Tuesday, February 28, 2017
NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
Just thought I'd end this month by pointing out that NASA is currently inviting the public to submit artwork (via e-mail) that will fly aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)...which is scheduled to launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March of 2018. Click on this page for more details. Right now, there is no limit as to how many artwork you can submit to fly aboard TESS; this campaign either ends on November 20, 2017, or when the drive (Hard drive? Flash drive? The site doesn't say—though it's most likely the latter) that will carry the submissions reaches full capacity. The artwork below are the ones that I myself sent in as of today. I created a couple of more illustrations that I plan to submit over the next few weeks... I'll post them in a future Blog entry. If you have your own drawings to send into the cosmos, submit now!
Thursday, February 23, 2017
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."
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
(Three Earth-Like Worlds with Liquid Water on Them? Yes, Please!) NASA Announces a Stellar Exoplanet Discovery...
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.
NASA / JPL - Caltech
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
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.
Sunday, February 19, 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...
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.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
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
USAF / Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson
Monday, February 13, 2017
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.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
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:
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
NASA / JPL - Caltech
Friday, February 10, 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
USAF / Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.
Thursday, February 09, 2017
University of Arizona
NASA's OSIRIS-REx Begins Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search (News Release)
A NASA spacecraft begins its search Thursday for an enigmatic class of near-Earth objects known as Earth-Trojan asteroids. OSIRIS-REx, currently on a two-year outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, will spend almost two weeks searching for evidence of these small bodies.
Trojan asteroids are trapped in stable gravity wells, called Lagrange points, which precede or follow a planet. OSIRIS-REx is currently traveling through Earth's fourth Lagrange point, which is located 60 degrees ahead in Earth's orbit around the sun, about 90 million miles (150 million kilometers) from our planet. The mission team will use this opportunity to take multiple images of the area with the spacecraft’s MapCam camera in the hope of identifying Earth-Trojan asteroids in the region.
Although scientists have discovered thousands of Trojan asteroids accompanying other planets, only one Earth-Trojan has been identified to date, asteroid 2010 TK7. Scientists predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit, but they are difficult to detect from Earth as they appear near the sun on the Earth’s horizon.
“Because the Earth’s fourth Lagrange point is relatively stable, it is possible that remnants of the material that built Earth are trapped within it,” said Dante Lauretta. “So this search gives us a unique opportunity to explore the primordial building blocks of Earth.”
The search commences today and continues through Feb. 20. On each observation day, the spacecraft’s MapCam camera will take 135 survey images that will be processed and examined by the mission’s imaging scientists at the University of Arizona, Tucson. The study plan also includes opportunities for MapCam to image Jupiter, several galaxies, and the main belt asteroids 55 Pandora, 47 Aglaja and 12 Victoria.
Whether or not the team discovers any new asteroids, the search is a beneficial exercise. The operations involved in searching for Earth-Trojan asteroids closely resemble those required to search for natural satellites and other potential hazards around Bennu when the spacecraft approaches its target in 2018. Being able to practice these mission-critical operations in advance will help the OSIRIS-REx team reduce mission risk once the spacecraft arrives at Bennu.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing 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. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency's New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
NASA / JPL - Caltech
NASA Receives Science Report on Europa Lander Concept (News Release)
A report on the potential science value of a lander on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been delivered to NASA, and the agency is now engaging the broader science community to open a discussion about its findings.
In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA’s Planetary Science Division began a pre-Phase A study to assess the science value and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission. NASA routinely conducts such studies -- known as Science Definition Team (SDT) reports -- long before the beginning of any mission to gain an understanding of the challenges, feasibility and science value of the potential mission. In June 2016, NASA convened a 21-member team of scientists for the SDT. Since then, the team has deliberated to define a workable and worthy set of science objectives and measurements for the mission concept, submitting a report to NASA on Feb. 7.
The report lists three science goals for the mission. The primary goal is to search for evidence of life on Europa. The other goals are to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analyzing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean. The report also describes some of the notional instruments that could be expected to perform measurements in support of these goals.
Scientists agree that the evidence is quite strong that Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon, has a global saltwater ocean beneath its icy crust. This ocean has at least twice as much water as Earth’s oceans. While recent discoveries have shown that many bodies in the solar system either have subsurface oceans now, or may have in the past, Europa is one of only two places where the ocean is understood to be in contact with a rocky seafloor (the other being Saturn's moon Enceladus). This rare circumstance makes Europa one of the highest priority targets in the search for present-day life beyond Earth.
