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  1. #1
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    Space News thread

    I open this thread for space news. Some are not important enough to rate their own TeakDoor thread but may interest a few. So add what you think fits here.


    I start it with a bit of info about
    VASIMR Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket link to WIKIPEDIA


    Ion drives have been around for a while in labs. They also have been used in a few space systems. But so far they have very low thrust and can only drive very small loads at very low acceleration. The japanese Hayabusa used them and there also was a european moon mission.


    VASIMR may change the game. It has a lot more thrust and can run with little wear for a long time.


    The Ad Astra Rocket Company has developed the design into a two engine drive consuming 200kW of electrical power. That power can be provided by app 1300m² of solar panels (my estimate, but good enough). 1300m² sound a lot but with modern lightweight panels it is not too heavy. It is a panel with only 34m x 34m. More engines and larger panels could be used for more thrust.


    It is scheduled to be tested on the International Space Station ISS. Full testing is not possible on earth because it works only in a vacuum and there are no high grade vacuum chambers big enough for it on earth. But it was tested and performed as expected in a low grade vacuum chamber. If successful it could be used to lift up the ISS to higher orbit as the ISS keeps losing altitude because of some traces of earth atmosphere at that height. That could save a few Million Dollars a year on fuel that is shipped up for orbit maneuvers every year.


    VASIMR could also be used to ship cargo from low earth orbit to lunar orbit on much lower fuel cost. The empty cargo vehicle could come back to earth orbit for a new haul.


    It uses Argon gas as a propellant. My first thought was how much Argon do we have, would it not run out soon? I checked it and to my surprise Argon is the third largest component of our atmosphere after Nitrogen and Oxygen. So we have billions of tons available.

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    Okay.


    Its First Mission Done, SpaceX Looks to More Private Flights



    After a nearly flawless nine-day routine, the Dragon stuck the landing, too.
    The first commercial mission to ferry supplies into space ended successfully Thursday when a cargo capsule known as the Dragon fell to earth on target in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico, NASA officials said.
    Tethered to three large parachutes, the unmanned capsule, which had carried about 1,100 pounds of food, water, clothing and equipment to the International Space Station, hit the water at the relatively gentle speed of about 10 miles an hour at 8:42 a.m. local time. It came down about 560 miles west of Baja California, witnessed by technicians from the company that built and flew it, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. They were to load the capsule aboard a barge and haul it back to Long Beach, Calif.
    “This really couldn’t have gone better,” Elon Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX, said at a televised news conference from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “I’m overwhelmed with joy. It’s been 10 years, and to have it go so well is incredibly satisfying.”
    The remote-controlled Dragon had separated from the space station about seven hours before splashdown, eventually firing rockets to slow it enough so that it would descend through the atmosphere. Before separation, the station’s astronauts loaded it with about 1,400 pounds of used equipment, experiment samples and other items.
    With the success of what amounted to a trial run for the spacecraft — there were only a few minor problems during the mission, which began when the Dragon was launched atop a SpaceX rocket from Florida on May 22 — the company is now poised to begin regular supply missions, with much bigger payloads, to the space station later this year. Since the space shuttle program ended last year, the station has been resupplied by Russian and European spacecraft.
    So far, SpaceX has been the most successful participant in the government’s long-term plan to shift the business of spaceflight to private enterprise, with NASA acting only as managers. The agency’s $1.6 billion contract with the company for 12 supply flights still awaits final approval, but Alan J. Lindenmoyer, NASA’s manager for commercial spaceflight, said at the news conference that he expected the approval to come quickly.
    “We became your customer today,” Mr. Lindenmoyer said.
    Mr. Musk said that the first regular cargo mission could come by late summer. SpaceX also hopes to win a NASA competition to ferry astronauts to the space station, using a larger rocket. And Mr. Musk talks often of an even grander goal: sending humans to Mars.
    The completion of the Dragon flight, Mr. Musk said, “really shows that commercial spaceflight can be successful.”
    This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
    Correction: June 2, 2012

    An article and a headline on Friday about the completion of a private company’s first mission to supply the International Space Station described incorrectly the cargo carried by the SpaceX Dragon capsule on its return to earth. The capsule was loaded with about 1,400 pounds of used equipment, experiment samples and other items — but not garbage. (Trash from the space station goes in other cargo vehicles that are destroyed during their return.)

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    SpaceX is a really interesting startup. A few backgroundinfos about that spectacular event.

    Elon Musk is the founder of SpaceX. Some may remember he was a cofounder of Paypal. He sold his stakes in Paypal and used 200 Million Dollar of his private wealth to fund the company. He is doing it because he is convinced that mans future lies in space and he wants to be part of it.

    Other competitors are subsidiaries of the big companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin or are already big Defence Contractors.

    SpaceX is competing with them with funds that are miniscule in comparison. Yet they were able to build a launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 and the Spaceship Dragon with a total funding less than what Boeing gets annually to develop the Orion space capsule only. And Dragon is better than Orion will be, if it will ever get operational.

    A high ranking NASA official has declared that if NASA would have the same construction, it would have cost 5 to 10 times as much. Seems overoptimistic on the NASA side though, seeing what they are presently spending on Orion.

    SpaceX have developed everything from scratch. Now they are competing for the manned contract as well. The present contract they have just won is for unmanned supply fllights only without the return capability. But as SpaceX was always going for manned flight they have already designed their Dragon as return capable. They aim to do almost everything themselves. Metal enters their factory on one end and an Spaceship ready to fly leaves on the other end.

    It has been said that if a man were on board their first testflight, he would have survived and landed safely in the Pacific. But really the fully manned capacity is not yet there, especially additional safety requirements. As it is the capsule would be even slightly more dangerous than the Spaceshuttle was. That is unacceptable for manned flight.

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    Oh, I want a job with them... could be like Buck Rogers and everything =P
    http://www.spacex.com/careers.php

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainNemo
    Oh, I want a job with them... could be like Buck Rogers and everything =P
    Go for it.

    They are hiring big time. Now that they have proven their ability to the satisfaction of NASA, they have to fulfill all the orders already placed, and there are plenty. The customers were only waiting for them to be ready.

    Look at their Launch Manifest, the list of their planned starts. Of course the schedule is too tight. They won't be able to fly that fast. If they could, they would almost outfly the Russian Soyus.
    Last edited by Takeovers; 05-07-2012 at 11:12 PM.

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    I'm not a Yank, and am far too nationalistic to ever give up being British.

    CITY FOCUS: British space firms looking set to boldly grow . . .

    By William Cook
    PUBLISHED: 21:04 GMT, 25 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:17 GMT, 25 June 2012

    Enlarge
    Back in 1962, a NASA rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral carrying the first satellite designed and built by British scientists.

    The launch made Britain the third nation ever to put a satellite into space. Over the following years, four home-grown Black Arrow rockets would take British payloads into orbit.

    By 1971, the project lay on the scrapheap. But now, from that financial black hole has emerged a constellation of commercial opportunities.

    Britain’s space industry involves around 260 firms, with a combined annual turnover of £7.5bn and a workforce of 25,000. Having defied the recession, the sector has been earmarked by government as a key growth area.

    The recently-established UK Space Agency has been instrumental in nurturing this growth. Unlike NASA or its European counterpart, the agency does not carry out missions of its own (90 per cent of its budget goes straight to Europe for this purpose).
    Instead the agency’s focus is purely commercial.

    One of those seeking out new frontiers is Astrium – a subsidiary of European defence giant EADS and the largest space company in Europe. It received a major boost last month when the European Space Agency awarded it a £245m contract to develop a new Solar Orbiter spacecraft. Astrium employs 1,200 people at its Stevenage base, and still more at its Portsmouth and Poynton sites.
    Large firms like Astrium sit alongside smaller specialist manufacturers. Business is booming for Surrey Satellite Technology, whose £10m Kepler Research facility will put together 14 satellites for Europe’s Galileo navigation programme in a deal valued at £510m. A £42m kick-start from the UKSA and industry investors will also finance SSTL’s NovaSar-S radar satellite project, which aims to make money from the sale of images of the earth.

    One company driving forward the commercialisation of space is the tiny Clyde Space.

    The Glasgow-based firm has dreamed up the concept of cubesats, low-cost miniature satellites that can piggyback on larger spacecraft. As with SSTL, the UKSA has helped out with initial investment. In a recent interview, Clyde Space CEO Craig Clark said: ‘historically, the UK has been highly innovative in the technology for space, but less innovative in applying this technology to commercial applications’.

    Clyde Space is making good this commercial neglect, not least by being the only satellite manufacturer to allow customers to purchase components via its website.

    The value to Britain’s space industry of this kind of high-tech research and manufacturing is, admittedly, dwarfed by that of the companies who buy and operate their products.

    Providers of satellite services account for roughly £6.5bn of the industry’s £7.5bn contribution to GDP, and 17,600 jobs. They include world-leaders such as maritime navigation giant Inmarsat and satellite broadband provider Avanti. The Luxembourg-based Astra owns and operates the satellites that broadcast Sky TV in Britain.

    It is this ‘downstream’ side of the space sector that has accounted for much of the industry’s stellar performance over the past decade, although the expansion in research, development and manufacturing has also been consistently above growth in GDP.

    The commercial focus of the UK space sector has insulated firms from government spending cuts. Not so in America, where NASA’s expenditure has reduced dramatically, and where the export of spacecraft components – down to the last rivet – is restricted by outdated rules designed to protect military technology.

    With the retirement of the space shuttle, could British firms lead the next generation of space travel? Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism project grabs headlines, but since 1982 a team of engineers has been quietly working on an air-breathing horizontal take-off and landing (HOTOL) ‘spaceplane’.

    Codenamed SKYLON, it could provide a reusable form of space travel with much lower running costs than traditional rockets. The team, now based at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, successfully tested SKYLON’s crucial cooling system at the end of April.

    The ESA’s subsequent endorsement is helping to raise the £220m required for the next stage of the project. The UKSA has been instrumental in drumming up support, but the funding itself will come largely from private sources.

    Even assuming SKYLON proves technologically viable, the cost of putting it into production is estimated at billions.

    But that it is attracting private investment at all shows that Britain’s commercial space industry is boldly growing as never before.

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    I enjoy most things related to space exploration. I came across this video today it made me think of Dr. Who
    and james T Kirk.:

    http://science.nasa.gov/

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    The flash of an earthly fireworks display can be over in an instant — sometimes literally — but the show is longer lasting in outer space. The dying red-giant star known as U Camelopardalis, 1,500 light-years away in a region of sky near the north celestial pole, is in the midst of a fireworks blast that lasts for centuries.


    By human standards, U Cam's blast may seem like an eternity. The star's shining shell of glowing gas, documented in this picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, has been traveling outward for something like 700 years, as Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait points out. When the outward explosion began, Europe was suffering through famines and plagues, and the mainstream view was that our planet was the center of the universe.


    But in the astronomical scheme of things, centuries are mere blinks of the eye — and it won't be long before U Cam gives up the ghost.

    U Cam is a carbon-rich star that's running low on its fusion fuel and becoming unstable. Every few thousand years, it coughs away stellar material as a thin, faintly glowing shell. The star itself is actually much smaller than it looks. The brightness dial has been turned way up to emphasize the delicate structure of the shell, and that means U Cam's glare is turned up as well.

    Plait notes that our own sun is destined to run low on fuel billions of years from now, turn into a red giant and start blasting away shells of material — just as U Cam is doing now. "What we're seeing here is a glimpse of our own future," he writes. That's certainly a sobering thought, but 7 billion years or so should give us plenty of time to look around for other places where we can hang out.



    The Flame Nebula flares in this color-coded view from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The famous Horsehead Nebula can be seenas a small bump poking out from the edge of the cloud, below the bright star of the flame.

    Who knows? One of those places might be in the neighborhood of the Flame Nebula. The star-forming nebula is situated about as far away from us as U Cam — but in the direction of the constellation Orion, near the celestial equator.
    NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer captured this view of the vast cloud and dust, lit up by a bright star that's 20 times as massive as our sun.

    This view also shows two other familiar nebulae. The knot of light just beneath the brightest part of the image is a nebula known as NGC 2023. The Horsehead Nebula is poking out from the greenish-colored cloud, just to the right of NGC 2023 and down a bit. In visible light, the Horsehead is a dark cloud silhouetted by glowing gas, but in infrared light, we see the glow of the cloud instead.

    This image is color-coded to reflect different infrared wavelengths. Hot stars are seen in shades of blue and bluish green, while relatively cool objects, such as the dust of the nebulae, show up in shades of green and red. The color combination makes for a fireworks display well-suited for the week of the Fourth of July.

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    Mars images captured by Nasa's rover Opportunity

    Newly completed views from the panoramic camera on Nasa's Mars exploration rover Opportunity have been released. They show the ruddy terrain around the outcrop where the long-lived explorer spent its most recent Martian winter




    This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera on Opportunity, Nasa's Mars exploration rover. Opportunity's camera took the images between the 2,811th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's Mars surface mission (21 December 2011) and sol 2,947 (8 May 2012)



    Fresh tracks from the rover on the planet's surface






    "The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover's fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we've driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University



    Late afternoon shadows at Endeavour crater on Mars. Taken between 4.30 and 5.00pm local Mars time through different filters, the images have been combined into this mosaic view

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    Amazing photos from mars, Mr. Lick. Looking forward to the landing of Curiosity next month.

    NASA presently has nothing to fly cargo or Astronauts to the ISS. They need to purchase russian services for both.

    I am much interested in that space program initiated by NASA to find private companies that are able to service the low earth orbit and the ISS International Space Station and so become independent of Russia. SpaceX has now the contract for cargo services.

    There is another company Orbital Sciences Corporation to get into that service as well. They want to launch a first test flight with their new rocket Antares and the Cygnus freighter next year. I just learned that Orbital purchases their first stage rocket motor from Russia and their cargo module from europe. How much independence does that mean? Orbital is heavily involved in the US National Missile Defence program. Yet unlike the small private startup SpaceX they do not develop or build the crucial components themselves but buy from Russia.

    NASAs decicion to award contracts to develop manned services to two or three contestants will be announced probably later this month. I wonder if SpaceX will get one of them.

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    Another small step: Nasa unveils Orion capsule bound to take astronauts to Mars


    It may look a little underwhelming but this little craft's lofty goal is to take astronauts out of an Earth orbit for the first time since the 1970s - and possibly land man on Mars.
    In front of more than 450 guests and dignitaries, Nasa officially unveiled the Orion crew capsule at a 'welcoming ceremony' at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
    Despite funding and planning cuts at the space agency, the capsule is part of a concerted effort to kickstart a new era in deep space exploration by humans.
    Scroll down for video




    Pressure shell: Nasa's new Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center. In the next 18 months the shell will be packed with avionics, instrumentation an flight computers

    Mars.html#ixzz20PuBOgLB



    This capsule is not a mock-up or scale model but a working piece of space kit that is bound for an unmanned test flight in 2014.
    It will be shot into orbit atop a Delta 4 rocket, speeding around the Earth 3,600 miles above the surface - which is about 15 times further out than the current International Space Station orbit.
    After two full orbits, the capsule will re-enter the atmosphere at more than 20,000mph to test the craft and its heat shield.
    Lori Garver, Nasa's deputy administrator, told the assembled crowd: 'This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story.'

    Close quarters: There's little room to move inside the capsule, seen here in a full-size mock-up, but they will be seen as the best seats in the universe for Nasa crew hoping to be the first to Mars

    Over the next 18 months, engineers and technicians at the space centre will install avionics, instrumentation, flight computers and the heat shield – slowly building and filling up the pressure shell into a fully functioning spacecraft.
    U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, of Florida, was instrumental in getting congressional funding for Nasa to build the capsule - officially titled the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).
    More money is earmarked for the launch vehicle, a Space Launch System booster rocket similar in size and design to the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo missions.








    Lots more to this article here :

    Another small step: Nasa unveils Orion capsule bound to take astronauts to Mars | Mail Online

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    Orion sounds impressive, does it?


    But I really have nothing but contempt for what is going on there. It seems to me the Orion programm is nothing but a scheme to pour billions into Boeing, who are in charge of building it. The program has cost about 3 Billion Dollars so far plus 1 Billion annually at present and the scheduled launch will cost about another Billion Dollar.


    What is being developed for that money is not that fancy spacecraft that will go to Mars, far from it. It is simply a slightly enlarged Apollo Capsule. Basically a metal cone with a heat shield, btw. the same heatshield as used by Apollo already, only enlarged in scale for Orion. It has no energy supply or maneuvering ability or ability to keep a crew alive for an extended period. A service module will be needed to supply these capabilities For that planned demonstration flight these capabilities will be bought from the supplier of ESA in form of a slightly adapted ATV, the unmanned cargo vehicle built for supplying the ISS by the European Space Agency.

    It is my considered opinion that they do that launch only to obscure that they in fact do have nothing yet to show.

    The real Service Module that is supposed to give Orion those fancy abilities is not yet even started to develop. It could not as NASA has not even fixed the requirements for it yet. And NASA cannot state those requirements because they don't know what missions it is going to fly. Congress is not releasing any funds for such missions.

    The only things that are developed presently besides that metal cone are the parachutes, that will land the Orion Capsule in the Pacific Ocean and the LAS, the launch abort system, that is supposed to save the Astronauts in case of a fatal failure of the launch vehicle.


    I admit it is an impressive device though only basically the same system as used for Apollo.



    Youtube Video of the Orion launch abort system





    Youtube Video of the Apollo launch abort system in comparison.



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    I must state though that a lot of people who know as much about those things as me or probably much more, believe that this NASA/Boeing developement is the normal state of things and cannot be critisized.

    That SpaceX does more for less than 10% of the money is an invalid comparison in their opinion.

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    Another new photo, just released:


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    It is clearly a fake. Everybody knows, the little men of mars are green, not red and black with green helmet.

    Somebody worked very carefully though. Look at the reflection of the little man on the rover.

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    Here a link to a site with photos of the moon landing sites. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided the best photos yet.

    Most convincing are the flip book links. Click on them and slide the sun on top of the photo through the day. You see the shadows of the landing stage clearly in the morning and evening proving that theire is a small high structure.

    The effect is especially clear on Apollo 11. One photo of that series.


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    First spiral galaxy in early Universe stuns astronomers




    Astronomers have spotted the earliest known spiral galaxy, dating to just three billion years after the Big Bang.

    Theories of galaxy formation held that the Universe was still too chaotic a place to allow such a perfectly formed or "grand-design" spiral to form.

    It should take far longer for gravity to bring matter into thin, neat discs.

    But a team reporting in Nature says the galaxy BX442 got the gravitational "kick" it needed to form a spiral from a smaller "dwarf galaxy" orbiting it.

    They first spotted BX442 as the one and only spiral-looking object in a survey of 300 galaxies carried out by the Hubble space telescope, when they were shocked to see what looked to be a spiral galaxy.

    "What we've learned when we look at galaxies at that epoch is that they're very dynamically hot," explained lead author of the study David Law from the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    "Even though we see some discs existing at that time, they're very thick and puffy, whereas the Milky Way has an... amount of random motion only about a tenth or so the amount of ordered rotation, giving rise to a very thin disc," he told BBC News.

    To get a closer look at BX442, the team went on to use the OH-Suppressing Infrared Integral Field Spectrograph at the Keck observatory in Hawaii - which can subtract the effect of all the water that lies between the Earth and galaxies at such astronomical distances.

    Those observations confirmed a hint apparent in the Hubble data: that BX442 was being orbited by a smaller "dwarf galaxy" at its edges.

    "You can get a little extra help if you've got a satellite galaxy orbiting around," explained Dr Law.

    "It gives that extra little gravitational kick to help accentuate the strength of the arm and make it into one of those eye-popping examples like the Whirlpool galaxy that you see all the pictures of."

    Having proved that such grand-design spiral galaxies can exist at such an early age of the Universe, Dr Law said the team would now like to look into larger, wider-ranging galaxy surveys such as the Hubble telescope's ongoing Candels survey

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    First Look: China’s Big New Rockets


    By Craig Covault

    Images from China’s new heavy rocket development program show spotless production facilities with advanced tooling to build China’s new Long March 5/CZ-5 heavy rocket, along with even more advanced launchers to come.
    In addition to CZ-5 hardware development, China is completing design studies on two 11 million lb. thrust Long March 9 maximum heavy lift rocket configurations. If approved for final development, one of the designs would emerge for flight in 2020-2025 with the capability to launch Chinese astronauts to the surface of the Moon.
    The concepts mean that China is designing “a Super Saturn V rocket,” says Charles P. Vick, a highly experienced analyst with GlobalSecurity.Org.






    Much more in the linked article. Once a program like this is announced there can be little doubt that China is going to go through with it. Even if it says the Long March 9 is not yet approved.

    It will give China launch capabilities in a range of rockets culminating in one rocket that will exceed the Saturn 5 payload.

    There can be also little doubt that they will have an exploration program in place to utilize those rockets. The moon will only be the first step.

    I don't believe they will do a crash program of this magnitude in less than 10 years like the US did with the Saturn/Apollo program. They will take their time but they will do it. On the other hand they already are in a design phase where they know what they want and what they can build. So maybe not too much longer than 10 years.

    If this does not bring the US and NASA into real action unlike the present motions just pretending they are doing something nothíng will.

    But if Boeing and the other Space bigwigs keep charging 10 times of what it should cost, the US cannot afford to enter another space race.

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    Mystery Hole found on Mars

    Sat, 21 Jul 2012 | Published in Science

    A weird hole on Mars has been discovered — the 35 meter opening is very strange and there doesn’t appear to be a logical explanation. The hole in the middle of a depression (crater) appears to have a opening (cave) about 20 meters deep.
    Caves and Craters – A Hole in Mars

    What created this unusual hole in Mars? The hole was discovered by chance on images of the dusty slopes of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano taken by the HiRISE instrument aboard the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently circling Mars. The hole appears to be an opening to an underground cavern, partly illuminated on the image right. Analysis of this and follow-up images revealed the opening to be about 35 meters across, while the interior shadow angle indicates that the underlying cavern is roughly 20 meters deep. Why there is a circular crater surrounding this hole remains a topic of speculation, as is the full extent of the underlying cavern. Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life. These pits are therefore prime targets for possible future spacecraft, robots, and even human interplanetary explorers.
    Source: A Hole in Mars (Astronomy Picture of the Day)
    Crater with Dark Center at Pavonis Mons

    Earlier this year, the CTX camera team saw a crater containing a dark spot on the dusty slopes of the Pavonis Mons volcano … The dark spot turned out to be a “skylight,” an opening to an underground cavern, that is 35 meters (115 feet) across. Caves often form in volcanic regions like this when lava flows solidify on top, but keep flowing underneath their solid crust. These, now underground, rivers of lava can then drain away leaving the tube they flowed through empty. We can use the shadow cast on the floor of the pit to calculate that it is about 20 meters (65 feet) deep.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Takeovers View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainNemo
    Oh, I want a job with them... could be like Buck Rogers and everything =P
    Go for it.

    They are hiring big time.
    I worked at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles in 2006. SpaceX is just down the road. That whole area (El Segundo / Redondo Beach) is full of satellite manufacturers -- Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon.

    They all shamelessly poach systems engineers from the Air Force. Most aeronautics/astronautics majors, but a good number of EEs, too.

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    Looks weird all right.



    That place has a very deep cover of fine sand. Probably the ceiling of the cave gave in and the sand drained into the cave, leaving that crater. You see that circular line where it will slide next. I would guess this sight is only very temporary and that hole will be filled soon leaving only the crater which will be filled by sandstorms too with time.

    I hope we will see more photos of it over time and see changes.

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    Yes, but you can't see the Martian scaffolding and filtration equipment underneath....

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    25 July 2012 Last updated at 11:26 GMT Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer claims huge cosmic ray haul

    By Jason Palmer Science and technology reporter, BBC News, Geneva The experiment, seen here installed on the space station, cost some $2bn



    The largest-ever experiment in space has reported the collection of some 18 billion "cosmic ray" events that may help unravel the Universe's mysteries.
    The data haul is far greater than the total number of cosmic rays recorded in a full century of looking to date.
    Run from a centre at Cern, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) aims to spot dark matter and exotic antimatter.
    The astronauts who installed it on the space station in 2011 are in Geneva to see an update on how it is performing.
    Mission commander Mark Kelly told reporters that AMS was "the pinnacle of the science that the ISS will do".
    The huge number of events seen by the experiment includes some of the highest-energy particles from the cosmos that we have ever seen.
    Kelly's flight - the STS-134 mission - was the last for the shuttle Endeavour before it was retired from the Nasa fleet.
    The crew visited the Payload and Operations Control Centre at Cern on Wednesday, where a shift of six scientists is watching what is whizzing through the AMS 24 hours a day.
    Seven-tonne giant AMS deputy spokesman Roberto Battiston told BBC News that seeing the astronauts back in town was "a great joy".
    "We are really thankful of these astronauts because we should never forget they put their lives at stake to do something that for us is pure fun - that is our interest, our curiosity," he said.

    Mark Kelly (C) said AMS was the most significant experiment on the space station




    "They have high expectations that the AMS will find something interesting, because they put a lot of effort into it. They feel part of the family."
    At the heart of the seven-tonne, $2bn machine is a giant, specially designed magnet which bends the paths of extraordinarily high-energy charged particles called cosmic rays onto a series of detectors, giving hints of what the particles are.
    A series of ever-larger particle accelerators built here on Earth aim to drive particles to ever-higher energies, smashing them into one another to simulate the same processes that create them elsewhere in the cosmos.
    But no Earth-bound experiment can match nature's power as a particle accelerator - and Earth's atmosphere absorbs incoming cosmic rays - so the AMS will catch some of these high-energy particles "from the source", as a kind of complement to the likes of the Large Hadron Collider.
    In scientific terms, the stakes could not be higher. The AMS should be able to spot the results of collisions of the mysterious dark matter that makes up most of the mass of our Universe, catch completely new forms of matter that include the aptly named "strange" quark, or resolve why the Universe we see is made mostly of matter rather than antimatter.
    Continue reading the main story THE ALPHA MAGNETIC SPECTROMETER (AMS-02)


    Transition Radiation Detector determines highest-energy particle velocities
    Silicon Trackers follow particle paths; how they bend reveals their charge
    Permanent Magnet is core component of AMS and makes particles curve
    Time-of-flight Counters determine lowest-energy particle velocities
    Star Trackers scan star fields to establish AMS's orientation in space
    Cerenkov Detector makes accurate velocity measurements of fast particles
    Electromagnetic Calorimeter measures energy of impacting particles
    Anti-coincidence Counter filters signal from unwanted side particles

    "It took more than 35 missions to build the International Space Station - very complicated space shuttle flights - to construct this incredible laboratory in space," said Captain Kelly.
    "When we installed AMS, that was the last piece of the ISS, then the space station was complete. This is really the pinnacle of the science that ISS will do, in my opinion the most significant experiment we have on board."

    In its 14 months of operation, the AMS has logged some 18 billion cosmic rays - more than collected in a century of looking before now. But the AMS is a one-of-a-kind machine, so it has taken some time just to understand what it is seeing hundreds of times per second - and the team has only analysed a few percent of the data.
    Nobel laureate Sam Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has led the project since its inception some 17 years ago, through a number of setbacks and budget concerns that nearly saw the project shelved altogether - until an act of the US Congress and an unscheduled shuttle mission put it in space.
    The team has already noted an excess of extremely high-energy positrons - the antimatter equivalent of electrons - and atomic nuclei at 9 teraelectronvolts (TeV) - higher even than the LHC can produce.
    But Prof Ting is interested most of all in careful, methodical work, and is in no hurry to formally announce any findings.
    "I have told my collaborators that in the next 40-50 years it is very unlikely people will be so foolish as to repeat this experiment, given the difficulty I ran into," Prof Ting told BBC News.
    "Therefore it's extremely important when we publish a result, we publish it correctly, because otherwise you'll certainly mislead physics and there's no way to check us."
    Looking for answers Mission specialist on STS-134 Greg Chamitoff told BBC News that it was "great to be able to celebrate together" with the AMS team.
    "If they discover an antimatter particle - even one - that'll be phenomenal, because they'll also know which direction it came from and they might be able to say 'that galaxy over there is an animtatter galaxy'," he said.
    "What we learn from what it discovers could really transform our understanding of what's in the Universe."
    The astronauts were accompanied by their wives, including STS-134 mission commander Mark Kelly's wife, Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The trip to Cern is her first international journey since recovering from a gun attack in her home state just a few months before the mission.

    Cern in Geneva hosts the control room for the AMS experiment




    Cern's director of research Sergio Bertolucci welcomed the visitors, saying "it is a clear sign that we'll not find our answers in only one place".
    "The fact that AMS is addressing some of the same questions (as the LHC) is in my opinion a nice way in which we see that in this field we cannot get too specialised because probably the answer we're looking for... needs more, different inputs," he told BBC News.
    "After all, we're trying to explain this small thing: why the Universe is like it is."
    Prof Ting stubbornly refuses to be drawn on what he expects, or even hopes, to find as the team catches up with its glut of data.
    Instead he imagines that perhaps we cannot conceive of what is to come.
    "Look at particle physics in the last half century," he said.
    "In the 60s, the largest accelerators were at Cern and Brookhaven, to study nuclear forces. At Cern, they discovered neutral currents; at Brookhaven they found two kinds of neutrinos, CP violation and the J particle. All three were given Nobel prizes.
    "At Fermilab, the original purpose was to study neutrino physics, what was discovered was the fifth and sixth quarks.
    "When you build something new, you ask the best expert what could be discovered, but what you discover with a precision instrument normally has nothing to do with the original purpose."

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    Some political wrangling behind the scenes. Very important for the future of space flight. At present everything is stalling. A main reason is cost. The big suppliers have driven up prices at every turn. And they had the military behind them who would pay every asked price. And a powerful lobby to support them. But that may finally change.

    The new player Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - SpaceX is gaining ground after initial successes.

    Air Force To Delay EELV Block Buy, Report Says

    Thu, 26 July, 2012 Air Force To Delay EELV Block Buy, Report Says

    By Dan Leone

    An Atlas 5 launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: ULA photo by Pat Corkery Enlarge Image WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force will delay a planned bulk order of Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets from United Launch Alliance (ULA) at least a year, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
    The Air Force was expected to award ULA a contract this summer for a total of 46 rockets to cover military launch needs from 2013 to 2017. However, the service now plans to award a single-year bridge contract no sooner than October, according to the July 26 report, “Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle: DOD Is Addressing Knowledge Gaps in Its New Acquisition Strategy.”
    The bridge contract is meant to give the Air Force enough time to complete a review of Atlas and Delta costs before making a long-term contractual commitment. The GAO said Defense Department officials “emphasized to us that no decision on the duration and quantity of the government block buy commitment has been made, or would be until [the Department of Defense] fully analyzes the information it plans to obtain.”
    The Defense Department expects preliminary findings from its cost review later this summer, according to GAO.
    Christina Greer, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, declined immediate comment on the report.
    The block buy strategy was touted as a way to stabilize the spike in satellite launch costs the military has experienced following the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, which for thirty years had been a steady customer for the U.S. rocket propulsion industry and its suppliers.
    However, the strategy has drawn criticism from some in Congress — and from potential ULA competitors — who say a block buy would lock the Air Force into higher-than-necessary launch costs. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif., has been outspoken on the issue and insists that it should be allowed to compete for future military launches.
    I place big hopes on SpaceX. They are a commercial company. But the founder is not interested in maximising profits but in advancing manned space exploration. So they want to turn a profit, but by reducing launch cost - a lot. And their profits go into developing new technologies driving cost down further.

    I was afraid that they may succeed in developing the technology but would be driven out of the competition by Boeing and the other big space contractors using their influence in Congress and the military. But this news seems to indicate that even the military is now interested in getting cost down.

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    A big day today for manned space flight. NASA has awarded contracts to three companies for developing systems for manned access to Low Earth Orbit - LEO. So one day NASA can fly Astronauts to the ISS again without renting seats in the russian Sojus.

    The NASA announcement excerpt

    NASA Announces Next Steps in Effort to Launch Americans from U.S. Soil

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA Friday announced new agreements with three American commercial companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years. Advances made by these companies under newly signed Space Act Agreements through the agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers.‬

    CCiCap partners are:
    -- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $212.5 million
    -- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $440 million
    -- The Boeing Company, Houston, $460 million
    I am very happy that my favorite SpaceX got a full award. They are planning to launch Astronauts in 2015 for a testflight.

    The SpaceX press release excerpt

    SpaceX expects to undertake its first manned flight by 2015 – a timetable that capitalizes on the proven success of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft combination. While Dragon is initially being used to transport cargo to the International Space Station, both Dragon and Falcon 9 were designed from the beginning to carry crew."
    Under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative's base period, SpaceX will make the final modifications necessary to prepare Dragon to safely transport astronauts into space. These include:
    • Seats for seven astronauts.
    • The most technically advanced launch escape system ever developed, with powered abort possibilities from launch pad to orbit. SpaceX will demonstrate that Dragon will be able to escape a launch-pad emergency by firing integrated SuperDraco engines to carry the spacecraft safely to the ocean. SpaceX will also conduct an in-flight abort test that allows Dragon to escape at the moment of maximum aerodynamic drag, again by firing the SuperDraco thrusters to carry the spacecraft a safe distance from the rocket.
    • A breakthrough propulsive landing system for gentle ground touchdowns on legs.
    • Refinements and rigorous testing of essential aspects of Dragon's design, including life-support systems andan advanced cockpit design complete with modern human interfaces.
    SpaceX will perform stringent safety and mission-assurance analyses to demonstrate that all these systems meet NASA requirements.



    Boeing wants to fly in 2016

    As this program is introduced to give NASA the capability to launch astronauts themselves without help from Russia I guess it makes sense that Boeing is not going to use its own launcher but will use the Lockheed Martin/United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 with first stage large rocket engines manufactured close to Moscow.

    Boeing Press release excerpt

    The CCiCap award addresses development milestones to be completed in a 21-month base period, with the potential for additional milestones in a subsequent options period. Under CCDev and CCDev-2, Boeing has successfully completed tests on engines, abort systems, propulsion, heat shield jettison, attitude control systems and landing to provide full data on functional elements of the spacecraft's design.
    "Today's award demonstrates NASA's confidence in Boeing's approach to provide commercial crew transportation services for the ISS," said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and general manager of Space Exploration. "It is essential for the ISS and the nation that we have adequate funding to move at a rapid pace toward operations so the United States does not continue its dependence on a single system for human access to the ISS."
    Boeing's safe, reliable Commercial Crew Transportation System draws on practices, expertise and resources from across the Boeing enterprise and five decades of experience in human spaceflight. It is supported by professional personnel and flight-demonstrated systems and technologies. Boeing is preparing for its initial test flight with a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle as early as 2016.




    Sierra Nevada Dreamchaser

    They are different to the other two competitors who both will use capsules, similar to but larger than Apollo. The Dreamchaser is going to be airplane shaped and can land on an airfield. But like its competitors will be launched on top of a conventional rocket. They propose to use the Atlas 5, the same as Boeing. Many space enthusiasts like the design because it looks fancier than simple capsules. However it seems unlikely at present they will be able to compete in price and timeframe with the other two participants. They get only half an award for their design.

    Dreamchaser press release excerpt

    SNC has integrated the efforts of its powerful team of leading aerospace companies, academic institutions, and NASA Centers to significantly advance the development of the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle and the associated mission, ground, and crew systems, as well as launch vehicle integration. To date, the SNC team has completed 19 milestones; including a full system Preliminary Design Review and first captive carry flight, in addition to a significant number of additional tasks. The remaining milestone under the second round of NASA funding will be an Approach and Landing Test scheduled for later this year, mirroring the first flight test of the Space Shuttle Program. The full CCiCap Program will allow SNC to complete development of the Dream Chaser Space System and transport crews to space as early as 2016.
    "We are pleased to be selected to continue development of the Dream Chaser Space System and proud that NASA is showing confidence in the SNC team's ability to develop our nation's next human spacecraft. Our team will continue to work with NASA to ensure that the Dream Chaser is a reliable and safe spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station," said Jim Voss, Vice President of SNC's Space Exploration Systems and Dream Chaser Program Manager. "I believe we were chosen to continue the Dream Chaser Program because we have a great design, a great team, and have demonstrated, in cooperation with our NASA Partner, that we can develop a human spacecraft in a rapid and cost effective manner."




    Weird, I tried to insert a jpg of the dramchaser as it looks cool. But it does not show in the post even as it shows again in the edit window while I type this.
    Last edited by Takeovers; 03-08-2012 at 11:45 PM.

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