Archive for April, 2015

Credit: Star Trek/ CBS Studios, Inc.

Credit: Star Trek/ CBS Studios, Inc.

Call it a rocket builder’s Vulcan death grip.

There appears to be a bit of a row between United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) just announced new Vulcan rocket and the Paul Allen Vulcan Aerospace enterprise, the big and bold Stratolaunch aircraft.

ULA launched a name-the-new rocket competition that allowed Americans to vote on their favorite name for the company’s Next Generation Launch System.

Over a million votes later, the Vulcan was the top choice.

Credit: ULA

Credit: ULA

A reaction to that title stirred up some name calling!

According to a report by the Reuters news service: “Vulcan is a trademark of Vulcan Inc. and we have informed ULA of our trademark rights,” said Chuck Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace, a division of Paul Allen-backed Vulcan Inc.

One future payload for Stratolaunch Systems is a Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane. Credit: Sierra Nevada

One future payload for Stratolaunch Systems is a Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane.
Credit: Sierra Nevada

ULA’s Vulcan is geared “to transform the future of space by making launch services more affordable and accessible,” according to a ULA press statement.

Vulcan Aerospace is busy building the world’s largest aircraft to send rockets from the aerial platform into low Earth orbit.

May the force be with all in “Vulcanizing” the space ways!

For more information on ULA’s Vulcan rocket, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emmeil-0u5k

Take a look at Vulcan Aerospace’s view of space, go to:

http://www.vulcan.com/areas-of-practice/space

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

 

The first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach has been released.

The image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on April 9, 2015, from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers).

New Horizons spacecraft is three months from returning to humanity the first-ever close up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto and its system of large and small moons.

The spacecraft will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.

Credit: NASA/APL

Credit: NASA/APL

Its flyby of Pluto and its system of at least five moons on July 14 will complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system.

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles – than any space mission in history to reach its primary target.

Credit: ESA

Credit: ESA

How best to defend planet Earth from menacing near Earth objects?

For five days this week you can hear experts on the topic by watching live transmissions from the International Academy of Astronautics 2015 Planetary Defense conference.

This event is being held this week – April 13-17 — in Frascati, Italy.

Recent progress and plans in planetary defense, near Earth object discovery and characterization, mitigation techniques and missions, impact effects that inform warning, mitigation and costs, and consequence management and education are on the agenda!

ESA ESRIN, Frascati, Italy

ESA ESRIN, Frascati, Italy

 

Scenario simulation

The conference also includes an exercise where participants simulate the decision-making process for developing deflection and civil defense responses to a hypothetical asteroid threat.

NASA has posted initial details of a threat to Earth posed by a fictitious asteroid. This simulated threat will be the subject of a tabletop exercise at the 2015 IAA Planetary Defense Conference. It is representative of what a real threatening asteroid scenario could look like.

Details are available at:

http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/pdc15

To drop into the meeting via the European Space Agency’s Web-TV go to:

http://www.pdc2015.org/

Credit: University Press of Florida, 2015

Credit: University Press of Florida, 2015

Declassified records that trace the hidden interactions between NASA and national security space programs have been posted for the first time by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.

James David, a curator in NASA’s Division of Space History, obtained the documents in the course of researching his newly published book: Spies and Shuttles: NASA’s Secret Relationships with the DoD and CIA.

In a statement from the National Security Archive, David compiled, edited and introduced more than 50 records for posting as an “Electronic Briefing Book” on the Archive’s website.

Cover stories

According to declassified documents, the Archive said that “furnishing cover stories for covert operations, monitoring Soviet missile tests, and supplying weather data to the U.S. military have been part of the secret side of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) since its inception in 1958.”

According to David, a combination of circumstances led the agency to commingle its activities with secret programs operated by the U.S. military and Intelligence Community.

image001

“This often tight cooperation did not, however, keep disputes from bubbling over on issues such as cost sharing, access to classified information, encryption of data originally intended for civilian use, and delays to military satellite launches caused by the Challenger disaster,” notes the Archive.

Declassified documents

David said that the documents presented were obtained in the research and writing of Spies and Shuttles: NASA’s Secret Relationships with the DoD and CIA.

