Apollo 14 lunar module
After the successful lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, there were many who questioned the need for further Apollo expeditions to the moon. After all, America had won the space race with the Soviets, so why were additional flights necessary? In early 1970, the last three missions, Apollos 18-20, had been canceled, and after the near loss of Apollo 13, many NASA critics wanted to cancel the rest as well.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on January 31st, 2014 , Space History

Major changes lie ahead for NASA education programs, but no one knows what those changes will be. The education community is being left in the dark, due to the lack of communications from NASA Headquarters. Even NASA insiders are beginning to express frustration. The head of NASA’s Space Math program recently sent the following message to the spacemath@nasa.gov mailing list:

As you may know, NASA has dramatically changed how it funds its education programs during this fiscal year and perhaps beyond. To avoid creating misinformation, NASA has largely decided to keep its detailed plans under wraps even to its many education partners, including its own mission education programs. We are all largely trying to maintain our programs as best we can given that money for continued education work, meetings, workshops and product development has mostly been eliminated during this academic year. Many programs are making ends meet by using last-years money frugally. That means some programs may still be able to support education work through the early part of 2014. 2014 will be a transition year for NASA’s science mission education efforts as you have come to know it, with dramatic changes in how or if you will receive classroom resources from the missions, participate in workshops etc.

Last year, the Obama Administration proposed a sweeping change in NASA education programs, which called for most education efforts to be transferred to other agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Smithsonian Institution, with drastically decreased funding for education at NASA. ($94.2 million proposed for Fiscal Year 2014, spending, down from $136.1 million in FY2012 and $136.9 million estimated in FY2013.) The funding for NASA education programs was not transferred over, however, leading many to wonder if space education programs would simply disappear.

Congress has opposed the transfer of NASA education programs to other agencies. During the Fiscal Year 2014 budget process, it finally settled on a figure of $116.6 million for NASA education: a cut of about $20 million, rather than $42 million, as originally proposed. This represents a 15% cut, rather than the 31% cut proposed by the Administration.

Still, 15% represents a significant cut, given that NASA education is already down sharply from its high of $169.2 billion in FY2009. This represents a total drop of 31% in the last five years.

Since all offices have certain irreducible overhead, the effect on NASA education programs will be even greater than what the numbers indicate. NASA leadership will have to formulate a new plan for how to deal with these cuts. The planning process will no doubt be complicated by the recently announced retirement of NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin.

In the meantime, communication is virtually nonexistent and the education community remains in the dark about what to expect.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2014 , Education

NASA Associate Administrator Leland Melvin and Sesame Street's Elmo

NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin is leaving the agency. Melvin’s retirement was announced on January 16 by NASA Administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.).

“I am sorry to inform the NASA family that my good friend and our Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin, has decided to retire next month after more than 24 years of NASA service,” General Bolden said.

Melvin’s departure is the second high-level resignation in the last six months. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver resigned last August. While there’s no reason to believe the two departures are related, it is apparent that General Bolden is losing his leadership team.

His departure will no doubt complicate NASA education efforts to deal with a 15% FY2014 budget cut.

Melvin was the first (and so far, only) former astronaut to head the NASA education office. His appointment was considered to be a symbol of the increased importance being placed on NASA education. That symbolism was not reflected in subsequent budget requests, however.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2014 , Education

NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize program is seeking new ideas for prizes and new partner organizations. The question remains whether Congress provide allocate money for new challenges. Funding has been hit or miss (mostly miss) for the last decade.

Current information about Centennial Challenges is available at www.nasa.gov/challenges. The new Notice of Opportunity is available here.

Written by Astro1 on December 21st, 2013 , Citizen Science (General), Innovation

Apollo 8 Earthrise

After the success of Apollo 7 in October 1968, the first test flight of the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM), NASA announced a bold plan for Apollo 8. This flight, which would be the first manned flight of the Saturn V booster, was originally planned to test the Lunar Module (LM) in earth orbit, but progress on the lander was lagging. The LM test would be postponed by one flight. Instead, Apollo 8, piloted by Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, would orbit the moon!

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Written by Greg Kennedy on December 20th, 2013 , Space History

Maybe it was related to the first succcessful free flight of NASA’s Morpheus lander or the launch of China’s Chang’e 3 lunar probe. For whatever reason, there seems to be a pre-Christmas rush on planetary press conferences and announcements. In the last six days, three separate projects have revealed details of their plans for robotic missions to the Moon and Mars.

Moon Express

Last Thursday, Moon Express unveiled its MX-1 lunar-lander design in front of 10,000 people at the closing session of Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander

Moon Express, which is competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, said the lander will use hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellents. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used, by itself, as a monopropellent. Moon Express noted that hydrogen peroxide can be manufactured from water that is available on the Moon, which it believes “would be a game changer in the economics of lunar resources and solar system exploration.”

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Written by Astro1 on December 10th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation, Lunar Science, Robotics

Gemini 7

Gemini 7 lifted off from Complex 19 at Cape Kennedy, Florida, on December 4, 1965. (From 1963 to 1973, Cape Canaveral was named Cape Kennedy to honor slain President John F. Kennedy.) Frank Borman was Command Pilot and James Lovell was Pilot for the flight. The primary objective for Gemini 7 was for the pair to spend two weeks in orbit to evaluate the physiological effects of long duration space flight. The mission emblem designed by the astronauts featured an Olympic torch to symbolize the marathon nature of the flight. This was the fourth piloted flight of the program because six weeks earlier, the launch of Gemini 6 had been canceled.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on December 4th, 2013 , Space History

Skylab 4, the last expedition to America’s first space station,  lifted off on November 16, 1973, with Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson and William K. Pogue on board.  It was the first flight for all three crewmen.  Their launch had previously been delayed for five days due to problems with the six-year old booster.  First, engineers found hairline cracks in the fins on the first stage, which had been manufactured in 1967.  They replaced all eight fins.  Next, technicians discovered similar cracks in the structure that connected the rocket’s two stages.  They added aluminum plates to the structural beams to reinforce them.  The final booster problem came after a practice fueling, when two of the fuel tanks buckled slightly as fuel was being drained.  Refueling the tanks under pressure forced the dome-shaped tops of the tanks back into shape and the Saturn IB was pronounced ready for flight.
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Written by Greg Kennedy on November 16th, 2013 , Space History

One of the experiments proposed for suborbital spaceflights is the collection and return of particles from the near-space environment, some of which might contain the building blocks of life.  In 1935, scientists performed a similar experiment to collect spores in the upper atmosphere.  The 1935 experiment had no exobiology goals; rather, it was to determine if living spores, fungi, or bacteria were present in the stratosphere.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on November 10th, 2013 , Space History

USAF F-22 Raptor

“Unmanned space” guys take note: Unmanned air vehicles are now being escorted by manned fighters.

The Aviationist reports:

Earlier this year… an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran…. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis… or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

This is significant to space because UAVs are often cited as proof that human flight crews are becoming obsolete. The military, however, is now realizing that UAVs cannot do every job.

The fact is, many jobs can be more easily accomplished by humans and machines, working together, than by machines alone. This is true in space as well as aviation.

As an interesting side note, the US military once considered having manned spacecraft fly escort for high-value satellites (anti-ASAT missions) during times of crisis.

The DARPA Space Cruiser (also called the High-Performance Spaceplane) was a 1980’s concept for a one-man spacecraft that could be launched by the Space Shuttle or an expendable rocket. Using its own propulsion system or a Centaur upper stage, the Space Cruiser could accomplish a variety of missions in cis-lunar space. Proposed missions included satellite inspection and repair, reconnaissance, space control, and the aforementioned anti-antisatellite missions.

DARPA Space Cruiser

Written by Astro1 on October 27th, 2013 , Military Space, Space Exploration (General), Space History Tags:

Millennium Space Systems has completed a successful high-altitude balloon test of its new microsatellite bus, developed under the company’s DARPA SeeMe contract.

SeeMe, or Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements, is DARPA program intended to provide near-realtime tactical intelligence to the warfighter in the field, using a constellation of small satellites in orbit. Two dozen satellites would deliver one-meter-resolution images to handheld terminals in the field. The satellites would be launched from an aircraft usingma system developed under a parallel program called Airborne Launch Assist Space Access. DARPA hopes to test the first SeeMe constellation in Earth orbit by 2015. The SeeMe program has been targeted for cancellation by the US Senate, however.

The 1.5-hour flight to nearly 30 kilometers altitude over California’s Mojave Desert exercised key satellite subsystems and operational capabilities. The SeeMe prototype carried a telescope and new technology digital camera developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which successfully captured images of the Earth during the mission, simulating the intended orbital capability. Engineers commanded the payload and received the resulting images from a mobile ground terminal, emulating the SeeMe “point and shoot” military theater operations concept.

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Written by Astro1 on October 16th, 2013 , Military Space

The US Army is working to develop a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) that uses liquid body armor that hardens into a bulletproof solid within milliseconds. The suit would provide a soldier with heat, air conditioning, oxygen, would stasis, night vision, enhanced strength, computers, and communications.

The US Army Special Operations Command (SOCOM) believes it can have a first-generation prototype within a year and a more advanced version by 2016.

At the same time, spacesuits are still based on technology which has hardly changed since the 1960’s. Why isn’t NASA working on TALOS-like suits for space? NASA occasionally funds research on advanced spacesuit concepts, but there is no drive for rapid development because, unlike the military, NASA does not have an urgent need. So, research proceeds slowly for a time, until the the grant runs out or the budget gets cut to fund higher priorities tied to near-term missions.

Work on advanced spacesuits might proceed more rapidly under an organization such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The military has little need for spacesuits, however, because of the decades-old unwritten policy that prohibits the military from conducting manned space programs. As a result, spacesuits do not fall within DARPA’s range of interests. And so it goes.

Written by Astro1 on October 10th, 2013 , Innovation

Matrix Games has just released Command: Modern Naval Air Operations, developed by Warfare Sims. Although billed as a naval and air warfare simulation, Command also includes a space satellite component.

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Written by Astro1 on October 8th, 2013 , Military Space

China is seeking customers for its planned space station. China Daily reports that China will “would like to train astronauts from other countries and organizations [and] welcome foreign astronauts who have received our training to work in our future space station.”

The statement is attributed to Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency, during his remarks to the United Nations/China Workshop on Human Space Technology in Beijing.

“China and Russia have collaborated on astronaut training, spacecraft technology and extra-vehicular suits, and we are cooperating with our French counterparts on a variety of experiments in astrobiology and space medicine,” Yang said, “Astronauts from the European Space Agency and their Chinese peers have visited each other’s training facilities, laying a solid foundation for further communication.”

The article does not state how much China hopes to charge for trips to its stations. Chinese space officials have publicly stated that they cannot match SpaceX launch prices, and it seems unlikely that it will be able to compete with Bigelow’s Space Station Alpha, either. Instead of innovating, China is retracing the path taken by US and Soviet space programs 40 years ago, trapping their program in a high-cost paradigm.

The Chinese space station will not be ready until 2023, according to another article. It’s reported that the station interior will be “no less than 60 square meters.” Presumably, the author meant 60 cubic meters, which is the way space stations are usually measured. That would be smaller than the old Russian Salyuts, which had internal volumes of 90-100 cubic meters. It would be dwarfed by ISS, which has an internal volume of 837 cubic meters, or a single Bigelow BA-330 module, with an internal volume of 330 meters.

Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Space Stations

Common wisdom says that space science must rely solely on the Federal government for funding. A new white paper from the International Institute of Space Commerce challenges that assumption.

The Institute has released “Innovative Models for Private Financing of Space Science Missions,” which is available as a free download.

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Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

World War II amphibious landing

The head of the NASA Astronaut Office, US Air Force Colonel Robert Behnken, has weighed in on one-way missions to Mars.

In an article by Todd Halvorson of Florida Today, Col. Behnken said, “The one-way mission to Mars is not one I would see the Astronaut Office having a line of people signing up for.

“I think across the board the one-way mission needs to have a very high reward aspect to it: the national objective sort of award. There are many things we do in wartime situations, that we ask people to step up and accomplish for us. We need that level of reasoning from the Astronaut Office perspective.”

This reasoning is not surprising from a professional military officer, but it ignores thousands of years of human history. Human beings undertake one-way trips (what the military calls “missions”) all the time. Most of these trips are not in response to a military emergency. More commonly, they are undertaken because an individual human being or family decides to move to a new location with no intention of returning.

The settlers on the Mayflower were on a one-way mission. So were the settlers who opened the American West. Many died along the way, but no one regarded it as the equivalent of a military suicide mission.

These one-way trips were not, in general, undertaken as the result of a “national objective.” There have been forced government relocations (unfortunately), and of course, the government relocates military personnel all the time — but military relocations are usually temporary. More often, one-way trips are undertaken to meet personal or family objectives, rather than national objectives.

