Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Lakers Take on the Warriors in a Playoff Before the NBA Playoffs...

LeBron James tries to block a shot by Steph Curry in a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors.
Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images

Lakers Qualify for NBA Play-In Tournament (News Release)

The Play-In Tournament begins Tuesday, May 18 and concludes Friday, May 21. In the Western Conference, the Lakers will take on the Warriors on 5/19 at 7pm PT. If they win, the Lakers will be the 7th seed and take on the Phoenix Suns. If the Lakers lose, they would take on the winner of Memphis and San Antonio on 5/21 (time TBD) with the winner of that game being the 8th seed and would face Utah in the first round of the playoffs. Both possible play-in games for the Lakers will be broadcast exclusively on ESPN.

Here is a description of the Play-In tournament format:

The teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have two opportunities to win one game to earn a playoff spot. The teams with the ninth-highest and tenth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have to win two consecutive games to earn a playoff spot.

At the conclusion of the regular season but before the first round of the playoffs, the team with the 7th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 8th-highest winning percentage in a Play-In Game (the “Seven-Eight Game”). The winner of the Seven-Eight Game in each conference will earn the No. 7 seed.

The team with the 9th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 10th-highest winning percentage in the “Nine-Ten Game”. The loser of the Seven-Eight Game will host the winner of the Nine-Ten Game in a Play-In Game, and the winner of that game in each conference will earn the No. 8 seed.

The winners of the Play-In tournament will receive the 7th and 8th-seeded positions in each conference. Following the Play-In Tournament, the NBA Playoffs will commence with the traditional 16-team, best-of-seven series structure. The NBA Playoffs will start on Saturday, May 22.

Source: NBA.com

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Kobe Continues to be Immortalized...

Just thought I'd share this image after Kobe Bryant was officially inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Uncasville, Connecticut earlier today. To quote Vanessa Bryant, who gave an acceptance speech in her late husband's honor: "He's still winning."

Congrats, Mamba.

Kobe Bryant was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 15, 2021.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Photo of the Day: The Lakers' Newest Championship Banner Is Finally Unveiled at STAPLES Center!

The Los Angeles Lakers' newest championship banner is finally unveiled in the rafters at STAPLES Center...on May 12, 2021.

Seven months after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to win the 2020 NBA Finals, the Lake Show's newest championship banner was finally unveiled to the public at STAPLES Center last night. This came before the Lakers—who were without LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Alex Caruso and Dennis Schröder due to injuries—defeated the Houston Rockets, 124-122, to remain in the 7th playoff spot in the Western Conference. While I have no expectations that the Lakers will repeat this summer (though doing so would be nice as this year marks two decades since Los Angeles went on a 15-1 postseason run to garner a second straight NBA title in the Shaq-Kobe era), I'm glad that they reminded us that they're the defending champions...and that the road to the Larry O'Brien Trophy still runs through the City of Angels.

Even though the Lakers will be starting each playoff round, should they advance, on the road. Carry on.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Voyager Update: More Amazing Discoveries Beyond the Heliosphere...

An artist's concept of a Voyager spacecraft venturing through the cosmos.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

As NASA’s Voyager 1 Surveys Interstellar Space, Its Density Measurements Are Making Waves (News Release - May 11)

In the sparse collection of atoms that fills interstellar space, Voyager 1 has measured a long-lasting series of waves where it previously only detected sporadic bursts.

Until recently, every spacecraft in history had made all of its measurements inside our heliosphere, the magnetic bubble inflated by our Sun. But on Aug. 25, 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 changed that. As it crossed the heliosphere’s boundary, it became the first human-made object to enter – and measure – interstellar space. Now eight years into its interstellar journey, a close listen of Voyager 1’s data is yielding new insights into what that frontier is like.

If our heliosphere is a ship sailing interstellar waters, Voyager 1 is a life raft just dropped from the deck, determined to survey the currents. For now, any rough waters it feels are mostly from our heliosphere’s wake. But farther out, it will sense the stirrings from sources deeper in the cosmos. Eventually, our heliosphere’s presence will fade from its measurements completely.

