Archive for September, 2016

Target shooting? The Genesis Project is declared as a new venue for interstellar missions and for the unfolding of life in our galactic surroundings. Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission

Target shooting? The Genesis Project is declared as a new venue for interstellar missions and for the unfolding of life in our galactic surroundings.
Credit: NASA/Kepler Mission

 

Several thousand planets outside our solar system have been found – but why not seed a candidate world with microbial life forms dispatched from Earth.

That’s on the mind of Claudius Gros of the Institute for Theoretical Physics, Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. An interstellar mission loaded with bacteria and unicellular eukaryotes alike, a bio payload that characterized Earth prior to what’s called the “Cambrian Explosion.” That is, around 530 million years ago, a wide variety of animals burst onto the evolutionary scene.

Robotic microcraft

Gros dubs it the “Genesis project” – robotic microcraft equipped with an on-board gene laboratory for the in situ synthesis of the microbes. But how best to actually prove that a world is uninhabited and is a clear choice for being on the receiving end of the Genesis project?

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Claudius Gros of the Institute for Theoretical Physics, Goethe University. Credit: Claudius Gros

Claudius Gros of the Institute for Theoretical Physics, Goethe University.
Credit: Claudius Gros

That final decision to go ahead must be taken autonomously by the microcraft’s on-board artificial intelligence. “This may seem an imprudent strategy nowadays, but possibly not so in a few decades,” Gros writes in an essay published in the journal, Astrophysics and Space Science.

 

Transiently habitable worlds

“Our galaxy is expected in particular to teem with planets which are in part habitable, but for which the clement conditions do not last long enough for higher life forms to evolve on their own,” Gros explains.

A directed energy spacecraft could be launched and then slowed by magnetic sails at targeted, “transiently habitable” worlds.

“We hence believe that the Genesis project opens a new venue for interstellar missions and for the unfolding of life in our galactic surroundings,” Gros concludes.

Read his essay, Developing Ecospheres on Transiently Habitable Planets:

The Genesis Project at:

http://arxiv.org/pdf/1608.06087v2.pdf

 

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1455, September 9, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1455, September 9, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity Mars rover is in Sol 1456, photo facing the Murray Buttes region of lower Mount Sharp.

The Martian buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

According to a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory release today: “The new images represent Curiosity’s last stop in the Murray Buttes, where the rover has been driving for just over one month. As of this week, Curiosity has exited these buttes toward the south, driving up to the base of the final butte on its way out. In this location, the rover began its latest drilling campaign (on Sept. 9). After this drilling is completed, Curiosity will continue farther south and higher up Mount Sharp, leaving behind these spectacular formations.”

Road map

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in 2012.

A newly issued road map for the rover shows the route driven by Curiosity through the 1452 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (September, 06, 2016).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive.

 

North is up.

From Sol 1448 to Sol 1452, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 129.24 feet (39.39 meters).

Since touching down in August 2012, the wheeled Mars machinery has driven 8.76 miles (14.10 kilometers).

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Frame grab Image of Tiangong-2 via CCTV/GB Times

Frame grab Image of Tiangong-2 via CCTV/GB Times

 

China’s next space laboratory — Tiangong-2 – is being prepared for liftoff at northwest China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The launch of the un-crewed space module is set to occur between September 15 – September 20th, according to a CCTV-Plus report.

Final prep stage

Tiangong-2 atop its Long March booster was rolled out from an assembly building along a 1.5-kilometer-long seamless rail track, with the rocket being covered by the tower on the launch site.

“In the final preparing stage, further tests and installation work will be carried out, as the components like stabilizing fin for rocket booster has not been installed yet,” explains the video report.

Piloted Shenzhou-11

As China’s second orbiting space lab, Tiangong-2 is a part of the Project 921-2 space station program, with the goal of creating a third generation space station.

China's Shenzhou-11 piloted spacecraft in testing. Credit: CCTV/framegrab via GBTimes.

China’s Shenzhou-11 piloted spacecraft in testing.
Credit: CCTV/framegrab via GBTimes.

