National Space Society Officer and Director Lynne Zielinski Receives Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award

Lynne F. Zielinski, National Space Society (NSS) officer and director has been selected by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Space Foundation as recipient of the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award.  This prestigious award will be presented on Monday, May 19th, 2014 at the 30th Space Symposium Opening Ceremony at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.

Lynne

Lynne Zielinski (center) with NASA astronauts Mark Polansky and Sandra Magnus, Ph.D., at Space Foundation World Headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Lynne F. Zielinski, a retired physics, astronomy and space science teacher from Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill., was selected for the award for her work with the Glenbrook Aerospace Development Get-away Experiment Team (GADGET) program, which she founded 22 years ago. The program enables students to design and conduct microgravity experiments, initiate and direct aerospace and engineering research, develop spaceflight hardware and design space settlements. The GADGET program flew active experiments on six space shuttle flights, nine NASA Nike-Orion sub-orbital rockets, three Zero-G airplane flights and four high altitude balloon missions.

Read news articles about Zielinski in the Chicago Tribune here and the suburban-Chicago Daily Herald here.

Shepard Award

The Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award shows Alan hitting a golf ball on the Moon.

The Alan Shepard Award is given annually in recognition of creative and innovative use of technology by K-12 educators or district-level education personnel.  Alan Shepard, one of the nation’s original seven Mercury astronauts, was the first American to fly in space, one of only 12 humans who have walked on the Moon and a former AMF board member. The award named after him recognizes excellence, quality and innovation in the development and application of technology in the classroom or to the professional development of teachers. More information about the award is available here.

Zielinski has been a member of NSS’s Board of Directors and Chairman of the Education and Outreach Committee since 2006. She also serves on the NSS Executive Committee as Vice President of Public Affairs. She annually organizes the activities that attract hundreds of students to the NSS International Space Development Conference for the NSS/NASA Ames Space Settlement Design Competition.  The 2014 ISDC will be held from May 14-18 in Los Angeles.

GADGET

The Sky is NOT the Limit!

“We are especially proud that Zielinski is being honored for her over 22 years of noteworthy accomplishments with the GADGET program, bringing science and math to life for thousands of students and teachers through space and technology,” said Mark Hopkins, NSS Executive Committee Chairman.  “Lynne’s involvement in our space settlement design contest has been vital to the success of NSS.  We are pleased that the Astronaut Memorial Foundation has chosen to honor such a deserving and forward-thinking educator with the Alan Shepard Award,” he added.

Her 32-year career as a physics, astronomy, and space science teacher at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois has been highlighted with numerous accomplishments, including participation in the Teacher In Space program.  For Zielinski’s full biography, please click here.

About the Astronaut Memorial Foundation:  AMF, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, honors and memorializes astronauts who have sacrificed their lives for the nation and the space program by sponsoring the national Space Mirror Memorial and by implementing innovative educational technology programs. AMF partners with NASA to provide technology training to educators throughout the nation with emphasis on space-related technology. In addition, at The Center for Space Education, AMF offers space-related educational opportunities for individuals to improve the quality of the workforce in the space industry. 

About the Space Foundation:  Founded in 1983, the Space Foundation is the foremost advocate for all sectors of space, and is a global, nonprofit leader in space awareness activities, educational programs and major industry events, including the annual Space Symposium, all in support of its mission “to advance space-related endeavors to inspire, enable and propel humanity.”

Posted in Education, National Space Society | Leave a comment

ISDC featured on “The Space Show”

The upcoming May 14-18 International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles was the subject of a recent discussion on The Space Show and the entire internet radio show is now available as a downloadable MP3 file.

Featured on this edition of The Space Show were Dr. Nicola Sarzi-Amade, Vice President of Business Development of Scorpius Space Launch Company, member of the Space Systems Technical Committee of the AIAA, and Chairman Elect and Membership Co-Chair for the AIAA Los Angeles – Las Vegas Section, and John Spencer, member of the Board of Directors of the National Space Society and President and founder of the Space Tourism Society.

Posted in Event, ISDC, National Space Society, The Space Movement | Leave a comment

Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk Lead List of Luminaries at International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles

May 14-18 Event is Open to the Public with Paid Registration

Los Angeles, California (April 29, 2014) – The 33rd Annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2014) kicks off on Wednesday,  May 14, for five days of presentations, panels, exhibits, lunches and dinners celebrating this year’s theme, “A Space Renaissance.”

