Morpheus Demonstrates Key Capabilities

On May 28, NASA demonstrated that it can land an unmanned spacecraft on a rugged planetary surface in the pitch dark.

The free-flight test was the first of its kind for NASA’s Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology, or ALHAT.

First night free-flight test of Morpheus lander with ALHAT technology
The first night free-flight test of NASA’s Morpheus prototype lander was conducted at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Image Credit:
NASA

Morpheus  an unmanned spacecraft capable of carrying 1,100 pounds (499 kg) of cargo  powered its way up to more than 800 feet (244 m) into the dark Florida sky at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center using solely ALHAT’s Hazard Detection System for guidance.

The Hazard Detection System, assisted by three light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors, located obstacles  such as rocks and craters  and safely landed on the lunar-like hazard field a quarter mile away from the NASA Center. Lidar which stands for Light Detection and Ranging is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth.

“The team has been striving for almost eight years to reach this point of testing the ALHAT system in a relevant space-flight-like environment on Morpheus,” said Eric Roback, ALHAT flash lidar lead engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

During testing, the Hazard Detection System pointed its sensor at the hazard field and made a mosaic of flash lidar three dimensional range images encompassing the hazard field.

 

first night free-flight test of NASA’ Morpheus prototype lander
Morpheus powered its way up to more than 800 feet into the Florida night sky at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center using solely ALHAT’s Hazard Detection System for guidance.
Image Credit:
NASA

“The flash lidar performed very well, and we could clearly identify rocks as small as one foot (0.3 m) in size from the largest range that Morpheus could give us, which was approximately a quarter mile,” (402 m) Roback said. “With this sensor we could even find the safest landing site in a pitch black crater.”

The Hazard Detection System then had to stitch the flash lidar images together to a three dimensional map of the landing site, analyze the map and select the best landing sites. Shortly after, the Doppler lidar measured the vehicle’s altitude and velocity to land precisely on the surface. The high-altitude laser altimeter provided data enabling the vehicle to land at the chosen landing site.

“Once this technology goes into service, the days of having to land 20 or 30 miles (32 to 48 km) from where you really want to land for fear of the hazardous craters and rocks will be over,” Roback said. “Then we can land near the truly interesting science and near the critical resources that will be needed for eventual colonization, and we can do it over and over again safely.”

The ALHAT Hazard Detection System brings together expertise from three different NASA Centers. Langley created the lidar sensors. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, developed the pointing and real-time image processing technology, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston developed the guidance, navigation and control technology.

The Advanced Exploration Systems Division of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate manages ALHAT and Morpheus. Advanced Exploration Systems pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.   I would appreciate your support by visiting the advertisers below .

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NASA is one step closer to launching its newest spacecraft designed for humans.

NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, departs the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on its way to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Workers at Kennedy Space Center gathered to watch as the Orion capsule emerged from its assembly hangar months from its first test flight. The capsule slowly made its way to its fueling depot atop a 36-wheel platform. The capsule and its attached service module and adapter ring stretched 40 feet high. Space center employees lined up along the rope barricade to snap pictures of Orion, NASA’s lofty follow-on to the now-retired space shuttle program.

During its test flight, the unmanned capsule will shoot more than 3,600 miles into space and take two big laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and parachuting into the Pacific off the San Diego coast.

NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's …

The second Orion flight won’t occur until around 2018 when another unmanned capsule soars atop NASA’s new mega-rocket, still under development, called SLS for Space Launch System. NASA intends to put astronauts aboard Orion in 2021 for deep space exploration; each capsule can accommodate up to four astronauts. The plan is to use Orion for getting humans to asteroids and Mars .There will be no space station ferry trips for Orion.

While Orion may resemble an oversize Apollo capsule on the outside, everything inside and out is modern and top-of-the-line. For Orion’s dry run, the  capsule will have hunks of aluminum in place of seats for ballast, and simulators instead of actual cockpit displays. A Delta IV rocket will do the heavy lifting.

NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's …

Orion has its roots in the post-Columbia shuttle era; it originated a decade ago as a crew exploration vehicle to get astronauts beyond low Earth orbit and managed to survive the cancellation of the Constellation moon project. The Constellation project was the completion of the International Space Station and a return to the moon no later than 2020 with the planet  Mars as the ultimate goal.

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Nasa’s 3D Printer In Zero Gravity

 

The 3D printer that will be launched to the space station in fall 2014 is tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Image Credit:
NASA

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machinery. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and Make almost anything, and the applications to space exploration will help our astronauts to be less reliant on materials from Earth as they explore farther out into the solar system.

