ARKYD space telescope for public access – Kickstarter pledges rocket upwards

Planetary Resources is a company planning to mine asteroids. Initially, though, they will place small observatories into earth orbit to search for candidate near earth orbit asteroids to which they will later send probes for closer inspection. On Wednesday they announced a program to dedicate one of their space observatories to public access and education.

The ARKYD project will launch in 2015 a space telescope into orbit specifically to allow students, schools and the members of the general public to direct its observations. They opened a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1M to fund the project.

One of the cool perks for a $25 pledge is a Space Selfie in which an image that you give them will be displayed on the “satellite’s external screen overlooking Earth. We will then take a picture from our camera arm and send the image back to you.”

The concept and the perks seem very popular as the 32 day campaign has already reached in the first two days nearly $565,000 from 5674 backers. [Update June.1.13: The totals are currently at  $625,714 nd 6,234 backers.]

Here is a video for the Kickstarter:

And in the video below,

Jason Silva, the host of National Geographic’s Brain Games talks about what the ARKYD space telescope means to him and the world. You can follow Jason on Twitter @JasonSilva

Help fund citizen science and make space exploration a reality for everyone! Support the ARKYD Kickstarter

And here is a video with Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis and Planetary Society chief Bill Nye:

“Space Warriors” – New Hallmark movie for young people

The Hallmark Channel is debuting tonight (Friday, May 31st) the made for TV movie Space Warriors about a young man’s adventure at Space Camp that helps save the ISS: ‘Space Warriors’ Hallmark Movie Features Space Camp Training – Yahoo! News

The son of a retired NASA astronaut who lived on the International Space Station, makes his dreams of traveling to outer space come true when he competes to win a seat on the next space shuttle in this spectacular real-life look into the world of Space Camp, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie, World Television Premiere, “Space Warriors” Friday, May 31 (8p.m. ET/PT, 7C).

Here is a music video for the movie:

GRAIL spacecraft expose origin of lunar mass concentrations

A release from NASA:

NASA’s Grail Mission Solves Mystery of Moon’s Surface Gravity

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission has uncovered the origin of massive invisible regions that make the moon’s gravity uneven, a phenomenon that affects the operations of lunar-orbiting spacecraft.

Because of GRAIL’s findings, spacecraft on missions to other celestial bodies can navigate with greater precision in the future.

GRAIL’s twin spacecraft studied the internal structure and composition of the moon in unprecedented detail for nine months. They pinpointed the locations of large, dense regions called mass concentrations, or mascons, which are characterized by strong gravitational pull. Mascons lurk beneath the lunar surface and cannot be seen by normal optical cameras.

GRAIL scientists found the mascons by combining the gravity data from GRAIL with sophisticated computer models of large asteroid impacts and known detail about the geologic evolution of the impact craters. The findings are published in the May 30 edition of the journal Science.

GRAIL Artist Rendition
Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft will
map the moon’s gravity field, as depicted in this artist’s rendering. Radio signals
traveling between the two spacecraft provide scientists the exact measurements
required as well as flow of information not interrupted when the spacecraft are at
the lunar farside, not seen from Earth. The result should be the most accurate
gravity map of the moon ever made.

“GRAIL data confirm that lunar mascons were generated when large asteroids or comets impacted the ancient moon, when its interior was much hotter than it is now,” said Jay Melosh, a GRAIL co-investigator at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and lead author of the paper. “We believe the data from GRAIL show how the moon’s light crust and dense mantle combined with the shock of a large impact to create the distinctive pattern of density anomalies that we recognize as mascons.”

The origin of lunar mascons has been a mystery in planetary science since their discovery in 1968 by a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Researchers generally agree mascons resulted from ancient impacts billions of years ago. It was not clear until now how much of the unseen excess mass resulted from lava filling the crater or iron-rich mantle upwelling to the crust.

On a map of the moon’s gravity field, a mascon appears in a target pattern. The bulls-eye has a gravity surplus. It is surrounded by a ring with a gravity deficit. A ring with a gravity surplus surrounds the bulls-eye and the inner ring. This pattern arises as a natural consequence of crater excavation, collapse and cooling following an impact. The increase in density and gravitational pull at a mascon’s bulls-eye is caused by lunar material melted from the heat of a long-ago asteroid impact.

“Knowing about mascons means we finally are beginning to understand the geologic consequences of large impacts,” Melosh said. “Our planet suffered similar impacts in its distant past, and understanding mascons may teach us more about the ancient Earth, perhaps about how plate tectonics got started and what created the first ore deposits.”

This new understanding of lunar mascons also is expected to influence planetary geology well beyond that of Earth and our nearest celestial neighbor.

“Mascons also have been identified in association with impact basins on Mars and Mercury,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Understanding them on the moon tells us how the largest impacts modified early planetary crusts.”

Launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the probes, renamed Ebb and Flow, operated in a nearly circular orbit near the poles of the moon at an altitude of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) until their mission ended in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes changed slightly as they flew over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by visible features, such as mountains and craters, and by masses hidden beneath the lunar surface.

JPL managed GRAIL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Operations of the spacecraft’s laser altimeter, which provided supporting data used in this investigation, is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built GRAIL.

For more information about GRAIL, visit:

Mars voyage radiation level found in range expected – Improved shielding can deal with it

On Thursday NASA released the results of a study of radiation dosages measured on the Curiosity rover during its flight from earth to Mars.  Radiation Measured by NASA’s Curiosity on Voyage to Mars has Implications for Future Human Missions – NASA

This led to some articles with headlines like this one: NASA: Mars Travelers Would Get Fried By Radiation – Popular Science.

However, such headlines are sensationalistic over-reaction. As indicated in a report in Nature (link via Bob Zimmerman), the radiation level is about what was expected and it appears the dosage can be reduced to acceptable levels for human spaceflight to Mars by using shielding that is attainable : Spacecraft data nails down radiation risk for humans going to Mars: Improved shielding technology could keep exposure within acceptable levels – Nature

[Physicist Sheila Thibeault of NASA’s Langley Research Center] says that she is heartened by the new study because she had feared that the radiation dose might be considerably higher. The results suggest “that this is a problem we can solve”, she adds.

As indicated in the Nature article, hydrogenated shielding is ideal. Besides the new materials discussed, the habitat for a Mars crew can be designed in a manner that surrounds the living areas with the water, food, waste,and fuel that they will be carrying anyway. This will add up to significant amount of hydrogenated shielding.

I’ll also note that the worst case dosage, “0.66 sieverts of radiation during the voyage to and from the planet”, would increase the crew’s chance of cancer by 3 to 4 per cent. This is consistent with what the Inspiration Mars project has said that they were expecting to deal with. It appears now that they can improve on this since they are planning to use the above shielding techniques with water, food, etc.