Ukrainian startup conducts new tests for engine of ‘self-devouring’ rocket

Olga Ozhogina is a Ukrainian space reporter, journalist and photojournalist. She contributed this article to’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights via the press center at Promin Aerospace, a Ukrainian rocket startup. 

Ukrainian rocket company Promin Aerospace, which is currently developing an ultralight, autophagic launch vehicle, has conducted a new series of studies on its unique engine. The startup’s initial tests, which were described here, showed the feasibility of the technical concept. With each new experiment, engineers are improving the design by testing different variations of the engine assembly.

The concept of the rocket is based on autophagic, or “self-devouring,” technology, which was initially proposed by Promin Aerospace’s chief technical officer Vitaliy Yemets.

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In an autophagic rocket, the hull would be used as solid rocket fuel, in addition to other propellants carried on board. For this purpose, the hull material must be both strong enough and have sufficient combustibility. During the rocket’s flight, the body is consumed, allowing for a reduction in mass as it travels and leaving no debris once the flight is completed. This advance would enable more efficient and environmentally friendly launches.

Over two months, three experiments were conducted with different variations of the engine and nozzle design, which allowed Promin Aerospace to identify and investigate challenges, as well as to improve the overall performance of the assembly. As the engine technology is unique, all tests had to be designed by the engineering team from scratch, while detecting and eliminating defects.

Thanks to these initial three tests, it was possible to improve the fuel supply system and test new fuel components, which proved their safety and efficiency. All necessary parameters were measured and recorded.

The fourth experiment: a fuel feeding system

For the fourth experiment, the engineering team used the same oxidizing agent that was used in the third experiment, as well as a bell-shaped nozzle, to keep the variables consistent in the new test. Additionally, engineers used a polymer fuel rod and a gas-oxygen mix for a starter. They utilized multiple temperature probes to monitor the temperature in numerous engine areas and pressure gauges in both the combustion chamber and the pneumatic cylinder.

Following previous experiments, the propellant rod was fed into the gasifier while recording the firing parameters with multiple sensors. The starting fuel and fuel assembly feeding systems were shown to work reliably; no issues with achieving combustion were recorded, and the experiment’s starting component provided a higher pressure in comparison to previous experiments.

As the starting fuel was supplied, a pressure of 4 atmospheres (atm) was recorded in the combustion chamber. The fuel supply pressure remained stable between 9 and 9.5 atm, and the starting fuel was turned off at 203 seconds (3 minutes and 23 seconds).

The measured feed rate was 10 millimeters per second (mm/s), demonstrating adequate performance, and the pressure reached a maximum of 12 atm. This experiment remained stable for 252.95 seconds (4 minutes and 12.95 seconds) at a rate of 10 mm/s and 12 atm.

The experiment ran for approximately 280 seconds (4 minutes and 40 seconds). At 252.95 seconds, a flare exited the feed path, followed by a popping sound and termination of the assembly’s movement. No damage was caused to the engine or the mount truss, and the experiment results show that everything performed well, although some minor changes must occur. For the next test, the assembly inlet seal was improved

Overall, the system worked reliably and provided sufficient pressure in the combustion chamber. Combustion of components in the operating mode provided a higher pressure than starting fuel. So far, all experiments have allowed the further development of an efficient and safe concept. 

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Test number five. (Image credit: Promin Aerospace)

The fifth experiment

For our fifth experiment, the engineering team utilized another type of fuel and oxidizer but retained the use of the bell-shaped nozzle. The test was conducted similarly to the previous ones, with the starting mix being supplied under a pressure of 4 atm and turned off at 204 seconds (3 minutes and 24 seconds), with the new primary fuel supplied under a pressure of 9 atm.

The pressure within the combustion chamber dropped after the starter fuel was turned off but increased gradually to 10 atm, and by 248 seconds (4 minutes and 8 seconds), the engine’s temperature had reached operational level. At 252 seconds (4 min and 12 seconds), the pressure went off the scale, and the fuel assembly stopped. After investigation, the engineers determined that the increase in pressure was caused by a block in the nozzle, as the gasifier’s casing was torn off.

Despite this, the engineers found that the chosen starting fuel assembly worked reliably. The pressure in the combustion chamber was correlated with the feed rate of the working components with a delay in the reaction time.

