Der Begriff Elektromobilität ist aus der europäischen Automobilindustrie und Verkehrsforschung nicht mehr wegzudenken. Mit der Ausarbeitung elektrischer Antriebe für den Automotiv Bereich hat auch die Vision vom elektrischen und CO2-neutralen Fliegen an Schwung gewonnen. Das Symposium E²Fliegen des Deutschen Zentrums für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) und der Universität Stuttgart brachte am 5. und 6. Oktober 2017 in Stuttgart bereits zum dritten Mal Vertreter aus internationaler Wissenschaft und Industrie zusammen, die auf dem Gebiet des elektrischen Fliegens forschen und arbeiten. Auf dem im europäischen Raum einzigartigen Symposium wurden neue technologische Konzepte im Bereich Energietechnik und Antriebstechnologie sowie aktuelle Projekte und Zukunftsvisionen rund um elektrisches Fliegen diskutiert.
"Ideen gewinnen nach und nach an Größe und Komplexität"
„Fortschritte bei den elektrischen Antrieben und beim Leichtbau bieten heute vielfältige Möglichkeiten, die Elektromobilität in die Luft zu bringen. Forschung und Industrie werden in den kommenden Jahren gemeinsam daran arbeiten, elektrische Antriebe in der Luftfahrt weiterzuentwickeln und damit den Luftverkehr der Zukunft langfristig umweltverträglicher zu machen“, sagte Prof. Rolf Henke, DLR-Vorstand für den Bereich Luftfahrt. Das Symposium E²Fliegen förderte den benötigten Austausch und die Zusammenarbeit institutioneller, universitärer und industrieller Forschung auch in diesem Jahr. Die stellvertretende Direktorin für Luftfahrtforschung des Armstrong Flight Research Center der NASA, Starr Ginn, sieht in diesem Austausch die Zukunft des elektrischen Fliegens: „Die Ideen aller teilnehmenden Einrichtungen beginnen klein und gewinnen erst nach und nach an Größe und Komplexität. Der Austausch hilft dabei den Markt für elektrisches Fliegen weltweit auszubauen und zu verbessern.“ Auch Frank Anton, Leiter Electric Aircraft bei Siemens unterstreicht die Wichtigkeit dieser Zusammenarbeit: „Siemens Electric Aircraft entwickelt hybride elektrische Antriebe für Luftfahrzeuge und hat die Absicht, dies als zukünftigen Geschäftsbereich aufzubauen. Dabei arbeitet Siemens in einer großen Kollaboration mit Airbus zusammen und hat weitere Kooperationsprojekte mit kleineren Luftfahrzeugbauern. Eine wichtige Bedeutung in der Entwicklung dieser disruptiven Innovation sehen wir in der Zusammenarbeit mit Universitäten und vor allem mit dem DLR.“ Dem E²Fliegen Symposium misst Anton in diesem Zusammenhang eine große Bedeutung bei: „Das Symposium hat sich seit seinem Bestehen zur wichtigen Europäischen Fachkonferenz für alle Institutionen entwickelt, die an elektrischen Antrieben für die Luftfahrt arbeiten.“ Das DLR-Institut für Technische Thermodynamik in Stuttgart und die Einrichtung DLR-Flugexperimente in Braunschweig organisierten die Veranstaltung in Kooperation mit dem Institut für Flugzeugbau (IFB) der Universität Stuttgart
Liste der Vorteile ist lang
Forschung und Industrie sind sich einig: Die Liste an Vorteilen eines elektrisch angetriebenen Flugzeugs ist lang. Elektrische Antriebe arbeiten nicht nur lokal emissionsfrei und sehr energieeffizient, sondern auch leise. Ihr geringes Volumen und Gewicht ermöglichen darüber hinaus die Konzeption völlig neuartiger Flugzeugformen. „Der Aufbau heutiger Flugzeuge kann von Grund auf neu gedacht werden. Elektrische Antriebe ermöglichen neuen Flugzeugkonzepten eine aerodynamischere und somit effizientere Gestalt“, erklärt Johannes Garbino-Anton von der DLR-Abteilung Flugexperimente. Neben der zukünftigen Flughardware und verbesserten Integration der elektrischen Antriebe, spielten zudem Energiespeicher und Hybridsysteme eine große Rolle auf dem Symposium E²Fliegen.
Herausforderung größere Passagiermaschinen
Die Funktion eines hybriden Antriebskonzepts mit Wasserstoffspeicher, einer Niedertemperatur-Wasserstoffbrennstoffzelle und einer Hochleistungsbatterie konnten DLR-Wissenschaftler bereits erfolgreich mit dem viersitzigen Passagierflugzeug HY4 beweisen. „Die große Herausforderung liegt nun darin in Zukunft auch große Passagierflugzeuge elektrisch anzutreiben“, so Prof. André Thess, Leiter des DLR-Instituts für Technische Thermodynamik. "Mit dieser Vision im Hinterkopf, arbeiten wir daran den Brennstoffzellen-Antriebstrang weiter zu verbessern". Der Austausch von Industrie und Forschung auf dem Symposium E²Fliegen Anfang Oktober war ein großer Schritt in diese vielversprechende Zukunft.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space. His recollections of this unprecedented test of human endurance, and the physical toll it took, raise questions about the likelihood of future travel to Mars.
I'm sitting at the head of my dining room table at home in Houston, Texas, finishing dinner with my family: my longtime girlfriend Amiko, my twin brother Mark, his wife, former US congresswoman Gabby Giffords, his daughter Claudia, our father Richie and my daughters Samantha and Charlotte. It's a simple thing, sit ting at a table and eating a meal with those you love, and many people do it every day without giving it much thought. For me, it's something I've been dreaming of for almost a year.
I contemplated what it would be like to eat this meal so many times. Now that I'm finally here, it doesn't seem entirely real. The faces of the people I love that I haven't seen for so long, the chatter of many people talking together, the clink of silverware, the swish of wine in a glass – these are all unfamiliar. Even the sensation of gravity holding me in my chair feels strange, and every time I put a glass or fork down on the table there's a part of my mind that is looking for a dot of Velcro or a strip of duct tape to hold it in place.
It's March 2016, and I've been back on Earth, after a year in space, for precisely 48 hours. I push back from the table and struggle to stand up, feeling like a very old man getting out of a recliner.
