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A Habitat at Ceres Could be the Gateway to the Outer Solar System



In the near future, humanity stands a good chance of expanding its presence beyond Earth. This includes establishing infrastructure in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the surface of (and in orbit around) the Moon, and on Mars. This presents numerous challenges, as living in space and on other celestial bodies entails all kinds of potential risks and health hazards – not the least of which are radiation and long-term exposure to low gravity.

These issues demand innovative solutions; and over the years, several have been proposed! A good example is Dr. Pekka Janhunen‘s concept for a megasatellite settlement in orbit around Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Main Belt. This settlement would provide artificial gravity for its residents while the local resources would allow for a closed-loop ecosystem to created inside – effectively bringing “terraforming” to a space settlement.


Dr. Janhunen – a theoretical physicist based in Helsinki, Finland – is no stranger to advanced concepts. In addition to being a research manager with the Finnish Meteorological Institute, he is a visiting professor with the University of Tatu and a senior technical advisor to Aurora Propulsion Technologies – where he is overseeing the commercial development of the Electric Solar Wind Sail (E-sail) concept he proposed back in 2006.

Exterior view of a Stanford torus. Bottom center is the non-rotating primary solar mirror, which reflects sunlight onto the angled ring of secondary mirrors around the hub. Credit: Donald E. Davis

The paper that describes his concept recently appeared online and has being submitted for publication to the scientific journal Elsevier. It’s a concept that Dr. Janhunen described to Universe Today as, “[T]erraforming from the user perspective: creating an artificial environment, near Ceres and of Ceres materials, that can scale up to the same and larger population than Earth has today.”

Rotating space habitats are a time-honored proposal and a suggested alternative to (or in conjunction with) habitats on other celestial bodies. The first recorded instance was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s 1903 book, Beyond Planet Earth, where he described a pinwheel station in space that would rotate to provide artificial gravity.

This was followed by Herman Poto?nik’s expanded proposal in The Problem of Space Travel (1929), the Von Braun Wheel (1952), and Gerard K. O’Neill’s revolutionary proposal in The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (1976) that called for a rotating cylinder in space – aka. the O’Neill Cylinder. However, all these concepts were for stations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or at an Earth-Sun Lagrange Point.

As Dr. Janhunen told Universe Today via email, a megasatellite constellation in orbit of Ceres could leverage the local resources to create Earth-like conditions:

“They provide Earth-like 1 g gravity, which is essential for human health, in particular essential for children to grow to healthy adults with fully developed muscles and bones. Ceres has nitrogen for making the habitat atmospheres, and it is large enough to provide almost unlimited resources. At the same time it is also small enough that its gravity is rather low so that lifting material from the surface is cheap.”

Artist’s depiction of a pair of O’Neill cylinders. Credit: Rick Guidice/NASA Ames Research Center

According to his study, the megasatellite settlement would consist of spinning habitats attached to a disk-shaped frame through passive magnetic bearings. This would allow for simulated gravity within the habitats, facilitate intra-settlement travel and ensure that population density remains low.

Dr. Janhunen estimates that it could be kept to 500 people per km2 (190 people per mi2), whereas cities like Manhattan and Mumbai have densities of roughly 27,500 and 32,303 people per km2 (or 71,340 and 83,660 people per mi2), respectively. The settlement would initially be furnished with soil 1.5 m (~5 ft) in depth, which could be upgraded to 4 m (~13 ft).

This would allow for greenspaces with gardens and trees that would produce the settlement’s oxygen and scrub the atmosphere of CO2 (as well as additional radiation shielding). Similarly, Ceres is known to have abundant supplies of ammonia salts on its surface (particularly around the bright spots in the Occator crater) that could be imported to the settlement and converted to nitrogen for use as a buffer gas.

Planar and parabolic mirrors located around the frame would direct concentrated sunlight to the habitats, providing illumination and allowing for photosynthesis to occur. While the creation of such a settlement presents many technical challenges and would require a massive commitment in resources, it would actually be easier in many respects that colonizing the Moon or Mars.

A view of Ceres in natural colour, pictured by the Dawn spacecraft in May 2015. Credit: NASA/ JPL/Planetary Society/Justin Cowart

For that matter, it would also be much easier than terraforming the Moon or Mars. As Dr. Janhunen explained:

“In some aspects easier (no need of planetary landing, no dust-storms, no long night). In all cases the main challenge is probably bootstrapping the industry in a remote place – one needs some robotics and AI, but they are coming to existence now, broadly speaking.”

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this proposal is the fact that it allows for a space elevator! On Earth, such a structure remains impractical (as well as extremely expensive) because Earth’s gravity (9.8 m/s2, or 1 g) imposes some serious restrictions on space exploration. In short, a rocket must achieve an escape velocity of 11.186 km/s (40,270 km/h; 25,020 mph) to break free of Earth’s gravity.

On Ceres, however, the gravity is a fraction of what it is here on Earth – 0.28 m/s2 (less than 3%), which results in an escape velocity of just 510 meters per second (1.8 km/h; 1.14 mph). Combined with its rapid rotation, a space elevator is totally feasible and would be energetically cheap (compared to transporting them from other locations).

Of course, there’s also the benefit that such a settlement would have for exploring (and colonizing) the outer Solar System. With a large population and infrastructure around Ceres, ships destined for Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond would have a stopover point to refuel and take on supplies. Potential destinations for colonies could include the Galilean Moons, the moons of Saturn, or orbiting habitats in both systems.

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This would give humanity access to the abundant resources of these systems and usher in an age of post-scarcity. In the meantime, this Ceres megaconstellation would provide an Earth-like environment for a sizeable population within the Main Asteroid Belt, one that could be upgraded to make room for many more people. As Dr. Janhunen indicated:

“The Ceres megasatellite could scale up to hundreds of billions of people, probably, so it would suffice at least for a few centuries. Discussing future beyond that is hard, but in general, spreading to multiple places is what life generally does. On the other hand, people like to live in an interconnected world whose parts can [all] be accessed by travel.”

At its core, Dr. Janhunen’s concept is a marriage of space construction and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) with some key elements of terraforming thrown in. The end result of this is a design for a scalable settlement that could allow human beings to colonize otherwise uninhabitable parts of the Solar System. When addressing the future of humanity in space, both the challenges and the rewards are clear.

In order to get to the rewards, we need to get mighty creative and be prepared to commit!

Further Reading: arXiv

Source:- Universe Today

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Boeing Starliner test flight postponed – FRANCE 24



Issued on: 02/03/2021 – 02:28Modified: 02/03/2021 – 02:26


Washington (AFP)

An unmanned test mission of Boeing’s Starliner space capsule, which is eventually to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, has had to be postponed, NASA said Monday.

The test, which had previously been postponed until early April, will suffer another delay, this time due to unprecedented cold temperatures in Texas that caused extensive power outages in the southern US state.

“We did lose time with the weather in Houston. We lost about a week of time,” said Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a press conference.

NASA is “continuing to evaluate options” for the new test date.

The Starliner’s first crewed flight is currently scheduled for September, Stich added.

During an initial test flight in December 2019, the Starliner capsule failed to dock at the ISS and returned to Earth prematurely — a setback for aerospace giant Boeing.

Since then, its program has fallen far behind SpaceX, the other company — owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — chosen by NASA to develop a vessel to transport astronauts to the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule already carried astronauts to the station in June and November 2020. Four other astronauts, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, will return to the ISS in April.

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NASA Plans SpaceX Review, Boeing Delay Before Busy Month at ISS – BNN



(Bloomberg) — NASA will review an engine failure last month that caused Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rocket booster to land in the sea after a satellite launch, as the U.S. agency prepares for the next crewed flight to the International Space Station in April.

One of the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines shut down Feb. 15 during ascent because of a hole in one of the covers, or “boots,” around the top of each engine, Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of human spaceflight, said Monday at a NASA news conference. The hole allowed hot gas into the engine, which shut off as designed, Reed said. But that meant that the rocket had insufficient thrust during its landing burn to reach a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The engine fault didn’t prevent the rocket from lifting SpaceX’s Starlink satellites into orbit. Reed said the boot was one of the oldest components on one of the company’s older Falcon 9 rockets, which are designed to fly as many as 10 times without major overhauls.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to “understand that anomaly” before the April flight with astronauts, Steve Stich, the agency’s commercial crew manager, told reporters as he discussed that mission and a busy April at the space station.

“We will follow along with SpaceX’s investigation and we will look at that,” Stich said.

Boeing Delay

NASA also confirmed Monday that an April 2 test flight for Boeing Co.’s Starliner will be delayed. No new date has been set, the agency said. The delay was partly due to productivity losses from the extreme cold in Texas last month and widespread loss of power in the Houston area, NASA said.

Boeing’s first test flight with astronauts is tentatively set for September, Stich said.

NASA also provided an update on several other items at the briefing:

  • SpaceX’s crewed launch scheduled for April 20 is likely to move a few days because of orbital mechanics and the space station’s positioning
  • NASA plans to relocate the SpaceX Dragon now at the station to a different node so that the crew arriving next month on another Dragon vehicle can berth in the now-occupied spot
  • NASA wants to return the astronauts from SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, who are currently at the space station, before May 9
  • SpaceX’s next crewed flight will be with the Dragon vehicle that the company flew in May 2020 on its first test flight with astronauts
  • NASA is nearing a new arrangement with Russia’s space agency for additional seats on its Soyuz rocket, with an announcement expected this month. NASA officials said they are working to allow for Russian cosmonauts to fly aboard the Boeing and SpaceX vehicles while still using Soyuz for NASA astronauts.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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NASA's Perseverance rover to drill into Mars using part made on Vancouver Island –



When the Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars last month, it arrived with a B.C.-made tool in its figurative tool belt.

The six-wheeled, plutonium-powered U.S. rover landed on the red planet on Feb. 18, with a mandate to drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be returned to NASA in about 2031. That drilling will be done using a drill bit tip designed and manufactured by a company based in Langford, B.C.

 “It has great wear and fraction resistance so it is perfect for a Mars application,” said Ron Sivorat, business director for Kennametal Inc., during an interview on CBC’s All Points West.

The drill bit tip is made from K92-grade tungsten carbide blanks, which Sivorat said are one of the toughest grades used for drilling here on earth and he is confident it will be good enough for Mars.

Video shows highlights of landing sequence narrated by Mission Control. 2:45

According to Sivorat, the company has had a relationship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2014, when the space agency first began ordering and testing Kennametal Inc. drill bit tips. In 2018, the company learned NASA wanted to work with it to build a bit for Perseverance.

Sivorat said staff built the drill bit to NASA’s specifications and then sent it to the agency who finessed it somewhat for its Mars mission.

When Perseverance landed safely on the fourth planet from the sun, it was an exciting moment for Kennametal Inc. employees, many of whom watched the landing online and are continuing to check on Perservance’s daily progress updates.

“We know that we are going to be part of, in one way or another, an historical event that will be remembered for many years to come,” said Sivorat.

Sivorat said he expects the drill bit built in B.C. to start penetrating the surface of Mars in the next couple of weeks.

And B.C. is not the only Canadian province with a connection to Perseverance.

Canadian Photonic Labs, based in Minnedosa, Man., manufactured a high-speed and highly-durable camera that played an instrumental role in landing the rover.

The Manitoba company’s relationship with NASA dates back roughly 15 years, he said — but much of the work that’s happened in that time has been cloaked in secrecy.

All Points West6:03From Langford B.C. to Mars: Victoria-area company supplies key component of a drill mechanism that will collect samples on the red planet

A Langford, B.C. company has supplied what could be a key to discovering if there was ever life on Mars. The business director for Kennametal Inc. talks about how the company came to provide the drill metal that will pierce the Martian surface to collect core samples. 6:03

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