“Most were declassified by agencies under the automatic/systematic declassification review program or acquired through declassification requests,” David explains.

image002

 

The documents are grouped into the following categories:

1. NASA as a consumer of intelligence

2. NASA’s assistance to analyzing intelligence on foreign aeronautical and space programs

3. NASA’s participation in cover stories

4. NASA’s acquisition and use of classified technologies in its lunar exploration program

5. Restrictions on NASA’s remote sensing programs

6. NASA’s application satellites and national security requirements

7. Space Shuttle that performed eight dedicated, classified Shuttle missions from 1988-1992.

For your own look at the Archive’s posting on NASA’s secret relationships with U.S. Defense and intelligence agencies, go to:

http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB509/

Setting up a future lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials.  Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

Setting up a future lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials.
Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

 

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been appraising 3D printing in the Moon’s environment, making use of local resources to build a lunar outpost.

Industrial partners including architects Foster+Partners have worked with ESA to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil.

Now on display at the “Hypervital” exhibition at the International Design Biennale in Saint-Etienne, France is a 3D-printed “building block” of a future Moon base.

Lunar building block at Hypervital. Credit: Hypervital

Lunar building block at Hypervital.
Credit: Hypervital

Tipping the scales at 1.5 tons, the building block was produced as a demonstration of 3D printing techniques using lunar soil. The design is based on a hollow closed-cell structure – combining strength with low weight.

The design approach mimics that of bird bones.

According to ESA, setting up a future lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from on-the-spot materials.

Similar experiments have been underway in the United States.

Once assembled, inflated domes are covered by robot to help occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

Once assembled, inflated domes are covered by robot to help occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids.
Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

 

In applying 3D printing, researchers envision multi-dome lunar base construction.

Once assembled, inflated domes could be covered with a layer of 3D-printed lunar regolith by robots to help protect the occupants against space radiation and micrometeoroids.

spuds in space logo

Remember the time when “pigs in space” was in vogue?

But get ready for “spuds in space” – a potato battery to energize a near-space balloon payload.

This “galvanizing” idea comes from the creative juices of Ian Webster, a software engineer at a large search company. Previously, he developed spacecraft avionics and ground control systems at Planetary Resources.

Prior to working in space, Webster was a lead engineer at a startup acquired by Google. He holds a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College.

Kickstarter of an idea

Webster submitted a Kickstarter idea, an effort that successfully generated enough cash to get the concept off the ground.

Credit: Ian Webster

Credit: Ian Webster

“Special thanks to all the people who supported us and believed when this crazy idea was just a twinkle in the eye (of a potato),” Webster wrote on Kickstarter. As of April 9, $1,811 has been successfully raised thanks to 42 backers.

That funding means getting a very respectable amount of potatoes and sending one to somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 feet, Webster noted.

Potato-power

Webster told Inside Outer Space that he’s pleased with the way the kickstarter has turned out and surprised by all the support.

“We’re already working with some potatoes and sheet metal to start building and testing large arrays of potato batteries,” Webster said. “These batteries will charge all the devices on the ground, and a smaller amount of potato battery will actually fly in the payload and power lightweight electronics in the air,” he said.

Credit: Ian Webster

Credit: Ian Webster

 

Depending on the final amount of money raised, Webster said he’s pretty sure they’ll be sending up a fairly large balloon, with the goal of breaking 100,000 feet.

“We’d love to send a GoPro up, but that’s pending further potato tests to characterize their battery performance, especially at lower temperatures,” Webster added. “Eventually we’ll launch in California’s Central Valley, which is where we have done all our previous, non-potato, flights.”

Credit: Ian Webster

Credit: Ian Webster

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information and an eye-catching video on “A Potato-Powered Flight to Near Space” project, go to:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5113868/a-potato-powered-flight-to-near-space#description

This image was taken by Curiosity’s Front Hazcam: Right B on April 8, 2015, Sol 949. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This image was taken by Curiosity’s Front Hazcam: Right B on April 8, 2015, Sol 949.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover continues to probe exposed mineral veins at “Garden City” – an investigation that tells the story of a wet environment after lake-bed deposits became rock.

According to Mars scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. the veins appear as a network of ridges left standing above the now eroded-away bedrock in which they formed.

Individual ridges range up to about 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) high and half that in width, and they bear both bright and dark material.

This image was taken by Curiosity’s Navcam: Left B on April 8, 2015, Sol 949. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This image was taken by Curiosity’s Navcam: Left B on April 8, 2015, Sol 949.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Two-tone mineral veins offer clues about multiple episodes of fluid movement. These episodes occurred later than the wet environmental conditions that formed lake-bed deposits that Curiosity examined at Mount Sharp’s base.

Curiosity’s mission is to examine environments that offered favorable conditions for microbial life on ancient Mars, if the planet ever has hosted microbes, and the changes from those environments to drier conditions that have prevailed on Mars for more than three billion years.

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the arm of the rover provides close-up views of mineral veins at a site called “Garden City” on lower Mount Sharp.  Using an onboard focusing process MAHLI created this product by merging two to eight images previously taken by the instrument. Curiosity performed the merge on April 7, 2015 on Sol 948 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the arm of the rover provides close-up views of mineral veins at a site called “Garden City” on lower Mount Sharp. Using an onboard focusing process MAHLI created this product by merging two to eight images previously taken by the instrument. Curiosity performed the merge on April 7, 2015 on Sol 948 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

NASA's spacecraft to an asteroid - the OSIRIS-REx mission -- is being readied for a 2016 liftoff. Gary Napier, Lockheed Martin spokesman (left) and reporter Leonard David (right) stand in front of spacecraft build-up on April 6, 2015 as technicians work on the probe for launch next year.  Courtesy: Leonard David

NASA’s spacecraft to an asteroid – the OSIRIS-REx mission — is being readied for a 2016 liftoff. Gary Napier, Lockheed Martin spokesman (left) and reporter Leonard David (right) stand in front of spacecraft build-up on April 6, 2015 as technicians work on the probe for launch next year.
Courtesy: Leonard David

A fact-filled and incredible day at Lockheed Martin on April 6, visiting ultra-clean room facilities in which NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is coming together for a September 2016 liftoff.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) probe is headed for asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich body that could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

The spacecraft will collect and return samples of the asteroid, returning the specimens gathered back to Earth for detailed analysis.

Lofted spaceward next year, the probe will reach asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

 

Bunny suited

In protective garb, this reporter saw assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase technicians hard at work in a critical stage of the program.

Over the next several months, spacecraft handlers will install on the OSIRIS-REx structure its many subsystems, including avionics, power, telecomm, mechanisms, thermal systems, and guidance, navigation and control.

Once the spacecraft has been fully assembled, it will undergo rigorous environmental testing this fall.

My time at Lockheed Martin on April 6 also included a one-on-one interview with Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. More details to follow in an exclusive story on the asteroid mission.

Busy builders of spacecraft missions. Lockheed Martin technicians are readying asteroid mission in a large ultra-clean room (foreground) as workers prepare the Insight Mars lander -- in background -- that will head for the Red Planet in 2016.  Credit: Leonard David/Inside Outer Space

Busy builders of spacecraft missions. Lockheed Martin technicians are readying asteroid mission in a large ultra-clean room (foreground) as workers prepare the Insight Mars lander — in background — that will head for the Red Planet in 2016.
Credit: Leonard David/Inside Outer Space

Lockheed Martin is building the spacecraft and will provide spacecraft mission operations.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will provide overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx.

Special thanks to Lockheed Martin’s Gary Napier for the inside view!

"For the first time in human history we can look at the stars and not just wonder, but find other worlds like ours," - Lisa Kaltenegger Artwork: Lynette Cook

“For the first time in human history we can look at the stars and not just wonder, but find other worlds like ours,” – Lisa Kaltenegger
Artwork: Lynette Cook

 

Next month there’s an “all-star lineup”…of experts to discuss finding other Earths in the Cosmos.

A one-day Cornell University space sciences conference May 9 will inaugurate the new Institute for Pale Blue Dots.

Founded in 2014, Cornell’s new institute in Ithaca, New York focuses on characterizing extrasolar planets and modeling habitable, rocky exoplanets. The institute brings together astrophysicists, engineers, geologists, biologists and Earth scientists to find the fingerprints of life in our cosmos.

New Institute for Pale Blue Dots is situated on Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York. Credit: Cornell University

New Institute for Pale Blue Dots is situated on Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York.
Credit: Cornell University

“Are we alone in the universe? For the first time in human history we can look at the stars and not just wonder, but find other worlds like ours,” says Lisa Kaltenegger, Cornell professor of astronomy and director of the Institute for Pale Blue Dots.

To view a video invitation from Kaltenegger, go to:

http://www.cornell.edu/video/institute-for-pale-blue-dots-inauguration-may-9-2015

All-star lineup of talks includes Bill Borucki, NASA, principal investigator, Kepler mission. Courtesy: Cornell University

All-star lineup of talks includes Bill Borucki, NASA, principal investigator, Kepler mission.
Courtesy: Cornell University

From extremophiles to ‘Star Trek’

Here’s the spectacular set of talks:

— “Pale Blue Dot and Beyond,” Ann Druyan, writer/producer of the television series “Cosmos”

— “Holy Toledo! Is That a Planet,” Dave Latham, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

— “A Graveyard-Resurrected Star and its Second Chance Planets,” Alex Wolszczan, Penn State

— “Some Planets Like it Hot,” Didier Queloz, University of Cambridge;

— “Kepler: Pushing a Rock Uphill and Watching it Roll Down,” Bill Borucki, NASA, principal investigator, Kepler mission

— “Planets for Goldilocks and Kepler’s Discoveries,” Natalie Batalha, NASA, Kepler mission scientist

— “Four Suspects to Search for Life in Our Solar System,” Jonathan Lunine, Cornell professor of astronomy

— “Life in the Cosmos: What Does It Take?” Dimitar Sasselov, Harvard

— From Extremophiles to ‘Star Trek’: The Use of Synthetic Biology in Astrobiology,” Lynn Rothschild, NASA astrobiologist

— “Exploring Pale Blue Dots in the Night Sky,” Lisa Kaltenegger, Cornell.

Free, open to the public, and webcast!

The May 9 event is free and open to the public.

RSVP by email to instituteforpalebluedots@gmail.com

Note: The event will be webcast.

Check the Institute for Pale Blue Dots website for details as the conference date draws closer by going to:

http://instituteforpalebluedots.com

ipbd-cover

 

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Things can be a little cramped when stuffed inside a spacecraft. Not only are your crewmates taking up room, but toss in supplies and lots of gear for good measure!

And if you’re headed for Mars, elbow room may be at a premium for such a long voyage.

The good news is that living and working in microgravity does create opportunities for astronauts to expand their environment because they are not constrained by being bound to a “floor.”

But NASA has yet to map how astronauts take advantage of weightlessness to expand the useable area of their vehicles.

Location and orientation

NASA has selected Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. to develop a wearable device that will track astronauts’ location and orientation as they move around the International Space Station (ISS).

DRAPER 2

From these devices, three dimensional models of the crew’s use of the habitat can be created and validated. These models could inform and improve designs of future spacecraft to maximize the space astronauts have to work.

This is critical when plotting out any long duration exploration missions like planting footprints on the Red Planet.

Wearable prototype system

The Draper hardware incorporates optical sensors to determine an astronaut’s location within the ISS relative to other objects, as well as inertial measurement units (IMUs) and algorithms that, when packaged into an integrated system, can provide continuous information about movement and orientation.

Draper will deliver a wearable prototype system for NASA to test.

Elements of the algorithms that will integrate into the system were matured under previously funded work through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.

draper 1

That earlier NIAC work developed spacesuit technology that introduces an artificial force similar to gravity to increase an astronaut’s stability and health.

As Jana Schwartz, Draper’s Human Centered Design & Engineering group leader noted in a Draper press statement:

“The habitable volume of the ISS is 13,696 cubic feet…nearly that of a 2,000 square foot home. That’s a lot of room up in space, and Draper’s technology can help NASA determine how to better use it when designing future spacecraft.”