Posts Tagged California Institute of Technology
JPL’s Torture Chamber for Spacecraft
The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity being tested under Martian conditions in JPL’s space simulator on March 8, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This is a place where engineers inflict all sorts of cruelty. It’s also a National Historic Landmark that is now 50 years old. What is it? The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Space Simulator. While the name sounds like it could be a video game or virtual reality trainer, it actually is the place where spacecraft go to see if they’ve the right stuff to survive the harsh environment in space.
Known as the “25-Foot Space Simulator,” it capable of producing true interplanetary conditions such as extreme cold, high vacuum, and intense solar radiation that is big enough for most spacecraft to fit inside.
Exterior View of Twenty-Five-Foot Space Simulator, in 1983. Credit: NASA/JPL.
Just like the feared simulations that astronauts go through during training for a spaceflight, where Sim-Sups (Simulation Supervisors) conjure up all sorts of scenarios where everything that can go wrong does, the Space Simulator allows engineers to test the complete spacecraft in its flight configuration for most any type of conditions, searching for any problems imaginable.
Over the years spacecraft tested in this facility include the Ranger, Surveyor, Mariner, and Voyager spacecraft and recently, the Curiosity rover took its turn inside this torture chamber.
Doug Smith from Caltech’s Engineering & Science magazine calls it the Ultimate Evil Tanning Bed — expressly designed to deliver a fatal sunburn to anything placed inside.
The Space Simulator chamber is a stainless-steel cylindrical vessel 8.23 meters (27 feet) in diameter and 26 meters (85 feet) high. The walls and floor are lined with thermally opaque aluminum cryogenic shrouds that can deliver a temperature range of -195° to 93° C ( -320° to +200°F) by liquid or gaseous nitrogen. The solar simulation system consists of an array of 37 xenon 20- to 30-kilowatt compact arc lamps that can produce a variety of beam sizes and intensities. If your spacecraft is going to be seared by the Sun at Mercury or be subject to the freezing temperatures in the Kuiper Belt, this facility can test if every bolt, wire, switch, solder point and component can survive.
Once a spacecraft is put inside the chamber, it takes about 75 minutes to get the conditions to the desired levels, and depending on how quickly the engineers want to see how their spacecraft fared, test conditions can be terminated and access provided to the test item in about 2-1/2 hours.
There’s even a setting for geosynchronous orbit simulation that can test declination angle change and much more, all in a vacuum environment.
The facility’s construction started in 1961 and was completed in 1962 at a cost of $4 million.
The first spacecraft to submit to the torture chamber’s extremes was the Mariner 1 spacecraft that was headed to Venus. It passed the torture chamber’s test, but unfortunately the spacecraft had to be destroyed by a Range Safety officer within minutes after it veered off-course during launch on July 22, 1962 due to a defective signal from the Atlas launch vehicle and a bug in the program equations of the ground-based guiding computer. (The Space Simulator just can’t test for problems like that, regrettably.)
But, JPL had already built an identical spacecraft and Mariner 2 launched a month later on August 27, 1962, sending it on a 3½-month flight to Venus.
In the 50 years the Space Simulator has been in operation, every spacecraft built at JPL has been subject to the torture chamber before heading out to the real torture of the harsh space environment.
“It’s a rare thing when a spacecraft goes into the simulator and the engineers don’t learn something important and modify the design to work better,” saids Andrew Rose, the technical manager for JPL’s Environmental Test Laboratory group.
The Curiosity rover inside the Space Simulator. Credit: NASA/JPL
Over the years, the simulator has been upgraded to provide all sorts of environments, and earlier this year, the Curiosity rover took its turn inside, being sealed in a near-vacuum environment, with temperature cooled to – 130° C (-202 ° F) with the giant light panels simulating the sparse Mars’ sunshine and the various radiation intensities found on Mars.
Even more evils await future spacecraft that will be tested in JPL’s Space Simulator.
- JPL’s Torture Chamber for Spacecraft (universetoday.com)
- Whatever Happened To . . . (features.caltech.edu)
- Mars rover Curiosity leaves tracks large enough to be seen from space (itv.com)
- An Inside Look at the Mars Curiosity Rover (science.time.com)
- Visible from space: Curiosity tire tracks on Mars. (greatriversofhope.wordpress.com)
- Latest Curiosity images of Mars (cbsnews.com)
- Curiosity Rover Takes Self Portrait (physicsforme.wordpress.com)
- NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity begins activities to test it’s Robotic Arm and other Instruments (clarksvilleonline.com)
- Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity headed for Mars landing. Are you ready? (boingboing.net)
- NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Begins Arm-Work Phase (spacefellowship.com)
NASA will send robot drill to Mars in 2016
By Brian Vastag, Monday, August 20, 1:17 PM
In the wake of successfully dropping the SUV-size Curiosity rover on Mars this month, NASA will send another robot to the Red Planet in 2016 to drill into the planet’s crust and, for the first time, piece together a picture of the Martian interior.
The $425 million robotic lander, named InSight, will be built and operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, the highflying hotbed of now-famous engineers and scientists who designed and assembled the $2.5 billion Curiosity rover and its heart-stopping “sky crane,” which lowered the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface.
On Monday morning, NASA officials informed JPL staff that InSight had won funding over two other proposed missions.
“This is another big day for us out at JPL,” said Gregg Vane, the lab’s head of planning for solar system exploration.
Whereas Curiosity can roam the surface on six wheels, InSight will be planted in one spot after dropping onto the Martian surface — minus the sky crane — in September 2016.
A German-built drill nicknamed “The Mole” will pound 16 feet into the Martian crust to take the temperature of the planet, while a sensitive French-built seismometer will detect any Marsquakes. Together, the instruments will provide vital clues to how Mars formed.
“We’ll be able to deduce the deep structure of Mars, which now is a total mystery,” Vane said. “That means all the way down to the core.”
To date, scientists have determined the deep structure of only one planet — Earth. They know the interior of Mars must be different, because Mars has no magnetic field to shield its surface from radiation. Earth, by contrast, has a strong magnetic field generated by a spinning molten iron core.
Except for the drill and seismometer, which are new, InSight will be a near-copy of the Phoenix lander NASA dropped onto Mars in 2008, which found water ice near the Martian north pole.
In choosing InSight, NASA rejected two riskier missions: a robotic boat that would have floated on a methane lake on Saturn’s moon Titan, and a mission to examine a comet.
Meanwhile, Curiosity has begun shooting its laser “ChemCam” on Mars, blasting a rock Sunday in a successful test of the instrument, which can determine the composition of surface minerals by examining flashes of vaporized gas.
- This is Where NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity is Headed [PICS] (mashable.com)
- NASA So Cool, It Has Own LMFAO Spoof (newser.com)
- Say Cheese! Mars Rover Curiosity Snaps 1st Hi-Res Self-Portrait (space.com)
- NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity getting “brain transplant” (gizmag.com)
- Say Cheese! Mars Rover Curiosity Snaps 1st Hi-Res Self-Portrait (livescience.com)
- NASA Gets Party Rocked And Tweets Britney Spears (mix965houston.cbslocal.com)
- Mars rover Curiosity set to zap rock, analyze chemicals (fox6now.com)
- NASA Gets Party Rocked And Tweets Britney Spears (kiss951.cbslocal.com)
- NASA rover Curiosity shoots a Mars rock with laser (sacbee.com)
- Sending a software update through space to the Curiosity Rover on Mars (venturebeat.com)
Data From NASA’s Voyager 1 Point to Interstellar Future
· This artist’s concept shows NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
June 14, 2012
Data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft indicate that the venerable deep-space explorer has encountered a region in space where the intensity of charged particles from beyond our solar system has markedly increased. Voyager scientists looking at this rapid rise draw closer to an inevitable but historic conclusion – that humanity’s first emissary to interstellar space is on the edge of our solar system.
“The laws of physics say that someday Voyager will become the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, but we still do not know exactly when that someday will be,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly. It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system’s frontier.”
The data making the 16-hour-38 minute, 11.1-billion-mile (17.8-billion-kilometer), journey from Voyager 1 to antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth detail the number of charged particles measured by the two High Energy telescopes aboard the 34-year-old spacecraft. These energetic particles were generated when stars in our cosmic neighborhood went supernova.
“From January 2009 to January 2012, there had been a gradual increase of about 25 percent in the amount of galactic cosmic rays Voyager was encountering,” said Stone. “More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five percent in a week and nine percent in a month.”
This marked increase is one of a triad of data sets which need to make significant swings of the needle to indicate a new era in space exploration. The second important measure from the spacecraft’s two telescopes is the intensity of energetic particles generated inside the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. While there has been a slow decline in the measurements of these energetic particles, they have not dropped off precipitously, which could be expected when Voyager breaks through the solar boundary.
The final data set that Voyager scientists believe will reveal a major change is the measurement in the direction of the magnetic field lines surrounding the spacecraft. While Voyager is still within the heliosphere, these field lines run east-west. When it passes into interstellar space, the team expects Voyager will find that the magnetic field lines orient in a more north-south direction. Such analysis will take weeks, and the Voyager team is currently crunching the numbers of its latest data set.
“When the Voyagers launched in 1977, the space age was all of 20 years old,” said Stone. “Many of us on the team dreamed of reaching interstellar space, but we really had no way of knowing how long a journey it would be — or if these two vehicles that we invested so much time and energy in would operate long enough to reach it.”
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are in good health. Voyager 2 is more than 9.1 billion miles (14.7 billion kilometers) away from the sun. Both are operating as part of the Voyager Interstellar Mission, an extended mission to explore the solar system outside the neighborhood of the outer planets and beyond. NASA’s Voyagers are the two most distant active representatives of humanity and its desire to explore.
The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager .
- New Signs Voyager Is Nearing Interstellar Space (science.slashdot.org)
- Humanity escapes the solar system: Voyager 1 signals that it has reached the edge of interstellar space – 11billion miles away (sott.net)
- Get Ready, Because Voyager I Is *This Close* to Leaving Our Solar System (theatlantic.com)
- Voyager 1 Reaches Edge of Interstellar Space 11-Billion Miles Away from Earth (techeblog.com)
- NASA Maps Volcanic Heat on Jupiter’s Moon Io (clarksvilleonline.com)
- NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) launched Wednesday morning and begins preparing for mission (clarksvilleonline.com)
- The Sirens of Titan [Starts With A Bang] (scienceblogs.com)
- Voyager One Might Have Farther to Go to Exit the Heliosheath (space-travel.com)
- Cassini Sees Tropical Lakes on Saturn Moon (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter goes into Standby Status Safe Mode to evaluate Reaction Wheel problem (clarksvilleonline.com)
Mars rocks could shelter life, new study finds – Technology & science – Space – Space.com – msnbc.com
Mars rocks could shelter life, new study suggests
Examination of data gathered by NASA’s rover Opportunity turns up watery environments
NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU
An examination of the small rocky outcropping Homestake revealed mineral deposited created by the flow of water. The cracks within this rock could potentially host life.
By Nola Taylor Redd
Beneath their rugged exterior, some Martian rocks could be hiding life, scientists suspect. An examination of data gathered by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reveals deposits that, on Earth, are only created by water moving through the rock.
“There are plenty of places on Earth where organisms live in places where water is flowing through fractures in rock,” lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University told Space.com. “That’s definitely a possibility at this location.”
Opportunity also turned up evidence of hot, moving water within the rocks, likely caused by the impact that scooped out the crater, Odyssey.
NASA / JPL-Caltech
The smaller Odyssey crater, perched on the rim of the giant crater, Endeavour, was one of the sites examined by Opportunity.
Slipping through the cracks In August 2011, Opportunity completed a three-year journey to Endeavour, a 14-mile (22 kilometer) crater formed in the early history of the planet. The rover studied various kinds of rocks. [ Photos: The Search for Water on Mars ]
One of the outcroppings, Homestake, boasts evidence ofwatery environments in the cracks within the rocks. A flat ridge only a third of an inch (1 centimeter) tall and 20 inches (50 cm) long, Homestake contains deposits of a sulfate mineral known as gypsum within the rock.
Water, slowly leaking from the ground into the rock, carried sulfate with it. As fractures in the rock opened up, the gypsum was deposited inside.
“Gypsum veins are common in all sorts of settings on Earth,” Squyres said. “They always form when water flows through the rock and precipitates out gypsum in the fractures.”
Life could thrive within the cracks, Squyres said.
“Organisms can live in fractures of rock, as long as there’s water present,” he said.
Squyres went on to caution that there is no evidence of life in Homestake itself, but “the watery conditions that would have been necessary — the requirement of water being there — was present.”
Turning on the tap The international team also examined rocky outcroppings sent flying when a second impact formed the smaller Odyssey crater. Only 62-by-75 feet (19 by 23 meters), the elliptical crater rests on the rim of Endeavour.
Opportunity studied an outcropping known as Tisdale, and found it contained zinc, a chemical element often associated with hydrothermal activity.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / NMMNHS
After a three-year drive, the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reached the Endeavour crater, formed by bombardment early in the life of the solar system.
“If you go to zinc mines on Earth, they’re generally in places where hydrothermal processes have deposited zinc,” Squyres said.
Such places tend to be near volcanic activity, or other processes in the crust that heat the water around it.
On Mars, the movement of hot water was likely jumpstarted by the blow from the rock that formed Odyssey.
“A crater that size involves a lot of energy,” Squyres said.
When the large body gashed the surface of the Red Planet, it likely heated water already contained within the crust or at the surface.
Such water would only been moving temporarily, however, and would be unlikely to create long-term habitats for life.
The impact-driven movement of water is probably unconnected to the gypsum-rich rocks and their habitable environments, Squyres said.
Research on the outcroppings was detailed Thursday in the online version of the journal Science.
- Mars rocks could shelter life, new study finds (msnbc.msn.com)
- Mars Opportunity rover reaches Endeavour crater, finds signs of ancient Martian water (arstechnica.com)
- Mars rock in for closer look (scotsman.com)
- Paydirt at 8-Year-Old Mars Rover’s ‘New Landing Site’ (spacefellowship.com)
- Latest:Evidence of Water Flows Found at Mars (rashidfaridi.wordpress.com)
- VIDEO: ‘I carried Mars rock in hand luggage’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Rolling stones could mean Mars still rocks (newscientist.com)
- Rover reaches Martian crater destination – finally (cbsnews.com)
- The Mars rover stays in the picture (photoblog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Rolling stones could mean Mars still rocks (newscientist.com)