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  • richardmitnick 9:19 am on September 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Mars Exploration, , Pilbara's ancient rocks,   

    From University of New South Wales: “NASA and European Space Agency join UNSW in outback for training crucial for Mars 2020 missions” 

    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    NASA

    ESA

    02 Sep 2019
    Isabelle Dubach / Jane Garcia

    UNSW scientists have shown a group of Mars specialists the secrets of the remote Pilbara’s ancient rocks – all in preparation for NASA’s and ESA’s Mars 2020 missions.

    NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

    NASA Mars 2020 Rover

    ESA/Roscosmos Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover

    1
    The oldest, best-preserved evidence of life is contained in the Pilbara’s ancient rocks.

    NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists have spent a week in the remote outback of Australia, joining UNSW Sydney’s Australian Centre for Astrobiology Director Martin Van Kranendonk for specialist training in identifying signs of life in ancient rocks.

    The trip served as preparation for NASA’s and ESA’s Mars 2020 missions, which are designed specifically to search for past life in rocks that are as old as those of the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia, where the field trip was held.

    The oldest, best-preserved evidence of life is contained in these ancient rocks – a perfect stand-in for the desolate rocky landscapes of the planet Mars. The rocks at this secret site in the Pilbara are roughly the same age as those on the red planet: three-and-a-half billion years old.

    “It’s remarkable that the history hidden in the fossil record of ancient rocks from Australia’s Pilbara region will be vital for answering the question – is there life on Mars?,” says Professor Van Kranendonk.

    The really important contribution of this trip was to give the scientists an idea of the importance of geological context in searching for signs of ancient life, and when deciding what specific samples to collect for analysis on Mars, and for sample return to Earth.

    “We were able to investigate signs of life’s earliest footholds in a variety of geological environments and then had extensive group conversations about not only what to sample, but how to sample to maximise the possibility of mission success,” says Professor Van Kranendonk.

    It is unique that the group was able to do this investigation directly on the ancient rocks, and collectively with scientists from both missions.

    “A really exciting outcome was the enthusiasm that the Mars scientists had coming away from the outcrops and thinking of how the textures they had seen would apply to their own missions,” he says.

    “Even more important was the collective realisation that life got started early on our planet, under similar conditions as what we know was happening on Mars at that time, enhancing the prospect for major discoveries during these two upcoming missions.”

    2
    The scientists’ camp in the outback

    Preparing for Mars

    The team of UNSW and other Australian and international scientists, led by Professor Van Kranendonk, have conducted research in the area for decades, following the discovery of ancient life traces there in 1980.

    This was the first time that Van Kranendonk has shared the region’s insights with a dedicated team of Mars specialists – a group including the Heads of NASA and ESA Mars 2020 missions and many of the leads of the science instruments being flown on the 2020 missions.

    ESA’s ExoMars2020 mission will visit a vast plain with sedimentary rocks that they will drill to sample for signs of microbial life. NASA’s Mars2020 rover mission will visit a previously unexplored region of Mars with a delta succession thought to have offered favourable conditions in which to search for signs of past life. It will also collect and cache samples for potential return to Earth, where they will be analysed in the laboratory.

    NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Director, James Watzin, saw his frst stromatolite on this trip.

    “After this experience, I now understand the importance of geological context in the search for life on Mars,” he says.

    “Seeing the ancient stromatolites of Western Australia, and discussing with NASA and ESA colleagues how we might look for and sample possibly similar rocks on Mars, was tremendously useful as we prepare for our rovers’ arrival on Mars about 18 months from now,” added Ken Farley, project scientist, Mars 2020 from Caltech.

    ExoMars2020 Principle Investigtor for CLUPI (the Close-up Imager), Jean-Luc Josset, says the trip was a wonderful experience.

    “It was great to see these ancient rocks of Earth and to view the early traces of life with the perspective of how to use my instrument on ExoMars.”

    “It is deeply satisfying that Australia’s ancient rocks and our scientific know-how is making such a significant contribution to our search for extra-terrestrial life and unlocking the secrets of Mars,” says Professor Van Kranendonk.

    3
    NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists have spent a week in the remote outback of Australia.

    See the full article here .


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    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on August 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "'Rosalind Franklin' Mars rover assembly completed", Airbus' facility in Stevenage, , , , , , Called "Rosalind Franklin" after the British DNA pioneer the six-wheeled robot will search for life on Mars., China and the US are preparing their own rovers for launch in the same departure window as Rosalind Franklin., China's vehicle dubbed XH-1 is a slightly smaller concept., , Development work at component and instrument level has consumed more than a decade., , It is an eight-month cruise to Mars with the landing on an ancient equatorial plain targeted for 19 March 2021., Lift-off atop a Proton rocket is scheduled for July 2020., Mars Exploration, , , The new rover follows the design template of the Curiosity robot which landed on Mars in 2012., The Rosalind Franklin rover carries a drill to collect samples from below the Martian surface., The UK made the rover a centrepiece of its space science policy.   

    From BBC: “‘Rosalind Franklin’ Mars rover assembly completed” 

    BBC
    From BBC

    27 August 2019
    Jonathan Amos

    Assembly of the rover Europe and Russia plan to send to the Red Planet next year is complete.

    10
    The rover is named after the British scientist who helped decipher the structure of DNA. MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

    Engineers at Airbus in Stevenage, UK, displayed the finished vehicle on Tuesday ahead of its shipment to France for testing.

    Called “Rosalind Franklin” after the British DNA pioneer, the six-wheeled robot will search for life on Mars.

    It has a drill to burrow 2m below ground to try to detect the presence of microbes, either living or fossilised.

    The project is a joint endeavour of the European and Russian space agencies (ESA and Roscosmos), with input from the Canadians and the US.

    2
    The UK made the rover a centrepiece of its space science policy.

    4
    The Rosalind Franklin rover is nearing completion at Airbus’ facility in Stevenage. EMMA UNDERWOOD/Airbus

    3
    The Rosalind Franklin rover carries a drill to collect samples from below the Martian surface. ESA.

    5
    Kazachok lander: The rover needs a means to get it safely to the surface of Mars. TAS.

    6
    American rovers have established that Mars was certainly habitable – but was it inhabited? NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS [Malin Space Science Systems].

    7
    Jezero Crater shows strong evidence from orbit of past water activity. NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/BROWN UNIVERSITY

    8
    The new rover follows the design template of the Curiosity robot which landed on Mars in 2012. NASA.

    Although the rover’s build took just nine months, development work at component and instrument level has consumed more than a decade (the initial feasibility study was started in 2004).

    Lift-off atop a Proton rocket is scheduled for July 2020. It is an eight-month cruise to Mars, with the landing on an ancient equatorial plain targeted for 19 March, 2021, around 0600 local Mars time.

    China and the US are preparing their own rovers for launch in the same departure window as Rosalind Franklin.

    China’s vehicle, dubbed XH-1, is a slightly smaller concept. The Americans are assembling a near-copy of the one-tonne Curiosity robot that has been investigating the Red Planet for the past seven years. Their machine is codenamed currently simply Mars 2020.

    NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

    NASA Mars 2020 Rover

    The roughly 300kg Rosalind Franklin rover is being bagged and boxed, ready to be sent to an Airbus facility in Toulouse this week. It’s in southwest France that a series of checks will ensure the robot can withstand the rigours of interplanetary travel and operation.

    There are actually three outstanding items yet to be integrated on the rover.

    These are the radioisotope heaters that will keep the vehicle warm in the bitter conditions on Mars. But they are a Russian expertise and will not be inserted until just prior to blast-off.

    In parallel with the work on the rover, engineers in Italy at the Thales Alenia Space (TAS) company are preparing the mechanisms required to get the rover safely to, and on to, Mars.

    In Turin on Wednesday, the German cruise spacecraft that will shepherd the robot to the Red Planet, and the Russian descent module, which will protect it as it enters Mars’ atmosphere, will have their first fit-check.

    Eventually, all elements of the mission will meet in Cannes, at another TAS factory, for end-to-end mating and balancing.

    “When the spacecraft is sent to Mars, it will be spinning. Like the wheels on your car, we have to check the balance to make sure everything spins smoothly,” explained Van Odedra, Airbus rover project manager.

    The entire system should be despatched to the Baikonur launch site in April to begin the process of preparing for the Proton lift-off.

    Rosalind Franklin was “superb scientific tool”, said David Parker, Esa’s director of human and robotic exploration.

    “We still have big challenges ahead but mission success is our number one priority.”

    9
    The rover will travel to Mars inside a capsule attached to a German cruise vehicle. ESA.

    What’s the critical next hurdle?

    Currently, there is concern over the readiness of the parachute system that will slow Rosalind Franklin’s descent through Mars’ atmosphere to the surface.

    Engineers have designed a two-chute system: a smaller supersonic envelope that opens first and a big subsonic membrane that opens once the entry speed has become manageable.

    Two tests earlier this year – on both chute types – led to tearing on deployment.

    Pietro Baglioni, ESA’s ExoMars manager, said the problem appeared to stem from the way the parachutes were packed and then extracted – not from the nature of the material used to fabricate them.

    ESA has called in NASA to help with finding a solution because the American agency saw something similar during the development of the parachute system used on the successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers in 2004.

    Further tests are planned for November and February.

    The November demonstration will see engineers travel to Oregon for the launch of a stratospheric balloon.

    This will drop a dummy mass from 30km in altitude; a mortar will fire the supersonic chute out of its container to simulate a Mars descent.

    Mr Baglioni said the November test had “to show that the implemented corrective measures are at least on the right track. Going for a redesign of the entire parachute system is out of the question for a 2020 launch.”

    A formal “go/no-go” decision on the mission is expected early next year.

    Why is Rosalind Franklin important for the UK?

    Tuesday’s send-off in front of the media was a big moment for the UK, which has made the Mars robot a central feature of its space science policy this past decade.

    Britain has invested in the order of €290m (£260m) in the wider Esa-Roscosmos programme, codenamed ExoMars, that also includes a satellite positioned in orbit around the Red Planet. This satellite will act as the relay to send the rover’s data home and, in the other direction, to feed Rosalind Franklin new commands.

    A further £14m (€16m) of UK public money was also set aside specifically for instrument contributions on both the rover and the satellite.

    UK scientists lead the PanCam (the panoramic camera system on the rover), for example, which will take the pictures that help the robot navigate Mars’ terrain and identify the rocks of greatest interest.

    With Rosalind Franklin now about to depart the country, there’s intense interest in a follow-up.

    Study work at Airbus-Stevenage is already considering the design of a rover that would pick up rock samples cached by Mars 2020 during its mission.

    The aim would be to bring these samples back to Earth for a deeper analysis than is possible on Mars with remote laboratory tools.

    The UK will tell its ESA partners when they gather in Spain in November for a major ministerial meeting that it will invest a substantial sum to secure the lead in building the “fetch rover”, as it has become known.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:30 pm on August 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Cameras on Mars 2020 rover confirmed to have perfect vision", Mars Exploration,   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “Cameras on Mars 2020 rover confirmed to have perfect vision” 

    1

    From Spaceflight Insider

    August 7th, 2019
    Laurel Kornfeld

    1
    The Mars 2020 rover is based off of the highly-successful Mars Science Laboratory rover – Curiosity. Photo Credit: JPL / NASA

    NASA Mars 2020 Rover

    NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

    Tests conducted on several of the cameras that have been installed on the Mars 2020 rover have confirmed that they have perfect, 20/20 This is one of the more critical aspects of the mission as it will help guide the vision.

    2
    A target board with numerous dots was one of the methods used to test the rover’s cameras. Photo Credit: JPL / NASA

    Scheduled for launch in the summer of 2020, the rover will be equipped with a total of 23 cameras–seven for science, nine for engineering, and seven for entry, descent, and landing. The images they take will play crucial functions, including enabling the rover to capture high-resolution zoom images, take panoramic photos, prevent it from crashing into boulders, and guide its robotic arm.

    “We completed the machine-vision calibration of the forward-facing cameras on the rover,” said Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for Mars 2020 at JPL. “This measurement is critical for accurate stereo vision, which is an important capability of the vehicle.”

    Last month, mission engineers calibrated the cameras placed at the front of the rover for optimal resolution and accuracy by imaging target boards featuring grids of dots at distances ranging from one to 44 yards (one to 40 meters). The tests were conducted on two navigation cameras or Navcams, four hazard-avoidance cameras or Hazcams, the laser- and spectrometer-equipped Supercam, and two high-resolution multispectral stereoscopic imaging cameras known as Mastcam-Zs.

    4
    The Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to begin its journey next year (2020) atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: NASA / JPL

    “We tested every camera on the front of the rover chassis and also those mounted on the mast. Characterizing the geometric alignment of all these imagers is important for driving the vehicle on Mars, operating the robotic arm, and accurately targeting the rover’s laser,” explained imaging scientist and chief engineer for imaging Justin Maki of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) via an agency-issued release.

    Accurate stereo vision on the forward-facing cameras is crucial for the rover to successfully do its job, he added. Using software, Mars 2020 will autonomously drive itself on the Martian surface.

    Cameras mounted on the rover’s rear and on the turret of its robotic arm are the next scheduled to undergo calibration testing. The Navcams, which will be placed on the back of the rover, will work in conjunction with the Hazcams to plan the route Mars 2020 will travel, operate its robotic arm for the purpose of drilling and acquiring soil samples, and prevent the rover from getting lost and/or crashing into hazardous obstacles.

    The Navcams will capture panoramic images in 3D while the SuperCam will photograph rocks and soil in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life. Images taken by the Mastcam-Zs will reveal details in rocks and sediment that mission scientists can then analyze as part of an effort to understand the Red Planet’s geological history.

    Mars 2020‘s overall mission is to search for biosignatures or signs that ancient Mars was once habitable for microbial life. The rover will also collect and store numerous soil and rock samples, which it will place in tubes for collection and return to Earth by a future mission.

    If you ever wanted to send your name to Mars, this mission can provide that opportunity. All you have to do is complete this online form before the Sept. 30 deadline.

    If launch occurs on schedule, Mars 2020 is expected to land on the Red Planet’s surface on Feb. 18, 2021.


    Video courtesy of NASA / JPL

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:10 pm on August 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Curiosity rover marks seven years of Martian exploration", Mars Exploration, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “Curiosity rover marks seven years of Martian exploration” 

    1

    From Spaceflight Insider

    August 9th, 2019
    Laurel Kornfeld

    1
    Curiosity has been on the surface of Mars since August of 2012. Photo Credit: NASA

    Seven years after successfully completing a difficult landing maneuver onto the floor of Mars’ Gale Crater, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to make pioneering discoveries on the Red Planet.

    The rover landed in Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012. This location was chosen after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) detected signals of clay at the site, a sign that lakes and streams flowed there billions of years ago.

    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    Its mission was to determine whether the planet was once habitable for microbial life, before its climate changed from warm and wet to cold and dry.

    Curiosity‘s study of rocks within the 96-mile- (154-km-) wide Gale Crater confirmed it once hosted a network of lakes and streams that could have been habitable for as long as several hundred million years. Over that time, clay minerals were left behind as a result of water interacting with sediment in those lakes and streams.

    To date, the rover has traveled a total of 13 miles (21 km), where it studied a variety of terrains. In 2014, it began to climb Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile (5.5 km) mountain that rises from the middle of Gale Crater.

    Unlike NASA’s earlier, solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, Curiosity runs on nuclear power via a multimission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG), meaning it is far less vulnerable to dust storms, which can prevent solar-powered rovers from recharging, causing them to lose power.

    NASA/Mars Spirit Rover

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover

    Curiosity has been in an extended mission since its primary mission was completed within one Martian year, which equals approximately two Earth years.

    Early in its travels within Gale Crater, the rover traveled over gravel and pebbles, terrain too small for drilling. Currently in a high-clay content region along Mount Sharp, the rover has since drilled into the crater’s surface 22 times, Although the drill ran into problems on several occasions, mission engineers successfully came up with innovative techniques to work around these problems.

    3
    Curiosity broke two of the raised treads, called grousers, on its left middle wheel in the first quarter of 2017. This included the one seen partially detached on the top of the wheel in this image from the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover’s arm. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    Since June of this year, Curiosity has been traversing more complex geological terrains, including “Strathdon,” an area made up of hardened sediment layers. Significantly different from the flatter, thinner layers the rover previously encountered, this region could have been shaped by a combination of both flowing water and wind.

    At an outcrop named “Teal Ridge,” whose features also suggest a complex geological history, Curiosity captured a 360-degree panorama.

    “We’re seeing an evolution in the ancient lake environment recorded in these rocks. It wasn’t just a static lake. It’s helping us move from a simplistic view of Mars going from wet to dry. Instead of a linear process, the history of water was more complicated,” stated Valerie Fox of Caltech, co-lead of Curiosity‘s clay unit campaign.

    The rover is now exploring the clay-rich side of Mount Sharp initially detected by MRO from orbit. Drilled samples there have revealed some of the highest levels of clay minerals Curiosity has found on the Martian surface. However, in a mystery that continues to stump scientists, samples taken from other regions on Mount Sharp, where MRO did not detect large amounts of clay, show similarly high clay levels. One theory is that dust present on the latter, flatter terrain obscured clay signals there far more than it did on the former, which is covered in pebbles.

    Recently, Curiosity detected high levels of methane in some parts of Gale Crater’s atmosphere. On Earth, atmospheric methane is produced largely through biological processes, especially by microbes. But methane can also be produced by geological processes, specifically, interaction between hot water and rock, so the presence of the gas does not amount to proof of life.

    Curiosity has enough power remaining to operate for approximately another seven years and remains in good health.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:15 am on May 29, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Mars Exploration   

    From European Space Agency: “Aarhus Mars Simulation Wind Tunnel” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    29/05/2019
    Aarhus University

    1

    Part of Aarhus University’s Mars Simulation Laboratory in Denmark, this wind tunnel has been specially designed to simulate the dusty surface of planet Mars.

    Constructed within an 8-m long, 2.5-m wide pressure chamber, the Aarhus Mars Simulation Wind Tunnel has attracted researchers from all over Europe and the United States, to test instruments and equipment for a wide range of Mars missions, including ESA’s ExoMars and NASA’s Mars 2020 rovers.

    ESA/Roscosmos Rosalind Franklin ExoMars 2015

    NASA Mars Rover 2020

    The air pressure within the wind tunnel can be taken down to less than one hundredth of terrestrial sea level and the temperature reduced to as low as -170°C using liquid nitrogen. Fans then blow the scanty atmosphere that remains at up to 30 m/s, along with Mars-style dust.

    Researchers can evaluate how items such as sensors, solar panels and mechanical parts stand up to the clingy, abrasive particles, sourced from Mars-like, oxide-rich soil found in central Denmark.

    “We’ve been in operation all through this decade,” comments Jonathan Merrison of Aarhus University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, overseeing the facility. “We’re the only wind tunnel that not only reproduces the low pressure and low temperatures of Mars, but also allows the introduction of particulates of sand and dust.

    “Probably about a third of the testing carried out here has been ExoMars related, then there have been users related to other ars missions, as well as industrial testing of high altitude terrestrial equipment.

    “We are also a member of the Europlanet network, a grouping of planetary scientists supported by the European Union, supporting the usage of various planetary simulation facilities and analogues.”

    The Aarhus Mars Simulation Wind Tunnel was based on a smaller, earlier version, which remains in use. Its development was supported by ESA’s Technology Development Element programme for promising new technologies as well as the philanthropic Villum Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

    ESA has demonstrated expertise in studying Mars from orbit, now we are looking to secure a safe landing, to rove across the surface and to drill underground to search for evidence of life. Our orbiters are already in place to provide data relay services for surface missions. The next logical step is to bring samples back to Earth, to provide access to Mars for scientists globally, and to better prepare for future human exploration of the Red Planet. This week we’re highlighting ESA’s contribution to Mars exploration as we ramp up to the launch of our second ExoMars mission, and look beyond to completing a Mars Sample Return mission. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ExploreFarther

    See the full article here .


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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 7:37 am on May 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Mars Exploration   

    From European Space Agency: “ExoMars laboratory passes Red Planet simulation” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    8 May 2019

    Frédéric Didot
    ESA ExoMars ALD system engineer
    Email: frederic.didot@esa.int

    Markus Bauer
    ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
    Tel: +31 71 565 6799
    Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
    Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

    A key set of scientific instruments developed for the ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin passed tests last month to ensure compatibility with the martian environment.

    The rover’s Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD) flight model completed its thermal and vacuum sessions in Turin, Italy, at a Thales Alenia Space facility.

    1
    Moving the ExoMars Analytical Laboratory Drawer

    The ExoMars rover will be the first of its kind to both roam the Mars surface and to study it at depth. Rosalind Franklin will drill down to two metres into the surface to sample the soil, analyse its composition and search for evidence of past – and perhaps even present – life hidden underground.

    A miniature laboratory inside the rover will analyse the samples and send data and images back to Earth to the scientific community, eager to learn more about our neighbouring planet.

    Under the hood

    2
    ExoMars rover: front view, annotated

    The ExoMars rover ALD system is designed by Thales Alenia Space in Turin and carries a set of four complex mechanisms developed by OHB in Munich, Germany, that can process and supply soil samples to three scientific instruments. Dedicated control electronics and a thermal control system will keep the system working and operating at the required temperatures while preserving the Mars samples and possible traces of organic molecules.

    The instruments will make a detailed study of the composition and chemistry of the soil samples collected by the rover’s drill. Following a process similar to a factory floor, once acquired from the drill, samples are dropped into a crushing station and pulverised. The fine powder is then dosed and moved on to the next area for precise distribution – either on a refillable container or in thumb-sized ovens where the specimens are analysed.

    The Analytical Laboratory Drawer houses three instruments to search for signs of life on Mars.

    4
    ExoMars Analytical Laboratory Drawer

    The MicrOmega instrument uses visible and infrared light to characterise minerals in the samples; a Raman spectrometer (developed by INTA) uses a laser to identify mineralogical composition and lastly a combination of a Laser Desorption Mass Spectrometer and a Gas Chromatograph (part of the Mars Organics Molecule Analyser, MOMA) will study and identify soil chemistry. The most scientifically interesting samples, will be dosed into the MOMA ovens. The ALD has 31 ovens, where samples can be heated and the vapour and gases emitted will be analysed with gas chromatography techniques to look for traces of organic compounds.

    Roving laboratory

    The instruments must work with the highest level of precision in an environment that is far from the pristine interiors common in laboratories on Earth. Rosalind Franklin can expect harsh days and nights on Mars with temperatures dropping to –120°C outside, and –60°C inside the rover.

    “The ALD behaved well with good results from both mechanisms and instruments during operations,” says Frédéric Didot, ESA ExoMars ALD system engineer.

    “The Mars environment tests were performed according to the project’s schedule thanks to the effort and dedication of industry and instrument teams supporting this amazing project.”

    The Exomars mission is in its final stages of preparation, the landing platform was delivered by Roscosmos’ prime contractor Lavochkin from Moscow to Turin in March. The ALD Flight Model having now passed these martian simulation tests is shipping to the UK for an arrival at an Airbus site in Stevenage on 8 May where it will be integrated with the rover.

    The ExoMars programme is a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos. Thales Alenia Space is prime contractor on both ExoMars missions, 2016 and 2020, at the head of a large industrial consortium. For the 2020 mission, Leonardo will provide the soil sample drill, OHB the carrier module and various rover instruments, while the rover, named after Rosalind Franklin, is supplied by Airbus Defense & Space. NPO Lavochkin will build the descent module and its landing platform.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 8:59 am on March 16, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Mars Exploration, Rosalind Franklin the ExoMars rover   

    From European Space Agency: “ExoMars locomotion tests” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    1

    13/03/2019

    ESA/Roscosmos Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover

    What’s in a name?
    7 February 2019

    The ExoMars rover that will search for the building blocks of life on the Red Planet has a name: Rosalind Franklin. The prominent scientist behind the discovery of the structure of DNA will have her symbolic footprint on Mars in 2021.

    A panel of experts chose ‘Rosalind Franklin’ from over 36 000 entries submitted by citizens from all ESA Member States, following a competition launched by the UK Space Agency in July last year.

    The ExoMars rover will be the first of its kind to combine the capability to roam around Mars and to study it at depth. The Red Planet has hosted water in the past, but has a dry surface exposed to harsh radiation today.

    The rover bearing Rosalind Franklin’s name will drill down to two metres into the surface to sample the soil, analyse its composition and search for evidence of past – and perhaps even present – life buried underground.

    The rover is part of the ExoMars programme, a joint endeavour between ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos.

    2
    Rosalind Franklin

    Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who contributed to unravelling the double helix structure of our DNA. She also made enduring contributions to the study of coal, carbon and graphite. ESA has a long tradition of naming its missions for great scientists, including Newton, Planck and Euclid.

    “This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore. Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA. Rosalind the rover captures this spirit and carries us all to the forefront of space exploration,” says ESA Director General Jan Woerner.

    Looking beyond ExoMars, bringing samples back from Mars is the logical next step for robotic exploration. ESA is already defining a concept for a sample return mission working in cooperation with NASA.

    “Returning martian samples is a huge challenge that will require multiple missions, each one successively more complex than the one before,” says David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration.

    “We want to bring the Red Planet closer to home. We want to delve into its mysteries and bring back knowledge and benefits to people on Earth. Returned planetary samples are truly the gift that keeps on giving – scientific treasure for generations to come,” he adds.

    Long-term planning is crucial to realise the missions that investigate fundamental science questions like could life ever have evolved beyond Earth?

    ESA has been exploring Mars for more than 15 years, starting with Mars Express and continuing with the two ExoMars missions, keeping a European presence at the Red Planet into the next decade.

    ESA Mars Express


    ESA Mars Express Orbiter

    ESA/ExoMars


    ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter


    ESA/ExoMars Schiaparelli module

    Before Rosalind Franklin the ExoMars rover can search for signs of life on Mars, it must learn how to manoeuvre the landscape. Scientists and engineers are putting the rover through a series of locomotion tests to fine tune how it will respond to a challenging martian terrain.

    The ExoMars mission will see Rosalind the rover and its surface platform land on Mars in 2021. There, the rover will move across many types of terrain, from fine-grained soil to large boulders and slopes to collect samples with a 2-m-long drill, and analyse them with instruments in its onboard laboratory. Engineers must ensure Rosalind does not get stuck in sand or topple over and that it is able to climb steep slopes and overcome rocks.

    The ExoMars teams are using a dedicated rover to run locomotion tests. In this image, the full-sized locomotion model is about to move from the surface platform. This rover has been designed to behave exactly like Rosalind would do under martian gravity – that is about a third of gravity found on Earth. For that purpose, the model has a different weight distribution and features a boom mounted on top to achieve the exact location of the centre of gravity of the rover.

    A special facility at RUAG Space in Zurich, Switzerland, emulates all the terrain conditions that Rosalind the rover is expected to encounter on Mars: different types of soil, various obstacle shapes and sizes and all kind of terrain slopes. A large hydraulic platform filled with 20 tonnes of soil was put in place for the tests.

    Over the past few weeks, ESA, Roscosmos, Thales, Airbus and RUAG engineers have been testing the capability of the rover to egress from its landing platform onto the martian soil. Should the platform and rover find themselves on a slope upon landing, as simulated in the image, Rosalind the rover must be able to negotiate steep inclinations to descend from the platform. The team looked closely at the performance of the rover over the ramps at different inclination angles, from 5 up to 35 degrees.

    The steep slope was a challenge for the rover. The wheels found it difficult at times to gain traction, a valuable lesson of what can be expected on Mars.

    The rover has six wheels. Each wheel pair is suspended on a pivoted bogie so each wheel can be steered and driven independently. Its flexible metallic wheels, equipped with springs, offer great traction capability, allowing the rover to achieve better grip during obstacle climbing and achieve smoother locomotion.

    Thanks to a triple-bogie locomotion system, the rover is able to overcome obstacles as big as its wheels. The rover uses inclinometers and gyroscopes to enhance its motion control.

    Two cameras at the top of the rover’s mast allow Rosalind Franklin to see in 3D, like humans do, and identify rocks and slopes in front of it. This also allows the navigation system to take account of, and correct for, any wheel slippage. Rovers on Mars have previously been caught in sand, and continued wheel turning might actually dig them deeper – just like a car stuck in mud or snow.

    These tests took place at the same time as the ExoFit field tests. In the most recent campaign, the rover drove from its landing platform and targeted sites of interest to sample rocks in the Mars-like landscapes of the Chilean desert.

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings
    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 12:19 pm on December 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z from ASU, Mars Exploration   

    From Arizona State University: “Mars 2020 rover mission camera system ‘Mastcam-Z’ testing begins at ASU” 

    ASU Bloc

    From Arizona State University

    December 4, 2018

    Arizona State University research technician and Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z calibration engineer Andy Winhold waited patiently on the loading dock of ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV in anticipation of the arrival of a very special delivery.

    On board the delivery truck was precious cargo from Malin Space Science Systems, a test model of “Mastcam-Z,” the mast-mounted camera system for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission.

    NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

    NASA Mars Rover 2020 NASA

    Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z

    1
    2
    The Eyes of NASA’s Next Mars Rover
    Mastcam-Z is the name of the mast-mounted camera system that is equipped with a zoom function on the Mars 2020 rover. Mastcam-Z has cameras that can zoom in, focus, and take 3D pictures and video at high speed to allow detailed examination of distant objects. The principal investigator for the instrument is professor and planetary scientist Jim Bell of the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

    Mastcam-Z is being designed, built and tested under the direction of principal investigator Jim Bell, of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. The dual camera system can zoom in (hence the ‘Z’ in “’Mastcam-Z’), focus and take 3D pictures and panoramas at a variety of scales. This will allow the Mars 2020 rover to provide a detailed examination of both close and distant objects.

    The test model that arrived on the Tempe campus in November, otherwise known as an engineering qualification model or EQM, is an important step in designing and building instruments for space. These models not only serve as a way to run the instruments through the rigors of launch and functionality in space, they also serve as a way for the instrument team to evaluate the design and testing plans before the final cameras are fully assembled.

    Testing the Mastcam-Z engineering model

    The engineering model essentially allows the team to do a “dry run” through the complete design and build process of the instrument before the final versions of the cameras are complete.

    “Parts may take longer to build than expected, a certain assembly step may be more difficult than initially thought or resources from third parties could become scarce on short notice,” Winhold said. “These are all things we can learn about and prepare for in advance using the engineering model.”

    The team first verifies that the test instrument operates correctly in terms of parts, power consumption and software. They also use the model to ensure the instrument meets mission requirements in terms of functionality, size and weight. “For Mastcam-Z, one of the primary interests with the engineering model was evaluating the instrument’s ability to change focal length — or zoom,” Winhold said.

    Specifically, the team tested the engineering model in the thermal vacuum chamber, located in ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, to confirm that their support equipment was designed appropriately and allowed the camera to be placed securely in the chamber and view out the chamber’s window clearly. They also timed the tests so they knew how long testing the actual cameras will take, and they tested the IT network’s ability to share data quickly between people inside the cleanroom and other support team members outside of the room and around the world.

    Winhold describes his role on the mission as similar to someone playing the game “Operation,” where the patient is the Mastcam-Z cameras and the tweezers are the support pieces.

    3
    The Mastcam-Z team testing the engineering model in ASU’s cleanrooms. Team members include Jim Bell, Andy Winhold, Alex Hayes, Ken Herkenhoff, Elsa Jensen, Tex Kubacki, Jake Schaffner, Paul Corlies, Christian David Tate, Megan Emch, Kristen Paris, Ernest Cisneros, Winston Carter, Corrine Rojas, Shane Thompson and Rick Hoppe. Photo courtesy ASU

    4
    A calibration target used to assess the image quality of the cameras, consisting of geometric patterns, slanted edges, and lines very finely spaced apart to evaluate the camera’s optics and their ability to accurately capture the resolution and contrast of the imaged scene onto the camera’s image sensor. Photo courtesy ASU

    3
    ASU research technician and Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z calibration engineer Andy Winhold with ASU’s thermal vacuum chamber in ISTB IV on the Tempe campus. The thermal vacuum chamber simulates the space environment so instruments can be tested for the rigors of space exploration. Photo courtesy ASU

    6
    The engineering qualification model — a test model of Mastcam-Z, the mast-mounted camera system for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission — in the cleanroom of ISTB IV on the ASU Tempe campus. Photo courtesy ASU

    “But in my case,” said Winhold, “I’m only shown pictures of the board game, and based on those pictures I need to design and create the best tweezers for removing ailments without hurting the patient.”

    And according to the team, the testing has been a success so far.

    “We had a few hiccups we worked around, like cables not being long enough, not understanding best communication procedures, that sort of thing; but nothing truly unexpected,” Winhold said. “That’s exactly how we like things. In testing equipment that will be going to space, a boring day that goes according to procedure is a good one.”

    Next steps for the Mastcam-Z team

    In December, the actual Mastcam-Z flight cameras will arrive on the ASU Tempe campus for testing. They will then be delivered to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and installed on the Mars 2020 rover, which will launch in summer 2020, landing on Mars in February 2021. The mission is expected to last at least one Mars year (687 Earth days).

    “The tests we ran on the engineering unit at ASU are almost identical to the tests we’ll be running on the actual cameras when they arrive,” Winhold said.

    Once the instrument is finalized and installed in the Mars 2020 rover, the engineering model continues to have a purpose.

    “Largely it is considered a ‘flight spare’ and will be a back-up unit should something happen to the flight cameras before launch,” Winhold explained. “Once the rover launches in the summer of 2020 we won’t be able to do any hands-on interaction with the flight cameras, though, so we’ll have the engineering model as a reference for possible problem solving and as a reference for subsequent rover missions.”

    About Mastcam-Z

    The cameras weigh about 8.8 pounds and will produce images of color quality similar to that of a consumer digital HD camera (2 megapixels). The cameras will help other Mars 2020 experiments on the rover by looking at the whole landscape and identifying rocks and soil (regolith) that deserve a closer look by other instruments. They will also spot important rocks for the rover to sample and cache on the surface of Mars, for eventual return (by a future mission) to Earth.

    Mastcam-Z’s purpose is to take high resolution panoramic color and 3D images of the Martian surface and features in the atmosphere with a zoom lens to magnify distant targets. It will be mounted on the Mars 2020 rover mast at the eye level of a 6-foot-5-inch person. The two cameras are separated by 9.5 inches to provide stereo vision. These cameras, with their all-seeing sharp vision, will provide images for science team members to pick out the best rocks, to hunt for evidence of past habitability recorded in the geology and texture of the landscape, and to look for signs of past water on Mars.

    Mastcam-Z’s principal investigator is Professor Jim Bell of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. The deputy principal investigator is Dr. Justin Maki of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Planetary Society serves as the instrument’s education and public outreach partner, and the prime subcontractor for instrument development is Malin Space Science Systems, Inc.

    NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission

    The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission also seeks to gather knowledge and to demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars. These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.

    Mastcam-Z Team

    On February 6, 2018, the Mastcam-Z team captured their traditional team photo in an unusual way: with the stereo testbed model of the camera. Just as the real camera will do on Mars, the testbed rotated to multiple positions to gather in the full scene. To produce this panoramic view, the team corrected the images for geometric distortion and assembled them into a mosaic.

    7
    From left to right, the pictured team members are: Jim Bell, Justin Maki, Jeffrey Johnson, Mark Lemmon, Ken Edgett, Mike Wolff, Ken Herkenhoff, Samantha Jacob, Ed Cloutis, Andy Winhold, Zach Bailey, Danika Wellington, Nicole Schmitz, Rob Sullivan, Peter Martin, Paul Corlies, Jim Bell, Sarah Fagents, Kristen Paris, Stephanie Holaday, Elsa Jensen, Piluca Caballo Perucha, Ernest Cisneros, Jake Adler, Melissa Rice, Christian Tate, Kjartan Kinch, Darian Dixon, Gerhard Paar, Kathleen Hoza, Jon Proton, Jim Bell, and Mat Kaplan.

    Principal Investigator: Jim Bell, Arizona State University

    Deputy Principal Investigator: Justin Maki, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    Education and Public Outreach Partner: The Planetary Society

    Instrument Development: Malin Space Science Systems
    Team Blogs

    What’s the latest on the Mastcam-Z team? Check out the Planetary Society Mastcam-Z team blogs.

    Press

    Planetary Society Mastcam-Z Press Room

    NASA Mars 2020 Mission Newsroom

    Additional Resources

    NASA Mastcam-Z webpage

    Planetary Society Mastcam-Z webpage

    See the full article here .


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    ASUis the largest public university by enrollment in the United States. Founded in 1885 as the Territorial Normal School at Tempe, the school underwent a series of changes in name and curriculum. In 1945 it was placed under control of the Arizona Board of Regents and was renamed Arizona State College. A 1958 statewide ballot measure gave the university its present name.
    ASU is classified as a research university with very high research activity (RU/VH) by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, one of 78 U.S. public universities with that designation. Since 2005 ASU has been ranked among the Top 50 research universities, public and private, in the U.S. based on research output, innovation, development, research expenditures, number of awarded patents and awarded research grant proposals. The Center for Measuring University Performance currently ranks ASU 31st among top U.S. public research universities.

    ASU awards bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 16 colleges and schools on five locations: the original Tempe campus, the West campus in northwest Phoenix, the Polytechnic campus in eastern Mesa, the Downtown Phoenix campus and the Colleges at Lake Havasu City. ASU’s “Online campus” offers 41 undergraduate degrees, 37 graduate degrees and 14 graduate or undergraduate certificates, earning ASU a Top 10 rating for Best Online Programs. ASU also offers international academic program partnerships in Mexico, Europe and China. ASU is accredited as a single institution by The Higher Learning Commission.

    ASU Tempe Campus
    ASU Tempe Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on November 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Mars Exploration, , , NASA’s InSight Lander Is Already Snapping Amazing Pictures of Mars   

    From Motherboard: “NASA’s InSight Lander Is Already Snapping Amazing Pictures of Mars” 

    motherboard

    From Motherboard

    Nov 27 2018
    Becky Ferreira

    On its first sol on the red planet, the mission sent home images of a dusty landscape, a lander selfie, and a wide shot of Mars from space.

    1
    NASA’s InSight lander takes its first selfie on November 26, 2018. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Shortly after it successfully touched down on Mars on Monday, NASA’s InSight lander took a selfie showing off its new home in the Elysium Planitia region. The picture was taken by the mission’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), mounted on the lander’s robotic arm, and captures the upper deck of InSight’s instrument package, against a backdrop of flat Martian terrain.

    Though it was InSight’s first selfie on the red planet, it was not the first picture the lander sent back to Earth. Just minutes after its nail-biting touchdown, InSight sent a quick landscape shot home to the mission control team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    2
    This image was taken with the Instrument Context Camera (ICC), which is attached directly to the lander’s deck and provides a wide-angle fisheye view of the landscape. The ICC lens is speckled with dust kicked up by the retrorockets that guided the craft safely down to its landing site.

    But the lander wasn’t the only mission component busy snapping exhilarating new pictures of Mars. Perhaps the most groundbreaking snapshot came from MarCO-B, a trailblazing satellite that imaged Mars during its flyby at a distance of about 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers).

    5

    JPL Cubesat MarCO Mars Cube

    MarCO-B, along with its twin MarCO-A—nicknamed “Wall-E” and “EVE” respectively—are both CubeSats, a class of miniaturized cubic satellite introduced to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Hundreds of CubeSats have been deployed in low Earth orbit, but the MarCO satellites are the first to voyage into deep space.

    The CubeSats are about the size of a shoebox, and were launched with the InSight lander back in May, before separating from the main spacecraft to pursue their own trajectories to Mars. Just a few days into the trip, MarCO-B took this picture of Earth with its wide field camera.

    The MarCO satellites were not essential for the mission, and were bundled into InSight to test out CubeSat performance in deep space. Their successful communications performance and the dazzling shots bode well for the use of CubeSats in interplanetary missions.

    Given how many fascinating visuals InSight has sent home on its very first sol on Mars, it seems like the mission is already paying off. No doubt the lander will produce many more stunning pictures—not to mention tantalizing data about Mars’ interior—in the years to come.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The future is wonderful, the future is terrifying. We should know, we live there. Whether on the ground or on the web, Motherboard travels the world to uncover the tech and science stories that define what’s coming next for this quickly-evolving planet of ours.

    Motherboard is a multi-platform, multimedia publication, relying on longform reporting, in-depth blogging, and video and film production to ensure every story is presented in its most gripping and relatable format. Beyond that, we are dedicated to bringing our audience honest portraits of the futures we face, so you can be better informed in your decision-making today.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:59 am on November 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Mars Exploration   

    From The New York Times: NASA’s InSight Mission Has Touched Down on Mars to Study the Red Planet’s Deep Secrets 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    Nov. 26, 2018
    Kenneth Chang

    NASA/Mars InSight Lander

    The InSight lander, NASA’s latest foray to the red planet, has landed.

    Cheers erupted on Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which operates the spacecraft, when InSight sent back acknowledgment of its safe arrival on Mars. That was the end of a journey of more than six months and 300 million miles.

    As InSight descended and each milestone of the landing process was called out, “the hairs on the back of my neck would start rising a little bit higher, a little bit higher,” Tom Hoffman, the project manager for the mission, said at a news conference after the landing. “And then when we finally got the confirmation of touchdown, it was completely amazing. The whole room went crazy. My inner four-year-old came out.”

    In the months ahead, InSight will begin its study of the Martian underworld, listening for tremors — marsquakes — and collect data that will be pieced together in a map of the interior of the red planet and help would help scientists understand how Mars and other rocky planets formed.

    Those lessons could also shed light on Earth’s origins.

    “We can basically use Mars as a time machine to go back and look at what the Earth must have looked like a few tens of millions of years after it formed,” said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the mission.

    InSight set down at Elysium Planitia, near the Equator in the northern hemisphere.

    2

    Mission scientists have described the region as resembling a parking lot or “Kansas without the corn.” Within minutes, the first photograph from InSight appeared on the screen, eliciting another round of cheers.

    The image was partially obscured by dirt kicked up onto a protective but clear lens cover, but it was evident that the landscape was indeed flat. One rock could be seen in the foreground.

    “I’m very very happy that it looks like we have an incredibly safe and boring-looking landing location,” Mr. Hoffman said.

    Because the mission is not interested in rocky terrain or pretty sunsets, planners wanted a flat place with sandy soil. “There’s one rock, so I’m going to have to talk to them a little bit,” Mr. Hoffman joked.

    3
    Debris partially obscured a Mars landscape in the first frame sent by NASA’s Mars InSight lander from Mars’s surface after a successful landing.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

    The main scientific part of the mission will not begin for a few months. Once the mission’s managers have confirmed the health of the spacecraft, including its robotic arm, the arm will lift the spacecraft’s primary instruments off the main deck of the lander and place them on the Martian ground.

    Elizabeth Barrett, a science system engineer, likened the process to a claw game where one tries to pull out a prize without it falling. “But you’re doing it with a really, really valuable prize,” she said. “And you’re doing it blindfolded where you can only take occasional pictures. And then you’re doing it via remote control on another planet.”

    That requires some additional care. “You need to make sure you actually have the grapple on the payload before you lift it up and it’s actually on the ground before you let it go,” Dr. Barrett said.

    InSight’s primary mission on the surface is to last nearly two years.

    One simple thing Dr. Banerdt hopes to learn: how thick is the crust of Mars?

    He recalled a project he worked on as an intern in the 1970s where the thickness of Mars’s crust needed to be known. “We just had to fake it, because we had no idea,” he said.

    InSight should finally provide the answer. “That’s one measurement I would like to go back to the old paper, plug it in to see how close I was,” Dr. Banerdt said.

    Other questions the mission aims to answer: How often does the ground shake with marsquakes? How big is Mars’s molten core? How much heat is flowing up from the decay of radioactive elements at the core?

    4
    InSight’s landing on Monday was live-streamed to viewing parties across the country, including in Times Square in New York.Credit Jeenah Moon for The New York Times.

    To study these questions, InSight will use two main instruments: a dome-shape package containing seismometers and a heat probe that is to burrow about 16 feet down. NASA has spent $814 million on InSight. In addition, France and Germany invested $180 million to build these main instruments.

    The seismometers, which are designed to measure surface movements less than the width of a hydrogen atom, will produce what are essentially sonograms of the planet’s insides. In particular, scientists are looking to record at least 10 to 12 marsquakes over two years.

    Temblors on Mars are not caused by plate tectonics, like on Earth. Instead they are generated when the planet’s crust cracks because of its interior’s cooling and shrinking. The seismometers could also detect other seismic vibrations from meteors hitting Mars.

    InSight’s landing wasn’t NASA’s only success on Monday. The agency used the mission to test new technology.

    Two identical spacecraft known as Mars Cube One, or MarCO for short, launched with InSight in May. MarCO A and B then separated from InSight’s cruise stage and have since been trailing behind it.

    Depictikon of NASA JPL MarCo cubesat


    JPL Cubesat MarCO Mars Cube

    Hundreds of miniature satellites known as CubeSats have launched into orbit around Earth in recent years, but this is the first time that CubeSats have been sent on an interplanetary voyage.

    The MarCO spacecraft relayed InSight’s telemetry to Earth flawlessly, enabling the immediate celebration. “This has been a fantastic day for spacecraft great and small,” said Andrew Klesh, the chief engineer for the CubeSats.

    He showed a picture of Mars taken by one of the MarCO satellites shortly after the InSight landing as it sped away from Mars.

    6

    “This image is really our farewell to InSight, our wish for good luck and a farewell for Mars itself as we continue on,” he said.

    InSight joins a busy cast of Martian robotic explorers.

    In orbit, NASA also has the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and Maven.

    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    NASA/Mars Odyssey Spacecraft

    NASA Mars MAVEN


    NASA/Mars MAVEN

    The European Space Agency has Mars Express and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.

    ESA Mars Express Orbiter

    ESA/ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

    The Indian Space Research Organization has the Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan.

    ISRO Mangalyaan

    On the surface, NASA currently has the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, although solar-powered Opportunity has been quiet since the summer when a global dust storm prevented it from generating enough power to operate.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    And the year 2020 could get busier, when NASA is planning to launch another rover that will search for the building blocks of life.

    NASA Mars Rover 2020 NASA

    China, India, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and a European-Russian collaboration are also all intending to launch missions to Mars then.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
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