Monday, April 30, 2007

1% for NASA

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/859/1

I agree that NASA should get about 1% of the U.S. budget. We need to invest in space.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit still exploring Home Plate, Opportunity is still exploring the rim of Victoria Crater):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Problem with Opportunity's RAT:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/rover_update.html

Pictures (finally new pictures for Spirit of dust devils):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20070412a.html

Great dust devil movie!

Interview with Congressman Sensenbrenner

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/834/1

If you support manned space flight, make sure you pick your Presidential candidate accordingly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NASA needs to be more "touchy-feely"

So says NASA administrator Michael Griffin:
http://www.space.com/news/0701412_nss_griffin.html

The prospect of the Chinese and the Indians going to the Moon before the United States will get NASA the long term support it needs for manned space flight. The Space Race will return!

Must have been a glitch, or Why Mars Global Surveyor Was Lost

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-040 April 13, 2007

Report Reveals Likely Causes of Mars Spacecraft Loss

WASHINGTON - After studying Mars four times as long as originally planned, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter appears to have succumbed to battery failure caused by a complex sequence of events involving the onboard computer memory and ground commands.

The causes were released today in a preliminary report by an internal review board. The board was formed to look more in-depth into why NASA's Mars Global Surveyor went silent in November 2006 and recommend any processes or procedures that could increase safety for other spacecraft.

Mars Global Surveyor last communicated with Earth on Nov. 2, 2006. Within 11 hours, depleted batteries likely left the spacecraft unable to control its orientation.

"The loss of the spacecraft was the result of a series of events linked to a computer error made five months before the likely battery failure," said board Chairperson Dolly Perkins, deputy director-technical of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

On Nov. 2, after the spacecraft was ordered to perform a routine adjustment of its solar panels, the spacecraft reported a series of alarms, but indicated that it had stabilized. That was its final transmission. Subsequently, the spacecraft reoriented to an angle that exposed one of two batteries carried on the spacecraft to direct sunlight. This caused the battery to overheat and ultimately led to the depletion of both batteries. Incorrect antenna pointing prevented the orbiter from telling controllers its status, and its programmed safety response did not include making sure the spacecraft orientation was thermally safe.

The board also concluded that the Mars Global Surveyor team followed existing procedures, but that procedures were insufficient to catch the errors that occurred. The board is finalizing recommendations to apply to other missions, such as conducting more thorough reviews of all non-routine changes to stored data before they are uploaded and to evaluate spacecraft contingency modes for risks of overheating.

"We are making an end-to-end review of all our missions to be sure that we apply the lessons learned from Mars Global Surveyor to all our ongoing missions," said Fuk Li, Mars Exploration Program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Mars Global Surveyor, launched in 1996, operated longer at Mars than any other spacecraft in history, and for more than four times as long as the prime mission originally planned. The spacecraft returned detailed information that has overhauled understanding about Mars. Major findings include dramatic evidence that water still flows in short bursts down hillside gullies, and identification of deposits of water-related minerals leading to selection of a Mars rover landing site.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages Mars Global Surveyor for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft.

Information about the Mars Global Surveyor mission, including the preliminary report from the process review board and a list of some important discoveries by the mission, is available on the Internet at:

http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?ID=M725664345958405144348665


-end-

Black hole eclipse

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/12apr_blackholeeclipse.htm?list199286

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Venus Express Update

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070410_venus_express.html

Energy from Space

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070411_tech_wed.html

Seeing Earth sized planets

Exciting news!
============
Jane Platt 818-354-0880Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-039 April 11, 2007

NASA Shows Future Space Telescopes Could Detect Earth Twin

For the first time ever, NASA researchers have successfully demonstrated in the laboratory that a space telescope rigged with special masks and mirrors could snap a photo of an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. This accomplishment marks a dramatic step forward for missions like the proposed Terrestrial Planet Finder, designed to hunt for an Earth twin that might harbor life.

Trying to image an exoplanet – a planet orbiting a star other than the sun – is a daunting task, because its relatively dim glow is easily overpowered by the intense glare of its much bigger, brighter parent star. The challenge has been compared to looking for a firefly next to a searchlight.

Now, two researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have shown that a fairly simple coronagraph – an instrument used to "mask" a star's glare – paired with an adjustable mirror, could enable a space telescope to image a distant planet 10 billion times fainter than its central star.

“Our experiment demonstrates the suppression of glare extremely close to a star, clearing a field dark enough to allow us to see an Earth twin. This is at least a thousand times better than anything demonstrated previously,” said John Trauger, lead author of a paper appearing in the April 12 issue of Nature. This paper describes the system, called the High Contrast Imaging Testbed, and how the technique could be used with a telescope in space to see exoplanets. The lab experiment used a laser as a simulated star, with fainter copies of the star serving as “planets.”

To date, scientists have used various techniques to detect more than 200 exoplanets. Most of these exoplanets are from five to 4,000 times more massive than Earth, and are either too hot, too cold or too much of a giant gas ball to be considered likely habitats for life. So far, no one has managed to capture an image of an exoplanetary system that resembles our own solar system. Scientists are eager to take a closer look at nearby systems, to hunt for and then characterize any Earth-like planets – those with the right size, orbit and other traits considered friendly for life.

In the lab demonstration, the High Contrast and Imaging Testbed overcame two significant hurdles that all telescopes face when trying to image exoplanets – diffracted and scattered light.

When starlight hits the edge of a telescope’s primary mirror, it becomes slightly disturbed, producing a pattern of rings or spikes surrounding the major source of light in the focused image. This diffracted light can completely obscure any planets in the field of view.

To address this problem, Trauger and his colleagues at JPL fashioned a pair of masks for their system. The first, which resembles a blurry barcode, directly blocks most of the starlight, while the second clears away the diffracted rings and spikes. The combination creates enough darkness to allow the light of any planets to shine through.

“Mathematically, and sort of magically, this coronagraph blocks both the central star and its rings,” said Wesley Traub of JPL, co-author of the new paper and Terrestrial Planet Finder project scientist.

Scattered light presents the additional hurdle. Minor ripples on a telescope’s mirror produce “speckles” – faint copies of a star, shifted to the side, which can also hide planets. In the High Contrast Imaging Testbed, a deformable mirror the size of a large coin limits scattered light. With a surface that can be altered ever so slightly by computer-controlled actuators, this mirror compensates for the effects of minor imperfections in the telescope and instrument.

“This result is important because it points the way to building a space telescope with the ability to detect and characterize Earth-like planets around nearby stars,” Traub said.

For their next steps, Trauger and Traub plan to improve the suppression of speckles by a factor of 10, and extend the method to accommodate many wavelengths of light simultaneously.

More information on NASA's planet-finding missions, including Terrestrial Planet Finder, is at http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov . JPL manages the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

-end-

Asteroid Dawn

I can't wait for this mission!
-------------------------------------


MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

Contact:DC Agle 818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

George Diller 321-861-7643
NASA Kennedy Space Flight Center, Fla.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726/
Tabatha Thompson 202-358-3895
NASA Headquarters, Washington

News Release: 2007-038 April 10, 2007

Dawn Arrives in Florida -- A Little After Dawn

The Dawn spacecraft arrived at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fla., at 9 a.m. EDT today. Dawn, NASA's mission into the heart of the asteroid belt, is at the facility for final processing and launch operations. Dawn's launch period opens June 30.

"Dawn only has two more trips to make," said Dawn project manager Keyur Patel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "One will be in mid-June when it makes the 15-mile journey from the processing facility to the launch pad. The second will be when Dawn rises to begin its eight-year, 3.2-billion-mile odyssey into the heart of the asteroid belt."

The Dawn spacecraft will employ ion propulsion to explore two of the asteroid belt's most intriguing and dissimilar occupants: asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.

Now that Dawn has arrived at Astrotech near NASA's Kennedy Space Center, final prelaunch processing will begin. Technicians will install the spacecraft's batteries, check out the control thrusters and test the spacecraft's instruments. In late April, Dawn's large solar arrays will be attached and then deployed for testing. In early May, a compatibility test will be performed with the Deep Space Network used for tracking and communications. Dawn will then be loaded with fuel to be used for spacecraft control during the mission. Finally, in mid-May, the spacecraft will undergo spin-balance testing. Dawn will then be mated to the upper stage booster and installed into a spacecraft transportation canister for the trip to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is currently scheduled for June 19, when it will be mated to the Delta II rocket at Pad 17-B.

The rocket that will launch Dawn is a Delta II 7925-H manufactured by the United Launch Alliance; it is a heavier-lift model of the standard Delta II that uses larger solid rocket boosters. The first stage is scheduled to be erected on Pad 17-B in late May. Then the nine strap-on solid rocket boosters will be raised and attached. The second stage, which burns hypergolic propellants, will be hoisted atop the first stage in the first week of June. The fairing which surrounds the spacecraft will then be hoisted into the clean room of the mobile service tower.

Next, engineers will perform several tests of the Delta II. In mid-June, as a leak check, the first stage will be loaded with liquid oxygen during a simulated countdown. The next day, a simulated flight test will be performed, simulating the vehicle's post-liftoff flight events without fuel aboard. The electrical and mechanical systems of the entire Delta II will be exercised during this test. Once the Dawn payload is atop the launch vehicle, a final major test will be conducted: an integrated test of the Delta II and Dawn working together. This will be a combined minus and plus count, simulating all events as they will occur on launch day, but without propellants aboard the vehicle.

The NASA Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center and the United Launch Alliance are responsible for the launch of the Delta II.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The University of California Los Angeles is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Other scientific partners include Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico; German Aerospace Center, Berlin; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg, Germany; and Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, Palermo. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft.

Additional information about Dawn is online at:

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

-end-

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit: still digging around Home Plate; Opportunity: examining terrain exposed by the wind):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

No new pictures.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dust storms causing warming on Mars?

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070404_gw_mars.html

Strange idea since I assumed that particles in the atmosphere would reflect sunlight and cause cooling. They also say that when winds blow dust away from an area, the dark ground underneath absorbs more heat. So far so good, but the dust must be lighter than the dark ground, so when the dust storm is over and the dark ground is covered up again, it seems like the albedo of Mars would be higher and thus it would reflect more sunlight thus leading to cooling.

The article seems to be trying to find alternatives to Sun output and changes in Mars' orbit to explain the warming. Fair enough, but it doesn't seem to me like they have enough data to support their conclusions, just some computer model outputs.

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit is still investigating "Home Plate", Opportunity is looking for a way into Victoria Crater: Valley Without Peril):

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

No new pictures.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Go to Mars in a Tube

At least pretend you are going...
http://www.space.com/news/070402_mars500_esa.html

They should make it a TV reality show and make some money off of it.