spaceflight (22)

One Small Step...

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Topics: Moonbase, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek

Cultural references: Neil Armstrong's quote: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," and the title of a Star Trek Voyager episode, season 6, episode 8.

On August 4, 1972, the sun unleashed an incandescent whip of energy from its surface and flung it toward the planets. It was accompanied by a seething cloud of plasma called a coronal mass ejection, which traversed the nearly 150 million kilometers between sun and Earth in just more than half a day—still the fastest-known arrival time for such outbursts—to briefly bathe our planet in a cosmic fire.

Earth’s shielding magnetosphere crumpled and shrunk by two thirds, sending powerful geomagnetic currents rippling through the planet. Dazzling displays of “northern lights” stretched down to Spain, and overloaded power lines strained as far south as Texas. Off the southern coast of Haiphong, North Vietnam, the seas churned as the celestial disturbance prematurely detonated some two dozen U.S. Navy sea mines. The geomagnetic storm is one of the most violent solar events in recorded history, certainly the most violent of the space age.

The astronauts of Apollo 16 had been home about three months from their lunar foray, and those of Apollo 17 were still preparing for their December launch. The fact that the solar outburst happened between the penultimate and final crewed moon missions was simply a matter of chance. If the members of either crew had been in space during the solar storm, especially if they had been traversing the portion of the “cislunar” region between Earth and the moon that lies outside the magnetosphere, they would have been exposed to a potentially deadly dose of radiation.

We got lucky in 1972. And in terms of space-based hazards, that luck has largely held throughout humanity’s off-world excursions. To date, the only humans to actually die in space were the three cosmonauts of Soyuz 11, who asphyxiated because of faulty hardware as their spacecraft began its descent to Earth. Yet despite what most estimates would seem to consider a near-sterling safety record, today the prospect of venturing back beyond low-Earth orbit somehow seems more daunting—more dangerous—than it did when the Apollo program ended. Equipped with more knowledge than ever about the environs beyond our home, we now seem more reluctant to leave it. Maybe we know too much.

Can a Moon Base be Safe for Astronauts? Rebecca Boyle, Scientific American

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4G on the Moon...

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Topics: Cellular Service, Moonbase, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Telecom equipment supplier Nokia will use a $14.1 million grant to build the moon's first wireless network as part of NASA's plans to establish a human presence there.

NASA is investing the money in Nokia-owned American research company Bell Labs, which will build the 4G-LTE network, it said on Wednesday, October 14.

The improved data transmission will help astronauts control lunar rovers, navigate lunar geography in real-time, and stream videos.

The mission ultimately will help show whether it's possible to have "human habitation on the moon," Bell Labs said.

NASA gave Nokia $14.1 million to build a 4G network on the moon, Grace Dean, Business Insider

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SABRE...

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Courtesy: Reaction Engines

 

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

 

The pursuit, exploration, and utilization of the space environment can be misinterpreted as a luxury. History portrays space as an exclusive domain for global powers looking to demonstrate their prowess through technological marvels, or the stage for far-off exploration and scientific endeavor with little impact on daily life. However, the benefits of space are already woven into our everyday routines and provide utilities and resources on which society has grown dependent. If these were suddenly to disappear and the world was to experience just “a day without space”, the consequences would be evident to all.

 

The utilization of space is set to become more important still. A new vision for the future is starting to emerge that will feature even more innovative uses of space, ranging from space-based manufacturing and energy production to global Internet connectivity. Space-debris management is also receiving greater focus alongside lunar and Martian exploration, and even space tourism.

 

While some of these new innovations may sound like they are confined to the realm of science fiction, there are already companies furthering the technology to turn them into reality.

 

Conventional rocket vehicles are propelled by a fuel (liquid hydrogen, kerosene, or methane) and an oxidizer (liquid oxygen) carried within the vehicle body. When the fuel and oxidizer combust, mass is projected out of the back of the rocket, creating thrust. However, this approach – and especially the use of heavy onboard liquid oxygen – is constrained by Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation. It basically tells us that everything carried onboard a vehicle has a penalty in the form of the additional propellant, and structural mass of the vehicle needed to get it off the ground. In other words, this approach hampers mission performance, mission payload, and mission time.

