Showing posts from June, 2014

Mars One Puts Out the Call for Red Planet Experiments (and Ads)

The not-for-profit Mars One venture wants to send humans on one-way trips to Mars in the 2020s, but first it wants to send experimental packages to the Red Planet — potentially including the first interplanetary advertisements.

You could even put your company's name on the robotic lander that's scheduled to carry the experiments to Mars in 2018.

"What better way for an unknown phone brand to establish worldwide brand awareness and a image of innovation than by purchasing the naming rights for the first private Mars lander?" Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One, told NBC News in an email.

On Monday, the Dutch-based venture began soliciting proposals for experiments to fly on the lander — including four projects that would demonstrate technologies for future human missions, an educational project, a university-based experiment that would be selected in an online vote, and two experiments that would be flown for a fee.

Those last two experiments could addres…

We can send humans back to space … if we fund Elon Musk instead of Nasa

The private-space industry is booming – and weaning off federal money. Why is Congress still wasting billions on a mini-Apollo?

"Elon Musk," the satellite industry insider told me over a beer, "has got to be the luckiest son of a bitch alive."

Musk – the insanely dedicated, wealthy and polarizing founder of PayPal, Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) – is on a hot streak when it comes to spaceflight. He's raiding revenue streams from Nasa and the US military to fund a private manned space program. His main weapon: low prices, with SpaceX offering satellite launches at about one-fifth the price of competitors at just over $60m a pop.

Sooner or later, the haters say, Musk's streak will end in a fiery accident, or a satellite horribly deployed. That kind of disaster, naturally, would undercut the current soaring confidence in SpaceX, from investors, private-space believers and even taxpayers.

Another group of doubters on Capitol Hill say the i…

New Ion-Propulsion System Could Deliver Time Capsule to Mars

WASHINGTON — A student-led mission aims to send a time capsule to Mars, using a new, more compact kind of propulsion system.

The Time Capsule to Mars mission is designed to bring three tiny "cubesats" containing photos, videos and other media provided by people around the world to the Red Planet, using "ion-electrospray technology." This new kind of propulsion system could deliver the cubesats to Mars in as few as four months, the mission's organizers say.

Traditional thrusters burn chemicals to produce thrust. By contrast, ion-propulsion systems use electrical energy to accelerate particles, which is much more efficient, said Paulo Lozano, director of the Space Propulsion Laboratory at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the mission, supported by the nonprofit organization Explore Mars, is centered.

Each cubesat will be 3.9 inches (10 centimeters) on a side, so it won't have a lot of room for engines. "They need a small rocket that consumes ver…

Nearby Alien Planet May Be Capable of Supporting Life

A newfound alien world might be able to support life — and it's just a stone's throw from Earth in the cosmic scheme of things.

An international team of astronomers has discovered an exoplanet in the star Gliese 832's "habitable zone" — the just-right range of distances that could allow liquid water to exist on a world's surface. The planet, known as Gliese 832c, lies just 16 light-years from Earth. (For perspective, the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light-years wide; the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light-years away.)

Gliese 832c is a "super-Earth" at least five times as massive as our planet, and it zips around its host star every 36 days. But that host star is a red dwarf that's much dimmer and cooler than our sun, so Gliese 832c receives about as much stellar energy as Earth does, despite orbiting much closer to its parent, researchers said.

Indeed, Gliese 832c is one of the three most Earth-like exoplanets yet dis…

House Lawmakers Agree on Little, but Concur NASA Needs Change To Get to Mars

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on the House Science Committee doubled down on partisan talking points about NASA’s human spaceflight program in a June 25 hearing called to discuss a blue-ribbon panel’s finding that the United States is not on a path to put astronauts on Mars in the 2030s.

As they have for more than a year, committee Republicans complained the Obama administration has deprioritized NASA’s human spaceflight program in favor of climate change research, while Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of hamstringing the whole agency by playing favorites with NASA programs instead of finding more funding for all of them.

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and fellow Republicans seized on the recent congressionally ordered National Research Council (NRC) report, “Pathways to Exploration — Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration,” as proof that NASA’s human spaceflight program is being short-changed by the White House.

“The Obama a…

NASA's chief space technologist says 'we're going to take some risks' to get to Mars

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – NASA's chief space technologist came to one of Wernher von Braun's historic test areas here Tuesday to support NASA teams ready to "take some risks" to get humans to Mars, and he said von Braun would approve.

"He would have said we waited too long" between tests of a new, lighter rocket tank, one Marshall Space Flight Center manager said from the audience, and Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology, nodded in agreement. "We're going to take some risks," Gazarik said.

Gazarik came to Huntsville, where von Braun's team built the Saturn V that took men to the moon, to see a control center built to test a 5-meter diameter rocket fuel tank built of modern composite material. The tank has already had one test, and in two weeks, NASA technicians will fill it with super-cold liquid hydrogen, a key rocket fuel, and move and pull it to simulate launch pressure.

If the tank survives with no l…


NASA is planning on flying what the space agency has described as a “Star Trek” replicator to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Commercial Resupply Services 4 (SpX-4) set to launch this August from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. What is known as a 3-D printer will be sent to the orbiting laboratory in order to test the additive manufacturing process on orbit. This technology cold revolutionize how space travel is conducted.

The 3-D printer, manufactured by Made In Space is currently undergoing a battery of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is hoped that this emerging technology will enable deep space exploration missions with crews as it would mean they would not have to carry various repair parts on their spacecraft. Critical engine components and possibly, one day, larger structures may be produced through this technology.

“Additive manufacturing will revolutionize how we design and exec…

SpaceX IPO Rumors – Real Stock Launch or Science Fiction?

There's no deal on the near-term horizon, but Elon Musk won't have any issues raising money if he ever pulls the trigger

For the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of buzz over the prospects for a public stock offering of SpaceX, a spacefaring venture that makes and launches the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon launch vehicles to transport cargo and deliver satellites for clients including NASA, the US Military and private sector companies.

However, perhaps the reason most people want to see a SpaceX IPO is because it’s one of the many brainchildren of Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, who has consistently made huge returns for stock investors since the late 1990s.

A bit of background: Early in his career, Elon Musk built Zip2, one of the first Internet-based city guides, which he later sold for roughly $340 million in cash and options to Compaq. He then launched and merged it with PayPal, which then became the top player in online payments space and was sold to eBay (EBAY) for $1…

Humans headed to Mars by 2026?

But Earth's neighbor is the future of space exploration — and not just for NASA.

Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, predicted on CNBC last week that landing humans on Mars might not be too far away.

"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10, 12 years," Musk said in the interview. Musk hopes to establish a self-sustaining city on Mars.

University of Central Florida space expert Dale Ketcham said it's probably a bit too optimistic to think any human could be on Mars within a decade.

"Things usually end up costing and taking more time than Mr. Musk anticipates," Ketcham said. "But, he still does a lot better than the government does — up until now."

While SpaceX is targeting the next decade, NASA officials said it will likely take them twice as long for them to get ready for a mission to the red planet.

The National Research Council issued a report recently stating on NASA's current path — noting that it won…

Opinion: We Could Find Life on Another Planet. Do We Have the Will?

The discovery of geysers on Jupiter’s moon Europa has made it easier and cheaper to determine whether life exists there, says Bill Nye. Now the mission needs funding.

Every one of us has wondered if we're alone in the universe. Are there living things elsewhere? Is the Earth the only place we'll ever know that has life? That's the question posed by this month's cover story in National Geographic. It's one I think we can answer, and maybe sooner than you think.

Many of us think of alien life the way it's depicted in science fiction—creatures that look quite a bit like humans in makeup and that all speak English with a non-American accent. These made-up aliens hail from distant star systems. But there's a place right here in our own solar system that may be teeming with life. It's Europa, a moon of Jupiter, one of the four that you can see with an inexpensive telescope, just as Galileo Galilei did.

If you have a telescope and an evening, you can chart th…

SpaceX's Elon Musk: Nasa? 2035? I'll put man on Mars in the next 10 years

Elon Musk has undercut Nasa's projection of landing humans on Mars by 2035, revealing plans to do the same by 2026.

"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he told CNBC. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary."

The rocket tycoon added that he plans to float SpaceX on the stock exchange, but only once its interplanetary mission is underway as right now its goals are too long term to attract many hedge fund managers.

"We need to get where things a steady and predictable," he said. "Maybe we're close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally we've flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense."

The bold claim follows Nasa's pledge to get man to Mars by 2035, but only if it can get help from the rest of the world and secure billions of dol…

NASA's Futuristic Spacesuits Made for Mars Walkers

NASA is thinking hard about what the first boots to set foot on Mars will look like.

Getting astronauts to the Red Planet is the chief long-term goal of the agency's human spaceflight program, so NASA is developing many technologies to help make that happen. For instance, there's the Space Launch System mega-rocket, the Orion crew capsule and a new line of prototype spacesuits called the Z-series.

"We are heading for Mars; that's what is the end goal right now for the suit," said Phil Stampinato of ILC Dover, the Delaware-based company that won NASA contracts to design and build the first two iterations of the Z-series, the Z-1 and Z-2.

"So, everything that's done to develop this suit is headed for a Mars mission, even if there is an asteroid mission or a lunar mission prior to that," Stampinato said during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group on June 4.
A new type of suit NASA astronauts aboard the Internati…

Google & Virgin Galactic may team up for joint space venture

Google wants to bring Internet access to the entire world – and it’s reportedly in talks with Virgin Galactic to help realize that vision.

The Internet giant and the space tourism company are mulling a major partnership that would see Google pour hundreds of millions into a joint venture, with Virgin Galactic providing tech it developed for its space tourism business, reports Sky News. The deal would also involve Google plunking down around $30 million in return for a roughly 1.5% stake in the Virgin Galactic holding company, according to an unnamed source “close to Google,” who told Sky News the investment could value Virgin Galactic at as much as $2 billion.

The two companies have reportedly been talking about the alliance for months. The discussions are said to be at “an advanced stage,” though Google and Virgin Galactic have yet to finalize the terms of the deal.

Reports suggest Google plans to lace the sky with at least 180 net-providing satellites that would enable folks in …

Dream Chaser Space Plane Prototype to Fly Again in 2014

A protoype of a space plane being developed to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station will take to the skies again later this year.

The prototype of Sierra NevadaCorp.'s Dream Chaser vehicle has already been through some drop tests and a free flight in 2013, which ended when the Dream Chaser skidded off the runway. The new series of flights will include several automated ones, followed by piloted trips, said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s space systems division.

The reusable astronaut taxi is one of three designs competing for NASA dollars in the space agency's Commercial Crew Program. The initiative aims to create a viable United States spacecraft that could ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. At the moment, Russian Soyuz vehicles are the only spacecraft that can deliver astronauts into orbit


NASA's real life Enterprise concept may take us to the stars one day

Dr. Harold "Sonny" White is still working on a warp drive at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Their work is still in the experimental stages but that doesn't mean they can't imagine already what the real life Enterprise ship can look like. You're looking at it right now.

This is the starship that may take us where no human has gone before. And it has me screaming like a little Klingon girl.

Concept 3D artist Mark Rademaker told io9 that "he worked with White to create the updated model, which includes a sleek ship nestled at the center of two enormous rings, which create the warp bubble." The updated model is the one you can see above, a variation of the original concept which, according to Dr. White, was rendered by Rademaker based on an idea by Matthew Jeffries, the guy who came with "the familiar Star Trek look." This is the original warp drive spaceship concept:

Dr. White—whose daily life is working in future propulsion solutions for i…


NASA’s Warp Drive Project: “Speeds” that Could Take a Spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in Two Weeks — Even Though the System is 4.3 Light-Years Away.

A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive.

His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating.

The idea came to White while he was considering a rather remarkable equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. In his 1994 paper titled, “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity,”

Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be “warped” both in front of and behind a spacecraft.

Michio Kaku dubbed Alcubierre’s notion a “passport to the universe.” It takes advantage of a quirk in the cosmological code that a…

A New Look at Cooperation on the Chinese Space Station

Within the past decade, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has experienced a steady progression of technology resulting in prestigious accomplishments for its manned space program. To reassure the world of its benign rise, China is seeking collaboration in the exploration and utilization of outer space. Its future space station, for example, is being advertised as an international collaborative project on an unprecedented scale for China. If the Chinese Space Station (CSS) endeavor can be effectively managed by China’s leadership as a platform for international cooperation and global leadership, then CSS can achieve subsidiary benefits for the PRC in domestic and foreign policy. However, inviting international partners in the process of constructing and operating a space station presents an expansively demanding policy problem. China must determine if there are tangible benefits associated with different scales and scopes of space station cooperation. The key policy problem is fin…

SpaceX Aims for Mars with Reusable Rockets, Spaceships

As SpaceX's Dragon capsule descended toward Earth, it was clear this landing was going to be different than previous ones.

Instead of falling toward the ocean and deploying parachutes — as SpaceX capsules have done several times after completing robotic cargo runs to the International Space Station for NASA — this Dragon spaceship was aiming for land. It fired its SuperDraco engines, extended four legs and made a pinpoint touchdown on a concrete landing pad not far from where it was launched into space.

"That is how a 21st century spaceship should land," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told a cheering crowd of employees and VIPs late late month as the landing — which was an animation, not an actual event — ended on two large video screens.

Musk had just unveiled the first crewed version of SpaceX's spacecraft, known as Dragon V2, at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. The invitation-only event gave attendees — and thousands watching online — a view of…

Kepler Returns! Exoplanet Mission Makes New Discoveries

A year after being sidelined by a positioning system failure, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is back at work on a new and expanded mission called K2.

Astronomers confirm an additional 715 planets outside our solar system, and find water vapor in the atmosphere of a nearby planet! Join Trace as he discusses these findings, and what they mean for the future of space exploration. The telescope was launched in 2009 to find Earth-sized planets suitably positioned from their parent stars to support liquid water on their surfaces, a condition believed to be necessary for life. Analysis for a true Earth analog -- one that circles a sun-like star -- is still under way, but scientists already have added 974 confirmations and 3,846 candidates to the list of nearly 1,800 planets discovered beyond the solar system.

The telescope works by capturing slight changes in the amount of light coming from about 150,000 target stars, some of which were caused by orbiting planets passing by, …

How Innovation Will Get U.S. to Mars 2020

Following the magnificent success of the complex sky crane system that delivered Curiosity to Mars in August 2012, and the rover's successes since then, NASA is working briskly on plans for another Curiosity-class Mars rover to visit the red planet, it is hoped, during the 2020 launch opportunity.

Functionally, the 2020 rover is a virtual clone of Curiosity . It will even utilize the backup nuclear power source from Curiosity (one of the few left in the U.S. inventory). This results in over a billion dollars in estimated cost savings by reducing development costs. Yet, despite this reliance on current technology, engineers will need to innovate many new designs for this mission to be successful.

First, there is the mission itself. Once the 2004 Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) Spirit and Opportunity confirmed the evidence of a wet Mars in the distant past (tantalizing promises came from both from orbit and by Pathfinder in 1997), Curiosity's purpose was confirmed as an astrob…