Monday, March 26, 2012

Planets sent flying like cosmic bullets

The supercharged worlds are being fired out into space at up to 30 million miles by a supermassive black hole lying at the centre of our Milky Way. They turn into cosmic bullets when the stars they are orbiting get drawn too close to the black hole, producing a slingshot effect that ejects them from the Galaxy.

Astronomers have already found a runaway star flying out into space at 1.5 million miles an hour. That set them wondering if something similar could happen to planets. Their research showed them that the runaway planets do also exist and that some fly through the Galaxy at even more incredible speeds.

Scientist Avi Loeb, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said: “These warp-speed planets would be some of the fastest objects in our Galaxy. If you lived on one of them, you’d be in for a wild ride from the center of the galaxy to the Universe at large.”

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Excitement Builds for 1st Private Spaceship Flight to Space Station

Anticipation and excitement over the first-ever launch of a private spaceship to the International Space Station next month is steadily building, astronauts and NASA flight controllers said Tuesday (March 20).

Private space company SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., is preparing to launch its Dragon capsule to the space station April 30. The unmanned capsule will be the first of a new fleet of commercial spacecraft being developed to deliver cargo to the station in the wake of the space shuttle retirement last year.

The Dragon capsule will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. If all goes well, it will fly up to the orbiting laboratory, conduct tests, and then dock there May 3.

“Our fingers are crossed for SpaceX to launch and successfully come to the space station,” NASA astronaut Sunita Williams said during a news conference Tuesday. Williams is due to lift off atop a Russian Soyuz spacecraft July 15, along with a Russian cosmonaut and a Japanese astronaut, to serve on the space station’s Expedition 32 and Expedition 33 missions.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SpaceX wins deal to launch satellites for Asia, Mexico

Two SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets will launch four communications satellites with innovative electric propulsion systems for Asia Broadcast Satellite and Satmex in 2014 and 2015, securing another commercial launch deal for the private U.S. booster, the company announced Wednesday.

Boeing Co. will build the four satellites, which will feature an all-electric propulsion system that does not use conventional chemical fuels.

“This announcement marks SpaceX’s first launch contract in Mexico,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO and chief technology officer. “It is also the second launch contract in Asia that we have signed in the last month. Asia and Latin America represent two of the world’s hottest markets for commercial satellite operators. SpaceX is ready to provide them with the solutions they need to add capacity and meet growing demand.”

The first two satellites, named ABS-3A and Satmex 7, will launch together in late 2014 or early 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Each satellite weighs less than 4,000 pounds at launch, according to Diana Ball, a Boeing spokesperson.

The payloads for a second Falcon 9 launch, set for the fourth quarter of 2015, have not been identified.

Each satellite weighs about 4,000 pounds. Without the need to carry tanks full of chemical propellant, the spacecraft can be launched on smaller, less expensive boosters and still retain powerful communications payloads.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

SpaceX eyes shuttle launch pad for heavy-lift rocket

SpaceX and NASA are in advanced discussions for the private space firm to use Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A, one of the spaceport’s Apollo and space shuttle launch sites, as the Florida base for its Falcon Heavy rocket, officials said.

NASA and SpaceX are studying how to assemble and launch Falcon Heavy rockets from pad 39A, including adding a facility to horizontally integrate the launcher’s core stage, two strap-on boosters and upper stage, according to William Hill, assistant deputy associate administrator for NASA’s exploration systems division.

With 28 liquid-fueled core, booster and upper stage engines, the Falcon Heavy rocket is a behemoth booster designed to launch human and robotic exploration missions, massive U.S. military satellites, and huge payloads for commercial clients at competitive prices. Its first demonstration launch from California is scheduled for 2013.

SpaceX plans to piece the rocket together on its side, then roll it to the launch pad and lift it vertical before liftoff. Fully fueled and assembled for launch, the Falcon Heavy will weigh 3.1 million pounds and stand 227 feet tall, according to SpaceX.

“KSC did an assessment of options for SpaceX to consider relative to their non-exclusive use of pad 39A,” said Michael Braukus, a NASA spokesperson, in an email to Spaceflight Now. “KSC is currently in a second round of more detailed discussion; however, no decisions have been made by either NASA or SpaceX at this time.”

The space agency has been looking to turn over some of its mothballed shuttle infrastructure to commercial programs, and one of the space center’s three orbiter hangars will be home of final assembly and testing for a Boeing crew capsule bidding to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

U.S. Air Force space plane marks one year in orbit

The U.S. Air Force’s second X-37B space plane marked one year in orbit Monday, continuing its clandestine mission more than 200 miles above Earth.

The robotic spacecraft’s purpose is secret, but Air Force officials acknowledge the vehicle is performing well one year after it blasted off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket on March 5, 2011.

“We are very pleased with the results of the on-going X-37B experiments,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, X-37B program director in the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. “The X-37B program is setting the standard for a reusable space plane and, on this one-year orbital milestone, has returned great value on the experimental investment.”

The X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, features an unpressurized cargo bay about the size of the bed of a pickup truck. The Air Force has not disclosed its contents, only saying the mission is experimenting with the spacecraft, which is flying on its second mission.

The solar-powered vehicle is designed to return cargo intact inside its payload bay.

Another space plane orbited Earth for 224 days in 2010 before gliding to an unpowered landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

A third flight, reusing the first vehicle, is in the Air Force’s plans.

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