Monday, December 31, 2018

The Final Post of 2018: Reliving 2008 (and then some)...

My tandem instructor and I exit the aircraft 13,000 feet above the city of Oceanside in California...on October 4, 2018.

Just thought I'd end this year by pointing out how 2018 reminded me of 2008...a year that I look back on favorably for personal reasons. 2008 was memorable because a spacecraft carrying a DVD that bears my name (NASA's Phoenix lander) successfully touched down on Mars, I attended my 10-year high school reunion in Pasadena, CA, I went to Florida and took part in a cruise (to the Bahamas) for the first time, and I did so many viewings of The Dark Knight in movie theaters because it was such an awesome film.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off on its maiden flight from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 6, 2018.
SpaceX

In regards to 2018, my name landed on Mars for the third time (via two small microchips aboard the InSight spacecraft over a month ago; my name is also on the Curiosity rover as it safely arrived at the Red Planet in 2012), I attended a dinner cruise in Newport Beach, CA, to mark my 20-year high school reunion two months ago, I went to Florida and took part in a second cruise (to the Panama Canal and other locales in Central America) last March, and I watched The Dark Knight in Universal City (twice during the summer) after the movie was theatrically re-released for its 10-year anniversary.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft's shadow is visible on the surface of Ryugu after a target marker (the white point inside the green circle) containing the names of 180,000 people (including me) successfully landed on the asteroid...on October 25, 2018 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Along with the highlights listed above, this entry also includes some non-personal events as well as cool, exciting activities that I did this year [namely, going skydiving in San Diego County for my 39th birthday (as shown in the pic at the very top of this entry)...and finally meeting 5-time NBA champ Kobe Bryant (as shown in the image at the bottom of this post)]. Check out the photos throughout this entry...and have a safe and happy New Year!



MARS LANDINGS

The Martian northern plain, with one of Phoenix's solar panels and a portion of the lander's flight deck visible in the foreground.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Phoenix lander arrival (at Mars' north polar region): May 25, 2008

NASA's InSight lander arrival (at Elysium Planitia): November 26, 2018

One of InSight's twin solar panels and its flight deck are visible in this image taken by a camera on the spacecraft's robotic arm...on December 7, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech



THE DARK KNIGHT

Batman (Christian Bale) surveys the wreckage following the death of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in THE DARK KNIGHT.

1st Theatrical Viewing: July 18, 2008

1st Theatrical Viewing (for 10-year anniversary release): August 26, 2018

About to watch THE DARK KNIGHT on IMAX at Universal Cinema AMC in CityWalk...on August 26, 2018.



OLYMPICS

Fireworks erupt above Bird Nest Stadium in Beijing, China, during the Olympic opening ceremony on August 8, 2008.

2008 Summer Games (in Beijing, China): August 8 - 24, 2008

2018 Winter Games (in Pyeongchang, South Korea): February 9 - 25, 2018

The closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Games is held inside inside the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea...on February 25, 2018.
Chang W. Lee / The New York Times



CARIBBEAN CRUISES

Posing with the Bahamas' Atlantis Resort behind me...on August 17, 2008.

Bahamas cruise (from Fort Lauderdale, Florida): August 13 - 18, 2008

Panama Canal cruise (from Miami, Florida): March 11 - 23, 2018

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



CLASS OF 1998 REUNIONS

Taking a pic with fellow high school classmates Sarina and Adam at our 10-year reunion in Pasadena, CA...on October 25, 2008.

10-year high school reunion (in Pasadena, CA): October 25, 2008

20-year high school reunion (in Newport Beach, CA): October 6, 2018

Taking a group photo during the post-reunion gathering at On the Rocks Bar & Grill in Newport Beach, CA...on October 6, 2018.



And lastly, it only took 11 years to meet the Mamba...on October 23, 2018!

Posing with Kobe Bryant during a photo op inside Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles...on October 23, 2018.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Photos of the Day: Images of Amboy Crater...

A snapshot that I took of Amboy Crater in California's Mojave Desert...on December 2, 2018.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! Just thought I'd celebrate this holiday by sharing these pics that I took at Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark in California's Mojave Desert over three weeks ago. This ancient cinder cone, which has been dormant for 10,000 years, is located within the Mojave Trails National Monument about 165 miles from my house in the city of Pomona. The extinct volcano is situated right next to the historic highway Route 66.

The sign that welcomes drivers after they merge onto the road leading into Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark from the historic highway Route 66...on December 2, 2018.

I tried hiking up to the volcanic rim of Amboy Crater on December 2, but my messed-up center of gravity caused by a heavy backpack and my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera (whose strap was hanging from around my neck; no, the camera couldn't fit inside the backpack) made the climb up the steep trail on the side of the volcano a little bit difficult and dangerous. Oh well. Will I return to Amboy Crater and hike up to the caldera with a lighter backpack—and minus my expensive camera, you ask? Probably not... This trip wasn't on my bucket list, anyway. Seeing the Kileau volcano and Mauna Kea (whose summit the Keck Observatory and other giant telescopes are situated on) on the Big Island of Hawaii, however, is! Carry on.

A snapshot of my Honda Civic in the parking lot of Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark...on December 2, 2018.

Making the 1.5-mile hike to Amboy Crater...on December 2, 2018.

Walking through a field of ancient volcanic rocks that surround Amboy Crater...on December 2, 2018.

Standing at the base of the trail that leads up the slope to Amboy Crater's volcanic rim...on December 2, 2018.

Taking a selfie with Amboy Crater behind me...on December 2, 2018.

I didn't make the climb up Amboy Crater's volcanic rim, but another person did (hence the red arrow).

The 1.5-mile hike back to the parking lot felt a lot quicker than the one to Amboy Crater...on December 2, 2018.

Amboy Crater as seen from Route 66...on December 2, 2018.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Joint Strike Fighter Program Ends the Year with a Huge Milestone...

An F-35B Lightning II is the 91st aircraft in the Joint Strike Fighter program to be completed at the Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Meets 2018 F-35 Production Target With 91 Aircraft Deliveries (Press Release)

F-35 Enterprise Has Doubled Production since 2016; Eyes Another 40 Percent Increase in 2019

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Lockheed Martin delivered the 91st F-35 aircraft for the year, meeting the joint government and industry delivery target for 2018 and demonstrating the F-35 enterprise's ability to ramp to full rate production.

The 91 deliveries in 2018 represent nearly a 40 percent increase from 2017 and about a 100 percent production increase compared to 2016. Next year, Lockheed Martin is set to deliver more than 130 F-35s representing yet another 40 percent increase in production.

"This milestone demonstrates the F-35 enterprise is prepared for full rate production and ready to deliver on increasing demand from our customers worldwide," said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. "Year-over-year, we have increased production, lowered costs, reduced build time, and improved quality and on-time deliveries. Today, the F-35 is the most capable fighter jet in the world, and we're delivering more aircraft per year than any other fighter on the market at equal to or less cost."

The 91st aircraft is a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, to be delivered to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. In 2018, deliveries included 54 F-35s for the United States, 21 for international partner nations and 16 for Foreign Military Sales customers.

To date, more than 355 F-35s have been delivered and are now operating from 16 bases worldwide. More than 730 pilots and over 6,700 maintainers are trained and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 175,000 cumulative flight hours. Ten nations are flying the F-35, seven countries have F-35s operating from a base on their home soil, four services have declared Initial Operating Capability, and two services have announced their F-35s have been used in combat operations.

Transitioning to Full Rate Production and Operational Sustainment

Through lessons learned, process efficiencies, production automation, facility and tooling upgrades, supply chain initiatives and continuous improvement actions, the F-35 enterprise has significantly improved efficiency and reduced costs.

The price of an F-35A is now $89.2 million and the enterprise is on track to deliver an $80 million F-35A by 2020 (Lot 14), which is equal to or less than the price of less capable, 4th generation aircraft.

The F-35's mission readiness and sustainment costs are also improving. Lockheed Martin's sustainment cost per aircraft per year decreased three years straight, and by about 15 percent since 2015. The joint government and industry team is also taking aggressive actions to deliver 80 percent mission capable rates and reduce costs per flight hour by about 40 percent.

With stealth technology, supersonic speed, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and superior range, the F-35 is the most lethal, survivable and connected aircraft in the world. More than a fighter jet, the F-35's ability to collect, analyze and share data, is a powerful force multiplier that enhances all airborne, surface and ground-based assets in the battlespace enabling men and women in uniform to execute their mission and return home safely. In joint combat exercises, the F-35 has proven to be more than 20 times more effective compared to legacy 4th generation aircraft.

Source: Lockheed Martin

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The InSight Lander Is One Step Closer to Beginning Its Study of the Martian Interior...

An animated GIF comprised of images taken by NASA's InSight lander (using its Instrument Deployment Camera) as it placed a seismometer on the surface of Mars...on December 19, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's InSight Places First Instrument on Mars (News Release)

NASA's InSight lander has deployed its first instrument onto the surface of Mars, completing a major mission milestone. New images from the lander show the seismometer on the ground, its copper-colored covering faintly illuminated in the Martian dusk. It looks as if all is calm and all is bright for InSight, heading into the end of the year.

"InSight's timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present."

The InSight team has been working carefully toward deploying its two dedicated science instruments onto Martian soil since landing on Mars on Nov. 26. Meanwhile, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), which does not have its own separate instrument, has already begun using InSight's radio connection with Earth to collect preliminary data on the planet’s core. Not enough time has elapsed for scientists to deduce what they want to know — scientists estimate they might have some results starting in about a year.

To deploy the seismometer (also known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS) and the heat probe (also known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, or HP3), engineers first had to verify the robotic arm that picks up and places InSight's instruments onto the Martian surface was working properly. Engineers tested the commands for the lander, making sure a model in the test bed at JPL deployed the instruments exactly as intended. Scientists also had to analyze images of the Martian terrain around the lander to figure out the best places to deploy the instruments.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, InSight engineers sent up the commands to the spacecraft. On Wednesday, Dec. 19, the seismometer was gently placed onto the ground directly in front of the lander, about as far away as the arm can reach ---- 5.367 feet, or 1.636 meters, away.

"Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt, also based at JPL. "The seismometer is the highest-priority instrument on InSight: We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of our science objectives."

The seismometer allows scientists to peer into the Martian interior by studying ground motion — also known as marsquakes. Each marsquake acts as a kind of flashbulb that illuminates the structure of the planet's interior. By analyzing how seismic waves pass through the layers of the planet, scientists can deduce the depth and composition of these layers.

"Having the seismometer on the ground is like holding a phone up to your ear," said Philippe Lognonné, principal investigator of SEIS from Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) and Paris Diderot University. "We're thrilled that we're now in the best position to listen to all the seismic waves from below Mars' surface and from its deep interior."

In the coming days, the InSight team will work on leveling the seismometer, which is sitting on ground that is tilted 2 to 3 degrees. The first seismometer science data should begin to flow back to Earth after the seismometer is in the right position.

But engineers and scientists at JPL, the French national space agency Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and other institutions affiliated with the SEIS team will need several additional weeks to make sure the returned data are as clear as possible. For one thing, they will check and possibly adjust the seismometer's long, wire-lined tether to minimize noise that could travel along it to the seismometer. Then, in early January, engineers expect to command the robotic arm to place the Wind and Thermal Shield over the seismometer to stabilize the environment around the sensors.

Assuming that there are no unexpected issues, the InSight team plans to deploy the heat probe onto the Martian surface by late January. HP3 will be on the east side of the lander's work space, roughly the same distance away from the lander as the seismometer.

For now, though, the team is focusing on getting those first bits of seismic data (however noisy) back from the Martian surface.

"We look forward to popping some Champagne when we start to get data from InSight's seismometer on the ground," Banerdt added. "I have a bottle ready for the occasion."

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES provided SEIS to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP. Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology in Switzerland, Imperial College and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología supplied the wind sensors.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Another animated GIF comprised of images taken by NASA's InSight lander (using its Instrument Context Camera) as it placed the seismometer on the surface of Mars...on December 19, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Photo of the Day: A Celestial Group Portrait by the OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft...

A group photo of the Earth, Moon (both at lower left) and asteroid Bennu (at upper right)...as seen by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on December 19, 2018.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin Space

NavCam Image of Earth, the Moon, and Bennu (News Release - December 19)

On Dec. 19, OSIRIS-REx used its NavCam 1 camera to capture this image of three familiar planetary bodies: asteroid Bennu, Earth, and the Moon. Despite the spacecraft’s distance from home – about 71 million miles (114 million kilometers) – Earth and the Moon are visible in the lower left due to the long exposure time used for this image (five seconds). The spacecraft’s range to Bennu is only about 27 miles (43 kilometers), so the asteroid appears highly overexposed in the upper right. The head of the constellation Hydra is also visible in the lower right portion of the image.

NavCam 1 is a black-and-white imager that is one of three cameras comprising TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System), which is part of OSIRIS-REx’s guidance, navigation, and control system. TAGCAMS was designed, built and tested by Malin Space Science Systems; Lockheed Martin Space integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

BepiColombo Lights Up Its Ion Engines...

An artist's concept of the BepiColombo spacecraft firing two of its four ion engines in space.
ESA / ATG medialab

BepiColombo's First Routine Firing in Space (News Release)

On Monday this week, BepiColombo began its very first routine electric propulsion firing.

After meticulous testing of the spacecraft's four high-tech ion thrusters, the mission team have now fired up the spacecraft for its first thruster burn ‘arc’.

Travelling nine billion kilometers in total, BepiColombo will make nine flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury, looping around the Sun 18 times.

To do this, the ESA/JAXA mission will be steered by 22 thruster burn arcs, each providing the same acceleration from less fuel compared to traditional, high-energy chemical burns that last for minutes or hours.

This first arc will last two months, during which BepiColombo’s electric blue ‘jet packs’ will steer the explorer on its interplanetary trajectory and optimise its orbit, ahead of its swing by of Earth in April 2020.

At 09:35 CET, before the thrusters began firing, BepiColombo was ‘slewed’ into the correct position. As its orientation shifted, the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna swivelled to maintain communication with ground stations on Earth, captured in this gif (below) taken by the monitoring camera #3.

Next, BepiColombo’s solar arrays were tilted to fully face the Sun, as full power is needed to power the ion thrusters.

At about 13:45 CET, BepiColombo began to fire. The team watched with concentration and relief as graphs showed the spacecraft was gaining momentum, as two of its thrusters went from the initial thrust level of 75 millinewtons (mN) up to 108 mN each.

BepiColombo’s maximum planned thrust level for the entire journey is 250 mN, with two thrusters each firing at 125mN. This is equivalent to 250 ants pulling the 4 tonne BepiColombo spacecraft all the way to the innermost planet of the Solar System!

Source: European Space Agency

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BepiColombo re-positions its high-gain antenna in preparation for the spacecraft's first routine ion engine burn...on December 17, 2018.
ESA

Monday, December 17, 2018

Mementos Added to Israel's First Lunar Lander That's Targeted for Launch Next February...

A SpaceIL official displays a memento prior to its installation aboard Israel's Beresheet lunar lander.
Yoav Weiss

SpaceIL, IAI To Send Time Capsule on Israel's Historic Moon Mission (News Release)

The time capsule will include Israeli national, cultural and traditional symbols, such as Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Hebrew songs, the Wayfarer’s Prayer, and paintings by Israeli children.

YEHUD – Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) presented today at IAI’s Space Division a time capsule that will travel to the Moon — and remain there indefinitely — with the first Israeli spacecraft, which will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in February, 2019.

The time capsule consists of three discs, each containing hundreds of digital files. Included among the files, which will travel to the Moon inside SpaceIL’s lunar spacecraft, are: Details about the spacecraft and the crew building it; national symbols, like Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Bible, Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”, and the Israeli flag; cultural objects; materials – paintings, for example – collected over many years from the public for sending to the Moon; dictionaries in 27 languages and encyclopedias, an indication of knowledge accumulated by all humanity thus far; Israeli songs; the Wayfarer’s Prayer; books of art and science and Israeli literature; information about Israeli scientific and technological discoveries and developments that influenced the world; photos of Israel’s landscapes and leading figures in Israeli culture; a children’s book that was inspired by SpaceIL’s mission to the Moon.

The time capsule, along with the spacecraft, will remain on the Moon indefinitely, even after completing Israel’s first lunar mission. With no plans to return to Earth, the spacecraft and information within the time capsule’s disks will possibly be found and distributed by future generations.

In early 2019, the spacecraft, recently named Beresheet (the Hebrew word for Genesis), will launch alongside other satellites as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The precise launch date remains undetermined, as SpaceIL awaits final confirmation from the launch company.

“This is another step on our way to the Moon,” said Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL. “Inserting the disks into the spacecraft, which is a real “time capsule,” indicates the spacecraft’s readiness to blast off from the launch site in a few weeks. SpaceIL’s crews and IAI have completed testing of the spacecraft and its systems, and are preparing for the beginning of the amazing and complex journey that exemplifies innovation, creativity and courage. The spacecraft’s historic journey, which also includes a scientific mission, makes a significant contribution to advancing the space industry and the subject of space in Israel.”

Yonatan Winetraub, one of three SpaceIL founders, said, as he inserted the time capsule into a spacecraft: “This is a very emotional moment. We do not know how long the spacecraft and the time capsule will remain on the Moon. It is very possible that future generations will find this information and want to learn more about this historic moment.”

Opher Doron, IAI’s Space Division General Manager, said: “We are proud to be the first non-governmental entity in the world to go to the Moon. Landing on the Moon was for many years a little-discussed topic among the public, but recently we see growing interest as world superpowers seek to return to the Moon in a variety of commercial missions. There is no doubt that the technological knowledge acquired by IAI during the development and construction of Beresheet, together with Space IL and combined with the space capabilities developed over more than 30 years at IAI, puts us at the global forefront in the ability to complete lunar missions.”

The spacecraft, whose construction was carried out at IAI’s Space Division, successfully completed a series of recent tests to examine the integration of systems, and a series of complex experiments aimed at testing its durability. Concurrently, validation and verification tests checked the function of the spacecraft in scenarios it could experience during the mission. Since actual space conditions cannot be replicated, tests are carried out in part by a SpaceIL simulator that mimics space conditions and part on the spacecraft itself. Next, SpaceIL will soon ship the spacecraft to the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In October, SpaceIL and the Israeli Space Agency announced a collaboration with NASA that will enable SpaceIL to improve its ability to track and communicate with the spacecraft before, during, and after landing on the Moon. Two weeks ago a retro-reflector from NASA was installed on the spacecraft, an instrument that reflects laser beams and will enable NASA to precisely locate the spacecraft on the lunar surface after the landing. SpaceIL, the Israel Space Agency and NASA also agreed that NASA will have access to data gathered by the magnetometer installed aboard the Israeli spacecraft. The instrument, which was developed in collaboration with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site.

Source: SpaceIL.com

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Another SpaceIL official is about to place a second memento aboard the Beresheet lunar lander.
Yoav Weiss

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

NASA's Newest Mars Lander Photographs Itself on the Red Planet's Surface...

A selfie that NASA's InSight lander took (using the Instrument Deployment Camera on its robotic arm) on the Martian surface...on December 6, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's InSight Takes Its First Selfie (News Release)

NASA's InSight lander isn't camera-shy. The spacecraft used a camera on its robotic arm to take its first selfie — a mosaic made up of 11 images. This is the same imaging process used by NASA's Curiosity rover mission, in which many overlapping pictures are taken and later stitched together. Visible in the selfie are the lander's solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments. Mission team members have also received their first complete look at InSight's "workspace" — the approximately 14-by-7-foot (4-by-2-meter) crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft. This image is also a mosaic composed of 52 individual photos.

In the coming weeks, scientists and engineers will go through the painstaking process of deciding where in this workspace the spacecraft's instruments should be placed. They will then command InSight's robotic arm to carefully set the seismometer (called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS) and heat-flow probe (known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3) in the chosen locations. Both work best on level ground, and engineers want to avoid setting them on rocks larger than about a half-inch (1.3 cm).

