Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Photos of the Day: A Journey to Pirate's Cave in SoCal...

Posing for a selfie inside Pirate's Cave at a Dana Point beach in Orange County, CA...on April 20, 2019.

Just thought I'd end this month with these images that I took at Dana Point in Orange County, California ten days ago. Using my Nikon D3300 camera, I first drove up to a hilltop hiking trail to shoot some high-angle snapshots of Dana Point Harbor...and afterwards, parked near the Ocean Institute next to the beach to begin a 1.2-mile (round-trip) hike to Pirate's Cave. Initially, it was me and a couple of cute, random women who ventured along the side of a cliff as we made our way to the small cavern. But as the journey continued, the coastline got rockier...with the thin trail of dirt that we were carefully treading on disappearing into a vast field of slippery rocks and large boulders. Within a few minutes, I found myself alone on the path as the women decided to call it quits since the trail to Pirate's Cave became too rocky to traverse any further. I briefly turned to look back at the women as they stood on large rocks and apparently continued to watch as I made my way towards the hollow destination. I'll admit that being the last man standing, so to speak, was a confidence and testosterone-booster!

A snapshot of Dana Point Harbor from a hilltop hiking trail in Orange County, CA...on April 20, 2019.

So as the photos at the bottom of this entry show, I made sure to get as many cool pics that I could before I headed back to the main beach (I had no interest to be inside the cave once the tide rose back up). Will I return to Pirate's Cave, you ask? Nah... No need to tempt fate as there were a few times when I was afraid that I might lose my footing and twist my ankle on the rock-filled journey to and from the cave. However, I do intend on heading back to Dana Point in a matter of weeks to go whale watching! Carry on.

Another snapshot of Dana Point Harbor (and a field of sunflowers) from a hilltop hiking trail in Orange County, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A snapshot of the rocky beach that I had to traverse on my way to Pirate's Cave at Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A wave splashes against a large rock off the shore of a beach in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

The narrow opening that leads into Pirate's Cave at Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A snapshot of the narrow opening from inside Pirate's Cave at Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

A snapshot of another entrance at Pirate's Cave in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the second opening at Pirate's Cave in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

The Pacific Ocean as seen from the second opening at Pirate's Cave in Dana Point, CA...on April 20, 2019.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Hayabusa2 Update: Asteroid Ryugu Has a New Man-made Crater...

Two images of Ryugu's surface that were taken before and after the Hayabusa2 spacecraft's Small Carry-on Impactor rammed into the asteroid on April 5, 2019.
JAXA, The University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, The University of Aizu, AIST

Successful Operation of Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2's SCI (Press Release - April 25)

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) separated the SCI (Small Carry-on Impactor), which had been onboard the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, on April 5, 2019, for deployment to Ryugu, and then put the SCI into operation.

As a result of checking the images captured by the Optical Navigation Camera - Telescopic (ONC-T) onboard the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, we have concluded that a crater was created by the SCI.

Hayabusa2 is operating normally.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Batman Rises as GOTHAM Comes to an End...

Batman (David Mazouz) reveals himself in the last shot of GOTHAM's series finale.

Farewell, Gotham. The series finale for the DC comic book show—which lasted for 5 years on FOX TV—aired tonight. In the span of an hour, we saw the definitive rise of Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Catwoman (played by Camren Bicondova during the show's 5-year run; portrayed by Lili Simmons in today's episode) and the Joker (or J, played by Cameron Monaghan)...as well as the Caped Crusader himself (David Mazouz donned the Batcowl even though a taller actor wore the Batsuit in that memorable last shot of the finale).

I enjoyed how this final season of Gotham was inspired by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy...with the Bane subplot paying homage to The Dark Knight Rises, and the opening scene of tonight's finale borrowing from Hans Zimmer's memorable music score for The Dark Knight films. And of course, Cameron Monaghan's take on Jerome Valeska in the previous seasons was an awesome echo of Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight. I also watched the series finale of the Superman TV series Smallville in 2011, and Gotham blew it out of the water with a much more satisfying introduction of an iconic DC superhero.

The only other comic book show that I watch on TV is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We'll see how that series ends. With Avengers: Endgame opening in theaters tomorrow (I'm watching it at a 10 AM matinee), the producers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should get a clearer picture on what direction this series should take as it heads toward its inevitable finale. Anyways, to get back to topic: I'll miss you, Gotham! Glad to see Batman begin again—on the small screen, at least. That is all.

Jeremiah Valeska, a.k.a. J (Cameron Monaghan) emerges as the Clown Prince of Crime in the series finale of GOTHAM.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Photo of the Day #2: Bringin' Da Noise to America's Next Mars Rover...

The Mars 2020 spacecraft is prepped for acoustic testing inside the Environmental Test Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on April 11, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Mars 2020 is Wired for Sound (News Release)

Engineers and technicians working on NASA's Mars 2020 mission prepare spacecraft components for acoustic testing in the Environmental Test Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The spacecraft is being tested in the same configuration it will be in when sitting atop the Atlas rocket that will launch the latest rover towards Mars in July 2020.

The image was taken on April 11, 2019, at JPL.

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.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The InSight Mars Lander Has Detected Its First Quake on the Red Planet! Possibly...

An image of the InSight lander's seismometer, with the HP3 'mole' instrument visible to its left, that was taken by the spacecraft's Instrument Context Camera on April 7, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's InSight Detects First Likely 'Quake' on Mars (News Release)

NASA's Mars InSight lander has measured and recorded for the first time ever a likely "marsquake."

The faint seismic signal, detected by the lander's Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, was recorded on April 6, the lander's 128th Martian day, or sol. This is the first recorded trembling that appears to have come from inside the planet, as opposed to being caused by forces above the surface, such as wind. Scientists still are examining the data to determine the exact cause of the signal.

"InSight's first readings carry on the science that began with NASA's Apollo missions," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "We've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!"

The new seismic event was too small to provide solid data on the Martian interior, which is one of InSight's main objectives. The Martian surface is extremely quiet, allowing SEIS, InSight's specially designed seismometer, to pick up faint rumbles. In contrast, Earth's surface is quivering constantly from seismic noise created by oceans and weather. An event of this size in Southern California would be lost among dozens of tiny crackles that occur every day.

"The Martian Sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions," said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters.

NASA's Apollo astronauts installed five seismometers that measured thousands of quakes while operating on the Moon between 1969 and 1977, revealing seismic activity on the Moon. Different materials can change the speed of seismic waves or reflect them, allowing scientists to use these waves to learn about the interior of the Moon and model its formation. NASA currently is planning to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, laying the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

InSight's seismometer, which the lander placed on the planet's surface on Dec. 19, 2018, will enable scientists to gather similar data about Mars. By studying the deep interior of Mars, they hope to learn how other rocky worlds, including Earth and the Moon, formed.

Three other seismic signals occurred on March 14 (Sol 105), April 10 (Sol 132) and April 11 (Sol 133). Detected by SEIS' more sensitive Very Broad Band sensors, these signals were even smaller than the Sol 128 event and more ambiguous in origin. The team will continue to study these events to try to determine their cause.

Regardless of its cause, the Sol 128 signal is an exciting milestone for the team.

"We've been waiting months for a signal like this," said Philippe Lognonné, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) in France. "It's so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active. We're looking forward to sharing detailed results once we've had a chance to analyze them."

Most people are familiar with quakes on Earth, which occur on faults created by the motion of tectonic plates. Mars and the Moon do not have tectonic plates, but they still experience quakes – in their cases, caused by a continual process of cooling and contraction that creates stress. This stress builds over time, until it is strong enough to break the crust, causing a quake.

Detecting these tiny quakes required a huge feat of engineering. On Earth, high-quality seismometers often are sealed in underground vaults to isolate them from changes in temperature and weather. InSight's instrument has several ingenious insulating barriers, including a cover built by JPL called the Wind and Thermal Shield, to protect it from the planet's extreme temperature changes and high winds.

SEIS has surpassed the team's expectations in terms of its sensitivity. The instrument was provided for InSight by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), while these first seismic events were identified by InSight's Marsquake Service team, led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

"We are delighted about this first achievement and are eager to make many similar measurements with SEIS in the years to come," said Charles Yana, SEIS mission operations manager at CNES.

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 CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES provided the SEIS instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP. Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany; the Swiss 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 of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Photo of the Day: The Mars 2020 Spacecraft Begins to Take Shape...

An engineer inspects the Mars 2020 spacecraft after its backshell and cruise stage are attached to each other inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California...on March 26, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Taking Mars 2020 Integration Head-on (News Release - April 11)

A member of NASA's Mars 2020 project checks connections between the spacecraft's backshell and cruise stage. The image was taken on March 26, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California.

During the mission's voyage to Mars, the cruise stage houses the hardware that steers and provides power to the spacecraft. The backshell, along with the heatshield (not pictured), protects the 2020 rover and the sky crane landing system during Mars atmospheric entry.

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

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mars 2020 Update: America's Next Rover Continues to be Built at JPL...

An animated GIF showing components of the Mars 2020 spacecraft being stacked together at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Things Are Stacking up for NASA's Mars 2020 Spacecraft (News Release - April 18)

For the past few months, the clean room floor in High Bay 1 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been covered in parts, components and test equipment for the Mars 2020 spacecraft, scheduled for launch toward the Red Planet in July of 2020. But over the past few weeks, some of these components — the spacecraft-rocket-laden landing system and even the stand-in for the rover (christened "surrogate-rover") — have seemingly disappeared.

In reality, they are still there, tucked neatly into the entry capsule, as they will be when it's time for launch. The procedure is known as vehicle stacking and involves a hyper-detailed plan for what goes where and when.

"One of our main jobs is to make sure the rover and all the hardware that is required to get the rover from here on Earth to the surface of Mars fits inside the payload fairing of an Atlas V rocket, which gives us about 15 feet [5 meters] of width to work with," said David Gruel, assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) manager for Mars 2020 at JPL.

The first step is to place the rocket-powered descent stage on top of the surrogate rover (the real rover is being integrated and tested in tandem with the spacecraft stack). Then, when all the holes line up and everything is attached, checked and re-checked again, the back shell is lowered over them via gantry crane.

"That crane has lifted almost every spacecraft that's come through JPL since Mariner," said Gruel. "To safely lift the large pieces of the Mars 2020 spacecraft, we utilize a dozen technicians and engineers."

After the back shell is in place and everything is determined to be fitting properly, the team puts on the parachute nose cone, which protects the parachute during atmospheric entry, followed by the massive doughnut-shaped cruise stage, which will power the Mars 2020 spacecraft on its seven-month voyage to the Red Planet. Then the vehicle stack is turned on its side so technicians and engineers have access to the mating points between the cruise and descent stages to make connections. The stack is then returned to its original position (cruise stage on top) so the heat shield can be raised into position and attached.

"Stacking is an important milestone in mission development, because as good as our computer models are, we still need to put it together to show that the bolt holes line up and everything fits together," said Gruel. "It is a great feeling for the entire project when we see the stack sitting there waiting to go for the next part of its journey, which will eventually lead to a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in July of next year."

After three weeks, stacking is finished on April 3, and the spacecraft is transported to JPL's Environmental Test Facility to undergo acoustic testing. During this testing the stack will be bombarded with a thundering wall of sound designed to imitate the sound waves generated during launch. Then, after a check to make sure no bolts have rattled loose or attachment points have become unstuck, the stack heads to the thermal vacuum chamber for a week-long test that simulates the harsh environment of space to assess how the Mars-bound craft and its instruments operate under flightlike conditions.

"Nothing is static with this mission," said Gruel. "After the acoustic and thermal vac tests, the stacked spacecraft is returned to the assembly building for de-stack, then more testing and more work. Until the hold-down bolts on the Atlas rocket blow and our rover is headed to Mars in July of 2020, there is almost always something being assembled, tested or modified."

The Mars 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. 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.

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The (Partially-Redacted) Mueller Report Is Finally Released...

All of the pages in the Mueller Report...redacted sections and all.

"Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm fucked."
- Donald J. Trump


Here are 'some' takeaways from the Special Counsel's document, which is 448 pages-long:

- Contrary to what Attorney General William Barr stated in his 4-page summary of the Mueller Report a few weeks ago, the report explicitly states that the Russia investigation did not clear Donald Trump.

- There were 10 episodes of obstruction by Trump according to the report.

- The Special Counsel sought to interview Trump for over a year (since December 2017), but he refused to do so voluntarily.

- Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election through two operations: 1.) A Russian entity who created a social media campaign that favored Trump and "disparaged" his presidential rival Hillary Clinton. And 2.) A Russian intelligence service that hacked into computers used by members of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign.

- An example of the previous note: The Internet Research Agency, a team of Russian operatives, congratulated Trump when he tweeted about an event in Miami, Florida.

- On November 9, 2016 (the day after the presidential election), someone wrote to the head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, Kirill Dmitriev, that "Putin has won." The person who wrote this is unknown because their name is redacted.

- Erik Prince, the former CEO of Blackwater (an American private military company) and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, financed efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails.

- Though phone provider records show that former White House advisor Steve Bannon and Erik Prince "exchanged dozens" of text messages around the time of a secret meeting in the Seychelles islands (around January 11, 2017), there were no messages available for investigators to read on their phones. Both men said they didn't know why that was.

- Former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to FBI Agents—as well as Trump Administration officials themselves—about his contact with Sergey Kislyak, a Russian ambassador.

- Michael Flynn reached out to the late Peter Smith, a GOP activist and fundraiser, to help in the search for Clinton's e-mails.

- Sections discussing the Trump campaign's communications with Wikileaks are heavily redacted in the report.

- The report indicates that Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump were also at the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016.

- Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks wanted to disclose that the Russians had offered Donald Trump Jr. information helpful to the Trump Campaign. But the president nixed that idea...directly ordering Hicks to release a statement that falsified the true intent of the Trump Tower meeting.

- Donald Trump Jr. wasn't indicted by the Special Counsel because he supposedly wasn't smart enough (to put it politely) to collude.

- On June 17, 2017, Trump asked then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, which McGahn refused to do.

- The report claims that Russia's GRU intelligence agency compromised an unnamed Florida county in 2016—baffling Florida officials, who never heard of such a thing.

- Trump lied to the public about telling McGahn to fire Mueller once it was reported by the media.

- Trump didn't succeed in committing obstruction because the officials he ordered to do it (such as McGahn and then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus) refused to carry out his requests.

- Trump ordered his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask former attorney general Jeff Sessions to comment that the Russia investigation was "very unfair."

- At the direction of Trump, Don McGahn and other aides made extensive and repeated attempts to prevent Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

- Trump publicly floated pardons for former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former attorney Michael Cohen—both already indicted by Mueller—to deter them from cooperating with the Special Counsel.

- Trump and Michael Cohen continued to work on the Trump Tower Moscow deal while actively deceiving the American public as to whether Trump had business ties in Russia. He knowingly lied to the public while his former attorney worked with people who supposedly thought that the hotel and election were entwined.

- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted to the Special Counsel that she lied to the press about the nature of FBI director James Comey's firing.

- On Page 157 of the report, it is stated that Trump tried to exert "undue influence over law enforcement investigations"...by carrying out "one-on-one meetings in which (Trump) sought to use his official power outside of usual channels."

- Mueller says that Trump's power means that his public comments (re: his tweets) could be considered obstruction.

- Mueller concluded that the U.S. Constitution does not shield Trump from obstruction of justice charges.

- Mueller declined to indict Trump because the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the executive branch, claimed that the Special Counsel could not.

- The Special Counsel "declined" several prosecutions due to a number of individuals making the investigation difficult for Mueller's office.

- The Mueller Report conveys that criminal allegations against a sitting president should be considered by Congress, not the Department of Justice.

- There is sufficient evidence that Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings.

And lastly:

- The Mueller Report is essentially a roadmap for Congress to hold impeachment proceedings against Trump.

An impeachment trial begins in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats... (Unfortunately, Trump probably wouldn't be convicted by the Senate since it's controlled by GOP lackwit Mitch McConnell, and filled with complicit Republican senators like Lindsey Graham.)

So in other words, William Barr is sooo full of crap. You can read the entire Mueller Report HERE. That is all.

Expect 'Harm to Ongoing Matter' to be the title of a future music album...specifically alt rock.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Photo of the Day: Beresheet's Final Moon Photo and the Likely Cause of Its Lunar Landing Failure...

The very last photo that Israel's Beresheet lunar lander took (from an altitude of 15 kilometers, or 9 miles) during its ill-fated descent towards the Moon's surface...on April 11, 2019.

Earlier today, SpaceIL released the photo above that was the last-ever image that the Beresheet lander took (from an altitude of 15 kilometers, or 9 miles) during its ill-fated attempt to touch down on the Moon last Thursday. According to these tweets by SpaceIL and a Planetary Society staff member below, a likely cause of the spacecraft's main engine shutting down prematurely was an errant command that was transmitted to it from the flight team during the landing maneuver. A software glitch caused by an attempt to fix a sensor problem aboard Beresheet led to a chain reaction that eventually led to its main engine deactivating during the descent towards the lunar surface. By the time the engine was finally reactivated, Beresheet was traveling at a velocity of 500 kilometers per hour (311 miles per hour)...making a collision with the Moon's surface unavoidable.

If it was indeed a software issue that prevented Beresheet from landing on the Moon safely almost a week ago, then this is good news! This shows that Beresheet itself was physically healthy (apart from that sensor issue)...and that no significant upgrades would need to be made to the Beresheet 2.0 spacecraft to increase its chances of mission success next time. The only real thing that would need to be corrected is the flight team's vigilance towards transmitting the wrong command at the worst possible moment to the lunar lander. The same thing that befell NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 (Google this spacecraft and read about what happened to it) is the same thing that befell Beresheet: Human error. Correct this oversight next time, and Israel will finally become the fourth nation (behind the United States, Russia and China) to soft-land on the Moon. Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The USAF's Joint Strike Fighter Is Ready for Combat in the Persian Gulf...

Three F-35A Lightning II aircraft taxi down the tarmac after landing at Al Dhafra Air Base in United Arab Emirates...on April 15, 2019.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury

U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II Arrives for First Middle East Deployment (News Release - April 15)

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates -- The U.S. Air Force’s fifth generation multi-role aircraft arrived for its first deployment to the Middle East on April 15, 2019. The F-35A Lightning IIs are from active duty 388th and reserve 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

As the first deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, crews are prepared and trained for the AFCENT mission. The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, provides greater operational capability by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology.

“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”

The F-35A is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, and is intended to fuse, integrate and share data with other battlefield assets. It has one of the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor packages. It improves lethality, survivability and adaptability against emerging threats in order to maintain air superiority.

“The F-35A provides our nation air dominance in any threat,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. “When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the coalition joint force, the inter-operable F-35A is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role,” he stated.

The F-35A has previously deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in April 2017, as well as the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility in the fall of 2017.

“We look forward to demonstrating the full range of the F-35A’s capabilities while it increases the interoperability of our forces throughout the region,” said Guastella.

Source: U.S. Air Forces Central Command


An F-35A Lightning II aircraft taxis down the runway at Al Dhafra Air Base in United Arab Emirates...on April 15, 2019.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mya M. Crosby

Monday, April 15, 2019

TESS Update: A New Exoplanet Has Been Found by Kepler's Successor...

An artist's concept of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite floating through deep space.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s TESS Discovers its First Earth-size Planet (News Release)

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered its first Earth-size world. The planet, HD 21749c, is about 89% Earth’s diameter. It orbits HD 21749, a K-type star with about 70% of the Sun’s mass located 53 light-years away in the southern constellation Reticulum, and is the second planet TESS has identified in the system. The new world is likely rocky and circles very close to its star, completing one orbit in just under eight days. The planet is likely very hot, with surface temperatures perhaps as high as 800 degrees F (427 degrees C).

This is the 10th confirmed planet discovered by TESS, and hundreds of additional candidates are now being studied.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Carnegie Institution for Science analyzed TESS transit data from the first four sectors of TESS observations to detect 11 periodic dips in the star’s brightness. From this, they determined that the star’s light was being partially blocked by a planet about the size of Earth.

The star that HD 21749c orbits is bright and relatively nearby, and therefore well suited to more detailed follow-up studies, which could provide critical information about the planet’s properties, including potentially the first mass measurement of an Earth-size planet found by TESS.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Beresheet Will Fly Again!

A selfie that Israel's Beresheet lunar lander took while it was only 14 miles (22 kilometers) above the Moon's surface...on April 11, 2019.

Yesterday, SpaceIL president Morris Kahn tweeted the video below where he announced that Israel will build another lander, dubbed Beresheet 2.0, to finish what its predecessor was unable to do last Thursday. A targeted launch date obviously wasn't given, as the SpaceIL team met today to discuss preliminary details for the new project.

All I can say is, this is great news! Keep in mind that it took NASA seven tries for it to successfully reach the Moon in the early 1960s (Ranger 7 got to the Moon and intentionally impacted the lunar surface on July 31, 1964). Assuming that Beresheet 2.0 gets the necessary upgrades to give it a better chance of mission success over the first Beresheet lander (more redundancy in its systems, star trackers that aren't affected by glaring sunlight, and perhaps a different and more reliable main engine), then Israel should be back on course to become the fourth nation (behind the United States, Russia and China) to soft-land a robotic spacecraft on the lunar landscape.

