November 21, 2014
How NASA Plans to Land Humans on Mars
The Planetary Society
On the surface, NASA's humans to Mars plans seem vague and disjointed. For instance, it's difficult to see how visiting a captured asteroid in lunar orbit fits into a bigger picture. But if you combine Gerst's speech with two days of symposium panels and a day of interviews at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the full breadth of what the agency is trying to do begins to makes sense. There is indeed a plan to put humans on Mars. Vague? Yes. Hard to see? Absolutely. But that's because Gerst and NASA are playing the long game. And right now, it may be the only game they can play. There are three big reasons NASA can't lay out a comprehensive Mars plan: flat budgets, a perilous political landscape, and the sheer scale of a 20-plus-years program. Thus far, NASA's most audacious human exploration program kicked off in 1961, when John F. Kennedy declared Americans would walk on the moon by the end of the decade. The nine-year program was a success, but it was bolstered by a strong political mandate and more than double the funding NASA receives today. The agency's budget peaked in 1966 at $43.5 billion (in 2014 dollars). Today, NASA gets about $18 billion. There's not much political will to go to Mars, and no indication that NASA's budget will change significantly. In fact, NASA doesn't even have a fiscal year 2015 budget yet, as it operates under a stopgap continuing resolution.
November 17, 2014
Zero-G 3D Printer, Unpacked And Installed on the International Space Station
Made In Space
Made In Space, Inc. and NASA have completed the next milestone in the 3D Printing in Zero-Gravity Experiment. This morning, astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore unpacked the 3D printer from its launch packaging and installed it inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The 3D printer, designed and built by Made In Space for NASA, was launched on September 21st, 2014 on the SpaceX 4 resupply mission to the ISS. Earlier this morning, astronaut Wilmore proceeded to retrieve the 3D printer experiment from its storage location and installed it inside the MSG. With the aid of the Made In Space and NASA ground support teams, Wilmore was able to power on and complete critical system checks to ensure that the hardware and software was in operating condition.
November 5, 2014
Aerospace Gurus Show Off a Fancy Space Suit Made for Mars
This talk is from WIRED by Design, a two-day live magazine event that celebrated all forms of creative problem solving.
The space suits astronauts wear today are marvels of engineering, but they’re far from perfect. For one thing, they’re unwieldy. At a weight of nearly 300 pounds, astronauts have to expend a huge amount of energy just to move them around. “It was great for 45 years ago, but we can do better,” says Dava Newman.
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.
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