NASA funds experimental radiation shield and Mars climbing robot

Several futuristic projects have just been awarded money through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts programme – here are New Scientist‘s top five choices

By Will Gater

NASA has just announced the projects that will be getting money from its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme, which aims to support ideas for game-changing mission designs and never-before-seen space exploration tech. Here we look at five of the concepts and how they will be used.

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NASA wants to make futuristic tech so we can breathe on Mars

By Joshua Hawkins

NASA just greenlit the study of several futuristic tech concepts, including one that could let you breathe on Mars. The projects are part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. The program wants to foster the exploration of tomorrow. As such, it has approved funding for early-stage studies on multiple types of futuristic tech, including new spacesuits and spacecraft designed to explore outer planets.

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A million miles away, NASA’s James Webb Telescope snaps its first space selfie

This “selfie” was created using a specialized pupil imaging lens inside of the NIRCam instrument that was designed to take images of the primary mirror segments instead of images of space. (NASA)

By Denise Chow

A million miles from Earth, the James Webb Telescope has snapped its first selfie from orbit.

NASA released the self-portrait Friday, along with several mosaic images that the telescope captured while gazing at its first star. The images were taken as part of a monthslong process to assess the health of the observatory’s various mirrors and instruments.

Nearly 50 days after Webb launched into space, the photos are early indicators that it is functioning as expected and is ready to begin its mission.

“This amazing telescope has not only spread its wings, but it has now opened its eyes,” Lee Feinberg, Webb’s optical telescope element manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said Friday in a news briefing.

But before Webb can begin capturing jaw-dropping images of galaxies, star clusters and planets, mission controllers need to be sure that the observatory’s huge primary mirror is properly aligned.

Measuring more than 21 feet across, its honeycomb-shaped primary mirror is designed to collect and focus light from objects in the cosmos. To fit inside its rocket for launch, however, the telescope’s mirror, along with several other components, were carefully folded up.

Over the course of several weeks, as the telescope journeyed to its final destination in orbit around the sun, it delicately unfurled. Each of the telescope’s 18 gold-coated, hexagonal mirror segments were moved into place.

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Mars and Venus could be terraformed for humans with ‘giant shields’, Nasa director suggests

Increasing the pressure on the Red Planet would make it warmer and could rejuvenate oceans 

By Adam Smith

Nasa’s outgoing director Jim Green has said that Mars could be terraformed using a giant magnetic shield.

Dr Green had been the space agency’s planetary science division director for 12 years, during which he developed the ‘Confidence of Life Detection (CoLD) scale for verifying signals of potential alien life from other planets as well as publishing works on terraforming the Red Planet.

One of those ideas is blocking the Sun’s rays from Mars, which would allow it to trap more heat and make it habitable. The surface temperature on Mars is -62 degrees Celsius, with an atmosphere 100 times thinner than on Earth.

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NASA’s Laser Demonstrations Extend to Deep Space

By George Leopold

NASA plans to launch a pair of laser communications missions over the next nine months that would demonstrate high-bandwidth optical relays capable of someday transmitting streaming HD video and other data from planetary probes.

The launch of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) scheduled for Dec. 4 will be followed as early as August 2022 by the launch of the Deep Space Optical Communications flight demonstration, program officials said this week. LCRD, testing laser communications from geosynchronous orbit, is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is overseeing development of the deep space mission that will operate between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter as part of NASA mission to study a giant metal asteroid.

The LCRD payload consists of two optical terminals, each with bi-directional optical communications capability along with switching circuitry that enables one terminal to receive signals, switch data to the second terminal and relay it in real time to one of two ground stations in California and Hawaii.

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NASA Is Looking for the Next-Gen Lunar Vehicle, Won’t Be Your Grandpa’s Moon Buggy

by Florina Spînu

NASA is asking American companies for ideas and solutions to transport Artemis astronauts around the lunar South Pole later this decade. And it says that its next lunar vehicle will not be your grandpa’s old Moon Buggy, but a modern space vehicle ready to conquer our natural satellite. 6 photos

As part of Artemis, NASA will put the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish a long-term presence on the Moon. Once they arrive, the astronauts will need a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) to navigate the rugged surface. 

The first Moon Buggy was introduced on the Apollo 15 mission. With the LRV, astronauts were able to explore 17.25 miles (27.76 km) of various geological features, improving the scientific return of each mission. They were also capable of gathering more than ten times the amount of samples that they would’ve collected on foot.

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NASA is testing electric air taxis with Joby Aviation

The first eVTOL company to join the space agency’s national campaign to validate new technology

By Andrew J. Hawkins

NASA kicked off test flights of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — colloquially referred to as “flying cars” — with Joby Aviation, the Northern California company that recently went public. The test flights are part of a national campaign by NASA to observe these experimental aircraft in action and gather data. 

Joby, which was founded in 2009, is the first eVTOL company to participate in NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign. The test flights commenced Monday, August 30th, at the company’s airfield in Big Sur, California, and will run through September 10th, the agency said. 

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NASA’s X-59 prototype gets closer to flight

By Shane McGlaun 

There are currently no supersonic commercial passenger aircraft, and aircraft capable of breaking the sound barrier are banned from doing so over most of the United States. The biggest reason why aircraft aren’t allowed to break the sound barrier is noise created. NASA is working on an experimental aircraft called the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft and has announced that it is entering a stage of its construction where it more closely resembles an actual aircraft.

The aircraft is known as QueSST for short, and major sections of the aircraft were recently merged, making it look like an actual flying machine for the first time. The first metal for the experimental aircraft was cut in 2018. NASA chief engineer for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator, Jay Brandon, says the aircraft’s transition from numerous separate parts located on different parts of the production floor to an airplane is a milestone.

The experimental aircraft is currently under construction at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in California. The aircraft is designed to reach supersonic speeds of approximately 660 mph at sea level without producing a sonic boom audible to those on the ground. NASA intends to work with communities around the country to understand the response to the sound produced by the aircraft and will provide that data to regulators.

Hopefully, the data can be used to change rules that currently ban supersonic flight over land. If the rules against supersonic flight were lifted, time in the air could be cut in half for air travelers in the future. NASA says the team used features on the aircraft’s structure to self-locate its wing, tail assembly, and fuselage. The team also used laser projections to verify precise fitment.

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What comes next after the International Space Station ends

By Miriam Kramer

NASA is at risk of losing a foothold in orbit after the end of the International Space Station.

Why it matters: Without an operating base in space, the agency’s plan to shift from being a sole provider of services in orbit to becoming a customer of companies operating there is in jeopardy.

  • NASA is hoping that instead of running its own space station, it will have the option to send its astronauts to privately run space stations in orbit by the time the ISS ends.

Driving the news: NASA this month put out a final call asking for companies to submit their ideas for space stations they could build and operate where astronauts could visit and perform experiments.

  • Those space stations would need to be up and running by the time the ISS comes to an end by 2030 or earlier.
  • NASA will award money to the companies chosen for certain milestones, but the agency isn’t going to fully fund the development of these space stations, according to the request for proposals.
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NASA picks Venus as hot spot for two new robotic missions

This image made available by NASA shows the planet Venus made with data from the Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. On Wednesday, June 2, 2021, NASA’s new administrator, Bill Nelson, announced two new robotic missions to the solar system’s hottest planet, during his first major address to employees.

by Marcia Dunn

NASA is returning to sizzling Venus, our closest yet perhaps most overlooked neighbor, after decades of exploring other worlds.

The space agency’s new administrator, Bill Nelson, announced two new robotic missions to the solar system’s hottest planet, during his first major address to employees Wednesday.

“These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface,” Nelson said.

One mission named DaVinci Plus will analyze the thick, cloudy Venusian atmosphere in an attempt to determine whether the inferno planet ever had an ocean and was possibly habitable. A small craft will plunge through the atmosphere to measure the gases.

It will be the first U.S.-led mission to the Venusian atmosphere since 1978.

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NASA Will Pay You To Innovate Food System Ideas For Astronauts


It has recently come to light that NASA is offering a $5,00,000 cash prize (Rs 3.6 crore) to people who can come up with innovative food production technologies for space and here on Earth. NASA in coordination with the Canadian Space Agency has invited people to create game-changing food technologies or systems that require minimal inputs and maximize nutritious food outputs for long-duration space missions.

“We are excited to coordinate with the Canadian Space Agency to conduct this challenge and push the boundaries of food technology production that will help keep our future explorers healthy, knowing that some of these technologies could also have great terrestrial applications,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

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First ‘space helicopter’ set to take to Martian skies

By Tom Metcalfe

First space helicopter set to take to Martian skies

When NASA’s Perseverance rover touches down next week, it will carry one of the strangest devices ever seen on Mars — a drone destined to make the first controlled flights on an extraterrestrial planet.

Dubbed “Ingenuity,” the drone weighs just 4 pounds, and it will stay stored beneath the rover’s belly while Perseverance runs through its initial surface checks and experiments.

But about the middle of April, the rover will scout out a flat area without large rocks to deploy the drone, and soon after that Perseverance will release Ingenuity to make the first flights on Mars.

“It’s pretty unique in that it’s a helicopter that can fly around,” said Tim Canham, the operations lead for the Ingenuity project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

“There was a balloon mission on Venus years ago, so we can’t claim to be the first aircraft,” he said, referring to the two Soviet Vega space probes that deployed balloons attached to scientific instruments in the clouds on Venus in 1985. “But we can claim we’re the first powered aircraft outside Earth.”

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