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Showing posts from August, 2014

'Beam Me to Mars' Lets You Send Martian Messages to Fund Space Exploration

You may never set foot on Mars, but your words and pictures could land there later this year.

The space-funding company Uwingu launched its "Beam Me to Mars" project today (Aug. 19), inviting people to contribute, for a fee, to a "digital shout-out" that will send messages from Earth to the Red Planet on Nov. 28 — the 50th anniversary of Mars exploration. (The messages won't be read or recorded by anyone on Mars, of course, but they'll be archived here on Earth, and participants will receive a commemorative certificate.)

The first successful Mars mission, NASA's Mariner 4, launched on Nov. 28, 1964. "Beam Me to Mars" celebrates that landmark effort in a new and original way, Uwingu representatives said.

"We want it to inspire people," said Uwingu CEO Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and former NASA science chief. "There has never been an opportunity before for people of Earth to shout out across the solar system their hopes…

TO REPLACE THE SHUTTLE, A NEW SPACE RACE

For the first time in a generation American astronauts will fly into space aboard a new spacecraft beginning in 2017.

But it won’t be a NASA spacecraft. Instead three private space companies are competing to design and build it under a NASA contract.

When NASA announces the winner or winners in a few weeks, it will mark the start of a new era in human space flight.

“Of course this is going to be different. It’s not going to be the space shuttle. You see that it doesn’t have the interior volume. It doesn’t have the space. It doesn’t have the capability for 50,000 pounds of cargo.”

Boeing’s CST-100 is a compact car of a spacecraft compared with the space truck that was the shuttle. It’s a cone-shaped spacecraft, like a sleek, new Apollo capsule.

It can carry seven astronauts or a combination of astronauts and a small amount of cargo to the International Space Station. But it’s a snug fit. The crew will sit stacked in two rows, the top astronauts’ feet in dangling in the faces of th…

Alternative propulsion concepts power debate

There are topics in the space field that inflame passionate debate like few others. Bring up SpaceX, for example, and expect to see a phalanx of fans of the space transportation company square off against a cadre of its critics. Discussion of NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift booster, for example, frequently ends up in arguments on whether the vehicle is an essential element of any deep space exploration plans, or a pork barrel project. Middle ground is hard to come by; it is, after all, in the crossfire.

Another topic that, perhaps more surprisingly, also generates polarized debate is work on alternative propulsion systems. These efforts, done on the fringes of the research community, seek to exploit aspects of physics that may seem counterintuitive or simply incomprehensive to the average person to permit radical advances in space transportation. When a new development in this area is announced, as was the case a few weeks ago, some people embrace it without reservation as a br…

U.S. Astronaut Leroy Chiao: America Should Embrace China For Mars Missions

Chinese-American astronaut Leroy Chiao is a bit of a contrarian. He advocates embracing China, rather than shunning it, in the new space race to Mars . He also says America’s relationship with Russia on travel to the International Space Station (ISS ), despite recent turmoil in Ukraine, is a good thing for both countries.

Chiao was born in 1960 to Chinese parents who had migrated to the U.S. and knows his stuff. He flew in space four times, three on the Shuttle and one on a Soyuz rocket. He holds a B.S. from the University of California at Berkeley, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara in chemical engineering.

JC: Should America get China involved with ISS and sending humans to Mars?

LC: China is the only entity other than Russia that can launch astronauts into space now. I’ve been an advocate for years of bringing China into the ISS program just so we have another way of getting crew and cargo there in case of a problem with Russia’s spacecraft.…

3 commercial companies compete in new space race

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Boeing, Space X and Sierra Nevada battle for the prize KENNEDY SPACE CENTER - During the space shuttle's last flight three summers ago visitors crammed the NASA Causeway to glimpse a final, majestic launch. But this June, as sunshine dappled the waters below, the bridge stood nearly empty.

As NASA considers what company will build a replacement for the space shuttle, which the space agency needs to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station and end an uncomfortable dependence upon Russia, one of the three competitors is offering more than just a spacecraft.

Boeing has put jobs on the table, too, saying it will build its CST-100 spacecraft at NASA's Florida space center, where the launch crowds could return as soon as 2017.

Boeing's insider style differs markedly from that of another competitor, SpaceX, an upstart that has taken an outsider's approach, preferring to build its spacecraft in-house. The final bidder, Sierra Nevada, is somewhere in betw…

No Case for a U.S.-China Space Race

You may have seen recent headlines that read, “China Has U.S. in a Space Race” and “Will China Restart the Space Race?” Of course, the term “space race” is a tagline to any competitive space story these days, from the “space race” between private companies to reviving the “space race” between the United States and Russia. No doubt it’s a catchy headline, hence why I used it here.

However, most of these race analogies fail to establish a clear finish line between the competitors in question.

On the topic of China, such headlines and articles sometimes invoke thoughts of American astronauts landing on Mars only to find a Chinese flag firmly planted on the surface, without any proper context of China’s current space programs. These articles tend to play upon the memories of the 1960s, when Americans were anxiously left wondering what the Soviet Union’s Politburo with its mysterious “Chief Designer” would launch next over their heads.

Certainly, there are very legitimate concerns in …

Space Travel Will Be Easier and Less Costly With 3-D Printers

Three-dimensional printing — or “additive manufacturing” — holds profound implications for the space industry. It’s the process of making an item by adding material in successive layers. Instead of ink, a variety of materials — from plastics to titanium — are used to create three-dimensional objects.

While building the Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam) for the James Webb Space Telescope, my colleagues and I found immediate advantages in using this technology. On spacecraft, the size, weight and fit of parts have a huge impact on performance. We used low-cost 3-D printers to develop rapid prototypes, which allowed us to go through many design iterations in days, not weeks or months.

We recently made titanium parts for ground support of flight hardware with additive manufacturing, quickly going from 3-D computer models and titanium powder to completed form in just a few hours. This is just the beginning, though. We’re at the cusp of a new age of manufacturing.

Lockheed Martin is already…

‘In 500 Yrs, Mars Will be Earth’s Colony’

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BANGALORE: Space scientist Udupi Ramachandra Rao noted that man may have to colonise Mars 500 years from now owing to depletion of resources on Earth.

Prof Rao, a former chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation now heading its physical research laboratory’s governing council, was speaking at the launch of the second phase of the Student Satellite Training Programme (STUDSAT-2) at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology in Yelahanka on Thursday.

“Thanks to the fast depletion of the natural resources, it is inevitable to look beyond outer space for survival of mankind. In the next 500 years, Mars is going to be Earth’s colony,” Prof Rao surmised in his address.

The STUDSAT is a unique satellite technology endeavor undertaken by Indian undergraduate students.

It is the first Pico-Satellite launched by India and led by Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology under ISRO’s guidance. ISRO is training engineering students to design, develop and fabricate a communication sate…

10 questions about Nasa's 'impossible' space drive answered

Wired.co.uk's piece last week about Nasa's test of a new type of space drive triggered a tsunami of responses online. Many were understandably sceptical, others were unsure how it would advance space travel. In fact, the paper produced on the day gave much more detail than the advance abstract we linked to then. The actual paper reveals details of tests in early 2014 as well as those in summer 2013 -- and the results are even more astounding.

Here we answer many of your questions, quibbles and criticisms.

1. Isn't such a tiny force likely to be experimental error?

The equipment can measure forces of less than ten micronewtons, and the thrust was several times that high.

The test rig is carefully designed to remove any possible sources of error. Even the lapping of waves in the Gulf of Mexico 25 miles away every three to four seconds would have showed up on the sensors, so the apparatus was floated pneumatically to avoid any influence. The apparatus is completely sealed, …

Printing the Metals of the Future

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3-D printers can create all kinds of things, from eyeglasses to implantable medical devices, straight from a computer model and without the need for molds. But for making spacecraft, engineers sometimes need custom parts that traditional manufacturing techniques and standard 3-D printers can't create, because they need to have the properties of multiple metals. Now, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are implementing a printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.

"You can have a continuous transition from alloy to alloy to alloy, and you can study a wide range of potential alloys," said R. Peter Dillon, a technologist at JPL. "We think it's going to change materials research in the future."
B Although gradient alloys have been created in the past in research and development settings, this is the first time these composite materials have been used in making objects, such…

Mars or bust: the new space race to put humans on the red planet

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Two years ago tomorrow, a nuclear-powered rover, the size of an SUV and weighing almost a tonne, was lowered onto the surface of Mars. Touching down ever so gently, Nasa’s Curiosity landed with an almighty roar.

It sent a message to the world that a new space race – a race to eventually set foot on Mars – was well under way.
There are still many years, many missions, many things to try, fail and try again before Nasa completes this race. And the costs are likely to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. But the Curiosity mission represented a crucial stepping-stone towards Nasa’s eventual goal of a manned mission to Mars in 2035.

It is, however, not alone in its ambition. The last time Nasa raced to space, its rival was the former Soviet Union – a giant superpower competing for political and military superiority in the cold battlefield of space.

This time the competitors are a lot smaller but no less tenacious. Over the past few years a diverse and eclectic group of nonprofit…

‘Impossible’ space drive tested by NASA foretells future of deep-space travel

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NASA has conducted long-awaited experiments to prove that the fabled space drive, capable of generating its own thrust and breaking a fundamental law of physics, works. If the find survives fresh scrutiny, space ship construction will be revolutionized.

The drive’s creator, British scientist Roger Shawyer, has been facing criticism since his 2006 claims, based on the premise that thrust can be created without huge thrusters, instead using electricity to direct microwaves inside a special container.

Shawyer’s company, SPR Ltd., writes that it has “demonstrated a remarkable new space propulsion technology. [It] has successfully tested both an experimental thruster and a demonstrator engine which use patented microwave technology to convert electrical energy directly into thrust. No propellant is used in the conversion process. Thrust is produced by the amplification of the radiation pressure of an electromagnetic wave propagated through a resonant waveguide assembly.”

In short, if t…

Oxygen-Generating Mars Rover to Bring Colonization Closer

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NASA's next Mars rover could help humans get a foothold on the Red Planet.

Most of the seven instruments for the six-wheeled robot, which is scheduled to launch toward Mars in 2020, are designed to help scientists identify and sample rocks that may harbor evidence of past Mars life, NASA officials announced Thursday (July 31). The rover will cache such samples for a potential return to Earth in the future.

But one instrument aboard the 2020 Mars rover will generate oxygen from the Red Planet's atmosphere, demonstrating technology that could both keep astronauts alive on Mars and help them launch into space when it's time to go home.

"This is a real step forward in helping future human exploration of Mars by being able to produce your oxygen on the surface of Mars," Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., told reporters Thursday.

Breathable air and rocket fuel

The instrument is known as MOXIE (…

NASA's New Spacecraft Will Have A Star Trek-Like Cockpit

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The new Enterprise bridge on Star Trek: TNG replaced buttons and switches with backlit touch panels. This "prophetic" technology was created because production designers didn't have the budget to create and install individually lighted buttons. But, aboard the Orion spacecraft, sci-fi has once again become sci-fact.

An article in the August issue of Air & Space magazine takes readers on a technological tour of NASA's next generation spacecraft, emphasizing the lessons learned from previous designs, including the shuttle. One of the most significant changes is the cockpit. Prior to the debut of touchscreen interfaces on TNG, the article notes, we had come to associate space travel, at least in science fiction, with complex operating environments: astronauts surrounded by banks of switches and indicator lights:

In the 1979 Alien, a visit to "Mother," the operating system of the Nostromo, entails sitting in a capsule-like room, entirely enveloped in a v…