All posts by Tom

Artemis Phase 1 Explained

NASA is serious about returning to the moon. Here we have NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine explains how Phase 1 of the Artemis mission to the moon might work.

We’ll see how the political landscape changes over the next few years to see if this becomes reality. Don’t get me wrong I hope it does.

A Century of Gravity

More correctly titled: “One hundred years of gravity”.

In this video, Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, reflects on this historic measurement that inaugurated a century of exciting experiments, investigating gravity on Earth and in space and proving general relativity in ever greater detail. — NASA

Want to Help NASA?

NASA: Citizen scientists assemble! NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu needs extra pairs of eyes to help choose its sample collection site on the asteroid – and to look for anything else that might be scientifically interesting. 

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been at Bennu since Dec. 3, 2018, mapping the asteroid in detail, while the mission team searches for a sample collection site that is safe, conducive to sample collection and worthy of closer study. One of the biggest challenges of this effort, which the team discovered after arriving at the asteroid five months ago, is that Bennu has an extremely rocky surface and each boulder presents a danger to the spacecraft’s safety. To expedite the sample selection process, the team is asking citizen scientist volunteers to develop a hazard map by counting boulders. 

“For the safety of the spacecraft, the mission team needs a comprehensive catalog of all the boulders near the potential sample collection sites, and I invite members of the public to assist the OSIRIS-REx mission team in accomplishing this essential task,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

For this effort, NASA is partnering with CosmoQuest, a project run out of the Planetary Science Institute that supports citizen science initiatives. Volunteers will perform the same tasks that planetary scientists do – measuring Bennu’s boulders and mapping its rocks and craters – through the use of a simple web interface. They will also mark other scientifically interesting features on the asteroid for further investigation.

The boulder mapping work involves a high degree of precision, but it is not difficult. The CosmoQuest mapping app requires a computer with a larger screen and a mouse or trackpad capable of making precise marks. To help volunteers get started, the CosmoQuest team provides an interactive tutorial, as well as additional user assistance through a Discord community and livestreaming sessions on Twitch. 

“We are very pleased and excited to make OSIRIS-REx images available for this important citizen science endeavor,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Bennu has surprised us with an abundance of boulders. We ask for citizen scientists’ help to evaluate this rugged terrain so that we can keep our spacecraft safe during sample collection operations.”

Sample return isn’t new for NASA – this year, the agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions to the Moon, which allowed astronauts to bring back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil. Those samples helped scientists discover that the Moon has water locked in its rocks and even permanently frozen in craters. These findings and others inspired the agency to create the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and start preparing for human exploration on Mars.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission will continue the Apollo legacy by giving scientists precious samples of an asteroid,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These samples will help scientists discover the secrets of planetary formation and the origins of our planet Earth.”

The Bennu mapping campaign continues through July 10, when the mission begins the sample site selection process. Once primary and secondary sites are selected, the spacecraft will begin closer reconnaissance to map the two sites to sub-centimeter resolution. The mission’s Touch-and-Go (TAG) sampling maneuver is scheduled for July 2020, and the spacecraft will return to Earth with its cargo in September 2023.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To volunteer as a Bennu mapper, visit: Bennu.cosmoquest.org

See The ISS Fly-Over

Want to see the International Space Station fly overhead? I know many readers look every now and then, however if you have never tried, give it a try. Just check when it will be visible and go out and have a look, providing you have clear skies that is.

NASA’s “Spot The Station“.

I usually look at Heavens-Above and have done so for years with great success.

A View of Los Angeles

From a CubeSat! This particular CubeSat is a planet hunter too.

NASA: A small satellite designed to hunt for new planets beyond the solar system recently looked down at Earth to capture an image of California’s “City of Stars.”

The greater Los Angeles area stands out in these images from ASTERIA, the Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics, a satellite not much larger than a briefcase. ASTERIA is a CubeSat, or a small satellite composed of cubic units that measure 10 centimeters (4.5 inches) on each side. This particular CubeSat is made up of six units.

The images, taken March 29, reveal a massive grid of illuminated city streets and freeways. A bright spot near the center of the first image marks the location of Dodger Stadium. (The Dodgers played the Arizona Diamondbacks at home that night.) To the northeast, near the darkness of the San Gabriel Mountains, is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which built and operates ASTERIA, and the nearby Rose Bowl Stadium. The close-cropped image shows a region of about 43.5 square miles (70 square kilometers), with a resolution of about 100 feet (30 meters) per pixel.

Lots of orbiting small satellites can take higher-quality pictures of Earth than this one. But ASTERIA is the only CubeSat in orbit that can also look for exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Its primary mission objective was to demonstrate precision-pointing technology in a small satellite.


Electrical Test Engineer Esha Murty (left) and Integration and Test Lead Cody Colley (right) prepare the ASTERIA spacecraft for mass properties measurements in April 2017 prior to spacecraft delivery.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ASTERIA was developed under the Phaeton Program at JPL. Phaeton provided early-career hires, under the guidance of experienced mentors, with the challenges of a flight project. The mission is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science and physics at MIT, is the mission’s principal investigator.

Galactic Hit-and-Run

Spectacular!

Hubble et al.: The irregular galaxy NGC 4485 shows all the signs of having been involved in a hit-and-run accident with a bypassing galaxy. Rather than destroying the galaxy, the chance encounter is spawning a new generation of stars, and presumably planets.

The right side of the galaxy is ablaze with star formation, shown in the plethora of young blue stars and star-incubating pinkish nebulas. The left side, however, looks intact. It contains hints of the galaxy’s previous spiral structure, which, at one time, was undergoing normal galactic evolution.

The larger culprit galaxy, NGC 4490, is off the bottom of the frame. The two galaxies sideswiped each other millions of years ago and are now 24,000 light-years apart. The gravitational tug-of-war between them created rippling patches of higher-density gas and dust within both galaxies. This activity triggered a flurry of star formation.

This galaxy is a nearby example of the kind of cosmic bumper-car activity that was more common billions of years ago when the universe was smaller and galaxies were closer together.

NGC 4485 lies 25 million light-years away in the northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs).

This new image, captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), provides further insight into the complexities of galaxy evolution.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Text credit: Space Telescope Science Institute
Image credit: NASA, ESA; acknowledgment: T. Roberts (Durham University, UK), D. Calzetti (University of Massachusetts) and the LEGUS Team, R. Tully (University of Hawaii) and R. Chandar (University of Toledo)

Space X Launch Postponed

What no launch? There has been a delay not for weather but for “software updates”.

It appears the new launch date is a week away at this point. So here is a video with Elon Musk showing the 60 satellites which are just part of the planned 800 for the network.