The SDT was tasked with developing a life-detection strategy, a first for a NASA mission since the Mars Viking mission era more than four decades ago. The report makes recommendations on the number and type of science instruments that would be required to confirm if signs of life are present in samples collected from the icy moon's surface.
The team also worked closely with engineers to design a system capable of landing on a surface about which very little is known. Given that Europa has no atmosphere, the team developed a concept that could deliver its science payload to the icy surface without the benefit of technologies like a heat shield or parachutes.
The concept lander is separate from the solar-powered Europa multiple flyby mission, now in development for launch in the early 2020s. The spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a multi-year journey, orbiting the gas giant every two weeks for a series of 45 close flybys of Europa. The multiple flyby mission will investigate Europa’s habitability by mapping its composition, determining the characteristics of the ocean and ice shell, and increasing our understanding of its geology. The mission also will lay the foundation for a future landing by performing detailed reconnaissance using its powerful cameras.
NASA has announced two upcoming town hall meetings to discuss the Science Definition Team report and receive feedback from the science community. The first will be on March 19, in conjunction with the 2017 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) at The Woodlands, Texas. The second event will be on April 23 at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Mesa, Arizona.
To read the complete report visit: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/europa/technical.cfm
Monday, February 06, 2017
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS
Jovian 'Antarctica' (News Release - February 3)
Cyclones swirl around the south pole, and white oval storms can be seen near the limb -- the apparent edge of the planet -- in this image of Jupiter’s south polar region taken by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The image was acquired on February 2, 2017, at 5:52 a.m. PST (8:52 a.m. EST) from an altitude of 47,600 miles (76,600 kilometers) above Jupiter’s swirling cloud deck.
Prior to the Feb. 2 flyby, the public was invited to vote for their favorite points of interest in the Jovian atmosphere for JunoCam to image. The point of interest captured here was titled “Jovian Antarctica” by a member of the public, in reference to Earth's Antarctica.
All of JunoCam’s images from the Feb. 2, 2017, flyby of Jupiter are online at:
Saturday, February 04, 2017
If you're a member of #TheResistance (the real resistance...not the one featured in the new Star Wars trilogy) who wants to poke fun at everything that Donald Trump does while he's still president, click on this link to customize your own executive order that Trump will proudly hold with his [ALT-FACT] giant hands [/ALT-FACT] in this photo. Now if only Steve Bannon, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan can display white sheets of paper in pics that will be manipulated on the Internet for everyone's amusement as well... I can wait.
Friday, February 03, 2017
USAF / Lockheed Martin
Late last year, then-President-elect Donald Trump created a stir when he said that the F-35 program was significantly over-budget...even suggesting that a competition be held between Lockheed Martin's newest fighter jet and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet. Stocks rose for Boeing and dropped for Lockheed as a result. Almost two months later, Lockheed has taken Trump's criticism to heart and found a way to make the Lightning II more affordable for American taxpayers and our global allies. More below.
Agreement Reached on Lowest Priced F-35s in Program History (News Release)
The U.S. Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin have reached an agreement on the next lot of F-35 aircraft (LRIP 10). This lot includes 90 aircraft total - 55 jets for the U.S. services and 35 jets for international partners and foreign military sales customers. Lot 10 reflects a $728M reduction in the total price when compared to Lot 9 and marks the first time the price for an F-35A is below $100M. The bottom line is unit prices, including jet, engine and fee for all three variants, went down.
"The LRIP-10 contract is a good and fair deal for the taxpayers, the U.S. Government, allies, and Industry," said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “We continue to work with Industry to drive costs out of the program.”
The supersonic, multi-role F-35 represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability. It combines next generation characteristics of radar evading stealth, supersonic speed, and fighter agility with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-35 is unmatched in its capability by any other tactical fighter aircraft in the world delivering unprecedented lethality and survivability.
The F-35A variant comprises approximately 85 percent of the program of record. The F-35A unit price in LRIP-10, including aircraft, engine and fee, is roughly seven percent lower than the previous LRIP-9 contract. Over the past two procurement lots (LRIP-9 and 10), the price of the F-35A has dropped 12 percent.
“With initiatives like Blueprint for Affordability and the natural learning curve, we are substantially bringing the cost of each aircraft down and at the same time the F-35 program will continue to add thousands of additional jobs to the U.S. economy as we increase production year over year,” said Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin F-35 Vice President and General Manager.
Currently, the F-35 program supports more than 1,300 suppliers in 45 states, directly and indirectly employs more than 146,000 people. There are also hundreds of suppliers around the world supporting the F-35 program, creating thousands of international jobs. By the 2020s, at full rate production, direct and indirect job growth is projected to be more than 260,000, with a majority of those jobs in the U.S.
In addition to procuring the air vehicles, this contract funds manufacturing support equipment and ancillary mission equipment. Deliveries of 90 aircraft begin in early 2018. To date, more than 200 operational F-35s are operated by eight different nations including Australia, Italy, Israel, Japan,Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom and United States. In total, the F-35 program today plans to produce more than 3,000 aircraft with approximately 600 of those aircraft presently planned to be procured by our international allies.
U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Wooddy
Thursday, February 02, 2017
NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI / Steve Gribben
New Horizons Refines Course for Next Flyby (News Release - February 1)
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft completed a short propulsive maneuver Wednesday to refine its track toward a New Year’s Day 2019 flyby past 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) some 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.
Telemetry confirming that the engine burn went as planned reached the New Horizons mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA’s Deep Space Network stations in Goldstone, California and Canberra, Australia, shortly after 1:15 p.m. EST. The radio signals carrying the data traveled over 3.5 billion miles (5.6 billion kilometers) and took more than five hours to reach Earth at the speed of light.
Operating by timed commands stored on its computer, New Horizons fired its thrusters for just 44 seconds, adjusting its velocity by about 44 centimeters per second, or a little less than one mile per hour. It was the first trajectory maneuver since the team conducted a set of four maneuvers in the fall of 2015 that put the spacecraft on a course for its rendezvous with MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.
“One mile per hour may not sound like much,” said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, “but over the next 23 months, as we approach MU69, that maneuver will add up to an aim point refinement of almost six thousand miles (10,000 kilometers).”
New Horizons Mission Design Lead Yanping Guo, of APL, said Wednesday’s burn adjusts for what the team has learned since 2015 from new Hubble Space Telescope measurements of MU69’s orbit, as well as the spacecraft’s own location.
After the burn the spacecraft transitioned out of a so-called “three-axis stabilized mode,” the operating mode that allowed New Horizons to make new telescopic observations of six KBOs over the past week. These science observations will reveal new information on the shapes, surface properties and satellite systems of these objects, in ways that can’t be done from Earth. Images from these studies will be transmitted to Earth in the coming weeks.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of
10:00 AM, Pacific Standard Time, on February 2, 2017. It is 3.6 billion miles from Earth.
Click here to view the official webpage showing where New Horizons is in space. (AU
stands for Astronomical Units, in case you're wondering.)
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
So yesterday, I found out online that the hilarious 2015 sci-fi web series created by Paul Feig (who directed such comedy flicks as Bridesmaid, Spy and last year's Ghostbusters reboot) is now available to download for free on a Tumblr webpage. The episodes aren't geoblocked...meaning that they can be viewed from anywhere in the world! And the reason why Other Space is available to watch for free anywhere in the world is because Feig wants the support needed to film Season 2 of the funny web series!
All I can say is, I hope Season 2 of Other Space gets made. Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger, with a mysterious alien lifeform boarding the UMP Cruiser [commanded by Stewart Lipinski (Karan Soni)] after its own vessel was obliterated by another unknown extraterrestrial ship. Along with this subplot, there were other story threads that remained unresolved...such as what will become of the romance between oddball Kent Woolworth (Neil Casey) and his virtual love/onboard ship computer Natasha (Conor Leslie), the other would-be relationship between Stewart's sister Karen (Bess Rous) and carefree doofus Michael Newman (Eugene Cordero), and of course, the currently-unrequited romance between Stewart and his ditzy but tough-as-nails navigator, Tina Shukshin (Milana Vayntrub).
I hope Season 2 gets made even if Other Space won't get a third season. Have the tale of the UMP Cruiser live on for at least 8 more episodes before her crew sails on into oblivion in the cold vacuum of space—even if that means that Stewart and company will never leave that alternate universe and make it back to Earth. On the plus side though, most of Other Space's amazing cast is doing just fine without donning their white UMP jumpsuits once more. Karan Soni is set to play Dopinder again on Deadpool 2, Milana Vayntrub is making a great impression as Sloane the playwright on NBC's This Is Us, and Eugene Cordero will appear alongside Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackon, John Goodman and Brie Larson in next month's Kong: Skull Island. And Bess Rous and Neil Casey appeared in Feig's Ghostbusters with Karan, Milana and Eugene less than a year ago...even though they didn't share screen time together.
Even if Season 2 doesn't get made (Nooo!), it was cool to reminisce about Other Space one last time. I wish this won't be the last time, but hey, that's why I need y'all to click on this Tumblr link to binge-watch this show! Let the web series that's a cross between Star Trek and The Office live on for a bit longer... Per favore. Happy First Day of February!
And watch Other Space now!