NASA aims to launch the SLS rocket in just 2 months

The Space Launch System rocket will be back to the Vehicle Assembly Building this week.

Enlarge / The Space Launch System rocket will be back to the Vehicle Assembly Building this week. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

The US space agency has spent a long, long time designing, developing, building, and testing the Space Launch System rocket. When NASA created the rocket program in 2010, US legislators said the SLS booster should be ready to launch in 2016.

Of course, that launch target and many others have come and gone. But now, after more than a decade and more than $20 billion in funding, NASA and its litany of contractors are very close to declaring the 111-meter tall rocket ready for its debut launch.

On June 20, NASA successfully counted the rocket down to T-29 seconds during a pre-launch fueling test. Although they did not reach T-9 seconds, as was the original goal, the agency’s engineers collected enough data to satisfy the requisite information to proceed toward a launch.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#artemis, #nasa, #science, #sls-rocket, #space

Lawmakers seek to accelerate asteroid finder and want more Mars helicopters

NASA’s <em>Ingenuity</em> Mars helicopter is seen here in a closeup taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover.

Enlarge / NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a closeup taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This week, the US House of Representatives will release a detailed blueprint of its budget for Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies, including information about NASA’s budget. The House proposes to provide 25.446 billion for NASA for fiscal year 2023, which is $1.4 billion more than what NASA received this year but $527 million less than what the agency asked for.

In advance of its release, Ars obtained a copy of the 208-page budget blueprint, which represents the opening salvo in the process of funding the federal government. The Senate must still release its budget blueprint later this summer, and then the House and Senate must reconcile their budgets. This may not happen until the fall or winter, after the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2022.

However, the preliminary document nonetheless provides some sense of lawmaker priorities. And in general, the House budget writers appear to largely support NASA’s activities, including the Artemis Program to land humans on the Moon this decade.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#budget, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA’s Psyche mission won’t be ready for launch this year

One of two solar arrays on NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is successfully deployed in JPL’s storied High Bay 2 clean room.

Enlarge / One of two solar arrays on NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is successfully deployed in JPL’s storied High Bay 2 clean room. The twin arrays will power the spacecraft and its science instruments during a mission to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Friday, NASA held a press call to announce that its planned mission to the asteroid Psyche, planned for launch this autumn, was on indefinite hold. While the spacecraft itself is ready and has been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, there has been a delay in validating the software that will run the mission as it operates in remote areas of the Solar System.

That delay has pushed mission readiness past the point where the mission’s launch window closes due to changes in the alignment of the bodies Psyche will pass on its journey to the asteroid of the same name. NASA is saying that a mission review will evaluate all options ranging from cancellation to simply delaying the mission until the next time a window opens. Problematically, Psyche’s launch included a ride-along for a separate asteroid mission called Janus that has its own launch windows, so the review will need to include NASA’s entire Discovery Mission program more broadly.

Psyche out

The asteroid Psyche is an unusual body in the Solar System. It’s the former core of an object that was large enough to form a core of metallic elements; collisions have since stripped away the outer layers of this body, leaving behind something that’s nearly entirely metal. Accordingly, visiting Psyche provides the opportunity to improve our understanding of the formation of everything from present-day asteroids to the bodies that merged to form the planets.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#jpl, #nasa, #planetary-science, #psyche, #science, #space

For the first time, a small rocket will launch a private spacecraft to the Moon

A graphic representation of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment in orbit near the Moon.

Enlarge / A graphic representation of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment in orbit near the Moon. (credit: NASA)

NASA and Rocket Lab are gearing up to fly a novel mission to lunar orbit that in many ways serves as the vanguard of what is to come as the space agency and US companies ramp up exploration and development of the Moon.

The space agency is financially supporting the privately built satellite, named CAPSTONE, with a $13.7 million grant. It is scheduled to launch on an Electron rocket as early as Saturday from New Zealand. Developed by a Colorado-based company named Advanced Space, the spacecraft itself is modestly sized, just a 12U cubesat with a mass of around 25 kg. It could fit comfortably inside a mini-refrigerator.

The mission’s scientific aims are also modest—primarily, the demonstration of a new system of autonomous navigation around and near the Moon. This Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, or CAPS, is important because there is a lack of fixed tracking assets near the Moon, especially as the cislunar environment becomes more crowded during the coming decade.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#capstone, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA counts down to within 29 seconds of launching the large SLS rocket

NASA's Space Launch System rocket, reflected in the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolls out for a fourth attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022.

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, reflected in the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolls out for a fourth attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA tried three times during April to complete a critical fueling test of its large Space Launch System rocket. And three times, due to about half a dozen technical problems, the space agency failed.

And so NASA made the difficult decision to roll the large rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs, adding a couple of months of delays to a program already years behind schedule. After this work was complete in early June, NASA rolled the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft back out to the launch pad for a fourth try.

The painful decision turned out to be the correct one. Over the course of more than 14 hours on Monday, NASA largely succeeded in completing this fueling test, loading hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen into the first and second stages of the SLS rocket.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #sls-rocket, #space

Astronomers reveal the most detailed map of the asteroid Psyche yet

Astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have mapped the composition of asteroid Psyche, revealing a surface of metal, sand, and rock.

Enlarge / Astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have mapped the composition of asteroid Psyche, revealing a surface of metal, sand, and rock. (credit: NASA)

Astronomers have produced the most detailed map to date of the surface of 16-Psyche, an asteroid that scientists believe could hold clues to how planets formed in our Solar System. According to a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, 16-Psyche has a highly varied surface of metal, sand, and rock that suggests its history could include metallic eruptions, as well as being hit by other celestial objects. The asteroid is the focus of NASA’s Psyche mission, launching later this year.

As we’ve reported previously, 16 Psyche is an M-type asteroid (meaning it has high metallic content) orbiting the Sun in the main asteroid belt, with an unusual potato-like shape. The longstanding preferred hypothesis is that Psyche is the exposed metallic core of a protoplanet (planetesimal) from our Solar System’s earliest days, with the crust and mantle stripped away by a collision (or multiple collisions) with other objects. In recent years, scientists concluded that the mass and density estimates aren’t consistent with an entirely metallic remnant core. Rather, it’s more likely a complex mix of metals and silicates.

Alternatively, the asteroid might once have been a parent body for a particular class of stony-iron meteorites, one that broke up and re-accreted into a mix of metal and silicate. Or perhaps it’s an object like 1 Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter—except 16 Psyche may have experienced a period of iron volcanism while cooling, leaving highly enriched metals in those volcanic centers.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#asteroids, #astronomy, #astrophysics, #jet-propulsion-lab, #nasa, #psyche, #science

NASA says it’s ready for a fourth attempt to fuel the massive SLS rocket

NASA's SLS rocket is seen at sunrise on June 7, 2022, after its second trip to the launch site.

Enlarge / NASA’s SLS rocket is seen at sunrise on June 7, 2022, after its second trip to the launch site. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA has been attempting to conduct a critical fueling test of its Space Launch System rocket for nearly three months, and now the agency says it is ready to try again.

This will be NASA’s fourth attempt to load the SLS rocket’s first and second stages with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and go deep into a countdown toward launch before ending the test at T-10 seconds. The space agency plans to call its team of engineers and technicians to their stations on Saturday evening and begin fueling operations on Monday morning, June 20.

“Our team is ready to go,” said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s launch director for the Artemis I mission, which represents a test flight for the SLS vehicle and Orion spacecraft. “We’re really looking forward to getting back to this test and getting into it starting on Saturday evening and certainly looking forward to the tanking operation.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #sls-rocket, #space

Astra rocket’s second stage fails, NASA CubeSats lost

Image of a rocket launch.

Enlarge (credit: Astra)

On Sunday, the launch of two CubeSats on an Astra rocket failed to go as planned, with the rocket’s second stage cutting out prematurely. The loss cost NASA two CubeSats that were meant to be part of a small constellation that would track the development of tropical storms. The failure represents yet another setback for a rocket company that has emphasized rapid development and testing-by-launching.

The lost CubeSats were intended to be part of a six-satellite series called TROPICS. With six satellites in three different orbital planes, TROPICS was designed to provide detailed temporal and spatial imaging of precipitation in tropical storms. NASA’s statement on the loss indicates that the agency will still be able to pursue the mission with just four satellites.

As for the failure itself, NASA indicates that this launch was part of a program that tolerated greater risks:

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astra, #cubesats, #nasa, #rockets, #science, #space

NASA’s plan to get Ingenuity through the Martian winter

In this concept illustration provided by NASA, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface as NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover rolls away.

Enlarge / In this concept illustration provided by NASA, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet’s surface as NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover rolls away. (credit: NASA)

Ingenuity, NASA’s autonomous Mars helicopter, was only meant to complete five flights. But since its history-making first flight in April 2021, the helicopter has flown 28 times, and preparation is underway for the 29th. Depending on dust levels and the schedule of the rover Perseverance, that flight could take place as soon as later this week. But now Ingenuity faces a new challenge: It’s unclear if the helicopter will survive the coming Martian winter, which begins in July.

Since a Martian year amounts to roughly two years on Earth, and the helicopter is in the northern hemisphere, this is Ingenuity’s first winter. As the solstice approaches, days are getting shorter and nights longer, and dust storms could become more frequent. That all means less sunlight for the solar panels mounted above the helicopter’s twin 4-foot rotor blades. Dust on solar panels recently spelled the end of operations for NASA’s InSight Mars lander, and the effects of cold on electronics is believed to have played a role in the end of the Opportunity and Spirit Mars rover missions.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ingenuity, #mars, #nasa, #science

NASA to figure out how to get data on unexplained objects in the sky

Is the truth out there? NASA's going to figure out what kind of data it would need to start asking the question scientifically.

Enlarge / Is the truth out there? NASA’s going to figure out what kind of data it would need to start asking the question scientifically. (credit: David Wall)

On Thursday, NASA announced it’s going to start working on a report about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), which are more commonly referred to as UFOs. The goal of the report isn’t intended to draw any conclusions about their identity (or identities); instead, its goal is to figure out what data NASA either already has or could gather that would help us understand what they are and subject them to scientific study, if possible.

Although lots of the interest in UFOs is anything but scientific, NASA is putting this initiative in its Science Mission Directorate, and Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of that directorate, took part in a press call announcing it. The “UAP” nomenclature used in the announcement is important from NASA’s perspective, in that there’s currently no indication that any of the unidentified things we’ve observed are flying in any sense—they could easily be optical illusions or natural phenomena.

Zurbuchen made it clear that NASA doesn’t expect to have any answers to the question of the identity of UAPs when the report is released in a year or so. Instead, the goal of the effort is to figure out how, in Zurbuchen’s words, to “take a field that is data-poor and make it into something that’s data-rich.” He noted that NASA performs a lot of observations of Earth’s atmosphere in a variety of wavelengths, so it may potentially already have data that can help determine what’s going on if we could identify how to pick out the right data. Alternatively, if the report identifies that new sensors are needed, then NASA is well-positioned to build and operate them.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #space, #ufos

NASA’s second mobile launcher is too heavy, years late, and pushing $1 billion

A comparison of the initial variant of the Space Launch System rocket (left), with the upgraded variant, as well as the original and new mobile launch towers.

Enlarge / A comparison of the initial variant of the Space Launch System rocket (left), with the upgraded variant, as well as the original and new mobile launch towers. (credit: NASA OIG)

Three years ago, NASA awarded a cost-plus contract to the engineering firm Bechtel for the design and construction of a large, mobile launch tower. The 118-meter tower will support the fueling and liftoff of a larger and more capable version of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket that may make its debut during the second half of this decade.

When Bechtel won the contract for this mobile launcher, named ML-2, it was supposed to cost $383 million. But according to a scathing new report by NASA’s inspector general, the project is already running years behind schedule, the launcher weighs too much, and the whole thing is hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The new cost estimate for the project is $960 million.

“We found Bechtel’s poor performance is the main reason for the significant projected cost increases,” the report, signed by Inspector General Paul Martin, states. The report finds that Bechtel underestimated the project’s scope and complexity. In turn, Bechtel officials sought to blame some of the project’s cost increases on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bechtel, #mobile-launch-tower, #nasa, #science, #space

The privately funded killer-asteroid spotter is here

Visualization of asteroid trajectories

Enlarge / Visualizing the trajectories through the Solar System of asteroids discovered by the Asteroid Discovery Analysis and Mapping platform. (credit: B612 Asteroid Institute | University of Washington DiRAC Institute | DECam)

Gigantic asteroids have smashed into the Earth before—RIP dinosaurs—and if we’re not watching out for all those errant space rocks, they could crash into our world again, with devastating consequences. That’s why Ed Lu and Danica Remy of the Asteroid Institute started a new project to track as many of them as possible.

Lu, a former NASA astronaut and executive director of the institute, led a team that developed a novel algorithm called THOR, which harnesses massive computing power to compare points of light seen in different images of the night sky, then matches them to piece together an individual asteroid’s path through the solar system. They’ve already discovered 104 asteroids with the system, according to an announcement they released on Tuesday.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#asteroids, #nasa, #near-earth-asteroids, #science, #space

New photo reveals a NASA spacecraft cloaked in Martian dust

Planetary scientist Paul Byrne created this compilation of NASA images showing the InSight spacecraft on its 10th day on Mars, and the lander 1,201 days later.

Enlarge / Planetary scientist Paul Byrne created this compilation of NASA images showing the InSight spacecraft on its 10th day on Mars, and the lander 1,201 days later. (credit: Paul Byrne/Twitter/NASA)

Anyone planning to move to Mars should probably account for dust. Lots of dust.

Earlier this month NASA announced that it would soon have to cease science operations on its Mars InSight lander due to diminishing power levels from the vehicle’s dust-cloaked solar panels. The spacecraft, which landed on the red planet in November 2018 to study seismic activity, simply cannot produce enough power to operate normally.

InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes, NASA scientists say, including a relatively powerful magnitude 5 quake on May 4. This was the largest marsquake detected to date, and at the upper limit of what scientists hoped to observe. This seismic activity has allowed scientists to tease out details about the inner structure of the red planet.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#insight, #mars, #nasa, #science, #space

Today’s the day when Boeing’s Starliner takes to the skies. Probably

Boeing's Starliner is seen on Wednesday atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Enlarge / Boeing’s Starliner is seen on Wednesday atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Today’s the day for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to take to the skies. Unless it’s not.

Nearly 29 months have passed since the company’s first attempt to demonstrate that Starliner could safely launch into orbit, fly up to the International Space Station and dock, and then return to Earth in a New Mexico desert beneath three parachutes. During that December 2019 test flight, of course, there were myriad software problems, and Starliner ended up lacking the fuel to rendezvous with the space station.

As part of its fixed-price contract with NASA—the space agency is paying about $5.1 billion to Boeing to develop a crew transport system to the space station—the company agreed to redo the demonstration flight. Boeing thought it was ready for this repeat flight last August, but hours before launch more than a dozen valves in Starliner’s propulsion system became stuck. The attempt was called off, so Boeing never got to test its revised software code.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boeing, #nasa, #science, #space, #starliner

NASA reveals launch dates for Artemis I through the first half of 2023

NASA's Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April.

Enlarge / NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA has published a list of potential launch dates for the Artemis I mission (see PDF), starting as early as July 26 and running through June of next year. During this time period, due to various constraints, the space agency has preliminarily identified 158 launch opportunities.

The Artemis I mission will encompass the debut launch for NASA’s large Space Launch System rocket and the second orbital flight of its Orion spacecraft. Depending on when the uncrewed demonstration mission launches, it could last from 26 to 42 days as Orion flies into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.

In its news release, NASA helpfully explains the various constraints behind these dates, including orbital mechanics. For example, NASA says, “The resulting trajectory for a given day must ensure Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time so that the solar array wings can receive and convert sunlight to electricity and the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature range. Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into extended eclipses during the flight.”

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #sls, #space

Former NASA leaders praise Boeing’s willingness to risk commercial crew

Politically, Boeing's spacecraft has done a lot of heavy lifting for NASA's commercial crew program.

Enlarge / Politically, Boeing’s spacecraft has done a lot of heavy lifting for NASA’s commercial crew program. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

The last few years have been pretty rough for the Boeing Company. Its newest generation of 737 aircraft, the Max, was grounded in 2019 after two fatal crashes. And following a series of poor management decisions, the company has continued to lose commercial aircraft market share to European multinational corporation Airbus.

Boeing’s defense segment has fared little better. After winning a large military refueling contract, Boeing started producing the KC-46 tanker for the Air Force. But because of manufacturing and design problems with the tanker, the company has taken about $5 billion in losses during the last decade.

Finally, there is Boeing’s space unit, which has struggled to adapt to the new era of commercial space and fixed-price contracts. Most visibly, Boeing has competed directly with SpaceX over the last decade in the commercial crew program to deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. So far, things have not gone terribly well. Boeing is running about three years behind SpaceX, which has now launched five crewed missions for NASA.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boeing, #nasa, #science, #space, #starliner

After losing contact with its helicopter, NASA put the entire Mars mission on hold

NASA's Mars <em>Ingenuity</em> helicopter has been flying across the red planet for more than a year.

Enlarge / NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been flying across the red planet for more than a year. (credit: NASA)

The achievement of powered flight on another world is one of the great spaceflight feats of the last decade. Since its first brief hop on April 19, 2021, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter has subsequently made an additional 27 flights, traveling nearly 7 km across the surface of the red planet and scouting ahead of NASA’s Perseverance rover. It has wildly exceeded the expectations and hopes of its scientists and engineers.

But recently the small, automated helicopter has had problems with dust accumulating on its solar panels, NASA says. This dust reduces the ability of the vehicle to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries. And just as the helicopter needs all of the solar energy it can get, the northern hemisphere of Mars is approaching the dead of winter, which comes in a little more than two months.

Due to these battery issues, the helicopter’s team of flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with the helicopter on May 3. They had been closely monitoring the health of their tiny spacecraft, particularly the charge state of its batteries. After losing contact, the engineers figured that the Ingenuity‘s field-programmable gate array—essentially, its flight computer—entered into shutdown mode due to a lack of power. In such a situation, virtually all of the helicopter’s on-board electronics turned off to protect them from the cold nighttime temperatures, more than 100° Fahrenheit below freezing. This included the internal clock.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ingenuity, #mars, #nasa, #science, #space

SpaceX caps an incredibly busy month with a NASA crew landing Friday morning

Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is seen reentering Earth's atmosphere on Friday morning.

Enlarge / Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft is seen reentering Earth’s atmosphere on Friday morning. (credit: NASA)

After a 177-day spaceflight four astronauts returned to Earth early Friday morning aboard Crew Dragon Endurance.

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, and Tom Marshburn, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, undocked from the International Space Station on Thursday before lining up Endurance for a return that brought it back to Earth across the Bay of Campeche, Yucatan Peninsula, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Seas were fair when Endurance splashed down at 12:43 am ET on Friday (04:43 UTC), with a glassy surface on the ocean. The spacecraft was brought on board the recovery ship, named Shannon, and the crew clambered out less than an hour after landing. From there they boarded a helicopter, and subsequently will take a plane ride to Houston for reunions with family members.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #crew-3, #nasa, #science, #space, #spacex

This time, can Boeing’s Starliner finally shine?

Boeing says its Starliner spacecraft is ready to roll to the launch pad in Florida.

Enlarge / Boeing says its Starliner spacecraft is ready to roll to the launch pad in Florida. (credit: Boeing)

Boeing and NASA say the Starliner spacecraft is ready for a do-over flight, with a second uncrewed test mission of the spacecraft now scheduled for May 19.

Nine months have passed since a standard pre-flight check of the spacecraft, then sitting atop a rocket on a launch pad in Florida, found that 13 of 24 oxidizer valves within Starliner’s propulsion system were stuck. The discovery was made within hours of liftoff.

Since then, engineers and technicians at Boeing and NASA have worked to fully understand why the valves were stuck and to fix the problem. They found that the dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer that had been loaded onto the spacecraft 46 days prior to launch had combined with ambient humidity to create nitric acid, which had started the process of corrosion inside the valve’s aluminum housing.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#boeing, #nasa, #science, #space, #starliner

SpaceX engineer says NASA should plan for Starship’s “significant” capability

In this illustration, SpaceX's Starship vehicle is seen landing on the Moon.

Enlarge / In this illustration, SpaceX’s Starship vehicle is seen landing on the Moon. (credit: NASA)

As part of its Artemis program to return humans to the Moon this decade, NASA has a minimum requirement that its “human landing system” must be able to deliver 865 kg to the lunar surface. This is based on the mass of two crew members and their equipment needed for a short stay.

However, in selecting SpaceX’s Starship vehicle to serve as its human lander, NASA has chosen a system with a lot more capability. Starship will, in fact, be able to deliver 100 metric tons to the surface of the Moon—more than 100 times NASA’s baseline goal.

“Starship can land 100 tons on the lunar surface,” said Aarti Matthews, Starship Human Landing System program manager for SpaceX. “And it’s really hard to think about what that means in a tangible way. One hundred tons is four fire trucks. It’s 100 Moon rovers. My favorite way to explain this to my kids is that it’s the weight of more than 11 elephants.”

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#moon, #nasa, #science, #space, #starship

Webb’s mirror alignment is done, now it’s on to the instruments

A multi-panel image showing stars as detected by different detectors.

Enlarge / A very detailed view of one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. (credit: NASA/STScI)

In mid-March, NASA released an image from the Webb Space Telescope that demonstrated that its primary mirror reached the point where it focused light as finely as physics would allow for hardware of its size. That was a critical milestone, but it only applied to one of the five instruments carried by the telescope. On Thursday, NASA announced that the next milestone had been reached: All the instruments were now equally in focus.

Webb’s instruments include two spectrographs, two imaging cameras, and the fine guidance sensor that helps with pointing the telescope. Each of these has had to be aligned individually to the primary mirror to ensure focus, a process that has taken several weeks. But now, the focus for each of them is about as good as physics will allow.

That limit is set by diffraction, the process by which light interferes with itself and diffuses when it reaches an edge or corner. While it’s possible to beat the diffraction limit if you have complete control of the photons and play quantum mechanical tricks with them, that isn’t the case with telescopes. So, diffraction-limited is the best we can hope for from a telescope. And, according to NASA, it’s somewhat better than we had planned for: “The optical performance of the telescope continues to be better than the engineering team’s most optimistic predictions.”

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #nasa, #science, #webb-telescope

SpaceX rapidly pivots from Dragon landing to another launch in 39 hours

SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle is ready to launch four astronauts for NASA.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle is ready to launch four astronauts for NASA. (credit: NASA)

On Monday afternoon, a Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Now, less than two days later, SpaceX and NASA are preparing another Crew Dragon for launch.

Monday’s landing returned a crew of four private astronauts, whose 17-day spaceflight was sponsored by the private company Axiom Space. Since that vehicle’s return, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Steve Stich, said space agency and SpaceX engineers have been “poring over the data” on Dragon’s performance during its return through the atmosphere.

“It was a very clean flight overall, with really no major issues,” Stich said Tuesday morning during a press call with reporters. “The team has looked through a lot of the data, and they’ve had a chance to review everything. They’ve looked at the thermal protection system. They have looked at a lot of the GNC (guidance, navigation, and control) data from the flight. Obviously, the parachutes were very clean this flight. The mains all deployed and went to full open, almost in unison, with no indication of any laggard this time, which was great.”

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crew-dragon, #crew-4, #nasa, #science, #spacex

First all-private mission to the space station will finally come home

On April 15, Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured docked to the Harmony module's space-facing international docking adapter.

Enlarge / On April 15, Crew Dragon Endeavour is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. (credit: NASA)

The Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station on Sunday evening, setting the stage to bring four private astronauts back to Earth.

After slowly backing away from the orbiting laboratory, Endeavour is now positioned to conduct a de-orbit burn on Monday, nudging it into Earth’s atmosphere. After a brief, fiery trip through the atmosphere, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 1:06 pm ET (17:06 UTC).

Upon landing back on Earth, Ax-1 mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe and Mark Pathy will have spent 17 days in space following their launch on April 8. The crew was originally scheduled to spend eight days docked to the space station, but the mission was eventually extended a week by poor weather in Dragon’s landing zones around Florida.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#axiom, #nasa, #science, #space, #spacex

NASA is supporting some seriously risky missions to the Moon—it’s about time

This illustration shows a concept for a commercial lunar lander from Astrobotic Technology.

Enlarge / This illustration shows a concept for a commercial lunar lander from Astrobotic Technology. (credit: NASA)

For more than three years, NASA has been intensely focused on the Artemis Moon program. This high-profile international effort, spearheaded by the US space agency at a cost of nearly $7.5 billion per year, seeks to return humans to the lunar surface in the mid-2020s and establish a sustainable presence in deep space.

But in recent years, NASA has been funding a second, much smaller-scale Moon program, at just 3 percent of the cost of Artemis. This is the “Commercial Lunar Payload Services” program, which seeks to use private companies to send small- and medium-size landers to the Moon’s surface for primarily science-based missions. Its budget is about $250 million per year.

This program, known as CLPS, is showing some promising signs and will beat the Artemis program to the Moon by at least a couple of years. Moreover, it represents a bold new effort by NASA’s Science division, which is seeking to leverage the emerging commercial space sector to radically increase scientific and exploration capabilities. If successful, the CLPS model of exploration could be extended to Mars and beyond.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#clps, #features, #moon, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA’s next decade: Build a mission to an ice giant

NASA’s next decade: Build a mission to an ice giant

Enlarge (credit: NASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al; Optical: W.M. Keck Observatory)

Late in 2021, the astronomy community released its decadal survey, a road map of scientific priorities for the next 10 years, which describes the hardware we need to build in order to achieve them. That survey was focused on distant objects and recommended projects like large, broad-spectrum space telescopes.

This week sees the release of a second decadal survey, this one focused on the needs of astronomers and planetary scientists who focus on the objects in our Solar System. This survey’s big-ticket recommendations are orbiters for Uranus and Enceladus, while smaller missions include preparations for sample returns from Mars, the Moon, and Ceres. As always, what we get done will depend on whether the planetary science budgets do better than keeping pace with inflation.

Big priorities

The survey lays out the overall scientific themes behind the priorities, but they’re broad enough that they pretty much cover everything. As listed, they include a look at the materials present in small bodies within the Solar System to infer the details of planet formation from the protoplanetary disk, and observations of the planets to track their evolution since then. Also a priority: moon formation; studying the interiors and atmospheres of the planets; and the role of impacts in shaping planet evolution. Finally, there’s the possibility of life existing at present or in the past on a body other than Earth.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #mars, #moon, #nasa, #planetary-science, #science, #uranus

Nissan, NASA aim to ditch rare, pricey metals in solid-state batteries

Nissan is hoping that it can use computational materials science to find new battery materials faster.

Enlarge / Nissan is hoping that it can use computational materials science to find new battery materials faster. (credit: Nissan)

Nissan is partnering with NASA on a computational approach to developing all-solid-state batteries that don’t rely on rare or expensive metals, the AP has reported.

The automaker, which was the first to market with an affordable, mass-produced electric vehicle in the Leaf, is clearly hoping to make up for lost time. Nissan has floundered of late with its electrification strategy. Its second EV, the Ariya, is scheduled to arrive this fall, some 12 years after the first Leaf was sold. The company hopes that its in-house solid-state batteries will debut in passenger vehicles by 2028.

To get there, the company said it’s opening a pilot solid-state battery plant in 2024. The small-scale factory will be a key step in rolling out solid-state technology; many of the concepts that underpin the batteries have been demonstrated in laboratories time and again, but making the leap to manufacturing often reveals unexpected problems that can take years to solve.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cars, #computational-materials-science, #computational-modeling, #lithium-ion-battery, #materials-science, #nasa, #nissan, #solid-state-battery

Canoo wins NASA’s Artemis crew transport vehicle contract

Canoo's lifestyle vehicle will be too small to fit NASA's needs, but perhaps the Artemis Crew Transport Vehicle will look like a stretched-out version of this van.

Enlarge / Canoo’s lifestyle vehicle will be too small to fit NASA’s needs, but perhaps the Artemis Crew Transport Vehicle will look like a stretched-out version of this van. (credit: Canoo)

When astronauts finally return to the Moon with NASA’s Artemis project, their journey to the launchpad will be fully electric. The space agency has been looking for a replacement for its early 1980s-era Astrovan, and this week it awarded a contract to electric vehicle startup Canoo.

NASA had a number of requirements for the Artemis transport vehicle when it issued the contract opportunity in 2021.

The agency said it would consider both commercial and non-commercial vehicles but that the crew transport vehicle must produce zero emissions and be designed and built according to current federal vehicle safety standards. The vehicle also needs to be able to carry a driver, four suited-up astronauts, and three extra personnel.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#artemis, #battery-electric-vehicles, #canoo, #cars, #nasa

Some of the stranger features on Pluto remain tough to explain

Greyscale image of a complex planetary surface.

Enlarge / Wright Mons, at center. Note the lumpy nature of its flanks extends to other nearby areas. (credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ./APL, Southwest Research Institute)

When we look at the features on other bodies in our Solar System, there are often obvious analogs much closer to home. For example, sets of parallel ridges on Pluto appear to be the equivalent of snow features we call penitentes here on Earth. After all, a lot of geology is the product of physics, and if the same physics apply elsewhere, you can expect similar features.

But there are many times when the same physics don’t apply, and that can leave scientists scratching their heads. One of those cases was described last week when researchers found that all the easy explanations for why some features have formed on Pluto don’t actually work that well.

Cool story, bro

The feature in question is called Wright Mons, a bit of elevated terrain named after the Wright Brothers. There’s a similar feature nearby called Piccard Mons, and when the features were first seen in photographs sent back from New Horizons, scientists described them as cryovolcanoes. In terms of their shape, both looked a lot like volcanoes on Earth, with an elevated peak and a crater-like feature in the center.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #nasa, #new-horizons, #planetary-science, #pluto, #science

NASA’s big rocket faces its last test before launching

NASA's large rocket will undergo a dress rehearsal this weekend.

Enlarge / NASA’s large rocket will undergo a dress rehearsal this weekend. (credit: NASA)

After two weeks of preparatory work on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, NASA is ready to put its large new rocket and its complex plumbing system to the test. This will be the final major rehearsal before the space agency declares that, after 11 long years and tens of billions of dollars in development costs, the Space Launch System is finally ready to fly.

The “wet dress rehearsal” is slated to begin at 5 pm ET (21:00 UTC) on Friday, when the launch control teams will arrive on console at the Launch Control Center. At that point, engineers and technicians will begin to power up the Orion spacecraft and the rocket itself. But the real action will not take place until Sunday.

At around 6 am ET, a team from NASA and the launch vehicle’s contractors will enter a “launch day” countdown; shortly thereafter, they will start to fuel the rocket’s core stage with liquid oxygen. The loading of liquid hydrogen will begin about an hour later. NASA has posted a tentative schedule with key milestones on its website.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #sls, #space

No more excuses: NASA in line to get funding needed for Artemis plan

NASA's SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft are at the launch site in Florida, ready for a wet dress rehearsal in early April.

Enlarge / NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft are at the launch site in Florida, ready for a wet dress rehearsal in early April. (credit: NASA)

President Joe Biden on Monday released his budget request for the coming fiscal year, and NASA is a big winner. The administration is asking Congress to fund $25.9 billion for the space agency in 2023, an increase of nearly $2 billion over the $24.0 billion the agency received for fiscal year 2022.

The budget request for NASA includes a healthy increase for the Artemis Program, which seeks to carry out a series of human landings on the Moon later this decade. Notably, funding for a “Human Landing System” would increase from $1.2 billion for the current fiscal year to $1.5 billion, allowing for a second provider to begin work. Additionally, funding for lunar spacesuits would increase from $100 million to $276 million. NASA would also receive substantial funding—$48 million—to begin developing human exploration campaigns for the Moon and beyond.

All of this new funding in the proposed budget comes in addition to the billions that NASA has been spending annually to develop the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. Overall funding for Artemis, therefore, would increase from $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2022 to $7.5 billion in the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1, 2022.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#artemis, #budget, #nasa, #science, #space

NASA releases first image from an in-focus Webb telescope

Color image of a single star surrounded by many smaller objects.

Enlarge / With better alignment, the test star has been joined by a whole host of background stars and galaxies. (credit: NASA/STScI)

Today, NASA announced that it has successfully completed two further steps to align the mirrors of the Webb telescope. The resulting performance indicates that Webb will meet or exceed its design goals. “So far, we’re finding that the performance is as good [as] or better than our most optimistic projections,” said Lee Feinberg, the Webb optical telescope element manager.

The announcement was accompanied by a spectacular image that showed a sharp focus on the target star and included many in-focus galaxies in the backdrop.

Get in line

The Webb telescope’s primary mirror is made up of an array of 18 individual segments that, once properly aligned, will act as a single large mirror. The initial steps of mirror alignment involved identifying the images from each segment and bringing those images together at a single point. That work was completed back in February. At this point, the light was all gathered in one place, but it wasn’t necessarily taking an equal path from each segment, meaning the segments weren’t acting as a single mirror.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #nasa, #science, #webb-telescope

Congress finally delivers a budget, and NASA gets most of what it wants

NASA administrator Bill Nelson will probably be pretty happy with NASA's final budget, even if it's late.

Enlarge / NASA administrator Bill Nelson will probably be pretty happy with NASA’s final budget, even if it’s late. (credit: NASA)

Let’s face it, the US budgeting process is largely broken. The current budget year, fiscal year 2022, began back on October 1. This year is now nearly half gone, and the US Congress has yet to pass a budget for it.

To handle this situation federal agencies, including NASA, have kept their doors open with a series of “continuing resolutions” that more or less keep funding at the level of previous years. These provide stopgap funding to prevent a government shutdown.

The problem with this is, if you need to reduce funding for programs that are ending or increase funding for something like a Moon landing during the middle of this decade, you’re out of luck. Due to partisan differences, this is how the budget process has worked for several years in the United States.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#budget, #nasa, #science, #space

Finally, we know production costs for SLS and Orion, and they’re wild

A technician works on the Orion spacecraft, atop the SLS rocket, in January 2022.

Enlarge / A technician works on the Orion spacecraft, atop the SLS rocket, in January 2022. (credit: NASA)

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin serves as an independent watchdog for the space agency’s myriad activities. For nearly the entirety of his time as inspector general, since his appointment in 2009, Martin has tracked NASA’s development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Although his office has issued a dozen reports or so on various aspects of these programs, he has never succinctly stated his thoughts about the programs—until Tuesday.

Appearing before a House Science Committee hearing on NASA’s Artemis program, Martin revealed the operational costs of the big rocket and spacecraft for the first time. Moreover, he took aim at NASA and particularly its large aerospace contractors for their “very poor” performance in developing these vehicles.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#congress, #nasa, #orion, #science, #sls, #space

NASA wants to maintain Russia partnership but is studying “operational flexibilities”

Humans have lived aboard the International Space Station for more than two decades.

Humans have lived aboard the International Space Station for more than two decades. (credit: NASA)

NASA’s senior official for human spaceflight operations said Monday that the US space agency continues to operate the International Space Station as usual with its partners, including Russia.

“Our operations are nominal,” said Associate Administrator for Space Operations Kathy Lueders. She acknowledged that NASA continues to monitor the situation in Ukraine and work with the US State Department. “We’ve operated in these kind of situations before, and both sides always operated very professionally and understand at our level the importance of this fantastic mission.”

NASA flight controllers and other officials continue to work in Moscow, she said, and US and Russian managers have good communication. At the “working level,” at least, there are no signs of trouble. “We, as a team, are operating just like we were operating three weeks ago,” she said.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#international-space-station, #nasa, #science

Webb Telescope reaches major milestone: All its light is in one place

Webb Telescope reaches major milestone: All its light is in one place

Enlarge (credit: NASA/STSci)

Today, NASA shared an image indicating that it had successfully completed the image alignment stage of commissioning the Webb Space telescope. The Webb’s primary mirror is composed of 18 individual segments and, as of today’s update, all of those segments are aligned so that a single star shows up as a single object. While there are still several more focusing steps required, the path to commissioning the telescope keeps getting shorter.

Immediately after launch, the focus was on unfolding all the pieces of the telescope that had to be held in a compact configuration to fit in the launch vehicle. This process included reorienting and extending the primary mirror, lowering the secondary mirror into place, and stretching out the multi-layered sunscreen that helps keep the imaging hardware cold.

To the surprise and delight of many people, that all went incredibly smoothly. Since then, the focus has shifted to… well, focus. The Webb’s primary mirror consists of 18 separate mirrors in a hexagonal array, each of which can be controlled separately. Initially, when the mirror was first unfolded, these produced 18 individual smears scattered across the secondary mirror.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #webb-telescope

NASA says Starlink Gen2 may cause problems for Hubble and asteroid detection

Illustration of many satellites orbiting the Earth.

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of low Earth-orbit satellites like those launched by SpaceX and OneWeb. (credit: NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / P. Marenfeld)

NASA has warned that SpaceX’s plan for 30,000 more Starlink satellites could cause problems for science missions, human spaceflight, the Hubble telescope, and ground-based telescopes that look for asteroids that might hit the Earth.

NASA outlined its concerns in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday. “With the increase in large constellation proposals to the FCC, NASA has concerns with the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events and possible impacts to NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions,” the agency said. “Consequently, NASA submits this letter for the purpose of providing a better understanding of NASA’s concerns with respect to its assets on-orbit and to further mitigate the risk of collisions for the benefit of all involved.”

NASA didn’t urge the FCC to reject SpaceX’s application, but it said it wants deployment to be “conducted prudently, in a manner that supports spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment.” NASA also said the large number of additional satellites “will require expanded coordination and communication between the two parties to ensure the continued safety of both SpaceX and NASA assets.”

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #policy, #science, #spacex, #starlink

New images of the International Space Station reveal that it is still a jewel

The International Space Station, as seen in November 2021. Prominent at center in this view are the cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter.

Enlarge / The International Space Station, as seen in November 2021. Prominent at center in this view are the cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter. (credit: NASA)

The International Space Station is now more than two decades old. And while primary construction of the orbiting laboratory ended a little more than a decade ago, before the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle, the station has continued to evolve with smaller modules and an ever-changing array of visiting spacecraft.

Over this time the station has begun to show its age, being exposed to the extreme hot and cold temperatures of space, a vacuum environment, and micrometeoroid debris. For more than 20 years, these harsh conditions have worn on the station, inducing stress fractures and other damage.

Following the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA lost the ability to fly humans around the station to catalog these changes with highly detailed photographs. But thanks to the emergence of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, astronauts have started circumnavigating the station once again after undocking and before heading home.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#iss, #nasa, #science, #space

Report finds that US accounts for more than half of global space spending

Change in government space budgets over time.

Enlarge / Change in government space budgets over time. (credit: Euroconsult)

Nations around the world spent a total of $92 billion on the “space sector” in 2021, the market intelligence firm Euroconsult reports. This represents an 8 percent increase in spending from the year 2020.

In the latest edition of the report “Government Space Programs,” the consulting firm says that civilian space activities accounted for $53 billion of the spending, and defense activities $39 billion. However the report noted that the proportion of defense spending is increasing.

“Geopolitical tensions, increasing rivalry between leading space powers, and the value of space as the ultimate high ground drive the militarization of space trend, with leaders increasing their investments in defense space assets and technologies,” a news release about the report states.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#budgets, #nasa, #science, #space, #space-force

The launch of NASA’s titanic SLS rocket slips toward summer 2022

Space rocket construction in a mammoth hangar.

Enlarge / The launch-vehicle stage adapter for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is integrated with the core stage in June 2021. (credit: NASA)

NASA said Wednesday that it is now targeting “mid-February” for an initial rollout of the Space Launch System rocket to the launch pad.

The space agency set the new date after engineers and technicians successfully removed a faulty engine controller from one of the four space shuttle main engines that power the massive rocket. An engine controller is basically a flight computer that communicates between the engine and the rocket; this one had failed communication tests in late November.

At present, NASA engineers, alongside contractor teams who have built various components of the rocket, are working to complete all remaining SLS preflight diagnostic tests and hardware close-outs prior to rolling the fully stacked rocket to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#nasa, #science, #sls-rocket

Webb continues to unfold; has enough fuel for over a decade

The multi-layer sun shield is in the process of unfolding this week. Right now the portion extending forward from the telescope body is extended; the sides will come later this week.

Enlarge / The multi-layer sun shield is in the process of unfolding this week. Right now the portion extending forward from the telescope body is extended; the sides will come later this week. (credit: NASA)

When fully operational, the James Webb Space Telescope will be enormous, with a sun shield measuring 12 x 22 meters. Obviously, however, it can’t be sent to space in that configuration. As a result, the tension of the launch will be followed by weeks of equally nerve-wracking days as different parts of the observatory are gradually unfolded.

The good news is that the process has already started, and everything has gone off without a hitch so far. Meanwhile, NASA has analyzed the results of the initial firings of the observatory’s on-board rockets, and determined that it will have enough fuel for “significantly more” than a decade of operations.

Good news on fuel

The Webb will orbit a position called the L2 Lagrange point, a site about 1.4 million kilometers from Earth. Getting into that orbit requires moving outside the plane defined by the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, and arriving at shallow angle so that the Webb doesn’t overshoot its target.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #james-webb-space-telescope, #nasa, #science

Webb Telescope away with two major hurdles cleared after flawless launch

Away it goes.

Enlarge / Away it goes.

Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD — Today, the James Webb Space Telescope started its journey to a location over a million kilometers from Earth, where it will start its science mission in roughly six months. “This is a day for the ages,” said Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. “Science won’t be the same after today.”

Sembach said those words roughly an hour before the launch, well before any last minute glitches could have delayed the launch, and long before the complicated series of events that would see parts of the observatory unfold from their compact launch configuration. After years of delays, and so much riding on these events, you might expect a greater sense of tension among those gathered here to watch the launch, but the people gathered at the Space Telescope Science Institute seemed remarkably relaxed. At least until you asked them how they were feeling.

And, so far at least, that confidence appears to be well placed. The launch countdown went forward without delay, and each step along the way—separating of solid rocket boosters, release of the fairing—went exactly as planned, and the rocket tracked exactly along the planned trajectory. Video from the rocket’s second stage showed the telescope’s solar panel deploy, and shortly after controllers here indicated it was fully powered.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #james-webb-space-telescope, #nasa, #science

Tune in as NASA and the ESA try launch the next great space telescope

Image of the Webb Space Telescope.

Enlarge / Most of what you see here will be unfolded in the weeks to months after launch. (credit: Northrop Grumman)

There have been years of delays in construction and a few late slips in the launch schedule, with the latest being a short delay due to bad weather at the South American launch site. But the fates seem to have settled on the 25th for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope—now less than 24 hours away. Hard to believe it’s actually happening, right?

If all goes well, tomorrow will see the telescope sent on its way to the L2 Lagrange point with its solar panels and its main communication antenna unfolded. In the ensuing weeks, that hardware will be followed by the extension of the telescope’s sun screen, and later by the unfolding of the telescope itself. There will be multiple points of potential failure before we can be confident that the hardware will live up to its promise.

(If you want a relatively complete timeline of everything that has to happen in the six months between launch and operations, NASA’s got you covered.)

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #nasa, #science, #space, #telescope, #webb-space-telescope

NASA has 10 new astronauts, and they could not have joined at a better time

Meet the new astronaut-candidates: US Air Force Maj. Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, US Marine Corps Maj. (retired) Luke Delaney, US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Wittner, US Air Force Lt. Col. Anil Menon, US Air Force Maj. Marcos Berríos, US Navy Cmdr. Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, US Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham, and Andre Douglas.

Enlarge / Meet the new astronaut-candidates: US Air Force Maj. Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, US Marine Corps Maj. (retired) Luke Delaney, US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Wittner, US Air Force Lt. Col. Anil Menon, US Air Force Maj. Marcos Berríos, US Navy Cmdr. Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, US Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham, and Andre Douglas. (credit: NASA)

This week, NASA announced its first class of new astronauts since 2017, hiring 10 candidates to train at Johnson Space Center in Houston for the next two years.

There is no guarantee that each of these six men and four women, ages 32 to 45 and all with extremely impressive resumes, will complete the training and become full-fledged astronauts. But one thing is clear: They’re arriving at NASA at an auspicious time.

“This is the golden age of human spaceflight,” said Reid Wiseman on Monday during a ceremony at an airfield near Johnson Space Center welcoming the new astronaut candidates.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronaut, #nasa, #nasa-astronaut, #science, #space

ESA head says Europe needs to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambitions in space

Elon Musk being allowed to “make the rules” in space, ESA chief warns

Enlarge (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

The head of the European Space Agency has urged the continent’s leaders to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambition to dominate the new space economy, warning that the lack of co-ordinated action meant the US billionaire was “making the rules” himself.

Josef Aschbacher, the new director-general of ESA, said that Europe’s readiness to help the rapid expansion of Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service risked hindering the region’s own companies from realising the potential of commercial space.

“Space will be much more restrictive [in terms of] frequencies and orbital slots,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “The governments of Europe collectively should have an interest to… give European providers equal opportunities to play on a fair market.”

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#elon-musk, #esa, #nasa, #satellites, #science, #space-junk, #spacex, #starlink

With tonight’s launch, NASA starts getting serious about planetary defense

A rocket and launchpad against an azure sky.

Enlarge / The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft aboard. (credit: NASA)

Weather permitting, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch a key asteroid-deflection mission for NASA on Tuesday night from California. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART mission, will seek to demonstrate the capability to change an asteroid’s orbit next year.

Powered by ion thrusters, the 700-kg spacecraft aims to rendezvous with a double asteroid next October. Once there, the spacecraft will attempt to collide with Dimorphos, a small “moonlet” of a larger asteroid named Didymos. DART will strike Dimorphos at a rate a little greater than 6.6 km/s, aiming to slightly alter the trajectory of the asteroid, which measures approximately 170 meters across.

If NASA successfully completes this test, it will have demonstrated the capability to, one day, deflect an incoming asteroid on a collision course with Earth. “We’re trying to show that we can mitigate a threat like this,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief of science, in an interview with Ars.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#asteroid, #falcon-9, #nasa, #planetary-defense, #science

We know what invasive species can do on Earth—what about in space?

Europa could harbor complex life, and we'll have to take care to avoid any cross-contamination.

Europa could harbor complex life, and we’ll have to take care to avoid any cross-contamination. (credit: Ted Stryk/NASA)

The Beresheet crash landed on Earth’s Moon in 2019. Part of the ill-fated Israeli lunar lander’s payload was a bunch of tardigrades, or “water bears.” These organisms are under a millimeter long and can survive extreme cold and radiation by expelling nearly all their moisture before entering a nearly death-like state. The Beresheet tardigrades may have survived the crash and could, potentially, be resurrected by being reintroduced to water.

The tardigrades—sometimes called moss piglets—are safely asleep and probably not running amok on the surface of the Moon. But, in general, scientists, governments, and space agencies around the world agree that bringing Earth’s life to extraterrestrial locales, or vice versa, isn’t great.

A new paper builds on the growing body of literature about this cosmic no-no and draws on the burgeoning field of invasion science—the research of how, on Earth, non-native species spread to and alter new locations. The zebra mussel’s spread across North America through its ability to outcompete native species is a classic example.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biology, #invasion-science, #microbes, #nasa, #science, #space, #space-exploration

Debris from a satellite shot down by the Russians appears to threaten the ISS

The space station is being threatened by an unexpected cloud of debris.

The space station is being threatened by an unexpected cloud of debris. (credit: NASA)

The seven astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station sheltered inside their respective spacecraft, a Crew Dragon and Soyuz, on Monday morning as the orbiting laboratory passed through an unexpected debris field.

This was not a pre-planned collision avoidance maneuver in low Earth orbit, in which the station would use onboard propulsion to move away. Rather, the situation required the astronauts to quickly take shelter.

Had there been a collision during the conjunction, the two spacecraft would have been able to detach from the space station and make an emergency return to Earth. Ultimately that was not necessary, and the astronauts reemerged into the space station later Monday. However, as the crew on board the station prepared for their sleep schedule, Mission Control in Houston asked them to keep as many of the hatches on board the space station closed for the time being, in case of an unexpected collision during subsequent orbits.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#asat, #iss, #nasa, #russia, #science

After a rapid turnaround from a Crew Dragon landing, another one is set to fly

NASA and SpaceX had originally hoped to fly the next bunch of astronauts to the International Space Station in late October, but the Crew-3 mission has been subject to a handful of delays due to weather and health issues. But now, the mission managers say Crew-3 is ready to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket, with a liftoff set for 9:03 pm ET on Wednesday (02:03 UTC Thursday).

Four astronauts will launch inside Crew Dragon Endurance for this mission—NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as European astronaut Matthias Maurer. After docking with the space station on Thursday, the astronauts will spend about six months in orbit performing a variety of science and maintenance operations.

Weather concerns

Poor weather precluded an initial launch attempt on Halloween. Conditions at the launch site weren’t bad, but flight controllers were concerned about high seas and strong winds offshore, where an extra-tropical system raged across the northern Atlantic Ocean. Had there been an emergency during the Falcon 9 rocket launch, the Crew Dragon spacecraft would have had to escape into unacceptably poor surface conditions.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#commercial-crew, #crew-3, #nasa, #science, #spacex

NASA delays Moon landings, says Blue Origin legal tactics partly to blame

The Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis I mission is lifted above the Space Launch System rocket in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

Enlarge / The Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis I mission is lifted above the Space Launch System rocket in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. (credit: NASA)

Senior NASA officials on Tuesday provided an updated timeline for returning humans to the Moon under the agency’s Artemis Program, and they discussed costs and other issues related to it. The biggest news came in the form of NASA’s formal acknowledgement that a human landing on the Moon in 2024 is not possible, but there were plenty of other noteworthy tidbits.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson led the briefing with space reporters, which came five days after the US Court of Federal Claims ruled against Blue Origin’s lawsuit against NASA for its selection of SpaceX to build a lunar lander for the Artemis Program. Previously, Nelson had promised to provide an update on the Artemis Program following the lawsuit, and on Tuesday he made good on that.

He came out guns blazing at Blue Origin. “We’ve lost nearly seven months in litigation and that likely has pushed the first human landing likely to no earlier than 2025,” Nelson said, pinning the delay in NASA’s return to the Moon firmly on Blue Origin and its lawyers. During the legal process, NASA was forbidden from working or even talking with SpaceX regarding the Human Landing System (HLS) program. The agency was also unable to provide milestone payments.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#artemis, #hls, #nasa, #science, #starship

NASA’s stalwart Mars helicopter is back and better than ever

NASA's <em>Ingenuity</em> Mars Helicopter acquired this image using its navigation camera during its thin-atmosphere flight this week.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image using its navigation camera during its thin-atmosphere flight this week. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Nearly seven months have passed since NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made its first groundbreaking flight on Mars.

Since that initial tentative hovering above the surface of Mars, Ingenuity has flown a progression of longer, more significant, and scientifically important flights. It has flown as far as 625 meters in a single flight, as high as 12 meters, and for a duration of as long as 169.5 seconds.

But in September the small flying vehicle faced a growing threat from a thinning atmosphere due to seasonal variation. NASA’s Perseverance mission had landed in Jezero Crater, in the northern hemisphere of Mars, during the planet’s late winter in February. But since then summer has come on, and the density of Mars’ atmosphere has fallen from about 1.5 percent that of Earth’s atmosphere to 1.0 percent. For a helicopter already pushing the limits of flying in a thin atmosphere, this represented a significant decline.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ingenuity, #mars, #nasa, #science