ULA launches Mars InSight

United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched NASA’s Mars InSight lander today aboard their Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Following a smooth countdown, the rocket lifted off at 7:05 AM EDT and approximately 94 minutes later the spacecraft separated from the upper stage to begin its six-month journey to the red planet.

After separation of the main payload, two CubeSats MarCO-A and MarCO-B were also successfully deployed and will accompany InSight on its journey.  They will be used to relay information from InSight during it’s landing on Mars in November.

This was the first time that a spacecraft destined for another planet had been launched from the west coast.

Why is Elon Musk involved in wide range of technologies

Elon Musk has made a number of headlines over the years for the different technologies that he is involved in.  In this article we will look at each of these and how we believe they will be relevant for a future colony on Mars.

Rockets and Spacecraft (SpaceX)

SpaceX have made quite a name for themselves with the introduction of the Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon Cargo capsule and is working on the Dragon Crew capsule as well as a more powerful engine currently named Raptor.

However they are not just looking to launch stuff into space, SpaceX were the first and currently only commercial provider for the International Space Station to provide cargo return to Earth.  They are also working on landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket initial on a ocean bound platform but longer term return to land.  The next test of this is scheduled for there first Return to Flight after the June lose of mission.  Eventually the Dragon Crew capsule will also offer propulsive landing capabilities.  They have also streamlined the production of the rockets to reduce costs.

So how is this relevant to Mars?  The ability to land on the surface of Mars will be critical to any manned mission, the technology that SpaceX are working on will enable this.  In addition in the future crew will need the ability to launch from Mars having a streamlined production system using local resources will enable this.

Internet Satellites (SpaceX)

Elon announced early this year that SpaceX would be building a fleet of satellites that would provide global Internet service.  Built at there new Redmond, Washington location the fleet will be based on a new, low-cost, high-performance satellite bus.

So how is this relevant to Mars? In the short-term this may not seem relevant to Mars however we disagree, while a base may be small the ability to communicate with vehicles and crews as they adventure around Mars will be critical and being able to do this with a fleet of spacecraft will enable that.

Solar Power Generation (Solar City)

Solar City are one of the biggest providers of residential solar systems in the US and they continue to set records for the amount of power that is generated.

So how is this relevant to Mars? Solar Power will be key to future bases on Mars, with the resistance to Nuclear Power in space and the initial lack of power stations on Mars there will need to be a way of generating power when the crew first arrives.  Longer term Methane based power plants could be built.

Power Batteries (Tesla Energy)

Elon recently announced a series of Batteries that will be sold by Tesla Energy both for home and commercial installations.  These batteries will enable people to store power that is generated either from Solar Panels or during off-peak times and use it during the night, peak times or during power cuts, etc.

So how is this relevant to Mars? Just as on Earth Solar Power isn’t always available having the batteries for a colony will be critical.  Even if a Methane based power plant was built having batteries would give coverage should there be a problem with the plant.

High Speed Transport (Hyperloop)

Elon introduced the Hyperloop concept in 2013 announcing it as the fifth mode of transport.  Since them Hyperloop Technologies, Inc has been created and SpaceX themselves have announced a Hyperloop competition to test out designs.

So how is this relevant to Mars?  While this may not be needed for an initial base on Mars as a colony starts to grow and spread out on the planet being able to quickly and efficient move people around in an air tight system would be needed.

Summary

It seems clear to us that Elon Musk has put a lot of work and thought into a future colony on Mars, all the technology listed above has uses both on Earth and also in the future on Mars.

There are plenty of other technologies that will be needed Habitats, Green houses, etc there are other people working on these pieces of the puzzle.

 

Buzz Aldrin

DSC_0057Today I had the opportunity to meet with Astronaut Buzz Aldrin as part of my role with The Mars Foundation.

Buzz is truly a unique character during out time together he had to do a phone interview with a South Dakota radio station which was interesting to listen to.  He discussed many of his ideas for Mars transportation including the Aldrin Mars Cycler plan, utilizing the moon Phobos before landing on Mars, how to utilize a Mars Lander even for Earth return, and many other ideas.

We had the opportunity to talk about In-situ Resource Utilization and how that could be utilized to produce fuel, oxygen and materials that could be used in 3D Printing applications.  He also shared with us a plan to develop a series of modules that would initially be used as a moon base but longer term would also be usable on Mars.

During the four plus hours we spent with Buzz it was clear that he is very passionate about sending Humans beyond Low Earth Orbit and is very active in trying to involve as many nations as possible working together and including commercial entities where possible to build the various components that would be needed to achieve this vision.

It was truly an honor to spend time with a man who has really gone where no-one had been before and even all these years later very few have been.

The Little Rover that Could continues to impress

Opportunity Rover's Full Marathon-Length Traverse
Opportunity Rover’s Full Marathon-Length Traverse

Eleven years ago the Mars Opportunity Rover landed on the surface of the planet for a planned 90 sol (Mars day) mission, nearly 4000 sols later the rover is still operating.  This week it achieved a another significant milestone becoming the first rover to complete the equivalent of a marathon driving across the surface of the planet.  A milestone that may be hard to beat until Humans are working on the surface of the planet.

Unfortunately the future for the rover is unknown for a couple of reasons, the primary being we just don’t know how much longer it can last it has already operated for 44 times as long as designed and has recently had a software patch to get around a problem with the flash memory.

The other reason the future is in doubt is the 2016 NASA budget doesn’t include funding to continue the operations of the rover. While this was also the case in the 2015 budget congress added funding back so we can be hopeful that they will do the same again, however there is no guarantee.

So how has it lasted this long? There are a couple of answers to this, the first being that it is solar powered so as long as the hardware survives and the solar panels can receive sunlight it should be able to operate. Here is where Mars itself has helped the rover, over the 11 years of operation the power from the solar panels has dropped as dust accumulated on them and then been boosted again when a dust devil (add link) cleans the panels.

Another obverse answer is the rover was well designed, while the initial mission was for 90 sols the designers ensured the rover was capable of operating longer, personally I don’t know if they ever expected it to operate this long but it is a testament to good design and engineering that it has.

Why continue to fund it? Again there are a couple of answers to this, first it is still returning valuable data, there is no other vehicle in that region of Mars and everything it finds helps us to better understand the planet.

Second the longer it operates the more we learn about long distance remote operations of vehicles, unfortunately the older it gets the more issues are likely to occur, as these happen we will learn to adapt the vehicle to handle these issues until the time comes when it is not possible to do that any longer. When that happens the Rover will have completed an extraordinary mission and set some records that will be hard to beat.

To learn more about this amazing vehicle and see the numerous images it has returned on Mars check out the mission page.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission successfully insert into Orbit

Image: Indian Space Research Organization
Image: Indian Space Research Organization

Today India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft arrived at Mars and was successfully placed into orbit.  Launched 5th November, 13 days before NASA’s Maven the spacecraft, it took a slightly different route to Mars resulting in it arriving three days after MAVEN.  This is the first spacecraft from India to travel this far from Earth and it performed it’s orbit insertion as planned and is now in orbit of Mars.

India are only the fourth entity to place an craft into orbit of Mars following NASA, ESA and Soviet Union.  To add to the achieve they are the only one two achieve orbit on the very first attempt.

Image: Indian Space Research Organization
Spacecraft Layout – Image: Indian Space Research Organization

The MOM spacecraft is carrying the following instruments: –

  • Lyman Alpha Photometer – LAP
  • Martian Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer – MENCA
  • Mars Color Camera – MCC
  • Methane Sensor for Mars – MSM
  • Thermal Infrared Imaging System – TIS

For more information on MOM check out its mission page here.

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft reaches Mars

Following a ten month, 442 million miles journey NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) successfully entered into orbit of Mars this evening.  The orbit insertion maneuver began with six thruster engines firing briefly to damp out deviations in pointing. Then, the six main engines quickly ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be captured in an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours.

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MAVEN will now spend 6 weeks being commissioned before it begins it primary science mission.

The following instruments are being carried by MAVEN.

MAVEN_Instruments_Labeled_v2

  • Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) – measures the composition and isotopes of thermal neutrals and ions.
  • Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) – is a part of the Remote Sensing (RS) Package and measures global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere via remote sensing.
  • Magnetometer (MAG) – measures interplanetary solar wind and ionosphere magnetic fields
  • Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA) – measures solar wind and ionosphere electrons
  • SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) – measures thermal ions to moderate-energy escaping ions
  • Langmuir Probe and Waves antenna (LPW) – determines ionosphere properties and wave heating of escaping ions and solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) input to atmosphere
  • Solar Energetic Particles (SEP) – determines the impact of SEPs on the upper atmosphere
  • Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) – measures solar wind and magnetosheath ion density and velocity

 

Power Generation on Mars

While researching a longer blog post, to come soon, on Mars we were struck by the question of Power Generation, from most mission previews we have seen they plan to use Nuclear generators. While there are benefits to Nuclear generators there are also problems, the biggest of which is the public’s negativity towards launching anything that mentions Nuclear.

Therefore we would like to start a discussion on looking at alternate options and determine if they are feasible and how they could be setup on Mars.

Solar Power

We know that Solar Power generation on Mars is possible as several rovers have deployed this approach, the question is what size panels or arrays would be needed to generate enough power for a base on Mars, also this couldn’t be the only option for power generation due to needed constant power which wouldn’t be possible at night or during dust storms which have been known to last long periods of time.

Wind Power

We know from observing Mars that there is wind generated, therefore it seems feasible that we could construct Wind Turbines and use these to generate power. Again the question is how many and how big would they need to be.  As with Solar Power the generation of power isn’t guaranteed and therefore this option would have to be used to supplement the main source of power.

Hydro Power

We have seen evidence of Water flows on the surface of Mars, however this would seem to be an inconsistent option depending on how much water is found and how fast it flows.  This could be a good source of power generation if a constant water flow was found which would most likely be underground and therefore require a lot of effort to setup.

Fossil Fuel Power

At the moment we don’t know enough about Mars to determine if there are fossil fuels on the planet. However that is not a reason to discount it either, as we know the planet once had water and could well have had planet life too. If that is the case there could well be fossil fuels buried underground that could be mined.

Are any of these feasible?

While this isn’t as simple question as it seems the basic answer it Yes these are feasible, however for any of them to work we would require significant infrastructure on Mars to manufacture the parts needed, as transporting them would be too costly.  Therefore it seems that for the short term Nuclear power is the only feasible way to generate the amount of power that would be needed by a Mars base.

We would value your feedback on this article, if you have suggestions or comments on this please add them below, we would be happy to incorporate the feedback and reference you in the article.

Weekly Space Blog 12/14

A lot has been happening this week in Space

ISS Coolant Failure
This week one of the two coolant systems on the station shutdown when a component reached a preset temperature limit.  While not posing an immediate danger to the crew on-board the shutdown did require that NASA shutdown non-critical systems on the station to ensure that nothing overheated.  Engineers are still determining what needs to be done to resolve the problem which may include a spacewalk.

Proton Launches Mobile Broadband Satellite
Last Sunday a Proton rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan carrying a powerful broadband communication satellite for London based Inmarsat, this launch marks the beginning of a next-generation fleet for the company.

Brazilian Satellite lost
A joint Chinese/Brazilian satellite was lost this week when the Long March 4B rocket failed to deploy it to the correct orbit, initial reports heralded the launch as a success but were quickly replaced with the launch failure notification.  The $250m earth observation satellite was the fourth in a series of joint adventures between the Chinese and Brazilian governments.

NASA Curiosity News
The Curiosity Rover continues to return fascinating news from the red planet.  Recent results from the ancient lakebed that it is exploring show that Mars could have been habitable in the past.  The rover is now looking for areas where erosion could have uncovered layers of martian soil that could contain organic components.

In related news NASA announced that the rover had fired it’s laser more then 100,000 times while on the planet surface.

Mars One sending Lander to Mars
Mars One who made news last year when they announced they planned to settle people on Mars by 2023 were in the news again this week.  They announced plans with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to develop and launch a privately funded lander to explore Mars.  Check out the full press release here.

Gaia Spacecraft enclosed in Soyuz fairing
The European Space Agencies Gaia spacecraft moved a step closed to it’s 12/19 launch this week as it was enclosed in it’s Soyuz launch fairing.  For more information on the mission check out the mission page here, we will post more information on the mission next week assuming a successful launch.

Launch pad 39A news
The commercial leasing of launch pad 39A moved a step closer following a decision by the Government Accounting Office regarding a protest by Blue Origin about the agencies fairness in the search for a long term tenant.  The launch pad currently costs NASA approximately $100,000 a month to maintain, as they no longer need the pad for future NASA missions and 39B will be used for SLS this money can be better used within the agency.

Following the GAO decision NASA announced on Friday that it has selected the SpaceX proposal and will now begin negotiations with the company regarding the lease of the launch complex. During the negotiation process NASA are not allowed to released any further information. Once the deal has been finalized we will post any additional information that is made available.

Jupiter Moon Water Geysers

An artist's illustration of Jupiter's icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute
An artist’s illustration of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013.
Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute

This week scientists announced that Jupiter’s moon Europa may erupt with fleeting water plumes that are more then 20 times the height of Mount Everest.

If confirmed scientists believe these could provide a way of detecting signs of life in the underground ocean that is believed to be under the thick ice of the moon.  Due to it’s proximity to Jupiter scientists believe that the core of the moon is hot enough to maintain a liquid ocean via thermal vents just like in the depth’s of earth’s oceans that surprised scientists when they discovered a vast variety of life.

To learn more about the Jovian moon, scientists analyzed ultraviolet images of Europa taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in November and December of 2012 as well as older images taken by Hubble in 1999. They concentrated on finding hydrogen and oxygen, the elements that make up water.

First Orbital Cargo Mission to launch
Orbital’s first mission under there Commercial Cargo resupply contract is preparing to launch next week 12/18.  Roll out to the launch pad is expected on Monday once any last minute items have been loaded into the Cygnus spacecraft.  Orbital are currently contracted for eight flights to the station.

Morpheus Lander first free flight successful
A prototype lander that could be used for future missions to an asteroid or other planetary object completed it’s first free flight test this week.  Following a number of tether tests to ensure all systems worked the vehicles was shipped to Kennedy Space Center so that it could begin free flight tests.  The first test occurred this week and accomplished it’s goals, check out the video of the flight here.

Titan Flyover
This week NASA released a new video based on data from the Cassini spacecraft that shows a flyover of the lakes on Titan.  Check out the full release and video here.

China’s Lunar Rover scheduled to land today
The Chang’e-3 Lunar Rover is scheduled to land on the moon today, we will post more information next week once it is available on the success or failure of the landing and any other news from the event.

Interesting Articles in the News
Elon Musk on Colonizing Mars
Understanding Mars’ Past and Current Environments
Opportunity Ascending Solander Point at Endeavour Crater

Weekly Space Blog 6/29

Another busy week in space, here is this weeks blog.

Saturn News
Saturn was in the news twice this week, researches have discovered the mystery of the gigantic storm circling Saturn and a image capture by Cassini shows a propeller like structure in the rings.  The researchers announced there findings based on analysis of images returned by Cassini in combination with computer models, for further information check out the fall article here.  The image below shows one of the propeller structures that have been observed several times in the rings, small moon-lets in the rings cause the material to clump together causing this effect.  For further information on these check out the NASA page here.
PIA12789

Russian Spacewalk
This week Expedition 36 Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin performed a 6h 34m spacewalk to prepare the station for a new Russian science module due to be delivered later this year.  During the walk they replaced a fluid flow control panel on the Zarya module, installed clamps to route power cables from the US segment and retrieved several experiment from the outside of the station.  This was the third spacewalk this year at the station and the 169th overall, the next planned spacewalk from the station will be conducted in July by Chris Cassidy of NASA and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency.

IRIS Mission Launch
Following a one day delay due to a power outage at Vanderburg the IRIS mission was successfully launched on Thursday this week.  The spacecraft will now undergo a period of tedting before the science operations begin.  For more information on the IRIS mission check out it’s mission page here.

NASA Thruster Achieves World Record
This week NASA announced that their Advanced Ion Propulsion engine had successfully operated for more than 48,000 hours.  During the testing the engine consumed 1,918 pounds of Xenon propellant and provided an amount of total impulse that would require more than 22,000 pounds of conventional propellant.  With today’s estimated launch costs this alone offers a saving in excess of $10m USD for future missions.
You can view the NEXT ion engine in operation here.

Chinese Astronaut News
This week the three person crew completed a manual undocking and docking of there spacecraft before heading back to earth for a successful landing on Tuesday in Inner Mongolia to complete a 15 day mission in space.  At the moment the Chinese and Russian’s are the only nations with the capability to launch crews into orbit, this mission further demonstrates that the Chinese are progressing with there research as they plan a large presence in space in the future.  During the mission there were a total of nine people in orbit of the earth.  For further information check out these stories of the Undocking and Landing.

Gliese 667 planets
This week astronomers announced that after further analysis they believe there could be as many as three habitat planets in the Gliese 667 system.  They have found at least 6 planets within the system and the three that fall in the habitat zone of the star are all super-earths.  The image below shows the potential Sunset from each of the planets compared with our own sunset.
sunset_gliese667c
For further information check out the teams paper here.

Ten thousandth NEO found
This week the ten thousandth Near Earth Object was announced, asteroid 2013 MZ5 was first detected by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope on June 18.  NASA’s Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters, said that finding the 10,000 object was a significant milestone, however there are at least 10 times as many objects out there still to be discovered.  For more information on the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope check out it’s page here, and for more information on the NEO programs at NASA here.

Two Soyuz Launches
This week there were two separate Soyuz launches one from Baikonur Cosmodrome and the other from Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana.  Both launches successfully placed there payloads into orbit and increased the number of satellites by five.  The first launch from Baikonur carried the Resurs-P Earth imaging satellite, the second from Kourou carried four 03b satellites, further information on both launches can be found here.

Next JAXA HTV
The next Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) “Kounotori” could pave the way to manned flights by JAXA, each flight gives the agency additional information about the dynamics of spaceflight, with the last one and this vehicle being fitted with an observation system called “i-Ball” to record its re-entry.  The data provided by the i-Ball system will help engineers better understand the dynamics of re-entry and help design future spacecraft to survive the re-entry process.  Further details can be found here.

New Type of Matter Found
A recent publication in the journal Nature Physics announced a new type of matter found only in Neutron star’s.  Called “Nuclear Pasta” because of how the nuclei of atom’s arrange themselves due to the density of the stars.  It is believed that these patterns are also responsible for limiting the rotation speed of the star’s, of the ones observed so far they haven’t found one that has a rotation period longer than 12 seconds.  Further information can be found here.

CoRoT satellite shutdown
Further bad news this week for planet hunters around the world, the french satellite CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits) has been officially shutdown following a computer failure last November.  The mission lasted twice as long as originally planned and so far has found 32 confirmed planets and another 100 waiting to be confirmed.  The mission also allowed astronomers to study the stellar physics and the interior of stars.

More Surprises from Voyager One
Despite having been in space for 36 years and being 11.6 billion miles from Earth the Voyager One spacecraft is still sending back data and surprising us.  In papers published this week in the journal Science the Voyager One team provided more clarity on the region they have named the Magnetic Highway.  For more information check out the full article here.

GALEX decommissioned
This week NASA decommissioned it Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after ten years of operation.  The spacecraft used it’s ultraviolet vision to explore hundreds of millions of galaxies.
Highlights from the mission’s decade of sky scans include:
— Discovering a gargantuan, comet-like tail behind a speeding star called Mira.
— Catching a black hole “red-handed” as it munched on a star.
— Finding giant rings of new stars around old, dead galaxies.
— Independently confirming the nature of dark energy.
— Discovering a missing link in galaxy evolution
— the teenage galaxies transitioning from young to old.
For the full details of GALEX check out the article here.

Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opens

The new Space Shuttle Atlantus exhibit opened this week at Kennedy Space Centre and offers a view of the shuttle only seen by a few astronauts when in space.  For more on the new exhibit check out it’s psge here.  http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com

space-shuttle-atlantis-bay-doors

And Finally
There is only one day left on the ARKYD Kickstarter campaign if you haven’t contributed to this yet now is your last change to be involved in this ground breaking project.  Check out the project here.

The History of Mars Exploration (NASA)

To follow up the successful launch of MSL, which NASA confirmed last night was inserted into an almost perfect trajectory towards Mars, today we take a look at the history of successful Mars Exploration missions by NASA.

The History of Mars Exploration

Year Name Type Summary
1964 Mariner 4 Flyby First spacecraft to flyby of Mars and return close-up pictures of the surface.  Returned 21 images during the flyby.
1969 Mariner 6 Flyby Returned 75 images during flyby and provided data used to program Mariner 7 for it’s flyby five days later.
1969 Mariner 7 Flyby Returned 126 images during it’s flyby.
1971 Mariner 9 Orbiter First spacecraft to orbit another planet, returned 7,329 images while operational.  Still in orbit today and will remain so until about 2022.
1975 Viking 1 Orbiter/Lander First spacecraft to land on Mars, was operational for 2245 sols, contact was lost when a faulty command sequence sent from the ground overwrote the antenna pointing software. The Viking 1 Lander was named the Thomas Mutch Memorial Station in January 1982 in honor of the leader of the Viking imaging team.
1975 Viking 2 Orbiter/Lander Twin of Viking 1 and second spacecraft to land on Mars.  Viking two was operation for 1281 sols, during which time it returned over 16,000 images and a large amount of scientific data.
1996 Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter Arrived at Mars 9/12/1997, began mapping operations in 1996, lose of contact 11/2/2006
1996 Mars Pathfinder Lander/Rover Lander on Mars 7/4/1997, deployed rover Sojourner to explore the surface around the lander.  The lander sent more than 16,500 pictures and made 8.5 million measurements of the atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed. Lander renamed Carl Sagan Memorial Station.
2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter Arrived at Mars 10/24/2001, began orbital operations 2/19/2002.  Still operational today.  As well as providing a large amount of images and scientific data the craft is used as a relay for MER and Phoenix.
2003 Mars Exploration Rover – Spirit Rover See MER Post
2003 Mars Exploration Rover – Opportunity Rover See MER Post
2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Orbiter Arrived at Mars 3/10/2006, began orbital operations in 11/2006.  Still operational today with a variety of scientific instruments.  Also provides relay capabilities to MER.  MRO’s telecommunications systems will transfer more data back to earth than all previous spacecraft sent to the planet combined, more than 26 terabits.
2007 Phoenix Mars Lander Lander PML arrived on Mars 5/28/2008 and was operational for 155 sols, the original mission was designed for 90 sols.  The instruments were designed to look for microbial life and water.  Returned more than 25 gigabits of scientific data for analysis.