MarsNews.com
August 17th, 2018

Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Flexible transparent aerogels as window retrofitting films and optical elements with tunable birefringence
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221128551830168X

Any project that starts with beer and ends with colonizing Mars has our attention. At its highest level, that describes new research coming out of the University of Colorado at Boulder — where scientists have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day prove useful for building greenhouse-like habitats for Mars colonists.

“The Smalyukh Research Group at the University of Colorado Boulder has developed a super-insulating, ultra-light, and ultra-transparent aerogel film,” Ivan Smalyukh, a professor in the Department of Physics, told Digital Trends. “Aerogels are extremely porous solid objects that are made mostly from air, and are about 100 times less dense than glass panes. Our aerogel is made from nanocellulose, which is grown by bacteria that eat waste beer wort, a waste byproduct of the beer industry.”

The cellulose enables the researchers’ aerogel to be very flexible and durable. It can be produced very cheaply, and means the team can precisely control the individual size of particles which make up its solid structure. This lets the material allow light to pass through it without significant scattering.

“Our immediate real world use-case is to use our aerogel product to dramatically increase the efficiency of windows in homes and commercial buildings,” Andrew Hess, another researcher on the project, told us. “Replacing inefficient windows is a costly and difficult endeavor, especially for buildings with structural or historical constraints. We aim to commercialize a peel-and-stick retrofitting aerogel film for windows which will effectively turn single-pane into double-pane windows — all at an affordable cost well below that of replacing the windows.”

However, the team also has more far-flung ambitions for their research. The project was recently named one of the winners of NASA’s 2018 iTech competition, which aims to reward technologies that could one day be used to help people travel to space.

August 8th, 2018

Aerojet Rocketdyne Delivers Power Generator for Mars 2020 Rover

PARTS OF A MULTI-MISSION RADIOISOTOPE THERMOELECTRIC GENERATOR (MMRTG)
Figure 4.5 from Emily Lakdawalla’s 2018 book The Design and Engineering of Curiosity

Aerojet Rocketdyne, in collaboration with Teledyne, recently delivered the electrical power generator for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL), where it will be fueled, tested and readied for flight. In addition to providing the primary power source for the rover, Aerojet Rocketdyne is also playing a critical role in spacecraft propulsion for the journey to Mars.

The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) will supply electrical power to the rover as it traverses the red planet, collecting samples for a potential return to Earth by a future mission. A similar device supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne continues to power the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the Martian surface since 2012.

The MMRTG converts heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electricity. Radioisotope power sources, which also provide heat to a spacecraft’s components, are typically used on long-duration deep space missions, where the great distance from the sun dramatically reduces the effectiveness of solar arrays.

“We’re best known for propulsion, but our role in supporting space programs certainly does not end there,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “We’ve built lithium-ion batteries for the International Space Station, provide nuclear generators for deep space missions like the Mars rovers, and are building the electrical power system for Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne was awarded a DOE contract in 2003 to develop and produce MMRTGs. In addition to the MMRTG for the Curiosity rover, the DOE authorized assembly of two additional flight units: one for Mars 2020 and one for a future mission. One unit will be fueled for Mars 2020, and the other unit will remain unfueled and in reserve for a future mission.

August 1st, 2018

AeroVironment draws on high-altitude drone development to help make a helicopter for Mars

Wahid Nawabi, chief executive of AeroVironment Inc., holds a scale model of one of the composite blades that will be used to propel NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Helicopter through the thin Martian atmosphere. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A Southern California company that specializes in small drones for the military has an opportunity to contribute to aviation history: the first aerial flight on Mars.

AeroVironment Inc. is making the rotors, landing gear and material to hold solar panels for the Mars Helicopter project, which will be assembled at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. The device will deploy from NASA’s latest Mars rover in 2020, taking high-resolution images that can determine where the slower-wheeled vehicle should head next.

The drone helicopter will look somewhat similar to a hobbyist device you might see whiz by on the beach. But it will incorporate years of research into the challenges of flying in a thin atmosphere that has similar density to about 100,000 feet above Earth’s sea level.

“There’s been a lot of doubts about being able to even fly in the atmosphere of Mars,” said Wahid Nawabi, chief executive of the Monrovia-based company. “It’s been over 100 years since the Kitty Hawk moment. This is the next event.”

July 30th, 2018

One Woman’s Math Could Help NASA Put People on Mars

Kathleen Howell is developing potential orbits around a Lagrange point.
SOURCE: PURDUE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS, AI SOLUTIONS

Kathleen Howell never aspired to walk on the moon. When she watched the first lunar landing as a teenager in 1969, she was more intrigued by the looping route that brought the Apollo 11 astronauts from Earth to the Sea of Tranquility and back. Orbits became her life’s passion. In 1982 she wrote a doctoral thesis on orbits in “multibody regimes” that earned her a Ph.D. from Stanford. She soon received a Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Howell’s world-leading expertise in unconventional orbits is in fresh demand. NASA has decided that a ­near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO)—a specialty of hers—would be an ideal place to put the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a planned way station for future human flights to the moon and eventually Mars. Mission planners have already brought her in for advice.

Unlike an ordinary flat orbit, an NRHO can be slightly warped. Also, it stands on end, almost perpendicular to an ordinary orbit—hence “near rectilinear.” The plan is for the Gateway’s circuits to pass tight over the moon’s north pole at high speed and more slowly below the south pole, because of the greater distance from the moon. Imagine moving your hand in circles, as if washing a window, while you walk forward. Except you’re making hand circles around the moon while walking around Earth.

July 30th, 2018

Top Five Teams Win a Share of $100,000 in Virtual Modeling Stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Competition

Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas, is the first-place winner in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, Phase 3: Level 1 competition.

NASA and partner Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, have selected the top five teams to share a $100,000 prize in the latest stage of the agency’s 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge competition. Winning teams successfully created digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a house on Mars using specialized software tools. The teams earned prize money based on scores assigned by a panel of subject matter experts from NASA, academia and industry. The judges interviewed and evaluated submissions from 18 teams from all over the world and selected these teams:

Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas – $20,957.95
AI. SpaceFactory of New York – $20,957.24
Kahn-Yates of Jackson, Mississippi – $20,622.74
SEArch+/Apis Cor of New York – $19,580.97
Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois – $17,881.10

“We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets. We are excited to see their designs come to life as the competition moves forward.”

July 13th, 2018

Fungus may be the key to colonizing Mars

Courtesy Redhouse Studio Architecture

The thought of colonizing Mars has science fiction aficionados, scientists, and billionaire entrepreneurs staring up at the night sky with renewed wonder and inspiration. But the key to achieving the lofty goal of colonizing and building extensively on a new planet may not exist out among the stars, but under our feet right here on Earth.

Christopher Maurer, an architect and Founder of Cleveland-based Redhouse Studio, and Lynn Rothschild, a NASA Ames researcher, believe algae and mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a network of fine white filaments) may make the perfect building material on Mars.

The algae, which would act as the food supply for the fungus, and mycelium spores would be packed into a flexible plastic shell where it would be watered and coaxed to grow, providing structure for the shell and filling it out almost like air fills out a bouncy castle.

July 3rd, 2018

The Gloves We’ll Wear on Mars

MCP glove prototype. Photo: Final Frontier Design

Living on Mars — which Elon Musk predicts we’ll do in some form by 2024 — will no doubt pose hardships and challenges. And there’s going to be plenty of manual labor. It’s prohibitively expensive to ship construction supplies 34 million miles, so the first settlers will do what settlers have always done: build by hand, with local materials. Sure, those made-from-regolith bricks and water-based windows will probably be 3-D printed, but those materials will still need moving and stacking by hand. Exploring and surveying the planet, doing geological research, and locating ideal habitation areas will involve manual labor, too.

This is nothing new for humans. We’ve built one world by hand, we can probably build another — even in harsh UV light, subzero temperatures, and a lethally low-pressure atmosphere. But if opposable thumbs were key to the evolution of human civilization, and humanity can’t be naked against the Martian elements, then it’s an unexpected and unglamorous factor that will determine whether or not we succeed: gloves.

June 22nd, 2018

BWX Technologies to develop nuclear engine for Mars ship in Alabama

A nuclear technology company says it will start developing products in Alabama which include a propulsion system that could send rockets to Mars.

News outlets report BWX Technologies Inc. opened an office Thursday in Huntsville.

BWX vice president for advanced technical programs, Jonathan Certain, says the company has a contract with NASA to create conceptual designs for a nuclear thermal reactor that could power a spaceship to Mars. BWX will develop it at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

BWX CEO Rex Geveden says the company supplies nuclear components and fuel to the U.S. government including parts for submarines and aircraft carriers.

Certain says the company hopes to hire between 75 and 150 people in Huntsville in the next four or five years.

BWX’s headquarters is in Lynchburg, Virginia.

June 18th, 2018

Pushing the limit: could cyanobacteria terraform Mars?

Cyanobacteria could be used to render the atmospheres of other planets suitable for human life.
Credit: DETLEV VAN RAVENSWAAY/GETTY IMAGES

The bacteria that 3.5 billion years ago were largely responsible for the creation of a breathable atmosphere on Earth could be press-ganged into terraforming other planets, research suggests.

A team of biologists and chemists from Australia, the UK, France and Italy has been investigating the ability of cyanobacteria – also known as blue-green algae – to photosynthesise in low-light conditions.

Cyanobacteria are some of the most ancient organisms around, and were responsible, though photosynthesis, for converting the Earth’s early atmosphere of methane, ammonia and other gases into the composition it sustains today.

The photochemistry used by the microbes is pretty much the same as that used by the legion of multicellular plants that subsequently evolved. The process involves the use of red light. Most plants are green because chlorophyll is bad at absorbing energy from that part of the visible light spectrum, and thus reflects it.

Light itself, however, is a critical component for photosynthesis, which is why plants (and suitably equipped bacteria) fail to grow in very dark environments. Just how dark such environments need to be before the process becomes impossible was the focus of the new research.

The team of scientists, which included Elmars Krausz from the Australian National University in Canberra, tested the ability of a cyanobacterial species called Chroococcidiopsis thermalis to photosynthesise in low light.

Previously it had been widely thought that the necessary photochemistry shut down at a light wavelength of 700 nanometres – a point known as the “red limit”.

May 31st, 2018

Flying in Martian Skies: NASA’s 2020 Rover Mission Will Include Tiny Helicopter

Artist’s conception of the autonomous, drone-like Mars Helicopter, which will be sent to Mars along with the 2020 rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Excitement has been building for NASA’s next rover mission to Mars, scheduled to launch sometime in 2020. Although it looks a lot like the current Curiosity rover, its mission will be to search directly for possible evidence of past life. Curiosity, on the other hand, is studying the ancient habitability of Gale crater, which we now know used to hold a lake or series of lakes, focusing more on geology than biology. And now the upcoming 2020 mission just got even better – NASA has approved the inclusion of a tiny drone-like helicopter to accompany the rover!

This is something never done before, and assuming it’s successful, will be the first time that Mars has been robotically explored by something other than an orbiter, lander or rover.

The Mars Helicopter will be a small, drone-like autonomous rotorcraft, designed specifically for Mars’ very thin atmosphere; it will provide a unique and exciting new way to see the Martian landscape as never before – a bird’s-eye view, if you will. And of course, it’s just very cool.