Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

Space Mission Planning

The first thing to consider when planning a space trip is why we want to undertake it and what we expect to gain from the findings. 

The following issues concern the enterprise's viability, as indicated by the following questions: 

    • How much does it set you back? 
    • Is it reasonably priced? 
    • Can it be done technically (and politically)? 
    • How safe is it, and what are the chances of it failing? 
    • Can we launch (and potentially build) the necessary vehicles in space? 

Without putting in a lot of time and effort into early research and modeling, even rough solutions to these issues are difficult to come by. 

Additionally, there are a variety of architectural variants in space ships, their sequencing, phasing, and destinations that may be used to carry out such a space mission. 

“Mission architectures” or simply “architectures” are the terms used to describe these different variants. Conducting thorough studies of each possible architectural alternative would require substantial financial resources as well as a significant amount of time and work. 

  • Furthermore, while planning a human trip to Mars, it is virtually difficult to predict what the status of marginal technologies like nuclear propulsion and large-scale aero entry will be many decades from now. 
  • As a result, the most common method includes a rudimentary first study to evaluate architectural alternatives, from which a small selection of preferred designs may be determined that should be investigated further. 

The initial mass in low Earth orbit (IMLEO) is often used as an approximate gauge of mission cost in early planning, and since IMLEO can generally be predicted to some degree, it is frequently used as a proxy for mission cost. 

  • This is predicated on the idea that when comparing a set of possible missions to accomplish a given objective, the quantity of "stuff" that has to be transported to LEO is a significant driver of the cost.
  • IMLEO is the overall mass in LEO at the start, but it doesn't say how that total mass is divided up into individual vehicles. 
  • Unless on-orbit assembly is used, the mass of the biggest spacecraft in LEO determines the requirements for launch vehicle capacity (how much mass a launch vehicle must lift in “one fell swoop”). 

As a result, the early planning of space missions, as well as the preliminary selection of mission designs, is based on two linked parameters: 

(1) IMLEO, and 

(2) the necessary launch vehicle and number of launches. 

It's critical to realize that the requirements for space missions are driven by the need for vehicles to accelerate to great speeds. 

  • Unlike a car, which has a big crew compartment and a tiny petrol tank, most spacecraft have huge propellant tanks and a small crew cabin. 
  • A space mission is made up of many propulsion stages, each of which contains more propellants than cargo. 

Each propulsion step necessitates the acceleration of both the cargo and the propellants set aside for subsequent acceleration steps. 

  • As a consequence, the majority of IMLEO is spent on propellants rather than payload. 
  • The quantity of propellants transported to LEO to go from here to there (and back) becomes (at least in part) the decisive element in evaluating whether a space mission is possible and economical. 
  • As we previously said, this is reflected in the value of IMLEO, which is mostly comprised of propellants rather than payload. 
  • This image may alter in the future if we can effectively deliver propellants to LEO.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

Space Campaigns

A campaign is a collection of closely linked space missions that work together to achieve the campaign's overall objectives. 

Each mission in the campaign may be unique in certain instances, and the primary benefit given by past missions to future missions is the information acquired from previous missions, which may affect mission locations and verify instrumentation, flying technologies, or other mission design components.

  • In the case of robotic expeditions to Mars, this is usually the case. 
  • Prior robotic trips to Mars will be required to test new technology on Mars before they can be used by humans. 
  • The campaign, which is made up of a series of human operations, will, nevertheless, develop infrastructure and improve capabilities with each mission. 
  • The MEP, for example, envisions a series of exploratory robotic trips to Mars, each of which gives crucial information on where to go and what to search for in the next mission (s). 

The NASA lunar exploration project of approximately 7–9 years ago was an outline of a campaign, but the campaign was not clearly defined, apart from the fact that it would start with short-duration “sortie” flights and progress to the construction of a lunar “outpost” with unknown location and functions. 

  • In reality, preliminary planning failed to address several key elements of the sortie missions or improve the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM), with virtually all of the attention focused on the so-called Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). 
  • NASA seems to have lost sight of the entire campaign and how the parts fit together throughout this process. 

Although ISRU for generating oxygen for ascent propulsion was a major topic for outposts, the removal of oxygen as an ascension propellant indicates that various organizations working on the lunar exploration program were not only not communicating, but were also working at cross-purposes. 

  • At the highest level, a campaign should begin with a set of objectives to be met. 
  • A collection of hypothetical missions that might form the basis of a campaign would be defined. 
  • Campaigns are collections of missions, although the order in which they are completed may be random. 

Consider the following scenario: 

  • • Each Mission has at least two potential outcomes, each with a probability associated with it. 
  • • If Event A occurs, go to Mission 2A; if Event B occurs, proceed to Mission 2B. 
  • • Each campaign may have a variety of potential results (each with a different series of missions, and differing cost, risk, and performance) 

A "tree-diagram" depicting various models for the campaign as routes across a space consisting of configurations of sequentially ordered missions may be used to illustrate alternative methods for carrying out a campaign. 

  • A lot of researchers have been looking at methods for determining the best campaign (i.e. the best sequence of missions) based on some kind of campaign merit figure. 
  • However, since this is a complicated topic, it is beyond the scope of this debate. 

The features, characteristics, and needs of the various missions that make up a campaign must be understood in order to make a smart campaign decision.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

Humans On Mars: A Skeptic's Perspective

It's encouraging to learn that the Mars Society is interested about creating law and order in townships on Mars. 

However, there are immediate difficulties in sending the first people to Mars for preliminary exploration, and the costs and dangers are very high. 

There are many issues to consider: 

(1) What are the primary objectives of the Mars mission? 

(2) How does robotic vs human exploration compare in terms of benefits and costs? 

(3) What are the dangers and difficulties associated with sending people to Mars? 

The dominant opinion in both scientific and futuristic circles, as we covered in earlier parts, is that the primary reason to investigate Mars is the hunt for life, which necessitates a search for liquid water (mostly past). 

Futurists and visionaries have imaginations that extend well beyond this early stage, to the point when human communities are created for their "social, inspirational, and resource worth." 

Even if we accept the implausible notion that the hunt for life on Mars is essential to exploration, the issue of comparative costs and potential outcomes based on robotic vs human exploration of Mars remains. 

The benefit-to-cost ratio for robotic exploration seems to be much higher. 

Furthermore, because the search for life is likely to fail, maybe the true benefit in investigating Mars is to learn more about why the three terrestrial planets, Venus, Earth, and Mars, came out to be so different, despite the fact that they were all equipped with comparable resources from the outset. Venus has a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere, while Mars has relatively little. 

  • There are ideas as to why this occurs, however it may be required to explore the planets to learn more about the geological history of how this happened. 
  • In comparison to robotic exploration, sending people to Mars seems to be a highly costly and hazardous endeavor. 
  • In terms of the wider, aspirational perspective stated in DRM-1, the push for a long-term human presence beyond Earth seems to be at least a few hundred years premature. 

Certainly, the existence of a few people on Mars will not alleviate any of the stresses that the Earth is experiencing owing to overcrowding, pollution, or resource depletion. 

Comparative planetology is an admirable aim, but it is unclear if human presence is required to achieve it. 

Without sending people to Mars, aren't there plenty of possibilities for international collaboration on Earth? 

By comparing bigger societal expenditures, the conclusion that the investment needed to transport people to Mars is "small" is reached. 

However, when compared to conventional space expenses, it is enormous. 

On the other hand, the claims that new technologies or new applications of existing technologies will benefit not only humans exploring Mars but will also improve people's lives on Earth may have some merit, and that the boldness and grandeur of Mars exploration "will motivate our youth, drive technical education goals, and excite the people and nations of the world" may have some merit. 

It ultimately comes down to the benefit/cost ratio, which seems to be poor in this case. 

Aside from the why and if it is worthwhile, the actual problem at hand is the technical, financial, and logistical obstacles that a human trip to Mars would face. 

Nonetheless, a human trip to Mars would be a tremendous technical feat and the pinnacle of more than 60 years of rocketry and space exploration.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

Why Send Humans To Mars?

The Opinions of the Enthusiasts, Science, inspiration, and resources are three of the most common reasons for exploring the Moon or Mars. 

This foundation was laid by Paul Spudis for lunar exploration6, but many of the same ideas have been extended to Mars by fans. 

The NASA Mars Design Reference Mission (DRM-1) elucidated the justification for human exploration of Mars in great detail (Hoffman et al. 1997). 

A workshop on the "whys" of Mars exploration was conducted in August 1992 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. 

The workshop participants highlighted six key components of a Mars exploration program's justification, which are described here.

