NASA validates revolutionary propulsion design for deep space missions

As NASA takes its first steps toward establishing a long-term presence on the Moon’s surface, a team of propulsion development engineers at NASA have developed and tested NASA’s first full-scale rotating detonation rocket engine, or RDRE, an advanced rocket engine design that could significantly change how future propulsion systems are built.

The RDRE differs from a traditional rocket engine by generating thrust using a supersonic combustion phenomenon known as a detonation. This design produces more power while using less fuel than today’s propulsion systems and has the potential to power both human landers and interplanetary vehicles to deep space destinations, such as the Moon and Mars.

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and primary collaborator IN Space LLC, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, are confirming data from RDRE hot fire tests conducted in 2022 at Marshall’s East Test Area. The engine was fired over a dozen times, totaling nearly 10 minutes in duration.

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NASA’s unusual experiment will plant potatoes on Mars

By SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA

After the success of lettuce on the ISS (International Space Station), NASA continues its “agricultural” experiments to understand if vegetables can be grown in space.

This time it’s the turn of potatoes: from March the American agency, together with the Peruvian International Potato Center (CIP), will conduct experiments in a laboratory in Lima to understand whether potatoes can be grown on Mars.

NASA has selected one hundred types of tubers: forty from the Andes, used to reproduce even in dry and rocky terrain, and sixty genetically modified to resist various pathogens and survive with little water and salt.

One ton of these potatoes will be transported to a special laboratory in Lima, where the Martian atmosphere, consisting mainly of carbon dioxide, will be simulated.

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Construction Begins on NASA’s Next-Generation Asteroid Hunter

A space telescope designed to search for the hardest-to-find asteroids and comets that stray into Earth’s orbital neighborhood, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Surveyor (NEO Surveyor) recently passed a rigorous technical and programmatic review. Now the mission is transitioning into the final design-and-fabrication phase and establishing its technical, cost, and schedule baseline.

The mission supports the objectives of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 directed NASA to discover and characterize at least 90% of the near-Earth objects more than 140 meters (460 feet) across that come within 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of our planet’s orbit. Objects of this size are capable of causing significant regional damage, or worse, should they impact the Earth.

“NEO Surveyor represents the next generation for NASA’s ability to quickly detect, track, and characterize potentially hazardous near-Earth objects,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer at PDCO. “Ground-based telescopes remain essential for us to continually watch the skies, but a space-based infrared observatory is the ultimate high ground that will enable NASA’s planetary defense strategy.”

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NASA’s quiet supersonic X-59 now has a jet engine

Lockheed Martin’s X-59 aircraft

By Ameya Paleja

The first flight is likely in 2023.

The jet engine for NASA’s ambitious X-59 aircraft that will demonstrate the Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) has now been installed, the space agency said in a press release. 

NASA has teamed up with Lockheed Martin and General Electric Aviation to bring this ambitious plan to reality that could one day revive supersonic travel for the general public. While fighter aircraft can routinely fly at speeds much higher than sound speed, commercial airliners flying over populated areas cannot do the same. 
The reason is the sonic boom, the shockwaves created by an object traveling faster than the sound, which has enough energy to shatter windows and sound like thunderclaps to the human ear. The now-defunct Concorde flights faced the same problem two decades ago and could never truly unlock the full potential of supersonic flight. 

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Out of this world! NASA will launch a huge flying saucer-like inflatable heat shield into space THIS WEEK – and it could help humans land safely on Mars one day

By SAM TONKIN and SHIVALI BEST

  • The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) is scheduled for launch on Wednesday
  • NASA’s test will see a huge 20ft inflatable heat shield launched into low Earth orbit on an Atlas V rocket
  • Once it reaches low-Earth orbit, the heat shield will inflate before descending back to the Earth’s surface
  • In the future, the heat shield could be used to slow down a spacecraft to survive atmospheric entry on Mars

If humans are to one day land safely on Mars, engineers are going to have to invent a spacecraft that can slow down enough to survive atmospheric entry.

