Archive for June, 2015

A series of new images obtained by the spacecraft's telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) during May 29-June 2 show Pluto is a complex world with very bright and very dark terrain, and areas of intermediate brightness in between. These images afford the best views ever obtained of the Pluto system.  Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

A series of new images obtained by the spacecraft’s telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) during May 29-June 2 show Pluto is a complex world with very bright and very dark terrain, and areas of intermediate brightness in between. These images afford the best views ever obtained of the Pluto system.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The countdown clock to Pluto is ticking away, now some 31 days, 22 hours away.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is speeding toward the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.

The surface of Pluto is becoming better resolved as New Horizons pulls in closer and closer to its July flight through the Pluto system.

New Horizons closest approach to Pluto is July 14, 2015.

 

New video

To help prepare for the encounter with the unknown, The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory – builder of the spacecraft – has just issued an impressive video.

Take a view of what’s in store next month at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2ae4kKEZV4

The Philae lander would only be a few pixels across in images acquired by the Rosetta orbiter’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS). Most candidates fail after more detailed study. From these images, only the data acquired by OSIRIS in this image reveals a promising candidate. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM; ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The Philae lander would only be a few pixels across in images acquired by the Rosetta orbiter’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS). Most candidates fail after more detailed study. From these images, only the data acquired by OSIRIS in this image reveals a promising candidate.
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM; ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For months, there has been a dedicated search for a three-legged lander dropped off by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft – now circling the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

There are now some candidate images that could reveal Philae’s whereabouts.

Complex search

On November 12, 2014, the European Space Agency’s Philae lander “hopped” roughly one kilometer away from its planned landing site.

Philae’s harpoons designed to anchor the probe to the comet failed to fire and the ice screws in its feet were unable to secure the lander to the surface.

That search is complex because even when fully illuminated by the Sun, Philae will be just a few pixels across in images acquired by the Rosetta orbiter’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS).

This series of 19 images, acquired by the Rosetta orbiter’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) on 12 November 2014, shows the Philae lander during its descent towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

This series of 19 images, acquired by the Rosetta orbiter’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) on 12 November 2014, shows the Philae lander during its descent towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Possibility of contact

“The possibility of contact [with Philae} is improving as the comet moves closer to the Sun, and the chances of Philae receiving sufficient heat and energy are increasing,” explains Project Leader Stephan Ulamec from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).

Philae’s exact location could be determined when the lander wakes up from hibernation and provides further scientific data.

To do so, the lander needs to generate at least five watts of power and have an operating temperature above minus 45 degrees Celsius. Given those power and temperature requirements, the lander would switch itself into operating mode.

Slightly more energy – a total of 19 watts – is needed to communicate with the DLR team here on Earth.

Active comet

For the communications unit on board the Rosetta orbiter to be able to transmit the status of Philae, the orbiter’s flight path must allow it to “see” the lander.

Currently, the Rosetta orbiter is flying about 200 kilometers above the comet.

Since 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is now always active and is ejecting gas and dust into space, the flight plan for Rosetta has become even more challenging.

“In recent weeks, the team at the DLR Lander Control Center has been preparing for the operation of Philae and its instruments…now we hope that it will get in touch with us,” says DLR’s Ulamec.

Credit: DLR

Credit: DLR

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its Member States and NASA.

Rosetta’s Philae lander is funded by a consortium headed by DLR, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), CNES and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

TIME Ideas

Buzz Aldrin: Why the U.S. Should Partner with China in Space

“Working with China—as we’ve learned with other space powers—presents scientific gains and boosts safety factors for all those engaged in human spaceflight. But there is much more.”

Buzz Aldrin, best known for his Apollo 11 moonwalk, holds a doctoral degree in astronautics and continues to wield influence as an international advocate of space science and planetary exploration. Aldrin and co-author, Leonard David, wrote Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration, published in 2013 by the National Geographic Society. Credit: Rob Varnas

Buzz Aldrin, best known for his Apollo 11 moonwalk, holds a doctoral degree in astronautics and continues to wield influence as an international advocate of space science and planetary exploration. Aldrin and co-author, Leonard David, wrote Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration, published in 2013 by the National Geographic Society.
Credit: Rob Varnas

 

“I am resolute in my vision that Earth isn’t the only world for humanity anymore. The first humans on Mars will herald a remarkable milestone. Indeed, I’ve been a global envoy carrying a message: On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s touchdown on the Moon on July 20,1969, the U.S. president in 2019—she or he—can utter these words: “I believe this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to commencing an America-led, permanent presence on the planet Mars.”

