All posts by Tom

Sounding Rocket Launch

Launch is at 09:30 UT / 05:30 ET

A NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket carrying student experiments from the RockOn! and RockSat-C programs launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Good luck!

Test Rover in Chile

Wow! I now have new desktop background. If you click the image you can see a larger version.

The original caption from NASA: The Moon begins to rise behind the ARADS rover during the 2017 season of field tests in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The Milky Way is visible in the night sky.

The Atacama Rover and Astrobiology Drilling Studies, or ARADS, project is designing tools and techniques that could be used to search for life one day on Mars or other places in the Solar System. The team’s prototype rover combines the ability to move across the surface, drill down to collect soil samples, and feed them to several life-detection instruments on board. The extreme conditions of Chile’s Atacama Desert provide one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth, where the team can test and refine these technologies and methods.

ARADS is led by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Partners include NASA centers Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as well as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, Honeybee Robotics in New York, the University of Antofagasta and CampoAlto SpA, both in Chile, and Spain’s Center for Astrobiology.

Credit: NASA/CampoAlto/Victor Robles

Sounding Rocket Launch Tomorrow Morning

There will be, IF all goes as planned, a sounding rocket launch on 20 June at 09:30 UT / 05:30 ET with live coverage beginning 15 minutes before that.

I will have a live link up which will stay up launch or not for a few hours as the launch is scheduled in an inopportune time slot for me.

Our (distant) Future

NASA: An image of the galaxy Arp299B, which is undergoing a merging process with Arp299A (the galaxy to the left), captured by NASA’s Hubble space telescope. The inset features an artist’s illustration of a tidal disruption event (TDE), which occurs when a star passes fatally close to a supermassive black hole. A TDE was recently observed near the center of Arp299B.

Is this our future? Yes it or something approximating this will, it seems, will happen. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy will one day merge. Not to worry, it will be many millions of years in the future. Most galaxies are red-shifted, moving away from us; most but not all. Andromeda is blue-shifted meaning it is moving towards us.

Red-shifted? Blue-shifted? Ahh, the Doppler Effect.

Image: NRAO/AUI/NSF/NASA/STScI

Guatemala Damage Proxy Map

An Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis team at NASA took a look at the recent Guatemala eruption with ESA’s Sentinel-1 data among others.

Original caption from NASA: The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Caltech, also in Pasadena, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas around Fuego volcano, Guatemala, that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of pyroclastic flows and heavy ash spewed by Fuego volcano. The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). The images were taken before (June 1, 2018 6 p.m.) and after (June 7, 2018 6 p.m., both Guatemala Time) the onset of the volcanic eruption.

The map covers an area of 57 by 13 miles (91 by 21 kilometers), shown by the large red polygon. Each pixel measures about 33 yards (30 meters) across. The color variation from yellow to red indicates increasingly more significant ground surface change. This damage proxy map may be used as guidance to identify damaged areas and may be less reliable over vegetated areas. For example, the scattered single colored pixels over vegetated areas may be false positives, and the lack of colored pixels over vegetated areas does not necessarily mean no damage.

Sentinel-1 data were accessed through the Copernicus Open Access Hub. The image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA and analyzed by the NASA-JPL/Caltech ARIA team. This research was carried out at JPL under a contract with NASA.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Copernicus/Google

Sample Return Technology

How does one go about the extraordinarily difficult task of returning a sample from another world back to Earth? Honey Bee Robotics is testing technology to do just that – the Planet Vac.

Credits: NASA Photo / Lauren Hughes

From NASA/Honey Bee Robotics/Masten Space Systems:

Just a sample will do.

Honeybee Robotics in Pasadena, California, flight tested its pneumatic sampler collection system, PlanetVac, on Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket on May 24, launching from Mojave, California, and landing to collect a sample of more than 320 grams of top soil from the surface of the desert floor.

“The opportunity to test a technology on Earth before it is destined for another planet allows researchers and mission planners to have confidence that once the technology arrives to its space destination it will work,” said Ryan Dibley, NASA Flight Opportunities program campaign manager. Flight Opportunities program funded the test flight.

PlanetVac is a surface soil collection system for a sample return mission. The configuration tested would replace a foot pad of a planetary lander spacecraft. The goal is to bring back a sample of surface soil from a celestial body.

“Bringing something back from another planet, celestial body, is the Holy Grail of planetary science,” said Justin Spring, senior project engineer for Honeybee Robotics. “It allows you to have something from another world, here, so Earth instruments can analyze it. We’re still analyzing what we collected from the moon years ago!”

The pneumatic sampler foot pad starts operation after the lander touches down on a surface. Compressed gas is injected into the foot pad enclosure, lofting the soil into a cyclone separator for collection.

“What it does is kind of like your vacuum,” said Spring. “It creates an area of high pressure in the front and uses an area of low pressure in the back to suck up the sample. The best thing about PlanetVac is how simple it is. Aside from a single actuator to trigger the gas flow, the system is entirely pneumatic, which reduces complexity and risk.”

“There are other ways to collect samples,” he adds. “The Mars Curiosity rover uses a drill. The Mars Phoenix lander had a scoop. But to keep it simple when all you need is surface dirt then using this pneumatic system can bring the sample back.”

“The Flight Opportunities program allowed us to take the PlanetVac idea and actually strap it on to Masten’s rocket putting it in a situation more realistic to what it might encounter in a space mission,” said Spring. “This reduces the risk since we now know it can survive both landing and heating loads as well as the rocket environment and still collect the sample and retain it to come back.”

Through the Flight Opportunities program, the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) selects promising technologies from industry, academia and government for testing on commercial launch vehicles and enables public-private partnerships for the agency. The program is funded by STMD and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

STMD is responsible for developing the crosscutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

CubeSat Plasma Thruster

Nice, it was only a matter of time.

ESA: This micro-pulsed plasma thruster has been designed for propulsion of miniature CubeSats; its first firing is seen here. The thruster works by pulsing a lightning-like electric arc between two electrodes. This vaporizes the thruster propellant into charged plasma, which is then accelerated in the electromagnetic field set up between the electrodes.

Developed for ESA by Mars Space Ltd and Clyde Space of the UK with Southampton University, this 2 Watt, 42 Newton-second impulse plasma thruster has been qualified for space, with more than a million firing pulses demonstrated during testing.

It has been designed for a range of uses, including drag compensation in low orbits, orbit maintenance, formation flying and small orbit transfers. The thruster could also serve as a CubeSat deorbiting device, gradually reducing orbital altitude until atmospheric re-entry is achieved.

About the size of a DVD reader, the thruster weighs just 280 grams including its propellant load and drive electronics.

Stellar Bubble

ESA: This turbulent celestial palette of purple and yellow shows a bubble of gas named NGC 3199, blown by a star known as WR18 (Wolf-Rayet 18).

Wolf-Rayet stars are massive, powerful, and energetic stars that are just about reaching the end of their lives. They flood their surroundings with thick, intense, fast-moving winds that push and sweep at the material found there, carving out weird and wonderful shapes as they do so. These winds can create strong shockwaves when they collide with the comparatively cool interstellar medium, causing them to heat up anything in their vicinity. This process can heat material to such high temperatures that it is capable of emitting X-rays, a type of radiation emitted only by highly energetic phenomena in the Universe.

This is what has happened in the case of NGC 3199. Although this kind of scenario has been seen before, it is still relatively rare; only three other Wolf-Rayet bubbles have been seen to emit X-rays (NGC 2359, NGC 6888, and S308). WR18 is thought to be a star with especially powerful winds; once it has run out of material to fuel these substantial winds it will explode violently as a supernova, creating a final breath-taking blast as it ends its stellar life.

This image was taken by the European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC) on ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, and marks different patches of gas in different colours. The incredibly hot, diffuse, X-ray-emitting gas within the Wolf-Rayet bubble is shown in blue, while a bright arc that is visible in the optical part of the spectrum is traced out in shades of yellow-green (oxygen emission) and red (sulphur emission).

This blue and yellow-green component forms an optical nebula – a glowing cloud of dust and ionised gases – that stretches out towards the western end of the X-ray bubble (in this image, North is to the upper left). This lopsided arc caused astronomers to previously identify WR18 as a so-called runaway star moving far faster than expected in relation to its surroundings, but more recent studies have shown that the observed X-ray emission does not support this idea. Instead, the shape of NGC 3199 is thought to be due to variations in the chemistry of the bubble’s surroundings, and the initial configuration of the interstellar medium around WR18.

Image: SA/XMM-Newton; J. Toalá; D.Goldman