Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How To Lose Lunar Dust (Without Losing Your Health)

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News)

As any space faring lunar loving citizen will inform you, living on the Moon will not be easy. Not only will one have to deal with radiation and micrometeorites, but also lunar dust (which is not exactly healthy).

Fortunately it looks as if scientists have figured out an innovative way of removing these pesky particles--without have to resort to "air showers."

(New Scientist) To solve the problem, Clark's team is working on SPARCLE, a "lunar dust buster" that astronauts could utilise in the airlock to a moon base. The device consists of a positively charged metallic nozzle fitted to an electron gun, similar to those used in electron microscopes, which fires a focused beam of electrons from a hot filament.

Following a moonwalk, astronauts would scan the beam across the surface of their dirty equipment, showering it with electrons until all the dust particles and the surface become negatively charged and start to repel one another. This would loosen the particles' grip, allowing them to fly to the positively charged nozzle where they are captured.

If NASA found a way to build this within their lunar outposts, they would probably not need to develop fancy human rated rovers, allowing the astronauts to simply explore the Moon's surface without fear of tracking the white powder to the annoyance of all their lunar crew members.

Video: Martian Methane To Power Red Planet Colonies?

(Hat Tip: Universe Today)

Although its asteroid moons may play a key role in conquering the solar system, Mars itself was previously lacking in the "resource department."

Even though the red planet contains an abundance of water, the crimson world has yet another reason to boast with the discovery of methane emitting from its surface.

(NASA) Methane -- four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom -- is the main component of natural gas on Earth. It's of interest to astrobiologists because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. [...]

"We observed and mapped multiple plumes of methane on Mars, one of which released about 19,000 metric tons of methane," said Dr. Geronimo Villanueva of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Villanueva is stationed at NASA Goddard and is co-author of the paper. "The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons -- spring and summer -- perhaps because the permafrost blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air. Curiously, some plumes had water vapor while others did not," said Villanueva.

According to the team, the plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or flowing water. For example, plumes appeared over northern hemisphere regions such as east of Arabia Terra, the Nili Fossae region, and the south-east quadrant of Syrtis Major, an ancient volcano 1,200 kilometers (about 745 miles) across.

While NASA scientists debate on whether this methane is biological or geological (note: or would that be areological?), the fact that methane is escaping from the surface is exciting as it could enable future settlers to power their outposts without having to rely upon solar power (which is incredibly weak on Mars) or solar steam (which would be useless at night).

Hopefully NASA is able to send another rover to investigate this, as securing that region could help humanity establish a permanent outpost upon the red deserts of Mars.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Collect Space)

Last weeks 86th Carnival of Space was hosted by Robert Pearlman of CollectSpace. Entries from the Carnival ranged from "Casmir goodness" towards transmissions towards Alpha Centauri to why living one of Saturn's moons could be visually underwhelming.

One article readers here might be interested in comes from DJ of OrbitalHub with an interesting article about Orbital (one of the two companies that won a contract from NASA to transport supplies to the International Space Station).

(OrbitalHub) Orbital relies on proven experience in launch vehicle technology. Taurus II is designed to provide low-cost and reliable access to space, and it uses systems from other members of Orbital's family of successful launchers: Pegasus, Taurus, and Minotaur.

Taurus II is a two-stage launch vehicle that can use an additional third stage for achieving higher orbits. The payloads handled by Taurus II can have a mass of up to 5,400 kg.

Orbital is responsible for overall development and integration of the first stage. The two AJ26-62, designed and produced by Aerojet and Orbital, are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. The core design is driven by NPO Yuzhnoye, the designer of the Zenit launchers.
While Orbital may not be as familiar (or popular) as SpaceX, its good to see NASA choose another competent player from the private space sector.

With the looming recession affecting the entire planet, hopefully NASA will be able to outsource most of its production to the private sector, as it may not only be cheaper but it would free up NASA to use its funds towards other promising (scientific) missions.

Be sure to read the rest of the entries from the Carnival of Space, and if you have any desire to join this space parade feel free to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter.

(Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)

Martian North Pole: Water So Pure You Could (Almost) Drink It?

While it has been known that Mars's north pole contains an abundance of water, it looks as if some French scientists have discovered that water ice located up north may be much purer than we have originally thought.

(Physorg.com) Radar data sent back by the US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) point to 95 percent purity in this deposit, France's National Institute of Sciences of the Universe (Insu) said in a press release.

The Martian polar regions are believed to hold the equivalent of two to three million cubic kilometres" (0.47-0.72 million cu. miles) of ice, it said.

Although its fairly obvious that the Martian water would still have to be heavily filtered, this high concentration of water ice does give the red planet some much needed real estate value.

If humanity is ever going to harvest the asteroid belt in the future, they are going to need an abundance of water for not only food and drink, but for fuel as well.

Surviving The Wrath Of Jupiter (By Mapping Its Radiation Belts)

Despite being arrayed in a dazzling display of colors (whether in stripes or spots), Jupiter is not one of the safest locations to establish a colony thanks in part to radiation (with the only exception being the lunar moon Callisto).

In order for humanity to survive upon Jupiter's other moons, we may need to create a radiation map for future settlers.

(Astrobiology Magazine) It's dangerous to remain too long inside the radiation belts of Jupiter. The high-energy particles can damage space probes, and they also can destroy biological molecules or other signatures of life that might exist on inner moons like Europa. A new study plans to determine just how hazardous an impact the radiation belts have on the Jovian system. [...]

Patterson and his colleagues are building a detailed map of the surface of Europa and another map of its sister moon Ganymede. The project—led by Louise Prockter of John Hopkins University as part of NASA's Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program—will identify dead zones where radiation would likely fry any interesting chemical compounds, as well as possible safe havens that might harbor material expelled from the ocean below.

While it is probably doubtful that Europa will visited by anything but robots (as its frozen bare surface is bathed in Jupiter's deadly radiation belts), its bigger brother Ganymede may show more promise in the long run (especially if adequate shielding is built for the Jovian settlements).

Either way a radiation map will benefit future explorers (and robots) who may be able to locate valuable resources upon Jupiter's Galilean satellites.

(Image Credit: NASA / JPL)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Video: Hope Or Hype? Travel To Mars In Just 3 Days?

(Hat Tip: Spaceports)

Although our species has mastered the art of landing rovers upon the Martian surface, we have yet to develop a fast way to transport astronauts from Earth to Mars (assuming we can figure out how to safely land humans upon the crimson soil).

While some "feasible" technology may be able to shorten the overall trip to under 40 days, Moacir L. Ferreira Jr. is proposing that a rocket could potentially do it within 72 hours with the help of his CrossFire Fusor reactor.

(CrossFire Fusor) The CrossFire Fusor relies on magnetic fields for confining radially charged particles and relies on electric fields for trapping longitudinally them. It also relies on electric fields for accelerating the charged particles for reaching great kinetic energy of about 600KeV (7 billion°C) at inexpressive energy consumption.

The CrossFire Fusor is the first nuclear fusion reactor designed for achieving a true three-dimensional confinement plus a three-dimensional charged particles injection, and for having an adequate escape mechanism for the charged products of nuclear fusion thrusting a spacecraft. It also is the first, among the non-neutral plasma reactors, that can confine a plasma in a quasi-neutral state solving the saturation problem.

The CrossFire Fusor also is the first designed for having great flexibility for confining and fusing charged particles comprising positive and negative ions from neutronic and aneutronic fuels. The nuclear fusion fuel can be composed of several light atomic nuclei like hydrogen, deuterium, tritium, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, in special boron hydrides and helium-3.

The CrossFire Fusor also is the first providing a method for converting energy of charged products from aneutronic nuclear fusion directly to electricity by neutralization process, that can reach an efficiency exceeding 95%, and it is the first to present a power supply system with a concept of multidirectional energy flow.
While the technology itself looks promising, we may not see this type of rocket available until 2020 (as nuclear fusion has yet to be perfected).

Either way, if Ferreira's reactor is not used for interplanetary travel to Mars, it may have a future in keeping the lights on for future settlers of Ganymede, Callisto and beyond.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Why A NASA-Pentagon Merger Would Help (And Hurt) America

(Hat Tip: Tales of the Heliosphere and AstroEngine, Image Credit: ExDream.com)

Rumor has it that President Elect Barack Obama's transition team is seriously considering "tearing down the walls" that prevents the Pentagon from working with NASA.

(Bloomberg) President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.'s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.

Obama's transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency's planned launch vehicle, which isn't slated to fly until 2015, according to people who've discussed the idea with the Obama team. [...]

"If China puts a man on the moon, that in itself isn't necessarily a threat to the U.S.," said Dean Cheng, a senior Asia analyst with CNA Corp., an Alexandria, Virginia-based national-security research firm. "But it would suggest that China had reached a level of proficiency in space comparable to that of the United States."
According to Bloomberg, the Pentagon's space budget is approximately $22 billion (which is 33% larger than NASA's budget). By allowing both agencies to collaborate together, NASA would be able to easily retire the shuttle as well as prepare for an eventual moon landing.

