Sunday, September 29, 2019

A planet that should not exist

Astronomers detected a giant planet orbiting a small star. The planet has much more mass than theoretical models predict. While this surprising discovery was made by a Spanish-German team at an observatory in southern Spain, researchers at the University of Bern studied how the mysterious exoplanet might have formed. The red dwarf GJ 3512 is located 30 light-years from us. Although the star is only about a tenth of the mass of the Sun, it possesses a giant planet - an unexpected observation. "Around such stars there should only be planets the size of the Earth or somewhat more massive super-Earths," says Christoph Mordasini, professor at the University of Bern and member of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS: "GJ 3512b, however, is a giant planet with a mass about half as big as the one of Jupiter, and thus at least one order of magnitude more massive than the planets predicted by theoretical models for such small stars." The mysterious planet was detected by a Spanish-German research consortium called CARMENES, which has set itself the goal of discovering planets around the smallest stars. For this purpose, the consortium built a new instrument, which was installed at the Calar Alto Observatory at 2100 meters altitude in southern Spain. Observations with this infrared spectrograph showed that the small star regularly moved towards and away from us - a phenomenon triggered by a companion who had to be particularly massive in this case.

Because this discovery was so unexpected, the consortium contacted, among others, the Bern research group of Mordasini, one of the world's leading experts in the theory of planet formation, to discuss plausible formation scenarios for the giant exoplanet. The paper with all contributions has now been published in the journal Science.

Bottom-Up Process or Collapse?

"Our model of the formation and evolution of planets predicts that around small stars a large number of small planets will be formed," Mordasini summarizes, referring to another well-known planetary system as an example: Trappist-1. This star comparable to GJ 3512 has seven planets with masses roughly equal to or even less than the mass of the Earth. In this case, the calculations of the Bern model agree well with the observation. Not so with GJ 3512. "Our model predicts that there should be no giant planets around such stars," says Mordasini.

One possible explanation for the failure of current theory could be the mechanism underlying the model, known as core accretion. Planets are formed by the gradual growth of small bodies into ever larger masses. The experts call this a "bottom-up process."

Maybe the giant planet GJ 3512b was formed by a fundamentally different mechanism, a so-called gravitational collapse.

"A part of the gas disk in which the planets are formed collapses directly under its own gravitational force," explains Mordasini: "A top-down process." But even this explanation poses problems. "Why hasn't the planet continued to grow and migrate closer to the star in this case? You would expect both if the gas disk had enough mass to become unstable under its gravity," says the expert and adds: "The planet GJ 3512b is therefore an important discovery that should improve our understanding of how planets form around such stars."

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Blasts that produce gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light

A new model of gamma ray bursts suggests the blasts that trigger the cosmic phenomena may travel faster than the speed of light within surrounding gas clouds. The creators of the new model, astrophysicists Jon Hakkila of the College of Charleston and Robert Nemiroff of the Michigan Technological University, claim these superluminal jets don't violate Einstein's theory of relativity. Scientists have previously identified time-reversibility properties in the light curves generated by gamma ray bursts, which are energetic explosions astronomers have observed in distant galaxies. According to Hakkila and Nemiroff, superluminal jets could help explain this time-reversibility. Because the new model posits that the jets only move faster than light does through the jet medium, not through vacuum, Hakkila and Nemiroff claim it doesn't contradict Einstein's theory of relativity. According to the two astrophysicists, the new model, detailed this week in the Astrophysical Journal, can "account for a variety of unexplained yet observed GRB pulse behaviors." Specifically, the collisional radiation and shockwaves produced by superluminal jets as they're speeding up or slowing down can account for a variety of patterns observed on GRB light curves. "These transitions create both a time-forward and a time-reversed set of light-curve features through the process of relativistic image doubling," researchers wrote in their paper. In other words, whether time is moving forward or backward, the features in the gamma ray burst light curve behave the same way.

The new model, according to the paper's authors, is the first to account for this phenomenon.

"Standard gamma-ray burst models have neglected time-reversible light curve properties," Hakkila said in a news release. "Superluminal jet motion accounts for these properties while retaining a great many standard model features."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Top Five Technologies Needed for a Spacecraft to Survive Deep Space

When a spacecraft built for humans ventures into deep space, it requires an array of features to keep it and a crew inside safe. Both distance and duration demand that spacecraft must have systems that can reliably operate far from home, be capable of keeping astronauts alive in case of emergencies and still be light enough that a rocket can launch it. Artemis Missions near the Moon will start when NASA's Orion spacecraft leaves Earth atop the world's most powerful rocket, NASA's Space Launch System. After launch from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Orion will travel beyond the Moon to a distance more than 1,000 times farther than where the International Space Station flies in low-Earth orbit, and farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever ventured. To accomplish this feat, Orion has built-in technologies that enable the crew and spacecraft to explore far into the solar system.

Systems to Live and Breathe

As humans travel farther from Earth for longer missions, the systems that keep them alive must be highly reliable while taking up minimal mass and volume. Orion will be equipped with advanced environmental control and life support systems designed for the demands of a deep space mission. A high-tech system already being tested aboard the space station will remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and humidity from inside Orion. Removal of CO2 and humidity is important to ensure air remains safe for the crew breathing. And water condensation on the vehicle hardware is controlled to prevent water intrusion into sensitive equipment or corrosion on the primary pressure structure.

The system also saves volume inside the spacecraft. Without such technology, Orion would have to carry many chemical canisters that would otherwise take up the space of 127 basketballs (or 32 cubic feet) inside the spacecraft-about 10 percent of crew livable area. Orion will also have a new compact toilet, smaller than the one on the space station. Long duration missions far from Earth drive engineers to design compact systems not only to maximize available space for crew comfort, but also to accommodate the volume needed to carry consumables like enough food and water for the entirety of a mission lasting days or weeks.

Highly reliable systems are critically important when distant crew will not have the benefit of frequent resupply shipments to bring spare parts from Earth, like those to the space station. Even small systems have to function reliably to support life in space, from a working toilet to an automated fire suppression system or exercise equipment that helps astronauts stay in shape to counteract the zero-gravity environment in space that can cause muscle and bone atrophy. Distance from home also demands that Orion have spacesuits capable of keeping astronaut alive for six days in the event of cabin depressurization to support a long trip home.

Proper Propulsion
The farther into space a vehicle ventures, the more capable its propulsion systems need to be to maintain its course on the journey with precision and ensure its crew can get home.

Orion has a highly capable service module that serves as the powerhouse for the spacecraft, providing propulsion capabilities that enable Orion to go around the Moon and back on its exploration missions. The service module has 33 engines of various sizes. The main engine will provide major in-space maneuvering capabilities throughout the mission, including inserting Orion into lunar orbit and also firing powerfully enough to get out of the Moon's orbit to return to Earth. The other 32 engines are used to steer and control Orion on orbit.

In part due to its propulsion capabilities, including tanks that can hold nearly 2,000 gallons of propellant and a back up for the main engine in the event of a failure, Orion's service module is equipped to handle the rigors of travel for missions that are both far and long, and has the ability to bring the crew home in a variety of emergency situations.

The Ability to Hold Off the Heat
Going to the Moon is no easy task, and it's only half the journey. The farther a spacecraft travels in space, the more heat it will generate as it returns to Earth. Getting back safely requires technologies that can help a spacecraft endure speeds 30 times the speed of sound and heat twice as hot as molten lava or half as hot as the sun.

When Orion returns from the Moon, it will be traveling nearly 25,000 mph, a speed that could cover the distance from Los Angeles to New York City in six minutes. Its advanced heat shield, made with a material called AVCOAT, is designed to wear away as it heats up. Orion's heat shield is the largest of its kind ever built and will help the spacecraft withstand temperatures around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry though Earth's atmosphere.

Before reentry, Orion also will endure a 700-degree temperature range from about minus 150 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Orion's highly capable thermal protection system, paired with thermal controls, will protect Orion during periods of direct sunlight and pitch black darkness while its crews will comfortably enjoy a safe and stable interior temperature of about 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Radiation Protection

As a spacecraft travels on missions beyond the protection of Earth's magnetic field, it will be exposed to a harsher radiation environment than in low-Earth orbit with greater amounts of radiation from charged particles and solar storms that can cause disruptions to critical computers, avionics and other equipment. Humans exposed to large amounts of radiation can experience both acute and chronic health problems ranging from near-term radiation sickness to the potential of developing cancer in the long-term.

Orion was designed from the start with built in system-level features to ensure reliability of essential elements of the spacecraft during potential radiation events. For example, Orion is equipped with four identical computers that each are self-checking, plus an entirely different backup computer, to ensure Orion can still send commands in the event of a disruption. Engineers have tested parts and systems to a high standard to ensure that all critical systems remain operable even under extreme circumstances.

Orion also has a makeshift storm shelter below the main deck of the crew module. In the event of a solar radiation event, NASA has developed plans for crew on board to create a temporary shelter inside using materials on board. A variety of radiation sensors will also be on the spacecraft to help scientists better understand the radiation environment far away from Earth. One investigation called AstroRad, will fly on Artemis I and test an experimental vest that has the potential to help shield vital organs and decrease exposure from solar particle events.

Constant Communication and Navigation
Spacecraft venturing far from home go beyond the Global Positioning System (GPS) in space and above communication satellites in Earth orbit. To talk with mission control in Houston, Orion will use all three of NASA's space communications networks. As it rises from the launch pad and into cislunar space, Orion will switch from the Near Earth Network to the Space Network, made possible by the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, and finally to the Deep Space Network that provides communications for some of NASA's most distant spacecraft.

Orion is also equipped with backup communication and navigation systems to help the spacecraft stay in contact with the ground and orient itself if it's primary systems fail. The backup navigation system, a relatively new technology called optical navigation, uses a camera to take pictures of the Earth, Moon and stars and autonomously triangulate Orion's position from the photos. Its backup emergency communications system doesn't use the primary system or antennae for high-rate data transfer.

