NASA scientists reveal their plan for finding life beyond Earth

On July 14, a panel of experts in astronomy and engineering met at the NASA headquarters to discuss the newly developing technology that could help us discover life on other planets.

Charles Bolden, administrator of NASA, opened the discussion by recounting the discoveries made by the Kepler Space Telescope. “Over the course of its life [the telescope] has shown that our galaxy is host to billions of planets and planetary systems, that small planets the size of Earth are common and that planets come in astonishing diversity.”

As our understanding of this diversity increases, so does the possibility of finding life on other planets—but how can we search for life beyond earth?

The panellists proposed that the answer lies in the James Webb Space Telescope, a highly advanced tool that is poised to shoot into space in October of 2018.

The telescope will collect data in space, looking for planets with habitable conditions such as signs of greenhouse gases.

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To ensure that the telescope works properly, NASA is rehearsing and testing it at various sites throughout the US in both extremely hot and cold conditions. The team is building two of every component of the telescope, designing it with several panels that unfold to collect solar power and collect data.

One of the many difficulties in detecting habitable planets is that planets can be billions of times fainter than their parent stars, making it challenging to detect and photograph them.

However, the designers of the James Webb Telescope have developed a device called a starshade to combat this problem. The starshade’s flower shape helps block out light from the parent star for a clearer view of the planet.

The telescope also uses lightweight replicated optics to create a larger but less weighty design, compactable because of its folding elements.

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While the James Webb Telescope does not guarantee any groundbreaking discoveries, it is the next step in a graduated approach to finding life in space. First, the telescope will help us learn how to characterise atmospheres of other planets and determine signs of life.

According to planetary scientist Sara Seager, the shift towards big data is playing an integral role in potential discoveries, as well. “It will be the new discoveries and the statistics, having lots of the same object, knowing how many numbers there are and what their distribution is. I think our hope is… understanding planet formation.

“Only with more and more data, covering all of the regimes of planets possible, can we start to understand planet formation in detail.”

Then, the next generation of scientists must take this understanding gained from the James Webb Telescope and develop an even more sophisticated technology that is lighter and more powerful to continue the progress.


Images courtesy of NASA. Watch the full discussion here


DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”