Sunday, February 18, 2018

Launch Reservation with Open Cosmos

Vector, a nanosatellite launch company comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware and Open Cosmos, a space mission provider, has announced an agreement to reserve five orbital launches between 2019 and 2023 on the Vector-R launch vehicle. The announcement comes in advance of Vector's first orbital launch in July. "This agreement with Open Cosmos continues our ongoing efforts to partner with a broad network of customers, and signals the start of a new frontier for Vector as we prepare for our first orbital mission this summer," said Jim Cantrell, CEO and co-founder of Vector. "Open Cosmos' mission to provide simple and affordable access to space is one that very closely aligns with Vector's, and we look forward to having them along our journey as we continue breaking down the barriers to access space faced by many."

Based in the United Kingdom, Open Cosmos provides end-to-end mission services enabling its clients to focus on in-orbit data. This one-stop-shop to orbit allows companies to have dedicated nanosatellite missions for remote sensing payloads, IoT/telecommunication services, scientific research, or space technology in-orbit demonstrations.

Open Cosmos manufactures its satellites in-house, procures launch services from partners like Vector, and operates qbee fleets using its own satellite operations system while leveraging existing ground segment infrastructure.

"This agreement secures our ability to provide dedicated, affordable launch options to our customers," said Rafel Jorda-Siquier, CEO and founder of Open Cosmos.

"Following the qbee nanosatellite deployment in LEO early April 2017, we've been building a strong commercial pipeline of customers looking to get their payload to orbit and start generating revenues fast and under budget. Vector's launch cadence and aggressive prices allows us to provide increased affordable schedule certainty to our time-to-market sensitive customers."

Vector will begin construction on its state-of-the-art rocket factory in Pima County, Ariz. later this year, designed to produce up to 100 launch vehicles per year to start. Throughout 2018, Vector will be testing major elements of its Vector-R launch vehicle leading up to the July orbital launch.

Oppy Takes A Selfie To Mark Sol 5000

The Sun will rise on NASA's solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity for the 5,000th time on Saturday, sending rays of energy to a golf-cart-size robotic field geologist that continues to provide revelations about the Red Planet. "Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars," said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. A Martian "sol" lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, and a Martian year lasts nearly two Earth years. Opportunity's Sol 1 was landing day, Jan. 25, 2004 (that's in Universal Time; it was Jan. 24 in California). The prime mission was planned to last 90 sols. NASA did not expect the rover to survive through a Martian winter. Sol 5,000 will begin early Friday, Universal Time, with the 4,999th dawn a few hours later. Opportunity has worked actively right through the lowest-energy months of its eighth Martian winter. From the rover's perspective on the inside slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, the milestone sunrise will appear over the basin's eastern rim, about 14 miles (22 kilometers) away.

Opportunity has driven over 28 miles (45 kilometers) from its landing site to its current location about one-third of the way down "Perseverance Valley," a shallow channel incised from the rim's crest of the crater's floor. The rover has returned about 225,000 images, all promptly made public online.

"We've reached lots of milestones, and this is one more," Callas said, "but more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries."

The mission made Oppy Takes A Selfie To Mark Sol 5000s during its first months with the evidence about groundwater and surface water environments on ancient Mars.

Opportunity trekked to increasingly larger craters to look deeper into Mars and father back into Martian history, reaching Endeavour Crater in 2011. Researchers are now using the rover to investigate the processes that shaped Perseverance Valley.

Friday, February 16, 2018

140 successful tests and several "firsts" for Vinci, the engine for Ariane 6

The re-ignitable Vinci, engine, which will power the upper stage of the Ariane 6 launcher, has now successfully completed its last two subsystems qualification campaigns (M6 and M7) with 140 engine tests conducted.The tests in campaigns M6 and M7, vital for qualification of the engine subsystems, were carried out on the PF52 bench at the ArianeGroup site in Vernon, France, and on the German Aerospace Center DLR's P4.1 bench in Lampoldshausen, Germany. A total of 25 tests (16 for M6 and 9 for M7) were carried out under nominal conditions, and include three major performance "firsts":

- a test of 1,569 seconds - an unprecedented duration,

- a series of 20 successful boosts (1 ignition followed by 19 engine re-ignitions), totaling an operating duration of 300 seconds,

- a continuous burn of 800 seconds in "high operation", i.e. at the maximum thrust for which the engine is designed.

The purpose of these tests was also to test the Vinci engine beyond its operational requirements, as it will only require ignition a maximum of 4 times during its missions, with a maximum burn time of 900 seconds in flight.

Valerie de Korver, Product Manager Vinci Propulsion System at ArianeGroup, said: "These campaigns went particularly smoothly and we demonstrated considerable margins with respect to the flight requirements, in particular thanks to a new ignition system and we successfully achieved a number of firsts, such as performing 20 boosts in a single test.

"This is a major step in demonstrating the ability of the Vinci engine to meet the versatility demands of the Ariane 6 launcher. It is also a new and major milestone for the program and for the teams, who are well aware of the challenges faced in these campaigns and who are always intensely committed to ensuring their success."

The Vinci engine was developed by ArianeGroup for Ariane 6 and provides the future European launcher with extreme versatility. Its main feature is its multiple ignition capability: Vinci will be able to re-ignite in flight as many times as necessary, in order to place several payloads in orbit at different locations, according to the specific needs of the mission.

This engine will enable Ariane 6 to carry out all types of missions, regardless of duration and target orbit, particularly the deployment of satellite constellations, for which demand will continue to grow.

Ariane 6 engine testing is continuing apace. This further success follows on from the first successful test on 13 January in Lampoldshausen, Germany, of the Vulcain 2.1 engine which will power the launcher's main stage. These tests enabled the engine to be tested throughout its flight envelope, whether in terms of thrust, mix ratio, or propellant supply conditions.

Design authority and industrial lead contractor for the development and operation of the Ariane 6 launcher on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), ArianeGroup coordinates an industrial network of more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, including more than 350 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Research will help scientists understand how stars create elements

New research involving The Australian National University (ANU) has, for the first time, demonstrated a long-theorised nuclear effect, in a feat that will help scientists understand how stars evolve and produce elements such as gold and platinum. Physicists first predicted the effect, called Nuclear Excitation by Electron Capture (NEEC), more than 40 years ago, but this research was the first positive observation and has achieved the first quantified measurement of the phenomenon. Co-researcher Dr Greg Lane said the new research would improve scientific understanding of the nuclear reactions that occur in stars. "The abundance of the different elements in a star depends primarily on the structure and behaviour of atomic nuclei," said Dr Lane from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering. "The NEEC phenomenon modifies the nucleus lifetime so that it survives for a shorter amount of time in a star." The NEEC effect occurs when an ionised atom captures an electron, giving the atom's nucleus enough energy to transition to a higher excited state.

ANU and other research institutions in the United States, Poland and Russia supported the project, which was led by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

Dr Lane said the NEEC phenomenon could also potentially be harnessed as an energy source with 100,000 times greater energy density than chemical batteries.

"Our study demonstrated a new way to release the energy stored in a long-lived nuclear state, which the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is interested to explore further," he said.

The research team observed the NEEC effect by producing an exotic isotope, molybdenum-93, in an excited state with a half-life of about seven hours.

Dr Lane said the NEEC effect accelerated the isotope's decay through an excitation pathway with a unique set of gamma rays, different from the normal pathway, which are a signature of NEEC.

The Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility at ANU was used to confirm that the NEEC signature would be unique, in readiness for the discovery experiment that used the ATLAS Accelarator at Argonne National Laboratory in the United States.

The Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility uses electricity and magnets to guide particles and speed them up to extreme energies to study the internal make-up of atomic nuclei, and how they behave when they collide.
Understanding Conditions for Star Formation

Sapporo, Japan (SPX) Feb 06 - The mechanism by which hydrogen sulphide is released as gas in interstellar molecular clouds is described by scientists in Japan and Germany, in the journal Nature Astronomy. The process, known as chemical desorption, is more efficient than previously believed, and this has implications for our understanding of star formation in molecular clouds.

Molecular clouds are rare, but are important parts of the galaxy where molecules form and evolve. In the colder, denser areas, and under the right conditions, stars are formed. Theoretically, in molecular clouds at temperatures of 10 kelvin, all molecules except hydrogen and helium should be locked into ice on the surface of dust, not freely floating around. However, observations have shown this is not the case.

Understanding how molecules are released from dust at low temperatures is crucial to explaining how chemicals evolve in such cold clouds. The dissolution of particles from ice due to ultraviolet radiation, a process called photodesorption, has been demonstrated to play a role in some parts of the massive clouds. However, this would be inefficient in the darker, denser areas where stars are formed.

Researchers have supposed chemical desorption is at work in those areas, releasing particles using excess energy from a chemical reaction. The idea was first proposed 50 years ago, but scientists had not provided proof of the process until now.

The research team led by Yasuhiro Oba and Naoki Watanabe from Hokkaido University in Japan, in collaboration with the University of Stuttgart in Germany, set up the conditions to investigate.

Using an experimental system containing amorphous solid water at 10 kelvin and hydrogen sulphide (H2S), the team exposed the H2S to hydrogen and monitored the reaction with infrared absorption spectroscopy.

The experiment demonstrated that the desorption is caused by hydrogen interacting with H2S and the reaction is therefore a chemical one. They were able to quantify desorption after the reaction, and found it was a much more efficient process than previously estimated.

This work is the first infrared in-situ measurement of chemical desorption, and gives detailed descriptions during reactions which are key to understanding interstellar sulphur chemistry.

"Interstellar chemistry is of great importance to understanding the formation of stars, as well as water, methanol and possibly to more complex molecular species," says Watanabe. A significant step forward in the fields of astronomy and chemistry, the experimental setup can now be used to examine other molecules in the future.

Astronomers Concerned with Proposed Cancellation of Space Telescope

Sharing alarm voiced by other scientists, leaders of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are expressing grave concern over the administration's proposed cuts to NASA's astrophysics budget and the abrupt cancellation of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). "We cannot accept termination of WFIRST, which was the highest-priority space-astronomy mission in the most recent decadal survey," says AAS President-Elect Megan Donahue (Michigan State University). "And the proposed 10% reduction in NASA's astrophysics budget, amounting to nearly $1 billion over the next five years, will cripple US astronomy." WFIRST, the successor to the 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, is the top-ranked large space-astronomy mission of New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, the National Academies' Astro2010 decadal survey, and is an essential component of a balanced space astrophysics portfolio. Cutting NASA's astrophysics budget and canceling WFIRST would leave our nation without a large space telescope to succeed Hubble and Webb.

Yet just last year another National Academies report, Powering Science: NASA's Large Strategic Missions, found that "large strategic missions are critical for balance and form the backbone of the disciplines" of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), which includes astrophysics. The same report further recommended that "NASA should continue to plan for large strategic missions as a primary component for all science disciplines as part of a balanced program that also includes smaller missions."

"The AAS has long supported community-based priority setting as a fundamental component in the effective funding, management, and oversight of the federal research enterprise," says AAS Executive Officer Kevin B. Marvel.

"This process has been tremendously successful and has led to US preeminence in space science through missions that are now household names, like Hubble." Marvel continues, "Not only is WFIRST a top decadal-survey priority in astronomy and astrophysics, but the mission has also undergone rigorous community, agency, and Congressional assessment and oversight and meets the high expectations of an astrophysics flagship."

Indeed, after Astro2010, scientific and technological advancements enabled an enhanced WFIRST that would be 100 times more powerful than Hubble. Follow-on National Academies' reports in 2013 and 2016 reaffirmed the significant scientific merit of the enhanced WFIRST mission, and their recommendations for careful monitoring of potential cost and schedule drivers led to NASA's commissioning of the WFIRST Independent External Technical / Management / Budget Review (WIETR) last fall.

Neither the commissioning of the WIETR nor the content of its findings are an indication that WFIRST is experiencing or will experience the cost overruns that the Webb telescope experienced. In fact, the opposite is true.

As Thomas Young, former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and former president and chief operating officer of Martin Marietta Corp., testified to the House Science Subcommittee on Space in December 2017, that WFIRST has undergone extensive scrutiny is "no cause for panic. What is transpiring is a perfectly healthy process to assure that the scope, cost, and risk are appropriately defined."

NASA's SMD Associate Administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen, fully agreed with the WIETR recommendations to match mission cost with appropriate resources as part of a balanced astrophysics portfolio.

After undergoing a redesign over the last several months, WFIRST would once again fit both within the February 2016 budget approved by NASA at the onset of its mission formulation phase and within the notional five-year budget profile the administration requested for NASA astrophysics in its FY 2018 budget less than one year ago. Put another way, the lifecycle cost for WFIRST is the same now as it was two years ago and has been described as both reasonable and credible by numerous review panels.

Marvel worries that the administration's proposal to scale back federal investment in the nation's exploration of the universe and terminate WFIRST risks undermining future decadal surveys and other community-based priority-setting processes.

"These efforts to achieve community consensus on research priorities are vital to ensuring the maximum return on public and private investments in the astronomical sciences," Marvel says. "The cancellation of WFIRST would set a dangerous precedent and severely weaken a decadal-survey process that has established collective scientific priorities for a world-leading program for a half century. Such a move would also sacrifice US leadership in space-based dark energy, exoplanet, and survey astrophysics. We cannot allow such drastic damage to the field of astronomy, the impacts of which would be felt for more than a generation."

The AAS will defend the important role of the decadal surveys in helping set federal spending priorities, to explain the scientific promise of the top-ranked WFIRST mission, and to share our excitement for the field of astrophysics, which has never been more ripe for discovery from the search for life elsewhere in the universe to understanding where we came from and where we're going. "We look forward to working with Congress to restore funding for WFIRST and for NASA astrophysics overall," Donahue concludes.