A Bad Week for Orbital, SpaceShipTwo, and Gun Control | Vol. 2 / No. 1


Orbital Science Corp. rocket explosion earlier this week. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky
Orbital Science Corp. rocket explosion earlier this week. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

A Bad Day for Orbital

This week got off to a bad start with the explosion Tuesday of Orbital Science Corp.’s resupply mission to the International Space Station, just twenty seconds into the launch. Right now we don’t know exactly what caused the accident, but there’s a lot of speculation that it had to do with the engines Orbital uses. Built in the 1960s and 70s, the NK-33s were bought in a lot of 36 for roughly $40 million by Aerojet, and have been reconditioned and sold to Orbital as AJ-26s. Their track record isn’t awful, but it isn’t perfect either, and although they’ve been stripped down and rebuilt, the fact is they’re still 40+ years old. Time will tell, but that’s where I’d put my money. Aviation Week has a great article about the crash, and about what it means for the private space industry in general, but here’s the best part, if I may blockquote it for you:

Spaceflight is difficult—today. It is expensive—today. And the level of risk remains high—today. But it need not remain so forever. We must resist the idea that space is inherently difficult, expensive and risky. Aviation once seemed so, too. Today, aviation is efficient and safe. Space can get there—if we accept that it can improve and realize that it will require hard work, investment and experimentation. And we must acknowledge that true progress is always punctuated by failure. There is no progress without failure.

Check it out for more. And check out Space.com for more photos like the one above, by photographer Joel Kowsky.

SpaceShipTwo being carried by WhiteKnightTwo before Friday's crash. Photo: Jeff Foust, CC BY 2.0
SpaceShipTwo being carried by WhiteKnightTwo before Friday’s crash. Photo: Jeff Foust, CC BY 2.0

A Very Bad Day for Virgin Galactic

On Friday, a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo went terribly awry while testing a new fuel. An explosion after drop and ignition led to both test pilots ejecting, killing one and landing the other in serious condition. It’s the first spacecraft accident that will be investigated by the NTSB, so we’ll be getting a full investigation in the coming weeks. In the meantime the future of Sir Richard Branson’s spaceflight company is on hold, and the chances of sending the first paying customers up in 2015 is looking less and less likely. For more on the story, check out the Independent’s article on the crash (but ignore the headline).

Solid Concepts' previous 3D-printed gun, the 1911. Photo: Solid Concepts
Solid Concepts’ previous 3D-printed gun, the 1911. Photo: Solid Concepts

A Bad Day for Gun Control, Too

Solid Concepts, makers of the first 500-round torture-tested 3d-printed metal gun, the 1911 (pictured above), has released a new gun called the Reason. Thankfully, the cost of new incredibly-detailed, laser-sintered gun is likely to be prohibitive (the 1911, which was smaller and simpler, sold for $11,900), but even so the fact that the technology is here to do such robust and detailed work is both a littler scary for gun control advocates and fans of public security, as well as exciting because of all the other things the technology could be used to make. Earlier this year SpaceX used a similar process to create the SuperDraco engines that will be featured on its Dragon 2 return capsule. Head over to TechCrunch for more on the story.

Brief Week Best of the Rest

Because I’m on another continent this week, it’s a bit of a short post. But here’s some other things I saw this week: Gizmodo has an update on Google’s “Project ARA” (otherwise known as the modular cellphone); Nature tells us that tiny little human stomachs (about the size of a sesame seed) have been grown in a lab; Phys.org has an article on a new model being used to clarify Schroedinger’s Cat states; and NPR has a rundown on new research that suggests that are as many as 100 genes implicated in the web of disorders known as Autism.

Thanks for reading, we’ll be back to normal length next week. Have a great week.