All posts by Daniel Davies

Rocket Lab’s battery-powered, 3D-printed rocket journeys into space

Silicon Valley funded space company Rocket Lab has today completed the maiden voyage of its low-cost, battery-powered and 3D-printed orbital class rocket.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket was launching from a private launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand and represents the culmination of four years of preparatory work.

The company’s achievement will hopefully begin the process of removing the  financial and logistical barriers to space and provide unprecedented launches to low Earth orbit.

“It has been an incredible day and I’m immensely proud of our talented team,” said Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab.

“We’re one of a few companies to ever develop a rocket from scratch and we did it in under four years. We’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point. We’ve developed everything in house, built the world’s first private orbital launch range, and we’ve done it with a small team.

“It was a great flight. We had a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation. We didn’t quite reach orbit and we’ll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our programme, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business,” Beck said.

Although the Electron rocket wasn’t able to reach orbit on its first attempt, Rocket Lab has another two test flights scheduled for this year to achieve that goal.

Over the coming weeks, Rocket Lab’s engineers in Los Angeles and Auckland, New Zealand will work through the 25,000 data channels that were collected during Electron’s flight to optimise the vehicle for future journeys.

“We have learnt so much through this test launch and will learn even more in the weeks to come,” said Beck.

“We’re committed to making space accessible and this is a phenomenal milestone in that journey. The applications doing this will open up are endless. Known applications include improved weather reporting, internet from space, natural disaster prediction, up-to-date maritime data as well as search and rescue services.”

At full production, Rocket Lab expects to launch more than 50 times a year, and is regulated to launch up to 120 times a year.

The space innovation company already has plans to enter a “commercial phase”, which will see Electron fly already-signed customers including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.

With his latest budget, Trump declares war on the environment

America’s medical and science community has reacted angrily to huge cuts outlined in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request.

The spending plan, for the fiscal year that begins 1 October, will see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suffer a 31.4% reduction in funding from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion, while the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) will fall from $7.4 billion in 2017 to $6.7 billion in 2018, which represents a decrease of 10.7%.

At just over 31% the EPA’s budget cut is the worst of any department or agency of government, although the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt – who in his previous role as Oklahoma State Attorney General sued the agency he now leads 14 times – argued that the cuts were a good thing.

“The President’s budget respects the American taxpayer,” said Pruitt. “This budget supports EPA’s highest priorities with federal funding for priority work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace.”

However, other commentators were less optimistic. “With President Trump’s first proposed budget since his election now official, we do indeed have reason to be alarmed. It’s clear that Trump is directing a full-scale effort to dismantle our nation’s core environmental protections,” said the Environmental Defense Fund in a blog post.

Image courtesy of Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com. Featured image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

In addition to the cuts at the EPA and the NSF, the budget request also takes aim at The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The department, which received a budget allocation of $2.069 billion in 2017 would see just $636 million in new funding in 2018, which is a decline of more than 69%.

“Today’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal from the Trump Administration represents a retreat of American leadership on energy innovation, environmental protection and energy security,” said former secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, Ernest J. Moniz.

“The Administration continues to express skepticism about climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, but there’s no going back; we are heading to a low-carbon future.”

Featured image courtesy of Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Similarly to the EPA’s head Scott Pruitt, the US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry – who while campaigning for the presidency in 2012 promised to abolish the agency he now leads – saw no problems with the cuts.

“This budget delivers on the promise to reprioritize spending in order to carry out DOE’s core functions efficiently and effectively while also being fiscally responsible and respectful to the American taxpayer,” said Perry.

President Trump today met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and was granted a short private audience.

Obviously no details were given of their conversation, but Pope Francis did take the opportunity to present Trump with a copy of his 2015 letter calling for urgent, drastic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions.