“Back Up Life…”


SpaceX is the private company that is contracted with NASA to supply the space agency with the “Dragon”, a crew transport spacecraft designed for large crew capabilities as well as deep space missions. Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, recently gave an interview with GQ magazine. In that interview he voiced his concerns regarding accomplishing the Mars mission in light of the fact that this world’s nations just can’t seem to grow up and stop all of this war mess.

Musk’s big dream is to colonize Mars. Considering his accomplishments, the gringa believes he can achieve his dream. I mean, just think about it: he leads a company that has managed to develop technology that can design and build rockets at a fraction of the cost as NASA. SpaceX is also the first private company, ever, in all of the world, to have launched a spacecraft into orbit and have it successfully return to Earth. SpaceX has impressed NASA so much that it is contracted to manage resupply missions to the International Space Station as well as transport the astronauts between the ISS and Earth.

Musk believes colonizing Mars is more than just a glamorous adventure. He believes this mission is critical to the ultimate survival of the human species. Considering how mankind has been consistently annihilating one another since a caveman first created a club to sock it to his romantic rival, the gringa has no trouble at all believing Musk’s worst-case scenario of a natural or man-made disaster destroying life as we know it on Earth and the survivors starting over somewhere else. Why not Mars? Musk’s philosophy can be summed up in this statement, “You back up your hard drive… Maybe we should back up life, too?”

In addition to reusable rocket technology and personnel space ferries, SpaceX is developing “Mars colonial transport architecture” to further advance toward the ultimate goal. The gringa asks, “What the heck is that?”

A critical piece of this architecture is commonly called the BFR rocket (it has a technical name but Musk and the developers refer to it as BFR). Now, the gringa likes to keep things family friendly on these blog posts, but, just so you know, BFR actually stands for Big F*#@ing Rocket. I MEAN IT! No kidding! I love that! Scientists that have a sense of humor are right up the gringa’s alley.

The BFR is a two part rocket, booster rocket + spaceship. The booster is to break through the gravity and atmosphere of Earth. Once free, the spaceship is designed to travel through deep space to Mars. The gravity of Mars is weaker than Earth’s and also has a thinner atmosphere. Because of this the spaceship does not need a rocket booster to blast off from Mars for a return trip home.

In order for Martian colonists to create a self-sustaining environment on the Red Planet, what must be done? The planet has to be terraformed to create a warmer environment that will lead to ice melts so that it becomes a “watery” planet. Then fauna can be introduced that will help to create a breathable atmosphere. Musk considers Mars to be a “fixer-upper”. The gringa likes that term.

Nuclear energy could be used to help warm the planet. By converting technology that has been used to destroy life, the fusion bomb can be repurposed into technology that creates and sustains life (now, the gringa LOVES that!). As tiny pulsing suns at each Martian pole, this technology would create a warming effect without radiation and fallout. Mars would then experience the same benefits Earth has from its proximity to the Sun.

Now, NASA is devoted not only to preserving life on the planet Earth, but any life that may possibly be present throughout the cosmos. It has a Mars directive in place forbidding any mission landing near any area containing the potential for liquid water. That is because of the possibility of the presence of bio-organisms, life, causing cross-contamination, whether those organisms are of Earth and contaminate Mars or vice versa.

The good news, as far as the colonial mission goes, is that NASA’s research has not detected any life present on Mars, even on the microscopic level. So, if it is eventually determined that no life at all exists on Mars, the moral dilemma of invading, contaminating and/or destroying it is resolved and colonization can get the green light. The only life on Mars that might exist that NASA’s current research methods are unable to detect is subterranean microbial life.

So, who would like to give the pioneering life a shot and actually become a MARTIAN?  The gringa says, “Where’s the sign up sheet?”

Now, it’s pretty clear that Musk is the type of personality that is driven. There is very little that seems to get in his way when he has set a goal. His biggest concern regarding achievement of colonizing Mars is the very real reality of war. The Earth has never seen a single day in modern history where there has not been an active war somewhere. War could be the very thing that prevents progress.

War stood in the way of progress in the early 1900’s. It was supposed to be a golden era with no more war. Then, guess what? BAM! World War I started. Then World War II. Then the Cold War. However, the Cold War eventually led to the space race, so progress did come of that mess.

How possible is it, then, for progress toward colonizing Mars be disrupted? Pretty darn possible. So, the gringa says to all the religious zealots and war profiteering warmongers everywhere, “JUST STOP IT! KNOCK IT OFF! WE ARE SICK OF IT!”

