NASA to Test Inflatable Living Modules on The ISS

When sending something into space, it is important to consider how big it is. Something large may be useful in space, but it is no good if it can’t be carried up there by rocket after all. Now NASA is hoping to make the best use of the limited space available by testing expandable modules on the ISS in the hopes that they can be used on future missions to Mars as living and working habitats. These inflatable modules will be getting a lift to the ISS as part of SpaceX’s next resupply mission aboard their Dragon cargo capsule.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, once in space, will be attached to the ISS and then filled with air, causing it to inflate from its packed size of just over five feet in-depth and almost eight in diameter to a far roomier 12 feet deep and over 10 feet in diameter, with pressure equalized with the rest of the station. The deployment won’t be quick, however, as it is the first of its kind and very experimental and a slow inflation will allow any faults to be detected before they become critical.

In order to be considered a success and considered for more deep-space missions, the module will first have to survive two years on the ISS. This won’t be easy and will test the module’s resistance to cosmic radiation, durability and long-term resistance to leaking. To get a taste of what the deployment will look like, NASA has released an animation displaying the inflation of the module (but at a much higher speed than reality.)

Image credit to NASA

SpaceX to Resume Supplying the ISS

The date of SpaceX’s next resupply mission to the ISS has been announced by NASA to take place on April 8th. SpaceX will be delivering the cargo onboard one of their Falcon 9 rockets, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida at around 4:43 PM Eastern Time.

This will be the first time that SpaceX have made a launch to resupply the ISS in almost a year, the last cargo mission taking place in July 2015 ending in failure. On that launch, the Falcon 9 rocket exploded just minutes after launch, which was later reported by SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, to be caused by overpressure in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Following this, the Falcon 9 returned to service in December last year, where it was also able to land successfully. Since then, there have been a number of Falcon 9 launches, and while a number of those have also exploded, it was only when they were attempting to land at sea following the mission, with one attempt coming very close to success.

Once again, SpaceX plans to attempt one of their famous rocket landings following the upcoming mission. Refusing to admit defeat and repeat the previously successful ground landing, they plan to land the rocket on a drone ship at sea and, this time, Musk is confident that the landing will succeed. Should a successful sea landing happen, it will not only be another historic feat for SpaceX, but it will also allow the company to recover and reuse an increasing number of their rockets that are launched. As well as delivering much-needed supplies and experiments for the astronauts aboard the ISS, the Dragon cargo capsule that the Falcon 9 carries will also have some important cargo to carry back to Earth, though in a far less impressive fashion than landing a rocket.

Like any SpaceX launch, this could have a very interesting result for the space industry, or at the very least an impressive explosion for those watching the event that will likely be live streamed. Musk and many others will certainly be hoping for the fifth time to be the charm for the sea landing, as well as a successful launch marking the resuming of their ISS resupply runs.

Image credit to SpaceX

Breathtaking Images From an Astronaut Aboard the ISS

Space has always provided a glimpse into many a fascinating world over the years, from research that has been undertaken by NASA to the Astronauts who have boarded the International Space Station as well as successfully landing on the moon. One such Astronaut, Scott Kelly, has been posting breathtaking images on social media that have included Twitter (1,158 photos and counting) and Instagram (684 posts and counting) during his yearlong visit to the ISS, below is a snapshot of these images.

The first image represents the massive blizzard passing over Chicago on Saturday 23rd January 2016, the image looks awe-inspiring.

The next image below is of what is known as “thundersnow” from the blizzard and was captured, again, on the 23rd January 2016.

The next image below, wow, is of an aurora and was captured on the 27th August 2015, this looks akin to a science fiction film.

The next image below is of Spain, well, more specifically Barcelona and was captured on the 28th July 2015, this is both a stunning and a detailed image.

The next image below is the Astronauts latest Twitter post as of writing (26th January 2016) and has the caption “Day 304. That’s 4,864 orbits a’round’ our beautiful planet #Earth. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace”, it is certainly a brilliant image.

The last image is of Scott Kelly undertaking a Q&A on Reddit from space, well, yes, as you do, this image was posted on the 23rd January 2016

Spacewalk Cut Short Due to Water Found in Helmets

Space can be a scary place, the only thing keeping you alive being a highly advanced suit tethered to a spacecraft or station. When a problem is found in these suits, it risks catastrophe for the astronauts in question. This is why Friday’s ISS spacewalk was cut short by mission control after US astronaut Tim Kopra found water was building up in his helmet. Thankfully, both Tim Kopra and his partner on the spacewalk, British astronaut Tim Peake made it back inside the space station safe and sound.

The water was first discovered by Kopra at 16:56 GMT, just over 4 hours into the 6.5 hour planned spacewalk, at which point mission controllers on the ground decided to terminate the EVA as a precaution. At this point, the two astronauts had already accomplished their primary objective, repairing a faulty power module, and had set about performing secondary tasks. By 17:31, both astronauts were safely back inside the International Space Station.

“I could definitely tell the sides were swollen,” Kopra stated in reference to his helmet’s moisture-absorbing pad. “The first time I noticed it was probably just about the same time that I saw the water start to come down from the top, and it was fairly noticeable. The difference between nominal and what I initially felt was pretty small.”

This isn’t the first time that water has found its way into the helmet of an astronaut on a spacewalk, with a similar case occurring in July 2013, to Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. In that case, the leak was determined to stem from the space suit’s water-circulating cooling system, which had sprung a leak. Kopra’s issue was far less severe, with less water being present in his helmet. The water in Kopra’s helmet was cold, which would hint at it being from the cooling system, rather than a problem with the drink bag’s bite valve, which is kept at ambient temperature. NASA have ordered those onboard the ISS to take water samples from the helmets of the two astronauts in order to determine the cause of the leak.

Image credit to astronaut Tim Peake

Astronaut Accidentally Misdials From Space

It happens to everyone at times, even to the best, that we misdial and get the wrong person on the other end when we make a phone call and enter the digits manually instead of picking a number from our address book. Sometimes this can be more hilarious than other times, depending on your own mood and that of the person you are calling by accident.

Shortly before Christmas, British astronaut Tim Peake took to Twitter to apologize for what some at first believed was the first prank phone call from space. It wasn’t and it was just a minor mistake, but I am sure that the person receiving the call was slightly confused when she picked up the phone and heard the words: “Hello, is this planet Earth?”.

The incident is hilarious and at the same time as it underlines how fragile and dependent our technology really is. Despite the fact that we can send people into space, we still can’t get the number right all the time. This isn’t the first time something like this happened either as astronaut Sam Crritoforetti replied to Tim Peake’s Tweet, admitting she once called 911 by mistake.

These things happen and I’m sure no one would mind a call from space now and then. Say hi to E.T. from me if he should call you.

Second Commercial Crew Mission for Boeing Ordered by NASA

In a move hopefully stemming from NASA’s revitalized budget for the coming year, NASA has issued Boeing a second flight order as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is one of two private companies involved in the program, the other being SpaceX. The flight order guarantees a second launch for Boeing following the first order that was issued in May of this year, and a mission order for SpaceX made in November.

The Commercial Crew Program contracts dictate that NASA will order at least 4 flights from the two companies, made 2 or 3 years in advance of the mission’s expected date. With 3 of the 4 flights that NASA is contractually obliged to order now filled, it remains to be seen whether the 4th mission will go to SpaceX, splitting them equally, or whether another will be issued to Boeing. If the results are promising, however, the missions may continue.

The craft that Boeing will use to ferry astronauts into space is their CST-100 Starliner vehicle. While the craft was dropped from NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services second-phase competition, it still remains on track to fulfil its obligations to the Commercial Crew Program. In direct competition is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which revolves around the recently reinstated Falcon 9 rocket, which, if proven to have fixed the flaws that resulted in a failed supply mission, could pave the way for SpaceX picking up more manned flights.

It is currently unannounced when this new mission will take place, with the previous two mission orders optimistically planned for 2017. The budget now allows for them to keep development on track. With NASA being guaranteed funds for the program going into 2016, new, all-American spacecraft could be making their trips to the ISS within two years.

NASA to Get Budget Boost For 2016

The continuously underfunded space agency, NASA, finally got some good news on the financial front today. As part of their budget proposal for 2016, Congress included a considerable budget increase for NASA, in excess of what they had requested.

The total sum that would be budgeted for NASA is the sizable sum of $19.3 billion. A number in excess of the Obama administration’s promise of $18.5 billion, which is an increase of $1.27 billion from the sum provided to them in 2015. The financial windfall couldn’t come at a better time for NASA either. For starters, it provides $1.24 billion for the Commercial Crew Program alone. With NASA having recently ordered launches from both of the companies involved in the program for as soon as 2017, with a report delivered with the spending bill making it clear to NASA that the new funds should be put towards keeping the program on track, with the natural assumption being that Congress wish to reduce their dependency on Russia to access the ISS.

The Commercial Crew Program is not the only thing that NASA needs budgeting, either. NASA are planning for $2 billion to go towards the giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is intended to make manned trips into deep space or to Mars. And with many different configurations of the SLS planned, its budget requirements make sense. The SLS’ crew capsule, Orion, is also receiving a large sum of money, after flagging due to financial troubles and having its first test flight pushed back by two years.

As well as the big projects, other NASA agencies that will benefit from the budget increase are the Science division, receiving $300 million more than 2015, including $175 million to be put towards a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons. It would require specialist modules (as well as to be launched from the SLS), and the timeline is tight, with a mission to take place no later than 2022.

It seems like Congress has finally taken note of NASA’s recent budget complaints, and this seems to be the first step towards making the next decade a very interesting time for space researchers and enthusiasts alike.

UK Launches New Space Endeavour

The UK government has announced plans to launch a new National Space Policy in an effort make Great Britain the European hub for commercial space flight, The Independent reports. The government hopes that the initiative, which includes investment in space flight and microgravity research, will boost the country’s economy by £11.8 billion.

“For decades mankind has dreamt of space travel, and from today the UK will trigger the next scientific revolution to turn science fiction into science fact,” the UK’s Business Secretary Sajid Javid said. “Not only are we celebrating the launch of the first UK Government-backed astronaut, but our first-ever space policy will build on the inspiration he provides to grow our burgeoning space industry. Historically we haven’t been a major player in space programmes; this policy will change that.”

News of the move coincides as the UK’s first astronaut to visit the International Space Station (pictured) prepares to launch.

“I hope in future there will be more British astronauts. The International Space Station’s life will come to an end some time in the 2020s. The next project will be a lunar base. I would like us to be part of that, and also a [manned] mission to Mars looking further ahead,” former Science minister Lord Willetts said. “We were always a country that sent people out exploring, and the new frontier is space. It’s the same tradition as Captain Cook and Charles Darwin’s Beagle.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket to Return to Service this Month

Everything has been looking up for SpaceX recently, being one of the forerunners in the contest for NASA’s contest for their CSR2 contracts to resupply the ISS and NASA ordering the first mission from their new manned rockets by 2017. And now SpaceX have the chance to recover from the one blemish on their record with their Falcon 9 rocket tentatively planned to resume its regular missions to the ISS on the 19th of December.

After a critical failure that caused one of their Falcon 9 rockets to explode shortly after launch while making a routine supply run, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets and their accompanying Dragon cargo pods have been grounded for the last 6 months. At the time, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk believed that the explosion was caused by an “overpressure event” in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank of the rocket. Failed launches are far from an anomaly in recent times, with two other ISS supply missions by other companies also failing to launch.

Additionally, the launch should be followed by a ground landing on a pre-leased site at Cape Canaveral, after the last attempt to land at sea on a barge ended in failure. If this launch goes well, it should put SpaceX back on track, which could be just what it needs to win the next round of supply contracts and continue their supply runs for the foreseeable future.

Manned Mission to the ISS by SpaceX Ordered by NASA

Since the halt of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the only way to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS has been Russia’s Soyuz rockets. NASA are determined to change this with their ongoing Commercial Crew Program to fund development of new manned rockets alongside contractors SpaceX and Boeing. SpaceX’s first official manned mission has been ordered by NASA, to take place sometime in 2017.

While not the first mission under the Commercial Crew Program to the ordered (that honor goes go Boeing), it has yet to be decided by NASA which of the missions will actually take place first, which could mean the race is on between SpaceX and Boeing to get the first launch. Despite Boeing’s mission orders having been given as early as May this year, the company is still only preparing to build their CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Meanwhile, SpaceX is making use of their existing Dragon cargo capsule to develop the Crew Dragon that will launch from their tried-and-tested Falcon 9 rockets, giving SpaceX an advantage due to their experience in technology to travel to the ISS.

SpaceX’s launch date could be delayed from 2017 for a number of reasons. Firstly, their current Falcon 9 rockets used to deliver cargo to the ISS have been grounded until at least December, after one exploded following a routine launch in June. Even more so than for supplies, NASA will want to be sure that the Falcon 9 will not risk astronaut lives if used to ferry them into space. Additionally it has been reported that the Commercial Crew Program has been constantly underfunded by the US government, which could cause any launches to be delayed until enough funds to make reliable launches are procured.

To the outside, it’s like a whole new space race, but instead of being between two states, it is a commercial struggle. With Boeing out of the running for NASA’s new Commercial Resupply Services contracts, SpaceX will want to impress after their recent setbacks, so they can retain their position with NASA.

Image credit to NASA and SpaceX

Boeing Denied ISS Supply Contract by NASA

Today NASA revealed that they will be delaying its awarding of the next round of the multi-billion dollar ISS supply contract until late January. At the same time, NASA also informed Boeing that their bid to win the contracts had been rejected.

This is the third time that the announcement of the contracts have been delayed since June this year. The current ISS supply contracts, named CRS or Commercial Resupply Services are held by SpaceX and Orbital, who won the contracts back in 2008. These CRS contracts are due to continue until 2017, at which point the new program operated by the winners of the new CRS2 contracts will run from 2018 until at least 2024.

Oddly, Boeing’s rejected offering was an adaptation of the CST-100 Starliner craft, which is already planned to carry astronauts too and from the ISS from as soon as 2017. Current contract holders SpaceX and Orbital are still in the running for the contracts after their current CRS contract was recently extended, despite having two failed supply runs in the past year. Despite this, their design is time proven to be able to make repeated, reliable runs to and from the ISS. Another competitive offering comes from Sierra-Nevada with their Dream Chaser spaceplane. This design is more based on the space shuttle than a traditional rocket, touting re-usability as a key feature. The Dream Chaser, like Boeing’s CST-100 is a result of the Commercial Crew program, however Sierra-Nevada’s craft lost out in that contest.

Sierra-Nevada’s shuttle-like Dream Chaser design

So with the winners of the crew carrying missions out of the running, will it be the old guard of SpaceX and Orbital retaining the delivery contracts, or Sierra-Nevada’s more reusable design? I guess we’ll just have to wait until January to find out!

NASA Celebrates 15 Years of the ISS With a Song

Today, the International Space Station turns 15 years old. And to mark this occasion, NASA have released a lighthearted and rather educational song and video.

The song itself is delightfully upbeat and played in a country-style, perhaps inspired by NASA’s home in Houston, Texas, full of twangy banjos and low, rhyming vocals that fail to lapse throughout. Accompanying the song is a charming, family-friendly animated video, helping to visualize the details of the lyrics and come complete with a little banjo-playing astronaut.

It is also a great way to learn more about the ISS, for both adults and children too, being packed full of interesting facts and trivia about the space station, from simple facts such as the station taking around an hour and a half to orbit the Earth at an altitude of over 200 miles all the while weighing around 1 million pounds and, more important facts, such as that it only has two toilets and no bath! Yet despite this, over 200 astronauts have lived on board since 2000.

This wouldn’t be the first musical number to be associated with the ISS either, with astronaut Chris Hadfield releasing a video of him covering David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded on the ISS itself, back in 2013.

Now the real question is whether the ISS will manage reach 30, as its operational time currently gives it until 2024, and NASA having stated it could even last to 2028.

NASA Plays with Water and Effervescent in Latest 4K Space Video

NASA recently upgraded their equipment with an amazing 4K camera that is able to capture higher resolution and higher frame rates than prior, allowing the astronauts to record their experiments in a whole new way. But work doesn’t always have to be so series and who doesn’t enjoy playing with water.

The latest 4K video coming from NASA and presented on YouTube shows them playing with a weightless water bubble and then adding an effervescent tablet. The higher resolution images and higher frame rate videos can reveal more information when used on science investigations, giving researchers a valuable new tool aboard the space station. This footage is one of the first of its kind. The cameras are being evaluated for capturing science data and vehicle operations by engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Even such a simple and kind of playful video shows clearly how this technology can help the astronauts and cosmonauts do their job. You can easily see even small particles that bounce out of the water ball due to the reaction happening.

First they showed us their food, now they’re playing with water. It looks like they’re having a lot of fun up there on the International Space Station, it isn’t just work.

SpaceX Falcon Explodes on ISS Resupply Mission

Space industry upstart SpaceX has suffered an explosive set back on its latest mission. Setting out to resupply the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 rocket suffered an unrecoverable failure and ended up exploding shortly after launch.  At this point, the exact cause of the failure is not known yet with both SpaceX and NASA working to determine the fault. A preliminary report suggests that an overpressure event compromised the second stage liquid oxygen tank which makes sense as the first stage appeared to keep firing properly until the end.

While not critical, the ISS supply situation is sub-optimal with two other failures already this year from other launchers. Orbital Sciences and Roscosmos both had failures earlier that either destroyed the payload or made it impossible to properly deliver it. Some of the items set to be delivered today were already replacements for those lost on earlier missions.

In a disappointment for Elon Musk fans, the third try at landing the rocket will have to wait. Earlier attempts had failed explosively but many had been hoping the third time would be the charm. Even with this failure though, SpaceX still has a relatively good track record and is already pretty cost effective. Hopefully, SpaceX can take this experience and prepare for the day they launch manned missions.

The International Space Station Got the 4K Upgrade

Last week we brought you the news that NASA now also was uploading 4K 60fps videos to YouTube, but initially only shared a 20 seconds clip. That has since been followed up with more 4K footage as the international space station got the full 4K upgrade.

Not all their 4K videos are 60fps, and they don’t need to be in order to look stunning. The video below shows some amazing views both inside and outside the space station. The view of life in space got a major boost with the introduction of 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) video, providing an unprecedented look at what it is like to live and work aboard the International Space Station.

While these cameras mainly should be used for experiments and increase the amount of things the astronauts can do onboard of the space station, that doesn’t mean that it should be used exclusively for experiments. It also bestows the most breathtaking views of planet Earth that haven’t been seen like that before.

We also get to see what they eat up there, and it might be a bit surprising for some of you; it isn’t all dehydrated instant food.

NASA promised to release a lot more videos in the future and I for once can’t wait to see more. I might be too much of a coward to want to go into space myself, but I do enjoy the breathtaking views of our planet with an outside perspective.

Astronauts Might Be Able to Play with Lasers from the International Space Station Soon

According to ScienceDirect, a few researchers have come up with a plan to turn the International Space Station into a defence system against asteroids or other ‘orbiting debris’.

How cool is that? Get a paid vacation in space… float around the room… and have some lasers to play around with! Of course, it is not that simple. However, the general idea sounds great. Look at what the researchers have highlighted in their paper:

  • A debris remediation system with a wide angle telescope and a laser transmitter.
  • A step-by-step approach using the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Proof of principle demonstration of the detection with an ISS based prototype.
  • Technical demonstrator with an EUSO telescope and a space CAN laser.
  • A free-flyer mission dedicated to debris remediation with the altitude ~800 km.

So what we know so far is that they are looking to build an ‘orbital debris remediation system’ as they call it, which is made out of a super-wide field-of-view telescope named ‘EUSO’ and a novel high-efficiency fibre-based laser system called ‘CAN’.

The telescope features a 2.5 meter optics and a FOV of ±30 degrees. Together with the CAN laser, the project hopes to blow up stuff at a range of 100 km. Not bad at all! It shows a lot of potential, but let’s not get too excited.

Though the idea is filed, there is still the building part that usually kills and keeps ideas on paper. I mean, a project such as this requires a LOT of money and manpower.

Until more information on who is going to build it and how (or if we’ll ever see it in action at all) surfaces, what do you think? Are you feeling a bit more relieved that you won’t get hit by an asteroid in the future?

Image courtesy of Deagle

Girl Writes Giant Message in Desert for Her Astronaut Father

What do you do when you want to message a member of your family? You call them, text them, perhaps drop them a message on Facebook. This is of course quite simple and thanks to modern technology, it’s still possible to send your father any of those, even when he’s on the International Space Station, but it’s not as epic as what one 13-year-old girl did.

Stephanie, with a lot of help from car manufacturer Hyundai and their fleet of 13 sat-nav guided cars, decided to set a new world record. They wrote an enormous message in the sand of Nevada’s Delamar Dry Lake, so big, that it could be seen from the ISS, where Stephanie’s father was working.

The stunt was genuine, setting a new record for ‘The largest tire track image’ and was verified by Guinness World Records, oh and by her dad, who snapped a picture of it from space (see above).

This is pretty incredible and while the message was primarily done as a marketing campaign for Hyundai, we have to admit, it was a bloody good one and it’s certainly a lot bigger than the average billboard.

If you could write anything that big on the Earth, what would it be, and dare I ask, why? Let us know in the comments section below.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Dragon Rocket, Fails to Make Landing

Elon Musk’s astronautics outfit SpaceX conducted a successful rocket launch on Saturday, but the landing left a little to be desired. The Dragon capsule was launched early on Saturday morning, and the rocket made it into orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station. However, the return journey – the landing of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle on an out-to-sea barge – was not as successful.

According to Musk, the force of the impact of the module on the barge caused significant damage to the support equipment onboard. He then speculated that the landing failure may have been caused by a hydraulic fluid leak from one of the module’s fins, affecting its stability.

Source: Ars Technica

NASA e-Mail a Wrench into Space

There are no hardware stores in space. That’s the unfortunate reality that Barry Wilmore, Commander of the International Space Station (ISS), faced when he was left needing a wrench. Once staff at NASA became aware that Wilmore was missing the tool that he needed, they decided to e-mail him one.

Aboard the ISS is a 3D printer, designed by California-based Made In Space. The company designed a CAD template for the ratcheting socket wrench Wilmore required. The CAD file was e-mailed to him at the ISS, he fed it into the 3D printer, and the wrench was created within minutes. Although many objects have been printed on-board the ISS before, this is the first time custom item has been designed and then transmitted to the station and manufactured.

Mike Chen from Made In Space said, “On the ISS this type of technology translates to lower costs for experiments, faster design iteration, and a safer, better experience for the crew members, who can use it to replace broken parts or create new tools on demand.”

Source: Wired

See Earth Live From Space via Webcam

Want to view earth from space but haven’t got the time to train as an astronaut? Well now you can, via a webcam on the web.

The ISS High Definition Earth Viewing Experiment allows you to get a view from a window on-board the International Space Station as it circumnavigates the earth.

The project, which has been viewed by 32 million people since April, aims to give people a 24 hour view of the ISS on its daily orbit around earth. It is also a NASA experiment, which has been designed to test the effect of space on video cameras, with the objective of finding the best way to record video in zero gravity.

Source: Business Insider

How to Poop in Space

Have you ever wondered how to poop in space? Probably not, or at least not before you saw the Wolowitz Zero Gravity Waste Disposal system on the Big Bang Theory. Either way, there is no need to wonder any more as Montana-based scientist Hank Green has created a video where he explains how number one and number two works when there isn’t any gravity.

[youtube width=”800″ height=”600″]http://youtu.be/AolkPLOV7Io[/youtube]

As you might imagine, it isn’t as easy as down here on earth. Where we have an opening of 30 to 45cm to work with, astronauts on the ISS only have ten centimetre. Restrains are used to help the astronauts to keep the contact while doing their business. To learn this, yes astronauts need to do another round of potty-training, they have a training toilet with a camera inside. This is so they can learn to position their rear at just the right position.

The toilet itself works like a vacuum cleaner, sucking all the waste up. The solid waste is collected, stored and then transported back to earth while the fluids get recycled into drinking water and for the showers.

If the number two part sounded tricky, it isn’t much compared to urinating, that involves the risk of injury. Each astronaut has a personal urinal funnel that attaches to a hose adapter. When used, a fan system sucks the urine into the waste tank. For the male astronauts this can be tricky, as they need to hold it close enough to catch all the urine, but not so close that the fan catches the wang. Women have it a little easier there, they can attach the funnel directly against their bodies where it adheres to them before the system is turned on.

A space toilet is no cheap deal, costing upwards of £11 million alone, and the entire system costs about £150 million. The high price is due to the purification and recycling system that was taken into use in 2008. The purification process is done by a keg-sized distiller that creates artificial gravity while boiling the liquid. Eventually Nasa also hopes to generate electricity using the urine in a process known as forward osmosis.

Thank you to DailyMail for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Coffee and Dessert Makes It’s Way to the ISS on ESA Resupply Ship

Now being aboard the ISS (International Space Station) must be an amazing privilege indeed, living way about the earth seeing everything that’s happening below. For the lucky few that get to live/work up there for a living they need to be able to function like the rest of us here on the gloomy earth. Eating, breathing, sleeping, you know, normal stuff that we do becomes incredibly difficult up in space because there is no gravity, which as awesome as that is, can be annoying.

Now astronauts deserve a treat now and again, they are away from their families most of the time, so in this next refueling mission the astronauts are being sent Cappuccino and Tiramisu, as well as Oxygen, fuel and other essentials. The resupply ship is set to dock with the ISS on August 12 at about 9:30 am. This is the last resupply mission that the ESA will perform.

Seeing as this is the last resupply mission ESA will ever perform, someone needs to take over. Russian Progress spacecraft and the Japanese HTC cargo ships will be taking over from ESA. When the resupply is launching from the USA, missions will be handled by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. So there are plenty of people to keep the astronauts topped up with air, fuel, spare parts and much more for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to Tweaktown for supplying us with this information.

Image courtesy of Tweaktown.

European Space Agency Studying Potential Benefit of 3D Printing in Space

The lure of 3D printing technology in space is appealing, and the European Space Agency (ESA) is now studying implementing 3D-printed technology.

The use of 3D printing could help reduce waste, so the ESA Clean Space initiative wants to see how effective it would be on the International Space Station (ISS).  Although the current generation of 3D printing is still in its infancy, research to create needed parts on the ISS does have great potential.

Furthermore, a new ESA project will investigate different manufacturing techniques using laser and electron beam melting, while also looking at sandblasting, etching, nickel coating and painting as surface treatments.  Of specific note, the ESA wants to see if aluminum, titanium and stainless steel on satellites can be repaired by parts printed in space.

In the future, scientists hope to be able to make items that are currently impossible to create easily in space.  Space is a low-volume area where product design and storage considerations are analyzed – being able to 3D manufacture some technologies to avoid ferrying them to the ISS would be helpful.

Meanwhile, NASA is testing a Made in Space 3D printer that will eventually find its way to the ISS, after undergoing strict federal testing.

Thank you to the ESA for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of ESA

NASA Clears 3D Printer For International Space Station

NASA will send a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) in August, utilizing the printer manufactured by Made In Space.  The custom unit was completed and finished testing ahead of schedule, which is why it will head into space three months earlier than initially expected.

As part of the “3D Print” project, NASA tested the 3D printer to ensure it would be able to survive being transported into space – and for day-to-day use by astronauts stationed aboard the ISS.  The new 3D printer will be installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), a custom dedicated space science facility.

Once installed, astronauts will print 21 different demonstration objects, including tools and ISS parts, with NASA and Made In Space monitoring progress.

Here is what Niki Werkheiser, NASA 3D Print Project Manager said in a press statement:

“NASA was able to provide key guidance on how to best comply with strenuous space certification, safety and operational requirements and Made In Space excelled at incorporating that insight into the design.  As a result, the hardware passed testing with flying colors.  Made In Space now has first-hand experience of the full ‘A-to-Z’ process for designing, building, and testing hardware for spaceflight.”

If everything goes according to plan, Made In Space hopes to add an Additive Manufacturing Facility in space, so 3D-printed objects can be made in larger quantities.  There is great potential to be able to custom print necessary items layer-by-layer, using plastic, metals, and other materials in space.

Source: Time
Image courtesy of Made in Space

Superfast Internet Now A Possibility…. On The Moon

The internet as we know it today is one of man’s basic commodities, sitting alongside other basic products such as food and water. If you think about it as well, we can all relate to this modern need, after all, how lost do you feel when you can’t get online for more than a day or so? It’s hard when you realise just how connected our lives are compared to a few years ago.

Well for the guys (and gals) up on the International Space Station internet connectivity is a possibility, although it has to be made over a VPN to a computer at Houston and even then, it is slow and only works whilst the ISS is over the states. But what if the speed could be much faster?

Those crazy scientists at NASA and group of researchers from MIT have been busy working on a solution to this problem and it looks like a decent wireless internet connection could soon be a strong possibility – on the moon. To put this into perspective we are talking about a connection speed that, during its last set of tests, hit 622Mbps download and 19.4Mbps up. To put this even more into perspective, the recent tests, which are run across a distance close to 400,000km (~250,000 miles), beat the previous connection speeds by a factor of nearly 5000.

