TIME space travel

Watch This Vine of Jeff Bezos’ Rocket Taking Off

The BE-3 engine had a test flight on April 29

Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin appears to have had a successful test flight of its New Shepard rocket on April 29, as seen in a Vine posted by the company on Thursday.

The rocket uses a BE-3 engine and has 110,000 pounds of thrust, according to the company. Had any astronauts been on board, Bezos said in a statement, they “would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.”

TIME space

Bill Nye Wants Your Help to Build His ‘Revolutionary’ Solar Spacecraft

Watch the video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson

Bill Nye the Science Guy wants to make space exploration more accessible for everybody, but he wants your help to make it happen. This week he launched a Kickstarter campaign for a LightSail, a very lightweight CubeSat (cube satellite) that relies on energy from the sun to get around instead of the heavy fuels typically used by spacecraft.

“Photons (particles of light) have no momentum, but they are pure energy, and they have momentum,” Nye explained in a recent Reddit AMA. “So, in the vacuum of space, we can design a very low mass spacecraft with a very large reflective area, and it will get a continuous push.”

More than 2,700 backers have so far donated close to $160,000 to the project, which has a goal of $200,000 and met its half-way point within 24 hours of its Kickstarter launch. If the campaign successfully reaches its goal, LightSail will be launched from the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket next year.

“We are advancing space exploration by lowering the cost of sending space crafts way out into space,” Nye says in the video, which also features physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. “This democratizes space…one your’e up there you can fly to the moon or beyond to other planets.”

TIME People

6 Things We Learned From Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Reddit AMA

Bill Nye attends The 7th Annual Shorty Awards on April 20, 2015 in New York City.
D Dipasupil—Getty Images for The Shortly Awards Bill Nye attends The 7th Annual Shorty Awards on April 20, 2015 in New York City.

Find out what he thinks about space exploration, Chipotle and life

TV personality Bill Nye the Science Guy hosted a Q&A on Tuesday, answering questions about his latest endeavor and science in general.

Nye, who’s the CEO of the engineering non-profit The Planetary Society, first tackled questions relating to LightSail, the organization’s crowd-funded project to develop a tiny spacecraft that’ll use solar power to sail inexpensively and indefinitely. Of course, the Redditors were all wondering: Why? Here’s how the Science Guy explained it:

LightSail™ will demonstrate that we can greatly reduce the cost of missons to other worlds in our Solar System, e.g. the Moon and Mars. It will be another step in democratizing space. It will enable more of us to learn more about what’s up up there.

So it wasn’t a surprise that when asked about Google’s driverless cars—which the tech giant acknowledged on Tuesday aren’t perfect—the Science Guy had only good things to say:

I can imagine a future with cities having nothing but electric driverless cars. You’d call for an automated taxi from your wrist-held device. There would very few car wrecks, and cities would be quieter and cleaner. Those of us, who really want to drive, can party on out there on the open roads. Driverlessness will be more common than airplane autopilots.

Nye also praised Tesla’s Powerwall, a home solar panel-powered battery that’s been labeled by some as “another toy for rich green people”:

It’s a good idea. Energy storage is the key to humankind’s future. Tesla has repurposed their car batteries for home energy storage. I have 4 kilowatts of solar panels. With these batteries, I could keep my food cold for a few days off the grid. It’s a good start on a world changing idea.

For those who wanted to talk about something more relatable, Nye also had a few things to say about Chipotle’s decision to eliminate all genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) from its ingredients. The burrito chain’s campaign has elicited pushback from scientists who argue that GMOs should not be linked to health or environmental damages:

Removing GMOs seems like a marketing idea. Let’s see if it works. If they can provide the quality that customers want at the price customers want, well, that’s the free market at work. Consumers may find that they prefer vegetables that have more flavor and more nutritional value from modified crops, in which case Chipotle may have to change back or get outcompeted. Also, if other companies are able to raise more food on less land, they may do an end-run around Chipotle’s marketing by showing that their crops actually have a lower environmental impact. Let’s all stay tuned.

And, of course, there was an attire-related question. One commenter asked, “How possible would it be to solar power a bow tie?” The answer is pretty great:

Yes, I do it all the time. We don’t see things; we see light bouncing off of things. So whenever a bowtie is out in sunlight, its image is powered by the Sun. If you want to put small solar panels on a bowtie and spin a propellor on your head, well, knock yourself out.

Last, Nye had a simple science tip for a Redditor wondering about his controversial view that racial differences aren’t rooted in science, but rather “tribalism”:

O wouldn’t it be great, if everyone on Earth understood that we are, in fact, all one species. It feels like that would be a great step toward all of us getting along with each other. We are one species. It’s provable. It’s science.

TIME space travel

This Is How Ants React in Space

Catherine Ledner—Getty Images

With surprising agility, study finds

Ants aboard the International Space Station showed a surprising ability to regain their footing as they slipped and tumbled through zero gravity, according to a new study that released an ant colony in space just to see what would happen next.

The ants were ferried on a supply rocket to the International Space Station in 2014, where researchers observed how different species might adapt their search habits to a radically new environment.

“The ants showed an impressive ability to walk on the surface in microgravity, and an even more remarkable capacity to regain their contact with the surface once they were tumbling around in the air,” researchers wrote in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Researchers say the results could offer deeper insights into how ants conduct searches of new terrain without centralized commands, an area of particular interest in robotics, and also an area of comedic interest first explored by a prescient episode of the Simpsons:

TIME space travel

The Opportunity Mars Rover Finally Completes a Marathon

But it wasn't exactly a fast race

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Marathon
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHSThis map shows NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover’s entire traverse from landing to Marathon Valley. The rover completed its first Red Planet marathon Tuesday — 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers)

The first marathon on Mars was finally completed Tuesday by NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover—and it only took about 11 years and two months.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” John Callas, the rover’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a celebratory statement. “A first time happens only once.”

Opportunity landed on the Red Planet on Jan. 25, 2004, with an “original three-month prime mission” but since then been driving around and stopping to perform scientific research. As of Tuesday, Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavor Crater—nicknamed “Marathon Valley”—where it continues to research the planet’s ancient wet conditions.

Opportunity previously broke a record last year when it overtook the former Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover as the off-Earth rover that had traveled the most distance.

“This mission isn’t about setting distance records, of course; it’s about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more,” said Steve Squyres, the rover’s principal investigator at Cornell University. “Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”

Opportunity and NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover are the only operating rovers on Mars. NASA’s previous rover, Spirit Mars Rover, became stuck in soft soil in 2009 and ceased communication with scientists in 2010.

TIME space travel

Watch NASA Fire Up the Biggest Rocket Booster Ever

And blast a serious hole in the Utah desert in the process.

NASA successfully fired up a huge new rocket booster at its Utah test facility on Wednesday, passing a major milestone for future deep-space missions.

The 117-foot booster is the biggest ever built and NASA says it’s powerful enough to reach beyond the Moon, to asteroids or even Mars.

Apart from making a serious dent in the Utah desert, the booster is part of a Space Launch System (SLS) being developed by the space agency that is scheduled to blast off in 2018.

The rocket was fired for two minutes (the same amount of time it takes to launch the SLS) and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust.

“The work being done around the country today to build the SLS is laying a solid foundation for future exploration missions, and these missions will enable us to pioneer far into the solar system,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

TIME space travel

Neil Armstrong’s Widow Discovers Bag of Lunar Landing Souvenirs

30th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Mission
NASA/Getty Images Astronaut Neil Armstrong smiles inside the Lunar Module on July 20, 1969.

One giant leap for the National Air and Space Museum's collection

Neil Armstrong’s widow recently discovered a white purse in the closet of her Cincinnati home, specially designed for space flight and packed with souvenirs from Armstrong’s moon landing in 1969.

Carol Armstrong reported the historic find to the National Air and Space Museum, which unveiled new details about the bag’s contents in a blog post this week. Among the 20 items Armstrong stowed in the bag was the original 16 mm movie camera he used to record the first steps on the moon, an emergency wrench, a power cable and a helmet strap.

“Odds and ends,” he called them in a transmission to mission control, but for a curator at Air and Space Museum, the items took on a more significant meaning decades later. “It is hard to imagine anything more exciting,” wrote Allan Needell of the museum’s Space History Department.

Read next: Hubble Telescope Spots an Emoticon in Outer Space

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME space travel

Virgin Galactic Will Resume Test Flights This Year

British billionaire Richard Branson pose
Adrian Dennis—AFP/Getty Images British billionaire Richard Branson poses in front of a model of the Virgin Galactic.

After a deadly crash last year

The space tourism company Virgin Galactic is set to resume test flights this year after a deadly crash last year, its CEO said, defying expectations that it wouldn’t be ready to take flight again until at least 2016.

“I really think we’re turning the corner,” CEO George Whitesides told the Associated Press. “We’ve gone through one of the toughest things a company can go through and we’re still standing, and now we’re really moving forward with pace.”

The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is completing construction of a new shuttle after one broke apart during a test flight in October, leaving one pilot dead. The accident was the most recent in a long line of setbacks. Successful in-flight testing is one of the company’s last major obstacles to the elusive of commercial space travel.

MORE: What Richard Branson Can Learn From the Virgin Galactic Disaster

[AP]

MONEY space travel

SpaceX Wants to Send You to Mars

The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX on a cargo resupply service mission to the International Space Station (ISS), lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida January 10, 2015. An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies mission blasted off on Saturday carrying cargo for the ISS, but efforts to reland the rocket on a sea platform failed, the firm said. The Dragon cargo capsule itself was successfully launched into space and is expected to dock with the space station on Monday.
Mike Brown—Reuters

Elon Musk and his reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets pose a real threat to the economics of Boeing's and Lockheed's orbital satellite space launch franchise.

“I am Elon Musk, CEO/CTO of a rocket company … Zip2, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity. Started off doing software engineering and now do aerospace & automotive …

Looking forward to your questions.”

With those words began a singular event on the Web, as Elon Musk, CEO of — as he noted — electric car company Tesla TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA 1.62% , of solar power lessor SolarCity SOLARCITY CORP COM USD0.0001 SCTY 0.73% , and private space exploration firm SpaceX as well opened himself up for questions on Reddit earlier this month.

You can imagine what happened next.

Fans swarmed. Bedlam ensued. And over the next several hours, Elon Musk fielded every question his fans could throw at him.

Missing in action

Curiously, while Elon Musk serves as titular head of two publicly traded companies, Tesla and SolarCity, neither of those got much attention in last Tuesday’s Reddit discussion. (Indeed, Musk didn’t mention either one by name, even once). Instead, all the action surrounded the one company that Musk has not yet deigned to IPO to the public: SpaceX.

But what did he have to say about it?

Elon on … spaceplanes

“If you want to get to orbit or beyond, go with pure rockets. It is not like Von Braun and Korolev didn’t know about airplanes and they were really smart dudes.”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about spacecraft that fly into the upper atmosphere and from there release payloads into orbit. DARPA is working on one bird capable of high altitude payload delivery. Stratolaunch Systems has another. Britain’s got a third. But Elon Musk isn’t worried about these competitors at all. In fact, he seems to kind of dismiss them.

Elon on … reusable rockets

“We could make the 2nd stage of Falcon reusable. … There is no meaningful limit [to the number of times Falcon 9R could be refueled and relaunched]. We would have to replace a few parts that experience thermal stress after 40 cycles, but the rest of the engine would be fine.”

Instead of spaceplanes, Elon Musk is placing his big bet on the potential to turn the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket — which already costs less than rockets launched by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Lockheed Martin LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION LMT 0.14% and Boeing BOEING COMPANY BA -0.47% — into a true ULA-killer.

Key to this effort will be turning Falcon 9 into a “reusable” rocket — one whose first, and potentially even its second stages can descend back to Earth after launch, and land safely for recovery, refueling, and relaunching with a new payload a few days later.

Musk thinks a reusable rocket can potentially save taxpayers $50 billion or more on the cost of satellite launches by the U.S. government. And as we now know from the Reddit discussion, Musk doesn’t see “wear and tear” on a Falcon 9 rocket being a limiting factor in those savings. While there certainly must be some shelf life on how often any single rocket can be reused before it must be replaced (obsolescence alone is probably one such factor), Musk seems to be saying that for all intents and purposes, a properly maintained reusable Falcon 9 will be indefinitely reusable.

The mission to Mars

“Goal is 100 metric tons of useful payload to the surface of Mars. This obviously requires a very big spaceship and booster system. … At first, I was thinking we would just scale up Falcon Heavy, but it looks like … [the] default plan is to have a sea level and vacuum version of Raptor, much like Merlin. … [Raptor will boast] a little over 230 metric tons (~500 klbf) of thrust per engine, but we will have a lot of them :)”

In the short term, Elon Musk and his reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets pose a real threat to the economics of Boeing’s and Lockheed’s orbital satellite space launch franchise. Already, SpaceX is underpricing the competition, and if he succeeds in making Falcon 9 truly reusable, space launch prices will fall even further.

But SpaceX poses an even more existential threat to Boeing and Lockheed in the long term. That is to say, if you believe that the “long-term” future of spaceflight is to actually fly through space — as opposed to just heaving chunks of metal into orbit, there to circle the globe.

SpaceX calls this threat the “Mars Colonial Transport,” or “MCT,” a true spacecraft capable of sending 100 tons of supplies and/or 100 live human passengers, between planets. For comparison, that’s a goal already 25 times bigger than that of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which Lockheed Martin is building for NASA. And MCT will boast new “Raptor” engines to match.

With a nine-engine configuration similar to that used on the Falcon 9, a first-stage “Raptor 9″ core would boast 4.5 million pounds of force — roughly half the 8.4 million pounds of thrust offered by the Space Launch System that Boeing is developing for NASA. A three-part configuration featuring a core, and two “core-like” booster rockets, though, would provide 50%more thrust than Boeing’s SLS.

In other words, at the same time as ULA is working out the details of its most advanced and most capable space launch system ever, SpaceX is, too. And its spaceship is both bigger and better.

The upshot: After hearing what Elon Musk had to say last week, Boeing and Lockheed Martin should be shaking in their spaceboots.

TIME space

See the SpaceX Rocket Crash Land in Middle of the Ocean

SpaceX Rocket Crash
GIF by Mia Tramz for TIME

“Close but no cigar,” Elon Musk tweeted

SpaceX launched a resupply ship to the International Space Station last week, but it narrowly failed a test to securely navigate the rocket back to earth.

The company founded by Elon Musk believes that a reusable rocket could drastically reduce the costs of space transportation, and as you can see in the GIF above compiled from images that Musk tweeted, they’re very close to finalizing the technology. In the first attempt, the Falcon 9 rocket descended back to floating platform about 200 miles off the Florida coast. But it was a hard landing, and the rocket was largely wrecked.

“Close but no cigar,” Musk tweeted at the time.

 

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