This could also benefit the Pentagon as it could help encourage citizens to join a "future space force" (which would make the Pentagon very happy).

Unfortunately a marriage between civilian and military would have its draw backs as well, since an alliance between the two could alienate NASA from future space allies like India and Japan who may not be open towards partnering with foreign military agencies.

It could also change NASA's focus from scientific exploration of the universe to a more "divide and conquer" approach (which in the long run could help the US to eventually conquer the solar system).

Will A Chinese Space Station Threaten The ISS?

There is nothing currently more prestigious than for a space power to be welcomed aboard the International Space Station (or ISS).

Despite the fact that China has already conducted a space walk, the US is still refusing to allow China a presence on board (which may have something to do with their anti-satellite test earlier).

Since its very unlikely that the US will change their position (even with the new administration), China is now planning on eventually constructing their own fortress among the stars.

(People's Daily Online) According to Zhang, China's manned space flight program features a three-stage development strategy. The first step is to complete spacecraft tests for Shenzhou I to Shenzhou VI, make breakthroughs in manned spaced technology and carry out some space experiments.

The second step is to establish China's own space laboratory and the third step is to build China's own space station, developing large-scale space applications and realizing long-term space residence for taikonauts.

Unlike NASA, China's space program is allowed to heavily collaborate with its military branch, which means that any space station built could contain more than just scientific instruments.

China could also use the station to host other nations unable to access to the ISS due to being perceived as hostile by the United States and/or Russia.

Unless Bigelow Aerospace decides to rent out their future space stations to the Chinese (with US permission of course), we may end up seeing two rival space stations orbiting our planet, which may not bode well in the long term for China or America.

Chinese-Russian Probe To Explore Red Planet, Radiation And Phobos

After establishing an alliance between each other, it looks as if the two major eastern space powers will be exploring "all things Mars" by sending a probe to analyze not only the Martian weather, but its asteroid moon as well.

(Mars Daily) The first joint Chinese-Russian mission to Mars is set to take off in October and reach the red planet in August 2010, an exploration project designer said.

A Russian Zenit rocket will launch a Chinese Yinghuo-1 satellite and a Russian Phobos-Grunt unmanned lander, Chen Changya, chief designer of the China-Russia Mars exploration project, told Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper.

Phobos-Grunt is expected to study Mars from orbit, including its atmosphere and dust storms, plasma and radiation, before landing on Phobos, one of Mars' two small moons.
Phobos is one of the prime locations in our solar system, and any nation (or group of nations) that is able to secure this tiny satellite will probably end up dominating the Martian planet as a future space power.

Political ambitions aside, the Phobos-Grunt should help provide more information regarding how much radiation impacts the red planet, as that could determine just how safe living on Mars may be.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Belated: Carnival Of The Space Geeks (82-84)

Note: Since I missed the opportunity to highlight the various space carnivals (from December), I will post a brief update regarding them below. Be sure to check out the most recent Carnival of Space over at Cheap Astronomy .


The 82nd Carnival of Space was hosted by Dave Mosher of the Space Disco, who put together an excellent video highlight of all of the entries which you can see below.

A couple articles that readers here might be interested in are from:


The 83rd Carnival of Space was hosted "down under" by Ian Musgrave of Astroblog, with a few interesting articles ranging from beer in space to geysers on Enceladus to a 3D video flight over Mars.

A few interesting articles readers here might want to check out include:


Last (but not least) the 84th Carnival of Space was hosted by Brian Wang of Next Big Future, which featured articles ranging from Obama administration "looking into" space solar power satellites to the possibilities of warp drives to an interview with one of the drivers behind the Martian rovers.

Several articles readers of this blog may be interested in include:


Thanks for reading, and if anyone out there feels like submitting their own article to the next Carnival of Space, feel free to visit Universe Today on details about how to enter.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Earth To Colony Worlds (Plus Carnival Of The Space Geeks)

Note: After a brief absence, it looks like fresh posts will resume their regular schedule starting this Monday. Until then, I have some "catching up" to do reviewing the various Carnival of Space entries, over this weekend, with the latest one being highlighted below.

This weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Steve Nerlich over at Cheap Astronomy which featured posts ranging about 2,000 year interstellar missions, ponderings over Neptune's favorite son Triton, and celebrations of the Apollo launches 40 years ago.

A few interesting articles that caught this author's attention include:

Be sure to check out the rest of the articles mentioned in the latest Carnival of Space, and if you would like to submit your viewpoint regarding life, the universe (and everything in between--as long as its space related that is) feel free to visit Universe Today for details on how to enter the next Carnival of Space.