|NASA's Contribution To Sustainable Space Exploration and Development|
|Written by Jeff Krukin|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2010|
NASA held its Exploration Enterprise Workshop in Galveston, TX on May 25-26, and I find the proposed Flagship Technology Demonstrations (part of the Exploration and Demonstration Programs) to be among the most exciting elements of NASA's new direction. These FTDs may not be the sexy missions that fill our dreams, but in military parlance ("tooth-to-tail-ratio") they are the tail that makes the tooth possible. And they provide opportunities for small and entrepreneurial NewSpace companies, a key component of any commercially viable and economically sustainable of any national space program.
In a very big and important way, the FTDs are what we want from NASA; R&D for risky yet promising technologies that are unlikely to command sufficient interest of corporate R&D managers at this early stage. As seen in Michael Conley's presentation*, the following technologies would be tested in four Flagship-class missions initiated in FY2011, with launch dates beginning in 2014:
1. In-orbit propellant transfer and storage
2. Lightweight/inflatable modules
3. Automated/autonomous rendezvous and docking
4. Aero-assist/entry, descent and landing
5. Closed loop life support
6. Advanced in-space propulsion (ion/plasma, solar electric propulsion, etc.)
These are the building-blocks, the DNA of humanity living beyond our Earth. And it doesn't matter if you believe that our next destination must be LEO habitats, the Moon, asteroids, or Mars, because all are served by these technologies. When all the bitter destination-based arguments are set aside, it is here that we find common cause.
*All workshop presentations are available at http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/new_space_enterprise/home/workshop_home.html.
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