Recipe for space colonisation: The tools needed to conquer the universe

If humans are ever going to colonise space and explore the outer solar system, technology needs to drastically advance and include ways to maintain the human body as well as spacecraft.

To live healthily in space we need to develop the technology to be able to simulate gravity, produce medicine while off the planet and also learn to hibernate.

Nano-sensors need to be fully developed to monitor our vital signs, as well as advanced telemedicine and surgery for when something does go wrong.

The ways that we would survive in space were revealed in a new report by the by the European Science Foundation looking at the development of technologies that will allow more advanced space missions.

The report, called the Technological Breakthroughs for Scientific Progress (TECHBREAK), said humans need to be able to create spacecraft that can last for at least 50 years in space.

For this to be successful we need to create spacecraft from material that can withstand high temperatures, advance their thermal control, provide energy for long periods and self-repair.

“For missions to the outer solar system, it might be necessary to establish such a long mission timeline,” it said.

“The second reason is financial: with the very high costs associated with some of the space missions, it is logical to demand that the asset can be utilised over very long time spans. In order to achieve this, space systems need to be durable, reliable and with redundant design and/or the ability to self-repair.”

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The report said there are five major areas that will contribute to long-term goals.

These are building a spacecraft that can last for at least 50 years, sending a 30m+ telescope into space, enabling humans to stay in space for more than two years, being able to autonomously survey planets and reducing mass while maintaining stiffness.

It said ways to protect astronauts from radiation need to be developed.

“Keeping astronauts not only alive but healthy, motivated and alter for the duration of the mission will be a major challenge,” the report said.

“The life support system should be robust and affordable, suggesting a system that recycles almost all waste products and produces food, water, oxygen and the other necessities in flight.”

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Our knowledge of the depths of space will only increase if we can send a large telescope, at least 30m in length, into space.

This presents a host of logistical and engineering challenges.

The report said one way of putting a telescope into space would be to use a flexible mirror that would be inflated or unfolded in space.

The report said: “One of the main outcome of the TECHBREAK was the definition of five ‘Overwhelming Drivers’ for space. These drivers represent the main areas where technological improvements are needed in order to be able to generate breakthroughs in space capabilities.

“The drivers also served as a brief introduction to the space environment and space operations for non-space experts and acted as a stimulant for the identification of potential helpful technologies.

“These drivers were the communication tool that the TECHBREAK team utilised for bridging the knowledge gap between space and non-space experts.”

You can read the full report here.


Featured image courtesy of Nasa. Inset images courtesy of European Space Foundation


A decade in space: The most stunning pictures from NASA’s Saturn mission

NASA’s mission to explore Saturn has been running for 10 years, with the Cassini spacecraft discovering seven moons in that time.

The spacecraft has covered more than 2bn miles during its time around the ringed planet – which is the sixth planet from the Sun and has nine continuous rings.

It has landed a probe on Titan, one of the planet’s moons, sent back more than 300,000 photos, showed the rings to be active and been responsible for the production of more than 3,000 reports – as well as many other feats.  

The Cassini spacecraft was only supposed to explore the second largest planet in our solar system for four years but it has been granted three extensions since then. It is possible the device will stay active up until 2017.

The spacecraft will celebrate 10 years of exploring the planet, its rings and moons on June 30th. Here are some of our favourite images captured from the craft over the years it has been away from Earth.

39 degrees of separation

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This view of the planet rested in the middle of its rings of ice was taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it soared 39 degrees above the unilluminated side of the rings.

Nasa said: “Little light makes its way through the rings to be scattered in Cassini’s direction in this viewing geometry, making the rings appear somewhat dark compared to the reflective planet.”


The faint ring

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The sun was almost directly behind Saturn in this image and it revealed, for the first time, a faint ring of material coincident with the orbit of the small moon Pallene.

NASA said: “This viewing geometry makes microscopic, icy ring particles brighten substantially. Cassini spent nearly 12 hours in Saturn’s shadow on Sept. 15, 2006, making observations like this one.”


Waves and small particles in ring A

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Colour is used to represent information about ring particle sises based on the measured effects of three radio signals sent through the rings. Red shades show where there is a lack of particles less than five centimeters in diameter.

NASA said: “This simulated image was constructed from the measured optical depth profiles of the Cassini Division and ring A. It depicts the observed structure at about 10 kilometers (six miles) in resolution.”


Catching Saturn’s ring waves

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The false color image of two density waves in Saturn’s A ring was made by Cassini’s unltraviolet imaging tools, while it was 4m miles from the planet.

NASA said: “Bright areas indicate the denser regions of the rings. The bright bands in the left part of the image are the “peaks” of a density wave caused by gravitational stirring of the rings by Saturn’s moon, Janus. A smaller density wave in the right half of the image is produced by the moon Pandora.”


The long-lived storm

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These views of the planet show the longest electrical storm observed by the mission on the planet’s surface.

NASA said: “The view at left was created by combining images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters, and shows Saturn in colors that approximate what the human eye would see. The storm stands out with greater clarity in the sharpened, enhanced color view at right.”


Circles on Saturn

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Winds on the planet travel around 600 mph around the surface which forms distinct belts and zones, encircling the planet’s pole – as well as the famous heaxagon on the top.

The view was taken 1.3m miles from Saturn and NASA said: “These zonal winds spin off swirls and eddies, which are significant storms in their own right. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 51 degrees above the ringplane.”


Saturn’s moon Hyperion

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This false-colour view of Hyperion, one of Saturn’s moons, shows a detailed view across the moon’s surface. The different colours could represent differences in the surface materials.

NASA said: “Hyperion has a notably reddish tint when viewed in natural color. The red color was toned down in this false-color view, and the other hues were enhanced, in order to make more subtle color variations across Hyperion’s surface more apparent.”


All images courtesy of NASA/Cassini Mission