Space

United Launch Alliance preps for the return of manned space missions from Cape Canaveral

Space company United Launch Alliance is busily preparing for the return of manned missions from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. “Human spaceflight can inspire the public and inspire scientists in a way that no other activities can,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno told Fox News. “It means so much to us to have human spaceflight from American soil returning Americans to space, I cannot begin to tell you what that means to myself and my team.” United Launch Alliance is involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew program that will take American astronauts into space on missions launched from U.S. soil. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA recently named the nine American astronauts that will crew the test flights and first missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Starliner will launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket from ULA’s Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. “We have added a Crew Access Tower that allows the astronauts to arrive at the height above the ground where they will enter their capsule,” Bruno said. “It also has a Crew Access Arm that can swing out, with its White Room, and allow them to get access to that capsule, and then pull away so that the rocket can take off and leave.” A longstanding feature of human spaceflight, White Rooms are specially-designed areas that prevent contaminants from getting into the spacecraft. Astronauts also use White Rooms to make final phone calls to their families before blasting off into space. ULA has also built an escape system that employs a sophisticated zipline-type technology, enabling astronauts and launch pad personnel to quickly evacuate the tower in the event of an accident. “That would allow them to very quickly exit that area to a safe distance,” Bruno explained. Crew for the Starliner test flight are NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu-Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson. The first Boeing mission to the International Space Station will be crewed by NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Suni Williams. Boeing plans to do an uncrewed flight test of its CST-100 Starliner later this year or early next year.

ULA is right here in Colorado, in what those of us here call the “DTC area.”    🙂

NASA created a rare, exotic state of matter in space

NASA has cooled a cloud of rubidium atoms to ten-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, producing the fifth, exotic state of matter in space. The experiment also now holds the record for the coldest object we know of in space, though it isn’t yet the coldest thing humanity has ever created. (That record still belongs to a laboratory at MIT.) The Cold Atom Lab (CAL) is a compact quantum physics machine, a device built to work in the confines of the International Space Station (ISS) that launched into space in May. Now, according to a statement from NASA, the device has produced its first Bose-Einstein condensates, the strange conglomerations of atoms that scientists use to see quantum effects play out at large scales. “Typically, BEC experiments involve enough equipment to fill a room and require near-constant monitoring by scientists, whereas CAL is about the size of a small refrigerator and can be operated remotely from Earth,” Robert Shotwell, who leads the experiment from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the statement. Despite that difficulty, NASA said, the project was worth the effort. A Bose-Einstein condensate on Earth is already a fascinating object; at super-low temperatures, atoms’ boundaries blend together, and usually-invisible quantum effects play out in ways scientists can directly observe. But cooling clouds of atoms to ultra-low temperatures requires suspending them using magnets or lasers. And once those magnets or lasers are shut off for observations, the condensates fall to the floor of the experiment and dissipate. In the microgravity of the ISS, however, things work a bit differently. The CAL can form a Bose-Einstein condensate, set it free, then have a significantly longer time to observe it before it drifts off, NASA wrote — as long as 5 or 10 seconds. And that advantage, as Live Science previously reported, should eventually allow NASA to create condensates far colder than any on Earth. As the condensates expand outside their container, they cool further. And the longer they have to cool, the colder they get.

Fascinating!!  For more, click on the text above.      🙂

New radio telescope picks up mysterious signal from space

A new radio telescope in Canada is doing its job picking up mysterious signals from deep space known as “fast radio bursts” (FRBs). The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) in British Columbia detected the first-ever FRB at frequencies below 700 MHz on July 25, a signal named FRB 180725A. As you might guess, FRBs are milliseconds-long bursts of radio emissions that come from some unknown source across the universe. They’re one of the newer cosmic mysteries around, having been first detected only about a decade ago. Possible explanations include bursts from magnetars, exploding black holes, and yes, highly advanced alien civilizations. CHIME has been operating for less than a year and is designed to gather data on FRBs and other unanswered questions in astrophysics. The detection of FRB 180725A is very preliminary at this point. It was announced in an online “Astronomer’s Telegram” post intended to encourage other astronomers “to search for repeated bursts at all wavelengths.” The announcement also notes that additional FRBs have been found in the past week at frequencies as low as 400 MHz and early indications suggest they aren’t coming from known sources on Earth. So far only one FRB has been observed repeating and researchers say whatever is sending that signal across the universe is stupendously powerful. It’s early days for both the study of FRBs and this FRB in particular. CHIME and other observatories will be keeping an ear to the sky for more clues to help solve the mystery.

Things that make ya’ go, “hmmmm..”     🙂

How to Watch the Longest ‘Blood Moon’ Eclipse of the Century

Get ready for a celestial double feature unlike anything seen in decades: Mars is about to make its closest approach to Earth in 15 years—just as the full moon blushes red in the longest “blood moon” eclipse of the century. Both the moon and Mars will dominate the overnight hours on July 27 and into the morning of July 28, traveling across the sky beside each other while appearing to be separated by only five degrees, equal to the width of three middle fingers held at arm’s length. On the 27th, the red planet will swing the closest it has come to Earth since August 2003, allowing sky-watchers around the world to see our neighboring world about as big and bright it can ever get in our skies. And while you shouldn’t expect Mars to look as big as the full moon, as many online hoaxes in past years have suggested, you will also get to see the actual moon painted red as it undergoes a total lunar eclipse. During a total eclipse, sunlight shining through Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum as it is cast onto the moon’s surface. As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color when the eclipse starts to a reddish-orange color during totality. At 1 a.m. ET (5:00 UT) on July 27, Mars will reach what astronomers call opposition. This is when the sun, Earth, and Mars are aligned in a straight path, so that Mars appears to rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west, making the sunlit side of the planet visible all night long. Mars reaches opposition only once every 26 months, when Earth manages to overtake the planet in its tighter track around the sun. But unlike Earth’s more circular orbit, Mars’s path around the sun is fairly elliptical. That means the distance between the two worlds varies, making some oppositions better than others. Mars will make its closest approach to Earth for this year on July 31, coming just 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) away. Such a close approach just a few days after opposition means the July 27 alignment will be your best bet to see the red planet shine its biggest and brightest until 2035. The previous best encounter occurred 15 years ago, when Mars was a record-breaking 35 million miles (56 million kilometers) distant. Such an epic encounter won’t happen again until 2287. In addition to offering beautiful views, opposition has traditionally set the stage for robotic invasions of Mars. Because of Mars’s proximity and alignment with our planet, the time around opposition is the best for sending spacecraft, saving travel time and fuel costs. For instance, NASA’s Insight lander launched on May 5 and is headed for a Mars landing this November. Many keen-eyed onlookers may have already noticed the fiery planet growing brighter in our night skies the past few months, making it easy to spot with nothing more than the naked eye. To track down the warrior planet for yourself, go outside after dusk on any clear night and look for the bright beacon rising above the eastern horizon. Mars will glide high over the southern sky throughout the night, setting in the west by dawn. Most of the time, Mars is not much to look at through a telescope, but that changes during opposition, when the planet becomes a disk filled with tantalizing features. Even a small telescope with about a six-inch mirror will be able to tease out surface details like the southern ice cap (where astronomers may have just found an underground lake) and distinct, dark regions that are windswept, rocky fields. However, a colossal dust storm has been raging for the past two months on Mars and has enveloped most of the planet, which means telescope views have been a bit hindered. But you can plainly see the effect of all this dust with the naked eye: Mars currently appears to shine with a more yellowish tinge rather than its usual rusty orange hue. Also on July 27, fortunate sky-watchers in South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia will get to see at least part of the longest-lasting total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The entire event will last nearly four hours, with the maximum eclipse lasting for one hour, 42 minutes, and 57 seconds from 19:30 to 21:13 UTC. North Americans will mostly miss out on this lunar eclipse, as the moon will not have risen yet. But the lunar display can be observed in its partial phases rising over South America, western Africa, and Europe and setting over Eastern Asia and Australia. The entire eclipse will be visible from eastern Africa and central Asia.

Bummer we probably won’t be able to see it.  But, it’ll be streamed live online.  For more, click on the text above.

Liquid water lake discovered on Mars

A massive underground lake has been detected for the first time on Mars, raising hopes that more water — and maybe even life — exists there, international astronomers said Wednesday. Located under a layer of Martian ice, the lake is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) wide, said the report led by Italian researchers in the US journal Science. It is the largest body of liquid water ever found on the Red Planet. “Water is there. We have no more doubt,” co-author Enrico Flamini, the Italian space agency’s Mars Express mission manager, told a press conference. Mars is now cold, barren and dry but it used to be warm and wet. It was home to plenty of liquid water and lakes at least 3.6 billion years ago. Scientists are eager to find signs of contemporary water, because such discoveries are key to unlocking the mystery of whether life ever formed on Mars in its ancient past, and whether it might persist today. “This is a stunning result that suggests water on Mars is not a temporary trickle like previous discoveries but a persistent body of water that provides the conditions for life for extended periods of time,” said Alan Duffy, an associate professor at Swinburne University in Australia, who was not involved in the study. Being able to access water sources could also help humans survive on a future crewed mission to Earth’s neighboring planet, with NASA aiming to send explorers in the 2030s.

The debate is finally over!  For more, click on the text above.   🙂

Pentagon sees quantum computing as key weapon for war in space

Top Pentagon official Michael Griffin sat down a few weeks ago with Air Force scientists at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to discuss the future of quantum computing in the U.S. military. Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has listed quantum computers and related applications among the Pentagon’s must-do R&D investments. Quantum computing is one area where the Pentagon worries that it is playing catchup while China continues to leap ahead. The technology is being developed for many civilian applications, and the military sees it as potentially game-changing for information and space warfare. The U.S. Air Force particularly is focused on what is known as quantum information science. “We see this as a very disruptive technology,” said Michael Hayduk, chief of the computing and communications division at the Air Force Research Laboratory. Artificial-intelligence algorithms, highly secure encryption for communications satellites and accurate navigation that does not require GPS signals are some of the most coveted capabilities that would be aided by quantum computing. Hayduk spoke last week during a meeting of the Defense Innovation Board, a panel of tech executives and scientists who advise the secretary of defense. The DIB met at the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley location, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. Quantum computers are the newest generation of supercomputers — powerful machines with a new approach to processing information. Quantum information science is the application of the laws of quantum mechanics to information science, Hayduk explained. Unlike traditional computers that are made of bits of zero or one, in quantum computers bits can have both values simultaneously, giving them unprecedented processing power. “The Air Force is taking this very seriously, and we’ve invested for quite a while,” Hayduk said. The Pentagon is especially intrigued by the potential of quantum computing to develop secure communications and inertial navigation in GPS-denied and -contested environments. “It’s a key area we’re very much interested in,” said Hayduk. Some of these technologies will take years to materialize, he said. “In timing and sensing, we see prototype capabilities in a five-year timeframe.” Communications systems and networks will take even longer. Quantum clocks are viewed as a viable alternative to GPS in scenarios that require perfect synchronization across multiple weapons systems and aircraft, for example, said Hayduk. “We’re looking at GPS-like precision in denied environments,” he said. “It often takes several updates to GPS throughout the day to synchronize platforms. We want to be able to move past that so if we are in a denied environment we can still stay synchronized.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to watch what other nations are doing. China is “very serious” about this, he said. It is projected to invest from $10 billion to $15 billion over the next five years in quantum computing. China already has developed quantum satellites that cannot be hacked. “They have demonstrated great technology,” said Hayduk. In the U.S., “we have key pieces in place. But we’re looking at more than imitating what China is doing in ground-satellite communications. We’re looking at the whole ecosystem: ground, air, space, and form a true network around that.”

Fascinating!  For more, click on the text above..

Trump’s Space Force Will Guard the U.S. From Above, NASA Chief Says

NASA’s administrator is a strong defender of President Donald Trump’s proposals for space — including an armed force and a permanent presence on the moon — and says he wants Americans to realize how much their well-being depends on what happens far above Earth. “Every banking transaction requires a GPS signal for timing,” Jim Bridenstine said in an interview. “You lose the GPS signal and guess what you lose? You lose banking.” “If you look at what space is, it’s not that much different than the ocean,” added Bridenstine, who made 333 aircraft-carrier landings as a Navy pilot. “It’s an international domain that has commerce that needs to be protected.” Bridenstine was in his third term representing a congressional district in Oklahoma when Trump nominated him to lead the $21 billion space agency. He was confirmed in the spring despite criticism over his lack of scientific or engineering experience and his previous statements questioning climate change science — though he said in hearings that human activity was the chief cause of global warming. Last summer, when he was still in Congress, Bridenstine supported a measure that would have created a “space corps.” It passed the House but was removed from the final defense spending bill. Then last month, Trump called for the Pentagon to develop a sixth branch of the American armed services that would protect national and commercial interests in space. Trump’s surprise announcement caught Pentagon officials and members of Congress off guard. The Defense Department already has several major programs in the works and the Air Force has contended that a new branch was not necessary for space defense. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who once took part in a space shuttle mission, tweeted: “generals tell me they don’t want” it and “now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart.” How to establish U.S. security in space has been debated for at least two decades. An independent commission — led by Donald Rumsfeld before he became defense secretary — reported in 2001 that “in the longer term it may be met by a military department for space.” Some 60 different agencies within the defense establishment play roles in space-related work, said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That may slow the realization of Trump’s goal. “This isn’t going to happen quickly.” Harrison said.

Indeed..  For more, click on the text above.