On December 11, 2013, the secretive X-37B robot spaceplane celebrates one year in orbit. This controversial spacecraft has been out of the limelight for a long time, attracting almost no media coverage for most of its mission. The third flight of one of the most secretive objects in space has been its most elusive mission to date!
What is this all about? The X-37B is a small vehicle that’s roughly the size of a small truck. It has wings, tail fins and a stubby nose. There’s no cockpit and no crew on board. The X-37B does have a small payload bay with clamshell doors, similar to its older cousin, the retired NASA Space Shuttle.
X-37B is launched and controlled by the US Air Force. It made its first launch in April 2010 on a mission that was largely cloaked in secrecy. 224 days later, it returned to a flawless runway landing. A second X-37B vehicle was launched in March 2011. It remained in space for 469 days.
The latest X-37B mission uses the same vehicle that was launched in 2010, making this the first time that an X-37B spacecraft has been re-used.
All of the above are known facts. We also know that the X-37B is testing new technologies that could be used in future spacecraft, such as autopilot systems and re-entry tiles. Beyond this, not much is officially revealed. The generally secretive nature of the program has generated a lot of curiosity and some fairly wild conspiracy theories.
A Taiwan newspaper called the Want China Times ran an article on December 2, 2013 to the effect that officials in the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army would like to make the moon a military base. The article speaks of China desiring to turn the moon into a “Death Star” from which ballistic missiles could be lobbed at Earth.
The Want China Times is owned by the Want Want Group, a Taiwanese conglomerate in turned owned byTsai Eng Meng, a billionaire who favors closer economic and political ties between China and Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as a rebel province which it would like to one day regain control of. Taiwan has been a separate country since the Communist takeover of China in the late 1940s.
The article’s description of a Chinese military base on the moon sounds remarkably like an American plan hatched in the 1950s called “Project Horizon.” The plan was abandoned because of the great expense and the fact that missiles launched from the moon would take days to reach targets on Earth.
In any case the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits the construction of military bases on the moon. China would have to withdraw from that treaty should it choose to do what the Want China Times suggests some elements in the PLA want.
It sounds like a tale from a science fiction novel, but a team of Japanese engineers really is hoping to turn the moon into a giant solar panel.
Shimizu, a giant civil engineering and construction firm, plans to install a ‘solar belt’ around the moon’s equator.
To be built almost entirely by remote-controlled robots, the Luna Ring would run around the 6,800 mile lunar equator and be 248 miles in width.
The solar energy collected would converted and beamed back to earth as microwaves and laser, where it would then be converted into electricity and then potentially supplied to the national grid.
Shimizu says the Luna Ring could generate a massive 13,000 terra watts of energy. The Sizewell B nuclear reactor in Suffolk produces 1,198 megawatts (MW).
NASA is bravely venturing into new scientific territory with a plan to start growing plants on the moon no later than 2015. The experiment is designed to yield important knowledge about life’s long-term chances in space – including for us.
The initiative comes courtesy of the Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team – a small group of scientists, students, volunteers and contractors – who plan to install specially-designed containers about the size of a coffee can, in which the plants will be encased, complete with sensors, cameras and other devices that will be relaying information down to Earth.
This is to be the first life sciences project conducted on another world and is ambitious about exploring opportunities for future human life support, apart from the obvious benefits of learning more about growing life in extreme temperatures.
The dream is to be able to freely live on the moon for decades on end – instead of hours. Follow-up experiments are already in the making.
We know Mars as a dusty seemingly dead planet. But there is growing evidence that it was not always so.
Most planetary scientists believe the Red Planet was once not unlike the Earth. There is evidence that it was once habitable – a world that had a thick atmosphere and water that flowed across its surface.
But around four billion years ago, it is thought that Mars lost its magnetic field – possibly due to a massive asteroid impact.
The field acted as a protective shield against the Sun’s corrosive solar wind and without it, the Martian atmosphere was gradually ripped away. So the theory goes.
Malware made its way aboard the International Space Station (ISS) causing “virus epidemics” in space, according to security expert Eugene Kaspersky.
Kaspersky, head of security firm Kaspersky labs, revealed at the Canberra Press Club 2013 in Australia that before the ISS switched from Windows XP to Linux computers, Russian cosmonauts managed to carry infected USB storage devices aboard the station spreading computer viruses to the connected computers.
The damage done by the malware to the computer systems of the ISS is unknown. However, Kaspersky said virus epidemics took hold of the space-based computers, including dozens of laptops.
Like our Milky Way, every known large galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole, some of which are surrounded by a super-bright disk of hot gas called a quasar—but now a research team that includes Penn State astronomers has discovered a surprising new class of quasars in distant galaxies that even the most current theories had not predicted.
“The gas in this new type of quasar is moving in two directions: some is moving toward Earth but most of it is moving at high velocities away from us, possibly toward the quasar’s black hole,” said study co-author Niel Brandt, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University.
The object in these photographs captured by Hubble is not a comet. It’s something that no astronomer has ever seen before, according to NASA: An asteroid with six comet-like tails that isn’t moving like a comet and it’s not made of ice. It’s just hanging up there, rotating like a crazy space spider.
About 4.4 billion planets are similar to Earth in size and temperature, suggesting they may be able to host life, according to a survey of the galaxy using telescopes operating in space and on the ground.
The number is an estimate based on information taken from 42,000 stars similar to the Earth’s sun and their surrounding planets by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kepler Space Telescope, as well as telescopes in Hawaii. Ideal planet climate — not too hot or too cold — was determined by how far they were away from their stars, according to the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The scientists, including Geoffrey Marcy at the University of California at Berkeley, used those findings to extrapolate how many similar planets might exist across the galaxy. That number suggests Earth may not be so unique after all, he said.
India has launched a rocket it hopes will allow it to join an elite group of space explorers to Mars.
The country’s space research organization (ISRO) launched its orbiter to the Red Planet on Tuesday — only NASA, the former Soviet Union and the Europeans have previously been successful in operating probes from Mars.
Japan made an attempt with the Nozomi orbiter in 1998 but it failed to reach the planet and a Chinese probe was lost along with the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission in January 2012. The UK’s Beagle 2 probe separated from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter in 2003 but nothing was ever heard from the lander.
It will take 10 months for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission to reach the Red Planet after lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre near Chennai. The probe will explore the planet’s surface features, minerals and atmosphere.
George Bush has staked out a bold claim to the final frontier, asserting vigorously America’s right to deny access to space to any adversary hostile to US interests, it emerged yesterday.
In a muscular overhaul of policy, the US president outlines the importance of space to the national interest, saying its domination is as crucial to America’s defences as air or sea power.
The order also opposes the establishment of arms control treaties that would restrict US access to space, or set limits on its use of space. It calls for the development of space capabilities to support US intelligence and defence initiatives.
The document, first reported in yesterday’s Washington Post, amounted to the first overhaul of US space policy in nearly a decade, but it comes two years after the publication of an air force doctrine on protecting US satellites and spacecraft. The defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has also favoured the development of systems to protect satellites and space stations.
The Pentagon just made its biggest investment yet into a project to build new satellites in space by reusing the parts of dead satellites.
The Defense Department relies on satellites to do everything from passing secret messages around the globe to giving troops navigation information and intelligence. The problem is, getting brand-new satellites into space can be an incredibly expensive and time-consuming effort.
To remedy this, the Pentagon wants to harvest parts from the roughly $300 billion worth of dead satellites that sit in a heavenly “graveyard or disposal orbit” and use their spare parts to build new ones, Frankenstein style, under a project called Phoenix. A roughly $40 million Phoenix contract was handed out earlier this week to a California company called NovaWurks.
While the Pentagon says the tech being developed for Phoenix is meant to save money, tech that allows a satellite to tear an old satellite apart could just as easily be used to attack a new one.
If you think any of this sounds far-fetched, it’s worth noting that China is suspected to have used a satellite to grab at least one other in space last week. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force’s secret X-37B robot space plane is believed by many to be used to get up close and personal with orbiting satellites. The X-37B stays aloft for months at a time, and amateur satellite trackers have seen it dramatically changing its orbits in space. Such maneuvers could point to the craft cozying up to various foreign satellites with the purpose of spying on them, according to some observers.
Despite being called Russia’s space troops, they are not ready to deal with invasions by aliens from outer space, according to a statement by a Russian defense official.
In a surprising move, an apparently serious journalist raised this question of extraterrestrial security during a media conference at the Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Center near Moscow, Russia’s main satellite control center.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Organization (ROSATOM) recently signed an agreement that provides for cooperation in a number of areas, including safeguards against nuclear proliferation, nuclear reactors, and defense from asteroids.
Defense from asteroids? What?
Let’s be clear about one thing: When DOE and ROSATOM talk about “defense” against asteroids, that means they are going to discuss nuking rocks in space. (What do you think the ATOM stands for anyway?) Recently, a labbie at Los Alamos National Laboratory modeled a one-megaton explosion against an asteroid in space — about 50 times the size of the device used in Hiroshima. The Russians think it “will take a nuclear device much bigger than one megaton to intercept” the sort of asteroids that interest them, according to Oleg Shubin. He should know: He’s ROSATOM’s deputy director of the development and testing of nuclear munitions. Boys will be boys.
In 1881, Edward Charles Pickering, director of the Harvard Observatory, had a problem: the volume of data coming into his observatory was exceeding his staff’s ability to analyze it. He also had doubts about his staff’s competence–especially that of his assistant, who Pickering dubbed inefficient at cataloging. So he did what any scientist of the latter 19th century would have done: he fired his male assistant and replaced him with his maid, Williamina Fleming. Fleming proved so adept at computing and copying that she would work at Harvard for 34 years–eventually managing a large staff of assistants.
So began an era in Harvard Observatory history where women—more than 80 during Pickering’s tenure, from 1877 to his death in 1919— worked for the director, computing and cataloging data. Some of these women would produce significant work on their own; some would even earn a certain level of fame among followers of female scientists. But the majority are remembered not individually but collectively, by the moniker Pickering’s Harem.
The less-than-enlightened nickname reflects the status of women at a time when they were–with rare exception–expected to devote their energies to breeding and homemaking or to bettering their odds of attracting a husband. Education for its own sake was uncommon and work outside the home almost unheard of. Contemporary science actually warned against women and education, in the belief that women were too frail to handle the stress. As doctor and Harvard professor Edward Clarke wrote in his 1873 book Sex in Education, “A woman’s body could only handle a limited number of developmental tasks at one time—that girls who spent to much energy developing their minds during puberty would end up with undeveloped or diseased reproductive systems.”
Something big is about to happen on the sun. According to measurements from NASA-supported observatories, the sun’s vast magnetic field is about to flip.
“It looks like we’re no more than 3 to 4 months away from a complete field reversal,” says solar physicist Todd Hoeksema of Stanford University. “This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system.”
The sun’s magnetic field changes polarity approximately every 11 years. It happens at the peak of each solar cycle as the sun’s inner magnetic dynamo re-organizes itself. The coming reversal will mark the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. Half of ‘Solar Max’ will be behind us, with half yet to come.
Hoeksema is the director of Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory, one of the few observatories in the world that monitor the sun’s polar magnetic fields. The poles are a herald of change. Just as Earth scientists watch our planet’s polar regions for signs of climate change, solar physicists do the same thing for the sun. Magnetograms at Wilcox have been tracking the sun’s polar magnetism since 1976, and they have recorded three grand reversals—with a fourth in the offing.
A meteorite from Mars at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum has changed the way scientists view the seemingly cold, dormant Red Planet, revealing that it was still hot and bubbly in places when the first mammals scampered on Earth.
“This paints a picture of a more geologically active planet — lots of volcanoes, lots of lava,” said Brendt Hyde, a mineralogy research technician at the museum who helped analyze the meteorite, in an interview with The National‘s Ron Charles.
“It just paints a picture of a nice, vibrant planet, not a cold dead planet like we often envision other planets in the solar system.”
by Mike Wall
Researchers plan to launch a tiny spacecraft to Earth orbit and beyond within the next 18 months, in a key test of new propulsion technology that could help cut the cost of planetary exploration by a factor of 1,000.
The scientists and engineers are developing a new plasma propulsion system designed for ultrasmall CubeSats. If all goes well, they say, it may be possible to launch a life-detection mission to Jupiter’s ocean-harboring moon Europa or other intriguing worlds for as little as $1 million in the not-too-distant future.
by Mark Molloy
A Labour politician has claimed he fathered a child with an alien he regularly meets up with for extra-terrestrial sex.
Councillor Simon Parkes, who sits on Whitby town council in North Yorkshire, made the comments in a 2011 interview featured on a new Channel 4 documentary – Confessions of an Alien Abductee.
The 53-year-old driving instructor said his wife was ‘unhappy’ about the alien affair but said he doesn’t see it as wrong as ‘it is not a human level’.
Mr Parkes says he is beamed up for space sex four times a year by the extra-terrestrial he calls the Cat Queen and claims they have a child together called Zarka.
by Katie Hunt and Zhang Dayu
China has launched three astronauts into orbit for the country’s fifth and longest crewed mission in its burgeoning space exploration program.
The Shenzhou 10 spaceship and its launcher, a Long March-2F rocket, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Tuesday.
It will dock with the Tiangong-1 space module and the crew will transfer supplies to the space lab, which has been in orbit since September 2011. During the 15-day mission, the crew will master the rendezvous and docking capabilities that are essential for the operation of a manned space platform.
‘The Mars One project to establish the first human settlement on the Red Planet by 2023 has received 78,000 applications in just two weeks, with as many as 500,000 expected to apply by the time applications close on August 31.
Mars One, a Dutch not-for-profit organization, is planning the project to have no return ticket back to Earth due to a lack of technology, and the physiological changes the human body will undergo after it adjusts “to the 38% gravitation field of Mars, and be incapable of returning to the Earth’s much stronger gravity,” the Mars One website explained.
The company has already received thousands of application from over 120 countries. The majority of applicants are from the US (17,324), followed by China (10,241), the United Kingdom (3,581), Russia, Mexico and Brazil.’
‘For the past 8 years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface. “Lunar meteor showers” have turned out to be more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year.
They’ve just seen the biggest explosion in the history of the program.
“On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we’ve ever seen before.”
Anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of impact could have seen the explosion–no telescope required. For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a 4th magnitude star.
Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program’s 14-inch telescopes. “It jumped right out at me, it was so bright,” he recalls.
The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide hit the Moon traveling 56,000 mph. The resulting explosion1 packed as much punch as 5 tons of TNT.
Cooke believes the lunar impact might have been part of a much larger event.’
by Marc Lallanilla
‘[...] The ability of quantum computing to solve problems thousands of times faster than traditional computers is attracting attention from some of the world’s largest and most powerful institutions.
Search engine giant Google announced today (May 16) it was teaming with NASA Ames Research Center and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) to create the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, to be housed later this year at the NASA Ames facility in Moffett Field, Calif., northwest of San Jose.
Their new computing system, dubbed D-Wave Two, is D-Wave’s second quantum computer and the second to be installed in California. Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest aerospace and defense company, purchased a D-Wave quantum computer in 2011 and installed it at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, according toNature.com.’
by Rick Klein, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
‘Even as most Americans wonder what planet politicians are from, is it possible that the government is squelching evidence of extraterrestrials visiting Earth? One former presidential hopeful says yes – and that the conspiracy goes all the way to the top.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) says the White House has helped keep the truth about the “extraterrestrial influence that is investigating our planet” from the public.
“It goes right to the White House, and of course, once the White House takes a position, ‘well there’s nothing going on’…it just goes down the chain of command, everyone stands toe,” Gravel tells Top Line.’