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.
June 17, 2014
Mars Technologies Spawn Durable Wind Turbines
In the early 1990s, NASA was planning for an extended stay on Mars, and Bubenheim and his Ames colleagues were concentrating efforts on creating a complete ecological system to sustain human crewmembers during their time on the Red Planet.
“The main barrier to developing such a system,” he says, “is energy.” Mars has no power plants, and a regenerative system requires equipment that runs on electricity to do everything from regulating humidity in the atmosphere to monitoring the quality of recycled water. The Ames group started looking at maximizing energy use efficiency and alternative methods to make power on a planet that is millions of miles away from Earth. They turned to a hybrid concept combining two renewable sources: wind and solar power technologies. Large surface temperature swings on Mars produce windy conditions; extreme examples are the frequent dust storms that can block nearly all sunlight. “When there’s a dust storm and the wind is blowing, the wind system could be the dominant power source. When the wind is not blowing and the sun is shining on the surface, photovoltaics could be the dominant source,” says Bubenheim.
June 2, 2014
NASA to test giant supersonic Mars parachute off Hawaiian coast
The skies off the Hawaiian island of Kauai will be a stand-in for Mars as NASA prepares to launch a saucer-shaped vehicle in an experimental flight designed to land heavy loads on the red planet.
For decades, robotic landers and rovers have hitched a ride to Earth's planetary neighbor using the same parachute design. But NASA needs a bigger and stronger parachute if it wants to send astronauts there.
Weather permitting, the space agency will conduct a test flight Tuesday high in Earth's atmosphere that's supposed to simulate the thin Martian air.
Cameras rigged aboard the vehicle will capture the action as it accelerates to four times the speed of sound and falls back to Earth. Viewers with an Internet connection can follow along live.
May 5, 2014
This Spacesuit for Exploring Mars Is a Form-Fitting Math Problem
In science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ender’s Game, astronauts zip around zero-g environments clad in stylish, skin-tight spacesuits. In reality, outfits designed for outer space are bulky, hard to maneuver, and have all the charm of adult diapers. Even their name, Extravehicular Mobility Units, or EMUs, is clumsy.
Enter Dava Newman, fashion designer to the stars. You won’t see her work on the red carpet, but if this MIT professor has her way, all the most fashionable space explorers will be wearing her designs when they set foot on the red planet.
April 3, 2014
NASA Designs a Robot for Mars
Product Design & Development
Valkyrie stands more than six feet tall, weighs 286 pounds, and has an 80 inch wingspan. “It feels human-like, you can look her in the eyes,” says Reg Berka, deputy project manager of Valkyrie, the NASA built robot destined for the red planet.
Designed at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), Valkyrie competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) [See sidebar] trial round in December 2013, with hopes of one day setting foot on Mars.
March 24, 2014
The NASA Z-2 Suit Voting Now Open
After the positive response to the Z-1 suit's visual design we received, we wanted to take the opportunity to provide this new suit with an equally memorable appearance. The cover layer of a prototype suit is important as it serves to protect the suit against abrasion and snags during the rigors of testing. With the Z-2, we're looking forward to employing cover layer design elements never used in a spacesuit before. The designs shown were produced in collaboration with ILC, the primary suit vendor and Philadelphia University. The designs were created with the intent to protect the suit and to highlight certain mobility features to aid suit testing. To take it a step further, we are leaving it up you, the public, to choose which of three candidates will be built. Voting is open through April 15, 2014 at 11:59pm EDT.
February 18, 2014
Supersonic Jet Ditches Windows for Massive Live-Streaming Screens
Spike Aerospace is in the midst of building the first supersonic private jet. And when the $80 million S-512 takes off in December 2018, it won’t have something you’d find on every other passenger aircraft: windows.
The Boston-based aerospace firm is taking advantage of recent advances in video recording, live-streaming, and display technology with an interior that replaces the windows with massive, high-def screens. The S-512’s exterior will be lined with tiny cameras sending footage to thin, curved displays lining the interior walls of the fuselage. The result will be an unbroken panoramic view of the outside world. And if passengers want to sleep or distract themselves from ominous rainclouds, they can darken the screen or choose from an assortment of ambient images. But this isn’t just a wiz-bang feature for an eight-figure aircraft.
While windows are essential for keeping claustrophobia in check, they require engineering workarounds that compromise a fuselage’s simple structure. And that goes two-fold for a supersonic aircraft. An airplane is stronger sans windows, which is one of the reasons why planes carrying military personnel or packages fly without them. Putting passenger windows on an airplane requires meticulous construction — the ovular shape, small aperture, and double-pane construction are all there to maintain cabin pressure and resist cracking while flying 500 mph at 35,000 feet.
It would be much simpler and safer to have a smooth-skinned, window-less fuselage, but frequent fliers have become accustomed to a calming view of the clouds and tiny cities during takeoff and landing.
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