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UK's Space Command to be 'capable of launching our first rocket in 2022'

Also: Skyrora aims for 2023 for its XL, ISS gets ready for Nauka, and HALO moves forward

In Brief British rocketeer Skyrora has been testing the third-stage engine for its Skyrora XL rocket with launch planned for 2023.

100 tests were conducted at the company's Engine Test Complex in Fife, Scotland, and included a vacuum chamber test designed to mimic conditions in space. The first 20 tests in vacuum conditions saw the 3.5kN engine achieve 1,500 seconds of operation.

There remains a chunk of work to do before the company's orbital ambitions (from a yet-to-be-decided launch location) can be achieved. The 70kN engine used by the first and second stages also requires development.

Time is marching on, and while Skyrora's ambitions are commercial, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to kick off the creation of a new "Space Command" as part of extra cash being added to the UK's Ministry of Defence budget.

While the usual buzzwords such as"cyber" and "artificial intelligence" are being bandied around, eyebrows within the space community will have raised a little at news that the new agency will be "capable of launching our first rocket in 2022."

Cygnus to the Moon: Buffing Northrop Grumman's HALO

Northrop Grumman has completed the initial Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) for the Gateway lunar outpost.

The HALO will serve as living quarters for astronauts during lunar missions and is based on the company's successful Cygnus freighter. As such, it will make the International Space Station (ISS) appear positively luxurious in comparison until the Gateway is expanded.

While the ISS is currently playing host to seven crew, the HALO will only be able to accommodate four once an Orion capsule is docked. The life support will be sufficient to keep the quartet alive for 30 days and the Cygnus-derived module also includes command and control systems.

The HALO will also serve as a docking hub for Moon landers, a pie in which Northrop Grumman also has a finger. The company is part of the Blue Origin-led team developing a Human Landing System for the Artemis programme.

ISS gets ready for Nauka

A pair of ISS cosmonauts took a spacewalk this week in order to prepare the venerable outpost for the long-awaited addition of a new Russian module.

The pair, Expedition 64 Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Russian space agency Roscosmos, began the spacewalk at 15:12 UTC on 18 November and returned six hours and 48 minutes later.

The spacewalk saw the duo perform tasks including checking the Poisk airlock for leaks and move an antenna from the Pirs module.

Pirs itself is due to be removed from the ISS and disposed of to make room for the much-delayed arrival of the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) Nauka. Nauka, a considerably larger module than Pirs and more than a decade late, is currently due to launch in 2021. ®

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