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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Space Exploration
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 4:19 am
KEARNEY Despite being able to give finite predictions for solar events such as the eclipse, science has just barely scratched the surface of space exploration, a visiting astronomer to Kearney explained to a room full of space fans.
Assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University Tabetha Boyajian gave a presentation on eclipses Sunday, the eve of the Great American Eclipse, at the Merryman Performing Arts Center.
I tried to take that (presentation) to not just talking about the solar eclipse and why its happening (today) but try and put that in the perspective of the whole universe, Boyajian said.
Eclipses arent unique to Earth, Boyajian explained to a full crowd. These special alignments occur throughout the solar system and all through the galaxy whether its a moon blocking light from the sun or a planet going in front of a star, which is referred to as a transit.
Science is the ability to predict certain things, and were able to do it for the eclipse because weve studied it for thousands of years and were able to predict these things down to very, very fine positions and measurements, Boyajian said. Space as a whole is very unexplored, and were just kind of scraping the surface of these kind of things that we can discover in space and thats really exciting.
Boyajian, who gave a TEDTalk on her work, earned her doctorate from Georgia State University and was awarded the Hubble Fellowship. After continuing her research at Georgia State for three years, she did her postdoctorate at Yale University. It was there that she become part of the Yale Exoplanet Group.
My research interests are primarily in nearby stellar systems and those with planets going around them what we call exoplanets and trying to detect them.
Her work focuses on the unknown specifically KIC 8462852, a mysterious star that displays odd behavior.
Its surprising because it doesnt do the things that stars do or that we think that stars do, Boyajian said.
The star shows variations in brightness, which have caused scientists to hypothesize scenarios from comet dust to alien megastructures.
Despite results they receive on the bizarre star, however, the data still hasnt pointed scientists down the right track, Boyajian said.
Nature is a lot more creative than we are. Theres no way of telling what its going to throw at us next.
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Posted: at 4:19 am
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a Taiwanese Earth-observation satellite today (Aug. 24) and then came back down for a pinpoint landing on a ship at sea.
The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:51 p.m. EDT (1851 GMT; 11:51 a.m. local time), hauling the Formosat-5 spacecraft into the heavens.
About 2.5 minutes after launch, the rocket’s two stages separated. The second stage continued carrying Formosat-5 toward its prescribed orbit, and the first stage performed a series of maneuvers to head toward the SpaceX drone ship “Just Read the Instructions,” which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean. [Watch: Awesome Supercut of 5 SpaceX Rocket Landings]
The booster aced its landing, settling softly on the ship’s deck a little less than 11 minutes after taking off.
Such dramatic touchdowns are getting to be somewhat routine for SpaceX: Today’s was the 15th that the company has pulled off during orbital launches, and the ninth to take place on a drone ship. The other six rocket landings have occurred at “Landing Zone 1,” a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
These activities are part of SpaceX’s effort to develop reusable spaceflight systems, which company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said could slash the cost of space exploration. SpaceX has already re-flown two used Falcon 9 first stages, and it has also employed the same robotic Dragon cargo capsule on two separate resupply flights to the International Space Station. (The Falcon 9 that took off today, however, was entirely new.)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Formosat-5 Earth-observation satellite on Aug. 24, 2017.
But getting Formosat-5 aloft was the main point of today’s mission. The satellite, which was built by Taiwan’s National Space Organization, will study Earth for at least five years, from a sun-synchronous orbit 447 miles (720 kilometers) above the ground.
The main payload of Formosat-5 is an optical “Remote Sensing Instrument,” which will provide 6.5-foot (2 meters) resolution for black-and-white images and 13-foot (4 m) resolution for multi-spectral color images, SpaceX representatives wrote in a mission overview.
“Formosat-5 also hosts a secondary scientific payload, an Advanced Ionospheric Probe (AIP), developed by Taiwan’s National Central University,” they added.
Follow Mike Wall on Twitter@michaeldwallandGoogle+.Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebookor Google+. Originally published onSpace.com.
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Posted: August 20, 2017 at 6:28 pm
Lesa Roe hopscotched across the country working her way up the ranks at NASA. And when you spend more than three decades working on projects that push the boundaries of space exploration, its hard to pick the coolest moment of your career.
“Oh my gosh, thats really hard to nail down because theres just too many exciting things to talk about,” she says.
Roe managed the research program at the International Space Station and helped launch missions that have discovered new worlds. As an engineer by training, Roe even helped build the space shuttle Endeavor. She installed its communications systems.
But she says the most thrilling moment came in the middle of the night a little more than five years ago.
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Roe was in Pasadena California, in the control room as the Curiosity rover was landing on Mars. She says the tension in the room was palpable, with dozens of blue-shirted scientists and engineers anxiously watching their screens.
“Theres what they call seven minutes of terror when you have no communications as the vehicle is going through the atmosphere of Mars,” she says.
Most of them had spent their entire careers working on getting a robot the size of a MINI Cooper to the surface of the red planet. So when it landed safely, “everybody just exploded in excitement. And so thats just something that sticks with you forever.”
So how do you go from being the No. 2 at NASA an organization with more than 17,000 employees and a $19 billion budget to running university system in Texas? Roe says thereisa connection.
“We really need a well-trained, well-educated workforce coming in to make those tremendous scientific discoveries, to do all of the incredible systems, the design, everything that we do at NASA. And so the University of North Texas systems role is to develop those students that can do that kind of work,” she says.
Roe will inherit a growing university system.Theres new law school in Dallas, and a new medical school in the works in Fort Worth. Roe says she wants to make sure graduates are attractive to top employers.
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“Every time I talk to students I talk about doing internships and really getting that hands-on experience and seeing what its like and learning and being part of a team even while youre a student in a university,” she says.
Roe wants UNT to be inclusive and accessible for people of all economic backgrounds. And personally, shes on a mission to get more women into STEM fields.
“I have a huge passion for young girls seeing yeah, I can do this, I can be a part of it. I was one of those young girls, I was the first to go to college in my family, and so I want to help be that encourager to say you can do this.”
And if they need a little inspiration along the way, shes always got that whole Mars landing story to tell them.
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Posted: at 6:28 pm
A Different Path to Space
On Monday, August 14, SpaceX launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It was the 12th resupply flight SpaceX has done for NASA as part of its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program, and the last one with an unused Dragon capsule. It has also been a month since Elon Musks rocket company flew to space, after a series of successful launches earlier this summer. This most recentCRS-12 flight was a special one, both for NASA and SpaceX, but also for the future of space exploration.
A great many recent rocket and spaceflight achievements have been madeby commercial space companies like SpaceX and Orbital ATK (formerly Orbital Sciences). Both companieshave been running CRS missions for NASA, as well as aeronautics giant Boeing. Theres also Jeff Bezos Blue Origin which is also working on reusable rockets, Virgin Galactic with its more space tourism-focused approach, and many more space endeavor focused startups.
NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot, Jr. is convinced that these private, commercial companies are actually the future of space exploration or at least, theyll make it possible. Today epitomizes what we have been doing for a long time in terms of building our commercial partnerships, Lightfoot told Futurism after Mondays launch. We are getting to space a little differently than we used to. Its not just us anymore by ourselves. Weve got a great partnership with SpaceX. Weve got a great partnership with Orbital ATK.
While commercial space companies may have their own plans for space exploration most of which involve returning to the Moon and getting to Mars it doesnt mean that NASA doesnt haveplans of its own. In fact, NASA has been working on its own mission to Mars for a while now. The space agency is also currently building its own large rocket. However,recent developmentssuggest that NASA needs all the help it can get for its programs to survive.
Such a collaboration between NASA and commercial space agencies has been working well, Lightfoot noted. For one, its whats made it possible for the ISS to continue operating. They have allowed us to keep the space station going and allowed us to do some fantastic research, he said, referring to SpaceX and Orbital ATKs CRS missions.
Lightfoot also suggested that these partnerships could do so much more, like sending people to space again. SpaceX and Boeing will come along and allow us to fly [a] crew, he said. In a couple of years we will get there, and they will be getting crew to the station.this will give us our own access to space. From there on, the possibilities could be endless.
Indeed, space exploration is entering a new era. It isnt necessarily ending the era when space agencies were the only ones making giant leaps for mankind only helping it. Collaboration is the future of space exploration.
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Posted: August 18, 2017 at 5:29 am
Mario Anzuoni | Reuters
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at the unveiling event of the Dragon V2 in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014
After a roughly 36-hour journey, a SpaceX Dragon capsule docked at the International Space Station this week, delivering over three tons of supplies.
Over the past year, an index of stocks linked to space exploration and the space industry compiled by the hedge fund analytics tool Kensho has also soared. Kensho’s space index is up over 27 percent in a period where the S&P 500 gained 12.5 percent.
The companies in the Kensho space index design and build rockets, satellites, launch vehicles and their systems.
The top performing components: Boeing, which jumped 82 percent, II-VI, up 68 percent and Aerojet, which gained 53 percent.
For more information on the Kensho indexes, head to CNBC.com/Kensho-indices
Disclosure: NBCUniversal, parent of CNBC, is a minority investor in Kensho.
Posted: at 5:29 am
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The word far is an understatement when it comes to the vast distances between celestial bodies. The distance between the sun and our farthest planet Neptune is 2.7 billion milesit would take astronauts roughly a dozen years to get there using current technology. The farther out into space you go, miles start to lose their meaning and light-years come into play. To put that into perspective, Alpha Centauri A/B, our closest neighboring star (actually, a binary system of two suns), is 4.3 light-years from Earth or roughly 25 trillion miles.
Breakthrough Initiatives Starshot is involved in developing a proof-of-concept for unmanned space flight that travels at 20% the speed of light. (Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives)
Suffice to say, it would take us around 137,000 years to get to our nearest neighbor, a lofty goal we could never reach by todays technological standards. We would have to travel at the speed of light or close to it, to get there in a reasonable enough timeframe, something that is currently beyond our reach or is it? An ongoing endeavor by Breakthrough Intiatives is looking at getting us our first poolside glimpse of Alpha Centauri and other neighboring stars in just 20 years by sending tiny microsatellites.
Founded and funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Breakthrough Initiatives is an aspiring program centered on searching for intelligent alien life forms throughout the universe. The program is actually broken down into several projects to achieve this goal:
While all of the projects outlined in the program are intriguing, Starshot is perhaps the most fascinating: Traveling at 20% of the speed of light opens up a new world of possibilities of exploration that would be unprecedented even for a generation. To accomplish this goal, Breakthrough is designing its own microsatellite (or Nanocraft) code-named StarChip, a centimeter-sized interstellar spacecraft.
Think of it like a tiny single-board controller (SBC) outfitted with four sub-gram digital cameras with a minimum of 2 Mpixels of resolution. Accompanying those cameras are four onboard processors, four photon thrusters, an array of sensors, and a 150-mg atomic battery powered by either plutonium-238 or americium-241. The hardware will feature a protective coating (possibly beryllium copper) to deflect damage from dust and radiation particles as it travels.
A powerful Earth-based laser array will provide propulsion for the tiny satellites. (Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives)
To get the craft up to speed, an Earth-based, kilometer-scale, phased laser array will pulse (at 100-gigawatt levels) photons at the craft, which will push a connected light sail to its destination, increasing its speed with each pulse. The sail is the keyit needs to be composed of robust materials (graphene perhaps?) that wont disintegrate the planned meter-wide, atoms-thick sail. So far, the team behind Starshot has succeeded in deploying Sprites, space probe prototype precursors of the StarChip into low-earth orbit, a great first step in exploring deep space.
Taking on Water
Most satellites maneuver using a chemical propellant deployed by thrusters, which makes sense considering most conventional satellites are large and therefore have the needed room for the chemical systems. Not so for microsatellites or CubeSats. These typically rely on reaction wheels, magnetorquers, or tiny air-based thrusters for attitude control and movement.
Well, now we can add a fourth method of propulsion thanks to some clever researchers from Purdue University, who designed a new micro engine system that uses ultra-purified water vapor for movement while in orbit. The new system, known as a Film-Evaporation MEMS Tunable Array (FEMTA) Thruster, features tiny capillaries (10 mm thick) to harness the power of water.
