Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. – Sagan

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Packed up: Next time you see Curiosity will be from the surface of Mars. Hopefully.

Following are a series of images of Curiosity being inserted into its aeroshell capsule, which will be cutting through Mars’ atmosphere upon delivery. Curiosity is expected to launch in 32 days, but won’t reach Mars for 9 months, or sometime in August of 2012.

Wrapping it up


Friday, October 21, 2011

Mining the Moon: Possible and Practical?

Naveen Jain, a billionaire who made his fortune at Microsoft, is co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, Inc., a company looking to capitalize on the vast resources that the moon has to offer. Just awarded $10 million by NASA, has ambitious plans; to build moon bases in order to mine the lunar surface.

Available resources that can be mined from the moon:

  • Titanium: the moon has 20 times the amount on Earth. Titanium is a light but strong metal used in the construction of airplanes, automobiles, marine and space ships, and is widely used in the medical community because it is non-toxic and is not rejected by the body. The titanium on the moon is in the form of ilmenite, a substance that is a source of something that would be very useful on the moon: Oxygen.
  • Platinum: the moon has more that Earth and it’s easier to get at. Platinum is a valuable metal that is used as a catalyst, jewelry, electronics, and magnets.
  • Helium 3: an important fuel for practical fusion reactors; very rare on Earth.
  • Manganese: Essential to steel production and aluminum alloys. Also used in alkaline battery production.

Moon base concept. Image: NASA

Jain believes that mining the moon and sending the raw materials back to Earth is economically viable and an excellent opportunity for private business. The main hurdle to overcome is getting the base to the moon. But, again, private space ventures are tackling this issue now with phenomenal successes. Once the base is there, the technology is already in our grasp to mine and deliver material back to Earth.

Tony’s note: Here’s what I don’t get. If Jain is a billionaire, NASA’s $10 million should be a drop in the bucket, right? If he was really serious, he could lend Moon Express half a billion dollars and let them show us what they can do. I also think he is oversimplifying the magnitude of what he’s proposing. Maybe he’s just dumbing it down for the layperson.

This is what it’s like when worlds collide

This interacting pair of galaxies is included in Arp’s catalog of peculiar galaxies as number 148. Arp 148 is the staggering aftermath of an encounter between two galaxies, resulting in a ring-shaped galaxy and a long-tailed companion. The collision between the two parent galaxies produced a shockwave effect that first drew matter into the center and then caused it to propagate outwards in a ring. The elongated companion perpendicular to the ring suggests that Arp 148 is a unique snapshot of an ongoing collision. Infrared observations reveal a strong obscuration region that appears as a dark dust lane across the nucleus in optical light. Arp 148 is nicknamed Mayall’s object and is located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, approximately 500 million light-years away.

This image is part of a large collection of 59 images of merging galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released on April 24, 2008, the observatory’s 18th anniversary.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

Tony’s note: Astronomers estimate that our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4.5 billion years, give or take about a million. They’ll eventually merge to become an elliptical galaxy. When that happens, there is a pretty good chance that the solar system will be ejected from the galaxy! But don’t worry; by then the Earth will be an inhospitable wasteland, with all it’s water having been boiled billions of years ago, killing all life on Earth. Have a great day!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Roundup for Oct. 17

Via Boing Boing, Virgin Galactic opens world’s first commercial spaceport in New Mexico. Richard Branson blogged, “A historic day today in New Mexico as we will be opening the first commercial spaceport in the world – Spaceport America.” Meanwhile, for the rest of us poor envious schmucks, we can at least purchase some Virgin Galactic trinkets at their online store. has more coverage.

John Sinko, an engineer at Ohio State, has come up with a workable idea to rescue incapacitated astronauts drifting in space. The call it a “tractor beam”, but it could more accurately be described as a guided laser that is used to hit a target that in turn vaporizes a propellant. The resultant thrust is used to guide objects, in this case, a suited astronaut, back to home base. Existing methods of rescue rely on tethers, but those suffer from limitations of distance and cannot assist astronauts that are injured and incapacitated. Via New Scientist.

