New NASA Report Suggests We Could See Space-Based Power After 2050

Space-based solar power (SBSP) has been in the news recently, with the successful test of a solar power demonstrator in space taking place last summer. While the concept is fundamentally sound, there are plenty of hurdles to overcome if the technology is to be widely adopted – not the least of which is cost. NASA is no stranger to costly projects, though, and they recently commissioned a study from their internal Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy that suggests how NASA could continue to support this budding idea. Most interestingly, if the technological cards are played right, SBSP could be the most carbon-efficient, lowest-cost power source for humanity by 2050.

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One of NASA’s Radio Dishes Can Now Track Space Lasers Too

Beamed communication in space is almost exclusively tracked by one network – NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) is used to communicate with nearly every spacecraft that has made its way past the Moon. Until recently, that has meant exclusively using radio communication, which can be extremely slow compared to other forms. But a recent test shows that, with some modification, DSN’s telescopes can communicate using a much more modern type of technology – space lasers. 

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The Early Universe Had Small Galaxies with Oversized Black Holes

When doing the marketing for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA and the other telescope contributors liked to point out how it would open up the early universe to scrutiny. They weren’t exaggerating, and now scientific studies are starting to proliferate that show why. A new study published by authors from Harvard, the University of Arizona, and the University of Cambridge used three surveys produced by the JWST to analyze the supermassive black holes at the center of early galaxies. And they found they were much different than the one at the center of our own, at least in terms of relative size.

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What Future Propulsion Technologies Should NASA Invest In?

Researchers consistently complain about how difficult it is to fund breakthrough research. Most funding agencies, especially governmental ones, think funding incremental, evolutionary technological steps is the way to go, as it has the most significant immediate payback. But longer-term, higher-risk research is necessary to provide those incremental steps 20-30 years in the future. And in some cases, they are required to underpin completely new things that other researchers want to do.

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Astronomers Identify 164 Promising Targets for the Habitable Worlds Observatory

Planning large astronomical missions is a long process. In some cases, such as the now functional James Webb Space Telescope, it can literally take decades. Part of that learning process is understanding what the mission will be designed to look for. Coming up with a list of what it should look for is a process, and on larger missions, teams of scientists work together to determine what they think will be best for the mission. In that vein, a team of researchers from UC Berkeley and UC Riverside have released a paper describing a database of exoplanets that could be worth the time of NASA’s new planned habitable planet survey, the Habitable Worlds Observatory HWO.

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Solar Electric Propulsion Systems are Just What we Need for Efficient Trips to Mars

There are many different ways to get to Mars, but there are always tradeoffs. Chemical propulsion, proven the most popular, can quickly get a spacecraft to the red planet. But they come at a high cost of bringing their fuel, thereby increasing the mission’s overall cost. Alternative propulsion technologies have been gaining traction in several deep space applications. Now, a team of scientists from Spain has preliminary studied what it would take to send a probe to Mars using entirely electric propulsion once it leaves Earth.

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The First Launch of ULA’s Vulcan Goes Smoothly, but there’s a Problem with its Lander Payload

Space missions regularly test multiple new technologies in one go. It’s very common to have a single mission test out three or more new technologies, making them “flight-proven.” Unfortunately, that sometimes means that though one particular new technology, or even many of them, might succeed, one technology could work. At the same time, another one could fail, and that single failure might mean that several other technologies might never even get a chance for their day in the Sun. That seems to have happened with NASA’s first Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission. While the Vulcan rocket, developed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), lifted off successfully, the Peregrine lander, developed by Astrobotic, seems to have run into an error that jeopardizes the rest of the mission.

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Miniaturized Jumping Robots Could Study An Asteroid’s Gravity

Missions focusing on small bodies in the solar system have been coming thick and fast lately. OSIRIS-Rex, Psyche, and Rosetta are all examples of projects that planned or did rendezvous with a small body in the solar system. But one of their biggest challenges is understanding the gravity of these bodies – which was especially evident when Philae, Rosetta’s lander, had a hard time staying on the surface of its intended comet. A new idea from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory could help solve that problem – by bouncing small probes around.

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Using Smart Materials To Deploy A Dark Age Explorer

One of the most significant constraints on the size of objects placed into orbit is the size of the fairing used to put them there. Large telescopes must be stuffed into a relatively small fairing housing and deployed to their full size, sometimes using complicated processes. But even with those processes, there is still an upper limit to how giant a telescope can be. That might be changing soon, with the advent of smart materials – particularly on a project funded by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) that would allow for a kilometer-scale radio telescope in space.

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