Tag: unmanned spacecraft

The Future of Technology in 2015?

Excerpt from

The year gone by brought us more robots, worries about artificial intelligence, and difficult lessons on space travel. The big question: where's it all taking us?

Every year, we capture a little bit more of the future -- and yet the future insists on staying ever out of reach.
Consider space travel. Humans have been traveling beyond the atmosphere for more than 50 years now -- but aside from a few overnights on the moon four decades ago, we have yet to venture beyond low Earth orbit.
Or robots. They help build our cars and clean our kitchen floors, but no one would mistake a Kuka or a Roomba for the replicants in "Blade Runner." Siri, Cortana and Alexa, meanwhile, are bringing some personality to the gadgets in our pockets and our houses. Still, that's a long way from HAL or that lad David from the movie "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."
Self-driving cars? Still in low gear, and carrying some bureaucratic baggage that prevents them from ditching certain technology of yesteryear, like steering wheels.
And even when these sci-fi things arrive, will we embrace them? A Pew study earlier this year found that Americans are decidedly undecided. Among the poll respondents, 48 percent said they would like to take a ride in a driverless car, but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent said they would like to own one.
"Despite their general optimism about the long-term impact of technological change," Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center wrote in the report, "Americans express significant reservations about some of these potentially short-term developments" such as US airspace being opened to personal drones, robot caregivers for the elderly or wearable or implantable computing devices that would feed them information.
Let's take a look at how much of the future we grasped in 2014 and what we could gain in 2015.

Space travel: 'Space flight is hard'

In 2014, earthlings scored an unprecedented achievement in space exploration when the European Space Agency landed a spacecraft on a speeding comet, with the potential to learn more about the origins of life. No, Bruce Willis wasn't aboard. Nobody was. But when the 220-pound Philae lander, carried to its destination by the Rosetta orbiter, touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, some 300 million miles from Earth, the celebration was well-earned.
A shadow quickly fell on the jubilation, however. Philae could not stick its first landing, bouncing into a darker corner of the comet where its solar panels would not receive enough sunlight to charge the lander's batteries. After two days and just a handful of initial readings sent home, it shut down. For good? Backers have allowed for a ray of hope as the comet passes closer to the sun in 2015. "I think within the team there is no doubt that [Philae] will wake up," lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said in December. "And the question is OK, in what shape? My suspicion is we'll be in good shape."
The trip for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been much longer: 3 billion miles, all the way to Pluto and the edge of the solar system. Almost nine years after it left Earth, New Horizons in early December came out of hibernation to begin its mission: to explore "a new class of planets we've never seen, in a place we've never been before," said project scientist Hal Weaver. In January, it will begin taking photos and readings of Pluto, and by mid-July, when it swoops closest to Pluto, it will have sent back detailed information about the dwarf planet and its moon, en route to even deeper space.

Also in December, NASA made a first test spaceflight of its Orion capsule on a quick morning jaunt out and back, to just over 3,600 miles above Earth (or approximately 15 times higher than the International Space Station). The distance was trivial compared to those those traveled by Rosetta and New Horizons, and crewed missions won't begin till 2021, but the ambitions are great -- in the 2030s, Orion is expected to carry humans to Mars.
In late March 2015, two humans will head to the ISS to take up residence for a full year, in what would be a record sleepover in orbit. "If a mission to Mars is going to take a three-year round trip," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will be joined in the effort by Russia's Mikhail Kornienko, "we need to know better how our body and our physiology performs over durations longer than what we've previously on the space station investigated, which is six months."
There were more sobering moments, too, in 2014. In October, Virgin Galactic's sleek, experimental SpaceShipTwo, designed to carry deep-pocketed tourists into space, crashed in the Mojave Desert during a test flight, killing one test pilot and injuring the other. Virgin founder Richard Branson had hoped his vessel would make its first commercial flight by the end of this year or in early 2015, and what comes next remains to be seen. Branson, though, expressed optimism: "Space flight is hard -- but worth it," he said in a blog post shortly after the crash, and in a press conference, he vowed "We'll learn from this, and move forward together." Virgin Galactic could begin testing its next spaceship as soon as early 2015.
The crash of SpaceShipTwo came just a few days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket lofting an unmanned spacecraft with supplies bound for the International Space Station. And in July, Elon Musk's SpaceX had suffered the loss of one of its Falcon 9 rockets during a test flight. Musk intoned, via Twitter, that "rockets are tricky..."
Still, it was on the whole a good year for SpaceX. In May, it unveiled its first manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, intended for trips to and from the space station, and in September, it won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to become one of the first private companies (the other being Boeing) to ferry astronauts to the ISS, beginning as early as 2017. Oh, and SpaceX also has plans to launch microsatellites to establish low-cost Internet service around the globe, saying in November to expect an announcement about that in two to three months -- that is, early in 2015.
One more thing to watch for next year: another launch of the super-secret X-37B space place to do whatever it does during its marathon trips into orbit. The third spaceflight of an X-37B -- a robotic vehicle that, at 29 feet in length, looks like a miniature space shuttle -- ended in October after an astonishing 22 months circling the Earth, conducting "on-orbit experiments."

Self-driving cars: Asleep at what wheel?

Spacecraft aren't the only vehicles capable of autonomous travel -- increasingly, cars are, too. Automakers are toiling toward self-driving cars, and Elon Musk -- whose name comes up again and again when we talk about the near horizon for sci-fi tech -- says we're less than a decade away from capturing that aspect of the future. In October, speaking in his guise as founder of Tesla Motors, Musk said: "Like maybe five or six years from now I think we'll be able to achieve true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination." (He also allowed that we should tack on a few years after that before government regulators give that technology their blessing.)
Prototype, unbound: Google's ride of the future, as it looks today Google
That comment came as Musk unveiled a new autopilot feature -- characterizing it as a sort of super cruise control, rather than actual autonomy -- for Tesla's existing line of electric cars. Every Model S manufactured since late September includes new sensor hardware to enable those autopilot capabilities (such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automated parking), to be followed by an over-the-air software update to enable those features.
Google has long been working on its own robo-cars, and until this year, that meant taking existing models -- a Prius here, a Lexus there -- and buckling on extraneous gear. Then in May, the tech titan took the wraps off a completely new prototype that it had built from scratch. (In December, it showed off the first fully functional prototype.) It looked rather like a cartoon car, but the real news was that there was no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal -- no need for human controls when software and sensors are there to do the work.
Or not so fast. In August, California's Department of Motor Vehicles declared that Google's test vehicles will need those manual controls after all -- for safety's sake. The company agreed to comply with the state's rules, which went into effect in September, when it began testing the cars on private roads in October.
Regardless of who's making your future robo-car, the vehicle is going to have to be not just smart, but actually thoughtful. It's not enough for the car to know how far it is from nearby cars or what the road conditions are. The machine may well have to make no-win decisions, just as human drivers sometimes do in instantaneous, life-and-death emergencies. "The car is calculating a lot of consequences of its actions," Chris Gerdes, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland, in November. "Should it hit the person without a helmet? The larger car or the smaller car?"

Robots: Legging it out

So when do the robots finally become our overlords? Probably not in 2015, but there's sure to be more hand-wringing about both the machines and the artificial intelligence that could -- someday -- make them a match for homo sapiens. At the moment, the threat seems more mundane: when do we lose our jobs to a robot?
The inquisitive folks at Pew took that very topic to nearly 1,900 experts, including Vint Cerf, vice president at Google; Web guru Tim Bray; Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society; and Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft. According to the resulting report, published in August, the group was almost evenly split -- 48 percent thought it likely that, by 2025, robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers, perhaps even to the point of breakdowns in the social order, while 52 percent "have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution."

Still, for all of the startling skills that robots have acquired so far, they're often not all there yet. Here's some of what we saw from the robot world in 2014:
Teamwork: Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne in May showed off their "Roombots," cog-like robotic balls that can join forces to, say, help a table move across a room or change its height.
A sense of balance: We don't know if Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas is ready to trim bonsai trees, but it has learned this much from "The Karate Kid" (the original from the 1980s) -- it can stand on cinder blocks and hold its balance in a crane stance while moving its arms up and down.
Catlike jumps: MIT's cheetah-bot gets higher marks for locomotion. Fed a new algorithm, it can run across a lawn and bound like a cat. And quietly, too. "Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground," MIT's Sangbae Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering, told MIT News. "This is kind of a new paradigm where we're controlling force in a highly dynamic situation. Any legged robot should be able to do this in the future."
Sign language: Toshiba's humanoid Aiko Chihira communicated in Japanese sign language at the CEATEC show in October. Her rudimentary skills, limited for the moment to simple messages such as signed greetings, are expected to blossom by 2020 into areas such as speech synthesis and speech recognition.
Dance skills: Robotic pole dancers? Tobit Software brought a pair, controllable by an Android smartphone, to the Cebit trade show in Germany in March. More lifelike was the animatronic sculpture at a gallery in New York that same month -- but what was up with that witch mask?
Emotional ambition: Eventually, we'll all have humanoid companions -- at least, that's always been one school of thought on our robotic future. One early candidate for that honor could be Pepper, from Softbank and Aldebaran Robotics, which say the 4-foot-tall Pepper is the first robot to read emotions. This emo-bot is expected to go on sale in Japan in February.

Ray guns: Ship shape

Damn the photon torpedoes, and full speed ahead. That could be the motto for the US Navy, which in 2014 deployed a prototype laser weapon -- just one -- aboard a vessel in the Persian Gulf. Through some three months of testing, the device "locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement. Those targets were rather modest -- small objects mounted aboard a speeding small boat, a diminutive Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle, and so on -- but the point was made: the laser weapon, operated by a controller like those used for video games, held up well, even in adverse conditions.

Artificial intelligence: Danger, Will Robinson?

What happens when robots and other smart machines can not only do, but also think? Will they appreciate us for all our quirky human high and low points, and learn to live with us? Or do they take a hard look at a species that's run its course and either turn us into natural resources, "Matrix"-style, or rain down destruction?
When the machines take over, will they be packing laser weapons like this one the US Navy just tried out? John F. Williams/US Navy
As we look ahead to the reboot of the "Terminator" film franchise in 2015, we can't help but recall some of the dire thoughts about artificial intelligence from two people high in the tech pantheon, the very busy Musk and the theoretically inclined Stephen Hawking.
Musk himself more than once in 2014 invoked the likes of the "Terminator" movies and the "scary outcomes" that make them such thrilling popcorn fare. Except that he sees a potentially scary reality evolving. In an interview with CNBC in June, he spoke of his investment in AI-minded companies like Vicarious and Deep Mind, saying: "I like to just keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome."
He has put his anxieties into some particularly colorful phrases. In August, for instance, Musk tweeted that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes." And in October, he said this at a symposium at MIT: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. ... You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like... yeah, he's sure he can control the demon, [but] it doesn't work out."
Musk has a kindred spirit in Stephen Hawking. The physicist allowed in May that AI could be the "biggest event in human history," and not necessarily in a good way. A month later, he was telling John Oliver, on HBO's "Last Week Tonight," that "artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future." How so? "It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all."
But Google's Eric Schmidt, is having none of that pessimism. At a summit on innovation in December, the executive chairman of the far-thinking tech titan -- which in October teamed up with Oxford University to speed up research on artificial intelligence -- said that while our worries may be natural, "they're also misguided."

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Air Force Will Move X-37B Space Planes to Shuttle Hangars ~ Video

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The U.S. Air Force will take over two mothballed space shuttle processing hangars at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its secretive X-37B robotic space plane program, NASA said Wednesday. The agreement transfers two of the shuttle’s three processing hangars for the military’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles, built and managed by Boeing. 

The 29-foot-long (9-meter-long) space planes resemble miniature space shuttles. The Air Force currently has two vehicles, one of which has been in orbit since December 2012. The military has not disclosed what the X-37B is doing in orbit, nor when or where it will land. Two prior X-37B missions lasted 224 days and 469 days respectively, and landed autonomously at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Boeing is to use the third shuttle hangar for its NASA-backed CST-100 commercial space taxis. 

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U.S., India To Collaborate on Mars Exploration, Earth-observing Mission

Source: NASA press release | Oct. 1, 2014
In a meeting Tuesday in Toronto, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), signed two documents to launch a NASA-ISRO satellite mission to observe Earth and establish a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars.
While attending the International Astronautical Congress, the two space agency leaders met to discuss and sign a charter that establishes a NASA-ISRO Mars Working Group to investigate enhanced cooperation between the two countries in Mars exploration. They also signed an international agreement that defines how the two agencies will work together on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, targeted to launch in 2020.
“The signing of these two documents reflects the strong commitment NASA and ISRO have to advancing science and improving life on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This partnership will yield tangible benefits to both our countries and the world.”
The joint Mars Working Group will seek to identify and implement scientific, programmatic and technological goals that NASA and ISRO have in common regarding Mars exploration. The group will meet once a year to plan cooperative activities, including potential NASA-ISRO cooperation on future missions to Mars.
Both agencies have newly arrived spacecraft in Mars orbit. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived at Mars Sept. 21. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars. ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first spacecraft launched to Mars, arrived Sept. 23 to study the Martian surface and atmosphere and demonstrate technologies needed for interplanetary missions.
One of the working group’s objectives will be to explore potential coordinated observations and science analysis between MAVEN and MOM, as well as other current and future Mars missions.
“NASA and Indian scientists have a long history of collaboration in space science,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science. “These new agreements between NASA and ISRO in Earth science and Mars exploration will significantly strengthen our ties and the science that we will be able to produce as a result.”
The joint NISAR Earth-observing mission will make global measurements of the causes and consequences of land surface changes. Potential areas of research include ecosystem disturbances, ice sheet collapse and natural hazards. The NISAR mission is optimized to measure subtle changes of the Earth’s surface associated with motions of the crust and ice surfaces. NISAR will improve our understanding of key impacts of climate change and advance our knowledge of natural hazards.
NISAR will be the first satellite mission to use two different radar frequencies (L-band and S-band) to measure changes in our planet’s surface less than a centimeter across. This allows the mission to observe a wide range of changes, from the flow rates of glaciers and ice sheets to the dynamics of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Under the terms of the new agreement, NASA will provide the mission’s L-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid state recorder, and a payload data subsystem. ISRO will provide the spacecraft bus, an S-band SAR, and the launch vehicle and associated launch services.
NASA had been studying concepts for a SAR mission in response to the National Academy of Science’s decadal survey of the agency’s Earth science program in 2007. The agency developed a partnership with ISRO that led to this joint mission. The partnership with India has been key to enabling many of the mission’s science objectives.
NASA’s contribution to NISAR is being managed and implemented by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
NASA and ISRO have been cooperating under the terms of a framework agreement signed in 2008. This cooperation includes a variety of activities in space sciences such as two NASA payloads — the Mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar (Mini-SAR) and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper — on ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the moon in 2008. During the operational phase of this mission, the Mini-SAR instrument detected ice deposits near the moon’s northern pole.

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NASA Challenges Public to Design a Piece of a Mars Probe

  Kelly Dickerson, Space.com NASA has challenged the public to design part of a spacecraft that could land future spacefliers on the surface of Mars. The NASA Mars Balance Mass Challenge runs through Nov. 21. The agency will announ...

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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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The great trek to catch a comet

Copy of nt  Rosetta - Artist's impression of Philae lander_SUN_E1
Rosetta: Artist's impression of the Philae lander, 2013 An artist's impression of the Philae lander being sent down to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko in November.Picture: ESA/J.Huart

Cape Town - Scientists have taken another key step in the unfolding drama of what is being hailed as one of the great scientific achievements of all time: sending a spacecraft to catch a comet and land a probe on its surface as the comet continues its headlong rush towards the Sun.
The spacecraft Rosetta caught Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko earlier this month and will send its lander, Philae, down on to the comet’s icy surface on November 11 – if everything keeps going according to plan.
This week, less than three weeks after Rosetta arrived at the comet after a mind-boggling journey of 10 years, five months and four days in which it looped around the Sun five times and clocked 6.4 billion kilometres, mission controllers identified five candidate landing sites after extensive but rapid mapping of the comet.
The comet, which some observers suggest is shaped like a duck with two big sections joined by a narrow neck – technically, it has a “bi-lobate” form – has a nucleus about 4km across and each elliptical landing site covers about 1km2.
“Choosing the right landing site is a complex process,” said the European Space Agency (ESA), which is the lead player in the Rosetta mission that is planned to achieve several historic scientific firsts.
“That site must balance the technical needs of the orbiter and lander during all phases of the separation, descent and landing, and during operations on the surface with the scientific requirements of the 10 instruments on Philae.”
There have been previous comet fly-bys to collect data, but Rosetta will be the first to orbit and track a comet at close range before, during and after perihelion – the point in the comet’s orbit at which it is nearest the sun, in August next year, as well as being the first to send a lander on to a comet (if successful).
It will study the comet at close range “as it transforms from a quiet nugget of ice and rock, frozen solid by years spent in deep space, to a sun-warmed dynamo spewing jets of gas and dust into a magnificently evolving tail”, Dr Tony Phillips, production editor of Nasa Science News, said earlier this year.
Rosetta was launched on its 11-year journey by an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou in French Guiana in March 2004. During its long, lonely journey, it travelled around the Sun five times and picked up energy during three gravity-assist fly-bys of Earth and one of Mars, in order to line it up with its rendezvous point with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
In June 2011, for the coldest leg of its mission as it travelled out towards the orbit of Jupiter, Rosetta was put into a record 957 days of deep space hibernation mode.
Then, with its destination finally in sight – but still 9 million kilometres away – it was “woken” on January 20 this year and its cameras turned on and its 11 science instruments and 10 lander instruments were reactivated and readied for science observations.
Ten orbital correction manoeuvres were carried out between May 7 and August 6 when it arrived at the comet, reducing the spacecraft’s velocity with respect to the comet from 775 metres per second to 1 m/s, equivalent to walking pace, the ESA said.
“Each of these manoeuvres was critical: if any had failed, no rendezvous would have been possible.”
When the odd couple paired up, they were 405 million kilometres from Earth, about halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, and were rushing towards the inner solar system at nearly 55 000 km/h, the ESA said.
Scientists calculated that the average temperature of the comet – comprising rock and ice; comets are often described as “dirty snowballs – to be about -70°C.
This week, Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne, said it was the first time landing sites on a comet had been considered.
“The candidate sites that we want to follow up for further analysis are thought to be technically feasible on the basis of a preliminary analysis of flight dynamics and other key issues.
“For example, they all provide at least six hours of daylight per comet rotation and offer some flat terrain.
“Of course, every site has the potential for unique scientific discoveries.”
For each possible landing zone, important questions had to be asked, the ESA said. Will the lander be able to maintain regular communications with Rosetta? How common are surface hazards such as large boulders, deep crevasses or steep slopes? Is there sufficient illumination for scientific operations and enough sunlight to recharge the lander’s batteries beyond its initial 64-hour lifetime without causing overheating?
“The process of selecting a landing site is extremely complex and dynamic; as we get closer to the comet, we will see more and more details, which will influence the final decision on where and when we can land,” said Fred Jansen, Rosetta’s mission manager from the ESA’s Science and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.
“We had to complete our preliminary analysis on candidate sites very quickly after arriving at the comet, and now we have just a few more weeks to determine the primary site. The clock is ticking and we now have to meet the challenge to pick the best possible landing site.”
Rosetta is being manoeuvred to within just 50km of the comet to allow a more detailed study of the proposed landing sites, and the final selection is likely to be taken by September 14.
The landing of Philae is expected to take place in mid-November when the comet is about 450 million kilometres from the Sun, the ESA said.
“This will be before activity on the comet reaches levels that might jeopardise the safe and accurate deployment of Philae to the comet’s surface, and before surface material is modified by this cometary activity.”
Sylvain Lodiot, the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft operations manager, said: “Arriving at the comet is really only just the beginning of an even bigger adventure, with greater challenges still to come as we learn how to operate in this uncharted environment, start to orbit and, eventually, land.”
The mission is due to finally shut down at the end of next year.
l Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and Nasa.

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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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NASA’s Next Mars Lander Will Peer Deep Into Red Planet’s History: Here’s How

NASA's new InSight Mars Lander

By Leonard David 

A still from an animation shows NASA's new InSight Mars Lander lowering a drill onto Mars to analyze …
DENVER — NASA's next Mars lander, now under construction, will probe the inner workings and early stages of the Red Planet's development billions of years ago.
The InSight mission (short for Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), a NASA Discovery Program spacecraft, is built to respond to highly focused scientific goals.
"Things are coming together," said Stu Spath, InSight program manager here at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, the aerospace firm building the Mars spacecraft for its 2016 liftoff. [The Boldest Mars Missions in History]

Powered descent

In many ways, InSight is a technological kissing cousin to the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander of 2008, which was equipped to investigate ice and soil on Mars's far-northern region.
InSight's will mirror the Phoenix mission in its blistering entry into the Martian atmosphere; parachute deployment; self-controlled, powered descent; and gentle meeting with the planet's surface on three outstretched landing legs.
"The lander structurally looks extremely similar to Phoenix," Spath told Space.com. However the new craft's internal electronics, such as its power distribution unit and command and data handling hardware, have been updated.
InSight's avionics draw from other spacecraft built by Lockheed Martin, Spath said. Specifically, it takes cues from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) en route to the Red Planet, the Juno craft headed for Jupiter, and the now-completed twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission probes that were sent to the moon.
NASA's Next Mars Lander Will Peer Deep Into Red …
NASA's InSight lander mission would add to the number of successful touchdowns on the Red Plan…

Two chief instruments

The InSight mission will last a Mars year, or roughly two Earth years. That is 630 days longer than the Phoenix mission lasted, which means that the lander will have to endure a wider range of environmental conditions on the Martian landscape, Spath said.
InSight will study a different aspect of planetary history with instruments never previously used on Mars, Spath said.
The Mars lander's scientific payload consists of two chief instruments:
  • The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure provided by the French Space Agency.
  • A Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package provided by the German Space Agency.
Additionally, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will use the lander's X-band radio system to make ultra-precise measurements of planetary rotation.
Wind and temperature sensors from Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia and a pressure sensor will monitor weather at the landing site. A lander magnetometer will measure magnetic disturbances caused by the Martian ionosphere.

Come together

"It is very exciting, seeing the flight hardware start to come together," said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator for the InSight mission to Mars at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
NASA's Next Mars Lander Will Peer Deep Into Red …
NASA's InSight lander mission would add to the number of successful touchdowns on the Red Planet…
"At the same time, this is a very nerve-wracking period in the project, as testing of our instruments and spacecraft subsystems uncover subtle design and manufacturing problems that inevitably occur, and that must be corrected in the short time, just over one and a half years, before launch," Banerdt told Space.com via email.
The cost of the InSight mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.

California to Mars

An upcoming milestone for the project, in aerospace lingo, is Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO), Spath said. That evaluation begins in early November. Next June, the InSight spacecraft will face a suite of critical tests, with ship and shoot dates in December of 2015 and March of 2016, respectively, Spath said.
After those tests, InSight won't see a speedy sendoff from Florida.
Rather, the lander will travel to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will give the craft a boost. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California — although in 1994, the joint Ballistic Missile Defense Organization/NASA Clementine spacecraft that studied the moon and an asteroid headed off from that launch area. 
Once Mars-bound, InSight will fly a quick trip. After roughly 6.5 months in transit, the craft will stick a landing in the southern Elysium region of Mars in September 2016.
InSight mission logo.
The specific touchdown zone is still under discussion, with Mars researchers making use of super-sharp imagery from the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) to decide InSight's precise destination.

Work space

In August of last year, researchers trimmed the number of candidate landing sites for InSight from 22 down to four.
JPL's Banerdt said that NASA has a lot of HiRISE images now that largely confirm that the candidate sites are safe for landing.
NASA is looking for the same sort of landing features as Phoenix used. "We're using the same rock-abundance measurements that we used on Phoenix. Same with the slope requirements," Spath said. "So not too sloped, not too rocky, then it's fine to land and do the science there."
Once down on Mars, after a few days of spacecraft checkout, the lander will begin compiling pictures of the "work space," the available terrain suitable for setting up scientific equipment.
Then InSight's real legwork begins: making use of the lander's robotic arm.
NASA's Next Mars Lander Will Peer Deep Into Red …
The Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft…
"The robotic arm is critical to the success of the mission," said Spath. That camera-equipped arm will pick up the seismic and heat flow hardware from the lander's topside deck, then set it on the Martian surface.

Mars gets hammered

The first measurement tool to be placed on the Martian surface will be the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) device.
"It's a top priority. We'll pick a nice, level spot. It has a self-leveling mechanism inside, but we want to get it on a flat area," Spath said. Following seismometer checkout, the lander will place a JPL-built wind and thermal shield over the device to protect it from the environment.
"We don't want the seismometer buffeting in the wind," Spath said. Such wind effects would make the device falsely record quakes or even meteorite hits on the Martian surface.
Then, the lander's robot arm will deploy the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). This device consists of a so-called "mole" that will spend a few weeks hammering itself 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) deep into Martian terrain. [Quiz: Mars Myths and Misconceptions]
"We're allocated something like 30 to 40 days to drill down to the final depth," Spath said.
From there, the device will monitor heat coming from the planet's interior. The mole pulls an instrumented tether behind it, a ribbon that is equipped with temperature sensors to find out the thermal gradient in the ground — the rate of temperature change with distance. A second cable provides an electrical connection to the lander.

Mix of investigations

InSight will study a mix of Red Planet vital signs, including seismic, geodetic and thermal features. That will help scientists characterize the Martian crust and mantle, as well as the properties of the Martian core.
But the findings will shed light on more than just the Red Planet, Spath said.
"Even though we're going to Mars, this is not a Mars mission … as much as it is a terrestrial planet mission," Spath said. "This mission is applicable to Mercury, Venus, Earth, the moon and Mars.”
Mars is big enough to have undergone most of the early processes that fundamentally shaped the terrestrial bodies in the solar system, yet small enough in stature to have retained the signature of those processes for the next 4 billion years, signs that Earth has lost.
Indeed, in that sweet-spot sense, InSight is a mission to a "Goldilocks" planet, Spath said. "It"s a world not too big, not too small. It's just right."

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Is this a Lunar Base Found with Google Moon? August 2014 ~ Video

Coordinates: 19°43'02.81" N 20°30'52.97” E
Date of discovery: August 2014
Location of discovery: Google Moon
This building on the moon was pointed out to me by a reader here at UFO Sightings Daily. From this angle, we can clearly see that it is a structure. It has many right angles in the front and on the ground around it is a fence-like structure. I talked many times about the black structures on the moon. This is one of them. Not regular reflective black, but stealth flat black. Makes them radar resistant. SCW
Click to zoom

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