 

NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G ISS Technology Demonstration will demonstrate the capability of utilizing a Made In Space 3D printer for in-space additive manufacturing technology. This is the first step toward realizing an additive manufacturing, print-on-demand “machine shop” for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets, where there is extremely limited ability and availability of Earth-based logistics support. If an astronaut tool breaks, future space pioneers won’t be able to go to the local hardware store to purchase a replacement, but with 3D printing they will be able to create their own replacement or create tools we’ve never seen before. For NASA as well as the Maker community, 3D printing provides end-to-end product development.

 

Image showing a 3D printer printing
The 3D printer prints a common part that is used aboard the space station.
Image Credit:
NASA

NASA, in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, has issued Future Engineers” printing challenges for the first 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. Middle and high school students will design items for 3D printing on ISS, and the winning student will watch from NASA’s Payload Operations Center with the mission control team as the item is printed in space.  NASA and the ASME Foundation will also promote these projects and others in Maker Community Challenge Showcases, in which student participants would have the opportunity to have their 3D designs printed at local Maker community locations and student participants would showcase their 3D designs in on online open hardware design repository.

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Made In Space 3-D Printer

3D printer to fly to space in august, sooner than planned

A 3-D printer intended for the International Space Station has passed its NASA certifications with flying colors—earning the device a trip to space sooner than expected. The next Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to launch in August, will carry the Made In Space printer on board.

“Passing the final tests and shipping the hardware are significant milestones, but they ultimately lead to an even more meaningful one – the capability for anyone on Earth to have the option of printing objects on the ISS. This is unprecedented access to space,” stated Made In Space CEO Aaron Kemmer.

This 3-D printer will be the first to be used in orbit. Officials have already printed out several items on the ground to serve as a kind of “ground truth” to see how well the device works when it is installed on the space station. It will be put into a “science glovebox” on the International Space Station and print out 21 demonstration parts, such as tools.

“The next phase will serve to demonstrate utilization of meaningful parts such as crew tools, payload ancillary hardware, and potential commercial applications such as cubesat components,” Made In Space added in a statement.

Once fully functional, the 3-D printer is supposed to reduce the need to ship parts from Earth when they break. This will save a lot of time, not to mention launch costs, the company said. It could also allow astronauts to manufacture new tools on the fly when “unforeseen situations” arise in orbit.

Another NASA 3-D printer contract, given to the Systems & Materials Research Cooperation, could lead to a device to manufacture food for crew members.

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NASA Says Puzzling New Space Drive Can GenerateThrust Without Propellant

By 

August 2, 2014                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

According to a puzzling report, a new thruster design appears to be able to accelerate a c...

According to a puzzling report, a new thruster design appears to be able to accelerate a craft without the use of propellant (Image: Cannae)

A NASA study has recently concluded that the “Cannae Drive,” a disruptive new method of space propulsion, can produce small amounts of thrust without the use of propellant, in apparent discordance with Newton’s third law. According to its inventor, the device can harness microwave radiation inside a resonator, turning electricity into a net thrust. If further verified and perfected, the advance could revolutionize the space industry, dramatically cutting costs for both missions in deep space and satellites in Earth orbit.

 

The basic principle behind space propulsion is very simple: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Use a rocket engine to throw mass one way, get propelled the other way. And according to the law of conservation of momentum, the more mass you throw behind you and the faster you throw it, the stronger your forward thrust will be.

One consequence for space travel is that, to counter Earth’s gravity and reach orbital velocity, rockets need to carry a very large amount of propellant: For instance, in the now-retired Space Shuttle, the mass of the fuel was almost twenty times greater than the payload itself. In satellites the impact is smaller, but still very significant: for geostationary satellites, fuel can make up as much as half the launch weight, and that makes them more expensive to launch and operate.

But now, a NASA study has concluded that a new type of spacecraft propulsion is able to generate thrust without propellant. This appears to violate the law of conservation of momentum: in other words, if no mass (fuel or otherwise) is being ejected from the system, where is the thrust coming from? Where is the equal and opposite reaction?

The thruster appears to work by resonating microwave radiation to produce a net force (Ima...

According to its inventor, US scientist Guido Fetta, the thruster works as a resonating cavity for microwave radiation. The cavity redirects the radiation pressure to create an unbalanced force, and that force produces a net thrust.

In its study NASA didn’t attempt to explain the phenomenon, and instead contented itself with verifying that the system did indeed generate a small amount of thrust, between 30 and 50 micro-Newtons. This is a tiny amount, only enough to levitate a mass of three to five milligrams (a few eyelashes) here on Earth; but, astonishingly, it is a net thrust nonetheless.

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma,” the study concludes.

The system has many striking similarities with the EmDrive, designed by British aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer, although the explanation that Shawyer provides for the working mechanism is quite different from Fetta’s or NASA’s.

According to one peer-reviewed paper, the EmDrive thruster was able to produce 720 mN of t...

According to one peer-reviewed paper, the EmDrive thruster was able to produce 720 mN of thrust from an electricity input of 2.5 kW (Photo: EmDrive)

“At first sight the idea of propulsion without propellant seems impossible,” says Shawyer. “However, the technology is firmly anchored in the basic laws of physics and following an extensive review process, no transgressions of these laws have been identified.”

According to Shawyer, the thruster works because of relativistic effects: the microwaves are moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light at both ends of the resonator, and so, he claims, the resonator and the microwaves have two separate frames of reference, with the two forming an open system that ultimately doesn’t violate the laws of physics, conservation of momentum included.

The interesting thing about EmDrive is that, back in 2009, a Chinese peer-reviewed journal tested Shawyer’s thruster design, registering 720 mN of thrust at an input power of 2.5 kW. That’s enough to make a tennis ball hover, and then some; in fact, if the results are confirmed, such levels of thrust would already be practical for satellitar applications.

Salient characteristics of the EmDrive compared to a more conventional ion propulsion syst...

Salient characteristics of the EmDrive compared to a more conventional ion propulsion system (Image: EmDrive)

The system could generate electricity from solar panels, and because it is much lighter than current thrusters, it could more than halve the weight launch of satellites, leading to very significant reductions in launch costs. A practical microwave thruster could also meaningfully extend the lifetime of satellites and pave the way for deep space robotic missions.

Even beyond that, Shawyer claims that the second generation of his fuel-less thrusters, based on superconductor technology, will be capable of producing an impressive specific thrust of 30 kN per kW of input energy. “Thus for 1 kilowatt (typical of the power in a microwave oven) a static thrust of 3 tonnes (3.3 tons) can be obtained, which is enough to support a large car. This is clearly adequate for terrestrial transport applications.”

But before we start talking Sun-powered flying cars and weekend trips to Pluto, the scientific community will undoubtedly need to dissect the experiment with great care and independently verify whether the tiny net thrust reported by NASA could after all be attributed to some external cause that the researchers didn’t account for.

Sources: CannaeEmDrive via Wired

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.”

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.

 

Wanna go live on Mars? Better get in line!

Mars

Wanted: Brave earthlings willing to take a one-way trip to the Red Planet

When: Take-off is scheduled for 2025

Requirements: No Earth-bound emotional connections that might interfere with the move to outer space; an openness to living basically only on water (assuming water is found on Mars) and whatever food scraps can occasionally be delivered from Earth; a willingness to take part in the most spectacular reality-TV show the Universe (as we know it) has ever seen, with cameras hung from balloons high above the planet’s surface, watching your every move.

Where to apply: You can join the 200,000 other prospective space travelers who have already paid fees of as much as $75 per application to the Mars One foundation, the Dutch company which announced this week that it’s moving ahead with contracts to first build an unmanned spacecraft, whose 2018 mission to Mars will be followed a few years by the first group of four Earthlings making the big move out of town.

Waaaaaay out of town.

Forever.

The idea is that the space pioneers would basically colonize Mars, settling in for the long haul since there is currently no launchpad up there to get them back to Earth.

As reported by The Guardian, Mars One “has lined up two major companies to work on a robotic mission to the planet. Slated for launch in 2018, the Mars One mission aims to pave the way for the volunteer crew by testing technology they will need should they reach the red planet in good enough shape to start the first human space colony.”

And the companies Mars One is working with are no slouches in the field of high-altitude extravaganzas:

The US aerospace company, Lockheed Martin, which has worked on scores of NASA missions, has agreed to draw up plans for a lander based on the US space agency’s Phoenix probe that touched down on Mars in 2008.

And CNN reports that  Mars One has a deal in place to put together “a robotic lander and a communications satellite. Lockheed Martin has been contracted to study building the lander, and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. will develop a concept study for the satellite, Mars One said.

This first mission will demonstrate technology that would be involved in a permanent human settlement on Mars. If all goes well — and that’s still very much an “if” — the first pioneers could land on Mars in 2025.

Credit NASA

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