An artist's concept of the Beresheet lunar lander on the surface of the Moon.

I'm tempted towards eventually tweeting to SpaceIL (like I did last year, as shown below) and asking it to allow the general public (besides the good folks of Israel) to submit their names online and have them fly on Beresheet 2.0 when it makes its triumphant journey onto the surface of Earth's closest celestial neighbor! Carry on.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Remembering Mrs. V Once More...

A collage showing photos of my 8th grade classmates posing with Mrs. Ventura (25 years ago) was displayed during a Mass at my Catholic elementary school...on April 13, 2019.

Earlier today, I attended a Mass that was held in Mrs. Ventura's honor at the church in my Catholic elementary school—which is where she taught for 35 years before she retired. Only four other former students of Mrs. V (three of whom I actually knew in grade school) showed up. But seeing as how the collage that was displayed during the Mass (shown above) happened to be the one containing photos of my 8th grade classmates 25 years ago (I'm Class of 1994), I'm really glad that I went to the Mass today.

Of course, most of Mrs. V's immediate family members were in attendance as well. May she rest in peace.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Falcon Heavy Launches on Its Second Flight...Paving the Way for LightSail 2!

A long-exposure shot of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifting off from Launch Complex (LC)-39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 11, 2019.

Yesterday evening [at 6:35 PM, EDT (3:35 PM, PDT)], SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched on its second flight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...flawlessly placing the Arabsat 6A spacecraft in a supersynchronous transfer orbit [with an apogee of nearly 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometers) and a perigee of 200 miles (300 kilometers)] above the Earth. To add to Thursday's triumphant mission for SpaceX, the three Falcon 9 boosters that comprised Falcon Heavy managed to land safely—with the two side boosters touching down on a pair of landing sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the core booster successfully reaching the SpaceX drone ship Of Course I Still Love You stationed 615 miles (990 kilometers) off the coast of Florida. The core booster for the first Falcon Heavy mission fell short of this achievement last year.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from LC-39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 11, 2019.

With flight #2 for Falcon Heavy now in the books, SpaceX can begin preparing for the more ambitious third flight of the powerful launch vehicle. Known as Space Test Program 2 (or STP-2), Falcon Heavy's next mission is dedicated to the U.S. Air Force and will involve placing 25 different satellites in three different orbits. Among those satellites is a student-built spacecraft known as Prox-1—which itself will be the carrier for LightSail 2, a privately-funded solar sail built by The Planetary Society...a nonprofit space advocacy group based in Pasadena, California.

The side boosters of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket are about to touch down on a pair of landing sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on April 11, 2019.

The first LightSail, which was launched in 2015, was a major success...having lifted off in May of that year and deploying its solar sail less than a month later. There were issues (such as communication glitches and computer resets) with this solar sail that will hopefully be rectified on LightSail 2. If all goes as planned, LightSail 2 will successfully deploy from Prox-1 about 447 miles (720 kilometers) above the Earth, smoothly unfurl its sails, and begin demonstrating maneuvering capabilities propelled by sunlight that will pave the way for bigger solar sails that will venture deeper into outer space (like Japan's IKAROS spacecraft that flew past Venus in late 2010).

The core booster of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket sits quietly on the deck of the drone ship 'Of Course I Still Love You' 615 miles (990 kilometers) off the coast of Florida...on April 11, 2019.

The Falcon Heavy carrying LightSail 2 is tentatively scheduled for launch next month (on May 31)—but that will obviously change as LightSail 2 itself is still in storage at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California. When Falcon Heavy does fly again, it will be another triumphant moment for SpaceX's giant reusable rocket...and a significant moment for spacecraft that may someday pave the way for vehicles (both manned and unmanned) to travel to interstellar space within a short amount of time! Happy Friday.

An artist's concept of The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft sailing through outer space.
The Planetary Society

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Beresheet Update: If At First You Don't Succeed...

A selfie that Israel's Beresheet lunar lander took while it was only 14 miles (22 kilometers) above the Moon's surface...on April 11, 2019.

Unfortunately, Israel will have to temporarily settle for being the seventh nation to successfully place a spacecraft in orbit around the Moon after its Beresheet lander fell short of safely touching down on the lunar surface today...which would've made it only the fourth country (behind the United States, Russia and China) to accomplish this feat. 12:25 PM, Pacific Daylight Time (10:25 PM, Israeli Time) would've marked the moment that Beresheet softly landed at Mare Serenitatis (the "Sea of Serenity") after its 20-minute descent from lunar orbit. Instead, the flight team at SpaceIL—which developed and operated the four-legged robotic probe—lost contact with the lander just as it came within 489 feet (149 meters) of the Moon's surface. Issues with the main engine plagued Beresheet in its final moments of descent. And just as the main engine came back online and began firing again, it was too late.

On the plus side, the XPRIZE Foundation will still reward SpaceIL with $1 million after it came close to landing the first privately-funded spacecraft on the Moon. This should obviously be the seed money for the construction of Beresheet's successor. However, based on what I read about its now-defunct predecessor, Beresheet 2 (not its official name) should make up for known issues in the previous lander by having more redundancy in its systems, use star trackers that aren't sensitive to glaring sunlight, and possibly utilize another thruster for its main engine (the engine on the original Beresheet is a British-made thruster intended for use on satellites). Of course, now is not the time to point fingers at anyone or anything as Beresheet's flight team is still analyzing data to see what truly went wrong with the lander just as it was on the verge of making history.

All I can say is, rise from the ashes Beresheet—just like how NASA's Phoenix lander rose from the ashes of the Mars Polar Lander, which was lost in 1999...and how Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (which are still sending back stunning photos from the Red Planet) are the successors (along with the now-silent Mars Global Surveyor) to NASA's Mars Observer, which fell silent just 3 days before it was to enter Martian orbit in 1993. Space exploration is hard. But when rocket scientists are giving a second chance to redo a space mission that suffered a heartbreaking setback, it can be glorious. I hope the nation of Israel will give the Beresheet mission another opportunity to truly become the historic endeavor it was destined to be. Carry on.

An image, which was supposedly the final one taken before its unfortunate demise, that the Beresheet spacecraft took as it continued its descent towards the lunar surface...on April 11, 2019.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Einstein and Hawking Would Be Proud... A Momentous Day in Astrophysics!

An image of the supermassive black hole M87 that was taken by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration...using 8 radio telescope observatories located around the world in April of 2017.
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

Black Hole Image Makes History (News Release)

A black hole and its shadow have been captured in an image for the first time, a historic feat by an international network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). EHT is an international collaboration whose support in the U.S. includes the National Science Foundation.

A black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape. Anything that comes within a black hole's "event horizon," its point of no return, will be consumed, never to re-emerge, because of the black hole's unimaginably strong gravity. By its very nature, a black hole cannot be seen, but the hot disk of material that encircles it shines bright. Against a bright backdrop, such as this disk, a black hole appears to cast a shadow.

The stunning new image shows the shadow of the supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy some 55 million light-years from Earth. This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet.

"This is an amazing accomplishment by the EHT team," said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Years ago, we thought we would have to build a very large space telescope to image a black hole. By getting radio telescopes around the world to work in concert like one instrument, the EHT team achieved this, decades ahead of time."

To complement the EHT findings, several NASA spacecraft were part of a large effort, coordinated by the EHT's Multiwavelength Working Group, to observe the black hole using different wavelengths of light. As part of this effort, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory space telescope missions, all attuned to different varieties of X-ray light, turned their gaze to the M87 black hole around the same time as the EHT in April 2017. NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was also watching for changes in gamma-ray light from M87 during the EHT observations. If EHT observed changes in the structure of the black hole's environment, data from these missions and other telescopes could be used to help figure out what was going on.

While NASA observations did not directly trace out the historic image, astronomers used data from NASA's Chandra and NuSTAR satellites to measure the X-ray brightness of M87's jet. Scientists used this information to compare their models of the jet and disk around the black hole with the EHT observations. Other insights may come as researchers continue to pore over these data.

There are many remaining questions about black holes that the coordinated NASA observations may help answer. Mysteries linger about why particles get such a huge energy boost around black holes, forming dramatic jets that surge away from the poles of black holes at nearly the speed of light. When material falls into the black hole, where does the energy go?

"X-rays help us connect what's happening to the particles near the event horizon with what we can measure with our telescopes," said Joey Neilsen, an astronomer at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, who led the Chandra and NuSTAR analysis on behalf of the EHT's Multiwavelength Working Group.

NASA space telescopes have previously studied a jet extending more than 1,000 light-years away from the center of M87. The jet is made of particles traveling near the speed of light, shooting out at high energies from close to the event horizon. The EHT was designed in part to study the origin of this jet and others like it. A blob of matter in the jet called HST-1, discovered by Hubble astronomers in 1999, has undergone a mysterious cycle of brightening and dimming.

Chandra, NuSTAR and Swift and Fermi, as well as NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) experiment on the International Space Station, also looked at the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, in coordination with EHT.

Getting so many different telescopes on the ground and in space to all look toward the same celestial object is a huge undertaking in and of itself, scientists emphasize.

"Scheduling all of these coordinated observations was a really hard problem for both the EHT and the Chandra and NuSTAR mission planners," Neilsen said. "They did really incredible work to get us the data that we have, and we're exceedingly grateful."

Neilsen and colleagues who were part of the coordinated observations will be working on dissecting the entire spectrum of light coming from the M87 black hole, all the way from low-energy radio waves to high-energy gamma rays. With so much data from EHT and other telescopes, scientists may have years of discoveries ahead.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


The late physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking were integral to expanding our understanding of black holes... May they rest in peace.

A 'Google doodle' that pays tribute to today's historic astrophysical announcement.

Dr. Katie Bouman, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was responsible for creating the computer algorithm that would allow the first-ever photo of a black hole to be made.
Dr. Katie Bouman - Facebook.com

Sunday, April 07, 2019

An Instrument That Might Pave the Way for Future Human Explorers on the Red Planet Is Installed on the Mars 2020 Rover...

Inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, engineers prepare to install the MOXIE instrument inside the Mars 2020 rover...on March 20, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

This Is One Mars Rover With MOXIE (News Release - April 5)

Members of NASA's Mars 2020 project install the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) into the chassis of NASA's next Mars rover. MOXIE will demonstrate a way that future explorers might produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellant and for breathing. The car-battery-sized instrument does this by collecting carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Martian atmosphere and electrochemically splitting the carbon dioxide molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide molecules. The oxygen is then analyzed for purity before being vented back out to the Martian atmosphere along with the carbon monoxide and other exhaust products.

The image was taken on March 20, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 Cleanroom at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Photos of the Day: Beresheet's First Close-up Images of the Moon!

An image of the far side of the Moon that was taken by Israel's Beresheet lunar lander from an altitude of 470 kilometers (292 miles)...on April 4, 2019.

Last Thursday, Israel's Beresheet lander took these photos of the Moon's surface just as the four-legged spacecraft fired its main engine to insert itself into lunar orbit. The far side of the Moon, shown above, was taken by Beresheet from an altitude of 470 kilometers (292 miles) above the ancient craters. In the pic below, Earth is visible about 386,160 kilometers (240,000 miles) away as the lunar lander ventured near the sunlit side of the Moon during the orbit-insertion maneuver.

Over the next four days, the flight team at SpaceIL in Israel will conduct final checks and make sure that all calculations are correct and complete as Beresheet hopefully makes its historic landing at Mare Serenitatis ("Sea of Serenity") this Thursday, April 11. Beresheet will then go from giving Israel the honor of being the seventh nation to orbit the Moon [behind the United States (whose Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is still operational at Earth's closest celestial neighbor), the former Soviet Union, India, China, the European Space Agency and Japan (which sent its Kaguya orbiter to the Moon in 2007)] to attaining the prestigious title of becoming the first country to soft-land a privately-funded spacecraft on the lunar surface. Of course, this would complement Israel's position of being the fourth nation (behind the United States, the former Soviet Union and China) to land a robotic probe on the Moon, overall. Very exciting!

Earth is visible about 386,160 kilometers (240,000 miles) away as Israel's Beresheet lunar lander took this image near the sunlit side of the Moon...on April 4, 2019.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Hayabusa2 Update: Japan Has Successfully 'Bombed' Asteroid Ryugu (For Science)!

An image of Ryugu that was taken by Hayabusa2's free-floating DCAM3 camera moments after the Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) slammed into the asteroid...on April 5, 2019.
JAXA, Kobe University, Chiba Institute of Technology, The University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Kochi University, Aichi Toho University, The University of Aizu, and Tokyo University of Science

Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa2’s SCI Put into Operation (Press Release)

The National Research and Development Agency's Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) separated the SCI (Small Carry-on Impactor) onboard the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 for deployment to Ryugu and put the SCI into operation.

After the start of the operation, the camera (DCAM3) separated from Hayabusa2 captured an image that shows ejection from Ryugu’s surface, which implies that the SCI had functioned as planned.

Hayabusa2 is operating normally. We will be providing further information once we have confirmed whether a crater has been created on Ryugu.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency


An image of the SCI that was taken by Hayabusa2 moments after the projectile separated from the spacecraft to fly towards asteroid Ryugu...on April 5, 2019.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Beresheet Has Entered Lunar Orbit!

An illustration depicting the many orbits that Israel's Beresheet spacecraft will take around the Moon...before the lander touches down on the lunar surface on April 11, 2019.

Israel Is Getting Closer To An Historic Moon Landing (Press Release)

YEHUD, Israel, April 4 – SpaceIL’s engineering team and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) this evening at 5:17 p.m. Israel time conducted the most critical maneuver to date of Beresheet’s journey to the Moon – the Lunar Capture. This maneuver enabled the spacecraft to be captured by the Moon’s gravity and begin orbiting the Moon – and with the Moon, orbiting the Earth.

Today’s maneuver moved the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around the Moon, with the closest point (perilune) 500 km to the Moon, with the farthest point (apolune) 10,000 km from the Moon. Unlike the longer orbits around the Earth, Beresheet’s first lunar orbit will last 14 hours. Before it lands on the Moon, each orbit thereafter will take only two hours. At the beginning of this week, Beresheet reached, for the last time, the closest point to Earth in its last Earth orbit, only 1,700 km, and continued on course to the point where it could join the lunar orbit, 400,000 km from Earth.

At 5:18 p.m. Israel time the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes, and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the Moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course. In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km from the Moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the Moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening Israel time, April 11.

SpaceIL Chairman, Morris Kahn: “The lunar capture is an historic event in and of itself – but it also joins Israel in a seven-nation club that has entered the Moon’s orbit. A week from today we’ll make more history by landing on the moon, joining three super powers who have done so. Today I am proud to be an Israeli.”

SpaceIL CEO, Ido Anteby: “After six weeks in space, we have succeeded in overcoming another critical stage by entering the Moon’s gravity. This is another significant achievement our engineering team achieved while demonstrating determination and creativity in finding solutions to unexpected challenges. We still have a long way until the lunar landing, but I‘m convinced our team will complete the mission to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon, making us all proud.”

IAI CEO, Nimrod Sheffer: “After a challenging journey, we made tonight another Israeli record and became the seventh nation to orbit the Moon. Even before Beresheet was launched, it already was a national success story that shows our groundbreaking technological capabilities. Tonight, we again reach new heights. In the coming week, our talented engineering team will work 24/7 to bring us to an historic event on April 11. Good luck Beresheet.”

Source: NASASpaceflight.com


An artist's concept of the Beresheet lunar lander in orbit around the Moon.

An artist's concept of the Beresheet lunar lander on the surface of the Moon.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Mars 2020 Update: America's First Interplanetary Chopper Continues to Take Shape at JPL...

Engineers work on the Mars Helicopter inside the Space Simulator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on February 1, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's Mars Helicopter Completes Flight Tests (News Release - March 28)

Since the Wright brothers first took to the skies of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Dec. 17, 1903, first flights have been important milestones in the life of any vehicle designed for air travel. After all, it's one thing to design an aircraft and make it fly on paper - or computer. It is quite another to put all the pieces together and watch them get off the ground.

In late January 2019, all the pieces making up the flight model (actual vehicle going to the Red Planet) of NASA's Mars Helicopter were put to the test.

Weighing in at no more than 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms), the helicopter is a technology demonstration project currently going through the rigorous verification process certifying it for Mars.

The majority of the testing the flight model is going through had to do with demonstrating how it can operate on Mars, including how it performs at Mars-like temperatures. Can the helicopter survive - and function - in cold temperatures, including nights with temperatures as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius)?

All this testing is geared towards February 2021, when the helicopter will reach the surface of the Red Planet, firmly nestled under the belly of the Mars 2020 rover. A few months later, it will be deployed and test flights (up to 90 seconds long) will begin - the first from the surface of another world.

"Gearing up for that first flight on Mars, we have logged over 75 minutes of flying time with an engineering model, which was a close approximation of our helicopter," said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "But this recent test of the flight model was the real deal. This is our helicopter bound for Mars. We needed to see that it worked as advertised."

While flying helicopters is commonplace here on Earth, flying hundreds of millions of miles (kilometers) away in the thin Martian atmosphere is something else entirely. And creating the right conditions for testing here on Earth presents its own set of challenges.

"The Martian atmosphere is only about one percent the density of Earth's," said Aung. "Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth - if you put your airfield 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) up. So you can't go somewhere and find that. You have to make it."

Aung and her Mars Helicopter team did just that in JPL's Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber. First, the team created a vacuum that sucks out all the nitrogen, oxygen and other gases from the air inside the mammoth cylinder. In their place the team injected carbon dioxide, the chief ingredient of Mars' atmosphere.

"Getting our helicopter into an extremely thin atmosphere is only part of the challenge," said Teddy Tzanetos, test conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL. "To truly simulate flying on Mars we have to take away two-thirds of Earth's gravity, because Mars' gravity is that much weaker."

The team accomplished this with a gravity offload system - a motorized lanyard attached to the top of the helicopter to provide an uninterrupted tug equivalent to two-thirds of Earth's gravity. While the team was understandably concerned with how the helicopter would fare on its first flight, they were equally concerned with how the gravity offload system would perform.

"The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter," said Tzanetos. "We only required a 2-inch (5-centimeter) hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher. It was a heck of a first flight."

The Mars Helicopter's first flight was followed up by a second in the vacuum chamber the following day. Logging a grand total of one minute of flight time at an altitude of 2 inches (5 centimeters), more than 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and foam have proven that they can work together as a cohesive unit.

"The next time we fly, we fly on Mars," said Aung. "Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn't help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past. The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well."

The Mars Helicopter project at JPL in Pasadena, California, manages the helicopter development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Mars Helicopter will launch as a technology demonstrator 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. It is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

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. 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.

The Mars 2020 project at JPL in Pasadena, California, manages rover development for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Engineers work on the Mars Helicopter inside the Space Simulator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on January 18, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Monday, April 01, 2019

Europa Clipper Update: A Component Prototype for NASA's Next Jupiter-bound Space Probe Is Tested in Virginia...

A prototype of the Europa Clipper's high-gain antenna is tested inside the Experimental Test Range at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
NASA / Langley

Europa Clipper High-Gain Antenna Undergoes Testing (News Release)

It probably goes without saying, but this isn't your everyday satellite dish.

In fact, it's not a satellite dish at all. It's a high-gain antenna (HGA), and a future version of it will send and receive signals to and from Earth from a looping orbit around Jupiter.

The antenna will take that long journey aboard NASA's Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa to see whether the icy orb could harbor conditions suitable for life. Scientists believe there's a massive salty ocean beneath Europa's icy surface. The antenna will beam back high-resolution images and scientific data from Europa Clipper's cameras and science instruments.

The full-scale prototype antenna, which at 10 feet (3 meters) tall is the same height as a standard basketball hoop, is in the Experimental Test Range (ETR) at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and Langley are testing the prototype in the ETR in order to assess its performance and demonstrate the high pointing accuracies required for the Europa Clipper mission.

The ETR is an indoor electromagnetic test facility that allows researchers to characterize transmitters, receivers, antennas and other electromagnetic components and subsystems in a scientifically controlled environment.

"Several years ago we scoured the country to find a facility that was capable of making the difficult measurements that would be required on the HGA and found that the ETR clearly was it,"said Thomas Magner, assistant project manager for Europa Clipper at the Applied Physics Laboratory. "The measurements that will be performed in the ETR will demonstrate that the Europa Clipper mission can get a large volume of scientific data back to Earth and ultimately determine the habitability of Europa."

Tests on this prototype antenna are scheduled to wrap up soon; however, researchers plan to return to the ETR in 2020 to conduct additional tests on Europa Clipper's high-gain antenna flight article. Europa Clipper plans to launch in the 2020s, with travel time to Jupiter taking three to seven years (depending on the launch vehicle and which planetary alignments can be utilized).

JPL manages the Europa Clipper mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The multiple-flyby concept was developed in partnership with the Applied Physics Laboratory.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


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