October 21, 2014
What It Could Be Like to Live on Mars
I'd always wanted to visit Mars. Instead I got Hawaii. There, about 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa, sits a geodesically domed habitat for testing crew psychology and technologies for boldly going. I did a four-month tour at the NASA-funded HI-SEAS—that's Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation—in 2013, and a new 8-month mission is scheduled to start in October. It's a long time to be cooped up, “so the psychological impacts are extremely important,” habitat designer Vincent Paul Ponthieux says. The key to keeping everybody sane? A sense of airiness. Yep—even on Mars, you're going to need more space.
October 15, 2014
UW fusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal
University of Washington
The UW’s reactor, called the dynomak, started as a class project taught by Thomas Jarboe two years ago. After the class ended, Jarboe and doctoral student Derek Sutherland – who previously worked on a reactor design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – continued to develop and refine the concept.
The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur, allowing the hot plasma to react and burn. The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions. Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works.
“This is a much more elegant solution because the medium in which you generate fusion is the medium in which you’re also driving all the current required to confine it,” Sutherland said.
Lockheed Martin Pursuing Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Concept
The Lockheed Martin (LMT) Skunk Works® team is working on a new compact fusion reactor (CFR) that can be developed and deployed in as little as ten years. Currently, there are several patents pending that cover their approach.
While fusion itself is not new, the Skunk Works has built on more than 60 years of fusion research and investment to develop an approach that offers a significant reduction in size compared to mainstream efforts.
"Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts," said Tom McGuire, compact fusion lead for the Skunk Works' Revolutionary Technology Programs. "The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year."
September 18, 2014
Bezos’ Blue Origin plans 21st century rocket engine
The Seattle Times
Capping back-to-back news that emphatically heralded the United States’ return to space exploration, Jeff Bezos on Wednesday unveiled plans for “a 21st century” rocket engine developed by his private aerospace company that could help reduce Russia’s role in U.S. orbital flights.
At a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Bezos showed off a model of the BE-4, a liquid-propellant engine that will be used to power new version of the Atlas rockets now used to launch telecommunications and spy satellites and other payloads into space.
The BE-4 will be jointly funded by Bezos’ Kent-based Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Work on the liquid oxygen, liquefied natural-gas engine has been under way for three years in Kent and in West Texas, and four more years of development are expected before first flight.
September 2, 2014
Shields up ready for Mars shot
It takes a couple of years for a crew of astronauts to sojourn to Mars and back. In that time the team would be exposed to enough radiation to significantly increase the chances of each of them dying of cancer, says Roberto Battiston, Professor of Physics at the University of Trento in Italy. With a crew of five there is a 20% probability that one will die of a cancer caused by radiation damage from the trip, he says.
So Battiston and his colleagues are developing a remedy that sounds like something from the starship Enterprise. It’s called the Space Radiation Superconductive Shield (SR2S). It is effectively a superconducting magnetic energy shield that mimics the protective effect of our planet’s own magnetic field, deflecting cosmic rays away from the crew’s precious cells.
August 31, 2014
Space Launch System approved, we’re going to Mars
Hey, want to go to Mars? Well, in a few years you can…kind of. The Space Launch System is the most powerful rocket we’ve built yet. The spacecraft needed approval from the SPAR agency before putting it to test. On August 27th, they gave us the okay and now, we are officially going to try and bring humans to Mars. Isn’t that crazy?
In 2018, which isn’t too far away if you think about it, we’re going to send the Space Launch System carrying the Orion spacecraft up into orbit. The SLS will be configured with a 70-metric-ton lift capacity. The final version of the SLS will be able to carry 130 metric tons.
August 20, 2014
Curiosity wheel damage: The problem and solutions
The Planetary Society
There are holes in Curiosity wheels. There have always been holes -- the rover landed with twelve holes deliberately machined in each wheel to aid in rover navigation. But there are new holes now: punctures, fissures, and ghastly tears. The holes in Curiosity's wheels have become a major concern to the mission, affecting every day of mission operations and the choice of path to Mount Sharp. Yet mission managers say that, so far, the condition of the wheels has no effect on the rover's ability to traverse Martian terrain. If the holes are not causing problems, why the rerouting? Is the wheel damage a big deal or not?
August 18, 2014
Explore Mars has devised a simple system capable of being delivered to the Martian surface to detect microorganisms living on or under the surface.
ExoLance leverages a delivery system that was originally designed for military purposes. As each small, lightweight penetrator probe ("arrow") impacts the surface, it leaves behind a radio transmitter at the surface to communicate with an orbiter, and then kinetically burrows to emplace a life-detection experiment one to two meters below the surface. ExoLance combines the experiments of the 1970s Viking landers and the Curiosity rover with bunker-busting weapons technology.
August 1, 2014
Going to the Red Planet
Whenever the first NASA astronauts arrive on Mars, they will likely have MIT to thank for the oxygen they breathe — and for the oxygen needed to burn rocket fuel that will launch them back home to Earth.
On Thursday, NASA announced the seven instruments that will accompany Mars 2020, a planned $1.9 billion roving laboratory similar to the Mars Curiosity rover currently cruising the Red Planet. Key among these instruments is an MIT-led payload known as MOXIE, which will play a leading role in paving the way for human exploration of our ruddy planetary neighbor.
MOXIE — short for Mars OXygen In situ resource utilization Experiment — was selected from 58 instrument proposals submitted by research teams around the world. The experiment, currently scheduled to launch in the summer of 2020, is a specialized reverse fuel cell whose primary function is to consume electricity in order to produce oxygen on Mars, where the atmosphere is 96 percent carbon dioxide. If proven to work on the Mars 2020 mission, a MOXIE-like system could later be used to produce oxygen on a larger scale, both for life-sustaining activities for human travelers and to provide liquid oxygen needed to burn the rocket fuel for a return trip to Earth.
July 31, 2014
SpaceX Launches 3D-Printed Part To Space, Creates Printed Engine Chamber For Crewed Spaceflight
Through 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, robust and high-performing rocket parts can be created and offer improvements over traditional manufacturing methods. SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft more reliable, robust and efficient than ever before.
On January 6, 2014, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket with a 3D-printed Main Oxidizer Valve (MOV) body in one of the nine Merlin 1D engines. The mission marked the first time SpaceX had ever flown a 3D-printed part, with the valve operating successfully with high pressure liquid oxygen, under cryogenic temperatures and high vibration.
July 29, 2014
Field Tests in Mojave Desert Pave Way for Human Exploration of Small Bodies
A team of researchers from the SETI Institute, the Mars Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, and the space robotics company Honeybee Robotics, has successfully completed a first series of field tests aimed at investigating how humans will explore and work on Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and eventually the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.
From 13 to 15 April 2013, field experiments were conducted at the U.S. Army’s National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, to evaluate geotechnical methods and systems that will enable humans to be productive explorers in the low gravity environment of small rocky bodies. Sub-kilometer sized NEAs, Phobos, and Deimos are among destinations currently considered by NASA for future human missions into Deep Space.
July 28, 2014
NASA Seeks Proposals for Commercial Mars Data Relay Satellites
NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to investigate the possibility of using commercial Mars-orbiting satellites to provide telecommunications capabilities for future robotic missions to the Red Planet.
“We are looking to broaden participation in the exploration of Mars to include new models for government and commercial partnerships,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Depending on the outcome, the new model could be a vital component in future science missions and the path for humans to Mars.”
The RFI details possible new business models that would involve NASA contracting to purchase services from a commercial service provider, which would own and operate one or more communication relay orbiters. The solicitation is open to all types of organizations including U.S. industry, universities, nonprofits, NASA centers, and federally funded research and development centers, in addition to U.S. government and international organizations.
July 14, 2014
Spinning to Mars
The Space Review
Thirty years ago today a group of scientists, grad students, and all around Mars enthusiasts wrapped up the four-day Case for Mars conference in Boulder, Colorado. While there, they drafted plans for a human Mars spacecraft that became enshrined—at least for a little while—in popular culture. A large spinning vessel consisting of three nearly identical ships and their landing craft, it was a serious attempt at defining a human mission to Mars. By the early 1990s, one of the Case for Mars participants, Carter Emmart, produced a beautifully detailed model of the spinning spacecraft that was placed on display in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Now, after a long absence, that model is back in public view.
July 7, 2014
Dropship offers safe landings for Mars rovers
The dramatic conclusion to ESA’s latest StarTiger project: a ‘dropship’ quadcopter steers itself to lower a rover gently onto a safe patch of the rocky martian surface.
StarTiger’s Dropter project was tasked with developing and demonstrating a European precision-landing capability for Mars and other targets.
The Skycrane that lowered NASA’s Curiosity rover onto Mars showed the potential of this approach, precisely delivering rovers to their science targets while avoiding rock fields, slopes and other hazards.
“StarTiger is a fresh approach to space engineering,” explains Peter de Maagt, overseeing the project. “Take a highly qualified, well-motivated team, gather them at a single well-equipped site, then give them a fixed time to solve a challenging technical problem.”
June 26, 2014
Zubrin Challenges Chang Diaz to Debate at Mars Society Convention in Houston
Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin has challenged Ad Astra President & CEO Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz to a debate at the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, which will be held in Ad Astra’s hometown of Houston, Texas August 7-10, 2014. The proposed debate proposition is: Resolved “Electric Propulsion in an Enabling Technology for Human Mars Exploration,” with Dr. Chang Diaz representing the affirmative side and Dr. Zubrin the negative side.
Commenting on the challenge, Dr. Zubrin said, “This debate is critically necessary. Dr. Chang Diaz has been actively propagandizing an argument combining three claims. First, that cosmic radiation hazards dictate that current day propulsion, which enables six month transits from Earth to Mars, is too slow to enablehuman mission to Mars. Second, that therefore much faster forms of interplanetary propulsion are necessary before we dare undertake human Mars exploration missions. Third, that his VASIMR propulsion system would uniquely enable such quick trips.
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