Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Progress Report

It's been a pretty busy break, between preparing internship applications and visiting friends and family, and working on Aerodesign stuff so we're not behind schedule on our AIAA DBF plane when we come back even though we'll have been away from school for an entire month. I've got a post coming about the details of what I've been up to with that, but for the moment I'll just say that the connections group has been busy, and that I'm very proud of what we've accomplished. Anyway, while I get that post polished, there's a few other things I wanted to talk about.

Over break, I also stumbled upon something very cool: a blog about the J-2X engine development project that is written by one of the team members. It's a very concise and clear description of what I know is a complex and challenging design and manufacturing process, and I think I'm learning a lot about rocket engines by keeping an eye on it. Like a lot of others, I'm not convinced that the J-2X is an engine we really need; it was originally developed as an upper-stage engine for the now-cancelled Ares I crew launcher, and I'm not sure its greater thrust out weighs its lower efficiency compared to other upper-stage hydrolox engines like the RL-10 family, which is already flying on the Atlas V and Delta IV. An RL-10 cluster (several engines side-by-side firing at once) would be needed to equal the thrust of a single J-2X, but the weight and cost are actually competitive, and the higher efficiency of the RL-10 means that the resulting payload to orbit might be higher. For instance, the DIRECT team examined both a J-2X upper stage (the Jupiter 241 configuration) and various RL-10 clusters (with assorted numbers and variants), which can be found on the "baseball card" located in the "media" portion of DIRECTlauncher. However, whether the J-2X is the right engine or not, reading about its development is proving to be very interesting.

I'd like to close this post with a link to some words from ISS commander Scott Kelly, brother-in-law of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in regards to the shootings in Tuscon. I'm not yet sure how I feel about the attacks, other than shocked and appalled. The fact that a congressional event was the target seems to imply some kind of political motive, but the beliefs of the shooter don't seem to stack up to any sort of rational position. Either way, Scott's words are a powerful reminder of one of the things space exploration shows us: Our differences are a lot less visible from up there, and it helps reinforce how much we have in common instead of what we don't. Even the challenges are universal. Whatever your nationality, creed, or beliefs, it's the same vacuum and the same gravity well, with the same resources available. Anyway, my condolences go out to the family and friends of those who died and my best wishes and hopes for a quick and full recovery of the wounded, including Representative Giffords.

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