cylonlover writes: The phrase "engage the ion drive" still has the ring of a line from Star Wars, but these engines have been used in space missions for more than four decades and remain the subject of ongoing research. Ion engines have incredible fuel efficiency, but their low thrust requires very long operating times... and therein lies the rub. To date, erosion within such an engine seriously limits its operational lifetime. Now a group of researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has developed a new design that largely eliminates this erosion, opening the gates for higher thrust and more efficient drives for manned and unmanned missions to the reaches of the Solar System.
cylonlover writes: At the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, this morning (Feb. 25), the smallest astronomical satellite ever built was launched into orbit aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C20 rocket. In fact, it wasn’t just one satellite, but two – each of the twin BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) spacecraft take the form of a cube that measures just 20 cm (7.8 inches) per side, and weighs in at under seven kilograms (15.4 lbs). The BRITEs were designed at the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. One of the two nano-satellites launched today, known as UniBRITE, was assembled at SFL and funded by the University of Vienna. The other, called BRITE-Austria, was assembled in Austria and funded by that country’s Technical University of Graz – it is being promoted as “Austria’s First Satellite.”
cylonlover writes: In the wake of the meteor blast over Russia and the close quarter fly by of asteroid 2012 DA14 last week, many people's thoughts have turned to potential dangers from above. It is timely then that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will next week launch NEOSSat (Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite), the world’s first space telescope for detecting and tracking asteroids, satellites and space debris.
cylonlover writes: On the same day that a meteor exploded over Russia injuring almost a thousand people and an asteroid passed too close to Earth for comfort, the asteroid-mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI) proposes setting up sentry lines in space to track and study rogue asteroids posing a threat to Earth. Using technology originally intended for prospecting for water and minerals on asteroids, the sentry lines of satellites would provide information for deflecting potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.
cylonlover writes: Researchers at Penn state have developed a new method for calculating the habitable zone around stars. The computer model based on new greenhouse gas databases provides a tool to better estimate which extrasolar planets with sufficient atmospheric pressure might be able to maintain liquid water on their surface. The new model indicates that some of the nearly 300 possible Earth-like planets previously identified might be too close to their stars to to be habitable. It also places the Solar System’s habitable zone between 0.99 AU (92 million mi, 148 million km) and 1.70 AU (158 million mi, 254 million km) from the Sun. Since the Earth orbits the Sun at an average distance of one AU, this puts us at the very edge of the habitable zone.
cylonlover writes: Nuclear-powered rocket engines are not new. In the 1960s, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed and tested thermal nuclear rockets fitted with flight-worthy components. However, Project Rover and NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Nuclear Rocket Application) programs were defunded in the early 1970s just before test flights were to start. Now, as part of the Advanced Exploration Systems program at NASA, the Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion Stage team is tackling a three-year project to demonstrate the viability of and to evaluate materials for thermal nuclear propulsion systems for use in future deep space missions.
cylonlover writes: The two Star franchises (Wars and Trek) and countless science fiction movies have given generations of armchair space travelers an idea of what to expect when looking out the window of a spaceship that's traveling faster than the speed of light. But it appears these views are – if you’ll excuse the pun – a bit warped. Four students from the University of Leicester have used Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity to calculate what faster than light (FTL) travel would actually look like to Han and Chewie at the controls of the Millennium Falcon. The fourth year physics students – Riley Connors, Katie Dexter, Joshua Argyle, and Cameron Scoular – say that the crew wouldn’t see star lines stretching out past the ship during the jump to hyperspace, but would actually see a central disc of bright light.
cylonlover writes: NASA has announced that it has awarded a US$17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide the International Space Station with an inflatable module. Details of the award will be discussed by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow at a press conference on January 16 at the Bigelow Aerospace facilities in North Las Vegas. However, based on previous talks, it’s likely that the module in question could be the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
cylonlover writes: If you received a telescope for Christmas, or bought one for your kids, your adventures in amateur astronomy are just beginning. Astronomy is the art and science of actually looking at the heavens and even a small telescope will let you find a host of celestial wonders. So where do you begin? Here are Gizmag's suggestions for five of the most rewarding and spectacular objects with which to start your adventure in amateur astronomy... plus some important tips on using a telescope.
cylonlover writes: Robot hedgehogs on the moons of Mars may sound like the title of a B-grade sci-fi movie, but that is what Stanford University is working on. Marco Pavone, an assistant professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and his team are developing spherical robots called “hedgehogs” that are about half a meter (1.6 ft) wide and covered in spikes to better cope with rolling and hopping across the surface of the Martian moon Phobos with its very low gravity.
cylonlover writes: NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) ion engine has set a new world record by clocking up 43,000 hours of continuous operation at NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Electric Propulsion Laboratory. The seven-kilowatt thruster is intended to propel future NASA deep space probes on missions where chemical rockets aren't a practical option. The NEXT ion thruster is one of NASA’s latest generation of engines. With a power output of seven kilowatts, it’s over twice as powerful as the ones used aboard the unmanned Dawn space probe. Yet it is simpler in design, lighter and more efficient, and is also designed for very high endurance.
Its current record of 43,000 hours is the equivalent of nearly five years of continuous operation while consuming only 770 kg (1697.5 lbs) of xenon propellant. The NEXT engine would provide 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to a spacecraft. What this means in simple terms is that the NEXT engine can make a spacecraft go (eventually) very far and very fast.
cylonlover writes: The SpaceX Grasshopper vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) testbed has successfully flown to a height of 40 meters (131 ft), hovered for a bit and subsequently landed in a picture perfect test on December 17, 2012. The Grasshopper had previously taken two hops to less than 6 m (20 ft) in height, but the latest test was the first that saw it reach an altitude taller than the rocket itself, which is a modified Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle. The flight lasted 29 seconds from launch to landing, and carried a 1.8 m (6 ft) cowboy dummy to give an indication of scale.
cylonlover writes: Even those of us not lucky enough to have witnessed them in person will likely have marveled at photos of the stunning auroras caused by high energy particles from the Sun colliding with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. A team of space-weather researchers has now developed a new camera called NORUSCA II that has produced the first-ever hyperspectral images of the aurora borealis (or northern lights) and may have uncovered a previously unknown atmospheric phenomenon.
cylonlover writes: Exploring the regions of deep space beyond Mars means sending probes where solar power isn’t practical. Since the 1960s, NASA has equipped its Apollo missions and unmanned explorers with Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTGs). These have worked very well, but they run on plutonium 238, which is currently in short supply. Therefore, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing a new small nuclear reactor for spacecraft that uses uranium instead of plutonium to power Stirling engines and generate electricity. At the Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility near Las Vegas, engineers from Los Alamos, the NASA Glenn Research Center and National Security Technologies LLC conducted a Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment that produced 24 watts of electricity using a pair of free-piston Stirling engines.
cylonlover writes: It's been more than three and a half years since the Kepler Space Telescope began its mission as humanity's watcher for Earth-like planets outside of the Solar System. In that time, Kepler has done exactly what was asked of it: provide the data to help identify more than 2,300 exoplanet candidates in other star systems. And so NASA has announced the "successful completion" of Kepler's prime mission. There's one nagging detail, though: we are yet to find a truly Earth-like planet. It's time to alter the parameters of the search, which is why NASA has announced Kepler will now begin an extended mission that could last as long as four years.