Category Archives: NASA

Voyager 1 Fires the Thrusters

After 37 years the thrusters on Voyager 1 are fired to adjust the spacecraft to keep the antennas in alignment. Outstanding!

You can see the current status of both Voyager spacecraft at NASA’s Voyager Mission Status page.

I also like the check the status at The Sky Live.

So here’s what happened from NASA — If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.

Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object in interstellar space, the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

“With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Since 2014, engineers have noticed that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the spacecraft, called “attitude control thrusters,” have been degrading. Over time, the thrusters require more puffs to give off the same amount of energy. At 13 billion miles from Earth, there’s no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up.

The Voyager team assembled a group of propulsion experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to study the problem. Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber analyzed options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios. They agreed on an unusual solution: Try giving the job of orientation to a set of thrusters that had been asleep for 37 years.

“The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

In the early days of the mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. To accurately fly by and point the spacecraft’s instruments at a smorgasbord of targets, engineers used “trajectory correction maneuver,” or TCM, thrusters that are identical in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are located on the back side of the spacecraft. But because Voyager 1’s last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn’t needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

All of Voyager’s thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The same kind of thruster, called the MR-103, flew on other NASA spacecraft as well, such as Cassini and Dawn.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

“The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power — a limited resource for the aging mission. When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

The thruster test went so well, the team will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1. The attitude control thrusters currently used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1’s, however.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.

Artists concept: NASA/JPL-Caltech — click here to get to a larger version suitable for your desktop.

Testing the RS-25 Engine

An impressive amount of power developed as the RS-25 engine is hot-fired on 19 October. This engine has a great history of reliability in the NASA shuttle program and will power the new Space Launch System.

In October of 2018 four of these engines will power the first flight test of SLS with Orion which will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond the moon, deeper than any human-rated spacecraft has gone, to test the performance of the integrated system.

This test took place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi

Get Your Name on Mars

It is the last couple of weeks for you to put your name aboard the InSight lander to be launched in November of 2018.

If you have not done so, NASA has added a second microchip so there are MORE spots available for your name. Signing up is free and simple so click here and join me on the spacecraft! You have until 21 November 2017 to sign up, don’t forget to print out your boarding pass too.

JPL/Andrew Good – “Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages,” said Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet.”

This fly-your-name opportunity comes with “frequent flier” points reflecting an individual’s personal participation in NASA’s exploration of Mars. These points span multiple missions and multiple decades. Participants who sent their names on the previous InSight opportunity in 2015 can download a “boarding pass” and see their “frequent flier” miles.

As part of this frequent flier program, a chip carrying the names of 1.38 million people also flew aboard the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft in 2014. NASA is building Orion to carry astronauts to deep space destinations that will enable future missions to Mars.

After InSight, the next opportunity to earn frequent flier points will be NASA’s Exploration Mission-1, the first flight bringing together the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars and beyond.

InSight will be the first mission to explore Mars’ deep interior. The spacecraft will set down a seismometer to detect marsquakes and meteor strikes, using the seismic energy of these phenomena to study material far below the Martian surface. It also will deploy a self-hammering heat probe that will burrow deeper into the ground than any previous device on the Red Planet. These and other InSight investigations will improve our understanding about the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.

InSight is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in May of 2018.

Artwork: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Trans Luminous Events

Trans Luminous Events or TLE’s occurring above thunderstorms have been an interest of mine since I first found about them during a Shuttle mission. Science@NASA just put out an episode about TLE’s.

During the episode they show footage from the STS-34 mission in 1989. I can’t say for sure that’s the one where I first learned about them, could be.

The International Space Station is adding to our knowledge of these events and the new additions recently made to the station will help along the way.

Slingshot Day is Here

And so is the September Equinox!

Today OSIRIS-REx will fly to around 11,000 miles / 17,702 km to the Earth at 16:50 UT / 12:50 ET and will get a gravity assist to slingshot it to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

The Total Solar and Spectral Irradiance Sensor

A VERY interesting mission about to get underway from a Space X rocket. The solar irradiance is a bit deeper than one might first surmise. Here’s a couple of companion links to the press release by NASA and Rani Gran:
NASA TSIS-1 website.
and
TSIS-1 Project website

A new instrument that will monitor our planet’s biggest power source, the Sun, arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It has a targeted November 2017 launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station. The Total Solar and Spectral Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) instrument was built by the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Scientists will use TSIS-1 to study the Sun’s energy input to Earth. Specifically, it will measure both the total amount of light that falls on Earth, known as the total solar irradiance, and how that light is distributed among ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelengths, called solar spectral irradiance.

We need to measure both because both affect Earth’s climate,” said Dong Wu, the TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA Goddard.

TSIS-1 will make these measurements with two sensors: the Total Irradiance Monitor and the Spectral Irradiance Monitor. These sensors advance previous measurements and are designed to see the tiny changes in solar irradiance, enabling scientists to study the Sun’s natural influence on Earth’s ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, clouds and ecosystems.

Scientists use the total solar irradiance measurements to quantify the variations in the Sun’s total amount of energy. Satellites have captured a continuous record of the total solar energy input to Earth since 1978, and have seen tiny fluctuations in solar energy output over the years. Most scientists believe the 0.1 percent variation in the Sun’s irradiance is too subtle to explain Earth’s recent warming, but it’s not impossible that long-term patterns proceeding over hundreds or thousands of years could cause more severe swings that could have profound impacts on climate. Scientists believe there could be a 100- or 200-year cycle of gradual heating up and cooling down periods for the Sun.

“We need to continue to monitor the Sun over longer periods during which the irradiance may change gradually but significantly,” said Peter Pilewskie, TSIS lead mission scientist from LASP in Boulder, Colorado. “How the atmosphere responds to subtle changes in the Sun’s output helps us distinguish between natural and human influences on climate.”

Scientists also study the solar spectral irradiance, the distribution of the Sun’s energy across its constituent wavelengths, because different wavelengths of light are absorbed by different parts of the atmosphere. For instance, the ozone layer is Earth’s natural sunscreen and protects life from harmful ultraviolet radiation. TSIS-1 measurements of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation are critical to understanding the condition of this protective ozone layer.

COBALT

COBALT (CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies) strives to provide the higest quality precision navigation solution ever tested for NASA space landing applications.

The technologies included a navigation doppler lidar (NDL), which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and the Lander Vision System (LVS), which provides terrain-relative navigation.

NASA’S Armstrong Flight Research Center – Through flight campaigns conducted in March and April aboard Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac, a rocket-powered vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) platform, the COBALT system was flight tested to collect sensor performance data for NDL and LVS and to check the integration and communication between COBALT and the rocket. The flight tests provided excellent performance data for both sensors, as well as valuable information on the integrated performance with the rocket that will be used for subsequent COBALT modifications prior to follow-on flight tests.

Mars Smiles Back

This fun image,  formally known as formally known as “THEMIS Art #138”,  comes to us from the Mars 2001 Odyssey Spacecraft taken by the onboard Thermal Emission Imaging System or THEMIS.

Orbit Number: 65345

Latitude: 34.4675 Longitude: 105.179

IR Captured: 2016-09-06 09:27

 

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University.