Archive for September, 2014

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Windows on Earth is an educational project that features photographs taken by astronauts on the International Space Station.

Astronauts take hundreds of photos each day, for science research, education and public outreach. The photos are often dramatic, and help us all appreciate home planet Earth.

Windows on Earth also operates software on the International Space Station, as a window-side aide to help astronauts identify priority targets for photography.

Recently, nearly two dozen of these photos were selected for their artistic appeal, and displayed at Gallery Seven in Maynard, Massachusetts.

For a personal tour of the displayed images, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz-cGB2fzy8&feature=youtu.be

Another web site provides free public access to virtually all of these photos, updated at least weekly.

That site is operated by TERC, an educational non-profit, in collaboration with the Association of Space Explorers (the professional association of flown astronauts and cosmonauts), the Virtual High School, and CASIS (Center for Advancement of Science in Space).

Also engaged is technical support from NASA’s Crew Earth Observation Program.

Take a look at:

http://www.windowsonearth.org/

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

The developer of the Dream Chaser –Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) — has filed a legal challenge to the award of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program.

SNC’s filing seeks a further detailed review and evaluation of the submitted proposals and capabilities.

Dream Chaser was the only vehicle remaining in the Commercial Crew Program that was not a capsule.

“In its 51 year history SNC has never filed a legal challenge to a government contract award,” the company stated in a press release. “However, in the case of the CCtCap award, NASA’s own Source Selection Statement and debrief indicate that there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process.”

Because of these factors, SNC “feels that there is no alternative but to institute a legal challenge.”

SNC Space Systems filed a bid protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

According to SNC, the official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance.

“SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition. SNC’s proposal also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals.”

SNC believes the result of further evaluation of the proposals submitted “will be that America ends up with a more capable vehicle, at a much lower cost, with a robust and sustainable future.”

This image was taken by Mastcam: Right (MAST_RIGHT) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 759 (2014-09-24 23:58:36 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This image was taken by Mastcam: Right (MAST_RIGHT) onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 759 (2014-09-24 23:58:36 UTC).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Curiosity Mars rover has been busy munching into a mountain – an outcrop on Mount Sharp.

The robot’s hammering drill collected a powdered sample of rock. The powder collected by the drilling is temporarily held within the sample-handling mechanism on the rover’s arm.

Curiosity arrived Sept. 19 at an outcrop called “Pahrump Hills,” which is a section of the mountain’s basal geological unit, called the Murray formation.

Curiosity Mars Rover’s route from landing to “Pahrump Hills.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity Mars Rover’s route from landing to “Pahrump Hills.”
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The next step will be to deliver the rock-powder sample into a scoop on the rover’s arm. In the open scoop, the powder’s texture can be observed for an assessment of whether it is safe for further sieving, portioning and delivery into Curiosity’s internal laboratory instruments without clogging hardware.

Those instruments can perform many types of analysis to identify chemistry and mineralogy of the source rock.

 

The NASA Mars machinery landed on the Red Planet in August 2012.

Members of the mission team at the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area in Littleton, Colorado, celebrate after successfully inserting NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft into orbit around Mars at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Members of the mission team at the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area in Littleton, Colorado, celebrate after successfully inserting NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft into orbit around Mars at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Two new spacecraft have successfully entered Mars orbit: NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – MAVEN on Sept. 21; MOM on Sept. 24.

Both spacecraft are now undergoing extensive checkout.

With the successful insertion of India’s Marscraft into orbit around the Red Planet, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) became the fourth space agency to successfully send a spacecraft to Mars orbit.

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was present at ISRO’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore to witness the country’s MOM spacecraft braking into Mars orbit. ISRO Chairman, K. Radhakrishnan, looks on. Credit: ISRO

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was present at ISRO’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore to witness the country’s MOM spacecraft braking into Mars orbit. ISRO Chairman, K. Radhakrishnan, looks on.
Credit: ISRO

Where will they make new discoveries? Clues to where they should focus investigations can be gleaned from a new geologic map of the planet.

According to Ken Tanaka of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Arizona, the new map – seven years in the making — provides a comprehensive digital geologic database of Mars, useful for guiding exploration and research into its geological history, resources, astrobiology potential, and geophysical and climatological information.

Credit: USGS

Credit: USGS

 

For access to information on the map, go to this informative American Geophysical Union article at:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014EO380001/pdf

For full access to the USGS Mars map go to:

http://pubs.usgs.gov/sim/3292/

A longing look at one space elevator design. Credit: Obayashi Corporation of Tokyo, Japan.

