Archive for August, 2015

Rapid Deployment Automation System (RDAS) project. Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

Rapid Deployment Automation System (RDAS) project.
Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

CubeSats rule!

In fact, CubeSats are just 10 centimeter-size cubes, perfect as a miniaturized spacecraft for scientific research.

But one creative idea is to put wheels on them.

Thanks to “Erin RobotGrrl” of Ontario, Canada (also known as Erin Kennedy) there’s developmental work on a rapidly deployable automation system with an eye toward Mars construction and re-construction after natural disasters on Earth.

Even better, it’s tele-operated by headband control.

The idea by RobotGrrl as a Rapid Deployment Automation System (RDAS) project is a 2015 Hackaday prize submission. She explains that the overall problem is trying to solve being able to rapidly deploy a system of automated movement.

Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

Robot modules

An example mission of the concept is for use in natural disaster settings during the humanitarian efforts. The robot modules would be unpacked from a backpack, then configured and linked together to perform a task.

Tasks can vary depending on the scenario, such as sorting supplies to go to a specific area, or even digging out areas to let standing water flow away from shelter locations.

By having the robots help with tasks the effort is in parallel with the human, freeing up time for the human to do complex decision making jobs.

Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

 

How it works

Erin RobotGrrl explains that the robot is unfolded from its transportation cube shape. The green pieces will eventually be solar panels to harvest some energy. The sides with the wheels move the robot. The distance sensor in front detects obstacles and avoids them.

Tele-operational control from the human is possible with a hands-free wearable headband with haptic feedback. The headband tracks the movements of the human’s head and moves the robot accordingly, notes Erin RobotGrrl.

Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

Credit: Erin RobotGrrl

“The goal of this is to eventually get the robots out in the field helping,” Erin RobotGrrl adds.

“It will take a long time with a lot of failures to get to that point,” Erin RobotGrrl concludes. “It’s all with another moonshot in mind: if the robots will be good enough for Earth, then what is stopping us from making them good enough for other planets as well. The robots could be tasked with starting to build structures on Mars, or go exploring…”

Resources

For more information on this unfolding CubeSat concept, go to:

https://hackaday.io/project/6647-rapidly-deployable-automation-system

Take a video view of this project at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ8Wnob40kc#t=14https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ8Wnob40kc#t=14

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is run by Hackaday.io – “a platform for people who like to build things.” The deadline to enter the 2015 Hackaday Prize has passed with semifinal judging starting September 21st.

The 900 projects-plus that have been submitted – including several that are space-related, can be found here at:

https://hackaday.io/

 

Curiosity image taken by rover's Mastcam Left, Sol 1080 on August 20, 2015 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity image taken by rover’s Mastcam Left, Sol 1080 on August 20, 2015
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers are fully engaged in exploration duties on the Red Planet.

Ground controllers operating Curiosity are implementing a weekend of tasks.

“The vehicle is on a local high spot that gives us a spectacular view of the terrain ahead,” explains Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

But there are few targets in front of the rover at this time suitable for contact science, Herkenhoff adds. Only one target called “Ravalli” is on tap to be investigated using the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), he notes.

Looking up, looking down

On Sol 1082, the plan calls for the robot’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will observe Ravalli and a brighter rock dubbed “Sawtooth” before Mastcam acquires a 23×6 mosaic of outcrops ahead.

Additionally, the Mastcam and Navcam are slated to look up at the sky at about the same time that the Mars Odyssey orbiter will be passing over. The result will be to compare results of observations from above and the surface, Herkenhoff explains.

As always, planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Opportunity rover uses its Navigation Camera to collect image on Sol 4106. Credit: NASA/JPL

Opportunity rover uses its Navigation Camera to collect image on Sol 4106.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Marathon exploration

Similarly, NASA’s Opportunity rover is surveying Marathon Valley, “beginning a long exploration and measurement campaign to understand the geologic setting of the CRISM-based smectite detections,” said Ray Arvidson, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) deputy principal investigator at Washington University in St. Louis.

Smectite is a type of clay found here on Earth that often forms in non-acidic water.

Opportunity Front Hazcam image taken on Sol 4114 shows instrumented robot arm at work. Credit: NASA/JPL

Opportunity Front Hazcam image taken on Sol 4114 shows instrumented robot arm at work.
Credit: NASA/JPL

The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) is a visible-infrared spectrometer aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that’s on the lookout for mineralogical indications of past and present water on Mars.

Smectite signature

“Marathon Valley floor is very interesting,” Arvidson says, with numerous intersecting fractures, spatial color variations, and both fine and coarse-grained breccias.

Opportunity Microscopic Imager photo from Sol 4112. Opportunity’s Microscopic Imager image is a first attempt to grind into target Robert Frazer. The rock is irregular and controllers here on Earth carried out a shallow grind and thus only part of the target was actually ground.  Credit: NASA/JPL

Opportunity Microscopic Imager photo from Sol 4112. Opportunity’s Microscopic Imager image is a first attempt to grind into target Robert Frazer. The rock is irregular and controllers here on Earth carried out a shallow grind and thus only part of the target was actually ground.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“It will take a while to sort everything out and understand what is carrying the smectite signature detected in the valley in five separate CRISM observations,” Arvidson told Inside Outer Space.

