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Why NASA wants to put a nuclear power plant on the moon

PUBLISHED SUN, NOV 15 202010:00 AM EST
KEY POINTS
  • NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy will seek proposals from industry to build nuclear power plants on the moon and Mars to support its long-term exploration plans.
  • The goal is to have a flight system, lander and reactor in place by 2026.
  • The facility will be fully manufactured and assembled on Earth, and tested for safety.
  • The nuclear power plants will provide enough electrical power to establish an outpost on the moon or Mars.
 

Illustration of a nuclear fission power system concept on the Moon.

Illustration of a nuclear fission power system concept on the Moon.
NASA

NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy will seek proposals from industry to build a nuclear power plant on the moon and Mars to support its long-term exploration plans. The proposal is for a fission surface power system, and the goal is to have a flight system, lander and reactor in place by 2026.

Anthony Calomino, NASA’s nuclear technology portfolio lead within the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said that the plan is to develop a 10-kilowatt class fission surface power system for demonstration on the moon by the late 2020s. The facility will be fully manufactured and assembled on Earth, then tested for safety and to make sure it operates correctly.

 

Afterwards, it will be integrated with a lunar lander, and a launch vehicle will transport it to an orbit around the moon. A lander will lower it to the surface, and once it arrives, it will be ready for operation with no additional assembly or construction required. The demonstration is expected to last for one year, and could ultimately lead to extended missions on the moon, Mars, and beyond.

“Once the technology is proven through the demonstration, future systems could be scaled up or multiple units could be used together for long-duration missions to the moon and eventually Mars,” Calomino said. “Four units, providing 10 kilowatts of electrical power each, would provide enough power to establish an outpost on the moon or Mars. The ability to produce large amounts of electrical power on planetary surfaces using a fission surface power system would enable large-scale exploration, establishment of human outposts, and utilization of in situ resources, while allowing for the possibility of commercialization.”

NASA is working on this with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), a nuclear research facility that’s part of the DOE’s complex of labs. But is the plan realistic, and is delivery possible six years from now? According to Steve Johnson, director of the Space Nuclear Power and Isotope Technologies Division at the Idaho National Laboratory, the answer is “yes.”

“We are able to leverage years of research and development work on advanced fuels and materials as well as recent commercial space transportation advances to reduce risk to the schedule, to meet the 2026 date,” Johnson said. “We really are striving to bring the commercial nuclear industry innovation to the table to work with NASA and the aerospace industry utilizing existing technologies.”

Calomino said that the technologies that are critical to the success of this project are a nuclear reactor, power conversion, heat rejection and space flight technology.

 

How the nuclear plant will work

“A low enriched form of nuclear fuel will power the nuclear core,” he said. “The small nuclear reactor will generate heat that is transferred to the power conversion system. The power conversion system will consist of engines that are designed to operate on reactor heat rather than combustible fuel. Those engines use the heat, convert it to electric power that is conditioned and distributed to user equipment on the lunar and Martian surfaces. Heat rejection technology is also important to maintain the correct operating temperatures for the equipment.”

Johnson said that in addition to the research and development that has taken place over the past several decades, the existing physical infrastructure dedicated to creating the nuclear reactor, power conversion, heat rejection and space flight technology will make the 2026 timeline attainable.

“We can utilize existing facilities and technical expertise resident at our national laboratories to support this important initiative to meet the country’s timeline,” he said. “At INL, we are supporting a future industry/partnership effort in the coming months to design this demonstration reactor, bringing together aerospace, nuclear and power companies for this monumental effort.”

 

A photo of the moon taken by SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft in orbit.

A photo of the moon taken by SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft in orbit.
SpaceIL

Calomino said that the agency has partnered with the DOE, and they will jointly define mission and system requirements. The INL will manage development contracts for the fission surface power lunar system, including its reactor and shield, power conversion system, heat rejection system, and power management and distribution system.

“The fission surface power system will be designed to operate at around 10 kilowatts of electrical power for around 10 years,” he said, adding that 10 kilowatts is roughly equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power three or four large households. 

Calomino said that the laboratory issued a request for information to gauge industry interest and solicit designs for the project. It received 22 written responses from large and small companies, all from the aerospace, nuclear, and power conversion sectors.

While he didn’t give the names of any of these companies, he would say that the companies were all experienced in making nuclear reactors, developing spaceflight technology, and manufacturing the specialized equipment that will be needed for this particular project. He added that NASA and the DOE plan to release another request for proposals, related specifically to nuclear fission power, in early 2021. Future contract award values are still to be determined.

“The government plans to award multiple short-term contracts to develop a preliminary design, then a subsequent large contract for the final flight hardware development,” he said. “The project anticipates that companies will form teams to address all technology areas required to develop this unique and complex power system.”

Calomino said that the project is so complex because it requires the integration of different organizational engineering skill sets.

“Companies that specialize in nuclear reactor development may not have corporate knowledge or experience developing spaceflight equipment or power conversion systems,” he said. “Additionally, there may be other specialized communications equipment, sensors, power conversion technology, and heat transfer technology that is obtained most efficiently by forming partnerships.”

Is a nuclear reactor safe on the moon?

The idea of a nuclear reactor on the moon may seem unusual to the general public — or even dangerous. Andrew Crabtree, founder of the Get Into Nuclear employment agency, said that while there were many factors to consider in this effort, the issue of whether it’s safe to use nuclear power in space is not one of them.

“Nuclear energy has been used in space numerous times before,” Crabtree said. “Atomic energy has been operating on the moon since the flight in November 1969 of Apollo 12 successfully withstanding immense temperature variations. Apollo 12 marked the first use of a nuclear electrical power system on the moon.”

He also said that people with concerns about keeping space free of pollution should rest easy.

“Before you say something like, ‘We shouldn’t be polluting space with nuclear waste,’ know that almost every single space mission you’ve ever heard of has used radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which have Plutonium-238 as their electricity source.”

Shel Horowitz, a profitability and marketing consultant for green businesses said that putting a nuclear power plant on the moon would be a boondoggle and a wholly unnecessary one at that.

“With the rapidly falling cost of truly clean power from the sun, wind, and small-scale hydro, plus the growing efficiencies we’ve achieved through conservation, there is no reason to go through a lengthy, expensive, and fraught process,” he said. “We can meet our energy needs without this.”

In response, Calomino said that this project could very well call for the use of the same renewable energy sources cited by Horowitz. Other missions conducted in the future may require them as well, but there are unique challenges to operating in space that may make using renewable energy sources impractical, if not impossible.

“These missions could call for a variety of solar, battery, radioisotope and fission power systems to enable a wide range of demanding requirements,” he said. “Fission surface power is necessary in places where solar power, wind and hydro power are not readily available. On Mars, for example, the sun’s power varies widely throughout the seasons, and periodic dust storms can last for months. On the moon, the cold lunar night lingers for 14 days, while sunlight varies widely near the poles and is absent in the permanently shadowed craters. In these challenging environments, power generation from sunlight is difficult and fuel supply is limited. Fission surface power offers a lightweight, reliable and efficient solution.”

Steve Melink, the author of Fusion Capitalism: A Clean Energy Vision For Conservatives, and founder and CEO of Melink Corp., a company that promotes renewable energy for the commercial building industry, said that there were other factors to consider as well.

“When, not if, something goes wrong, how will we fix the problem, especially if it is an urgent one?” he asked. “Nuclear power is so complicated that anticipating every foreseeable problem will require parts, technicians, and supplies that would not seem feasible for generations to come.”

He recommended that NASA use solar photovoltaics, which he said are already being used in space to generate power, and which he described as a practical solution.

 
Fission surface power is necessary in places where solar power, wind power, and hydro power are not readily available.
 Anthony Calomino
NASA’S NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO LEAD WITHIN THE SPACE TECHNOLOGY MISSION DIRECTORATE

“The cost has come down so much in the last 10 years that utilities, businesses, and schools everywhere here on Earth are installing it over other available options,” he said of solar photovoltaics. “There are no catastrophic risks like meltdowns, radioactive contamination and complete power failures. Solar is the ultimate solution to ensure redundancy and expandability over time.”

Despite these concerns, Calomino said that safety has been NASA’s priority all along. The project still has to undergo the National Environmental Policy Act’s approval process, which includes evaluating the project’s environmental effects, and the power system will be designed so that nuclear fuel will not even be activated until it’s on the moon’s surface.

“Unlike terrestrial reactors, there is no intention for fuel removal or replacement,” he said.

Calomino said that at the end of its 10-year mission, there’s also a plan to retire the facility safely.

“At the end of life, the system will shut down, and radiation levels will gradually diminish to safe levels for human access and handling,” he said. “The used systems could be moved to a remote storage location where they would not pose any threat to the crew or environment.”

 

An artist's conception of a human Mars base, with a cutaway revealing an interior horticultural area

An artist’s conception of a human Mars base, with a cutaway revealing an interior horticultural area
Source: NASA

Dr. Jose Morey, chief medical innovation officer at Liberty BioSecurity, said that even if there’s an incident at the facility on the moon, it poses little risk to Earth. This is because the planet is protected by an atmosphere that blocks out the sort of deadly radiation generated in outer space.

“There are various forms of radiation, and cosmic rays are some of the most deleterious, and the universe is awash in it,” he said. “There are also all other forms of radiation abundantly found throughout.”

Dr. Morey added that some of the companies that have expressed interest in participating in this effort include Blue Origin, and BWXT. Blue Origin would not provide a comment to CNBC, and BWXT did not return requests for comments.

“It is a mix of general energy engineering companies, traditional aerospace companies, and new aerospace players as well,” he said.

While this endeavor is only in its opening stages, it suggests that the nuclear energy industry is still exploring new frontiers. Despite the complex political nature of the nuclear power issue, Dr. Morey said that its advantages make it ideal for powering U.S. efforts in space.

“Nuclear energy has always been a very clean form of energy and extremely effective,” he said. “Realistically, it will be pivotal to deep space exploration, and more importantly, to humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. This new dawn of space exploration will see a resurgence in the nuclear industry until the next form of efficient, clean energy is discovered.”

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Breeding stock?

I see the boys in NASA got their mini chopper up and it's  doing a low level scan of Mars surface..  

This always comes up when someone spends THEIR money on something THEY want. How many of you take a Vacation every year to some sunny resort for a week or 2 or more?  Well that money could feed a

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I wonder if the seeds will become available outside of China.

Crops bred in space produce heavenly results
by Staff Writers
Beijing (XNA) Nov 16, 2020

china-vegetable-grown-from-seeds-cultivated-in-space-hg.jpg
Gourds and other crops have been grown from seeds cultivated in space.

Humanity's desire for high-yielding crops is as old as civilization itself.

In China, this is best illustrated by the fact that 41 of the nation's 56 ethnic groups have their own myths about the creation of fertile seeds, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Ethnic Literature.

The Dong ethnic group believes that seeds were bestowed by deities showing compassion to mortals, while according to the folklore of the Wa ethnic group, they were spat out by a world-devouring snake slain by the Heaven God.

Now, modern technologies have produced quality seeds from an equally fantastic source-outer space.

These seeds have produced a range of crops, from tomato vines that can sprawl across 150 square meters of land and bear 10,000 fruits, to giant black-eyed pea sprouts measuring nearly a meter long, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, or CASTC.

