Tag: Mars

Elon Musk Reveals the Incredible Sci-Fi Design for SpaceX’s Hopper Starship

SpaceX’s Mars-bound rocket is taking shape. Last week, CEO Elon Musk shared an illustration of how the test version of the company’s Starship will look when complete, demonstrating a creative design that bears more than a passing resemblance to The Adventures of Tintin.

The rocket, aimed at completing short tests later this year, is a miniaturized version of one that is expected to send the first humans to Mars.

The image depicts the rocket currently under construction at the firm’s Boca Chica site in Texas. The “hopper” rocket will complete short “hop tests” of a few hundred kilometers to demonstrate the rocket’s effectiveness.

While it doesn’t reach the heights of the full Starship, announced with a size of 348 feet it does reach the same diameter of the final version at 30 feet.

While the stainless steel design is likely to reflect the final version, which Musk has described as looking like “liquid silver,” the “hopper” version also lacks features like windows expected to make the final design.

The steel looks incredible, and represents a stark departure from the carbon fiber composite used in the Falcon 9’s construction.

It’s similar to the approach used by NASA with the Atlas rockets in the 1950s, but those designs suffered as it buckled on the launchpad when depressurized.

SpaceX’s version should avoid the same pitfalls, with a metal that Musk says will “vary considerably according to loads.

SpaceX needs the rocket to succeed if it wishes to carry out its more ambitious missions.

The rocket now known as the “Starship” was unveiled at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017 under the name “BFR,” with a reusable design that could enable humans to travel to Mars and refuel its liquid oxygen and methane tanks by harvesting resources from the atmosphere.

SpaceX is aiming to send two unmanned Starships to Mars by 2022, followed by two unmanned and two manned in 2024.

The firm is also planning to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon with the Starship sometime in 2023, accompanied by a team of artists as part of a project.

While photos of the test site show the “hopper” still in an unfinished state, Musk stated on Sunday that the team is aiming to fly the rocket in just four weeks’ time, with the possibility of pushing the deadline back to eight weeks.

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How to Mine Water on Mars to Survive on The Red Planet

The bone-dry desert of present-day Mars may seem like the last place you would look for water, but the Red Planet actually contains a wealth of water locked up in ice.

Evidence that Mars once supported liquid water has been mounting for years, and exploratory missions have found that water ice still exists on the planet’s poles and just beneath its dusty surface.

Accessing that water could require digging it up and baking it in an oven, or beaming microwaves at the soil and extracting the water vapor.

Yet no mission has attempted to extract water on Mars or any celestial body beyond Earth in appreciable quantities.

Now, the Netherlands-based organization Mars One, which wants to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet, is planning to send an unmanned lander to Mars in 2018 that would carry an experiment to demonstrate that water extraction is possible.

Mined water could be used for drinking, growing plants or creating fuel.

Here on Earth, we’ve experimented with different technologies to extract moisture out of the atmosphere or soil,” said Ed Sedivy, civil space chief engineer at the security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin and program manager for NASA’s Phoenix lander flight system.

The question is, Sedivy said, “At the concentration of water we’re likely to encounter and the temperatures we’re likely to encounter [on Mars], how do we validate those technologies are appropriate?”

H2O on the Red Planet

Numerous studies have suggested that water exists on Mars, based on evidence from Mars orbiters and rovers such as outflow channels, ancient lakebeds, and surface rocks and minerals that could only have formed in the presence of liquid water.

Today, Mars is too frigid, and its atmospheric pressure is too low, to support liquid water on its surface — except for very short spans of time at low altitudes — but frozen water can be found in the planet’s ice caps and beneath the soil surface.

NASA’s Phoenix lander detected water ice at its landing site in 2008. The spacecraft dug up chunks of soil, and its onboard mass spectrometer found traces of water vapor when the sample was heated above freezing.

More recently, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected water molecules in soil samples analyzed by its SAM instruments, suggesting Martian soil contains about two pints of water per cubic foot of soil.

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This Martian Crater Is a ‘Winter Wonderland’ Right Now, New Photo Shows

Topography of Korolev crater.

The Mars Express orbiter has sent a festive postcard back to Earth just in time for the holidays. On Thursday, the European Space Agency (ESA) released the spacecraft’s view of a “winter wonderland” of ice inside Korolev crater.

The crater is located at the Martian north pole, so it may as well be the imaginary headquarters for the Martian Santa Claus.

It may also be a not-so-imaginary home for humans one day, as igloo-like domes at the Martian north pole have been floated as one possibility for inhabiting the planet.

The image is especially timely because Mars Express will celebrate its 15th anniversary in Martian orbit on Christmas Day.

Named for the influential Soviet rocket engineer Sergey Korolev, the impact crater is 82 kilometers (50 miles) in diameter and contains a permanent ice field that stretches over a mile deep.

Mars Express captured its view with its High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), creating a composite image out of five orbital passes over the region.

Korolev crater was also recently imaged by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is jointly operated by ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The TGO’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) instrument captured a topographical view of the formation on April 4, which shows the slope of the crater in blues and purples.

The ice field is chilled by a “cold trap” of air that insulates the crater and keeps it perennially filled with frozen water.

It would be a great place to go for a skate, so long as you don’t mind low gravity, unbreathable air, and high doses of radiation.

InSight’s seismometer on the Martian surface, December 19, 2018.

Cool crater portraits aren’t the only seasonal gifts we’re getting from our Martian robots this week.

NASA also announced that its InSight lander, which touched down on Mars on November 26, successfully placed its seismometer on the surface with its robotic arm on Wednesday.

This marked the first time that a seismometer has been placed on an alien world. This instrument is designed to pick up “Marsquakes” caused by geological faults or asteroid impacts, like the one that formed Korolev crater.

InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped,” said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman in a statement. “Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present.”

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NASA’s InSight Snaps Some Selfies And Prepares To Get To Work

If you visit Mars and don’t take a selfie, did the interplanetary trip even count?

NASA’s InSight lander just flexed its 6 foot (2 meter) telescopic arm, and used it to take some more pictures of its dusty Martian surroundings.

The plan is to use the arm to very gently pick up scientific instruments from the lander’s deck and place them next to it on the Martian soil.

A special camera attached to InSight’s elbow is looking for a suitable spot for each of its scientific instruments.

If it succeeds, it’ll be the first time any rover has placed an object on the surface of another planet using a robotic arm, NASA pointed out in an update.

But that process is going to take a while: the team at the Jet Propulsion Lab will deploy InSight’s instruments over a period of two to three months.

So far, the engineers have just been running the instruments through tests to find out if they’re working properly.

“We did extensive testing on Earth. But we know that everything is a little different for the lander on Mars, so faults are not unusual,” says project lead Tom Hoffman of JPL, as quoted in NASA’s update.

They can delay operations, but we’re not in a rush. We want to be sure that each operation that we perform on Mars is safe, so we set our safety monitors to be fairly sensitive initially.”

Seeing pictures taken on the Martian surface will never get old. By next week, we’ll get an even more detailed view, so stay tuned.

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Listen To The Sounds Of Wind On Mars, Recorded by NASA’s InSight Lander

Before you listen, hook up a subwoofer or put on a pair of bass-heavy headphones. Otherwise, you might not hear anything.

Then listen.

That’s the sound of winds blowing across NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, the first sounds recorded from the red planet. It’s all the more remarkable because InSight — which landed last week — does not have a microphone.

Rather, an instrument designed for measuring the shaking of marsquakes picked up vibrations in the air — sound waves, in other words.

Winds blowing between 10 and 15 miles per hour over InSight’s solar panels caused the spacecraft to vibrate, and short-period seismometers recorded the vibrations.

The seismometers act as the cochlea, the parts of your ears that convert the vibrations into nerve signals. They are able to record vibrations up to a frequency of 50 Hertz — audible to human ears as a low rumble.

NASA also produced a version of the recording that lifted the sounds by two octaves.

A second instrument, an air pressure sensor that is part of InSight’s weather station, also picked up sound vibrations, although at a much lower frequency that can be heard perhaps by elephants and whales, but not people.

Here is a sound recording of those pressure readings, sped up by a factor of 100, which raises the pitch by about six octaves.

The sounds are so low in part because the instruments are not sensitive to higher frequencies. But the air on Mars is also extremely thin — about 1 percent of the density of Earth’s — and that favors low-frequency sounds.

The two Viking landers that NASA sent to Mars in 1976 also carried seismometers that captured some wind noise. But Dr. Banerdt said those recordings were at much lower sampling rates and did not pick up anything at audible frequencies.

NASA’s next rover, to launch in 2020, will also carry a microphone.

This is not the first time sound has been recorded on another planet. Back in the 1980s, two Soviet spacecraft, Venera 13 and Venera 14, recorded sounds from the surface of Venus.

And Europe’s Huygens lander, which was carried to Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan, by the Cassini spacecraft, also sent back sounds picked up by a microphone.

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How the Mars Moon Phobos Got Its Grooves?

The weird linear grooves scoring the surface of the Mars moon Phobos were likely carved by boulders knocked loose by a giant impact, a new study suggests.

That impact created Phobos’ most notable feature — the 5.6-mile-wide (9 kilometers) Stickney Crater, which is about one-third as wide as the moon itself.

These grooves are a distinctive feature of Phobos, and how they formed has been debated by planetary scientists for 40 years,” study lead author Ken Ramsley, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said in a statement.

We think this study is another step toward zeroing in on an explanation.

Mars has two tiny moons — Phobos and Deimos, both of which the Red Planet may have nabbed from the nearby asteroid belt long ago.

Phobos’ parallel grooves were first spotted in the 1970s by NASA’s Mariner and Viking missions. In the decades since, researchers have advanced many hypotheses to explain their origin.

For example, they may have been carved by material blasted off Mars by powerful impacts. Or they could be strain marks showing that Mars’ gravity is tearing Phobos apart.

Or bouncing, rolling boulders freed by the Stickney-causing impact could have created the grooves. This idea was first advanced in the late 1970s by researchers Lionel Wilson and Jim Head, the latter of whom is a co-author on the new study.

In the new work, the researchers used computer models to simulate how debris set in motion by the Stickney smashup may have traveled across Phobos’ surface.

The model is really just an experiment we run on a laptop,” Ramsley said in the same statement. “We put all the basic ingredients in, then we press the button and we see what happens.

What happened supports the rolling-boulder idea, study team members said. In the simulations, for example, rocks set in motion by the Stickney impact tended to travel on parallel paths, matching the observed groove patterns.

In addition, some of the simulated boulders traveled all the way around Phobos, rolling over the tracks of their fellow bounders. This could explain an oddity of the actual grooves — that some of them overlay one another.

There’s another puzzling aspect of the Phobos features — a weird “dead spot” free of grooves. But the new modeling work has an answer for that, too: The dead spot is a low-elevation area just beyond a slight “lip” of rock.

It’s like a ski jump,” Ramsley said. “The boulders keep going, but suddenly there’s no ground under them. They end up doing this suborbital flight over this zone.”

All in all, the work “makes a pretty strong case” that the “rolling-boulder model accounts for most if not all the grooves on Phobos,” Ramsley said.

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Planets Can Be Big, Small, But All Round

The eight planets in our solar system differ in lots of ways. They are different sizes. They are different distances from the sun. Some are small and rocky, and others are big and gassy.

But they’re all nice and round. Why is that? Why aren’t they shaped like cubes, pyramids, or discs?

Planets form when material in space starts to bump and clump together. After a while it has enough stuff to have a good amount of gravity.

That’s the force that holds stuff together in space. When a forming planet is big enough, it starts to clear its path around the star it orbits. It uses its gravity to snag bits of space stuff.

A planet’s gravity pulls equally from all sides. Gravity pulls from the center to the edges like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. This makes the overall shape of a planet a sphere, which is a three-dimensional circle.

Are they all perfect, though?

While all the planets in our solar system are nice and round, some are rounder than others. Mercury and Venus are the roundest of all. They are nearly perfect spheres, like marbles.

But some planets aren’t quite so perfectly round. Saturn and Jupiter are bit thicker in the middle. As they spin around, they bulge out along the equator. Why does that happen?

When something spins, like a planet as it rotates, things on the outer edge have to move faster than things on the inside to keep up.

This is true for anything that spins, like a wheel, a DVD, or a fan. Things along the edge have to travel the farthest and fastest.

Along the equator of a planet, a circle half way between the north and south poles, gravity is holding the edges in but, as it spins, stuff wants to spin out like mud flying off a tire.

Saturn and Jupiter are really big and spinning really fast but gravity still manages to hold them together. That’s why they bulge in the middle. We call the extra width the equatorial bulge.

Saturn bulges the most of all the planets in our solar system. If you compare the diameter from pole to pole to the diameter along the equator, it’s not the same.

Saturn is 10.7% thicker around the middle. Jupiter is 6.9% thicker around the middle. Instead of being perfectly round like marbles, they are like basketballs squished down while someone sits on them.

What about the other planets?

Earth and Mars are small and don’t spin around as fast as the gas giants. They aren’t perfect spheres, but they are rounder than Saturn and Jupiter.

Earth is 0.3% thicker in the middle, and Mars is 0.6% thicker in the middle. Since they’re not even one whole percentage point thicker in the middle, it’s safe to say they’re very round.

As for Uranus and Neptune, they’re in between. Uranus is 2.3% thicker in the middle. Neptune is 1.7% thicker. They’re not perfectly round, but they’re pretty close.

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Mars 2020 Rover Will Land at Ancient Lakebed to Search for Signs of Life

Scientists have identified 24 ancient lakes on Mars that once overflowed and burst through their walls, forming steep-sided canyons — and NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will explore the neighborhood of one of these paleolakes, looking for traces of ancient life.

Jezero Crater is one of two dozen sites that a team of geologists examined for signs of how canyons formed: by massive individual flooding events or by slower flows over longer periods of time.

Their findings suggest that for the chosen canyons, the former occurred, with a sudden flood rapidly carving canyons across the Martian surface.

These breached lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian Sea,” lead author Tim Goudge, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.

So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars’ surface.”

The team came to that conclusion by looking at the relationship between the canyon measurements and the crater rims that once enclosed all that water.

Because the canyon size increased in proportion to the size of the nearby lake, the team believes that all 24 lakes violently burst through their walls, carving the canyons in perhaps just a few weeks.

If they hadn’t seen such a correlation, they would have instead suspected that the canyons formed gradually from more gentle water flow.

And unlike geologic features here on Earth, lake beds and canyons remain etched on the surface of Mars, since there are no modern plate tectonics to shuffle crust around and destroy them.

That long-lived Martian surface offers scientists hope that they might be able to access ancient sediments that may hold the remains of any life that once existed on Mars.

That’s part of why NASA chose to send its Mars 2020 rover, due to touch down on the Red Planet in 2021, to Jezero Crater, where it can study five different types of rock and hunt for any remains of ancient life that could be hiding in such a formerly wet environment.

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Days Away From Mars, NASA Awaits ‘The Seven Minutes Of Terror’

Flying the freeway to Mars, the robotic probe InSight nears the end of its 301-million-mile cruise with nary a hitch and hardly a hiccup.

But looming just ahead is the exit ramp—the Martian atmosphere.

There’s a classic term for it,” says Rob Grover of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The seven minutes of terror.”

That’s approximately the time InSight takes to land, a spooky 70-mile descent from the top of the atmosphere down to the ground. “There is very little room for things to go wrong,” says Grover.

Yet hundreds of things must go right, all without NASA’s backseat driving; during landing, there’s no joysticking.

We can’t fly the vehicle in ourselves. The flight computer on board has to do it on its own. Everything has to work perfectly by itself.” And for those seven minutes, “our hearts will be pounding.

InSight lands November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving, at 11:47 AM Pacific Time (2:47 PM Eastern).

Before the clock starts, the cruise stage—its delivery done—detaches from the capsule containing the lander. Then the capsule—just before reaching the atmosphere—points itself, “tilting down 12 degrees,” says Grover.

NASA’s leeway is minuscule, only “plus or minus a quarter of a degree.” Too shallow an angle, and the spacecraft skips off the atmosphere. Too steep, and it burns up.

And now the terrifying part. InSight thunders in at 12,300 miles per hour—almost three-and-a-half miles per second. Friction roasts it. The temperature on the heat shield hits 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

Friction also brakes it; within two minutes, the speed of the spacecraft slows by more than 90 percent. Yet it’s still going 1,000 miles per hour.

At seven miles up—commercial airliners fly about that high—the parachute opens. Within 15 seconds, the heat shield jettisons. For the first time, the lander is exposed to Martian air.

Another 10 seconds, and the three legs deploy. One mile above the ground, the lander falls from the backshell. Descent engines turn on. Touchdown velocity is 5 miles per hour.

Much could happen. The parachute might not open properly. The falling heat shield could graze the lander. Descent engines may not shut off. A large surface rock could sit in the way. One of the legs might not release and lock.

Those scenarios, though unlikely, are not implausible. Any of them could cause an erratic landing. Right now, atmospheric dust is minimal; weather at the landing site appears normal.

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How To Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation On Mars

In this image taken by the Viking 1 orbiter in June 1976, the translucent layer above Mars’ dusty red surface is its atmosphere. Compared to Earth’s atmosphere, the thin Martian atmosphere is a less powerful shield against quick-moving, energetic particles that pelt in from all directions – which means astronauts on Mars will need protection from this harsh radiation environment.

On Aug. 7, 1972, in the heart of the Apollo era, an enormous solar flare exploded from the sun’s atmosphere. Along with a gigantic burst of light in nearly all wavelengths, this event accelerated a wave of energetic particles.

Mostly protons, with a few electrons and heavier elements mixed in, this wash of quick-moving particles would have been dangerous to anyone outside Earth’s protective magnetic bubble.

Luckily, the Apollo 16 crew had returned to Earth just five months earlier, narrowly escaping this powerful event.

In the early days of human space flight, scientists were only just beginning to understand how events on the sun could affect space, and in turn how that radiation could affect humans and technology.

Today, as a result of extensive space radiation research, we have a much better understanding of our space environment, its effects, and the best ways to protect astronauts—all crucial parts of NASA’s mission to send humans to Mars.

The Martian” film highlights the radiation dangers that could occur on a round trip to Mars. While the mission in the film is fictional, NASA has already started working on the technology to enable an actual trip to Mars in the 2030s.

In the film, the astronauts’ habitat on Mars shields them from radiation, and indeed, radiation shielding will be a crucial technology for the voyage.

From better shielding to advanced biomedical countermeasures, NASA currently studies how to protect astronauts and electronics from radiation – efforts that will have to be incorporated into every aspect of Mars mission planning, from spacecraft and habitat design to spacewalk protocols.

Radiation, at its most basic, is simply waves or sub-atomic particles that transports energy to another entity – whether it is an astronaut or spacecraft component.

The main concern in space is particle radiation. Energetic particles can be dangerous to humans because they pass right through the skin, depositing energy and damaging cells or DNA along the way.

This damage can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness during the mission if the dose of energetic particles is large enough.

Fortunately for us, Earth’s natural protections block all but the most energetic of these particles from reaching the surface. A huge magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects the vast majority of these particles, protects our planet.

And our atmosphere subsequently absorbs the majority of particles that do make it through this bubble.

Importantly, since the International Space Station (ISS) is in low-Earth orbit within the magnetosphere, it also provides a large measure of protection for our astronauts.

“We have instruments that measure the radiation environment inside the ISS, where the crew are, and even outside the station,” said Kerry Lee, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

A long solar filament erupted into space on April 28-29, 2015. This type of eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, is sometimes followed by a wave of high-energy particles that can be dangerous to astronauts and electronics outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic system and atmosphere. For our journey to Mars, we will have to incorporate protection against this particle radiation into every aspect of mission planning.

This ISS crew monitoring also includes tracking of the short-term and lifetime radiation doses for each astronaut to assess the risk for radiation-related diseases.

Although NASA has conservative radiation limits greater than allowed radiation workers on Earth, the astronauts are able to stay well under NASA’s limit while living and working on the ISS, within Earth’s magnetosphere.

But a journey to Mars requires astronauts to move out much further, beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic bubble.

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