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. The lowest-cost, lowest-risk option is to import this proven LOX-rich stage combustion technology from Ukraine and firmly establish this technology in the United States without the added cost and risks that the Aerojet and Blue Origin approaches entail.

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Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence program completes critical design review

Lockheed Martin’s (NYSE: LMT) Space Fence System, including the large-scale digital radar and turn-key facility were deemed technically mature and provided evidence that all requirements will be met through the program’s Critical Design Review (CDR) conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

Government representatives met with Lockheed Martin engineers in Moorestown to review the Space Fence S-band radar system design, which will detect, track, and catalog orbital objects in space more than 1.5 million times a day to predict and prevent space-based collisions. The three-day CDR was preceded by the delivery of 21,000 pages of design documents, and an eight-day Design Walkthrough, to ensure the system will meet performance requirements. The CDR event featured the demonstration of a small-scale system built with end-item components that detected and tracked orbiting space objects.

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Eyes on space, India launches ‘mini-Hubble’

India launched its first space research observatory and several U.S. satellites on Monday, part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to expand his country’s influence in the competitive, $300 billion global space industry.

The observatory, named ASTROSAT, will help Indian scientists intensify space exploration efforts by studying distant celestial objects and conduct deeper analyses of star systems.

ASTROSAT is seen as a smaller version of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope that was launched in 1990. It will be able to detect objects in multiple wavelengths such as X-rays, but with far lower precision than Hubble, said Mayank Vahia of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

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