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


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


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