When the starting whistle of the universe blew, and our solar system began to coalesce, it now turns out that Mars was running laps around the Earth in terms of planet formation. This is important because it means the planet would have had more than a 100-million-year head start over Earth regarding the development of a viable habitat. The report in the June 27th issue of Nature states that only 20 million years after the dust and gas around our sun had started to form the planets, Mars was up and running!
While these discoveries about the early crust formation on Mars may suggest a longer timeframe for possible development of life, it also indicates a relatively thin atmosphere which is a disappointing side note to this work. I suppose none of that will be terribly important once we start terraforming the place, and restoring it to the former glory of a green and blue world!
While other companies (I can’t even call them competitors) are scrambling to catch up to where SpaceX was in February, the incredible pace of development has not ceased, and all systems are go on the new BFR Mars rocket!
The new Raptor engine, which will be used in a 31-engine configuration to power the BFR, has undergone over 1,200 seconds of static firing tests so far, with the longest one running for 100 seconds. For those readers who want some power numbers, the new engine will produce thrust of 1,700 kilonewtons with a specific impulse of 330 seconds at sea level.
Specific Impulse is a measure of how effectively a rocket uses propellant, ie. the change in momentum delivered per unit of propellant consumed.
The first BFR missions are still on track for 2022, when the cargo train to Mars will start to run. That will allow SpaceX to send supplies in advance of manned missions, and I assure you they are developing robots and non-hostile AI to assist with remote construction duties. It’s clear that exciting news of this new venture will be coming out on a near-daily basis, and we will be here to cover it!
NASA continues to impress, reminding us all that they were in fact the founder of this feast that we are all enjoying so very much. Just a few days ago they announced plans to send a small, autonomous rotorcraft to Mars, as a passenger on the planned Mars 2020 rover mission.
The main purpose of the chopper is to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. NASA is also wasting no time in positioning it as a ‘first’, meaning the first nation to fly a craft on another world. That’s fair enough – so let’s get the marscopter there, get it aloft, and start streaming back some excellent images!
Happening this week, from May 8-10 at the George Washington University in DC, is the Humans to Mars event. Heavy with NASA and Boeing speakers, we also see Josh Brost, Senior Director, Government Business Development at SpaceX on the agenda, who participated in a round-table discussion on May 9th. I am continually excited that the conversation about this next bold step for mankind is intensifying, having tipped over what I hope is critical mass to make sure it actually happens – and quickly. I hope many Gazettians are younger and can look forward to a long lifetime of exciting solar system exploration, but your humble author is no spring chicken! We need to make this happen pretty soon!
The successful InSight launch from last weekend has pointed the new NASA Mars lander on the way to Mars, with a scheduled touch-down of November 26 2018. The launch also lofted two little Cubesats into space which are accompanying the main mission, forming a delightful caravan to the red planet. The mission for the Cubesats (MarCO-A and MarCO-B) is to observe the lander as it plummets to the surface of Mars in late November. But more importantly and in a broader sense, the briefcase-sized satellites will help refine our understanding of how to use these compact, affordable and increasingly high-performing devices to further explore our solar system.
Saturday afternoon, 5/5/2018 the first radio signals from the two little Sats were received by NASA, confirming that they are alive and well and in the midst of their new mission. The mission data which is collected during the flight of these two little pioneers should help usher in yet another new era of exploration and discovery of our solar system.
Mark your calendars now – more great Mars data coming soon this December!
Reference: Space.com and their article on the aspects of the mission.
After the negativity of yesterday, this seems like a great time to revisit some positive and exciting scheduled launches for later this week! NASA’s Mars InSight mission is still on schedule to launch at 4:05am Pacific Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This will make it the first launch to another planet from the West Coast. The fact that we are keeping baseball-like stats on that sort of thing now should make us all very happy.
Here is a NASA page with lots of good info, including links to watch the launch live for anyone who wants to set an alarm. The good news for us night-owls is that the time difference puts this launch at 7:05am Eastern which is downright reasonable!
This launch will come only hours after the first flight of SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 Block 5 model, in theory still scheduled for this Friday at 4pm Eastern from pad 39A at Cape Canaveral. What another great week for space!
(Update) The SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 launch has been pushed to Monday, 5/7/2018 for an afternoon launch window between 4pm and 6:25pm.
A current and ongoing experiment at the Eden-ISS lab of Germany’s Neumayer Station III in Antarctica has successfully grown vegetables without dirt, daylight or pesticides. Certainly hydroponics have been a thing for many years, and this work borrows heavily from that discipline as a starting point, but they purposefully pushed the restrictions even further in order to simulate the harsh conditions which will need to be overcome when we first start trying to produce our food off-world.
These sorts of groundbreaking experiments and investigations, which are critical to our success as a space-faring people but not as ‘high profile’ as a rocket launch, are sure to be accelerating in the coming weeks and months. It is a testament to the focus and excitement again associated with the exploration of space, and making humanity multi-planetary, that institutions around the world are spinning up programs to facilitate our next steps into our larger destiny.
The InSight Mars Lander has been connected to the Atlas 5 rocket at Space Launch Complex 3-East Vandenberg Air Force Base, with a projected launch window of May 5th – June 8th. Regardless of when during that window the rocket flies, the lander is scheduled to arrive at Mars on November 26th. This close alignment of Earth and Mars which allows for a direct trip, only happens for this window of time once every 26 months.
The mission of the InSight lander (aka Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is to study the crust, mantle and core of the red planet to learn more about the early formation of planets in our solar system. This launch will also send two ‘CubeSat’s to space, where they will follow InSight to Mars and provide essential communication services.
Now that human spaceflight to Mars is seeming more and more realistic, it’s fun to closely observe a new launch like this, and to realize that while it’s still a long trip, it is not a year of travel. Before you even have a chance to get through your collected works of Shakespeare on your tablet or re-calibrate the hydroponics systems to optimize lettuce production, it will be time to buckle up for landing!
The Trace Gas Orbiter, which is part of a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has been orbiting Mars for over a year and is now in position to begin its research. These readings and results started to be gathered on April 21st and are now flowing back home for analysis and review.
Specifically, this probe is investigating the methane which is present in the Martian atmosphere, because it is very often associated with the former (or current!) presence of life. On Earth, an overwhelming percentage of the available methane is the result of biological processes. To add stakes to the game, current scientific understanding of the Martian atmosphere says that what is there should be destroyed by ongoing chemical reactions in several hundred years, though there it remains.
The orbiter has 2 main scientific instruments through which it will make this survey:
* the main spectrometer, NOMAD, operates in the infrared, ultraviolet and visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
* the color camera, CaSSIS, will build detailed 3D maps of the planet’s terrain.
The craft will eventually serve in a new capacity as a communications depot once the ExoMars Rover arrives in 2021, relaying signals from the ground based explorer back to mission control.
NASA has finally taken a page from the SpaceX playbook, and realizes how important marketing and branding is to this stage of the growth of spaceflight. Well, that’s not strictly fair since they were the original hypemen with the Apollo Program in the 1960s, they have just rediscovered their way.
I’m referring specifically to the fantastic new plan released by the agency to deploy a swarm of flying robots about the size of a bee, which can more effectively explore the variable surface of Mars without having to roll over top of it. This system would be paired with a new rover, which would act as a charging station for the marsbees as well as a communication hub to download their data and transmit it back to mission control.
What a fantastic plan! Now we are starting to think, and the leap in understanding of the martian surface and atmosphere will be tremendous when this system comes on line. Stay tuned to the Mars Gazette for all the updates!