Human Mars Lander Must Break New Ground
Aviation Week & Space Technology
For all the attention focused on how hard it will be to keep astronauts alive while they fly from Earth to Mars, the challenge of setting them safely down on the Martian surface will be just as difficult.
Entry-descent-and-landing (EDL) experts who spoke at a Humans To Mars symposium here say the “sky crane” that landed the robotic Curiosity rover on Mars last year will not scale to the huge sizes need for humans. And even if it did, the “seven minutes of terror” controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory experienced at a distance during the first sky-crane landing may be a little too tame for a human mission.
Amgen Drugs May Boost Survival During a Nuclear Attack and Trips to Mars
Amgen Inc. (AMGN)’s Neulasta and Neupogen and a similar blood-boosting drug from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA) may help people survive after a nuclear attack, U.S. regulators said.
Medications known as leukocyte growth factors, which also include Sanofi (SAN)’s Leukine, may help decrease death rates from radiation exposure, Food and Drug Administration staff said today in a report. FDA staff reviewed a National Institutes of Health study on monkeys exposed to radiation that were given Neupogen. Agency advisers plan to meet May 3 to discuss whether the animal study is sufficient to approve the use for humans.
NASA proves 3D printing is headed to the stars
3D-printed space technology is no longer science fiction, as NASA and other space companies are making it a reality.
Engineers and researchers at the Ames Research Center are already working with 3D printing technology to make it applicable for use in both space travel and the study of our universe, according to a recent CNET report.
Earlier this year, MakerBot, one of the foremost producers of 3D printers, confirmed that NASA engineers were using the technology to build parts for models, including the Mars Rover Curiosity. NASA is now the company’s biggest customer, the company told Forbes.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Reaches Milestone in Development of Next Rocket Engine for Human Spaceflight
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the rocket-engine manufacturer that helped power American astronauts to the moon during the Apollo era, has completed the last in a series of hot-fire tests on a J-2X engine with a stub-nozzle extension at simulated altitude conditions. This latest chapter in the development of America's next rocket engine paves the way toward full-motion testing of the J-2X engine, which is designed to power humans to Mars. NASA has selected the J-2X as the upper-stage propulsion for the evolved 143-ton (130-metric-ton) Space Launch System (SLS), an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle.
Rocket powered by nuclear fusion could send humans to Mars
University of Washington
Human travel to Mars has long been the unachievable dangling carrot for space programs. Now, astronauts could be a step closer to our nearest planetary neighbor through a unique manipulation of nuclear fusion, the same energy that powers the sun and stars.
University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks.
To the stars: After a 25 year hiatus, NASA restarts plutonium production
After a quarter-century hiatus, the United States has begun producing plutonium-238 once more. The decision was made to ensure that future NASA projects would have access to the valuable fuel. As US stocks dwindled, NASA began buying plutonium-238 from Russia, but that agreement came to an end in 2010. When most people think of plutonium, they think of nuclear weapons — but that’s not what plutonium-238 is used for.
If you need a power source that can last for decades, plutonium-238 is fantastically useful stuff. It’s got a half life of nearly 88 years and it emits 560 watts of heat per kilogram of material. It’s a vital component of the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used on Curiosity and in a number of space probes, including Cassini. One of the best features of plutonium-238 is that, while it’s radioactive as hell (275 times more so than plutonium-239, it takes a minimal amount of shielding to protect spacecraft or humans from contamination. Plutonium-powered pacemakers (yes, that was a thing for a little while) have operated as long as 25 years without running out of power.
Chevrolet Debuts Lightweight ‘Smart Material’ on Corvette
From its fiberglass body in 1953 to its aluminum chassis for 2014, Chevrolet Corvette has a six-decade track record for introducing lightweight materials that improve vehicle performance. With the 2014 Corvette’s aluminum frame weighing in 99 pounds lighter than its predecessor, that trend continues.
In addition, the redesigned seventh-generation sports car is the first vehicle to use a General Motors’-developed lightweight shape memory alloy wire in place of a heavier motorized actuator to open and close the hatch vent that releases air from the trunk. This allows the trunk lid to close more easily than on the previous models where trapped air could make the lid harder to close.
Considering there are about 200 motorized movable parts on the typical vehicle that could be replaced with lightweight smart materials, GM is looking at significant mass reduction going forward.
