Plutonium production, Mars InSight mission delay and a Denmark’s attempt to stop space amateurs

pia16937-16U.S. demonstrates production of fuel for missions to the solar system and beyond

The first U.S. production in nearly 30 years of a specialized fuel to power future deep space missions has been completed by researchers at the Department of Energy‘s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.

The production of 50 grams of plutonium-238 –roughly the mass of a golf ball – marks the first demonstration in the United States since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina ceased production in the late 1980s.

Radioisotope power systems convert heat from the natural radioactive decay of the isotope plutonium-238 into electricity. These systems have been used to power the exploration of the solar system and beyond, from the Viking missions on Mars, to the Voyager spacecraft entering interplanetary space, and most recently powering the Curiosity Mars Rover and the New Horizons spacecraft sailing past Pluto.

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NASA delays Mars InSight mission

NASA has suspended its next mission to Mars after problems with a French-built seismological instrument could not be fixed in time for the scheduled launch. The mission, a lander called InSight that was to listen for tremors on Mars as a way of understanding the planet’s interior, will not launch in March 2016, the agency said today. NASA has not announced a new launch date, but because of the relative orbits of Mars and Earth, the agency will have to wait at least 26 months before it can try to launch again.

A new launch date is not a forgone conclusion. The agency will review designs to fix the problem with the instrument, and also estimate the cost of putting the mission on ice for 2 years—and whether that can be paid for. It could take a couple months to reach that decision point, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said during a teleconference today. “We either decide to go forward, or we don’t.”

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Denmark introducing a new law to block amateur teams like Copenhagen Suborbitals from building rockets

img_0079_1280-655x436There’s a new bill on the Danish parliamentary consultation portal [in Danish]. The bill might as well have been titled “The Copenhagen Suborbitals and Danish Space Challenge Act”.

It is a law that, if passed, will create Danish legislation around launching spacecraft from Denmark and Danish vessels. Launches from Danish vessels at sea is explicitly mentioned already in the second clause.

The bill is largely a compilation of parts of four UN treaties on space from the Cold War, which Denmark was already a signatory to, and were therefore applicable to Copenhagen Suborbitals and all other Danes launching rockets from Denmark or from Danish vessels at sea.

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