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SpaceX Restartable Thrusters Pass Early Tests

SpaceX completed qualification testing for its SuperDraco thruster late last month. The engine will eventually be mounted on the manned version of the Dragon spacecraft as part of its launch escape system. It will also help the vehicle touch down on its return to Earth or on whatever other planet it visits.

SpaceX says the engine produces 16,000 pounds of thrust and can be fired multiple times. In an emergency, eight SuperDracos built into the Dragon will provide 120,000 pounds of thrust to propel the crew a safe distance from the rest of the vehicle.

The thruster’s engine chamber is made through the industrial 3-D printing process called direct laser metal sintering. It is composed of Inconel, a strong nickel-chromium superalloy able to withstand high temperatures. 

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Soon, it will be possible to buy a ticket to the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Lesser known than Elon Musk and Richard Bronson’s space tourism exploits is World View, a luxury flight capsule that, in an estimated four years, will start taking travelers on five hour tours through our earth’s atmosphere.

Do we really have to wait that long?!

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Inside The New Dragon Spacecraft

Last night, SpaceX unveiled the Dragon V2 capsule, destined to eventually carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Although the previous version of the Dragon capsule was flightworthy enough to deliver supplies, its life support system wasn’t reliable for human passengers. Dragon V2, on the other hand, will be able to carry seven astronauts for seven days.”

Read more from popsci.

The is SpaceX’s Dragon V2 capsule, which the company unveiled this week. According to SpaceX, it will take seven passengers into space, before landing anywhere in the world “with the precision of a helicopter”.

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SpaceX Releases Video Of Successful Falcon 9 Rocket Landing At Sea

Two weeks ago SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station as part of the company’s third cargo resupply mission. It was also the first SpaceX launch with landing legs attached to test a soft landing of the rocket’s first stage at sea. Prior to launch SpaceX had estimated a 30 to 40 percent chance of success.

Later the same evening SpaceX confirmed via social media that the soft landing at sea was a success, saying:

"Data upload from tracking plane shows first stage landing in Atlantic was good! Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water."

The successful soft landing is a significant step forward in developing reusable-rocket technology that could dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration. The ultimate goal is have the Falcon 9’s first stage booster fly itself back to a landing pad, so they can quickly turnaround and reuse them.

Watch the (repaired) video from the Falcon 9 rocket’s onboard camera here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=er66BActC4E

If you want to help improve the video quality of the raw footage received from the Falcon 9’s onboard camera, go here: http://www.spacex.com/news/2014/04/29/first-stage-landing-video

Most of NASA’s funding goes to out-of-house contractors, such as SpaceX, in the private sector. By advocating for an increase in NASA’s budget you are helping SpaceX reduce the cost of space exploration for all of us! Take action today! Tell Congress to increase NASA’s budget: http://www.penny4nasa.org/take-action/

The first image shows the Falcon 9’s first stage prior to launch with landing legs attached. The second image is of the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying cargo to the ISS. And the third image was captured by the Falcon 9 rocket’s onboard camera right before its successful splashdown at sea showing a controlled landing with the landing legs deployed properly.

Image Credit: SpaceX / NASA

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The Martian atmosphere presents a slew of problems to engineers trying to safely land heavy cargo on the planet’s surface. Its atmosphere is much less dense than that of Earth’s, so parachutes that would slow a spacecraft’s descent would need to be prohibitively large.

That’s why aerospace researchers are investigating the best ways to fire a descending vehicle’s engines to slow it down, a technique called retropropulsion. Figuring it out would let cargo ships touchdown without destroying the tons of equipment and habitats that human astronauts need to create a base on Mars.

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Last night at a press event, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled plans for the next generation of Dragon capsule. Dubbed Dragon V2, the vehicle would hold seven astronauts for a flight to the International Space Station. Boasting leather seats (yes, finally, a spaceship with leather seats!!), touchscreens and 3D-printed components, Dragon V2 is a “big step in technology” from its predecessor spacecraft. 

The capsule will have the ability to propulsively land anywhere on earth, offering more precise landings and greater flexibility. The spacecraft’s solar panels will be attached to the service trunk of the vehicle, offering greater aerodynamics in the atmosphere upon launch.

Check out spaceflightnow’s article of the event here, or the trailer of the new craft here. A great photo gallery from the verge is here.

Photo: Today’s SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral.

Space Exploration Technologies successfully launched the THAICOM 6 satellite for THAICOM today. Falcon 9 delivered THAICOM 6 to its targeted 295 x 90,000 km geosynchronous transfer orbit at 22.5 degrees inclination.  The Falcon 9 launch vehicle performed as expected, meeting 100% of mission objectives.

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NASA announced early this morning that at 4:00PM EST today, 16 September 2014, the winner of the Commercial Crew integrated Capability. will be revealed. The CCiCAP contract will give the selected company (or companies) the green light to build and ferry United States Astronauts to the International Space Station. It requires a crewed test flight with a NASA astronaut to the ISS by 2017.

This is the culmination of the Commercial Crew Development program which was started in 2010. There are currently three companies competing for the coveted NASA contract, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing. Each company’s vehicles are highlighted below, to give you a better sense of the craft that NASA has to choose from.

Company: Sierra Nevada
Vehicle: Dream Chaser

             The Dream Chaser vehicle is a modern redesign of NASA’sHL-10 lifting body vehicle that it designed in the 1990’s. The only one of the three vehicles that is not a capsule, it employs a lifting body design, and would land on any conventional runway. Docking to the International Space Station would be accomplished by a docking system located between the two primary Orbital Maneuvering System engines in the aft of the vehicle. Captive-Carry tests have already been completed on a full scale model, and that vehicle is currently undergoing heavy modifications to become the first Orbital test vehicle, which is slated to launch in 2016. It can transport up to seven people to space and back. Similar to the space shuttle, it can be reused an indefinite amount of times after maintenance.

More information here.

Company: Boeing
Vehicle: Crew Space Transportation 100

The CST-100 vehicle is a conventional space capsule similar to NASA’s Orion capsule. It would transport between 4-7 people to Low Earth Orbit, and could be configured for different missions, such as free flight or docked to a space station. Boeing has partnered with the Bigelow Aerospace company for many of the capsule’s parts, and it would also be used to transport crew to Bigelow’s inflatable space station. Similar to Orion, it can be reused up to ten times.

More information here.

Company: SpaceX
Vehicle: Dragon V2

The crewed Dragon capsule has been envisioned by SpaceX ever since its first unmanned flight back in 2008. The modified version of the capsule, more suitable for astronauts, was unveiled in late May of 2012. The vehicle can be reused up to ten times before significant refurbishment is required, and would land using a combination of landing struts and retrorockets. The company claims helicopter-like landing accuracy anywhere around the world. Seven astronauts could be transported to LEO.

More information here.

Today’s announcement will take place at Kennedy Space Center by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. It will be broadcast online as well as on NASA TV.