Posts with «industrials» label

Dyson’s first dedicated hard floor cleaner doesn’t suck

It’s a new direction for Dyson: a floor cleaner without mention of suction, cyclone technology or any of its usual vacuum vocabulary. The Wash G1 is the company’s debut hard-floor cleaner, and it swaps suction for high-speed rollers, water and nylon bristles. It’ll go on sale later this year for $700/ £600, which is expensive but still cheaper than Dyson’s top-of-the-line Gen 5 vacuum. I got to test out the Wash G1 at Dyson’s HQ, a few hours west of London in the UK. 

The product was born from the increased presence of hard floors in our lives. Dyson says there are fewer and fewer carpeted rooms in homes around the world. However, hard-floor cleaning (industrial processes aside) has remained a pretty manual process, usually involving mops (or Swiffer cloths, you monster) that leave smears and streaks. Typical mopping also leads to wiping diluted dirt and stains around your floors after the first dunk.

Photo by Mat Smith/Engadget

Dyson’s method keeps the fresh and dirty water separate as you clean, with dual microfiber rollers that apply the water, mechanically removing stains and dirt. The company dabbled with this on its V15 Detect Submarine, which had a dedicated cleaning head with (much smaller) water compartments built in. The Wash G1 pulls dirty liquid up into its own container, capturing any physical debris into a slim tray with a mesh filter.

The rollers rotate in opposite directions, which helps lift stains and dirt. While testing it, the rollers also gave the cleaner a floaty sensation as I swished it around. The high-density microfiber cloths then absorb and trap both liquids and solid dirt, while hardened nylon bristles pull away bigger dirt and objects into a tray. The dirty water is also squeezed out of the rollers and pulled upwards into the machine.

The Wash G1 has 26 hydration points to “precisely” soak the microfiber rollers, ensuring they’re hydrated enough to tackle stains and dried dirt. The company claims there’s enough water in a single tank to clean the surface area equivalent to a tennis court – but that will depend on the machine’s settings.

There are three hydration levels, while an additional max setting drains the tank much faster, applying as much water as possible for the most stubborn stains. This doesn’t notably affect battery power, as the maximum setting would on a vacuum, because the Wash G1 isn’t pushing the engines harder – it’s just using more water. To reach floor edges, Dyson shifted the roller’s engines to one side so the right side can closely brush up against walls and edges.

Photo by Mat Smith/Engadget

The Wash G1 can even perform a self-clean, using half of the clean water tank to flush out the system and clean the brushes. There’s no heating feature, but the rotation should wring out most of the water. This is all done while the Wash G1 is docked and charging, which, instead of the typical cable or rack that Dyson’s other vacuums use, is a flat surface that plugs into the wall.

After using up the clean water tank, it was straightforward to remove and refill – much easier than a coffee machine. The unit with both containers clicks out of the body so you can tip away the dirty stuff and refill it with clean water. The container for the filthy water has a wide mouth, so it’s easy to clean without touching the accumulated dirt.

One issue though: The dirty water tank is… gross. I understand the satisfaction of seeing the dirt and muck as you clean your floors, but a container of cloudy beige mystery is, in person, rather icky. Perhaps Dyson could make it out of a smoky plastic that obfuscates the dirty water, at least a little?

The way Dyson separates out liquid and solid mess also reduces the amount of sludgy muck you’ll get from cleaning floors with water (not to brag, but I may have cleaned a carpet or two in my life). It does this by ensuring that solids aren’t in the water for too long. Dirty water is pulled into its removable container through a pressure differential, meaning there’s also no chance for the dirt to meddle with motors, filters and other delicate parts.

A final microfiber roller then takes up any residual water, and Dyson says it buffs the floor to avoid a streaky finish. During my brief time with the Wash G1, it was still leaving a streaky finish, but maybe Dyson will fix this. After all, there’s plenty of time before this ships to consumers. In the UK, the company is aiming for a fall (well, Autumn) launch, with the Wash G1 coming to the US later this year. The demo space was also a reflective marble surface – arguably a more challenging surface to clean perfectly. My hardwood floors at home probably wouldn’t have shown streaks.

Photo by Mat Smith/Engadget

This is Dyson’s first attempt at dedicated hard floor cleaning, and I still have a lot of questions about how well the filtration tray works. How much can you cram into such a slender little thing? We hope to get more answers when we take a closer look ahead of launch later this year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/dysons-first-dedicated-hard-floor-cleaner-doesnt-suck-230124850.html?src=rss

How to watch NASA's first Boeing Starliner crewed flight launch today

Watch along today as NASA's Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test finally — most likely — blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA should start streaming its coverage at 6:30PM ET on its YouTube channel, with the official launch set for 10:34PM ET. The spacecraft will carry two astronauts, Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore.

We say "most likely" because the road to this day has not been a smooth one. It was a decade ago that NASA first chose Boeing and Space X to construct spacecraft that would fly from the United States to the ISS. Boeing received a $4.2 billion contract, while NASA gave SpaceX $2.6 billion. Yet, the latter had its first successful crewed flight in 2020 and has replicated it about a dozen times since.

Boeing's Starliner failed to reach orbit during its first uncrewed orbital test flight in 2019 due to too much fuel burning. A follow-up flight was scheduled for August 2021 but was scrapped due to a valve issue, with Boeing finally reaching the ISS in spring 2022 with an uncrewed vessel. Two plans for crewed flights came and went, amongst faults in aspects such as the parachute system. Last August, Boeing announced it should have these issues straightened out by March 2024.

It's now two months later than that initial goal and Boeing, Williams and Wilmore seem prepared for take off. "We are ready, the spacecraft's ready and the teams are ready," Wilmore told the press. NASA associate administrator Jim Free added: "The first crewed flight of a new spacecraft is an absolutely critical milestone. The lives of our crewmembers Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore are at stake — we don't take that lightly at all."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/how-to-watch-nasas-first-boeing-starliner-crewed-flight-launch-today-130046785.html?src=rss

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft may finally take its first crewed flight next week

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule, which has been plagued by years of setbacks and cost overruns amounting to roughly $1.5 billion, is about to take its first flight with humans on board. Boeing was chosen 10 years ago alongside SpaceX to develop a spacecraft that could ferry astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station (ISS), thus allowing NASA to end its reliance on Russia for crewed flights. The companies were each awarded a fixed-price contract under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: $4.2 billion to Boeing for its CST-100 (Starliner) and $2.6 billion for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

Their initial deadline of 2017 proved to be a bit too ambitious. SpaceX managed its first crewed flight in 2020 — and about a dozen since — while Boeing has struggled to get its Starliner capsule off the ground. But as soon as May 6, it’ll finally have a crewed flight under its belt.

Starliner is now at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Launch Complex-41 attached to the ULA Atlas V rocket that’ll send it on its way to the ISS. Liftoff is planned for 10:34PM ET on Monday, May 6. The capsule will be carrying two NASA astronauts: Butch Wilmore, the mission’s commander, and Suni Williams, who will serve as pilot.

NASA

Not only is it Starliner’s first crewed flight, but this test is only its third flight ever. The spacecraft (without anyone aboard) successfully demonstrated its ability to reach, dock and undock from the ISS in spring 2022 when it conducted its second Orbital Flight Test. On its previous attempt, in 2019, Starliner failed to make it all the way to the ISS thanks to a software issue that resulted in it burning too much fuel (one of a few problems Boeing missed after it opted at the time not to do end-to-end testing).

It’s suffered numerous other problems, too, in the years since Boeing bagged the NASA contract, causing the company to slip far behind SpaceX. There was a toxic fuel leak during a 2018 test. Then corrosion caused valves in the propulsion system to stick, waylaying Boeing’s plans for a 2021 launch, as Ars Technica reported earlier this year. Problems with the spacecraft’s parachute deployment system derailed plans for a launch last summer, and the team had to remove around a mile of flammable tape.

Boeing has also had its fair share of troubles beyond Starliner during this time, facing increased scrutiny into the safety of its airplanes — particularly the 737 Max line — after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, on top of other less serious incidents. Most recently, a panel blew off a 737 Max 9 mid-flight in January, forcing it to make an emergency landing.

The May 6 flight marks a major step toward Starliner’s certification as a crew transport system that NASA can actually put into its rotation for trips to the ISS. That will give the space agency the redundancy it’s looking for; with both Crew Dragon and Starliner in operation, it’ll always have a backup option in case something happens to one of them. Both NASA and Boeing have been adamant that the capsule has been put through an exhaustive review process and is ready to support astronauts. NASA wrapped up its Crew Flight Test Readiness Review of Starliner on April 25.

“The first crewed flight of a new spacecraft is an absolutely critical milestone,” NASA associate administrator Jim Free said during a briefing on the completion of the review. “The lives of our crewmembers Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore are at stake — we don’t take that lightly at all.” The latest review is “the culmination of a detailed review season that has really thoroughly established that we are really ready to go on this flight,” said NASA chief flight director Emily Nelson.

NASA/Frank Michaux

It’s expected to take about 24 hours for Starliner to reach the ISS after it lifts off, and as this is a test flight, its onboard crew will have a lengthy task list of systems and equipment checks to complete across every phase of the journey. While Starliner can operate autonomously, the crew will test its manual controls and make sure it’s in good shape for manual abort scenarios. After Starliner docks to the space station, the astronauts will spend about a week there working with the current crew, Expedition 71.

Then, they’ll undock from the orbiting lab and head home — and put Starliner through the test of reentry and landing. A few potential landing sites in the southwest US have been picked out, including the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Wilmore and Williams have been training for Starliner’s first flight for years. “They know the vehicle inside and out, and they’ve been part of the test environment that’s developed the Starliner capability,” said Steve Stich, manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. All involved in last Thursday’s briefing acknowledged that they may encounter some unexpected challenges, and that there’s much to be learned from this first crewed flight. “It’s a good reminder for all of us that the team has practiced, run sims, run models, but there’s nothing like flying in the space environment,” said Free.

The NASA and Boeing officials also expressed their confidence that the craft itself and the teams handling its journey are well-prepared for the job. The astronauts echoed these sentiments upon arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t ready,” Wilmore said, addressing questions from the press. “We are ready, the spacecraft’s ready, and the teams are ready.”

If Starliner for whatever reason can’t launch on the 6th, it’ll have backup opportunities on May 7, 10 and 11. After the Crew Flight Test is complete and the astronauts are back home, NASA will get to work certifying the spacecraft for future missions bringing crews to and from the ISS. It’s currently targeting 2025 for Starliner to begin duty.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead because we still need to fly a successful mission,” said Free ahead of Starliner’s launch, “but when we do, and when we certify Starliner, the United States will have two unique human space transportations that provide critical redundancies for ISS access.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/boeings-starliner-spacecraft-may-finally-take-its-first-crewed-flight-next-week-140056150.html?src=rss

NASA confirms its space trash pierced Florida man’s roof

On March 8, a piece of space debris plunged through a roof in Naples, FL, ripped through two floors and (fortunately) missed the son of homeowner Alejandro Otero. On Tuesday, NASA confirmed the results of its analysis of the incident. As suspected, it’s a piece of equipment dumped from the International Space Station (ISS) three years ago.

