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.

pia174620-2.jpg

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.”

 

Scientists Say, “Printing Humans May Be The Best Way To Conquer Space”

FUTURISTIC HUMAN

From pizza to prostheses, 3-D printers are being used to whip up all sorts of things. And now scientists are talking about “printing” out batches of people to colonize outer space.

Sounds wacky, but these guys are serious.

“Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet,” Adam Steltzner, lead engineer on NASA’s Curiosity rover mission, said at a futurist conference held this month in Washington, D.C.

After all, scientists including Stephen Hawking believe our very survival depends on “escaping our fragile planet” and colonizing other planets. Of course, landing humans on other planets is no simple task. A short hop to nearby Mars could take up to 300 days and cost over $6 billion. Once we got there, if we were to hit the red planet’s atmosphere at the same speed that the Curiosity rover did, our retinas would detach from our eyeballs. Yikes.

Instead, why not just seed the galaxy with tiny organisms designed to recreate our species? Here’s how that might work.

Scientists already know that microbes can survive long stints in space. In fact, some scientists theorize that alien microbes hitched a ride aboard comets or meteorites and brought life to Earth.

Based on that idea, some biologists believe it’s possible to send bacteria to terraform a planet — make its environment hospitable for human life. The bacteria would also be encoded with human DNA.

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“It’s sort of like an iPod that you send to another planet. And the bacteria can store information very densely,” Gary Ruvkun, a biologist at Harvard University, told Motherboard.

Ruvkun said he believes we’ll have the technology to store the human genome in bacteria within a decade or two. The trickier part is programming instructions into the bacteria that will tell them what to do once they reach their destination.

“If we could also send along assembly instructions, for the bacteria to produce an array of descendent organisms that assemble the genome segments over some time period into a human, it is a way to ‘print’ humans remotely,” Ruvkun told The Huffington Post in an email.

Just as the human egg cell is programmed by our DNA to divide, replicate and develop into a human, so bacteria could be programmed by our DNA to do the same thing, Ruvkun explained.

“This is far beyond our ability to program bacteria,” he added. “Now. But 1,000 years from now, we will be able to do it. One thousand years is a blink in a 4 billion year timescape.

Just a blink. And humans are relatively young in the vast timeline of our universe. If you let your mind run wild, you might even wonder whether weare the product of tiny bacteria someone else programmed to colonize Earth, Ruvkun said.

“Perhaps Earth was terraformed in this way,” Ruvkun said in the email. “More likely, we are a big mistake and the cute little puppy dogs that should have dominated the Earth have been trumped by a glitch called humans.”

Worlds Collide and Life Is Rearranged

SPACE PHOTOS THIS WEEK: Planets Collide, Crater, More
August 10, 2009–Planet SMASH! A celestial body about the size of our moon collides with a planet roughly the size of Mercury in a new artist’s conception. Scientists think a scene like this played out just a few thousand years ago around a young star called HD 172555.NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope recently detected the signatures of vaporized and melted rock along with rubble around the star, about a hundred light-years from Earth. Debris from a similar giant impact between Earth and a Mars-size body is thought to have created our moon about 30 to 100 million years after the sun formed.
—Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
LIFE IS REARRANGED
Star date 05-15-2014   I had a massive heart attack . In medical terms the Doctors and the Nurses called it the Widow Maker.    Yes I was on my way to see Mama and Them.    I eventually survived with a pace maker place just below my Collier Bone . I was released during the Memorial Weekend .
On Memorial Day evening  I had swollen up to 40 lbs. more than my normal weight.  I had retained that much water and had shortness of breath again.  Oh well,back to the hospital.   At fist the doctors weren’t sure what was causing the shortness of breath and the swelling in my legs and feet.  Finally it was pneumonia  on my left lung.
Star Date 05-30-2014   I was released to my home and  glad to be here.  I have an army of doctors and doctor visits upcoming .
I am written you to tell you that I worked out for years 4 to 5 days a week and had no signs of danger aware of until it happen.  I was being treated for another condition that was it.    I had not had an EMG in over 4 years.  You probably think I am just rambling on but ,THE EMG WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART TO THIS STORY.   PLEASE LADIES AND GENTS TELL YOUR DOCTOR TO INCLUDE AN EMG TO YOUR BREIF OFFICE VISITS IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE.

 

A Quick Tour Of All The Earth Like Alien World

How would you like to journey through space for a quick tour of all those alien worlds astronomers have discovered?

No spaceship, you say? No worries. An enterprising graduate student at the University of Leicester in England has created an amazing new exoplanet video that lets you fly by 1,774 extrasolar planets in 1,081 star systems–all from the comfort of your favorite chair.

There is  a vast range of different time-scales on which exoplanets orbit their host stars, from things which orbit at many times the separation of the Earth and Sun over many hundreds of years, right down to planets which orbit so close to their star that they complete each orbit in just a few hours. It fascinating just how much these exoplanetary systems differ from our own system in scale.

To date, there are  1,776 confirmed exoplanets and 1,082 planetary systems.

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers PlanetNASA's Kepler Mission Discovers PlanetNASA's Kepler Mission Discovers PlanetExtrasolar Planet HD 209458 b, OsirisPlanet & Its Parent StarHot JupiterThe Goldilocks Planet: Glises 581 GImagining Extrasolar Planets

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has detected 3,845 candidate exoplanets. Astronomers believe there are at least 100 Billion planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.

How Long Does It Take to Get to Mars?

Mars at its closest point to Earth in 2003

 

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, and the second closest to Earth (Venus is the closest). But the distance between the two planets is constantly changing as they travel around the sun.

In theory, the closest that Earth and Mars would approach each other would be when Mars is at its closest point to the sun (perihelion) and Earth is at its farthest (aphelion). This would put the planets only 33.9 million miles (54.6 million kilometers) apart. However, this has never happened in recorded history. The closest approach of the two planets occurred in 2003, when they were only 34.8 million miles (56 million km) apart.

The two planets are farthest apart when they are both at their farthest from the sun, on opposite sides of the star. At this point, they can be 250 million miles (401 million km) apart.

The average distance between the two planets is 140 million miles (225 million km).

The speed of light

Light travels at approximately 186,282 miles per second (299,792 km per second). Therefore, a light shining from the surface of Mars would take the following amount of time to reach Earth (or vice versa):

  • Closest approach: 182 seconds, or just over 3 minutes
  • Farthest approach: 1,342 seconds, or just over 22 minutes
  • On average: 751 seconds, or just over 12.5 minutes

Fastest spacecraft so far

The fastest spacecraft launched from Earth was NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is en route to Pluto. In January 2006, the probe left Earth at 36,000 mph (58,000 kph). The time it would take such a probe to get to Mars would be:

  • Closest approach: 942 hours (39 days)
  • Farthest approach: 6,944 hours (289 days)
  • On average: 3,888 hours (162 days

But then things get complicated …

Of course, the problem with the previous calculations is that they measure distance between the two planets as a straight line. Traveling through the farthest passing of Earth and Mars would involve a trip directly through the sun, while spacecraft must of necessity move in orbit around the solar system’s star.

Although this isn’t a problem for the closest approach, when the planets are on the same side of the sun, another problem exists. The numbers also assume that the two planets remain at a constant distance; that is, when a probe is launched from Earth while the two planets are at the closest approach, Mars would remain the same distance away over the course of the 39 days it took the probe to travel. [Countdown: The Boldest Mars Missions in History]

In reality, however, the planets are continuously moving in their orbits around the sun. Engineers must calculate the ideal orbits for sending a spacecraft from Earth to Mars. Their numbers factor in not only distance but fuel efficiency. Like throwing a dart at a moving target, they must calculate where the planet will be when the spacecraft arrives, not where it is when it leaves Earth. Spaceships must also decelerate to enter orbit around a new planet to avoid overshooting it.

How long it takes to reach Mars depends on where in their orbits the two planets lie when a mission is launched. It also depends on the technological developments of propulsion systems.

Here is a list of how long it took several historical missions to reach the red planet. Their launch dates are included for perspective.

  • Mariner 4, the first spacecraft to go to Mars (1964 flyby): 228 days
  • Mariner 6 (1969 flyby): 155 days
  • Mariner 7 (1969 flyby): 128 days
  • Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit Mars (1971): 168 days
  • Viking 1, the first U.S. craft to land on Mars (1975): 304 days
  • Viking 2 Orbiter/Lander (1975): 333 days
  • Mars Global Surveyor (1996): 308 days
  • Mars Pathfinder (1996): 212 days
  • Mars Odyssey (2001):  200 days
  • Mars Express Orbiter (2003): 201 days
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005): 210 days
  • Mars Science Laboratory (2011): 254 days

The Billionaire Headed For The Moon

“It’s clear that the baton has been passed from the government to the private sector” when it comes to space exploration, Jain said. “Now it’s going to take an entrepreneurial spirit to do it at a better cost and to build a business around it.”

Jain, 55, is co-founder of Moon Express, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that’s aiming to send the first commercial robotic spacecraft to the moon next year. This serial entrepreneur-he founded Internet companies Infospace and Intelius-believes that the moon holds precious metals and rare minerals that can be brought back to help address Earth’s energy, health and resource challenges.

Among the moon’s vast riches: gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste.

It’s an exciting prospect, considering supply on Earth for such rare minerals as palladium-used for electronics and industrial purposes-is finite, pushing prices to $784 an ounce on April 2.

“We went to the moon 50 years ago, yet today we have more computing power with our iPhones than the computers that sent men into space,” he said. “That type of exponential technological growth is allowing things to happen that was never possible before.”

Jain’s Moon Express is not alone in its quest to harness the moon’s riches. Several other Silicon Valley start-ups, such as Planet Labs and Masten Space Systems, have been making headlines recently as they enter the space exploration market, an endeavor long associated with, and controlled by, the government. At the same time, the global race is heating up with the Chinese government’s recent success in landing a robotic rover on the moon in December.

To fast-track innovation and bring a deep well of space knowledge to the company, Moon Express made a strategic-and highly symbolic-hire in mid-March when it announced that Andrew Aldrin, 55, son of Apolloastronaut Buzz Aldrin, is joining the company as its president. He is an industry veteran who was the former director of business development for Boeing NASA Systems who has a track record of commercializing space technologies.

Helping to drive this newfound interest in privately-funded space exploration is the Google Lunar X Prize. It’s part of the X Prize Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization that looks to address the planet’s biggest challenges by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile competitions to stimulate investment in research and development.

Moon Express is one of a handful of teams from around the world competing for the $30 million Lunar X Prize, a competition organized by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by Google. It will be awarded to the first team that lands a commercial spacecraft on the moon, travels 500 meters across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth-all before the end of 2015.

Jain’s own belief in attempting outsized challenges began in the early 1980s when he immigrated to the United States. Soon after finishing his MBA in India, he was recruited by IT company Unisys (NYSE:UIS –News) and worked in Silicon Valley as a computer programmer for several years. In 1988 he married and moved with his wife to Seattle. “She thought the Pacific Northwest was a wonderful place to live, and I figured that if we were going to make that move, I might as well send my résumé to Microsoft,” Jain recalled with a laugh.

The résumé landed him an interview, a job offer, and resulted in a seven-year stint at the software giant. It also solidified for Jain what he really wanted: to start and run his own company. He left Microsoft in 1996 and founded InfoSpace, an online email and phone directory company that he took public. It was valued at $30 billion several years later. In 2003 Jain started Inome (formerly named Intelius), an online database and public records company that has grown into one of the largest information commerce companies, with more than 25 million customers.

“In a large company, you never know if people admire you because of what you’re accomplishing or what’s on your business card,” he said. “In life, everyone wants to be successful, but few people think about being significant. I believe that as an entrepreneur, I could have a much bigger impact on society.”

With Moon Express, Jain feels he has that opportunity. Along with partners Dr. Robert Richards, a physicist and founder of International Space University, a nonprofit organization that offers space training programs, and Dr. Barney Pell, Silicon Valley technology pioneer and a former NASA manager, Jain says Moon Express can offer more “democratic” access to the moon.

“Now that we’re shifting from U.S. government-sponsored space exploration to privately funded expeditions, it’s important to look at how the resources of the moon could benefit everyone,” he said.

For instance, Jain explains that helium-3 is a source of energy that is rare on Earth but abundant on the moon. It is a possible fuel for nuclear fusion that could solve energy demand on Earth for 10,000 years, at least. Platinum, another rare mineral here on Earth, is believed to exist in large quantities on the moon and could be used in various energy applications, he said. “Once you take a mind-set of scarcity and replace it with a mind-set of abundance, amazing things can happen here on Earth,” Jain said. “The ability to access the resources of the moon can change the equation dramatically.”

There are about 50 employees at Moon Express, Jain said, and the goal is to complete its moon launch during the second half of 2015 for under $50 million. “If our software knows how to land safely and send pictures back, we are proving the concept,” he explained. The fact that a company with just 50 employees can successfully land on the moon is something Jain excitedly calls a “singular event.”

“Once we can accomplish that, then the second or third mission can involve bringing things back from the moon,” he added.

By Susan Caminiti & Robert E.

 

Jupiter’s Watery Moon Europa

NASA is plotting a daring robotic mission to Jupiter’s watery moon Europa, a place where astronomers speculate there might be some form of life.FILE - This Feb. 13, 1979 photo released by NASA's …

The space agency set aside $15 million in its 2015 budget proposal to start planning some kind of mission to Europa. No details have been decided yet, but NASA chief financial officer Elizabeth Robinson said Tuesday that it would be launched in the mid-2020s.

Robinson said the high radiation environment around Jupiter and distance from Earth would be a challenge. When NASA sent Galileo to Jupiter in 1989, it took the spacecraft six years to get to the fifth planet from the sun.

Last year, scientists discovered liquid plumes of water shooting up through Europa’s ice. Flying through those watery jets could make Europa cheaper to explore than just circling it or landing on the ice, said NASA Europa scientist Robert Pappalardo .Past NASA probes have flown by Europa, especially Galileo, but none have concentrated on the moon, one of dozens orbiting Jupiter. Astronomers have long lobbied for a mission to Europa, but proposals would have cost billions of dollars.

NASA will look at many competing ideas for a Europa mission, so the agency doesn’t know how big or how much it will cost, Robinson said. She said a major mission goal would be searching for life in the strange liquid water under the ice-covered surface.

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb said going to Europa would be more exciting than exploring dry Mars: “There might be fish under the ice.”

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