0

NASA Builds Inflatable Saucers And Giant Parachutes For Mars Landings

fb share tweet share

LDSDThe Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are triumphs for NASA, but why should the space agency rest on its laurels? Even though both rovers are rolling around on the Red Planet, NASA is hard at work on other vehicles for future Martian exploration, particularly spacecraft to deliver payloads. Their efforts are currently focused on supersonic parachutes and inflatable saucers to help slow and gently deposit cargo on the planet’s surface.

The technologies are a part of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. As we continue to explore Mars, and other planets, we’ll need a way to transport larger loads. Spacecraft move at incredibly high speeds through the Martian atmosphere, so they need to decelerate quickly and safely, allow for a soft landing for whatever they’re carrying. Previous missions, such as the one that delivered Curiosity, have relied on the Viking parachute, which NASA has used since 1976. But a simple parachute doesn’t generate enough drag for the heavier equipment that future endeavors will need, especially if humans do try to colonize Mars.

0

See How Robots Evolve Over 1,000 Generations

fb share tweet share

evolution-robotsWhen most people think of robots evolving, they think of them learning and adapting to new situations. That’s definitely part of the equation, but chances are those folks are forgetting one key aspect: mating. It might seem crazy, given that reproduction is something automatons haven’t mastered just yet, but they can theoretically mate. It’s probably not as much fun as the real thing, but robots can make decisions that would affect their mating strategies, if they were indeed able to physically reproduce. Scientists studied this kind of evolution and found that the subjects in question didn’t evolve to embrace one specific strategy for propagation, they actually devised two.

Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology put four small, two-wheeled robots equipped with cameras and infrared ports for “mating” in a small area with between 4-16 batteries representing food sources. They programmed the droids to decide what to do based on their energy levels, the location of the nearest battery, and the location of the nearest robot. They then decided whether it wanted to look for “food,” or pursue another for mating, or wait for someone else to come to them. Then the researcher left the subjects on their own, hoping that the results would shed light on polymorphism, or different forms within a single species. Polymorphism results from evolution like other traits, and the aspect these researchers were particularly interested in is the development of mating strategies among a single population.

0

SpaceX Files A Formal Protest Against The Federal Government

fb share tweet share

falcon 9Back in March, GFR reported on SpaceX’s plans to conduct missions for the U.S. military. The private contractor has been racking up the necessary certifications to use its Falcon rockets to launch government satellites, positioning them to start competing for contracts starting next year. But even then, there has been skepticism about SpaceX’s plans, not because of lack of ability, but because the Air Force halved the number of launches it will award to competitors between 2015-2017. So far, they have awarded high-priority contracts to a single company: United Launch Alliance (ULA). Elon Musk and his company perceive this to be a monopoly, and are suing the U.S. Government.

Tomorrow, the suit will be filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and an official press release and documentation will be made public at www.freedomtolaunch.com. Musk argues that the ULA’s monopoly of Air Force launches will result in unnecessarily penalizing taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars. “The national security launches should be put up for competition and they should not be awarded on a sole source, uncompeted basis,” he says. Last December, ULA secured a contract to sell 36 rocket cores to the Air Force for future endeavors. The “block buy” purchase is like buying in bulk and receiving a discount, while simultaneously denying other companies the ability to compete. The Air Force planned to award 14 more cores to other companie, but half of those, as mentioned, have been deferred.

0

Crowdfunding Mission Seeks To Resurrect ISEE-3 Space Probe

fb share tweet share

ISEE-3A long time ago (1978) in a galaxy…well, pretty close to us, NASA launched the ISEE-3 (International Sun/Earth Explorer 3) probe, sending it to space to study the magnetic field and solar winds of Earth. Since then, ISEE-3 has done NASA proud, accomplishing firsts such as flying through a comet’s tail. It collected data until 1999, when NASA decided it would party no more and switched it off. It’s been sleeping ever since, but if a crowdfunding project turns out to be successful, NASA may wake the ISEE-3 up as it passes near Earth later this year and put it back on the job.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project, which is sponsored by Space College, Skycorp, and SpaceRef, is currently running on RocketHub. It’s currently a third of the way to meeting its $125,000 goal, with 22 days left to fund the project. The idea is pretty simple, especially since a team has already been assembled, and they’ve got a radio telescope that can make contact with the probe. Scientists working on the project want to contact the probe, which is now generally known as the ICE (International Comet Explorer), fire it up, and get it back in orbit around the Earth where it can continue harvesting information and chasing comets.

0

Scientists Play With Rubber Bands Better Than The Rest Of Us

fb share tweet share

rubber bandsWe’ve all done it: bored at school (probably during math class), you find a rubber band in your desk, or your hair, or even your braces. You start playing with it, twisting it around, seeing what shapes you can make before testing out whether you’re stealthy enough to shoot it at someone without the teacher noticing. When I did this, I didn’t come up with anything publishable in PLOS One, but then again, I wasn’t a Harvard researcher at the time. Those folks found a whole new shape when they played with rubber bands.

The researchers, who were trying to make cephalopod-inspired springs, glued together two rubber bands of different lengths and then stretched them out using strings, allowing for each of the bands to twist. As they stretched, the strips starting winding, making an unusual shape. Looking at the picture, I swear I remember shapes like this from the days of stretching out the phone cord in an attempt to escape the earshot of my parents. The new shape looks like a double helix, but not quite. It has “perversions” — seriously, that’s the term for it. Yay, science! That basically means that the helix changes direction — it seems at first to curl one way, but then it reverses. Perversions like this exist in nature, particularly in plants that change their direction to angle closer to the sun or to rest on other objects in their pursuit of light. Essentially, what the scientists did was to create something called a “hemihelix.”

0

This Lego Machine Plays Electronic Music

fb share tweet share

What do you get when you put Lego blocks and electronic music together? Sheer awesomeness, of course. That was a rhetorical question. But creating such a perfect marriage is a lot harder than it may seem on the surface, just ask Alex Allmont, the brains behind this incredible display.

Allmont is a programmer and a PhD student in polyrhythmic music at Oxford Brookes University. He received his Masters in Contemporary Art there, which is when he started experimenting with integrating Lego into his music. One of his first projects was a “Pythagorean polyrhythmic piano” that converts tonal ratios into beats and is designed to encourage composers to experiment with rhythms and counter-rhythms. Such exploration of rhythm is at the heart of his PhD work, in which he strives to understand music both in terms of performance in perception. This means uniting the performer and the audience, as well as identifying and studying cognitive and performance-based aspects of playing music, including improvisation and the hypnotic states certain music can induce.