San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 Minutes on the Hyperloop

The US isn’t really known for the quality of its public mass transit. While we have trains, planes and buses aplenty, the system is nothing like that offered in Europe. Some parts of the country are better than others, but overall, Americans love their cars more than they love the idea of efficient mass transit.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, believes the US can do better. His vision for the mass transit of the future is called the Hyperloop; a solar-powered, earthquake-safe system that relies on high speed pods zipping through an enclosed tube to move travelers to their destination. Continue reading

NASA Moves Forward With Commercial Crew Program

NASA released the draft solicitation for the final phase of its Commercial Crew Program, which is funding commercial development of systems to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

In the third round of the program, Boeing Space Exploration Systems, Sierra Nevada/Space Systems, and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) received funding. All three companies have developed vehicles that could take seven people into space. Continue reading

First Official SpaceX Mission Launch is a Success

Engineering on the Edge has been following the progression of the commercial entities that have stepped up to replace NASA’s retired space shuttle program for some time now. It’s astonishing how quickly the project has gone through testing. On October 7, the first official SpaceX mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

The launch marks the return of spacefaring capability to the United States. The U.S. government had been paying Russia to provide support for its crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The launch went off without a hitch and the Dragon is now (as of writing) on its way to dock with the ISS to deliver supplies and equipment. Continue reading

Commercial “Space Taxis” Rack Up Funding

As noted previously, Curiosity’s landing on Mars is an amazing feat of engineering and another step forward for the exploration of space. In this period of monetary woes, some people have questioned whether the funding used for Curiosity might have been better spent elsewhere. I’m not going to say the $2.5 billion cost was cheap, but compare that to the approximately $14.4 billion spent on the 2012 Olympics and it might not seem quite as bad.

NASA’s cash flow has seen a steady decline since the heady days of the Apollo program, leading to the current plan of using commercial entities for manned trips to the International Space Station (ISS) and other such near-Earth jaunts. Currently, the U.S. is forced to rely on the Russians for travel to the ISS at the cost of $60 million a passenger. While that might seem expensive, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $1 billion per shuttle mission.

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ATK Continues Development of Liberty Spacecraft

With the main responsibility for near-Earth space missions being delegated to the private sector, competition for contracts becomes important to drive innovation and lower costs. The SpaceX test launch to the International Space Station has been postponed till tomorrow and being aborted at the last second over the weekend. However, other companies are continuing to move forward with their own commercial rocket and/or spacecraft projects. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is among them.

ATK is building a two-stage rocket, called Liberty, to launch satellites and crew alike into orbit. Rather than starting from zero, the company is working with a design that incorporates the solid fuel boosters from the U.S. space shuttle and the liquid fuel secondary booster from the European Ariane rocket system.

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