Archive for March, 2015

China is building upon a heritage of Long March boosters. Credit: CALT

China is building upon a heritage of Long March boosters.
Credit: CALT

China booster builders are slated to augment their Long March family of launchers this year and in 2016. According to Chinese news services, the country will soon fly their Long March 6 – likely in the middle of this year.

Additionally, the Long March 7 and China’s Long March 5 are to make their first flights next year, according to Tan Yonghua, president of China’s Academy of Aerospace Propulsion Technology, as reported in the state-run China Daily.

The academy is China’s major player in developing liquid-fuelled rocket engines. It forms part of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the major contractor for the country’s space activities.

New liquid engine

The Long March 6 will utilize a newly developed 120 ton thrust engine. That booster is a high-speed response launch vehicle capable of placing a payload of about 1 metric ton into a sun-synchronous orbit at a height of 700 kilometers.

Tan said that the new engine has been under development by the academy since 2000 and makes use of liquid oxygen and kerosene as its propellants – billed by China as more “eco-friendly” than current engines.

With the new engine, the Long March 5, Tan said, will have a payload capacity of 25 metric tons for low Earth orbits, or 14 tons for geostationary transfer orbits.

The Long March 7 will be capable of sending payloads of 13.5 tons into low Earth orbits and of 5.5 tons into sun-synchronous orbits, Tan said.

Long March 7 ground testing recently took place at China's new Wenchang spaceport. Photo: SinoDefense.com website.

Long March 7 ground testing recently took place at China’s new Wenchang spaceport.
Photo: SinoDefense.com website.

The Long March-2 and Long March-3 families, the backbones of Chinese launches, are headed for retirement within the next 10 years, with the Long March-7 and Long March-5 becoming the pillars of China’s space program, Tao Gang, general manager of the Tianjin Long March Launch Vehicle Manufacturing Company Ltd. told China Daily late last year.

 

Long March 7 engine test. Credit: CMSE

Long March 7 engine test.
Credit: CMSE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Space station elements

Next year’s maiden flight of the Long March-5, a heavy-lift rocket, is the booster that is to place the Tiangong-2 space laboratory into Earth orbit in 2016 for visits by Chinese space crews.

The Tiangong space labs are viewed as building blocks to gain technical and operational expertise to construct a larger space station in the 2020s.

Enterprising Moon mission?

In other Chinese space news, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported today that the Chang’e 4 lunar probe is to be launched before 2020.

According to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) Chang’e 4 “will pilot a program that uses private investment from individuals and enterprises for the first time, a move aimed at accelerating aerospace innovation, cutting production costs and promoting military-civilian relationships.”

Xinhua reports that Chang’e 4 — a backup probe for Chang’e 3 that placed a lander and rover on the Moon in 2013 — will be given a “new mission” that will be decided after further study.

Planting life on Mars - future "Martians" set up habitats on the Red Planet. Credit: NASA

Planting life on Mars – future “Martians” set up habitats on the Red Planet.
Credit: NASA

 

Student-led looks at performing a makeover of Mars – called terraforming – have blueprinted some provocative ideas for the Red Planet.

Four University of Leicester physics students in the UK have examined the possibility of terraforming Mars by polluting its atmosphere – burning copious amounts of coal to create enough carbon dioxide to alter the Martian atmosphere.

They theorize that the process would increase the atmospheric density and eliminate the need for pressurized spacesuits – making the Red Planet more habitable.

Trips to ship

But their assessment also uncovered major difficulties with this proposal.

For one, there’s need for lots of coal to produce a greenhouse effect. Furthermore, the study group found that the problem is not the amount of coal itself, but the transportation logistics of such a large quantity.

They calculated that using the powerful SpaceX Falcon Heavy it would take 2,390,000,000,000,000 trips to ship the required amount.

The paper can be found from the link*:

http://physics.le.ac.uk/journals/index.php/pst/article/view/749/514

*Special thanks to Alex Longman.

Power stations

Tapping the Leidenfrost-effect on Mars. Image: Jonathan Sanderson

Tapping the Leidenfrost-effect on Mars.
Image: Jonathan Sanderson

In a related development, researchers at Northumbria and Edinburgh Universities have developed a new technique to harvest energy from carbon dioxide.The energy-harvesting method may enable the creation of future power stations on the surface of Mars.

The research proposes a new kind of engine for producing energy based on the Leidenfrost effect – a phenomenon which happens when a liquid comes into near contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point. Blocks of dry ice are able to levitate above hot surfaces protected by a barrier of evaporated gas vapor. Northumbria’s research proposes using the vapor created by this effect to power an engine.

Dry-ice deposits

There is increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) that suggests dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on the Red Planet, as suggested by the seasonal appearance of gullies on the Martian surface.

If utilized in a Leidenfrost-based engine, the dry-ice deposits could provide the means to create future power on Mars.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has documented gully formation on the Red Planet. Researchers contend that these gullies are primarily formed by the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide - not liquid water. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has documented gully formation on the Red Planet. Researchers contend that these gullies are primarily formed by the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide – not liquid water.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars, as suggested by the seasonal appearance of gullies on the surface of the red planet. If utilized in a Leidenfrost-based engine, the dry-ice deposits could provide the means to create future power on the Red Planet.

The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine differs from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties.

 

Exploiting natural resources

Explains Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar, a Northumbria’s researcher and co-author of the work: “Perhaps future power stations on Mars will exploit such a resource to harvest energy as dry-ice blocks evaporate, or to channel the chemical energy extracted from other carbon-based sources, such as methane gas.”

Ledesma-Aguilar adds that one thing is certain. “Our future on other planets depends on our ability to adapt our knowledge to the constraints imposed by strange worlds, and to devise creative ways to exploit natural resources that do not naturally occur here on Earth.”

For an informative video regarding this idea, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAMNDdOho8E

Credit: NASA/Bigelow Aerospace

Credit: NASA/Bigelow Aerospace

The wraps are coming off the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) slated for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year.

Space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, is holding a major media event at his Bigelow Aerospace’s North Las Vegas facility this Thursday, March 12.

The BEAM is being displayed before it’s shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch the second half of this year aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the ISS.

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

BEAM is to be installed on the aft port of the space station’s Tranquility node.

Scheduled to join Bigelow in the festivities is NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.

Wanted: Deep space habitats

According to Bigelow Aerospace, the demonstration of expandable space habitat technology supports NASA’s long-term exploration goals on its journey to Mars, for which the agency will need to develop a deep space habitat for human missions beyond Earth orbit.

Founded in 1999 by Bigelow, Bigelow Aerospace has as a goal the creation of a new paradigm in space commerce and exploration via the development and use of expandable habitat technology. Expandable habitats are viewed as offering dramatically larger volumes than rigid, metallic structures as well as enhanced protection against both radiation and physical debris.

Additionally, expandable habitats are lighter than traditional systems, take up less room in a rocket fairing for launch, and are seen as a less-costly alternative.

Technology demonstration

BEAM installed on International Space Station. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

BEAM installed on International Space Station.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

NASA awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a BEAM to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.

After the module is berthed to the station’s Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.

Astronauts will periodically enter the module to gather performance data and perform inspections. Following the test period, the module will be jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry.

Genesis of the idea

Bigelow Aerospace has already fabricated and deployed two subscale pathfinder spacecraft, Genesis I and Genesis II, which were launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

In addition to the BEAM, Bigelow Aerospace is pushing forward on development of its full-scale system — the BA 330 — an expandable structure that provides approximately 330 cubic meters of internal volume and will support a crew of up to six.

The Bigelow plan envisions BA 330s to support a variety of public and private activities in and beyond low Earth orbit.

Bigelow Aerospace is also working on even larger spacecraft, such as its “Olympus” module, which will provide 2,250 cubic meters of internal volume.

Looking beyond LEO

In terms of beyond BEAM, Bigelow Aerospace is eyeing future use of their habitats on the Moon.

Space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow (left) explains company's plans for commercial operations on the Moon. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace/Leonard David Archives

Space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow (left) explains company’s plans for commercial operations on the Moon.
Credit: Bigelow Aerospace/Leonard David Archives

“Bigelow Aerospace sees its role in lunar development as the historic equivalent of the Hudson Bay Company, providing the necessary habitats, equipment, and transportation for entrepreneurs to execute their business plans,” explains Michael Gold, Director of Washington, D.C. Operations & Business Growth for Bigelow Aerospace, LLC.

“Bigelow Aerospace wants to enable individuals, companies, and countries to transform the Moon into a dynamic arena for imagination and innovation,” Gold told Inside Outer Space.

Gold says that BEAM will be the first time that an expandable habitat module will become part of a crewed system, followed by deployment of full-scale B330 habitats in Earth orbit.

Destination Moon

“It’s vital to deploy, test, and utilize these habitats in low Earth orbit before landing them on the Moon,” Gold adds, with continued investment by Bigelow Aerospace in lunar development slated.

“While a great deal of work remains to be done,” Gold concludes, “we believe that a private sector lunar settlement could be established much more quickly and affordably than most would suspect.”

For an inside look at Bigelow Aerospace and its plans, go to this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFZXl45N0m8

Map shows the single area under continuing evaluation as the InSight mission's Mars landing site, as of a year before the mission's May 2016 launch.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Map shows the single area under continuing evaluation as the InSight mission’s Mars landing site, as of a year before the mission’s May 2016 launch.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thanks to two Mars orbiters, a landing site for NASA’s InSight Mars lander has been selected: NASA has now picked as the prime landing site one location in Elysium Planitia, a region where ancient lava flows cover the ground.

The landing-site selection process evaluated four candidate locations selected in 2014.

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is slated for a March 2016 launch date.

Legged landing

Within the flat-lying Elysium Planitia, less than five degrees north of the equator, all four landing areas appear safe for InSight’s legged touchdown on the Red Planet on Sept. 28, 2016.

MARS INSIGHT LANDER

The single site will continue to be analyzed in coming months for final selection later this year. If unexpected problems with this site are found, one of the others would be imaged and could be selected.

The favored site on Mars is centered at about four degrees north latitude and 136 degrees east longitude.

Select sweet spot

The landing area is smooth, flat, with very few rocks in the highest-resolution images, said InSight’s site-selection leader, Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Both NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter and images from the University of Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter were used to select the sweet spot for landing InSight.

Infrared and visual images of the Martian surface taken by Arizona State University’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) onboard Odyssey is mapping dust and rocks at the projected InSight landing site.

“Picking a safe place means the landing site can’t be full of big rocks or covered in a thick layer of dust,” said Jonathon Hill of Arizona State University’s Mars Space Flight Facility — part of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

By measuring how quickly the ground cools at night or warms in sunlight, THEMIS can tell the proportion of rocks and dust on the ground and thus help paint a picture of what awaits the lander at the surface.

Not a rover

InSight is not a rover. Built using the same flight platform as the Mars Phoenix lander, InSight will touch down in one place and stay there for its entire mission – projected to last two Earth years.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

The InSight science payload is comprised of two instruments: the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), provided by the French Space Agency (CNES), with the participation of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), Imperial College and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), provided by the German Space Agency (DLR).

In addition, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), led by JPL, will use the spacecraft communication system to provide precise measurements of planetary rotation.

Heritage hardware

Lockheed Martin is building the lander and other parts of the spacecraft. The assembly, test, and launch readiness of InSight, its aeroshell and cruise stage are well underway at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver, Colorado.

The InSight mission is similar in design to the Mars lander that the NASA Phoenix mission used successfully in 2007 to study ground ice near the north pole of Mars. The reuse of this technology — developed and built by Lockheed-Martin Space Systems — provides a low-risk path to Mars without the added cost of designing and testing a new system from scratch.

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Credit: Spaceport America

Credit: Spaceport America

An impressive sculpture is now in place at the main entrance of New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

Artist Otto Rigan has created GENESIS – a multi-ton sculpture that is 40 feet wide, 23 feet high and 5 feet deep.

GENESIS is fabricated from steel and cast glass. The finish of the artwork will continue to patina over time.

New Mexico’s Department of Cultural Affairs funded the sculpture designed specifically for the spaceport through the Art in Public Places program. The simple yet strong design is to convey the beginning of a New Space Age.

In other Spaceport America news, the visitor experience is almost complete.

New Mexico's Spaceport America. Credit: Spaceport America

New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
Credit: Spaceport America

The Spaceport America Experience has three parts. The Spaceport Visitor Center located in Truth or Consequences (T or C), the shuttle bus ride to the spaceport, and the Gateway Gallery located in the Gateway to Space building.

The Gateway Gallery features a G-Shock Simulator, many interactive kiosks and displays focused on the science behind the commercial space industry. In addition, there are several displays of archaeological artifacts from the region.

Purpose-built

Spaceport America is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world.

The launch complex, situated on 18,000 acres adjacent to the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, has been providing commercial vertical launch services since 2006. Spaceport America has hosted 21 vertical launches thus far.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority continues to work closely with its tenants, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, and its other flight customers in support of the commercial space industry.

Spaceport America is to be the focus point for Virgin Galactic’s effort to create a public space tourism business. The site will also soon see test flights by Space X in that firm’s work on flyback boosters.

A Chinese Service Module now in Moon orbit is practicing steps needed for the Chang'e 5 mission, slated for 2017 - a multi-module spacecraft that would land, collect, and return to Earth lunar samples. Credit: China Space Website

A Chinese Service Module now in Moon orbit is practicing steps needed for the Chang’e 5 mission, slated for 2017 – a multi-module spacecraft that would land, collect, and return to Earth lunar samples.
Credit: China Space Website

China is reporting new progress in shaking out procedures required for rocketing back to Earth samples from the Moon.

China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) noted the progress over the weekend, according to the state-run Xinhuanet news agency.

The service module from a previous experimental lunar craft mission was used to test maneuvers in Moon orbit, including braking into a suitable position for orbital docking.

These practice steps mimic maneuvers to be used in the future Chang’e 5 lunar return sample mission being eyed for 2017.

Reliability of technology

Liu Jizhong, deputy chief commander of the SASTIND’s lunar probe project is reported to say that the service module has proven the reliability of key technology needed for the docking of two spacecraft in the Chang’e 5 mission: hardware rocketed off the Moon that contains the lunar specimens that then couples to a return-to-Earth vehicle.

Various items are removed from the test capsule that made a circumlunar voyage last November. Credit: CASC

Various items are removed from the test capsule that made a circumlunar voyage last November.
Credit: CASC

The craft conducting the tests in Moon orbit was lofted from China in October of 2014. That mission also involved a successful test of a reentry capsule last November that parachuted to Earth after making a circumlunar journey.

Following detachment of the reentry capsule by the service module, it moved to the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point (L2) in late November of last year. It then departed the L2 point early this year and was flown into Moon orbit.

Three-step lunar program

The service module now in lunar orbit is reportedly still operating smoothly. It apparently is slated to carry out further tests, including snapping lunar images and might conduct tests that evaluate lunar gravity.

Liu told Xinhua that by using the service module to carry out the set of ongoing tests, space engineers have simulated three key procedures needed for Chang’e 5: Earth re-entry from the Moon at high speed; adjustment of lunar orbit and docking in lunar orbit, steps “laying a solid foundation for China’s three-step lunar program — orbiting, landing and returning,” Liu said.

The Chang’e 5 mission would be lofted moonward by a still-to-be tested Long March 5 booster, a maiden voyage that’s planned for this year from China’s new Wenchang spaceport in south China’s Hainan Province.

For a video on the mission now underway from the English CNTV channel — go to:

http://english.cntv.cn/2015/03/08/VIDE1425796693290658.shtml

ISS PHOTO FROM ATLANTIS

The International Space Station.

A comet.

The Moon.

They all sport distinctive odors.

The scent of science off Earth is the topic of a new video produced by Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society.

A spew of phew. What's the smell of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko? Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

A spew of phew. What’s the smell of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko?
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

 

 

 

In episode 15 of Speaking of Chemistry, host Matt Davenport sticks his nose into the science behind astronomical aromas and celestial body odors.

 

Go to the video at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zxi1I8WNrGY

For related information, also go to:

http://www.space.com/26932-moon-smell-apollo-lunar-aroma.html

and

http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i44/Fireworks-Fashion-Extraterrestrial-Smells.html

Credit: Sandor Kasas/EPFL

Credit: Sandor Kasas/EPFL

Looking for life on other planets usually relies on chemical detection. But that might be limited or even irrelevant to alien biology.

However, motion is a trait of all life, and can be used to identify microorganisms without any need of chemical foreknowledge.

Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have developed an extremely sensitive yet simple motion detector – accurate for detecting bacteria, yeast, and even cancer cells, and the rapid testing of drugs. And it could be used for the detection of extraterrestrial life.

The idea comes from the technology behind an existing microscope: the atomic force microscope, according to an EPFL press statement.

This powerful microscope uses a “cantilever” to produce pictures of the very atoms on a surface. The cantilever scans the surface like the needle of a record player and its up-and-down movement is read by a laser to produce an image.

Good vibrations

For example, a bacterium attaches to the cantilever. If the bacterium is alive, it will inevitably move in some way, e.g. move its flagellum or simply carry out normal biological functions.

That motion also moves the much smaller and sensitive cantilever and it is captured by the readout laser as series of vibrations.

Bottom line: The signal is taken as a sign of life.

In ground testing, researchers were able to accurately detect and isolate vibration signatures from living cells.

Chemistry-free system

In terms of space exploration, EPFL scientists, Giovanni Dietler, Sandor Kasas and Giovanni Longo, envision a large array of cantilever sensors used in future space exploration probes like a Mars rover.

As it relies on motion rather than chemistry, the cantilever sensor would be able to detect life forms in mediums that are native to other planets, such as the methane in the lakes of Titan.

“The system has the benefit of being completely chemistry-free,” says Dietler.

The work represents a collaboration of EPFL’s Laboratory of Physics of Living Matter with the University of Lausanne and the Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology.

For more information on “Detecting nanoscale vibrations as signature of life” go to:

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/2/378.abstract

A brief animation showing how the nanoscale cantilever could be implemented to detect life on samples from other planets can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Eft7cmi26I

 

LIVING AMONG GIANTS

Book Review: Living Among Giants – Exploring and Settling the Outer Solar System by Michael Carroll; Book Publisher: Springer; $34.99 (Hardcover); 2015.

Here is a fascinating and unique look at the outer Solar System, masterfully detailed in words and artwork regarding planned and imagined future human exploration and possible colonization.

Carroll is a prominent prize-winning space artist with a flair for writing and swinging a paintbrush. This book includes numerous illustrations, among them original paintings by the author.

Right from the start, Carroll asks a picture-captioned question: “Mars is the next logical site for human habitation. But what other sites offer promise?”

Future space travelers to the realm of the gas and ice giants “will be confronted by glorious, spectacular views beyond anything experienced thus far,” the author explains. And thanks to his talented artistry, Living Among Giants has a dozen or so original paintings that Carroll produced specially for the book.

Divided into three parts – The Backdrop; Destinations; and A New Frontier – the book is an enthralling read that includes healthy sections on the early robotic intruders that crossed the great divide of space, such as the Pioneers, the Voyagers, Galileo and the Cassini spacecraft.

But the added thrill here is contemplating, after decades of robotic exploration, planting humans on Enceladus, frolicking in a cruise ship off the “coast” of Titan, and having face time with Ariel, Miranda and Triton – moons of Uranus and Neptune. This book is compelling and provocative, pointing out that landscapes of unprecedented scale and splendor await up-close eye contact.

The book includes a nicely compact section on propulsion – the ability of just getting there, be it via chemical rockets, ion drives, plasma rockets, solar sails or other modes of travel to cut across the distances involved.

There is a wilderness of worlds out there, Carroll concludes, ready to inform our culture, society, arts, and our perspectives. “They can do no less than enrich our lives, and they will continue to do so – even more deeply – as we venture out to live among the giants,” he concludes.

For more information on this book, go to:

http://www.springer.com/astronomy/popular+astronomy/book/978-3-319-10673-1

New organizations have been created to coordinate international mitigation efforts in the event of an impending NEO threat. Credit: NASA

New organizations have been created to coordinate international mitigation efforts in the event of an impending NEO threat.
Credit: NASA

 

A new story from me posted on SPACE.com today:

Dealing with Asteroid Threats: UN Completes First Planning Phase

by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist

March 06, 2015 07:30am ET

 

Go to:

http://www.space.com/28755-dangerous-asteroids-united-nations-team.html