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#193 - Gurbir Singh - Pioneer of Indian Rockets



We are joined this week by Gurbir Singh, to talk about his latest book on India's very own rocket pioneer at the time of the rocket greats. We chat about some of the week's stories and how venus is on the road to mars.



Gurbir Singh is a UK based space writer. and publisher of www.astrotalkuk.org, another space podcast established in 2008. In 2011, Gurbir published his first book, Yuri Gagarin in London and Manchester. The book traces the visit of the world's first spaceman's visit to England with first-hand accounts from the people who saw and met him. His second book, The Indian Space Programme published in October 2017, is a detailed (600+pages) and illustrated account of India's space programme, its current capabilities, and achievements and future ambitions.


His new book "India's forgotten Rocket Mail Pioneer - Stephen H Smith From Pigeon Mail to Rocket Mail" is available NOW




Those who assume hypotheses as first principles of their speculations.....may indeed form an ingenious romance, but a romance it will still be.

Roger Cotes


Born 10 July 1682 was an English mathematician, known for working closely with Isaac Newton by proofreading the second edition of his famous book, the Principia, which had it’s anniversary this week. Newton at first had a casual approach to revisions since he had all but given up scientific work, Newton's scientific hunger was once again reignited by Cotes They spent nearly three and half years collaborating on the work, in which they fully deduced the motion of the moon, the equinoxes, and the orbits of comets

Professor at Cambridge University from 1707 until his death from a violent fever at the age of 33.

Isaac Newton remarked,

"If he had lived we would have known something.".




Rocket Lab fails for the first time!!!

The mission that was called “Pics Or it Didn’t happen” lived up to its name when the video was cut the mission failed.

The Electron has flown 13 times since May 2017. There have been 11 successes and excluding the maiden flight failure this is the first commercial failure, with payloads

Spaceflight Inc., Canon Electronics Inc., Planet, and In-Space Missions


In-Space Missions are a UK based builder of cube sats, and this was supposed to be the first launch of their Faraday 1 Satellite, hosting seven payloads from different organisations, including

  • Airbus Defence and Space

  • Prometheus 1 - part of our Prometheus programme, testing the next generation re-taskable software-defined radio payload

  • Kleos Space

  • Maritime traffic tracking sat

  • Lacuna Space,

  • Space based IoT service

  • the Space Environment Research Centre in Canberra

  • Canadensys Aerospace,

  • Aeternum,

  • A secret but a major player

  • A plaque inscribed with this mission logo, the names of In-Space team, their families and the school’s competition winners, and a secret gin recipe from our favourite local distillery, Silent Pool Gin

The culmination of two years of hard work.

“In-Space will not be deterred by this unfortunate accident. A lot of amazing work has been achieved to date, and we are already putting our experiences on Faraday-1 to work on our Faraday-2nd generation ESA programme, as well as on a number of other satellites we have under contract. We were planning a Faraday-1b for launch in the middle of 2021 and we will now look to bring this forward. We will continue to work closely with our payload customers and plan to be on the launchpad again in the very near future.”

Doug Liddle, CEO and Founder of In-Space Missions, which is based in Bordon, Hampshire




Starliner - Getting redundancy!!

Last December was supposed to be a landmark flight for the other commercial vehicle that Nasa desperately needs for a fully redundant system. Instead, a catalogue of hiccups saw the Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner stumble through its mission, with error after error and now the crew launch on this vehicle must wait for another test launch and won’t be happening until 2021

  • Originally supposed to be as early as 2015

  • Then 2017, then 2018. 2019, then 2020, and now 2021 and billions of dollars later.

  • Goes up on an Atlas V booster.

  • Three major issues ( “High Visibility Close Call”)

  • The starliner set it’s Mission Elapsed Timer to the Atlas V before countdown and therefore thought it was in a different part of the flight than it was.

  • Then wehn reviewing the code software engineers noticed another serious fault and corrected it, the successful separation and disposal of Starliner’s service module, a potential disaster.

  • Comms were poor and mission control would have had problems talking to crew, had they been aboard.

  • One cool thing, that di work, was that the capsule did make Americas first crew capsule soft landing on land.

  • Mike Fincke, Chris Ferguson and Nicole Mann are the crew that has to wait for another flight test and their turn

  • Nasa also reviewed their own procedures and was found a little wanting

  • 80 recommendations!

  • Hopefully, this will all pan out by the end of the year.




Small Items



  • European officials have started talking openly about the Ariane 7, and essentially said that it will be reusable as SpaceX have redefined the whole business.

  • Mars Perseverance Rover delayed due to a problem with the Atlas 5

  • Blue Origin is delivering BE-4 rocket Engines to ULA for their Vulcan Centaur

  • The US Congress has started to make moves to remove Europa Clipper from having to go on an SLS flight which might bring that launch forward by a few years and cost the taxpayer about 1.5 billion less, as it will most likely go up on a Falcon Heavy

  • ESA has installed a new rack the size of a large fridge, for doing science experiments and part of the upgrade in the Columbus module of the ISS. and it will have a 3d metal printer installed

  • Comet Neowise has been a naked eye comet this week

  • Isreal has launched a Shavit 2 with a recon sat called Ofek 16

Jamie and Matt have become co-owners of the OneWeb Mega constellation when the UK government did what we thought they might and take a major share in the system

  • Will they restrict other countries using it?

  • Will they try to bring the factory to UK

  • Will they actually build a GNSS onto it

  • How will it all work?


  • Igor Ozar confirmed as RSC Energia General Director

  • Russia’s latest Angara-A5 heavy carrier rocket will be transferred to the military in July for flight tests, A new version of the RD-191M will also be made for testing of the Oryol manned capsule and Angara A5P starting in 2023

  • Artemis 8” using Dragon by Robert Zubrin, 'Dear Jim, here's an idea that will provide a further nail in the coffin of SLS. Whatcha think? Yours, R Zubrin'




Human Assisted Science at Venus: Venus Exploration in the New Human Spaceflight Age

.A White Paper for the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032

Noam. R. Izenberg Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL), Laurel, Maryland, USA)



Back on podcast 183 we pointed out that with human missions to Mars you have the choice

Opposition v Conjunction.

Opposition: as I stated it then was fly from earth, land on Mars 180 days later, leave mars after 30 days and using a Venus Flyby come back to Earth on day 640

Conjunction: Stay on Mars for 1.5 years and come straight back to Earth. Total 270 dya longer mission.

Evaluation of the propulsive requirements for both trajectory concepts yields substantially larger total ΔV requirements for opposition trajectories

The rocket equation indicates that, given a fixed propelled mass and ISP, a 100% increase in ΔV will result in an almost 400% increase in propellant mass.

The argument is made that opposition concepts require too great a total propellant load and potentially require an unwieldy number of propulsion stages, launches and rendezvous’ to be viable for Mars missions So I stated you would almost certainly have to do it as a “conjunction Class” mission.


This paper completely states the opposite of what I said.

Bridenstine, J. F., 2019 IAC Keynote actually stated that NASA was considering opposition class human missions to Mars—where Mars and Earth are close to each other in their orbits at launch —that would include a Venus fly by as part of an overall two-year mission You can watch it on Youtube.

The recently released “Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development” report has confirmed that a two-year round-trip mission to Mars, with a short stay on the Martian surface, is the current plan for the first human mission to Mars, implying an opposition-class mission

Also Crewed Venus flyby missions enable multiple science mission scenarios not

accessible to robotic spacecraft alone, and essentially represent force multipliers in efforts to

achieve the overarching goal in Venus science is to understand divergent evolutionary paths in the first billion years between Venus, Mars, and Earth

  • Rovers, Aerial platforms could be operated in real-time for many hours by crew on a flyby. Crew could guide and land craft. Also the crew could interact very quickly to imaging data to get better science done before the harsh conditions destroy the lander.

  • Crew could enhance the likely hood of sample return.


Humanity’s first planetary mission beyond the Earth–Moon system could feature a

one-year flyby exploration mission of Venus: an “Apollo 8 analog” for deep-space human flight past a planetary target. Such an Earth–Venus–Earth (EVE) mission also practices the only return-to-Earth abort mode a Mars-bound crew would have. Not only would such a mission provide exploration and science opportunities at and on Venus, but would also serve as valuable deep space practice for the first humans-to-Mars mission, on a more rapid cadence than an Earth–Mars flyby can be accomplished.

an EVE “shakedown” mission even more valuable than a conjunction-class Mars mission for reducing technical risk and Human Assisted Science at Venus gaining interplanetary flight experience.

Latency: Comms from Mars ranges from 6.4 minutes to 44 minutes, Venus, the same metric ranges from 4.6 minutes to 28 minutes

Crew Health: There is at present little information on the physiological and cognitive effects of long-duration spaceflight outside Earth’s magnetosphere on mission scenarios without a rapid Earth-return capability, but A science-oriented Venus flyby would at least provide not only a focus of meaningful work around the halfway point of an EVE flyby (or the outbound leg of an Earth–Venus–Mars–Earth mission), but would create a unique meaningful work scenario—work that only the crew of that mission could accomplish during the planetary flyby

Radiation: Venus, on average, is much closer to Earth (1.12 AU) than Mars

(1.69 AU), allows for shorter overall mission durations (thus simplifying crew logistics and time in space), and has more frequent planetary alignments than Mars (every 19 months versus 26 months for Mars). A human Venus flyby mission would take less than a year—shorter than some missions to the International Space Station—yet would expose the crew to higher solar radiation levels comparable to those on a flight to Mars, albeit slightly reduced galactic cosmic radiation due to solar shielding

An EVE flyby mission would expose astronauts to a similar total dose of radiation as an Earth-Mars-Earth (EME) flyby-only mission, and even the longer EVME opposition Mars missions of ~700 days would result in less total exposure than the shortest EME

conjunction missions of 850 days


Going to Venus helps us get to Mars every bit as much as going to the Moon does within the “Moon to Mars” paradigm


Working to coordinate all three Mission Directorates in support of flying humans to Venus, either as a dedicated mission or as part of a flight to Mars, will set a strong basis for future, continued collaboration and perhaps even for future public-private partnerships engaged in the exploration of space.


FINDING: “Humans to Mars—Via Venus” is logical, exciting, and offers unprecedented science at Mars and Venus at a fraction of the cost of dedicated crewed missions to both. Venus is how we get to Mars.








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