Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

Exploring a distant moon usually means trundling around its uniquely inhospitable surface, but on icy ocean moons like Saturn’s Enceladus, it might be better to come at things from the bottom up. This rover soon to be tested in Antarctica could one day roll along the underside of a miles-thick ice crust in the ocean of a strange world.

It is thought that these oceanic moons may be the most likely on which to find signs of life past or present. But exploring them is no easy task.

Little is known about these moons, and the missions we have planned are very much for surveying the surface, not penetrating their deepest secrets. But if we’re ever to know what’s going on under the miles of ice (water or other) we’ll need something that can survive and move around down there.

The Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration, or BRUIE, is a robotic exploration platform under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. It looks a bit like an industrial-strength hoverboard (remember those?), and as you might guess from its name, it cruises around the ice upside-down by making itself sufficiently buoyant to give its wheels traction.

“We’ve found that life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top. Most submersibles have a challenging time investigating this area, as ocean currents might cause them to crash, or they would waste too much power maintaining position,” explained BRUIE’s lead engineer, Andy Klesh, in a JPL blog post.

Unlike ordinary submersibles, though, this one would be able to stay in one place and even temporarily shut down while maintaining its position, waking only to take measurements. That could immensely extend its operational duration.

While the San Fernando Valley is a great analog for many dusty, sun-scorched extraterrestrial environments, it doesn’t really have anything like an ice-encrusted ocean to test in. So the team went to Antarctica.

The project has been in development since 2012, and has been tested in Alaska (pictured up top) and the Arctic. But the Antarctic is the ideal place to test extended deployment — ultimately for up to months at a time. Try that where the sea ice retreats to within a few miles of the pole.

Testing of the rover’s potential scientific instruments is also in order, since in a situation where we’re looking for signs of life, accuracy and precision are paramount.

JPL’s techs will be supported by the Australian Antarctic Program, which maintains Casey station, from which the mission will be based.


TechCrunch

NASA has added five companies to the list of vendors that are cleared to bid on contracts for the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. This list, which already includes nine companies from a previous selection process, now adds SpaceX, Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. All of these companies can now place bids on NASA payload delivery to the lunar surface.

This basically means that these companies (which join Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper Laboratory, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and OrbitBeyond) can build and fly lunar landers in service of NASA missions. They’ll compete with one another for these contracts, which will involve lunar surface deliveries of resources and supplies to support NASA’s Artemis program missions, the first major goal of which is to return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024.

These providers are specifically chosen to support delivery of heavier payloads, including “rovers, power sources, science experiments” and more, like the NASA VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), which is hunting water on the Moon. All of these will be used both to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface for astronautics to live and work from, as well as key research that needs to be completed to make getting and staying there a viable reality.

Artist’s concept of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander

NASA has chosen to contract out rides to the Moon instead of running its own as a way to gain cost and speed advantages, and it hopes that these providers will be able to also ferry commercial payloads on the same rides as its own equipment to further defray the overall price tag. The companies will bid on these contracts, worth up to $ 2.6 billion through November 2028 in total, and NASA will select a vendor for each based on cost, technical feasibility and when they can make it happen.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announced at this year’s annual International Astronautical Congress that it would be partnering with Draper, as well as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, for an end-to-end lunar landing system. SpaceX, meanwhile, revealed that it will be targeting a lunar landing of its next spacecraft, the Starship, as early as 2022 in an effort to help set the stage for the 2024-targeted Artemis landing.


TechCrunch

NASA issues a new formal request for info from industry specifically around spacesuits. The agency is hoping to gather information in order to help it figure out a future path for acquisition of spacesuit production and services from external industry sources.

That doesn’t mean it’s outsourcing its spacesuit design and production immediately – NASA will build and certify its own spacesuits for use in the first Artemis missions, including Artemis III which is the one that’ll see the next American man and the first American woman take their trip to the lunar surface. But for Artemis missions after that, of which there are currently five more proposed (Artemis 4 through 8), four of which will have crew on board.

NASA has of course already worked with private industry, as well as academic institutions and researchers, on the technologies that will go into its own space suits. And the agency fully expects that the current exploration suit will form the basis of any future designs. It is however looking to fully transition their prouduction and testing to industry partners, and will additionally expect those partners to “facilitate the evolution of the suits” and also suggest improvements on the existing suit design.

On top of the suits, NASA is looking for input on tools and support hardware to be used with the suits, during extra-vehicular activities, or in making sure the suits work well with the vehicles that’ll be transporting them, as well as the lunar gateway that will act as the staging ground between Earth and the Moon’s surface.

Finally, NASA also would like to hear from companies about how to better commercialize spacesuits and spacewalks – making them available to customers outside of the agency itself, as well.

