Connect with us

Science

NASA’s Tiny Mars Copter Ingenuity Is Still Flying High After 12 Successful Flights

Published

on

By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 6 September 2021

It was only supposed to fly five times. Yet NASA’s helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, has completed 12 flights and it isn’t ready to retire.

Given its stunning and unexpected success, the US space agency has extended Ingenuity’s mission indefinitely.

The tiny helicopter has become the regular travel companion of the rover Perseverance, whose core mission is to seek signs of ancient life on Mars.

“Everything is working so well,” said Josh Ravich, the head of Ingenuity’s mechanical engineering team. “We’re doing better on the surface than we had expected.”

Hundreds of people contributed to the project, though only about a dozen currently retain day-to-day roles.

Ravich joined the team five years ago.

“When I got the opportunity to come work on the helicopter project, I think I had the same reaction as anybody else: ‘Is that even possible?'”

His initial doubts were understandable: The air on Mars has a density equivalent to only one percent that of Earth’s atmosphere. By way of comparison, flying a helicopter on Mars would be like flying one in the thin air nearly 20 miles (30 kilometres) above Earth.

Nor was it easy getting to Mars in the first place. Ingenuity had to withstand the initial shock of takeoff from Earth, and then of the February 18 landing on the red planet following a seven-month voyage through space, strapped to the rover’s belly.

Once in its new surroundings, the tiny (four pound, or 1.8 kilogram) copter has had to survive the glacial cold of Martian nights, drawing warmth from the solar panels that charge its batteries during the day. And its flights are guided using an array of sensors, since the 15-minute lag in communications from Earth makes real-time guidance impossible.

Scouting duties

On April 19, Ingenuity carried out its maiden flight, making history as the first motorised craft to fly on another planet.

Exceeding all expectations, it has gone on to fly 11 more times.

“We’ve actually been able to handle winds greater than we had expected,” Ravich told AFP.

“I think by flight three we had actually accomplished all of our engineering goals … (and) got all the information we had hoped to get,” said Ravich, who works for NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which developed the helicopter.

Since then, Ingenuity has flown as high as 39 feet (12 metres), and its last flight lasted two minutes and 49 seconds. In all, it has covered a distance of 1.6 miles.

In May, Ingenuity flew its first one-way mission, landing outside the relatively flat “airfield” that had been carefully selected as its initial home.

But not all has gone smoothly. Its sixth flight brought some excitement.

After being knocked dangerously off-balance by a malfunction affecting the photos taken in flight to help it stabilise, the tiny craft was able to recover. It landed, safe and sound, and the problem was resolved.

Ingenuity is now being sent out to scout the way for Perseverance, using its high-resolution color camera.

The purpose is twofold: to chart a path for the rover that is safe, but also which is of scientific interest, notably in geological terms.

Ken Farley, who heads Perseverance’s science team, explained how photos taken by Ingenuity during its 12th flight showed that a region dubbed South Seitha was of less interest than scientists had hoped.

As a result, the rover might not be sent there.

Favourable conditions

After more than six months on the red planet, the little drone-like craft has gained a growing following on Earth, featured on coffee cups and T-shirts sold on the internet.

What explains its longevity?

“The environment has been very cooperative so far: the temperatures, the wind, the sun, the dust in the air… It’s still very cold, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Ravich.

In theory, the helicopter should be able to keep operating for some time. But the approaching Martian winter will be challenging.

NASA engineers, now armed with the data from Ingenuity’s flights, are already working on its next-generation successors.

“Something in the 20 to 30 kilograms (range) maybe, able to carry science payloads,” said Ravich.

Those future payloads might just include the rock samples collected by Perseverance.

NASA is planning to retrieve those samples during a future mission – sometime in the 2030s.

Science

US Researchers Test Pig-to-Human Transplant in Donated Body

Published

on

By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022

Researchers on Thursday reported the latest in a surprising string of experiments in the quest to save human lives with organs from genetically modified pigs.

This time around, surgeons in Alabama transplanted a pig’s kidneys into a brain-dead man — a step-by-step rehearsal for an operation they hope to try in living patients possibly later this year.

“The organ shortage is in fact an unmitigated crisis and we’ve never had a real solution to it,” said Dr. Jayme Locke of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who led the newest study and aims to begin a clinical trial of pig kidney transplants.

Similar experiments have made headlines in recent months as research into animal-to-human transplants heats up.

Twice this fall, surgeons at New York University temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient to watch them work. And earlier this month, surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center gave a dying man a heart from a gene-edited pig that so far is keeping him alive.

But scientists still needed to learn more about how to test such transplants without risking a patient’s life. With the help of a family who donated a loved one’s body for science, Locke mimicked the way human organ transplants are done — from removing the pig “donor” kidneys to sewing them inside the deceased man’s abdomen.

For a little over three days, until the man’s body was removed from life support, the pair of pig kidneys survived with no sign of immediate rejection, her team reported Thursday in the American Journal of Transplantation.

That was only one of several key findings. Locke said it wasn’t clear if delicate pig kidney blood vessels could withstand the pounding force of human blood pressure – but they did. One kidney was damaged during removal from the pig and didn’t work properly but the other rapidly started producing urine as a kidney should. No pig viruses were transmitted to the recipient, and no pig cells were found in his bloodstream.

But Locke said the kidney experiment could have more far-reaching impact – because it shows that a brain-dead body can be a much-needed human model to test potential new medical treatments.

The research was conducted in September after Jim Parsons, a 57-year-old Alabama man, was declared brain-dead from a dirt bike racing accident.

After hearing this kind of research “had the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, we knew without a doubt that that was something that Jim would have definitely put his seal of approval on,” said Julie O’Hara, Parsons’ ex-wife.

The need for another source of organs is huge: While more than 41,000 transplants were performed in the US last year, a record, more than 100,000 people remain on the national waiting list. Thousands die every year before getting an organ and thousands more never even get added to the list, considered too much of a long shot.

Animal-to-human transplants, what’s called xenotransplantation, have been attempted without success for decades. People’s immune systems almost instantly attack the foreign tissue. But scientists now have new techniques to edit pig genes so their organs are more human-like — and some are anxious to try again.

The recent string of pig experiments “is a big step forward,” said Dr. David Kaczorowski of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Moving on to first-stage trials in potentially dozens of people is “becoming more and more feasible.”

A heart transplant surgeon, Kaczorowski has done experiments testing pig organs in non-human primates that helped pave the way but “there are only things we can learn by transplanting them into humans.”

Hurdles remain before formal testing in people begins, including deciding who would qualify to test a pig organ, said Karen Maschke, a research scholar at the Hastings Center who will help develop ethics and policy recommendations for the first clinical trials under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists also still have much to learn about how long pig organs survive and how best to genetically alter them, cautioned Dr. Robert Montgomery of NYU Langone Health, who led that centre’s kidney experiments in the fall.

“I think different organs will require different genetic modifications,” he said in an email.

For the newest kidney experiment, UAB teamed with Revivicor, the subsidiary of United Therapeutics that also provided organs for the recent heart transplant in Maryland and the kidney experiment in New York. Company scientists made 10 genetic changes to these pigs, knocking out some genes that trigger a human immune attack and make the animals’ organs grow too large — and adding some human genes so the organs look less foreign to people’s immune systems.

Then there are practical questions such as how to minimise time spent getting pig organs to their destination. UAB housed the altered pigs in a germ-free facility in Birmingham complete with an operating room-like space to remove the organs and ready them for transplant.

Revivicor chief scientific officer David Ayares said future plans include building more such facilities near transplant centres.

Continue Reading

Science

World’s First Space-Based Film Studio SEE to Launch by 2024, to Co-Produce Upcoming Tom Cruise Caper

Published

on

By ANI | Updated: 21 January 2022

Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE) is planning to launch what it claims is the world’s first entertainment studio and multi-purpose arena in zero gravity. The company is co-producing Tom Cruise’s upcoming space movie.

SEE has unveiled plans to build a space station module that contains a sports and entertainment arena as well as a content studio by December 2024.

Named SEE-1, the module is intended to host films, television, music, and sports events as well as artists, producers and creatives who want to make content in the low orbit, micro-gravity environment. The facilities will enable the development, production, recording, broadcasting and livestreaming of content.

SEE intend to produce its own content and events in the module as well as make it available to third parties.

Axiom Space, who in January 2020 won NASA’s approval to build a commercial component of the International Space Station (ISS), will undertake the construction of SEE-1. The module will dock on Axiom’s commercial arm, named Axiom Station, which will also host other commercial ventures, including space tourism.

Axiom Station will then separate from the ISS in 2028.

SEE, which was co-founded in the UK by entrepreneurs and producers Elena and Dmitry Lesnevsky, is currently planning a fundraising round.

“SEE-1 is an incredible opportunity for humanity to move into a different realm and start an exciting new chapter in space,” said Dmitry and Elena Lesnevsky in a statement.

“It will provide a unique, and accessible home for boundless entertainment possibilities in a venue packed with innovative infrastructure which will unleash a new world of creativity. With worldwide leader Axiom Space building this cutting-edge, revolutionary facility, SEE-1 will provide not only the first but also the supreme quality space structure enabling the expansion of the two trillion-dollar global entertainment industry into low-Earth orbit,” the statement continued.

“Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station, is designed as the foundational infrastructure enabling a diverse economy in orbit,” said Michael Suffredini, president/CEO of Axiom Space.

“Adding a dedicated entertainment venue to Axiom Station’s commercial capabilities in the form of SEE-1 will expand the station’s utility as a platform for a global user base and highlight the range of opportunities the new space economy offers,” added Suffredini.

“SEE-1 will showcase and leverage the space environment in an unprecedented way,” Axiom chief engineer Dr Michael Baine said.

“The inflatable module design provides for around six metres diameter of unobstructed pressurized volume, which can be adapted to a range of activities – including an onboard state-of-the-art media production capability that will capture and convey the experience of weightlessness with breathtaking impact,” Dr Baine explained.

Richard Johnston, COO of SEE. added: “From Jules Verne to ‘Star Trek,’ science fiction entertainment has inspired millions of people around the world to dream about what the future might bring. Creating a next-generation entertainment venue in space inspire opens countless doors to create incredible new content and make these dreams a reality.”

Continue Reading

Science

China Satellite in Close Encounter With Russian Anti-Satellite Missile Test Debris: State Media

Published

on

By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 21 January 2022

A Chinese satellite had a near collision with one of the many chunks of debris left by the fallout of a recent Russian anti-satellite missile test, state media reported.

Moscow blew up one of its old satellites in November in a missile test that sparked international anger because of the space debris it scattered around the Earth’s orbit.

US officials accused Moscow of carrying out a “dangerous and irresponsible” strike that had created a cloud of debris and forced the International Space Station’s crew to take evasive action.

Russia dismissed those concerns and denied that the space debris posed any danger but a new incident with a Chinese satellite suggests otherwise.

In the latest encounter, China’s Tsinghua Science Satellite came as close as 14.5 metres from a piece of debris, the state-run Global Times reported late Wednesday.

The “extremely dangerous” event happened on Tuesday, the report added, citing a social media post by Chinese space authorities that has since been removed.

Space debris expert Liu Jing told the Global Times that it was rare for debris and spacecraft to be just a dozen metres apart, adding that the probability of collision this time was “very high” and should theoretically have called for evasive action.

Anti-satellite weapons are high-tech missiles possessed by few nations, and the move reignited concerns about an escalating arms race in space – encompassing everything from laser weapons to satellites capable of shunting others out of orbit.

The test was the fourth ever to hit a spacecraft from the ground, and generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris.

Last year there were close encounters between the Chinese space station and satellites operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which led to Beijing accusing the US of irresponsible and unsafe conduct in space.

Continue Reading

Science

Earth’s Interior Is Cooling Faster Than Expected: Research

Published

on

By ANI | Updated: 17 January 2022

A measuring system that measures the thermal conductivity of bridgmanite in the laboratory, under the pressure and temperature conditions that prevail inside the Earth, has been developed by a team of researchers.

The study has been published in the ‘Earth and Planetary Science Letters Journal’.

The evolution of our Earth is the story of its cooling: 4.5 billion years ago, extreme temperatures prevailed on the surface of the young Earth, and it was covered by a deep ocean of magma. Over millions of years, the planet’s surface cooled to form a brittle crust. However, the enormous thermal energy emanating from the Earth’s interior set dynamic processes in motion, such as mantle convection, plate tectonics, and volcanism.

Still unanswered, though, are the questions of how fast the Earth cooled and how long it might take for this ongoing cooling to bring the aforementioned heat-driven processes to a halt.

One possible answer may lie in the thermal conductivity of the minerals that form the boundary between the Earth’s core and mantle.

This boundary layer is relevant because it is here that the viscous rock of the Earth’s mantle is in direct contact with the hot iron-nickel melt of the planet’s outer core. The temperature gradient between the two layers is very steep, so there is potentially a lot of heat flowing here. The boundary layer is formed mainly of the mineral bridgmanite. However, researchers have a hard time estimating how much heat this mineral conducts from the Earth’s core to the mantle because experimental verification is very difficult.

Now, ETH Professor Motohiko Murakami and his colleagues from Carnegie Institution for Science have developed a sophisticated measuring system that enables them to measure the thermal conductivity of bridgmanite in the laboratory, under the pressure and temperature conditions that prevail inside the Earth.

For the measurements, they used a recently developed optical absorption measurement system in a diamond unit heated with a pulsed laser.

“This measurement system let us show that the thermal conductivity of bridgmanite is about 1.5 times higher than assumed,” ETH Professor Motohiko Murakami said.

This suggested that the heat flow from the core into the mantle is also higher than previously thought. Greater heat flow, in turn, increases mantle convection and accelerates the cooling of the Earth. This may cause plate tectonics, which is kept going by the convective motions of the mantle, to decelerate faster than researchers were expecting based on previous heat conduction values.

Murakami and his colleagues have also shown that rapid cooling of the mantle will change the stable mineral phases at the core-mantle boundary. When it cools, bridgmanite turns into the mineral post-perovskite.

But as soon as post-perovskite appears at the core-mantle boundary and begins to dominate, the cooling of the mantle might indeed accelerate even further, the researchers estimated, since this mineral conducted heat even more efficiently than bridgmanite.

“Our results could give us a new perspective on the evolution of the Earth’s dynamics. They suggest that Earth, like the other rocky planets Mercury and Mars, is cooling and becoming inactive much faster than expected,” Murakami explained.

However, he could not say how long it will take, for example, for convection currents in the mantle to stop.

“We still don’t know enough about these kinds of events to pin down their timing,” he said.

To do that calls first for a better understanding of how mantle convection works in spatial and temporal terms. Moreover, scientists need to clarify how the decay of radioactive elements in the Earth’s interior -one of the main sources of heat-affected the dynamics of the mantle.

Continue Reading

Science

Avatar Robot Goes to School for Ill German Boy

Published

on

By Reuters | Updated: 15 January 2022

Joshua Martinangeli, 7, is too ill to go to school. But the German student can still interact with his teacher and classmates through an avatar robot that sits in class in his place and sends a blinking signal when he has something to say.

“The children talk to him, laugh with him and sometimes even chitchat with him during the lesson. Joshi can do that quite well, too,” Ute Winterberg, headmistress at the Pusteblume-Grundschule in Berlin, told Reuters in an interview.

Joshua cannot attend classes because he wears a tube in his neck due to a severe lung disease, said his mother, Simone Martinangeli.

The project is a private initiative paid for by the local council in the Berlin district Marzahn-Hellersdorf.

“We are the only district in Berlin that has bought four avatars for its schools. The impetus was COVID-19, but I think this will be the future well beyond the pandemic,” said district education councillor Torsten Kuehne.

“It does happen from time to time, for various reasons, that a child cannot go to class in person. Then, the avatar can give that child a chance to remain part of the school community,” Kuehne said.

He added that he had already brought up the project in political discussions at a state level.

“I like it either way because I like the avatar,” said student Noah Kuessner when asked if he is looking forward to seeing Joshua again.

“And I would like it better if Joshi could really come to school,” said another classmate, Beritan Aslanglu.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

Continue Reading

Science

Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches 7 Satellites Into Orbit

Published

on

By Associated Press | Updated: 14 January 2022

A Virgin Orbit rocket released from a jet flying off the California coast carried seven small satellites into space on Thursday as the company kicked off a year in which it plans to ramp up the pace of launches, including two originating from Britain.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 took off from Mojave Air & Space Port in the Southern California desert, flew out over the Pacific Ocean and dropped the LauncherOne rocket from its left wing.

The 70-foot-long (21.3-meter) booster ignited at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and hurtled skyward. The company later confirmed that all of the satellites were successfully deployed into the proper orbit.

“Another fantastic day for the Virgin Orbit team, and a big step forward for our customers,” the company tweeted.

The payload included satellites for the US Defense Department, the Polish company SatRevolution and the international company Spire Global.

It was Virgin Orbit’s third launch carrying satellites for customers. Two previous launches carried multiple satellites into orbit in January and June 2021. The company’s first launch, a demonstration flight, failed in May 2020.

Virgin Orbit, founded in 2017 by British billionaire Richard Branson, went public last month. The company is targeting the market for launching small satellites. It touts the mobility of its air-launch system compared to the limitations of fixed launch sites.

“The tremendous thing about using a 747 is we can put them into any orbit from anywhere in the world,” Branson said from the British Virgin Islands during the company’s launch webcast.

“There’s only I think a couple of handfuls of countries in the world that have the capability of sending satellites to space from their own countries and now 480 countries can use Virgin Orbit,” he said. “You just need to ring us up.”

The company plans six launches this year, including two for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force that will originate from Cornwall in southwestern England. RAF test pilot Mathew “Stanny” Stannard flew the 747 from the main pilot seat on Thursday.

“This is going to be just a banner year for us,” Chief Operating Officer Tony Gingiss said in a preflight briefing this week.

Gingiss said there has been continuous improvement flight-over-flight.

“I think we’re seeing not only the kind of rigor we expect but just really getting highly confident in our processes,” he said.

Thursday’s mission was dubbed “Above the Clouds,” a title taken from a track on hip hop duo Gang Starr’s album “Moment of Truth,” which was released by Virgin Records in 1998.

Branson noted during his interview that his family got COVID-19 over Christmas.

“Fortunately we were vaccinated and boosted and therefore none of us got it badly,” he said.

Continue Reading

Trending