Giant Freaking Robot reminds us that despite some disappointing NASA developments this year, they are still working on some pretty damn cool stuff. Solar sails, in particular, are demonstrating some interesting applications for the technology, specifically an alternative way for us to get around the solar system.

NASA has been experimenting with solar sail technology for a little while now. NanoSail-D, for example, has been slowly descending from the upper atmosphere via a solar sail and transmitting back data for months. The latest announced demonstration, however, would involve a solar sail 7 times larger than any flown in space to date. It will also test attitude control and execute a navigation sequence at mission-capable level, bringing us one step closer to implementation of the technology in actual space flight.

Ikaros Solar Sail - Click to enlarge

The potential for lower cost missions should not be understated. In a time when every politician is looking to cut costs anywhere, the space program seems to be the punching bag for short-sighted penny pinchers. Solar sail technology promises lower cost deep space missions and a upward tech path to larger scale deep space technologies. Just look at Japan’s recent successes with solar sail technology.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Amateur Rocket reaches altitude of 23 miles in response to Carmack’s challenge

Amazing video of Team Qu8k’s entry into the 100kft Carmack 100kft Micro Prize challenge of having a rocket reach 100,000 feet altitude. Team leader, Derek Dee Deville, is confident of their altimeter reading of 121,000 feet (23 miles). Despite the prize being only $10,000 and this project costing well beyond that figure (actual costs undisclosed), Deville says that they did it for the passion they have for rocketry.

Some interesting details include the rocket height of 26 feet tall and it experienced 15Gs of thrust during it’s launch. The rocket was successfully recovered 3 miles from it’s launch point, mostly intact. Astonishingly, Deville first heard of the challenge over the 4th of July weekend and started work on it immediately. In three short months they managed to successfully launch the rocket.

Good job, Team Qu8k!

Here are the official rules of the Carmack 100kft Micro Prize.

NASA: The next 25 years – Part 2

Two weeks ago, NASA released it’s Global Exploration Roadmap and we discussed the first half of the roadmap. In part 1 of our discussion we had an overview of mission scenarios and technologies contained in the roadmap. In part 2 we will concentrate on the outlined path to a eventual manned mission to Mars, the key features of those missions, and the opportunities the missions hope to demonstrate can be applied to a Mars mission.


Monday, October 3, 2011

This is the first image released by the ALMA telescope


The ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope is the most complex ground-based observatory and it’s still under construction. But that hasn’t stopped the astronomers working there to release the first image captured from it.

The enormous observatory is located in northern Chile and uses light in the millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelength band, allowing it to observe extremely cold objects in space. the image below is of a pair of galaxies known as the Antennae Galaxies. Click the image to enlarge.

“The Antennae Galaxies are a pair of colliding galaxies with dramatically distorted shapes”, said the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in a statement.

There is a lot of excitement in the astronomy community concerning this new telescope, still under construction. Currently, only 20 out of the 66 antennae are operational, but when fully up and running, it’s image resolving power will be greater than the Hubble. We should expect to see more incredible images from ALMA in the coming months as more antennae come online.


Friday, September 30, 2011

October Space Conferences

There are plenty of space conferences going on this month all over the world. There is a comprehensive list that can be found on Space Conference News. Here are a few highlights from that list.

October 4 – 10 • World Space Week The Largest Public Space Event on Earth
Celebrated in over 55 Nations.

October 19 & 20 • International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight “The opening of ISPCS 2011 will be the start of two full days of thought provoking, informative and idea generating discussions on multiple facets of the commercial space industry.” The ISPCS will be held in Las Cruces, NM.

October 27 – 30 • Space Vision 2011 They are the largest student-organized space conference in the nation.

Video: SpaceX’s Plans for the Future

SpaceX has produced this awesome video of their intention to produce a reusable rocket system, the Falcon 9, that would slow it’s descent and land itself back on Earth. It looks like they just reversed the video of a launch, very cool. The video also shows other maneuvers like a return landing of the crew capsule and docking with the International Space Station.

Music is by Muse and the song is Uprising.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NASA: The next 25 years

NASA just published their 38 page Global Exploration Roadmap, a document that outlines their plans for the next 25 years. The document was developed by the ISECG, made up of 14 space agencies throughout the world, including NASA (US), the ESA (Europe), UKSA (UK), CNSA (China), and Roscosmos (Russia).

Some of the stated goals include extended human presence and exploration in space, engaging the public (that’s us!) in exploration, and the search for extra-terrestrial life. The human presence in space strategies all have the ultimate goal of a manned mission to Mars.

Two mission scenarios outlined are the “Asteroid Next” and “Moon Next”, which include a human mission to a near-Earth asteroid in about 20 years, and the most exciting prospect, a deep-space habitat (DSH) by 2034. See the roadmaps below for more information.

Near-Earth asteroids require true deep space missions, free of Earth’s magnetosphere (deep space radiation environment), with only limited opportunities for abort.

The moon missions include the first human-scale robot on the moon to help explore the prospects of using the technology on the greater goal of exploring Mars.

Robotic missions will continue to play an important part for exploratory missions, but there seems to be a lot of emphasis placed on human exploration. This comes as a welcome sign of things to come to those who dream of one day seeing a human presence on a distant world, specifically, Mars.

Nontraditional propulsion technology will also be tested. Two technologies referred to in the document are high-power electric (ion) and nuclear propulsion. These propulsion techniques would be used in space and not for lift-off, where more traditional liquid fuel rockets would be needed to provide the thrust required to get payload into space.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we explore some of the missions and technologies involved more in-depth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NASA looking for game changing technology

NASA has begun backing two new projects currently in development that hope to spur a game changing technology for exploring space. the two projects are called “Ride the Light” and “Amprius”.

Ride the Light is a project that hopes to explore the concept of beamed power such as high-energy lasers and microwave energy. There are two components to this concept: a stationary beaming station, on earth or in orbit, and the receiving vehicle. Modularity and low-cost are key goals of this project that should provide a high payoff.

$3 million are being allocated for concept studies for the first phase of the Ride the Light project. Systems engineering and analysis will be handled by Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, Alabama; Aerojet in Redmond, Washington; ATK in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.; Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; and Teledyne Scientific, Boeing, and the Aerospace Corp. in Los Angeles. Upon conclusion of the studies, NASA expects to make a implementation decision sometime in 2013.

David E. Steitz of NASA explains what the Amprius project will focus on:

The Amprius project will focus on the material optimization of silicon anodes and electrolyte formulation to meet the agency’s low-temperature energy requirements. Amprius developed a unique ultra-high capacity silicon anode for lithium ion batteries that will enable NASA to dramatically improve the specific energy of mission critical rechargeable batteries. NASA requirements are unique because of the extremely low temperatures encountered in space.

What NASA is doing now

NASA’s next official manned spacecraft, Orion, should be operational by 2016 and they recently announced a new initiative to tap into the commercial space industry to taxi astronauts into LEO and to the ISS.

Curiosity rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA still has many missions planned for the future. Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, is scheduled to launch this fall, and will assess whether Mars was, or is, able to support microbial life. This will help us assess the planet’s habitability.

Dawn, launched earlier this month, will be a deep space mission that will orbit two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta.

NuSTAR, fully extended after launch

NuSTAR, expected to launch in February 2012, will be the first focusing high energy X-ray mission. NuSTAR will search for black holes, map supernova explosions, and study the most extreme active galaxies.

Juno. Image credit: NASA/JPL

The Juno probe, launched in August, will help our understanding of our solar system’s beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter, the largest gas-giant in our solar system.

Kepler has already revealed hundreds of extra solar planets that we will train other telescopes on to determine if these are bodies that can, or do, support life.

Our Solar System, at one time, may have had another gas-giant

A new study by astro-physicist David Nesvorny of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado suggests that at one time in the distant past, our solar system may have been home to five gas-giant planets. We are familiar with our current four gas-giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Computer simulations were used to explore what the solar system may have looked like some four billion years ago and when the simulations were supplied with our current system of four gas-giants early on, the results would were less likely to reflect the current model. When a fifth planet was introduced into the simulation, the results would reflect our current model ten times more often.

Artist's conception (Tim Pyle, NASA)

The universe if full of rogue planets and it’s likely that if our solar system had an extra planet, that it was jettisoned into interstellar space by a passing star or a close encounter with Jupiter.

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