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NASA Planning Lunar Mining Tests, Other New Tech 79

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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  • Perfect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fadethepolice ( 689344 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:04PM (#32202192) Journal
    lunar mining: Cheapest way to build a moonbase. Just keep tunneling and put several seals to keep air in. There is no point in going to the moon, or anywhere else, if we don't have a cheap mining unit to get resources and build a base. Otherwise it' was a wasted trip. Powerful electric propulsion and fission power plant: Excellent way to overcome the limits of of carrying fuel up the gravity well all of the time. Great way to re-use the ship you build out of it from mars so you can get a ferry going every few weeks. I'm not going to keep the lovefest going for the other ones, but I definitely think this is a change for the better.
  • Re:*yawn* (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:24PM (#32202344)

    these are the holdover missions that NASA will have to be content with until there is an administration that is serious about space exploration.

    Even if this is a stealth attempt by Obama to kill off manned spaceflight, it still means that he's more serious about space exploration than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson.

  • by Redlazer ( 786403 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:46PM (#32202532) Homepage
    Maybe. We won't know until after it has been developed.

    Personally, I think this is exactly something that NASA should be doing. NASA is about pushing the envelope, and this is just as good an envelope to push as any.

    This sort of bleeding edge technology development is expensive and wasteful, so it only makes sense for the government to be doing it. Which isn't a bash against government (well, it sorta is), as that is what I want the government to do. Leave making money to the people.

  • Re:*yawn* (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:34PM (#32203210) Homepage Journal
    Anything we do in space teaches us something. The reason is that we live on earth, and space is not the earth. We might think we can extrapolate, but we can't. We tend to make big mistakes when we think we can.

    Large masses are few and far between in space. Therefore to get anywhere we are probably going to looking at a series of space stations. The nice thing about this moon mining idea is that it may give the raw materials we need to build space stations, without falling to the 60's idea that the goal is to live on the moon. That is like flying cars. A neat idea, but what we really want are hover craft.

  • by cjonslashdot ( 904508 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:47PM (#32203300)

    I cannot say for sure, but I do not believe that an inertial confinement system is decades away. In fact, there was a-lot of research into such systems during the 1960s. It was abandoned during the 70s when nuclear energy for space became politically untenable, but then it was picked up again during the 90s. During the late 90s it very abruptly stopped - or went dark. (Perhaps it was successful...)

    In any case, it turns out that the energy required to compress fissile pellets (the size of a grain of sand) to critical density for fission requires particle beam equipment the size of a refrigerator - i.e., very achievable. The engineering challenges then are not related to creating fission, but rather to managing the high temperature plasmas to produce usable thrust without damaging the system. These engineering challenges are very similar to the challenges that VASIMIR has, and so if they can be solved for VASIMIR one would expect that they could be solved for a fission-powered system. I believe that the plasma temperatures for a micro pulse fission system (using water as a propellant mass source) are similar to those for VASIMIR, but I cannot say for sure.

  • Re:*yawn* (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cycleflight ( 1811074 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:44PM (#32203620)
    Do you realize that this is essentially a renamed department from Constellation? Yeah, that manned space program. Did you know that the stuff they are and will be working on is just like the stuff they were working on for Constellation, except now, it doesn't have a defined mission. Try designing a system and mission optimized system (to make it fun optimize it for anything you like) and send me your optimized design before you have any specific requirements.
  • by blurryrunner ( 524305 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:57PM (#32203686) Homepage

    micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission

    You say that like you didn't just make it up. ;)


  • Re:Mod parent up (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Friday May 14, 2010 @12:40AM (#32203880)

    If we don't have an active and funded unmanned space exploration mission, we can't do manned missions. Sending manned missions ahead without investigating the environment that people are going to have to deal with is tantamount to sending them on suicide missions.

    Yeah, but suicide missions in space!

    Seriously, the problem is that while you can't have a manned mission without an unmanned science program, not only can you have an unmanned program without a manned one, but a decent unmanned program renders your manned program unnecessary.

    This is what annoys me about NASA's patronising pretending-to-be-doing-science on the ISS. (And before that, the shuttle.) The ISS's one and only purpose is to practice having people in space, not researching, practising. Take assembly. NASA's astronauts are now so well trained at zero-g assembly/repair, they pulled 12hr EVA shifts on the last Hubble repair mission. That's scary-good.

