Elon Musk on Trump advisory board and other Spacex news

1. President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum has picked up Uber Technologies’ Travis Kalanick and SpaceX’s Elon Musk.

The two appointees join a board headed by private equity titan Stephen Schwarzman, who heads the multi-billion-dollar private equity firm The Blackstone Group (it also was announced that Indra Nooyi, CEO and chair of PepsiCo, is joining the forum).

Created by the President-elect earlier this month, the forum includes some of the biggest names in American business, including:
GM head Mary Barra;
Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan Chase;
Larry Fink, the chairman and chief executive of BlackRock;
Bob Iger, the head of The Walt Disney Company;
Rich Lesser, the head of the Boston Consulting Group;
Ginni Rometty, the head of IBM and
retired executives like Jack Welch from General Electric and Jim McNerney, who led Boeing.

2. NASA doesn’t plan to put any science instruments aboard SpaceX’s first Mars mission, which could launch as early as 2018, agency officials said.

NASA wants to wait until SpaceX proves it can pull off a soft landing on the Red Planet before committing millions of dollars’ worth of equipment to the spaceflight company’s “Red Dragon” effort, said Jim Green, head of the agency’s Planetary Science Division.

“Landing on Mars is hard,” Green said during a talk Tuesday (Dec. 13) here at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). “I want to wait this one out.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said the company plans to launch uncrewed Dragon capsules toward the Red Planet at every launch opportunity for the foreseeable future, ideally beginning in 2018. (Such windows come just once every 26 months, when Earth and Mars align favorably.)”

Thanks to its design integrating a robust heat shield and powerful thrusters, a modified Dragon 2 capsule may perform all the necessary entry, descent and landing (EDL) functions in order to deliver payloads of 1 tonne (2,200 lb) or more to the Martian surface without using a parachute; the use of parachutes is not feasible without significant vehicle modification

The Red Dragon could carry a Zaptec plasma drilling system to drill down 2000 meters. This might be enough to reach liquid aquifers, which could harbor life

Zaptec on Mars

On Mars, the subsurface might hold records of potential past life on Mars that might be better preserved than at the surface of Mars itself. The search for biosignatures and life on Mars is guided by NASA’s Follow the Water strategy. The H2O ice-rich subsurface on Mars likely transitions to liquid H2O-rich aquifers at greater depth, which might offer habitats for potential extant life on Mars.

The depth to liquid aquifers on Mars is estimated to range from a few tens of meters (if briny solutions are involved and/or in potentially active volcanic areas presenting elevated geothermal gradients) to a few kilometers. Hoftun et al. (2014) summarize deep drilling rationales and challenges on Mars, and suggest that liquid aquifers might be reached at depths of less than 1 to 2 km beneath the floor of Valles Marineris and in recently active volcanic provinces.

On Mars, the proposed Zaptec system will allow a depth of 2 km to be reached with less than 1 metric ton of surface payload housed in a SpaceX Dragon-sized capsule and peak power requirements of less than 2 kW.

Zaptec deep drilling system capable of reaching a depth of 2 km, deployed from a SpaceX Dragon-class landed capsule. Astronaut shown for scale (Image Credit: Zaptec). Right: An important goal of deep drilling on Mars will be to reach potential underground aquifers to search for any extant life. Image credit: Mars Institute. (Image Credit: Mars Institute. Background diagram: ESA).

Next Steps

The lightweight, energy-efficient Zaptec drilling concept, which is based on plasma channel drilling/electropulse, offers a promising and universal approach to planetary and small body drilling. The concept will continue to mature with laboratory and field tests over the next years.

3. SpaceX delayed its return to flight into at least January 2017

On top of that, on Monday the company delayed plans for the first manned NASA launch as well, saying that the Dragon capsule wouldn’t be able to launch until 2018 because of refueling issues raised by the September explosion.

SpaceX has moved back its entire schedule for the manned NASA launch. The uncrewed test, originally slated for May 2017, will take place in November 2017. The crewed flight, initially planned to launch in August 2017, will not happen until May 2018, according to NASA’s revised schedule.

SpaceX’s delays come just two months after Boeing also pushed back its testing schedule by six months for the CST-100 Starliner. The craft will now be tested without a crew in June 2018 and then with a crew in August 2018.