If human beings intend to become an interplanetary species (or interstellar, for that matter), then we are going to need new propulsion methods that combine a significant level of thrust with fuel-efficiency. One option that NASA has been exploring for decades is spacecraft that rely on nuclear power, which can take the form of nuclear-electric or nuclear-thermal propulsion (NEP/NTP).
In the current era of space exploration, other space agencies are looking into this technology as well. For instance, the UK Space Agency recently signed a contract with the British automotive engineering firm Rolls-Royce. As per their duties, Rolls-Royce will investigate applications for nuclear power and propulsion. Given the company’s record of mechanical, electrical, and nuclear power solutions
Continue reading “The UK is Considering Nuclear Propulsion in Space”
If humans plan to go to live and work beyond Earth someday, they will need technologies that allow for sustainable living in alien environments. This is especially true of Mars, which is extremely cold, dry, and subject to more radiation than we are used to. On top of that, it also takes six to nine months to send spacecraft there, and that’s every two years when Earth and Mars are closest to each other in their orbits.
As such, settling on the Red Planet will require some serious creativity!
This is the purpose of Mars City Design (the Mars City®), an innovation and design platform founded by architect and filmmaker Vera Mulyani. Every year since its inception, this organization has hosted the Mars City Design Challenges, where students from around the world come together with industry experts to produce architectural designs for living on Mars (what Mulyani calls “Marchitecture”).
Continue reading “Winning Urban Farming Ideas for Mars!”
In 1999, technicians from the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Stanford University developed the specifications for CubeSat technology. In no time at all, academic institutions were launching CubeSats to conduct all manner of scientific research and validate new satellite technologies. Since 2013, the majority of launches have been conducted by commercial and private entities rather than academia.
Unfortunately, CubeSats have been held back until now because of a lack of good propulsion technology. In addition, there are concerns that with the proliferation of small satellites, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will become overcrowded. Thanks to Howe Industries and a breakthrough engine design (known as the ThermaSat) that utilizes steam to generate propulsion, all of that could change very soon.
Continue reading “A Steampunk Engine to Solve Your Satellite Woes!”
In May of 2019, SpaceX began launching its Starlink constellation with the launch of its first 60 satellites. To date, the company has launched over 800 satellites and (as of this summer) is producing them at a rate of about 120 a month. By late 2021 or 2022, Elon Musk hopes to have a constellation of 1,440 satellites providing near-global service and perhaps as many as 42,000 providing internet to the entire planet before the decade is out.
As of November 2020, SpaceX has invited participants to take part in a public beta test called “Better Than Nothing.” The service, aptly named, is providing users with a modest rate of between 50 to 150 megabits per second, a far cry from the gigabit download speeds at low latency they hope to offer. But perhaps more interesting is the small item in the terms of service, where participants must acknowledge that Mars is a “free planet.”
Continue reading “One of the Terms of Service For Starlink is that You “Recognize Mars as a Free Planet””
When human beings start living in space for extended periods of time they will need to be as self-sufficient as possible. The same holds true for settlements built on the Moon, on Mars, and other bodies in the Solar System. To avoid being entirely dependent on resupply missions from Earth (which is costly and time-consuming) the inhabitants will need to harvest resources locally – aka. In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU).
This means they’ll have to procure their own sources of water, building materials, and grow their own food. While the ISS has allowed for all kinds of experiments involving hydroponics in space, little has been done to see how soil fares in microgravity (or lower gravity). To address this, Morgan Irons – Chief Science Officer of the Virginia-based startup Deep Space Ecology (DSE) – recently sent her Soil Health in Space experiment to the ISS.
Continue reading “What Martian Settlers Need to Know About Soil Can Teach us How to Grow Better on Earth”
In four years, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. To ensure the success of this endeavor, as well as the creation of a program of sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade, NASA has partnered with multiple entities in the commercial space sector. Recently, they announced that contracts will be awarded to 14 additional companies to develop a range of proposed technologies.
These proposals are part of NASA’s fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation, one of many private-public partnership programs overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). For this latest solicitation, Tipping Point is awarding contracts with a combined value of over $370 million for technology demonstrations that will facilitate future lunar missions and commercial space capabilities.
Continue reading “NASA Announces 14 New “Tipping Point” Technologies for its Lunar Exploration”
It’s hard to deny that we’re heading for a future with a human presence on Mars. But to develop sustained presence, there are an enormous number of technical problems to be worked out. One of those problems concerns manufacturing and building.
We can’t send everything people will need to Mars. We’ll need some way to build structures, and tools and other things.
Continue reading “Chitin Could be the Perfect Building Material on Mars”
On Friday, Sept. 4th, China launched a new and mysterious spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The nature (and even appearance) of the spacecraft remains unknown, but according to statements made by Chinese authorities, it’s a reusable spaceplane. This vehicle is essentially China’s answer to the USAF/USSF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), which made its sixth launch to space (OTV-6) back in late-May.
Continue reading “China’s New Reusable Spaceplane Lands After 2 Days in Space”
Satellite engineers know what every photographer knows: get close to your subject to get better pictures. Not just visible light pictures, but all across the spectrum. The lower altitude also improves things like radar, lidar, communications, and gps.
But when your subject is Earth, and Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere, getting closer is a delicate dance with physics. The closer a satellite gets to Earth, the more atmospheric drag it encounters. And that can mean an unscheduled plummet to destruction for Earth-Observing (EO) satellites.
Continue reading “Earth Observation Satellites Could be Flown Much Lower than Current Altitudes and Do Better Science”
The United States and Russia/USSR have been adversaries for a long time. Their heated rivarly stretches back to the waning days of WW2, when the enormous Red Army was occupying large swathes of eastern Europe, and the allies recognized the inherent threat.
The Cold War followed, when the two nations aimed an absurd number of nuclear warheads at each other. Then came the Space Race, when both nations vied for the prestige of making it to the Moon.
The US won that race, but the rivalry didn’t cool down.
Continue reading “Russia Just Tested an Anti-Satellite Weapon”