    The manned space program should only ever be judged by how well it advances the manned space program. That's it. Not growing tadpoles, or crystals. Not collecting rocks. Not searching for fossils on Mars. If you don't care about advancing manned spaceflight, then there is no other reason to fund it.

    By that standard. Constellation was crap. Even if it was fully funded, even if it worked, it had no long-term potential. The unnamed Obama plan is better. If it works, we have commercial manned LEO flight, orbital fuel depot technology, plus a general-purpose long duration ship capable of getting to an asteroid (and hence anywhere in the inner solar system.) It gives a future administration the tools to say, yes, return to the moon. You'd only need a lunar lander. The rest is built. That's a cheap mission.

    And if it doesn't work, we're no worse off than with the Constellation plan.

  • Re:*yawn* (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:37AM (#32204860) Journal

    The best way to expand and increase the cost effectiveness of NASA is convert it to a goal driven agency. Don't pay to research or study something. Instead setup prizes like the X-Prize or Google's Android challenges to motivate everyday Americans, small business startups, Universities, etc. to solve challenges. Send a rocket to the moon get X million. Put a Satellite in orbit of the moon get Y million, send a crew to circle the moon get Z million, etc. Then we the tax payers only pay for success and we only pay the winning scientists (or garage engineers).

    You may want to read through NASA's new plans. From the Space Technology section of the new budget:

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

    The Centennial Challenges program seeks innovative solutions to technical problems that can drive progress in aerospace technology of value to NASA's missions in space operations, science, exploration and aeronautics. Beginning in FY 2011, Centennial Challenge activities associated with the Innovative Partnerships Program are transferred to the Space Technology Program. Centennial Challenges encourage the participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups and private companies of all sizes in aerospace research and development, and seek to find the most innovative solutions to technical challenges through competition and cooperation. NASA's original seven prize challenges have been successful in encouraging broad participation by innovators across our nation and across generations. Many of these technical challenges also have direct relevance to national and global needs such as energy and transportation.

    Prize programs encourage diverse participation and multiple solution paths. A measure of diversity is seen in the geographic distribution of participants (from Hawaii to Maine) that reaches far beyond the locales of the NASA Centers and major aerospace industries. The participating teams have included individual inventors, small startup companies, and university students and professors. An example of multiple solution paths was seen in the 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge. NASA can typically afford one or two working prototypes in a development program but at this Challenge event, over twenty different working prototypes were demonstrated for the NASA technologists. All of these prototypes were developed at no cost to the government. For three years of competitions with dozens of teams investing tens of thousands of hours, NASA spent only $750,000 in prize money.

    The return on investment with prizes is exceptionally high as NASA expends no funds unless the accomplishment is demonstrated. NASA provides only the prize money and the administration of the competitions is done at no cost to NASA by non-profit allied organizations. For the Lunar Lander Challenge, twelve private teams spent nearly 70,000 hours and the equivalent of $12 million trying to win $2 million in prize money. Prizes also focus public attention on NASA programs and generate interest in science and engineering. Live webcasts of Centennial Challenge competitions attract thousands of viewers across the nation and around the world. The 2009 Power Beaming completion resulted in over 100 news articles and web features. Prizes also create new businesses and new partners for NASA. The winner of the 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge started a new business to manufacture pressure suit gloves. Armadillo Aerospace began a partnership with NASA related to the reusable rocket engine that they developed for the Lunar Lander Challenge, and they also sell the engine commercially.

    In selecting topics for prize competitions, NASA consults widely within and outside of the Federal Government. The $10 million per year FY 2011 request for Centennial Challenges will allow NASA to pursue new and more ambitious prize competitions. Topics for future challenges that are under consideration include revolutionary energy

  • Re:*yawn* (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2010 @12:44PM (#32208716)

    I'm with Stephen Baxter on this--mining near Earth asteroids is where it's at. Easier than the Moon, with quicker pay-offs. Supposedly, the raw materials we could get from just one metallic asteroid would be enough seriously upset the world-wide market for many sought-after metals and minerals.

    Most of space is more like the surface of an asteroid than it is like the surface of the Moon.

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