A Laser Built for Mars Has a New Gig: Authenticating Honey
Scientists in England have found they can identify counterfeit honey using a laser originally built to explore the universe. Seven years ago at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England, work began to build a laser that could identify isotopes in space. Specifically, the researchers wanted to get into the Martian atmosphere and investigate the Red Planet’s mysterious methane. Identifying carbon isotopic ratios, for instance, could set off a string of hyperbolic headlines here on Earth. As Dr. Damien Weidmann, Laser Spectroscopy Team Leader at RAL Space explained on their website, “If it’s bacterial in origin, it would mean a form of life occurred on Mars.”
Stanford researchers develop acrobatic space rovers to explore moons and asteroids
Stanford researchers, in collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have designed a robotic platform that could take space exploration to new heights.
The mission proposed for the platform involves a mother spacecraft deploying one or several spiked, roughly spherical rovers to the Martian moon Phobos. Measuring about half a meter wide, each rover would hop, tumble and bound across the cratered, lopsided moon, relaying information about its origins, as well as its soil and other surface materials.
It's no secret that China's space program is progressing at fast rate, but could the nation leapfrog the US in the realm of human spaceflight by landing the first extraterrestrial "greenhouse" on Mars? The plan, as reported by the Chinese state media on Monday, saw a 300 cubic meter "ecological life support system" test being carried out in Beijing -- an experiment that was supported by German scientists. In this trial run, four types of vegetables were grown and two people lived inside. It is not clear how long the test lasted or whether the test subjects remained healthy for the duration.
This system forms the basis of a far grander scheme that would allow astronauts to cultivate fresh fruit and vegetables, produce water and generate oxygen to breathe on the moon and Mars.
Musk goes for methane-burning reusable rockets as step to colonise Mars
While speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London in November, the billionaire former Paypal Internet executive, Tesla electric car entrepreneur, and current Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) CEO and self-taught lead rocket engineer, Elon Musk, described his plan to enable a self-sustaining human colony on the planet Mars. This plan is to use reusable rockets and along with Mars landing and ascent craft to take mankind to Mars within 15 years. And to do it Musk announced that liquid oxygen (Lox) and Methane would be SpaceX's principal propellants of choice.
NASA's Space Launch System Using Futuristic Technology to Build the Next Generation of Rockets
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. is using a method called selective laser melting, or SLM, to create intricate metal parts for America's next heavy-lift rocket. Using this state-of-the-art technique will benefit the agency by saving millions in manufacturing costs.
NASA is building the Space Launch System or SLS -- a rocket managed at the Marshall Center and designed to take humans, equipment and experiments beyond low Earth orbit to nearby asteroids and eventually to Mars.
SLM is similar to 3-D printing and is the future of manufacturing.
Using rust and water to store solar energy as hydrogen
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
How can solar energy be stored so that it can be available any time, day or night, when the sun shining or not? EPFL scientists are developing a technology that can transform light energy into a clean fuel that has a neutral carbon footprint: hydrogen. The basic ingredients of the recipe are water and metal oxides, such as iron oxide, better known as rust. Kevin Sivula and his colleagues purposefully limited themselves to inexpensive materials and easily scalable production processes in order to enable an economically viable method for solar hydrogen production. The device, still in the experimental stages, is described in an article published in the journal Nature Photonics.
In the late 1970s, through the initiative of its director, Bruce Murray, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) studied a range of possible Mars missions, including Mars Sample Return (MSR). Murray and others at the Pasadena, California-based lab were aware that funds for new Mars missions would be hard to come by; the U.S. economy was under strain and NASA, JPL’s main customer, was devoting most of its resources to developing the Space Shuttle. In addition, equivocal data from the astrobiology experiments on the twin Vikings, the first successful Mars landers, had damped public enthusiasm for the Red Planet. Would-be Mars explorers reasoned that, if an MSR mission would stand a chance of acceptance, then they would need to find technologies and techniques that could dramatically trim its anticipated cost.
ATK Selected to Develop MegaFlex™ Solar Array Structure
MegaFlex™ solar array was recently selected by NASA's Space Technology Program under a Game Changing Technology competition for development of the promising lightweight and compact solar array structure. ATK received a $6.4 million contract for the MegaFlex™ development.
MegaFlex™, under development by ATK's Space Components Division in Goleta, California, is designed specifically to meet the anticipated power demands of 350kW and higher, with very low mass and small stowed volume for future space exploration missions using solar electric propulsion.
"We are honored to win this program to develop the future space exploration power platform for NASA," said David Shanahan, vice president and general manager of ATK Aerospace Group's Space Components Division. "This win is a result of the outstanding innovation and capabilities of our Goleta team."