Space

The latest news and reporting on space exploration and discovery.

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  • NASA unveils the Chariot "lunar truck"

    by 
    Nilay Patel
    Nilay Patel
    10.30.2007

    NASA sure loves the wacky vehicles, and the agency is mighty proud of its latest effort, the Chariot lunar truck. Designed from start to finish in just a year, the Chariot features 12 wheels driven by two electric motors through a two-speed transmission, allowing it to perform in a "bulldozer" mode with up to 4000 pounds of force or cruise at up to fifteen miles an hour. The modular design also means that the steel alloy frame can be fitted with several different crew / payload combinations, including a small pressurized cabin and a sample collector. There's no telling when the Chariot might be deployed, of course, but we're not going to be convinced until we see it stop a plane or drive through a swinging girder obstacle course.[Thanks, xenocide]

  • Lunar lander lifts off, then promptly crashes

    by 
    Conrad Quilty-Harper
    Conrad Quilty-Harper
    10.30.2007

    As the sole contestant in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, Armadillo Aerospace's predictably named Armadillo managed to complete two parts of a NASA challenge to win $350,000 in prize money. However, on attempting the top task -- fly 50 meters up, fly 50 meters sideways, and land -- the Armadillo tripped up, plummeting to the ground and losing the chance to win $1 million. It'll get another chance today, although at least the team won't be rushed by the non-existent competitors. Packing 1,800 pounds of thrust to the vessel's 1,500 pound weight, the Armadillo is guided by GPS and other sensors: one day we could be taking trips to the moon in the distant, distant successor to this little beast.[Via Crave]

  • Lunar Lander Challenge set to kick off with $2M at stake

    by 
    Donald Melanson
    Donald Melanson
    10.25.2007

    It looks like New Mexico's the place to be for anyone looking to catch a glimpse of a possible future mission to the moon, with the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge set to get underway tomorrow at the Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo. As an added incentive for competitors, NASA is ponying up $2M in prizes, although they'll have their work cut out for them if they want to take that home. Specifically, they need to show off a rocket-propelled vehicle and payload that "takes off vertically, climbs to a defined altitude, flies for a pre-determined amount of time, and then land vertically on a target that is a fixed distance from the launch pad." Then they have to do that all over again within a predetermined period of time. To open things up a bit, there's also two difficulty levels but, as with all challenges of this sort, no one takes home a prize unless they fully meet all the requirements.[Via Physorg, photo courtesy of X-Prize Foundation/Paragon Labs]

  • Chinese astronauts want space-based communist party branch

    by 
    Conrad Quilty-Harper
    Conrad Quilty-Harper
    10.20.2007

    Chinese astronauts want to turn the vast emptiness of space a disturbing shade of red -- and steal the solar wind's precious bodily fluids -- by establishing a space station, along with its very own branch of the Communist Party of China. China's still a long way from setting up its own space station, so General Ripper hasn't got anything to worry about just yet, although next year the country will send a three man crew into space: let us remind you that China is only the third nation on earth to achieve the feat of sending people into space. Anyway, once these "space communists" manage to set up shop in orbit, they'll be looking forward to activities such as "learning the Party's policies and exchanging opinions on the Party's decisions"; potentially including discussion of the Party's decision to send people 200 miles up, only to require they spend the whole time talking about politics.[Image credit, thanks Ebbe!]

  • Rocket Phone returns in white, maintains unsightliness

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    10.19.2007

    No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Pictured above (and after the break, for the courageous) is the inexplicably ugly Rocket Phone all dressed up in white. We know you want one, but for your own good, just pretend it's not for sale.

  • Interplanetary internet proposed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    10.17.2007

    We'll admit, we were admittedly metagrabolised after hearing that the US military wanted to launch a router into space, but now clarity is upon us. According to Vinton Cerf and a team of diligent engineers at the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, standards for space communications could be established in just three short years, meaning that an "interplanetary internet" could be just around the bend. Cerf reckons that such a system would allow Earthlings to "access information and to control experiments taking place far away" from our planet, and in the distant future, there could even be an "interplanetary backbone [erected] to assist robotic and manned missions with robust communication." And while there's no mention of setting up galactic ISPs, we're pretty certain that lonely Martians would pay a pretty penny for quasi-reliable broadband access.[Via TGDaily]

  • Space solar power potential highlighted in report

    by 
    Conrad Quilty-Harper
    Conrad Quilty-Harper
    10.14.2007

    A report into the feasibility of space-based power rigs that would beam solar power down to earth in the form of microwaves has been published, with its findings being along the lines of "yes, it'll happen, but only when the money's there." The Pentagon is itching to get its hands on the technology, which would include mirrors several miles wide focusing sunlight onto solar cells, highlighting the potential for beaming energy to remote regions of the world (read: wherever they're fighting.) The problem is more of an economic one, with the technology behind the project apparently being feasible since the 70s: only now that oil prices have tripled, and the technology has become greatly more efficient, is an actual space installation seeming realistic. In fact, we could see early efforts for the giant mirrors as soon as 2012: any bets that they'll double as death rays?

  • MIT gurus propose asteroid tether

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    09.26.2007

    Taking a stroll across the moon is one thing, but trying to get your footing on an asteroid is apparently an entirely different beast. Due to the low gravity and granular covering present on such space rocks, the professionals have been unable to get up close and personal, but MIT researchers have devised a method for roping one in so that astronauts can partake in "an in-depth exploration of its composition." Essentially, a "lightweight rope" would be wrapped entirely around a given asteroid after being launched from a "remote-controlled rocket," which would then enable the space walkers to work on the delicate surface without too much fuss. Sounds like the perfect gizmo for the wannabe space cowboy, no?[Via CNET]

  • Pricey Galactic Suite space hotel aims for 2012 opening

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    08.11.2007

    Believe it or not, booking a hotel in space may become a reality sooner rather than later, and if things go as planned, the Galactic Suite will actually be welcoming in guests sans gravity in just five short years. Folks who make the trip will be able to "see the sun rise 15 times a day and use Velcro suits to crawl around their rooms by sticking themselves to the walls," and while spas with floating water sure sounds like something we'd be interested in, the nightly fees are quite literally out of this world. How much? Try $4 million for a three-day stay -- better bring your camera, eh?[Via PCWorld, image courtesy of MSNBC]

  • Microsoft, NASA team up on 3D photo shoot of Endeavour

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    08.07.2007

    As NASA awaits the newly rescheduled launch of its latest mission, Microsoft has been busy creating a "3D montage" of the space shuttle Endeavour. According to the team, this venture will enable individuals around the globe to "view 3D images of Endeavour and surrounding buildings at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida before it launches into space." The environments are being constructed using hundreds of snapshots and an imaging technology dubbed Photosynth, which stitches together 2D digital images to give a three-dimensional view "that can be navigated and explored in a highly intuitive manner." This go 'round, it seems that the goal was simply to provide a wow-factor to remote onlookers, but both entities are reportedly "looking into ways of using this new technology to support future missions." Check out the results here.[Via PCWorld]

  • DigitalSpace shows off proposed asteroid mission plans

    by 
    Donald Melanson
    Donald Melanson
    07.30.2007

    It's already considered sending various types of robots to asteroids, but NASA apparently still has plenty more plans for dealing with near-Earth objects (or NEOs), with it recently asking Santa Cruz-based DigitalSpace Commons to develop a simulation for a manned mission. The company's plans, officially unveiled today, are based on NASA's own Constellation exploration crew vehicle, which the space agency developed for lunar missions but says can be modified for trips to NEOs. As CNET reports, DigitalSpace's planned modifications include a system that would anchor the spacecraft "like a boat in a harbor," along with a ring of sensor-equipped airbags that would detect stability on the ground. While NASA isn't saying exactly when it might attempt such a mission, DigitalSpace says it believes one could be done as soon as 2017.

  • 'Refrigerator-sized' device to be heaved into space

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    07.20.2007

    If you thought hoisting a giant banana above Texas was outrageous, you may indeed chuckle to learn that a 1,400-pound refrigerator-sized container of ammonia will be jettisoned from the International Space Station next week. On July 23rd, to be precise, Expedition 15 crew member Clayton Anderson will have the, um, privilege of heading outside in order to toss "two large hunks of unneeded equipment towards Earth," and once ejected, they will be tracked by NASA for an entire year until they finally begin to enter the atmosphere. Notably, officials are still not sure where the debris will land just yet, but if you happen to find your fridge replaced with a partially disintegrated (albeit similarly sized) container of fetid material in the next year or two, you'll know exactly what went awry.[Image courtesy of MSNBC]

  • Space Adventures offering $100 million trip to space

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    07.19.2007

    While there's long since been ways to get a piece of your mind (or your best Photoshop effort) launched into space, getting your person up there isn't exactly feasible if your pay stub isn't stamped by NASA. Now, however, Space Adventures is looking to hoist a pair of untrained civilians into space in 2008 and 2009 aboard a Soyuz craft, and the firm will soon be selling seats for the low, low price of $100 million apiece. The Lunar Mission will eventually bring you "to the other side of the moon," and while we're sure the itinerary is quite detailed considering the price of admission, the firm isn't dolling out too much more until you prove your bank account is stocking the required dough.[Thanks, Yossi]

  • DirecTV 11 to launch this December?

