NASA adds turbojets and rockets to its railgun scramjet launcher

via DVICE Atom Feed by Evan Ackerman on 12/20/10

Does more engines equal more awesome? You bet it does. NASA’s latest concept for their satellite launching system is getting fleshed out with some extra sources of thrust.

NASA wants to be able to do away with inefficient rockets and launch satellites into orbit using a scramjet spacecraft fired out of a railgun. A system like this is actually realistic in the near future, seeing as both high powered railguns and scramjet aircraft have been successfully tested.

As NASA starts seriously considering how exactly the launching system would work, we’re getting more details about just what would be involved, and it looks like there are some thrust gaps that would need to be filled with more conventional technology.

The initial launch is based on a railgun. The vehicle would be fired down a two mile long track using 180 megawatts of electricity, propelling it to Mach 1.5 in about 60 seconds. That’s a lot of acceleration, but not enough to turn a human into a pancake. Mach 1.5 (about 1,100 miles per hour) is fast, but not fast enough for a scramjet to function, so the vehicle would fire up a high speed turbojet just before it lifts off from the track to boost itself to Mach 4.

At Mach 4, the turbojet shuts down and the scramjet kicks in, accelerating the vehicle to Mach 10 at 200,000 feet. At that altitude, there’s not enough atmosphere left for the air-breathing scramjet to work, so the final piece of the system is a regular old rocket. The scramjet/turbojet vehicle drops away, leaving an upper stage of sorts behind, which uses rockets mounted in its tail to make it the final distance into orbit as the lower stage re-engages its turbojet to fly back to base. After delivering its payload, the upper stage glides back like the space shuttle, and both stages can be ready to go again in 24 hours.

So when is all this going to happen? Well, the technology is basically here, we just have to figure out how to scale it up. As NASA puts it, “we have all the ingredients, now we just have to figure out how to bake the cake.” It’ll be more than billion dollars or so worth of cake by the time it’s finished, but just imagine how tasty it’ll be when it’s all done.

Via Popular Science

Hey NASA: Skip the moon, send humans to asteroids, Mars moons

via DVICE Atom Feed by Charlie White on 10/23/09

Hey NASA: Skip the moon, send humans to asteroids, Mars moons
As NASA readies the Ares 1-X test rocket, a commission of experts appointed by the president says hold everything. NASA should forget about going to the moon for now, and land humans on a nearby asteroid or comet, or one of the two moons of Mars, says the Augustine panel. The reason? It will take a whole lot less fuel to get humans back from such low-gravity destinations.
It makes sense. The moon? Been there, done that. Let’s get some big honking rockets, maybe even bigger than the Saturn V, and head out into deep space. Meanwhile, the Augustine panel recommends extending the life of the shuttle for another year — until 2011 instead of putting it in mothballs on October 1, 2010 — and keeping the International Space Station aloft until 2020 instead of crashing it into the ocean in 2015.
Too bad this commission didn’t exist when George W. Bush decided back in 2003 that our goal was to set up a base on the moon, and then head to Mars. Among the eight options presented by the commission, a moon landing would only be a training mission, a stepping stone to destinations beyond. A Mars mission would only happen in the distant future.
These new plans could work. Well, until another politician decides to change them.
Via USA Today (art courtesy Denise Watt, via Space Gizmo)

Cool Flash Graphic: Every Craft In NASA’s Constellation System, Deconstructed

via Gizmodo by John Mahoney on 12/30/08

Accompanying a long piece on the future of NASA’s Orion/Constellation system, the NYTimes threw together a nice Flash graphic detailing the individual components of what may or may not (ahem Fianciapocalypse) replace the Space Shuttle.

While the written piece prods and pokes at the budgetary and bureaucratic challenges (shocker!) NASA is jumping through to get their plan for Constellation (which includes the Apollo-like Orion capsule, a lunar lander and two rockets, the Ares I and larger Ares V) off the ground, the graphic is a great 90-second summary of what will probably be our main space vehicle system for many years to come.


NASA Scientists Give Up on Phoenix Resurrection

via Gizmodo by Jesus Diaz on 12/4/08

It may be extremely difficult, but even after its death, NASA scientists have been trying to resurrect the Phoenix Mars Lander at all costs. Sadly, they gave up last week. Happily, there’s still hope.

The Phoenix Lander’s Mission Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory—Chris Lewicki—said that they “were hoping that another variation in weather might give [them] an opportunity to contact the lander again.”

In other words: If the Phoenix’s hardware survives the extreme —150º F of the Marian winter—NASA controllers will begin trying to revive it again in Spring. They will do so by issuing commands from the two Mars orbiters, and wishing that the probe would have enough strength to restart. Hopefully it will be successful, because everything deserves a second chance.

[Aviation Week]

NASA’s Next Mars Mission Gets Delayed Until 2011

via Gizmodo by John Mahoney on 12/5/08

Looks like Mars Phoenix (or Mars Phoenix’s ghost) will have to wait another two years for a new companion— the Mars Science Laboratory, originally planned for a launch next year, has been delayed until 2011.

It goes to show that the economy’s bad in space, too. But aside from budgetary overages, the MSL is one of the most advanced crafts ever to shoot for the red planet. It will be able to redirect its course late into the landing phase, and will actually touch down on a tether lowered from a hovering descent stage. On board will be the biggest science payload every to hit Martian soil, which will study past signs of water in four potential landing sites.


Phoenix lander shutting down for good before Martian fall


via DVICE by Kevin Hall on 10/30/08


The Phoenix lander’s mission on Mars is coming to a close. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is going to shut down the robotic explorer’s survival heaters and essentially let the Phoenix “freeze to death.” It’s a sad end for the ‘bot, but a noble one: Phoenix has been working hard on Mars for five months — two months longer than its handlers thought it would operate for. With Phoenix analyzing the Martian terrain, scientist have come as close as they can to holding the soil in their owns hands, save making the impossible journey to the Red Planet.

The handlers will shut down one heater at a time. That will let them continue to work for a few more weeks yet, conserving power as the lengthening darkness on Mars gives the lander less and less stored solar energy to perform tasks with. Phoenix has also jabbed a probe into the soil that’ll continue transmitting data for weeks to come.

It’s been an exciting and successful mission, and we no doubt still have interesting things to learn from the ‘bot as scientists pour over the wealth of knowledge it has sent back.

Via New Scientist


How the New Mission to the Moon Will Work

via Gizmodo by jesusdiaz on 7/3/08

The NASA 2009 Astronaut Candidate Class recruitment—for the first mission to the Moon in four decades—may be over, but if you didn’t send your résumé, don’t worry: you can still be a space couch potato and look at the pretty images and videos, like this newly-released NASA simulation showing how the whole thing is going to work.

Rather than building a huge, expensive, and very complicated rocket carrying a smaller space ship—like the powerful Saturn did in the Apollo missions—the Constellation program will use two rockets to send a larger spacecraft. The first rocket will carry the lunar lander along with a propulsion stage into Earth orbit. The second one, the Ares I launch vehicle, will carry the Orion spaceship with the astronauts on board, which will be rendezvous with the lunar lander in orbit and dock. Once docked, the propulsion stage will push the combined craft to the moon and some lucky, smart, and courageous astronaut would be able to say: “It may not be the first step, and it certainly won’t be the last one.” Or “Oh boy, whooooopeeeee-doooo!”

Both work for me. [Constellation Program]