March 11, 2016

Russia Thinks It Can Use Nukes to Fly to Mars in 45 Days—If It Can Find the Rubles (Source: WIRED)
A chemically propelled voyage to Mars would take 18 months, one way. During which time any combination of boredom, radiation poisoning, and cancer will likely kill you. Suppose you make it? Congratulations on being the first Martian to die of old age, because a return trip from the Red Planet is currently impossible without using wishful logistics like fuel harvesting.

The Russians think they can do better. Last week, their national nuclear corporation Rosatom announced it is building a nuclear engine that will reach Mars in a month and a half—with fuel to burn for the trip home. Russia might not achieve its goal of launching a prototype by 2025. But that has more to do with the country’s financial situation (not great) than the technical challenges of a nuclear engine.

Soviet scientists actually solved many of those challenges by 1967, when they started launching fission-powered satellites. Americans had their own program, called SNAP-10A, which launched in in 1965. Both countries prematurely quashed their nuclear thermal propulsion programs (Though the Soviets’ lasted into the 1980s). “Prematurely” because those fission systems were made for relatively lightweight orbital satellites—not high-thrust, interplanetary vessels fattened with life support for human riders. (3/10)

Alabama Could be Where Jeff Bezos Builds his Rocket Engines (Source: Huntsville Times)
Alabama could be the site of rocket builder Blue Origin's new engine plant, company officials confirmed this week. The confirmation came during the first ever tour of the once-secretive company's main factory near Seattle. "We're talking to your congressional delegation," one Blue Origin executive said. The discussion presumably includes what incentives Alabama might offer Blue Origin and how lawmakers could help.

The new engine will be the much-awaited replacement for the Russian RD-180 engine. ULA builds its rockets in Decatur, Alabama, and that will be where it builds a new Vulcan rocket under development. Blue Origin has the prime contract to power Vulcan with its BE-4 engine, but ULA has a backup plan involving Aeroject Rocketdyne if Blue Origin fails to deliver.

"The biggest factor there is talented workforce, that you can really hire people who understand the quality demands of aerospace," Bezos said. "You really want to be able to get good assembly and integration engineers, you want to be able to get high quality machinists and machine operators and those jobs today are very sophisticated jobs...You want to go some place that's welcoming, that actually wants the company," Bezos added. "Those are probably the two biggest things." (3/10)

Let Space Travel Flourish, Leave It to the Cranks and Crackpots (Source: Real Clear Markets)
Space travel and exploration have the potential to be truly life enhancing in the way that cars and airplanes have already been. What's important is that cars and planes emerged from well outside not just government, but also established businesses already friendly with government. For space exploration to reach full flower, it will thanks to abundant and rather intrepid capital being matched with all manner of dreamers that don't generally find a home in Fortune 500 companies or government, or in monopolies created by government.

Space's potential appears huge, and by its very name, rather limitless. With its vast potential in mind, let's get our capital consuming government out of the way so that increased experimentation can begin, along with the countless failures that will surely follow. Only then will the truly bewildering advances reveal themselves that will enable space exploration to live up to its long-discussed, but so far unfulfilled promise. (3/10)

NASA Promotes Space Race Competition in El Paso (Source: El Paso Times)
A NASA executive is in El Paso this week to encourage entry into a competition aimed at creating innovative new businesses based on existing NASA technology. The Space Race competition can spark new high-tech startups that have the potential to give an economic boost to the El Paso-Juárez region, said Dan Lockney, an executive of NASA’s Technology Transfer Program.

Lockney will visit UTEP on Thursday as part of a partnership between the space program, the Center for Advancing Innovation and Medical Center of the Americas Foundation to get students, faculty and the community involved in the competition, which officials hope will spark new companies that would bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the area. (3/9)

Commercial Satellite Industry Sees Growing U.S. Military Demand (Source: Reuters)
Satellite companies say the Pentagon is stepping up demand for commercial services as the U.S. Defense Department seeks to cut costs and shore up security of military and spy satellites against attacks by China and other potential foes.

Matt Desch, chief executive of satellite operator Iridium Communications Inc, said he had seen a marked increase in U.S. military demand for commercial services over the past year to augment the capabilities of big military satellites. (3/9)

How The World's First Syrian Astronaut Became A Refugee (Source: Huffington Post)
Once floating hundreds of miles above the world, 64-year-old former astronaut Muhammed Faris now finds himself grounded in one of its worst humanitarian crises. Faris, the first Syrian to go to space, is now a refugee in Turkey. The Aleppo native currently lives in a dilapidated building in Istanbul with his wife and three children

“I saw the earth from outer space. The earth is like one ball, it has no borders,” Faris told The Associated Press in an interview from the Turkish city of Bursa. “And that’s wonderful, because in outer space, there are no gates between countries. From there, the earth is one home, one family.” (3/10)

NASA Tests SLS Engine in Mississippi (Source: Ars Technica)
As NASA builds its new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), it is relying on some older technologies, including the space shuttle's reusable engines. And before the new rocket flies, the older engines must be test fired to ensure they still function properly. On Thursday, that happened for the first time with one of the engines that will be used on the SLS's maiden flight.

The engine, number 2059, fired for 500 seconds on a test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. It had not been used since 2011, when it powered space shuttle Endeavour to orbit in what was the penultimate flight of the space shuttle program. This engine flew five times into space. (3/10)

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