Will Going to the Moon Help Us Get to Mars?

The Nobel Intent article ‘What if we made a moonbase and no one turned up?’ brings up some compelling thoughts. These include: Is the lack of budget increases from NASA going to affect the objectives of the program? Will building the moonbase divert funds from getting to Mars? Can we research the Mars voyage in low-earth orbit as opposed to on the moon?

NASA Proposes Mooncamp

There has been a lot in the news about NASA’s proposed Mooncamp. Here are some links:

“NASA may be going to the same old moon with a ship that looks a lot like a 1960s Apollo capsule, but the space agency said Monday that it’s going to do something dramatically different this time: Stay there.” Forbes

“US space agency NASA has said it plans to start work on a permanently-occupied base on the Moon after astronauts begin flying back there in 2020. The base is likely to be built on one of the Moon’s poles and will serve as a science center and possible stepping stone for manned missions to Mars.” BBC

View Mooncamp Plans and Video – Here 

The Most Powerful Telescope to be Built on the Moon

The most powerful radiotelescope yet devised is to be built on the Moon, under plans being put together by Nasa for its 2018 lunar mission.Mike Griffin, the head of the US space agency, said the construction of a telescope is being “factored into” the mission.

It is intended to push forward the exploration of space and, eventually, help to identify how mankind can reach other planets in and outside the solar system.

A radiotelescope on the Moon would offer astronomers and physicists an unrivalled opportunity to see farther into the cosmos than ever before and in more detail.  More

First Review of Orion Systems Completed by NASA

NASA this week completed its first review of all systems for the Orion spacecraft and the Ares I and Ares V rockets. The review brings the agency a step closer to launching its next human space vehicle.

NASA said the review results for its Constellation Program provide the foundation for design, development, construction and operation of the rockets and spacecraft necessary to take explorers to Earth orbit, the moon, and eventually to Mars.

‘We have established the foundation for a safe and strong transportation system and infrastructure. It is a historic first step,’ said Constellation Program manager Jeff Hanley of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The system requirements review is one of a series of reviews before NASA and its contractors build the Orion capsule, the Ares launch vehicles, and establish ground and mission operations. The review guidelines narrow the scope and add detail to the system design.

‘We are confident these first requirements provide an exceptional framework for the vehicle system,’ said Chris Hardcastle, Constellation Program systems engineering and integration manager at Johnson. ‘This team has done a significant amount of analysis which will bear out as we continue with our systems engineering approach and refine our requirements for the next human space transportation system.’

As part of the review and analysis, NASA has confirmed the planned Ares I launch system has enough thrust to put the Orion spacecraft in orbit. In fact, the Ares I thrust provides a 15 percent margin of performance in addition to the energy needed to put the fully crewed and supplied Orion into orbit for a lunar mission. Engineers established Orion’s take-off weight for lunar missions at over 27,200kg.

Each Constellation project also is preparing for a narrower, project-level systems review in February and March 2007 covering the Orion crew exploration vehicle, launch support, mission support and space suits.

Once the project-level reviews are complete, the Constellation Program will hold another full review to reconcile the baseline from the first review with any updates from the project reviews. A review of equipment associated with surface exploration and science activities on the moon is expected in the spring of 2009.

The latest system requirements review is the first NASA has completed for a human spacecraft system since space shuttle development in October 1972. The Constellation Program system requirements are the product of 12 months of work by a NASA-wide team.

Rocket Tested on Nov. 16

NASA’s Space Shuttle Program successfully fired a reusable solid rocket motor Thursday, Nov. 16, at a Utah facility. The two-minute test provided important information for nighttime shuttle launches and for the development of the rocket that will carry the next human spacecraft to the moon. The static firing of the full-scale, full-duration flight support motor was performed at 6 p.m. MST at ATK Launch Systems Group, a unit of Alliant Techsystems Inc. in Promontory, Utah, where the shuttle’s solid rocket motors are manufactured.

