Archive for November, 2013

Examining Buzz Aldrin’s roadmap to Mars

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Buzz Aldrin in Command Module Apollo 11Legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin recently released “A Unified Space Vision,” his personal plan for humankind’s next two decades in space. Blending elements from today’s space flight reality with visions for missions yet to come, Aldrin foresees the United States leading the charge to a permanent human presence on Mars by 2040.

Pondering the present future:

In “A Unified Space Vision,” Buzz Aldrin expresses concern regarding NASA’s current direction. He argues that faulty goal setting and insufficient funding have caused NASA to wander off a winning path.

Earth Asteroid Mars, Mars-Earth Exploration vehicleAccording to Aldrin, NASA should abandon its current immediate goal of sending humans to asteroids. Instead, in Aldrin’s view, NASA should strive toward developing manned Mars exploration capabilities by 2030.

Aldrin also asserts that NASA should proactively seek out the cooperation of more international partners in both the International Space Station (ISS) and any projects beyond low-Earth Orbit (BLEO).

In particular, Aldrin states that America should reevaluate its dearth of space cooperation with China.

What would Buzz build?

In Aldrin’s proposal, America would “avoid spending many billions on revised heritage launch systems,” and focus instead on “existing launch infrastructure.”

While Aldrin implies that he supports shelving NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), he affirms NASA’s reliance on Orion as the primary crew vehicle for launch and Earth entry on manned exploration missions.

Aldrin proposes that NASA send an unmanned Orion to the second Earth-Moon Langrangian point (E-M L2) in 2017, with a crewed repeat occurring in 2021.

In addition to Orion development, Aldrin’s plan envisions a NASA-crafted manned Mars Exploration Vehicle (MEV). MEVs ultimately would be placed on orbits that regularly cycle between Earth and Mars, allowing for relatively routine round-trip transportation to the Red Planet.

Companion modules, called exploration modules (XMs), would accompany both Orion and the MEV on most of their missions. XMs would provide much of the living and storage space necessitated by long-duration spaceflight.

International Space StationThe ISS would play an integral role in the development of a manned Mars mission. Functioning as an orbital test platform, the ISS would be outfitted with a prototype XM to test the module’s long-duration life support systems. In addition, NASA would use the ISS to determine whether to use rigid or inflatable construction for the XM.

To complete Aldrin’s proposed fleet of spacecraft, NASA would design and construct Mars landers (MLs). MLs would allow for the standardized transportation of robots, supplies and humans to the surface of Mars.

Meanwhile, commercial space providers would continue to develop their launchers and crew vehicles. As part of his plan for commercial space, Aldrin asserts that the Unites States Congress should establish mineral rights for resources on asteroids and the Moon, giving commercial entities an incentive to settle the final frontier.

Onward to Mars:

Under Aldrin’s vision, 2024 would herald the completion of the first MEV, a milestone that would be followed by MEV testing at Earth-Moon Langrangian points.

Z314Next, in 2028, NASA would launch an unmanned reconnaissance mission to search for a suitable site for a manned landing on Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons.

Phobos would serve as a “base camp” for the manned settlement of Mars and provide a staging area for XMs, MEVs, robotic components and MLs.

MEVs then would be placed into two distinct Earth-Mars cycler orbits, named the “Armstrong Cycler,” and the “Conrad Cycler.” The cyclers are christened in honor of the first and third humans, respectively, to walk on the Moon.

Each cycler would provide for unique windows for Earth departure and Mars arrival, and vice-versa, allowing for slightly more flexible and frequent missions.

Buzz Aldrin's Unified Space Vision CropIn 2032, NASA would send 3 XMs, a MEV and 2 MLs on an unmanned flight to Phobos. Using the Armstrong Cycler, this flight would reach Mars in 2033, deposit the XMs and MLs and use the Armstrong Cycler once more to return to Earth.

A 2034 mission, aided by the Conrad Cycler, would send a three-person crew to Phobos. Once there, the crew would use the modules deposited in 2032 to land and live on Phobos for one year. The crew would use the Conrad Cycler to return to Earth in 2035.

A new, three-crewmember mission would launch to Phobos in 2036 with the help of the Armstrong cycler.

The crew would support the unmanned construction and operation of a robotic International Mars Base (IMB).

Over the course of its estimated one-and-a-half years of operation, the IMB would set the groundwork for what Aldrin considers to be the ultimate triumph of his plan: humans settling on Mars.

Z37The same three crewmembers that would support the IMB also would be the first people to tread the Red Planet. In 2038, they would leave Phobos and use a previously deposited ML to land on Mars and inaugurate the first permanent human settlement on a planet beyond Earth.

Within a year, a crew of six would launch from Earth, rendezvous with a MEV on the Conrad Cycler, reach Mars orbit and join the previous crew on the Martian surface.

Finally, in 2040, another six-person crew would leave Earth and land on Mars, this time with the aid of the Armstrong Cycler.

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After boosting the total population of the hypothetical Martian settlement to 15 people, this mission would conclude Aldrin’s chronological plan for the next quarter-century of manned spaceflight and complete what Aldrin hails as “a challenging task that is noble, inspiring, and challenging for humankind.”

The looming Moon:

While Aldrin’s vision for the future of manned space exploration is mostly crafted with Mars in mind, the plan is not without a mention of Earth’s Moon.

NASA Space Launch SystemOnce the darling of NASA’s immediate space ambitions, a near-future return to the lunar surface was shelved following the defunding of the Constellation Program (CxP), the announcement of SLS and NASA’s recent shift toward prioritizing manned missions to asteroids.

Aldrin himself once criticized the notion of a lunar return as unimaginative and uninspiring.

Aldrin’s new proposal, however, calls for the construction of an international lunar base in the 2030s.

In his proposal, Aldrin indicates that an international base would harness the potential of a lunar settlement without solely anchoring the United States to the “Apollo on steroids” commitments of CxP.

Conceptual lunar baseAldrin states, “The United States space program should help other nations achieve what it has already done (while leveraging the collaboration to further U.S. goals).”

While Aldrin believes that any lunar base should be explicitly international in its development, the inherent nature of such a project would see America return to the Moon.

Aldrin advocates for a base near the far side of the Lunar South Pole, an area that is widely evidenced to contain high amounts of ice compared to most other lunar locations.

If built in the context of Aldrin’s plan, a lunar base would likely use derivatives of the landers and modules developed for Mars exploration.

(Images: Via Buzz Aldrin’s Proposal (Blake Rogers), Bigelow Aerospace, NASA and L2 content from SLS and Orion L2 sections, which includes, presentations, videos, graphics, internal updates on the SLS, Orion and Exploration Planning, available on no other site)

(L2 is – as it has been for the past several years – providing full future exploration level coverage. To join L2, click here:

Moon Mining Rush Ahead?

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

lunar-mining-nasa-bigelow_73406_600x450The Man Who Sold the Moon? A private space company’s chief, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace Inc., called for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow property rights for lunar mining, at a Tuesday NASA briefing.

The North Las Vegas, Nevada-based firm already has a contract, announced in January, to provide the U.S. space agency with an experimental inflatable habitat for the International Space Station in 2015.

Now Bigelow, 69, wants private space companies (such as his own and Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket firm) to take a larger role in expanding NASA’s astronaut explorations to beyond the space station’s orbit. (See “Moon Exploration.”)

And he wants the U.S. government to offer those firms a potential payoff—rights to mine the moon, echoing recent calls to mine asteroids. “The time has come to get serious about lunar property rights,” said Bigelow, speaking at a briefing with NASA manned spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier.

Moon Base Miners

“Ultimately, permanent lunar bases will have to be anchored to permanent commercial facilities,” he said. “Without property rights there will be no justification for investment and the risk to life.”

According to the FAA, however, the agency only regulates launches and reentries of rockets from orbit, and doesn’t oversee activities of spacecraft. The latest U.S. Commercial Space Act doesn’t mention lunar mining.

Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold, however, maintained that the agency’s oversight of launches made it the right place to start asking for permission to mine the moon.

Asteroid Mining on the Moon

In recent years, a number of nascent asteroid-mining firms such as Planetary Resources, Inc. of Bellevue, Washington, have announced plans to prospect space rocks orbiting near Earth for rare earths or platinum. (See “Asteroid Mining Metal Abundance.”)

“Asteroids have been hitting the moon for a long time, especially on the back side,” Bigelow said at the briefing, arguing that mining rare earths and other valuable resources would be even easier on the lunar surface.

He described future miners at these asteroid impact sites as “just walking around, picking stuff up from the ground.”

An inflatable moon base designed by his firm would land itself, in his view, after assembly in orbit around the moon.

Lunar Rights Conundrum

Leaving aside the costs of moon rockets and the return of heavy minerals from the moon to Earth, a number of legal obstacles stands in the way of moon miners, says space law expert James Dunstan of Mobius Legal Group in Springfield, Virginia.

Space exploration advocates have called for lunar property rights since the days of the moon landings. However, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming territorial rights on the moon, which is widely seen as precluding them from awarding property rights to lunar resources.

Gold argued that the treaty, signed by the major space-faring nations, does allow for property rights claims, something to be examined in the opinion the firm plans to request from the FAA.

Dunstan is dubious, however, saying, “While Bigelow may be trying to force the U.S. government’s hand by seeking an opinion from the FAA, the FAA cannot (and my guess is would not) render an opinion as to the legality of mining the moon.”

Private Space Partnerships

Bigelow’s announcement came amid the release of the second half of a report, requested from the firm by NASA, on whether the space agency should seek commercial partners to explore beyond Earth’s orbit.

NASA already has a partnership with two commercial firms to supply the International Space Station, an effort widely seen as a success in the space community.

In remarks that implied criticism of NASA’s plans to test-fly its own large astronaut rockets in 2017 and 2021, Bigelow said the report called for NASA to instead use commercial rockets to explore the moon and asteroids.

NASA announced a plan last year to retrieve a small asteroid and park it in orbit around the moon as soon as 2021. Bigelow said private space firms and the space agency would both benefit by cooperating on such missions to a greater extent.

“We’ll look very carefully at all the recommendations in the report,” Gerstenmaier said at the briefing. He saw such partnerships, at this point in time, “starting small.”

Martian moon samples will have bits of Mars

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

A Russian mission to the Martian moon Phobos, launching in 2020, would return samples from Phobos that contain bits and pieces of Mars itself. A new study calculates how much Martian material is on the surface of Phobos and how deep it is likely to go. Phobos

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A planned mission to return a sample from the Martian moon Phobos will likely be a twofer, according to a study by Brown University geologists.

The study helps to confirm the idea that the surface of Phobos contains tons of dust, soil, and rock blown off the Martian surface by large projectile impacts. Phobos’ orbital path plows through occasional plumes of Martian debris, meaning the tiny moon has been gathering Martian castoffs for millions of years. That means a sample-return mission planned by the Russian space agency could sample two celestial bodies for the price of one.

“The mission is scheduled to be flown early in the next decade, so the question is not academic,” said James Head, professor of geological sciences and an author on the study. “This work shows that samples from Mars can indeed be found in the soil of Phobos, and how their concentration might change with depth. That will be critical in the design of the drills other equipment.”

The research appears in the latest issue of Space and Planetary Science.

The Russian mission will be the space agency’s second attempt to return a sample from Phobos. Head was a participating scientist on the first try, which launched in 2011, but an engine failure felled the spacecraft before it could leave Earth orbit. The next attempt is scheduled to launch in 2020 or shortly thereafter.

This new research grew out of preparation for the original mission, which would still be en route to Phobos had it not encountered problems. Scientists had long assumed Phobos likely contained Martian bits, but Russian mission planners wanted to know just how much might be there and where it might be found. They turned to Head and Ken Ramsley, a visiting researcher in Brown’s planetary geosciences group.

To answer those questions, Ramsley and Head started with a model based on our own Moon to estimate how much of Phobos’ regolith (loose rock and dust on the surface) would come from projectiles. They then used gravitational and orbital data to determine what proportion of that projectile material came from Mars.

“When an impactor hits Mars, only a certain of proportion of ejecta will have enough velocity to reach the altitude of Phobos, and Phobos’ orbital path intersects only a certain proportion of that,” Ramsley said. “So we can crunch those numbers and find out what proportion of material on the surface of Phobos comes from Mars.”

According to those calculations, the regolith on Phobos should contain Martian material at a rate of about 250 parts per million. The Martian bits should be distributed fairly evenly across the surface, mostly in the upper layers of regolith, the researchers showed.

“Only recently — in the last several 100 million years or so — has Phobos orbited so close to Mars,” Ramsley said. “In the distant past it orbited much higher up. So that’s why you’re going to see probably 10 to 100 times higher concentration in the upper regolith as opposed to deeper down.”

And while 250 parts per million doesn’t sound like a lot, the possibility of returning even a little Martian material to Earth gets planetary scientists excited. It’s a nice bonus for a mission primarily aimed at learning more about Phobos, a mysterious little rock in its own right.

Scientists are still not sure where it came from. Is it a chunk of Mars that was knocked off by an impact early in Martian history, or is it an asteroid snared in Mars’s orbit? There are also questions about whether its interior might hold significant amounts of water.

“Phobos has really low density,” Head said. “Is that low density due to ice in its interior or is it due to Phobos being completely fragmented, like a loose rubble pile? We don’t know.”

If all goes well, the upcoming Russian mission will help solve some of those mysteries about Phobos. And we might learn a good deal about Mars in the process.

Read the Original Article at Brown University