October 23, 2010

What is NASA's '100-Year Starship'? (Source: The Week)
NASA and the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are starting work on a "Hundred Year Starship" designed to take astronauts on a one-way trip to other planets, says NASA Ames Research Center director Simon "Pete" Worden. "You heard it here," he told a gathering in San Francisco last weekend. "The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds." What is the Hundred-Year Starship, and will it make our sci-fi dreams a reality?

Why one-way? Keep in mind that space is "annoyingly, impractically huge," says Evan Dashevsky, with the nearest planet 24 million miles away. That means "it takes a long time to get to the good stuff." Also, it will cost a lot less, since the major expense of any plan to travel to other worlds is bringing the astronauts home. Hopefully, adds Dashevsky, this doesn't mean NASA and DARPA "know something that we don't about the future habitability of this planet."

Neither Worden nor NASA gave any details, but Worden did say NASA is looking at electric and ground-based microwave thermal propulsion systems to boost the ship into space, rather than using heavy rocket fuel. "Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds," he says. "I think we'll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so." Click here to read the article. (10/22)

Vacationing in Space? The Planet Could Pay (Source: TIME)
Space tourism sounds like fun! But there are a few small problems, not the least being that the technology is unproven, even a small malfunction could kill you and in the event that you do come back in one piece, your 15-minute vacation would have cost you a minimum of $200,000. Now, on the very day of Branson's grand unveiling, add one more reason not to get too carried away by the talk of a coming boom in space tourism: according to a new study by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) all the rocketing around could make the atmosphere an even bigger mess than it is today. Click here to read the article. (10/22)

First Foursquare Badge Unlocked in Space (Source: CNN)
Astronaut Douglas Wheelock checked in on Foursquare on Friday, 220 miles above Earth, becoming the first person to use the location-based social network in space. Far above the bars and coffee shops where Foursquare users normally use the popular mobile application, Wheelock unlocked the "NASA Explorer" badge by checking in to the international space station from a laptop. Foursquare, a location-based mobile application that lets users "check in" to venues and compete for virtual badges and mayorships of hot spots, is one of the fastest-growing social networks, about to reach 4 million users. (10/22)

Huntsville Google Lunar X Prize Team Offers Competitors a Ride to the Moon (Source: Huntsville Times)
How confident is Huntsville's main entry in Google's Lunar X Prize race? Confident enough to offer its competitors a ride to the moon. That's a huge part of Google's challenge to send a small rover to the moon by Dec. 31, 2012, move it 500 meters across the surface, and beam video and data back to Earth. The first team to do it gets $20 million. Second place is $5 million, and there is another $5 million in bonus prizes.

Rocket City Space Pioneers, the team headed by Dynetics here, isn't offering to deposit its competitors gently on the lunar surface with a box lunch and a road map. This time, anyway. Getting small research payloads to the moon's surface is definitely in the team's long-term business plan. But this time, the offer is lunar orbit. "We want our competitors to let us give them a ride and 'race' them down to the surface," said team lead engineer Tim Pickens. Competitors had been inquiring about ride-sharing, Pickens said, so his team thought why not "make the competition a little more interesting?" (10/22)

Constellation Is Dead, But Pieces Live On (Source: Aviation Week)
Passage of legislation authorizing NASA spending for the next three years means the agency’s Constellation Program of back-to-the-Moon spacecraft developments is officially over, but some of its work will continue as the agency shifts its focus to sending humans to an asteroid. Doug Cooke, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems, said NASA will go ahead with the first test early next year of a complete J-2X upper-stage rocket engine developed for the terminated Ares I crew launch vehicle.

Work also is continuing on five-segment solid-fuel rocket motors originally intended as the Ares I first stage, but now, like the J-2X, as a possible component of the new heavy-lift rocket ordered in the authorization law. Click here to read the article. (10/22)

Aldrin: No Need For 'Apollo On Steroids' (Source: Red Orbit)
Most people are familiar with the space shuttle as the current primary means for NASA to carry astronauts into space. However as the final flights of this complex and impressive machine are prepared, the design of the next space transportation system is being debated. The original purpose of the space shuttle was to be a convenient way to launch large payloads and crew into space.

By reusing parts of the system and flying often, the cost of launches would be reduced. But the complexity of the shuttle and risk associated with carrying crew and cargo together prevented it from achieving this goal of reducing launch costs. That is why I believe the next vehicle we use to bring astronauts to and from space should be a dedicated space taxi.

This vehicle would be much smaller than the space shuttle. It could launch a crew of six to eight people by sitting on top of an existing expendable launch vehicle. After delivering crew to the ISS, or other transfer stations for deep space missions, the vehicle is able to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land back at or near the launch site. This vehicle will operate at a fraction of the cost of both the space shuttle and the proposed Orion capsule. (10/22)

Nye Takes Armstrong to the Moon (Source: Politico)
Bill Nye, the eponymous "Science Guy," defended President Obama's space plan on Friday as he assailed critics like Neil Armstrong for not "paying attention to what's going on." In April, Armstrong and Apollo commanders Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan called Obama's effort to scrap plans to return manned rockets to the moon "devastating." Nye told POLITICO the astronauts were ignoring longer-term goals of exploring other parts of space.

"They're solar systemic heroes, but they have not had their eye on the ball the last couple of decades," Nye said in a stop by POLITICO's newsroom. He said the "deep misconception" that Obama wants to cut back manned flights "started with astronauts of a certain age who had not been paying attention to what's going on." The Constellation program "became inefficient," Nye said, adding that NASA is "not a jobs program." Obama should "stay the course" on his space plan and also resist calls to "push aside" education about climate change, which is "serious business," Nye said. (10/22)

Gwynne Dyer: Whose Moon Bases? (Source: Straight.com)
President Obama put an end to NASA’s hopes of returning to the Moon by 2020 and building bases there for further manned exploration of the solar system. It looks like the U.S. has passed its Tordesillas moment (and so has Russia). As is so often the case, those who start out ahead in the race fail in the stretch, and others finish first.

The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, two years after Christopher Columbus became the first European to land in the Americas, divided the newly discovered lands beyond Europe between Spain and Portugal along a meridian just west of the Cape Verde islands. It was immensely arrogant, of course, but there were no other countries in the business of maritime exploration at the time. Both China and India have already put unmanned space vehicles into lunar orbit, and China has already carried out manned flights in Earth orbit. These are probably the countries that own the future in space. (10/22)

China Finishes Mars Orbiter Technical Plan, 2013 Earliest Launch Date (Source: Xinhua)
China has drawn up a technical plan for an independent Mars orbiter exploration project. The plan was based on research conducted by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), said an expert Thursday here at a forum on China's space technology. The project will make use of technologies developed for China's first lunar satellite launched in 2007. (10/22)

More Variety on Menu for Future Russian Cosmonauts (Source: Xinhua)
Russian cosmonauts will in future enjoy a more varied diet while in space, Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov, who recently returned from the International Space Station, said. "Now we are switching to 16 days allowance instead of eight to meet all the demands of cosmonauts," the cosmonaut said. Skvortsov also noted that the preferences and appetites of those onboard tended to change. "When I was on the Earth, I drank tea without sugar, but on board I started drinking it with sugar," he said.

Skvortskov also said there were difficulties in sending particular food products to the Russian cosmonauts because they had to undergo special tests and correspond to the All-Union State Standards for cosmonauts. In Russia, the selection of food for cosmonauts is much stricter than in the U.S., with American cosmonauts able to receive products bought in any supermarket of the country. (10/22)

Marshall Ponders Debris Tracking Demo Satellite (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is gathering information for the possible development of a demonstration satellite to track pieces of orbital debris that are too small to be seen by current systems but still pose a threat to operating spacecraft. Spurred by the new U.S. National Space Policy that emphasizes tracking and mitigating orbital debris, Marshall may partner with industry and academia to field a low Earth orbiting satellite as soon as 2014. (10/22)

Globalstar Paying $275,000 To Settle FCC Spectrum Dispute (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Globalstar Inc. has agreed to make a “voluntary contribution” to the U.S. government to settle a dispute with U.S. regulators about spectrum the company had promised to abandon but continued to use for months. In a consent decree agreed to with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Globalstar has agreed to pay $275,000 to the U.S. Treasury by mid-November and to forgo any court challenge of the decision. (10/22)

Europeans Struggle for Consensus on Launcher Development Strategy (Source: Space News)
Europe’s launch-vehicle industrial base is heading toward turmoil as it introduces Russia’s Soyuz rocket into its ranks and struggles for consensus on whether limited resources should be spent improving the current Ariane 5 ECA rocket or preparing its successor, or both. The situation has been made more difficult by quality control issues with the Ariane 5 that resulted in the cancellation of three launches since late 2009 because of a faulty helium pressurization component that likely will force the Arianespace launch consortium to report a loss for 2010.

The component in question, whose defect was traced to a change in production practice, has cost Evry, France-based Arianespace “tens of millions” of euros, Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said Oct. 20. Arianespace markets and operates the Ariane 5 rocket. The cost estimate takes into account the fact that Arianespace and its industrial contractors incurred many of the costs associated with three launch preparation campaigns, only to abort them because of the helium pressurization issue. (10/22)

NASA: Huge Science Balloon Crashed Because of Human Complacency (Source: Space.com)
Complacency in a variety of forms led to the April crash of a huge NASA science balloon carrying a multimillion-dollar telescope in the Australian outback, according to a new report. A NASA Mishap Investigation Board has concluded that weather conditions were acceptable for the failed balloon launch on April 29, and there were no technical problems with the balloon or its scientific payload, a $2 million gamma-ray telescope.

However, the board identified 25 different human-caused factors that led to the spectacular crash. Most of these causes were related to shortcomings in risk analysis, contingency planning, personnel training, technical knowledge, government oversight and public safety accommodations, according to NASA officials. (10/22)

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