In October, two still unnamed Shenzhou-11 male pilots are to link up with the Tiangong-2. They would stay onboard the module for 30-days.

Next year, the Tiangong-2 is to be visited by China’s first refueling and cargo vessel, Tianzhou-1. Due for liftoff in the first half of next year, the unpiloted ferry vehicle would be launched via a Long March 7 rocket from the new Wenchang spaceport.

China's 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork. Credit: CNSA

China’s 60-ton medium-size space station is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

 

Modular space station

All this action is prelude to China’s progression to a larger, 60-ton modular space station for the 2020s.

The core module for the Chinese space station — Tianhe-1 — is reportedly due for launch in 2018, hurled into orbit by China’s heavy-lift Long March 5 booster. That rocket is set to make its maiden flight next month, departing from Wenchang.

 

Take a look at launch preparations for Tiangong-2 by going to:

http://pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/0909/8031710_Preview_1473418271593.mp4

Credit: uslaunchreport.com

Credit: uslaunchreport.com

 

The recent loss of the Falcon 9 and its payload during group preparations for launch was highlighted by Elon Musk of SpaceX by this tweet on September 1, 2016:

Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation. Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.

Credit: uslaunchreport.com

Credit: uslaunchreport.com

Young Elon Musk sets up Twitter account. Credit: Elon Musk

Young Elon Musk sets up Twitter account.
Credit: Elon Musk

 

 

 

Difficult, complex failure

A burst of new tweets on the mishap from Musk are:

  • Still working on the Falcon fireball investigation. Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.
  • Important to note that this happened during a routine filling operation. Engines were not on and there was no apparent heat source.
  • Support & advice from @NASA, @FAA, @AFPAA & others much appreciated. Please email any recordings of the event to report@spacex.com.
  • Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off. May come from rocket or something else. 

     

     

 

NOTE: Here is a YouTube video of the event, provided by http: www.uslaunchreport.com

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

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On Mars it’s Sol 1455 for the Curiosity rover.

After another successful drive of roughly 130 feet (40 meters), Curiosity is aiming to approach the south side of a butte for its next potential drill site.

The area is known as “Quela” – a bright outcrop at the base of the butte.

Potential rover drill site: an area known as “Quela,” and is seen in this Navcam image as the bright outcrop at the base of the butte. Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken o Sol 1454, September 8, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Potential rover drill site: an area known as “Quela,” and is seen in this Navcam image as the bright outcrop at the base of the butte. Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken o Sol 1454, September 8, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Major dust storm?

Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona reports on the plan are several Mastcam mosaics to assess the local stratigraphy, laminations in the Murray formation, and to document the butte and proposed drill site.

Also on tap is acquisition of a Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) observation of the bedrock at the target “Humpata,” and use of Mastcam to assess atmospheric opacity.

In addition to geology observations, the rover science team has increased the frequency of meteorological measurements with the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and imaging “in response to observations from other spacecraft at Mars of the potential start of a major dust storm,” Edgar adds.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on September 8, 2016, Sol 1454. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on September 8, 2016, Sol 1454.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Drilling position

The drive in the current plan may put Curiosity in position at the next drill site, so post-drive imaging will help prepare scientists for that scenario.

“We’ll also squeeze in another autonomously selected ChemCam target in the afternoon,” Edgar concludes. “It’s exciting to think about drilling again already!”

Artist concept of Single-Person Spacecraft in use at the International Space Station. Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

Artist concept of Single-Person Spacecraft in use at the International Space Station.
Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

 

Creative and novel work is underway to create a Single-Person Spacecraft (SPS).

Genesis Engineering Solutions of Lanham, Maryland has highlighted their recent underwater, neutral buoyancy tests for an SPS at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Neutral buoyancy is a proven way to simulate the weightless space environment and the center has an Astronaut Training Facility ideally suited for that type of testing.

Right “glug” stuff

Unlike precise fitting space suits, the Single-Person Spacecraft is a one-size-fits-all vehicle. Therefore, it was necessary to use a range of different sized test subjects to represent the astronaut population.