ISDC is the yearly conference of the National Space Society (NSS), a nonprofit organization that has hosted the gathering since 1982.  This year’s venue is the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, 6101 West Century Boulevard, conveniently located near Los Angeles International Airport.

Among the notable VIPs at ISDC 2014 is the Honorable Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, who will open Thursday morning’s plenary session, and Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, who will accept the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during Friday evening’s Governor’s Dinner.

Apollo 11 astronaut and author Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the Moon, will speak at a noontime luncheon on Saturday.  A total of six astronauts will be attending the conference.

“I’ve participated in the ISDC since the very first one in 1982, and it remains the preeminent meeting of its kind anywhere in the country,” said Aldrin.  “I am looking forward to speaking at the conference again this year and I encourage anyone with an interest in space exploration and innovation to join me at ISDC 2014.”

Throughout the event, a stellar cast of experts and dignitaries, including astronauts, scientists, engineers, educators, aerospace industry leaders, and government officials will share their knowledge and opinions on contemporary space exploration topics.  Exhibitors from many leading companies will also be on hand to showcase the latest space-related products, projects and technologies.

Additional distinguished speakers include Geoff Notkin, meteorite expert and star of TV’s Meteorite Men; former NASA Astronaut Rick Searfoss, Director of Flight Test Operations and Chief Test Pilot for XCOR Aerospace; Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX; Taber McCallum, Cofounder of Paragon Space Development Corporation; and over 200 additional presenters and panelists.  Three members of the Mercury MESSENGER team will also be participating.

ISDC covers a number of broad topic areas organized into Program Tracks and sub-tracks.  One track garnering considerable interest is Space and Media, focusing on the effects of media on the public’s perception of space exploration.  Conference attendees will hear from some of the creative minds behind movies like Gravity, Oblivion, and Star Trek: Into Darkness, and the current hit television series COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey.  Other major tracks include Space Experience, Living in Space, NASA/Exploration, Mars, and Space Solar Power.

“ISDC 2014 is shaping up to be an amazing conference with an extraordinary group of talented speakers and panelists,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the Executive Committee for the National Space Society.  “Some event seating is limited, so anyone interested in registering should act quickly.”

Online registration is currently open with a variety of options, from single day registration passes to full conference registration with meals.  Discounts are provided for youth, full-time students, seniors, and members of the National Space Society and its affiliates.

Visit http://isdc.nss.org/2014  for complete registration details and discount requirements.  For registration assistance, call 408-736-2363.  For information on exhibiting or participating, call 949-727-1211.

Posted in Event, ISDC, National Space Society | Leave a comment

National Space Society Congratulates SpaceX on the Success of CRS-3 and the First Flight of the Falcon 9R

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) congratulates SpaceX on the successful launch of Commercial Resupply Services 3 (CRS-3) from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 18th at 3:25 pm EDT.  NSS Executive Senior Operating Officer Bruce Pittman said, “The successful reusability tests of the Falcon 9 v1.1 during the CRS-3 mission are a vital step on the path to dramatically reducing the cost of access to space.”

The National Space Society will present two special awards to SpaceX at their 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  Elon Musk, SpaceX Chief Designer and CTO, will accept the Robert A Heinlein Memorial Award.  Gwynne R. Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, will accept the Space Pioneer Award for the Entrepreneurial Business category.

The Dragon capsule berthed with the ISS at 9:06 AM EDT Sunday April 20th.  This is the first flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 to the ISS, and the fourth overall flight of the v1.1 version.  In addition to carrying a record up mass (cargo) to the ISS, the Falcon 9 v1.1 demonstrated for the first time the unfolding of the landing legs on the first stage.   CRS-3 was part of a series of tests of reusable spacecraft technology that are planned to eventually lead to the full re-use of the Falcon 9.   If this occurs, it will drive a revolution in access to space via lowering launch costs.

The Dragon capsule pressurized area carried a record of one GLACIER and two MERLIN freezers for transporting experiment samples, a replacement Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), or in everyday English, a spacesuit, plus additional supplies of food, water, and personal items.  The unpressurized Dragon trunk contained the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) and the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) package made up of four commercial HD cameras.  Dragon also brought VEG-01, a plant growth chamber to the ISS, where it will be used for experimental food production.

As expected for this early test flight, SpaceX did not recover the first stage, which “soft landed” in the ocean.  At this time it appears that CRS-3 met SpaceX’s reusability milestones, including first stage re-ignition to slow the first stage on its return.  Reusability tests of the Falcon 9 will continue throughout 2014, with a target of full first stage reuse by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

On Thursday April 17th the SpaceX Falcon 9R flew for the first time from McGregor, Texas, to a height of 250 m [VIDEO BELOW].  The Falcon 9R is a 3-engine successor to the single-engine “Grasshopper” and will continue the development of reusable SpaceX rocket technology.  Later this summer the Falcon 9R will move to Spaceport America in New Mexico for high-altitude test flights.

Posted in Commercial Spaceflight, Space Transportation | Leave a comment

Dr. John Lewis Wins National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding a 2014 Space Pioneer Award in the Science and Engineering category to Dr. John S. Lewis.  This award is in recognition of his major contributions to the study of the formation and chemistry of asteroids and comets, and his effective work in explaining and promoting both the risks and benefits asteroids offer through his publications.  NSS will present the Space Pioneer Award to Dr. Lewis during the dinner on Thursday, May 15, at its annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. and will run from May 14-18, 2014.

About Dr. John S. Lewis:

Dr. John S. LewisDr. Lewis is Professor Emeritus of Planetary Sciences and Co-Director of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona.  After his degree programs at Princeton, Dartmouth, and University of California at San Diego, he taught space science and cosmo-chemistry at MIT, before moving to the University of Arizona.  His work on the chemistry and composition of asteroids and comets has resulted in a series of significant scientific publications.  He has written 19 books, including graduate and undergraduate texts and popular science books.  He has authored over 150 scientific publications.

His clearly written popular books, (such as Rain of Iron and Ice: The Very Real Threat of Comet and Asteroid Bombardment; Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets; and Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown) have contributed in a major way to public understanding of space dangers and space resources.  He began publishing on this topic when most people could not even conceive of using space resources.

It has always been a risk for professional scientists to write or communicate to the public though the popular media, even though competent communication in this area is always badly needed.  With the advent of both miniature space probes (allowing inexpensive investigation of asteroidal resources), and the imminent availability of reusable rockets (to reduce launch costs and thus allow high mass space operations), the prospect of actual recovery and use of space materials is now much more believable.  His association with Deep Space Industries as Chief Scientist underscores the new reality.  His service as a member of the NSS Board of Governors is also noted with appreciation.

About the Space Pioneer Award:

Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. There are several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. The NSS Awards Committee has been chaired by John Strickland since 2007 and its members seek prestigious award candidates on a continual basis.

About the ISDC: The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the annual conference of the National Space Society bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Posted in Asteroid, ISDC, National Space Society, Near Earth Objects | Leave a comment

Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus Team Wins National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding a 2014 Space Pioneer Award for the Science and Engineering category to Orbital Science Corporation’s Antares/Cygnus Team. The National Space Society will present the Space Pioneer Award to Mr. Frank Mauro, Vice President and CRS Program Director, Mr. Mike Pinkston, the Antares Program Manager, and Mr. Frank Culbertson, Jr, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group. The award presentation will take place on Friday, May 16, 2014, at NSS’s annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA., from May 14-18, 2014.

About Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus Team:

The achievements of Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus Team at Orbital Science Corporation included the development, construction, launch and successful operation of the Antares booster and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s COTS/CRS program. CRS stands for Commercial Resupply Services. Orbital’s Headquarters are in Dulles, VA, and its Launch vehicle Program Offices are located in Chandler, AZ.

About the Antares/Cygnus project:

Antares/Cygnus

Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

As a private company Orbital sucessfully designed, integrated, and built both a midsized Antares liquid-fuel launch vehicle (their first) and a Cygnus orbital tug with a cargo canister. This was done using off-the-shelf technology, modified where necessary, from an international network of suppliers. One demonstration and one commercial flight were accomplished in 2013 with rendezvous and docking with and delivery of materials to the Space Station both times. The spacecraft can deliver up to 2 metric tons of cargo to the Space Station. Essentially flawless performance of the Antares booster and the Cygnus cargo vehicle on all flights so far has demonstrated Orbital’s success in getting the design right the first time. Antares will also become available for cost effectively launching mid-sized payloads comparable to the retiring Delta-II. It is designed to place 5 metric tons into orbit, and all 3 flights have been successful. The Cygnus service and propulsion module can also be regarded as a prototype for a flexible design space tug to move large external cargo placed in orbit to the Space Station.

