Posts Tagged NASA
Bright Explosion on the Moon
For the past 8 years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface. “Lunar meteor showers” have turned out to be more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year.
They’ve just seen the biggest explosion in the history of the program.
“On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we’ve ever seen before.”
Anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of impact could have seen the explosion–no telescope required. For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a 4th magnitude star.
Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program’s 14-inch telescopes. “It jumped right out at me, it was so bright,” he recalls.
The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide hit the Moon traveling 56,000 mph. The resulting explosion packed as much punch as 5 tons of TNT.
Cooke believes the lunar impact might have been part of a much larger event.
“On the night of March 17, NASA and University of Western Ontario all-sky cameras picked up an unusual number of deep-penetrating meteors right here on Earth,” he says. “These fireballs were traveling along nearly identical orbits between Earth and the asteroid belt.”
This means Earth and the Moon were pelted by meteoroids at about the same time.
“My working hypothesis is that the two events are related, and that this constitutes a short duration cluster of material encountered by the Earth-Moon system,” says Cooke.
One of the goals of the lunar monitoring program is to identify new streams of space debris that pose a potential threat to the Earth-Moon system. The March 17 event seems to be a good candidate.
Controllers of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have been notified of the strike. The crater could be as wide as 20 meters, which would make it an easy target for LRO the next time the spacecraft passes over the impact site. Comparing the size of the crater to the brightness of the flash would give researchers a valuable “ground truth” measurement to validate lunar impact models.
Unlike Earth, which has an atmosphere to protect it, the Moon is airless and exposed. “Lunar meteors” crash into the ground with fair frequency. Since the monitoring program began in 2005, NASA’s lunar impact team has detected more than 300 strikes, most orders of magnitude fainter than the March 17th event. Statistically speaking, more than half of all lunar meteors come from known meteoroid streams such as the Perseids and Leonids. The rest are sporadic meteors–random bits of comet and asteroid debris of unknown parentage.
U.S. Space Exploration Policy eventually calls for extended astronaut stays on the lunar surface. Identifying the sources of lunar meteors and measuring their impact rates gives future lunar explorers an idea of what to expect. Is it safe to go on a moonwalk, or not? The middle of March might be a good time to stay inside.
“We’ll be keeping an eye out for signs of a repeat performance next year when the Earth-Moon system passes through the same region of space,” says Cooke. “Meanwhile, our analysis of the March 17 event continues.”
The Moon has no oxygen atmosphere, so how can something explode? Lunar meteors don’t require oxygen or combustion to make themselves visible. They hit the ground with so much kinetic energy that even a pebble can make a crater several feet wide. The flash of light comes not from combustion but rather from the thermal glow of molten rock and hot vapors at the impact site.
- Bright Explosion on the Moon (science.nasa.gov)
- Massive Moon Meteor Explosion Was Visible to Naked Eye (astronaut.com)
- Moon explosion: ‘No telescope required’ (smh.com.au)
- Moon Explosion Sparked By Meteorite Crash On Lunar Surface, NASA Says (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Meteoroid impact triggers flash on moon (news.yahoo.com)
- NASA reports giant moon explosion after meteor slams into surface at 90,000 km/h (news.nationalpost.com)
- Moon asteroid in mare imbrium (tonynetone.wordpress.com)
- Lunar meteor explosion – ITN (itn.co.uk)
- NASA Records Brightest Lunar Explosion Ever [VIDEO] (hngn.com)
- Earth and Moon pelted by meteors – Impact causes bright explosion on the Moon (familysurvivalprotocol.com)
Opportunity Breaks NASA’s 40-Year Roving Record
MAY 16, 2013 09:14 PM ET // BY IAN O’NEILL
After nine years of hard Mars roving, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity has broken a 40-year-old extraterrestrial distance record.
On Thursday, the tenacious six-wheeled robot drove 80 meters (263 feet), nudging the total distance traveled since landing on the red planet in 2004 to 35.760 kilometers (22.220 miles). NASA’s previous distance record was held by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt when, in December 1972, they drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 35.744 kilometers (22.210 miles) over the lunar surface.
