Posts Tagged ‘nasa’

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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17 December, 2012

On 17 December 2012 at 5:28 p.m. and 5:29 p.m. Eastern Time, NASA JPL scientists in California will set the twin probes Ebb and Flow on a shallow angle collision course with the rim of an impact crater on the moon.

At the time of the impact, the chosen crash site will be shrouded in darkness; yet, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be on location to photograph the impact site before and after the planned crash.

Soon after impact, NASA scientists will compare the photos acquired and delivered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. They will study how the surface rock is broken up around the impact site in hope of better understanding the composition of the lunar surface.

In the best case scenario, scientists will be looking for moon dust and gas to be ejected from the surface, explains Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Scientist Maria Zuber.

Today’s Ebb and Flow event isn’t the first time NASA has deliberately crashed a probe into the moon. In 1999, the Lunar Prospector spacecraft was intentionally hurled at the moon in hope of liberating some dust and gas; regrettably, scientists saw no such result.

Ebb and Flow are planned to crash approximately 20 seconds and between 12 and 24 miles apart. Both will be traveling at a speed of roughly 3,800 miles per hour.

This geek loves this type of space science: “They are at the end of their useful life and have worked as expected all year. We can’t refuel them. So… let’s give them a closer look at the moon they have been studying. Why not crash them into the moon and see what happens?”

As you look at the moon tonight, join space geeks everywhere in wishing Ebb and Flow a fond farewell. Watch more at NASA T.V.

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17 December, 2012

Engineers and Scientists at NASA JPL in California are again making headlines in the military/aerospace (mil/aero) community.

Aerospace engineers and enthusiasts the world over are talking about NASA’s plan to crash Ebb and Flow, two spacecraft on a moon-mapping mission throughout 2012, into the moon’s surface. Not since the Curiosity rover landed on Mars has the mil/aero industry been so focused on and excited about news from NASA.

Ebb and Flow are part of NASA’s roughly $500 million Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) program to study and map the moon’s structure. Data acquired and provided by the Ebb and Flow space probes are expected to provide a greater understanding of the moon, including the structure of the lunar crust, lithosphere, impact basin sub-surfaces, the deep interior, and even the inner core.

Ebb and Flow have worked in tandem in orbit—two participants performing a well-choreographed lunar dance—throughout all of 2012. A NASA spokesperson describes their unique functionality: “As they fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity, caused both by visible features such as mountains and craters and by masses hidden beneath the lunar surface, they will move slightly toward and away from each other. An instrument aboard each spacecraft [measures] the changes in their relative velocity very precisely, and scientists translate this information into a high-resolution map of the Moon’s gravitational field.”

The projected flight path to the probes crash sites into the side of a lunar crater.

Launched in September 2011 and gathering information in orbit since 1 January 2012, Ebb and Flow revealed to NASAs’ GRAIL team that the moon’s crust is both thinner and more fractured than previously believed. As 2012 comes to a close, this geek thinks it is perhaps fitting that Ebb and Flow’s year-long journey comes to an end; and, if they’ve got to go out, then why not with a bang?

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17 December, 2012

What does a longtime space agency do with lunar research satellites when they have run out of fuel? If you’re the space geeks at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California, you do something unforgettable: You crash them into moon!

Ebb and Flow are appliance-sized probes (or spacecraft) in NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) program. The GRAIL lunar science mission, part of NASA’s Discovery Program, employs high-tech tools with which to produce a high-quality gravitational field map of the Moon, to help better determine its interior structure.

The GRAIL mission placed two spacecraft–Grail A and B, which are more commonly known as Ebb and Flow–into the same orbit around the Moon.

Ebb and Flow launched on 10 September 2011 onboard a Delta II rocket—specifically, the 7920H-10 from United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Centennial, Colo. ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company.

Ebb and Flow being encased in the Delta II clamshell-shaped fairing that falls away once it leaves Earth's atmosphere

Ebb separated from the Delta II rocket roughly nine minutes after launch, and Flow followed suit approximately 16 minutes after launch. Ebb entered orbit on 31 December 2011; Flow entered orbit a day later on New Year’s Day, 1 January 2012. Since that time, they have been performing as expected and on-board electronics have been recording and delivering data to awaiting NASA engineers and scientists.

Ebb and Flow have enjoyed a year-long stint in orbit, but that is about to end with a bang. This geek cannot think of anything more positive or exciting to focus on this week, and is excited for the explosive event.

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