  • Human Evolution—Outside of the Earth-Moon system, Mars is the most accessible planetary body where prolonged human presence is thought to be feasible. 
  • The technological goals of Mars exploration should be to figure out what it would take to maintain a permanent human presence outside of Earth. 
  • Comparative Planetology—One of the scientific goals of Mars exploration should be to learn more about the planet and its past so that we may learn more about Earth. 
  • International Cooperation—At the conclusion of the Cold War, the political climate may be favorable to a coordinated international effort that is both suitable and needed for a long-term program. Technology 
  • Advancement—Human exploration of Mars is now on the verge of becoming a reality. Some of the technology needed to complete this mission is already in place or is on the way. Other technologies will emerge as a result of the mission's requirements. 
  • Novel technology, or new applications of current technologies, will help not just those exploring Mars, but also people on Earth. Mars exploration's objectives are audacious, big, and a stretch of the imagination. 

Such objectives will test the population's collective ability to achieve this accomplishment, will inspire our young, will push technical education goals, and will thrill people and countries across the globe. 

A Mars exploration mission is a low-cost investment when compared to other types of societal expenditures. 

“In the long run, the greatest value of human exploration of Mars may possibly be the philosophical and practical consequences of colonizing another planet,” DRM-1 said.

  •  Human history, overpopulation, resource depletion, the quest for religious or economic freedom, competitive advantage, and other human problems were all discussed in DRM-1. 
  • The idea that Mars might one day be a home for humans is at the heart of most of the public enthusiasm in Mars exploration outside of the realm of basic research. 

A human settlement on Mars, which would have to be self-sufficient in order to be sustainable, would satisfy human desires to push the boundaries of human capability, provide the possibility of saving human civilization from an ecological disaster on Earth (for example, a giant asteroid impact or a nuclear incident), and potentially lead to a new range of human endeavors not possible on Earth. 

DRM-1 went on to say that there are three things to think about: 

  • Demonstrating the ability to be self-sufficient. Demonstrating that humans can thrive and live on Mars. 
  • Demonstrating that the dangers of survival encountered by residents on Mars in their everyday lives are consistent with the advantages they perceive. 
  • Robert Zubrin, the founder and president of the Mars Society, is a leading proponent of Mars exploration. Zubrin (2005) further on why he thinks humanity should go to Mars. 

In fact, when he says we can accomplish it in a decade, his excitement outweighs his common sense. “Of all the planetary destinations presently within reach,” Zubrin said, “Mars offers the most—scientifically, socially, and in terms of what it portends for humanity's future.” 

  • Zubrin repeated a widely held view in the scientific community: that any planet with liquid water flowing on its surface in the presence of sunshine would ultimately spontaneously develop life. 
  • “So if the hypothesis is true that life is a naturally occurring phenomena, emerging from chemical ‘complexification' anywhere there is liquid water, a temperate temperature, adequate minerals, and enough time, then life should have emerged on Mars,” Zubrin concluded. 
  • This was based on his argument that “liquid water flowed on the surface of Mars for a billion years throughout its early history, a period five times as long as it took life to emerge on Earth once liquid water existed.” 

Zubrin considered looking for "fossils of previous life" on the surface of Mars, as well as employing "drilling rigs to access subterranean water where Martian life may still exist." He thinks that the inspiration generated by a Mars mission has enormous societal benefit. 

  • “The most essential reason to travel to Mars is the gateway it offers to the future,” he said. Mars is the only alien body in the inner solar system that has all of the resources necessary to sustain not just life, but also the formation of a technological civilization. 
  • We shall begin humanity's career as a multi-planet species by establishing our initial footing on Mars.” Many Mars enthusiasts back Zubrin (the Mars Society's mission is to "advance the objective of the exploration and colonization of the Red Planet.") 
  • They seem to think that “in 10 years” we will be able to transport people to Mars and establish long-term colonies. 
  • Every year, futurists present comprehensive ideas for long-term colonies on Mars at the International Space Development Conference. 

The Mars Society often refers to colonies on Mars as the next stage in the history of "colonization," and cautions against repeating the errors committed on Earth. 

  • According to the Oregon Chapter of the Mars Society, "there will most likely be a few clusters of tiny villages when the first colonies are put up." They should widen out as time goes by. 
  • The more dispersed the townships are, the more likely they are to establish their own culture.
  • Townships will first be reliant on one another for common resources such as food, water, fuel, and air.
  • People should be encouraged to establish more isolated settlements after a more solid infrastructure has been established on Mars. 
  • The law is an essential factor to consider in every region where colonization or expansion has happened. 
  • On Mars, some kind of law will be required. When we consider the system that was utilized in the old west, we can see that whomever is in charge of enforcing the law may have trouble doing so. 
  • The sheriffs' on Mars must be trustworthy persons who have the support of the majority of the population. 
  • They should not be chosen by the present crop of politically motivated citizens; this would only promote corruption. Instead, some kind of volunteer lottery system should be permitted. 
  • In terms of the legislation itself, it should be enacted to protect everyone's fundamental rights, from speech to privacy. 

While these fanatics are already preoccupied with creating law and order on Mars, this humble writer is just concerned with safely getting there and back. 

Rycroft offered a different point of view (2006). “The overall aim of space exploration for the twenty-first century should be to bring people to Mars, with the primary purpose of having them stay there,” he said. 

The aim was to give humanity with “a second base in the Solar System... since the Earth may no longer be livable at some time in the future.” Rycroft pointed out that this might happen as a result of a catastrophic event on Earth. 

Civilization may self-destruct, or the Earth may be rendered uninhabitable by a massive natural disaster. 

Overpopulation, global terrorism, nuclear war or accident, cyber technology war or accident, biological war or accident, emergence of a super-virus, asteroid collision, geophysical events (e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes), resource depletion (e.g., oil, natural gas reserves), climate change, global warming and sea level rise, stratospheric ozone depletion, stratospheric ozone depletion.

 “The chances are no better than 50–50 that our current civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the century,” he added, quoting M. Rees. 

The most urgent problems include overpopulation, pollution, global warming, resource depletion, and the global spread of Islamic terrorism, which may lead to a third World War between the West and Islam. 

While Rycroft highlighted the gravity of these dangers, his proposed approach of "colonization of Mars by the end of the twenty-first century" will exacerbate rather than alleviate humanity's difficulties. 

How will we manage to populate the Earth and live in peace if we can't do it on Mars, which has an immensely harsher climate? 

A number of new projects aiming towards human exploration of Mars have emerged in the eight years after the original version of this book was published. has been an outspoken proponent of sending people to Mars. 

Their strategy seems to be to organize gatherings and have prominent individuals give remarks. Mars One will create a permanent human colony on Mars, according to Mars One. 

Starting in 2024, four-person crews will leave every two years. 

In 2018, we will launch our first unmanned mission. Participate in our journey to Mars by joining the Global Mars One Community.

According to a 2014 news report10, "Sending people to Mars by the 2030s is cheap," but "several critical adjustments are required if it is to materialize." 

  • A workshop group of more than 60 people from more than 30 government, industrial, academic, and other institutions discovered that if NASA's budget is restored to pre-sequestration levels, a human trip to Mars lead by NASA is possible. 
  • A human arrival on Mars is still approximately 20 years away, according to a more recent news report11, but NASA's journey to the Red Planet seems to be gradually moving ahead. 
  • NASA's top human exploration official told a Senate panel that major components of the deep-space rocket, capsule, and infrastructure required to reach Mars are on track for a landing in the 2030s. 
  • NASA is developing the technologies required to transport people to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s, according to a NASA website. 
  • NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and colleagues from throughout the agency presented NASA's Human Path to Mars during an Exploration Forum at NASA Headquarters in Washington on April 29, 2014. 

The Mars Society continues to push for human trips to the Red Planet. 

Human arrival on Mars is just a decade or two away, according to dozens, if not hundreds, of websites. Some groups, on the other hand, have determined that all of the above are untrue. 

The National Research Council (NRC) determined that NASA's human spaceflight program had an unsustainable and dangerous approach that will prohibit the United States from landing a person on Mars in the near future. 

The 286-page National Research Council report, the result of an 18-month, $3.2 million congressional investigation, concludes that continuing on the current path with budgets that don't keep up with inflation "invites failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the US does best." 

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

Views Of The Curmudgeons On The Search For Life On Mars

How life started on Earth is one of science's biggest unanswered mysteries. 

The current consensus among scientists is that life forms relatively easily and with a high probability on a planet if you start with a temperate climate, liquid water, carbon dioxide, and possibly ammonia, hydrogen and other basic chemicals, and electrical discharges (lightning) to break up molecules and form free radicals that can react with one another. 

How is it possible for such rubbish to be propagated in the scientific community? 

  • At least part of the explanation seems to be attributable to the fact that “the planet was a dead rock 4.6 billion years ago; a billion years later it was teeming with early forms of life.” 
  • The fact that life originated very early in the Earth's history is one of the pillars of the commonly held belief that life forms readily and with high probability—an argument that I can't find any evidence for. To begin with, we don't know whether life "began" on Earth or was transported from another body to Earth. 

