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NASA to Use a Steam-Powered Robot to Explore Icy Moons that Could Host Alien Life

Article by Chris Ciaccia                              June 30, 2020                                  (foxnews.com)

• NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes on its website that researchers are developing a soccer-ball sized robot known as SPARROW (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds) that “would use steam propulsion to hop across the sort of icy terrains found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”

• “The terrain on Europa is likely highly complex,” said Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL roboticist and the lead researcher of the concept. “It could be porous, it might be riddled with crevasses, there might be meters-high penitentes” – long blades of ice known to form at high latitudes on Earth – “that would stop most robots in their tracks. But SPARROW has total terrain agnosticism; it has complete freedom to travel across an otherwise inhospitable terrain.” By using steam to power the robot, SPARROW could thrive in the “low-gravity environment” of Enceladus and Europa, hopping “many miles over landscapes that other robots would have difficulty navigating.”

• Enceladus and Europa both likely have oceans that exist under a layer of ice crust. In 2019, researchers determined Enceladus’ ocean is likely 1 billion years old. In 2018, researchers acknowledged they had found complex organic molecules, the “building blocks” for life on Enceladus.

• The SPARROW concept is dependent upon a lander to serve as a home base, which would “mine ice and melt it”, later heating it to create the steam necessary to power the SPARROW. It’s possible “many SPARROWs could be sent together, swarming around a specific location or splitting up to explore as much alien terrain as possible,” says NASA.
• In June, NASA announced the latest mission in its New Frontiers program known as Dragonfly, to explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which could also potentially host extraterrestrial life. NASA has also confirmed a future mission to Europa.

 

  Gareth Meirion-Griffith

NASA’s plans to explore the ice moons of the Solar System are getting more detail as the space agency is developing a robot that would use steam to power itself in deep space.

In a post to its website, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes researchers are developing a soccer-ball sized robot known as SPARROW (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds) that “would use steam propulsion to hop across the sort of icy terrains found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”

“The terrain on Europa is likely highly complex,” said Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL roboticist and the lead researcher of the concept, in the statement. “It could be porous, it might be riddled with crevasses, there might be meters-high penitentes” – long blades of ice known to form at high latitudes on Earth – “that would stop most robots in their tracks. But SPARROW has total terrain agnosticism; it has complete freedom to travel across an otherwise inhospitable terrain.”

Both moons have been mentioned as candidates to possibly host life previously, including one study published in December 2019 that suggested they could be “indigenous.”

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Mars Helicopter is Ready for Extraterrestrial Flight

Listen to “E221 Mars Helicopter is Ready for Extraterrestrial Flight” on Spreaker.

Article by NASA                          January 4, 2020                          (lakeconews.com)

• When NASA’s next Mars rover sets out for the Red Planet in 2020, it will bring along a Mars Helicopter. It is touted as another “first” for Mars. NASA wants to expand its exploration capabilities to include an aerial dimension, new areas for exploration, faster reconnaissance, and access to terrain not reachable by rovers or astronauts.

• The Mars Helicopter’s unique design is driven by the harsh realities of Mars’ environment. The Martian atmosphere is extremely thin and cold, with only 1 to 2 percent the density of sea-level air. With temperatures down to -130˚ F it resembles Earth’s atmosphere at 100,000 feet – an altitude far beyond the capabilities of regular helicopters.

• Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Langley Research Center and AeroVironment Inc., worked together over several years to develop a viable vehicle design that is part aircraft and part spacecraft. A crucial aspect of the design is to keep the mass as low as possible, but to carry enough power and energy to sustain the helicopter during flight. With two four-foot rotors that spin in opposite directions at approximately 2500 revolutions per minute, the Mars Helicopter weighs only four lbs.

• The Mars Helicopter is designed to operate at a height of 16 feet for only about 90 seconds at a time. Between flights, the helicopter recharges its batteries with an onboard solar panel. The helicopter navigates utilizing a vision-based navigation system, unassisted by humans, GPS or other navigation aids. A 12-megapixel camera takes pictures during flight, which are beamed back to the rover for relay to Earth. During the cold Martian nights, the batteries and sensitive electronics are kept warm inside a heated and insulated fuselage.

• The research team replicated the conditions of the Martian atmosphere in a 25-foot vacuum chamber ‘Space Simulator’ complete with emulated Martian winds. The team performed extensive modeling and simulation, as well as low-density experiments to determine how the helicopter would respond to the thin atmosphere, wind gusts, temperature and radiation. Controlled flight of a test vehicle was achieved in May 2016. The actual Mars Helicopter Flight Model which will be sent to Mars performed its maiden hover flight in early 2019. It will now be integrated with the rover with its next flight over the Red Planet.

[Editor’s Note]  Once again, NASA is depicting the Martian atmosphere as extremely thin, cold and inhospitable. But we know from Mars insiders such as Andrew Basiago, Randy Cramer, Tony Rodrigues, and Corey Goode that the Martian air is breathable. The air isn’t as thin as NASA claims.  The planet is cold primarily at the poles, and electric storms pervade the equatorial region. 

