Google+ SpaceTravelFoundation: 2014-10-12

October 17, 2014

ISRO repositioned Mars Orbiter to be not affected by the comet Siding Spring

Dear readers and followers,

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has repositioned its Mars Orbiter, as the national space agency along with its counterparts around the world are expecting Comet Siding Spring to fly by the Red Planet on October 19. ISRO, but also the US space agency NASA and other space agencies in the world, which have sent their missions to the Red Planet have taken precautionary measures to save their satellites from any possible collision with the space debris, which might be facilitated by the movement of the Comet near Mars. 

Kiran Kumar, Director of Space Application Centre from ISRO aannouncedthat they have repositioned the Mars Orbiter, as the Comet Siding Spring is expected to be close to the Mars on October 19. They have taken the Orbiter to a position farthest from the tail of the Comet so that it doesn't affect the satellite,".

According to NASA, Comet Siding Spring has traveled many billions of km and would come within about 140,000 km of Mars on October 19. The comet comes from the Oort Cloud, material left over from the formation of the solar system. India is the fourth country to send a mission to the red planet. This was in November 2013 !

All five operational spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet — NASA's Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN probes, India's Mangalyaan spacecraft and Europe's Mars Express, will observe the flyby. And NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will crane their necks up to watch from the Martian surface as well.

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October 16, 2014

The trajectory of the comet Siding Spring so close to Mars

Dear readers and followers,

a comet will buzz Mars this Sunday, October 19th in an epic encounter that has astronomers around the world tingling with excitement. The comet is know by the name Siding Spring, also called as C/2013 A1. The comet will miss the Red Planet by just 140,000 kilometers at 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT) on Sunday. For comparison, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 384,600 km.

While the comet won't put on a show for skywatchers on Earth, the fleet of robotic explorers at Mars will get an eyeful. They will study the comet, as well as any observable interactions between its shed particles and the thin Martian atmosphere.

Comets are icy leftovers from the solar system's birth, and Siding Spring is a pristine object that has never been "heat-treated" by the sun before. So any insights about the comet's composition and behavior could help researchers better understand how our cosmic neighborhood began taking shape 4.6 billion years ago.

"This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency's diverse science missions will be in full receive mode," former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days."

All five operational spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet — NASA's Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN probes, India's Mangalyaan spacecraft and Europe's Mars Express, will observe the flyby. And NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will crane their necks up to watch from the Martian surface as well.


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MIT Students debunk Mars One's plan to land humans on Mars by 2025

Dear readers and followers,

PhD students from +Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a study this week that seems to debunk Mars One's plan to land humans on Mars by 2025 using existing technology. They say that without dramatic improvements in equipment life, the space colonists, who would have no way to return to Earth, could starve to death.

The students, part of a research group specializing in large-scale multi-billion dollar space programs, used public available information about the Mars One mission plans to simulate the trip to Mars. They say the problems they uncovered surprised them.

Mars One is looking for 25 to 40 pioneers to leave home forever and live out their lives on the red planet, by growing food and using resources from the Martian environment. These pioneers could enjoy the beauty of the mars surface and the amazing night shy, as taken by the NASA's rover, Curiosity. The non-profit has received more than 200,000 applicants, and there are plans to fund their Mars journey with a global reality show.

The MIT research was conducted to build a framework for analyzing other space colonization plans. But flaws in Mars One's plan jumped out as the students ran the numbers.

Mars One expects to grow crops indoors on Mars. Plants produce oxygen--and too much in a closed environment could feed oxygen-sucking fires. Farming would require machines that separate and vent oxygen without losing nitrogen vital to keep up air pressure. But the technology needed to to keep oxygen under control has never been tested beyond our planet, and Do says hardware tested on Earth can fail in surprising ways after liftoff.

A urine recycling system installed on the International Space Station in 2009 returned drinkable water with 90 percent efficiency in +NASA laboratories. But on the ISS it broke down. Astronauts lose bone mass in zero-gravity, dumping calcium into their waste, and those deposits gummed up the recycler's works. The system is up and running again, but at only 70 percent capacity. On a trip with no return flight and limited resupply, such failures could be deadly, especially when they involve maintaining oxygen supply.

But Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp says the students used incorrect and incomplete data for their study.

"I've talked to very knowledgeable people (experts) with companies like Lockheed Martin, who tell me these technologies will work," he tells Popular Science. He says he hasn't had the time to read the research all the way through, but has looked at the conclusions.

Lansdorp seized on the excess oxygen problem as an example of misplaced alarmism in the research. "This technology has been widely tested on Earth," he says, "and it's very well understood." Similar equipment for scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been used in space for years.

But Lansdorp did not have a solution for what Do called the more serious issue uncovered in the research: replacement parts. The students used the failure rates of parts on the ISS to estimate the need for spares in a Mars colony. Without a resupply mission coming for another two years, a huge portion of the mass included in the initial launch would have to be extra materials.

"They are correct," Lansdorp says, "The major challenge of Mars One is keeping everything up and running." Repairing equipment and suits on Mars is a problem Mars One has yet to solve. Unmanned supply missions in advance of a second human launch are expected to land on the red planet a few weeks after the original colonists arrive, and Lansdorp suggests the first crew could take those stocks in a pinch.

"We don't believe what we have designed is the best solution. It's a good solution," he says. He adds that Mars One has done its own research with better results, but is not an aerospace company. He hopes future feasibility studies from groups like Lockheed Martin will provide answers. In the meantime, their in-house data is under wraps.

And you ? what is your opinion ? Mars One is it a dead mission ? Let us know your feelings about this.


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October 15, 2014

The US secret space drone finally came home

Dear readers and followers,

The US Air Force’s mysterious X-37B robotic space plane returned to Earth on Tuesday October 14th after nearly two years in space. But while it is no secret that the Air Force has sent the unmanned spacecraft into orbit at least three times, the service refuses to say what the machine has been doing up there. The spaceship was launched on December 11th, 2012, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

While most Air Force and industry officials refuse to talk about the program at all, sources familiar with the program indicated that the X-37B is designed to carry experimental payloads of sensors, like various high-tech cameras of various types, electronic sensors and ground-mapping radars.

The idea is that the X-37B carries “specialized” sensors packages that can be reconfigured as needed for each mission when the aircraft returns to Earth. That ability to reconfigure the robotic spacecraft makes the X-37B cheaper and more flexible than a satellite, which goes up once with one package of sensors and is eventually discarded. Satellites can often cost billions of dollars and cannot reconfigured or reused, unlike the X-37B. Further, the X-37B can maneuver more freely once it is in space. Unlike a satellite, which is placed into orbit with a finite amount of fuel, the X-37B can be topped with more fuel for its thrusters when it returns to Earth. It can even change orbits. That ability gives the spacecraft much more flexibility than a traditional satellite. 

The X-37B returned to Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, according to the Air Force. 

Ever since the X-37B made its first flight back in 2010, outlandish rumors and bizarre conspiracy theories have dogged the Boeing built space drone. Some wags suggested in the past that the X-37B would be used to tap into the communications of foreign satellites, however the Pentagon has other easier and more effective means to listen in on those spacecraft. 

An even more outlandish theory was that the X-37B would be used to physically interfere with foreign satellites, maybe even abducting those machines from orbit. However, the possibility that Air Force would have designed the X-37B for that kind of mission was extremely remote. It would be very easy to trace that sort of activity back to the U.S. government since governments and amateurs alike can easily track the X-37B.

Another theory that was batted around was that the X-37B was some kind of orbital bomber that could strike at foreign lands with only a few moments notice. Technically, that could be semi-feasible—and indeed the Pentagon is working a weapon that would be able to hit targets anywhere on Earth in less than an hour that could be launched from within the continental United States.

However, the X-37B is not likely to be designed for that so-called “conventional prompt global strike” mission, though it is not entirely inconceivable that it could carry a weaponized payload. But any sophisticated foe like Russia or China has the ability to track the X-37B in orbit very easily and it may not be particularly useful in such a capacity.

And then there would be the political backlash. Space-based weapons are a hugely controversial topic and the U.S. is not likely to deploy such systems given the proclivities of the Obama administration. It’s one of the many reasons why informed observers—like Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force’s Space Command, have long considered the space plan to be an orbital spy. And it’s probably no coincidence that the X-37B’s orbit takes it over North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. There are some items in those countries that the Pentagon might want to see from space.

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Volcanos activity on the moon

Dear readers and followers,

Volcanic activity continued on the moon until it halted a billion years ago, or so scientists have long thought about the Moon. However, a new discovery by a group of geologists at +Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration shows that the moon has seen small but widespread eruptions of basaltic lava during the last 50 million years, a geologically recent period.

Credit image: +NASA 

The discovery was announced in a paper published online October 12th in Nature Geoscience. The science team identified 70 small volcanic features scattered across the moon's dark volcanic plains, or maria. The features show as a combination of smooth, low, rounded mounds near patches of rough, blocky terrain. The scientists refer to these unusual areas as irregular mare patches.

The features are too small to be seen from Earth, averaging less than 500 meters across their largest dimension. One feature named Ina has been known for a long time, having been imaged from lunar orbit by Apollo 15 astronauts in the 1970s. Several early studies indicated that Ina could be very young (10 million years or less), but only a few irregular mare patches were known then, and their significance was unclear.

It was not until the scientists had high-resolution images showing the entire moon that the full extent and significance of the small lava features were understood. These images are the product of the two Narrow Angle Cameras that form part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera system. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera's Science Operations Center is located on ASU's Tempe campus.

Credit image: +NASA 

The crater-counting dates are linked to laboratory ages provided by Apollo and Luna samples. The results show that instead of lunar volcanism stopping abruptly about a billion years ago, it ended more gradually, continuing until less than 50 million years ago.

Activity at Ina, the scientists found, ended about 33 million years ago, and at another irregular mare patch, Sosigenes, it stopped only about 18 million years ago. (In contrast, most of the lava flows that make up the dark plains visible by eye from Earth erupted between 3.5 and 1 billion years ago.)

The discovery gives the moon's volcanic history a new chapter. As Braden says, "Our understanding of the moon is drastically changed by the evidence for volcanic eruptions at ages much younger than previously thought possible, and in multiple locations across the lunar maria."

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