Juno Spots Another Volcano on Io?

Some exciting Juno results. The “new volcano” is found by looking just below the bright feature in the center of the image. Click the image for help finding the object.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

NASA: Data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft using its Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument point to a new heat source close to the south pole of Io that could indicate a previously undiscovered volcano on the small moon of Jupiter. The infrared data were collected on Dec. 16, 2017, when Juno was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) away from the moon.

“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”

The Juno team will continue to evaluate data collected on the Dec. 16 flyby, as well as JIRAM data that will be collected during future (and even closer) flybys of Io. Past NASA missions of exploration that have visited the Jovian system (Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons), along with ground-based observations, have located over 150 active volcanoes on Io so far. Scientists estimate that about another 250 or so are waiting to be discovered.

Juno has logged nearly 146 million miles (235 million kilometers) since entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. Juno’s 13th science pass will be on July 16.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. The Italian Space Agency (ASI), contributed two instruments, a Ka-band frequency translator (KaT) and the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

What About TESS?

What is going on with the newest exoplanet detecting spacecraft – TESS? By all accounts we are moving closer to the start of observations.

I tend to be amused by the mission as I get the feeling TESS already has more work than it can do. Oh it’s a great position to be in but the “poor” mission team has to decide the observational priorities. I’d like to be a fly on the wall during some of those meetings!

NASA: After a successful launch on April 18, 2018, NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is currently undergoing a series of commissioning tests before it begins searching for planets. The TESS team has reported that the spacecraft and cameras are in good health, and the spacecraft has successfully reached its final science orbit. The team continues to conduct tests in order to optimize spacecraft performance with a goal of beginning science at the end of July.

Every new mission goes through a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before beginning science operations. This serves to test how the spacecraft and its instruments are performing and determines whether any changes need to be made before the mission starts observations.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

The Kīlauea Volcano

I enjoyed this update on the eruption of the Kīlauea volcano from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

We are after all just another planet, and volcanism is part of the experience of being geologically active.

The Giant PC120C

Meet the giant PC120C; the world’s largest solid rocket motor in once piece and it’s ready for a test fire.

ESA: This week, the largest solid rocket motor ever (built in one piece) will be test fired at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana for the first time.

This important milestone validates the booster for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020.

Fully loaded with solid fuel, the P120C rocket motor common to Europe’s future launchers Vega-C and Ariane 6, will be held vertically in the test stand and ignited. Sensors will gather about 600 measures during the test.

The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, contains 142 tonnes of solid propellant and provides a maximum thrust of 4615 kN (in vacuum) over a burn time of about 135 s.

The design builds on existing expertise and lessons learned with Vega’s P80 first stage motor. P120C will replace P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.

All main components of the motor such as nozzle, igniter, solid propellant, and insulated motor case have already been tested separately. This static firing will prove these technologies, materials and production techniques in combination and validate the behaviour of the assembled motor.

The test stand with the tools and equipment that will secure the P120C for its test firing, have had to be modified or developed to accommodate this huge motor.

Recently a full-scale model of the P120C filled with inert propellant allowed engineers to verify tools, check connections and perfect procedures.

Information gathered during this static firing will allow engineers to compare their numerical models against observed reality to consolidate the P120C design.

This will guide the design of the P120C qualification motor that will be static fired at the end of the year.

Image: ESA

Kepler Pauses Activities

2,650 new planets for the Kepler mission. The image above is the “first-light” image from the Kepler spacecraft taken on 08 April 2009.

There is a lot of different numbers reported for exoplanets, I like to stick to the Exopplanet Data Explorer at exoplanet.org.

With fuel on the spacecraft running low Kepler now pauses to download more data.

NASA: Earlier this week, NASA’s Kepler team received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low. NASA has placed the spacecraft in a hibernation-like state in preparation to download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign. Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.

Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel.

To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August. Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. If the maneuver and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel.

NASA will provide an update after the scheduled download. The agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

As engineers preserve the new data stored on the spacecraft, scientists are continuing to mine existing data already on the ground. Among other findings, recently 24 new planet discoveries were made using data from the 10th observation campaign, adding to the spacecraft’s growing bounty of 2,650 confirmed planets.

Image: NASA/Ames/J. Jenkins

Progress 70 Launch – Replay

Here’s a launch replay via Space Videos. Four hours to the ISS – WOW!

As far as I know everything is proceeding as planned.

Docking coverage beginning at 21:00 UT / 09:00 ET (I think, so I will leave the link alone for now.)

Progress 70 will carry food and supplies from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.