Lasers to Mars, space rock over Atlantic and an Archinaut

DEEP-laser-sailLasers could send a wafer-thin spaceship to a star

The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977 is finally leaving the solar system after 37 years of flight at a speed of roughly 38,000 miles per hour or less than 0.006 percent the speed of light. This suggests that with conventional propulsion technology, humanity will never reach even the nearest stars, says experimental cosmologist Philip Lubin at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Lubin and his colleagues suggest that, instead, lasers could accelerate small probes to relativistic — that is, near-light — speeds, reaching nearby stars in a human lifetime. “No other current technology offers a realistic path forward to relativistic flight at the moment,” Lubin says.

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Large space rock burns up over Atlantic

The event, which has only just come to light, occurred off the coast of Brazil at 13:55 GMT on 6 February. As it burned up, the space rock released the equivalent of 13,000 tonnes of TNT. This makes it the most powerful event of its kind since an object exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013.

That blast was much bigger, releasing the equivalent of 500,000 tonnes of TNT. More than 1,000 people were injured in that incident on 15 February three years ago, most from flying glass from shattered windows. But the fireball over the Atlantic probably went unnoticed; it burnt up about 30km above the ocean surface, 1,000km off the Brazilian coast.

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NASA, Made in Space think big with Archinaut, a robotic 3D printing demo bound for ISS

archinaut-progression-879x485Within five years, companies could begin in-orbit manufacturing and assembly of communications satellite reflectors or other large structures, according to Made in Space, the Silicon Valley startup that sent the first 3D printer to the International Space Station in 2014.

As Made in Space prepares to send a second 3D printer into orbit, the company is beginning work with Northrop Grumman and Oceaneering Space Systems on Archinaut, an ambitious effort to build a 3D printer equipped with a robotic arm that the team plans to install in an external space station pod, under a two-year, $20 million NASA contract. The project will culminate in 2018 with an on-orbit demonstration of Archinaut’s ability to additively manufacture and assemble a large, complex structure, said Andrew Rush, Made in Space president.

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