NASA’s Exciting To Do List for 2018

Video Caption: This is NASA’s 2018 ‘To Do’ list.

The work we do, which will continue in 2018, helps the United States maintain its world leadership in space exploration and scientific discovery. Launches, discoveries and more exploration await in the year ahead.

Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.


Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.

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.

NASA Seeks Industry Partnerships on In-situ Resource

NASA is seeking “proposals for trade studies and design, fabrication, and testing of critical components and subsystems for acquisition and processing of extraterrestrial resources into water, oxygen, and fuel.”

The broad agency announcement (BAA) came in an appendix to the space agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships 2 (NextSTEP-2) program, which has been working with commercial companies on facilitating space exploration and development beyond Earth orbit.


NASA’s Top Management Challenges: Deep Space Exploration

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

A recent Inspector General report, NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, finds the space agency is facing serious challenges with its deep space exploration effort. The space agency is dealing with slipping schedules, constrained budgets, and thin funding reserves as it seeks to complete development of the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems. NASA also has only high-level plans for other systems that will be required to send astronauts on useful deep-space missions.

Key excerpts from the report follow.


NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission Performs First Supersonic Parachute Test

A 58-foot-tall Black Brant IX sounding rocket launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Oct. 4. This was the first test of the Mars 2020 mission’s parachute-testing series, the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment, or ASPIRE. (Credit: NASA/Wallops)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — Landing on Mars is difficult and not always successful. Well-designed advance testing helps. An ambitious NASA Mars rover mission set to launch in 2020 will rely on a special parachute to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere at over 12,000 mph (5.4 kilometers per second). Preparations for this mission have provided, for the first time, dramatic video of the parachute opening at supersonic speed.


Next Mars Rover Will Have 23 ‘Eyes’

A selection of the 23 cameras on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. Many are improved versions of the cameras on the Curiosity rover, with a few new additions as well. UPDATED AT 4:15 p.m. PDT to correct the number of EDL cameras shown in the image. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Mars Pathfinder touched down in 1997, it had five cameras: two on a mast that popped up from the lander, and three on NASA’s first rover, Sojourner.

Since then, camera technology has taken a quantum leap. Photo sensors that were improved by the space program have become commercially ubiquitous. Cameras have shrunk in size, increased in quality and are now carried in every cellphone and laptop.


Thruster for Mars Mission Breaks Records

A side shot of the X3 firing at 50 kilowatts. (Credit: NASA)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (University of Michigan PR) — An advanced space engine in the running to propel humans to Mars has broken the records for operating current, power and thrust for a device of its kind, known as a Hall thruster.

The development of the thruster was led by Alec Gallimore, University of Michigan professor of aerospace engineering and the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.


Elon Unbound: Musk’s Giant Leap to Mars

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Since Elon Musk unveiled his Big [Expletive] Rocket (BFR) in Adelaide last month, there has been a lot of analysis of the engineering aspects. Musk’s Ask Me Anything session on Reddit was an engineer’s dream, with the billionaire providing detailed answers about the Raptor engines, thrust to weight ratios and a host of other technical issues.

Amid all the technical talk, there has been little attention paid to what a giant leap this venture is for Musk, SpaceX and possibly the entire human race. Not only will BFR be larger and more powerful than any other rocket ever built, the audacious things Musk wants to do with it – ranging from point to point transportation on Earth to satellite delivery to sending colonists to the moon and Mars – are on a scale never before attempted. They are certainly beyond anything contemplated by the world’s space agencies.


SpaceX Receives Additional $40.8 Million from Air Force to Develop Raptor Engine

Raptor engine hot fire. (Credit SpaceX)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded an additional $40.8 million to SpaceX for the development of its Raptor rocket engine.

The funding, awarded under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, involves the extension of a $33.7 million contract originally awarded in January. SpaceX agreed to spend $67.3 million under the jointly funded program under the original contract.


Vector Plans 3 Orbital Launches From Wallops Island

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) additive manufactured injector by was successfully hot fire tested by Vector Space System on Dec. 8, 2016 using Liquid Oxygen/Propylene propellant (LOX/LC3H6). This work was performed under a 2015 STMD ACO Space Act Agreement. (Credit: Vector Space System)

RICHMOND, Va. (Terry McAuliffe PR) – Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced that Vector, a nanosatellite launch company comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, has entered into an agreement with Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space) to conduct three commercial orbital missions out of Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in the next 24 months with an option for five additional launches.


NASA to Host Global Exploration Road Map Workshop

GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will host a two-day virtual community workshop, Nov. 29 and 30, to conduct discussions with external stakeholders that will inform development of an update to the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER). The GER is a publication authored by NASA and the other 14 space agencies that comprise the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG). The roadmap outlines a phased approach to achieving the common goal of sending humans to the surface of Mars.


Highlights From Musk’s Ask Me Anything Session on Reddit

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Saturday. Below are selected responses to questions. A full list of questions and answers is located here.

BFR Development

Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.

Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.

NASA Statement on National Space Council Policy on American Space Leadership

The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot about the results from the first meeting of the National Space Council on Thursday:

“It was my pleasure today to attend the first meeting of the new National Space Council. The council includes government leaders from civil and military space, and the group also heard from space industry leaders. The council has historic roots in the earliest days of the Space Age, and it has been established by the president to streamline and coordinate national space policy.