Tag: mars rover

How to make oxygen on Mars: Nasa plans to use oxygen cocktail to support human colony

An Indiana firm is developing a method to make oxygen on Mars for Nasa. Bacteria and algae will use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen. Mars could be scattered with biodomes containing the organisms. And future astronauts could use this oxygen to survive on the surface (artist's illustration shown)
An Indiana firm is developing a method to make oxygen on Mars for Nasa. Bacteria and algae will use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen. Mars could be scattered with biodomes containing the organisms. And future astronauts could use this oxygen to survive on the surface (artist's illustration shown)

Excerpt from dailymail.co.uk
  • An Indiana firm is developing a method to make oxygen on Mars for Nasa
  • Bacteria and algae will use Martian soil as fuel to pump out oxygen
  • Mars could be scattered with biodomes containing the organisms
  • And future astronauts could use this oxygen to survive on the surface

If humans land on Mars in the 2030s as planned, one thing that will be essential to their survival will be self-sufficiency, as they won’t be able to take too much cargo with them.

With this in mind Nasa is testing whether oxygen can be created from Martian soil, without having to carry it all the way from Earth.

The innovative method would see bacteria or algae use the soil as fuel, pumping out usable oxygen in the process for astronauts on the surface.

Nasa has been working with Techshot Inc of Greenville, Indiana to develop this method in a so-called ‘Mars room’, which mimics the conditions on the red planet.
It is able to simulate the atmospheric pressure on the planet, in addition to the day-night temperature changes and the solar radiation that hits the surface.

In experiments, certain organisms were capable of producing oxygen from Martian soil - known as regolith - and they also removed nitrogen from it. 

‘This is a possible way to support a human mission to Mars, producing oxygen without having to send heavy gas canisters,’ said Eugene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot.

‘Let’s send microbes and let them do the heavy-lifting for us.’
The research is part of the Nasa Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Programme.

It’s envisioned that biodomes could be scattered across the surface to produce the oxygen needed for humans to survive.

The oxygen produced could also be stored for later use.

But while experiments on Earth are all well and good, the scientists want to test their method actually on Mars in the near future.

The 'Mars room', shown, is able to simulate the atmospheric pressure on the planet, in addition to the day-night temperature changes and the solar radiation that hits the surface. In experiments certain organisms were capable of producing oxygen from Martian soil inside the laboratory
The 'Mars room', shown, is able to simulate the atmospheric pressure on the planet, in addition to the day-night temperature changes and the solar radiation that hits the surface. In experiments certain organisms were capable of producing oxygen from Martian soil inside the laboratory

When humans land on Mars in the future (artist's illustration of the landing shown), they will need to be as self-sufficient as possible
When humans land on Mars in the future (artist's illustration of the landing shown left), they will need to be as self-sufficient as possible.

To do so, an upcoming rover - such as the 2020 Mars rover - could carry small container-like devices with Earth organisms inside.

The containers would be buried a few inches underground in certain locations, to see how successful they are at producing oxygen.

Sensors inside the container would detect how much oxygen was made, and report the findings back to a satellite in Mars orbit.

The scientists note that the container would be sealed tightly, to prevent the organisms being exposed to - and possibly contaminating - the Martian surface.

But if proven successful, future explorers on Mars may use multiple biodomes like this to produce the oxygen they need to survive.

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NASA Wants to Send a Submarine to Titan’s Seas ~ Video


Excerpt from news.discovery.com

In a sneak peek of a possible future mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, NASA has showcased their vision of a robotic submersible that could explore the moon’s vast lakes of liquid methane and ethane.

Studying Titan is thought to be looking back in time at an embryonic Earth, only a lot colder. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a significant atmosphere and this atmosphere is known to possess its own methane cycle, like Earth’s water cycle. Methane exists in a liquid state, raining down on a landscape laced with hydrocarbons, forming rivers, valleys and seas.

Several seas have been extensively studied by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during multiple flybys, some of which average a few meters deep, whereas others have depths of over 200 meters (660 feet) — the maximum depth at which Cassini’s radar instrument can penetrate.

So, if scientists are to properly explore Titan, they must find a way to dive into these seas to reveal their secrets.

At this year’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, a Titan submarine concept was showcased by NASA Glenn’s COMPASS Team and researchers from Applied Research Lab.

Envisaged as a possible mission to Titan’s largest sea, Kracken Mare, the autonomous submersible would be designed to make a 90 day, 2,000 kilometer (1,250 mile) voyage exploring the depths of this vast and very alien marine environment. As it would spend long periods under the methane sea’s surface, it would have to be powered by a radioisotope generator; a source that converts the heat produced by radioactive pellets into electricity, much like missions that are currently exploring space, like Cassini and Mars rover Curiosity.

Communicating with Earth would not be possible when the vehicle is submerged, so it would need to make regular ascents to the surface to transmit science data.

But Kracken Mare is not a tranquil lake fit for gentle sailing — it is known to have choppy waves and there is evidence of tides, all contributing to the challenge. Many of the engineering challenges have already been encountered when designing terrestrial submarines — robotic and crewed — but as these seas will be extremely cold (estimated to be close to the freezing point of methane, 90 Kelvin or -298 degrees Fahrenheit), a special piston-driven propulsion system will need to be developed and a nitrogen will be needed as ballast, for example.

This study is just that, a study, but the possibility of sending a submersible robot to another world would be as unprecedented as it is awesome.

Although it’s not clear at this early stage what the mission science would focus on, it would be interesting to sample the chemicals at different depths of Kracken Mare.

“Measurement of the trace organic components of the sea, which perhaps may exhibit prebiotic chemical evolution, will be an important objective, and a benthic sampler (a robotic grabber to sample sediment) would acquire and analyze sediment from the seabed,” the authors write (PDF). “These measurements, and seafloor morphology via sidescan sonar, may shed light on the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas. Models suggest Titan’s active hydrological cycle may cause the north part of Kraken to be ‘fresher’ (more methane-rich) than the south, and the submarine’s long traverse will explore these composition variations.”

A decade after the European Huygens probe landed on the surface of Titan imaging the moon’s eerily foggy atmosphere, there have been few plans to go back to this tantalizing world. It would be incredible if, in the next few decades, we could send a mission back to Titan to directly sample what is at the bottom of its seas, exploring a region where the molecules for life’s chemistry may be found in abundance.

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Asteroid Mining: Not as Crazy as it Sounds

Concept model of the FireFly Design (Image credit: Deep Space Industries / Bryan Versteeg.

Excerpt from geologyforinvestors.com

At first glance it sounds ridiculous. Why would anyone consider mining in space when even the largest Earth-based mining operations seem to have trouble managing costs? After all, mid-grade and marginal deposits seem to have trouble finding any money and the process of moving a project from prospect to mine can take decades and cost hundreds of million of dollars. I’ll be the first to admit that the whole idea of asteroid mining was initially right up there with Star Trek-style transporters and desktop cold fusion, but a few recent events have piqued my curiosity on the subject. Allow me to elaborate.

First, one of the many items that was lost back in October, 2014 when the Antares rocket was destroyed was the Arkyd 3 satellite. Arkyd 3 is a testing platform designed by Planetary Resources, otherwise known as “the asteroid mining company”. Apparently these guys aren’t just doing interviews: There is actual work going on here. A re-built Arkyd 3 is scheduled for launch in about 9 months.
Second, the recent landing of the Philae spacecraft on comet 67P stirred all of our imaginations in a way that was reminiscent of the moon landing, first shuttle launch or first Mars rover. If we can effectively land a bullet on a bullet 500 million miles away from Earth, then the idea of grabbing a near-earth asteroid doesn’t sound nearly as crazy. The economics might still seem crazy, but the technology – not so much.

As it turns out, there are three groups currently working on a long term strategy to gather resources from space. Two are private companies and the third is NASA. All have different approaches, but their end games are largely the same.

What Asteroids? What Resources?

Asteroid miners are seeking out near-earth asteroids. There are over 11,000 known near-earth asteroids which are considered to be left-overs from the formation of the solar system. These bodies can be composed of ice, silicate minerals, carbonaceous minerals and metals.

Ice or water on these bodies is one of the most significant potential resources. Solar panels on spacecraft can provide the power to simply convert water to hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. Considering that it costs from $5,000-25,000+ per kg to ferry items into space, the idea of harvesting resources needed in space doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. In fact, the groups involved are primarily focused on gathering the resources needed for space exploration and development. Gathering resources to send back to earth is a much longer term goal and arguably may never be economic.

Groups Involved

Currently there are two private companies pursuing asteroid mining; Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. NASA is also involved on several levels and has awarded contracts to several companies including both Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries for studies relating to relating to asteroid redirection.

Deep Space Industries – Fire Fly/DragonFly/Harvestor

Deep Space Industries’ approach includes a series of compact spacecraft known as FireFlies (not to be confused with NASA’s FireFly Cubesat). The company plans to send them on one-way missions to gather information such as size, shape, density and composition of asteroids of interest. Their longer term plan includes the development of a spacecraft known as the “Dragonfly” which will capture asteroids to return for analysis and to test processing methods and the “Harvestors” which will collect material for return to Earth’s orbit. The Harvestor class is meant for full-scale production for initial customers in space from collecting propellant for future space missions, manufacturing materials using extracted metals and radiation shielding. If costs begin to decrease over time they hope to be able to return these extracted commodities back to earth. DSI recently made the news when it partnered with another firm to build Bitcoin satellites as part of a proposed Bitcoin orbital satellite network.


NASA has commissioned a number of studies on the potential for asteroid mining and interactions as part of it’s Early Stage Innovation and Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) directives. The Robotic Asteroid Prospector study determined that water and possibly Platinum Group Metals had the most economic potential for asteroid mining operations and presented some preliminary designed for water extraction.

NASA’s OSIRIS REx spacecraft is designed study the the near-Earth “Bennu” asteroid for more than a year with the primary goal of landing on the asteroid and retrieving a sample for return to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for launch in September 2016.
NASA has been also been studying robotic mining for several years and holds annual competition where university students can build a mining robot.

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The Mission to land robot on comet to take final step

Excerpt from  theglobeandmail.com
By Ivan Semeniuk

Half a billion kilometres from Earth and 10 years into its remarkable journey, a small robot is about to plunge into space history.

Pending a final green light from mission controllers on Tuesday night, the robot – nicknamed Philae (fee-lay) – will detach from its mother ship and try to hook itself onto one of the most challenging and mysterious objects in the solar system.

It’s a high-risk manoeuvre with plenty of unknowns. But if it works, then the probe will be able to show us what no one has ever experienced: what it’s like to stand on the surface of a comet.

“Comets are new territory,” said Ralf Gellert, a professor of physics at the University of Guelph. “There could be some big surprises.”

Prof. Gellert should know. Fifteen years ago, he helped build one of the instruments on the dishwasher-size lander that will reveal the comet’s composition. No such direct measurement has been made before. Even designing how the instrument should work was fraught with challenges since there was so little known about what kind of surface the lander might find itself on.

“Is it an ice ball with rock and trace metals, or a rock ball with ice on it … or ice below the surface? We didn’t know,” he said.
And scientists still don’t.

When the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta mission in 2004, the mission’s target – Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko – was little more than a fuzzy blip in astronomers’ telescopes. But Rosetta just arrived in August and it’s been in orbit around the comet since then.

What was assumed to be a single, homogeneous lump of ice and rock has turned out to be a bizarre-looking object in two parts, arranged a bit like the head and body of a rubber duck. By October, scientists had zeroed in on the head portion, which is four kilometres across at its widest point, and settled on a landing site.

Remote sensing data from Rosetta suggest that the comet is quite porous, with a surface that is as black as coal and somewhat warmer than expected. In other words, Philae will probably not be landing on skating-rink-hard ice. Yet, whether the surface will be crusty like a roadside snowbank, fluffy like cigarette ash, or something else entirely is anyone’s guess.

And while scientists and engineers say they’ve done everything they can think of to maximize the lander’s chance of success, they acknowledge it’s entirely possible that Philae will encounter something it can’t handle and smash to bits or sink into oblivion.

Yet the landing is more than a daring jaunt to see what has never been seen before. Comets are also among the most primitive bodies in the solar system. Each one is an amalgam of ice and rock that has been around since Earth and its sister planets formed billions of years ago. In a sense, comets are the leftovers of that process – primordial fossils from the birth of the solar system.

The instrument Prof. Gellert worked on, known as the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS), will help illuminate this early period by making precise measurements of the comet’s elemental ingredients.

It is carried on a robot arm that will place a radioactive source near the comet’s surface. The particles and X-rays the comet material gives off as a result of this exposure will provide detailed information about what chemical elements the comet contains. This will be augmented by another experiment designed to drill and extract a comet sample for analysis inside the lander.

Prof. Gellert, who has also been closely involved in NASA’s Mars rover missions, said Rosetta’s long timeline and the many unknowns related to the comet makes this week’s landing a trickier proposition than landing on Mars – but also a tremendously exciting one.

“I think it’s a matter of hope for the best and see what happens.”

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NASA review panel criticizes Mars Curiosity rover, says it lacks ‘scientific focus’

Mars rover Curiosity 'selfie'


Troubles seem to be far from over for the Mars rover Curiosity which is exploring the Martian surface in search of life. A review panel for the US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has condemned the Rover Curiosity mission, saying it lack in its scientific focus.
The harsh reaction comes at a time when Mars rover Curiosity, which was launched in 2012, was spotted gazing at the Martian clouds, growing speculation among the panelists that it lacks scientific approach. Recently holes in the rover’s wheels were also reported. Moreover, NASA had to give up one of its drilling project at the Martian rock after it was found unfit for the rover.
The Planetary Mission Senior Review panel that carried an analysis of NASA’s seven planetary science missions expressed its disappointment over the success rate of Curiosity.
According to the review panel, the Curiosity mission is the NASA’s flagship Mars project which is the most expensive of the seven space missions that have got renewed funding from NASA. The panel said that seeing the extent of funding and the high expectations from the mission, Curiosity fails to make best out of its technical capabilities.
The review panel further expressed dismay saying the team behind the Curiosity mission only plans to study the eight samples during its extended mission, which is far less than the expectations from a high magnitude project like this. The panel also cited other technical problems with the Curiosity mission terming it as a poor science return to the large investment.
Recently, Curiosity was spotted gazing at the clouds of Mars, a development which was criticized by the review panel.
The rover had tweeted on September 3 that it was heading towards Pahrump Hills while advancing towards Mount Sharp for conducting geology work and search for clouds.
Robert Haberle, who is part of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) team, defended the action saying it was part of the study of martian environment.
According to him, clouds are a major part of the climate system of any planet and their behavior could give close insights about winds and temperatures of the Mars.

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Curiosity Watches the Martian Clouds Drift By

Clouds that are probably composed of ice crystals and possibly supercooled water droplets were caught in images by NASA’s Opportunity rover.
NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

As Curiosity continues its epic drive to Aeolis Mons — the 3.5 mile-high mountain in the center of Gale Crater dubbed “Mount Sharp” — it has taken some time to turn its cameras skyward. In a recent series of images sent back from the Red Planet, the six-wheeled rover tracked a formation of clouds drift overhead, blown by high altitude winds.

So far, the rover has been focusing most of its attention downwards, drilling into Mars rock and sampling dust in its on-board chemistry laboratory. The key aim of the car-sized robot is to gain an understanding of Mars’ past and present habitable potential. 
Basically it wants to help us answer the question: Could Mars have ever supported microbial life?

From the evidence pieced together after two years of roving inside Gale Crater, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Curiosity has discovered proof that large bodies of water used to persist on the Red Planet’s surface and it has chemically deciphered samples to find minerals that could only have been formed in the presence of liquid water. Tests of Martian regolith have also revealed that the planet has substantial quantities of water near the surface.

The presence of water is exciting, but evidence of ancient pooling liquid water on Mars is very exciting. Liquid water supports the evolution of life as we know it, might Mars have also supported life? Although Curiosity isn’t designed to look for direct evidence of life, it is providing a detailed picture of Mars’ life-giving potential.

Now, by looking at the skies, Curiosity has identified clouds that are most likely formed through the accumulation of water ice crystals or supercooled water droplets. This adds another dimension to our understanding of Mars’ current climate and its ancient environment.

“Clouds are part of the planet’s climate system,” Robert M. Haberle, Planetary Scientist at NASA Ames and a team member for the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), told Astrobiology Magazine. “Their behavior tells us about winds and temperatures.”

“Some studies suggest that clouds in the past may have significantly warmed the planet through a greenhouse effect. A warmer environment is more conducive to life,” he said.

Mars is abundant in aeolian formations, features that have been shaped by Mars’ winds — such as dunefields. Through observations of drifting clouds, scientists can better understand weather patterns and global climate dynamics. These studies, in turn, complement Curiosity’s geology work where it continues to piece together Mars’ climatic history from clues locked in Mars rock.

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NASA Says A Thigh Bone Was Not Found on Mars

That's a rock, NASA says. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)


An image from the Curiosity rover that some people thought showed a “thigh bone” on Mars is just a photo of a weathered rock, according to NASA. The photo shows the dirt-covered surface of Mars littered with bits of rock, one of which is elongated in a shape similar to a leg bone...
The image was first picked up on a UFO blog, Space.com reports, purporting to show evidence of past alien life on the planet. The claim got so much attention that NASA released the photo with an official explanation — saying the object did look like a thigh bone, but it most definitely is not.
“No bones about it! Seen by Mars rover Curiosity using its MastCam, this Mars rock may look like a femur thigh bone,” the site reads. “Mission science team members think its shape is likely sculpted by erosion, either wind or water.”

Though the Curiosity rover has found evidence that Mars could have supported life in the past, the planet likely never had enough oxygen for that life to grow any bigger than microbes, according to NASA. So a fossil of a large, complex organism is “not likely.”

This is not the first time NASA has quelled speculation about seemingly odd finds on Mars. All of the rovers’ raw images are available for free online, and enthusiasts combing through the pictures often find objects that spark conjecture about alien remnants or activities.
In February, for instance, a rock that suddenly appeared in what before had been empty ground near the Opportunity rover caused some to think aliens had moved it there. NASA stated that Opportunity’s wheels kicked up the rock as it moved.
And in April, some said a strange light in the distance in one of Curiosity’s images looked like it came from artificial sources. But images of the same spot at the same time from multiple sources revealed the oddity to simply be a trick of the light, and is likely sunlight glinting off a rock.
Seeing faces, animals or other shapes that aren’t actually there is called pareidolia, Space.com reports. On Mars, when in doubt, it’s a rock.

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NASA Swarmies Could Turn Mars Surveying Into A Group Effort

NASA Robot ants Swarmies
Teams of smaller rovers could be a more efficient strategy than relying on individual rovers like Curiosity and Opportunity

If you’ve enjoyed following the journeys of NASA’s unmanned rovers like Curiosity and Opportunity across Mars, collecting samples, taking selfies, and trying not to get stuck, you’re in for a lot more fun when NASA eventually sends its swarmies up to the red planet. Instead of a relying on a single large rover that has to do everything on its own, the swarmies would be able to communicate with each other and cooperate on pre-assigned tasks with less oversight from people back on earth, reports Kelly Dickerson for Space.com.

Swarmies look for materials like ants look for food
The strategy, similar to how an ant colony finds food, is for each rover to go off on its own and then send a message to the others when it finds something interesting so that it can get help from the rest. Although testing is still in the early stages, the rovers are already showing promise with just GPS, webcams, WIFI antennae, and programmed instructions to survey an area and look for certain materials (water, for example) scattered around the Kennedy’s Launch Control Center parking lot (ok, very early stages). According to lead engineer Cheryle Mako, the project is progressing through the early data collection and investigation phases faster than had been expected.

Swarmies don’t have a single point of failure like current Mars rovers

One of the biggest advantages of switching over to teams of rovers is that the mission doesn’t end just because one of them crashes or malfunctions. Researchers may have to scale back their goals if the team loses too many rovers, but that’s still better than having a single point of failure.

“For a while people were interested in putting as much smarts and capability as they could on their one robot,” said engineer Kurt Leucht who is also working on the project. “Now people are realizing you can have much smaller, much simpler robots that can work together and achieve a task. One of them can roll over and die and it’s not the end of the mission because the others can still accomplish the task.”

In addition to extraplanetary surveying missions, with some modifications teams of swarmies could be deployed here on earth for search and rescue missions either to complement or substitute human search efforts in dangerous areas. They could also be used by industry to inspect pipelines, and as the swarmies become more sophisticated more applications are sure to crop up.

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Curiosity Rover stuck in sand trap on Mars

This photo taken on Aug. 12, 2014 by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop that includes the "Bonanza King" rock under consideration as a drilling target. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSScbsnews.com  ...

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