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The Slingshot Effect...

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An artist’s illustration of a spacecraft’s escape trajectory (bright white line) from our solar system into interstellar space. Credit: Mike Yukovlev Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory - Link 2 below

 

Topics: Astrophysics, Interstellar Travel, NASA, Spaceflight, Star Trek


Yes, an actual slingshot effect does exist.

As much a fan as I am of the Trek, this isn't it.

When a spacecraft in orbit about a primary body comes close to a moon that is orbiting the same primary body, there is an exchange of orbital energy and angular momentum between the spacecraft and the moon. The total orbital energy remains constant, so if the spacecraft gains orbital energy then the moon's orbital energy decreases. Orbital period, which is the time required to complete one orbit about the primary body, is proportional to orbital energy. Therefore, as the spacecraft's orbital period increases (the slingshot effect), the moon's orbital period decreases.

But because the spacecraft is much, much smaller than the moon, the effect on the spacecraft's orbit is much greater than on the moon's orbit. For example, the Cassini spacecraft weighs about 3,000 kilograms, whereas Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, weighs about 1023 kilograms. The effect on Cassini is thus about 20 orders of magnitude greater than the effect on Titan is. [1]

 

*****


It would begin in the early 2030s, with a launch of a roughly half-ton nuclear-powered spacecraft on the world’s largest rocket, designed to go farther and faster than any human-made object has ever gone before. The probe would pass by Jupiter and perhaps later dive perilously close to the sun, in both cases to siphon a fraction of each object’s momentum, picking up speed to supercharge its escape. Then, with the sun and the major planets rapidly receding behind it, the craft would emerge from the haze of primordial dust that surrounds our star system, allowing it an unfiltered glimpse of the feeble all-sky glow from countless far-off galaxies. Forging ahead, it could fly by one or more of the icy, unexplored worlds now known to exist past Pluto. And gazing back, it could seek out the pale blue dot of Earth, looking for hints of our planet’s life that could be seen from nearby stars.

All this would be but a prelude, however, to what McNutt and other mission planners pitch as the probe’s core scientific purpose. About a decade after launch, it would pierce the heliosphere—a cocoonlike region around our solar system created by “winds” of particles flowing from our sun—to reach and study the cosmic rays and clouds of plasma that make up the “interstellar medium” that fills the dark spaces between the stars. Continuing its cruise, by the 2080s it could conceivably have traveled as far as 1,000 astronomical units (AU), or Earth-sun distances, from the solar system, achieving its primary objective at last: an unprecedented bird’s-eye view of the heliosphere that could revolutionize our understanding of our place in the cosmos. [2]

 

1. How does the slingshot effect (or gravity assist) work to change the orbit of a spacecraft? Scientific American, July 11, 2005
Jeremy B. Jones, Cassini Navigation Team Chief at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
2. Proposed Interstellar Mission Reaches for the Stars, One Generation at a Time
Scientific American, Lee Billings, November 2019

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Fossil Hunters...

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Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/ESA

 

Topics: Astrobiology, Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


Scientists with NASA's Mars 2020 rover have discovered what may be one of the best places to look for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater, where the rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021.

A paper published today in the journal Icarus identifies distinct deposits of minerals called carbonates along the inner rim of Jezero, the site of a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. On Earth, carbonates help form structures that are hardy enough to survive in fossil form for billions of years, including seashells, coral and some stromatolites — rocks formed on this planet by ancient microbial life along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water were plentiful.

The possibility of stromatolite-like structures existing on Mars is why the concentration of carbonates tracing Jezero's shoreline like a bathtub ring makes the area a prime scientific hunting ground.

Mars 2020 is NASA's next-generation mission with a focus on astrobiology, or the study of life throughout the universe. Equipped with a new suite of scientific instruments, it aims to build on the discoveries of NASA's Curiosity, which found that parts of Mars could have supported microbial life billions of years ago. Mars 2020 will search for actual signs of past microbial life, taking rock core samples that will be deposited in metal tubes on the Martian surface. Future missions could return these samples to Earth for deeper study.

