Archive for January, 2015
While an international human mission to the surface of Mars in the 2030s deserves a thumbs up, green-light go, that trek to the Red Planet will require sufficient and stable long- term funding, as well as a critical series of risk-reduction activities in the 2020s.
A key example is a long-duration crew habitation system in cis-lunar space that transitions from the International Space Station (ISS) to the systems necessary for human Mars exploration.
That insight is from a set of findings and observations are available in a summary report of the Second Mars Affordability and Sustainability Workshop.
The workshop was held October 14-16 of last year, held at the Keck Institute for Space Studies on the campus of the California Institute of Technology. The gathering was hosted by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and organized by Explore Mars, Inc. and the American Astronautical Society.
The workshop did not endorse one-way missions to Mars, where the humans on the first mission are settlers.
Rather, the workshop concluded that significant public support and inspiration derives from the national pride of having astronauts from participating countries return to Earth to be celebrated.
Still, initial human missions to the surface of Mars should include elements necessary for eventual establishment of sustainable surface outposts broadly analogous to the initial phases of science-guided Antarctic exploration on Earth.
Humans on Mars – precursor activities
Other select statements gleaned from the workshop summary include:
— A robotic sample return mission may be required to learn how to protect against forward and backward contamination before humans land on Mars.
— One potentially advantageous precursor activity is an “all-robotic” sample return to demonstrate high-mass entry, descent, and landing capabilities scalable to human-scale landers.
— Human missions to Mars orbit or the Martian moons – Phobos and Deimos — may be essential for risk reduction as immediate precursors to surface missions, which ultimately are the priority goal for human space flight.
— The scientific goals for lunar exploration are compelling. However, the technical capabilities required for human lunar surface operations are of limited applicability to human Mars exploration.
The full summary report will be posted shortly on the Explore Mars, Inc. web site at:
Here’s a new posting from me on all the UFO traffic…flying saucers that made a wrong turn at Jupiter…!
They Want to Believe: UFO Hunters Plan Database to Track Sightings
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
January 25, 2015 07:30am ET
More fallout from the October 31st mid-air destruction of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo above the Mojave Air and Space Port – killing one test pilot and injuring another.
The Los Angeles Times reports Jan. 23 that Virgin Galactic will take over testing of the suborbital rocket plane, limiting the role of Scaled Composites that designed and fabricated the vehicle.
According to the LA Times story, citing Kevin Mickey, the president of Scaled Composites, Scaled would be a consultant to Virgin Galactic.
For the full LA Times story, go to:
Also take a look at this video from Virgin Galactic “Introducing our Second Spaceship” that was published on Jan 15, 2015.
The Virgin Galactic video features interviews with key team members and behind the scenes shots of the firm’s Spaceship factory.
Add in another exploration tool for use on the Red Planet – a small helicopter.
The JPL robotics folks have proposed a tiny helicopter scout, one that could act as a science payload on the NASA Mars 2020 mission.
This aerial system could be deployed by the Mars 2020 rover, and would work in partnership with the mobile rover.
The lightweight device measures 3.6 feet (1.1 meters) across from the tip of one blade to the other.
Into thin air
Features of the system include: total mass of roughly 2 pounds (1 kilogram; counter-rotating propellers designed for use the thin Martian air; powered by solar charged batteries; a high resolution downward looking camera for navigation, landing, and science surveying of the terrain; and a communication system to relay data to the rover.
According to a “2014 Robotics Activities at JPL” paper by Richard Volpe, the operations mode for this helicopter would make it an aerial asset for expanding the exploration of the terrain ahead of the rover, for target selection, path selection, and geologic context.
As envisioned, for safety the helicopter would never be directly near the rover. Instead, it would be dropped off on the ground, and only become active after the rover has driven away by a sufficient distance.
Individual daily flights would be limited to a short duration of approximately 3 minutes due to power, but it should attain roughly 330 feet (100 meters) altitude and around a 20,000 foot (600 meter) ground track.
Daily communication of helicopter data will provide overhead image resolution, some ten times greater than orbital images, and greater area coverage than can be seen from the rover.
A flying device on Mars has been proposed in the past.
Several years ago, the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (now the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program) funded the idea of using an entomopter for future Mars atmospheric flyer exploration missions.
Anthony Colozza at the Ohio Aerospace Institute blueprinted an entomopter using biomimetics and advanced circulation control techniques to achieve substantially higher lift than possible through conventional design.
