NASA announced this week that the next Martian rover has passed its final development milestone. The design will be finalized and construction begun with a view to launching the rover in the summer of 2020 and landing on Mars in February 2021.
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.
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.
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.”