 

NASA's Mars 2020 Will Hunt for Microscopic Fossils, NASA

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It Takes a Village...

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This cutaway shows the interior of a 3D printed section of ESA's planned Moon Village.

 

Topics: ESA, Moon, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


We've all fantasized of visiting somewhere exotic. For most of us, that dream spot is somewhere on Earth. But for some, the ultimate must-see destination isn't on our planet at all.

NASA is currently planning a series of 37 rocket launches, both robotic and crewed, that will culminate with the 2028 deployment of the first components for along-term lunar base, according to recently leaked documents obtained by Ars Technica. An outpost on the Moon is surely an exciting prospect for both science geeks and prospective solar-system sightseers, but some believe NASA’s timeline is a too ambitious to be realistic.

However, unlike NASA, who not long ago adjusted their sights from Mars mission to a return to the Moon, the European Space Agency (ESA) has already spent almost five years quietly planning a permanent lunar settlement. And while building it may take a few decades, if done right, it could serve the entire world — sightseers included — for many more decades to come.

 

Moon Village: Humanity's first step toward a lunar colony?
Jake Parks, Astronomy Magazine

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Going Vertical...

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Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.

 

Topics: Climate Change, Mars, NASA, Space Exploration


PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.

The “Marsonaut” experiment by scientist Jan Lukacevic, 29, and his team at the Prague University of Life Sciences is based on aeroponics - growing plants in the air, without soil, and limiting water use to a minimum.

The plants grow horizontally from a vertical unit and are stacked one above the other to minimize space. Researchers experiment with light and temperature changes, Lukacevic said.

The team has already succeeded in growing mustard plants, salad leaves, radishes and herbs like basil and mint.

Scientists ate their first harvest last week.

“They taste wonderful, because they grow in a controlled environment and we supply them with bespoke nutrients,” said Lukacevic.

 

Czech lab grows mustard plants for Mars
Reporting by Jiri Skacel; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Dan Grebler, Reuters Science

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Shake, Rattle and Roar...

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SpaceX's Mars Starship prototype "Starhopper" hovers over its launchpad during a test flight in Boca Chica, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Trevor Mahlmann

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


(Reuters) - SpaceX test-launched an early prototype of the company’s Mars rocket on Tuesday, unnerving residents near the Texas site and clearing another key hurdle in billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s interplanetary ambitions.

After the launch, Musk congratulated engineers from SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp, and posted a photo of Starhopper touching down on its landing pad with billowing clouds of dust and sand rising from the ground.

“One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars,” Musk tweeted.

The prototype, dubbed Starhopper, slowly rose about 500 feet (152 m) off its launch pad in Brownsville, Texas, and propelled itself some 650 feet (198 m) eastward onto an adjacent landing platform, completing a seemingly successful low-altitude test of SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine.

The Raptor is designed to power Musk’s forthcoming heavy-lift Starship rocket, a reusable two-stage booster taller than the Statue of Liberty that is expected to play a central role in Musk’s interplanetary space travel objectives, including missions to Mars.

 

SpaceX's Mars rocket prototype rattles nearby residents in Texas flight test
Joey Roulette, Reuters Science

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Half the Time...

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An illustration of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion. (Image: © NASA/Marshall)

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Nuclear Fission, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


Humanity's next giant leap could be enabled by next-gen nuclear tech, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

During the sixth meeting of the National Space Council (NSC) today (Aug. 20), the NASA chief lauded the potential of nuclear thermal propulsion, which would harness the heat thrown off by fission reactions to accelerate propellants such as hydrogen to tremendous speeds.

Spacecraft powered by such engines could conceivably reach Mars in just three to four months — about half the time of the fastest possible trip in a vehicle with traditional chemical propulsion, said NSC panelist Rex Geveden, the president and CEO of BWX Technologies Inc.