“The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity,” Cernan told Jim Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Opportunity team member in a conversation about the possibility of the rover exceeding the 40-year-old record a few days ago.
Opportunity may be NASA’s record-breaking hot-rod, but it has a few hundred meters left to go before it smashes the international extraterrestrial land-distance record.
In 1973, the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 remote-controlled moon rover roved 37 kilometers (23 miles) across the lunar surface and, so far, remains the undisputed champion of distance driving on an extraterrestrial surface.
But Opportunity is nearly there. Until recently, the NASA rover has been investigating the “Cape York” area of Endeavour Crater’s rim at Meridiani Planum. It is currently en route to a new location called “Solander Point,” 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) away, so we can expect the international roving record to be smashed within weeks.
Sadly, Opportunity’s sister rover Spirit wasn’t the distance-runner like her sibling. Spirit, although still a highly successful rover mission, conked out at a respectable 7.7 kilometers (4.8 miles) after becoming stuck in a sand trap in Gusev Crater. Spirit was declared lost in 2010. Both rovers have surpassed all expectations, considering their primary mission was only supposed to last three months.
How Far Has Opportunity Really Traveled?
In July 2012, shortly before the exciting landing of NASA’s newest and most sophisticated rover, Curiosity, inside Gale Crater, the MER team wanted to point out that their veteran rover hadalmost rolled a marathon. It still hasn’t quite reached the magic 26.2 mile mark (the official distance of a marathon), I thought it interesting to compare Opportunity’s odometer with some other, more familiar distances.
So, in honor of Opportunity holding the NASA distance record, here are those distances, updated:
Opportunity has traveled…
…almost nine laps of the Daytona Motor Speedway NASCAR track (one lap = 2.5 miles)
…178 furlongs. Which is nearly five-times the distance a horse will run during the British Grand National.
…four-times the distance an active basketball player will run during a game.
…from the coast of South England to the coast of France across the Strait of Dover (21 miles), plus a short detour for a croissant.
…from my house to Hollywood (the scenic route — avoiding the 101 freeway).
Image: On the 3,309th Martian day, or sol, of its mission on Mars (May 15, 2013) NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove 263 feet (80 meters) southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
How the Fermi Spacecraft Almost Got Taken Out by a Relic of the Cold War
by NANCY ATKINSON on MAY 1, 2013
Artist concept of the Fermi Space Telescope. Credit: NASA.
As a space telescope scientist or satellite operator, the last thing you want to hear is that your expensive and possibly one-of-a kind — maybe irreplaceable — spacecraft is in danger of colliding with a piece of space junk. On March 29, 2012, scientists from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope were notified that their spacecraft was at risk from a collision. And the object heading towards the Fermi spacecraft at a relative speed of 44,000 km/h (27,000 mph) wasn’t just a fleck of paint or tiny bolt.
Fermi was facing a possible direct hit by a 1,400 kg (3,100-pound) defunct Russian spy satellite dating back to the Cold War, named Cosmos 1805. If the two satellites met in orbit, the collision would release as much energy as two and a half tons of high explosives, destroying both spacecraft and creating more pieces of space junk in the process.
But this story has a happy ending, with the Fermi telescope still operating and continuing its mission to map the highest-energy light in the universe, all thanks to a little orbital traffic control.
You can watch the video here for the complete story, or read more at the Fermi website about how the Fermi Space Telescope dodged a speeding bullet.
Sequestration Shovels Money to the Russians
By Howard Bloom | Scientific American – 2 hrs 34 mins ago
A widespread opinion is that the sequestration–the blunt whack of $85 billion from the national government’s budget–was, as UPI puts it, “a dumb idea when it was created and it’s a dumb idea now.” But the sequestration may be far dumber than most realize. To save money, this budget bash is about to gush over three quarters of a billion dollars from America‘s space budget directly into the coffers of the Russians. Penny wise and billion dollar foolish.
How does this astonishingly self-defeating cash transfusion to Moscow work?
NASA has a little-known but crucial project called the Commercial Crew Program. In the days of the Space Shuttle it cost roughly $37,500 per pound to get an American astronaut into space. Let’s say that you are that astronaut. Adding in all the oxygen, food, water, and equipment it takes to keep you alive, that’s close to $82.5 million to get you into orbit. Which is the price of flying the entire population of Pittsburgh to LA and back with tickets fromcheapoair.com. But if America can get that cost down, it can make space as accessible as, well, airline trips from Pittsburgh to LA.
This is where the Commercial Crew Program comes in. In the Program, three private companies are competing to deliver US astronauts to the International Space Station. Those companies are Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Space Exploration Technologies (better known as Space X). All are under contract to meet performance milestones on a timetable that would deliver US astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017 or sooner.
And so far, things look promising. SpaceX has already built the rockets it takes to get to orbit and has put them into regular commercial use. What’s more, SpaceX has designed a Dragon Capsule capable of putting seven humans into space, and has launched two of these capsules, orbited them, and brought them safely back to earth. But that’s not all. On launch number two, the Dragon Capsule carried a load of NASA cargo, docked with the International Space Station, uneventfully transferred its 1,200 pound load, took on 1,673 pounds of used hardware, supplies and more than a ton of scientific samples from the Station packed in a GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator) freezer, and brought that crucial payload to earth. SpaceX plans its third launch of the Dragon capsule with 1,268 pounds of crew supplies and scientific equipment for the International Space Station Friday, March 1st, the day the sequestration is scheduled to take effect.
Normally delivering cargo to orbit costs NASA roughly $10,000 per pound, a lot less than delivering people. But SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule and Falcon 9 can cost an estimated $2,500 per pound, a galumphing 75% savings. What’s more, SpaceX’s head, Elon Musk, has stated that his goal is ten dollars per pound. Yes, you read that right: ten dollars a pound to orbit. Which would bring the cost of putting you into orbit along with the oxygen, food, and water necessary to keep you alive down to $22,000. Not exactly the cost of an airline ticket from Pennsylvania to LA. But within the range of reality for a business traveler, researcher, space colonist, or asteroid miner.
What would sequestration do to this cost-reduction drive? And how do the Russians get into the act? There’s another government blunder that’s been hidden from you and me, hidden in plain sight: America’s space gap.
Ever since the retirement of the Shuttle in 2011, America has been unable to launch astronauts into orbit on American launch vehicles. Yes, there is currently no American craft, no matter how modest, that can put humans into space. At a time when even the Iranians are launching monkeys. Embarrassing, right?
As NASA administrator Charles Bolden told a NASA audience in Huntsville, Alabama, on February 22nd: “Budget sequestration will slow NASA’s effort to start a commercial space industry to take astronauts to the International Space Station on American spacecraft. The gap between America andRussia, which can still launch astronauts, will not close. The gap is going to get bigger. Anybody who thinks this is no big deal – it’s a big deal.”
Despite this space gap, the United States has obligations to the fifteen countries it seduced, kidnapped, and recruited into a $35-100 billion project, the vastly underutilized International Space Station. The International Space Station is an incredible achievement, a historically monumental construction on a par with the pyramids and the Parthenon. And to fulfill our obligations to our partners, we are committed to sending roughly 56 more astronauts to the station. Which leaves us with a problem. How do we send our men and women to space when we have no launch vehicle capable of carrying humans?
It’s simple. We rely on a nation some of whose media outlets, believe it or not, still portray us as the enemy: Russia. Yes, Pravda.ru, which has been described as “the largest news and analytical Internet-holding in Russia,” says week after week that the USA is a degenerate and murderous nation. With headlines like the current “Killing Russian Children Not a Tragedy for U.S.”
Only a few months ago, the Russians charged us $55.8 million a ticket to send a single astronaut to space and to bring her back on their Soyuz rockets. But since they have no competitors to drive down the price, the Russians have hiked the fare by 12% to $62.7 million dollars per ticket. And the price could go up farther.
Here’s where the ability of the sequestration to turn the saving of a penny into the loss of a billion comes in. Inside sources at NASA say that the sequestration will only cut $25 million to $30 million from the Commercial Crew contracts. By government standards, that sounds like a mere piffle. Right?
But through the magic of cumulative blunders, that tiny loss of money will turn into a torrent. It will delay the Commercial Crew Program for roughly two years. And every year we go without our own access to space, we are forced to pay another $350 million to $400 million to the Russians. In fact, on March 14, NASA reached an agreement to pay Russia $753 million for twelve round trip tickets to our station in the sky. That’s three quarters of a billion dollars. And if the U.S.’s period without American vehicles stretches out, that figure will increase. Think about it. $753 million or more siphoned from the American space program and used to underwrite Russian research and development and Russian leadership in space. When Russia’s Sputnik went up in 1957 and shocked the USA, the idea of underwriting Russian space development and crippling ours would have been unthinkable.
Nearly as bad, the Commercial Crew Program works by paying the three competing companies only when they meet milestones. Until then, these firms have to advance their own cash. They work “on the come.” If these companies have factored the government payment into their projections of cash flow and if they reach their milestones, the government’s refusal to pay up can bankrupt them. Or seriously set them back. This is NOT the way to encourage American ingenuity, American entrepreneurship, and American job creation. It makes the American government, the government that represents you and me, a bad business partner. A deadbeat.
Concludes Dave Dunlop, head of the International Committee for the National Space Society and a member of the group I run, The Space Development Steering Committee, “No wonder recent polls show that colonoscopies are more popular than Congress.” Or, as percussionist Ralph MacDonald once advised, “Don’t stop to pick up the pennies when the dollars are flying over your head.”
- Sequestration Shovels Money to the Russians (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Millionaire to send married couple past Mars (cosmiclog.nbcnews.com)
- SpaceX will Resupply ISS for NASA with Dragon Capsule: Win a Front Row Seat (scienceworldreport.com)
- SpaceX Dragon capsule to make third trip to ISS on March 1 (slashgear.com)
- SpaceX on target for Friday launch of next mission to International Space Station (al.com)
- Space Launch System, Orion wouldn’t be affected by sequestration (al.com)
- SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule Slated For ISS Launch On March 1, NASA Says (huffingtonpost.com)
- A New Spaceflight Venture Is Trying to Beat NASA to Mars Within the Decade (motherboard.vice.com)
- SpaceX ready to launch cargo flight to the space station (denverpost.com)
- Next Private Spacecraft Launch to Space Station Set for March 1 (space.com)
Vulcan and Cerberus win online poll to name Pluto’s smallest moons
This artists’ rendering from NASA depicts how Pluto might look from the surface of one it’s three bigger moons. The two smallest moons may be named Vulcan and Kerberos. (NASA/JPL and G. Bacon (STSci) / February 25, 2013)
By Karen Kaplan
February 25, 2013, 4:30 p.m.
The people have spoken, and they would like the two smallest moons of Pluto to be named Vulcan and Cerberus.
When scientists at the SETI Institute stopped accepting new votes on the Pluto Rocks website at 9 a.m. Pacific time Monday, Vulcan was the only candidate with more than 100,000 votes. In fact, it blew away the rest of the field with 174,062 votes from people all over the world.
The biggest fan of the name has got to be William Shatner, who suggested it in a tweet on Feb. 12.
“So what do you think of the idea of naming the two moons of Pluto Vulcan and Romulus?” he asked of his 1.35 million followers. One day later, he tweeted this update: “Did you hear? They added the name Vulcan to the list of possible names for Pluto’s moons! You did it! I’m so happy.” Then he exhorted his followers to vote for Vulcan more than a dozen times with tweets such as this: “It’s a new day- at least here in Los Angeles- have you voted for Vulcan?”
On Monday morning, he shared the news: “174,062 votes and Vulcan came out on top of the voting for the naming of Pluto’s moons. Thank you to all who voted!”
Vulcan, of course, is the home planet of the Vulcans of Star Trek fame. Spock, who served along with Captain James T. Kirk (played by Shatner), has Vulcan heritage. Romulus is the home planet of the Romulans, the antagonistic beings who are related to Vulcans but have the opposite temperament.
At first, election organizer Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer with SETI’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, doubted that either name was worthy of serious consideration for P4 and P5, the temporary names for Pluto’s fourth and fifth moons. After all, there are rules, he explained on the election website Pluto Rocks: “By tradition, the names of Pluto’s moons come from Greek and Roman mythology, and are related to the ancient tales about Hades and the Underworld.”
Romulus was a non-starter because it has already been used to name one of the moons of the asteroid Sylvia. (The other moon is called Remus.)
Vulcan was a little more complicated. It’s the name of the Roman god of fire, so it satisfies the mythology requirement. But it’s also the name of a nonexistent planet that was once thought to orbit the Sun even closer than Mercury.
“Some of the world’s greatest astronomers spent quite a long time looking for it and they never saw it because it isn’t there,” Showalter explained in a Google+ hangout. “Some people say, ‘No, we should save the name Vulcan for some place that’s big and hot.’ I guess one response to that would be, ‘Well, we found all the places [in the solar system] that are big and hot and they’ve all got names now.’”
So Vulcan was added to the ballot and it blew away the competition.
The second-place finisher with 99,432 votes was Cerberus, the Roman name for the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld. Although this was one of the official nominees from SETI, it turned out to be a little tricky too. The solar system is already home to an asteroid by that name, Showalter noted. One potential solution would be to change the spelling to Kerberos, as the creature is known in Greek mythology, he said.
Rounding out the top five were Styx (87,858 votes), Persephone (68,969 votes) and Orpheus (51,197 votes).
More than 450,000 total votes were cast (some people may have voted more than once), with about half of those coming from the United States. The ballot was available in more than a dozen languages, including Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic and Farsi. “Almost every country on the planet has had at least a couple of votes come in,” Showalter said.
The final decision will be made by the nomenclature working group of the International Astronomical Union. Showalter is a member of that committee, but he pledged to recuse himself from the deliberations when the permanent names for P4 and P5 are considered a few months from now.
- ‘Vulcan’ wins Pluto moon name vote (spacedaily.com)
- Pluto’s Two New Moons Have Names. One of Them is “Vulcan” (tor.com)
- “Vulcan” has won Pluto’s moon-naming poll! (io9.com)
- Vulcan tops vote to name Pluto moons (bbc.co.uk)
- ‘Vulcan’ and ‘Cerberus’ Win Pluto Moon Naming Poll (space.com)
- Pluto’s Newest Moon Voted to be Named ‘Vulcan’ After Spock’s Planet (laughingsquid.com)
- Pluto May Soon Have a Moon Named Vulcan (Thanks to William Shatner) (universetoday.com)
- Pluto’s new moon named Vulcan by Star Trek fans rallying to William Shatner’s call (metro.co.uk)
- ‘Capt. Kirk’ wins Pluto contest (news.yahoo.com)
- Online Vote Picks Vulcan as Name for Pluto’s Fourth Moon (escapistmagazine.com)
Raging Moderate, by Will Durst
And so we bid a not-so-fond farewell to the bow of another large unwieldy year as it sinks slowly over the horizon wobbling unsteadily towards the graveyard of memory. And cheers erupt from we folks on shore waving the double-handed “L for loser” sign above our heads. “So long. See ya. Don’t let the door slam you in the butt on the way out. And if you got any brothers or sisters, don’t give them this address.”
Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons
Normally there’s some small sense of nostalgia for a departing annum. An iota of regret for the calendar discarded. Not this one. Getting through the past 12 months was like navigating a Black Diamond ski run in roller skates with the wheels rusted shut. While wearing a crib. It was an oil-soaked pelican of years. The Year of Living Stupidly. Had the same connection to constructive change that Vladimir Putin has to the editorial board of Crochet Monthly. The Chinese need a new Zodiac sign: Year of the Flatulent Weasel.
But in the interest of keeping this particular piece of puffery positive it might be best if we confine our remarks to reflecting on the good that emerged from 2012.
Okay. Well, that was quick. Wait — got one: at least the presidential election is over. Of course, people are already running for 2016, so we got that to look forward to. Which is real similar to looking forward to having five-year twins playing in the back seat of a cross-country drive with a new set of drums and an unlimited supply of metallic sticks. And tambourines. Tons of tambourines. For four years.
You’d think even your average run-of-the-mill politician would possess the simple common human decency to wait till the current president was re-inaugurated, but nooo. These early birds are intent on stockpiling worms. You know what they say: Early money is like yeast. And very early money is like baking soda. And extremely early money is an egg wash brushed delicately across a pan full of hot cross buns.
When you think about it, the only thing that really went right with 2012 was we misread the Mayan Calendar. Everything else is either worse than we found it or the same. Middle East a mess? Check. Crazy people with guns? Check. Weather getting weird? Check. Congress unable to accomplish any sort of worthwhile task, including differentiating between their gluteus maximus and yellow paint? Double check.
Face it. These days, simple survival has become the goal. Continuing existence is the new victory dance. And then for a half a second you ruminate on how good we got it here. What kind of state the rest of the world is in. And most of our problems just kind of fade away, don’t they?
Sure, with great potential comes great responsibility. But it’s an exciting time. Fifteen years ago, the only people with GPS units were NASA. Now we got them in our cars and phones. We’re also in the middle of a cheeseburger renaissance and pretty good coffee is available almost everywhere. Not half bad perks. So, what do you say? Shall we give another a year a shot? But just 365 this time around. Don’t know about you but that extra day this year kicked my butt.
- Ode 2 2012 (Guest Voice) (themoderatevoice.com)
- FOCUS | Trying to Be Positive About 2012 (readersupportednews.org)
- Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – ” Guns, Guns and Guns (mbcalyn.com)
- Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – ” Quadriplegic Platypuses (mbcalyn.com)
- Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – ” Ten Females Who Cost Mitt Romney the Presidency (mbcalyn.com)
- Republican Infighting (Cartoon) (themoderatevoice.com)
- Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – ” The Top Ten Comedic News Stories of 2012 (mbcalyn.com)
- Fiscal Cliff and Rope (Cartoon) (themoderatevoice.com)
- Friday Nite Lite: 2012…last one of the year! (skydancingblog.com)
- Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – ” John Boehner Leads Republicans Into Political Little Big Horn (mbcalyn.com)
Radiation Belt Mission Renamed to Honor James Van Allen
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The recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission, which is studying the Van Allen radiation belts, has now been renamed in honor of the late James Van Allen, who discovered the radiation belts encircling Earth in 1958.
“James Van Allen was a true pioneer in astrophysics,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “His ground breaking research paved the way for current and future space exploration. These spacecraft now not only honor his iconic name but his mark on science.”
During his career, Van Allen was the principal investigator for scientific investigations on 24 Earth satellites and planetary missions, beginning with the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, and continuing with Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. He also helped develop the first plans for an International Geophysical Year was held in 1957. Van Allen, who worked at APL during and after World War II, also is credited with discovery of a new moon of Saturn in 1979, as well as radiation belts around that planet.
Artist concept of the Van Allen Probes. Credit: NASA
Launched Aug. 30, 2012 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Van Allen Probes comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically created to investigate the radiation belts that surround Earth. These two belts encircle the planet and are filled with highly charged particles.
The belts are affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections and sometimes swell dramatically. When this occurs, they can pose dangers to communications, GPS satellites and human spaceflight activities.
“After only two months in orbit, the Van Allen Probes have made significant contributions to our understanding of the radiation belts,” says APL Director Ralph Semmel. “The science and data from these amazing twin spacecraft will allow for more effective and safe space technologies in the decades to come. APL is proud to have built and to operate this new resource for NASA and our nation, and we are proud to have the mission named for one of APL’s original staff.”
- Radiation Belt Mission Renamed to Honor James Van Allen (universetoday.com)
- NASA Renames Radiation Belt Mission to Honor Pioneering Scientist (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA Probes Exploring Earth’s Radiation Belts Get New Name (space.com)
- NASA Probes Exploring Earth’s Radiation Belts Get New Name (livescience.com)
- NASA Renames Radiation Belt Mission To Honor Pioneering Scientist (sys-con.com)
- NASA names mission after Van Allen (upi.com)
- NASA’a Radiation Belt Storm Probes record electromagnetic “Earthsong” (gizmag.com)
- NASA’s SAMPEX Mission: A Space Weather Warrior (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes record electromagnetic “Earthsong” (genesisnanotech.wordpress.com)
- Photographer Captures Rocket Launch as Amazing Arc of Light (space.com)
SpaceX Test Fires Advanced New Engine
By Marc Boucher
Posted February 1, 2012 11:59 AM
SpaceX has successfully test fired SuperDraco
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has successfully test fired SuperDraco, a powerful new engine that will play a critical role in the company’s efforts to change the future of human spaceflight.
“SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Technology Officer. “These engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.”
The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver on orbit and during reentry. As part of SpaceX’s state-of-the-art launch escape system, eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program awarded SpaceX $75 million in April of last year to begin work developing the escape system in order to prepare the Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. Less than nine months later, SpaceX engineers have designed, built and tested the engine.
In a series of recent tests conducted at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, the SuperDraco sustained full duration, full thrust firing as well as a series of deep throttling demonstrations.
SpaceX’s launch escape system has many advantages over past systems. It is inherently safer because it is not jettisoned like all other escape systems. This distinction provides astronauts with the unprecedented ability to escape from danger at any point during the launch, not just in the first few minutes. The eight SuperDracos provide redundancy, so that even if one engine fails an escape can still be carried out successfully.
SuperDracos can also be restarted multiple times if necessary and the engines will have the ability to deep throttle, providing astronauts with precise control and enormous power. In addition, as a part of a recoverable Dragon spacecraft, the engines can be used repeatedly, helping to advance SpaceX’s long-term goal of making spacecraft more like airplanes, which can be flown again and again with minimal maintenance between flights.
CAPTION: SuperDraco engines will provide the Dragon spacecraft with the capability to perform on target propulsive landings anywhere in the solar system. Credit: SpaceX
CAPTION: SuperDraco engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make SpaceX’s Dragon the safest spacecraft in the world. Eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. Credit: SpaceX
- SpaceX moves toward manned flight (gizmag.com)
- AFP: Space capsule heads home from ISS (mbcalyn.com)
- SpaceX Transitions to Third Commercial Crew Phase (spacefellowship.com)
- SpaceX’s Manned Dragon Space Capsule Explained (physicsforme.wordpress.com)
- SpaceX’s Dragon Completes First Official Cargo Run to the ISS (dailytech.com)
- SpaceX Conducts Successful Static Fire (spacefellowship.com)
- Private SpaceX Capsule Leaves Space Station for Earth Return (space.com)
- SpaceX Dragon completes first commercial cargo flight (fox6now.com)
- You: SpaceX capsule, packed with supplies, set to return from station (latimes.com)
- SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down With Cargo, Including … Frozen Blood? (wired.com)
Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere
Lifting SAM Instrument for Installation into Mars Rover
NASA’s car-sized rover, Curiosity, has taken significant steps toward understanding how Mars may have lost much of its original atmosphere.
Learning what happened to the Martian atmosphere will help scientists assess whether the planet ever was habitable. The present atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth’s.
A set of instruments aboard the rover has ingested and analyzed samples of the atmosphere collected near the “Rocknest” site in Gale Crater where the rover is stopped for research. Findings from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments suggest that loss of a fraction of the atmosphere, resulting from a physical process favoring retention of heavier isotopes of certain elements, has been a significant factor in the evolution of the planet. Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights.
Initial SAM results show an increase of 5 percent in heavier isotopes of carbon in the atmospheric carbon dioxide compared to estimates of the isotopic ratios present when Mars formed. These enriched ratios of heavier isotopes to lighter ones suggest the top of the atmosphere may have been lost to interplanetary space. Losses at the top of the atmosphere would deplete lighter isotopes. Isotopes of argon also show enrichment of the heavy isotope, matching previous estimates of atmosphere composition derived from studies of Martian meteorites on Earth.
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, largest of the 10 science instruments for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, examines samples of Martian rocks, soil and atmosphere for information about chemicals that are important to life and other chemical indicators about past and present environments.
Scientists theorize that in Mars’ distant past its environment may have been quite different, with persistent water and a thicker atmosphere. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission will investigate possible losses from the upper atmosphere when it arrives at Mars in 2014.
With these initial sniffs of Martian atmosphere, SAM also made the most sensitive measurements ever to search for methane gas on Mars. Preliminary results reveal little to no methane. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life. On Earth, it can be produced by either biological or non-biological processes.
Methane has been difficult to detect from Earth or the current generation of Mars orbiters because the gas exists on Mars only in traces, if at all. The Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) in SAM provides the first search conducted within the Martian atmosphere for this molecule. The initial SAM measurements place an upper limit of just a few parts methane per billion parts of Martian atmosphere, by volume, with enough uncertainty that the amount could be zero.
“Methane is clearly not an abundant gas at the Gale Crater site, if it is there at all. At this point in the mission we’re just excited to be searching for it,” said SAM TLS lead Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “While we determine upper limits on low values, atmospheric variability in the Martian atmosphere could yet hold surprises for us.”
In Curiosity’s first three months on Mars, SAM has analyzed atmosphere samples with two laboratory methods. One is a mass spectrometer investigating the full range of atmospheric gases. The other, TLS, has focused on carbon dioxide and methane. During its two-year prime mission, the rover also will use an instrument called a gas chromatograph that separates and identifies gases. The instrument also will analyze samples of soil and rock, as well as more atmosphere samples.
“With these first atmospheric measurements we already can see the power of having a complex chemical laboratory like SAM on the surface of Mars,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Both atmospheric and solid sample analyses are crucial for understanding Mars’ habitability.”
SAM is set to analyze its first solid sample in the coming weeks, beginning the search for organic compounds in the rocks and soils of Gale Crater. Analyzing water-bearing minerals and searching for and analyzing carbonates are high priorities for upcoming SAM solid sample analyses.
Researchers are using Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. JPL manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The SAM Instrument was developed at Goddard with instrument contributions from Goddard, JPL and the University of Paris in France.
- NASA’S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere (voanews.com)
- Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere (spaceref.com)
- Curiosity ingests Mars air and finds clues of lost atmosphere – Indian Express (indianexpress.com)
- Curiosity Sniffs The Martian Atmosphere But Finds No Sign Of Life (forbes.com)
- Curiosity ingests Mars air and finds clues of lost atmosphere – Zee News (zeenews.india.com)
- Mars rover still sniffing for elusive methane (todayonline.com)
- “Curiosity” Reveals Changes in Mar’s Atmosphere (usdailyreview.com)
- NASA’S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues To Changes In Martian Atmosphere (eurasiareview.com)
- NASA’S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere (oddonion.com)
- High-Res Curiosity Rover Self Portrait Is Mind-Blowing (wired.com)