Space – Where are we going?
President Donald Trump has mentioned “space,” and promised to unlock its “mysteries.” In the atmosphere surrounding a radical change in the Washington power structure, the new commander-in-chief’s brief mention in his inaugural address is significant. It means he, or more likely at this point in the Trump administration, his top advisers, plan to focus on spaceflight in some form or another. And given Trump’s early efforts to dismantle much of the legacy left him by President Barack Obama and his predecessors, it is a safe bet that change is coming in the space community.
“If the president says it, it’s OK,” Charles Bolden told the NASA staff as he wrapped up eight years in the hot seat at agency headquarters a few days earlier.
Bolden was talking about Obama’s “Journey to Mars” policy, hammered out over those same eight years as NASA, its contractors, the lawmakers who fund them, and the scientists and engineers who specialize in spaceflight came to grips with the radical space-policy changes the outgoing president imposed when he arrived in 2009.
The plan skips the surface of the Moon in favor of longer and longer shakedown cruises for Mars spacecraft operating in lunar orbit, while the technology needed to reach the red planet is developed. That includes the Orion capsule; the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) to lift large payloads; advanced solar electric propulsion for the transit to Mars, and in situ resource utilization gear to live off the land there.
Just how much of that plan Trump will retain is unclear. Former space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale notes in his latest blog that the “flexible path” approach Obama followed soon was dubbed “the path to nowhere.”
“Not really accurate, but right up there with the assertion that NASA had spent the last 30 years ‘going around in circles,’ ” writes Hale. “Various factions have always been ready to apply disparaging labels to any plan they oppose.”
There was an echo of the path-to-nowhere label in a new space-policy memo written for the White House by George Abbey, a former director of the Johnson Space Center and White House staffer for President George H.W. Bush.
“NASA’s current plan speaks of human flight to Mars but lacks any description of the architecture, spacecraft, or systems needed to achieve this goal and more importantly, it fails to project the cost of such a voyage,” Abbey says in a policy brief drafted for the Baker Institute at Rice University.
U.S. Army Tests Hoverbike for Rapid Resupply
A UK-developed large quadrotor that can fly unmanned or manned is being flight tested by the U.S. Army as it develops requirements for a future joint tactical aerial resupply vehicle (JTARV).
The Hoverbike developed by Malloy Aeronautics is being tested by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where Pentagon Strategic Capabilities Office Director William Roper witnessed a flying demonstration on Jan. 10.
Prototypes Malloy is supplying for beta testing by potential customers can lift a 130-kg (285-lb.) payload and fly at more than 60 mph and higher than 10,000 ft., the manufacturer says.
ARL began exploring the JTARV concept in 2014, and it is now a joint effort with the U.S. Marine Corps, led by the Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. Hoverbike full-scale prototypes were supplied by Malloy and U.S. systems integrator Survice.
Researchers envision a future JTARV flying low to the ground or at thousands of feet at speeds of 60 mph, says ARL. “Anywhere on the battlefield, soldiers can potentially get resupplied in less than 30 min.,” says Tim Vong, associate chief of ARL’s Protection Division. “We want to have options like that.”
No flight time is quoted for the battery-powered prototype, but ARL says a hybrid propulsion system that could dramatically increase range is being considered.
“We’re exploring increasing payload capacity to 800 lb. and extending the range up to 125 mi.,” Vong says. “We’re also looking to integrate advanced intelligent navigation and mission planning. We’re looking to end up with a modular, stable platform.”
The JTARV project is teaming with the Office of Naval Research and hopes to demonstrate full autonomy in the near future, Vong says.