All posts by Tom

Where to Land the Mars2020 Rover

This should be the week we find out where the Mars2020 rover will land when it gets to Mars. Not a secret, the final decision has not been made, more about that in a second. Have a look at this artists concept (thanks NASA) – NOW THAT’S A ROVER!

NASA: Hundreds of scientists and Mars-exploration enthusiasts will convene in a hotel ballroom just north of Los Angeles later this week to present, discuss and deliberate the future landing site for NASA’s next Red Planet rover – Mars 2020. The three-day workshop is the fourth and final in a series designed to ensure NASA receives the broadest range of data and opinion from the scientific community before the agency chooses where to send the new rover.

The Mars 2020 mission is tasked with not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life. The landing site for Mars 2020 is of great interest to the planetary community because, among the rover’s new medley of science gear for surface exploration, it carries a sample system that will collect rock and soil samples and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. The next Mars landing, after Mars 2020, could very well be a vehicle that would retrieve these Mars 2020 samples.

“The Mars 2020 landing site could set the stage for Mars exploration for the next decade,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “I’m looking forward to the spirited debate and critical input from the science and engineering community. Whichever landing site is ultimately chosen, it may hold the very first batch of Mars soil that humans touch.”

The workshop begins with an opening address by the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Michael Meyer. After project status, engineering constraints, and site-assessment criteria are discussed come the presentations. Fair warning: Expect plenty of technical jargon as terms like biosignatures, geochemical conditions, impact deformation, biogenetic potential, olivine lithologies, and serpentinization and its astrobiological potential roll off presenters’ tongues.

“We have been doing these workshops in support of 2020 landing site selection since 2014,” said Matt Golombek, cochair of the Mars Landing Site Steering Committee from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “At our first workshop, we started with about 30 candidate landing sites, and after additional orbital imaging and a second landing site workshop, we had a recommendation of eight sites to move forward for further evaluation. There were so many great locations to choose from, the whittling-down process was tough. This time around, with four finalists, it promises to be even more difficult. Each site has its own intriguing science potential and knowledgeable advocates.”

Champions for four landing options will take their turn at the podium, presenting and defending their favorite parcel on the Red Planet. It is one more site than was expected after the completion of the third workshop, in 2017, where three locations on Mars were recommended for consideration – Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater and Northeast Syrtis.

Continue reading

Second Space Telescope in Safe-Mode

Another space telescope went into safe-mode due to a gyroscope issue. In this case the Chandra X-ray Observatory went into safe-mode on 10 October, 5-days after Hubble.

Unlike Hubble this particular problem as been resolved and the telescope was put back into normal operation.

Image: Chandra / NASA

 

The NASA press release included the process on going into safe-mode in this particular case.

From NASA:   The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode. The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that in turn led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode.

The team has completed plans to switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve. Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by the end of this week.
At approximately 9:55 a.m. EDT on Oct. 10, 2018, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun. Analysis of available data indicates the transition to safe mode was normal behavior for such an event. All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe. The cause of the safe mode transition (possibly involving a gyroscope) is under investigation, and we will post more information when it becomes available.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of 5 years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years. It is now well into its extended mission and is expected to continue carrying out forefront science for many years to come.

Update on Hubble

NASA published an update on Hubble. The telescope is in safe mode after gyro problems 10-days ago.

Hopefully a team new team of experts and sort the situation out.

NASA:  NASA continues to work toward resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope after the spacecraft entered safe mode due to a failed gyroscope (gyro) on Friday, Oct. 5.

Following the gyro failure, the Hubble operations team turned on a backup gyro on the spacecraft. However, that gyro did not perform as expected, reporting rotation rates that are orders of magnitude higher than they actually are. This past week, tests were conducted to assess the condition of that backup gyro. The tests showed that the gyro is properly tracking Hubble’s movement, but the rates reported are consistently higher than the true rates. This is similar to a speedometer on your car continuously showing that your speed is 100 miles per hour faster than it actually is; it properly shows when your car speeds up or slows down, and by how much, but the actual speed is inaccurate.

When the spacecraft turns across the sky from one target to the next, the gyro is put into a coarser (high) mode. In this high mode it may be possible to subtract out a consistent large offset to get an accurate reading. However, after the large turns are over, the spacecraft attempts to lock onto a target and stay very still. For this activity, the gyro goes into a precision (low) mode to measure very small movements. The extremely high rates currently being reported exceed the upper limit of the gyro in this low mode, preventing the gyro from reporting the spacecraft’s small movements.

An anomaly review board that consists of professionals experienced in the manufacturing of such gyros, Hubble operations personnel, flight software engineers and other experts was formed earlier this week to identify the cause of this behavior and determine what solutions can be implemented from the ground to correct or compensate for it.

If the team is successful in solving the problem, Hubble will return to normal, three-gyro operations. If it is not, the spacecraft will be configured for one-gyro operations, which will still provide excellent science well into the 2020s, enabling it to work alongside the James Webb Space Telescope and continue groundbreaking science.

Safe mode places the telescope into a stable configuration that suspends science observations and orients the spacecraft’s solar panels toward the Sun to ensure Hubble’s power requirements are met. The spacecraft remains in this configuration until ground control can correct or compensate for the issue. The rest of the spacecraft and its instruments are still fully functional and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come.

A gyro is a device that measures the speed at which the spacecraft is turning, and is needed to help Hubble turn and lock on to new targets. To meet the stringent pointing requirements necessary to study far-off astronomical objects and obtain groundbreaking science data, Hubble’s gyros are extremely accurate. Hubble preferably uses three gyros at any given time to make the observatory as efficient as possible, and would work at slightly lower efficiency on only one gyro.

During Servicing Mission 4 in 2009, astronauts installed six new gyros on Hubble. Three gyros have since failed after achieving or exceeding the average runtime for a Hubble gyro. When fewer than three operational gyros remain, Hubble will continue to make scientific observations in a previously developed and tested mode that uses just one gyro in order to maximize the observatory’s lifetime.

Originally required to last 15 years, Hubble has now been operating for more than 28. The final servicing mission in 2009, expected to extend Hubble’s lifetime an additional 5 years, has now produced more than 9 years of science observations.

Hubble is managed and operated at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

BepiColumbo Launch a Week Away

We are only a week away from one of those missions I have been patiently waiting for and it’s finally happening.

It’s fun to watch a mission unfold from the very beginning evolve to launch and deployment.

Hopefully I won’t be in the middle of another regional internet outage like a couple of days ago – grrr.

Launch Date: 20 October 2018
Launch Time: 01:45 UTC / 21:45 ET

New School Challenges from ESA

Bravo ESA, makes me wish I were a kid again!

ESA:  In the beginning of the World Space Week, ESA is proud to present two new school challenges: Climate Detectives and Moon Camp.

Meant for teams of school students guided by a teacher or educator, Moon Camp and Climate Detectives give young people the chance to run interdisciplinary projects and develop new skills, ranging from science and technology to teamwork and communication, like real space experts would do.

Moon Camp

With Moon Camp, ESA and Airbus Foundation, in partnership with Autodesk, challenge students to take part in the future exploration of space by designing a human shelter on the Moon! The students will have to design a 3D Moon Camp able to sustain the lives of at least two astronauts, taking into account:

  • the use of local resources, such as lunar soil and ice
  • technological solutions, such as power sources, a recycling system, a food growth chamber
  • protection  from meteorites and radiation

The Moon Camp challenge presents two separate categories featuring different levels of complexity:

  • Category 1, for students  up to 12 years old, using the 3D design tool Tinkercad® (free online tool) and
  • Category 2, for students between 13 to 18 years old, using the 3D design tool Fusion 360® (free for students and schools).

Teams can submit their design from 1 November 2018 until 16 March 2019.

Find out more about Moon Camp and help ESA settle on the Moon!

Climate Detectives

Climate detectives

With Climate Detectives ESA challenges students to make a difference in understanding and protecting Earth’s climate.Students will identify a climate problem by observing their local environment and will be tasked to investigate it as Climate Detectives. To this end, they will use available Earth Observation data coming from real satellites, or take measurements on the ground. Based on their investigation, teams will propose a way to help reduce the problem. The students will learn about climate on Earth as a complex and changing system and the importance of respecting our environment.

Climate Detectives is open to teams of students between 8 and 15 years old. The project is deployed in three Phases. Submission for Phase 1 is now open, and it will close on 15 November 2018.

So, do not hesitate any further and find out more about Climate Detectives. ESA needs you to make a difference by protecting Earth’s climate and helping our planet!

Expedition 57 Launch – Fail – REPLAY

UPDATE 3: NASA is reporting the search and recovery teams have reached the landing site and both Nick Hague and Aleksey Ovchinin are as reported earlier in good condition. They are out of the capsule.

UPDATE 2 FROM NASA: “Teams have confirmed the crew have landed and Nick Hague and Aleksey Ovchinin are in good condition. Search and recovery teams have been deployed to the landing site and are in contact with the crew.”

UPDATE: THERE IS A PROBLEM. Booster problem. Sounds like the spacecraft will be returning. Search and Rescue crews are at the ready and are in the air. The time line should be about an hour and a half to get them secured, that would be around 10:30 UT / 06:30 ET.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will be launching to the International Space Station as the crew of Expedition 57. The pair will join other Expedition crew members Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency, NASA Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos Flight Engineer Sergey Prokopyev, who arrived at the station in June.

Launch time 08:40 UT / 04:40 EDT.

Spaceport: Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

Spacecraft: Soyuz MS-10

ISS Arrival time: N/A Launch failure

Solar Transit by the ISS

Ever tried to get a picture of the shadow of the ISS as it travels across the Sun? I have. No success (YET!), pretty amazing how many things go wrong though.

NASA: This composite image, made from nine frames, shows the International Space Station, with a crew of three onboard, in silhouette as it transits the Sun at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Onboard are Commander Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA, and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos. The trio will soon be joined by Nick Hague of NASA and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, who are scheduled to launch on October 11 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Hubble in Safe Mode

I hate to hear this, I know there are redundancies built in but still.

NASA’s Press Release: NASA is working to resume science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope after the spacecraft entered safe mode on Friday, October 5, shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT. Hubble’s instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come.

Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) actively being used to point and steady the telescope failed. Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation.

Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed during Servicing Mission-4 in 2009. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with just one.

The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected; two other gyros of the same type had already failed. The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

Two of those enhanced gyros are currently running. Upon powering on the third enhanced gyro that had been held in reserve, analysis of spacecraft telemetry indicated that it was not performing at the level required for operations. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode. Staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options are available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Science operations with Hubble have been suspended while NASA investigates the anomaly. An Anomaly Review Board, including experts from the Hubble team and industry familiar with the design and performance of this type of gyro, is being formed to investigate this issue and develop the recovery plan. If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration.

If the outcome indicates that the gyro is not usable, Hubble will resume science operations in an already defined “reduced-gyro” mode that uses only one gyro. While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities.

Image: NASA