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.




Friday, August 30, 2019

NASA engineers attach Mars Helicopter to Mars 2020 rover

NASA engineers have installed the miniature helicopter on the space agency's Mars 2020 rover. The Mars Helicopter, nicknamed Scout, will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Bridenstine detailed the agency's plans for exploring Mars through the air. "For the first time, we are going to fly a helicopter on another world with the Mars Helicopter," Bridenstine said in March. This week, engineers took another step in realizing that promise, integrating the twin-rotor helicopter and its Mars Helicopter Delivery System into the belly of the rover. Engineers also installed protective elements to shield the solar-powered helicopter from dust and debris that will be kicked up as the rocket boosters fire to slow the rover's descent. The helicopter is primarily a proof-of-concept experiment. It it fails to take to the air, the scientific goals of the Mars 2020 mission will not be inhibited. If it succeeds, scientists and engineers will be able to integrate second-generation copters into future scientific missions."Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere," MiMi Aung, engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Mars Helicopter project manager, said in a news release. "Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet." Even without scientific instruments, the helicopter could still aid the forthcoming Mars mission. If it survives the landing and is successfully deployed, the copter could provide reconnaissance services.


"The helicopter would fly ahead of the rover almost every day, checking out various possible points of interest and helping engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route," NASA announced earlier this year.

NASA plans to land the Mars 2020 rover in Jezero Crater. Like its technological predecessor, the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Gale Crater since 2012, Mars 2020 will be capable of traveling across rough terrain. But even the hardiest ground-base vehicles can't get up close and personal with some of the Red Planet's extreme features. In the future, helicopters could be used to explore Mars' cliffs, caves and ravines.

Mars 2020 and its Mars Helicopter are scheduled to be carried into space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket next July. The mid-2020 launch will put the two spacecraft on the Red Planet's surface by February 2021.

"With this joining of two great spacecraft, I can say definitively that all the pieces are in place for a historic mission of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Together, Mars 2020 and the Mars Helicopter will help define the future of science and exploration of the Red Planet for decades to come."

Thursday, August 29, 2019

NASA prepares for green run testing, practices lifting SLS Core Stage

NASA cleared a milestone in preparation for Green Run testing of its Space Launch System (SLS) core stage with an Aug. 23/24 lift and installation of the core stage pathfinder simulator onto the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss. The lift and installation of the core stage pathfinder - a size and weight replica of the SLS core stage - is helping teams at Stennis prepare for the Green Run test series. For this test of the new core stage, Stennis will lift the flight core stage for Artemis 1, the first SLS mission into the stand. SLS and the new Orion spacecraft being built are the foundation for NASA's Artemis Program, which will send the first woman and next man to walk on the Moon by 2024. Stennis modified the B-2 Test Stand for the core stage Green Run testing. The procedure involved lifting the core stage pathfinder from its horizontal position on the B-2 Test Stand tarmac with the facility boom crane line attached to the forward end and a ground crane line attached to the aft end. The pathfinder then was "broken over" into a vertical position. Once the ground crane line was disconnected, the core stage pathfinder was lifted into place by the stand boom crane. This "fit test" validated auxiliary lift equipment, procedures, and verified that stand modifications and preparations are in place and prepared for delivery and testing of the SLS core stage flight hardware. To prepare for the test, Stennis modified or upgraded every major area and system of the test stand, as well as the high-pressure industrial water system and high-pressure gas facility that support test operations.


NASA is building the SLS flight core stage at its Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and is scheduled for transport to Stennis by the end of the year. The stage recently completed a critical review in preparation for adding the last piece of the core stage structure: the engine section.

After this piece is added, the four RS-25 engines can be connected to the stage. When the stage is completely assembled, NASA's Pegasus barge will deliver it to Stennis. For the Green Run test, the core stage flight unit will be lifted and installed onto the B-2 stand, using procedures developed and practiced during the recent core stage pathfinder lift.

NASA then will conduct a series of tests to check out stage systems and make sure all are working as needed. Once systems are checked, NASA will conduct a full hot fire test of the stage, firing its four RS-25 engines simultaneously, just as during an actual launch.

The hot fire test will generate more than 2 million pounds of combined thrust and provide critical performance data needed to demonstrate the core stage design is flightworthy and ready for launch.

Following necessary refurbishment of the stage, it will be transported by barge to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At Kennedy, the stage will be mated with other SLS major elements and prepared for launch of the Artemis 1 mission.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

New Delhi in Talks With Moscow Over Rocket Engines for Indian Space Program

New Delhi and Moscow are negotiating the organisation of the India-based production of semi-cryogenic rocket engines using Russian technology for the South Asian country's space programme, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said in an interview. "Russia is offering its semi-cryogenic rocket engine technology to India under the 'Make-in-India' programme. The rocket engines could be made in India and used in our rockets", Sivan told the news agency IANS. According to the official, this issue is currently under discussion, and no specific agreements have been reached yet. "What has been finalised is the agreement to train Indian cosmonauts by Russia for our human space mission Gaganyaan", the head of the Indian space agency added. The media earlier repeatedly reported about India's interest in Russian rocket engines without specifying either the type or model of the engine. Last week, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said that Russia might sell RD-180 engines to India. Russia's RD-180 engines are now exported to the United States. India plans to send its first crewed mission, set to include three astronauts, into space by 2022, to mark the 75th anniversary of its independence, with Russia set to assist it. Indian Ambassador to Russia Bala Venkatesh Varma earlier told Sputnik that Russia and India would start cooperating on the matter as early as 2019.


Monday, August 26, 2019

New images from asteroid probe yield clues on planet formation

Photographs snapped by a shoebox-sized probe that explored the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu offer new clues about its composition, insights that are expected to help scientists understand the formation of our solar system. The German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) was dropped off by Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft on October 3, 2018, free-falling from a height of 41 meters (135 feet) for six minutes before it hit the surface. It then bounced a couple of times -- reaching a height of 17 meters on the first bounce -- before coming to rest. Ryugu is just 900 meters wide and so its gravity is 66,500 times weaker than Earth's. Had MASCOT been equipped with wheels, its forward motion would have launched it back into space. Instead, it hopped around the surface using the tiny amount of momentum generated by a metal swing arm attached to its boxy body, which weighed 10 kilograms (22 pounds). In addition to taking temperature readings and other measurements, MASCOT sent back a series of pictures showing the asteroid is covered with two types of rocks and boulders: dark and rough ones with crumbly surfaces resembling cauliflowers, and bright and smooth ones. "The interesting thing there is, it really shows that Ryugu is the product of some kind of violent process," Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Center told AFP. He is the lead author of a paper describing the findings, published Thursday in the journal Science. Ryugu may be the "child" of two parent bodies that collided, broke up and were then pulled back together by gravity, the researchers say.


Alternatively, it could have been struck by another body that created different interior temperature and pressure conditions, creating the two types of material.

Many of the rocks contain small blue and red "inclusions" -- material trapped in the rock during its formation -- much like a type of rare, primordial meteorites found on Earth called carbonaceous chondrites.

"This material is primitive material -- it's the very first material of the solar nebula," or the cloud of interstellar dust and gas that formed the planets of our system, said Jaumann.

Hayabusa2, which set off from Earth in 2014 and itself touched down twice on the asteroid's surface, most recently in July, will arrive home next year carrying samples for analysis in the lab.

MASCOT's observations provide, for the first time, information on the material's original geologic context, including how it is exposed to temperature changes and how it is "weathered" in space.

"We don't know how planets formed in the beginning," said Jaumann.

"And in order to understand this, (we must) go to the small bodies, these primitive bodies, primordial in their history in their evolution, in order to understand the first 10 to 100 million years of planetary formation."

- A dust mystery, and a future threat? -

MASCOT also presented scientists with a new mystery: its lack of fine particles, or interplanetary dust, which would normally accumulate through millions of years of space weathering.

The paper offered theories but no definitive conclusions.

The dust might have fallen into tiny holes in Ryugu's surface when the asteroid was struck by other bodies.

Alternatively, temperature changes could have resulted in an electrostatic force that expelled the dust into space. Or water might once have existed on Ryugu, and its evaporation would have carried away the smaller particles.

There's another reason to study asteroids: humankind's survival could one day depend on it.

Ryugu's orbit places it mainly between Earth and Mars. Though it comes close, it's not thought to pose a danger to us, but other asteroids could.

If their composition is like Ryugu's, trying to take them out with a missile would probably just break them into smaller rocks still headed toward Earth.

One possibility would be to build a large, reflective solar sail and place it on the asteroid's surface, so that the pressure from solar radiation would gradually alter its course, said Jaumann.

Whatever strategy is adopted, he and other astronomers say it's clear these small, enigmatic bodies are of not-so-small importance in our solar neighborhood.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

China's satellite tests pulsar navigation for future deep space exploration

Chinese scientists have conducted experiments on pulsar navigation with an X-ray space telescope, and the technology could be used in future deep space exploration and interplanetary or interstellar travel. The experiments were conducted on the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), dubbed Insight, which was sent into space on June 15, 2017, to observe black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts, by scientists from the Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The positioning accuracy in the experiments reached 10 km, further verifying the feasibility of autonomous navigation of spacecraft by using pulsars, which lays a foundation for future practical application in deep space exploration, said scientists. An article about the experiments was published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement on Wednesday. Insight carries several detectors including a high energy X-ray telescope (HE), a medium energy X-ray telescope (ME) and a low energy X-ray telescope (LE). Through more than two years of operation, Insight has observed many black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts. In addition, the in-orbit demonstration of the X-ray pulsar navigation technique has been carried out, said Zheng Shijie, the principal investigator of the pulsar navigation demonstration. More and more space probes are exploring the solar system and "Voyager 1" and "Voyager 2" are going deeper into space. Being far away from Earth, they cannot use the global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). These spacecraft mainly depend instead on radio technologies which have many limitations.


