Monday, May 28, 2012

NASA Group to Analyze New Vehicle-Descent Technologies

NASA technologists will get a opportunity next summer time to experience the good old days when Organization technical engineers would connect space-age devices to rockets just to see if the gadgets proved helpful.

In what will be the first of four high-altitude enhance routes to begin in the summertime season of 2013, technologists at NASA's Jet Space Clinical (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and Wallops Journey Ability in Wallops Isle, Va., are planning to evaluate new deceleration gadgets that could substitute present nice technological innovation for getting ever-larger payloads at higher levels on Mars.

NASA is using a sequence of explode snowmobile assessments at the U.S. Naval Air Weaponry Place at Chinese suppliers Pond, Calif., in planning for full-up assessments of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Venture, or LDSD. The project is examining water and parachute decelerators to slowly spacecraft prior to getting and allow NASA to enhance arrived payload public, enhance getting precision and enhance the elevation of secure landing-sites. Credit: JPL

NASA hasn't examined deceleration technological innovation supersonically since 1972 when it performed four high-altitude assessments of a supersonic parachute used during the Viking program. "We’ve been trapped with that style ever since," said Level Adler, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) program lead. NASA will use the same technological innovation again this year when it provides the Fascination rover to Mars.

However, planetary landers of the next day will require much bigger move gadgets than any now in use. "What we need is new technological innovation to slowly bigger, bulkier landers from the supersonic connections of environmental use of subsonic ground-approach connections," Adler said.

The LDSD program is targeted at providing NASA a new and enhanced ability. Financed by NASA’s Area Technology Program, the JPL-led team programs to perform full-scale, stratospheric assessments of three possibly cutting-edge technological innovation. The aim is to increase their technology-readiness levels to about six, which means they could be used in a plane project, perhaps as early as 2018.

The first two are supersonic water decelerators, large stress boats that fill around an access automobile and slowly it from Mach 3.5 or quicker to about Mach 2. One of these water gadgets actions nearly 20 toes across (six meters), the other nearly 26 toes (eight meters). The third technological innovation is a 110-foot (33.5-meter) parachute to further slowly the access automobile from Mach 2 to subsonic connections needed for a secure getting. All three would be the biggest gadgets of their kind ever traveled at connections several times greater than the rate of audio.

The style involves the group to connect the test automobile outfitted with the decelerator and parachute to a Wallops-provided high-altitude enhance. Once the enhance gets to an elevation of about 22 kilometers (36 kilometers) above Global exterior, the explode would flame its applications and bring check automobile to Martian environmental densities at an elevation of 31 kilometers (50 kilometers) at Mach 4. There, check automobile would set up the supersonic decelerator, followed by the parachute.

Perfect Wedding of Capabilities

The project harnesses the strong points of both companies, said Scott Schaire, Wallops LDSD performing project administrator. While NASA JPL and its companies are creating check automobile, decelerators, and parachute, NASA Wallops is accountable for enhance functions, enhance instrumentation, and other functions associated with enhance releases.

One considerable NASA Wallops-provided technological innovation is an entirely new enhance release program — an attempt Schaire's team started particularly for the supersonic assessments. With this new program, check automobile will be revoked from a straight, 80-foot structure. Its job is avoiding check automobile from reaching the earth as the enhance starts to increase off. A customized equipment that appears like a farm-irrigation program will help specialists lay out the enhance and a new reel automobile will hold the enhance until release.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

NASA Spacecraft Detects Changes in Martian Sand Dunes

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed that movement in sand dune fields on the Red Planet occurs on a surprisingly large scale, about the same as in dune fields on Earth.

This is unexpected because Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth, is only about one percent as dense, and its high-speed winds are less frequent and weaker than Earth's.

For years, researchers debated whether sand dunes observed on Mars were mostly fossil features related to past climate, rather than currently active. In the past two years, researchers using images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera have detected and reported sand movement.

Now, scientists using HiRISE images have determined that entire dunes as thick as 200 feet (61 meters) are moving as coherent units across the Martian landscape. The study was published online today by the journal Nature.

"This exciting discovery will inform scientists trying to better understand the changing surface conditions of Mars on a more global scale," said Doug McCuistion, director, NASA's Mars Exploration Program, Washington. "This improved understanding of surface dynamics will provide vital information in planning future robotic and human Mars exploration missions."

Researchers analyzed before-and-after images using a new software tool developed at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. The tool measured changes in the position of sand ripples, revealing the ripples move faster the higher up they are on a dune.

The study examined images taken in 2007 and 2010 of the Nili Patera sand dune field located near the Martian equator. By correlating the ripples' movement to their position on the dune, the analysis determined the entire dunes are moving. This allows researchers to estimate the volume, or flux, of moving sand.

"We chose Nili Patera because we knew there was sand motion going on there, and we could quantify it," said Nathan Bridges, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and lead author of the Nature paper. "The Nili dunes also are similar to dunes in places like Antarctica and to other locations on Mars."

The study adds important information about the pace at which blowing sand could be actively eroding rocks on Mars. Using the new information about the volume of sand that is moving, scientists estimate rocks in Nili Patera would be worn away at about the same pace as rocks near sand dunes in Antarctica, where similar sand fluxes occur.

"Our new data shows wind activity is indeed a major agent of evolution of the landscape on Mars," said Jean-Philippe Avouac, Caltech team leader. "This is important because it tells us something about the current state of Mars and how the planet is working today, geologically."

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NASA to Fly Deep Space Atomic Clock to Improve Navigation Technology

When people think of space technologies, many think of high-tech solar panels, complex and powerful propulsion systems or sophisticated, electronic guidance systems. Another critical piece of spaceflight technology, however, is an ultra stable, highly accurate device for timing - essential to NASA's success on deep-space exploration missions.

NASA is preparing to fly a Deep Space Atomic Clock, or DSAC, demonstration that will revolutionize the way we conduct deep-space navigation by enabling a spacecraft to calculate its own timing and navigation data in real time. This one-way navigation technology would improve upon the current two-way system in which information is sent to Earth, requiring a ground team to calculate timing and navigation and then transmitting it back to the spacecraft. A real-time, on-board navigation capability is key to improving NASA’s capabilities for executing time critical events, such as a planetary landing or planetary "fly-by," when signal delays are too great for the ground to interact with the spacecraft during the event.

"Adopting DSAC on future NASA missions will increase navigation and radio science data quantity by two to three times, improve data quality by up to 10 times and reduce mission costs by shifting toward a more flexible and extensible one-way radio navigation architecture," said Todd Ely, principal investigator of the Deep Space Atomic Clock Technology Demonstration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The project is part of NASA's Technology Demonstration Missions program, managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., for NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist in Washington.

The one-way deep space navigation enabled by DSAC uses the existing deep space network more efficiently than the current two-way system, thus expanding the network’s capacity without adding any new antennas or their associated costs. This is important, since future human exploration of deep space will demand more tracking from the deep space network than can currently be delivered with the existing system.

"The Deep Space Atomic Clock flight demonstration mission will advance this laboratory-qualified technology to flight readiness and will make a practical atomic clock available to a variety of space missions," Ely said.

The clock is a miniature mercury-ion atomic device the DSAC team will fly as a payload on an Earth orbiter in a one-year experiment to validate its operability in space and its usefulness for one-way navigation.

"A potential use for DSAC on a future mission would be in a follow-up to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter," Ely said. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched to Mars in 2005 on a search for evidence that water existed on the planet's surface for enough time to provide a habitat for life. The orbiter completed its primary science phase in 2008 and continues to work in an extended mission. Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeeping method known and are used as the primary standard for international time distribution services -- to control the frequency of television broadcasts, and in global navigation satellite systems such as the Global Positioning System.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

NASA's WISE Catches Aging Star Erupting With Dust

Images from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveal an old star in the throes of a fiery outburst, spraying the cosmos with dust. The findings offer a rare, real-time look at the process by which stars like our sun seed the universe with building blocks for other stars, planets and even life.

The star, catalogued as WISE J180956.27-330500.2, was discovered in images taken during the WISE survey in 2010, the most detailed infrared survey to date of the entire celestial sky. It stood out from other objects because it glowed brightly with infrared light. When compared to images taken more than 20 years ago, astronomers found the star was 100 times brighter.

"We were not searching specifically for this phenomenon, but because WISE scanned the whole sky, we can find such unique objects," said Poshak Gandhi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), lead author of a new paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Results indicate the star recently exploded with copious amounts of fresh dust, equivalent in mass to our planet Earth. The star is heating the dust and causing it to glow with infrared light.

"Observing this period of explosive change while it is actually ongoing is very rare," said co-author Issei Yamamura of JAXA. "These dust eruptions probably occur only once every 10,000 years in the lives of old stars, and they are thought to last less than a few hundred years each time. It's the blink of an eye in cosmological terms."

The aging star is in the "red giant" phase of its life. Our own sun will expand into a red giant in about 5 billion years. When a star begins to run out of fuel, it cools and expands. As the star puffs up, it sheds layers of gas that cool and congeal into tiny dust particles. This is one of the main ways dust is recycled in our universe, making its way from older stars to newborn solar systems. The other way, in which the heaviest of elements are made, is through the deathly explosions, or supernovae, of the most massive stars.

"It's an intriguing glimpse into the cosmic recycling program," said Bill Danchi, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Evolved stars, which this one appears to be, contribute about 50 percent of the particles that make up humans."

Astronomers know of one other star currently pumping out massive amounts of dust. Called Sakurai's Object, this star is farther along in the aging process than the one discovered recently by WISE.

After Poshak and his team discovered the unusual, dusty star with WISE, they went back to look for it in previous infrared all-sky surveys. The object was not seen at all by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which flew in 1983, but shows up brightly in images taken as part of the Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS) in 1998.

Poshak and his colleagues calculated the star appears to have brightened dramatically since 1983. The WISE data show the dust has continued to evolve over time, with the star now hidden behind a very thick veil. The team plans to follow up with space- and ground-based telescopes to confirm its nature and to better understand how older stars recycle dust back into the cosmos.

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