Terrifying mission patches →

Loren Grush, writing about National Reconnaissance Office’s mission patches for various rocket launches to put … secret things … into orbit:

Well it turns out that releasing creepy AF mission patches is a long-standing tradition for the NRO. It’s a far cry from the cheery NASA mission patches we’re used to. Instead, many of the NRO patches follow a specific formula: large scary animal grasps Earth.

Seriously, go look at these things. Yikes.

NASA halts BEAM expansion →

BEAM — the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module — is an expandable module that’s in testing at the International Space Station. As opposed to being built out of rigid material like other components on the Station, BEAM is designed to “inflate” once installed.

The upsides of this tech are huge. Currently, the size of any one structure in space is limited to what can be carried to orbit on the top of a rocket. In flight, BEAM was much smaller than it’s size will be once it’s fully expanded in space.

That was supposed to happen this morning, but the experimental mission was halted:

The operation took longer than expected as slightly higher pressure than expected was seen. Ground teams had to assess the situation and let the pressure settle before continuing expansion. Afterword, ground teams gave [NASA Flight Engineer Jeff Williams] the go ahead to add more air via the MPEV in “generous” one second bursts.

However, the module continued to remain unchanged with the initial bulge. Then just after 8:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 GMT), called off the rest of the expansion to assess the data. Expansion could resume as early as tomorrow morning.

Hopefully, this can move forward soon. Expandable modules offer lots of interesting opportunities for NASA and private companies, but sometimes early days of new tech include failures.

Kepler team validates 1,284 new planets →

NASA:

Analysis was performed on the Kepler space telescope’s July 2015 planet candidate catalog, which identified 4,302 potential planets. For 1,284 of the candidates, the probability of being a planet is greater than 99 percent – the minimum required to earn the status of “planet.” An additional 1,327 candidates are more likely than not to be actual planets, but they do not meet the 99 percent threshold and will require additional study. The remaining 707 are more likely to be some other astrophysical phenomena. This analysis also validated 984 candidates previously verified by other techniques.

“Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy. Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. “This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever-closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe.”

That’s a lot of worlds.

SpaceX planning Mars missions →

Loren Grush:

SpaceX plans to send its Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018, the company announced today — marking a major first step toward CEO Elon Musk’s goal of sending humans to the Red Planet. The company didn’t say how many spacecraft it will send, but hinted it would conduct a series of these Dragon missions and that it would release more details soon. In a tweet, the company indicated that the capsules would fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a bigger version of its Falcon 9; the rocket will launch the capsules to the planet to test out how to land heavy payloads on Mars. If successful, the endeavor would make SpaceX the first private spaceflight company to land a vehicle on another planet.

Holy moly.

SpaceX sticks the landing →

After several failed attempts over the last year or so, SpaceX has successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an at-sea drone ship.

While this isn’t the first time the company has landed a spent rocket stage, doing it at sea (as opposed to at Cape Canaveral in Florida) should work in SpaceX’s favor in their quest to lessen the cost of future flights by reusing these vehicles. Landing at sea also means the company should be able to recover rockets from a wider range of mission types and launch locations.

SpaceX isn’t the only company racing to build a reusable rocket. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin just flew the same rocket for the third time. That is an impressive feat, but it’s important to remember that Blue Origin’s flights are suborbital And squarely within the confines of R&D. SpaceX’s primary objective today was to fly supplies to the International Space Station; the test landing was secondary to the paying work of taking equipment and food to low-Earth orbit.

Differences aside, both companies are well on their way to reusable rockets, which will allow for cheaper and safer travel to space. The future is here, and it’s on the back of rockets that can be used, refurbished and launched again.