Archive for March, 2017
Yes, it’s filed under speculative, space, architecture.
But the New York-based Clouds Architecture Office (Clouds AO) has released details of “Analemma” and a system referred to as the Universal Orbital Support System (UOSS).
This same group worked with NASA recently to create a Mars Ice Home.
Overall, the group’s new concept trump’s Trump Tower!
Super tall tower
In the group’s new idea, by placing a large asteroid into orbit over Earth, a high strength cable can be lowered towards the surface of earth from which a super tall tower can be suspended. Since this new tower typology is suspended in the air, it can be constructed anywhere in the world and transported to its final location.
Clouds AO’s proposal calls for Analemma to be constructed over Dubai, which has proven to be a specialist in tall building construction at one fifth the cost of New York City construction.
The bottom line is that the concept inverts the traditional diagram of an Earth-based foundation, instead depending on a space-based supporting foundation from which the tower is suspended.
Orbital mechanics for Analemma: geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s sidereal rotation period of one day. The tower’s position in the sky traces out a path in a figure-8 form, returning the tower to exactly the same position in the sky each day.
Clouds AO explains that manipulating asteroids is no longer relegated to science fiction.
“Analemma can be placed in an eccentric geosynchronous orbit which would allow it to travel between the northern and southern hemispheres on a daily loop. The ground trace for this pendulum tower would be a figure eight, where the tower would move at its slowest speed at the top and bottom of the figure eight allowing the possibility for the towers occupants to interface with the planet’s surface at these points. The proposed orbit is calibrated so the slowest part of the towers trajectory occurs over New York City.
As detailed by Clouds AO, “Analemma would get its power from space-based solar panels. Installed above the dense and diffuse atmosphere, these panels would have constant exposure to sunlight, with a greater efficiency than conventional PV installations. Water would be filtered and recycled in a semi-closed loop system, replenished with condensate captured from clouds and rainwater. Developments in cable-less electromagnetic elevators have effectively shattered height restrictions imposed by elevator cable spool volume.”
While researching atmospheric conditions for this project, Clouds AO experts realized that there is probably a tangible height limit beyond which people would not tolerate living due to the extreme conditions. For example, while there may be a benefit to having 45 extra minutes of daylight at an elevation of 32,000 meters, the near vacuum and -40C temperature would prevent people from going outside without a protective suit.
“Then again,” the Clouds AO website explains, “astronauts have continually occupied the space station for decades, so perhaps it’s not so bad?”
High cost of construction
Analemma Tower is a proposal for the world’s tallest building ever.
“Harnessing the power of planetary design thinking, it taps into the desire for extreme height, seclusion and constant mobility. If the recent boom in residential towers proves that sales price per square foot rises with floor elevation, then Analemma Tower will command record prices, justifying its high cost of construction,” the Clouds AO website explains.
For more information on this innovative group, go to:
After more than a decade of controversy, the debate over the icy world’s demotion to “dwarf planet” status shows no sign of stopping.
The upshot from the vote to downgrade Pluto as a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) continues to swirl around a major axis of dispute.
Turns out, it’s a world also caught in a vortex of nomenclature, planetary pedagogy, as well as a slight nudge from ambivalence.
There is no question that the July 14, 2015 flyby of Pluto by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft – the first probe to do so – has sparked more debate about the famous object’s Solar System standing. That far flung craft revealed surprising, eye-opening detail about Pluto and its entourage of moons.
Back into the “planetary ‘hood?
But while plugging back Pluto into the “planetary ‘hood” is being advanced, it’s arguably a tough call.
For more on the debate, discussion, controversy, take a look at my new story for Scientific American at:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is busy working science duties, now in Sol 1651.
“Sol 1650 activities completed as expected, so it’s time to start scooping,” reports Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The plan focused on acquiring Scoop #1 and dropping off a portion of the sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.
“This is the first of four intended scoops at this location, aimed at sampling different grain sizes and their composition,” Edgar adds.
In the plan, a Mastcam mosaic of “Kennebago Divide” is to document some possible layering exposed by the wheel scuff on the right side of the robot’s workspace.
“We’ll also take several Mastcam images for change detection to monitor active sand movement,” Edgar notes. Then the arm backbone was slated to start retracting the arm and a vibration was to clean the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).
After that, the plan called for use of the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to image “Flanders Bay” and Scoop #1 locations (prior to
scooping), and a very close-up image of the “Avery Peak” ripple crest.
“Next up, we’ll acquire Scoop #1! The sample will be sieved, and the fine-grained portion (<150 microns) will be delivered to SAM. These are all very power intensive activities so there wasn’t much room for other science during Sol 1650, but the plan today should accommodate more activities and context observations.
“In the meantime, sitting on ‘Ogunquit Beach’ is providing a pretty great view,” Edgar concludes.
New traverse map
Meanwhile a new Curiosity traverse map has been released, showing the route taken by the robot trough Sol 1648.
This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1648 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars as of March 27, 2017.
Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).
From Sol 1646 to Sol 1648, Curiosity drove a straight line distance of about 23.97 feet (7.31 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 9.89 miles (15.92 kilometers).
What are the prospects for altering the environment of Mars more to our liking?
Can the Red Planet be terraformed was recently spotlighted during last week’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) held at The Woodlands, Texas.
Terraforming serves up a variety of meanings, be it raising the pressure and temperature enough to allow intermittent liquid water and possible plant growth, to increasing the pressure and temperature so that humans could work directly on the Mars surface, requiring only breathing apparatus to provide oxygen
Two phase approach
A “terraforming timeline” has been outlined by Aaron Berliner at the University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, and Chris McKay of the NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California.
In their LPSC poster paper, they explain that terraforming Mars can be divided into two phases:
- Warming the planet from the present average surface temperature of -60ºC to a value close to Earth’s average temperature to +15ºC, and recreating a thick carbon dioxide (CO2) atmosphere. This warming phase is relatively easy and quick, and could take roughly 100 years.
- The second phase is producing levels of oxygen in the atmosphere that would allow humans and other large mammals to breathe normally. This oxygenation phase is relatively difficult and would take 100,000 years or more, unless one postulates a technological breakthrough.
The researchers propose, in part, that given the long-term timeline of a possible terraforming endeavor, there’s need to develop a roadmap that outlines the technological processes and advancements required to terraform the Red Planet.
That roadmap would involve adaptation of current and future robotic Martian missions for measuring specific elemental and mineral samples such that a geolocated Martian resource database can be constructed. Also there’s need for mathematical modeling of Martian terraforming to calculate costs for a specific set of terraform-related reactions.
In addition, Berliner and McKay see a focused synthetic biology initiative for engineering organisms for Martian in-situ resource utilization. In addition they advise development of localized para-terraforming systems for evaluating processes in a controlled area on Martian surface and subsurface via probes.
Furthermore, the researchers envision a planetary protection agreement describing restrictions of terraforming processes “such that Mars can be maintained for future studies and terraforming can be explored beyond experimental and computational means.”
The Mars specialists report that such a roadmap should be started now, as it will require the input from many communities within space sciences, astrobiology, geosciences, and biological sciences.
According to Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the terraforming of Mars in the near term is not feasible.
Terraforming Mars would involve putting enough carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere to provide substantial greenhouse warming.
“Is enough CO2 available to do this? No,” explains Jakosky who is also the scientific leader of NASA’s now orbiting Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission that is busily studying the Martian atmosphere.
“It is not feasible today, using existing technology or concepts, to carry out any activities that significantly increase the atmospheric CO2 pressure and/or provide any significant warming of the planet,” he explains in a poster paper presented at the LPSC last week.
Jakosky and his co-author, Christopher Edwards of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, conclude that the ability to release enough CO2 into the Mars atmosphere to provide any significant greenhouse warming is “extremely limited.”
This is the case even if most of the CO2 present on early Mars still remained on the planet, locked up in adsorbed gas and carbonates. Greenhouse warming is further limited in the likely event that the bulk of the early CO2 has been lost to space, as suggested by recent measurements.
While greenhouse warming is still conceivable by large-scale manufacturing of chlorofluorocarbons, as some researchers have suggested, this approach “is very far into the future at best.”
To view the full abstracts and more information presented in the two papers, go to:
The Terraforming Timeline
Can Mars Be Terrraformed?
(Update: March 28, 2017)
Two ancient sites on Mars that hosted an abundance of water in the planet’s early history have been recommended as the final candidates for the landing site of the 2020 ExoMars rover and surface science platform: Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis.
The process to decide where Europe’s ExoMars rover will scout about on the Red Planet is underway this week.
In late 2015, one site – Oxia Planum – had been recommended as the primary focus for further detailed evaluation, with two other sites retained for discussion. Now experts will determine whether it will be Aram Dorsum or Mawrth Vallis that will also be put forward to study in further detail.
Aram Dorsum comes with a channel, curving from northeast to west across the location. The sedimentary rocks around the channel are thought to be alluvial sediments deposited much like those around Earth’s River Nile.
Mawrth Vallis is one of the oldest outflow channels on Mars, at least 3.8 billion years old. It hosts large exposures of finely layered clay-rich rocks, indicating that water once played a role here.
Oxia Planum contains one of the largest exposures of ancient – approximately 3.8 billion years old – clay-rich rocks on the planet. The finely layered formations record a variety of deposition and wetting environments believed to be similar to that of Mawrth Vallis.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars rover and Russia’s stationary surface science platform are scheduled for launch in July 2020, arriving at Mars in March 2021.
A key objective of ExoMars is establishing whether life ever existed on Mars. Therefore the chosen site should be ancient – around 3.9 billion years old – with abundant evidence of water having been present for extended periods.
ESA’s rover is factory equipped with a drill that is capable of extracting samples from depths of over 6 feet (2 meters).
According to an ESA statement regarding drill depth, “this is crucial, because the present surface of Mars is a hostile place for living organisms owing to the harsh solar and cosmic radiation. By searching underground, the rover has more chance of finding preserved evidence.”
Drill samples are to be delivered to the Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD) in the body of the rover, via a sample delivery window.
ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter, now in Mars orbit since October 2016, will serve as a relay station for the ExoMars rover mission, as it continues to press on with its own science agenda.
For an informative overview of the ESA Mars rover, go to:
The hush-hush mission by the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane has sailed past a previous program record for time in orbit.
Launched atop an Atlas booster on May 20, 2015, the OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4) has winged past 674 days – a long-duration flight milestone for the program reached back in October 2014.
The robotic mini-space plane now in orbit is one of two reusable X-37B vehicles that constitute the space plane “fleet.” Also, this current OTV-4 space trek is the second flight of the second X-37B vehicle built for the Air Force by Boeing.
Appearing like a miniature version of NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter, the reusable military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 meters) tall, and has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 meters).
The space drone has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed that can be outfitted with a robotic arm. It has a launch weight of 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.
What this “winged warrior” is doing high above Earth is an on-going, tight-lipped affair.
Some payloads onboard the OTV-4 craft have been previously identified.
For example, Aerojet Rocketdyne has said that its XR-5A Hall Thruster had completed initial on-orbit validation testing onboard the X-37B space plane. Also onboard is a NASA advanced materials investigation.
The first OTV mission began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit.
The second OTV mission began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.
An OTV-3 mission chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit when it landed Oct. 17, 2014.
There’s no telling how long the now-orbiting space plane will continue to fly. All the OTV craft to date have guided their way on auto-pilot to a Vandenberg Air Force Base, California tarmac-touchdown.
But that could change with the OTV-4 mission.
What is known is that progress has been made on consolidating X-37B space plane operations, including use of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida as a landing site for the robotic space plane.
A former KSC space-shuttle facility known as Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-1) was converted into a structure that will enable the Air Force “to efficiently land, recover, refurbish and relaunch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV),” according to Boeing.
The X-37B vehicle development falls under the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems in El Segundo, California, the firm’s center for all space and experimental systems and government and commercial satellites.
The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is leading the Department of Defense’s OTV initiative, by direction of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Secretary of the Air Force.
“The Air Force continues to push the envelope of what the X37B can do, likely toward determining operational mission capabilities in the future,” explains Joan Johnson-Freese, Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College. “It remains unclear what capabilities the spacecraft will add to those already available, other than duration in orbit,” she told Inside Outer Space.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is busy at work on Sol 1647 after a drive of over 98 feet (30 meters) on Sol 1646.
Over this weekend, the robot is assigned remote sensing and arm work, along with a drive onto the edge of a large dune.
Left middle wheel
A recent traction control test involving Curiosity’s wheels went well, reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Traction control comes none too soon as a routine check of the aluminum wheels on the rover has found two small breaks on the Mars machinery’s left middle wheel.
According to experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, builder of Curiosity, new imagery shows signs of worrisome wheel wear and tear.
