Is the End of Unlimited Broadband Coming Soon?

Two ISPs have already begun a slow, clever plan to eventually make big money from overage charges.

Until you might actually need it, your Internet service provider (ISP) happily gave you all the data you could consume.

Until the rise of streaming video, the only people eating up tons of data were high-end gamers and maybe people stealing movies. It simply wasn’t possible to be a data hog for the average person watching cat videos, checking sports scores, and/or visiting social media websites.

Because of that — much like wireless providers were more receptive to unlimited plans when the mobile web was a barren wasteland of repurposed sites and little else — broadband providers never bothered to cap their plans. Consumers got “unlimited” service only because the vast majority of us barely moved the needle. It wasn’t generosity.

Before streaming video came along, ISPs offered consumers the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring nothing but egg salad and clams of a questionable age. Now however streaming video has added prime rib, crab legs, and lobster tails to the mix and the all-you-can-eat offers are going away or getting more expensive

It’s already started with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and AT&T (NYSE:T) enforcing data caps with customers and it’s going to get worse.

Wifirouter

UNLIMITED BROADBAND DATA MAY ULTIMATELY BECOME A THING OF THE PAST. IMAGE SOURCE: AUTHOR.

How are Comcast and AT&T using data caps?

In both cases, the two ISPs have not set data caps in order to make more money today. Instead, they have cleverly laid the groundwork to collect them down the road. The two broadband providers have set relatively high caps  — 1 TB across the board for Comcast and the same for many AT&T users — and they are not quick to add charges, giving consumers multiple months over the cap before charging them.

At 1TB, or even at half that number, few people are likely to go over the cap today. Going forward however, as streaming video grows, gets joined by virtual reality, and Internet of Things devices all eating data, then what seems like a huge number today may not be so big going forward.

As data needs grow, consumers will use more, and going over may become the norm. When that happens, Comcast and AT&T won’t be adding new charges, they will simply be collecting ones that had been in place for years.

Why will unlimited broadband go away?

It all boils down to two things. The first is that all the major ISPs also operate as cable providers and if a customer cuts the cord they lose revenue. Adding data caps makes it possible to recoup lost pay-television revenue and even dissuade people from leaving cable. If it’s cheaper to stay and pay overage fees due to increased streaming, then why cut the cord at all?

The second reason, however, may be the more important one. Comcast, AT&T, and any other ISPs see how much overages have made the wireless carriers. First it was through people exceeding their allotted calling minutes and now it has moved to money made from people either exceeding their data cap or buying bigger data plans than they actually need in hopes of avoiding overage charges.

T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) CEO John Legere, a crusader against overage charges, peggedthe total current annual total at $2.5 billion, but noted at a November 2015 Uncarrier X eventthat the number might be closer to $45 billion a year when you factor in over-buying.

Not every ISP will be on board

In the same way that T-Mobile has made not charging overage charges part of its business model (it instead slows data speeds when consumers reach their limit), there will be ISPs that continue to offer unlimited broadband. Charter Communications, the second biggest provider behind Comcast, can’t implement a cap for seven years under the deal it made to win Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval of its deal to buy Time Warner Cable.

But while it might not happen quickly and it won’t be universal, data caps and overage charges are coming because ISPs see how much money the wireless carriers make from a confused public. People accept the idea that if they consume more data they should pay for it and people have shown with their phones that they are either unwilling or unable to keep track.

Comcast and AT&T are building up the expectation that using more data means paying more money. That will lead to people paying for unlimited plans when they don’t need them or running up overage charges when they do. The profit potential for ISPs is simply too high to let unlimited broadband live and it’s slow death has already begun.

Daniel B. Kline (TMFDankline

https://www.citizengoods.com/sales/tv-show-movie-posters-throne-poster?aid=a-t05y2r3p

First contact: how we’ll get the news that we found aliens

Image result for alien contact

Cathal O’Connell explains the challenges that will face scientists when they break the biggest news story in history.

However unlikely contact with aliens may be, scientists are thinking about how they would break the news to a nervous planet.CREDIT: AARON FOSTER/GETTY IMAGES

Detecting a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence would be life changing for everyone on Earth – the biggest news story in history – and could potentially be dangerous, especially if badly handled.

Writing in the journal Acta Astronautica, scientists at the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute describe a protocol for how to break it to the world that we’re not alone in the Universe – without causing global mayhem.

Rather than a conspiracy of government cover-ups so beloved of sci-fi writes, the study strongly recommends openness as the key to having a “sane global conversation” about the discovery of ET.

Nobody knows how the world would react to the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence. All we have to go on are the bizarre occurrences where the public thought they were hearing such news.

In 1938 Orson Welles’ radio-play based on HG Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds caused widespread panic in the United States (although the scale of that panic was likely exaggerated). In 1949, a Spanish language version of the same program incited rioting in Ecuador, leading to at least seven deaths, and possibly as many as 20.

Then there’s the risk of the media misreporting or exaggerating the importance of a tentative signal. In October 2015, for example, when a newly discovered extrasolar planet, KIC 8462852, was discovered to show a periodic dip in brightness, the mainstream media latched on to the most speculative, and least likely, explanation – namely that an “alien megastructure” was passing in front of its star. (The periodic dimming is more likely caused by a cloud of comets passing by.)

As a result of these excesses, scientists have been worried about how to break SETI news for decades.

In 1989, the International Academy of Astronautics drew up a set of guidelines for releasing information about a potential alien signal. But that was before the internet and social media transformed the way we consume news stories.

Now, Duncan Forgan and Alexander Scholz, from the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland, have prepared an updated protocol for how scientists should navigate the “unprecedented media onslaught”.

First, Forgan and Scholz advise, all scientists performing a SETI experiment should clearly outline their search methodology as well as define what makes a “discovery”, before the search even begins. This information should be published in a format the media can easily access, such as a blog post.

Then if a signal is detected, the discoverers should not to try to keep it under wraps – the potential fall-out from a leak would be too damaging. Much better to announce a tentative detection, but be clear that it must be assumed to be of natural or manmade origin until proved otherwise.

The scientists should submit their findings to a peer-reviewed journal, while simultaneously uploading all data so it can be pored over by other scientists – and potential known sources ruled out.

The problem is these verifications can take a long time. The best case-study is the so-called “Wow” signal, detected in 1977. That signal was exactly what SETI scientists had been looking for – being at the right frequency to hold an interstellar conversation, and being of unprecedented strength – and is still unexplained almost 39 years later. (Although in early 2016, a study published by the Washington Academy of Sciences suggested that comets could emit such a signal, and identified two comets that were in the right place at the right time in 1977. Future measurements of radio emission by comets should hopefully clear this up.)

In the case where the detection cannot be confirmed, say Forgan and Scholz, the SETI scientists should publish an announcement saying so.

In the case of the detection is confirmed, however, the SETI scientists should become deeply involved in the global conversation by engaging across as many social media platforms as possible – a role they would likely assume for the rest of their lives. They should also be prepared for the downsides of newfound fame – such as cyber attacks.

The latest polls (conducted in Germany, the UK and US last September) show that most people in developed countries believe intelligent aliens exist somewhere in the Universe. But that doesn’t mean we’re ready for a “first contact” event.

However unlikely such a discovery is, a signal from an alien intelligence would be the most momentous discovery the human species is ever likely to make. It’s worth a little thinking ahead.

Here’s The Real Difference Between Sativa & Indica Pot Strains

This article was originally published on May 27, 2015.

Now that pot legislation is making its way across the country, it’s time for a refresher on the difference between the main types of marijuana strains: indica and sativa. It’s a lesson some of us have had to learn over and over again. But, this infographic from the recently-released Green: A Field Guide To Marijuana will help us get it right.

At a basic level, we may be aware that sativa strains produce a sort of “up” high that gives users a feeling of euphoria, increased creativity, and energy. Meanwhile, indica strains usually leave us relaxed and “in-da-couch.”

