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Thursday , November 15 2018
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Tag Archives: moon

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: To the Moon and Beyond

Earlier this week, NASA Chief Bridenstine met with the Senate to assure them that Space Directive One, as laid out earlier this year by President Trump was well underway.

During this meeting, he explained that low Earth orbit needs to be driven by commercial enterprise. “And that’s underway right now.”

To accomplish this, NASA plans to use “Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLIPS).” This would give commercial companies the opportunity to land on the moon and NASA will become a paying customer of that. This falls in line with a recent announcement by SpaceX.

The company stated that should development and testing of the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) go smoothly, they have plans to launch the first orbital flights of the 100-passenger spaceship by 2020 or 2021 at the earliest.

NASA’s next plan will be heavier landers capable of heavier payloads as well as prospectors, “…things that can dig,” said Bridenstine. “We know from NASA’s achievements back from 2008 and 2009, we know that there are potentially hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the moon. Beyond that we need heavier landers that can take humans to the moon.”

Parallel to this plan, SpaceX also recently entered into a contract with iSpace. This Japanese start-up company is set to launch its lunar lander and mini-rovers aboard the Falcon 9 rockets in 2020 and 2021.

In time, iSpace hopes to set up a robotic lunar transportation service in order to use its rovers to help identify and exploit the potential resources available on the moon.

Further, NASA plans to use Tugs (commercial spacecraft like the Falcon 9) that go from low earth orbit to the Gateway, and from the gateway to the surface of the moon.

“These become a critical part of the infrastructure that can be used to capitalize on, with the commercial partners and international partners,” Bridenstine said. The potential of the Gateway is exciting because it gives more access to more parts of the solar system than ever before.

To help best utilize the new NASA budget for these initiatives, Bridenstine stated “Under the president’s budget request, the International Space Station will no longer receive direct support in the year 2025.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX has been planning a similar venture starting with a mission called #dearMoon that could lift off by 2023 on a week-long journey around the moon and back again. This first lunar flight would have the first paying passengers on board: Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa as well as six to eight artists.

The company is also planning to establish a base on the moon by 2028.

One of the ideas for a lunar base or permanent settlement being considered is the potential for something below the lunar surface. Staying below the surface could give the possible benefit of better protection from harmful solar radiation than anything man-made above ground.

To explore the viability of this, scientists have been practicing at Lava Beds National Monument in California. During their time in the lava tubes, three types of portable technologies are being evaluated: ground-penetrating radar, a magnetometer, and a gravimeter. Hopefully these evaluations will help future lunar settlers map lava tubes from the surface in order gauge the stability of each prior to entering.

Once we have mastered how to survive and build on the moon, we can begin moving on to other worlds like Mars. Especially since launching from the moon requires far less fuel to reach escape velocity.

And with both NASA and SpaceX aiming for the moon within the next decade, establishing a base on Mars seems more like more science fact than science fiction.

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To read Amy’s previous stories, click here.

NASA Chief Plans to Send Astronauts Back to the Moon

On the heels of a press conference regarding the proposed Space Force held earlier this month by Vice President, Mike Pence, NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine announced his plan to send astronauts back to the moon…to stay.

Humans haven’t stepped foot on the moon since December 1972, and Bridenstine feels that’s far too long.

“If you go back to 2009, the United States, through NASA, made a critical discovery, which is the moon has hundreds of billions of tons of water ice. To me, that should have changed our direction immediately,” he said. “From 1969, when we first landed on the moon, up until 2009, a lot of people believed that the moon was bone-dry. So, the question is — during those 40 years, we missed that. What else have we missed?”

Water ice is exciting! Not just for the consumption of astronauts stationed on a future moon base, but as a possible fuel source. Because water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen can potentially be extracted and used as a propellant for spacecraft.

Bridenstine also said he sees the moon as a way forward to points farther out in the solar system, and he’s not wrong. With the lack of atmospheric drag and lower gravity of the moon, spacecraft would need far less fuel to escape the lunar surface. This makes it an ideal launching platform to venture out to other worlds, like Mars.

But there are other benefits to lunar bases, as well.

“I think a lot of people miss the fact that the moon represents an amazing proving ground for all of the technologies and the human-performance capabilities that are necessary to survive on another planet and the ability to develop in-situ utilization abilities,” Bridenstine said.

What, exactly, are the newly appointed NASA Chief’s plans?

According to Bridenstine, the key is in building “Gateways”— small platforms in lunar orbit that will serve as outposts or transport points.

“The [first] Gateway is going to be in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It is not optimum for getting to the surface of the moon, but it enables with a very low propulsion capability — we’re talking about solar electric propulsion — it enables us to stay in that orbit for a very, very long period of time,” Bridenstine said.

And that’s not all. Bridenstine sees potential for international use, both commercial and scientific, of these “Gateways.”

“What we want to do is enable more people to have access to the lunar surface than ever before and more people to have access to lunar orbit than ever before,” he said. “The interfaces we have on Gateway, whether it is power or docking, it is all going to be published on the internet.”

The NASA Chief made it clear, though, that the Gateway wouldn’t be another ISS. Rather, it would only be able to support humans for 30-60-day science missions, but not meant to house a permanent crew.

For more permanent settlements, like lunar bases, there is huge potential.

Recently, the European Space Agency announced their “lunar masonry” studies that are exploring the possibility of using dust from the moon’s surface as a building material for bases and other settlements on the surface.

Because the moon’s surface is made of basaltic material called silicates, ESA officials and researchers are analyzing volcanic material near Cologne, Germany that is a close match for lunar dust. And because lunar soil is made of 40% oxygen, researchers are also studying how to extract it for use by astronauts to extend their stays on the moon.

NASA has even been testing and improving on the powerful RS-25 engine designed 40 years ago to power the space shuttles.

When adding all these ideas and tests together the timing seems right for American’s to, once again, pioneer a new frontier.