February 4th, 2014

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover looks to ‘jump’ sand dune BBC

The Curiosity Mars rover is to try to drive over a one metre-high dune.
The sand bank is currently blocking the robot’s path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle’s aluminium wheels.
US space agency engineers will take no risks, however. The rover will be commanded initially to climb only part way up the dune to see how it behaves.
The team is mindful that NASA’s Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009.
And the Opportunity rover, which has just celebrated 10 working years on the planet, very nearly went the same way in 2005 when it became stuck for several weeks in a deep dirt pile later dubbed “Purgatory Dune”.

October 22nd, 2013

Meteorite may explain ‘how Mars turned to stone’ BBC

A meteorite reveals clues to how Mars lost its thick, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere and became a cold, rocky desert, researchers say.
They say the Lafayette meteorite shows signs of carbonation – where minerals absorb CO2 in a reaction with water.
Mars lost its protective blanket about 4 billion years ago, perhaps because of the loss of its magnetic field, space impacts, or chemical processes.
Carbonation may be the key factor, they write in Nature Communications.

September 24th, 2013

Mars hopper concept ‘is feasible’ BBC

A UK team is developing its idea for a Mars “hopper” – a robot that can bound across the surface of the Red Planet.
At the moment, landing missions use wheels to move around, but their progress can be stymied by sand-traps, steep slopes and boulder fields.
A hopper would simply leap across these obstacles to the next safest, flat surface.
The research group is led from Leicester University and the Astrium space company.
They propose the use of a vehicle powered by a radioisotope thermal rocket engine.

July 24th, 2013

UK team designs human mission to Mars BBC

Scientists at Imperial College London have designed a concept mission to land astronauts on Mars.
The plan envisages a three-person crew journeying to Mars aboard a small two-part craft.
The craft would rotate to generate artificial gravity and use a heat shield to protect itself against solar flares.
The crew would then return to Martian orbit in a pre-sent craft fuelled using ice from beneath the planet’s surface.
The concept, developed in conjunction with the BBC, is intended to spark further debate about the technical obstacles and risks that would have to be overcome in order to put humans on Mars.

October 24th, 2012

Curiosity may one day return to Earth, says NASA boss BBC

The director of NASA’s Mars exploration programme has spoken of hopes that one day the rover Curiosity might be brought back to Earth by astronauts.
Doug McCuistion said it was his personal hope that humans would visit the Red Planet in the 2030s or 2040s.
He said he could imagine astronauts walking up to Curiosity.
McCuistion said the roving laboratory’s mission was scheduled to last two years, but it could have enough power for 20 years.

August 22nd, 2012

Mars rover: NASA’s Curiosity robot takes first drive BBC

The Mars robot, which landed on the Red Planet two weeks ago, turned its six wheels briefly on Wednesday to satisfy engineers that its locomotion system was in full working order.
Curiosity is a sophisticated mobile science laboratory.
It has been built to drive at least 20km across the Martian landscape to investigate whether the planet ever had the conditions necessary for life.
Wednesday’s drive saw the rover roll forward 4.5m, turn clockwise on the spot, and then reverse up 2.5m. It took about five minutes to complete the manoeuvre.
It is now pointing south in the general direction of Mount Sharp, the big mountain at the centre of Mars’ equatorial Gale Crater.

August 8th, 2012

Antarctica to Mars: The loneliest job in the world BBC

Mars is once again in the spotlight after Nasa successfully landed its biggest ever robot on the Red Planet – an achievement that naturally raises the question of when man will first set foot on the red Planet. Already, researchers are hard at work trying to understand what it would take to succeed in such a mission. One of those is Dr Alexander Kumar, based at the Concordia research station in the centre of Antarctica, a place so remote – and so cold – that it is only possible to get in and out for three months of the year.
He is trying to understand the physical and psychological effects of human space travel, particularly the role of extreme isolation. BBC Future spoke to Dr Kumar about life at the station and how his stay may be the fore runner for a manned mission to the red Planet.

March 21st, 2012

Mars for the ‘average person’ BBC

Rocket entrepreneur Elon Musk believes he can get the cost of a round trip to Mars down to about half a million dollars.
The SpaceX CEO says he has finally worked out how to do it, and told the BBC he would reveal further details later this year or early in 2013.
Musk is one of NASA’s new commercial partners, building systems to take cargo and crew to the space station.
He has developed his own rocket and a capsule for the purpose.
The Falcon 9 launcher and the Dragon vessel are expected to give the first full demonstration of their capabilities next month on an unmanned sortie to the orbiting outpost.
Elon Musk describes his Mars vision in Scott’s Legacy, a BBC Radio 4 programme presented by Kevin Fong. The programme examines the future of exploration.

January 7th, 2012

Video tracks stricken Mars probe BBC

The failed Russian Mars probe Phobos-Grunt has been pictured moving across the sky by the Paris-based amateur astronomer Thierry Legault.
The spacecraft is seen moving left to right in the video. The bulbous shape of its fuel tanks and its outstretched solar panels are easily discernable.
Mr Legault uses a sophisticated telescopic tracking system and captured similar imagery of Nasa’s defunct UARS satellite last year.
Phobos-Grunt is falling to Earth.
It is expected to re-enter the atmosphere in the next 8-9 days and burn up.

November 19th, 2011

World’s ‘lightest material’ unveiled by US engineers BBC

A team of engineers claims to have created the world’s lightest material.
The substance is made out of tiny hollow metallic tubes arranged into a micro-lattice – a criss-crossing diagonal pattern with small open spaces between the tubes.
The researchers say the material is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and has “extraordinarily high energy absorption” properties.
Potential uses include next-generation batteries and shock absorbers.

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