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

Largest Plane on Earth Will Be Airborne as Early as Next Year

Meet Stratolaunch, the largest plane on Earth! Codenamed the “Roc” after the mythical bird of prey, this ‘beast’ looks to be a true king of the sky. In terms of size, it is said to be 65 feet wider than the “Spruce Goose” H-4 Hercules and 95 feet wider than the spaceship-carrying Soviet Antonov An-225, so you can imagine how small you may feel when next to it.

In addition to the size, the “Roc” boasts six Pratt & Whitney jet engines, 28 landing gear wheels and a 385 foot wingspan. But the plane was not made to enter the Guinness record book. Microsoft’s co-founderm Paul Allan, is the guy behind the project and he aims to make the “Roc” the next big alternative to launching rockets into space.

The plane is able to hold a three-stage rocket between its fuselages, as shown in the picture above, which can then be launched at extremely high altitude and detatch its payload into space. So why is this helpful? Well, think about weather conditions. Having to launch a satellite from the edge of Earth’s atmosphere takes away a lot of unwanted variables, so it makes it easier and somewhat safer to launch from up above the clouds.

This is why Stratolaunch was designed so big and massive, weighing in at 1.3 million pounds (including the rocket). But will it do what is expected of it? We won’t know until they do the test runs, which are said to begin as early as next year. If they prove to be a success, Stratolaunch’s first mission is said to be planned for 2018. Until then, here’s a simulation of how the plane and rocket launch should take place. Enjoy!

Thank you Yahoo! for providing us with this information

NASA Building Largest Rocket of All Time, Will Launch in 2018

NASA are cooking up something big, very big! The simple-named Space Launch System, a 384 feet tall rocket, the biggest ever created. To put this into perspective the Saturn V was just 363 feet and that one took us to the moon. The new rocket will also offer up 20% more thrust using liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel.

SLS development is progressing nicely and NASA announced last week that the rocket would make an unmanned test launch in 2018, with a future target of taking humans into orbit around an asteroid, then to mars by the 2030’s, beyond that NASA have aims for Saturn and Jupiter.

Since the retirement of the shuttles NASA has been reliant on booking flights with other nations, should they be able to get this rocket complete on time it will mark a massive milestone for NASA, making them industry leaders for the next generation of space exploration. Now all I need to do is see if I can book a spectator seat for the day the light the engines on this beast!

[youtube width=”800″ height=”450″]http://youtu.be/tqt4hmsi4b0[/youtube]

Thank you TheVerge for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of TheVerge.

Orion Space Capsule Successfully Recovered by US Navy

Another successful test by NASA this week, their Orion capsule that’s designed to get astronauts back into space after landing on another planet has been recovered by the US Navy after it was placed in a situation mimicking a splashdown in the pacific ocean. The retrieval was practice for NASAs mission to send Orion 3600 miles above the earth. This is due to go ahead in December this year but other aspects of the Orion capsule are being looked at. Orion will perform a real splashdown after returning to earth which is why a practice run is needed as NASA will use the capsule again for future missions.

The test recovery went well, the US Navy dive teams based aboard the USS Anchorage recovery vessel managed to recover the Orion capsule from the ocean using a cradle and winch system. The same team will be used to recover the vessel after it returns from its actual mission. This will be the first time NASA has recovered a capsule from the sea in a real mission since 1975 with the Apollo Soyuz mission.

Thanks to Tweaktown for supplying us with this information.

Image courtesy of Tweaktown.

 

Artificial Leaf Could Be The Next Oxygen Source For Space Travel

The main problem faced when talking about sustainability in space travel missions is the lack of oxygen. Due to this, many space-related missions executed so far are close to our planet, since nobody can make a rocket packed with oxygen and expect it to last an eternity.

However, a graduate from the Royal College of Art by the name of Julian Melchiorri has apparently found a solution to the problem at hand. He appears to have created the first man-made, biologically functional leaf which works on carbon dioxide, water and light in order to produce oxygen.

The leaf is said to be made out of chloroplasts, the cell part found in plants to help with photosynthesis, packed in a body made out of silk protein. Taking into account that this is a plant made by human hand, it is absolutely amazing to have somethings such ingenuity providing support for the most basic need in space, namely air.

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/101734446[/vimeo]

“This material has an amazing property of stabilizing (the chloroplast) organelles,” Melchiorri says. “As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does.”

Besides its use in space-related missions, Melchiorri imagines that his invention could be used in the normal household as well. Who wouldn’t mind a breath of fresh air in the morning while sipping a nice warm coffee or tea? Building facades and lampshades could be fitted, according to Melchiorri, with the given technology in order to exhale fresh air with just a thin coating of the leaf material.

The idea is said not to stop at helping space travelers with oxygen. Melchiorri states that his revolutionary technology could also be the key to space colonization. Instead of attempting to grow Earth-like vegetation on Mars for example, these artificial leaves can be fitted inside a dome and provide the breath of fresh air needed by the crew to survive.

Thank you CNet for providing us with this information
Image and video courtesy of CNet

Opportunity Sets New Record for Longest Distance Driven off-Earth

Opportunity first touched down on the red planet back in 2004, at which point its original mission plan only required it to drive for 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) within its first 90 days on Mars. Of course it’s not uncommon for many space missions to out last their original mission, and with plenty of juice in the batteries the Mars rover has been going strong for ten years now.

Opportunity recently clocked up 25.01 miles of driving on the Martian landscape, putting it firmly ahead of the previous record holder, the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover which had covered 24.2 miles in its life time after landing on the moon in 1973. This is a huge achievement for a piece of hardware that was only intended to run a 90 day mission, it wasn’t even supposed to last more than one year!

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Manager John Callas said it is “not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

How long the rover will continue its extended mission is unknown, but NASA are hoping it has what it takes to make it at least one more mile to a new investigation site, and we wish it the best of luck on its journey.

Thank you NASA for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of NASA.

Canada and NASA Team Up To Stop Asteroid That Could Hit Earth

Canada is said to be teaming up with NASA to work on its Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer mission, or OSIRIS-REx for short, having its main objective be the first US probe to return samples from an asteroid.

A $61 million laser-based system named the Laser Altimeter (OLA), provided by Canada, is said to be mounted on the side of the probe and will serve scientists with high-resolution 3D maps of the asteroid named Bennu. With the images, scientists are then able to search for a safe place to land the probe in order to collect samples.

The Bennu asteroid is said to be 500 meters in diameter and regularly crosses Earth’s orbit, posing a chance to will hit our planet each time it passes. Calculations have previously indicated that there is one chance out of 1,800 that Bennu will hit Earth in 2182. However, the calculations are still not that precise. This is why scientists are anxious about the project and are eagerly awaiting the samples from the asteroid.

The probe is said to be ready for launch in 2016 and will reach the asteroid in 2018. The mission the will consist of the probe hovering Bennu for approximately 8 months, time that will be used for searching for a safe spot to collect the samples. Once that has been found, the probe is said to hover a few meters above the surface of the asteroid and collect the samples, having a return to Earth date set for 2023.

While the mission aims to serve scientist with the knowledge needed to predict the asteroid’s true path, it is said that the project itself aims at providing a deeper understanding of how asteroids are connected to the origins of the solar system as well.

The public is said to also be invited for the ride by sending their names on the round-trop journey to the asteroid. It is said that the name will be on the spacecraft, which will remain in space long after returning the sample return capsule to Earth. Sign-ups are said to close on September 30th, 2014 and people who would like to have their names floating around in the galaxy could fill up the form here.

Thank you Yahoo News for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Yahoo News

Boeing Start Work on 200-foot NASA SLS Rocket

Moving further out in to space is still one of NASAs main goals, but to do so would require new and more up to date rocket technology. Fortunately, Boeing have just been given the green-light and a wad of cash to be begin work on the new Space Launch System (SLS). The new rocket has been designed for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The deal means that Boeing now have $2.8 billion to start building the core stage of the rocket and its avionics systems. The core stage is the largest part of the rocket, it will measure around 200ft tall and play house to huge cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel tanks for the engines.

NASA plan to set aside around $6.8 billion of its funds from fiscal years 2014 through to 2018 for this project, and it’s hoping the SLS will be ready for unmanned missions by 2017. The aim is that the new rocket will be able to carry human cargo to asteroids or Mars by 2021.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Engadget.

Replica Mini Mars Created Just Outside London by Airbus Defence

If you want to test a new rover for a mission on the red planet you’ve got two options. One would be to spend billions and fire your creation through space to Mars and put it straight to work, alternatively you can spend £500,000 and build a massive “Mars Yard” just outside London.

Engineers at Airbus Defence and Space in the UK have opted to build their own Mars as a testing ground for new Mars bound technology. It features 300 tons of sand that have been colour matched from the readings taken by NASA’s rovers, and even the light levels inside the testing ground have been set to mimic those of the red planet.

With ESA’s ExoMars program preparing to send two missions, the first to test if Mars could ever have supported life and another which will attempt to return samples from the planet in 2020.

With Mars bound missions have a high failure rate we hope this new testing ground proves useful in making these two missions a success. Unfortunately the first rover won’t touch down until 2019, so it looks like we’ll have to be patient to find out.

Thank you CNN for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of CNN.

Chinese Jade Rabbit Rover Lands On Moon

China has announced yesterday that they successfully landed their craft on the moons surface, and later deployed their Jade Rabbit rover, a great success for the nation as their look to further their efforts for space exploration. The mission was the first soft landing on the Moon in 37 years! And on Saturday afternoon the landing module underwent its powered decent and several hours later the robotic rover was deployed.

The Chang’e-3 mission launched on a Chinese Long March 3B rocket on December 1st from Xichang, and the module landed on one of the moons flat plains called the Bay of Rainbows, and Chinese state TV displayed pictures of the moon’s surface as the lander touched down.

The mission is now the third ever robotic rover to land on the lunar surface, and the Chinese mission will use it’s ability to climb slopes of up to 30 degrees, 200m per hour speed and  ground-penetrating rader to gather measurements on the lunar soil and crust.

It’s a great achievement for China and it’s just another step in their plans for an advanced space program.

Thank you BBC for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of BBC.

New Mars Probe Will Continue Search For Missing Water

The mystery of was there ever oceans or rivers on Mars is one we no longer scratch our heads about, we’re certainly there was. However, we still can’t really find much water and while there have been some impressive developments over the last couple of years that have found more evidence than ever, as well as low concentrations of water in the Martian soil, it has only spurred us to look even closer at the red planet.

We suspect that the sun slowly stripped Mars of its atmosphere, eventually leading to the planet being as dry as it is today, but exactly how that happened is still something we need to investigate. Nasa’s new Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, or Maven, is set to launch at 1:28pm EST / 1828 GMT today (Monday 18/11/2013) and will arrive at Mars next September.

“Maven is going to focus on trying to understand what the history of the atmosphere has been, how the climate has changed through time and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability – at least by microbes – of Mars,” said the lead scientist Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The image of Mars being covered with oceans, rivers, a thick atmosphere and a warmer climate are great food for the imagination, but while there is much evidence to support this theory we still need to pick apart the clues left behind, something that may tell us the future of our own planets fate.

Maven isn’t the only mission heading out in that direction either, and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission will be arriving just two days later to perform its own experiments.

Thank you Guardian for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Guardian.