Parker Survives Encounter with Sun

Great news this time around from the Parker Solar Probe and a couple new records.

NASA: Parker Solar Probe is alive and well after skimming by the Sun at just 15 million miles from our star’s surface. This is far closer than any spacecraft has ever gone — the previous record was set by Helios B in 1976 and broken by Parker on Oct. 29 — and this maneuver has exposed the spacecraft to intense heat and solar radiation in a complex solar wind environment.

“Parker Solar Probe was designed to take care of itself and its precious payload during this close approach, with no control from us on Earth — and now we know it succeeded,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. “Parker is the culmination of six decades of scientific progress. Now, we have realized humanity’s first close visit to our star, which will have implications not just here on Earth, but for a deeper understanding of our universe.”

Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab received the status beacon from the spacecraft at 4:46 p.m. EST on Nov. 7, 2018. The beacon indicates status “A” — the best of all four possible status signals, meaning that Parker Solar Probe is operating well with all instruments running and collecting science data and, if there were any minor issues, they were resolved autonomously by the spacecraft.

At its closest approach on Nov. 5, called perihelion, Parker Solar Probe reached a top speed of 213,200 miles per hour, setting a new record for spacecraft speed. Along with new records for the closest approach to the Sun, Parker Solar Probe will repeatedly break its own speed record as its orbit draws closer to the star and the spacecraft travels faster and faster at perihelion.

At this distance, the intense sunlight heated the Sun-facing side of Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield, called the Thermal Protection System, to about 820 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will climb up to 2,500 F as the spacecraft makes closer approaches to the Sun — but all the while, the spacecraft instruments and systems that are protected by the heat shield are generally kept in the mid-80s F.

Parker Solar Probe’s first solar encounter phase began on Oct. 31, and the spacecraft will continue collecting science data through the end of the solar encounter phase on Nov. 11. It will be several weeks after the end of the solar encounter phase before the science data begins downlinking to Earth.

Orion Test Capsule Recovery

Very nice picture and a fun albeit stressful training session.

NASA: On Nov. 1, 2018, the USS John P. Murtha recovered the test version of the Orion capsule at sunset in the Pacific Ocean. The Underway Recovery Test-7 (URT-7) is one in a series of tests that the Exploration Ground Systems Recovery Team, along with the U.S. Navy, are conducting to validate procedures and hardware that will be used to recover the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down following deep space exploration missions. Orion will have the capability to sustain the crew during space travel, provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities, and emergency abort.

Photo edited by NASA/Ron Beard, Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

Curiosity Update

A week or so ago we had a post about how the Curiosity team was going to “switch brains” on the Mars rover. NASA addressed the switch in a press release. The rover is again on the move – good news.

The image (thanks NASA/JPL-Caltech) is from 15 June 2018, before the sandstorm.

NASA : NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover drove about 197 feet (60 meters) over the weekend to a site called Lake Orcadie, pushing its total odometry to over 12 miles (20 kilometers). This was Curiosity’s longest drive since experiencing a memory anomaly on Sept. 15. The rover switched to a spare computer, called the Side-A computer, on Oct. 3.

After more than two weeks of science operations, and now with this latest drive, the mission is back to business. The team plans to drill a new target later this week.

Curiosity’s engineering team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues to diagnose the anomaly on the Side-B computer.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this week commanded the agency’s Curiosity rover to switch to its second computer. The switch will enable engineers to do a detailed diagnosis of a technical issue that has prevented the rover’s active computer from storing science and some key engineering data since Sept. 15.

Like many NASA spacecraft, Curiosity was designed with two, redundant computers — in this case, referred to as a Side-A and a Side-B computer — so that it can continue operations if one experiences a glitch. After reviewing several options, JPL engineers recommended that the rover switch from Side B to Side A, the computer the rover used initially after landing.

The rover continues to send limited engineering data stored in short-term memory when it connects to a relay orbiter. It is otherwise healthy and receiving commands. But whatever is preventing Curiosity from storing science data in long-term memory is also preventing the storage of the rover’s event records, a journal of all its actions that engineers need in order to make a diagnosis. The computer swap will allow data and event records to be stored on the Side-A computer.

Side A experienced hardware and software issues over five years ago on sol 200 of the mission, leaving the rover uncommandable and running down its battery. At that time, the team successfully switched to Side B. Engineers have since diagnosed and quarantined the part of Side A’s memory that was affected so that computer is again available to support the mission.

“At this point, we’re confident we’ll be getting back to full operations, but it’s too early to say how soon,” said Steven Lee of JPL, Curiosity’s deputy project manager. “We are operating on Side A starting today, but it could take us time to fully understand the root cause of the issue and devise workarounds for the memory on Side B.

“We spent the last week checking out Side A and preparing it for the swap,” Lee said. “It’s certainly possible to run the mission on the Side-A computer if we really need to. But our plan is to switch back to Side B as soon as we can fix the problem to utilize its larger memory size.”

European Space Weather Week


The 15th annual European Space Weather Week is here. To that end here is an example of space weather, an aurora, on the planet Uranus.  It will be interesting to see what comes from ESWW this time around.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a proper aurora and it’s likely to be a while until I do. Solar Activity is very low and the Sun for the most part is spotless. You can get a current image and more from a great page maintained by Canadian Amateur Radio Station VE3EN (73 to the op) called SolarHam.com

The great image comes to us from: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Lamy / Observatoire de Paris

ESA: On the first day of the 15th annual European Space Weather Week, this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope fittingly shows a striking occurrence of celestial weather in the outer reaches of the Solar System: an aurora on Uranus.

Auroras, also known as polar lights, are a relatively familiar type of space weather to Earth-based stargazers, but have also been spied on many other planets in the Solar System.

Views of the Earth’s Northern and Southern Lights show glowing sheets and rippling waves of bright light painting the sky in striking shades of green and even red, blue, and purple; these breath-taking scenes are created as streams of energetic charged particles hit the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere at altitudes of up to a few hundreds of kilometres, and interact with resident atoms and molecules of mostly oxygen and nitrogen. These emit photons at specific visible wavelengths or colours – green and red for oxygen, blue and purple for nitrogen – and fill the sky with an eerie auroral glow.

Hubble has observed auroras on Uranus on various occasions: in 2011, when the telescope became the first to image the phenomenon from the vicinity of Earth, then again in 2012 and 2014, taking extra data beyond visible light.

By pointing Hubble’s ultraviolet eye on Uranus twice during the same month, from 1 to 5 and 22 to 24 November 2014, scientists were able to determine that the planet’s glimmering auroras rotate along with the planet. The observations also helped to locate Uranus’ magnetic poles, and allowed scientists to track two so-called interplanetary shocks that propagated through the Solar System. These shocks were triggered by two powerful bursts of material flung out by the Sun via the solar wind, an ongoing flow of charged particles constantly emanating from our star, and caused the most intense auroras ever seen on Uranus.

This image, originally published in 2017, shows the auroras as wispy patches of white against the planet’s azure blue disc, and combines optical and ultraviolet observations from Hubble with archive data from NASA’s Voyager 2 probe. Voyager 2 was the first and only craft to visit the outermost planets in the Solar System; it flew past Uranus in January 1986, and past Neptune in August 1989. These icy planets have not been visited since. NASA and ESA have been studying a possible joint mission that would target the two ice giant planets in order to explore their intriguing role in our planetary system.

European Space Weather Week runs from 5 to 9 November 2018, and brings together engineers, scientists, specialists, and professionals from across the continent in order to exchange news, ideas, and strategies on space weather and protecting Earth’s cosmic environment.

The Airbus Team

NASA – The Airbus team poses with the European Service Module during preparations for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The module is scheduled to depart Germany on November 5, arriving at Kennedy on November 6. For the first time, NASA will use a European-built system as a critical element to power an American spacecraft, extending the international cooperation of the International Space Station into deep space.

The European Service Module is a unique collaboration across space agencies and industry including ESA’s prime contractor, Airbus, and 10 European countries. The completion of service module work in Europe and shipment to Kennedy signifies a major milestone toward NASA’s human deep space exploration missions.

On Friday, Nov. 16, an event at Kennedy Space Center and live on NASA Television will mark the module’s arrival. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and ESA (European Space Agency) Director General Jan Wörner, as well as other senior leaders from NASA and ESA will discuss the international cooperation needed to send humans to the Moon and Mars.

Image Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

November Skies

Great month for sky watching, Around these parts one has to pick their days because it is the cloudiest month of the year; but when the sky is clear the viewing tends to be excellent!

Hoping for those clear skies for the Leonids!

The Sun Sets on DAWN

Launched in 2007 the DAWN mission is now over, the spacecraft has gone silent. Great mission!

“Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission – its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.” — NASA

New Views of Bennu from OSIRIS-REx

Nice algorithm to combine a rotating target! I wonder how big the file size is and what it takes to run it.

NASA – This “super-resolution” view of asteroid Bennu was created using eight images obtained by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Oct. 29, 2018, from a distance of about 205 miles (330 km). The spacecraft was moving as it captured the images with the PolyCam camera, and Bennu rotated 1.2 degrees during the nearly one minute that elapsed between the first and the last snapshot. The team used a super-resolution algorithm to combine the eight images and produce a higher resolution view of the asteroid. Bennu occupies about 100 pixels and is oriented with its north pole at the top of the image.

Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona