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The U.S. is exploring a railroad for the moon. It has a good reason.

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The first U.S. transcontinental railroad, completed with a spike hammered into the track in 1869, transformed the nation. Perhaps the same will happen on the moon.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA — an ambitious federal innovations division — has begun collaborating with over a dozen companies on potential future lunar technologies, including a moon railroad. It’s called the 10-Year Lunar Architecture Capability Study, or LunA-10, and its mission is to find technologies that will catalyze a self-perpetuating lunar economy. It’s a salient time; already the new space race is on.

It’s an endeavor that seeks to avoid a go-at-it-alone approach, wherein diverse nations and industries struggle to communicate, travel, and do business on the moon. The NASA Apollo missions from over 50 years ago were an extraordinary exploration and engineering marvel, but those billions in spending never established growth or a lasting presence on the moon.

“One of the critiques about Apollo is we put in all this effort, and then it ended,” Michael Nayak, a program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, told Mashable.

Now as NASA, global space agencies, and companies return to the moon with robotic spacecraft, the future Nayak sees is one that must be able to progress. It might be mining helium-3 (an extremely rare resource on Earth that could be used in medical imaging, computing, and even energy), harvesting water ice to create rocket fuel for deep space missions, and beyond.

“How do we make it valuable to life on Earth?” Nayak, a former space shuttle engineer and NASA planetary scientist overseeing LunA-10, emphasized.

The project is called LunA-10 because it’s focused on what lunar technology would realistically look like in the 10 years after NASA’s Artemis III mission, wherein astronauts will land in the moon’s coveted south pole, a region where planetary scientists suspect there’s water ice and other resources lodged in dark, shadowy craters. As of March 2024, NASA expects astronauts to step foot on the moon in late 2026.

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“How do we make it valuable to life on Earth?”

DARPA is exploring six areas needed for future moon growth: generating power; communications and navigation; construction and robotics (in a near future where robots can build roads and infrastructure); mining resources; transportation; and market research — to determine what industries are viable on the moon.

The rocketry and spacecraft that blasted astronauts to the moon over a half-century ago no longer exist. Everything going to the moon, and establishing a lunar presence, will be new. “It’s just a blank sheet of paper,” Nayak said. Other conceptual ideas include towering lighthouses that can illuminate dark, resource-rich craters and provide communications across the barren lunar surface.

DARPA recently chose the aerospace and defense giant Northrup Grumman to create the concept for the railroad. “The envisioned lunar railroad network could transport humans, supplies, and resources for commercial ventures across the lunar surface — contributing to a space economy for the United States and international partners,” the company wrote. They’ll aim to develop a railway that limits the human footprint on the largely still pristine lunar surface, and design a system that anyone could ride or load cargo on (such as with standardized, moon-worthy equipment that can withstand huge temperature swings).

A conception of astronauts working in a crater in the moon's coveted south pole.

A conception of astronauts working in a crater in the moon’s coveted south pole.
Credit: NASA

Transportation is a critical part of any future moon ambitions. When a large rocket, perhaps SpaceX’s Starship, ferries several tons of cargo to the moon, those supplies — building materials, food, or mining equipment — can’t sit around. Life on the moon will be expensive. “Every minute it spends sitting there is revenue lost,” Nayak emphasized.


“The railroad was America’s first technology corridor.”

Ultimately, the LunA-10 project will scrutinize different moon concepts developed in 2024, like a lunar railroad or power plant. Some technologies will make the cut — meaning DARPA will help accelerate these concepts — and some won’t. The hope is to graduate from the current age of moon exploration to a foundational age wherein countries and industries try out and set the stage for potential lunar endeavors (like a mining project). Those successful endeavors will then, if all go as planned, reach an industrial age, where real goods and services are made or provided on our natural satellite, some 238,855 miles away. The moon, for instance, could be a fuel depot for deeper space missions to scientifically fascinating Mars or resource-rich asteroids.

Over 150 years ago, the transcontinental railroad flipped an economic switch. “Just as it opened the markets of the West Coast and Asia to the East, it brought products of Eastern industry to the growing populace beyond the Mississippi,” the Public Broadcasting Service explained. “The railroad ensured a production boom, as industry mined the vast resources of the middle and Western continent for use in production. The railroad was America’s first technology corridor.”

A lunar world designed to facilitate transportation, communication, and progress might allow today’s nascent ideas to one day bloom beyond Earth. Who knows what the coming lunar decades will bring in the 2040s and beyond?

“There’s an idea in someone’s head right now that will be the next big thing,” Nayak said.





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ISRO Gears Up To Launch ESA’s Proba-3 Mission To Study The Sun In Late 2024

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The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will be launching the European Space Agency’s (ESA) new mission to study the Sun later this year. The launch is targeted for September and it will be carried from Sriharikota using ISRO’s PSLV-XL rocket. Designated Proba-3 (PRoject for On-Board Autonomy), this mission consists of two probes that will be installed in a highly elliptical orbit (600X60,530 kilometer).

Europe currently lacks a launch provider after the retirement of Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket and the delay in introduction of the new Ariane 6.

What is the Proba-3 mission about?

This mission is aimed at studying the Sun’s corona- its outer atmosphere by creating an artificial solar eclipse. The eclipse will happen when the two probes will align themselves approximately 150 meters apart and the one ahead will block the Sun for the second one (see picture below).

Artist’s impression of the Proba-3 satellites in space. Image: ESA

The two satellites are called the Coronagraph spacecraft and the Occulter – one to block the Sun and the other two observe the resulting eclipse.

According to ESA, this mission will allow scientists to study the Sun’s faint corona closer to the solar rim than has ever before been achieved. The corona has been a subject of interest for astronomers for a long time due to its strange properties. For one, it heats up to a million degrees more than the Sun’s surface, reason for which is still unknown.

Once in orbit, the Proba-3 satellites will create eclipses that will last for six hours at a time, providing the scientists plenty of time for observations. The mission is expected to last at least two years.





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What Does A Solar Eclipse On Mars Look Like? NASA Answers With Breathtaking Views

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Today on April 8, millions of people on Earth will witness the Total Solar Eclipse across Mexico, the US and Canada. But apart from Earth, Mars is another planet in our solar system that experiences eclipses courtesy of its two Moons – Phobos and Deimos. NASA recently shared views of eclipses on Mars that were captured by the Perseverance rover.

Notably, the Moons of Mars are over a 100 times smaller than Earth’s Moon but the visuals of their transit is still pretty cool.

The visuals above shows a silhouette of Deimos which is just 12 km in diameter and is 16 times closer to Mars than Earth’s Moon. NASA says that this transit took place in January and lasted about two minutes.

ALSO SEE: What Time Is The Eclipse? When To Watch Wherever You Are.

Perseverance captured another eclipse in February this time featuring Phobos, which measures 22 km wide. This transit, NASA said, was captured in real time. Scientists say that Phobos is on a collision course with Mars and is predicted to either crash into the planet 50 million years from now or break up into a ring. Phobos, according to estimates, is nearing Mars at a rate of six feet every hundred years.

As for the solar eclipse on Earth, it will offer a rare opportunity to spot the loops in the Sun’s corona (outer atmosphere). It is special for other reasons as well. The eclipse will not be visible in India but you can still watch it live via NASA’s YouTube livestream starting 10:30 pm IST.

ALSO SEE: Mars Spacecraft Snaps Glorious View Of Martian Volcanoes — And A Surprise





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‘We Are Probably Alone’: Elon Musk Gets Candid On Aliens And Colonising Mars ‘Before World War 3’

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Elon Musk believes that humans are probably alone in the universe since there is no evidence of an alien civilisation. Speaking at SpaceX’s event at Starbase, Texas on April 6, Musk spoke on a range of topics involving Mars, the future of humanity, consciousness and of course, aliens.

He said that he is yet to see any concrete evidence about the existence of aliens while evoking one of the coolest theories in existence — the ‘Fermi Paradox’. It is named after Italian-American Physicist Enrico Fermi who believed that aliens equipped with super advanced technology might have spread out and colonised the entire galaxy but no one has ever found any proof of their existence.

Elon Musk speaking at Starbase event in Texas. Image: SpaceX/@X

“I have not seen any evidence that there are aliens on Earth. The question ‘where are the aliens’ is a very profound one. I am aware of no evidence of aliens whatsoever…I think we are probably alone,” Musk said.

Colonise Mars before World War 3

Refusing to be a “lame one-planet civilisation,” Musk spoke on the preparations that are underway to make humans multiplanetary in order to preserve consciousness if it hasn’t extended to other star systems. He said that he will build a city on Mars in 20 years and Starship will play a key role in realising his dream.

Starship is SpaceX’s full reusable and world’s most powerful rocket which is currently undergoing test launches. It has launched three times so far but failed to complete the missions. Musk said that the fourth flight is likely next month. Standing 121 meters (397 feet) tall, Starship’s upgraded model will be taller by ten meters, the SpaceX CEO said.

SpaceX has plans to launch a million tonnes in eight years to Mars and 10 Starships each day in its preparation to colonise the red planet. A self-sustaining city on Mars, according to SpaceX, will need around 1 million people and millions of tonnes of cargo. “We will do this in 20 years,” Musk said.

ALSO SEE: Scientist Warns Against Elon Musk’s Mars Migration Dream, Calls It ‘Unrealistic’ And ‘Dangerous Illusion’

He also said that thousands of Ships will depart from Earth to Mars every two years at one point, something which he believes is pretty doable. “It will look like Battlestar Galactica, but in a good way,” he said. He also said that Mars must be colonised before World War 3 breaks out.

After Starship’s third flight on March 14, Musk predicted that the launch vehicle will reach Mars within five years. But before colonising Mars, Starship will play a crucial role supporting NASA’s Artemis Program to build bases on the Moon.

ALSO SEE: SpaceX Rolls Out Starship’s Booster To Launch Pad As Anticipation For Fourth Flight Builds Up





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