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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Caption: 
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.

The Internaltional Space Station Is Testing Ways Of Disposing Of Space Debris - Part 1 of 2 Parts

Part 1 of 2 Parts
       I have blogged in the past about the terrible situation with space junk orbiting the planet in low-Earth orbit. There are millions of pieces of space junk in orbit that vary in size from rocket stages to millimeter specks. Even a flake of paint hitting a satellite can cause damage. There have been various proposals for ways to deal with the problem. Some involve sending out a “garbage collector” satellite to either grab, vaporize or deorbit debris. The Russians are currently working on a powerful ground-based laser that could be used to vaporize space debris from the ground. Another approach would be to include devices in the satellites that we launch that would deorbit them when their useful life is over. The situation is only going to get worse as more and more satellites are launched.
       Of course, NASA is concerned about the problem and has been experimenting with the RemoveDebris (RD) satellite to address it. This satellite was recently sent to the International Space Station (ISS) for testing. It is a cube about three feet on a side and it weights about two hundred and twenty pounds. It is the largest experimental satellite ever sent to the ISS.
       The RD satellite was assembled by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and the Surrey Space Center at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. It contains a variety of space debris removal experiments from multiple European aerospace companies. The consortium behind the RemoveDebris spacecraft includes Airbus Defense and Space, Airbus Safran Launchers, Innovative Solutions in Space (ISIS), CSEM, Inria, and Stellenbosch University.
       The CEO of SSTL said, "SSTL's expertise in designing and building low cost, small satellite missions has been fundamental to the success of RemoveDEBRIS, a landmark technology demonstrator for active debris removal missions that will begin a new era of space junk clearance in Earth's orbit."
       The Surrey Space Center website says that the spacecraft consists of the following: "The mission will comprise of a main satellite platform (~100kg) that once in orbit will deploy two CubeSats as artificial debris targets to demonstrate some of the technologies (net capture, harpoon capture, vision-based navigation, dragsail de-orbitation). The project is co-funded by the European Commission and the project partners, and is led by the Surrey Space Centre (SSC), University of Surrey, UK."
       The RD satellite will deploy two cubesats to simulate two pieces of space junk. Cubesat as rated in units of four-inch cubes. For the first experiment, one of the test cubesats named DebrisSat 1 will inflate an onboard balloon so it can simulate a larger piece of space junk. The RD Satellite will deploy a net which will catch DebrisSat 1. The captured cubesat will be guided into the Earth’s atmosphere and then released from the net to descend and burn up. For the second experiment, the other cubesat named DebrisSat 2 will be used to test the RD satellite’s tracking and ranging lasers, its algorithms and it vision based navigation technology. 
       The third experiment will test the ability of an onboard harpoon to hit and hold a piece of space debris. There are legal reasons that prevent a test on a real satellite, so the RD satellite will extend an arm which has a target for the harpoon on the end of it. The harpoon will be fired on a tether at forty-five miles per hour at the target for an accuracy test.
Please read Part 2

