Cygnus spacecraft docks with ISS

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft was grappled by the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:01 (EDT) this morning after a flawless approach and in-orbit demonstration sequence. Cygnus will now be guided to the berthing port on the nadir side of the Harmony node, where the Expedition 37 crew will complete the installation. That process is expected to be complete late this morning. Cygnus will remain attached to the ISS for 30 days before departing with disposal cargo on board.

This makes Orbital Sciences the second private company to successfully complete the COTS program and dock a cargo spacecraft with the ISS. The Cygnus spacecraft is not designed with return capability nor to carry astronauts.

NSS links up with the International Space Elevator Consortium

The National Space Society and the International Space Elevator Consortium signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 15 August 2013.  This understanding between these 501(c)(3) organizations illustrates the strength of ideas and committed volunteers.  Recently NSS released “Milestones to Space Settlement: An NSS Roadmap” presenting the following vision:

The National Space Society (“NSS”) is a nonprofit educational organization whose Vision is: “People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.”

This Vision embraces both space as a future second home for humanity and the resources of space (such as the Sun’s energy for space-based solar power, extra-terrestrial minerals for raw materials, and low-gravity for manufacturing) being used for the benefit of all of us on the Earth. These two elements of the Vision are intertwined: development of space products and services for the people of Earth will both require human presence in space and will enable and motivate expansion of our species away from the home planet.

The partnership of two visionary organizations should strengthen each other’s activities.  As the ISEC has a similar mission, the two organizations should have many common projects and ideas.

“… ISEC promotes the development, construction and operation of a space elevator as a revolutionary and efficient way to space for all humanity …”

Due to their shared interest, as shown by their mission statements and vision, the two organizations, working together, should be able to contribute even more to the widespread economic development of space and the betterment of mankind.

The International Space Elevator Consortium is the result of a coming-together of many leading figures and organizations who have worked long and hard over many years to promote the concept of a Space Elevator.  With organizational members in the United States, Europe and Japan and individual members from around the world, ISEC’s goal is nothing less than to get a Space Elevator built.

Experimental Spaceplane Shooting for “Aircraft-Like” Operations in Orbit

New program seeks to lower satellite launch costs by developing a reusable hypersonic unmanned vehicle with costs, operation and reliability similar to traditional aircraft

Commercial, civilian and military satellites provide crucial real-time information essential to providing strategic national security advantages to the United States. The current generation of satellite launch vehicles, however, is expensive to operate, often costing hundreds of millions of dollars per flight. Moreover, U.S. launch vehicles fly only a few times each year and normally require scheduling years in advance, making it extremely difficult to deploy satellites without lengthy pre-planning. Quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for U.S. Defense Department operations.

To help address these challenges, DARPA has established the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. The program aims to develop a fully reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space. The vehicle is envisioned to operate from a “clean pad” with a small ground crew and no need for expensive specialized infrastructure. This setup would enable routine daily operations and flights from a wide range of locations. XS-1 seeks to deploy small satellites faster and more affordably, while demonstrating technology for next-generation space and hypersonic flight for both government and commercial users.

“We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager heading XS-1. “How it’s configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table—we’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible.”

DARPA seeks ideas and technical proposals for how to best develop and implement the XS-1 program. The agency has scheduled an XS-1 Proposers’ Day for Monday, October 7, 2013. The agency also plans to hold 1-on-1 discussions with potential proposers on the following day, October 8, 2013. Advance registration is required; more information is available at http://www.sa-meetings.com/XS1ProposersDay. Registration closes on Tuesday, October 1,2013, at 12:00 PM EDT. For more information, please email DARPA-SN-14-01@darpa.mil.

The DARPA Special Notice describing the specific capabilities the program seeks is available at http://go.usa.gov/DNkF. A Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for XS-1 is forthcoming and will be posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

XS-1 envisions that a reusable first stage would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude.  At that point, one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into Low Earth Orbit. The reusable hypersonic aircraft would then return to earth, land and be prepared for the next flight. Modular components, durable thermal protection systems and automatic launch, flight, and recovery systems should significantly reduce logistical needs, enabling rapid turnaround between flights.

Key XS-1 technical goals include flying 10 times in 10 days, achieving speeds of Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative payload to orbit. The program also seeks to reduce the cost of access to space for small (3,000- to 5,000-pound) payloads by at least a factor of 10, to less than $5 million per flight.

XS-1 would complement a current DARPA program already researching satellite launch systems that aim to be faster, more convenient and more affordable: Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA). ALASA seeks to propel 100-pound satellites into orbit for less than $1 million per launch using low-cost, expendable upper stages launched from conventional aircraft.

“XS-1 aims to help break the cycle of launches happening farther and farther apart and costing more and more,” Sponable said. “It would also help further our progress toward practical hypersonic aircraft technologies and increase opportunities to test new satellite technologies as well.”

Student Moon Mission Challenge

The National Space Society (NSS) and educational nonprofit Innovate Our World (IOW) have agreed to collaborate on the Moon Mission Challenge (MMC), specifically to recruit more teams and to have NSS host the MMC capstone event at the NSS International Space Development Conferences starting in 2015.

The Moon Mission Challenge inspires middle and high school student teams, no matter their location, to learn about the Moon through an interactive, game-like learning environment available from Immersive 3D called the Cyber STEM Academy. They work as teams to conceptually design a payload based on lunar robotic rover mission information from one of several Google Lunar X Prize teams including Astrobotic Technology, Penn State Lunar Lion, and Team JURBAN. Students work with these and other experts to develop their concepts and finalist teams will sell their payload ideas to a panel of expert judges at the MMC capstone event. Students not only learn about the Moon and exploration history, but gain an introduction to systems engineering, project management, and communications, all skills needed for college and career.

“We’re very excited to work with the National Space Society to help us build this challenge so we can inspire students toward careers in aerospace and other STEM fields,” said Ron McCandless, IOW Director. “Older generations were inspired to do great things by the Apollo program. Challenges like the Moon Mission Challenge can have the same effect by giving kids a chance to work with leading experts who are planning cutting edge missions to the Moon.”

The Challenge starts in January 2014. More information.

NSS Remembers Long-Time Member Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl, a long-time member and supporter of the National Space Society (NSS) and one of the great science fiction authors of the late 20th century, died Monday, September 2, 2013. He was 93.

Karen Mermel, Vice President for Development at NSS stated, “Fred often spoke at NSS chapter events and represented NSS on panels, including one with astronaut Jim Lovell to discuss the benefits of space exploration. Fred was a personal friend and a staunch NSS supporter who wholeheartedly believed in our goals and mission.”

Pohl was known as a dark humorist and satirist in novels such asThe Space Merchants (1953) and Gladiator-at-Law (1955). Both were written with frequent collaborator C. M. Kornbluth.

His long career included writing novels and short stories, editing, and being a literary agent for science fiction writers. He won three Hugo awards, was named a grand master of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1992, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1998.

Born November 26, 1919, in New York City, Pohl was an early science fiction fan who served as editor of Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories in 1939-43; in the 1970s, he edited the magazines Galaxy and If.

1977’s Gateway was one of Pohl’s many books that explored human space exploration after overpopulation and the depletion of Earth’s resources; the Times called it an “adventurous, extrapolative, and insightful novel.” As far back as the 1950s, Pohl edited science fiction anthologies, something he continued to do throughout his life to bring attention to other writers’ work. He published a memoir, The Way the Future Was, in the late 1970s, and continued the story in the 21st century online with The Way the Future Blogs.

Elizabeth Ann Hull (Betty), Fred’s wife, says she’ll be planning a memorial for Fred in the next six months or so. That way all friends and fans will be able to attend.

Frederik Pohl, Courtesy Fred Fox Studios, Ltd.
Frederik Pohl, Courtesy Fred Fox Studios, Ltd.