3 Major Countries Compete in Technology for Deep-Space Travel


In an effort to cut the time to reach Mars, NASA and other space agencies around the world are developing nuclear-thermal propulsion engines. This technology has been dormant since the 1970’s.


Last year, BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc. struck a deal with NASA for $18.8 Million contract to design a reactor and develop fuel for use in a nuclear-thermal propulsion engine. The contract is aimed to accelerate deep-space travel.


The atomic system found in this type of engine uses the reactor to heat a propellant like liquid hydrogen which then expands through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft. This method doubles the efficiency at which the rocket uses fuel, and allows for a drastically smaller spacecraft and shorter transit time, according to Stephen Heister a professor at Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “This factor is absolutely huge, especially for very difficult missions that necessitate a lot of propellant such as a Mars flight.”


According to the World Nuclear Association, Russia’s Rosatom Corp plans to test a nuclear engine prototype this year. The aim of the prototype will be to get to Mars. And with Russia leading this field with more than 30 fission reactors in space they might just get there first. Also, China’s space exploration aims to use atomic-powered shuttles through 2045, as stated by the Xinhua News Agency.

Pioneers like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have also promised to get to the red planet as well. Space Exploration Corp. (founded by Musk) is developing a liquid oxygen and methane-fueled engine. And, Blue Origin (founded by Bezos) is testing an engine that utilizes liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas.

Duration of Travel

The travel to Mars isn’t easy, it requires a spacecraft to travel 55 million kilometers (34 million miles). That is the equivalent of more than 100 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. Nuclear thermal propulsion is the preferred option but other methods are being considered such as solar-electric and chemical propulsion.


Startup to provide internet using small GEO satellites


1. What happened?

Astranis, a San Francisco-based startup, has raised $18 million in Series A funding and plans to provide broadband internet access using small satellites (smallsats) in geostationary (GEO) orbit. The funding was led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Others in the funding round include Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Refactor Capital and Indicator Fund.

astranis 2.jpg

2. What will the funding go to?

The funding will be used to develop the first smallsat. The company plans to develop dozens of smallsats that can each provide 10 gigabits per second of capacity. The smallsats can provide internet access to underserved areas, more cost-effectively than traditional large GEO satellites or constellations of low Earth orbit smallsats.


3. Astranis ...

“We’ve taken a lot of these new approaches around small satellites and applied them to solve this problem in telecommunications,” said John Gedmark, chief executive of Astranis and former executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in an interview. Gedmark is one of the co-founders of Astranis, along with Ryan McLinko, the company’s chief technology officer.

Astranis currently has 20 employees, and looks to grow to about 30 in the next year and 40 to 50 by the time the company’s first operational satellite is in orbit, Gedmark said. The company is building out a 15,000-square-foot facility in San Francisco that will serve as the manufacturing facility for the satellites.


4. Have they tested anything?

The company tested a payload on an experimental CubeSat, DemoSat-2, which launched on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (IPSLV) in January. “Everything on the satellite worked perfectly,” he said, including a test of its ability to perform “full broadband comms” during a ground station pass last month.

SpaceX Misses Fairing After Launch


1. What happened?

On Thursday morning (02/22/2018), SpaceX, which has had a great start of the year, successfully launched the Falcon 9. However, when the fairing (nose cone) came down, Elon Musk and his team were not able to retrieve it. Their plan was to have a boat, named Mr. Steven, and a large net welded on top of the boat. Unfortunately, the fairing landed a few hundred meters away. The fairing itself costs about $6 million USD to make.


2. Why is SpaceX trying to catch the rocket’s nose cone?

SpaceX’s mission is to be able to reuse rocket parts to bring the price down of launches. This will lower the cost of sending objects and people into space, which in return, will make it possible for people to live on other planets. Imagine trying to catch this object that is in freefall from 120km up in the sky.

Elon said on social media “It [fairing] has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher's mitt welded on, tries to catch it"


3. What does this mean for SpaceX?

SpaceX has been about trial, error, reassess, and success. We have seen some of their rockets blow up when testing and after correcting those mistakes, we have also seen the many success launches they’ve done.

You can see the fairing come off the rocket in the next video at about the 19:55-minute mark:

Robots, Drones, & Autonomous Vehicles will Soon Have Depth Perception


Unlike humans, robots cannot yet distinguish how far an object is from a single image. We can do so naturally and immediately thanks to our peripheral vision. Robots on the contrast, utilize complicated vision systems to see with panoramic vision and to perceive depth. A team at Stanford University and the University of San Diego is on the forefront of changing this limitation.

4D Camera Technology

Both universities have teamed up to develop a 4D camera that will grant improved robotic-vision. This camera uses a single-lens image-capture system. The lens panoramic light field camera will now be able to give robots a 138-degree field of view and can quickly calculate the distance to an object. This achievement grants depth perception to robotic sight.


With current technology, robotic imaging systems gather different images and pieces them together to create an entire scene composed of different image perspectives.  With this new 4D camera technology, a robot can gather the same information from a single image. This is done through the use of the camera’s spherical lens, the use of digital signal processing technology, and light field photography.


Benefits from depth perception…

With new improvements in depth perception and panoramic images, robots and drones will be a lot more capable in crowded areas or obscured landscapes. These capabilities will allow autonomous cars to conduct more safely and smoother. It will also help the autonomous vehicle drive harsh terrain and snow.

Boreal Space's Next Mission: The Wayfinder II. Update.


The Mission

Boreal Space's next mission is Wayfinder II (WF2), a 3U CubeSat that is hosting various payloads for commercial and scientific purposes. The team has been working extremely hard to put together the WF2 and it will very soon see its collaborative effort takeoff. WF2 is scheduled for a suborbital flight in the Mojave Desert in the first quarter of 2018. The launch vehicle is InterOrbital's N1 GTV (NEPTUNE 1 Guided Test Vehicle).

WF2 Payloads

Four high-profile payloads will be housed in a unique architecture and tested under extreme environmental conditions. These payloads include advancements in technology or experiments from Denmark, Singapore, and Japan as well as an experiment from Stanford University.

1. Spacelink Secure UHF Radio

This radio was created in collaboration with Denmark's Space Inventor. It has a pair of fully redundant UHF band transceivers that are paired with a ground station for IoT connectivity experiments. This radio is the first of a series that will expand to S and X band frequencies. The Spacelink Secure radios are light-weight and low-powered which makes them ideal for CubeSat applications.

2. Team Hakuto’s robotic payload

Team Hakuto is a contender for the Google Lunar X Prize and it has provided Boreal Space with a robotics payload. Their mission is to create a rover that will land on the moon (with the help of a rocket) and move more than 500 meters while sending “Mooncasts” (360 degrees, HD images) back to Earth. This payload test helps raise the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of Team Hakuto’s engineering design.

For more information, please visit: https://team-hakuto.jp/en/

 Team Hakuto's Rover Design for the Google Lunar X Prize

Team Hakuto's Rover Design for the Google Lunar X Prize


This payload is provided by Stanford University’s Extreme Environments Laboratory (XLab), which is focused on micro and nano-system operation in harsh environments. The SHARK-I will test AIGaN-GaN (Gallium Nitride) sensors to measure temperature and magnetic fields in suborbital, plus, possibly radiation in orbital levels. The payload Principal Investigator is Karen Dowling, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University with the support of Prof. Debbie Senesky, Hannah Alpert, Andrea Ramirez, and Anthony Garcia.

For more information, please visit: http://xlab.stanford.edu

4. CA2DM’s Graphene Experiment

The National University of Singapore’s Centre for Advanced Two-Dimensional Materials (CA2DM) has provided ultra thin (0.5 nm) graphene samples and will test its properties after being launched into the stratosphere. Graphene, discovered in 2004, will contribute to future space applications because of its extreme thinness, heat conduction, and electrical properties.

For more information, please visit: https://graphene.nus.edu.sg/

 Graphene samples sent from National University of Singapore (NUS)

Graphene samples sent from National University of Singapore (NUS)

The Rocket

InterObital’s N1 GTV rocket includes high-efficiency CPM 2.0 filament-wound tank assemblies, a new rocket engine gimballing system, and a new CPM Controller that will guide this the low-altitude flight. This test flight will simulate an orbital launch trajectory intended to help develop the N1 rocket and its planned polar orbit (310 km) launch.

The Sponsors:

This mission is not possible without the help of these organizations and the support they have provided to our launch team members. We want to thank Raymix Music, San Jose State University Alumni Association, Downtown College Prep, ATLAS Space Operations, and AAC Microtec. Thank you for believing in Boreal Space team!

The Boreal Space team is beyond excited to host these amazing payloads and wish them all the best in their future experiments and endeavors.

World View Continues to Support Stratospheric BALLOONS, Despite Test Incident


1. What happened?

World View, an Arizonan company that's offering stratospheric balloon flights for research payloads, still sees a great future for a platform that arguably combines the best attributes of satellites and aircraft, despite a recent testing incident at its headquarters.


On December 19, 2017, World View tested a hydrogen-filled balloon at its headquarters that ended in a balloon rupture that caused an explosion. The shock waves from the explosion reportedly caused some damage to neighboring businesses and homes, including falling ceiling tiles at a nearby Raytheon Missile Systems plant.

2. What is World View and its Stratospheric Balloon?

World View is a stratospheric company that wants to tap into weather forecasting, communications, remote sensing and other things that are usually done in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The balloon can stay at one altitude, carry payloads, and uses solar power to change its density to maneuver in the air (pump air in to go down, let air out to go up). The balloon can actually stabilize on top of the desired area for its payloads to record the best data available.


This is certainly a new approach to flying payloads and other types of experiments. It will certainly be a great alternative to LEO launch services and probably for a lower price. We wish World View the best of luck in their future endeavors!

ESA Looks to Ramp Up Their Launch Services with the Help of Avio's Vega


1. What is happening?

European Space Agency (ESA) has seen a slow down of European space companies that provide launch services, mainly due to competition. Specifically the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with their Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and smaller start-ups that focus on launching CubeSats and other small satellites.

Early in 2017, ISRO successfully launched 104 satellites in one rocket! Out of the 104 satellites, 2 of them were Indian, and the rest were from customers from all over the world (aka Europe). Now the ESA wants to compete with Indian companies by having more launch providers.


2. What European company is helping?

Avio’s various products include a suite of advanced offerings meant to compete with PSLV on ground rocket services and price (which plays key to India’s advantage). Avio also intends “mini-launcher” variant for dedicated missions for CubeSats and larger but still low-mass satellites.

Avio CEO, Giulio Ranzo says “I don’t think we can ever make a launcher the size of Vega for the price of what they do in India”, referring to Europe’s higher labor costs and stringent environmental regulations. “But I think we can differentiate ourselves by providing a more sophisticated, more performing service that’s more accurate, more reliable, more flexible, etc.”


3. Outcome?

This appears to be a healthy competition that will push both agencies to come up with great products and services that can only benefit the space community. In fact, ESA and ISRO are in talks to collaborate on future space missions. Earlier 2017, ESA senior scientist, Mark McCaughrean told The Times of India, "ESA plans further collaboration with ISRO in various space missions. Had an informal discussion with former ISRO chairman UR Rao at Bangalore. The current ISRO chairman, AS Kiran Kumar was in a meeting in Delhi that day. Earlier, ESA had collaborated with ISRO on Chandrayaan-1 mission to Moon."


To learn more about Avio and Vega, please visit: http://www.avio.com/en/vega/

NASA Considers Flying People on Commercial Suborbital Vehicles for Research


1. What  Happened?

As commercial suborbital vehicles get ready to carry both payloads and people to a mission, NASA officials say they’re willing to consider agency-funded researchers to fly on those vehicles.

NASA official, Steve Jurczyk, mentioned at the Suborbital Researchers Conference (December 19, 2017) that the agency is open to allow researchers funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program to fly on suborbital spacecraft to carry out their experiments.


2. Are companies already testing this?

 Zero-G, using their Boeing 727, does parabolic flights with researchers flying on the aircraft with their experiments. Coincidently, Zero-G is part of NASA's Flight Opportunities program, which would allow NASA to follow the same procedure as Zero-G's, to allow researchers on board.

Blue Origin’s vehicle, New Shepard, is already carrying research payloads (some for the Flight Opportunities program) but without people on board. However, the vehicle will support missions carrying payloads and people in a near future.

Virgin Galactic’s vehicle, SpaceShipTwo,  will soon also fly research payloads accompanied by a payload specialist


3. Is this completely safe?

The risk of this fieldwork is similar to that of a marine biologist or a marine geologist, which put themselves in the front-lines of their field. Most likely, those on the missions, along with his/her family, will need to sign liability waivers.

Russia loses contact with Angola's first satellite, AngoSat-1. UPDATE.


1. What happened?

RSC Energia (Moscow) announced on December 27, 2017, that the telecommunications satellite AngoSat-1, built for Angola, stopped sending telemetry short after separation from the rocket that took it to geostationary transfer orbit.


2. Context...

The AngoSat-1 is an Angolian satellite that was launched December 26, 2017, on a 9-hour Zenit mission from the Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. AngoSat-1 is a geostationary communications satellite operated by Angosat and built by the Russian company RSC Energia. It is the first communications satellite of Angola.


3. More details...

The AngoSat-1 was going to its 13-degrees East orbital location by using its propulsion when contact was lost. The satellite supported 16 C-band and 6 Ku-band transporters and was designed to live 15 years in space (like any other geostationary telecom spacecraft). Angosat-1 will be providing coverage over all of Africa and parts of Europe.

4. Has this happened before?

Russian manufacturers of satellites have built numerous spacecraft domestically, but don’t have many exports. Israeli satellite operator Spaceom’s Amos-5 satellite was built by Russian manufacturer ISS Reshetnev but ceased communication in 2015 just two years after launch due to a power failure.



The morning of December 29, 2017,  Energia and Roscosmos confirmed that the satellite is sending telemetry and that the onboard systems are in good health. The Angolan National Office for Space Affairs, or GGPEN (Gabinete de Gestão do Programa Espacial Nacional), said (in a Portuguese-language website update) that the satellite regained contact at 9:00 a.m. Eastern (3:00 p.m. local time in Angola) on Dec. 28, one day after the glitch.


Japanese Robotics Company Raises a Staggering $90 Million for Lunar Exploration


How much was raised?

Earlier this month (Dec. 12), ispace surprised the space community by raising $90.2 Million USD for a series of robotic missions to the moon. This is one of the largest Series A funding rounds that has ever been raised in Japan, and the one largest for any emerging space venture. The funding will be used to develop two missions by the end of 2020 to orbit and land on the moon.

Founder and Chief Executive of ispace, Takeshi Hakamada, relates “We wanted to make sure that our financing for the next two missions was in place. Through these two missions, we’re going to validate our technology to land on the moon safely. After we validate the technology, we’re going to enter the lunar transportation business.”


What are these missions?

The first mission, planned for 2019 Q4, aims to develop a lander system and launch it into a lunar orbit. This mission’s goal is oriented just to observe the lunar surface. The second mission, expected by the end of 2020, will attempt to land on the surface of the moon and deploy a small number of rovers.

After two key developmental milestones (PDR & CDR) in 2018, ispace could possibly launch from SpaceX Falcon 9. The Japanese company is in discussion to see if this can be done as a secondary payload to this launch vehicle.


Outlook and future business model…

The success of these two missions can spark an interesting business model for ispace. If successful, the company plans to offer a series of lander missions to the moon capable of carrying up to 30kg of customer payload per flight. “We are going to establish a transportation business to the moon,” he said. “One key concept is regular, scheduled transportation to the moon.” He notes, such missions could fly on a monthly frequency depending on customer demand.

Lastly, he states “if we can successfully demonstrate our technologies through these first two missions, we don’t need to raise additional funding.” Sounds ambitious, but then again, which space company isn’t!

For more information, please visit: https://ispace-inc.com/