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Space Government NASA The Almighty Buck

NASA Uncertain How To Proceed In Developing Deep Space Module (examiner.com) 120

MarkWhittington writes: One of the provisions of the new NASA spending bill, which provided a hefty $1.3 billion boost to the space agency's budget, is a mandate to build a prototype habitation module for deep space exploration by 2018. Space News suggested that NASA is uncertain how to proceed with this sudden largess. Quite some time has passed since the space agency has gotten more money than expected and been told to speed up the development of an item of hardware. Usually, the opposite happens, with accompanying delays and increases in overall costs.
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NASA Uncertain How To Proceed In Developing Deep Space Module

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @10:50AM (#51201879)

    >> NASA Uncertain How To Proceed In Developing Deep Space Module

    So...all NESA's noise about preparing for a manned Mars mission was just a joke then?

    • So...all NESA's noise about preparing for a manned Mars mission was just a joke then?

      Probably not but I think the claims of getting there by the 2030s are absurdly unrealistic and certainly haven't been funded in a way that would make them feasible. It might be technologically possible but I don't see it being politically viable. I think NASA knows that it isn't politically viable so they aren't seriously planning for it. There certainly hasn't been serious funding on the level necessary to do a realistic manned Mars mission so why should NASA seriously plan for one? They are working on

      • We're probably in a better state to reach Mars today than to reach the Moon in the 1960's. While rocket propulsion has been stuck in the Sputnik era, other technologies have seen considerable improvement, particularly in the accuracy of navigation, which is what matters the most after you've reached escape velocity. I think it's more a question of why not how. Why go to Mars? Barring a revolution in rocket technology that makes vacations in space cheap enough for the average millionaire, don't expect a miss
        • Bringing back some Mars rocks would be nice in my lifetime. Even in unmanned missions. Beginning of asteroid mining too.
          These are completely realistic goals.

          • Going to be a while (Score:5, Interesting)

            by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @01:57PM (#51203173)

            Bringing back some Mars rocks would be nice in my lifetime. Even in unmanned missions.

            An unmanned mission to bring back Mars rocks is probably doable. I'm dubious that we will send humans there in my remaining lifespan.

            Beginning of asteroid mining too.

            I think asteroid mining is a ridiculous concept. To be economically viable one of two things has to happen. Either 1) you have to bring the materials back to Earth to be refined and utilized or 2) you have to develop technology to refine and utilize them in space. If you choose option 1) you have to drop VERY large rocks onto the surface of the Earth. Do I have to explain that dropping large rocks onto Earth's surface is REALLY destructive? If you choose option 2) you have to replicate entire supply chains in space and we have ZERO technology in the pipeline to do that. We have no smelting or mining equipment that works in space on anything close to an industrial scale. We don't have the robotics. We don't have the control systems. Even if we did we have no power systems adequate to drive them on an industrial scale except maybe nuclear fission and that's pretty dicey even here on Earth.

            These are completely realistic goals.

            Depends on your timescale.

            • I think asteroid mining is a ridiculous concept. To be economically viable one of two things has to happen. Either 1) you have to bring the materials back to Earth to be refined and utilized or 2) you have to develop technology to refine and utilize them in space. If you choose option 1) you have to drop VERY large rocks onto the surface of the Earth. Do I have to explain that dropping large rocks onto Earth's surface is REALLY destructive? If you choose option 2) you have to replicate entire supply chains in space and we have ZERO technology in the pipeline to do that. We have no smelting or mining equipment that works in space on anything close to an industrial scale. We don't have the robotics. We don't have the control systems. Even if we did we have no power systems adequate to drive them on an industrial scale except maybe nuclear fission and that's pretty dicey even here on Earth.

              It will probably be a combination of both. 2 will come first and yes, there is a great deal of work to do. Currently, they're still trying to just land a probe on an asteroid, let alone any attempt to survey it for mining later with as yet undeveloped tech. 1 will come after 2 and they'll just be dropping a few square meters of precious metals back to earth which won't really be any more dangerous than any other capsule re-eantry.

            • Bringing back some Mars rocks would be nice in my lifetime. Even in unmanned missions.

              An unmanned mission to bring back Mars rocks is probably doable. I'm dubious that we will send humans there in my remaining lifespan.