While the helicopter idea is getting attention — and has been touted as a possible add-on to the Mars 2020 mobile laboratory — Mars hardware that takes flight, including balloons, may well become part of the exploration toolkit of a human expedition to the red planet.
Check out this Mars helicopter video at:
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 6, 2014.
It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface.
The Rosetta orbiter continues to crank out impressive images of the comet as it enters nearly 270 days at the comet.
On 8/13/2015 the comet will make its closest approach to the Sun.
Is California’s Kern County the next frontier for aerospace innovation?
When you think of Kern County’s economy, two things may jump to mind: oil and agriculture.
But there’s another big player in the county’s economy – aerospace. County economic development officials estimate that around 20,000 people are employed in the sector – and one of the fastest growing areas has been in the field of commercial spaceflight.
The Mojave Air and Space Port in eastern Kern County is home to a number of startups specializing in the field.
But last year that tight knit community was rocked by tragedy when Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was destroyed in a test flight, killing co-pilot Mike Alsbury and seriously injuring the other co-pilot.
Now three months after that accident, where does the world of commercial spaceflight go from here?Listen to this Valley Public Radio (VPR) — part of the NPR digital network – program on the topic, aired January 20, 2015, hosted by VPR’s Joe Moore and Ezra David Romero.
Guests: Leonard David, space journalist, and Stuart Witt – the CEO of the Mojave Air and Spaceport, the nation’s first inland spaceport and home to Scaled Composites, which has conducted tests of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.
The nearly 18 minute discussion can be heard at:
U.S. President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union before Congress on January 20th.
Within that address, Obama noted the first launch of the Orion spacecraft as part of a “re-energized” American space program that will send American astronauts to the Red Planet. In addition, the U.S. President acknowledged the upcoming year-long mission of astronaut Scott Kelly, who was in the audience at the State of the Union.
Obama also remarked that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record, citing the contributions to understand climate change at NASA, NOAA and at universities.
Here are those remarks by President Obama as prepared for delivery:
“I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs — converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay. Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars. In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space. Good luck, Captain — and make sure to Instagram it.”
“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”
“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”
The European Space Agency (ESA) has posted an informative video – Destination Moon – that spotlights ESA’s vision of what lunar exploration could be.
This 8-minute clip provides an overview of the past, present, and future of Moon exploration, from the lunar cataclysm to replanting humans back on the Moon’s surface.
Why is the Moon important for science? What resources does the Moon have? Is there water? Why should we go back and how will we do it?
For this video, go to:
ESA is looking to the future of space exploration using robots ranging from small humanoid robots to larger construction robots with varying degrees of autonomy and flexibility.
A video animation shows advanced concepts of robots designed to explore, prepare and help humans in the very harsh conditions found on the Moon and beyond. For many of the concepts shown, ESA has already developed real-life prototypes, including the multifunctional wheels seen on the first robot in this video.
Yet another set of videos available feature interviews with different officials on why and how Europe should invest in a mission to the Moon. The program also provides an explanation of the different steps taken before the lunar human outpost.
Note: Roll B includes images of Apollo astronauts on the moon, unedited versions of the above noted interviews and images of the moon. In the French version, interviews are in English and are not translated.
Cruz has announced that he will chair the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness.
“Texas has a long and cherished history when it comes to space exploration and my top priority as Chairman will be to help refocus NASA on its core priority of exploring space,” Cruz stated in a recent communiqué on his Senate website.
“We need to get back to the hard sciences, to manned space exploration, and to the innovation that has been integral to the mission of NASA.”
A number of space leaders have lauded the lawmaker’s vision for NASA, and echo his call to “fully ignite” American imagination, including Walter Cunningham, former NASA astronaut and Apollo 7 pilot.
To read the Cruz message on the space program, go to:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has performed a mini-drill test to assess whether the “Mojave” rock is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. Cracking of the rock has made freshly exposed surfaces available for inspection.
Mojave displays copious slender features — slightly smaller than grains of rice — that appear to be mineral crystals. A chance to learn their composition prompted the Curiosity science team to choose Mojave as the next rock-drilling target to further investigate Mars’ Gale Crater. The features might be a salt mineral left behind when lakewater evaporated.
Software upgrade for wheel wear
In a Jan. 14 statement, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) noted that this coming week there will be a weeklong pause in science operations to install a new version of rover flight software, possibly before completion of the drilling and sample delivery.
The software is the fourth new version of the onboard software since the rover’s August 2012 landing.
One of the software upgrades will improve the rover’s ability to autonomously identify and drive in “good” terrain – landscape that can help reduce the observable wear and tear on Curiosity’s wheels.