To achieve these speeds, which are just over 33x the global average download speed of 18.5Mbps and twice the average upload of 8.2Mbps, the team of scientists set their eyes upon using lasers, the basis for fibre optics which are commonly used to span large distances such as between continents, as opposed to radio waves which were used for the previous record. It’s not just as easy as pointing a laser at the moon and beaming data though. Lasers are great when you have a dead clear line of sight between the two points and unfortunately there is this thing between the ground and the moon known as the atmosphere, or as the team probably know it – an inconvenience. Why is this Well in the higher altitudes of our atmosphere, strong wind currents and extreme turbulence have the effect of distorting and weakening the laser’s beam.

To get around this dilemma, four separate infra-red laser beams, transmitted through four telescopes in New Mexico are adopted, with a total transmission power of 40W between them, but even with this colossal power output, the signal that the moon receives is actually less than one billionth of a watt – that is one heck of a signal loss. Whilst this sounds bad though, this is reportedly still ten times the power needed to achieve these high speeds so the team are still happy.

Obviously the high-speed connection to the moon is a huge step forward in communication to space. In theory a satellite in geostationary orbit could be set to relay this high-speed connection around the world and potentially on to the ISS and beyond, reducing the communication latency and the time taken to send and receive test results to and from base control. Naturally there is going to be a strong cost involved in having the connection deployed on a permanent basis, but as time goes on and the technology becomes more advanced, high-speed space wifi could be a definitive reality.

3D Printers Heading To The International Space Station In 2014

3D printing as we have seen by now is quickly becoming the next best thing since the dot-matrix printer and over the last year or so things have been going from strength to strength for the technology as its gone from concept to a high street reality. Not surprisingly, it was only a matter of time before NASA got their hands on the concept and tweaked and tuned it for use in their space stations.

The specially made printer has had to go through far more than a couple of test prints in order to get the thumbs up from the engineers. As well as being able to print intricate spare parts or tools for use in space, the printer will also need to withstand the force and vibrations of lift-off from earth and then have to be able to operate safely within a space station environment. On top of all this, some of the specially designed printers will also be able to product components from titanium and nickel-chromium powers which are laser melted together as they are produced.

When launched in 2014, the printers will be installed in to the ISS (International Space Station) and the final goal is for an astronaut to be able to produce a spare tool or component in an emergency without the need to fashion something together as was famously seen during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 where a carbon dioxide filter had to be made from items including a manual cover, hose and gaffer tape.

Not only does this mean that less spare parts will need to be taken up to the station during take off – saving space, but also the mission costs could be lowered in the long run as well.

Image courtesy of Space.com

 

Private Astronaut Taxi Development Entering Final Phase

NASA has released the latest draft for the fourth and final development phase of the Commercial Crew Program, a program that plans to provide crewed space launches to the ISS from the U.S. by late 2017.

While this isn’t a full replacement of the old shuttle system it is a way for NASA to subsidize commercial development of the systems used to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, or of course to any future space based systems. The system here would allow for two flights per year once NASA places its first task order for a crewed flight. Currently NASA relies on funded Space Act Agreements to subsidize development of commercial space craft but if the new system goes as planned there will be a fixed-price deal administered under the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

Anyone (so to speak) can design a commercial space craft, but the one that nets the NASA contract is more than likely already going to have the backing of NASA in terms of funding and that means that Boeing Space Exploration Systems, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Space Systems of Louisville and SpaceX are currently out in front.

There are several different approaches being worked on, from capsule designs at Boeing and SpaceX to a lifting-body design at Sierra Nevada, all of which seat seven people. Boeing and Sierra plan to launch using the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, where as the Falcon 9 is planned for the SpaceX design.

The success of this program would mean the first crewed orbital space flight launched from the U.S. since the end of the shuttle program in 2011, which lets face it was a sad day as the iconic image of the shuttle is a big part of our space faring history.

NASA has repeatedly said it needs more than $800 million a year, a lot more than has ever been awarded to the program, if they have any hope of meeting the 2017 target for the program.

Full details on the program can be found here.

Thank you Mashable for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Mashable.