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  • richardmitnick 4:18 pm on May 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ballooning Expectations: New Approach for Astronomy, , NASA   

    From NASA- “Ballooning Expectations: New Approach for Astronomy” 

    NASA image


    May 3, 2016
    Editor: Loura Hall

    High-flying stratospheric version of the suborbital Large Balloon Reflector (LBR). The telescope consists of an inflatable, half-aluminized spherical reflector deployed within a much larger, carrier stratospheric balloon. Credits: Christopher Walker

    Decades ago when he was in grade school, Christopher Walker stepped outside with his father to see the NASA all-aluminized Echo balloon cross the nighttime sky in Earth’s orbit. That early space spectacle stuck with him, he explains, and unknowingly, was a reflection on his future.

    Fast forward several decades. Today, Walker is a professor of Astronomy and an associate professor of Optical Sciences and Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    Walker’s winning NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) Phase II proposal in 2014 investigated the prospect for a 33-foot – suborbital large balloon reflector, or LBR for short.

    Scanning the universe

    Looking up from a height of some 120,000 feet above the Earth, the sensor-laden LBR can serve as a telescope. Walker’s telescope would consist of an inflatable, half-aluminized spherical reflector deployed within a much larger, carrier stratospheric balloon, about the size of a football field. The outer balloon would double as a protective structure or radome once it is positioned.

    Looking down and out, the LBR’s mission could involve Earth remote sensing by carrying out precision looks at the outer edge – or limb – of our planet and studying the atmosphere and greenhouse gases, Walker says. LBR has the capacity to become a hub to support telecommunication activities too, he adds.

    But the looking up can clearly provide an astronomical plus. That is, by combining suborbital balloon and telescope technologies, this 33-foot class telescope would be free of roughly 99 percent of the Earth’s atmospheric absorption – perfect for scanning the universe in the far-infrared.

    Addressing key unknowns

    Walker is a supporter of NIAC and its mission to nurture visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs—radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts—while engaging America’s innovators and entrepreneurs as partners.

    “There was no place other than NIAC within NASA to get this off the ground,” Walker admits. “To be honest, at first I was afraid to share the idea with colleagues because it may have sounded so crazy. You need a program within NASA that will actually look at the insane stuff…and NIAC is it.”

    Walker’s early NIAC work centered on bringing the LBR concept to a technology readiness level of at least 2 or 3 in maturity, as well as addressing key unknowns, assumptions, risks, and paths forward.

    Walker is now hard at work parlaying his NIAC Phase II research into development of a “space-based” version of LBR.

    This space-based adaptation is dubbed the TeraHertz Space Telescope (TST). If deployed, the TST would be a telescope for probing the formation and evolution of galaxies over cosmic time.


    TST would operate at wavelengths longer than the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but due to its size, will have the same or better angular resolution and sensitivity.

    The orbital version would shed the outer balloon, just leaving an inflated sphere. “You’re not fighting gravity to make it spherical. It makes it structurally easier to achieve very high tolerance of ‘sphere-isity,’” Walker adds. “In space the sphere can be radiatively cooled to very low temperatures, allowing a better view of the distant universe.”

    While buoyed by the TST idea and other possible applications, Walker is quick to add that technology readiness levels remain to be grappled with. Furthermore, he’s fully aware that dollar resources are precious.
    “This concept is different from the more traditional, costly approaches of building a telescope for space. It’s a tough road ahead, but we’ll keep pushing forward,” Walker says. “I’m hopeful I can get people motivated and excited about the concept…to think outside the box,” he explains.

    nnovative thinker, Christopher Walker, Professor of Astronomy and also an Associate Professor of Optical Sciences and Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Credits: Christopher Walker/NIAC

    See the full article here .

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    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 [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 1:18 pm on April 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced Electric Propulsion System, , , , NASA   

    From INVERSE: “NASA Orders a New Solar-Powered Ion Engine to Explore Deep Space and Go to Mars” 



    April 19, 2016
    Jack Crosbie

    We already know electric engines are the future of automobiles, and NASA thinks they’re the future of spaceflight as well. Today, NASA awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. to design a new Advanced Electric Propulsion System, mainly for use on robotic deep space ships like those used in its Asteroid Redirect Mission.

    Electric propulsion tech has been around for more than fifty years, and it’s already widely used on long distance deep space expeditions like the Dawn mission, which is surveying the giant asteroid Vesta (last seen 156 million miles from Earth) and the protoplanet Ceres between 2011 and 2015.

    Unlike electric engines in cars, electric propulsion systems still use a fuel-based propellant, they’re just way more efficient than traditional engines. An electric ion engine takes a fuel source (usually xenon or another argon gas) and ionizes it (takes off an electron), then shoots that ion out of the back of the spacecraft (and spraying out some electrons so the whole thing stays electrically neutral). It uses on-board solar panels to energize and ionize the fuel. They’re way more efficient than burning conventional fuel, which makes them perfect for long-range missions. They don’t, however, generate a tremendous amount of thrust, which means they can’t be used for taking off directly from a planet (sorry, Star Wars), but they can push big heavy stuff through space for a long, long time on not a lot of fuel.

    You’re looking at the business end. NASA.

    NASA hopes that Aerojet’s new engine will increase fuel efficiency to more than 10 times the current rate of conventional chemical fuel (just burnin’ stuff and shooting it out the back, no funny ion business), and double the thrust capability compared to current electric systems (which means faster trips). The new engine’s meant for a pretty crazy purpose too — one of its first tests may be on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, where it will attempt to capture an asteroid, push it all the way to the moon, and put it in orbit. To sum up, NASA wants to use solar-powered ion engines to steal an asteroid and put it near the moon, giving our moon a moon of its own. Science, man, whoo-wee.

    We’ll know more on Thursday, when NASA is holding a press conference call to talk about the new engine project. The AEPS contract lasts for 36 months, and is valued at around $67 million, in which Aerojet will design, construct, and test the engine.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:58 pm on April 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Heasarc Picture of the Week, NASA   

    From Wisconsin: HEARSARC Picture of the Week 

    HEASARC of the week

    April 18, 2016

    Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/University of Wisconsin-Madison /S. Heinz et al.; Optical: DSS [?]

    In 2013, the neutron star X-ray binary Circinus X-1 produced a powerful X-ray flare. X-ray binaries are composed of neutron stars (collapsed cores of stars that are about as dense as an atomic nucleus) in orbit around a normal star. Gas is pulled off the normal star and accreted by the neutron star, producing high energy X-ray emission. Cir X-1 is the youngest known X-ray binary, created in a fiery stellar explosion about 5000 years ago (as seen from earth). Cir X-1 is also a very erratic X-ray binary, showing bright outbursts at times, while at other times showing little X-ray emission. The 2013 flare was detected by the Monitor of All-Sky X-ray Image (MAXI) instrument on the International Space Station. Followup observations by the Chandra X-ray Observatory and by XMM-Newton showed portions of four X-ray rings centered on Cir X-1.

    NASA/Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    ESA/XMM Newton
    ESA/XMM Newton

    These X-ray rings are shown in the false color X-ray image above, which is superimposed on an optical image [no telescope(s) credited] of the sky around Cir X-1: red represents low energy X-rays, green medium energy X-rays, and blue high-energy X-rays. Astronomers realized that these rings are actually echoes of the 2013 X-ray flare produced by discrete clouds of dust between Cir X-1 and earth. Careful analysis of these X-ray “light echoes” allowed astronomers to determine the spatial distribution of these clouds and to resolve the uncertainty of the distance to Cir X-1.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:22 am on April 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA, ROSCOSMOS,   

    From SI: “US, Russia Should Extend Space Cooperation After Russian Rockets Replaced” 

    Sputnik International bloc

    Sputnik International

    ROSCOSMOS bloc


    The United States needs to maintain close space cooperation with Russia even if it develops new rockets to carry US astronauts, former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) chief Richard Truly told Sputnik.

    The United States is still seeking to develop new man-rated boosters that can carry US astronauts independently into space, a capability that NASA lost after the last active space shuttle Atlantis took its final flight in July 2011.

    Until NASA or private contractors succeed in developing and testing a new man-rated booster, US astronauts will have to continue to fly to the International Space Station in Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched on Proton boosters.

    “I see no reason that that should be a damper in the long-term of cooperation between Russia and the United States,” Truly said in an interview at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

    Continued cooperation between United States and Russia on space issues remained crucially important, especially in light of the current political tensions between the two countries, Truly maintained.

    “It is very important. One of the things over many years that Russia and the United States have had to keep us together is the space program… I hope that cooperation continues… I think it’s important that we develop this capability that we are working on.”

    NASA image

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:57 am on April 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA, Next Flagship Space Telescope after Webb and WFIRST,   

    From SA: “NASA Considers Its Next Flagship Space Telescope” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    March 30, 2016
    Sarah Scoles

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA is facing a mind-boggling challenge: predict the state of astronomy two decades from now and design a telescope for that future. This feat of forecasting is necessary because NASA’s flagship missions, the Hubble Space Telescope–scale observatories that redefine our understanding of the universe, require at least that much advance planning. To that end, the space agency has just embarked on a set of studies to consider four possible major missions—one of which, most likely, will launch around 2035.

    In April four “Science and Technology Definition Teams” made up of scientists from around the world will begin to sketch out the various would-be flagships. In 2019 the teams will turn their final reports over to the National Academy of Sciences, whose independent Decadal Survey committee advises NASA on which mission should take top priority. From the beginning of this process to completed construction, almost 20 years will pass. “Space is hard. These things are large,” says Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director. “It takes a long time to do it right.”

    The missions NASA is considering are called the Far-Infrared Surveyor, X-Ray Surveyor, Habitable-Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), and Large Ultraviolet-Optical-Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR).

    LUVOIR: The Über-Hubble

    Large UVOIR (LUVOIR) Telescope

    LUVOIR would boast an eight-to-16-meter-wide mirror, more than three times the size of Hubble’s, even at the smaller end of the range. LUVOIR’s mirror will likely be made of smaller segments pieced together like a mosaic, because constructing one mirror that huge at the precision necessary would be nearly impossible. In the same wavelengths as Hubble observes, LUVOIR could take the same type of eye-catching portraits the former telescope is known for and, like Hubble, it could also split light into constituent colors using a spectrograph. The observatory would be a jack-of-many-trades, able to watch stars, galaxies and black holes form and evolve.

    But LUVOIR’s potential to study planets has scientists most excited. The telescope could potentially find Earth-size worlds circling nearby stars and then determine if they are actuallylike Earth. LUVOIR’s spectrometers would parse atmospheres for signs of biology, or at least life-friendliness. “The potential discovery of habitable planets out there, maybe possibly even inhabited ones, really will give birth to whole new fields of science that don’t exist today,” says Aki Roberge, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and lead study scientist for the LUVOIR team. But the telescope would look at all kinds of planets, not just the ones that remind us of home, helping reveal whether Earth is normal or anomalous.

    Planets are not easy to image because their stars shine about 10 billion times brighter. To spot those distant worlds, LUVOIR would either need a coronagraph—a disk on the telescope that blocks the light from the stars, much like the moon blocks sunlight during a solar eclipse—or a starshade, a screen positioned in front of the telescope to accomplish the same feat.

    HabEx: The Planet Hunter

    Another telescope under consideration, HabEx, shares many similarities with LUVOIR. Like that observatory, HabEx would also be a “Swiss Army” telescope with the ability to study multiple astronomical phenomena, but it would be designed more narrowly around the goal of planet-watching. It would be optimized to search for and image Earth-size worlds in the habitable zones of their stars, where liquid water can exist. With its four- to eight-meter mirror, HabEx would aim to understand how common terrestrial worlds beyond the solar system may be and the range of their characteristics. Like LUVOIR, it would use spectrographs to study planetary atmospheres and eclipse sunlight with a coronagraph or starshade.

    Far-Infrared Surveyor: The Night-Vision Scope

    The Far-Infrared Surveyor would be a successor of sorts to the Spitzer Space Telescope, shown here, which launched in 2003 to observe the universe’s long-wavelength infrared light. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Both HabEx and LUVOIR collect light around the energies human eyes can see. But the third candidate, the Far-Infrared Surveyor, would see very long wavelengths of invisible light in a range of the electromagnetic spectrum that as of yet has been mostly overlooked by telescopes. With this light, scientists can peer back in time to the earliest galaxies whose light waves have been stretched by the expansion of the universe.

    Infrared light reveals parts of the universe that are otherwise undetectable, those objects enshrouded in dust, such as stars and planets in the process of forming. The interstellar compounds that may have led to life and the very first galaxies ever formed also show up in these wavelengths. Such investigations into how we got here, says astronomer Kartik Sheth of NASA Headquarters, the Far-Infrared Surveyor team’s program scientist, can onlyhappen with a far-infrared telescope. And it needs a big mirror, or aperture, and the ability to see huge swaths of sky.

    Refrigeration is a problem scientists are still working out with this telescope plan, but it is key: The more infrared radiation (heat) the telescope’s equipment emits, the warmer the instrument gets, masking the weak infrared signals it may pick up from deep space. “If we do launch a larger aperture, how do we cool a larger aperture?” Sheth asks. They will have to freeze the whole thing cryogenically using liquid helium to get the observatory down to a temperature near absolute zero if they want to investigate the universe’s origins.

    X-Ray Surveyor: Looking back in time


    The final telescope choice, the X-Ray Surveyor, would also target parts of the universe invisible to human eyes. “X-ray astrophysics, because it’s so high-energy, allows you to see things you can’t see in any other wavelength,” says Jessica Gaskin of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, who heads that observatory’s science study team. At those energies, the surveyor could also answer deep “in the beginning” questions—but different ones from an infrared telescope. This instrument would look back to how black holes began, how galaxies formed around them and how the whole structure of the universe shaped up. “They all go back to understanding the evolution of our universe in a really big sense,” Gaskin says.

    The team hopes to design a telescope that would be about 50 times more sensitive than the previous x-ray mission, a currently operating scope in orbit called the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and be able to make maps that are similarly detailed. “It definitely has that above-and-beyond capability to it,” Gaskin says. To create such a telescope, though, scientists will have to figure out how to build a huge-diameter mirror that does not weigh much—a feat that will require developing new technology. “Right now we can make thick optics that can perform very well,” she says. “But the challenge is to make thin optics that can perform consistently.”

    To look into the past, NASA must see the future

    That challenge and all the others involved in planning these telescopes, not to mention hurdles the teams cannot anticipate, will take awhile to tackle. At the end of April, the teams will give NASA their initial thoughts on the task at hand. Then, in August they must each submit a “study plan,” detailing their timelines and the resources they will need to define the goals, scope and cost of each telescope. After two years of work, in March 2019 the teams will submit their reports, each laying out the best case they can make for each observatory to come to fruition. The Decadal Survey panel will then rate and rank the projects, advising the space agency on which to pursue, at which point NASA will take the first steps toward realizing one of these scopes for launch in the 2030s.

    Because of its multigenerational timeline, launching a flagship mission is like building the pyramids—if, from the pyramids’ peaks, you could see back to the beginning of galaxies, peer into planets’ atmospheres and watch the births of supermassive black holes. But only a flagship NASA mission can do that—and in a few years, we will know which future NASA will choose.

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    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

  • richardmitnick 12:11 pm on March 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    March 9, 2016
    Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Pascale Bresson / Nathalie Journo
    Centre National d’Études Spatiales, Paris
    +33-1-44-76-75-39 / +33-5-61-27-39-11
    pascale.bresson@cnes.fr / nathalie.journo@cnes.fr

    Manuela Braun
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    +49 2203 601 3882

    NASA Mars Insight Lander.
    NASA has set a new launch opportunity, beginning May 5, 2018, for the InSight mission to Mars. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.

    InSight’s primary goal is to help us understand how rocky planets — including Earth — formed and evolved. The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch.

    InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France’s space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch.

    “The science goals of InSight are compelling, and the NASA and CNES plans to overcome the technical challenges are sound,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades. We’re excited to be back on the path for a launch, now in 2018.”

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will redesign, build and conduct qualifications of the new vacuum enclosure for the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the component that failed in December.

    CNES will lead instrument level integration and test activities, allowing the InSight Project to take advantage of each organization’s proven strengths. The two agencies have worked closely together to establish a project schedule that accommodates these plans, and scheduled interim reviews over the next six months to assess technical progress and continued feasibility.

    The cost of the two-year delay is being assessed. An estimate is expected in August, once arrangements with the launch vehicle provider have been made.

    The seismometer instrument’s main sensors need to operate within a vacuum chamber to provide the exquisite sensitivity needed for measuring ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom. The rework of the seismometer’s vacuum container will result in a finished, thoroughly tested instrument in 2017 that will maintain a high degree of vacuum around the sensors through rigors of launch, landing, deployment and a two-year prime mission on the surface of Mars.

    The InSight mission draws upon a strong international partnership led by Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL. The lander’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). This probe will hammer itself to a depth of about 16 feet (5 meters) into the ground beside the lander.

    SEIS was built with the participation of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, with support from the Swiss Space Office and the European Space Agency PRODEX program; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, supported by DLR; Imperial College, supported by the United Kingdom Space Agency; and JPL.

    “The shared and renewed commitment to this mission continues our collaboration to find clues in the heart of Mars about the early evolution of our solar system,” said Marc Pircher, director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre.

    The mission’s international science team includes researchers from Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

    JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The InSight spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. It was delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in December 2015 in preparation for launch, and returned to Lockheed Martin’s Colorado facility last month for storage until spacecraft preparations resume in 2017.

    NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that includes sending humans to the Red Planet, and that work remains on track. Robotic spacecraft are leading the way for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover being designed and built, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers exploring the Martian surface, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting the planet, along with the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) orbiter, which is helping scientists understand what happened to the Martian atmosphere.