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A concept image of the Reaction Engine’s Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE).

 

SABRE, on the other hand, is a hybrid air-breathing rocket engine. During the atmospheric segment of its ascent, it will use oxygen from the atmosphere instead of carrying it inside the vehicle, before switching to onboard oxygen upon leaving the atmosphere. A SABRE-powered launch vehicle will therefore have a lower mass for a given payload than a conventional rocket vehicle. This mass benefit can be traded for systems that will enable reusability and aircraft-like traits, such as wings, undercarriage, and thermal-protection systems – all the features needed to fly the same vehicle over and over again, achieving hundreds of launches.

 

Air-breathing rocket engines: the future of space flight, Oliver Nailard, Physics World

 

 

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Tang Jet...

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Image source: Link below ("ride the lightning")

Topics: Aerodynamics, Futurism, Plasma, Propulsion, Spaceflight

Personal note: I've been offline prepping for my preliminary exam presentation, and grieving the loss of a friend I had known for 40 years since our freshman year at NC A&T. I was his best man. He did not die of COVID, but a heart attack. As such, my remarks were read at the funeral in Indiana, as the pandemic and social distancing concerns did not allow me to give my eulogy in-person. I hope you will forgive my absence.

This past autumn, a professor at Wuhan University named Jau Tang was hard at work piecing together a thruster prototype that, at first, sounds too good to be true.

The basic idea, he said in an interview, is that his device turns electricity directly into thrust — no fossil fuels required — by using microwaves to energize compressed air into a plasma state and shooting it out like a jet. Tang suggested, without a hint of self-aggrandizement, that it could likely be scaled up enough to fly large commercial passenger planes. Eventually, he says, it might even power spaceships.

Needless to say, these are grandiose claims. A thruster that doesn’t require tanks of fuel sounds suspiciously like science fiction — like the jets on Iron Man’s suit in the Marvel movies, for instance, or the thrusters that allow Doc Brown’s DeLorean to fly in “Back to the Future.”

But in Tang’s telling, his invention — let’s just call it a Tang Jet, which he worked on with Wuhan University collaborators Dan Ye and Jun Li — could have civilization-shifting potential here in the non-fictional world.

This Scientist Says He’s Built a Jet Engine That Turns Electricity Directly Into Thrust, Dan Robitzski, Futurism

 

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Oumuamua...

Mystery of Interstellar Visitor 'Oumuamua Gets Trickier

A 3D illustration of the interstellar object known as ‘Oumuamua. Credit: Getty Images

Topics: Astrophysics, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Oumuamua—a mysterious, interstellar object that crashed through our solar system two years ago—might, in fact, be alien technology. That’s because an alternative, non-alien explanation might be fatally flawed, as a new study argues.

But most scientists think the idea that we spotted alien technology in our solar system is a long shot.

In 2018, our solar system ran into an object lost in interstellar space. The object, dubbed ‘Oumuamua, seemed to be long and thin—cigar-shaped—and tumbling end over end. Then, close observations showed it was accelerating as if something were pushing on it. Scientists still aren’t sure why.

One explanation? The object was propelled by an alien machine, such as a lightsail—a wide, millimeter-thin machine that accelerates as it’s pushed by solar radiation. The main proponent of this argument was Avi Loeb, a Harvard University astrophysicist.

Most scientists, however, think ‘Oumuamua’s wonky acceleration was likely due to a natural phenomenon. In June, a research team proposed that solid hydrogen was blasting invisibly off the interstellar object’s surface and causing it to speed up. 

Now, in a new paper published Monday (Aug. 17) in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Loeb and Thiem Hoang, an astrophysicist at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, argue that the hydrogen hypothesis couldn’t work in the real world—which would mean that there is still hope that our neck of space was once visited by advanced aliens—and that we actually spotted their presence at the time.

Here’s the problem with ‘Oumuamua: It moved like a comet, but didn’t have the classic coma, or tail, of a comet, said astrophysicist Darryl Seligman, an author of the solid hydrogen hypothesis, who is starting a postdoctoral fellowship in astrophysics at the University of Chicago.