Second, since we don't know how life began, how can we be certain that the relatively early appearance of life on Earth is predictive of anything? 

There is no evidence or logic to indicate that if life originated 3 billion years after the Earth's creation (rather than 1 billion), the chance of life developing would be lower than if life began in 1 billion years. 

Even if this reasoning were true, which it isn't, the difference would be just a factor of three, while the inherent likelihood of life formation must be a very high negative exponential. 

  • If you imagine a million planets orbiting stars in a billion galaxies, all of which have the same basic requirements: temperate climate, liquid water, carbon dioxide, and possibly ammonia, hydrogen and other basic inorganic chemicals, and electrical discharges (lightning), you'll notice that if life emerges on any of them and evolves into thinking beings, the people who live there will be the same as the people on Earth. “I think, therefore I exist,” as Descartes put it. 
  • Assume that the chances of life developing on such a planet are very remote, and that it requires an extraordinarily rare confluence of chemical, electrical, and geological processes to create the required channel for life to emerge from natural molecules. 
  • Assume that out of those 1,000,000 planets, life only developed once on one of them. People that developed on that planet would believe they were prototypical of other worlds and that life exists all throughout the cosmos. Because we are living, we are conscious of life. We have no way of knowing whether life has existed somewhere else. 

Given the complexity of life—even the smallest bacteria needs about 2000 complex organic enzymes to function—the likelihood of life evolving spontaneously from basic inorganic chemicals seems to be very remote. 

  • This chance, according to Hoyle (1983), is very small. Hoyle goes on to say that life began somewhere in the cosmos and was "sown" on Earth by interstellar dust grains. 
  • Many of the ideas in Hoyle's book that support seeding life from alien origins were thoroughly debunked by Korthof (2014). 
  • The majority of these complaints seem to be valid. However, the issue of how life began, whether on Earth or elsewhere, remains unanswered. 

Faced with the problem that the chances of life emerging spontaneously are very low, Hoyle proposed a quasi-religious perspective that the world is under “intelligent control,” with life being generated by higher powers that we cannot comprehend. 

  • Shapiro (1987) presented a hilarious allegory of a seeker of the solution to the beginning of existence who travels to the Himalayas to see a renowned guru. 
  • Every day, the guru presents the seeker with a new far-fetched “scientific” idea, and the seeker remains unsatisfied. 
  • Finally, on the last day, the guru reads the first page of Genesis (“In the beginning,...”), and the seeker decides that this explanation is approximately as good as the “scientific” ones. 
  • Consider the Earth 4 billion years ago, after it had finished its initial creation and cooling process. 

How long did it take for life to show up? 

Is it a day? Is it really a month? Is it really a year? 

What is a millennium? Hundreds of millions of years? 

Did it emerge in a single location or all across the world? 

Why isn't life still developing if it formed that quickly? 

  • If it took a few hundred million years, it was likely due to an extremely unusual series of occurrences. 
  • The issue with all of the theories about how life emerged from inanimate stuff is that none of them can withstand even a cursory examination. 
  • Given 1,000,000 planets in the universe with a climate that might potentially sustain life, it is conceivable that only an extraordinarily unusual and fortunate conflux of circumstances led to the creation of life on one planet (or possibly a few). 
  • We are the one, according to Descartes' reasoning, if life originated on just one planet. 
  • As a result, the hunt for life on Mars seems to be destined to failure—or at the very least, a high chance of failure. 
  • The whole direction of inquiry and study may be shifted depending on how the basic questions are phrased. 

One of the "four big questions" posed by the ESA Cosmic Vision5 is: 

"What are the prerequisites for planetary formation and the development of life?" 

  • This tilts the whole framework toward the widely held belief that, given enough time, a set (or sets) of circumstances (temperature, pressure, atmospheric components, liquid water, energy input, etc.) would deterministically create life from inanimate matter as a matter of chemistry. 
  • This perspective has impacted (and, in my opinion, distorted) the whole Mars Exploration Program into a futile, doomed-to-fail hunt for life on Mars, as well as spawned a slew of fictitious stories about the quest for life. 

We don't even know if life began on Earth or was brought there from somewhere else. As a result, it's unclear if life began on planets. 

  • It's conceivable that the development of life from inanimate stuff is a complex, unlikely, nearly impossible process that necessitates a series of improbable sequential occurrences, such that life only exists once in the universe, and we'll never know where or how. 
  • The widely held notion that life would develop deterministically in many places across the cosmos where there is water and moderate temperatures seems to be unfounded. 
  • Someone appears to declare a major “breakthrough” in understanding how life started from inanimate matter many times a year, and they generally conclude that life forms quickly and with a high likelihood. 
  • Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, believes he has discovered the fundamental physics driving the genesis and development of life.

What is the purpose of life? 

  • A primordial soup, a flash of lightning, and a massive stroke of luck are all popular theories. 
  • However, if a controversial new hypothesis is true, chance may have a little role. 
  • The genesis and subsequent development of life, according to the physicist who proposed the theory, "should be as unsurprising as pebbles flowing downhill," according to the scientist who proposed the theory. All of these ideas, however, fall short on one crucial aspect. 

Why isn't fresh life sprouting up everywhere around us if life develops readily and deterministically from the "primordial soup"? 

What does it indicate about the inherent likelihood of creating life from the "primordial soup" if it takes millions of years for life to emerge from such a large quantity of it?

Nonetheless, there are still compelling reasons to visit Mars. 

The following are some of them: 

  • However, knowing the circumstances that existed on early Mars will certainly offer significant insights as to how the Mars we see today came to be. 
  • In this regard, Mars may offer crucial information on the nature of the early Earth. 
  • The Noachian is thought to account for up to 40% of the Martian surface, although this era is hardly represented in the Earth's geologic record, since the few exposures that have been found are extensively metamorphosed (i.e., with uncertain preservation of original texture and chemistry). 
  • Because Earth and Mars are Solar System neighbors, they are likely to have shared certain early (pre-3.7 Ga) processes, and research on Mars may help us learn more about our own planet.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

How Can Atomic Clocks Help Humans Arrive On Mars On Time?

    Autonomous Navigation - Overcoming Technological Limitations

    NASA navigators are assisting in the development of a future in which spacecraft may safely and independently travel to destinations such as the Moon and Mars.

    • Today, navigators guide a spacecraft by calculating its position from Earth and transmitting the data to space in a two-way relay system that may take minutes to hours to give instructions. 
    • This mode of navigation ensures that our spacecraft remain connected to the earth, waiting for instructions from our planet, no matter how far a mission goes across the solar system.
    • This constraint will obstruct any future crewed voyage to another planet. 

    How can astronauts travel to destinations distant from Earth if they don't have direct control over their path? 

    And how will they be able to land properly on another planet if there is a communication delay that slows down their ability to alter their trajectory into the atmosphere?

    The Deep Space Atomic Clock, a toaster-sized clock developed by NASA, seeks to provide answers to these concerns. 

    How a Toaster-Sized Atomic Clock Could Pave the Way for Deep Space  Exploration | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

    • It's the first GPS-like device that's tiny enough to go on a spaceship and steady enough to operate. 
    • The technological demonstrated allows the spaceship to determine its location without relying on data from Earth.
    • The clock will be sent into Earth's orbit for a year in late June on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, where it will be tested to see whether it can assist spacecraft in locating themselves in space.

    If the Deep Orbit Atomic Clock's first year in space goes well, it may open the way for one-way navigation in the future, when humans can be led over the Moon's surface by a GPS-like system or safely fly their own missions to Mars and beyond.

    • Navigators on Earth guide every spaceship traveling to the furthest reaches of the universe. 
    • By allowing onboard autonomous navigation, or self-driving spaceship, the Deep Space Atomic Clock will alter that.

    Deep Space Navigation

    Atomic clocks in space are not a novel concept. 

    • Every GPS gadget and smartphone uses atomic clocks on satellites circling Earth to calculate its position. 
    • Satellites transmit signals from space, and the receiver triangulates your location by calculating the time it takes for the signals to reach your GPS.
    • At the moment, spacecraft beyond Earth's orbit do not have a GPS to help them navigate across space. 

    GPS satellites' atomic clocks aren't precise enough to transmit instructions to spacecraft, where even a fraction of a second may mean missing a planet by kilometers.

    • Instead, navigators transmit a signal to the spaceship, which bounces it back to Earth, using massive antennas on Earth.
    • Ground-based clocks keep track of how long it takes the signal to complete this two-way trip. 
    • The length of time informs them how far away and how quickly the spaceship is traveling. 
    • Only then will navigators be able to give the spacecraft instructions, instructing it where to travel.
    • "It's the same idea as an echo," Seubert said. "If I scream in front of a mountain, the longer it takes for the echo to return to me, the farther away the mountain is."

