Wednesday, July 27, 2011
NASA's twin lunar probes have arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for a launch in late summer. The two Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory spacecraft (Grail) were shipped from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, to the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Fla., Friday, May 20. NASA's dynamic duo will orbit the moon to determine the structure of the lunar interior from crust to core and to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon.
"NASA's lunar twins have arrived at Cape Canaveral," said Maria Zuber, Grail's principal investigator, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. "We're only a few full moons away from a mission that will reveal clues not only into the history of the moon and Earth, but will provide important data for future lunar exploration."
The Grail twins, known as Grail-A and Grail-B, were removed from their shipping containers Monday, May 23. Later this week, they will begin functional testing to verify their state of health after their ride on an Air Force transport jet from Colorado. Over the next four months at the Astrotech facility, the spacecraft will undergo final testing, fueling and packaging in the shroud that will protect them as the Delta II launch vehicle lifts them into space. The spacecraft will then be transported to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for installation atop the rocket that will carry them toward the moon.
Grail will be carried into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II Heavy rocket lifting off from Launch Complex-19 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch period opens Sept. 8, 2011, and extends through Oct. 19. For a Sept. 8 liftoff, the launch window opens at 5:37 a.m. PDT (8:37 a.m. EDT) and remains open through 6:16 a.m. PDT (9:16 a.m. EDT).
Grail-A and Grail-B will fly in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission will also answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, and provide scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/moonmars/features/grail20110523.html
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/moonmars/features/grail20110523.html
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Chevron Corporation in San Ramon, Calif., have announced a partnership to develop a range of advanced technologies that can be used in harsh environments, both on Earth and in space.
"We are proud that the same pool of talent that sends rovers to Mars, explores our universe and studies Earth's environment will help contribute advanced technology towards our energy future here on Earth," said JPL Director Charles Elachi.
Elachi and Paul Siegele, president of Chevron Energy Technology Company, met at JPL to kick off a partnership for Advanced Energy Technology Development. Under this partnership, JPL will assist in the demonstration, development and commercial deployment of a range of technologies that benefit from JPL's unique heritage in space exploration. These technologies include: valves to selectively control oil and gas flow from different geological formations in a well; single-phase pumping motors for continuous operation at the bottom of deep wells; sensors and electronics for downhole deployment; and integrated management systems for monitoring temperature, pressure and flow rates in deep wells and assessing the health of drilling operations.
This new collaboration will benefit NASA by further advancing technologies that could one day be used for exploring other planets, and will also promote commercialization of technologies developed for space exploration. The partnership will help Chevron develop its energy resources to enable a better energy future for all of us.
"NASA and JPL are highly acclaimed national treasures, and Chevron is proud to collaborate with them to unlock new energy potential," said John McDonald, Chevron's corporate vice president and chief technology officer. "This alliance is an opportunity to bridge public- and private-sector technology and research to discover oil and natural gas volumes that are found in deep remote reservoirs. In many ways, the research is akin to deep space exploration, making the missions of our two organizations highly complementary."
As NASA's lead center for robotic exploration of the solar system, JPL has a wide-ranging charter that also includes active programs in Earth science, astronomy and physics, and technology development. The demands of space missions provide the impetus to JPL scientists and engineers to push the boundaries of design and technology to achieve smaller size, better performance, and less power consumption in a cost-constrained environment. Many technologies developed at JPL, from hardware and software to materials, have direct applications right here on Earth.
The National Space Technology Applications Office (NSTA) has been established to develop a sustaining business base through expanded relations with non-NASA sponsors. NSTA develops collaborations with elements of the four national space sectors: military, intelligence, civil and commercial. Each of these sectors is responsible for specific development of partnerships that expand and enhance the NASA/JPL-Caltech technology base. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
Chevron is one of the world's leading integrated energy companies, with subsidiaries that conduct business worldwide. Chevron explores for, produces and transports crude oil and natural gas; refines, markets and distributes transportation fuels and lubricants; manufactures and sells petrochemical products; generates power and produces geothermal energy; provides energy efficiency solutions; and develops the energy resources of the future, including biofuels.
The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist seek to transfer technology developed for space into the commercial marketplace, yielding economic benefits and quality of life improvements for people here on Earth
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/tech20110725.html
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/tech20110725.html
Monday, July 25, 2011
Long before sonic booms rock Florida's Space Coast and a space shuttle glides to a stop, about 25 unique vehicles and their operators -- collectively called the landing convoy -- snake their way toward the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Each one has a specific duty to make the shuttle safe to enter, assist the flight crew out and prepare the spacecraft for towing to a nearby processing hangar.
"When they say, 'We're definitely landing here, let's go,' it's neat to see everybody get in their vehicles and go out and support it," said Richard Merritt, a landing support manager with United Space Alliance. "It's a rather big group of people."
The nucleus of the operation is based in the Convoy Command Vehicle -- a 40-foot-long modified motor home with state-of-the-art video cameras and recorders, television monitors and a giant communications satellite antenna. It's also outfitted with a weather system to monitor the temperature, and wind speed and direction on the runway.
"It's basically like a mini firing room in there," Merritt said.
Inside the heart of the whole operation is the convoy commander, who stays in constant communication with the shuttle and all of the vehicles during post-landing activities. Immediately after wheelstop, he or she sends NASA Fire Rescue trucks out toward the shuttle. They remain a safe distance, though -- about 1,250 feet -- until safety sniff checks determine there are no hazardous gases radiating off the shuttle. Meanwhile, emergency helicopters are hovering nearby, just in case they are needed.
It's a dangerous job: heat sparks or flames could result in fire, fuel could cause permanent damage to skin, eyes or respiratory systems, and the main landing gear tires are so hot and full of pressure, they could rupture. To keep about 150 workers safe, they put on air-tight protective gear called self-contained atmospheric protective ensembles, or SCAPE suits. They also go through extensive training to pull off the extremely choreographed operation.
"We have to hook up within 30 minutes. It's very important to maintain cooling, maintain power in the orbiter," Merritt said. "So, in between launches and landings, we decided that we needed some kind of simulator practice."
Those practice runs are performed on the runway with a gigantic, yellow metal frame on wheels called an orbiter super simulator.
Once the shuttle is deemed safe, two convoys deploy on the runway -- a forward and an aft. The forward heads toward the nose of the shuttle with vehicles and personnel that remove time-sensitive payloads and experiments. Astronaut support personnel, called ASPs, also usher the flight crew members out of the shuttle, through the White Room truck and into their Crew Transport Vehicle where they undergo standard medical checks.
"When I was back on the runway here at KSC and you know you go through all the shutdown checks and stuff and you're talking to mission control and it finally comes to the point where the ASP wants you to get out of the seat so that he can take over, I didn't want to get out of the seat," said Bob Cabana, a veteran shuttle astronaut and current director of Kennedy. "I mean, this was my spaceship, I had it for, you know, two weeks on orbit... you can't have it back, I don't want to give it up." Handing over the keys, so to speak, is quite an experience for workers on the ground, too.
United Space Alliance's Mike Parrish said, "When the vehicle lands on the runway, when you go into the vehicle, it almost smells like a musty locker room. So, when the crew comes out, they're asking, 'What is that smell?' It's the fresh air. We're looking around, 'What is that smell?' Just musty, you know, but it cleans up pretty good."
By now, the aft convoy has deployed from the Shuttle Landings Facility's midfield park site and it is operating on a very strict time clock.
First, a purge unit that pumps conditioned air into the shuttle moves into place. It sits on top of KAMAG transporter vehicle that was designed in Germany. Merritt describes it as a mine-type, low-rider vehicle with 18 wheels.
"The nice thing about the KAMAG is you can raise it up and down, and you can basically move it sideways if you need to," Merritt said. Inside the KAMAG sits a spotter and a driver, who remain in constant contact with a move director. From there, the driver can control the height and speed of the vehicle. On top, technicians operate a boom carrying three purge ducts that can telescope out toward the shuttle.
"The orange hoses, they hook up to the orbiter on the right side," Merritt said. "They pump conditioned air into the orbiter to keep the toxic gases out, to keep any moisture out that doesn't need to be in there, and help cool the orbiter from flight."
Cooling the shuttle down from temperatures that reach almost 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit during re-entry is so critical it takes one more vehicle to get the job done -- it's an extra-long truck that resembles a home air conditioner unit on wheels. A few technicians are inside the control room of the cool truck monitoring the controls and pressures and keeping the convoy commander informed of the health of the spacecraft.
"It's got a Freon system in it that circulates and has a heat exchanger in the orbiter and circulates around that and takes the heat off the orbiter so we can stay powered up until we get into the OPF," Merritt said.
Finally, about four hours after wheelstop, the shuttle's hatch is closed and a diesel-powered tractor slowly tugs the spacecraft down a two-mile tow-way toward Kennedy's orbiter processing facilities, called OPFs. The journey marks the end of landing convoy operations -- another critical piece to NASA's human spaceflight program.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/flyout_convoy.html
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Those aren't insects trapped in a spider's web -- they're stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, lying between us and another spiral galaxy called IC 342. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured this picture in infrared light, revealing the galaxy's bright patterns of dust
At a distance of about 10 million light-years from Earth, IC 342 is relatively close by galaxy standards. However, our vantage point places it directly behind the disk of our own Milky Way. The intervening dust makes it difficult to see in visible light, but infrared light penetrates this veil easily. While stars in our own galaxy appear as blue/white dots, the blue haze is from IC 342's collective starlight. Red shows the dust structures, which contain clumps of new stars.
The center of the galaxy, where one might look for a spider, is actually home to an enormous burst of star formation. To either side of the center, a small bar of dust and gas is helping to fuel the new stars
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/news/spitzer20110720.html
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new satellite – temporarily designated P4 -- was uncovered in a Hubble survey searching for rings around the dwarf planet.
The new moon is the smallest discovered around Pluto. It has an estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 km). By comparison, Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is 648 miles (1,043 km) across, and the other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in diameter (32 to 113 km).
"I find it remarkable that Hubble's cameras enabled us to see such a tiny object so clearly from a distance of more than 3 billion miles (5 billion km)," said Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., who led this observing program with Hubble.
The finding is a result of ongoing work to support NASA's New Horizons mission, scheduled to fly through the Pluto system in 2015. The mission is designed to provide new insights about worlds at the edge of our solar system. Hubble's mapping of Pluto's surface and discovery of its satellites have been invaluable to planning for New Horizons' close encounter.
