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Showing posts from August, 2017

Here Is the Future of Interstellar Spacecraft

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AN EARLY AND VERY AMBITIOUS START

In 1973, the British Interplanetary Society — now, the oldest space advocacy organisation in the world — launched a five year study to design an unmanned spacecraft that was capable of interstellar flight. Project Daedalus was the first to tackle the question of the possibility of interstellar travel. The goal of the project was discover the feasibility of getting a person to travel to a variety of different target stars using technology of the near future, and getting them there within their lifespan.

THERMONUCLEAR PROPULSION

The difficulties of reaching speeds fast enough, generating enough power, and not burning the spacecraft to a crisp were not easily overcome. The Project Daedalus team ended up choosing a nuclear pulse rocket that could overcome these limitations. Small thermonuclear bombs would be detonated inside cusp-shaped magnetic fields behind the spacecraft, propelling it forward at the highest possible efficiency.

A velocity of more than …

NASA powers up spacecraft that could one day carry humans to Mars

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NASA just got one step closer to its most ambitious spacecraft ever: One that can carry humans to the moon, Mars and perhaps beyond.
It's called Orion. And Lockheed Martin (LMT), NASA's contractor for the project, said the latest version of the vessel was powered on for the first time Tuesday morning, lighting up the intricate on-board computers that will one day help guide Orion through the vacuum of space.

"This is the brains and heart of the spacecraft," said Lockheed spokesperson Gary Napier. He added that the inaugural power-up appeared to go "very well."

For the next one or two months NASA will add even more computer systems and continue testing its hardware and software, Napier told CNNMoney.

It's an important milestone for Orion, which NASA has been working on ever since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.

The hope is to one day launch the spacecraft on the Space Launch System (SLS), a truly massive rocket that is also currently under…

Setting the Spaceplane Stage

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Fly frequently, travel safely, land on (most) runways, and operate economically: such are the guiding principles for 21st century spaceplanes, cargo-carrying aerospace workhorses routinely launching to low-Earth orbit for space station resupply and crew transfers. Fans disconsolate after retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet can take heart: The next generation in reusable space vehicles is set to debut.

A new spaceplane stage has been set by decades of NASA work done at Langley Research Center on horizontal-landing, or HL, lifting bodies. Sporting a design reminiscent of the upward-flexing pectoral fins on breaching manta rays, HL vehicles feature rudimentary wings. As the craft settles through Earth’s atmosphere from orbit the chubby, cigar-like fuselage generates lift from more air pressure on the bottom than on the top.

Flying Wingless First championed for flight testing by NASA engineer H. Dale Reed in the early 1960s, the HL concept went through a number of design changes and improv…

Power Up! System Tests Prepare Orion for Deep Space Exploration

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Hurtling beyond the Moon at a speedy 25,000 mph for a three-week mission requires a space processor capable of operating with guaranteed reliability, in a high radiation environment tens of thousands of miles in deep space, at 480,000,000 instructions per second to execute thousands of commands and sequences for controlling the hundreds of spacecraft systems and components to ensure crew safety and mission success.

To ensure everything performs as planned, the Orion spacecraft destined for Exploration Mission-1 was successfully powered up for the first time this week in Orion’s spacecraft factory, the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The initial power-on procedure verified the health and status of Orion’s core computers and power and data units and marks the beginning of critical spacecraft subsystem tests to get us ready for flight," said Mark Kirasich, NASA Orion program manager. “Our test team, ground support equipmen…

Astrophysicists predict Earth-like planet in star system only 16 light years away

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Astrophysicists at the University of Texas at Arlington have predicted that an Earth-like planet may be lurking in a star system just 16 light years away.

The team investigated the star system Gliese 832 for additional exoplanets residing between the two currently known alien worlds in this system. Their computations revealed that an additional Earth-like planet with a dynamically stable configuration may be residing at a distance ranging from 0.25 to 2.0 astronomical unit (AU) from the star.

"According to our calculations, this hypothetical alien world would probably have a mass between 1 to 15 Earth's masses," said the lead author Suman Satyal, UTA physics researcher, lecturer and laboratory supervisor. The paper is co-authored by John Griffith, UTA undergraduate student and long-time UTA physics professor Zdzislaw Musielak.

The astrophysicists published their findings this week as "Dynamics of a probable Earth-Like Planet in the GJ 832 System" in The Astrop…

NASA contracts energy firm to refine nuclear thermal propulsion concepts

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As the U.S. government continues to pursue plans for a crewed mission to Mars, NASA has contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to advance concepts in Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP), which could drastically reduce travel times to Mars.

This is part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, which takes ideas from academia and industry as well as NASA and other government programs, to advance new approaches to space technologies to accommodate the changing needs of U.S. space efforts.

NTP is not a new concept, but it was abandoned in 1972 when plans for a Mars mission were shelved. NASA conducted ground tests since 1955 to determine the viability of NTP and has occasionally been revisited as a conceptual part of Mars mission feasibility studies.

The advantage of NTP is mainly in that it can provide twice the rocket thrust of the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), which are among the most powerful chemical rockets ever developed.

Sonny Mitchell, Nuclear Th…

NASA's New Plasma Rocket Ready For Testing

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Most of today's rockets are chemical rockets, which means they propel themselves through space by combining certain chemicals in a way that makes them explosive. Chemical rockets are heavy and fast-burning, which is great for getting off the surface of Earth, but less great for long voyages to the outer solar system.

For these longer trips, NASA is looking at using a new type of rocket: the plasma rocket.

NASA awarded a contract to the company Ad Astra back in 2015 to build a plasma rocket, and that rocket is rapidly approaching readiness. The company has been running several short tests of the engine and is preparing for a longer, 100-hour test. Once that happens sometime next year, the rocket engine will be closer to real missions.

The plasma rocket, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR), works by heating neon or argon gas to incredibly high temperatures using magnetic fields. That hot plasma is then fired out of the back of the rocket at very high speeds,…

Four Earth-sized planets detected orbiting the nearest sun-like star

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A new study by an international team of astronomers reveals that four Earth-sized planets orbit the nearest sun-like star, tau Ceti, which is about 12 light years away and visible to the naked eye. These planets have masses as low as 1.7 Earth mass, making them among the smallest planets ever detected around nearby sun-like stars. Two of them are super-Earths located in the habitable zone of the star, meaning they could support liquid surface water.

The planets were detected by observing the wobbles in the movement of tau Ceti. This required techniques sensitive enough to detect variations in the movement of the star as small as 30 centimeters per second.

"We are now finally crossing a threshold where, through very sophisticated modeling of large combined data sets from multiple independent observers, we can disentangle the noise due to stellar surface activity from the very tiny signals generated by the gravitational tugs from Earth-sized orbiting planets," said coauthor S…