by Edward Ellegood
Florida Space Development Council
January 14, 2017
Trump Might Be Thinking About a Moon Base
Last week, upon leaving the president-elect’s office, Douglas Brinkley, a historian and conservationist, reported that Trump “was very interested in a man going to the Moon.” Before that point, the entirety of Trump’s utterances of space policy consisted of two sentences: “Honestly I think NASA is wonderful!” and “Right now, we have bigger problems… We’ve got to fix our potholes.” Brinkley’s remark suggests he might be thinking about a Moon base, an idea long-favored by Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s advisers. The constitution of his transition landing team at NASA, which includes lunar advocates, would seem to bear this out. The principal arguments for a Moon base involve digging mines and building fuel depots. Though the Moon lacks the resources to ever be truly self-sustaining, it only takes a few days to reach from Earth. If the U.S. decides that the goal of human spaceflight should be to gather resources, the Moon and its quarry of helium-3 will be a compelling target. The isotope is extremely rare on Earth because of our magnetosphere. The Moon has no such protection, and for billions of years it has collected the stuff by way of an unyielding fusillade from solar winds. — The Atlantic
Bridenstine: Why the Moon Matters
The discovery of lunar ice deposits should have immediately transformed America’s space program. Water ice not only represents a critical in situ resource for life support (air and water); it can be cracked into its components, hydrogen and oxygen, to create the same chemical propellant that powered the Space Shuttle. Even better, this chemical propellant sits at the poles of the Moon, which receive almost constant sunlight at an angle that creates permanent shadows. While the water ice is in the shadows, the permanent sunlight enables photovoltaic power, which is necessary to crack the water into hydrogen and oxygen. All of this is available on a world that has no atmosphere and a gravity well that is 1/6th that of Earth. In other words, standard aerodynamic limitations do not apply permitting the placement of the propellant into orbit either around the Moon or around the Earth. From the discovery of water ice on the Moon until this day, the American objective should have been a permanent outpost of rovers and machines, with occasional manned missions for science and maintenance. The purpose of such an outpost should have been to utilize the materials and energy of the Moon to drive down the costs and increase the capabilities of American cis-lunar space operations. — Bridenstine Blog
Mars, Or The Moon?
There has been a good deal of hype given to the idea of going to Mars in recent years by Hollywood – the Matt Damn movie The Martian was a huge hit a couple of years ago, for example, and there was the National Geographic Channel series Mars, produced among others by Ron Howard, late last year – which made a manned Mars mission out to be something more or less inevitable.
But if you have interest in these things and you do a little research, what you find out is that putting people on Mars to stay without putting them first on the moon is a pretty dumb idea, and probably a good way to kill a bunch of brave astronauts on the way to making the world’s taxpayers thoroughly uninterested in the idea of off-world colonization. Because even in the Hollywood vehicles pushing Mars exploration, you can get a good picture of how incredibly hostile Mars would be to colonization from Earth.
A Mars colony is very likely going to fail unless the technology of keeping its people alive has been perfected. That technology probably needs to be perfected on the moon. The other thing to understand is that Mars isn’t all that different from the moon once you’re there. Yes, Mars does have an atmosphere. But it’s 96 percent carbon dioxide, so you certainly can’t breathe it, and it’s worse than that – the air pressure on Mars is less than one percent what it is on Earth, so there is scant little to breathe. — The Hayride
Could Donald Trump Be Better for NASA in Alabama Than Obama?
Donald Trump has only hinted at the future of NASA. But his campaign suggestions – more deep space exploration, less Earth science – seem to bode well for Alabama and for Marshall Space Flight Center. The center’s 6,000-person workforce is a key part of Huntsville’s economy. And deep space exploration plays to Marshall’s strengths as NASA’s propulsion center and manager of the Space Launch System (SLS), the new rocket capable of going beyond Earth orbit to deep space.
NASA employees here say they heard the question often over the holidays: “How do you feel about Trump?” One employee’s answer seemed to stand out: “We’re certainly better positioned than last time.”
The last time the White House changed occupants, incoming President Barack Obama canceled the NASA rocket program being developed in Huntsville. Constellation, as it was called, was designed for America’s space goals under Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush. It was to enable a permanent moon base to support missions to “Mars and other destinations.” — Huntsville Times
Will SpaceX IPO Under Trump Administration?
There is now considerable evidence-drawn from a motley collection of SpaceX news stories-that President Trump will embrace private space contractors. In fact, the incoming administration may even fast-forward the timeline of a SpaceX IPO. Just take a look at the people Trump is appointing to his NASA transition team. There’s Charles Miller, a NASA alumni that pushed for commercial space programs; Alan Stern, who is currently serving as Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation; and Alan Lindenmoyer, the former head of NASA’s commercial space taxi program.
But more to the point, Trump is being steered by Peter Thiel, a longtime friend of Elon Musk. In fact, the two went into business almost two decades ago when they merged Confinity and X.com to create one of the first online payments companies: PayPal. Thiel even invested significant amounts of money in SpaceX. As a result, he stands to make a killing off a SpaceX IPO, the date of which is still a mystery. Musk has always maintained that the eventual SpaceX IPO was tied to his Mars ambitions. — Profit Confidential
Why SpaceX Has So Much Riding on its Next Launch
Elon Musk has ambitious goals for SpaceX in the next couple of years. The company plans to launch its new massive rocket, the Falcon Heavy, as it works toward flying an unmanned spacecraft to Mars next year. It also is planning to fly astronauts to the Space Station by 2018, a feat that would return the U.S. to human spaceflight. Before it embarks on all of that, however, it first has to launch what would normally be a routine flight of commercial satellites to orbit.
But that launch, scheduled for Monday, is now anything but routine — and is instead one of the most important in history of the company. The launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base is the first since SpaceX’s rocket exploded on Sep. 1 while being fueled ahead of an engine test fire. That explosion was the company’s second failure in less than two years — in 2015, it lost a rocket a couple minutes into flight — leading to questions about its ability to fly reliably.
In addition to the goals of Mars and resuming the nation’s manned spaceflight program, the company also has a massive backlog of launches that was delayed while the company was grounded during its four-month investigation. The stakes for this flight, then, are huge, said Todd Harrison, the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’ve got to prove it and restore confidence in their system on this flight,” he said. “If they have another failure, it’s going to stop them dead in their tracks.” — Washington Post
The Future of Space Travel Looking Increasingly Chinese
Space – as it’s so often said – is the final frontier. But 2017 is already shaping up as a year when humankind will be launching a growing number of space missions to push back those frontiers ever further. Even so, it seems would-be space travelers might need to keep their plans in check, with promises about the emergence of space-tourism seemingly no closer to becoming reality.
But, as space flight analyst Dr Morris Jones has been telling me, the future of space is looking increasingly Chinese. That’s right. Well, China has really been the rising space power of the 21st century.
They’ve become the third nation to develop their own astronaut launch system. In 2016 they launched their second space laboratory and they sent two astronauts to live on that laboratory for a month. And that’s the longest mission that they’ve ever flown to date. — ABC.au
It’s Time to Get Beyond Low Earth Orbit
Whenever a new presidential administration takes office, there’s a surge of gossip in the space exploration community about what the new president’s ambitions will mean for NASA. sAdditional robotic exploration of the solar system? Renewed interest in manned spaceflight? A manned trip to Mars? A return trip to the Moon? Many people speculate that there’s even a “red/blue” dynamic to space exploration — BoingBoing
The Path to the Infinite Economy
What the incoming Trump Administration will do in space policy remains a topic of speculation in the space community. Andrew Gasser describes how the new administration should focus on public-private partnerships to create a more effective space program. — Space Review
Is NASA Paving the Way for Asteroid Mining?
Earlier this week, NASA chose to fund an eponymous robotic mission to Psyche, scheduled to launch in 2023. The mission marks the first time spacecraft will visit a metallic asteroid, an extremely rare object in the solar system. Similar NASA missions have only visited rocky and icy worlds, like planets and other asteroids, like Vesta and Ceres. Scientists believe Psyche could have grown to be the size of Mars, but its rocky outer layers were smashed away by a series of collisions billions of years ago. What remains, a world made of metallic nickel and iron, is about the size of Massachusetts.
“By visiting Psyche, we can literally visit a planetary core the only way that humankind ever can,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the Psyche mission’s lead investigator, told reporters Wednesday. “It’s 1,800 miles to the Earth’s core, and the deepest humans have ever managed to drill is seven-and-a-half miles.”Psyche is the only known round metal body in the solar system. The Psyche mission, led by researchers from Arizona State University, will launch in 2023 and reach its namesake by 2030. Over 20 months, the spacecraft will collect data about Psyche’s composition and topography, and, as is standard for robotic missions these days, return beautiful, GIF-able images of the asteroid. They hope Psyche will help them better understand planet formation, and learn more about Earth’s own iron core. — The Atlantic
NASA Should Build a Superhighway in Space
Donald Trump will take power any minute now, and we need to take advantage of the change in the White House to change NASA’s focus. Why? NASA needs to get out of the rocket business and shift its attention to a permanent space transport infrastructure, an Eisenhower-style highway in the sky. An infrastructure with…Gas stations (propellant depots); Rest stops and permanent housing—roomy human habitats with windows and vegetable gardens; Truck stops and freight yards—logistics bases with cargo-handling equipment; Trucks, SUVs, and dune buggies—Moon-and-Mars ground vehicles; plus tugs to haul loads around in space; Fuel production equipment—units to turn the water of the Moon and Mars into rocket fuel, breathable oxygen, and drinkable water; etc. — Scientific American
Mission Contracts Secure Commercial Crew Operations for Coming Years
NASA took another big step to ensure reliable crew transportation to the International Space Station into the next decade. The agency’s Commercial Crew Program has awarded an additional four crew rotation missions each to commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The four additional missions will fly following NASA certification. They fall under the current Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts, and bring the total number of missions awarded to each provider to six. The additional flights will allow the commercial partners to plan for all aspects of these missions while fulfilling space station transportation needs. The awards do not include payments at this time. — Space Daily
Rocket, Satellite Factories to Rise at Space Florida’s Exploration Park in 2017
The New Year will see a pair of major new space manufacturing facilities rise at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park. OneWeb, a startup planning to build hundreds of small communications satellites, entered the holidays with a billion-dollar momentum boost from investors. The company on Dec. 19 announced a $1 billion investment by SoftBank Group of Japan, which owns Sprint, and said that earlier investors were pumping in another $200 million. “OneWeb is a tremendously exciting company poised to transform internet access around the world from their manufacturing facility in Florida,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank, in a statement. The companies said the new investment would create 3,000 jobs over four years, though no total was projected for Florida. The local satellite manufacturing operation, announced in April, was expected to bring 250 jobs. OneWeb plans to build a constellation of nearly 650 small satellites in low Earth orbit that will expand broadband internet access around the world, with a first batch of 10 launching in early 2018. — Florida Today
NASA Sets Sights on Asteroid Exploration
NASA will send two spacecraft to explore asteroids in the hopes of revealing new information about the Solar System’s origins. Psyche will journey to the metallic heart of a failed planet and Lucy will investigate the Trojan asteroids around Jupiter. The missions, announced 4 January, are part of NASA’s Discovery program for planetary exploration. They were shortlisted by NASA in September 2015 and survived a final cut that eliminated two proposed missions to Venus — which has not seen a US planetary mission since Magellan launched in 1989. — Nature
More Trek, Less Wars
A new Star Wars movie has attracted large audiences since its debut last month. Dwayne Day, though, suggests that it’s Star Trek that offer the stronger connections to spaceflight, and a much-needed optimistic philosophy about the future. — Space Review
‘Hidden Figures’ Puts NASA’s Unsung Heroes Front and Center
Behind every John Glenn or Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin there are tens or even hundreds of people working behind the scenes to keep them alive and healthy in space. That’s NASA’s true nature — a nexus of unseen teamwork and ingenuity that allows the exploration of new frontiers. And there is perhaps no better representation of that paradigm than the story told in the new movie Hidden Figures, released Friday. — Mashable