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Venus May Have Been the First Habitable Planet In Our Solar System, Study Suggests ( 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Venus is often referred to as Earth's evil twin, but conditions on the planet were not always so hellish, according to research that suggests it may have been the first place in the solar system to have become habitable. The study, due to be presented this week at the at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Pasadena, concludes that at a time when primitive bacteria were emerging on Earth, Venus may have had a balmy climate and vast oceans up to 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) deep. Michael Way, who led the work at the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, said: "If you lived three billion years ago at a low latitude and low elevation the surface temperatures would not have been that different from that of a place in the tropics on Earth," he said. Crucially, if the calculations are correct the oceans may have remained until 715m years ago -- a long enough period of climate stability for microbial life to have plausibly sprung up. "The oceans of ancient Venus would have had more constant temperatures, and if life begins in the oceans -- something which we are not certain of on Earth -- then this would be a good starting place," said Way. With an average surface temperature of 462C (864F), Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system today, thanks to its proximity to the sun and its impenetrable carbon dioxide atmosphere, 90 times denser than Earth's. At some point in the planet's history this led to a runaway greenhouse effect. Way and colleagues simulated the Venusian climate at various time points between 2.9 billion and 715 million years ago, employing similar models to those used to predict future climate change on Earth. The scientists fed some basic assumptions into the model, including the presence of water, the intensity of the sunlight and how fast Venus was rotating. In this virtual version, 2.9 billion years ago Venus had an average surface temperature of 11C (52F) and this only increased to an average of 15C (59F) by 715m years ago, as the sun became more powerful. Details of the study are also published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Orbital ATK Returns To Flight With Successful Antares Launch To Space Station ( 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: The Orbital ATK Antares rocket -- the same rocket that exploded on its way to the International Space Station two years ago -- returned to flight today with a much-anticipated launch. Lifting off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the Antares rocket is now on its way to deliver the Cygnus spacecraft filled with over 5,000 pounds of cargo to crew members aboard the ISS. Today's launch was particularly special for Orbital ATK, a company contracted by NASA to deliver 66,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS through 2018. After their Antares rocket exploded during a launch in 2014, destroying thousands of pounds of experiments and cargo bound for the space station, Orbital ATK worked for two years to upgrade that rocket and prepare for its return to flight. Today, the Orbital ATK was finally able to fly Cygnus on top of their own rocket again. The RD-181-equipped Antares rocket carried Cygnus, which housed science experiments and supplies for the ISS crew, for their fifth operational cargo resupply mission for NASA. Along with crew supplies, spacewalk equipment and computer resources, Cygnus will bring over 1,000 pounds of science investigations to the five crew members on the ISS. One of those experiments is Saffire-II, the second Saffire experiment to be conducted inside Cygnus in order to study realistic flame propagation in space. Cygnus will spend over a month attached to the ISS. In late November, the spacecraft will be filled with about 3,000 pounds of trash and then released to begin its descent back to Earth. During reentry through Earth's atmosphere, the spacecraft, along with trash and Saffire-II, will be destroyed.

NASA's Plan To Put Juno Closer To Jupiter Delayed ( 6

An anonymous reader shares an IANS report: Mission managers for the Juno probe to Jupiter have decided to delay the upcoming burn of its main rocket motor -- designed to put the spacecraft closer to the largest planet in our solar system -- until December, the US space agency said on Saturday. The decision was made in order to further study the performance of a set of valves that are part of the spacecraft's fuel pressurization system. This burn, originally scheduled for October 19, called the period reduction maneuver (PRM), was to reduce Juno's orbital period around Jupiter from 53.4 to 14 days. "It is important to note that the orbital period does not affect the quality of the science that takes place during one of Juno's close flybys of Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "The mission is very flexible that way. The data we collected during our first flyby on August 27th was a revelation, and I fully anticipate a similar result from Juno's October 19th flyby," Bolton noted.

