General Atomics Blitzer Railgun

In 2007, building upon knowledge gained under an Office of Naval Research (ONR) Innovative Naval Prototype contract, GA initiated development of the Blitzer™ system using internal funds to accomplish two major objectives:

  • Demonstrate the technical maturity of tactically relevant railgun technologies in a proving-ground environment.
  • Generate interest in the viability of smaller Electromagnetic (EM) gun systems for use in a broader set of missions, including integrated air and missile defense (IAMD)

GA accomplished both of these objectives by demonstrating the launcher and power system technologies to full design levels in 2009 during testing with non-aerodynamic rounds, followed by testing of aerodynamic rounds during the fall of 2010.

The tests demonstrated the integration and capabilities of a tactically relevant EM Railgun launcher, pulsed power system, and projectile. The projectiles were launched by Blitzer at Mach 5 with acceleration levels exceeding 60,000 gee, and exhibited repeatable sabot separation and stable flight.

Is the US Navy Preparing to Conquer Space?

By Chuck Lesher

300px-Lunar_base_concept_drawing_s78_23252

Lunar base with a long electromagnetic track for a mass driver.

Colonizing space will require a lot of stuff, iron to build space stations, titanium to build spaceships, oxygen for us to breathe, and many other resources. Lifting all this up from the surface of the earth on rockets is simply not feasible. Thus, we will need to find these resources somewhere else. You need look no further than the moon. It has all the natural resources we need to colonize space but the question remains, how do we get them into orbit? Even on the moon, rockets are not feasible, but something else might be.

An idea emerged over a century ago called a mass driver. The first mass driver described in print was in the 1897 science fiction novel A Trip to Venus by John Munro. He called it an electric gun. It was his imaginative method of launching vehicles into outer space from the Earth’s surface. Munro describes the electric gun as a series of coils energized in a timed sequence to provide the force necessary to get the spaceship into orbit.

Continue reading

Golden Spike Company – Grumman to Study Lunar Lander Design

BOULDER, CO. (January 3, 2013) – The Golden Spike Company announced today that it has entered into a contract with Northrop Grumman Corporation for the design of a new lunar lander that fits within Golden Spike’s “head start” commercial lunar architecture.

Northrop Grumman’s participation brings heritage lunar engineering expertise to Golden Spike. Northrop Grumman is a major aerospace and defense contractor. Its legacy companies — Grumman and TRW — designed and built the Lunar Module and Lunar Module Descent Engines for the Apollo moon landing missions that between 1969 and 1972 ferried a crew of two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back again six times.

Golden Spike debuted last month as the first commercial aerospace company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon by the end of the decade. The company aims to use existing rockets and emerging commercial-crew spacecraft to allow nations, individuals and corporations to mount their own lunar expeditions. The lander is the only significant hardware that needs to be designed from the ground up.

“This is a significant step forward in our plans,” said Golden Spike’s Board Chairman, Gerry Griffin. “Northrop Grumman brings Golden Spike a unique body of knowledge and skills as the only company to ever build a successful human-rated lunar lander, the Apollo Lunar Module.”

Dr. S. Alan Stern, Golden Spike’s President and CEO, added: “We’re very proud to be working with Northrop Grumman, which has the most experience and successful performance record for human lunar lander designs in the world.”

Among the tasks Northrop Grumman will perform for Golden Spike are:

  • Reviewing requirements and synthesizing a set of study ground rules and assumptions emphasizing system reliability, automated/ground command operability, and affordability
  • Establishing velocity (Δv) budgets from and to low lunar orbit for pragmatic lunar landing sites
  • Exploring a wide variety of Lunar Lander concept options, including staging, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, systems capabilities for exploration, as well as landing site flexibility
  • Establishing the design trade space and establish pragmatic limits for future more detailed analysis and development

“This study is one of a number of initial studies we’re undertaking to begin creating the design requirements and specs for the lander contract competition we expect to hold to select a Golden Spike lander for flight development,” said Golden Spike’s Lunar Lander Systems Study (LLaSS) engineering chief, James R. French.

Golden Spike predicts its customers will want to explore the Moon for varying reasons—scientific exploration and discovery, national prestige, commercial development, marketing, entertainment, and even personal achievement. Market studies by the company show the possibility of 15-25 or more expeditions in the decade following a first landing.

NASA’s GRAIL Lunar Impact Site Named for Astronaut Sally Ride

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA has named the site where twin agency spacecraft impacted the moon Monday in honor of the late astronaut, Sally K. Ride , who was America’s first woman in space and a member of the probes’ mission team.

Last Friday, Ebb and Flow, the two spacecraft comprising NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, were commanded to descend into a lower orbit that would result in an impact Monday on a mountain near the moon’s north pole. The formation-flying duo hit the lunar surface as planned at 2:28:51 p.m. PST (5:28:51 p.m. EST) and 2:29:21 p.m. PST (5:29:21 p.m. EST) at a speed of 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second). The location of the Sally K. Ride Impact Site is on the southern face of an approximately 1.5 mile- (2.5 -kilometer) tall mountain near a crater named Goldschmidt.

“Sally was all about getting the job done, whether it be in exploring space, inspiring the next generation, or helping make the GRAIL mission the resounding success it is today,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “As we complete our lunar mission, we are proud we can honor Sally Ride’s contributions by naming this corner of the moon after her.”

The impact marked a successful end to the GRAIL mission, which was NASA’s first planetary mission to carry cameras fully dedicated to education and public outreach. Ride, who died in July after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, led GRAIL’s MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students) Program through her company, Sally Ride Science, in San Diego.

Along with its primary science instrument, each spacecraft carried a MoonKAM camera that took more than 115,000 total images of the lunar surface. Imaging targets were proposed by middle school students from across the country and the resulting images returned for them to study. The names of the spacecraft were selected by Ride and the mission team from student submissions in a nationwide contest.

“Sally Ride worked tirelessly throughout her life to remind all of us, especially girls, to keep questioning and learning,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. “Today her passion for making students part of NASA’s science is honored by naming the impact site for her.”

Fifty minutes prior to impact, the spacecraft fired their engines until the propellant was depleted. The maneuver was designed to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in the tanks. This will help NASA engineers validate computer models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.

“Ebb fired its engines for 4 minutes, 3 seconds and Flow fired its for 5 minutes, 7 seconds,” said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “It was one final important set of data from a mission that was filled with great science and engineering data.”

The mission team deduced that much of the material aboard each spacecraft was broken up in the energy released during the impacts. Most of what remained probably is buried in shallow craters. The craters’ size may be determined when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returns images of the area in several weeks.

Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow had been orbiting the moon since Jan. 1, 2012. The probes intentionally were sent into the lunar surface because they did not have sufficient altitude or fuel to continue science operations. Their successful prime and extended science missions generated the highest resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and
evolved.

“We will miss our lunar twins, but the scientists tell me it will take years to analyze all the great data they got, and that is why we came to the moon in the first place,” Lehman said. “So long, Ebb and Flow, and we thank you.”

JPL manages the GRAIL mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. GRAIL is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

For more information about GRAIL, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/grail

Chinese Chang’E 2 Spacecraft Captures Toutatis

Toutatis
Chang’E 2 Images of Asteroid Toutatis on 13 December 2012
Image Credit: Weibo.com/Xinhuashidian

Emily Lakdawalla, at the Planetary Society, published these stunning images of the asteroid Toutatis (captured by The Chinese spacecraft Chang’E 2) as it tumbled past the Earth on 12 and 13 December 2012.

Chang’E 2 was originally launched on 1 October 2010, and mapped the Moon during an eight month mission. China published these high resolution images of the Moon earlier this year. Now, Chang’E 2 has become the first spacecraft to reach the Sun-Earth Lagrange point (SEL-2) from lunar orbit. It departed lunar orbit in June of 2011.

The world was caught completely off-guard by this low profile fly-by of the asteroid Toutatis. At closest approach, Chang’E 2 was 3.2 kilometers above the surface of the asteroid. The images were taken from a distance of 93 and 240 kilometers. China becomes the fourth country to observe an asteroid, after US, the European Union and Japan.

In January, Chang’E 2 will reach a distance of 10 million kilometers from Earth.

Additional details have been published by Xinhua on their website, and at Discovery.com.

In August, Bill Gray at the Planetary Society, published an update on the Chnag’E 2 mission.

