Archive for August, 2016

The discovery of Enceladus’ icy jets and their role in creating Saturn’s E-ring is one of the leading discoveries of the Cassini mission to Saturn – now approaching two decades of lifetime. There is strong evidence of a global ocean and the first signs of potential hydrothermal activity beyond Earth – making this tiny Saturnian moon one of the leading locations in the search for possible life beyond Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The discovery of Enceladus’ icy jets and their role in creating Saturn’s E-ring is one of the leading discoveries of the Cassini mission to Saturn – now approaching two decades of lifetime. There is strong evidence of a global ocean and the first signs of potential hydrothermal activity beyond Earth – making this tiny Saturnian moon one of the leading locations in the search for possible life beyond Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thanks to a suite of scientific instruments and fly-by opportunities, NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn has transformed our understanding of that far-off planet and its retinue of icy moons.

Active jets

For one, Saturn’s Enceladus is a mini-world of active jets – geyser-like phenomenon that shoots out water vapor and ice particles from an underground ocean beneath the moon’s icy crust.

Snagged by Cassini spacecraft, Saturn’s moon Enceladus is imaged backlit by the sun and shows the fountain-like sources of the fine spray of material that towers over its south polar region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Snagged by Cassini spacecraft, Saturn’s moon Enceladus is imaged backlit by the sun and shows the fountain-like sources of the fine spray of material that towers over its south polar region.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Due to those planetary skyworks, coupled with a global ocean, distinctive chemistry and internal heat, it’s no wonder Enceladus has become a magnet of interest in the search for worlds where life may well exist.

Logo of Germany’s Enceladus Explorer (EnEx) – Environmental Experimental Testing -- project team at the University of Applied Sciences in Aachen, Germany. The initiative is studying technology for a potential lander mission on Enceladus, funded and managed by Germany’s DLR Space Administration and comprises several German universities.

Logo of Germany’s Enceladus Explorer (EnEx) – Environmental Experimental Testing — project team at the University of Applied Sciences in Aachen, Germany. The initiative is studying technology for a potential lander mission on Enceladus, funded and managed by Germany’s DLR Space Administration and comprises several German universities.

Deep dive

For a deep dive story on Enceladus, go to my new Space.com story at:

Looking for Life on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus: Send a Flyby or Lander?

August 24, 2016 06:00 am ET

http://www.space.com/33835-saturn-moon-enceladus-alien-life-search.html

Also, take a look at this impressive video via Vimeo, credit WOW Inc.

Go to:

https://vimeo.com/177182335

 

China flag

A press event was held in Beijing, China that signaled the launching of a public competitive campaign to get a name and logo for the country’s first robotic Mars probe – due to launch in 2020.

During the press event, the external appearance of the Mars craft was revealed.

According to Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s Mars exploration mission:

“What we’re aiming at now is to launch the voyager in July or August of 2020,” Zhang said. “Our overall concept for this mission is to do it in two stages. Stage One is to materialize orbiting Mars. Stage Two is to land on Mars to collect samples from it, hopefully done before 2030.”

China's robotic Mars mission for 2020 will drawn upon its Moon landing technology. Credit: SASTIND

China’s robotic Mars mission for 2020 will drawn upon its Moon landing technology.
Credit: SASTIND

Cultural domain

Liu Jizhong, deputy director-general of China’s Mars exploration mission, director of China’s lunar exploration program and space engineering, added:

“All the Chinese are looking up to the country’s first Mars exploration mission which is an innovative engineering project. China’s Mars exploration mission has also drawn attention from the international community. This competitive public campaign to name and logo the voyager can be seen as side-step in the cultural domain.”

Credit: CCTV/China Spaceflight.com

Credit: CCTV/China Spaceflight.com

The public campaign announced August 23 will solicit from the country’s citizens a name and a logo for the Mars craft and is being hosted by China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Competitive entries will be accepted for two months prior to final selection of the Mars vehicle’s name and mission logo.

To view the press event, go to this CCTV-Plus video:

http://cd-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/0823/8030398_Preview_3261.mp4

A YouTube video on the Chinese Mars effort can be found here at:

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1437, August 21, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1437, August 21, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Curiosity rover on Mars carried out a drive over the weekend, but halted a bit early, “but everything is looking good and we will continue to drive in today’s plan,” reported Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona on Monday.

Now in Sol 1439, the plan for the rover starts off  with Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) observations of the layered rock targets “Quibala” and “Quibaxe.”

The rover’s Mastcam is set to then image Quibala, followed by taking mosaics that document the stratigraphy in the nearby buttes as well as the locations called “Quibaxe”, “Quipungo” and “Quicombo.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1433, August 17, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1433, August 17, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

More driving, auto-observations

Anderson adds that after these functions, the schedule calls for the rover to drive, with follow up post-drive imaging as well as use of ChemCam AEGIS software, that is, an Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) observation. This software allows Curiosity to autonomously select targets for the laser and telescopic camera of its ChemCam instrument.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1438, August 22, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1438, August 22, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The following morning, Anderson adds, the robot’s Mastcam and Navcam have on tap atmospheric observations, and then in the afternoon ChemCam will analyze its calibration targets.

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on August 22, 2016, Sol 1438. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on August 22, 2016, Sol 1438.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Rover’s location

Meanwhile, a new map has been posted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing the rover’s location for Sol 1435.

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on August 22, 2016, Sol 1438. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on August 22, 2016, Sol 1438.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The map shows the route driven by Curiosity through the 1435 Martian day, or sol, of the Mars machinery as of August, 19, 2016.

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.

From Sol 1433 to Sol 1435, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 205.80 feet (62.73 meters).

Since touching down in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 8.61 miles (13.85 kilometers).

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1434, August 18, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1434, August 18, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Now deep into Sol 1437 in its exploration of Mars, the Curiosity rover has succeeded in recent drives to various spots on the Red Planet.

“We are making good progress with our drives…we’re already approaching our next drill site…and the road in front of us is looking pretty smooth,” notes Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Layered rock targets

Yesterday, on Sol 1436, the plan for the NASA robot was to start off with Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam observations of the layered rock targets “Conda” and “Savungo.”

Mastcam then was slated to take a mosaic of one of the buttes, and another mosaic of an interesting feature within the Murray formation called “Chitado.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1436, August 20, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1436, August 20, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Later in the day, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will take a look at the targets “Biula” and “Conda”. Then Curiosity will brush the dust off of Conda and do an overnight Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) measurement. Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) was also slated to do another analysis of Marimba2 overnight.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 1436, August 20, 2016. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 1436, August 20, 2016.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

On Sol 1437, ChemCam has on the schedule a passive observation of Conda and a Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic of the target “Chicala.”

Mastcam is then scheduled to take a picture of Chicala and do an atmospheric measurement.

Big mosaic, long drive

Anderson says that in the morning on Sol 1438, the robot’s Mastcam has a big 16×3 mosaic of the Murray Buttes, and Navcam is set to make an atmospheric observation.

Then the rover is on tap to take a long drive – perhaps up to 295 feet (90 meters) — followed by the usual post-drive imaging, Anderson says.

Dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

 

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1435, August 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1435, August 19, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This 360-degree vista was acquired on Aug. 5, 2016, by the Mastcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover as the rover neared features called "Murray Buttes" on lower Mount Sharp. The dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of the rover's arm is about 50 feet high and, near the top, about 200 feet wide. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This 360-degree vista was acquired on Aug. 5, 2016, by the Mastcam on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover as the rover neared features called “Murray Buttes” on lower Mount Sharp. The dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of the rover’s arm is about 50 feet high and, near the top, about 200 feet wide.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1436 – returning detailed imagery of eroded mesas and buttes, even churning out a new 360-degree color panorama of the scenery.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1435, August 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1435, August 19, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As noted in a Jet Propulsion Laboratory release: “The buttes and mesas are capped with rock that is relatively resistant to wind erosion. This helps preserve these monumental remnants of a layer that formerly more fully covered the underlying layer that the rover is now driving on.”

 

 

 

 

 

For taking your own panoramic look at the Martian surroundings in which Curiosity has encountered, go to:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2016-213

 

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1435, August 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1435, August 19, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity made use of its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to capture dozens of component images of this scene on Aug. 5, 2016, four years after Curiosity’s landing inside Gale Crater in 2012.

New just-in imagery shows a self-inspection of the robot’s wheels.

Engineers have been monitoring wear and tear of the robot’s wheels due to the rocky conditions upon which the rover travels.

 

 

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, took this image on August 19, 2016, Sol 1435. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, took this image on August 19, 2016, Sol 1435.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, took this image on August 19, 2016, Sol 1435. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, took this image on August 19, 2016, Sol 1435.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

SpaceX Dragon makes use of Supersonic Retro-Propulsion (SRP) to land on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon makes use of Supersonic Retro-Propulsion (SRP) to land on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX founder, CEO, and Lead Designer Elon Musk is unveiling his humans to Mars plan at next month’s 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The world space meeting runs from September 26-30.

Multiplanetary species

On the second day of the IAC, during a special keynote entitled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” Musk will discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars.

SpaceX Dragon on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

The technical presentation will focus on potential architectures for colonizing the Red Planet that industry, government and the scientific community can collaborate on in the years ahead.

Red Dragon

In the past, Musk has detailed his intention to use a Red Dragon spacecraft to fly in un-crewed mode to Mars in the 2018 time period. Later flights of the craft would transport humans to the planet.

Using Supersonic Retro Propulsion to touch down on the Red Planet, the Red Dragon may well deploy scientific devices, particularly hardware that could demonstrate made-on-Mars propellant.

Conversation has changed

Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, underscored her firm’s Mars plans, speaking August 9 at the 30th annual Conference on Small Satellites, held at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

“If you talked about this15 years ago we probably would have been institutionalized,” Shotwell told a standing room only audience. “The conversation has changed…now we can talk about going to Mars,” she said.

Shotwell said retro-propulsion is “really the answer” contrasted to airfoils, parachutes and ballutes. “In addition, retro-propulsion will scale. We’re not talking about dropping 10 tons on Mars. We’ll be dropping hundreds of tons on Mars…dropping, I mean, settling down gently.”

Retro-propulsion trial by fire. SpaceX first stage landing taken by remote camera photo from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship on April 8, 2016. Credit: SpaceX

Retro-propulsion trial by fire. SpaceX first stage landing taken by remote camera photo from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship on April 8, 2016.
Credit: SpaceX

Raptor engine

A key SpaceX propulsion development for Mars is the Raptor, a liquid oxygen/methane engine, Shotwell noted, pointing out that the first Raptor engine will soon be test fired.

In terms of what a 2018 un-crewed Red Dragon might take to Mars, “we haven’t figured out how do you get stuff in Dragon onto the surface, but we’re working on it,” Shotwell said.

“We’re working on some ISRU [in-situ resource utilization] payloads,” Shotwell added. “I need my spaceship back to take more people to Mars. The return trip is free.”

 

Scene from “Mars,” a National Geographic Channel miniseries due to air in November. Credit: National Geographic, Imagine,RadicalMedia,Robert Viglasky

Scene from “Mars,” a National Geographic Channel miniseries due to air in November.
Credit: National Geographic, Imagine,RadicalMedia,Robert Viglasky

Clothing opportunities

In terms of degree of difficulty for SpaceX Mars planning, Shotwell said that the hardest thing is getting return fuel from Martian resources. “Mining your own fuel on the surface to lift off again…because the return trip I think is really important,” she said.

Shotwell said that SpaceX is looking at some electric propulsion technologies for in-space activities.

“There’s a lot to do,” Shotwell observed. “I want to see transportation to other solar systems…get into a spaceship and go to some crazy planet. All those new clothing opportunities,” she suggested.

Resources

To view a July 29th trailer for National Geographic Channel’s global event series MARS, premiering in November, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwUB0GYjHN0

Among those interviewed is Elon Musk, chief rocketeer at SpaceX:

“The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions: either we’re going to become a multi-planet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going to be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event. In order for me to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option,” Musk says in the series.

Before MARS premiers, there will be an extensive digital virtual-reality experience available at:

www.MakeMarsHome.com

For more information on the book – Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet — to be released October 25th, go to:

https://shop.nationalgeographic.com/product/books/books/new-books/mars

Also go to Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Mars-Our-Future-Red-Planet/dp/1426217587/ref=sr_1_1?ie

For a pre-look at Musk’s masterplan for Mars, go to this video via:

http://www.recode.net/2016/6/6/11840936/elon-musk-tesla-spacex-mars-full-video-code

 

Opportunity image taken by rover's Front Hazcam on Sol 4461. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity image taken by rover’s Front Hazcam on Sol 4461.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Following over a year of exploration at Marathon Valley on the rim of Endeavour crater, scientists and engineers operating the long-lived Opportunity Mars rover are wrapping up their final work at that site.

“We are finishing up in Marathon Valley…investigating some interesting grooves with red zone fractures,” notes Ray Arvidson, Mars Exploration Rover deputy principal investigator at Washington University St. Louis.

The rover’s activities there should be done by the end of the week with the robot then heading south to Lewis and Clark Gap to leave Marathon Valley.

Gully channel

There is an on-going search for more of the Matijevic formation – a group of rocks at a site called Cape York that suggest mild conditions on Mars long ago, Arvidson adds. “The formation predates Endeavour crater and underlies the crater’s Shoemaker formation impact breccias.”

Opportunity's Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 4467. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity’s Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 4467.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity is to then drive to Cape Byron, “the next rim segment south and a gully that looks like it formed by fluvial processes,” Arvidson explains. “We expect to drive right down the gully channel to check out evidence for ancient fluid flow.

Spectacular spot

The solar powered Opportunity arrived at Marathon Valley in August 2015, wheeling itself across the planet since landing at Meridiana Planum over 12 years ago in January 2004. Not bad for Mars machinery given a 90-day warranty.

“Basically, we’re still finishing up work before we say goodbye to this spectacular spot,” Arvidson told Inside Outer Space.

Schiaparelli entry

Arvidson said that Opportunity will try to image the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2016 Schiaparelli entry craft. “It depends on where we are relative to a site view to the entry zone.”

ESA’s Schiaparelli landing at Meridiani Planum on Mars on October 19, 2016. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

ESA’s Schiaparelli landing at Meridiani Planum on Mars on October 19, 2016.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Now en route to the Red Planet, the ExoMars 2016 — the orbiter and Schiaparelli landing vehicle — were launched together on March 14, 2016 on a Russian Proton rocket.

Three days before reaching the atmosphere of Mars, Schiaparelli will be ejected from the orbiter towards the Red Planet.

October sky show

Schiaparelli will coast towards its destination, enter the Martian atmosphere, decelerate using aerobraking and a parachute, and then brake with the aid of a thruster system before landing on the surface of the planet.

The entire entry, descent and landing sequence will be complete in less than six minutes.

Schiaparelli is set to touch down on Meridiani Planum, a relatively smooth, flat region on October 19, 2016 – with the possibility that the Opportunity rover will have a ring-side seat to the sky show.

Projected landing zone for ESA's Schiaparelli lander. Credit: IRSPS/TAS-I

Projected landing zone for ESA’s Schiaparelli lander.
Credit: IRSPS/TAS-I

Road cut

“The past week we have been investigating some super interesting grooves carved into the valley floor,” explains James Rice, a Mars Exploration Rover Project Science Team Member at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

Rice said the robot is slated to drive southward, carrying out imaging and collect science data on bedrock targets.

“The highlight of our final days in Marathon Valley will be imaging stops of Wharton Ridge followed by the Lewis and Clark Gap,” Rice told Inside Outer Space. The Lewis and Clark Gap is located between two very different looking ridges – Knudsen and Wharton, he said.

“The Lewis and Clark Gap may permit us to get a ‘road cut’ view of these two ridge systems and if traversable it will be our exit route from Marathon Valley to points south for our extended mission,” Rice explained.

Name calling

Opportunity’s lengthy survey of the area has led to a special celebratory salute to earlier Mars landers from four decades ago: The U.S. Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft.

Big Joe I at Viking landing site. Credit: NASA/JPL

Big Joe I at Viking landing site.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“We have been using Viking rock names with the Roman numeral II in order to differentiate these rock targets from the Viking ones,” Rice said.

So far rock targets have been dubbed Big Joe II, Sponge II, Bashful II, Sleepy II, Rocky Flats II, Badger II, Notch II, Gibraltar II, Rice said.

The NASA Curiosity Mars rover is studying the stratigraphy of the Murray Buttes – and it’s quite the scenery.

New imagery from the robot visitor from Earth:

Images taken by the rover’s Mastcam Left on Sol 1432, August 16, 2016, include:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

1432ML0070740000602490E01_DXXX

1432ML0070740010602491E01_DXXX-br2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1432ML0070740020602492E01_DXXX

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1432, August 16, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1432, August 16, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Also, check out this impressive tour of the buttes courtesy of Roundme.com at:

https://roundme.com/tour/68083/view/167100/

Credit: NASA/JPL/MSS/Justin Cowart

Moon bound SkyFire, a 6U CubeSat. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Moon bound SkyFire, a 6U CubeSat.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

 

CubeSats are planned to launch to the Moon in 2018 – tiny packages that could deliver key info on lunar characteristics like solar illumination areas and available water ice.

One such CubeSat is dubbed SkyFire. This diminutive spacecraft is a 6U CubeSat slated to grab a ride on NASA Orion’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

Infrared technology

SkyFire’s lunar flyby mission would test out high-tech infrared technology. This infrared camera will take high quality images with a lighter, simpler unit. This reduction in mass means lower payload cost and easier maneuverability in space, according to a Lockheed Martin statement.

The company has signed a contract with NASA to build and deploy SkyFire.

SkyFire is the first CubeSat that Lockheed Martin is building. Over the past 50 years, Lockheed Martin has built 150 “smallsats,” including GRAIL and XSS-11, Elizabeth Howard, a company spokeswoman told Inside Outer Space.

Resource potential

“If successful, the infrared system on SkyFire could eventually be used for cost-effective studies of a planet’s resources before humans arrive. This includes tasks like analyzing soil conditions, determining ideal landing sites and discovering a planet’s most livable areas,” according to the company press statement.

SkyFire will catch a ride to the Moon with 12 other CubeSats on EM-1, doing so as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.

Space Launch System heads outward on projected 2018 Exploration Mission-1. Credit: NASA

Space Launch System heads outward on projected 2018 Exploration Mission-1.
Credit: NASA

Industry-university effort

SkyFire is a public-private partnership between Lockheed Martin and NASA.

Lockheed Martin will build the satellite with internal investments, and the newly-signed contract will grant Lockheed Martin access to send the satellite to the Moon aboard the EM-1 launch.

NASA will in turn receive data from the mission. The Lockheed Martin development team primarily consists of early-career engineers in partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder.

Flashing the moon

Yet another CubeSat geared for Moon exploration is the Lunar Flashlight. It too is slated for launch on the Space Launch System’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) flight. Development of the tiny spacecraft is being lead by a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Ames Research Center.

Orbiting Lunar Flashlight. Credit: NASA/JPL

Orbiting Lunar Flashlight.
Credit: NASA/JPL

The orbiting Lunar Flashlight is designed to map the Moon’s south pole for volatiles and demonstrate several technologies, including use of “green” (less toxic) propulsion and utilize a laser system to prowl for evidence of water ice.

The Lunar Flashlight will use its near infrared lasers to shine light into the shaded polar regions of the Moon, while the on-board spectrometer measures surface reflection and composition.

Delta-Aquarids_meteor caught on camera. Credit: NASA/SwRI/ISS Meteor Project

Delta-Aquarids meteor caught on camera, acquired July 30, 2016.
Credit: NASA/SwRI/ISS Meteor Project

Flaming meteors from on-high!

The Meteor Observation on ISS (Meteor) project, led by Michael Fortenberry of the Southwest Research Institute, has provided a downward-looking view of the annual light show visiting our skies August 11-12.

Imagery from the Meteor’s high sensitivity, high-definition TV camera installed in the International Space Station’s (ISS) Window Observational Research Facility has been released courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory website.

The Meteor project’s camera made its first observations on July 7, 2016.

Photo of Meteor installed in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) Simulator at NASA's Johnson Space Center. This is how it should look after installation on the International Space Station. Credit: Southwest Research Institute/Chiba Institute of Technology

Photo of Meteor installed in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) Simulator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This is how it should look given its installation on the International Space Station.
Credit: Southwest Research Institute/Chiba Institute of Technology

No clouds my lady!

“The Meteor team is very excited to start making observations on the ISS,” said co-investigator Tomoko Arai of Japan’s Planetary Exploration Research Center, Chiba Institute of Technology. “We will focus on photometric observations for the first year. In our second year, spectroscopic observations will be made.”

The camera also can improve estimates of how much material is actually entering Earth’s atmosphere.

According to the Earth Observatory website, “some of the dust associated with these meteors is so tiny that it burns high in the atmosphere—where it is visible from the space station but not detectable from the ground. Moreover, the space camera has the opportunity to observe meteors during 560 minutes of darkness over 16 orbits of Earth per day, a view that is never obstructed by clouds.”

Shower streak

Published on Aug 12, 2016, a video was acquired August 10, 2016 from high-resolution video camera gear onboard the ISS.

Within the span of about 10 seconds, two meteors associated with the Perseid meteor shower streak across the sky above Pakistan. Video was provided by Tomoko Arai/Japan’s Planetary Exploration Research Center/Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) investigation.

Take a look for yourself at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j8i17-lDCI

Griffith Observatory Event