Saturday, December 14, 2019

Hubble Photographs Our Newest Interstellar Interloper...

Two images of interstellar comet 2I/Borisov that were taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope...on November 16 (left) and December 9, 2019 (right), respectively.
NASA, ESA and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

Interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov Swings Past Sun (News Release - December 12)

When astronomers see something in the universe that at first glance seems like one-of-a-kind, it's bound to stir up a lot of excitement and attention. Enter comet 2I/Borisov. This mysterious visitor from the depths of space is the first identified comet to arrive here from another star. We don't know from where or when the comet started heading toward our Sun, but it won't hang around for long. The Sun's gravity is slightly deflecting its trajectory, but can't capture it because of the shape of its orbit and high velocity of about 100,000 miles per hour.

Telescopes around the world have been watching the fleeting visitor. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has provided the sharpest views as the comet skirts by our Sun. Since October the space telescope has been following the comet like a sports photographer following horses speeding around a racetrack. Hubble revealed that the heart of the comet, a loose agglomeration of ices and dust particles, is likely no more than about 3,200 feet across, about the length of nine football fields. Though comet Borisov is the first of its kind, no doubt there are many other comet vagabonds out there, plying the space between stars. Astronomers will eagerly be on the lookout for the next mysterious visitor from far beyond.

These two images (above), taken by Hubble, capture comet 2I/Borisov streaking though our solar system and on its way back to interstellar space. It is only the second interstellar object known to have passed through the solar system.

Nov. 16, 2019, Photo (Above Left)

The comet appears in front of a distant background spiral galaxy (2MASX J10500165-0152029). The galaxy's bright central core is smeared in the image because Hubble was tracking the comet. Comet Borisov was approximately 203 million miles from Earth in this exposure. Its tail of ejected dust streaks off to the upper right. The comet has been artificially colored blue to discriminate fine detail in the halo of dust, or coma, surrounding the central nucleus. It also helps to visually separate the comet from the background galaxy.

Dec. 9, 2019, Photo (Above Right)

Hubble revisited the comet shortly after its closest approach to the Sun where it received maximum heating after spending most of its life in frigid interstellar space. The comet also reached a breathtaking maximum speed of about 100,000 miles per hour. Comet Borisov is 185 million miles from Earth in this photo, near the inner edge of the Asteroid Belt but below it. The nucleus, an agglomeration of ices and dust, is still too small to be resolved. The bright central portion is a coma made up of dust leaving the surface. The comet will make its closest approach to Earth in late December at a distance of 180 million miles.

"Hubble gives us the best upper limit of the size of comet Borisov's nucleus, which is the really important part of the comet," said David Jewitt, a UCLA professor of planetary science and astronomy, whose team has captured the best and sharpest look at this first confirmed interstellar comet. "Surprisingly, our Hubble images show that its nucleus is more than 15 times smaller than earlier investigations suggested it might be. Our Hubble images show that the radius is smaller than half a kilometer. Knowing the size is potentially useful for beginning to estimate how common such objects may be in the solar system and our galaxy. Borisov is the first known interstellar comet, and we would like to learn how many others there are."

Crimean amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov discovered the comet on Aug. 30, 2019, and reported the position measurements to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, working with the Minor Planet Center, computed an orbit for the comet, which shows that it came from elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy, point of origin unknown.

Nevertheless, observations by numerous telescopes show that the comet's chemical composition is similar to the comets found inside our solar system, providing evidence that comets also form around other stars. By the middle of 2020 the comet will have already zoomed past Jupiter's distance of 500 million miles on its way back into the frozen abyss of interstellar space.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C. The Minor Planet Center and the Center for Near-Earth Orbit Studies are projects of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA Headquarters.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, December 13, 2019

Another Mars 2020 Flight Component Arrives in Cape Canaveral, Florida...

The backshell and heat shield (background) for NASA's Mars 2020 rover...which is scheduled to launch to the Red Planet next July.
Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Delivers Mars 2020 Rover Aeroshell To Launch Site (Press Release)

Heat Shield and Backshell Will Protect NASA's Rover During Descent to Mars

DENVER, Dec. 13, 2019 -- The capsule-shaped aeroshell that will protect NASA's Mars 2020 rover was delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida yesterday. Built by Lockheed Martin, the aeroshell will encapsulate and protect the Mars 2020 rover during its deep space cruise to Mars, and from the intense heat as the entry system descends through the Martian atmosphere to the surface of Mars.

Because of the large mass and unique entry trajectory profile that could create external temperatures up to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat shield uses a tiled Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) thermal protection system instead of the Mars heritage Super Lightweight Ablator (SLA) 561V. This will only be the second time PICA has flown on a Mars mission.

"Even though we have the experience of building the nearly identical aeroshell for the Curiosity Rover, the almost 15-foot diameter composite structure was just as big a challenge to build and test 10 years later," said Neil Tice, Mars 2020 aeroshell program manager at Lockheed Martin Space. "We've built every Mars aeroshell entry system for NASA of its 40 years of exploring Mars, so we pulled from that experience to build this important system."

Along with the Curiosity mission, this is the largest aeroshell/heat shield ever built for a planetary mission at 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet) in diameter. In contrast, the aeroshell/heat shield of the InSight lander measured 8.6 feet and Apollo capsule heat shields measured just less than 13 feet.

The backshell and heat shield were transported from Lockheed Martin's Waterton facility in Littleton, Colorado where they were built, to nearby Buckley Air Force Base. They were then loaded onto an Air Force transport plane and flown to NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Recently, Lockheed Martin integrated the MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI2) onto the heat shield and backshell. Provided by NASA's Langley and Ames Research Centers, MEDLI2 will collect temperature and pressure data during the spacecraft's descent through the Martian atmosphere.

The Mars 2020 rover is in testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California., which manages the Mars 2020 project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission will launch in July 2020 and land on Mars in February 2021 at the Jezero Crater.

Source: Lockheed Martin

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Hello, Nightingale: OSIRIS-REx Has Found Its Landing Spot on Asteroid Bennu!

An image of the site on asteroid Bennu's surface (dubbed Nightingale) where NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will touch down to collect a soil sample in August of 2020.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

X Marks the Spot: NASA Selects Site for Asteroid Sample Collection (Press Release)

After a year scoping out asteroid Bennu’s boulder-scattered surface, the team leading NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission has officially selected a sample collection site.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) mission team concluded a site designated “Nightingale” – located in a crater high in Bennu’s northern hemisphere – is the best spot for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to snag its sample.

The OSIRIS-REx team spent the past several months evaluating close-range data from four candidate sites in order to identify the best option for the sample collection. The candidate sites – dubbed Sandpiper, Osprey, Kingfisher, and Nightingale – were chosen for investigation because, of all the potential sampling regions on Bennu, these areas pose the fewest hazards to the spacecraft’s safety while still providing the opportunity for great samples to be gathered.

“After thoroughly evaluating all four candidate sites, we made our final decision based on which site has the greatest amount of fine-grained material and how easily the spacecraft can access that material while keeping the spacecraft safe,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Of the four candidates, site Nightingale best meets these criteria and, ultimately, best ensures mission success.”

Site Nightingale is located in a northern crater 230 feet (70 meters) wide. Nightingale’s regolith – or rocky surface material – is dark, and images show that the crater is relatively smooth. Because it is located so far north, temperatures in the region are lower than elsewhere on the asteroid and the surface material is well-preserved. The crater also is thought to be relatively young, and the regolith is freshly exposed. This means the site would likely allow for a pristine sample of the asteroid, giving the team insight into Bennu’s history.

Although Nightingale ranks the highest of any location on Bennu, the site still poses challenges for sample collection. The original mission plan envisioned a sample site with a diameter of 164 feet (50 meters). While the crater that hosts Nightingale is larger than that, the area safe enough for the spacecraft to touch is much smaller – approximately 52 feet (16 meters) in diameter, resulting in a site that is only about one-tenth the size of what was originally envisioned. This means the spacecraft has to very accurately target Bennu’s surface. Nightingale also has a building-size boulder situated on the crater’s eastern rim, which could pose a hazard to the spacecraft while backing away after contacting the site.

The mission also selected site Osprey as a backup sample collection site. The spacecraft has the capability to perform multiple sampling attempts, but any significant disturbance to Nightingale’s surface would make it difficult to collect a sample from that area on a later attempt, making a backup site necessary. The spacecraft is designed to autonomously “wave-off” from the site if its predicted position is too close to a hazardous area. During this maneuver, the exhaust plumes from the spacecraft’s thrusters could potentially disturb the surface of the site, due to the asteroid’s microgravity environment. In any situation where a follow-on attempt at Nightingale is not possible, the team will try to collect a sample from site Osprey instead.

"Bennu has challenged OSIRIS-REx with extraordinarily rugged terrain," said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. "The team has adapted by employing a more accurate, though more complex, optical navigation technique to be able to get into these small areas. We'll also arm OSIRIS-REx with the capability to recognize if it is on course to touch a hazard within or adjacent to the site and wave-off before that happens."

With the selection of final primary and backup sites, the mission team will undertake further reconnaissance flights over Nightingale and Osprey, beginning in January and continuing through the spring. Once these flyovers are complete, the spacecraft will begin rehearsals for its first "touch-and-go" sample collection attempt, which is scheduled for August. The spacecraft will depart Bennu in 2021 and is scheduled to return to Earth in September 2023.

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

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

SOLAR PROBE PLUS Update: NASA Releases First Round of Data from the Parker Spacecraft to the Public...

Data from the Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe instrument aboard NASA's Parker Solar Probe captured during the spacecraft’s first solar encounter in November 2018.
NASA / Naval Research Laboratory / Parker Solar Probe

First Parker Solar Probe Science Data Released to Public (News Release - November 12)

On Nov. 12, 2019, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe team released scientific data collected during the spacecraft's first two solar orbits to the general public.

Data can be accessed through the NASA Space Physics Data Facility, the Solar Data Analysis Center, the APL Parker Solar Probe Gateway, and the Science Operation Centers of the four science investigation teams (the University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and Naval Research Laboratory.) The newly released data, in the form of data files and graphical displays, is available for interested public users to manipulate, analyze, and plot in any way they choose.

The released encounter data encompasses measurements made during the first two solar encounters, spanning the time between Oct. 31 and Nov. 12, 2018, and March 30 and April 19, 2019, when the spacecraft was within 0.25 AU of the Sun, as well as data collected at farther distances. One AU, or astronomical unit, is about 93 million miles, the average distance between the Sun and Earth.

Science teams led by principal investigators from partner institutions have been busy poring over the wealth of information collected by Parker Solar Probe in preparation for the mission's first science results, to be released later this year. The four instrument suites onboard – FIELDS, ISʘIS, SWEAP, and WISPR – have been observing the characteristics of the solar wind (fields, waves, flows, and particles) in the immediate environment surrounding the Sun, called the corona.

“Parker Solar Probe is crossing new frontiers of space exploration, giving us so much new information about the Sun,” said Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist Nour E. Raouafi, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Maryland, which manages the mission for NASA. “Releasing this data to the public will allow them not only to contribute to the success of the mission along with the scientific community, but also to raise the opportunity for new discoveries to the next level.”

With three of 24 planned solar orbits under its belt, Parker Solar Probe will continue to get closer to the Sun in the coming years, eventually swooping to within 4 million miles of the Sun's surface, facing heat and radiation like no spacecraft before it. The mission seeks to provide new data on solar activity and how the solar corona works, which contributes significantly to our ability to forecast major space weather events that impact life on Earth. The mission launched in 2018 and is slated to perform its primary science mission until 2025.

Source: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Farewell, Asteroid Ryugu: Hayabusa2 Is Now Headed Back to Earth!

An image overlay showing one of Hayabusa2's target markers falling slowly towards the surface of asteroid Ryugu on September 16, 2019. Four of five markers that launched with Hayabusa2 in 2014 were released onto Ryugu's surface as of November 13, 2019.
JAXA, Chiba Institute of Technology and collaborators

Hayabusa2 Departs from Ryugu (Press Release)

JAXA confirmed Hayabusa2, JAXA's asteroid explorer, left the target asteroid Ryugu.

On November 13, 2019, JAXA operated Hayabusa2 chemical propulsion thrusters for the spacecraft's orbit control. The confirmation of the Hayabusa2 departure made at 10:05 a.m. (Japan Standard Time, JST) was based on the following data analyses:

·The thruster operation of Hayabusa2 occurred nominally
·The velocity leaving from Ryugu is approximately 9.2 cm/s
·The status of Hayabusa2 is normal

We are planning to conduct performance tests of onboard instruments, including the electric propulsion system, for the return to Earth.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

New Horizons Update: Ultima Thule Now Has a New Name!

A high-resolution image of the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth that was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from 4,109 miles (6,628 kilometers) away...on January 1, 2019.
NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Far, Far Away in the Sky: New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named 'Arrokoth' (News Release)

In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language.

With consent from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, NASA’s New Horizons team – whose spacecraft performed the record-breaking reconnaissance of Arrokoth four billion miles from Earth – proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planets Center, the international authority for naming Kuiper Belt objects. The name was announced at a ceremony today at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

“The name ‘Arrokoth’ reflects the inspiration of looking to the skies and wondering about the stars and worlds beyond our own,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “That desire to learn is at the heart of the New Horizons mission, and we’re honored to join with the Powhatan community and people of Maryland in this celebration of discovery.”

New Horizons launched in January 2006; it then zipped past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007 and conducted an historic first flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. The spacecraft continued its unparalleled voyage on New Year’s 2019 with the exploration of Arrokoth – which the team had nicknamed “Ultima Thule” ­-- a billion miles beyond Pluto, and the farthest flyby ever conducted.

Arrokoth is one of the thousands of known small icy worlds in the Kuiper Belt, the vast “third zone” of the solar system beyond the inner terrestrial planets and the outer gas giant planets. It was discovered in 2014 by a New Horizons team – which included Marc Buie, of the Southwest Research Institute – using the powerful Hubble Space Telescope.

“Data from the newly-named Arrokoth, has given us clues about the formation of planets and our cosmic origins,” said Buie. “We believe this ancient body, composed of two distinct lobes that merged into one entity, may harbor answers that contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth.”

In accordance with IAU naming conventions, the discovery team earned the privilege of selecting a permanent name for the celestial body. The team used this convention to associate the culture of the native peoples who lived in the region where the object was discovered; in this case, both the Hubble Space Telescope (at the Space Telescope Science Institute) and the New Horizons mission (at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory) are operated out of Maryland — a tie to the significance of the Chesapeake Bay region to the Powhatan people.

“We graciously accept this gift from the Powhatan people,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Bestowing the name Arrokoth signifies the strength and endurance of the indigenous Algonquian people of the Chesapeake region. Their heritage continues to be a guiding light for all who search for meaning and understanding of the origins of the universe and the celestial connection of humanity.”

The Pamunkey Reservation in King William County, Virginia, is the oldest American Indian reservation in the U.S. -- formed by a treaty with England in the 1600s and finally receiving federal recognition in July 2015. The Pamunkey tribe and its village were significant in the original Powhatan Confederacy; today, Pamunkey tribal members work collaboratively with other Powhatan tribes in Virginia and also have descendants who are members of the Powhatan-Renape Nation in New Jersey. Many direct descendants still live on the Pamunkey reservation, while others have moved to Northern Virginia, Maryland, D.C., New York and New Jersey.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) Planetary Management Office, in Huntsville, Alabama, provides the NASA oversight for the New Horizons. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, directs the mission via Principal Investigator Stern, and leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's MSFC.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, October 25, 2019

NASA to Launch a Rover That Will Explore the South Pole of the Moon in 2022...

An artist's concept of NASA's VIPER rover on the surface of the Moon.
NASA Ames / Daniel Rutter

New VIPER Lunar Rover to Map Water Ice on the Moon (News Release)

NASA is sending a mobile robot to the South Pole of the Moon to get a close-up view of the location and concentration of water ice in the region and for the first time ever, actually sample the water ice at the same pole where the first woman and next man will land in 2024 under the Artemis program.

About the size of a golf cart, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will roam several miles, using its four science instruments — including a 1-meter drill — to sample various soil environments. Planned for delivery to the lunar surface in December 2022, VIPER will collect about 100 days of data that will be used to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon.

“The key to living on the Moon is water – the same as here on Earth,” said Daniel Andrews, the project manager of the VIPER mission and director of engineering at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. “Since the confirmation of lunar water-ice ten years ago, the question now is if the Moon could really contain the amount of resources we need to live off-world. This rover will help us answer the many questions we have about where the water is, and how much there is for us to use.”

NASA's Artemis program begins a new era where robots and humans working together will push the boundaries of what’s possible in space exploration. In collaboration with commercial and international partners, NASA’s ambition is to achieve a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon – enabling humans to go on to Mars and beyond.

Scientists had long considered the lunar poles as promising spots to find water ice – a resource of direct value for humans that could provide oxygen to breathe and hydrogen and oxygen to fuel future landers and rockets. The Moon’s tilt creates permanently shadowed regions where water ice from comet and meteor impacts, as well as the Sun’s interaction with the lunar soil, can collect without being melted by sunlight. In 2009, NASA crashed a rocket (as part of the ongoing Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission) into a large crater near the South Pole and directly detected the presence of water ice. Data from this mission and other orbiters have confirmed that the Moon has reservoirs of water ice, potentially amounting to millions of tons. Now, we need to understand the location and nature of the water and other potentially accessible resources to aid in planning how to extract and collect it.

“It’s incredibly exciting to have a rover going to the new and unique environment of the South Pole to discover where exactly we can harvest that water,” said Anthony Colaprete, VIPER’s project scientist. “VIPER will tell us which locations have the highest concentrations and how deep below the surface to go to get access to water.”

To unravel the mysteries of the Moon’s South Pole, the rover will collect data on different kinds of soil environments affected by light and temperature – those in complete darkness, occasional light and in direct sunlight. By collecting data on the amount of water and other materials in each, NASA can map out where else water likely lies across the Moon.

As the rover drives across the surface, it will use the Neutron Spectrometer System, known as NSS, to detect “wet” areas below the surface for further investigation. VIPER will then stop and deploy a drill, The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain, or TRIDENT, developed with Honeybee Robotics, to dig up soil cuttings from up to a meter beneath the surface. These drill samples will then be analyzed by two instruments: the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations, or MSolo, developed out of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; and the Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System, known as NIRVSS, developed by Ames. MSolo and NIRVSS will determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources, including water, that were brought up by TRIDENT.

VIPER is a collaboration within and beyond the agency. VIPER is part of the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program managed by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Ames is managing the rover project, leading the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations and software development. The hardware for the rover is being designed by the Johnson Space Center, while the instruments are provided by Ames, Kennedy, and commercial partner, Honeybee Robotics. The spacecraft lander and launch vehicle that will deliver VIPER to the surface of the Moon, will be provided through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, delivering science and technology payloads to and near the Moon.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An engineering model of the VIPER lunar rover rolls along a testbed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA / Johnson Space Center

Monday, October 21, 2019

Hubble's Successor Finally Looks Like Its True Self...

The James Webb Space Telescope's sunshield is deployed during a test inside a Northrop Grumman facility at Redondo Beach, California.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Clears Critical Sunshield Deployment Testing (News Release)

The sunshield for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has passed a test critical to preparing the observatory for its 2021 launch. Technicians and engineers fully deployed and tensioned each of the sunshield's five layers, successfully putting the sunshield into the same position it will be in a million miles from Earth.

“This was the first time that the sunshield has been deployed and tensioned by the spacecraft electronics and with the telescope present above it. The deployment is visually stunning as a result, and it was challenging to accomplish," said James Cooper, NASA’s Webb Telescope Sunshield Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

To observe distant parts of the universe humans have never seen before, the Webb observatory is equipped with an arsenal of revolutionary technologies, making it the most sophisticated and complex space science telescope ever created. Among the most challenging of these technologies is the five-layer sunshield, designed to protect the observatory's mirrors and scientific instruments from light and heat, primarily from the Sun.

As a telescope optimized for infrared light, it is imperative that Webb’s optics and sensors remain extremely cold, and its sunshield is key for regulating temperature. Webb requires a successful sunshield deployment on orbit to meet its science goals.

The sunshield separates the observatory into a warm side that always faces the Sun (thermal models show the maximum temperature of the outermost layer is 383 Kelvin or approximately 230 degrees Fahrenheit), and a cold side that always faces deep space (with the coldest layer having a modeled minimum temp of 36 Kelvin, or around minus 394 degrees Fahrenheit). The oxygen present in Earth’s atmosphere would freeze solid at the temperatures experienced on the cold side of the sunshield, and an egg could easily be boiled with the heat encountered on the warm end.

Webb has passed other deployment tests during its development. Equally as important were the successful disposition of issues uncovered by those earlier deployments and the spacecraft element environmental testing. As before, technicians used gravity-offsetting pulleys and weights to simulate the zero-g environment it will experience in space. By carefully monitoring the deployment and tensioning of each individual layer, Webb technicians ensure that once on orbit, they will function flawlessly.

"This test showed that the sunshield system survived spacecraft element environmental testing, and taught us about the interfaces and interactions between the telescope and sunshield parts of the observatory," Cooper added. "Many thanks to all the engineers and technicians for their perseverance, focus and countless hours of effort to achieve this milestone.”

The sunshield consists of five layers of a polymer material called Kapton. Each layer is coated with vapor-deposited aluminum, to reflect the Sun’s heat into space. The two hottest sun-facing layers also have a "doped-silicon" (or treated silicon) coating to protect them from the Sun’s intense ultraviolet radiation.

To collect light from some of the first stars and galaxies to have formed after the Big Bang, the telescope needed both the largest mirror ever to be launched into space, and the sunshield that has the wingspan of an entire tennis court. Because of the telescope’s size, shape and thermal performance requirements, the sunshield must be both big and complex. But it also has to fit inside a standard 16-foot-(5-meter)-diameter rocket payload fairing, and also reliably deploy into a specific shape, while experiencing the absence of gravity, without error.

Following Webb’s successful sunshield test, team members will begin the long process of perfectly folding the sunshield back into its stowed position for flight, which occupies a much smaller space than when it is fully deployed. Then, the observatory will be subjected to comprehensive electrical tests and one more set of mechanical tests that emulate the launch vibration environment, followed by one final deployment and stowing cycle on the ground, before its flight into space.

Webb will be the world's premier space science observatory. It will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The James Webb Space Telescope's sunshield is deployed during a test inside a Northrop Grumman facility at Redondo Beach, California.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Remembering a Fellow Lancer...

Rest In Peace, Mariana. Earlier today, I found out on Facebook that Mariana Baserga—my former classmate from Bishop Amat Memorial High School—passed away after fighting a brave battle with cancer. I was absolutely devastated to hear this. Even though I wasn't a close friend of Mariana when we were in high school from 1994 to '98, I chatted with her during our 20-year high school reunion that took place in Newport Beach, CA almost a year ago.. It was a memorable time...and it's gonna be heartbreaking not to see Mariana around when my fellow Lancers (that's the name of our high school mascot) convene for our 30-year reunion in 2028. My condolences to Mariana's family.

Rob, Mariana, Alfred and I take a group photo during our 20-year high school reunion in Newport Beach, California...on October 6, 2018.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The First Interplanetary Aircraft Has Been Attached to America's Next Red Planet Rover...

Inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, CA, an engineer works on attaching the Mars Helicopter to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover...on August 28, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Mars Helicopter Attached to Mars 2020 Rover (News Release - August 28)

Engineers attached NASA's Mars Helicopter, which will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet, to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover today in the High Bay 1 clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California.

The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter was connected, along with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System, to a plate on the rover's belly that includes a cover to shield the helicopter from debris during entry, descent and landing. The helicopter will remain encapsulated after landing, deploying to the surface once a suitable area to conduct test flights is found at Jezero Crater, the rover's destination.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If the small craft encounters difficulties, the science-gathering of the Mars 2020 mission won't be impacted. If the helicopter does take flight as designed, future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

"Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere," said JPL's MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager. "Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet."

Along with investigating difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, they could carry small science instruments or act as scouts for human and robotic explorers. The agency intends to establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans, using the Moon as a stepping stone to putting humans on Mars.

"The Wright Brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but they built it in Dayton," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The Mars Helicopter, destined to be the first aircraft to fly on another world, was built in Pasadena, California. Joined now to the 2020 rover, it is yet another example of how NASA's Artemis generation is expanding humanity's reach in our solar system."

"With this joining of two great spacecraft, I can say definitively that all the pieces are in place for a historic mission of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's headquarters in Washington. "Together, Mars 2020 and the Mars Helicopter will help define the future of science and exploration of the Red Planet for decades to come."

The Mars 2020 rover, with the Mars Helicopter aboard, will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. When it lands at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, the rover will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of touchdown during the landing sequence.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover and the Mars Helicopter for NASA. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. Lockheed Martin Space provided the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

To submit your name to travel to Mars with NASA's 2020 mission and obtain a souvenir boarding pass to the Red Planet, go here by Sept. 30, 2019:

https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An animated GIF showing the Mars Helicopter fly away from the Mars 2020 rover on the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA / JPL - CalTech