NASA expanding frontiers, SpaceX plans to land on a drone and Mars “spiders”

titan-enceladus-879x485NASA expands frontiers of next New Frontiers competition

NASA has added two potentially habitable moons of Saturn to the list of possible destinations for its next billion-dollar planetary science mission.

In a Jan. 6 “community announcement” email to scientists, NASA said that “Ocean Worlds,” which it defined as Saturn’s moons Titan andEnceladus, were now included in a set of six classes of missions that the agency would accept proposals for in the next New Frontiers competition in 2017.

“The Ocean Worlds theme for this announcement is tentatively focused on the search for signs of extant life and/or characterizing the potential habitability of Titan or Enceladus,” the announcement stated. The statement did not explain why Ocean Worlds theme was added to New Frontiers.

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SpaceX is going to try landing a rocket on a robotic ship this week

Following its historic December launch and landing of a rocket at Cape Canaveral, SpaceX will attempt another feat: landing a rocket booster on a ship at sea.

On Sunday Jan. 17, the company plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket (carrying NASA’s Jason-3 satellite) from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. Then it will attempt to land the rocket’s booster on a drone ship.

SpaceX last tried the maneuver about a year ago, but the rocket lost control moments before landing and tipped over onto the barge, then exploded.

The company has made a lot of progress since then. On Dec. 21, it successfully launched then guided a rocket back to Earth, ushering in a new era of reusable rockets.

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These are NASA’s ‘Spiders’ on Mars

kavnbrowafunuiuz3bug.jpgThis image, acquired by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows a 0.6 mile-wide view of part of the planet. NASA explains how they form:

“These radial troughs have been referred to as spiders, simply because of their shape. In this region the pattern looks more dendritic as channels branch out numerous times as they get further from the center. The troughs are believed to be formed by gas flowing beneath the seasonal ice to openings where the gas escapes, carrying along dust from the surface below. The dust falls to the surface of the ice in fan-shaped deposits.”

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