Paolo, a member of the UnmannedSpaceflight.com forum, reported in October concerning a paper he had obtained from the IAF Congress entitled “Low energy trajectory optimization for CE-2’s extended mission after 2012“. He did share these items from the paper:

  • 13 December 2012 is confirmed as the date. no distance nor relative speed or other details are given
  • we are told that the Beijing Aerospace Control Center called for proposals on a mission beyond L2 in January 2012
  • there were lots of interesting proposals including one that would flyby Earth and Moon repeatedly, visit the L1 and L2 Lagrangian points, flyby a hundred-meter sized asteroid and finally explore the L4 Sun-Earth point in 2017 (the paper states that CE-2 would have been the first mission to do so. I think one of the two Stereos was first)
  • in March 2012 the Toutatis flyby, proposed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology was selected
  • in a non-optimized form, the mission would have cost 107.5 m/s of the remaining 120 m/s delta-v budget
  • a 6.2 m/s correction on 15 April “was mainly used to keep the Lissajous trajectory”. it was previously reported as the date CE-2 was maneuvered out of the L2 halo orbit
  • trajectory optimization was only carried out starting on 16 April. After optimization, an additional 22 m/s delta-v was gained that could be used to ensure a successful flyby
  • the first targeting maneuver was carried out on 31 May (32.9 m/s)
  • the second targeting maneuver (46.5 m/s) was to be carried out on 24 September

Sky and Telescope has also weighed in with unique information on the fly-by. The passage was so close that the deflection in the trajectory of the spacecraft could be used to determine the gravitational mass of Toutatis, which in turn would yield the overall density, a key to understanding its bulk composition and internal makeup.

edited: 5 PM 16 December 2012

Asteroid Toutatis Tumbles Past Earth

Toutatis
Radar Image of Asteroid Toutatis on 12 December 2012
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The asteroid Toutatis passed 18 lunar distances (6.9 million kilometers) away from the Earth on 12 and 13 December 2012. NASA has released a movie based on a series of radar images taken by the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California.

Toutatis is an elongated asteroid with a maximum length of about 4.8 kilometers. It tumbles slowly, once every 5.4 days, and precesses like a badly thrown football around the long axis every 7.4 days.

Currently, its orbit will bring it back to the Earth’s neighborhood in 2069 and it will pass by at a distance of about 3 million kilometers.

Tracking Toutatis is the job of Near-Earth Object Observations Program. The program discovers and tracks asteroids and comets and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Grail Gravity Maps of the Moon

Gravity Maps
Grail Gravity Maps of the Lunar Highlands
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MIT / GSFC

NASA released this graphic of the front (left) and back (right) of the Moon, based on gravity data from NASA’s GRAIL mission and topography data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The graphic shows regions of high and low densities of the lunar highlands. Red is high and blue is low. White shows mare basalt regions and solid circles are prominent impact basins.

On the back side of the Moon, the South Pole-Aitken basin, has a higher than average density that reflects its atypical iron-rich surface composition.

Below is a highly detail gravity map of the front (visible) side of the Moon. You can watch the movie.

Visible Side
Grail Gravity Map of the Visible Side of the Moon
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MIT / GSFC

One Year Mission on the Space Station Set for 2015

Scott Kelly
American Astronaut Scott Kelly
Image Credit: NASA

Mikhail Kornienko
Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced on Monday 26 November 2012, that American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been selected by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and their international partners to conduct a 12 month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015.

The mission aboard the orbiting laboratory is designed to further our understanding of how the human body reacts and adapts to microgravity and other aspects of living in space. Work over the past several years have shown marked improvement in the ability for astronauts on a normal 5-6 month mission aboard the ISS to adapt to microgravity. The year long mission seeks to validate these findings.

Long duration missions to the Moon, Lagrange points, asteroids and Mars will require countermeasures to reduce risks associated with future exploration.

Kelly and Kornienko are veterans of space travel. Kelly served as a pilot on space shuttle mission STS-103 in 1999, commander on STS-118 in 2007, flight engineer on the International Space Station Expedition 25 in 2010 and commander of Expedition 26 in 2011. Kelly has logged more than 180 days in space.

Kornienko was selected as an Energia test cosmonaut candidate in 1998 and trained as an International Space Station Expedition 8 backup crew member. He served as a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 23/24 crews in 2010 and has logged more than 176 days in space.

The two astronauts will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in the Spring of 2015 and return to land in Kazakhstan in the Spring of 2016.

Arizona State Space Exploration Symposium – A Review

Michael Mackowski, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, attended the one day symposium titled “The Future of Humans in Space” on 26 October 2012. He sent us these observations:

Notes from ASU Space Exploration Symposium, 10/26/12

I attended a symposium at ASU on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012. The name of the event was “Future of Humans in Space: Re-Kindling the Dream. The day-long symposium was sponsored by ASU’s Beyond Center, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the Center for Science and the Imagination. Here are my random notes on each speaker.

Hugh Downs (former television news personality and current chairman of the board of governors of the NSS)
He reminisced about NASA’s “glory days” when a leader like von Braun could make design decisions on the spot. Downs claimed that Werner saw the original Saturn V design with four engines, and suggested they add a fifth. There were no trade studies, no review committees, no cost-benefits trades, just a brilliant engineer with the freedom to get things done. Downs also talked about the early days of the National Space Society including how George Whitesides helped get it going.

George Whitesides (CEO and president of Virgin Galactic)
He talked about how Virgin wants to put more people into space. While he acknowledged these are suborbital flights, he avoided noting (until asked) that it is only for two minutes. He tried to make a case that these are exciting times for space development right now, with SpaceX proving their new capabilities and Virgin close to proving out the market for tourist flights into space. Just how this fits in with the theme of the symposium (“Why are we stuck in low Earth orbit?”), when Virgin doesn’t even GET to orbit was a bit puzzling to me. I’m all for rich people wanting to take their joy rides, and maybe this advances cheaper access to space, but I don’t see how suborbital tourist rides gets us closer to settlements off the Earth. Perhaps it can establish a space tourist market that can evolve into a LEO business, thus driving down launch costs. Whitesides did mention that Virgin Galactic has plans for orbital vehicles but that is a long way off.

Ed Finn (Director, Center for Science and the Imagination)
This center (http://csi.asu.edu) was one of the co-sponsors of this event and they had a few minutes to introduce themselves. A simple statement of their charter is to connect science and the arts. One of their efforts is to bring together scientists and engineers with science fiction writers. It’s another example of ASU president Michael Crow’s adventures in collaborations across disciplines.

Kip Hodges (Director, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration)
He talked about collaboration between humans and robots in future space exploration from the perspective of a field geologist. His main point was that robots are unlikely to ever be as good as humans for exploration. Human cognition will always be superior to autonomous machines, but there is plenty of room for working together. The problem is latency, or the time it takes to communicate with a teleprescence on another world. Until we figure that out, robotic exploration will be slow and inefficient.

Panel Discussion: How to Leverage Our Investment in Space
This panel included Kip Hodges, Lawrence Krauss (physics professor), astronaut Andrew Thomas, and Paul Davies. I don’t think the discussion ever talked about leveraging our past investments, but the topic veered into how will we ever manage to get a manned Mars mission. All of the classic debate topics came up:
– Destinations versus Capabilities
– Moon versus Mars
– Robots versus People
– Science versus Adventure
– Settlement versus Political Prestige
– Government versus Entrepreneur
There was a consensus that the ultimate goal is human settlement on other worlds. But the path to get there is not at all clear. Astronaut Andy Thomas had a lucid view of the situation, in that space exploration is not a national imperative. Our indecisiveness is a social issue, not technical, not even political. It is still too expensive for private entities to bankroll, and the American taxpayer is in no mood to pay for more than we are doing now. Public interest is just too shallow. It won’t be performed by “commercial” firms because there is no business case for going to the Moon or Mars. The problem of radiation exposure was debated, and clearly more research is required here. Some of the panelists supported the concept of a one-way mission to Mars. These would not be suicide missions but the beginnings of permanent settlements. Others, however, said that eliminating the problems of a return to Earth stage is replaced with other, equally challenging problems of long duration survival.

Robert Zubrin (author of The Case for Mars)
Zubrin kicked off his presentation with the audacious claim that the most important issue is the world today is going to Mars. In 500 years, the first mission to Mars will be remembered more than who wins the election or how we manage our health care system. There’s some truth to that, but most people have to pay their bills first. He gave his classic talk on how to get to Mars in ten years. It is a very well thought out mission plan, and a lot of it makes sense. On the down side, Robert seems to be using the same charts and graphics from when he first came up with this concept twenty years ago. (He had grainy images from Viking to make a point about landing sites. How hard would it be to use some images from, say, the 1990s?) When it comes to destination-vs-capabilities, Zubrin is of the mind that missions drive the technology, so he wants to see a challenging mission declared. Unfortunately, this runs in the face of Andy Thomas’s observation that today’s American public is in no mood for expensive space spectaculars.

Kim Stanley Robinson (science fiction author)
Robinson’s take on space exploration was a bit more philosophical than the other speakers, as he is a writer and not a technologist. He claims that “the space project” will naturally occur as the outcome of a healthy planet and a healthy human civilization. Looking around the world right now, we’re not there. Thinking of space as a planet will help us deal with climate change. He’s not enamored with so-called “commercial” space. Space is a commons, not a playground for the rich. We need to take care of our own planet, as only Earth matters. We also have to acknowledge that we, as a species, are not “destined” for space. We are products of the Earth’s biosphere. We can attempt to take it with us, but the inter-relationships among human beings and microbiotic life (for example) is not fully understood. If we take a sterile environment with us on deep space missions, what crucial microbes will we forget?

Panel Discussion: Wilder ideas, one-way missions, warp drives, starships, etc.
This panel consisted of Sarah Walker (an astrobiologist), Ed Finn (from the Center for Science and the Imagination), Paul Davies, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Robert Zubrin. It was an entertaining discussion on such speculative topics as nuclear propulsion, space elevators, controlled fusion, magnetic monopoles, generation ships, modified human biology, etc.

Summary
There was no real conclusion or summary statement planned, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I spoke with Prof. Paul Davies prior to the meeting and he kindly gave me a few minutes on stage to promote local chapters of the National Space Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Some good contacts were made and I think there will be opportunities for collaboration between ASU and groups like NSS, the Moon Society, and AIAA.

As for the prospects for invigorating the space program, I believe the key word is patience. Government-run space exploration will only accomplish what citizens are demanding, and right now, not enough citizens are demanding a base on the moon or Mars. Privately sponsored space exploration might happen eventually, but it would have to be from a purely altruistic motivation, as there is no business case for exploration any time soon. We will need to wait for the technology to allow either of these paths to become affordable before we will make much progress towards establishing a true space faring civilization. That is the sad reality.

Dragon – Capture and Berthing – Images

Capture of the Dragon was completed by Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide at 3:56 AM Phoenix time (10:56 UTC). Suni: “Looks like we tamed the dragon, she’s on board with us.”

Referring to the fact that Dragon is capable of carrying powered equipment to and from the space station, the space station crew reported that they had captured Dragon and were looking forward to the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream in the freezer aboard the space craft.

Sunlight
Dragon Attached to ISS – In The Sunlight Above Earth
Image Credit: NASA TV

At 4:45 Phoenix time, the space station crew is preparing for Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) inspection.

The CBM has been inspected and has been confirmed to be in good condition. Since the ISS is out of range of KU communication, there will be a 10-15 minute wait until the crew can move the robotic arm to the pre-install position.

Moving
Dragon Moving Carefully to the Berthing Position on the Harmony Node
Image Credit: NASA TV

In the image below, the Dragon Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) is in the upper right and the Harmony Node is in the lower left. The ISS crew is waiting to receive permission to move the Dragon to the pre-install position.

CBM
Dragon Common Berthing Mechanism
Image Credit: NASA TV

At 5:15 AM Phoenix time (12:15 UTC), Dragon is being moved to the pre-install position.

Pre-Install
Dragon Being Moved to the Pre-Install Position
Image Credit: NASA TV

The ground crew is preparing to give the go ahead to berth the Dragon. Currently the Flight director hand-over is in work for transition from Orbit-1 to Orbit-2.

The flight director has begun to continue the process leading up to berthing. Suni is checking that the thrusters have been safed.

At 5:41 AM, the Dragon is again in motion, moving toward the bottom of the Harmony module.

And Suni has confirmed contact: “We are ready to latch”.

RTL
Dragon Makes Contact and is Ready To Latch
Image Credit: NASA TV

First stage capture is complete and the bolts have been tightened. The robotic arm has been “limped”, but not disengaged.

Second stage capture is underway, 272 Miles above the South Atlantic. With the re-establishment of solid comm, Suni can proceed.

At 6:03 AM (13:03 UTC), installation has been confirmed.

RTL
Dragon Installed on the International Space Station
Image Credit: NASA TV

Graphic showing all the vehicles currently attached to the International Space Station.

RTL
Dragon in the International Space Station Parking Lot
Image Credit: NASA TV