NASA is funding work on a new propulsion system that may enable a 10-kilogram (22-point) CubeSat mission to Europa.

Nathan Jarred of the Universities Space Research Association has received a $100,000 Phase I award from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts to study a dual-mode propulsion concept that pairs electric and thermal propulsion.

High-efficiency electric propulsion would be used for interplanetary maneuvers, with higher-thrust thermal propulsion reserved for quick Earth orbit escape, drastic orbital maneuvering and orbital insertion at the destination.

Jarred will use the NIAC money to design and optimize the various components of the overall system. He will also design an experiment to evaluate propellant performance within the thermal mode using existing hardware at the Center for Space Nuclear Research.

CubeSat technologies may be the antidote to the growing cost of NASA interplanetary missions. The interplanetary CubeSat missions currently under study are generally limited to the inner solar system, however, due to the propulsion problem. New concepts like this one could change that.

Dual-mode electric-thermal propulsion system for interplanetary CubeSat missions

Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2013 , Innovation, Nanosatellites

Spiderfab 3D printers creating large in-space antenna structure

Tethers Unlimited has received a $500,000 Phase II award from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts to continue work on Spiderfab, a system for 3D printing large structures in space. The Bothell, Washington-based company began work on Spiderfab under a $100,000 NIAC Phase I award last year.

“As NASA begins a new chapter in exploration, we’re investing in these seed-corn advanced concepts of next-generation technologies that will truly transform how we investigate and learn about our universe,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA associate administrator for space technology.

Spiderfab combines the techniques of fused deposition modeling (FDM) with methods derived from automated composite layup to enable rapid construction of very large, lightweight, high-strength, lattice-like structures with both compressive and tensile elements. SpiderFab would enable structures to be launched in extremely compact form as raw feedstock, which would be used to create structures optimized for the microgravity environment rather than the launch environment. The technology could also evolve to use orbital debris and extraterrestrial materials as feedstock.

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Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2013 , Innovation

Stasis pods (habitat) for long-duration space exploration

Spaceworks Engineering is studying a concept that would put astronauts into a deep sleep (hibernation or torpor) for long-duration space missions.

John Bradford of Spaceworks says medical progress is advancing our ability to induce deep sleep states with significantly reduced metabolic rates for humans over extended periods of time. Because astronauts would not be awake and moving around, the habitat volume needed for long missions could be significantly reduced. The slower metabolic rate would reduce life-support requirements as well.

Spaceworks has received a $100,000 Phase I award from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts to design a torpor-inducing Mars transfer habitat and assess its effect on Mars exploration architectures.

Spaceworks envisions a small, pressurized module docked to a central node/airlock, permitting direct access to the Mars ascent/descent vehicle and Earth entry capsule by the crew. Spaceworks believes the torpor approach can reduce the habitat size to 20 cubic meters and 5-7 metric tons (for a crew of 4-6), compared to 200 cubic meters and 20-50 metric tons for traditionally designs.

Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2013 , Innovation, Space Exploration (General)


Written by Astro1 on August 24th, 2013 , Spaceports produced this infographic on the legacy and heritage of the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper Experimental:

Find out about DC-X, a prototype reusable space launch system, in this infographic.

Written by Astro1 on August 23rd, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space History

A group of students at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan are developing a CubeSat mission to study radiation hazards on an Earth-Mars trajectory for future human spaceflight. Possible secondary missions include demonstrating an Earth-Mars free-return trajectory, contributing to the search for Near Earth Objects, and imaging the host mission with which the CubeSat will be hitching a ride. A paper on the project is available here.


Written by Astro1 on August 22nd, 2013 , Nanosatellites

DARPA SeeMe (Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements)

The DARPA SeeMe project is being targeted by the Senate for cancellation, according to Space News.

SeeMe, which stands for Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements, is aimed at providing near-realtime imaging for military warfighters. DARPA requested $10.5 million for SeemE development in Fiscal Year 2014, but the Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended program termination, according to Space News.

Millenium Space Systems was scheduled to build six prototype satellites and 24 operational SeeMe satellites. The satellites would be launched by a new low-cost airborne launch system developed under the ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access) program.

SeeMe is one of the few government programs aimed at reducing the cost of space capabilities. So, it is ironic (but not surprising) that the Appropriations Committee has chosen to target it.


Written by Astro1 on August 21st, 2013 , Military Space

As of January 2013, none of the research submersibles supported by the US government were operational, according to Newsweek. Funding for the NOAA Undersea Research Program (NURP) was zeroed in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

In May, however, we saw two homebuilt submersibles at Maker Faire in San Mateo. As government funding for ocean exploration disappears, citizen science may take over. Perhaps this is a portent for the future of space exploration?

maker subs: homemade submersibles at Maker Faire

Written by Astro1 on August 20th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle gives this defense of ocean exploration. The space community should also pay attention.


Dr. Earle is the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She has led more than 60 research expeditions and spent over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle has set women’s depth records in a hard-shell diving suit (1,250 feet) and a submersible (3,300 feet), as well as leading a team of female researchers during an extended underwater stay in the Tektite II habitat in 1970.

No one denies that Sylvia Earle is an explorer.

Yet, there are people in the space community who insist that astronauts (especially citizen astronauts) are not explorers. Ben McGee discussed this in his recent treatise. “Particularly amongst the old guard of space science,” McGee says, “‘exploration’ is reserved for those pushing the frontier in higher orbits, cislunar space, trips to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.” In other words, almost no one.

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Written by Astro1 on August 20th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration Tags:

Inspiration Mars capsule, inflatable module, and upper stage

Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars flyby mission needs financial assistance from NASA.

“We’re going to have to do it with NASA, and probably a certain amount of government funding,” said Dennis Tito, in a story reported by NASA’s Alan Boyle.

This follows a long pattern of space projects whose promoters start off saying “launch costs are not an issue.” Over time, these projects require more and more government funding, and usually fail when that funding is not forthcoming.

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Written by Astro1 on August 19th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

NASA Gemini 5 crew Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad

Gemini 5 astronauts L. Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad began their flight on August 21, 1965.  This was the first long-duration flight for the Gemini spacecraft: Cooper and Conrad were supposed to spend 8 days in space.  Eight days in space was an important milestone, because that is how long a trip to the Moon and back would take. Other mission objectives included evaluating the rendezvous guidance and navigation system, test a fuel cell electrical power system in flight, and determine the ability of an astronaut to maneuver his spacecraft in close proximity to another object in space.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on August 18th, 2013 , Space History

The NewSpace Journal reports that Armadillo Aerospace is in hibernation mode. The story by Jeff Foust is based on remarks which Armadillo founder John Carmack made at the QuakeCon gaming convention, which took place in Dallas last week. (Carmac is also the founder and technical director of ID Software.)

Carmac has put about $8 million of his own money into Armadillo Aerospace over the years, but that spending has slowed as he concentrates more on his software business. A setback came in January, with the loss of Armadillo’s Stig-B rocket when the main parachute failed to open following a launch from New Mexico’s Spaceport America. There has been no visible activity from Armadillo since January, so the latest comments came as no surprise. If outside investment is not found, Carmac says he intends to wind the company down further.

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Written by Astro1 on August 5th, 2013 , Armadillo Aerospace

This week saw some good news for (and from) NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which funds flights for payloads on various commercial platforms including microgravity aircraft and suborbital spacecraft.

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Written by Astro1 on August 1st, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management