Overall view of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Astronaut Training Facility with SPS hardware installed. Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

Overall view of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Astronaut Training Facility with SPS hardware installed.
Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

Twenty four underwater male and female “astronauts” — measuring from 5 foot, 3 inches to 6 foot, 3.5 inches in height — participated in three days of testing.

To provide complete test documentation, all operations were video recorded using two fixed cameras and another operated by a scuba diver in the water.

Following the tests each test astronaut completed an evaluation form then participated in a post-test briefing with the entire team.

Any-time access to space

According to Genesis Engineering Solutions (GES), historically, less than 20 percent of crew time related to extravehicular activity (EVA) is spent on productive external work.

For planetary operations space suits are still the logical choice; however, for safe and rapid access to the weightless environment, spacecraft offer compelling advantages.

The Single-Person Spacecraft, points out GES, is a concept that enables any-time access to space for short or long excursions by different astronauts.

Test subjects represented various operator heights within an SPS test rig. Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

Test subjects represented various operator heights within an underwater SPS test rig.
Credit: Genesis Engineering Solutions

Shirtsleeve cockpit

Here are some key SPS attributes, explains a company statement. For example:

— SPS does not require the pre-breathing time because it operates at the same cabin atmosphere as its host.

— Compared to the space suit pure oxygen environment, a mixed gas atmosphere lowers the fire risk and allows use of conventional materials and systems.

— For getting to the worksite, integral propulsion replaces hand-over-hand translation or having another crew member operate the robotic arm. This means less physical exertion and more time at the work site.

— In case of an emergency, SPS can return from the most distant point on ISS in less than a minute.

— Because SPS is a vehicle, its design offers better radiation and micro-meteoroid protection than space suits.

— The shirtsleeve cockpit uses conventional displays and controls which means the work is not strenuous, there is no suit trauma and rest days are not required.

Check out this video on the August underwater test activities at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLFpLRK-iiU&feature=youtu.be

Credit: Blue Origin

Credit: Blue Origin

“Our next flight is going to be dramatic, no matter how it ends,” explains Jeff Bezos, lead rocketeer of the Blue Origin group and Amazon.com guru.

Bezos notes in a new update that “this upcoming flight will be our toughest test yet.” The test should be in the first part of October, he says, “and we’ll webcast it live for your viewing pleasure. Details to come.”

Escape in flight

What Blue Origin will attempt is to intentionally trigger an escape in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities.

Rocketeer Jeff Bezos. Credit: Blue Origin

Rocketeer Jeff Bezos.
Credit: Blue Origin

“We’ll be doing our in-flight escape test with the same reusable New Shepard booster that we’ve already flown four times,” Bezos adds. “About 45 seconds after liftoff at about 16,000 feet, we’ll intentionally command escape. Redundant separation systems will sever the crew capsule from the booster at the same time we ignite the escape motor.”

Here’s the scenario

The escape motor will vector thrust to steer the capsule to the side, out of the booster’s path. The high acceleration portion of the escape lasts less than two seconds, but by then the capsule will be hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly. It will traverse twice through transonic velocities – the most difficult control region – during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration.

The capsule will then coast, stabilized by reaction control thrusters, until it starts descending. Its three drogue parachutes will deploy near the top of its flight path, followed shortly thereafter by main parachutes.

Standard trajectory profile. Credit: Blue Origin

Standard trajectory profile.
Credit: Blue Origin

Bad news for booster?

“It’s the first ever rocket booster to fly above the Karman line into space and then land vertically upon the Earth. And it’s done so multiple times. We’d really like to retire it after this test and put it in a museum,” Bezos explains.

“Sadly, that’s not likely. This test will probably destroy the booster. The booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape,” Bezos adds.

The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changes from leading with the capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happens at maximum dynamic pressure.

Good-bye booster? Next flight may see desert impact. Credit: Blue Origin

Good-bye booster? Next flight may see desert impact.
Credit: Blue Origin

Retirement party

“Nevertheless, the booster is very robust and our Monte Carlo simulations show there’s some chance we can fly through these disturbances and recover the booster. If the booster does manage to survive this flight – its fifth – we will in fact reward it for its service with a retirement party and put it in a museum,” Bezos points out.

“In the more likely event that we end up sacrificing the booster in service of this test, it will still have most of its propellant on board at the time escape is triggered, and its impact with the desert floor will be most impressive,” Bezos concludes.

Check out this animation of what’s to come at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5i-f-D_A-M&feature=youtu.be

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

A new NASA history document is yours for the download – spotlighting the growth of spacewalking – known as extravehicular activity or EVA.

Walking to Olympus: An EVA Chronology, 1997–2011 Volume 2 has been written by Julie B. Ta and Robert C. Treviño.

Following the first volume of Walking to Olympus: An EVA Chronology, which recounted the period from the first spacewalks in 1965 to the end of the Shuttle-Mir program in 1997, this second volume of Walking to Olympus spans the period from 1997 to the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

Credit: NASA History Office

Credit: NASA History Office

EVA community

The new work includes not only spacewalks performed by American and European astronauts and the Russian/Soviet cosmonauts, but also those of the newest members of the EVA community, the taikonauts of the People’s Republic of China.

Several key events and themes from this period include the building of the ISS, the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the STS-107 Columbia accident.

The publication of this second EVA chronology follows two major anniversaries of significance to the spaceflight community: the 50th anniversary of the first EVA and the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Making the journey

The phrase “Walking to Olympus” is a symbolic expression of humans inevitably landing on Mars and exploring the planet, including Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in our solar system.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

As noted in the foreword to the document:

“Human spaceflight is often considered the greatest challenge in space exploration and EVAs are at the crux of human spaceflight and exploration. While there are still many uncertainties about our eventual human voyages to Mars, there is still at least one certainty: we will need to be able to work successfully outside of the space vehicles and habitats to make that journey,” explains Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator of NASA.

To access this document, go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/walking-to-olympus_tagged.pdf

Credit: U.S. Postal Service

Credit: U.S. Postal Service

 

 

 

 

Nearly 50 years to the day of the original airing of “Star Trek,” the U.S. Postal Service dedicated the Star Trek Forever stamps.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, these stamps will “live long and prosper,” because as Forever stamps they are good for mailing a 1-ounce First-Class letter anytime in the future — regardless of star date.

 

 

 

 

 

Digital illustrations

The stamps, under license by CBS Consumer Products, showcase four digital illustrations inspired by classic elements of the television program:

  • The Starship Enterprise inside the outline of a Starfleet insignia against a gold background;
  • The silhouette of a crewman in a transporter against a red background;
  • The silhouette of the Enterprise from above against a green background; and,
  • The Enterprise inside the outline of the Vulcan salute (Spock’s iconic hand gesture) against a blue background.

The words “SPACE… THE FINAL FRONTIER,” from Captain Kirk’s famous voice-over appears beneath the stamps against a background of stars.

For detailed information on the stamps, go to:

http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2016/pr16_068.htm

 

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1450, September 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1450, September 4, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is gearing up for Sol 1454 duties.

A four-sol plan over the holiday weekend went well, and Curiosity drove roughly 130 feet (40 meters) to the south, reports Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“We’re currently just to the east of a butte that we’re planning to approach as our next potential drill site,” Edgar adds.

Local bedrock

On the rover’s agenda has been use of the robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) of the target “Eheke,” to characterize the local bedrock. Then scientists are to utilize Mastcam and Navcam to assess atmospheric opacity.

That would be followed by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) observations of the targets “Diyogha,” and “Donkerbos.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1450, September 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1450, September 4, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Next drill site

On tap is having the rover acquire a Mastcam mosaic of the “Karasburg” area to observe the contact between the Murray and Stimson formations, and another mosaic to document the stratigraphy in the buttes, Edgar notes. “Then we’ll drive to start approaching the next drill site.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1450, September 3, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1450, September 3, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After Curiosity’s drive the plan calls for taking post-drive imaging for context and targeting.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1452, September 6, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1452, September 6, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS