New nuclear engine concept could help realize 3-month trips to Mars

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The concept engine is twice as efficient as chemical rockets

Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies (USNC-Tech) has developed a concept for a new Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engine and delivered it to NASA. Claimed to be safer and more reliable than previous NTP designs and with far greater efficiency than a chemical rocket, the concept could help realize the goal of using nuclear propulsion to revolutionize deep space travel, reducing Earth-Mars travel time to just three months.

Because chemical rockets are already near their theoretical limits and electric space propulsion systems have such low thrust, rocket engineers continue to seek ways to build more efficient, more powerful engines using some variant of nuclear energy. If properly designed, such nuclear rockets could have several times the efficiency of the chemical variety. The problem is to produce a nuclear reactor that is light enough and safe enough for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere – especially if the spacecraft is carrying a crew.

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Satellites are mapping out every tree on earth using artificial intelligence

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Scientists have mapped 1.8 billion individual tree canopies across millions of kilometres of the Sahel and Sahara regions of West Africa. It is the first time ever that trees have been mapped in detail over such a large area.

So how was it possible? Researchers analysed a huge database of satellite images using artificial intelligence. They employed neural networks which are able to recognise objects, like trees, based on their shapes and colours.

To train it, the AI system was shown satellite images where trees had been manually traced. This involved lead author Martin Brandt going through the arduous process of identifying and labelling nearly 90,000 trees himself, beforehand.

From these images, the computer learnt what a tree looked like and could pick out individual canopies from the thousands of images in the database. Brandt says it would have taken millions of people years to identify the trees without the AI system.

In a review of the research, commissioned by Nature, scientists at New Mexico State University wrote that “it will soon be possible, with certain limitations, to map the location and size of every tree worldwide”

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For the first time in its history, NASA successfully collects sample from asteroid

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Touchdown!

For the first time in its history, NASA has successfully collected samples from the surface of an asteroid, using the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Tuesday.

The small spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu, an asteroid 500 meters across, for almost two years. Around 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, the spacecraft completed a “Touch-And-Go” maneuver before firing its thrusters to get back to a safe distance from the asteroid. The lonely space rock was more than 200 million miles away at the time.

“We did it,” principal investigator Dante Lauretta said during the agency’s live broadcast. “We’ve tagged the surface of the asteroid.”

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NASA advances plan to commercialize International Space Station

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Axiom Space habitat modules are depicted attached to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s plan to further commercialize work in low Earth orbit.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 12 (UPI) — The planned launch of a private commercial airlock to the International Space Station in November will accelerate NASA’s plan to turn the station into a hub of private industry, space agency officials said.

The commercialization plan also includes the launch of a private habitat and laboratory by 2024 and a project NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on Twitter in May in which actor Tom Cruise will film a movie in space.

The 20-year-old space station may even have a private citizen on board again for the first time in years in late 2021, according to Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight. It’s part of a plan to wean the space station off NASA’s public funding of $3 billion to $4 billion per year.

“We expanded the scope and range of activities that can be done on ISS,” McAlister said in an interview earlier this year. “We carved out resources — power, oxygen, data — and we know we can support a paying customer, probably twice a year for up to a month.”

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Project Olympus : ICON chosen by NASA to develop moon base 3D printing tech

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The hype around additive construction continues to grow. Unlike the days in which WinSun would “3D print” a six-story apartment building, we’re seeing numerous projects undertaken by a variety of firms around the world. All of this seems to demonstrate that, despite the hype, there is real technological value there. When that same value will be exhibited for the new space industry and 3D printing buildings on the moon remains unclear, but we can’t rule the possibilities out entirely.

The latest news combining the yet-to-be-fulfilled new space frontier with additive construction is called Project Olympus, a NASA-funded initiative aimed at developing a method for robotic building on the moon. Olympus is being driven by a firm that has been steadily making a name for itself in construction 3D printing: ICON. Adding to its $44 million raised from investors so far is the recent Small Business Innovation Research government contract from NASA to 3D print habitats on the moon using local materials and creating no waste.

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GITAI aims to bring autonomous robot workers to space

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An artist’s rendering brings to life GITAI’s vision of robots working on the International Space Station.

GITAI will conduct a technical demonstration of autonomous robot, S1, aboard the ISS in 2021.

Upon hearing the phrase, “robots in space,” one might have an image flash of a corny 60s sci-fi movie, but startup GITAI has its sights on making that a reality in 2021. The space robotics company, which was founded in 2016, is on track for conducting a technical demonstration on the International Space Station (ISS), in collaboration with Nanoracks.

Since its start, GITAI has focused its efforts on various robots for space. Its G1, which is a humanoid torso, was its most advanced machine. It was designed to be controlled by an immersive telepresence system. For the technical demonstration, the company is moving toward more autonomous methods with its S1, a mountable robotic arm with 8 degrees of freedom and 1-meter reach that has an integrated sensing and computing system.

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Work begins on Starlink-like constellation of small hypersonic missile-tracking satellites

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The Pentagon’s grand space strategy envisions a shift from larger, expensive satellites to massive constellations of smaller, easier to replace ones.

 The U.S. military has hired L3Harris and SpaceX to build small satellites with powerful infrared sensors capable of spotting and tracking ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons. These satellites could become part of a large and broader early warning constellation with hundreds of space-based sensors and communications nodes watching for incoming threats, monitoring their flight, and potentially providing targeting data to missile defense assets.

The Pentagon announced that the Space Development Agency (SDA) had awarded the contracts to L3Harris and SpaceX, worth around $193.5 million and just over $149 million, respectively, on Oct. 5, 2020. Each company will be responsible for building four satellites, each with a wide field of view (WFOV) overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) sensor, in support of work on what SDA calls Tranche 0 of the Tracking Layer of the planned overarching early warning constellation.

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UAE to launch unmanned mission to the moon by 2024

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Emirati officials brief Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum about a possible moon mission, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 29, 2020.

Gulf state boosts space program, could become fourth nation in the world to land on the moon.

The United Arab Emirates plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2024, a top Emirati official said Tuesday, the latest gamble in the stars by the oil-rich nation that could see it become only the fourth nation on Earth to accomplish that goal.

The announcement by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also serves as the vice president and prime minister of the hereditarily ruled UAE, shows the rapid expansion of the space program that bears his name. Already, an Emirati space probe is hurtling through space on its way to Mars while last year it sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station.

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

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The manufacturing process would require minimal energy and no specialized equipment.

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.

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.

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Water on Mars: discovery of three buried lakes intrigues scientists

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Researchers have detected a group of lakes hidden under the red planet’s icy surface.

Scientists have long thought that there could be water trapped beneath the surface of Mars.

Two years ago, planetary scientists reported the discovery of a large saltwater lake under the ice at Mars’s south pole, a finding that was met with excitement and some scepticism. Now, researchers have confirmed the presence of that lake — and found three more.

The discovery, reported on 28 September in Nature Astronomy1, was made using radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars-orbiting spacecraft, called Mars Express. It follows the detection of a single subsurface lake in the same region in 2018 — which, if confirmed, would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet and a possible habitat for life. But that finding was based on just 29 observations made from 2012 to 2015, and many researchers said they needed more evidence to support the claim. The latest study used a broader data set comprising 134 observations from 2012 to 2019.

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“Impossible” EmDrive engine could make interstellar travel a reality

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Latest research aims to resolve whether the exciting and controversial thruster could actually work.

The EmDrive could usher in an era of interstellar voyages for human beings. Or it could be a failed experiment that unsuccessfully tried to break the laws of physics. A pair of upcoming papers may just settle that decades-long argument.

The EmDrive was first proposed in 2001 by scientist Roger Shawyer. In theory, the drive—also called a radiofrequency resonant cavity thruster—converts electricity into microwaves and forces them through a sealed cone. The microwaves would bounce around the reflective surface of the cone, and since the microwaves carry momentum, they would impart that momentum to that surface. The waves would exert more force on the larger end of the cone than the smaller one, creating enough thrust—without the need for propellant—to push a spacecraft through the vacuum of space. And, the drive could theoretically increase momentum once it starts moving.

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Nasa is looking for private companies to help mine the moon

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Nasa has announced it is looking for private companies to go to the moon and collect dust and rocks from the surface and bring them back to Earth.

The agency announced it is buying lunar soil from a commercial provider as part of a technology development program,

The American space agency would then buy the moon samples in amounts between 50 to 500 grams for between $15,000 to $25,000.

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