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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Nasa's Mobile Mars Laboratory

NASA's Mobile Mars Laboratory Almost Ready for Flight


The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite has completed assembly at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and is nearly ready for a December delivery to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., where it will be joined to the Curiosity rover. SAM and Curiosity are set to fly on the on the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission scheduled for launch in the fall of 2011.

SAM will become an automated, mobile laboratory as it is carried across Mars by the rover when the mission arrives at the Red Planet in 2012. Together with other instruments on Curiosity, SAM will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.

"We expect Curiosity will make amazing discoveries," said SAM Principal Investigator Dr. Paul Mahaffy of NASA Goddard, "and we are looking forward to the contributions our mobile chemistry laboratory can make to a better understanding of the history of our neighboring planet."

SAM is in flight configuration, meaning its instruments are in the condition they will be during launch and are ready to begin operations on Mars. The instrument suite (a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and tunable laser spectrometer) has started final environmental testing this week, which includes vibration and thermal testing to ensure SAM can survive the launch, deep space flight, and conditions on Mars.

Once at Mars, SAM will examine the planet's habitability by exploring molecular and elemental chemistry relevant to life. SAM will analyze samples of Martian rock and soil to assess carbon chemistry through a search for organic compounds. The lab will also determine the chemical state of light elements other than carbon, and look for isotopic tracers of planetary change.

NASA JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Science Laboratory project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. SAM was built by NASA Goddard using significant elements provided by industry, university, and NASA partners.



New High-Performance Lithium-Ion Battery 'Top Candidate' for Electric Cars

Scientists are reporting development of an advanced lithium-ion battery that is ideal for powering the electric vehicles now making their way into dealer showrooms. The new battery can store large amounts of energy in a small space and has a high rate capacity, meaning it can provide current even in extreme temperatures.

A report on this innovation appears in ACS' Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Bruno Scrosati, Yang-Kook Sun, and colleagues point out that consumers have a great desire for electric vehicles, given the shortage and expense of petroleum. But a typical hybrid car can only go short distances on electricity alone, and they hold less charge in very hot or very cold temperatures. With the government push to have one million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015, the pressure to solve these problems is high. To make electric vehicles a more realistic alternative to gas-powered automobiles, the researchers realized that an improved battery was needed.

The scientists developed a high-capacity, nanostructured, tin-carbon anode, or positive electrode, and a high-voltage, lithium-ion cathode, the negative electrode. When the two parts are put together, the result is a high-performance battery with a high energy density and rate capacity. "On the basis of the performance demonstrated here, this battery is a top candidate for powering sustainable vehicles," the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from WCU (World Class University) program through the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation.

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