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

Galactic Suites space hotel is on course for a 2012 debut

via DVICE Atom Feed by Kevin Hall on 11/3/09

Galactic Suites space hotel is on course for a 2012 debut

Come 2012 (you know, providing the world doesn’t end) you may have another venue for booking a luxury hotel: space. That’s the hope of the Barcelona-based architects behind the Galactic Suites, anyway, who say that they are on track with building a space hotel.

Each three-night stay at the Galactic Suites will cost a whopping $4.4 million, though that also gets you an eight-week training course on a tropical island. Hopefully you’ve let your vacation days pile up, because that’s a pretty big commitment.

You’d wear a velcro-covered suit while on board the station to aid with mobility, and you’d get to watch 15 “sunrises” as you orbit around the Earth every 80 minutes. Each hotel pod will have room for four, as well as two astronaut pilots — who, hopefully, will have their own space to retreat to.

Sure, it still sounds a little crazy, but it’s all part of a big space tourism push hinging on companies such as Virgin Galactic and the construction of Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“It’s very normal to think that your children, possibly within 15 years, could spend a weekend in space,” Galactic Suites CEO Xavier Claramunt told Reuters Television. “When the passengers arrive in the rocket, they will join it for 3 days, rocket and capsule. With this we create in the tourist a confidence that he hasn’t been abandoned. After 3 days the passenger returns to the transport rocket and returns to earth.” Claramunt doesn’t plan to use Spaceport America initially, opting instead to ferry guests into space on Russian rockets launched from a spaceport that will be built in the Caribbean.

Only time will tell if Galactic Suites really will open on time. Skeptics cite the enormous costs that a project like this obviously poses, though, according to Yahoo News, “Claramunt said an anonymous billionaire space enthusiast has granted $3 billion to finance the project.”

Via Yahoo News

Ocean Circulation Explorer, the Formula 1 of satellites

via DVICE by Charlie White on 8/26/08

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Those hip Europeans. They make the sleekest cars, and now they’ve taken that chic design sense into space with the Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), perhaps the most badass satellite to ever ply the cosmos. This shiny space ornament is set to blast into orbit on September 10th, and will be using its Electrostatic Gravity Gradiometer to measure the earth’s gravitational fields. Its main mission is to figure out the speed and direction of ocean currents, and along the way maybe even determine when the next big volcano is going to blow.

Powered by an electric motor charged up with solar panels, it will get its readings of Earth’s gravitational field by flying in a relatively low orbit of around 167 miles. Because there’s still some wispy remnants of the earth’s atmosphere at that altitude, this baby has those streamlined fins like a ’57 Chevy to fly straight and true. This snazzy bird is sure to be the envy of all the other satellites, not to mention that clunky-looking International Space Station.

European Space Agency, via AstroEngine

Ulysses Spacecraft Dying Alone in Space

via Gizmodo by Haroon Malik on 2/23/08

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The Ulysses spacecraft, which was launched way back in 1990, has been visiting the planets of the solar system for some 17-years, but now the Ulysses looks like it is doomed. A critical error has occurred in the mechanism that prevents the fuel from freezing, and that means the Ulysses is soon to be heading to spacecraft heaven.

The Ulysses was the first spacecraft to ever pass over the north and south poles of the Sun, but amazing feats of pole to pole traveling were nothing compared to the three comet tails it successfully navigated. The lessons scientists have learnt regarding solar wind and interstellar dust have proven to be invaluable. Unfortunately then, the circuitry has now become defective, which means there is no way to supply power to the machinery that prevents the hydrazine power source from freezing. Once the hydrazine falls below the 2° Celsius freezing point, it’s going to be game over for old Ulysses, as there will be no way to control the sky skipper. We imagine it’s showing a RROD as we speak, which makes us unbearably sad. We just wanted to say thanks for all the indispensable scientific information, great times, good laughs and the terrific name. Cheers, you will be missed, Ulysses.

[New Scientist]