Monday, April 29, 2013

John Kelly: NASA still aiming for manned Mars mission

NASA’s not giving up on flying people to Mars.

Some critics of the space agency’s recent proposal to fly astronauts to an asteroid say we’re “settling” for something less than the big prize: humans walking on the red planet.

Not true. The mission to an asteroid is part of a stepping-stone approach to sending human beings exploring deeper into the solar system. A sensible look at NASA’s current flight capabilities, human limitations and the space exploration budget means Mars isn’t possible yet.

NASA’s top human spaceflight chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, recently went over the payoffs with a committee of the NASA Advisory Council.

The mission being planned to the asteroid will be a big part in making a mission to Mars possible. Getting there will require developing and flying the super rocket NASA would ultimately need for a trip to Mars, as well as the first model of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle called Orion. It will require more complex spacewalking equipment and capabilities. And new propulsion technology. And more extended flights.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Private Asteroid-Mining Project Launching Tiny Satellites in 2014

A billionaire-backed asteroid-mining company aims to start putting its big plans into action soon, launching its first hardware into space by this time next year.

Planetary Resources, which counts Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt among its investors, plans to loft a set of tiny “cubesats” to Earth orbit in early 2014, to test out gear for its first line of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft.

“Our belief and our philosophy is that the best testbed is space itself,” Chris Voorhees, Planetary Resources’ vice president of spacecraft development, said Wednesday (April 24) during a Google+ Hangout event.

“Despite the fact that we’re a deep-space company, we’re going to use Earth orbit as much as possible,” Voorhees added. “For us, it’s a valuable learning experience, and that’s what we plan on doing one year hence.”

The cubesats slated for launch in 2014 will measure 12 inches long by 4 inches wide by 4 inches tall (30 by 10 by 10 centimeters), company officials said. These “Arkyd-3” satellites will test out technologiesfor Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-100 scouts, which the firm hopes to launch to low-Earth orbit on asteroid-hunting missions in 2015.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Applicants wanted for a one-way ticket to Mars

Want to go to Mars? Dutch organisation Mars One says it will open applications imminently. It would be a one-way trip, and the company hopes to build a community of settlers on the planet.

Uncharted waters, mountains or far away lands have always drawn explorers. History books show that desire for adventure, even in the face of extreme danger, did not deter the likes of Columbus or Magellan.

So it is perhaps not surprising that Mars One has already received thousands of prospective applicants. But there is no return - unlike the mission which hopes to fly to Mars and back in 2018.

Future explorers take note. Applicants must be resilient, adaptable, resourceful and must work well within a team. The whole project will be televised, from the reality TV style selection process, to landing and beyond.

On a visit to the BBC’s London office, Mars One’s co-founder Bas Lansdorp explains why this would be a one-way flight.

During the seven-to-eight month journey, astronauts will lose bone and muscle mass. After spending time on Mars’ much weaker gravitational field, it would be almost impossible to readjust back to Earth’s much stronger gravity, says Landsorp.

Successful applicants will be trained physically and psychologically. The team will use existing technology for all aspects of the project. Energy will be generated from solar panels, water will be recycled and extracted from soil and the astronauts will grow their own food - they will also have an emergency ration and regular top-ups as new explorers join every two years.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

NASA Asteroid Landing Mission To Take Place In 2021 After Accelerated Obama Plan, Says Bill Nelson

NASA is planning for a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and park it near the moon for astronauts to explore, a top senator said Friday.

The ship would capture the 500-ton, 25-foot asteroid in 2019. Then using an Orion space capsule, a crew of about four astronauts would nuzzle up next to the rock in 2021 for spacewalking exploration, according to a government document obtained by The Associated Press.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the plan would speed up by four years the existing mission to land astronauts on an asteroid by bringing the space rock closer to Earth.

Nelson, who is chairman of the Senate science and space subcommittee, said Friday that President Barack Obama is putting $100 million in planning money for the accelerated asteroid mission in the 2014 budget that comes out next week. The money would be used to find the right small asteroid.

“It really is a clever concept,” Nelson said in a press conference in Orlando. “Go find your ideal candidate for an asteroid. Go get it robotically and bring it back.”

This would be the first time ever humanity has manipulated a space object in such a grand scale, like what it does on Earth, said Robert Braun, a Georgia Institute of Technology aerospace engineering professor who used to be NASA’s chief technology officer.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

NASA Mega-Rocket Could Lead to Skylab 2 Deep Space Station

NASA’s first manned outpost in deep space may be a repurposed rocket part, just like the agency’s first-ever astronaut abode in Earth orbit.

With a little tinkering, the upper-stage hydrogen propellant tank of NASA’s huge Space Launch System rocket would make a nice and relatively cheap deep-space habitat, some researchers say. They call the proposed craft “Skylab II,” an homage to the 1970s Skylab space station that was a modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket.

“This idea is not challenging technology,” said Brand Griffin, an engineer with Gray Research, Inc., who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“It’s just trying to say, ‘Is this the time to be able to look at existing assets, planned assets and incorporate those into what we have as a destination of getting humans beyond LEO [low-Earth orbit]?’” Griffin said Wednesday (March 27) during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group.

A roomy home in deep space

NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts toward distant destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars. The rocket’s first test flight is slated for 2017, and NASA wants it to start lofting crews by 2021.

The SLS will stand 384 feet tall (117 meters) in its biggest (”evolved”) incarnation, which will be capable of blasting 130 metric tons of payload to orbit. Its upper-stage hydrogen tank is big, too, measuring 36.1 feet tall by 27.6 feet wide (11.15 m by 8.5 m).

[Read More…]

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