Known as the ‘seven minutes of terror’, in 2021 NASA’s Perseverance rover emerged unscathed after making its descent to the Red Planet using a basic parachute.

But the landing process is trickier for larger payloads, such as rockets with humans on board.

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NASA’s new Glider Could Turn any Airport Into a Spaceport

 BY ANDY TOMASWICK

Getting to space has almost always been a multi-stage process. Those stages typically took the form of different stages of chemical rockets, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Plenty of alternative options have been proposed, and one that NASA has been working on for almost a decade is getting closer to commercialization. The project, known as the Towed-Glider Air Launch System (TGALS), uses three very different stages – a business jet, and glider, and two separate rockets – sort of. But its main advantage means that any airport large enough to host a business jet could also become a spaceport.

That’s a tempting proposition, as spaceport access is relatively limited. Few launch pads can support chemical rockets, such as those traditionally used in space launch systems. Most of those ports are dominated by giants of the industry – ULA and SpaceX own a combined six, which make up a large portion of privately operable spaceports in the US. 

The prospect of opening up some of the 5,000 public airports for use as space launch sites is therefore tempting. To make that happen, though, a company can’t use standard chemical rockets. So why not use a plane? Or a glider? Or, better yet, both?

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‘Helical Engine’ could reach 99% the speed of light, NASA scientists says

THE ‘HELICAL ENGINE’ WORKS BY EXPLOITING THE WAY MASS CAN CHANGE AT RELATIVISTIC SPEEDS. (CREDIT: NASA)

By Michelle Starr

When it comes to space, there’s a problem with our human drive to go all the places and see all the things. A big problem. It’s, well, space. It’s way too big. Even travelling at the maximum speed the Universe allows, it would take us years to reach our nearest neighbouring star.

But another human drive is finding solutions to big problems. And that’s what NASA engineer David Burns has been doing in his spare time. He’s produced an engine concept that, he says, could theoretically accelerate to 99 percent of the speed of light – all without using propellant.
He’s posted it to the NASA Technical Reports Server under the heading “Helical Engine“, and, on paper, it works by exploiting the way mass can change at relativistic speeds – those close to the speed of light in a vacuum. It has not yet been reviewed by an expert.

Understandably this paper has caused buzz approaching levels seen in the early days of the EM Drive. And yes, even some headlines claiming the engine could ‘violate the laws of physics’.

But while this concept is fascinating, it’s definitely not going to break physics anytime soon. 

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NASA Will Inspire World When It Returns Mars Samples to Earth in 2033

NASA has finished the system requirements review for its Mars Sample Return Program, which is nearing completion of the conceptual design phase. During this phase, the program team evaluated and refined the architecture to return the scientifically selected samples, which are currently in the collection process by NASA’s Perseverance rover in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater.

The architecture for the campaign, which includes contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA), is expected to reduce the complexity of future missions and increase probability of success.

“The conceptual design phase is when every facet of a mission plan gets put under a microscope,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “There are some significant and advantageous changes to the plan, which can be directly attributed to Perseverance’s recent successes at Jezero and the amazing performance of our Mars helicopter.”

This advanced mission architecture takes into consideration a recently updated analysis of Perseverance’s expected longevity. Perseverance will be the primary means of transporting samples to NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander carrying the Mars Ascent Vehicle and ESA’s Sample Transfer Arm.

As such, the Mars Sample Return campaign will no longer include the Sample Fetch Rover or its associated second lander. The Sample Retrieval Lander will include two sample recovery helicopters, based on the design of the Ingenuity helicopter, which has performed 29 flights at Mars and survived over a year beyond its original planned lifetime. The helicopters will provide a secondary capability to retrieve samples cached on the surface of Mars.

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NASA’s VIPER prototype motors through Moon-like obstacle course

Recent file image of VIPER in the Lunar sand pit.

By Rachel Hoover

It faced the quicksand-like soil in the “sink tank,” climbed the “tilt bed,” and conquered boulders and craters. NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) prototype recently endured the most realistic tests to-date of its ability to drive through the most difficult terrain during its mission to the Moon’s South Pole.

Engineers tested the latest VIPER mobility engineering test unit, known as Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3) in the Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

This MGRU3 features motor controllers specially designed for the Moon rover – a critical piece of hardware in the rover’s mobility system that controls the motors that send power the rover’s four wheels.

“Unlike most car engines, which uses a throttle and brake to speed up and slow down all four wheels, VIPER’s motor controllers make the rover wheels turn at the force and rate the drivers want, with extreme precision to allow for better performance,” said Arno Rogg, test director and rover systems engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “These tests allowed us to verify the performance of the rover mobility system and know it will work well on the Moon.”

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NASA wants your help designing a starshade to observe exoplanets

Artist’s concept of the prototype starshade, a giant structure designed to block the glare of stars so that future space telescopes can take pictures of planets. Credit: NASA/JPL

By Matt Williams

The field of exoplanet study has come a long way in recent decades. To date, 5,063 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,794 systems beyond our own, with another 8,819 candidates awaiting confirmation. In the coming years, tens of thousands of more planets are expected to be found, thanks to next-generation observatories. The ultimate goal in this search is to find planets that are “Earth-like,” meaning they have a good chance of supporting life. This is no easy task, as rocky planets located within their parent star’s habitable zones (HZs) tend to orbit closely, making them harder to see.

To make this process easier, NASA is designing a hybrid observatory consisting of a “Starshade” that will block out a star’s light so that a ground-based telescope can directly image planets orbiting it. The concept is known as the Hybrid Observatory for Earth-like Exoplanets (HOEE), and NASA is looking for public input to make it a reality. To that end, they have launched the Ultralight Starshade Structural Design Challenge, where participants are asked to develop a design for a lightweight starshade structure that could be used as part of the HOEE concept.

The challenge is being hosted by GrabCAD, a Massachusetts-based startup that hosts a free cloud-based platform that helps engineering teams collaborate and manage, view, and share Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files. The NASA Tournament Lab is managing the challenge, which supports the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study of the HOEE concept. The challenge is part of NASA’s Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program, overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

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NASA Prize-Winning Experiment Could Be The Future of Artificial Photosynthesis

By DAVID NIELD

The process of turning water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into oxygen and energy helps plants to grow naturally – and it’s a process that scientists are looking to harness and adapt in order to produce food, fuel, and more besides.

In a new study, scientists outline an experimental artificial photosynthesis technique, which deploys a two-step electrocatalytic process to turn carbon dioxide, water, and electricity generated by solar panels into acetate (the main component of vinegar). This acetate can then be harnessed by plants in order to grow.

In fact, the system that the researchers have designed here is intended not just to mimic the photosynthesis that happens in nature, but to actually improve on it – in plants, only around 1 percent of the sunlight’s energy is actually turned into plant biomass, whereas here the efficiency can be multiplied by about fourfold.

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NASA wants to put a nuclear reactor on the moon

Fission surface power systems – depicted in this conceptual illustration – could provide reliable power for human exploration of the Moon under Artemis. Credits: NASA

By Heather Brinkmann

THE SPACE AGENCY AND THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY HAVE SELECTED THREE DESIGN CONCEPT PROPOSALS FOR A FISSION SURFACE POWER SYSTEM FOR A DEMONSTRATION ON THE MOON

NASA is one step closer to finalizing nuclear power some 238,900 miles away from Earth.

The space agency and the U.S. Department of Energy have selected three design concept proposals for a fission surface power system that would be stationed on the moon.

The hope is that a nuclear reactor would produce the power needed to operate rovers, conduct experiments and help support life.

Scientists say that the concepts for the technology will benefit future exploration under the Artemis umbrella and will be ready to launch by the end of the decade.

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