This progress has been achieved through space-induced mutation breeding, also known as space mutagenesis.

In China, hundreds of varieties of space crops have been planted nationwide. They are a key pillar supporting food security, as well as an innovative approach to improving farmers' yields and combating rural poverty.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

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SpaceX launches four astronauts to ISS
By Issam Ahmed and Ivan Couronne
Washington (AFP) Nov 16, 2020

spacex-dragon-crew-1-falcon1-night-launch-hg.jpg

Four astronauts were successfully launched on the SpaceX Crew Dragon "Resilience" to the International Space Station on Sunday, the first of what the US hopes will be many routine missions following a successful test flight in late spring.

Three Americans -- Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker -- and Japan's Soichi Noguchi blasted off at 7:27 pm (0027 GMT Monday) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, thus ending almost a decade of international reliance on Russia for rides on its Soyuz rockets.

US President-elect Joe Biden hailed the launch on Twitter as a "testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination," while President Donald Trump called it "great."

Vice President Mike Pence, who attended the launch with his wife Karen, called it a "new era in human space exploration in America."

The Pences joined NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and his wife Michelle to watch the launch, clapping as the rocket lifted off.

The capsule successfully separated from the second stage of the rocket and, according to a SpaceX team member speaking over radio, had achieved "nominal orbit insertion."

That means the capsule is currently on the right trajectory to reach the ISS.

The crew will dock at their destination at around 11:00 pm Monday night (0400 GMT Tuesday), joining two Russians and one American onboard the station, and stay for six months.

In May, SpaceX completed a demonstration mission showing it could take astronauts to the ISS and bring them back safely, a landmark development allowing the US to begin travelling to the space station under its own power once more.

The Crew Dragon earlier this week became the first spacecraft to be certified by NASA since the Space Shuttle nearly 40 years ago.

It is a capsule, similar in shape to the spacecraft that preceded Space Shuttle, and its launch vehicle is a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

At the end of its missions, the Crew Dragon deploys parachutes and then splashes down in water, just as in the Apollo era.

NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing after shuttering the checkered Space Shuttle program in 2011, which failed in its main objectives of making space travel affordable and safe.

The agency will have spent more than $8 billion on the Commercial Crew program by 2024, with the hope that the private sector can take care of NASA's needs in "low Earth orbit" so it is freed up to focus on return missions to the Moon and then on to Mars.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, has leapfrogged its much older rival Boeing, whose program has floundered after a failed test of its uncrewed Starliner last year.

- Russians unimpressed -

But SpaceX's success won't mean the US will stop hitching rides with Russia altogether, said Bridenstine.

"We want to have an exchange of seats where American astronauts can fly on Russian Soyuz rockets and Russian cosmonauts can fly on commercial crew vehicles," he said, explaining it was necessary in case either program was down for a period of time.

The reality, however, is that space ties between the US and Russia -- one of the few bright spots in their bilateral relations -- have frayed in recent years, and much remains uncertain.

Russia has said it won't be a partner in the Artemis program to return to the Moon in 2024, claiming the NASA-led mission is too US-centric.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's space agency has also repeatedly mocked SpaceX's technology, and this summer announced Roscosmos would build rockets that surpass Musk's.

He told a state news agency he was unimpressed with the Crew Dragon's water landing, calling it "rather rough" and saying his agency was developing a methane rocket that will be reusable 100 times.

But the fact that a national space agency feels moved to compare itself to a company is arguably a validation of NASA's public-private strategy.

SpaceX's emergence has also deprived Roscosmos of a valuable income stream.

The cost of round-trips on Russian rockets had been rising and stood at around $85 million per astronaut, according to estimates last year.

- Presidential transition -

Presidential transitions are always a difficult time for NASA, and the ascension of Joe Biden in January is expected to be no different.

The agency has yet to receive from Congress the tens of billions of dollars needed to finalize the Artemis program.

Bridenstine has announced that he will step down, in order to let the new president set his own goals for space exploration.

So far, Biden has not commented on the 2024 timeline.

Democratic party documents say they support NASA's Moon and Mars aspirations, but also emphasize elevating the agency's Earth sciences division to better understand how climate change is affecting our planet.

 

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How to watch the 2020 Leonid meteor shower at its peak

josh-photo1.jpg?quality=85&strip=all&w=1
By Josh K. Elliott  Global News
Posted November 16, 2020 1:34 pm
Photo dated 18 November 1999 shows a Leonid meteor storm over the Azrak desert, 90km east of Amman.
Photo dated 18 November 1999 shows a Leonid meteor storm over the Azrak desert, 90km east of Amman. JAMAL NASRALLAH/AFP via Getty Images
  •  

Skywatchers with big coats and a bit of patience can expect to see some shooting stars in the sky this week, thanks to good conditions for the Leonid meteor shower.

The annual meteor shower is expected to peak overnight Monday and into early Tuesday, with 10-15 meteors streaking across the sky per hour, according to NASA. The show is expected to run until the end of month, although fewer “stars” will be visible after this week’s peak.

Viewing conditions will be particularly good this week because the moon is just a sliver in the night sky, according to the International Meteor Organization.

The Leonids are known for occasionally producing spectacular meteor storms of more than 1,000 per hour, although stargazers haven’t seen a super-charged show like that since 2002.

 

The best way to catch this year’s event is to head outside after midnight local time, provided the sky is clear of clouds. NASA recommends bundling up, facing east and then lying on your back so you can look up at the sky.

It takes most people about 30 minutes for their eyes to adapt to the dark, at which point you should be attuned to the sky and the flicker of meteors.

“Be patient,” NASA says. “The show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”

The meteor shower gets its name for Leo, the constellation through which the meteors seem to pass.

 

The meteors are actually bits of comet dust left behind by Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which orbits the sun on a 33-year loop. Dust from the comet burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, creating pinpoints of light that we call shooting stars.

  •  

The mega-showers are thought to occur once every 33 years due to the comet’s orbit. One of the most famous Leonids showers occurred in 1966, when witnesses said the sky appeared to be “raining stars.”

 

A similar shower occurred in 1866.

Shower of meteors (Leonids) observed over Greenwich, London, 1866 (1884). From Sun, Moon and Stars by Agnes Giberne.
Shower of meteors (Leonids) observed over Greenwich, London, 1866 (1884). From Sun, Moon and Stars by Agnes Giberne. Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

Stargazers who miss the Leonids will get another chance to catch a meteor shower next month.

The Geminid meteor shower occurs every December, and is said to be the strongest meteor shower of the year, according to the International Meteor Organization. The meteors are bright and slow, and this year’s event will occur while the moon is virtually invisible, making it much easier to see other objects in the sky.

The Geminids are slated to peak overnight from Dec. 13-14.

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1 hour ago, Malcolm said:

 bundling up, facing east and then lying on your back so you can look up at the sky.

The only reason for such a position is with the  expectation that I have an appointment with  a millionaire sexual nymphomaniac who has indicated that she wants to have my body..........

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speling
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1 hour ago, Kip Powick said:

The only reason for such a position is with the  expectation that I have an appointment with  a millionaire sexual nymphomaniac who has indicated that she wants to have my body..........

"Oldtimers" ? 😀

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CAE acquires Flight Simulation Company

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  • Expands CAE’s addressable market of customers including commercial cargo operators
  • Low integration complexity within CAE’s existing European footprint

MONTREAL, Nov. 16, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — (NYSE: CAE; TSX: CAE) – CAE today announced that it has acquired all the issued and outstanding shares of Flight Simulation Company B.V. (FSC) for a cash consideration of approximately €70 million (approximately C$108 million) paid to the sellers, calculated on the basis of an enterprise value of €100 million (approximately C$155 million).

The acquisition expands CAE’s ability to address the training market for customers operating in Europe, including airline and cargo operators. It provides CAE with an expanded portfolio of customers and an established recurring training business which is highly complementary to CAE’s network. FSC is based in Amsterdam and includes a modern fleet of mainly CAE-built full-flight simulators (FFSs) and training devices, comprised of nine narrow body B737 and A320 FFSs, two widebody aircraft FFSs and one regional jet. This acquisition is consistent with CAE’s internal acquisition criteria and capital allocation priorities, similar to its other recent bolt-on acquisitions, and is expected to be accretive to earnings in its first full year.

“CAE is well positioned in the current environment, with access to bolstered capital resources, to enhance its market presence with selective, value-based acquisitions within its core. The acquisition of FSC will allow CAE to better support its customers and expand its addressable market,” said Marc Parent, CAE’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

 

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Fantasy to Reality: NASA Pushes Electric Flight Envelope
by Mike Giannone Glenn News
Cleveland OHf (SPX) Nov 20, 2020

nasa-electric-aircraft-starc-abl-single-aisle-turboelectric-hg.jpg
An artist's rendering of the STARC-ABL concept electric aircraft Credits: NASA

Cleaner, quieter, more affordable flight is a focus for NASA aeronautics researchers who are currently pursuing aircraft propulsion technologies that could soon benefit the planet, the flying public, and American industry. These efforts include overcoming several hardware challenges, while also developing enabling technologies, to take commercial electric-powered flight from the realm of hopeful fantasy to an everyday reality.

To that end, NASA's work in Electrified Aircraft Propulsion (EAP) is focused on the use of electric motors and generators to help power a plane's flight. While smaller aircraft (two-seaters and drones) have flown using all-electric systems, the agency's EAP research team is leading the agency's broader focus on hybrid and turboelectric systems, which combine turbine engines and electric power, under the Advanced Air Transport Technology (AATT) project.

"The technology being developed will potentially graduate to flight demonstration in NASA's new Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration Project," said Jim Heidmann, AATT manager at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "We're working with external partners to flight test a suite of electrified propulsion technologies that make them viable candidates for future commercial transport aircraft."

Getting Down to Flight-Weight
Machines that convert fuel to electricity, drive fans, and engines can lead to new designs that reduce fuel and energy usage in aircraft. Quieter electric motors can slash noise pollution around airports. And since electrical power can be distributed more flexibly across the aircraft, more aerodynamically efficient designs are possible, which could further reduce the amount of energy used during a trip, saving fuel and cutting costs.

While the proposed savings are worth pursuing, electrified systems require additional machines, power electronics, cables, batteries, and protective systems that add significant weight to the aircraft, offsetting any benefits of an electric system. That means that the aerodynamic performance must overcome this weight, and that the new electrical systems must be more efficient even at reduced size and weight.

Getting systems flight-ready requires an array of new technologies.

"It takes about 45 megawatts (MW) to power a large commercial aircraft," said Heidmann. "NASA is looking at concepts that use electrical power to contribute about 2.4 MW toward that total. That is enough electrical power to run a small township, to put it in perspective. There is a fuel-burn-reduction benefit if we can achieve this, but there are significant technical challenges to getting there."

Succeeding to a Fault
Plenty of hard work and challenges remain for NASA and its many partners.

"What will drive the success of electrification in aircraft are key technologies like advanced machines, power electronics, and fault management devices," said Amy Jankovsky, EAP technologies project manager at NASA Glenn. "And advancements in soft magnetic materials and insulation are key to all of these areas."

Fault management provides safety for aircraft systems. Flight-ready circuit interrupters shut off if they detect dangerous faults such as overloads or electric shorts. This stops the ?ow of electricity to or from an arcing or failing component until the problem is corrected.

"Circuit-breakers for use onboard commercial aircraft must be strong enough to stop megawatts of energy," said Jankovsky. "They need to be able to respond in microseconds; and, perhaps the biggest challenge, they need to be ten times lighter than anything currently in existence."

Key to any electric power system are magnets. How soft a magnet is refers to how easily it can be magnetized. For aircraft, new magnetic alloys can help reduce weight and improve ef?ciency. NASA researchers have found a way to create flexible ribbons of specially designed material that can produce a one-mile long, 5-millimeter wide ribbon of soft magnetic alloy. These custom magnetic materials have properties that can be used in speci?c components including power converters, motors, and sensors.

By combining NASA-engineered electric power plants and newly developed components, the environment can expect to get a healthy boost from the flying public. If NASA has its way, by the mid-2030s airports will be quieter, air will be cleaner, and flying will still be fast, efficient and, most importantly, safe.

"In a general sense, we are focused on three key areas. The environment, aircraft efficiency, and the U.S. economy," said Heidmann. "Based on our research and the best science available, I'm convinced that electrification is a solution that can deliver a cleaner and quieter aircraft."

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I have a friend who bought one of the first electric cars ever built in Canada.😉

One day he mentioned that one of his first trips was from Toronto to Miami and the total cost for electricity was only $1.47.....

He failed to mention that the extension cord cast him $4,139.87.

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3 hours ago, deicer said:

It's a shame that is has collapsed.  

We can only hope that they either rebuild or construct another elsewhere to continue the scientific research of our universe.

 

I could almost agree but the unit in question was not looking at our universe it was looking way beyond at distant galaxies.   I hope we instead concentrate on our Universe and provide the funds to do so as we might just need a lifeboat (the way earth is going). Knowledge of what is beyond our universe is interesting but likely will never serve any useful purpose.   

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Boeing contemplates equity sale, other options to ease US$61B debt

 

  • Calgary Herald
  • 5 Dec 2020
  • JULIE JOHNSSON
img?regionKey=IyKlvCV9skzPOnJoDj1s6A%3d%3dBOEING Lower production of the 787 Dreamliner plane and the potential need to sell stock is compounding the pressure on Boeing.

Boeing Co. is studying an equity sale and other ways to ease a debt burden that has soared to US$61 billion this year amid the worst slump in aviation history.

Adding to the financial stress, Boeing will trim output of its 787 Dreamliner to five planes a month by mid-2021, one less than previously planned, chief financial officer Greg Smith said Friday. Boeing didn't deliver any of the marquee wide-body jets last month and December shipments will be slow as the company inspects each aircraft for manufacturing flaws, Smith said.

Lower Dreamliner output and the potential need to sell stock underscore the pressure on Boeing even as the company's best-selling jetliner, the 737 Max, emerges from a 20-month grounding. The plane maker took on more than US$30 billion in debt earlier this year to shore up liquidity as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, gutting demand for air travel and new aircraft.

“When it comes to capital deployment, it will be all about paying down that debt,” Smith said at a Credit Suisse Group AG conference. “We'll continue to invest in the business, but we've got to get this debt balance down. And we'll look at every opportunity to do that in the most efficient way, including equity.”

The shares fell 1.89 per cent to US$232.71 at the close in New York on Friday. Boeing soared 64 per cent from the end of October through Thursday, buoyed by the Max's return and optimism that domestic travel will snap back next year.

The Chicago-based company has sufficient reserves to see it through months of tumult until coronavirus vaccines are widely distributed, Smith said. And Boeing is laying plans for its response if the post-pandemic recovery unleashes pent-up demand, as predicted by Ryanair chief executive officer Michael O'leary as his airline ordered 75 Max jets Thursday.

Boeing is already prepared to speed up deliveries of the 450 Max planes that it built but couldn't deliver during the global grounding, Smith said.

The value of the company's inventory has soared 40 per cent to US$87 billion since the initial Max accident in October 2018.

“The constraint there won't be our ability to deliver. It's the pace and the ability for the customers to take them,” Smith said. “So we can turn that up pretty significantly, and we're resourced, and the teams are trained and ready to do that.”

Demand for the 787 has been particularly hard hit, with international travel down 90 per cent from a year ago. Boeing has repeatedly slowed work on the Dreamliner from the record 14-jet monthly pace it adopted last year. Inspections and repairs of previously disclosed structural flaws are also hampering deliveries of newly built Dreamliners, Smith said.

As a result, undelivered aircraft are starting to stack up around Boeing's factories and in a storage lot in the California desert. It will take the plane maker through 2021 to clear them from its inventory, Smith said.

“The upshot is that the recovery is volatile and uneven, especially for international travel,” Citigroup Inc. analyst Jon Raviv said in a note to clients. “The financial impact is that cash usage is even worse this year due to very low 787 deliveries.”

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'Treasure box' with 1st underground samples from an asteroid lands on Earth

 

Samples of asteroid Ryugu collected by Japanese spacecraft on mission that started in 2014

The Associated Press · Posted: Dec 07, 2020 8:09 AM ET | Last Updated: 2 hours ago
 
space-exploration-japan-hayabusa2.JPG
In this handout image from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a member of JAXA collects Hayabusa2's capsule carrying the first extensive samples of an asteroid after it landed in Australia on Dec. 6. (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/Handout via Reuters)
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A small capsule from Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully landed in a sparsely populated desert in the Australian Outback on Sunday with samples from the asteroid Ryugu. After a preliminary inspection, it will be flown to Japan for research.

The high precision required to carry out the mission thrilled many in Japan, who said they took pride in its success. The project's manager, Yuichi Tsuda of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, called the capsule a "treasure box."

 

Here's a look at the significance of the project and what comes next.

What is the Hayabusa2 mission?

Launched on Dec. 3, 2014, the unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down twice on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 300 million kilometres away from Earth. The asteroid's extremely rocky surface forced the mission's team to revise landing plans, but the spacecraft successfully collected data and soil and rock samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.

In its first touchdown in February 2019, the spacecraft collected surface dust samples, similar to NASA's recent touch-and-go grab by OSIRIS-REx on the asteroid Bennu. Hayabusa2 later blasted a crater into the asteroid's surface and then collected underground samples from the asteroid, a first for space history.

In late 2019, Hayabusa2 left Ryugu. That year-long journey ended Sunday.

Japan hopes to use the expertise and technology used in the Hayabusa2 in the future, perhaps in its 2024 MMX sample-return mission to a Martian moon.

Why an asteroid?

Asteroids orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets. They are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may contain clues about how Earth evolved. Scientists say that requires studying samples from such celestial objects.

Ryugu in Japanese means "Dragon Palace," the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.

Japan's research into asteroids also may contribute to resource development and to finding ways to protect Earth from collisions with big meteorites, said Hitoshi Kuninaka, JAXA's vice-president.

 
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This February 2019 image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency shows the shadow, center above, of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu. (JAXA via AP)

What's inside the capsule?

The pan-shaped capsule, which is about 40 centimetres in diameter, contains soil samples taken from two different sites on the asteroid. Some gases might also be embedded in the rocks. The preliminary inspection at a lab in Australia was to extract and analyze the gas. The capsule is due to return to Japan on Tuesday. It will be taken to JAXA's research centre in Sagamihara, near Tokyo.

What can asteroid samples tell us?

Scientists say the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid's surface, contain data from 4 billion o 6 billion years ago unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in studying organic materials in the samples to learn about how they are distributed in the solar system and if or how they are related to life on Earth.

JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said he believes analysis of the samples may help explain the origins of the solar system and how water helped bring life to Earth. Fragments brought back from Ryugu can also tell its collision and thermal history.

After about a year, some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international scientists. About 40 per cent of them will be stored for future research. JAXA mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said just 0.1 gram of the sample can be enough to conduct the planned research, though he said more would be better.

Why is Hayabusa such a big deal for Japan?

Hayabusa2 is a successor of the original Hayabusa mission that Japan launched in 2003. After a series of technical setbacks, it sent back samples from another asteroid, Itokawa, in 2010. The spacecraft was burned up in a failed re-entry, but the capsule made it to Earth.

Many Japanese were impressed by the first Hayabusa spaceship's return, which was considered a miracle given all the troubles it encountered. JAXA's subsequent Venus and Mars missions were also flawed. Tsuda said the Hayabusa2 team used all the hard lessons learned from the earlier missions. Some members of the public who watched the event shed tears as the capsule successfully entered the atmosphere, briefly flaring into a fireball.

 
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Hayabusa2's capsule carrying the first extensive samples of an asteroid lit up as it entered the Earth's atmosphere on Dec. 6. (Kyodo/via REUTERS)

What's next?

About an hour after separating from the capsule at 220,000 km from Earth, Hayabusa2 was sent on another mission to a smaller asteroid, 1998KY26. That is an 11-year journey one-way. The mission is to study possible ways to prevent big meteorites from colliding with Earth.

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Dec. 7, 2020
RELEASE 20-121
 

NASA Defines Science Priorities for First Crewed Artemis Landing on Moon

Image from the cover of the Artemis III Science Definition Team Report
 
 
 

NASA has identified the agency’s science priorities for the Artemis III mission, which will launch the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024. The priorities and a candidate set of activities are included in a new report.

The Artemis III Science Definition Team, which comprises federal employees and consultants with expertise in lunar science, began meeting in September to define compelling and achievable science objectives for all aspects of the Artemis III mission, including sampling strategies, field surveys, and deployable experiments.

The Moon often is referred to as the cornerstone of the solar system, and these high-priority investigations will help scientists better understand fundamental planetary processes that operate across the solar system and beyond. In addition, the team prioritized investigations that will help NASA understand the risks and potential resources of the Moon’s South Pole, where the agency hopes to establish its Artemis Base Camp concept by the end of the decade.

“The Moon holds vast scientific potential and astronauts are going to help us enable that science,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Even before Artemis III lands, our agency’s science and human exploration teams are working together as never before to ensure that we leverage each other’s strengths. This report helps outline a path forward toward the compelling science we can now contemplate doing on the lunar surface in conjunction with human explorers.”

Questions the team explored include how to approach investigations and key science activities on the lunar surface and how to incorporate science into the concept of operations for the crewed mission to the lunar surface. The team also solicited papers from, and drew from many existing reports outlining the highest science priorities of, the lunar science community, which has been preparing for the return of humans to the Moon’s surface for decades.

 

“Science will be integral to Artemis missions, and we look forward to planning missions of human and scientific discovery that draw on the thoughtful work of this team,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “The work NASA is already doing in science will help prepare for the Artemis III landing in 2024 and maximize the science value of having humans back on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.”

As was the experience during Apollo era of human exploration, every second of an astronaut’s time on the lunar surface will be meticulously planned, and the report will provide a resource for mission planners who will be developing crew surface activities.

Activities related to field geology, sample collection and return, and deployed experiments all are part of the necessary mix of work to advance a science program at the Moon. Collectively, this candidate set of activities will address the highest science priorities that can be achieved at the lunar South Pole.

The team also provided overarching context by assessing what science goals could be realistically executed during the Artemis III surface mission. NASA will develop a detailed mission operations plan when human landing system capabilities, a landing site, and other architectural details come into sharper focus. The procedures and operations techniques developed for Artemis III also will inform future Artemis missions.

“We wanted to bring together what was most compelling to the science community at the Moon with what astronauts can do on the lunar surface and how the two can mutually reinforce each other,” said team co-chair Renee Weber, chief scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who led the effort. “The team’s hard work will ensure we’re able to take advantage of the potential of the Artemis III mission to help us learn from the Moon as a gateway to the rest of the solar system.”

NASA’s Science and Human Exploration and Operations mission directorates will work together to integrate recommendations into the science strategy of the agency’s Artemis Plan as plans move ahead for the Artemis III crewed launch in 2024.

Artemis III has the potential to enable the science community to make significant progress on many of the identified priority science goals, including increasing our understanding of how the Moon formed and evolved, how it interacts with the Sun, and how water and other resources arrived at the Moon, are transported, and currently are preserved.

To read the full report, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/reports

For more about NASA’s Artemis program, go to:

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NASA Helps Bring Airport Communications into the Digital Age
by Margo Pierce for NASA Spinoff
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Dec 31, 2020

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Some of the best entertainment at the airport is all the action outside the window. Loaded luggage carriers zip past on their way to planes. Fuel trucks come and go. Catering trucks restock galleys. During winter, de-icing crews and snowplows add to the bustle.

This organized chaos is overseen by the ground-control managers as part of an airport-wide effort to ensure the safety of all ground operations. And as air travel has increased, the challenge of keeping track of all the moving parts has only grown.

However, a digital, wireless airport communications system developed in part by NASA is now poised to change the game.

For decades, airports have relied mainly on voice communications over unsecured radio frequencies, with landline phone calls as the only secure backup option. Going forward, the Aeronautical Mobile Aircraft Communication System (AeroMACS) will allow Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) staff in control towers to send safety-critical information digitally and securely - and should lead to shorter wait times on the tarmac.

Breaking the Language Barrier
Just how far airport technology had fallen behind became too obvious to ignore when consumer cellular service became widely available.

Passengers on the tarmac have high-speed data connections on their phones, "but the bandwidth available to a pilot on the flight deck for communications is under kilobits per second," said Declan Byrne, president of the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) Forum.

The forum, an independent industry group established to support and advocate for the adoption of AeroMACS technology, also certifies the new hardware created for airports. The FAA and other air-traffic-control authorities around the world, along with NASA, participate in the forum.

AeroMACS will eventually phase out the use of voice communication as the primary method of information sharing for airport ground operations. The new, encrypted, high-speed digital data networks will streamline communications among ground crews and air traffic controllers. Messages sent to a pilot after the plane is on the ground can include diagrams and GPS-style maps, as well as text instructions for runway navigation, gate assignment details, and surface navigation directions.

When any airplane lands now, the pilot gets on a voice network and talks to the air-traffic-control manager over a radio. "If you've got a German pilot trying to speak English to a Chinese air traffic controller, the possibility of miscommunication certainly exists," said Byrne, adding that a bad connection can compound the problem.

Aviation authorities from more than 150 countries chose and agreed to adopt the WiMAX standard. Formally adopted in 2007, WiMAX uses cellular network infrastructure that's customizable for the new frequency - the spectrum of 5091 to 5150 megahertz is reserved for safety-critical aviation communications only.

A New Hardware Toolkit
NASA engineers have been part of this process from the start. The agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland took the lead on AeroMACS testing. The center had worked on these issues previously and had extensive expertise, which made it a natural partner for the FAA. The two organizations signed a Space Act Agreement in 2007 to validate the new system and establish functional standards.

"NASA was one of the leading technology R and D agencies that validated AeroMACS," said Byrne. "The agency deployed a system and tested it. That work was essential for stakeholders in the international aviation community. It proved that this was a reliable standard they could support." To run the first aviation tests, NASA worked with the Broadband Wireless Access division of Alvarion Technologies Ltd. to modify existing WiMAX hardware. Acquired by Telrad Networks, the company was able to leverage its work with the agency to become one of the first to receive AeroMACS Wave 1 Certification, an independent validation of performance from an industry observer.

In this family of hardware, any sensors called subscriber stations will collect, transmit, and receive data. Telrad builds the base station which performs the same function as in a cellular network, routing transmissions, with GPS providing timing for the network. The company also assists with identifying the best antenna type, and placement depends on the airport configuration and signal coverage needed around the surface.

A proxy client server executes banking-level security protocols and enables user authentication to verify the sender and receiver, blocking outside intrusions. The Access Service Network gateway enables connectivity throughout the network. This complete system customized by Telrad is all that's needed to set up an AeroMACS-based wireless network.

"Airports have a dedicated frequency allocated by government regulators that is free of charge for them to use," said Yishai Amsterdamer, general manager of Telrad's Broadband Wireless Access division. "Each one can develop it for themselves."

The Israeli company, which has an office in Delmar, New York, is now working with airports around the world to customize system configurations.

Telrad has also created Star Suite, a software network management program that can support any application an airport might require.

A 20-Year Job
AeroMACS is cheaper to operate and maintain than existing voice-based infrastructure, but it will take time to transition all airports to the new technology. Each aviation authority may choose to implement it in smaller stages. So far, some U.S. airports are using the system to collect information from surveillance sensors, which will help improve aircraft tracking on runways and taxiways, explained Rafael Apaza, principal investigator for NASA's development of AeroMACS and senior communications research engineer at Glenn.

And for the first time, in 2016, NASA successfully transmitted aviation data, including route options and weather information, to a taxiing airplane over a wireless communication system. The sophisticated electronics used in airplanes are highly sensitive, so inexact wireless communication could disrupt those systems. Successfully eliminating the risk of signal interference while maintaining throughput capacity was what made this accomplishment so significant. Only then was the system proven safe for airplanes.

NASA engineers also proved that mobile assets such as emergency vehicles and laptop computers could be included in the wireless network. This will make it possible to track these assets when they're needed.

To date, more than 50 airports in about 15 different countries are using AeroMACS to replace voice with data transmission. It's estimated that it will take 20 years to transition over 40,000 airports worldwide.

When it's fully implemented, it will be able to swiftly and securely route any ground communications.

A three-month pilot program at the Beijing Airport deployed the system for mobile assets and found that using AeroMACS instead of voice commands shaved 20 minutes off the time planes were spending on the ground.

As aviation authorities such as the FAA publish AeroMACS guidelines, Telrad and other hardware providers will be able to develop new tools to support the use of wireless communication at airports. Innovation will take off, according to Amsterdamer.

"This is going to be millions of dollars in innovation. When this is adopted by the airline companies, then the business can grow."

NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. The agency's Spinoff publication profiles NASA technologies that have transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the broader benefits of America's investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer program in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

For more information on how NASA brings space technology down to Earth, visit here

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Lunar gold rush could create conflict on the ground if we don't act now
by Tony Milligan | Researcher King's College London
London, UK (The Conversation) Jan 01, 2021

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When it comes to the Moon, everyone wants the same things. Not in the sense of having shared goals, but in the sense that all players target the same strategic sites - state agencies and the private sector alike. That's because, whether you want to do science or make money, you will need things such as water and light.

Many countries and private companies have ambitious plans to explore or mine the Moon. This won't be at some remote point in time but soon - even in this decade. As Martin Elvis, Alanna Krolikowski and I set out in a recent paper, published in the Transactions of the Royal Society, this will spark tension on the ground unless we find ways to manage the situation imminently.

So far, much of the debate around exploring and mining the Moon has focused on tensions in space between state agencies and the private sector. But as we see it, the pressing challenge arises from limited strategic resources.

Important sites for science are also important for infrastructure construction by state agencies or commercial users. Such sites include "peaks of eternal light" (where there is almost constant sunlight, and hence access to power), and continually shaded craters at the polar regions, where there's water ice. Each is rare, and the combination of the two - ice on the crater floor and a narrow peak of eternal light on the crater rim - is a prized target for different players. But they occur only in polar regions, rather than at the equatorial sites targeted by the Apollo programme in the 1960s and 1970s.

The recent successful landing of Chang'e 5 by China targeted a relatively smooth landing site on the lunar nearside, but it is part of a larger, phased programme due to take China's space agency down to the lunar south pole by 2024.

India tried a more direct polar route, with its failed Chandrayaan-2 lander crashing in the same region in 2019. The Russian Roscosmos, collaborating with the European Space Agency, is also targeting the south polar region for landings late in 2021 and, in 2023, at Boguslavsky crater, as a test mission. Next, Roscosmos will aim for the Aitken Basin in the same region in 2022 on the to prospect for water in permanently shadowed areas. A number of private companies also have ambitious plans for mining the Moon for resources.

Strategic resources that aren't in the polar regions tend to be concentrated rather than evenly distributed. Thorium and uranium, which could be used for radioactive fuel, are found together in 34 regions that are areas of less than 80km wide. Iron resulting from asteroid impacts can be found within broader territories, ranging from 30-300km across, but there are only around 20 such areas.

And then there is the poster boy of lunar resources, mined in dozens of science fiction films: Helium-3, for nuclear fusion. Seeded by the Sun in the powdery crushed rock of the lunar surface, it is present in wide areas across the Moon, but the highest concentrations are found in only about eight regions, all relatively small (less than 50km across).

These materials will be of interest both to those trying to establish infrastructure on the Moon and are later targeting Mars as well as commercial exploitation (mining), or science - for example creating telescopic arrays on the lunar far side, away from the growing noise of human communications.

How then do we deal with the problem? The Outer Space Treaty (1967) holds that "the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind." States do not get to claim parts of the Moon as property, but they can still use them. Where this leaves disputes and extraction by private companies is unclear.

Proposed successors to the treatment, such as the Moon Agreement (1979), are seen as too restrictive, requiring a formal framework of laws and an ambitious international regulatory regime. The agreement has failed to gain support among key players, including the US, Russia and China. More recent steps, such as the Artemis Accords - a set of guidelines surrounding the Artemis Program for crewed exploration of the Moon - are perceived as heavily tied to the US programme.

In the worst case, this lack of framework could lead to heightened tensions on Earth. But it could also create unnecessary duplication of infrastructure, with everyone building their own stuff. That would drive up costs for individual organisations, which they would then have reasons to try to recoup in ways that could compromise opportunities for science and the legacy we leave for future generations.

Ways forward
Our best initial response may be modest, taking its cue from overlooked sites on Earth. Small terrestrial resource pools, such as lakes bordered by several villages, or fish stocks are often managed through approaches developed locally by the key players involved.

These suggest that a first step toward lunar-resource governance will be creating agreement among users. This should focus on the nature of the resources at stake, how their benefits should be distributed, and, crucially, the worst-case scenarios they seek to avoid. For example, actors will likely need to decide whether the peaks of eternal light should be managed as a patch of high-value real estate or as a volume of energy output to be shared. It may also be worth deciding on a case-by-case basis.

Another challenge will be fostering compliance with the governance arrangements that are devised. To that end, lunar users would be well advised to build shared installations, such as landing and supply facilities, to function as carrots that can be withheld from misbehaving actors. Such partial solutions will be difficult to add after a country or company has made irreversible investments in mission designs. Clearly, the time to devise these approaches is now.

 

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