Elon Musk defends plan to terraform Mars following NASA report

Elon Musk is sticking to his goal of sending passengers to Mars by 2024.

After a NASA report claimed that it won’t be possible to terraform Mars by the 2030s and agreement but other researchers, Elon Musk is firing back.

“Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories,” NASA wrote in a statement. “Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars.”

But the agency claimed that “transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology well beyond today’s capabilities.”

Back in 2017, Musk said he wants to land two cargo ships on the Red Planet by 2022 and send passengers to Mars by 2024.

“I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and be ready for a launch in about five years. Five years seems like a long time to me,” he said. “Then build up the base, starting with one ship, then multiple ships, then start building out the city, then making the city bigger, and even bigger. And yeah, over time terraforming Mars and making it really a nice place to be.”

And in response to a Discovery Magazine article claiming that there isn’t enough carbon dioxide to terraform Mars, Musk disagreed.

“There’s a massive amount of CO2 on Mars adsorbed into soil that’d be released upon heating,” he said. “With enough energy via artificial or natural (sun) fusion, you can terraform almost any large, rocky body.”

There seems to be lots of science going against Musk, but he’s sticking to his guns.

Astronomers see the birth of planet for the first time

The observed PDS 70 star is 5.4 million years old and 1.25 wider than the sun.

Astronomers for the first time have seen the birth of a giant planet during its development, according to a report by SyfyWire. While astronomers have seen young planets and stars during the birth phase, but never before have they seen a clear picture of a planet in flagrante delicto – caught in the act – of being born.

For background, the planet that was observed is a star called PDS 70 that is located approximately 370 light years away. The star is part of a group of young stars known as the Scorpius Centaurus Association. These stars are in the processing stage and are the closest known group in the galaxy.

The observed star is estimated at 5.4 million years old, which is considered relatively young. The star has approximately 0.76 times the mass of the sun but is a full 1.25 times wider. It shines with only one-third of the sun’s brightness.

In 2002, it was observed to be surrounded by a disk material, which is a sign of young stars. This disk material uses small grains which collide and stick together. They eventually grow and become bigger and bigger, essentially forming the star into a protoplanet and then a new planet.

SpaceX launches flying robot head to befriend and spy on astronauts

SpaceX launched an orb-shaped flying robot head to befriend and spy on astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS).

On Friday, SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo ship destined for the International Space Station (ISS). On top of the usual supplies, the spaceship will deliver an artificially intelligent robotic head called Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON) to the astronauts.

“CIMON will be the first [artificial intelligence]-based mission and flight assistance system,” Manfred Jaumann, a payload engineer at Airbus (the aeronautics company that helped build the robot), said in a press release. He also said that CIMON will be “a free flyer, a kind of flying brain” that will interact with and learn from the astronauts.

CIMON’s first mission is to guide German astronaut Alexander Gerst through a social experiment. Afterwards, it will examine a Rubix’s Cube through a camera and give Gerst instructions to solve it. Its final task will be to record and assist Gerst perform a complicated medical experiment.

“Experiments sometimes consist of more than 100 different steps,” said Matthias Biniok, the lead architect from IBM Watson, who created the robot’s “brain.” But “CIMON knows them all,” meaning astronauts don’t have to worry about missing any steps.

The orb-shaped robot will also monitor the space station astronauts to assess their psychological “group effects” and emotional states.

“Social interaction between people and machines, between astronauts and assistance systems equipped with emotional intelligence, could play an important role in the success of long-term missions,” Airbus said.

British-led space junk mission using RemoveDEBRIS satellite set for launch

A British-led space junk mission using the RemoveDEBRIS satellite is set to launch on April 2.

The British-led space junk mission that aims to demonstrate how to salvage dangerous garbage orbiting the Earth is set to launch at 9:30 pm United Kingdom (UK) time on Monday, April 2, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

The RemoveDEBRIS satellite will be deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) and will carry a net designed to capture space litter. In addition, it will be equipped with a harpoon that can spear and haul the larger objects.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be responsible for delivering the box-like craft to the ISS.

Space debris is an issue that has been in the spotlight recently. In order to maintain the safety of current and future space assets, scientists believe that they must address the issue of controlling and reducing of this debris.

“It is important to remember that a few significant collisions have already happened,” said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre. “We believe the technologies we will be demonstrating with RemoveDEBRIS could provide feasible answers to the space junk problem – answers that could be used on future space missions in the very near future.”

“Space debris is a growing concern so it’s great to see a British university and our innovative space sector leading the way in the search for solutions,” added UK science minister Sam Gyimah.

China’s internet divided over Tiangong-1 satellite

China’s internet is arguing over the fate of the Tiangong-1 satellite.

After China lost control of the Tiangong-1 space station, experts are expecting it to crash into the Earth’s atmosphere on April 1. However, China’s internet is divided over the fate of the satellite, according to CNET.

