Engineering on the Edge has been following the progression of the commercial entities that have stepped up to replace NASA’s retired space shuttle program for some time now. It’s astonishing how quickly the project has gone through testing. On October 7, the first official SpaceX mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral.
The launch marks the return of spacefaring capability to the United States. The U.S. government had been paying Russia to provide support for its crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The launch went off without a hitch and the Dragon is now (as of writing) on its way to dock with the ISS to deliver supplies and equipment. Continue reading
As noted previously, Curiosity’s landing on Mars is an amazing feat of engineering and another step forward for the exploration of space. In this period of monetary woes, some people have questioned whether the funding used for Curiosity might have been better spent elsewhere. I’m not going to say the $2.5 billion cost was cheap, but compare that to the approximately $14.4 billion spent on the 2012 Olympics and it might not seem quite as bad.
NASA’s cash flow has seen a steady decline since the heady days of the Apollo program, leading to the current plan of using commercial entities for manned trips to the International Space Station (ISS) and other such near-Earth jaunts. Currently, the U.S. is forced to rely on the Russians for travel to the ISS at the cost of $60 million a passenger. While that might seem expensive, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $1 billion per shuttle mission.
With the main responsibility for near-Earth space missions being delegated to the private sector, competition for contracts becomes important to drive innovation and lower costs. The SpaceX test launch to the International Space Station has been postponed till tomorrow and being aborted at the last second over the weekend. However, other companies are continuing to move forward with their own commercial rocket and/or spacecraft projects. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is among them.
ATK is building a two-stage rocket, called Liberty, to launch satellites and crew alike into orbit. Rather than starting from zero, the company is working with a design that incorporates the solid fuel boosters from the U.S. space shuttle and the liquid fuel secondary booster from the European Ariane rocket system.
I heard an interesting theory about why the Jetsons live in space. This theory held that the zombie apocalypse finally happened and people moved to space rather than compete with the mindless, shambling hordes. With the death of the shuttle missions, the future of humanity may depend on the commercial sector! OK, maybe not. What am I babbling about anyways?
Bigelow Aerospace (BA) has been working on a series of expandable space habitats. Rather than being the “hotels in space” they were originally touted by the media as, these inflatable space stations are meant for use by companies and nations interested in developing a space program without a multi-billion dollar investment. The company already has two prototypes in orbit that are functioning well enough that BA has moved on to the construction stage of development.
The April 30 date was set after the completion of NASA’s flight readiness review. This was to be the second SpaceX demonstration launch for the space agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule will launch from Cape Canaveral, conduct a series of testing procedures, and then rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station (ISS).
After SpaceX announced the delay, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, William Gerstenmaier, issued a statement: Continue reading