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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Posted in National Space Society, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Space Settlements Represent Hope for Humankind

The National Space Society (NSS) offers a comparison of its vision for space settlement to that promoted by many dystopian science fiction movies of today.  NSS has supported the concept of rotating space settlements in orbit or deep space since the epochal publication by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill of his seminal article on space colonies in Physics Today (1974).

Since those days, concepts of democracy and egalitarian societies have been integral to our vision. A goal of NSS is the creation of a free, spacefaring civilization with people living and working in space. We believe in democracy to build and operate space settlements, whether in space, on the Moon, on Mars, or even on planets around other stars.

A large part of the space movement today is founded on improving life on Earth by creating an ability to operate in space. This includes the ability to divert threatening asteroids, detect solar outbursts that could destroy our electrical grid, and build solar power collection/transmission satellites that could produce huge amounts of carbon free energy in space for use on Earth, enriching all of humankind. In fact, an early justification for building space settlements was to house the labor force needed to build the solar power satellites that would provide a global solar power source to all nations, helping to prevent the ecological and economic collapse and chaos depicted in many dystopian movies of today. NSS believes that we are making the future every day and that we want to build a hopeful future.

NSS is happy that space settlements are beginning to appear in popular culture such as the recent motion picture Elysium.  NSS applauds the cinematic skill that resulted in the depiction of the physical appearance and operation of a rotating orbital space settlement. While NSS accepts that a conflict is fairly fundamental to a good story, we would like movie viewers to keep in mind that the tyrannical government depicted in the movie does not represent the path of humans in space envisioned by the NSS and its thousands of members.

Posted in Movies, National Space Society, Space Settlement | 2 Comments

SpaceX Grasshopper Successfully Completes 100m Lateral Divert Test

On August 13th, the Falcon 9 test rig (code name Grasshopper) completed a divert test, flying to a 250m altitude with a 100m lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. The test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.

Grasshopper is taller than a ten story building, which makes the control problem particularly challenging. Diverts like this are an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.

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National Space Society Salutes Lori Garver's Service at NASA

The National Space Society (NSS) would like to congratulate Lori Garver for the tremendous contributions she has made to NASA and America’s space program during her four years as Deputy NASA Administrator.

“She was a staunch supporter of commercial space and using public/private partnerships to leverage private investment using fewer taxpayer dollars,” stated Mark Hopkins, chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “Lori’s calm leadership and grace under pressure will be missed by all of us in the space community and we wish her all the best in the next phase of her career.”

Lori was the Executive Director of NSS for nine years until she left for her first tour with NASA in 1998.  She was a key player in the building of the new organization that came into existence after the merger of National Space Institute and the L5 Society in 1987.

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Boeing Unveils CST-100 Spacecraft Interior

And Space Adventures plans to sell flights on the CST-100, having recently signed a contract with Boeing to that effect. No word yet on cost and availability.

Article below by Rebecca Regan, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Two NASA astronauts conducted flight suit evaluations inside a fully outfitted test version of The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft July 22, the first time the world got a glimpse of the crew capsule’s interior.

“The astronauts always enjoy getting out and looking at the vehicles and sharing their experiences with these commercial providers,” said Kathy Lueders, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing is one of three American companies working with CCP to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective crew transportation systems during NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, which is intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for government and commercial customers.

During two, four-hour sessions, astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik put on NASA’s iconic orange launch-and-entry suits and then individually tested their maneuverability inside the capsule. Meanwhile, Boeing engineers monitored communications, equipment and ergonomics.

“These are our customers. They’re the ones who will take our spacecraft into flight, and if we’re not building it the way they want it we’re doing something wrong,” said Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations and a former NASA astronaut. “We’ll probably make one more go-around and make sure that everything is just the way they like it.”

The CST-100 test vehicle was optimized to seat five crew members, but the spacecraft could accommodate up to seven or a mix of crew and cargo. While the spacecraft may resemble Boeing’s heritage Apollo-era capsules from an exterior perspective, its interior is a reflection of modern technology. From the ambient sky blue LED lighting and tablet technology, the company ensured the CST-100 is a modern spacecraft.

“What you’re not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches,” said Ferguson. “When these guys go up in this, they’re primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft, they’re primary mission is to go to the space station for six months. So we don’t want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly this vehicle. We want it to be intuitive.”

Other innovative element of the CST-100 is its weld-free design, modern structures and upgraded thermal protection techniques. The company said its spun-formed shell reduces the overall mass of the spacecraft as well as the time it takes to build the crew capsule. “I’m really a looking forward to the day when we will be bringing our Expedition crew members home and I won’t need a passport or a visa to go to the landing site and greet them as they come off the vehicle,” Lueders said.

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National Space Society Statement on NASA FY2014 Budget

How to Revive Progress at NASA Within a Limited Budget: Two Pillars for Renewed Hope

Summary

Excessive attention to narrow special interests threatens to drain NASA’s activities away to something ever smaller and less valuable to humanity. The National Space Society, a broadly based public interest group, urges Congress to craft a NASA budget which puts us back on track to do the hard work in science and engineering which restores our hope that humans will one day settle space in an economically sustainable way, which maximizes its contributions to sustainability on Earth, and which lives up to the full potential of NASA as an agent of growth in productivity and in the kind of jobs which have lasting impact. We see huge opportunities to get much more out of NASA, especially by INNOVATION and LEVERAGE, the twin pillars of renewed hope.

Innovation in Space

Economists have long agreed that growth in productivity, due to innovation, research and education, is the key to economic growth in general. When budgets are reduced in cutting edge research, the loss of benefits exceeds the savings in cost. US economic growth is especially at risk today, when many industrial R&D labs have shrunk, when the 6-1 and 6-2 (basic and applied) components of defense research have suffered, and when there is a growing “gathering storm” in the US technical workforce.

But does all spending by NASA bring these kinds of benefits to the economy? No government agency spends 100% of its budget on the kinds of things which really increase productivity. The fastest growth in productivity in the US happened at the peak of Kennedy’s Apollo project, and we do not believe that this was a coincidence. Kennedy did not just focus on the narrow goal of getting to the Moon in the shortest possible time; rather, he channeled funds into new high risk technologies and infrastructure. “We go to the Moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” The new technologies were designed to let us stay on the Moon longer, in a more sustainable way, but also to create new core capabilities such as integrated circuit capabilities for the civilian economy. That was good for human hopes in space, but also for the civilian economy. Since then, whenever myopic people have tried for short-cuts, the results have been far less.

The NASA budget needs to focus on advanced innovative activities, and restructure its plans to be more innovative. We should give full support to the existing Space Technology program, as supported by a large coalition of private sector players. We should recognize that the Administration’s proposed asteroid return initiative (ARRM) has a very large component of new technology, essential to all our destinations in space, not just the asteroids. We should maintain full funding of earth science, of human and robotic technologies, and of studies of exoplanets and basic physics which could open the door to new worlds. We support full funding of COTS and the commercial crew activity, with full use of the Space Act Agreements, which will allow us to spend more of the NASA budget over the next ten years in the US rather than Russia, and avoid the need for excess haste, obsolete technology and inefficiency in developing new launch vehicles. We also support restructuring of direct launch investments so as to reinvigorate and exploit the technology for partial and full reusability, such as passive hot structures for re-entry. We need to create the kind of jobs which breed innovation, not dead-end corporate welfare.

Leverage

The greatest successes in US space policy beyond Kennedy and the space shuttle all involved leverage – the use of partnership with other nations and the private sector, to achieve a critical mass beyond the capabilities of any one player. Intelsat, Apollo-Soyuz and the International Space Station are all great examples. NSS is very much excited by the large-scale potential of the new international partnership proposed by Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, to develop the technology for affordable energy from space, and the low-cost launch technology needed to make this realistic. The entire world needs access to the kind of low cost launch services which are feasible only in partnership with advanced US technology providers. NSS urges Congress to structure new investments in reusable launch and space solar power technology at NASA in such a way that they can be included as part of the Kalam initiative, subject to sufficient matching funds from abroad and appropriate protection of intellectual property (IP) to be held in US companies. The best hope for the US in space lies in opening up to the needs (and markets) of the entire world. Congress should declare its support for the general goals and plans of the Kalam initiative, and make sure that the US strengthens its partnership with India, one of the most important emerging powers in the world today.

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