The mission’s first and second breaks in raised treads — called grousers — appeared in a March 19 image check of the wheels, documenting that these breaks occurred after the last check on January 27. The grousers bear much of the rover’s weight and provide most of the traction and ability to traverse over uneven terrain.
“All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission,” said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson at JPL. “While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone,” he said in a statement.
Testing has shown that at the point when three grousers on a wheel have broken, that wheel has reached about 60 percent of its useful life.
Meanwhile, on Sol 1647, the plan calls for the robot’s Left Mastcam to take a 360-degree panorama and Right Mastcam will acquire a 17×3 mosaic of the edge of the sand dune, which is named “Ogunquit Beach.”
Then the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam ) and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock targets “Damariscotta Lake,” “Mount Katahdin,” and “Boothbay Harbor.”
Later in the day, the rover’s robotic arm will be unstowed for drill diagnostic tests and a full suite of Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images on another bedrock target dubbed “Halftide Ledge.”
Then the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is slated to be placed on the same target for an overnight integration.
Drive onto the dune
On Sol 1648, the schedule calls for the arm to be stowed after more drill diagnostic tests and Curiosity’s Navcam will search for dust devils while the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) acquires environmental data.
According to Herkenhoff, the wheeled robot is set to drive onto the dune. “After the drive, the arm will be unstowed to allow Mastcam and Navcam to acquire stereo images of the arm workspace to support planning next week.”
Early the next morning, Mastcam is set to measure the dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will search for clouds. In the afternoon, Right Mastcam will repeatedly take pictures of three areas near the rover to look for changes due to winds.
In addition, Mastcam will search for dust devils and measure atmospheric dust at two different times of day.
“Finally, the rover will sleep through the night to recharge in preparation for what will likely be a busy week,” Herkenhoff concludes.
The Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1646, following a drive of roughly 65 feet (20 meters) the previous sol.
Curiosity has wheeled toward the big sand dune to the east that is the subject of a science campaign that will possibly start next week.
“Another drive toward the east is planned for Sol 1646, with post-drive imaging to set up for contact science,” reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. “The drive will include the first use on Mars of traction control software that’s been tested and fine-tuned in JPL’s Mars Yard since last April.”
Herkenhoff adds that this new software allows the rover to drive “softer,” meaning that when the rover detects that a wheel is driving over a rock, it slows the other five wheels to avoid pushing the wheel into the rock while the wheel climbs over the rock.
“Curiosity’s first use of traction control has been planned for months to begin about now,” Herkenhoff notes, “and is intended to validate the new software for optional use in future drives.”
Before the planned Sol 1646 drive, the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) will observe targets “Bald Rock Ledge” and “Porcupine Dry Ledge” on one of the layered outcrops to the right of the rover.
Then the robot’s Right Mastcam is slated to acquire mosaics of layered outcrops. After the drive, Navcam is slated to again search for dust devils and ChemCam will observe a target selected by Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS software.
Lastly, Curiosity’s Navcam will search for clouds and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite to perform an engineering baseline test.
Meanwhile, a map depicting the Curiosity rover’s location for Sol 1645 shows the route driven by the robot through the 1645 Martian day, or sol as of March 23, 2017.
Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.
From Sol 1643 to Sol 1645, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 67.68 feet (20.63 meters).
Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, the NASA rover has driven 9.87 miles (15.88 kilometers).
It is the policy of the United States to support full and complete utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) through at least 2024.
But what happens to the ISS after that date? It’s an open question.
A recent hearing examined the range of choices facing America and the impacts of various options.
The hearing was held March 22 by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Space of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology titled:“The International Space Station After 2024: Options and and Impacts.”
For the prepared testimony of the witnesses:
- William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA
- Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration
- Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
- Robert Ferl, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, University of Florida
To view the entire hearing, go to:
Being “well-suited” for Mars requires tackling an array of challenges to make a fashion statement. Thanks to university-based teamwork a novel approach has been taken to blueprint exploration attire for the Red Planet.
A collaboratory to design a spacesuit for Mars has been put in place at the University of California-Berkeley – a multidisciplinary, multi-university talent pool that includes NASA/industry partnerships.
Helmet to torso
The objective is to create a blue collar spacesuit, a top-to-bottom — helmet to torso – appraisal of protective clothing that allows expeditionary crews to more effectively work on Mars.
For more details, please go to my new Space.com story:
Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet