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Space News in Brief

An Orion spacecraft, an artificial intelligence rocket, and a new multi-mission approach to exploration.

Lockheed Martin Unveils Orion Spacecraft and Space Operations Center

The first Orion ground test vehicle. Credit: NASA

Lockheed Martin has unveiled the first Orion spacecraft, a crew exploration vehicle that the company hopes will be used to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, the moon, asteroids, and even Mars. The spacecraft was originally being built in partnership with NASA as part of the Constellation program, although the 2011 budget proposal for the agency called for the cancellation of the program and for Orion to be used as a crew-escape vehicle only.

Despite the uncertain status of the spacecraft, Lockheed Martin and NASA proceeded with development. “Orion is going to evolve from what it was under the previous Constellation program into what it needs to become as part of the multipurpose crew vehicle,” Bob Jacobs, a NASA spokesman told the Associated Press.

According to a press release:

The spacecraft will undergo rigorous testing in Denver to validate Orion’s ability to endure the harsh environments of deep space. The Orion crew exploration vehicle is on schedule to conduct its first orbital flight test as early as 2013 and provide initial operational flights by 2016 as required by the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

Lockheed Martin also unveiled a Space Operations Simulation Center (SOSC) that will be used to test and validate future human spaceflight programs.

Today’s demonstrations at the SOSC featured simulated missions to an asteroid and the International Space Station using laser and optically guided robotic navigation systems. This system and other cutting edge capabilities demonstrate how Lockheed Martin employs full-scale motion to test and verify multiple mission scenarios.

Japan’s Artificially Intelligent Rocket

An artist’s illustration of Japan’s new Epsilon rocket. Credit: JAXA

The Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) is developing a rocket that would use artificial intelligence for greater autonomy. The rocket, called Epsilon, will use AI for guidance, navigation, and control, responding to, and correcting, problems it encounters. The benefit is could be cost savings that would allow more rockets to be launched. The three-stage, solid-fuel rocket is scheduled for a test launch in 2013.

According to,

One example of this AI in action could be the regulation of the electrical current that controls the orientation of the thruster nozzle. Where the thruster is pointed determines the rocket’s direction, and a surge or other irregularity in the nozzle’s electrical current can send the rocket off course. Applying AI in this way is quite similar to its use in electrocardiograms that interpret the human heart’s electrical signals in order to evaluate organ function, said [Yasuhiro] Morita, [a professor at Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at JAXA]. …

The new rocket will have fewer and more advanced components, such as a lighter, tougher carbon-fiber motor case, than the retired Japanese M-V rocket that Epsilon will largely replace. Fewer and better-wedded components will allow the rocket to be moved to the launch pad almost fully assembled. That’s in contrast to current on-pad assembly processes and the many tedious manual checks of rocket systems that translate to launch preparations lasting a couple months or so, Morita said

Safety is still a concern and JAXA plans to proceed cautiously. The budget is approximately $46.6 million, and Epsilon is being designed to carry small satellites, 500 kilograms or less.

NASA’s New Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle

Artist illustration of NAUTILUS-X. Credit: NASA

NASA is showcasing this new concept space exploration vehicle for long duration flights carrying six people. It’s called the NAUTILUS-X, (Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States - eXploration), and only the lengthy technical details have been posted by and OnOrbit, which also links to a power-point presentation (Download full document).

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