SpaceX Is Working On The Big Falcon Rocket - Part 5 of 5 Parts

Part 5 of 5 Parts (Please read Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4)
          Cáceres discussed an estimation of the development and construction cost of the first BFR. He said, “If I had to venture to guess, I would say it would be somewhere in the $4 billion to $5 billion range.” He said that if there are severe problems and setbacks, the cost could be much higher than that. He added that, “That's why so many government space programs tend to be so expensive — because they just go on and on, forever and ever, for technical reasons as well as budgetary and political reasons.”
        Cáceres suggested that if SpaceX gets far enough in the development process for the BFR to be taken seriously, NASA might be interested enough to provide some assistance and funding. He said, “Ultimately, BFR could become a joint US government-SpaceX program. That would be my guess, eventually, because as much as I admire the success of SpaceX, this just seems like something too massive and too complicated for one company alone to handle.”
        SpaceX has an upcoming mission to send astronauts to the International Space Station. If SpaceX can successfully carry out this mission with its Falcon 9 or Falcon heavy launch vehicle, this will improve the odds that they can move forward successfully with the BFR program. Repeated SpaceX missions to the ISS will add increasing confidence in the space industry that SpaceX is capable of advanced missions such as the BFR.
       SpaceX has announced that the first mission for the BFR will be to take a space tourist around the Moon. If this mission is successful, it will be huge public relations coup. NASA and Congress cannot help but be impressed and motivated to invest in the program.
        Beyond the Lunar tourist mission, Musk intends to use the BFR to explore and colonize Mars. He said, “The first journey to Mars is going to be really very dangerous. The risk of fatality will be high; there's just no way around it. It would be basically: Are you prepared to die? And if that's OK, then you're a candidate for going."
       Cáceres response to Musk’s statement was, “I immediately thought: That's not something that any representative, any CEO from a company, or any NASA administrator would say. That's about as blunt as you can be, and I think he was being very truthful.”
      Chris Hadfield is a retired astronaut. He pointed out that other periods of exploration were quite deadly as sailors explored the oceans of Earth on voyages that lasted for years. He said, “The majority of the astronauts that we send on those missions to Mars won't make it.” Still, astronauts will probably be ready to attempt to travel to Mars because there have already been volunteers for the first private Moon landings.
       Cáceres continued, “If we want to actually open space to average people rather than government astronauts, then we've got to accept that there's going to be a lot of fatalities. We can either decide that that's acceptable or it's not, in which case we don't explore space any more than we have already. SpaceX is going to fail in the future — rockets are going to explode, and people are going to die is what everyone has to totally understand.”

SpaceX Is Working On The Big Falcon Rocket - Part 4 of 5 Part

Part 4 of 5 Parts (Please read Parts 1, 2 and 3)
     Steve Nutt said, “There are so many different parts of this thing, the complexity is daunting. There will have to be a variety of materials and joining methods to accomplish everything this has to accomplish. When a metal part gets damaged, there's usually a dent or a scratch or something like that. With composite parts, there can be damage and no manifestations at the surface. It's all subsurface.”
        All of the carbon fiber sections will have to be carefully checked for flaws in every square inch with ultrasound scanners. Cáceres said, “You may have some structural problems on an aircraft, but the aircraft won't explode," Cáceres said. "But on a rocket, leaks, cracks, and instability — those things can be catastrophic. It explodes and people die. When you're building something this big, the only real way to test it is once you've completed it, and you launch it. You better have a lot of money, because you're probably going to go through a lot of big, big structures before you get the one that works.”
       SpaceX has suffered serious accidents and failures with its current fleet of rockets. Musk will certain run extensive tests and checks on components and, ultimately, on the full prototype of the BRF before any missions are flown. Nutt said, with respect to going to Mars, “It's such a long mission. I think the chances of some kind of damage or failure en route are much greater than a mission of days or weeks that we've seen in our lifetime.”
       Tiny pieces of rocks or comet dust in deep space can be very dangerous to a spacecraft because they are traveling at thousands of miles per hour. One strike by a tiny object could cripple and end a deep-space mission if it does not have the ability to carry out repairs during the mission. Nutt said, “Those things can go right through any kind of structure and do a lot of damage.”
       It is very hard to repair carbon fiber composites even on Earth. Some jet fights employ carbon fiber composites. If there is a hole in a section of the fuselage, workers sand and polish the damaged area, use trowels to lay down layers of fresh epoxy, put the damaged section in a vacuum chamber and subject it to heat.
       Nutt said, “Things that you might be able to repair with some difficulty on Earth are orders of magnitude more difficult to execute and accomplish in space. It's a big structure with a lot of components. The chances of failure are not zero. So you have to worry about those things and have contingency plans for all of them.”
        Cáceres said that each launch of the BFR may costs around ten million dollars with most of the cost being for fuel because each BFR will be used many times. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle costs about one hundred million dollars for each launch. Each Falcon Heavy can only lift half the weight that can be sent into space by the BFR.
Please read Part 5

