Personal flying machine' maker plans deliveries this year
A Silicon Valley "flying car" startup, Kitty Hawk, reportedly backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, released a video Monday of its airborne prototype and announced plans for deliveries of a "personal flying machine" this year.
"Our mission is to make the dream of personal flight a reality. We believe when everyone has access to personal flight, a new, limitless world of opportunity will open up to them," said a statement on the website of the Kitty Hawk company, based in Google's home town of Mountain View, California.
"Today we're announcing our first prototype of The Flyer, a personal flying machine that will become available for sale by the end of 2017."
The video showed the single-seat aircraft -- with two pontoons and a spider web-like platform -- taking off from a lake at an undisclosed location and hovering above the water, where it is meant to be used.
The craft, propelled by eight rotors, takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter. It is said to weigh about 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and fly at speeds up to 25 miles per hour (40 kph). and can hover at 15 feet (4.5 meters) high.
The company describes the Flyer as "a new, all-electric aircraft," which is "safe, tested and legal to operate in the United States in uncongested areas" under US federal regulations for ultralight aircraft. No pilot's license is required, and two hours' training is said to be all that is needed.
The website offered few details about the company, but several reports in recent months have said Page has poured millions of dollars into Kitty Hawk and another electric car startup.
Kitty Hawk president Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford University computer science professor who has been called the father of Google's self-driving car, tweeted: "Changing the future of personal transportation. Join us @kittyhawkcorp to get information about #theFlyer prototype."
The company announced it was offering three-year "memberships" for $100 to be placed on a waiting list and to get a discount on the price of the new transporter. The price is to be announced later this year.
- Limited details -
The startup offered only limited details about the company.
An email response to an AFP query said the lead engineers were Cameron Robertson and Todd Reichert, who created a startup called Aerovelo which aims to produce the fastest human-powered vehicle.
Kitty Hawk said the flyer going on sale later this year will have a different design than the prototype.
A blog post by writer Cimeron Morrissey, who took the flyer for a test run, offered some clues on how it feels.
"The prototype looks and feels a lot like a flying motorcycle. You mount the seat and lean forward, just like you would on a bike," she wrote.
"I feel light and ecstatic and utterly free. This is just like my flying dreams!"
Several other companies, including European conglomerate Airbus, have been working on similar flying machines.
Indian Space Research Organisation Starts Work on India's First Venus Mission -
Russia, the US, European Space Agency and Japan have already conducted missions to Venus. Recently, Japan had sent mechanical explorers to the Venus at cost of $ 290 million. ISRO quest to other planet is mainly to find some original achievements in fundamental science and try its hand in cutting-edge space technology.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has begun the process to send its first satellite to Venus by inviting Indian scientists and academia for space-based experiments. The Announcement of Opportunity released by ISRO said the Principal Investigator of the proposal should be capable of bringing together the instrument team and lead the team for developing a space-qualified instrument.
"The payload capability of the proposed satellite is likely to be 175 kg with 500W of power. However, these values are to be tuned based on the final configuration. The proposed orbit is expected to be around 500 x 60,000 km around Venus. This orbit is likely to be reduced gradually, over several months to a lower apoapsis," an ISRO statement read. The statement did not mention the time frame by which the ambitious satellite is to be launched. Currently, the Venus mission is in the study phase and ISRO has not sought the Indian government's nod for it.
"Exploration of Venus began in the early 1960s. Venus has been explored by flyby, orbiter, a few lander missions and atmospheric probes. In spite of the great progress made in exploring Venus, there still exist gaps in our basic understanding of surface/sub-surface features and processes, super rotation of Venusian atmosphere and its evolution and interaction with solar radiation/solar wind," ISRO said.
Venus is often described as the "twin sister" of the Earth because of the similarities in size, mass, density, bulk composition and gravity. It is believed the two planets share a common origin, forming at the same time out of a condensing nebulosity around 4.5 billion years ago. Venus is 30% closer to the sun compared to the Earth, resulting in much higher solar flux.
Russia, the US, European Space Agency and Japan have already conducted missions to Venus. Recently, Japan had sent mechanical explorers to the Venus at cost of $ 290 million. ISRO quest to other planet is mainly to find some original achievements in fundamental science and try its hand in cutting-edge space technology.
ISRO has also planned follow-on mission to Mars Orbiter Mission. India's second mission to Moon, planned for 2018, involves having a lander and a rover. ISRO's annual budget is approximately $1.1 billion, which is a tenth of US space agency NASA and one-fourth of its Chinese counterpart.
A new study of Chandra observations of 13 galaxy clusters tested the properties of dark matter.
Dark matter is a mysterious and invisible substance that constitutes the majority of matter in the Universe.
The latest results suggest dark matter could have wave-like properties due to quantum mechanics.
The model that was tested with Chandra data is known as "fuzzy" dark matter.
Astronomers have used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to study the properties of dark matter, the mysterious, invisible substance that makes up a majority of matter in the universe. The study, which involves 13 galaxy clusters, explores the possibility that dark matter may be more "fuzzy" than "cold," perhaps even adding to the complexity surrounding this cosmic conundrum.
For several decades, astronomers have known about dark matter. Although it cannot be observed directly, dark matter does interact via gravity with normal, radiating matter (that is, anything made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons bundled into atoms). Capitalizing on this interaction, astronomers have studied the effects of dark matter using a variety of techniques, including observations of the motion of stars in galaxies, the motion of galaxies in galaxy clusters, and the distribution of X-ray emitting hot gas in galaxy clusters. Dark matter has also left an imprint on the radiation left over from the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.
However, astronomers have been struggling for decades to understand the detailed properties of dark matter. In other words, they would like to know how dark matter behaves in all environments, and, ultimately, what it is made of.
The most popular model assumes that dark matter is a particle more massive than a proton that is "cold", meaning that it moves at speeds much smaller than the speed of light. This model has been successful at explaining the structure of the universe on very large scales, much bigger than galaxies, but it has problems with explaining how matter is distributed on the smaller scales of galaxies.
For example, the cold dark matter model predicts that the density of dark matter in the center of galaxies is much higher than in surrounding regions close to the center. Because normal matter is attracted to the dark matter, it also should have a strong peak in density at the center of galaxies. However, astronomers observe that the density of both dark and normal matter in the center of galaxies is much more evenly spread out. Another issue with the cold dark matter model is that it predicts a much higher number of small galaxies orbiting around galaxies like the Milky Way than astronomers actually see.
To address these problems with the cold dark matter model, astronomers have come up alternative models where dark matter has very different properties. One such model takes advantage of the principle in quantum mechanics that each subatomic particle has a wave associated with it. If the dark matter particle has an extremely small mass, about ten thousand trillion trillion times smaller than an electron's mass, its corresponding wavelength will be about 3,000 light years. This distance from one peak of the wave to another is about one eighth of the distance between the Earth and the center of the Milky Way. By contrast, the longest wavelength of light, a radio wave, is only a few miles long.
Waves from different particles on these large scales can overlap and interfere with each other like waves on a pond, acting like a quantum system on galactic rather than atomic scales.
The large wavelength of the particles' wave means that the density of dark matter in the center of galaxies cannot be strongly peaked. Therefore to an observer outside a galaxy these particles would appear fuzzy if they could be directly detected, so this model has been called "fuzzy dark matter". Because the normal matter is attracted to the dark matter it will also be spread out over large scales. This would naturally explain the lack of a strong peak in the density of matter in the center of galaxies.
This simple model has been successful at explaining the amount and location of dark matter in small galaxies. For larger galaxies, a more complicated model of fuzzy dark matter has been needed. In this model, massive concentrations of dark matter can lead to multiple quantum states (called "excited states"), in which the dark matter particles can have different amounts of energy, similar to an atom with electrons in higher energy orbits. These excited states change how the density of dark matter varies with distance away from the center of the galaxy cluster.
In a new study, a team of scientists used Chandra observations of the hot gas in 13 galaxy clusters to see if the fuzzy dark matter model works at larger scales than that of galaxies. They used the Chandra data to estimate both the amount of dark matter in each cluster and how the density of this matter varies with distance away from the center of the galaxy cluster.
The graphic shows four of the 13 galaxies clusters used in the study. The clusters are, starting at the top left and going clockwise, Abell 262, Abell 383, Abell 1413, and Abell 2390. In each of these images, X-ray data from Chandra are pink, while optical data are red, green, and blue.
As with the studies of galaxies, the simplest model of fuzzy dark matter — where all particles have the lowest possible energy — did not agree with the data. However, they found that the model where the particles had different amounts of energy — the "excited states — did give good agreement with the data. In fact, the fuzzy dark matter model may match the observations of these 13 galaxy clusters just as well or even better than a model based on cold dark matter.
This result shows that the fuzzy dark matter model may be a viable alternative to cold dark matter, but further work is needed to test this possibility. An important effect of the excited states is to give ripples, or oscillations, in the density of dark matter as a function of distance away from the center of the cluster. This would produce ripples in the density of normal matter. The expected magnitude of these ripples is less than the current uncertainties in the data. A more detailed study is needed to test this prediction of the model.
A paper describing these results was recently accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available online. The authors are Tula Bernal (National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico City), Victor Robles (University of California, Irvine), and Tonatiuh Matos (National Polytechnic Institute).
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.
Instrument from Mark Robinson of School of Earth and Space Exploration and Malin Space Science Systems will explore permanently shadowed regions
NASA has selected an instrument developed by Mark Robinson of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) and Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) to map the terrain and search for evidence of frost or ice deposits in the moon’s permanently shadowed regions (PSRs).
The instrument, named ShadowCam, will be a U.S. contribution to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s (KARI) first lunar exploration mission, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO).
The ShadowCam optical camera is based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera also developed by Mark Robinson and MSSS. It is, however, significantly more sensitive, allowing the camera to obtain high-resolution, high signal-to-noise imaging of the moon’s PSRs.
“The telescope and much of the electronics will be identical,” said Robinson, ShadowCam's principal investigator. “The big difference is swapping out the current image sensor for one that is 800 times more sensitive, allowing high resolution imaging within permanently shadowed regions, something the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera cannot accomplish.”
For those familiar with digital cameras, this sensitivity gain is like going from ISO 100 to ISO 80,000.
The ShadowCam instrument will acquire images of shadowed regions of the moon using a high-resolution camera, telescope, and highly sensitive sensors. Credits: Arizona State University / Malin Space Science Systems
Launching in 2018, ShadowCam will observe PSRs on the moon monthly to detect seasonal changes as well as measure the terrain inside these enigmatic craters, including the distribution of boulders. Eventually ShadowCam images will be merged with the Lunar Reconnaissance Obiter Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) images to make complete maps of inside and outside of craters that host PSRs. While the NAC provides coverage of illuminated areas, ShadowCam will provide images of the shadowed areas.
“These merged maps will put us one step closer to enabling landers and rovers to investigate the mysterious lunar PSRs,” Robinson said.
ShadowCam will address what NASA calls, “Strategic Knowledge Gaps,” or information the agency would like to gather in order to reduce risk, increase effectiveness, and improve the designs of future human and robotic missions in deep space. ShadowCam joins four other instruments on KPLO.
KARI, headquartered in Daejeon, South Korea, provided NASA with 15 kg (about 33 pounds) of payload space aboard the KPLO, which is scheduled to launch into lunar orbit in December 2018. ShadowCam was selected as a result of NASA seeking science instruments that could increase our understanding of the distribution of volatiles, such as water, including the movement of such resources toward permanently shadowed regions and how they become trapped there.
“Permanently shadowed regions have been a mystery because the perpetually dark interiors are difficult to image and existing research offers varying interpretations regarding the distribution of volatiles within these cold regions,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Future missions in deep space will be safer and more affordable if we have the capability to harvest lunar resources, and ShadowCam has the potential to greatly increase our understanding of the quality and abundance of those resources in these regions.”
The KPLO spacecraft will carry a total of five instruments to lunar orbit—four from South Korea and one from NASA (developed by Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems). Credits: Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)
Robinson and his team, including ShadowCam’s deputy principal investigator Prasun Mahanti and co-investigator Nicholas Estes, plan to run joint operations with ShadowCam and LROC from ASU’s Tempe campus. “There is much synergy having the experiments run jointly both in terms of operational efficiency and science return,” Robinson said.
NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES) led the payload solicitation and selection for the NASA instrument on KPLO. A division of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, AES uses innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. Through this partnership opportunity with KARI, AES is addressing key lunar SKGs while complementing KARI’s primary mission objectives and instruments.
NASA Laser Communications to Provide Orion Faster Connections
The LEMNOS project will provide laser communications services to NASA’s Orion vehicle, show in this artist concept.
NASA is working to forever change the way astronauts communicate to and from space using an advanced laser communications system called LEMNOS, which will enable exponentially faster connections than ever before.
Imagine being able to watch 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) video as humans take their first steps on another planet. Or imagine astronauts picking up a cell phone and video-conferencing their family and friends from 34 million miles away, just the same as they might on Earth. LEMNOS, Laser-Enhanced Mission and Navigation Operational Services, may make these capabilities and more a reality in the near future. The project was named for the island, Lemnos, where the mythical hero Orion regained his sight, according to Greek lore. Similarly, LEMNOS will provide sight for NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft.
“Laser communications will revolutionize data return from destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, enhance outreach opportunities from outer space and improve astronauts’ quality of life on long space missions,” said Don Cornwell, director of the Advanced Communication and Navigation division at the Space Communications and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters. “As we strive to put humans on Mars for the first time, it’s imperative that we develop a communications system to support these activities at the highest level possible.”
Laser communications, also known as optical communications, is the latest space communications technology, able to provide data rates as much as a hundred times higher than current systems. This means, for example, that astronauts could send and receive ultra-high-definition video from the surface of Mars. No mission to Mars has yet had that capability. Something that basic could have wide-reaching applications, allowing the American public to “ride along” as our astronauts explore deep space while also enabling scientific discoveries with much higher resolution images and data.
The Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been tapped to build LEMNOS in collaboration with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. They worked with other NASA centers to determine specific needs the system can fulfill.
“As we started thinking about the possibility of laser communications on Orion, I spoke with the flight controllers at Johnson Space Center who are developing the communications plan for Orion’s deep space missions. They were talking about enabling communications capabilities that we take for granted, but that are so foreign in space, from streaming scientific data and video in real time, to allowing astronauts to watch the Super Bowl or keep up with an election,” said Mark Brumfield, deputy program manager of implementation for ESC. “Being able to connect with society could have great impacts to astronauts’ mental health during the mission. Right now, they wouldn’t be able to make those connections in a meaningful way, but optical communications will give us that capability.”
In the nearly 50 years between the Apollo program and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, data return vastly improved, as evidenced by the difference between Apollo 8’s and LRO’s earthrise images, which were relayed to Earth via a much higher-rate system. While Apollo’s communications system supported 51 kilobytes of data per second, LEMNOS will be able to support communications at rates of at least 80 megabytes per second.
The difference in image quality between the Apollo 8 Earthrise image, left, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Earthrise image, right, is due, in part, to the much higher data rate available for LRO’s communications. LEMNOS will provide another order of magnitude improvement over current data rates.
The project just got underway at Goddard, with a goal to test LEMNOS for the first time on the second flight of Orion beyond the moon. Scheduled for one week with the option to extend for a longer mission, it will be the perfect opportunity to test the laser communications system, operating it continuously for up to an hour a day.
After the initial mission, Brumfield speculates NASA could add more laser communications terminals on future Orion exploration missions. This would increase communications capability because of the line-of-sight requirement for LEMNOS. He says it would be an evolutionary change to the way NASA does space communications.
The Space Communication and Navigation program office at NASA Headquarters provides programmatic oversight to the project. The communications team at Goddard has been tapped to build and implement the system in collaboration with MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Orion service module and Michoud damage biggest risks to schedule for first SLS mission
WASHINGTON — Delays in the development of Orion’s European-built service module, and damage to a NASA facility from a tornado, are the key schedule risks for the first Space Launch System mission, agency officials said March 29.
The schedule for the launch of Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), currently planned for late 2018, remains uncertain regardless of the technical issues as NASA studies the possibility of putting a crew on the flight, which would likely delay it by up to a year.
In a presentation to a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee here, Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, said service module delays and damage to the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans from a February tornado are running “kind of neck and neck” about being the biggest issue with the existing schedule for EM-1.
“The delivery of the European Service Module continues to be the critical path for Orion,” he said. The module, currently being built by Airbus in Bremen, Germany, is now scheduled for the fall of this year, but he said that could be delayed. “The delivery date continues to erode.”
