NASA Invests in Concept Development for Missions to Comet, Saturn Moon Titan

CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return) spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has selected two finalist concepts for a robotic mission planned to launch in the mid-2020s: a comet sample return mission and a drone-like rotorcraft that would explore potential landing sites on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

The agency announced the concepts Wednesday, following an extensive and competitive peer review process. The concepts were chosen from 12 proposals submitted in April under a New Frontiers program announcement of opportunity.


NASA Awards SSL Next Phase Funding for Dragonfly On-orbit Assembly Program

PALO ALTO, CA, Sept. 11, 2017 (SSL PR) – SSL, a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, today announced that NASA has awarded the next phase of funding for its ground-breaking Dragonfly on-orbit satellite assembly program. The contract modification to move forward with the detailed design of a semi-autonomous robotic system for in-space satellite assembly confirms NASA’s confidence in SSL and the success of this “Tipping Point” public private partnership, which is enabling the development of new technology that benefits both government and commercial space endeavors.


SpaceX Set to Launch Again Tuesday, FAA Gives DragonFly Final Approval

Falcon 9 launches AsiaSat8 into orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launches AsiaSat8 into orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

UPDATE: The launch has been shifted to Wednesday morning.

UPDATE: SpaceX successfully conducted a static fire of the Falcon 9 engines on Friday.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is set to soar again from Cape Canaveral early Tuesday morning with the AsiaSat 6 satellite. The launch window is set from 12:50-4:05 a.m. EDT (0450-0805 GMT).

SpaceX is set to conduct a static fire of the Falcon 9’s engine today.

Meanwhile, the FAA has issued its final environmental assessment for flights of SpaceX’s experimental DragonFly vehicle at the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas.

“After reviewing and analyzing currently available data and information on existing conditions and the potential impacts of the Proposed Action as compared with the No Action Alternative, the FAA has determined that the Proposed Action would not significantly impact the quality of the human environment. Therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required, and the FAA is issuing this FONSI [Finding of No Significant Impact],” the environmental assessment reads.

SpaceX to Test DragonFly in Texas

Dragon with integrated trunk. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon with integrated trunk. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX would test a propulsive landing system for its Dragon spacecraft at its test site in McGregor, Texas, under an experimental permit the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed granting the company.

The agency has issued a draft environmental assessment for testing the DragonFly reusable launch vehicle (RLV) at the Texas site where SpaceX tests its Merlin D engines.

Under the proposed experimental permit, the company would conduct up to 30 tests of the RLV to develop techniques that will allow a Dragon spacecraft to touch down on land rather than splashing down in the ocean as they do currently.

The DragonFly RLV consists of a Dragon capsule with a integrated trunk that is 17 feet high and 13 feet across at the base. The vehicle would use a maximum of 400 gallons of propellant, which would consist of nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) and monomethylhydrazine (MMH).

The table below shows SpaceX’s plan for flight testing the DragonFly RLV.

Proposed Annual Operations of DragonFly RLV
DescriptionAnnual Operations
Propulsion AssistDrop the RLV from a helicopter from up to 10,000 ft, deploy parachutes and land with SuperDraco engines; engines would five for 5 seconds2
Full Propulsive LandingDrop the RLV from a helicopter from up to 10,000 ft and land only with SuperDraco engines (no parachute); engines would five for 5 seconds2
Propulsive Assist HoppingRLV takes off from launch pad and lands with parachutes; engines would fire for 25 seconds8
Full Propulsive HoppingRLV takes off from launch pad, hovers, and lands propulsive (no parachute); engines would fire for 25 seconds18
Annual Operations30