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Titan’s Dragonfly Test, New Nuclear Rocket, Shadow Universe

The Titan Dragonfly is coming together, NASA is considering a new kind of nuclear rocket, getting more warning for solar flares, and pinpointing carbon emissions from space.

Titan Helicopter Starts to Come Together

A nuclear-powered helicopter called Dragonfly is coming to Titan soon. The mission is planned for launch in 2027, so we’re starting to see it come together. NASA performed a test of an arm with rotors in its wind tunnel. They were able to mimic the conditions on titan and see how the helicopter’s rotors would behave. It’s one of the first stages of testing, so as the launch date approaches, we will see more parts of Dragonfly coming together.

Mars In 45 Days

NASA has developed two kinds of nuclear-powered propulsion systems. One is nuclear thermal propulsion, where a nuclear reactor heats a propellant and blasts out the rocket nozzle. The other method uses a nuclear reactor to generate electricity to power an ion engine. A new NIAC grant proposes merging these two ideas into a single “bimodal nuclear thermal rocket.” Once constructed, a rocket like this could shorten the flight time to Mars from months to just 45 days.

Lunar Flashlight Has Problems

One of the missions that are currently on its way to the Moon is NASA’s Lunar Flashlight. It’s a cubesat that will be looking at ice deposits on lunar poles. But it’s facing some problems. NASA engineers found out that 3 out of 4 of its thrusters are underperforming. There might be some blockage that prevents the spacecraft to generate enough thrust. This can become a problem, as soon the Lunar Flashlight will need to perform orbit insertion manoeuvres. So, NASA better solves the problems before that.

CO2 from Space

NASA engineers were able to use satellite imagery to pinpoint the exact locations of CO2 emissions. This is particularly interesting as the instruments weren’t designed for this level of precision. It is important to have such observations available, as they can provide concrete evidence about any abusive actions by various countries, as well as give more data for climate research.

Orphaned Protostar

Astronomers are studying a star-forming complex called HH 24 and have identified seven separate protostars. One of these appears close to stellar fusion and should ignite any day now (astronomically speaking). The protesters even have beginnings of planetary disks around them, forming their planets as the stars themselves prepare to ignite. Because they’re so closely packed, gravitational interactions have thrown one of the objects into space. It’s flying out of the stellar nursery at 25 km/s.

Measuring the Universe with Shadows

Astronomers map the Universe in various wavelengths of light, from radio through visible to high-energy gamma rays. But they can also map the Universe with shadows, seeing how foreground galaxy clusters block the light from the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. As photons from the CMB pass through these clusters, they’ll occasionally receive a boost in energy, which makes the region look slightly warmer. By studying these shadows, astronomers can better survey the distribution of mass in the Universe and help pin down the characteristics of dark matter.

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