SpaceX schedules Feb. 6 target date for Falcon Heavy test launch – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket could blast off for the first time as soon as Feb. 6, company founder Elon Musk said Saturday, announcing the first official target launch date for the heavy-lifter’s maiden mission from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Standing 229 feet (70 meters) and measuring 40 feet (12 meters) wide, the Falcon Heavy will climb off launch pad 39A with nearly 5 million pounds of thrust, more power than any launcher has generated since the last space shuttle mission in 2011, and nearly twice as much thrust as any rocket currently in service.

SpaceX plans a three-hour window each day to launch the Falcon Heavy, opening at 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT).

NASA Is Developing a Compact Nuclear Reactor for Future Mars Habitats – ExtremeTech

According to NASA engineers who spoke at the recent National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, the Kilipower Project began testing the current reactor iteration in November 2017. It’s a small-scale reactor designed to produce power in the 1-10 kilowatt range, as the name implies. One kilowatt is about what you’d need to power a toaster or a few laptops, and the test design should reliably produce that much. That’s not enough to power an entire Mars habitat, though. NASA estimates you would need 40-50kW of power, so it may send several small KRUSTY devices if it cannot develop a single reactor that can reach the necessary power levels. The Curiosity rover, by comparison, uses about 200W (0.2 kW).

The system is between five and six feet tall, but the uranium-235 nuclear fission core is about the size of a paper towel roll. Heat from the rector is distributed by a series of sodium heat pipes. The heat generates power via a high-efficiency Stirling engine, which drives a mechanical flywheel and piston via the repeated expansion of gases. By coupling the engine to an alternator, the system produces power.

NASA Finds Vast Deposits of Ice Just Under Martian Surface – ExtremeTech

I believe this was reported earlier, but it is always worth reiterating. One of the essential components of ISRU is readily available on Mars, more so than on the Moon. Of course, the Moon is only a few days away from Earth…

NASA Finds Vast Deposits of Ice Just Under Martian Surface – ExtremeTech

SpaceX Test Fires Falcon Heavy Rocket – ExtremeTech

In spite of (or perhaps because of) the very brief government shutdown over the weekend, SpaceX is moving forward with preparations for this historic launch.

Casual observers have given the launch a 50% chance of success. Failure, in this case, is a learning experience.

SpaceX Test Fires Falcon Heavy Rocket – ExtremeTech

Meeting This Sunday, January 28


it is a new year, and time to start a new cycle of meetings!

The meeting is on Sunday, Jan 28th at 6PM, at Norma’s Cafe in Plano, near Rt. 75 and 15th street.

We have a new year of activities, including the upcoming Dallas Science Fair judging, and longer term planning for Moon Day, and of course, URC.

This is in many way, will be a year of transitions. I wanted to pass on a thought I had:

We noted with sadness the passing of John Young, Apollo 16 moon walker, on Jan 5 of this year. This leaves only 5 moon walkers left (Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11, Alan Bean of Apollo 12, Dave Scott of Apollo 15, Charlie Duke of Apollo 16, and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17), less than half the original 12, and now no crew has both Moon walkers left. John Young also orbited the moon in Apollo 10, meaning that with his passing there are only two of the three original ‘double moon shot’ astronauts. What this means is that the Apollo generation, the one that inspired so many (including me) and left such giant footsteps to follow, is fading into history.

Replacing them is a new generation of explorers, progressing forwards without the huge scrutiny, public fascination, or giant (and fickle) government budgets, but whose progress and impact promises to be a steadier, more lasting one. The same month that John Young passes looks to be the first engine test, and very soon after that, the first launch, of the Falcon Heavy.

Falcon Heavy on Launchpad

The largest rocket in terms of payload since the Saturn V, its launch will herald an era where the US has the heavy lift capability needed for manned space exploration. Only, totally unlike the Saturn V, the Falcon 9 Heavy is a privately funded rocket, developed in a fraction of the time, cost, and manpower of its historical ancestor. Behind it is the New Glenn and New Shepherd from Blue Origin, and the NASA SLS. The first deep space mission for the Falcon 9 Heavy is already booked – a manned mission to fly by the moon, paid for by private individuals. Blue Origin’s New Shepherd looks to be ready for manned test flights in a year or two, and SpaceX and Boeing look ready to put astronauts back into space with American hardware by 2019. A small New Zealand company, Rocket Lab, just put their first rocket into orbit In other words, space exploration is shifting to many private firms that will soon make space travel far more numerous and cheaper than the giant government programs of before could ever make possible.

It may not seem like it today, but I think we are on the cusp of a new age of space exploration, bigger and faster than the Apollo that awed me as a child.

See you Sunday. It is going to be a good year.