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  • richardmitnick 2:20 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Human Space Flight, , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From LLNL: “NASA taps Livermore photon scientists for heat-shield research” 


    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

    10/22/2014
    Breanna Bishop, LLNL, (925) 423-9802, bishop33@llnl.gov

    Researchers in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s NIF & Photon Science Directorate are working with NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, California on the development of technology to simulate re-entry effects on the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft, NASA’s next crewed spaceship. Orion is designed to carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to deep-space destinations such as an asteroid and, eventually, Mars.

    NASA Orion Spacecraft
    NASA/Orion

    The Orion heat shield will have to withstand re-entry temperatures that are too severe for existing reusable thermal protection systems, such as those used on the space shuttles. NASA’s development and characterization of a more robust shield requires that radiant heating capability be added to the Arc Jet Complex at NASA Ames, which develops thermal protection materials and systems in support of the Orion Program Office at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

    NASA Ames currently owns two 50 kilowatt (kW) commercial fiber laser systems and needs to augment the optical power into the Arc Jet chamber by another 100 to 200 kW. The team at Ames recently approached LLNL to explore an option of using commercially available radiance-conditioned laser diode arrays for this task, similar to the diodes used in the Laboratory’s Diode-Pumped Alkali Laser (DPAL) and E-23/HAPLS laser projects. Their aim is to assess whether such systems can better meet the technical objectives for survival testing. If successful, such diode arrays would offer a dramatically lower-cost solution.

    shield
    Technicians install a protective shell onto the Orion crew module for its first test flight this December. Credit: Dimitri Gerondidaki/NASA

    To perform these tests, LLNL is collaborating with Ames on diode array characterizations using an existing diode system developed for LLNL’s laser programs. These tests will allow NASA Ames to assess whether their optical output can meet in-chamber target illumination requirements, and thus inform their choice for a future system.

    While the space shuttles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, Orion will be re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 miles per hour on its first flight test in December. The faster a spacecraft travels through the atmosphere, the more heat it generates. The hottest the space shuttle tiles got was about 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit; the Orion back shell could get as hot as 4,000 degrees. For more about Orion, see the NASA video.

    See the full article here.

    LLNL Campus

    Operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security
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  • richardmitnick 6:49 pm on October 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),   

    From NYT: “25 Years Ago, NASA Envisioned Its Own ‘Orient Express’” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    OCT. 20, 2014
    KENNETH CHANG

    The National Aero-Space Plane was to be a revolutionary advance beyond the space shuttle.

    plane

    In his 1986 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan promised “a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport and accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low-earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours.”

    On Oct. 3, 1989, an article in Science Times, Designing a Plane for the Leap of Space (and Back), reported frenetic activity at NASA and the Defense Department.

    “Scientists and engineers are making rapid progress in developing technologies needed to build a 17,000-mile-an-hour ‘space plane’ that could escape earth’s gravity and circle the globe in 90 minutes,” the article began.

    “Their goal,” it continued, “is a space plane that could take off and land from virtually any airport in the world, carry satellites and other space cargo into orbit cheaply, shuttle between the earth and an orbiting space station, or carry a load of bombs deep into enemy territory as fast as an intercontinental missile.”

    Proponents contended the space plane would be far cheaper to operate than the shuttle.

    Others were dubious. The Air Force, which was providing most of the financing, had already tried to back out, but the National Space Council, headed by Vice President Dan Quayle, recommended continuing work at a slower pace.

    The target for the first flight of the first experimental version, known as the X-30, was originally 1993 but was pushed back to 1997.

    25 YEARS LATER The space plane, able to fly by itself to orbit, never took off. The X-30 died in 1994. Smaller-scale hypersonic programs came and went.

    Was the X-30 technologically feasible?

    “No, and it’s still not,” said Jess Sponable, a program manager in the tactical technology office at Darpa, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. For X-30 to succeed, infant ideas would have had to have been developed into robust, reliable technologies — materials that could survive intense temperatures, air-breathing engines that could fly faster and higher.

    Nonetheless, “absolutely, it was worthwhile,” Mr. Sponable said, although he added perhaps not worth the more than $1.6 billion spent. “We learned a lot.”

    The pendulum for spacecraft design has since swung away from the cutting edge to the tried and true. The Orion craft, which NASA is building for deep-space missions, is a capsule, just like the one used for the Apollo moon missions but bigger. The two private company designs that NASA chose to take future astronauts to the space station are also capsules. (The loser in that competition was a mini-shuttle offering.)

    NASA Orion Spacecraft
    NASA/Orion

    But the dream of hypersonic space planes continues.

    At Darpa, Mr. Sponable heads the XS-1 space plane project. It is not a do-it-all-at-once effort like the 1980s space plane but a much simpler, unmanned vehicle that would serve as a reusable first stage.

    Mr. Sponable is eager to figure out how to send it up many times, quickly and cheaply; the goal is 10 flights in 10 days.

    “We want operability No. 1,” he said. With the quick launches, the issue of cost “just disappears, because we can’t spend a lot of money from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3.”

    Darpa has awarded contracts to three industry teams to develop preliminary designs. Mr. Sponable said the decision of a next step would come next spring.

    The space plane episode illustrates the recurring money woes that have bedeviled NASA for decades: A grandiose plan is announced with fanfare and a burst of financing that fades as delays and cost overruns undercut the optimistic plans. Then a new president or a new NASA administrator changes course.

    Most recently, the Obama administration canceled plans started under President George W. Bush to send astronauts back to the moon and told NASA to consider an asteroid instead.

    If the pattern continues, NASA priorities could zig again after the next president moves into the White House in 2017.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:43 pm on October 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From SPACE.com: “Comet Siding Spring at Mars: How a Rare Celestial Event Was Discovered” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    October 18, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    A comet that was born before the Earth formed is flying in from the edge of the solar system, bound for a dramatic date with Mars on Sunday (Oct. 19).

    Comet Siding Spring — unknown and undiscovered until 2013 — will zoom past the Red Planet Sunday afternoon in an encounter that could help scientists better understand how the solar system came to be.

    Siding Spring will fly 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from Mars at 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT) Sunday, about one-third of the distance from the Earth to the moon. Researchers will observe the close encounter with the fleet of orbiters and rovers at the Red Planet.

    Siding Spring is the first comet from the Oort Cloud, a collection of icy bodies at the edge of the solar system that will be observed up close by spacecraft. All comets examined in the past came from closer in, around Jupiter’s orbit or the edge of the Kuiper Belt, a huge set of icy objects beyond Neptune.

    oort
    Artist’s conception of the Oort Cloud

    kb
    Known objects in the Kuiper belt, derived from data from the Minor Planet Center. Objects in the main belt are colored green, whereas scattered objects are colored orange. The four outer planets are blue. Neptune’s few known trojans are yellow, whereas Jupiter’s are pink. The scattered objects between Jupiter’s orbit and the Kuiper belt are known as centaurs. The scale is in astronomical units. The pronounced gap at the bottom is due to difficulties in detection against the background of the plane of the Milky Way.

    “We can’t get to an Oort Cloud comet with our current rockets,” Carey Lisse, a senior astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said during a NASA news conference last week. “These orbits are very long and extended — and at very great velocities … It’s a free flyby, if you will, and that’s a very fantastic event for us to study.”

    A failed planet

    image
    In a rare celestial event, a comet will pass closer to Mars than the moon is from Earth. See how the Comet Siding Spring flyby of Mars works in this Space.com infographic.
    Credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

    Siding Spring was created in the first few million years of Earth’s solar system, Lisse said. It likely formed somewhere between the orbits of Jupiter and Neptune, where many similar objects coalesced into the giant planets. But a gravitational push kicked Siding Spring out into the Oort Cloud; it took another jolt from a passing star a million years ago or so to send it toward the inner solar system.

    Half of the comet is rocky, and the other half is made up of volatile ices, such as water and carbon dioxide. Its flight past Mars is the first time it will make it into the solar system, past Jupiter’s orbit. The comet just recently crossed the “water-ice line,” the point where water can exist as a liquid in the solar system.

    Siding Spring, which Lisse said is about the size of an Appalachian mountain, will swing by Mars in a retrograde direction, the opposite way in which the planets orbit around the sun. This means any dust that comes off the comet will be moving at about 119,000 mph (190,000 km/h) relative to Mars.

    “Anything that comes off the comet that hits either Mars or the spacecraft is going to pack a real large amount of kinetic energy — a real wallop — so that’s one of the things that we’ve been worried about,” Lisse said.

    As a result, NASA has maneuvered its three operational Mars orbiters to be on the “safe” side of the Red Planet when dust exposure is highest.

    NASA investigations

    The comet was first discovered in January 2013 by Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. Ever since then, scientists have been studying the celestial visitor with a variety of space- and ground-based assets, in an attempt to learn more about its history.

    Siding Spring Observatory
    Siding Spring Observatory Interior
    Siding Springs Observatory

    To learn about the comet, scientists will have to get an up-close look at its nucleus, to see its shape, size and composition. If all goes according to plan, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will take high-resolution pictures of the comet’s heart, making it the first time an Oort Cloud comet’s nucleus will be seen up close.

    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter
    NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    NASA’s Hubble, Swift and Spitzer space telescopes have mapped out the comet’s dust, water molecules and carbon dioxide. For now, it looks like dust is coming off more slowly than researchers had expected. Little activity was seen with the water ice until June, when the comet got close enough to the sun for ice to sublimate.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/Swift

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    Some other planned observations will come from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescope (which will look for any material thrown in Mars’ atmosphere), and the newly arrived Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, which will see how the Red Planet’s atmosphere reacts as the comet passes by.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA MAVEN

    NASA’s Curiosity and Opportunity rovers will also participate in the campaign, attempting to take the first images of a comet from the surface of another planet.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    NASA Curiosity

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover
    NASA Opportunity

    See the full article, with video, here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:57 pm on October 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    Fromm NASA: “NASA Prepares its Science Fleet for Oct. 19 Mars Comet Encounter” 

    NASA

    NASA

    October 9, 2014
    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    NASA’s extensive fleet of science assets, particularly those orbiting and roving Mars, have front row seats to image and study a once-in-a-lifetime comet flyby on Sunday, Oct. 19.

    Comet C/2013 A1, also known as comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet — less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

    ss
    NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Spots Mars-Bound Comet Sprout Multiple Jets

    Comet C/2013 A1 as seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope The images above show — before and after filtering — comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, as captured by Wide Field Camera 3 on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    WFC3 on HUbble

    NASA released Thursday an image of a comet that, on Oct. 19, will pass within 84,000 miles of Mars — less than half the distance between Earth and our moon.

    The image on the left, captured March 11 by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, shows comet C/2013 A1, also called Siding Spring, at a distance of 353 million miles from Earth. Hubble can’t see Siding Spring’s icy nucleus because of its diminutive size. The nucleus is surrounded by a glowing dust cloud, or COMA, that measures roughly 12,000 miles across.

    The right image shows the comet after image processing techniques were applied to remove the hazy glow of the coma revealing what appear to be two jets of dust coming off the location of the nucleus in opposite directions. This observation should allow astronomers to measure the direction of the nucleus’s pole, and axis of rotation.

    Hubble also observed Siding Spring on Jan. 21 as Earth was crossing its orbital plane, which is the path the comet takes as it orbits the sun. This positioning of the two bodies allowed astronomers to determine the speed of the dust coming off the nucleus.

    “This is critical information that we need to determine whether, and to what degree, dust grains in the coma of the comet will impact Mars and spacecraft in the vicinity of Mars,” said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

    Discovered in January 2013 by Robert H. McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory, the comet is falling toward the sun along a roughly 1 million year orbit and is now within the radius of Jupiter’s orbit. The comet will make its closest approach to our sun on Oct. 25, at a distance of 130 million miles – well outside of Earth’s orbit. The comet is not expected to become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye.

    Siding Spring Observatory
    Siding Spring Observatory Interior
    Siding Spring Observatory

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

    Siding Spring’s nucleus will come closest to Mars around 2:27 p.m. EDT, hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second). This proximity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to gather data on both the comet and its effect on the Martian atmosphere.

    “This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency’s diverse science missions will be in full receive mode,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system’s earliest days.”

    Siding Spring came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units. It is a giant swarm of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

    oort
    Oort Cloud

    Siding Spring will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by spacecraft, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

    Some of the best and most revealing images and science data will come from assets orbiting and roving the surface of Mars. In preparation for the comet flyby, NASA maneuvered its Mars Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the newest member of the Mars fleet, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), in order to reduce the risk of impact with high-velocity dust particles coming off the comet.

    NASA Mars Odessy Orbiter
    NASA/ Mars Odyssey Orbiter

    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter
    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA/ Mars MAVEN

    The period of greatest risk to orbiting spacecraft will start about 90 minutes after the closest approach of the comet’s nucleus and will last about 20 minutes, when Mars will come closest to the center of the widening trail of dust flying from the comet’s nucleus.

    “The hazard is not an impact of the comet nucleus itself, but the trail of debris coming from it. Using constraints provided by Earth-based observations, the modeling results indicate that the hazard is not as great as first anticipated. Mars will be right at the edge of the debris cloud, so it might encounter some of the particles — or it might not,” said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

    The atmosphere of Mars, though much thinner that Earth’s, will shield NASA Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity from comet dust, if any reaches the planet. Both rovers are scheduled to make observations of the comet.

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover
    NASA/ Mars Opportunity rover

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover

    NASA’s Mars orbiters will gather information before, during and after the flyby about the size, rotation and activity of the comet’s nucleus, the variability and gas composition of the coma around the nucleus, and the size and distribution of dust particles in the comet’s tail.

    Observations of the Martian atmosphere are designed to check for possible meteor trails, changes in distribution of neutral and charged particles, and effects of the comet on air temperature and clouds. MAVEN will have a particularly good opportunity to study the comet, and how its tenuous atmosphere, or coma, interacts with Mars’ upper atmosphere.

    Earth-based and space telescopes, including NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope, also will be in position to observe the unique celestial object. The agency’s astrophysics space observatories — Kepler, Swift, Spitzer, Chandra — and the ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii — also will be tracking the event.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/Swift

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA Chandra

    astro
    NASA ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea

    NASA’s asteroid hunter, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), has been imaging, and will continue to image, the comet as part of its operations. And the agency’s two Heliophysics spacecraft, Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) and Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO), also will image the comet. The agency’s Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS), a sub-orbital balloon-carried telescope, already has provided observations of the comet in the lead-up to the close encounter with Mars.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA WISE (NEOWISE)

    NASA STEREO spacecraft
    NASA/STEREO

    NASA SOHO
    NASA/SOHO

    NASA BOPPSNASA BOPPS

    Images and updates will be posted online before and after the comet flyby. Several pre-flyby images of Siding Spring, as well as information about the comet and NASA’s planned observations of the event, are available online at:

    http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.
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  • richardmitnick 12:16 pm on September 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From The New York Times: “NASA Missions Approved to Go On” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    SEPT. 8, 2014
    KENNETH CHANG

    Every two years, NASA reviews its long-running scientific missions — currently, the rovers trundling across Mars, the Cassini spacecraft exploring Saturn, and four others — to determine whether they are justifying their cost.

    NASA Curiosity
    NASA/Curiosity Mars Rover

    NASA Opportunity Rover
    NASA Opportunity Mars Rover

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft
    NASA/ Cassini-Huygens

    Last week, NASA presented the findings of the most recent review, conducted by a panel of outside experts, to the planetary science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council, which provides guidance to the agency’s management.

    All seven will continue, assuming NASA can find the money to pay for them.

    In particular, Cassini is to continue orbiting Saturn for three more years, making detailed measurements of the ringed planet’s gravitational and magnetic fields. The Curiosity rover is to continue searching for organic molecules in the Martian rocks — though the panel sharply criticized the rover’s mission team, saying its extension proposal “lacked scientific focus and detail” and placed too much emphasis on driving across the terrain rather than stopping to study the rocks.

    two
    Two of Saturn’s moons, Titan and Rhea, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech, via Space Science Institute, via Associated Press

    Still, “all extended missions were rated higher than ‘good,’ some after adjustments to scope, as it was recognized that they continue to add important new data and observations for our understanding of solar system bodies and processes,” the review panel concluded.

    Supporters of NASA’s planetary program seemed happy. “I think fundamentally we were excited that every mission was given the go-ahead to go on,” said Casey Dreier, the director of advocacy at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes space exploration. “I think that was the biggest takeaway.”

    This year, the financial calculus for the review appeared more complex than usual, because Curiosity ended its two-year primary mission in June. Its costs now come out of the budget set aside for extended missions, and that led to speculation that agency officials might turn off Cassini to fit within fiscal constraints.

    The Obama administration has proposed deep cuts to the planetary science portion of NASA the last few years, and Congress has partly restored the cuts each year.

    The extensions, which would cost $200 million a year, or about 15 percent of NASA’s planetary science budget, still hinge on whether enough money is available. Congress has yet to pass a budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins next month.

    “If we do not end up with sufficient funds, NASA will revisit the senior review findings and make the necessary programmatic decisions across our portfolio,” said William P. Knopf, the lead program executive for mission operations in the planetary science division.

    A subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will hold a hearing about the planetary science program Wednesday.

    Cassini, which has been in orbit around Saturn for a decade, was the only mission to receive an “excellent” rating from the panel. It was also the only mission to receive a three-year extension, long enough to conduct all of the planned science.

    “And best of all, we know now we will live out the full promise of one extraordinary mission,” Carolyn C. Porco, the head of Cassini’s imaging team, wrote on Twitter. “Happy tears in the eyes.”

    In 2017, fuel for the maneuvering thrusters will run out, and the spacecraft will be sent on a dive into Saturn.

    In giving a “very good/good” grade to the extension proposal for the $2.5 billion Curiosity mission, the panel was especially displeased that John P. Grotzinger, the project scientist, did not present the extension proposal in person, leaving it to a deputy.

    “This left the panel with the impression that the team felt they were too big to fail and that simply having someone show up would suffice,” the panel wrote. Dr. Grotzinger said in an interview that he had been scheduled to give a talk about Mars on the day the panel met, and, after consulting with NASA officials, decided not to cancel the talk. “I like to honor my existing professional commitments, especially when they involve outreach,” he said.

    He said the team was making the requested revisions. “The review panel was asking us to do more drilling and less driving, and we’re going to do that,” Dr. Grotzinger said.

    Curiosity, by coincidence, has just arrived at the destination to begin its main scientific investigation, the base of a three-mile-high mountain in the middle of Gale Crater. By examining the layers of rock as it drives up the mountain, planetary scientists hope to extract the climate history of early Mars when it was warmer and wetter.

    The Curiosity team will hold a news conference on Thursday to present its latest findings.

    Ranking above Curiosity was the older Opportunity rover, which received an “excellent/very good” rating, allowing it to continue driving to a large deposit of clays. Clay minerals form in aqueous environments that are not acidic, promising sites that could have once been hospitable to life.

    The Opportunity rover just had its memory erased and reformatted last Thursday, eliminating the 0.7 percent that had gone bad over the past decade. The rover has had several computer glitches in recent months.

    The other missions under review were the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Express orbiter. (Mars Express is a European Space Agency spacecraft, but NASA helps operate two of the of the instruments.)

    recon
    NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

    mars
    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    express
    ESA/Mars Express orbiter

    The next two years will be busy for NASA’s robotic probes. A new spacecraft, Maven, will arrive at Mars this month to look for clues why Mars long ago dried out and turned cold.

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA/ Mars MAVEN

    Next July, the New Horizons spacecraft will zip past Pluto for the first close-up look at it; in 2016, another spacecraft, Juno, will arrive at Jupiter to study its interior.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons

    After 2017, however, the pipeline slows. An ambitious mission to study Europa, a moon of Jupiter with an ocean beneath its outer layer of ice and signs of plate tectonics, is not expected to launch until the 2020s.

    But Mr. Dreier, of the Planetary Society, said he was optimistic. “We’ve stemmed the bleeding and we’re making a strong case for why planetary is important,” he said. “It’s one of the few parts of NASA that really does explore.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 5:14 pm on August 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),   

    From SPACE.com: “NASA’s Robot Army of ‘Swarmies’ Could Explore Other Planets” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    August 25, 2014
    Kelly Dickerson

    They may look like remote-controlled toy trucks, but a troop of new NASA robots could one day race across distant planets as a sort of space exploration vanguard.

    swarmies

    The autonomous robots, which engineers have dubbed “swarmies,” are much smaller than other NASA robots like the Mars rover Curiosity. Each comes equipped with a webcam, Wi-Fi antenna, and GPS system for navigation. The self-driving swarmie robots could be used to search alien surfaces one day. Credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

    The swarmies function in a way similar to an ant colony. When one ant stumbles across a food source, it sends out a signal to the rest of the colony, and then the ants work together to cart the food back to the nest. Engineers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida developed software that directs the swarmies to fan out in different directions and search for a specific, predetermined material, like ice-water on Mars. Once one of the rovers finds something interesting, it can use radio communication to call its robotic brethren over to help collect samples.

    “For a while people were interested in putting as much smarts and capability as they could on their one robot,” Kurt Leucht, one of the engineers working on the project, said in a statement. “Now people are realizing you can have much smaller, much simpler robots that can work together and achieve a task. One of them can roll over and die and it’s not the end of the mission because the others can still accomplish the task.”

    Working out a way to send humans on lunar or Martian exploration missions is complicated and expensive and those kinds of missions are likely still a long way off. Sending robots is an easier alternative, and NASA is working on a whole new generation of autonomous robotic explorers. NASA engineers have already dreamed up slithering snake-like robots that could explore Mars and deep-diving robots that could explore the oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    rr
    The RASSOR robot is programmed for digging and mining and will be incorporated into the swarmie test drives. Credit: NASA

    The swarmie tests are still in the preliminary stages, and NASA engineers are only driving the swarmies around the parking lots surrounding Kennedy’s Launch Control Center. Right now the robots are only programmed to hunt for barcoded slips of paper. Over the next few months, swarmie tests will also include RASSOR — a mining robot specially designed to dig into alien surfaces and search for interesting or valuable materials. The test will determine how well the swarming software translates to control other robotic vehicles.

    Swarmies might also find a use on Earth, NASA officials said. The robots could aid in rescue missions following natural disasters or building collapses, crashes and other wreckage sites. The robots would also make perfect pipeline inspectors.

    “This would give you something smaller and cheaper that could always be running up and down the length of the pipeline so you would always know the health of your pipelines,” Cheryle Mako, a NASA engineer who is leading the project, said in a statement. “If we had small swarming robots that had a couple sensors and knew what they were looking for, you could send them out to a leak site and find which area was at greatest risk.”

    See the full article here.

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 2:29 pm on August 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “Ozone-Depleting Compound Persists, NASA Research Shows “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 20, 2014
    Steve Cole
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0918
    stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

    Kathryn Hansen
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-1046
    kathryn.h.hansen@nasa.gov

    NASA research shows Earth’s atmosphere contains an unexpectedly large amount of an ozone-depleting compound from an unknown source decades after the compound was banned worldwide.

    ball
    Satellites observed the largest ozone hole over Antarctica in 2006. Purple and blue represent areas of low ozone concentrations in the atmosphere; yellow and red are areas of higher concentrations. Image Credit: NASA

    Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), which was once used in applications such as dry cleaning and as a fire-extinguishing agent, was regulated in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol along with other chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone and contribute to the ozone hole over Antarctica. Parties to the Montreal Protocol reported zero new CCl4 emissions between 2007-2012.

    However, the new research shows worldwide emissions of CCl4 average 39 kilotons per year, approximately 30 percent of peak emissions prior to the international treaty going into effect.

    “We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said Qing Liang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.”

    As of 2008, CCl4 accounted for about 11 percent of chlorine available for ozone depletion, which is not enough to alter the decreasing trend of ozone-depleting substances. Still, scientists and regulators want to know the source of the unexplained emissions.

    For almost a decade, scientists have debated why the observed levels of CCl4 in the atmosphere have declined slower than expectations, which are based on what is known about how the compound is destroyed by solar radiation and other natural processes.

    “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang said.

    With zero CCl4 emissions reported between 2007-2012, atmospheric concentrations of the compound should have declined at an expected rate of 4 percent per year. Observations from the ground showed atmospheric concentrations were only declining by 1 percent per year.

    To investigate the discrepancy, Liang and colleagues used NASA’s 3-D GEOS Chemistry Climate Model and data from global networks of ground-based observations. The CCl4 measurements used in the study were made by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Earth System Research Laboratory and NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    Model simulations of global atmospheric chemistry and the losses of CCl4 due to interactions with soil and the oceans pointed to an unidentified ongoing current source of CCl4. The results produced the first quantitative estimate of average global CCl4 emissions from 2000-2012.

    In addition to unexplained sources of CCl4, the model results showed the chemical stays in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than previously thought. The research was published online in the Aug. 18 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

    “People believe the emissions of ozone-depleting substances have stopped because of the Montreal Protocol,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist for atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and a co-author of the study. “Unfortunately, there is still a major source of CCl4 out in the world.”

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

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  • richardmitnick 8:34 pm on August 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “How the Sun Caused an Aurora This Week “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 20, 2014
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    On the evening of Aug. 20, 2014, the International Space Station was flying past North America when it flew over the dazzling, green blue lights of an aurora. On board, astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this image of the aurora, seen from above.

    aurora

    This auroral display was due to a giant cloud of gas from the sun – a coronal mass ejection or CME – that collided with Earth’s magnetic fields [magnetosphere] on Aug. 19, 2014, at 1:57 a.m. EDT. This event set off, as it often does, what’s called a geomagnetic storm.

    gs
    Artists’s rendition Goddard

    This is a kind of space weather event where the magnetic fields surrounding Earth compress and release. This oscillation is much like a spring moving back and forth, but unlike a spring, moving magnetic fields cause an unstable environment, setting charged particles moving and initiating electric currents.

    The geomagnetic storm passed within 24 hours or so but, while it was ongoing, the solar particles and magnetic fields caused the release of particles already trapped near Earth. These, in turn, triggered reactions in the upper atmosphere in which oxygen and nitrogen molecules released photons of light.

    The result: an aurora, and a special sight for the astronauts on board the space station.

    map
    This model shows where the aurora was visible at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 19, 2014, as the International Space Station flew over it. The model is an Ovation Prime model and it is available from the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
    Image Credit: NASA/CCMC

    storm
    A coronal mass ejection, or CME, burst from the sun on Aug. 15, 2014. When it arrived at Earth, it sparked aurora over North America. This looping animated GIF of the CME was captured by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The bright planet seen moving toward the left is Mercury.
    Image Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 4:08 pm on August 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles” 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 14, 2014

    J.D. Harrington
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

    William Jeffs
    Johnson Space Center, Houston
    281-483-5111
    william.p.jeffs@nasa.gov

    Seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles that date to the beginnings of the solar system are among the samples collected by scientists who have been studying the payload from NASA’s Stardust spacecraft since its return to Earth in 2006. If confirmed, these particles would be the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust.

    stardust
    NASA Stardust

    A team of scientists has been combing through the spacecraft’s aerogel and aluminum foil dust collectors since Stardust returned in 2006.The seven particles probably came from outside our solar system, perhaps created in a supernova explosion millions of years ago and altered by exposure to the extreme space environment.

    The research report appears in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. Twelve other papers about the particles will appear next week in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

    “These are the most challenging objects we will ever have in the lab for study, and it is a triumph that we have made as much progress in their analysis as we have,” said Michael Zolensky, curator of the Stardust laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and coauthor of the Science paper.

    Stardust was launched in 1999 and returned to Earth on Jan. 15, 2006, at the Utah Test and Training Range, 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The Stardust Sample Return Canister was transported to a curatorial facility at Johnson where the Stardust collectors remain preserved and protected for scientific study.

    Inside the canister, a tennis racket-like sample collector tray captured the particles in silica aerogel as the spacecraft flew within 149 miles of a comet in January 2004. An opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles captured by the spacecraft during its seven-year, three-billion-mile journey.

    Scientists caution that additional tests must be done before they can say definitively that these are pieces of debris from interstellar space. But if they are, the particles could help explain the origin and evolution of interstellar dust.

    The particles are much more diverse in terms of chemical composition and structure than scientists expected. The smaller particles differ greatly from the larger ones and appear to have varying histories. Many of the larger particles have been described as having a fluffy structure, similar to a snowflake.

    Two particles, each only about two microns (thousandths of a millimeter) in diameter, were isolated after their tracks were discovered by a group of citizen scientists. These volunteers, who call themselves “Dusters,” scanned more than a million images as part of a University of California, Berkeley, citizen-science project, which proved critical to finding these needles in a haystack.

    A third track, following the direction of the wind during flight, was left by a particle that apparently was moving so fast — more than 10 miles per second (15 kilometers per second) — that it vaporized. Volunteers identified tracks left by another 29 particles that were determined to have been kicked out of the spacecraft into the collectors.

    Four of the particles reported in Science were found in aluminum foils between tiles on the collector tray. Although the foils were not originally planned as dust collection surfaces, an international team led by physicist Rhonda Stroud of the Naval Research Laboratory searched the foils and identified four pits lined with material composed of elements that fit the profile of interstellar dust particles.

    Three of these four particles, just a few tenths of a micron across, contained sulfur compounds, which some astronomers have argued do not occur in interstellar dust. A preliminary examination team plans to continue analysis of the remaining 95 percent of the foils to possibly find enough particles to understand the variety and origins of interstellar dust.

    Supernovas, red giants and other evolved stars produce interstellar dust and generate heavy elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen necessary for life. Two particles, dubbed Orion and Hylabrook, will undergo further tests to determine their oxygen isotope quantities, which could provide even stronger evidence for their extrasolar origin.

    Scientists at Johnson have scanned half the panels at various depths and turned these scans into movies, which were then posted online, where the Dusters could access the footage to search for particle tracks.

    Once several Dusters tag a likely track, Andrew Westphal, lead author of the Science article, and his team verify the identifications. In the one million frames scanned so far, each a half-millimeter square, Dusters have found 69 tracks, while Westphal has found two. Thirty-one of these were extracted along with surrounding aerogel by scientists at Johnson and shipped to UC Berkeley to be analyzed.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory., Pasadena, California, manages the Stardust mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operated the spacecraft.

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 2:04 pm on August 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),   

    From SPACE.com: “After Moon Flyby, Vintage NASA Spacecraft to Study the Sun” True Citizen Science 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    August 14, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    As a vintage spacecraft soars out of Earth’s vicinity, the private team working with it plans to use the probe for solar science for as long as they can stay in touch with the satellite.

    The minds behind the so-called ISEE-3 Reboot Project have been controlling the 36-year-old International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3) for the past few weeks. At first they planned to park it close to Earth, but they abandoned that plan after finding out that the probe was out of the pressurant needed to move the craft.

    isee

    At least some of the 13 science instruments are still working, however. So the old spacecraft will do one of the things it was originally tasked to do: study solar weather. Its measurements will be compared with those taken by the network of satellites that are closer to Earth’s vicinity like NASA’s Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO).

    stereo
    NASA STEREO

    “By comparing the measurements between these spacecraft, we can get some idea of the scale sizes of the turbulence of the solar wind and the structure within the solar wind,” said Christopher Scott, a United Kingdom-based project scientist with STEREO, in a Google+ Hangout on ISEE-3 Sunday (Aug. 10).

    He added this would be important information for space weather forecasts, which allow scientists to predict how severe a storm could be when it reaches Earth. Strong solar storms have the potential to damage satellites in orbit or even cause ill effects to power systems on the ground.

    ISEE-3 passed within about 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) of the moon on Sunday before continuing on its orbit around the sun. Officials on the broadcast predict they will be able to hear from the probe for about the next couple of months.

    Before going into lunar space, ISEE-3 passed through a part of Earth’s magnetic field, specifically the magnetopause (the outer limit of the magnetosphere) and the bow shock (the area between the magnetopause and more neutral space.) The University of Iowa is now examining data collected during the fly-through, said co-leader Dennis Wingo.

    magnetopause
    Artistic rendition of the Earth’s magnetopause. The magnetopause is where the pressure from the solar wind and the planet’s magnetic field are equal. The position of the Sun would be far to the left in this image

    “To me, it’s absolutely thrilling that we’re getting all this space weather,” Wingo said during the broadcast. Officials also noted that learning about space weather in our solar system could help researchers learn more about space weather in other solar systems.

    The founders behind the ISEE-3 project raised roughly $160,000 through crowdfunding in order to open communication with and attempt to move the spacecraft.

    During the Sunday broadcast, co-leader of the project Keith Cowing said that most donations were only in the $10 to $50 range, and mostly from contributors who are not self-described space people.

    “I tweeted a joke about disco once and I suddenly got donations from people saying, ‘Hey, I heard your comment about disco,'” Cowing said.

    ISEE-3 was launched in the 1970s to examine solar activity, and was repurposed for flying by two comets, among other tasks. NASA put the spacecraft into hibernation in 1998, where it remained until the group made contact with it again this year under a Space Act Agreement.

    See the full article here.

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