Astronauts Will Soon be Getting a Space Fridge, Keeping Everything Cold in Zero-G

One of the least known of NASA’s funding mechanisms is the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.  This program, required by the Baye-Doyle Act of 1980, earmarks a piece of every US Federal agency’s budget (including NASA) for the development of small businesses to commercialize new technologies.  NASA’s SBIR program usually focus on commercializing technologies that are useable in space, and many times fund a university doing some work in addition to the small business that received the grant.  A company called Air Squared Inc, based in Broomfield, Colorado, recently received one of these SBIR grants, and teamed up with a mechanical engineering lab at Purdue University and Whirlpool, one of the world’s appliance giants, to produce a necessary component for any long-term space mission – a refrigerator.

Continue reading “Astronauts Will Soon be Getting a Space Fridge, Keeping Everything Cold in Zero-G”

Plasma Thruster Could Dramatically Cut Down Flight Times to the Outer Solar System

I just finished the most recent season of The Expanse – my current favourite Sci-Fi series. Unlike most of my other go-to Sci-Fi, The Expanse’s narrative is (thus far) mainly contained to our own Solar System. In Star Trek, ships fly about the galaxy at Faster-Than-Light speeds giving mention to the many light years (or parsecs *cough* Star Wars) travelled to say nothing of sublight journeys within solar systems themselves. The distances between stars is huge. But, for current-day Earthling technology, our Solar System itself is still overwhelmingly enormous. It takes years to get anywhere.

In The Expanse, ships use a fictional sublight propulsion called The Epstein Drive to travel quickly through the Solar System at significant fractions of light speed. We’re not nearly there yet, but we are getting closer with the announcement of a new theoretical sublight propulsion. It won’t be an Epstein drive, but it may come to be known as the Ebrahimi Drive – an engine inspired by fusion reactors and the incredible power of solar Coronal Mass Ejections.

Fatima Ebrahimi in her Office c, Elle Starkman
Continue reading “Plasma Thruster Could Dramatically Cut Down Flight Times to the Outer Solar System”

New Drones for Exploring Mars are Getting Tested in Iceland

It’s looking more and more like the future of space exploration could involve drones in a big way.

We’ve already seen it here on Earth, where all kinds of flying drones are used by all kinds of people for all kinds of things. Drones are particularly useful in resource development, exploration, imaging, and remote sensing.

Could the future see drones flying around in the thin Martian atmosphere?

Continue reading “New Drones for Exploring Mars are Getting Tested in Iceland”

Room-temperature Superconductivity Achieved for the First Time, but There’s a Catch

One of the most interesting things about space exploration is how many technologies have an impact on our ability to reach farther.  New technologies that might not immediately be used in space can still eventually have a profound long-term impact.  On the other hand, everyone knows some technologies will be immediately game changing.  Superconductors, or materials that do not have any electrical resistance, are one of the technologies that have the potential to be game changing.  However, hurdles to their practical use have limited their applicability to a relatively small sub-set of applications, like magnetic resonance imaging devices and particle accelerators.  But another major hurdle to the broad use of superconductors has now been cleared – a lab at the University of Rochester (UR) has just developed one that works at almost room temperature.  The big caveat is it has to be under pressure similar to that in the Earth’s core.

Continue reading “Room-temperature Superconductivity Achieved for the First Time, but There’s a Catch”

Finally! A Solution to Deal With Sticky Lunar Dust

As a wise man once said, “I don’t like sand.  It’s coarse and rough and irritating – and it gets everywhere”.  The same could be said for another material in our solar system – dust.

The kind of dust present on the moon is even more annoying than the grains that bothered Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine.  It is constantly bathed in solar radiation, smells like spent gunpowder, and can cause allergic reactions, as it did in some of the Apollo astronauts.  It’s also notoriously difficult to clean off of surfaces.  Now a team of scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder think they have a solution that would remove lunar dust without harming the material it’s attached to.  And they would do this by using a tool that sounds like it’s straight out of Star Wars – an electron beam.

Continue reading “Finally! A Solution to Deal With Sticky Lunar Dust”

One Step Closer to Interstellar Travel. A Successful Microgravity Test of a Graphene Light Sail

If we want to travel to the stars, we’re going to have to be creative. Conventional rockets aren’t nearly powerful enough to allow us to journey across light-years in a reasonable time. Even nuclear rockets might not be enough. So what’s humanity to do? The answer could be a light sail.

Continue reading “One Step Closer to Interstellar Travel. A Successful Microgravity Test of a Graphene Light Sail”

A New Technique to Make Lighter Radiation Shielding For Spacecraft: Rust.

One of the biggest challenges of working and living in space is the threat posed by radiation. In addition to solar and cosmic rays that are hazardous to astronauts’ health, there is also ionizing radiation that threatens their electronic equipment. This requires that all spacecraft, satellites, and space stations that are sent to orbit be shielded using materials that are often quite heavy and/or expensive.

Looking to create alternatives, a team of engineers came up with a new technique for producing radiation shielding that is lightweight and more cost-effective than existing methods. The secret ingredient, according to their recently-published research, is metal oxides (aka. rust). This new method could have numerous applications and lead to a significant drop in the costs associated with space launches and spaceflight.

Continue reading “A New Technique to Make Lighter Radiation Shielding For Spacecraft: Rust.”