Boeing Begins Solar Electric Propulsion Technology Study

BOEING PR — HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif., Jan. 11, 2012
— The Boeing Company has begun work on a four-month NASA contract to develop a mission concept study for solar electric propulsion technologies. Under the $600,000 firm, fixed-price contract, Boeing will evaluate concepts that combine high-power solar arrays with advanced electric thrusters to power spacecraft and payloads to high Earth orbit and deep space destinations.


French, Russians to Collaborate on Reusable Rockets

RIA Novosti has a report on yet another Russian rocket development program:

Russia and France will pool their efforts to build cutting-edge reusable space rockets, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

“Russian and French engineers are already working in this direction under Project Ural,” Putin told a news conference after a meeting of the Russian-French cooperation commission….

The 15-year Ural program to build advanced reusable carrier rockets was adopted in 2005….

The project is still at the conceptual stage as the type of rocket engine – hydrogen, kerosene or methane fueled – has yet to be determined.


Russians Test Fire Reusable LOX-LNG Engine

Test of a reusable LOX-LNG engine. (Credit: Roscosmos)

The Russians conducted a hot firing last week on a new reusable rocket engine that is powered by liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). The test took place on Sept. 28 in Peresvet (Moscow region).

The rocket engine was designed and manufactured by KB Khimmash imeni A.M. Isayeva, which is a branch of GKNPTs Khrunichev. A Roscosmos press release describes the test as being carried out on a “double integration engine.”


Successful Test Firing Conducted on Taurus II’s AJ-26 Engine

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept. 29, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Aerojet, a GenCorp company, announced today that along with NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation, the team conducted a successful ground test firing of an AJ26-62 flight engine that will power Orbital’s Taurus® II medium-class space launch vehicle. The test was conducted at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.


NASA Releases SLS Acquisition Overview


Synopsis – Sep 22, 2011

General Information

Solicitation Number:SLS-0001
Posted Date:Sep 22, 2011
FedBizOpps Posted Date:Sep 22, 2011
Recovery and Reinvestment Act Action:No
Original Response Date:Sep 27, 2011
Current Response Date:Sep 27, 2011
Classification Code:A — Research and Development
NAICS Code:336415 – Guided Missile and Space Vehicle Propulsion Unit and Propulsion Unit Parts Manufacturing
Set-Aside Code:

Contracting Office Address

NASA/George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Procurement Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, AL 35812


NASA to Announce Composite Cryotank Contractor

NASA PR — WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Sept. 20, to announce the company that will lead the agency’s Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort.

The selected company will design and manufacture two lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks. The demonstration effort will use advanced composite materials and manufacturing techniques to develop new technologies that could be applied to multiple future NASA missions, including human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort is part of NASA’s Space Technology Program.


NASA Selects Companies To Study Solar Electric Propulsion Spacecraft

An electric propulsion engine. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA PR — WASHINGTON — NASA has selected five companies to develop concepts for demonstrating solar electric propulsion in space. These capabilities are important for the agency’s future human exploration missions to deep space.

The selected companies, pending successful contract negotiations, are:

— Analytical Mechanics Associates Inc., Hampton, Va.
— Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.
— The Boeing Company, Huntington Beach, Calif.
— Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colo.
— Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Redondo Beach, Calif.

Hutchison: NASA Must Proceed With SLS Program NOW!

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today issued the following statement regarding NASA’s implementation of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, particularly with regard to the direction of U.S. human spaceflight programs:

“Today NASA is scheduled to formally receive the independent cost assessment for the Space Launch System (SLS) that was requested by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I expect this independent assessment will confirm what myself and the NASA technical staff have known for many months – that the SLS plan is financially and technically sound, and that NASA should move forward immediately.

“I remain very concerned about continuing delays. The 2010 NASA Authorization Act required NASA to bring forward a plan by January 10, 2011. The political leadership at NASA and at OMB has dragged their feet on implementation. After many requests for NASA to comply with the law, the Commerce Committee finally initiated a formal investigation earlier this summer. While that investigation is ongoing, I reiterate my call to NASA and the Administration to proceed with its SLS development program immediately, in compliance with the law.


