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Parts of Falcon 9 Launcher Wash Ashore In England (bbc.co.uk) 20

RockDoctor writes with news as reported by the BBC that parts of a Falcon 9 launcher have washed ashore on the Isles of Scilly off the SW coast of Britain. Early impressions are that the pieces are from the failed Falcon 9 ISS launch which exploded after take-off in June. That's not the only possibility, though; according to the article, However Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said many experts believed, due to the size and markings which have now been revealed, it was from a different mission. "All the geeks have been getting together and looking at fine details, and we're pretty sure it's a launch from September 2014 that successfully sent a cargo mission to the space station. "It didn't look like an exploded rocket to me, it looked like a fairly normal piece of space junk when the lower stage of a rocket falls from a hundred miles up and hits the ocean. Large sections can remain in tact and it's really quite normal," he said.

Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again (arstechnica.com) 121

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s. Check out the videos at various places on the web.

MIT Helping NASA Build Valkyrie Robots For Space Missions (roboticstrends.com) 35

An anonymous reader writes: NASA announced that MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is one of just two institutions that will receive "R5," a six-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot also known as "Valkyrie" that will serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond. A group led by CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot as part of NASA's upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans "extreme space" missions. While R5 was initially designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers, its main goal is now to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain — deep space exploration.

Louis Friedman Says Humans Will Never Venture Beyond Mars (scientificamerican.com) 378

MarkWhittington writes: Dr. Louis Friedman, one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society, is coming out with a new book, "Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars," an excerpt of which was published in Scientific America. Friedman revives and revises a version of the humans vs. robots controversy that has roiled through aerospace circles for decades. Unlike previous advocates of restricting space travel to robots, such as Robert Park and the late James Van Allen, Friedman admits that humans are going to Mars to settle. But there, human space travel will end. Only robots will ever venture further.
United Kingdom

British Spaceplane Skylon Could Revolutionize Space Travel (ieee.org) 226

MarkWhittington writes: The problem of lowering the cost of sending people and cargo into low Earth orbit has vexed engineers since the dawn of the space age. Currently, the only way to go into space is on top of multistage rockets which toss off pieces of themselves as they ascend higher into the heavens. The Conversation touted a British project, called Skylon, which many believe will help to address the problem of costly space travel. According to IEEE Spectrum, both BAE Systems and the British government have infused Skylon with $120 million in investment.

NASA Eagleworks Has Tested an Upgraded EM Drive 203

An anonymous reader writes: A team of researchers at NASA's Eagleworks Laboratories recently completed yet another round of testing on Engineer Roger Shawyer's controversial EM Drive. While no peer reviewed paper has been published yet, engineer Paul March posted to the NASA Spaceflight forum to explain the group's findings. From the article: "In essence, by utilizing an improved experimental procedure, the team managed to mitigate some of the errors from prior tests — yet still found signals of unexplained thrust."

Video Solar Energy in Space is not Necessarily Easy to Harvest (Video) 85

The ARTEMIS Innovation web site says, "John C. Mankins, President of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC, is an internationally recognized leader in space systems and technology innovation...." And one of John's biggest recent projects is coming up with a practical way to collect solar energy beyond our atmosphere and use it not only in space, but how to beam it down to the Earth's surface where we can use it to power our plug-in cars, household appliances, and other electrical devices.

Two Radically Different Approaches to Private Access to Space (gizmag.com) 44

Zothecula writes: Commercial spaceflight company World View came a step closer to carrying tourists to the edge of space with a successful test flight last weekend. At Page, Arizona, a one-tenth scale replica spacecraft was carried by high-altitude ballon to a height of 100,475 ft (30,624 m) to demonstrate the technology that is intended for use in a full-size version slated to begin commercial flights next year. And with a note on the other end of the size spectrum for private access to space, reader Habberhead writes: As reported first by Wired Magazine and followed on by others including Discovery News, start-up company ThumbSat is aiming to provide turn-key access to space for students, experimenters and citizen scientists with a new femto-satellite and creative business model. Small payloads and experiments in space for $20k, including the launch? Sign me up!

Looking At the Hardware and Software of JAXA's Hayabusa-2 (imgtec.com) 16

alexvoica writes: After interviewing the NASA New Horizons team (if you've missed the original story on Slashdot, you can find it here), it's time to get the views of another famous space agency (JAXA) on spacecraft hardware and software. This interview focuses mainly on Hayabusa-2, the world's first round-trip mission to a C-type asteroid. The main goal of the Hayabusa-2 mission is to visit the near-Earth asteroid 1999 JU3, conduct on site science experiments, collect soil samples from the asteroid, and return them back to Earth. 1999 JU3 is a near-Earth C-type asteroid, and is believed to contain organic and hydrated minerals. The contact at JAXA replying to these questions is Associate Professor Yuichi Tsuda, Ph.D the project manager for Hayabusa-2. Dr. Tsuda works for the Department of Space Flight Systems at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and at JAXA.

Space-Time: Scott Kelly Breaks Time-Aloft Record For US Astronauts (usatoday.com) 35

NASA astronaut -- and Commander of the International Space Station -- Scott Kelly on Friday broke the record for time in space -- for U.S. astronauts, at least; the overall longest flight of 437.7 days belongs to Valeri Polyakov, and the Washington Post points out that Russia’s Gennady Padalka has spent a total of 879 days aloft. Kelly brings a unique asset to the long-term study of health for spacefarers, because his twin brother Mark, here on Earth, serves as close to a perfect control subject as NASA could hope to have. Kelly is a prolific tweeter about the progress of his year-long mission aboard the ISS; on the occasion of beating the time-aloft record, his modest acknowledgement read only, "Records are meant to be broken. Look fwd to one of my colleagues surpassing my end 500+ days on our #JourneyToMars!"

"Father of the Space Shuttle" George Mueller Dies At 97 (washingtonpost.com) 75

The Washington Post reports that long-time NASA engineer and administrator George Mueller died on October 12 of congestive heart failure, at 97. Mueller had a hand in NASA programs as Associate Administrator of the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight going back to the Apollo program, but not only as an administrator: he played a large role in the design of Skylab, and in lobbying for the Space Shuttle; this last earned him the (sometimes disputed) nickname of "Father of the Space Shuttle." During his Apollo days, Mueller became well known for his insistence on "all-up" testing, rather than incremental, per-component tests. From the Washington Post's story: As applied to the space program, [all-up testing] implied specifically such techniques as the testing of all three stages of the giant Saturn V booster rocket while they were coupled together and with a payload attached to boot. It was reported that the scheme had its doubters, among them such leading lights of rocketry as Wernher von Braun. But in time, the forceful Dr. Mueller proved persuasive enough to overcome all such reservations, and it was “all up” for the mammoth Saturn V, the launch vehicle upon which NASA pinned its hopes of sending Americans to the moon.

NASA Returns Images of Frozen Worlds Enceladus and Pluto (nasa.gov) 37

MarkWhittington writes: This past week, NASA provided a look at two frozen worlds far out into the solar system. Cassini, currently orbiting Saturn, flew by the frozen moon Enceladus and provided the closest views yet of its north pole. New Horizons, hurtling deep into the Kuiper belt at the edge of the solar system, returned a fresh image of the icy region of Pluto known as the Sputnik Planum.

China Looks To Deep Space Missions, Including More Lunar Landings and Robot Ants (xinhuanet.com) 65

MarkWhittington writes: China has already landed a rover on the moon and has launched numerous crewed space missions in low-Earth orbit. It is looking ahead to building a space station and landing more probes on the moon, including the lunar farside. According to a story in Xinhua, the Chinese are already looking beyond to deep space missions to destinations including the moon, Mars, and asteroids. The idea is that China will not be a respected space power until it starts accomplishing things in space that no other country has done before.

Looking At the Hardware and Software of NASA's New Horizons (imgtec.com) 76

alexvoica writes: Last week we learnt that Pluto has blue skies and ice water thanks to a series of high-resolution images provided by the New Horizons probe. But how is the probe taking these photographs and sending them back to NASA? What hardware and software systems are inside and who built them? Luckily, the New Horizons engineering team kindly answered these questions (and many others) in a detailed interview.

Here are some fun facts from my discussion with the engineers. The chipset: It might sound strange to some but NASA used to be a chip maker. Before using standard MIPS or Intel CPUs for probes like New Horizons, NASA had to design custom-built processors since the commercial solutions available at the time were not designed to handle the intense workloads of space travel. Inside New Horizons we find a radiation-hardened, MIPS-based Mongoose-V processor worth $40,000 apiece and built using a grant from the Goddard Space Flight Center. The camera: New Horizons has a multispectral 1 megapixel camera; sending a single 1200 x 900 image back to earth takes approximately 3-4 hours. The comms: Forget 4G LTE, New Horizons uses the very best! The probe relies on NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) to make its long-distance calls. DSN is the largest and most sensitive scientific telecom system in the world and was also used to guide the astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 mission back to earth. Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon remain forever grateful. The memory: New Horizons includes 16GB of flash memory which provides plenty of storage space for photos and other scientific data. The operating system: New Horizons runs on Nucleus, a popular operating system designed by Mentor Graphics. Coincidentally, Nucleus is also at the heart of the ARTIK 1 platform for IoT launched by Samsung only a few months ago.


What Happened To the Martian Ocean and Magnetic Field? (theatlantic.com) 142

schwit1 writes with this story at The Atlantic that explores what may have destroyed the Martian atmosphere and ocean. The question of whether there is life on Mars is woven into a much larger thatch of mysteries. Among them: What happened to the ancient ocean that once covered a quarter of the planet's surface? And, relatedly, what made Mars's magnetosphere fade away? Why did a planet that may have looked something like Earth turn into a dry red husk? “We see magnetized rocks on the Mars surface,” said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the InSight mission to Mars, which is set to launch in March. “And so we know Mars had a magnetic field at one time, but it doesn't today. We would like to know the history—when that magnetic field started, when it may have shut down.”

365 Days of drinking Lo-Cal beer. = 1 Lite-year