Tag Archives: NASA

Nuclear Rockets, ​the Future of Space Propulsion?

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(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – I came across the article “Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets” today and wanted to share it.

 

 

The idea of a nuclear rocket engine was developed in the 1960s for NASA. The research was led by Werner von Braun and successfully tested in Nevada.

What is a nuclear thermal rocket?

A conventional chemical rocket carries combustible chemicals which are ignited, then the resulting gases flow out of a nozzle propelling the vehicle. In a nuclear rocket, a small marble size chunk of Uranium fuel undergoes fission. This energy released heats hydrogen to very high temperatures (nearly 2500 C). The hydrogen is then expelled from the vehicle in a nozzle like on chemical rockets. The difference is that nuclear propulsion is two to three times as efficient.  Tests were carried out starting in 1955 that have proven that this technique will work. Testing was discontinued in 1973.

Where are we Now? 

The original design required highly-enriched uranium. Current designs will most likely rely on low-enriched uranium.  This would make nuclear propulsion systems safer to work with. On May 22, 2019, the US Congress approved $125 million to fund new nuclear thermal propulsion development.

Another alternative being researched is using fusion instead of fission for propulsion. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is working on what they call the Direct Fusion Drive. Applied Fusion Systems is also at work on a fusion alternative.

Whether it is fission in the short term or fusion in the long term, the prospects for nuclear-powered rockets looks very positive. Read the full article for more details.

New Robots on Way to the ISS

(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments. 

The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.

Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square.  They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.

The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.

The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.

EM Drive Does Not Perform well in Tests

Propulsion – I have been watching the stories in the media on the EM Drive for a while now. If you are new to this, the EM Drive is a resonant cavity thruster. In simple terms, it is an electrically powered thruster that requires no fuel. It was proposed by Roger Shawyer in 2001. Most consider the EM Drive to be impossible as it defies currently known physics.

Previous tests of an EM Drive prototype by NASA showed some success. The EM Drive was subjected to more strict testing by a team at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany led by Martin Tajmar. They presented their results at the Aeronautics and Astronautics Association of France’s Space Propulsion conference on May 16, 2018. Their tests are not supportive of the claims made for the EM Drive.

The results presented by Tajmar is reviewed in the video above by Scott Manley. Tajmar and his team had not totally given up on the EM Drive at the time of their report. They plan further testing, but the prospect of this being the solution to propulsion hoped for is dim.

References:

  1. ‘Impossible’ EM drive doesn’t seem to work after all
  2. EmDrive: Not Quite (Yet?) the Answer to Space Travel

macOS New App Release – International Space Station 2

Product Announcements – Tension Software of Milano, Italy has released International Space Station 2 for macOS, which allows users to see the position of the the International Space Station over an interactive map of the world or an interactive tridimensional representation of the globe.

With a simple view users will be able to see if the International Space station will be visible (naked eye) from their local position in the next hours. Using the application (release 1) I did it many time and success is granted and also the ‘Wow effect’ from the one you show it in the sky. Many people has no idea the space station can be seen naked eye (if you know when to look and where)

With a simple click anyone can also see the live webcam stream coming from the International Space Station. Users will watch the astronauts activities with video and audio, all live.

Calculation of the position of the station is very accurate, the app uses the latest NASA code optimized for Mac to calculate it. Users don’t get an approximated position, they get the exact position, speed and altitude of the Station updated every second.

The route path is visualized over the map to evaluate if the station is coming near your position in the next hours (when meteorological and light condition are adequate you can see it without any instruments, just observing the sky naked-eye).

Time of day matters, you can’t see it during the day but only when you have dark sky and the station still get the sun light, so usually after sunset for around 3 hours and before dawn (for a period of 3 hours).

Every year during the summer I had the possibility to see it many times in a month and many nights you have 2 valid passages (distanced by the time it spend for a world circle with is around 90 minutes at 27 000 Km/h – 17 000 MPH)

You can zoom, move and resize the map as you like at any time and on the map you see exactly from where it’s coming and where to look to catch it After some time you will become expert to spot it in the sky as soon as it is on the horizon.

The application downloads at regular time, once per day when you startup it, from our server, the latest orbital parameters to calculate the orbit, so the calculation obtained for the position is always accurate and perfect because the app uses the most updated orbital parameters.

No user action required, the app does it all alone. Our own server provides always updated NASA data to your app when it requires it.

International Space Station is easy and fun to use, anyone can use it even if it uses sophisticated satellite orbit calculation with the same alghoritm used by pro orbital calculation software.

  • Perfect results as using pro orbital software but in an easy to use app
  • Offers 6 different types of map/3D globe on macOS 10.13 (5 on previous release, plain map not available till 10.12, and only 3 types on macOS 10.10)
  • Customizable latitude/longitude format
  • Measure units in Km and Km/h or NM and MPH
  • Zoomable interactive Map and 3DGlobe showing also night/day areas
  • ‘Keep Centered’ function
  • Circle area of visibility moving with the station* Autodetect of your position and circle area of visibility around your position
  • Includes a PDF User Guide

Plus it offers fast access via your web browser to various dedicated area:

  • Page Station at NASA
  • Nasa station blog
  • Web Cam stream on board of the station
  • Audio stream from the station
  • Facebook page of the station
  • Twitter NASA astronauts
  • Twitter ESA astronauts
  • YouTube presence
  • Flickr presence

Requires an internet connection for Apple Map visualization, data update once a day, web cam stream and web pages access. Position is calculated locally using the latest algorithm for orbit computation coded for macOS. We have also a version for the iPhone and the iPad with similar features. Search on the iOS App Store for ‘ISS Track 2’

What’s new in release 2.0:

  • Now uses native Apple MapKit
  • 6 different type of maps
  • Till 12 hours of station trajectory
  • User position visualization
  • Visibility circle also around the user
  • Improved algorithm
  • Various optimizations
  • Various Bug fixes

Device Requirements:

  • macOS
  • 13.4 MB

Pricing and Availability:
International Space Station 2 is just $6.99 USD (or an equivalent amount in other currencies) and is available worldwide through the Mac App Store in the Education category.

An Overview of the New space Race

Space – I came across the article “Private companies are launching a new space race – here’s what to expect” this morning. it gives a very good overview of the companies and governments that are currently pursuing space programs.

If you are interested in space exploration, as I am, you will find this article of interest. The next decade will see many significant events if todays forecasts can be believed.

Future of Interstellar Travel

Space – I came across the article “Here Is the Future of Interstellar Spacecraft” yesterday and thought it was a good overview of the propulsion technologies that are likely to take future spacecraft beyond the Solar System.

In short the alternatives that are covered are:

  1. Thermonuclear propulsion
  2. Lightsail
  3. Bussard ramjet
  4. Antimatter rockets
  5. NASA’s Eagleworks Lab “Warp bubble” drive

None of these are really going to be ready in the near future, with possibly the exception of the Lightsail. I am glad to see though that the ideas are being kept in front of people, particularly those budding STEM students who will lead the way over the next few decades.

Is a ‘Warp’ Drive Feasible?

We have all heard of Warp or other Faster Than Light (FTL) drives in science fiction, but are they really possible?

This short (11:54) video goes into the details of the Alcubierre Drive. While so far this drive is just theoretical, there is a strong technical basis for the drive. Certainly there are several barriers to building one of these today, but there are new achievements and discoveries every day that may break down some of these.

There has been some experimental results out of NASA that tends to support some of the aspects of the Alcubierre Drive, but at this point the Alcubierre Drive is mostly theory.

Finding the ISS

Space Travel Space International Space Station Iss

If you are interested in space, you may have tried to get away from the city lights and look up at the night sky. One of the bright objects in orbit is the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is in a fast orbit of the Earth, traveling at over 17,000 mile per hour. This means that the ISS completes an orbit about every 90 minutes. If you are in a spot that is relatively free of light pollution, seeing the ISS is easy.

To plan ahead for such an excursion you can use the “Spot the Station” site from NASA. You can enter where you will be into the site and it will then give you a list of the dates and times the ISS will be visible from that location. The site also gives you directions as to where to look for the ISS in the evening sky.

You can even sign up for alerts for when the ISS will be passing within view of your location. Taking advantage of this would be a great way to involve kids in STEM activities. For me the current closest location with a list of sighting opportunities is for Georgetown, TX, just a few miles north of where I live. The next viewing opportunities will be at:

Date Visible Max Height Appears Disappears
Tue May 2, 5:42 AM 4 min 26° 11° above S 21° above E
Wed May 3, 4:52 AM 2 min 12° 11° above SE 10° above ESE
Thu May 4, 5:35 AM 3 min 88° 30° above SW 28° above NE

“Into the Unknown”- The Story of the James Webb Telescope

Space – This video is a great, 38+ minute story of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWT) which is scheduled for launch in 2018. The video has a good explanation of why the infrared capabilities of the JWT will vastly extend our view into the universe. It is also hoped that by identifying the gasses in exoplanet atmospheres it will be able to discover any exoplanets that support life.