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NASA’s renewed efforts to return to the Moon may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but works still proceeds on a number of projects related to the effort, including a series of hot-fire test of thrusters designed by NASA and partner Frontier Aerospace. These tests, more than 60 in total performed over the course of just 10 days, were performed under conditions designed to simulate what it would be like to use them in space, and provided key information that could lead to the verification of this thruster design for future use by NASA and its commercial partners.

The prototype thrusters are designed for use with small rockets, in space, delivering enough power for flight path adjustments or altitude changes. They’re designed to be as small and efficient as possible, while also meeting the requirements of landing spacecraft on the Moon, and their first likely use will be in Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander, which is currently scheduled to fly on a Vulcan Centaur rocket in July 2021.

Peregrine is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, through which the agency has built a list of what amount to approved vendors for building and flying lunar landers that can carry payloads to the Moon on its behalf. These thrusters are being developed under a separate program, NASA’s Thruster for the Advancement of Low-temperature Operation in Space (TALOS) project, but their work will contribute both to CLPS, and to future spacecraft used in NASA’s Artemis series of lunar missions.

The design of the thrusters incorporates use of a propellant made up of nitrogen and mono methyl hydrazine, which offers benefits like being able to burn at much lower temperatures without risk of freezing – their operating range is between -40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas most traditional thrusters work at between 45 and 70 Fahrenheit. Their operating range has the side-benefit of not requiring conditioning hardware, which means that they can work with less bulky and power-hungry designs – both incredibly important when you’re building spacecraft.


TechCrunch

SpaceX is making progress assembling its Starship orbital spacecraft prototype, as seen in new photos shared by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk . This full-scale testing version of the Starship will take over for the StarHopper, which was a scaled down version used to test the Raptor engine initially with low-altitude ‘hop’ flights.

The Starship Mk I Prototype and Mk II prototypes, which are under construction simultaneously at SpaceX facilities in South Texas and Florida, will be used to test flight at higher altitudes and higher speeds, and will use as many as three to six Raptor engines simultaneously, vs. the single engine used with the StarHopper.

The round sections of the prototype you see in the photos being lowered on top of one another measure 9 meters (about 30 feet) in diameter, and unlike the StarHopper, these will feature a smooth curved top section, which you can see in the second photo. Once complete, SpaceX will run a first test of the orbital prototype with the goal of reaching a height of 12 miles, or 63,000 feet, before moving on to higher velocity testing at similar heights, and finally a first orbital flight.

Ultimately, SpaceX’s goal with Starship is have it become the workhorse of all of its commercial operations, replacing entirely the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon Capsule spacecraft and servicing both Earth orbital needs, as well as trips to ferry supplies and astronauts to Mars, and potentially beyond.


TechCrunch

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