Washington:As part of its ambitious Space Launch System (SLS), the US space agency has successfully tested an engine that will help propel astronauts on future deep-space missions, including Mars.
The 535-second test of RS-25 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was aimed to collect engine performance data, the US space agency said in a statement.
An initial 77-tonne SLS configuration will use four RS-25 engines for the core stage, along with two five-segment solid rocket boosters, providing more lift to orbit than any current launch vehicle.
One final test of this RS-25 developmental engine is left and testing of flight engines will begin later this fall.
The core stage for the first SLS and Orion integrated flight will also be tested at Stennis.
That test will involve simultaneous firing of the four RS-25 engines just as during an actual launch.
Powered by four RS-25 engines, the SLS will send the Orion spacecraft into deep space missions.
“The RS-25 engine gives SLS a proven, high performance, affordable main propulsion system for deep space exploration,” NASA said.
It is one of the most experienced large rocket engines in the world, with more than a million seconds of ground test and flight operations time.
When completed, SLS will enable astronauts to begin their journey to explore destinations far into the solar system.
During the joint Senate-NASA presentation in September 2011, it was stated that the SLS programme has a projected development cost of $18 billion through 2017.
It will be divided into $10 billion for the SLS rocket, $6 billion for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and $2 billion for upgrades to the launch pad and other facilities at the Kennedy Space Center.
Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well.
Creating a livable home for future astronauts means doing more than growing a roof to go over their heads. Astronauts will need to have all their basic needs met, just like on Earth, and face the additional challenges of living in a harsh environment on a distant world, the US space agency said in a statement.
Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could “grow” habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life – specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia.
“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle – carrying our homes with us on our backs – a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs,” said Lynn Rothschild, the principal investigator on the early-stage project.
“Instead, we can harness mycelia (vegetative part of a fungus) to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there”. Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars.
Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat – all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment.
Mycelia are tiny threads that build complex structures with extreme precision, networking out into larger structures like mushrooms.
With the right conditions, they can be coaxed into making new structures – ranging from a material similar to leather to the building blocks for a Mars habitat.
That last layer of mycelia is what organically grows into a sturdy home, first activated to grow in a contained environment and then baked to kill the lifeforms – providing structural integrity and ensuring no life contaminates Mars and any microbial life that’s already there. Even if some mycelia somehow escaped, they will be genetically altered to be incapable of surviving outside the habitat, said NASA.
Mycelia could also be used for water filtration and biomining systems that can extract minerals from wastewater – another project active in Rothschild’s lab – as well as bioluminescent lighting, humidity regulation and even self-generating habitats capable of healing themselves. And with about 40% of carbon emissions on Earth coming from construction, there’s an ever-increasing need for sustainable and affordable housing here as well.
The harsh environments of the Moon and Mars will require new ways of living – growing homes instead of building them, mining minerals from sewage instead of rock. “But by turning to the elegant systems of our own natural world, we can design solutions that are green and sustainable. Whether on distant worlds or our own ever-changing Earth, fungi could be what brings us boldly into the future,” said NASA. (IANS)