This isn’t surprising given how many signals NASA has been giving lately that it’s interesting in partnering with industry more deeply across both Artemis, future Mars exploration, and the ISS (and its potential commercial successor). The full RFI issued by NASA is available here, in case you’re interested in spinning up a spacesuit startup.


TechCrunch

Fans of sci-fi and fringe tech may already be familiar with the idea of the “space elevator,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — and totally impossible with today’s technology. But a pair of scientists think they’ve found an alternative: a Moon elevator. And it’s slightly less insane… technically.

The idea of the space elevator, first explored in detail by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel “The Fountains of Paradise,” is essentially a tower so tall it reaches space. Instead of launching ships and materials from the surface of the Earth to orbit, you just put them in the elevator of this tower and when they reach the top, somewhere about 26,000 miles up in geosynchronous orbit, they’re already beyond gravity’s pull, for all intents and purposes.

It’s a fun idea, but the simple fact is that this tower would need to be so strong to support its own weight, and that of the counterweight at the far end, that no known material or even reasonably hypothetical one will do it. Not by a long shot. So the space elevator has remained well on the “fiction” side of science fiction since its first proposal. Hasn’t stopped people from patenting it, though.

But what if I told you that we could make a space elevator even bigger, with materials available today? You’d say I am completely unqualified to engineer such a structure — and you’d be right. But two astronomers from Cambridge and Columbia Universities think they’ve got an alternative. They call it the Spaceline.

The secret is in abandoning the entire concept of anchoring the space elevator to the surface of the Earth. Instead they propose a tower or cable extending the other direction: From the surface of the Moon to geosynchronous orbit around the planet.

Unsurprisingly, this idea has been put out there before, as early as the ’70s. But as Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford put it in their paper:

We present the derivations herein as a full standalone mathematical and physical description of the concept, one that we and authors before us have been surprised to find is eminently plausible and may have been overlooked as a major step in the development of our capacity as a species to move within our solar system.

diagram

Math by Cambridge and Columbia. Diagram by MS Paint.

In other words, others have suggested it before, but they did the math. And it actually works out. And it might only cost a few billion dollars.

The Spaceline would be more like a skyhook than a tower. A thin, strong piece of material (think the width of a pencil lead) that extends about 225,000 miles from the surface of the Moon to a safe distance above the planet, where it won’t interfere with satellites or encounter our pesky atmosphere.

Anyone interested in going to the Moon would simply launch to the correct orbit height and sync up with the tip of the Spaceline, where there would no doubt be a station of some kind. From there they could use solar-powered propulsion to zip along the line, no fuel required. At the other end, they simply slow down and have a soft landing at lunar orbit or whatever surface facility we put on the regolith there.

Importantly, the Spaceline would pass through the Earth-Moon Lagrange point, where there is effectively zero gravity and no other physical interference, making construction and storage a snap.

Having only a small team of scientists and engineers at such a base camp would allow hand construction and maintenance of a new generation of space based experiments – one could imagine telescopes, particle accelerators, gravitational wave detectors, vivariums, power generation and launch points for missions to the rest of the solar system.

Sounds nicer than the tiny Lunar Gateway NASA has planned.

While the researchers say this is “not idle theorycrafting,” it most certainly is, with the caveat that the theory is more realistic than a famously unrealistic one no one takes seriously. Still, the possibility is tantalizing now that someone has crunched the numbers. Perhaps one of these space-bound billionaires will make a Moon elevator their next passion project.


TechCrunch

Toyota will work with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a fuel cell Moon rover vehicle, with a target launch date of a Moon mission currently set for 2029. The two previously announced their collaboration, but on Tuesday they signed a formal agreement which defines a three-year joint research agreement to co-develop pressurized lunar rover prototypes.

Each year will see the partnership focus on a different phase of the prototype’s development, with 2019 all about identifying technical requirements and drawing up spec docs; next year, the goal will be to build test parts and then actually putting together a rover prototype; finally, in fiscal 2021, the partners will test both the rover parts and rover prototype in order to evaluate the results for potential full production.

The pressurized rover will be able to transport astronauts over 10,000 km using its onboard fuel cells and solar recharging mechanism, according to a press release detailing the concept from March, prior to today’s development partnership agreement. It would have a total seating capacity of two people, with the option to carry as many as four if there’s an emergency need to do so.

It’s about the size of two microbuses, according to Toyota, which means about 20 feet long, by 17 feet wide and 12.5 feet tall. The six-wheeled concept also features deployable solar panels for recharging, ample communications equipment and a front winch for getting itself out of jams another potential applications.

JAXA intends to launch a series of lunar missions, including 2007’s Selene (or ‘Kayuga’), which sent an orbiter and a pair of communication satellites to lunar orbit. Ultimately, JAXA’s goal is to host a series of uncrewed and human missions under a broader Lunar Exploration Program with the ultimate aim of establishing a presence for Japanese astronauts in a combined international lunar outpost program.


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