"The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it'll be extremely safe for our instruments," said InSight's Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren't on Mars, but we're glad to see that."

InSight's landing team deliberately chose a landing region in Elysium Planitia that is relatively free of rocks. Even so, the landing spot turned out even better than they hoped. The spacecraft sits in what appears to be a nearly rock-free "hollow" — a depression created by a meteor impact that later filled with sand. That should make it easier for one of InSight's instruments, the heat-flow probe, to bore down to its goal of 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface.

About InSight

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A mosaic image that NASA's InSight lander took (using the Instrument Deployment Camera on its robotic arm) of the Martial soil area where it will deploy its seismometer and heat probe instrument over the next month or so.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Only One Week After Arrival, OSIRIS-REx Has Already Made An Awesome Discovery About Asteroid Bennu...

A mosaic image of asteroid Bennu that was taken by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of 15 miles (24 kilometers)...on December 2, 2018.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

NASA’s Newly Arrived OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Already Discovers Water on Asteroid (Press Release - December 10)

Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles (19 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.

One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth.

“Our initial data show that the team picked the right asteroid as the target of the OSIRIS-REx mission. We have not discovered any insurmountable issues at Bennu so far,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The spacecraft is healthy and the science instruments are working better than required. It is time now for our adventure to begin.”

The mission currently is performing a preliminary survey of the asteroid, flying the spacecraft in passes over Bennu’s north pole, equator, and south pole at ranges as close as 4.4 miles (7 km) to better determine the asteroid’s mass. The mission’s scientists and engineers must know the mass of the asteroid in order to design the spacecraft’s insertion into orbit because mass affects the asteroid’s gravitational pull on the spacecraft. Knowing Bennu’s mass will also help the science team understand the asteroid’s structure and composition.

This survey also provides the first opportunity for the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), an instrument contributed by the Canadian Space Agency, to make observations, now that the spacecraft is in proximity to Bennu.

The spacecraft’s first orbital insertion is scheduled for Dec. 31, and OSIRIS-REx will remain in orbit until mid-February 2019, when it exits to initiate another series of flybys for the next survey phase. During the first orbital phase, the spacecraft will orbit the asteroid at a range of 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to 1.24 miles (2.0 km) from the center of Bennu — setting new records for the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft and the closest orbit of a planetary body by any spacecraft.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space 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 the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, December 10, 2018

Voyager 1's Robotic Twin Has Joined It in Uncharted Territory...

An illustration depicting the twin Voyager spacecraft outside the Sun's heliosphere, and inside interstellar space.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space (News Release)

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA's Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere - the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.

Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information - moving at the speed of light - takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

The most compelling evidence of Voyager 2's exit from the heliosphere came from its onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an instrument that stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980, long before that probe crossed the heliopause. Until recently, the space surrounding Voyager 2 was filled predominantly with plasma flowing out from our Sun. This outflow, called the solar wind, creates a bubble - the heliosphere - that envelopes the planets in our solar system. The PLS uses the electrical current of the plasma to detect the speed, density, temperature, pressure and flux of the solar wind. The PLS aboard Voyager 2 observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles on Nov. 5. Since that date, the plasma instrument has observed no solar wind flow in the environment around Voyager 2, which makes mission scientists confident the probe has left the heliosphere.

"Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we're seeing is new," said John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we're still seeing things that no one has seen before."

In addition to the plasma data, Voyager's science team members have seen evidence from three other onboard instruments - the cosmic ray subsystem, the low energy charged particle instrument and the magnetometer - that is consistent with the conclusion that Voyager 2 has crossed the heliopause. Voyager's team members are eager to continue to study the data from these other onboard instruments to get a clearer picture of the environment through which Voyager 2 is traveling.

"There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Together, the two Voyagers provide a detailed glimpse of how our heliosphere interacts with the constant interstellar wind flowing from beyond. Their observations complement data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a mission that is remotely sensing that boundary. NASA also is preparing an additional mission - the upcoming Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), due to launch in 2024 - to capitalize on the Voyagers' observations.

"Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet," said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. "Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun's influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory."

While the probes have left the heliosphere, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have not yet left the solar system, and won't be leaving anytime soon. The boundary of the solar system is considered to be beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun's gravity. The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU. One AU is the distance from the Sun to Earth. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

The Voyager probes are powered using heat from the decay of radioactive material, contained in a device called a radioisotope thermal generator (RTG). The power output of the RTGs diminishes by about four watts per year, which means that various parts of the Voyagers, including the cameras on both spacecraft, have been turned off over time to manage power.

"I think we're all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "This is what we've all been waiting for. Now we're looking forward to what we'll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause."

Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA's longest running mission.

The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth's culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.

Voyager's mission controllers communicate with the probes using NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), a global system for communicating with interplanetary spacecraft. The DSN consists of three clusters of antennas in Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

The Voyager Interstellar Mission is a part of NASA's Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL built and operates the twin Voyager spacecraft. NASA's DSN, managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency, operates both the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, part of the DSN, and the Parkes Observatory, which NASA has been using to downlink data from Voyager 2 since Nov. 8.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An infographic describing Voyager 2's mission and its accomplishments since launch in 1977.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The InSight Lander Stretches Its Arm...

The white arrow denotes the location of two small microchips that bear the names of 2.4 million people (including me) who submitted them online in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Mars InSight Flexes Its Arm (News Release)

New images from NASA's Mars InSight lander show its robotic arm is ready to do some lifting.

With a reach of nearly 6 feet (2 meters), the arm will be used to pick up science instruments from the lander's deck, gently setting them on the Martian surface at Elysium Planitia, the lava plain where InSight touched down on Nov. 26.

But first, the arm will use its Instrument Deployment Camera, located on its elbow, to take photos of the terrain in front of the lander. These images will help mission team members determine where to set InSight's seismometer and heat flow probe - the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet.

"Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "By early next week, we'll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic."

Another camera, called the Instrument Context Camera, is located under the lander's deck. It will also offer views of the workspace, though the view won't be as pretty.

"We had a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust still managed to get onto the lens," said Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager. "While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed."

Placement is critical, and the team is proceeding with caution. Two to three months could go by before the instruments have been situated and calibrated.

Over the past week and a half, mission engineers have been testing those instruments and spacecraft systems, ensuring they're in working order. A couple instruments are even recording data: a drop in air pressure, possibly caused by a passing dust devil, was detected by the pressure sensor. This, along with a magnetometer and a set of wind and temperature sensors, are part of a package called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, which will collect meteorological data.

More images from InSight's arm were scheduled to come down this past weekend. However, imaging was momentarily interrupted, resuming the following day. During the first few weeks in its new home, InSight has been instructed to be extra careful, so anything unexpected will trigger what's called a fault. Considered routine, it causes the spacecraft to stop what it is doing and ask for help from operators on the ground.

"We did extensive testing on Earth. But we know that everything is a little different for the lander on Mars, so faults are not unusual," Hoffman said. "They can delay operations, but we're not in a rush. We want to be sure that each operation that we perform on Mars is safe, so we set our safety monitors to be fairly sensitive initially."

Spacecraft engineers had already factored extra time into their estimates for instrument deployment to account for likely delays caused by faults. The mission's primary mission is scheduled for two Earth years, or one Mars year - plenty of time to gather data from the Red Planet's surface.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An image of the scoop and grappling mechanism on the InSight lander's robotic arm...taken by the arm's Instrument Deployment Camera on December 4, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Monday, December 03, 2018

Images of the Day: Welcome to Asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-REx!

An animated GIF showing the rotation of asteroid Bennu...using photos taken by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from 50 miles (80 kilometers) away.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona

OSIRIS-REx Arrives at Bennu (News Release)

After traveling through space for more than two years and over two billion kilometers, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft arrived at its destination, asteroid Bennu, on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. The spacecraft will spend almost a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample. OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An animated GIF showing asteroid Bennu as NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approached it...covering a time span from August 17 to November 27, 2018.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona

An image that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took of the sampling arm that it will use to collect soil specimens from asteroid Bennu's surface in summer of 2020.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona

My participation certificate for the OSIRIS-REx mission.