Archive for May, 2016
A new proposal is on the table: Build an armed space station capable of tackling both natural and human-made threats to Earth.
Nations should cooperate in building the orbiting complex. Its duties would be to deal with space-derived threats to humanity, be they from incoming asteroids to violent solar storms – as well as threats arising on Earth from human activity including war and global warming.
Igor Ashurbeyli, chairman of the Moscow-based International Expert Society on Space Threat Defense unveiled his concept in a keynote address at the 4th Manfred Lachs International Conference on Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law in Montreal, Canada.
The Conference was organized by McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law.
Ashurbeyli dubbed his defense idea “URBOCOP” – a Universal Robotic Battle Cosmic Platform.
URBOCOP would be an armed, unpiloted space station capable of monitoring Earth and space. It would have on-board weapons capable of destroying both natural and human-made objects threatening Earth – including ballistic missiles launched by one national against another.
Free from human bias
The control system for URBOCOP would be entirely automatic and free from human bias, allowing it to make decisions about striking dangerous military launches, regardless of their country of origin.
To be acceptable to governments around the globe, Ashurbeyli said it must be an international platform with completely transparent intellectual property rights and open architecture. Funding and the right to use it must belong to all peoples – encompassing advanced nations and developing countries alike, with no restrictions or boundaries, he suggested.
In terms of space threats, Ashurbeyli cites these worrisome factors:
- Sun storms and sun flares, known as coronal mass ejections.
- Changes in the Earth’s magnetosphere which results in the destruction of the protective shield that could deflect coronal mass ejections.
- Potentially dangerous asteroids and comets, which could impact Earth and lead to mass destruction of humanity.
- Human-made space debris.
- Climate change resulting from the effects of human technology, industrialization and solar radiation on Earth’s atmosphere.
- Cosmic radiation – Earth is constantly affected not only by solar radiation but also by cosmic rays from novas, supernovas and pulsars. This also needs to be taken into consideration.
- Earth being infected by biological threats from inside meteors and other small bodies that reach the planet’s surface.
“The new, 21st century is not only the century of humanity’s greatest progress, but also of the realization that our planet is vulnerable…both in the face of man’s technological and military actions, and in the face of natural dangers originating in aerospace,” Ashurbeyli added.
Ashurbeyli is also founder and editor-in-chief of ROOM: The Space Journal that can be found here with additional information on the URBOCOP concept.
Now in Sol 1356 on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover recently completed a drive, placing it on a “nice patch of the Murray formation,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
That drive put the Mars robot in a good position for a very busy holiday weekend of tasks.
The Murray formation is a section of rock, 500 feet high, that represents the lowest sedimentary layers of nearby Aeolis Mons, commonly known as Mount Sharp.
On Sol 1355, the plan called for the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam)
To make observations of the targets: “Auchas”, “Kaisosi”, “Inamagando”, and “Horingbaai”.
The rover’s Mastcam was slated to document those targets and then do some multispectral observations of the targets “Kunjas” and “Navachab”, plus a mosaic of the contact between the Murray and Stimson geological units, Anderson explains.
Curiosity’s Navcam was to round out the science block with some atmospheric observations.
Image from orbit of Curiosity
“Sol 1356 was an unusual one, with a bunch of small science blocks spread throughout the day,” Anderson notes. These were to enable a series of measurements leading up to a coordinated set of observations in the afternoon between the instruments on the rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Adds Anderson: “Yes, this means a new [Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] HiRISE image of Curiosity is coming soon!”
First thing in the morning on Sol 1356, Curiosity’s Mastcam and Navcam have a photometry observation. This was to be repeated a few hours later along with a multispectral Mastcam observation of the target “Inamagando”.
A few hours later, the photometry observation is repeated again. “The idea is to see how the brightness changes as the sun angle changes,” Anderson observes, and ChemCam is to make a passive sky observation.
Finally, there is another photometry observation, a Mastcam “sky survey” observation, and Mastcam “sky flats”. These are to be followed by a long-distance ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo shoot.
“On Sol 1357 we will drive again, followed by standard post-drive imaging. This plan will take us through the long weekend, so our next planning day will be on Tuesday,” Anderson concludes.
Dates of projected Curiosity activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
There are numbers of nations that have Mars in their sights for robotic exploration. So many, in fact, is it time to better coordinate those efforts to enhance the opportunity for eventual human exploration of the Red Planet?
The idea of an International Year of Mars (IYM) is anchored in history.
Retro-fire to the past when a comprehensive series of global geophysical activities spanned the period: July 1957-December 1958. The objective was to share information acquired by participating scientists all over the world.
