Partnering with American power generation company BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc., NASA is dusting off its previously-shelved idea to build nuclear-powered rockets. First conceived under the agency’s NERVA project, these “atomic rockets” were popular during the Cold War era, when nuclear power seemed like the solution for most of the world’s problems.
Unlike today’s rockets that take to the sky by burning huge amounts of fuel, atomic rockets rely on nuclear fission, or splitting — typically uranium — atoms’ nuclei to generate energy. These atomic rockets have a reactor that heats up propellants like liquid hydrogen, which expand through a nozzle in order to propel the rocket to space.
While nuclear power could be more efficient, the idea fizzled out in the 1970s thanks to the potential risks, like radiation exposure. Not to mention, the uranium necessary for nuclear fission wasn’t easy to come by, and the temperatures necessary for the nuclear reaction were absurdly high (around 2,727 degrees Celsius or 4,940 degrees Fahrenheit).
“As we push out into the solar system, nuclear propulsion may offer the only truly viable technology option to extend human reach to the surface of Mars and to worlds beyond,” Sonny Mitchell, Nuclear Thermal Propulsion project manager at NASA’s Space-Flight Center, said in a press statement that announced the agency’s collaboration with BWXT last year. “We’re excited to be working on technologies that could open up deep space for human exploration.”
Indeed, NASA thinks atomic rockets and nuclear propulsion spacecraft are crucial for their plans to get to Mars. That’s because, out of all possible propulsion systems, NTP provides the fastest trip time, the agency states.
An atomic rocket’s reactor also “doubles the efficiency at which the rocket uses fuel, allowing for a “drastically smaller” craft and shorter transit time,” Stephen Heister, a professor at Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told Bloomberg.
In order to get NTP to work, BWXT plans on adopting and testing NASA’s designs for using a low-enriched uranium (LEU) for atomic rockets. Not only is LEU safer than highly-enriched fuel like uranium 235, but it’s easier to get a hold of.
Driving down the cost of sending missions to Mars — with rockets like these that could utilize fuel more efficiently — would help humanity realize its dreams of stepping foot on the Red Planet. And NASA seems convinced that it’s necessary to explore every possible avenue to get there sooner.
Certainly SpaceX has cut down the costs of space missions thanks to their reusable rocket technology. But that cost still remains high, and companies in the industry want to cut it down even further. So it’s in the space exploration community’s best interest to put as many fuel and rocket options as possible on the table. Who knows, maybe combining reusable rocket technology with nuclear thermal propulsion could get the job done.
Brit + Co founder Brit Morin took the Code Media stage alongside news digest theSkimm co-founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg to talk about how Facebook isn’t the only way — or even the best way — to reach their shoppers and readers. Watch the interview below:
Innovid, a leading global video marketing platform, announced Monday a new solution and partnerships to help brands reach, measure and engage the elusive ‘mobile first’ audiences.
MMW has learned that these new solutions include improvements to measurement that will scale mobile in-app video viewability and that will provide support for personalization and interactivity in video.
Innovid and leading SDK providers Fyber, InMobi and MoPub–working in tandem with verification providers—offer increased transparency and performance across VAST inventory for in-app mobile, enabling marketers to measure and engage in-app audiences on a much larger scale than previously possible.
Video is now most commonly viewed on mobile devices. eMarketer has predicted that 77 percent of all video spend will be executed programmatically in 2019, and that nearly 80 percent of programmatic ad spend will go to mobile rather than desktop.
“2018 is an inflection point for mobile video – advertisers are aware they cannot effectively reach certain audiences without being in-app, but up to this point, the lack of measurement and engaging formats has been a roadblock,” said Michael Tuminello, VP of Solutions and Partnerships, Innovid. “The rollout of standardized in-app viewability, and now the availability of a standardized format for delivering dynamic and engaging messages alongside mobile video, should help to close the gap between brands and audiences in the programmatic mobile video space, which – according to current trends – will make up the majority of the video market worldwide. We are partnering with some of the largest and most innovative mobile advertising companies to kick start what we hope will be an industry-wide effort to support transparency and engagement at scale for mobile video.”
Google today is expanding its speech recognition capabilities to support dozens of new languages, particularly those in emerging markets in India and Africa, the company announced this morning. That means more people around the world will gain the ability to search the web by voice as well as type via voice using Google’s keyboard app, Gboard. The company says with the update,… Read More Mobile – TechCrunch
We’ve spent a few articles on Universe Today talking about just how difficult it’s going to be to travel to other stars. Sending tiny unmanned probes across the vast gulfs between stars is still mostly science fiction. But to send humans on that journey? That’s just a level of technology beyond comprehension.
For example, the nearest star is Proxima Centauri, located a mere 4.25 light years away. Just for comparison, the Voyager spacecraft, the most distant human objects ever built by humans, would need about 50,000 years to make that journey.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t anticipate living 50,000 years. No, we’re going to want to make the journey more quickly. But the problem, of course, is that going more quickly requires more energy, new forms of propulsion we’ve only starting to dream up. And if you go too quickly, mere grains of dust floating through space become incredibly dangerous.
Based on our current technology, it’s more likely that we’re going to have to take our time getting to another star.
And if you’re going to go the slower route, you’ve got a couple of options. Create a generational ship, so that successive generations of humans are born, live out their lives, and then die during the hundreds or even thousands of year long journey to another star.
Imagine you’re one of the people destined to live and die, never reaching your destination. Especially when you look out your window and watch a warp ship zip past with all those happy tourists headed to Proxima Centauri, who were start enough to wait for warp drives to be invented.
No, you want to sleep for the journey to the nearest star, so that when you get there, it’s like no time passed. And even if warp drive did get invented while you were asleep, you didn’t have to see their smug tourist faces as they zipped past.
Is human hibernation possible? Can we do it long enough to survive a long-duration spaceflight journey and wake up again on the other side?
Before I get into this, we’re just going to have to assume that we never merge with our robot overlords, upload ourselves into the singularity, and effortlessly travel through space with our cybernetic bodies.
For some reason, that whole singularity thing never worked out, or the robots went on strike and refused to do our space exploration for us any more. And so, the job of space travel fell to us, the fragile, 80-year lifespanned mammals. Exploring the worlds within the Solar System and out to other stars, spreading humanity into the cosmos.
Come on, we know it’ll totally be the robots. But that’s not what the science fiction tells us, so let’s dig into it.
We see animals, and especially mammals hibernating all the time in nature. In order to be able survive over a harsh winter, animals are capable of slowing their heart rate down to just a few beats a minute. They don’t need to eat or drink, surviving on their fat stores for months at a time until food returns.
It’s not just bears and rodents that can do it, by the way, there are actually a couple of primates, including the fat-tailed dwarf lemur from Madagascar. That’s not too far away on the old family tree, so there might be hope for human hibernation after all.
In fact, medicine is already playing around with human hibernation to improve people’s chances to survive heart attacks and strokes. The current state of this technology is really promising.
They use a technique called therapeutic hypothermia, which lowers the temperature of a person by a few degrees. They can use ice packs or coolers, and doctors have even tried pumping a cooled saline solution through the circulatory system. With the lowered temperature, a human’s metabolism decreases and they fall unconscious into a torpor.
But the trick is to not make them so unconscious that they die. It’s a fine line.
The results have been pretty amazing. People have been kept in this torpor state for up to 14 days, going through multiple cycles.
The therapeutic use of this torpor is still under research, and doctors are learning if it’s helpful for people with heart attacks, strokes or even the progression of diseases like cancer. They’re also trying to figure out if there are any downsides, but so far, there don’t seem to be any long-term problems with putting someone in this torpor state.
A few years ago, SpaceWorks Enterprises delivered a report to NASA on how they could use this therapeutic hypothermia for long duration spaceflight within the Solar System.
Currently, a trip to Mars takes about 6-9 months. And during that time, the human passengers are going to be using up precious air, water and food. But in this torpor state, SpaceWorks estimates that the crew will a reduction in their metabolic rate of 50 to 70%. Less metabolism, less resources needed. Less cargo that needs to be sent to Mars.
The astronauts wouldn’t need to move around, so you could keep them nice and snug in little pods for the journey. And they wouldn’t get into fights with each other, after 6-9 months of nothing but day after day of spaceflight.
We know that weightlessness has a negative effect on the body, like loss of bone mass and atrophy of muscles. Normally astronauts exercise for hours every day to counteract the negative effects of the reduced gravity. But SpaceWorks thinks it would be more effective to just put the astronauts into a rotating module and let artificial gravity do the work of maintaining their conditioning.
They envision a module that’s 4 metres high and 8 metres wide. If you spin the habitat at 20 revolutions per minute, you give the crew the equivalent of Earth gravity. Go at only 11.8 RPM and it’ll feel like Mars gravity. Down to 7.8 and it’s lunar gravity.
Normally spinning that fast in a habitat that small would be extremely uncomfortable as the crew would experience different forces at different parts of their body. But remember, they’ll be in a state of torpor, so they really won’t care.
Current plans for sending colonists to Mars would require 40 ton habitats to support 6 people on the trip. But according to SpaceWorks, you could reduce the weight down to 15 tons if you just let them sleep their way through the journey. And the savings get even better with more astronauts.
The crew probably wouldn’t all sleep for the entire journey. Instead, they’d sleep in shifts for a few weeks. Taking turns to wake up, check on the status of the spacecraft and crew before returning to their cryosleep caskets.
What’s the status of this now? NASA funded stage 1 of the SpaceWorks proposal, and in July, 2016 NASA moved forward with Phase 2 of the project, which will further investigate this technique for Mars missions, and how it could be used even farther out in the Solar System.
Elon Musk should be interested in seeing their designs for a 100-person module for sending colonists to Mars.
In addition, the European Space Agency has also been investigating human hibernation, and a possible way to enable long-duration spaceflight. They have plans to test out the technology on various non-hibernating mammals, like pigs. If their results are positive, we might see the Europeans pushing this technology forward.
Can we go further, putting people to sleep for decades and maybe even the centuries it would take to travel between the stars?
Right now, the answer is no. We don’t have any technology at our disposal that could do this. We know that microbial life can be frozen for hundreds of years. Right now there are parts of Siberia unfreezing after centuries of permafrost, awakening ancient microbes, viruses, plants and even animals. But nothing on the scale of human beings.
When humans freeze, ice crystals form in our cells, rupturing them permanently. There is one line of research that offers some hope: cryogenics. This process replaces the fluids of the human body with an antifreeze agent which doesn’t form the same destructive crystals.
Scientists have successfully frozen and then unfrozen 50-milliliters (almost a quarter cup) of tissue without any damage.
In the next few years, we’ll probably see this technology expanded to preserving organs for transplant, and eventually entire bodies, and maybe even humans. Then this science fiction idea might actually turn into reality. We’ll finally be able to sleep our way between the stars.
Since the 80s, the global automotive industry has been actively exploring the potential and possibilities of autonomous vehicle technology, with developments advancing rapidly in the past decade. Notably, India wasn’t hopping on the bandwagon – until Dr. Roshy John came along, that is. It was Dr. John’s initial research that spurred his employer, the $ 12 billion IT services firm Tata Consultancy Services, to enter this fast-growing field. Having earned a Ph.D in robotics from National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, India, he’s been in robotics for a decade and a half. and spent more than five years working on self-driving cars…