America’s Next Heavy Launch Vehiclehttp://www.nasa.gov/pdf/664158main_sls_fs_master.pdfNASA’s Space Launch System is an advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle which will provide an entirely new capability for science and human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. The Space Launch System will give the nation a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and open new doors of discovery from the unique vantage point of space.The Space Launch System, or SLS, will carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments, to deep space. The Orion spacecraft will carry up to four astronauts beyond low Earth orbit on long-duration, deep space missions and include both crew and service modules and a launch abort system to significantly increase crew safety. As NASA’s commercial partners create an American supply line to the International Space Station, SLS will provide the transportation needed for NASA to reach further into our solar system. However, if needed, SLS will support backup transportation to the International Space Station.SLS will be the most powerful rocket in history and is designed to be flexible and evolvable, to meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs.
Space.com - After the exit of launch services provider SpaceX as its rocket subcontractor, Stratolaunch Systems has turned to Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., to keep the world's largest air-launch-to-orbit system on track for a 2017 test flight.What those configurations were, neither Stratolaunch nor Orbital would say. Huntsville, Ala.-based Stratolaunch had been banking on using a liquid-fueled booster from SpaceX. Orbital specializes in solid-fueled rockets. The first stage of the liquid-fueled Taurus 2 rocket Orbital expects to debut in 2013 relies on a Ukranian-supplied first stage powered by a rebadged Russian engine. While the company has extensive experience with air-launched systems, it has not built one with the payload-carrying capacity that Stratolaunch seeks. Orbital's solid-fueled Pegasus rocket, which can loft 450 kilograms to low Earth orbit, has logged 41 launches since 1990. Only three of these were failures, according to an online mission history maintained by Orbital. However, Pegasus-class business has all but dried up. The single Pegasus XL launch of 2012 was the rocket's first flight in four years, and there is only one Pegasus XL mission on Orbital's manifest today: the April 2013 launch of NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph space telescope.Stratolaunch plans to build an enormous air-launch system that, in its original configuration with a SpaceX rocket, was to be capable of lofting 6,100 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 2,300 kilograms to geosynchronous orbit. Scaled Composites, Mojave, Calif., was tapped to build the system's twin-boom mothership: a massive, 222,000-kilogram airplane with a 117-meter wingspan capable of flying 2,400 kilometers from a launch site before deploying a rocket. Dynetics Corp. of Huntsville, Ala., is building the mating and integration system that will secure the rocket to its carrier aircraft.As first reported by Flightglobal.com Nov. 27, the main reason Stratolaunch and SpaceX parted ways was because SpaceX, decided it did not want to disrupt its Hawthorne, Calif., assembly line to accommodate the design changes required to turn its nine-engine, liquid-fueled Falcon 9 into a four- or five-engine air-launched booster.
SpaceX Grasshopper testSpaceX's Grasshopper takes a 12-story leap towards full and rapid rocket reusability in a test flight conducted December 17, 2012 at SpaceX's rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. Grasshopper, SpaceX’s vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (VTVL), rose 131 feet (40 meters), hovered and landed safely on the pad using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control. The total test duration was 29 seconds.http://www.spacex.com/updates.php
Buzz Aldrin has been working on how to get people to Mars. To be more specific he has been working on how to create and sustain a human colony on Mars.http://tranquilitybaseblog.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-moonwalker-invents-mars-cycler.htmlThere are many, many, many obstacles to establishing a human colony on Mars. One huge challenge is the cost of ferrying people and the supplies they'll need between the two planets. Another challenge is the length of the trip to Mars. It took four days for Dr. Aldrin to travel from the Earth to the moon; it took the Curiosity Rover nine months to travel from the Earth to Mars.Dr. Aldrin's "Mars cycler" plan comes in handy in addressing both of these challenges. Dr. Aldrin formulated this plan in the mid-1980s. He called for the establishment of a permanent human base on Mars, supplied by a fleet of of uniquely tasked spaceships. Some of these spacecraft would be used to ferry people and supplies between the surface of Earth and Earth orbit; some would transport people and supplies between the surface of Mars and Mars orbit. Meanwhile, traveling between Mars and Earth there would be a continuous cycle of interplanetary spacecraft: "cyclers."These cyclers would essentially be space stations orbiting a path that would take them between Earth and Mars every few months. They'd be similar to the international space station, but with heavy-duty rockets attached, more radiation shielding, and maybe a big centrifuge creating artificial gravity. You could have two of these cyclers, with one always going towards Earth and one away. Or you could launch even more cyclers, allowing for more frequent trips between the two planets.
Image: This artist’s concept shows plasma flows around NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft as it gets close to entering interstellar space. Voyager 1′s Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument detects the speed of the wind of plasma, or hot ionized gas, streaming off the sun. It detected the slowing of this wind – also known as the solar wind – to zero outward velocity in a region called the stagnation region. Scientists had expected that the solar wind would turn the corner as it felt the pressure of the interstellar magnetic field and the interstellar wind flow. But that did not happen, so scientists don’t know what to expect once Voyager actually crosses the heliopause. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
NASA - NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region at the far reaches of our solar system that scientists feel is the final area the spacecraft has to cross before reaching interstellar space.Scientists refer to this new region as a magnetic highway for charged particles because our sun's magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines. This connection allows lower-energy charged particles that originate from inside our heliosphere -- or the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself -- to zoom out and allows higher-energy particles from outside to stream in. Before entering this region, the charged particles bounced around in all directions, as if trapped on local roads inside the heliosphere.The Voyager team infers this region is still inside our solar bubble because the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed. The direction of these magnetic field lines is predicted to change when Voyager breaks through to interstellar space.
Ice, on Mercury??Composite image of the north pole of Mercury. Red are the areas of permanent shadow; yellow delineates radar bright deposits mapped from Earth. Data are plotted on a photomosaic of MESSENGER images. NASAMercury – the planet, not the element – was in the news this past week. For some time, we had suspected that the poles of Mercury might harbor deposits of water ice. This – on a planet so close to the Sun that the surface temperature at the equator is hot enough to melt lead!Yet like the Moon, Mercury’s spin axis is perpendicular to the plane in which it orbits the Sun. This means that large craters near Mercury’s poles lie in permanent shadow (“shivering” around -170° C), unaffected by the Sun’s searing heat (equivalent to more than eleven times the solar flux we get on Earth). As on the Moon, these permanently shadowed areas get heat from only two sources – the 3 K background heat of space, created during the Big Bang some 15 billion years ago, and whatever heat is being generated now from the deep interior (a quantity that geophysicists call the heat flow of a planet).http://blogs.airspacemag.com/moon/2012/12/reflecting-on-the-ice-of-mercury-and-the-moon/The solid bodies of the inner Solar System are constantly hit by debris from comets and asteroids. This material contains water, both in free form and bound within hydrous minerals. On smaller objects (like the Moon and Mercury), most of this water is lost to space, but we suspected that some of it might be retained within these dark cold traps near the poles. Now we know that such a process does occur.Differences between the Moon and Mercury result in differing amounts and settings for their polar deposits. Being much closer to the Sun, one might expect Mercury to contain less water ice, but a variety of evidence suggests that the opposite is the case. The polar ice of Mercury appears to be greater in extent and thickness than comparable deposits on the Moon. This probably results from two factors. First, Mercury is a bigger object, with a surface gravity about twice that of the Moon. Thus, it is more difficult for water to “escape” from Mercury. Second, the closeness of Mercury to the Sun (the edge of biggest gravity well of the Solar System) results in a higher flux of cometary impacts there than experienced in the Earth-Moon system. So more water is being added to Mercury, where it is more easily retained.
In the search for life elsewhere, the Earth is typically used as a standard against which other planets, or moons, are compared. Since our planet is teeming with seemingly countless life forms, it must represent the near-perfect, most ideal conditions for life to flourish, right? It would seem so, but new research is suggesting that may not be the case, that there may be other exoplanets in other solar systems which are even better suited for life than Earth is.The new study, from astronomers and geologists at Ohio State University, is examining stars that are similar to our sun in size, age, and composition. The preliminary results so far suggest that any terrestrial-type, rocky planets orbiting them may often be up to about 25% warmer in their interiors than Earth. Seven out of eight of these stars studied to date contain much more of the radioactive element thorium than our sun, and so any rocky planets orbiting them probably do as well, making them warmer on the inside. Warmer interiors could allow plate tectonics to last longer on those planets, which helps liquid water to remain on the surface.http://themeridianijournal.com/2012/12/some-exoplanets-may-be-even-more-habitable-than-earth/
Water within Titan"The picture of Titan that we get has an icy, rocky core with a radius of a little over 2,000 kilometers, an ocean somewhere in the range of 225 to 300 kilometers thick and an ice layer that is 200 kilometers thick," he said.Previous models of Titan's structure estimated the icy crust to be approximately 100 kilometers thick. So if there is more ice, then there should be less heat from the core than had been estimated. One way to account for less heat being generated internally is for there to be less rock and more ice in the core than previous models had predicted.
A super massive black hole has been discovered that is so massive it makes up 17% of the total mass of its containing galaxy.Astronomers have used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory to measure the mass of what may be the most massive black hole yet — 17 billion Suns — in galaxy NGC 1277. The unusual black hole makes up 14 percent of its galaxy's mass, rather than the usual 0.1 percent. This galaxy and several more in the same study could change theories of how black holes and galaxies form and evolve.NGC 1277 lies 220 million light-years away in the constellation Perseus. The galaxy is only ten percent the size and mass of our own Milky Way. Despite NGC 1277's diminutive size, the black hole at its heart is more than 11 times as wide as Neptune's orbit around the Sun."This is a really oddball galaxy," said team member Karl Gebhardt of The University of Texas at Austin. "It's almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy-black hole systems." Furthermore, the most massive black holes have been seen in giant blobby galaxies called "ellipticals," but this one is seen in a relatively small lens-shaped galaxy (in astronomical jargon, a "lenticular galaxy").
Some amazing work on possible warp drive is being done. There is a nice slide show by one such researcher athttp://www.scribd.com/doc/78979805/H-G-White-and-E-W-Davis-The-AlcubierreWarp-Drive-in-Higher-Dimensional-SpacetimeThe main new statement is that if this research were to fully pan out and get developed then we would be able to travel to the stars in weeks instead of decades.The Next Step - experimentally detect warping of spaceSpace Warp equations are being tested using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer. At Johnson Space Center, Eagleworks has initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble. Across 1cm, the experimental rig should be able to measure space perturbations down to ~1 part in 10,000,000.
Potential Interferometer Experiment•Since we know how to make a largespacetimeexpansion boost value, a testconfiguration could be invoked conceptuallyasshown.•The figure depicts a modified Michelson-Morley Interferometer setup that makes useof a 1 cm diameter toroidal-ring of positiveenergy density on one leg of theinterferometer.•A He-Nelaser beam (λ= 633 nm) is splitallowing one part of the beam to pass throughthe center of the ring and hence the sphericalwarp field region.•This warp field region will induce a relativephase shift between the split beams thatcould be detectable provided the magnitudeof the phase shift is sufficient.•If the desired phase shift goal were set to beroughly 1/4th wavelength (reasonableexpectation), then the necessary boost field ison the order of 1.0000001 to 1.0000002.From a purely Special Relativistic perspective, this equates to a velocity of ~ 0.0004c which could be achieved potentially withatoroidalring of plasma. Additionally, we could take the route of acting on the boost by means of the potential or gauge,γ=cosh(φ). In this scenario, we would employ a ring of capacitors driven at high voltage and moderately high frequencies to act onthe potential (φ) of the ions within the dielectric. Work on this front is currently ongoing to develop system specific parameterssuch as RF amplifier power requirements, capacitor size, tank circuit details, and more. This last method may also beaugmented with a B field orthogonal to the E field to produce off-braneplasma drift, and hence local thrust (a useable Casimir Force.