Posts with «science» label

NASA’s AIM spacecraft goes silent after a 15-year run studying the Earth’s oldest clouds

After 15 years in space, NASA’s AIM mission is ending. In a brief blog post spotted by Gizmodo, the agency said Thursday it was ending operational support for the spacecraft due to a battery power failure. NASA first noticed issues with AIM’s battery in 2019, but the probe was still sending a “significant amount of data” back to Earth. Following another recent decline in battery power, NASA says AIM has become unresponsive. The AIM team will monitor the spacecraft for another two weeks in case it reboots, but judging from the tone of NASA’s post, the agency isn’t holding its breath.

NASA launched the AIM – Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere – mission in 2007 to study noctilucent or night-shining clouds, which are sometimes known as fossilized clouds due to the fact they can last hundreds of years in the Earth's upper atmosphere. From its vantage point 370 miles above the planet's surface, the spacecraft proved invaluable to scientists, with data collected by AIM appearing in 379 peer-reviewed papers, including a recent 2018 study that found methane emissions from human-driven climate change are causing night-shining clouds to form more frequently. Pretty good for a mission NASA initially expected to operate for only two years. AIM’s demise follows that of another long-serving NASA spacecraft. At the start of the year, the agency deorbited the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite following a nearly four-decade run collecting ozone and atmospheric measurements.

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This insertable 3D printer will repair tissue damage from the inside

Researchers at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, have developed a flexible 3D bioprinter that can layer organic material directly onto organs or tissue. Unlike other bioprinting approaches, this system would only be minimally invasive, perhaps helping to avoid major surgeries or the removal of organs. It sounds like the future — at least in theory — but the research team warns it’s still five to seven years away from human testing.

The printer, dubbed F3DB, has a soft robotic arm that can assemble biomaterials with living cells onto damaged internal organs or tissues. Its snake-like flexible body would enter the body through the mouth or anus, with a pilot / surgeon guiding it toward the injured area using hand gestures. In addition, it has jets that can spray water onto the target area, and its printing nozzle can double as an electric scalpel. The team hopes its multifunctional approach could someday be an all-in-one tool (incising, cleaning and printing) for minimally invasive operations.

The F3DB’s robotic arm uses three soft-fabric-bellow actuators using a hydraulic system composed of “DC-motor-driven syringes that pump water to the actuators,” as summarized by IEEE Spectrum. Its arm and flexible printing head can each move in three degrees of freedom (DOFs), similar to desktop 3D printers. In addition, it includes a flexible miniature camera to let the operator view the task in real time.

The research team ran its first lab tests on the device using non-biomaterials: chocolate and liquid silicone. They later tested it on a pig’s kidney before finally moving onto biomaterials printed onto a glass surface in an artificial colon. “We saw the cells grow every day and increase by four times on day seven, the last day of the experiment,” said Thanh Nho Do, co-leader of the team and Senior Lecturer at UNSW’s Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering. “The results show the F3DB has strong potential to be developed into an all-in-one endoscopic tool for endoscopic submucosal dissection procedures.”

The team believes the device is brimming with potential, but further testing will be necessary to bring it into the real world. The next steps would include studying its use on animals and, eventually, humans; Do believes that’s about five to seven years away. But, according to Ibrahim Ozbolat, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Pennsylvania State University, “commercialization can only be a matter of time.”

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UK Space Agency funds Rolls-Royce's bid to put a nuclear reactor on the moon

There's a global race happening to put humans back on the moon, with the United States, Japan and China among the countries working to get astronauts there as soon as possible. However, infrastructure is needed for astronauts to have a place to live and work.

To that end, today, the UK Space Agency announced funding for Rolls-Royce to build a nuclear reactor that would support a future moon base. The current £2.9 billion (~$3.52 billion) given by the UK Space Agency follows £249,000 (~$302,000) provided last year for Rolls-Royce's initial study. 

Engineers and scientists at Rolls-Royce are working to build a nuclear micro-reactor due to its small size and ability to function regardless of sunlight available or location. Currently, Rolls-Royce estimates the micro-reactor will go to the moon in 2029.

We’re backing new research by @RollsRoyce that will support future Moon missions. 🚀🌕

The funding will help develop tech that will provide power needed for humans to live and work on the Moon - from comms systems to life-support. 👩🏻‍🚀👨🏽‍🚀


— UK Space Agency (@spacegovuk) March 17, 2023

The funding announcement comes only two days after NASA and AXIOM Space released the new prototype spacesuit Artemis III astronauts will wear on the moon. Currently, NASA aims for the Artemis III mission to launch in December 2025. NASA also plans to build a base camp on the moon's surface. 

In the next decade we will likely see greater progress in all areas surrounding travel to the moon. Last month, the UK Space Agency announced £51 million (~$61.89 million) available for UK companies to build communication and navigation systems to use in future moon missions. The initiative comes as part of the goal of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight program to have satellites around the moon aiding future astronauts and rovers with communication and safety. 

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MIT’s new modular lunar robot has ‘worms’ for arms

MIT engineers have designed a walking lunar robot cleverly inspired by the animal kingdom. The “mix-and-match” system is made of worm-like robotic limbs astronauts could configure into various “species” of robots resembling spiders, elephants, goats and oxen. The team won the Best Paper Award last week at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace Conference.

WORMS (Walking Oligomeric Robotic Mobility System) is one team’s vision of a future where astronauts living on a moon base delegate activities to robotic minions. However, to avoid “a zoo of machines” with various robots for every task imaginable, the modular WORMS would allow astronauts to swap out limbs, bases and appendages for the task at hand. For example, they could snap together a spider bot to crawl inside hazardous lava tubes to drill for frozen water or assemble an elephant-like pack robot to haul heavy equipment. They could even make a goat / ox combination to transport solar panels. And when they finish the task, they can disassemble it and return it to storage until it’s needed for something else.

The system includes a worm-like appendage, which can snap together with a chassis through a twist-and-lock mechanism. Wok-shaped “shoes” can then snap onto the appendage’s other end. Finally, a small tool allows astronauts to release the block’s spring-loaded pins when it’s time to disassemble. The team has already developed a six-legged prototype, about the size of a go-cart, using software that coordinates multiple worm limbs. They’ve successfully demonstrated assembly, disassembly and navigation in a recent field test.

“Astronauts could go into the shed, pick the WORMS they need, along with the right shoes, body, sensors and tools, and they could snap everything together, then disassemble it to make a new one,” said George Lordos, Ph.D. candidate and graduate instructor at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “The design is flexible, sustainable and cost-effective.”


The team spawned the idea in 2022 as their answer to NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, an annual competition for university students to conjure innovative ideas. In that year’s edition, NASA challenged students to develop robots to move across extreme terrain without wheels. The MIT team focused on a lunar robot that could navigate the moon’s South Pole, which some suspect could include frozen water — essential for astronauts’ long-term survival — but also complex terrain with thick dust, rocky slopes and lava tubes.

As the students brainstormed solutions, they drew inspiration from the animal kingdom. “As we were thinking of these animal inspirations, we realized that one of the simplest animals, the worm, makes similar movements as an arm, or a leg, or a backbone, or a tail,” says deputy team leader and AeroAstro graduate student Michael Brown. “And then the lightbulb went off: We could build all these animal-inspired robots using worm-like appendages.”

Although each WORMS appendage weighs about 20 pounds on Earth, they would be only about three pounds in the moon’s atmosphere, making it easy for astronauts to assemble, disassemble and reassemble them like a high-tech Lego set. The team is already working on a second-generation model with longer and slightly heavier appendages, with an eye on heavy-equipment hauling bots.

“There are many buzz words that are used to describe effective systems for future space exploration: modular, reconfigurable, adaptable, flexible, cross-cutting, et cetera,” said Kevin Kempton, an engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center and judge of the 2022 BIG Idea Challenge. “The MIT WORMS concept incorporates all these qualities and more.”

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This is the spacesuit NASA's Artemis astronauts will wear on the Moon

NASA and Axiom Space are finally ready to show what Artemis III astronauts will wear when they walk on the Moon. The two have unveiled a prototype spacesuit that crews will use for moonwalks near the lunar South Pole. As promised, the design is meant to accommodate a wider range of bodies, including women. It's also more flexible than past suits, and includes exploration-oriented tools.

The Artemis III mission is currently slated for December 2025. It will represent the first crewed lunar landing since Apollo 17 touched down in 1972, and is poised to include the first woman to walk on the Moon as well as the first person of color. The two people who reach the surface will stay there for just under a week and carry out as many as four moonwalks that include rover expeditions and ice sample collection. Two other crew members will remain aboard an Orion capsule that will collect the crew when it returns using a SpaceX Starship. 

This spacesuit isn't the only one NASA will necessarily use. Other vendors are competing for orders that would handle future Moon landings and International Space Station activities. However, it might be the highest-profile example — it'll be the one that helps NASA make history.

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NASA picks Axiom Space for its third astronaut mission to the ISS

NASA has chosen Axiom Space's proposal yet again for the third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The two parties have already signed a mission order, and they're hoping to launch sometime in November 2023 and beyond from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A more specific date will be announced later, since it will depend on the timing of other flights to the ISS, as well as on in-orbit activity planning. 

Before Axiom Mission 3 launches, Axiom Mission 2 will have to head to the space station first. It's also a crew mission that's operated by the company, and it's expected to launch in the second quarter of 2023. As you can guess from its name, it's not the company's first astronaut mission to the orbiting lab: NASA also picked it for the first commercially operated crewed flight to the station. Axiom Mission 1 launched in April 2022 and was docked with the ISS for 15 days. 

At the moment, Ax-3 is still in its very early stages. The private space company will still have to submit four proposed crew members and two back up crew to the agency for review, with the mission commander being a flown NASA astronaut. (Ax-2, for instance, was headed by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Annette Whitson.) Under the parties' agreement, NASA may ask the commander to perform certain tasks or science experiments while onboard. Meanwhile, Axiom Space astronauts will be able to use NASA cargo and other in-orbit resources for daily use. 

In addition to choosing Axiom Space for these private launches, NASA also picked the company to develop the moonwalking spacesuit for its Artemis program. The agency will unveil the suit today in an event, which will be livestreams on NASA's website.

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The JWST captures a rare star about to go nova

NASA has shared an image from the James Webb Space Telescope that could help astronomers one day answer longstanding questions about our universe. The capture you see above shows WR 124, a star located in the constellation Sagittarius, approximately 15,000 light years away from Earth. When the JWST first sighted WR 124 in June 2022, it captured the star undergoing a Wolf-Rayet phase. According to NASA, only some massive stars go through such a transition before they eventually explode. Those that do are among the largest and most luminous celestial bodies in the night sky. In the case of WR 124, NASA estimates the star is 30 times the mass of the Sun and has so far shed about 10 Suns worth of material. Over time, the gas Wolf-Rayet stars expel will cool and form cosmic dust.

There is beauty in transience. 🌸

Webb’s stunning image of a super bright, massive Wolf-Rayet star calls forth the ephemeral nature of cherry blossoms. The Wolf-Rayet phase is a fleeting stage that only some stars go through, soon before they explode:

— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) March 14, 2023

Cosmic dust is something astronomers are keen to study for a few reasons. The material is an essential building block of the universe. As NASA notes, it shelters coalescing stars and can even come together to form planets. At the moment, however, there’s no theory that explains the amount of cosmic dust there is in the universe. The JWST could help astronomers tackle that mystery. “Before Webb, dust-loving astronomers simply did not have enough detailed information to explore questions of dust production in environments like WR 124, and whether the dust grains were large and bountiful enough to survive the supernova and become a significant contribution to the overall dust budget,” NASA said. “Now those questions can be investigated with real data.”

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SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission safely returns to Earth after five months in space

SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission has safely returned to Earth. On Saturday evening, the company’s “Endurance” Dragon spacecraft splashed down off the coast of Florida following a five-month stay at the International Space Station. The capsule was carrying NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, Japan’s Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

The four spent 157 days in orbit during an ISS rotation that was one for the history books. As points out, the Crew-5 mission saw Mann, a member of the Wailaki people, become the first Native American woman to fly in space. It was also the first time a Russian cosmonaut flew aboard a private American spacecraft, a milestone made possible after NASA and Roscosmos signed a seat-sharing agreement last year amid increasing US and Russian tensions due to the war in Ukraine.

Splashdown!#Crew5 is back on Earth, completing a science mission of nearly six months on the @Space_Station. Their @SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft touched down at 9:02pm ET (0202 UTC March 12) near Tampa off the coast of Florida.

— NASA (@NASA) March 12, 2023

For Wakata, the flight was his fifth return from space, a Japanese record. The mission also marked the second orbital trip for Endurance after the capsule successfully carried the Crew-3 crew back to Earth last fall. The spacecraft will now return to SpaceX’s Dragon Lair facility in Florida for safety checks and refurbishment ahead of its next flight.

Not on the flight was NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who flew to the ISS on MS-22, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that sprung a coolant leak late last year following an apparent micrometeoroid strike. The Endurance crew temporarily retrofitted their ride to carry Rubio in case of an emergency evacuation from the ISS after Roscomos determined MS-22 could only safely transport two people. They later removed those modifications after Russia sent a replacement Soyuz spacecraft to bring Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin back to Earth.

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Hitting the Books: How 20th century science unmade Newton's universe

Science is the reason you aren't reading this by firelight nestled cozily under a rock somewhere however, its practice significantly predates its formalization by Galileo in the 16th century. Among its earliest adherents — even before pioneering efforts of Aristotle — was Animaxander, the Greek philosopher credited with first arguing that the Earth exists within a void, not atop a giant turtle shell. His other revolutionary notions include, "hey, maybe animals evolved from other, earlier animals?" and "the gods aren't angry, that's just thunder."

While Animaxander isn't often mentioned alongside the later greats of Greek philosophy, his influence on the scientific method cannot be denied, argues NYT bestselling author, Carlo Rovelli, in his latest book, Animaxander and the Birth of Science, out now from Riverhead Books. In in, Rovelli celebrates Animaxander, not necessarily for his scientific acumen but for his radical scientific thinking — specifically his talent for shrugging off conventional notion to glimpse at the physical underpinnings of the natural world. In the excerpt below, Rovelli, whom astute readers will remember from last year's There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important than Kindness, illustrates how even the works of intellectual titans like Einstein and Heisenberg can and inevitably are found lacking in their explanation of natural phenomena — in just the same way that those works themselves decimated the collective understanding of cosmological law under 19th century Newtonian physics.   

Riverhead Books

Excerpted from Animaxander and the Birth of Science. Copyright © 2023 by Carlo Rovelli. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Did science begin with Anaximander? The question is poorly put. It depends on what we mean by “science,” a generic term. Depending on whether we give it a broad or a narrow meaning, we can say that science began with Newton, Galileo, Archimedes, Hipparchus, Hippocrates, Pythagoras, or Anaximander — or with an astronomer in Babylonia whose name we don’t know, or with the first primate who managed to teach her offspring what she herself had learned, or with Eve, as in the quotation that opens this chapter. Historically or symbolically, each of these moments marks humanity’s acquisition of a new, crucial tool for the growth of knowledge.

If by “science” we mean research based on systematic experimental activities, then it began more or less with Galileo. If we mean a collection of quantitative observations and theoretical/mathematical models that can order these observations and give accurate predictions, then the astronomy of Hipparchus and Ptolemy is science. Emphasizing one particular starting point, as I have done with Anaximander, means focusing on a specific aspect of the way we acquire knowledge. It means highlighting specific characteristics of science and thus, implicitly, reflecting on what science is, what the search for knowledge is, and how it works.

What is scientific thinking? What are its limits? What is the reason for its strength? What does it really teach us? What are its characteristics, and how does it compare with other forms of knowledge?

These questions shaped my reflections on Anaximander in preceding chapters. In discussing how Anaximander paved the way for scientific knowledge, I highlighted a certain number of aspects of science itself. Now I shall make these observations more explicit.

The Crumbling of Nineteenth Century Illusions

A lively debate on the nature of scientific knowledge has taken place during the last century. The work of philosophers of science such as Carnap and Bachelard, Popper and Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Quine, van Fraassen, and many others has transformed our understanding of what constitutes scientific activity. To some extent, this reflection was a reaction to a shock: the unexpected collapse of Newtonian physics at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century, a common joke was that Isaac New‐ ton had been not only one of the most intelligent men in human history, but also the luckiest, because there is only one collection of fundamental natural laws, and Newton had had the good fortune to be the one to discover them. Today we can’t help but smile at this notion, because it reveals a serious epistemological error on the part of nineteenth-​­century thinkers: the idea that good scientific theories are definitive and remain valid until the end of time.

The twentieth century swept away this facile illusion. Highly accurate experiments showed that Newton’s theory is mistaken in a very precise sense. The planet Mercury, for example, does not move following Newtonian laws. Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, and their colleagues discovered a new collection of fundamental laws — general relativity and quantum mechanics — that replace Newton’s laws and work well in the domains where Newton’s theory breaks down, such as accounting for Mercury’s orbit, or the behavior of electrons in atoms.

Once burned, twice shy: few people today believe that we now possess definitive scientific laws. It is generally expected that one day Einstein’s and Heisenberg’s laws will show their limits as well, and will be replaced by better ones. In fact, the limits of Einstein’s and Heisenberg’s theories are already emerging. There are subtle incompatibilities between Einstein’s theory and Heisenberg’s, which make it unreasonable to suppose that we have identified the final, definitive laws of the universe. As a result, research goes on. My own work in theoretical physics is precisely the search for laws that might combine these two theories.

Now, the essential point here is that Einstein’s and Heisenberg’s theories are not minor corrections to Newton’s. The differences go far beyond an adjusted equation, a tidying up, the addition or replacement of a formula. Rather, these new theories constitute a radical rethinking of the world. Newton saw the world as a vast empty space where “particles” move about like pebbles. Einstein understands that such supposedly empty space is in fact a kind of storm-​­tossed sea. It can fold in on itself, curve, and even (in the case of black holes) shatter. No one had seriously contemplated this possibility before. For his part, Heisenberg understands that Newton’s “particles” are not particles at all but bizarre hybrids of particles and waves that run over Faraday lines’ webs. In short, over the course of the twentieth century, the world was found to be profoundly different from the way Newton imagined it.

On the one hand, these discoveries confirmed the cognitive strength of science. Like Newton’s and Maxwell’s theories in their day, these discoveries led quickly to an astonishing development of new technologies that once again radically changed human society. The insights of Faraday and Maxwell brought about radio and communications technology. Einstein’s and Heisenberg’s led to computers, information technology, atomic energy, and countless other technological advances that have changed our lives.

But on the other hand, the realization that Newton’s picture of the world was false is disconcerting. After Newton, we thought we had understood once and for all the basic structure and functioning of the physical world. We were wrong. The theories of Einstein and Heisenberg themselves will one day likely be proved false. Does this mean that the understanding of the world offered by science cannot be trusted, not even for our best science? What, then, do we really know about the world? What does science teach us about the world?

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Relativity Space's 3D-printed rocket fails to lift off during second launch attempt

Another day, another scrub for the world’s first 3D-printed rocket. On Saturday, Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket failed to get off the ground after two launch attempts. It was a day of false starts. Following Wednesday's scrub, Relativity Space initially set its sights on a 1:45PM ET launch, a window the company later push back to 2:45PM ET due to "upper-level wind violations." 

After the countdown restarted, all was going well until a boat entered the spacecraft’s range. Once the countdown resumed again, the company called a launch abort at t-minus zero after the spacecraft’s nine first-stage Aeon engines roared to life and then cut off almost immediately after. After blaming a "launch commit criteria violation for the 2:45PM abort, Relativity Space said it would attempt to fly the rocket again at 4PM ET, just as its launch window was about to close for the day.   

Based on initial data review, vehicle is healthy. More info to follow on cause of aborts today. Thanks for playing.

— Relativity Space (@relativityspace) March 11, 2023


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