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Untethered : The picture is an amazing capture of Astronaut Bruce McCandless who till date hold the record of astronaut self-propulsion without a tether. Space is hard on humans. Much harder than one would expect. Besides the obvious issues of the intense cold, lack of atmosphere, hard vacuum and lack of gravity, there are all kinds of things that could go wrong. Astronauts have to guard against cosmic rays, micro particles and need to have a lot of equipment, including gyroscopes and nightmare scenarios of losing propulsion. In 1965, in a space-suit test gone awry, a technician in an altitude chamber was exposed to a hard vacuum. The defective suit was unable to hold pressure, and the man collapsed after fourteen seconds. We are not even getting into the effects on bones, muscles, cardiovascular system, and inner ear issues.

Unlike the movie Gravity : Calling the MMU a “backpack” was a little deceptive, since, in its final form, it weighed more than 300 pounds. It contained enough nitrogen to accelerate from zero to 45 mph—just once. To conserve that precious supply, astronauts would fly the MMU at a crawl, just a few inches per second. (George Clooney’s zipping around in the movie Gravity was preposterous: If an astronaut acted that recklessly, the MMU’s fuel tank would be empty in no time.)

Nightmares : Paul Bailey, an orbital mechanics specialist who helped train astronauts to fly the jetpack, felt confident in both Martin and in Ed Whitsett, but as the STS-41B launch approached, he had a recurring nightmare: He would be sitting on the shuttle’s tail section, with Earth filling the sky, just as McCandless and Stewart floated out of the airlock. “I was looking down the cargo bay over at the MMUs. And I thought, Holy mackerel, these people think I know what I’m talking about! And they’re going to die!” Waking up in a cold sweat, Bailey would grab his MMU reference book, go through it one more time, and reassure himself he hadn’t forgotten anything.

Scrapped : Today, some EVA specialists advocate a next-generation MMU to help astronauts explore low-gravity worlds like asteroids or the moons of Mars, but so far NASA hasn’t approved development. The astronaut jetpack remains a capable—some would even say compelling—technology in search of a mission.

Is it time to replace conventional rockets? : I made a post from my page here which looks at the alternate ways to go to space..

Article Link:

Additional source and reference :

Reference :

Additional article on psychology in space travel:

Pic courtesy from main link in Air & Space magazine - Bob Stewart tests the MMU in 1984. No astronauts since have ranged farther from their ship. (NASA)

#space #exploration  

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Why did the scramjet not take off? : Its been a long haul for the scramjet. The technology has existed since the 1950s, but since Budget cuts and politics (and rocket tech) came along, scramjets were relegated to a 'also ran' program. Why is it an idea one would want? The cost per launch using a railgun cum scramjet or air to air launch would be many orders of magnitude less than conventional rocket technology. Unfortunately, the testing of these has been dogged by failure and budget cuts...

Disappointment : Until the last few years, the scramjet had an unbroken history of disappointment. Budget cuts killed the program in 1993. Its shape, however, lived on in two small test vehicles, the NASA X-43 and U.S. Air Force X-51, which have managed a few seconds of scramjet flight.

Sweet spot : “If you fly too low, there’s a lot of air density friction and the aircraft gets too hot,” said Goyne. “Too high, you start to run out of oxygen. The sweet spot altitude is 100,000 ft. or so.” Goyne says one of the key advantages of a scramjet over a rocket engine is that the scramjet gets the oxidizer to combust its fuel from the air it is flying through, whereas a rocket engine needs to carry liquid oxygen to burn its liquid hydrogen fuel.

Foray into railgun cum scramjets : In April, President Obama urged NASA to come up with, among other things, a less expensive method than conventional rocketry for launching spacecraft. By September, the agency’s engineers floated a plan that would save millions of dollars in propellant, improve astronaut safety, and allow for more frequent flights. All it will take is two miles of train track, an airplane that can fly at 10 times the speed of sound, and a jolt of electricity big enough to light a small town. The system calls for a two-mile long rail gun that will launch a scramjet, which will then fly to 200,000 feet. The scramjet will then fire a payload into orbit and return to Earth. The process is more complex than a rocket launch, but engineers say it’s also more flexible. With it, NASA could orbit a 10,000-pound satellite one day and send a manned ship toward the moon the next, on a fraction of the propellant used by today’s rockets.

Politics : So what really happened to ramjets? Sputnik and Robert McNamara. The space race diverted U.S. space science into rocketry, and President John Kennedy’s defense secretary and his whiz-kid advisors backed intercontinental ballistic missiles over air-breathers, expecting the latter to be easily shot down by bigger enemy missiles.

Article source:

Additional source on railgun cum scramjet:

Source for history:

The screaming X-51A Hypersonic Waverider scramjet rides shockwaves : (earlier post)

Combining a Railgun and a Scramjet : (earlier post)

Rail-launched scramjet : (earlier post)

Wikipedia link:

NASA factsheet:

+NASA mission:

Pics courtesy:, NASA and

#scramjet #ramjet #space  
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The Em-drive: NASA dabbles in speculation : The Em-drive was earlier called the Q-Drive. The claim that the Em-drive can convert electricity into thrust has been around for some time. But this time, NASA is paying attention. Apparently a Chinese team has built it's own Em-drive though most physicists remain skeptical. I am too.

Article Extract: Nasa is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that "impossible" microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or Nasa has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.

Shawyer claims the EmDrive converts electric power into thrust, without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container. He has built a number of demonstration systems, but critics reject his relativity-based theory and insist that, according to the law of conservation of momentum, it cannot work.

A US scientist, Guido Fetta, has built his own propellant-less microwave thruster, and managed to persuade Nasa to test it out. The test results were presented on July 30 at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Astonishingly enough, they are positive.

Article link:

+Popular Science Link:

NASA Technical report:

Related : (pic courtesy) Additional pic from

SPR Emdrive website:

Related :

#science #emdrive #spacecraft  
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DARPA funds development of space plane for cheaper, faster satellite launches : The cost of putting up satellites in space is huge - not only from a viewpoint of the money involved, but also the effort and fuel expended. Spaceplaces and air-to-space launches are one way to go. This effort from DARPA has been some time in coming, especially since the X-37B has already completed multiple missions. Maybe we can look at dynamic soaring / laser propulsion next?

Article extract: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking for a way to reduce the cost and scheduling constraints that affect satellite launches. This week, DARPA announced the kickoff of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, an unmanned reusable hypersonic vehicle that would carry a disposable second stage into suborbital space, launch it, and glide back to Earth—and be ready to be relaunched the next day. The goal of the program is to dramatically shrink the cost of putting 3,000- to 5,000-pound satellites into orbit, down to under $5 million per launch. That’s pocket change compared to current space launches, which can cost from 10 to nearly 100 times that amount.

The Department of Defense has already been testing a smaller experimental reusable spacecraft, the Boeing X-37B space "drone," which is in effect a robotic space shuttle. The X-37 rides to orbit on a traditional rocket first stage, however.

Article link:


Gizmag link:

Earlier post (Air to space launches) :

Earlier post (Gliding to space using thermals and dynamic soaring) :

Earlier post: Spaceship two:

Boeing link to the X-37B:

Video link and gif source: XS-1 Concept Video

#space #spaceplane  
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SpaceShipTwo : Has been ticking off the boxes in its testing phase. SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is a suborbital air-launched spaceplane. The mothership is the jet-powered White Knight Two, which will launch it at approx. 50,000 feet. After flight, SS2 glides back to the spaceport and lands like a conventional aircraft. The space tourism bandwagon notwithstanding, what is interesting is the research platform availability.

While the payload pricing is closer to sounding rockets, it's re-usability will bring down the cost of research payloads.

Article Extract: (From Jan) SS2 was lifted by the double-fuselage White Knight Two carrier airplane to a height of 46,000 feet (11.7 km). At that point, SS2 was dropped, and its hybrid rocket engine, capable of delivering a thrust of 60,000 lb (267 kN) for a period of 70 seconds, was fired for 20 seconds, for a top speed in excess of Mach 1.4 and a peak altitude of 71,000 ft (18 km).

“I have watched SS2 evolve over the years into an incredible vehicle that is going to open up space to more people than ever before,” he said. “To be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget. She flew brilliantly.”

Virgin Galactic has signed an agreement with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that lays out how the company will work with federal officials and New Mexico’s air traffic control to clear airspace for its launches. The company hopes to send its first customers to suborbital space by the end of this year. The flights will take off from Spaceport America in the desert in southern New Mexico. Customers will go aboard a craft called SpaceShipTwo, which we’ve watched undergo construction and meet milestones such as its first independent flight.

h/t to +Richard Branson.

From +Gizmag (Source) :

From +Popular Science (Source) :

+Wikipedia source:

+NBC News update :

+Virgin Galactic link on research on the spaceplace:

Earlier post on Swiss spaceplane:

Earlier post on air to space launches:

Earlier post 'Leap of the Lynx' :

Earlier post on minature robotic spaceplace (ESA) :

Earlier post on Skylon:

Details on company website:

Pics courtesy : Virgin Galactic and Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo - Third Powered Test Flight (Video link).

#virgingalactic #spaceplane #space #suborbital  
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Air to space launches : Even before the Space Shuttle was planned, humans have dreamed of launching spacecraft from aircraft. While the Shuttle was but one stepping stone in the development of tech, we are closer than ever to achieving Air to space launch. +DARPA, +European Space Agency, ESA and even +Virgin are looking at tests which are currently underway and may see the light of day in the next year or two. Why is this important? The huge cost of putting something up in orbit is something people are looking to vitiate. By ingenious methods.