The first experiment from China is being readied for flight on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The first experiment from China is being readied for flight on the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

 

A Chinese experiment is being readied for flight to the International Space Station, perhaps a forerunner of a larger space cooperation agenda between the United States and China.

NanoRacks, a Houston-based commercial firm, has signed an agreement with the Beijing Institute of Technology to fly Chinese DNA research to the orbiting outpost next year.

The agreement is viewed by space policy experts as a symbolic, but forward step in shaping possible future joint work by the two spacefaring nations.

For more details, go to my new Space.com story at:

US-China Space Freeze May Thaw with Historic New Experiment

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

August 21, 2015 07:00am ET

http://www.space.com/30337-chinese-experiment-international-space-station.html

Russian built RD-180 engines. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Russian built RD-180 engines.
Credit: United Launch Alliance

The RD-180 Rocket Engine Issue Guide has been authored by Travis Cottom, the Marshall Institute’s Program Associate for Defense and Space Policy.

This paper examines the politically and technologically complex options available to the United States in providing dependable rocket engines for space launch.

“The RD-­-180 has been a stalwart engine for the Atlas V rocket, but it may become unavailable at any time due to the continuing deterioration of U.S.-­Russian relations,” explains Cottom.

Difficult position

“To ensure U.S. access to space, another launch vehicle and engine is needed. There are a few engine options available, but they will require several years to develop, test, and certify,” Cottom adds.

In Cottom’s view, rtiring the Delta IV put the U.S. in a difficult situation, “since it forces U.S. policymakers to choose between extending the use of the RD-­-180 or relying only on SpaceX for national security launches for an unknown period of time.”

This Issue Guide reviews the history of the Russian engine in U.S. launch vehicles, examines how use of the RD-180 engine became problematic, and considers the potential results of a ban of the RD-180 engine.

For the paper, go to:

http://marshall.org/space-policy/the-rd-180-rocket-engine-issue-guide/

 

Credit: Energia

Credit: Energia

 

The former Soviet Union’s Luna 9 is the first survivable landing of a human-made object on another celestial body.

That historic probe landed on the Moon on February 3, 1966. the plucky probe. The beach ball-shaped craft took the first photographs from the Moon’s harsh landscape.

Image from the Soviet Union's Luna 9 Moon probe. Credit: NASA

Image from the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 Moon probe.
Credit: NASA

 

There’s a hunt on to find the true resting spot of Luna 9. And one researcher is closing in on the goods…maybe!

For more information on the whereabouts of Luna 9, go to my new story at Air & Space Magazine:

The Search for Luna 9

Fifty years later, researchers try to locate the first spacecraft to land on another world.

By Leonard David
Air & Space Magazine
September 2015

http://www.airspacemag.com/space/search-luna-9-180956252/

Credit: Mars Landing Site Steering Committee/T. Goudge, et al.

Credit: Mars Landing Site Steering Committee/T. Goudge, et al.

 

 

Space scientists and engineers are surveying dozens of landing zones for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover…and the early votes are in. But it took a martian-style form of “Rubric’s cube” to sort through and pinpoint ideal locales to achieve mission goals.

JPL's Matt Golombek, co-chair of the Mars Landing Site Steering Committee, helps moderate site selection discussion. Credit: Leonard David

JPL’s Matt Golombek, co-chair of the Mars Landing Site Steering Committee, helps moderate site selection discussion.
Credit: Leonard David

 

Roughly 30 candidate landing areas were once on the reasonable roster. Regions of Interest (ROIs) in and near these landing sites have been mulled over for science potential – including having Red Planet machinery, for the first time, gather and stash samples for possible return to Earth by a future mission.

The intent of all this effort is to pick idyllic sites that have the geological and biological capacity to have preserved past martian life.

Mars experts gathered at 2020 Mars Rover landing site meeting. Credit: Leonard David

Mars experts gathered at 2020 Mars Rover landing site meeting.
Credit: Leonard David

 

 

Some 200 researchers and engineers took part in the second landing site workshop for the 2020 Mars Rover mission, held in Monrovia, California on August 4-6.

 

 

 

 

For a report on this meeting, go to my new Space.com story at:

Where Will NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover Land?

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

August 20, 2015 07:01am ET

http://www.space.com/30320-nasa-2020-mars-rover-landing-site.html

After taking a low-angle selfie at its latest drilling site, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has departed the area called “Marias Pass,” where it had been working since May. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After taking a low-angle selfie at its latest drilling site, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has departed the area called “Marias Pass,” where it had been working since May.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In classic do-it-your style, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has produced a set of images of several visited sites on the Red Planet.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released the non-camera shy robot imagery. The rover uses a camera on its robotic arm for multiple images that were then stitched into self-portraits.

Round-Horizon Version of Curiosity's Low-Angle Selfie at “Buckskin”. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Round-Horizon Version of Curiosity’s Low-Angle Selfie at “Buckskin”.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The robot is now driving toward the southwest after departing a region where for several weeks it investigated a geological contact zone and rocks that are unexpectedly high in silica and hydrogen content. The hydrogen indicates water bound to minerals in the ground.

Curiosity Low-Angle Self-Portrait at “Buckskin” Drilling Site on Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Low-Angle Self-Portrait at “Buckskin” Drilling Site on Mount Sharp.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The main mission objective now is to examine layers of lower Mount Sharp for ancient habitable environments and evidence about how early Mars environments evolved from wetter to drier conditions.

 

 

Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel, left, Actor Matt Damon, Director Ridley Scott, Author Andy Weir, and Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters Jim Green, participate in a question and answer session about NASA’s journey to Mars and the film ”The Martian,”  Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at the United Artist Theater in La Cañada Flintridge, California.

The Martian
NASA scientists and engineers served as technical consultants on the film. The movie portrays a realistic view of the climate and topography of Mars, based on NASA data, and some of the challenges humankind faces as we prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s.

 

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.

The movie is based on a best-selling novel, and helmed by director Ridley Scott, THE MARTIAN features Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover.

Actor Matt Damon, who stars as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in the film “The Martian,” smiles after having made his hand prints in cement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Yard, while Mars Science Lab Project Manager Jim Erickson, left, and NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel look on, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at the JPL in Pasadena, California.  Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Actor Matt Damon, who stars as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in the film “The Martian,” smiles after having made his hand prints in cement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Yard, while Mars Science Lab Project Manager Jim Erickson, left, and NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel look on, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at the JPL in Pasadena, California.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Actor Matt Damon, who stars as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in the film “The Martian,” talks on the phone with NASA Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren who are onboard the International Space Station (ISS), while NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel looks on, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

Actor Matt Damon, who stars as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in the film “The Martian,” talks on the phone with NASA Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren who are onboard the International Space Station (ISS), while NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel looks on, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Martian Official Trailer [HD] via 20th Century FOX. Go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

NOTE: Reality check for the Red Planet!

Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASA’s journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s robotic InSight Mars lander, scheduled to launch next year.

Submissions will be accepted until September 8th.

http://go.usa.gov/3Aj3G

 

Curiosity's Navcam Left B took this image on August 17, 2015, Sol 1077. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s Navcam Left B took this image on August 17, 2015, Sol 1077.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars it’s Sol 1078.

In an update from Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, before the Mars machinery began a drive away from a current location, the ChemCam and Mastcam were set to observe rock targets dubbed “Huson” and “Ignatius.”

Mastcam was also to image another rock called “Hodown.”

ChemCam looks at rocks and soils from a distance, firing a laser at the target to analyze the elemental composition of vaporized Martian rock and soil.

This image was taken by ChemCam: Remote Micro-Imager onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on August 17, Sol 1077. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

This image was taken by ChemCam: Remote Micro-Imager onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on August 17, Sol 1077.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

 

 

After the drive, an overnight Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument integration on a drill sample was planned. CheMin identifies and measures the abundances of various minerals on Mars.

The rover is scheduled to carry out atmospheric observations early on the morning of Sol 1079.

Credit: NASA/JPL Grotzinger

Credit: NASA/JPL Grotzinger

More Navcam atmospheric observations are planned later that sol, along with some ChemCam calibration activities.

Herkenhoff adds: “I’m glad that we are making good progress toward Mt. Sharp!”

 

Hurry up and go! Human versus robot on Mars.  Credit: NASA

Hurry up and go! Human versus robot on Mars.
Credit: NASA

 

Ok…yet another issue to consider for outbound space travelers.

Sure there’s radiation, palpitations during landing on a faraway world, or getting struck in the noggin by a meteorite.

Here’s a new one to come to grips with.

Prolonged spaceflight may give you a nasty case of diarrhea.

New research published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) reports in their journal that spaceflight may increase susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease.

Specifically, when mice were subjected to simulated spaceflight conditions, the balance of bacteria and the function of immune cells in the gut changed, leading to increased bowel inflammation.

Messages from mice

“Our study provides useful insights on the cross-regulation of the mucosal immune system, epithelial barrier and commensal bacteria not only in humans in spaceflight or analog, but also in humans on Earth that undergo various stresses,” reports Qing Ge, study author from the Department of Immunology at Peking University Health Science Center in Peking, Beijing.

“We already know that a trip to Mars and back may well have serious, possibly permanent, effects on the bodies of the astronauts,” said Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.

Turns out, the hidden passengers on that mission — the bacteria in the gut of space travelers — will be affected as well, Weissmann adds in a FASEB press statement. “This lends further credence to the fact that life on Earth, including the microbiome, evolved under gravity and needs it to thrive.”

For more information, go to:

http://www.fasebj.org/content/29/8/3263.abstract

Griffith Observatory Event