Archive for July, 2015
The first Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) telescope is now in operation on Haleakala – on the Hawaiian Island of Maui.
ATLAS is an asteroid impact early warning system being developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA.
When ATLAS is completed in 2015, it will consist of two telescopes, 100 miles apart, which automatically scan the whole sky several times every night looking for moving objects.
The promise of ATLAS is that it can provide one day’s warning for a 30-kiloton “town killer,” a week for a 5-megaton “city killer,” and three weeks for a 100-megaton “county killer.”
The telescope on Haleakala “is working well and producing useful images,” notes a posting on the ATLAS website. “We anticipate full resolution after some adjustments are made to the Schmidt corrector. The mount also performs well though it will require some fine-tuning to achieve ATLAS’ stringent tracking specifications.”
“All aspects of this whole system are very much under development right now. However, the existing system on Haleakala can survey the entire sky in a little more than one night, and we have begun accumulating images,” the ATLAS website update for July 30 adds.
ATLAS Telescope #2 is to be situated on Mauna Loa.
In August, the ATLAS team is set to meet with representatives from NASA and South Africa during the International Astronomical Union meeting in Honolulu. Discussions are to focus on the possibility of a third ATLAS unit in South Africa.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing earlier this week, making use of a panel of experts to review space exploration of other worlds, today and in the future.
Held July 28, the purpose of the hearing was to review recent NASA achievements in exploring the solar system, including the exploration of Pluto and the asteroid Ceres, as well as assess future NASA missions under development, including a flagship mission to conduct a detailed survey of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The testimony of the witnesses can be found here:
— Dr. John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA
— Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator, New Horizons Mission, Southwest Research Institute
— Dr. Christopher Russell, Principal Investigator, Dawn Mission; Professor of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California Los Angeles
— Dr. Robert Pappalardo, Study Scientist, Europa Mission Concept, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA
— Dr. Robert Braun, David and Andrew Lewis Professor of Space Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology
The hearing charter can be read here:
NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has made a “mini-start hole”, which is the name for a new type of initial drilling test, according to Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The target is called “Buckskin” and the test will drill a small hole in the rock to help determine whether it is safe to go ahead with the full hole, Anderson adds.
“In addition to that test, we are planning a detailed study of the target “Ch-paa-qn” which means “shining peak” in the native Salish language of northern Montana,” Anderson explains. “This target is an isolated bright patch on the nearby outcrop, and we want to figure out if it is calcium sulfate like the white veins we see nearby, or if it is something else.”
The plan includes ChemCam active and passive observations of Ch-paa-qn, along with Mastcam multispectral images.
Among 25 well-dressed and decorated Barons on display in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England, is “Astro Baron” – thanks to Jenny Leonard, a creative and skilled artist based in London.
The Trussell Trust, together with Wild in Art, is staging The Barons’ Charter Trail, called the biggest mass participation public art event ever seen in the city.
The Barons trail will be on display in parks, streets and public spaces across Salisbury for 12 weeks from June 12th to September 6, 2015.
This event is part of a celebration of 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta. The Great Charter of Liberty — or Magna Carta — was written over eight centuries ago and is the most celebrated document in English history. It is at the very heart of the process that led to the rule of constitutional law.
Salisbury is home to perhaps the best preserved copy of Magna Carta and 2015 celebrates 800 years of its existence.
The Barons are on display in high-profile, specially designated locations throughout Salisbury. They have been decorated by local and regional artists and sponsored by a variety of businesses, organizations and individuals.
As a freelance artist and muralist, Jenny Leonard applied her talents to craft Astro Baron for the Salisbury Barons’ Trail.
According to Sophie Sinclair, a communications and social media assistant at The Trussell Trust in Bournemouth, United Kingdom, Leonard’s design reflects an astronaut, “inspired by her thinking about what interesting uniforms would suit the baron best.”
Outfitted with add-ons
Leonard’s view: “I thought the stance and shape of the baron template resembled an astronaut and it would be great to give it texture and turn it into something fun with lots of dials and information about space and the universe for children to explore and have their pictures taken with.”
Astro Baron comes outfitted with add-ons: including a back pack, helmet and visor. “I wanted to make it into a little character,” the artist said, “with buttons and details in the painted fabric to make it look like it’s from outer space!”
Sinclair adds that Astro Baron is a popular one on the trail, “and we’ve enjoyed seeing people taking space man poses next to it, as well as the mirror visor on the baron providing a great opportunity for selfies!”
For more information on this unique event go to:
To view Jenny Leonard’s artistic works, go to:
Robotic operations on the Moon are being investigated by university researchers – opening the door to laying out a radio telescope array on the lunar far side.
The rover would be commanded by astronauts in NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which would be hovering in a halo point near the lunar far side called Earth-moon Lagrange Point 2 (L2).
The university team is working hard to create software and hardware that mimics rover control to recognize potential problems with human-telerobotic operations, such as time lags and communication quality.
Take a look at my new Space.com story on this promising research at:
How Robots Could Build a Radio Telescope on Far Side of the Moon
July 29, 2015 07:00am ET
The question of whether life has ever existed on Mars has been at the center of a 50-year robotic exploration campaign that has seen an increasingly sophisticated armada of flyby missions, orbiters, landers and rovers dispatched to the red planet.
Christopher McKay, one of NASA’s most recognizable names in the field of astrobiology, argues that Mars probes to date have, quite literally, barely scratched the surface.
Check out my revealing SpaceNews profile of McKay’s views: “Drill Baby, Drill” at:
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is releasing today the findings of its 9-month investigation into the crash of the SpaceShipTwo late last year.
According to the NTSB, the probable cause for the mishap is as follows:
“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was Scaled Composites’ failure to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard to the SpaceShipTwo vehicle. This failure set the stage for the copilot’s premature unlocking of the feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced, which led to uncommanded feather extension and the subsequent aerodynamic overload and in-flight breakup of the vehicle.”
Video shown during NTSB Board Meeting on in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo near Mojave, California.
Published on July 28, 2015
Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight #4
Report from Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company
A submission to the NTSB by Scaled Composites, LLC’s SpaceShipTwo, by Virgin Galactic, LLC and The Spaceship Company (TSC) , LLC. highlights a number of items from their perspective.
According to the document provided to the NTSB, at the loss of data, multiple onboard and offboard video and data sources documented SpaceShipTwo entering an accelerated, high-g pitch up that telemetry confirmed exceeded the vehicle’s structural design loads.
SpaceShipTwo broke up into several large pieces that impacted terrain over a five-mile area near Koehn Dry Lake, California.
A comprehensive investigation by the NTSB using telemetered and recovered onboard data conclusively demonstrated that all vehicle systems were operating normally up until the point of breakup.
The rocket motor met or exceeded expectations, running smoother and with less vibration than during any previous powered flight.
Regarding a probable cause and contributing causes, the report explains:
The probable cause of this accident was the copilot’s unlocking of SpaceShipTwo’s feather locks at 0.92 Mach, approximately 14 seconds prior to the flight manual minimum speed of 1.4 Mach.
Although normal checklist procedures maintained the feather locks in the locked position until after obtaining a minimum speed of 1.4 Mach, the mishap copilot prematurely unlocked the system at approximately 0.92 Mach.
This premature unlocking was indisputably confirmed by telemetric, in-cockpit video and audio data. At this speed, lift from the horizontal tails well exceeded the feather actuator’s ability to prevent a rapid aerodynamic extension of the feather system.
These forces caused the feather to rapidly extend without any further pilot action or mechanical malfunction.
Following the accident, Virgin Galactic and TSC undertook a comprehensive internal and external program review of the SpaceShipTwo design and operations. Virgin Galactic recommends these actions:
1) Modify the SpaceShipTwo feather lock system with an automatic mechanical inhibit to prevent unlocking or locking the feather locks during safety-critical phases of flight.
2) Add to the SpaceShipTwo Normal Procedures checklist and Pilot’s Operating Handbook an explicit warning about the consequences of prematurely unlocking the feather lock.
3) Implement a comprehensive Crew Resource Management (CRM) approach to all future Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo operations in a manner consistent with the pre-existing CRM program VG has employed for WK2 operations. This includes, as a minimum:
• Standardized procedures and call outs
• Challenge/response protocol for all safety-critical aircrew actions, to include feather lock handle movement
• Formalized CRM training
4) Conduct a comprehensive internal safety review of all SpaceShipTwo systems to identify and eliminate any single-point human performance actions that could result in a catastrophic event.
Status: An initial assessment was completed and modifications to SS2-002 are in progress. Virgin Galactic will continually evaluate and improve System Safety throughout SpaceShipTwo’s lifecycle.
5) Conduct a comprehensive external safety review of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company’s engineering, flight test and operations as well as SpaceShipTwo itself.
Status: Initial Assessment Completed. The external review team will review the program both prior to commencement of flight test activities as well as prior to entering commercial service.
6) Ensure Virgin Galactic employs pilots who meet or exceed the highest standards and possess a depth and breadth of experience in high performance fighter-type aircraft and/or spacecraft. Minimum VG qualifications during the flight test program shall be:
• A long course graduate of a recognized test pilot school with a minimum of 2.5 years post-graduation experience in the flight test of high performance, military turbojet aircraft and/or spacecraft.
• A minimum of 1000 hours pilot in command of high performance, military turbojet aircraft.
• Experience in multiengine non-centerline thrust aircraft
• Experience in multi-place, crewed aircraft and/or spacecraft
Status: Completed. All current Virgin Galactic pilots exceed the above minimum VG standards.
A statement from Virgin Galactic’s leader, Richard Branson, titled “The end of NTSB’s investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic” is available here:
Note: The NTSB findings have been issued today, a multi-month assessment of human factors, regulatory issues, technical problems found in the SpaceShipTwo program, and other concerns.
For NTSB documents regarding the SpaceShipTwo mishap, go to:
NTSB document that provides an overview of the October 31, 2014 destruction of SpaceShipTwo
— Opening Statement – NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart
— Investigator-in-Charge Presentation – Lorenda Ward
— Human Factors and Organizational Issues , Human Performance Presentation – Dr. Katherine Wilson
— Hazard Analysis and Waivers, System Safety Presentation – Mike Hauf
For an entire video replay of the NTSB Board Meeting regarding the commercial space launch accident – SpaceShipTwo — recorded on July 28, 2015, go to:
Commercial Space Launch Accident – SpaceShipTwo
July 28, 2015
9:30 a.m. ET
Webcast, go to:
Board members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will meet Tuesday, July 28, to determine the probable cause of the October 31, 2014 in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo that occurred over the skies of Mojave, California.
SpaceShipTwo is a commercial space vehicle that the Mojave-based Scaled Composites built for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceline company.
Last year the craft broke up during a rocket-powered test flight, seriously injuring the pilot, Peter Siebold, and killing the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury. Both worked for Scaled Composites.
Feather reentry system
In earlier NTSB statements stemming from the SpaceShipTwo accident investigation, the copilot, who was in the right seat, reportedly unlocked the movable feather reentry system on the craft’s tail prematurely, leading to the breakup of the craft.
The vessel disintegrated in the air. The SpaceShipTwo wreckage was recovered and was stored in a secure location for follow-on examination.
The NTSB operations and human performance investigators interviewed Siebold, the surviving pilot. According to the pilot, he was unaware that the feather system had been unlocked early by the copilot.
Siebold’s description of the vehicle motion to the NTSB was consistent with other data sources in the investigation. He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically.
Recorded information from telemetry, non-volatile memory, and videos were processed to assist the NTSB investigative groups.
An NTSB group reviewed available data for the vehicle’s systems (flight controls, displays, environmental control, etc.) and also reviewed design data for the feather system components and the systems safety documentation.
A vehicle performance group also examined the aerodynamic and inertial forces that acted on the vehicle during the SpaceShipTwo’s ill-fated flight.
Tuesday’s release of information is set to take place within the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center in Washington, D.C., starting at 9:30 a.m. Eastern.
NOTE: To view an older Space.com story of mine from last year on the accident, go to:
After SpaceShipTwo Tragedy, How Will Virgin Galactic Return to Flight?
The NASA Curiosity Mars rover is being nudged to a target called “Buckskin”, which is in the area where scientists have discovered rocks high in silica and hydrogen.
In other duties, rover planners scheduled ChemCam and Mastcam observations of targets “Marent”, “Pilcher”, and “Twinkle” – all of which may also have high silica, reports USGS scientist, Ryan Anderson, at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The rover’s Navcam is being used to search for dust devils and do some atmospheric monitoring.
On sol 1056, the rover is executing a short drive, followed by standard post-drive imaging to prepare for contact science on some of these interesting rocks next week, Anderson adds.
Silica-rich rocks have been identified near Curiosity, making use of its laser-firing instrument.
According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Curiosity Mars rover website, finding bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica is a target unlike anything it the robot has studied before.
High levels of silica in the rock could indicate ideal conditions for preserving ancient organic material, if present, so rover scientists are eager to take a closer look.
Curiosity has been working on Mars since early August 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp last year after investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the mountain.
The main mission objective now is to examine successively higher layers of Mount Sharp.
A new study had outlined how best to cut the cost of human space exploration by a factor of 10.
The report’s top line finding is that, enabled by public-private partnerships, NASA’s current human spaceflight budget is sufficient to return humans to the surface of the Moon and develop a permanent lunar base.
Furthermore, mining fuel from the Moon’s poles and transporting it to lunar orbit for use by other spacecraft, reduces the cost of sending humans to Mars and other locations beyond low Earth orbit. These commercial fuel depots in lunar orbit have the potential to cut the cost of sending humans to Mars by more than $10 billion per year.
The study was done by NexGen Space LLC and is titled “Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private-Partnerships.”
Leveraging commercial capabilities
NexGen assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an “Evolvable Lunar Architecture” that leverages commercial capabilities and services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term.
The report contends that a permanent commercial lunar base might substantially pay for its operations by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for sale to NASA and others to send humans to Mars, thus enabling the economic development of the Moon at a small marginal cost.
To read an executive summary of the report, go to:
The entire report is available here: