Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.
There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:
Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation) — Small satellites are becoming more and more capable, taking over missions that used to require larger spacecraft. However, adding propulsion systems to these smaller platforms remains a challenge, which means many small sats are limited to applications that do not require active orbit maintenance, increases in altitude, or changes in inclination.
Working in conjunction with the University of
Southern California, Aerospace is developing a monopropellant vapor
propulsion system that could help solve this problem.
As NASA is funding research into lighter and more capable thermal protection systems (TPSs) producing using additive manufacturing (3D printing) as it looks to land ever larger payloads on other worlds and return extraterrestrial soil samples to Earth.
The space agency recently selected four heat shield proposals from corporate-university partnerships for funding under its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The phase 1 grants are worth up to $125,000 over 13 months.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As exploration missions venture beyond low-Earth orbit and to the Moon — and eventually Mars — NASA must consider automated technologies to keep habitats operational even when they are not occupied by astronauts. To help achieve this, NASA has selected two new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) to advance space habitat designs using resilient and autonomous systems.
LOS ANGELES (USC PR) — Garrett Reisman, Director of Space Operations at SpaceX and a former NASA astronaut, will be joining the faculty of the Department of Astronautical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Reisman, who has participated in three space shuttle missions and spent three months on the International Space Station, will join USC as a full-time faculty member on June 1, 2018.
At the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Reisman will teach undergraduate and graduate level astronautical engineering students, and advise the Department and the School on various space-related issues. In addition, he is expected to provide support to the student-run, student-operated Rocket Propulsion Lab and the Liquid Propulsion Lab.
LOS ANGELES (USC PR) — Research at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering has revealed new evidence for the occurrence of ground ice on the protoplanet Vesta.
The work, under the sponsorship of NASA’s Planetary Geology and Geophysics program, is part of ongoing efforts at USC Viterbi to improve water detectability techniques in terrestrial and planetary subsurfaces using radar and microwave imaging techniques.