An "hyperspace" engine that could make interstellar space travel a reality by flying into other dimensions is being investigated by the US government.

The hypothetical device could potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days.

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The engine would create an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas developed by Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

The US air force has expressed an interest in the idea and scientists working for the American Department of Energy - which has a device known as the Z Machine that could generate the kind of magnetic fields required to drive the engine - say they may carry out a test if the theory withstands further scrutiny.

Professor Jochem Hauser believes that a working engine could be tested in about five years.

"But this thing is not around the corner; we first have to prove the basic science is correct and there are quite a few physicists who have a different opinion," warned the scientist.

Via Scotsman.

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Dr Douglas Armstrong and his team at Edinburgh University have received a Nasa grant to breed several generations of fruit flies in zero gravity and then examine any genetic changes in the insects.

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The project is the first step towards discovering whether mankind can survive for generations in space and establish permanent homes elsewhere in the solar system.

"Genes are prone to change in increased and lowered gravity. While on earth it is possible to increase gravity by spinning the flies in a centrifuge, it is much harder to reduce it. The only place to do that is in space," explains the scientist.

The first generation of flies will be launched as eggs before hatching on the International Space Station.

Scientists at the space agency have constructed a special insect habitat where the flies (normal ones but also some mutants who do not sense gravity) will live and where they can be watched by 24 digital cameras using computer tracking normally employed by the police to follow suspects.

The flies will then be frozen before being sent back to earth, where the researchers can analyse which genes have become more active or less active while in orbit.

Scientists believe that if the genetic changes from space travel accumulate from generation to generation, then settlers on other planets may kickstart another round of human evolution.

Via Scotsman.

Related: Animal astronauts.

The Air Force is planning to use games to help airmen prepare for real-life outer space combat.

The video game would be used for the training of counter space tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). The game environment should recreate four key tasks: detect, identify, track, and disrupt activities from space vehicles.

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The environment will need to have object models to simulate interactions between satellites and ground stations, model track data, display raw sensor data, and have the capability for multiple players to participate and to provide command and control and other tactical and operational information and interaction to the game.

Via Defense Tech.

Robotic "spiders" could help build large-scale structures in space. They would inch their way across large nets of fabric in space performing small tasks or lining up to create an antenna or some other structure.

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The concept, known as a Furoshiki satellite, could revolutionise satellite-based applications by providing cost effective large antennas in space that can be launched on small rockets.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency is planning to test a Furoshiki spacecraft in January 2006. Once in space, the mother satellite will deploy three 'daughters'. These will pull out a net into a triangle, leaving the mother satellite at the centre. Two palm-sized robots will then 'crawl' along the net into prearranged positions.

This is the first small step towards satellites that collect solar energy using large arrays of solar panels and then beam the energy down to Earth. Such satellites could revolutionise the Earth’s energy supply systems by providing large amounts of clean solar energy. "A solar power satellite would need very large structures for its solar panels and antenna. Small experiments like this can help us mature the technology needed to build them," says Leopold Summerer from ESA's Advanced Concepts Team.

Via ESA.

Penelope Boston and Steven Dubowsky have received a grant from NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts to work on tiny hopping robots. An array of the microbots could be deployed on Mars, coordinating with one another like a swarm of insects to search for life below the surface of the planet.

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The spheres would store up muscle energy, and then boink themselves off in various directions.

The researchers have calculated that about a thousand of the robots could be packed into a payload mass the size of one of the current Mars Exploration Rovers. That would give them the flexibility to suffer the loss of a large percentage of the units and still have a network that could be doing recon and sensing, imaging, and perhaps even some other science functions.

A fleet of these little spheres would be sent to some promising landing site, exiting from the lander and then making their way over to some subsurface or other hazardous terrain, where they deploy themselves as a network. They create a cellular communication network, on a node-to-node basis.

Some of the units could be fitted with magnification capability, so one could look at the textures of the materials that they are landing on. Some would also have chemical sensors to sniff and sense the chemical environment.

Via robots < Universe Today.

Couldn't help but think of this 2001 article about an inflatable, two-story tall beach ball. Equipped with scientific instruments, the "tumbleweed ball" conceived by JPL researchers could potentially explore vast tracts of Mars terrain, blown by the wind.

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A scientific payload, carrying instruments such as magnetometers or water-seeking radar, would be held in place by tension cords at the tumbleweed's center. Cameras mounted inside the ball would peer out at the local terrain. When scientists identify a promising spot and want the tumbleweed to put down roots and sit for a spell, the ball could be partially deflated. Then, when it's time to move along again, the ball could be reinflated.

The best way to deal with a killer asteroid hurtling towards Earth could be a "gravity tractor".

Two NASA astronauts, gently mocking the solution offered in Armageddon have come up with a plan to pull asteroids off course. Dr Edward Lu and Dr Stanley Love propose that a rocket be launched into space, effectively to act as a giant magnet.

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The gravity tractor would hover alongside the asteroid, with its thrusters pointing outwards so the exhaust does not affect the surface. The tractor would then pull the asteroid off course, merely using the gravitational pull between the two bodies.

The scientists calculate that, with sufficient warning, a 20 tonne gravity tractor could safely deflect an asteroid 200 metres across in about a year of towing.

"By using gravity as your tow line, you can sidle up to an asteroid. Maintain it for a year and that should give it enough nudge to miss the earth 20 years later," Love adds.

Via ABC.

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