MarsNews.com
February 1st, 2022

Waste to Base Materials Challenge: Sustainable Reprocessing in Space

Help NASA improve future space missions by proposing approaches to permit efficient reprocessing/recycling/repurposing of onboard resources.

This challenge is all about finding ways to convert waste into base materials and other useful things, like propellant or feedstock for 3D printing. We are looking for your ideas for how to convert different waste streams into useful materials that can then be made into needed things and cycled through multiple times – and we are looking for ideas to convert waste into propellant. Eventually, we would like to integrate all the different processes into a robust ecosystem that allows a spacecraft to launch from Earth with the lowest possible mass. For now, we are asking you to share your ideas for waste management/conversion in several specific categories:

Trash
Fecal waste
Foam packaging material
Carbon dioxide (CO2) processing

Winning ideas in each category will each receive a prize of $1,000. Additionally, judges will recognize “best in class” ideas, awarding each a prize of $1,000. A total prize purse of $24,000 will be awarded.

Timeline
Open to submissions January 18, 2022

Submission deadline March 15, 2022 @ 5pm ET

Judging March 15 – April 19, 2022

Winners Announced April 26, 2022

January 25th, 2022

Motion capture is guiding the next generation of extraterrestrial robots

Dr. Frankie Zhu with AXEL rover in the extreme robotics lab at NASA JPL

“How do we build robots that can optimally explore space?” is the core question behind Dr Frances Zhu’s research at the University of Hawai’i. One part of the answer is, “with motion capture”.

“It is my hope that my research contributes to the way extraterrestrial robots move and make decisions on other planets,” explains Zhu (main image), an assistant researcher and deputy director at the University’s Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.

That research is in its early stages, but NASA has seen the value in it and awarded Zhu an EPSCoR grant by the name “Autonomous Rover Operations for Planetary Surface Exploration using Machine Learning Algorithms”.

Specifically, Zhu’s project focuses on robots that explore extreme terrain on lunar and planetary surfaces. “There are a few questions that I want to answer,” she says.

January 10th, 2022

Assessing Perseverance’s Seventh Sample Collection

Debris in Perseverance’s Bit Carousel: Pebble-sized debris can be seen in the bit carousel of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover in this Jan. 7, 2022, image. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On Wednesday, Dec. 29 (sol 306) Perseverance successfully cored and extracted a sample from a Mars rock. Data downlinked after the sampling indicates that coring of the rock the science team nicknamed Issole went smoothly. However, during the transfer of the bit that contains the sample into the rover’s bit carousel (which stores bits and passes tubes to the tube processing hardware inside the rover), our sensors indicated an anomaly. The rover did as it was designed to do – halting the caching procedure and calling home for further instructions.

This is only the 6th time in human history a sample has been cored from a rock on a planet other than Earth, so when we see something anomalous going on, we take it slow. Here is what we know so far, and what we are doing about it.

December 20th, 2021

SpaceX’s towering Starship aims to get humans to Mars

SpaceX successfully launched and landed Starship SN15 at the company’s Starbase spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, on May 5, 2021. Photograph: Spacex/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

The largest and most powerful rocket ship ever is fully recyclable and may be the first vehicle to land humans on Mars

It’s been an eventful month for Elon Musk. The world’s richest man and founder of Tesla and SpaceX was, controversially, named Time’s person of the year; became embroiled in a Twitter spat over his taxes with a politician he branded “Senator Karen” and got a bizarre new haircut after splitting with his girlfriend, the pop singer Grimes.

Next month, however, or perhaps a few weeks beyond if the attendant gremlins of spaceflight choose to play with the launch schedule, could come an achievement to surpass anything Musk has done before.

The first orbital test launch of the largest and most powerful rocket ship ever to leave Earth – SpaceX’s towering Starship, from its Starbase headquarters in Texas – is seen by many as a pathway back to the moon for the first time in half a century and maybe the first vehicle to eventually land humans on Mars.

The project that began life in Musk’s overactive mind more than a decade ago is every bit as ambitious as his pronouncement this week that: “I’ll be surprised if we’re not landing on Mars within five years.”

December 17th, 2021

A one-way phone call at Mars

ESA Mars Express relays data from CNSA Zhurong rover

Landers and rovers on Mars gather data that help scientists answer fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water and potential for life on the Red Planet.

To get these insights to Earth, they first transmit the data up to spacecraft in orbit around Mars. These orbiters then use their much larger, more powerful transmitters to ‘relay’ the data across space to Earth.

“Normally, an orbiter like ESA’s Mars Express first sends down a hail signal to a rover as a ‘hello’,” says James Godfrey, Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager.

“The rover then sends back a response to establish stable communications and begin the two-way exchange of information. But this relies on the rover’s radio system being compatible with the orbiter’s.”

As Mars Express transmits its ‘hello’ signal using communication frequencies that are different from those the Chinese Zhurong Mars rover receives, two-way communication is not possible.

But in the other direction, Zhurong can transmit a signal using a frequency that Mars Express can receive.

The relay radio on Mars Express has a mode that allows this one-way communication – communication ‘in the blind’ where the sender can’t be sure if their signal is being received – but until now, the technique hadn’t been tested on the spacecraft.

December 15th, 2021

An Absolutely Bonkers Plan to Give Mars an Artificial Magnetosphere

A torus of charged particles could give Mars a magnetic field. Credit: Ruth Bamford

Terraforming Mars is one of the great dreams of humanity. Mars has a lot going for it. Its day is about the same length as Earth’s, it has plenty of frozen water just under its surface, and it likely could be given a reasonably breathable atmosphere in time. But one of the things it lacks is a strong magnetic field. So if we want to make Mars a second Earth, we’ll have to give it an artificial one.

The reason magnetic fields are so important is that they can shield a planet from solar wind and ionizing particles. Earth’s magnetic field prevents most high-energy charged particles from reaching the surface. Instead, they are deflected from Earth, keeping us safe. The magnetic field also helps prevent solar winds from stripping Earth’s atmosphere over time. Early Mars had a thick, water-rich atmosphere, but it was gradually depleted without the protection of a strong magnetic field.

As the study points out, if you want a good planetary magnetic field, what you really need is a strong flow of charged particles, either within the planet or around the planet. Since the former isn’t a great option for Mars, the team looks at the latter. It turns out you can create a ring of charged particles around Mars, thanks to its moon Phobos.

December 14th, 2021

NASA Begins Testing Robotics to Bring First Samples Back From Mars

A NASA-led Sample Retrieval Lander launches to Mars in the mid 2020s, carrying with it an ESA-led sample fetch rover and a NASA-led Mars rocket. The lander would touch down close to Perseverance’s landing location, Jezero Crater, and deposit the fetch rover.
Lead: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Engineers are developing the crucial hardware needed for a series of daring space missions that will be carried out in the coming decade.

Testing has already begun on what would be the most sophisticated endeavor ever attempted at the Red Planet: bringing rock and sediment samples from Mars to Earth for closer study.

The multi-mission Mars Sample Return campaign began when NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars this past February to collect Martian rock samples in search of ancient microscopic life. Out of Perseverance’s 43 sample tubes, four have been filled with rock cores and one with Martian atmosphere. Mars Sample Return seeks to bring select tubes back to Earth, where generations of scientists will be able to study them with powerful lab equipment far too large to send to Mars.

Getting those samples into terrestrial labs would take a decade and involve European partners and multiple NASA centers. ESA (the European Space Agency) is developing a rover for the effort, with engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, designing its wheels. The rover would transfer samples to a lander, being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, that would use a robotic arm (developed by ESA) to pack the samples into a small rocket, called a Mars Ascent Vehicle, being designed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

December 13th, 2021

Time 2021 Person of the Year : Elon Musk

Photograph by Mark Mahaney for TIME

The richest man in the world does not own a house and has recently been selling off his fortune. He tosses satellites into orbit and harnesses the sun; he drives a car he created that uses no gas and barely needs a driver. With a flick of his finger, the stock market soars or swoons. An army of devotees hangs on his every utterance. He dreams of Mars as he bestrides Earth, square-jawed and indomitable. Lately, Elon Musk also likes to live-tweet his poops.

“He is a humanist—not in the sense of being a nice person, because he isn’t,” says Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, who met Musk in 2001, when the young, newly minted dot-com millionaire sent a large unsolicited check to the organization. “He wants eternal glory for doing great deeds, and he is an asset to the human race because he defines a great deed as something that is great for humanity. He is greedy for glory. Money to him is a means, not an end. Who today evaluates Thomas Edison on the basis of which of his inventions turned a profit?”

April 22nd, 2021

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Just Turned Martian CO2 Into Oxygen

Image by NASA

A toaster-sized scientific instrument attached to NASA’s Perseverance rover just sucked up a bit of carbon dioxide from the surrounding Martian atmosphere and converted it into oxygen.

It’s a groundbreaking first that could lead to a future in which space travelers are not only able to generate air to breathe, but rocket fuel to get them back to Earth as well — while still on Mars.

The instrument, called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), is a technology demonstration that could eventually be scaled up to produce enough propellant to enable a crew of astronauts to take off from the surface of the Red Planet.

“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), in a statement. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars.”

March 23rd, 2021

The first self-sufficient and sustainable cities on Mars could house one million humans

Nüwa, the cliff city on Mars from ABIBOO Studio on Vimeo.

ABIBOO studio has led the architectural design of a self-sufficient and sustainable city on mars that could house one million humans. ‘nüwa’ forms part of an exhaustive scientific work for a competition organized by the mars society, and fully developed by the SONet network, an international team of scientists and academics led by astrophysicist guillem anglada, who headed the discovery of exoplanet proxima-b. considering the atmospheric conditions, ABIBOO chose the side of a cliff on mars to build a vertical city, with the design and construction systems a result of the planet’s harsh conditions. ‘if we were to construct the buildings as on earth, the buildings would tend to explode from the pressure,’ says says alfredo muñoz, founder of ABIBOO. ‘the solar and gamma radiation on mars forced us to build spaces that are not directly exposed to the sky.’