Monday, August 03, 2020

Lucy Update: The Trojan Asteroid-bound Spacecraft Continues to Move Along in Development...

An artist's concept of NASA's Lucy spacecraft venturing past the Trojan asteroid Patroclus and its binary companion Menoetius near Jupiter's orbit.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Conceptual Image Lab / Adriana Gutierrez

NASA’s Lucy Mission Passes Critical Mission Milestone (News Release)

Last week marked the completion of a major milestone on the path to spacecraft assembly, test, and launch operations for NASA’s Lucy mission.

The Systems Integration Review ensured segments, components, and subsystems, scientific instrumentation, electrical and communication systems, and navigation systems are on schedule to be integrated into the system. It confirmed that facilities, support personnel, and plans and procedures are on schedule to support integration.

The four-day meeting took place from July 27-30. On July 31, the standing review board briefed the team on the results. Due to Covid-19, the review occurred virtually.

In order to keep the team safe during the pandemic, NASA and the partner institutions delayed construction on some of the instruments and components. The Lucy assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) team developed a new schedule to allow the team to reorder the assembly and testing timeline to give components and subsystems the flexibility they need and still get the spacecraft ready for an on-schedule launch in October 2021.

"No one anticipated that we would be building a spacecraft under these circumstances," said Lucy Principal Investigator, Hal Levison, "but I once again have been impressed by this team's creativity and resiliency to overcome any challenge placed before them."

Successful completion of this System Integration Review means that the project can proceed with assembling and testing the spacecraft in preparations for launch. The spacecraft is on track to begin ATLO next month at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities in Littleton.

Another upcoming milestone is the Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D), which occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews that cover the technical health, schedule and cost of the project. Lucy’s KDP-D is currently scheduled for late August of this year.

Lucy will be the first space mission to study the Trojan asteroids, a population of small bodies orbiting the Sun “leading” and “trailing” Jupiter, at the same distance from the Sun as the gas giant. With flyby encounters past eight different asteroids – one in the Main Asteroid Belt and seven in the Trojan swarms, Lucy will be the first space mission in history to explore so many different destinations in independent orbits around our Sun.

Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is the principal investigator institution for Lucy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

Photos of the Day: The Apple Fire in Riverside County, CA...

A snapshot of the Apple Fire in Riverside County...as seen from a parking structure in Ontario, California, on August 1, 2020.

First and foremost, my condolences to those whose lives were affected by this wildfire currently raging at Cherry Valley in Riverside County, California. I took these snapshots of the huge smoke cloud bellowing from the so-called Apple Fire with my DSLR camera earlier today. These photos were taken from a parking structure in the city of Ontario—which is located less than 50 miles west of Cherry Valley.

Hopefully, firefighters will put out this blaze as soon as possible. If history is any indication, the worse is yet to come for California in regards to wildfires this October. Combine that with the coronavirus pandemic, and you have one heck of a lousy year for the Golden State... That is all.

Another snapshot of the Apple Fire in Riverside County...as seen from a parking structure in Ontario, California, on August 1, 2020.

A snapshot of a huge smoke cloud bellowing from the Apple Fire in Riverside County...as seen from Ontario, California, on August 1, 2020.

Another snapshot of the huge smoke cloud bellowing from the Apple Fire in Riverside County...as seen from Ontario, California, on August 1, 2020.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

America's Next Robotic Rover and First Martian Helicopter Are Off to the Red Planet!

An Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars 2020 spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on July 30, 2020.
NASA / Joel Kowsky

NASA, ULA Launch Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission to Red Planet (Press Release)

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples to send back to Earth.

Humanity's most sophisticated rover launched with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at 7:50 a.m. EDT (4:50 a.m. PDT) Friday on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

"With the launch of Perseverance, we begin another historic mission of exploration," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "This amazing explorer's journey has already required the very best from all of us to get it to launch through these challenging times. Now we can look forward to its incredible science and to bringing samples of Mars home even as we advance human missions to the Red Planet. As a mission, as an agency, and as a country, we will persevere."

The ULA Atlas V's Centaur upper stage initially placed the Mars 2020 spacecraft into a parking orbit around Earth. The engine fired for a second time and the spacecraft separated from the Centaur as expected. Navigation data indicate the spacecraft is perfectly on course to Mars.

Mars 2020 sent its first signal to ground controllers via NASA's Deep Space Network at 9:15 a.m. EDT (6:15 a.m. PDT). However, telemetry (more detailed spacecraft data) had not yet been acquired at that point. Around 11:30 a.m. EDT (8:30 a.m. PDT), a signal with telemetry was received from Mars 2020 by NASA ground stations. Data indicate the spacecraft had entered a state known as safe mode, likely because a part of the spacecraft was a little colder than expected while Mars 2020 was in Earth's shadow. All temperatures are now nominal and the spacecraft is out of Earth's shadow.

When a spacecraft enters safe mode, all but essential systems are turned off until it receives new commands from mission control. An interplanetary launch is fast-paced and dynamic, so a spacecraft is designed to put itself in safe mode if its onboard computer perceives conditions are not within its preset parameters. Right now, the Mars 2020 mission is completing a full health assessment on the spacecraft and is working to return the spacecraft to a nominal configuration for its journey to Mars.

The Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission is to seek out signs of past microscopic life on Mars, explore the diverse geology of its landing site, Jezero Crater, and demonstrate key technologies that will help us prepare for future robotic and human exploration.

"Jezero Crater is the perfect place to search for signs of ancient life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Perseverance is going to make discoveries that cause us to rethink our questions about what Mars was like and how we understand it today. As our instruments investigate rocks along an ancient lake bottom and select samples to return to Earth, we may very well be reaching back in time to get the information scientists need to say that life has existed elsewhere in the universe."

The Martian rock and dust Perseverance’s Sample Caching System collects could answer fundamental questions about the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. Two future missions currently under consideration by NASA, in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency), will work together to get the samples to an orbiter for return to Earth. When they arrive on Earth, the Mars samples will undergo in-depth analysis by scientists around the world using equipment far too large to send to the Red Planet.

An Eye to a Martian Tomorrow

While most of Perseverance's seven instruments are geared toward learning more about the planet's geology and astrobiology, the MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) instrument's job is focused on missions yet to come. Designed to demonstrate that converting Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen is possible, it could lead to future versions of MOXIE technology that become staples on Mars missions, providing oxygen for rocket fuel and breathable air.

Also future-leaning is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which will remain attached to the belly of Perseverance for the flight to Mars and the first 60 or so days on the surface. A technology demonstrator, Ingenuity's goal is a pure flight test – it carries no science instruments.

Over 30 sols (31 Earth days), the helicopter will attempt up to five powered, controlled flights. The data acquired during these flight tests will help the next generation of Mars helicopters provide an aerial dimension to Mars explorations – potentially scouting for rovers and human crews, transporting small payloads, or investigating difficult-to-reach destinations.

The rover's technologies for entry, descent, and landing also will provide information to advance future human missions to Mars.

"Perseverance is the most capable rover in history because it is standing on the shoulders of our pioneers Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity," said Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "In the same way, the descendants of Ingenuity and MOXIE will become valuable tools for future explorers to the Red Planet and beyond."

About seven cold, dark, unforgiving months of interplanetary space travel lay ahead for the mission – a fact never far from the minds of the Mars 2020 project team.

"There is still a lot of road between us and Mars," said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager at JPL. "About 290 million miles of them. But if there was ever a team that could make it happen, it is this one. We are going to Jezero Crater. We will see you there Feb. 18, 2021."

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of America's larger Moon to Mars exploration approach that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis program.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and will manage operations of the Mars Perseverance rover. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management, and ULA provided the Atlas V rocket.

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A camera onboard the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage captured this view of the Mars 2020 spacecraft separating from the booster to begin its nearly 7-month journey to the Red Planet...on July 30, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

A snapshot of the three microchips bearing the names of 10.9 million people (including Yours Truly) on NASA's Perseverance Mars rover.
NASA

My participation certificate for NASA's Mars 2020 mission.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Mars 2020 Update: Perseverance and Ingenuity Are Now at the Pad!

The Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars 2020 spacecraft rolls out from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) to the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 in Florida...on July 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

Just thought I'd share these images of the Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Perseverance Mars rover and the Ingenuity Mars helicoper as it rolled out to the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida earlier this morning. Liftoff of the Atlas V from Space Launch Complex-41 at CCAFS is targeted for 7:50 AM, Eastern Daylight Time (4:50 AM, Pacific Daylight Time) on Thursday, July 30. Weather is currently at 80% "GO" during the 2-hour launch window that day. So stoked!

The Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars 2020 spacecraft rolls out from the VIF to the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida...on July 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

The Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars 2020 spacecraft rolls out to the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida...on July 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

The Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars 2020 spacecraft arrives at the SLC-41 pad in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida...on July 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

Friday, July 24, 2020

Photos of the Day #3: Snapshots of NEOWISE...One Last Time

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 23, 2020. A faint satellite trail is visible right above the comet.

Happy Friday, everyone! Just thought I'd share these pics that I took of comet NEOWISE from my backyard (again) in Pomona, California, last night. I was pondering about whether or not I should've went to Joshua Tree National Park yesterday or Wednesday (when NEOWISE made its closest approach to Earth at a distance of 64.3 million miles, or 103.5 million kilometers) to capture additional photos, but for financial reasons I decided to stay home since I didn't want to risk putting wear-and-tear on my car. Here are the settings I used on my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera:

Lens: 70-300mm Nikon telephoto lens
ISO: 800
F-stop: f/5.6
Shutter speed: 8 seconds
Live View mode on my LCD screen used instead of the viewfinder

Seeing as how I finally managed to spot NEOWISE on my own last night (without the use of binoculars), I wanted to end my comet-photographing campaign on a high note...so these are the very last images I'll take of this celestial body as it heads back into the far reaches of our solar system. Thank you for putting on a show for us quarantined Earthlings for the past couple of weeks, comet NEOWISE! If I was immortal, I'd say see you again in 6,800 years... Carry on.

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 23, 2020.

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 23, 2020.

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 23, 2020.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mars 2020 Update: T-Minus 8 Days Till America's Next Robotic Rover Launches to the Red Planet...

The Atlas V payload fairing containing NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is transported to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41...on July 7, 2020.
NASA / KSC

NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover Passes Flight Readiness Review (Press Release)

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission cleared its Flight Readiness Review Wednesday, an important milestone on its way to the launch pad. The meeting was an opportunity for the Mars 2020 team and launch vehicle provider United Launch Alliance to report on the readiness of the spacecraft, along with the Atlas V rocket, flight and ground hardware, software, personnel, and procedures. The daily launch window on Thursday, July 30, opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT.

“Our deepest thanks go to the many teams who have worked so hard to get Perseverance ready to fly during these challenging times,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This mission is emblematic of our nation’s spirit of meeting problems head-on and finding solutions together. The incredible science Perseverance will enable and the bold human missions it will help make possible are going to be inspirations for us all.”

"We're pleased to be passing another milestone with the completion of the Flight Readiness Review," said Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "But we’ll keep our heads down through the final prelaunch activities and the opening of the launch window next week, until we're certain this spacecraft is safely on its way. Mars is a tough customer, and we don’t take anything for granted."

With all the connections between the spacecraft and Atlas V launch vehicle complete, the majority of business remaining for Mars 2020's Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) team involves checking out every one of the multitude of systems and subsystems onboard the rover, aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage.

“NASA can’t wait to take the next steps on the surface of Mars with Perseverance,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The science and technology of this mission are going to help us address major questions about the geologic and astrobiologic history of Mars that we’ve been working on for decades, and we’re excited to take the whole world with us on this journey.”

"At this point, the spacecraft has been powered on and will remain so around the clock," said Dave Gruel, ATLO manager for Mars 2020. "The launch operations team will continue to monitor the health of the spacecraft to ensure it’s 'Go' for launch – nothing glamorous, but an important part of the job."

The spacecraft and launch teams have one more major review to complete. Scheduled Monday, July 27, the Launch Readiness Review is the last significant checkup before the mission receives final approval to proceed with launch.

"At present, everything is green across the board," said Wallace. "Everyone involved with this endeavor, from the spacecraft team to the launch vehicle team to those working the range, are looking forward to seeing Perseverance begin its long-awaited flight to Mars."

Around 1 p.m. EDT on July 27, or approximately one hour after the Launch Readiness Review ends, the agency will hold a preflight news conference that will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Other prelaunch briefings also will take place July 27, and Tuesday, July 28. A full list of media briefings for the Mars 2020 mission launch is available here:

https://go.nasa.gov/39inOsn

The Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet's climate and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first planetary mission to collect and cache selected samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

JPL, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, is building and will manage operations of Perseverance for NASA. The agency's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. The Mars 2020 mission with its Perseverance rover are part of America’s larger Moon to Mars exploration approach that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis program.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator...the same nuclear system that was attached to NASA's Perseverance rover (at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 22, 2020) to power it on its journey to the surface of Mars.
Office of Nuclear Energy

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Photos of the Day #2: NEOWISE Above My Neighborhood!

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 20, 2020.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Just thought I'd share these impromptu pictures that I took of comet NEOWISE from my own backyard in Pomona, California last night! The reason why I call these impromptu is because I didn't plan on taking photos of the comet yesterday... I was just taking my usual evening walk around the street when I saw one of my family members standing outside the house and looking up at the sky with his binoculars. Of course, it was a no-brainer for me to head back inside to get my tripod and Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to capture images of NOEWISE after it was obviously located in the sky! Here are the settings that I used:

Lens: 70-300mm Nikon telephoto lens
ISO: 800
F-stop: f/5.6
Shutter speed: 8 seconds
Live View mode on my LCD screen used instead of the viewfinder

I was thinking about going to Joshua Tree National Park tomorrow (when the comet makes its closest approach to Earth at a distance of 64.3 million miles, or 103.5 million kilometers), but considering the fact that I've had a very difficult time finding the comet on my own when I took photos of it on July 10 and July 18 (random strangers had to point NEOWISE out to me both times I shot pictures, and I still had a hard time spotting the celestial body with binoculars last night), I don't think it's wise of me to take a 2-hour drive to the desert when I'll probably be alone at the site trying hard to spot the comet in the sky...but we'll see. The comet should be high enough above the horizon on July 22 for me to take additional images from my backyard. It's Los Angeles County's stupid light pollution that will spoil these pictures, though. I'll think about it.

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 20, 2020.

Comet NEOWISE as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California...on July 20, 2020.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Photos of the Day: Comet NEOWISE After Dusk...

A photo I took of comet NEOWISE from the city of Diamond Bar in California...on the night of July 18, 2020.

Good morning, everyone! Just thought I'd share these photos that I took of comet NEOWISE from Summitridge Park in Diamond Bar, California yesterday. These four pics were taken between 9:28 PM and 10:07 PM—with sunset being around 8:01 PM last night. NEOWISE is pretty high up in the sky now...to the point where you can see it below the constellation Big Dipper as opposed to near the horizon (as seen in the images I took on July 10).

By this Wednesday, July 22 (when NEOWISE makes its closet approach to Earth at 64.3 million miles, or 103.5 million kilometers), the comet should be even closer to the Big Dipper. However, it's best that you definitely travel outside the city to catch a glimpse of this celestial object (with a telescope or binoculars) before it disappears for good early next month (NEOWISE won't return to our inner solar system again for another 6,800 years). I had to use Photoshop to adjust the contrast on these pics since the sky was hazy and also brightened by the light pollution of Los Angeles County.

Anyways, here are the general settings that I used last night. I'll see if I drive far this Wednesday to take some final photos of comet NEOWISE with my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera... Carry on!

Lens: 70-300mm Nikon telephoto lens
ISO: 800 and 1600
F-stop: f/4.5 to 5.6
Shutter speed: 2.5 to 8 seconds (try to stick with 2.5 seconds, unless you like star trails)
Live View mode on my LCD screen used instead of the viewfinder

Another photo I took of comet NEOWISE from the city of Diamond Bar in California...on the night of July 18, 2020.

Another photo I took of comet NEOWISE from the city of Diamond Bar in California...on the night of July 18, 2020.

Another photo I took of comet NEOWISE from the city of Diamond Bar in California...on the night of July 18, 2020. A faint satellite trail is visible near the upper-left part of this image.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Mars 2020 Update: Ingenuity's Trip to the Red Planet Begins in Just 13 Days (Hopefully)...

An illustration of the Ingenuity helicopter soaring in the Martian air while the Perseverance rover observes from the surface.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

6 Things to Know About NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (News Release - July 14)

The first helicopter attempting to fly on another planet is a marvel of engineering. Get up to speed with these key facts about its plans.

When NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida later this summer, an innovative experiment will ride along: the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Ingenuity may weigh only about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms), but it has some outsize ambitions.

"The Wright Brothers showed that powered flight in Earth's atmosphere was possible, using an experimental aircraft," said HÃ¥vard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "With Ingenuity, we're trying to do the same for Mars."

Here are six things you should know about the first helicopter going to another planet:

1. Ingenuity is a flight test.

Ingenuity is what is known as a technology demonstration – a project that seeks to test a new capability for the first time, with limited scope. Previous groundbreaking technology demonstrations include the Mars Pathfinder rover Sojourner and the tiny Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats that flew by Mars in 2018.

Ingenuity features four specially made carbon-fiber blades, arranged into two rotors that spin in opposite directions at around 2,400 rpm – many times faster than a passenger helicopter on Earth. It also has innovative solar cells, batteries, and other components. Ingenuity doesn't carry science instruments and is a separate experiment from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

2. Ingenuity will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet.

What makes it hard for a helicopter to fly on Mars? For one thing, Mars' thin atmosphere makes it difficult to achieve enough lift. Because the Mars atmosphere is 99% less dense than Earth's, Ingenuity has to be light, with rotor blades that are much larger and spin much faster than what would be required for a helicopter of Ingenuity's mass on Earth.

It can also be bone-chillingly cold at Jezero Crater, where Perseverance will land with Ingenuity attached to its belly in February 2021. Nights there dip down to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). While Ingenuity's team on Earth has tested the helicopter at Martian temperatures and believes it should work on Mars as intended, the cold will push the design limits of many of Ingenuity's parts.

In addition, flight controllers at JPL won't be able to control the helicopter with a joystick. Communication delays are an inherent part of working with spacecraft across interplanetary distances. Commands will need to be sent well in advance, with engineering data coming back from the spacecraft long after each flight takes place. In the meantime, Ingenuity will have a lot of autonomy to make its own decisions about how to fly to a waypoint and keep itself warm.

3. Ingenuity is a fitting name for a robot that is the result of extreme creativity.

High school student Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, Alabama, originally submitted the name Ingenuity for the Mars 2020 rover, before it was named Perseverance, but NASA officials recognized the submission as a terrific name for the helicopter, given how much creative thinking the team employed to get the mission off the ground.

"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani wrote. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things."

4. Ingenuity has already demonstrated feats of engineering.

In careful steps from 2014 to 2019, engineers at JPL demonstrated that it was possible to build an aircraft that was lightweight, able to generate enough lift in Mars' thin atmosphere, and capable of surviving in a Mars-like environment. They tested progressively more advanced models in special space simulators at JPL. In January 2019, the actual helicopter that is riding with Perseverance to the Red Planet passed its final flight evaluation. Failing any one of these milestones would've grounded the experiment.

5. The Ingenuity team will count success one step at a time.

Given the firsts Ingenuity is trying to accomplish, the team has a long list of milestones they'll need to pass before the helicopter can take off and land in the spring of 2021. The team will celebrate each time they meet one. The milestones include:

- Surviving the launch from Cape Canaveral, the cruise to Mars, and landing on the Red Planet
- Safely deploying to the surface from Perseverance's belly
- Autonomously keeping warm through the intensely cold Martian nights
- Autonomously charging itself with its solar panel

And then Ingenuity will make its first flight attempt. If the helicopter succeeds in that first flight, the Ingenuity team will attempt up to four other test flights within a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) window.

6. If Ingenuity succeeds, future Mars exploration could include an ambitious aerial dimension.

Ingenuity is intended to demonstrate technologies needed for flying in the Martian atmosphere. If successful, these technologies could enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that might be included in future robotic and human missions to Mars. They could offer a unique viewpoint not provided by current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground, provide high-definition images and reconnaissance for robots or humans, and enable access to terrain that is difficult for rovers to reach.

"The Ingenuity team has done everything to test the helicopter on Earth, and we are looking forward to flying our experiment in the real environment at Mars," said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at JPL. "We'll be learning all along the way, and it will be the ultimate reward for our team to be able to add another dimension to the way we explore other worlds in the future."

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Hubble's Successor Is Now Scheduled to Launch on Halloween of 2021...

A snapshot of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope inside a clean room at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA Announces New James Webb Space Telescope Target Launch Date (Press Release)

NASA now is targeting Oct. 31, 2021, for the launch of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope from French Guiana, due to impacts from the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as well as technical challenges.

This decision is based on a recently completed schedule risk assessment of the remaining integration and test activities prior to launch. Previously, Webb was targeted to launch in March 2021.

“The perseverance and innovation of the entire Webb Telescope team has enabled us to work through challenging situations we could not have foreseen on our path to launch this unprecedented mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Webb is the world’s most complex space observatory, and our top science priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic. The team continues to be focused on reaching milestones and arriving at the technical solutions that will see us through to this new launch date next year.”

Testing of the observatory continues to go well at Northrop Grumman, the mission’s main industry partner, in Redondo Beach, California, despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to the pandemic’s associated delays, the team made significant progress in achieving important milestones to prepare for launch in 2021.

As schedule margins grew tighter last fall, the agency planned to assess the progress of the project in April. This assessment was postponed due to the pandemic and was completed this week. The factors contributing to the decision to move the launch date include the impacts of augmented safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, disruption to shift work, and other technical challenges. Webb will use existing program funding to stay within its $8.8 billion development cost cap.

“Based on current projections, the program expects to complete the remaining work within the new schedule without requiring additional funds,” said Gregory Robinson, NASA Webb program director at the agency’s headquarters. “Although efficiency has been affected and there are challenges ahead, we have retired significant risk through the achievements and good schedule performance over the past year. After resuming full operations to prepare for upcoming final observatory system-level environmental testing this summer, major progress continues towards preparing this highly complex observatory for launch.”

The project team will continue to complete a final set of extremely difficult environmental tests of the full observatory before it will be shipped to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, situated on the northeastern coast of South America.

This week, the project successfully completed electrical testing of the observatory. The test highlighted a major milestone in preparation for the upcoming acoustics and vibration environmental tests of the full observatory that are scheduled to start in August. In addition to ongoing deployments, ground system testing of the fully integrated observatory has followed immediately afterwards. Ensuring that every element of Webb functions properly before it gets to space is critical to its success.

The design of a very large space telescope and highly sophisticated instruments was required to enable Webb to answer fundamental questions about our cosmic origins outlined in the National Academy of Sciences 2000 Decadal Survey.

“Webb is designed to build upon the incredible legacies of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, by observing the infrared universe and exploring every phase of cosmic history,” said Eric Smith, NASA Webb’s program scientist at the agency’s headquarters. “The observatory will detect light from the first generation of galaxies that formed in the early universe after the big bang and study the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for possible signs of habitability.”

Early next year, Webb will be folded “origami-style” for shipment to the launch site and fitted compactly inside Arianespace’s Ariane 5 launch vehicle fairing, which is about 16 feet (5 meters) wide. On its journey to space, Webb will be the first mission to complete an intricate and technically challenging series of deployments – a critical part of Webb’s journey to its orbit about one million miles from Earth. Once in orbit, Webb will unfold its delicate five-layered sunshield until it reaches the size of a tennis court. Webb will then deploy its iconic 6.5-meter primary mirror that will detect the faint light of far-away stars and galaxies.

Webb is NASA’s next great space science observatory, which will help in solving the mysteries of our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mystifying structures and origins of our universe. Webb is an international program led by NASA, along with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

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