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$50 Million Will Get You 30 Days Aboard The International Space Station

NASA has announced a plan to allow tourists to fly on the International Space Station starting next year.

Up to two private astronaut missions will be allowed per year, each lasting 30 days at most.

But, a trip to space won’t come cheap – with life support systems and all necessary supplies considered, it will cost an eye-watering $35,000 per night at minimum.

The announcement came as NASA unveiled its new business model on Friday, revealing a plan to incorporate more commercial and marketing opportunities ‘both in low-Earth orbit and around the moon.’

NASA has announced a plan to allow tourists to fly on the International Space Station for the first time starting next year. File photo

‘Today is a very remarkable day,’ NASA’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt said in a press conference Friday morning.

‘NASA is opening the International Space Station to commercial opportunities and marketing these opportunities as we’ve never done before.’

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NASA Announces Commercial Space Flights

Artist's concept of the Crew Dragon
Artist’s concept of the Crew Dragon(Credit: SpaceX)

NASA has announced the dates for the first flights of the commercial manned space capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station (ISS). read more

Walk Assist

A spinoff from robotic space technology may someday help astronauts stay fit in space and help paraplegics walk on Earth, Nasa says.

The U.S. space agency and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) have jointly developed a robotic exoskeleton called X1.

The 57lb device is a robot that a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.

In the inhibit mode, the X1 exoskeleton would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement.

The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time.

The X1 is based on the technology behind Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, which is currently working with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

‘Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space,’ said Michael Gazarik, director of Nasa’s Space Technology Program.

‘What’s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth.

‘It’s exciting to see a Nasa-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time.

Worn over the legs, with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, X1 has four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot.

There also are multiple adjustment points,  allowing the X1 to be used in many different ways.

Nasa is examining the potential for the X1 as an exercise device to improve crew health both aboard the space station and during future long-duration missions to an asteroid or Mars.

Without taking up valuable space or weight during missions, X1 could replicate common crew exercises, which are vital to  keeping astronauts healthy in zero gravity.

In addition, the device has the ability to measure, record and stream back data in real-time to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better insight into the crew’s health.

X1 could also provide a robotic power boost to astronauts as they work on the surface of distant planetary bodies. Coupled with a spacesuit, X1 could provide additional force when needed during surface exploration.

Here on Earth, IHMC is interested in developing and using X1 as an assistive walking device. It has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing.

‘We greatly value our collaboration with Nasa,’  said Ken Ford, IHMC’s director and CEO. ‘The X1’s high-performance capabilities will enable IHMC to continue performing cutting-edge research in mobility assistance and expand into rehabilitation.’

The potential of X1 extends to other applications, including rehabilitation, gait modification and offloading large amounts of weight from the wearer.

Preliminary studies by IHMC have already shown X1 to be more comfortable, easier to adjust, and easier to put on than older exoskeleton devices.

Researchers now plan on improving on the X1  design by adding more active joints to areas such as the ankle and hip to  increase the potential uses for the device.

Attribution: Damien Gayle

This Month in Space

A supernova remnant 170,000 light years away in one of the Milky Way’s galactic neighbors. This image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows ambient gas being shocked by the expanding blast wave from the exploding star

Sand dunes trapped in an impact crater in the Noachis Terra region of Mars. The area covered in the image is about 1km (1100 yards) across. Sand dunes are among the most widespread wind-formed features on Mars. Patterns of dune erosion and deposition provide insights into the sedimentary history of the surrounding terrain. This picture is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

This panoramic image taken from the International Space Station shows lights from population centers in Belgium and the Netherlands (center bottom), the British Isles partially obscured by solar array panels (left), the North Sea (center left), and Scandinavia (right) behind the space station’s remote manipulator system

Nasa captured this dramatic image of a solar flare on 2 January. To view a video of the event click here. The show lasted about three hours, but the blast was not directed at Earth

Solar flares on 23 January enhanced the aurora borealis in the skies over the frozen Susitna River near Talkeetna, in Alaska

Clean Up Your Space, Young Man

More than half a century of sending objects into space has left the Earth surrounded by junk. Bits of long-dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris orbit the planet at almost 18,000 mph, each chunk a potential hazard to working satellites or astronauts.

The Swiss have a plan, however. Scientists at the Swiss space centre at EPFL, the federal institute for technology in Lausanne, want to send a “janitor satellite” into orbit, to sweep up debris and permanently remove it from orbit.

The $11 million satellite, called CleanSpace One, could launch within five years, according to EPFL.

Nasa keeps track of 16,000 pieces of orbiting junk that are larger than 10cm (4in) in diameter. There could be more than 500,000 measuring 1cm-10cm and many hundreds of millions smaller ones.

Even a small fragment of debris could severely damage (or even destroy) satellites or other spacecraft that collide with them, creating even more dangerous debris. The International Space Station has to regularly alter its orbit to avoid being hit by large bits of junk.

In February 2009, the US satellite Iridium-33 exploded when it accidentally hit Russia’s long-abandoned Cosmos-2251 satellite.

“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” said Claude Nicollier, an astronaut and EPFL professor.

CleanSpace One would match its trajectory to that of its target using an EPFL-designed ultra-compact motor. When it reaches its target, it will grab the junk with a gripping claw. At speeds of up to 18,000mph, this will not be an easy task, especially if the junk is rotating. CleanSpace One will then head back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere, along with its attached junk.

For its first mission, EPFL will aim to bring down one of two abandoned Swiss satellites: the Swisscube picosatellite, which was launched into orbit in 2009, or the TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Russia’s planned Mars/moon probe never escaped Earth orbit after its November launch, despite the efforts of Russian and European space agencies. It’s one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth.

“We want to offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites,” said Volker Gass, the Swiss space centre’s director, in a statement on the EPFL website.

“Space agencies are increasingly finding it necessary to take into consideration and prepare for the elimination of the stuff they’re sending into space. We want to be the pioneers in this area.”

Attribution: UK Guardian