Hill said an issue delaying the service module’s development is with unspecified subcontractors. “We’ve got some challenges with vendor-supplied units, and Airbus getting their vendors to deliver on time,” he said. “That’s delaying some of the actual delivery of the overall unit.”
Other elements of the development of the Orion spacecraft are going well, he said, although there have been adjustments to the schedule to accommodate delays in the delivery of the service module. Hill credited that to the experience building an Orion prototype for the Exploration Flight Test 1 mission, a December 2014 flight that put an Orion into Earth orbit for a five-hour mission.
Hill said NASA is still working out the effects on the EM-1 schedule from a Feb. 7 tornado that damaged several buildings at Michoud, including those involved in the assembly of the core stage of the SLS. “We were down for a while there, and still are recovering,” he said. In addition, he said a “snafu” after the tornado damaged a weld head in the assembly facility used to weld the SLS core stage components.
Hill said NASA is seeking supplemental funding to cover repair costs to several buildings at Michoud. “In the meantime, we’re expending SLS funds to do the repairs to get things done,” he said.
“I think we were really surprised by the amount of damage,” added Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “This has been a major disruption to our overall schedule at Michoud.”
Repairing the damage and resuming work at Michoud has delayed the core stage by months, Hill said. “The tornado probably cost us two to three months,” he said. “We’re still evaluating that and seeing what the options are.”
He said NASA is working with Boeing, the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, to see how to recover at least some of the lost time. “Right now, the core stage is the critical path for EM-1.”
It’s unclear how much effect the service module and core stage issues would have on the overall schedule for EM-1, which had been planned for September to November 2018. Hill’s presentation omitted a schedule chart for the mission included in similar previous discussions, which he acknowledged was due to ongoing studies of the feasibility of flying a crew on the mission.
“We’re looking at maybe adjusting the launch date” to accommodate that, Hill said, making the mission’s schedule uncertain.
That study should be completed soon. Gerstenmaier told the committee March 28 that he hopes a final decision would be made by the time the administration releases its detailed fiscal year 2018 budget request in May. Putting a crew on EM-1, he said, “will require additional budget, and it will also require additional schedule.”
NASA inspector general foresees additional SLS/Orion delays
WASHINGTON — A report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) April 13 concluded that the first two missions of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will likely slip from their currently scheduled dates.
The report on NASA’s human exploration programs, the outcome of a nine-month audit by OIG, also recommended that NASA provide more details about its long-term plans to send humans to Mars, citing constrained budgets and the need to develop a number of key technologies to enable such missions.
NASA’s current schedule calls for the launch of the first SLS/Orion mission, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), no later than November 2018 without a crew. That would be followed by EM-2, the first SLS/Orion mission to carry astronauts, as soon as August 2021.
The OIG report, though, was skeptical NASA could maintain that schedule. “NASA’s first exploration missions – EM-1 and EM-2 – face multiple technical challenges that will likely delay their launch,” the report stated.
The report outlines a number of technical challenges that SLS, Orion and associated ground systems are facing that makes it unlikely NASA can maintain its current schedule for those missions. Work on SLS, it said, has consumed nearly all of the 11 months of schedule reserve it originally had. “With only 30 days of schedule reserves available, the SLS Program may be hard pressed to meet a November 2018 launch date,” OIG concluded.
Orion also faces issues. “NASA considers Orion to be one of the biggest challenges to meeting the EM-1 flight date of no later than November 2018,” the report stated. Delays in the development of the Orion service module, provided by the European Space Agency are the leading factor in the overall Orion delay, as well as technical risks involved with changes in the design of Orion’s heat shield.
In addition to SLS and Orion issues, the OIG report stated that work on ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center has only one month of schedule reserve remaining. Development of software needed for SLS, Orion and ground systems have also suffered delays that could delay the first SLS/Orion launch. “We are concerned NASA will not be able to resolve all necessary [exploration systems] software validation and verification efforts in time to meet a November 2018 launch date for EM-1,” OIG said in the report.
Recent events could exacerbate those delays. The report briefly mentions damage from a Feb. 7 tornado that hit the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It estimated repairs to Michoud buildings could result in a two-month delay in work on the SLS, whose core stage is built there.
NASA officials have provided similar estimates on the potential delays caused by the tornado. “The tornado probably cost us two to three months,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, in a March 29 presentation to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee. “We’re still evaluating that and seeing what the options are.”
Another wild card that could delay EM-1 is a decision to put a crew on that first flight. NASA is currently examining such a move, which would delay the mission regardless of other technical issues. The target date for a crewed EM-1 mission is mid-2019, according to ground rules for that study cited in the OIG report.
The report said that, as of early April, the study about putting a crew on EM-1 was still in progress. “To achieve a crewed EM-1 flight, in our judgment NASA must address not only the additional risks associated with human travel but also a host of existing risks to planned missions,” OIG said in the report, citing work needed on Orion’s life support systems and a decision to either human-rate the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage that will be used on EM-1 or accelerate work on the Exploration Upper Stage.
Beyond EM-1 and EM-2, OIG called on the agency to provide more details on future missions and technology requirements needed to enable the long-term goal of human missions to the surface of Mars. Only recently has NASA started to flesh out a manifest of future SLS/Orion missions, primarily for flights through the 2020s to develop a cislunar “gateway” station in preparations for Mars missions.
“While we agree that finalizing requirements for the Journey to Mars through 2046 is impractical at this point in time, we believe that adding more detail to the plan would help NASA focus funding priorities for the systems the Agency will need to develop to accomplish its goals,” the report stated.
That planning is needed soon because of concerns of a potential shortfall in funding. A comparison of projected budgets for NASA’s exploration programs, assuming they grow at only the rate of inflation, compared to the cost estimate from a Jet Propulsion Laboratory study of one proposed Mars mission architecture, found a gap of $18 billion from 2018 through 2026.
Another factor in that planning is a potential extension of the International Space Station beyond 2024, which could cost NASA $3 to 4 billion a year that would otherwise go to exploration programs.
“Whether to extend the ISS beyond 2024 is a critical decision for NASA and its Journey to Mars, particularly because of the funding shortfalls projected during the 2020s and the need for development of key systems during that time period,” the report argued.
NASA's Study of Adding Crew to EM-1 is Completed, Awaiting Response
NASA Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen said today that the agency's feasibility study of adding a crew to the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion has been completed and briefed to agency and White House officials. The report is not public, she added, and the agency is now waiting for a "go forward" plan. She also said that NASA is expecting a flat budget for the next 5 years, not even including adjustments for inflation, which will reduce its buying power by $3.4 billion over that time period.
Allen spoke to a colloquium of microgravity scientists meeting in conjunction with a National Academies committee that is assessing NASA's implementation of a 2012 Decadal Survey on life and physical sciences in space. Although the International Space Station (ISS) was built largely to serve as a research laboratory, funding for that research has been constrained because of the costs of building and operating the facility.
Her message was that the budget outlook is not promising in terms of any increase for research funding. Thus it is imperative that the microgravity science community make a "compelling" case as to why proposed research is essential. Decisions also will be needed as to where the research must be conducted. How much must be done on ISS, for example, versus cis-lunar space where NASA is planning to build a Deep Space Gateway. The Gateway will have "minimal" research capabilities, Allen said, but some research must be done there instead of ISS. One example is galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) studies. The ISS, in low Earth orbit (LEO), is protected from GCR by Earth's magnetosphere, but astronauts going to the Moon or Mars will be fully exposed so the research is critical.
Allen laid out NASA's near-term plans for human exploration beyond LEO and mentioned in passing that the study of the concept of adding a crew to the first SLS flight -- Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) -- is completed and was briefed to Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and "the White House." NASA is now "waiting for a go-forward plan."
EM-1 has been designed from the beginning as a test flight carrying an uncrewed Orion spacecraft. The first flight with a crew, EM-2, is officially scheduled for 2023, but NASA is hoping to accelerate that to 2021. In addition to assessing the risk to the crew of launching on the first flight of a new rocket, the Orion spacecraft to be used for EM-1 does not have life support systems. A decision to launch a crew earlier would require a schedule delay and more funding in the near-term to outfit Orion with the necessary systems. EM-1 and EM-2 also will use two different upper stages. The more capable upper stage for EM-2 (the Exploration Upper Stage) is taller and requires modifications to ground facilities at the launch site.
The sudden decision to assess the feasibility of putting a crew on EM-1 was announced in February, shortly after President Trump took office. NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a later media briefing that there was no "preconceived decision" and he wanted to "let the data drive us to an answer."
The United States is the only country to ever launch a crew on the first flight of a new launch vehicle -- the space shuttle. All other U.S. crewed launch systems as well as those of the Soviet Union/Russia and China have been tested without a crew first. An exception was made for the first shuttle mission, STS-1 in April 1981, because it required humans to land the vehicle. Gerstenmaier said in February, before the EM-1 crew feasibility study was announced, that prior to STS-1 NASA calculated the risk of losing the crew on that first flight was 1 in 500 to 1 in 1000. After 30 years of experience and the loss of the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia missions and their crews, NASA recalculated the actual Loss of Crew risk for STS-1 was 1 in 12.
NASA plans to delay first SLS/Orion mission to 2019
WASHINGTON — NASA now expects the first launch of the Space Launch System to slip to 2019, regardless of any decision to put a crew on that mission, given ongoing issues with development of the launch vehicle and the Orion spacecraft.
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administration for human exploration and operations, acknowledged the delay in a letter included in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released April 27 that concluded that Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) would not meet its current November 2018 launch date.
“We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest in the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019,” Gerstenmaier wrote in the letter, dated April 12 and included as an appendix in the GAO report.
Gerstenmaier said, in response to one recommendation in the GAO report, that NASA would develop a new launch readiness date by the end of September. “NASA is assessing the EM-1 schedule in light of a number of ongoing activities,” he said, which include the tornado that damaged the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in February, disrupting work on the core stage of the SLS, and the ongoing development of the administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request.
The GAO, in its examination of progress NASA was making on EM-1 requested by Congress in the report accompanying the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill, had already concluded that the mission would not be ready for launch in late 2018 as planned. “With little to no schedule or cost reserves remaining as the programs finalize production and enter integration and testing activities, the EM-1 launch readiness date is in a precarious position,” the report stated.
The GAO noted in the report progress made in the development of SLS, Orion and ground systems, but added that all faced serious challenges with little margin. “The magnitude of the schedule delays that the programs have experienced amid this progress, however, foreshadows a likely schedule slip for the November 2018 EM-1 launch readiness date,” the report concluded.
One example is the delivery of the European-built service module for Orion, which is on the critical path for EM-1. Once scheduled for delivery in January, it has been delayed until at least August. Once delivered, the program requires 12 months of work to integrate it with the crew capsule and perform testing before delivering it to the Kennedy Space Center for final launch preparations.
“NASA officials stated that they would not be able to maintain a launch readiness date of November 2018 if Kennedy Space Center receives the Orion spacecraft after July 2018,” the report noted. “As a result, the November 2018 launch readiness date is likely unachievable unless NASA identifies further mitigation steps to accommodate delays.” The conclusion of the report added that the service module is now expected to be delivered in September, with the possibility of an additional two-month delay.
The report is the second in two weeks to conclude that delays in the SLS/Orion program were all but certain. An April 13 report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General concluded that both EM-1 and EM-2, the first launch to carry a crew, faced schedule slips. “NASA’s first exploration missions – EM-1 and EM-2 – face multiple technical challenges that will likely delay their launch,” that report stated.
Delays in the EM-1 schedule don’t take into account the possibility of placing a crew on that flight. NASA announced in February it was studying adding a crew to that mission. That report has been completed and briefed to both NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and White House officials. The agency has not announced a decision, although one is expected by the time the White House releases its detailed fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, expected by mid-May.
One condition on that study, Gerstenmaier said in February, was that adding crew not delay EM-1 past the end of 2019. “I didn’t want to go much beyond 2019,” he said in a Feb. 24 briefing. “I felt that if we went much beyond 2019, then we might as well fly EM-2 and actually do the plan we’re on.”
That study had its origins in expected delays in EM-1. Chris Shank, who led the NASA transition team for the incoming Trump administration, said during a panel session at the Goddard Memorial Symposium March 8 that the study had its origins at a meeting where Gerstenmaier said the delivery of the Orion service module would likely be delayed.
“We asked, if given more time, if there are some additional things that you could do with the mission,” he recalled. “This is genuinely a study on how to get the best bang for the buck.”
See photos of the latest NASA rocket piece built in New Orleans
NASA shipped a test section for its new super rocket from New Orleans on Tuesday (April 25), the latest milestone in a journey the agency hopes will one day get American astronauts to Mars. The piece is headed by barge to Alabama, where it will undergo testing.
Crews at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East loaded the 33-foot-tall, 60,000-ton engine section onto NASA's Pegasus barge, which was renovated in 2014 to handle the super-size pieces of the new rocket. The barge will now snake up the Mississippi River and other tributaries on a two-week journey that ends at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
In the coming years, Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans will take on its largest NASA project yet, the Space Launch System. The project marks a new era in spacecraft manufacturing, one that relies more on sophisticated robots than on large crews of workers.
Michoud plays a central role in building the Space Launch System, or SLS, NASA's most powerful rocket to date. The agency spent more than $250 million between 2013 and 2015 to upgrade the New Orleans facility and install specialized equipment to fabricate the rocket sections.
Michoud and the rest of NASA's fabrication hubs aim to deliver the first SLS rocket in 2018 to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. When finished, it will stand 322 feet high, taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The engine section built in New Orleans will be located at the bottom of the core stage and will house a four-engine block weighing 77 tons. The section will be pushed, pulled, twisted and bent to ensure the structure can withstand the millions of pounds of force that mark the rocket's eventual launch and ascent, though it will never actually see space. Actual flight articles will be built in New Orleans in coming years.
The shipment comes as the Michoud Assembly Facility continues to recover from a powerful EF-3 tornado that tore through New Orleans East neighborhoods and the 832-acre campus in February.
The tank was in outdoor storage at Michoud Assembly Facility.
Workers have returned to the 43-acre assembly facility, but not the neighboring National Finance Center, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and employed more than 1,000 people. State and federal officials have yet to say if and when the badly damaged building will be back up and running.
It will take about four months for testing to begin once the engine section arrives in Huntsville. Michoud will be responsible for producing another three core stage articles in coming years.
Plans for British spaceports 'in danger of being grounded by poor legislation'
Bill could leave operators open to crippling insurance costs, and could scupper government ambitions to launch satellites from UK spaceports by 2020
Ambitious plans to launch satellites from spaceports in Britain are in danger of being grounded by poor legislation that leaves operators open to crippling insurance costs, MPs have warned.
The government hopes to have satellites flown into orbit from UK spaceports by 2020, but a draft version of the spaceflight bill states that companies could face unlimited liability for any damages caused by falling space hardware.
“Lax wording in the bill leaves it open that an operator would have to indemnify the government against all losses and that makes it completely impractical,” said Stephen Metcalfe, chair of the cross-party science and technology committee.
In a report published on Saturday, the committee calls for revisions to the bill to ensure that Britain’s ambitions in commercial spaceflight are not undermined. The MPs are also seeking clarification on whether a €60m cap on the insurance for missions would apply per launch or to individual satellites
“For multiple satellite constellations where you might launch 20 small satellites at once, you couldn’t possibly expect someone to indemnify €60m for each of them,” Metcalfe said.
The draft bill sets out the legal framework that will be needed for spaceport and satellite companies to gain a share of the commercial spaceflight market which is estimated to be worth £25bn over the next 20 years. On Friday, the UK SpaceAgency took bids for £10m of grants for satellite launchers and spaceport operators to build facilities and launch vehicles.
But Stuart McIntyre, chief executive at Orbital Access, a UK satellite launch company, said that questions around liability and insurance should be addressed only once the broad, overarching bill had been introduced. “To delay the passage of the bill would be entirely counterproductive,” he said. “The UK faces a fantastic opportunity right now. Momentum and decisive progress is the key here if we want to capture that opportunity. It is one that does not come round often, and we have to take it.”
The committee took evidence from a number of witnesses from the aerospace industry before publishing its report. They included McIntyre and other engineers and scientists hoping to develop revolutionary space planes that could take off and land at British spaceports.
Metcalfe said the committee’s report identified areas where the next government “needs to look again” before a final bill is introduced. A number of coastal aerodromes in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall have been proposed as possible sites for spaceports.
Researchers from the University of Plymouth are part of a collaboration to create the first ever systematic review group for 'space medicine'
With Cassini making final preparations to penetrate Saturn’s rings, and renewed interest in colonising the Moon and sending people to Mars, space flight and exploration are experiencing a level of interest not seen since the Apollo missions to the Moon in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the space shuttle programme of the 1980s.
Space travel and exploration have resulted in a variety of technological developments which have benefited life on Earth – but could the experiences of humans in space also have impact on our understanding of terrestrial human health?
Scientists at the University of Plymouth and Northumbria University, Newcastle, are helping to write the medical rulebook that will keep astronauts fit and healthy during long trips through the solar system.
While working at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC), in Germany, Northumbria’s Dr Andrew Winnard realised there was very little evidence housed under one roof on what changes we expect to occur in astronauts during spaceflight – and what interventions work best to try and prevent these changes. Andrew also noticed that there was no systematic review group for the entire aerospace medicine field, like there are for almost all other areas of medicine.
He recommended a systematic review group for aerospace medicine, to look at the effectiveness of interventions to prevent health and fitness changes among astronauts and military and civil aviators that will facilitate reviews to inform operational medical guidelines and decision-making processes. He enlisted the support of systematic review expert, co-convener of the Cochrane Priority Settings Method Group and qualified pilot, Dr Mona Nasser from the University of Plymouth, to help formulate the group.
As well as benefiting astronauts and those working in space, the learning will also be used to inform medical practice on Earth; such as in the treatment of lower back pain.
Northumbria is working with experts from the University of Plymouth, the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Royal Air Force (RAF) the International Space University and Blue Abyss – the world’s largest research, training and development pool for marine and aerospace – to launch this review group at an aerospace medicine conference in the US in May 2017. The group are also launching their website at the Aerospace Medical Association 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting in Denver, between April 29- and May 4 2017.
The Aerospace Medicine Systematic Review Group will facilitate pooling of studies done in aerospace medicine under one roof and ensure that results of reviews are used to feed into comprehensive guidelines that will feed into major operational decisions
Dr Winnard, Lecturer in Clinical/Musculoskeletal Biomechanics at Northumbria University and Coordinator of the UK Space Environments Association, said:
“The group is developing and publishing methods that can be used by anyone undertaking aerospace systematic reviews. These tools help researchers understand and assess what is good quality aerospace research. For example, one tool already developed and available freely online (at our website) helps researchers determine the quality of bed rest studies often used to similar spaceflight for research. Already the ESA is hoping the group can help lead reviews to answer questions such as, what exercises will work in small spacecraft on missions that return to the moon, compared to on the International Space Station (ISS) and also asking how the medical challenges will be different on the moon compared to what we are familiar with on ISS.”
Dr Mona Nasser from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry added:
“Systematic reviews are vital to helping clinicians, researchers and the public make sense of published research. Research evidence needs to be considered in the context of evidence which has gone before in the form of a systematic review. Only by looking at the full picture in a systematic manner can we hope to glean a glimmer of understanding. By bringing the discipline of the systematic review to research around aerospace medicine, we believe we can help aerospace clinicians make the most of the research available to improve their practices and benefit their patients. That this can be translated to ‘Earth-bound’ medicine is also exciting.”
Northumbria University has already worked with ESA and international collaborators including astronauts to conduct a systematic review of the effectiveness of exercise to protect the lower spine and pelvis from changes that happen in space.
The review found no current researched exercises are fully effective at preventing these changes so post flight rehab is needed. Northumbria is now developing the ‘Functional Re-adaptive Exercise Device’, known as FRED, which has been created to combat the back problems astronauts suffer when they return to earth. The device can also be used by those that have developed back pain on Earth.
Former NASA Astronaut Dan Barry said:
“As more people go into space and as space exploration expands beyond low earth orbit, effective countermeasures to low gravity environments become even more essential for crew health and mission success. Existing literature on space health topics is widely scattered and of highly variable quality. A dedicated systematic aerospace medicine review group is important to provide a consistent, high quality assessment of findings that will lead to improved medical decisions."
Wing Commander Pete Hodkinson, Consultant in Aviation and Space Medicine for the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine added:
“Aerospace medicine like all other areas of medicine is striving to improve the evidence base to its practice. The establishment of an aerospace medicine systematic review group is a great step towards more evidence based practice in this field; it is warmly welcomed and strongly supported by the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine.”
Ausstellung „Mainz blickt ins All“ im Mainzer Rathaus zeigt Geschichte der Astronomie und spektakuläre Bilder
Neben Astrofotografien sind unter anderem auch Meteorit-Fragmente und Teleskope im Rathaus zu sehen. Foto: hbz/Harry Braun
MAINZ - Mit farbenprächtigen Astrofotografien, historischen Exponaten, Fragmenten des „Mainzer Meteoriten“ und dem „Pulsarium“ des Künstlers Steffen Henschel stellt die am Donnerstag im Foyer des Mainzer Rathauses durch Dr. Michael Schmitz, Direktor des Naturhistorischen Museums, eröffnete Ausstellung „Mainz blickt ins All“ die Region Rheinhessen aus astronomisch-kosmischer Perspektive vor. Hinter der Ausstellung, die eindrücklich Geschichte und naturwissenschaftliches Wissen mit der Faszination des Sternenhimmels verbindet, steht die Astronomische Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mainz (AAG), die mit etwa 80 Mitgliedern seit 1970 fester Bestandteil der lokalen Vereinslandschaft ist.
Ein Zeitstrahl führt durch die Geschichte der Sternwarten in Mainz und Umgebung. Man erfährt, dass die erste Sternwarte mit Kuppel auf dem Dach des heutigen Frauenlob-Gymnasiums errichtet wurde. 1971 wurde der Bau der Sternwarte auf dem Dach der Anne-Frank-Schule fertiggestellt, die 1972 zum Zuhause der AAG wurde. Dass die Volkssternwarte 2012 aus brandschutztechnischen Gründen geschlossen werden musste, empfindet der Verein bis heute als großen Verlust: „Wir verstehen uns als naturwissenschaftlichen Bildungsverein an der Schnittstelle zwischen Wissenschaft und Bevölkerung“, sagt Vorstandsmitglied Jan-David Förster. Dass die Vereinsmitglieder nicht nur in die Sterne, sondern auch in die Zukunft schauen, zeigt sich im Projekt „Rheinhessen-Sternwarte“, welches 2014 erstmals vorgestellt wurde. Das Modell und Konzept der zukünftigen Sternwarte, deren Realisierung allerdings noch in den Sternen steht, werden in der Ausstellung ausführlich präsentiert.
Die Ausstellung „Mainz blickt ins All – Gestern. Heute. Morgen.“ ist bis 14. Juni im Mainzer Rathaus zu sehen. Öffnungszeiten: montags bis freitags 8 bis 18 Uhr, samstags 9 bis 14 Uhr. Weitere Informationen: www.astronomie-mainz.de
Neben vier Fragmenten eines im Jahre 1852 in der Nähe des Gautores gefundenen Meteoriten finden sich in der Ausstellung weitere Unikate und Informationen, die staunen lassen: so der auf 150-220 nach Christus datierte, einzige vollständig erhaltene Astralglobus mit 48 Sternbildern, zwei Teleskope der ehemaligen Volksternwarte, Informationen zu Adam Elsheimer, der 1609 die erste naturnahe Darstellung des nächtlichen Sternenhimmels schuf, sowie ein Modell des Parkes-Radioteleskops, welches – konstruiert im MAN-Werk Gustavsburg und aufgebaut in Australien – durch die Übertragung von Bildern der ersten Mondlandung bekannt wurde.
Ferne Sternensysteme wie die Whirlpool-Galaxie, mysteriöse Sternencluster, kosmische Nebel wie der Trifidnebel mit seinen rot-blauen Farbspielen, spektakuläre Aufnahmen von Sonnenfinsternis und Chromosphäre – zweifellos tragen auch die Astrofotografien begeisterter Hobbyastronomen zur Faszination der Ausstellung bei.
We could detect alien life by finding complex molecules
By Bob Holmes in Mesa, Arizona
How can we search for life on other planets when we don’t know what it might look like? One chemist thinks he has found an easy answer: just look for sophisticated molecular structures, no matter what they’re made of. The strategy could provide a simple way for upcoming space missions to broaden the hunt.
Until now, the search for traces of life, or biosignatures, on other planets has tended to focus mostly on molecules like those used by earthly life. Thus, Mars missions look for organic molecules, and future missions to Europa may look for amino acids, unequal proportions of mirror-image molecules, and unusual ratios of carbon isotopes, all of which are signatures of life here on Earth.
But if alien life is very different, it may not show any of these. “I think there’s a real possibility we could miss life if [resembling Earth life is] the only criterion,” says Mary Voytek, who heads NASA’s astrobiology programme.
Now Lee Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow, UK, argues that complexity could be a biosignature that doesn’t depend on any assumptions about the life forms that produce it. “Biology has one signature: the ability to produce complex things that could not arise in the natural environment,” Cronin says.
Obviously, an aircraft or a mobile phone could not assemble spontaneously, so their existence points to a living – and even intelligent – being that built them. But simpler things like proteins, DNA molecules or steroid hormones are also highly unlikely to occur without being assembled by a living organism, Cronin says.
Step by step
Cronin has developed a way to measure the complexity of a molecule by counting the number of unique steps – adding chemical side groups or ring structures, for example – needed for its formation, without double-counting repeated steps. To draw an analogy, his metric would score the words “bana” and “banana” as equally complex, since once you can make one “na” it is trivial to add a second one.
Any structure requiring more than about 15 steps is so complex it must be biological in origin, he said this week at the Astrobiology Science Conference in Mesa, Arizona.
Cronin thinks he may be able to make that criterion simpler still, by specifying a maximum molecular weight for compounds that can assemble spontaneously.
Astrobiologists welcome Cronin’s suggestion. “I appreciate Lee for developing a biosignature that has minimal assumptions about the biology,” says Voytek.
In practice, though, Voytek notes that a detector compact enough to travel on an interplanetary mission would probably need to be designed to look for carbon-based life.
And even if Cronin’s method works, no scientist would risk claiming to have found extraterrestrial life on the basis of just one line of evidence, says Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and project scientist for the Europa Lander mission now being developed by NASA. That means that future missions will still need to look for multiple biosignatures.
—Video credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/HI-SEAS
On the rust-colored north flank of one of Earth’s largest volcanoes, a backpack-sized instrument monitors the atmosphere and, at the same time, helps set the stage for possible human exploration of other worlds.
Designed and built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the instrument tracks levels of methane and carbon dioxide, two gases crucial for studying the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere. Portable and nearly self-contained, the unit could represent the start of a low-cost global network to provide atmospheric monitoring even in hard-to-reach locations.
Recently, a Goddard team deployed the instrument for field testing high on Mauna Loa, in a remote region considered an analog site for Mars. There, the instrument is being maintained by the crew living in the habitat known as HI-SEAS—short for Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, a NASA-funded project run by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to help prepare for the possibility of long-duration missions on the surfaces of other planets or moons.