NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has passed the milestone of 100,000 shots fired by its laser. It uses the laser as one way to check which chemical elements are in rocks and soils.
The 100,000th shot was one of a series of 300 to investigate 10 locations on a rock called "Ithaca" in late October, at a distance of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.04 meters) from the laser and telescope on rover's mast. The Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) uses the infrared laser to excite material in a pinhead-size s [...]
The discovery of a giant planet orbiting its star at 650 times the average Earth-Sun distance has astronomers puzzled over how such a strange system came to be.
An international team of astronomers, led by a University of Arizona graduate student, has discovered the most distantly orbiting planet found to date around a single, sun-like star. It is the first exoplanet – a planet outside of our solar system – discovered at the UA.
According to Bailey, one problem with this scenario is [...]
The International Space Station is getting ready to welcome a new commercial cargo vehicle. The orbital laboratory's six crew members also continued more science work to benefit life on Earth and in space.
Orbital Sciences will launch its Cygnus resupply craft Dec. 17 at 10:07 p.m. EST from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Cygnus will arrive early in the morning Dec. 20 when it will be captured with the Canadarm2 and berthed to the Harmony node. Astronauts Koichi Wakata and Mike Hopkins p [...]
Maintaining a record of solar measurements is important in understanding the sun's effect on Earth and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA), Total solar irradiance Calibration Transfer Experiment, or TCTE, is now providing that information.
Many natural conditions on Earth such as the surface temperature or air temperature depend on energy that comes from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation. A solar cycle lasts about 11 years and typically has modest chang [...]
MIT physicist finds the creation of entanglement simultaneously gives rise to a wormhole.
Quantum entanglement is one of the more bizarre theories to come out of the study of quantum mechanics — so strange, in fact, that Albert Einstein famously referred to it as “spooky action at a distance.”
Essentially, entanglement involves two particles, each occupying multiple states at once — a condition referred to as superposition. For example, both particles may simultaneously spin [...]
With help from NASA, four student-built CubeSat research satellites will launch into space Friday from the California coast as part of the agency's CubeSat Launch Initiative.
The CubeSats will be included as auxiliary payloads aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 2:13 a.m. EST carrying the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-39 satellite. The CubeSats are a part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) II mission, N [...]
Atlas robot by Boston Dynamics for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Photo courtesy of DARPA.
On a conference call yesterday, DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) program manager Gill Pratt updated reporters on the ins and outs of the event later this month.
The DRC is set to take place December 20-21 at the Homestead Speedway outside of Miami. There will be 17 teams and their robots there to complete disaster response tasks with minimal human supervision. This so-called task-level autonomy is a DARPA-hard problem in the field of robotics. Said Pratt on the call:
“Robots right now, for the most part, are either working on a stationary basis in factories, doing very clearly defined repetitive tasks, or they are in laboratories in schools where they are in very controlled environments. Or, if they’re in the outdoors, they’re typically run through something called tele-operation, where a human being is dictating every move that they’re doing every tenth of a second or even faster. What we’re trying to do is to advance that technology and move things from tele-operation to something known as task-level autonomy, where you tell the robot—rather than move forward a tenth of an inch, move left a tenth of an inch—you tell it, “Open that door.” And the robot perceives the handle on the door, reaches out, turns the handle, and opens the door.”
Pratt said the upcoming event will serve as a kind of calibration point for the current state of the art in robotics. He expects the machines to be moving rather slowly. The bots will each have 30 minutes to complete, for example, the door-opening task. The other required tasks will include driving a vehicle, walking moving obstacles blocking a door, climbing a ladder, and using a power tool to cut through a wall. Pratt expects the next DRC event to push the state of the art to more more useful speeds. But for now, he cautioned people not to expect Terminator, despite appearances to the contrary.
“Part of the good that can come out of the trials is that we actually help calibrate the public to what reality is in this field. part of the difficulty with science fiction is that if there’s no counter example—science fact—people…can get the idea that these things aren’t actually very hard to build. So, besides calibrating ourselves to what the state of the art is, I think a lot of the good that we can do here is to calibrate the public.”
There’s a new website with more details: www.theroboticschallenge.org. Interesting that DARPA has dropped its own name from the site’s name, perhaps opening the door to handing the competition off to another organization in the future. The event is open to the public.
In 1958, scientists discovered two gigantic belts of radiation around Earth that have provided tantalizing mysteries to researchers ever since. One unsolved mystery: What accelerates particles in the belts to almost the speed of light? The best answer is that some kind of electromagnetic wave coursing through the belts pushes the particles along, not unlike a wave in the ocean providing a ride for a surfer.
NASA's twin Van Allen Probes launched in August 2012 to help differentiate between the [...]
Just prior to its closest approach to the sun on November 28, Comet ISON went through a major heating event, and likely suffered a major disruption. At this time, scientists are not sure how much of the comet survived intact. We may be seeing emission from rubble and debris in the comet's trail, along its orbit, or we may be seeing the resumption of cometary activity from a sizable nucleus-sized chunk of ISON.
Most agree that up to 90 percent of ISON was destroyed, leaving approximately 10 pe [...]
NASA's Orion spacecraft is just about ready to turn up the heat. The spacecraft's heat shield arrived at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night aboard the agency's Super Guppy aircraft.
The heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built, is to be unloaded Thursday and is scheduled for installation on the Orion crew module in March, in preparation for Orion's first flight test in September 2014.
"The heat shield completion and delivery to Kennedy, where Orion is being [...]
This morning, Grant Bonin (of the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory) sent me a very interesting JBIS paper from about 6 years ago, discussing a manned-flyby/robotic-telepresence expedition to Venus. In light of the Venus ISRU series, I thought it worth doing a short summary of his excellent JBIS paper.
Some highlights of the proposed mission concept:
The mission concept would send a team of 4 researchers and a mix of several solar-powered upper atmosphere UAVs/blimps and a few surface rovers to Venus, which would be designed to be teleoperated by the researchers.
Upon the initial arrival at Venus, the robots would enter the Venusian atmosphere and in the case of the rovers land.
The researcher’s vehicle would perform a powered polar flyby of Venus, placing itself into an orbit with approximately the same velocity as Venus, but in a plane inclined to Venus’s orbit. This would keep it within 45 light-seconds of Venus for over a year of science operations (giving a worst-case round-trip signal delay of 90s).
During the science mission operations, a small electric thruster on the researcher’s vehicle would maneuver the spacecraft in a way that as it passed back through the plane of Venus’s orbit twice per orbital year, it would be just outside of Venus’s gravitational sphere of influence.
After the science period, the electric thrusters would maneuver the researcher’s vehicle to perform another powered flyby of Venus sending it back into an earth-crossing trajectory, for a total round-trip time of 2 earth years.
The two powered swingby maneuvers require ~250m/s each (with a 300km periapsis altitude), and the four node-shifting maneuvers total less than 1000m/s of delta-V on the electric propulsion system.
The initial departure to Venus would have a much lower C3 than iMars (8.55km^2/s^2 vs > 40km^2/s^2), making it easier to launch a decent mission stack using existing upper stages.
The cool thing being that by entering this flyby trajectory, you get most of the benefits of having people near the robots to teleoperate them without the delta-V penalty of entering and departing Venus’s orbit, which would take around 8km/s of delta-V if performed entirely propulsively. While this hasn’t been studied in anywhere near as much detail as Inspiration Mars has, and at least with current launch costs is likely much further out of the reach of a privately funded venture, it’s still an intriguing concept that would be far cheaper than say a manned Mars mission.Anyhow, I just wanted to present this concept for discussion.