SpaceX Is Working On The Big Falcon Rocket - Part 3 of 5 Parts

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Artist’s Concepts of SpaceX BFR:

Part 3 of 5 Parts (Please read Parts 1 and 2)
       The creation of a huge carbon fiber structure faces a number of serious technical challenges. The epoxy used to create carbon fiber composites cures at room temperature. Each different kind of epoxy has its own rate of curing. The type of epoxy that is most often used in manufacture of airplane sections will only last for about four weeks before it has cured too much to be applied. That means that sections of the BFR will have to be built within about a month.
        Carbon fiber composites can be damaged by coming into contact with super cooled liquids such as the liquid methane and liquid oxygen that will be used to fuel the BFR. In 2016, a SpaceX rocket was destroyed on the launch pad because a carbon-fiber-wrapped tank filled with super-cooled liquids exploded. Musk said that the tank failed due to cracking and leaking. Last year, Musk said that SpaceX had created a stronger tank that could handle the very low temperatures of the fuels.
       In order to test their new tank, SpaceX built the biggest carbon-fiber-composite fuel tank ever constructed. They put it on a barge, towed it out to sea, filled it with super-cooled liquids and increased the pressure in the tank until it exploded.
       Another big potential problem is the fact that if the epoxy does not cure properly and completely, there could be flaws that would be very hard to detect that could bring missions to a disastrous end. In order to prevent this, carbon fiber composites have to be squeezed under very high pressure to collapse voids, push out bubbles and ensure strong bonds.
       Autry said, “That's typically done with a giant pressurized oven, like a pressure cooker, that's called an autoclave. But these things are very expensive.” Marco Cáceres is a senior space analyst at the Teal Group. He said that it cost Boeing almost three hundred million dollars to build a huge autoclave for pressure treating sections for the 787.
       An autoclave big enough to cure sections for the BFR would cost much more than the Boeing autoclave. He suspects that SpaceX may try a different approach to curing sections of the BFR. He says that SpaceX could make an oven to cure the BFR sections. This could be as low as one tenth the cost of an autoclave. SpaceX could put each cured section of the BRF in a giant plastic bag, draw all the air out to squish the carbon-fiber-layers together and then heat the bag in a giant oven.
         Following the curing and pressure heating of the sections of the BFR, the mandrels would be taken apart and removed from the sections of the BRF and then the several sections would be fused in some way to create a single fuselage. Boeing used fifty thousand metal fasteners to connect the segments of the fuselage for the 787. Many of the fasteners had to be replaced and several of the first planes produced failed pressurization tests. These problems would be much worse for a spacecraft. Temperature differences encountered by different components of a spacecraft can be hundreds of degrees. Different materials used in the construction of spacecraft expand and shrink at different rates under temperatures changes.
Please read Part 4

SpaceX Is Working On The Big Falcon Rocket - Part 2 of 5 Parts

Part 2 of 5 Parts (Please read Part 1 first)
       SpaceX says that when all the components and tests have been completed, the rocket will carry the spacecraft above the Earth and then detach itself to fly back to Earth for inspection and refueling. The spacecraft will fire its engines and achieve Earth orbit. The president of SpaceX says that this might happen as early as 2020.
       It will take most of the liquid methane and liquid oxygen fuel in the spacecraft section to get to Earth orbit. SpaceX says that following the entry into Earth orbit, SpaceX will launch tanker spacecraft which will rendezvous with the first spacecraft. It may take as many as a dozen refueling flights and rendezvous’ to fill the tanks of the spacecraft. One of SpaceX’s Mars development engineers has said, “We go from getting 100 tons or more into low-Earth orbit, then refill, and we can take that payload pretty much anywhere — including the surface of Mars.”
       If the proper infrastructure on Mars is available, liquid methane and liquid oxygen can be manufactured and used to refuel the spacecraft that are sent to Mars by using water in Martian soil, carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere and electricity from the solar panels.
      Musk’s plan calls for the entire spacecraft to be constructed from advanced carbon fiber Composites. Composites of carbon fiber contain huge quantities tiny but extremely strong threads made of carbon. These threads are often woven into a fabric which is then embedded in a glue-like epoxy. Once cured in an oven, the epoxy hardens into an extremely strong resin surrounding and penetrating the carbon fiber fabrics. Carbon fiber structures require only one fifth of the material need for steel structures and many types are even stronger than steel. Carbon threads are also able to be made into materials that have similar properties to aluminum but are only half of the mass of aluminum. Together you wind up with a material stronger that steel and lighter than aluminum.
       Musk is convinced that the BFR will require such a construction material to live up to expectations. However, building huge structures such as the BFR with carbon fiber can be very difficult. Nothing like the BFR has ever been constructed. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is about fifty percent composites by weight.
        Musk has shown pictures of a metal cylinder about thirty feet in diameter which he said was a tool that will be used to construct the BFR. Analysts think that the cylinder is something called a “mandrel” which is used to apply carbon fiber materials. No one has ever built a mandrel as big as the object showing in Musk’s pictures. As a mandrel rotates, a robot moves along wrapping rolls of carbon-fiber tape around the cylinder.
       Greg Autry is the director of the Southern California Spaceflight Initiative and an expert on the space industry. He told a reporter that “You lay layer upon layer of the material. If you're going to make a spacecraft part, you'd probably have dozens of layers of material on top of each other.”
Please read Part 3

SpaceX Is Working On The Big Falcon Rocket - Part 1 of 5 Parts

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Caption: 
Elon Musk

Part 1 of 5 Parts
       Elon Musk has been in the news a lot lately for a variety of reasons. A lot of the stories have to do with his obsession to send astronauts to Mars. His company, SpaceX, is working on a new rocket dubbed that Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) which will figure in his plans for Mars missions.
        A full-scale prototype of the BFR is being developed in a huge white tent located at the Port of Los Angeles. The BFR will consist of a one hundred and fifty-seven-foot-long spacecraft on top of a one hundred a ninety-one tall rocket booster. This is equivalent to the height of a thirty-five-story building. When it is fully fueled, it will weigh almost nine million pounds. The specifications say that it can carry one hundred and fifty tons of cargo to Mars along with a hundred passengers. And, Musk claims that the entire system will be reusable.
       Analysts say that this is the most ambitious space project ever attempted. They say that it is at least an order of magnitude beyond the lunar missions. Steve Nutt, a professor of chemical, aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California, said, “It sounds like science fiction.” MusK is keeping the BFR program secret and no one has revealed any details. SpaceX has refused repeated requests for interviews or on-the-record comments about the project. The big question is how SpaceX can possibly build the giant spaceship on the schedule they have provided for completing the project.
       With no information forth coming about the project from SpaceX it has been left to reporters to question experts in related disciplines to try to develop an understanding of the problems that the project must solve including potential building materials, advanced assembly processes. safety inspections and projected costs. Some commentators say that the most important question of all has nothing to do with the technical details. That question is whether or not the global community will be able to deal with probable disasters and fatalities related to some of SpaceX eventual Mars missions.
       Musk has said that eventually, the BFR is intended to replace all of the current models of rockets and spacecraft currently in use by SpaceX. SpaceX has recently raised hundreds of millions of dollars, much of which will probably go to the development and construction of the BFR. SpaceX has recently been talking about sending a space tourist around the Moon. The research and development for this project will most likely assist the development of the BFR. SpaceX has six thousand employees and more and more of them are getting assigned to the BFR project.
       Musk intends to complete development of the BFR sometime in 2019. The project in Los Angeles began last December so the schedule calls for the completion of the prototype BFR in from twelve and twenty-four months. For comparison, the NASA space shuttle orbiters each took about five years to complete.
       Following its completion, the prototype BFR will probably be carried through the Panama Canal to a port in Texas and taken by truck to the SpaceX facility in Southern Texas. Once there, the BFR will be subjected to a series of tests. At the same time as this is playing itself out, SpaceX will be working to complete the permanent BFR factory being built at the Port of Los Angeles. The facility will cover about two hundred thousand square feet.
Please read Part 2

Japanese Universities And Companies Are Working On A Space Elevator

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Tokyo Skytree

       Last week I blogged about the history of the idea of a space elevator that could reach all the way beyond an anchor in geosynchronous orbit. Cargo and people could be moved to and from orbit in elevator cars traversing the elevator. Today I am going to talk about current work and future plans for such a construction.
      A major international study was carried out and a report issued in 2012 concluded that it would be possible to build such a space elevator but the best results would require international co-operation. Many Japanese universities have been working to solve technical problems for such a project. A group at Kanagawa University is developing designs for the robotic cars that will climb the elevator.
        Professor Tadash Egami at Kanagawa University said, "We're studying what mechanisms are needed in order to ascend at differing altitudes and the best brake system. “I don't think one company can make it, we'll need an international organization to make this big project.”
       Obayashi is one of five giant Japanese construction firms. It has its headquarters in Minato, Tokyo but was established in 1892 in Osaka. It operates all over the world. One of its projects was the Tokyo Skytree which is a broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower in Sumida, Tokyo. It is the tallest tower in the world at a little more than two thousand feet.
       Obayashi has announced plans to build a sixty-thousand-mile high space elevator. Robotic cars will use magnetic linear motors to carry cargo and people to a new space station at fraction of the current cost of chemical launch vehicles. Using current technology, it costs about ten thousand dollars a pound to send a payload into Earth orbit. Estimated cost of sending that same pound to orbit via space elevator is about a hundred dollars. They estimate that the trip will take seven days to reach from Earth to the space station.
        The elevator will be constructed from carbon nanofibers. A R&D manager at Obayashi said, "The tensile strength is almost a hundred times stronger than steel cable so it's possible," Mr Yoji Ishikawa, a research and development manager at Obayashi, said, “Right now we can't make the cable long enough. We can only make 3-centimetre-long nanotubes but we need much more... we think by 2030 we'll be able to do it."
       The space station reached by the elevator could be host to small rockets that could carry out orbital missions without the need for huge amounts of fuel to boost such rockets from the ground to Earth orbit.
        Solar power satellites have been discussed for decades as a source of inexpensive, pollution free power. With the advent of a space elevator, the cost to construct such solar power stations would plummet.
        Space tourism has also been discussed for decades. Obayashi is designing robot cars for elevators that can carry as many as thirty people. Personally, I don’t think that it will be a major industry even with a space elevator.
       A space elevator is a fantastic idea which just might be possible. It would make exploration and exploitation of space much cheaper and easier. However, beyond the technical problems, there are many political, economic, and security issues that will have to be solved in order for it to become a reality.

The History Of Space Elevators

      When I was a little kid long ago, I read a comic book where a man in a spacesuit climbed a ladder all the way to space. It turns out that an elevator to space was first written of in 1895 by the Russian scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. In 1979 two different novels were published by well-known science fiction authors that featured the construction of the first space elevator. The novels shared some similarities but were just a case of an idea whose time had come.
       The basic idea of a space elevator is to have a tower that reaches all the way from some spot on the equator to some sort of massive anchor like an asteroid in geosynchronous orbit and beyond. This would make moving materials and people up to orbit and down to Earth much, much cheaper than the current system of launching such payloads by chemical rockets as is currently the practice. There are many technical problems that would have to be overcome before such a space elevator would even be theoretically possible.
       As the private space industry ramped up in the past couple of decades, there was a surge of interest in what were called tethers. These would be strong cables that could be used for many purposes in space and also serve as possible path forward toward space elevators. Tethers could be used to deorbit satellites when they reached the end of their life. Long strong tethers could rotate above the surface of the Earth and be used to raise and lower cargo to and from orbit. There were even designs for tethers that could be used to raise a spacecraft from Earth orbit to escape velocity for missions in deep space. Tethers Unlimited is a space industry startup that was founded in 1994 to explore tether technology. Unfortunately, interest in tethers waned and TU has had to develop and sell other space technology in order to survive.
       One of the first things needed for an actual space elevator would be an incredibly strong material that would be able to handle the enormous stresses that would have to be endured by such a structure. The discovery and development of carbon nanotubes may be the basis of materials strong enough to create space elevators.
      Another problem that has to be addressed is the problem of moving an asteroid into geosynchronous orbit to serve as an anchor. A space industry startup called Made in Space has sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station for testing. This company has published plans for sending a probe with a 3D printer to rendezvous with an asteroid. Once there, the plan is for the probe to deploy the printer and use asteroid materials to build a mass driver and a navigation system that would permit the asteroid to fly itself to a convenient location such as a Lagrange point in the Earth-Moon system or a geosynchronous orbit above the Earth.
       Now that some realistic technologies are being develop that could lead to a space elevator, space industry companies and universities in Japan have committed to developing a space elevator. Some of these efforts will be explored in my next post.

 

Lockheed Martin Is Working On Space Habitat For NASA

       NASA has split a sixty-five million dollars grant among six contractors to build a prototype space habitat by the end of this year. The contractors include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, Orbital ATK, Nanoracks and Bigelow Aerospace. NASA will evaluate each of the prototypes and proposals in order to better understand the systems and interfaces that are required to facilitate living in space for extended periods of time.
       Lockheed is using the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module for their prototype. Originally the Donatello was constructed the purpose of conveying cargo to the International Space Station, but it was never put into service. Lockheed has refurbished a Donatello module for their entry into the NASA competition.
        The Donatello is about fifteen feet wide and over twenty two feet long. It is about the size of a small bus. There are racks for equipment, life support systems, sleeping stations, exercise machines and workstation used to control robots. It will be close quarters for four astronauts to spend a month or two in the module.
        Bill Pratt, the Lockheed program manager, said “You think of it as an RV in deep space. When you're in an RV, your table becomes your bed and things are always moving around, so you have to be really efficient with the space. That's a lot of what we are testing here. We want to get to the moon and to Mars as quickly as possible, and we feel like we actually have a lot of stuff that we can use to do that.”
       The Lockheed team is using augmented reality headsets to help them visualize what the interior of the module will look like with all the equipment and furnishings installed.
       NASA is working on the development of a habitation module for long missions to take astronauts to the Moon and Mars. The module that is selected in the competition will be attached to the Deep Space Gateway (DSG) that is being developed to orbit the Moon and serve as a way station for deep space missions.
       The DSG will be much smaller than the International Space Station which weighs in at four hundred and fifty tons. The DSG will only weight about seventy-five tons and will include a habitat module, an air lock, a propulsion module, a docking port and a power bus.
        NASA is collaborating with private contractors on the Space Launch System which includes the construction of the Orion spacecraft which will be the most powerful rocked ever built. The habitat and other modules will be attached to and launched by the Orion. They hope to test an unmanned Orion in a mission to orbit the Moon by 2020. If all goes as planned, there will be an manned Orion mission to the Moon in 2022.
       The Orion rocket has been under development since 2004. One reason for the long development effort is related to the fact that it has to be a deep space craft able to handle the stress of a thousand-day mission to Mars. The Apollo mission allowed a small number of weld defects per inch. The Orion rocket specifications call for no weld defects at all.
       The general manager of Lockheed Martin’s space division said, “This is the infrastructure for sustained human space exploration and so you have to account for every scenario that could come up, that's why the requirements are so stringent.”
       Next month, the European Space Agency will deliver the European Service Module which will be installed below the habitat module on the Orion.

Lockheed Martin Is Working On Space Habitat For NASA

       NASA has split a sixty-five million dollars grant among six contractors to build a prototype space habitat by the end of this year. The contractors include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, Orbital ATK, Nanoracks and Bigelow Aerospace. NASA will evaluate each of the prototypes and proposals in order to better understand the systems and interfaces that are required to facilitate living in space for extended periods of time.
       Lockheed is using the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module for their prototype. Originally the Donatello was constructed the purpose of conveying cargo to the International Space Station, but it was never put into service. Lockheed has refurbished a Donatello module for their entry into the NASA competition.
        The Donatello is about fifteen feet wide and over twenty two feet long. It is about the size of a small bus. There are racks for equipment, life support systems, sleeping stations, exercise machines and workstation used to control robots. It will be close quarters for four astronauts to spend a month or two in the module.
        Bill Pratt, the Lockheed program manager, said “You think of it as an RV in deep space. When you're in an RV, your table becomes your bed and things are always moving around, so you have to be really efficient with the space. That's a lot of what we are testing here. We want to get to the moon and to Mars as quickly as possible, and we feel like we actually have a lot of stuff that we can use to do that.”
       The Lockheed team is using augmented reality headsets to help them visualize what the interior of the module will look like with all the equipment and furnishings installed.
       NASA is working on the development of a habitation module for long missions to take astronauts to the Moon and Mars. The module that is selected in the competition will be attached to the Deep Space Gateway (DSG) that is being developed to orbit the Moon and serve as a way station for deep space missions.
       The DSG will be much smaller than the International Space Station which weighs in at four hundred and fifty tons. The DSG will only weight about seventy-five tons and will include a habitat module, an air lock, a propulsion module, a docking port and a power bus.
        NASA is collaborating with private contractors on the Space Launch System which includes the construction of the Orion spacecraft which will be the most powerful rocked ever built. The habitat and other modules will be attached to and launched by the Orion. They hope to test an unmanned Orion in a mission to orbit the Moon by 2020. If all goes as planned, there will be an manned Orion mission to the Moon in 2022.
       The Orion rocket has been under development since 2004. One reason for the long development effort is related to the fact that it has to be a deep space craft able to handle the stress of a thousand-day mission to Mars. The Apollo mission allowed a small number of weld defects per inch. The Orion rocket specifications call for no weld defects at all.
       The general manager of Lockheed Martin’s space division said, “This is the infrastructure for sustained human space exploration and so you have to account for every scenario that could come up, that's why the requirements are so stringent.”
       Next month, the European Space Agency will deliver the European Service Module which will be installed below the habitat module on the Orion.

NASA Needs New Spacesuits - Part 2 of 2 Parts

Part 2 of 2 Parts (Please read Part 1 first)
       NASA’s current EVA suit weights about twenty-seven and a half pounds. It has fourteen layers of special material to protect the astronaut from conditions in space. It comes in medium, large and extra-large sizes. A poor fit may result in shoulder injuries for the astronaut. The EVA suits have four point three pounds per square inch internal pressure with a pure oxygen air supply. In order to prepare for leaving the spacecraft, an astronaut has to spend up to four hours in the suit “pre-breathing” and adapting to the suit environment.
       No one has walked on the surface of the Moon since two astronauts got into A7-LB pressure suits during the Apollo lunar mission in 1972. It turned out that the A7-LB suits deteriorated rapidly in the lunar environment. The surviving Apollo suits are now considered to be museum pieces.
       NASA does have a prototype next generation spacesuit called the Z-2. This suit contains some of the design elements of the old EVA suits, but it is lighter and more flexible. Some critics say that NASA has fallen behind in the design of spacesuits and private contractors are stepping up.
       Dava Newman used to work at NASA but is now designing spacesuits at MIT. She and her team are working on a new type of form-fitting spacesuit. Unlike the old EVA suits that employed a pressurized internal gas atmosphere, the new suits will utilize mechanical pressure directly applied to the astronaut’s body. The Newman suit is lighter than the old EVA suits and is tailored to each individual astronaut. NASA has not reached out to private contractors yet for new spacesuits but Newman wants to have her design ready, just in case.
     Pablo de Leon is a spacesuit designer and a professor at University of North Dakota. He has is own design ideas for a new spacesuit. The new suits should be lighter, more flexible and easier to put on and take off. He thinks that the atmosphere is a spacecraft should be reduced from fourteen point seven pounds per square inch to eight pounds. If this change is made, less “pre-breathing” time will be necessary. One of his main concerns is the use of bearing in the joints of the spacesuit. Both the Moon and Mars are dusty environments that would wear out bearings.
       Delays in creating new spacesuits could lead to a crisis as early as 2024. That is the date that the Trump administration has set for withdrawing from the ISS program. Even in the best circumstances, the Lunar Gateway station will still be under construction in 2024. It would be better for NASA to research and develop a new spacesuit design before 2024 because after that date it will be difficult to test them in space without a space station.
      Material science is moving quickly. New fabrics and films with novel properties are being developed. New materials will soon be available for incorporation into spacesuits. They will make spacesuits tougher, more flexible and safer. In addition, they will change some design features in ways that cannot be anticipated at present.

NASA Needs New Spacesuits - Part 1 of 2 Parts

       NASA is working on new missions to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars. They have developed a new spacecraft capsule design, a new heavy rocket to carry the capsule into space and the design for a new space station called the Lunar Gateway to orbit the Moon. This station will serve as a way-station for deep space missions. However, there is one important piece of technology that could be a problem for these plans. NASA needs a new spacesuit for astronauts.
       The current design for NASA spacesuits has been in use for decades. Critics say that the current suits are too old, too bulky, too rigid and too few for NASA’s new missions. Astronauts can require up to three different kinds of spacesuits for an individual mission. First, they need something like a military type flight suit to wear when they are inside the space craft. Second, if there is an extravehicular activity (EVA) planned, they would need a traditional spacesuit that will provided a pressurized environment and oxygen to breath while outside of the space craft. Third, if there is a landing on a celestial body such as the Moon or Mars, they will need a suit that can be used to walk around on a surface with gravity. The EVA suits are especially rigid around the legs which is not optimal for walking. NASA has no current suits that are suitable for walking on a surface.
       There is a sense of urgency about the availability of these different kinds of suits because NASA’s plans are moving forward quickly. The Exploration mission might be launched as early as 2020. This mission will test the Orion capsule and the heavy rocket. NASA hopes to have the Lunar Gateway station operational by 2025 or 2026. In spite of these near future deadlines, NASA “remains years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit... suitable for use on future exploration missions.”
       Currently, NASA uses a mix of spacesuits. When U.S. astronauts hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz capsule to the International Space Station (ISS), they wear a Russian Sokol flight suit. The astronauts that flew in the Space Shuttle wore orange “pumpkin suits.” Boeing and SpaceX have both designed their own flight suits to be used aboard the spacecraft they are working on. NASA may hire these private spacecrafts for some missions in the future. The crew on the ISS wear casual clothing. There are a few old Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit EVA suits kept on the station in case work is needed outside of the ISS. These suits were first designed in the 1970s. The Russian crew on the ISS also have their own old Orlan EVA suits for work outside the ISS.
       Critics of NASA point to a recent audit that shows that two hundred millions dollars have been spent on new spacesuits research and design without resulting in any operational spacesuits. Spacesuits are very complex pieces of equipment. They can be thought of as little spaceships. NASA designed big rigid suits like their rockets and space craft.  
Please read Part 2

NASA Will Test New Metamaterial Solar Sails On CubeSats This Fall

       Solar sails are based on the principle that light exerts a tiny pressure on solid objects. Spacecraft have been launched that deployed reflective metallic “sails” to test the idea of using the pressure of sunlight to provide propulsion for future spacecraft. Now researchers are going beyond the conventional materials used for solar sails.
       Grover Swartzlander is a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. He has proposed making solar sails with advanced photonic metamaterials. Metamaterials are a new type of manmade structure with unconventional properties. He wants to replace the current reflective metal sails with metamaterial diffractive metafilm sails. These new sails would do a better job of utilizing the push from photons generated by the sun or lasers to propel near-Earth, interplanetary or even interstellar spacecraft. Swartzlander said, “Diffractive films may also be designed to replace heavy and failure-prone mechanical systems with lighter electro-optic controls having no moving parts.”
      Swartzlander’s research group has received phase one funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The nine month, one hundred and twenty five-thousand-dollar award “encourages development of visionary technology with potential to revolutionize future space exploration.”
        The Optical Society is hosting an “incubator” meeting on October 7-9 in Washington, D.C. The meeting is being called Metamaterial Films for In-Space Propulsion by Radiation Pressure. The purpose of the meeting is to produce a “roadmap” for advancing the use of metamaterial sails on low Earth-orbiting satellites called CubeSats. The name comes from the use of a cube four inches on a side as a standard unit for cataloguing small satellites.
           Swartzlander will facilitate the meeting along with Les Johnson who is the manager of the In-Space Propulsion Technology Projects Office at NASA Marshall Space Flight and the principle investigator for the NASA Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission or NEA Scout. Nelson Tabirian also helped to organize the meeting. He is the president of Beam Co. which specialized in optical technologies and materials.
       Swartzlander said that “CubeSats are becoming of great national importance for science, security and commercial purposes. The potential to raise, de-orbit or station-keep hundreds of CubeSats from low Earth orbit would be a recognized game changer that would build enthusiasm and advocacy among the growing small-satellite community of students, entrepreneurs and aerospace scientists and engineers.”
       