Purdue University harnessed the power of vaporized water for CubeSat propulsion. (Credit: Purdue University)
To provide thrust, small heaters are located near the ends of the capillaries, which vaporizes the water as it flows from the tiny tubes. Whats interesting is that because of the capillaries micro size, the surface tension of the water keeps it from flowing out. When the heaters are activated, the tension is released at the capillary end, and the water can then freely flow, acting much like an on/off valve, or in a similar fashion to an inkjet printer.
Incredibly, the tiny FEMTA Thruster has demonstrated a thrust-to-power ratio of 230 micronewtons per watt for impulses lasting 80 seconds long. To put that into perspective, its enough power to rotate a CubeSat 180 in under a minute using less than a quarter-watt of power.
Purdues CubeSat FEMTA Thruster engine reached a thrust-to-power ratio of 230 micronewtons per watt for impulses lasting 80 seconds long. (Credit: Purdue University)
The researchers used commercially available parts to design their new thrusters, most of which are integral for IoT devices, including an inertial measurement unit that controls the satellites movement. An onboard microcontroller processes the data collected from the sensor and triggers the FEMTA Thruster to achieve the needed movement. The platform has yet to be tested (except in a vacuum chamber); researchers would like to outfit their new system on a mission-ready satellite sometime in the near future.
These are just two examples of new propulsion methods that can be harnessed for both deep-space exploration and low-earth orbit expeditions. As new technology advances continue to arrive, other propulsion options will undoubtedly follow. It will be interesting to see what the future holds and what discoveries come from it.
Posted: August 16, 2017 at 6:31 pm
NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 are still exploring the outer solar system and continue to communicate with us on Earth daily.
The identical spacecrafts launched a couple of weeks apart from one another. Voyager 2 left Earth on August 20, and even though it launched first, it got its name because it was expected to reach Jupiter and Saturn after Voyager 1.
According to NASA, few missions can match the many achievements of the Voyager spacecrafts during their 40-year journey. Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft and only human-made object to have entered interstellar space. Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have flown by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Even though the Voyagers will not come near a star until 40,000 years from now, together, they have improved our understanding of the characteristics of the atmosphere of Jupiter. They also discovered the first active volcanoes beyond Earth at Jupiter’s moon Io; hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa; encountered Saturn’s largest moon Titan, where data showed a thick Earth-like atmosphere; found the icy moon Miranda at Uranus and spotted icy-cold geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton.
Though they are incredibly far from Earth — Voyager 1 is almost 13 billion miles away and Voyager 2 almost 11 billion miles — they continue to communicate with NASA daily, sending back observations on our solar system. The significance of the Voyager is the vast amount of new knowledge of outer space it has provided and the interest in further exploration it’s generated. That interest has resulted in the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn, as well as the discovery of three new moons around Saturn using Earth-based instruments.
Today, this mission’s legacy has made an impact in our culture, and has reached the film, art and music industries. Each spacecraft contains a “Golden Record,” a 12-inch phonographic gold-plated copper capsule containing Earth sounds, pictures, and messages designed to give any possible alien who encounters the spacecraft an idea of what life on Earth is like. They are expected to last billions of years and could one day be the only traces of human civilization.
As for the future, it is expected that in the year 40,272 AD, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper) and in about 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within about 1.7 light years of a star called Ross 248, a small star in the constellation of Andromeda.
Posted: at 6:31 pm
In BriefA team at Purdue University have designed a water vaporpropulsion system that could make CubeSats more effective thatlarger satellites. The Smaller the Better
Satellites are typically imagined to be massive constructs that take millions of dollars to produce and maintain, but the much smaller CubeSatsminiaturized satellites shaped like cubes are more convenient, cost-effective, and easier to handle. The latest development in CubeSat propulsion could soon see CubeSats using water vapors to maneuver around, potentially making them the preferred hardware to use in future exploratory missions. Water is not only safe to use, but plentiful in our solar system; within our planetary neighborhood, its thought to be abundant just next door on Mars moon, Phobos.
A team at Purdue Universityis behind the water-propelled project,which involved a number of undergraduates as part of a propulsion design course. Their prototype CubeSat, presented at the 31st AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, was made using commercially available products at a relatively low cost.
The new propulsion system, called a Film-Evaporation MEMS Tunable Array, or FEMTA thruster, utilizes small capillaries that are ten micrometers in diameter. Ten micrometers isnt large enough to allow the teaspoon of water inside the CubeSat to be used, so small heaters wereinstalled that can be activated to turn the water into vapor and provide thrust.
Four of these FEMTA thrusters were used on a single ten-centimeters-cubed CubeSat, allowing it to rotate on a single axis. For full three-axis rotation, twelve thrusters are required.
This is a very low power, said Alina Alexeenko, a professor at Purdue University and lead researcher on the propulsion project, in a press release. We demonstrate that one 180-degree rotation can be performed in less than a minute and requires less than a quarter watt, showing that FEMTA is a viable method for altitude control of CubeSats.
CubeSats have typically been used alongside their larger counterparts. Theyve previously had no propulsion system of their own, requiring them to be launched while aboard another craft. They have then been used for various tasks, such as internet service, high-res imagining, environmental observations, and military surveillance.
With this new water-based propulsion system, however, they can be used for far greater things, such as constellation-flying and exploration things traditional satellites are unable to do due to their size. Fortunately, Alexeenko and her team are eager to have their system used in a real space mission, and are pursuing a patent for the concept.
That will take some time and more work, of course. The goal now is to further reduce the weight, volume, and power needed to effectively use CubeSats in space. The aforementioned prototype could only accommodate four FEMTA thrusters, and still weighed 2.8 kilograms (6 pounds). To get the most out of the amount of water needed, the CubeSat will have to be lighter.
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Posted: at 6:31 pm
California Editorial Rdp
On Monday, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, conducted a successful launch of a resupply mission to the International Space Station, or ISS, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the company's reusable …
SpaceX to launch supercomputer to International Space Station
SpaceX launches successful 12th International Space Station resupply mission
Spaceborne Computer – NASA
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Posted: August 15, 2017 at 12:28 pm
Alia Al Mansoori is a fine example of how space research can galvanise young minds. Scott A Miller / The National
At precisely 12.31pm on Monday, a Falcon9 rocket lifted off from Nasas Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The rocket shot a 2,900 kg Dragon cargo capsule into space. When astronauts aboard the International Space Station retrieve the capsule today, they will find, among its contents, an experiment by Emirati teenager Alia Al Mansoori that will study DNA to identity how proteins in living organisms are synthesised, modified and regulated in space. The results of the experiment may yield clues that could aid in the prevention of unwanted cell death in astronauts on long-haul missions into deep space, including future flights to Mars. Ms Al Mansooris experiment won the Genes in Space competition, which is sponsored by The National, the UAE Space Agency and Boeing. She is the first winner from outside the United States.
The inclusion of Ms Al Mansooris experiment in the Nasa mission is a measure of the strides the UAE has made since Sheikh Zayedquizzed visiting American astronauts in the 1970s about space exploration. In 2014, the UAE launched its own Space Agency, the first in the Arab world. In 2020, the agency will launch space probe that will reach Mars the following year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the UAEs founding. In 2015, the UAE established the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. Two years later, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled the Mars 2117 Project: a plan to buildthe first human settlement on Mars within a century. “Nothing is impossible … we can compete with the greatest of nations in the race for knowledge,” he said when he announced the project earlier this year.
The UAEs space programme drew sceptical responses from some quarters in the beginning. To others, space exploration has always seemed like a waste of resources. This is a profoundly misplaced view. Ms Al Mansoori is a fine example of how space research can galvanise young minds. It is a catalyst for technological innovations; in addition to making hugely important discoveries in space, it gives rise to unexpected inventions on earth that benefit us all. John FKennedy understood this; as, in our own day, does Sheikh Mohammed.
The computer microchip, the CAT scanner (which can detect cancer), the satellite television and the smoke detector these are all among the dozens of technologies we now take for granted but which would not be available to us were it not for space research. As Dr Ahmad Belhoul, the UAEs Minister of State for Higher Education and the Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, wrote in these pages last month, space exploration is a necessity not only because of its tangible benefits to our everyday lives, but because of its potential to inspire and uplift mankind in ways we can only imagine.It will, in short, drive the knowledge economy and ensure that our post-oil economy receives a necessary boost of rocket fuel.
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