Showing posts from January, 2017

Seeking Alpha Centauri Planets, Researchers Welcome Multiple Efforts

It's always an exciting time to be involved in space exploration, and 2017 has already proved to be no exception. At Project Blue, we're on a mission to find and photograph an Earth-like planet around Alpha Centauri — and as you probably saw in the news recently, we're not the only ones with that ambitious goal. Breakthrough Initiative, a private organization aimed at looking for other life, announced it also wants to search for planets in Earth's neighboring star system, and that group will tap the best telescopic technology in Chile in hopes of doing so.

You might wonder how this affects plans at Project Blue, or why Breakthrough Starshot is using infrared instead of visible-light imaging. The answer is that we have so much to learn about the Alpha Centauri system, which is Earth's closest neighbor in space, and different imaging techniques can reveal different things.

Breakthrough Starshot plans to use ground-based telescopes imaging in thermal infrared (detect…

Private Space Station Coming Soon? Company Aiming for 2020 Launch

Work is underway to establish the world's first private, international commercial space station, a complex that would serve a global community of sovereign and private astronauts.

The builders of the Axiom International Commercial Space Station aim to enlarge the landscape of low-Earth orbit, to create what they view as a "historic shift" in human spaceflight.

Making a space outpost available to nations, organizations and individuals could help make living and working in Earth orbit commonplace and support the exploration of deep space, Axiom representatives said.

A busy 2017

Amir Blachman, vice president of strategic development for Houston-based Axiom Space, said the company is shaping its plans to build the International Space Station's (ISS) international, privately owned successor.

The goals are to build an orbiting outpost that will host government agency astronauts, private companies and individuals for research, manufacturing and space exploration systems te…

Spaceworks may have a real-world stasis chamber for space travel by 2018

A process traditionally used to treat cardiac arrest or traumatic brain injury is now showing promise as a possible method to enable long-term space travel through hibernation. Behind this effort is John A. Bradford, president of Spaceworks, and making this a reality is much closer than you might think.

Doctors refer to this strategy as something called “therapeutic hypothermia.” Essentially, the body is cooled slowly to a temperature between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius (normal body temperature is 37C). This will slow down both heart rate and blood pressure, giving doctors additional time to work on serious health issues.

The patient stays in stasis for about 2-4 days, although the technique has worked for as long as two weeks without any measurable harm. There’s evidence that even longer periods of stasis may be possible: a Japanese man once survived 24 days in a hypothermic state after a fall off a mountain ledge in Japan.

Bradford hopes through additional work to extend the safe per…

A New Space Race Kicks Off Between the US and China Thanks to EmDrive

The EmDrive is a controversial space propulsion engine technology that is supposed to be able to function without any form of rocket fuel and get astronomers into space much quicker than anything ever has before. But, for obvious reasons, it has received much criticism and scepticism along the way. However, China has just announced that they’re busy carrying out tests using the EmDrive, so it appears not everyone is against the idea.

After funding researchers for five years, testing is finally being carried out aboard China’s Tiangong-2 space station. The way in which the spacecraft works is by releasing microwaves into a cone-shaped engine that allows it to thrust forwards like a propulsion system. The man responsible for the acceleration of the EmDrive technology is Roger Shawyer, when in 1999 he claimed that the EmDrive technology would allow astronomers to reach Mars in just 70 days, opposed to the three or fours months it would normally take.

But, China isn’t the only one lookin…

NASA Touches Down at Super Bowl Festival

It's almost time for the 2017 Super Bowl, and visitors to the game's host city of Houston should make their way to Discovery Green in the city's downtown starting tomorrow (Jan. 28). There, they'll find a very special space-centric experience.

Houston is, of course, home to NASA headquarters at the Johnson Space Center, so it was fitting that NASA and various private spaceflight companies should contribute to Super Bowl Live, the nine-day festival starting Saturday (Jan. 28) that will lead up to the big game. The primary attraction of the festival is a Mars-themed ride called "Future Flight," which takes riders on a trip to Mars and back using virtual reality goggles on a 90-foot (27 meters) drop-tower ride.

In general, the mix of space and football will be strong in Houston this coming week. Meanwhile, up on the space station, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson volunteered to let two of her crewmates throw her like a football, demonstrating the joys of microgravi…

An Asteroid Possibly Worth $10,000 Quadrillion Is NASA's New Mission

The hulking celestial body is believed to be composed almost entirely of metal.

Forget the Mars, Jupiter and Milky Way missions. NASA is now setting its sights on an asteroid, and it's not just any asteroid.

It's called 16 Psyche and is believed to be made almost entirely of nickel and iron.

Most asteroids are made up of rock or ice. So researchers think this trip to Psyche could help us learn more about Earth's core, which is also thought to be composed of similar metals.

NASA also wants to know if Psyche is actually a core of an early planet that could have broken off billions of years ago.

Currently, the asteroid is the only place known to researchers where they could study what's believed to be an exposed metallic core without having to dig like they would to reach the Earth's.

The space program is teaming up with researchers from Arizona State University for the robotic mission, which will launch in 2023.

Right now, there aren't any plans to mine or land …

SpaceX to Christen Mars Mission Launch Pad With Back to Back Missions

SpaceX’s new launch pad was once used to send the first humans to the Moon.

Elon Musk has grandiose plans for landing the first humans on Mars. That plan includes the time-tested Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, where the Apollo 11 mission lifted off the launch pad carrying humanity’s first Moon walkers. SpaceX leased the pad from NASA and has completed renovating the site to accommodate its Falcon 9 rocket and upcoming Falcon Heavy deep space launch vehicle.
The Hawthorne, California-based commercial launch provider, founded by Musk in 2002, intends to use LC-39A for the first time on February 3rd for the launch of the privately owned Echostar 23 communications satellite, which will ride atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. That mission will be followed by a NASA-contracted cargo run a couple of weeks later in which SpaceX will send its Dragon capsule spacecraft to the International Space Station filled with supplies and scientific instruments.
According to early concepts presen…

NASA resumes JWST vibration testing

Vibration testing on the James Webb Space Telescope, the multibillion-dollar successor to Hubble, has resumed after engineers traced a problem that cropped up last month to a restraint holding part of the observatory’s giant segmented mirror in place for launch.

The quick diagnosis keeps JWST on track for launch in October 2018, and engineers still have several months of time reserved in the schedule leading up to launch late next year to handle any more unexpected problems.

In a status report posted to the JWST web site this week, NASA said numerous tests and analysis of data and modeling led engineers to attribute an anomaly during vibration testing Dec. 3 to “gapping,” or extremely small motions, in a launch restraint mechanism holding back the wings of the telescope’s primary mirror, which are folded and stowed to fit inside the rocket for liftoff, then unfurl once the observatory is in space.

Eric Smith, JWST’s program director at NASA Headquarters, said in an interview last mon…

Boeing unveils new, blue spacesuits

Soon those bulky, orange spacesuits will be collecting dust in the back of astronauts' closets.

On Wednesday Boeing unveiled a new, sleeker, flexible version that will bring modern design to space travel. "It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it's simpler, which is always a good thing," said astronaut Eric Boe. "Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this."

The new, blue suit weighs only 20 pounds, that's 10 pounds less then the launch-and-entry suits astronauts wear today. Other features include: touchscreen-sensitive gloves; visor and helmet incorporated in the suit and more flexibility in the elbows and knees to allow more freedom of movement.
Vents in the suit allow water vapor to escape out of the suit but keep air inside. This makes the suit cooler for the wearer, but will not impact safety.
The suits are designed specifically for the Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, which will fly astrona…

China Setting Pace for Space Explorations

China's growing appetite for space explorations is more pronounced than ever as the nation announced its plans to conduct a total of 30 mission launches this year, according to an article by The Atlantic. If the target is reached, it would be a glorious moment for China.

In 2016 alone, China was able to conduct 21 successful mission launches, placing the nation in second place after the U.S. (22 launches) and just ahead of Russia (16 launches).

And it doesn't stop there. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) recently released a policy paper that outlines the nation's plans for space exploration in the next five years.

Aside from the slated 2017 launch of China's first cargo spacecraft, CNSA also plans to send the first rover to the far side of the moon in 2018 and send a rover on Mars in 2020.

"Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world," said Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of CNSA, in a press conferen…

5 Teams Move Forward in Google Lunar XPrize Moon Race

Five teams have advanced to the last stage of the Google Lunar XPrize, prize administrators announced today. This year, the groups will race to ready their spacecraft for missions to land on the moon, move at least 500 meters across the surface, and transmit images and high-definition video back to Earth. The first to do so will claim the top prize: US $20 million.

The five finalists are: SpaceIL, a non-profit based in Israel; Moon Express, a lunar-resources-oriented company based in the United States; international Synergy Moon, which is aiming for more cost-effective space exploration; for-profit Team Indus from India; and Japan-based Hakuto, which is operated by another firm interested in lunar resources—ispace.

The finalists have all signed launch contracts that have been vetted by the Google Lunar XPrize. SpaceIL and Team Indus have secured spots on well-established launch vehicles: the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Ve…

Scientists Are Searching For Life On This Nearby Exoplanet

With all this talk about human colonies on Mars, why not dream a little bigger? Dr. Stephen Kane and his team of researchers at San Francisco State University are looking about 14 lightyears away from our solar system for some potentially inhabitable real estate.

Wolf 1061, a star system not terribly far from our own, has an interesting planet called Wolf 1061c. While scientists have known about the exoplanet since 2015, Kane and his team discovered that it’s squarely within the habitable zone—the region in the solar system where the atmospheric conditions could support liquid water. That said, Kane said that if there’s any life on the planet, it must be living under hostile conditions—similar to those of Venus—since it’s on the inner edge of the habitable zone, relatively close to its star.

“The Wolf 1061 system is important because it is so close and that gives other opportunities to do follow-up studies to see if it does indeed have life,” Kane said, according to Sci News. His tea…

VLT to Search for Planets in Alpha Centauri System

ESO Signs Agreement with Breakthrough Initiatives
ESO, represented by the Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives, represented by Pete Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. The agreement provides funds for the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) instrument, mounted at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to be modified in order to greatly enhance its ability to search for potentially habitable planets around Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to the Earth. The agreement also provides for telescope time to allow a careful search programme to be conducted in 2019.
The discovery in 2016 of a planet, Proxima b, around Proxima Centauri, the third and faintest star of the Alpha Centauri system, adds even further impetus to this search.
Knowing where the nearest exoplanets are is of paramount interest for Breakthrough Starshot, the research and engin…

Hubble Captures ‘Shadow Play’ Caused by Possible Planet

Searching for planets around other stars is a tricky business. They’re so small and faint that it’s hard to spot them. But a possible planet in a nearby stellar system may be betraying its presence in a unique way: by a shadow that is sweeping across the face of a vast pancake-shaped gas-and-dust disk surrounding a young star.

The planet itself is not casting the shadow. But it is doing some heavy lifting by gravitationally pulling on material near the star and warping the inner part of the disk. The twisted, misaligned inner disk is casting its shadow across the surface of the outer disk.

A team of astronomers led by John Debes of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland say this scenario is the most plausible explanation for the shadow they spotted in the stellar system TW Hydrae, located 192 light-years away in the constellation Hydra, also known as the Female Water Snake. The star is roughly 8 million years old and slightly less massive than our sun. Debes’ te…

NASA asks scientists to start planning first JWST observation

GRAPEVINE, Texas — As NASA prepares to resume vibration testing of the James Webb Space Telescope after an anomaly last month, it’s asking astronomers to start developing proposals for observations to be carried out by the observatory after its launch.

At a town hall meeting during the 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society here Jan. 5, JWST officials said they were formally releasing calls for proposals for observations that would be carried out starting in April 2019, about six months after the telescope’s scheduled launch.

“This is really exciting for me,” said Eric Smith, the JWST program director at NASA, noting that, for years, the program has focused more on the development of the telescope than its science. “This year marks the return of the [science] community to the program.”

One call for proposals announced at the meeting is for what are known as “guaranteed time observations,” reserved for astronomers who participated in the development of instruments, softwar…

‘Impossible’ EmDrive thruster attracts rising attention, even from skeptics

For years, space geeks have been intrigued by the idea of propulsion systems that don’t need propellant – and now one of the best-known concepts, known as the EmDrive, is getting a serious once-over.

The EmDrive, short for electromagnetic drive, could be revolutionary for spaceflight if it works. Spaceships could dispense with the mass of rocket fuel, and because the velocity builds up progressively, trips to Mars and beyond would be much faster and simpler.

The concept involves bouncing microwaves around a closed cavity that’s shaped like a cone. The shape supposedly funnels the microwaves to generate forward thrust.

The problem is, Newton’s Third Law of Motion says it shouldn’t work that way. If there’s an equal and opposite reaction for every action, the skeptics say the EmDrive – and the spaceship it’s bolted onto – should stay perfectly still. The effect has been compared to trying to push your car down the road by sitting in the driver’s seat and pushing against the steering wh…

​SpaceX unveils photo of 'world's most powerful rocket'

SpaceX has unveiled its first public photo of the Falcon Heavy rocket that it hopes can help send a manned space flight to Mars by 2018.
The company released an image on Instagram of the rocket being prepped at its factory in Hawthorne, California and said the Falcon Heavy, when it lifts off next year, “will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.”
The rocket will have the ability to lift into orbit more than 54 metric tons (119,000 lbs.), a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel. Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost, SpaceX said.
The unveiling of the Falcon Heavy comes as SpaceX recovers from a Sept. 1 explosion at Cape Canaveral, Florida, that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket carrying an Iridium Communications satellite. SpaceX has delayed launches while it investigated the causes of the explosion, which occurred on th…

GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine Seen as Top Choice for NASA Chief

Three-term lawmaker has supported commercial space ventures and traditional manned exploration programs

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican with a record supporting both commercial space ventures and traditional manned exploration programs, appears to be the leading candidate to become the next NASA administrator, according to people familiar with the matter.

The lawmaker’s name emerged early during the Trump administration transition process, and he has been interviewed by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, these people said. But they emphasized that Mr. Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot who has actively sought the position, still is waiting for a final signoff by President-elect Donald Trump and top aides.

A third-term congressman from Tulsa and an outspoken Trump supporter before the general election, Mr. Bridenstine also has been considered and interviewed as a possible nominee for Air Force Secretary.

But Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s senior GOP Senator, has expressed opposit…