We’ll be Building Self-Replicating Probes to Explore the Milky Way Sooner Than you Think. Why Haven’t ETIs?

An early NASA concept of an interstellar space probe. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

The future can arrive in sudden bursts. What seems a long way off can suddenly jump into view, especially when technology is involved. That might be true of self-replicating machines. Will we combine 3D printing with in-situ resource utilization to build self-replicating space probes?

One aerospace engineer with expertise in space robotics thinks it could happen sooner rather than later. And that has implications for SETI.

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Two Spacecraft Could Work Together to Capture an Asteroid and Bring it Close to Earth for Mining

Mining asteroids might be necessary for humanity to expand into the Solar System. A new paper says spacecraft could work in pairs to capture Near Earth Asteroids. Credit: ESA.

Humanity seems destined to expand into the Solar System. What exactly that looks like, and how difficult and tumultuous the endeavour might be, is wide open to speculation. But there are some undeniable facts attached to the prospect.

We need materials to build infrastructure, and getting it all into space from Earth is not realistic. (Be quiet, space elevator people.)

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A new Kind of Solar Sail Could let us Explore Difficult Places to Reach in the Solar System

Solar sailing technology has been a dream of many for decades. The simple elegance of sailing on the light waves of the sun does have a dreamy aspect to it that has captured the imagination of engineers as well as writers. However, the practicalities of the amount of energy received compared to that needed to move useful payloads have brought those dreams back to reality. Now, a team led by Amber Dubill of John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and supported by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program is developing new solar sail architecture that might have already found its killer app – heliophysics.

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Spinlaunch Hurled a Test Rocket Into the air. See What it Looked Like From the Payload’s Point of View

Can watching a video give you motion sickness?  If so, a commercial launch company called SpinLaunch just released a video that is sure to. The video is from the first camera ever attached to one of the company’s test payloads, and boy is it spectacular, though it might indeed be nausea-inducing in some people.

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Traveling the Solar System with Pulsar Navigation

A pulsar with its magnetic field lines illustrated. The beams emitting from the poles are what washes over our detectors as the dead star spins.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found a way for travelers through the Solar System to work out exactly where they are, without needing help from ground-based observers on Earth. They have refined the pulsar navigation technique, which uses X-ray signals from distant pulsars, in a way similar to how GPS uses signals from a constellation of specialized satellites, to calculate an exact position .

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Space Lettuce Could Reduce Astronaut Bone Loss

All kinds of challenges will face the first humans to travel to Mars. One that has been much discussed, with no potential solution yet, is the potential for a significant amount of bone density loss on the three-year mission.  Astronauts lose about 1% of their bone density per month in the microgravity of the ISS. That’s not too big of a deal if they are only on the station for six months, but the two 10-month space trips of a mission to the red planet could be a concern.  Now a team of researchers think they have a solution – have the astronauts eat more salad.

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Explorers Could Build Bricks on Mars with Bacteria and Pee

The famous Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky once said, “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Tsiolkovsky is often hailed as one of the fathers of rocketry and cosmonautics and remembered for believing in the dominance of humanity throughout space, also known as anthropocosmism. His work in the late-19th and early-20th centuries helped shape space exploration several decades before humanity first walked on the Moon.

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Five Rover Teams Chosen to Help Explore the Moon’s South Pole

Illustration of NASA astronauts on the lunar South Pole. Credit: NASA

The Moon may seem barren, and it is. However, a certain species of inquisitive primates is still very interested in exploring the Moon, uncovering its secrets and maybe establishing a longer-term presence there. But thirsty primates need water, and there’s only one primary source on the Moon: the frozen water in shadowed craters at the lunar poles.

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A Huge Rotating Kilometer-Scale Space Station Could be Launched From a Single Rocket

Artificial gravity remains the stuff of science fiction.  But dealing with no gravity causes significant problems in many astronauts, ranging from bone deterioration to loss of sight.  An alternative method that might eliminate some of these problems is “simulated gravity,” which uses a spinning structure to create centrifugal force that would have the same effect on the body as gravity would.  Whether or not this would solve the problems caused by lack of gravity remains to be seen. Still, NASA seems keen on the idea – to the tune of a $600,000 NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase II grant to a team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Washington (UW) who is looking to develop a structure that can simulate full Earth gravity and be launched in a single rocket.

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The Best way to Leave the Solar System Might be to fly Uncomfortably Close to the Sun

We’ve reported before on the conceptual mission known as the Interstellar Probe.  This ambitious mission would visit the interstellar medium about 1,000 AU away from the Sun. But how exactly would the probe get there in a reasonable time frame? It has taken Voyager 35 years to travel less than 10% of that distance.  The answer might lie in an old technology that has been given new life by advances in material science – the solar thermal propulsion system.

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