Stephen Hawking is making plans to travel into space

Stephen Hawking has booked a ticket to space. The renowned theoretical physicist announced that he’s accepted Richard Branson’s invitation to board a flight on a future Virgin Galactic trip to space. 

Hawking revealed the news in an interview on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain.” He said that while his three children brought him “great joy” throughout his life, the next milestone that would make him happy now would be “to travel in space.” 

“I have already completed a zero-gravity flight which allowed me to float, weightless,” Hawking said. “But my ultimate ambition is to fly into space. I thought no one would take me, but Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic and I said ‘yes’ immediately.”

Branson’s company has not announced how Hawking, who has a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has gradually paralyzed him since his initial diagnosis at age 21, will make the journey. Any trip to the stars would likely be some years in the future since Virgin Galactic has not made any set plans for the start of regular commercial flights to space. 

The company received an operating license for “space tourism” from the Federal Aviation Administration last year, but is still in the testing phase for its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft that it hopes will ultimately introduce commercial space flights for civilians.

Amazon CEO, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has plans to settle the Moon

Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos hopes to convince NASA and US President Donald Trump to back his plans for an Amazon-like service that will make it possible for America to have a permanent settlement on the Moon.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson/ Wikimedia Commons

As first reported by The Washington Post, Amazon CEO and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos hopes to convince NASA and US President Donald Trump to back his plans of an Amazon-like service to the moon that would deliver needed gear and cargo for experiments to create a permanent settlement.

“It is time for America to return to the Moon-this time to stay,” Bezos told The Washington Post. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”

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The aerospace company founder outlined his plans in a 7-page white paper sent to NASA. As reported by The Post, Bezos hopes to build a lunar aircraft that will land near the South Pole of the Moon where there is water and sunlight for solar energy.

Meanwhile, several other private aerospace companies also have plans of their own. Elon Musk’s SpaceX suggested tourism missions around the Moon by next year and Bigelow Aerospace hopes to have his space station modules surrounding the Moon by 2020.

Jeff Bezos does a deep dive into bearings in Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine update

BE-4 powerpackThe BE-4 rocket engine’s powerpack is installed on a stand at Blue Origin’s West Texas proving ground for startup transient testing. (Blue Origin Photo)

What’s the difference between ball bearings and hydrostatic bearings? You should have more of an inkling after checking out Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ latest update on the development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine.

The engine is undergoing testing for use not only on the New Glenn rocket that Bezos’ space venture is planning, but also on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket.

The BE-4 is designed to provide 550,000 pounds of thrust, propelled by liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas. Bezos says that kind of thrust should be enough to send a payload on the first leg of a trip to the moon when seven of them are firing together.

But that kind of performance can involve a lot of wear and tear, particularly if you’re using traditional ball and roller bearings. To maximize the engine’s reusability, Blue Origin’s team is taking a different approach. To keep the BE-4 running smoothly, Bezos says the turbine at the heart of the engine’s turbopump will use a thin film of the fluid propellants as its bearings.

Reusability is a key selling point for the BE-4, and ULA will be watching the engine’s performance closely as Blue Origin puts it through full-scale tests over the next several weeks.

If the BE-4 stumbles, ULA might have to turn to a Plan B, and Blue Origin’s plans for the New Glenn satellite launch business would suffer a heavy blow. But if everything works, that’ll be a big boost for Bezos’ space company, which is also working on a suborbital spaceship powered by the smaller, hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine.

Here’s the full text of today’s email update from Bezos:

“Although the BE-4 turbopump is smaller than your refrigerator, it generates 70,000 horsepower from a turbine running at nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute that pumps cryogenic propellants to pressures just under 5,000 pounds per square inch. To react the forces generated by the rotating turbine and impellers inside the pump, production rocket turbopumps to date have used traditional ball and roller bearings. For BE-4, we’re doing something different – we’re using hydrostatic bearings.

“A hydrostatic bearing relies on a fluid film supplied by a high-pressure source to provide support for the shaft and cause it to float without contacting the static structure except at startup and shutdown. The BE-4 main turbopump uses hydrostatic journal bearings for radial support and hydrostatic axial bearings to carry axial thrust. The system is bootstrapped. The high pressure fluid films for the bearings are supplied by the propellants themselves – liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen – tapped off from the pump discharge flows.

