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Lockheed Accelerates NASA’s Orion—Manned Lunar Flyby in 2016? April 26, 2011

Posted by Nick Azer in : Constellation, New NASA Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV), Orion (craft), United Launch Alliance , 1 comment so far

In an exclusive interview with Universe Today, Lockheed Martin’s John Karas announced today that they’ve accelerated NASA’s Orion craft to a 2013 first launch—with a potential 2016 manned lunar flyby!

One of the few pieces of NASA’s Constellation program to survive it’s cancellation, the Orion is the manned vehicle slated to replace (more or less) the Space Shuttle for ventures to the ISS and elsewhere.

Orion has been planned to launch on Lockheed’s Delta IV rocket for 2013, but Congress’ recent push to have NASA develop and launch a Heavy Lift Rocket (HLV) by 2016 has presented some interesting options:

“If we have a heavy lifter, the 2016 flight with the first human crew could be a deep space mission or a lunar fly by lasting more than a week.”- John Karas, VP of Human Space Flight programs, Lockheed Martin; “Lockheed accelerates Orion to Achieve 2013 launch and potential 2016 Manned Lunar Fly-By“, Ken Kremer, UniverseToday.com

A manned lunar fly-by in 2016 is a huge development!

For comparison, the original Constellation timeline had a manned lunar fly-by in…2019. So this would actually be three years earlier than Constellation would have been! With the first 2013 Orion flight being about a year faster.

Granted, this assumes the new NASA HLV rocket stays on track, but even if the timeline’s delayed two full years, it still beats the slated Constellation mark.

As far as a lunar landing, part of this speedier timeline is related to the Altair lander having been axed with Constellation; the program’s first Orion lunar flight would have included a landing. But it’s not out of the question a lander could be developed by private space or even within NASA before long; even multiple-year delays would still put this timeline to around Constellation’s.

At this stage, it looks like NASA might end up having hardly missed a beat on its way back to the Moon. The universe takes funny turns sometimes…who knew cancelling your program got you to your destination faster? ;)

SpaceX Reveals New Falcon Heavy—World’s Most Powerful Rocket April 6, 2011

Posted by Nick Azer in : SpaceX, United Launch Alliance , add a comment

Leading private space company SpaceX has announced their newest rocket: the Falcon Heavy!

Taking aim at the United Launch Alliance‘s Delta IV, the Falcon Heavy will be not only the most powerful rocket in the world, but the most powerful since the legendary Saturn V of the Apollo missions. (That might not be for long, though, as Congress and NASA are haggling out plans for a heavy-lift rocket that could carry more.)

Set for its first launch in late 2013 or early 2014, the Falcon Heavy is designed to provide twice the carrying power of a Delta IV at “less than a third” of  the cost. SpaceX’s emphasis on its efficiency over the Delta, to me, represents something of a first salvo of direct competition within private space: one private company very specifically trying to trump the offering of another.

And SpaceX has its eyes on more than just orbit:

“‘[The Falcon Heavy's power] certainly opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as returning to the moon and conceivably going to Mars…The Falcon 9 Heavy could go much farther than low-Earth orbit.’” -Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO; “Huge Private Rocket Could Send Humans to Moon or Mars“, Clara Moskowitz, Space.com

With one Google Lunar X PRIZE team, Astrobotic, already having a ride with SpaceX lined up, SpaceX’s role as a major lunar player is starting to take shape.

And they could just be getting started…:

“SpaceX is also considering building an even more powerful rocket called a “super heavy-lift” vehicle that would have about three times the capability of a Falcon Heavy, or about 50 percent more power than the Saturn 5.” – “Huge Private Rocket Could Send Humans to Moon or Mars“, Clara Moskowitz, Space.com

A Look at NASA's New CCDev (Commercial Crew Development) Funding Awards February 11, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Boeing, Commercial Crew Development [CCDev], Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceDev, Uncategorized, United Launch Alliance , 2comments

In the wake of all the hububb over NASA’s new direction, an important step in that direction landed a little quietly—the awarding of $50 million in stimulus funds to five commercial firms.

“The president has asked NASA to partner with the aerospace industry in a fundamentally new way, making commercially provided services the primary mode of astronaut transportation to the International Space Station. We are pleased to be able to quickly move forward to advance this exciting plan for NASA.” -NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA Press Release

The press release calls this a ‘first step’ in the new direction for NASA. Technically speaking, though, this actually builds off of a step taken just days into the Obama administration—the big Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts given to SpaceX and Orbital for the resupply of the ISS (previously done by the Space Shuttle).

So now, in addition to SpaceX and Orbital, NASA has doled out funds to additional companies for develop solutions for crew transportation to low-earth orbit (and thereby, help ‘catalyze‘ the private space industry—and by association. the economy). Here’s a look at the five winners, and the projects they’re working on (in order of totals awarded):

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SpaceDev)

The Sierra Nevada Corporation, which acquired private space company SpaceDev in 2008, was awarded $20 million of the $50 million total. While the NASA release doesn’t specify projects, this appears to be towards the development of SpaceDev’s lifting-body spaceplane called the Dream Chaser (pictured above).

The Dream Chaser is based off the the old NASA HL-20 concept, designed as an affordable backup plan to the Shuttle. Here’s a quick Youtube video (with some hip music :D ) that gives an idea:

Boeing

A longtime stalwart of space efforts, Boeing received $18 million towards the development of an unspecified crew module concept. Alongside Boeing with this CCDev project is Bigelow Aerospace, an established leader in the development of commercial crewed space stations:

“We’re excited about this program and the Boeing partnership in general. Boeing brings with it unparalleled experience and expertise in human spaceflight systems, which will be combined with Bigelow Aerospace’s entrepreneurial spirit and cost-conscious practices.” -Robert T. Bigelow, president and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing press release

The United Launch Alliance

Already operators of the oft-used Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, this partnership between Boeing and Lockheed was awarded $6.7 million to develop an Emergency Detection System to help make the Atlas and Delta rockets become human-rated launch vehicles.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin, the slightly mysterious private space firm started by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, received $3.7 million, apparently (as Jeff Foust of the NewSpace Journal and Space Politics tweeted) for the development of a “concept for bi-conic crew vehicle that could be launched on Atlas 5“, the Atlas V of course being the United Space Alliance’s vehicle.

Blue Origin’s known craft under development is the New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing craft inspired by the old NASA DC-X concept. With a very 1950′s sci-fi style, it simply launches straight up (to orbit) and reenters the same way, all the way down to landing on struts. A video of their Goddard prototype’s 2006 test flight gives an idea:

Paragon Space Development Corporation

And last, but not least, Paragon, a company that develops life support and thermal control systems, was awarded $1.7 million towards a “revitalization system for use in crewed spacecraft“. Here’s a neat NASA video about Paragon, their background, and the work they do:

With these major selections—and NASA’s new direction being pointed directly at them—these companies will become, alongside other partners like SpaceX and Orbital, leaders in American space going forward. Expect to be hearing about those featured technologies a lot, particularly as the competition heats up for a preferred method :) It’s quite a wide variety of designs, too, so it should be fun to see the pros and cons of each play out.