NASA just gave out several contracts to companies like Bigelow Aerospace and Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. to develop next generation technologies for space exploration.

Specifically these contracts are for new forms of habitation modules (basically space stations that are attached to your spaceship) and new forms of advanced propulsion, specifically electric propulsion.

This is a very good sign. In order to get to Mars safely and reliably, we need this technology.

One of the new habitation modules by Bigelow will actually be launching a habitation module soon to become a new section of the International Space Station. It’s essentially an inflatable space station in its own right with the capability of locking to hatches on things like the ISS, the Orion crew capsule and even other hab modules.

Approaching habitation technology from the direction of inflatable modules will vastly improve on things like the cost, number and size of space stations we can put into orbit.

NASA mentioned attaching one of these to the Orion and using it as a home for astronauts in a mission to the Moon (in orbit). They’re most likely referring to the asteroid redirect mission which will see NASA put an asteroid in Lunar orbit and then see NASA astronauts land on said asteroid.

Like I said, this is promising to see. Money is finally being dished out to the right people to develop the necessary technology most likely to give NASA Mars-mission capability.


Next-Generation Space Capsule To Endure First Flight Test

On Dec. 4, NASA will launch the Orion capsule on its first space flight aboard the Delta IV Heavy rocket. The vehicle, which is expected to one day carry astronauts to an asteroid and Mars, will perform its first mission unmanned. It is being loaded up with radiation, heat and acceleration sensors, among numerous other instruments, to perform a fact-finding test flight for future exploration.

The four-and-a-half-hour trip will make two orbits around Earth and also test safety systems that will be critical to keeping astronauts alive and comfortable. Orion will go as far as 3,600 miles above Earth to pass through the Van Allen Belt, an area of high radiation levels, to test shielding designed to protect humans from harmful charged particles as they venture deeper into space.

See the full video below.

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Russian Mission to the Moon

It turns out that one of the most ambitious programs Russia’s space agency had has survived recent cuts to their budget:

A deep space vehicle for their cosmonauts, known as the PTK NP project. It’s the Russian analogue for NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule. 

This new rocket and spacecraft will be able to lift about 38 tons to low Earth orbit. The capsule itself will have seats for four cosmonauts (one more than the current Soyuz spacecraft).

The Russian space agency’s current plans involve the new spacecraft docking with the ISS by 2024 and a mission to lunar orbit by 2028-2030.

The followup mission will be to land cosmonauts on the Moon.

To support such new capabilities, Russia is finishing their new spaceport in Vostochny in the next few months. This spaceport will have pads capable of launching the new spacecraft in addition to the current Soyuz spacecraft.

(Image credit: Anatoly Zak / RussianSpaceWeb.com and the Russian government)