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NASA

Glitch Halts New Horizons Operations As It Nears Pluto 71 71

An anonymous reader writes: NASA says their New Horizons probe suffered a temporary communication breakdown on Saturday, 10 days before it's supposed to fly past Pluto. The mission team is working to restore normal communications. "Full recovery is expected to take from one to several days," NASA wrote in a status report on Saturday. "New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time."
ISS

Russian Cargo Ship Successfully Makes Orbit, Will Supply ISS 49 49

An anonymous reader writes: Early this morning, a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket carried a Progress capsule containing 2,700kg of supplies for the International Space Station. It's a much-needed victory after a series of launch failures that saw ISS resupply missions from Orbital ATK, Russia, and SpaceX end in failure. "The station, a joint project involving 15 nations which is staffed by a crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts, currently has a four-month supply of food and water, NASA said. The arrival of the Russian cargo ship, and the planned launch of a Japanese HTV freighter in August, should replenish the station's pantries through the end of the year, NASA said. Friday's successful launch clears the way for three new crew members to fly to the station later this month."
Space

First Human Colonies Should Be Among Venus' Clouds 252 252

StartsWithABang writes: When we talk about humans existing on worlds other than Earth, the first choice of a planet to do so on is usually Mars, a world that may have been extremely Earth-like for the first billion years of our Solar System or so. Perhaps, with enough ingenuity and resources, we could terraform it to be more like Earth is today. But the most Earth-like conditions in the Solar System don't occur on the surface of Mars, but rather in the high altitudes of Venus' atmosphere, some 50-65 km up. Despite its harsh conditions, this may be the best location for the first human colonies, for a myriad of good, scientific reasons. NASA proposed something similar last year and released a report on the subject.
NASA

NASA To Waste $150 Million On SLS Engine That Will Be Used Once 138 138

schwit1 writes: NASA's safety panel has noticed that NASA's SLS program either plans to spend $150 million human-rating a rocket engine it will only use once, or will fly a manned mission without human-rating that engine.

"The Block 1 SLS is the 'basic model,' sporting a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS), renamed the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS) for SLS. The current plan calls for this [interim] stage to be used on [the unmanned] Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) and [manned] Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2), prior to moving to the [Exploration Upper Stage] — also to be built by Boeing — that will become the workhorse for SLS. However, using the [interim upper stage] on a crewed mission will require it to be human rated. It is likely NASA will also need to fly the [Exploration Upper Stage] on an unmanned mission to validate the new stage ahead of human missions. This has been presenting NASA with a headache for some time, although it took the recent ASAP meeting to finally confirm those concerns to the public."

NASA doesn't have the funds to human-rate it, and even if they get those funds, human-rating it will likely cause SLS's schedule to slip even more, something NASA fears because they expect the commercial manned ships to be flying sooner and with increasing capability. The contrast — a delayed and unflown and very expensive SLS vs a flying and inexpensive commercial effort — will not do SLS good politically. However, if they are going to insist (properly I think) that SpaceX and Boeing human-rate their capsules and rockets, then NASA is going to have to hold the SLS to the same standard.
Transportation

Airplane Coatings Help Recoup Fuel Efficiency Lost To Bug Splatter 117 117

MTorrice writes: When bugs hit the wings of oncoming airplanes, they create a problem. Their blood, called hemolymph, sticks to an airplane's wings, disrupting the smooth airflow over them and reducing the aircraft's fuel efficiency. To fight the problem, NASA is working on developing a coating that could help aircraft repel bug remains during flight. After experimenting with almost 200 different formulations, researchers recently flight-tested a few promising candidates. Results showed that they could reduce the amount of stuck bug guts on the wings by up to 40%. With further optimization, NASA says such coatings could allow planes to use 5% less fuel.
Space

The Underfunded, Disorganized Plan To Save Earth From the Next Giant Asteroid 88 88

New submitter citadrianne sends a story about the beginnings of our asteroid defense efforts, and how initial concern over an asteroid strike wasn't sustained long enough to establish consistent funding: Until a few decades ago, the powers that be didn't take the threat of asteroids very seriously. This changed on March 23, 1989, when an asteroid 300 meters in diameter called 1989FC passed within half a million miles of Earth. As the New York Times put it, "In cosmic terms, it was a close call." After this arguably close brush with total annihilation, Congress asked NASA to prepare a report on the threat posed by asteroids. The 1992 document, "The Spaceguard Survey: Report of the NASA International Near-Earth-Object Detection Workshop," was, suffice it to say, rather bleak.

If a large NEO were to hit Earth, the report said, its denizens could look forward to acid rain, firestorms, and an impact winter induced by dust being thrown miles into the stratosphere. ... After reports from the National Research Council made it clear that meeting the discovery requirement outlined in the Congressional mandate was impossible given the lack of program funding, NEOO got a tenfold budget increase from 2009 to 2014. Yet it still faces a number of difficulties. A program audit released last September described the NEOO program as a one-man operation that is poorly integrated and lacking in objectives and oversight.
ISS

A Failure For SpaceX: Falcon 9 Explodes During Ascension 316 316

MouseR writes with bad news about this morning's SpaceX launch: About 2:19 into its flight, Falcon 9 exploded along stage 2 and the Dragon capsule, before even the stage 1 separation. Telemetry and videos are inconclusive, without further analysis as to what went wrong. Everything was green lights. This is a catastrophe for SpaceX, which enjoyed, until now, a perfect launch record. TechCrunch has coverage of the failure, which of course also means that today's planned stage one return attempt has failed before it could start; watch this space for more links. Update: 06/28 15:06 GMT by T : See also stories at NBC News, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press (via ABC News). According to the Washington Post, what was a catastrophe for this morning's launch is only a setback for the ISS and its crew, rather than a disaster: A NASA slide from an April presentation said that with current food levels, the space station would reach what NASA calls “reserve level” on July 24 and run out by Sept. 5, according to SpaceNews. [NASA spokeswoman Stephanie] Schierholz said, however, that the supplies would last until the fall, although she could not provide a precise date. Even if something were to go wrong with the SpaceX flight, she said, there are eight more scheduled this year, including several this summer, “so there are plenty of ways to ensure the station continues to be well-supplied.” Of note: One bit of cargo that was aboard the SpaceX craft was a Microsoft Hololens; hopefully another will make it onto one of the upcoming supply runs instead.

Elon Musk has posted a note on the company's Twitter channel: "Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data."
Space

Why Didn't Voyager Visit Pluto? 98 98

Flash Modin writes: NASA built the twin Voyager spacecraft for a rare planetary alignment that put Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune within reach at once. Originally, Voyager 1 was programmed to see Pluto in 1986, but managers targeted Saturn's planet-like moon Titan instead. That choice made Pluto impossible by vaulting Voyager 1 from the orbital plane. Interestingly, Voyager 2, which couldn't reach Pluto, made the case for New Horizons by revealing Neptune's moon Triton as a kidnapped Pluto. "I'm very glad that they chose not to go to Pluto in 1986," says New Horizons head Alan Stern. "We'll do a better job at Pluto with modern instruments than they would have, and they did a much better job at Saturn..."
NASA

Touring NASA's Space Shuttle Cockpit Trainer 18 18

An anonymous reader writes: Now that the space shuttles have been retired, NASA has been shutting down and cleaning out all of the equipment dedicated to keeping them in service. One such tool was the Crew Compartment Trainer II, a full-size replica of a space shuttle cockpit. Astronauts trained on it to become familiar with the operation of many onboard systems. Just before it was removed, Ars got a chance to tour it, and took a ton of pictures in the process. Quoting: "The forward windows are surprisingly small, and visibility dead ahead is limited to a very narrow section of the window. Both the pilot and commander have fighter-style HUDs (heads-up displays), which are used mainly during landing to keep them lined up and on target with the runway. ... Bloomfield walked me through a few procedures, and it was fascinating how complex the shuttles were in some areas and how primitive they were in others. The on-board computers of course received numerous updates throughout the vehicles' lives, but even in their final iteration they wouldn't have won any speed awards."
Space

Black Hole Awakens After 26 Years 58 58

schwit1 writes: For the first time since 1989, the black hole in V404 Cygni, a system comprising a black hole and a star, has reawakened, suddenly emitting high energy outbursts beginning on June 15. The outbursts are probably occurring because the black hole is gobbling up material that has fallen into it. While the 1989 outburst helped astronomers gain their first understand of the behavior of a black hole in a star system, this outburst will help them understand how such systems evolve and change over time. The European Space Agency (ESA) reports: "First signs of renewed activity in V404 Cygni were spotted by the Burst Alert Telescope on NASA's Swift satellite, detecting a sudden burst of gamma rays, and then triggering observations with its X-ray telescope. Soon after, MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image), part of the Japanese Experiment Module on the International Space Station, observed an X-ray flare from the same patch of the sky. These first detections triggered a massive campaign of observations from ground-based telescopes and from space-based observatories, to monitor V404 Cygni at many different wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum."
Space

Stellar Rejuvenation: Some Exoplanets May Get Facelifts 29 29

astroengine writes: Astronomers may have discovered an exoplanet that has found the elixir to planetary youth, knocking billions of years off its age. Until now, stellar rejuvenation has been pure conjecture, but after studying a white dwarf star called PG 0010+280, it turns out that one very interesting explanation for an excess in detected infrared radiation may be down to the presence of an exoplanet that was given a facelift. "When planets are young, they still glow with infrared light from their formation," said Michael Jura of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-author of the study published in The Astrophysical Journal. "But as they get older and cooler, you can't see them anymore. Rejuvenated planets would be visible again." This rejuvenation happens when stellar material shedding from a dying red giant star falls onto an exoplanet, causing heating and making it appear younger.
Mars

Elon Musk Probably Won't Be the First Martian 169 169

pacopico writes: In a new biography on him, Elon Musk goes into gory details on his plans for colonizing Mars. The author of the book subsequently decided to run those plans by Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. Weir's book is famous for its technical acumen around getting to and from The Red Planet. His conclusion is that Musk's technology, which includes the biggest rocket ever built, is feasible — but that Musk will not be the first man on Mars. The interview also hits on the future of NASA and what we need to get to Mars. Good stuff. Weir says, "My estimate is that this will happen in 2050. NASA is saying more like 2035, but I don't have faith in Congress to fund them."
NASA

Color Movie Made of Pluto-Charon System 41 41

VernonNemitz writes: Today NASA released a color movie of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, as the New Horizons probe approaches its July 2015 rendezvous date. "It's exciting to see Pluto and Charon in motion and in color," said New Horizons principal examiner Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) at Boulder, Colorado. "Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colours - Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate," Stern said.
Space

Orbiting 'Rest Stops' Could Repair Crumbling Satellites 59 59

astroengine writes: Satellites are numerous, vital to many modern activities, and incredibly expensive to build and launch. They're constructed with redundancy and simplicity in mind because if something goes wrong after the satellite reaches orbit, we can't do much to help it. Now, NASA is talking about building an orbital service station that can perform maintenance, repair, and even refueling operations on these satellites. "Is there a way working with humans and robots together to extend the useful life of satellites, by fixing them and by not allowing fuel to spill out, but give it more propellant, close it up and send it on its way?," said Benjamin Reed, deputy director of the Satellite Servicing Program Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Yes, We have the technologies to be able to do it."
Moon

Russian Official Calls For "International Investigation" of the Apollo Program 307 307

MarkWhittington writes: According to a Tuesday article in the Moscow Times, a spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee named Vladimir Markin suggested that an international investigation be mounted into some of the "various murky details surrounding the U.S. moon landings between 1969 and 1972." Markin would particularly like to know where some of the missing moon rocks went to and why the original footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing was erased. Markin hastened to add that he is, of course, not suggesting that NASA faked the moon landings and just filmed the events in a studio.
Space

'Warm Neptune' Exoplanets May Have Lots of Helium 20 20

An anonymous reader writes: Phil Plait reports on new research into exoplanets that came to an unexpected and non-obvious conclusion. Throughout the galaxy, astronomers have been finding exoplanets they call "warm Neptunes" — bodies about the size of Neptune, but which orbit their parent star more closely than Mercury orbits the Sun. When astronomers looked at spectra for these planets, they found something surprising: no methane signature (PDF). Methane is made of carbon and hydrogen, and it's generally assumed that most large, gaseous planets will have a lot of hydrogen. But this class of exoplanet, being significantly smaller than, say, Jupiter, may not have the mass (and thus the gravity) to hold on to its hydrogen when it's heated by the close proximity to the star. The result is that the atmosphere may be largely made up of helium instead. If so, the planet would look oddly colorless to our eyes, very unlike the planets in our solar system.
Space

Congress Decides To Delay US-Launched Astronauts, Keep Using Russian Services 173 173

New submitter surfdaddy writes: In order to protect the entrenched big aerospace companies, the Congress has increased NASA's budget for FY2016 but has cut funding for "commercial crew." Commercial crew is the funding used by SpaceX for the planned initial manned launches in the first half of 2017. With this cut, the launch of U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil using U.S. rockets will be delayed two years, and we will continue to send millions of dollars to Russia for launch services. "Senate appropriators suggested that NASA’s plans announced earlier this year to procure Soyuz seats for missions in 2018 indicated that the agency was not confident at even this early stage that the two companies with commercial crew contracts, Boeing and SpaceX, could remain on schedule to begin flights in 2017. ...
NASA

NASA Building Air Traffic Control System For Drones 38 38

An anonymous reader writes: Last week, The Guardian got its hands on documents indicating NASA would be working with Verizon to monitor civilian and commercial drones around the U.S. using phone network towers. Now, NASA has confirmed its plans for a drone traffic control system, saying that it wants to help "define" this new generation of aviation. They are testing ways of communicating with drones in flight, both for providing helpful information to drones and collecting information about them. For example, the ATC system could send real-time weather updates to the drones, and inform them of no-fly zones. It could also monitor a drone's battery life and compare its flight path to surrounding terrain. NASA has gathered over 100 organizations to contribute to this project, and they're looking for more. "One of the biggest challenges to integrating UAS into the national airspace beyond line of sight is developing a system that enables the aircraft to see and be seen by other aircraft." This is where the involvement of Verizon and other telecoms is important. NASA is holding a convention next month to develop the idea further.
Space

NASA Probe Reveals More Detail In Pluto's Complex Surface 66 66

astroengine writes: As NASA's New Horizons spacecraft careens through the solar system with Pluto in its cross-hairs, new detail in the dwarf planet's surface is popping into view at an ever increasing rate. Any images acquired from here on in are the most detailed images humanity has ever seen of Pluto and, a little over a month from its historic flyby, New Horizons is already giving us tantalizing glimpses of what appears to be a rich and complex little world. Take, for example, this most recent series of observations captured by the mission's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which were taken from May 29 to June 2. There appears to be large variations in surface albedo (reflectiveness), possibly indicating there are huge regions of varying composition.
Earth

NASA Releases Massive Climate Change Data Set 310 310

An anonymous reader writes: NASA is releasing global climate change projections to help scientists and planners better understand local and global effects of hazards. The data includes both historical measurements from around the world and simulated projections based on those measurements. "The NASA climate projections provide a detailed view of future temperature and precipitation patterns around the world at a 15.5 mile (25 kilometer) resolution, covering the time period from 1950 to 2100. The 11-terabyte dataset provides daily estimates of maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation over the entire globe." You can download them and look through the projections yourself at NASA's Climate Model Data Services page.