Physics Today Daily Edition
Science: China's space program has set an ambitious schedule as it tries to be seen as an equal partner to NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The schedule includes launching more than four missions over the next 13 months. Moreover, the country's lunar exploration program hopes to launch a sample return mission next year, and its first-ever landing on the far side of the moon is planned for 2018. Beginning in 2020 China will launch four science missions and the nation's first Mars probe. Unlike NASA or ESA, the Chinese space program doesn't receive annual funding but instead gets one lump sum every five years. That arrangement doesn't adjust for inflation or allow for last-minute plan changes. In addition, the country's different space agencies are competing for scarce resources and missions. The solution, say Chinese space administrators is to merge agencies into one.
Ars Technica: On Tuesday, UK-based Reaction Engines signed a £10 million contract with the European Space Agency for the development of their Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE). That agreement fulfilled a funding requirement for an additional £50 million from the UK Space Agency. Reaction Engines says that the new funding comes on top of an earlier £20.6 million from BAE Systems and allows the company to develop a ground-based demonstration SABRE engine by 2020. SABRE is a hybrid rocket–jet engine that functions as a jet at low altitudes and as a rocket at high altitudes. The company says the design is possible because of its pre-cooling heat exchanger, which can cool incoming air from 1000 °C to –150 °C in 1 ms (and prevent freezing by injecting methanol into the cooling system). In theory, the engine would be able to power a spaceplane from a horizontal take off all the way to low Earth orbit. This single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch system would be a potentially significant alternative to traditional rockets.