SpinLaunch Plans To Use Centrifuge To Throw Small Satellites Into Orbit

       Up to this point in the evolution of human space launch systems, the best we a have been able to do is to put payloads on huge tanks of propellant and blast our way to orbit. Over the years, a variety of different types systems for getting payloads to orbit have been proposed.
       SpinLaunch is a new Silicon Valley company that says it has raised forty million dollars from investors to create a space catapult that they say will be ready by 2022. The company was founded in 2015 by Jonathan Yaney who serves as the CEO. Their funding includes a new thirty-five-million-dollar Series A funding round from an investment syndicated that includes Airbus Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Kleiner Perkins. Other investors include Lauder Partners, ATW Partners, Bolt and Starlight Ventures. SpinLaunch intends to use the money to scale up their staff and technology.
      The new launch system uses electricity to power the kinetic launch system. The payload is spun up to hypersonic speeds of 3000 miles per hour in a centrifuge and then release to fly into orbit on the momentum. The CEO said, “Since the dawn of space exploration, rockets have been the only way to access space. Yet in 70 years, the technology has only made small incremental advances. To truly commercialize and industrialize space, we need 10x tech improvement.” “Applying the initial performance boost from a terrestrial-based launch platform enables us to lower the cost by orders of magnitude and launch many times per day.” The system could also be used to impart some of the momentum needed to launch a payload with rockets attached.
      SpinLaunch considered four different states as possible launch sites in the U.S. They have not officially released the names of the states they considered. Past statements by the company suggest that they were considering Hawaii. A bill was proposed in the Hawaiian state senate for a twenty-five-million-dollar bond issue to help SpinLaunch with “constructing a portion of its electrical small satellite launch system”. They hope to get construction contracts and jobs but there is local resistance to the bill. Alaska, Florida and California also have been mentioned in past statements made by company representatives.
      A general partner of Kleiner Perkins stated that he and his fellow investors were “very intrigued” by the idea that it may be possible to get payloads to orbit without the need to rely traditional chemical fueled rockets to get to orbit. He said, “SpinLaunch can be powered by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, thereby eliminating the use of toxic and dangerous rocket fuels. SpinLaunch’s unique and proprietary approach to place satellites into low Earth orbit is not only highly cost-efficient, but also safe and green.”
       Flinging a payload into orbit with some sort of catapult or gun has been a staple of science fiction for over a hundred and fifty years. NASA has studied the use of linear rail launchers to give a scramjet-equipped plane a starting boost. Any such catapult would have to generate enormous force to throw a payload into orbit. It may be difficult of successfully design the aerodynamics for a such payload launched from a catapult.

U.S. Congress Is Debating Funding For The International Space Station - Part 2 of 2 parts

Part 2 of 2 Parts (Please read Part 1 first)
       Both Ted Cruz and Bill Nelson are strong supporters of extending federal funding for the ISS. Their states both contain major NASA centers that oversee the ISS. Cruz said, “Let me be clear: as long as I’m chairman of this subcommittee, the ISS will continue to have strong support — strong bipartisan support — in the United States Congress.” He added that ending the ISS program without a good replacement would be disastrous. “Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars,” he said. He also pointed out that the 2025 termination date was arbitrary and not backed by science.” He asked a NASA official if the 2025 date was chosen by NASA or the Trump Administration. The official responded that the Administration had proposed the 2025 date.
       Bill Nelson said, “If this plan to prematurely end the current ISS program moves forward, I fear that NASA’s expertise in these critical areas — expertise that we’re going to have to have if we’re going to Mars with humans and safely return — that that expertise is going to be lost.”
       There are some negatives to extending the ISS program for the U.S. As with any work of human beings, aging increases the risk of catastrophic failure. Fully funding the ISS means that NASA will spend between $3 billion and $4 billion every year. In addition, the U.S. is not the only nation involved in the upkeep of the ISS. Japan and the European Space Agency are obligated to pay about twenty three percent of NASA’s costs on the ISS. It is not yet clear that they will want to continue contributing to the maintenance of the ISS beyond the 2025 date if the U.S. stops funding.
       NASA could just scrap the ISS program by dismantling the ISS and sending the pieces down from orbit to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. That is not an easy task. It has been estimated that dismantling and deorbiting the ISS would require about three years and costs almost a billion dollars.
       No matter what NASA does with respect to the ISS, it will require a lot of planning and a lot of money. Congress is still finalizing the budget for NASA for next year. Given the statements of Cruz and Nelson, it is likely that Congress will vote to keep the ISS in operation for a lot longer. However, NASA needs to be informed of what is going to happen to the ISS program as soon as possible. Martin said, “The sooner that Congress and the administration agree on a path forward for the ISS, the better NASA will be able to plan.”
       Given the time, energy and money that have gone into the construction of the ISS, it would seem reasonable to keep the program in operation with federal funding at least until the 2028 date. Space exploration and exploitation will just keep increasing and the time might come when private space companies would be able to justify the cost of participating in the continued operation of the ISS.