NASA’s first manned outpost in deep space may be a repurposed rocket part, just like the agency’s first-ever astronaut abode in Earth orbit.
With a little tinkering, the upper-stage hydrogen propellant tank of NASA’s huge Space Launch System rocket would make a nice and relatively cheap deep-space habitat, some researchers say. They call the proposed craft “Skylab II,” an homage to the 1970s Skylab space station that was a modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket.
“This idea is not challenging technology,” said Brand Griffin, an engineer with Gray Research, Inc., who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“It’s just trying to say, ‘Is this the time to be able to look at existing assets, planned assets and incorporate those into what we have as a destination of getting humans beyond LEO [low-Earth orbit]?'” Griffin said Wednesday (March 27) during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group.
A roomy home in deep space
NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts toward distant destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars. The rocket’s first test flight is slated for 2017, and NASA wants it to start lofting crews by 2021.
The SLS will stand 384 feet tall (117 meters) in its biggest (“evolved”) incarnation, which will be capable of blasting 130 metric tons of payload to orbit. Its upper-stage hydrogen tank is big, too, measuring 36.1 feet tall by 27.6 feet wide (11.15 m by 8.5 m).
The tank’s dimensions yield an internal volume of 17,481 cubic feet (495 cubic m) — roughly equivalent to a two-story house. That’s much roomier than a potential deep-space habitat derived from modules of the International Space Station (ISS), which are just 14.8 feet (4.5 m) wide, Griffin said.
The tank-based Skylab II could accommodate a crew of four comfortably and carry enough gear and food to last for several years at a time without requiring a resupply, he added. Further, it would launch aboard the SLS in a single piece, whereas ISS-derived habitats would need to link up multiple components in space.
Because of this, Skylab II would require relatively few launches to establish and maintain, Griffin said. That and the use of existing SLS-manufacturing infrastructure would translate into big cost savings — a key selling point in today’s tough fiscal climate.
“We will have the facilities in place, the tooling, the personnel, all the supply chain and everything else,” Griffin said.
He compared the overall concept with the original Skylab space station, which was built in a time of declining NASA budgets after the boom years of the Apollo program.
Skylab “was a project embedded under the Apollo program,” Griffin said. “In many ways, this could follow that same pattern. It could be a project embedded under SLS and be able to, ideally, not incur some of the costs of program startup.”
There has been much caterwauling in the space advocacy community about the Space Launch System ( ne, “The Senate Launch System” ) concerning its cost and lack of purpose and/or destinations.
Of course, the thing was designed by Congress in order to fund a jobs program in the NASA Centers for the good voters of those districts. But it’s a seriously underfunded program, with just enough money to keep the civil servants of NASA employed, with just enough contractor support to keep them happy.
In the meantime, ideas like Skylab II, the Spacehab at EML-2 and the asteroid capture scheme rear their ugly heads and claim they’re economical in these austeric times.
My money is still on Elon Musk, Bob Bigelow, Dennis Tito and company.
From Centauri Dreams:
Stretch out your time horizons and interstellar travel gets a bit easier. If 4.3 light years seems too immense a distance to reach Alpha Centauri, we can wait about 28,000 years, when the distance between us will have closed to 3.2 light years. As it turns out, Alpha Centauri is moving in a galactic orbit far different from the Sun’s. As we weave through the Milky Way in coming millennia, we’re in the midst of a close pass from a stellar system that will never be this close again. A few million years ago Alpha Centauri would not have been visible to the naked eye.
The great galactic pinball machine is in constant motion. Epsilon Indi, a slightly orange star about an eighth as luminous as the Sun and orbited by a pair of brown dwarfs, is currently 11.8 light years out, but it’s moving 90 kilometers per second relative to the Sun. In about 17,000 years, it will close to 10.6 light years before beginning to recede. Project Ozma target Tau Ceti, now 11.9 light years from our system, has a highly eccentric galactic orbit that, on its current inbound leg, will take it to within the same 10.6 light years if we can wait the necessary 43,000 years.
And here’s an interesting one I almost forgot to list, though its close pass may be the most intriguing of all. Gliese 710 is currently 64 light years away in the constellation Serpens. We have to wait a bit on this one, but the orange star, now at magnitude 9.7, will in 1.4 million years move within 50,000 AU of the Sun. That puts it close enough that it should interact with the Oort Cloud, perhaps perturbing comets there or sending comets from its own cometary cloud into our system. In any case, what a close-in target for future interstellar explorers!
I’m pulling all this from Erik Anderson’s new book Vistas of Many Worlds, whose subtitle — ‘A Journey Through Space and Time’ — is a bit deceptive, for the book actually contains four journeys. The first takes us on a tour of ten stars within 20 light years of the Sun, with full-page artwork on every other page and finder charts that diagram the stars in each illustration. The second tour moves through time and traces the stars of an evolving Earth through text and images. Itinerary three is a montage of scenes from known exoplanets, while the fourth tour takes us through a sequence of young Earth-like worlds as they develop.
Anderson’s text is absorbing — he’s a good writer with a knack for hitting the right note — but the artwork steals the show on many of these pages, for he’s been meticulous at recreating the sky as it would appear from other star systems. It becomes easy to track the Sun against the background of alien constellations. Thus a spectacular view of the pulsar planet PSR B1257+12 C shows our Sun lost among the brighter stars Canopus and Spica, with Rigel and Betelgeuse also prominent. The gorgeous sky above an icy ocean on a planet circling Delta Pavonis shows the Sun between Alpha Centauri and Eta Cassiopeiae. Stellar motion over time and the perspectives thus created from worlds much like our own are a major theme of this book.
From Epsilon Eridani, as seen in the image below, the Sun is a bright orb seen through the protoplanetary disk at about the 4 o’clock position below the bright central star.
Image: The nearby orange dwarf star Epsilon Eridani reveals its circumstellar debris disks in this close-up perspective. Epsilon Eridani is only several hundred million years old and perhaps resembles the state of our own solar system during its early, formative years. Credit: Erik Anderson.
Vistas of Many Worlds assumes a basic background in astronomical concepts, but I think even younger readers will be caught up in the wonder of imagined scenes around planets we’re now discovering, which is why I’m buying a copy for my star-crazed grandson for Christmas. He’ll enjoy the movement through time as well as space. In one memorable scene, Anderson depicts a flock of ancient birds flying through a mountain pass 4.8 million years ago. At that time, the star Theta Columbae, today 720 light years away, was just seven light years out, outshining Venus and dominating the sunset skies of Anderson’s imagined landscape.
And what mysteries does the future hold? The end of the interglacial period is depicted in a scene Anderson sets 50,000 years from now, showing a futuristic observation station on the west coast of an ice-choked Canada. The frigid landscape and starfield above set the author speculating on how our descendants will see their options:
Will the inhabitants of a re-glaciating Earth seek refuge elsewhere? Alpha Centauri, our nearest celestial neighbor, has in all this time migrated out of the southern skies to the celestial equator, where it can be sighted from locations throughout the entire globe. It seems to beckon humanity to the stars.
And there, tagged by the star-finder chart and brightly shining on the facing image, is the Alpha Centauri system, now moving inexorably farther from our Sun but still a major marker in the night sky. Planet hunter Greg Laughlin has often commented on how satisfying it is that we have this intriguing stellar duo with accompanying red dwarf so relatively near to us as we begin the great exoplanet detection effort. We’re beginning to answer the question of planets around Alpha Centauri, though much work lies ahead. Perhaps some of that work will be accomplished by scientists who, in their younger years, were energized by the text and images of books like this one.
What I find facinating is a comment by a reader ( kzb ) of this post concerning the Fermi Paradox:
One frequently-seen explanation of the Fermi paradox is that interstellar travel is just too difficult: the distances are so great that no intelligent species has ever cracked the problem.
This article highlights an argument against this outlook. One scale-length towards the galactic centre, and the space density of stellar systems is 2.7 times what it is around here. Two scale lengths in and the density is 7.4 times greater. The scale-length of our galaxy is around only 2.1-3kpc according to recent literature.
Intelligent species that evolve in the inner galactic disk will not have the same problem that we have. Over galactic timescales, encounters between stellar systems within 1 light-year will not be uncommon.
I think you can see what I am saying, and I think this is one aspect of the FP discussion that is poorly represented currently.
And Erik Anderson’s response:
@ kzb: I give an overview of the Fermi Paradox on page 110 and I didn’t miss your point. It was definitely articulated by Edward Teller, whom I explicitly quote: “…as far as our Galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the Galactic center.”
Of course this precludes the explanations that there is no such thing as speedy interstellar travel ( be they anti-matter or warp drives ) and UFOs are really just mass hallucinations.
However Anderson’s book is novel in its’ treatment of interstellar exploration over vast timescales and that closer to the Galactic Center, possible advanced civilizations could have stellar cultures due to faster stellar movements and much shorter distances between stars. And I find that novel in an Olaf Stapledon kind of way!
That and the fact as we are discovering using the Kepler and HARP interstellar telescopes multiple star systems that have their own solar systems and many of them could have intelligent life lends credence to Mr. Anderson’s themes.
So I might treat myself to an early Christmas present by purchasing Anderson’s book!
A skydiver has made history by smashing the world record for the highest skydive after leaping from 128,097ft.
Daredevil Felix Baumgartner ascended to the edge of space in a pressurised capsule suspended beneath a giant helium balloon. He then jumped out, freefalling for four minutes and 19 seconds before opening his parachute.
The 43-year-old Austrian also broke the record for the highest manned balloon flight after riding with the capsule 24 miles above New Mexico.
He also achieved the fastest freefall after reaching a top speed of 834mph (1,342km/h) and broke the sound barrier, according to mission spokeswoman Sarah Anderson.
The speed – revealed at a news conference a few hours after the leap – was significantly higher than that given earlier by a spokeswoman, who had put his maximum speed as 706mph (1,136km/h).
A minor problem had developed as Baumgartner’s capsule ascended when a heater failed on his helmet faceplate, which meant his visor became fogged when he exhaled. However, it was not enough to stop him jumping.
In a nail-biting event watched live around the world, Baumgartner stepped to the edge of the capsule and saluted the camera, before saying: “Sometimes you have to go up really high to realise how small you are.”
The biggest risk Baumgartner faced was spinning out of control, which could have exerted enough G-forces to make him lose consciousness.
At one point he appeared to have become unstable, but he managed to get himself into a flat, controlled position for the rest of the skydive.
Temperatures of -68C (-90 Fahrenheit) could also have had unpredictable consequences if his suit had failed.
He had been due to jump from 120,000ft, but the balloon went higher than expected, to just under 128,000ft.
The previous record for the highest jump was held by Colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped at an altitude of 102,800ft (31,333m) in 1960.
Bamgartner’s leap was watched by Baumgartner’s tearful mother Eva and by Col Kittinger, who co-ordinated the jump from mission control.
Col Kittinger told the man who went on to break his record for the highest jump: “Our guardian angel will take care of you.”
However, the Austrian was unable to break Col Kittinger’s record for the longest time spent in freefall. Baumgartner’s total of four minutes and 19 seconds fell 17 seconds short.
The reason for the shorter-than-expected freefall was not immediately clear, although live commentary during the leap suggested he opened his parachute at an altitude above the 5,000ft level that had been announced in advance.
The Red Bull Stratos mission was the second attempt for the skydiver. An initial bid last week was aborted at the last minute due to the wind.
Some folks dismiss this as a corporate shill act just to sell an “energy” drink that’s full of sugar and caffeine. And they’d only be partially correct.
The fact is that Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos had to design the “spacesuit” from scratch, and with no help from NASA.
There is no doubt in my mind that private launch companies like Virgin Galactic, XCOR, Bigelow and probably even SpaceX will show interest in the modern design of the suit with it’s emergency egress capabilities.
Kudos to Felix and Red Bull!
Today SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is set to splash-down at 11:44 am EDT after a successful mission to the International Space Station.
Whether you love or hate Elon Musk ( or love or hate Barack Obama for that matter ) one cannot dispute that this was an important flight for the American aerospace industry and important for NASA.
The engine burn to begin Dragon’s descent is due to begin in about 90 minutes, aiming the capsule for a splashdown point about 560 miles west of Baja California, where three recovery boats contracted by SpaceX are on station to receive the capsule.
Dragon’s de-orbit burn is set for 10:51 a.m. EDT (1451 GMT), setting up the spacecraft to plunge back into Earth’s atmosphere at 17,000 mph, flying from northwest to southeast over the North Pacific before deploying drogue parachutes and main chutes.
Dragon will also jettison its trunk, an unpressurized section which houses the craft’s solar panels, at 11:09 a.m. EDT (1509 GMT). The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.
The craft’s Draco thrusters will periodically fire during re-entry to refine Dragon’s trajectory to reach the desired landing zone in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The capsule’s drogue stabilization parachutes will deploy at an altitude of 45,000 feet at 11:35 a.m. EDT (1535 GMT). Three 116-foot main parachutes will unfurl 10,000 feet above the water at 11:36 a.m. EDT (1536 GMT).
Dragon is designed to splash down at a vertical speed of about 11 mph. SpaceX says the craft can safely land even it one of its main parachutes fails.
American Marine is providing the vessels for the recovery. A 185-foot barge with a crane will lift the capsule aboard its deck for the voyage back to port. An 80-foot crew ship and two 25-foot inflatable recovery boats are also in the flotilla.
About a dozen SpaceX engineers and a four-person dive team will assist with Dragon’s recovery from the sea.
Once the Dragon spacecraft is aboard the primary barge, the fleet will sail for the Port of Los Angeles, where crews will access a limited amount of the capsule’s more than 1,300 pounds of cargo returning from the space station.
The early access is a demonstration by SpaceX for NASA in preparation for future flights, which may carry sensitive biological samples or experiments requiring quick examination.
SpaceX will transport Dragon to its test site in McGregor, Texas, for post-flight processing and to offload the rest of its cargo.
Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset. Of course it is from Los Angeles.
He wrote more about the historic space milestone here, on his blog.
Last Friday was a special day on my mission. Don and I docked the SpaceX’s cargoship Dragon to the Space Station. Dragon brings new equipment for the crew. On the 31st of May it will return to Earth with supplies from the others and myself. The Dragon mission is the operational highlight of my mission. But it is also a milestone for international spaceflight. This is the first time that a commercial spacecraft has flown to the ISS and docked with the Station. You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.
SpaceX has a long hard row to hoe as far as getting political support for its manned Dragon capsule in the future, in spite of this success.
But the future is coming and it’s hard to fight against the tide of history.
Scientist’s claim that by using the Moon, they can determine that the Earth is habitable and thus, astrophysicists can find extrasolar Earth-like worlds:
Scientists looking at Earthshine reflected from the moon have concluded that, indeed, there is life on our planet. Though the result may be obvious, the findings can help in the search for life on other worlds.
This is not the first time that researchers have tried to see what the Earth would look like when viewed remotely. For example, the Voyager 1 spacecraft’s famous Pale Blue Dot image shows the Earth from nearly 4 billion miles away, giving a rough idea of what extraterrestrial telescopes looking at our planet would observe.
The recent study tried to get an outsider perspective from slightly closer to home. The sun’s rays hit the surface of the Earth and are reflected through the atmosphere. Most of that light escapes into the blackness of space but some of it bounces off the moon.
“Essentially, we use the moon as a giant mirror to look back at the Earth,” said astronomer Michael Sterzik of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, who co-authored the new paper out in Nature on Feb. 29.
This light contains a great deal of information. Break the light from a distant star into a spectrum and you can determine what elements are present.
One day, when scientists can directly detect light from an Earth-like planet, they may be able to check if its atmosphere contains things like oxygen, nitrogen, and methane. If present, these gases may represent biosignatures for distant life.
In addition to checking the Earthshine’s color, Sterzik and his team looked at the polarization, or direction, of the light waves bouncing off the moon. They were able to match the polarized light to different models, where our planet’s surface contained potential percentages of things like oceans, continents, and vegetation.
The model that best fit the polarized light contained a combination of these elements that looked exactly like, well, Earth. Though it may seem trivial at first glance, the finding has profound implications in the search for extraterrestrial life, said astronomer Darren Williams at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, who was not involved with the study.
“It’s a demonstration that we have a fighting chance of learning what the surface of a distant planet is like,” he said.
Recently an “Earth-like” world was found ( https://dad2059.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/alien-planet-discovered-at-a-nice-safe-distance/ ) , but without a “Moon” to reflect light from.
Currently we do not have the technology to find a planet with moons. But the embattled James Webb Telescope would be capable of finding such planets.
Maybe by the end of this decade, we’ll have a list of actual Earth-type planets to study, either by stronger telescopes, advanced space probes or a combination of both.
I’m not betting on the space probes though.
In a rebuttal to claims that Gliese 581g doesn’t exist, Dr. Steven Vogt, leader of the team that detected Gliese 581g said he respects the work of those who interpret the data differently, but until they publish a paper stating their case, he stands by himself and his team’s work:
“I stand by our data and analysis,” Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in an e-mail interview with SPACE.com. “I feel confident that we have accurately and honestly reported our uncertainties and done a thorough and responsible job extracting what information this data set has to offer. I feel confident that anyone independently analyzing this data set will come to the same conclusions.”
Vogt added that he looks forward to reading the other team’s results when they’re published in a peer-reviewed journal. He’s not necessarily expecting Gliese 581g to be yanked off the list of extrasolar planets, though.
“In 15 years of exoplanet hunting, with over hundreds of planets detected by our team, we have yet to publish a single false claim, retraction or erratum,” Vogt said. “We are doing our level best to keep it that way.”
Questioning the claim
Vogt’s team announced the discovery of Gliese 581g on Sept. 29. The planet, about 20 light-years from Earth, is the first rocky, roughly Earth-size alien planet found to orbit its star in the so-called “habitable zone” — a just-right range that can allow liquid water to exist.
Since then, the discovery has received a lot of attention, from both the media and other researchers. One group of astronomers, led by Michel Mayor of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, performed a follow-up investigation in an attempt to confirm the existence of Gliese 581g. [FAQ: 12 Questions (and Answers) on Planet Gliese 581g]
At an astronomy conference this week in Torino, Italy, the Swiss team announced that it could not confirm Gliese 581g or 581f, another planet Vogt’s team discovered in the same system. Though the researchers did not refute the existence of either planet, they did confirm the other four previously found around the star.
Vogt said he wasn’t overly surprised to hear the news, since the two newfound planets’ signals were quite weak.
Similar methods, different results
Both research teams used similar methods — scrutinizing the parent star Gliese 581’s movement, looking for the telltale gravitational tug of orbiting planets. And both teams analyzed some of the same data.
Vogt’s team looked at 119 measurements made by the HARPS instrument on the La Silla telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, as well as 142 measurements from the HIRES instrument on the Keck I telescope at Hawaii’s Keck Observatory.
The Swiss team analyzed those same 119 HARPS measurements, and they looked at 60 additional HARPS observations as well. Vogt said those 60 new measurements could lead to a maximum potential detection sensitivity gain of only 23 percent or so, assuming all the new data points are useful and non-redundant.
The Swiss team didn’t investigate any of the Keck data, however — a fact Vogt finds puzzling, especially since his team concluded that both the HARPS and HIRES measurements had to be combined to reliably detect all six planets orbiting Gliese 581.
“As the Swiss group was given our data over a week ago now, I am also mystified why they have not already combined all the data together into a more complete analysis themselves,” he said.
The Swiss team has not yet published its results in a peer-reviewed journal. Until that happens, it’s hard to know what to make of the team’s findings, Vogt said.
“As we have done, they must publish their data, analysis and conclusions in a peer-reviewed archival scientific journal for all the world and history to see,” Vogt said. “Once they do, we will thoroughly analyze both the combined and individual data sets and extract what information they offer.”
Hmm..Vogt used the Keck ACTS satellite data and the Swiss team didn’t?