Now, I know you must be itching to see just how much more fantastic Musk’s dream can get. Well, just check out his timetable. He is determined for all of this to be accomplished within his lifetime. If Musk gets his way (and he seems very apt at always getting his way) the world could see the first boots on the ground on Mars within the next ten to fifteen years.

In fact, before the end of 2015, or early in 2016, he plans to make a big announcement regarding his Mars-colonization plan. The gringa cannot wait to hear this crazy plan because I’m a crazy gringa who is his biggest fan!

 

Source: www.gq.com

Photo Credit: www.joserojas.org

Kennedy Spaceport, It’s Official


Has the gringa mentioned before that I’m a Trekkie? I’m sure I have. And that includes all the spin-offs, like “Deep Space Nine”. Although the International Space Station is nothing like that orbital station, we Earthlings are one step closer to becoming more “Trek-like”. No longer are the places that rockets launch from simply called “facilities”. Nope, now we can all officially call that “space center” in Florida the “Kennedy Spaceport”.

You see, we are no longer just launching rockets and shuttles. We are entering the phase of space travel being performed in spacecrafts. It’s a different concept altogether, although the spaceships are still flung through Earth’s atmosphere riding piggy-back on a rocket.

The Cygnus spacecraft is delivered into space attached to an Atlas V rocket. This spacecraft is for cargo delivery. The Orion spacecraft hitches a ride on a Delta IV Heavy rocket. It is a spacecraft in which a crew actually travels aboard. The Kennedy Spaceport will also be where the Dragon and Starliner, the large crew capacity spacecrafts, will launch.

NASA’s spacecrafts will no longer need the runway previous shuttles used. The runway is three miles long and 300 feet wide. However, it is not just going to be forgotten now that the shuttle program has entered NASA’s annals of history. Commercial and government partners will be putting it to good use. Even NASA repurposes, the gringa likes this.

The Kennedy Spaceport is leading the way for the space travel and space science industry to prepare for their ultimate challenge, the manned mission to Mars. By having a multi-use spaceport, industry partners and NASA can streamline their efforts which will result in greater efficiency in their collaborations in developing and testing the technologies that are going to safely deliver a crew to the Red Planet.

The spaceport will also be able to process resupply missions quicker and more efficiently. The purpose of the missions on the International Space Station are research, research, research as well as testing new technologies. This is all part of NASA’s goals to improve life on Earth and accomplish gains and progress in space exploration.

A consolidated spaceport is NASA’s new approach to managing the flow of traffic to and from space. Within the coming years, traffic to and from the space station will increase considerably. Such traffic will not just be to swap crews on the ISS or resupply the ISS. The next big project is to lasso an asteroid and tow it into orbit around our moon. This will then usher in a series of missions where crews will travel to this asteroid and begin their Mars mission training.

Kennedy Spaceport is going to be the hub of all of this space travel activity. It will become the home of thousands of engineers, technicians and scientists who support the astronauts while they are off-world.

President Obama challenged NASA to create a spacecraft and support technology that would enable astronauts to perform long-term, deep-space missions with the ultimate goal of landing on Mars. NASA accepted the throw down of the gauntlet and the Kennedy Spaceport is one more step to fulfilling this challenge. Further testing of the Orion spacecraft will eventually result in it being ready to deliver astronauts to deep space and an exploration venture of Mars.

NASA has every confidence that it will fulfill President Obama’s objectives. Why does this space agency have such confidence? Because it believes in the skills of its personnel.

And one more reason to get behind this agency’s efforts is its dedication to respect the source of its funding. Not only is NASA repurposing the shuttle runway but it is also repurposing many buildings and structures throughout the sprawling Kennedy complex. Some buildings that NASA has no use for will be used by industry partners. The unique capabilities of these commercial companies will be right next door to the agency they are developing technology for.  This can only improve research and development and save the taxpayers lots of moolah.

Very soon launches of crews to outer space will be a regular thing. On-worlders will see them as “no big deal”. Eventually it will take something really spectacular and unbelievable to make us go, “WOW”, something like, boots on the ground on Mars!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

The “Little Green Men” Star


If you happen to be a writer looking for fodder for a great science fiction story, you may want to delve into NASA reports regarding star KIC 8462852. NASA is fascinated by the strange goings on about this star and bears much resemblance to a pulsar named LGM-1 (Little Green Men). This pulsar emitted strange signals that created a stir within NASA and were ultimately determined to be a natural phenomenon. The strange events involving star KIC 8462852 have yet to solved.

