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NASA Planning Lunar Mining Tests, Other New Tech 79

Posted by timothy
from the quick-look-busy dept.
FleaPlus writes "NASA has released the initial details on its ETDD (Enabling Technology Development and Demonstrations) program to 'develop and demonstrate the technologies needed to reduce cost and expand the capability of future space exploration activities.' The ETDD program is initially planning on funding small-scale demonstrations in five technology areas: in-situ resource utilization (with a robotic lunar resource extraction mission in 2015), high-power electric propulsion, autonomous precision landing (building on the success of the Lunar Lander Challenge), human-robotic collaboration (2011/2012), and fission power systems. More info on NASA's larger-scale Flagship Technology Demonstrations (FTD) program is expected in the coming month."
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NASA Planning Lunar Mining Tests, Other New Tech

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  • by cjonslashdot (904508) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:12PM (#32202252)
    According to the RFI at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=34056 [spaceref.com] nuclear propulsion is excluded unless it is used solely for heat generation or as a power source for electric propulsion. Thus, some of the most promising nuclear technologies for rocket propulsion such as micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission are excluded.
  • by SECProto (790283) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:50PM (#32202988)
    using nuclear as a electricity source for larger propulsion systems (ie, higher than the small ion drives currently using RTG) would be a huge step up. whenever they launch VASIMR to the station, it will only be able to fire for short bursts, because the huge solar arrays on the station cannot power it continuously. If a similar system used nuclear electricity to drive it, it could fire continuously and be a viable propulsion system.

    on the other hand, using "micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission" would probably produce spectabulous Isp, but it would need years (decades? this is government after all..) of research before an actual construction proposal would arise. Far too distant to be a major selling point of any budget proposal.
  • Re:Perfect (Score:3, Informative)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:41PM (#32203260) Homepage Journal

    http://www.niac.usra.edu/files/studies/final_report/428Boston.pdf [usra.edu]

    One of the best studies done on extraterrestrial cave habitation. Reports like this are one of the reasons why it was such a travesty that Griffin shut down NIAC, just to raid their budget for Constellation.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:47AM (#32204892) Journal

    Also, I did a bit of searching, and it turns out that basic robots already exist for underground mining:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12637032 [npr.org]
    http://www.spacedaily.com/news/robot-00g.html [spacedaily.com]

  • Re:Perfect (Score:3, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:52AM (#32204906) Journal

    One of the best studies done on extraterrestrial cave habitation. Reports like this are one of the reasons why it was such a travesty that Griffin shut down NIAC, just to raid their budget for Constellation.

    Not sure if you already knew this, but NASA is actually planning on restarting the NIAC under its new plans:

    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/428439main_Space_technology.pdf [nasa.gov]

    Responsive the NRC report, Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for
    Advanced Concepts (2009), the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC) will be re-established
    as a project within the Early Stage Innovation Program. The project is formulated as a two-phase,
    low TRL activity, focused upon conceptual studies of visionary approaches addressing long-term
    NASA strategic goals. The first phase of NIAC will fund a competed set of conceptual studies and
    systems analyses that investigate how technology innovations will enable NASA's future missions
    and extend its goals. Second Phase NIAC proposals will further develop successful Phase I
    proposals and work to transition the key technical advances into projects within the Game Changing
    Technology Program.

    NIAC will serve as an incubator for bringing new technologies into future aerospace endeavors. By
    supporting innovative and visionary concepts aimed a decade or more into the future, NIAC-funded
    research significantly impacts the Agency's future missions as well as its roadmaps for future
    science, discovery and exploration. As a low-TRL early phase activity, NIAC will serve as a visible
    and recognized entry point for innovators and researchers who will enable future NASA missions and
    goals. ...

  • by khallow (566160) on Friday May 14, 2010 @08:55AM (#32206012)

    According to the RFI at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=34056 [spaceref.com] nuclear propulsion is excluded unless it is used solely for heat generation or as a power source for electric propulsion. Thus, some of the most promising nuclear technologies for rocket propulsion such as micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission are excluded.

    There's two questions to ask here. First, is there a role for such propulsion in near future space activities? I'd have to say "no". Most of our transportation overhead is going from Earth to orbit, something which nuclear won't help with, just due to environmental and safety concerns, until it's been proven somewhere else first (namely somewhere in space). You'll need infrastructure there to support such tests IMHO, which makes it a second generation project. Also, you need to do something with the remains of the rocket (another second generation project).

    Second, is there an advantage to using these other nuclear technologies? I don't see a big advantage to using nuclear pulse or nuclear thermal rockets over nuclear electric propulsion in space aside from applications where high thrust is desired (like wringing a little more out of the Oberth effect [wikipedia.org]) or when you scale up to huge payloads. Heat radiation is a big issue in space and nuclear reactors would suffer from it as much as anything else (power only scales as the surface area of the vehicle due to this restriction). Nuclear thermal transfers that heat to the exhaust while nuclear pulse dumps that heat (and the rest of the products of the pulse detonation) to space directly. That makes them better technologies for large, relatively high acceleration vehicles.

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