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NASA has announced that astronauts will once again travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS) from the US on American spacecraft, thanks to new contracts announced just hours ago. The US space agency announced its partnerships with Boeing and SpaceX to transfer US crews to and from the ISS using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, ending its reliance on Russia by 2017.
NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden, said at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida: "From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space. Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation's sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission - sending humans to Mars".
This deal has seen Boeing end up with $4.2 billion, while SpaceX receives a cheque from NASA for $2.6 billion. These new contracts include at least one rewed flight test per company, with NASA having one astronaut aboard to "verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected".
The U.S. military is developing new technologies that allow bullets, grenades and other munitions to explode after they pass over defilades and other obstacles. The Small Arms Grenade Munitions (SAGM) platform is being tested by the U.S. Army as a way to engage enemies, even if an enemy is hiding. The SAGM is twice as lethal as a traditional 40 mm grenade if being used against better protected targets.
The new weapon has three modes of firing: Airburst has the ability to detect a defilade first, and then explode. Point detonation occurs when the grenade strikes a target, or a self-destruct feature that helps limit collateral damage and ensures there a smaller number of unexploded ordnances on the battlefield.
"The technology demonstration was conducted at Redstone Arsenal and it was shown that the sensor correctly detected defilade and air-bursted the round behind the defilade," said Steven Gilbert, U.S. Army Armament Research Project Officer. "This capability will inflict maximum lethality to any enemy personnel seeking cover behind defilade."
The 2014 RC asteroid will pass by Earth on Sunday, September 7, with closest approach estimated to take place at 2:18 p.m. EDT, as it flies over New Zealand. Astronomers believe it measures around 60 feet in size, and was initially spotted in late August by the Catalina Sky Survey located close to Tucson, Arizona.
The asteroid won't be detectable by the naked eye, but amateur astronomers using telescopes should be able to see it sail by, assuming there is clear weather, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
At its closest, 2014 RC will be around 25,000 miles away from Earth, and should bypass the geosynchronous ring of communications and weather satellites that orbit our planet. 2014 RC shouldn't pose a threat to Earth or satellites in orbit, but will give researchers a great opportunity to learn about asteroids.
The secretive U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane recently moved beyond 600 days in orbit as part of a classified test mission that doesn't have a scheduled end date in the near future. The space plane launched on Dec. 11, 2012 onboard an Atlas 5 rocket, and has spent almost one year and nine months in orbit.
Details about the X-37B's exact specifications - and what it is doing in space - remain unknown, but the aircraft is 29 feet in length and stands 9.5 feet tall, with a wingspan of almost 15 feet. Using solar panels, the aircraft is able to stay in space for longer durations, but is still nowhere near the longevity of many U.S. satellites currently in orbit.
"The Air Force continues to push the envelope of the solar-powered X-37B capabilities," said Joan Johnson-Freese, National Security Affairs professor at the U.S. Navy War College.
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) manufactures the Canadarm and Canadarm2 robotic arms for space research, but has joined the KidsArm project to help bring a mini-arm to pediatric surgery. Testing indicates the technology could be used to operate on blood vessels without actually damaging them, along with connecting vessels to other parts of the body.
The KidsArm system utilizes vision-based technology that helps direct a surgical arm to precise locations to carry out medical procedures. The tool tip is guided to a specific location using a "3D point cloud" to help determine where to suture.
"The goal of the robotic arm is to help doctors perform certain procedures many times faster than if they were only using their hands, and with increased accuracy," said Thomas Looi, director of the Center for Image-Guided Innovation and Therapeutic Intervention at the Hospital for Sick Kids (SickKids), noted in a statement. "Some of this would be done autonomously. While we are not quite there yet, KidsArm is able to perform three to five suture points autonomously."
With more and more people using drones, mixed with companies like Amazon using it for delivering retail goods, the skies will soon be filled up with automated, unmanned drones. Things could get busy up there, and with no management of traffic, it could lead to disaster.
NASA is now leading the pack, by developing a traffic management system designed specifically for drones, with the team at NASA's Moffett Field aiming to construct an air traffic control system for low-flying aircraft. Drones usually fly at between 400-500 feet. The system would be similar to existing traffic control system, where the drone system would monitor weather conditions, as well as keeping an eye out for other drones in the sky.
Buildings and other low-flying news helicopters would have to also be kept in check, with drones easily smashing into them if wind was to funnel up and veer it off course. This is something that traditional planes don't need to worry about, as they're cruising at above 30,000 feet.
NASA is about to get the reinstall discs for its Opportunity rover on Mars, and do a fresh install. The US space agency has been having issues with the Opportunity, where it can't get the vehicle to reboot, with scientists pegging the issue on worn-out cells in its flash memory.
After ten years of service, and trekking the alien landscape of Mars, we should be surprised with its ten-year run. NASA had originally had an expected mission life of just three months, so even with the problems, lasting ten years is quite the achievement. Scientists will soon back up Opportunity's memory, then send a format command to prevent the bad cells from being accessed.
The signal for this action will take 11.2 minutes to reach the Opportunity, as Mars is currently 212 million miles away. Since the Opportunity touched down in 2004, the winds on Mars have kept its solar panels mostly clean, which is another surprising thing to note, especially with an expected mission life of just three months.
Google's Project Wing effort is tasked with developing drones that can be used to deliver goods and relief aid in case of a national emergency. The drone has four propellers that are electrically driven, with a wing span up to five feet, and weighs under 19 pounds. There have been at least 30 test flights conducted in August alone, as the research team begins analyzing test flight data.
The appeal of delivery drones has piqued the interest of Amazon, and it looks like Project Wing from Google will have the same type of overview. It will still take years of development before Project Wing is able to realistically develop goods, with the potential of receiving products in a short amount of time.
"We're now back in California reviewing what we've learned from the tests and preparing our next set of adventures," Google said in a press statement.
The NASA next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) is a multi-billion-dollar rocket project that is expected to officially debut during a November 2018 space launch. NASA expects to invest an additional $7 billion from February 2014 until the late 2018 test launch, in which the SLS will shuttle an Orion crew vehicle past the moon and back to Earth.
"If we don't do anything, we basically have a 70 percent chance of getting to that date," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA space operations associate administrator, in a statement to the media. "Our intent is to go look at those (expected) problems and see what we can do to mitigate (them)."
Total cost could surpass $12 billion to develop three variations of the SLS, with billions more needed to fly heavier next-generation boosters into orbit. As NASA and other space nations look beyond the International Space Station (ISS) - mainly to Mars - the SLS could help NASA push research of the Red Planet to a new level.
Lockheed Martin has teamed up with Electro Optic Systems to create a space object tracking site in Western Australia, designed to give researchers a better way to assess the threat of man-made junk floating in orbit. There are more than 200,000 objects to track using lasers and sensitive optical systems that will be used to identify and track threats in space.
"Ground-based space situational awareness is a growing priority for government and commercial organizations around the world that need to protect their investments in space," said Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin Space Systems EVP, in a statement.
Space junk remains a major concern for space agencies and private companies launching satellites and other aircraft into space. With more than 2,000 government and commercial satellites in orbit - and more than 200 space junk-related threats each day - it can be an extremely costly problem if debris traveling up to 17,500 miles per hour hits a shuttle or satellite.