Orion Spacecraft Comes Together

The world’s largest heat shield, measuring 16.5 feet in diameter, has been successfully attached to the Orion spacecraft. The heat shield is made from a single seamless piece of Avcoat ablator. It will be tested on Orion’s first flight in December 2014 as it protects the spacecraft from temperatures reaching 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The uncrewed flight, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), will test the spacecraft for eventual missions that will send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually Mars. 

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell, positioned over the service module just prior to mating the two sections together. The FAST cell is where the integrated crew and service modules are put through their final system tests prior to rolling out of the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Technicians are in position to assist with the final alignment steps once the crew module is nearly in contact with the service module. In December, Orion will launch 3,600 miles into space in a four-hour flight to test the systems that will be critical for survival in future human missions to deep space.

Image Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

 

ESA’s Spaceplane To Showcase Reentry Technologies

(Phys.org) —All eyes are on ESA’s spaceplane to showcase reentry technologies after its unconventional launch on a Vega rocket this November

ESA's spaceplane set for flight

Instead of heading north into a polar orbit – as on previous flights – Vega will head eastwards to release the spaceplane into a suborbital path reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA’s Intermediate experimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from Vega.

Launched in early November, IXV will flight test the technologies and critical systems for Europe’s future automated reentry vehicles returning from low orbit. This is a first for Europe and those working in the field are keeping a close watch.

The research and industrial community have the chance to use this information for progress in atmospheric reentry, oriented towards transportation systems with applications in exploration, science, Earth observation, microgravity and clean space.

Jose Longo, ESA’s head of aerothermodynamics, said, “The technical advancements that have been made since the first experiments with our Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator in 1996 are huge.”

ESA's spaceplane set for flight
ESA’s Intermediate experimental Vehicle, IXV, has 300 sensors that will gather data during its suborbital path back to Earth. Credit: ESA

“This is the first flight demonstration of features such as highly advanced thermal structures: thrusters and flaps that are part of the control system, and the 300 sensors and infrared camera to map the heating all along the spacecraft from the nose to the flaps. These things just cannot be tested in the same way in laboratories.”

“The fact that ESA’s IXV will be launched on Vega makes this a fully European mission,” noted Stefano Bianchi, ESA’s head of launchers development.

IXV weighs almost two tonnes, close to Vega’s lifting capacity, and will be a tight fit inside the vehicle’s fairing.

“In this mission we are not only monitoring the spacecraft all along its autonomous flight, but also tracking its progress back to Earth to a particular spot – this is different to what we are used to,” said Giorgio Tumino, ESA’s IXV project manager.

When IXV splashes down in the Pacific at the end of its mission it will be recovered by ship and returned to Europe for detailed analysis to assess the performance and condition of the internal and external structures.

 

ESA's spaceplane set for flight
Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA’s Intermediate experimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from its Vega launcher in November 2014. Credit: ESA

The actual performance will be compared with predictions to improve computer modeling of the materials used and the spaceplane’s design.

Such is the enthusiasm and interest of industry in the opportunities associated with reentry technologies that the third IXV workshop in ESA’s Technical Centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands was packed out last week.

“It is very encouraging to see such interest in this program,” added Giorgio. “Follow-up activities to this mission will build on the current industrial organization and associated technologies will provide opportunities to newcomers.”

 

The Tractor Beam Is Progressing Toward Solid Reality

Spaceship

The tractor beam featured in popular science fiction movies and shows such as “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and even the sci-fi parody film “Spaceballs,” is a fictional device that is steadily progressing towards solid reality.

On screen, the tractor beam is a beam of light or energy that is used to hold or manipulate the trajectory of another object. In “Star Trek,” the tractor beam is often used by the starship Enterprise to capture or tow other ships.

With the advancement of lasers and other technology, scientists have been optimistically hustling to create this kind of technology and a variety of different approaches have been tested in the laboratory.

One of the more recent developments involves using an ultrasound beam to pull small, hollow, triangular objects back towards the source of the beam. It’s been developed by Scottish scientists and physicists at Dundee University.

“We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around centimeter [about 0.4 inches] in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object,” said Dr. Christine Demore of the Dundee University’s Institute for Medical Science and Technology told the Daily Mail Online.

Although the device is far from the pulling power of the U.S.S. Enterprise or the Death Star, it can still pull objects a million times larger than previous tractor beam designs that specialize in pulling or sorting particles, and it works with a billion times more force.

The practical uses for such a device include medical applications and cancer treatment. For example, using this technology, a capsule could be gently moved towards the site of a tumor and strategically released.

NASA, on the other hand, has been working with tractor beams for a few years now. Back in 2011, NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) received a relatively large grant to study and develop three methods of using lasers to collect particles, trap them, and deposit them were needed for analysis. The process is nearly identical in use to Star Trek’s tractor beam. However, these tractor beams at this time can only manipulate small particles.

*Illustration of a spaceship via Shutterstock

 


A Faint Glimmer Of Hope For Time Travel

A space-time wormhole lets a particle travel back in time

We may never see practical time travel in our lifetimes, if it’s possible at all. However, a team at the University of Queensland has given the Doc Browns of the world a faint glimmer of hope by simulating time travel on a very, very small scale. Their study used individual photons to replicate a quantum particle traveling through a space-time loop (like the one you see above) to arrive where and when it began. Since these particles are inherently uncertain, there wasn’t room for the paradoxes that normally thwart this sort of research. The particle couldn’t destroy itself before it went on its journey, for example.

As you might have gathered from the “simulation” term, sci-fi isn’t about to become reality just yet. The scientists haven’t actually warped through time — they’ve only shown how it can work. It could take a long time before there’s proof that whole atoms and objects can make the leap, let alone a real-world demonstration. Should you ever step into a time machine, though, you’ll know where it all started… and ended.

Voyager 1 Nears The Edge Of The Solar System

After traveling for 37 years, Voyager I is recording pulses from the sun that confirm it has entered a different region near the edge of the solar system called interstellar space.

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Voyager I is the “farthest human-made probe from Earth, and the first to enter the vast sea between stars,” according to NASA. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Voyager I spacecraft has been steadily journeying away from the sun to the outer reaches of the solar system since its 1977 launch. As it travels farther out and enters a different region of the solar system, it’s occasionally affected by coronal mass ejections — shock waves caused from massive violent eruptions from our sun.

There have been three of these space “tsunamis” since 2012, and the third one — described by NASA on Monday — has helped the space agency confirm something it posited in late 2013: that Voyager is the first Earth craft to travel into interstellar space.

Interstellar space is the area just beyond the reach of what’s known as our heliosphere: an area where the solar wind pushes back the dense plasma of space in a sort of protective bubble. This plasma was ejected into the universe by the death of stars millions of years ago.

The plasma outside the heliosphere is about 40 times denser than the plasma that lies inside it. By using its 37-year-old cosmic ray and plasma wave instruments, Voyager has sent back signals to Earth that prove it has popped through our sun’s protective bubble and is now moving through the thicker plasma. Scientists can tell this is the case because the thicker plasma in interstellar space oscillates at a faster rate than less dense plasma and produces a different frequency when hit by the sun’s shock waves.

“The tsunami wave rings the plasma like a bell,” Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology , the mission’s project scientist since 1972, said in NASA’s statement. “While the plasma wave instrument lets us measure the frequency of this ringing, the cosmic ray instrument reveals what struck the bell — the shock wave from the sun.”

“Normally, interstellar space is like a quiet lake,” Stone added. “But when our sun has a burst, it sends a shock wave outward that reaches Voyager about a year later. The wave causes the plasma surrounding the spacecraft to sing.”