Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Space Review: A gateway to Mars, or the Moon?

The Space Review: A gateway to Mars, or the Moon?

The Space Review: Time lords of California’s Central Coast: Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex Ten

The Space Review: Time lords of California’s Central Coast: Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex Ten

The Space Review: Review: Quantum Fuzz

The Space Review: Review: Quantum Fuzz

MDRS Crew 176-Final Mission Report

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MDRS Crew 176 – Final Mission Report

The following is the final summary report of 
Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Crew 176, the Polish team “PolMars.” A full review of this year's activities at MDRS will be presented at the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention, scheduled forSeptember 7-10, 2017 at University of California Irvine.

MDRS Mission Summary
Crew 176 – Team PolMars

Crew 176 was the first entirely Polish crew at MDRS. Our simulation took place between 11-26 March 2017. Except for one person, all of us visited MDRS before, either on the occasion of the University Rover Challenge competition or as a member of the MDRS crew. Being here together as Crew 176 was an entirely new and unique experience for all of us.

During our stay at MDRS we undertook a number of activities, which includes the following:
  1. MDRS maintenance: Running and maintaining MDRS was a demanding but very useful task. It helped us to learn how to deal with limited recourses and unexpected malfunctions as well as successfully communicate with Mission Support outside the base.
  2. EVA: Undertaking EVAs was definitely the most exciting part of our simulation. This is also how we better understood what makes a good astronaut: endurance, basic driving and map reading skills, the ability to read topography and geology of surrounding terrain, resistance to stress and team spirit.
  3. Scientific research: Our research activities focused mainly on geology, robotics and psychology. The first two included fieldwork as well as conducting research in the laboratory settings. While research per se was not new to us, it was interesting to conduct it as part of simulation and learn how to divide our time between the research and maintenance-related activities.
  4. Technology testing: An important element of our simulation was testing different equipment and technological devices such as space suits, filter masks, holter monitors and a prototype version of the shower. We approached technology as part of a wider social context where different devices are used by human beings rather than constitute mere artefacts.
  5. Promotion: One of the major tasks during our rotation was creation of a screenplay and the corresponding movie set. The photographs we took were used in the social media. The videos will contribute to the short documentary movie which will serve as a case study, as well as will be used for the purposes of educational and outreach activities. The expected results include an increased interest in analogues simulations among the audience in and outside Poland.
The most important finding of our stay at MDRS was that there can be no successful simulation and Mars mission without successful teamwork. It was the team as a whole that made the simulation possible, including the team members that supported us from Poland as well as Mission Support provided by the Mars Society.
Crew 176 with Polish flag at MDRS
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Monday, March 27, 2017

Solving The Mysteries of The Din-Killing Crater

The Asteroid Mission That Trump Cancelled

NASA, ESA aim to ram asteroid

A joint mission by NASA and ESA is set to smack into an asteroid in a rehearsal for saving the Earth. 

Artist's impression of the binary asteroid Didymos, the ESA satellite watching, the NASA satellite heading in for impact.
A planned NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) joint mission is poised to test whether it is possible to knock an asteroid from one orbit into another.
The mission, which has not yet fully funded, is part of the space agencies’ focus on “planetary defence”: the protection of Earth from collision with dangerous asteroids.
But instead of trying to blow up such a threat, as in the 1998 science fiction movie Armageddon, the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission intends to prove that an asteroid can be shifted by hitting it with a fast-moving spacecraft launched from Earth.
“We save Bruce Willis’s life,” quips Patrick Michel, a planetary scientist from the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, in Nice, France, in a reference to the movie. “He doesn’t have to sacrifice himself.”
The mission uses two spacecraft, one to be launched by ESA in 2020, the other by NASA in 2021.
The ESA spacecraft, called AIM (for Asteroid Impact Mission) will rendezvous with the selected asteroid and go into orbit around it in early 2022.
The NASA spacecraft, called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) will be timed to hit the rock a few months later, at a speed of six kilometres per second, while the AIM spacecraft and earthbound telescopes watch.
The target is a moonlet of 65803 Didymos, a near-Earth asteroid discovered in 1996. At the time of impact it will be about 11 million kilometres away.
As the world “double” in the DART mission’s name suggests, Didymos is a binary system, meaning that there are two asteroids orbiting each other. The large one is about 800 metres across; the moonlet measures about 160 metres.
The impact is expected to alter the moonlet’s orbital speed around Didymos by about a half-millimetre per second, says Andrew Cheng, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who is lead investigator for the NASA side of the project.
“That doesn’t sound like much, but it is very easily measured, both by the AIM spacecraft and by telescopes on the ground,” he said, speaking by phone from the 2017 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Woodlands, Texas, where he is presenting details on the project.
The effect is easy to measure from Earth, he adds, because the moonlet’s orbit is aligned so that viewed from down here it passes behind Didymos once each circuit.
These disappearances make it easy to precisely measure its orbital period, Cheng says, estimating that even the tiny speed change expected to be imparted by the crash will alter its 11.9-hour orbit by several minutes.
One of the goals of the mission is to test whether it is possible to hit such a small, distant object with a spacecraft moving at such a high speed. But it’s also important, Cheng says, to see how the asteroid responds to the impact.
That’s because hitting an asteroid with a spacecraft isn’t like hitting a billiard ball with the cue ball. 
"When we have a high-speed impact on an asteroid, you create a crater,” Cheng says. “You blow pieces back in the direction you came from.”
The ejection of this material shoves the asteroid in the opposite direction, significantly increasing its momentum change.
“The amount can be quite large,” Cheng says, “More than a factor of two.”
With the AIM spacecraft orbiting nearby, the impact will also allow the first scientific measurements of precisely what happens when an asteroid (or moon) gets hit by a fast-moving object, such as the 500-kilogram DART spacecraft.
“This will tell us about cratering processes,” says Michel, who is the lead investigator of the ESA side of the mission.
That is important because planetary scientists use crater counts on other worlds to help determine how old their surfaces are, based on the numbers and sizes of objects that have hit the surface since it formed.
But most of the research designed to correlate crater size to the size of the impactor rests either on modeling or small-scale laboratory tests.
This is the first time, Cheng says, that scientists will be able to test their models by looking at a crater on an asteroid, knowing exactly what hit it and how fast it was moving. Michel adds that the target moonlet will also be the smallest asteroid ever to be visited by a spacecraft.
“This is important for science and for companies interested in asteroid mining because so far we don’t have any data regarding what we will find on the surface of such a small body,” he says.
“Each time we discover a new world we have surprises,” he adds. “The main driver [of this mission] is planetary defence, but it has a lot of scientific implicaitons.” 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Curiosity Mars Rover Wheels Are Starting To Break

The Curiosity Mars rover's wheels are starting to break

Not even space robots are immune to the effects of old age


Curiosity Rover takes a self portrait
Curiosity Rover takes a self portrait
In October 2015 Curiosity used the camera at the end of its mechanical arm to take a self portrait inside Gale Crater
Since August of 2012, NASA's Curiosity Rover has tooled around the red planet doing science for us Earthlings. Now, nearly five years and some 10 miles later, the robot is starting to experience the wear and tear of an aging machine: On Tuesday, NASA announced the first two breaks in the rover's wheel treads.
Curiosity has a set of six aluminum wheels, each of them 20 inches in diameter and 16 inches across. The new breaks were the first to damage some of the 19 zigzag-shaped grousers (or threads) that cover each wheel. The grousers extend from the rest of the wheel (which is about half as thick as a dime) by about a quarter inch, allowing Curiosity to balance its 1,982 pounds of weight and grip the Martian terrain.
This isn't surprising—or even particularly upsetting—news, no matter how much you love NASA's youngest Martian robot. It may seem strange for there to be wear and tear with just 10 miles, but it took quite a few years to rack up those miles and all of that super-slow rolling over rocky terrain is just bound to cause some damage. Curiosity has already lived twice as long as planned in its primary mission. And NASA scientists have been keeping an eye on the rover's aging wheels for awhile now. These might be the first breaks in the grousers that give Curiosity traction, but they certainly aren't the first markups on otherwise pristine wheels: The reason NASA is keeping such a close eye on the wheels is that sharp rocks and grit have already left them pock-marked.
Curiosity may have outlived its initial mission, but it's got nothing on its big sister Opportunity, which has already exceeded its expected shelf-life by almost 13 years (and completed the equivalent of one very slow marathon). So one wonders: what's the prognosis for Curiosity?
According to on-Earth wheel longevity testing, NASA believes that "when three grousers on a wheel have broken, that wheel has reached about 60 percent of its useful life". The two grousers that broke sometime between January and March are both on the left middle wheel, so that guy is a hope and a prayer away from being more than halfway through its lifespan. not bad. Yes, one of the robot's wheels is now close to reaching a milestone we wish it never had to reach. But even if it hit that old-age benchmark tomorrow, the outlook would still be good: Curiosity is currently climbing up Mount Sharp to study Martian climate records trapped inside layers of rock, and has its sights set on areas thought to contain chemically interesting things like sulfates and clays—areas that might show evidence of past or present liquid water. But getting to those new targets will put less than five miles on its odometer.
"This is an expected part of the life cycle of the wheels and at this point does not change our current science plans or diminish our chances of studying key transitions in mineralogy higher on Mount Sharp," Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada said in a statement.
Still, it's miserable being reminded that two favorite space robots can't live forever. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Curiosity, and fire that space laser of yours at will.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mars May Have Had A Ring In The Past And Might Have One In The Future

Mars May Have Had a Ring in the Past and Could Have One in the Future

The red planet’s moon may have broken apart into a ring of debris and reformed several times over the planet’s history

Mars Ring
What a ring around Mars may have looked like

Saturn’s rings are, of course, a defining feature of the planet. But the other gas giants in the Solar System—Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus—also have faint, dark systems of rings around them. And it turns out that millions of years ago, another planet may have also had a ring: Mars.

New research published this week in the journal Nature Geosciences, suggests that one of Mars’ moons, Phobos, may be locked in a cycle where, over millions of years, it alternates between a ring of debris encircling the planet and a moon formed from that coalesced material.
Phobos is a small, pockmarked body that orbits about 3,700 miles above the surface of Mars—the closest orbit of any moon in the Solar System. But the gravity that keeps its celestial buddy nearby has also caused the tiny body stress, according to NASA. Phobos already has fractures on its surface and NASA estimates that it will be torn to shreds within 30 to 50 million years.
In the new study, researchers used computer modeling to examine Phobos' past and predict its future. The researchers suggest that an asteroid or other celestial body slammed into mars 4.3 billion years ago—an impact that created a massive basin on the planet's surface. This latest study, however, suggests that rather than creating the moons, the impact first sent debris shooting out into orbit around the planet. Eventually, that rocky debris ring coalesced into a large, lumpy moon.

Over time, Mars' gravity pulled that lumpy planetoid closer, bringing it within the so-called Roche Limit, or the distance at which a smaller body can exist as a self-contained unit under its own gravity. Any closer and the larger body's gravity rips the little moon apart. 
When Mars' moon reached the Roche Limit in the past, it went from moon to ring. But again, over tens of millions of years, that debris clumped back together into a moon.
The simulation suggests that Phobos’ first iteration was likely a fairly large moon, reports Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo. But over the last 4.3 billion years, it went through the ring-moon cycling three to seven times—each time losing a bit of mass to rocks that rain down on mars. The next time the moon crumbles, the model estimates it will lose another 80 percent of its mass. About 70 million years later, it will form another, much smaller Phobos version 8.0 (or so).
While the idea is compelling, it’s not the only proposal for the origin of Mars' moons. It does, however, offer something concrete for researchers to look for on the surface of mars: piles or layers of moon rocks from past moon explosions, according to a press release
What about the other moon? As Mandelbaum explains, Deimos is outside the point where Mars' graity draws it in and could drift further and further away from the red planet, possibly escaping in the future.
The researchers plan to continue their work by looking deeper into the original ring around Mars or to try and investigate the potential sediment on the Martian surface.