“Material selection is a critical consideration for this approach, as there is physical contact between the bearing surfaces during the start transient before the fluid film is fully established and during the shutdown transient as the fluid film dissipates. With lab-scale tests and full-scale bearing rig tests using actual pump hardware, we evaluated over 20 material combinations in over a hundred tests, leading to our baseline material and coating choices.

“Extensive rotordynamic and computational fluid dynamics analyses have shown the feasibility of this design, and recent powerpack tests confirmed that this approach works during the startup and shutdown transients – the most critical phases. The shaft orbit plot below shows that the turbopump lifts off smoothly and centers during a typical start transient, demonstrating a smooth ride on a film of propellant.

“Why do we go to all this trouble instead of just using traditional bearings? Engine life. We’re relentlessly focused on reusability, and properly designed hydrostatic bearings offer the potential for longer engine life without refurbishment. This is one of the many engineering decisions we’ve made that we hope will lead to reusability – not just in principle – but to practical, operational reusability. If ‘reusability’ requires significant refurbishment, inspection, and re-validation between flights, then it simply won’t lead to the far lower launch costs we need to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space.

“We’ll keep you up to date as our testing progresses in the coming weeks.

“Gradatim Ferociter!”

Orbit plotFinding its bearing: Orbit plot with starting shaft location (red dot) marking each revolution as shaft spirals to its center during propellant fluid film pressurization. (Blue Origin Graphic via Jeff Bezos)

To get Bezos’ updates delivered to your e-mailbox, register on the Blue Origin website.

Virgin boss Richard Branson is taking Stephen Hawking to space

If seems fitting that one of the first passenger flights to leave our atmosphere will be taking Stephen Hawking, a man that has spent his life speculating what our cosmos holds and how it works.

The influential physicist and cosmologist yesterday told Good Morning Britain that Richard Branson would be taking aboard him Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism company.

“I thought no one would take me,” Hawking said on the TV show. “Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic, and I said yes immediately.”

When this will happen is anyone’s guess. Branson originally promised future Virgin Galactic passengers (who’d pre-purchased $200,000 tickets) that they’d launch all the way back in 2009. The project has since been plagued with delays and problems, mostly notably the widely reported crash of VSS Enterprise following a test flight in 2014.

Their new space ship, VSS Unity, completed its first test flight within Earth’s atmosphere in December last year. A ticket on a future Virgin Galactic flight costs $250,000. 

Images and video: Virgin Galactic

Air Force reveals plan for up to 48 launches per year from Cape Canaveral

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Following the successful launch of a Delta IV rocket with the WGS-9 satellite Saturday night, Brigadier General Wayne R. Monteith and Major General David D. Thompson of the U.S. Air Force discussed the 45th Space Wing’s plan to ramp up to 48 launches per year – a feat made possible in large part due to the introduction by SpaceX of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System and the increasing and booming commercial launch market.

Breaking barriers – U.S. Air Force celebrates 70th anniversary, 67 years at CCAFS:

As part of the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force initiated a series of year-long celebrations on Saturday night with the launch of a Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-9 satellite.

Lifting off into the crystal clear night sky above Central Florida, the Delta IV marked the 3,550th rocket launch from the CCAFS and the fourth flight from the Cape this year.

With four flights under its belt, the 45th Space Wing is now preparing for the remaining 31 launches on this year’s manifest – the next two of which are scheduled within three days of each other on 24 and 27 March.

The 24 March launch will see a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, flying in its 401 configuration, deliver the Cygnus OA-7 mission to the International Space Station on behalf of Orbital ATK.

Three days later, on 27 March, SpaceX is – at time of publication – planning to launch the SES-10 mission on a Falcon 9 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center – a launch which will mark the first time SpaceX reuses a flown Falcon 9 first stage.

From a dozen launches per year to 48:

In the past ten years, the CCAFS and Kennedy Space Center combined have seen anywhere from between 7 to 18 launches per year, with the lowest of those numbers coming in 2008 and the highest in 2016.

However, this year alone, the CCAFS and the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force plan to nearly double its 2016 number, with 35 total launches manifested, 28 of them being commercial missions.

As Major General David D. Thompson, Vice Commander, Air Force Special Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, stated in a post-WGS-9 launch briefing, “The commercial spaceflight market is just blooming.

The Maj. Gen. specifically noted that the 45th Space Wing is doing everything possible to reduce the amount of time it takes to reconfigure assets between launches – something that will eventually allow the Cape to increase from its already packed schedule of 35 launches this year to an eventual goal of 48 launches per year in the “next couple of years.”

Of particular note toward this goal was Brig. Gen. Wayne R. Monteith, Commander, 45th Space Wing and Director, Eastern Range, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

Brig. Gen. Monteith specifically discussed how the 45th Space Wing has been working to increase its capabilities to support such a robust schedule.

Speaking after the Delta IV WGS-9 launch, Brig. Gen. Monteith stated, “This launch here represented the fourth launch this year.  We launched just 66 hours ago the Falcon 9.  

“We also have another launch, an Atlas, in 6 days, and then 3 days after that we have another Falcon with SES-10.  

“So we will do four launches within three weeks.  That’s just an incredible team effort.”

In many ways, the 45th Space Wing’s launch cadence increase plans are owed to SpaceX’s introduction of the new Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS).

The AFTS debuted this year from LC-39A with the Falcon 9 launch of the CRS-10 mission to the ISS for NASA.

“When we talk about breaking barriers, a good example of that here is the new Autonomous Flight Termination System.  It flew on the Falcon 9 on CRS-S10 and this last Falcon mission for Echostar that we had was the last time they plan on flying a traditional flight termination system.  

Under a traditional FTS, there is a person “in the loop”.

As the Brig. Gen. explained, “We have now gone completely autonomous with that system.  So with CRS-10 and all others with the AFTS, we’re able to reduce our operational footprint by 60% on day of launch.

“So we came down 96 people that don’t have to be sitting on console.  And the cost to the customer is cut in half.  

“We are driving out every bit of inefficiency that we have.”

Moreover, Brig. Gen. Monteith stated that this new AFTS combined with two operational SpaceX pads at Kennedy and the CCAFS will allow the company to launch two Falcon 9 rockets – one from 39A and one from SLC-40 – within 16 to 18 hours of each other.

“When pad 40 is up and operating, [it will] give us the capability of launching a Falcon from both pad 39A and pad 40 on the same day,” stated the Brig. Gen.

“Now if we did that and we had an Atlas V or a Delta IV launch, within 36 hours we could do three launches.  So that’s how we’re going to get to 48 launches a year.  It’s a great problem to have.”

In practicality, this goal of the 45th Space Wing would result in an ability to “launch consistently every single week of the year with just four weeks of downtime,” stated Brig. Gen. Monteith.

Importantly, the 45th Space Wing’s ability to handle the increasing demand for launches within a short time frame was demonstrated earlier this month.

Originally, when the WGS-9 mission was scheduled to launch on 8 March, SpaceX booked a static fire for the Echostar XXIII Falcon 9 on 7 March in a test window that extended less than 24 hours prior to the Delta IV’s planned launch.

This ability to rapidly support two different enterprises across the 45th Space Wing is a critical necessity to accommodating as many launches as the Air Force is looking at.

Moreover, this eye toward greater efficiency comes at a time when SpaceX and ULA are set to be joined by at least one new launch service provider in the coming years: Blue Origin.

“Pad 36 is being operated by Blue Origin,” notes Brig. Gen. Monteith. “They have started horizontal construction.  We hope they’ll be starting vertical construction later this year.  

“Their factory at Exploration Park is coming along, and they just signed a deal for 6 launches with OneWeb.

“So we anticipate that they will be flying in the next few years, and we will add them to our host of launch vehicle providers that will be flying here off the coast as we drive to 48 launches a year.”

The Brig. Gen. also touched on this year’s upcoming Orbital ATK use of the Cape and Pad 46 for a scheduled 15 July launch of a Minotaur 4 rocket with ORS 5.

Brig. Gen. Monteith noted that beyond the current Minotaur 4 launch, there are no other plans for Orbital ATK to use the CApe, but he did note that such further use was “not out of the realm of possibility” – noting last December’s launch of Pegasus off the L-1011 as a return of Pegasus to the 45th Space Wing’s jurisdiction for the first time in 13 years.

However, while a great deal of work has already taken place and will continue to occur to prepare the Cape for this major increase in launch cadence, the ability to meet this new maximum number of launches per year is – as always – dependent on ULA and SpaceX’s rocket fleets’ abilities to meet this new demand.

(Images: U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Chris Gebhardt for NASASpaceflight.com)

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Planet X to trigger APOCALYPSE this year and the elite KNOW, say conspiracy theorists

The highly controversial Planet X – which is an alleged planetary object that supposedly lurks on the edge of our solar system and is heading inwards – will cause the apocalypse on Earth which will wipe out most of the population, apart from the elite, conspiracy theorists claim.

By analysing biblical texts and astronomical signs, theorists believe that 2017 is the year that Planet X will arrive, and herald the end of days.

Revelation 12:1 says: “A great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head.

“And being with child, she cried out in her travail and was in anguish of delivery.”

This, according to Christian researcher Bob Meade, is proof enough that the end is nigh.

He says: “The great sign of The Woman as described in revelation 12:1-2 forms and lasts for only a few hours. According to computer generated astronomical models, this sign has never before occurred in human history.

“It will occur once on September 23, 2017. It will never occur again. When it occurs, it places the Earth immediately before the time of the Sixth Seal of Revelation.

“During this time frame on September 23, 2017, the moon appears under the feet of the Constellation Virgo. The Sun appears to precisely clothe Virgo.

“Only the one that occurs in 2017 constitutes a ‘birthing.’ This is when planets traverse within the legs of Virgo.”

Mr Meade then points to Revelation 12:6, which he has linked to catastrophic events on Earth.

The text reads: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red.”

YouTube conspiracy theory channel AMTV agrees with Mr Meade¹s theory, and says that the elite have been warning us about it for years.

The host of the video, Christopher Greene, says: “Elon Musk is digging underground and blasting off to space, so is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos through Blue Origin.

“Stephen Hawking is warning of the end of the world, he says if we don¹t get off the planet in the next 100 years, we’ll all be dead.

“Bill Gates is warning and through his rhetoric and messaging, basically telling the American people and global citizens that close to a third or two thirds of the population could be wiped out if they don’t take vaccines.”

However, AMTV’s followers were not so convinced.

One commented on the recent video: “Christopher, you’d be advised to drop discussion on this ridiculous Planet X crap.”

Another added: “What utter nonsense. Many people predicted that Trump won’t take office on Jan 20, the World will end on March 15 because of the Debt Ceiling and now this?!”

WATCH LIVE: ULA Delta IV Rocket Set To Launch From Cape Canaveral Tonight, Coverage …

rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky

WATCH REPLAY: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky Saturday. The rocket took off from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:18 p.m. after a 40-minute delay because of a ground system issue, according to United Launch Alliance officials.

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky Saturday.

The rocket took off from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:18 p.m. after a 40-minute delay because of a ground system issue, according to United Launch Alliance officials.

Rocket/Payload: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) rocket will launch the ninth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9) mission for the U.S. Air Force.

Date/Site/Launch Time: Saturday, March 18, 2017, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch window was 7:44-8:59 p.m. EDT.

Launch Notes: WGS-9 will mark the seventh flight of the Delta IV in the Medium + (5,4)configuration; all launches in this configuration have delivered WGS missions to orbit. This mission also will be the 35th launch of the Delta IV since its inaugural launch in 2002.

Mission Description: WGS satellites are important elements of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capabilities to our troops in the field. WGS has 19 independent coverage areas, 18 of which can be positioned throughout its field-of-view.

This includes eight steerable/shapeable X-band beams formed by separate transmit/receive phased arrays; 10 Ka-band beams served by independently steerable diplexed antennas; and one transmit/receive X-band Earth-coverage beam.

WGS can tailor coverage areas and connect X-band and Ka-band users anywhere within its field-of-view. The X-band phased array antenna enables anti-jam functionality without sacrificing performance.

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A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket lit up the Space Coast night sky Saturday. (ULA Image)


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