NASA reveals more details of its ambitious plan to find extraterrestrial life


Go to Mars and find extraterrestrial life, the obsessions of space agencies. The first seems to be headed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the second is part of NASA’s agenda, which has revealed more details of its ambitious plan.

The US space agency’s Institute for Advanced Concepts has a three-phase program for research in the fields of astronomy and space exploration. Three projects have been supported with funding from Phase III and one of them is in the news.

As the ScienceAlert website explains in its report, this project has just published a blank book that describes a mission to obtain a telescope that can effectively see biosignatures on nearby exoplanets using the gravitational lens of our own Sun.

The distinction of Phase III allows the project to receive a contribution of 2 million dollars, which would go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, for its acronym in English), headed by the scientist Slava Turyshev, researcher of the first two phases.

get closer to the sun

Turyshev partnered with The Aerospace Corporation for this latest book, which describes a mission concept in more detail and defines what technologies already exist and what needs further development.

Instead of launching a big ship that would take a long time to travel anywhere, the proposed mission would launch several small cube satellites and then self-assemble on the 25-year journey to the point of solar gravitational lensing (SGL).

That “point” is actually a straight line between any star around the exoplanet and somewhere between 550-1000 astronomical units (AU) on the other side of the Sun. The distance is greater than the 156 AU it has taken Voyager 1 to tour for 44 years.

For a spaceship to travel three times the distance in half the time, what you should do is dive very close to the Sun.

mission problems

Using a gravitational pull from the star is a tried and true method. For example, the fastest man-made object, the Parker Solar Probe, used that technique.

However, with an increase of 25 AU per year, the expected speed at which this mission would have to travel is not easy and would be an even more challenging challenge for a fleet of ships than for a single one.

The experts are against the theme of the material. Solar sails, which are the mission’s preferred propulsion method, don’t work as well when subjected to the intensity of the Sun that would be required for a gravitational wave.

Also, the electronics of the system would have to be much more resistant to radiation than currently existing technology. Fortunately, both known issues have potential solutions under active investigation.

another problem would be how to coordinate the passage of multiple satellites through this type of gravitational maneuver and still allow them to coordinate joining to effectively form a fully functional spaceship at the end.

According to the authors of the article, there will be more than enough time in the 25-year journey to the observation point to actively reattach the individual Cubesats into a cohesive whole.

What could result from this mission, which has not yet received funding, is a better image of an exoplanet, so sharp that I could verify that it is habitable and that it shows signs of life in it. We will have to wait a few decades for that to happen.

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