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Space

SpaceX Tests Its Raptor Engine For Future Mars Flights (techcrunch.com) 65

Thelasko writes: Elon Musk is preparing to unveil his plans to colonize Mars at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress tomorrow. As a tease to his lecture, he has released some details about the Raptor engine on Twitter, including pictures. Mr. Musk states that, "Production Raptor coal is specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN (~310 metric tons) at 300 bar." He goes on to note that the specific impulse spec is at Mars ambient pressure. The Raptor interplanetary engine is designed for use with Space X's Mars Colonial Transporter craft. Musk notes that the "chamber pressure runs three times what's present in the Merlin engine currently used to power Falcon 9," according to TechCrunch. "Merlin has specific impulse of 282 seconds (311 seconds in the vacuum of space), and a relatively paltry 654 kilonewton (0.6 MN) at sea level, or 716 kN (0.7 MN) in a vacuum. You can view a picture of the "Mach diamonds" here, which are visible in the engine's exhaust.
Government

Senate Panel Authorizes Money For Mission To Mars (usatoday.com) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: With a new president on the horizon, a key Senate committee moved Wednesday to protect long-standing priorities of the nation's space program from the potential upheaval of an incoming administration. Members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill authorizing $19.5 billion to continue work on a Mars mission and efforts to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station from U.S. soil -- regardless of shifting political winds. Under the Senate bill, NASA would have an official goal of sending a crewed mission to Mars within the next 25 years, the first time a trip to the Red Planet would be mandated by law. The legislation would authorize money for different NASA components, including $4.5 billion for exploration, nearly $5 billion for space operations and $5.4 billion for science. Beyond money, the measure would: Direct NASA to continue working on the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose vehicle that are the linchpins of a planned mission to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. The bill includes specific milestones for an unmanned exploration mission by 2018 and a crewed exploration mission by 2021. Require development of an advanced space suit to protect astronauts on a Mars mission. Continue development of the Commercial Crew Program designed to send astronauts to the space station -- no later than 2018 -- on private rockets launched from U.S. soil. Expand the full use and life of the space station through 2024 while laying the foundation for use through 2028. Allow greater opportunities for aerospace companies to conduct business in Low Earth Orbit. Improve monitoring, diagnosis and treatment of the medical effects astronauts experience from spending time in deep space.
Mars

Elon Musk Scales Up His Ambitions, Considering Going 'Well Beyond' Mars (arstechnica.com) 289

An anonymous reader writes: For most of its 14-year existence, SpaceX has focused on designing and developing the hardware that will lead to its ultimate goal: colonizing Mars. These plans have remained largely secret from the general public, as company founder Elon Musk has dropped only the barest of hints. But that is expected to change on Sept. 27, during a session at the International Astronautical Congress, when Musk details some of these plans for the first time in a public forum. However, on the eve of the meeting, Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS. Mars, it turns out, isn't the solar system's only marginally habitable world for would-be new world colonists. The Moon, Venus, the asteroid Ceres, and outer Solar System moons Titan and Callisto all have some advantages that could allow for colonies to subsist. However, Mars has generally been the preferred destination -- due to its relative proximity to Earth, a thin atmosphere, and sources of water ice. Musk now seems to be suggesting that some of these more distant destinations, especially moons around Jupiter and Saturn, might be reachable with the Interplanetary Transport System.
NASA

NASA Shares Curiosity's New Mars Photos (nasa.gov) 88

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: "Curiosity is making us giddy by showing us some of the most amazing vistas we have ever seen on Mars," reports NASA. On the web site for their Mars Science Lab, they're sharing mission updates, but also all the raw photos as they're transmitted back by their Curiosity rover, which is travelling up a Martian mountain. "The plan so far has been to drive about 1/3 mile, stop to drill and drive again sampling the layers of the mountain as Curiosity makes her way up."
Curiosity is trying to determine whether Mars ever had environments capable of supporting simple life forms. NASA points out that it took Curiosity four years to reach its current location, joking about one wall of layered sandstone, "Wait, is this the Utah or Mars?"
Space

Can Humankind Establish a Supply Chain in Space? (arxiv.org) 209

Long-time Slashdot reader RockDoctor shares a new paper by NASA planetary scientist Philip Metzger, "detailing a roadmap for humanity to take control of the Solar System in order to solve problems on Earth" by utilizing the resources that are already on the moon. In a 2013 paper, Dr. Metgzer wrote: "[B]ootstrapping" can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years... The industry grows exponentially because of the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 metric tons with 60 humanoid robots or as high as 40,000 metric tons... Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States...
Dr. Metzger wrote in 2013 that "This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition." (See RockDoctor's original submission for more details.) While Metzger now notes that "It will require a sustained commitment of several decades to complete," his new article points out that a lunar supply chain outpost "will cost about 1/3 or less of the existing annual budgets of the national space programs," thanks to advances in both robotics and artificial intelligence, and will help humanity develop renewable energy and greatly expand the availability of other limited resources.
Music

An Asteroid Has Been Named After Freddie Mercury (vice.com) 58

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard report: Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen and transcendent being of pure performative joy and vitality, would have been 70 years old this Monday, September 5. To celebrate the occasion and honor Mercury's enormous impact on pop culture, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has officially changed the name of Asteroid 17473, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to "Freddiemercury." It's a fitting tribute to the man who exuberantly sang that he was "a shooting star leaping through the sky" in the heart-thumping rock rager "Don't Stop Me Now." Queen's lead guitarist Brian May, who also happens to be an astrophysicist with a namesake asteroid of his own, announced the news to the band's fans via YouTube on Sunday. Mercury's asteroid is about three and a half kilometers across, and has an albedo of about 0.3, which means it reflects only about 30 percent of the Sun's light. "It's a dark object, like a cinder in space, as many of these asteroids are," May said. "It's just a dot of light, but it's a very special dot of light."
Mars

NASA Announces New Mars Probe, While SpaceX Is Urged To Focus on Launches 84

NASA will land a new probe on Mars on November 26, 2018, "paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet," according to one NASA official. The $828 million project will investigate how the planet was formed, NASA announced Friday, calling it "an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the internal structure of the Red Planet."

Meanwhile, long-time Slashdot reader taiwanjohn shares an editorial published by Ars Technica the same day, titled "We love you SpaceX, and hope you reach Mars. But we need you to focus." Noting that SpaceX receives the majority of its funding from NASA, the site's senior space editor writes that the company's business model requires that they ultimately deliver a reusable launch system. "I understand SpaceX has a master plan -- the company wants to colonize Mars... But at some point you have to focus on the here and now, and that is the Falcon 9 rocket... if there is no Falcon 9, there is no business."
In a related story, Saturday NASA's history office shared a photograph from the Viking 2's landing on the surface of Mars -- which happened exactly 40 years ago.
NASA

NASA's Impossible Propulsion EmDrive Is Heading to Space (popularmechanics.com) 248

An anonymous reader writes:The EmDrive, a hypothetical miracle propulsion system for outer space, has been sparking heated arguments for years. Now, Guido Fetta plans to settle the argument about reactionless space drives for once and for all by sending one into space to prove that it really generates thrust without exhaust. Even if mainstream scientists say this is impossible. Fetta is CEO of Cannae Inc, and inventor of the Cannae Drive. His creation is related to the EmDrive first demonstrated by British engineer Roger Shawyer in 2003. Both are closed systems filled with microwaves with no exhaust, yet which the inventors claim do produce thrust. There is no accepted theory of how this might work. Shawyer claims that relativistic effects produce different radiation pressures at the two ends of the drive, leading to a net force. Fetta pursues a similar idea involving Lorentz (electromagnetic) forces. NASA researchers have suggested that the drive is actually pushing against "quantum vacuum virtual plasma" of particles that shift in and out of existence. Most physicists believe these far-out systems cannot work and that their potential benefits, such as getting to Mars in ten weeks, are illusory. After all, the law of conservation of momentum says that a rocket cannot accelerate forward without some form of exhaust ejected backwards. Yet the drumbeat goes on. Just last month, Jose Rodal claimed on the NASA Spaceflight forum that a NASA paper, "Measurement of Impulsive Thrust from a Closed Radio Frequency Cavity in Vacuum" has finally been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, but this cannot be confirmed yet.
NASA

Isolated NASA Team Ends Year-Long Mars Simulation In Hawaii (bbc.com) 176

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes the BBC: A team of six people have completed a Mars simulation in Hawaii, where they lived in near isolation for a year. Since August 29th, 2015, the group lived in close quarters in a dome, without fresh air, fresh food or privacy... Having survived their year in isolation, the crew members said they were confident a mission to Mars could succeed. "I can give you my personal impression which is that a mission to Mars in the close future is realistic," Cyprien Verseux, a crew member from France, told journalists. "I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome."

The team consisted of a French astro-biologist, a German physicist and four Americans -- a pilot, an architect, a journalist and a soil scientist... the six had to live with limited resources, wear a space-suit when outside the dome, and work to avoid personal conflicts. They each had a small sleeping cot and a desk inside their rooms. Provisions included powdered cheese and canned tuna.

Mars

NanoRacks Plans To Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats (ieee.org) 130

An anonymous reader writes from a report via IEEE Spectrum: A couple of weeks ago NASA announced it has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. One of the six companies, called NanoRacks, is attempting to take empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into space habitats on-orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: "A rocket like the the Atlas V, which can deliver payloads of nearly 19,000 kg to low Earth orbit, consists of three primary pieces: on the bottom, you've got the first stage booster, which consists of a huge engine and some big tanks holding kerosene fuel and oxidizer. Above that, there's the second stage, which consists of one or two smaller engines, a big tank for storing liquid hydrogen fuel, and a smaller tank for oxidizer. The payload, which is what all of the fuss is about, sits on top. The first stage launches the rocket off of the pad and continues firing for about four minutes. Meanwhile, the second stage fires up its own engine (or engines) to boost the payload the rest of the way into orbit. On the Atlas V, the second stage is called Centaur. Once Centaur gets its payload where it needs to go, it separates, and then suicides down into Earth's atmosphere. Getting a payload into space is so expensive because you have to build up this huge and complicated rocket, with engines and guidance systems and fuel tanks and stuff, and then you basically use it for like 15 minutes and throw it all away. But what about the second stage? You've got a whole bunch of hardware that made it to orbit, and when getting stuff to orbit costs something like $2,500 per kilogram, you then tell it to go it burn itself up in the atmosphere, because otherwise it's just useless space junk." NanoRacks thinks this is wasteful, so they want to turn these tanks into deep space habitats. IEEE notes that the hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters, while the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. For more details, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Jeff Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, and Mike Johnson, NanoRacks' Chief Designer. You can read their responses here.
Education

From Now On You'll Be Able To Access NASA Research For Free (vice.com) 64

An anonymous reader writes:Fancy some super nerdy bedtime reading? NASA has announced that it will now provide public access to all journal articles on research funded by the agency. Any scientists publishing NASA-funded work will be required to upload their papers to a free, online database called PubSpace within a year of publication. PubSpace is managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) PubMed Central, which archives biomedical research. You can see NASA-funded studies here, with recent examples including a paper on cardiovascular disease in Apollo astronauts and one on Martian tsunamis caused by meteor impacts. NASA explains that the new web portal is a response to a 2013 government request for federally-funded research to be more accessible. There are a few obvious exceptions to what's included, such as and material that's related to national security or affected by export controls. NASA's openness follows a trend to make science results more accessible outside of published, often paywalled journals.
Space

Maybe There's No Life in Space Because We're Too Early 250

Long-time Slashdot reader sehlat shares "a highly accessible summary" of a new theory about why we haven't yet find life on other planets -- that "we're not latecomers, but very, very early." From Lab News: The universe is 13.8 billion years old, with Earth forming less than five billion years ago. One school of thought among scientists is that there is life billions of years older than us in space. But this recent study in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics argues otherwise... "We find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future..."

Stars larger than approximately three times the Sun's mass will perish before life has a chance to evolve... The smallest stars weigh less than a tenth as much as the sun and will glow for 10 trillion years, meaning life has lot of time to begin on those planets orbiting them in the 'habitable zone'. The probability of life increases over time so the chance of life is many times higher in the distant future than now.

The paper ultimately concludes that life "is most likely to exist near 0.1 solar-mass stars ten trillion years from now."
Mars

NASA Awards Companies $65 Million To Develop Habitats For Deep Space (techcrunch.com) 88

An anonymous reader writes from a report via TechCrunch: NASA has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. TechCrunch reports: "It's part of the organization's NEXTStep, an ongoing partnership program under NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems that funds private research into technology for space exploration. Last year's NEXTStep contracts were for a variety of things, but this year they're all on the same track: "deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth." The lucky companies are all taking slightly different approaches to the problem of deep space habitation." The six companies include Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems and NanoRacks.
Mars

NASA Publishes a Thousand Photos of Mars (engadget.com) 62

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Engadget: NASA has released a huge number of high-resolution photos of Mars captured from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera, which has been capturing images of the planet since 2005. The latest dump consists of over a thousand images that can familiarize you with the red planet's many craters, impact sites, dunes, mountains, ice caps and other features. You can view every single photo captured on HiRise's official website. Popular Science mentions that every 26 months or so, Mars and the sun are on the opposite sides of the Earth, allowing MRO to transmit a massive amount of photos from the planet's surface.
Mars

NASA Celebrates Curiosity's Fourth Year On Mars With a Game (engadget.com) 35

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Engadget: In honor of Curiosity's fourth year on Mars, NASA has released a game. Engadget reports: "The glitch that shut down Curiosity in July was thankfully a temporary issue, else NASA would have mourned its loss rather than celebrating the rover's fourth year on Mars by releasing a game. It's simply called Mars Rover, and it's probably your only chance to pilot Curiosity. Mars Rover has a pretty straightforward gameplay -- you just have to press arrow keys to drive the vehicle and find underground pockets of water -- but it's harder than it seems. The virtual rover's wheels crack and break if they slam hard against rocks or heels, and when they do, it's game over. NASA derived these mechanics from Curiosity's actual mission and experiences on Mars."
Mars

NASA's 'Journey To Mars' Initiative Might Be Delayed Due To Government Audit (natureworldnews.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Christian Science Monitor: NASA has taken bold steps toward crewed Mars exploration in recent years. But according to a new audit, the agency may be moving too hastily. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concerns this past week about the feasibility of NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS). In two government-requested audits, the GAO questioned NASA's ability to meet program deadlines, citing insufficient funding and internal management issues. According to the GAO, however, the agency's schedule just isn't realistic. By pushing for earlier launch dates, NASA is increasing the inherent risk of a deep space mission. NASA's budgeting practices are also scrutinized in GAO's audit. In September, the agency asked for $11.3 billion to prepare Orion for launch. "Ideally, if these programs go forward, NASA would be taking actions to reduce the risks we see now, which are being caused by management issues," says Cristina Chaplain, who led the GOA audit, in an interview with the Monitor. "They're going to face the technical issues no matter what. But they're exacerbating them with management concerns, like not having accurate cost estimates." The report adds: "NASA's 'Journey to Mars' initiative has been a source of both excitement and controversy. The Asteroid Redirect Mission, in which the agency will send four astronauts to redirect an asteroid into the moon's orbit, is slated to launch sometime in the next decade. The mission is designed to test new propulsion technology for future crewed Mars missions. In the 2030s, NASA hopes to send an Orion crew to the red planet. NASA plans to complete the first SLS launch in 2018. In the test mission, called Exploration Mission 1, the rocket will carry an empty Orion into orbit around the moon. In subsequent missions, SLS/Orion will launch with a full crew. NASA has scheduled Exploration Mission 2 for April 2023, but administrators hope to launch as early as 2021."
Power

New Solar Cells Can Convert CO2 Into Hydrocarbon Fuel (nextbigfuture.com) 195

"Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a potentially game-changing solar cell that cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only sunlight for energy," reports Next Big Future. Slashdot reader William Robinson writes: This artificial leaf delivers syngas, or synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. Syngas can be burned directly, or converted into diesel or other hydrocarbon fuels. The discovery opens up possibilities of clean reusable energy.
"A solar farm of such 'artificial leaves' could remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and produce energy-dense fuel efficiently..." according to the article, which adds that the process could prove useful in the high-carbon atmosphere of Mars. "Unlike conventional solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity that must be stored in heavy batteries, the new device essentially does the work of plants, converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel, solving two crucial problems at once."
Earth

Study: Astronauts Who Reach Deep Space 'Far More Likely To Die From Heart Disease' (independent.co.uk) 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Astronauts who venture into deep space appear to be much more likely to die from heart disease, according to a new study. In another sign that leaving planet Earth is fraught with danger and a potential blow to hopes of establishing a colony on Mars, researchers discovered deep space radiation appears to damage the body's cardiovascular system. They reported that three out of the seven dead Apollo astronauts died as a result of a cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke. Although the numbers are small, that rate of 43 percent is four to five times higher than found among astronauts who flew in low Earth orbit or who did not actually go into space, according to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports. In an attempt to test whether the higher numbers of cardiovascular deaths were simply a statistical blip or a genuine sign of the effect of traveling into deep space, the scientists exposed mice to the same type of radiation that the astronauts would have experienced. After six months, which is the equivalent of 20 human years, the mice showed damage to arteries that is known to lead to the development of cardiovascular disease in humans.
Mars

Laser-Armed Martian Robot Now Vaporizing Targets of Its Own Free Will (dailymail.co.uk) 73

Slashdot reader Rei writes: NASA -- having already populated the Red Planet with robots and armed a car-sized nuclear juggernaut with a laser -- have now decided to grant fire control of that laser over to a new AI system operating on the rover itself. Intended to increase the scientific data-gathering throughput on the sometimes glitching rover's journey, the improved AEGIS system eliminates the need for a series of back-and-forth communication sessions to select targets and aim the laser.
Rei's original submission included a longer riff on The War of the Worlds, ending with a reminder to any future AI overlords that "I have a medical condition that renders me unfit to toil in any hypothetical subterranean lithium mines..."
Moon

47 Years Ago Today, Apollo 11 Landed On the Moon (foxnews.com) 185

An anonymous reader writes: At this point 47 years ago we had begun our orbit around the Moon," writes Buzz Aldrin in a tweet. Today, Wednesday, July 20th, 2016, marks the 47th anniversary of when NASA astronauts landed on the moon for the very first time. Fox News reports: "Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off from Earth on a massive Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969. Four days later, the Eagle module landed on the surface with Aldrin and Armstrong inside; Collins stayed behind in the orbiting Columbia craft. Millions of people back on Earth watched, captivated, as Armstrong was the first down the ladder, then uttered his now-famous line: 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' The astronauts eventually returned to Earth, splashing down four days later in the Pacific. On the moon, an American flag and a plaque that read, in part, 'We came in peace for all mankind,' remained." To this day, only 12 people have ever walked on the moon. Hopefully, that number will increase within the next decade. NASA is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Viking 1 lander's arrival on Mars. Viking 1 was the first American craft to land on the red planet on July 20, 1976.

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