A longing look at one space elevator design.
Credit: Obayashi Corporation of Tokyo, Japan.

A new story from me tha’s sure to get a rise!
Space Elevator Advocates Take Lofty Look at Innovative Concepts
by Leonard David, SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist
September 22, 2014 07:40am ET
Scene from CCTV broadcast of China's moon rover and its panoramic survey of the Moon. Credit: CCTV

Scene from CCTV broadcast of China’s moon rover and its panoramic survey of the Moon.
Credit: CCTV

China’s CCTV network has recently released a 360-degree panoramic survey of the Moon – taken by the country’s Yutu lunar rover.

To access this informative video, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMnoJWJ8CY0

New computer graphics have been used to debunk the debunkers regarding historic Apollo 11 lunar landing. Credit: NASA

New computer graphics have been used to debunk the debunkers regarding historic Apollo 11 lunar landing.
Credit: NASA

Tackling the skeptics out there that the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 was a hoax is NVIDIA, a pioneering visual computing and computer graphic enterprise.

By using Maxwell, their new graphics processing unit (GPU) architecture, company experts have debunked the debunkers.

Maxwell is designed to solve some of the most complex lighting and graphics challenges in visual computing. Even on the Moon!

Conspiracy theorists have claimed that the historic mission was performed in a back-lot studio. Part of the crazy claim is that moonwalker Buzz Aldrin must have been lit by something other than the Sun.

Using Maxwell, a demo team rebuilt the scene of the Moon landing in Unreal Engine 4, a game engine developed by Epic Games. They simulated how the Sun’s rays, coming from behind the lander, bounced off the Moon’s surface, and Neil Armstrong’s suit, to cast light on Aldrin as he stepped off the lander.

To recreate the Moon landing, the demo team collected every detail they could.

According to a NVIDIA press statement, their team researched the rivets on the lunar lander, identified the properties of the dust coating the lunar surface, and measured the reflectivity of the material used in the astronauts’ space suits.

Using Voxel-Based Global Illumination, the Apollo 11 landing site was analyzed, determining the way light bounces from one object to another in real time. Credit: NVIDIA

Using Voxel-Based Global Illumination, the Apollo 11 landing site was analyzed, determining the way light bounces from one object to another in real time.
Credit: NVIDIA

Big clue

It was during this research when the demo team uncovered a big clue.

A video clip that showed Aldrin descending the ladder had a bright spot of light that seemed to move every time the camera did.

Using Maxwell to simulate the conditions on the Moon’s surface during the lunar landing 45 years ago, it revealed how Aldrin was illuminated by light reflected from the Moon’s surface and Armstrong’s spacesuit.

Stars in the scene

Another detail seized on by skeptics: photos from the landing site don’t show any stars. That’s led some to claim that the U.S. Government faked the landing and left out the stars in the scene, because it would be impossible to portray the position of the stars from the moon.

By using Maxwell the demo team was able to find them.

“The reason the stars aren’t visible is [that] the exposures in the camera are set to capture the scene on the Moon’s surface,” said Mark Daly, a NVIDIA veteran who led the demo team. “But they’re there. And our demo team was able to find them by digitally changing the exposure on the shots to reveal them.”

Bottom line from the company: “No, the Apollo 11 moon landing wasn’t a hoax. And we can prove it.”

Take a look at their work at:

http://blogs.nvidia.com/blog/2014/09/18/debunked/

 

 

The MIT BioSuit is a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass.  Credit: Photo-illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

The MIT BioSuit is a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass.
Credit: Photo-illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

 

It’s a tight fit – but if you’re sauntering around on Mars that’s a fashion statement.

Space designers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are stitching together plans for shrink-wrapping spacesuits. So much so that spacesuits of the future may resemble a streamlined second skin.

The MIT BioSuit is a skintight spacesuit that offers improved mobility and reduced mass compared to modern gas-pressurized spacesuits.

The skintight, pressurized suit would not only support the astronaut, but would give the space traveler much more freedom to move during planetary exploration.

To take the suit off, the wearer would only have to apply modest force, returning the suit to its looser form.

A flyable first: second skin

Master space suit designer at MIT is Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems researchers.

She and her colleagues are one step closer to engineering an active, “second-skin” spacesuit: active compression garments that incorporate small, spring-like coils that contract in response to heat. The coils are made from a shape-memory alloy – a type of material that “remembers” an engineered shape and, when bent or deformed, can spring back to this shape when heated.

The idea is that an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. That person would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around the person’s body.

Close-up view of a 3-D-printed shape memory alloy (SMA) cartridge that packs 24 SMA actuators into a 1-inch-wide structure designed specifically for active compression garments. Photo: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Close-up view of a 3-D-printed shape memory alloy (SMA) cartridge that packs 24 SMA actuators into a 1-inch-wide structure designed specifically for active compression garments.
Photo: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Mobility for planetary exploration

The coil design was conceived by Bradley Holschuh, a postdoc in Newman’s MIT lab.

“Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration,” said Newman in a MIT press statement.

According to Holschuh , while the suit team is concentrating mostly on applications in space, the suit design and active materials may be used for other purposes, such as in athletic wear or military uniforms.

This research was funded by NASA and the MIT Portugal Program.

The MIT Portugal Program is an international collaboration seeking to demonstrate that an investment in science, technology and higher education can have a positive, lasting impact on the economy by addressing key societal issues through quality education and research in the emerging field of engineering systems.

The 4M mission is dedicated to Manfred Fuchs who died early this year. 4M stands for the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission. Credit: OHB/LuxSpace

The 4M mission is dedicated to Manfred Fuchs who died early this year. 4M stands for the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission.
Credit: OHB/LuxSpace

European space technology company, OHB AG, is conducting a private satellite mission to the Moon, due to be launched at the end of October 2014.

The mission is a lunar flyby with the small satellite getting a ride into space via the last stage of a Chinese booster.

The 4M mission is dedicated to OHB founder, Manfred Fuchs, who died early this year. 4M stands for the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission.

OHB founder, Manfred Fuchs, who died early this year. Credit: OHB

OHB founder, Manfred Fuchs, who died early this year.
Credit: OHB

The technical management of the mission — as well as the manufacturing of the probe – is being done by LuxSpace of Luxembourg, an affiliate of OHB AG.

LuxSpace chiefly develops micro satellites and actively participates in the OHB System-led Small GEO initiative.The spacecraft trajectory will be a lunar flyby and return to Earth, with 90 percent chance of re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The nominal mission duration is 196 hours: 8.17 days.

The nominal lunar flyby will occur on Oct 28, 2014, with the spacecraft slipping over the Moon’s surface at roughly 8,000 miles (13,000 km) distance.

The mission will carry a small number of small scientific instruments: a radio amateur beacon that permits the sending of messages while testing a new approach to locate the spacecraft.

4M spacecraft - a private mission to the Moon. Credit: OHB/LuxSpace

4M spacecraft – a private mission to the Moon.
Credit: OHB/LuxSpace

An additional instrument is onboard to yield radiation measurements throughout the satellite’s trajectory around the Moon. The RAD experiment is a special chip from iC-Málaga (Spain) that is able to accurately measure the radiation dose rate.

Further moon missions including landing are planned within the next few years.

For more information, go to:

http://moon.luxspace.lu/

NASA Inspector General report appraises U.S. space agency's NEO program.  Credit: ESA - P.Carril

NASA Inspector General report appraises U.S. space agency’s NEO program.
Credit: ESA – P.Carril

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released an informative report that looks at the space agency’s efforts to identify and mitigate near-Earth object (NEO) hazards.

Inspector General Paul Martin released the report that assesses NASA’s efforts to identify and mitigate potential dangers caused by comets and asteroids that approach or enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

This review examines NASA’s NEO Program and assesses the Agency’s progress toward meeting statutory and other Program goals. Specifically, the OIG has taken a hard look at NASA’s allocation and use of resources and plans for the future of the NEO program.

One key finding is that, “even though the Program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA will fall short of meeting the 2005 Authorization Act goal of finding 90 percent of NEOs larger than 140 meters in diameter by 2020. We believe the Program would be more efficient, effective, and transparent were it organized and managed in accordance with standard NASA research program requirements.”

Take a read of the full report, here:

http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY14/IG-14-030.pdf

Also, take in this video about the report that features OIG’s Ray Tolomeo, Director, Science and Aeronautics Research, Office of Audits, at:

http://oig.nasa.gov/Video/Tolomeo_091514.html

Special thanks to Marcia Smith for flagging the availability of this report on her website: SpacePolicyOnline.com News.

Griffith Observatory Event