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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lakers Update: Jim Buss (and Mitch Kupchak) Finally Gets the Boot...

Magic Johnson is now the President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Getty Images

Lakers Name Earvin "Magic" Johnson President of Basketball Operations (Press Release - February 21)

Magic to run Lakers Basketball Front Office as part of restructuring.

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss announced today that the team has named Earvin "Magic" Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Furthermore, Jim Buss will no longer hold his role as Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

"Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect," Jeanie Buss said. "Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness."

"It's a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family," said Earvin "Magic" Johnson. "Since 1979, I've been a part of the Laker Nation and I'm passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions."

Jeanie Buss added, "I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again."

Regarding Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss stated, "We are grateful for the many contributions Mitch has made to the Lakers over the years and we wish him all the best."

With regard to fellow owner and brother, Jim Buss, Ms. Buss said, "Jim loves the Lakers. Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less."

In addition to the changes made within the basketball department, the Lakers also announced they have parted ways with John Black who had been the Lakers Vice President of Public Relations. Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris will immediately begin a search for a replacement. Jeanie Buss added, "We thank John for his many years of service."

Source: Lakers.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

(Three Earth-Like Worlds with Liquid Water on Them? Yes, Please!) NASA Announces a Stellar Exoplanet Discovery...

An artist's concept of how the surface of TRAPPIST-1f might look like...with two other planets in the TRAPPIST-1 star system visible in the sky.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star (Press Release)

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

The new results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and announced at a news briefing at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated – scientists believe it could be an icy, "snowball-like" world, but further observations are needed.

"The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star," said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium. "It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds."

In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, was well-suited for studying TRAPPIST-1 because the star glows brightest in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. In the fall of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 nearly continuously for 500 hours. Spitzer is uniquely positioned in its orbit to observe enough crossing – transits – of the planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. Engineers optimized Spitzer’s ability to observe transiting planets during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” which began after the spacecraft’s coolant ran out as planned after the first five years of operations.

"This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations," said Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. "Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

Following up on the Spitzer discovery, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has initiated the screening of four of the planets, including the three inside the habitable zone. These observations aim at assessing the presence of puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, typical for gaseous worlds like Neptune, around these planets.

In May 2016, the Hubble team observed the two innermost planets, and found no evidence for such puffy atmospheres. This strengthened the case that the planets closest to the star are rocky in nature.

"The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study the atmospheres around Earth-size planets," said Nikole Lewis, co-leader of the Hubble study and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also is studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, making measurements of the star's minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets. Operating as the K2 mission, the spacecraft's observations will allow astronomers to refine the properties of the known planets, as well as search for additional planets in the system. The K2 observations conclude in early March and will be made available on the public archive.

Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies using NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018. With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet's atmosphere. Webb also will analyze planets' temperatures and surface pressures – key factors in assessing their habitability.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center, at Caltech, in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at Caltech/IPAC. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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An animated GIF of TRAPPIST-1's 'Google doodle.'

A futuristic travel poster depicting a trip on the surface of TRAPPIST-1e...with the six other worlds of the TRAPPIST-1 star system visible in the sky.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NASA Is A Step Closer To Launching a Probe To Study One Of Jupiter's Ocean-Bearing Moons...

An artist's concept of a NASA spacecraft flying above Jupiter's icy moon Europa.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Europa Flyby Mission Moves into Design Phase (News Release)

A mission to examine the habitability of Jupiter's ocean-bearing moon Europa is taking one step closer to the launch pad, with the recent completion of a major NASA review.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, February 19, 2017

F-35 Update: The Lightning II Takes Part in RED FLAG...

An F-35A Lightning II takes part in the Red Flag 17-1 exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada...on February 3, 2017.
USAF / R. Nial Bradshaw

F-35A Stealth Brings Flexibility to Battlespace (News Release - February 13)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- Stealth isn’t new in the Air Force; but, stealth combined with the multirole capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be a game changer in the Nevada desert.

Units from across the Air Force have converged here for Red Flag 17-1, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise, which pits a friendly force against an aggressor force in scenarios designed to give pilots true-to-life experiences before heading into actual combat.

Military strategists have long noted that while the United States has invested heavily in combat aircraft technology, potential adversaries have pushed their capital toward advanced surface-to-air missiles in integrated air defense systems. Planners say any realistic large-force exercise must test the Air Force’s ability to survive and suppress these sophisticated systems.

That is what the Airmen of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, bring to the fight with the combat-capable F-35A.

“During this Red Flag we’re training against the highest level threats we know exist,” said Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “Just as we’re getting new systems and technology, the adversary’s threats are becoming more sophisticated and capable.”

Fourth-generation aircraft, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, A-10 Thunderbolt II and others, cannot operate in an environment where they are targeted by advanced anti-air systems with sophisticated radar and infrared capabilities.

Red Flag planners are tasking the F-35A with taking out these threats and the aircraft’s stealth capability is proving pilots can survive and operate effectively where others cannot.

“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” said Maj. James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot. “It’s pretty cool to come back from a mission where we flew right over threats knowing they could never see us.”

In past Red Flags, the friendly force did not have the capability to directly target advanced surface-to-air missile threats with an aircraft like the F-35A. Exercise planners would engage the targets with long range “standoff” weapons – like Tomahawk missiles – before sending aircraft in to the fight.

“We would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out. Now between us and the (F-22) Raptor, we are able to geo-locate them and precision target them.” Watkins said. “With the stealth capability of the F-35A we can get close enough to put a bomb right on them. That would be impossible with a fourth-generation aircraft.”

After taking out the ground threats, the multirole F-35A is able to “pitch back into the fight” with air-to-air missiles, taking out aircraft that don’t even know they’re there, Schmidt said.

This is the largest exercise to date for the combat pilots of Hill’s 34th Fighter Squadron and they’re learning to believe in what the multirole fighter can do in combat, said Maj. Shad Stromberg, a 419th FW Reserve F-35 pilot.

“After almost every mission, we shake our heads and smile, saying 'We can't believe we just did that',” Schmidt said. “We flew right into the heart of the threat and were able to bring all of our jets back out with successful strikes. It's like we hit the 'I Believe' button again after every sortie.”

Source: Nellis Air Force Base

Friday, February 17, 2017

Juno Update: Engine Issues Will Prompt The Spacecraft To Stay At Its Current Altitude Above Jupiter...

An image of Jupiter's south pole that was taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft on February 2, 2017...from a distance of 62,800 miles (101,000 kilometers).
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / John Landino

NASA’s Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter (Press Release)

NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, while avoiding the risk of a previously-planned engine firing that would have reduced the spacecraft’s orbital period to 14 days.

“Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do – preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery.”

Juno has successfully orbited Jupiter four times since arriving at the giant planet, with the most recent orbit completed on Feb. 2. Its next close flyby of Jupiter will be March 27.

The orbital period does not affect the quality of the science collected by Juno on each flyby, since the altitude over Jupiter will be the same at the time of closest approach. In fact, the longer orbit provides new opportunities that allow further exploration of the far reaches of space dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic field, increasing the value of Juno’s research.

During each orbit, Juno soars low over Jupiter’s cloud tops – as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno probes beneath the obscuring cloud cover and studies Jupiter’s auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The original Juno flight plan envisioned the spacecraft looping around Jupiter twice in 53-day orbits, then reducing its orbital period to 14 days for the remainder of the mission. However, two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft’s main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October. Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings.

“During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “The bottom line is a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno’s science objectives.”

Juno’s larger 53-day orbit allows for “bonus science” that wasn’t part of the original mission design. Juno will further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere – the region of space dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic field – including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause. Understanding magnetospheres and how they interact with the solar wind are key science goals of NASA’s Heliophysics Science Division.

"Another key advantage of the longer orbit is that Juno will spend less time within the strong radiation belts on each orbit,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “This is significant because radiation has been the main life-limiting factor for Juno.”

Juno will continue to operate within the current budget plan through July 2018, for a total of 12 science orbits. The team can then propose to extend the mission during the next science review cycle. The review process evaluates proposed mission extensions on the merit and value of previous and anticipated science returns.

The Juno science team continues to analyze returns from previous flybys. Revelations include that Jupiter's magnetic fields and aurora are bigger and more powerful than originally thought and that the belts and zones that give the gas giant’s cloud top its distinctive look extend deep into the planet’s interior. Peer-reviewed papers with more in-depth science results from Juno’s first three flybys are expected to be published within the next few months. In addition, the mission's JunoCam – the first interplanetary outreach camera – is now being guided with assistance from the public. People can participate by voting on which features on Jupiter should be imaged during each flyby.

“Juno is providing spectacular results, and we are rewriting our ideas of how giant planets work,” said Bolton. “The science will be just as spectacular as with our original plan.”

JPL manages the Juno mission for NASA. The mission’s principal investigator is Scott Bolton at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dawn Update: Finding (Slight) Ingredients for Life on the Surface of a Dwarf Planet...

An enhanced image of dwarf planet Ceres...with organics data (shaded in red) taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft overlaid on the celestial body.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Dawn Discovers Evidence for Organic Material on Ceres (News Release)

NASA's Dawn mission has found evidence for organic material on Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists using the spacecraft's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) detected the material in and around a northern-hemisphere crater called Ernutet. Organic molecules are interesting to scientists because they are necessary, though not sufficient, components of life on Earth.

The discovery adds to the growing list of bodies in the solar system where organics have been found. Organic compounds have been found in certain meteorites as well as inferred from telescopic observations of several asteroids. Ceres shares many commonalities with meteorites rich in water and organics -- in particular, a meteorite group called carbonaceous chondrites. This discovery further strengthens the connection between Ceres, these meteorites and their parent bodies.

"This is the first clear detection of organic molecules from orbit on a main belt body," said Maria Cristina De Sanctis, lead author of the study, based at the National Institute of Astrophysics, Rome. The discovery is reported in the journal Science.

Data presented in the Science paper support the idea that the organic materials are native to Ceres. The carbonates and clays previously identified on Ceres provide evidence for chemical activity in the presence of water and heat. This raises the possibility that the organics were similarly processed in a warm water-rich environment.

Significance of organics

The organics discovery adds to Ceres' attributes associated with ingredients and conditions for life in the distant past. Previous studies have found hydrated minerals, carbonates, water ice, and ammoniated clays that must have been altered by water. Salts and sodium carbonate, such as those found in the bright areas of Occator Crater, are also thought to have been carried to the surface by liquid.

“This discovery adds to our understanding of the possible origins of water and organics on Earth,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, Dawn project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Where are the organics?

The VIR instrument was able to detect and map the locations of this material because of its special signature in near-infrared light.

The organic materials on Ceres are mainly located in an area covering approximately 400 square miles (about 1,000 square kilometers). The signature of organics is very clear on the floor of Ernutet Crater, on its southern rim and in an area just outside the crater to the southwest. Another large area with well-defined signatures is found across the northwest part of the crater rim and ejecta. There are other smaller organic-rich areas several miles (kilometers) west and east of the crater. Organics also were found in a very small area in Inamahari Crater, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) away from Ernutet.

In enhanced visible color images from Dawn's framing camera, the organic material is associated with areas that appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. The distinct nature of these regions stands out even in low-resolution image data from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.

"We're still working on understanding the geological context for these materials," said study co-author Carle Pieters, professor of geological sciences at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Next steps for Dawn

Having completed nearly two years of observations in orbit at Ceres, Dawn is now in a highly elliptical orbit at Ceres, going from an altitude of 4,670 miles (7,520 kilometers) up to almost 5,810 miles (9,350 kilometers). On Feb. 23, it will make its way to a new altitude of around 12,400 miles (20,000 kilometers), about the height of GPS satellites above Earth, and to a different orbital plane. This will put Dawn in a position to study Ceres in a new geometry. In late spring, Dawn will view Ceres with the sun directly behind the spacecraft, such that Ceres will appear brighter than before, and perhaps reveal more clues about its nature.

The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

F-35 Update: Learning to Fly the Lightning II for the U.S. Air Force...and the Navy

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Escher prepares to fly a sortie aboard a U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II...from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on December 6, 2016.
USAF / Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson

Grim Reaper Finds His Rage (News Release - February 13)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- As he stands at the step desk, you wouldn’t miss the subtle differences in his uniform. His brown leather boots seem foreign next to the sage green ones accompanying him.

As is custom in the 58th Fighter Squadron, pilots roar “RAGE!” throughout the building. However, today this pilot is given a more fitting send off. He begins to turn the corner as a smirk creeps across his face. He nods with approval and marches out of the building as “Danger Zone” blares in the background.

Rather than taking his familiar path to the stenciled grim reaper wielding his sickle; today he will beat his chest and fly with the Mighty Gorillas.

For only the second time at Eglin Air Force Base, a Naval Aviator has been selected to dual qualify in the U.S. Navy’s F-35C and the Air Force’s F-35A.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Escher, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-101) operations officer, experienced the F-35A for the first time during his initial flight on Dec. 1, followed by a check ride the next week with Col. Lance Pilch, 33rd Fighter Wing commander.

(This is) hopefully the start of a program where we have pilots crossing over to help each other by teaching and learning tactics and determining things we can improve, thereby making the squadrons operate more smoothly together,” Escher said.

Escher knew from a young age that he wanted to fly for the Navy but he hadn’t fully made up his mind until his first day at the Naval Academy.

He recalled standing and taking his oath of office. As they finished two F-14 Tomcats flew overhead.

“Very loud and very fast,” he said, a smile widening across his face. “That was when I knew I needed to fly.”

Escher was selected to fly the Air Force’s variant because of his knowledge and experience across a wide variety of aircraft.

After starting his career as an F-18 Super Hornet pilot, Escher went to Empire Test Pilots’ School in England where he would fly more than 25 different aircraft alongside British Royal Air Force and other international pilots.

“The knowledge and experience you gain from flying that many different aircraft, and aircraft that are outside of your comfort zone, whether that’s helicopters or heavies, aerobatic aircraft or fighters from different countries, it makes it a smoother transition,” Escher said.

The F-35A and F-35C were intentionally designed to be very similar aircraft. While flying systems are virtually the same, Escher noted differences in the way the jets fly because of its physical characteristics. The largest task to overcome however wasn’t the aircraft, but the difference between branches.

“The way the Air Force does some things and the terminology are different than in the Navy,” he said. “There are quite a few differences that are eye opening and it makes you want to bridge those gaps.”

Those gaps, in part, are why the 33d FW and VFA-101 have taken this opportunity to share knowledge. As other services gain ground on announcing F-35 Initial Operations Capability as the Air Force did earlier this year, the three branches will work more hand-in-hand with one another.

Escher says he can already see the benefits of the relationship and looks forward to experiencing enhancing/continuing the flow of information to promote growth across the fleet.

“With the Navy, Marine and Air Force aircraft, we’re each flying our own mission in our own separate entities, but we can definitely share lessons learned on tactics,” Escher said. “When we put together a large strike package we will already know what the capabilities and limitations are based on our own experience.”

The Naval pilot plans to use what he learns from his experience with the 33 FW to help the F-35 enterprise grow. He looks to join a group of test pilots at Edwards AFB, California, where he will have the opportunity to be the Navy’s voice for the aircraft weapons and vehicle system development.

Beyond that, he is glad he has the greatest job in the Navy and the Air Force as an F-35 pilot.

“I’m happy to be able to fly both variants. It’s a super big treat.”

Source: U.S. Air Force - Air Education and Training Command

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The F-35A piloted by U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Escher (foreground) follows behind another Lightning II as both aircraft are ready to conduct a sortie out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida...on December 6, 2016.
USAF / Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hubble's Successor Trembles in Greenbelt, Maryland... Intentionally

The James Webb Space Telescope undergoes vibration testing at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA Gives the Webb Telescope a Shakedown (News Release)

Scientists and engineers had many challenges in designing the components of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and then had to custom design and build ways to test it.

Because of the sheer size and scale of the assembled Webb telescope, some of the equipment typically used to test spacecraft simply doesn’t measure up. One of those is a "shaker table" that is used to shake satellites to ensure a spacecraft like Webb can withstand the shaking that comes with a ride into space on a rocket.

So, engineers at Team Corporation in Burlington, Washington built a new, large and advanced shaker table system at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, especially for testing Webb. "The new “Vibration Test System” simulates the forces the telescope will feel during the launch by vibrating it from 5 to 100 times per second" said Jon Lawrence, Webb telescope mechanical systems lead and launch vehicle liaison at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

For Webb, the need for a new shaker system was a combination of things, including shaker force magnitude, the shaker table’s ability to handle the telescope’s highly offset center of gravity, and the need for a precision “smart” shaker control system—one that will automatically adjust shaker input levels based on test article responses, including an automatic ‘soft shutdown’ capability. "No matter what facility anomaly might be experienced during testing (loss of power, loss of coolant, etc.), the Vibration Test System or VTS is designed to shut down 'softly' so as to avoid imparting potentially damaging loads," Lawrence said. After vibration testing of the telescope is completed soon, the new VTS can be used to test other future large spacecraft.

To make sure it works properly before using it to test the flight telescope, engineers put the new shaker system though its paces with many practice runs over months, using a dummy mass to represent the telescope. In November, Webb was moved from the Spacecraft Systems Development and Integration Facility ‘cleanroom’ and onto the new neighboring Vibration Test System (VTS), where testing is ongoing. While in the shirtsleeve environment of the VTS, a large 3-story tall cover enshrouds the telescope, acting as a portable ‘cleanroom’ that protects it from dust and dirt.

This spring, after vibration testing is complete, the Webb telescope will be shipped to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for end-to-end optical tests in a vacuum at extremely cold temperatures, before it goes to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, for final assembly and testing prior to launch.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

NASA Is So Close to Picking a Destination for Its Next Red Planet Rover...

A global map of the Red Planet showing three potential landing sites for NASA's Mars 2020 rover.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Scientists Shortlist Three Landing Sites for Mars 2020 (News Release)

Participants in a landing site workshop for NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 mission have recommended three locations on the Red Planet for further evaluation. The three potential landing sites for NASA's next Mars rover include Northeast Syrtis (a very ancient portion of Mars' surface), Jezero crater, (once home to an ancient Martian lake), and Columbia Hills (potentially home to an ancient hot spring, explored by NASA's Spirit rover).

More information on the landing sites can be found at:

http://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/timeline/prelaunch/landing-site-selection/

Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July 2020 aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. It will also prepare a collection of samples for possible return to Earth by a future mission.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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A computer-generated drawing of NASA's Mars 2020 rover.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Friday, February 10, 2017

An F-35A Lightning II Piloted by a Japanese National Takes to the Skies for the First Time...

At Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) pilot Lt. Col. Nakano sits inside the cockpit of an F-35A Lightning II as JASDF maintainers display a Japanese flag...on February 7, 2017.
USAF / Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.

JASDF Flies First Solo Mission (Press Release)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The first Japan Air Self Defense Force national representative to Luke took to the skies Feb. 7 during a mission five years in the making.

After several months of training, Lt. Col. Nakano, JASDF F-35A pilot, completed a solo sortie and hit a historical milestone for the JASDF and 944th Fighter Wing.

Nakano was sent off on his flight by a joint delegation from the 944 FW, Lockheed Martin, and Japanese staff.

“This is an historical event for JASDF and my career as a pilot,” said Nakano. “My first flight was perfect. The weather was fine, and the jet was great. I'll never forget this day.”

With the mission accomplished and the day behind them, JASDF personnel look ahead for the next milestone and advance in their mission at Luke.

“My goal is to stand up the first F-35 squadron in Japan as soon as possible,” continued Nakano. “In order to enhance the aircraft's capabilities, I have to be a more efficient F-35 pilot.”

The first F-35 mission with a JASDF pilot is the culmination of years of planning and hard work.

“To watch a Japanese fighter pilot fly Japan’s F-35, launched by a Japanese crew chief, saluted by Japanese maintainers, while supported by an elite team of American men and women on American soil, was surreal,” said Lt. Col. Sean Holahan, 944th Operations Group Detachment 2 commander.

Holahan flew alongside Nakano and guided him through the sortie.

“It’s hard to describe the deep pride we all felt while sharing this moment with our friends and allies,” continued Holahan. “It’s been nine years since the 944th has had jets on our ramp so this was a sight for sore eyes.”

Next week JASDFs fourth and final F-35 is scheduled to arrive at Luke and over the next year the 944 FW will train three classes of JASDF F-35 pilots and graduate several dozen JASDF maintainers.

In addition to the Foreign Military Sales mission led by the 944 OG/Det 2 Ninjas, Luke is scheduled to have six fighter squadrons and 144 F-35s. Over the next several years, Luke will be training FMS pilots from Japan, Israel and South Korea along with partner nations including Australia, Italy, Norway, Turkey, Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada.

Source: U.S. Air Force - 944th Fighter Wing

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The F-35A Lightning II flown by JASDF pilot Lt. Col. Nakano takes off from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona...on February 7, 2017.
USAF / Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.