MarsNews.com
July 21st, 2020

How NASA Built a Self-Driving Car for Its Next Mars Mission

Like the self-driving cars on Earth, Perseverance will navigate using an array of sensors feeding data to machine vision algorithms.PHOTOGRAPH: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Later this month, NASA is expected to launch its latest Mars rover, Perseverance, on a first-of-its-kind mission to the Red Planet. Its job is to collect and store geological samples so they can eventually be returned to Earth. Perseverance will spend its days poking the Jezero Crater, an ancient Martian river delta, and the samples it collects may contain the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. But first it has to find them. For that, it needs some damn good computers—at least by Martian standards.

Perseverance is significantly more autonomous than any of NASA’s previous four rovers and is designed to be what Philip Twu, a robotics system engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, calls a “self-driving car on Mars.” Like the ones on Earth, Perseverance will navigate using an array of sensors feeding data to machine vision algorithms. But whereas terrestrial autonomous vehicles are packed with the best computers money can buy, the main computer on Perseverance is about as fast as a high-end PC … from 1997. The only way Perseverance’s poky brain is able to handle all this autonomous driving is because NASA gave it a second computer that acts like a robotic driver.

March 3rd, 2020

The future of Mars colonization begins with VR and video games

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ/CNET

A pristine white rocket stirs up the dusty terracotta surface of Mars, coming in for a smooth landing. A hatch opens, and two rovers make their way across the rugged orange-red terrain. There are no humans — at least, not yet. But this is one small step — or a short wheel roll — to a new world that could be our future home.

I’m playing Surviving Mars, a 2018 survival strategy game from Tropico developers Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive. The goal? Build the infrastructure to sustain human life on the red planet.

bug.png
“Humanity is in a weird situation right now — my smartphone has more computing power than NASA had when they sent people to the moon, but we’re using that to exchange pictures of cats and argue on Twitter,” said Bisser Dyankov, producer of Surviving Mars.

Video games and virtual reality simulations are bringing the average person closer than ever to experiencing life on Mars. For many, these pop culture tours make the actual missions to colonize the planet proposed both by NASA and private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX feel more achievable.

These games, along with other pop culture representations of Mars, have vastly increased interest in human missions to Mars, said James Burk, IT director of the space advocacy nonprofit the Mars Society. In particular, the 2015 movie adaptation of the novel The Martian was a major turning point in piquing public curiosity in colonizing the planet. And now, SpaceX’s plan to send an unmanned mission to Mars as soon as 2022 “is throwing gasoline on it all,” he added.

“It’s getting easier all the time to tell the story of sending people to Mars because now we have all these tools,” Burk said. “People are more accepting of that reality now.”

February 12th, 2020

NASA Will Soon Use ‘Space Lasers’ To Give Us Live Video From Mars And The Moon

Deep space communications via laser could increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Ever since its inception, NASA has used radio waves to send and receive data, which are very dependable, but slow. In fact, it’s rare for any spacecraft to send back images at more than a couple of megabits per second (Mbps). That’s virtually dial-up speed, and it seriously hampers the exchange of real-time scientific data.

There are three complexes in the DSN, each placed 120º from each other; California, Madrid in Spain and Canberra in Australia.

Goldstone’s new antenna will include some capability to test optical communications and, specifically, a new technology NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is working on called Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC).

“Space lasers” will be critical for Mars missions; the astronauts on Mars will communicate with Earth far more than the robotic missions currently do, and NASA will need real-time data on life support systems and equipment on any Mars base.

However, you won’t be able to see them; the lasers will be in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

January 17th, 2020

Elon Musk drops details for SpaceX Mars mega-colony

This futuristic render shows a collection of Starships hanging out on the surface of Mars. Elon Musk and SpaceX envision astronauts initially living out of the spaceships while constructing a more permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.

The first SpaceX Starship orbital prototypes aren’t even built yet, but Elon Musk already has big plans for his company’s spacecraft, which includes turning humans into an interplanetary species with a presence on Mars. He crunched some of the numbers he has in mind on Twitter on Thursday.

Musk doesn’t just want to launch a few intrepid souls to Mars, he wants to send a whole new nation. He tossed out a goal of building 100 Starships per year to send about 100,000 people from Earth to Mars every time the planets’ orbits line up favorably.

A Twitter user ran the figures and checked if Musk planned to land a million humans on Mars by 2050. “Yes,” Musk replied. The SpaceX CEO has suggested this sort of Mars population number before. This new round of tweets give us some more insight into how it could be done, though “ambitious” doesn’t do that timeline justice. Miraculous might be a more fitting description.

The distance between Earth and Mars gets reasonably close roughly every 26 months. Musk’s vision involves loading 1,000 Starships into orbit and then sending them off over the course of a month around prime time for a minimal commute. Travelers would still be looking at spending months on board before reaching the Red Planet.

October 16th, 2019

NASA demos spacesuits for its Moon and Mars missions

Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, left, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, second from left, watch as Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), and Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit, right, wave after being introduced by the administrator, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The xEMU suit improves on the suits previous worn on the Moon during the Apollo era and those currently in use for spacewalks outside the International Space Station and will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. The Orion suit is designed for a custom fit and incorporates safety technology and mobility features that will help protect astronauts on launch day, in emergency situations, high-risk parts of missions near the Moon, and during the high-speed return to Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Today, NASA revealed the two spacesuits that it will use for its Project Artemis. It shared a video of a spacesuit engineer wearing a bulky, red-white-and-blue suit that will be used for work on the Moon and another spacesuit engineer rocking a thinner, orange suit. The latter is what the crew will wear on their way to and from the Moon, and in the event that there’s a sudden depressurization of their spacecraft, they’ll be able to live inside the suit for days.

October 14th, 2019

Inside NASA’s plan to use Martian dirt to build houses on Mars

A rendering of Marsha, one of the options NASA collaborators have come up with for housing on the Red Planet. The tall, slender shape maximizes interior space and lends itself to printing.Courtesy AI Spacefactory

People settling on Mars will to some degree have to live off the land. At its closest, our neighboring planet lies 35 million miles away. Transporting supplies there will cost roughly $5,000 per pound and take at least six months using current technology. Better to enlist the natural resources of their new home when possible, an approach called in situ resource utilization. “It totally changes the logistics of a mission,” says Advenit Makaya, a materials engineer who develops processes like 3D printing at the European Space Agency. “You don’t have to bring everything with you.”

Humans on the Red Planet might draw power from the sun, mine water from buried ice, and harvest oxygen from the atmosphere. With NASA’s encouragement, architects, engineers, and scientists are exploring how early residents might use recycled waste and the planet’s loose rock and dust, called regolith, to craft tools, erect homes, pave launchpads and roads, and more.

Rovers and probes have revealed enough about Martian geology for us to start figuring out how that might work. The surface contains an abundance of iron, magnesium, aluminum, and other useful metals found here at home. Scientists also believe the crust consists largely of volcanic basalt much like the dried lava fields of Hawaii.

October 10th, 2019

NASA’s New Spacesuit: The xEMU

Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU): EVA Spacesuit Technology and Design #SuitUp

NASA has announced the details of the first new spacesuit since the Space Shuttle, which will allow humans to return to the lunar surface and maybe even travel further beyond. But why does NASA need new spacesuits when they already have some in use?

When the Space Shuttle entered service, it came with a new spacesuit: the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (hence EMU). It remains the main operational spacesuit for NASA, despite its 30-year-old parts and even older design, and has allowed for many feats of human engineering. However, with this storied history has come deterioration: out of the original fleet of 14 flight-ready suits, only 8 remain thanks to a variety of accidents.

This inability to use current hardware has made the development of a new suit a major problem for the Artemis Program’s ambitions. As such, NASA has focused its resources on one suit design, as opposed to the many it was designing and studying previously: the xEMU, or Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit.

Building on the EMU’s basic design, the new xEMU will incorporate many design features of the 21st century. Compared to the old A7L suits from Apollo, the new suits will be more flexible, adaptable and much easier to put on, with multiple new features. These include a back entry port (similar to the port on Russia’s Orlan suit), modular design, high-speed data transceiver, sacrificial helmet shield (to protect from lunar dust), and HD video system, among many others.

October 9th, 2019

Small satellite launcher Virgin Orbit announces plans to send tiny vehicles to Mars

Cosmic Girl releases LauncherOne mid-air for the first time during a July 2019 drop test.

Virgin Orbit has big plans to send small spacecraft to Mars, as soon as 2022. The company — an offshoot of Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic — announced today that it is partnering with nearly a dozen Polish universities and a Polish satellite maker called SatRevolution to design up to three robotic missions to the Red Planet over the next decade.

If successful, these missions could be the first purely commercial trips to Mars. Up until now, only four organizations have ever successfully made it to the Red Planet, and all of them have been government-led space organizations. Commercial companies like SpaceX have vowed to send spacecraft to Earth’s neighbor, but so far, Mars has been the sole domain of nation-states. “It’s still a pretty small club, and none of them have been something quite like this where it’s a consortium of companies and universities,” Will Pomerantz, the vice president of special projects at Virgin Orbit, tells The Verge. Plus, all of these space agency vehicles have typically been large — comparable to the size of buses and cars.

But the Virgin Orbit team was inspired to take on this endeavor thanks to NASA’s recent InSight mission, which sent a lander to Mars in November of 2018. When the InSight lander launched, two small standardized spacecraft the size of cereal boxes — known as CubeSats — launched along with it, and traveled all the way to Mars trailing behind the vehicle. It marked the first time that CubeSats, or any small spacecraft of that size, had journeyed beyond the orbit of Earth and out into deep space. The pair of satellites performed exactly as intended, relaying signals from InSight back to Earth, proving that small satellites could be valuable on deep space missions for very low costs.

October 1st, 2019

NASA Announces New Tipping Point Partnerships for Moon and Mars Technologies

Astrobotic is one of 14 companies selected for NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation. This illustration depicts CubeRover, an ultra-light, modular and scalable commercial rover.
Credits: Astrobotic/Carnegie Mellon University

NASA has selected 14 American companies as partners whose technologies will help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

The selections are based on NASA’s fourth competitive Tipping Point solicitation and have a combined total award value of about $43.2 million. This investment in the U.S. space industry, including small businesses across the country, will help bring the technologies to market and ready them for use by NASA.

“These promising technologies are at a ‘tipping point’ in their development, meaning NASA’s investment is likely the extra push a company needs to significantly mature a capability,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “These are important technologies necessary for sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars. As the agency focuses on landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, we continue to prepare for the next phase of lunar exploration that feeds forward to Mars.”

The selections address technology areas such as cryogenic propellant production and management, sustainable energy generation, storage and distribution, efficient and affordable propulsion systems, autonomous operations, rover mobility, and advanced avionics.

September 30th, 2019

The rocket Elon Musk wants to send to Mars is almost ready to launch

SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft at the Boca Chica facility in Texas
Loren Elliott/Getty

Elon Musk has said that his Starship spacecraft – which is designed to carry people to the moon and Mars – will begin orbital test flights in less than two months. The SpaceX CEO made the comments during an evening presentation at Space X’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, with the gigantic shiny spacecraft lit up in the background.

Musk first revealed plans for the rocket in 2016, updating them and calling the craft the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) in 2017. Last year, he revised the design again and changed the rocket’s name to Starship. It is 118 metres tall and apparently capable of carrying about 100 people to the moon or Mars.