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Universe Today

UFO hearing brings a few answers and more questions

For the first time in more than half a century, Congress conducted a public hearing into the state of the Pentagon’s study of unidentified aerial phenomena — which is the new name for mysteries once known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, told a hearing organized by the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation that military reports about UFOs — sorry, I mean UAPs — have been “frequent and continuing.”

Today’s hearing follows up on a Pentagon report that was issued last year and listed 144 UAP sightings that have been reported since 2004. The report pledged to take such sightings more seriously than in the past. “Since the release of that preliminary report, the UAP task force database has now grown to contain approximately 400 reports,” Bray said. “The stigma has been reduced.”

However, the hearing also made clear that the Department of Defense is still keeping mum about the detailed workings of its UAP detection and assessment process due to national security concerns. Bray and the hearing’s other witness — Ronald Moultrie, the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security — deferred some of lawmakers’ questions to the closed session that followed the open hearing.

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GeekWire

Nuclear power in space? Pentagon boosts two projects

Two Seattle companies have won Pentagon contracts to develop nuclear-powered prototypes for space applications, with orbital demonstrations set for 2027.

The Defense Innovation Unit says Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies has been tasked with demonstrating a chargeable, encapsulated nuclear radioisotope battery called EmberCore for propulsion and power applications in space.

Plutonium-powered radioisotope batteries have been in use for decades, going back to the Apollo era. For example, NASA’s Perseverance and Curiosity rovers are relying on such batteries to provide the heat and electricity for their operations on Mars.

EmberCore would provide 10 times as much power as those batteries, producing more than 1 million kilowatt-hours of energy using just a few pounds of fuel.

Another Seattle-based venture, Avalanche Energy, will receive backing from the Defense Innovation Unit to continue development of a compact fusion device known as Orbitron. The device, which is about the size of a lunchbox, would use electrostatic fields to trap ions in conjunction with a magnetron electron confinement system.

The resulting fusion reaction would produce energetic particles for generating either heat or electricity, which can power a high-efficiency propulsion system.

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GeekWire

Wave Motion will work on jet-gun launcher for Navy

Everett, Wash.-based Wave Motion Launch Corp. has been awarded $1.3 million to support its efforts to develop a barrel-less launcher technology that could eventually be used to send payloads to space.

Wave Motion was selected for project funding from the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division via the Naval Surface Technology and Innovation Consortium. NSTIC offers federally funded research and business opportunities related to naval surface technology innovation, with a focus on emerging ventures.

The funding is due to run through the end of 2023 — and if Wave Motion’s jet-gun technology proves out, the company could be selected for follow-up awards.

Wave Motion is the brainchild of three University of Washington alumni — Finn van DonkelaarJames Penna and Casey Dunn. The two-year-old venture was one of the award winners in UW CoMotion’s I-Corps program in 2020. Van Donkelaar is Wave Motion’s CEO and holds the patent for the jet-gun system. Penna is the chief operating officer, and Dunn has served as chief financial officer.

The jet-gun concept involves firing a jet of supersonic gas to push a projectile to very high speeds. Since there’s no physical structure or barrel surrounding the projectile, Wave Motion says the system has the potential to be up to 100 times more compact than a rocket or regular cannon of equivalent power.

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GeekWire

FTC blocks Lockheed Martin’s $4.4B deal with Aerojet

The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit to block Lockheed Martin’s $4.4 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne, saying that the deal would “give Lockheed the ability to cut off other defense contractors from the critical components they need to build competing missiles.”

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GeekWire

The world’s widest airplane flies for the third time

The mammoth airplane that got its start with backing from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen took to the air today for its third test flight — marking a new chapter in Stratolaunch’s decade-long effort to create a flying launch pad.

Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage, six-engine Roc aircraft, named after a mythical bird, is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan. Its 385-foot spread is more than half again as wide as the wings of a Boeing 747.

When Allen founded Stratolaunch back in 2011, his intention was to use Roc to send rockets into orbit from the air. But after Allen’s death in 2018, the company was transferred to new owners — and Roc’s primary purpose pivoted to launching hypersonic test vehicles for military and commercial research.

If the development program proceeds as planned, Stratolaunch could begin testing its air-launched, rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic vehicle as early as this year.

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Cosmic Space

Russian anti-satellite test creates space station hazard

A Russian anti-satellite test sparked an orbital-debris emergency aboard the International Space Station today, followed by sharp protests from NASA’s administrator and other U.S. officials.

The incident, which involved the deliberate destruction of an obsolete Russian spy satellite known as Cosmos 1408, is likely to spur renewed debate over military rules of engagement in space and the nature of Russian (and Chinese) anti-satellite maneuvers.

The U.S. Space Command said Russia struck the one-ton satellite with a direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile, breaking it into more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and what’s thought to be hundreds of thousands of smaller bits.

“The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers,” U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander of the Space Command, said in a news release. “Space activities underpin our way of life, and this kind of behavior is simply irresponsible.”

The trajectories for the debris cloud and the International Space Station come close to each other every 90 minutes, and that required the space station’s seven crew members to take cover today.

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GeekWire

Space Force awards $87.5 million for rocket development

The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command today announced awards totaling $87.5 million to support prototype commercial projects relating to next-generation rocket testing and enhancements to make upper stages more resilient.

The awards were made under the aegis of the National Security Space Launch program using the Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium, which facilitates engagement involving the Pentagon space community, industry and academia.

The awards include:

  • $24.35 million to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture for cryogenic fluid management on the New Glenn rocket’s second stage.
  • $24.35 million to Rocket Lab to develop the Neutron rocket’s upper stage.
  • $14.47 million to SpaceX for rapid throttling and restart testing of the Raptor rocket engine, which is destined for use on SpaceX’s Starship rocket, liquid methane specification development and testing; and combustion stability analysis and testing.
  • $24.35 million to United Launch Alliance for uplink command and control for the Centaur V upper stage, which will be used with ULA’s Vulcan rocket.
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GeekWire

Systima joins a new team to target aerospace markets

Mukilteo, Wash.-based Systima Technologies has been acquired by Karman Missile & Space Systems as part of Karman’s push into the markets for space and hypersonic system infrastructure.

Karman, headquartered in Los Angeles, was created just in the past year with backing from Trive Capital, a Dallas-based private equity firm. In addition to Systima, Karman’s business divisions include AMRO, AAE Aerospace, Aerospace Engineering Corp. and TMX Engineering.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Systima currently has about 230 employees — and last year it purchased the Harbour Pointe Tech Center in Mukilteo to serve as its headquarters, reportedly at a price of $46.75 million. In the wake of the acquisition, Systima’s leadership team will continue as equity holders and senior leaders of Karman.

The 21-year-old venture, founded by President Tom Prenzlow, specializes in integrating energetic and mechanical systems into the structural design of mission-critical space and hypersonic systems. One of its fastest-growing product lines is the fabrication of high-performance composite structures that use high-temperature materials for missile and launch platforms

Systima’s projects include the development of pyrotechnically actuated hatch mechanisms for NASA’s Orion deep-space crew capsule, fabrication of a ring-shaped separation joint system for NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, and work on hypersonic flight and missile systems for the Defense Department.

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GeekWire

Pentagon gives a $2M boost to Xplore spacecraft

Redmond, Wash.-based Xplore says it has received a $2 million contract from National Security Innovation Capital, a hardware development accelerator within the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, to speed up work on Xplore’s Xcraft platform.

The payload-hosting spacecraft is due for its first launch to low Earth orbit in 2023.

“The significant funding NSIC has provided ensures U.S. government and commercial customers will have speedy access to our affordable Xcraft platform,” Lisa Rich, Xplore’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said today in a news release. “The $2 million award will expedite component acquisitions and accelerate our flight program.”

Xcraft is designed to provide hosting and other services for a variety of customers and payloads, with the capability to reach destinations ranging from low Earth orbit to the moon, Mars, Venus and asteroids. Xplore says it already has a memorandum of understanding with Accion Systems to host Accion’s next-generation ion thruster, known as TILE, for a mission to low Earth orbit.

The funding should also accelerate the timeline for development of an Xplore Space Telescope in collaboration with the W.M. Keck Observatory. Xplore says those operations are scheduled to begin soon after the first Xcraft LEO mission in 2023.

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Universe Today

UFO report lends respectability to strange sightings

After months of anticipation, U.S. intelligence experts have released a report citing 18 incidents since 2004 in which unidentified flying objects — or unidentified aerial phenomena, to use the Pentagon’s term — appeared to demonstrate breakthrough technologies.

The nine-page, unclassified version of the report doesn’t describe the incidents in detail, and doesn’t attribute them to aliens. But it suggests they’re not linked to existing U.S. military technologies.

The point of the report, produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to a congressional mandate, is to assess the potential threat posed by the anomalous aerial phenomena reported by U.S. military fliers over the years, whether you call them UFOs or UAPs.

Intelligence experts said they didn’t have enough data to get a firm fix on the nature of 143 out of 144 UAP reports that were filed between 2004 and this March. The one case they said they could resolve “with high confidence” was attributed to a large, deflating balloon.

Their conclusion was that UAP sightings should get more attention.