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Comment Elon Musk knows why we must go to Mars and a plan (Score 1) 310

Elon Musk knows that the only way to ensure the long term survival of mankind is to start a colony off Earth. While NASA is constrained by the whims of Congress, Musk said the hell with waiting and started SpaceX so he could build his own rockets. SpaceX announced in May 2015 that they are positioning Dragon V2 spacecraft variants—in conjunction with the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle—to transport science payloads across much of the solar system, in cislunar and inner solar system regions such as the Moon and Mars as well as to outer solar system destinations such as Jupiter's moon Europa. Details include that SpaceX expects to be able to transport 2,000–4,000 kg (4,400–8,800 lb) to the surface of Mars, including a soft retropropulsive landing using SuperDraco thrusters following a limited atmospheric deceleration. When the destination has no atmosphere, the Dragon variant would dispense with the parachute and heat shield and add additional propellant.

SpaceX began development of the large Raptor rocket engine for the Mars Colonial Transport[MCT] before 2014, but the MCT will not be operational earlier than the mid-2020s. SpaceX have not yet publicly released details of the space mission architecture nor all the system components of the MCT, nor a timeline for earliest MCT missions to Mars. Elon Musk hopes to unveil the space mission architecture at the International Astronautical Congress in September 2016.

We know a few basic things about the SpaceX Mars architecture:

Two stages to orbit. First stage is a single booster with many Raptor engines which returns to launch site for reuse. Second stage is the Mars Colonial Transport, comprising a pressurized cabin section and a propulsion section, also powered by multiple Raptor engines.

MCT is refueled in earth orbit by multiple propellant tankers after expending its initial propellant load during launch. After refueling, MCT departs for Mars and performs a propulsive entry, descent, and landing on Mars. MCT is refueled for the return trip using methane and oxygen produced on Mars. It returns to Earth and lands propulsively. Both stages are 100% reusable. Nothing is jettisoned.

We also know that SpaceX will send Dragon spacecraft to Mars (using Falcon Heavy) before sending the first MCTs, which will be unmanned cargo ships for landing habitation modules and other surface hardware in preparation for the arrival of the first humans.

We don't yet know some of the technical details, including the number of Raptor engines on each stage and the precise stage diameter. We don't know how many distinct variants of the MCT will be produced (cargo, tanker, etc.) and exactly how they will be configured.

But mostly, we don't know the business model: Is this a hobby project funded by their commercial launch business, or is there a profit-making opportunity inherent to the Mars plan? To what extent is SpaceX banking on substantial funding from NASA, who might be able to buy rides from SpaceX long before they are able to send astronauts to Mars using their own equipment?

I don't know if the business model will be clarified as well as the technical architecture when Elon does the reveal in September. That's the part that has space enthusiasts genuinely scratching our heads.

Comment MCT: What we know (Score 1) 101

reposted from ARS Technica

We know a few basic things about the SpaceX Mars architecture:

Two stages to orbit. First stage is a single booster with many Raptor engines which returns to launch site for reuse. Second stage is the Mars Colonial Transport, comprising a pressurized cabin section and a propulsion section, also powered by multiple Raptor engines.

MCT is refueled in earth orbit by multiple propellant tankers after expending its initial propellant load during launch. After refueling, MCT departs for Mars and performs a propulsive entry, descent, and landing on Mars. MCT is refueled for the return trip using methane and oxygen produced on Mars. It returns to Earth and lands propulsively. Both stages are 100% reusable. Nothing is jettisoned.

We also know that SpaceX will send Dragon spacecraft to Mars (using Falcon Heavy) before sending the first MCTs, which will be unmanned cargo ships for landing habitation modules and other surface hardware in preparation for the arrival of the first humans.

We don't yet know some of the technical details, including the number of Raptor engines on each stage and the precise stage diameter. We don't know how many distinct variants of the MCT will be produced (cargo, tanker, etc.) and exactly how they will be configured.

But mostly, we don't know the business model: Is this a hobby project funded by their commercial launch business, or is there a profit-making opportunity inherent to the Mars plan? To what extent is SpaceX banking on substantial funding from NASA, who might be able to buy rides from SpaceX long before they are able to send astronauts to Mars using their own equipment?

I don't know if the business model will be clarified as well as the technical architecture when Elon does the reveal in September. That's the part that has space enthusiasts genuinely scratching our heads.

Submission + - NASA Officials admit that the SLS is a vehicle without a mission plan

frank249 writes: NASA spaceflight.com reports that NASA officials admitted that the Space Launch System is a vehicle without a mission plan. An 'all hands' meeting was held to discuss uncertainty about the SLS. Its first test flight with humans aboard has already been delayed once, and the schedule for the SLS’s tests are shaky — there is no definitive launch schedule for the rocket beyond its first uncrewed test flight, which is slated for Sept 30th, 2018. After that, the SLS's next flight dates are mostly tentative, and the rocket doesn't have any definitive mission plans — only the promise of going to an asteroid and then to Mars someday.

Part of the problem is that the SLS is expensive, The cost of developing the SLS through 2017 is expected to total $18 billion and each launch is going to cost somewhere between $500 and $700 million. By comparison, Elon Musk has said that that SpaceX could build the Mars Colonial Transporter(MCT) , a vehicle in the 140-150 t payload range, for $2.5 billion, or $300 million per launch. Coincidentally Musk recently said he has a plan to send humans to Mars by 2025.

Comment Does Musk's Plan make the NASA's SLS Redundent? (Score 1) 101

NASA officials admitted today the Space Launch System — the agency’s next big rocket — is a vehicle without a mission plan NASA Spaceflight reports. The agency acknowledged what is essentially an empty flight manifest for the SLS at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, during an all-hands meeting on Monday.

The meeting was held to discuss uncertainty about the SLS. Its first test flight with humans aboard has already been delayed once, and the schedule for the SLS’s tests are shaky — there is no definitive launch schedule for the rocket beyond its first uncrewed test flight, which is slated for September 30th, 2018. After that, the SLS's next flight dates are mostly tentative, and the rocket doesn't have any definitive mission plans — only the promise of going to an asteroid and then to Mars someday.

The SLS was born out of NASA's now-defunct Constellation program, an effort aimed at returning humans to the Moon. Though it was once considered the replacement for the Space Shuttle program, the group far exceeded its budget. President Obama cancelled the initiative in 2010, and out of its ashes, the SLS concept was created — both as a way to salvage parts of Constellation and to provide NASA with a primary vehicle for sending astronauts deep into space. It was also a way to save the jobs of thousands of NASA employees who had been working on Constellation.

But the SLS is expensive, and NASA's budget is at the lowest it has been in decades, even with the new budget allotment of $19.3 billion for the 2016 fiscal year. The cost of developing the SLS through 2017 is expected to total $18 billion. And once the rocket is built, each launch is going to cost somewhere between $500 and $700 million, which makes it unlikely that the rocket will carry astronauts more than once a year.

By comparison, Elon Musk has said that that SpaceX could build the Mars Colonial Transporter(MCT), a vehicle in the 140-150 t payload range, for $2.5 billion, or $300 million per launch. If Musk is going to build the MCT anyways, does NASA need to continue the SLS?

Comment Re:Mars Colonial Transporter (Score 5, Interesting) 101

Th US Air Force has just given SpaceX a $33m contract to develop the Raptor Engine. Raptor is the first member of a family of cryogenic methane-fueled rocket engines under development by SpaceX. It is specifically intended to power high performance lower and upper stages for SpaceX super-heavy launch vehicles. The engine will be powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen (LOX), rather than the RP-1 kerosene and LOX used in all previous Falcon 9 rockets, which use Merlin 1C & D engines. Methane rocket engines have higher performance than kerosene/RP-1 and lower than hydrogen, with significantly fewer problems for long-term, multi-start engine designs than kerosene—methane is cleaner burning—and significantly lower cost than hydrogen, coupled with the ability to "live off land" and produce methane directly from extraterrestrial sources such as the surface of Mars.

The Raptor engine will have over six times the thrust of the Merlin 1D vacuum engine that powers the second stage of the current Falcon 9, the Falcon 9 v1.1.

The broader Raptor concept is a highly reusable methane staged-combustion engine that will power the next generation of SpaceX launch vehicles designed for the exploration and colonization of Mars." According to Elon Musk, this design will be able to achieve full reusability (all rocket stages), and as a result, "a two order of magnitude reduction in the cost of spaceflight.

Comment Mars Colonial Transporter (Score 4, Informative) 101

The first demo flight of the 27 engine Falcon Heavy is in April. SpaceX announced in May 2015 that they are positioning Dragon V2 spacecraft variants—in conjunction with the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle—to transport science payloads across much of the solar system, in cislunar and inner solar system regions such as the Moon and Mars as well as to outer solar system destinations such as Jupiter's moon Europa. Details include that SpaceX expects to be able to transport 2,000–4,000 kg (4,400–8,800 lb) to the surface of Mars, including a soft retropropulsive landing using SuperDraco thrusters following a limited atmospheric deceleration. When the destination has no atmosphere, the Dragon variant would dispense with the parachute and heat shield and add additional propellant.

SpaceX began development of the large Raptor rocket engine for the Mars Colonial Transport before 2014, but the MCT will not be operational earlier than the mid-2020s. SpaceX have not yet publicly released details of the space mission architecture nor all the system components of the MCT, nor a timeline for earliest MCT missions to Mars. Elon Musk hopes to unveil the space mission architecture at the International Astronautical Congress in September 2016.

The super-heavy lift launch vehicle for MCT is intended to be fully-reusable. Mars Colonial Transporter has been notionally described as a large interplanetary spacecraft capable of taking 100 people or 100 tonnes of cargo at a time to Mars.

Sounds far fetched but based on Musk's track record, I would not be surprised if he goes for it.

Submission + - Elon Musk set to unveil Mars spacecraft later this year (foxnews.com)

frank249 writes: Fox News is reporting that Space X and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects to unveil plans for the spacecraft that would send humans to Mars within a decade. Speaking at an event in Hong Kong, Musk said he was 'hoping to describe the architecture' of the spacecraft at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico in late September. “That will be quite exciting,” Musk said. 'In terms of the first flight to Mars, we are hoping to do that around 2025.' As for his plans to go into space, Musk said he was hoping to reach the International Space Station 'four or five years from now.'

Comment Re:Deep Space? Shielding is #1 problem (Score 4, Interesting) 120

As of 2012, NASA is undergoing research in superconducting magnetic architecture for potential active shielding applications. Active Shielding, that is, using magnets, high voltages, or artificial magnetospheres to slow down or defect radiation, has been considered to potentially combat radiation in a feasible way. So far, the cost of equipment, power and weight of active shielding equipment outweigh their benefits. For example, active radiation equipment would need a habitable volume size to house it, and magnetic and electrostatic configurations often are not homogenous in intensity, allowing high-energy particles to penetrate the magnetic and electric fields from low-intensity parts, like cusps in dipolar magnetic field of Earth.

Comment We are living in the future (Score 1) 373

This is what I thought the 21st century was going to be like. Rockets taking off and landing again. I can see a passenger version of this in a few years where you can fly from New York to Australia in 30 minutes. The same vertical landing tech can be used to land on Mars. Refuel and return to Earth. Now if we can just perfect flying cars.

Comment Picture of SpaceX Landing Pad (Score 2) 114

Article and pic here. SpaceX is planning a main landing pad as well as four contingency landing pads at Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to a June 2014 environmental impact statement.

The U.S. Air Force announced Feb. 10 that SpaceX has signed a five-year lease for Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 13, which was used to launch Atlas rockets and missiles between 1956 and 1978. In its new role, it will serve as a landing pad for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster cores launched from Florida, the Air Force said.
“The contingency pads would only be utilized in order to enable the safe landing of a single vehicle should last-second navigation and landing diversion be required. There are no plans to utilize the contingency pads in order to enable landing multiple stages” at once, the assessment said.

Comment Space Launches Schedule (Score 4, Informative) 114

SpaceX has a number of launches coming up according to Space Flight Now including:
* 19 Dec - Falcon 9 rocket will launch 11 second-generation Orbcomm communications satellites.
* Dec ? - Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SES 9 communications satellite.
* Jan - Falcon 9 rocket will launch the 10th Dragon spacecraft on the eighth operational cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station.
* Jan - Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Jason 3 ocean altimetry mission. Jason 3 will measure ocean surface topography to aid in ocean circulation and climate change research for NOAA, EUMETSAT, NASA and the French space agency, CNES.
* There are others scheduled for early 2016

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