Each of these projects receives $175,000.00 in grants for phase one work - you can read more about the program here, where you will also find links to detailed descriptions of each of the projects.
Imagine that the year is 1869. Heavier-than-air powered flight is a distant fantasy for reckless dreamers and adrenaline junkies willing to throw themselves off of cliffs to test their contraptions. The American Civil War only recently ended, and the transcontinental railroad is not quite complete. Steam-powered ships are just beginning to replace sailing vessels for oceanic travel. This is the context in which Jules Verne, one of the grandfathers of science fiction, told the story of the Apollo program.
There is a public comment period open from now until May 31st for NASA's defined objectives in the Moon to Mars program, which can all be found here: Moon to Mars Objectives. NASA has some details about the public comment period here: NASA Seeks Input. To make comments, go here: Feedback on the draft.
Why should a private company make a business out of space debris removal? Alternatively, can space debris removal be made into a viable business model? This is one of those complicated questions that I recently saw reduced to a gross oversimplification in a news article. There were a lot of issues with the article, and I don’t want to dwell on it, but I think the biggest problem was its underlying, unstated assumption that the only viable business case for space debris removal as a commercial service was if the government was the customer, or regulated private space industry into becoming customers. The underlying argument of the article, therefore, is that there is no viable business model based on space debris removal.
This has been decades in the making, and I have been watching the observatory be delayed again, and again, and again for years now, so it was remarkable when it finally launched.
As computers have become more advanced, faster, and more capable, the arguments in favor of manned spaceflight have become weaker, and space travel has increasingly become the domain of machines. Long before the invention of the microchip, Isaac Asimov proposed exactly this, describing unmanned, computer-controlled space exploration vehicles that would be able to venture into territories too extreme and too dangerous for humans. That vision has come to pass, and it is now commonly argued that humans are indeed too soft, vulnerable, and unreliable to utilize in spaceflight, and that removing them from the paradigm removes the weakest link. Manned spaceflight has largely been relegated to an oft-maligned holdover of Cold War international competition and patriotism. This is a mistake.
As a bit of a side project at work recently, I did some modeling work on TESS, which is a NASA spacecraft that was launched to help search for exoplanets using the transit method (I know, you could never have guessed that from the name's acronym breakdown). Working with satellites as much as I do, this was a really interesting project, because it was quite distinctive in its orbit and mission architecture from most spacecraft that I get to study on a regular basis. For one thing, it is a remarkably low-cost, robust, straightforward system, quite different from what you often see with NASA programs, which because of their scientific goals are often pushing the very edge of our capabilities and therefore become very complex and very expensive. For another, it utilizes a simply fascinating orbit. Since I've been trying to post occasional in-depth articles on various academic topics, it seemed appropriate to share some of what I learned from that project here.