NASA Has No Plans To Buy More Soyuz Seats ( 87

schwit1 writes: Both Boeing and SpaceX better get their manned capsules working by 2019, because NASA at this point has no plans to buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules after the present contract runs out. Spaceflight Now reports: "Even as the commercial crew schedules move later into 2018, NASA officials say they are not considering extending the contract with Roscosmos -- the Russian space agency -- for more launches in 2019. The last Soyuz launch seats reserved for U.S. astronauts are at the end of 2018. It takes more than two years to procure components and assemble new Soyuz capsules, so Russia needed to receive new Soyuz orders from NASA by some time this fall to ensure the spacecraft would be ready for liftoff in early 2019." The second paragraph above notes that even if NASA decided it needed more Soyuz launches, it is probably too late to buy them and have them available by 2019. "A Soyuz is a complicated vehicle, and a complicated vehicle doesn't come into existence in a matter of days," said Kirk Shireman, NASA's space station program manager. "It takes over two years to build a Soyuz, so yes, at some point in time, building a new Soyuz vehicle is not an option. We're working with our Russian counterparts on exactly when that is. We have not crossed that date yet, but I believe the date is in sight. It will be this calendar year when we will cross the point where we won't be able to build a Soyuz in time for when our last seats that we've already procured expire," Shireman said.

President Obama Orders Government To Plan For 'Space Weather' ( 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Network World: President Barack Obama today issued an Executive Order that defines what the nation's response should be to a catastrophic space weather event that takes out large portions of the electrical power grid, resulting in cascading failures that would affect key services such as water supply, healthcare, and transportation. The Executive Order ideally will coordinate the responses across government agencies such as NASA, the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy and others to help minimize economic loss and save lives by enhancing national security, identifying successful mitigation technologies, and ordering the creation of nationwide response and recovery plans and procedures, the White House stated. Further, the Executive Order will enhance the scientific and technical capabilities of the United States, including improved prediction of space-weather events and their effects on infrastructure systems and services. By this action, the Federal Government will lead by example and help motivate State and local governments, and other nations, to create communities that are more resilient to the hazards of space weather. The Executive Order reinforces the formal National Space Weather Strategy and accompanying Action Plan which were announced last year. It also bolsters other work such as the replacement of aging satellites that monitor and help forecast space weather, proposing space-weather standards for both the national and international air space, development of regulations to ensure the continued operation of the electric grid during an extreme space weather event, proposing a new option for replacing crucial Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers damaged by space weather, and developing domestic production sources for EHV transformers, the White House wrote.

NASA To Allow Private Companies To Hook Up Modules To ISS ( 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Private space companies may soon get the opportunity to add their own habitat modules to the outside of the International Space Station. That's according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who announced the new initiative today as a way to help expand the number of companies and people that can do work and research in space. That can eventually help companies gain the experience and capability to create private space stations of their own. "A vibrant user community will be key to ensuring the economic viability of future space stations," wrote Bolden in a White House blog post. The announcement of this new opportunity comes just a few months after NASA asked private companies for ideas of how they might use one of the docking ports on the ISS. Based on the responses NASA received, Bolden said companies had a "strong desire" to attach commercial modules to the station that could benefit both NASA and the private sector. Bolden didn't specify which companies expressed interest, but one company in particular, Bigelow Aerospace, has been very vocal about its desire to hook up habitats to the ISS; the company wants to attach its next big inflatable habitat, the B330, to the ISS as early as 2020. One of Bigelow's experimental habitats is already connected to the ISS, though its stay is only temporary and meant to gather data about Bigelow's habitat technology. While the new ISS initiative is meant to foster innovation in the private sector, it will also presumably help jumpstart the space station's transition from a state-run project to one helmed by the private sector. The ISS is set to retire in 2024, and NASA is looking to move beyond lower Earth orbit and send humans to Mars by the mid-2030s. But before NASA abandons the ISS, the space agency wants to leave the orbiting lab in some private company's capable hands. "Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-Earth orbit," Bill Hill, NASA's deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said at a press conference in August. President Barack Obama also said Tuesday that the country will send Americans to Mars by the 2030s and return them "safely to Earth," which is part of a long-term goal to "one day remain there for an extended time."

Barack Obama: America Will Take the Giant Leap To Mars, To Send People There by the 2030s ( 348

The United States President Barack Obama said Tuesday the country will send Americans to Mars by the 2030s and return them "safely to Earth." This is all part of a longer-term goal of making it possible to "one day remain there for an extended time," he added in an op-ed published on CNN. The effort will require cooperation between public and private space interests in meeting that goal, the president added. As a sign of forward progress, private space companies will send astronauts to the International Space Station within the next two years. "Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We'll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time," Obama wrote. "But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we'll know that because of the choices we make now, they've gone to space not just to visit, but to stay -- and in doing so, to make our lives better here on Earth." The White House in a joint blog post with NASA said that seven companies have received awards to develop habitation systems. And this fall, NASA will provide companies with the opportunity to add modules and other capabilities to the International Space Station.

'Space Brain': Mars Explorers May Risk Neural Damage, Study Finds ( 186

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Astronauts making a years-long voyage to Mars may get bombarded with enough cosmic radiation to seriously damage their brains, researchers reported Monday. The damage might be bad enough to affect memory and, worse, might heighten anxiety, the team at the University of California Irvine said. It's the second study the team has done to show that cosmic radiation causes permanent, and likely untreatable, brain damage. While their experiments involve mice, the brain structures that are damaged are similar, they write in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. NASA knows that astronauts risk physical damage from the radiation encountered in space. Earth is enveloped in a large, protective sheath called the magnetosphere, which deflects a lot of the ionizing radioactive particles that speed through space. Teams aboard the International Space Station are inside that envelope. But moon travelers were not, and this summer a study showed the cosmic radiation may have damaged the hearts of many of the Apollo program astronauts. A trip to Mars would expose astronauts to even more radiation -- enough to cause cancer, for sure, and now this research suggests brain damage, as well. They bombarded mice with the same type of radiation that would be encountered in space, and then looked at what happened to their brains. It did not look good. The changes were seen in the connections between brain cells and in the cells, as well. "Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel -- such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life."

MuckRock Identifies The Oldest US Government Computer Still in Use ( 60

Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: When MuckRock started using public records to find the oldest computer in use by the U.S. government, they scoured the country -- but it wasn't until a few tipsters that they set their sights a little higher and found that the oldest computer in use by the government might be among other planets entirely.
The oldest computer still in use by the U.S. government appears to be the on-board systems for the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes -- nearly 40 years old, and 12.47 billion miles away from earth. (Last year NASA put out a call for a FORTRAN programmer to upgrade the probes' software.) But an earlier MuckRock article identified their oldest software still in use on earth -- "the computers inside the IRS that makes sure everybody is paying their taxes". And it also identified their oldest hardware still in use -- "the machines running the nuclear defense system". (The launch commands are still stored on 8-inch floppy disks.)

How Tech Companies Are Responding To Hurricane Matthew ( 38

South Carolina was hit by Hurricane Matthew at 11 a.m. EST, after the hurricane killed at least 300 people in Haiti (with Reuters estimating Haiti's death toll over 800). But as the U.S. declares a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, and with the power out for more than a million people, an anonymous Slashdot reader looks at the role tech companies are playing in responding to the storm system: AirBNB "has been advertising free rooms in parts of Florida and South Carolina" reports Motherboard. AirBNB's Disaster Reponse Tool connects people needing shelter with volunteers who are offering their residences for free. Meanwhile, Uber promised to cap its "surge pricing" for the area, while Lyft promised its fares would rise no more than two times their normal rate.

But many escaped the path of the hurricane thanks to Shofur, a startup that books chartered buses and matches riders to low-cost tickets, according to the Daily Dot. "Through Thursday night and into the early morning hours of Friday, Shofur evacuated an estimated 10,000 Floridians and Georgians to areas such as Atlanta, Florida's west coast, and the panhandle."

NASA is also flying a huge 15,000-pound drone over the area to collect real-time weather data, while Verizon is testing a 17-foot drone which may one day provide LTE mobile connectivity to first responders. In addition, a Verizon spokesperson says drone-enabled connectivity has "set the stage" for connecting drones to their IoT platform next year.

Kennedy Space Center Braces For Hurricane Matthew ( 82

Hurricane Matthew, one of the most powerful storms to hit Florida's Space Coast in the last 50 years, is expected to pummel the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday night and into Friday. "Kennedy Space Center is now in HurrCon 1 status, meaning a hurricane is imminent. Hurricane preparations at Kennedy were completed early last night, and remaining employees were then sent home," NASA spokesman George Diller said in a blog post today. CBS News reports: The National Hurricane Center is predicting heavy rain, dangerous storm surges and winds gusting up to 140 mph along Florida's east coast with the eye passing just off shore or directly over Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Satellite observations of Matthew show the hurricane features "a distinct eye surrounded by very deep convection," the National Hurricane Center reported in its 11 a.m. EDT update. "Data from an Air Force reconnaissance plane traversing the eye of the hurricane also indicate that Matthew has strengthened. Members of a 139-member "rideout" team will be stationed at various facilities across the space center to monitor critical systems "and report any significant events" to emergency operations personnel in the Complex 39 Launch Control Center where space shuttle launchings were once managed. "After the hurricane has passed, and winds have dropped below 50 knots, areas around KSC will be assessed and the damage assessment and recovery team will report for duty," said Diller. You can view satellite images of the storm here.

Blue Origin Lands Rocket During Launch Escape Test ( 89

SpaceX isn't the only private company interested in reusable rockets. Blue Origin, an American privately-funded aerospace manufacturer established by founder Jeff Bezos, surprised everyone, including itself, by successfully landing its New Shepard rocket in today's in-flight launch escape test. Gizmodo reports: Moments ago, Blue Origin conducted an in flight test of its launch escape system, separating a crew capsule from its New Shepard booster at an altitude of 16,000 feet. This test was critical to ensure that the rocket will be safe for human passengers, whom Blue Origin hopes to start flying into sub-orbital space as early as next year. Not only did the crew capsule make a clean separation, deploy its parachutes, and land softly in a small cloud of dust back on Earth, but the booster -- which everybody expected to go splat -- continued on its merry way into suborbital space, after which it succeeded in landing smoothly back on Earth for a fifth time. Although Blue Origin has tested its launch escape system on the launchpad before, this is the first time such a system has been tested, by anyone, in flight since the 1960s. It was almost too perfect. You can watch the test here.

Boeing CEO Vows To Beat Elon Musk To Mars ( 254

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg sketched out a Jetsons-like future at a conference Tuesday, envisioning a commercial space-travel market with dozens of destinations orbiting the Earth and hypersonic aircraft shuttling travelers between continents in two hours or less. And Boeing intends to be a key player in the initial push to send humans to Mars, maybe even beating Musk to his long-time goal. "I'm convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said at the Chicago event on innovation, which was sponsored by the Atlantic magazine. Like Musk's SpaceX, Boeing is focused on building out the commercial space sector near earth as spaceflight becomes more routine, while developing technology to venture far beyond the moon. The Chicago-based aerospace giant is working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop a heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System for deep space exploration. Boeing and SpaceX are also the first commercial companies NASA selected to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Boeing built the first stage for the Saturn V, the most powerful U.S. rocket ever built, which took men to the moon. Nowadays, Muilenburg sees space tourism closer to home "blossoming over the next couple of decades into a viable commercial market." The International Space Station could be joined in low-earth orbit by dozens of hotels and companies pursuing micro-gravity manufacturing and research, he said. Muilenburg said Boeing will make spacecraft for the new era of tourists. He also sees potential for hypersonic aircraft, traveling at upwards of three times the speed of sound.

Revolutionary Ion Thruster To Be Tested On International Space Station ( 132

Three Australian researchers have developed "an ion thruster that could replace the current chemical-based rocket propulsion technology, which requires huge volumes of fuel to be loaded onto a spacecraft." Slashdot reader theweatherelectric shares this article from the ABC News: An Australian-designed rocket propulsion system is heading to the International Space Station for a year-long experiment that ultimately could revolutionize space travel. The technology could be used to power a return trip to Mars without refuelling, and use recycled space junk for the fuel... It will be placed in a module outside the ISS, powered, as Dr Neumann describes, by an extension cord from the station. "What we'll be doing with our system is running it for as long as we can, hopefully for the entire year on the space station to measure how much force it's producing for how long."
In the early 2000s "it was basically a machine the size of a fist that spat ions from a very hot plasma ball through a magnetic nozzle at a very high velocity," and the researchers are now hoping to achieve the same effect by recycling the magnesium in space junk.

Rosetta Spacecraft Prepares To Land On Comet, Solve Lingering Mysteries ( 40

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: All good things must come to an end, and so it will be tomorrow when the Rosetta spacecraft makes its planned soft landing onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the culmination of 2 years of close-up studies. Solar power has waned as 67P's orbit takes it and Rosetta farther from the sun, and so the mission team decided to go on a last data-gathering descent before the lights go out. This last data grab is a bonus after a mission that is already changing theorists' views about how comets and planets arose early in the solar system. Several Rosetta observations suggest that comets form not from jolting mergers of larger cometesimals, meters to kilometers across, but rather from the gentle coalescence of clouds of pebbles. And the detection of a single, feather-light, millimeter-sized particle -- preserved since the birth of the solar system -- should further the view of a quiet birth. The report concludes: "A slew of instruments will keep gathering data as Rosetta approaches the surface at the speed of a gentle stroll. For team members whose instruments have already been turned off to conserve power, the ending is bittersweet -- but their work is far from over. Most instrument teams have only examined their own data, and are just now thinking about combining data sets. "We've just started collaborating with other teams," [Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, chief of Rosetta's main camera,] says. "This is the beginning of the story, not the end."

D-Wave's 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation ( 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: D-Wave, a Canadian company developing the first commercial "quantum computer," announced its next-generation quantum annealing computer with 2,000 qubits, which is twice as many as its previous generation had. One highly exciting aspect of quantum computers of all types is that beyond the seemingly Moore's Law-like increase in number of qubits every two years, their performance increases much more than just 2x, unlike with regular microprocessors. This is because qubits can hold a value of 0, 1, or a superposition of the two, making quantum systems able to deal with much more complex information. If D-Wave's 2,000-qubit computer is now 1,000 faster than the previous 1,000-qubit generation (D-Wave 2X), that would mean that, for the things Google tested last year, it should now be 100 billion times faster than a single-core CPU. The new generation also comes with control features, which allows users to modify how D-Wave's quantum system works to better optimize their solutions. These control features include the following capabilities: The ability to tune the rate of annealing of individual qubits to enhance application performance; The ability to sample the state of the quantum computer during the quantum annealing process to power hybrid quantum-classical machine learning algorithms that were not previously possible; The ability to combine quantum processing with classical processing to improve the quality of both optimization and sampling results returned from the system. D-Wave's CEO, Vern Brownell, also said that D-Wave's quantum computers could also be used for machine learning task in ways that wouldn't be possible on classical computers. The company is also training the first generation of programmers to develop applications for D-Wave quantum systems. Last year, Google said that D-Wave's 1,000 qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core: "We found that for problem instances involving nearly 1,000 binary variables, quantum annealing significantly outperforms its classical counterpart, simulated annealing. It is more than 10^8 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core," said Hartmut Neven, Google's Director of Engineering.

Elon Musk Proposes Spaceship That Can Send 100 People To Mars In 80 Days ( 497

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Mars vehicle -- the spaceship his company plans to build to transport the first colonists to Mars. It will have a diameter of 17 meters. The plan is to send about 100 people per trip, though Musk wants to ultimately take 200 or more per flight to make the cost cheaper per person. The trip can take as little as 80 days or as many as 150 depending on the year. The hope is that the transport time will be only 30 days "in the more distant future." The rocket booster will have a diameter of 12 meters and the stack height will be 122 meters. The spaceship should hold a cargo of up to 450 tons depending on how many refills can be done with the tanker. As rumored, the Mars vehicle will be reusable and the spaceship will refuel in orbit. The trip will work like this: First, the spaceship will launch out of Pad 39A, which is under development right now at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. At liftoff, the booster will have 127,800 kilonewtons of thrust, or 28,730,000 pounds of thrust. Then, the spaceship and booster separate. The spaceship heads to orbit, while the booster heads back to Earth, coming back within about 20 minutes. Back on Earth, the booster lands on a launch mount and a propellant tanker is loaded onto the booster. The entire unit -- now filled with fuel -- lifts off again. It joins with the spaceship, which is then refueled in orbit. The propellant tankers will go up anywhere from three to five times to fill the tanks of the spaceship. The spaceship finally departs for Mars. To make the trip more attractive for its crew members, Musk promises that it'll be "really fun" with zero-G games, movies, cabins, games, a restaurant. Once it reaches Mars, the vehicle will land on the surface, using its rocket engines to lower itself gently down to the ground. The spaceship's passengers will use the vehicle, as well as cargo and hardware that's already been shipped over to Mars, to set up a long-term colony. At the rate of 20 to 50 total Mars trips, it will take anywhere from 40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilization with one million people on Mars, says Musk.

Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 125 Miles ( 96

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope released new images Monday, which will be published in The Astrophysicial Journal later this week, that show what appears to be plumes of water vapor erupting out of the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. The discovery is especially intriguing as it means that the ocean below Europa's surface could be probed without having to drill through miles of ice. NPR reports: Europa is one of the most intriguing places in the solar system because it's thought to have a vast subterranean ocean with twice as much water as Earth's oceans. This saltwater ocean is a tempting target for astrobiologists who want to find places beyond Earth that could support life. The trouble with exploring this ocean is that the water is hidden beneath an icy crust that's miles thick. But if plumes are indeed erupting from Europa, a spacecraft could potentially fly through them and analyze their chemistry -- much like NASA's Cassini probe did recently when it sped close to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that has small geysers. Scientists used Hubble to watch Europa's silhouette as the moon moved across Jupiter's bright background. They looked, in ultraviolet light, for signs of plumes coming from the moon's surface. They did this 10 separate times over a period of 15 months, and saw what could be plumes on three occasions. NASA says the plumes are estimated to rise up about 125 miles, and presumably material then rains back down onto Europa's surface. Using Hubble in a different way, scientists previously saw hints that salty water occasionally travels up to the moon's surface. In 2012, the telescope detected evidence of water vapor above Europa's south polar region, suggesting the existence of plumes that shoot out into space. The agency's Juno spacecraft is currently in orbit around Jupiter, but it isn't slated to take any observations of Europa.

SpaceX Tests Its Raptor Engine For Future Mars Flights ( 114

Thelasko writes: Elon Musk is preparing to unveil his plans to colonize Mars at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress tomorrow. As a tease to his lecture, he has released some details about the Raptor engine on Twitter, including pictures. Mr. Musk states that, "Production Raptor coal is specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN (~310 metric tons) at 300 bar." He goes on to note that the specific impulse spec is at Mars ambient pressure. The Raptor interplanetary engine is designed for use with Space X's Mars Colonial Transporter craft. Musk notes that the "chamber pressure runs three times what's present in the Merlin engine currently used to power Falcon 9," according to TechCrunch. "Merlin has specific impulse of 282 seconds (311 seconds in the vacuum of space), and a relatively paltry 654 kilonewton (0.6 MN) at sea level, or 716 kN (0.7 MN) in a vacuum. You can view a picture of the "Mach diamonds" here, which are visible in the engine's exhaust.

Senate Panel Authorizes Money For Mission To Mars ( 137

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: With a new president on the horizon, a key Senate committee moved Wednesday to protect long-standing priorities of the nation's space program from the potential upheaval of an incoming administration. Members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill authorizing $19.5 billion to continue work on a Mars mission and efforts to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station from U.S. soil -- regardless of shifting political winds. Under the Senate bill, NASA would have an official goal of sending a crewed mission to Mars within the next 25 years, the first time a trip to the Red Planet would be mandated by law. The legislation would authorize money for different NASA components, including $4.5 billion for exploration, nearly $5 billion for space operations and $5.4 billion for science. Beyond money, the measure would: Direct NASA to continue working on the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose vehicle that are the linchpins of a planned mission to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. The bill includes specific milestones for an unmanned exploration mission by 2018 and a crewed exploration mission by 2021. Require development of an advanced space suit to protect astronauts on a Mars mission. Continue development of the Commercial Crew Program designed to send astronauts to the space station -- no later than 2018 -- on private rockets launched from U.S. soil. Expand the full use and life of the space station through 2024 while laying the foundation for use through 2028. Allow greater opportunities for aerospace companies to conduct business in Low Earth Orbit. Improve monitoring, diagnosis and treatment of the medical effects astronauts experience from spending time in deep space.

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