That undertaking was labeled the International Geophysical Year, or IGY for short. The IGY embraced a number of Earth sciences with new cooperative efforts forged between nations – some still alive and well in the 21st century.
The timing of the IGY also saw both the former Soviet Union and the United States loft their first artificial satellites of the Earth.
That was then…now fast forward to the future.
Collaborations between Europe, Russia, China, India, for example, along with the United States and other spacefaring nations, are likely to join forces to stage a human reach for the Red Planet.
Similarly, public/private contributions may well be in the cards too.
For example, consider these plans:
China: Chinese space officials have plans to send a rover to the Red Planet as early as 2020, a mission that could also collect samples of Mars for return to Earth around 2030.
Europe: An aggressive Mars plan is underway by the European Space Agency (ESA), tagged ExoMars. Their initiative includes a stylish rover to land on Mars in 2020. ExoMars 2020 also includes a Russian-provided surface platform replete with science experiments.
India: That country’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), named Mangalyaan, swung into orbit around the planet in September 2014. A NASA-Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Mars Working Group has been formed to investigate enhanced cooperation between the two countries in Mars exploration.
Japan: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is considering a go-ahead for a sample return mission involving one of Mars’ two moons — Phobos and Deimos. A selected moon is to be targeted for a landing in the early 2020s.
United Arab Emirates: The Islamic world’s entrance into space exploration, this UAE Mars orbiter would be launched in 2020 by Japan to search for connections between today’s weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet.
United States: Following the 2018 launch of the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander, NASA also is set to loft the Mars 2020 rover. Additionally, studies are underway to hurl to the Red Planet a multi-functional next-generation Mars Orbiter.
SpaceX: Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, has openly discussed plans to land an unpiloted Dragon spacecraft on Mars as soon as 2018, to help “inform overall Mars architecture” with “details to come.”
Scientific and technological savvy
Given this rising global appetite for Mars exploration, is the time ripe for a coordinated, collaborative International Year of Mars – or perhaps an International Mars Year (IMY)?
By tapping the scientific and technological savvy of a cadre of countries and American private-sector muscle could this melding of capability provide the needed momentum to hasten the day of humans firmly setting foot on the Red Planet?
— Leonard David
“Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me
Long as you love me, it’s all right
Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me
You got the power to turn on the light”
— American Breed
Success today as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) reached “manual inflation complete” from its docking point on the International Space Station.
As BEAM expanded, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams reported a succession of “pops” as the structure began to take shape – sounds of success. Good motion was reported in both length and diameter attained by BEAM.
Initial efforts to inflate BEAM were called off last week after several hours of attempts to pump air into the module.
BEAM is billed as a vital pathfinder for validating the benefits of expandable habitats. They can be used in low Earth orbit, cislunar space, as well as for Moon and Mars surface missions.
Builder of the BEAM is the commercial space firm, Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas.
The ISS-attached BEAM is headed for a two-year demonstration period.
Once fully inflated and checked out on the ISS, the BEAM is to be monitored for pressure, temperature, radiation protection, and micro-meteoroid/debris impact detection. Astronauts will periodically enter the BEAM to record data, and perform inspections of the module.
Despite initial problems in fully-inflating BEAM, Bigelow Aerospace remained confident that the structure add-on would achieve success.
Abundance of caution
In a May 27th statement from Bigelow Aerospace regarding the earlier inflation woes:
“Out of an abundance of caution for the ISS and the crew, operations were halted after the BEAM’s performance no longer matched the forecasted models on the ground. We recognize that the BEAM is a first-of-its-kind spacecraft, and we are in full support of safety being the number-one priority,” noted the statement.
“The BEAM spacecraft has been in a packed state for a significantly longer time than expected. It has undergone a tremendous squeeze for over 15 months, which is 10 months longer than planned. Therefore, there is a potential for the behavior of the materials that make up the outside of the spacecraft to act differently than expected.”
Back in 2006 and again in 2007, Bigelow Aerospace successfully launched and deployed two expandable, pathfinder spacecraft dubbed Genesis I and Genesis II.
“However, because of the BEAM’s location on the International Space Station, the deployment sequence has been dramatically modified to a much slower approach,” the newly issued statement explains.
“We fully expect that full deployment of the spacecraft will occur,” added the company statement, “there is no question whether the BEAM is capable of deployment.”
Look to the future
BEAM is a precursor to the Bigelow Aerospace B330, a much larger expandable space habitat privately manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace. The design was evolved from NASA’s TransHab habitat concept.
As the name indicates, the B330 will provide 330 cubic meters (12,000 cubic feet) of internal volume and each habitat can support a crew of up to six. This craft can support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes.
Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, expandable structures have potential to support space tourism and missions destined for the Moon and Mars.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1353. Landing on the Red Planet in August 2012, the robot has wheeled some 8 miles since touchdown.
After a recent drive, the Mars machinery took Sol 1352 imagery that shows there are sandy ripples ahead, and enough rocky patches that the rover should not have any problem driving toward the southwest, reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“This is what we were hoping, so we are planning to drive in that direction on Sol 1353,” Herkenhoff explains.
But firstly, Curiosity’s Mastcam was slated to acquire stereo mosaics of the “Murray-Stimson” contact and a couple of areas toward the west with nodular features.
Post-drive, the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) will again autonomously measure the chemistry of a target selected by the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS software.
To get a head start on planning for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, two sols are to be scripted, Herkenhoff reports. The Sol 1353 activities cannot be precisely targeted, he notes, so the rover’s Navcam will look for clouds and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere at various times that sol.
In addition, ChemCam will perform a routine calibration activity.
As always, dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
Meanwhile, a new map of Curiosity’s location for Sol 1352 has been issued.
The map shows the route driven by the automaton through the 1352 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (May, 26, 2016).
Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.
From Sol 1349 to Sol 1352, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 53.00 feet (16.16 meters). Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 7.97 miles (12.83 kilometers).
The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Close encounter of the Mars kind
For you skywatchers, Mars makes its closest visit to Earth in 11 years on Monday, May 30th.
The Red Planet will be closest to our planet since 2005 – a mere 46,762,695 miles (75,279,709 km) away as it continues its 687-day elliptical orbit around the Sun.
Mars is quite photogenic due to the closeness between the two planets. Its proximity is spurring detailed imagery of Mars, such as from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope – photos that reveal rarely seen weather conditions.
The next frontier in human space exploration is Mars, the red planet—and human habitation of this world isn’t much farther off.
NASA has declared Mars “an achievable goal” for its human spaceflight program. Other nations are also eyeing the Red Planet, perhaps hastening the day of a global undertaking to plant human footprints on that faraway globe.
Still, there are countless challenges ahead – not only technical, but physiological, psychological and sociological issues too – with a helping of ethics thrown into the mix.
Getting to Mars is one thing…but staying there is another matter.
I’m extremely proud to have authored Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet.
The book combines science, technology, photography, art, and story-telling, offering what only National Geographic can create: clear scientific explanations, gorgeous photography from outer space and Mars itself.
The book promises to spur discussion and debate regarding the human exploration and potential settlement of Mars.
I recently visited the National Geographic offices to view the final layout and production of the volume – an awesome experience!
Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet, with a foreword by movie producer, Ron Howard, is the companion book to the National Geographic six-part series “Mars,” a television milestone that documents and dramatizes the next 25 years as humans land on and learn to live on Mars.
The book provides dramatic scenes from the TV series featuring exquisitely constructed sets made to replicate Mars and makes the Mars experience visual to the viewer.
The Mars TV series is the product of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment that has recently partnered with National Geographic on Breakthrough as well as Mars.
For more information on the book – Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet — to be released October 25th, go to:
Also go to Amazon at:
Efforts were called off today to fully deploy the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) from the International Space Station.
The wave-off came after several hours of attempts to introduce air into the module.
Flight controllers informed NASA astronaut Jeff Williams that BEAM had only expanded a few inches in both length and diameter at the time the operation ceased for the day.
Engineers are meeting to determine a forward course of action, with the possibility that another attempt could be made as early as Friday morning.
BEAM is billed as a vital pathfinder for validating the benefits of expandable habitats, for use in low Earth orbit, cislunar space, as well as for Moon and Mars surface missions. The ISS-attached BEAM is headed for a two-year demonstration period.
Launched to the ISS by a SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon, the BEAM was packed in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft. Once the craft was attached to the ISS, the Canada Arm removed BEAM from the Dragon spacecraft and berthed the module to the Tranquility node (Node 3) of the ISS.
Astronauts initiated an automated deployment sequence, allowing the BEAM to start its expansion to full volume – but that plan was not fully realized.
Once expanded, the BEAM is to be monitored for pressure, temperature, radiation protection, and micro-meteoroid/debris impact detection. Astronauts will periodically enter the BEAM to record data, and perform inspections of the module.
BEAM is a precursor to the Bigelow Aerospace B330, a much larger expandable space habitat privately manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace. The design was evolved from NASA’s TransHab habitat concept.
As the name indicates, the B330 will provide 330 cubic meters (12,000 cubic feet) of internal volume and each habitat can support a crew of up to six.
The craft can support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes. Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, however, it has potential as a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars.
What’s the real right stuff needed to overcome the practical physical and psychological challenges astronauts will face on a protracted voyage to—and their stay on—the planet Mars?
That question and others were addressed today at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
The May 24th event involved panelists:
Catherine “Cady” Coleman, Astronaut, NASA
Rudy deLeon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Peter Juul, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress
NASA space traveler
NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman has accumulated 4,330 hours in space, bringing firsthand experience with long duration space travel to her current position in NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist.
In addition to two space shuttle missions and a five and a half month stay aboard on the International Space Station, Coleman holds a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force before retiring in 2009.
Watch the video
To video view today’s discussion on the practical steps America will need to take in order to send astronauts to Mars and other destinations beyond the Moon, go to:
The highly informative SpacePolicyOnline.com has a suite of new postings that are headline eye-catchers:
House Appropriators Urge FAA to Facilitate Private Lunar Development
House Appropriators Reject Asteroid Redirect Mission, Want Astronauts on Moon
House Appropriators Have Big Plans for NASA
Lunar, asteroid, Europa, interstellar
Marcia Smith, founder and editor of SpacePolicyOnline.com, notes:
— Moon Development: The House Appropriations Committee encourages the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to enhance its processes to provide “security and predictability” to companies planning lunar development. It also urges the FAA to define “non-interference” in the context of such private sector activities. At the same time, it denies half of the requested increase for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) to hire more staff.
— Dis-ARMing: The House Appropriations Committee is recommending that no funds be provided for planning robotic or crewed missions to asteroids as envisioned by President Obama’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Also under the heading “Mission to Mars,” the committee states that while there may be technological benefits to “asteroid redirect and retrieval missions” — an apparent reference to ARM, whose name has varied over the years — they do not “appreciably contribute” to the overall goal of sending humans to Mars.
— Europa Orbiter/Lander Missions: the House committee continues support for a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa — an orbiter to be launched in 2022 and a lander in 2024 — both launched by the Space Launch System (SLS). This committee has insisted that NASA proceed with a Europa mission even though NASA was not planning to build it because of budget constraints.
— Star Probe Propulsion: The House Appropriations Committee not only wants NASA to replace the Asteroid Redirect Mission with a focus on returning humans to the lunar surface, but it has other big plans for the agency. One is to develop interstellar propulsion to enable a probe to be sent to Alpha Centauri at one tenth the speed of light in 2069. The committee also directs NASA to submit a plan for developing interstellar propulsion to enable a scientific probe to be sent to Alpha Centauri at a cruising velocity of 0.1c (one tenth the speed of light) in 2069, the 100th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.
Smith also notes that the committee continues to prohibit NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from engaging in bilateral space activities with China unless certain conditions are met.
“One of those now is that the FBI must certify (in addition to NASA or OSTP) that no technology transfer will occur or that the activity involves knowing interactions with the officials involved in human rights violations,” Smith explains.
For more on these issues, all the dollar details, and attached documents, go to:
An experimental winged vehicle has been successfully flight tested by India.
The May 23rd flight of India’s Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) flew from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.
An HS9 solid rocket booster was topped by the RLV-TD. The suborbital flight saw the unpiloted winged craft reach a height of about 184,000 feet (56 kilometers).
At that altitude, the RLV-TD separated from the HS9 booster and further ascended to a height of about 213,000 feet (65 kilometers).
The 1.75 ton craft made an atmospheric re-entry at around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), successfully gliding down to the pre-ordained landing spot within the Bay of Bengal, at a distance of about 280 miles (450 kilometers) from Sriharikota.
The vehicle’s Navigation, Guidance and Control system steered the vehicle during this flight phase for a safe descent.
Total flight duration from launch to landing of the delta winged RLV-TD lasted for about 770seconds, according to a press statement from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
“In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance & control, reusable thermal protection system and re-entry mission management have been successfully validated,” ISRO added.
Two-stage to orbit
ISRO is pushing forward on reusable launch vehicle technology.
According to ISRO, the RLV-TD is a series of technology demonstration missions for realizing a two stage to orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable vehicle.
RLV-TD is viewed as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies: hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air-breathing propulsion.
The first in the series of experimental flights, explains ISRO, is the hypersonic flight experiment (HEX) followed by the landing experiment (LEX), return flight experiment (REX) and scramjet propulsion experiment (SPEX).
Sivan, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, led the RLV-TD development program and spearheaded its design, qualification, aerodynamic characterization and hardware development.
Vikram Sarabhai Space Center is the major centre of ISRO, where the design and development activities of satellite launch vehicles and sounding rockets are carried out and made ready for launch operations.