And that's a big deal for NASA, which is working to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

"That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve," Bridenstine said. "That gives us an opportunity to really protect life, when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between Earth and Mars."

 

Nuclear Propulsion Could Be 'Game-Changer' for Space Exploration, NASA Chief Says
Mike Wall, Space.com

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A Year of TESS...

 

Topics: Exoplanets, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Star Trek


"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before." (Star Trek: The Captain's Oath)

“Kepler discovered the amazing result that, on average, every star system has a planet or planets around it. TESS takes the next step. If planets are everywhere, let’s find those orbiting bright, nearby stars because they’ll be the ones we can now follow up with existing ground and space-based telescopes, and the next generation of instruments for decades to come.” Padi Boyd, TESS project scientist, NASA GSFC

- HD 21749c, the first Earth-size planet the mission has found. The world orbits a K-class star with about 70 percent of the mass of the Sun, located 53 light years away in the constellation Reticulum, one of two planets identified in this system;

- A number of multi-planet systems, like that around L98-59, which includes a planet (L98-59b) between the size of Earth and Mars, the smallest yet found by TESS. Here the host star is an M-dwarf about a third the mass of the Sun, 35 light years away in the constellation Volans;

- Three exocomets identified in the Beta Pictoris system. A comet’s lightcurve differs significantly from that of a transiting planet because of the extended cometary tail. These discoveries demonstrate the ability of TESS to identify tiny objects around young, bright stars, and should lead to future exocomet detections that can supply information about planet formation;

- Six supernovae occurring in other galaxies, among them ASASSN-18rn, ASASSN-18tb and ATLAS18tne, found before ground-based surveys could identify them.

 

TESS: Concluding First Year of Observations, Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams

#P4TC: TESS... August 2, 2018

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Legacy...

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APOLLO 11
Results from the Apollo 11 mission established key paradigms of lunar and planetary science. After a harrowing descent to the surface, Armstrong set the Eagle down on the cratered basaltic plains of Mare Tranquillitatis. Extravehicular activity was brief—just two and a half hours during that first mission—and included setting up surface experiments and exploring a small cluster of craters near the lunar module and Little West Crater some 60 meters away, as shown in figure 1. Aldrin’s iconic Apollo 11 bootprint photo revealed much about the lunar soil, including its fine-grained nature, its cohesiveness, and its ability to pack tightly together.

 

Topics: Apollo, Moon, NASA, Spaceflight


On 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the Moon while Michael Collins orbited in the command module Columbia. “Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”became one of the most iconic statements of the Apollo experience and set the stage for five additional Apollo landings.

Each of the Apollo missions explored carefully selected landing sites and conducted a variety of experiments to probe the lunar interior and measure the solar wind. Well-trained astronauts made geologic observations and collected samples of rock and regolith, the impact-generated layer of debris that composes the lunar surface. Over a half century of study, the samples have revealed abundant information not only about the Moon’s origin and history but also about the workings of our solar system.

APOLLO 11

Results from the Apollo 11 mission established key paradigms of lunar and planetary science. After a harrowing descent to the surface, Armstrong set the Eagle down on the cratered basaltic plains of Mare Tranquillitatis. Extravehicular activity was brief—just two and a half hours during that first mission—and included setting up surface experiments and exploring a small cluster of craters near the lunar module and Little West Crater some 60 meters away, as shown in figure 1. Aldrin’s iconic Apollo 11 boot print photo revealed much about the lunar soil, including its fine-grained nature, its cohesiveness, and its ability to pack tightly together.

 

The scientific legacy of the Apollo program, Brad Jolliff, Mark Robinson, Physics Today

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Stepping Backwards...

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Image source: link [1] below

 

Topics: Civics, NASA, Space Exploration, Star Trek, STEM


The first time I ran into the notion of the moon landing being "faked," a young coworker showed me a grainy amateurish video on YouTube. I encountered it with a co-vendor at the IBM research facility I supported. To neither, both younger than me, did it matter that "I was there" and they weren't on the planet yet. Evidence and eye witness testimony did not move them from their stances.

Neil Armstrong thought he had a 50–50 shot at pulling it off. "There are so many unknowns," the first man to set foot on the moon said in a 2011 interview with an Australian accounting firm. “There was a big chance that there was something in there we didn’t understand properly and we [would have] to abort and come back to Earth without landing.” That he, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins—with the help of thousands of NASA engineers, scientists and mission controllers on Earth—did pull off a moon landing remains one of humanity's most incredible achievements.

Consider that 50 years ago this month a 36-story-tall Saturn V rocket weighing as much as 400 elephants climbed away from Earth atop an explosion more powerful than the output of 85 Hoover Dams. Once in space, the astronauts escaped Earth orbit, traveled to lunar orbit, then undocked part of their spacecraft and steered it down for a soft impact on an alien land. Perhaps even more impressive, after taking a walk around, they climbed back in their lunar lander, launched off the surface of another planetary body (another first), rejoined the command module orbiting roughly 60 miles above the lunar surface, and then flew back to Earth, splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean two days later. [1]

The spin offs from the space industry technologically benefited America. Not since the king cotton era (fueled by the free, uncompensated slave labor of my ancestors) had the United States enjoyed such dominance in production, productivity and economic expansion. It would go on for decades, many young people inspired by NASA, Star Trek reruns and conventions to pursue STEM careers out of a passion for exploration, and birthing a more egalitarian society post previous sectarian divisions.

Exactly 50 years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the Moon and inspire a generation of young people to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

The Apollo program's effect of inspiring America's children to pursue careers in STEM fields is one of the most powerful lasting legacies of the Moon race. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be coming to an end.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 anniversary, LEGO asked The Harris Poll to survey a total of 3,000 children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom about their attitudes toward and knowledge of space. The results reveal that, at least for Western countries, kids today are more interested in YouTube than spaceflight. [2]

Entertainment and ambition looked upward: the notion of a three nacelle starship with a saucer section that could travel impossible speeds fueled imaginations. The notion of defying relativistic time dilation, traversing vast distances in human lifetimes propelled many of us into STEM to “do our parts” in getting at least close to this lofty goal. A fifth or tenth the speed of light to Proxima Centauri would achieve that aim. Any higher level physics class disabused us of attaining “warp speed,” but we could see the technological benefit and spin off of assisting in things that would promote the “Common Good” here on Terra Firma.

We did not count on the divorce of productivity and cost of living wages, stagnant since the 1970s. We did not count on conspiracy theorists masking themselves as serious news pundits and influencing more than clicks or product purchases from their sites. We did not count on the rapidly increasing (and encouraged) income disparity. We did not count on politicians bought by wealthy families and corporations whose only about getting wealthier and more powerful in our lives. We did not count on science denial, climate or otherwise. Such a dysfunctional dystopia depends on selfies, self-centered attitudes and distractions, like supercomputers in our hip pockets sharing our suppers; websites that reinforce our views and cute cat videos. And we did not count on the cultural division encouraged by authoritarians the world over as their best means of controlling the masses.

It is in such a world young people would rather be YouTube personalities than starship captains.

My previous, gob-smacking encounters with my younger coworkers are now explained.
 

1. One Small Step Back in Time: Relive the Wonder of Apollo 11, Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American
2. American kids would much rather be YouTubers than astronauts, Eric Berger, ArsTechica

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Mars 2020...

When I test a vacuum, I just sprinkle oats all over the floor. When NASA tests one, you get this.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


NASA will leave no Martian rock unturned as it prepares the next Mars robot for the chaos of space travel and landing on the red planet.

Over the last two months, the Mars 2020 spacecraft has been subjected to a number of extreme tests designed to ensure it can withstand an intense rocket launch and the extremes of space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put the futuristic craft through "acoustic and thermal vacuum" testing -- and it has passed with flying colors.

The test involve blasting the spacecraft with sound levels as high as 150 decibels -- the type of levels you'd hear standing next to a jet at take-off -- to replicate the environment of a launch, according to Andy Rose, manager of JPL's environmental test facilities.

After the sound blast tests were performed six times, NASA put the Mars 2020 rover through a brutal test that replicates the vacuum of space. That required the spacecraft to be transported to the Space Simulator Facility and suspended in midair, as seen in the above image.

 

Mars 2020 spacecraft subjected to brutal tests as it prepares for launch, Jackson Ryan, CNET

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Twin Paradox...

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly (left) cracks a slight smile while posing with his identical twin brother, astronaut Scott Kelly (right). As part of NASA's Twins Study, Scott took a long trip to space, while Mark remained on Earth. Researchers then monitored how their bodies reacted to their differing environments. NASA

 

Topics: Astronaut, Astrophysics, Genetics, NASA, Spaceflight


Brothers compete. So in 2016, when astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth after spending a year in space, it must have really annoyed his identical twin brother — retired astronaut Mark Kelly — that Scott was two inches taller than when he left. However, Scott's temporary increase in height was not the only thing that changed during his trip.

As part of NASA's Twins Study, while Scott was in space, Mark went about his daily life on Earth. Over the course of the year-long mission, researchers tracked changes in both brothers' biological markers to pinpoint any variances. Because the twins share the same genetic code, researchers reasoned that any observed differences could tentatively — though not definitively — be linked to Scott's time aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This allowed them to take advantage of a unique opportunity and explore how an extended stay in space may impact the human body.

Based on their results, which were published this week in the journal Science, spaceflight can definitely trigger changes in the human body. But the vast majority of these changes disappear within just a few short months of returning to Earth.

Most notably, the researchers found that living in a microgravity environment can: damage DNA; impact the way thousands of individual genes are expressed; increase the length of telomeres (the shielding caps that protect the ends of our chromosomes); thicken artery walls; modify the microbiome; and increase inflammation — just to name a few.

"This is the dawn of human genomics in space," said Andrew Feinberg, a distinguished professor at Johns Hopkins University and one of the lead investigators for the Twins Study, in a press release. "We developed the methods for doing these types of human genomic studies, and we should be doing more research to draw conclusions about what happens to humans in space."

 

NASA's Twins Study: Spaceflight changes the human body, but only temporarily
Jake Parks, Astronomy

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Mars Quake...

Model of the spaceship Insight, NASA's first robotic lander, dedicated to study the deep interior of Mars. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

 

Topics: Geophysics, Mars, NASA, Planetary Exploration


Finals are over. I'll be with our new granddaughter and her parents next week, along with working on my thesis, following up on my PhD application and changing diapers. My posts will be sporadic since I'll be on the road. I'll catch up.

The breakthrough came nearly five months after InSight, the first spacecraft designed specifically to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down on the surface of Mars to begin its two-year seismological mission on the red planet.

The faint rumble characterized by JPL scientists as a likely marsquake, roughly equal to a 2.5 magnitude earthquake, was recorded on April 6 - the lander’s 128th Martian day, or sol.

It was detected by InSight’s French-built seismometer, an instrument sensitive enough to measure a seismic wave just one-half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

The lunar and Martian surfaces are extremely quiet compared with Earth, which experiences constant low-level seismic noise from oceans and weather as well as quakes that occur along subterranean fault lines created by shifting tectonic plates in the planet’s crust.

Mars and the moon lack tectonic plates. Their seismic activity is instead driven by a cooling and contracting process that causes stress to build up and become strong enough to rupture the crust.

Three other apparent seismic signals were picked up by InSight on March 14, April 10 and April 11 but were even smaller and more ambiguous in origin, leaving scientists less certain they were actual marsquakes.

 

NASA probe detects likely 'marsquake' - an interplanetary first
Joey Roulette, Reuters Science

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