An artists’s conception shows SpaceX’s Starship craft on Mars. (SpaceX Illustration) NASA is helping SpaceX get a fix on potential landing sites on Mars for its Starship super-spaceship, with an emphasis on Arcadia Planitia and Amazonis Planitia, regions where deposits of water ice may be found. Another focus of NASA’s reconnaissance campaign in , a mountainous area just west of Arcadia Planitia in Mars’ northern hemisphere. Pictures of the candidate sites were captured from orbit by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in June and July, and included in last month’s roundup of MRO imagery. Science writer Robert Zimmerman , and dubbed them , , , and . Sites 2 and 3 are a stereo pair of images. The other three sites on Zimmerman’s list have stereo pairs as well. Zimmerman said that his contact at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory declined to discuss the images due to a non-disclosure agreement, and that SpaceX hasn’t responded to his request for comment. (Comment is scarce this weekend due to Labor Day, but we’ll add anything we hear from JPL or SpaceX to this report.) Arcadia Planitia has been on SpaceX’s list of potential Mars landing areas. SpaceX’s principal Mars development engineer, Paul Wooster, told NASA’s what the company was looking for during a virtual meeting conducted a year and a half ago. Here’s an excerpt from : “SpaceX’s current landing site candidates for Mars were shown, having been chosen to provide access to near-surface ice, few landing site hazards (such as large rocks), and enough space for potentially growing a sizeable outpost. The ice sites are in high mid-latitudes and the search for lower latitude candidates, which are preferred, continues. Previously, MEPAG had been told that SpaceX could transport for-fee payloads to the Mars surface.” Wooster told the MEPAG meeting that there’d probably be capacity for secondary payloads on what’s now known as the Starship spacecraft, but that the details would have to wait until the launcher capabilities were “firmly established.” Zimmerman noted that there’s strong evidence for the presence of buried glaciers, known as lobate debris aprons, in the region that was imaged by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In a given at a NASA workshop in 2015, researchers called Arcadia Planitia “one of the few regions where abundant shallow ice is present at relatively low latitude.” The targeted locations are relatively flat, and the climate is relatively mild. And for what it’s worth, if that’s where SpaceX is planning to build a settlement, there’s a potential attraction for scientists and tourists not far away: . Like Arcadia, Phlegra Montes is thought to , but the terrain is more rugged. It’s too early to say whether SpaceX’s first Mars-bound Starship will head for the Arcadia-Amazonis region or for Phlegra Montes. But the fact that NASA is taking a closer look on SpaceX’s behalf suggests those places are definitely in the running. When will that first Mars mission take off? SpaceX put a prototype for its Starship spacecraft, known as Starhopper, to its , and if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has his way, Starships could begin flying to the Red Planet by the mid-2020s — at first with cargo, and then with people. Musk is during an update on Sept. 28, which is the 11th anniversary of . So stay tuned. Check out this map of the Arcadia-Amazonis sites, plus raw images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Click on the ‘expand’ arrows for a larger view: Tip o’ the hat to .
September 03, 2019
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is showing off a picture of his Blue Origin space venture’s BE-4 rocket engine going full blast during a hot-fire test in Texas. “BE-4 continues to rack up time on the test stand,” Bezos said in an accompanied by a picture of today’s full-power engine test. A post shared by (@jeffbezos) on Aug 2, 2019 at 8:24pm PDT Getting the BE-4 into operation is crucial to Blue Origin’s space ambitions. The rocket engine, which runs on liquefied natural gas and packs 550,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff, is destined for use on Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket. It’s also . Both those rockets are currently scheduled to have their maiden launches in 2021. Bezos’ company tends to play its cards closer to the vest than rival billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has been letting its fans pass along and Starship hops in South Texas over the past few months. Blue Origin has been testing BE-4 engine components at its West Texas proving ground for more than two years, and the course has not always run smooth. In May 2017, for instance, , resulting in the loss of hardware. The fact that he’s sharing a picture of the full-power firing on a summery Friday night suggests that the test program is on track. But it also suggests there are more test firings to go. Bezos has said more than once that he’s annually. Just in the past few days, Bezos , and it’s a sure bet that some of that cash is going toward the BE-4. When the BE-4 gets an honest-to-goodness thumbs-up, that’ll clear the way for engine production to shift from Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., to a in Huntsville, Ala. That, in turn, will set the stage for New Glenn rocket assembly to move ahead at Blue Origin’s . Bottom line? Keep an eye on and for word that the BE-4 has passed its final test.
August 02, 2019