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Outside View: Rocket revolutions -- Part 1

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Yury Zaitsev
Moscow (UPI) Nov 2, 2007
No one doubts that humans will one day fly to Mars. The flight will last 350 days, 20-30 days will be spent on the Martian surface, and the return journey will take another 350 days. But the exact date remains unknown.

Yury Koptev, head of the defense industry department at the Ministry of Industry and Energy, thinks "the mission could start tomorrow, because the technical capability is there. Russia has been working on the concept since 1960 and done a good deal," he stressed.

Former Energiya President Nikolai Sevastyanov believes the Martian project could be realized after 2025 and would consist of three stages: a trial expedition around the moon, a non-landing manned expedition to Mars and then a manned Mars landing.

Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, said, "We are planning a Mars mission after 2035." The ultimate decision is likely to be made at the top. Before the year is out the government must approve a program for the development of the space industry until 2040.

However, work concerned with Mars is already under way and forms part of the current Federal Space Program.

Mars interests many countries. The Americans want to fly to Mars from the moon. In terms of time and energy this project is the most costly. First, they will have to deliver the elements of a Martian expedition to the moon, make a soft landing, assemble them and blast off towards Mars overcoming lunar gravity.

The Russian project provides for a start from a near-Earth orbit.

The timeline for both is after 2035.

The first European intends to walk on the Red Planet as early as 2024, which is unlikely. China, too, has announced its Martian ambitions, although barely launching its first taikonaut in 2003.

In 2005 Russian specialists prepared blueprints for a manned expedition to Mars. One of the project developers, Vitaly Semyonov, chief engineer at the Keldysh Center, said that the work brought to light one important fact: The deadlines and costs of a Martian expedition mainly depend on the type of the propulsion unit.

Specific thrust, or the ratio of thrust to fuel consumption per second, is a key characteristic of any rocket engine. The faster the gas exhausts the greater the thrust given by the same amount of fuel. The engine is made more economical.

Despite the near-perfect performance of existing chemical rocket engines, the low exhaust speed of the combustion products is creating an impenetrable barrier, which cannot be breached, but can be "walked around."

What are proposed alternatives to the usual rocket engines? One alternative is to heat super-light gases (hydrogen, helium or methane) to a high temperature and force them to flow through a nozzle at velocities two and a half times faster than in chemical rocket engines.

This can be done by means of either a compact-sized nuclear reactor or a heating element powered by solar batteries.

(Next: Russia's nuclear engine advantage)

(Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser at the Academy of Engineering Sciences. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Successful Rocket Motor Test Helps NASA's Shuttle And ARES I
Huntsville AL (SPX) Nov 02, 2007
NASA's Space Shuttle Program successfully fired a four-segment reusable solid rocket motor Thursday, Nov. 1, at a Utah test facility. The two-minute test provided important information for continued launches of the shuttle and for development of the Ares I rocket, a key component of NASA's Constellation Program that will launch the Orion crew vehicle on missions to the moon.

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