But, as the infographic shows, the differences start with the shape of the plants: Sativas tend to have longer, thinner leaves and are lighter in color. Indica strains, meanwhile, often have shorter, fatter leaves and dark, dense buds.

And then, of course, there’s a whole host of hybrid strains that may produce a high that’s between the two ends of that spectrum. But, when they’re up-close — like in Erik Christiansen’s photos in the book — the differences are easy to spot. Check out the full infographic, below.

IMAGE: COURTESY OF GREEN: A FIELD GUIDE TO MARIJUANA BY DAN MICHAELS, PHOTOS BY ERIK CHRISTIANSEN, PUBLISHED BY CHRONICLE BOOKS.
Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under federal law, regardless of state marijuana laws. To learn more, click here.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF ERIK CHRISTIANSEN.

Cassini spacecraft probes methane-filled sea on Titan

Emilee Speck

Oceanographers may need to study alien worlds sooner than you think.

Observations by NASA‘s Cassini spacecraft indicate Saturn’s moon Titan is more Earth-like with its dense atmosphere, lake-filled surface and possible wetlands.

Other than our home planet Titan is the only known world in the solar system with stable liquid on its surface, according to NASA.

Since 2004, Cassini has found more than 620,000 square miles of Titan’s surface covered in liquid, about two percent of its globe. Planetary scientists have theorized about what elements fill Titan’s liquid bodies, but thanks to Cassini they now have answers

A new study using Cassini’s radar instrument to study Titan’s second largest sea, known as Ligeia Mare, between 2007 and 2015 reveals it’s a filled with methane.

The study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets confirms what planetary scientists have thought about Titan’s seas for some time.

Using Cassini’s radar instrument to detect echoes from the seafloor of Ligeia Mare scientists used the depth-sounding information to observe temperatures, which helped give clues to their composition, according to the news release.

“Before Cassini, we expected to find that Ligeia Mare would be mostly made up of ethane, which is produced in abundance in the atmosphere when sunlight breaks methane molecules apart. Instead, this sea is predominantly made of pure methane,” said Alice Le Gall, a Cassini radar team member and lead author of the new study.

Ligeia Mare is the about the size of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan together, according to NASA and from Cassini’s flybys scientists were able to determine the sea is 525 feet deep in some areas.

All of Titan’s seas are named for mythical sea creatures. The largest sea, Kraken Mare is about 680 miles long.

Another similarity between our home planet and Titan is they both have nitrogen atmospheres, but Titan is lacking much oxygen. Titan’s atmosphere is mostly methane with trace amounts of ethane and because of the distance from the sun, meaning cold temperatures, the methane and ethane remain in liquid form instead of escaping, according to NASA.

Le Gall offered a few possibilities of how Ligeria Mare became mostly methane filled, instead of ethane as Cassini’s team originally thought.

“Either Ligeia Mare is replenished by fresh methane rainfall, or something is removing ethane from it,” said Le Gall. “It is possible that the ethane ends up in the undersea crust, or that it somehow flows into the adjacent sea, Kraken Mare, but that will require further investigation.”

The study also found Ligeia Mare’s shoreline may warm quicker than in the sea, similar to a beach on Earth.

“It’s a marvelous feat of exploration that we’re doing extraterrestrial oceanography on an alien moon,” said Steve Wall, deputy lead of the Cassini radar team. “Titan just won’t stop surprising us.”

 

 

Copyright © 2016, Orlando Sentinel

 

SpaceX delivers world’s 1st inflatable room for astronauts

By MARCIA DUNN | April 10, 2016 | 12:05 PM EDT

In this frame taken from video from NASA TV, the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship is captured by a robot arm from the International Space Station, Sunday April 10, 2016. A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, two days after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Station astronauts used a big robot arm to capture the Dragon, orbiting 260 miles above Earth. (NASA TV via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX has made good on a high-priority delivery: the world’s first inflatable room for astronauts.

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, two days after launching from Cape Canaveral. Station astronauts used a robot arm to capture the Dragon, orbiting 250 miles above Earth.

The Dragon holds 7,000 pounds of freight, including the soft-sided compartment built by Bigelow Aerospace. The pioneering pod — packed tightly for launch — should swell to the size of a small bedroom once filled with air next month.

It will be attached to the space station this Saturday, but won’t be inflated until the end of May. The technology could change the way astronauts live in space: NASA envisions inflatable habitats in a couple decades at Mars, while Bigelow Aerospace aims to launch a pair of inflatable space stations in just four years for commercial lease.

For now, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module — BEAM for short — will remain mostly off-limits to the six-man station crew. NASA wants to see how the experimental chamber functions, so the hatch will stay sealed except when astronauts enter a few times a year to collect measurements and swap out sensors.

This is SpaceX’s first delivery for NASA in a year. A launch accident last June put shipments on hold.

SpaceX flight controllers at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, applauded when the hefty station arm plucked Dragon from orbit. A few hours later, the capsule was bolted securely into place.

“It looks like we caught a Dragon,” announced British astronaut Timothy Peake, who made the grab. “There are smiles all around here,” NASA’s Mission Control replied. “Nice job capturing that Dragon.”

SpaceX is still reveling in the success of Friday’s booster landing at sea.

For the first time, a leftover booster came to a solid vertical touchdown on a floating platform. SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk wants to reuse boosters to save money, a process that he says will open access to space for more people in more places, like Mars. His ambition is to establish a city on Mars.

NASA also has Mars in its sights and looks to send astronauts there in the 2030s. In order to focus on that objective, the space agency has hired U.S. companies like SpaceX to deliver cargo and, as early as next year, astronauts to the space station. U.S. astronauts currently have to hitch rides on Russian rockets.

In a sign of these new commercial space times, a Dragon capsule is sharing the station for the first time with Orbital ATK’s supply ship named Cygnus, already parked there two weeks. This is also the first time in five years that the compound has six docking ports occupied: Dragon, Cygnus, two Russian Progress freighters and two Russian Soyuz crew capsules.

The Dragon will remain at the station for a month before returning to Earth with science samples, many of them from one-year spaceman Scott Kelly. He ended his historic mission last month. Cygnus will stick around a little longer.

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This gun looks exactly like a smartphone

‘In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.’
MarketWatch photo illustration/Ideal Conceal, Everett Collection

MarketWatch photo illustration/Ideal Conceal, Everett Collection

By
SHAWN
LANGLOIS
SOCIAL-MEDIA EDITOR

Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just… carrying an iPhone?

The Ideal Conceal handgun has made waves for what its maker calls an “ingenious” design that looks exactly like a smartphone when in the “locked” position.

Ideal Conceal says on its website that, indeed, hardly anybody will notice it: “Smartphones are EVERYWHERE, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment. In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.”

 


Ideal Conceal
The Ideal Conceal weapon is a .380-caliber derringer. Two bullets in two barrels. While the gun is still patent-pending, It’s expected to be available by mid-2016 for $395 each.

“From soccer moms to professionals of every type, this gun allows you the option of not being a victim,” the company says. “Most threats will occur in less than a 30’ range. Ease and speed of deployment will mean the difference in the outcome. With the Ideal Conceal pistol you can be quick on the draw stopping a threat effectively and immediately.”

Ideal Conceal looks to be tapping into the gun market at an opportune time. Earlier this month, firearms giant Smith & Wesson SWHC, -0.62% rode a groundswell of demand to surprisingly strong quarterly results. The stock has more than doubled in the past year, as uncertainty over gun laws and the rising threat of terrorism have caused customers to load up.

Not everyone on social media reacted to the gun in the way Ideal Conceal may have hoped:

 

 

 

COMET CREATED CHAOS IN MARS’ MAGNETIC FIELD

by Evan Gough

Comet Siding Spring (C/2007 Q3) as imaged in the infrared by the WISE space telescope. The image was taken January 10, 2010 when the comet was 2.5AU from the Sun. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

In the Autumn of 2014, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived at Mars and entered into orbit. MAVEN wasn’t the only visitor to arrive at Mars at that time though, as comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) also showed up at Mars. Most of MAVEN’s instruments were shut down to protect sensitive electronics from Siding Spring’s magnetic field. But the magnetometer aboard the spacecraft was left on, which gave MAVEN a great view of the interaction between the planet and the comet.

Unlike Earth, which has a powerful magnetosphere created by its rotating metal core, Mars’ magnetosphere is created by plasma in its upper atmosphere, and is not very powerful. (Mars may have had a rotating metal core in the past, and a stronger magnetosphere because of it, but that’s beside the point.) Comet Siding Spring is small, with its nucleus being only about one half a kilometer. But its magnetosphere is situated in its coma, the long ‘tail’ of the comet that stretches out for a million kilometers.

When Siding Spring approached Mars, it came to within 140,000 km (87,000 miles) of the planet. But the comet’s coma nearly touched the surface of the planet, and during that hours-long encounter, the magnetic field from the comet created havoc with Mars’ magnetic field. And MAVEN’s magnetometer captured the event.

MAVEN was in position to capture the close encounter between Mars and comet Siding Spring. Image: NASA/Goddard.

Jared Espley is a member of the MAVEN team at Goddard Space Flight Center. He said of the Mars/Siding Spring event, “We think the encounter blew away part of Mars’ upper atmosphere, much like a strong solar storm would.”

“The main action took place during the comet’s closest approach,” said Espley, “but the planet’s magnetosphere began to feel some effects as soon as it entered the outer edge of the comet’s coma.”

Espley and his colleagues describe the event as a tide that washed over the Martian magnetosphere. Comet Siding Spring’s tail has a magnetosphere due to its interactions with the solar wind. As the comet is heated by the sun, plasma is generated, which interacts in turn with the solar wind, creating a magnetosphere. And like a tide, the effects were subtle at first, and the event played out over several hours as the comet passed by the planet.

Siding Spring’s magnetic tide had only a subtle effect on Mars at first. Normally, Mars’ magnetosphere is situated evenly around the planet, but as the comet got closer, some parts of the planet’s magnetosphere began to realign themselves. Eventually the effect was so powerful that the field was thrown into chaos, like a flag flapping every which way in a powerful wind. It took Mars a while to recover from this encounter as the field took several hours to recover.

MAVEN’s task is to gain a better understanding of the interactions between the Sun’s solar wind and Mars. So being able to witness the effect that Siding Spring had on Mars is an added bonus. Bruce Jakosky, from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, is one of MAVEN’s principal investigators. “By looking at how the magnetospheres of the comet and of Mars interact with each other,” said Jakosky, “we’re getting a better understanding of the detailed processes that control each one.”

Astronomers say they’ve found the biggest structure in the universe and they named it the BOSS

The BOSS is big. Really big. Yuuuuuge.

So big that when a star is born on one side of the BOSS, it takes a billion years for the light to reach the other side.

So big that comparing the BOSS to the next biggest thing like it is like comparing Andre the Giant to your 3-year-old nephew.

What is the BOSS? It’s a wall. A Great Wall. It makes other walls — you know which ones — look like, well, nothing, because the BOSS Great Wall is an immense complex comprising more than 800 galaxies and weighing 10,000 times as much as the Milky Way and other walls are just a measly pile of rocks on an insignificant planet in a remote part of space.

 

Anyway, scientists working for the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey— the international galaxy-mapping effort from which the BOSS gets its truly spectacular acronym — say that the newly discovered cosmic feature is the largest structure in the universe. Or at least, as much of the universe as they’ve mapped so far.

In a study published in the newest issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, the scientists describe the BOSS Great Wall (BGW) as an enormous collection of galaxies more than one billion light-years across.

“It was so much bigger than anything else in this volume,” Heidi Lietzen of the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics, a lead author on the study, told the New Scientist.

“Walls” like the BGW are part of the underlying structure of the universe. Most of space is a vast empty void, and all the stuff that astronomers look for — stars, planets, the galaxies they constitute — is threaded through that nothingness. Pulled together by gravity, galaxies coalesce into clusters, which in turn form larger structures called superclusters, as explained by PBS. Those are then corralled into “walls” — the coronary arteries of this giant system of matter, and the biggest things in space.

Researchers for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (the BOSS survey is one of its projects) have been trying to map that web in order to better understand the universe’s history, size and speed of expansion. Using a dedicated telescope located in the remote desert scrubland of Sunspot, N.M., they scan huge swaths of the sky for distant galaxies, brilliant quasars and other celestial objects.

In the process, they’ve found some pretty enormous things. Like the “Sloan Great Wall,” which Lietzen and her co-authors say is the closest system of superclusters comparable to the BGW.

But even that is dwarfed by the Sloan survey’s newest find. The BOSS Great Wall has ten times the volume of the Sloan wall and is almost 70 percent larger in diameter. It comprises four superclusters containing 830 galaxies, and it looms in space some 5 billion light-years away from Earth. (For what it’s worth, the biggest thing in our neck of the woods, the Laniakea supercluster that includes our own Milky Way galaxy, is less than half the size of the BGW.)

“I don’t entirely understand why they are connecting all of these features together to call them a single structure,” Allison Coil, an astrophysicist at the University of California at San Diego, told the New Scientist. “There are clearly kinks and bends in this structure that don’t exist, for example, in the Sloan Great Wall.”

But size isn’t really the point, Smithsonian Magazine noted. The discovery of the BOSS Great Wall is just one part of a larger survey that will — astronomers hope — reveal not just what the universe looks like, but how it’s evolved and how it continues to change.

Which is a very nice sentiment. But the BOSS Great Wall is still biggest. And you know what that makes it.

A winner.

Sarah Kaplan is a reporter for Morning Mix.

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A radical new study has pin pointed the most compelling locations where we could soon discover intelligent aliens

Jessica Orwig,Business Insider

With Mars in Mind, Lockheed Martin Designs Human Habitat to Orbit Moon

By

Lockheed Martin’s concept of a habitat that could be used during future exploration missions near the moon

Lockheed Martin’s concept of a habitat that could be used during future exploration missions near the moon. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

As the idea of a human mission to Mars leaps from the pages of science fictionliterature (or off the silver screen) and into reality, NASA is taking a serious look at how astronauts will live, work and survive during the long journey to the red planet.

The federal space agency and its manufacturing partner Lockheed Martin have recently crossed a major milestone in preparation to land the first humans on Marsby completing the pressure module or “backbone” of the vehicle that will take them there—the Orion Crew Module. This spacecraft will launch atop the Space Launch System—the most powerful rocket ever built—and sustain a crew for 21 days as they travel into deep space.

It takes a lot longer than three weeks to get to our neighboring planet so where will astronauts live and work during the rest of the trek through the solar system?Lockheed Martin is in the early stages of providing an answer.

As part of NASA’s NextStep habitat study that is currently underway, Lockheed is one of the four companies conceptualizing an Exploration Augmentation Module or “outpost” that will mate with Orion and sustain a crew for up to 60 days during the first deep space missions leading up to Mars. These outings will see humans travel beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972 and head toward a destination in cislunar space—a distant orbit around the Moon.

Targeted for the mid 2020s, these exploration missions will see NASA attempt to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit and eventually study that captured asteroid by rendezvousing with it. A habitat will provide a temporary home for astronauts during these endeavors and will enable them to forge the skills and push the innovations of long-duration spaceflight required to ensure a safe trip for a Mars-bound crew.

Currently, the International Space Station serves as the only scientific laboratory and permanent human outpost in low-Earth orbit. A habitat orbiting the Moon would operate very differently. “The cislunar outpost is actually what we call crew-tended. Crew will not be there year-round like they are on the ISS,” Lockheed Martin’s space exploration architect Josh Hopkins told the Observer. “They will visit for a mission-a-year and that mission could be 30-60 days long.”

One of the major hurdles for a manned mission to Mars is human exposure to space radiation, and this issue will be tackled in cislunar space. The habitat’s initial 60-day limit was established by Lockheed’s team to ensure a safe stay for the crew given this element of radiation. Solar storms and the continuous exposure to cosmic rays are difficult to shield from, but it does become more manageable by limiting the amount of time astronauts spend in deep space. “As we build more knowledge of the biomedical effects and how to protect astronauts, we can start gradually doing longer and longer missions,” explained Hopkins.

As for the random bursts of radiation from a solar storm that could occur, the crew would be able to use the advanced built-in capabilities of Orion, which can act as a storm shelter. In the crew module, the closer an astronaut is to the heat shield, the more protection they have. In order to leverage this capability, they must remove supplies from “locker” spaces behind their seats and actually climb inside.

Protecting humans from radiation on Earth requires shielding from heavy elements like lead but with low-dosage space radiation, lighter materials can do the job. For this reason, Lockheed’s designers are mindful about the placement of consumables and waste products inside the habitat due to these items being a potential source of protection. “What we want are light elements. So things like water, food and plastics tend to be fairly good shielding,” said Hopkins. “We can adjust the locations and positioning of these things we’re going to have in a way that maximizes the amount of protection they give us.”

Along with acting as an emergency radiation storm shelter for the crew, Orion can also provide power, temperature control, and can even recycle air—features than enable a habitat to be low-maintenance and cost-effective.

The crew vehicle can use its propulsion system to provide maneuvering capability for the outpost, but Lockheed’s concept will include on-board, independent propulsion. “You don’t want to return to a habitat that’s tumbling because it wasn’t able to maintain its position in orbit,” said William Pratt, Lockheed’s NextSTEP study manager. “There will be a propulsion stage attached to the habitat and the capability to provide a small amount of power you’ll need when Orion is not there.”

The Orion spacecraft contains advanced capabilities that are unique to long duration deep space missions, enabling a cis-lunar outpost that is less complex and more affordable.

The Orion spacecraft contains advanced capabilities that are unique to long duration deep space missions, enabling a cis-lunar outpost that is less complex and more affordable.(Image: Lockheed Martin)

A human habitat or any spacecraft far from Earth will require some degree of autonomy, and this is a specialty for Lockheed Martin’s engineers. Unmanned probes like the MAVEN and the Juno spacecraft that will arrive at Jupiter this summer were both manufactured by Lockheed with autonomous capability. “We feel that’s something we can really bring to a cislunar habitat,” Pratt said. “Our thinking is more about autonomy and giving the crew more autonomy to handle things as they come up at the outpost.”

The primary reason for spacecraft autonomy is communication—or lack thereof. On the long journey to Mars, which could see astronauts spend at least two years aboard a habitat, delays in communication with Earth-based mission control will certainly occur. This could pose a problem when troubleshooting vehicle sub-systems that include life support and oxygen supply.

A major concerned for Lockheed is the long passage of time between the crew’s training and the moment a serious issue does come up during a mission—which could be a few years later. “They may not remember the training. Having the right kind of on-board documentation and flight computer to be able to provide the astronauts the information they need when they need it, is important,” Pratt said. “Not just having the alarm go off but having the alarm go off and the PDF file of the manual come up at the same time. That’s really useful in helping the crew understand how to operate their own vehicle.”

Even though Lockheed Martin’s early habitat concept will service exploration missions near the Moon, the company is always thinking about the manned mission to Mars, which will require a far more advanced successor to their current designs. Engineers will need to go through a few iterations of the concept after the health effects of long-duration human spaceflight are known and as new technology is developed. This is the basis that NASA created NextSTEP on.

The federal space agency is looking for a modular habitat that can grow, evolve and be added to. “New modules are built upon the lessons of the previous modules,” Hopkins said.