Archive for June, 2014

The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog now has 23 objects of interest including Gliese 832 c, the closest to Earth of the top three most Earth-like worlds in the catalog.  Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog now has 23 objects of interest including Gliese 832 c, the closest to Earth of the top three most Earth-like worlds in the catalog.
Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

So close, yet so far…Gliese 832 c is the nearest best habitable world candidate to date.

An international team of astronomers, led by Robert Wittenmyer from the University of New South Wales, Australia, have reported the discovery of a new potentially habitable Super-Earth around the nearby red-dwarf star Gliese 832 – a mere hop, skip and a jump away at sixteen light years!

Earth Similarity Index

According to the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, Gliese 832 c has an “Earth Similarity Index (ESI)” making it one of the top three most Earth-like planets with respect to our planet’s stellar flux and mass.

However, other unknowns such as the bulk composition and atmosphere of the planet could make this world quite different to Earth and non-habitable.

Gliese 832 c is a prime object for follow-up observations.

Artistic representation of the potentially habitable exoplanet Gliese 832 c as compared with Earth. Gliese 832 c is represented here as a temperate world covered in clouds. The relative size of the planet in the figure assumes a rocky composition but could be larger - an ice/gas composition.  Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

Artistic representation of the potentially habitable exoplanet Gliese 832 c as compared with Earth. Gliese 832 c is represented here as a temperate world covered in clouds. The relative size of the planet in the figure assumes a rocky composition but could be larger – an ice/gas composition.
Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

Dynamical role

The star, Gliese 832, is already known to harbor a cold Jupiter-like planet, Gliese 832 b, discovered in 2009.

So far, the two planets of Gliese 832 are a scaled-down version of our own Solar System, with an inner potentially Earth-like planet and an outer Jupiter-like giant planet.

The giant planet may well have played a similar dynamical role in the Gliese 832 system to that played by Jupiter in our Solar System.

Rare architecture

As noted by the PHL, “it will be interesting to know if any additional objects in the Gliese 832 system (e.g. planets and dust) follow this familiar Solar System configuration, but this architecture remains rare among the known exoplanet systems.”

The new planet, Gliese 832 c, was added to the PHL Habitable Exoplanets Catalog along with a total of 23 objects of interest. The number of planets in the catalog has almost doubled this year alone, according to a PHL press statement.

The original research by Wittenmyer, Mikko Tuomi and colleagues, can be found here:

http://arxiv.org/abs/1406.5587

 

The test vehicle for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator rides on a balloon to high altitude above Hawaii. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator rides on a balloon to high altitude above Hawaii.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

UPDATE:

At a NASA telecom today regarding the LDSD test, lead engineers detailed that the key elements of the project – the parachutes, the hardware-lofting balloon, the saucer-shaped test article – all were recovered in ocean waters.

Also recovered is a huge amount of video and other recorded data contained within black boxes.

The Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) inflated successfully and underwent over a minute of flight, much to the delight of LDSD engineers.

A ballute pilot chute did deploy, designed to extract a much larger parachute. That huge parachute – the size of a small warehouse — tried to fully deploy, but did not. Recovered test data should tell the true story of why the supersonic chute did not perform as intended.

The test vehicle is thought to have landed in the ocean at some twenty to thirty miles per hour. It was recovered intact.

The LDSD program will fly hardware twice next year from the Hawaii test site.

An LDSD site for video: http://go.usa.gov/9FBG

NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) saucer shaped test vehicle was carried aloft by balloon June 28 from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

The test vehicle was toted skyward to about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, then released from the balloon.

Rocketed to a higher altitude and higher speed after balloon separation, the LDSD vehicle flew its flight test profile as planned. The upper layers of Earth’s stratosphere are the most similar environment available to match the properties of the thin atmosphere of Mars.

During the test flight, two technologies were deployed.

A screen shot shows the LDSD test vehicle after it dropped from the balloon that lifted it to high altitudes and fired its rocket. The picture was taken by a low-resolution camera onboard the vehicle. Earth is the blue-green orb in the background. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A screen shot shows the LDSD test vehicle after it dropped from the balloon that lifted it to high altitudes and fired its rocket. The picture was taken by a low-resolution camera onboard the vehicle. Earth is the blue-green orb in the background.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The first is a doughnut-shaped tube called the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), with early indications that it deployed as expected.

However, the second technology – a huge Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute – appears not to have unfurled as expected. It was not immediately clear whether or not a pilot ballute was released prior to large parachute deployment.

The test vehicle splashed down in the ocean after the engineering test flight concluded.

This test was the first of three planned for the LDSD project – two more are slated for next year.

The LDSD effort is evaluating new landing technologies for future Mars missions, including how to support human expeditions to the Red Planet.

NASA’s LDSD program is under the wing of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in the space agency’s future missions.

As per local tradition, the test vehicle was blessed by native Hawaiian, "Uncle" Tom Takahashi, who dubbed it, "Keiki o ka honua," or "boy from Earth." Credit: NASA/JPL

As per local tradition, the test vehicle was blessed by native Hawaiian, “Uncle” Tom Takahashi, who dubbed it, “Keiki o ka honua,” or “boy from Earth.”
Credit: NASA/JPL

Curiosity self-portrait at “Windjana” drilling site. The Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this space-based selfie. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity self-portrait at “Windjana” drilling site. The Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this space-based selfie.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A spectacular interactive panorama of images snagged by NASA’s Curiosity rover at Gale Crater has been produced by “panoramacist” Andrew Bodrov of 360cities.net.

Bodrov made use of images obtained by Curiosity’s Mast Camera.

A special tip of the space helmet visor goes to Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today’s Senior Editor, for posting about this unique panorama.

For a Martian eye-full, go to:

http://www.360cities.net/image/mars-panorama-curiosity-solar-day-647#171.29,0.00,15.0

Experimental Chang'e 5 lunar sample return capsule has undergone thermal vacuum tests.  Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Experimental Chang’e 5 lunar sample return capsule has undergone thermal vacuum tests.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Space officials in China are detailing new plans to send a rover to Mars in 2020, followed a decade later by hauling back to Earth Martian samples.

The robotic Mars mission would consist of both an orbiter and a landing rover that will explore the planet jointly, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist with the Chang’e lunar mission and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Ouyang outlined the Mars initiative at a meeting in Beijing, reported June 25 by Shanghai Daily.

The main goals of the mission will be to check for Mars life, both today and in the past, and to assess the planet’s environment, Ouyang said.

Moon missions

China is reportedly making progress in readying a new Moon mission, the Chang’e-5, signaling the third-phase of that country’s multi-pronged lunar program – the ability to rocket back to Earth lunar samples.

To be flown in 2017, the Chang’e-5 mission includes robotic sampling and return control. Doing so requires breakthroughs in Moon takeoff technology, sampling encapsulation, rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, as well as high-speed Earth reentry.

Preparation for the 2017 launch of lunar probe Chang’e-5 is going as scheduled, said Ye Peijia, a top scientist with the Chang’e-3 lunar probe mission, as reported by China’s Xinhua news agency.
 

Drawing purportedly shows China's Chang'e-5 - a robotic Moon lander and sampling craft to be launched in 2017. Courtesy: China Space website posting

Drawing purportedly shows China’s Chang’e-5 – a robotic Moon lander and sampling craft to be launched in 2017.
Courtesy: China Space website posting

High-speed test

According to Hu Hao, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program’s third phase, plans are also underway to loft an experimental spacecraft this year.

The purpose of the test is to validate the lunar return sample capsule to be used in the Chang’e-5 mission. That hardware, Hu told China Daily, would be exposed to high heat loads as it plows through the Earth’s atmosphere, approaching speeds of 11.2 kilometers per second.

Earlier this year, China’s space exploration goals were outlined in a Xinhua article, in which Ye Peijia said: “We plan to send a manned mission to the Moon. The Earth is our cradle, and humanity will go out from here someday. The Moon is the nearest… if we cannot land on it, where else can we go?”

 

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Filmmaker Tate Taylor has signed up to direct In the Event of a Moon Disaster for FilmNation.

The movie is inspired by a 1969 speech written for U.S. President Richard Nixon by William Safire, then on White House duty as a presidential speechwriter. The July 18, 1969 document was sent to White House official, H.R. Halderman, with Safire titling his internal White House essay: “In Event of Moon Disaster.”

 Safire’s speech was to be read by Nixon in the event that the first human landing on the Moon by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin met with tragedy. Those remarks were uncovered after Safire’s death in 2009.

After his White House years, Safire became a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times.

The movie to be directed by Taylor, set to start in early 2015, will present an alternate version of events to the milestone making landing and completion of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

Credit: The National Archives

Credit: The National Archives

Prepared eulogy

“I note that, in recent years, a document has surfaced that was authored by a President Nixon speech writer, William Safire, about our Apollo moon mission. It was written, I suppose, in the spirit that the ‘if factor’ did not work in our favor,” explains Buzz Aldrin.

Credit: The National Archives

Credit: The National Archives

“Senior officials must always be prepared with remarks for breakthroughs as well as tragedies,” Aldrin writes in his 2013 book “Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration” published by National Geographic, co-authored with Leonard David.

“Apollo 11 had the potential to fit into either one of those categories,” Aldrin explains. “Reading the prepared eulogy, I am proud to say that our mission…brought us back home safely.”

 

Curiosity self-portrait at “Windjana” drilling site. The Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this space-based selfie. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity self-portrait at “Windjana” drilling site. The Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this space-based selfie.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Engineers on Earth are trying to get a little traction about wheels on Mars.

NASA’s Curiosity rover is showing wheel “wear and tear” that engineers did not expect this early into the mission. Getting to Mount Sharp is a priority, but the robot has had to adjust its driving to compensate for the wheel damage.

Sharp, pointy rocks have played havoc with Curiosity’s wheels, forcing driving teams to seek soft patches of sandy Martian soil.

To help lessen the wheel issues on Mars a team of experts recently visiting the Dumont Dunes in California’s Mojave Desert, near Death Valley.

Wheel damage shown in this Mast Camera (Mastcam) image. Credit: MSSS-MALIN

Wheel damage shown in this Mast Camera (Mastcam) image.
Credit: MSSS-MALIN

Scarecrow

Making use of a Curiosity’s test vehicle for driving, Scarecrow, engineers earlier this month appraised plotting a pathway on the Red Planet that involves trekking across less-damaging sand ripples.

Scarecrow has a full-size version of Curiosity’s wheels and other driving equipment, but doesn’t have the “brains.” Engineers use it to test drive on different types of terrain.

Desert double on Earth, Scarecrow, has a full-size version of Curiosity’s wheels and other driving equipment. Engineers use it to test drive on different types of terrain.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Desert double on Earth, Scarecrow, has a full-size version of Curiosity’s wheels and other driving equipment. Engineers use it to test drive on different types of terrain.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is halfway to Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mountain which scientists call “the Promised Land.” At the base of Mount Sharp, scientists expect to find a variety of rocks and minerals stacked in layers. Each layer could tell a story about what the environment was like when the layer formed as well as any changes through time.

Wheel damage is shown on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. Image was acquired on June 22 using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Wheel damage is shown on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. Image was acquired on June 22 using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Earth orbit is a junkyard of human-made space clutter. Credit: Space Junk 3D, LLC. Melrae Pictures

Earth orbit is a junkyard of human-made space clutter.
Credit: Space Junk 3D, LLC. Melrae Pictures


My latest up on SPACE.com:

Research Center Launched to Combat Space Junk Menace

http://www.space.com/26344-space-junk-research-center-coder.html

Talk about take-out food. How best to feed a space expedition destined to explore Mars? Credit: NASA

Talk about take-out food. How best to feed a space expedition destined to explore Mars?
Credit: NASA

Question: How do you feed a six-person crew on a three-year mission to Mars?

Answer: It’s not easy!

That point was underscored during a June 23 panel discussion on living and working in extreme conditions at the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo held this week in New Orleans.

A highly acceptable, nutritious food system is central to crew health and performance on a long duration space mission.

NASA is embarking on “the ultimate challenge,” to create a viable food program by 2030 that will feed a six-person team of astronauts for up to three years.

The current space food system will not meet shelf life values that may be required, noted Grace Douglas, a Human Research Program Advanced Food Technology (AFT) Portfolio Scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Gravity, pressure, and radiation

The goal of the NASA AFT Portfolio is to determine the requirements, methods, and technologies that will deliver a safe, nutritious, and acceptable food system for space travelers.

But doing so must be within the constraints of available resources and alterations in gravity, pressure, and radiation during all phases of long duration missions.

Douglas reported that AFT maintains an integrated and collaborative research plan into alternative processing, packaging, formulation, environmental conditions, and bioregenerative/surface processing systems.

That plan seeks to investigate how each of these factors can be altered or combined to provide a food system that consistently meets mission requirements and promotes crew health.

Lighter, tastier and more nutritious

Douglas notes that recent advances include a method to deliver nutrition to crew in a pressurized suit and optimization of delivery approaches of probiotics to crew in spaceflight.

Probiotics are organisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health. They are available in supplements and foods.

Six crew members living on Mars for 1,095 days will require 12,023 kilograms of food.  Credit: NASA

Six crew members living on Mars for 1,095 days will require 12,023 kilograms of food.
Credit: NASA

“We need to create a safe and nutritious food system that meets space flight requirements,” said Douglas. For example, beverages must withstand high pressure, and food must have the appropriate viscosity to remain on a fork or spoon. Optimally, the food will have “crew acceptability,” meaning the astronauts want to eat the products over many years, according to an IFT press statement.

With current prepackaged foods designed for space, it is estimated that six crew members living on Mars for 1,095 days will require over 13 tons (12,023 kilograms) of food.

That being the case, NASA food scientists, and other organizations, are working to make prepackaged foods that are lighter, tastier and more nutritious, with a longer shelf life.

Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

How do everyday objects here on Earth stand a chance of surviving on distant Mars?

To find out, over two-dozen UK students have flown 80 experiments high above Earth courtesy of the MARSBalloon project.

The experiments were lofted 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) up into Earth’s atmosphere on a high altitude balloon named Tharsis – after a volcanic region of Mars.

At that height, the student investigations experienced temperatures as low as -50°C, pressures of 1 percent of that at sea level and increased levels of radiation; conditions which are very similar to that of the surface of the Red Planet. These conditions can rapidly degrade materials, damage electronics and sterilize organics.

MARSBalloon student experimenters: Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

MARSBalloon student experimenters:
Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

The MARSBalloon launch took place from Frome, Somerset, landing on farmland in Pulham, Dorchester some two hours later. The recovered experiments were returned to the students who made them. They are encouraged to write up their scientific results for publishing on the project website.

Career boosting idea

The project was devised and is run by young space engineers from Thales Alenia Space UK with funding from the UK’s Science & Technology Facilities Council. This unique project is aimed at encouraging young people to take up careers in the UK space industry.

Up, up and away. MARSBalloon readied for liftoff. Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

Up, up and away. MARSBalloon readied for liftoff.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

All of the experiments flown on the June 19th mission developed by 30 UK secondary school students had to fit inside a Kinder Surprisetm toy capsule and were mounted onto a special tray beneath the balloon to maximize their exposure to the hostile environment.

The next MARSBalloon launch, named Elysium after another Martian volcanic region, is planned for mid-October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Student experiments on high-altitude run. Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

Student experiments on high-altitude run.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space UK

UK secondary school teachers interested in entering their class or club into this flight can do so by going to the project website:

www.marsballoon.com

Full details of the flight including video highlights, imagery, flight data and experiment results are to be published on a dedicated website page.

 

 

Access to the Moon's resources is up for grabs - a debate that is growing globally. Credit: ESA - AOES Medialab

Access to the Moon’s resources is up for grabs – a debate that is growing globally.
Credit: ESA – AOES Medialab

A European forum is addressing the issue of who owns the Moon?

There is a growing debate within scientific, entrepreneurial and policy circles regarding lunar resources and access to those resources on Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor.

Experts on these issues are being brought together by Google Lunar XPRIZE at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2014, Europe’s largest general science meeting.

The discussion is taking place today in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Stakeholders in space

To date, only three nations – Russia, the U.S. and China – have “soft-landed” a spacecraft on the Moon, although other nations have launched successful lunar orbiters. 

But the stakeholders in space are changing: lunar exploration is no longer the domain of Governmental agencies alone. 

With activities like the Google Lunar XPRIZE and private-public partnerships stimulating a New Space industry, commercial organizations have business plans and are attracting investment to develop low-cost, regular, reliable access to the Moon within a decade. 

However, the Moon’s resources are not distributed evenly over the lunar surface.  The majority of water on the Moon is concentrated in ice deposits in or near deeply shadowed, dark craters at the poles. Therefore, access to these sites is vital, if the Moon is to be used as a future base and stepping-stone for exploration of the rest of the solar system.

Rare metals, minerals and water

According to a Google Lunar XPRIZE press release:

“New Space entrepreneurs are looking to the Moon’s supplies of rare metals, minerals, and – perhaps most importantly – water-ice to sustain their business in the long term. Water and organics are key to the development of life-support systems for any future human settlement on the Moon. In addition, water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen that can be used for rocket fuel.”

“With only one sixth of the Earth’s gravity and no atmosphere, the Moon is an ideal launch site for large, heavy spacecraft needed to support manned missions to Mars and even further out into the solar system,” the release states.

World strategy

According to one of the participants in the discussion, Bernard Foing, the Executive Director of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG) and Senior Exploration Officer at ESA/ESTEC:

“The Outer Space Treaty specifies that no country or citizen owns the Moon. With international cooperation towards a world strategy for the exploration and utilization of the Moon, we can exploit responsibly scarce lunar resources and still preserve sites of historic and scientific interest. Precursor landers can be operated in a coordinated robotic village, with in-situ use of resources, done with respect. This would prepare a sustainable and smart path towards humans living off the land in international lunar bases.”

For more information on this discussion, visit:

https://esof2014.pathable.com/#meetings/174596

Griffith Observatory Event