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NASA casually announces that the SLS will cost 30% more than expected – BGR

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  • NASA has announced changes to its “baseline cost” for the SLS rocket, stating that it’s going to spend an additional 30% or more to get the rocket ready for its late 2021 debut. 
  • The SLS program has been plagued by delays and cost overruns for years now.
  • The tentative first launch date for the SLS is November 2021.

So, NASA just announced that it’s going to broadcast the static fire test of its new SLS rocket to the public. That was good news since the project has been dealing with delays and cost overruns for some time. Then, as if on cue, the space agency also posted a brief update to its Artemis program, of which the SLS is a major part. More good news? Not quite.

As Ars Technica first noticed, NASA snuck in a little tidbit about the overall cost of this whole project in this latest update. As you might expect, the project hasn’t gotten cheaper. Instead, it’s now going to be about 30% more expensive than previously planned. Hooray!

Here’s the bit that NASA snuck into the blog post:

Taking this new launch readiness date into account, NASA also aligned the development costs for the SLS and Exploration Ground Systems programs through Artemis I and established new cost commitments. The new development baseline cost for SLS is $9.1 billion, and the commitment for the initial ground systems capability to support the mission is now $2.4 billion.

All in all, this is an increase of roughly a third over the most recent estimated program cost which was figured in 2017. Put simply, this whole endeavor just keeps getting more and more expensive, and all we’re seeing in return for the funding is more delays.

Now, granted, the coronavirus pandemic has been rough on NASA, and the space agency cited the pandemic as a reason for why progress on the SLS has been slow this year. Still, this is hardly the first time that an update to the Space Launch System program has included both a dramatic cost increase and a significant delay. It’s becoming the norm, unfortunately.

Still, NASA seems incredibly upbeat about the entire thing, at least to the public. “NASA has notified Congress of these new commitments, and we are working at the best possible pace toward launch, including streamlining operational flow at Kennedy and assessing opportunities to further improve the efficiency of our integration activities,” the update reads. “Now that the majority of the design development is done, as well as the first time build and an extensive test program, a lot of effort is behind us.”

That said, we’re still well over a year away from the first launch of the SLS rocket, and that’s if no further delays pop up in the meantime. If there’s anything the SLS program has taught us over the years, it’s that delays should be, well, expected.

Mike Wehner has reported on technology and video games for the past decade, covering breaking news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones, and future tech.

Most recently, Mike served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today, Time.com, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of
reporting is second only to his gaming addiction.

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INRS Researchers Develop a New Membraneless Fuel Cell – Canada NewsWire

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Conventional fuel cells are ubiquitous. They power electric cars on today’s roads and were part of the computers used in the 1969 Apollo moon landing. These fuel cells lose voltage as they are used and eventually stop working. This happens because alcohol molecules (methanol or ethanol) in the fuel cell’s anode compartment crossover the membrane separating them from the cathode compartment. Oxygen molecules in the cathode compartment react with the alcohol, causing a drop in voltage.

Numerous scientists have unsuccessfully tried to develop a membrane that stops alcohol molecules from passing through it. Professor Mohamed Mohamedi, a lead author of the study published on September 8, took another tack: developing a fuel cell without a membrane. 

His novel solution costs less and requires fewer steps to manufacture, but it fails to address a key challenge. “When the membrane is removed, the methanol or ethanol reacts with the oxygen, just like in conventional fuel cells. To prevent voltage drops, we had to develop selective electrodes in the cathode compartment. These electrodes, designed by doctoral student Juan Carlos Abrego-Martinez, remain inactive in the presence of alcohol molecules but are sensitive to the oxygen that generates electricity,” Professor Mohamedi explains. He notes another unique property of this membraneless fuel cell: it uses oxygen from the air around it.

From Model to Prototype

The first step the researchers took in building a working prototype was to run numerical simulations created by Alonso Moreno Zuria, INRS postdoctoral fellow and a lead author of the study. Through computer modelling, the team tested different configurations of selective electrodes in the fuel cell. “Conventional fuel cells are like sandwiches, with the membrane in the middle. We chose instead to work on a single-layer design. We had to determine how to arrange and space the electrodes to maximize fuel use while keeping ambient air oxygen concentration in mind,” says Professor Mohamedi.

Once the researchers settled on a configuration, they tested a prototype that became a proof of concept. The membraneless fuel cell powered an LED for four hours using only 234 microlitres of methanol. The researchers want to optimize the fuel cell so it can use ethanol, a greener fuel that can be produced from biomass and agricultural waste. Ethanol also provides more power per equivalent unit of volume.

The team expects the fuel cell to power portable electronics such as mobile phones and microsystems such as air pollution sensors. Unlike conventional batteries that store electricity and must be recharged, fuel cells continue to produce energy as long as fuel is available. “This energy supply method is particularly effective when recharging is not possible. Imagine being in the middle of the desert, without electricity. You could recharge your mobile phone using a small capsule of ethanol that you connect to the device,” says Professor Mohamedi.

This pioneering technology has already attracted industry attention even though the research team is only at the prototype stage. 

About the study
The researchers received financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Quebec Centre for Advanced Materials (QCAM), the UNESCO/MATECSS chair, Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT, Mexico), and Científicos Mexicanos en el Extranjero.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2020.110045

About INRS

INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in Quebec’s economic, social, and cultural development and is ranked first for research intensity in Quebec and second in Canada. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,400 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.

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SOURCE Institut National de la recherche scientifique (INRS)

For further information: Audrey-Maude Vézina, Service des communications de l’INRS, 418 254-2156, [email protected]

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Salty ponds found on Mars suggest stronger prospect of life on red planet, scientists say – CBC.ca

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A network of salty ponds may be gurgling beneath the South Pole on Mars, alongside a large underground lake, raising the prospect of tiny, swimming Martian life.

Italian scientists reported their findings Monday, two years after identifying what they believed to be a large buried lake. They widened their coverage area by a couple hundred miles, using even more data from a radar sounder on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.

In the latest study appearing in the journal Nature Astronomy, the scientists provide further evidence of this salty underground lake, estimated to be 20 to 30 kilometres across and buried 1.5 kilometres beneath the icy surface.

Even more tantalizing, they’ve also identified three smaller bodies of water surrounding the lake. These ponds appear to be of various sizes and are separate from the main lake.

Roughly four billion years ago, Mars was warm and wet, like Earth. But the red planet eventually morphed into the barren, dry world it is today.

The research team led by Roma Tre University’s Sebastian Emanuel Lauro used a method similar to those used on Earth to detect buried lakes in the Antarctic and Canadian Arctic. They based their findings on more than 100 radar observations by Mars Express from 2010 to 2019; the spacecraft was launched in 2003.

All this potential water raises the possibility of microbial life on — or inside — Mars. High concentrations of salt are likely keeping the water from freezing at this frigid location, the scientists noted. The surface temperature at the South Pole is an estimated -113 degrees C and gets gradually warmer with depth.

These bodies of water are potentially interesting biologically and the researchers wrote that “future missions to Mars should target this region.” 

Earlier this year, a new computer model by NASA scientists lent further support to the theory that the ocean beneath the thick, icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa could be habitable.

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Salty lake, ponds may be gurgling beneath South Pole on Mars – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press


Published Monday, September 28, 2020 7:46PM EDT

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A network of salty ponds may be gurgling beneath Mars’ South Pole alongside a large underground lake, raising the prospect of tiny, swimming Martian life.

Italian scientists reported their findings Monday, two years after identifying what they believed to be a large buried lake. They widened their coverage area by a couple hundred miles, using even more data from a radar sounder on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.

In the latest study appearing in the journal Nature Astronomy, the scientists provide further evidence of this salty underground lake, estimated to be 12 miles to 18 miles (20 kilometres to 30 kilometres) across and buried 1 mile (1.5 kilometres) beneath the icy surface.

Even more tantalizing, they’ve also identified three smaller bodies of water surrounding the lake. These ponds appear to be of various sizes and are separate from the main lake.

Roughly 4 billion years ago, Mars was warm and wet, like Earth. But the red planet eventually morphed into the barren, dry world it remains today.

The research team led by Roma Tre University’s Sebastian Emanuel Lauro used a method similar to what’s been used on Earth to detect buried lakes in the Antarctic and Canadian Arctic. They based their findings on more than 100 radar observations by Mars Express from 2010 to 2019; the spacecraft was launched in 2003.

All this potential water raises the possibility of microbial life on – or inside – Mars. High concentrations of salt are likely keeping the water from freezing at this frigid location, the scientists noted. The surface temperature at the South Pole is an estimated minus 172 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 113 degrees Celsius), and gets gradually warmer with depth.

These bodies of water are potentially interesting biologically and “future missions to Mars should target this region,” the researchers wrote.

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