Space Symposium Looks Forward After Discovery's Final Flight

RSS

I am at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and watched the final flight of the shuttle Discovery atop a specially modified 747 today. NASA's Discovery landed in Washington, D.C. destined for the Smithsonian Institute (Fig. 1). The transition will be from shuttle to commercial space flight but the government pulled the plug too soon and it is going to cost us. The International Space Station (ISS) will be serviced by Russian space flights until then and it will not be cheap.

The cancellation of the shuttles was a political event, not a technical one. The shuttles had more life in them. The transition to commercial space flight was a little optimistic.For a little optimism though you can check out my interviews at the Space Symposium on EngineeringTV.

73773_fig1

Figure 1. Space shuttle Discovery landing at Washington Dulles Airport. It is destined for the Smithsonian Institute.

There are a number of commercial endeavors on the horizon. SpaceX is planning on an April 30th launch of its Dragon capsule. The initial experiment will be to deliver cargo to the ISS. It will be flown by remote control and then captured by the ISS astronauts. It will then return to earth so the capsule can be reused. By the way, I also got a walk around the ISS model by NASA.

The SpaceX crew was busy preparing for the launch. We did get to chat with one of the competing solutions from Boeing. It's CST-100 (Fig. 2) is designed to hold up to seven crew members. The CST-100 will be launched on the Delta IV rocket. Like the competing solutions, the CST-100 is designed to be reusable. It should work for at least ten trips and it can handle cargo, crews or a mix.

73773_fig2sm

Figure 2. Boeing CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation) capsule is one of a number looking to replace the shuttle for transporting human and cargo to low earth orbit (LEO).

I also got a chance to chat with a number of other space vendors at this show including Northrup Grumman. One platform they are delivering is the James Webb Space Telescope (Fig. 3). The JWST is a large, infrared-optimized telescope built with multiple beryllium mirrors.

73773_fig3sm

Figure 3. James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized telescope that will replace the Hubble.

The architecture of the JWST is interesting because its sensors need to be very cold, about 45 degrees Kelvin. A five layer sunshield and a cyrocooler are needed to keep the temperature down to allow high accuracy readings.

Most of the discussions were captured on video and you can find them at Engineering TV. Links will be added here soon.

Some of the ones I didn't snap a picture of included some students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Graduates and undergraduates are participating in NASA sponsored projects including rockets with advanced telemetry systems and even a satellite called the CubeSat. The CubeSat is only four inches long and weighs only a few pounds but it will expand in space to expose antennas, solar panels and sensors.

There will be a gap where the U.S. lacks launch capability to deliver cargo and personnel to the ISS. The slack will be taken up by other countries including Russia but there is no lack of experimentation, new projects and future research by NASA, commercial vendors and students.

Newsletter Signup

Please or Register to post comments.

What's alt.embedded?

Blogs focusing on embedded, software and systems

Contributors

William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
Commentaries and Blogs
Guest Blogs
Nov 11, 2014
blog

How to Outsource Your Project to Failure 4

This article will address failure to carefully vet a potential manufacturing or “turnkey” partner and/or failure to transfer sufficient information and requirements to such a partner, a very common problem I have seen again and again with my clients over the years, and have been the shoulder cried upon by several relatives and clients in the past....More
Nov 11, 2014
blog

Transition from the Academe to the Industry Unraveled 1

There have been many arguments here and there about how short-comings of universities and colleges yield engineers with skill sets that do not cater to the demands of the industry. There have been many arguments here and there about an imminent shortage of engineers lacking knowledge in the sciences. There have been many arguments here and there about how the experience and know-how of engineers in the industry may vanish due to the fact that they can’t be passed on because the academic curriculum deviates from it....More
Nov 11, 2014
blog

Small Beginnings 5

About 10 years ago I received a phone call from an acquaintance. He had found a new opportunity selling some sort of investments and he wanted to share it with me in case I was interested. Ken had done fairly well for many years as a contract software developer primarily in the financial services sector. His specialty was writing RPG code. (RPG is often referred to as a write only language.) But he was seeing the handwriting on the wall as the industry moved on to other methods, and saw himself becoming a fossil....More

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×