Category Archives: NASA

Europa Mission to Phase B

Good news! According to the following press release the Europa mission is moving along, oh it will be a good while before this off the ground, but this is a critical hurdle.

From NASA:

On Feb. 15, NASA’s Europa multiple-flyby mission successfully completed its Key Decision Point-B review. This NASA decision permits the mission to move forward into its preliminary design phase, known as “Phase B,” beginning on Feb. 27.

A highlight of Phase A was the selection and accommodation of 10 instruments being developed to study the scientific mysteries of Europa. The new mission phase is planned to continue through September 2018, and will result in the completion of a preliminary design for the mission’s systems and subsystems. Some testing of spacecraft components, including solar cells and science instrument detectors, has already been underway during Phase A, and this work is planned to continue into Phase B.

In addition, during Phase B subsystem vendors will be selected, as well as prototype hardware elements for the science instruments. Spacecraft subassemblies will be built and tested as well.

The Europa mission spacecraft is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit Jupiter as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys in the prime mission, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

The life cycle of a NASA science mission includes several key phases. At each step, missions must successfully demonstrate that they have met the agency’s requirements in order to indicate readiness to move forward into the next phase. Phase B includes preliminary design work, while phases C and D include final design, spacecraft fabrication, assembly and testing, and launch.

Image: NASA

Tornado Damage at NASA

Here’s the update to the damage sustained by NASA’s Michoud facility in Louisiana.

By the way:
Hopefully everyone that was able to, had a chance to see the lunar eclipse. When the moon rose over the mountains to the east it was beautiful but very shortly after cirrus clouds moved in and more or less ruined the show. I’m not that sad about the clouds though, it brought the temperatures up from the minus 20 deg C it was to the minus 5 deg C it is now.

I am going to try and do a post early for Monday because we have been assured we can expect 30 cm / 12 inches of snow with strong winds Sunday into Monday.  I’m a bit concerned about having power.  I

Tornado Strikes NASA Facility

NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility was damaged by a tornado yesterday shortly after noon local time. There were reports of one injury of unknown severity and building damage. Michoud is where components to the new Space Launch System (SLS); there was no damage to any of the components such as the hydrogen and oxygen fuel tanks.

A facility assessment is underway so we should know to was extent of the damage shortly.

Active Galactic Nucleus

ic3639

The galaxy above called IC-3639 has an Active Galactic Nucleus that is actually obscured which leads to even more questions.  AGN’s are super-massive black holes (in the order of a million to probably hundreds of million solar masses) that are accreting massive amounts of matter, which is to say “feeding”. The accretion disc makes the Active Galaxies among the brightest objects in terms of electromagnetic radiation, so bright it is not often whether or not a galaxy is active, is in question, IC 3639 is such a galaxy.

A word about black holes in general because some people have a mistaken impression of black holes as marauding monsters roaming the universe looking for innocent planets to swallow up, that just came up on an outing with friends. No, a black holes don’t really do that. In fact if you took a black hole of one-solar-mass and swapped it with our Sun our solar system would just keep right on going just like it does now, aside from light and heat of course, the fabric of space-time would be just as it is now.

From NuSTAR:
IC 3639, a galaxy with an active galactic nucleus, is seen in this image combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory.

This galaxy contains an example of a supermassive black hole hidden by gas and dust. Researchers analyzed NuSTAR data from this object and compared them with previous observations from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Japanese-led Suzaku satellite. The findings from NuSTAR, which is more sensitive to higher energy X-rays than these observatories, confirm the nature of IC 3639 as an active galactic nucleus that is heavily obscured, and intrinsically much brighter than observed.

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

Image and caption: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESO/STScI

Two New Moons?

uranusvoyanger2

Could the data from the Voyager spacecraft still be providing discoveries?  Yes indeed!

Credits: NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona)

From NASA:

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus 30 years ago, but researchers are still making discoveries from the data it gathered then. A new study led by University of Idaho researchers suggests there could be two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near two of the planet’s rings.

Rob Chancia, a University of Idaho doctoral student, spotted key patterns in the rings while examining decades-old images of Uranus’ icy rings taken by Voyager 2 in 1986. He noticed the amount of ring material on the edge of the alpha ring — one of the brightest of Uranus’ multiple rings — varied periodically. A similar, even more promising pattern occurred in the same part of the neighboring beta ring.

“When you look at this pattern in different places around the ring, the wavelength is different — that points to something changing as you go around the ring. There’s something breaking the symmetry,” said Matt Hedman, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Idaho, who worked with Chancia to investigate the finding. Their results will be published in The Astronomical Journal and have been posted to the pre-press site arXiv.

Chancia and Hedman are well-versed in the physics of planetary rings: both study Saturn’s rings using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Saturn. Data from Cassini have yielded new ideas about how rings behave, and a grant from NASA allowed Chancia and Hedman to examine Uranus data gathered by Voyager 2 in a new light. Specifically, they analyzed radio occultations — made when Voyager 2 sent radio waves through the rings to be detected back on Earth — and stellar occultations, made when the spacecraft measured the light of background stars shining through the rings, which helps reveal how much material they contain.

They found the pattern in Uranus’ rings was similar to moon-related structures in Saturn’s rings called moonlet wakes.

The researchers estimate the hypothesized moonlets in Uranus’ rings would be 2 to 9 miles (4 to 14 kilometers) in diameter — as small as some identified moons of Saturn, but smaller than any of Uranus’ known moons. Uranian moons are especially hard to spot because their surfaces are covered in dark material.

“We haven’t seen the moons yet, but the idea is the size of the moons needed to make these features is quite small, and they could have easily been missed,” Hedman said. “The Voyager images weren’t sensitive enough to easily see these moons.”

Hedman said their findings could help explain some characteristics of Uranus’ rings, which are strangely narrow compared to Saturn’s. The moonlets, if they exist, may be acting as “shepherd” moons, helping to keep the rings from spreading out. Two of Uranus’ 27 known moons, Ophelia and Cordelia, act as shepherds to Uranus’ epsilon ring.

“The problem of keeping rings narrow has been around since the discovery of the Uranian ring system in 1977 and has been worked on by many dynamicists over the years,” Chancia said. “I would be very pleased if these proposed moonlets turn out to be real and we can use them to approach a solution.”

Confirming whether or not the moonlets actually exist using telescope or spacecraft images will be left to other researchers, Chancia and Hedman said. They will continue examining patterns and structures in Uranus’ rings, helping uncover more of the planet’s many secrets.

“It’s exciting to see Voyager 2’s historic Uranus exploration still contributing new knowledge about the planets,” said Ed Stone, project scientist for Voyager, based at Caltech, Pasadena, California.

Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, were launched 16 days apart in 1977. Both spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager 2 also flew by Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 is the longest continuously operated spacecraft. It is expected to enter interstellar space in a few years, joining Voyager 1, which crossed over in 2012. Though far past the planets, the mission continues to send back unprecedented observations of the space environment in the solar system, providing crucial information on the environment our spacecraft travel through as we explore farther and farther from home.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built the twin Voyager spacecraft and operates them for the Heliophysics Division within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Super Guppy Delivers

The Super Guppy, an aptly named NASA cargo plane might look unwieldy but don’t let looks fool you; this plane can deliver large items.

The image here for example shows the cargo bay of the plane and a new heat shield being unloaded at Kennedy Space Center (Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis).

superguppy

The heat shield will protect the new Orion spacecraft from the intense heat of re-entry. The heat-shield, built by Lockheed Martin in Colorado will withstand temperatures of 2,760 C / 5,000 F. The 5 meter / 16.5 ft diameter heat-shield plus crating fits easily inside the Guppy.

Here’s a video of the Super Guppy in action.

Earth 50 Years Ago

Earthfrommoon

50 years ago today the Lunar Orbiter 1 took the first picture of Earth from the moon. Lunar Orbiter 1 was launched on 10 August 1966 and returned 42 high-resolution and 187 medium-resolution frames were taken and transmitted to Earth covering over 5 million square kilometers of the Moon’s surface. This image was taken on 23 August 1966 at 16:35 GMT.

More about Lunar Orbiter 1

Image: NASA via Wikimedia