NASA’s hot new engine coming soon

In an important step toward developing better propulsion for space travel NASA announced on April 19th that Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. has been selected to “design and develop” an advanced electric propulsion system to be used on its Asteroid Redirect Mission and the manned mission to Mars. The system would also be made available for commercial use.

The phrase “design and develop” does not mean that Aerojet is starting at the theoretical level. Rather Aerojet will be working with theory and technology which has been evolving since the 1950’s

Quoting NASA:

“Aerojet Rocketdyne will oversee the development and delivery of an integrated electric propulsion system consisting of a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. NASA has developed and tested a prototype thruster and PPU that the company can use as a reference design.”

Aerojet’s contract is for thirty-six months with an estimated value of $67 million.
Continue reading “NASA’s hot new engine coming soon”

New Horizons: Seeking out the poorer quadrants where the ragged planets go

Roughly three hundred days ago New Horizons flew past what used to be the ninth planet heading for scattered debris that failed to accrete into that Main Line district of the solar system, the eight planets.

A milestone of sorts was reached this week as NASA announced that the New Horizons’ spacecraft has sent back roughly half of the data it captured during its flyby of Pluto in July 2015.

Every new revelation seems to make Pluto more interesting. Instead of a dead frozen world Pluto is now known to be a geologically active center of a mini-system of five moons. Pluto is no longer an after-thought in the solar system, a curiosity, a place we should eventually explore.

Moreover Pluto is the just first Kuiper Belt Object to be explored. If Pluto is this interesting what will other Kuiper Belt Objects be like? How likely is it that Pluto proves to be the most interesting or important object in a region which may contain as many as 35,000 objects with a diameter of 60 miles or more?
Continue reading “New Horizons: Seeking out the poorer quadrants where the ragged planets go”

NIAC: Exploring subsurface oceans – “Doing the hard thing”

Over fifty years ago John Kennedy articulated one of the most important reasons for exploring space:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. . . “

NASA has a program which seeks out the things which are not easy, which are hard and which organize and measure the bet of our energies and skills: NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept program (NIAC).

Earlier this month NIAC awarded a Phase I grants to several projects, giving each $100,000 and nine months to prove the feasibility of some aspect of the proposal.

One of the Phase I awardees was a project submitted by Dr. Masahiro Ono, a research technologist at JPL. Dr. Ono proposes exploring the oceans of Enceladus and Europa using a lander with three separate modules.
Continue reading “NIAC: Exploring subsurface oceans – “Doing the hard thing””