        Later this year, NASA is going to launch thirteen satellites to carry out science and technology research in low Earth orbit. The Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) will be launched aboard one the new Space Launch System rocket. The NEA Scout will be one of the thirteen CubeSats launched as part of the EM-1 project. It will be the first CubeSat science mission that has solar sails attached to the satellite. The NEA Scout will deploy an aluminum coated polyimide sail to propel it during its two-year mission.
      Swartzlander explained that diffractive metafilms can correct some of the known limitations of reflective metal sails such as overheating, inefficient use of photon and excessive tilt of the spacecraft. The new materials has a lower photon absorption rate which means that it will not heat up as much as the metallic sails. The new materials can “reuse” photons by converting them to solar-electric power or diffracting them twice to increase momentum. Reflective sails just reflect photons or absorb them. The new materials can improve orientation of a satellite. They can maintain a more efficient position facing the sun. This provides highly efficient propulsion and improve energy generation of embedded solar cells. Reflective sails work best when the spacecraft is tilted but this tilting reduces the projection of solar power upon the sail.
        Swartzlander said that "Diffractive sails may also be designed for laser-based propulsion, a decades-old concept that has recently attracted significant interest from private investors, resulting in a program called Breakthrough Starshot.” This program is intended to send many small satellites to another star.

SpaceIL, An Israeli Company, Is Sending A Probe To The Moon

The Google Lunar XPRIZE was a contest that took place between 2007 and 2018. It was organized by the X Prize Foundation and it was sponsored by Google. The challenge was for a privately funded team to be the first to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon which would travel five hundred meters and send high-resolution video and images back to earth. The prize for the winner would be twenty million dollars. The contest was ended in early 2018. No team had been able to schedule, confirm and pay for a launch attempt.      
        SpaceIL is an Israeli nonprofit organization that was established in 2011. It was created in order to pursue the challenge of the Lunar XPRIZE. Even though the XPRIZE contest was cancelled in March of this year, SpaceIL is continuing its work on a lunar lander. They are building it in conjunction with Israel Aerospace Industries which is a company owned by the Israel government. So far, about ninety million dollars has been spent on the project. A great deal of that funding came from an Israeli billionaire businessman named Morris Khan.
       The CEO of SpaceIL spoke at a press conference in Israeli last Tuesday. He said that the SpaceIL lunar probe would be the smallest ever sent to the Moon. The probe is about six and a half feet in diameter and about five feet high. It will weight about thirteen hundred pounds at launch. About four hundred pound of fuel will be burned ot reach the Moon.
       The probe will land on the Moon and then take off again to land sixteen hundred feet away from the first landing site. This was one of the conditions of the XPRIZE challenge. The probe will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida this December on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It is expected to land on the Moon in February of 2019. It will plant an Israeli flag and also study the magnetic fields of the Moon.
       If the SpaceIL mission is successful, Israel will be the fourth country to successfully land a probe on the surface of the Moon. The U.S. China and the Soviet Union have also landed probes on the Moon.
       The SpaceIL CEO said that he hoped that a successful mission would create an “Apollo effect” for the next generation of Israel. This is a reference to the interest and enthusiasm created for science, technology, engineering and math by the Moon walk of Neil Armstrong in 1969. He said, “This is a tremendous project. When the rocket is launched into space, we will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the Moon.” The head of the IAI space division said that Israel was “going to show the way for the rest of the world” to send a spacecraft to the Moon at a reasonable cost.
       Morris Khan, the businessman who funded much of the SpaceIL project said, “After eight challenging years, I am filled with pride that the first Israeli spacecraft, which is in its final construction and testing phases, will soon be making its way to the moon. The launch of the first Israeli spacecraft will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride.”

Blue Origin Sets Its Sights On The Moon

       Blue Origin is the private space company started by Jeff Bezos, the Amazon billionaire. During the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace conference in Renton, WA, Blue Origin presented their plan to support the development of permanent settlements on the Moon. Their plans will begin with a mission to land on the Moon in the next five years.
         A.C. Charania is the business development director for Blue Origin. He said that the Blue Moon programs is “…our first step to developing a lunar landing capability for the country, for other customers internationally, to be able to land multi metric tons on the lunar surface. Any permanent human presence on the lunar surface will require such a capability.  We’re actively working on the descent stage for Blue Moon, the capabilities, the partnerships that are required to enable that service … to start going back to the moon with larger and larger payloads.”
       Charania said that the Blue Moon program could help find answers to important questions about the origin and evolution of the Moon. It will also explore lunar resource identification and extraction. He said that “Blue Moon is on our roadmap, and because of our scale, because of what we see from the government, we brought it a little bit forward in time. I think we are very excited to now implement this long-term commercial solution with NASA partnership.”
       Blue Origin has been talking about lunar landing projects for the past year. The company is actively seeking international partnerships in addition to support from NASA. Last May, Australia’s InnovationAus.com quoted a Blue Origin executive as suggesting that Bezos and international representatives might announce a back-to-the-moon program during the International Astronautical Congress being held in Germany this September.
      NASA is moving forward with its own plans for lunar landings. The Trump administration is endorsing initiatives to take the U.S. back to the Moon. Sometime this month, NASA is expected to solicit proposals from companies to provide commercial lunar payload services. The road map for the space agency includes landers that can deliver several tons to the Moon at a time. Their schedule is set for the early 2020s which matches the Blue Origin time frame. Other companies working on medium to heavy class lunar landing concepts include Masten Space Systems and Moon Express.
       Blue Origin has a full agenda of projects scheduled for the next few years. Their New Shepard suborbital spacecraft is in the middle of unmanned tests and may be ready for manned tests by the end of 2018. Their BE-4 rocket engine is fueled by liquified natural gas. It is currently being manufactured in Kent, WA and tested at the Blue Origin facility in Texas. Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket will be powered by the BE-4 engine. It is under development at Blue Origin’s factory in Florida. It is scheduled to have its first launch in 2020. There are already several contracts that have been signed for the use of the New Glenn to launch satellites in the early 2020s.
       Blue Origin currently has more than fifteen hundred employees which is twice the number it had two years ago. There are more than two hundred and thirty jobs listings on the Blue Origin website including an astronaut experience manager. Blue Origin is expected to start selling tickets for suborbital trips, but the price has not yet been announced.

The Internaltional Space Station Is Testing Ways Of Disposing Of Space Debris - Part 2 of 2 Parts

Part 2 of 2 Parts (Please read Part 1 first)
      The RD satellite was launched to the ISS last April. It was then deployed from the Japanese Kibo lab module on June 20th.  The Director of the Surrey Space Center explained how the RD satellite works. "The net, as a way to capture debris, is a very flexible option because even if the debris is spinning, or has got an irregular shape, to capture it with a net is relatively low-risk compared to … going with a robotic arm, because if the debris is spinning very fast, and you try to capture it with a robotic arm, then clearly there is a problem. In addition, if you are to capture the debris with a robotic arm or a gripper, you need somewhere you can grab hold of your piece of debris without breaking off just a chunk of it."
       The experiment designed to capture a cubesat with the net is scheduled for September of 2018. The test of the navigation system is scheduled for October of 2018. Following the completion of these tests, the RD satellite will deploy a dragsail. The dragsail will use the thin atmosphere to slow down the satellite which will descend to lower and lower obits and eventually burn up. The sail will be used to deobit the RD satellite within eight weeks. Normally a satellite at this altitude in low-Earth orbit would take about two and a half years to deorbit.
      The RD satellite will test a variety of possible technologies to make orbital debris clearance as simple and cheap as possible. If the tests are successful, more satellite like the RD satellite could be deployed to the ISS to help remove space debris that threatens the station and other satellites.
       Nanoracks LLC is the company that developed the Kaber system in the Kibo lab modules for launching the increasing number of small satellites that are being sent to the ISS. A representative of Nanoracks said, "It's wonderful to have helped facilitate this ground-breaking mission. RemoveDebris is demonstrating some extremely exciting active debris removal technologies that could have a major impact to how we manage space debris moving forward. This program is an excellent example of how small satellite capabilities have grown and how the space station can serve as a platform for missions of this scale. We're all excited to see the results of the experiments and impact this project may have in the coming years."

        There are other space junk removal technology experiments being conducted at the ISS. One of these is aimed at detecting pieces of space junk. It is called the Space Debris Sensor (SDS). It is a calibrated impact sensor that is mounted on the exterior of the ISS. It is designed to monitor impacts of small pieces of space debris. Improved monitoring will aid in space debris removal. The ability to reduce the amount of space debris in low-Earth orbit will allow the launch of many more satellites to low-Earth orbit.