Monitoring this star has been the responsibility of the Kepler mission for the past four years. In 2011, and later in 2013, two significant, and as yet unexplained, events took place. What do scientists really know? They know that the star dimmed because “something” passed in front of it large enough to block its light. The gringa says, “What the heck?”

In September scientists finally reported their theory and findings on what could possibly explain these strange events. They are blaming a “swarm” or “family” of comets. The gringa’s imagination begins whirling and thinks, “Or perhaps a fleet of starships.” Another theory suggests a cluster of planetary fragments and asteroids.

Scientists are using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to probe deeper into this mystery. To learn more, scientists, who first studied the star using observations conducted in visible light, then tried using infrared light. This is because if asteroids were involved and actually impacted the star there will be a whole bunch of infrared light surrounding the star and the dusty old bits of gravel from a pulverized asteroid should be at the perfect temperature to glow like a firefly under infrared wavelengths.  And detecting infrared light is one of things the Spitzer Space Telescope is designed to do.

This year the Spitzer took a gander at star KIC 8462852 while looking at hundreds of thousands of stars in its search for planets. One thing in particular that Spitzer was looking for was infrared emission of space dust that encircled stars. Spitzer didn’t find any of this type of dust around star KIC 8462852 so scientists think the asteroid collision theory can probably be scratched.

So, the gringa wants to know just what their thinking is now. What the scientists seem to be leaning toward is the possibility of a “swarm” of cold comets. For such a theory to work, this cluster of comets would need to have an unusually long orbit around the star. They also call this theoretical comet cluster a “family” because it would require a “pack leader” to explain some of the phenomena. The larger “big daddy” that would be in the lead would have been the one to block the star’s light in 2011. In 2013 the rest of the family would have been passing through in front of the star and blocked the light again in the strange pattern that was recorded.  This would explain why in 2015, when Spitzer observed the star again, there were no infrared signatures. The comet “swarm” was long gone and probably around on the other side of the star in its orbit progression.

The gringa must confess to thinking, “Mm hmm. Scout ship shouts, ‘The coast is clear!’ and the support ships soon set a course for the coordinates.” Oh yes, what an imagination! But please don’t judge the gringa! I just couldn’t help myself when NASA itself goes and names a pulsar something like “Little Green Men-1”.

NASA admits that what is going on with this star is strange and not understood. Their interest is extremely piqued so study and research will continue until the curiosity of these scientists are satisfied. And I ask you, is that not the greatest job ever? For every little kid that has lain on their back in the grass in the dark of the night staring up at the stars and wondering if there really are “little green men” out there, is that not just the coolest job ever to grow up and get to do!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

So You Wanna Be An Astronaut


The gringa is excited over a recent news release from NASA. Can my dear reader guess what that would be? No, they didn’t offer me an astronaut training slot. They did, however, announce that they will soon be accepting applications for astronaut candidates. Anticipating future plans of more humans involved in space travel means training future astronauts. Never before in America’s history has spacecraft development been on the scale that it is now.

If the thought of living in the tropical paradise of Florida’s beaches during on-world missions and hurtling through the atmosphere as you launch into your off-world missions appeals to you, it is time to update your resume! Applications will be accepted from December 14, 2015 until mid February of  2016 with selected candidates being announced in the summer of 2017. Applications and resumes can be submitted for consideration at www.usajobs.gov.

The next generation of U.S. astronauts will serve on four different types of spacecraft: the International Space Station, two types of commercial spacecraft, CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, developed by private U.S. companies, and the Orion deep-space exploration vehicle. The days of the shuttle are pretty much over and we are entering into a completely new mode of space travel.

These new modes of space travel also enable larger crews. This will result in NASA being able to double the amount of research time in space. This will naturally result in more technological developments being accomplished within shorter periods of time. We may be slowly marching at the moment, but very soon it will feel as if we are sprinting through the annals of progress.

Who is it that NASA is looking for as future astronauts? They need pilots, engineers, scientists, and doctors.  They want these candidates to come from the diverse citizen class of Americans, not the military. Yes! Regular folks will eventually be puttering about the Red Planet!

Future astronauts will participate in six month and year long missions. They will join the 300+ astronaut roster that currently fulfill challenging missions that not only further progress in deep space exploration but also benefit mankind that is still Earthbound. Right now there are almost fifty astronauts that are active. To achieve future goals many more are needed.

What kind of qualifications do you need? To start with, you need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, bio-science, mathematics, or physical science. You also need three years of experience in your field that shows steady progress toward a professional level. And, you need at least 1,000 hours of pilot command experience flying jets. If you can check all of that off your list, then get yourself in the best shape of your life because qualified candidates will also have to pass a grueling spaceflight physical.

Interested? Then check out this link… www.nasa.gov/astronauts.

And, if you apply and get a chance to fly with the big boys, you absolutely MUST drop the gringa a line. I want to know ALL about it!

The Scoop On Orion


Orion is the state of the art spacecraft that NASA will employ to launch astronauts on their deep space mission to Mars. The gringa wants to know the most important bits about this vehicle and how it will keep astronauts safe and healthy on such an amazing journey. The most important things necessary for survival and comfort will be a propulsion system, heat and radiation shielding, re-entry braking system, clean water, breathable air, climate control and, as unglamorous as it is to mention such a thing, a toilet.

The first thing the crew will have to do is get off the ground and out of Earth’s atmosphere. The propulsion system that achieves this will also be responsible for a safe return trip home as well as any course corrections in the midst of traversing back and forth. NASA is collaborating with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop such a service model for the Orion spacecraft.  It will contain the propulsion system, solar arrays and batteries. It will be the power generator and also contain the reservoirs of air, water and nitrogen that will be used by the crew.

Deep space travel as well as re-entry is when Orion will encounter deadly radiation and overwhelming heat. During periods of most intense heat and radiation exposure, there is an area in the aft bay of Orion that is used temporarily during these critical periods. This section of the spaceship is nearest the heat shield. The ship is configured in such a way that while sheltering in this spot, there is a maximum amount of other material and equipment between astronauts and the outside elements. The most important components of this area are the supplies and equipment needed for launch and re-entry as well as food and water provisions. This design configuration helps to maximize protection with what is already on board rather than increase the mass of the ship.

In 2014 the heat shield was put to the test on Orion on a test flight. The spacecraft successfully held up under temperatures in excess of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat shield surrounds a skeleton constructed of titanium with a supportive skin of carbon fiber. A honeycomb type structure is fitted over the skin. The cells of the honeycomb are filled with “Avcoat” up to a thickness of almost two inches. This protective coating gradually erodes as it blasts back home through Earth’s atmosphere. Avcoat, developed in partnership with Textron Defense Systems that is based in Massachusetts, is a silica fiber and epoxy-novalic resin substance. It has proved its true grit on multiple NASA missions like the robotic exploration of a comet on the automated NASA exploration vessel Stardust as well as being used successfully on the Apollo mission. There was stiff competition to be selected as the product NASA would use in the construction of the heat shield. Avcoat proved its mettle time and again.

Once the crew has successfully and safely broken free of Earth’s atmosphere, it’s time to settle in for the long haul. The environmental life support and control system currently used on the International Space Station (ISS) is the model Orion’s support system is based on. On Orion carbon dioxide, the waste product from the astronauts respiration, will be recycled and converted into useable air. As NASA continues work on Orion’s life support system, they are using amine and the natural vacuum of space to filter and recycle the air.  Amine is a derivative of ammonia, which is present in urine. Not only will the astronaut’s urine be recycled to produce clean, drinkable water, but the ammonia can also be filtered out, separated and then used to help produce breathable air. The gringa can only think, “Waste not, want not, right?”

When the crew completes their mission and returns to Earth, they will need one more thing to help them in the final splashdown, a parachute braking system. Now, parachutes seem to be such a common piece of equipment that have been around for a long time, what could possibly be left to discover or upgrade?  Well, considering re-entry can reach speeds in the thousands of miles per hour range and, to splashdown safely needs to slow down to the low hundreds of miles per hour, NASA’s parachutes are definitely in a class by themselves. Orion will pack away eleven parachutes in all that will deploy in a precisely choreographed parachute dance. Three will be located on top of the ship, two will be located in critical areas for stabilization, and then three pilot parachutes will pull out the three primary braking chutes. These “brakes” are so big, that, when bundled together above the capsule, they cover an area almost the size of a football field.

