Participate in the International SunSat Competition – Over $40,000 in Prizes Will Be Awarded!

The National Space Society in affiliation with Ohio University is pleased to announce that the International SunSat Design Competition is now registering competitive teams.  This two-year project is designed to link global scientific communities with university-based (and other) digital media labs for the purposes of advancing knowledge of space-based solar power satellites (SunSats) and illustrating their many Earth-energy applications.

International SunSat Competition

If you are a space scientist, engineer, academic, business or digital media professional with an idea for moving space solar power closer to implementation, consider forming a team to join in this effort. And please forward this message to others.

In the first cycle of this competition, two First Place prizes of $10,000 and three Second Place prizes of $5,000 are expected to be awarded at the May 2014 International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. For registered teams successfully completing the Feb. 2014 "significant progress point," an additional $1,000 incentive can be earned, and $1,000 travel assistance will be awarded to winners.

Winning entries of 2014 and 2015 will be published in the Space Journal as Issue No.18: Top SSP Designs.

To learn more, check  the SunSat Visualization Guidebook and look at the SunSat Design Competition website.

To see where the idea of a SSP Design Competition came from, take a look at SpaceJournal Issue No.16: Solar Power Satellites.

To see how Ohio University’s Game Research in Immersive Design (GRID) Lab, with the help of Georgia Institute of Technology, University of North Dakota and others in academia, has experimented with making the advanced science and technology concepts of SSP more accessible to the public, view SpaceJournal Issue No.17: Creative Visualization of Space Solar Power.

This competition is managed by Ohio University, the host institution for the Online Journal of Space Communication, but guided and juried by members of the National Space Society and the Society of Satellite Professionals International.

Grasshopper Takes Final Leap

From SpaceX: On Monday, October 7th, Grasshopper completed its highest leap to date, rising to 744m altitude. The view above is taken from a single camera hexacopter, getting closer to the stage than in any previous flight.

Grasshopper is a 10-story Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle designed to test the technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact. While most rockets are designed to burn up on atmosphere reentry, SpaceX rockets are being designed not only to withstand reentry, but also to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing. The Grasshopper VTVL vehicle represents a critical step towards this goal.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

SpaceX says this is the last Grasshopper flight and “next up will be low altitude tests of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle in Texas followed by high altitude testing in New Mexico.”

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 Registration closes on Tuesday, October 1,2013, at 12:00 PM EDT. For more information, please email

The DARPA Special Notice describing the specific capabilities the program seeks is available at 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.

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.

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.

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.