Archive for September, 2014

Thanks to military spacecraft, scientists are getting more data on the threat of incoming space objects. Credit: NRC

Thanks to military spacecraft, scientists are getting more data on the threat of incoming space objects.
Credit: NRC

Here is a new story from me on something I consider very important:

US Military’s Meteor Explosion Data Can Help Scientists Protect Earth
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
September 15, 2014 04:48pm ET
Site J is located on the head of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. An inset showing a close up of the landing site is also shown.  The primary landing site was chosen from five candidates during the Landing Site Selection Group meeting held on September 13-14, 2014. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Site J is located on the head of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. An inset showing a close up of the landing site is also shown.
The primary landing site was chosen from five candidates during the Landing Site Selection Group meeting held on September 13-14, 2014.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The European Space Agency has picked a spot for the Philae lander touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

According to ESA, Site J offers unique scientific potential, with hints of activity nearby, and minimum risk to the lander compared to the other candidate sites.

Site J is on the ‘head’ of the comet. The backup landing zone, Site C, is located on the ‘body’ of the comet.

To be released on November 11 by the Rosetta spacecraft, the 220 pound (100 kg) lander will perform in-depth measurements to characterize the comet nucleus.

Following a decade of travel, ESA’s Rosetta arrived at the comet on August 6. By August 24, using data collected when Rosetta was still about 60 miles (100 km) from the comet, five candidate landing regions had been identified for detailed study.

Since then, the spacecraft has moved to within 19 miles (30 km) of the comet.

Site J close-up for a lander going down! Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Site J close-up for a lander going down!
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center said in an ESA press statement: “None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100 percent level, but Site J is clearly the best solution.”It will take around seven hours from the time Philae separates from the ESA Rosetta mother craft until, for the first time ever, a lander will be on the surface of a comet.

When the Philae lander touches down on 11 November 2014, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will have a landing site waiting for it with a varied but not too rugged landscape offering good solar illumination and hardly any steep slopes.

What name shall be given to Site J?

There will be a public naming competition announced soon.

So get your thinking caps on!

Meanwhile, check out this video showing the landing day that’s ahead:

http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2013/12/Philae_touch_down

The 27th Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers in Beijing, China has brought together space travelers from around the globe. Credit: CMSE

The 27th Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers in Beijing, China has brought together space travelers from around the globe.
Credit: CMSE

Space travelers from around the globe are taking part in the 27th Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers in Beijing, China.

The theme of the Congress is “Cooperation: To Realize Humanity’s Space Dream Together.” The program has been underway from September 10-15.

Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency – and that country’s first astronaut – opened the airlock for other nations to take part in its space station efforts.

Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency – and that country’s first astronaut. Credit: CMSE

Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency – and that country’s first astronaut.
Credit: CMSE

“We reserved a number of platforms that can be used for international cooperative projects in our future space station when we designed it,” said Yang. “In addition to collaboration in applied experiments, we also designed adapters that can dock with other nations’ spacecraft,” he said.

China intends to loft the core module of its space station in 2018 to test related technologies and engineering issues. According to Yang, the full space station will become fully operational around 2022.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield discusses essentials of space engineering to Chinese students. Credit: CMSE

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield discusses essentials of space engineering to Chinese students.
Credit: CMSE

This is the first time that China has hosted the ASE’s planetary congress. The ASE is an international nonprofit professional and educational organization of nearly 400 astronauts from 35 nations.

Yang also announced that the infrastructure construction on China’s new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan has been completed – work that began in 2009.

The Long March-5 rocket system, China’s most powerful rocket that is under development, is to be flown from Wenchang.

Female space travelers all (left to right): Former NASA astronauts, Mary Ellen Weber and Susan Helms, private space explorer and entrepreneur, Anousheh Ansari, and China’s Wang Yaping.  They were awarded the Shenzhen exchange ambassadors title. Credit: CMSE/ Maosi Qian

Female space travelers all (left to right): Former NASA astronauts, Mary Ellen Weber and Susan Helms, private space explorer and entrepreneur, Anousheh Ansari, and China’s Wang Yaping. They were awarded the Shenzhen exchange ambassadors title.
Credit: CMSE/ Maosi Qian

Former NASA astronaut, Bruce McCandless, shares his spaceflight experiences. He made the first ever untethered free flight using the Manned Maneuvering Unit in 1984. Credit: CMSE

Former NASA astronaut, Bruce McCandless, shares his spaceflight experiences. He made the first ever untethered free flight using the Manned Maneuvering Unit in 1984.
Credit: CMSE

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA has announced that the Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater. That’s the rover mission’s long-term prime destination.

Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the mountain’s lower slopes.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on September 9, 2014, Sol 744 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 13:57:44 UTC. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on September 9, 2014, Sol 744 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 13:57:44 UTC.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In late 2013, the Curiosity team realized a region of Martian terrain littered with sharp, embedded rocks was poking holes in four of the rover’s six wheels.

This damage accelerated the rate of wear and tear beyond that for which the rover team had planned.

In response, the team altered the rover’s route to a milder terrain, bringing the rover farther south, toward the base of Mount Sharp.

This image shows the planned route (in yellow) of NASA's Curiosity rover from “Pahrump Hills” at the base of Mount Sharp, through the "Murray Formation," and south to the hematite ridge further up the flank of Mount Sharp.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

This image shows the planned route (in yellow) of NASA’s Curiosity rover from “Pahrump Hills” at the base of Mount Sharp, through the “Murray Formation,” and south to the hematite ridge further up the flank of Mount Sharp.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Credit: ESA

Credit: ESA

Decision time is nearing!

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 6.

Scientists and engineers are on the prowl to find a suitable location for the comet lander, Philae.

Five candidate touchdown spots were announced on August 25 for further investigation.

By September 14, the five possible sites will have been assessed and ranked, leading to the selection of a primary landing site and a backup.

The final two sites, along with their operational challenges and scientific expectations, will be presented during an ESA briefing on 15 September 15th – so stay tuned!

Credit: ESA

Credit: ESA

You can do so by watching live as the target for Rosetta’s lander is announced at ESA Headquarters on September 15.

The streaming starts at 0900 GMT / 1100 CEST.

 

 

 

 

The press briefing will be live-streamed at:

www.esa.int/rosetta

and

www.livestream.com/eurospaceagency

 

The Aquarius underwater habitat and laboratory.  (Credit: NOAA's Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington)

The Aquarius underwater habitat and laboratory.
(Credit: NOAA’s Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington)

It’s called a “science splashdown.”

The undersea environment is the closest analogue on Earth to a gravity-weak environment like that of asteroids, the moons of Mars or Mars itself.

Therefore, other than being in outer space, going to inner-space is the best place to test relevant exploration concepts.

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, known as NEEMO, sends groups of astronauts, engineers, doctors and professional divers to live in Aquarius.

Aquarius is an underwater habitat located about 60 feet (19 meters) below the surface, some 3 miles (5.6 kilometers) off Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

NEEMO 19 is a 7-day mission that started September 7 and will focus on the evaluation of tele-mentoring operations for the European Space Agency (ESA).

NEEMO team

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik will command this mission that ends on September 14.

Bresnik is joined by Canadian Space Agency astronaut, Jeremy Hansen, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and Herve Stevenin, ESA’s Head of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Training at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany.

Also part of the team is James Talacek, Habitat Technician, Florida International University, and Ryan LaPete, Habitat Technician, Florida International University.

Owned and operated by the Florida International University (FIU), the Aquarius system has three elements: a life-support buoy at the surface, the habitat module and a base plate that secures the habitat to the ocean floor.

Habitat facts

The Aquarius habitat has about 37 square meters of living and laboratory space. This size is similar to that of the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station, which has served as the living quarters for Expedition crew members.

Floorplan of Aquarius  Credit: Florida International University

Floorplan of Aquarius
Credit: Florida International University

The habitat itself, a steel cylinder nearly 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter by a little over 45 feet (14 meters) long, provides 11 cubic meters of living and laboratory space for a six-person crew. The lab is equipped with computers networked to shore, internet, telephones, radios and videoconferencing equipment.

A live feed of the NEEMO 19 mission can be found here:

http://aquarius.fiu.edu/currentmission/

Accion Systems founder and CEO is Natalya Brikner, a Ph.D. student at MIT. Credit: MIT Sloan School of Management

Accion Systems founder and CEO is Natalya Brikner, a Ph.D. student at MIT.
Credit: MIT Sloan School of Management

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a constant hotbed of creativity and cultivation central for startup companies.

One such firm that’s attracting attention is Accion Systems, developing liquid ion sources for micro-propulsion systems in satellites.

The target for Accion propulsion is to keep ultra-small satellites – CubeSats — in orbit for far-longer periods of time.

Accion Systems founder and CEO is Natalya Brikner, a Ph.D. student at MIT.

The company’s MAX-1 propulsion module churns out over 100 micro-newtons of thrust.

Tiny and scalable electric propulsion systems. Credit: Accion Systems

Tiny and scalable electric propulsion systems.
Credit: Accion Systems

Time for a change

Speaking at the MIT Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) Conference earlier this year, Brikner said:

“The engines that are flying on satellites today were designed before the first handheld calculator was invented,” Brikner said, according to a MITSloan School of Management news statement.

It’s time for a change and the key is scalable electric propulsion systems, Brikner said.

Accion’s systems would cost $1 million, compared to $15 million for current systems, and would significantly increase the life and operability of small satellites, Brikner said.

"Tipping" the scales of propulsion. Credit: Accion Systems

“Tipping” the scales of propulsion.
Credit: Accion Systems

Molten salt

According to Accion Systems: Need more thrust? Arrange more tiles next to one another. Need thrust in a different direction? Put tiles anywhere on the satellite.

Bolt-on modules simplify and shorten satellite development and integration.

The propellant used is an ionic liquid, a molten salt at room temperature. A high voltage is applied between a sharp tip that has ionic liquid on it and an extractor aperture positioned directly above.

The tip intensifies the electric field, the liquid rises up to a point which further intensifies the field strength, and ions are extracted from the propellant surface. The ions accelerate through the upstream extraction aperture, exiting the spacecraft and providing thrust.

The thrust level scales with the number of tips, so hundreds, thousands, or even millions of tips can be used to achieve the desired thrust level.

The target for Accion propulsion is to keep ultra-small satellites – CubeSats -- in orbit for far-longer periods of time. Credit: Accion Systems

The target for Accion propulsion is to keep ultra-small satellites – CubeSats — in orbit for far-longer periods of time.
Credit: Accion Systems

MEMs

Compactness is achieved through the use of Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS, fabrication techniques – similar to those used in the fabrication of microchip components. ​

“Our systems are lighter, smaller, and more efficient than existing systems and our product line is infinite…customers can put thrusters anywhere they want on a satellite,” Brikner adds. “Advances in integrated circuits and semiconductors have allowed small satellites the size of softballs to carry advanced communications, but currently there are no propulsion systems available to them.”

“We want to change that,” Brikner concludes.

For a video short course, Brikner describes the concept during the 2014 MIT Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) Conference.

Go to:

http://mitsloan.mit.edu/newsroom/2014-swim-pitch-competition.php

For more information on Accion Systems, go to:

http://www.accion-systems.com/

india-mars-orbiter-mission (2)

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is that country’s first interplanetary mission to the Red Planet.

Launched November 5, 2013 from Sriharikota, India, the spacecraft is nearing its September 24 rendezvous with Mars. Nudging itself into orbit will require a nearly half-hour burn of a bi-propellant engine.

Space officials at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) have green-lighted a few second firing test of MOM’s 440 Newton liquid engine – last fired on December 1 to put the spacecraft on its trajectory for Mars.

The engine has not been used for over 300 days – so the few seconds of engine firing on September 22 is being done to assure MOM’s engine plumbing is up to snuff for the big burn day – some 48 hours later.

According to Indian press reports, if the large engine malfunctions there is a “Plan B” – using eight smaller thrusters onboard MOM to attain a Mars orbit, although not the intended mission-best orbit.

One of the instruments onboard the MOM is a Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) designed to measure Methane (CH4) in the Martian atmosphere with parts-per-billion accuracy and chart its sources.

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is nearing arrival time at Mars. Credit: NASA/GSFC

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is nearing arrival time at Mars.
Credit: NASA/GSFC

Also beating a path to the Red Planet is NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission.

MAVEN was launched on November 18, 2013 and the orbiter is on track to arrive at Mars on September 21st.

Poster for Planetary Congress, hosted by China's Manned Space Agency in cooperation with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) Credit: ASE/CMSE

Poster for Planetary Congress, hosted by China’s Manned Space Agency in cooperation with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE)
Credit: ASE/CMSE

Space travelers from around the world are headed to China this month for an international Planetary Congress, which will explore the possibilities for expanding human spaceflight cooperation among different countries.

A new story from me, up today on Space.com

Astronaut All-Stars Will Visit China to Talk Space Cooperation

By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist

September 05, 2014 07:01am ET

 http://www.space.com/27034-astronauts-visit-china-space-cooperation.html

 

 

How best to probe the insides of an asteroid?  Credit: ESA - P.Carril (2)

How best to probe the insides of an asteroid?
Credit: ESA – P.Carril (2)

A nasty asteroid headed toward Earth is on a collision course – how best to protect our home turf?

First of all, knowing its density and structure is important. Is it a rubble pile, solid as rock, Swiss cheese, has a core, or something else?

With that information in hand, dealing with the threatening object should become less than a celestial crap shoot.

And that’s not all. This type of asteroid make-up knowledge can influence future asteroid mining operations.

It's an inside job. Richard Miller is part of a NASA NIAC-funded research team that could influence future asteroid mining operations and how to deal with an impending asteroid strike.  Credit: Michael Mercier/UAH

It’s an inside job. Richard Miller is part of a NASA NIAC-funded research team that could influence future asteroid mining operations and how to deal with an impending asteroid strike.
Credit: Michael Mercier/UAH

CT scan

It’s an inside job, according to Richard S. Miller, a University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) physics professor. He is part of a research team borrowing imaging technology concepts developed for medicine and high-energy physics. They are developing a mission concept to probe asteroids using a technique similar to human computerized tomography (CT) scans.

“What we want to do is actually probe the interior of asteroids and determine information about their structure,” Miller said in a UAH press statement.

Backing the research is a newly awarded $500,000 in funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase II program. The team’s two-year proposal is titled: “Deep Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies with Galactic Cosmic Ray Secondary Particle Showers.”

UAH’s Miller is a co-investigator in a collaborative effort with the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Universities Space Research Association’s Arecibo Observatory (Arecibo/USRA) and the University of Houston to do the fundamental research and design that could lead to such a mission.

By detecting the number of muons that pass through the object at left, scientists can discover and measure the size of its core, shown reconstructed at right.  Credit: Richard Miller/UAH

By detecting the number of muons that pass through the object at left, scientists can discover and measure the size of its core, shown reconstructed at right.
Credit: Richard Miller/UAH

Measuring muons

The idea is to position a telescope to orbit an asteroid and measure the number and trajectories of the muons passing through it.

By detecting the number of muons that pass through the object, scientists can discover and measure the size of the object’s core.

Miller said that an asteroid composed of varying densities of material would return a different pattern than one with a single density – just as a CT scan differentiates between densities of structures in the body, he said.

Likewise, if an asteroid has a denser core, it will stop muons from passing through and the telescope will detect the change.

Fundamental challenges

The process is called muon tomography and is well understood. Developed in the 1950s, it was even used in the 1960s by Luis Alvarez to map the Pyramid of Chephren.

Thanks to the NIAC funding, the scientists are tackling a number of fundamental challenges.

For example, the team will be using computer modeling to blueprint how a proposed NASA mission would be conducted, its feasibility and making predictions of the ultimate science return.

Griffith Observatory Event