 

 

To read the full article, go to:

http://time.com/3916379/buzz-aldrin-china-space-partnership/#3916379/buzz-aldrin-china-space-partnership/

Incoming: Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) spacecraft. Credit: NASA/GSFC

Incoming: Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/GSFC

The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) spacecraft is nearing its uncontrolled re-entry, diving into the atmosphere in a destructive plunge next week.TRMM was a joint mission of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) provided the satellite, four passive sensors, and mission operations.

Roughly 12 pieces of debris from the nearly 3-ton (2,630 kilograms) TRMM spacecraft are expected to survive the heated re-entry and reach the surface of the Earth.

Pre-launch TRMM spacecraft assembly. Credit: NASA/GSFC

Pre-launch TRMM spacecraft assembly.
Credit: NASA/GSFC

Odds are…

NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office estimates about a dozen components of the TRMM spacecraft could survive reentry. The chance that one of these pieces would strike someone is approximately 1 in 4,200, which is a relatively low chance.

As its name suggests, TRMM’s orbit brings it over the tropics between 35 degrees North latitude and 35 degrees South latitude.

The scientific satellite was launched on November 27, 1997, from Tanegashima, Japan. TRMM produced over 17 years of scientific data.

An expected re-entry date is June 17.

Credit: NASA/GSFC

Credit: NASA/GSFC

Leftovers

The “potentially hazardous objects” due to TRMM’s fiery fall that are expected to survive include:

Two propellant tanks, a nitrogen pressurant tank, four Reaction Wheel Assembly flywheels, two Solar Array Drive Assembly actuators, a High Gain Antenna (HGA) boom bracket, and a TRMM Microwave Imager Bearing and Power Transfer Assembly housing and shaft.

The surviving objects are metallic (titanium alloys), nothing toxic. Total mass of objects expected to survive equates to 247 pounds (112 kilograms) – roughly four percent of the dry mass of TRMM.

Who should be called if someone suspects they found TRMM leftovers?

NASA advises that they should call their local authorities.

“The pieces of TRMM expected to survive re-entry are made of titanium or stainless steel. Although these materials are not toxic, they could have sharp edges and should not be touched or handled by private individuals,” according to a NASA Frequently Asked Questions list.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

 

Estimated risk

According to the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office the estimated human injury risk (updated in 2015) is roughly one in 4,200. One in 4,200 means that if the same reentry were to occur repeatedly 4,200 times, the expectation is that that only one person on Earth would be harmed.

Due to TRMM’s orbit, the chances of spacecraft debris harming human life or property is slim, although the exact location of the re-entry cannot be predicted.

The U.S. Department of Defense and NASA are monitoring the decay and re-entry of TRMM.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

The official source of reentry predictions for uncontrolled space objects is USSTRATCOM’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC).

 

SpaceX Dragon pad abort launch. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon pad abort launch.
Credit: SpaceX

The advancements being made by commercial space organizations – a new way of doing business.

Moreover, many new commercial startups will emerge to take advantage of the extra capacity and reduced pricing to access space.

An article appearing in the Huffington Post has been authored by Greg Autry, a professor that teaches technology entrepreneurship at The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Test flight of New Shepard space vehicle. Credit: Blue Origin

Test flight of New Shepard space vehicle.
Credit: Blue Origin

Rebuilding space dreams

Autry suggests that the Space Age has finally come. That being the case, he sees the promise of savings for American taxpayers, new high-quality jobs and economic opportunities that can’t be predicted.

Now underway, Autry contends, there is a rebuilding of America’s space dreams thanks to the unleashing of market forces.

“A sustainable, market driven economy is emerging from the stagnant cocoon of traditional governmental contracting,” Autry writes.

Concept art depicts United Launch Alliance's Vulcan booster. Credit: ULA

Concept art depicts United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster.
Credit: ULA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a read of the article at:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-autry/space-age-finally-arrived-_b_7535648.html

Also, while in the reading mode, dive into an informative study co-authored by Autry on Commercial Space Transportation:

An Analysis of the Competitive Advantage of the United States of America in Commercial Human Orbital Spaceflight Markets

Go to:

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/space.2014.0005

Pre-launch view of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, HI. The LDSD crosscutting technology demonstration mission will test entry, descent and landing technologies that will enable large payloads to be landed safely on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL

Pre-launch view of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, HI. The LDSD crosscutting technology demonstration mission will test entry, descent and landing technologies that will enable large payloads to be landed safely on the surface of Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL

On June 8, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project tested two decelerator technologies – hardware that could enable larger payloads to land safely on the surface of Mars, and allow access to more of the planet’s surface by assisting landings at higher-altitude sites.

Liftoff of the LDSD took place at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. After its balloon ride high above Earth, the saucer-shaped LDSD craft was released, later splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Sailors assigned to the Explosive Ordnance Detachment of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 recover the test vehicle for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) off the coast of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. NASA's LDSD project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions, and safely returning large payloads to Earth.  Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John M. Hageman

Sailors assigned to the Explosive Ordnance Detachment of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 recover the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) off the coast of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. NASA’s LDSD project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions, and safely returning large payloads to Earth.
Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John M. Hageman

Braking technology

The vehicle separated from the balloon at about 120,000 feet above the ocean. An onboard rocket motor then took the vehicle to 180,000 feet, where the first braking technology, the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), was successfully deployed at about Mach 3.

There was also successful deployment and inflation of a supersonic ballute – an inflatable drag device that extracts the large supersonic parachute.

Fourteen seconds after SIAD inflation, the test vehicle’s parachute was released into the supersonic slipstream.

“Tear…ifying”

Preliminary analysis of imagery and other data received during the test indicates the Supersonic Ringsail parachute also deployed. This 100-foot-wide parachute is the largest supersonic parachute ever flown.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

However, a tear appeared in the canopy at about the time it was fully inflated. The supersonic parachute did not inflate as designed.

“Early indications are that we got what we came for, new and actionable data on our parachute design,” said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at JPL said in a NASA press statement: “Going into this year’s flight, I wanted to see that the parachute opened further than it did last year before it began to rupture. The limited data set we have at present indicates we may not only have gone well down the road to full inflation, but we may have achieved it.”

High-speed imagery

For now, the data from the test is limited, but this will soon change.

With the test vehicle recovered, LDSD team members can inspect ultra-high resolution, high-speed imagery and other comprehensive information carried in the memory cards on board the LDSD test vehicle.

The flight test was the second for the project, mimicking the first LDSD flight on June 28, 2014.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the LDSD mission, a cooperative effort led by JPL.

Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system. Credit: Adrian Mann

Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system.
Credit: Adrian Mann

 

The first international contest to let students shape the future of interstellar travel is underway.

The competition comes courtesy of a successful Kickstarter campaign and the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is).

Credit: I4IS

Credit: I4IS

Called Project Dragonfly, this feasibility study is shaped around the concept of dispatching small spacecraft to another star, propelled by a laser beam. The goal is to robotically explore exoplanets, other star systems, the interstellar medium and discover potential life.

Cubesats, solar sails

For some 50 years, a variety of approaches for going to the stars have made use of large and heavy spacecraft, making use of nuclear propulsion systems, for example nuclear fusion or antimatter.

A good dose of wishful thinking also seemed part of the propulsion package!

The results from the Project Dragonfly competition are meant to serve as a basis for future technology development and achieve an interstellar mission. With the increasing interest in cubesats and solar sails, this is becoming ever more likely, observes the i4is.

Workshop presentations

The Dragonfly Workshop is now planned for July 3, and will be held at, befittingly, the British Interplanetary Society headquarters in London, England.

Credit: I4IS

Credit: I4IS

Four student teams have submitted their design proposals for an interstellar laser-propelled mission and are now being reviewed by the i4is Technical Research Committee and an external number of interstellar experts.

The teams are from: the University of California Santa Barbara; the Technical University of Munich; Cairo University and Cranfield University, both of which partnered with the Skolkovo Institute of Science & Technology and Paul Sabatier University.

Representatives from each team will be presenting their designs at the workshop.

 

Speed up the search

Organizing Project Dragonfly as an international design competition is intended “to speed up our search for a feasible mission to another star, based on technologies of the near future,” explains, Andreas Hein, Deputy Director i4is, and Project Lead Dragonfly.

Project Dragonfly builds upon the recent trend of miniaturization of space systems. Sail technology would be illuminated by a laser beam from a laser power station somewhere in the solar system. The photons of the laser beam push the sail, similar to the wind pushing a sail of a sail ship. And by pushing the sail, the spacecraft slowly accelerates. However, as the spacecraft does not use any on-board fuel, it can accelerate to very high velocities in the range of several percent of the speed of light.

To keep a supportive eye on the work of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, go to:

http://www.i4is.org/

Also, check out this instructive video on their efforts by going to:

https://d2pq0u4uni88oo.cloudfront.net/projects/1644621/video-524287-h264_high.mp4

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

‘Oh chute!

The second flight test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) took place today from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii.

Early indications are that the LDSD did experience a problem with a newly designed parachute – the largest chute ever tested. All other aspects of the balloon-carried test at high altitude seemed to go well.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

The LDSD team had a new formula for this year’s chute due to a parachute failure on the first LDSD test in 2014. They made it stronger and put more curve into its crown to help it survive that first shock of supersonic wind. Rocket sled testing done this winter at the U.S. Navy’s China Lake facility in California seems to bear this out. Two tests equaled two successes.

But today’s test problem means more head scratching work ahead.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

 

NASA’s LDSD project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions and safely returning large payloads to Earth.

The Supersonic Ringsail parachute used during the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerators test from Kauai, Hawaii, was first tested at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California earlier this year. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/US Navy

The Supersonic Ringsail parachute used during the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerators test from Kauai, Hawaii, was first tested at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California earlier this year.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/US Navy

 

 

The test, performed over the Pacific Ocean, simulated the supersonic entry and descent speeds at which the spacecraft would be traveling through the Martian atmosphere.

A briefing is slated for tomorrow morning to detail the preliminary flight findings.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

What’s next for the U.S. human spaceflight program?

That was the discussion question for a June 3, 2015 gathering, sponsored by the Center for American Progress.

On June 3, 1965, Air Force Maj. Ed White became the first American to walk in space when he stepped out of his Gemini IV spacecraft. Fifty years later, America’s human spaceflight program sits on a fulcrum.

"Gemini 4...get back in!"  On June 3, 1965, Air Force Maj. Ed White became the first American to walk in space. Credit: NASA

“Gemini 4…get back in!”
On June 3, 1965, Air Force Maj. Ed White became the first American to walk in space.
Credit: NASA

Fifty years after that first U.S. space walk, the Center hosted the program that featured:

— Rudy deLeon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

— Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force

— Wes Bush, Chairman, CEO, and President, Northrop Grumman

— Dr. Maria Zuber, Vice President for Research, MIT

Moderators of the program were:

— Peter Juul, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress

— Rudy deLeon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

These experts discussed the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program: where we’ll go, how we’ll get there, and who will come with us?

The Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. is an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is “dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.”

To watch this streamed live event, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIXXXv9koYE

Sky high, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Planetary Society leader - sail away! Credit: Planetary Society

Sky high, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Planetary Society leader – sail away!
Credit: Planetary Society

UPDATE:

LightSail-A: Estimated Post-Sail Deployment Orbital Elements

http://www.satobs.org/LightSail-A.html

The Planetary Society’s LightSail-A deployed its solar sail on June 7, near 19:55 UTC.

Solar sail - out and about! Credit: Mike Patton

Solar sail – out and about!
Credit: Mike Patton

 

According to ground satellite watcher, Ted Molczan in Canada, he estimates that with its sail deployed, LightSail-A’s standard visual magnitude will be about 4.4 (1000 km range, 90 deg phase angle), resulting in mag 2 to 3 on high-elevation, well illuminated passes.

Credit: The Planetary Society

Credit: The Planetary Society

 

“Its brightness may vary considerably from one pass to another. It could be much fainter than expected, or flare to negative magnitudes. I suspect it will begin tumbling during its first pass through perigee, which could cause it to appear to flash periodically,” Molczan reports.

solar sail 1 new

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, keep monitoring the situation at:

http://sail.planetary.org/missioncontrol