"This is a fantastic discovery," said New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. "Now that we know there's another moon in the Pluto system, we can plan close-up observations of it during our flyby."
The new moon is located between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, which Hubble discovered in 2005. Charon was discovered in 1978 at the U.S. Naval Observatory and first resolved using Hubble in 1990 as a separate body from Pluto.
The dwarf planet’s entire moon system is believed to have formed by a collision between Pluto and another planet-sized body early in the history of the solar system. The smashup flung material that coalesced into the family of satellites observed around Pluto.
Lunar rocks returned to Earth from the Apollo missions led to the theory that our moon was the result of a similar collision between Earth and a Mars-sized body 4.4 billion years ago. Scientists believe material blasted off Pluto's moons by micrometeoroid impacts may form rings around the dwarf planet, but the Hubble photographs have not detected any so far.
"This surprising observation is a powerful reminder of Hubble's ability as a general purpose astronomical observatory to make astounding, unintended discoveries," said Jon Morse, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
P4 was first seen in a photo taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 28. It was confirmed in subsequent Hubble pictures taken on July 3 and July 18. The moon was not seen in earlier Hubble images because the exposure times were shorter. There is a chance it appeared as a very faint smudge in 2006 images, but was overlooked because it was obscured.
Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/pluto-moon.html
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Although the nation’s air has grown significantly cleaner in recent decades, about 40 percent of Americans – 127 million people – live in counties where pollution levels still regularly exceed national air quality standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Most of the areas with the heaviest pollution are in California, but other parts of the country are anything but immune. On the drive down I-95 between Baltimore and Washington D.C., for example, sweltering summer heat and relentless traffic often leave plumes of polluted air stewing over the highway making the area one of the top 20 smoggiest metro areas in the country.
Come July, all that health-sapping pollution will have company: a 117-foot P-3B NASA research aircraft flying spirals over six ground stations in Maryland. The aircraft is part of a month-long field campaign designed to improve satellite measurements of air pollution.
The name of the experiment -- Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality (DISCOVER -- AQ) -- is a mouthful, but its purpose is simple.
“We’re trying fill the knowledge gap that severely limits our ability to monitor air pollution with satellites,” said James Crawford, the campaign’s principal investigator and a scientist based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
The fundamental challenge for satellites measuring air quality is to distinguish between pollution near the surface and pollution higher in the atmosphere. Measurements from aircraft, in combination with ground-based measurements, offer a key perspective that makes such distinctions easier to make.
Twelve to fourteen flights are planned throughout July using two primary planes. The P-3B, a four-engine turboprop that returned recently from a deployment to the Arctic, will carry a suite of nine instruments, while a smaller two-engine UC-12 will carry two instruments.
Both aircraft will measure the colorless gas ozone and a mixture of soot and other substances known as particulate matter. Other instruments on the P-3B will measure pollutants that lead to the formation of ozone such as nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde. A third aircraft, a Cessna operated by the University of Maryland, will also participate in the campaign.
While the UC-12 will cruise at high-altitudes -- about 26,000 feet -- the P-3B will fly corkscrew patterns over six ground stations in Maryland that will bring the plane from its highest altitude of about 15,500 feet to as low as 1,000 feet from the surface.
Sampling will focus on an area extending from Beltsville, Md., in the southwest to the northeastern corner of Maryland in a pattern that follows major traffic corridors, overflies ground measurement sites operated by the Maryland Department of the Environment, and observes conditions over the northern Chesapeake Bay.
The two instruments aboard the UC-12 will look down at the surface, much like a satellite instrument might, and measure particles and trace gases. The P-3B, in contrast, will sample the air it flies through, allowing it to take samples from a variety of altitudes.
The July flights are the first leg of a broader five-year campaign that will bring the aircraft to Houston and other polluted regions during upcoming years.
Measuring Health-Sapping Particles From Above
Overall, the World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes some 2 million premature deaths globally per year. Pollutants can spark a whole range of diseases including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and bronchitis.
Since many countries, including the United States, have large gaps in ground-based networks of air pollution monitors, experts look toward satellites to provide a global perspective. Satellites have attempted to collect information about the main air pollutants that affect human health for more than a decade, yet they have struggled to achieve accurate measurements of the pollutants in the air near the surface – the air people actually breathe.
The problem: Most satellite instruments can't distinguish pollution close to the ground from that high in the atmosphere. In addition, clouds can block the view. And bright land surfaces, such as snow, desert sand, and those found in certain urban areas can mar measurements.
“We’re better with some pollutants than others, but broadly speaking we have difficulty distinguishing between pollutants high in a given column of air, which we can see quite well with satellites, and pollutants at the surface,” said Kenneth Pickering, DISCOVER-AQ’s project scientist.
As a result, questions remain about the vertical distribution of pollutants. How far up in the atmosphere are morning and evening spikes in pollution associated with rush hour noticeable? How does ozone, which peaks near the surface in afternoon, behave at other altitudes throughout the day? When is the best time of the day for satellites to measure various pollutants?
The problem is particularly pronounced for pollutants that are abundant at the surface and higher in the atmosphere. For example, a “code red” air-quality day during the summer might produce very high concentrations of ozone in the bottom few kilometers of the atmosphere, yet generate a change of a mere 1 or 2 percent to a total column of ozone.
Studies suggest that discrepancies of as much as 30 to 50 percent exist between estimates of ground nitrogen dioxide inferred from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI), an instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite launched in 2004, and measurements from ground-based instruments.
A Three Dimensional Picture
DISCOVER – AQ will address such problems by helping researchers develop a three-dimensional view of how air pollutants are distributed and move between different levels of the atmosphere throughout the day.
A phalanx of ground-based instruments will offer a critical view of the same patches of air the aircraft are monitoring from above. While NASA sponsors certain ground instruments, other institutions including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Maryland Department of the Environment, Howard University, and Pennsylvania State University manage the instruments at the ground stations.
One of the stations at Edgewood in Maryland is particularly well-suited for monitoring how sea breezes that blow in from the Chesapeake Bay and trap pollutants over land contribute to some of the most severe ozone problems in Maryland, noted Anne Thompson, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University.
It’s rare for researchers to have an opportunity to use such an array of instruments at once. “It’s not just one instrument that’s most important – it’s really the combination of all of them that makes this campaign valuable,” said Jennifer Hains, a research statistician with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Scientists will use information collected during the DISCOVER-AQ campaign to improve measurements from existing satellites and to help establish parameters for future NASA satellite missions that will monitor air quality.
“Achieving better measurements of the column at a variety of altitudes is critical to connecting what’s happening at the surface to what we’re seeing from above with satellites,” said Scott Janz, a scientist based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Future satellites could play a key role in helping communities meet national air-quality standards. Though ozone and PM2.5 have declined in recent decades across the nation, many areas, including the entire Baltimore-Washington region, still frequently experience days in which air pollution levels exceed standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Over the last five years, for example, Maryland has exceeded ozone standards on average 36 days per year and exceeded PM2.5 standards on average 10 days per year, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Last year, ozone proved particularly potent and Maryland exceeded ozone standards on 43 ozone days.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/discover-aq/news/DAQ-20110622.html
Saturday, July 16, 2011
NASA's Juno spacecraft is going to Jupiter powered by an electrical source seldom deployed in deep space: solar arrays. Commonly used by satellites orbiting Earth and working in the inner solar system, solar arrays are typically set aside for missions beyond the asteroid belt in favor of generators powered by radioactive isotopes.
For Juno, however, three solar array wings, the largest ever deployed on a planetary probe, will play an integral role in stabilizing the spacecraft and generating electricity.
In order to operate five-and-a-half times farther away from its power source than Earth-observing satellites, Juno is equipped with more than 18,000 solar cells. Russ Gehling, the solar array subsystem's lead engineer with Lockheed Martin, said using the sun to generate power is an old-school, yet proven technology.
"In general, once we’re out at Jupiter, we need 405 watts, which is not really enough to even run your hair dryer," Gehling said. "Of those 405 watts, about half of them go toward keeping the spacecraft warm. So, the other half, somewhere in the 250 range, is to run all of the instruments and all of the avionics."
The thousands of reddish-blue solar cells are located on 11 panels, four on each on two of the spacecraft's 250-pound wings. The third wing has three panels and is outfitted with a boom at the end that carries the spacecraft's magnetometer.
At this point, Juno is fueled and ready to embark on its five-year journey to Jupiter where it will spend at least a year investigating the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Two years into the journey, it will fly back by Earth for a gravity assist and then spin through the frigid cold as it approaches its destination deep in our solar system.
After NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and the magnetometer team at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., agreed to an array design that met all of the mission's requirements, processing of these massive wings began at Lockheed Martin's main plant outside of Denver in 2006. Then, the solar cells and their miles of electrical wiring were installed to the panels in California at Spectrolab Inc., which is a division of The Boeing Company. After that, they were sent back to Denver for installation, integration, inspections, cleaning and launch acoustic testing. Gehling said one of the main processing challenges came in the fact that the wings are so large, they can't support their own weight in gravity.
"The entire solar arrays combined are almost 750 pounds," Gehling said. "They’re a little more massive than typical solar arrays because of all these various requirements of stiffness and pointing and carrying the magnetometer."
The reason the wings have to be so stiff and strong is because Juno will be a spinning spacecraft -- another retro-aspect of this mission. "The wings dominate how true it spins on its axis," Gehling said. "Our goal is to make it spin about the direction of our high gain antenna boresight."
NASA's last mission to Jupiter was Galileo, another spin-stabilized spacecraft, and launched aboard space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-34 mission in 1989. Galileo operated on nuclear power, though.
Juno's wings arrived at Astrotech in Titusville, Fla., in March for additional checks and tests ahead of launch. About a month later, the spacecraft itself arrived and the wings were installed onto it before the entire package will be integrated into the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Juno is targeted to liftoff Aug. 5 at 11:39 a.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Gehling said the rocket's Centaur upper stage will help get the spacecraft spinning in orbit at about 1.4 revolutions per minute.
"After the spacecraft separates from the upper stage and starts transmitting data, then the separation nuts release and the wings deploy," Gehling said. "It only takes them on the order of a minute to deploy."
After the wings span out to 34 feet each, Gehling said actuators will help balance the spacecraft, a few degrees at most, to make sure it spins perfectly. He described the deployment much like a figure skater spinning on the ice, and once the wings deploy, the spacecraft will slow to a graceful twirl about three times slower than when it began. Initially, only two of the three inner panels will be needed to generate power, but as the spacecraft travels farther away from the sun, the remaining panels will come alive.
It will take the spacecraft half a decade to reach its destination. Then, from a very elliptical polar orbit, Juno's instruments, including a color camera that will capture images of the planet's poles, a six-wavelength microwave radiometer for atmospheric sounding and composition, plasma and energetic particle detectors, and ultraviolet and infrared imagers and spectrometers, will begin sending data back to Earth.
"The layout and size of the panels are oriented in that nice symmetrical hexagon so the instruments will have an unconstrained field of view," Gehling said.
While the Juno science team will have to wait for its gas giant data, Gehling and his team will know about an hour after launch if all their work paid off.
"In real time, we’ll immediately start to see power generated, we’ll see temperatures increasing on the panels, and we’ll see the vehicle respond to the fact that wings deployed," Gehling said. "We’ll get all that data in. That’s how we’ll assess that the wings are out and the spacecraft is safe."
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/launch/Juno_solarpower.html
Friday, July 15, 2011
On July 15, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will begin a prolonged encounter with the asteroid Vesta, making the mission the first to enter orbit around a main-belt asteroid.
The main asteroid belt lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study Vesta for one year, and observations will help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history.
As the spacecraft approaches Vesta, surface details are coming into focus, as seen in a recent image taken from a distance of about 26,000 miles (41,000 kilometers). The image is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/multimedia/dawn-image-070911.html .
Engineers expect the spacecraft to be captured into orbit at approximately 10 p.m. PDT Friday, July 15 (1 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 16). They expect to hear from the spacecraft and confirm that it performed as planned during a scheduled communications pass that starts at approximately 11:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday, July 16 (2:30 a.m. EDT Sunday, July 17). When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit, engineers estimate there will be approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) between them. At that point, the spacecraft and asteroid will be approximately 117 million miles (188 million kilometers) from Earth.
"It has taken nearly four years to get to this point," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally."
Engineers have been subtly shaping Dawn's trajectory for years to match Vesta's orbit around the sun. Unlike other missions, where dramatic propulsive burns put spacecraft into orbit around a planet, Dawn will ease up next to Vesta. Then the asteroid's gravity will capture the spacecraft into orbit. However, until Dawn nears Vesta and makes accurate measurements, the asteroid's mass and gravity will only be estimates. So the Dawn team will need a few days to refine the exact moment of orbit capture.
Launched in September 2007, Dawn will depart for its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, in July 2012. The spacecraft will be the first to orbit two solar system destinations beyond Earth.
Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are part of the mission team
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/news/dawn20110714.html
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Orbiter Atlantis lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:29 a.m. EDT, July 8, 2011, to begin the STS-135 mission. This was the final launch in the Space Shuttle Program.
Though the launch is finished, work is just beginning for staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center more than 800 miles away from the launch pad, just outside Washington, D.C., in Greenbelt, Md.
Goddard employees will work around-the-clock to guarantee the four astronauts aboard Atlantis have constant, uninterrupted lines of communication with Mission Control. The careful dance of satellite relays necessary to keep channels open requires global coordination, but it all comes together in Goddard’s Network Integration Center. Goddard has fulfilled this communication role in literally all of NASA’s manned space flights: We all know the words, “One small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind,” but no one on Earth would have heard Neil Armstrong say them on July 21, 1969, if not for Goddard.
The space shuttle has been vital in humanity’s ability to reach beyond Earth’s horizon. The 135 orbiter flights have not merely taken humans to space: They have carried satellites, telescopes, science experiments and more. Among Atlantis’s final contributions is the Robotic Refueling Mission, developed at Goddard. Atlantis will bring this module to the International Space Station, where it will provide key support in maintaining future spacecrafts for years to come. STS-135 astronauts traveled to Goddard to complete special training for these robotics, a major component of the final shuttle mission. RRM is one of dozens of Goddard payloads to travel aboard orbiters into space throughout the 30-year flight history of the Shuttle Program.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/features/2011/sts135-goddard.html
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The space shuttle Atlantis launched to the International Space Station on July 8, carrying with it a mix of research ranging from microscopic cell research to macroscopic technology development equipment deliveries. In addition, both plants and animals will be the subject of microgravity tests.
For a joint project of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, hardware for the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM, will be delivered and installed on the station's Express Logistics Carrier 4 for future demonstrations that will test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space -- even satellites not designed to be serviced. The tests, using Canadarm2, its Dexterous Manipulator System and a variety of specialized tools, will be the first on-orbit tests of techniques to refuel spacecraft not built with on-orbit servicing in mind. The hardware will be installed during the flight's only spacewalk.
Another facility being delivered to the station is Ultrasound-2, a cardiovascular ultrasound system that will replace and upgrade a 10-year-old ultrasound unit that stopped operating earlier this year. The device will be used for general crew health assessment, and in NASA investigations such as Integrated Cardiovascular, which looks at the weakening of heart muscles associated with long-duration spaceflight, and the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study, or Sprint, which looks at high-intensity, low-volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone and cardiovascular performance in astronauts. A European Space Agency experiment called Vascular Echography, or Vessel Imaging, will use the device to evaluate changes in central and peripheral blood vessel wall properties -- thickness and compliance -- and cross sectional areas of station astronauts during and after long-term exposure to microgravity.
Commercial Biomedical Test Module -- 3, or CBTM-3, experiments will use a validated mouse model to examine the effectiveness of experimental drug therapies against bone loss that results from prolonged life in low gravity. One investigation will look at whether the use of a sclerostin antibody can induce bone formation and thereby prevent skeletal deterioration, while another will examine whether changes in the blood supply to the bones and bone forming tissues may contribute to bone loss in low gravity.
Plant experiments will look at terrestrial food supply issues, and provide educational opportunities for students on Earth. The NASA-sponsored Biological Research in Canisters Symbiotic Nodulation in a Reduced Gravity Environment, or BRIC-SyNRGE, will look at how microgravity affects the infectiousness of bacteria in plants. The symbiotic relationships of plants and bacteria affect a large portion of human and livestock food production on Earth. The Canadian Space Agency-sponsored Tomatosphere-III will carry 400,000 tomato seeds to the station and back to Earth, where students in 10,000 classrooms throughout Canada will measure germination rates, growth patterns and vigor of the seeds as they grow.
A Department of Defense experiment will study the effects of tissue regeneration and wound healing in space. Space Tissue Loss-Regeneration-Keratinocytes experiments will look at how cellular degeneration and decreased immune response associated with traumatic wounds and unused limbs, with potential application in the treatment of both military and civilian injuries and immune response on Earth.
Two distinct types of smart phones also will fly to the station, where they will be tested for potential use as navigation aids and as mobile assistants for astronauts.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/ISS_NewTechnology.html
Friday, July 8, 2011
Dawn Mission Status Update
Mission managers for NASA's Dawn spacecraft are studying the spacecraft's ion propulsion system after Dawn experienced a loss of thrust on June 27. Dawn team members were able to trace the episode to an electronic circuit in the spacecraft's digital control and interface unit, a subsystem that houses the circuit and a computer that provides the "brains" to Dawn's ion propulsion system. That circuit appeared to lose an electronic signal. As a result, the valves controlling the flow of xenon fuel did not open properly. Dawn automatically put itself into a more basic configuration known as "safe-communications" mode, where the spacecraft stopped some activities and turned its high-gain antenna to Earth.
Engineers were able to return the spacecraft to a normal configuration and restart the spacecraft's thrusting on June 30 by switching to a second digital control and interface unit with equivalent capabilities. One set of images for navigation purposes was not obtained on June 28 because the spacecraft was in safe-communications mode, and one other set, on July 6, was not obtained to allow the spacecraft to spend the time thrusting. Other sets of navigation images have been and will be acquired as expected. The ion propulsion system is now functioning normally.
"Dawn is still on track to get into orbit around Vesta, and thanks to the flexibility provided by our use of ion propulsion, the time of orbit capture actually will move earlier by a little less than a day," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission manager. "More importantly, the rest of Dawn's schedule is unaffected, and science collection is expected to begin as scheduled in early August."
In an unrelated event, the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer on Dawn reset itself on June 29. At the time of the reset, the instrument was gathering calibration data during the spacecraft's approach to the giant asteroid Vesta. Some of its planned observations were completed successfully before automatic sensors turned the instrument off.
On June 30, Dawn team members were able to trace the reset to an internal error in the instrument's central processing unit, though they don't yet know why the internal error occurred. By temporarily turning the instrument back on, the Dawn team confirmed that the instrument is otherwise in a normal configuration. They powered the instrument back off, as originally planned for this time. Team members are working to determine when they will turn it back on again.
After arriving at Vesta, Dawn will spend about one year orbiting the asteroid, which is also known as a protoplanet because it is a large body that almost became a planet. Data collected at Vesta will help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/news/dawn20110707.html
Thursday, July 7, 2011
NASA's Aura Satellite has provided a view of nitrogen dioxide levels coming from the fires in New Mexico and Arizona. Detecting nitrogen dioxide is important because it reacts with sunlight to create low-level ozone or smog and poor air quality.
The fierce Las Conchas fire threatened the town and National Laboratory in Los Alamos, while smoke from Arizona's immense Wallow Fire and the Donaldson Fire in central New Mexico also created nitrogen dioxides (NO2) detectable by the Ozone Measuring Instrument (OMI) that flies aboard NASA's Aura satellite.
An image showing nitrogen dioxide levels from June 27 to 29, 2011 was created from OMI data using the NASA Giovanni system by Dr. James Acker at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The highest levels of NO2 were from the Las Conchas fire. The NO2 is measured by the number of molecules in a cubic centimeter.
Low-level ozone (smog) is hazardous to the health of both plants and animals, and ozone in association with particulate matter causes respiratory problems in humans.
On July 1, Inciweb reported that the Las Conchas fire is currently burning on 93,678 acres and was three percent contained. An infrared flyover at 4 a.m. MDT on July 1 reported 103,842 acres burned. InciWeb is the "Incident Information System" website that reports wildfire conditions throughout the country.
The Donaldson fire is estimated to cover 72, 650 acres and is located to the southeast of the Las Conchas fire. Inciweb reported on July 1 that the fire is burning in the Lincoln National Forest and Mescalero-Apache Tribal lands and is not accessible. The terrain is steep and rocky. It is located about 10 miles northwest of Ruidoso Downs, N.M.
Inciweb reported on July 1 that "smoke from the fire is impacting the communities of Ruidoso, Ruidoso Downs, Capitan, Lincoln, Hondo, Fort Stanton, Picacho, Tinnie, San Patricio, Glencoe and other surrounding areas." In east central Arizona, the Wallow Fire is now 95 percent contained, according to InciWeb. Total acres burned are 538,049, including 15,407 acres in New Mexico.
Emissions from coal-burning power plants located in northwest New Mexico were also visible in the image above.For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/fires/main/newmex-fire-20110701.html
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
An U.S. Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket carrying the Department of Defense Operationally Responsive Space office’s ORS-1 satellite was successfully launched at 11:09 p.m. EDT today from NASA’s Launch Range at the Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.
“We are very pleased to continue our support to the U.S. Air Force and the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) with today’s successful launch,” said Bill Wrobel, director of NASA’s Wallops flight Facility. “This is the fourth Minotaur 1 launch from Wallops since December 2006 and we look forward to collaborating with the Air Force and ORS on future projects.”
“Today’s launch continues the Wallops legacy of providing efficient and cost effective support to our launch customers that include government and commercial organizations,” Wrobel said.
ORS-1 is the Operationally Responsive Space Office’s first operational satellite.
Further information on the mission is available on the Internet at:
Information on future missions from Wallops is available on the Internet at:
Launch information also is available on the Wallops launch status line at 757-824-2050.
The next mission scheduled from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is two series of two suborbital rockets. Both series include a Terrier-Improved Orion and a Black Brant V between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. July 5 through 25.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/news/release-11-18.html
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Mirrors are a critical part of a telescope. The quality is crucial, so completion of mirror polishing represents a major milestone. All of the mirrors that will fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope have been polished so the observatory can see objects as far away as the first galaxies in the universe.
The Webb telescope is comprised of four types of mirrors. The primary one has an area of approximately 25 square meters (29.9 square yards), which will enable scientists to capture light from faint, distant objects in the universe faster than any previous space observatory. The mirrors are made of Beryllium and will work together to relay images of the sky to the telescope's science cameras.
"Webb's mirror polishing always was considered the most challenging and important technological milestone in the manufacture of the telescope, so this is a hugely significant accomplishment," said Lee Feinberg, Webb Optical Telescope manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The mirrors were polished at the L3 Integrated Optical Systems - Tinsley in Richmond, Calif. to accuracies of less than one millionth of an inch. That accuracy is important for forming the sharpest images when the mirrors cool to -400°F (-240°C) in the cold of space.
"The completion of the mirror polishing shows that the strategy of doing the hardest things first has really paid off," said Nobel Prize Winner John C. Mather, Webb’s senior project scientist at Goddard. "Some astronomers doubted we could make these mirrors."
After polishing, the mirrors are being coated with a microscopically thin layer of gold to enable them to efficiently reflect infrared light. NASA has completed coating 13 of 18 primary mirror segments and will complete the rest by early next year. The 18 segments fit together to make one large mirror 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across.
"This milestone is the culmination of a decade-long process," said Scott Willoughby, vice president and Webb Telescope Program manager for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "We had to invent an entire new mirror technology to give Webb the ability to see back in time."
Northrop Grumman Corp. in Redondo Beach, Calif. is the telescope's prime contractor.
As the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb telescope is the world's next-generation space observatory. It is the most powerful space telescope ever built. More than 75 percent of its hardware is either in production or undergoing testing. The telescope will observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies ever formed and study planets around distant stars. NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency are collaborating on this project.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/webb-mirrors-done.html
Monday, July 4, 2011
In an RV nicknamed after an urban assault vehicle, scientists from NASA's Langley Research Center traveled cross-country this month for an experiment with eco-friendly jet fuel.
The Langley team drove 2,600 miles (4,184 km) from Hampton, Va., to meet up with other researchers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California.
Researchers are testing the biofuel on a NASA DC-8 to measure its performance and emissions as part of the Alternative Aviation Fuel Experiment II, or AAFEX II. The fuel is called Hydrotreated Renewable Jet Fuel.
"It's made out of chicken fat, actually," said Langley's Bruce Anderson, AAFEX II project scientist. "The Air Force bought many thousands of gallons of this to burn in some of their jets and provided about 8,000 gallons (30,283 liters) to NASA for this experiment."
Anderson and his team will test a 50-50 mix of biofuel and regular jet fuel, biofuel only, and jet fuel only. The jet fuel is Jet Propellant 8, or JP-8, a kerosene-like mix of hydrocarbons.
Two of the team members headed west in a specially equipped 32-foot (9.75 m) van on loan from Langley's Aviation Safety Program. It's dubbed "EM-50" by researchers after the urban assault vehicle used in the 1981 comedy "Stripes" with Bill Murray, and carried heavy equipment needed for the campaign. The van, by the way, uses regular gas, not biofuel.
Three more researchers from Langley flew to the experiment, and researchers from Dryden and NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio have key roles as well. The effort includes investigators and consultants from private industry, other federal organizations, and academia. In all, 17 organizations are participating in AAFEX II.
"This is going to be a lot of hard work," said Anderson.
Glenn researchers shipped instruments that will be used to measure particulate and gaseous emissions.
"AAFEX II will provide essential gaseous and particulate emissions data as well as engine and aircraft systems performance data from operation of the DC-8 on a fuel produced from a renewable resource," said Glenn's Dan Bulzan, who leads clean energy and emissions research in NASA's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project.
"NASA Dryden is excited to continue contributing to the study of alternative fuels for aviation use," said Frank Cutler, NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory project manager. "These tests will assess exhaust emissions generated by modern turbine aircraft engines using man-made fuels."
In 2009, researchers in the AAFEX I project tested two synthetic fuels derived from petroleum-based coal and natural gas.
Testing is being done at a time when the U.S. military has set a goal of eventually flying its aircraft using 50 percent biofuel. The Air Force is currently engaged in certifying its fleet to operate on a 50-percent blend of the same fuel being tested in AAFEX II. Some military cargo and fighter planes already use alternative fuels.
"The use of alternative fuels, including biofuels, in aircraft is a key element for substantially reducing the impact of aviation on the environment and for reducing the dependency on foreign petroleum," said Glenn's Ruben Del Rosario, manager of NASA's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project, which is conducting the tests.
The tests are funded and managed by the Fundamental Aeronautics Program of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/features/aafex2.html
Saturday, July 2, 2011
X-24B Precision Landings Proved That Shuttle Could Land Unpowered
NASA research pilot John Manke worked through his prelaunch checklist while the X-24B lifting body hung beneath the wing of a modified B-52 cruising at an altitude of 45,000 feet over California’s Mojave Desert. When the countdown reached zero, the X-24B – its narrow delta shape and flat belly had earned it the nickname the “flying flatiron” – dropped away.
Seconds later, Manke ignited the vehicle’s four-chamber XLR11 rocket engine and climbed to a peak altitude of 60,000 feet. As the craft nosed over, he scanned the desert below looking for a narrow gray strip of concrete near the edge of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.
Because lifting bodies have a very low lift-to-drag ratio -- some pilots felt the experience was akin to flying a brick -- all previous landings had been made on the 44-square-mile lakebed expanse where there was significant margin for error. But this flight on Aug. 5, 1975 would be different: for the first time, a lifting body would touch down on Edwards' 15,000-foot-long, 300-foot-wide concrete runway. Manke was aiming to make a precise landing on a spot about a mile down the airstrip.
Seven minutes after launch from the B-52, the X-24B was lined up for final approach. Manke touched down precisely on target moments after lowering the landing gear. The demonstration proved that a low lift-to-drag vehicle like the lifting bodies or the coming space shuttle could approach from high altitude or low-Earth orbit and land like a conventional airplane.
Early manned spacecraft designs enabled ballistic entry into the atmosphere, similar to that of a missile warhead. This type of entry resulted in high G-loads and intense heating due to atmospheric friction. Hence, Mercury, the first U.S. manned space vehicle and the only one to use a strictly ballistic entry trajectory, was designed so a single crewmember could lie on his back facing away from the direction of flight. Final deceleration was achieved through use of a parachute, and the capsule landed in the ocean.
Though a capsule could carry a human into space, it had to return to Earth beneath a parachute for an ocean splashdown; a lifting body allowed a pilot to fly home and land on a runway. Advantages of the lifting-body design included reduced mission costs (because the expense of an ocean recovery was eliminated) and greater cross-range maneuvering capability.
"The lifting-body 'footprint' for a hypersonic vehicle – that is, one with a speed of Mach 5 or greater and a lift-to-drag ratio of 1:5 – includes the entire western United States as well as a major portion of Mexico," said the late R. Dale Reed, a Dryden engineer and early proponent of the lifting-body concept.
By 1974, the space shuttle was well into the design phase and program engineers had already selected a winged vehicle rather than a lifting body as the model for the reusable spacecraft. Throughout much of the planning stage, shuttle program engineers had struggled over what to do with the orbiter once it was back in the atmosphere: should it be strictly a glider, or should it have engines that would enable flight to either a planned or an emergency landing site? The consensus moved increasingly toward the addition of pop-out jet engines for use following re-entry, despite more than a decade of successful unpowered lifting-body landings accomplished at Dryden.
Manke and Air Force test pilot Mike Love concluded that use of a lifting body could resolve any lingering concerns by shuttle engineers over landing a re-entry vehicle unpowered. In January 1974, using an F-104 and a T-38, Manke and Love simulated more than 100 lifting-body landing approaches to the main runway at Edwards. Two weeks after Manke’s Aug. 5, 1975 runway landing in the X-24B, Love duplicated the feat.
"These precise touchdowns demonstrated to the shuttle program that a configuration with a comparatively low lift-to-drag ratio could land accurately without power, thereby convincing the shuttle authorities that they could dispense with the air-breathing jet engines originally planned for the orbiters," Reed later wrote.
"We now know," Manke said later, "that concrete runway landings are operationally feasible and that touchdown accuracies of plus or minus 500 feet can be expected."
The engineering and flight-test work accomplished at Dryden, as well as at Ames and Langley field centers, was crucial in eliminating the excess weight and inherent hazards associated with jet engines and the fuel necessary to power them. Reducing the shuttle's structural weight also increased its payload capacity.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/x24b.html
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