Article Extract: Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Like NASA’s Nanosatellite Launch Challenge, ALASA hopes to develop a reliable, cost-effective launcher for small satellites. DARPA’s definition of “small” is a bit different, though. The NASA challenge is targeting CubeSat-sized payloads up to one kilogram. ALASA wants to develop a system that can put up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms) into Low Earth Orbit. That would apparently rule out systems like the GO Launcher, for example.

DARPA is considering both solid and liquid propellent for the upper stages. One “obvious” option is a three-stage solid rocket launched from an F-15. DARPA is also considering business jets and larger aircraft, such as the Boeing 747, as launch platforms. (

DARPA Awards Boeing the airborne launcher concept:

+Wikipedia link on the ALASA concept:

DARPA link on the ALASA:

Additional DARPA link:

Space shuttle gif:
Main pic courtesy :
Additional pics from:

#space #airtospace #launch #satellite  
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The Bigelow inflatable space habitats : One company took an elegantly simple idea and ran with it. Today Bigelow Aerospace is not only on the cutting edge of space station habitat tech, they are actually looking at making modular and connectable habitats. Fascinating indeed. Earlier post here, and an even earlier post here :

Article Extract: Bigelow Aerospace is now developing an expandable module for the International Space Station. And the company hopes to use the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to deploy an independent, free-flying commercial space station.

Two months after signing a non-funded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA, Bigelow Aerospace has made great progress toward identifying new ideas for private-public partnerships for human space exploration of the solar system, with discussions complementing NASA’s near- and long-term exploration goals with the private sector’s burgeoning development of exploration facilities for Earth orbit and beyond.

The engineering marvel that it is, the fact is that the International Space Station will not last forever. While most analyses concur that ISS will last until at least 2028 (from a structure standpoint, funding from the partner-nations notwithstanding), the time will come when NASA, ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency), CSA (Canadian Space Agency), and RSA (Russian Federal Space Agency) will have to look for other avenues for continuous space experimentation.

Main Article:

Additional source:

Pics courtesy from main NASA article.

#space #science #bigelow #spacestation #iss  
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*SpaceX: +SpaceX has taken a huge step in a commercially viable satellite launch. This is excellent news for +Elon Musk the architect of the opensource Hyperloop, as it is a proof of concept for the Falcon9 rocket, which can deliver payloads into LEO at half the cost of comparable rockets which have been successful.

Article Extract: SpaceX advertises Falcon 9 launches for under $60 million, and SES received a discount as the first commercial customer to commit to the new rocket. It is the first time SpaceX has put a satellite in a geostationary transfer orbit, far above the Earth. The launch took place at Cape Canaveral in Florida. It came at the third time of asking, after two previous launch attempts in recent days had been thwarted by technical glitches.

The commercial market for launching telecoms spacecraft is tightly contested, but has become dominated by just a few companies - notably, Europe's Arianespace, which flies the Ariane 5, and International Launch Services (ILS), which markets Russia's Proton vehicle. The launch of SES-8, which will be released in a super synchronous transfer orbit stretching above its 22,300-mile-high operating post, requires two burns of the Falcon 9 second stage. The first firing will place SES-8 in a low-altitude parking orbit, then the second burn is designed to inject the 7,055-pound craft in an oval-shaped orbit.

Article link:

Additional Link:

Further information :

Pics courtesy: Wikimedia commons, Huffpost (Original: NASA / SpaceX).

#space #spacex #rocket  
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Photonic Laser thruster : In the simplest of terms, its using light (photons) to create propulsion, as is done with the solar sail, except this is targeted. Now NASA has announced funding to the Y.K.Bae corporation. While this is a concept still, it is quite interesting :)

Article Extract: Young K. Bae wants us to travel to the moon within hours, and to Mars within days. Rocket fuel won't allow our spacecraft to reach those speeds—Bae wants to do it with lasers. Bae has been working on the concept for years, originally receiving NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) funding in 2007 before that program was discontinued. But with NIAC's recent resurrection, Bae's research is back on track.

A laser is generated in a cavity between two mirrors, and fired between them continuously. The interaction of the photons between these two plates is then fired out of the launch platform. The platform remains in orbit, controlled by conventional thrusters. However, it fires at a craft, which does the brunt of the actual space travel. By continuously firing a laser at the craft, you can push it and allow it to build up momentum without chemical or nuclear fuel. And by reducing the need for fuel consumption, you also reduce the overall weight of the mission, creating more room for payloads.

Article Link:

Additional link:

Link to +Wikipedia on laser propulsion:

NASA NIAC website link:

Engadget link:

Pics courtesy: Thelivingmoon, nextbigfuture, via Y. K. Bae Corporation.

#science #nasa #lasers  
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Gliders : The concept is quite evocative for me, and I decided to create a flash fiction story based on this motif. I earlier posted about Dynamic gliding here

Thanks to +Charles Strebor, I wrote this piece, now on my blog

Slight detour from the regular posts, regular programming will resume tomorrow!

Pics Detail: solar UAV by bluwolf22 on deviantart
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