When NASA's New Horizons probe made its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14, it gathered a wealth of information about the dwarf planet and its moons, but at a distance from Earth of over 3 billion mi (4.8 billion km), retrieving that data will take a very long time. To speed things up, NASA has begun an intensive download from the unmanned spacecraft that will return tens of gigabits of data over the next 12 months.
As demonstrated by the bumpy landing of ESA's Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, exploring comets, asteroids, and small moons can be difficult due to their low gravity. Not only can landing on one be like trying to alight on a trampoline, but roving around their surfaces is next to impossible because the negligible gravity offers practically no traction. To overcome this, a team of engineers is developing Hedgehog, a completely symmetrical robot rover for low-gravity exploration that moves by hopping.
Six people have begun a year-long mission to Mars without ever leaving Earth. Last week on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, the volunteers sealed themselves inside a dome habitat where they will live in isolation for one year on a simulated space mission. The fourth Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS 4) aims to study how deep space missions can maintain morale on prolonged voyages.
A new study has revealed that during the period in which the red planet's distinctive valleys supposedly formed, the Martian atmosphere may have already been too depleted to maintain the free-running water that it is believed to have carved out the geological features.
Working outside in space is a tall order. The environment is hostile, even the smallest job takes hours instead of minutes, and everything has to be done in either bulky suits or through robotic arms. It's a challenge that will become even more difficult when future astronauts are controlling robotic rovers from orbit, so ESA is getting in a bit of practice. Next month Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will take control of a rover in the Netherlands while orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station.
NASA has previously tested simple 3D-printed rocket components, such as combustion chambers and fuel injectors, but if the technique is to be practical, it has to cope with more complex items. Case in point is this 3D-printed rocket engine turbopump. Successfully built and tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the turbopump is described as "one of the most complex, 3D-printed rocket engine parts ever made."
New Horizons isn't going to get much of a rest. Following on from its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14, NASA has selected the next potential destination for the unmanned spacecraft – a planetoid called 2014 MU69 that lies a billion miles beyond Pluto's orbit. The space probe will take over three years to reach this frozen remnant of the Solar System's earliest years.
NASA is another step closer to manned deep-space missions with the completion of the latest round of RS-25 rocket engine tests. Based on the engines that sent the Space Shuttle into orbit, the new power plants will form the core of the Space Launch System (SLS).
On Aug. 26, NASA held a media teleconference regarding current predictions on sea level rise, highlighting the risks to coastal populations in low-lying areas, and the inherent problems in creating reliable global models. A panel of experts from NASA's recently-founded Sea Level Change Teamtells us that ocean levels are inexorably on the rise, but gaps in our understanding and ability to survey risk regions mean we don't know just how fast the change will take place.
NASA has been pushing the
safety features on its next-generation Orion spacecraft to the
extreme, as it carried out a dramatic parachute test. During the
test, engineers staged the failure of various components of the
descent system in order to see if it would still function, and save
the lives of a potential crew in a worst case scenario.