Cubesats say ‘Polo’

Cubesats over Mars
(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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.

Mars InSight Mission to Launch Saturday Morning 4:05am PST

Mars InSight
(ASA/JPL-Caltech)

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.

Zero Soil, Zero Daylight Veggies for Mars

Eden-ISS Greenhouse
(Image Credit: Eden-ISS)

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.

(Thanks to InterestingEngineering.com for the lead)

Mars – Trace Gas Orbiter

Trace Gas Orbiter
(Paris Air Show, 2015)

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.

Falcon 9 Success – TESS Is Safely Deployed

TESS Orbits
(Image: NASA)

This week’s launch of the NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite was a smashing success, and we should be getting early results from the device this summer. On May 17th it will fly by the moon on it’s way to the intended highly elliptical orbit, and should reach that destination in mid-June. Then shortly there after we should expect to start getting initial data and results from this small but mighty craft!

With mankind finally taking bolder steps into the cosmos, this hunt for Earth-like neighbors couldn’t come at a better or more exciting time. Now if we can get Elon working on the faster-than-light drive we’ll be all set.

SpaceX Falcon 9 TESS Mission Launch April 16, 6:32 PM EST

NASA TESS Mission
(Image Credit NASA)

Another SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is coming up soon, and this time they are again going to attempt a droneship landing of the Falcon booster. Something great to look forward to! The last two launches have seen them opt to expend that equipment into the briny deep because it had reached end-of-life, but this time around we will hopefully all see it make a perfect landing on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’.

The mission is to deploy NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will greatly expand our ability to detect Earth-similar planets in orbit around distant stars. With a scope of over 200,000 stars as an initial aim of the mission, we can expect some truly exciting discoveries! If the comments of SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell today at the TED conference in Vancouver regarding the SpaceX ambition to not only reach Mars but to continue beyond our solar system hold merit, then such discoveries will be of great interest.

To learn more about the TESS mission, be sure to check out the informative NASA website dedicated to this new satellite and all of the discoveries it can enable!

Enhancing human radioresistance for deep space exploration and colonization

Human Radioresistance
Image from Futurism.com

Being able to write that headline in a non-ironic, non-fantastical context because we are finally living in ‘the future’ makes for a really wonderful evening. While the paper may be a stretch in places, it’s worth it for the 289 references alone. These footnotes cull together a dizzying array of bio and health and spacetech papers all seemingly converging on the ability to ‘enhance’ humans and make us more immune to the deleterious effects of off-Earth radiation.

The basic premise here, in this actual scientific paper which is published at oncotarget.com, is that tweaks can be made to the human body via gene therapy and other methods which will improve both resistance and repair to the damage caused by high-Linear transfer (high-LET) radiation. I think an excerpt from the abstract will say it best:

Herein, we lay the foundations of a roadmap toward enhancing human radioresistance for the purposes of deep space colonization and exploration. We outline future research directions toward the goal of enhancing human radioresistance, including upregulation of endogenous repair and radioprotective mechanisms, possible leeways into gene therapy in order to enhance radioresistance via the translation of exogenous and engineered DNA repair and radioprotective mechanisms, the substitution of organic molecules with fortified isoforms, and methods of slowing metabolic activity while preserving cognitive function.

Be sure to check out this exciting new paper, and enjoy the fact that we are living in a time where this sort of topic is not only seriously discussed, but about to be an important part of getting mankind to the stars.

(Thank you to Futurism.com for a their fantastic header image on this topic)

NASA’s Insight Lander Launch – May 5th

NASA Insight Lander
Image Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

It is tempting to focus on the flash and success of SpaceX, owing to their masterful execution of new engineering triumphs and spot-on marketing efforts. However, it is also worth remembering that little to none of this would be possible without the granddaddy of them all – NASA – who is still working hard and producing valuable results in the Mars arena.

The new NASA Insight Lander is set to launch to the Red Planet on May 5th, which would give it an arrival date of November 26th 2018. Weighing in at 1,530 pounds, the primary mission of the lander is to study the planetary interior, attempting to detect tremors and studying heat which is coming from the mantle and core. “In essence, it will take the vital signs of Mars — its pulse, temperature and much more,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science division. “We like to say it’s the first thorough checkup since the planet formed four-and-a-half billion years ago.”

For more details of this new Mars lander mission, please see the excellent article at spaceflightnow.com.

SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships – OCISLY – Part 1

SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships - OCISLY

Are you interested to learn more about the robot boats (officially ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships’ or ASDS) that are part of the SpaceX fleet, whose primary mission is to facilitate the recovery of rocket first-stages at sea? Of course you are! So am I! The scope and breadth of what it means for a company to pursue a single minded goal, and to invent from whole-cloth anything they may require to get there is evident in so many aspects of the SpaceX operation. One small corner of that process – which could easily masquerade as an entire industry on its own – are the autonomous drone ships. Delightfully named after craft in the Iain M. Banks Culture series of novels, these ships contain their share of tech which should make other industries blush at the audacity of no-holds-barred, forward thinking innovation.

This will be the first of a multi-part series that dives into the known technology behind the drone ships, and today we will start with the engines.

Each of the football-field-sized ships (“Just Read the Instructions” stationed at the Port of LA, “Of Course I Still Love You” and the under construction “A Shortfall of Gravitas” based out of Port Canaveral) are driven by four diesel powered azimuth thrusters made by Thrustmaster. These marine propellers are designed to be rotated to any angle, allowing for high precision steering and the elimination of the rudder.

While it isn’t clear yet which model is being used on the ASDS, a likely candidate is the Bottom Mounted L-Drive Azimuthing Thruster, which specializes in absolute positioning capability for offshore supply vessels.

Bottom Mounted L-Drive Azimuthing Thruster

Their largest model of this line is the TH10000ML with an 8000 kW motor. Operating at a peak of 720 RPM, this drive is capable of generating 1337 kN of thrust and weighs in at a remarkable 194,006lbs. I like to imagine that there are 4 of these beasts under each recovery platform, and there are suggestions that these main engines are further assisted by additional smaller drive systems, all computer synchronized and coordinated with a proprietary GPS system.

The design specification of the SpaceX vessels, which are based on Marmac barge hulls, is that they must be capable of precision positioning within 3 meters even under storm conditions at sea. Imagine, keeping this floating platform stable enough to vertically land a rocket, then keep it steady enough to not simply tip over before it is secured through a combination of robotic and human assistants (the subject of a future article).

Notes:
propclubjax.com – Captain’s Corner: SPACEX – The World’s First Rocket Recovery Vessel

Fox Trot Alpha – SpaceX’s Landing Drone Ship Is Just As Complicated As The Rocket

True South Marine – The SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship

Stephen Hawking and his Wish for Mankind

Stephen Hawking

Defying nearly all odds for a human with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Stephen Hawking lived an amazing and productive life for 55 years after the initial diagnosis wherein he was given only a handful of years to survive. He became a household name for both lofty intellectuals and folks with even a passing interest in science, and shared his insights and passion with us fortunate souls as the world sped up around him.

In recent years one of his most vocal positions was that humanity absolutely must become a multi-planetary species, or face certain extinction from any one of a number of possible events: nuclear war, violent climate change, unexpected asteroids, or a sudden willful descent into the plot of Idiocracy. Not keeping all of the eggs in one basket is a good, pragmatic approach to nearly any endeavor, and the preservation of the human race should be paramount among them. Over the years, as we crested the milestone of the year 2000, and now find ourselves well into that century, he became increasingly frustrated at the lack of apparent interest or progress in returning humanity to the stars.

As we report on Mars Gazette with great fervor, the recent Falcon Heavy launch by SpaceX is, without doubt, the most purposeful, solidly executed and clearly stated step yet taken by mankind to honestly pursue and achieve that goal of human settlement offworld. I, as many others, mourn Dr. Hawking’s passing, though wonder if it may have been somewhat eased by this amazing scientific and social achievement. After so many decades of pain, tenacity and the stiffest of all British upper-lips, he managed to live long enough to see that step taken. He knew that he had fought long enough to see humanity finally achieve that next phase of our collective evolution, sometimes in spite of ourselves, and that the cause he had championed as one of his main projects in his twilight years would now be carried to completion. He could finally rest, knowing that humanity would carry on.