Archive for May, 2014

Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS)

Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS)

Future Moon exploration and exploitation of lunar ice can benefit greatly by the use of a range of small satellites, according to a new study. Furthermore, university involvement will be essential to rein in costs.

The research findings are contained in the report – “New Approaches to Lunar Ice Detection and Mapping” – sponsored by Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS).

The primary objective of the study was to explore innovative, low-cost mission concepts for detecting and mapping “operationally useful” ice deposits on the Moon, defined as those accessible to surface landers or rovers.

Orbiting spacecraft, impactor probes, penetrator probes, as well as landers and rovers were appraised.  

Study participants found that small satellites were particularly well suited to the envisioned orbiter and impactor mission designs.

“While fulfilling these priorities will be an ambitious undertaking, we conclude that cost should not be prohibitive, as long as university involvement remains strong,” the report explains.

Recent advances

In releasing the report, study leaders, Paul Hayne (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), David Paige (University of California, Los Angeles), and Andrew Ingersoll (California Institute of Technology), and on behalf of 33 co-authors from 15 separate institutions, said that the study began in July 2013, with a closing workshop held in November.

The study was motivated by recent advances in two areas:

— Remote sensing data and models provide compelling (though sometimes conflicting) evidence for the presence of concentrated volatiles on the Moon.

— Small, low-cost spacecraft have emerged as a potentially viable means of planetary exploration and science.

Innovative, low-cost

The study team leaders observed: “We therefore sought to identify key measurements for lunar ice detection and mapping that could be accomplished through innovative, low-cost mission concepts.”

“We hope that this report will serve as a resource for the lunar (and broader planetary) science and exploration community. In particular, the report summarizes the current state of knowledge about lunar volatiles, and identifies future measurement approaches that could clarify their abundance, composition, and distribution. The mission concepts presented are a small subset of those considered in the study, and are those we found most compelling and/or technically mature,” they concluded.

For access to the full report, go to:

http://kiss.caltech.edu/study/lunar-ice/KISS_lunar_report.pdf

Hole produced by the Curiosity rover's drill. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Hole produced by the Curiosity rover’s drill.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has swallowed for analysis bits and pieces of powdered rock collected by drilling into a sandstone target.

The material has been delivered to laboratory instruments inside the robot. Study of those powdered sample materials will be performed during pauses in the rover’s ongoing trek across the Martian terrain.

Controllers of the one-ton mobile machine are readying the robot to soon move on toward its long-term destination on a mountain slope, driving toward Mount Sharp, the layered mountain at the middle of Mars’ Gale Crater.

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager provided this nighttime view of a hole produced by the rover's drill and, inside the hole, a line of scars produced by the rover's rock-zapping laser. The camera used its own white-light LEDs to illuminate the scene on May 13, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager provided this nighttime view of a hole produced by the rover’s drill and, inside the hole, a line of scars produced by the rover’s rock-zapping laser. The camera used its own white-light LEDs to illuminate the scene on May 13, 2014.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sharpshooting

Other instruments on the rover have inspected the target rock’s interior exposed in the hole and in drill cuttings heaped around the hole.

The instrument that fires a laser from atop the rover’s mast – ChemCam — zapped a series of points inside the hole with sharpshooter accuracy.

Camera and spectrometer inspection of the cuttings has also been done.

The mission’s two previous rock-drilling sites – done at mudstone targets — yielded evidence last year of an ancient lakebed environment with key chemical elements and a chemical energy source that long ago provided conditions favorable for microbial life.

 

rod pyleInnovation the NASA Way: Harnessing the Power of Your Organization for Breakthrough Success by Rod Pyle; McGraw Hill, New York, New York; $30.00 (hard cover); 2014.

Author Rod Pyle has taken an up-close look at NASA’s on-going ability to innovate, be it during the Apollo program, flying the Voyager spacecraft, building the International Space Station, and that nail biting flair of creativity as evidenced by landing the Curiosity rover that’s now wheeling across Mars.

This is a unique and absorbing book, one that provides learn by doing messages for consideration in the businesses and workplace.

Pyle notes that the NASA of today is home to individuals that conceptualize grand new programs with exciting and unique goals, people that “define outside-the-box thinking.” He adds: “Despite the challenges of low budgets and risk aversion, thoughtful innovation does ascend through the system.”

Innovation the NASA Way, in a sense, is both historical narrative and a practical user’s guide to help you infuse tenacity with management skills, as well as stir in a generous helping of creativity – all qualities that can boost business success.

Pyle’s key message is that, while space exploration may be NASA’s mission, the myriad of innovative leadership practices the space agency has honed over the decades are founded on solid, down-to-earth methods anyone can use, anywhere.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on NewSpace: Capitalism Shining Bright. “There is room for countless newcomers,” Pyle explains, matched up with a “profound role for government support.”

The book is complete with a foreword by Lori Garver, former NASA Deputy Administrator who notes: “My belief is that NASA’s primary value to society is as an engine of innovation. Reading this book is an affirmation of that belief.”

Kudos to Pyle for the book’s well-documented account of NASA as it continues to push the throttle to full power on imagination and innovation.

For more information on this book, go to:

http://www.mhprofessional.com/product.php?isbn=007182913X

Political eclipse of International Space Station. U.S. lawmakers react to Russian statements on the future of the orbiting complex. Credit: NASA

Political eclipse of International Space Station. U.S. lawmakers react to Russian statements on the future of the orbiting complex.
Credit: NASA

The series of measures taken by the U.S. in response to Russia’s actions in the Crimea has stirred up Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin.

Rogozin has stated that Russia intends to reject a U.S. request to prolong the use of the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2020. He also suggested that Russia could use the ISS without the United States.

These comments by the Russian leader have sparked a letter to NASA’s Charles Bolden from Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) and Space Subcommittee Vice Chairman Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).

Political division

“Our international space partnerships, including our partnership with Russia, have historically endured political division,” the Congressmen wrote. “But Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin’s statements raise serious concerns about the strength of those partnerships.”

With the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the cancellation of the Constellation program, the United States currently has no domestic capability to transport our astronauts to and from the ISS. 

“As we move forward, it is important that we fully understand our nation’s independent capabilities with regard to ISS operations,” the letter states.

“While this new development is not related to access to the ISS for our astronauts in the next few years, it certainly pertains to the strength of our partnership with Russia. If Mr. Rogozin’s statement proves to be accurate, we will have to take a step back and evaluate the costs and benefits of maintaining ISS beyond 2020 without our Russian partners.”

To read the full letter from the lawmaker to NASA’s Bolden, go to:

http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/Letters/051514_Russia_Sanctions.pdf

NASA’s newest Mars probe – the en route Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, or MAVEN – faces a close encounter with comet particles. Courtesy: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s newest Mars probe – the en route Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, or MAVEN – faces a close encounter with comet particles.
Courtesy: Lockheed Martin

Comet Siding Spring will make a very close approach to Mars this October.

That comet flyby comes just four weeks after NASA’s newest and now en route Mars probe – the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft, or MAVEN – nudges into orbit around the Red Planet.

Researchers are busy examining the dust risk to the Mars probe given particles that will spew from comet Siding Spring.

“We are concerned about the risk, and have been identifying mitigations that we can take in order to minimize the potential impact on MAVEN,” said MAVEN principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Before and after looks

Jakosky told me that a group led by Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Mars Program Office is examining the dust risk. They have not yet finalized their report and recommendations.

“We have a plan and schedule to complete the analysis and make preliminary decisions in June,” Jakosky advised. Also being examined is the potential to make observations of both the comet and of Mars at the time of the comet’s closest approach. 

“The interest in the comet should be obvious. But we’re also interested in before and after looks at Mars, given that the dust and gas has the potential to affect the upper atmosphere that is the centerpiece of our science,” Jakosky said.

Comet flyby of Mars in October should offer a spectacular view from the Martian surface.  Credit: Kim Poor

Comet flyby of Mars in October should offer a spectacular view from the Martian surface.
Credit: Kim Poor

Bottom line

“We’ve identified possible observations, and are in the midst of working through the implications for our transition phase [once MAVEN is in Mars orbit] and for the observations,” Jakosky said. “Again, no decisions have been made, and we expect preliminary decisions to be made hand in hand with our mitigations,” he added.

For Jakosky there is a bottom line in all the MAVEN versus comet Siding Spring deliberations.

“In all of our analysis, spacecraft and instrument health and safety come first. We won’t take any actions that we believe jeopardize our own science mission,” he concluded.

Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Image Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Something caught my eye the other day – and jogged my memory back to a 1953 science fiction film.

Now on Mars, the so-curious Curiosity rover has been one busy robot. It’s a marvel of machinery.

Still, it falls short from being a head over shoulders double for the Martian of War of the Worlds fame – but is there a similarity?

For one, take a look at that movie Martian – a cyclopean eye divided into three sections, one red, one green and one blue. Contrast that to Curiosity’s Mast Camera — or Mastcam for short – a snazzy bit of gear that takes color images and color video footage of the Martian terrain.

 

Eye to eye contact with Martian via the H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a 1953 Paramount Pictures Technicolor science fiction film.  Credit: Paramount Pictures

Eye to eye contact with Martian via the H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, a 1953 Paramount Pictures Technicolor science fiction film.
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Red planet patrol

Meanwhile, now on Red Planet patrol, NASA’s Curiosity has used its hammering drill to dig into a slab of Martian sandstone. That material is to be delivered to the rover’s internal instruments.

The fresh hole in the rock target “Windjana,” is visible in images from the rover – a hole that is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and about 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) deep.

21st century machinery - NASA's Curiosity rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

21st century machinery – NASA’s Curiosity rover.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Drill “tale”ings

“The drill tailings from this rock are darker-toned and less red than we saw at the two previous drill sites,” said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe, deputy principal investigator for Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam).

Those darker-colored tailings suggest that the detailed chemical and mineral analysis that will be coming from Curiosity’s other instruments could reveal different materials than have been previously seen before, Bell added in a Jet Propulsion Laboratory press statement.

 

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

While we wait, check out that classic War of the Worlds film, shot in glorious Technicolor.

Photo Credit: Eric Long/NASM

Photo Credit: Eric Long/NASM

We’re back!

For those of you in the Denver, Colorado area:

I’ll be teaming up with Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin on May 24th at two different events.

We’ll be discussing and signing our book – Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration – and serve up a few surprises too.

Events:

1)

Saturday, May 24 at 1:00 PM

Barnes and Noble

960 S Colorado Blvd, Glendale, CO 80246

Phone: 303-691-2998

For more info, go to:

http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/83711

2)

Saturday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

You must sign up to become a museum member to attend an exclusive, private event for 2013 Spreading Wings Gala guests, Museum Members and Teacher Flight Envoys.

Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum

7711 East Academy Boulevard

Denver, CO 80230-6929

Phone: 303-360-5360

For more information, go to:

http://www.wingsmuseum.org/news/1-latest-news/281-buzz-aldrin

 

 

 

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system flies above New Mexico's Spaceport America. Credit: Virgin Galactic/Mark Greenberg

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system flies above New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
Credit: Virgin Galactic/Mark Greenberg

 

 

 

Ready and awaiting the arrival of increased space traffic is Spaceport America – situated in a sweeping desert setting in New Mexico.

Spaceport America continues to make preparations for upcoming launch operations of SpaceX and Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system.

The SpaceX Falcon 9R rocket will be the largest ever to fly from Spaceport America.

As the new launch complex nears completion, the technical team is reviewing and refining preparation and launch day plans and procedures.

Grasshopper technology demonstrator for use in SpaceX's Falcon 9-R has repeatedly flown to various altitudes at the firm’s test site in McGregor, Texas. Credit: SpaceX

Grasshopper technology demonstrator for use in SpaceX’s Falcon 9-R has repeatedly flown to various altitudes at the firm’s test site in McGregor, Texas.
Credit: SpaceX

“R” for reusable

The Falcon 9-R, “R” for reusable, is a partially-reusable variant of the SpaceX Falcon 9. It is being developed using systems and software tested on the Grasshopper technology demonstrator that has repeatedly flown to various altitudes at the firm’s test site in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX construction at New Mexico’s Spaceport America is utilizing more than 20 local firms, spending approximately $2 million so far.

Items include refining the formal Range Operations Plan and ensuring that the spaceport is in compliance with New Mexico open burning regulations. Several fire prevention measures have been added, such as a vegetation-free buffer and fire breaks around the edges of the launch and landing pads.

Suborbital spaceliner

For its part, Virgin Galactic is continuing work on “fit out” construction activities for the Gateway facility at Spaceport America.

This facility will handle operations of the commercial suborbital spaceliner – a craft capable of carrying two pilots, six “pay per view” passengers.

With respect to Virgin Galactic, the technical team has been refining an Airfield Operations Plan, according to Spaceport America officials.

Recently, a three-party Letter of Agreement (Virgin Galactic-FAA Albuquerque Center-Spaceport America) — required by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation — was finalized.

 

Hitting the silver screen in November!

Hitting the silver screen in November!

The countdown clock has started for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” that treks into theaters on November 7th.

Beyond a poster and a quick clip, no telling how stellar of a hit:

Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyc6RJEEe0U#t=35

Off-world geologist, Apollo 17's Jack Schmitt.  Credit: NASA

Off-world geologist, Apollo 17’s Jack Schmitt.
Credit: NASA

Here’s a new SPACE.com story posted today, my interview with the last man to step onto the Moon:

Moonwalker Jack Schmitt and the Future of US Space Exploration

http://www.space.com/25770-apollo-astronaut-jack-schmitt-exclusive-interview.html

Griffith Observatory Event