Fire destroys GreenHab facility at Mars Desert Research Station

An announcement from the Mars Society:

MDRS GreenHab Destroyed by Fire

The Mars Society regrets to announce the loss of the Mars Desert Research Station’s Fisher GreenHab to an accidental fire yesterday afternoon (Dec. 29th). There were no injuries to Crew 146, the four-person team currently using the MDRS facility outside Hanksville, Utah.

According to a Mars Society spokesperson, the Habitat, which includes crew work stations and living quarters, did not sustain any damage, with the fire being limited to the GreenHab. Following MDRS emergency guidelines, crew members were able to safely put out the fire.

The Fisher GreenHab was the second GreenHab built at the Utah station. An earlier prototype structure was lost during the first MDRS field season due to heavy winds. It served as a model for the second generation GreenHab, a larger and more permanent unit built by Gary Fisher in 2003.


Interior of MDRS GreenHab prior to fire

For five seasons, the facility functioned as an experimental closed loop water recycling system, but testing ceased when it was concluded that the system was too small to maintain the Habitat with six full-time crew members.

In 2009 the GreenHab was refitted for use as a greenhouse. Under the direction of GreenHab Coordinator Nick Orenstein, it was successfully utilized for three seasons to grow crops for the MDRS crews. A variety of important experiments were scheduled to be carried out in the GreenHab during the current 2014-15 field season.

“We will work to erect a new GreenHab as soon as possible in order to conduct these critical research projects. With the help of our friends and supporters, I’m confident the Mars Society will be able to raise the necessary funds to replace the GreenHab in the very near future,” said MDRS Director Shannon Rupert.

To contribute to the Mars Society’s “Rebuild the GreenHab” Fund, please click here.


Sci-Tech: Focus fusion project update from LPPFusion, Inc.

LPPFusion, Inc., formerly Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc, offers some updates on recent developments in their focus fusion program:

Tungsten Cathode Nears Completion after Long Delays

The long-awaited tungsten cathode is finally nearing completion in a Chinese factory.  According to the latest reports by California-based Tungsten Heavy Powder(THP), which is performing the work in China, machining will be complete within a few weeks and delivery to LPPFusion should occur by mid-February. The 99.95% pure tungsten piece has been in the machining process for nearly two months. Because pure tungsten is as brittle as ceramic and liable to cracking, the part must be removed from machining frequently and heat-treated to relieve internal stress.


Given the extreme difficult of making the tungsten cathode, why does LPPFusion not go directly to the final beryllium electrodes? The answer is that tungsten, with its extreme resistance to heat, is the lowest risk material for the next step of our experiment. We need to eliminate evaporation of the electrode and the resulting impurities to get a jump in the density of our plasmoid, and in the resulting fusion energy output or yield. We have firm experimental evidence that tungsten does not erode under the condition FF-1 is currently running. While we have developed and published well-founded theories of how pre-ionization can stop erosion of much less heat-resistant materials like beryllium, we still need to test those theories experimentally. That we can do safely with tungsten, with risking damage to the electrodes or disappointing fusion results. In this way we will confirm or refine the theories and technique, paving the way for the beryllium electrodes.

Those beryllium electrodes will be ready when we need them. We expect to order them in January, with delivery in the first half of 2015.

LPPF Releases Processed Data to Researchers and the Public

LPPFusion, Inc. has made available on our website the data in ourProcessed Data Base to all researchers, both professional and amateur. This data provides the key observations for each shot from the start of operation of Focus Fusion-1 in 2009 through the end of 2013 for four instruments: the Main Rogowski coil (MRC), High Voltage Probe (HVP), the Near Time of Flight (NTF) and Far Time of Flight (FTF) detectors. This gives data on the current and voltage produced during a shot and the neutrons and x-rays emitted.  We are making this data publically available in the expectation that other researchers will be able to use the data to provide new insights into the functioning of the Dense Plasma Focus device and advance the field generally.

Physics of Plasmas Publishes LPPFusion’s Runaway Electron Theory

Physics of Plasmas, the leading journal in the field of plasma physics, has published LPPFusion’s new paper on “Runaway electrons as a source of impurity and reduced fusion yield in the dense plasma focus”. The paper, by Chief Scientist Eric J. Lerner and Chief Research Officer Hamid R. Yousefi, was published online October 22, 2014 less than a month after it was submitted for peer-review. Physics of Plasmas had published a previous LPPFusion paper on record-breaking ion energies in 2012.

The new paper describes the evidence that runaway electrons are a key cause of vaporization of electrodes in the dense plasma focus device, an idea first reported on LPPFusion’s website in April of this year. Runaway electrons occur when very strong electric fields, such as in lightning bolts, accelerate electrons moving through a mainly neutral gas. If the field is strong enough the electrons gain more energy between each collision with an atom than they lose in the collision, thus speeding up to high energy.

Video: Ion propulsion and the Dawn mission

A quick intro to ion propulsion from NASA JPL:

Ion propulsion isn’t something found only in science fiction. JPL engineer Mike Meacham looks at how ion engines are being used to drive NASA’s Dawn spacecraft through the solar system. Dawn is approaching dwarf planet Ceres in the main asteroid belt with arrival expected in March 2015. Previously, Dawn orbited Vesta, the second-largest body in the asteroid belt. Learn how ion propulsion works and why it’s the reason Dawn will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit two solar system bodies. More about Dawn at:

A wall of rubble in a ring of Saturn

Saturn’s B ring has shadows cast by “mountainous waves of icy rubble extending more than 2 miles high above the 30-feet-thick disk of debris that forms the plane of the rings” :


This image from the Cassini probe shows vertical structures casting shadows on Saturn’s B ring: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

From Porco:

I have often thought: What a surreal sight this would be if you were flying low across the rings in a shuttle craft. To your eyes, the rings would seem like a gleaming white, scored, gravelly

sheet below you, extending nearly to infinity. And as you flew, you would see in the distance a wall of rubble that, eventually, as it neared, you would come to realize towered 2 miles above your head. There isn’t another sight like it in the solar system!

Michael Carroll, a beloved and skilled astronomical artist, took this idea, mentioned often in my public lectures, and turned it into a piece of art.