Could we get to Mars in 39 DAYS?


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Nasa has selected a variety of companies to work on projects to create advanced space technologies, including a faster method of propulsion known as Vasimr (illustrated), which could apparently get to Mars in a matter of weeks, not months

  • Company in Texas has been asked to develop its revolutionary engine
  • Ad Astra’s Vasimr engine could apparently get to Mars in 39 days
  • It is one of 12 advanced technology projects to be funded by Nasa
  • Others include new types of habitation and small deep space satellites

Nasa has selected a variety of companies to work on projects to create advanced space technologies, including faster methods of propulsion.

Other projects to be worked on include improved habitats for humans, and small satellites to explore deep space.

And one of the companies in the 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextStep) says they have an engine that could get humans to Mars in just 39 days.

The Vasimr engine – which uses plasma as a propellant – is being developed by the Ad Astra Rocket company in Texas.

Their engine shot to fame a few years ago when it was revealed that it could drastically reduce the journey time to Mars from months to weeks – although it may require a nuclear power source.

And following the successful test of a prototype in 2013, it seems Nasa is now considering it for use on a future mission to Mars.

If NASA successfully implements this engine then it will truly revolutionize whole Space Frontier. Imagine how easy it will become to explore near earth objects. Moreover, It will help to colonize mars in much faster rate.

Source : Dailymail

Europe targets Ariane deal to stay in commercial space race


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  • Meeting on Tuesday expected to agree funding for new rocket
  • Franco-German compromise aims to keep Europe competitive
  • Airbus CEO urges radical shift to counter U.S. rival SpaceX

Weeks after its dramatic coup in landing a probe on a speeding comet, Europe is hoping a last-minute deal to provide funding for the workhorse Ariane rocket will prevent its space ambitions falling back to earth this week.

Anxious to preserve its own access to space, the 20-nation European Space Agency will seek to put aside differences over how to respond to U.S. low-cost rival SpaceX and safeguard thousands of high-tech jobs at ministerial talks on Tuesday.

After two years of wrangling, the outlines of an accord to fund development of a new Ariane 6 satellite launch vehicle appeared to be in place after Germany dropped its insistence on a prior upgrade to the current Ariane 5, officials said.

France is likely in return to back continued European funding for the International Space Station.

“It would be very serious if there is no decision on Dec 2 because Europe would have a competitive delay that it would never manage to reverse,” said Karim Michel Sabbagh, chief executive of Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES.

With the arrival in 2013 of SpaceX, founded by electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk and offering cut-price satellite launches, Ariane needs to lower costs dramatically.

The chief executive of Europe’s largest space contractor Airbus Group, Tom Enders, told Reuters a deal would mark a “new chapter” in the way Europe approaches space.

But he called for a clean break with bureaucratic public-private space industry structures to avoid Europe being “marginalized” by international competition.

“A departure from current ways of working is a precondition for future competitiveness of the European space business”.

Airbus Group, which builds the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, is expected to inaugurate a previously announced joint venture with engine maker Safran on the eve of the talks to help secure Ariane’s future. It will incorporate Arianespace, the launch services firm which operates Europe’s satellite launcher.

CALL FOR REFORM

The new venture is the most serious effort to reorganise Europe’s space industry and is being set up in the hope the one-day ministerial meeting in Luxembourg will back Ariane 6 – ending a compromise two years ago which split potential funding between the upgrade known as Ariane 5ME and an eventual new Ariane 6.

But Europe’s space industry remains heavily influenced by state agencies and industry sources say removing multiple layers of management is key to keeping Europe’s commercial activities competitive.

SpaceX offers launches for around $60 million (50 million euros) compared to 70-90 million euros a shot expected for the Ariane 6 and an average Ariane 5 launch price of 130 million euros ($160 million).

Efficiency comes into play in a cut-throat global commercial market where most companies can only rely on national links when it comes to sensitive defence satellites.

RUSSIA’S ROLE

The European Space Agency, an intergovernmental organisation with 20 member states from across Europe, was founded in 1975 to pool the continent’s finances and brains at a time when the United States and Russia had virtually monopolised space.

But despite Europe’s Ariane capturing 50 percent of the market, a costly system of job distribution and rival design offices has cast a shadow over Europe’s commercial activity even as it basks in scientific success like the Philae comet lander.

Science ministers will also decide on whether the ESA’s participation in the International Space Station will continue beyond 2020, its original shutdown date, and in what way.

The United States earlier this year said it would keep the ISS running until at least 2024, but Russia is looking at going alone and creating its own orbital station. Europe and Russia are also working on a two-mission ExoMars probe shot to Mars.

“(The ISS) shows we can achieve a lot if we all work together and it’s important to highlight that given the tensions building up between Russia and the West,” Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said.

ESA’s budget for 2014 was about 4.1 billion euros ($5.12 billion), and roughly equates to the price of one cinema ticket each year per each European tax payer.

NASA’s budget is $17.6 billion in 2014. The budget gap has made the achievements of Rosetta appear all the more impressive to many observers, but Europe’s space industry is lobbying for a healthy commercial launch activity to support such projects.

ESA plans also include a mission to orbit one of the icy moons of Jupiter and one going to Mercury.

The Horizon 2000 programme, developed in 1984, transformed Europe into a world leader in many areas, including solar physics, cosmology and X-ray Astronomy, said Ken Pounds, former CEO of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

Pounds said he hoped the success of Philae would lead to a virtuous circle “where Europe is proving it can do world-class things, people feel warm about it, and the political class respond to that.”

Source : Reuters

The Tech Executives Running the Commercial Space Race


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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company is reeling from the loss of SpaceShipTwo, which crashed in California’s Mojave desert on Friday, killing one of its pilots and seriously injuring the other. Branson, a billionaire business mogul whose Virgin group of companies have ranged from music to airlines to mobile phones, founded Virgin Galactic ten years ago with the aim of offering flights to the edge of space for anyone who could pay the $250,000 price tag. The future of Virgin’s commercial suborbital flight program is unclear in the wake of the tragic accident.

The 64-year-old Branson is not the only businessman in the space trade. Historically space and aviation have been a point of fascination for moguls who have made their fortune and want to accomplish something bigger. Eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, who made his name in the film business in the 1920s and 1930s, fixated on aerospace and aviation and built innovative airplanes and set air-speed flying records. And James Lick, a real estate tycoon, spent a fortune building a state-of-the-art telescope and observatory in 1876 in San Jose, California.

Today, the concept of space travel has proved an irresistible allure for many entrepreneurs who’ve made it in the tech world, and they have been spurred on by NASA’s increasing reliance on private companies to conduct space missions. The industry has been rocked by SpaceShipTwo’s crash coming just days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station. But the race for commercial space travel continues. Here’s a look at the major tech titans leading the way:

Elon Musk

The 43-year-old co-founder of PayPal and head of Tesla Motors launched Space Exploration Technologies Corp. in 2002 with the ultimate goal of developing the technology to allow humans to live on other planets. SpaceX, as it is known, designs, makes and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.

In 2012, Nasa hired SpaceX to deliver cargo and eventually astronauts to the International Space Station. The company’s spacecraft have since made five trips to the International Space Station and back, including four official resupply missions. The Hawthorne, California company has over 3,000 employees and operates three spacecraft: Dragon, Falcon Heavy and Falcon 8. Its Dragon spacecraft is expected to begin manned missions in the next two to three years.

Jeff Bezos

The 50-year-old co-founder of Amazon Inc. started Blue Origin in Kent, Washington state, in 2000 to develop technology to make human access to space easier. It is currently focused on developing rocket-powered vertical takeoff and landing vehicles for access to the edge of space and beyond. As of 2012 Blue Origin had received $22 million from Nasa.

Its crew and cargo vehicle, called New Shepard, is designed to eventually take tourists to suborbit. Last month, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. that launches unmanned rockets, picked Blue Origin to develop a rocket engine that could eventually replace the Russian rocket engine used in many American unmanned launches.

Paul Allen

The Microsoft Corp. co-founder teamed with aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan in 2004 on the experimental SpaceShipOne, which was launched from a special aircraft. It became the first privately financed, manned spacecraft to dash into space and later won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for accomplishing the feat twice in two weeks.

More recently, the 61-year-old’s Stratolaunch Systems, based in Hunstville, Alabama, is developing the world’s biggest plane to help launch cargo and astronauts into space. Called Thunderbolt, it is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2018. Stratolaunch is working with Orbital Sciences and Rutan’s Scaled Composites. SpaceShipTwo was piloted by Scaled Composites, under contract with Virgin Galactic, during this week’s fatal crash.

Jeff Greason

The rocket scientist and former Intel Corp. employee founded XCOR Aerospace in 1989. XCOR also is pursuing space tourism and hopes to conduct flight tests for its Lynx spaceship beginning in 2015. In September, XCOR was partner to the Federal Aviation Administration approving a commercial space launch license for Midland International Airport in Texas, where XCOR operates a research and development center. The 50-employee company is based at Mojave Air and Spaceport in Southern California and has built 13 different rocket engines and built and flown two manned rocket-powered aircraft – the EZ-Rocket and the X-Racer. Greason has served on the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

Source : NDTV

Tragedy won’t crush space tourism, supporters say


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The second crash this week of a space craft is a setback for the fledgling field of space tourism, aerospace experts say. But it’s unlikely to stop an industry that has attracted a trio of ambitious, daring billionaires like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk from trying to open a pathway for ordinary citizens to travel into space.

VirginGalactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which was designed to ultimately carry paying passengers into suborbital space, crashed Friday in the Mojave Desert during a test flight. The accident occurred three days after an Orbital Sciences rocket headed to the International Space Station exploded within seconds of liftoff in Virginia.

Pedro Llanos, who teaches about the commercialization of space at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, said that space travel has suffered similar, sometimes deadly setbacks, in other stages of its evolution.

“It happened … in the space era with the Apollo. It happened with the shuttle,” he said. “The reason it happened in the past is because we were testing new technologies. It’s happening now because we are pushing technology’s boundaries, to move space exploration forward.”

Such exploration is critical, Llanos said, whether it’s to create the possibility of mining asteroids for resources that are scarce on earth, or perfecting technology that will one day allow a person in California to travel to Australia within a couple of hours. “It will help us,” he says. “It will help society.”

Now XCOR Aerospace, which has been developing its own suborbital vehicle, may get its paying passengers into space first, says John Spencer, founder and president of the West Los Angeles-based Space Tourism Society.

“It may be now that XCOR is first to go into a commercial setting because it will take a while for Virgin Galactic to catch up,” he says.

“Virgin Galactic will eventually recover … because of the extensive experience Branson and the Virgin brand has with one of the world’s most successful airlines. Being first is cool but that doesn’t really matter when you’re creating a long-term vision for an expanding industry,” Spencer said.

Among the hundreds who have paid tens of thousands of dollars for a ticket on one of Virgin Galactic’s flights are actors Ashton Kutcher, Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie. Spencer said those who want to go to space aren’t easily dissuaded.

“One of the inherently unique aspects of space is it is dangerous but people are willing to risk their lives for that experience,” Spencer said. “Just like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving.”

Source : USA TODAY