Wednesday, September 24, 2014

India's MOM Arrives in Orbit of Mars: Mars Orbiter Mission cost less than the movie "Gravity."

In June, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi claimed that, at a cost of just $74 million, the Mars Orbiter Mission was less expensive than production of the Oscar-winning science fiction film “Gravity,” which cost a reported $100 million to make. For comparison, NASA’s most recent Mars probe, Maven, which made orbit on Sunday, ran up a cost of about $671 million and the European Space Agency’s 2003 mission's price tag was roughly $386 million.
India’s space agency has honed its ability to make do with limited resources over the years out of “sheer necessity,” according to the Wall Street Journal. In addition to operating on a comparatively paltry budget, many international agencies refused to share expertise with ISRO’s scientists after the country began conducting nuclear weapons tests.
While some critics question whether a nation that is home to a third of the world’s poorest people should be spending roughly a billion dollars per year on space exploration, India counters that the program drives innovation and fuels employment in the country. Modi hopes the mission will help establish India as the world leader in cheap space exploration.

The spacecraft called “Mangalyaan,” or “Mars-craft” in Hindi, which was launched last November, slowed down just enough to reach orbit early Wednesday, securing India a place in the elite global space club of Martian explorers.
Images of beaming scientists clapping and hugging each other at the command center in the southern city of Bangalore were shown live in a nationally televised broadcast after a breathless, nail-biting countdown during the spacecraft’s final leg.
Over an hour after reaching the orbit, the space agency received the first photographic data of the red planet’s terrain which were transmitted via an antenna located in Canberra, Australia.
Calling it the “national pride event,” the Indian Space Research Organization also showed it live on Facebook and Twitter.
Officials at the space agency said that for the past two months, scientists worked more than 12 hours a day brainstorming every possible problem and coming up with exhaustive recovery options.
MOM has built-in intelligence, autonomy and a stand-by control system to prevent a breakdown in communication, said M. Pitchaimani, deputy director of the control center at the Indian Space Research Organization.
“Many countries have failed in their first attempt. India got success the first time itself,” said Pitchaimani in a telephone interview. “But this has come after intense study of others’ failures and the reasons for failure, and building our satellite accordingly. We also had gained from their accumulated knowledge about the gravity field of the planet and we built robust instruments based on that data.”
More than half of the 51 Mars missions launched globally have failed. India’s successful mission follows those of the United States, Europe and Russia. But India’s mission cost a fraction of NASA’s $670 million Maven, which entered Mars orbit Sunday. The Curiosity Rover, which touched down on Mars in 2012, cost nearly $2 billion.
By comparison, India’s $72 million Mars orbiter is the cheapest interplanetary mission ever. Modi said that India’s Mars mission cost less than what it took to make the famous Hollywood space movie “Gravity.”
“We kept it low cost, high technology. That is the Indian way of working,” Sandip Bhattacharya, assistant director of B.M. Birla Planetarium in the northern city of Jaipur, said in a telephone interview. “ . . . Our goal was to reach Mars and send few pictures and scientific data. Now in the coming years, this will give us leverage to plan for newer Mars missions in a more aggressive manner with heavier payload with larger exploration goals.”
  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed India’s low-cost space technology, saying a rocket which launched four foreign satellites into orbit had cost less to make than the Hollywood film “Gravity.”
India’s domestically-produced Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) blasted off Monday morning from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota, carrying satellites from France, Germany, Canada and Singapore.
“India has the potential to be the launch service provider of the world and must work towards this goal,” Modi said from the site, one month after coming to power at the head of a right-wing government.
Satellite launch industry revenues totalled $2.2 billion in 2012, according to the US Satellite Industry Association, and India is keen to expand its modest share of this market as a low-cost provider.
“I have heard about the film Gravity. I am told the cost of sending an Indian rocket to space is less than the money invested in making the Hollywood movie,” Modi added.
The budget of the British-American 3D sci-fi thriller, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, was about $100 million, according to industry website IMDb.
Last year, India launched a bid to become the first Asian nation to reach Mars with a mission whose price tag was the envy of space programmes world-wide.
The total cost at INR 4.5 billion ($73 million) was less than a sixth of the $455 million earmarked for a Mars probe launched shortly afterwards by US space agency NASA.
Experts say the secret is India’s ability to copy and adapt existing space technology for its own needs, and the abundance of highly-skilled engineers who earn a fraction of their foreign counterparts’ wages.
Modi said the country must be proud of its space programme, developed in the face of “great international pressure and hurdles”
Western sanctions on India after the nation staged a nuclear weapons test in 1974 gave a major thrust to the space programme because New Delhi needed to develop its own missile technology.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover finds Iron Meteorite called "Lebanon."


This rock encountered by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is an iron meteorite called "Lebanon," similar in shape and luster to iron meteorites found on Mars by the previous generation of rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.  Lebanon is about 2 yards or 2 meters wide (left to right, from this angle). The smaller piece in the foreground is called "Lebanon B."
This view combines a series of high-resolution circular images taken by the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) of Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument with color and context from rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam).  The component images were taken during the 640th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 25, 2014).
The imaging shows angular shaped cavities on the surface of the rock. One possible explanation is that they resulted from preferential erosion along crystalline boundaries within the metal of the rock.  Another possibility is that these cavities once contained olivine crystals, which can be found in a rare type of stony-iron meteorites called pallasites, thought to have been formed near the core-mantle boundary within an asteroid.
Iron meteorites are not rare among meteorites found on Earth, but they are less common than stony meteorites. On Mars, iron meteorites dominate the small number of meteorites that have been found. Part of the explanation could come from the resistance of iron meteorites to erosion processes on Mars.
ChemCam is one of 10 instruments in Curiosity's science payload. The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed ChemCam in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency (CNES), the University of Toulouse and the French national research agency (CNRS). More information about ChemCam is available at http://www.msl-chemcam.com .  The rover's MastCam was built by and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

Monday, May 19, 2014

NASA's Curiosity Rover's current location as of May 15

NASA's Curiosity Rover's current location as of May 15.
NASA's Curiosity Rover's current location as of May 15.  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Curiosity Drills Windjana Martian Rock

 Curiosity rover drills a rock sample for analysis. Photo Credit: NASA/JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is set to drill into a rock for the third time on the red planet to collect a sample for analysis. Over the weekend, the rover used a wire-bristle-brush to clear away dust from a slab of sandstone that has been given the name "Windjana," after a gorge in Western Australia. The rover will drill into the area “in order to understand the chemistry of the fluids that bound these grains together to form the rock,” said Melissa Rice of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, a Curiosity science team member. In the coming days, the rover will conduct a preparatory “mini-drill” operation to check the area for readiness, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. The hammering drill on Curiosity collects powdered sample material from rocks and then delivers portions to laboratory instruments onboard. The first two Martian rock samples inspected this way, which were taken last year about 2.5 miles from the rover’s current location, yielded evidence of an ancient lakebed environment with conditions favorable for microbial life billions of years ago, NASA says

Monday, April 21, 2014

Asteroid Impact Glass May Reveal Ancient Life on Mars

In a new study, scientists have analyzed ancient materials preserved astonishingly in glass generated by an asteroid's collision with the Earth.


According to BBC News, the scientists published their new study in the journal Geology. The samples were found in the Pampas in Argentina and represent a new way of looking into the environmental history of other planets, Mars in particular.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NASA Plans Mars Human Exploration in 2030s

William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, likened the steps the agency is taking to the Mercury and Gemini programs, both of which were building blocks toward putting men on the Moon with the Apollo missions.
Wednesday, before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee, Gerstenmaier said NASA is taking steps to “that will allow us to make sustained progress toward a human presence on the surface of Mars.” "There is real hardware in manufacture for the path to Mars," Gerstenmaier told senators. In 2017, for example, the agency plans an unmanned test of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle, which will be used to take astronauts to Mars. These initial steps toward Mars are comprised of “Earth-reliant” missions, such as the International Space Station, landing on an asteroid in lunar orbit, and finally, a “Mars-ready” mission. During the first stage, NASA, along with international partners and private entities, will conduct research on how to keep space crews safe and productive on long duration spaceflights. The joint effort will also explore how to transport cargo and crew affordably into low Earth orbit. The second major stepping stone was approved by House subcommittee yesterday. That mission calls for NASA to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit, land astronauts on the asteroid, and return them safely to Earth. “We're going to grab a piece of the solar system, we're going to deflect it around the moon and insert it into a distant retrograde orbit around the moon where our crews can go visit," said Gerstenmaier. The mission he said would develop skills and techniques needed to “push the human presence into the solar system.”