August 23, 2016

"NASA is very good about being on the cutting edge of space exploration, but it's less good about making non-cutting edge space exploration efficient and cost effective."

IEEE Spectrum: The agency is acutely aware of this, which is why it's been trying to get commercial carriers to handle deliveries of (now) supplies and (soon) astronauts to the ISS. By Evan Ackerman

'The next step is for private companies to take over space station construction for (soon) Earth orbit and (eventually) deep space. To that end, NASA has selected six partner companies to develop full-sized ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats, with the eventual goal of deploying habitats near the moon as a stepping stone to Mars.

'Five of the partners, including Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada will be designing habitats that are built on Earth and launched into space on rockets. It makes sense to do this, because it's how habitats have always been sent into space. The sixth partner, NanoRacks, is teaming up with Space Systems Loral and United Launch Alliance to try something completely different: taking empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turning them into space habitats on-orbit.

'The hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters. By way of comparison, the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. Centaur's fuel tank is pressurized, rugged, and most importantly, already in space for free, and NanoRacks wants to leverage that to create inexpensive space habitats for humans.'

"When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations."

LA Times: The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste. by Ralph Vartabedian

'But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

'The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.'