ZERO-G Research Flights Advance Technology for Future Deep-Space Missions


ORLANDO, Fla,
April 6, 2017 (Zero-G PR) – As part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G®) recently worked with research groups from University of Florida, Carthage College and University of Maryland to validate technology designed to further humanity’s reach into space. A collection of flights on G-FORCE ONE, ZERO-G’s specially modified Boeing 727, gave researchers the chance to run experiments and test innovative systems in the only FAA-approved, manned microgravity lab on Earth.

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Russia Plans to Send Cosmonauts to the Moon

Ergonomic testing has been conducted for the new Federation spacecraft. (Credit: RSC Energia)

RSC Energia has launched the development of a new human spacecraft named Federatsiya (Federation) that will replace the 40-year-old Soyuz vehicles and enable Russia to send cosmonauts to the moon, Tass reports.

Federation will be capable of carrying crews of four into Earth orbit and deep space on missions of up to 30 days. The spacecraft could stay in space up to a year if docked with a space station, which is double the duration of the Soyuz spacecraft.

The new spacecraft could be a key element in what appears to be an emerging plan to place a space station in lunar orbit. NASA is exploring such a facility to test technologies required for sending astronauts to Mars.

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Boeing Unveils Deep Space Concepts for Moon and Mars Exploration

Boeing Deep Space Gateway (Credit: Boeing)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Apr. 3, 2017 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] today unveiled concepts for the deep space gateway and transport systems that could help achieve NASA’s goal of having robust human space exploration from the Moon to Mars.

NASA’s Space Launch System, which Boeing is helping develop, would deliver the habitat to cislunar space near the Moon. Known as the Deep Space Gateway, the habitat could support critical research and help open opportunities for global government or commercial partnerships in deep space, including lunar missions. It would be powered by a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system.

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Congress, President Fail to Embrace Musk’s Bold Plan for Mars

Last September, Elon Musk made his pitch for a bold new approach to sending people to Mars that requires substantial taxpayer supporter. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a NASA authorizing act that maintains the slow, steady-as-she-goes status quo. The billionaire was not amused.

Trump Signs NASA Authorization Act

President Donald Trump has signed a NASA authorization act that calls for spending $19.5 billion by the space agency in fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure stipulates the following funding levels for the space agency:

  1. Exploration, $4,330,000,000.
  2. Space Operations, $5,023,000,000.
  3. Science, $5,500,000,000.
  4. Aeronautics, $640,000,000.
  5. Space Technology, $686,000,000.
  6. Education, $115,000,000.
  7. Safety, Security, and Mission Services, $2,788,600,000.
  8. Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration, $388,000,000.
  9. Inspector General, $37,400,000.

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NASA Selects In-Situ Resource Utilization SBIR Phase II Projects

NASA has selected two proposals related to in-situ resource utilization for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The space agency will enter into negotiations with two companies for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The selected proposals include:

  • In-Situ Ethylene and Methane Production from CO2 as Plastic Precursors — Opus 12, Inc., Berkeley, CA
  • Extraterrestrial Metals Processing — Pioneer Astronautics, Lakewood, CO

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House Passes NASA Authorization Act


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For the first time in more than six years, Congress has passed an authorization act for NASA that calls for spending $19.5 billion on NASA for fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure was approved by the House this week after getting Senate approval. The vote came five months into fiscal year 2017.

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NASA Issues RFI for Commercial Payloads to Mars


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA’s goals for human deep space exploration are complex and ambitious. To maximize resources as it pushes the boundaries of exploration, the agency is exploring opportunities to take advantage of emerging private sector space capabilities.

NASA released a request for information Monday regarding possible commercial sources to fly limited payloads on planned, non-NASA missions to Mars. The agency will use the responses to gather market data on the complete spectrum of commercial plans, and identify any excess capacity that may exist for NASA payloads.

Furthering NASA’s human deep space exploration goals will require a significant amount of scientific research, and opportunities to collect data on Mars have been rare. Only seven successful missions to the surface of Mars have taken place in the history of spaceflight.

Evolving capabilities in the private sector have opened the possibility for NASA to take advantage of commercial opportunities to land scientific payloads on the surface of the Red Planet. Such capability would provide an additional method of acquiring science and engineering data concerning Mars, and would complement NASA’s current deep space exploration efforts.

Elon Musk’s Bold Lunar Gambit: Dueling Moon Missions & a Shrinking Pie

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

I’ve been puzzling for the last few days over the timing of Musk’s moon mission announcement, which was curious for several reasons.

First, it came soon after NASA announced its own study about whether to put astronauts on the first SLS/Orion test in 2019. Why would Musk risk undercuting his biggest customer, a space agency that has provided so much of SpaceX’s development and contract funding?

Second, Musk’s unveiling of the plan seemed to be a rushed, improvised affair. He tweeted about it the day before — a Sunday — and then held a press briefing for a small group of media that lasted all of about five minutes. The contrast with the carefully choreographed unveiling of his Mars transportation architecture last year in Mexico couldn’t be greater.

Third, Musk has never really shown much interest in the moon. Yes, SpaceX might have been doing some planning for a human mission there in private. But, that still doesn’t explain the timing.

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ISRO Budget to Increase 23 Percent, Venus & Mars Missions Planned

ISRO will be getting a 23 percent increase in its budget and will be aiming for its first mission to Venus and a second one to Mars.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s love affair with space is quite evident. The government, it seems, is rather pleased with the Indian space agency as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave the Department of Space a whopping 23 per cent increase in its budget. Under the space sciences section, the Budget mentions provisions “for Mars Orbiter Mission II and Mission to Venus”.

The second mission to Mars is tentatively slated for the 2021-2022 timeframe and as per existing plans it may well involve putting a robot on the surface of the Red Planet.

While ISRO’s first mission to Mars, undertaken in 2013, was purely an Indian mission, the French space agency wants to collaborate with ISRO in making the Mars rover.

In fact, on a visit to India this month, Michael M Watkins, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, said they would be keen to at least put a telematics module so NASA’s rovers and the Indian satellites are able to talk to each other.

India’s maiden mission to Venus, the second planet of the Solar System named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, is in all probability going to be a modest orbiter mission.

Read the full story.

Part III: All Aboard Elon Musk’s Mars Express

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

“The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system. It’s like building the Union Pacific Railroad. And once that transport system is built then there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.

“When they were building the Union Pacific, a lot of people said that’s a super dumb idea because hardly anybody lives in California. But, now today we’ve got the U.S. epicenter of technology development and entertainment, and it’s the biggest state in the nation.

Elon Musk
SpaceX Founder & CEO

By Douglas Messier
Managing Edtior

The idea of a transcontinental railroad to the West Coast came into the world in 1830 as many dreams do: as a visionary, if seemingly outrageous, plan that few people took seriously. Why build a rail line through a howling wilderness where almost nobody lived? It would be a hideously expensive boondoggle, a road to nowhere.

This same problem has dogged the space movement since Sputnik was launched 60 years ago. While Hartwell Carver and other backers of the transcontinental railroad were able to overcome all the obstacles in their way, human progress in the silent vacuum of space has been slow and halting. It has never lived up the expectations people had at the start of the Space Age.

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Musk, Mars & the Iron Horse

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last September, Elon Musk stood on stage in a packed auditorium in Guadalajara, Mexico, and invoked America’s 19th century expansion into the West to support his plan to colonize Mars in the 21st century.

“The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system,” he said. “It’s like building the Union Pacific Railroad. And once that transport system is built then there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.

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Sample Retrieval System Biggest Challenge for Mars 2020 Mission

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The biggest risk for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission meeting its launch window is the development of its soil and rock collecting system, according to a new audit from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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Congressmen Call for Clear NASA Strategy for Putting Humans on Mars


Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) have filed bills calling for NASA to develop a clear strategy for placing astronauts on Mars.

The Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act of 2017 calls for the space agency to accomplish this goal “through a series of successive, sustainable, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion crew capsule, and other capabilities.”

The cis-lunar elements include the expansion of human presence into lunar orbit, lunar surface, asteroids, the moons of Mars, and the martian surface. The plan must include opportunities for collaboration with international partners, private companies and other federal agencies.

The strategy would identify how the International Space Station could support the program, and include “a range of exploration mission architectures and approaches for the missions…including capabilities for the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System.”

Commercial Crew’s Role in Path to Mars

deep_space_exploration_graphic
By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The spacecraft, rockets and associated systems in development for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program are critical links in the agency’s chain to send astronauts safely to and from the Red Planet in the future, even though the commercial vehicles won’t venture to Mars themselves. The key is reliable access to the International Space Station as a test bed.

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