Archive for September, 2017

Credit: Long Now Foundation

A seminar by Carolyn Porco on “Searching for Life in the Solar System” is part of The Long Now Foundation’s seminars about long-term thinking.

Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco led the imaging team of the Cassini mission to Saturn, which is about to complete its 20-year exploration of the entire system of rings and moons.

Porco has authored over one hundred scientific papers and also served as the imaging scientist of the Voyager mission to the outer solar system in the 1980s.

The Long Now Foundation fosters long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. Stewart Brand is president of The Long Now Foundation and co-founder of Revive & Restore.

To watch this seminar, visit the Carolyn Porco Seminar Page at:

http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/jul/24/searching-life-solar-system/

For more information on the Foundation, go to:

http://longnow.org/

Credit: Boeing

 

Boeing, the maker of the robotic Air Force X-37B space plane, has issued a new video.

The video was released as part of the SpaceX launch today as prelude to the program’s Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) mission.

Long duration record

Flights of the craft in the past have repeatedly broken its own long-duration record.

The first OTV mission began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit.

The second OTV mission began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.

An OTV-3 mission chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit when it landed Oct. 17, 2014.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.
Credit: USAF

On May 7, 2017, OTV-4 landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility – a first for the program as all previous missions ended with a tarmac touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The OTV-4 conducted on-orbit experiments for 718 days during its mission, extending the total number of days spent on-orbit for the OTV program to 2,085 days.

Built by Boeing

Built by Boeing, the robotic mini-space plane is one of two known reusable X-37B vehicles that constitute the space plane “fleet.”

Appearing like a miniature version of NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter, the reusable military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 meters) tall, and has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 meters).

Technicians tend X-37B space plane after tarmac touchdown.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

 

The space drone has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed that can be outfitted with a robotic arm. It has a launch weight of 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit by a solar cell-laden array.

 

To view the just-released video, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-7VNf7DCY8

Official SpaceX OTV-5 mission patch.
Credit: SpaceX

For the first time, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was used to launch the reusable U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). Previously, the robotic space drone was launched atop an Atlas 5.

This is the fifth mission of the X-37B program.

Launch time

SpaceX launch of OTV-5 from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida took place on Thursday, September 7 at 9:50 a.m. EDT or 13:50 UTC.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage successfully landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Here is the playback of the launch, along with a new Boeing video detailing the X-37B program:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M6Zvi-fFv4

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.
Credit: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

Experimental payloads

The  X-37B missions are under the wing of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

According to a U.S. Air Force Space Command statement: “The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads.”

Additionally, the statements notes: “This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies. Building upon the fourth mission and previous collaboration with experiment partners, this mission will host the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment.”

Many firsts

Also noted by the Air Force statement is that this fifth OTV mission will be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.
Credit: USAF

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

The X-37B program completed its fourth mission on May 7, 2017, landing at the Kennedy Space Center after 718 days in orbit and extending the total number of days spent in orbit by X-37B vehicles to 2,085.

Credit: AFRL

On the manifest

While the total manifest on the space plane is classified, it has been announced that onboard the OTV-5 is the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) second Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS-II) flight experiment.

Cutaway of an oscillating heat pipe (OHP) showing its microchannel pattern.
Credit: AFRL

The ASETS-II experiment is managed by the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

ASETS-II will measure the microgravity performance, startup characteristics, and long term performance of an oscillating heat pipe (OHP) on orbit.

The ASETS-II experiment is made of three low-mass, low-cost OHPs and an electronics/experiment control box.

ASETS-II
Credit: AFRL

According to AFRL, the OHP is a simple, wickless heat pipe capable of rejecting more than 200 times the maximum heat load of an axially grooved heat pipe, and transporting more than 45 times more heat than copper.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image from Sol 1807, September 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now in Sol 1908, NASA’s Curiosity rover is on a steep roll up Vera Rubin Ridge.

In a report by Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, he calls it a “Thread of Life Ledge” at elevation -4,202 meters.”

“Curiosity is on the steepest part of Vera Rubin Ridge that it will encounter along its climb,” Wiens says. “The machine is performing superbly,” he adds, having recently driven over 90 feet (28 meters) and having climbed nearly 60 feet (18 meters) vertical elevation in four planning sols.

The rover’s current elevation is -4202 meters.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1807, September 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Extreme elevations

Wiens notes that Mars has far more extreme elevations than the continents on Earth, and it is reflected in the elevations of the landing sites to date.

For example, Curiosity landed at almost the same elevation as Viking 2 which landed in 1976 at -4.5 kilometers. Curiosity could pass the elevation of Phoenix, which landed in 2008 at -4.14 kilometers. The highest-elevation successful landing site to date was Opportunity, in Meridiani Planum, at -1.44 km. All elevations are measured relative to the mean planet radius, Wiens observes.

Unobstructed viewing

“Curiosity now has great, unobstructed views across the lowlands of Gale crater to the rear of the rover. The view is improving as the air becomes clearer heading into the colder seasons,” Wiens explains.

As scripted, rover instrument activities for Sol 1809 called for a Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive observation, as well as a Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) “get data” observations.

Also on tap is a short Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) observation of “Chamberly,” and four Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images with stereo.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image from Sol 1807, September 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Linescans

Wiens notes that Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) is shooting a 10-point linescan of “Chamberly” at 1.5 milliradian spacing, as well as 5-point linescans of “Locust Island Ledge” and, of all names, “Thread of Life Ledge.”

The robot’s Mastcam is providing documentation of these targets as well as imaging “Scrag Island,” “Wohoa Bay,” and “Shutdown Mountain.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) of nodules on the Red Planet. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Image acquired on Sol 1807, September 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Going to take you higher!

A planned drive of Curiosity is anticipated to be around 32 feet (10 meters), taking the rover higher on the ridge.

A second sol of activity for the robot is to include a 360 degree dust devil survey with Navcam, Mastcam monitoring of the rover deck, and a new ChemCam target that will be self-selected by onboard autonomous software.

The rover is slated to also image the work space around its new location, Wiens concludes.

 

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1805, September 3, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

As for NASA’s Curiosity robot busy at work on Mars, “someone get that rover a water bottle and some trail mix!”

That’s the view of Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Now in Sol 1807, Curiosity is on a steep trail, driving up 20 degree slopes on the flank of Vera Rubin Ridge. “Curiosity will acquire an amazing variety of science observations of the ridge rocks,” Minitti reports.

Long list of tasks

There’s a long list of science tasks assigned to Curiosity directly related to the long list of geologic features surrounding the rover on the ridge.

“The rover is now parked on many of the bedding structures observed from farther down the ridge, and the science team selected several particularly nice examples – the targets “Jordans Delight,” Mount Waldo,” and “Three Bush Island” – for detailed Mastcam imaging,” Minitti notes. “Other features of interest were the gray, rounded nodules observed all around the rover.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo taken on Sol 1806, September 4, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Inspecting nodules

On the plan was use of the Chemistry and Camera to shoot a collection of those nodules embedded in the bedrock at “Toothacher Island.”

The robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) were to acquire images and chemistry data from a collection of loose nodules at “Gunning Rocks,” followed by a Mastcam multispectral observation of the target.

Mastcam will also image “Cobscook Bay,” another collection of loose nodules.

Bedrock veins

Minitti adds that the ChemCam will gather data from an example of the long, straight, veins apparent in the bedrock in front of the rover at “Narragaugus,” and keep track of the bedrock chemistry at a small vertical exposure of bedrock, “Phoebe Ledge.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1806, September 4, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ChemCam, APXS and MAHLI will uniquely analyze another bedrock target, “Robinson Rock.” Both before and after ChemCam shoots the target, MAHLI will acquire tightly spaced, overlapping images of the target which will be used to build a small-scale digital elevation model (DEM) of the surface.

“The goal is to be able to measure the ChemCam laser pits in the DEM,” Minitti notes. “Of course, the ChemCam shots will also provide chemistry of Robinson Rock complementary to the APXS analysis of the target.”

Dust load in atmosphere

After a drive of roughly 88 feet (27 meters), Curiosity will be in a spot right below the smooth bedrock cap on the lower part of the Vera Rubin Ridge. Before and after that drive, the robot will tear her eyes off the rocks and scan the skies above Gale, Minitti reports.

“At both early morning and late afternoon times, Curiosity will assess the dust load in the atmosphere, and acquire images and movies seeking dust devils and clouds,” Minitti adds.

The plan calls for Curiosity to utilize its Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and make passive Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) measurements. DAN will actively sense the Vera Rubin Ridge subsurface after the drive, Minitti concludes.

Credit: NASA/JPL

“Brace yourselves. The end is near…”

That’s the word from Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team leader and Director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Able ship

In a September 4 friends and colleagues message, Porco said: “We just got word today. Cassini’s 21st dive between the inner edge of the ring system and the planet went as expected. The thrusters kept her oriented properly despite the torque from the atmosphere. Such an able ship!”

Enceladus
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

One more dive

Meanwhile, this week’s Cassini image is considered one of the best looks at Enceladus, “that small moon at Saturn with the big possibilities,” Porco adds.

“It’s now just one more dive and 11 days to go before the final plunge,” Porco noted.

Fuel supply

Involved in the Cassini mission, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) noted:

“On September 15, 2017 the orbiter will be directed straight at Saturn to meet its fiery demise. The reason for this is that the fuel supply is coming to an end and NASA will lose control of the spacecraft in the foreseeable future. Scientists fear that the uncontrolled spacecraft might collide with one of Saturn’s icy moons that could be harboring life.”

At the end of its mission, the DLR posting adds that the orbiter will have circled Saturn 294 times, including 113 Titan flybys, 24 past the active ice moon Enceladus and 22 tight trajectories around other glacial moons.

Astro-photographer Marco Langbroek, based in Leiden, the Netherlands, obtained this image of Florence on Saturday evening.
Credit: M. Langbroek

 

The rocky near-Earth asteroid — 3122 Florence — whizzed by Earth September 1 – coasting by at about 18.4 lunar distances – but there was a surprise.

Radar imagery has revealed that the asteroid has two moons, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS).

Making use of the 70-meter antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications complex, radar images show two moons orbiting the much larger central body, which is about 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) in diameter.

The sizes of the two moons are not yet well known, but are likely between 300-1,000 feet (100 – 300 meters) across.

Future impact concern?

This near-Earth object does not often come so close: the asteroid had last been similarly close in 1930, and will not become close to Earth again until 2057.

According to the European Space Agency, while it usually passes our planet at a safe distance, orbital disturbances in the (distant) future “could bring it closer, and the size of the object is such that it could be of future impact concern.”

Credit: CNEOS/NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory via Sky & Telescope magazine

Found to be round

Florence is only the third triple asteroid known in the near-Earth population out of more than 16,400 that have been discovered to date. All three near-Earth asteroid triples have been discovered with radar observations, notes a CNEOS statement.

Florence reached its closest approach to Earth early on September 1 and is now slowly receding from our planet. The asteroid was found to be fairly round. Also, it has a ridge along its equator, at least one large crater, two large flat regions, and numerous other small-scale topographic features.

The images also confirm that Florence rotates once every 2.4 hours.

Additional observations

Additional radar observations are scheduled at NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico through September 8.

These observations should show more surface detail on Florence and provide more precise estimates of the orbital periods of the two moons. Those results are valuable to scientists because they can be used to estimate the total mass and density of the asteroid.

Technicians tend X-37B space plane after tarmac touchdown.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

The enigmatic U.S. Air Force space drone – the X-37B – is heading for a September 7 liftoff, according to military officials.

In an Air Force Space Command statement, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is undergoing final launch preparations for the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program.

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

A program first is that the unpiloted space plane will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Four previous X-37B missions were all lofted by United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rockets—a joint venture by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Late last week, the Falcon 9 booster to loft the space plane was static fired.

Last Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission touched down at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.
Credit: Michael Martin/USAF

Also, OTV-5 will be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions “to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope,” according to the press statement.

Mystery manifest

What this vehicle will carry is largely classified.

However, it is known that the OTV missions are dedicated to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads.

“This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies,” the statement adds.

“Building upon the fourth mission and previous collaboration with experiment partners, this mission will host the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader [known as ASETS-11] payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment,” the Space Command statement explains.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.
Credit: USAF

Long duration record

Flights of the craft have repeatedly broken its own long-duration record.

The first OTV mission began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit.

The second OTV mission began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.

An OTV-3 mission chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit when it landed Oct. 17, 2014.

On May 7, 2017, OTV-4 landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility – a first for the program as all previous missions ended with a tarmac touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The OTV-4 conducted on-orbit experiments for 718 days during its mission, extending the total number of days spent on-orbit for the OTV program to 2,085 days.

Built by Boeing

Built by Boeing, the robotic mini-space plane is one of two known reusable X-37B vehicles that constitute the space plane “fleet.”

Appearing like a miniature version of NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter, the reusable military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 meters) tall, and has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 meters).

The space drone has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed that can be outfitted with a robotic arm. It has a launch weight of 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit by gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.

 

 

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Late Friday, U.S. President Trump announced his intent to nominate U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine as the 13th NASA administrator. The Republican lawmaker is from Oklahoma.

The nomination must go through a Senate confirmation process first, as will the deputy administrator nomination when that person is named by the President.

Bridenstine is a former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium and is author of the American Space Renaissance Act (H.R. 4945).

Earth’s Moon as seen from the International Space Station taken by ESA British astronaut, Tim Peake.
Credit: NASA/ESA

Wanted: American space renaissance

The mission of H.R. 4945 — The American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) — is to permanently secure the United States as the preeminent spacefaring nation.  The ASRA has three key objectives:

  • Project military strength and protect our space based capabilities
  • Provide certainty to encourage commercial space innovation
  • Promote stability, accountability, and mission clarity at NASA

Why the Moon matters

Late last year, Bridenstine wrote a blog post, “Why the Moon Matters,” that can be read here:

https://bridenstine.house.gov/blog/?postid=772

To take a look at H.R.4945 – The American Space Renaissance Act, go to:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4945

Also, go to:

https://bridenstine.house.gov/space/

Curiosity Left B image taken on Sol 1803, September 1, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1804 carrying out multiple scientific duties.

A new rover road map has been issued by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showing its traverse over the landscape since landing in August 2012.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1803, September 1, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The map through Sol 1802 shows the route driven by Curiosity.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

 

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1800 to Sol 1802, Curiosity has driven a straight line distance of about 47.03 feet (14.34 meters).

That movement has brought the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.76 miles (17.32 kilometers).

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 1802, August 31, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 1802, August 31, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Griffith Observatory Event