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Sunday, January 8, 2006


Weak Minerals = Life?

Terrestrial Calcite
Terrestrial Calcite
Credit: Minerals in your World
Fabien Stalport and his team at the University of Paris studied the structure and melting points of various calcite (crystalline CaCO3) samples from earth. They found that the crystals formed inorganically had fewer defects and melted about 40░C higher than those formed organically. The majority of the organic samples mass also tended to decompose to CO2 before the rest of the sample. Christopher Romanek, a geochemist at the University of Georgia, cautions that while implementations of these tests should not be hard to put on a rover, the interpretation of the results may be very difficult. "The older materials are, the more likely they've been overprinted by many, many processes. It can garble the signal so much it's hard to tell much about it at all." While there is little evidence for a lot of calcite on Mars, the results open up a new approach for the search for life. "Detecting evidence of life on Mars is probably going to be very difficult, so investigating every reasonable possible avenue makes sense," Steve Squyres said. The scientists in France are also going to try this method using different types of minerals.

Thanks to snelson5871 for posting the news.

(More info: New Scientist)


- posted by Jim @ 15:26 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, January 19, 2006


New Ion Engine

DS4G being tested at the ESTEC Electric Propulsion facility (CORONA vacuum chamber)
DS4G being tested at the ESTEC Electric Propulsion facility (CORONA vacuum chamber)
Credit: ESA
The ESA and Australian National University (ANU) have tested a new design for an ion engine. This design is more than 10 times more efficient than current ion drives, like the ESA's SMART-1. "Using a similar amount of propellant as SMART-1, with the right power supply, a future spacecraft using our new engine design wouldn't just reach the Moon, it would be able to leave the Solar System entirely," says Dr. Roger Walker of ESA's Advanced Concepts Team. The engine is called a Dual-Stage 4-Grid (DS4G) ion thruster. It was designed and built by the ESA at ANU in only 4 months.

Previous designs of ion engines used 3 grids to accelerate ions (the first to hold them back and the second and third to accelerate them). Since the voltage difference is proportional to efficiency, the bigger the difference, the better the engine. However, as the difference became greater, the grids would erode because of collisions with the ions. The new design, proposed in 2001 by David Fearn, uses 4 grids. This feature allows each set to operate at lower differences between them, but at a higher difference between the 2 sets of grids. The DS4G produces 4 times the velocity of current engines (10,000 m/s) and 6 times the upper practical limit of traditional engines as well (30kV).

Before the engine can be used in space, it must be tested thoroughly, a process that can take a long time. Also, "[w]orking with our industrial partners, the next challenge is to transition this promising new engine design from laboratory experiment to spacecraft flight model and properly define the new missions that it will enable", says JosÚ Gonzalez del Amo, Head of Electric Propulsion at ESA. "This is an ultra-ion engine. It has exceeded the current crop by many times and opens up a whole new frontier of exploration possibilities," says Dr Walker.

Thanks, again, to snelson5871 for submitting to us this news.

(More info:
Physorg)


- posted by Jim @ 8:38 EST

(permanent link)

Monday, January 23, 2006


Nano-Armor: Protecting the Astronauts of Tomorrow

Equipment being used to produce the IF material
Equipment being used to produce the IF material
Credit: IsraCast
In an article on IsraCast, the research behind making a nanoparticle based shield-vest for soldiers is discussed. ApNano, the company that developed nanolubricant, is working on such armory. The implications of the weight-to-strength ratio of this material (and indeed many nanomaterials) leads to the interesting possibility of using these new materials for space craft, shielding, electrical wires, and plumbing (maybe a long shot for sinks, but there are many other uses for nanopipes).

The shield is made of inorganic fullerene-like nanostructures (IF) and can withstand impacts of 250 tons per square centimeter, more than 5 times the strength of steel and twice the strength of the normal materials used for building bullet-proof vests. It is also assumed that the IF will be much less expensive than organic fullerenes. Although TiO2 IF are heavy, current research is focusing on making them 4 times lighter.

Another use for nanomaterials could be solar sails. Because of their great strength, flexibility, and impact resistance, the sails can be made large and light and still be strong.


- posted by Jim @ 15:20 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, January 28, 2006


New Article: Tuner on Mars

A couple of affectionate astronauts getting ready to explore (Mars?!)
A couple of affectionate astronauts getting ready to explore (Mars?!)
Credit: 1987 Marilynn Flynn
In centuries past, explorers carried boxes of paints instead of mobile phones, easels instead of PDAs, sketchpads instead of laptops. Instead of snapping away at a landscape with a digital camera and posting their pictures onto their website for everyone to see instantly, they sat down on a boulder or a log and patiently drew or painted what they saw, then carefully packed their work away and continued on their journey, slowly building-up a portfolio of images which would be sent back home many months if not years later. The Voyagers and Pathfinders of two centuries ago, who opened up the frontiers of that age, were artists: men, and women, stained with paint, who lovingly recorded what they saw and shared their experiences with others, and left us an incredible and rich heritage in the process.

Stuart Atkinson has submitted a new article to us, Turner on Mars. Well written and informative, it is an interesting read. It gives a powerful case for why art may be the way to capture the public's imagination and the spirit of exploration in a way no picture can.

I would also like to offer this moment to remember the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger on mission 51-L 20 years ago. Those 7 were lost 73 seconds into the launch because of an explosion due to problems with the O-rings of the solid fuel boosters.


- posted by Jim @ 19:22 EST

(permanent link)

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