It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected seven technology proposals for continued study under Phase II of the agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. The selections are based on the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities or significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.
The selected proposals address a range of visionary concepts, including metallic lithium combustion for long-term robotics operations, submarines that explore the oceans of icy moons of the outer planets, and a swarm of tiny satellites that map gravity fields and characterize the properties of small moons and asteroids.
NASA has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc., (TUI) for three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards for materials that can be recycled on the International Space Station (ISS), an anchoring system that would allow rovers to explore rough terrain on other worlds, and a gimbal that would assist balloons in exploring the atmospheres of Venus and Titan.
Now that there is a 3D printer on the station, TUI is interested in developing cargo ship packing materials that can be easily recycled into feed stock for the printer.
“TUI proposes to develop Customizable Recyclable International Space Station Packaging (CRISSP), which is a set of materials, formats, and design methodologies optimized both for (1) the economic and mechanical requirements for ISS supplies packaging and (2) being efficiently recyclable onboard the ISS into high performance 3D printer feedstock,” the proposal states. “A range of packaging formats will be evaluated for use, including common bubble-wrap, foams, folded and thermoformed shells, and parametric cellular additively-manufactured boxes that can be readily optimized for specific payloads and launch environments.”
TUCSON, Ariz. (PSI PR) — Microprobes that piggyback on Mars-bound spacecraft could investigate areas currently unavailable to surface instruments, a Planetary Science Institute researcher said.
The payload could be steered to scientifically desired targets during the gliding phase, enabling a wide variety of enticing research locations including canyons, fresh impact crater sites, volcanic region and glaciers, PSI’s Rebecca M.E. Williams said during a poster presentation today at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.
Video Caption: What would a submarine to explore the liquid methane seas of Saturn’s Moon Titan look like? This video shows one submarine concept that would explore both the shoreline and the depths of this strange world that has methane rain, rivers and seas! The design was developed for the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, by NASA Glenn’s COMPASS Team, and technologists and scientists from the Applied Physics Lab and submarine designers from the Applied Research Lab.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 12 proposals for study under Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, which aims to turn science fiction into fact through pioneering technology development.
The selected proposals cover a wide range of imaginative concepts, including:
a submarine to explore the methane lakes of Titan;
using neutrinos to perform measurements for the icy moons of the outer planets; and,
a concept to safely capture a tumbling asteroid, space debris, and other applications.
NSC PR — TILLAMOOK, OR — Near Space Corporation (NSC), a leading innovator of terrestrial and planetary exploration balloon technology, has received a Phase Two NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award to fund work that will help enable future airborne exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan. NSC’s winning proposal was among 85 selected from a total pool of 428 submissions.
Climate change and suborbital spaceflight The same day that commercial spaceflight supporters were celebrating the development of Spaceport America, a new study concluded that suborbital flights that facility will host could alter the planetâ€™s climate. Jeff Foust examines the latest research and some of the issues associated with the study. The mysteries of Titan Thirty years ago this week Voyager 1 made the first close flyby of Titan, Saturnâ€™s largest moon and one of the most intriguing worlds in the solar system. Andrew LePage recounts the research into Titan and the planning that led up to that encounter.
Space solar powerâ€™s Indian connection As the United States and India seek closer ties, should space-based solar power be on the agenda? Jeff Foust reports on developments in that field, including a new joint initiative supported by a former Indian president.
Planetary scientists have been puzzling for years over the honeycomb patterns and flat valleys with squiggly edges evident in radar images of Saturn’s moon Titan. Now, working with a “volunteer researcher” who has put his own spin on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, they have found some recognizable analogies to a type of spectacular terrain on Earth known as karst topography. A poster session today, Thursday, March 4, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, displays their work.
Bold New Missions to Jupiter and Saturn Planned Space.com
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are pushing ahead with proposals to send ambitious missions to explore Jupiter, Saturn and the many moons that circle both planets, the two space agencies announced Wednesday.
Data collected during several recent flybys of Titan by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have put another arrow in the quiver of scientists who think the Saturnian moon contains active cryovolcanoes spewing a super-chilled liquid into its atmosphere. The information was released during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Calif.
“Cryovolcanoes are some of the most intriguing features in the solar system,” said Rosaly Lopes, a Cassini radar team investigation scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “To put them in perspective – if Mount Vesuvius had been a cryovolcano, its lava would have frozen the residents of Pompeii.”
“Athena Coustenis, an astrophysicist and planetologist with the Paris Observatory, is helping draft a plan to send a hot air balloon to Titan, as well as an orbiting spacecraft and a surface probe. Called TSSM â€“ the Titan and Saturn System Mission â€“ this three-tiered approach to exploration could shed more light on the still-mysterious moon.”
â€œ’Titan is the best place to go with a balloon because of the atmosphere,’ says Coustenis. Although the atmosphere of Titan is filled with a smoggy orange hydrocarbon haze, it is primarily composed of nitrogen â€“ just like Earthâ€™s. In fact, Astrobiologists think Titanâ€™s atmosphere may be quite similar to how the Earthâ€™s was billions of years ago, before life on our planet generated oxygen.”