"Stick a fork in me, I'm done," I announce. Everyone laughs and encourages me to get some rest. I start the journey to my bedroom: about 20 steps from the chair to the bed. On the third step, the floor seems to lurch under me, and I stumble into a planter. Of course, it isn't the floor – it's my vestibular system trying to read just to Earth's gravity. I'm getting used to walking again
Scott Kelly and partner Amiko in Red Square, Moscow
That's the first time I've seen you stumble," Mark says. "You're doing pretty good." A former astronaut, Mark knows from personal experience what it's like to come back to Earth. As I walk by Samantha, I put my hand on her shoulder and she smiles up at me.
I make it to my bedroom without incident and close the door behind me. Every part of my body hurts. All my joints and all of my muscles are protesting the crushing pressure of gravity. I'm also nauseated, though I haven't thrown up. I strip off my clothes and get into bed, relishing the feeling of sheets, the light pressure of the blanket over me, the fluff of the pillow under my head.
All these are things I've missed dearly for the past year. I can hear the happy chatter of my family behind the door, voices I haven't heard for a long time without the distortion of phones bouncing signals off satellites. I drift off to sleep to the comforting sound of their talking and laughing.
A crack of light wakes me: Is it morning? No, it's just Amiko coming to bed. I've only been asleep for a couple of hours but I feel delirious. It's a struggle to come to consciousness enough to move, to tell her how awful I feel. I'm seriously nauseated now, feverish, and my pain has gotten worse. This isn't like how I felt after my last mission. This is much, much worse.
Twin future astronauts Mark (left) and Scott Kelly, in 1967.
"Amiko," I finally manage to say. She is alarmed by the sound of my voice.
"What is it?" Her hand is on my arm, then on my forehead.
Her skin feels chilled, but it's just that I'm so hot. "I don't feel good," I say.
Over the past year, I've spent 340 days alongside Russian astronaut Mikhail "Misha" Kornienko on the International Space Station (ISS). As part of NASA's planned journey to Mars, we're members of a program designed to discover what effect such long-term time in space has on human beings. This was my fourth trip to space, and by the end of the mission I'd spent 520 days up there, more than any other NASA astronaut. Amiko has gone through the whole process with me as my main support once before, when I spent 159 days on the ISS in 2010-11. I had a reaction to coming back from space that time, but it was nothing like this.
I struggle to get up. Find the edge of the bed. Feet down. Sit up. Stand up. At every stage I feel like I'm fighting through quicksand. When I'm finally vertical, the pain in my legs is awful, and on top of that pain I feel a sensation that's even more alarming: it feels as though all the blood in my body is rushing to my legs, like the sensation of the blood rushing to your head when you do a handstand, but in reverse.
I can feel the tissue in my legs swelling. I shuffle my way to the bath room, moving my weight from one foot to the other with deliberate effort. Left. Right. Left. Right. I make it to the bathroom, flip on the light, and look down at my legs. They are swollen and alien stumps, not legs at all. "Oh shit," I say. "Amiko, come look at this." She kneels down and squeezes one ankle, and it squishes like a water balloon. She looks up at me with worried eyes. "I can't even feel your ankle bones," she says.
"My skin is burning, too," I tell her. Amiko frantically examines me. I have a strange rash all over my back, the backs of my legs, the back of my head and neck – everywhere I was in contact with the bed. I can feel her cool hands moving over my inflamed skin. "It looks like an allergic rash," she says. "Like hives."
I use the bathroom and shuffle back to bed, wondering what I should do. Normally if I woke up feeling like this, I would go to the emergency room. But no one at the hospital will have seen symptoms of having been in space for a year. I crawl back into bed, trying to find a way to lie down without touching my rash.
I can hear Amiko rummaging in the medicine cabinet. She returns with two ibuprofen and a glass of water. As she settles down, I can tell from her every movement, every breath, that she is worried about me. We both knew the risks of the mission I signed on for. After six years together, I can understand her perfectly, even in the wordless dark.
As I try to will myself to sleep, I wonder whether my friend Misha, by now back in Moscow, is also suffering from swollen legs and painful rashes. I suspect so. This is why we volunteered for this mission, after all: to discover more about how the human body is affected by long-term space flight. Scientists will study the data on Misha and my 53-year-old self for the rest of our lives and beyond. Our space agencies won't be able to push out farther into space, to a destination like Mars, until we can learn more about how to strengthen the weakest links in the chain that make space flight possible: the human body and mind.
People often ask me why I volunteered for this mission, knowing the risks: the risk of launch, the risk inherent in space walks, the risk of returning to Earth, the risks I would be exposed to every moment I lived in a metal container orbiting the Earth at 28,100 kilometres an hour. I have a few answers I give to this question, but none of them feels fully satisfying to me. None of them quite answers it.
A normal mission to the International Space Station lasts five to six months, so scientists have a good deal of data about what happens to the human body in space for that length of time. But very little is known about what occurs after month six. The symptoms may get precipitously worse in the ninth month, for instance, or they may level off. We don't know, and there is only one way to find out.
During our mission, Misha and I collected various types of data for studies on our selves, which took a significant amount of our time. Because Mark and I were identical twins, I also took part in an extensive study comparing the two of us throughout the year, down to the genetic level. The ISS was a world-class orbiting laboratory, and in addition to the human studies of which I was one of the main subjects, I also spent a lot of my time during the year working on other experiments, like fluid physics, botany, combustion and Earth observation.
When I talked about the ISS to audiences, I always shared with them the importance of the science being done there. But to me, it was just as important that the station was serving as a foothold for our species in space. From here, we could learn more about how to push out further into the cosmos. The costs were high, as were the risks.
On my previous flight to the space station, a mission of 159 days, I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied, and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained and shrank the walls of my heart. More troubling, I experienced problems with my vision, as many other astronauts had. I had been exposed to more than 30 times the radiation of a person on Earth, equivalent to about 10 chest X-rays every day. This exposure would increase my risk of a fatal cancer for the rest of my life.
None of this compared, though, to the most troubling risk: that something bad could happen to someone I love while I was in space with no way for me to come home.
I had been on the station for a week, and was getting better at knowing where I was when I first woke up. If I had a headache, I knew it was because I had drifted too far from the vent blowing clean air at my face. I was often still disoriented about how my body was positioned: I would wake up convinced that I was upside down, because in the dark and without gravity, my inner ear took a random guess as to how my body was positioned in the small space. When I turned on a light, I had a sort of visual illusion that the room was rotating rapidly as it reoriented itself around me, though I knew it was actually my brain readjusting in response to new sensory input.
The light in my crew quarters took a minute to warm up to full brightness. The space was just barely big enough for me and my sleeping bag, two laptops, some clothes, toiletries, photos of Amiko and my daughters, a few paperback books. I looked at my schedule for today. I clicked through new emails, stretched and yawned, then fished around in my toiletries bag, attached to the wall down by my left knee, for my toothpaste and toothbrush. I brushed, still in my sleeping bag, then swallowed the toothpaste and chased it with a sip of water out of a bag with a straw. There wasn't really a good way to spit in space.
I didn't get to spend time outside the station until my first of two planned space walks, which was almost seven months in. This was one of the things that some people found difficult to imagine about living on the space station, the fact that I couldn't step outside when I felt like it. Putting on a spacesuit and leaving the station for a space walk was an hours-long process that required the full attention of at least three people on station and dozens more on the ground.
Space walks were the most dangerous thing we did in orbit. Even if the station was on fire, even if it was filling up with poison gas, even if a meteoroid had crashed through a module and outer space was rushing in, the only way to escape the station was in a Soyuz capsule, which also needed preparation and planning to depart safely. We practised dealing with emergency scenarios regularly, and in many of these drills we raced to prepare the Soyuz as quickly as we could. No one had ever had to use the Soyuz as a lifeboat, and no one hoped to.
I opened a food container attached to the wall and fished out a pouch of dehydrated coffee with cream and sugar. I floated over to the hot-water dispenser in the ceiling of the lab, which worked by insert ing a needle into a nozzle on the bag. When the bag was full, I replaced the needle with a drinking straw – this way the liquid didn't escape into the module. It had been oddly unsatisfying at first to drink coffee from a plastic bag sipped through a straw, but now I wasn't bothered by it.
I flipped through the breakfast options, looking for a packet of the granola I liked. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to like it, too. I chose some dehydrated eggs instead and reconstituted them with the same hot water dispenser, then warmed up some irradiated sausage links in the food warmer box, which looked a lot like a metal briefcase. I cut the bag open, then, since we had no sink, cleaned the scissors by licking them (we each had our own scissors). I spooned the eggs out of the bag onto a tortilla – conveniently, surface tension held them in place – added the sausage and some hot sauce, rolled it up, and ate the burrito while catch ing up with the morning's news on CNN.
All the while I was holding myself in place with my right big toe tucked ever so slightly under a handrail on the floor. Handrails were placed on the walls, floors and ceilings of every module and at the hatches where modules connected, allowing us to propel ourselves through the modules or to stay in place rather than drifting away. There were a lot of things about living in weightlessness that were fun, but eating was not one of them. I missed being able to sit in a chair while eating a meal, relaxing and pausing to connect with other people.
More than 400 experiments took place on ISS during this expedition. NASA scientists talked about the research falling into two major categories. The first had to do with studies that might benefit life on Earth. These included research on the properties of chemicals that could be used in new drugs, combustion studies that were unlocking new ways to get more efficiency out of the fuel we burnt, and the development of new materials. The second large category had to do with solving problems for future space exploration: testing new life-support equipment, solving technical problems of spaceflight and studying new ways of handling the demands of the human body in space.
Science took up about a third of my time, human studies about three-quarters of that. I had to take blood samples from myself and my crew mates for analysis back on Earth, and I kept a log of everything, from what I ate to my moods. I tested my reaction skills at various points throughout the day. I took ultrasounds of blood vessels, my heart, my eyes and my muscles. I also took part in an experiment called Fluid Shifts, using a device that sucked the blood down to the lower half of my body, where gravity normally kept it. This tested a leading theory about why space flight caused damage to some astronauts' vision.
In fact, there was much crossover between these categories of research. If we could learn how to counteract the devastating impact of bone loss in microgravity, the solutions could well be applied to osteoporosis and other bone diseases. If we could learn how to keep our hearts healthy in space, that knowledge could be useful on Earth.
The effects of living in space looked a lot like the effects of ageing, which affected us all. The lettuce we grew was a study for future space travel – astronauts on their way to Mars will have no fresh food but what they can grow – but it also taught us more about growing food efficiently on Earth. The ISS's closed water system, where we processed our urine into clean water, will be crucial for getting to Mars, but it also has promising implications for treating water on Earth – especially in places where clean water was scarce.
I tell my flight surgeon, Steve, that I feel well enough to get right to work immediately upon returning from space, and I do, but within a few days I feel much worse. This is what it means to have allowed my body to be used for science. I will be a test subject for the rest of my life. A few months after arriving back on Earth, though, I feel distinctly better. I've been travelling the country and the world talking about my experiences in space. It's gratifying to see how curious people are about my mission, how much children instinctively feel the excitement and wonder of space flight, and how many people think, as I do, that Mars is the next step.
I also know that if we want to go to Mars, it will be very, very difficult, it will cost a great deal of money and it may likely cost human lives. But I know now that if we decide to do it, we can.
Edited extract from Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly (Doubleday, $35), published on October 19.
From his desk at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, space debris analyst Tim Flohrer keeps track of the 23,000 or so catalogued objects currently orbiting the Earth. They range from spacecraft and satellites – some working, most not – to discarded rocket stages and fragmented space hardware. All of them the result of 60 years of space exploration.
Using radar data from the US Space Surveillance Network (also, primarily, the country’s early warning system) and observations from optical telescopes, Flohrer helps ensure none of this space junk puts operational spacecraft at risk.
Before we speak, I’ve asked him to check on object 1958-002B, also known as Vanguard 1. Launched in March 1958, this grapefruit-sized shiny metal sphere was boosted into a high elliptical orbit. And it’s still there, passing between 650 and 3,800km (406 to 2,375 miles) from the Earth.
“The earlier satellites, such as Sputnik, have all re-entered the atmosphere,” says Flohrer. “But I estimate that Vanguard 1 will remain in orbit for several hundred, if not a thousand years.”
Conceived by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in 1955, Vanguard was to be America’s first satellite programme. The Vanguard system consisted of a three-stage rocket designed to launch a civilian scientific spacecraft. The rocket, satellite and an ambitious network of tracking stations would form part of the US contribution to the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year. This global collaboration of scientific research involved 67 nations, including both sides of the Iron Curtain.
“It wasn’t a space race,” says NRL Historian, Angelina Callahan. “The US was always forthright in terms of launch and intended purposes for the satellite but the Soviets held their cards closer to their chest.”
So, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik on 4 October 1957, it came as a shock. “A lot of the disappointment of Sputnik [for the US satellite team] was from the fact that their partners in this international partnership were not telling them they were sending a satellite up,” says Callahan.
The rockets that launched the Vanguard satellites were based on the German V-2 design (Credit: Getty Images)
“There was tremendous fear generated by Sputnik,” says Tom Lassman, curator of Cold War rockets at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. An identical “flight backup” of the Vanguard 1 satellite is on display at the Institution’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport.
“Sputnik made military leaders realise the Soviet Union could hit us with a missile.” In the weeks that followed the Soviet launch, pressure from the Eisenhower White House mounted on the Navy team to launch a US satellite as soon as possible.
On 6 December 1957, what had originally been planned as a further incremental test of Vanguard Test Vehicle 3 (TV3) became a major public event. Whereas the Soviets only announced Sputnik after it had successfully reached orbit, politicians, senior military figures and the world’s media gathered at Cape Canaveral, Florida for the US launch.
There’s a lot of failure in a successful research and development process – Angelina Callahan, NRL historian
After a series of countdown delays, at 11:44, the Vanguard rocket lifted from the launch pad. A few seconds later, someone in the control room shouted: "Look out! Oh God, no!" as the rocket rose four feet in the air and crashed back to the ground in a ball of flame. The nose cone was thrown clear – the Vanguard satellite still beeping. (You can read a full account of the disaster in this Nasa report).
The New York Times described the explosion as a “blow to US prestige”, Senator Lyndon Johnson called it “humiliating”. Others were even less diplomatic – newspapers dubbing the US satellite variously “flopnik”, “kaputnik” and “stayputnik”.
For the NRL team, it really wasn’t fair. “There’s a lot of failure in a successful research and development process,” says Callahan. “During the course of these failures, they developed a very good system.”
Ex-Nazi rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, who had long been pushing to launch something – anything – into orbit, seized the opportunity. With backing from the US Army, he had been developing the Jupiter rocket – an evolution of his V2 ballistic missile.
The Vanguard programme was beset with several launch failures (Credit: US Navy)
“The priority was to get something up as quickly as possible,” says Lassman.
On 31 January 1958, one of von Braun’s Jupiter launchers blasted Explorer 1 – a satellite designed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in just three months – into orbit. America’s first satellite was fitted with a cosmic ray detector to measure the space radiation environment. Designed by James Van Allen of the University of Iowa, the instrument revealed a belt of charged particles trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field, which became known as the Van Allen Belts.
Finally, on 17 March 1958, it was the Navy’s turn. Under clear skies, NRL’s Vanguard rocket carried Vanguard 1 into orbit. The tiny spacecraft was soon sending back its first radio signals. In fact, because it was the first satellite powered by solar cells, the spacecraft was still transmitting data until 1965. Explorer 1 only lasted a few months.
Not only is Vanguard 1 still in orbit, its legacy lives on
Although not the first satellite, Vanguard 1 was still a remarkable achievement. As well as proving the technology of a new launcher system, the ground station network and solar cells, the satellite showed how our planet bulges out around the equator. Equipped with an instrument to measure atmospheric density, it provided the first-ever measurements of the Earth’s tenuous outer atmosphere and an estimate of the number of micrometeorites surrounding the planet – all vital information for future spacecraft. As a military-funded project, this also fed into calculations for the accuracy of ICBM trajectories.
Not only is Vanguard 1 still in orbit, its legacy lives on. The rocket system forms the basis for the Delta launch vehicle, one of the world’s most successful launchers. Long term tracking of the satellite continues to help scientists understand the influence of the Earth’s atmosphere on satellites and how orbits decay over time.
Vanguard 3, which is at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, bears the damage from its failed launch (Credit: Audin/Wikimedia Commons)
“The NRL produced a classified report talking about the satellites the US Navy would need in future decades,” says Callahan. “It included weather, navigation, communication and reconnaissance satellites and the report closed with all the science that would be needed to make those systems viable.”
Sixty years on, that science and those predictions have become reality. The satellite that helped make this possible, and the team behind it, deserve to be remembered.
“It’s extraordinary,” says Lassman. “We not only have an artefact in the museum, we have one flying around in space – it’s living history.”
World View launches first stratospheric balloon from Spaceport Tucson
World View Enterprises completed the first launch of one of its stratospheric balloons Sunday morning from the Spaceport Tucson site south of Tucson International Airport.
The successful test flight from the launchpad adjacent to the company's balloon-making operation and headquarters marks the start of operations from the spaceport, said Jane Poynter, World View founder and CEO.
"This milestone launch signals the operational opening of the global hub for commerce and science in the stratosphere," Poynter said in a news release today.
“Spaceport Tucson, the first-ever, purpose-built stratospheric launch facility in the world, is now open for business."
The Federal Aviation Administration recently awarded a certificate of authorization to allow World View to launch Stratollite missions from Spaceport Tucson, the company said.
The spaceport features circular pad measuring 700 feet in diameter — about the area of six football fields.
World View is developing its steerable "Stratollite" balloon vehicles to offer missions to the Earth's stratosphere for commercial payloads, and eventually, individual travelers.
Prior test missions have been launched from rural areas including a launch of a chicken sandwich from a site near Page in June, for a promotion with KFC.
World View successfully launches its first stratollite from its Tucson HQ
Stratospheric balloon launch startup World View has completed its inaugural launch from its new Tucson, Arizona-based headquarters, the company announced today. The new HQ was officially opened back in February, but since then it’s been preparing the facility for regular launch operations, culminating in today’s debut take-off.
World View is trying to carve out novel territory in commercial space business, by launching super high altitude balloon craft, which can operate at the upper edge of Earth’s atmosphere for scientific, observational and other purposes, while keeping costs well below those of low-Earth orbit satellites. World View’s stratosphere altitude could help with long-term site observation, weather monitoring, and even defence applications.
The inaugural Tuscon launch took place Saturday morning, after a balloon fill test conducted in mid-August. The Tucson HQ features no only launch facilities, but also offices, and one of the longest continuous tables in the world, which the company uses to handcraft its gigantic stratospheric balloons. Eventually, World View wants to be able to send balloons up that can even carry a passenger pod, for stratosphere tourists and science crews.
World View CEO Jane Poynter said that the first launch from Tucson was “another important milestone in our series of Stratollite development and demonstration missions, which are helping us perfect our overall technology and operations as we move closer to a routine long-duration, station-keeping Stratollite platform.”
The company recently celebrated a milestone of a record 27 hour flight for one of its balloons – eventually, it hopes to be able to run commercial operations where balloons remain aloft for months at a time.
World View completes first launch at Spaceport Tucson
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - World View has completed its first high-altitude balloon launch at Spaceport Tucson.
The launch marks the activation of the PSaceport which received its FAA certification weeks ago and is managed by World View through a contract with Pima County, the Spaceport's owner.
Today was an exciting one for World View and Pima County with the activation of Spaceport Tucson and the first launch of a World View stratollite from its home base of operations. World View is meeting all of Pima County’s expectations, bringing dozens of new, high-paying jobs to our region and attracting the attention and interest of many, many aerospace companies. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for World View and our Spaceport, said Sharon Bronson, chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
Pima County built Spaceport Tucson in 2016 as part of an economic development plan focused on aerospace and technology.
World View balloon flight from Tucson successful after five days
World View’s Stratollite high-altitude balloon is readied for launch from Spaceport Tucson on Oct. 1. The balloon landed successfully near the Grand Canyon.
Tucson-based World View Enterprises says its first stratospheric balloon mission from Tucson ended successfully Friday, with a controlled landing near the Grand Canyon.
The five-day flight was the longest yet and met all customer requirements and technical objectives after launching Oct. 1 from Spaceport Tucson, south of Tucson International Airport, the company said.
Among other things, the company’s remotely controlled, unmanned “Stratollite” carried a communications payload for the U.S. Southern Command, a multi-branch military agency that is exploring the use of the balloon vehicle to help combat human and drug trafficking and maritime piracy, World View said.
The company said the balloon vehicle successfully demonstrated both directional steering and its ability to stay stationary. The craft uses proprietary technologies to navigate and can stay over a fixed point on Earth, achieving a form of geostationary orbit at a fraction of the cost of space satellites.
The test also validated all vehicle sub-systems, including using solar power through day and night cycles, and altitude control between 55,000 and 75,000 feet, the company said.
“This is our first successful attempt at testing all of the Stratollite’s integrated critical systems over the course of multiple days, and we are thrilled with how everything worked,” said Jane Poynter, World View founder and CEO.
The vehicle was successfully and gently landed Friday morning at a predetermined site south of the Grand Canyon, World View spokesman Andrew Antonio said.
The test flight was coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration, which recently awarded the company a launch permit, and local airspace authorities, Antonio said.
The demonstration mission carried multiple payloads, besides the military package including an off-the-shelf, Canon EOS 5DS camera to demonstrate the Stratollite as a viable platform for high-altitude earth observation.
The vehicle also flew an internally developed World View system for near real-time, high-bandwidth data transfer from high-altitude, “crucial to delivering to real-time data to future commercial customers,” the company said.
The company’s previous longest flight was 27 hours during a test run in August.
Airbus’ “BLADE” laminar flow wing demonstrator makes first flight
Aiming to bring a 50% reduction of wing friction and up to five percent lower CO2 emission
First test aircraft in the world combining a transonic laminar wing profile with a standard aircraft internal primary structure
Airbus’ A340 laminar-flow “BLADE” test demonstrator aircraft (A340-300 MSN001) has made its successful maiden flight for the EU-sponsored Clean Sky “Blade” project. The aircraft, dubbed “Flight Lab”, took off from the Tarbes aerodrome in southern France at local time 11:00, and after a series of successful tests it landed at Airbus’ facilities in Toulouse Blagnac. The overall flight time was 3hrs/38mins.
The BLADE project – which stands for “Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe” – is tasked with assessing the feasibility of introducing the technology for commercial aviation. It aims to improve aviation’s ecological footprint, bringing with it a 50% reduction of wing friction and up to five percent lower CO2 emission. Airbus’ A340 Flight Lab is the first test aircraft in the world to combine a transonic laminar wing profile with a true internal primary structure.
On the outside the aircraft is fitted with two representative transonic laminar outer-wings, while inside the cabin a highly complex specialist flight-test-instrumentation (FTI) station has been installed. The extensive modifications to the A340-300 test-bed aircraft took place during the course of a 16-month working party in Tarbes, with the support of numerous industrial partners across Europe. Today’s first-flight marks the kick-off of the Blade flight-test campaign to explore the wing’s characteristics in flight.
“We began by opening the flight envelope to check that the aircraft was handling correctly,” explains Airbus Flight-Test Engineer, Philippe Seve, who was on board the flight. “We achieved our objective to fly at the design Mach number, at a reasonable altitude and check everything was fine. We also checked that the FTI was working as expected, to identify further fine-tuning for the next flights.”
In the run-up to the start of this flight-testing phase, a small team of 10 specially trained pilots, test engineers and flight test engineers had prepared for this milestone for several months, spending time in a simulator and familiarising themselves with the FTI systems to be installed on the Airbus flight-test aircraft. Moreover, on equipment installation side, a working party of 70 people performed the FTI installation inside the aircraft, while teams from Bremen, Germany and Broughton, UK worked externally on the outer wings, with a team from Stade Germany, installing a pod containing infrared cameras on the fin.
On the wings, there are hundreds of points to measure the waviness of the surface to help Airbus’ engineers ascertain its influence on the laminarity – which is the first time that Airbus has used such a testing method on an aircraft. Other ‘firsts’ are the use of infrared cameras inside the pod to measure wing temperature and the acoustic generator which measures the influence of acoustics on laminarity. In addition, there is also an innovative reflectometry system, which measures overall deformation in real-time during flight.
A key goal of Blade is to be able to measure the tolerances and imperfections which can be present and still sustain laminarity. To this end, Airbus will simulate every type of imperfection in a controlled manner, so that at the end of the campaign the tolerances for building a laminar wing will be fully known. The flight Lab will perform around 150 flight hours in the coming months.
BLADE Press Backgrounder:
Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe
~ BLADE stands for: “Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe”.
~ Airbus is the leader for this project. BLADE is part of Clean Sky Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft Integrated Technology Demonstrator (SFWA - ITD).
~ BLADE is an EU industry-supported R&T technology demonstrator programme as and such there is no link to any possible future aircraft programme. Clearly, upon successful demonstration and maturity of this technology, it could then possibly be considered for applicability in a future aircraft programme.
~ Laminar wings have not been used in commercial aviation because the technology up to now was not mature enough. And the technology has not been fully tested in flight so far to validate it.
~ The new laminar wing sections were installed by Airbus in Tarbes to be flight-tested in place of the previous outer wings of our A340 (MSN01) ‘testbed’ (around 150 flight hours planned).
~ The rapid and recent developments of numerical flow simulation tools now enables us to design, build, demonstrate and validate an optimized natural laminar flow wing.
~ Underscoring Airbus’ industry leadership and commitment to innovation and R&T for the benefit of global air transport.
~ BLADE project aim to demonstrate that the laminar technologies are ready for smart wings.
~ Reduction in wing friction: up to 50%.
The purpose of Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft - Integrated Technology Demonstrator (SFWA - ITD) is to take innovative technologies, concepts and capabilities that are currently at Technology Readiness Level 3 (“TRL 3”) – and which demonstrate the potential to contribute to providing a step change in CO2 emission levels – and developing and validating them at TRL 6.
BLADE project, standing for Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe, has been launched
in 2008. The BLADE project’s prime aim is to accelerate the industrialisation of future laminar wings.
BLADE is the largest flight test demonstrator ever launched in the world. BLADE will demonstrate the viability of laminarity for commercial aircraft, via testing two concepts of representative Natural Laminar Flow (NLF) wing. The new wing sections are close in size/configuration to a possible future wing for a short-range / single-aisle airliner. These new test wing sections are installed and to be tested in place of the previous outer wings of a large A340 widebody aircraft ‘testbed’.
One of the new wings is made of an integrated upper cover and leading edge in Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic: CFRP (SAAB concept on the port wing) and the other one is made of a separate upper cover in CFRP and a metallic leading edge (GKN concept on starboard wing). The project intends to test natural laminarity sustainability in real operational conditions, in order to be able to properly specify & design (by specifying manufacturing tolerance requirements) future laminar components/wing for a next generation commercial aircraft.
Aerodynamic, flight control laws related to the specific shape of the natural laminar wing has been defined by Airbus experts and validated through a set of ground test (wind tunnel, simulator sessions).Expected benefit of laminar wing is to reduce the aircraft drag (up to 8% for a short range) and then decrease fuel burn (Short Range Aircraft is up to 5% net fuel burn saving on an 800nm mission).
The BLADE project led by Airbus is aggregating 21 partners (entities including SMEs and Research centres), providing their design, manufacturing or testing skills to provide parts or checks of the BLADE flying aircraft. Major partners are: 5micron, Aernnova, Airbus, ARITEX, ASCO, BIAS, Dassault Aviation, DLR, DNW, EURECAT, FTI Engineering Network, GKN Aerospace, INCAS, ITAINNOVA, NLR, ONERA, Romaero, Saab, Safran, SERTEC, VEW-GmbH. The role of Airbus & each partners is detailed in a dedicated document. On top of structural modification, Airbus led the other Aircraft system modifications (fuel, hydraulic, electric…) induced by the wing transformation, then enabling the experimentation.
The Flight Test Instrumentation (FTI) is another challenging & innovative aspect of the BLADE project. On top of classical in-flight measurements (temperature, pressure, accelerometer…), various specific measurement has been developed by Airbus and some partners.
Laminar flow transition location on the wing thanks to hot films & Infra-red cameras;
Airbus Research & Technology program is using several aircraft in order to test new technologies within a department called “Flight Lab”. BLADE is part of this program and is implemented on the A340-300 MSN1 Aircraft. A dedicated hangar has also been constructed in Tarbes to house the BLADE (and other Flight Lab project) reconfiguring working party.
Started in 2008, the following event has already been successfully performed by the BLADE team.
April 2010: Concept Freeze review;
December 2010: NLF Wings A maturity review;
January 2013 : NLF Wings B maturity closure review;
November 2014: NLF Wings C maturity closure review;
April 2015: Start of the NLF upper covers manufacturing;
December 2015 : Start of NLF wings assembly at Aernnova facility;
April 2016 : Start of the Blade Working Party in Tarbes (jigs & platforms installation);
June 2016: Removal of the A340-300 MSN1 legacy wings;
August 2016: NLF wings assembled by Aernnova delivered to Airbus for painting;
November 2016: End of the NLF wings join up to the Aircraft;
February 2017: Aircraft Power-On;
August 2017: End of Systems & FTI installation, testing and calibration.
The BLADE project aims to run a series of flights grouped into two flight test campaigns – the first one in the 4th quarter of 2017 and the second one in 2018 to extensively test and characterize ‘laminarity’ robustness in representative operational conditions.
The overall project led by Airbus Flight Lab Team deployed simplified methods and tools in order to properly monitor the following transverse functions: project, configuration, quality, Validation & Verification (V&V) cycle, permit to fly and safety management.
Lunar volcanoes and lava lakes gave the early moon an atmosphere
If you travelled back in time 3.5 billion years and looked up at the night sky, you would have seen an atmosphere around the moon. Though today it retains only a few tenuous wisps of atmosphere, new calculations show that massive volcanic eruptions released enough hot gas to create one that took 70 million years to leak away.
Astronomers had thought the moon was dry as a bone, yet we recently learned that the magma ocean covering the newborn moon 4.5 billion years ago released hot vapours of sodium and silica that formed a short-lived atmosphere. Now it seems a second lunar atmosphere developed 3.5 billion years ago as a result of eruptions flooding a large crater to form Mare Imbrium, a lava plain on the near side of the moon.
Starting nearly a decade ago, studies using sensitive new instruments revealed volatile material embedded in lunar volcanic glass collected by Apollo astronauts. The glass came from the dark lunar basins and hinted that the large volcanic eruptions that formed them between 3.8 and 3.1 billion years ago also emitted vast amounts of gas.
Dune on the moon
Now Debra Needham and David Kring at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, have calculated these emissions based on the estimated volumes of the lava flows. The largest emission was the roughly 10 trillion tonnes of gas that erupted along with the 5.3 million cubic kilometres of lava that filled the Imbrium basin. That would have raised lunar air pressure to about 1 per cent that of modern Earth, or 1.5 times the density of today’s Martian atmosphere.
“If you had any temperature gradient on the lunar surface, there would have been wind,” Needham says. With dust on the surface and enough wind to transport it, she adds, it could have been like “Dune on the moon”. But within 70 million years, all the atmospheric gas escaped or froze out in the polar regions, and because it all happened so long ago, no evidence of these winds would remain.
James Day at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California says this atmosphere formation process could account for the distribution of water and other volatiles on the surface of the moon and their loss from its interior. It could also help us understand how planetary atmospheres form, he says.
New telescope attachment allows ground-based observations of new worlds to rival those from space
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new, low-cost attachment to telescopes allows previously unachievable precision in ground-based observations of exoplanets — planets beyond our solar system. With the new attachment, ground-based telescopes can produce measurements of light intensity that rival the highest quality photometric observations from space. Penn State astronomers, in close collaboration with the nanofabrication labs at RPC Photonics in Rochester, New York, created custom “beam-shaping” diffusers — carefully structured micro-optic devices that spread incoming light across an image — that are capable of minimizing distortions from the Earth’s atmosphere that can reduce the precision of ground-based observations. A paper describing the effectiveness of the diffusers appears online on Oct. 5, in the Astrophysical Journal.
“This inexpensive technology delivers high photometric precision in observations of exoplanets as they transit — cross in front of — the bright stars that they orbit,” said Gudmundur Stefansson, graduate student at Penn State, NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow, and lead author of the paper. “This technology is especially relevant considering the impending launch of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) early in 2018. It is up to ground-based facilities to rapidly and reliably follow-up on candidate planets that are identified by TESS.”
A team of astronomers led by researchers at Penn State have developed beam-shaping diffusers – small pieces of etched glass that can be mounted on telescopes – that increase the quality of ground-based photometric observations. The research team tested the diffusers on the ARC 3.5m Telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico (left), the 5m Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory (middle), and the 0.6m telescope at Davey Lab Observatory at Penn State (right).
Diffusers are small pieces of glass that can be easily adapted to mount onto a variety of telescopes. Because of their low cost and adaptability, Stefansson believes that diffuser-assisted photometry will allow astronomers to make the most of the information from TESS, confirming new planet candidates from the ground.
“Beam-shaping diffusers are made using a precise nanofabrication process,” said Suvrath Mahadevan, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and an author of the paper, “where a carefully designed surface pattern is precisely written on a plastic polymer on a glass surface or directly etched on the glass itself. The pattern consists of precise micro-scale structures, engineered to mold the varying light input from stars into a predefined broad and stable output shape spread over many pixels on the telescope camera.”
Left: Light from a laser pointer is shaped into a wide and stable output using a beam-shaping diffuser. A carefully designed pattern is precisely molded into plastic polymers or directly into a glass substrate, creating micro-structures on the surface of the diffuser (inset). Right: The diffuser installed at the ARC 3.5m Telescope at Apache Point Observatory.
The research team tested the new diffuser technology “on-sky” on the Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory in California, the 0.6m telescope at Davey Lab Observatory at Penn State, and the ARC 3.5m telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. In all cases, images produced with a diffuser were consistently more stable than those using conventional methods — they maintained a relatively consistent size, shape and intensity, which is integral in achieving highly precise measurements. Using a focused telescope without a diffuser produced images that fluctuate in size and intensity. A common method of “defocusing” the telescope — deliberately taking the image out of focus to spread out light — yielded higher photometric precision than focused observations, but still created images that fluctuated in size and intensity.
“Diffused observations are by far the most stable,” said Ming Zhao, data scientist at The New York Times and former research associate at Penn State who led the diffuser effort at the 5m Hale telescope at Palomar.
The stability of the stellar image on a telescope detector is integral in achieving high precision photometric measurements. This video compares diffuser-assisted observations (right) to the two other most commonly used observing modes to observe transiting exoplanets: (left) observations using a defocused telescope, creating broad, but often highly unstable stellar images, and (middle) in-focus observations, which often fluctuate and “dance” around on the detector, degrading their precision. The diffused observations consistently deliver a broad and stable image of the star throughout the observations. The video images were obtained with the wide-field Infrared camera (WIRC) on the 5m Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory, with and without a diffuser.
By shaping the output of light, the diffuser allows astronomers to overcome noise created by the Earth’s atmosphere. “The stable and smooth images delivered by diffusers are essential in minimizing the adverse effects of the turbulent atmosphere on our measurements, and in maximizing our precision,” said Zhao.
"This technology works over a wide range of wavelengths, from the optical — visible by humans — to the near infrared," said Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and an author of the paper. “As such, diffusers can be used for a wide range of exoplanet science. We can use them to precisely measure the times exoplanetary worlds transit their stars, which will help us measure their masses and compositions, and even find new planets in their systems; and we can use them to study the temperature structures of giant planets' atmospheres."
The research team is already establishing collaborations to implement this technology on other telescopes around the world. “Our goal is to equip the broader exoplanet community with low-cost precision tools to deliver precise measurements to aid future observations in exoplanet science,” said Stefansson.
In addition to Stefansson, Mahadevan, Zhao and Wright, the research team at Penn State includes graduate students Shubham Kanodia, Lea M. Z. Hagen, and Leo J. Liu; undergraduate student Yiting Li; and postdoctoral researchers Thomas Beatty and Paul Robertson. The diffuser development and research team also includes Leslie Hebb, assistant professor of physics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; John Wisniewski, presidential professor and assistant professor of physics at the University of Oklahoma; Joseph Huehnerhoff, previous instrument engineer at the Apache Point Observatory 3.5m telescope, now an opto-mechanical engineer at Hindsight Imaging, Inc.; Brett Morris, graduate student at the University of Washington; Sam Halverson, NASA Sagan postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania; Joseph O’Rourke, postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology; Heather Knutson, professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology; Suzanne Hawley, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington; Chad Bender, associate astronomer at the University of Arizona; Jack Dembicky, Candace Gray and Theodore Rudyk, telescope operating specialists at the Apache Point Observatory 3.5m telescope; Russet McMillan, manager of night operations at the Apache Point Observatory; and William Ketzeback the Apache Point Observatory 3.5m chief telescope engineer.
This research was funded by a Scialog grant from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (Rescorp) and supported by the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, a Leifur Eiriksson Foundation Scholarship, the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center.
With unburned fuel aboard each stage, it’s possible that each launch is dropping as much as eight tonnes of UDMH, some of that fuel vaporizing and misting over Nunavut
The Canadian Arctic might be getting showered with trace amounts of poison thanks to Russian space launches which still employ a highly toxic fuel that most of the world has already phased out.
The fuel, known as UDMH, has already caused devastating pollution in areas close to former Soviet spaceports. And every time the Russian Federation launches a “Rokot” space vehicle, several tonnes of it might be getting dumped into Canadian waters.
“This dropping of the rocket stages is of considerable concern to the Inuit of Canada and Greenland, who only learned about the practice in 2016,” reads a recent report by University of British Columbia Arctic scholar Michael Byers in the journal Polar Record.
UDMH is used to power the first two stages of a “Rockot,” a civilian variant of a Russian nuclear-tipped missiles that is now used by Russia to launch satellites into orbit.
On occasions when these launches occur from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, the initial stages of the UR-100N are jettisoned into Arctic waters as the vehicle gains altitude.
According to Russia’s own alerts to aviation authorities, a June, 2016 launch saw a Rockot drop its second stage into a narrow stretch of water between Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island.
With unburned fuel aboard each stage, it’s possible that each launch is dropping as much as eight tonnes of UDMH, some of that fuel vaporizing and misting over Nunavut.
Byers noted that the Rockot stages are landing in the North Water Polynya, an area of year-round open water that is teeming with whales, seal, polar bears and seabirds.
“Given this concentration of biota, the North Water Polynya is an inappropriate location for dropping rocket stages with toxic residual fuel on-board,” reads the report.
UDMH was once used as a fuel by space and missile programs around the world, but has been gradually abandoned as its extreme toxicity became known.
A 2004 United Nations Development Programme report noted that the chemical is “dangerous in all methods of transmission to people.”
This has been most prevalent in the areas around the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Kazakhstani spaceport from which most of the former Soviet Union’s most renowned space launches occurred.
A 1999 report by Russia’s Union for Chemical Safety noted that UDMH was found around Baikonur “in vegetation, soil and sediments, subsoil and surface waters, at concentrations far in excess of those permissible according to the Russian hygienic standards.”
Around the same time, a health examination of 48,000 people in the vicinity of Baikonur found only 26.5 per cent of the adult population could be described as “healthy people.”
Russian death rates from blood and liver diseases have also found to be upwards of 30 per cent higher around Baikonur, although this has not been conclusively linked to UDMH contamination. Byers noted that mass die-offs of fish have also been observed in lakes under the flight paths of UDMH-burning rockets.
However, the ocean dumping of Rockot stages has not seemed to have bothered other countries whose borders are near to the drops.
Following a June, 2016 launch that saw the first stage of a Rockot jettisoned off the Norwegian coast, a Norwegian Defence Establishment official was quoted as saying that all residual fuel aboard would be quickly diluted by seawater.
Russia appears to be joining with space powers like the United States in phasing out UDMH, although launches of the UDMH-burning Rockot continue, likely due to the cheap availability of surplus UR-100N missiles, from which Rockots are converted.
On Thursday, a press release from the Inuit Circumpolar Council demanded that the launch be postponed “while alternative, non-toxic launch options are pursued.”
“The environmental and health impacts of this action have not been studied in ocean waters and especially Arctic waters,” reads the statement signed by Inuit leaders from Greenland and Canada, including former Nunavut premier Eva Aariak.
Mars Study Yields Clues to Possible Cradle of Life
This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits. The image was taken by the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and covers an area about 12 miles wide.
The discovery of evidence for ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits on Mars identifies an area on the planet that may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth.
A recent international report examines observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of massive deposits in a basin on southern Mars. The authors interpret the data as evidence that these deposits were formed by heated water from a volcanically active part of the planet's crust entering the bottom of a large sea long ago.
"Even if we never find evidence that there's been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth," said Paul Niles of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston. "Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time -- when early life was evolving here."
The Eridania basin of southern Mars is believed to have held a sea about 3.7 billion years ago, with seafloor deposits likely resulting from underwater hydrothermal activity. This graphic shows estimated depths of water in that ancient sea. The map covers an area about 530 miles wide.
Mars today has neither standing water nor volcanic activity. Researchers estimate an age of about 3.7 billion years for the Martian deposits attributed to seafloor hydrothermal activity. Undersea hydrothermal conditions on Earth at about that same time are a strong candidate for where and when life on Earth began. Earth still has such conditions, where many forms of life thrive on chemical energy extracted from rocks, without sunlight. But due to Earth's active crust, our planet holds little direct geological evidence preserved from the time when life began. The possibility of undersea hydrothermal activity inside icy moons such as Europa at Jupiter and Enceladus at Saturn feeds interest in them as destinations in the quest to find extraterrestrial life.
Observations by MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) provided the data for identifying minerals in massive deposits within Mars' Eridania basin, which lies in a region with some of the Red Planet's most ancient exposed crust.
"This site gives us a compelling story for a deep, long-lived sea and a deep-sea hydrothermal environment," Niles said. "It is evocative of the deep-sea hydrothermal environments on Earth, similar to environments where life might be found on other worlds -- life that doesn't need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat and water."
This diagram illustrates an interpretation for the origin of some deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars as resulting from seafloor hydrothermal activity more than 3 billion years ago.
Niles co-authored the recent report in the journal Nature Communications with lead author Joseph Michalski, who began the analysis while at the Natural History Museum, London, and co-authors at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and the Natural History Museum.
The researchers estimate the ancient Eridania sea held about 50,000 cubic miles (210,000 cubic kilometers) of water. That is as much as all other lakes and seas on ancient Mars combined and about nine times more than the combined volume of all of North America's Great Lakes. The mix of minerals identified from the spectrometer data, including serpentine, talc and carbonate, and the shape and texture of the thick bedrock layers, led to identifying possible seafloor hydrothermal deposits. The area has lava flows that post-date the disappearance of the sea. The researchers cite these as evidence that this is an area of Mars' crust with a volcanic susceptibility that also could have produced effects earlier, when the sea was present.
The new work adds to the diversity of types of wet environments for which evidence exists on Mars, including rivers, lakes, deltas, seas, hot springs, groundwater, and volcanic eruptions beneath ice.
"Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars," the report states. It also says, “Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth." That is because the earliest evidence of life on Earth comes from seafloor deposits of similar origin and age, but the geological record of those early-Earth environments is poorly preserved.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, built and operates CRISM, one of six instruments with which MRO has been examining Mars since 2006. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver built the orbiter and supports its operations.