Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

A solar-powered rocket might be our ticket to interstellar space

November 21st, 2020
A solar-powered rocket might be our ticket to interstellar space

Enlarge (credit: Haitong Yu | Getty Images)

If Jason Benkoski is right, the path to interstellar space begins in a shipping container tucked behind a laboratory high bay in Maryland. The set up looks like something out of a low-budget sci-fi film: One wall of the container is lined with thousands of LEDs, an inscrutable metal trellis runs down the center, and a thick black curtain partially obscures the apparatus. This is the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory solar simulator, a tool that can shine with the intensity of 20 suns. On Thursday afternoon, Benkoski mounted a small black and white tile onto the trellis and pulled a dark curtain around the set-up before stepping out of the shipping container. Then he hit the light switch.

Once the solar simulator was blistering hot, Benkoski started pumping liquid helium through a small embedded tube that snaked across the slab. The helium absorbed heat from the LEDs as it wound through the channel and expanded until it was finally released through a small nozzle. It might not sound like much, but Benkoski and his team just demonstrated solar thermal propulsion, a previously theoretical type of rocket engine that is powered by the sun’s heat. They think it could be the key to interstellar exploration.

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Posted in heliopause, interstellar space, NASA, rocketry, science, space | Comments (0)

Chitin could be used to build tools and habitats on Mars, study finds

September 22nd, 2020
A figurine of an astronaut stands next to a block.

Enlarge / Scientists mixed chitin—an organic polymer found in abundance in arthropods, as well as fish scales—with a mineral that mimics the properties of Martian soil to create a viable new material for building tools and shelters on Mars. (credit: Javier G. Fernandez)

Space aficionados who dream of one day colonizing Mars must grapple with the stark reality of the planet's limited natural resources, particularly when it comes to building materials. A team of scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design discovered that, using simple chemistry, the organic polymer chitin—contained in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans—can easily be transformed into a viable building material for basic tools and habitats. This would require minimal energy and no need for transporting specialized equipment. The scientists described their experiments in a recent paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments," said co-author Javier Fernandez. "But due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite."

As we previously reported, NASA has announced an ambitious plan to return American astronauts to the Moon and establish a permanent base there, with an eye toward eventually placing astronauts on Mars. Materials science will be crucial to the Artemis Moon Program's success, particularly when it comes to the materials needed to construct a viable lunar (or Martian) base. Concrete, for instance, requires a substantial amount of added water in order to be usable in situ, and there is a pronounced short supply of water on both the Moon and Mars. And transport costs would be prohibitively high. NASA estimates that it costs around $10,000 to transport just one pound of material into orbit. 

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Posted in Artemis Moon Program, biochemistry, Biology, biomimicry, chitin, Mars, materials science, NASA, science, space colonization | Comments (0)

NASA versus Katrina: August 29, 2005

September 7th, 2020
It may not look like much, but Building 320 housed the 38 members of Michoud's ride out team during Hurricane Katrina.

It may not look like much, but Building 320 housed the 38 members of Michoud's ride out team during Hurricane Katrina. (credit: Nathan Mattise)

Update, Sept. 7, 2020: It's Labor Day Weekend in the US, and even though most of us now also call home "the office," Ars staff is taking a long weekend to rest and relax. The end of August marked 15 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, the federal levees failed, and the city of New Orleans changed forever. We planned on resurfacing a few pieces from the archives to keep the lights on over this holiday, so we're resurfacing this look at how NASA managed to weather the impact of Katrina at its Michoud Assembly Facility just outside New Orleans. This story originally ran in August 2015 and it appears unchanged below.

MICHOUD, La.—On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came, the federal levees failed, and chaos ensued in the New Orleans metro area.

By now the damage is well documented. So many people were displaced that New Orleans still only sits at approximately 80 percent of its pre-storm population a decade later. More than 1,200 people died—the most for a US storm since 1928. And 80 percent of the city flooded, causing property damage since estimated at $108 billion by the National Hurricane Center. Almost regardless of metric, Katrina stands as the most devastating Atlantic storm to ever hit the US.

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NASA tests a new version of its large SLS side boosters—and it delivers

September 2nd, 2020

On Wednesday afternoon in Northern Utah, Northrop Grumman fired up a full-scale test version of the boosters it is building for NASA's Space Launch System rocket. Although engineers were still reviewing 300 channels of data, Charlie Precourt, vice president of propulsion systems at Northrop Grumman, said the test was successful.

Two of these large boosters, each with a mass of 1.6 million pounds, account for 75 percent of the SLS rocket's thrust during the first two minutes of flight. They are composed of five segments of a powderized, solid fuel that is ignited upon launch. Northrop has already built 26 of the 30 segments NASA needs for the first three launches of the SLS rocket.

The primary reason for Wednesday's test was that Northrop's supplier of aluminum-based fuel could no longer deliver the product. Therefore, Northrop needed to ensure that a new vendor could provide the solid rocket fuel needed for future launches of the SLS rocket beyond the first three. NASA also used the test to assess some changes to the nozzle design, said Bruce Tiller, manager of the SLS boosters office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

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Google AR app lets you place prehistoric creatures, Apollo 11 in your room

August 25th, 2020

Today, Google announced that it has partnered with institutions like the State Darwin Museum of Moscow and London's Natural History Museum to add new virtual exhibits to its Arts & Culture app for Android and iOS, which allows users to place augmented reality assets in real space, visible on a phone screen.

Additions include a 400:1 scale model of a prehistoric crustacean called a Cambropachycope, the Apollo 11 capsule, Neil Armstrong's spacesuit, and artworks by Frida Kahlo and other artists. The app also includes a nearly 500 million year old sea creature called an Aegirocassis, a trunkfish, a shark, and several more—most of which are also viewable as 3D models on one of Google's websites.

Both Google and its chief competitor in the mobile space (Apple) have invested heavily in augmented reality for mobile devices. They each provide APIs for developers of AR apps for their platforms—ARCore for Android and ARKit for iOS and iPadOS.

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Posted in Apollo 11, ar, arcore, Cambropachycope, google, NASA, Tech | Comments (0)

Blast off: Disney drops first trailer for The Right Stuff dramatic series

August 20th, 2020

In October, Disney+ will debut its new series, The Right Stuff, based on the 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

A team of elite military test pilots finds itself tapped to be astronauts for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the United States, in The Right Stuff, a new eight-episode dramatic series debuting in October on Disney+. Like Philip Kaufman's Oscar-winning 1983 film of the same name, the series is based on the bestselling 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

Wolfe became interested in the US space program while on assignment by Rolling Stone to cover the launch of Apollo 17, NASA's last Moon mission. He spent the next seven years writing The Right Stuff, intent on capturing the drive and ethos of those early astronauts. (In a foreword to the 1983 edition, he pondered "What makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle... and wait for someone to light the fuse.")  Wolfe spent a great deal of time consulting with General Chuck Yeager, who was shut out of the astronaut program and ended up as a contrasting character to the college-degreed Project Mercury team featured in the book. The Right Stuff won widespread critical praise, as well as the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

When United Artists decided to finance a film adaptation, the studio hired William Goldman (The Princess Bride) to adapt the screenplay, but his vision was very different from that of director Philip Kaufman, and Goldman quit the project. Kaufman wrote his own draft script in eight weeks, making Yeager more of a central figure; Goldman's script ignored Yeager entirely. Goldman later wrote that "Phil [Kaufman]'s heart was with Yeager. And not only that, he felt the astronauts, rather than being heroic, were really minor leaguers, mechanical men of no particular quality, not great pilots at all, simply the product of hype."

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Posted in disney plus, Entertainment, Gaming & Culture, history of science, NASA, space program, streaming television, The Right Stuff, Trailers | Comments (0)

NASA official may face criminal investigation for contact with Boeing

August 14th, 2020
Doug Loverro, formerly NASA's chief of human spaceflight.

Enlarge / Doug Loverro, formerly NASA's chief of human spaceflight. (credit: NASA)

The US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia has opened a criminal investigation of a former top NASA official, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The grand jury investigation concerns communications between Doug Loverro, then the chief of human spaceflight for NASA, and Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing's space and launch division. These discussions occurred early this year, during a blackout period when NASA was taking bids to construct a Human Landing System for the Artemis Moon Program. It is not permissible to interfere with a competition for government contracts.

"Mr. Loverro, who wasn’t part of NASA’s official contracting staff, informed Mr.Chilton that the Chicago aerospace giant was about to be eliminated from the competition based on cost and technical evaluations," the report states, citing unidentified sources. "Within days, Boeing submitted a revised proposal."

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Posted in Boeing, human landing system, NASA, science | Comments (0)

Dragonship Endeavour is flying free, on its way back to Earth

August 2nd, 2020
Crew Dragon backs away from the International Space Station on Saturday.

Enlarge / Crew Dragon backs away from the International Space Station on Saturday. (credit: NASA TV)

On Saturday evening the Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, named Dragonship Endeavour, undocked from the International Space Station to begin its journey home.

The undocking came after NASA and SpaceX determined the spacecraft would find calm seas and light winds off the coast from the Florida Panhandle, in the Gulf of Mexico, on Sunday. This will be the first water landing for a U.S. spacecraft since 1975, when an Apollo capsule splashed down after the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in the Pacific Ocean. Landing is slated for 2:48pm ET (18:40 UTC). A final call on weather will be made on Sunday.

After moving away from the "Keep Out Sphere" surrounding the space station, Endeavour will put distance between itself and the orbiting laboratory before performing more engine burns. This will set the spacecraft up for a de-orbit burn on Sunday, about 50 minutes before splashdown. Asked what he and Behnken would spend most of their final night in space doing, Hurley quipped during a news conference with reporters this week, "Sleeping."

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NASA’s most complex, ambitious rover yet is on its way to Mars [Updated]

July 29th, 2020


Thursday 8am ET Update: An Atlas V rocket successfully launched the Mars Perseverance spacecraft into orbit Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket's upper stage has made the first of its two firings.

To achieve Earth-escape velocity, a second firing will end about 53 minutes after liftoff, after which the spacecraft will be released on its journey to Mars. It will arrive in February, at which time NASA will attempt to land its heaviest ever rover on the red planet.

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NASA, SpaceX preparing to bring Crew Dragon home this week

July 27th, 2020
SpaceX's Crew Dragon (center right), the Japanese HTV resupply ship (center bottom), and Europe's Columbus laboratory module appear in this photo taken during a spacewalk conducted by Bob Behnken and Chris Cassidy.

Enlarge / SpaceX's Crew Dragon (center right), the Japanese HTV resupply ship (center bottom), and Europe's Columbus laboratory module appear in this photo taken during a spacewalk conducted by Bob Behnken and Chris Cassidy. (credit: NASA)

Nearly two months have passed since a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying two astronauts blasted off the face of the Earth and delivered NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. Now, it's time to come home.

So far, this test flight of the SpaceX-built crew spacecraft has gone nearly flawlessly since its May 30 launch. Named Endeavour by its crew, the spaceship flew smoothly on its way to the International Space Station, where it docked without incident. During the last two months, its solar panels have held up well. And while on orbit, Hurley and Behnken—who performed four spacewalks to help install new batteries outside the station—contributed to NASA's mission.

Now, NASA would like the crew to come home and complete the final, key objective of the test flight, splashing down safely in the ocean. Nominally, this is scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday, August 2.

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