Thursday, June 21, 2018

Russia to deliver US new rocket engines

The US government is slated to receive one of two batches of Russian-made rocket engines in the second quarter of 2018, according to a leading Russian rocket designer, at nearly the same point when the newly created US Space Force is being established as a new branch of the US armed forces. The engines are used for delivering heavy payloads to space aboard the Atlas V launch vehicle - which will now presumptively fall under US Space Force, a sixth branch of the US armed forces announced by US President Donald Trump on Monday. "We have the Air Force and we're going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal." The US military's space command was formerly designated under the US Air Force's area of responsibility. "Currently, the production of commercial engines at Energomash is proceeding in compliance with the contracts signed," said Pyotor Lyvochkin, Chief Developer of Energomash Scientific and Production Association, Zero Hedge reported Sunday. "The dispatch of the first batch of RD-180 and RD-181 engines to the United States is planned for the second quarter of 2018," Lyvochkin noted.


The US space program relies on the RD-180 engine to power the first stage of the Atlas V rocket, the only American vehicle now capable of sending heavy payloads into space.

Trump boasted Monday "We don't want China and Russia and other countries leading us... We're going to be the leader by far." But when it comes to rocket engines, US personnel use the Russian-made engines. Similarly, US astronauts can only transit to the International Space Station aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, meaning they have to go to Russia's leased facility in Kazakhstan, the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

In 2014, US lawmakers passed a measure requiring that the United States phase out its reliance on Russian-made rocket engines. However, since US firms have not been able to produce an engine with sufficient capabilities to match the RD-180, US military leaders say that they will be able to buy feasible US-made engines by the early 2020s.

"Right now we are on track... to complete the transition period [and] come out the back end with two domestic service providers," US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein said in a congressional testimony last month when asked for an update on transitioning away from the RD-180 rocket engine.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos' space firm, Blue Origin, has been working on a replacement for the RD-180 for some seven years now.

As Sputnik News reported, United Launch Alliance acquires RD-180 engines through RD Amross, a US-Russian joint venture that includes Russian firm Energomash, which is responsible for manufacturing the engines.

RD Amross chief executive officer Michael Baker told Sputnik News in April that collaboration between Russia and the US was a "shining example" of US-Russian teamwork.

"Our joint cooperative programs between Russia and the US over the last 20 years have been a shining example of how our two countries can work to together to accomplish great things," Baker said.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Arianegroup tests innovative technology for next generation upper stage rocket engine

A full-scale demonstrator of the thrust chamber for an upper-stage rocket engine incorporating the newest propulsion technologies has successfully passed first hot firing tests at the DLR German Aerospace Center P3.2 test facility in Lampoldshausen. The Expander-cycle Technology Integrated Demonstrator, ETID, will help to prove innovative technologies, materials and manufacturing techniques. It is tested in the frame of ESA's Future Launchers Preparatory Programme, aiming to increase the future competitiveness of European launchers by creating ready-made technical solutions, which can be transferred for quick development projects with minimal cost, effort and risk. Different technologies and methods of manufacture have been tested, such as additive manufacturing, laser ignition and cost-efficient materials. In addition, components will be tested to lay the foundations for a future 'smart' engine. Upper-stage engines operate in specific conditions such as vacuum and weightlessness that are difficult to reproduce on the ground, and involve significant development risks that have to be mitigated.


By the end of the year, ETID will have been hot fired up to 20 times, each test run lasting 120 seconds, in conditions similar to those in space, with a near-vacuum provided by the test stand.

Next to ArianeGroup in Germany, the prime contractor of this programme, other European partners like GKN Aerospace in Sweden, APP in the Netherlands, Safran Aero Boosters in Belgium and Carinthian Tech Research in Austria have, all provided hardware components for these demonstrator tests.

Monday, June 18, 2018

ESA Council commits to Ariane 6 and transition from Ariane 5

The ESA Council met in Paris this past weeek to discuss the path towards the future exploitation of Ariane 6. In view of the progress made in the Ariane 6 programme, Participating States have decided on the completion of the development up to full operational capability and agreed to fund industrial incentives associated with the development of Ariane 6 and P120C solid rocket motor. Participating States also committed to start with the first step of the Ariane 6 and P120C Transition Programme. This programme supports the evolution from Europe's Ariane 5 to full operational capability of Ariane 6. Ariane 6 is Europe's new-generation launcher, designed to secure guaranteed access to space for Europe at an affordable price for European institutional users. It will operate in two configurations: Ariane 62 is fitted with two P120C strap-on boosters while Ariane 64 has four. Ariane 6's maiden flight is planned for mid-2020.


P120C is the largest carbon-fibre solid propellant booster ever built in one segment at almost 13.5 m long and about 3.4 m in diameter. Two boosters will be used on Ariane 6's maiden flight in 2020.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Spaceflight to launch smallsats for Canon Electronics and BlackSky

Spaceflight has partnered with Rocket Lab for three upcoming launches. The first Electron mission, scheduled for the end of 2018, will launch a BlackSky microsat along with several rideshare customers. The second mission will launch satellites from commercial and government organizations in early 2019, and the third mission, also scheduled for early 2019, will launch a spacecraft from Canon Electronics. All three missions will lift off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand and dispense the customer spacecraft into Lower Earth Orbit. Spaceflight has procured the launch capacity on behalf of its customers and will provide mission campaign integration services. Rocket Lab will assist with satellite to launch vehicle integration and will provide the launch service to orbit using the Electron. Following on the success of Canon Electronics' experimental Earth observing micro satellite CE-SAT-I which was launched in 2017, the company secured launch services with Spaceflight via Rocket Lab's Electron rocket. "This launch is very critical for Canon Electronics as we are launching two satellites built with all components made by Canon Electronics.


CE-SAT-I Mark II is our first mass-production model, and CE-SAT-II is a model equipped with two cameras with different resolutions," said Dr. Nobutada Sako, group executive, Satellite Systems Lab, Canon Electronics Inc.

"Just as Canon provides world premium technologies, sales, and services, we believe Spaceflight and Rocket Lab offer the same premium services to their clients and look forward to a long-term partnership with them."

This deal cements Spaceflight's first missions aboard the Electron rocket and signifies the company's continual expansion of dedicated rideshare missions to small launchers. "Adding the Electron to our portfolio of small launch vehicles fulfills a need for customers to access space with shorter lead times," said Melissa Wuerl, Spaceflight's vice president of business development.

"In addition to providing rideshare services on other organizations' missions, we are pleased to offer first-class integration services and dedicated launches for our customers on the Electron rocket."

"Rapid and repeatable access to space is crucial for the development of vital infrastructure on orbit," added Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. "In partnering with Spaceflight, Rocket Lab delivers streamlined launches and enables innovative missions like those of Canon Electronics and BlackSky."

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Nanodiamonds explain mysterious source of Milky Way microwaves

Astronomers have discovered microscopic gemstones surrounding three infant star systems in the Milky Way. Researchers believe tiny diamonds account for the shimmer of cosmic microwave light that has puzzled astronomers for 20 years. The shimmer is known as anomalous microwave emission, or AME. For decades, scientists have struggled to explain why the odd glow emanates from several of the galaxy's protoplanetary disks. Until now, scientists thought the most likely culprit was a type of carbon-based molecule called a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH. The interstellar particles yield a faint infrared signature. Another possible culprit, hydrogenated nanodiamonds, produce a similar but slightly different infrared pattern.Using the National Science Foundation's Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Australia Telescope Compact Array, astronomers were able to observe AME surrounding three young stars, V892 Tau, HD 97048 and MWC 297. Scientists found the AME emissions most directly matched the infrared pattern produced by nanodiamonds. "This is the first clear detection of anomalous microwave emission coming from protoplanetary disks," Green Bank astronomer David Frayer said in a news release.


Previous observations have shown other star systems produce the signature made by PAHs but show no signs of AME, suggesting nanodiamonds alone account for the faint shimmer.

Studies have previously suggested the presence of nanodiamonds, tiny particles of crystalline carbon, in the protoplanetary disks surrounding distant stars, but the latest findings -- published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy -- are the first to link the particles with AME.

Scientists believe cosmic nanodiamonds are formed when vaporized carbon atoms become superheated by young stars.

Nanodiamonds produce what's called a "dipole moment," yielding an electromagnetic radiation when they spin. Because they're so small, they can spin at tremendous speeds, emitting electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range.

"This is a cool and unexpected resolution to the puzzle of anomalous microwave radiation," said Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales. "It's even more interesting that it was obtained by looking at protoplanetary disks, shedding light on the chemical features of early solar systems, including our own."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Hubble spots most distant star ever observed

If we could travel halfway across the Universe, we would find a huge star,christened Icarus, that was found after its discovery to be the most distant star from Earth. Normally, it would be impossible to detect it, even using the most powerful telescopes currently available, were it not for a quirk of nature that had amplified its brightness such that it could be detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery has also helped to test a new theory of dark matter and to study what clusters of galaxies are made of. The results of this study were published today in the journal Nature Astronomy. Icarus is located in a spiral galaxy that is so far from Earth that its light has taken 9000 million years to reach us. According to Patrick Kelly, a researcher from the University of Minnesota and leader of the team, 'This is the first time we've seen an individual star so far away. We can see very distant galaxies, but this star is a hundred times more distant than the next farthest star that we can observe, unless we include supernova explosions as stars.' The cosmic quirk that has allowed us to see this star is a phenomenon known as 'gravitational lensing'. 

MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1

The gravity of an extremely massive cluster of galaxies acts like a giant cosmic magnifying glass that amplifies the light from the most distant objects. The gravitational lens that has enabled us to see Icarus is created by the galaxy cluster known as MACS J1149+2223, located some 5000 million light years from Earth. Combining this lens with Hubble's resolution and sensitivity has enabled an analysis to be performed of this distant star.

The research team that has participated in this study includes, among other workers, Jose M. Diego of the Instituto de Fisica de Cantabria (IFCA), Steven Rodney of the University of South Carolina, Columbia (USA), Pablo G. Perez Gonzalez of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), Tom Broadhurst of the University of the Pais Vasco (UPV), and Ismael Perez Fournon (IAC and ULL). Patrick Kelly and his coworkers detected sudden changes in the star's brightness, produced by the microlens brought about by the gravitationaleffect of stars belonging to the cluster.

Although its official designation is 'MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1', the team decided to name the star after the character in Greek mythology who flew too close to the Sun with wings and feathers made of wax. Just like Icarus, the light from this star, on its journey towards Earth, passed so close to a Sun-like star in the intergalactic region of the MACS J1149+2223 cluster that its brightness was amplified by a factor of about 2000, thus attaining the glory of its Greek namesake.

'We were able to establish that Icarus is a blue supergiant star, a type of star that is much bigger, more massive, hotter and possibly thousands of times brighter than the Sun. But, at its great distance, it would be impossible to observe it as an individual star, even with the Hubble, were it not for the gravitational lens phenomenon,' comments Ismael Perez Fournon.

Pablo Perez Gonzalez (UCM) explains, 'Until 2016 is was only possible to observe individual stars in galaxies close to the Milky Way. Today, we are witnessing an individual star, very like Rigel, which is halfway across the Universe, and which, indeed, no longer exists.'

The detection of Icarus with the Hubble was so extraordinary that, when it was discovered, telescopes worldwide started to observe it. In Spain, special observing time was applied for on the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), the largest optical-infrared telescope in the world. It turned out, according to Perez Gonzalez, that the GTC 'was the only telescope to detect this star so distant from Earth, given that Icarus is so faint.'

The discovery of Icarus is exceptional not only in terms of the detection of such a distant star. Detecting the amplification of an individual star's brightness enables us to study the nature of the cluster's dark matter content, thus putting to the test a theory of the nature of the dark matter of the cluster that shows that most of it is in the form of primordial black holes.

According to Jose M. Diego (IFCA), first author of the theoretical paper accompanying the Nature Astronomy article, 'If the dark matter consisted of black holes similar to those detected by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), the signal observed from Icarus would have been very different, which enables us to discard these types of candidates.' Tome Broadhurst (UPV) adds, 'this type of study will in future enable us to set limits on other dark matter models, such as those that postulate superlight particles of matter and their quantum effects.'

Also, in May 2016, another image appeared next to Icarus that seems to suggest that we are not dealing with an individual star. We could instead be talking about a binary system, with two stars in orbit around each other.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

New Horizons Wakes for Historic Kuiper Belt Flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is back "awake" and being prepared for the farthest planetary encounter in history - a New Year's Day 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Cruising through the Kuiper Belt more than 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Earth, New Horizons had been in resource-saving hibernation mode since Dec. 21. Radio signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA's Deep Space Network at 2:12 a.m. EDT on June 5. Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of APL reported that the spacecraft was in good health and operating normally, with all systems coming back online as expected. Over the next three days, the mission team will collect navigation tracking data (using signals from the Deep Space Network) and send the first of many commands to New Horizons' onboard computers to begin preparations for the Ultima flyby; lasting about two months, those flyby preparations include memory updates, Kuiper Belt science data retrieval, and a series of subsystem and science-instrument checkouts.


In August, the team will command New Horizons to begin making distant observations of Ultima, images that will help the team refine the spacecraft's course to fly by the object.

"Our team is already deep into planning and simulations of our upcoming flyby of Ultima Thule and excited that New Horizons is now back in an active state to ready the bird for flyby operations, which will begin in late August," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

New Horizons made a historic flight past Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, returning data that has transformed our view of these intriguing worlds near the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt. Since then, New Horizons has been speeding deeper into this distant region, observing other Kuiper Belt objects and measuring the properties of the heliosphere while heading toward the flyby of Ultima Thule - about a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto - on Jan. 1, 2019.

New Horizons is now approximately 162 million miles (262 million kilometers) - less than twice the distance between Earth and the Sun - from Ultima, speeding 760,200 miles (1,223,420 kilometers closer each day. Follow New Horizons on its voyage at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Mission/Where-is-New-Horizons/index.php.

Long-Distance Numbers

On June 5, 2018, New Horizons was nearly 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion kilometers) from Earth. From there - more than 40 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun - a radio signal sent from the spacecraft at light speed reached Earth 5 hours and 40 minutes later.

The 165-day hibernation that ended June 4 was the second of two such "rest" periods for the spacecraft before the Ultima Thule flyby. The spacecraft will now remain active until late 2020, after it has transmitted all data from the Ultima encounter back to Earth and completed other Kuiper Belt science observations.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Firing up a new alloy

A centuries-old materials bonding process is being tested aboard the International Space Station in an experiment that could pave the way for more materials research of its kind aboard the orbiting laboratory. Sintering is the process of heating different materials to compress their particles together. "In space the rules of sintering change," said Rand German, principal investigator for the investigation titled NASA Sample Cartridge Assembly-Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering (MSL SCA-GEDS-German). "The first time someone tries to do sintering in a different gravitational environment beyond Earth or even microgravity, they may be in for a surprise. There just aren't enough trials yet to tell us what the outcome could be. Ultimately we have to be empirical, give it a try, and see what happens." If the disparities between sintering on Earth and sintering in space can be better understood through continued experimentation, the technique could hold promise as an in-flight manufacturing solution or become a reliable path for piecing together in-situ resources. Missions to Mars or the Moon could leverage this new knowledge of sintering to piece together habitats from the lunar or Martian soil, known as regolith. Regolith includes mixed sediment like loose rock, dust, and soil.


The sintering process is used on a wide variety of everyday items that require metal bonding from the metal parts of a watch to a set of braces or the hinges on eyeglasses. One familiar example of the process in action is the bonding that occurs when ceramics are fired in a kiln.

This experiment relies on sintering to study a new alloy's behavior in microgravity.

"After the 1940s, sintering really started to take off as a manufacturing process," said German. "Once the automotive industry adopted it, the field saw phenomenal growth. Now we want to take sintering to space."

Components for the investigation were delivered to the space station aboard SpaceX CRS-14 and were fired in the Material Science Laboratory Low Gradient Furnace (MSL-LGF) within Materials Science Research Rack One (MSRR-1).

The investigation uses a process known as liquid phase sintering to test the degree of distortion in sintering caused by microgravity. Slightly different from traditional sintering, liquid phase sintering introduces materials with a lower melting point to the mix to bond particles not otherwise easily sintered. The melted additive speeds up and improves the bonding process. The results may allow scientists to adjust future calculations to create more successful bonds in microgravity.

"Sintering happens at the atomic level," said German. "Increased temperatures can cause those atoms to move about, and the liquid phase for our investigation helps with this atomic transport. On Earth, we have very stable structures where particles are pushed together by gravity, but we found in prior experiments that without gravity's compression, the components being sintered can distort tremendously."

Initially scientists on German's team hoped to sinter a tungsten, nickel, and iron alloy, but the team had to get creative to accommodate a temperature of 1210 C - the maximum allowed for the station's Low Gradient Furnace. Their solution? Create a new alloy. While based on previous research on the melting points and sintering applications of manganese, the substance created for this investigation is a novel combination of tungsten, nickel, copper and manganese.

The alloy could even have uses for lower temperature sintering back on Earth, where this bonding process has revolutionized and expanded options for the additive manufacturing industry. While the effects of Earth's gravitational pull are well known and defined for sintering on the ground, the investigation's results could still allow for process improvements and new insights into distortion. Likewise, the new alloy developed by German's team could be useful for a variety of industrial applications.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Commercial satellite launch service market to grow strongly through 2024

According to a new research report by the market research and strategy consulting firm, Global Market Insights, Inc, the Commercial Satellite Launch Service Market to hit $7bn by 2024. Increasing usage of communication data-based services and GPS systems is driving the commercial satellite launch service market size over the forecast period. These services are adopted by various sectors such as Automotive, Electronics, Military, IT, among others. Increasing number of vehicles integrated with built-in navigation units will contribute majorly for launching additional satellites. Additionally, Oil and Gas companies across the globe uses vehicle tracking systems for their official vehicles and tankers to locate their vehicles and maintain transparency. Usage of smart devices and services for personal use such as Smart TVs, online streaming services, etc. accelerates the financial investments. High demand for weather forecasting software is witnessed such as AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, Yahoo Weather, Google Weather, etc. Schools and colleges across the globe are introducing new smart classes initiatives. Rising penetration of mobile phones internet usage across the globe owing to next generation 4G/LTE networks with attractive data plans is driving the wireless technology. Due to proliferating usage of these applications across the globe additional number of satellites will be required. This in turn will escalate the revenue generation of the commercial satellite launch service market.


Technological advancements will result in decline of the launching service cost. For instance, in 2017, ISRO announced the launch of 3000 satellites in the next 10 years for navigation-based applications. In 2017, Airbus commissioned a high-volume satellite factory in the U.S. to build OneWeb satellites with an annual investment amounting to USD 17 billion. The focus is to reduce weight and enhance performance.

The modular satellites are easily customizable with various configurations according to the user requirements. Increasing manufacturing of satellites will positively impact the commercial satellite launch service market size.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring alternatives to introduce micro launchers for various applications such as education, technology demonstration, telecoms, and earth observation. With this ESA aims to target companies with small satellites focusing on various mobile applications. However, the prohibitive cost of commercial satellite launch services is hindering the industry growth.

Moreover, the lack of proper commercial satellite launch facilities, quality control, launch problems, supply chain issues may negatively impact the industry size. However, with the growing demand for satellites, prices are expected to decline, resulting in strengthening of the commercial satellite launch service market size.

LEO is likely to exhibit over 3% CAGR in the commercial satellite launch service market from 2018 to 2024. This growth can be credited to low initial launch cost as compared to other orbits, less time to deploy and compact size commercial satellite. LEOs are a positive step towards providing connectivity to remote areas.

The micro segment of the commercial satellite launch service market share is expected to pose a CAGR of more than 6% over the forecast period. This growth can be attributed to the continuous developments improving reliability and affordability of the launch vehicles.

Reconnaissance commercial satellite launch service market size is expected to hold around 36% of the revenue share by 2024. Introduction of new farming techniques such as precision farming, utilizing the satellite imagery for improving farming will play a key role for the industry growth. Geographical Information System (GIS) tools and online web resources with the help of UAVs for farmers are spurring the segment growth.

North America was worth more than USD 2 billion in 2017 and is anticipated to dominate the commercial satellite launch service market share. This can be credited to robust infrastructure available in the region for developing new space programs by organizations such as NASA and SpaceX. Increasing number of navigation and communication satellites for locating destinations and data usage is significantly contributing towards regional growth of the commercial satellite launch service market.

Airbus S.A.S., Arianespace S.A., Axelspace Corporation, Boeing, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Orbital ATK, Space Exploration Technologies are few industry participants in commercial satellite launch service market. Joint ventures and partnerships are among the prominent strategies implemented by the competitors to enhance their industry share. For instance, in 2018, United Launch Alliance acquired Atlas 5 division of Lockheed Martin for reducing launch prices and improving business efficiencies.

Several industry players are focusing on innovations and next generation technologies to reduce satellite weight, introduce flexible modularity options, and low-cost models to enhance the commercial satellite launch service market share. Generally, the launch services are designed for a single time use. However, with the latest developments for vehicle reusability will further widen the industry scope over the forecast period.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Small Packages to Test Big Space Technology Advances

This weekend, when the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station lifts off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, it will be carrying among its supplies and experiments three cereal box-sized satellites that will be used to test and demonstrate the next generation of Earth-observing technology. NASA has been increasing its use of CubeSats - small satellites based on several configurations of approximately 4 x 4 x 4-inch cubes - to put new technologies in orbit where they can be tested in the harsh environment of space before being used as part of larger satellite missions or constellations of spacecraft. The three CubeSat missions launching on Orbital ATK's ninth commercial resupply mission represent a broad range of cutting-edge technologies housed in very small packages. RainCube - a Radar in a CubeSat - is just that: a miniaturized precipitation-studying radar instrument that weighs just over 26 pounds. RainCube is smaller, has fewer components, and uses less power than traditional radar instruments. NASA's Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO) In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program selected the project to demonstrate that such a diminutive radar can be operated successfully on a CubeSat platform.


This mission marks the first time an active radar instrument has been flown on a CubeSat.

If successful, RainCube could open the door for lower-cost, quick-turnaround constellation missions, in which multiple CubeSats work together to provide more frequent observations than a single satellite.

"A constellation of RainCube radars would be able to observe the internal structure of weather systems as they evolve according to processes that need to be better characterized in weather and climate forecasting models," said RainCube Principal Investigator Eva Peral of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

RainCube will use wavelengths in the high-frequency Ka-band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Ka wavelengths work with smaller antennas (RainCube's deployable antenna measures at just half a yard, or meter, across) and allow an exponential increase in data transfer over long distances - making RainCube a demonstration in improved communications as well. JPL developed the RainCube instrument, while Tyvak Inc. developed the spacecraft.

CubeSats can also be used to test new subsystems and techniques for improving data collection from space. Radio frequency interference (RFI) is a growing problem for space-based microwave radiometers, instruments important for studying soil moisture, meteorology, climate and other Earth properties. As the number of RFI-causing devices - including cell phones, radios, and televisions - increases, it will be even more difficult for NASA's satellite microwave radiometers to collect high-quality data.

To address this issue, NASA's InVEST program funded a team led by Joel Johnson of The Ohio State University to develop CubeRRT, the CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation mission.

"Our technology," said Johnson, "will make it so that our Earth-observing radiometers can still continue to operate in the presence of this interference."

RFI already affects data collected by Earth-observing satellites. To mitigate this problem, measurements are transmitted to the ground where they are then processed to remove any RFI-corrupted data.

It is a complicated process and requires more data to be transmitted to Earth. With future satellites encountering even more RFI, more data could be corrupted and missions might not be able to meet their science goals.

Johnson collaborated with technologists at JPL and Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, to develop the CubeRRT satellite to demonstrate the ability to detect RFI and filter out RFI-corrupted data in real time aboard the spacecraft. The spacecraft was developed by Blue Canyon Technologies, Boulder, Colorado.

One of the radiometer-collected weather measurements important to researchers involves cloud processes, specifically storm development and the identification of the time when rain begins to fall.

Currently, weather satellites pass over storms just once every three hours, not frequently enough to identify many of the changes in dynamic storm systems. But the development of a new, extremely-compact radiometer system could change that.

NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program selected Steven Reising of Colorado State University and partners at JPL to develop, build, and demonstrate a five-frequency radiometer based on newly available low-noise amplifier technologies developed with support from ESTO.

The TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration) mission will validate the miniaturized radiometer technology and demonstrate the spacecraft's ability to perform drag maneuvers to control TEMPEST-D's low-Earth altitude and its position in orbit. The instrument fits into a Blue Canyon Technologies 6U CubeSat - the same size CubeSat as RainCube and CubeRRT.

"With a train-like constellation of TEMPEST-like CubeSats, we'd be able to take time samples every five to 10 minutes to see how a storm develops," said Reising. This would improve upon the three-hour satellite revisit time, especially when collecting data on tropical storms like hurricanes that can quickly intensify and change.

RainCube, CubeRRT and TEMPEST-D are currently integrated aboard Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft and are awaiting launch on an Antares rocket. After the CubeSats have arrived at the station, they will be deployed into low-Earth orbit and will begin their missions to test these new technologies useful for predicting weather, ensuring data quality, and helping researchers better understand storms.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

NASA's emerging microgap cooling to be tested aboard New Shepard

An emerging technology for removing excessive, potentially damaging heat from small, tightly packed instrument electronics and other spaceflight gear will be demonstrated for the first time during an upcoming suborbital flight aboard a reusable launch vehicle. Thermal engineer Franklin Robinson, who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is scheduled to fly his experiment aboard the fully reusable Blue Origin New Shepard launch vehicle to prove that the microgap-cooling technology is immune from the effects of zero gravity. The demonstration, funded by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate's Flight Opportunities program, is an important step in validating the system, which engineers believe could be ideal for cooling tightly packed, high-power integrated circuits, power electronics, laser heads or other devices. The smaller the space between these electronics, the harder it is to remove the heat. Because these devices are vulnerable to overheating - just like any electronic device on Earth - the cooling technology must operate under all conditions, including the microgravity environment found in space.


"Frank [Robinson] is demonstrating the fundamental concept and we need the flight validation to gain confidence," said Goddard Senior Technologist for Strategic Integration Ted Swanson. "While theory predicts that the lack of gravity would have a negligible impact on the performance of microgap coolers, this needs to be demonstrated in a space-like environment. Otherwise, potential users are unlikely to commit to the technology."


Microchannel Conduits

With microgap cooling, heat generated by electronics and other devices is removed by flowing a coolant through embedded, rectangular-shaped channels within or between heat-generating devices. Robinson's flight experiment also features "flow boiling," where, as its name implies, the coolant boils as it flows through the tiny gaps. According to Robinson, the technique offers a higher rate of heat transfer, which keeps devices cooler and, therefore, less likely to fail due to overheating.

To remove heat in more traditional electronic devices, designers create a "floor plan." They keep the heat-generating circuits and other hardware as far apart as possible. The heat travels into the printed circuit board, where it is directed to a clamp in the sidewall of the electronics box, eventually making its way to a box-mounted radiator.

Traditional approaches, however, would not work well for emerging 3-D integrated circuitry - a highly promising technology that could satisfy users' thirst for more computing power.

With 3-D circuitry, computer chips literally are stacked atop one another and not spread over a circuit board, saving space in electronic devices and instruments. Interconnects link each level to its adjacent neighbors, much like how elevators connect one floor to the next in a skyscraper. With shorter wiring linking the chips, data moves both horizontally and vertically, improving bandwidth, computational speed and performance, all while consuming less power.

Because not all the chips are in contact with the printed circuit board, traditional cooling techniques wouldn't work well with 3-D circuitry, Robinson said, adding he began his research with NASA support to assure that the agency could take advantage of 3-D circuitry when it became available.

"However, we can remove the heat by flowing a coolant through these tiny embedded channels."


Testing Effectiveness in Microgravity

Although Robinson has tested his cooling technology at various orientations in a laboratory, the question is whether it would be equally effective in space. "What we need to determine is how small the channels must be to achieve gravity independence. Right now, we don't have a perfect understanding," he said.

Should the microgap technology succeed during the demonstration, the next step would be to find an actual application and demonstrate it in space, Swanson said.

Through the Flight Opportunities program, the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) selects promising technologies from industry, academia and government for testing on commercial launch vehicles. The program is funded by STMD, and managed at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

STMD is responsible for developing the crosscutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

Monday, May 14, 2018

RL10 engine to power ULA's new Vulcan Centaur Upper Stage

United Launch Alliance (ULA) has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10 rocket engine to power the upper stage that will fly atop ULA's new Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle. The selection came as part of a long-term agreement between the two companies that calls for Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide RL10 upper-stage rocket engines to support ULA's current and future launch vehicles."Having the RL10 selected to support Vulcan Centaur means ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne will continue working together to extend our track record of mission success well into the future," said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. "We look forward to working alongside the outstanding team at ULA to make the Vulcan Centaur rocket a reality in order to provide reliable and affordable access to space for our nation." "ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have a long and successful history together that began with the first flight of our Atlas and Delta rockets in the 1960s," said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. "We could not be more pleased to have selected the proven and reliable RL10 to power our Vulcan Centaur upper stage."


While some terms of the agreement remain confidential, it includes a long-term commitment by ULA to use RL10 engines on the company's current Centaur and next-generation Centaur upper stages for future ULA procurements, as well as a joint commitment to invest in next-generation engine development.

"The agreement also defines a path forward that will enable us to develop the next generation of RL10 engines that will incorporate additive manufacturing and other advanced technologies to make the engine more affordable while retaining its proven performance and reliability," continued Drake.

Last year, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully hot-fire tested a full-scale, additively manufactured thrust chamber assembly for the RL10 that was built from a copper alloy using a 3-D printing technique known as selective laser melting or SLM. Since then, the company has been working to develop and qualify a variety of components that take advantage of SLM technology.

"With nearly 500 engines flown in space over the last five decades, the RL10 has earned an unmatched reputation in the industry," said Drake. "We will continue to build this proud legacy by supporting ULA's new Vulcan Centaur rocket for many years to come."

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Testing maintenance-free engines that power science in deep space

There are no gas stations or mechanics in deep space. So, if you want the power to perform science in the deep, dark frontiers of our solar system, you must have an engine that is reliable for the long haul. At NASA Glenn Research Center, engineers have recently set a record of operating a free-piston Stirling engine at full power, for over 110,000 hours of cumulative operation. That's over 12 years, and it's still running without issue. This length of time is important because traveling to outer planets and operating scientific experiments in space takes many years. How does it work? A radioisotope element provides heat energy and the Stirling engine converts it to electricity. Free floating pistons inside the engine move continuously at high frequency, but there is no contact with other parts. Engineers have virtually eliminated the mechanisms of wear and tear. Small and lightweight, these engines can operate on small spacecraft that need electrical power to run optics, sensors, recording devices and communications systems to get data back to scientists on Earth.


"We are demonstrating that it is possible to build an engine that does not wear out on the scale of the lifetime of a space mission," says Sal Oriti, project engineer. "Our goal is to improve state-of-the-art technology to enable the next generation of science missions in deep space."

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Satellite row tests UK's post-Brexit security plans

Britain outlined its proposals Wednesday for close security cooperation with the EU after Brexit, but these risk being undermined by the bloc's refusal to share sensitive data on the Galileo satellite project. Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a deep trade and security relationship with Brussels after Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019, and hopes to have a deal agreed in principle by October. A document presented to the European Commission last week and published on Wednesday outline plans for a treaty on internal security and models of cooperation on foreign policy and in defence operations. But officials have been taken aback by Brussels' decision to deny London access to encrypted signals from the EU's Galileo satellite navigation system, citing legal issues about sharing sensitive information with a non-member state. Britain played a major role in developing the Pounds 9 billion (10 billion euros, $12 billion) project, an alternative to the US' GPS which is expected to be fully operational in 2026. Being frozen out due to security concerns could have implications for the rest of the partnership, the government document warns. "The arrangements for any UK cooperation on Galileo are an important test of the depth of operational cooperation and information-sharing envisaged under the security partnership," it said.


It demands continued British access to the secure signal and a right to compete for contracts.

Britain is looking into developing its own, separate system if the EU maintains its position, and has also raised the question of Galileo's use of Britain's overseas territories as monitoring bases.

The Times newspaper meanwhile reported Wednesday that the government is looking at ways to ban British-based technology companies from transferring sensitive information overseas.

Elsewhere, the document set out plans for a new treaty allowing Britain to continue using EU internal security measures such as the European Arrest Warrant, participate in agencies such as Europol, and continue the swift and secure exchange of data and criminal records.

Britain also wants to agree ways to allow it to contribute to EU defence missions on a case-by-case basis, as well as defence research projects and defence planning.

It points to the common threats faced by all European countries, from terrorism to illegal immigration, cyber threats and aggression, which has been blamed for a March chemical weapons attack in the English city of Salisbury.

Monday, April 30, 2018

New estimates of Mercury's thin, dense crust

Mercury is small, fast and close to the sun, making the rocky world challenging to visit. Only one probe has ever orbited the planet and collected enough data to tell scientists about the chemistry and landscape of Mercury's surface. Learning about what is beneath the surface, however, requires careful estimation. After the probe's mission ended in 2015, planetary scientists estimated Mercury's crust was roughly 22 miles thick. One University of Arizona scientist disagrees.Using the most recent mathematical formulas, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory associate staff scientist Michael Sori estimates that the Mercurial crust is just 16 miles thick and is denser than aluminum. His study, "A Thin, Dense Crust for Mercury," will be published May 1 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters and is currently available online. Sori determined the density of Mercury's crust using data collected by the Mercury Surface, Space Environment and Geochemistry Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft. He created his estimate using a formula developed by Isamu Matsuyama, a professor in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and University of California Berkeley scientist Douglas Hemingway. Sori's estimate supports the theory that Mercury's crust formed largely through volcanic activity. Understanding how the crust was formed may allow scientists to understand the formation of the entire oddly structured planet.


"Of the terrestrial planets, Mercury has the biggest core relative to its size," Sori said.

Mercury's core is believed to occupy 60 percent of the planet's entire volume. For comparison, Earth's core takes up roughly 15 percent of its volume. Why is Mercury's core so large?

"Maybe it formed closer to a normal planet and maybe a lot of the crust and mantle got stripped away by giant impacts," Sori said. "Another idea is that maybe, when you're forming so close to the sun, the solar winds blow away a lot of the rock and you get a large core size very early on. There's not an answer that everyone agrees to yet."

Sori's work may help point scientists in the right direction. Already, it has solved a problem regarding the rocks in Mercury's crust.

Mercury's Mysterious Rocks

When the planets and Earth's moon formed, their crusts were born from their mantles, the layer between a planet's core and crust that oozes and flows over the course of millions of years. The volume of a planet's crust represents the percentage of mantle that was turned into rocks.

Before Sori's study, estimates of the thickness of Mercury's crust led scientists to believe 11 percent of the planet's original mantle had been turned into rocks in the crust. For the Earth's moon - the celestial body closest in size to Mercury - the number is lower, near 7 percent.

"The two bodies formed their crusts in very different ways, so it wasn't necessarily alarming that they didn't have the exact same percentage of rocks in their crust," Sori said.

The moon's crust formed when less dense minerals floated to the surface of an ocean of liquid rock that became the body's mantle. At the top of the magma ocean, the moon's buoyant minerals cooled and hardened into a "flotation crust." Eons of volcanic eruptions coated Mercury's surface and created its "magmatic crust."

Explaining why Mercury created more rocks than the moon did was a scientific mystery no one had solved. Now, the case can be closed, as Sori's study places the percentage of rocks in Mercury's crust at 7 percent. Mercury is no better than the moon at making rocks.

Sori solved the mystery by estimating the crust's depth and density, which meant he had to find out what kind of isostasy supported Mercury's crust.

Determining Density and Depth

The most natural shape for a planetary body to take is a smooth sphere, where all points on the surface are an equal distance from the planet's core. Isostasy describes how mountains, valleys and hills are supported and kept from flattening into smooth plains.

There are two main types isostasy: Pratt and Airy. Both focus on balancing the masses of equally sized slices of the planet. If the mass in one slice is much greater than the mass in a slice next to it, the planet's mantle will ooze, shifting the crust on top of it until the masses of every slice are equal.

Pratt isostasy states that a planet's crust varies in density. A slice of the planet that contains a mountain has the same mass as a slice that contains flat land, because the crust that makes the mountain is less dense than the crust that makes flat land. In all points of the planet, the bottom of the crust floats evenly on the mantle.

Until Sori completed his study, no scientist had explained why Pratt isostasy would or wouldn't support Mercury's landscape. To test it, Sori needed to relate the planet's density to its topography. Scientists had already constructed a topographic map of Mercury using data from MESSENGER, but a map of density didn't exist. So Sori made his own using MESSENGER's data about the elements found on Mercury's surface.

"We know what minerals usually form rocks, and we know what elements each of these minerals contain. We can intelligently divide all the chemical abundances into a list of minerals," Sori said of the process he used to determine the location and abundance of minerals on the surface. "We know the densities of each of these minerals. We add them all up, and we get a map of density."

Sori then compared his density map with the topographic map. If Pratt isostasy could explain Mercury's landscape, Sori expected to find high-density minerals in craters and low-density minerals in mountains; however, he found no such relationship. On Mercury, minerals of high and low density are found in mountains and craters alike.

With Pratt isostasy disproven, Sori considered Airy isostasy, which has been used to make estimates of Mercury's crustal thickness. Airy isostasy states that the depth of a planet's crust varies depending on the topography.

"If you see a mountain on the surface, it can be supported by a root beneath it," Sori said, likening it to an iceberg floating on water.

The tip of an iceberg is supported by a mass of ice that protrudes deep underwater. The iceberg contains the same mass as the water it displaces. Similarly, a mountain and its root will contain the same mass as the mantle material being displaced. In craters, the crust is thin, and the mantle is closer to the surface. A wedge of the planet containing a mountain would have the same mass as a wedge containing a crater.

"These arguments work in two dimensions, but when you account for spherical geometry, the formula doesn't exactly work out," Sori said.

The formula recently developed by Matsuyama and Hemingway, though, does work for spherical bodies like planets. Instead of balancing the masses of the crust and mantle, the formula balances the pressure the crust exerts on the mantle, providing a more accurate estimate of crustal thickness.

Sori used his estimates of the crust's density and Hemingway and Matsuyama's formula to find the crust's thickness. Sori is confident his estimate of Mercury's crustal thickness in its northern hemisphere will not be disproven, even if new data about Mercury is collected. He does not share this confidence about Mercury's crustal density.

MESSENGER collected much more data on the northern hemisphere than the southern, and Sori predicts the average density of the planet's surface will change when density data is collected over the entire planet. He already sees the need for a follow-up study in the future.

The next mission to Mercury will arrive at the planet in 2025. In the meantime, scientists will continue to use MESSENGER data and mathematical formulas to learn everything they can about the first rock from the sun.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bernese Mars camera CaSSIS sends first colour images from Mars

The Mars camera CaSSIS on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has returned its first colour images of the red planet. The camera system, which was developed at the University of Bern, is now ready for the start of its prime mission on April 28, 2018. The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) has been designed by an international team under guidance of the University of Bern. The Mars camera is on board of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a European Space Agency/Roscosmos mission. It has now returned its first colour images from the orbit at Mars. The camera system was switched on 20 March and has been undergoing tests in preparation for the start of its prime mission on April 28, 2018. "We have had a couple of minor software issues in the initial test phase", says Principal Investigator, Nicolas Thomas from the Center of Space and Habitability (CSH), University of Bern in Switzerland, "but the instrument is actually in good health and ready to work." The UniBern team transmitted a completely new software version to the instrument at the start of test phase. "It is amazing that you can totally change the software in an instrument flying around Mars more than 100 million kilometres away and that it works", says Thomas.

Korolev crater (Mars)

Some of the first images have been spectacular. The example image is from the rim of an ice-filled crater called Korolev at high latitude in the northern hemisphere. The bright material is ice that can be seen on the rim of the crater (which is much larger than the image).

The picture has a resolution of just over 5 metres and outperforms the resolution of images from Hubble and other telescopes by far. In the future, CaSSIS should operate from slightly lower altitudes to give resolutions of less than 5 metres.

"We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions", says Antoine Pommerol, a member of the CaSSIS science team at the CSH working on the calibration of the data. "It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of Mars's carbon dioxide and water cycles."

The image is a composite of three images in different colours that were taken almost simultaneously by CaSSIS on April 15, 2018. They were then assembled to produce this colour view.

"Our aim is to fully automate the image production process", says Thomas. "Once we achieve this, we can distribute the data to the community quickly for analysis."

Observing dynamics on Mars

CaSSIS is designed to complement the data acquired by the other payload on TGO and other Mars orbiters while also enhancing our knowledge of the surface of Mars. It is now known that Mars is more dynamic than previously thought.

Of particular interest to the 25-strong science team from 9 countries (incl. US and Russia) is the chance CaSSIS offers to study changes that occur over the day and over the Martian seasons. Further studies of recently discovered liquid water on the surface will be one of the main aims.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Aerospace explores next steps in space development

The Aerospace Corporation's Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS) released a new policy paper that explores future opportunities in cislunar space-essentially, the space inside the moon's orbit and the orbital area around the moon. Cislunar Development: What to Build- and Why discusses the possible applications for cislunar space-for example, outposts on the moon, extraterrestrial mining operations, interplanetary waystations-and determines the infrastructure that will be needed to realize those ambitious goals. Author Dr. James Vedda, senior policy analyst with CSPS, says that the cislunar region remains a largely underdeveloped resource, and any coherent, long-term strategy for space commerce and exploration will need to make better use of it. "An enduring, multi-purpose space infrastructure means more than just rockets and spacecraft," said Vedda."It needs a wide range of capabilities, such as inter-orbital transportation, on-orbit servicing, standardization, fuel storage, energy distribution, communication and navigation services, resource extraction, and materials processing."


Vedda added that visions for cislunar development have been proposed by public and private stakeholders in spacefaring countries, but no widespread consensus on what to build and how to build it has emerged.

"Most of these concepts have focused on small aspects of the overarching design-but to truly realize the enormous potential of cislunar space, infrastructure projects should strive for broad applicability, beyond a single mission or short-term series of missions for a single agency."

Dr. Jamie Morin, executive director for CSPS, echoed those sentiments, noting, "Investment in cislunar development makes sense as a strategy for boosting U.S. space commerce and expanding the human footprint in the solar system. Building an effective space infrastructure will involve a mix of government agencies and private-sector entrepreneurs from around the world, so collaboration between the public and private sectors and across national lines will be key."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

NanoRacks space station airlock "Bishop" completes CDR, moves to fab stage

The NanoRacks Space Station Airlock Module "Bishop" met another major milestone with completion of the Critical Design Review (CDR) on March 20 and 21, 2018 in Houston, Texas. This milestone begins the transition from the engineering design phase to the fabrication phase. Detailed design drawings such as those for the critical pressure shell will be signed and released to NanoRacks fabrication partner, Thales Alenia Space, in order for them to continue their fabrication efforts. In February 2018, NanoRacks announced that Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), was chosen as the latest partner in its commercial airlock program, joining with a number of key partners, including Boeing. Thales Alenia Space is set to produce and test the critical pressure shell for the NanoRacks Airlock Module and will also manufacture various secondary structures, including the Micrometeoroid Orbital Debris (MMOD) shields with Multi-Layer Isolation (MLI) panels, the power and video grapple fixture support structure and other structural components.


Other key features, such as the Passive Common Berthing Mechanism (PCBM), being manufactured by Boeing, require a long lead time and have been in production for over a year now. The PCBM will be delivered to Thales Alenia Space in May 2018 and will then be installed to the pressure shell.

"I'm very proud of the NanoRacks engineering team and our partner, ATA Engineering, who performs the structural and thermal analysis for Bishop," says Airlock Project Manager Brock Howe.

"This is a crucial milestone that required many long hours, and the team has been working together very smoothly. We're also very appreciative of our relationship with NASA and the International Space Station Program Office, as they have provided guidance and expertise in several critical areas. As always, there is plenty of work still to do - and we will continue to push forward."

The next major milestone is the Phase II Safety Review scheduled for June 2018. The project is still on track to meet the SpaceX CRS-19 launch, targeting fourth quarter 2019.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Virtual contact lenses for radar satellites

Radar satellites supply the data used to map sea level and ocean currents. However, up until now the radar's "eyes" have been blind where the oceans are covered by ice. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now developed a new analysis method to solve this problem.The melting of the polar ice cap would have a drastic effect: Sea level would rise by several meters around the world, impacting hundreds of millions of people who live close to coasts. "This means one of the most important questions of our time is how climate change is affecting the polar regions," explains Dr. Marcello Passaro of the TUM German Geodetic Research Institute. But changes in sea level and ocean currents in the ice-covered regions of the Arctic and Antarctic in particular are very difficult to detect. The reason: The radar signals of the altimeter satellites that have been surveying the surfaces of the earth and oceans for more than two decades are reflected by the ice at the poles. This renders the water underneath the ice invisible.But ocean water also passes through cracks and openings in the permanent ice, reaching the surface. "These patches of water are however very small and the signals are highly distorted by the surrounding ice.


Here standard evaluation methods like those used for measurements made on the open seas are incapable of returning reliable results," Passaro points out. Together with an international team he has now developed a data analysis method which sharpens the focus of the radar's eyes.

An algorithm for all occasions

The core of this virtual "contact lens" is the adaptive algorithm ALES+, (Adaptive Leading Edge Subwaveform). ALES+ automatically identifies the portion of the radar signal which is reflected by water and derives sea level values using this information only.

This makes it possible to precisely measure the altitude of the ocean water which reaches the surface through ice cracks and openings. By comparing several years of measurements, climate researchers and oceanographers can now draw conclusions about changes in sea level and ocean currents.

"The special thing about our method is that it is adaptive," Passaro notes.

"We can use one and the same algorithm to measure sea level in both open and ice-covered ocean areas. ALES+ can also be used for coastal waters, lakes and rivers. Here the signals are highly varied, but always exhibit certain characteristic properties which the system then learns."

The scientists were able to use a test scenario in the Greenland Sea to demonstrate that ALES+ returns water levels for ice-covered and open ocean regions which are significantly more precise than the results of previous evaluation methods.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Moon Colonization: Why do we want it and what technologies do we have?

Scientists are convinced that humankind is capable of turning the Moon into a space outpost: people have cosmodromes, heavy carrier rockets, space modules and lunar rovers. Sputnik reveals what is behind the human desire to conquer space and what challenges colonizers may face on the way. The idea of the Moon's colonization was quite popular during the Cold War era. But in the mid-1970s such projects by the USSR and the US were suspended as travel to the satellite proved very expensive and didn't pursue any concrete goal. But half a century later, the dreams of settling on the Moon have taken over mankind once again. Perhaps, this is due to the high technological level of civilization that needs really ambitious goals as well as the prospects for the development of private space exploration, journalist and scientific observer Tatyana Pichugina wrote for Sputnik. According to her, the arsenal of the world's space industry has everything one needs to conquer the Moon. What is missing, are clearly formulated goals.


How Can We Use the Moon?

Many scientists believe that space expansion is a logical step towards mankind's further development.

Sooner or later, Earth will become too "crowded" and there will be a need for a transshipment base on the Moon, from where one could go to Mars and other planets of the solar system.

Moon colonization would also give people an opportunity to extract valuable minerals. Particular hopes are associated with helium-3, which is used in neutron counters.

There is very little helium-3 available on the Earth, but quite a lot - on the Moon. Therefore, a number of governments have already signaled their readiness to go to the satellite to mine helium-3 as a fuel supply.

The possibility of transferring energy-intensive production to the Moon in order to reduce industrial emissions on Earth in the distant future has also been voiced by a number of researchers.

What Challenges Are We About to Face?

There is no atmosphere and no magnetic field on the Moon. Its surface is continuously bombarded with micrometeorites, while the temperature differences during one day may reach two hundred degrees Celsius.

People can work there only in suits and within sealed lunar rovers, or in a stationary inhabited module with a complete life support system.

Generally, the whole construction process must be also based on completely different and advanced technologies: using inflatable modules, producing many building elements on a 3D printer, creating composite materials from the lunar regolith by means of laser sintering.

Thus, there are many things that scientists still have to think through before any actual colonization efforts will take place.

Concrete Projects

A moon-orbiting space station is considered a logical step on the way to the colonization of the moon.

The United States, Russia and China have already announced the implementation of a corresponding project by 2025-2030.

In particular, the US and Russia have agreed on the establishment of a joint orbital station called the Deep Space Gateway. The project may be joined by China, India and some BRICS countries.

Technical details are expected to be presented this year. Construction works in orbit are set to start in 2024.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NASA's New Space 'Botanist' Arrives at Launch Site

A new instrument that will provide a unique, space-based measurement of how plants respond to changes in water availability has arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin final preparations for launch to the International Space Station this summer aboard a cargo resupply mission. NASA's ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) left NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on April 6 by ground transport and arrived at Kennedy Space Center on April 9. A few days after it reaches the space station, ECOSTRESS will be robotically installed on the exterior of the station's Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility Unit. ECOSTRESS will give us new insights into plant health by quantifying the temperature of plants from space as never before, measuring regions as small as 230 feet (70 meters) on a side, or about the size of a small farm. It will do this by estimating how much water plants are releasing to cool themselves (i.e., evapotranspiration - the equivalent of sweating in humans). This will tell us how much water different plants use and need, and how they react to environmental stresses caused by water shortages.


ECOSTRESS will estimate how much water moves through and out of plants by tracking how the temperatures of plants change. The data from its minimum one-year mission will be used by ecologists, hydrologists, agriculturalists, meteorologists and other scientists.

"Most satellite measurements of plant surface temperature are made at a particular time of day, often in the mid-morning, when plants are not stressed," said Simon Hook, the project's principal investigator at JPL.

"ECOSTRESS takes advantage of the space station's orbit to obtain measurements at different times of day, allowing us to see how plants respond to water stress throughout the day."

Until now, scientists addressing this question globally have had to estimate how that same-time-of-day snapshot varies over the course of a day. ECOSTRESS promises to eliminate much of this guesswork.

ECOSTRESS is expected to provide key insights into how plants link Earth's global carbon and water cycles. ECOSTRESS data will be used in conjunction with other satellite and ground measurements, such as those from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite.

By doing this, scientists hope to understand more clearly the total amount of carbon dioxide plants remove from the atmosphere during a typical day. In addition, they hope to better identify which areas on the planet require more or less water for the amount of carbon dioxide they take up.

In practical terms, the year of data gleaned from ECOSTRESS will be useful for agricultural water managers. This data should improve our understanding of how certain regions are affected by drought and help agricultural and water management communities better manage water use for agriculture.

The high ground spatial resolution of ECOSTRESS data will be useful for research on the effects of drought on agriculture at the field-scale.


JPL built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. ECOSTRESS is sponsored by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program, managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Boeing HorizonX Invests in Reaction Engines, a UK Hypersonic Propulsion Company

Boeing has announced its investment in Reaction Engines Limited, a leader in advanced propulsion systems based in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. Reaction Engines' technology will contribute to the next generation of hypersonic flight and space access vehicles. Reaction Engines is known for its Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), a hybrid engine blending jet and rocket technology that is capable of Mach 5 in air-breathing mode and Mach 25 in rocket mode for space flight. As part of the SABRE program, Reaction Engines developed an ultra-lightweight heat exchanger that stops engine components from overheating at high speeds, thus improving access to hypersonic flight and space."As Reaction Engines unlocks advanced propulsion that could change the future of air and space travel, we expect to leverage their revolutionary technology to support Boeing's pursuit of hypersonic flight," said Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing HorizonX. Founded by three propulsion engineers in 1989, Reaction Engines produces robust technical designs for advanced heat exchangers, air-breathing engines, and the vehicles they could power. These capabilities may lead to high-speed point-to-point transport that is cost-effective and sustainable.



"Boeing is a world-leader in many fields, bringing invaluable expertise in hypersonic research and space systems. I am thrilled and honored that Boeing HorizonX has chosen Reaction Engines as its first UK investment," said Mark Thomas, CEO of Reaction Engines.

"This is a very exciting step that will contribute to our efforts to develop a commercial technology business and accelerate opportunities to further the future of air and space travel through SABRE technology."

Boeing HorizonX Ventures participated in this $37.3 million Series B funding round alongside Rolls-Royce Plc and BAE Systems.

The Boeing HorizonX Ventures investment portfolio is made up of companies specializing in technologies for aerospace and manufacturing innovations, including autonomous systems, energy storage, advanced materials, augmented reality systems and software, machine learning, hybrid-electric propulsion and Internet of Things connectivity.

Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems. A top U.S. exporter, the company supports airlines and U.S. and allied government customers in more than 150 countries.

Boeing employs more than 2,200 people across the UK at numerous sites, and in 2018 the company celebrates 80 years of partnership with British customers, suppliers, manufacturing, the Armed Forces and the air transport industry. Today, the UK remains a critically important market, supplier base and a source of some of the world's most innovative technology partners.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Astrophysics CubeSat Demonstrates Big Potential in a Small Package

The ASTERIA satellite, which was deployed into low-Earth orbit in November, is only slightly larger than a box of cereal, but it could be used to help astrophysicists study planets orbiting other stars. Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, recently announced that ASTERIA has accomplished all of its primary mission objectives, demonstrating that the miniaturized technologies on board can operate in space as expected. This marks the success of one of the world's first astrophysics CubeSat missions, and shows that small, low-cost satellites could be used to assist in future studies of the universe beyond the solar system. "ASTERIA is small but mighty," said Mission Manager Matthew W. Smith of JPL. "Packing the capabilities of a much larger spacecraft into a small footprint was a challenge, but in the end we demonstrated cutting-edge performance for a system this size." ASTERIA, or the Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics, weighs only 22 pounds (10 kilograms). It carries a payload for measuring the brightness of stars, which allows researchers to monitor nearby stars for orbiting exoplanets that cause a brief drop in brightness as they block the starlight.


This approach to finding and studying exoplanets is called the transit method. NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has detected more than 2,300 confirmed planets using this method, more than any other planet-hunting observatory. The agency's next large-scale, space-based planet-hunting observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is anticipated to discover thousands of exoplanets and scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 16.

In the future, small satellites like ASTERIA could serve as a low-cost method to identify transiting exoplanets orbiting bright, Sun-like stars. These small satellites could be used to look for planetary transits when larger observatories are not available, and planets of interest could then be studied in more detail by other telescopes.

Small satellites like ASTERIA could also be used to study certain star systems that are not within the field of view of larger observatories, and most significantly, focus on star systems that have planets with long orbits that require long observation campaigns.

The ASTERIA team has now demonstrated that the satellite's payload can point directly and steadily at a bright source for an extended period of time, a key requirement for performing the precision photometry necessary to study exoplanets via the transit method.

Holding steady on a faraway star is difficult because there are many things that subtly push and pull on the satellite, such as Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. ASTERIA's payload achieved a pointing stability of 0.5 arcseconds RMS, which refers to the degree to which the payload wobbles away from its intended target over a 20-minute observation period. The pointing stability was repeated over multiple orbits, with the stars positioned on the same pixels on each orbit.

"That's like being able to hit a quarter with a laser pointer from about a mile away," said Christopher Pong, the attitude and pointing control engineer for ASTERIA at JPL. "The laser beam has to stay inside the edge of the quarter, and then the satellite has to be able to hit that exact same quarter - or star - over multiple orbits around the Earth. So what we've accomplished is both stability and repeatability."

The payload also employed a control system to reduce "noise" in the data created by temperature fluctuations in the satellite, another major hurdle for an instrument attempting to carefully monitor stellar brightness. During observations, the temperature of the controlled section of the detector fluctuates by less than 0.02 Fahrenheit (0.01 Kelvin, or 0.01 degree Celsius).

Small satellites

ASTERIA is a CubeSat, a type of small satellite consisting of "units" that are 10 centimeters cubed, or about 4 inches on each side. ASTERIA is the size of six CubeSat units, making it roughly 10 centimeters by 20 centimeters by 30 centimeters. With its two solar panels unfolded, the satellite is about as long as a skateboard.

The ASTERIA mission utilized commercially available CubeSat hardware where possible, and is contributing to a general knowledge of how those components operate in space.

"We're continuing to characterize CubeSat components that other missions are using or want to use," said Amanda Donner, mission assurance manager for ASTERIA at JPL.

ASTERIA launched to the International Space Station in August 2017. Having been in space for more than 140 days, the satellite is operating on an extended mission through May.

ASTERIA was developed under the Phaeton Program at JPL. Phaeton provides early-career hires, under the guidance of experienced mentors, with the challenges of a flight project. ASTERIA is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; where Sara Seager is the principal investigator.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mars Express to get major software update

Every so often, your smartphone or tablet receives new software to improve its functionality and extend its life. Now, ESA's Mars Express is getting a fresh install, delivered across over 150 million km of space. With nearly 15 years in orbit, Mars Express - one of the most successful interplanetary missions ever - is on track to keep gathering critical science data for many more years thanks to a fresh software installation developed by the mission teams at ESA. The new software is designed to fix a problem that anyone still using a five-year-old laptop knows well: after years of intense usage, some components simply start to wear out. The spacecraft arrived at Mars in December 2003, on what was planned to be a two-year mission. It has gone on to spend more than 14 years gathering a wealth of data from the Red Planet, taking high-resolution images of much of the surface, detecting minerals on the surface that form only in the presence of water, detecting hints of methane in the atmosphere and conducting close flybys of the enigmatic moon, Phobos. Today, Mars Express is in good shape, with only some minor degradation in performance, but its gyroscopes are close to failing.


Gyros gone bad

These six gyros measure how much Mars Express rotates about any of its three axes. Together with the spacecraft's two startrackers, they determine its orientation in space.

This is critical for pointing its large parabolic radio antenna towards Earth and to aim its instruments - like the high-resolution stereo camera - at Mars.

Startrackers are simple, point-and-shoot cameras that capture images of the background star field and, with some clever processing, are used to determine the craft's orientation in space every few seconds.

The rotation information from the gyros fills in the information between these snapshots and also when the trackers lose track of the stars - which can last for minutes or even hours.

"After looking at variations in the intensity of the gyros' internal lasers, we realised last year that, with our current usage, four of the six gyros were trending towards failure," says spacecraft operations manager James Godfrey.

"Mars Express was never designed to fly without its gyros continuously available, so we could foresee a certain end to the mission sometime between January and June 2019."

Engineers knew, however, from long experience with similar gyros on previous missions, including Rosetta and ERS-2, that it might be possible to fly the mission primarily using its startrackers, with the gyros only being switched on occasionally, to extend their lives.

Hacking 15 year-old code

"Flying on startrackers with the gyros mostly switched off meant that a significant portion of the 15 year-old software on Mars Express would have to be rewritten, and this would be a major challenge," says operations engineer Simon Wood.

While the spacecraft's builder provided great assistance, it was mostly up to the teams at ESA to open the code, rewrite the software, test it and prepare it for upload as soon as possible.

"We were also helped by being able to take code flown on Rosetta and transplant it into the Mars Express guidance software," adds Simon.

A massive, multi-month effort followed, involving teams from across the Agency working to develop the new software that would enable Mars Express to keep flying. This also meant significant changes in instrument science planning.

"We didn't know if such a massive revision was possible - it hadn't been done before, especially as we would be in a race against time to complete it. But faced with the almost-certain end of mission, what began as wild speculation during a tea break one afternoon last summer has led to the full rewrite now being ready to send up."

The new software was finalised earlier this year, and has undergone meticulous testing to ensure it will work as intended.

Go/No-Go

The effort came to fruition yesterday, when the mission team met for a critical go/no-go meeting with the ESA managers to get final approval to activate the new software.

The new code was actually uploaded to an area of spare memory on Sunday, but just like when your phone or tablet gets a software upgrade, mission controllers will have to shut Mars Express down and trigger a reboot to start running the new code, a critical step set for 16 April.

If all goes as expected, the mission teams will then spend about two weeks testing and reconfiguring the spacecraft to ensure everything is working as it should before resuming normal science operations.

"Similar, but much smaller fixes, have been developed in the past for other missions with old gyros, such as Rosetta, but this is certainly the most complex and extensive software rewrite we've done in recent memory," says mission manager Patrick Martin.

"Thanks to the skill of ESA's teams, Mars Express will fly well into the 2020s, depending on fuel supply, and continue delivering excellent science for many years yet.

"I look forward to seeing continued joint science campaigns between Mars Express and other Mars missions like ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter and incoming rover missions."