by Jennifer Hurst
October 6, 2018

A Colossal Elevator to Space Could be Going up Sooner Than You Ever Imagined

For more than half a century, rockets have been the only way to go to space. But in the not-too-distant future, we may have another option for sending up people and payloads: a colossal elevator extending from Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 22,000 miles, where geosynchronous satellites orbit.

NASA says the basic concept of a space elevator is sound, and researchers around the world are optimistic that one can be built. The Obayashi Corp., a global construction firm based in Tokyo, has said it will build one by 2050, and China wants to build one as soon as 2045. Now an experiment to be conducted soon aboard the International Space Station will help determine the real-world feasibility of a space elevator.

“The space elevator is the Holy Grail of space exploration,” says Michio Kaku, a professor of physics at City College of New York and a noted futurist. “Imagine pushing the ‘up’ button of an elevator and taking a ride into the heavens. It could open up space to the average person.” — NBC

Towering 22,000 miles above the Earth’s equator, a space elevator transports people and payloads to geosynchronous orbit. Glenn Clovis


Inside Boeing’s Starliner Space Capsule

Need a lift to space?

Since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the only way for astronauts to get into space has been Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. But soon NASA space flyers will be able to hitch a ride on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which is now in the final stages of development.

The gumdrop-shaped capsule is designed to function essentially as a space taxi, ferrying up to seven astronauts and their cargo to and from the International Space Station. Boeing is expected to conduct the spacecraft’s first crewed test flight to the ISS next year. (SpaceX is putting the finishing touches on its Crew Dragon capsule, which is also scheduled to carry its first crew in 2019.) — NBC


Lockheed Martin Unveils Plans for Huge Reusable Moon Lander for Astronauts

This isn’t your grandfather’s lunar lander.

Today (Oct. 3), aerospace giant Lockheed Martin revealed its concept for a reusable, single-stage spaceship capable of ferrying four astronauts between lunar orbit and the surface of the moon.

For comparison, the expendable lunar lander that NASA used during the Apollo program carried two people and weighed 4.7 tons (4.3 metric tons) without propellant. Lockheed’s craft would weigh 24 tons (22 metric tons) dry and tip the scales at 68 tons (62 metric tons) when fully fueled. [Lunar Legacy: 45 Apollo Moon Mission Photos]

The Lockheed lander would use as its home base the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a small space station that NASA aims to start building near the moon in 2022. —

Artist’s illustration of Lockheed Martin’s proposed lunar lander on the surface of the moon. The lander could carry four people and up to 1 ton of cargo to the surface from lunar orbit.
Credit: Lockheed Martin


Boeing Plans Changes to SLS Upper Stages

With NASA’s decision to continue using an interim upper stage for additional flights of the Space Launch System, Boeing is working on changes to both that stage and a more powerful upper stage.

NASA has asked Boeing to spend some time to try and “optimize” the EUS with the goal of increasing the amount of additional payload it can carry. Such co-manifested payloads, such as modules for NASA’s proposed lunar Gateway, would be carried on the SLS underneath the Orion spacecraft.

“We’re actively working through additional design opportunities to lighten the stage and increase its performance and take even more out to the lunar area, so that the Gateway can be built and we can get human boots back on the surface of the moon,” he said. — Space News

With the Block 1 version of the SLS now planned to launch three times instead of just once, NASA has asked Boeing to slow down work on the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage and optimize its payload performance. Credit: NASA


First SpaceX Mission With Astronauts Set for June 2019

NASA has announced the first crewed flight by a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to take place in June 2019.

It will be the first manned US launch to the orbiting research laboratory since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011, forcing US astronauts to hitch costly rides aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

A flight on Boeing spacecraft is set to follow in August 2019. —

SpaceX will use its Falcon 9 rocket to launch its Crew Dragon capsule to the orbiting International Space Station


Thanks to Trump, Space, ‘the Next Great American Frontier,’ Is Within Reach

Only a robust public-private partnership, leveraging the resources of the federal government and the know-how of cutting edge companies (including SpaceX) can achieve America’s destiny in space. Fortunately, this destiny is on the cusp of fulfillment, as NASA, in combination with several aerospace giants, is putting the finishing touches on the Space Launch System (SLS).

SLS will support missions to Mars and far beyond. The SLS will also transport a probe to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, where some scientists believe that, under a vast ice sheet, an ocean may harbor primitive life. NASA, it bears repeating, has a plan and a budget to make all this happen. It also has a track record of success. If we are to take the next step in human evolution, therefore, and strike out among the stars, it will be the SLS that will get us there.

The existing SLS program puts America on a path to further explore our solar system, to return to the Moon, and to land astronauts on Mars. All this depends on funding, however, which was anemic under President Obama, who was content to let America play a secondary role in space in the 21st century. Happily, President Trump has laid out a much more ambitious agenda for NASA. — Town Hall


Lockheed Martin Strengthens Position in Military Satellite Market

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has made “go fast” the bumper sticker for space programs. The thinking is that, should a military conflict extend into space, the Air Force would be positioned to protect the nation’s satellites from attacks and also quickly launch new ones into orbit to beef up existing constellations.

So far the company that has most benefitted from the push for faster acquisitions and more security is Lockheed Martin. Its advantage comes from being a trusted supplier with a hot production line for military satellites. Over the past several months, the company received a $2.9 billion contract to build three strategic missile-warning satellites, known as next-generation OPIR — and a $7.2 billion deal to produce up to 22 jam-resistant GPS 3 satellites. — Space News


Destination, Asteroid: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Starts Final Approach

Even as a European lander performed an epic touchdown on an asteroid this week, NASA started its final maneuvers on Monday (Oct. 1) to send its own spacecraft to a space rock.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) mission executed the first asteroid approach maneuver that day, putting the spacecraft on track for its arrival at asteroid Bennu in December, NASA said in a statement. However, it will take at least until next week to find out if the maneuver was successful, NASA said. —


NASA Stands By SpaceX, Even as Elon Musk’s Troubles Grow

The future of Tesla may be imperiled by a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit that seeks to oust Elon Musk, the chief executive. But SpaceX, one of Musk’s other companies, has continued to garner support from its key customers, especially NASA, which can’t afford to see one of its main suppliers falter.

SpaceX has become vital to NASA’s operations and is also a key supplier to the Pentagon. The government has invested billions of dollars in SpaceX and relies on it to send science experts and cargo to the International Space Station, and to launch national security satellites used in modern warfare. By next year, SpaceX is poised to fly NASA’s most valuable assets — its astronauts — to space.

While once it was a scrappy start-up that clawed and sued its way into the federal market, now it is a major federal contractor that is vital to the government’s space program. While Musk is chief executive (and “lead designer”), others at the company are in charge of day-to-day operations. “There’s no alternative at this point to using a commercial company,” said Carissa Christensen, the chief executive officer of Bryce Space and Technology, a consulting firm. “NASA cannot magic up its own vehicle. It doesn’t have one.” — Washington Post

Elon Musk, billionaire and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc. and SpaceX.
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images


SpaceX’s BFR Gets Closer to Mars, By Way of the Moon

SpaceX used the announcement of the first customer for its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) to reveal some changes to the vehicle’s design. Jeff Foust reports on the update and the unique plans that customer has for that mission. — Space Review


Bizarre Particles Keep Flying Out of Antarctica’s Ice, and They Might Shatter Modern Physics

There’s something mysterious coming up from the frozen ground in Antarctica, and it could break physics as we know it. Physicists don’t know what it is exactly. But they do know it’s some sort of cosmic ray — a high-energy particle that’s blasted its way through space, into the Earth, and back out again. But the particles physicists know about shouldn’t be able to do that.

Since March 2016, researchers have been puzzling over two events in Antarctica where cosmic rays did burst out from the Earth, and were detected by NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) — a balloon-borne antenna drifting over the southern continent.

ANITA is designed to hunt cosmic rays from outer space, so the high-energy neutrino community was buzzing with excitement when the instrument detected particles that seemed to be blasting up from Earth instead of zooming down from space. Because cosmic rays shouldn’t do that, scientists began to wonder whether these mysterious beams are made of particles never seen before. — Live Science

The surface facility for the IceCube experiment, which is located under nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) of ice in Antarctica. IceCube suggests ghostly neutrinos don’t exist, but a new experiment says they do.
Credit: Courtesy of IceCube Neutrino Observatory


Texas School Starts Aerospace Program

Southwest High students will have the chance to build their own small aircraft as part of a new aeronautical science, technology, engineering and math program. It will run from pre-kindergarten through high school, supported by a grant from The Dee Howard Foundation. Southwest Independent School District administrators unveiled it at a Wednesday news conference at Bob Hope Elementary School, where all fifth-grade classes will be given drone assembly kits. — San Antonio Express-News


NASA Voyager 2 Could be Nearing Interstellar Space

NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, currently on a journey toward interstellar space, has detected an increase in cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is a little less than 11 billion miles (about 17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth, or more than 118 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.

Since 2007 the probe has been traveling through the outermost layer of the heliosphere—the vast bubble around the Sun and the planets dominated by solar material and magnetic fields. Voyager scientists have been watching for the spacecraft to reach the outer boundary of the heliosphere, known as the heliopause. Once Voyager 2 exits the heliosphere, it will become the second human-made object, after Voyager 1, to enter interstellar space.

Since late August, the Cosmic Ray Subsystem instrument on Voyager 2 has measured about a 5 percent increase in the rate of cosmic rays hitting the spacecraft compared to early August. The probe’s Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument has detected a similar increase in higher-energy cosmic rays. —

This graphic shows the position of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes relative to the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause, or the edge of the heliosphere, in 2012. Voyager 2 is still in the heliosheath, or the outermost part of the heliosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA Solar Probe Flies By Venus on Its Way to ‘Touch’ the Sun

A NASA sun-studying spacecraft’s first Venus flyby is in the books.

The agency’s Parker Solar Probe zoomed within 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) of Venus as planned this morning (Oct. 3), getting an orbit-sculpting gravity assist, NASA officials said.

The spacecraft therefore remains on course for its first close encounter with the sun, which is scheduled to take place from Oct. 31 through Nov. 11. During this 12-day stretch, the Parker Solar Probe will gather a wealth of data about the sun’s structure, composition and activity. —

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe successfully made its first flyby of Venus on Oct. 3, 2018 as the spacecraft makes its way toward the sun. The spacecraft will be the first to fly through the sun’s outer atmosphere. Six more Venus flybys are planned.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben