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Space Exploration

NASA has successfully deployed a new solar sail technology in space, with an 80-square-meter sail unfurling

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Propulsion is consistently a significant aspect of space missions. When traveling to space, it is crucial to minimize weight, which means that having fuel with a higher energy density is advantageous. Additionally, it is typically not possible to replenish your fuel supply once you are in that location. A viable alternative, devoid of this issue, is employing a solar sail.

It is possible to easily propel a spacecraft by using the radiation pressure that sunlight exerts. Although this has been proven on multiple occasions, the technology still faces obstacles that need to be addressed. NASA is currently conducting tests on a new design called the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System. It was recently placed in orbit following its launch on a Rocket Lab mission.

In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, it is essential that the sails and booms that are put into use are as lightweight as feasible. NASA has created novel composite materials for a recent experiment that are not only lighter but also more rigid than previous methods used for solar sails.

“Historically, booms have been constructed either from heavy metal materials or from lightweight composites with a bulky structure, both of which are not suitable for modern small spacecraft.” “Solar sails require booms that are both large and stable, as well as lightweight and capable of folding down into a compact form,” stated Keats Wilkie, the principal investigator of the mission at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

The booms of this sail are cylindrical in shape and can be compressed into a flat form and rolled up similar to a tape measure, allowing for easy storage in a compact size. Despite their collapsible nature, these booms still possess the benefits associated with composite materials, such as reduced bending and flexing when exposed to temperature variations.

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When the sails are fully out, they cover an area of 80 square meters, which is about 860 square feet, or about six parking spots. But they pack really small and can move around a CubeSat the size of an air fryer. They will move in a circle around the sun that is about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) above Earth’s surface.

Ames Research Center lead systems engineer Alan Rhodes said, “Seven meters of the deployable booms can roll up into a shape that fits in your hand.” Rhodes works at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. “We hope that the new technologies that were tested on this spacecraft will lead other people to use them in ways that we haven’t even thought of.”

With this technology, spacecraft could move around Earth, the Moon, and the inner solar system. If the sun shines on the sail at just the right angle, it might be possible to see this test from the ground.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Space Exploration

The concept of gravity without mass offers a novel explanation for the inability to detect dark matter

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A novel hypothesis posits that the nonexistence of dark matter is the reason behind our inability to detect it. Contrarily, the author believes that our comprehension of gravity has been flawed. While others have previously proposed similar ideas, the latest suggestion of gravity without mass, generated by topological imperfections in space-time, is notably innovative.

The concept of dark matter was initially introduced in 1932, following the observation that the movement of galaxies aligns with the presence of additional mass beyond what can be accounted for by stars and gas alone. What began as a small number of unexpected measurements has developed and grown significantly. Concise explanations, such as the underestimation of star populations, have unequivocally proven to be unsuccessful.

Various hypotheses have been put up regarding the composition of dark matter, ranging from primordial black holes to subatomic particles. Thus far, our search has yielded no discoveries, except for rogue planets and star mass black holes, which alone can only explain a small portion, less than one percent, of the missing matter.

This has prompted certain physicists to question whether our understanding is fundamentally flawed. It is possible that dark matter does not exist, and instead, gravity operates in a manner that differs from our current understanding on bigger sizes. One variant of this concept, referred to as Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND), has garnered much interest. However, it has found greater favor among online commentators than among physicists, who typically view it as highly unlikely.

Professor Richard Lieu from the University of Alabama at Huntsville has entered this issue with his unique interpretation of gravity, suggesting that it can exist independently of mass. If his assertion is accurate, it would significantly challenge the current understanding of cosmology and render the pursuit of dark matter a misguided distraction in the scientific progress, akin to the historical concept of phlogiston. Nevertheless, there is still a considerable distance to be covered before it is widely seen as credible, much alone probable.

Lieu suggests that space-time experienced the formation of topological faults shortly after the occurrence of the Big Bang.

“Topological effects refer to highly condensed areas in space that contain a significant amount of matter. These regions are typically in the form of linear structures called cosmic strings, although spherical shells are also a possible configuration,” stated Lieu.

The paper shells I have contain a thin inner layer with positive mass and a thin outer layer with negative mass. The combined mass of both layers, which is the only measurable mass, is precisely zero. However, when a star is positioned on this shell, it encounters a significant gravitational force that pulls it towards the center of the shell.

The force in this scenario would have a magnitude proportional to the reciprocal of the distance, rather than the reciprocal of the square of the distance as described by Newton’s equation of gravity. The practical feasibility of this concept remains unverified, however, Lieu asserts that it is mathematically sound.

Lieu suggests that as light traverses a gravitational lens, such as a galaxy, it is deflected inward because to its interaction with these shells. The degree of bending would be indiscernible from that which would result from increased gravitational force. Similarly, this applies to the orbital motions of a star around the central mass of a galaxy.

According to Lieu, if an alternate process is found for both of these phenomena, it would make dark matter redundant, as they form the foundation of our belief in its existence.

Conversely, the concept of shells with positive and negative mass on opposite sides is equally unverified, and it is even more challenging to rationalize their existence.

Lieu suggests that the emergence of these imperfections was linked to a “cosmological phase transition” during the early stages of the universe, where matter experienced a state change throughout the entire cosmos.

“I was inspired by my personal quest to find an alternative solution to the gravitational field equations of general relativity,” Lieu stated. This phenomenon can provide a gravitational pull that is finite even when there is no visible mass present.

Lieu’s proposition necessitates multiple elements for which we lack explicit substantiation, in contrast to the singular requirement associated with dark matter. The researcher acknowledges that the specific type of phase transition in the cosmos that could lead to these types of topological flaws is still uncertain.

He has proposed other potential actions, such as the hypothesis that the shells were formerly planes or straight strings that subsequently became coiled. However, at now, the situation appears to be very improvised, resembling the ad hoc nature of the epicycles employed by Ptolemaic astronomers to elucidate the planetary orbits.

However, in support of his argument, Lieu could argue that the concept is so novel that no one has yet been actively seeking appropriate proof. However, a significant amount of money and the most brilliant intellects of our time have been dedicated to the fruitless quest for dark matter.

“I am motivated by my frustration with the current situation, specifically the belief in the existence of dark matter without any direct evidence for the past hundred years,” Lieu stated.

“While the presence of a second solution, although highly suggestive, is not enough to disprove the dark matter hypothesis, it may only serve as an intriguing mathematical exercise,” Lieu said. “However, this is the initial evidence that gravity can exist in the absence of mass.”

The idea has been published in the scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Space Exploration

Negative ions were found on the far side of the moon by a Chinese Lander instrument

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has reported the identification of negative ions on the lunar surface. This discovery comes shortly after the Chinese National Space Agency’s Chang’e-6 lander deployed its detection equipment on the far side of the Moon.

Chang’e-6 successfully touched down on the moon at 22:23 UTC on June 1. It then gathered samples from the lunar surface and departed for its return trip to Earth, which will take approximately 4.5 days. The spacecraft lifted off at 23:38 UTC on June 3.

Prior to its subsequent departure, the lander successfully transported various payloads to the unilluminated side of the Moon. It then proceeded to retrieve approximately 2 kilograms (equivalent to 4.4 pounds) of lunar material from depths of up to 2 meters (equivalent to 6.6 feet). The ESA’s Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface (NILS) instrument was utilized to detect negative ions.

The instrument commenced data collection 280 minutes subsequent to its touchdown at the South Pole-Aitken Basin, prior to its shutdown caused by insufficient electrical potential. The instrument resumed operation and successfully gathered additional data during the intervals between system restarts and communication disruptions.

“We were intermittently switching between brief intervals of maximum power and extended periods of cooling down due to the instrument’s temperature increase,” stated Neil Melville, the European Space Agency’s technical officer for the experiment. “The Swedish Institute of Space Physics demonstrated exceptional workmanship as evidenced by the fact that the system remained within its designated temperature range and successfully recovered despite being subjected to extremely high temperatures.”

The Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere provide significant protection against the solar wind, which consists of particles emitted by the Sun. However, other celestial bodies in the Solar System lack these protective characteristics, and the Moon possesses only a scanty atmosphere composed of helium, argon, neon, ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide.

When particles from the solar wind collide with the Moon’s surface, they generate secondary particles. Detecting positively-charged particles is relatively straightforward, especially with a lunar orbiter. However, negatively charged ions have a short lifespan and cannot reach the same altitude, so it is necessary to detect them at the lunar surface.

The team reported the identification of the ions on Wednesday and is currently preparing scientific papers on the discovered results.

“The Moon observations will enhance our comprehension of the surface conditions and serve as a guide for studying negative ion populations in other airless celestial bodies within the Solar System,” stated Martin Wieser, the principal investigator of NILS. He further mentioned that this knowledge will be applicable to planets, asteroids, and other moons.”

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Space Exploration

The Starship has successfully completed its fourth test without any explosions

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It went well with the fourth test of Starship. At 7:50 a.m. local time, SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, was the place where the Starship and Super Heavy booster took off. Super Heavy had to show that it could land on Earth again, and Starship had to show that it could get back into the atmosphere after going into orbit.

Starship and Super Heavy both failed to land. That’s what they’re meant to do, but it wasn’t part of this test. Super Heavy used a virtual tower to make it look like it was landing on land and then started up its engines again just above the Gulf of Mexico. This showed that it is possible.

Before coming back to Earth, the starship flew as high as 212 kilometers (132 miles). The ship took some damage when it came back to Earth. The flaps broke apart a bit, and a camera got cracked. When it reached its safe top speed, it was able to turn around and do its first landing burn before splashing down safely.

There are no bigger or stronger rockets than Starship and Super Heavy put together. They add up to a rocket that is 122 meters (400 feet) tall. It will be used to send people back to the Moon, and its name is Space Launch System (SLS). It is 98 meters (322 feet) tall. In terms of history, Super Heavy has twice as much thrust as the Saturn V, which sent astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon. SpaceX wants to be able to boost the thrust up to three times what Saturn V was able to do.

For a short time, the SLS was the tallest and strongest rocket ever made. If there is competition, though, it’s not mean. To send people back to the moon, SLS and Starship need to work together. The Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit, a unique orbit around the moon, is where the Orion capsule will travel by SLS. There, it will meet Starship. The starship will then take the astronauts to and from the moon’s surface.

Right now, there is no way to get to the surface of the moon without a starship. That’s why these tests are so important for the future of exploring the moon. A ship needs to show that it is always safe and successful. This year, there will be two more tests, but SpaceX hasn’t said anything about them yet.

Starship has had some successes so far, but all of its flights have ended in fire. The rocket could fly on its first test flight in April 2023, but Super Heavy and Starship couldn’t separate. To keep the rocket from going off course, SpaceX blew it up on purpose.

A lot of people talked about how the first test was rushed at the request of Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. Musk was said to want to make a joke about weed because the launch date was 4/20. The rocket did a lot of damage to Starbase, which was used for the launch. This was another sign that the launch was rushed. In the end, its powerful engine blew out a piece of concrete from under its orbital launch mount and rained debris on the area.

In November 2023, the second test took place. Building on the first launch, it was mostly successful. The Super Heavy booster went off, but luckily only after it had split off from Starship. But Starship also went down in the end. After 9 minutes, Starship lost contact with ground control, and the computers on board blew up the ship.

The third test came the closest to being a success. It took place in March, and Starship flew faster and farther than ever before. The plans called for Super Heavy and Starship to both do a soft splash landing, but neither one did. The Super Heavy hit the Gulf of Mexico as quickly as an F1 car. The starship caught fire over the Indian Ocean instead of going down in it.

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