I find that very curious indeed since the Keck data would confirm Vogt’s findings because transiting planet data is more reliable than the older radial velocity method of exo-planet discovery.
I wonder what data the Swiss were looking at?
While the Congress-critters of the US guvmint still hassle over Mr. Obama’s FY2011 budget for NASA, aerospace companies Boeing and Bigelow release images of their capsule and space station:
Boeing [NYSE: BA] released artist’s renderings of its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft during a media briefing with Bigelow Aerospace today at the Farnborough Airshow.
Boeing is maturing the design of its CST-100 spacecraft under an $18 million Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Space Act Agreement with NASA. The CST-100 can carry a crew of seven and is designed to support the International Space Station and the Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex (as shown in image MTF10-0006-01).
The CST-100 will be bigger than Apollo but smaller than Orion, and be able to launch on a variety of different rockets, including Atlas, Delta and Falcon. It will use a simple systems architecture and existing, proven components. The “100” in CST-100 refers to the 100 kilometers from the ground to low Earth orbit.
The CST-100 also looks smaller than SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, but the Dragon is a multi-purpose vehicle designed not only for humans eventually, but initially for cargo delivery and bringing cargo back, like the shuttle.
The CST-100 is designed just for human taxi service to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
I think that Boeing/Bigelow will be sending folks to the ISS before the government backed Orion.
Well, it had to happen eventually.
We finally developed the technology to observe planets from outside the Solar System from the ground.
A planet outside of our solar system, said to be the first ever directly photographed by telescopes on Earth, has been officially confirmed to be orbiting a sun-like star, according to follow-up observations.
The alien planet is eight times the mass of Jupiter and orbits at an unusually great distance from its host star — more than 300 times farther from the star than our Earth is from the sun.
Astronomers first discovered the planet in 2008 using visible light observations from telescopes on Earth, making it the first direct photo of an extrasolar world. But at the time there was still the remote chance that it only looked like it was orbiting the star, from the perspective of Earth, due to a lucky alignment of object, star and observer.
“Our new observations rule out this chance alignment possibility, and thus confirms that the planet and the star are related to each other,” said astronomer David Lafreniere, who led the research team that discovered the planet.
The new observations that confirm the planet circles its parent star were made using high-resolution adaptive optics technology at the Gemini Observatory. The observatory is an international collaboration with two identical 8-meter telescopes, located at Mauna Kea, Hawaii and Cerro Pachon in northern Chile.
Planet around young star
The host star, which has an estimated mass of about 85 percent that of our sun, is located approximately 500 light-years away in a group of young stars called the Upper Scorpius Association that formed about 5 million years ago.
The planet has an estimated temperature of over 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,500 degrees Celsius). This makes the planet much hotter than Jupiter, which has an atmospheric cloud-top temperature of approximately minus 166 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 110 degrees Celsius).
The planet is a super-duper Jupiter type, which probably aided in it’s discovery by us.
Our technology in this field is only going to get better in the coming years, so IMHO it won’t be too long before we’re spying on some poor creature doing the equivalent of sitting on the john and reading the paper on some nearby exoplanet.
And how do we know that somebody isn’t already doing that to us?
In 1956, the US Air Force was still the primary mover behind the American space program. Various tests were conducted that included ejecting from fast moving jets at 520 m.p.h., speeding down water tracks on rocket sleds at 1000 m.p.h. and going up in pressurized bathysphere type gondolas via balloon to reach altitudes of 100,000 feet or more.
And then either jumping out or riding down in the free-falling gondola to see if the parachute system works.
These were brave men by any stretch of the imagination, yet they hardly receive any mention in the annals of spaceflight lore, forgotten by the public and hidden in the back-waters of the bureaucracy in government and NASA.
Below is a link (click the photo) to a movie that was made in 1956, two years before NASA was formed. The protagonist is an Air Force flight surgeon who is also a test pilot who fearlessly experiments on his body to further human spaceflight research. From what I observed, the character is based on real-life people who set records in balloon altitude parachute drops and rocket sled g-force tests.
On The Threshold of Space
Very good film showing how these tests were conducted and cool vintage vehicles, that’s what I liked!