The gringa can’t wait for the day when the world’s most powerful rocket blasts off into outer space with what I consider to be a crew of the bravest souls ever. It is unbelievable to see how far exploration has come since the days of Leif Erikson or Lewis and Clark.

Source and Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

A Bit Of Sun & Hope For Humanity


Coming up in December is the one year anniversary of the test flight of the Orion spacecraft that launched from Kennedy Space Center December 5, 2014. The test flight was unmanned. Because of its success, the next time Orion punches through the Earth’s atmosphere, it will deliver astronauts to an asteroid in our Moon’s orbit to rehearse their Red Planet mission. That is the ultimate goal, after all, to have a full astronaut crew heading out to deep space with a final destination of Mars.

The amazing new technologies that will send astronauts farther than they have ever gone before is thanks, in part, to the students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NASA and Lockheed Martin offered students the opportunity to collaborate in this daring mission with a program called “Exploration Design Challenge”. What problem were these students asked to solve? The students were challenged to solve the most dangerous issue that faces humans in space – exposure to radiation. The gringa is very proud to say that these students rose to the challenge and their very own radiation experiment was on board for Orion’s test flight. If there was ever a reason for parents to encourage their children in STEM curriculum, parents, the time is NOW!

The emerging generation of scientists will inherit a planet that is rapidly changing. NASA needs this young talent more than ever. Researchers will manage the data collected from satellites and airborne missions. Engineers will keep these missions alive with their technological expertise. These are the critical thinkers the world needs to face the future challenges of rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to climate change. The next generation of astronaut explorers will be the ones to aid our planet in finding freshwater resources out in the cosmos to help replenish are own that are rapidly becoming depleted.

In 2014 NASA studies were published and revealed a rapidly melting western sheet of ice in Antarctica. This appears to be irreversible. Later in the same year, NASA, along with researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that the potential threat of groundwater loss to America’s stable water supply may have previously been underestimated and things were worse than scientists thought. In August of 2014, NASA published research based on the discovery of a large amount of a compound creating ozone depletion. This was an unexpected surprise considering that for decades such a compound has been banned worldwide. Our world is in trouble and our best resource to solve these problems is in the minds of our youth.

The gringa is getting depressed with all this bad news so, let’s get back to the good news! The Orion! I simply must know all I can about this spaceship because the gringa is putting in that ship all her hopes that it is going to be the mother ship of a future fleet of ships that’s going to save humanity’s bacon.

The purpose of the test flight was to see if Orion was up to the task of the most dangerous parts of the mission. Those would be lift-off, entry, separations, the jettison of the Launch Abort System, descent and splashdown. However, most important of all was to test the heat shield that needed to be strong enough to protect astronauts, as well as all the technology on board, from 4,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and the related radiation. Is the dear reader dying to know Orion’s report card? The gringa is!

At 7:05am at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Orion was prepped to lift off with the help of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Three RS-68 engines created almost two million pounds of thrust which then pushed a 1.63 million pound spacecraft into orbit. After about four minutes the side boosters disengaged and fell away to Earth. The center booster remained with Orion for another ninety seconds. When its fuel was spent, it disengaged and also fell back to Earth. The next thing to release its hold on Orion was the structural supports and the Launch Abort System. Orion was headed out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Seventeen minutes and thirty-nine seconds after lift-off, Orion began its orbit. Two hours into its flight, Orion traveled through the Van Allen radiation belts which are 3,609 miles away. Data recorders provided critical calculations on the doses of radiation within the cabin. This determined if the craft was of sound design and safe to man with a human crew. Three hours and twenty-three minutes into its flight, Orion headed for Earth’s atmosphere where the heat shield withstood the brutal re-entry friction.

What is re-entry like? Orion hit Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph. The gringa can only say, “Incredible!” The spacecraft gets so amazingly hot at that speed, it is eventually enveloped in plasma. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases. When plasma is created on Orion upon re-entry, what happens is that the heat and friction become so energized that electrons break free from their nucleus and travel along with them. That’s what the Sun does all the time. It’s just a big, ol’ ball of plasma. Orion creates a little bit of Sun on re-entry. The gringa’s mind is filled with the Beatles refrain, “Here comes the sun, little darlin’. Here comes the sun. And I say it’s alright.” After all, ultimately that IS the plan, RIGHT? Orion is going to help launch the scientific efforts that hopefully will make everything wrong with the environment alright? Or, at least give humanity some viable options and hope?

After picking up Orion as it bobbed amongst the waves of the Pacific of the coast of Baja, California, NASA used the data to make improvements for the upcoming manned mission. Astronauts will continue their own preparations for a mission that is sure to make history in so many ways. If everyone at NASA is excited about the future, then they truly believe in the mission. The gringa will take her cue from them and toss out the doom and gloom and grab hold of hope and positivity. I will hold fast to an exciting future that most certainly is full of change, but change is not necessarily always a bad thing.

The Future Of American Rockets Is Here


NASA is preparing the most powerful rocket in world history to soon make its debut. Space Launch System (SLS) is a flexible design whose design evolved as testing continued. It’s capability is to launch a space vehicle laden with crew and cargo into the atmosphere as they commence a deep space mission. One such mission in the near future is for SLS to transport the Orion spacecraft then transfer its cargo and experiments into deep space. SLS is a technology that is safe, sustainable and provides astronauts the means to travel along a route of multiple destinations toward the grand prize, Mars.

The first SLS launch vehicle had a capacity of lifting over 70 tons beyond low-Earth orbit. It was the most powerful rocket that had ever been built. However, through its design evolution, it can now carry a load of over 143 tons making missions possible far out into our solar system.

Part of the cargo to be launched into space by SLS are the components and technology required for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). This will enable NASA to first test the capabilities of all the technologies involved in a manned Mars mission in a safe, unmanned, robotic mission.  NASA’s Glenn Research Center is headquarters for the development of one of these technologies, the Solar  Electric Propulsion (SEP) system. The plan is to use solar arrays to convert sunlight into electrical power that will charge atoms as a means of propelling the spacecraft. This propulsion system can potentially move massive loads of cargo slowly, yet efficiently. This type of propulsion system can save the taxpayers a lot of money, but we have to be a little more patient and expect missions to take a bit longer. The gringa’s okay with that because I for darn sure get a little sick and tired of everyone seeming to be in an all-fired hurry all the time. Makes me tired sometimes just watching folks knock themselves out so. The gringa just wants to say, “Hey, relax. Get there in one piece. Sit, have a drink. Chat. Don’t rush through life. Take time to enjoy life and appreciate the little things that get overlooked when you run like a bat outta hell whose tail is on fire. Most of the crap in life that’s screaming for attention can wait. I promise it will still be there an hour later or a day later. That’s what I tell my big, ol’ pile of dirty laundry every day as I casually stroll by. Works like a charm.” But, I digress, back to rockets.

One component of the SEP system is the Hall thruster. It uses ten times less propellant than traditional chemical rockets. When it was tested in a vacuum chamber it proved to be more efficient and have longer fuel life.  Hall thrusters work by trapping electrons within a magnetic field. It then uses those electrons to ionize the propellant. This generates an electric field that accelerates the charged ions, creating a plasma exhaust plume that propels the spacecraft forward.  Sounds like rocket science, to the gringa. I don’t understand a bit of that but I will trust that the scientists at NASA know exactly what they are doing.

This is all part of NASA’s progress toward its initiative to launch a Green Propellant Infusion Mission in 2016. This fuel will be tested in a small satellite. It is a non-toxic, high-performance “green” fuel that will hopefully replace the toxic hydrazine that is currently used. This will enable NASA to utilize lightweight, composite tanks on rockets which will significantly lower the weight of the load, improving efficiency and lowering costs.

If the unmanned ARM mission is successful, SEP could very well be the answer to deep space travel. For humans to achieve deep space missions, SEP may deliver on the very things necessary to accomplish the job. SEP can move huge cargo loads which solves the problem of supply shortages. SEP does not require massive quantities of fuel to be part of the cargo due to its solar energy facet. That solves the problem of being able to carry enough fuel to make a round trip to deep space. The robotic nature of ARM resolves the conundrum of creating multiple ports staged along the route to Mars. An SEP-powered unmanned spacecraft could deliver the cargo and vehicles necessary for longer manned missions into deep space where they would wait until crews arrived. Mars expeditionary crews would station hop on their way to Mars, refueling and resupplying as they went. The gringa falls asleep at night fantasizing of leapfrogging her way to the Red Planet when she’s old and arthritic and cranky and craves the natural pain relief of the weightlessness of deep space. Hey, a girl can dream, cain’t she?

Source & Photo credit: www.nasa.gov