Lockheed Martin unveils reusable water-powered Mars lander

Lockheed Martin’s human spaceflight systems engineer Danielle Ritchey, left, speaks during a presentation of a planned mission to Mars at the 68th International Astronautical Congress 2017 in Adelaide on September 29. (AFP)
Updated 29 September 2017
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Lockheed Martin unveils reusable water-powered Mars lander

ADELAIDE, Australia: A reusable, water-powered Mars lander that will allow humans to explore the Red Planet from an orbiting ‘base camp’ as early as the 2030s was unveiled Friday by US defense giant Lockheed Martin.
Governments and private firms are collaborating on projects to send humans to new frontiers, with NASA planning missions next decade into the space between Earth and the Moon to prepare for trips to Mars.
Lockheed Martin has been working on its “Mars Base Camp”, a science laboratory that will orbit the planet, with the crewed lander set to descend to the surface on repeated missions.
“It looks a bit like Jules Verne, but it’s actually more like an aircraft that we’ve flown in the past,” Lockheed Martin’s human spaceflight strategy chief Rob Chambers said, at a gathering of the world’s leading space experts in the Australian city of Adelaide.
Up to four astronauts could join each two-week surface mission, while liquid hydrogen generated from water would fuel the spacecraft, he added.
“We can create that fuel. We can power this entire spacecraft system just with water,” said Chambers, describing it as a “water-based economy”.
Lockheed Martin is among several companies working on deep space habitats with NASA, which hopes to send the first astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.
Chambers called the Mars vision “a transformational event for our generation”, adding: “It’s literally (the) dawn of the new age of discovery about ourselves and about our solar system and about our place in it.”
The International Astronautical Congress concludes on Friday with a presentation by SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who will outline a new design for an interplanetary transport system to take humans to Mars.


‘Touch the sun’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

Updated 13 August 2018
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‘Touch the sun’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a NASA spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before.
If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, in November. In the years ahead, it will gradually get within 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometers) of the surface, its instruments protected from the extreme heat and radiation by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wizardry.
Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to our star during the seven-year, $1.5 billion journey.
“Wow, here we go. We’re in for some learning over the next several years,” said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.
It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind — the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.
This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person.

As Parker and thousands of others watched, a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried the probe aloft, thundering into the clear, star-studded sky on three pillars of fire that lit up the middle-of-the-night darkness.
NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe — the size of a small car and well under a ton — racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth.
A Saturday morning launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. But Sunday gave way to complete success.
It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor. He said it was like looking at photos of the Taj Mahal for years and then beholding the real thing in India.
“I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don’t know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years,” Parker said on NASA TV.
Among the mysteries scientists hope to solve: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius)? And why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker theorized in 1958?
“The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun,” said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University. “We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there.”
A better understanding of the sun’s life-giving and sometimes violent nature could also enable earthlings to better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, along with the power grids so vital to today’s technology-dependent society, said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief.
Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.
By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour). Nothing from planet Earth has ever gone that fast.
Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission’s derring-do.
“To me, it’s still mind-blowing,” she said. “Even I still go, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’“
The 8-foot (2.4-meter) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft’s scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.
A mission to get up close and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds and durable enough to withstand the punishing environment.
“We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” Fox said.