    Two-way navigation implies that a mission must wait for a signal containing instructions to traverse the enormous distances between planets, no matter how far into space it travels. 

    • It's a procedure made famous by Curiosity's arrival on Mars, when the world waited 14 minutes for the rover to transmit the word that it had landed safely with mission headquarters. 
    • A one-way communication between Earth and Mars may take anything from 4 to 20 minutes to get between the planets, depending on where they are in their orbits.
    • It's a sluggish, arduous method of navigating deep space, one that clogs up NASA's Deep Space Network's massive antennae like a busy phone line. 
    • A spaceship traveling at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour may be at a completely different location by the time it "knows" where it is during this interaction.

    Atomic Clocks To Compute Precise Locations In Space

    This two-way system may be replaced with an atomic clock small enough to go on a mission but precise enough to provide correct instructions. 

    • A signal would be sent from Earth to a spaceship in the future. 
    • The Deep Space Atomic Clock aboard, like its Earthly counterparts, would measure the time it took for that signal to reach it. 
    • After that, the spacecraft could compute its own location and course, effectively directing itself.

    Having a clock aboard would allow onboard radio navigation, which, when coupled with optical navigation, would provide astronauts with a more precise and safe method to navigate themselves.

    • This one-way navigation technique may be used on Mars and beyond. 
    • By sending a single signal into space, DSN antennas would be able to connect with many missions at the same time. 
    • The new technique has the potential to enhance GPS accuracy on Earth. 
    • Additionally, several spacecraft equipped with Deep Space Atomic Clocks might circle Mars, forming a GPS-like network that would guide robots and people on the surface.

    The Deep Space Atomic Clock will be able to assist in navigation not just on Earth, but also on distant planets. Consider what would happen if we had GPS on other planets.

    • Burt and JPL clock scientists Robert Tjoelker and John Prestage developed a mercury ion clock that, like refrigerator-size atomic clocks on Earth, retains its stability in space. 
    • The Deep Space Atomic Clock was shown to be 50 times more accurate than GPS clocks in lab testing. Every ten million years, there is a one-second mistake.
    • The clock's ability to stay steady in orbit will be determined by its demonstration in space. 
    • A Deep Space Atomic Clock may launch on a mission as early as the 2030s if it succeeds. 
    • The first step toward self-driving spaceship capable of transporting people to distant planets.

    General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of Englewood, Colorado supplied the spacecraft for the Deep Space Atomic Clock. 

    It is supported by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate's Technology Demonstration Missions program and NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate's Space Communications and Navigations program. The project is overseen by JPL.

    ~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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    You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

    Atomic Clocks


      The Critical Need For High Fidelity Atomic Clocks

      The Deep Space Atomic Clock, developed by NASA, may be the most stable atomic clock ever sent into space. But what exactly does it imply, and how do clocks relate to space navigation?

      • The planned launch date for a technological demonstration that may change the way humans explore space is June 24, 2019. 
      • The Deep Space Atomic Clock, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is a significant improvement over satellite-based atomic clocks that, for example, allow GPS on your phone.

      In the end, this new technology may allow spaceships to go to faraway places such as Mars on their own. But, first and foremost, what is an atomic clock? 

      What makes the Deep Space Atomic Clock unique is how it is utilized in space navigation. 

      What is the purpose of using clocks to travel in space?

      Navigators transmit a signal to a spacecraft to calculate its distance from Earth, which the spacecraft subsequently returns to Earth. 

      • Because the signal travels at a given speed, the time it takes to complete the two-way trip indicates the spacecraft's distance from Earth (the speed of light).
      • While it may seem difficult, most of us utilize this idea on a daily basis. It's possible that the food shop is a 30-minute walk from your home. 
      • You can calculate the distance to the shop if you know you can walk a mile in 20 minutes.

      Navigators can determine a spacecraft's trajectory: where it is and where it is going, by transmitting various signals and collecting several measurements over time.

      • Quartz crystal oscillators are utilized in almost all contemporary clocks, from wristwatches to satellites. 
      • When voltage is given to quartz crystals, they vibrate at a specific frequency, which is used in these devices. 
      • The crystal's vibrations work like a grandfather clock's pendulum, keeping track of how much time has passed.
      • Navigators require clocks with precise time resolution - clocks that can measure billionths of a second - to determine the spacecraft's location to within a meter.
      • Clocks that are very steady are also required by navigators. 

      "Stability" relates to how consistently a clock counts a unit of time; for example, the length of a second must be constant across days and weeks (to better than a billionth of a second).

      What are the connections between atoms and clocks?

      • Quartz crystal clocks aren't particularly steady by space navigation standards. 
      • Even the best-performing quartz oscillators may be off by a millisecond after just one hour (one billionth of a second). 
      • They may be wrong by a whole millisecond (one thousandth of a second), or 185 miles, after six weeks (300 kilometers). 
      • This would have a significant effect on determining the location of a rapidly moving spacecraft.

      To attain better stability, atomic clocks combine a quartz crystal oscillator with an ensemble of atoms. 

      After four days, NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock will be off by less than a nanosecond, and after ten years, it will be off by less than a microsecond (one millionth of a second). 

      This is the equivalent of being one second off every ten million years.

      Atoms are made up of a nucleus (protons and neutrons) that is surrounded by electrons. 

      • On the periodic table, each element represents an atom with a specific number of protons in its nucleus. 
      • Although the number of electrons swarming about the nucleus may vary, they must all occupy distinct energy levels, or orbits.
      • An electron may ascend to a higher orbit around the nucleus after receiving a shock of energy in the form of microwaves. 

      To accomplish this leap, the electron must receive precisely the correct amount of energy - which means the microwaves must have a very particular frequency.

      • The energy needed to get electrons to shift orbits varies per element, but it is constant for all atoms of a particular element throughout the universe. 
      • For example, the frequency required to alter the energy levels of electrons in a carbon atom is the same for all carbon atoms in the universe. 
      • Mercury atoms are used in the Deep Space Atomic Clock; a different frequency is required to cause those electrons to shift levels, and that frequency will be constant for all mercury atoms.
      • "It's really the essential element for atomic clocks because the energy difference between these orbits is such a precise and stable number," said Eric Burt, an atomic clock scientist at JPL. 
      • "It's because of this that atomic clocks can outperform mechanical clocks."

      The ability to detect this constant frequency in a specific atom provides science with a universal, uniform time measurement. 

      • The number of waves that travel through a given location in space in a given unit of time is referred to as "frequency."
      • It is therefore feasible to estimate time by counting waves.
      • In reality, the frequency required to have electrons jump between two particular energy levels in a cesium atom determines the official measurement of a second.

      The frequency of the quartz oscillator is converted into a frequency that is applied to a group of atoms in an atomic clock. 

      • Many electrons in the atoms will shift energy levels if the calculated frequency is accurate. 
      • There will be much fewer electrons jumping if the frequency is wrong. 
      • This will establish whether and how much the quartz oscillator is off-frequency. 
      • The quartz oscillator may then be steered back to the proper frequency using a "correction" defined by the atoms. 

      The Deep Space Atomic Clock calculates and applies this kind of adjustment to the quartz oscillator every few seconds.

      What makes the Deep Space Atomic Clock special?

      Onboard the GPS satellites that circle the Earth, atomic clocks are employed, although even these need to be updated twice a day to counteract the clocks' inherent drift. 

      Those updates are provided by more reliable atomic clocks on the ground, which are enormous (typically the size of a refrigerator) and not built to withstand the physical rigors of space travel.

      NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock is designed to be the most stable atomic clock ever flown in space, up to 50 times more reliable than the atomic clocks on GPS satellites. 

      • Mercury ions are used to produce this stability.
      • Ions are atoms that are not electrically neutral but have a net electric charge. 
      • Atoms are confined in a vacuum chamber in any atomic clock, and in certain of those clocks, atoms interact with the vacuum chamber walls. 
      • Changes in the environment, such as temperature, will induce comparable changes in the atoms, resulting in frequency inaccuracies. 
      • Because the mercury ions have an electric charge, they may be confined in an electromagnetic "trap" to avoid this interaction, enabling the Deep Space Atomic Clock to reach a new degree of accuracy.

      Such accuracy makes autonomous navigation feasible with little communication to and from Earth for missions traveling to distant destinations like Mars or other planets, which is a significant advance over how spacecraft are presently guided.

      General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of Englewood, Colorado supplied the spacecraft for the Deep Space Atomic Clock. It is supported by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate's Technology Demonstration Missions program and NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate's Space Communications and Navigations program. The project is overseen by JPL.

      ~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

      Courtesy -

      You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

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