Connestoga wagon

NASA was created during the Cold War, for Cold War propaganda purposes. President Eisenhower wanted a civilian space agency to show the world our peaceful intent and to take the manned space program away from the military-industrial complex, which he distrusted. Ironically, he created a new NASA-industrial complex with many of the same characteristics. When President Kennedy took office, NASA’s role was greatly expanded. Eisenhower did not want a space race, which he perceived would soon rival the arms race in terms of expense. Kennedy wanted to confront the Soviets in space to show that our private-enterprise system was better than their socialist system. Kennedy never allowed private enterprise to play any significant role in Project Apollo, however. Instead, Apollo merely proved that our socialists were better than their socialists.

The Cold War is over, but Cold War reasoning remains. Remnants can be seen in Col. Behnken’s statement about “national objectives.”

NASA and other space-policy planners need to move away from “wartime reasoning” to peacetime reasoning. There is no justification for spending tens of billions of dollars to send humans to Mars, unless humans are going to permanently settle on Mars. There is no justification for spending billions of dollars to send unmanned probes to Mars, unless humans are going to follow.

The settlement of Mars (and space, in general) will entail a large number of one-way missions, by definition. Settling a new territory means people setting out on one-way trips, building new homes, and creating new lives for themselves in a new land.

Space settlement will not be accomplished as a “national objective.” If NASA tries, it will fail. History provides a useful comparison. Spain set out to colonize the New World as a national objective, under the direction and control of the Spanish Crown. Great Britain took a laissez faire approach to colonization, granting charters to private groups such as the Virginia and Plymouth companies. Spain controlled the most desirable portions of the New World, with most of the resources and milder climate. Yet, it was North America, under British control, that prospered, while the centrally planned Spanish colonies remained backward.

Colonel Behnken is correct in saying that NASA cannot undertake arduous missions except in pursuit of a national objective. NASA is the product of intelligent design. Its creators, Eisenhower and Kennedy, put that into the agency’s DNA. But not everyone has that limitation. While NASA may play a role in space settlement, it will not play the primary role.

The NASA Astronaut Office may not have a long line of people willing to sign up for one-way trips to Mars, but there are people who will line up for it. Mars One is taking in a tidy bit of money from people who are willing to pay, just to have their names on a list of possible candidates. We must stop thinking of space solely in terms of NASA. It is time to move beyond Cold War reasoning.

Written by Astro1 on September 22nd, 2013 , Space Settlement

A blogger by the name of M. Moleman, who calls himself “The Armchair Space Expert,” has published a cost analysis of NASA’s Space Launch System.

NASA Space Launch System

Moleman defends SLS against charges made by John Strickland, who believes it is unaffordable. Moleman’s conclusion is rather positive:

If we were to take SLS’s preliminary schedule of one cargo flight and one manned flight every other year, we get $1.2 billion for the cargo flight, and $2 billion for the manned one using Orion. A development cost of 12.6 billion dollars will have to be spread out over the total number of flights too, so if we use 30 flights like mister Strickland did we have to add $420 million to every flight. Over 30 flights, the average cost of SLS would be $2.02 billion per flight, though the number of cargo missions would probably end up dominating later on since most current Design Reference Missions would require more cargo then crewed flights. With a ratio of 2:1, we get a total of $1.89 billion per flight. If we take the costs of SLS only, not counting Orion, we get $1.6 billion per flight, which equals $18.000 per kilogram. Would this be expensive? Yes. Are there better alternatives out there? Absolutely. But it is nonetheless a huge improvement over the Space Shuttle, with payloads three to five times as big, much lower cost per kg to orbit, while eventually taking up less of the overall annual budget of NASA.

Unfortunately, his analysis contains a number of errors.

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Written by Astro1 on September 19th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

DARPA Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has initiated a new program, called Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1), to develop a fully reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space.

DARPA is seeking to develop a vehicle that can operate from a “clean pad” with a small ground crew and no need for expensive specialized infrastructure. This setup would enable routine daily operations and flights from a wide range of locations. XS-1 seeks to deploy small satellites faster and more affordably, while demonstrating technology for next-generation space and hypersonic flight for both government and commercial users.

The DARPA program manager for XS-1 is Jess Sponable, who served as DoD program manager for the highly highly successful Delta Clipper Experimental in the 1990’s. Sponable was also one of several Air Force officers selected to train as military spaceflight engineers to fly aboard the Space Shuttle in the 1980’s.

“We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround,” Sponable said. “How it’s configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table. We’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible.”

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Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Military Space

“The purpose of the space program should be pointed and singleminded: namely, the exploration, by men and women, of the rest of the Universe and the establishment of extraterrestrial colonies.” — Tom Wolfe, 1985

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Settlement

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)

Space.com 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 SPACE.com infographic.

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

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