Blue Moon and the BE-7 rocket engine. Jeff Bezos revealed last week (full video) that Blue Origin has been working for three years on a moon lander called Blue Moon and a new rocket engine, BE-7, to power it. The stock lander is designed to deliver 3.6 metric tons of cargo to the lunar surface. A proposed larger “stretch tank” version would have enough lift to carry a human capsule with ascent capability, potentially returning astronauts to NASA’s Lunar Gateway. Blue Moon uses a davit system to lower payloads and rovers onto the surface. The BE-7 engine burns cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen (LH2/LOX), intentionally using a high performance fuel that can be made from water, thought to be frozen in shadowed craters on the moon’s poles, which are a likely landing target. The LH2 is also used in fuel cells for electric power. Bezos spent much of the presentation on a vision for future humans living in space, calling for the development of space infrastructure to enable the next generation of entrepreneurs. His group concluded that O'Neill cylinder space stations (original 1974 paper) are much better than planetary surfaces for human habitation due to: 1) being effectively unlimited in surface area, 2) being close to Earth to reduce communication delay, 3) having easier climate control, and 4) being able to exactly match Earth’s gravity through spin. This talk feels like Bezos positioning himself as a critic of Musk’s focus on Mars, but it seems like a conversation worth having.
More NASA tools. After our link to open.nasa.gov last week, readers Eliot and Chris pointed out the much more complete code.nasa.gov which lists some 532 NASA open source projects, and also mentioned Worldview, a “software tool designed for interactively browsing and downloading imagery from NASA's Earth observing satellites,” Ndarts, a “general purpose dynamics library that can be used for the modeling of robotic platforms, space vehicles, molecular dynamics and such applications,” and the General Mission Analysis Tool, which Chris describes as “a NASA-created Open Source version of Analytical Graphic Inc's (AGI) Satellite Tool Kit (STK), kind of like a real world (slightly less fun) version of Kerbal Space Program.”
SpaceX is planning to launch 60 Starlink test satellites tomorrow (May 15th) on a Falcon 9 with a reused fairing. They’re packed in to the fairing like sardines with a very different form factor than the first Starlink test hardware launched a year ago. SpaceX plans to start launching units for the actual Internet service constellation later this year, which FCC applications suggest could be as large as 12,000 satellites. The satellites to be launched tomorrow have working ground antennas and electric propulsion, but lack the laser inter-satellite links that will be needed for the final network to have the desired bandwidth. Rumor is that the laser-interlinks have been expensive and hard to align (unsurprisingly, as this is mostly unproven technology, and continuously aligning a laser from one moving satellite to another in LEO is challenging to say the least), and so microwave interlinks may be used initially. Related: a detailed analysis video looking at the Starlink FCC proposal and simulating how interconnections could work between orbital planes.
- Engineering for the Long Haul, an excellent look at how NASA’s engineering culture enabled Oppy to survive 37 times longer than its design life. Among other things, the article mentions approaches to redundancy, NASA’s Root Cause Analysis Tool, and the NASA Workmanship Standards Program which “cover every conceivable kind of electromechanical assembly, showing the ‘NASA way’ of doing it correctly.”
- Last week’s Dragon capsule flight to the ISS delivered an experiment called the Photobioreactor, a closed-loop life-support system that uses Chlorella vulgaris algae to convert CO2 into oxygen and a protein-rich food. The ISS’s current life support systems use chemical reactions to scrub CO2. The Photobioreactor, when combined with other onboard systems, becomes a hybrid that uses biological processes as well. Perhaps the most important mission of the ISS is this sort of research into technologies for sustainable long term human habitation in space.
- Surprise 4,000-mile ‘ice corridor’ found on Saturn’s moon Titan
- While designed to map the positions and motions of stars, the ESA’s Gaia spacecraft also tracks asteroids. So far it has mapped around 14,000 known ones and has discovered three new ones.
- Bill Nye explains climate change to John Oliver (unsurprisingly with some cursing)