Sunday, January 18, 2015

Momentum For The USA - The Mars Race Is On

Since NASA retired its shuttle program in 2011, US astronauts have been flying aboard Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to reach the International Space Station. Last year, NASA renewed a contract with Russia to continue ferrying US astronauts to space that cost the agency $457.9 million for six seats on a Soyuz spacecraft. But now that the Republicans have taken over Congress,  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will be chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness. Cruz argues that NASA's partnership with Russia on the International Space Station has endangered American space exploration and innovation, and wants to lead the way for the world in space exploration. Launching astronauts from US soil is the first step toward NASA's ultimate goal of renewing long-distance spaceflight and taking back America's foothold in space by sending the first humans to an asteroid and then to Mars.

NASA is designing and building capabilities to send humans farther into the solar system than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars.  NASA's Orion spacecraft will carry four astronauts to missions beyond the moon, launched from Florida aboard the Space Launch System(SLS) -- an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit. Orion will be the most advanced and most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.

The ESA: Ariane 6 and ExoMars
In the afterglow of the Rosetta mission's success in landing on a comet, the member states of ESA met in Luxembourg in early December to look forward to future challenges. Among the priorities is the development and construction of the new rocket, Ariane 6, which is seen as essential to maintaining Europe's lead in the​ launcher market. Then there's the ExoMars mission to further explore the 'Red Planet' and look for signs of life. But it's not just about probes - ESA's manned spaceflight programme also has momentum, with new astronauts currently in training and due to fly in 2015 and 2016. So, as the agency marks a half century of Europe's space sector, it's onwards and upwards for the next 50 years.

Space X: Falcon 9/Crew Dragon 

Billionaire Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of Tesla Motors says SpaceX plans to ferry crews to and from the orbiting lab using the Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket under SpaceX's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the space agency."This milestone sets the pace for the rigorous work ahead as SpaceX meets the certification requirements outlined in our contract," Kathryn Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement. "It is very exciting to see SpaceX's proposed path to certification, including a flight test phase and completion of the system development." (Oops. One failed test so far for the Falcon 9 on Jan 10th 2015 - if at first you don't succeed try try again Mr. Musk!) 

Blue Origin: B-4
Currently Blue Origin is  working on an engine called the B-4. Bezos, 50, founded Blue Origin in 2000, five years after his first company, Amazon.com, debuted online. His goal was to make spaceflight cheap enough to extend beyond the realm of astronauts and cosmonauts.Bezos, who reportedly spends one day a week on Blue Origin, said running Amazon is his main “day job,” one he still enjoys. Still, as a space geek since his teens who dreamed of colonizing space a la the “Jetsons,” he made clear where his heart lies.
Blue Origin was among four companies, along with Sierra Nevada of Louisville, Colo., to initially compete for the NASA contract to come up with a replacement spacecraft for the space shuttle. But Blue Origin did not advance beyond the early rounds. “You don’t choose your passion. The passion chooses you,” he said. Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for “a 21st century” rocket engine developed by his private aerospace company that could help reduce Russia’s role in U.S. orbital flights. The BE-4 will be jointly funded by Bezos’ Kent-based Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Bigelow: Bigelow Aerospace's founder and president is Robert Bigelow, a Las Vegas-based general contractor, real estate tycoon, hotel businessman and developer. Since 1999, his company has been focused on creating affordable inflatable space habitats for national space agencies and corporate clients. According to the Bigelow Aerospace website, the BA 330 can function as an independent space station, and several BA 330 habitats can be connected together in a modular fashion to create an even larger and more capable orbital space complex. Robert Bigelow and his team have extensively blueprinted concepts for their expandable habitats to be used at other destinations."Expandable habitats are an enabling technology that will make the dream of robust beyond-LEO human space exploration a reality," Gold said. "Regardless of the ultimate destination, be it L2 [Lagrange Point 2], the surface of the moon or even a historic mission to Mars, the large volumes provided by Bigelow Aerospace systems, combined with enhanced protection from radiation and physical debris, make habitats such as the BA 330 an essential part of any realistic beyond-LEO architecture."

Sierra Nevada Corp:
Sierra Nevada must be doing something right: In 2010, the company netted $20 million out of an available $50 million in NASA funding for preliminary development. In 2011, NASA added another $80 million in second-round funding. Moreover, its hybrid rocket engines, which powered SpaceShipOne on its successful Ansari X Prize bid, also propelled SpaceShipTwo on its two successful supersonic test flights in 2013 

Orbital Science Corp. 
Open the space catalog of Virginia-based Orbital Science Corp. and you'll find small- and medium-class rockets, along with launch services covering orbiting satellites, deep space probes and payload deliveries to high altitudes. Its clientele encompasses the commercial, military and civil government sectors, including NASA, with whom it secured a $1.9-billion contract to fly eight cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
Still, as the contenders in the new space race round the first turn, Orbital remains strong in the pack. By developing a launch abort system for NASA's Orion crew capsule, it maintains a stake in the space agency's future endeavors, while also hedging its bets across public and private space sectors.

Virgin Galatic: Richard Bransons company is a major player in the private sector of space, however most of his projects so far have been aimed at taking the affluent into papabolic flight. Travelers will board SS2 -- a 60-foot (18-meter), six-person rocket glider slung below VirginMothership Eve. This dual-fuselage aircraft, which stretches 140 feet (43 meters) from wingtip to wingtip, will climb to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) before releasing SS2. SS2 will then kick in its rockets and hurtle to the edge of space (around 62 miles, or 100 kilometers) on a parabolic flight. 

Russia: Last year, Russia said that it will develop new huge rockets for manned flights to the moon and Mars, by 2030 – the same year that Nasa is aiming for the red planet.
Russia has announced plans to build a super-heavy carrier rocket that could propel its cosmonauts to Mars. RIA Novosti reports that a working group has looked at proposals for a heavy-lift rocket, including the revival of the Energia launcher. The rocket will rival Nasa's Space Launch System (SLS) which is expected to come in two variants capable of lifting 70 and 130 tonnes into orbit.Construction of the first stage of Russia's super-rocket - capable of lifting 80 tonnes - is already underway, according to Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko.