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Showing posts from September, 2016

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils grandiose plan to colonize Mars

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In a long-awaited presentation Tuesday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled a grandiose, long-range plan for building reusable super boosters and huge spaceships to eventually carry tens of thousands of people to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system with the eventual goal of building self-sustaining colonies.

Mars is, of course, the near-term target, with SpaceX launching an upgraded Dragon spacecraft to the red planet in 2018, an unpiloted mission to gain flight experience while designing, building and testing the more advanced boosters, spacecraft and subsystems needed for his Interplanetary Transport System.

The ultimate goal is a gargantuan 400-foot-tall rocket that would boost large crew capsules into low-Earth orbit that would then be fueled for the voyage to Mars by the same reusable rocket carrying up unpiloted propellant tankers.

The cost of sending an astronaut to Mars using the Apollo moon mission architecture in today’s dollars would be around $10 billion per ticket, Musk…

Senate approves $19.5 billion NASA budget for Mars missions, new space ship development

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Presidential elections can often be a scary time (some more than others), but it’s an especially trying time for agencies like NASA. Thankfully, it seems the plan for Mars will keep moving ahead (even if that plan could use a few course corrections along the way).

For the U.S. space agency to pull off a set of missions, it takes years and sometimes decades of planning — and that requires consistent funding to keep the process moving. But when an election rolls around, a new president can sometimes change the focus and scrap existing projects (much like what happened when President Obama axed the Constellation program that would’ve sent astronauts back to the moon, which certainly wasn’t a bad idea). So now NASA has spent the better part of a decade working on a plan to get us to Mars — and a Senate panel just voted to fund that initiative regardless of who is in the White House.

USA Today reports members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill a…

SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

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Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species -- Announcement 09/27/16 2:30 PM EDT

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SpaceX still on course for a manned mission to Mars ‘in 10 years, maybe sooner’

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Despite the tough challenges currently facing his SpaceX company, Elon Musk has made clear that he’s as determined as ever to get humans on Mars in the next 10 years.

“I’m certain that success is one of the possible outcomes for establishing a self-sustaining Mars colony, a growing Mars colony,” the SpaceX chief said in a recent interview with Y Combinator, adding that up until just a few years ago he wouldn’t have been able to make the same claim.

Musk said that getting “a meaningful number of people” to Mars “can be accomplished in about 10 years, maybe sooner, maybe nine years.”

He first mooted the idea of a manned mission to Mars by 2026 at an event at the start of the year.

“Do we want a future where we are forever confined to one planet until some eventual extinction event, however far in the future that might occur?” Musk said at the tech gathering in Hong Kong. “Or do we want to become a multi-fantasy species and then ultimately be out there among the stars, and be among many…

MUSK LOOKS CONFIDENTLY PAST MARS WITH INTERPLANETARY TRANSPORT SYSTEM

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For Elon Musk, it’s always been about Mars. Musk, and his company SpaceX, haven’t always been explicit about how exactly they’ll get to Mars. But SpaceX’s fourteen years of effort in rocketry have been aimed at getting people into space cheaper, and getting people to Mars.

Musk has revealed hints along the way. One of the boldest was his statement at Code Conference 2016. At that conference he said, “I think, if things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024, with arrival in 2025.”

He went on to explain it this way: “The basic game plan is we’re going to send a mission to Mars with every Mars opportunity from 2018 onwards. They occur approximately every 26 months. We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on for cargo.”

Those comments certainly removed any lingering doubt that Mars is the goal.

But a recent Tweet from Musk has us wondering if Mars will just be a stepping stone to more distant destinations in our Solar System. On S…

Here Is Why We Need to Leave Earth According to NASA's Leading Scientist

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Alan Stern is a scientist at NASA, but he’s not just any NASA scientist. He’s the man who (literally) provided us views of a completely different world in our system. He is head of the New Horizon’s mission to Pluto, Stern brought some stunning views and information about Pluto to humanity and he is the guy who gave us our first genuine image of everyone’s favorite former planet.
The New Horizons spacecraft covered 3 billion miles in a decade (which is more than any space mission in history) to approach its target. But why travel all that way?

Obviously, everyone likes seeing comprehensive images of space, but at 3 billion miles, and with more than 10 years of work, is it actually worth the trip? This is a question that commonly gets asked in relative to space exploration–given all the tough probelms here on Earth, wouldn’t it make logic to stay a little closer to home and participate in things that noticeably improve our Pale Blue Dot?

Lately, Alan Stern answered these questions. At…

See How Blue Origin's Next Spaceflight Test Will Work

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The private spaceflight company Blue Origin plans to launch a crucial abort test of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle next month, and you can get a sneak peek at the action in a new video animation.

Blue Origin, which is run by billionaire Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, plans to see how the New Shepard system would respond to a launch emergency during the uncrewed test, which Bezos said should happen in the first half of October. The new Blue Origin abort video shows viewers how that abort system works.

"A solid rocket motor fires for 2 seconds, quickly separating the crew capsule away from the booster," the video's narrator says. "Once away, the capsule enters a standard descent profile, deploying drogue and main parachutes before coasting down to a landing."

The New Shepard suborbital spaceflight system consists of a rocket and capsule, both of which are reusable. Indeed, the same New Shepard booster has launched and landed during uncrewed test flights four…

Blue Origin's Huge New Rocket Heats Up Billionaire Space Rivalry

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The competition between billionaire space entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos has reached new heights.

On Monday (Sept. 12), Bezos announced that his company Blue Origin is developing a family of heavy-lift rockets known as New Glenn, after John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. With a maximum height of 313 feet (95 meters), New Glenn will be taller than the 230-foot (70 m) Falcon Heavy, which Musk's SpaceX is building.

The Falcon Heavy will be more powerful, however, generating 5.1 million pounds of thrust, compared to New Glenn's 3.85 million pounds.

The first stages of the Falcon Heavy (including the two strap-on boosters, which will be derived from Falcon 9 first stages) and New Glenn will be reusable, in keeping with the priorities of SpaceX and Blue Origin; both companies aim to slash the cost of spaceflight by landing and reflying their rockets multiple times.

The two companies' parallel efforts to develop this technology spawned a minisquabble betwe…

XPrize’s Peter Diamandis: ‘We’re Gonna be a Multi-Planetary Species’

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Engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis grew up in the 1960s, and his life and career were shaped by two of the biggest space-related milestones of that decade: the debut of Star Trek in 1966 and the 1969 moon landing.

“I was a fanatical Star Trek fan, and the moon landing was this epic journey that happened during my most formative years,” Diamandis told the Observer. “It was a one-two punch that really changed the course of my life.”

Julian Guthrie details Diamandis’ quest to democratize spaceflight using a $10 million contest called the XPRIZE in her forthcoming book, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race and the Birth of Private Spaceflight.
Guthrie initially wrote a profile of Diamandis for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she worked for 20 years. But she soon realized that his story, as well as the field of private spaceflight, deserved a book-length exploration.

“I was looking for my next grand adventure and thought this was a wonderful one,” Guthrie t…

Kepler confirms three worlds 40 light-years away are Earth-sized

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The TRAPPIST-1 star system houses three planets, which have now been confirmed to be Earth-sized and possibly rocky.
Key Points The Kepler telescope has proved that three promising planets around the star TRAPPIST-1 are Earth-sized.These worlds 40 light-years away may be rocky like Earth, and at least one is in the habitable zone.
When it comes to exoplanets, astronomers have realized that they only know the properties of the planets they discover as well as they know the properties of the stars being orbited. For a planet's size, precisely characterizing the host star can mean the difference in our understanding of whether a distant world is small like Earth or huge like Jupiter.
For astronomers to determine the size of an exoplanet—planets outside the solar system—depends critically on knowing not only the radius of its host star but also whether that star is single or has a close companion. Consider that about half of the stars in the sky are not one but two stars orbiting arou…

China is about to launch its second experimental space lab and another manned space mission

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will launch its second experimental space laboratory late on Thursday and another manned space mission next month, the government said, part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.

Advancing China's space program is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power, and apart from its civilian ambitions, Beijing has tested anti-satellite missiles.

China insists its space program is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted its increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.

In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with an experimental space laboratory, the Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace".

China will launch the Tiangong 2 just after 10 p.m. (0200 GMT) on Thursday, a space pr…

Yes, We Can Build Industry in Space—And We Should Start Now

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A former NASA scientist says we have everything we need to mine and manufacture in the stars.

In a lengthy proposal released last week, former NASA researcher and current University of Central Florida professor Dr. Phil Metzger argues that the development of a mining and manufacturing supply chain in space is both plausible and beneficial. Metzger, whose work at NASA included developing Lunar and Martian architecture, writes that offworld manufacturing would benefit the economy, the environment, and science.

“The main challenge for this concept,” he writes, “is neither technology nor cost but simply convincing people it is realistic.”

Metzger describes a three-stage path to what he calls a Self-sufficient Replicating Space Industry, or SRSI, in which largely robotic mining operations would extract resources that would be transformed into useful goods in offworld robotic manufacturing facilities. The Moon and nearby asteroids contain hydrogen, carbon, silicon, metals, and other materia…

Genesis Project Proposes Seeding Earth-Like Planets, Possibly Creating Alien Life

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The search for alien life seems to be an impatient one. There have been discussions that perhaps humans are just late to the party, or perhaps much too early. Whether alien life is extinct or yet to appear, humans might not want to wait around for either answer. They might want to go ahead and create alien life by seeding distant planets. It’s either brilliant, or the setup of another Lovecraftian horror movie. Or it’s simply the Genesis Project.

Proposed in an essay in Astrophysics and Space Science by theoretical physicist Claudius Gros of Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, the Genesis Project would send A.I. probes loaded with microbes to Earth-like planets. There are Earth-like planets out there, why not accept our hubris in wanting to populate them?

The purpose would be simple, albeit based on science fiction theory. The A.I. would deposit the microbes on the planet and hopefully millions of years later they’d evolve into multi-cellular organisms and eventually advanced for…

Blue Origin to follow suborbital New Shepard with orbital New Glenn

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PARIS — Jeff Bezos announced Sept. 1 that Blue Origin is developing a family of orbital rockets it’s calling New Glenn.

Both the two-stage and three-stage versions of the rocket would stand taller than the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy and SpaceX Falcon Heavy, according to the infographic the Blue Origin and Amazon.com founder tweeted.

Both New Glenn 2 and New Glenn 3 would be powered by a cluster of  seven liquid-natural-gas-fueled BE-4 engines of the sort the Kent, Washington-based company is currently developing for United Launch Alliance’s planned Vulcan semi-reusable rocket.

“Building, flying, landing, and re-flying New Shepard has taught us so much about how to design for practical, operable reusability,” Bezos wrote in a Sept. 12 email. “And New Glenn incorporates all of those learnings.”

“Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter and lifts off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust from seven BE-4 engines. Burning liq…

Star Trek's Warp Drive Might Become A Reality

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Most of us alive today have never known a world where human spaceflight didn’t exist. Yet before we walked on the Moon, had an International Space Station, sent spacecraft to all the planets and even out of the Solar System, we had Star Trek, which brought even bigger dreams into the public consciousness. Instead of rocket fuel, our ships were powered by antimatter technology. Instead of reaching for the nearest worlds in our own Solar System, we arrived at new planets around distant stars. And instead of breaking the sound barrier, we traveled distances of light years in mere days. While Star Trek brought us a great many technological advances — and possibilities for what humanity can be as a civilization — perhaps it was the invention of warp drive, which itself enabled us to trek to the stars, that was the most groundbreaking of all.

Since even before the inception of Star Trek, the need to defeat the speed of light seems to be a necessity for human space exploration. Given that e…

The 'Earth next door' may have a cozy atmosphere — and we could find out in just 2 years

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The funny thing about the discovery of Proxima b — the closest planet to our solar system, which is also rocky, Earth-size, and potentially habitable — is that nobody has actually seen it.

Astronomers know it exists because they've seen its gravity tug on and "wiggle" Proxima Centauri, the red dwarf star that it orbits.

But no telescopes in space or on the ground, nor any in serious stages of planning, can directly photograph Proxima b.

It's very distant at 4.2 light-years away from us. Also, its "year" lasts only 11.2 days — an orbit too tight to pick out a planet from the blinding glare of a star.

However, a photograph isn't necessary to ask the most important question about Proxima b, a world that Scientific American has (optimistically) deemed "the Earth next door": Does it have an atmosphere, or is it an airless, barren wasteland like the Moon?

Two researchers at Harvard believe that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), schedule…

Could a 'Star Trek'-Like Genesis Device Transform Alien Worlds?

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A theoretical project could help to turn marginally habitable planets into rich environments capable of hosting microbes, a new paper argues. The project is reminiscent of a fictional machine called "the Genesis Device," which appeared in two 1980s "Star Trek" films, but the author told Space.com that the resemblance is mostly coincidental.

In the film "The Wrath of Khan" (1982), the Genesis Device was accidentally deployed and created a whole new planet in a time span of just days or weeks. The real-world device would be used to plant terrestrial lifeforms on an existing planet that has some of the ingredients of habitability, but not all of them.

An idea for a sort-of real-world version of that fictional device, called the Genesis project, is described in a new paper by Claudius Gros, a professor who studies complex system theory and simulated robotics at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany.

In the new paper, Gros argues that it would be possible to…

How NASA Is Making 'Star Trek' Tech a Reality

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"Star Trek" technologies are starting to become a reality in our everyday lives; just ask anyone who owns a cellphone or tries a virtual reality headset. But how real are these "Star Trek" technologies in space today, 50 years after the iconic science fiction series' TV debut? While the tech for warp drives and transporters remains elusive, NASA is using some technology in space that would be at home on the starship Enterprise.

Five-year mission planning

One key way NASA is emulating "Star Trek" is by finding ways for humans to spend years in space without requiring constant resupply missions from Earth, said Jason Crusan, NASA's director for advanced exploration systems. This means using the International Space Station as a test bed for technology that can extend an astronaut's stay in space and thus could be used one day on the long journey to Mars.

Space station astronauts already drink water mostly recovered from urine, but NASA wants to p…