A concept being developed would use parachutes to slow down first stages after separation, then deploy an airbag to cushion the stage’s landing on dry land.
Chinese researchers said they looked into making a powered landing of the first stage, as SpaceX does with the Falcon 9, but concluded it was “extremely difficult” and inefficient.
A final decision on whether to incorporate reusability in future rockets is expected by 2020. [South China Morning Post]
Japan launched a radar imaging satellite Thursday night. The H-2A rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 9:20 p.m. Eastern and placed the Information Gathering Satellite Radar 5 into orbit. The radar imaging satellite is intended to replace a similar satellite that is reaching the end of its life, although the Japanese government has plans to increase the constellation’s number of radar and optical reconnaissance satellites. The launch was scheduled for earlier in the week but postponed by poor weather. [Kyodo]
Construction of OneWeb’s satellite manufacturing facility in Florida formally started Thursday. A groundbreaking event at the site, located near the Kennedy Space Center, featured OneWeb executives and Florida Governor Rick Scott. Company officials said the factory will be used to build more than 2,000 satellites for OneWeb’s initial constellation and a larger successor system the company said earlier this year it was planning. The company’s goal for the factory is for it to be able to produce three satellites a day. [SpaceNews]
The Delta 4 launch of a military communications satellite is now scheduled for Saturday evening.United Launch Alliance announced Thursday the new launch date for the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) 9 satellite, which had been delayed from earlier in the month because of a booster problem. Forecasts predict a 90 percent chance of acceptable weather during a 75-minute launch window that opens at 7:44 p.m. Eastern Saturday. WGS-9 was funded by five international partners, who gain access to the overall WGS constellation. [Spaceflight Now]
Lawyers for a fired SpaceX employee are seeking to block testimony by company CEO Elon Musk in an ongoing trial. Lawyers for Jason Blasdell said Musk should not be allowed to testify since they were not given an opportunity to despose him beforehand. A judge had denied their earlier request for a deposition, but did order Musk to answer written questions. Blasdell, who worked as an avionics test technician at SpaceX, alleges in his suit against the company that he was fired after raising safety issues. SpaceX has called the suit baseless. [City News Service]
A student group set a new rocketry record earlier this month. A rocket built by the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico March 4, reaching a peak altitude of 43.9 kilometers. The Fathom 2 rocket is believed to set the record for the highest altitude achieved by a rocket designed and manufactured entirely by students. The group’s ultimate goal is to launch a rocket past the Karman Line of 100 kilometers, the widely-observed boundary of space. [USC]
So-called “magic islands” seen on Titan maybe be nitrogen bubbles. Radar images of the surface of Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft have detected features that look like islands in its hydrocarbon seas. Those islands appear to change shape over time. Lab experiments suggest that the islands could be giant nitrogen bubbles created as methane-rich and ethane-rich liquids mix. [Space.com]
India’s parliament discussed a heady question this week: is the country planning to brew beer on the moon? Sisir Adhikari, a member of the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, asked the question of the Department of Space, also seeking details of the research plan if such brewing plans were in development. Jitendra Singh, the minister of state in the prime minister’s office, responded Wednesday that India’s space agency has no such plans, although Team Indus, the Indian venture planning a private lunar lander mission, was considering flying such an experiment from a student group. [Quartz India]