Mystery of Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua Gets Trickier, Rafi Letzter, Live Science, Scientific American

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Starliner...

The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT)

The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) is viewed Nov. 2, 2019, while undergoing launch preparations inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Credits: Boeing

Topics: NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

NASA and Boeing continue to make progress toward the company’s second uncrewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft prior to flying astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Commercial Crew Program currently is targeting no earlier than December 2020 for launch of the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) pending hardware readiness, flight software qualification, and launch vehicle and space station manifest priorities.

Over the summer, Boeing’s Starliner team focused on readying the next spacecraft for its upcoming flight tests as well as making improvements identified during various review processes throughout the beginning of the year. NASA also announced an additional crew assignment for its first operational mission, NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1, with astronauts to the space station. Here’s more on the recent progress:

Starliner Progress

Teams from Boeing are well into final assembly of the crew and service modules that will fly OFT-2 to the space station inside of the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. OFT-2 will fly a new, reusable Starliner crew module providing additional on-orbit experience for the operational teams prior to flying missions with astronauts. For Boeing’s Commercial Crew missions, the Starliner spacecraft will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

With the majority of assembly complete, recent progress is focused on the NASA docking system re-entry cover, which was added to the design for additional protection of the system. The team also has completed the installation of the Starliner propellant heater, thermal protection system tiles and the air bags that will be used when the spacecraft touches down for landing. As final production activities continue to progress, the crew module recently entered acceptance testing, which will prove out the systems on the spacecraft before it’s mated with its service module.

Boeing’s Starliner Makes Progress Ahead of Flight Test with Astronauts, NASA

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Ceres...

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Occator Crater and Ahuna Mons appear together in this view of the dwarf planet Ceres obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on February 11, 2017. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS.

Topics: Asteroids, Exoplanets, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

"Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, and the love a mother bears for her child. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, the sister of Jupiter, and the mother of Proserpine. Ceres was a kind and benevolent goddess to the Romans and they had a common expression, "fit for Ceres," which meant splendid." Source: Ceresva.org

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is an “ocean world” with a big reservoir of salty water under its frigid surface, scientists said in findings that raise interest in this dwarf planet as a possible outpost for life.

Research published on Monday based on data obtained by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which flew as close as 22 miles (35 km) from the surface in 2018, provides a new understanding of Ceres, including evidence indicating it remains geologically active with cryovolcanism - volcanoes oozing icy material.

The findings confirm the presence of a subsurface reservoir of brine - salt-enriched water - remnants of a vast subsurface ocean that has been gradually freezing.

“This elevates Ceres to ‘ocean world’ status, noting that this category does not require the ocean to be global,” said planetary scientist and Dawn principal investigator Carol Raymond. “In the case of Ceres, we know the liquid reservoir is regional scale but we cannot tell for sure that it is global. However, what matters most is that there is liquid on a large scale.”

Dwarf planet Ceres is 'ocean world' with salty water deep underground, Will Dunham, Reuters Science

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Perseverance...

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Image Source: NASA.gov

Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

After years of anticipation, NASA hopes to launch its latest robotic explorer, Perseverance, to Mars on Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 A.M. EDT. Set to depart Earth atop an Atlas V-541 rocket from historic Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the ambitious rover is the latest in a long lineage of rolling robotic explorers that NASA has sent to the Red Planet.

If Mars 2020 is not able to blast off during its two-hour launch window tomorrow morning — due to hazardous weather or unforeseen technical issues — the space agency will have just two more weeks to get it done. That’s because after August 15, Mars and Earth will no longer be aligned in a way that allows for quick interplanetary travel, meaning NASA would have to store the rover for two years until the next favorable alignment.

“We have four objectives,” Ken Williford, Deputy Project Scientist for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, told Astronomy earlier this year. “The first three are really our core science objectives. And the fourth is … preparing for human exploration.”

Perseverance’s science objects are: seeking out sites that were potentially habitable in the past, looking for signs of ancient microbes within rocks known to preserve life, and collecting and storing promising rock samples for a future return mission.

Mars 2020 Launch: NASA's Perseverance Rover Ready for Journey to the Red Planet, Jake Parks, Discovery Magazine

NASA: Perseverance

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Lingua Astra...

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Image Source: What a generational spaceship would actually look like, Rachel Feltman, Popular Science

 

Topics: Evolution, Interstellar Travel, Science Fiction, Spaceflight

Mrs. Flynt played "telephone" with us, simply lining up the entire fifth grade class in one line, arranged with chairs to accent the exercise. She showed a note to the student at the beginning of the line. She then whispered the contents of the note to the student to her right. I heard it from my neighbor, and whispered it in kind. It followed down line until it got to the last: the note's contents had completely changed from the first student to the twentieth.

I do not recall the original contents of the note, but the exercise has been repeated here on Earth without the need for fusion reactors, rotating habitats to induce artificial gravity, space lasers or Klingons. Culture on a generation starship would change from its origin planet. A society would emerge diametrically different than its original, hopefully far better than our current one, inculcating survival principles that would allow it to finish the journey to its destination, and thrive once there.

In science fiction, there’s something called a generation ship: a spacecraft that ferries humankind on a multiple-generation-long journey to brand new star systems or even galaxies.

The idea has also been touted here in the real world by those hell-bent on traversing the stars. But there’s a major problem with the concept, and we’re not talking about the countless generations doomed to be born and die for the sake of a mission they never agreed to — that’s a whole other thing. Rather, Universe Today points out that, if past is prelude, the language spoken on the ship would eventually evolve to the point that it seems incoherent back on Earth.

On an Interstellar Flight, Language Itself Would Evolve, Dan Robitzski, Futurism

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Mars by Venus...

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An artist's depiction of a rocket carrying humans to Mars. (Image: © NASA/John Frassanito and Associates)

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

The roads of human spaceflight all seem to lead to Mars. For decades now, it's been the logical next step after the moon.

But if you're an astronaut or a cosmonaut on your way to or from Mars, you might make a surprising pit stop along the way: Venus.

A flight to (or from) Mars can happen more quickly and cheaply if it "involves a Venus flyby on the way to or on the way home from Mars," Noam Izenberg, a planetary geologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Space.com.

Izenberg is one of a number of scientists and engineers advocating that a crewed mission to Mars also visit Venus. This group of researchers has drafted a white paper on the subject, to be submitted for peer review at Acta Astronautica. According to that paper, using Venus as a stepping stone to Mars isn't just one option — it's an essential part of a crewed Mars mission.

Astronauts bound for Mars should swing by Venus first, scientists say, Rahul Rao, Space.com

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Dragons and Dystopias...

 

Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, International Space Station, Octavia Butler, Science Fiction, Spaceflight

A casual search on this blog, it's not the first time I've invoked Octavia Butler as an observer of our times, and it likely won't be the last.

 

Octavia Butler’s tenth novel, “Parable of the Sower,” which was published in 1993, opens in Los Angeles in 2024. Global warming has brought drought and rising seawater. The middle class and working poor live in gated neighborhoods, where they fend off the homeless with guns and walls. Fresh water is scarce, as valuable as money. Pharmaceutical companies have created “smart drugs,” which boost mental performance, and “pyro,” a pill that gives those who take it sexual pleasure from arson. Fires are common. Police services are expensive, though few people trust the police. Public schools are being privatized, as are whole towns. In this atmosphere, a Presidential candidate named Christopher Donner is elected based on his promises to dismantle government programs and bring back jobs.

 

“Parable of the Sower” unfolds through the journal entries of its protagonist, a fifteen-year-old black girl named Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives with her family in one of the walled neighborhoods. “People have changed the climate of the world,” she observes. “Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.” She places no hope in Donner, whom she views as “a symbol of the past to hold onto as we’re pushed into the future.” Instead, she equips herself to survive in that future. She practices her aim with BB guns. She collects maps and books on how Native Americans used plants. She develops a belief system of her own, a Darwinian religion she names Earthseed.

The sequel, “Parable of the Talents,” published in 1998, begins in 2032. By then, various forms of indentured servitude and slavery are common, facilitated by high-tech slave collars. The oppression of women has become extreme; those who express their opinion, “nags,” might have their tongues cut out. People are addicted not only to designer drugs but also to “dream masks,” which generate virtual fantasies as guided dreams, allowing wearers to submerge themselves in simpler, happier lives. News comes in the form of disks or “news bullets,” which “purport to tell us all we need to know in flashy pictures and quick, witty, verbal one-two punches. Twenty-five or thirty words are supposed to be enough in a news bullet to explain either a war or an unusual set of Christmas lights.” The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.”

Octavia Butler's Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to "Make America Great Again," Abby Aguirre, New Yorker, 2017

 

In "Sower," one of the distinct things I recall is the juxtaposition between advancement and debasement; triumph and depravity. While civilization on Earth was practically going to shit in the novel, I remember from the novel, we discover microbial life on Mars, which is predicted to be the extraterrestrial life we'll likely discover on the red planet. The Moon Landing - that conspiracy theorists don't think happened, and likely won't think the next one led by commercial space vehicles isn't a forgery - occurred in 1969: it was the year after the Fair Housing Act and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, followed by the presidential candidate that announced the sad news, Robert F. Kennedy. It was the year the Original Star Trek was cancelled, "boldly going" into syndication, convention and science fiction mythology; a vison of us surviving to be our better angels. We were still in the Civil Rights Era, and fighting for the rights to be human. On that year, mankind walked on the moon, but specifically European men, as African American astronauts only appeared as extras along William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, or in prosthetic makeup so you couldn't tell what culture they were from. Guy Bluford, Ron McNair and others had yet to appear on the scene, then and now a small selected group of explorers.

 

I watched the launch of SpaceX, marveling at its sleekness, benefiting from transistors and the march of Moore's law to the nanoscale. It was a day after riots for the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaund Aubrey. The scientists and technicians in Mission Control were wearing masks acknowledging the pandemic; the president* and vice president* were playing their "macho-tough-guy" shtick.

*: indicative of installed puppets by Putin.

 

Rockets, moon shots

Spend it on the have nots

Money, we make it

'Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make you wanna holler

The way they do my life

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

This ain't livin', this ain't livin'

No, no baby, this ain't livin'

No, no, no

Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues," Genius Lyrics

 

A rat done bit my sister Nell

With whitey on the moon

Her face and arms began to swell

And whitey's on the moon

I can't pay no doctor bills

But whitey's on the moon

Ten years from now I'll be payin' still

While whitey's on the moon

The man just upped my rent last night

Cause whitey's on the moon

No hot water, no toilets, no lights

But whitey's on the moon

Gil Scott-Heron, "Whitey on the Moon," Genius Lyrics

 

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:

 

Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word (unquote).

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence, Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967 (he would be assassinated April 4, 1968)

 

Poets in many spaces have earned the quaint acronym: "prophets of eternal truths." As prophets, Gaye, Heron and King made the same observation of their time, that it was obscene to attain such technological triumphs while letting income inequality, rampant militarism, racial unrest and societal disparity go as unchallenged as established on Plymouth Rock. Prophecy isn't prediction as much as it is warning: it is usually written as suggested course-correction, not inevitable conclusion.

A global empire was gotten initially with sugar cane and cotton, on land looted from First Nation peoples, the same who helped the colonists survive their first winter - they were repaid with near extinction. The land was looted from Mexicans, the theft memorialized in jingoism and sloganeering: "remember the Alamo." The land was cultivated by kidnapped peoples from the African continent. The looters wrote us all off as savages, uncivilized, unintelligent, rapists, drug dealers, animals, and took their sexual pleasures - heterosexually, homosexually and depraved pedophilia - with their captive property. Mulatto children typically worked in the master's house, but acknowledged their fathers like they acknowledged his white children: sir and ma'am, so ingrained Floyd used "I can't breath, sir" to the assassin sitting on his neck. Science moved forward during these years, a proof that it can advance even in the midst of a nation's depravity.

Sleek, Dragon SpaceX craft can dock with International Space Stations, while below cities burn in dystopia and a madman mean-girl tweets from the loo. As "comforter-in-chief," he is consistently missing in action, befitting a five-deferment draft dodger.

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Artemis...

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Artist concept: Mars base


Topics: Mars, Moon, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Women in Science


(Trolling) I'm looking forward to the conspiracy theories on grainy YouTube homemade videos to "prove" the continuing faking of any manned moon landing. o_9

Artemis, in Greek religion, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and of chastity and childbirth; she was identified by the Romans with Diana. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration by 2028. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

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Artemis: Humanity's Return to the Moon, NASA

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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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Olympus Mons and Beyond...

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Olympus Mons, NASA/MOLA Science Team/ O. de Goursac, Adrian Lark

Topics: Mars, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


Olympus Mons is the most extreme volcano in the solar system. Located in the Tharsis volcanic region, it's about the same size as the state of Arizona, according to NASA. Its height of 16 miles (25 kilometers) makes it nearly three times the height of Earth's Mount Everest, which is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) high.

Olympus Mons is a gigantic shield volcano, which was formed after lava slowly crawled down its slopes. This means that the mountain is probably easy for future explorers to climb, as its average slope is only 5 percent. At its summit is a spectacular depression some 53 miles (85 km) wide, formed by magma chambers that lost lava (likely during an eruption) and collapsed.

Mars is a planet mostly shaped by wind these days, since the water evaporated as its atmosphere thinned. But we can see extensive evidence of past water, such as regions of "ghost dunes" found in Noctis Labyrinthus and Hellas basin. Researchers say these regions used to hold dunes that were tens of meters tall. Later, the dunes were flooded by lava or water, which preserved their bases while the tops eroded away.

Old dunes such as these show how winds used to flow on ancient Mars, which in turn gives climatologists some hints as to the ancient environment of the Red Planet. In an even more exciting twist, there could be microbes hiding in the sheltered areas of these dunes, safe from the radiation and wind that would otherwise sweep them away.

 

Touring Mars, Elizabeth Howell, Space.com

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Off-World Ventures...

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A scheme to beam solar power entails collecting sunlight and beaming it to Earth. An array of mirrored heliostats (conical structure) collects the sunlight, and a photovoltaic array (disk) converts it into electricity, which is then converted into a coherent microwave beam and sent to receivers almost anywhere in view on Earth. The image depicts the SPS-ALPHA, or Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array.

 

Topics: Asteroids, Economics, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


An apparent confluence of political will and technological readiness has fans of humankind’s expansion beyond Earth hopeful that their dreams may soon become reality. Alongside a rise in missions to the Moon by agencies and private companies in the US, Europe, China, Japan, India, and Russia, commercial sectors are buzzing with related activities. And various governmental and nongovernmental bodies are strategizing about environmental, ethical, legal, sociological, and other issues of space utilization and colonization.

With interest in space travel growing—spurred in part by billionaire entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk—enthusiasts say the time is right to figure out how to use space resources, including water, solar power, and lunar regolith. Doing so would expand space exploration, increase commercial activities in space, and lead to technological advances for humanity, says Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the first graduate degree program in space resources, which he and colleagues launched last year at the Colorado School of Mines.

The only space resource exploited to date is the view of Earth from orbit for such applications as global positioning systems, weather prediction, communications, and science missions. A few years ago the prospect of mining asteroids for platinum and other metals to use on Earth was “the rage,” says George Sowers of the Colorado School of Mines. But the business case didn’t hold up. One exception might be rare-earth elements, but in the near to mid term, he says, “bringing stuff back to Earth is not economically viable.” For now, the focus has shifted to using space resources in situ.

Water is a primary target resource in space. Electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen, it becomes fuel that could replenish satellites in orbit and propel rockets for exploring the solar system and returning to Earth. Astronauts and space tourists could drink water, use it for gardening and hygiene, and shield themselves from ionizing radiation with meter-thick sheaths of it around habitats or spacecraft.

 

Prospect of off-planet outposts spurs interest in space resources
Toni Feder, Physics Today

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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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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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