JUNO To Trek Where Humans Dare Not Travel (Jupiter)

Posted by on Jul 19, 2010 in Jupiter, NASA, Satellite | 5 comments

(Image Credit: NASA)

Despite its romantic place in celestial history, Jupiter is one hostile region.

Of the four Galilean moons that orbit this Jovian world, only Callisto is is known to be habitable for humans due to the planet’s radiation belts.

But before we can even attempt to conquer the Galilean moons is a distant future, we are going to have to scout out the gas giant in order to ensure that our species is able to survive orbiting our star systems largest gas giant.

Using a spinning, solar-powered spacecraft, Juno will make maps of the gravity, magnetic fields, and atmospheric composition of Jupiter from a unique polar orbit. Juno will carry precise high-sensitivity radiometers, magnetometers, and gravity science systems . During its one-year mission, Juno will complete 33 eleven-day-long orbits and will sample Jupiter’s full range of latitudes and longitudes. From its polar perspective, Juno combines in situ and remote sensing observations to explore the polar magnetosphere and determine what drives Jupiter’s remarkable auroras. (New Frontiers, NASA)

NASA has already begun building the titanium shield that will protect the delicate satellite from the raging ions, protons and elections of the planet (which are strong enough to kill robots, let alone humans).

“For the 15 months Juno orbits Jupiter, the spacecraft will have to withstand the equivalent of more than 100 million dental X-rays,” said Bill McAlpine, Juno’s radiation control manager, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “In the same way human beings need to protect their organs during an X-ray exam, we have to protect Juno’s brain and heart.” [...]

With guidance from JPL and the principal investigator, engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems designed and built a special radiation vault made of titanium for a centralized electronics hub. While other materials exist that make good radiation blockers, engineers chose titanium because lead is too soft to withstand the vibrations of launch, and some other materials were too difficult to work with.

Each titanium wall measures nearly a square meter (nearly 9 square feet) in area, about 1 centimeter (a third of an inch) in thickness, and 18 kilograms (40 pounds) in mass. This titanium box — about the size of an SUV’s trunk – encloses Juno’s command and data handling box (the spacecraft’s brain), power and data distribution unit (its heart) and about 20 other electronic assemblies. The whole vault weighs about 200 kilograms (500 pounds). (Astrobiology Magazine)

JUNO is expected to survive at least 15 months in Jovian orbit, which should give scientists plenty of information on not only how extensive Jupiter’s radiation belts are, but their exact width and strength as well.

These measurements could determine whether Ganymede (which is larger than the planet Mercury) is worthy of human settlement.

While this information will not benefit our species in this day and age (or even our grandkids for that matter), it may help us map out safe locations of travel within the Jupiteran system, helping humanity survive within the system without being radiated like popcorn in a microwave.

(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LMSS)

Read More

Moon Base Plus Amor Asteroids Equals Solar Powered Satellites?

Posted by on Aug 6, 2008 in Asteroids, Blog, Energy, Moon, Satellite, Solar Essay | 0 comments

(Note: Inspired by Ken Murphy of Out of the Cradle)

If extraterrestrials were (un)fortunate enough to visit our rowdy planet, they would realize that our civilization is powered by death. For our civilization to survive, to expand, and to literally keep the lights on our species must harvest the compressed liquid of billions of dead things–also known as fossil fuels.

While alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and “bio-fuel” do exist, they may not be enough to keep up with the future energy demand (hat tip: Life After the Oil Crash) of our ever growing population.

With energy supplies on Earth finite at best, some individuals have looked beyond the heavens above in order to satisfy our “energy cravings” below.

By simply constructing solar powered satellites (aka SPS) above our blue world, proponents argue that we would be able to not only meet energy demand, but hopefully create a greener environment at the same time.

(Video: A presentation to both Presidential Candidates of 2008 about the need to develop SPS for our planet).

Unfortunately one of the major obstacles to constructing an SPS is the cost of launching material into space, which may make an SPS unreasonable unless a space elevator is constructed (although by the time one is built, it may already be too late).

Since launching building material from Earth may be too expensive, our species may have to hunt for (and utilize) precious metals off world in order to reduce the cost of constructing these massive behemoths–which means future colonists may have to harvest not only lunar soil, but nearby asteroids as well.

Even though the Moon’s surface is composed of mostly oxygen, it also contains silicon, a key ingredient for producing solar cells.

While the Moon also contains other elements such as iron and aluminum (which could provide extra resources for constructing these massive solar panels), lunar colonists may prefer to harvest these elements elsewhere as both of these elements would have practical uses “lunar side” (iron for construction and aluminum for radiation shielding).

Instead of scouring the lunar surface in search of extra building material, humanity instead may choose to harvest nearby space rocks orbiting between our homeworld and the red planet–also known as Amor asteroids.

Unlike the asteroids located in the main belt, Amor asteroids orbit much closer towards Earth, with many of them traveling around in stable orbits.

While their proximity towards our Earthen cradle may make them attractive for scientists, its their abundance of minerals and metals that may make them priceless for space minors.

One Amor asteroid in particular,  433 Eros may have enough precious metals within its tiny frame to be worth trillions of dollars (which should provide more than enough material to construct several SPS’s in space–with cash to spare for financing the project as well).

Even though there are still many challenges to building an SPS (not to mention where to locate the rectenna), our species may have to wait until we begin to harvest our “local neighborhood” before we have enough funds to actually create these energy wonders (without bankrupting our civilization).

Note: Due to lack of time, images will be inserted later on.

Update: Images inserted (with credits given).

Read More

GPS For Lunar Astronauts

Posted by on May 5, 2008 in Blog, Moon, NASA, Satellite | 0 comments

(Image: Drawing of a communications/navigation satellite in lunar orbit. Credit: NASA / Pat Rawlings)

With NASA planning on sending astronauts to live lunar side for six month sessions, the agency is attempting to figure out the best way to establish a communication network upon that eggshell colored world.

While establishing radio towers may be effective if one is constantly facing Earth, creating a GPS network is probably more ideal.

(Space.com) Getting radio signals to these hard-to-reach places is going to require a go-between that can cope with the constant gravitational nudges from the Earth, moon and sun.

One potential path a lunar communication satellite (com-sat) could take is by following a “frozen orbit” around the moon. In such an orbit the satellite’s orbital characteristics remain constant despite prods from the moon’s lumpy gravity field.

This uneven gravity field is due to mascons, large concentrations of mass in the lunar crust.

“You can think of it [a frozen orbit] as a roller coaster ride over the lunar mascons. If you pick the path just right, the tugs and pulls of the mascons will end up cancelling each other out. At the end, the spacecraft will be right back where it started in the orbit,” Hill told SPACE.com.

NASA is also considering placing satellites within the Moon’s Lagrange point (Lagrange two and two to be exact) as a communications satellite would be able to remain in a safe “fixed” position.

This would give greater flexibility for astronauts as they could establish lunar bases on the “dark side” of the Moon. This would also benefit astronauts if they decided to roam the moonscape in search of resources or to satisfy scientific curiosities.

Read More

Radiation Belt Study Could Unlock Outer Lunar Worlds

Posted by on Apr 23, 2008 in Blog, NASA, Satellite, Science | 0 comments

(Image: Illustration of two NASA probes set to explore Earth’s radiation belts. Credit: NASA)

Even though there are approximately 83 colony worlds within our solar system, many of these worlds orbit gas giants who unfortunately bathe their lunar children in deadly radiation.

In an attempt to understand these radiation belts, NASA is launching probes in order to gain more information regarding Earth’s radiation belt.

(Astrobiology Magazine) NASA will launch two identical probes into the radiation belts to provide unprecedented insight into the physical dynamics of near-Earth space, where violent space weather can affect astronauts, satellites and even ground-based technologies. Data collected by the probes will aid in the development of future space missions beyond Earth orbit. [...]

“The radiation belts were a scientific curiosity when they were discovered 50 years ago by James Van Allen, who was one of the founding members of APL,” said Barry Mauk, project scientist for RBSP. “But the belts are becoming very important because we have people and machines operating in them. That region of space is now part of our technology infrastructure. If we can understand the radiation belt environment and its variability, we can apply this knowledge to improve our spacecraft operation and system design, mission planning and astronaut safety.”

Understanding these radiation belts could aid in humanity establishing colonies upon Ganymede, Saturn’s icy ring moons, and Neptune’s Triton, who orbit within their respective planets radiation belts.

While future settlers would probably have to live within Aquarium homes (guarded by magnetic shields), this research could teach us how to survive upon these rugged spheres instead of limiting ourselves to living upon radiation safe worlds.

Read More

Video: Earthrise In HD

Posted by on Apr 23, 2008 in Blog, Japan, Moon, Satellite, Video | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: Moon Today)

To some people, space is a boring location, lacking beaches, liquid water and forests that often make Earth an ideal place to live.

But as Japan’s SELENE satellite goes to show, its the view that attracts people to the cosmos (something FedEx admitted last year).

Note: Click on the image above to watch.

Read More

Lunar Revelation Via Japanese Maps

Posted by on Apr 14, 2008 in Blog, Japan, Moon, Satellite | 0 comments

(Image: Detailed map of the moon, Credit: JAXA)

While NASA and other space agencies are busy planning on how to land people on the moon, Japan is busy mapping the lunar in extreme detail using its SELENE satellite (which is currently orbiting the Moon).

(Universe Today) The Japanese SELENE lunar orbiter has returned some of the most detailed maps of the Moon to date. The new collection of high-definition maps includes topological data and mineral location. Critically, the locations of uranium, thorium and potassium have been mapped, essential for mission planners when considering the future of manned settlements on the Moon. Seeing the lunar relief mapped to such fine detail makes for an impressive sight. So far six million data points have been collected and there’s more to come. [...]

According to the JAXA press release, these new maps are ten-times more accurate than previous maps. Using the laser altimeter (LALT) instrument, 3D data of the shapes and altitudes of surface features are promising to give the most advanced relief mapping capabilities ever performed on a planetary body other than the Earth.

Hopefully more uranium will be discovered, as it would allow colonists to construct settlements virtually anywhere upon the moon’s surface without the need for heavy dependence upon regenerative fuel cells or solar power.

Energy aside, these maps would also help future colonists determine which would be the best locations for settlement, not to mention whether or not building a railroad would be practical upon that dusty world.

While Japan has yet to launch any humans into space, they may be able to barter with NASA for a future trip, especially if they locate any more valuable resources (such as helium-3).

Read More