Pulsar navigation, an autonomous navigation technology, is receiving more and more attention as it is less dependent on the support of ground equipment and meets the continuous navigation requirements for deep space exploration, Zheng said.

"X-ray pulsar navigation is a new type of autonomous navigation method," said Zheng, adding that, "It uses the periodic pulse signals from pulsars, the distant celestial objects in the universe, providing navigation and timing services for spacecraft in space."

Pulsars, a kind of rapidly rotating neutron star, are produced in supernova explosions. They are found to be highly magnetized, emitting two beams of electromagnetic radiation. This radiation can be observed only when the beam of emission is pointing toward Earth. It is much the same as how a lighthouse can be seen only when the light is pointed at an observer. To date, scientists have discovered more than 2,000 pulsars. The Milky Way is thought to have around 100 million of them.

They are also called "cosmic-lighthouses" because of their long-term timing stability comparable to atomic clocks on Earth. By detecting the periodic pulse signals of pulsars, a spacecraft can autonomously determine its orbit parameters, said scientists.

The time interval of two adjacent pulses emitted by the pulsar is constant. If a spacecraft moves toward the pulsar, the received pulse interval will be shortened, and vise versa. Thus the observed pulse profile will change as the spacecraft moves in space. The relative arrival times of pulses also indicate the relative position of the spacecraft with respect to the pulsar. Therefore, by analyzing the characteristics of the pulsar signals received by the spacecraft, the three-dimensional position and velocity of the spacecraft can be determined, Zheng explained.

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 5, 2017, Insight observed the Crab pulsar for about five days to test the feasibility of pulsar navigation. The research team had also proposed an algorithm for X-ray pulsar navigation, according to Zhang Shuangnan, lead scientist of the Insight space telescope.

The research team further improved the algorithm and applied it in the processing of the observation data of the three detectors onboard Insight. The satellite's orbit was determined successfully, with the positioning accuracy within 10 km, comparable to that of a similar experiment conducted on the International Space Station, Zhang said.

To test the feasibility and reliability of the algorithm, the research team has carried out theoretical analysis and simulation verification with various types of pulsars. Their results show that the method works for different pulsars.

The reviewer for the Astrophysical Journal commented that "The flight demonstrations from the Insight-HXMT satellite are important contributions to the development of X-ray navigation."

Insight-HXMT is China's first X-ray astronomical satellite with a designed lifespan of four years.

China has also conducted a pulsar navigation test on the Tiangong-2 space lab and launched a pulsar navigation experiment satellite in 2016.

Monday, August 19, 2019

SNC selects ULA for Dream Chaser launches

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has selected United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the launch vehicle provider for the Dream Chaser spacecraft's six NASA missions to the International Space Station. The Dream Chaser will launch aboard ULA's Vulcan Centaur rockets for its cargo resupply and return services to the space station, starting in 2021. "Dream Chaser can launch from any conventional rocket so we had great options," said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. "SNC selected ULA because of our strong collaboration on the Dream Chaser program, their proven safety record and on-time performance. This is bringing America's spaceplane and America's rocket together for best-of-breed innovation and exploration." Under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, the Dream Chaser will deliver more than 12,000 pounds of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the space station and remains attached for up to 75 days as an orbiting laboratory. Once the mated mission is complete, the Dream Chaser disposes about 7,000 pounds of space station trash and returns large quantities of critical science, accessible within minutes after a gentle runway landing. SNC's Louisville, Colorado-based Space Systems division is proudly partnering with Centennial, Colorado's ULA, boosting the already strong aerospace economic footprint in the state. "In this very competitive launch vehicle market, we feel privileged that SNC chose to launch this block of six missions to the ISS with ULA," said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO.


"This is one of the first contracts for our new Vulcan Centaur rocket, and the first of the six missions will serve as the rocket's second certification flight. We are excited to bring our more than 120 years of combined launch experience with our Atlas and Delta rockets, which build on a progressive history of technology development and advancement, to Vulcan Centaur."

Vulcan Centaur's flight proven design, coupled with innovative technology, is transforming the future of space launch. The new rocket will provide higher performance and greater affordability while continuing to deliver unmatched reliability and precision.

Approximately 90 percent of all of Vulcan Centaur's components will be flown first on Atlas V missions, so that its first flight will have reduced risk. Vulcan Centaur is a new class of space launch vehicle with the performance of a heavy launch vehicle in just a single core.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

NASA Marshall to lead Artemis Program's human lunar lander development

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was joined Friday by U.S. Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to announce the center's new role leading the agency's Human Landing System Program for its return to the Moon by 2024. "Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America's space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon," Brooks said. "Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I'm pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America's return to the Moon and usher in the Artemis era. Thanks to Administrator Bridenstine for travelling here to share the great news in person." Bridenstine discussed the announcement in front of the 149-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket liquid hydrogen tank structural test article currently being tested. "We greatly appreciate the support shown here today by our representatives in Congress for NASA's Artemis program and America's return to the Moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind - putting astronauts on Mars," Bridenstine said. "We focus on a 'One NASA' integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission." Informed by years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with American companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the Moon.


"Marshall Space Flight Center, and North Alabama, have played a key role in every American human mission to space since the days of Mercury 7. I am proud that Marshall has been selected to be the lead for the landers program," said Aderholt. "I am also very proud that Marshall has designed and built the rocket system, the Space Launch System, which will make missions to the Moon and Mars possible. We look forward to working with our industry partners and our NASA partners from around the country."

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages major NASA human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew and International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to preparing the landers and astronauts to work together. Johnson also will manage all Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis 1, the first integrated test of NASA's deep space exploration systems.

The trip to Marshall came the day after Bridenstine visited NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where he viewed progress on the SLS core stage that will power NASA's Artemis 1 lunar mission. With the start of testing in June on the liquid hydrogen tank article, and the recent arrival of the liquid oxygen tank at Marshall, which manages the SLS Program, NASA is more than halfway through SLS structural testing.

"The Tennessee Valley, including Huntsville and stretching across Middle Tennessee, is a dynamic, exciting region, home to thousands of men and women - working at both public and private institutions - who are leading the United States into the next age of space exploration," said DesJarlais.

"As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am thrilled to visit one of our country's premier facilities, near Arnold Air Force Base and others, developing the latest spaceflight technology. NASA's Artemis program will help our country to create another American Century. We can be proud of our achievements, especially here at the Marshall Space Flight Center."

NASA recently issued a draft solicitation and requested comments from American companies interested in providing an integrated human landing system - a precursor to the final solicitation targeted for release in the coming months.

The agency's human lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed - landing on the Moon within five years, while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. The agency will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Young Jupiter Was Smacked Head-On by Massive Newborn Planet

A colossal, head-on collision between Jupiter and a still-forming planet in the early solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago, could explain surprising readings from NASA's Juno spacecraft, according to a study this week in the journal Nature. Astronomers from Rice University and China's Sun Yat-sen University say their head-on impact scenario can explain Juno's previously puzzling gravitational readings, which suggest that Jupiter's core is less dense and more extended that expected. "This is puzzling," said Rice astronomer and study co-author Andrea Isella. "It suggests that something happened that stirred up the core, and that's where the giant impact comes into play." Isella said leading theories of planet formation suggest Jupiter began as a dense, rocky or icy planet that later gathered its thick atmosphere from the primordial disk of gas and dust that birthed our sun. Isella said he was skeptical when study lead author Shang-Fei Liu first suggested the idea that the data could be explained by a giant impact that stirred Jupiter's core, mixing the dense contents of its core with less dense layers above. Liu, a former postdoctoral researcher in Isella's group, is now a member of the faculty at Sun Yat-sen in Zhuhai, China. "It sounded very unlikely to me," Isella recalled, "like a one-in-a-trillion probability. But Shang-Fei convinced me, by shear calculation, that this was not so improbable." The research team ran thousands of computer simulations and found that a fast-growing Jupiter can have perturbed the orbits of nearby "planetary embryos," protoplanets that were in the early stages of planet formation.


Liu said the calculations included estimates of the probability of collisions under different scenarios and distribution of impact angles. In all cases, Liu and colleagues found there was at least a 40% chance that Jupiter would swallow a planetary embryo within its first few million years. In addition, Jupiter mass-produced "strong gravitational focusing" that made head-on collisions more common than grazing ones.

Isella said the collision scenario became even more compelling after Liu ran 3-D computer models that showed how a collision would affect Jupiter's core.

"Because it's dense, and it comes in with a lot of energy, the impactor would be like a bullet that goes through the atmosphere and hits the core head-on," Isella said. "Before impact, you have a very dense core, surrounded by atmosphere. The head-on impact spreads things out, diluting the core."

Impacts at a grazing angle could result in the impacting planet becoming gravitationally trapped and gradually sinking into Jupiter's core, and Liu said smaller planetary embryos about as massive as Earth would disintegrate in Jupiter's thick atmosphere.

"The only scenario that resulted in a core-density profile similar to what Juno measures today is a head-on impact with a planetary embryo about 10 times more massive than Earth," Liu said.

Isella said the calculations suggest that even if this impact happened 4.5 billion years ago, "it could still take many, many billions of years for the heavy material to settle back down into a dense core under the circumstances suggested by the paper."

Isella, who is also a co-investigator on the Rice-based, NASA-funded CLEVER Planets project, said the study's implications reach beyond our solar system. "There are astronomical observations of stars that might be explained by this kind of event," he said.

"This is still a new field, so the results are far from solid, but as some people have been looking for planets around distant stars, they sometimes see infrared emissions that disappear after a few years," Isella said. "One idea is that if you are looking at a star as two rocky planets collide head-on and shatter, you could create a cloud of dust that absorbs stellar light and reemits it. So, you kind of see a flash, in the sense that now you have this cloud of dust that emits light. And then after some time, the dust dissipates and that emission goes away."

The Juno mission was designed to help scientists better understand Jupiter's origin and evolution. The spacecraft, which launched in 2011, carries instruments to map Jupiter's gravitational and magnetic fields and probe the planet's deep, internal structure.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

OneWeb secures global spectrum further enabling global connectivity services

OneWeb, whose mission is to connect everyone everywhere, is pleased to announce it has succeeded in bringing into use its spectrum rights in the Ku- and Ka-band spectrum. To achieve this milestone, OneWeb's satellites have been transmitting at the designated frequencies in the correct orbit for more than 90 days, enabling OneWeb to meet the requirements to secure spectrum bands over which it has priority rights under ITU rules and regulations. These rights will now be confirmed as the UK administration, which has filed our satellite system with the ITU, will complete the required Notification and Registration process of the company's LEO network. "Spectrum is a scarce resource and the ITU plays a vital role in the global management for access. The harsh reality for anyone trying to make a real impact on global connectivity is that no matter how good your network is, success is not possible without the right spectrum. With our spectrum now in use, OneWeb has proved it can bring together all the elements required - in space, on the ground, and in between - to change the face of connectivity everywhere", said Ruth Pritchard-Kelly, Vice President of Regulatory for OneWeb. By meeting the requirements of the ITU regulations, OneWeb is well on its way to securing spectrum rights to high priority Ku-band spectrum for service links, and Ka-band for its global gateways. It will now have access to over 6 GHz of spectrum that will enable it to deliver its high-speed, low latency connectivity.


This achievement is the latest in a string of major milestones charting OneWeb's progress towards commercial service and full global coverage by 2021, including the successful launch of its first 6 satellites in February, the opening of its state-of-the-art Florida manufacturing facility earlier this month, and proving its ability to deliver low latency, high-speed services through its recent full HD streaming tests.

During the remainder of 2019, OneWeb will focus on commencing its monthly launch programme of more than 30 satellites per month, building an initial constellation of 650 satellites on its way to 1,980 satellites. The first phase of the constellation will provide global coverage; and further additions to the network will be focused on adding capacity to meet growing customer demands.

Sustainability is a core OneWeb's commitment to bridge the digital divide. In June 2019, OneWeb reaffirmed its promise to leave no trace in space with its Responsible Space commitments based on the premise that Space is a shared natural resource, which if used responsibly, can help transform the way we live, work, and connect.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Hubble showcases new portrait of Jupiter

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter's clouds in this new image taken on 27 June 2019. It features the planet's trademark Great Red Spot and a more intense colour palette in the clouds swirling in the planet's turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. Among the most striking features in the image are the rich colours of the clouds moving toward the Great Red Spot. This huge anticyclonic storm is roughly the diameter of Earth and is rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds that are moving in opposite directions toward it. As with previous images of Jupiter taken by Hubble, and other observations from telescopes on the ground, the new image confirms that the huge storm which has raged on Jupiter's surface for at least 150 years continues to shrink. The reason for this is still unknown so Hubble will continue to observe Jupiter in the hope that scientists will be able to solve this stormy riddle. Much smaller storms appear on Jupiter as white or brown ovals that can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries. The worm-shaped feature located south of the Great Red Spot is a cyclone, a vortex spinning in the opposite direction to that in which the Great Red Spot spins. Researchers have observed cyclones with a wide variety of different appearances across the planet. The two white oval features are anticyclones, similar to small versions of the Great Red Spot. The Hubble image also highlights Jupiter's distinct parallel cloud bands. These bands consist of air flowing in opposite directions at various latitudes. They are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds; the lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands. The different concentrations are kept separate by fast winds which can reach speeds of up to 650 kilometres per hour.


These observations of Jupiter form part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) programme, which began in 2014.

This initiative allows Hubble to dedicate time each year to observing the outer planets and provides scientists with access to a collection of maps, which helps them to understand not only the atmospheres of the giant planets in the Solar System, but also the atmosphere of our own planet and of the planets in other planetary systems.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Cislunar blueprint to propel space outreach for the next 50 years

In its inaugural call to action, Purdue Engineering's Cislunar Initiative took a giant leap forward in advancing humankind's presence in space and the development of the economy in the "cislunar region," the orbital area encompassing the Earth and moon. "The ecosystem of human space exploration has been rapidly expanding," said Mung Chiang, Purdue's John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering and the Roscoe H. George Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "At this critical juncture, Purdue Engineering is excited to join industry partners in the Cislunar Initiative and call for actions across the ecosystem, ranging from industry-friendly university intellectual property licensing to online learning opportunities from universities to industry." The Cislunar Initiative, led by David Spencer, associate professor in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Kathleen Howell, the Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, will have five objectives aimed at accelerating the development of a cislunar region's economy:


+ Advancing access to space, enabling frequent and sustained transportation to and within the cislunar environment.

+ Envisioning and enabling the infrastructure that provides the necessary support for cislunar space exploration and development through a strong university-industry-government collaborative approach.

+ Identifying and utilizing space resources and materials.

+ Leading in the areas of space policy, economics and space defense.

+ Initiating K-12 educational programs and courses, professional development, internships, co-ops and a Purdue curriculum for the future leaders in cislunar development.

"The Cislunar Initiative aims to conceive, design, and enable the utilization of cislunar space over a 50-year time horizon," Spencer said.

Launched as part of Purdue's commemoration of Apollo 11 and alumnus Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon, Purdue's Cislunar Initiative collaborates across multiple industries and sectors to address critical areas of need in cislunar space relating to commercial development, government policies and regulation, and research as humans beings expand capabilities into the region that encompasses the Earth and moon.

"We will leverage Purdue's unique strengths and respond to the emerging challenges in cislunar space. Also a priority is the further development of a diverse space workforce at all levels," Howell said.

In order to meet its goals, the initiative will leverage its existing strengths in mission design, space propulsion and planetary sciences to advance access to cislunar space, characterize and enable the utilization of resources from the moon and near-Earth objects, and conceive the infrastructure necessary for cislunar space development and habitability. The initiative also will pull from Purdue's internationally recognized faculty, unique laboratories and test facilities and network of alumni in the space industry to enable national leadership in the development of this emerging frontier.

The Cislunar Initiative Advisory Board, chaired by Dan Dumbacher, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, brings together leaders in industry, academia and government.

The other board members are Mary Lynne Dittmar, CEO and president, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; Tony Gingiss, CEO, OneWeb Satellites; Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor, Virgin Galactic; Tamaira Ross, principal manager, New Glenn System Design and Definition, Blue Origin; Dane Rudy, CEO, Leo Aerospace; Sam Valenti, vice president of engineering, space and intelligence systems, Harris Corp.; David Wolf, National Space Council, former NASA astronaut; Frank Bauer, FBauer Aerospace Consulting Services, formerly NASA GSFC division head; Rob Chambers, director of human space exploration strategy and business development, Lockheed Martin Civil Space; Dan Hendrickson, vice president of business development, Astrobotic Technologies; Melissa Sampson, program manager, Advanced Systems, Ball Aerospace; and Frank Culbertson, retired president of Northrop Grumman Space Systems Group, former NASA astronaut.

Following the initial advisory board meeting, Dumbacher said, "This is an extremely important initiative using the tremendous capabilities across Purdue's Engineering and science expertise to build a better future for generations to come. Purdue's unique strengths will inform the important technical, economic and policy discussions necessary for extending the human neighborhood into cislunar space."

The Cislunar Initiative aligns with Purdue's "Giant Leaps" Ideas Festival, which celebrates Purdue University's global advancements made in health, space, artificial intelligence and sustainability as part of Purdue's 150th anniversary.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

GOES-17 Mishap Investigation Board Study Completed

A Mishap Investigation Board appointed by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has identified the most likely cause for an instrument issue aboard NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-17 satellite that launched March 1, 2018 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During postlaunch testing of the satellite's Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), teams discovered the instrument's infrared detectors could not be maintained at the required temperatures during some orbital conditions, which resulted in a partial loss of three of the instruments 16 bands during certain times of the year. The ABI is GOES-17's primary instrument for imaging Earth's weather, oceans, and environment. It views the Earth with 16 spectral bands including two visible, four near-infrared, and 10 infrared channels. The mishap board was tasked with gathering and analyzing information, and identifying the proximate causes, root causes, and contributing factors related to the ABI performance issues. It concluded the most likely cause of the ABI cooling issue is a blockage in the instrument's loop heat pipes, which transfer heat from the ABI electronics to its radiator. The blockage restricted the flow of coolant in the loop heat pipes, causing the ABI to overheat and reducing the sensitivity of infrared sensors. NOAA and NASA have adjusted the instrument operations, and are working to improve the quality of the data in order to reduce the impact of the cooling issue.


GOES-17, in the GOES-West position, is helping forecasters track weather from torrential rain events to wildfires and other environmental hazards throughout the U.S. western region, including California, Alaska and Hawaii. Also, GOES-17 is monitoring typhoons in the eastern Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Australia can pick up its game and land a Moon mission

Now all the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing have died down it's worth considering where we are with future lunar missions half a century on. Australia has long played a role in space exploration beyond helping to bring those historic images of the first moonwalk to our television screens back in 1969. Labor MP Peter Khalil has already called for Australia to be involved in a mission to the Moon, and later to Mars. He is co-chair of the recently reformed Parliamentary Friends of Space, along with the National's MP Kevin Hogan. But there is plenty of interest from others in going to the Moon. Only last month, India launched its Chandrayaan 2 mission that's already orbited the Moon and due to land there on September 7. China recently landed Chang'e-4 on the far side of the Moon while Israel almost succeeded in landing its Beresheet probe. NASA has committed to sending people to the Moon again by 2024, and to significant lunar infrastructure such as the lunar Gateway, lunar landers and companies to deliver payloads to the Moon. There is no doubt the Moon has once more captured the world's interest. One of the reasons for this is human exploration, and that a Moon presence is now recognised as being essential to any future mission to Mars. Another is the presence of water on the Moon, and the usefulness of water for all sorts of reasons in space. By the time we hosted the second Off-Earth Mining Forum in 2015, it was clear water was the space resource of most immediate interest.


But the companies that existed at that time were mainly looking to source that water from asteroids. It has only been in the past two years that companies like iSpace have come to the fore, aiming at extracting water from the Moon.

Australia has reacted quite quickly to this evolving environment. Only last month, the first workshop met to establish a Remote Operations Institute in Western Australia to look at operating automated machines at a distance - remote mines and space.

The CSIRO identified nine potential "nation-building" flagship space missions, of which four relate to the Moon. One (disclosure, championed by me) is an orbiter and lander aimed at extracting water, but the other three could all support such a mission. Of those nine, four (including mine) have been selected for further examination at a workshop in mid-August in Brisbane.

Since January, we have been working on the Wilde project, where we have re-focussed our space resources research towards the permanently shadowed craters at the Moon's poles, where water is highly likely to occur in acceptable concentrations.

We are also looking to reduce the risk of investing in a water extraction venture, including the design of orbiter and lander missions.

Explosion of Aussie interest

These Australian initiatives are all being driven in part by the explosion of the Australian space sector. One symptom of this is the establishment of the Australian Space Agency. The agency's very existence and its promise have further emboldened space businesses and researchers.

But more than a year after its founding we still await any real missions, or commitment to upstream projects (upstream in space projects means those that are actually in space - those great Australian contributions to Apollo were all on the ground - downstream).

The other important driver for the new space projects mentioned above is that Australia has such a strong mining industry, and that so much mining innovation is created in Australia. As disciplines, space and mining have a lot in common: both involve complex engineering systems, work in hostile environments, and human control is increasingly handed over to autonomous robotics. Exploiting resources in space represents a genuine opportunity for Australia to establish a niche around which a sustainable space industry can be built.

So now is a perfect time for Australia to consider a new Moon mission. The industry is growing rapidly and a flagship mission would give it something around which to build.

Our special expertise in resource extraction offers a unique opportunity, which others have only just started to pursue. And a community of companies and researchers has been gathered for the task.

Hopefully it won't be another 50 years before Australia has its own presence on the Moon.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

New method for exoplanet stability analysis

Exoplanets revolving around distant stars are coming quickly into focus with advanced technology like the Kepler space telescope. Gaining a full understanding of those systems is difficult, because the initial positions and velocities of the exoplanets are unknown. Determining whether the system dynamics are quasi-periodic or chaotic is cumbersome, expensive and computationally demanding. In this week's Chaos, from AIP Publishing, Tamas Kovacs delivers an alternative method for stability analysis of exoplanetary bodies using only the observed time series data to deduce dynamical measurements and quantify the unpredictability of exoplanet systems. "If we don't know the governing equations of the motion of a system, and we only have the time series - what we measure with the telescope - then we want to transform that time series into a complex network. In this case, it is called a recurrence network," Kovacs said. "This network holds all of the dynamical features of the underlying system we want to analyze." The paper draws on the work of physicist Floris Takens, who proposed in 1981 that the dynamics of a system could be reconstructed using a series of observations about the state of the system.With Takens's embedding theorem as a starting point, Kovacs uses time delay embedding to reconstruct a high-dimensional trajectory and then identify recurrence points, where bodies in the phase space are close to each other.


"Those special points will be the vertices and the edges of the complex network," Kovacs said. "Once you have the network, you can reprogram this network to be able to apply measures like transitivity, average path length or others unique to that network."

Kovacs tests the reliability of the method using a known system as a model, the three-body system of Saturn, Jupiter and the Sun, and then applies it to the Kepler 36b and 36c system. His Kepler system results agree with what is known.

"Earlier studies pointed out that Kepler 36b and 36c is a very special system, because from the direct simulation and the numerical integrations, we see the system is at the edge of the chaos," Kovacs said. "Sometimes, it shows regular dynamics, and at other times, it seems to be chaotic."

The author plans to next apply his methods to systems with more than three bodies, testing its scalability and exploring its ability to handle longer time series and sharper datasets.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Europe prepares for Mars courier

The first round-trip to the Red Planet will see a European orbiter bringing martian samples back to Earth. ESA is opening the door to industry to build the spacecraft that will deliver the precious rocks, dust and gas from Mars - the key to understanding whether life ever existed on our closest planetary neighbour. This 'take-away' service is called the Earth Return Orbiter, and will be ESA's major contribution to the Mars Sample Return campaign. The ESA Orbiter will carry NASA's Capture and Containment and Return System, which will rely on the ESA-led spacecraft for transit to and from Mars. Three launches from Earth and one from Mars - the first ever from another planet -, two rovers and an autonomous capture in Mars orbit are all part of an ambitious series of missions that ESA is embarking on together with NASA. The campaign aims to bring at least 500 grams of samples back from the Jezero crater that once held a lake and contains an ancient preserved river delta. The rocks in the area preserve information about Mars' diverse geology. NASA's Mars 2020 rover that is slated for launch in July 2020 will scientifically select the best samples to store in tubes and deposit them onto the martian surface for later retrieval. ESA is also studying concepts for a small 'fetch' rover to scurry quickly across the martian surface to locate and recover the stored samples. It would then carry them back to a football-sized canister that would be launched with a NASA Mars Ascent System - a small rocket.

Bringing samples from Mars is the logical next step for robotic exploration and it will require multiple missions that will be more challenging and more advanced than any robotic missions before. Accomplishments in robotic exploration in recent years have increased confidence in success - multiple launches will be necessary to deliver samples from Mars.
ESA is working with NASA to explore mission concepts for an international Mars Sample Return campaign between 2020 and 2030.
Three launches will be necessary to accomplish landing, collecting, storing and finding samples and delivering them to Earth.
NASA's Mars 2020 mission will explore the surface and rigorously document and store a set of samples in canisters in strategic areas to be retrieved later for flight to Earth.
Two subsequent missions are foreseen to achieve this next step.
A NASA launch will send the Sample Retrieval Lander mission to land a platform near the Mars 2020 site. From here, a small ESA rover - the Sample Fetch Rover - will head out to retrieve the cached samples.
Once it has collected them in what can be likened to an interplanetary treasure hunt, it will return to the lander platform and load them into a single large canister on the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). This vehicle will perform the first liftoff from Mars and carry the container into Mars orbit.
ESA's Earth Return Orbiter will be the next mission, timed to capture the basketball-size sample container orbiting Mars. The samples will be sealed in a biocontainment system to prevent contaminating Earth with unsterilised material before being moved into an Earth entry capsule.
The spacecraft will then return to Earth, where it will release the entry capsule for the samples to end up in a specialised handling facility.
ESA and NASA are exploring the concepts for these missions, with ESA assessing the Sample Fetch Rover and Earth Return Orbiter. These will provide input to ESA's 2019 council at ministerial level, where approval will be sought for the missions. Mars Sample Return overview infographic.



The Earth Return Orbiter will capture the canister in orbit and transfer it safely to Earth, a return trip that will take about 13 months.

"We will have the responsibility of finding, capturing and transporting these precious martian treasures home for careful analysis in state-of-the-art labs on our planet," explains Sanjay Vijendran, ESA's Mars Sample Return campaign coordinator. "It's an interplanetary treasure hunt!"

Bringing Mars back to Earth

The Earth Return Orbiter is set to get onto the launch pad by 2026 from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Through this call, ESA will be selecting a prime contractor for the spacecraft.

"The mission is becoming a reality, and we are proud to give European industry the chance to join the challenge," says Orson Sutherland, study manager for the Earth Return Orbiter.

The main challenges are the electric propulsion and power generation. "Not to forget finding and navigating the spacecraft to rendezvous with the football sized orbiting sample over 50 million km away from ground control," adds Orson.

The spacecraft will use technological heritage from ESA's most recently launched science mission, BepiColombo: both use electric propulsion and multi-stage detachable modules.

"Europe is ready to do its bit for the Mars Sample Return campaign, in close partnership with NASA, and is up to the challenge of putting the spacecraft onto the launch pad in 2026," says Orson.