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NASA Moon Space Transportation Science Technology

Pieces Coming Together For NASA's New Spacecraft 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
Matt_dk points out an update on the progress of development for NASA's Ares I launch rocket, excerpting: "NASA is using powerful computers and software programs to design the rocket that will carry crew and cargo to space after the space shuttle retires. But those computers will have their work checked the old-fashioned way with the first of several uncrewed demonstration launches beginning in 2009. Ares I-X, the first Ares I test rocket, will lift off from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. in the summer of 2009. It will climb about 25 miles in a two-minute powered test of Ares I first stage performance and its first stage separation and parachute recovery system." Reader coondoggie notes that NASA is also looking further afield, putting out the call for ideas on moon colonization. They'll be offering a variety of grants for projects which facilitate human activities that are "not reliant on Earth's resources."
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Pieces Coming Together For NASA's New Spacecraft

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  • by takane (1277990) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @10:30AM (#26012827)
    According to this [slashdot.org] it may not actually happen, in fact it may just be the beginning of the budgetary death spiral for the whole manned space program.
  • by ZosX (517789) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .suivaxsoz.> on Saturday December 06, 2008 @10:41AM (#26012859) Homepage

    While the 20 some year old space shuttle (that was kind of funny, I mistyped it shittle the first time) ages not so gracefully, we need a replacement to move people and objects to the ISS. Obama is already talking about scaling back the most massive projects at NASA, and in today's econopolitical climate I doubt there is going to be a great deal of support behind new huge expensive rockets. For the amount of raw materials and fuel expended (yes, I know rockets can be relaunched) it doesn't strike me as a very efficient way to get into space. Where are the sleek little ships that we hop into and are in orbit in minutes? I know its science fiction (orbit takes a great deal of velocity and acceleration from 0 to such lofty speeds might take a bit of time), but we should be pouring a lot more of our money and time into finding better sources of energy and ways to harvest them. I mean, liquid fuel rockets are like whawt, 60-70 year old technology now? Nuclear technology....60 years roughly? All these advances happened at or near the end of World War II. Computers....oh wait...that was also about 60 some years ago. Sure every technology has been advanced, but when you look at the overall progress (transistors, notwithstanding) it has all been an evolution from these earlier examples, but nothing so revolutionary as they were in the first place. The combustion engine was developed over 100 years ago. Where is the Edison of the new age? Where is the Tesla of the 21st century? Could I be totally wrong in thinking that while our rate of knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate, our actual technology is increasing on a much, much flatter curve, if it is a curve at all.......?

    • by Samschnooks (1415697) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @11:02AM (#26012973)
      The ISS is a white elephant and a distraction to NASA. It should be abandoned for real scientific and research pursuits.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      While the 20 some year old space shuttle (that was kind of funny, I mistyped it shittle the first time) ages not so gracefully, we need a replacement to move people and objects to the ISS. Obama is already talking about scaling back the most massive projects at NASA, and in today's econopolitical climate I doubt there is going to be a great deal of support behind new huge expensive rockets. For the amount of raw materials and fuel expended (yes, I know rockets can be relaunched) it doesn't strike me as a very efficient way to get into space. Where are the sleek little ships that we hop into and are in orbit in minutes? I know its science fiction (orbit takes a great deal of velocity and acceleration from 0 to such lofty speeds might take a bit of time)

      It's not science fiction, it takes a couple of minutes to reach orbit with those big rockets. The fact that you don't even know this makes me think you're talking out of your arse.
      What we need are more dense fuels, which basically means nuclear (either fission or fusion), otherwise we're stuck with the ridiculously tiny ratio of payload to launch mass.

      • by ZosX (517789)

        Gotta love nasa:

        Alexandria from Orlando
        How long does it take for the Orbiter to get in to orbit?
        Very good question, it only takes 8 and half minutes. It's quite a wild ride when you consider that they have to go from that standing start to 17,500 mile per hour. In the initial acceleration, right off the launch pad going straight up it's faster than a Corvette, I do believe. And the amazing thing is that the whole shuttle stack weighs about 4 and half million pounds, not just 3,000 pounds like a Corvette.

        Its

      • Other than exploding a series of bombs under the rocket, how could nuclear be used as a propellant? Making steam from water?
        • by Nit Picker (9292) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @01:10PM (#26013783)

          Back in the 50's, 60's, and 70's several experimental nuclear rocket engines were built and static tested They were reactors that had liquid hydrogen forced through the core. One of the projects went by the acronym NERVA if you want to look it up. My understanding is that the engines had specific impulses well above those obtainable with chemical rockets, but no one liked the potential impacts of a launch failure.

          • no one liked the potential impacts of a launch failure.

            The fact is, no one like(d/s) the impacts of a launch success. Do your own search for the reality.

          • by pnewhook (788591)

            These actually used the exhaust to blow past the core and cool it to keep it from going critical. Worked but the exhaust was then radioactive. Also you had to keep a minimum amount of thrust or the cooling effect wasn't sufficient and it would explode.

            A good science experiment but completely useless for human space travel.

        • By using either alpha particles or neutrons as a replacement for ions in a basic mass reaction engines, just nuclear powered!
        • by maxume (22995)

          While you are in the atmosphere, you can make hot air out of cold air.

          There isn't all that much atmosphere to work with, but I suppose you could make a launch platform a la S.H.I.E.L.D., and you could always try to accumulate velocity while going sideways.

          • Sounds like it may be plausible for LEO missions (IANARS*), but it won't be taking us to the moon (and definitely wouldn't bring us back).

            * - I Am Not A Rocket Scientist

            • by maxume (22995)

              I'm not a rocket scientist either, but if it were viable, it might chop off enough of the bottom of the fuel pyramid to make other missions easier or cheaper.

              For hand-wavy reference purposes, a 3 million kg Saturn V launches about 47,000 kg into lunar vicinity, and about 118,000 kg into leo:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V [wikipedia.org]

        • by camperdave (969942) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @06:55PM (#26015697) Journal
          Other than exploding a series of bombs under the rocket, how could nuclear be used as a propellant? Making steam from water?

          Yes, exactly. That's how most nuclear reactors work. When you get a stable chain reaction going, it generates a lot of heat. In a basic nuclear power plant, that heat is used (indirectly) to turn water into steam, which is used to turn turbines and generate electricity. Currently, the reactor is fueled with solid uranium pellets. The problem is, with solids, if you don't cool the reaction properly, the fuel gets so hot that it melts through the floor of the reactor. There is a gas, uranium hexafluoride, which is also radioactive. If you get the density of the gas right, it undergoes a chain reaction and generates heat. The bonus with using a gas is that by depressurizing it, you cause the reaction to stop. The hotter the gas gets, the more it wants to expand and the more it expands the slower the chain reactions. It becomes self regulating. It will never melt down because it is already a gas.

          Okay, so you take this Uranium hexafluoride, and put it into a silica glass chamber and you spin the gas like a mini tornado. This gives you the proper pressure. The silica glass is thick, but transparent to infrared, so the heat gets out but the gas stays in. You let water flow around the glass chamber and it becomes steam. The steam is ejected out the back of the rocket. The steam is never in contact with the uranium, so there is no radiation. The energy density is three to ten times what a chemical rocket can do.

          Google up nuclear light bulb rockets, and NERVA.
        • by kvezach (1199717)
          "Exploding a series of bombs under the rocket" actually works. It's called Project Orion [wikipedia.org], and you feasibly could send city-sized ships to Saturn with it. Later proposals used conventional explosives for the first blast, so there would be little fallout. Unfortunately, the thing's illegal (by the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963). The fallout would also kill ten people (globally) per launch, on average.

          So that leaves internal engines. Yes, it's possible to make a nuclear rocket. It can either be solid core
          • by Atiniir (1344623)
            If the ships are city-sized, does that mean that we can build cities into them, like the cover of Boston's Don't Look Back?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Damned if I get modded flamebait for saying it, but do you really want to see NASA as it currently stands have nuclear engines in their ships?

        They've lost, what, two manned craft in the last 30 years (Challenger and Columbia)? That's sad, yes, but it's a small portion of their overall manned operations in that time. What if "only" two U.S. tactical nukes were accidentally dropped while they were being flown over some American land during training exercises in the last 30 years?

        If one of those ships goes dow

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Zibblsnrt (125875)

          What if "only" two U.S. tactical nukes were accidentally dropped while they were being flown over some American land during training exercises in the last 30 years?

          Only dropping two of them by accident would be a fourfold improvement over the eight (that I know of) from 1966 and 1968.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by maxume (22995)

          Coal power spews radium and uranium into the atmosphere. It isn't visible or concentrated, so it doesn't receive all that much attention.

          A few kilograms from a reactor incident would make a huge mess, but it wouldn't be devastating to much of anything.

          • by aurispector (530273) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @04:50PM (#26015039)

            Good point. IIRC coal fired power plants have spewed more radioactive material into the atmosphere than nuclear plants ever did, including the accidents. The greenies really shot themselves (and everyone else) in the foot by confusing nuclear power with nuclear weapons in all the "no nukes" bullshit they used to peddle. God save us from ignoramus do-gooders. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

            • "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

              Actually, that's a common misconception. It's paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.
          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            Coal power spews radium and uranium into the atmosphere. It isn't visible or concentrated, so it doesn't receive all that much attention.

            That's my point.

            We're exposed to tons of harmful radiation. The Sun, emissions from power plants, that creepy guy with the lazy eye at Starbucks, etc. But when it happens in one big chunk like this, there's a public outcry.

            This is also why there isn't as much complaining about the general emissions from power plants but a huge complaint when some organization dumps a few tons of toxic waste into the river.

            If a shuttle blows to bits, well, it's a national tragedy but there's no real lasting damage to the env

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Damned if I get modded flamebait for saying it, but do you really want to see NASA as it currently stands have nuclear engines in their ships?

          It's not flamebait, it's plain old fashioned ignorance.

          Hint: They already do... On a routine basis. RTGs are the only real alternative when solar power is not practical, and every mission (American or Russian) going out past Mars uses them extensively. The Apollo missions carried them onboard, and Apollo 13's RTG is currently chugging away in the middle of the Paci

    • by usul294 (1163169)
      The problem is that the few ideas that are out there for better engines have things like little nuclear reactors on top, and the public doesn't want that. Also, in terms of technology being 60 years old, the tubes that pushes your data around online are ~30 years old. Also, its pretty ridiculous to say that anything with a transistor is "evolutionary" or that anything that can do math is "evolutionary". If you're looking for today's Edison's and Tesla's I'd point you to the USPTO and ask them how many paten
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Meumeu (848638)

        Also, its pretty ridiculous to say that anything with a transistor is "evolutionary" or that anything that can do math is "evolutionary".

        Of course it's evolutionnary, I mean a Core i7 is not that different from the Antikythera mechanism [wikipedia.org]...

    • by hitmark (640295)

      people are no longer interested in blue sky research, as the military-industrial complex is not buying any longer...

      hell, even the big pharma-corps are no longer interested in antibiotica and similar as the expense of r&d is to big vs the number of years they get to sell the product...

      those pesky bacteria adapts to quickly, for modern economics of scale...

    • Where is the Edison of the new age? Where is the Tesla of the 21st century?

      Edison and Tesla of the 21st century are tied up in the patent office trying to prove their concepts and in court rooms trying to win litigation battles with patent trolls.

    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @05:18PM (#26015177) Journal

      Where is the Edison of the new age? Where is the Tesla of the 21st century?

      Here's some people who combine Edison and Tesla in varying degrees, either through novel technologies or (more importantly) utilizing already-existing technologies more cost-effectively to try to reduce the cost of spaceflight by orders of magnitude:

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      While the 20 some year old space shuttle (that was kind of funny, I mistyped it shittle the first time) ages not so gracefully, we need a replacement to move people and objects to the ISS.

      Sure, but there's plenty of already-existing or under-development rockets capable of lofting people to orbit with relatively little additional work, like Lockheed Martin's Atlas V, Boeing's Delta IV Heavy, and SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy. Both Lockheed and SpaceX are already pursuing plans for placing manned capsules on their rockets.

      It's simply absurd for NASA to spend several billion dollars on the Ares I to try to compete against what these companies already have (or will finish before the Ares I is ready).

    • by evilviper (135110)

      but we should be pouring a lot more of our money and time into finding better sources of energy and ways to harvest them. I mean, liquid fuel rockets are like whawt, 60-70 year old technology now? Nuclear technology....60 years roughly? All these advances happened at or near the end of World War II. Computers....oh wait...that was also about 60 some years ago. Sure every technology has been advanced, but when you look at the overall progress (transistors, notwithstanding) it has all been an evolution from t

  • "New" rocket. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lost Penguin (636359)
    1970 called, they want their technology back.
    When are we getting rail gun launch systems?
    Single Stage to Orbit?
    Aurora?
    • 1970 called, they want their technology back.
      When are we getting rail gun launch systems?
      Single Stage to Orbit?
      Aurora?

      1950 called, Heinlein wants his plots back. Or maybe it's that 1865 telegraphed and Jules Verne wants HIS plot [wikipedia.org] back.

      Come ON you guys, this is SCIENCE FICTION. Fiction. You guys watch too many instructional videos [imdb.com] for your own good.

      Rocket Science is HARD. No easy way off this planet. No pony.

    • We'll get a rail gun launch system when the laws of physics no longer apply. Do you want to build a 30 mile high charged tower to accelerate human occupants safely and power it?
    • by lenehey (920580)
      we should be focusing on a space elevator [wikipedia.org]. This is technology that is feasible, and would really open up the solar system for human habitation.
      • Somehow the idea of dragging a near super-conducting space elevator cable through a tropical thunder storm or hurricane seems like on with a low probability of success.

        • That's why it goes at the equator -- no tropical storms to worry about there, as those that form even near the equator will move away from the equator.

          • I'd imagine that the air convections caused by any storm within a 100 miles would easily cause static potentials in the 10-50Kv range on the cable. Also there was an experiment with the space shuttle designed to determine how much electricity would be generated by dragging a tethered satellite [iki.rssi.ru] which ended when the tether cable burned out. while a space-elevator cable wouldn't be vulnerable to the same currents, all it would take is one good CME [wikipedia.org] and its bye bye cable.

    • When you, the taxpayer, decide that you do want to pay the taxes to actually build those things, and you will be astute enough to vote the right people in to ensure that your tax dollars go to education and research, and not to wars that noone can win!
      • by maxume (22995)

        Most voters are only taxpayers in a nominal sort of way. If you pretend that entitlement program taxes aren't really taxes, the skew is even worse.

  • "the flight of Ares I-X will be an important step toward verifying analysis tools and techniques needed to further develop Ares I, NASA's next launch vehicle." A prototype I see. Makes sense. It's not an easy task to model and compute everything given the state of supercomputers. Helps to know some old school validation still works.
  • "The space agency is offering about $1 million grants under the Ralph Steckler/Space Grant Space Colonization Research and Technology Development program that has been established to help support a broad range of human activity in space that, for the most part, is not reliant on Earth's resources NASA said."

    I wonder if that will include harvesting lunar Helium-3 for fusion research...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium-3 [wikipedia.org]
  • Sid Meier (Score:3, Funny)

    by NevarMore (248971) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @12:25PM (#26013485) Homepage Journal

    Sid would be pleased. Once NASA assembles all of the pieces of the spacecraft we'll win a space race victory.

    Just gotta get our scientific advances in Lasers sorted out to build the party deck.

  • ``... those computers will have their work checked the old-fashioned way ...''

    Oh, does that mean the NASA engineers still have their old slide rules in a drawer somewhere? Or that they'll hire a bunch of people to sit at rows of desks doing calculations by hand?

    (Fortunately, the article was a little more informative.)

    • Oh they wouldn't use those old crusty slide-rules, they'd need modern slide-rules made out of carbon-fiber reinforced composite materials, with laser etched makings and a sapphire crystal slider; oh yeah don't forget one version in metric and one in English measure and an instruction Manual in English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese and Russian!

  • Is it somehow different from a software tricycle or a software bikini wax?

    "Software program" is redundant and the sign of a journalist with his head up his ass.

  • They should just sub-contact to thoes people already building the newest spaceplane system.

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