NASA’s Beyond Lower Earth Orbit Programs

beyond lower earth orbit

LEO (Lower Earth Orbit) is defined as an orbit below the altitude of 2,000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. All the space launch programs, with the exception of lunar flights of Apollo program, take place in LEO. The satellites that are launched for different purposes operate in LEO. Except some satellites, namely the GPS (Global Positioning System), GEO (Geosynchronous) and GSO (Geostationary) satellites, which operate in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) zone, which extends up to a distance of approx. 36,000 kilometers. Any space programs which are designed and executed for a distance above 2000 kilometers are known as Beyond Low Earth Orbit or BLEOs. NASA has been asked to build up the a Saturn-V class rocket, Space Launch System  and two to six persons, beyond low Earth orbit spacecraft, for the unnamed beyond low Earth orbit (BLEO) programs. These programs help humans to explore the realms of space beyond earth. The unnamed BLEO programs are designed to help humans reach the moon, near earth asteroids and eventually the planet Mars.

The Space Launch System (SLS), as a part of the BLEO programs, NASA’s first exploration-class vehicle since, the launch of Apollo astronauts to the Moon, is expected to be the most powerful space shuttle ever built. The scientists, engineers and experts are working to the make the yet unnamed BLEO programs a success. Engineers face many challenges for the preparation of the first SLS flight, scheduled for the end of 2017, where NASA plans to launch a test unmanned space shuttle on a circumlunar trajectory. Amongst the challenges that experts face, is that of creating an SLS that will produce 10 to 20% more thrust than the Saturn V — depending on the condition whether it carries crew or cargo — and will require an entirely new launch environment at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s computational fluid dynamics (CFD) researchers have developed new models to simulate the launch conditions for a variety of potential vehicle designs and run them on an agency supercomputer. Other challenges are, Mitigation of Ignition Overpressure  waves, Launch pad Geometry, and sound suppression techniques to name a few.

Exploration activities for the NASA’s unnamed BLEO programs include the management of Commercial Space Transportation, Exploration Systems Development, Human Space Flight Capabilities, Advanced Exploration Systems, and Space Life Sciences Research & Applications. Validation of the team’s early reproduction conclusion with real test results gave NASA the confidence to move ahead with CFD reproductions of the full-scale integrated system that will have the SLS launch environment With the success of programs like Mars Rover and upcoming the BLEO programs, it seems that the long lost human dream of travelling and living in space will sure be a reality in near future.

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