September 28th, 2016

Mars awaits: Sydney rocket scientist to test ion drive in space University of Sydney

Return trips to Mars without refuelling could be a step closer, the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico heard today – because of world-leading research from the University of Sydney and the entrepreneurialism of a former student now set to test his invention in space.

The announcement comes weeks after research reporting a world record specific impulse – a measure of thrust efficiency, like miles per gallon – was published by a graduate and two professors at the University of Sydney.

The rocket engine is being commercially developed by Neumann Space, the company set up by Dr Patrick Neumann after the completion of his PhD. Dr Neumann, who was part of an international announcement by Airbus Defence & Space today at the congress taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico, sent a statement about the invention.

September 26th, 2016

SpaceX’s humans-to-Mars rocket gets fired up University of Sydney

Elon Musk/Twitter

Elon Musk’s private space endeavor SpaceX on Sunday conducted its first test of the Raptor rocket engine designed to take humans to Mars as early as 2024.

Musk tweeted about the test, which took place at the company’s McGregor, Texas, facility, ahead of his keynote address at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress on Tuesday. In the speech, titled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” he is expected to unveil the design for the Mars Colonial Transporter, as well as his plan for colonizing the Red Planet.

September 21st, 2016

Earth to Mars: This startup is trying to make IoT power packs that work in outer space University of Sydney

Finnish startup Tespack is working with the Austrian Space Forum on providing astronauts with advanced technology carried in solar-charged backpacks for the first manned mission to Mars.
Image: Tespack/Austrian Space Forum

The internet of things is meant to be a game-changer. Yet the technology still faces important physical challenges, such as distance limitations, battery life, and durability. All these issues become even more pronounced in the extreme conditions found in very hot or cold locations.

Tespack is trying to tackle some of these problems by developing solar-powered backpacks with IoT and connectivity capabilities, to take energy-generation not only to the next level, but even to another planet.

The Finnish startup, which develops mobile-energy products for use in remote areas, such as Antarctica or on Everest, recently announced a partnership with the Austrian Space Forum, carrying out fundamental research on Mars analogs.

September 20th, 2016

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover to produce oxygen on the Red Planet University of Sydney

Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will not only investigate the Red Planet, searching for evidence of past life on Mars, but also it is expected to lay the foundations for future human exploration of the planet. One of the mission’s instruments, called MOXIE, will have a special task – testing technology essential for Mars colonization.

“MOXIE is one of nine instruments, but it is the only one that is relevant to human exploration,” Donald Rapp, one of the co-investigators of MOXIE, told

MOXIE stands for the Mars OXygen In-situ resource utilization Experiment. With a diameter of 9.4 by 9.4 by 12.2 inches (23.9 cm × 23.9 cm × 30.9 cm), the instrument will produce oxygen from the Martian carbon dioxide atmosphere at a rate of about 0.35 ounces (10 grams) per hour. It is a 1:100 scale test model of a future instrument that would be efficient for human explorers on Mars.

“The object is not to produce a lot of oxygen. The object is to show that the process works on Mars. MOXIE produces only about 10 [grams] per hour of oxygen, less than one percent of full scale,” Rapp said.

September 19th, 2016

Moon-walker Buzz Aldrin opens new Mars exhibit at Kennedy Space Center University of Sydney

Apollo 11 moon-walker Buzz Aldrin says he hopes the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s new “Destination: Mars” experience will help inspire human exploration of the Red Planet.

Aldrin was at the complex on Sunday at a media preview and ribbon-cutting for the attraction, which features a holographic image of Aldrin, as he guides visitors on a walk along the virtual Martian surface.

A proponent of colonization of Mars, Aldrin told reporters that he would like to see the next president make a bold statement shortly after taking office in January for accelerating the timeline for human spaceflight to Mars, so that we can one day “call two planets ‘home.'”

August 4th, 2016

The future of Mars will be 3D-printed in the Mojave Desert University of Sydney

Growing up in Jakarta’s polluted slums, Vera Mulyani loved building things. As a child, she dreamed of becoming an architect.

More than two decades later, Mulyani is a self-proclaimed “Marschitect,” and spends her time brainstorming how human life might be sustained on the red planet. After studying at École d’Architecture de Nantes in France and at New York Film Academy, in January 2015 she founded Mars City Design, a think tank of sorts aimed at developing blueprints for the first self-sustaining city on Mars.

Earlier this month, Mars City Design raised $30,382 on Kickstarter to realize the next phase of its mission: Within the next three years, the group wants to 3D-print three to-scale habitat prototypes of Martian cities at Reaction Research Society’s test area in the Mojave Desert.

June 28th, 2016

NASA’s Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Milestone on Journey to Mars University of Sydney

A booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”

The booster was tested at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight. Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.

February 23rd, 2016

Laser Propulsion Can Get a Probe to Mars in 3 Days, Scientists Say University of Sydney

Photonic propulsion could get a 100 kg object to Mars in 3 days—a spaceship in a month—and we already have the technology to build it, scientists say.

Scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, are proposing a road map to building laser arrays in orbit capable of launching probes to nearest star systems and spacecraft-sized loads to our nearest planets.

January 12th, 2016

Why Martian Concrete Might Be The Best Building Material In The Solar System University of Sydney

luckypic via Shutterstock

Concrete has been critical to the colonization of our own planet. The Romans and Egyptians built their empires upon it, and when their formula for concrete was lost, humanity invented it all over again in the 14th century. Today, over 2 billion tons of concrete are produced every year, and by 2050, that’s expected to quadruple.

When we finally start colonizing other planets like Mars, we’re going to need concrete to make buildings and infrastructure. But concrete needs water, and Mars doesn’t have any. How do we make it, then? A team of researchers at Northwestern think they have the answer: by heating sulfur up to 240 degrees Celsius until it liquefies, and using that instead.

By using simulated Martian soil consisting of silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, and mixing this aggregate 50/50 with molten sulfur, they were able to make blocks of quasi-Martian concrete. And it’s strong: two-and-a-half times as strong as the concrete most commonly used on Earth.

There’s another advantage of Martian concrete over Earth concrete, too. On Earth, concrete production is the third biggest contributor of CO2 emissions, largely because of how much concrete we use. And recycling concrete doesn’t help curb that production, because while we’re tearing down concrete structures all the time, it’s time-consuming and resource-intensive to reuse. But on Mars, the concrete could literally just be re-heated until the sulfur melts, and the entire concrete block becomes malleable again. That means any Martian concrete will be almost infinitely reusable, without taking the same toll on Mars as it took on Earth.

January 7th, 2016

U.S. lab generates first space-grade plutonium sample since 1980s University of Sydney

File photo of a plutonium-238 pellet. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the U.S. Department of Energy has produced a sample of plutonium-238, the radioactive isotope used to power deep space missions, good news for future NASA space probes heading to destinations starved of sunlight.

The 50-gram (0.1-pound) sample is a fraction of the plutonium needed to fuel one spacecraft power generator, but the Energy Department said the material represents the first end-to-end demonstration of plutonium-238 production in the United States since 1988.

The DOE made the new batch of plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.