MarsNews.com
October 10th, 2018

NASA OIG Forecasts Further Delays, Large Cost Overruns for SLS

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

A new audit by the NASA Inspector General criticizes Boeing for its management of the stages of the Space Launch System (SLS) while forecasting further delays and large cost overruns for the beleaguered program that is designed to send astronauts to deep space.

“As of August 2018, NASA has spent $11.9 billion on the SLS, but will require significant additional funding to complete the first Core Stage—more than 3 years later than initially planned and at double the anticipated cost,” the audit concluded.

“In light of the Project’s development delays, we have concluded NASA will be unable to meet its EM-1 launch window currently scheduled between December 2019 and June 2020,” the report stated.

The EM-1 mission is the first launch of SLS and the second flight of the Orion spacecraft, which will not have a crew aboard. The delays also threaten the schedule for the crewed EM-2 mission, which is currently set to launch in mid-2022.

The audit, the first in a series examining SLS, examined how NASA and Boeing have managed the development of the system’s first (core), second and exploration upper (EUS) stages.

October 9th, 2018

AI Learns to Guide Planetary Rovers Without GPS

Images: NASA Frontier Development Lab
On the left, four ground-view camera images taken from the moon’s simulated surface are reprocessed as a top-down aerial reprojection view of the lunar landscape. On the right, a deep-learning algorithm uses moon satellite maps to come up with the five best candidate locations matching the aerial reprojection view.

A Mars rover roaming the Red Planet cannot whip out a smartphone to check its location based on GPS. Instead, the robotic explorer must take panoramic pictures of the surrounding landscape so that a human back on Earth can painstakingly compare the ground images with Mars satellite maps taken from above by orbiting spacecraft.

Locating a Mars mission after it first touches down, using that manual process of scrutinizing landscape features and making image comparisons, can take up to 24 hours. What’s more, it still requires at least 30 minutes to confirm a rover’s updated location after it’s on the move. But a new AI approach that trains deep-learning algorithms to perform the necessary image comparisons could reduce the localization process to mere seconds. A team of space scientists and computer scientists gathered together during the 2018 NASA Frontier Development Lab event to develop that potential path forward for future space missions.

“If we go to more planets or another moon or the asteroids, the goal is to be able to use this to localize ourselves in GPS-free environments,” says Benjamin Wu, an astrophysicist at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and a member of the team that tackled this challenge.

October 5th, 2018

MASCOT 2.0? Mars Moon Rover to Fly on Japanese Mission to Phobos in 2024

An artist’s illustration of Japan’s Mars Moons Exploration (MMX) spacecraft at the small Martian satellite Phobos.
Credit: JAXA/NASA

The hopping asteroid lander MASCOT may be dead, but its bloodline will live on — and get to explore the Mars system a few years from now.

A rover will be incorporated into Japan’s Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) sample-return mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024, Japanese, German and French space officials announced Wednesday (Oct. 3).

Like MASCOT, which explored the 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) asteroid Ryugu for 17 hours this week, the new robot will be built by the German Aerospace Center, known by its German acronym DLR, in collaboration with the French space agency, CNES.

MMX aims to return a sample of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Mars moon Phobos to Earth in 2029. The newly announced rover will facilitate that work and also collect some important data of its own.

October 3rd, 2018

Learn To Farm On Mars With This Fake Martian Soil

Fig. 1. Comparison of martian simulants. (a) MAHLI image of the scooped Rocknest soil; image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. (b) Photograph of MGS-1 prototype simulant produced for this work. (c) Photograph of JSC Mars-1. (d) Photograph of MMS-1 sold by the Martian Garden company.

If you watched or read “The Martian,” and wanted to try your hand at living on Mars or becoming a Martian farmer like Mark Watney, then today is your lucky day. Astrophysicists at the University of Central Florida have developed a scientific, standardized method to create soil like future space colonies might encounter on Mars. They’re selling it for about $10 per pound (or $20 per kilogram) plus shipping.

This soil, also called simulant, is designed and created to mimic the red soil on Mars. From how fine the grains are to what minerals are present, this simulant is about as close as you can get to real Martian soil. These researchers have also created an asteroid simulant and are working on developing a wider variety of simulants, like ones to mimic soils from different parts of Mars.

The only parts of the simulants that don’t match the real thing are the toxic, carcinogenic, or otherwise dangerous components that exist in actual asteroids or in real Martian soil. “We leave out the dangerous stuff,” said Dan Britt, a physics professor and member of the UCF Planetary Sciences Group working on creating these simulants.

October 2nd, 2018

National Geographic Presents Season Two of MARS

Nat Geo TV

The prospect of Mars has never been more palpable. The idea once was considered Science fiction, but in the blink of an eye, we’ll be there. Season 2 of National Geographic’s acclaimed series MARS – dubbed impressive, inspiring and scientifically honest by critics – returns Monday, November 12, at 9/8c, with a six-episode arc continuing with last season’s unique hybrid format: alternating scripted and documentary sequences to predict what life will be like on the Red Planet forecasted by what’s happening today on Earth. MARS has a special simulcast premiere on Nat Geo Mundo.

National Geographic partners again with Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Michael Rosenberg and Justin Wilkes of Imagine Entertainment, as well as executive producers Jon Kamen and Tommy Turtle of RadicalMedia to envision what might happen when Earthlings become the planet’s first Martians.

This season on MARS, the story delves into the boundaries between Science and industry on an isolated, unforgiving frontier. Throughout history, there’s been a constant tug of war between human motivations and interests with profitability on one end of the spectrum and exploration on the other. When becoming interplanetary, can humans break the chain, or are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes in this new world?

October 1st, 2018

NASA Unveils Sustainable Campaign to Return to Moon, on to Mars

NASA’s Exploration Campaign includes active leadership in low-Earth orbit, in orbit around the Moon and on its surface, and at destinations far beyond, including Mars.
Credits: NASA

In December of 2017, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1, in which the president directed NASA “to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”

In answer to that bold call, and consistent with the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, NASA recently submitted to Congress a plan to revitalize and add direction to NASA’s enduring purpose. The National Space Exploration Campaign calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos.

The Exploration Campaign builds on 18 continuous years of Americans and our international partners living and working together on the International Space Station. It leverages advances in the commercial space sector, robotics and other technologies, and accelerates in the next few years with the launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The Exploration Campaign has five strategic goals:

Transition U.S. human spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market.
Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and use.
Demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

September 27th, 2018

These pictures show the exact hill NASA’s longest-lived Mars robot may die upon

A 3D illustration showing NASA’s Opportunity rover in Perseverance Valley on Mars. Seán Doran/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Business Insider

A satellite orbiting Mars has taken a remarkable yet potentially somber photo of NASA’s longest-lived robot on the red planet.

That robot is the Mars Opportunity rover, which is about the size of a golf cart, landed in January 2004, and was supposed to last 90 days. However, Opportunity has explored Mars for more than 15 years and trekked more than 28 miles across the planet using solar energy.

Its days may be numbered, though.

When a global dust storm began to envelope Mars about 100 days ago, Opportunity stopped getting enough sunlight to its solar panels. This triggered it to go to sleep on June 10 and conserve battery power, which the rover needs to run heaters that protect its circuits from blistering Martian cold.

“The rover’s team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hasn’t heard from the rover since,” Andrew Good, a representative for the lab, wrote in a press release.

Though a new satellite image gives mission controllers hope that Opportunity will wake up, the mission may be nearing its end.

September 25th, 2018

Antarctica Greenhouse Produces Cucumbers, Tomatoes and More in Mars-Like Test

Paul Zabel with harvested kohlrabi. Credit: DLR.

Fresh vegetables on Mars, anyone?

An Antarctic greenhouse known as EDEN ISS not only survived the polar night but emerged from it with a harvest for local researchers, thus providing hope that future Mars colonists could also enjoy fresh food during their time on the Red Planet, German Aerospace Center (DLR) officials said in a statement.

Regularly withstanding temperatures below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius), the greenhouse provided herbs, lettuce and other vegetables to 10 people who were riding out the winter in the remote station, called the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Neumayer Station III. It’s the first time the greenhouse operated through the winter.

September 24th, 2018

Ancient Mars Had Right Conditions For Underground Life, New Research Suggests

New research shows that ancient Mars likely had ample chemical energy to support the kinds of underground microbial colonies that exist on Earth. Credit: NASA

A new study shows evidence that ancient Mars probably had an ample supply of chemical energy for microbes to thrive underground.

“We showed, based on basic physics and chemistry calculations, that the ancient Martian subsurface likely had enough dissolved hydrogen to power a global subsurface biosphere,” said Jesse Tarnas, a graduate student at Brown University and lead author of a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. “Conditions in this habitable zone would have been similar to places on Earth where underground life exists.”

Earth is home to what are known as subsurface lithotrophic microbial ecosystems — SliMEs for short. Lacking energy from sunlight, these subterranean microbes often get their energy by peeling electrons off of molecules in their surrounding environments. Dissolved molecular hydrogen is a great electron donor and is known to fuel SLiMEs on Earth.

This new study shows that radiolysis, a process through which radiation breaks water molecules into their constituent hydrogen and oxygen parts, would have created plenty of hydrogen in the ancient Martian subsurface. The researchers estimate that hydrogen concentrations in the crust around 4 billion years ago would have been in the range of concentrations that sustain plentiful microbes on Earth today.

The findings don’t mean that life definitely existed on ancient Mars, but they do suggest that if life did indeed get started, the Martian subsurface had the key ingredients to support it for hundreds of millions of years. The work also has implications for future Mars exploration, suggesting that areas where the ancient subsurface is exposed might be good places to look for evidence of past life.

September 18th, 2018

Elon Musk reveals updated design for future SpaceX Mars rocket

SpaceX’s next generation vehicle—BFR—will be the most powerful rocket in history, capable of carrying humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

This evening, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave an update on the design of SpaceX’s future massive rocket, the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), during an event announcing the first passenger who will fly on the vehicle.

The rocket’s capability has changed. Musk claims that once the rocket is complete, it will be able to take up to 100 tons of payload all the way to Mars. That’s if the rocket gets refueled in orbit by some kind of tanker spacecraft. He also showed off a simulation of how the vehicle will land on the surface of Mars. “I can’t wait,” Musk said at the even. “I’m super fired up about this. This is amazing.”

it will be able to take up to 100 tons of payload all the way to Mars
The BFR is instrumental to SpaceX’s plans of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. In its final form, it will be a gigantic rocket, reaching a height of nearly 348 feet. That’s about the size of a 35-story building and roughly the same height as NASA’s Saturn V rocket that went to the Moon. It will also be powered by 31 main Raptor engines, a new SpaceX design that can provide a combined 5,400 tons of thrust.

Overall, the BFR is a combination of a giant rocket booster and a massive cargo spaceship, called the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS), which can hold up to 100 passengers comfortably. Both pieces are meant to do powered landings, meaning they use their engines to lower down the surface of Earth — or other worlds. It’s akin to how SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 rockets right now.