NASA clears Orion spacecraft for first test flight next week


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NASA’s newest deep space capsule Orion, is getting ready for its first uncrewed test flight, launching next week.

The space agency and Lockheed Martin – the company that manufactured Orion for NASA – have given the “go” to proceed with the capsule’s robotic test on Dec. 4. The company and agency finished their “Flight Readiness Review” on Nov. 20, clearing the way for Orion’s first test flight.

“The FRR is a rigorous assessment of the spacecraft, its systems, mission operations and support functions needed to successfully complete Orion’s first voyage to space,” NASA officials said in a statement.

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Orion Spacecraft illustration  (Click Image to Download)

NASA officials hope that Orion will eventually be able to take humans to deep space destinations like Mars, but first, the capsule’s systems need to get through a series of flight tests starting with the first one next week.

Orion is scheduled to launch to space atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket from Florida. The spacecraft is outfitted with more than 1,000 sensors to gather data about how the capsule performs under the harsh conditions in space and during re-entry.

In total, the test flight should last about 4.5 hours. Orion will make two orbits of Earth with one of them taking it as high as 3,600 miles from the planet. The spacecraft will gain speed as it comes back down from its position in orbit, before re-entering the atmosphere. Orion’s heat shield is the largest of its kind ever manufactured, and the test will help scientists see if it can efficiently protect the capsule during re-entry.

The test — called Exploration Flight Test-1 — will also help officials check out Orion’s parachute system, designed to slow down the spacecraft before its expected splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Officials will be on hand to fish Orion out of the ocean after it returns to Earth.

NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin officials have started to prepare for activities after splashdown.

“At Naval Base San Diego, two Navy ships, the USS Anchorage and the USNS Salvor, have been outfitted with the necessary tools and equipment needed to return Orion to land after the flight test,” NASA officials said in the same statement.

Source : Foxnews

Compact Fusion Reactor Within A Decade, Says Lockheed Martin


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American advance technology company Lockheed Martin says it’s within a decade of producing a fusion reactor that’s 90 percent smaller than previous designs.

what is fusion power ?

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Fusion reactor may be the ultimate solution for today’s energy crisis . Fusion is the process that powers stars. Fusion power is the energy generated by nuclear fusion processes. In fusion reactions, two light atomic nuclei fuse to form a heavier nucleus (in contrast with fission power). In doing so they release a comparatively large amount of energy arising from the binding energy due to the strong nuclear force that is manifested as an increase in temperature of the reactants. Fusion power is a primary area of research in plasma physics.

The stakes are high, and so is the enthusiasm and skepticism about Lockheed’s announcement. After all, fusion could generate much more energy much more cleanly than today’s power plants that rely on nuclear fission.

But fusion reactors are elusive. So far, no researcher has been able to wring more energy from a fusion reactor than is needed to power it up.

Most efforts to create a fusion reactor have focused on containing hot plasma, a highly ionized gas, within strong magnetic fields in what’s called a “tokamak,” a doughnut-shaped device. Some of these tokamaks already being built or tested are enormous, including the world’s largest – 30 meters tall – at an international laboratory in France known as ITER. Its projected cost is $50 billion.

In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Tom McGuire, who leads Lockheed’s fusion research, said the aerospace, defense and security company has developed a compact reactor based on what he called “magnetic mirror confinement,” which is designed to contain plasma by reflecting particles from high-density magnetic fields to low-density fields.

By “compact” Lockheed means that its research reactor measures two meters long and one meter wide, much smaller than its rivals. And according to McGuire, it’s not small for small’s sake. He argues that the reduced size makes operations and hardware revisions quicker and more efficient. “That is a much more powerful development paradigm and much less capital intensive,” he said.

Small also means that a working fusion reactor of this size might easily fit in a tractor-trailer and be taken to a remote site to generate 100 megawatts of power. He concedes, “There are no guarantees that we can get there, but that possibility is there.”

Already, Lockheed’s fusion reactor team has conducted 200 firings with plasma at its research facility in Palmdale, Calif., known as Skunk Works, but it hasn’t yet produced any data on their results. Still, McGuire said, the plasma “looks like it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”