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    Mars Odyssey Spacecraft

    NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (3)
    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter


    NASA and CNES also are participating in ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) Mars Express mission currently operating at Mars. NASA is participating on ESA’s 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing telecommunication radios for ESA’s 2016 orbiter and a critical element of a key astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

    For addition information about the mission, visit:


    More information about NASA’s journey to Mars is available online at:


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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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    NASA image

  • richardmitnick 3:23 pm on February 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA, New Bedrest Adventure Adds Artificial Gravity   

    From ESA: New Bedrest Adventure Adds Artificial Gravity 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner
    European Space Agency

    2 February 2016
    No writer credit found

    The human body is made for living on Earth – take away the constant pull of gravity and muscles and bones begin to waste away. Living in space is hard on astronauts and ways must be found to keep them fit and safe.

    ESA and NASA are planning to confine human subjects to bed for 60 days in 2017 in Cologne, Germany to probe the effects of spaceflight, with periods in a centrifuge to test if artificial gravity can keep them healthy.

    Bedrest studies offer a way of testing measures to counter some of the negative aspects of living in space. Volunteers are kept in beds with the head end tilted 6° below the horizontal. For 60 days one of the subject’s shoulders must be touching the bed at all times.

    As blood flows to the head and muscle is lost from underuse, researchers can investigate changes and test techniques from diet to physical exercise.

    Human centrifuge for artificial gravity

    The study will be conducted at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s :envihab flagship site in Cologne. Built from the ground up to research the human body under spaceflight conditions, it allows researchers to change almost every aspect of the environment, including humidity, daylight and temperature.

    ESA and DLR have already run their first study – spare a thought for the 12 brave volunteers who finished 60 days in bed last November – but this one will be the first to use the facility’s centrifuge. By spinning the subjects, the blood is encouraged to flow back towards the feet.

    The advantage of artificial gravity is that it has the potential of reducing most of the negative effects of weightlessness on the human body in one go.

    :envihab’s centrifuge can adjust the centre of spin so that subjects can be spun around their heads or chests. Changing the position could have far-reaching consequences for rehabilitation but, as this is a new domain, nobody knows yet.

    Jennifer Ngo-Anh, leading ESA’s human research, says, “I am happy to start this new bedrest study with our friends and colleagues from NASA, our first in 10 years. This study begins a series of bedrest studies focusing on artificial gravity, making use of the ESA-built centrifuges in Cologne and at MEDES in Toulouse, France.

    “This exciting research platform offers scientists around the world a way to collect results and contribute to long-duration missions to the Moon, Mars and even beyond.”

    The results are helping astronaut physicians to design better ways for astronauts to keep fit, but the knowledge is also directly applicable to bedridden people on Earth.

    Scientists are invited to submit research proposals via this link. The letter of intent is due by 15 February, with a workshop at ESA’s technical heart, ESTEC, on 22 February.

    DLR Bloc

    NASA image

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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 9:27 am on October 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA, Space Shuttle and Centaur   

    From ars technica: “A deathblow to the Death Star: The rise and fall of NASA’s Shuttle-Centaur” 

    Ars Technica
    ars technica

    Oct 9, 2015
    Emily Carney

    In January 1986, astronaut Rick Hauck approached his STS-61F crew four months before their mission was scheduled to launch. The shuttle Challenger was set to deploy the Ulysses solar probe on a trajectory to Jupiter, utilizing a liquid-fueled Centaur G-Prime stage. While an upcoming launch should be an exciting time for any astronaut, Hauck’s was anything but optimistic. As he spoke to his crew, his tone was grave. He couldn’t recall the exact quote in a 2003 Johnson Space Center (JSC) oral history, but the message remained clear.

    “NASA is doing business different from the way it has in the past. Safety is being compromised, and if any of you want to take yourself off this flight, I will support you.”

    Hauck wasn’t just spooked by the lax approach that eventually led to the Challenger explosion. Layered on top of that concern was the planned method of sending Ulysses away from Earth. The Centaur was fueled by a combustible mix of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, and it would be carried to orbit inside the shuttle’s payload bay.

    The unstoppable shuttle

    Hauck’s words may have seemed shocking, but they were prescient. In the early 1980s, the space shuttle seemed unstoppable. Technically called the US Space Transportation System program, the shuttle was on the verge of entering what was being called its “Golden Age” in 1984. The idea of disaster seemed remote. As experience with the craft grew, nothing seemed to have gone wrong (at least nothing the public was aware of). It seemed nothing could go wrong.

    In 1985, the program enjoyed a record nine successful spaceflights, and NASA was expected to launch a staggering 15 missions in 1986. The manifest for 1986 was beyond ambitious, including but not limited to a Department of Defense mission into a polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, the deployment of the Hubble telescope to low Earth orbit, and the delivery of two craft destined for deep space: Galileo and Ulysses.

    The space shuttle had been touted as part space vehicle and part “cargo bus,” something that would make traveling to orbit routine. The intense schedule suggested it would finally fulfill the promise that had faded during the wait for its long-delayed maiden flight in April 1981. As astronaut John Young, who commanded that historic first flight, stated in his book Forever Young, “When we finished STS-1, it was clear we had to make the space shuttle what we hoped it could be—a routine access-to-space vehicle.”

    To meet strict deadlines, however, safety was starting to slide. Following the last test flight (STS-4, completed in July 1982), crews no longer wore pressure suits during launch and reentry, making shuttle flights look as “routine” as airplane rides. The shuttle had no ejection capability at the time, so its occupants were committed to the launch through the bitter end.

    Yet by mid-1985, the space shuttle program had already experienced several near-disasters. Critics of the program had long fretted over the design of the system, which boasted two segmented solid rocket boosters and an external tank. The boosters were already noted to have experienced “blow by” in the O-rings of their joints, which could leak hot exhaust out the sides of the structure. It was an issue that would later come to the forefront in a horrific display during the Challenger disaster.

    But there were other close calls that the public was largely unaware of. In late July 1985, the program had experienced an “Abort to Orbit” condition during the launch of STS-51F, commanded by Gordon Fullerton. A center engine had failed en route to space, which should normally call for the shuttle’s immediate return. Instead, a quick call was made by Booster Systems Engineer Jenny Howard to “inhibit main engine limits,” which may have prevented another engine from failing, possibly saving the orbiter Challenger and its seven-man crew. (The mission did reach orbit, but a lower one than planned.)

    download mp4 video here.
    Howard makes the call to push the engines past their assigned limits.

    People who followed things closely recognized the problems. The “Space Shuttle” section of Jane’s Spaceflight Directory 1986 (which was largely written the year before) underscored the risky nature of the early program: “The narrow safety margins and near disasters during the launch phase are already nearly forgotten, save by those responsible for averting actual disaster.”
    The push for Shuttle-Centaur

    All of those risks existed when the shuttle was simply carrying an inert cargo to orbit. Shuttle-Centaur, the high-energy solution intended to propel Galileo and Ulysses into space, was anything but inert.

    Shuttle-Centaur was born from a desire to send heavier payloads on a direct trajectory to deep space targets from America’s flagship space vehicles.

    Centaur-2A upper stage of an Atlas IIA

    The Centaur rocket was older than NASA itself. According to a 2012 NASA History article, the US Air Force teamed up with General Dynamics/Astronautics Corp. to develop a rocket stage that could be carried to orbit and then ignite to propel heavier loads into space. In 1958 the proposal was accepted by the government’s Advanced Research Products Agency, and the upper stage that would become Centaur began its development.

    The first successful flight of a Centaur (married to an Atlas booster) was made on November 27, 1963. While the launch vehicle carried no payload, it did demonstrate that a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen upper stage worked. In the years since, the Centaur has helped propel a wide variety of spacecraft to deep-space destinations. Both Voyagers 1 and 2 received a much-needed boost from their Centaur stages en route to the Solar System’s outer planets and beyond.

    NASA Voyager 1
    Voyager 1

    General Dynamics was tasked with adapting the rocket stage so it could be taken to orbit on the shuttle. A Convair/General Dynamics poster from this period read enthusiastically, “In 1986, we’re going to Jupiter…and we need your help.” The artwork on the poster appeared retro-futuristic, boasting a spacecraft propelled by a silvery rocket stage that looked like something out of a sci-fi fantasy novel or Omni magazine. In the distance, a space shuttle—payload bay doors open—hovered over an exquisite Earth-scape.

    General Dynamics’ artistic rendering of Shuttle-Centaur, with optimistic text about a 1986 target date for launch.
    The San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives on Flickr.

    The verbiage from a 1984 paper titled Shuttle Centaur Project Perspective, written by Edwin T. Muckley of NASA’s Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center, suggested that Jupiter would be the first of many deep-space destinations. Muckley optimistically announced the technology: “It’s expected to meet the demands of a wide range of users including NASA, the DOD, private industry, and the European Space Agency (ESA).”

    The paper went on to describe the two different versions of the liquid-fueled rocket, meant to be cradled inside the orbiters’ payload bays. “The initial version, designated G-Prime, is the larger of the two, with a length of 9.1 m (30 ft.). This vehicle will be used to launch the Galileo and International Solar Polar Missions (ISPM) [later called Ulysses] to Jupiter in May 1986.”

    According to Muckley, the shorter version, Centaur G, was to be used to launch DOD payloads, the Magellan spacecraft to Venus, and TDRSS [tracking and data relay satellite system] missions. He added optimistically, “…[It] is expected to provide launch services well into the 1990s.”

    NASA Magellan

    Dennis Jenkins’ book Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System, the First 100 Missions discussed why Centaur became seen as desirable for use on the shuttle in the 1970s and early 1980s. A booster designed specifically for the shuttle called the Inertial Upper Stage (developed by Boeing) did not have enough power to directly deliver deep-space payloads (this solid stage would be used for smaller satellites such as TDRSS hardware). As the author explained, “First and most important was that Centaur was more powerful and had the ability to propel a payload directly to another planet. Second, Centaur was ‘gentler’—solid rockets had a harsh initial thrust that had the potential to damage the sensitive instruments aboard a planetary payload.”

    However, the Centaur aboard the shuttle also had its drawbacks. First, it required changes in the way the shuttle operated. A crew needed to be reduced in size to four in order to fit a heavier payload and a precipitously thin-skinned, liquid-fueled rocket stage inside a space shuttle’s payload bay. And the added weight meant that the shuttle could only be sent to its lowest possible orbit.

    In addition, during launch, the space shuttles’ main engines (SSMEs) would be taxed unlike any other time in program history. Even with smaller crews and a food-prep galley removed mid-deck, the shuttle’s main engines would have to be throttled up to an unheard-of 109-percent thrust level to deliver the shuttle, payload, and its crew to orbit. The previous “maximum” had been 104 percent.

    But the risks of the shuttle launch were only a secondary concern. “The perceived advantage of the IUS [Inertial Upper Stage] over the Centaur was safety—LH2 [liquid hydrogen] presented a significant challenge,” Jenkins noted. “Nevertheless, NASA decided to accept the risk and go with the Centaur.”

    While a host of unknowns remained concerning launching a volatile, liquid-fueled rocket stage on the back of a space shuttle armed with a liquid-filled tank and two solid rocket boosters, NASA and its contractors galloped full speed toward a May 1986 launch deadline for both spacecraft. The project would be helmed by NASA’s Lewis. It was decided that the orbiters Challenger and Discovery would be modified to carry Centaur (the then-new orbiter Atlantis was delivered with Centaur capability) with launch pad modifications taking place at the Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg.

    The “Death Star” launches

    The launch plan was dramatic: two shuttles, Challenger and Atlantis, were to be on Pads 39B and 39A in mid-1986, carrying Ulysses and Galileo, each linked to the Shuttle-Centaur. The turnaround was also to be especially quick: these launches would take place within five days of one another.

    The commander of the first shuttle mission, John Young, was known for his laconic sense of humor. He began to refer to missions 61F (Ulysses) and 61G (Galileo) as the “Death Star” missions. He wasn’t entirely joking.

    The thin-skinned Centaur posed a host of risks to the crews. In an AmericaSpace article, space historian Ben Evans pointed out that gaseous hydrogen would periodically have to be “bled off” to keep its tank within pressure limits. However, if too much hydrogen was vented, the payloads would not have enough fuel to make their treks to Jupiter. Time was of the essence, and the crews would be under considerable stress. Their first deployment opportunities would occur a mere seven hours post-launch, and three deployment “windows” were scheduled.

    The venting itself posed its own problems. There was a concern about the position of the stage’s vents, which were located near the exhaust ports for the shuttles’ Auxiliary Power Units—close enough that some worried venting could cause an explosion.

    Another big concern involved what would happen if the shuttle had to dump the stage’s liquid fuel prior to performing a Return-to-Launch-Site (RTLS) abort or a Transatlantic (TAL) abort. There was worry that the fuel would “slosh” around in the payload bay, rendering the shuttle uncontrollable. (There were also worries about the feasibility of these abort plans with a normal shuttle cargo, but that’s another story.)

    These concerns filtered down to the crews. According to Evans, astronaut John Fabian was originally meant to be on the crew of 61G, but he resigned partly due to safety concerns surrounding Shuttle-Centaur. “He spent enough time with the 61G crew to see a technician clambering onto the Centaur with an untethered wrench in his back pocket and another smoothing out a weld, then accidentally scarring the booster’s thin skin with a tool,” the historian wrote. “In Fabian’s mind, it was bad enough that the Shuttle was carrying a volatile booster with limited redundancy, without adding new worries about poor quality control oversight and a lax attitude towards safety.”

    Astronauts John Fabian and Dave Walker pose in front of what almost became their “ride” during a Shuttle-Centaur rollout ceremony in mid-1985.
    NASA/Glenn Research Center

    STS-61F’s commander, Hauck, had also developed misgivings about Shuttle-Centaur. In the 2003 JSC oral history, he bluntly discussed the unforgiving nature of his mission:

    “…[If] you’ve got a return-to-launch-site abort or a transatlantic abort and you’ve got to land, and you’ve got a rocket filled with liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen in the cargo bay, you’ve got to get rid of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, so that means you’ve got to dump it while you’re flying through this contingency abort. And to make sure that it can dump safely, you need to have redundant parallel dump valves, helium systems that control the dump valves, software that makes sure that contingencies can be taken care of. And then when you land, here you’re sitting with the Shuttle-Centaur in the cargo bay that you haven’t been able to dump all of it, so you’re venting gaseous hydrogen out this side, gaseous oxygen out that side, and this is just not a good idea.”

    Even as late as January 1986, Hauck and his crew were still working out issues with the system’s helium-actuated dump valves. He related, “…[It] was clear that the program was willing to compromise on the margins in the propulsive force being provided by the pressurized helium… I think it was conceded this was going to be the riskiest mission the Shuttle would have flown up to that point.”
    Saved by disaster

    Within weeks, the potential crisis was derailed dramatically by an actual crisis, one that was etched all over the skies of central Florida on an uncharacteristically cold morning. On January 28, 1986, Challenger—meant to hoist Hauck, his crew, Ulysses, and its Shuttle-Centaur in May—was destroyed shortly after its launch, its crew of seven a total loss. On that ill-fated mission, safety had been dangerously compromised, with the shuttle launching following a brutal cold snap that made the boosters’ o-rings inflexible and primed to fail.

    It became clear NASA had to develop a different attitude toward risk management. Keeping risks as low as possible meant putting Shuttle-Centaur on the chopping block. In June 1986, a Los Angeles Times article announced the death-blow to the Death Star.

    “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Thursday canceled development of a modified Centaur rocket that it had planned to carry into orbit aboard the space shuttle and then use to fire scientific payloads to Jupiter and the Sun. NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher said the Centaur ‘would not meet safety criteria being applied to other cargo or elements of the space shuttle system.’ His decision came after urgent NASA and congressional investigations of potential safety problems following the Jan. 28 destruction of the shuttle Challenger 73 seconds after launch.”

    Astronauts Rick Hauck, John Fabian, and Dave Walker pose by a Shuttle-Centaur stage in mid-1985 during a rollout ceremony. Hauck and Fabian both had misgivings about Shuttle-Centaur. The San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives on Flickr.

    After a long investigation and many ensuing changes, the space shuttle made its return to flight with STS-26 (helmed by Hauck) in September 1988. Discovery and the rest of the fleet boasted redesigned solid rocket boosters with added redundancy. In addition, crews had a “bailout” option if something went wrong during launch, and they wore pressure suits during ascent and reentry for the first time since 1982.

    Galileo was successfully deployed from Atlantis (STS-34) using an IUS in October 1989, while Ulysses utilized an IUS and PAM-S (Payload Assist Module) to begin its journey following its deployment from Discovery (STS-41) in October 1990.

    NASA Galileo

    As for Shuttle-Centaur? Relegated to the history books as a “what if,” a model now exists at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It still looks every inch the shiny, sci-fi dream depicted in posters and artists’ renderings back in the 1980s. However, this “Death Star” remains on terra firma, representing what Jim Banke described as the “naive arrogance” of the space shuttle’s Golden Age.

    Additional sources

    Hitt, D., & Smith, H. (2014). Bold they rise: The space shuttle early years, 1972 – 1986. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
    Jenkins, D. R. (2012). Space shuttle: The history of the national space transportation system, the first 100 missions. Cape Canaveral, FL: Published by author.
    Turnill, R. (Ed.). (1986). Jane’s spaceflight directory (2nd ed.). London, England: Jane’s Publishing Company Limited.
    Young, J. W., & Hansen, J. R. (2012). Forever young: A life of adventure in air and space. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
    Dawson, V., & Bowles, M.D. (2004). Taming liquid hydrogen: The Centaur upper stage rocket, 1958 – 2002. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon
    Stem Education Coalition
    Ars Technica was founded in 1998 when Founder & Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher announced his plans for starting a publication devoted to technology that would cater to what he called “alpha geeks”: technologists and IT professionals. Ken’s vision was to build a publication with a simple editorial mission: be “technically savvy, up-to-date, and more fun” than what was currently popular in the space. In the ensuing years, with formidable contributions by a unique editorial staff, Ars Technica became a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, breakdowns of the latest scientific advancements, gadget reviews, software, hardware, and nearly everything else found in between layers of silicon.

    Ars Technica innovates by listening to its core readership. Readers have come to demand devotedness to accuracy and integrity, flanked by a willingness to leave each day’s meaningless, click-bait fodder by the wayside. The result is something unique: the unparalleled marriage of breadth and depth in technology journalism. By 2001, Ars Technica was regularly producing news reports, op-eds, and the like, but the company stood out from the competition by regularly providing long thought-pieces and in-depth explainers.

    And thanks to its readership, Ars Technica also accomplished a number of industry leading moves. In 2001, Ars launched a digital subscription service when such things were non-existent for digital media. Ars was also the first IT publication to begin covering the resurgence of Apple, and the first to draw analytical and cultural ties between the world of high technology and gaming. Ars was also first to begin selling its long form content in digitally distributable forms, such as PDFs and eventually eBooks (again, starting in 2001).

  • richardmitnick 7:53 pm on October 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA   

    From NASA: “NASA Releases Plan Outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars” 



    Oct. 8, 2015

    Stephanie Schierholz
    Headquarters, Washington


    NASA is leading our nation and the world on a journey to Mars, and Thursday the agency released a detailed outline of that plan in its report, “NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration.”

    “NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Today, we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars plan and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. In the coming weeks, I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners, many of whom will be attending the International Astronautical Congress next week.”

    The plan can be read online at:


    An artist’s depiction of the Earth Reliant, Proving Ground and Earth Independent thresholds, showing key capabilities that will be developed along the way.

    The journey to Mars crosses three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth. NASA is managing these challenges by developing and demonstrating capabilities in incremental steps:

    Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the International Space Station. From this world-class microgravity laboratory, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep space, long duration missions.

    In the Proving Ground, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space—the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions—NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as at Mars.

    Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort between NASA and its partners—a global achievement that marks a transition in humanity’s expansion as we go to Mars to seek the potential for sustainable life beyond Earth.

    “NASA’s strategy connects near-term activities and capability development to the journey to Mars and a future with a sustainable human presence in deep space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters. “This strategy charts a course toward horizon goals, while delivering near-term benefits, and defining a resilient architecture that can accommodate budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, and evolving partnerships.”

    The space station is the only microgravity platform for the long-term testing of new life support and crew health systems, advanced habitat modules, and other technologies needed to decrease reliance on Earth. NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, left, and Scott Kelly are pictured here, just before the halfway point of Kelly’s one-year mission on station. Credits: NASA

    NASA is charting new territory, and we will adapt to new scientific discoveries and new opportunities. Our current efforts are focused on pieces of the architecture that we know are needed. In parallel, we continue to refine an evolving architecture for the capabilities that require further investigation. These efforts will define the next two decades on the journey to Mars.


    Living and working in space require accepting risks—and the journey to Mars is worth the risks. A new and powerful space transportation system is key to the journey, but NASA also will need to learn new ways of operating in space, based on self-reliance and increased system reliability. We will use proving ground missions to validate transportation and habitation capabilities as well as new operational approaches to stay productive in space while reducing reliance on Earth.

    We identify the technological and operational challenges in three categories: transportation, sending humans and cargo through space efficiently, safely, and reliably; working in space, enabling productive operations for crew and robotic systems; and staying healthy, developing habitation systems that provide safe, healthy, and sustainable human exploration. Bridging these three categories are the overarching logistical challenges facing crewed missions lasting up to 1,100 days and exploration campaigns that span decades.


    NASA is investing in powerful capabilities and state-of-the-art technologies that benefit both NASA and our industry partners while minimizing overall costs through innovative partnerships. Through our evolvable transportation infrastructure, ongoing spaceflight architecture studies, and rapid prototyping activities, we are developing resilient architecture concepts that focus on critical capabilities across a range of potential missions. We are investing in technologies that provide large returns, and maximizing flexibility and adaptability through commonality, modularity, and reusability.

    On the space station, we are advancing human health and behavioral research for Mars-class missions. We are pushing the state-of-the-art life support systems, printing 3-D parts, and analyzing material handling techniques for in-situ resource utilization. The upcoming eighth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission will launch the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, a capability demonstration for inflatable space habitats.

    With the Space Launch System, Orion crewed spacecraft, and revitalized space launch complex, we are developing core transportation capabilities for the journey to Mars and ensuring continued access for our commercial crew and cargo partners to maintain operations and stimulate new economic activity in low-Earth orbit.

    NASA Orion Spacecraft

    This secured U.S. commercial access to low-Earth orbit allows NASA to continue leveraging the station as a microgravity test bed while preparing for missions in the proving ground of deep space and beyond.

    Through the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), we will demonstrate an advanced solar electric propulsion capability that will be a critical component of our journey to Mars.

    NASA ARM Asteroid Redirect Mission satellite

    ARM will also provide an unprecedented opportunity for us to validate new spacewalk and sample handling techniques as astronauts investigate several tons of an asteroid boulder – potentially opening new scientific discoveries about the formation of our solar system and beginning of life on Earth

    We are managing and directing the ground-based facilities and services provided by the Deep Space Network (DSN), Near Earth Network (NEN), and Space Network (SN) – critical communications capabilities that we continue to advance for human and robotic communication throughout the solar system.

    Through our robotic emissaries, we have already been on and around Mars for 40 years, taking nearly every opportunity to send orbiters, landers, and rovers with increasingly complex experiments and sensing systems. These orbiters and rovers have returned vital data about the Martian environment, helping us understand what challenges we may face and resources we may encounter. The revolutionary Curiosity sky crane placed nearly one metric ton – about the size of a small car – safely on the surface of Mars, but we need to be able to land at least 10 times that weight with humans – and then be able to get them off the surface.

    These challenges are solvable, and NASA and its partners are working on the solutions every day so we can answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth: Was Mars home to microbial life? Is it today? Could it be a safe home for humans one day? What can it teach us about life elsewhere in the cosmos or how life began on Earth? What can it teach us about Earth’s past, present and future?

    The journey to Mars is an historic pioneering endeavor—a journey made possible by a sustained effort of science and exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit with successively more capable technologies and partnerships.

    This table shows high-level, near-, and far-term decisions that must be made to continue on the journey to Mars.

    To learn more about NASA’s journey to Mars, including the agency’s latest scientific exploration of the Red Planet, visit:


    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on October 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA   

    From AAAS: “Venus and a bizarre metal asteroid are leading destinations for low-cost NASA missions” 



    30 September 2015
    Eric Hand

    Venus is back on NASA’s agenda. Today, NASA winnowed down the contenders for the agency’s next low-cost planetary science mission. Five finalists were announced from among 27 proposals in Discovery, a competitive mission line with a $500 million cost cap, and two of them are missions to Venus, not visited by a NASA spacecraft since 1994. The other three finalists would study asteroids.

    “It sends a very positive message that it’s time to go back to Venus,” says Lori Glaze, a planetary scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the leader of one of the two Venus mission proposals.

    Typically, NASA picks just three finalists in its Discovery competitions, which take place every few years. But this time the agency may choose two winners instead of the usual one, says Michael New, Discovery program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The two winners’ development and launch would be staggered. “It depends on what our budgets in the out years look like,” he says. “Based on what we’ve seen to date, it looks like we’ll be able to do two.” Each of the five finalists will now get up to $3 million to pursue a more detailed proposal for the final selection about a year from now.

    The five finalists are:

    VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR Topography and Spectroscopy) a mission to map Venus’ surface with radar;
    Psyche, a mission to explore an asteroid that could be made up almost entirely of iron and nickel;
    Lucy, which would tour five Trojan asteroids, which follow the orbit of Jupiter either ahead or behind the giant planet;
    NEOCam (Near Earth Object Camera), which aims to discover 10 times more near-Earth objects than have been discovered to date; and
    DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), which would study the chemical composition of Venus’ atmosphere during a 63-minute descent.

    VERITAS and DAVINCI represent a vindication for Venus scientists in the United States, who have not sent a probe to the planet since the Magellan orbiter mission ended in 1994.

    NASA Magellan

    Radar, the primary tool of VERITAS, allows scientists to see through Venus’ thick clouds. Able to map the surface at higher resolution than Magellan, the spacecraft should be able to add to the mounting evidence Venus’s surface is dotted with active volcanoes. The mission is led by Suzanne Smrekar, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    DAVINCI would drop a spherical metal ball through the Venusian atmosphere. Studded with sensors, the probe would relay its measurements to Earth via the carrier spacecraft. It would also make the first images of Venus’ surface since the Soviet Venera landers of the 1970s. Glaze says her team will aim DAVINCI at Venus’ “tesserae,” regions of crumpled terrain that are thought to be the remnants of continents. “They’re really mysterious — we don’t know what they are,” she says. “We’ll be taking pictures of these for the first time.”

    Psyche’s destination, a metallic asteroid of the same name, “is not just another asteroid,” says principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University, Tempe. She says the body, which appears to be 90% iron and nickel, may be the remnant core of a planetesimal that was stripped of its mantle and crust by an impact. “This is the only way that humankind will ever be able to visit a core,” she says. She says that Psyche is also suspected to be strongly magnetic. “It could almost be like a little fridge magnet in space,” she says. The mission would launch in 2020 and arrive in 2026 for a year of science.

    Lucy, the mission to five Trojan asteroids, would launch in 2021 and arrive in 2027 to visit three of them, says principal investigator Hal Levison, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. After those flybys, Lucy would swoop back by Earth and return to the vicinity of Jupiter’s orbit to visit the last two asteroids, which orbit each other as a binary. While other asteroid types are represented in meteorite collections, no Trojan-derived meteorites have ever been conclusively identified, leaving their compositions a mystery. “We’ve never been able to study them,” Levison says. Some of the Trojans are believed to be captured Kuiper Belt objects, comet-like objects from beyond the orbit of Neptune that formed in cold conditions and have not changed much in the past 4.5 billion years. Levison says the Lucy mission thus offers a chance to study the solar system’s building blocks.

    NEOCam, led by Amy Mainzer of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a space telescope that would find near-Earth asteroids from a position 1 million kilometers from Earth. In 2005, Congress mandated that NASA identify 90% of objects larger than 140 meters across by the year 2020. NASA will almost certainly fail to meet that mandate if it can only search for these potentially hazardous bodies from the ground. “NEOCam was selected because of its science,” says New. “The fact that it will also help us fill our congressional mandate was considered an extra benefit.”

    NEOCam competed in the last round of Discovery, but it had some competition from outside NASA: the B612 foundation. The nonprofit organization, dedicated to finding hazardous asteroids, said it would raise private money to build its own space telescope, Sentinel. But B612 has struggled to meet its fundraising goals and scheduled objectives, and, earlier this week, it was reported that NASA had ended a cooperative agreement with B612. Hap McSween, a planetary scientist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, says NEOCam’s selection is not unrelated to the end of the B612 agreement. “The choice of NEOCam here is perhaps a reflection of harsh reality,” McSween says. “If this is going to happen, NASA is going to have to pay for it.”

    Of the 27 Discovery proposals that were evaluated (28 were proposed in February but one was non-compliant), the vast majority were missions to study so-called “small bodies.” Three aimed to study the small moons of Mars, four to use space telescopes (like NEOCam) to study small bodies, and 11 to visit comets and asteroids. There were four proposals to target Venus, two proposals that targeted the Moon, and one to Mars. One proposal would study Jupiter’s moon Io.

    Just one group proposed to venture beyond the orbit of Jupiter—to Saturn’s moon Enceladus. That may be because solar power is scarce at those distances. At the time of the last Discovery competition in 2012, NASA was developing a new plutonium-238 isotope power source, called the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator. But the project was canceled in 2013. New says that NASA is now trying to revamp an older radioisotope generator, like the one riding on the Mars rover Curiosity, which could be offered in future Discovery competitions.

    Planetary scientists hail Discovery, which began in 1996 with the launch of NEAR Shoemaker, an asteroid probe, as one of the most cost-effective mission lines at NASA. But in recent years, NASA has struggled to sustain the planned two-to-three year rhythm of Discovery launches. In 2016, the latest Discovery mission, called InSight, will head to Mars, 5 years after the previous Discovery launch, of the moon mission GRAIL. McSween says that NASA’s goal of selecting two winners next year may be aimed at getting the program back on track. “This may well be a response that they are trying to keep a regular cadence in the Discovery program,” he says.

    See the full article here .

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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