The flight support motor, or FSM-13, burned for approximately 123 seconds, the same time each reusable solid rocket motor burns during an actual space shuttle launch. The Reusable Solid Rocket Motor Project Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages these tests to qualify any proposed changes to the rocket motor and to determine whether new materials perform as well as those now in use.

The motor firing also provided the Space Shuttle Program with data on how image quality is affected by night launch conditions. The data will help determine camera settings and techniques that are most suitable for future night shuttle launches and those which could possibly enhance imagery gathered during a day launch. “Full-scale static testing such as this is a key element of the ‘test before you fly’ standard and ensures continued quality and performance,” said Jody Singer, manager of the Reusable Solid Rocket Motor Project, part of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office at Marshall.

The shuttle solid rocket motor firing also supports NASA’s future exploration goals to return humans to the moon. The test provided data for development of the first stage reusable solid rocket motor for NASA’s Ares I, the launch vehicle that will carry the Orion crew module to space. Engineers with NASA’s Exploration Launch Projects Office at Marshall, which manages the Ares launch vehicles, will analyze motor-induced, roll-torque measurements. The information – how the motor affects the rotation and twisting of a system – is needed for the Ares I control system design.

Orion to Visit Asteroid?

NASA is appraising a human mission to a near-Earth asteroid — gauging the scientific merit of the endeavor while testing out spacecraft gear, as well as mastering techniques that could prove useful if a space rock ever took aim at our planet.

Astronauts, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston have been looking into the capabilities of the Orion vehicle for the mission to a near-Earth asteroid. Full Story

Ares 1 Design Problems

Sources inside the development of the Ares 1 launch vehicle (aka Crew Launch Vehicle or “The Stick”) have reported that the current design is underpowered to the tune of a metric ton or more. As currently designed, Ares 1 would not be able to put the present Orion spacecraft design (Crew Exploration Vehicle) into the orbit NASA desires for missions to the ISS. This issue is more pronounced for CEV missions to the moon.The Ares 1 SRR (System Requirements Review) was held last week at MSFC. Mike Griffin was in attendance. Others participated off-site via webex.com.

It is widely known that both Mike Griffin and Scott Horowitz are reluctant (to say the least) about abandoning their current launch vehicle concept. Alternate approaches such as using EELVs are not welcome solutions by either Griffin or Horowitz.

One possible solution to the Stick’s current design problems is to add side-mounted solid rocket motors. Many inside the program are not so sure that this solution is worth the effort. Others suggest that starting from a clean sheet of paper may be the only prudent course of action.

The New Space Race

Florida, the nation’s premier launch site since the 1960s thanks to NASA’s largesse, is in danger of being eclipsed in a fast-changing space race.

In less than four years when the space shuttle program ends, one-third of the 15,000 space-related jobs on Florida’s Space Coast will be eliminated.

Meanwhile, a growing number of billionaire businessmen are proving that space is not just NASA anymore. These entrepreneurs, used to thinking big while profiting bigger, are into everything from commercial satellite launches to space tourism. And, instead of heading to Florida, they’re taking their fledgling businesses to places as far-flung as an atoll in the Pacific Ocean and Star City, Russia.

Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, the nation’s first spaceport, has even been upstaged by New Mexico, which ponied up more than $200-million to build a spaceport in the desert and signed Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic as its first tenant. Coming soon: suborbital flights at $200,000 a pop.

Amid this growing competition for space business, Florida has created a new space organization. But it has hired a guy from Pennsylvania with no aerospace background to run the show.

Surprising? Not at all, said Steve Kohler, the man selected by Gov. Jeb Bush to head Space Florida, which replaced a confusing trifecta of state bureaucracies: Florida Space Authority, Florida Space Research Institute and Florida Aerospace Finance Corp.

“What was sought was a completely fresh outlook,” said Kohler, who started work at a temporary office at Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 2. “I’m coming with a wide-open aperture.”

Kohler, 49, has a strong background in economic development, having once headed a task force for then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge that brought thousands of jobs to the ailing Rust Belt. That, say Kohler’s supporters, is more important than being well-versed in the aerospace industry.

“We can teach him about space – that the pointy end goes up,” said Jim Banke, vice president of Florida operations for the nonprofit Space Foundation and a member of Space Florida’s spaceport subcommittee. “It’s the guts of economic development we’ve got to be concerned about. This is all about people having good work in the Sunshine State.”

The pressure is on. The shuttle program has required the skills of a standing army of thousands of engineers and systems inspectors. The nation’s next stage of space travel – the Constellation program that will take Americans back to the moon and eventually to Mars – is going to use Apollo-like capsules atop rockets that won’t require the same degree of maintenance. These spacecraft, to be built by Lockheed Martin, won’t begin flying until at least 2012.

Banke, an aerospace journalist for 20 years, said it has taken Florida’s NASA-centric community a couple of years for the reality of the shuttle’s imminent demise to sink in.

“We can no longer just wait for NASA to send its check down from Washington,” he said. “We’ve got to move quickly and do something bold, something visible to show we mean business.”

Space Florida was created after a yearlong review of the state’s aerospace industry led by Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. Even as Jennings’ commission was meeting, insiders were working feverishly to nail down a major deal: Lockheed’s promise to perform final assembly and integration of the Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center. Cost to Florida: $35-million to refurbish a mothballed Apollo facility. Benefit: 300 to 400 jobs.

Now Space Florida’s leader has to use the Orion assembly deal as leverage to persuade Lockheed’s subcontractors to manufacture in Florida. Kohler compared the challenge to an effort in Pennsylvania, when he tried to bring suppliers for an $80-million General Electric locomotive project into the state.

“It’s all about penetrating more deeply into the supply chain operations,” he said. “The human infrastructure that exists in this region is a distinct advantage. There’s a larger-than-average number of highly trained technical professionals. We just need to identify these people and do the appropriate matchmaking. Or in some cases, just get out of the way and allow the commercial connections to work.”

Kohler’s next priority will be to woo the two commercial launch companies recently awarded NASA contracts to provide service to the International Space Station after the shuttle retires. These companies, SpaceX in El Segundo, Calif., and Rocketplane Kistler in Oklahoma City, are charged with finding the most cost-efficient, reliable way to move cargo and crew to low-Earth orbit. Kistler plans to launch its rocket from southern Australia. SpaceX has built a launch site on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, northeast of Australia.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, said the atoll was chosen because it’s close to the equator, has a wider range of launch directions and is cheaper than Cape Canaveral. But Musk, who co-founded PayPal, expects to launch from the Cape in a few years, despite daunting regulatory demands and expense.

“Florida needs to remain focused on ensuring that the bureaucracy is kept to a minimum and that Florida is the most cost-effective place to launch rockets,” said Musk, who has invested $100-million of his fortune into SpaceX. “It’s just like a city trying to attract Southwest Airlines.”

The analogy is telling because many people think aerospace will develop along the same path as general aviation, with government and military spending eventually being dwarfed by expenditures in the commercial and tourist industry.

“In 10, 20 or 30 years, the new business will surpass what we have now,” said Winston Scott, an astronaut who headed Florida Space Authority from 2003 until July and works for a NASA subcontractor in Houston. “Florida needs to lay the infrastructure now. Otherwise, they’ll be second to other states.”

Dr. Peter Diamandis, who co-founded Zero Gravity Corp., Space Adventures and the X Prize competition, has spent the past 20 years trying to make space accessible to the average person. Though Zero-G started flying out of Kennedy Space Center in June, Diamandis said the company made a proposal to the state a year ago to base Zero-G’s growing education and research program in Florida. He is waiting for a response.

“Houston, Las Vegas and San Diego have been extremely interested in courting us,” said Diamandis, who was to meet with Space Florida’s Kohler this weekend.

“It’s really Florida’s option to lose.”