Archive for the ‘Space Missions’ Category

Signs Changing Fast for Voyager at Solar System Edge

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Source – NASA/JPL:

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

August 03, 2012

Two of three key signs of changes expected to occur at the boundary of interstellar space have changed faster than at any other time in the last seven years, according to new data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.

For the last seven years, Voyager 1 has been exploring the outer layer of the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. In one day, on July 28, data from Voyager 1’s cosmic ray instrument showed the level of high-energy cosmic rays originating from outside our solar system jumped by five percent. During the last half of that same day, the level of lower-energy particles originating from inside our solar system dropped by half. However, in three days, the levels had recovered to near their previous levels.

A third key sign is the direction of the magnetic field, and scientists are eagerly analyzing the data to see whether that has, indeed, changed direction. Scientists expect that all three of these signs will have changed when Voyager 1 has crossed into interstellar space. A preliminary analysis of the latest magnetic field data is expected to be available in the next month.

“These are thrilling times for the Voyager team as we try to understand the quickening pace of changes as Voyager 1 approaches the edge of interstellar space,” said Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. “We are certainly in a new region at the edge of the solar system where things are changing rapidly. But we are not yet able to say that Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space.”

The levels of high-energy cosmic ray particles have been increasing for years, but more slowly than they are now. The last jump — of five percent — took one week in May. The levels of lower-energy particles from inside our solar system have been slowly decreasing for the last two years. Scientists expect that the lower-energy particles will drop close to zero when Voyager 1 finally crosses into interstellar space.

“The increase and the decrease are sharper than we’ve seen before, but that’s also what we said about the May data,” Stone said. “The data are changing in ways that we didn’t expect, but Voyager has always surprised us with new discoveries.”

Voyager 1, which launched on Sept. 5, 1977, is 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun. Voyager 2, which launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is close behind, at 9.3 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) from the sun.

“Our two veteran Voyager spacecraft are hale and healthy as they near the 35th anniversary of their launch,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. “We know they will cross into interstellar space. It’s just a question of when.”

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager .

Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Source – NASA/JPL Mars Science Laboratory:

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity’s drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

NASA has approved the Curiosity science team’s choice to name the landing ground for the influential author, who was born 92 years ago today and died this year. The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

Today’s drive confirmed the health of Curiosity’s mobility system and produced the rover’s first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive. During a news conference today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission’s lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive.

“We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead,” Heverly said.

Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,” said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. “Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.”

The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover’s mast for investigating specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft’s landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.

The instrument’s principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reported that measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition. “These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit,” Weins said.

Curiosity began a two-year prime mission on Mars when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered the car-size rover to its landing target inside Gale Crater on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

His groundbreaking works include “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Dandelion Wine,” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of “Moby Dick,” and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree.”

JPL manages the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about Curiosity is online at:
http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Follow the mission on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

Guy Webster/D.C. Agle 818-354-6278/818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov / agle@jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Neil Armstrong: 1930-2012

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Source – NASA:

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, has died, following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He was 82.

Armstrong’s words “That is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” spoken on July 20, 1969, as he became the first person ever to step onto another planetary body, instantly became a part of history.

Those few words from the Sea of Tranquillity were the climactic fulfillment of the efforts and hopes of millions of people and the expenditure of billions of dollars. A plaque on one of the lander’s legs that concluded “We came in peace for all mankind,” further emphasized that Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were there as representatives of all humans.

Armstrong is survived by his wife, two sons, a stepson, a stepdaughter, 10 grandchildren, and a brother and sister.

“Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time,” said President Barack Obama. “Thank you, Neil, for showing us the power of one small step.”

Armstrong’s family released the following statement on Saturday:

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

The family will be providing further updates at
www.neilarmstronginfo.com .

NASA Unveils Xbox Kinect ‘Mars Rover Landing’ Game (Free)

Monday, August 6th, 2012

I have not tried this yet.

Source – NASA Video Gallery:

Danielle Roosa, granddaughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, demonstrates NASA and Microsoft’s free Kinect interactive Xbox video game, ‘Mars Rover Landing.’ The new game lets players try their skill at landing the Curiosity rover on Mars. The game is available free of charge in the Xbox Live Marketplace and Kinect Central.

Stop-Motion Video From Curiosity’s Descent

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Source – NASA Video Gallery:

Curiosity’s Descent
This stop-motion video shows 297 frames from the Mars Descent Imager aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover as it descended to the surface of Mars. These thumbnail images were received on Earth on Aug. 6, 2012, and cover the last two and a half minutes of descent.

NASA Discovers First Earth-size Planets Beyond Our Solar System

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Source – NASA /JPL Kepler:

MOFFET FIELD, Calif. — NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun.

The discovery marks the next important milestone in the ultimate search for planets like Earth. The new planets are thought to be rocky. Kepler-20e is slightly smaller than Venus, measuring 0.87 times the radius of Earth. Kepler-20f is a bit larger than Earth, measuring 1.03 times its radius. Both planets reside in a five-planet system called Kepler-20, approximately 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Lyra.

Kepler-20e orbits its parent star every 6.1 days and Kepler-20f every 19.6 days. These short orbital periods mean very hot, inhospitable worlds. Kepler-20f, at 800 degrees Fahrenheit, is similar to an average day on the planet Mercury. The surface temperature of Kepler-20e, at more than 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, would melt glass.

“The primary goal of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone,” said Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., lead author of a new study published in the journal Nature. “This discovery demonstrates for the first time that Earth-size planets exist around other stars, and that we are able to detect them.”

The Kepler-20 system includes three other planets that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. Kepler-20b, the closest planet, Kepler-20c, the third planet, and Kepler-20d, the fifth planet, orbit their star every 3.7, 10.9 and 77.6 days. All five planets have orbits lying roughly within Mercury’s orbit in our solar system. The host star belongs to the same G-type class as our sun, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

The system has an unexpected arrangement. In our solar system, small, rocky worlds orbit close to the sun and large, gaseous worlds orbit farther out. In comparison, the planets of Kepler-20 are organized in alternating size: large, small, large, small and large.

“The Kepler data are showing us some planetary systems have arrangements of planets very different from that seen in our solar system,” said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist and Kepler science team member at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “The analysis of Kepler data continue to reveal new insights about the diversity of planets and planetary systems within our galaxy.”

Scientists are not certain how the system evolved but they do not think the planets formed in their existing locations. They theorize the planets formed farther from their star and then migrated inward, likely through interactions with the disk of material from which they originated. This allowed the worlds to maintain their regular spacing despite alternating sizes.

The Kepler space telescope detects planets and planet candidates by measuring dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search for planets crossing in front, or transiting, their stars. The Kepler science team requires at least three transits to verify a signal as a planet.

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the spacecraft finds. The star field Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can be seen only from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

To validate Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, astronomers used a computer program called Blender, which runs simulations to help rule out other astrophysical phenomena masquerading as a planet.

On Dec. 5 the team announced the discovery of Kepler-22b in the habitable zone of its parent star. It is likely to be too large to have a rocky surface. While Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f are Earth-size, they are too close to their parent star to have liquid water on the surface.

“In the cosmic game of hide and seek, finding planets with just the right size and just the right temperature seems only a matter of time,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead and professor of astronomy and physics at San Jose State University. “We are on the edge of our seats knowing that Kepler’s most anticipated discoveries are still to come.”

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. JPL managed the Kepler mission’s development.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

For more information about the Kepler mission and to view the digital press kit, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

NASA Launches Most Capable and Robust Rover To Mars Call Curiosity

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST).
“We are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”

The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

“The launch vehicle has given us a great injection into our trajectory, and we’re on our way to Mars,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The spacecraft is in communication, thermally stable and power positive.”

The Atlas V initially lofted the spacecraft into Earth orbit and then, with a second burst from the vehicle’s upper stage, pushed it out of Earth orbit into a 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) journey to Mars.

“Our first trajectory correction maneuver will be in about two weeks,” Theisinger said. “We’ll do instrument checkouts in the next several weeks and continue with thorough preparations for the landing on Mars and operations on the surface.”

Curiosity’s ambitious science goals are among the mission’s many differences from earlier Mars rovers. It will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover. Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science-instrument payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking the elemental composition of rocks from a distance, and an X-ray diffraction instrument for definitive identification of minerals in powdered samples.

To haul and wield its science payload, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. Because of its one-ton mass, Curiosity is too heavy to employ airbags to cushion its landing as previous Mars rovers could. Part of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is a rocket-powered descent stage that will lower the rover on tethers as the rocket engines control the speed of descent.

The mission’s landing site offers Curiosity access for driving to layers of the mountain inside Gale Crater. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

Precision landing maneuvers as the spacecraft flies through the Martian atmosphere before opening its parachute make Gale a safe target for the first time. This innovation shrinks the target area to less than one-fourth the size of earlier Mars landing targets. Without it, rough terrain at the edges of Curiosity’s target would make the site unacceptably hazardous.

The innovations for landing a heavier spacecraft with greater precision are steps in technology development for human Mars missions. In addition, Curiosity carries an instrument for monitoring the natural radiation environment on Mars, important information for designing human Mars missions that protect astronauts’ health.

The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida managed the launch. NASA’s Space Network provided space communication services for the launch vehicle. NASA’s Deep Space Network will provide spacecraft acquisition and mission communication.

For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ .

For more information about the Deep Space Network, visit:

Falling German satellite ROSAT X-ray astronomy observatory

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Source -Spaceflight Now.

Less than a month after NASA’s falling UARS satellite grabbed the headlines, the German space agency says one of its abandoned satellites will dive back to Earth later this month, but no one knows where it will land.

The ROSAT X-ray astronomy observatory is smaller and less massive than NASA’s Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, or UARS, which fell back to Earth on Sept. 24. But officials predict it will spread three times more debris and pose a greater threat to people than UARS.

That’s because ROSAT is made of heat-resistant components, especially its primary mirror, which officials say will probably be the largest single fragment that will reach Earth.

The satellite will streak into the atmosphere at 17,000 mph, and temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit will burn up much of the spacecraft.

“All these forces exerted on the satellite cause it to disintegrate, which in turn means that it eventually lands in the form of a long debris trail,” said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office. “The lightweight objects fall to Earth first, similar to leaves from a tree. The really heavy objects land later, because they ultimately have to drill their way through the atmosphere.”

But engineers expect the bulk of ROSAT to survive re-entry, littering its impact point with up to 30 pieces of debris.

The 5,348-pound satellite launched from Florida on a Delta 2 rocket in 1990. ROSAT does not have an engine or propulsion system because it used reaction wheels to point its telescope toward scientific targets in the cosmos.

Up to 3,750 pounds of the satellite could reach Earth’s surface. NASA said they expected 1,200 pounds of UARS to survive re-entry.

There is a 1-in-2,000 chance someone will be struck by fragments of ROSAT on its way down, according to Germany. That equates to odds of about 1-in-14 trillion that any individual person will be hit.

The threat from UARS wasn’t as high. An analysis from NASA showed there was a 1-in-3,200 chance of a collision between a human and a piece of UARS.

The remnants of UARS fell in the remote Pacific Ocean, and ROSAT will likely also end up in the sea, but its impossible to tell where it will crash until hours before.

ROSAT launched in June 1990 on a Delta 2 rocket.

ROSAT, which stands for Roentgen Satellite, was turned off in 1999, and its altitude has gradually dropped since then from an operational orbit more than 350 miles high. The German Aerospace Center, also known as DLR by its German acronym, says the spacecraft should re-enter the atmosphere between Oct. 20 and Oct. 25.

But the margin of error in the re-entry forecast is three days, and officials likely won’t know where the satellite will come down until after it falls. Even one day before re-entry, the time of ROSAT’s demise will only be known with a precision of plus-or-minus five hours, putting entire oceans and continents in the satellite’s flight path.

“All areas under the orbit of ROSAT, which extends to 53 degrees northern and southern latitude could be affected by its re-entry,” said a posting on DLR’s website. “The bulk of the debris will impact near the ground track of the satellite.”

“It will not be possible to make any kind of reliable forecast about where the satellite will actually come down until about one or two hours before the fact,” Klinkrad said. “It will, however, be possible to predict, about one day in advance, which geographical regions will definitely not be affected.”

ROSAT’s orbit was at an average altitude of 149 miles Wednesday.

“This slow descent is due to the friction encountered by the satellite as it enters the outer fringes of Earth atmosphere, which increases the more ROSAT penetrates into our atmosphere,” Klinkrad said.

Klinkrad said the major factor affecting a satellite’s fall from orbit is solar activity. Energy unleashed from the sun causes Earth’s atmosphere to heat up and expand, generating more drag for satellites in low orbits.

Fluctuations in solar activity can quicken or slow a satellite’s re-entry. Experts initially expected ROSAT’s plunge to occur last year, but solar activity turned out to be less than predicted, delaying the re-entry until this month.

NASA’s UARS, is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in late September or early October 2011

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Source – NASA UARS Updates:

Update #6
Tue, 20 Sep 2011 02:00:29 PM MDT
As of Sept. 20, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 127 mi by 140 mi (205 km by 225 km). Re-entry is expected Sept. 23, plus or minus a day. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry. Predictions will become more refined over the next two days.

NASA will post updates weekly until four days before the anticipated re-entry, then daily until about 24 hours before re-entry, and then at about 12 hours, six hours and two hours before re-entry. The updates will come from the Joint Space Operations Center of U.S. Strategic Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., which works around the clock detecting, identifying and tracking all man-made objects in Earth orbit, including space junk.
The actual date of re-entry is difficult to predict because it depends on solar flux and the spacecraft’s orientation as its orbit decays. As re-entry draws closer, predictions on the date will become more reliable.

The risk to public safety or property is extremely small, and safety is NASA’s top priority. Since the beginning of the Space Age in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry.

If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance.

Vesta Sizes Up

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Source – NASA/JPL Dawn Journey to the Asteroid Belt :

This composite image shows the comparative sizes of nine asteroids. Up until now, Lutetia, with a diameter of 81 miles (130 kilometers), was the largest asteroid visited by a spacecraft, which occurred during a flyby.

Vesta, which is also considered a protoplanet because it’s a large body that almost became a planet, dwarfs all other small bodies in this image, with its diameter sizing up at approximately 330 miles (530 kilometers).

The Dawn mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft. The framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin made significant contributions in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering in Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR and NASA. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about Dawn is online at http://www.nasa.gov/dawn and http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov