NASA

What has hubble discovered recently?

Jan. 7, 2014

RELEASE 14-006

AAS Meeting Highlights Several New Hubble Science Findings

Distant Galaxies in GOODS North - Hubble Space Telescope

This composite of Hubble images was taken in visible and near-infrared light.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Illingworth,Oesch,UC-SC/Bouwens, Labb,Leiden U.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is providing a new perspective on the remote universe, including new views of young and distant galaxies bursting with stars. Scientists described the findings Tuesday in a news conference sponsored by the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

Highlighted in the briefing were three discoveries — four unusually bright galaxies as they appeared 13 billion years ago, the deepest image ever obtained of a galaxy cluster, and a sampling of galaxies thought to be responsible for most of the stars we see today.

The ultra-bright, young galaxies, discovered using data from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, are bursting with star formation activity, which accounts for their brilliance. The brightest one is forming stars approximately 50 times faster than our Milky Way galaxy does today. These fledgling galaxies are only one-twentieth the size of the Milky Way, but they probably contain about 1 billion stars crammed together.

Although Hubble has previously identified galaxies at this early epoch, astronomers were surprised to find objects that are about 10 to 20 times more luminous than anything seen previously.

“These just stuck out like a sore thumb because they are far brighter than we anticipated,” explained Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz. “There are strange things happening regardless of what these sources are. We’re suddenly seeing luminous, massive galaxies quickly build up at such an early time. This was quite unexpected.”

The galaxies were first detected with Hubble. Its sharp images are crucial to finding such distant galaxies and enabled the astronomers to measure their star-formation rates and sizes. Using Spitzer, the astronomers were able to estimate the stellar masses by measuring the total stellar luminosity of the galaxies.

“This is the first time scientists were able to measure an object’s mass at such a huge distance,” said Pascal Oesch of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. “It’s a fabulous demonstration of the synergy between Hubble and Spitzer.”

The result bodes well for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, currently in development. Scientists anticipate using Webb to look even farther back in time to find young, growing galaxies as they existed only a few hundred million years after the universe began in theorized big bang.

An unprecedented long distance view of the universe comes from an ambitious collaborative project with Hubble called The Frontier Fields. It is the longest and deepest exposure obtained to date of a cluster of galaxies, and shows some of the faintest and youngest galaxies ever detected. The image contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago.

Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689 - Hubble Space Telescope

Astronomers used Hubble and the magnification power of the giant cluster of galaxies Abell 1689 to find 58 remote galaxies.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/B.Siana, A.Alavi, UC Riverside

Appearing in the foreground of the image is Abell 2744, a massive galaxy cluster located in the constellation Sculptor. The immense gravity in Abell 2744 is being used as a lens to warp space and brighten and magnify images of more distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did longer than 12 billion years ago, not long after the big bang.

The Hubble exposure reveals almost 3,000 of these background galaxies interleaved with images of hundreds of foreground galaxies in the cluster. Their images not only appear brighter, but also smeared, stretched and duplicated across the field. Because of the gravitational lensing phenomenon, the background galaxies are magnified to appear as much as 10 to 20 times larger than they would normally appear. Furthermore, the faintest of these highly magnified objects is 10 to 20 times fainter than any galaxy observed previously. Without the boost from gravitational lensing, the many background galaxies would be invisible.

The Hubble exposure will be combined with images from Spitzer and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to provide new insight into the origin and evolution of galaxies and their accompanying black holes.

Hubble also uncovered a substantial population of 58 young, diminutive galaxies that scientists long suspected were responsible for producing a majority of stars now present in the cosmos during the universe’s early years.

Deep exposures in ultraviolet light, made with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, revealed a sampling of galaxies that existed more than 10 billion years ago, when the universe was roughly 3.4 billion years old. They are the smallest, faintest, galaxies seen in the remote universe to date. A census of galaxies existing at the time indicates these small, faint galaxies are 100 times more abundant in the universe than their more massive cousins.

“There’s always been a concern that we’ve only found the brightest of the distant galaxies,” said Brian Siana of the University of California at Riverside. “The bright galaxies, however, represent the tip of the iceberg. We believe most of the stars forming in the early universe are occurring in galaxies we normally can’t see at all. Now we have found those ‘unseen’ galaxies, and we’re really confident that we’re seeing the rest of the iceberg.”

Hubble Frontier Field Abell 2744 - Hubble Space Telescope

This long-exposure Hubble Space Telescope image of massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744 (foreground) is the deepest ever made of any cluster of galaxies.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/J.Lotz, M.Mountain, A.Koekemoer/STScI HFF Team

Normally too faint for Hubble to see, these galaxies were revealed through gravitational lensing focused on a massive galaxy cluster known as Abell 1689 in the constellation Ursa Major. The cluster magnified light emitted by distant objects behind it, causing the newly discovered galaxies to appear bigger and brighter. If this sample is representative of the entire population at the time, then the majority of new stars formed in such small, unseen galaxies.

“Though these galaxies are very faint, their increased numbers mean that they account for the majority of star formation during this epoch,” said team member Anahita Alavi, also of the University of California at Riverside.

The astronomers were surprised to find the deeper they looked with Hubble, the more faint galaxies they found.

“Our goal with these observations was not to find a large number of galaxies, but to find much fainter galaxies,” said Alavi.

For images and more information about the ultra-bright young galaxies, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2014/05

To see more images and information about The Frontier Fields campaign, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2014/01

For images and more information about Abell 1689, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2014/07

For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

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NASA and JAXA Announce Launch Date for Global Precipitation Satellite
Dec. 26, 2013

Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite.

Artist concept of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite.
Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

RELEASE 13-376

Environmental research and weather forecasting are about to get a significant technology boost as NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) prepare to launch a new satellite in February.

NASA and JAXA selected 1:07 p.m. to 3:07 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 27 (3:07 a.m. to 5:07 a.m. JST Friday, Feb. 28) as the launch date and launch window for a Japanese H-IIA rocket carrying the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center.

GPM is an international satellite mission that will provide advanced observations of rain and snowfall worldwide, several times a day to enhance our understanding of the water and energy cycles that drive Earth’s climate. The data provided by the Core Observatory will be used to calibrate precipitation measurements made by an international network of partner satellites to quantify when, where, and how much it rains or snows around the world.

“Launching this core observatory and establishing the Global Precipitation Measurement mission is vitally important for environmental research and weather forecasting,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. “Knowing rain and snow amounts accurately over the whole globe is critical to understanding how weather and climate impact agriculture, fresh water availability, and responses to natural disasters.”

With the addition of the new Core Observatory, the satellites in the GPM constellation will include the NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership mission, launched in 2012; the NASA-JAXA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), launched in 1997; and several other satellites managed by JAXA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the Centre National D’Etudies Spatiales of France and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

“We will use data from the GPM mission not only for Earth science research but to improve weather forecasting and respond to meteorological disasters,” said Shizuo Yamamoto, executive director of JAXA. “We would also like to aid other countries in the Asian region suffering from flood disasters by providing data for flood alert systems. Our dual-frequency precipitation radar, developed with unique Japanese technologies, plays a central role in the GPM mission.”

The GPM Core Observatory builds on the sensor technology developed for the TRMM mission, with two innovative new instruments. The GPM Microwave Imager, built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo., will observe rainfall and snowfall at 13 different frequencies. The Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar, developed by JAXA with the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Tokyo, transmits radar frequencies that will detect ice and light rain, as well as heavier rainfall. It also will be able to measure the size and distribution of raindrops, snowflakes and ice particles.

For more information on the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/gpm

and

http://www.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/gpm/index_e.html
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NASA Engineers Crush Fuel Tank to Build Better Rockets
December 17, 2013

RELEASE 13-372

aluminum-lithium cylinder

NASA’s Mark Hilburger prepares to buckle an aluminum-lithium cylinder about the size of fuel tank barrels for the largest rockets ever built.
Image Credit: NASA/Fred Deaton

NASA completed a series of high-tech can-crushing tests last week as an enormous fuel tank crumbled under the pressure of almost a million pounds of force, all in the name of building lighter, more affordable rockets.

During the testing for the Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor Project, which began Dec. 9 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., force and pressure were increasingly applied to the top of an empty but pressurized rocket fuel tank to evaluate its structural integrity. The resulting data will help engineers design, build and test the gigantic fuel tanks for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket NASA is developing for deep space missions.

“These full-scale tests along with our computer models and subscale tests will help NASA and industry design lighter, more affordable launch vehicles,” said Mark Hilburger, senior research engineer in the Structural Mechanics and Concepts Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Hilburger is conducting the tests for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center. “We were looking at real-time data from 20 cameras and more than 800 sensors during the final test.”

The aluminum-lithium tank was made from unused space shuttle tank hardware and decked out in 70,000 black and white polka dots that helped high-speed cameras focus on any buckles, rips or strains.

“When it buckled it was quite dramatic,” Hilburger said. “We heard the bang, almost like the sound of thunder and could see the large buckles in the test article.”

Engineers are updating design guidelines that have the potential to reduce launch vehicle weight by 20 percent. Lighter rockets can carry more equipment into space or travel farther away from Earth for exploration missions to asteroids, Mars or other distant locations.

“In addition to providing data for the Space Launch System design team, these tests are preparing us for upcoming full-scale tests,” said Matt Cash, Marshall’s lead test engineer for the shell buckling efforts and the SLS forward skirt and liquid oxygen tank structural testing. “Performing structural tests on hardware that is the same size as SLS hardware is providing tremendous benefit for our future development work for the rocket.”

The testing was conducted at Marshall’s load test annex, part of the Structural and Dynamics Engineering Test Laboratory previously used to test large structures for the Saturn V rocket, space shuttle and International Space Station.

NASA’s Space Launch System will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond Earth orbit. Designed to be flexible for crew or cargo missions, the SLS will be safe, affordable and sustainable to continue America’s journey of discovery from the unique vantage point of space. SLS will carry the Orion spacecraft’s crew to deep space destinations including an asteroid and eventually Mars.

For images and video of the big crush and to learn more about the shell buckling project, visit:

http://go.nasa.gov/1dil1uF

For more information about NASA’s Space Launch System, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/sls

-end-

Rachel Kraft
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1100
rachel.h.kraft@nasa.gov

Tracy McMahan
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Al.
256-544-0034
tracy.mcmahan@nasa.gov

Chris Rink
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
757-864-6786 / 757-344-7711
chris.rink@nasa.gov
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The VASIMR Plasma Rocket: Bridging the Gap in Space Travel
December 7, 2013

Image via Astronaut.com

Image via Astronaut.com

Plasma rocket technology was first introduced to the scientific community in 1977 by Franklin Chang Díaz, a Costa Rican scientist and astronaut. The idea has been developed since then and is now at the stage where it can be implemented into future projects. The technology allows for considerably faster space travel than what the technologies currently employed by organizations such as NASA can do.

What is the VASIMR Plasma Rocket?

VASIMR stands for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, which makes use of argon gas (one of the most stable gases known to man) and a renewable source of energy found in space, radio waves in the form of light. The main difference with this type of rocket is being able to use mostly renewable energy in the propulsion system, which gives the rocket a greater lifespan than similar, modern-day rocket technologies. The plasma technology has multiple applications such as the cleaning and coating of surfaces in a plasma coating system at nano-level. The uses of plasma, the 4th state of substances, are just being touched on now with recent advances in science.

Continue Learning: http://astronaut.com/vasimr-plasma-rocket-bridging-gap-space-travel/

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Goddard Planetary Instruments Score a Hat Trick
Dec. 5, 2013

Three mass spectrometers built at Goddard

Three mass spectrometers built at Goddard were operating on the same day at the moon, on Mars and en route to Mars.
Image Credit: NASA

Planetary instruments from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., hit the trifecta on Dec. 4, running three experiments of the same kind at different places in space.

The instruments, all flying on NASA missions, are mass spectrometers, designed to take in atmospheric, rock or soil samples and identify particular molecules in them. The investigations lined up because of the operating schedules for the three, which must take turns with other instruments on their respective spacecraft.

“At the moon and Mars and part way in between, we had three mass spectrometers happily operating in their other-worldly environments or being checked out for the first time in space on the same day,” said Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator for the instruments.

Goddard’s Planetary Environments Lab, headed by Mahaffy, built all three instruments. The mass spectrometers identify gases in atmospheric samples or gases that get released from rock or soil samples as they are processed. To pick out individual components in a sample, an electron beam is used to break the large molecules into smaller fragments. Then high-frequency electric fields are applied to the resulting mixture to sort the fragments by mass and electric charge, producing a fingerprint of the molecules present.

Stationed at the moon was NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, which entered an equatorial orbit on Nov. 20 and began science operations the following day. On Dec. 4, the mission’s Neutral Mass Spectrometer was checking out the moon’s thin atmosphere. The instrument will continue to collect samples over multiple orbits with the moon in different space environments.

En route to Mars was NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission. Launched on Nov. 18, the spacecraft is in the early cruise phase and is scheduled to arrive at the Red Planet in September 2014. The mission’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer was turned on for the first time on Dec. 4 and measured calibration gases in the instrument.

Upon the spacecraft’s arrival at Mars, the instrument will study the planet’s fragile upper atmosphere, examining its composition and determining how quickly some of the gases are escaping into space over time. This information will help scientists understand what the Martian atmosphere looked like billions of years ago and how most of it has been lost since then.

On the surface of Mars was NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which carries the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. SAM has been analyzing multiple samples of the atmosphere and soils and rocks to help scientists understand how habitable Mars was in the past.

“With these studies, mass spectrometry is helping us piece together the histories of the moon and Mars and offers a vision of their futures,” said Mahaffy. “It’s a perfect example of how invaluable these instruments are for space science.”

MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. Goddard manages the MAVEN mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., built the Curiosity rover and manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project. NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California manages the LADEE mission.

By Elizabeth Zubritsky, NASA

(www.nasa.gov)

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NASA Aircraft Collects Data On Earth’s Ecosystems
Dec. 5, 2013

NASA's ER-2 No. 809

NASA’s ER-2 No. 809 banks over California’s Sierra Nevada capped by a mantle of snow near the Owens Valley following a winter storm in February 2008.
Image Credit: Carla Thomas

NASA’s ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft wrapped up the fall 2013 series of flights during the first week in December for the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager, or HyspIRI, airborne campaign.

The Airborne Visible / Infrared Imaging Spectrometer, or AVIRIS, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the MODIS / ASTER Airborne Simulator, or MASTER, developed jointly by JPL, NASA Ames Research Center and the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, are mounted in the ER-2 to collect early datasets for the future HyspIRI satellite mission. When launched into low Earth orbit, the satellite mission will study the world’s ecosystems and provide critical information on natural disasters.

AVIRIS and MASTER are collecting data under cloud-free daylight conditions during the spring, summer and fall of 2013 and 2014 over six diverse areas of California from San Francisco to near the Mexican border.

JPL scientist Robert Green is leading the effort to use imaging spectroscopy to capture a unique set of reflected wavelengths to learn about Earth’s ecosystems, how they function and vary from season to season.

The aircraft flew the missions from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.

Beth Hagenauer, Public Affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

(Source: http://www.nasa.gov)

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NASA’s Dawn Fills out its Ceres Dance Card
Dec. 3, 2013

It’s going to be a ball when NASA’s Dawn spacecraft finally arrives at the dwarf planet Ceres, and mission managers have now inked in the schedule on Dawn’s dance card.

Dawn has been cruising toward Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, since September 2012. That’s when it departed from its first dance partner, Vesta.

Ceres presents an icy — possibly watery — counterpoint to the dry Vesta, where Dawn spent almost 14 months. Vesta and Ceres are two of the largest surviving protoplanets — bodies that almost became planets — and will give scientists clues about the planet-forming conditions at the dawn of our solar system.

When Dawn enters orbit around Ceres, it will be the first spacecraft to see a dwarf planet up-close and the first spacecraft to orbit two solar system destinations beyond Earth.

“Our flight plan around Ceres will be choreographed to be very similar to the strategy that we successfully used around Vesta,” said Bob Mase, Dawn’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “This approach will build on that and enable scientists to make direct comparisons between these two giants of the asteroid belt.”

As a prelude, the team will begin approach operations in late January 2015. The next month, Ceres will be big enough in Dawn’s view to be imaged and used for navigation purposes. Dawn will arrive at Ceres — or, more accurately, it will be captured by Ceres’ gravity — in late March or the beginning of April 2015.

Dawn will make its first full characterization of Ceres later in April, at an altitude of about 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) above the icy surface. Then, it will spiral down to an altitude of about 2,750 miles (4,430 kilometers), and obtain more science data in its survey science orbit. This phase will last for 22 days, and is designed to obtain a global view of Ceres with Dawn’s framing camera, and global maps with the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR).

Dawn will then continue to spiral its way down to an altitude of about 920 miles (1,480 kilometers), and in August 2015 will begin a two-month phase known as the high-altitude mapping orbit. During this phase, the spacecraft will continue to acquire near-global maps with the VIR and framing camera at higher resolution than in the survey phase. The spacecraft will also image in “stereo” to resolve the surface in 3-D.

Then, after spiraling down for two months, Dawn will begin its closest orbit around Ceres in late November, at a distance of about 233 miles (375 kilometers). The dance at low-altitude mapping orbit will be a long waltz — three months — and is specifically designed to acquire data with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) and gravity investigation. GRaND will reveal the signatures of the elements on and near the surface. The gravity experiment will measure the tug of the dwarf planet, as monitored by changes in the high-precision radio link to NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth.

At this low-altitude mapping orbit, Dawn will begin using a method of pointing control that engineers have dubbed “hybrid” mode because it utilizes a combination of reaction wheels and thrusters to point the spacecraft. Up until this final mission phase, Dawn will have used just the small thruster jets, which use a fuel called hydrazine, to control its orientation and pointing. While it is possible to explore Ceres completely using only these jets, mission managers want to conserve precious fuel. At this lowest orbit, using two of the reaction wheels to help with pointing will provide the biggest hydrazine savings. So Dawn will be spinning up two of the gyroscope-like devices to aid the thrusters.

In 2011, the Dawn team prepared the capability to operate in a hybrid mode, but it wasn’t needed during the Vesta mission. It was only when a second (of four) reaction wheels developed excessive friction while Dawn was leaving Vesta in 2012 that mission managers decided to use the hybrid mode at Ceres. To prove the technique works, Dawn engineers completed a 27-hour in-flight test of the hybrid mode, ending on Nov. 13. It operated just as expected.

“The successful test of this new way to control our orientation gives us great confidence that we’ll have a steady hand at Ceres, which will enable us to get really close to a world that we only know now as a fuzzy dot amidst the stars,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, based at JPL.

Of course, mission planners have built some extra days into the schedule to account for the small uncertainty in the efficiency of the solar arrays at such a large distance from the sun, where sunlight will be very faint. The solar arrays provide power to the ion propulsion system, in addition to operating power for the spacecraft and instruments. Mission planners also account for potential variations in the gravity field of Ceres, which will not be known precisely until Dawn measures them.

“We are expecting changes when we get to Ceres and, fortunately, we built a very capable spacecraft and developed flexible plans to accommodate the unknowns,” said Rayman. “There’s great excitement in the unexpected — that’s part of the thrill of exploration.”

Starting on Dec. 27, Dawn will be closer to Ceres than it will be to Vesta.

“This transition makes us eager to see what secrets Ceres will reveal to us when we get up close to this ancient, giant, icy body,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, based at UCLA. “While Ceres is a lot bigger than the candidate asteroids that NASA is working on sending humans to, many of these smaller bodies are produced by collisions with larger asteroids such as Ceres and Vesta. It is of much interest to determine the nature of small asteroids produced in collisions with Ceres. These might be quite different from the small rocky asteroids associated with Vesta collisions.”

Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

To learn more about hybrid mode at Ceres, read Rayman’s Dawn Journal.

For more information about Dawn, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/dawn and http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov .

Jia-Rui Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

2013-347

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Laser communication mission targets 2017 launch
December 3, 2013

This is an artist rendering of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration hosted aboard a Space Systems Loral commercial communications satellite.  Credit: Space Systems/Loral

This is an artist rendering of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration hosted aboard a Space Systems Loral commercial communications satellite.
Credit: Space Systems/Loral

NASA’s next laser communication mission recently passed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), another major milestone towards the launch of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) scheduled for 2017.

The PDR is a major agency evaluation milestone of the engineering plan to execute the build and launch of LCRD onboard a Space Systems Loral commercial satellite. “The board concluded that the LCRD review was a resounding success,” said Tupper Hyde, chairperson of the PDR. “They met all review success criteria and the LCRD team is ready to proceed with mission plans to conduct this ground-breaking demonstration.”

The LCRD project is NASA’s first long duration optical communications mission. This demonstration will build from NASA’s highly successful Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) mission. LCRD will conduct a two-year demonstration of optical relay services to determine how well the system operates and collect long-term performance data. The Goddard team leads the project with significant support from MIT Lincoln Laboratory, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Space Systems/Loral (SSL).
Continue Learning: http://phys.org/news/2013-12-laser-mission.html
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Spacesuit of the future could power gadgetry with body heat
by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore December 3, 2013 10:33 AM PST

Researchers at Kansas State are investigating how the difference in temperature between body heat and a spacesuit’s cooling garment could run the suit’s electronics.

Kansas State engineering students work with a model spacesuit to explore the potential integration of wearable medical sensors. Credit: Kansas State University

Kansas State engineering students work with a model spacesuit to explore the potential integration of wearable medical sensors.
Credit: Kansas State University

Wondering what’s next in wearable electronics? Fitness trackers like the Fitbit Force and the Nike+ FuelBand SE may be fine for the earthbound, but for the astronauts among us, NASA’s working on a different kind of fashionable circuitry.

At Kansas State University, researchers are just over two years into a three-year, $750,000 NASA grant to turn current spacesuits into even better readers of astronauts’ vital signs — and on top of that, make use of the inner workings of the suits themselves to power radios and other embedded electronics.

“Right now the spacesuits pretty much only measure heart rate,” said William Kuhn, professor of electrical and computer engineering and part of the spacesuit team, which includes engineering professors and a dozen-plus students. “In this project we’re focused on EMGs [electromyography] that can monitor muscle activity. The biggest problem that the astronauts have when they’re doing their work is they get very fatigued because of the pressure in the suits, so we’re focusing on being able to predict when they’re going to be fatigued so we can help them reorder their tasks in space.”

Continue Learning: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57613825-76/spacesuit-of-the-future-could-power-gadgetry-with-body-heat/

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NASA Commercial Crew Partner Blue Origin Test-Fires New Rocket Engine
Dec. 3, 2013

Trent J. Perrotto
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1100
trent.j.perrotto@nasa.gov

Stephanie Covey
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
321-867-2468
stephanie.a.covey@nasa.gov

Gwen Griffin/Brooke Crawford
Griffin Communications Group
281-335-0200
gwen@griffincg.com / brooke@griffincg.com

RELEASE 13-353
Blue Origin’s BE-3 rocket engine ramps up to full power operations of 110,000 lbf thrust.  Photo credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s BE-3 rocket engine ramps up to full power operations of 110,000 lbf thrust.
Photo credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin test fires a powerful new hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled American rocket engine at the company’s West Texas facility in Van Horn. During the test, the BE-3 engine fired at full power for more than two minutes to simulate a launch, then paused for about four minutes, mimicking a coast through space before it re-ignited for a brief final burn. The last phase of the test covered the work the engine could perform in landing the booster back softly on Earth. Blue Origin, a partner of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is developing its Orbital Launch Vehicle, which could eventually be used to launch the company’s Space Vehicle into orbit to transport crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit. (Photo Credit: Blue Origin)

NASA commercial crew partner Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., announced it has tested a new, hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled engine designed to lift the company’s crewed Space Vehicle on future missions out of Earth’s atmosphere. Blue Origin is one of the American companies developing next generation rockets and spacecraft capable of carrying humans to low-Earth orbit.

Blue Origin conducted the test of its BE-3 rocket engine on a stand at the company’s West Texas facility near Van Horn on Nov. 20. The engine fired for 2 1/2 minutes, then paused for several minutes before re-igniting for a minute in a pattern that simulated a suborbital mission.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has been working with the company on several aspects of the engine’s development. The program supported testing of the BE-3 under the agency’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) initiative and continues to offer technical support. NASA and Blue Origin also are partnered in review and tests of the company’s Space Vehicle design.

“Blue Origin has made steady progress since the start of our partnership under the first Commercial Crew Development round,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of Commercial Spaceflight Development. “We’re thrilled to see another successful BE-3 engine test fire.”

During the test, the engine demonstrated a full mission duty cycle, mimicking the flight of the company’s suborbital New Shepard vehicle by thrusting at 110,000 pounds in a 145-second boost phase, shutting down to simulate coast through apogee. The engine then restarted and throttled down to 25,000 pounds thrust to simulate controlled vertical landing.

Blue Origin’s Orbital Launch Vehicle will use the BE-3 engine to propel the company’s Space Vehicle into orbit. Unlike other boosters that burn once and then fall away to never be used again, the Reusable Booster System is designed to send a crew into space and then make a soft landing on Earth before being refurbished for another mission. The Space Vehicle is envisioned to carry people into orbit and could potentially carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

“Working with NASA accelerated our BE-3 development by over a year in preparation for flight testing on our New Shepard suborbital system and ultimately on vehicles carrying humans to low-Earth orbit,” said Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin. “The BE-3 is a versatile, low-cost hydrogen engine applicable to NASA and commercial missions.”

The engine firing comes about a year after the BE-3’s thrust chamber was tested at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Developing a new rocket engine is one of the most difficult aspects of launch vehicle design because of the dynamics involved with creating a powerful machine that can safely operate in a range of -423 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of liquid hydrogen, to more than 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the engine during a firing. The BE-3 is the first new liquid-hydrogen rocket engine built for production since the RS-68, which was developed more than a decade ago for the Delta IV rocket family.

All of NASA’s industry partners, including Blue Origin, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

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NASA Issues Human Exploration Rover Challenge To Students
November 30, 2013

mars-rover-thinkstock-176039988-617x416

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

Susan Bowen for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Students, some of whom will have only recently earned their driver’s licenses, will soon have the opportunity to test drive vehicles for use on other planets, asteroids, moons and comets.

NASA has issued a new engineering design challenge for teams of high school and college students: to design, build and test vehicles on the simulated surface of another world.

Registration for the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge will be open until early in 2014 and will provide students with an authentic engineering challenge.

“We designed this engineering challenge to align with NASA’s commitment of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s,” said Rocky Lind, who manages education and outreach efforts in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The student teams will be timed, ranked and scored based on design, safety and how well they traverse the set course. The results of the competition will contribute to the design process for NASA’s future exploration goals.”

Continue Learning: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113016275/stem-nasa-human-exploration-rover-challenge-113013/

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NASA Enhances ‘Space Station Live’ and Launches New Weekly Web Series
Nov. 29, 2013

Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1100
jbuck@nasa.gov

Josh Byerly
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111
josh.byerly@nasa.gov

RELEASE 13-351
NASA Enhances ‘Space Station Live’ and Launches New Weekly Web Series

Starting in December, NASA will show the public the International Space Station in new ways that will highlight all the scientific research, cutting-edge technology testing and even the wonder of living and working in space.

NASA is enhancing its daily NASA Television “Space Station Live” program and beginning a new weekly web series called “Space to Ground.”

“Space Station Live” will continue to air weekdays at 11 a.m. EST and now will be in a 30-minute format beginning Dec 2. It will feature live views from the International Space Station, updates on the crew’s daily activities, enhanced content and interviews on space station science and features on how that science benefits life on Earth.

The “Space to Ground” web series will be available every Friday beginning Dec. 6. This series will be a short wrap-up of the week’s activities aboard the space station that will showcase the diversity of activities taking place aboard the world’s only orbiting laboratory. This video also will be posted to the agency’s social media accounts and can be shared and downloaded by the public.

The International Space Station remains the springboard to our next great leap in exploration. The space station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that is helping us learn what it means to be a spacefaring people by demonstrating new technologies and making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth.

To view “Space to Ground” beginning Dec. 6, visit:

http://go.nasa.gov/spacetoground

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

For media b-roll and resources on the International Space Station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/stationnews

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

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NASA Taps Student Teams to Simulate Human Exploration of Other Worlds

Nov. 29, 2013

Ann Marie Trotta/Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1601/202-358-1100
ann.marie.trotta@nasa.gov / jbuck@nasa.gov

Angela D. Storey
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
256-544-0031
angela.d.storey@nasa.gov

RELEASE 13-354
NASA Taps Student Teams to Simulate Human Exploration of Other Worlds

NASA is debuting a new engineering design challenge to engage students worldwide in the next phase of human space exploration. The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge is a more complex follow-on to the successful NASA Great Moonbuggy Race.

The competition is open to high school and college students and challenges them to create a vehicle designed to traverse the simulated surface of another world. Registration closes Jan. 10 for international teams and Feb. 7 for U.S. teams.

During its 20-year run, the Great Moonbuggy Race engaged more than 10,000 students and demonstrated these budding scientists and engineers were capable of even more complex undertakings. The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge will provide that complexity through an authentic engineering experience. The student teams will design, build and test technologies that enable vehicles to perform in a wide variety of environments. Their results and findings will inform the design process for NASA’s next generation space systems.

“We designed this engineering challenge to align with NASA’s commitment of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s,” said Rocky Lind, who manages education and outreach efforts in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The student teams will be timed, ranked and scored based on design, safety and how well they traverse the set course. The results of the competition will contribute to the design process for NASA’s future exploration goals.”

With the agency taking a stepping-stone approach to building capabilities necessary for sending astronauts to Mars, this student design challenge represents a logical next step. It also continues NASA’s effort to use the appeal and intrigue of its space missions and programs as catalysts for engaging students in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Students will create their own vehicles to power around a rugged course at the final competition.” said Tammy Rowan manager of the academic affairs office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The obstacles around the course will mimic some of the real terrain challenges of solar system exploration, so students must design robust and durable rovers with the traction to scale obstacles and meet other challenges.”

The culminating event of the NASA rover competition is scheduled for April 10-12 at the U.S. Space and Rocket in Huntsville, which is home to U.S. Space Camp and serves as the official visitor center for Marshall. Corporate sponsors will award prizes for winning components of the challenge.

The planned course for the competition will require teams to traverse a terrain that includes a simulated field of asteroid debris – boulders from 5-15 inches across; an ancient stream bed with pebbles about 6 inches deep; and erosion ruts and crevasses in varying widths and depths. A full description of the obstacles and qualifications for vehicle designs can be found at the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge website listed below.

The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge looks to the next generation of scientists and engineers to aid in the design process by providing innovative designs and unique perspectives. It also continues the agency’s legacy of providing valuable experience to students who may someday be responsible for future mission planning and crewed space missions to other worlds.

For more information about the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/roverchallenge

For more information about NASA’s education programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/education

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NASA’s Ailing Kepler Spacecraft Could Hunt Alien Planets Once More with New Mission
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer | November 27, 2013 06:00am ET

NASA’s hobbled Kepler space telescope may be able to detect alien planets again, thanks to some creative troubleshooting.

Kepler’s original planet hunt ended this past May when the second of its four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed, robbing the spacecraft of its ultraprecise pointing ability. But mission team members may have found a way to restore much of this lost capacity, suggesting that a proposed new mission called K2 could be doable for Kepler.

Engineers with the Kepler mission and Ball Aerospace, which built the telescope, have oriented the spacecraft such that it’s nearly parallel to its path around the sun. In this position, the pressure exerted by sunlight is spread evenly across Kepler’s surfaces, minimizing drift.

Continue Learning: http://www.space.com/23760-nasa-kepler-spacecraft-k2-planets-mission.html
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Russian Cargo Ship Heading to Space Station
Nov. 25, 2013

A new Russian Progress space freighter loaded with nearly three tons of food, fuel, supplies and holiday gifts for the International Space Station’s Expedition 38 crew launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:53 p.m. EST Monday (2:53 a.m. Tuesday, Kazakh time).  During its four-day journey to the orbiting complex, the ISS Progress 53 cargo ship will conduct a “flyby” of the station to test an enhanced docking system for future Russian spacecraft.

At the time of launch, the station was flying about 260 miles over southern Russia, near the northeast border with Kazakhstan.

Progress 53, which along with its Soyuz booster was rolled out to Baikonur’s Site 31 launch pad on Saturday,  is delivering  1,763 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 925 pounds of water and 3,119 pounds of spare parts and experiment hardware to the station.

Once the Progress reached its preliminary orbit nine minutes after launch and deployed its solar arrays, it was set to begin a series of automated engine burns to put it on track to fly within one mile of the station on Wednesday. That close encounter “flyby” Wednesday at 4:53 p.m. will test lighter, more-efficient Kurs automated rendezvous system hardware for upgraded Soyuz and Progress vehicles.  After it finishes its “flyby”, the Progress will loop above and behind the station, returning Friday for a docking to the aft port of the Zvezda service module at 5:28 p.m.

Meanwhile the Expedition 38 crew aboard the station continued their support of station science and maintenance Monday.

Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio spent most of his morning preparing hardware and test samples inside BioLab, a research facility located in the Columbus laboratory. BioLab is used to perform space biology experiments on microorganisms, cells, tissue cultures, plants and small invertebrates.  Results from experiments performed inside this facility could benefit biomedical research in such areas as immunology, pharmacology, bone demineralization and biotechnology.

Inside the station’s 7-windowed cupola, Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata set up the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s ultra-high definition camera system to capture detailed imagery and video of Comet ISON as it orbits around the sun.

Afterward, Wakata participated in the periodic Body Measures experiment, which collects anthropometric data to help researchers understand the magnitude and variability of the changes to body measurements during spaceflight. Predicting these changes will maximize crew performance, prevent injury and reduce time spent altering or adjusting suits and workstations to accommodate anthropometrics. Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins assisted Wakata throughout the experiment session, setting up the calibration tape, collecting data and taking photographs.

Hopkins rounded out his day installing wire harnesses in the Harmony node to support the installation of Ethernet video cables for the station’s local area network.  These new cables will provide Ethernet connectivity to the visiting vehicles that dock to  Harmony’s Earth-facing port.  The first required use of this capability will take place when the SpaceX-3 commercial cargo ship arrives in February 2014.

On the Russian side of the complex, Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy conducted the Bar experiment, studying methods and instruments for detecting the location of an air leak from one of the station’s modules.

In advance of the arrival of Progress 53, Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin conducted a test of the MPEG2 video stream over the Ku-band system. Tyurin  also performed the Uragan Earth-observation experiment, which seeks to document and predict the development of natural and man-made disasters on Earth.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov/content/russian-cargo-ship-heading-to-space-station/#.UpVRecSKK-3

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NASA Launches Technology Transfer ‘Super Tool’

Nov. 25, 2013

Sarah Ramsey
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1694
sarah.ramsey@nasa.gov

RELEASE 13-347

Businesses and individuals interested in using NASA research to develop new technologies and products now have access to an online tool to make the process of licensing easier.

The QuickLaunch licensing tool provides access to a select portfolio of NASA technologies for the purpose of licensing and commercial development.

The tool features pre-approved terms and conditions, including fixed, up-front and royalty pricing, a streamlined process for electronic agreements and significantly reduced response and approval times. It provides access to existing, patented NASA technologies to provide rapid and cost-effective deployment to industry.

“The QuickLaunch Licensing tool will enhance our efforts to transfer more NASA technologies to American industry and U.S. consumers in a timely manner,” said Daniel Lockney, NASA’s technology transfer program executive. “NASA develops hundreds of technologies each year in support of its aeronautics and space exploration missions. This new tool ensures that the American taxpayer will receive a second benefit from its investment in NASA through the creation of new products, new markets and new jobs.”

More than 30 technologies currently are available for license using the QuickLaunch website. The number will increase during the coming year. Technologies range from a plant chlorophyll content meter, which detects plant stress by determining the chlorophyll content of plants, to a propulsion-controlled aircraft computer that provides a low-cost method of implementing this aircraft technology for a wide range of aircraft.

QuickLaunch users can search by NASA center or by technology category, ask questions of NASA licensing managers, and file a licensing application online.

For more information about NASA’s QuickLaunch Licensing website, please visit:

https://quicklaunch.ndc.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA’s Technology Transfer Portal website, visit:

http://technology.nasa.gov

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2014 NASA Rover Challenge

2014 NASA Rover Challenge

2014 NASA Rover Challenge

NASA is introducing a new engineering design challenge that will focus on NASA’s current plans to explore planets, moons, asteroids and comets — all members of the solar system family. The new NASA Rover Challenge (formerly NASA Great Moonbuggy Race) will be held April 10-12, 2014, at the U. S. Space & Rocket Center. The challenge will focus on designing, constructing and testing technologies for mobility devices to perform in these different environments, and it will provide valuable experiences that engage students in the technologies and concepts that will be needed in future exploration missions. Registration is OPEN! 

Visit the registration section of this site for details.

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NASA Halts Work on its New Nuclear Generator for Deep Space Exploration
by DAVID DICKINSON on NOVEMBER 21, 2013

In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spacecraft technicians from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory park the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spacecraft technicians from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory park the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission
Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Another blow was dealt to deep space exploration this past weekend. The announcement comes from Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director. The statement outlines some key changes in NASA’s radioisotope program, and will have implications for the future exploration of the outer solar system.

We’ve written about the impending plutonium shortage and what it means for the future of spaceflight, as well as the recent restart of plutonium production. NASA is the only space agency that has conducted missions to the outer planets — even the European Space Agency’s Huygens lander had to hitch a ride with Cassini to get to Titan — and plutonium made this exploration possible.

Probably the most troubling aspect of the announcement is the discontinuation of procurement by NASA of flight hardware for what was to be NASA’s next generation nuclear power-source for exploration, the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator, or ASRG. This was to replace the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Generator, or MMRTG that has been in use on spacecraft for decades.

The announcement states:
“With an adequate supply of Pu-238… NASA has decided to discontinue procurement of ASRG flight hardware. We have given direction to the Department of Energy… to end work on the flight units. The hardware procured under this activity will be transferred to the Glenn Research Center to continue development and testing of the Stirling technology.”

Continue Learning: http://www.universetoday.com/106604/nasa-halts-work-on-its-new-nuclear-generator-for-deep-space-exploration/
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China’s 1st Moon Lander May Cause Trouble for NASA Lunar Dust Mission
by Leonard David, SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist | November 21, 2013 06:45am ET

The Chang’e 3 lunar lander and moon rover Credit: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering

The Chang’e 3 lunar lander and moon rover
Credit: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering

China’s mission to robotically land on the moon next month is sure to stir up lunar dust, but it may also cause a political dust up, too.

China is in the final stages of preparing its robotic Chang’e 3 moon lander to launch atop a Long March 3B rocket, slated for liftoff in early December. The ambitious mission is built to first orbit the moon, then propel down to a landing site, after which a small, solar-powered lunar rover will be unleashed.

Already on duty orbiting the moon is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). The probe’s science instrument commissioning is now underway, after which the spacecraft will drop down to the lower lunar science orbit and start the full science phase of the mission. [NASA’s LADEE Moon Mission in Photos]

LADEE Readies for Orbital Maneuvering Thruster Burn  Credit: NASA Ames/Dana BerryView full size image

LADEE Readies for Orbital Maneuvering Thruster Burn
Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry

LADEE is designed to study the moon’s thin exosphere and the lunar dust environment. However, there is concern that China’s ambitious Chang’e 3 mission could impact LADEE’s science goals.

Continue Learning:  http://www.space.com/23675-china-moon-lander-trouble-nasa-ladee.html
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NASA, Planetary Resources Sign Agreement to Crowdsource Asteroid Detection
Nov. 21, 2013
Rachel Kraft/Becky Ramsey
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1100/202-358-1694
Rachel.h.kraft@nasa.gov / sarah.ramsey@nasa.gov

RELEASE 13-350

NASA, Planetary Resources Sign Agreement to Crowdsource Asteroid Detection

NASA and Planetary Resources Inc., of Bellevue, Wash., are partnering to develop crowd-sourced software solutions to enhance detection of near-Earth objects using agency-funded data. The agreement is NASA’s first partnership associated with the agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.

Under a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement, Planetary Resources will facilitate the use of NASA-funded sky survey data and help support the algorithm competition and review results. NASA will develop and manage the contests and explore use of the best solutions for enhancing existing survey programs. The first contest is expected to launch early in 2014 based on Planetary Resources’ and Zooniverse’s Asteroid Zoo platform currently in development. The partnership was announced Thursday at NASA’s Asteroid Initiative Ideas Synthesis Workshop in Houston.

“This partnership uses NASA resources in innovative ways and takes advantage of public expertise to improve identification of potential threats to our planet,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive of NASA’s near Earth object observation program. “This opportunity is one of many efforts we’re undertaking as part of our asteroid initiative.”

Through NASA’s asteroid initiative, the agency is enhancing its ongoing efforts to identify and characterize near-Earth objects for scientific investigation, find asteroids potentially hazardous to Earth and find candidates viable for redirection to a stable orbit near the moon as a destination for exploration by astronauts.

“The foundation of the asteroid grand challenge is partnerships like this one,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for the asteroid grand challenge. “It fits the core purpose of the grand challenge perfectly: find innovative ways to combine ideas and resources to solve the problem of dealing with potentially hazardous asteroids.”

Continue Learning: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2013/november/nasa-planetary-resources-sign-agreement-to-crowdsource-asteroid-detection/#.Uo_55fmKK-0

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NASA Spacecraft Begins Collecting Lunar Atmosphere Data
Nov. 21, 2013

Artist’s concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft  Image Credit: NASA Ames / Dana Berry

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft
Image Credit: NASA Ames / Dana Berry

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is ready to begin collecting science data about the moon.

On Nov. 20, the spacecraft successfully entered its planned orbit around the moon’s equator — a unique position allowing the small probe to make frequent passes from lunar day to lunar night. This will provide a full scope of the changes and processes occurring within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere.

LADEE now orbits the moon about every two hours at an altitude of eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon’s surface. For about 100 days, the spacecraft will gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.

“A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets,” said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Scientists also will be able to study the conditions in the atmosphere during lunar sunrise and sunset, where previous crewed and robotic missions detected a mysterious glow of rays and streamers reaching high into the lunar sky.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for – we are already seeing the shape of things to come,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Continue Learning: http://www.nasa.gov/content/nasa-spacecraft-begins-collecting-lunar-atmosphere-data/#.Uo7JjfmKK-0

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NASA’s Chandra Helps Confirm Evidence of Jet in Milky Way’s Black Hole
Nov. 20, 2013

Composite image of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UCLA/Z. Li et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA

Composite image of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UCLA/Z. Li et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA

Astronomers have long sought strong evidence that Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, is producing a jet of high-energy particles. Finally they have found it, in new results from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope.

Previous studies, using a variety of telescopes, suggested there was a jet, but these reports — including the orientation of the suspected jets — often contradicted each other and were not considered definitive.

“For decades astronomers have looked for a jet associated with the Milky Way’s black hole. Our new observations make the strongest case yet for such a jet,” said Zhiyuan Li of Nanjing University in China, lead author of a study appearing in an upcoming edition of The Astrophysical Journal and available online now.

Jets of high-energy particles are found throughout the universe, on large and small scales. They are produced by young stars and by black holes a thousand times larger than the Milky Way’s black hole. They play important roles in transporting energy away from the central object and, on a galactic scale, in regulating the rate of formation of new stars.

“We were very eager to find a jet from Sgr A* because it tells us the direction of the black hole’s spin axis. This gives us important clues about the growth history of the black hole,” said Mark Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles, a co-author of the study.

The study shows the spin axis of Sgr A* is pointing in one direction, parallel to the rotation axis of the Milky Way, which indicates to astronomers that gas and dust have migrated steadily into Sgr A* over the past 10 billion years. If the Milky Way had collided with large galaxies in the recent past and their central black holes had merged with Sgr A*, the jet could point in any direction.

Continue Learning: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/high-energy-particles-in-milky-way.html#.Uo0-CfmKK-0
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NASA outlines the final steps in plan for next manned spaceships
Alan Boyle, Science Editor NBC News
Posted: Nov. 19, 2013

Future NASA astronauts will rely on commercial transports Image via Nbcnews.com

Future NASA astronauts will rely on commercial transports
Image via Nbcnews.com

As promised, NASA issued the formal invitation on Tuesday for a competition leading to new types of commercial spaceships that could carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Three of the invitees have a multimillion-dollar head start.

NASA expects the final phase of the competition — known as the Commercial Crew Transport Capability program, or CCtCAP — to result in a fleet of commercial spacecraft that are certified to transport crew by 2017. The space agency would prefer to have more than one provider for those transport services, but that might depend on how much funding is available.

The timetable and resources available for commercial spaceships are key sticking points that are left unresolved in Tuesday’s request for proposals. Last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called on Congress to provide the full $821 million requested for the current fiscal year “to keep us on track to begin these launches in 2017.” Congress, however, has proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars less.

Continue Learning: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/nasa-outlines-final-steps-plan-next-manned-spaceships-2D11624551

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Crowdfunded nanosatellites unleashed in orbit
Alan Boyle, Science Editor NBC News
Posted: Nov. 19, 2013

A picture taken from the International Space Station shows a Japanese-built launcher sending three nanosatellites - ArduSat 1, ArduSat X and PicoDragon - into Earth orbit. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata conducted the remote-controlled release. "Pretty exciting to see live," NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins (@AstroIllini) wrote in a Twitter update.

A picture taken from the International Space Station shows a Japanese-built launcher sending three nanosatellites – ArduSat 1, ArduSat X and PicoDragon – into Earth orbit. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata conducted the remote-controlled release. “Pretty exciting to see live,” NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins (@AstroIllini) wrote in a Twitter update.

Two tiny satellites supported by Kickstarter campaigns were kicked out into orbit from the International Space Station on Tuesday, beginning what’s expected to be a months-long citizen science mission.

NanoSatisfi’s ArduSat 1 and ArduSat X nanosatellites were deployed by a Japanese-built, spring-loaded launcher attached to the space station. A Vietnamese-built nanosat called PicoDragon was sent out as well. All three satellites were built to CubeSat specifications, 4 inches (10 centimeters) on each side, and delivered to the station in August aboard an unmanned Japanese cargo ship.

The ArduSats were funded in part by a Kickstarter crowdfunding effort that raised more than $100,000. NanoSatisfi’s venture-capital backers kicked in an additional $1 million-plus to get the project off the ground. Each CubeSat costs on the order of $200,000 to build.

Continue Learning: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/crowdfunded-nanosatellites-unleashed-orbit-2D11624550

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New Algorithm Will Help Curiosity Rover Analyze Mars Soil
November 16, 2013

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

While the instruments on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity are able to easily identify the chemical composition of rocks, measure the speed of the wind and snap amazing images from mast-mounted cameras, the process of analyzing soil images can be a somewhat daunting task, according to researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU).

After all, the university points out, many times there are several thousand images to analyze, and the soil particles are typically only five to 10 pixels wide. Now, however, a research team led by Suniti Karunatillake of the LSU Department of Geology and Geophysics has come to the rescue with a new algorithm that should make the task easier.

Karunatillake and colleagues from Rider University, Stony Brook University and the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Arizona joined forces to create an image analysis and segmentation algorithm specifically to help NASA scientists complete this basic, but nonetheless challenging, part of their mission.

Continue Learning: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113005274/mars-curiosity-algorithm-for-soil-images-111613/

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Ames to pitch NASA on value of ‘new’ Kepler mission
By Stephen Clark
ASTRONOMY NOW
Posted: 16 November 2013

Artist's concept of the Kepler spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Ames

Artist’s concept of the Kepler spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Ames

Managers in charge of the Kepler telescope have identified a way of salvaging the crippled observatory for a modified, less-sensitive cosmic survey for alien worlds, but NASA may not have the money to pay for the mission.

Since Kepler was knocked offline in May, officials at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California have considered and analyzed new missions for the telescope.

And they think they have found a concept that is both feasible and scientifically intriguing.

The new mission scenario, dubbed “K2,” calls for pointing Kepler across a swath of sky known as the ecliptic plane, or the plane where all the solar system’s planets orbit the sun.

If approved by NASA Headquarters, the renewed Kepler campaign would be a shift from looking at stars like the sun to observing smaller, cooler stars that may harbor rocky planets close in, meaning they would be easier to detect.

“This is science that Kepler can do, and the K2 mission can do this uniquely, so this is really a selling point,” said Steve Howell, Kepler’s project scientist, during a Nov. 4 presentation at the second Kepler Science Conference held at Ames.

Plagued by reaction wheels and unable to adequately control its roll motion, Kepler is no longer capable of holding its gaze toward a field of more than 150,000 stars in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Kepler’s optical detectors kept up a near-contant stare at the star field, which was selected because it was representative of the rest of the Milky Way, allowing scientists to extend their findings predict what may lie elsewhere in the sky.

Continue Learning: http://www.astronomynow.com/news/n1311/16kepler/#.UojvPvmKK-0
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NASA Looks To Small Businesses For Big Space Programs
November 15, 2013

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

NASA is seeking proposals for the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs to enable future space exploration while helping to seed viable commercial products and services here in the US.

Small businesses and nonprofit research institutions that participate in the SBIR and STTR Programs are provided with opportunities to address specific technology gaps in NASA missions. The programs stimulate opportunities for the commercialization of new technologies developed through federal research and development. Many NASA efforts have been aided through the program results, such as modern air traffic control systems, Earth and sun observing spacecraft, the International Space Station (ISS), planetary and astrophysics science missions and the technologies needed for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

Continue Learning: http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113004473/small-business-key-for-nasa-space-program-111513/

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X-ray Space Telescope of the Future Could Launch in 2028
by Elizabeth Howell, SPACE.com Contributor | November 01, 2013 05:16pm ET

Athena+ X-ray Space Telescope

Image via Space.com

There’s a big expiration date looming ahead in astrophysicist Kirpal Nandra’s mind. The current X-ray space telescopes in orbit will likely be at or near the end of their lifetimes by about 2020, so plans are underway to develop a successor to keep watch on deep space.

Continue Reading:  http://www.space.com/23440-athena-xray-space-telescope-2028.html

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