Senators Disagree About How to Design NASA’s Heavy-Lift Rocket

If we needed any more evidence that our elected representatives should leave technical decisions to technical experts, Aviation Week provides it:

Senators who agree that NASA is taking too long to develop a design and procurement strategy for the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) that Congress ordered last year cannot agree among themselves on exactly what that design should be.

At issue is what kind of power will be used in the strap-on boosters needed to get the SLS off the pad, pitting powerful senators from both sides of the aisle against members of their own political parties in a letter-writing campaign to the executive branch aimed at generating jobs for their constituents.


A Non-Toxic Fuel From the Mojave Desert

Late next year, a cargo freighter will deliver a potentially revolutionary new propulsion system to the International Space Station.

Franklin Chang-Diaz’s VASIMR engine? No, that test is still a couple of years off.

The propulsion system is called NOFBX. It’s a green fuel system developed by a little-known Mojave-based R&D company called Firestar Technologies. And it could well be one of those “game changing” technologies that NASA officials believe will make space travel a lot more affordable.


NASA Begins Testing of Next-Generation J-2X Rocket Engine

Second Ignition Test of the J-2X Rocket Engine. A 1.9-second ignition test of the J-2X rocket engine is conducted on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Image credit: NASA/SSC

NASA PR — The test at John C. Stennis Space Center is the first in a series of tests that will be conducted on the J-2X engine, which is being developed for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The ignition test on the A-2 Test Stand is the first of a series of firings over the next several months. Collected data will verify the engine functions as designed.

The J-2X engine uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel, which can be mixed to generate 294,000 pounds of thrust to lift a spacecraft into low-Earth orbit or 242,000 pounds of thrust to power a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit into deep space. The engine is designed to start and restart in space.

For more information about the J-2X engine, visit:

Do We Need a Government-Build HLV?

Florida Today’s John Kelly asks an interesting question about NASA’s HLV rocket:

Why in the world is NASA developing its own supersized rocket when no fewer than three private companies already have one on the drawing board?

Decades of experience shows a big-ticket space project developed wholly by the government will:

  • Take years longer than estimated to complete.
  • Cost taxpayers billions more dollars than advertised.
  • Fly with less capability than originally envisioned.

Unless, of course, the government changes the way it deals with contractors on those kinds of projects.The difference that is being pushed under the new “commercial” space approach is not that NASA is using different companies. It’s that NASA is employing a different way of paying those companies.

The basic answer is: jobs. Long-term projects that pump billions of dollars into individual districts and states are good for employment — of constituents and members of Congress. Development expenses, operating costs and system capability are strictly secondary considerations. (Well, that’s not strictly true; Congress is insisting that NASA build a HLV capable of lofting 130 tons into orbit. Of course, that’s because they think it will force NASA into using shuttle- and Constellation-derived hardware that will keep money flowing and lots of people employed for a long time.)

Read the full story.

No Immediate Solution on Heavy-Lift Program

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

The Huntsville Times has an editorial titled, “It’s time to end NASA’s limbo,” in which it urges a quick action on finalizing the space agency’s budget and a rapid start of work on its heavy-lift program:

Congress and the White House then spent most of 2010 trying to agree on a direction for NASA. The end result, which should put the creation of a new heavy-lift vehicle in the hands of Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center, now appears to be stuck: There’s a direction, but a continuing resolution by Congress doesn’t specifically point money to the new heavy-lift program, which means work might not get off the ground.


New Molecule Could Lead to More Efficient Rocket Fuel


Trinitramid – that’s the name of the new molecule that may be a component in future rocket fuel. This fuel could be 20-30 percent more efficient in comparison with the best rocket fuels we have today. The discovery was made at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.

“A rule of thumb is that for every ten-percent increase in efficiency for rocket fuel, the payload of the rocket can double. What’s more, the molecule consists only of nitrogen and oxygen, which would make the rocket fuel environmentally friendly. This is more than can be said of today’s solid rocket fuels, which entail the emission of the equivalent of 550 tons of concentrated hydrochloric acid for each launch of the space shuttle,” says Tore Brinck, professor of physical chemistry at KTH.