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The Martian atmosphere presents a slew of problems to engineers trying to safely land heavy cargo on the planet’s surface. Its atmosphere is much less dense than that of Earth’s, so parachutes that would slow a spacecraft’s descent would need to be prohibitively large.

That’s why aerospace researchers are investigating the best ways to fire a descending vehicle’s engines to slow it down, a technique called retropropulsion. Figuring it out would let cargo ships touchdown without destroying the tons of equipment and habitats that human astronauts need to create a base on Mars.

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Next-Generation Space Capsule To Endure First Flight Test

On Dec. 4, NASA will launch the Orion capsule on its first space flight aboard the Delta IV Heavy rocket. The vehicle, which is expected to one day carry astronauts to an asteroid and Mars, will perform its first mission unmanned. It is being loaded up with radiation, heat and acceleration sensors, among numerous other instruments, to perform a fact-finding test flight for future exploration.

The four-and-a-half-hour trip will make two orbits around Earth and also test safety systems that will be critical to keeping astronauts alive and comfortable. Orion will go as far as 3,600 miles above Earth to pass through the Van Allen Belt, an area of high radiation levels, to test shielding designed to protect humans from harmful charged particles as they venture deeper into space.

See the full video below.

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NASA Tests 3-D Printed Engine Components

3-D printing isn’t just for toys and plastic models of your head. Witness a hot fire of NASA’s newest design for rocket engine injectors, 3-D printed to up performance in a way that traditional manufacturing of the parts couldn’t attain.

The agency, which tested the experimental injectors last month at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., used a type of 3-D printing called direct laser melting. To make the parts, a machine fires a laser at metal powder under the direction of a computer design program. This deposits layers of the metal one on top of the other until the part is complete.

NASA says the technique is letting engineers build the injector out of just two parts instead of the 163 formerly needed using traditional manufacturing methods.

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NASA Tells Space Cowboy Concept To Mount Up
by Michael Keller
Earlier this month, NASA awarded $100,000 to a Washington-based company to develop their concept for a cowboy spacecraft. The firm, Tethers Unlimited, has up to a year to develop a proposal for a craft that can deploy a net and tether attached to a winch to capture an asteroid and stop it from spinning.
The nanosatellite-scale system, envisioned in the artist’s concept above, is called the Weightless Rendezvous And Net Grapple to Limit Excess Rotation (WRANGLER, of course). The proposed system will use two technologies to stop a much larger and more massive asteroid from spinning: the Grapple, Retrieve, And Secure Payload (GRASP) Technology for Capture of Non-Cooperative Space Objects that uses inflatable tubes to deploy a net; and a winch-mounted tether that can exchange angular momentum with the object.
If it works, it could be an important element to decrease the complexity and risk of NASA’s long-term plan to collect and redirect an asteroid. Once caught and despun, the celestial object would then be moved to a stable orbit beyond the moon so that astronauts can explore it.[[MORE]]
“The leverage offered by using a tether to extract angular momentum from a rotating space object enables a very small nanosatellite system to de-spin a very massive asteroid or large spacecraft,” NASA said in its announcement.  
NASA’s award enables the company to try for a phase 2 award, which offers $500,000 for two more years of advancing their concept. The system could also be used to capture pesky space debris. 
Image courtesy NASA/TUI.

NASA Tells Space Cowboy Concept To Mount Up

by Michael Keller

Earlier this month, NASA awarded $100,000 to a Washington-based company to develop their concept for a cowboy spacecraft. The firm, Tethers Unlimited, has up to a year to develop a proposal for a craft that can deploy a net and tether attached to a winch to capture an asteroid and stop it from spinning.

The nanosatellite-scale system, envisioned in the artist’s concept above, is called the Weightless Rendezvous And Net Grapple to Limit Excess Rotation (WRANGLER, of course). The proposed system will use two technologies to stop a much larger and more massive asteroid from spinning: the Grapple, Retrieve, And Secure Payload (GRASP) Technology for Capture of Non-Cooperative Space Objects that uses inflatable tubes to deploy a net; and a winch-mounted tether that can exchange angular momentum with the object.

If it works, it could be an important element to decrease the complexity and risk of NASA’s long-term plan to collect and redirect an asteroid. Once caught and despun, the celestial object would then be moved to a stable orbit beyond the moon so that astronauts can explore it.

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