Archive for July, 2014
New imagery of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimernko as the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft pulls in closer to the target.According to a press statement from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany), the Imagery confirms the collar-like appearance of the neck region which presents itself brighter than most parts of the comet’s body and head. The reason for this feature is still subject to discussion. Possible explanations range from differences in material or grain size to topological effects.
Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA.
Rosetta will be the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface.
Fireworks at Mars – there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work and worry about an upcoming cometary encounter. Here’s my take on the situation via Space.com:
NASA Prepping Mars Probes, Rovers for Close Comet Flyby
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
July 31, 2014 07:35am ET
New research suggests that it is possible that terrestrial rocks ejected from the Earth by giant impacts from space — and which then strike the Moon — may successfully transfer terrestrial fossils to the Moon.
The results were obtained from hypervelocity impact experiments which fired fossilized diatoms frozen in ice into water targets. Diatoms are unicellular, photosynthesizing algae encased in a shell of silica, called the frustule. They readily make recognizable fossils.
After the shots, the material recovered from the target water was inspected for diatom fossils.
Nine shots were carried out at various speeds, corresponding to mean peak pressures. In all cases, fragmented fossilized diatoms were recovered, but both the mean and the maximum fragment size decreased with increasing impact speed and hence peak pressure.
The upshot of the research is that it adds to “a growing body of work that demonstrates that material of interest regarding the origin and distribution of life in the Solar System can survive impacts,” the researchers suggest.
While there have been suggestions by others that the Moon is a good place to look for terrestrial meteorites which contain fossils, the new findings demonstrate that this is indeed viable.
This intriguing research is detailed in the paper “Survival of fossils under extreme shocks induced by hypervelocity impacts,” carried in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, a journal devoted to a specific area of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences.
The research was done by University of Kent physicists, led by Mark Burchell at the Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, School of Physical Sciences, Canterbury, Kent, in the United Kingdom.
The full research paper can be accessed by going to:
Europa harbors a global ocean covered by an ice shell. Indeed, that large reservoir of liquid water has long enchanted planetary scientists with the possibility that the moon is also a harbor for life.
On one hand, NASA does place high programmatic priority on this prospect to further the potential for a future lander mission to Europa.
In fact, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission concept would conduct remote reconnaissance of the moon and help identify possible landing sites for a subsequent Europa lander mission.
On the other hand, current data does not provide sufficient information to identify landing sites and design a landing system capable of safely reaching the surface.
Wanted: compelling sites
So the call from NASA is out on how best to characterize scientifically compelling sites, and hazards for a potential future landed mission to Europa.
Next month, NASA will be hosting a meeting to help galvanize scientists to investigate a Europa mission.
One group that’s up and running to get to Europa is the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics.
Last year, the Texas team designed a NASA mission concept to search for life on Europa. They developed a part of the mission scenario that would use sound waves to study the moon’s icy shell, deep ocean and possible shallow lakes.
As envisioned in the University of Texas at Austin’s study, a Europa lander would have a series of seismometers embedded in its six legs. That would allow mission scientists to measure the thickness of the moon’s all-encompassing ice shell, study the flexing and cracking of the ice in response to tidal forces, model the exchange of chemicals between the moon’s surface and the deep ocean and potentially confirm the existence of lakes embedded in the ice shell.
This information would help scientists determine where the best habitats for life might exist within the moon.
Using imagery from the NASA Galileo mission to Jupiter, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found evidence for large lakes of water embedded near the surface of Europa’s ice shell – spots that might provide a comfy habitat for life.
“If one day humans send a robotic lander to the surface of Europa, we need to know what to look for and what tools it should carry,” said Robert Pappalardo at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.
“There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa,” Pappalardo said, “but studies like these will help us to focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations.”The university’s work was conducted with Europa study funds from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.
The Air Force launched two operational satellites and one experimental satellite into near-geosynchronous Earth orbit on July 28 atop a Delta 4 booster lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The AFSPC-4 mission, according to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James: “These operational and experimental systems will enhance the nation’s ability to monitor and assess events regarding our military and commercial systems. In essence, they will create a space neighborhood watch capability.”
The two operational satellites are part of the recently declassified Air Force Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP.
ANGELS: clearer picture
The experimental satellite program is known as Automated Navigation and Guidance Experiment for Local Space, or ANGELS, is led by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The ANGELS program examines techniques for providing a clearer picture of the environment around our vital space assets.
Modest but safe distance
The vehicle will begin experiments approximately 30 miles (50 kilometers) away from the upper stage and cautiously progress over several months to tests within several kilometers.
The Air Force will use the results to evolve the ability of future systems to responsively perform SSA from a “modest but safe distance,” according to the AFRL.
The current ANGELS program began in 2007.
The ANGELS spacecraft was lofted as a secondary payload on the AFSPC-4 mission, and it has 1 year of experiments planned.
After a 10-year journey that has clocked up more than 6 billion kilometers, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft is rapidly closing in on its destination comet.
New images are being provided daily by ESA of Rosetta’s prey: comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The official Rosetta arrival at comet date is July 19, 2014 (UTC).
A new shape model of comet 67P/C-G, based on the previous week’s images, has been used to create a revised, more detailed model.
This model is a formal product delivered to the Rosetta Orbiter and Lander Teams to aid with their preparations for orbiting around and, eventually, landing the Philae probe on the comet.
Take a spin by looking at:
NASA’s MESSENGER – short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging – has moved closer to Mercury than any spacecraft has before.
The spacecraft has been maneuvered to an altitude at closest approach of only 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the planet’s surface.
“This dip in altitude is allowing us to see Mercury up close and personal for the first time,” said Ralph McNutt, MESSENGER project scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
Doing so means closer looks at polar ice deposits, unusual geological features, and the planet’s gravity and magnetic fields, McNutt said in an APL press statement.
How low can you go?
Because of progressive changes to the orbit over time, MESSENGER’s minimum altitude will continue to decrease.
On August 19, the spacecraft’s minimum altitude will be cut in half, to 50 kilometers.
Closest approach will be halved again to 25 kilometers on September 12, noted MESSENGER Mission Design Lead Engineer Jim McAdams, also of APL.
Because of progressive changes to the orbit over time, MESSENGER’s minimum altitude will continue to decrease.
On August 19, the minimum altitude will be cut in half, to 30 miles (50 kilometers). Closest approach will be halved again to 15 miles (25 kilometers) on September 12, noted MESSENGER Mission Design Lead Engineer Jim McAdams, also of APL.
“Soon after reaching 25 kilometers above Mercury, an orbit-correction maneuver (OCM-10) will raise this minimum altitude to about 56 miles (94 kilometers),” noted McAdams.
“Two more maneuvers, on October 24 and January 21, 2015, will raise the minimum altitude sufficiently to delay the inevitable – impact onto Mercury’s surface – until March 2015,” McAdams said.
As the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun, the MESSENGER spacecraft was launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 18, 2011 (UTC), to begin its primary mission – a yearlong study of its target planet.
MESSENGER’s first extended mission began on March 18, 2012, and ended one year later.
MESSENGER is now in a second extended mission, which is scheduled to conclude in March 2015.
China is considering the prospect of moving up their space station agenda, according to recent news reports in that country.
A recent China Daily story explains that the first of three experimental modules for China’s planned space station is expected to be launched in 2018, with the other two set for launch in 2020 and 2022.
Those modules would be the foundation to form a 60-ton space station.
The report quotes Gu Yidong, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a leading research expert in manned space stations. “We set the date as a preliminary goal,” the scientist said.
The date change reflects a number of factors, Gu said, that can influence a launch date. “This is a common feature in international research,” he said at a recently held Beijing forum on space research.
China Daily also noted that, since the International Space Station is expected to be retired in about 2024, China’s station could be the only remaining base for humans in space.
Chinese space researchers are drafting a plan on how best to utilize the country’s space station to facilitate scientific inquiry.
Gao Ming is director of the technology and engineering center for space utilization under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is in charge of drafting the plan.
She said that China’s space station will accommodate specialized lab duties for a number of purposes, such as applied physics, as well as Earth observation to monitor the environment and for disaster response purposes.
Chinese scientists are hopeful that the details of any international cooperation in using their space station can be detailed later this year.
China Daily also reported that the country will launch the Tiangong-2 space lab next year which will test the technology to sustain astronauts for longer periods in space as well as conduct experiments.
New booster: CZ-7
Meanwhile, the China Manned Space Office has posted notice that work is progressing on the CZ-7 rocket. That booster is China’s new-generation medium-lift launch vehicle with a low-Earth orbit capacity of 13.5 tons. It is designed to launch Tianzhou cargo spaceships for construction of the future space station.
Tianzhou cargo vehicles will be launched atop CZ-7 carrier rocket from the newly-built Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, located near Wenchang on the north-east coast of Hainan Island.
A first joint rehearsal of the CZ-7 rocket and Tianzhou cargo vehicle will be conducted later this year.
Niu Hongguang, Deputy Chief Commander of the China Manned Space Office said the upcoming rehearsal is challenging, involving adoption of a brand-new launch vehicle, spaceship, launch pad, technical process, command and control system, with the booster transported by sea for the first time.
Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission by Marc Kaufman; National Geographic Books, Wash., D.C.; $40.00 (hardcover); August 2014.
This is an absolutely stunning book. After this read, and soaking in the lavishly dazzling presentation, you’ll get to know the fourth planet as never before … and why this world is a place that is ready for human exploration.
Kudos go to the author, Marc Kaufman, a gifted science journalist that transformed himself to become an “embedded Martian,” spending two years with engineers and scientists dedicated to exploring the enigmatic world. He observed up-close and personal the drama and tension of getting NASA’s Curiosity rover up into space, then down and dirty on the Red Planet.
The book’s publication date is timed to salute the August 6, 2012 landing of Curiosity – but sends the reader on a journey that is now on-going. In a very real sense, this book is a toolkit to better appreciate the mystery that is Mars – not just from a geological perspective, but the pursuit to uncover whether the planet was, or is now, an extraterrestrial address for life.
I found the “Mission Makers” segments in the book particularly appealing. So often the gee-whiz hardware overwhelms the fact that humans make the hardware happen. These vignettes of the men and women on the forefront of discovery while uncovering more puzzling questions add to the vitality of this book.
There’s even an extra added attraction to this volume. Throughout the book, a special icon on certain images denotes the inclusion of those images in NASA’s free Spacecraft 3D app, a tool that allows users to view a three-dimensional experience of Mars on their smartphone or tablet.
As Kaufman reflects: “For me, Curiosity has forever increased that gravitational pull of interest about our cousin planet. We’ve been connected since the start, both born from the same disk of debris orbiting our protosun. It’s not inevitable that our futures will bring us closer again, but it’s quite possible, and quite desirable, too. A challenge, a prize, a time capsule like no other, Mars beckons.”
The book includes a “Humans to Mars” chapter that spotlights how the Curiosity rover is a stepping stone to planting footprints on that faraway world.
Underscoring that prospect is a foreword to the book written by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Mars Up Close was created with generous support from SpaceX. “Sending large numbers of people to explore and settle Mars in the decades ahead isn’t inevitable, but it is entirely possible,” Musk observes.
For more information on this book, go to:
NOTE: To celebrate the new National Geographic book Mars Up Close a special event is being staged at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. and also carried via Live Stream.
The event starts Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. EST.
For an event update, go to:
By Leonard David
Artist Kenji Williams is performing his BELLA GAIA around the world.
His unique concert captures the Overview Effect, using satellite imagery of Earth, time lapses, cultural heritage footage, NASA data visualizations, dance, and an award-winning customized musical score.
Williams takes you on a spectacular journey around the planet that illuminates the connections between natural systems and human activities through an immersive storytelling method threaded by an orbiting flight path from the International Space Station.
“BELLA GAIA shows you how humans and nature are connected, and how art and science are connected,” said Williams, BELLA GAIA Founder & Director. “It’s an exploration of the relationship between human civilization and our ecosystem through time and space.”
A new video showcases BELLA GAIA and the distinctive approaches taken by Williams – a TEDx Tokyo speech and performance – in which the artist talks about the live collaboration with astronaut Koichi Wakata onboard the International Space Station.
Also, to keep track of BELLA GAIA performances, go to: