A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans

Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.

ESA Role in Europe’s First All-electric Telecom Satellite

Eutelsat 172B satellite (Credit: Airbus Defence and Space)


PARIS (ESA PR) — Europe’s first all-electric telecom satellite has reached its final working orbit above the Pacific Ocean. Eutelsat-172B, built for Eutelsat by Airbus, carries new technologies developed through ESA-led projects, including fully articulated thruster arms.

The satellite relied entirely on electric thrusters to climb from its initial orbit into its planned slot over the equator some 35 800 km up, and is now using them to hold position.


A Very Close Up Video of a Chinese Rocket Launch

How did someone get this close to the launch of a Long March 3B booster at the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center? It’s a good think that rocket didn’t go kaboom at liftoff.

The booster lifted off on Wednesday with the experiment Shijian 13 communications satellite. The spacecraft is described as having a high throughput communications system with a transfer capacity of 20 Gbp that will improve Internet service to high-speed trains and airliners. Shijian 13 also possesses an electric propulsion system.

ATK Completes Validation of High-Power MegaFlex Solar Array for NASA Missions

Artist's conception of ATK's High-Power Megaflex Solar Array. (Credit: ATK)
Artist’s conception of ATK’s High-Power Megaflex Solar Array. (Credit: ATK)

ARLINGTON, VA., Apr. 30, 2014 (ATK PR) – ATK (NYSE: ATK) has successfully completed testing of its MegaFlex™ solar array wing under a contract with NASA Glenn Research Center (Glenn) to ready high-power solar arrays for powering large-scale Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) systems planned for use on future robotic and manned exploration missions.


NASA Goes Electric

NASA PR — NASA issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) seeking proposals for mission concept studies of a solar electric propulsion system demonstration to test and validate key capabilities and technologies for future exploration missions.

Multiple studies have shown the advantages of using solar electric propulsion to efficiently transport heavy payloads from low Earth orbit to higher orbits. This concept enables the delivery of payloads to low Earth orbit via conventional chemical rockets. The use of solar electric propulsion could then spiral payloads out to higher energy orbits, including Lagrange point one, a potential assembly point in space between Earth and the moon. This approach could facilitate missions to near Earth asteroids and other destinations in deep space.


Electric Plasma Engines Becoming Key to Future Space Exploration

The Efficient Future of Deep-Space Travel – Electric Rockets
Scientific American

Alone amid the cosmic blackness, NASA’s Dawn space probe speeds beyond the orbit of Mars toward the asteroid belt. Launched to search for insights into the birth of the solar system, the robotic spacecraft is on its way to study the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest remnants of the planetary embryos that collided and combined some 4.57 billion years ago to form today’s planets.