NASA wants to appear as if it is exploring the surface of Mars without really exploring it, because they don’t want to reveal the extensive presence already on the planet by secret space programs and indigenous beings, mostly underground. But not to worry. This Mars Helicopter only travels in 90-second spurts, 16 feet off of the ground before needing to recharge. How much ‘exploring’ can it accomplish?

 

The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration for the Mars 2020 rover mission, intended to show the feasibility and utility of using helicopters for Mars exploration.

This technology may enable future missions to perform reconnaissance or independent science, and to access terrain not reachable by rovers and astronauts.

When NASA’s next Mars rover sets out for the Red Planet in 2020, it will bring along a passenger. Nestled under the belly of the rover, the Mars Helicopter will be on a mission to notch a “first” for humankind: flying a helicopter on another planet.

By sending the helicopter to Mars as a technology demonstration, NASA aims to expand its exploration capabilities to include an aerial dimension, potentially opening new areas to exploration, and enabling faster reconnaissance for the benefit of future rovers or astronauts.

With a four-foot rotor and a weight of only four lbs, the Mars Helicopter’s unique design is driven by the harsh realities of the Mars environment.

The Martian atmosphere is extremely thin and cold; at only 1 to 2 percent, the density of sea-level air and with temperatures down to -130˚ F, it resembles Earth’s atmosphere at 100,000 feet – an altitude far beyond the capabilities of regular helicopters.

To make the Mars Helicopter a reality, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Langley Research Center and AeroVironment Inc., worked together over several years to understand the unique challenges of flying on Mars, and to develop a viable vehicle design that is part aircraft and part spacecraft.

A crucial aspect of the design is to keep the mass as low as possible, but to carry enough power and energy to sustain the helicopter during flight. Recent technological advances in areas such as batteries and solar cells, miniaturized sensors and computers, and lightweight materials are key to achieving this goal.

Many components of the Mars Helicopter were developed for the commercial cell phone and drone markets. They were qualified for the Mars Helicopter mission through testing in Mars-like temperatures and by subjecting them to radiation levels that would be experienced in space.

The Mars Helicopter is designed to operate independently on Mars, performing flights of about 90 s in duration at a height of 16 feet. The two rotors spin in opposite directions at approximately 2500 revolutions per minute.

 

1:22 minute Mars Helicopter demonstration (‘NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’ YouTube)

 

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Hello From Earth: Australia’s First Interstellar Message

Listen to “e172 Hello From Earth: Australia’s First Interstellar Message” on Spreaker.

Article by Wilson da Silva                        November 13, 2019                         (abc.net.au)

• A decade ago, the organizers of Australia’s National Science Week wanted to promote its annual ten day event and they dreamed up the project called ‘Hello From Earth’. The project would be a “Twitter to the stars” where they would collect short personal messages from the public, package them into a single transmission, and send them to the nearest habitable planet beyond our solar system. Now, ten years since the NASA transmission of these goodwill messages, they have passed the halfway mark on their long journey through the cosmos.

• The ‘Hello From Earth’ organizers chose as its communication target a “super-Earth” orbiting the habitable zone of its parent star 20.4 light-years away known as Gliese 581d. The interstellar Tweet was scheduled for August 28, 2009, utilizing three facilities within NASA’s Deep Space Network that together represented the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world. They included a transmission facility near Madrid, Spain, another in Barstow, California, and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Australia. The transmission was repeated twice over two hours with a combined power of over 300 billion mobile phones at once.

• “[T]here’s no statute covering interstellar messages, and no-one has jurisdiction over transmissions,” said Paul Davies of Arizona State University who also chaired SETI’s Post-Detection Subcommittee. While there is no permission required to transmit an interstellar message, responding to an extraterrestrial signal requires the approval of the SETI Subcommittee. But even the transmission of signals into space will upset some people who consider it unwise and potentially catastrophic to invite an alien invasion. As humans have been inadvertently transmitting signals into space since the 1930s from television broadcasts to military radar, most scientists don’t object to interstellar texting. Technologically advanced extraterrestrials would already know we’re here.

• In 1974, the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico was the first to intentionally broadcast an interstellar message to a star 25,000 light years away. There have been 31 such messages sent out to the cosmos. One was sent in 2008 from the facility outside of Madrid to commemorate the 50th anniversary of NASA. It also happened to be the 40th anniversary of the recording of the Beatles song, “Across the Universe”. Hence it was selected for transmission — with approval from Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, and Apple Records. The song was transmitted to Polaris, “the North Star” 431 light years away.

• NASA approved the ‘Hello from Earth’ proposal just eight days before the start of National Science Week. Organizers quickly built a website and invited people to offer messages for transmission. Australia’s science minister, Kim Carr, submitted the first message: “Hello from Australia on the planet we call Earth. These messages express our people’s dreams for the future. We want to share those dreams with you.” The website was bombarded with visitors from all over the world. In all, 25,880 messages were encoded into a binary signal at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and sent into space. (See a sampling of the messages below)

• NASA insisted on a very high level of decorum in the cosmic messages: nothing remotely suggestive, no risque humor or anything aggressive. When, in 1973, NASA sent a plaque with the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes, it included an illustration of a naked man and woman. NASA received complaints from members of US Congress, and newspapers ran letters objecting to NASA “exporting pornography to the stars”.

• It’s mind-boggling that we sent goodwill messages from a random selection of humans to a potentially habitable planet that might have a technical civilization. The chance that the messages reach an intelligent civilization on the distant exoplanet is highly unlikely, but it’s not zero. If a reply does come, it will arrive decades from now.

• What would you say to an alien civilization on an Earth-like planet far, far away? Here are some of the messages that were sent in August of 2009:

– “Greetings from a girl on Earth who, every so often, looks up at the night sky and waves hello in the hope that someone on another planet is doing the same.” – Sophie of Longmont, Colorado

– “If you come to Earth, look into: music, the beach, ice cream, hugs, family, love, dancing, cheese, trampolines, friendship, books and dreams. Just for a start.” – Tamasin, Richmond, Australia

– “If someone is reading this, I hope that our children will someday have the privilege of meeting one another.” — Tegan Larsen, San Antonio, United States

– “What do you see when you look up into the sky? Do you feel small and lonely, just like us? From now on, I can assure you one thing: you are not alone. Be happy.” – Sergio Camalich, Hermosillo, Mexico

– “Hello Baba, if you are out there I love you and hope you are watching me. I wonder if when you died you went to this planet.” — Liam Oliver, Coogee, Australia

– “All our petty disputes, disagreements and wars fade into insignificance when we consider our tiny world’s place in the cosmos.” — Silvio Zarb, Melbourne, Australia

– “There is only one thing bigger than this vast universe, the desire to discover. I hope I discovered you.” — T.S.M., Skopje, Macedonia

– “My aim of contacting you is to seek your assistance in transferring the sum of thirty-five million US dollars out of Nigeria and into your trusted bank account abroad.” – Hapatikiatwengo, Australia

– “Hi there. Sorry about the Outer Limits; hope you enjoyed I Love Lucy. Have you got all our missing socks? Love, Earth.” — Fred Mason, Roberts Creek, Australia

 

What would you say to an alien civilisation on an Earth-like planet far, far away?

“Greetings from a girl on Earth who, every so often, looks up at the night sky and waves hello in the hope that someone on another planet is doing the same.”

This message from Sophie of Longmont, Colorado, in the United States, is just one of almost 26,000 sent from Australia to an Earth-like planet 20 light-years away.

It’s been a decade since NASA transmitted these goodwill messages, and this week the transmission passed the halfway mark on its long, lonely journey through the silent cosmos.

The project, called Hello from Earth, began as a science communication campaign to get people excited about Australia’s National Science Week.

Those of us running the annual 10-day event were looking for an idea that would create a buzz on social media.

We decided on a kind of “Twitter to the stars”. We would collect short messages from the public and transmit them to the nearest habitable planet beyond our solar system.

Each message would be short, later packaged into a single transmission and sent using one of NASA’s facilities.

Our target was Gliese 581d, a “super-Earth” orbiting the habitable zone of its parent star.

First detected in 2007, studies in 2009 suggested it could have large oceans.

And since it was 20.4 light-years away, it would help give people a real appreciation of just how big the universe is.

“If you come to Earth, look into: music, the beach, ice cream, hugs, family, love, dancing, cheese, trampolines, friendship, books and dreams. Just for a start.” — Tamasin, Richmond, Australia

‘It might trigger an invasion’

When I suggested the idea, the bureaucrats involved with National Science Week were intrigued, if a little sceptical, but asked me to explore it.

                          Paul Davies

In the months that followed, I had conversations with sometimes quizzical senior CSIRO staff, leading astronomers and US government officials, negotiating terms and agreeing to specifications.

Surprisingly, we didn’t need approval to transmit an interstellar message — but we would have if we wanted to respond to an extraterrestrial signal.

You can understand why: if an extraterrestrial signal is received, you can’t have everyone with a high-gain antenna answering back.

So who speaks for Earth? That turned out to be the SETI Post-Detection Subcommittee, which at the time was chaired by astronomer Paul Davies of Arizona State University, an old friend and former colleague.

“What do you think?” I asked in an overnight phone call after explaining Hello from Earth.

“Will we breach any unwritten rules in the scientific community?”

“Well, there’s no statute covering interstellar messages, and no-one has jurisdiction over transmissions,” Davies said from his home in Tempe, Arizona.

“But it will upset some people.”

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