Posts Tagged ‘nasa’

30 July, 2013

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is impressive… and expensive. Thankfully, the $3 billion (U.S.) Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project that combines the efforts, experience, and resources of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ISA).

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, comprising an orbiter and a probe, launched in 1997 aboard a Titan IV-B launch vehicle, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, with a Centaur rocket upper stage.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology designed, developed, and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras—which turned toward Earth this month to snap some impressive images. (Read more about the photo on the last blog entry.)

The space probe wasn’t the only spacecraft in the outer solar system taking pictures and sending them home this month. While Cassini-Huygens captured images of Earth while facing the Americas, another of NASA’s robotic spacecraft—the Messenger—acquired images all of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

Messenger, the very first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, is taking photographs in search of natural satellites in the vicinity of the closest planet to the sun; and, it just so happens that Earth is included in pictures captured in the same time period as Cassini-Huygen’s photo shoot of Earth: July 19 and 20, 2013.

The Earth and Moon as seen from Mercury.

Engineers at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built Messenger under NASA’s Discovery program.

This military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek has been excitedly delving into the images produced by these impressive spacecraft and their onboard electronics and imaging devices.

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29 July, 2013

The global aerospace market is alive and kicking, as is the latest aerospace attention-grabber: the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. As a matter of fact, the novel craft equipped with an array of modern electronics systems just snapped an impressive photo—that of Earth from a distance of nearly 900 million miles (or 898,414,528 miles away, to be exact).

The image, captured on 19 July 2013 using RED (red filter) and CL2 (clear filter) filters, was received here on Earth the following day, 20 July. This military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek was and continues to be moved by the shot, which depicts the Earth as a little shiny dot—a speck in the photograph and in the universe.

NASA, via its social media channels, launched a global campaign in which those of us on this little blue planet were encouraged to wave at Saturn while the picture was being taken. Did you look up and say “cheese”?

The picture is part of a larger mosaic of the Saturn system backlit by the sun. This specific solar angle will enable scientists to closely examine highlights of the very small particulates that compose the rings of Saturn, as well as study the geometry and patterns they create.

The arrow is pointing at Earth. Did you wave?

Cassini-Huygens, considered to be “one of the most ambitious missions ever launched into space,” comprises the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe. It houses a wealth of powerful instruments and cameras with which to take accurate measurements and detailed images in various atmospheric conditions and light spectra; in fact, it is equipped for 27 diverse science investigations.

This geek hopes everyone had a chance to wave “hello” to the extra-planetary explorer. If you did, claim your certificate of participation at:

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26 July, 2013

NASA, having lofty goals and limited budget, is upping its game and being increasingly proactive about partnering with members of the commercial aerospace community.

In fact, NASA officials are requesting information from U.S. private enterprises interested in pursuing unfunded partnerships with the goal of advancing the development of commercial space products and services. To that end, they launched and posted online the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities synopsis—available at

The synopsis describes a “potential opportunity” for non-profit and for-profit organizations to tap into and benefit from NASA’s extensive spaceflight expertise to achieve mutually beneficial space exploration goals. According to a NASA spokesperson, the new aerospace partnerships are intended to help companies accelerate their own development efforts, while also advancing the commercial space industry—something which can bring national and perhaps global economic benefits. The primary goals, certainly, are to enhance the U.S. aerospace industrial base and to bring about the availability of cost-effective commercial products and services that support human space exploration.

“As we have seen with NASA’s previous agreements with the private sector, U.S. companies could significantly benefit from the agency’s extensive experience and knowledge in spaceflight development and operations,” says NASA’s Director for Commercial Spaceflight Development Phil McAlister. “For new entrepreneurial efforts in space, NASA’s archive of lessons learned, technical expertise, and spaceflight data is an invaluable national resource and engine for new economic growth.”

This military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek is happy to see NASA officials reaching out to private industry. Would you partner with NASA to develop and advance commercial space capabilities?

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25 July, 2013

The United States and the Soviet Union were deeply embroiled in a space race. It was the U.S. vs. the U.S.S.R. when this military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek was a small, impressionable child (and a budding wannabe astronaut).

The value of the space program and funding to NASA were seldom, if ever, questioned in those days. It was a matter of pride, patriotic, inspiring, and so on. Putting people in space was a must. No question. In times of trying economies are tight budgets, however, as myriad aerospace geeks are well aware, monies allotted to NASA—especially those related to human spaceflight—are scrutinized.

Financial analysts currently estimate that it would cost in excess of $150 billion (U.S.) to finance the race to the Moon if we started today. To put that in perspective, the entire NASA budget proposed for 2014 is $16.6 billion. Clearly, NASA cannot do it alone—and NASA officials are smartly reaching out to industry.

This mil/aero geek is putting his faith squarely into the hands of the private sector for the next big boom in manned spaceflight—which he hopes to see in his lifetime. Several innovative companies are already actively filling in the gaps left by the retiring of the NASA Space Shuttle program. In fact, the Google Lunar X Prize is offering a cool $30 million dollars to the first privately funded team to land a robotic probe on the moon. Do more interesting prospects lie on the other moons in the solar system? Let’s find out!

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25 July, 2013

Forty-four years ago this month history was made 238,900 miles from the Earth’s surface. Saturday, 20 July 2013, marked the anniversary of the first manned spaceflight to the Moon.

Military and aerospace (mil/aero) professionals and enthusiasts rejoiced—while also lamenting the fact that we haven’t revisited the Moon since 1972. As mil/aero industry pundits have been quick to point out this month, the Moon is getting lonely.

During NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin flew to the Moon, landed on the lunar surface, took a scenic drive, posted a flag, and returned to Earth—and they did it all with the computing power of a modern day basic calculator. Outstanding, if not unimaginable.

The Apollo 11 mission is reported to have cost $355 million (U.S.) in 1969; that figure equates to roughly $2 billion today. At first blush, it certainly seems as if it is a tough pill to swallow, especially given NASA’s 2013 budget of $17 billion. Yet, NASA’s 1969 budget totaled $4 billion; that said, the Apollo 11 mission represented approximately nine percent (9%) of the entire NASA budget. A $2 billion Moon mission today, taking into account NASA’s $17 billion annual budget, equates to roughly twelve percent (12%) of the total.

This notable aerospace anniversary begs the question: Why haven’t we been back? Pundits, this mil/aero geek included, speculate that perhaps: there hasn’t been a reason to return, or that the limiting factors include today’s challenging economic climate and budgetary constraints. What do you think?

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29 May, 2013

Not-for-profit organization Mars One in the Netherlands is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a one-way trip to Mars.

Human space flight is expensive. It’s a fact that Americans and many others throughout the world have heard over and over. During trying economic times in the U.S., NASA’s budget often comes under scrutiny and, lately, human space exploration has taken an economic hit—yet, commercial innovators have taken the reigns and partnered with NASA and others to make future human space exploration a reality.

Nonetheless, if debates over space-related budgets have taught us anything, it is that space exploration is expensive—and yet, Mars One takes this already costly proposition even a step farther, in support of the goal of the first human settlement on Mars.

A for-profit company Interplanetary Media Group (IMG) is said to be funding a lion’s share of the costs. (The Mars One not-for-profit foundation is reportedly IMG’s controlling stockholder.)

IMG has reserved exclusive rights to revenue generated from the broadcast of selection, training, launch, and eventual colonization efforts on Mars, the Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. That’s right—the Mars One expedition is being financed by IMG in the hope of making the first trip to Mars a reality show.

The future of space flight...commercial sponsor anyone?

This mil/aero geek is excited at the prospect of a Martian colony and grateful that not-for-profit and for-profit companies alike are investing time, energy, and money into continuing human space travel and exploration. Perhaps gone are the days of pristine, white spacecraft in favor of space modules plastered with corporate sponsorship logos akin to racecars on the Martian landscape.

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30 April, 2013

Aerospace engineers and enthusiasts, as well as science-fiction fans, are the latest Eagleworks experiment.

The White-Juday warp field interferometer was designed and developed to record warped space and help scientists better understand the space-time bubble that would be required to break Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Albert Einstein theorized that a particle cannot travel faster than the speed of light because it would require infinite energy. Specifically,in his 1905 paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” Einstein describes what has been called the special theory of relativity: A particle (that has rest mass) with subluminal velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light, although special relativity does not forbid the existence of particles that travel faster than light at all times.

Theoretical model of the Alcubierre drive

The current Eagleworks experiment uses a helium laser which is split; one beam passes through a ring lined with high-voltage capacitors (23,000 volts when charged), and the other beam passes unimpeded to the data recording device, a black-and-white commercial charge-coupled device (CCD). If the beam going through the ring warps space,  NASA Engineer Harold “Sonny” White says, “the resulting interference pattern will be starkly different.”

This experiment is the first step in creating a warp drive, detecting whether we can actually warp space. The second step involves negative energy and White is very tight-lipped about this subject except to say that they have had a breakthrough. The warp drive is based on the Alcubierre drive explored in 1994 by Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican theoretical physicist.

The second experiment underway at Eagleworks is the Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster (QVPT), testing whether we can use quantum fluctuations in empty space to fuel a spacecraft. If successful, a spaceship powered by this technology would require no propellant—a stark contrast to modern space engines.

Plasma engine at work

This mil/aero geek is encouraged by the efforts of NASA and Eagleworks to bring physics propulsion research light years into the future.

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25 April, 2013

This mil/aero geek is ecstatic that NASA has the resources, since the decommissioning of the shuttles, to start acting as a catalyst for the development of game-changing, space-related technologies. A couple really interesting stories have surfaced recently that have intrigued aerospace geeks, myself included. The most noteworthy is…wait for it…warp speed research!

That’s right. You read that correctly. NASA is dedicating resources to the research and development of faster-than-light propulsion at Eagleworks, the Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. The NASA research division’s name, Eagleworks, pays homage to Lockheed Martin Skunk Works.

Odd name? Yes, but one recognized by aerospace enthusiasts, especially those involved in military aviation. Actually, Skunk Works is a popular alias for Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs (ADP). Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is responsible for the development of several popular aircraft: the U-2SR-71 BlackbirdF-117 Nighthawk, F-22 Raptor, and most recently, the  F-35 Lightning II.

Eagleworks is dedicated to discovering solutions that will enable the design, development, and full realization of advanced propulsion systems. Research at Eagleworks is headed by NASA Engineer Harold “Sonny” White, a mechanical and aerospace engineer who is the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate and is well known for advanced propulsion projects and his dedication to the pursuit of human space flight.

“Sonny is a pretty unique person,” says John Applewhite, White’s boss and head of the Propulsion Systems Branch within the JSC Engineering Directorate. “He’s definitely a visionary, but he’s also an engineer. He can take his vision and turn it into a useful engineering product.”

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17 April, 2013

NASA, for the second consecutive year, is actively seeking proposals for suborbital technology payloads and spacecraft capability enhancements capable of potentially revolutionizing future space missions.

NASA will help test selected technologies before they are used for their intended purpose and environment—being launched into and functioning in the dark, cold reaches of outer space. After the selected payloads or technologies are developed, they will be made available to NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program and paired with a commercial, suborbital, reusable launch service provider. Potential exists for a direct orbital flight opportunity if small spacecraft propulsion technologies are selected.

NASA’s offer is, perhaps understandably, not entirely selfless; that is, NASA officials seek to test technologies that will help the agency advance technology development in exploration, space operations, and other areas relevant to NASA’s missions, including the agency’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program.

“This call will select innovators to develop novel technology payloads that will provide significant improvements over current state-of-the-art systems,” describes Stephen Gaddis, Game Changing Development Program manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

This artist’s rendition shows the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER)/Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) payload that NASA recently selected as its next Explorer Mission of Opportunity. The 56-telescope payload will fly on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Proposals are due by 17 June 2013 and will be accepted from U.S. or non-U.S. organizations, including NASA centers, other government agencies, federally funded research and development centers, educational institutions, and industry and nonprofit organizations.

NASA anticipates making as many as 18 awards this summer, with the majority of awards ranging in value from roughly $50,000 to $250,000 each. The total combined funding for this solicitation is expected to be approximately $2 million, based on availability of funds.

For more, visit NASA’s Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System website at

This mil/aero geek, initially concerned about the future of space travel after the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle program, is excited to see NASA enabling the commercial space growth and innovation.

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16 April, 2013

Aerospace engineers and executives will be happy to hear that, for the second year, NASA plans to assist makers of space-related technologies, such as advanced payloads and spacecraft systems.

This month, NASA announced that it is soliciting proposals from aerospace technology companies from far and wide. NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program is sponsoring the solicitation for proposals, which program officials anticipate receiving from entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists, instrument builders, research managers, and vehicle builders and operators.

Solicitations are invited for NASA’s latest program, called Game Changing Opportunities in Technology Development. It is intended to address several areas of interest: vehicle enhancements, technology payloads, onboard facilities, and small spacecraft propulsion technologies.

“Investing in transformative technology development is critical to enable NASA’s future missions and benefits the greater American aerospace community,” explains James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for programs in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “NASA Space Tech’s Game Changing Development and Flight Opportunities Programs are working with our partners from America’s emerging suborbital flight community to foster frequent and predictable commercial access to near-space while allowing for cutting-edge technology development.”

Space-related technologies selected by NASA officials, will travel to the edge of space and back on U.S. commercial suborbital vehicles and platforms. The program provides aerospace firms and engineers with valuable (and otherwise expensive) opportunities to test their innovations before they are potentially brought to market, purchased, deployed, and expected to work flawlessly and reliably in the unforgiving environment of space—likely for decades at a time.

This geek can’t give enough kudos to NASA for the development of such programs amidst sequestration and tightening budgets.

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