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NASA to develop a plasma propulsion system.
Researchers from the University of Washington have been funded by NASA to develop a magnetized-beam plasma propulsion system (or mag-beam). Selected as part of NASA's recent Advanced Concepts study, the system would involve a space-based satellite that would fire a stream of magnetized ions at a spacecraft equipped with a magnetic sail. The researchers think they could get a spacecraft going fast enough that it could make a round trip to Mars in 90 days, as long as there was another station at Mars that could slow the spacecraft down again.
When NASA's Cassini spacecraft took off towards Saturn, it brought along a passenger: the ESA's Huygens probe, which is designed study Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The two spacecraft have been orbiting together for a few months now, but on January 14, 2005, Huygens will make the plunge into Titan's thick methane and hydrocarbon atmosphere. And if it's really lucky, the probe will survive the journey down to the moon's surface, and give scientists a unique opportunity to study an environment that might have been similar to our own Earth's early history.
Scientists from the Los Alamos Laboratory are beginning to study the data returned by from the Cassini plasma Spectrometer (CAPS); an instrument on board the spacecraft designed to measure the space environment around the Ringed Planet. During its first pass over the rings, the instrument turned up low energy plasma which seems to be trapped on the magnetic field lines between Saturn's Cassini Division, the gap between the planet's A and B rings. Cassini will have another 70 orbits around Saturn so the team will have many more opportunities to make discoveries.
The tenth crew to man the International Space Station blasted off on a Soyuz rocket today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to begin 6 months in space. On board are the crew of Expedition 10: Commander and NASA Science Officer Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov; Russian Space Forces Test Cosmonaut Yuri Shargin also tagged along, but he'll be returning with the crew of Expedition 9 in a few days. The Soyuz will arrive at the station on Saturday, for a few days there will be five people on board to make the transition.
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