              Aha! My friend, approximately 7% of all humans that have ever lived are alive today.

              Thus, if statistics doesn't lie –and we know that it can't –you and I have a 7% chance of being immortal.

              Prove me wrong!

        • by Anonymous Coward

          ...or space is simply a dead end, and there is no "Sputnik era", just simply the realistic era. All your "considerable" improvements didn't even bring back supersonic passenger transport right here on Earth where there's everyone and everything.

        • We're probably in a better state to reach Mars today than to reach the Moon in the 1960's.

          Technologically I would cautiously agree though there are some pretty substantial technical problems yet to be solved. Politically it's not even close. The US is realistically the only country right now that could seriously consider such a mission and those in power currently will never be willing to raise the taxes that would be necessary to fund such a mission.

          The Martian will either be Elon Musk or the vanguard of the next space race.

          Won't be Elon Musk I'm afraid unless he can amass a Scrooge McDuck sized fortune. Don't get me wrong, I think it's super cool that he is working

          • There are no technology barriers to a manned mission to Mars. All the barriers are political and financial. We can launch big stuff. We can make a life support system work for years. We can surround the crew compartment with enough water to keep radiation levels tolerable. We can make a lander, using big fuel tanks to land on rocket power instead of aerobraking. We can make a base on Mars to sustain humans for a couple of years. We can make radiation shielded EVA suits and exploration cars. We can l
            • There are no technology barriers to a manned mission to Mars.

              You're kidding right? We have built barely any of the stuff you cite. We certainly don't have any of it ready to pull of the shelf and send to Mars. We don't have human rated habitats for that kind of mission or duration, we don't have life support systems, we haven't figured out the physiology problems, we haven't even tried building a spacecraft surrounded by water and certainly don't have any other type of shielding, etc. The notion that there are no technological barriers is just nonsense. We can p

        • eh, tremendous advances in rocket propulsion have been made! Hybrid rockets are one. geez, you're not into that topic at all are you?

          • The SSMEs are the best rocket motors that will ever be made.
            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              Hardly. Just as an example, performance could be improved by use of a gelled hydrogen containing aluminum powder. Or significantly improved by aluminum-coated lithium powder (or liquid lithium injected as a triprop). Or dramatically improved by that plus FLOX as the oxidizer (although you probably wouldn't want to light that up until you got far enough up). And these are just examples of materials available today that we can use. FLOX/Li/H2 triprop is over 100 sec ISP better than LOX/H2. Not that big

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            Hybrid rockets are not new - they're actually very old (some of the early rocket research focused on things like peroxide/bitumen). The problem with them has always been thrust - since the oxidizer isn't integrated into the fuel like with solids, they're much more burn-rate limited. So you have to heavily core them out to make many channels to try to get thrust into something workable, but then you make them unstable and less predictable in burndown.

            That said, there is progress being made. The current re

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              ... though my personal pet concept (which I'm actually working on an OpenFOAM simulation of right now) is a caseless rocket of a type that doesn't really have a name (although most closely resembles a hybrid). Like the above, it's LOX/Al/paraffin, but the aluminum is thin extruded honeycomb, aka structural. The aluminum is coated by paraffin (also extruded by the same extrusion head), and inside that, filling up each channel, a dense open cell polyurethane foam (optionally with a small amount of fused sili

            • yes my whole point was the field of rocket propulsion is alive and not stagnant, with many issues and solutions in experiment

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          particularly in the accuracy of navigation, which is what matters the most after you've reached escape velocity

          As compared to staying alive for two years or more without resupply from Earth? Not a chance. Navigation in the 60s was adequate enough for a trip to Mars once you allow for course corrections.

        • While rocket propulsion has been stuck in the Sputnik era, other technologies have seen considerable improvement, particularly in the accuracy of navigation, which is what matters the most after you've reached escape velocity.

          Accuracy of navigation? The 1960s had no problem sending Mariner missions to Mars orbit, navigation has never been the issue. Landing instead of crashing has been the big problem for unmanned missions to Mars, and there are a whole host of problems for a potential manned mission.

        • other technologies have seen considerable improvement, particularly in the accuracy of navigation,

          in the first few hundred miles of the journey, yes. But beyond that, just how are you going to get your navigational fixes? GPS is, you'll remember, designed for people on the Surface of the Earth (SoE). It's probably extendible to (SoE)+/-10km ; ti might even extend to ten times that.

          By the time you're a million times outside that working range, there may well be problems. That's around 1/80 of the closest a

      • You have to remember that with Apollo, the starting point was basically a pad of paper. They had to build the boosters. They had to build the lander. They had to build the pressure suits. They had to figure out if long duration spaceflight was going to kill people. They had to build launch facilities. They had to build communications hardware and networks. They had to invent ways to navigate. They had to invent procedure lists and tests and simulations. They had to invent computing technologies and

        • They had to invent the science and engineering.
  • by sinij ( 911942 )
    Step 1 - genetically engineer over-ambitious, amoral super humans
    Step 2 - have them take over the world for a while
    Step 3 - after world revolution overthrows these, freeze them and send them out to space
    Step 4 - ???
    Step 5 - Yell Khaaann!!
  • by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @10:57AM (#51201917)
    IMHO, this is why the push for NASA to develop these techs. One of the SLS 's primary missions is their Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission; the conspiracy theorist in me says that NASA is doing risk-mitigation just in case Apophis hits the keyhole in 2029.
  • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @10:59AM (#51201929)

    I've had the feeling more than once that NASA promotes a lot of ideas that they know are impractical in order to fire up their base of support, which is largely SF fans who can't or won't distinguish fantasy from reality. With an election coming up the strategy works brilliantly, and now they're handed a big pot of money to begin realizing their dreams. So they have to hire a battalion of scientists and engineers to work on growing crops on Mars, squeezing water out of rocks, mining asteroids for minerals, and all the rest. This should be interesting.

    • I've had the feeling more than once that NASA promotes a lot of ideas that they know are impractical in order to fire up their base of support, which is largely SF fans who can't or won't distinguish fantasy from reality. With an election coming up the strategy works brilliantly, and now they're handed a big pot of money to begin realizing their dreams. So they have to hire a battalion of scientists and engineers to work on growing crops on Mars, squeezing water out of rocks, mining asteroids for minerals, and all the rest. This should be interesting.

      You're overestimating the political clout of the space ex community. Since when was space ever a political issue? JFK "might" have turned the moon into a political issue, but he never ran on a reach for the stars platform. Sure there's some local politics involved, but it's more a question of Congressional pork for the states that host space launch facilities than of SF fans dreaming of moon bases.

    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @11:51AM (#51202213)

      The SF fans can distinguish fantasy from reality. They just want to make their fantasy into reality by the transformative power of a giant pile of money.

    • Except, in this case, it sounds like Congress just gave them the money without NASA requesting it. FTFA:

      Over the last several months, NASA has increasingly emphasized development of a habitation module that could be tested in cislunar space in the 2020s. That module could then be used for human missions to Mars that NASA hopes to carry out some time in the 2030s.

      I'm not the biggest space-geek in the world, but I do follow a couple of weekly podcasts, and both /r/space and /r/spacex on reddit, and this is the first news I've heard of this 'emphasis on development of a habitation module.' Of course they have the BEAM [wikipedia.org] module going up next year, but that's been in the works for years already. In any case, I don't think this particular boost to NASA's budget was spurr

    • ... fire up their base of support, which is largely SF fans who can't or won't distinguish fantasy from reality.

      Congress (and their states) must be filled with SF fans.

  • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @11:25AM (#51202073)

    It doesn't really matter what NASA has now. Space exploration requires projects that run 20 or 50 or even 100 years. Yes we have to reach that far if we really want to hit some big goals.

    But the 4-year election cycle means NASA's funding is threatened every time we elect a new round of idiots. Sometimes they are Pro-NASA but mostly they aren't, and cutting funding is what happens.

    You cannot explore space with a 20-year plan supported by fickle 4-year election cycles and 2-bit politicians.

    Other countries like China have no such issues. China can set a 50-year plan and proceed to start on it. NASA is stuck.

    • by rednip ( 186217 )

      4-year election cycles

      The federal government has a two year election cycle, if you knew that we'd likely have a more stable government.

    • What's your proposal?

      Allow the legislation that approves funding, but disallow other legislation?

      In other words, find a trans-democratic process to ham-fist the opinion of the experts down to the people who are funding it (i.e. tax payers and voters)?
      • What's your proposal?

        Break it down into achievable 4 year technology steps like when the US went to the moon. Another would be to hand the project off to the military which is what happened to Apollo early on when they demonstrated tat they didn't have the organizational competence to do the job.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Other countries like China have no such issues. China can set a 50-year plan and proceed to start on it. NASA is stuck.

      I guess you haven't actually paid attention to China's space program. They suffer from the same illnesses.

  • Skylab was built from a Saturn V upper stage. Easy to put in orbit. Designed to be hooked up to other parts of a spacecraft. Quite sizable for the planned crew. Update the design with the technology we developed over the decades since then.
    • by wiggles ( 30088 )

      Problem is, we're fresh out of Saturn V's with which to obtain the upper stages.

      No, we're going to need something new and inventive - perhaps an inflatable module of some sort. Something small enough to launch but big enough in space. Or perhaps something that can be assembled to give enough room in space while requiring multiple launches, akin to the ISS.

      • Don't read so literal. Copy the IDEA behind Skylab. The new Space Launch System also has upper stages.
        • The reason why SkyLab worked is because they already had the hardware for planned Moon launches that were scrapped. So, because they didn't need an S-IVB to inject them into cislunar space, they could pump out the fuel / oxidizer of that nice cavernous structure and mount a bunch of stuff to the walls, and cut in a docking port on the end where the engine normally would be.

          Doing this with something that contains incredibly toxic rocket fuel at launch time is far more challenging, though it was postulated i

          • by dryeo ( 100693 )

            Do you really consider hydrogen and oxygen to be toxic? That's what fueled the Saturn V excepting the first stage which was kerosene+oxygen.

            • Well, unless you expose the thing to hard vacuum, it's essentially a bomb. And, you still have issues with hydrogen embrittlement of the metal it's made out of.

              Plus, we're not talking about a Saturn V, as we don't have any of those. We're talking about SLS, and using the LH / LOx motor in the upper stage is only "interim" right now, so they could go with something completely different.

              • by dryeo ( 100693 )

                OK, I was misled by your reference to the "wet workshop" that was considered for the next batch of Saturn Vs that never came about. In that case they would have only have to have exposed the hydrogen tank to vacuum and I'd guess they considered hydrogen embrittlement.
                Given a big enough upper stage to use for living quarters, they'd have to use a non-toxic fuel

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        What about Hoberman spheres, or a similar self-unfolding structure? They could deploy clusters of them, perhaps skinned with mylar or other foldable materials.

        I still think the bigger problem is the lifetime of supplies needed. Everyone talks about recycling wastewater, but energy still has to be expended to crack the waste CO2 back into breathable oxygen. And then there's food. If they're in "deep" space, they're a long way from sunlight, so their plants are going to need energy from another source. A

        • Power is not a serious problem at Mars distances. For the cost and scale of a manned Mars mission, football-field sizes solar panels are perfectly affordable and practical for the spacecraft - also compact to launch (relatively) and deploy since they don't need to support their own weight against gravity like they do on Earth.

        • I think the only viable plan is to prove we can successfully colonize Mars first. Demonstrate the capability of landing and thriving on a non-living rock. Then we can talk about what kinds of modules we need for "deep" space.

          You're getting too far ahead. To even get to Mars, it's going to require a space ship that will require habitation on the scale of years independent and outside the magnetic shielding of Earth. This is what we're talking about here. These "deep space" modules are what will be needed to reach Mars and will be required first.

    • Skylab was built from a Saturn V upper stage.

      Which we no longer have and do not have any plans to build again. We could do something similar but first you have to answer the question of what you are trying to accomplish. We used that design because it was economical at the time. Doesn't necessarily mean it is a good idea today.

      Easy to put in orbit.

      Only true if you have a Saturn V rocket. We stopped making those 40 years ago. Yes we could do something similar if we build a Saturn V replacement but easy to orbit is merely one consideration.

      Quite sizable for the planned crew. Update the design with the technology we developed over the decades since then.

      And do what with it exactly?

      • Replace "Saturn V" with "Space Launch System." It gives you a large living space that is designed to be launched, hooked to and pushed around by other spacecraft.
    • How about just extending the ISS lifetime? It's a modular station. It should be possible to make it operate for longer, even if it means building an entire new station bolted on the side and operating them in parallel until the old one can be decomissioned and deorbited. It'd still be cheaper than building a completely new station because you've already got long-term habitation and life support capability for construction, and can scavenge the old modules for usable parts to reduce the mass that must be lau

      • Where's the money in that compared with building something new?
      • How about just extending the ISS lifetime? It should be possible to make it operate for longer, even if it means building an entire new station bolted on the side and operating them in parallel until the old one can be decomissioned and deorbited.

        I suspect that due to design criteria and engineering realities, that may sound good but is something like trying to build a Ford truck out of a Chevy sedan by replacing broken bits over time via 3rd party parts (I was going to use turning a Mac into a PC by replacing parts, but felt a car allegory was needed). First off, they need to do a bunch of deep space testing, and the ISS isn't in deep space. I'm sure some of the initial testing and research can be done there, and probably already has been started i

    • Re:Copy Skylab (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @12:32PM (#51202477)

      A deep space module needs to be able to maintain a crew for years without resupply. That means bulky life support spaces - either a huge amount of food and oxygen storage or a farm module - along with enough spare parts to repair any and all possible faults that might occur. With the habitable parts wrapped up in heavy radiation shielding. You're not getting that up in one piece - it's going to have to be assembled in orbit using a modular design, probably involving a few habitation and life support modules connected up to non-habitable supply modules. Skylab is about the biggest you can launch in one piece, and it's far too small to go to deep space. A manned craft for deep space is going to look a lot like a smaller and more linear version of the ISS.

      The article talking about a 'habitation module' isn't helpful. Surviving for years without supplies doesn't need a module, it needs a whole complex of modules that fit and work together.

      • more importantly is something that can be spun to produce a 1-g force, bone loss in free fall is huge problem. A human would die after couple years with the 1 to 2 percent loss per month

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          It would be nice to study just how much gravity people actually need to stay fairly healthy. I'd guess we'd be OK on (actually slightly above) Venus where gravity is 90%. How about 75%, 50% or as on Mars, 33%? Easier to spin something up if you don't need the full 1-g, and it might not be worth staying on Mars if the low gravity is too hard on people.
          Right now we only have 2 data points, 0-g and 1-g with a couple of days at .16-g. Shame they never launched the ISS module with the centrifuge.

          • Even if Mars a problem, it may turn out that only a small time in a centrifuge (think certain carnival type ride) per day is all that is needed to stay healthy. But aren't such questions arguments for doing more on our manned missions. We could already have had the answer were a certain type of module added to ISS for example.

  • by Big_Breaker ( 190457 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @12:39PM (#51202529)

    Humans in deep space for any length of time will need serious shielding to avoid the health risks of ionizing radiation (gamma rays, etc). Traditional shielding is heavy and crowds out payload. Without a breakthrough in shielding manned space flight can't leave our planet's protection (the magnetosphere) for any length of time. No moon base - at least on the surface, no Mars missions, no Lagrange point space stations.

    • by frank249 ( 100528 ) on Tuesday December 29, 2015 @12:59PM (#51202725)

      As of 2012, NASA is undergoing research in superconducting magnetic architecture for potential active shielding applications. Active Shielding, that is, using magnets, high voltages, or artificial magnetospheres to slow down or defect radiation, has been considered to potentially combat radiation in a feasible way. So far, the cost of equipment, power and weight of active shielding equipment outweigh their benefits. For example, active radiation equipment would need a habitable volume size to house it, and magnetic and electrostatic configurations often are not homogenous in intensity, allowing high-energy particles to penetrate the magnetic and electric fields from low-intensity parts, like cusps in dipolar magnetic field of Earth.

  • They could have kept all those shuttle tanks in orbit. They would make a perfect habitat [google.com].

  • Fund industry to get them there.
  • and catches NASA unprepared. This makes it look like actual Mars mission hardware (precursor) is to be built soon, while also preparing for development of the lunar stations NASA's prime partners (ESA, JAXA, etc) view as higher priority than Mars.

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