Skylon: The UK’s Space Plane

The allure of the space plane has always been the cost saving associated with the fact that every major component can be reused. The rocket fuselage, its engines the crew accommodations, all of the electronics, hydraulics, avionics, virtually everything is preserved.

The United States’ space shuttle was the only operational space plane to date, although the Buran of the former Soviet Union did make one unmanned flight.

Great Britain’s effort was centered on a program known as the Horizontal Take-Off and Landing (HOTOL) design. The program began in 1982 and was cancelled in 1988 when a lack of progress on technical issues discouraged the British government from providing further funding.

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ESA’s e.Deorbit: Cleaning up the mess

ESA is planning to launch a satellite in January of 2023 which will demonstrate technology capable of clearing space debris from Low Earth Orbit.

NASA and other agencies track more than 500,000 pieces of debris, over 20,000 of which are larger than a softball.

The inset pic shows one of those “larger than a softball” items: it’s the spent upper stage of a Delta II rocket.Delta-II_Stage2_XSS-10

ESA provided this perspective about debris:

“Around 5000 space launches since 1957 have led to an orbiting population of more than 22 000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup. Only about 1100 of these are working satellites – the other 95% are space debris.”

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ESA’s AIM: Observing an asteroid’s deflection

Just after 7:00 AM local time on the morning of June 17, 1908 most scientists believe that a 125 foot wide 225 million pound meteor exploded over an impossibly remote area of north central Russia.

The blast was felt one thousand miles away. The blast caused barometric pressure fluctuations as far away as Great Britain and the clouds which formed after the blast reflected light in the night sky for a few days.

This was the Tunguska Event so named because of the Stony Tunguska River over which the blast occurred. Estimates of the force of the blast vary and have tended to lessen over the years. Most recent opinions place the force at 3 to 5 megatons, or anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 times the size of the bomb used at Hiroshima.

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