Harvesting the richness of space

The dim solar light flickered as the cloud of dust rose from the surface of the asteroid.  Three suited figure stood gripping tethers to hold them down against the gentle spin.  Gravity was weak.  As the dust cleared one of the figures crouched next to the excavation.  A suited hand brushed aside the dust that had settled and revealed metallic crystals that glinted in the light.  Glints that meant riches beyond imagine.

A group of technology innovators and NASA experts have teamed up to found and fund a company, Planetary Resources, to explore and commercialise the resources available on asteroids and other non-Earth territories.  An announcement and update to the website is scheduled for tomorrow, 24 April.  Visit the website here: http://www.planetaryresources.com/ See the wiki page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_Resources

James.

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Riding the fury of Dione

He flicked closed the filter on his helmet, unbound the tether that was holding him to the spacecraft and pushed off.  It took several hours before the moon below started to grow in size.  He spent the time checking his equipment, listening to an eclectic mix of music on his helmet media system.  As the surface of the moon rushed towards him he started to feel the thrill – maybe he had miscalculated – he no longer had enough fuel left to halt his drop to the surface. Then he felt the turbulance and looked down.  He saw a white-out.  The ice volcano below had started to erupt.  With a whoop he unclipped the board on his back, attached it securely to his boots and prepared to ride the Dione eruption back into orbit.

Dr Bonnie Buratti, of NASA JPL, has announced that the surface of Dione, an ice moon of Saturn, has features that suggest it is still undergoing geological activity.  Banding and areas with a low level of impact crater disturbance point towards geological activity similar to sister moon Enceladus.  See a news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17440136  Visit the NASA Cassini mission here: www.nasa.gov/cassini

James.

The dance of the satellites

The surveillance craft turned as it continued its silent orbit of the Moon.  Its sensors focussed on the surface, ready to track any movement below.  Following in its orbit, invisible to the sensors of the first spacecraft, a second angular shape slowly gained ground.  As it approached it readied a concentrated burst of electromagnetic energy.

NASA has announced that the twin GRAIL Moon satellites have started their science mission.  They will track the distance between the two craft as they pass over sections of the Moon that may be more or less dense.  This will give scientists data to model the internal structure of the Moon, and hence refine theories as to its origin and evolution.  Read the press release here:  http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/mar/HQ_12-070_GRAIL_Science_Begins.html

James.

Fewer mid-sized asteroids meandering about the solar system

Earth-bound asteroids are often the bane of human societies calmly minding their own business in many Sci-Fi films.  They lurk in the outer solar system awaiting an opportune moment to fall towards the sun, only to find a blue-green planet with an oddly large moon in their way.

The WISE mission at NASA has recently released a set of obserations that suggest there are fewer of these asteroids than previously thought.  Most of the larger asteroids have already been discovered and tracked, but the smaller mid-sized asteroids up to one kilometer across are less well known.  Analysis of the observations suggest there are only 19,000 of these rather than the previously expected number 35,000.

Although fewer are now expected only 5,000 of these have been discovered.  So the JPL at NASA still has some important work left to do.

See the press release at NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/sep/HQ_11-333_NEOWISE.html

James.

NASA discovers Tatooine

The timing could not be better for this press release.  NASA have announced the discovery of an exoplanet that orbits two stars.  Making a reality of the twin-sunset scenes on Tatooine in the Star Wars saga.

This comes as the Blu-Ray box set of Star Wars – The Complete Saga is released.  A nine-disk set that gives Star Wars fans the chance to see the films in stunning quality.

Read about NASA’s discovery here: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/sep/HQ_11-304_Kepler_Update.html

Read about Star Wars here: http://www.starwars.com/news/starwars_blu-ray.html

James.

Stunning images of NASA’s footsteps on the Moon

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission has just delivered some stunning images of the landing sites of the Apollo program.  You can clearly make out the footsteps and buggy tracks still present on the Moon’s dusty surface.  To the side, sunlight glints off the remains of the crafts and experiments from Apollo 12, 14 and 17.

It has been a long time since man last stepped on the Moon – Gene Cernan being the last man to leave the moon just before Christmas in 1972.  Hopefully these images will inspire people and governments to find ways both private and public to get man back to the Moon and then further afield.

See the pictures, and enlargements here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/apollo-sites.html

James.

NASA’s online solar system explorer @nasa_eyes

NASA have announce the release of a beta version of a new online tool to explore the solar system – Eyes on the Solar System.  User can pilot a point of view and move around the solar system, which includes the many probes and missions that are slowly creeping their way across the vast expanse of space.  Zoom in and have a look at the rings of Saturn, or move across to Mars and have a look at the desert landscape.

You need to install a small app to run the simulation – then fire up the tool and start exploring.  I recommend running it in full screen mode to get the most immersive experience.  You can also follow the project on twitter @nasa_eyes

Press release here: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/sep/HQ_11-288_System_Eyes.html

Eyes on the Solar System here: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/eyes/

James.

Optical broadband to be rolled out to the solar system

Internet usage on Earth become more and more data heavy as new applications and uses are found for the digital network.  The same problem exists up in space as more sophisticated probes and missions are sent to the far reaches of the solar system.

To address an inevitable future data-bottleneck of the current RF-based communication systems, NASA is to launch a research mission to trial and investigate the characteristics of a light-based comms network.

It will not be able to reduce the time that is required to receive a signal from, for example, Mars – which at best is just over 3 minutes but can be as much as 22 minutes when the planets are furthest apart.  But it will be able to increase the amount of data that can be transmitted – multiplying it by a factor of between 10 and 100.  This will allow for more and higher-resolution imagery and data packets from future missions.

Read the press article at NASA here: Laser Communications Relay Demonstration

James.

Dwarf star lurks in close proximity to the sun

Dimly glowing, unseen in the interstellar void lurks a newly discovered Dwarf star.  A Y dwarf that is much cooler than most known stars, it barely reaches room temperature.  It is 9 light-years distant from us – meaning that the dim light we receive from it is less than a decade old.

It was discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission – which has also revealed many more Y dwarfs further afield.

Visit NASA for more details about these stars: Y Dwarf artists impression

Press release: NASA’s WISE mission discovers coolest class of star

James.

Robots capture space station, eye the Moon

Robonaut 2 has come alive on the international space station.  Persuing its goal of claiming the moon for robot-kind it has made its first move.

Arriving on the space station in February, it initially kept a low profile, by remaining powered off.  But recently has been activated.  The other occupants of the space station seem unconcerned by its activation, and have engaged it in what the robot must consider to be play and games.

Robonaut 2 will demonstrate its prowess in space over the coming months and has already started to expand in to the sphere of social networking with a twitter account @AstroRobonaut and a Facebook account at http://www.facebook.com/NASArobonaut

Find out more about Robonaut 2 at Robonaut @ NASA

James.