About the Space Pioneer Award:

Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. There are several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. The NSS Awards Committee has been chaired by John Strickland since 2007 and its members seek prestigious award candidates on a continual basis.

About the ISDC: The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the annual conference of the National Space Society bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Posted in Commercial Spaceflight, ISDC, National Space Society, The Space Movement | Leave a comment

Register for ISDC 2014 Now! Prices Go Up April 1

isdcbanner

International Space Development Conference 2014
Registration goes up April 1. Now is the time to Register for what promises to be a truly extraordinary Conference.  Our Living in Space Track includes presentations from a variety of different disciplines ranging from philosophy to exotic propulsion systems.  This year, topics that have already been scheduled include:  a synopsis of the latest research work conducted by the MarsCrew134 at MDRS, ISS Resource Utilization, Black Hole propulsion systems, and asteroid mining.
isdc


Location: Sheraton Gateway Hotel, Los Angeles
gateway

Special Highlight: Friday Night Banquet – May 16
Featured Speaker: Elon Musk

NSS takes great pleasure in announcing that its 2014 Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award has been won by acclaimed space entrepreneur Elon Musk.  Musk is the Chief Designer and CEO of SpaceX.  In the last decade, SpaceX, under the leadership of Elon Musk, has been moving directly toward accomplishing goals that many of us in NSS think are of utmost importance.  One of these goals is forcing a drastic reduction in launch costs by doing the very hard task, which no one else in the world has been willing and able to tackle:  creating a family of commercially successful and reusable rocket boosters and reusable spacecraft.

musk

Posted in Event, ISDC, National Space Society | Leave a comment

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell Wins National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Entrepreneurial Business

The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding its 2014 Space Pioneer Award for the Entrepreneurial Business category to SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne R. Shotwell. NSS will present the Space Pioneer Award to Mrs. Shotwell on Saturday May 17, at NSS’s annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, and will run from May 14-18, 2014.

About Gwynne Shotwell:

Gwynne ShotwellWith this award we recognize Mrs. Shotwell’s immense service to the space community. We are honoring her specifically for her day to day management of SpaceX business, as an effective spokesperson, and in leading the sales of over $5B in launch services business to a global set of customers. She is also in charge of a wide array of other critical company operations. As the seventh employee of SpaceX in 2002, she has given over 11 years of her life to the fastest growing space company in history, contributing to its excellence in business discipline and restoring the US as a major space launch provider. Her two degrees (BA and MA) in mechanical engineering and applied math from Northwestern University, along with her undergraduate concentration in economics, have served her very well in working with SpaceX engineers and in explaining both the technical and the business details to customers, at conferences, and to the Congress. She previously worked at the Aerospace Corporation and Microcosm, Inc. During her career she has authored dozens of technical papers on spacecraft design, and also participates in STEM scholarship programs.

About SpaceX:

The work currently progressing at SpaceX has a high potential of finally allowing the long awaited economic breakout into space. The core mission of SpaceX is to lower the cost of accessing space by creating a system of reusable rocket boosters and spacecraft, with a policy of continuous improvement. The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk and Tom Mueller. It has grown to over 3000 employees and is now the world’s largest producer of rocket engines. The company has a manifest of about 50 launches, has already provided several resupply missions to the Space Station, recovering its Dragon capsule safely each time, and will be testing new hardware in 2014 leading to a reusable rocket first stage within a few years. The company’s long-range goal is to create a fully reusable space transportation system to allow large numbers of people to reach Mars.

About the Space Pioneer Award

Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist.  The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. There are several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988.  The NSS Awards Committee has been chaired by John Strickland since 2007 and its members seek prestigious award candidates on a continual basis.

About the ISDC:  The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the annual conference of the National Space Society bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Posted in Commercial Spaceflight, ISDC, National Space Society, Space Business, The Space Movement | Leave a comment

New Watershed for Space Solar Power

The Case for Space Solar PowerBook Review: The Case for Space Solar Power, by John C. Mankins

Reviewed by: Paul Werbos, Executive Vice President, National Space Society

If you, like me, are one of those people who really want to do the most you can “to make the dream real,” you need to have a copy of this book on your shelves so that you can read it, reread it, and go back for all the important details. If you could only afford to have one book on your shelves, this should be it.

This book by John Mankins is a major milestone in doing the work required to translate the National Space Society’s general vision into a concrete reality with a viable business case. The author was the leader at NASA of virtually all the useful work on space solar power (SSP) by the US government in the last 25 years, so this book is a unique and authoritative source. Mankins also led the efforts in human and robotic technology in the first round of Bush’s “return to the Moon” program, and this book tells you a lot about what has been going on in those areas as well. In the final section, the book gets deep into concrete business plan options.

Not only does this book provide the blueprint for providing Earth with limitless clean energy, the book also offers a whole new basis for solid, realistic hope that we might succeed after all in the kind of vision which Gerard O’Neill inspired decades ago, where humans settle space in an economically sustainable way, beaming energy to Earth as part of a growing space economy.

Back in the late 1970s, when there was a lot of hope for SSP but the designs were unproven and questionable, many energy experts walked away and never looked back. In the 1990s, Mankins led the NASA Fresh Look work which exposed what was wrong with the old designs, and found new designs that would work but were still too expensive. When John and I worked together in a National Science Foundation study of enabling technologies for SSP in 2002, the most serious life-cycle cost estimates for the best available designs were still about 20 cents per kwh for the electricity. That was still more expensive than the average we pay for electricity generation today (about ten cents), and it required improvements in launch technology which were not then on the horizon.

But now, in this book, Mankins presents a new design concept, SPS-ALPHA (Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array), for which the best guess on cost is only 9 cents per kwh. This year there is also new hope for launch costs, which is a necessary complement to better design and more realistic costs.

The great beauty of SPS-ALPHA is that it relies on a “Lego” kind of approach, building up a huge structure from modules which all weigh less than a ton. This gets rid of the need for heavy lift vehicles, and we can use whatever gets us to space most cheaply.

Some people may be disappointed that Mankins’ plan for SSP does not provide for many humans in space, but that is part of the plan’s strength in reducing cost. The Mankins plan instead shows the way to build up the infrastructure we need in space before we can have a realistic chance to expand human settlement further. If we fulfill that plan, there will be ever more opportunity and need to bring more and more humans along, step by step, perhaps starting out with a kind of swarm city more like a giant expansion of the International Space Station (but with a net positive revenue flow) than like the habitats we will build eventually.

As a matter of honesty, I have to say that the book does not tell us everything we need to know to make the dream a reality. The book tells us a huge amount about competing designs for SSP, some of which might work out better after ALPHA paves the way. But there are other possibilities in the same design space, such as new ideas from the Naval Research Labs about how to handle heat flow issues within the ALPHA approach, and there are additional approaches to reducing launch costs. Nevertheless, Mankins’ book is the game plan for bringing SSP itself to reality. To make a positive difference in the game, we need to have that game plan close at hand, not just on our bookshelves but in all of our strategic thinking for all of the things we can do to help.

The Case for Space Solar Power is available in hard cover and in an inexpensive Kindle edition from Amazon. If you don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle reader apps at tinyurl.com/kindlereaderapps that enable you to read it on your computer or mobile device.

Posted in Books, Space Policy, Space Solar Power, The Space Movement | Leave a comment

MIT team proposes storing extra rocket fuel in space for future missions

By Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

Future lunar missions may be fueled by gas stations in space, according to MIT engineers: A spacecraft might dock at a propellant depot, somewhere between the Earth and the Moon, and pick up extra rocket fuel before making its way to the lunar surface.

Orbiting way stations could reduce the fuel a spacecraft needs to carry from Earth — and with less fuel onboard, a rocket could launch heavier payloads, such as large scientific experiments.

Over the last few decades, scientists have proposed various designs, such as building a fuel-manufacturing station on the Moon and sending tankers to refill floating depots. But most ideas have come with hefty price tags, requiring long-term investment.

The MIT team has come up with two cost-efficient depot designs that do not require such long-term commitment. Both designs take advantage of the fact that each lunar mission carries a supply of “contingency propellant” — fuel that’s meant to be used only in emergencies. In most cases, this backup fuel goes unused, and is either left on the Moon or burned up as the crew re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Instead, the MIT team proposes using contingency propellant from past missions to fuel future spacecraft. For instance, as a mission heads back to Earth, it may drop a tank of contingency propellant at a depot before heading home. The next mission can pick up the fuel tank on its way to the Moon as its own emergency supply. If it ends up not needing the extra propellant, it can also drop it at the depot for the next mission — an arrangement that the team refers to as a “steady-state” approach.

A depot may also accumulate contingency propellant from multiple missions, part of an approach the researchers call “stockpiling.” Spacecraft heading to the Moon would carry contingency propellant as they normally would, dropping the tank at a depot on the way back to Earth if it’s not needed; over time, the depot builds up a large fuel supply. This way, if a large lunar mission launches in the future, its rocket wouldn’t need a huge fuel supply to launch the heavier payload. Instead, it can stop at the depot to collect the stockpiled propellant to fuel its landing on the Moon.

“Whatever rockets you use, you’d like to take full advantage of your lifting capacity,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, a professor of the practice in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Most of what we launch from the Earth is propellant. So whatever you can save, there’s that much more payload you can take with you.”

Hoffman and his students — Koki Ho, Katherine Gerhard, Austin Nicholas, and Alexander Buck — outline their depot architecture in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Pickup and drop-off in space

The researchers came up with a basic mission strategy to return humans to the Moon, one slightly different from that of the Apollo missions. During the Apollo era, spacecraft circled close to the lunar equator — a route that required little change in direction, and little fuel to stay on track. In the future, lunar missions may take a more flexible approach, with the freedom to change course to explore farther reaches of the Moon — such as the polar caps, for evidence of water — a strategy that would require each spacecraft to carry extra fuel to change orbits.

Working under the assumption of a more global exploration strategy, the researchers designed a basic architecture involving a series of stand-alone missions, each exploring the surface of the Moon for seven to 14 days. This mission plan requires that a spacecraft returning to Earth must change its orbital plane when needed. Under this basic scenario, missions could operate under existing infrastructure, without fuel depots, meaning that each spacecraft would carry its own supply of contingency propellant.

The researchers then drew up two depot designs to improve the efficiency of the basic scenario. In both designs, depots would be stationed at Lagrange points — regions in space between the Earth, Moon, and sun that maintain gravitational equilibrium. Objects at these points remain in place, keeping the same relative position with respect to the Earth and the Moon.

Hoffman says that ideally, transferring fuel between the depot and a spacecraft would simply involve astronauts or a robotic arm picking up a tank. The alternative — siphoning fuel from tank to tank like you would for your car — is a bit trickier, as liquid tends to float in a gravity-free environment. But, Hoffman says, it’s doable.

“In building the International Space Station, every time a new module is added, we’ve had to hook up new fluid connections,” Hoffman says. “It’s not a trivial design problem, but it can be done.”

‘Creating value … against political uncertainty’

The main drawbacks for both depot designs include maintenance; keeping depots within the Lagrange point; and preventing a phenomenon, called “boil-off,” in which fuel that’s not kept at cold-enough temperatures can boil away. If scientists can find ways around these challenges, Hoffman says, gas stations in space could be an efficient way to support large lunar explorations.

“One of the problems with large space programs is, you invest a huge amount in building up the infrastructure, and then a program gets canceled,” Hoffman says. “With depot architectures, you’re creating value which is robust against political uncertainty.”

The paper came out of two MIT classes taught by Hoffman: 16.851 (Satellite Engineering) and 16.89 (Space Systems Engineering), in which students also looked at redesigning a lunar lander and evaluated different approaches to landing on the Moon.

James Head, a professor of geological sciences at Brown University, says the group’s two approaches optimize the possibility of both near-lunar missions and more ambitious, longer-duration missions to more distant destinations.

“Currently, NASA is once again considering circumlunar human operations and developing architectures for moving on to Mars,” Head says. “So this paper is extremely important and timely in the context of developing NASA plans for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.”

See also on the NSS website: Orbital Propellant Depots: Building the Interplanetary Highway.

Posted in Space Transportation | 1 Comment