Saturday, March 31, 2018

Photos of the Day: Another Caribbean Cruise...

Sailing through the Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal...on March 15, 2018.

Just thought I'd end this month by posting these photos that I took during a cruise to Central America from March 12 to 23. My folks and I flew from Los Angeles to Miami, Florida on March 11...and boarded our ship, the Norwegian Jade, the following day. The first port of call we made was at the Panama Canal (shown above), which we traveled through (somewhat; the Jade passed through the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side before turning around to dock at another port in Panama later that day) before taking a land tour to Panama City on March 15. The next day, we docked at Puerto Limón in Costa Rica. On March 18, we arrived at the Roatán island resort in Honduras. On March 19, the Jade visited Santo Tomás de Castilla in Guatemala. On March 20, the ship did a stopover at Harvest Caye (another island resort that is actually owned by the Norwegian Cruise Line , which we booked this trip with; hence, the Norwegian Jade) in Belize...and on the following day, the Jade arrived in Costa Maya, Mexico. It was here where my folks and I took another land tour—this time to the ancient Mayan ruins in Chacchoben, which is a 1.5 hour drive from Costa Maya.

Getting ready to board the Norwegian Jade at the Port of Miami in Florida...on March 12, 2018.

All-in-all, this cruise was fun...overlooking the fact that I almost didn't go on it at the last minute. As of this Blog entry, I'm dealing with kidney stones on both sides that forced me to order two packages of 24 water bottles each (my dad ordered another pack of 24 bottles...giving me a total of 72 to hydrate from during the cruise) aboard the Norwegian Jade the day before we arrived in Miami so an unfortunate situation wouldn't occur during this trip. (It's crappy enough that the Jade had to turn around and return to Costa Maya a few hours after departing from that port on March 21 because another passenger suffered a heart attack aboard the ship! I hope they're okay.) It was nerve-wracking that I was sailing in the Caribbean Sea with the knowledge that I had around 3-4 stones in my right kidney (according to my urologist) during this 11-day voyage. But enough of the negative aspects of this journey; I know that this trip was very memorable in the exciting sense if I don't factor health issues in it! And I'm glad that I was able to fulfill my own personal pledge to go on another Caribbean cruise almost 10 years after a previous trip...when I sailed to the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, aboard the Regal Empress. That is all.

And have a Happy Easter!

LINK: Additional photos I took on my cruise to Central America

Approaching the Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal...on March 15, 2018.

Posing with Panama City in the background...on March 15, 2018.

A snapshot of Panama City in Panama...on March 15, 2018.

Docked at Puerto Limón in Costa Rica...on March 16, 2018.

A snapshot of the Norwegian Jade (with my folks visible near her bow) docked at Puerto Limón in Costa Rica...on March 16, 2018.

Taking a snapshot at Roatán island off the coast of Honduras...on March 18, 2018.

Docked at Santo Tomás de Castilla in Guatemala...on March 19, 2018.

Taking a snapshot with Harvest Caye island off the coast of Belize...on March 20, 2018.

My folks play a game of Scrabble aboard the Norwegian Jade...on March 20, 2018.

An ancient Mayan ruin in Chacchoben, Mexico...on March 21, 2018.

Posing with an ancient Mayan temple in Chacchoben, Mexico...on March 21, 2018.

Posing with the Norwegian Jade (at left) and her sister ship, Norwegian Dawn, in Costa Maya, Mexico...on March 21, 2018.

Enjoying live music on the Norwegian Jade as she sails back to Miami from Costa Maya, Mexico...on March 21, 2018.

A snapshot of Miami at sunrise...a few hours after the Norwegian Jade returned to its port on March 23, 2018.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

America's Next Mars Lander Inches Closer to Launch...

An artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL

NASA Ready to Study Heart of Mars (Press Release)

NASA is about to go on a journey to study the interior of Mars. The space agency held a news conference today at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, detailing the next mission to the Red Planet.

Scheduled to launch as early as May 5, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), a stationary lander, will be the first-ever mission dedicated to exploring Mars' deep interior. It also will be the first NASA mission since the Apollo Moon landings to place a seismometer, a device that measures quakes, on the soil of another planet.

For JPL's Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for InSight, it's also a labor of love. Banerdt has worked more than 25 years to make the mission a reality.

"In some ways, InSight is like a scientific time machine that will bring back information about the earliest stages of Mars' formation 4.5 billion years ago," Banerdt said. "It will help us learn how rocky bodies form, including Earth, its Moon, and even planets in other solar systems."