Monday, September 23, 2019

China launches new remote-sensing satellites

Five new remote-sensing satellites were sent into planned orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi Desert Thursday. The five satellites were launched by a Long March-11 carrier rocket at 2:42 p.m. (Beijing Time). The satellites belong to a commercial remote-sensing satellite constellation project "Zhuhai-1", which will comprise 34 micro-nano satellites, including video, hyperspectral, and high-resolution optical satellites, as well as radar and infrared satellites. The carrier rocket was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, and the satellites were produced by the Harbin Institute of Technology and operated by the Zhuhai Orbita Aerospace Science and Technology Co. Ltd. Thursday's launch was the 311th mission for the Long March series carrier rockets. The newly launched satellites comprise four hyperspectral satellites with 256 wave-bands and a coverage width of 150 km, and a video satellite with a resolution of 90 centimeters. The Zhuhai-1 hyperspectral satellites have the highest spatial resolution and the largest coverage width of their type in China. The data will be used for precise quantitative analysis of vegetation, water and crops, and will provide services for building smart cities, said Orbita, the largest private operator of hyperspectral satellites in orbit.

The company aims to cooperate with government organizations and enterprises to expand the big data satellite services.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Drones probe dust devils to understand Mars's atmosphere

Dust devils, small dusty whirlwinds, have been studied for decades. But, says Brian Jackson, an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Boise State University, the ability of dust devils to lift dust into the atmosphere remains murky. "When we compare theoretical predictions of how much dust a devil should lift to how much it does lift, the numbers just don't add up," says Jackson. Now, Jackson and his team, including Dr. Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab and Michelle Szurgot, an undergraduate physics major at Boise State, have begun to study the phenomenon in a way it has never been studied before. They fly drones through active dust devils on the Alvord Desert of southeastern Oregon. The drones carry cameras and other lightweight instruments, including pressure and temperature loggers, that measure the structures of the dust devil while taking particle samples to determine how much material the dust devil is carrying. Jackson will present results at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. Dust devils, while common in arid climates on Earth, are ubiquitous on Mars, where they may be responsible for much of the planet's haze that helps heat its atmosphere. Dust devils have been observed from landers the ground and from orbiting spacecraft all over the surface of Mars. A better understanding of dust devils on Earth will help scientists understand their influence on Mars' climate, says Jackson. NASA currently has three active rovers on Mars, two of which are powered by solar panels. Martian dust has been a concern, falling on the panels and reducing the amount of energy generated, and the static charges that can build up in the dust devils may pose a hazard to electrical equipment deployed on Mars.

Previous studies of Martian dust devils have relied on passive sampling of the profiles via meteorology packages on landed spacecraft. Past studies of terrestrial devils have employed more active sampling (instrumented vehicles or manned aircraft) but have been limited to near-surface or relatively high-altitude sampling.

Drones promise a new and powerful platform from which to sample dust devils at a variety of altitudes. Measurements made aloft are more directly relevant for evaluating the dust that is injected into the atmosphere.

In summer 2017, Jackson and his team were awarded a grant from the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium to launch drones into dust devils. In 2018, they also received a three-year, $217,000 grant from NASA's Solar System Workings Program.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Kentucky companies give NASA Artemis missions a boost

When American astronauts set foot on the Moon's surface in 2024, men and women across Kentucky can say they helped to make it possible. NASA recognized three Kentucky businesses - Parker Hannifin Corp., American Synthetic Rubber Co., a Michelin company; and Eckart America Corp. - in Lexington and Louisville Sept. 18-19 for their continued support in supplying critical elements and tools for the twin solid rocket boosters of NASA's powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. "It is exciting to watch as NASA leads this new era of space exploration," said Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton. "I am proud the three businesses we're recognizing today play key roles in our nation's return to the Moon and beyond. Every worker who helps produce the seals, polymers, pigments and parts for NASA's new rocket systems should be proud of their contribution. Kentucky's aerospace and aviation industry stands ready to assist as NASA pushes the boundaries of research, exploration and innovation." Working with Northrop Grumman, the SLS booster lead contractor, each of the suppliers has played a role in manufacturing and producing the rocket's boosters that will be used for the Artemis missions. 

+ American Synthetic Rubber Co. is the only manufacturer in the United States of a unique liquid polymer that serves as the binder, or glue, in the SLS propellant that powers the rocket boosters. The polymer enhances the strength of the propellant while it is under pressure, helping the propellant withstand ignition forces.

+ Eckart produces the aluminum powder used in the SLS propellant.

+ Parker Hannifin's O-ring and Engineered Seals Division provides elastomer sealing that is a key component for the SLS boosters as well as the Mars 2020 Rover, which will search for signs of habitable conditions on Mars.

American Synthetic Rubber Co. and Parker Hannifin were each presented with the Space Launch System Program Manager's Commendation award by retired NASA astronaut Col. William "Bill" McArthur on behalf of the agency. NASA and Northrop Grumman personnel toured each of the facilities to meet the men and women helping to build the boosters for the SLS rocket.

"NASA and Northrop Grumman earlier this year completed casting all 10 of the booster motor segments for both the first and second Artemis lunar missions," said Mark Olsen of Northrop Grumman. "Men and women here in Kentucky and across the U.S. are providing vital services to build the SLS rocket as efficiently as possible."

Based on the booster design from NASA's Space Shuttle Program, the five-segment SLS booster is the largest, most powerful solid propellant booster ever built for flight. Each booster produces more than 3.6 million pounds of thrust to send SLS and NASA's Orion spacecraft to the Moon. Together, the twin boosters produce more than 75 percent of the total SLS thrust at launch.

American Synthetic Rubber Co., Parker Hannifin and Eckart supplied elements for the production of the boosters during the space shuttle program.

"The boosters for SLS were adapted from the space shuttle booster with the addition of a fifth propellant segment," said Hank Miller, SLS booster element deputy manager. "That additional motor segment enables the SLS to lift more weight and travel farther than the shuttle."

Sending American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 takes power, precision and the combined efforts from companies across the United States. More than 3,800 businesses in all 50 states support the production of SLS and Orion for the Artemis lunar missions.

Kentucky is a leader in America's aerospace industry, ranking second as the top aerospace export state in the country. With more than 600 Kentucky companies in the aerospace and defense business, the state had more than $12 billion in aerospace and defense exports in 2018. Additionally, NASA astronauts Randy Bresnik and Terri Wilcutt, the agency's chief of safety and mission assurance and former space shuttle pilot, are from Kentucky.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Orion Test Article on the Move

Engineers recently lifted and moved a full-scale test version of the 13-ton Orion service module in preparation for upcoming pyroshock tests at NASA Glenn's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. During the tests, engineers will fire pyrotechnics to simulate the shocks the service module will experience as Orion separates from the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The service module is an essential part of the spacecraft. It will propel, power and cool Orion in addition to providing air and water for the crew. In this time-lapse video, the Plum Brook team removes the test article from the world's most powerful spacecraft vibration table and transports it into the assembly high bay area in Plum Brook's Space Environments Complex. Prior to the move, the test article passed a series of vibration tests to verify that it can withstand the vibrations as it launches and travels into space. A thousand sensors collected data on Orion's service module as it was shaken on a vibration table. This testing simulated how Orion's structure flexed and will stand up to 35 tons of spacecraft weight during a launch. Orion's first flight atop SLS, known as Artemis 1, is targeted to launch in 2020. It will venture tens of thousands of miles beyond the moon. The test article was provided by ESA (European Space Agency) and built by Airbus Defence and Space.

Monday, September 16, 2019

NASA's WFIRST Will Help Uncover the Universe's Fate

Scientists have discovered that a mysterious pressure dubbed "dark energy" makes up about 68% of the total energy content of the cosmos, but so far we don't know much more about it. Exploring the nature of dark energy is one of the primary reasons NASA is building the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a space telescope whose measurements will help illuminate the dark energy puzzle. With a better understanding of dark energy, we will have a better sense of the past and future evolution of the universe. Until the 20th century, most people believed that the universe was static, remaining essentially unchanged throughout eternity. When Einstein developed his general theory of relativity in 1915, describing how gravity acts across the fabric of space-time, he was puzzled to find that the theory indicated the cosmos must either expand or contract. He made changes to preserve a static universe, adding something he called the "cosmological constant," even though there was no evidence it actually existed. This mysterious force was supposed to counteract gravity to hold everything in place. However, as the 1920s were coming to a close, astronomer Georges Lemaitre, and then Edwin Hubble, made the startling discovery that with very few exceptions, galaxies are racing away from each other. The universe was far from static - it was ballooning outward. Consequently, if we imagine rewinding this expansion, there must have been a time when everything in the universe was almost impossibly hot and close together. The End of the Universe: Fire or Ice?

The Big Bang theory describes the expansion and evolution of the universe from this initial superhot, superdense state. Scientists theorized that gravity would eventually slow and possibly even completely reverse this expansion. If the universe had enough matter in it, gravity would overcome the expansion, and the universe would collapse in a fiery "Big Crunch."

If not, the expansion would never end - galaxies would grow farther and farther away until they pass the edge of the observable universe. Our distant descendants might have no knowledge of the existence of other galaxies since they would be too far away to be visible. Much of modern astronomy might one day be reduced to mere legend as the universe gradually fades to an icy black.

The Universe Isn't Just Expanding - It's Accelerating
Astronomers have measured the rate of expansion by using ground-based telescopes to study relatively nearby supernova explosions. The mystery escalated in 1998 when Hubble Space Telescope observations of more distant supernovae helped show that the universe actually expanded more slowly in the past than it does today. The expansion of the universe is not slowing down due to gravity, as everyone thought. It's speeding up.

Fast forward to today. While we still don't know what exactly is causing the acceleration, it has been given a name - dark energy. This mysterious pressure remained undiscovered for so long because it is so weak that gravity overpowers it on the scale of humans, planets and even the galaxy. It is present in the room with you as you read, within your very body, but gravity counteracts it so you don't go flying out of your seat. It is only on an intergalactic scale that dark energy becomes noticeable, acting like a sort of weak opposition to gravity.

What Is Dark Energy?
What exactly is dark energy? More is unknown than known, but theorists are chasing down a couple of possible explanations. Cosmic acceleration could be caused by a new energy component, which would require some adjustments to Einstein's theory of gravity - perhaps the cosmological constant, which Einstein called his biggest blunder, is real after all.

Alternatively, Einstein's theory of gravity may break down on cosmological scales. If this is the case, the theory will need to be replaced with a new one that incorporates the cosmic acceleration we have observed. Theorists still don't know what the correct explanation is, but WFIRST will help us find out.

WFIRST Will Illuminate Dark Energy
Previous missions have gathered some clues, but so far they haven't yielded results that strongly favor one explanation over another. With the same resolution as Hubble's cameras but a field of view that is 100 times larger, WFIRST will generate never-before-seen big pictures of the universe.

The new mission will advance the exploration of the dark energy mystery in ways that other telescopes can't by mapping how matter is structured and distributed throughout the cosmos, and also by measuring large numbers of distant supernovae. The results will indicate how dark energy acts across the universe, and whether and how it has changed over cosmic history.

The mission will use three survey methods to search for an explanation of dark energy. The High Latitude Spectroscopic Survey will measure accurate distances and positions of millions of galaxies using a "standard ruler" technique. Measuring how the distribution of galaxies varies with distance will give us a window into the evolution of dark energy over time. This study will connect the galaxies' distances with the echoes of sound waves just after the Big Bang and will test Einstein's theory of gravity over the age of the universe.

The High Latitude Imaging Survey will measure the shapes and distances of multitudes of galaxies and galaxy clusters. The immense gravity of massive objects warps space-time and causes more distant galaxies to appear distorted.

Observing the degree of distortion allows scientists to infer the distribution of mass throughout the cosmos. This includes all of the matter we can see directly, like planets and stars, as well as dark matter - another dark cosmic mystery which is visible only through its gravitational effects on normal matter. This survey will provide an independent measurement of the growth of large-scale structure in the universe and how dark energy has affected the cosmos.

WFIRST will also conduct a survey of one type of exploding star, building on the observations that led to the discovery of accelerated expansion. Type Ia supernovae occur when a white dwarf star explodes. Type Ia supernovae generally have the same absolute brightness at their peak, making them so-called "standard candles." That means astronomers can determine how far away they are by seeing how bright they look from Earth - and the farther they are, the dimmer they appear.

Astronomers will also look at the particular wavelengths of light coming from the supernovae to find out how fast the dying stars are moving away from us. By combining distances with brightness measurements, scientists will see how dark energy has evolved over time, providing a cross-check with the two high-latitude surveys.

"The WFIRST mission is unique in combining these three methods. It will lead to a very robust and rich interpretation of the effects of dark energy and will allow us to make a definite statement about the nature of dark energy," said Olivier Dore, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and leader of the team planning the first two survey methods with WFIRST.

Discovering how dark energy has affected the universe's expansion in the past will shed some light on how it will influence the expansion in the future. If it continues to accelerate the universe's expansion, we may be destined to experience a "Big Rip." In this scenario, dark energy would eventually become dominant over the fundamental forces, causing everything that is currently bound together - galaxies, planets, people - to break apart. Exploring dark energy will allow us to investigate, and possibly even foresee, the universe's fate.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Innovative model created for NASA to predict vitamin levels in spaceflight food

A team of food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed a groundbreaking, user-friendly mathematical model for NASA to help ensure that astronauts' food remains rich in nutrients during extended missions in space. The new research, published in the journal Food Chemistry, gives NASA a time-saving shortcut to predict the degradation of vitamins in spaceflight food over time and more accurately and efficiently schedule resupplying trips. The investigation was funded with a $982,685 grant from NASA. "There was no information available from literature to directly answer the questions and concerns that NASA had," says senior author Hang Xiao, professor and Clydesdale Scholar of Food Science. "We used real-time, real-life data in our study to train the mathematical model and to determine how predictive and reliable the model would be." The researchers painstakingly prepared and stored 3,000-plus pouches of spaceflight food according to the exact NASA recipes, thermal processing and storage specifications that are used for astronauts' meals on the International Space Station. Xiao and colleagues showed for the first time how thiamine (vitamin B1) degrades over two years in three crew menu options: brown rice, split pea soup and beef brisket. Xiao says it was "quite surprising" to find that while the brown rice and split pea soup stored at 20 C demonstrated resistance to thiamine degradation, the thiamine in beef brisket was much less stable, retaining only 3 percent of the vitamin after two years. "Proving the model was as simple as comparing these measured values from two years of storage to what was predicted as early as 12 months prior," says lead author Timothy Goulette, who was a UMass Amherst food science Ph.D. student during the study period.

The model was found to be able to predict vitamin degradation over time with "high precision," Xiao says, which will enable NASA to provide astronauts with the nutrition they need without resorting to the use of supplements.

"NASA will be able to use a minimal amount of data to quickly and accurately predict the vitamin content of a given food at any given time at a reasonable temperature," Goulette says. "The tool can be used for several applications, not just vitamins but other biological compounds."

The modeling tool will be especially important as NASA plans for the first human mission to Mars. "On their longest duration missions, the need to understand the nutritional content of their foods is paramount," Goulette explains.

The researchers note that NASA emphasizes the importance of getting nutrients from food naturally. "It's preferred for better health," Xiao says. "More and more research shows that your body handles a pill of vitamins differently from real food like pea soup."

Maintaining their nutrition through familiar food has benefits for space crews beyond their physical health, especially on longer missions, Goulette notes. "NASA wants to make sure the crew gets that psychological edge of having a connection to back home on Earth. There's a great emotional and psychological pull to food when nothing around you reminds you of home."

The UMass Amherst research team, which also included co-authors Micha Peleg, David Julian McClements, Eric Decker and Mark Normand, hypothesizes that the surprisingly higher rate of vitamin degradation in the beef may be related to the lipid oxidation of fat during thermal processing or over time.

"Different foods have different physical and chemical properties that make thiamine more or less stable," Goulette says.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Mars 2020 Spacecraft Comes Full Circle

Engineers took NASA's Mars 2020 for a spin on Aug. 29, 2019. The 2,300-pound (1,040-kilogram) Martian vehicle was rotated clockwise and counterclockwise at about 1 revolution per minute on what is called a spin table in the clean room of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The engineers were looking for the rover's center of gravity, or the point at which weight is evenly dispersed on all sides. Establishing the rover's center of gravity is a key part of the assembly process and helps ensure that the spacecraft travels smoothly from launch to entry, descent and landing on Mars as calculated. Engineers can add weights in order to help balance out the vehicle. In the end, they affixed nine tungsten weights totaling 44 pounds (20 kilograms) to the rover chassis at predetermined attachment points to get the center of gravity just right. "The spin table process is similar to how a gas station would balance a new tire before putting it on your car," said Lemil Cordero, Mars 2020 mass properties engineer at JPL. "We rotate the rover back and forth and look for asymmetries in its mass distribution. Then, similar to your gas station putting small weights on the tire's rim to bring it into balance, we'll put small balance masses on the rover in specific locations to get its center of gravity exactly where we want it." This was the assembled rover's first spin table test to determine its center of gravity; a second and final spin table test will occur at a NASA facility at Cape Canaveral in Florida next spring. JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for NASA. The rover will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

When the rover lands at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, it will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of touchdown during the landing sequence.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Russian Space Agency to Test Modernized Fregat Upper Stage During Launch of Meteor Satellite in 2020

Russian state space corporation Roscosmos will test the modernized Fregat upper stage in 2020 during the blastoff of the Meteor-M meteorological satellite No. 2-3 from the Vostochny space centre, according to materials on the government procurement website. Earlier it was reported Roscosmos planned to create a modernized Fregat upper stage with a new control system by November 30, 2020, with 672 million rubles ($10.2 million) planned to be spent on this work. In July Russia successfully launched its Soyuz-2.1a carrier with Meridian military communications satellite from Plesetsk cosmodrome, located in Arkhangelsk region in Russia. The Meridian military communications satellite separated from Fregat upper stage and was placed into calculated orbit, the Russian Defence Ministry said.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Firefly Aerospace pushes back first launch to 2020

Firefly Aerospace, one of several new rocket companies working on orbital launch services, has pushed back its first launch to early 2020 due to supplier delays. "We were trying for this year, but won't get there," Eric Salwan, Firefly's director of commercial business development told UPI. "Primarily, we are having issues with a few externally sourced components, such as the flight termination system." Issues include late delivery of components and testing or qualifying them for launch, he said. "We are on very solid ground in terms of our funding. No change there." Firefly said in February it had $1.3 billion in launch business lined up. It has been funded by Noosphere Ventures, the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global. A leading investor in Noosphere is Ukrainian technologist and investor Max Polyakov. Since that time, at least one potential competitor, rocket startup Vector Launch, based in Tucson, Ariz., said it was "undertaking a pause of operations." Employees of Vector said they were being laid off. In an effort to minimize delays caused by suppliers, Firefly says 90 percent of its new Alpha rocket will be made in house. It currently builds the rocket at its headquarters near Austin, Texas. "The delay we are experiencing is why we want to make most of the rocket ourselves," Salwan said. Eventually, the company plans to build a rocket plant near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It also is renovating two old launch pads, one at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and one at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Space Florida, the state's marketing and development agency for space, is seeking $18.9 million in state funding for Firefly's operation, which is expected to support 239 jobs in Florida with anticipated annual average salaries of $70,000.

Dale Ketcham, a vice president with Space Florida, said Wednesday the agency has full confidence in Firefly.

"They're like every other company that is trying to put something into orbit. It takes time and there are usually delays," Ketcham said. "We don't hand out the state's money easily. We don't guarantee any company that comes here will be successful, but so far we are pretty good at picking winners."

Firefly Aerospace is part of a cluster of companies that have kicked off a new chapter of space exploration in Florida. Other companies with major facilities in the state include SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and satellite manufacturer OneWeb.

Firefly will make smaller orbital rockets across the street from OneWeb's new satellite plant and near Blue Origin's factory for its larger New Glenn rockets. Firefly intends to offer relatively inexpensive launches for small satellites.

The company also plans a bigger rocket, Firefly Beta, and possibly a space plane, Firefly Gamma. It previously told Space Florida that it plans to invest $52 million into its plant and new launchpad facilities.

Friday, September 6, 2019

SpaceX's new ride-sharing launches to boost small-satellite industry

SpaceX's plans for more frequent, regularly scheduled ride-sharing launches will unleash new growth in the small-satellite industry, leading to easier and cheaper rollouts for new communication networks, experts said. SpaceX recently published a schedule of 30 rocket launches for small satellites in 2020 and 2021. Its customers can buy space on the missions for as low as $1 million, a previously unprecedented price to put a satellite into orbit. Reserving an entire launch on the company's Falcon 9 rocket costs $62 million. The small-satellite market is poised to generate $1 billion a year over the next decade, according to Northern Sky Research, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., and specializes in the satellite and space markets. "What SpaceX is doing is great for the satellite industry," Leena Pivovarova, an analyst for Northern Sky, told UPI. "It's definitely going to lead to expansion. It will also make the small-rocket market more competitive," she said. "Things will get a little more difficult for new launch companies trying to enter the market." The new SpaceX schedule for small satellites is in addition to its regular missions to the International Space Station or for large customers like the U.S. military. The first date on the new schedule is in March, when a Falcon 9 rocket is to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but other launches will be in Florida, the company said. One of the first customers for the new program, California-based Momentus, will be launching a satellite specifically designed to move other satellites around once they reach space. That launch is set for late 2020. Momentus said it will provide "last mile" service for other satellites by helping them reach specific orbits. Its satellite shuttle service, or tugboat, is called Vigoride, and also is poised to support more frequent small-satellite deployments.

"We think the cost reduction for SpaceX launches is going to be fantastic, and it will stimulate all kinds of new business in space," said Joel Sercel, the Momentus chief technology officer.

He said the key to success is the regular schedule that businesses can count on.

Plans to launch thousands of new satellites have raised fears of potential problems, though, especially collisions and increased space trash.

SpaceX and the European Space Agency already had a recent close call. The space agency said the United States' collision alert system indicated a European weather satellite was at risk of colliding Monday with a Starlink satellite launched from Florida in May. The risk was 1 in 10,000, which exceeds industry standards, the agency said.

The agency issued a statement saying it had contacted SpaceX, and the space company had indicated it planned to to take no action. Starlink satellites, like many satellites, have the ability to fire thrusters to avoid collisions. Instead, the space agency moved its satellite to avoid the problem.

In a statement afterward, SpaceX acknowledged that it was aware of a problem, but blamed "a bug in our on-call paging system" that prevented a Starlink operator from seeing updates that had raised the probability to the 1 in 10,000 level.

"SpaceX is still investigating the issue and will implement corrective actions. However, had the Starlink operator seen the correspondence, we would have coordinated with ESA to determine best approach," a SpaceX statement said.

On Tuesday, the European agency called for new protocol to communicate and resolve similar problems.

"Today, this negotiation is done through exchanging emails - an archaic process that is no longer viable as increasing numbers of satellites in space mean more space traffic," said Holger Krag, head of space safety at European agency.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is moving forward, noting that dedicated ride-share missions will not be delayed by trouble with another passenger's schedule. "If you are ready to fly during the scheduled launch period, you will fly," the SpaceX announcement said.

Customers who run into delays that prevents them from launching can book another launch with a 10 percent rebooking fee, SpaceX said.

SpaceX's ride-sharing launches and lower cost are partly a result of the company making its rockets reusable, Northern Sky's Pivovarova said.

She said SpaceX simply might launch its own satellites for its Starlink internet network if a scheduled launch doesn't have as many paying customers.

"Personally, I think it may take a while before they can achieve that kind of regular launch rhythm," Pivovarova said. "It could be that they are dropping their prices because they can afford to now, or because they see competition coming up from other rocket companies getting into the business."

Momentus has raised $34 million for its satellite shuttle. The company says its unique new technology uses water plasma as the propellant.

Gwynne Shotwell, the SpaceX president, said Momentus "will offer a strong complement to Falcon 9's capability to reliably and affordably launch payloads for small satellite operators."

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Chandrayaan-2 Completes Second De-Orbiting Manoeuvre Ahead of Historic Landing: ISRO

The second de-orbiting manoeuvre of Chandrayaan -2 spacecraft was successfully carried out early Wednesday, the Indian Space Research Organisation said, inching towards achieving a historic soft-landing on the lunar surface. The nine-second de-orbiting or retro-orbiting manoeuvre was executed at 3:42am using the onboard propulsion system, the space agency said. "With this manoeuvre, the required orbit for the Vikram Lander to commence it descent towards the surface of the Moon is achieved," ISRO said in a statement. On Tuesday, the first de-orbiting manoeuvre for the spacecraft was carried out, a day after lander 'Vikram' was separated from the orbiter. While Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft continued to orbit the moon at a perigee of 96 km and apogee of 125 km, the Vikram Lander is at an orbit of 35 km perigee and 101 km apogee. "Both the Orbiter and Lander are healthy," the space agency said. It further said that moon lander Vikram is scheduled for a powered-descent between 1 am and 2 am on September 7, followed by touch down of Lander between 1:30am and 2:30am. ISRO Chairman K Sivan has said the proposed soft-landing on the Moon is going to be a "terrifying" moment as the ISRO has not done it before, whereas Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) manoeuvre was successfully carried out during the Chandrayaan-1 mission. Following the landing, the rover 'Pragyan' will roll out from 'Vikram' between 5:30-6:30 am on September 7, and carry out experiments on the lunar surface for a period of one lunar day, which is equal to 14 earth days. The mission life of the lander is also one lunar day, while the orbiter will continue its mission for a year.

India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV MkIII-M1 had successfully launched the 3,840-kg Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into the earth's orbit on July 22.

Chandrayaan-2 satellite had begun its journey towards the moon leaving the earth's orbit in the dark hours on August 14, after a crucial maneuver called Trans Lunar Insertion (TLI) that was carried out by ISRO to place the spacecraft on "Lunar Transfer Trajectory".

In a major milestone for India's second Moon mission, the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft had successfully entered the lunar orbit on August 20 by performing Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) manoeuvre.

The health of the spacecraft is being continuously monitored from the Mission Operations Complex (MOX) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bengaluru with support from Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) antennas at Bylalu, near Bengaluru, the space agency has said.

The orbiter carries eight scientific payloads for mapping the lunar surface and study the exosphere (outer atmosphere) of the Moon while the lander carries three scientific payloads to conduct surface and subsurface science experiments.

The rover carries two payloads to enhance the understanding of the lunar surface.

India's second lunar expedition would shed light on a completely unexplored section of the Moon, its South Polar region.

According to ISRO, the mission objective of Chandrayaan-2 is to develop and demonstrate the key technologies for end-to-end lunar mission capability, including soft-landing and roving on the lunar surface.

On the science front, this mission aims to further expand the knowledge about the moon through a detailed study of its topography, mineralogy, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics and atmosphere, leading to a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the moon, the space agency had said.

On successful completion, it will make India the fourth country after Russia, the US, and China to pull off a soft landing on the moon.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

General Atomics Orbital Test Bed Satellite Payload Commissioning Underway

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) has announced that commissioning of NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), the primary hosted payload on-board the Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite, is now underway. GA-EMS' OTB was successfully launched at 2:30 a.m. EDT on June 25, 2019 on board the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. "Our OTB spacecraft is operating nominally and we have successfully met the first milestone in DSAC commissioning which involves power up and establishing normal telemetry," said Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS. "We are working closely with JPL to successfully bring DSAC to operational status, and will continue to provide operations support services as DSAC enters its year-long mission to demonstrate its capabilities to support deep space navigation." "Before DSAC began the commissioning process, OTB underwent its own critical checkout sequence, including establishing communications, "de-tumbling" and spacecraft stabilization, solar panel deployment, and entering a power and thermally safe mode," said Nick Bucci, vice president of GA-EMS Missile Defense and Space Systems. "We are extremely proud of our team for successfully completing these critical milestones to begin the on-schedule commissioning process for DSAC. In addition, we are now powering up and establishing communication links with the other four customer-provided technology payloads on-board OTB, to begin their commissioning processes." DSAC is a miniaturized, ultra-precise, mercury-ion atomic clock intended to support deep space navigation and exploration. It was designed and built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate's Technology Demonstration Missions Program.

In addition to DSAC, GA-EMS' OTB spacecraft is hosting technology demonstration payloads including: a Modular Solar Array developed for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL); an Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer sensor payload developed by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy; the RadMon next generation radiation effects monitor; and the FlexRX programmable satellite receiver. Also on board OTB as a passive payload are Celestis cremains for Earth orbit memorial spaceflight.

"Think of OTB as a configurable, versatile rideshare platform designed to increase the number of flight opportunities to space-qualify multiple demonstration payloads on a single satellite," continued Bucci.

"We work closely with our customers to design and build OTB satellites to meet multiple payload requirements to alleviate the costly burden of designing, building, and launching a dedicated platform for each payload. Customers can focus more on their mission objectives, and leave the design, manufacture, launch and mission operation services to us."

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Cutting-edge Chinese satellite malfunctions after launch

The ChinaSat-18 (Zhongxing-18) telecom satellite suffered a technical malfunction immediately after launch, SpaceNews reported on Thursday. The satellite was launched on 19 August from the Xichang Space Centre aboard a Long March 3B rocket. It is the first satellite based on an enhanced version of the Chinese DFH-4 satellite platform. The ChinaSat-18 allegedly experienced a solar array deployment failure, but this information has not been confirmed by satellite owner China Satcom. According to the publication, the satellite is insured for $250 million. China Satcom has not yet filed a claim. ChinaSat-18 is reportedly civilian telecommunications satellite, which was designed to provide broadcasting and communications services to China. ChinaSat-18 is reportedly equipped with high-end hardware to provide a range of broadcasting, communications services and internet applications across a lifetime of 15 years or more. The Xinhua news agency reported earlier that the satellite had experienced abnormalities, and space engineers are investigating the cause.