Friday, October 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Remembering a Fellow Lancer...

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

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Hubble's Successor Has Finally Gained Its True Form...

At a Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California, the James Webb Space Telescope is fully assembled after the telescope is attached to its sunshield and the rest of the spacecraft.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Connecting the Webb (News Release)

Reaching a major milestone, engineers have successfully connected the two halves of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California. Once it reaches space, Webb will explore the cosmos using infrared light, from planets and moons within our solar system to the most ancient and distant galaxies.

To combine both halves of Webb, engineers carefully lifted the telescope (which includes the mirrors and science instruments) above the already-combined sunshield and spacecraft using a crane. Team members slowly guided the telescope into place, ensuring that all primary points of contact were perfectly aligned and seated properly. The observatory has been mechanically connected; next steps will be to electrically connect the halves, and then test the electrical connections.

Later, engineers will fully deploy the intricate five-layer sunshield, which is designed to keep Webb's mirrors and scientific instruments cold by blocking infrared light from Earth, the Moon and Sun. The ability of the sunshield to deploy to its correct shape is critical to mission success.

Webb is scheduled for launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in March 2021.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. As part of its contribution to the project, ESA provides the NIRSpec instrument, the Optical Bench Assembly of the MIRI instrument, the Ariane 5 launcher, and staff to support mission operations at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, USA.

Source: European Space Agency

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At a Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California, the James Webb Space Telescope is fully assembled after the telescope is attached to its sunshield and the rest of the spacecraft.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Flying at the Speed of Light for a Decade...

An artist's concept of the Gliese 581 star system.

Ten Light-Years... That’s how far the Hello From Earth message has traveled since being transmitted from a giant NASA antenna in Australia to the exoplanet Gliese 581d in the summer of 2009. As of 7 PM California time tonight (12 PM Sydney time on Wednesday, August 28), the radio signal containing 25,878 goodwill text messages—including one by me—will have ventured across approximately 59 trillion miles (95 trillion kilometers) of deep space...which, as stated at the very start of this Blog entry, equals a distance of ten light-years. The signal, despite traveling 186,000 miles per second (or 671 million miles per hour, or um, 1 billion kilometers per hour), will still take about 10 years to reach the Gliese 581 star system. Happy Tuesday!


"My name is Richard Par, and HELLO from planet Earth!!! I hope all is well in your civilization...and I hope you are a much more peaceful species than we are..."
Richard Par

August 17, 2009

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Europa Clipper Moves One Step Closer to Construction...

An artist's concept of NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft flying above Jupiter's icy moon Europa.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Europa Clipper's Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Confirmed (News Release)

An icy ocean world in our solar system that could tell us more about the potential for life on other worlds is coming into focus with confirmation of the Europa Clipper mission’s next phase. The decision allows the mission to progress to completion of final design, followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.

“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”

The mission will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter's moon, Europa, and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology. To develop this mission in the most cost-effective fashion, NASA is targeting to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023. The agency baseline commitment, however, supports a launch readiness date by 2025.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California leads the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for the Science Mission Directorate. Europa Clipper is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Support My Film THE BROKEN TABLE on Kickstarter!


ABOVE: A concept trailer for The Broken Table.

Two days ago, I launched a crowdfunding campaign for my short film The Broken Table...which is a psychological thriller about a man whose mundane act of fixing a damaged piece of furniture at home isn’t what it seems. This film has a crazy twist at the end...which I obviously won't reveal, except to say that my friends who read the script asked me, "What comes next?" For those of you reading this Blog entry, click on the link below and make a generous contribution to this project and find out! You can donate as little as $1, $5, $15 or $25—or as high as $1,000 if you wanna be credited as an Executive Producer plus get other perks! Guess with pledge level I actually want you to choose, heheh. (HINT: I don't mind putting another Producer credit at the end of the film!) Anyways, click on this link:

https://kickstarter.com/projects/parman/the-broken-table-a-short-film

The Kickstarter campaign will go from August 13 to September 13, and end at 9 AM, PDT that Friday. Even though there are still 28 days left, donate now! My crew and I are planning to shoot The Broken Table less than two months later...on November 2 and 3. So donate now!

PS: My awesome pitch video (with its random Family Guy-ish cut scenes) on the Kickstarter page won't reflect the awesomely sinister nature of the actual film! Carry on.

ABOVE: An animated promo for The Broken Table...featuring a snippet of music that will be used in the actual film.

Monday, August 12, 2019

OSIRIS-REx Update: The Search for a Good Site to Collect Samples From the Surface of Asteroid Bennu Continues...

Images taken by OSIRIS-REx showing four site candidates in which one will be where the NASA spacecraft extracts samples from asteroid Bennu's surface late next year.
NASA / University of Arizona

NASA Mission Selects Final Four Site Candidates for Asteroid Sample Return (Press Release)

After months grappling with the rugged reality of asteroid Bennu’s surface, the team leading NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission has selected four potential sites for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to “tag” its cosmic dance partner.

Since its arrival in December 2018, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has mapped the entire asteroid in order to identify the safest and most accessible spots for the spacecraft to collect a sample. These four sites now will be studied in further detail in order to select the final two sites – a primary and backup – in December.

The team originally had planned to choose the final two sites by this point in the mission. Initial analysis of Earth-based observations suggested the asteroid’s surface likely contains large “ponds” of fine-grain material. The spacecraft’s earliest images, however, revealed Bennu has an especially rocky terrain. Since then, the asteroid’s boulder-filled topography has created a challenge for the team to identify safe areas containing sampleable material, which must be fine enough – less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) diameter – for the spacecraft’s sampling mechanism to ingest it.

“We knew that Bennu would surprise us, so we came prepared for whatever we might find,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “As with any mission of exploration, dealing with the unknown requires flexibility, resources and ingenuity. The OSIRIS-REx team has demonstrated these essential traits for overcoming the unexpected throughout the Bennu encounter.”

The original mission schedule intentionally included more than 300 days of extra time during asteroid operations to address such unexpected challenges. In a demonstration of its flexibility and ingenuity in response to Bennu’s surprises, the mission team is adapting its site selection process. Instead of down-selecting to the final two sites this summer, the mission will spend an additional four months studying the four candidate sites in detail, with a particular focus on identifying regions of fine-grain, sampleable material from upcoming, high-resolution observations of each site. The boulder maps that citizen science counters helped create through observations earlier this year were used as one of many pieces of data considered when assessing each site’s safety. The data collected will be key to selecting the final two sites best suited for sample collection.

In order to further adapt to Bennu’s ruggedness, the OSIRIS-REx team has made other adjustments to its sample site identification process. The original mission plan envisioned a sample site with a radius of 82 feet (25 m). Boulder-free sites of that size don’t exist on Bennu, so the team has instead identified sites ranging from 16 to 33 feet (5 to 10 m) in radius. In order for the spacecraft to accurately target a smaller site, the team reassessed the spacecraft’s operational capabilities to maximize its performance. The mission also has tightened its navigation requirements to guide the spacecraft to the asteroid’s surface, and developed a new sampling technique called “Bullseye TAG,” which uses images of the asteroid surface to navigate the spacecraft all the way to the actual surface with high accuracy. The mission’s performance so far has demonstrated the new standards are within its capabilities.

"Although OSIRIS-REx was designed to collect a sample from an asteroid with a beach-like area, the extraordinary in-flight performance to date demonstrates that we will be able to meet the challenge that the rugged surface of Bennu presents," said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "That extraordinary performance encompasses not only the spacecraft and instruments, but also the team who continues to meet every challenge that Bennu throws at us."

The four candidate sample sites on Bennu are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey, and Sandpiper – all birds native to Egypt. The naming theme complements the mission’s two other naming conventions – Egyptian deities (the asteroid and spacecraft) and mythological birds (surface features on Bennu).

The four sites are diverse in both geographic location and geological features. While the amount of sampleable material in each site has yet to be determined, all four sites have been evaluated thoroughly to ensure the spacecraft’s safety as it descends to, touches and collects a sample from the asteroid’s surface.

Nightingale is the northern-most site, situated at 56 degrees north latitude on Bennu. There are multiple possible sampling regions in this site, which is set in a small crater encompassed by a larger crater 459 feet (140 m) in diameter. The site contains mostly fine-grain, dark material and has the lowest albedo, or reflection, and surface temperature of the four sites.

Kingfisher is located in a small crater near Bennu’s equator at 11 degrees north latitude. The crater has a diameter of 26 feet (8 m) and is surrounded by boulders, although the site itself is free of large rocks. Among the four sites, Kingfisher has the strongest spectral signature for hydrated minerals.

Osprey is set in a small crater, 66 feet (20 m) in diameter, which is also located in Bennu’s equatorial region at 11 degrees north latitude. There are several possible sampling regions within the site. The diversity of rock types in the surrounding area suggests that the regolith within Osprey may also be diverse. Osprey has the strongest spectral signature of carbon-rich material among the four sites.

Sandpiper is located in Bennu’s southern hemisphere, at 47 degrees south latitude. The site is in a relatively flat area on the wall of a large crater 207 ft (63 m) in diameter. Hydrated minerals are also present, which indicates that Sandpiper may contain unmodified water-rich material.

This fall, OSIRIS-REx will begin detailed analyses of the four candidate sites during the mission’s reconnaissance phase. During the first stage of this phase, the spacecraft will execute high passes over each of the four sites from a distance of 0.8 miles (1.29 km) to confirm they are safe and contain sampleable material. Closeup imaging also will map the features and landmarks required for the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation to the asteroid’s surface. The team will use the data from these passes to select the final primary and backup sample collection sites in December.

The second and third stages of reconnaissance will begin in early 2020 when the spacecraft will perform passes over the final two sites at lower altitudes and take even higher resolution observations of the surface to identify features, such as groupings of rocks that will be used to navigate to the surface for sample collection. OSIRIS-REx sample collection is scheduled for the latter half of 2020, and the spacecraft will return the asteroid samples to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

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

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Monday, August 05, 2019

Testing the Eyes on America's Next Mars Rover...

Engineers test several cameras that were recently installed on the Mars 2020 rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on July 23, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA 'Optometrists' Verify Mars 2020 Rover's 20/20 Vision (News Release)

Equipped with visionary science instruments, the Mars 2020 rover underwent an "eye" exam after several cameras were installed on it. The rover contains an armada of imaging capabilities, from wide-angle landscape cameras to narrow-angle high-resolution zoom lens cameras.

"We completed the machine-vision calibration of the forward-facing cameras on the rover," said Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for Mars 2020 at JPL. "This measurement is critical for accurate stereo vision, which is an important capability of the vehicle."

To perform the calibration, the 2020 team imaged target boards that feature grids of dots, placed at distances ranging from 1 to 44 yards (1 to 40 meters) away. The target boards were used to confirm that the cameras meet the project's requirements for resolution and geometric accuracy. The cameras tested included two Navcams, four Hazcams, the SuperCam and the two Mastcam-Z cameras.

"We tested every camera on the front of the rover chassis and also those mounted on the mast," said Maki. "Characterizing the geometric alignment of all these imagers is important for driving the vehicle on Mars, operating the robotic arm and accurately targeting the rover's laser."

In the coming weeks, the imagers on the back of the rover body and on the turret at the end of the rover's arm will undergo similar calibration.

Mounted on the rover's remote sensing mast, the Navcams (navigation cameras) will acquire panoramic 3D image data that will support route planning, robotic-arm operations, drilling and sample acquisition. The Navcams can work in tandem with the Hazcams (hazard-avoidance cameras) mounted on the lower portion of the rover chassis to provide complementary views of the terrain to safeguard the rover against getting lost or crashing into unexpected obstacles. They'll be used by software enabling the Mars 2020 rover to perform self-driving over the Martian terrain.

Along with its laser and spectrometers, SuperCam's imager will examine Martian rocks and soil, seeking organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars. The rover's two Mastcam-Z high-resolution cameras will work together as a multispectral, stereoscopic imaging instrument to enhance the Mars 2020 rover's driving and core-sampling capabilities. The Mastcam-Z cameras will also enable science team members to observe details in rocks and sediment at any location within the rover's field of view, helping them piece together the planet's geologic history.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. NASA will use Mars 2020 and other missions, including to the Moon, to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. The agency intends to establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

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

https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

LightSail 2's Mission Has Achieved Its Main Objective!

An image that was taken of LightSail 2's solar sail during its successful deployment process on July 23, 2019.
The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 Spacecraft Successfully Demonstrates Flight by Light (Press Release)

Pasadena, CA — Years of computer simulations. Countless ground tests. They've all led up to now. The Planetary Society's crowdfunded LightSail 2 spacecraft is successfully raising its orbit solely on the power of sunlight.

Since unfurling the spacecraft's silver solar sail last week, mission managers have been optimizing the way the spacecraft orients itself during solar sailing. After a few tweaks, LightSail 2 began raising its orbit around the Earth. In the past 4 days, the spacecraft has raised its orbital high point, or apogee, by about 2 kilometers. The perigee, or low point of its orbit, has dropped by a similar amount, which is consistent with pre-flight expectations for the effects of atmospheric drag on the spacecraft. The mission team has confirmed the apogee increase can only be attributed to solar sailing, meaning LightSail 2 has successfully completed its primary goal of demonstrating flight by light for CubeSats.

"We're thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2," said LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts. "Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before. I'm enormously proud of this team. It's been a long road and we did it."

The milestone makes LightSail 2 the first spacecraft to use solar sailing for propulsion in Earth orbit, the first small spacecraft to demonstrate solar sailing, and just the second-ever solar sail spacecraft to successfully fly, following Japan's IKAROS, which launched in 2010. LightSail 2 is also the first crowdfunded spacecraft to successfully demonstrate a new form of propulsion.

"For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making," said Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye. "Carl Sagan talked about solar sailing when I was in his class in 1977. But the idea goes back at least to 1607, when Johannes Kepler noticed that comet tails must be created by energy from the Sun. The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration."

On Monday, LightSail 2 sent home a new full-resolution image captured by its camera during solar sail deployment. The perspective is opposite to last week’s full-resolution image and shows the sail more fully deployed. LightSail 2's aluminized Mylar sail shines against the blackness of space, with the Sun peeking through near a sail boom.

The mission team will continue raising LightSail 2's orbit for roughly a month, until the perigee decreases to the point where atmospheric drag overcomes the thrust from solar sailing. During the orbit-raising period, the team will continue optimizing the performance of the solar sail.

"We've been working since sail deployment to refine the way the spacecraft tracks the Sun," said LightSail 2 project manager Dave Spencer. "The team has done a great job getting us to the point where we can declare mission success. Moving ahead, we're going to continue working to tune the sail control performance and see how much we can raise apogee over time."

One such refinement involves LightSail 2's single momentum wheel, which rotates the spacecraft broadside and then edge-on to the Sun each orbit to turn the thrust from solar sailing on and off. Momentum wheels can “saturate,” hitting predefined speed limits, after which they are no longer effective at rotating the spacecraft. Most spacecraft use chemical thrusters to desaturate momentum wheels; LightSail 2 relies on electromagnetic torque rods, which orient the spacecraft by pushing against Earth's magnetic field.

LightSail 2’s momentum wheel currently reaches its saturation limit a couple of times per day, and desaturating the wheel temporarily takes the spacecraft out of its proper orientation for solar sailing. The mission team already applied a software update that increased the time between saturation events, and is also working to automate the desaturation process. Both refinements should result in improved solar sailing performance.

After LightSail 2's month-long orbit raising phase, the spacecraft will begin to deorbit, eventually reentering the atmosphere in roughly a year. The aluminized Mylar sail, about the size of a boxing ring, may currently be visible for some observers at dusk and dawn. The Planetary Society's mission control dashboard shows upcoming passes based on user location, and includes a link to a page that highlights passes when the sail is more likely to be visible.

Roughly 50,000 Planetary Society members and private citizens from more than 100 countries, as well as foundations and corporate partners, donated to the LightSail 2 mission, which cost $7 million from 2009 through March 2019.

"LightSail 2 proves the power of public support," said Planetary Society COO Jennifer Vaughn. "This moment could mark a paradigm shift that opens up space exploration to more players. It amazes me that 50,000 people came together to fly a solar sail. Imagine if that number became 500,000 or 5 million. It’s a thrilling concept."

The Planetary Society shares LightSail program data with other organizations so that solar sail technology can be applied to future space exploration missions. The Society presented initial LightSail 2 results this week at the 5th International Symposium on Solar Sailing in Aachen, Germany. Results are also being shared with NASA's NEA Scout mission, which is launching a solar sail-powered CubeSat to visit a near-Earth asteroid as early as next year.

LightSail 2 is one of several Planetary Society science and technology projects that aim to advance space science and exploration. Earlier this month, NASA chose PlanetVac, a Society-funded technology built by Honeybee Robotics that simplifies the process of collecting samples from other worlds, to fly to the Moon as part of the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

The LightSail program began in 2009 under the direction of Planetary Society co-founder Louis Friedman, following the launch of Cosmos 1, the world's first solar sail that did not reach orbit. Friedman and Society co-founders Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray championed the idea of solar sailing more than 4 decades ago with a proposed solar sail mission to Halley's Comet.

Source: The Planetary Society

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A chart showing the change in orbital altitude for LightSail 2 after it successfully deployed its solar sail on July 23, 2019.
The Planetary Society

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

LightSail 2 Has Spread Its Wings in Orbit!

An image that was taken of LightSail 2's solar sail after it was successfully deployed on July 23, 2019.
The Planetary Society

LightSail 2 Successfully Deploys Solar Sail (Press Release)

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has successfully deployed the large, aluminized Mylar sail it will use to raise its orbit solely with sunlight.

Flight controllers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California commanded the spacecraft to deploy its solar sails yesterday at about 11:47 PDT (18:47 UTC). Images captured during the deployment sequence and downloaded today show the 32-square-meter sail, which is about the size of a boxing ring, deploying as the spacecraft flew south of the continental United States.

Sail deployment marks a major milestone for the LightSail 2 mission, which aims to demonstrate solar sailing as a viable method of propulsion for CubeSats—small, standardized satellites that have lowered the cost of space exploration.

“Yesterday, we successfully set sail on beams of sunlight,” said Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society. “Thanks to our team and our tens of thousands of supporters around the world, the dream started by The Planetary Society’s founders more than 4 decades ago has taken flight.”

Bruce Betts, Planetary Society chief scientist and LightSail program manager, added, “We’re ecstatic! The mission team has worked for years to get to this moment when we can start solar sailing.”

Following the start of sail deployment on 23 July, telemetry from LightSail 2 showed the spacecraft’s small motor was rotating properly, extending four, 4-meter cobalt-alloy booms from their central spindle. The booms unwind like carpenter’s tape measures and are attached to 4 triangular sail sections that together form the square solar sail.

Though the motor activity itself was a good indicator of success, confirmation that the sails deployed successfully was only possible via imagery from LightSail 2’s dual cameras. The cameras have 185-degree fields of view, and together can image the entire sail from the main LightSail bus, which is about the size of a loaf of bread.

“The successful deployment of the solar sail and the onset of sail control completes our critical post-launch phase,” said LightSail 2 project manager David Spencer. “Now we are prepared for the solar sail's mission, to track how the orbit changes and evaluate solar sailing performance.”

The deployment milestone comes 4 weeks after LightSail 2 launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, and 3 weeks after the Georgia Tech student-built Prox-1 spacecraft deployed LightSail 2 into orbit. The mission team spent a week checking out the spacecraft’s systems before rescheduling sail deployment to allow extra time for testing and tuning the attitude control system.

Preliminary data shows LightSail 2 is already turning its solar sail broadside to the Sun once per orbit, giving the spacecraft a gentle push no stronger than the weight of a paperclip. Solar photons have no mass, but they have momentum, and as they reflect off the solar sail, some of that momentum is transferred and creates thrust. While this thrust is slight, it is continuous and over time will raise LightSail 2’s orbit.

The orbit-raising portion of the mission will last about 1 month. LightSail 2 does not have the capability to circularize its orbit—as one side of the spacecraft’s orbit raises due to solar sailing, the other side will dip lower into Earth’s atmosphere, until atmospheric drag overcomes the slight force from solar sailing. LightSail 2 is expected to reenter the atmosphere in roughly 1 year.

Source: The Planetary Society

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A mini-DVD bearing the names of over 23,300 Kickstarter backers (including me) is visible on the LightSail 2 spacecraft...near the left side of this image.
The Planetary Society

My certificate for supporting the LightSail 2 mission through Kickstarter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Only 365 Days Till America's Next Robotic Rover Heads to the Red Planet...

Engineers install the sensor turret to the Mars 2020 rover's robotic arm at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on July 11, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Mars 2020 Rover: T-Minus One Year and Counting (News Release)

The launch period for NASA's Mars 2020 rover opens exactly one year from today, July 17, 2020, and extends through Aug. 5, 2020. The mission will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and land at Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

"Back when we started this project in 2013, we came up with a timeline to chart mission progress," said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. "That every single major spacecraft component on a project with this level of innovation is synching right now with that timeline is a testament to the innovation and perseverance of a great team."

In this image, taken on July 11, 2019, engineers at JPL install a sensor-filled turret on the end of the rover's 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) robotic arm. The rover's turret includes HD cameras, the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) science instrument, the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), and a percussive drill and coring mechanism.

On Mars, the arm and turret will work together, allowing the rover to work as a human geologist would: by reaching out to interesting geologic features, scraping, analyzing and even collecting them for further study via Mars 2020's Sample Caching System, which includes 17 motors and will collect samples of Martian rock and soil that will be returned to Earth by a future mission.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. NASA will use Mars 2020 and other missions, including to the Moon, to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. The agency intends to establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

If you want to send your name to Mars with NASA's 2020 mission, you can do so until Sept. 30, 2019. Add your name to the list and obtain a souvenir boarding pass to Mars here:

https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hayabusa2 Has Collected More Samples from the Surface of Asteroid Ryugu!

A snapshot of Hayabusa2's sampler horn making contact with the surface of asteroid Ryugu...as seen from the spacecraft's small monitor camera on July 11, 2019.
JAXA

Success of the Second Touchdown of Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa 2 (Press Release)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) performed a series of operations for the second touchdown of Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2 on the Ryugu asteroid and the collection of its soil samples.

From the data sent from Hayabusa2, it has been confirmed that the touchdown sequence, including the discharge of a projectile for sampling, was completed successfully. Hayabusa2 is functioning normally, and thus the second touchdown ended with success.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Brow Has Officially Joined the Lake Show! (PS: Screw You, Kawhi...)

Anthony Davis officially became a Los Angeles Laker on July 6, 2019.

Lakers Acquire Anthony Davis (Press Release)

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired forward Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, the draft rights to De'Andre Hunter, two first round picks, a first-round pick swap right and cash. As part of the trade, the Lakers also sent Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, Moritz Wagner and a future second round draft pick to the Wizards, who in return, sent cash consideration to the Pelicans.

"Anthony Davis is arguably the most dominant all-around young player in today's NBA," said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. "Anthony represents everything we stand for, with his unwavering commitment to excellence as both a person and athlete. This is a historic moment for the Lakers franchise, and we couldn't be more proud to have him."

A three-time All-NBA First Team honoree (2015, ‘17, ‘18), six-time NBA All-Star and one-time Olympic Gold Medalist for Team USA (2012), Davis has averaged 23.7 points (.517 FG%), 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals over his seven-year career in the NBA.

Last season, Davis played and started in 56 games for New Orleans, averaging 25.9 points (.517 FG%), 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals in 33.0 minutes. A three-time league-leader in blocks, Davis was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team in 2018, while earning Second Team honors in 2015 and 2017. Additionally, he has been voted Western Conference Player of the Month twice, coming in back-to-back months in February and March of 2018, and has earned the league’s Player of the Week award on five occasions. In 2017, he was named Most Valuable Player of the NBA All-Star Game after scoring a record 52 points in the game.

Originally from Chicago, IL, Davis was selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft and went on to earn First Team All-Rookie honors after totaling 20 double-doubles with averages of 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals and 1.0 assist per game.

In his lone season at Kentucky, Davis was voted as the consensus National Player of the Year and a First Team All-American after leading the Wildcats to the 2012 NCAA Championship. The NABC and SEC Defensive Player of the Year was also SEC Player of the Year, tallying 14.2 points (.623 FG%), 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists in 40 games.

Source: Lakers.com

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The 2019-'20 team roster for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Photos of the Day: A Boat Trip Off the Coast of Dana Point, CA...

A snapshot of two dolphins swimming through the water off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

Just thought I'd end this month with these photos—taken with my Nikon D3300 camera—that I shot during a whale-watching trip I went on almost three weeks ago (on June 11). I didn't see any whales on this excursion (though other folks on my boat say that they spotted the tail fin of a whale protruding from the water several miles away), but I did take lots of images of a pod of dolphins that surrounded my boat as it made its way out to sea. And before the boat returned to its dock at Dana Point harbor in Orange County, CA, the captain parked the vessel near a buoy where a couple of sea lions and a lone sea gull were resting on during that warm spring day. Of course, I didn't really need to tell you this when you could've just checked out all of the pics in this Blog entry!

A sea lion gazes at my camera while sitting on a buoy anchored off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

Will I go whale-watching again, you ask? Definitely! Though I'll probably wait till October 4 (my birthday) to head back to Orange County. To paraphrase Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) from the 1992 movie Wayne's World: "I will take whale photos with my DSLR camera... Oh yes, I will." Yep, that was cheesy. Happy Sunday!

A snapshot of a dolphin off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A snapshot of two dolphins (with the dorsal fin of a third dolphin visible near the left side of this photo) swimming off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A snapshot of a couple of dolphins swimming off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A snapshot of a dolphin off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A group of sea lions and a lone sea gull rest atop a buoy anchored off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A group of sea lions rest atop a buoy anchored off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A sea lion pup swims near the base of a buoy anchored off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

A sea lion sleeps atop a buoy anchored off the coast of Dana Point, California...on June 11, 2019.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Photo of the Day: The Mars 2020 Rover Gets a New Limb!

Engineers install the robotic arm on the Mars 2020 rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on June 21, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Mars 2020 Rover's 7-Foot-Long Robotic Arm Installed (News Release)

In this image, taken on June 21, 2019, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, install the main robotic arm on the Mars 2020 rover. (A smaller arm to handle Mars samples will be installed inside the rover as well.) The main arm includes five electrical motors and five joints (known as the shoulder azimuth joint, shoulder elevation joint, elbow joint, wrist joint and turret joint). Measuring 7 feet (2.1 meters) long, the arm will allow the rover to work as a human geologist would: by holding and using science tools with its turret, which is essentially its "hand."

"You have to give a hand to our rover arm installation team," said Ryan van Schilifgaarde, a support engineer at JPL for Mars 2020 assembly. "They made an extremely intricate operation look easy. We're looking forward to more of the same when the arm will receive its turret in the next few weeks."

The rover's turret will include high-definition cameras, science instruments, and a percussive drill and coring mechanism. Those tools will be used to analyze and collect samples of Martian rock and soil, which will be cached on the surface for return to Earth by a future mission.

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020. It will land at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. We will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

If you want to send your name to Mars with NASA's 2020 mission, you can do so until Sept. 30, 2019. Add your name to the list and obtain a souvenir boarding pass to Mars here:

https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dragonfly Is Officially Heading to Titan!

An artist's concept of the Dragonfly rotorcraft on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan.
Johns Hopkins APL

NASA Selects Flying Mission to Study Titan for Origins, Signs of Life (Press Release)

NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone. It will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere – four times denser than Earth’s – to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.

“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”

Dragonfly took advantage of 13 years’ worth of Cassini data to choose a calm weather period to land, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets. It will first land at the equatorial “Shangri-La” dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location. Dragonfly will explore this region in short flights, building up to a series of longer “leapfrog” flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from compelling areas with diverse geography. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics – the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

“Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself.”

Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth. Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow. The moon’s weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet.

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system. As it orbits Saturn, it is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from the Sun, about 10 times farther than Earth. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is also 50 percent higher than Earth’s.

Dragonfly was selected as part of the agency’s New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu. Dragonfly is led by Principal Investigator Elizabeth Turtle, who is based at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. New Frontiers supports missions that have been identified as top solar system exploration priorities by the planetary community. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.

“The New Frontiers program has transformed our understanding of the solar system, uncovering the inner structure and composition of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, discovering the icy secrets of Pluto’s landscape, revealing mysterious objects in the Kuiper belt, and exploring a near-Earth asteroid for the building blocks of life,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we can add Titan to the list of enigmatic worlds NASA will explore.”

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An artist's concept of the Dragonfly rotorcraft flying above the surface of Saturn's moon Titan.
Johns Hopkins APL


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

LightSail 2 Finally Reaches for the Cosmos...

Carrying 24 satellites (including The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft) as part of the U.S. Air Force's STP-2 mission, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on June 25, 2019 (Eastern Time).
SpaceX

The Planetary Society Celebrates Launch of LightSail 2 (Press Release)

Bill Nye, CEO: "We are democratizing space."

Cape Canaveral, FL (June 25, 2019) LightSail 2 is officially in space! The Planetary Society's solar sail CubeSat lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on 25 June at 02:30 EDT (06:30 UTC). The late-night launch came courtesy of SpaceX's triple-booster Falcon Heavy rocket, which was carrying 24 spacecraft for the U.S. Air Force's STP-2 mission.

Launch was originally scheduled to occur at 23:30 EDT on 24 June (03:30 UTC on 25 June). SpaceX delayed the liftoff time by 3 hours to complete additional ground system checkouts.

During its ride to orbit, LightSail 2 was tucked safely inside its Prox-1 carrier spacecraft. The Falcon Heavy upper stage's payload stack released Prox-1 about an hour and 20 minutes after liftoff, at an altitude of roughly 720 kilometers. Prox-1 will house LightSail 2 for 1 week, allowing time for other vehicles released into the same orbit to drift apart so each can be identified individually. LightSail 2 deployment is set for 2 July.

"After that spectacular nighttime launch, the flight team is ready to operate the LightSail 2 spacecraft," said LightSail 2 project manager David Spencer. "We will be listening for the radio signal in a week, following the release of LightSail 2 from Prox-1."

Bruce Betts, Planetary Society chief scientist and LightSail 2 program manager, added, "After years of hard work we are ecstatic with the launch and looking forward to doing some solar sailing."

In a video message to Planetary Society members, CEO Bill Nye, said, "The SpaceX Falcon Heavy took our spacecraft up and on orbit, thanks to you. Thank you all so much. We are advancing space science and exploration. We are democratizing space. We are innovating."

About 500 Planetary Society members and supporters were on hand at the Kennedy Space Center Apollo-Saturn V Center to watch their crowdfunded spacecraft take flight. Sound from the Falcon Heavy's 27 engines rumbled through the viewing area, as the rocket blazed high into the sky before starting its arc out over the Atlantic Ocean. Both of the rocket's side boosters flew back to Cape Canaveral for upright landings, creating sonic booms that delighted the raucous crowd.

SpaceX's live feed from mission control in Hawthorne, California followed the rocket's center booster as it attempted to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. The booster’s exhaust plume briefly appeared on camera before apparently crashing into the ocean. The landing was not a requirement for mission success.

Meanwhile, the upper stage blasted on to its first stop, an orbit roughly 865 by 300 kilometers above Earth. There, it deployed several CubeSats and a small satellite before lighting its engine again and flying to a circular orbit of about 720 kilometers. Prox-1 was the first spacecraft off the rocket there.

LightSail 2 team members will soon converge at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, where the spacecraft’s mission control is located. Once LightSail 2 is released from Prox-1 on 2 July, the team will spend several days checking out the CubeSat’s systems before commanding its dual-sided solar panels to deploy. Following that, the spacecraft's solar sails will be deployed, roughly 2 weeks in total from launch day.

Source: The Planetary Society

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The Falcon Heavy rocket's two side boosters are about to touch down on their respective landing zones at Cape Canaveral, Florida...on June 25, 2019 (Eastern Time).
SpaceX

A mini-DVD bearing the names of over 23,300 Kickstarter backers (including me) is visible on the LightSail 2 spacecraft...near the left side of this image.
The Planetary Society

My certificate for supporting the LightSail 2 mission through Kickstarter.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Just Some Random Political News for Today...

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the 'Baghdad Bob' of the Trump regime. Google that name if you're unfamiliar with it.

So it was announced earlier today that Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be resigning from her job as White House Press Secretary by the end of this month. On one hand, good riddance! On the other hand, it's unfortunate...since I will no longer be able to use the meme above on any of my posts on Twitter starting in July. Farewell, Sanders— You will forever be known by smart, non-MAGA folks as the 'Baghdad Bob' of the Trump regime. Google that name if you're unfamiliar with it.


Oh, and in other news, the bombing of those two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman today is nothing more than a false flag. Google 'Gulf of Tonkin' to know why. Also, Trump lied in the tweet below about the length of time that Sarah Sanders served in the White House. The Dotard has been in the Oval Office for a little over two years (unfortunately), so how can the woman whose brother murders dogs serve in the White House for 3 1/2 years as mentioned below? Unless, of course, Trump was also including the time that Sanders spent on his presidential campaign in 2016. Is this another "The Moon is part of Mars" Twitter flub by the stable genius? Google that term if you don't know what I'm talking about. That is all.


EDIT (9:39 PM, PDT): The Toronto Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions! No Kevin Durant, no Klay Thompson (towards the end of tonight's game)... Keep your heads up, Warriors.

Now head to the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard! Fat chance.

The Toronto Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Blog Entry About Protecting Your Heart While on the Road... Please Read!

Live a healthy lifestyle and keep your heart happy!

This could save my life one day and maybe yours too... If you are my age and have had a good life then you may want to skim this.

Please pause for 2 minutes and read this:

1.) Let’s say it’s 7:25 PM and you’re going home (alone of course) after an unusually hard day on the job.

2.) You’re really tired, upset and frustrated.

3.) Suddenly, you start experiencing severe pain in your chest that starts to drag out into your arm and up in to your jaw. You are only about 5 kilometers from the hospital nearest your home.

4.) Unfortunately, you don’t know if you’ll be able to make it that far.

5.) You have been trained in CPR, but the guy who taught the course did not tell you how to perform it on yourself.

6.) HOW TO SURVIVE A HEART ATTACK WHEN ALONE? Since many people are alone when they suffer a heart attack without help, the person whose heart is beating improperly and who begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing consciousness.

7.) However, these victims can help themselves by coughing repeatedly and very vigorously. A deep breath should be taken before each cough, and the cough must be deep and prolonged, as when producing sputum from deep inside the chest. A breath and a cough must be repeated about every two seconds without let-up until help arrives, or until the heart is felt to be beating normally again.

8.) Deep breaths get oxygen into the lungs and coughing movements squeeze the heart and keep the blood circulating. The squeezing pressure on the heart also helps it regain normal rhythm. In this way, heart attack victims can get to a hospital.

9.) Tell as many other people as possible about this. It could save their lives!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Photo and Video of the Day: Get to da (Mars) Choppa!

An image of the Mars Helicopter flight model...taken inside a cleanroom at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California on February 14, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Mars Helicopter Testing Enters Final Phase (News Release)

NASA's Mars Helicopter flight demonstration project has passed a number of key tests with flying colors. In 2021, the small, autonomous helicopter will be the first vehicle in history to attempt to establish the viability of heavier-than-air vehicles flying on another planet.

"Nobody's built a Mars Helicopter before, so we are continuously entering new territory," said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. "Our flight model - the actual vehicle that will travel to Mars - has recently passed several important tests."

Back in January 2019 the team operated the flight model in a simulated Martian environment. Then the helicopter was moved to Lockheed Martin Space in Denver for compatibility testing with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System, which will hold the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) spacecraft against the belly of the Mars 2020 rover during launch and interplanetary cruise before deploying it onto the surface of Mars after landing.

As a technology demonstrator, the Mars Helicopter carries no science instruments. Its purpose is to confirm that powered flight in the tenuous Martian atmosphere (which has 1% the density of Earth's) is possible and that it can be controlled from Earth over large interplanetary distances. But the helicopter also carries a camera capable of providing high-resolution color images to further demonstrate the vehicle's potential for documenting the Red Planet.

Future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations. They could investigate previously unvisited or difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, act as scouts for human crews or carry small payloads from one location to another. But before any of that happens, a test vehicle has to prove it is possible.

In Denver, the Mars Helicopter and its delivery system were checked to make sure that the electrical connections and mechanisms that linked the flight vehicle with its cradle fit snuggly. Then, while still mated, the duo endured the sorts of vibrations they will experience during launch and in-flight operations. The thermal vacuum portion of the testing introduced them to the kinds of extreme temperatures (down to -200 degrees Fahrenheit, or -129 degrees Celsius) that they will encounter in space and on Mars and that could cause components to malfunction or fail.

The Mars Helicopter returned to JPL on May 11, 2019, for further testing and finishing touches. Among the highlights: A new solar panel that will power the helicopter has been installed, and the vehicle's rotor blades have been spun up to ensure that the more than 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and aerogel continue to work as a cohesive unit. Of course, there's more testing to come.

"We expect to complete our final tests and refinements and deliver the helicopter to the High Bay 1 clean room for integration with the rover sometime this summer," said Aung, "but we will never really be done with testing the helicopter until we fly at Mars."

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

The 2020 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. In another first, 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 planet's surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover and Mars Helicopter for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

If you want to send your name to Mars with NASA's 2020 mission you can do so until Sept. 30, 2019. Add your name to the list and obtain a souvenir boarding pass to Mars here:

https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Wednesday, June 05, 2019

InSight Update: Engineers Devise a Way to Salvage the Mars Lander's Heat Probe Experiment...

During a test at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, a replica of the InSight Mars lander's robotic arm is used to press against the soil near a replica of the mole for the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

InSight's Team Tries New Strategy to Help the 'Mole' (News Release)

Scientists and engineers have a new plan for getting NASA InSight's heat probe, also known as the "mole," digging again on Mars. Part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the mole is a self-hammering spike designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface and record temperature.

But the mole hasn't been able to dig deeper than about 12 inches (30 centimeters) below the Martian surface since Feb. 28, 2019. The device's support structure blocks the lander's cameras from viewing the mole, so the team plans to use InSight's robotic arm to lift the structure out of the way. Depending on what they see, the team might use InSight's robotic arm to help the mole further later this summer.

HP3 is one of InSight's several experiments, all of which are designed to give scientists their first look at the deep interior of the Red Planet. InSight also includes a seismometer that recently recorded its first marsquake on April 6, 2019, followed by its largest seismic signal to date at 7:23 p.m. PDT (10:23 EDT) on May 22, 2019 — what is believed to be a marsquake of magnitude 3.0.

For the last several months, testing and analysis have been conducted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which leads the InSight mission, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided HP3, to understand what is preventing the mole from digging. Team members now believe the most likely cause is an unexpected lack of friction in the soil around InSight — something very different from soil seen on other parts of Mars. The mole is designed so that loose soil flows around it, adding friction that works against its recoil, allowing it to dig. Without enough friction, it will bounce in place.

"Engineers at JPL and DLR have been working hard to assess the problem," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "Moving the support structure will help them gather more information and try at least one possible solution."

The lifting sequence will begin in late June, with the arm grasping the support structure (InSight conducted some test movements recently). Over the course of a week, the arm will lift the structure in three steps, taking images and returning them so that engineers can make sure the mole isn't being pulled out of the ground while the structure is moved. If removed from the soil, the mole can't go back in.

The procedure is not without risk. However, mission managers have determined that these next steps are necessary to get the instrument working again.

"Moving the support structure will give the team a better idea of what's happening. But it could also let us test a possible solution," said HP3 Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of DLR. "We plan to use InSight's robotic arm to press on the ground. Our calculations have shown this should add friction to the soil near the mole."

A Q & A with team members about the mole and the effort to save it is at: https://mars.nasa.gov/news/8444/common-questions-about-insights-mole/?site=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'├ëtudes Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) 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 Astrobiolog├şa (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory