This artist’s concept shows the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), designed to test landing technologies for future Mars missions. A balloon will lift the vehicle to high altitudes, where a rocket will take it even higher, to the top of the stratosphere, at several times the speed of sound. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A saucer-shaped vehicle that could help NASA land big payloads on the surface of Mars is about to take to the skies for the first time.
NASA hopes to launch its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle — which the agency has dubbed its own “flying saucer” — Thursday (June 5) from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. The balloon-aided liftoff was originally scheduled for today (June 3), but the weather did not cooperate.
“After years of imagination, engineering and hard work, we soon will get to see our Keiki o ka honua, our ‘boy from Earth,’ show us its stuff,” LDSD project manager Mark Adler, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. [NASA’s Inflatable Flying Saucer for Mars Landings (Photos)]
A field snapshot in June. Reds are strong; blues are weak. The view is dominated by the core contribution
Europe’s Swarm space mission has begun making maps of Earth’s magnetic field. Data just released shows how the field generated in the planet’s liquid outer core varies in strength over the course of a few months. Swarm’s early assessment appears to support the prevailing view that this magnetic cloak in general is weakening. Many experts believe it heralds a flip in the poles, where north becomes south and vice versa, although it would take thousands of years to complete. The European Space Agency’s Swarm mission was launched last November. It comprises three satellites that are equipped with a variety of instruments – the key ones being state-of-the-art magnetometers that measure field strength and direction. They fly in a configuration that offsets one platform from the other two. The intention is that this should provide a three-dimensional view of the field, and make it easier to tease apart its various components. In the release this week from Esa, we get a view that is dominated by the contribution (95%) from the core. But eventually, Swarm will have the sensitivity to describe magnetism from other, more subtle sources, including that generated by the movement of our salt-water oceans.
Change in the field since January. Reds are a strengthening; blues are a weakening
The maps on this page use the magnetic unit of a nanoTesla. Earth’s field typically has a full strength of some 50,000nT. The maps illustrate a snapshot (in June) and the change that occurs through time (January to June). In the latter, field strength is seen to drop over the western hemisphere but rise in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean. Earth’s magnetic field is worthy of study because it is the vital shield that protects the planet from all the charged particles streaming off the Sun. Without it, those particles would strip away the atmosphere, just as they have done at Mars. Investigating the magnetic field also has direct practical benefits, such as improving the reliability of satellite navigation systems which can be affected by magnetic and electrical conditions high in the atmosphere. “I started my career in magnetometry and the accuracy we had then in the laboratories was less than what we can fly in space now,” explained Prof Volker Liebig, the director of Earth observation at Esa. “So what we have on Swarm is fantastic, but we need long time series to understand fully the Earth’s magnetic field, and we will get that from this mission,” he told BBC News.
The Swarm fly high above the Earth in a configuration that offsets one satellite from a pair of spacecraft
Has the Earth already been mapped by Aliens? Do Aliens even exist? Some people say yes, others no. Here’s an interesting perspective from one of NASA’s astronauts including Story Musgrave and SETI’s Seth Shostack. http://youtu.be/MBK6eHWbwNc Follow @AnimalXTV
07 May 2014 by Jacob Aron
Magazine issue 2968. Subscribe and save
IN THE hunt for life on Mars, it’s time to pull out the heavy artillery. A non-profit group has proposed a mission that involves showering Mars with bunker-busting missiles that would penetrate deep into the ground but deliver probes, not warheads.
On Mars, preserved traces of microbes could lurk in deep subsurface ice, where they would be shielded from harsh cosmic radiation. NASA’s Curiosity rover has a drill, but it only penetrates a few centimetres. “Curiosity doesn’t go very deep – it is literally scratching the surface,” says Chris Carberry, executive director of the non-profit group Explore Mars, based in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Future missions will go deeper but will have limited capabilities. NASA’s InSight lander mission, set for 2016, features a “mole” designed to dig down 5 metres, but it won’t be searching for life. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, due to launch in 2018, will drill down 2 metres in search of traces of life, but it can only explore a single Martian region.
That’s why Explore Mars last week appealed for funds for a project called Exolance, which would scatter small, lightweight projectiles across the Red Planet. Each missile would carry scientific instruments and would keep in radio contact with Earth.