InSight carries a suite of sensitive instruments to gather data and, unlike a rover mission, these instruments require a stationary lander from which they can carefully be placed on and below the Martian surface.

In a sense, Mars is the exoplanet next door – a nearby example of how gas, dust and heat combine and arrange themselves into a planet. Looking deep into Mars will let scientists understand how different its crust, mantle and core are from Earth.

NASA isn't the only agency excited about the mission. Several European partners contributed instruments or instrument components to the InSight mission. France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales led a multinational team that built an ultra-sensitive seismometer for detecting marsquakes. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) developed a thermal probe that can bury itself up to 16 feet (5 meters) underground and measure heat flowing from inside the planet.

"InSight is a truly international space mission," said Tom Hoffman, project manager at JPL. "Our partners have delivered incredibly capable instruments that will make it possible to gather unique science after we land."

InSight currently is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California undergoing final preparation before launch. On Wednesday, it completed what's known as a spin test: the entire spacecraft is rotated at high speeds to confirm its center of gravity.

That's critical for its entry, descent and landing on Mars in November, Hoffman said. In the next month, the spacecraft will be mounted to its rocket, connections between them will be checked, and the launch team will go through a final training.

"This next month will be exciting," Banerdt said. "We've got some final work to do, but we're almost ready to go to Mars."

JPL manages the InSight Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and tested the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, which is managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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One of the Atlas V rocket's twin payload fairings that will encapsulate NASA's InSight lander during its launch to Mars in early May.
NASA

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Less Than One Month Remains Before NASA's Next Exoplanet-Hunting Spacecraft Launches From Florida!

An artist's concept of NASA's TESS satellite searching for exoplanets in deep space.
NASA GSFC

NASA Prepares to Launch Next Mission to Search Sky for New Worlds (Press Release)

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is undergoing final preparations in Florida for its April 16 launch to find undiscovered worlds around nearby stars, providing targets where future studies will assess their capacity to harbor life.

“One of the biggest questions in exoplanet exploration is: If an astronomer finds a planet in a star’s habitable zone, will it be interesting from a biologist's point of view?” said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge, which is leading the mission. “We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers.”

On March 15, the spacecraft passed a review that confirmed it was ready for launch. For final launch preparations, the spacecraft will be fueled and encapsulated within the payload fairing of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

TESS will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. With the help of a gravitational assist from the Moon, the spacecraft will settle into a 13.7-day orbit around Earth. Sixty days after launch, and following tests of its instruments, the satellite will begin its initial two-year mission.

Four wide-field cameras will give TESS a field-of-view that covers 85 percent of our entire sky. Within this vast visual perspective, the sky has been divided into 26 sectors that TESS will observe one by one. The first year of observations will map the 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky, and the second year will map the 13 sectors of the northern sky.

The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft used the same method to spot more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets, most of them orbiting faint stars 300 to 3,000 light-years away.

“We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. “TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions.”

TESS will concentrate on stars less than 300 light-years away and 30 to 100 times brighter than Kepler’s targets. The brightness of these target stars will allow researchers to use spectroscopy, the study of the absorption and emission of light, to determine a planet’s mass, density and atmospheric composition. Water, and other key molecules, in its atmosphere can give us hints about a planets’ capacity to harbor life.

“TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study,” said Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which manages the mission. “We’re going to be able study individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets. The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”

Through the TESS Guest Investigator Program, the worldwide scientific community will be able to participate in investigations outside of TESS’s core mission, enhancing and maximizing the science return from the mission in areas ranging from exoplanet characterization to stellar astrophysics and solar system science.

“I don’t think we know everything TESS is going to accomplish,” Rinehart said. “To me, the most exciting part of any mission is the unexpected result, the one that nobody saw coming.”

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by Goddard. George Ricker, of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, serves as principal investigator for the mission. TESS’s four wide-field cameras were developed by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Additional partners include Orbital ATK, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hubble's Successor Won't Launch For At Least Two More Years...

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is about to be placed inside Chamber A at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas...on June 21, 2017.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s Webb Observatory Requires More Time for Testing and Evaluation; New Launch Window Under Review (Press Release)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope currently is undergoing final integration and test phases that will require more time to ensure a successful mission. After an independent assessment of remaining tasks for the highly complex space observatory, Webb’s previously revised 2019 launch window now is targeted for approximately May 2020.

“Webb is the highest priority project for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, and the largest international space science project in U.S. history. All the observatory’s flight hardware is now complete, however, the issues brought to light with the spacecraft element are prompting us to take the necessary steps to refocus our efforts on the completion of this ambitious and complex observatory,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

Testing the hardware on the observatory’s telescope element and spacecraft element demonstrate that these systems individually meet their requirements. However, recent findings from the project’s Standing Review Board (SRB) indicate more time is needed to test and integrate these components together and then perform environmental testing at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, the project’s observatory contractor.

NASA is establishing an external Independent Review Board (IRB), chaired by Thomas Young, a highly respected NASA and industry veteran who is often called on to chair advisory committees and analyze organizational and technical issues. The IRB findings, which will complement the SRB data, are expected to bolster confidence in NASA’s approach to completing the final integration and test phase of the mission, the launch campaign, commissioning, as well as the entire deployment sequence. Both boards’ findings and recommendations, as well as the project’s input, will be considered by NASA as it defines a more specific launch time frame. NASA will then provide its assessment in a report to Congress this summer.

NASA will work with its partner, ESA (European Space Agency), on a new launch readiness date for the Ariane 5 vehicle that will launch Webb into space. Once a new launch readiness date is determined, NASA will provide a cost estimate that may exceed the projected $8 billion development cost to complete the final phase of testing and prepare for launch. Additional steps to address project challenges include increasing NASA engineering oversight, personnel changes, and new management reporting structures.

This is a pivotal year for Webb when the 6.5-meter telescope and science payload element will be joined with the spacecraft element to form the complete observatory. The spacecraft element consists of the tennis-court-sized sunshield, designed by Northrop Grumman, and the spacecraft bus, which houses the flight avionics, power system, and solar panels. Because of Webb’s large size, engineers had to design components that fold origami-style into the Ariane 5 rocket’s fairing configuration.

Webb has already completed an extensive range of tests to ensure it will safely reach its orbit at nearly one million miles from Earth and perform its science mission. As with all NASA projects, rigorous testing takes time, increasing the likelihood of mission success.

“Considering the investment NASA and our international partners have made, we want to proceed systematically through these last tests, with the additional time necessary, to be ready for a May 2020 launch,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

After the successful test performance of Webb’s telescope and science payload in 2017 at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, the telescope element was delivered to Northrop Grumman earlier this year. Both halves of the 13,500-pound observatory now are together in the same facility for the first time.

The spacecraft element will next undergo environmental testing, subjecting it to the vibrational, acoustic and thermal environments it will experience during its launch and operations. These tests will take a few months to complete. Engineers then will integrate and test the fully assembled observatory and verify all components work together properly.

Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. ESA is providing the Ariane 5 as part of its scientific collaboration with NASA.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier infrared space observatory and the biggest astronomical space science telescope ever built, complementing the scientific discoveries of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other science missions. Webb will solve mysteries of 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.

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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope sits inside Chamber A at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Friday, March 23, 2018

The U.S. Navy's F-35 Variant Moves One Step Closer to Operational Status...

An F-35C Lightning II is about to touch down onto the deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln...on March 17, 2018.
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur

Into the Fold: F-35C Carrier Qualifications Aboard Lincoln (Press Release)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) completed fleet carrier qualifications (CQ) for the F-35C Lightning II program, marking another milestone for the new aircraft, while underway March 17-21.

Pilots assigned to the "Rough Raiders" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 and the "Grim Reapers" of VFA 101 accomplished day and night qualifications with 140 traps in anticipation of F-35C operational testing later this year.

Aboard for part of the CQ was Rear Adm. Dale Horan, director of the U.S. Navy F-35C Fleet Integration Office, who was previously embarked aboard Abraham Lincoln during a nine-and-a-half-month deployment in 2002.

"I have tight ties to Lincoln," said Horan. "It's personally interesting for me, but also professionally, it's really neat to see this aircraft out there with other aircraft; we haven't done that before. Previously, all the CQ evolutions have just been F-35s."

The F-35C complements the tactical fighter fleet with a dominant, multirole, next-generation aircraft capable of projecting U.S. power and deterring potential adversaries. The continued integration of the F-35C into the carrier air wing will enable the carrier strike group of the future to be more lethal and survivable in high-end threat environments.

One of the major milestones for this carrier qualification evolution was the operational use of the F-35C's foldable-wing feature. This feature is a critical component of the integration of F-35Cs with F/A-18C Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers, facilitating the movement of the different platforms on the flight deck and rehearsing for operating as part of a full air wing aboard the carrier.

"My original platform is the Hornet, which I've flown for the past three years," said Lt. Nick Rezendes, a pilot attached to VFA 101, who qualified on the F-35C during this CQ. "I wanted to switch to flying the Navy's newest aircraft, and now that I have, I wouldn't mind sticking with it for the rest of my career."

Another important piece of this underway period was the continued integration of the F-35's Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS) with Abraham Lincoln. ALIS is a secure, off-board fleet management tool that integrates F-35 mission planning, maintenance, supply chain and sustainment information. Operators were able to plan, maintain, and sustain F-35C systems by transmitting up-to-date data to users and maintainers worldwide.

During Abraham Lincoln's previous F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) carrier qualifications in December of 2017, an operational squadron accomplished the use of the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) for the first time. The GPS-based, all-weather landing system works to provide accurate and reliable information for carrier landing approach, allowing F-35Cs to land during inclement weather.

"It's pretty clear that this aircraft is the Navy's future for strike warfare," said Horan. "It's shaping up to be a fantastic aircraft. As with any program, there are always complexities in getting it fielded, but we are working through those. This aircraft is very capable and it'll be really neat to watch it develop."

By 2025, the Navy's aircraft carrier air wings are scheduled to consist of F-35Cs, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and carrier on board delivery logistics aircraft.

Source: U.S. Navy

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An F-35C Lightning II launches from the deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln...on March 17, 2018.
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Josue Escobosa

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mars 2020 Update: Construction Is About to Ramp Up on America's Next Red Planet Rover...

An artist's concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Next NASA Mars Rover Reaches Key Manufacturing Milestone (News Release)

NASA's Mars 2020 mission has begun the assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase of its development, on track for a July 2020 launch to Mars.

The first planned ATLO activities will involve electrical integration of flight hardware into the mission's descent stage. The Mars 2020 rover, as well as its cruise stage, aeroshell and descent stage -- a rocket-powered "sky crane" that will lower the rover to the planet's surface -- will undergo final assembly at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility High Bay 1 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"No better place in the world to assemble NASA's next Mars rover than JPL's High Bay 1," said Mars 2020 Project Manager John McNamee at JPL. "On the floor you'll see the components of our spacecraft taking shape -- put together by people who are the best in the world at what they do. And on the wall behind them you will see all the logos of the historic missions of exploration that have also been assembled in High Bay 1 in the past."

Those missions include the Ranger missions to the Moon (the first time America reached out and touched the Moon), the Mariner mission to Venus (the first spacecraft to successfully encounter another planet) and Mars rovers.

Over the next year-and-a-half, engineers and technicians will add subsystems such as avionics, power, telecommunications, mechanisms, thermal systems and navigation systems onto the spacecraft. The propulsion systems were installed earlier this year on the cruise and descent stage main structures.

"Parts of this mission are coming from the other side of the world, and some are coming from just 'down the street' in Pasadena, and some are coming from literally down the street - a couple of buildings away," said David Gruel, ATLO Manager for Mars 2020 at JPL. "Right now we are working the descent stage, and by fall we expect to be working on the rover itself."

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. Additionally, scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the surface of Mars for potential return to Earth by a future mission to the Red Planet.

The mission will build on the achievements of the Curiosity rover and other Mars Exploration Program missions, and offer opportunities to deploy new capabilities developed through investments by NASA's Space Technology Program and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, as well as contributions from international partners.

The Mars 2020 Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars 2020 spacecraft development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage and oversee the Atlas V launch service for Mars 2020.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, an engineer works on the descent stage for the Mars 2020 rover.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

SOLAR PROBE PLUS Update: Send Your Name Towards the Sun!

An artist's concept of NASA's Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the Sun.
JHU / APL

Send Your Name to the Sun Aboard Parker Solar Probe (Press Release)

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — designed, built and managed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) — will launch in summer 2018 and travel to our star on a historic mission to “touch the Sun.” Now you can get on board and be a part of this voyage of extreme exploration.

NASA is giving everyone across the world the opportunity to submit their names for a journey to the Sun. Names will be added to a microchip that will fly aboard Parker Solar Probe as it makes its way from Earth to the Sun — the first mission to ever do so.

Along for the ride will be a revolutionary heat shield, which will protect the spacecraft from soaring temperatures as it plunges into the corona to get the first close-up view of Earth’s star.

Name submissions will be accepted until April 27, 2018. Learn more and add your name to the mission here: http://go.nasa.gov/HotTicket.

Parker Solar Probe’s scientific objectives include tracing the flow of energy and understanding the heating of the solar corona, and exploring what accelerates the solar wind. It will also help scientists understand in greater detail how the Sun affects the solar system and Earth.

“Parker Solar Probe is, quite literally, the fastest, hottest — and, to me, coolest — mission under the Sun,” said project scientist Nicola Fox, of APL. “This incredible spacecraft is going to reveal so much about our star and how it works that we’ve not been able to understand.”

Originally dubbed Solar Probe Plus, the spacecraft was renamed Parker Solar Probe in May 2017, in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. Parker proposed the solar wind’s existence in his now famous 1958 paper published in the Astrophysical Journal. This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual.

“This probe will journey to a region humanity has never explored before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This mission will answer questions scientists have sought to uncover for more than six decades.”

Source: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

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Send your name towards the Sun aboard NASA's Parker Solar Probe! The deadline is April 27, 2018.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Mamba Is Now an Oscar Winner...

Congrats to Kobe Bryant and animator Glen Keane after their film Dear Basketball won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short tonight! KB24 continues to be a champ...

Kobe Bryant and animator Glen Keane won the Best Animated Short Oscar for DEAR BASKETBALL...at the 90th annual Academy Awards on March 4, 2018.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Japan's Hayabusa 2 Spacecraft Spots Its Asteroid Destination...

An animated GIF showing asteroid Ryugu moving through deep space...as seen by JAXA's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft on February 26, 2018.An image of asteroid Ryugu that was taken by JAXA's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft on February 26, 2018.
JAXA

Hayabusa 2 Has Detected Ryugu! (Press Release)

On February 26, 2018, Hayabusa 2 saw its destination—asteroid Ryugu—for the first time! The photographs were captured by the ONC-T (Optical Navigation Camera - Telescopic) onboard the spacecraft. Images were taken between noon JST on February 26th and 9:00 AM the following morning, with about 300 shots taken in total. Data for nine of these images were transmitted from the spacecraft on February 27th, allowing us to confirm that Ryugu had indeed been seen. The animation shows these nine consecutive frames.

Ryugu's brightness from Hayabusa 2 is about magnitude 9, which would be impossible to see with the naked eye but visible with the ONC-T. Looking at the image above, you can see how the position of the surrounding stars relative to Ryugu appears to change as Hayabusa 2 moves towards the asteroid. The distance between Ryugu and Hayabusa 2 when the images were taken is about 1.3 million km. Ryugu as seen from Hayabusa 2 is in the direction of the constellation Pisces.

Ryugu was photographed when the Sun, Hayabusa 2 and Ryugu were almost in a line. This configuration can be seen in the figure below, which shows a snapshot of the header from the Hayabusa 2 website on February 26, 2018, which continuously updates to show the position of Hayabusa 2. If you were to stand on Ryugu, Hayabusa 2 would be seen in the direction of the Sun.

Hayabusa 2 is currently using its ion engine to make adjustments to its course. This makes it difficult to alter the orientation of the spacecraft. However, at the alignment shown below, the ONC-T camera can image Ryugu without needing to make significant changes to the spacecraft's orientation. This made February 26th the perfect time to try and capture Ryugu's image with the ONC-T. From the data, Ryugu was observed to be exactly at the expected location based on Hayabusa 2's estimated position. This tells us that Hayabusa 2 is flying on the planned course.

"Now that we see Ryugu, the Hayabusa 2 project has shifted to the final preparation stage for arrival at the asteroid. There are no problems with the route towards Ryugu or the performance of the spacecraft, and we will be proceeding with maximum thrust," explains Project Manager, Yuichi Tsuda.

The remaining images will be transmitted back to Earth from the spacecraft and allow us to further confirm the asteroid and spacecraft location. Although we can currently see Ryugu only as a point, it is very exciting for the whole project team to catch sight of the destination! The ONC-T was developed under collaboration between JAXA, the University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, The University of Aizu, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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The distance between JAXA's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft and asteroid Ryugu, as of February 26, 2018.
JAXA