Test number six. (Image credit: Promin Aerospace)

The sixth experiment: the new fuel rod component

The sixth experiment was conducted with the starting mix being supplied under a pressure of 4 atm and was turned off at 188 seconds (3 minutes and 8 seconds). It used a new primary fuel, which was supplied under a pressure of 25 atm. The pressure within the combustion chamber remained at 8.5 atm until approximately 300 seconds (5 minutes) when a flare ignited at the fuel assembly supply unit at the bottom of the combustion chamber.

At this moment, the combustion chamber began to overheat, and the steel turned white. According to both the sensors and heat color charts, it reached a temperature of about 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit (around 1,000 degrees Celsius). The feed rate of this fuel assembly was uneven, with a maximum value of 14 mm/s. The experiment lasted 350 seconds (5 minutes and 50 seconds).

Overall, the experiment passed with pressure within limits and without uncontrolled explosions, proving the reliability of this variant of the construction.

“The use of the new polymer as the main fuel component was efficient and safe, as there was no critical increase in pressure. So we will consider this variant. After that test, the assembly inlet seal will be tightened more to prevent an overheating of the combustion chamber,” Yemets said.

The next experiment will be dedicated to testing the new oxidizer. It is expected to increase the efficiency of combustion.

After making final tests, Promin Aerospace plans to conduct the first test launch of its suborbital rocket, followed by its first commercial mission in early 2023. In the future, the company also plans to conduct orbital launches.

Promin Aerospace (opens in new tab) was established by Vitaliy Yemets (opens in new tab) and Misha Rudominski (opens in new tab) in 2021. That same year, the company closed its first investment round and proved the capabilities of autophagic technology, which could reduce launch costs and space debris.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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June 8, 2022 at 05:17AM

Japanese Spacecraft Recovered Amino Acids From Asteroid

Japanese Spacecraft Recovered Amino Acids From Asteroid

By Shane McGlaun

One of the critical building blocks of life, as we know it, is amino acids. Scientists in Japan have announced its spacecraft. Hayabusa2 recovered 20 different amino acids from the asteroid called Ryugu between 2018 and 2019.

Scientists are excited about the discovery because it is the first evidence that amino acids exist on asteroids in space. Scientists believe the finding could indicate how amino acids originally arrived on earth.

The Japanese spacecraft collected 5.4 grams of asteroid sample from the surface and subsurface of the asteroid in 2019. The spacecraft traveled about 200 million miles from Earth to reach the asteroid.

Scientists say that Ryugu is a carbon-rich fragment of a larger asteroid that formed from the same type of gas and dust that created our solar system. The samples are believed to indicate what would have been around in the early solar system 4 billion years ago.

via Legit Reviews Hardware Articles

June 7, 2022 at 04:49PM

New Bill Aims to Ban China’s Digital Currency from US App Stores

Popular apps like WeChat have started supporting the Chinese digital currency.
Photo: Ng Han Guan (AP)

Three Republican Senators have proposed a bill to try and ban the use of apps that support China’s digital currency, also known as e-CNY or digital yuan, over concerns that the Chinese government could use the currency to spy on U.S. citizens.

The draft law was labeled as the “Defending Americans from Authoritarian Digital Currencies Act,” and calls for prohibiting app stores including Apple and Google from carrying any apps that accept purchases in the digital currency. That would include the popular messaging app WeChat, which announced that it would support e-CNY earlier this year.

The senators behind the bill warned of the alleged financial and surveillance risks associated with the digital yuan. “The Chinese Communist Party’s digital yuan allows direct control and access to the financial lives of individuals,” Indiana Senator Mike Braun, said in a statement. “We cannot allow this authoritarian regime to use their state-controlled digital currency as an instrument to infiltrate our economy and the private information of American citizens.” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton reiterated Braun’s concern that the digital currency would be used to “control and spy on anyone who uses it.”

“We can’t give China that chance—the United States should reject China’s attempt to undermine our economy at its most basic level,” Cotton added in the same statement.

China’s digital currency has raised concerns over safety and privacy issues. During the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, a group of republican lawmakers warned American athletes not to use digital yuan while in China, claiming that it could be tracked by the central bank.

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Meanwhile, China has promised “controllable anonymity” that would allow users to keep their transactions anonymous to a “reasonable extent,” according to Mu Changchun, director of the Digital Currency Research Institute at the People’s Bank of China.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced that he supports the development of a U.S. digital currency. Biden ordered several agencies to begin researching and submitting their reports in anticipation of an alleged global move towards digital currencies.

via Gizmodo

May 27, 2022 at 03:57PM

Chinese Researchers Publish Strategy to Destroy Elon Musk’s Starlink

SpaceX launched 53 additional Starlink satellites to orbit in April.
Photo: John Raoux (AP)

In anticipation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites posing as a threat, military researchers in China want their nation to be ready to disable, or perhaps completely destroy, the gigantic internet constellation. It’s an ominous possibility, but one easier said than done.

In a research paper published in China’s peer-reviewed journal Modern Defence Technology and reported on by the state-run South China Morning Post this past Wednesday, lead author Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher with the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, argues that the Chinese military should develop ways to counteract any threat posed by Starlink. The paper was freely available as early as yesterday, but as of today it appears to be taken down. However, a translated version of the article can be accessed here.

“A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation’s operating system,” the paper reads, citing “hidden dangers and challenges” to China. The researchers behind the recent paper also warn of Starlink going on the “offensive” and using the satellites’ ion thrusters to knock China’s spacecraft or satellites out of their orbits.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building out the Starlink satellite constellation in low Earth orbit, and it’s designed to provide high-speed internet to virtually any part of the world. The plan is to launch upwards of 42,000 satellites to orbit using the company’s Falcon 9 rockets, and so far about 2,300 functioning Starlink satellites have been placed in orbit.

“If you’re a part of any country’s military whose job it is to think about war in space, you see Starlink as a different problem,” astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Gizmodo.

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The main issues with the Starlink satellites is that there’s just too many of them, and so you would have to dispatch a tremendous number of anti-satellite missiles to destroy the entire constellation. Knocking out one or two, or even several dozen, won’t disable the entire system. What’s more, SpaceX would have very little difficulty replacing a few lost units. And as McDowell said, “replacing a Starlink satellite is cheaper than replacing an anti-satellite missile.”

China became extra wary of the constellation after two Starlink satellites nearly crashed into China’s Tianhe space station on two separate occasions in 2021. On both occasions, the space station had to move out of the way with Chinese astronauts on board.

The authors of the recent paper are concerned that SpaceX will soon overwhelm low Earth orbit and that the private company might assist the U.S. military in dominating this valuable swath of space. China’s military has also expressed its concern following Musk’s use of Starlink to support Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion. In March, Starlink began to provide internet connections for people in Ukraine after cell towers were damaged by Russian forces.

Earlier this month, the website affiliated with China’s Central Military Commission published an opinion piece that warned of Starlink’s reach. “In addition to supporting communication, Starlink, as experts estimated, could also interact with UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] and, using big data and facial recognition technology, might have already played a part in Ukraine’s military operations against Russia,” according to the article, published in China Military Online.

During war, one strategy is to interrupt the enemy’s lines of communication, but that’s becoming a tall order in this era of megaconstellations. Moreover, and as McDowell explained, Starlink provides an inherent advantage for those who choose to use it. “I don’t think it’s seen as a threat, it’s seen more as an asset,” he told me.

Following his support of Ukraine, Musk was vocal about the potential for Starlink to be targeted. “If you attempt to take out Starlink, this is not easy because there are 2,000 satellites. That means a lot of anti-satellite missiles,” Musk said in an interview with Business Insider in March. “I hope we do not have to put this to a test, but I think we can launch satellites faster than they can launch anti-satellites missiles.”

The real threat, though, is turning low Earth orbit into some sort of space war zone or overcrowding our planet’s surroundings with satellites. The U.S. military has its own plans to build out a constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit. Known as the Blackjack project, it would include somewhere between 300 and 500 satellites meant to support military operations. Meanwhile, China is also developing its own plans for a satellite internet megaconstellation.

“I think this Chinese military news is a distraction from the real conversation that needs to be happening which is, how are we going to coordinate all of this?” McDowell said.

via Gizmodo

May 27, 2022 at 04:33PM

Stratolaunch Shows Off Prototype of Its Hypersonic Aircraft

Stratolaunch’s Talon-A separation test vehicle, designated TA-0.
Photo: Domenic Moen/Stratolaunch

Seattle-based Stratolaunch Systems has debuted a structurally complete prototype of its Talon-A separation test aircraftx, along with a view of the vehicle nestled within its unique launch platform. The company says hypersonic test flights could happen as early as this year.

The newly showcased black-and-white prototype, designated TA-0, is not a powered unit, but it represents an important step in that direction. TA-0 won’t be zipping above the Mojave Desert on its own, but private aerospace company Stratolaunch will use the unit to test and validate its carrier aircraft release system, and also study the associated separation dynamics, according to a company press release.

These tests will transpire over the coming months and in advance of actual powered tests, in which the upcoming prototype TA-1 will launch from Roc—a gigantic carrier aircraft—and attempt hypersonic flight. (Hypersonic describes vehicles or missiles capable of traveling faster than Mach 5; supersonic refers to faster than Mach 1.)

Carrier aircraft Roc during its fifth test flight on May 4, 2022.
Photo: Stratolaunch

In early May, Roc performed its fifth flight since tests began three years ago. The carrier aircraft is the largest plane ever built, featuring a dual fuselage and a wingspan that stretches 385 feet (117 meters) across. Weighing roughly 250 tons, Roc requires 12,000 feet (3.65 kilometers) of runway clearance to take flight.

When Stratolaunch was founded back in 2011, its original goal was to launch planes to space, similar to how Virgin Galactic currently does it with SpaceShipTwo. The company recently switched gears, however, and is now focusing on hypersonic vehicles, though the development of spaceplanes remains a long-term goal. Stratolaunch is currently under contract with the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to provide a testing platform for developing mitigations against hypersonic threats, namely hypersonic missile threats from China and Russia. By obtaining proprietary hypersonic vehicles, the Pentagon plans to test various defense strategies against them.

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“The Talon-A testbed capability ultimately enables routine access to the hypersonic flight environment, which is critical for scientific research, technological development, and component demonstration,” according to the company press release.

The TA-0 prototype mated to the Roc carrier aircraft for the first time.
Photo: Stratolaunch

In addition to our first view of the Talon-A separation test vehicle, Stratolaunch also released an image showing TA-0 attached to Roc’s pylon on the center wing. The 8,000-pound pylon, constructed from aluminum and carbon fiber skins, debuted during the May 4 flight, and it’s designed to carry and release Talon-A hypersonic vehicles. The pylon measures 14 feet (4.2 meters) across, which still allows for ample launch clearance space along Roc’s 95-foot-long (29-meter) center wing. The system also includes a winch, allowing for the quick loading of vehicles from the ground and without an intense need for ground support.

Future versions of Talon-A vehicles will be rocket powered and capable of carrying customizable payloads at hypersonic speeds. The pending tests of TA-0, should they go well, could lead to hypersonic tests of TA-1 later in the year, according to the Stratolaunch press release. A third vehicle, designated TA-2, is currently under construction and, unlike TA-1, it’s being designed for full reusability.

In March, the United States tested a hypersonic missile but refrained from publicizing the test for fear of antagonizing Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 20, CNN reported.

via Gizmodo

May 31, 2022 at 12:38PM

Sennheiser’s New $400 Wireless Earbuds Will End the TV Volume Wars in Your Home

Is it really possible to “Netflix and chill” when everyone watching the TV is aggressively battling to control the volume? Sennheiser’s latest earbuds could finally bring peace to the family room, as they wirelessly connect to any TV, even older models that don’t have Bluetooth built in.

Sennheiser’s new TV Clear buds aren’t the company’s first headphones designed specifically with TV connectivity in mind. Older models like the RS 2000 provide the same functionality, and while they feature a design that’s supposed to be more comfortable to wear for longer periods, they also look like a doctor’s stethoscope and only work with an included base station that wirelessly broadcasts low-latency audio from a TV or home theater system.

The TV Clear offer two big advantages to Sennheiser’s older offerings, with the most obvious being that they look and feel like regular wireless earbuds, with a compact design that relies on silicon eartips and small wings to stay securely perched in a user’s ears. Battery life is promised to be up to 15 hours per charge when used with an included low-latency transmitter that can be connected to a TV or other gear using analog or optical cables, with an additional 22 hours of use provided through an included charging case.

They can also help bring peace to the bedroom when someone wants to stay up late watching TV while their bedmate wants to go to sleep. But they’re also an excellent solution for those dealing with hearing loss, as the TV Clear buds offer five selectable levels of speech clarity enhancement, making it easier to discern what people on screen are saying without requiring the volume to be cranked overly loud.

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The other advantage to the TV Clear over older models like the Sennheiser RS 2000 is that they also function as regular Bluetooth earbuds, connecting to laptops and mobile devices, or even smart TVs that offer Bluetooth, although with more latency between the action on screen and what the user is hearing than when using the included wireless transmitter. This makes the TV Clear more versatile as everyday wireless headphones too, but that flexibility doesn’t come cheap. Priced at $400 for the earbuds plus the transmitter when available this Summer, they’re considerably more expensive than even the most feature-rich wireless earbuds available today. If you’ve already got a Bluetooth-friendly smart TV at home, you might want to save yourself a few bucks and just stick with a cheaper pair of wireless buds.

via Gizmodo

June 1, 2022 at 11:51AM

Here’s Why the World’s Most Infamous Spyware Maker Is Broke

Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP (Getty Images)

The CEO of the notorious spyware vendor NSO Group apparently has a new plan to rebound from the company’s ongoing legal and fiscal tailspin: start re-selling its noxious spyware to the very governments that got it into trouble in the first place.

Beset by ongoing lawsuits, declining sales, scurrying investors, and unendingly negative press coverage, NSO Group has entered a financial spiral and seems so strapped that it’s struggling to pay its own employees. The pivot by CEO Shalev Hulio entails selling its products to countries that have been deemed “elevated-risk” clients, reports the Financial Times. Such clients had apparently been categorized as risky during a due diligence review by a now defunct internal committee. While we can’t say for certain which countries those are, you can probably assume they wouldn’t be places where civil liberties and democratic norms are a huge thing.

It’s been a rough few years for the NSO Group. The spyware vendor, once a shadowy, little-known hawker of technically sophisticated cyber weapons, has suffered a seemingly endless string of highly visible controversies over the past few years. Revelations that it sells its powerful Pegasus spyware to authoritarian regimes, that its products have been used to surveil journalists, activists, politicians, and even potentially world leaders, and accusations that it played a role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, have marred its reputation—potentially beyond repair.

According to the FT report, Hulio recently pitched this idea to a roomful of suits tasked with representing the company’s largest financial investors. Said suits—executives from the global consulting firm Berkeley Research Group—had been sent to the meeting to help “wrap up” a private equity fund that had originally been formed to support NSO but which imploded last year due to infighting and legal disputes. Amidst those discussions, Hulio started trying to sell them on this whole “risky” clients strategy. Hulio reportedly viewed it as a profitable strategy. BRG folks promptly rejected the idea.

FT reports that, after the meeting, Hulio told NSO creditors that BRG’s decision had impacted the company financially and BRG apparently found itself on the defensive. An email sent by BRG attorneys to NSO creditors shows them affirming their decision not to allow sales to risky clients:

“You are demanding that (BRG) blindly sanctions the sale of . . . Pegasus . . . to elevated risk customers without a thorough governance review,” BRG attorneys apparently wrote in December. “Please note that in no circumstance is (BRG) prepared to do so.”

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Are we to assume that NSO is having trouble being profitable without selling its services to some of the worst governments on the planet? Some might look at that situation and consider changing their business strategy to one that doesn’t require scandal-prone authoritarians as prime clientele.

Why NSO Group is So Strapped Right Now

It’s not just lawsuits and controversy causing NSO trouble, however. The spyware vendor has faced increased financial difficulties ever since it was effectively blacklisted by the U.S. government last fall.

In November, the U.S. Commerce Department added NSO to its Export Administration Regulation “Entity List.” The EAR list is basically a long tally of foreign companies whose activities have been deemed as “contrary to U.S. national security and/or foreign policy interests.” Getting put on this list means that any U.S.-based business that wants to provides goods or services to a blacklisted company has to acquire a special license from the U.S. government before it can do so. For obvious reasons, this can greatly hobble a company that relies on American tech companies, of which NSO is one. The blacklisting took place not long after the November meeting between BRG and NSO, FT reports.

Ironically, NSO’s blacklisting took place after the U.S. government reportedly spent several years deciding whether it should become one of the spyware merchant’s clients. In January, the New York Times Magazine reported that the FBI had spent the better part of two years mulling a potential acquisition of a surveillance system called “Phantom,” which could reputedly hack any mobile phone in the U.S. The bureau ultimately decided against the acquisition.

Gizmodo reached out to the Berkeley Research Group, which referred us to an external communications firm, which did not respond to us by press time. We also reached out to the NSO Group for comment on this story and will update it if they respond.

via Gizmodo

June 1, 2022 at 03:51PM