MarsNews.com
November 30th, 2018

Bothell company’s explosives made sure Mars craft had a soft landing

In this February 2015 photo made available by NASA, the parachute for the InSight mission to Mars is tested inside the world’s largest wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin via AP)

Redmond-based rocket maker Aerojet-Rocketdyne wasn’t the only [Washington State] firm anxiously watching the NASA Mars landing on Monday.

In nearby Bothell, a team at the General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems operation sat in front of a live video feed from NASA’s Mission Control, waiting for news about their own piece of the mission — a small but powerful cannon designed to blast out the parachute that helped slow the InSight landing craft as it plunged through the Martian atmosphere.

The so-called Mortar Deployment System is a wastebasket-sized cylindrical device, roughly 18 inches long and 10 inches across, that uses a precisely calibrated explosion to rapidly inflate a huge parachute behind the lander. That high-caliber shove is needed because the Martian atmosphere, at only one-hundredth the density of Earth’s, is so thin that the parachute won’t unfold on its own, said Paul Lichon, director of General Dynamic’s Bothell operation.

And unless the chute deploys fully and precisely on time, Lichon said, the lander’s braking rockets — supplied by Aerojet-Rocketdyne — wouldn’t slow the lander sufficiently to avoid a crash landing.

“This is one of the few systems on the spacecraft that is ‘single-point failure,’” said Lichon. “If our system doesn’t work, the whole mission is lost.”

November 28th, 2018

SpaceBok robotic hopper being tested at ESA’s Mars Yard

The four-legged robot mainly uses a hopping locomotion to navigate uneven terrain.

SpaceBok, a robotic hopper, is currently undergoing tested in the European Space Agency’s Mars Yard. On Wednesday, ESA released an image of the four-legged robot navigating cragged, red-tinged rocks.

SpaceBok was designed by a team of students from a pair of Swiss research universities, ETH Zurich and ZHAW Zurich. Students and researchers designed the robot for the purpose of navigating uneven, low-gravity environments like those found on the surface of the moon and Mars.

The Mars Yard is a small sandbox filled with a conglomerate of sand, gravel and different sized rocks. It is located at ESA’s Planetary Robotics Laboratory in the Netherlands.

“Legged robots can traverse unstructured terrain and could be used to explore areas of interest, such as craters, which rovers are unable to reach,” research team member Patrick Barton said in a news release. “As they are very versatile, they can change gait to adapt to different terrain.”

Despite the robot’s gait versatility, its preferred pattern of locomotion is hopping.

November 9th, 2018

The Mars Society Launches $10,000 Prize for Designing the Best Plan For a Mars Colony of 1,000 People

Each contestant will need to submit a report of no more than 20 pages presenting their plan by no later than March 31, 2019.

The Mars Society is holding a contest for the best plan for a Mars colony of 1000 people. There will be a prize of $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $2500 for third. In addition, the best 20 papers will published in a book “Mars Colonies: Plans for Settling the Red Planet.”

The colony should be self-supporting to the maximum extent possible – i.e. relying on a minimum mass of imports from Earth. In order to make all the things that people need on Earth takes a lot more than 1000 people, so you will need to augment both the amount and diversity of available labor power through the use of robots and artificial intelligence. You will need to be able to both produce essential bulk materials like food, fabrics, steel, glass, and plastics on Mars, and fabricate them into useful structures, so 3-D printing and other advanced fabrication technologies will be essential. The goal is to have the colony be able to produce all the food, clothing, shelter, power, common consumer products, vehicles, and machines for 1000 people, with only the minimum number of key components, such as advanced electronics needing to be imported from Earth

As noted, imports will always be necessary, so you will need to think of useful exports – of either material or intellectual products that the colony could produce and transport or transit back to Earth to pay for them. In the future, it can be expected that the cost of shipping goods from Earth to Mars will be $500/kg and the cost of shipping goods from Mars to Earth will be $200/kg . Under these assumptions, your job is to design an economy, cost it out, and show that after a certain initial investment in time and money, that it can become successful.

November 7th, 2018

This Space Station Air Recycler Could Help Astronauts Breathe Easier on Mars

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst poses on Oct. 19, 2018, with the ACLS life-support rack, newly installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: ESA/NASA

A new life-support system that can recycle breathable air is being installed at the International Space Station, promising to dramatically decrease the amount of water that needs to be brought to the orbital outpost to make oxygen.

The system represents an important step toward so-called closed-loop life-support systems that could one day sustain space crews indefinitely without supply missions from Earth. Such systems will be crucial for future long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.

The newly installed Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), arrived at the space station in late September aboard the Japanese HTV-7 cargo ship. This system could slash the amount of water needed for the oxygen system by 400 liters (100 gallons).

This Space Station Air Recycler Could Help Astronauts Breathe Easier on Mars
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst poses on Oct. 19, 2018, with the ACLS life-support rack, newly installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: ESA/NASA
A new life-support system that can recycle breathable air is being installed at the International Space Station, promising to dramatically decrease the amount of water that needs to be brought to the orbital outpost to make oxygen.

The system represents an important step toward so-called closed-loop life-support systems that could one day sustain space crews indefinitely without supply missions from Earth. Such systems will be crucial for future long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.

The newly installed Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), arrived at the space station in late September aboard the Japanese HTV-7 cargo ship. This system could slash the amount of water needed for the oxygen system by 400 liters (100 gallons). [The International Space Station: Inside and Out (Infographic)]

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The 750-kilogram (1,650 lbs.) system, housed in a payload rack 2 meters by 1 m by 90 centimeters in size (6.5 by 3.3 by 3 feet), recycles 50 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled by the astronauts back into oxygen. As the air passes through the system, the CO2 is trapped in small beads made of amine, an organic compound similar to ammonia.

“Once we remove CO2 from the cabin air, we extract it from these materials and we get almost pure CO2,” Daniele Laurini, who led the ESA team that developed the system, told Space.com. “Then, we react the CO2 with hydrogen and we extract water and methane.”

Water is further split into hydrogen and — more importantly — oxygen, which the astronauts can breathe. In the past, all water for making oxygen would have to be brought from Earth. The new process extracts an equal amount of water and methane, Laurini said.

October 31st, 2018

The Mars Generation Suits Up

Testing Final Frontier Design’s 3G Mark III space suit.
Photo: Final Fontier Design

Whenever Hollywood stars venture out into infinity and beyond, they get a slick new wardrobe upgrade. Gravity’s Sandra Bullock has her hip-hugging Sokol suit. The Martian’s Matt Damon sports color-coordinated Red Planet gear.

ut real astronauts aren’t as lucky. They get stuck wearing the same old space duds, sometimes for decades. Space travel is expensive, and space attire itself is costly and difficult to make. So even if some of our current space suits are based on patents from the 1950s, why not keep using those same designs if they’ve already been tested and still work?

Nonetheless, because of the burgeoning human-travel commercial space industry, and renewed interest in going to Mars spurred on by the spectacular Curiosity rover mission and the Mars One space settler effort, space suits are getting another look.

October 30th, 2018

How NASA Will Use Robots to Create Rocket Fuel From Martian Soil

This artist’s rendering shows excavating robots that may one day operate on Mars, long before humans ever set foot on the planet.
Illustration: Marek Denko/NoEmotion

The year is 2038. After 18 months living and working on the surface of Mars, a crew of six explorers boards a deep-space transport rocket and leaves for Earth. No humans are staying behind, but work goes on without them: Autonomous robots will keep running a mining and chemical-synthesis plant they’d started years before this first crewed mission ever set foot on the planet. The plant produces water, oxygen, and rocket fuel using local resources, and it will methodically build up all the necessary supplies for the next Mars mission, set to arrive in another two years.

This robot factory isn’t science fiction: It’s being developed jointly by multiple teams across NASA. One of them is the Swamp Works Lab at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, where I am a team lead. Officially, it’s known as an in situ resource utilization (ISRU) system, but we like to call it a dust-to-thrust factory, because it turns simple dust into rocket fuel. This technology will one day allow humans to live and work on Mars—and return to Earth to tell the story.

But why synthesize stuff on Mars instead of just shipping it there from Earth? NASA invokes the “gear-ratio problem.” By some estimates, to ship a single kilogram of fuel from Earth to Mars, today’s rockets need to burn 225 kilograms of fuel in transit—launching into low Earth orbit, shooting off toward Mars, slowing down to get into Mars orbit, and finally slowing to a safe landing on the surface of Mars. We’d start with 226 kg and end with 1 kg, which makes for a 226:1 gear ratio. And the ratio stays the same no matter what we ship. We would need 225 tons of fuel to send a ton of water, a ton of oxygen, or a ton of machinery. The only way to get around that harsh arithmetic is by making our water, oxygen, and fuel on-site.

October 29th, 2018

Third ASPIRE Test Confirms Mars 2020 Parachute a Go

This high-definition image was taken on Sept. 7, 2018, during the third and final test flight of the ASPIRE payload. It was the fastest inflation of this size parachute in history and created a peak load of almost 70,000 pounds of force.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the early hours of Sept. 7, NASA broke a world record.

Less than 2 minutes after the launch of a 58-foot-tall (17.7-meter) Black Brant IX sounding rocket, a payload separated and began its dive back through Earth’s atmosphere. When onboard sensors determined the payload had reached the appropriate height and Mach number (38 kilometers altitude, Mach 1.8), the payload deployed a parachute. Within four-tenths of a second, the 180-pound parachute billowed out from being a solid cylinder to being fully inflated.

It was the fastest inflation in history of a parachute this size and created a peak load of almost 70,000 pounds of force.

This wasn’t just any parachute. The mass of nylon, Technora and Kevlar fibers that make up the parachute will play an integral part in landing NASA’s state-of-the-art Mars 2020 rover on the Red Planet in February 2021. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) project conducted a series of sounding rocket tests to help decide which parachute design to use on the Mars 2020 mission.

Two different parachutes were evaluated during ASPIRE. The first test flight carried almost an exact copy of the parachute used to land NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory successfully on the Red Planet in 2012. The second and third tests carried chutes of similar dimensions but reinforced with stronger materials and stitching.

On Oct. 3, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission management and members of its Entry, Descent, and Landing team met at JPL in Pasadena, California, and determined that the strengthened parachute had passed its tests and was ready for its Martian debut.

“Mars 2020 will be carrying the heaviest payload yet to the surface of Mars, and like all our prior Mars missions, we only have one parachute and it has to work,” said John McNamee, project manager of Mars 2020 at JPL. “The ASPIRE tests have shown in remarkable detail how our parachute will react when it is first deployed into a supersonic flow high above Mars. And let me tell you, it looks beautiful.”

October 22nd, 2018

A first look at China’s Mars simulation base out in the Gobi Desert

China’s Mars simulation base in Gansu Province. CCTV/Framegrab

China’s first Mars simulation base opened to the press on Friday in Gansu Province in the northwest of the country, providing a glimpse of the project mainly intended to popularise space among youth.

The base is located in the Gobi Desert, 40 kilometres away from the downtown area of Jinchang, a city in Gansu. The natural features, landscape and climate are being described as resembling Martian conditions.

The newly-built base has an extravehicular site and nine modules, including an airlock module, a general control module and a bio-module.

“[The base] has several sections. It can tell us how to survive in severe environment when we arrive in the Mars, including such questions as where we can stay, where we can do scientific experiments to serve the globe and which experiments are more valuable,” said Tian Rusen, an expert on space and science outreach.

October 18th, 2018

VP, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince launch Mars Science City

The Mars Science City structure will be the most sophisticated building the world, and will incorporate a realistic simulation environment replicating the conditions on the surface of Mars. – Dubai Media Office

Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, have launched the Mars Science City project.

The AED 500 million-City will cover 1.9 million square feet, making it the largest space stimulation city ever built and will provide a viable and realistic model to simulate living on the surface of Mars.

The project, which was unveiled at the annual meetings for the UAE government in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, encompasses laboratories for food, energy and water, as well as agricultural testing and studies about food security in the future. The science city will also boast a museum that displays humanity’s greatest space achievements, including educational areas meant to engage young citizens with space, and inspire in them a passion for exploration and discovery.

The walls of the museum will be 3D printed, using sand from the Emirati desert.

October 9th, 2018

AI Learns to Guide Planetary Rovers Without GPS

Images: NASA Frontier Development Lab
On the left, four ground-view camera images taken from the moon’s simulated surface are reprocessed as a top-down aerial reprojection view of the lunar landscape. On the right, a deep-learning algorithm uses moon satellite maps to come up with the five best candidate locations matching the aerial reprojection view.

A Mars rover roaming the Red Planet cannot whip out a smartphone to check its location based on GPS. Instead, the robotic explorer must take panoramic pictures of the surrounding landscape so that a human back on Earth can painstakingly compare the ground images with Mars satellite maps taken from above by orbiting spacecraft.

Locating a Mars mission after it first touches down, using that manual process of scrutinizing landscape features and making image comparisons, can take up to 24 hours. What’s more, it still requires at least 30 minutes to confirm a rover’s updated location after it’s on the move. But a new AI approach that trains deep-learning algorithms to perform the necessary image comparisons could reduce the localization process to mere seconds. A team of space scientists and computer scientists gathered together during the 2018 NASA Frontier Development Lab event to develop that potential path forward for future space missions.

“If we go to more planets or another moon or the asteroids, the goal is to be able to use this to localize ourselves in GPS-free environments,” says Benjamin Wu, an astrophysicist at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and a member of the team that tackled this challenge.