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    07.17.2007

    Hot on the heels of the successful launch of DirecTV 10, it seems that the next satellite has already been dated for takeoff. According to Spaceflight Now, the "Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket will carry the DirectTV 11 direct-to-home television broadcast satellite" into orbit, where it will then be used to disseminate HDTV broadcasts to subscribers. The calendar was updated on July 15th, and current estimates peg the launch to take place sometime in December. You won't find us complaining about a delightful Christmas gift from DirecTV -- in the form of more HD channels, of course.[Via SatelliteGuys]

  • MIT researchers develop stylish space BioSuit

    by 
    Donald Melanson
    Donald Melanson
    07.17.2007

    While it's far from the first attempt at a new and improved spacesuit, this so-called BioSuit from a team of researchers at MIT is certainly a lot more fashionable than some suits we've seen, not to mention a whole lot more manageable for the person wearing it. In addition to giving the astronaut greater movement, the BioSuit also promises to increase safety (with punctures able to be quickly patched), and give the wearer a workout through the use of varying resistance levels. Of course, it'll still be earthbound for quite a while, although the researchers say it should be ready in about ten years or so, potentially making it a candidate for the first human expedition to Mars.[Via Monsters and Critics, photo courtesy of MIT]

  • Leaping robots could embark on interplanetary exploration

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    07.07.2007

    Just as ASTRO and NextSat get ready for decommissioning, a duo of lightweight leapers are getting geared up to take the proverbial next step from testing to interplanetary exploration. Jollbot and Glumper, crafted by a group of mechanical engineers from the University of Bath, could provide solutions to "traveling across rough terrain, such as climbing stairs and jumping fences, that normally create obstacles for wheeled and walking robots." The machines utilize biologically inspired mechanisms that enable them to clear heights of up to 1.17-meters and capriole forward about two-meters at a time. Researchers are hoping to equip the devices with solar panels in order to keep them juiced up and ready to pounce at a moment's notice (you know, in case a stray asteroid comes zipping in), but there's been no plans made yet to get devices such as these launched into orbit.

  • ASTRO, NextSat reunite once more as Orbital Express concludes

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    07.05.2007

    It seems like it was just yesterday when ASTRO and NextSat took to the skies galaxy in hopes of making their creators proud, but now the time has come for the two to wind down and sip exotic liquids from an umbrella-adorned glass. Thankfully, this story has somewhat of a gleeful ending, though it wasn't looking so rosy just days ago; on June 27th, the two parted ways and managed to drift some seven-kilometers apart before ASTRO used its onboard camera system (and a bit of help from ground control) to navigate back to NextSat, where it then proceeded to give its space-bound buddy a theoretical noogie. Sadly, this final scenario marks the final test in DARPA's Orbital Express demonstration, which means that the two machines now have an ominous decommission plan to look forward to.[Via NewScientist]

  • Experimental space hotel hurtled into orbit

    by 
    Darren Murph
    Darren Murph
    06.29.2007

    Although we're not quite ready to pony up for a ticket to space just yet, billionaire Robert Bigelow is thinking way into the future by trialing a space hotel. Dubbed Genesis II, the inflatable module could eventually be used as a "hotel in space" or double as a manned space station, and considering that it only inflates once it settles in orbit, the cost of launching is substantially decreased. The experimental craft was successfully launched on board a Russian rocket, and has since established communications and "beamed back a series of images of its expanding solar panels." This endeavor is just the beginning, however, as Bigelow envisions a "full-scale space hotel" to be named Nautilus, and if you're interested in helping out (and making $50 million on the side), you've got three years to "design a craft capable of carrying five people to a height of 250 miles."[Image courtesy of Bigelow Aerospace]

  • NASA considering reaching out to youth through 3D moon landing game

    by 
    John Bardinelli
    John Bardinelli
    06.28.2007

    In an effort to bolster its declining image and make space exploration cool again, NASA is considering working with game development companies to create a 3D game that simulates landing on the moon. It's little more than idle brainstorming at the moment, but the company is making a considerable effort to reach out to the non-fogey crowd by setting up real estate in Second Life, streaming spacewalk videos on Twitter, and establishing a presence on Facebook.It's tough to top landing a man on the moon, which is perhaps one reason NASA isn't as popular as it once was. That and what seems like a string of blunders beginning with Challenger and continuing through the Hubble. Other than boosting interest in science, mathematics, and space in general, could a videogame make the public fall for NASA once again?And for the record, we still love you, NASA. Always have.

  • Space station computers pass final test, Atlantis to come home

    by 
    Nilay Patel
    Nilay Patel
    06.19.2007

    It's been a rocky few days in space, but it looks like the crashed Russian computers aboard the International Space Station are back up and running to spec, allowing the crew of Atlantis to depart tomorrow. There's still no word on what caused the computers -- which control vital life support systems, as well as the station's stabilizers and directional thrusters -- to fail, but the leading theory involves a surge from the new solar power array the shuttle astronauts installed. We're glad everything's okay -- but also we're totally curious as to what OS / processor combo they're running up there.