Category Archives: Space

Star Trek Science: Here comes the Impulse Engine!

Star Trek fans take note: Have a seat before you read the next sentence or prepare to swoon.

University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) aerospace engineers working with NASA, Boeing and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are investigating how to build fusion impulse rocket engines for extremely high-speed space travel.

“Star Trek fans love it, especially when we call the concept an impulse drive, which is what it is,” says team member Ross Cortez, an aerospace engineering Ph.D. candidate at UAH’s Aerophysics Research Center.

Stay seated Trekkies, because there’s more.

“The fusion fuel we’re focusing on is deuterium [a stable isotope of hydrogen] and Li6 [a stable isotope of the metal lithium] in a crystal structure. That’s basically dilithium crystals we’re using,” Cortez says, referring to the real-world equivalent of the fictional element used to power Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise.

While this engine, if produced, wouldn’t generate a fraction of the velocity as the faster-than-light warp drives envisioned in the TV shows, books and movies, it could produce speeds that exceed other not-science-fiction-based systems that rocket scientists are investigating.

Their ultimate goal is to develop a nuclear fusion propulsion system by 2030 that can spirit spacecraft from Earth to Mars in around three months—about twice as fast as researchers think they could go with a nuclear fission engine, another scheme that is being investigated but has not yet been built.

Their current design has a spacecraft with the impulse engines being built in low Earth orbit, so the thrusters and ship wouldn’t need to cope with the atmosphere or achieving escape velocity. That doesn’t mean it would be a lightweight when fully assembled, though. Cortez says the craft could tip the scales at almost 500 tons.

Major problems to solve

There’s a big gap between hopes and goals, though. For decades, nuclear fusion researchers have worked to harness the huge amounts of energy generated from slamming atoms together so hard they fuse. Their efforts have led to scientific progress, but the goal of getting more energy out of a fusion reaction than what is required to smash them together at amazingly high speeds has so far proven elusive.

Last week, Sandia National Laboratory investigators said they are getting closer to “break-even,” the holy grail of research that will see the same amount or more energy released from a nuclear fusion reaction than that which was put in.

“We’re interested in deep-space exploration,” says Dr. Jason Cassibry, a UAH engineering professor and the head of the research team. “Right now humans are stuck in low Earth orbit, but we want to explore the solar system. We’re trying to come up with a system that will demonstrate break-even for thermonuclear propulsion.”

To really start getting around the solar system, spacecraft will need to go much faster than they do now.

According to astronomy professor Courtney Seligman, the next date Earth will be closest to Mars after the team’s 2030 objective will be in May 2031, when the two planets will be 51.4 million miles apart. For the team’s fusion-powered spacecraft to reach the red planet in three months at that point, it would have to travel at almost 24,000 miles per hour, or about 10 times the muzzle velocity of a bullet fired from an assault rifle.

(conceptual diagram of the team’s fusion impulse engine. Image courtesy Ross Cortez/UAH)

Z-pinch fusion and magnetic nozzles

To hit this phenomenal speed, the researchers are investigating something called z-pinch fusion as a source of propulsion. Cortez says the technique takes a cylindrical array of super-thin lithium wires and puts a massive electric current through them. The electricity—millions of amps are being sent through the wires in 100 nanosecond pulses, which could produce 3 terawatts of output power—creates a magnetic field around the array and vaporizes the wires to form plasma. The magnetic field pinches the plasma until it collapses on a core of deuterium and lithium, which they hope will cause its atoms to fuse and result in a massive release of energy.

“What we’re aiming for is to get enough compression and heat in the z-pinch implosion to cause the fusion fuel to react,” Cortez says. “With the energy that would release, we could get millions of pounds of thrust out the back of this thing—on the order of Saturn-V-class thrust.”

After achieving the proper speed, the engines would be shut down and the craft would coast to its target.

Besides figuring out the fusion problem, another obstacle to their goal is how to contain and direct the resulting energy to generate thrust—no small task because the reaction would create temperatures in the millions of degrees Celsius, enough to vaporize any known material. To solve this problem, part of the team is working on another line of research, which seeks to develop a “magnetic nozzle.” This would use directed magnetic fields to guide the energy out of the engine.

“We’re facing some pretty heavy problems to getting this thing working; it won’t be a cinch,” Cortez says. “But we’re very ambitious and we’ve got a lot of great ideas. Put enough bright people to work on it and you’re going to get gold or, in this case, fusion.”

But even if they don’t reach their objective of developing the z-pinch fusion propulsion system, the group’s work will likely be useful in the global effort to develop terrestrial fusion reactors as a source of clean, limitless energy.

The major hurdles have not yet shaken Cortez’s optimism, because he keeps thinking of what success might mean: “How could I not stay interested? With this work, eventually, I might have the chance of seeing Jupiter up close or help humanity colonize Mars.”

(UAH doctoral candidate Ross Cortez assembles a device that generates massive bursts of electricity for fusion propulsion research.)

Top Image: A conceptual model of the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s fusion impulse propulsion spacecraft. Courtesy Ross Cortez/UAH.

Michael Keller is the Managing Editor of Txchnologist. His science, technology and international reporting work has appeared online and in newspapers, magazines and books, including the graphic novel Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Reach him at mkeller@groupsjr.com.

Advertisements

Mars Rovers Goes Viral: ‘I’m NASA and I know it’

20120817-103845.jpg

It’s sexy to be a scientist.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

A new viral video set to the tune of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” is making the rounds, paying a hilarious tribute to NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity team in the wake of the country’s obsession with its landing on Aug. 5.

20120817-104105.jpg
The spoof video shows a group of “NASA” members hard at work on landing the Mars rover, touting their space skills in rap form.

“I got stars on my ‘hawk and I ain’t afraid to show it,” sings a spiky-haired impersonator of NASA’s leading heartthrob, Bobak Ferdowsi, who shot to nationwide fame after video of him the night of the landing lit up the Internet.

20120817-104119.jpg
The chorus of the catchy tune, of course, is, “We’re NASA and we know it.”

In the video, the group — suited up in NASA-esque blue polo shirts and sitting in a dummy control room dance through the streets and rap their space terms alongside the beat.

“This is how I rove, bakin’ red rocks in my nuclear stove,” one lyric goes, accompanied by cute animations. The faux NASA nerds also show off some synchronized dance moves, featuring a woman in an American flag bikini and a man in an astronaut-style orange jumpsuit.

The video was put together by Seattle-based comedy group Satire, with the role of Bobak played by web video comedian David Hudson. It got a stamp of approval from both NASA’s official Twitter account and the verified account for the rover itself, which both retweeted the link to the legions of space fans who have been extremely vocal in their passion for all things Curiosity since the Mars landing.

“This fan-made video is AWESOME (and I know it.)” the rover tweeted, adding the hashtag “#wiggle #wiggle #wiggle as another nod to the LMFAO song. The Mohawk man himself also gave the video a thumbs up.

“Well played!” Ferdowsi tweeted.

“Video is hilarious & awesome, but don’t know that we can dance like that (see high5s for ref),” he added, poking fun at himself and his team for their well-chronicled awkward high-fives the night of the Rover landing.

20120817-104127.jpg
BY MEENA HART DUERSON / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
THURSDAY, AUGUST 16, 2012, 12:47 PM
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/mars-rover-fans-viral-video-nasa-i-article-1.1137698#ixzz23osZDy8N

Ancient Aliens? Relics on the Moon?

Has NASA known all along? Were Masons involved? Were rituals involving Osiris and ancient Egypt conducted before landing? Is the reason why we haven’t been told simply because we are not ready to hear?

20120729-144254.jpg

20120729-144303.jpg

Multiplying Universes: How Many Is The Multiverse? – New Scientist

Multiplying universes: How many is the multiverse? – space – 28 October 2009 – New Scientist.

HOW many universes are there? Cosmologists Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin at Stanford University in California calculate that the number dwarfs the 10500 universes postulated in string theory, and raise the provocative notion that the answer may depend on the human brain.

The idea that there is more than one universe, each with its own laws of physics, arises out of several different theories, including string theory and cosmic inflation. This concept of a “multiverse” could explain a puzzling mystery – why dark energy, the furtive force that is accelerating the expansion of space, appears improbably fine-tuned for life. With a large number of universes, there is bound to be one that has a dark energy value like ours.

Calculating the probability of observing this value – and other features of the cosmos – depends on how many universes of various kinds populate the multiverse. String theory describes 10500 universes, but that just counts different vacuum states, which are like the blank canvases upon which universes are painted. The features of each canvas determine what the overall painting will look like – such as the laws of physics in that universe – but not the details.

Thanks to the randomness of quantum mechanics, two identical vacuum states can end up as very different universes. Small quantum fluctuations in the very early universe are stretched to astronomical scales by inflation, the period of faster-than-light expansion just after the big bang. These fluctuations lay down a gravitational blueprint that eventually determines the placement of stars and galaxies across the sky. Small differences in the form of these fluctuations can produce a universe in which the Milky Way is slightly bigger, or closer to its neighbours.

So just how many of these different universes can inflation’s quantum fluctuations produce? According to Linde and Vanchurin, the total is about 101010,000,000 – that’s a 10 raised to a number ending with 10 million zeros (arxiv.org/abs/0910.1589). Suddenly string theory’s multiverse of 10500universes is looking rather claustrophobic.

It might be, however, that this number is irrelevant, and that in a world ruled by quantum physics what matters is how many universes a single observer can distinguish. “Before quantum mechanics,” says Linde, “we thought that ‘reality’ was a well-defined word.” In classical physics, observers are irrelevant – we simply want to know how many universes exist.

It may not matter how many universes exist – just how many a single observer can tell apart

According to quantum physics, observers affect the systems they measure(see “Restricted view”). If observers are an integral part of the cosmic formula, then it may not matter how many universes exist – just how many a single observer can tell apart. If the observer is a person, that depends on how many bits of information the brain can process. “Based on the number of synapses in a typical brain, a human observer can register 1016,” says Linde. That means humans can differentiate 101016 universes, which is much more manageable than the 101010,000,000 Linde and Vanchurin found to start with.

But does the human brain really play a role in making predictions in the multiverse? “This goes deep into philosophy,” Linde says. “It’s a slippery slope.”

Cosmologist Alex Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston is equally ambivalent. “It could be right that what is important is what an observer sees,” he says. “But there might be things an observer doesn’t see that are still there.”

Restricted view

Quantum theory splits the world into two parts: the system under study and the rest of the world, which contains the observer. The system hovers in a ghostly state of near-existence made up of a host of possibilities until the observer makes a measurement – and so reduces this to a single reality.

Cosmology suffers from the paradox that no observer can be outside the universe – so the universe is doomed to spend eternity as nothing more than a vague possibility. The lesson of quantum cosmology is that we can’t talk about the universe as a whole, but only what a given observer inside it might measure. Applying that lesson to the multiverse, Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin suggest that what matters is not the total number of possible universes, but the number of universes a single observer could distinguish.

If that observer is a human, the brain limits the amount of information they can register. But any observer – even an inanimate one such as a galaxy – is limited in the information it can store. These limitations in what observers can measure whittle down the number of universes that come into play in cosmological predictions. That means an observer might make a difference in explaining the value of things like dark energy.

First Ever Photos – Liquid Water found on Mars!?

Liquid Saltwater is Likely Present on Mars, New Analysis Shows

awater-drops-mars-phoenix-landerSalty, liquid water has been detected on a leg of the Mars Phoenix Lander and therefore could be present at other locations on the planet, according to analysis by a group of mission scientists led by a University of Michigan professor. This is the first time liquid water has been detected and photographed outside the Earth.

“A large number of independent physical and thermodynamical evidence shows that saline water may actually be common on Mars,” said Nilton Renno, a professor in the U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and a co-investigator on the Phoenix mission. “Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life. This discovery has important implications to many areas of planetary exploration, including the habitability of Mars.”

Renno will present these findings on March 23, 2009 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

Droplets on a leg of the Mars Phoenix lander are seen to darken and coalesce. Nilton Renno, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences says this is evidence that they are made of liquid water. Previously, scientists believed that water existed on Mars only as ice or water vapor because of the planet’s low temperature and atmospheric pressure. They thought that ice in the Red Planet’s current climate could sublimate, or vaporize, but they didn’t think it could melt. This analysis shows how that assumption may be incorrect. Temperature fluctuation in the arctic region of Mars where Phoenix landed and salts in the soil could create pockets of water too salty to freeze in the climate of the landing site, Renno says.

Photos of one of the lander’s legs show droplets that grew during the polar summer. Based on the temperature of the leg and the presence of large amounts of “perchlorate” salts detected in the soil, scientists believe the droplets were most likely salty liquid water and mud that splashed on the spacecraft when it touched down. The lander was guided down by rockets whose exhaust melted the top layer of ice below a thin sheet of soil.

090319232438-large

These images were acquired by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s Surface Stereo Imager on the 21st and 25th days of the mission, or Sols 20 and 24 (June 15 and 18, 2008). These images show sublimation of ice in the trench informally called “Dodo-Goldilocks” over the course of four days. In the lower left corner, lumps disappear, similar to the process of evaporation. Some of the mud droplets that splashed on the lander’s leg appear to have grown by absorbing water from the atmosphere, Renno says. Images suggest that some of the droplets darkened, then moved and merged — physical evidence that they were liquid.

The wet chemistry lab on Phoenix found evidence of perchlorate salts, which likely include magnesium and calcium perchlorate hydrates. These compounds have freezing temperatures of about -90 and -105 Fahrenheit respectively. The temperature at the landing site ranged from approximately -5 to -140 Fahrenheit, with a median temperature around -75 Fahrenheit. Temperatures at the landing site were mostly warmer than this during the first months of the mission.

Thermodynamic calculations offer additional evidence that salty liquid water can exist where Phoenix landed and elsewhere on Mars. The calculations also predicts a droplet growth rate that is consistent with what was observed. And they show that it is impossible for ice to sublimate from the cold ground just under the strut of the lander’s leg and be deposited on a warmer strut, a hypothesis that has been suggested. Certain bacteria on Earth can exist in extremely salty and cold conditions.

acm“This discovery is the result of the talent and dedication of the entire Phoenix team and NASA, whose strategy for Mars exploration and the Phoenix mission is ‘follow the water,’” Renno said.

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008, and transmitted data back to Earth until Nov. 10. Scientists are still analyzing the information Phoenix gathered. The mission was led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Arizona. Among its preliminary findings, Phoenix verified that water ice exists in the just beneath the surface of Mars. It sent back more than 25,000 photos and deployed the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth. The lander was the first Martian spacecraft to document a mildly alkaline soil and perchlorate salts. It also observed snow falling from clouds on the Red Planet.

A paper on this research, written by Renno and dozens of his colleagues on the Phoenix mission, including principal investigator Peter Smith, is under review at the Journal of Geophysical Research. 

http://www.astrobio.net/news/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3074&theme=Printer

New Trailer for ‘Star Trek’ Breaks All Existing Records!

2008_star_trek_xi_logo_trailerLOS ANGELES, March 11 /PRNewswire/ — The new trailer for J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” had more than 1.8 million downloads during its first 24 hours on Apple.com and has gone on to become the most popular HD download ever on the site with more than five million downloads in its first five days. The trailer made its exclusive debut on Apple.com/trailers on March 6th giving fans a sneak peak of this summer’s highly anticipated “Star Trek” for viewing on their Mac or PC, iPhone or iPod with video.

From J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III,” “Fringe,” “Lost” and “Alias”), producer Damon Lindelof and executive producers Bryan Burk and Jeffrey Chernov and screenwriters and executive producers Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (“TRANSFORMERS,” “MI: III”) comes a new vision of the greatest adventure of all time, “Star Trek,” featuring a young, new crew venturing boldly where no one has gone before. “Star Trek” opens nationally on May 8, 2009.

Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment Present a Bad Robot Production “Star Trek” starring John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana and Leonard Nimoy. The film is directed by J.J. Abrams (“Mission Impossible III,” “Lost,” “Alias”), written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (“MI: III,” “Transformers”).

Based upon “Star Trek” Created by Gene Roddenberry. The film is produced by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof. The executive producers are Bryan Burk, Jeffrey Chernov, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The director of photography is Dan Mindel, ASC. The production designer is Scott Chambliss. The film is edited by Maryann Brandon, A.C.E. and Mary Jo Markey, A.C.E. The costume designer is Michael Kaplan. The visual effects & animation are by Industrial Light and Magic. The music is by Michael Giacchino. This film has not yet been rated.

NASA’s Phoenix Spacecraft Lands At Martian Arctic Site

A NASA spacecraft has sent pictures showing itself in good condition after making the first successful landing in a polar region of Mars.

The spacecraft Phoenix landed in the northern polar region today to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander’s robotic arm. Radio signals received at 6:53:44 p.m. (Texas/ Central Standard Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier.

The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.  Mission team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from Phoenix later tonight. From the initial information sent from Phoenix, the site appears to be what exactly what they thought. Now, it’s time to go find the ice.

“We see the lack of rocks that we expected, we see the polygons that we saw from space, we don’t see ice on the surface, but we think we will see it beneath the surface. It looks great to me,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission.

“Phoenix is an amazing machine, and it was built and flown by an amazing team. Through the entire entry, descent and landing phase, it performed flawlessly,” said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth during that critical period, and we received a lot of data about its health and performance. I’m happy to report it’s in great shape.”

Phoenix uses hardware from a spacecraft built for a 2001 launch that was canceled in response to the loss of a similar Mars spacecraft during a 1999 landing attempt. Researchers who proposed the Phoenix mission in 2002 saw the unused spacecraft as a resource for pursuing a new science opportunity. A few months earlier, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter discovered that plentiful water ice lies just beneath the surface throughout much of high-latitude Mars. NASA chose the Phoenix proposal over 24 other proposals to become the first endeavor in the Mars Scout program of competitively selected missions.

First Photo – Phoenix opens her eyes!

The Mars Surface

For more about Phoenix, visit http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix .

Leaked photos – STAR TREK XI

Leaked photos from the set of Star Trek 11!










%d bloggers like this: