Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Raider Is Ready for Its Close-up, Mr. DeMille...

An artist's concept of the B-21 Raider, the U.S. Air Force's newest stealth bomber, taking to the skies above California's Mojave Desert.
Northrop Grumman

My headline is making a reference to the classic 1950 film Sunset Boulevard in case you're wondering...

Anyways, this Friday is the day that Northrop Grumman will officially be unveiling America's newest stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California! Can't wait.

And in case you're wondering some more, this program—which was conceived in July of 2014 as the Long Range Strike Bomber project—is currently on time and under budget. Even more impressive!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Season 1 of a STAR WARS Masterpiece Has Come to an End...

A screenshot from the Season 1 finale of ANDOR.

So earlier today, I watched the Season 1 finale of Andor, a 12-episode spinoff of 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, on Disney+.

Needless to say, this finale—titled "Rix Road"—did not disappoint...just like all other episodes of Andor!

I am confident in saying that Andor is The Empire Strikes Back of Star Wars' Disney+ shows. It relied on nothing more than a compelling story and a mature, and at times very dark, tone to be entertaining.

The only other Star Wars project that Andor gave fan service to was Rogue One, which of course, was directed by Tony Gilroy—the showrunner of Andor—during the reshoots for the 2016 winter blockbuster.

I am very excited for Season 3 of The Mandalorian to drop on Disney+ early next year...but in the meantime, Andor is the Star Wars series that needs to be topped in regards to excellent writing and awesome, original characters!

And for those of you reading this who also watch Andor, stay for the end credits!

I'm so stoked for Season 2.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

NASA Wants the Average Joe and Jane to Provide Input on Its Next Flagship Mission to the Red Planet...

An illustration depicting the joint NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return mission architecture.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Invites Public Comment on Plans for Mars Sample Return Campaign (Press Release)

NASA is seeking public comments on a draft environmental impact statement for the agency’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign. Comments are due by Monday, December 19.

Comments can be submitted online, through the mail, or through participation in a series of virtual and in-person meetings. Advanced registration for meeting options, including in-person meetings in Utah, is not required.

Two virtual meetings to discuss the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the campaign will take place on Wednesday, November 30. The first begins at 1 p.m. MST, followed by a second opportunity at 6 p.m. MST. Participate online at either time by joining the following link:

Mars Sample Return WebEx

The WebEx will be accessible to participants about 15 minutes before the event begins, and will include real-time automated closed captioning. To access audio-only dial 510-210-8882, and use meeting number 901-525-785.

The in-person meetings will be held at 6 p.m. MST on Tuesday, December 6, at the Wendover Community Center, 112 E Moriah Avenue, Wendover, Utah, and on Wednesday, December 7, at the Clark Planetarium, 110 S 400 W, Salt Lake City, Utah.

All public meetings will include a 15-minute presentation on the purpose of the meetings, the MSR campaign project schedule, opportunities for public involvement, a summary of the proposed action and alternatives, discussion of potential environmental impacts from the proposed action, and an overview of the programmatic approach to National Environmental Policy Act compliance in general, and NASA’s proposed action specifically.

The in-person meetings will also include a 45-minute open house before the official public comment portion of the meeting.

Subject matter experts will be available on-site during the open house to answer questions from the public, and to discuss informational posters and distribute related materials about the draft statement and the proposed Mars Sample Return campaign. These materials are also available online.

NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are planning to use robotic Mars orbiter and lander missions launched in 2027 and 2028 to retrieve samples of rocks and atmosphere being gathered by NASA’s Perseverance rover and return them to Earth. The samples of Mars material, securely isolated inside a robust Earth Entry System using a layered “container within a container” approach, could be brought to Earth in the early 2030s, landing notionally at the Utah Test and Training Range operated by the U.S. Air Force.

The Earth Entry System would then be transported to a specialized MSR sample receiving facility.

NASA will consider all comments received during the PEIS public comment period in the subsequent development of the MSR Final Environmental Impact Statement.

In addition to receiving comments during the public meetings, comments may be sent to NASA in the following ways:

- Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: Follow the online instructions for submitting comments and include Docket No. NASA-2022-0002. Please note that NASA will post all comments online without changes, including any personal information provided.
- By mail to Steve Slaten, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, M/S: 180-801, Pasadena, CA 91109–8099

Additional information on the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act process and the proposed campaign is available online.

Source: NASA.Gov


Friday, November 18, 2022

Assembly Complete! Astrobotic's Lunar Lander Has Moved One Step Closer to the Launch Pad...

Assembly is completed on the Peregrine lunar lander inside the cleanroom at Astrobotic's headquarters in Pittsburgh, November of 2022.

Peregrine Spacecraft on the Move (Press Release - November 16)

Pittsburgh, PA – Astrobotic announced today that the Peregrine lunar lander has left their headquarters for the last time. The spacecraft is now headed to test facilities for final acceptance testing before its first launch to the Moon in Q1 2023.

Peregrine’s acceptance campaign will subject the spacecraft to a battery of industry-standard tests that will prove Peregrine can endure the launch environment aboard United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket, as well as the harsh environments of space and the lunar surface. These spacecraft-level tests follow years of prototyping, engineering analyses, modeling, simulations and sub-assembly tests that provide high confidence in the fully-assembled vehicle.

“A few years ago, we were an 18-person team with a dream. Today, Astrobotic’s 200+ staff and our payload customers can celebrate as our Peregrine lander continues its historic mission to lead America back to the Moon for the first time in 50 years,” says John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO.

Slated to be the first commercial lunar lander to ever soft-land on the Moon, Peregrine is carrying payloads from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative that was awarded in 2019. Though Astrobotic had payload customers prior to NASA, that win propelled the Peregrine program forward.

Despite the pandemic slowing supply chains and disrupting workflow during critical program phases, the team managed to progress quickly toward Peregrine’s upcoming delivery to ULA.

“The space industry can move slowly sometimes – but our nimble engineering team proved their dedication and worked around the clock to ensure we met our deadlines,” says Sharad Bhaskaran, Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One Director. “There are folks finishing up Peregrine that were here since its inception. We’ve added a dedication plaque with all of our signatures to honor that work– every person is important to achieving our mission to the Moon.”

After acceptance testing, Peregrine will be shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida for integration with Vulcan Centaur. After launch, Peregrine will separate from the rocket and Astrobotic’s Mission Control Center (AMCC) will then navigate the spacecraft to the Moon for landing.

The AMCC will then complete the mission by supporting lunar surface science operations.

Source: Astrobotic


The Peregrine lunar lander is ready to depart from the cleanroom at Astrobotic's headquarters to begin its pre-launch test campaign...on November 15, 2022.

Both BE-4 flight engines, provided by Blue Origin, are now installed on the first Vulcan rocket at United Launch Alliance's factory in Decatur, of November 11, 2022.
Tory Bruno / United Launch Alliance

Both RL10C engines, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are now installed on the Vulcan's Centaur upper stage booster at United Launch Alliance's rocket factory in Decatur, of November 18, 2022.
Tory Bruno / United Launch Alliance

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Groundbreaking, Crowdfunded Solar Sail Has Reached the End of Its Life in Space...

The very last photo taken by LightSail 2 last month, on October 24...before its mission ended on November 17, 2022.
The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 Mission Reenters Atmosphere, Completes Mission (Press Release)

Pasadena, CA — LightSail 2, The Planetary Society’s crowdfunded, solar sailing spacecraft, has reentered Earth’s atmosphere, successfully completing its mission to demonstrate flight by light for small spacecraft. Orbital predictions showed that LightSail 2 reentered sometime on November 17.

The reentry completes a mission of nearly three-and-a-half years, during which LightSail 2 showed that it could change its orbit using the gentle push of sunlight, a technique known as solar sailing. LightSail 2 demonstrated that small spacecraft can carry, deploy and utilize relatively large solar sails for propulsion.

“LightSail 2 is gone after more than three glorious years in the sky, blazing a trail of lift with light, and proving that we could defy gravity by tacking a sail in space,” said Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society. “The mission was funded by tens of thousands of Planetary Society members, who want to advance space technology.”

LightSail 2 hitched a ride to space in June 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. It began operations at an altitude of about 720 kilometers (450 miles), where Earth’s atmosphere is still thick enough to create drag and slow down a spacecraft. For reference, the International Space Station orbits at an altitude of roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles).

As atmospheric drag slowly pulled LightSail 2 back towards Earth, the spacecraft successfully used solar sailing to lower its decay rate and on occasion overcome drag completely. After 18,000 orbits and 8 million kilometers (5 million miles) traveled, drag finally won out, bringing the mission to a close.

“During its extended mission LightSail 2 continued to teach us more about solar sailing and achieved its most effective solar sailing, but that was followed by an increase in atmospheric drag in part from increasing solar activity,” said Bruce Betts, LightSail program manager and chief scientist for The Planetary Society. “The spacecraft is gone, but data analyses and sharing of results will continue.”

LightSail 2 launched as a shoebox-sized spacecraft with its sails tucked together like origami. Using four tape measure-like booms, the spacecraft unfurled a four-section Mylar sail with an area of 32 square meters (244 square feet) — about the size of a boxing ring.

Light has no mass, but it has momentum that can be transferred to a reflective solar sail. The resulting push is small but continuous, allowing a spacecraft like LightSail 2 to change its orbit.

The LightSail mission team will continue to analyze data collected during the mission, publishing peer-reviewed journal articles, making conference presentations and conducting public outreach. Images from the mission can be viewed online.

Results will continue to be shared with other upcoming solar sail missions such as NEA Scout and ACS3. In a fitting bookend to the LightSail 2 mission, NEA Scout launched on November 16 aboard NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon. The Planetary Society shares data with the NEA Scout team through a Space Act Agreement.

NEA Scout will use an 86-square-meter (926 square-feet) solar sail to leave lunar orbit and perform a slow flyby of asteroid 2020 GE, which measures just 18 meters (60 feet) across. The images NEA Scout captures will be the first up-close pictures of such a small world.

LightSail 2 was an entirely crowdfunded mission that aimed to help democratize space exploration. More than 50,000 Planetary Society members, Kickstarter backers, private citizens, foundations and corporate partners funded the mission. A miniature DVD attached to the spacecraft contained selfies from space fans and the names of Planetary Society members and supporters.

The Smithsonian Institution displayed two models of LightSail 2 in 2021 and 2022. The mission was named one of TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019 and won a Popular Science Best of What’s New award for 2019.

The LightSail program’s roots date back to the mid-1970s, when Planetary Society co-founder Louis Friedman developed a NASA concept for a solar sail that would have visited Halley’s Comet. Society co-founder Carl Sagan showed off a model of the spacecraft on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

While LightSail 2 operations have come to an end, the mission will live on as a new era of solar sailing begins.

“We have braved the harbor of Earth and found that a small craft can sail and steer,” said Betts. “Best wishes to those who sail similar craft into the vast ocean of space – we look forward to an exciting future of exploration, proud that we have played a role. Sail on!”

Source: The Planetary Society


An image of a mini-DVD bearing the names of around 23,300 Kickstarter backers (including me) that was attached to the LightSail 2 spacecraft for its mission.
The Planetary Society

My certificate for the LightSail 2 mission.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Dark Cloud L1527: Another Celestial Beauty Imaged by Hubble's Successor...

An image of the dark cloud L1527 that was taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Image processing: J. DePasquale, A. Pagan, and A. Koekemoer (STScI)

NASA’s Webb Catches Fiery Hourglass as New Star Forms (News Release)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has revealed the once-hidden features of the protostar within the dark cloud L1527, providing insight into the beginnings of a new star. These blazing clouds within the Taurus star-forming region are only visible in infrared light, making it an ideal target for Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam).

The protostar itself is hidden from view within the “neck” of this hourglass shape. An edge-on protoplanetary disk is seen as a dark line across the middle of the neck. Light from the protostar leaks above and below this disk, illuminating cavities within the surrounding gas and dust.

The region’s most prevalent features, the clouds colored blue and orange in this representative-color infrared image, outline cavities created as material shoots away from the protostar and collides with surrounding matter. The colors themselves are due to layers of dust between Webb and the clouds. The blue areas are where the dust is thinnest. The thicker the layer of dust, the less blue light is able to escape, creating pockets of orange.

Webb also reveals filaments of molecular hydrogen that have been shocked as the protostar ejects material away from it. Shocks and turbulence inhibit the formation of new stars, which would otherwise form all throughout the cloud. As a result, the protostar dominates the space, taking much of the material for itself.

Despite the chaos that L1527 causes, it’s only about 100,000 years old - a relatively young body. Given its age and its brightness in far-infrared light as observed by missions like the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, L1527 is considered a class 0 protostar, the earliest stage of star formation. Protostars like these, which are still cocooned in a dark cloud of dust and gas, have a long way to go before they become full-fledged stars.

L1527 doesn’t generate its own energy through nuclear fusion of hydrogen yet, an essential characteristic of stars. Its shape, while mostly spherical, is also unstable, taking the form of a small, hot and puffy clump of gas somewhere between 20 and 40% the mass of our Sun.

As the protostar continues to gather mass, its core gradually compresses and gets closer to stable nuclear fusion. The scene shown in this image reveals L1527 doing just that.

The surrounding molecular cloud is made up of dense dust and gas being drawn to the center, where the protostar resides. As the material falls in, it spirals around the center. This creates a dense disk of material, known as an accretion disk, which feeds material to the protostar. As it gains more mass and compresses further, the temperature of its core will rise, eventually reaching the threshold for nuclear fusion to begin.

The disk, seen in the image as a dark band in front of the bright center, is about the size of our solar system. Given the density, it’s not unusual for much of this material to clump together - the beginnings of planets.

Ultimately, this view of L1527 provides a window into what our Sun and solar system looked like in their infancy.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, November 14, 2022

QueSST Update: NASA's Next X-Plane Finally Has Its Motor...

A GE Aviation F414-GE-100 engine is installed on NASA's X-59 QueSST aircraft at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California.
NASA / Carla Thomas

Jet Engine Installed on NASA’s X-59 (News Release)

NASA’s quiet supersonic X-59 now has the engine that will power it in flight.

The installation of the F414-GE-100 engine took place at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California, earlier this month, marking a major milestone as the X-59 approaches the completion of its assembly.

The 13-foot-long engine from General Electric Aviation packs 22,000 pounds of propulsion energy and will power the X-59 as it flies at speeds up to Mach 1.4 and altitudes around 55,000 feet.

“The engine installation is the culmination of years of design and planning by the NASA, Lockheed Martin and General Electric Aviation teams,” said Ray Castner, NASA’s propulsion performance lead for the X-59. “I am both impressed with and proud of this combined team that’s spent the past few months developing the key procedures, which allowed for a smooth installation.”

The X-59 team will follow the aircraft’s assembly with a series of ground tests and ultimately, first flight in 2023.

NASA’s X-59 is the centerpiece of the agency’s QueSST mission. The aircraft is designed to reduce the sound of sonic booms, which occur when an aircraft flies at supersonic speeds, to a quiet sonic “thump.” This will be demonstrated when NASA flies the X-59 over communities around the U.S. starting in 2025, with the goal of providing the data necessary to open the future to commercial supersonic flight over land, greatly reducing flight times.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of NASA's X-59 QueSST aircraft flying over a rural community in the United States.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Orbital Test Vehicle Returns to Earth After Spending Almost 2.5 Years in Space...

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle after it touched down at Kennedy Space Center's Launch and Landing Facility in Florida...on November 12, 2022.
Staff Sgt. Adam Shanks

Boeing-Built X-37B Completes Sixth Mission, Sets New Endurance Record (Press Release)

- Autonomous Orbital Test Vehicle spent 908 days on orbit before landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

- This mission marks the first time the vehicle hosted a service module, which successfully carried experiments for Naval Research Laboratory, U.S. Air Force Academy and other partners.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The Boeing [NYSE: BA] built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) set a new endurance record after spending 908 days on orbit before landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:22 a.m. ET, November 12, 2022. This surpasses its previous record of 780 days on-orbit.

With the successful completion of its sixth mission, the reusable spaceplane has now flown over 1.3 billion miles and spent a total of 3,774 days in space, where it conducts experiments for government and industry partners with the ability to return them to Earth for evaluation.

For the first time, the vehicle carried a service module to augment the number of payloads it can haul. The module separated from the OTV prior to de-orbiting—ensuring a safe and successful landing.

“This mission highlights the Space Force's focus on collaboration in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside of the Department of the Air Force (DAF),” said Gen. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations.

The sixth mission was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in May 2020. Hosted experiments included a solar energy experiment designed by the Naval Research Lab, as well as a satellite designed and built by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory. The satellite, dubbed FalconSat-8, was successfully deployed in October 2021 and remains on orbit today.

This mission also hosted multiple NASA experiments including the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2), which evaluated the effects of space exposure on various materials to validate and improve the precision of space environment models. This was the second flight for this type of experiment. Mission 6 also hosted a NASA experiment to evaluate the effects of long-duration space exposure on seeds. This experiment informs research aimed at future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanent bases in space.

“Since the X-37B’s first launch in 2010, it has shattered records and provided our nation with an unrivaled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president, Boeing Space and Launch. “With the service module added, this was the most we’ve ever carried to orbit on the X-37B and we’re proud to have been able to prove out this new and flexible capability for the government and its industry partners.”

The X-37B program is a partnership between the U.S Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the U.S. Space Force. Boeing designed and manufactured the spaceplane and continues to provide program management, engineering, test and mission support from sites in Southern California, Florida and Virginia.

In 2020, the X-37B received the Robert J. Collier Trophy for advancing the performance, efficiency and safety of air and space vehicles.

Source: The Boeing Company


With a service module attached to its aft end, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is about to be encapsulated by the payload fairing of the Atlas V rocket that launched it into space on May 17, 2020.
Staff Sgt. Adam Shanks

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Another SoCal Sports Team Has Won a Championship!

The Los Angeles Football Club is the 2022 Major League Soccer champion.
Los Angeles Football Club

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC, which is party owned by actor Will Ferrell, as shown in the tweets below) for winning its very first Major League Soccer championship after defeating the Philadelphia Union, 3-0, at Banc of California Stadium near downtown L.A. yesterday!

LAFC's first MLS Cup comes eight years after its rival regional team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, won its last soccer title in 2014...which is also the year that LAFC was founded. The Galaxy is currently the most successful MLS team with five championships.

This victory makes up for the Dodgers losing in the first round of the playoffs last month (even though the team won a franchise-record 111 games during the regular season), and the Houston Cheaters—err, Astros clinching their first official World Series title yesterday.

Anyways. The Lakers, Dodgers, Sparks, Rams, Angels, Ducks, Galaxy and now LAFC...

Get the f*ck out of Southern California, Clippers! You don't belong here.

(The Chargers have only been in Los Angeles for a few years... They still have an excuse.)

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Recognizing the People Who Made Hubble's Successor a Reality...

The sunshield on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope undergoes a final deployment test at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California...back in December of 2020.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Northrop Grumman Employees Receive NASA’s Highest Honors for Building the James Webb Space Telescope (Press Release - November 3)

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, six Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) employees received NASA’s highest honors for their exceptional contributions in designing and building NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Scott Willoughby, Charlie Atkinson, Jim Flynn, Andy Cohen, Scott Texter and Andy Tao were recognized with NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, Exceptional Public Achievement Medal and the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal.

The medals are NASA’s highest level of recognition for non-government individuals.

“The dedication and commitment of these individuals represent the pioneering spirit of our entire team and embody our relentless pursuit to advance human discovery,” said Kathy Warden, chair, chief executive officer and president, Northrop Grumman. “From inventing technologies to creating zero gravity on Earth for testing, our team built the world’s largest, most complex and powerful space telescope for NASA and we are all seeing the benefits of this incredible feat of engineering.”

As the prime contractor to develop the James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman designed and built the deployable sunshield, provided the spacecraft and integrated the total system. The observatory subsystems were developed by a Northrop Grumman-led team with vast experience in developing space-based observatories.

NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal recognizes personal contributions to NASA mission success and advancement of the nation’s interests through extraordinary service and a profound level of excellence. This year’s honorees include:

- Scott Willoughby, vice president and program manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. Willoughby led the Webb program from 2009 to the observatory’s arrival at Lagrange Point 2 in 2022 and oversaw all aspects of the program.

- Charlie Atkinson, director and chief engineer, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. Atkinson joined the program in 1998 and spent over two decades developing and testing the engineering marvel.

NASA’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal recognizes an individual for a significant specific achievement and improvement in operations, efficiency and technology. This year’s honoree is:

- Jim Flynn, director of vehicle engineering and sunshield manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman. Flynn began working on Webb in 2004 and held multiple roles on the program, including managing Webb’s intricate and groundbreaking sunshield.

NASA’s Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal recognizes individuals for exceptional engineering contributions toward achievement of the NASA mission who have significantly enhanced the aerospace field. Advancing the state of engineering practice, this year’s honorees include:

- Andy Cohen, spacecraft bus director, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman (retired)
- Andy Tao, sunshield chief engineer, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman (retired)
- Scott Texter, optical telescope element manager, James Webb Space Telescope, Northrop Grumman (retired)

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Source: Northrop Grumman


An image of two entwined galaxies known as IC 1623...taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.
ESA / Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus & A. Evans, Acknowledgement: R. Colombari