As a general rule, when NASA flies a scientific mission all the way to Mars, we expect that mission to last for a while. For instance, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were slated to run for three months and are still operating 6 years later. But one NASA engineer wants to send a mission all the way to the Red Planet that would last just two hours once deployed: a rocket-powered, robotic airplane that screams over the Martian landscape at more than 450 miles per hour.
After almost a year of successfully surveying the entire sky one-and-a-half times over, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer has run out of coolant – quite expectedly – and reached the end of its primary mission. Since its launch last December, the mission snapped more than 1.8 million images in four different infrared wavelengths, providing astronomers with enough data to keep them busy combing through it for decades. That is to say, WISE has had a very productive year.
As Congress adjourns there’s still plenty left for them to argue about, but NASA’s mission going forward isn’t one of them. The House of Representatives passed a NASA authorization bill late last night, outlining the budget – $19 billion in 2011 and $58 billion through 2013 – and goals for the space agency going forward. On deck: increased commercial space investment, a new heavy-lift rocket, and a focus on future deep space missions to an asteroid or even Mars.
NASA engineers working on the James Webb Space Telescope are doing a lot of things from scratch — they’ve had to design new mirrors and a foldy space cocoon, for instance — but their newest work may take the cake: To survive the coldest reaches of space, they invented a brand-new composite material. They nicknamed it unobtanium.
Methane concentrations on Mars change with the seasons as well as location, and the gas disappears within a Martian year, according to a new study by Italian scientists. The finding, developed over five Earth years using NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, adds to the ongoing debate about the nature of CH4 on Mars.
American space ambitions have, for the most part, maintained a well-defined line between space exploration and space tourism, But that line has now blurred considerably as Boeing announced that it is entering the space tourism business, selling leftover seats in its Crew Space Transportation (CST) spacecraft after the initial four are filled by embarking and returning crews bound for the International Space Station.
With the Space Shuttle program winding down, both NASA and several commercial ventures are developing next-gen rocket technology that will hurl the next iteration of space vehicles into the sky. But NASA acknowledges that rockets aren’t the only – or even the best – way to get into space.
In a mission to learn more about the sun’s inner workings, NASA is planning to launch a specially shielded spacecraft in 2018 that will plunge into the solar atmosphere. The car-sized Solar Probe Plus will explore an area just 4 million miles from the star’s surface, the last region of the solar system to be explored by humans.
An unmanned aerial surveillance drone is only as good as its power source, and as such many technologies are being considered that could drastically extend the duration of drone missions – for instance, DARPA's Vulture program has helped develop a giant solar plane that, theoretically, could fly for five years straight. But Seattle-based LaserMotive thinks laser power is the answer, and to prove it they recently kept a tiny 22-gram helicopter aloft for hours by beaming power to it via a laser.