NASA’s investigation of the object at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral confirmed it was a piece of the EP-9 support equipment used to mount batteries onto a cargo pallet, which the ISS’ robotic arm dropped on March 11, 2021. The haul, made up of discarded nickel-hydrogen batteries, was expected to orbit Earth between two to four years (it split the difference, lasting almost exactly three) “before burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere,” as NASA predicted at the time. Not quite.

The roof-piercing debris was described as a stanchion from NASA flight support equipment used to mount the batteries onto the cargo pallet. Made of the metal alloy Inconel, the object weighs 1.6 lbs and measures 4 inches tall and 1.6 inches in diameter.

Hello. Looks like one of those pieces missed Ft Myers and landed in my house in Naples.
Tore through the roof and went thru 2 floors. Almost his my son.
Can you please assist with getting NASA to connect with me? I’ve left messages and emails without a response. pic.twitter.com/Yi29f3EwyV

— Alejandro Otero (@Alejandro0tero) March 15, 2024

Otero told Fort Meyers CBS affiliate WINK-TV that he was on vacation when his son told him that an object had pierced their roof. “I was shaking,” he said. “I was completely in disbelief. What are the chances of something landing on my house with such force to cause so much damage. I’m super grateful that nobody got hurt.”

NASA says it will investigate the equipment dump’s jettison and re-entry to try to figure out why the object slammed into Otero’s home instead of disintegrating into flames. “NASA specialists use engineering models to estimate how objects heat up and break apart during atmospheric re-entry,” the space agency explained in a news release. “These models require detailed input parameters and are regularly updated when debris is found to have survived atmospheric re-entry to the ground.”

Most space junk moves extremely fast, reaching up to 18,000 mph, according to NASA. It explains, “Due to the rate of speed and volume of debris in LEO, current and future space-based services, explorations, and operations pose a safety risk to people and property in space and on Earth.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nasa-confirms-its-space-trash-pierced-florida-mans-roof-204056957.html?src=rss

NASA's new X-59 plane could hit supersonic speeds with minimal sonic boom

NASA’s X-59 Quesst supersonic commercial jet, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin, will have its flight test livestreamed as a demonstration of how quiet it can be in the air. The $247.5 million Quesst, whose name is short for Quiet SuperSonic Tech, will be shown on the livestream dramatically emerging from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California. NASA has been on a mission since 2018 to prove that its X-59 can fly over cities without producing noise pollution, or sonic booms. This test flight marks an important milestone in the six-year-old project.

The first flight will be streamed on January 12 at 4pm ET on YouTube, as well as the NASA app and the NASA+ streaming service.

The space agency said it will survey people about the noises they hear from the jet during the first flight. It did not specify how it would find these people, or many people it would poll. The data collected will be sent to regulators and used to help propose new rules that limit the use of supersonic jets. The US federal government has blocked all civilian supersonic jets from flying over land for over five decades.

When NASA first announced its quiet supersonic technology project in 2018, administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the United States.” While the jet was supposed to first take flight in 2021, the debut today still marks a major milestone in the QueSST mission. By 2027, NASA expects to have more definitive results about how effective the new aircraft technology is at reducing flight noise.

If new laws are eventually passed that permit supersonic jet aircrafts to fly in close proximity to land, high-speed commercial flights could become a reality. Once NASA and Lockheed Martin finalize development of the aircraft, the agency said it will conduct safety evaluations for about nine months. After enough evidence is shared to prove that the Quesst aircraft can be flown safely, NASA plans to expand its flight tests to cities across the US and collect more information about the noise it produces through additional surveys.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nasas-new-x-59-plane-could-hit-supersonic-speeds-with-minimal-sonic-boom-210037676.html?src=rss

Russia will assist NASA with ISS space flights through 2025

Russia and the United States have had a strained relationship, at best, in recent years. However, the pair are still working together in one regard: getting crews to the International Space Station (ISS). Roscosmos, Russia's federal space agency, has announced that the two countries will continue partnering on "cross-flights until 2025 inclusive."

Cross-flights involve putting crews from multiple countries onto the same spacecraft. Roscosmos intends always to have at least one of its own representatives in the Russia section of the ISS and at least one NASA representative in the US section. The agency added that the decision was made "to maintain the reliability of the ISS as a whole." The ISS, launched in 1998, is a symbol of US-Russia cooperation after the Cold War and the space race ended.

The news follows NASA's April 2023 announcement that Russia will remain aboard the ISS until 2028. The Director General of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, had previously said Russia would pull out of the ISS "after 2024" to focus on creating its own space station. NASA had been preparing for Russia's departure with plans ranging from pulling astronauts from the ISS to figuring out how to control the ISS if Russia took away its thrusters. The US agency has committed to maintaining the ISS until at least 2030.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/russia-will-assist-nasa-with-iss-space-flights-through-2025-115533326.html?src=rss

SpaceX dominated private spaceflight in 2023, but its competitors (mostly) aren't quitting

It’s been a busy year for spaceflight — the busiest ever, in fact. This fall, space companies once again broke the record for successful orbital launches in a single year with 2023’s 180th flight — Starlink satellites sent up by SpaceX on November 22, according to Ars Technica. The number has since climbed to 200.

That pace has been driven in no small part by Elon Musk’s aerospace venture, which set a goal of hitting 100 launches in 2023 and is nearly there, with 92 as of December 7. Private companies have become key players in the new space race, not only vying to serve as launch providers for science and communications missions but also ushering in the era of space tourism (for anyone rich enough to nab a ticket). But spaceflight is hard, especially if you’re trying to change the game with design innovations, and for all the wins in 2023, there have been plenty of hiccups. Here’s a look at how some of the leading private space companies made out this year.

SpaceX

REUTERS / Reuters

SpaceX seemingly didn’t stop once to catch its breath in 2023. The company managed a record-setting run of orbital launches with its reusable Falcon 9 and partially reusable Falcon Heavy rockets, with the lion’s share dedicated to delivering its Starlink internet satellites to orbit (there are now more than 5,000 of them circling Earth). SpaceX also delivered payloads for other entities, including NASA, and carried out multiple crewed flights with its Dragon capsule. Four astronauts arrived at the International Space Station in March aboard a Crew Dragon, and Axiom Space contracted SpaceX for a private astronaut mission that flew to the ISS in May.

As for its experimental Starship flights, things were expectedly a bit more volatile. Starship is the biggest and most powerful launch vehicle built to date, and is designed to support future human spaceflight missions, including NASA’s return to the moon as soon as 2025. The spacecraft itself is 165 feet tall, and when stacked on top of the Super Heavy rocket, the two tower at a combined 397 feet. Both Starship and Super Heavy are planned to be fully reusable. It’s all still in development, and after a few years of suborbital flight tests without Super Heavy — Starship has six of its own Raptor engines that enable flight — the vehicle advanced to orbital tests in 2023.

SpaceX launched Starship for the first time in an integrated flight with its Super Heavy rocket on April 20, and there were problems from the moment liftoff began. Multiple engines failed, and when Starship started its flip maneuver that allows for stage separation about 3 minutes in, it just kept spinning. It was eventually given the command to self-destruct, ending the test with an explosion.

The launch left behind a lot of damage on the ground, too, tearing up the launchpad at SpaceX’s Boca Chica test site, creating a sizable crater and starting a 3.5 acre fire on the grounds of a protected wildlife refuge. But for SpaceX, it was still considered a success — its goal was just to clear the tower. Starship made it to an altitude of about 24 miles before it got caught in that uncontrolled spin. Nevertheless, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded Starship after the destructive test, and ordered the company to complete dozens of corrective actions before it could fly again.

Starship did fly again before the end of 2023, and again Starship exploded. This time, though, Starship officially made it to space, climbing to about 92 miles above Earth. It also performed SpaceX’s first attempt at hot staging — where the upper stage begins to fire its engines while still attached to its lower stage — and was able to complete separation from the Super Heavy booster. It fell well short of the planned 90-minute flight, lasting only around eight minutes, but it demonstrated hot staging was possible.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin had a strong run between late 2021 and 2022 with its reusable New Shepard suborbital booster and capsule, completing six crewed flights to the edge of space following years of tests and payload missions for industry clients including NASA. But in September 2022, one of its rockets suffered a main engine failure during an uncrewed research mission, and New Shepard spent a subsequent 15 months grounded.

After investigations into the cause of the event, the company’s then-CEO Bob Smith — who is stepping down in the new year — said in June 2023 that New Shepard would again “be ready to go fly within the next few weeks” pending FAA approval. The FAA closed its investigation at the end of September and gave Blue Origin 21 corrective actions to complete before New Shepard could take to the skies again. Around that time, Ars Technica reported that sources close to the matter said Blue Origin was targeting an October return to flight, but that window came and went with no liftoff or further updates. While it was starting to look like Blue Origin wouldn’t fly at all in 2023, the company finally announced New Shepard’s return in mid-December, and pulled off a successful suborbital payload flight on December 19.

It’s mostly been crickets for Blue Origin’s still-in-development New Glenn, as the company races to get it ready for its debut. New Glenn, a partially reusable heavy lift vehicle, is expected to make its inaugural flight sometime in 2024. It’s already been tapped by NASA to send a pair of small satellites to Mars later that year, but the timeline keeps slipping. It was originally supposed to launch in 2020, but was later rescheduled to 2021, then 2022 and now 2024. The company shared some photos of the rocket’s first and second stage being assembled at its Florida factory over the summer, and confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel that it was still shooting for next year.

Blue Origin has also been busy building engines for another launch provider, United Launch Alliance, which will be used for ULA’s heavy-lift Vulcan Centaur rocket. Both New Glenn and Vulcan will rely on Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, and have faced delays tied to its development. Most recently, in July, CNBC reported that one of these engines exploded during testing at Blue Origin’s West Texas facility.

United Launch Alliance

REUTERS / Reuters

ULA had a quiet year as well, carrying out only three launches in 2023 with its Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets — down from eight the year before. Both rockets are in the process of winding down their operations ahead of their official retirement. Delta IV Heavy has just one flight left, which is expected to take place in 2024, and all of Atlas V’s remaining flights have been sold and scheduled out over the next several years. One of ULA’s few 2023 launches was the first flight in its partnership with Amazon, and an Atlas V rocket successfully delivered two of the company’s prototype Project Kuiper internet satellites to orbit.

Most of ULA’s attention right now is focused on putting the final touches on Vulcan ahead of its maiden flight. Vulcan has been in development for roughly a decade, and it, too, has faced years of delays. There was some hope it would finally launch in the first half of 2023, with the company targeting liftoff in May, but after the explosion of a Centaur upper stage during tests, it pushed this target to the end of the year. In October, ULA had said it was planning to launch Vulcan for the first time on Christmas Eve from Cape Canaveral, Florida. But, in an update posted this week, the company confirmed Vulcan wouldn't be flying in 2023 after all. 

Following a successful WDR, the launch of ULA's first #VulcanRocket flight test and #Cert1 mission is planned for Jan. 8, 2024, pending range approval. The Vulcan VC2S rocket will launch from SLC-41 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. https://t.co/xFQoT0042V pic.twitter.com/gkHOBFF6UT

— ULA (@ulalaunch) December 14, 2023

The rocket completed some critical tests in December, and is now scheduled to fly on January 8, 2024. Vulcan’s first flight, dubbed Certification-1, will send Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander to the moon. Once Vulcan is in operation, ULA will start ramping up flights again. It’s already got a contract with Amazon for 38 Project Kuiper launches on Vulcan. It just needs to get off the ground first.

Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab

Over the last few years, Rocket Lab has risen as a company to watch in the launch sector. In the first few months of 2023, it seemed on track to beat its 2022 record of nine orbital launches in one year with its Electron rocket. The company told SpaceFlight Now it was targeting 15 launches this time around. It made it to seven by the end of August, but in September, a problem with the rocket’s upper stage resulted in its failure to reach orbit. Rocket Lab has at least three dozen successful Electron flights under its belt, and only a handful of failures, but the latest is the third such failure in as many years.

Whether or not it proves to be a major setback has yet to be seen. The FAA in October cleared Rocket Lab to resume flights following the finalization of its investigation into the issue, which wrapped up in November. According to Rocket Lab, the problem was caused by “the rare interaction” of “three rare conditions” in the low-pressure space environment that created “an unexpected electrical arc” within the power supply system for the engine’s motor controllers, “shorting the battery packs that provide power to the launch vehicle’s second stage.” The company was still able to return to flight before the end of the year. On December 15, an Electron rocket delivered a Japanese satellite to orbit in a mission dubbed “The Moon God Awakens.”

Rocket Lab has been experimenting with different ways to recover its Electron boosters after flight —including mid-air catch attempts via helicopter — as it works toward rocket reusability. It’s also developing a medium-lift, partially reusable launch vehicle, Neutron, that’s expected to be completed in 2024.

Virgin Galactic & Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, managed a steady cadence of flights this year with its VSS Unity suborbital spaceplane. The rocket-powered craft made six flights in six months in 2023, including its first ever space tourism trip in August. In addition to research missions, it’s now completed a total of four flights with paying tourists on board, all of them completed between this summer and fall.

The company took a bit of a hit on the stock market in December, though, after Branson said he wouldn’t be putting any more of his own money into it. Speaking to the Financial Times, Branson said, “We don’t have the deepest pockets after COVID, and Virgin Galactic has got $1 billion, or nearly. It should, I believe, have sufficient funds to do its job on its own.” Following his comments, shares took a nosedive. But, they’ve since climbed back up.

Virgin Orbit, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well in 2023. Branson’s Virgin Galactic spinoff announced in May that it was shutting down a month after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company was formed in 2017 with the intention of becoming a launch provider for small satellite missions. It had a unique approach to getting payloads to space; Virgin Orbit used a modified Boeing 747 plane to launch its rocket, LauncherOne, from the air. 

But it struggled to keep up with the competition, and in January, it suffered a failure during what was the first ever orbital launch from the UK. As a result, the satellites it had been commissioned by the UK and US governments to deliver didn’t make it to orbit. It was the company’s second failure out of a total of just six missions, and it proved unable to rebound.

Newcomers hit hurdles

California-based Relativity Space has been working for years to build the first fully 3D-printed reusable rockets, with plans for an eventual medium-to-heavy-lift vehicle that could send missions to the moon and Mars. Its first rocket, Terran 1, had its inaugural launch in March this year, but it failed not long after liftoff. It hit some key milestones, though, making it through Max-Q (the point of maximum dynamic pressure on a spaceship during flight) and stage separation. Now, Relativity Space is turning its attention to its larger vehicle, Terran 2, which it plans to have ready for launch in 2026 from Cape Canaveral.

ABL Space, also based in California, conducted its own first flight in 2023 with the launch of its RS1 rocket. Shortly after liftoff, all nine of RS1’s engines shut down, causing the vehicle to crash back down to Earth. In a Substack post at the end of October, CEO Harry O’Hanley detailed some of the work the company has been doing in the months since the first flight to prepare for its second launch, but no date for Flight 2 has been announced just yet.

More to come in 2024

David Ducros/ ESA/ Arianespace

In many ways, 2023 has felt like a primer for what’s to come in 2024, which is shaping up to be a big year for spaceflight based on the timelines of current projects, both private and government-sponsored. SpaceX has already said it’s planning to hit 12 launches a month in 2024, which would bring it to 144 by the end of the year.

This year marked the end of the road for Arianespace’s long-running Ariane 5 rocket, which has become the leading launch vehicle in Europe for heavy missions over its 27 years of service. Ariane 5 had its final flight in July, leaving the continent with few launch options for big missions until the release of its successor, Ariane 6. Like others, though, Ariane 6 has been hit by delay after delay over the years, pushing it way behind its originally targeted 2020 debut. The rocket, which Arianespace is developing for the European Space Agency, is expected to make its first flight in summer 2024.

NASA and Boeing are planning the first crewed flight of the Starliner reusable spacecraft capsule, which after being back for the umpteenth time this year, is now slated to be ready around March 2024. NASA also plans to launch the next phase of its moon mission, Artemis II, as early as November 2024. It will be the second flight for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and will have four astronauts aboard the Orion capsule for a lunar flyby. But as always, it’d be reasonable to expect some delays.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/spacex-dominated-private-spaceflight-in-2023-but-its-competitors-mostly-arent-quitting-153050005.html?src=rss

Looking back at 25 years of the ISS

Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the International Space Station’s (ISS) physical assembly in orbit. On December 6, 1998, the crew aboard the space shuttle Endeavor attached the US-built Unity node to the Russian-built Zarya module, kicking off the modular construction of the ISS. A quarter century later, we look back at the milestones and breakthroughs from one of humanity’s most impressive marvels of engineering and international cooperation.

The ISS, which orbits the Earth 16 times every 24 hours at a speed of five miles per second, has been inhabited by researchers for over 23 years. It’s the product of five space agencies from 15 countries. NASA, Roscosmos (Russia’s national space agency), ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) have contributed to the station’s assembly and operation.

NASA 25th-anniversary event

First, NASA will hold a live-streamed event on Wednesday to mark the quarter-century anniversary of the Zarya and Unity modules linking up. All seven STS-88 Space Shuttle Mission crew members will join NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana (mission commander) and ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano to discuss the milestone.

You can watch it here at 12:55PM ET on Wednesday:

From ink to orbit

Its official journey began in the early 1990s when the United States’ Freedom (ordered by President Ronald Reagan in 1984) and Russia’s Mir-2 space station projects were in danger of (literally) never getting off the ground. Freedom was in jeopardy primarily due to a lack of Congressional funding amid rising costs, while Mir-2 was on the brink partially because of financial hardships following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On September 2, 1993, the two nations, each needing an international ally to forge ahead, signed an agreement to combine their programs and collaborate on a joint mission that would have seemed wildly implausible a few years earlier. US Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin inked the pact, marking the formal conception of the cosmic laboratory we know today as the ISS.

US Vice President Al Gore (left) and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in 1993
VITALY ARMAND via Getty Images

The following years included a design overhaul to fold Russian technology into America’s existing Freedom plans, a milestone 1995 docking of NASA’s Atlantis to Russia’s Mir station (epitomizing the fruit of the once-far-fetched collaboration), the addition of funding and cooperation from Europe, Canada and Japan in 1996 and Russia’s launch of Zarya a month before the ISS assembly began. That all led to the day 25 years ago when the two nations’ space tech linked together, sounding the death knell for the Cold War-era space race.

The first crewed mission began on November 2, 2000, when NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev stepped onboard. The inaugural crew spent four months in space, laying the groundwork for subsequent crews. (The record for the most time living and working in space was set by Peggy Whitson, who celebrated 665 days aboard the ISS in 2017.)

NASA

The US Lab Module linked to the station in February 2001, expanding the station’s onboard living space by 41 percent. Four years later, Congress named the US portion a national laboratory. Far more than a symbolic gesture (although it was also that), the designation opened the door to funding and research from a much more comprehensive array of institutions, including universities, other government agencies and private businesses. In 2008, laboratories from Europe and Japan joined the ISS.

The ISS’s construction and expansion from 1998 to 2010 amassed around 900,000 pounds of modules. The station contains about $100 billion worth of gear spinning around the globe.

Research and breakthroughs

NASA

During the ISS’s more than 100,000 orbits of the Earth, it has ushered breakthroughs in areas ranging from disease research to bodily changes from microgravity.

Studying how proteins, cells and biological processes behave in microgravity has boosted research in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease and asthma. Many of these studies wouldn’t have been possible on Earth. Meanwhile, protein crystal growth experiments have sparked advances in developing treatments for conditions including cancer, gum disease and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

ISS researchers made surprising discoveries about “cool flames,” which can burn at extremely low temperatures. Nearly impossible to study outside of microgravity, the astronauts’ research has challenged our previous understanding of combustion. It may open new frontiers with internal combustion engines (ICE), allowing them to run cleaner and more efficiently.

Studies aboard the space station have contributed significantly to our knowledge of human muscle atrophy and bone loss. (ISS astronauts typically work out at least two hours daily to prevent these conditions.) Studying how prolonged time in microgravity affects muscle deterioration and recovery also applies to Earthbound patients stuck in bed for extended periods. In addition, the research can help us learn more about conditions like osteoporosis, leading to improved preventative measures and treatments. It has also helped scientists better understand broader biological changes in microgravity, which could pay dividends if or when humans colonize Mars.

Water purification systems designed to sustain astronauts over long periods have also borne fruit on Earth. ISS astronauts recycle 98 percent of their pee and sweat using highly efficient and compact systems. This has led to the technology’s use in agriculture, disaster relief and aid provision for less developed areas.

ISS astronauts studied the Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC), a “fifth state of matter” that deviates significantly from known states like solids, liquids, gases and plasmas. In 2018, the ISS’s Cold Atom Lab produced BEC in orbit for the first time. Space’s colder temperatures and lack of gravity allow for longer observation times, helping researchers learn more about the behaviors of atoms and BECs. Not only is this crucial to quantum physics studies, it could aid in developing more advanced quantum technologies down the road.

For more detail on the ISS’s breakthroughs, NASA has a dedicated writeup from 2020.

Decommissioning

NASA

The ISS is currently scheduled for decommissioning in January 2031. (Russia currently plans to leave in 2028.) Its late 90s infrastructure is aging quickly, and the space station would grow increasingly and prohibitively expensive to maintain over the long haul. Government and commercial orbital labs will likely pick up the slack in the following years.

When its time comes, the ISS will undergo a controlled deorbit. As for what that might involve, Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of NASA’s space station program, broached the subject with Space.com in 2011. “We’ve done a lot of studies,” he said. “We have found an orbit and a change in velocity that we believe is achievable, and it creates a debris footprint that’s all in water in an unpopulated area.”

As Engadget’s Andrew Tarantola wrote about the ISS’s pending demise:

Beginning about a year before the planned decommissioning date, NASA will allow the ISS to begin degrading from its normal 240-mile high orbit and send up an uncrewed space vehicle (USV) to dock with the station and help propel it back Earthward. The ultimate crew from the ISS will evacuate just before the station hits an altitude of 115 miles, at which point the attached USV will fire its rockets in a series of deorbital burns to set the station into a capture trajectory over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA plans to guide any remaining bits into a remote area of the South Pacific Ocean. “We’ve been working on plans and update the plans periodically,” Shireman said. “We don’t want to ever be in a position where we couldn’t safely deorbit the station. It’s been a part of the program from the very beginning.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/looking-back-at-25-years-of-the-iss-173155049.html?src=rss

How Recteq’s dual-chamber and griddle designs put a unique spin on pellet grills

Traeger, Kamado Joe and Weber are some of the biggest names in smart grilling. These companies have built numerous products that allow you to control and monitor their grills, usually pellet-burning setups, from the comfort of your living room or while you run an errand. Based right outside of Augusta, Georgia, Recteq is another company that’s doing the same. If you aren’t familiar with its products, now is a great time for an introduction as its new lineup has two novel takes on the pellet grill that offer something those larger competitors don’t.

Flat-top griddles are all the rage in backyard grilling right now. The popularity of smash burgers and the ability to cook everything from breakfast to fajitas and fried rice make them a versatile piece of any grill setup. Until now, most of them have been gas-powered and some companies offer griddle inserts for equipping a charcoal, gas or pellet grill you might already have with a large, flat cooking surface. Recteq has taken a different approach, opting instead to stick to its pellet grill roots with what it says is the first wood-fired griddle.

“We've had our eye on griddles for a while,” Recteq’s VP of product development Ben Lesshafft explained to Engadget. “We didn't want to just go with a gas grill, we're not a gas grill company. We believe in wood fired food and we believe in wood-fired flavor.” Lesshafft said the company knew there had to be a way to do something different by introducing the smoke flavor from pellets into a category where nearly all of the grills work the same way.

Recteq SmokeStone 600
Recteq

To design this wood-fired grill, which Recteq calls the SmokeStone 600 ($999), the company drew on its experience building the direct-fire Bullseye grill. That model looks like a mashup of a pellet grill and a charcoal kettle, allowing you to do both high-heat cooking and low-and-slow smoking, but it was designed primarily for the former with temps topping out at nearly 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Another challenge was making sure a pellet-powered griddle offered even heat distribution.

“That took us quite a bit of time,” Lesshafft noted. “I spent more time with thermometers in a couple months than I did in my entire life previously combined.”

Of course, there has to be a method for getting the pellet smoke to roll over the grilling surface in order to impart that wood flavor. To achieve this, Recteq designed a 360-degree vent system around the griddle. The SmokeStone has a blower fan like any other pellet grill that regulates the temperature and intensity of the fire, but it also pushes smoke into the upper cooking chamber. The company includes a raised lip on the griddle surface to help corral any small bits of food, but it also made sure those smoke vents were tall enough to clear it. This design means smoke rolls over your food whether the lid is open or closed.

“The smoke kind of ends up coming across the surface of the grill, because it's forced out at such a velocity that it has to shoot out before it finally relaxes,” he said. “What we discovered is, the beauty of it, you [can] cook with the lid up or down. You're going get some smoke no matter what, because you're always burning wood.”

And on top of imparting some wood-fired flavor into griddled foods that ordinarily wouldn’t get it, the SmokeStone is still a smart grill. There’s Wi-Fi onboard for controlling and monitoring grill and food temperatures from your phone, plus an algorithm to make sure the controller keeps things consistent and even throughout your cook. A temperature range of 300-600 degrees also gives you some room to adjust based on what you’re cooking.

Recteq DualFire 1000
Recteq

A pellet-burning griddle isn’t the only unique entry in Recteq’s new lineup, though. The company also debuted a dual-chamber pellet grill that allows you to cook at two different temperatures at the same time. With the DualFire 1200 ($1,799), Recteq sought to improve another popular grill configuration. If you’ve taken a stroll down the grill aisle at your local hardware store in the last decade or so, chances are you’ve seen grills that offer one side for charcoal and another for gas. Maybe you’ve come across one more recently that’s pellet and gas. While Recteq understood the utility of the two sections, Lesshafft and his colleagues decided making both pellet burning offered something that didn’t yet exist.

“We did not invent the dual-chamber grill, they've been out forever,” he said. “One of the reasons these dual chamber grills sell is people love the fact that you can go low-and-slow on one side and hot-and-fast on the other. And so that was kind of the evolution of our philosophy.”

Lesshafft further explained that he never understood the 50-50 split of the barrel of dual-chamber cookers, so Recteq opted instead for a 65-35 division. He said this allows for larger cuts like brisket on the bigger, more traditional pellet grill side while the smaller chamber is designed for direct-fire searing. You can do low-and-slow on both sides, but the left side is closer to the heat source and lacks the convection of a typical pellet grill.

Recteq also refreshed its main pellet grills, giving them an updated leg design, better wheels and an improved controller. The company also changed the shape of the RT-590, now called the Deck Boss 590, to be consistent with the rest of its lineup. Previously, it had an octagon-shaped barrel, but now it’s round like the others. Recteq also saw an opportunity to give customers a mid-range option between the Deck Boss and its largest new grill, the Flagship 1100 (replacing the RT-700). That’s where the Backyard Beast 1000 comes in.

Recteq DeckBoss 590
Recteq

“The intentional difference between grills is really a matter of size,” said Lesshafft. “You have more capacity, you have more headroom, and it gets rid of the buyer confusion of also changing shapes.” The numbers correspond to square inches of grillings space, where the Backyard Beast doesn’t have a second shelf inside the cooking chamber. It also doesn’t have quite as much pellet hopper capacity as the Flagship. A third option also allows the company to bridge the gap price-wise between its most affordable new grill and its largest “traditional” pellet model. The Deck Boss is $899, the Backyard Beast is $1,099 and the Flagship is $1,299. Of course, ditching the old alphanumeric product names eliminates customer confusion, and Lesshafft admitted there was even some trouble with the names amongst employees (please take note, Sony).

All five of the new grills are equipped with the updated controller, though it functions differently on models like the SmokeStone and DualFire due to their direct-heat setups. And, of course, the DualFire needs special firmware in order to run two grills. A new display is both easier to use and easier to read thanks to better knob and larger letters and numbers. Recteq also ditched the large, external antenna for an internal one that offers similar Wi-Fi range without the gaudy appearance. Lesshafft explained that nothing was off the table in terms of the redesigned controls. However, the company really wanted to focus more on the app rather than putting a touchscreen on its grills like Traeger did.

“If people are going to [swipe through recipes], they're probably going to do it on their phone or their tablet,” he noted. “We kept the physical interface similar, we just wanted to improve it, but we didn't really want to give it a full-blown facelift.”

Another key element of the new controller is dual-band connectivity. Recteq introduced this on its grills over the last couple of years, and as someone who has struggled to connect a 2.4G grill in a mostly 5G world, this makes the setup process much easier. Lesshafft also quipped that this reduced W-Fi-related calls to customer service. And overall, the company has been continually trying to improve the quality of its app. It is, of course, the place where you monitor temperatures and control the grill, but it’s also where you can browse recipes, make notes and revisit temperature graphs. In other words, it needs to be reliable and deliver what’s promised. Lesshafft admitted that wasn’t always the case.

“There was a day when our ratings weren't very good on iOS, and now we're the highest rated growing app,” he said. “The app has come a long way. We're pretty proud of it.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/how-recteqs-dual-chamber-and-griddle-designs-put-a-unique-spin-on-pellet-grills-120025500.html?src=rss

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft embarks on a six-year journey to its asteroid namesake

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has blasted off and begun a six-year, 2.2-billion-mile journey to a peculiar asteroid. Astronomers have speculated that the space rock, also named Psyche, was once the partial core of a small planet in the early days of the Solar System. The seemingly iron- and nickel-rich asteroid may hold clues to the formation of planets, including our own.

On Friday, the uncrewed Psyche spacecraft lifted off at 10:19AM ET aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After successfully jettisoning its fairings and separating from the rocket, ground controllers established two-way communication. Telemetry reports indicate it made it to space in good health. The mission had faced numerous delays before finally lifting off.

Psyche (the asteroid) rotates around the sun in a belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Researchers estimate it’s made of 30 to 60 percent nickel-iron core, allowing them a rare glimpse into a (possible) planetary core. “My best guess is that it’s more than half metal based on the data that we’ve got,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, an Arizona State University professor working as the mission’s principal investigator, told The New York Times. “We’re really going to see a kind of new object, which means that a lot of our ideas are going to be proven wrong.”

NASA / Kim Shiflett

The spacecraft will take around six years to reach Psyche. At that point, NASA’s Psyche craft will orbit the asteroid for 26 months, studying it with various instruments. The craft will use cameras to get an up-close peek, a magnetometer to look for an ancient magnetic field, a gamma-ray spectrometer to detect high-energy gamma rays and neutrons and a radio antenna to map the space rock’s gravity.

“I am excited to see the treasure trove of science Psyche will unlock as NASA’s first mission to a metal world,” said Nicola Fox, a NASA Science Mission Directorate associate. “By studying asteroid Psyche, we hope to better understand our universe and our place in it, especially regarding the mysterious and impossible-to-reach metal core of our own home planet, Earth.”

The spacecraft will also test NASA’s deep space laser communications, an experimental communications method that could increase deep space bandwidth 100-fold over the current standard, radio waves. “It’s exciting to know that, in a few short weeks, Deep Space Optical Communications will begin sending data back to Earth to test this critical capability for the future of space exploration,” said Dr. Prasun Desai, Associate Administrator (Acting), STMD at NASA HQ. “The insights we learn will help us advance these innovative new technologies and, ultimately, pursue bolder goals in space.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nasas-psyche-spacecraft-embarks-on-a-six-year-journey-to-its-asteroid-namesake-183819998.html?src=rss