Although most foreign publications cite a loss of control as the likely reason for Tiangong-1’s approaching self-destruction, local media says it is simply “retiring” because it completed its mission. This has led internet users into a debate on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.

Many are suspecting that Chinas’s explanation isn’t true and attacking local publications for hiding the “truth”, which is that China has lost control of Tiangong-1. On the other side of the spectrum, people are accusing these people from being “Chinese traitors” that are never satisfied with the country’s successes and suggest that foreign media publications are “spreading lies.”

The country’s experts believe that the speculation of Tiangong-1 going out of control is “overthinking,” claiming that the National Space Center says it was designed to leave orbit at the end of its lifespan.

And some are turning the event into a joke.

“Why can’t we give the space station to… kids that can’t afford to go to school,” said one user, while another suggested that Tiangong-1  could be taken by “weishang,” referring people who use the Chinese social messaging platform WeChat.

Tiangong-1 is expected to crash into the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate between March 31 and April 4.


Chinese space station is falling back to Earth

Scientists cannot predict its landing location until hours before re-entry.

A small space station launched by China in 2011 to serve as a prototype for larger, future stations, is in a decaying orbit and will fall back to Earth sometime between the end of this year and the beginning of 2018.

Capable of accommodating three astronauts, the 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 station was used for crewed and un-crewed projects and was visited in 2012 by China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang, before the country lost control of it in 2016.

For China, the space station was a symbol of its efforts to become a leading space-faring nation.

Last year, Chinese officials admitted to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space that they were no longer capable of correcting the station’s altitude and expected it to crash into Earth sometime between October 2017 and April of next year.

They agreed to carefully monitor its trajectory and report its final plunge to the UN.

Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell believes that plunge will come sooner rather than later, with the station’s rate of decay accelerating, as it has already begun entering Earth’s atmosphere.

“Now that [its] perigee is below 300 kilometers [186 miles], and it is in denser atmosphere, the rate of decay is getting higher. I expect it will come down a few months from now–late 2017 or early 2018,” he said.

Scientists will not be able to predict the space station’s landing site until about six or seven hours before the impact. While most of it will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, parts weighing up to 220 pounds (100 kg) could remain intact and impact at high speeds.

The parts are most likely to land in water, as oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface.

Predicting a landing location is impossible because atmospheric conditions at the time of re-entry can push the station from one continent to another.

Uncontrolled re-entries into the Earth’s atmosphere are hardly new, and many spacecraft larger than Tiangong-1 have fallen back to the surface, including NASA’s 77-ton Skylab station in 1979 and both the former Soviet Union’s 20-ton Salyut 7 station and the 20-ton Cosmos 1686 spacecraft to which it was docked in 1991.

No fatalities or injuries have ever been reported from any uncontrolled re-entries.

NASA researching radiation protection for future Mars astronauts

Shielding, pharmaceuticals, and faster rockets are all being studied for the protections they provide.

Committed to sending astronauts to Mars during the 2030s, NASA is actively researching technologies to protect its men and women from harmful ultraviolet radiation during their journey and stay on the Red Planet.

Radiation exposure in space is much more dangerous than it is on Earth, which is protected by its magnetic field. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have some level of protection from staying just within that magnetic field, but they are still exposed to more than ten times as much radiation as people on the surface.

Ionizing radiation in space comes from three sources–solar particle events, galactic cosmic rays, and the Van Allen Belts, which trap radiation from space.

According to NASA Space Radiation Element Scientist Lisa Simonsen, “This ionizing radiation travels through living tissues, depositing energy that causes structural damage to DNA, and alters many cellular processes.”

Protection measures as well as those that counter the effects of radiation come in various forms. Spacecraft, habitats, and space suits can be provided with shielding. Engineers are developing shielding technology at NASA’s Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) and other experimental facilities.

Devising protective shields is challenging because galactic cosmic rays are powerful enough to get through metal, plastic, cellular material, and water.

Another potential means of protection is pharmaceuticals, which some scientists believe may be more successful in protecting astronauts from galactic cosmic rays.

Methods of predicting space weather and detecting space radiation are also under development. NASA plans to equip its Orion capsule, which could one day transport astronauts to Mars, with a Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor.

The space agency has already sent a Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), which measures and identifies radiation from Mars and from space, to the Red Planet via an un-crewed mission.

RAD is capable of identifying specific protons, neutrons, energetic ions, and gamma rays.

Faster rockets will reduce the amount of time astronauts spend in space, lessening their radiation exposure.

Pat Troutman of NASA’s Human Exploration Strategic Analysis Lead noted the Red Planet is an ideal destination for astronauts because it has subsurface water ice and is known to have once been habitable for life as we know it.

“What we learn about Mars will tell us more about Earth’s past and future and may help answer whether life exists beyond our planet,” Troutman said.

“When we add the various mitigation techniques up, we are optimistic it will lead to a successful Mars mission with a healthy crew that will live a very long and productive life after they return to Earth.”


SpaceX successfully completes Falcon 9 launch, booster landing

Second launch in two days sends communication satellite into orbit.

For the second time in just three days, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket into space and returned the first stage booster, which landed on a drone ship 200 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The October 11 launch marked several milestones for the company, including the 12th first stage booster return of 2017, the 18th such return in total, and the third launch of a previously flown rocket.

Last February, this Falcon 9 transported cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

Following a 6:53 PM EDT (2253 UT) launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the first stage returned 8.5 minutes later while the second stage carried an EchoStar 105/SES-11 satellite into orbit.

That satellite is a joint project of EchoStar, a Colorado-based company, and SES, a firm in Luxembourg, which will provide North America, Hawaii, and the Caribbean with high-definition TV.

Two days earlier, on Monday, October 9, SpaceX launched 10 communications satellites for the company Iridium from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The first stage booster from that launch landed on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has frequently described his company’s goal as greatly reducing the cost of spaceflight by developing rockets that are completely reusable in as little as 24 hours.

“We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” SES CEO Martin Halliwell, whose company has previously launched satellites on Falcon 9 rockets, said in March of this year.

For EchoStar, this is the first flight on a Falcon 9.

Last month, Musk released his vision for colonizing Mars, a goal to which he views reusability as central, at the 68th  International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.



SpaceX postpones launch of communications satellite

Rescheduling could mean two back-to-back launches for the company.

Possible inclement weather and a decision to do minor repair work on its Falcon 9 rocket have led SpaceX to postpone its scheduled launch of a communications satellite from Saturday night, October 7 to sometime next week.

In a tweet, the company announced the delay in launching the SES 11/EchoStar 105 communication and television broadcast satellite.

According to an SES official, the new launch date will at the earliest be Wednesday, October 11.

SpaceX confirmed that the Falcon 9 will undergo “minor engine rework” over the next few days.

Bad weather could come from Tropical Storm Nate, which is headed toward the United States.

Weighing almost 11,500 pounds (5,200 kg), the satellite, which was constructed by the European company Airbus Defense and Space, carries a joint payload for SES and EchoStar, which signed an agreement in 2014 to collaborate on the project.

At that time, the launch date for the joint project was scheduled for late 2016.

SES will use the new satellite to operate C-band transponders that will be used for the distribution of data and video services.

After the Falcon 9 carries the satellite into an elliptical transfer orbit, a thruster on the spacecraft will guide it to a circular geostationary orbit above Earth’s equator.

The satellite will be positioned over 105 degrees west longitude, where its antennas will provide coverage for North, South, and Central America.

SpaceX has another Falcon 9 launch planned for Monday, October 9, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which will carry 10 additional Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.

Those satellites have been fueled and mounted in preparation for Monday’s launch.

While the Iridium NEXT launch will used a new Falcon 9, the SES 11/EchoStar 105 will launch with a reused booster that first launched in February 2017.

The Falcon 9 carrying SES 11/EchoStar 105 will launch from Launchpad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A static fire test of the rocket that will carry the satellite , which involves fueling it, putting it into a vertical position on the launchpad, and simulating a countdown,  was successfully completed on Monday, October 2.

For SpaceX, these will be the 14th and 15th launches of 2017. Up to five more are planned before the year’s end.

China plans unmanned Mars mission for 2020

Project is part of broader vision to transform China into a leader in space exploration.

An unmanned mission to Mars China is planning for 2020 is proceeding on target, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.

The probe will consist of a Mars orbiter along with a lander and six rovers. It will carry a total of 13 payloads, seven on the orbiter plus the rovers.

A Long March-5 rocket will launch the spacecraft from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan.

China’s first-ever Mars probe will take seven months to reach the Red Planet. At that point, the orbiter will release the lander , which will touch down Mars’ northern hemisphere and deploy the rovers, which will explore the region’s surface and also test equipment the country hopes to someday use to retrieve samples of Martian soil for return to Earth.

Sample retrieval missions are planned for sometime between 2025 and 2030.

If successful, the mission will mark an important milestone in China’s quest to lead the world in space exploration by the 2030s.

“The Mars exploration program is well underway. The payloads will be used to collect data on the environment, morphology, surface structure, and atmosphere of Mars,” said the mission’s chief architect Zhang Rongqiao.

“Chinese scientists are doing preliminary research now to anticipate the data that will be collected from Mars, so we can publish our reports faster,” he added.

Zhang presented the multi-billion dollar mission concept to the Beijing International Forum on Lunar and Deep-space Exploration on Wednesday, September 20.

Exploring Mars is a logical next step for China, which in July launched its first X-ray space telescope, which will be used to study black holes, gamma ray bursts, and pulsars. That probe launched on a Long March-4B rocket.

China is also in the process of constructing its own space station, planned to be operational in 2022 complete with lab and crew.

This past April, the country took a first step toward that goal by successfully docking a cargo spacecraft with an orbiting space laboratory.

More ambitious Chinese plans include sending orbiters to Jupiter and Uranus in 2036 and 2046 respectively.