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Posts Tagged ‘robots

U.S. military drones that are so small they even look like insects

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They look like children’s toys that are left discarded in wardrobes around the world.

But these innocent-looking devices are actually some of the most sophisticated drones on the planet.

The U.S. Air Force is developing the miniature spy craft with the goal of making them so small that they resemble birds and even insects.

Causing quite a buzz: Lead researcher Dr Gregory Parker holds a small, winged drone that resembles an insect. The U.S. military's goal is to make the devices so small that they resemble birds and even insects

Causing quite a buzz: Lead researcher Dr Gregory Parker holds a small, winged drone that resembles an insect. The U.S. military’s goal is to make the devices so small that they resemble birds and even insects.

Some even have moving wings that military chiefs hope will look so convincing that people won’t pay them any attention.

The Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) are being developed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

The base’s Air Force Research Laboratory mission is to develop MAVs that can find, track and target adversaries while operating in complex urban environments.

The engineers, led by Dr Gregory Parker, are using a variety of small helicopters and drones in the lab to develop the programs and software.

Testing takes place in a controlled indoor environment, during which data is gathered to analyse for further development.

An insect-sized drone. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's mission is to develop MAVs that can find, track and target adversaries while operating in complex urban environments

An insect-sized drone. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s mission is to develop MAVs that can find, track and target adversaries while operating in complex urban environments.

You'll believe a toy can spy: First Lieutenant Greg Sundbeck (left) and Dr Parker watch a test flight of a drone

You’ll believe a toy can spy: First Lieutenant Greg Sundbeck (left) and Dr Parker watch a test flight of a drone.

The trials are the latest research into tiny drones funded by the U.S. military.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has spent years developing a whole host of cyborg critters, in the hopes of creating the ultimate ‘fly on the wall’.

Two years ago, researchers revealed that they had created cyborg beetles that can be guided wirelessly via a laptop.

Using implants, they worked out how to control a beetle’s take-off, flight and landing by stimulating the brain to work the wings.

First Lieutenant Sundbeck prepares a computer controlled drone for a test flight in the microaviary lab at Wright Patterson Air Force Base

First Lieutenant Sundbeck prepares a computer controlled drone for a test flight in the microaviary lab at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

What on the outside appears cheap is actually camouflaged and sophisticated military equipment

What on the outside appears cheap is actually camouflaged and sophisticated military equipment.

They controlled turns through stimulating the basilar muscles on one side or the other to make the wings on that side flap harder.

The embedded system uses nerve and muscle stimulators, a microbattery and a microcontroller with transceiver.

They were implanted in the beetles when they were at the pupal stage.

Three types of large beetles from Cameroon were used in the experiments at the University of California in Berkeley. The smallest was 2cm long, while the largest was 20cm.

First Lieutenant Zachary Goff operates the control console during a test flight at the Micro Air Vehicles lab

First Lieutenant Zachary Goff operates the control console during a test flight at the Micro Air Vehicles lab.

Via DailyMail

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Inside NASA’s ‘Skunk Works’ lab

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With the space shuttle program ending, what does NASA have to look forward to? The future of deep-space exploration is already taking shape, inside the walls of Johnson Space Center’s Building 220, the space agency’s “Skunk Works” lab for human spaceflight.

This is where NASA once worked on the X-38, a snub-nosed space plane that might have carried astronauts down to Earth from the International Space Station. The project was canceled in 2002, and today the 12,000-square-foot building houses hardware for a succession of projects that are not quite ready for prime time. But some of them may be ready sooner than you think.

Take Robonaut 2, for example. The humanoid upper-body robot was shipped up to the space station in February, and taken out of its box at President Barack Obama’s urging. (“Unpack the guy,” he told Discovery’s astronauts jokingly, but NASA took the request seriously.)

A Robonaut twin is set up in Building 220, and the team behind the project is putting the guy through its paces in preparation for the start of tests in orbit later this month. One of the first tasks is to figure out how the Robonaut and flesh-and-blood astronauts can work safely together in microgravity.

Nicolaus Radford, deputy project manager for the Robonaut team, demonstrated how the earthly Robonaut was programmed to ease up if a human got in the way. When one of the android’s arms knocks into you during a maneuver, it will push against you gently — as if it were a brother trying to elbow his way past you quietly. If you continue to block the arm movement, the robot will go passive in place.

Having robots programmed not to harm humans is important, not only because it will head off the robot apocalypse but also because it will lead to safer industrial robots. That’s one of the reasons why GM executives are partnering with NASA on Robonaut 2. “They spend more money on the safety for robots than they spend on the robots themselves,” Radford said.

However, the physics of hazard avoidance is different on the space station, where even a little bit of force could send an astronaut floating away. So Radford said Robonaut 2’s software will be fine-tuned to reflect that physics. “That’s specifically what we’re going to be looking at,” he said.

Looking further ahead, the team is already hard at work developing a pair of legs for Robonaut, so that it can carry objects from one space station location to another. “In the next 18 months or so, you’re going to see legs on a robot walking around the space station,” Radford said.

Project Morpheus
That will come as music to the ears of engineers working on another “Skunk Works” project on display in Building 220. Project Morpheus started out as “Project M,” a concept that called for landing a humanoid robot on the moon in 1,000 days. Then reality set in, and the project was redefined. “We narrowed it down to focus on lander technology,” said Jenny Mitchell, Project Morpheus’ systems engineering and integration lead.

The Morpheus team turned to Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace for help in getting a prototype lunar lander off the ground — in fact, a scaled-up version of the rocket-propelled craft that won some of NASA’s money in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. The methane-fueled Morpheus lander is designed to bring a 1,100-pound payload, such as a humanoid robot or a small rover, down to the surface of the moon from lunar orbit. What’s more, the lander would fly autonomously, without the need for human intervention.

Morpheus project manager Jon Olansen said the team is well into the testing stage after spending just $5 million. He said the lander should be ready to demonstrate autonomous flights on high-energy trajectories in the next year.

The project made headlines last month when a tethered flight test went slightly off, sparking a grass fire at Johnson Space Center. Now the team is setting up additional safeguards to reduce the fire risk. YouTube videos provide multiple perspectives on the Morpheus tests.

Alan Boyle / msnbc.com

Building 220 houses a series of Morpheus-related test items. In the far background is Armadillo Aerospace’s rocket-powered Pixel lander prototype. The larger Morpheus lander sits nearby. In the foreground is a small model lander that was built from hardware-store lighting globes to study how propellant sloshes around the lander’s four tanks. And a clear plastic tank at right shows how buffers were built into the full-size Morpheus tanks to minimize the slosh.

Morpheus’ team members are also widening their perspective on the eventual application of their technology. It isn’t just for the moon anymore. “At this point in time, we don’t need a specific destination to do this kind of work,” Olansen said, “because this work will be needed for any destination.”

Desert RATS
That philosophy carries over to next month’s Desert RATS exercise, which is due to be conducted in Arizona after months of preparation in Building 220. “RATS” stands for Research and Technology Studies, and past studies have focused on simulating surface operations on the moon or Mars using next-generation space exploration technologies. But now NASA’s vision for space exploration is focusing on sending humans to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. That means the Desert RATS’ Habitat Demonstration Unit is being remodeled for a new role.

“This year we’re reconfiguring it for the deep-space habitat for an asteroid mission,” said Terry Tri, demonstration unit integration manager for Desert RATS.

The wheeled vehicle that was being tested as the prototype for an electric-powered lunar rover is now being looked upon as a make-believe “multimission space exploration vehicle,” or MMSEV. In an actual mission, the MMSEVs would not be rovers wheeling around the lunar or Martian surface, but would instead be thruster-powered pods designed to travel through space to make contact with an asteroid under low-gravity conditions.

Alan Boyle / msnbc.com

A rover driver gets ready to climb down from a wheeled vehicle that has been used as the prototype for a lunar rover in past Desert RATS simulation. During this year’s simulation, the vehicle will play the role of a “multimission space exploration vehicle,” or MMSEV. An actual MMSEV would be propelled by thrusters rather than wheels.

During this year’s exercise, the rover drivers will be “pretending they don’t have wheels,” Tri said.

He said the 19-foot-wide habitat would serve as “the ‘mothership,’ if you will, that [astronauts] would return to.” The habitat’s lower floor has a glovebox for handling space samples, a mini-medical station, a telerobotics work station and a repair bench. The inflatable upper floor would provide living space for four astronauts.

This year, NASA held a college-level competition for the design of the inflatable part of the habitat, and the winning entry was submitted by students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The Badger X-Loft can be expanded from a 30-inch-high base into a 13-foot-high dome in about 15 to 20 minutes. Each astronaut gets a desk and a chair as well as private sleeping quarters.

Nicole Roth / UW-Madison

The fully inflated Badger X-Loft is perched atop the Habitat Demonstration Unit inside Building 220 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“Basically, everything’s modular,” team member Jordan Wachs, an engineering mechanics and astronautics and physics major, said in a university news release. “The whole design was intended that any eighth can be swapped entirely with any other eighth.”

As a reward for their efforts, the students will share an $10,000 prize and travel to Arizona to see their Badger X-Loft tested during the Desert RATS exercise. Who knows? In a few years, maybe they’ll be plotting NASA’s next giant leap, right here at Building 220.

 

Via MSNBC/Alan Boyle

IBM thinks about the next 100 years

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A hundred years from now, will we be assimilated by the machines? Or will we assimilate them? These are the kinds of issues facing International Business Machines as the company begins its second 100 years.

Right now, most folks are thinking about the past 100 years at IBM, which is celebrating the centennial of its founding on Thursday. But for Bernard Meyerson, the company’s vice president of innovation, it’s all about the next century.

“That’s pretty much what we think about,” Meyerson told me today.

Meyerson has plenty to look back on, including his own not-so-small part in IBM’s past innovations. When his cell phone dropped the connection during our telephone conversation, he called back and casually mentioned that he had a hand in creating the transistors built into that cell phone. And when I asked him to explain, he said, “I actually invented the technology known as silicon-germanium.”

It turns out that IBM has played a behind-the-scenes role in all sorts of technologies, ranging from semiconductor development to barcodes to Wi-Fi. “IBM is a funny company,” Meyerson said. “We don’t force you to put a little sticker on anything that says, ‘We’re the smart guys.'”

But enough about the past: What about the future? “Going forward, you have tremendous opportunities,” particularly when it comes to making sense of the huge databases that are being built up in all sorts of fields, Meyerson said. For example, imagine a system that can take medical records from the 285 million people around the world with diabetes, anonymize those records and analyze them, looking for potential new treatments or preventive measures.

“The fact is, there is no mechanism today that could do that, and the reason is that medical data is unstructured,” he said. There’s little consistency in how the records are kept, and medical conditions might be described in different ways by different doctors.

When you put together the volumes of data and the numbers of people that have to be covered in these massive, unstructured data sets, the figures mount up to quintillions of bytes. That’s the challenge facing new types of computing tools — for example, the Watson supercomputer, which won a highly publicized “Jeopardy” quiz-show match earlier this year. Now Watson is being put to work on a tougher task: making sense of medical records, which is just the kind of job Meyerson has in mind.

Still other challenges await. Watson-style computers could digest the millions of data points involved in tracking the flow of highway traffic, then develop models to predict where the tie-ups could arise before they actually happen. The computers of the next century will have to handle a wide range of “big data” challenges, ranging from climate modeling to natural-language search engines for multimedia.

Meyerson doesn’t expect Watson to answer that challenge completely. A hundred years from now, Watson will almost certainly be considered a quaint antique, much like the tabulating machines that were made back in 1911.

“Watson specifically is not the issue, as much as the combination of Watson’s ability to interpret natural language, the capacity to store ‘big data’ and apply data analytics to come up with solutions for society,” he said. “In the absence of natural language, you’re going to have a short, unhappy life attempting this work. Without that key ingredient, how are you going to take the interaction of humans and machines to the next level and make it easy?”

What will the next level be in the year 2111? “Honestly, at 100 years I’m genuinely unsure,” Meyerson said. The past century has shown that the pace of technological advancement can be highly variable, depending on what kinds of breakthroughs come to the fore. But if Meyerson had to bet on one particular game-changing technology, it would be coming up with a direct interface between computing circuits and the human brain.

“If it turns out that there is a very natural way to communicate data back and forth without being obtrusive, then the whole world changes,” he told me. This wouldn’t be a Borg-like assimilation, in which humans look increasingly like machines. Rather, the machines would blend into the human body.

Does that sound like a grand dream for the next century? Or a nightmare? Feel free to chime in with your comments below.

 

 

Via MSNBC

Mini-weapons sought by Pentagon for new era of warfare

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A sleek, delta-winged robotic jet took to the skies for the first time above the Mojave Desert at Edwards Air Force Base.

Boeing Co.’s experimental drone, dubbed Phantom Ray, flew to 7,500 feet and reached speeds of 205 mph in its first flight. The 17-minute flight took place April 27, but Boeing officials did not confirm details until Tuesday.

 

The Phantom Ray, which resembles a giant boomerang, is being developed by the Chicago company for a variety of missions. Its stealthy design could enable it to slip behind enemy lines to knock out radar installations, clearing the way for fighters and bombers.

Under mounting pressure to keep its massive budget in check, the Pentagon is looking to cheaper, smaller weapons to wage war in the 21st century.

A new generation of weaponry is being readied in clandestine laboratories across the nation that puts a priority on pintsized technology that would be more precise in warfare and less likely to cause civilian casualties. Increasingly, the Pentagon is being forced to discard expensive, hulking, Cold War-era armaments that exact a heavy toll on property and human lives.

At L-3 Interstate Electronics Corp. in Anaheim, technicians work in secure rooms developing a GPS guidance system for a 13-pound “smart bomb” that would be attached to small, low-flying drone.

Engineers in Simi Valley at AeroVironment Inc. are developing a mini-cruise missile designed to fit into a soldier’s rucksack, be fired from a mortar and scour the battlefield for enemy targets.

And in suburban Portland, Ore. Voxtel Inc. is concocting an invisible mist to be sprayed on enemy fighters and make them shine brightly in night-vision goggles.

These miniature weapons have one thing in common: They will be delivered with the help of small robotic planes. Drones have grown in importance as the Pentagon has seen them play a vital role in Iraq, Afghanistan and reportedly in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Now, engineers in Southern California and elsewhere are refining drone technology to deliver a powerful wallop with increasingly smaller robotic planes — many of which resemble model aircraft buzzing around local parks.

This work is aimed primarily at one buyer —the Pentagon, which is seeking a total of $671 billion for fiscal 2012. Of that, drones represent $4.8 billion, a small but growing segment of the defense budget — and that doesn’t include spending on robotic weapons technology in the classified portion of the budget.

This comes at a time when expensive weapons programs, like Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles and Navy cruisers, are being eyed for trims.

Although some mini-weapons may resemble toys, they represent a new wave of sophisticated technology in modern warfare, which has forced the military and weapons-makers to think small. And they are just a few under development that have been disclosed.

“There are a lot of weapons in the military’s arsenal,” said Lt. Col. Brad Beach, an official who coordinates the Marines’ drone technology. “But what we don’t have is something small.”

The military is flush with multi-ton bunker-busting bombs designed to reduce fortified buildings into smoldering rubble.

But Marines on the front lines in Afghanistan say there is an urgent need for a weapon that is small and powerful enough to protect them from insurgents planting roadside bombs.

Marines already have small spy drones with high-powered cameras, but what they need is a way to destroy the enemies that their drones discover.

Looking to fill the need, the 13-pound “smart bomb” has been under development for three years. The 2-foot-long bomb is steered by a GPS-guided system made in Anaheim. The bomb is called Small Tactical Munition, or STM, and is under development by Raytheon Co.

Miniature

“Soldiers are watching bad guys plant” roadside bombs and “can’t do anything about it,” said Cody Tretschok, who leads work on the program at Raytheon. “They have to call in an air strike, which can take 30 to 60 minutes. The time lapse is too great.”

The idea is that the small bomb could be slung under the spy plane’s wing, dropped to a specific point using GPS coordinates or a laser-guidance system, and blast apart “soft” targets, such as pickup trucks and individuals, located 15,000 feet below.

Raytheon does not yet have a contract for the bomb and is building it entirely with its own money.

“We’re proactively anticipating the military’s need,” said Tretschok, who is testing the technology at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

In a similar fashion, drone-maker AeroVironment in Simi Valley didn’t wait for the government when it started to build its Switchblade mini-cruise missile to seek and destroy nearby targets.

The little missile, which looks less harmless than many Fourth of July fireworks, is fired from a mortar, unfolds its wings as it goes, and begins sending live video and GPS coordinates to the soldier who launched it.

The 2-foot-long battery-powered drone would be tipped with a tiny warhead and remotely operated from a handheld controller. It is being designed to fly above a warzone for at least five minutes for more than a mile at a time.

“This technology gives the war fighter the ability to pinpoint where and when he strikes,” said Steven Gitlin, an AeroVironment spokesman. “It’s all about precision.”

Critics say the technology may be too imprecise and hard to track, said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.

But the weapons have sophisticated internal guidance systems, which is key because much of today’s fighting takes place in crowded urban environments, such as targets located in or near population centers, he said.

“Weapons are sometimes only usable today if they’re small. The bottom line is: You’re not going to go around dropping 500-pound bombs everywhere,” O’Hanlon added. “Collateral damage is unacceptable in modern warfare.”

Knowing this, the military has embarked on using mini-drones for a “tagging, tracking and locating” initiative, which centers on secretly marking a target with invisible sprays and other identifiers so they don’t get lost in crowds.

Companies like Beaverton, Ore.-based Voxtel have benefited from the millions of dollars that the government is handing to contractors for research. The small 30-person company, which makes tagging products to prevent the counterfeiting of bank notes, lottery tickets and other items, now believes its microscopic nanocrystals — which become part of an invisible spray — may be are exactly what the military needs.

Tagging, tracking and locating “is a hot topic in government work,” said George Williams, company president. “It isn’t easy tracking somebody in a crowded urban environment like what is seen in today’s wars.”

Indeed. Earlier this year, the Air Force asked for proposals on developing a way to “tag” targets with “clouds” of unseen materials sprayed from quiet, low-flying drones.

In its request, the Air Force said “one method of distribution would be ‘crop-dusting’ from a sufficiently high altitude (to avoid detection) and letting the dust-cloud fall on a target or in front of it if it is moving.”

Other methods suggested to covertly mark the targets were to “pneumatically blow a cloud” or “burst above” them.

As the military moves into miniaturizing its weapon stockpile, contractors believe applications such as these may be crucial to the overall effort. “What we do is just one part of a complex system,” Voxtel President Williams said. “We play a small role.”

– William.Hennigan

Via L.A. Times

Japanese Scientists: Solar Panels on the Moon to Supply all of Earth’s Energy

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  • Panels would be maintained by remotely-controlled robots

It sounds like something out of science fiction – a huge swathe of the moon covered with solar panels to beam captured energy back to Earth.

But plans to turn the moon into a gigantic mirrorball manned by robots to provide all the Earth’s energy came a step closer to reality today when they were unveiled by Japanese scientists.

The ambitious project would result in 13,000 terawatts of continuous solar energy being transmitted back to receiving stations on Earth, either by laser or microwave.

Supplying the Earth with power: The ambitious plans would result in robot vehicles being used to construct the huge strip of panels to capture solar energy

Supplying the Earth with power: The ambitious plans would result in robot vehicles being used to construct the huge strip of panels to capture solar energy

Return: Astronauts would be required to get the work under way. Pictured is American Harrison Hagan Schmitt on the moon in 1972

Return: Astronauts would be required to get the work under way. Pictured is American Harrison Hagan Schmitt on the moon in 1972

The plans were unveiled by Japanese construction giant Shimizu Corporation’s research division, and would result in a 6,800 mile-long band stretching around the light side of the moon’s equator.

It would measure up to 248 miles in width and feature 12 mile-wide antennae to transmit the power.

The quest for finding alternate energy sources has been hastened in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power station crisis sparked by the tsunami in March.

No intended timeline for the project – which would result in the biggest public infrastructure installation ever constructed – has been announced.

The future of energy production? The strip of panels, up to 248 miles wide, will stretch 6,800 miles across the equator of the moon if the plan goes ahead

The future of energy production ? The strip of panels, up to 248 miles wide, will stretch 6,800 miles across the equator of the moon if the plan goes ahead.

JAPANESE PLAN SWITCH TO SOLAR

Politicians in Japan are considering a plan to install solar panels on every public building in the country.

Solar panelsThey are set to announce the move at the upcoming G8 summit in France, where green energy generation will be high on the agenda.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is expected to tell his counterparts Japan intends to continue using its nuclear power stations, despite the Fukushima crisis.

But he will also reveal plans to step-up renewable energy use in the technologically-advanced nation.

But Shimizu Corporation said on its website: ‘A shift from economical use of limited resources to the unlimited use of clean energy is the ultimate dream of all mankind.

‘The Luna Ring, our lunar solar power generation concept, translates this dream into reality through ingenious ideas coupled with advanced space technologies.

‘Virtually inexhaustible, non-polluting solar energy is the ultimate source of green energy that brings prosperity to nature as well as our lives.

‘Shimizu Corporation proposes the Luna Ring for the infinite coexistence of mankind and the Earth.’

The firm claims the project would eliminate inefficiency due to bad weather and fulfil all of the world’s energy needs.

The plans call for astronauts to return to the moon and begin work with the help of robots that will be required to level the highly-cratered surface.It claims the soil on the moon can be used to make water, concrete, oxygen and ceramics necessary for the project. Construction of a railway system to convey materials for maintenance would also be a feature of the project.

Via DailyMail

Ideas Wanted for 100-Year Starship Project by DARPA, NASA

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The next 50 years of spaceflight will carry many challenges and surprises for explorers hoping to extend their reach into the cosmos. But it will also likely hold untapped riches for space science and spinoff technology that could, one day, catapult human

The next 50 years of spaceflight will carry many challenges and surprises for explorers hoping to extend their reach into the cosmos. But it will also likely hold untapped riches for space science and spinoff technology that could, one day, catapult human and robotic explores beyond our own solar system and outward to other stars.

The United States military is calling for ideas to aid a joint study with NASA that will identify the requirements necessary to make interstellar space travel possible, as well as practical.

The military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put out the request for information, or RFI, to help support a detailed study of the 100-Year Starship project, which it’s working on with NASA.

DARPA isn’t asking for spaceship designs at this early stage; it just wants some help organizing the project and making it more feasible, especially from a financial standpoint.

 “We are seeking ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle,” DARPA officials state in the request, which was made public May 5. “This RFI is intended to solicit ideas and information on structure and approach, and identify parties qualified and interested in furthering the 100-Year Starship effort.” [Video: Warp Drive and Wormholes]

Traveling between the stars

The 100-Year Starship project aims to enable a manned journey between the stars sometime in the next century or so.

Such “Star Trek”-esque travel would require a variety of technological breakthroughs, particularly in propulsion systems. The most far-flung spacecraft, NASA’s unmanned Voyager 1 probe, has traveled about 11 billion miles (17 billion kilometers) from Earth since its 1977 launch.

For comparison, the nearest star beyond the sun is about 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km) away.

The 100-Year Starship project seeks to meet such challenges over the long haul, though at this early stage the pressing questions are organizational rather than technological. The effort gathered momentum with a strategic planning workshop in January and has now moved into the study phase.

“The 100-Year Starship Study is a project seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible,” the DARPA request reads.

Asking for ideas

NASA’s Ames Research Center is collaborating with DARPA on the $1 million study, which should be completed by the end of the year. [Vote Now! The Best Spaceships of All Time]

The two organizations want suggestions for how best to structure, manage and fund a project that must last at least 100 years. And that’s where last week’s request comes in.

“The respondent must focus on flexible yet robust mechanisms by which an endowment can be created and sustained, wholly devoid of government subsidy or control, and by which worthwhile undertakings — in the sciences, engineering, humanities, or the arts — may be awarded in pursuit of the vision of interstellar flight,” DARPA officials explained.

DARPA’s deadline for suggestions is June 3. The agency said it does not anticipate awarding a contract based on the information it receives this time around.

Provided by Space.com

How China Plans To Send Robots To the Moon

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Despite the fact that the moon is so close (cosmically speaking), we haven’t really interacted much with the lunar surface since the late ’70s. We’ve taken pictures of it and crashed the occasional spacecraft into it, but in general the moon has been bypassed for sexier planets like Mars.

The opening keynote at this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Shanghai, was given by Ziyuan Ouyang, the chief scientist ofChina’s lunar exploration program, which is quite possibly the most active lunar program in the world right now. Ouyang confirmed that, yes, China is planning to send robots to the moon, and he revealed interesting details about the project.

For the past four years, China has been engaged in a three-phase plan that will ultimately culminate in a lunar rover and a lunar sample return mission, scheduled to take place in 2013 and 2017 respectively. The first phase was the Chang’e-1lunar orbiter, which was launched in 2007 and created multispectral maps of the surface of the moon while also using a laser altimeter to generate a high-resolution 3D map. In 2009, it was one of those aforementioned unlucky spacecraft that was deliberately smashed into the moon in the name of, um, science.

The next step was to send Chang’e-2 (which was originally backup hardware for Chang’e-1) to the moon to test out improved communications systems and pick a nice soft landing spot for a rover. Chang’e-2 launched late last year, and is still sending back data, having not been crashed into the moon (for science!) just yet.

Next will come Chang’e-3, which is scheduled to land in Sinus Iridium sometime “around 2013.” This will be the mission with an unmanned lunar lander and a 120-kilogram autonomous lunar rover, able to choose its own routes, avoid obstacles, and perform science experiments with a suite of sensors, including cameras, x-ray and infrared spectrometers, and a ground-penetrating radar. (See image above; all images are photos of slides presented during the talk.)

china moon rover robot

One of the (many) tricky parts of operating on the moon is designing a rover that can stay alive during the lunar night, which is a half-month long, making solar power an impracticality. To help keep itself alive, the Chinese rover will have a supplementary nuclear battery powered by plutonium 238, which will give the rover a lifespan of 30 years, although its mission life will be only three months. This is the same type of radioisotope thermoelectric generator system (RTG) being used on the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.

And speaking of Mars rovers, here’s what the Chinese rover will look like:

china moon rover robot

Looks familiar, huh?

This rover is only the second stage, though. The third and final stage involves landing on the moon, using either a robot arm or a drill to collect some samples, and then sticking those samples into a little rocket that flies itself back to Earth.

china moon rover robot

Beyond 2017, China hopes to eventually send humans to the moon, and they’re also considering building a permanent lunar outpost.

china moon rover robot

Via China sending robots to moon

Written by Nokgiir

May 10, 2011 at 8:52 am