Planets more hospitable to life than Earth may already have been discovered

At least two dozen planets outside the solar system might be better for life than Earth. These planets are just a little older, a little wetter, a little warmer and a little larger than Earth is, researchers wrote Sept. 18 in the journal Astrobiology. All of these factors could mean that some of these planets are the best places to search for extraterrestrial life. "We have to focus on certain planets that have the most promising conditions for complex life. However, we have to be careful to not get stuck looking for a second Earth because there could be planets that might be more suitable for life than ours," University of Washington astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch said in a statement.Seeking superhabitable planetsAstronomers have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, so far. Most of these are not particularly conducive to life. For example, planet KELT-9b is so hot that its atmosphere is constantly melting. The darkest known planet,…

China selects 18 new astronauts ahead of space station construction

HELSINKI — China’s human spaceflight agency has selected a group of 18 new astronauts to participate in the country’s upcoming space station project.
The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced the results Thursday (Chinese), a few days after the final decisions.
The 18 new Chinese astronauts consist of seven pilots, seven spaceflight engineers and four payload specialists. The final selection includes just one woman. The process, which included primary, secondary and final selections, began in May 2018 with a total of about 2,500 candidates participating.
No information of the identities of the selected astronaut candidates was provided. The CMSA operates under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and has previously restricted information flow regarding astronaut and mission selection.
Previous selection rounds in 1998 and 2010 were open to air force pilots only. The latest selection was opened to civilians, reflecting changing needs as China seeks to construct and operate a modular spa…

China is building a new rocket to fly its astronauts to the moon

China has revealed that it is working on a new rocket that could send astronauts to land on the moon.The new launch vehicle was unveiled at the 2020 China Space Conference in Fuzhou, east China on Sept. 18. The new launcher is designed to send a 27.6 ton spacecraft into trans-lunar injection. Mass at liftoff will be about 4.85 million pounds, nearly triple that of China's current largest rocket, the Long March 5.Notably, the new rocket will feature three, 16.4-foot-diameter cores, in a style similar to two American rockets: United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.The as-yet-unnamed rocket will be 285 feet long, with a three-stage central core, and it is being designed at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) in Beijing."The world is seeing a new wave of lunar exploration, crewed or uncrewed. International cooperation projects in crewed lunar exploration are intertwined and influencing each other," Zhou Yanfei, deputy gene…

SpaceX’s first high-altitude Starship fitted with flaps and rolled to the launch pad

After a four-day delay, SpaceX has successfully installed the first high-altitude Starship at its Boca Chica launch pad not long after the rocket was outfitted with large flaps.Technically the second time a Starship was outfitted with flaps, Starship serial number 8 had the bottom half of its aerodynamic control surfaces installed on September 23rd – exactly one year after Starship Mk1’s flaps were first installed. Starship Mk1’s flaps were likely meant to be functional but SpaceX never appeared to activate them and Mk1’s main body (tank section) was destroyed during a November 2019 pressure test, failing far before the necessary pressures for flight tests. As such, barring a surprise or two, Starship SN8 will very likely become the first flightworthy prototype to have functional flaps installed.That remains to be seen, though, and will be put to the test over the next few weeks. If all goes according to plan, the ship could become the first to attempt a high-altitude, 15 km (9.3 mil…

US military eyes nuclear thermal rocket for missions in Earth-moon space

The U.S. military aims to get a nuclear thermal rocket up and running, to boost its ability to monitor the goings-on in Earth-moon space.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) just awarded a $14 million task order to Gryphon Technologies, a company in Washington, D.C., that provides engineering and technical solutions to national security organizations.
The money will support DARPA's Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, whose main goal is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system in Earth orbit. 
NTP systems use fission reactors to heat propellants such as hydrogen to extreme temperatures, then eject the gas through nozzles to create thrust. This tech boasts a thrust-to-weight ratio about 10,000 times higher than that of electric propulsion systems and a specific impulse, or propellant efficiency, two to five times that of traditional chemical rockets, DARPA officials wrote in a description of the DRACO program.
Such impro…

NASA signs agreement with Italy to cooperate on Artemis

WASHINGTON — Italy is the latest country to sign an agreement to cooperate with NASA on the Artemis human lunar exploration program, although the details of Italy’s participation have yet to be worked out.In a Sept. 25 ceremony held by videoconference, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Riccardo Fraccaro, undersecretary to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with responsibility for space, signed a joint declaration of intent to cooperate on Artemis.“With a long history of successful collaboration in human spaceflight, as well as in Earth and space science, the Italian government’s strong support for Artemis assures this partnership will extend to cooperation in the next phase of exploration on the lunar surface,” Bridenstine said in a statement.Neither NASA nor the Italian space agency ASI announced any specific projects that are part of that cooperative effort. In an Italian-language statement, Giorgio Saccoccia, president of ASI, said subsequent “implementation agreements” wo…

SpaceX Starship pop test opens the door for 60,000 foot hop

SpaceX has successfully destroyed a Starship ‘test tank’ for the fourth time, opening the door for the first high-altitude prototype to roll to the launch pad as soon as tomorrow.The culmination of three nights and more than 20 hours of concerted effort, SpaceX was finally able to fill Starship test tank SN7.1 with several hundred tons of liquid nitrogen before dawn on September 23rd. With just an hour left in the day’s test window, SpaceX closed the tank’s vents, allowing its cryogenic contents to boil into gas and expand with no outlet. At 4:57 am CDT, SN7.1 burst, bringing its lengthy test campaign to a decisive end.A handful of hours later, new road closure notices revealed SpaceX’s plan to roll Starship SN8 – the first full-size prototype and first ship meant for high-altitude testing – from its Boca Chica factory to the launch site.

Short of new information from SpaceX or CEO Elon Musk, little is known about the results of SN7.1’s lengthy test campaign, but the fact that it survi…