All posts by Lucy Ingham

NASA to Transform Kennedy Space Center into Spaceport of the Future

NASA, the US’ space agency, has released new details about its plans to convert Kennedy Space Center in Florida into a multi-user spaceport.

Traditionally Kennedy has been the base for only one type of launch system, which was used for spacecraft such as the Saturn V rocket.

However, this overhaul would allow several types of launch systems to operate at the space center, including the new Space Launch System (SLS), meaning a wide variety of spacecraft could be launched from the Florida base, including SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft.

The Kennedy overhaul would provide the ability to significantly further human exploration into space.

“We’ve pushed the boundaries of space exploration for more than 50 years and are making progress getting ready to move the frontier even further into the solar system,” said NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration system development Dan Dumbacher.

nasa-spaceport-1

The new launch options would, according to a press release from NASA “provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit”.

The agency believes that the updated Spaceport would provide enough flexibility to not only launch both crew and cargo missions, but to reach wider destinations in the solar system, including asteroids and mars.

”The work being done to transform our abilities to prepare and process spacecraft and launch vehicles at Kennedy is a critical piece of our efforts to send astronauts in Orion on top of the Space Launch System to asteroid and ultimately Mars,” added Dumbacher.

The nature of space travel has changed in the last few decades, with private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX moving in to handle cargo missions and other projects.

We are likely to see a far wider range of destinations and mission types going forwards. Proposed missions using the Space Launch System include a lunar surface mission in the late 2020s, five near-earth asteroid missions and a crewed Mars landing mission slated for 2033 or 2045.

Other proposed missions include the launch of a monolithic telescope, a solar probe mission and a probe mission to Uranus.

While the spaceport plans are still in development, the details released, which are part of the Preliminary Design Review, mark a key stepping stone in the development of Kennedy.

This review has confirmed that the planned architecture is suitable both from a technical standpoint and also in terms of what NASA wants to achieve.

“The preliminary design review is incredibly important, as it must demonstrate the ground systems designs are on track to process and launch the SLS and the Orion from Kennedy,” said GSDO program manager Mike Bolger.


Images courtesy of NASA.


This 3D Printed Quadrupedal Soft Robot Could Make Prosthetics Comfier

Although it bears almost no resemblance to what we conventionally think of as a robot, this little guy is the latest development in the growing field of soft robotics.

Dubbed the Glaucus, the robot is inspired by the blue sea slug Glaucus Atlanticus, and is able to walk without any hard moving parts. Instead it contains two hollow interior chambers that “interdigitate” – or interlock like the fingers of clasped hands – with each other.

Two input lines pressurise the chambers individually, which bends the robot’s structure. This in turn produces a walking motion not unlike how a salamander moves.

glaucus-mould

The Glaucus is designed as a proof-of-concept. Super-Releaser, the company behind the robot, says it is the first demonstration of a method to produce almost any geometry modelled on a computer in this silicone skin.

The robot is made in such a way that producing large numbers would be very simple. It is produced from a 3D printed mould, meaning once the initial mould was created more of the Glaucus could quickly be created.

Super-Releaser believes that the technology behind this robot could have distinct benefits for the medical industry. It has proposed the development of a mouldable orthotic cuff that could be used for stroke rehabilitation or physical therapy.

“When inflated it could provide extra force for reaching and lifting,” the company explained in a video.

It also has tremendous potential in prosthetics, where comfortable fit is vital. The company has suggested that it could use a patient’s scan data to determine how force will be distributed on a leg prosthesis, and create a silicon sleeve that would contain “padding and cushioning for pain points as dictated by that data”.

The exterior of the sleeve could also be given a special surface to enable it to “mechanically lock-in with a prosthetic, providing a solid mechanical bond”.

Super-Releaser, a company based in Brooklyn, New York, in the US, is a collaboration between Matthew Borgatti, a designer and engineer with a background in animatronic puppet development for the SFX industry, and Dr James Bredt, a 3D printing veteran and lecturer at MIT.

Together they have been developing this soft robot technology with a view to creating solutions for the medical device industry.

Unlike some companies, they have also chosen to make the technology open-source: 3D printer files and documentation are freely available online, and Super-Releaser has released a forum for would-be makers to ask questions and share tips.


Images courtesy of Super-Releaser.