Aerospace


Rosetta: Firing harpoons in space. ESA/ATG medialab

By Alan Fitzsimmons, Queen's University Belfast

The first attempted landing on the surface of a comet is a huge landmark in the history of space exploration that will not only uncover further details about comets but could unlock further clues about the origins of our solar system and the development of life on Earth.


Rosetta mission: A giant leap for humans and robots. Huart, ESA

By Natalie Starkey, The Open University

Aircraft propelled by beams of light rather than fuel? Laser-propulsion just got a step closer thanks to a new method for improving the thrust systems developed by physicists Yuri Rezunkov of the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering and Alexander Schmidt of the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in Saint Petersburg. 

Currently, the maximum speed of a spacecraft is limited by the amount of solid or liquid fuel that it can carry. Achieving higher speeds means that more fuel must be burned—fuel that, inconveniently, has to be carried by the craft and hefted into space. These burdensome loads can be reduced, however, if a laser—one located at a remote location, and not actually on the spacecraft—were used to provide additional propulsive force.

Though it has been in the works since 1996 and long passed both its original 2011 completion date and even the most aggressive budget estimate, the James Webb Space Telescope has a milestone that may get people excited: after 116 days of extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, emerged unscathed from the thermal vacuum chamber at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

No one is going into deep space any time soon, the modern political climate is such that it will now be common for one president to cancel his predecessor's program. As President Obama did to Bush, someone in 2017 is likely to do to President Obama.

Yet officially, the NASA that the president said could not even go back to the moon on time and on budget is hoping it will go to Mars, and in preparation for that people are trying to understand and characterize the radiation hazards astronauts could face., concludes a new paper by University of New Hampshire scientists.

The Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects that the New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after doing a fly-by of Pluto in July 2015.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast rim of primordial debris encircling our solar system. KBOs belong to a unique class of solar system objects that has never been visited by spacecraft and which contain clues to the origin of our solar system.

The Kuiper Belt objects are each about 10 times larger than typical comets, 1 to 2 percent of the size of Pluto. Unlike asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects have not been heated by the sun and are thought to represent a pristine, well preserved deep-freeze sample of what the outer solar system was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago.