August 8th, 2012

Nuclear generator powers Curiosity Mars mission Technology Review

When the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars yesterday, a specially designed nuclear generator kicked into action.
Previous Mars missions have relied on solar panels to power the rovers, but exploration was slowed down by dust build-up on the solar panels or short winters days with little sunlight. The Curiosity Rover, which is as big as a large car, is also significantly larger and ten times heavier than previous Martian rovers.
Enter the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTP, an energy source that relies on the heat generated by decaying plutonium dioxide to run Curiosity. It’s designed to run at least one Martian year, which is almost two Earth years.

January 26th, 2010

NASA’s Next Space Suit Technology Review

If NASA returns to the moon in 2020 as planned, astronauts will step out in a brand-new space suit. It will give them new mobility and flexibility on the lunar surface while still protecting them from its harsh environment. The suit will also be able to sustain life for up to 150 hours and will even be equipped with a computer that links directly back to Earth. The new design will also let astronauts work outside of the International Space Station (ISS) and will be suitable for trips to Mars, as outlined in NASA’s program for exploration, called Constellation. “The current suits just cannot do everything we need them to do,” says Terry Hill, the Constellation space suit engineering project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We have a completely new design, something that has never been done before.”

August 18th, 2009

A Lunar Nuclear Reactor Technology Review

Researchers at NASA and the Department of Energy recently tested key technologies for developing a nuclear fission reactor that could power a human outpost on the moon or Mars. The tests prove that the agencies could build a “safe, reliable, and efficient” system by 2020, the year NASA plans to return humans to the moon. Nuclear power is being considered for lunar and Mars missions because, unlike alternatives such as solar power, it can provide constant energy, a necessity for human life-support systems, recharging rovers, and mining for resources. Solar power systems would also require the use of energy storage devices like batteries or fuel cells, adding unwanted mass to the system. Solar power is further limited because the moon is dark for up to 14 days at a time and has deep craters that can obscure the sun. Mars is farther away from the sun than either the Earth or the moon, so less solar power can be harvested there.

July 25th, 2008

Knee Power Technology Review

Engineers who design wearable devices that harvest human energy for power face a daunting dilemma: how do you collect a significant amount of power without making the user expend a lot of extra effort? Gadgets like hand-crank generators and windup radios require manual work from a user, and existing shoe-mounted generators produce less than one watt of power.
A team of engineers has developed a modified knee brace that captures energy that would otherwise have been lost while the wearer walks. The generator produces about five watts–enough to power 10 cell phones simultaneously.

October 26th, 2004

Power on a Chip Technology Review

Batteries are heavy and inconvenient. Their successors could be tiny jet engines that provide more than enough power for cell phones and PDAs.

August 5th, 2002

Interplanetary Collaboration Technology Review

When two Mars probes

May 8th, 2002

Keeping It Real Technology Review

Ever since seeing the satellite imagery from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, John Hollerbach wants people to walk on Mars. If his virtual reality project reaches fruition, as he claims it will, the Martian sand dunes may open to the public in just a few years. Hollerbach is one of the lead researchers working on the University of Utah’s Treadport, a virtual reality system that uses a technology called “locomotion interface”

March 8th, 2002

To the Moon on Nukes (Op/Ed) Technology Review

To go to Mars or back to the moon with slow, low-powered chemical rocket systems is asking for trouble. The best a chemical rocket can do is get up to speed (burning up all its propellant in the process) and then drift to its destination, like a car coasting down the highway with its engine off. What’s needed are space drives that will provide a constant velocity. A fission rocket is a simple and safe system that uses a nuclear reactor to heat up a liquid such as hydrogen to create thrust. Unfortunately, “nuclear” and “fission” have been dirty words in this country for the last three decades. Despite the fact that nuclear propulsion is the best and safest way to fly major missions beyond Earth orbit, NASA stopped its development back in 1972 to put nearly every penny it had into the development of the shuttle. That was a terrible decision. At that point we had successfully tested nuclear rockets in the open air in Nevada, engines that could be operated with high thrusts for long durations

June 20th, 2001

Space Medicine Gets Smart Technology Review

Smart medical devices that help astronauts handle emergencies such as electrical burns will become part of the International Space Station perhaps as early as next month. Further down the road, astronauts in trouble may also rely on “virtual clinics” on earth for in-depth medical assistance. As more people are flown into space for longer durations, the probability of in-flight medical problems increases, says Beck, looking ahead to the first manned mission to Mars, perhaps no more than 10 years away.