It's possible that we are missing some detail in this pronouncement. Europe's ATV only had to prove itself by flying alone and maneuvering for a time before first docking with ISS. Japan's HTV had similar constraints. This may be what they mean, and the press overblew it. I hope that's what the Russians mean.
This article talks about the now-flying (well, one up, eleven more to come) block IIF satellites in the GPS constellation and speculates
about some of the improvements that satellites will allow. They're off a bit. Here are some corrections:
the article discusses improvements coming after the full fleet of IIF spacecraft are launched. This is selectively true.
As long as you have 3 or 4 of the IIF vehicles visible over your location at a particular time, any benefits would be noticed
(especially with a new receiver in your car), but I'm thinking there are more important places in the world where the military
could use that accuracy...
Indoor augmented reality: Even if the reported accuracy levels are reached, GPS signals don't
reliably reach indoors. While a building could choose to put GPS repeaters inside to carry out such actions, the satellite
signals themselves would not be players.
Cell phone accuracy: Most cell phone applications use the term GPS because it's
what people think of for electronic navigation, but use cell towers for actual position determination.
The majority of America's space program is just about spending money in the right places. I think the article is overly generous talking about the "handful of powerful lawmakers are so eager to see an American
on the moon — or even Mars" when the most important part of the sentence is "they effectively mandated NASA to spend “not
less than” $3 billion for a new rocket project and space capsule in the 2011 budget bill signed by the president last week"
I haven't monitored the politics and publicity involved in lobbying for retired space shuttles too much, but the assignments are made. I think one (most likely Atlantis, because it did most of the classified missions) could have gone to The National Museum of the US Air Force in Ohio. It would put one closer to the center of the country.
The word is out. The announcement was about the launch of their Falcon Heavy, but much more came from it. The most interesting part for
me is the large payload capability. It sounds like they're doing it by crosslinking the propellants between the boosters
and core stage. All 27(!) engines use the boosters' propellants until those propellants are exhausted. The boosters can
fall off earlier than they would if they didn't share kerosene and oxygen, lightening the load for the still-full main stage,
now significantly lighter.
I'm very curious about the pluming for the crosslinked flow, and how they'll keep center propellants from being used. The
only thing I can think of is higher pressure in the boosters.
The payload fairing is a bit small, though. A quick calculation showed me that, given the payload fairing size, a heavy version
wouldn't even be necessary to launch that volume of liquid hydrogen. Of course, liquid oxygen is much denser, and would overload
the rocket with a payload fairing full. Custom fairings are available, so maybe they'll get larger. The likely dimension
to increase is length, though, where the real volume payoff comes with diameter increase.
Here is some discussion about a paper where a group of people looked at the costs of flying to an asteroid using multiple flights
of Falcon 9s instead of developing a super-heavy launch vehicle.
A counter point expressed here, talking about using depots, but building a lunar-refueling infrastructure first. The argument is based on a study (linked
in the blog post, but inactive when I tried to access it) showing that a lunar-refueling depot can be built for a comparable
cost to an asteroid mission. I need to see the analysis before rendering any judgment.
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