“We have some ideas about how far Voyager will need to get to start seeing more pure interstellar waters, so to speak,” said Stella Ocker, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the newest member of the Voyager team. “But we’re not entirely sure when we’ll reach that point.”

Ocker’s new study, published on Monday in Nature Astronomy, reports what may be the first continuous measurement of the density of material in interstellar space. “This detection offers us a new way to measure the density of interstellar space and opens up a new pathway for us to explore the structure of the very nearby interstellar medium,” Ocker said.

When one pictures the stuff between the stars – astronomers call it the “interstellar medium,” a spread-out soup of particles and radiation – one might reimagine a calm, silent, serene environment. That would be a mistake.

“I have used the phrase ‘the quiescent interstellar medium’ – but you can find lots of places that are not particularly quiescent,” said Jim Cordes, space physicist at Cornell and co-author of the paper.

Like the ocean, the interstellar medium is full of turbulent waves. The largest come from our galaxy’s rotation, as space smears against itself and sets forth undulations tens of light-years across. Smaller (though still gigantic) waves rush from supernova blasts, stretching billions of miles from crest to crest. The smallest ripples are usually from our own Sun, as solar eruptions send shockwaves through space that permeate our heliosphere’s lining.

These crashing waves reveal clues about the density of the interstellar medium – a value that affects our understanding of the shape of our heliosphere, how stars form, and even our own location in the galaxy. As these waves reverberate through space, they vibrate the electrons around them, which ring out at characteristic frequencies depending on how crammed together they are. The higher the pitch of that ringing, the higher the electron density. Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave Subsystem – which includes two “bunny ear” antennas sticking out 30 feet (10 meters) behind the spacecraft – was designed to hear that ringing.

In November 2012, three months after exiting the heliosphere, Voyager 1 heard interstellar sounds for the first time. Six months later, another “whistle” appeared – this time louder and even higher pitched. The interstellar medium appeared to be getting thicker, and quickly.

These momentary whistles continue at irregular intervals in Voyager’s data today. They’re an excellent way to study the interstellar medium’s density, but it does take some patience.

“They’ve only been seen about once a year, so relying on these kind of fortuitous events meant that our map of the density of interstellar space was kind of sparse,” Ocker said.

Ocker set out to find a running measure of interstellar medium density to fill in the gaps – one that doesn’t depend on the occasional shockwaves propagating out from the Sun. After filtering through Voyager 1’s data, looking for weak but consistent signals, she found a promising candidate. It started to pick up in mid-2017, right around the time of another whistle.

“It’s virtually a single tone,” said Ocker. “And over time, we do hear it change – but the way the frequency moves around tells us how the density is changing.”

Ocker calls the new signal a plasma wave emission, and it, too, appeared to track the density of interstellar space. When the abrupt whistles appeared in the data, the tone of the emission rises and falls with them. The signal also resembles one observed in Earth’s upper atmosphere that’s known to track with the electron density there.

“This is really exciting, because we are able to regularly sample the density over a very long stretch of space, the longest stretch of space that we have so far,” said Ocker. “This provides us with the most complete map of the density and the interstellar medium as seen by Voyager.”

Based on the signal, electron density around Voyager 1 started rising in 2013 and reached its current levels about mid-2015, a roughly 40-fold increase in density. The spacecraft appears to be in a similar density range, with some fluctuations, through the entire dataset they analyzed which ended in early 2020.

Ocker and her colleagues are currently trying to develop a physical model of how the plasma wave emission is produced that will be key to interpreting it. In the meantime, Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave Subsystem keeps sending back data farther and farther from home, where every new discovery has the potential to make us reimagining our home in the cosmos.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Elon Musk's Favorite Cryptocurrency Just Paid for a Satellite That's Headin' Towards Lunar Orbit Aboard One of Elon's Rockets Next Year...

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX

SpaceX to Launch DOGE-1 to the Moon! (Press Release - May 9)

CALGARY, AB /PRNewswire/ - Geometric Energy Corporation (GEC) announced today the DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon—the first-ever commercial lunar payload in history paid entirely with DOGE—will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Geometric Energy Corporation's DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon will involve Geometric Space Corporation (GSC) mission management collaborating with SpaceX to launch a 40kg cubesat as a rideshare on a Falcon 9 lunar payload mission in Q1 2022. The payload will obtain lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board with integrated communications and computational systems.

"Having officially transacted with DOGE for a deal of this magnitude, Geometric Energy Corporation and SpaceX have solidified DOGE as a unit of account for lunar business in the space sector," said Geometric Energy's Chief Executive Officer Samuel Reid.

"This mission will demonstrate the application of cryptocurrency beyond Earth orbit and set the foundation for interplanetary commerce," said SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Tom Ochinero. "We're excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!"

Indeed, through this very transaction, DOGE has proven to be a fast, reliable, and cryptographically secure digital currency that operates when traditional banks cannot and is sophisticated enough to finance a commercial Moon mission in full. It has been chosen as the unit of account for all lunar business between SpaceX and Geometric Energy Corporation and sets precedent for future missions to the Moon and Mars.

POINTBLANK LLC, Mimir Solutions, and Iteration Syndicate (ITS) will collaborate with Geometric on software and hardware design for the mission. Additional payload space will be allocated to include digital art in the form of space plaques provided by GeometricLabs Corporation and Geometric Gaming Corporation.

Source: Geometric Energy Corporation

****

Dogecoin investors want the Shiba Inu-inspired cryptocurrency to head to the Moon...both figuratively and literally!

Monday, May 10, 2021

Farewell, Bennu... OSIRIS-REx Is Headin' Home!

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departing from asteroid Bennu to head back to Earth.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Heads for Earth with Asteroid Sample (Press Release)

After nearly five years in space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with an abundance of rocks and dust from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

On Monday, May 10, at 4:23 p.m. EDT the spacecraft fired its main engines full throttle for seven minutes – its most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. This burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year cruise towards Earth.

After releasing the sample capsule, OSIRIS-REx will have completed its primary mission. It will fire its engines to fly by Earth safely, putting it on a trajectory to circle the Sun inside of Venus’ orbit.

After orbiting the Sun twice, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is due to reach Earth Sept. 24, 2023. Upon return, the capsule containing pieces of Bennu will separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah's West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.

“OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovative way in which exploration unfolds in real time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The team rose to the challenge, and now we have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”

To realize the mission’s multi-year plan, a dozen navigation engineers made calculations and wrote computer code to instruct the spacecraft when and how to push itself away from Bennu. After departing from Bennu, getting the sample to Earth safely is the team’s next critical goal. This includes planning future maneuvers to keep the spacecraft on course throughout its journey.

“Our whole mindset has been, ‘Where are we in space relative to Bennu?’” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Now our mindset has shifted to ‘Where is the spacecraft in relation to Earth?’”

The navigation cameras that helped orient the spacecraft in relation to Bennu were turned off April 9, after snapping their last images of the asteroid. With Bennu in the rearview mirror, engineers are using NASA’s Deep Space Network of global spacecraft communications facilities to steer the OSIRIS-REx by sending it radio signals. By measuring the frequency of the waves returned from the spacecraft transponder, engineers can tell how fast OSIRIS-REx is moving. Engineers measure how long it takes for radio signals to get from the spacecraft back to Earth in order to determine its location.

Exceeding Mission Expectations

The May 10 departure date was precisely timed based on the alignment of Bennu with Earth. The goal of the return maneuver is to get the spacecraft within about 6,000 miles (approximately 10,000 kilometers) of Earth in September 2023. Although OSIRIS-REx still has plenty of fuel remaining, the team is trying to preserve as much as possible for a potential extended mission to another asteroid after returning the sample capsule to Earth. The team will investigate the feasibility of such a mission this summer.

The spacecraft’s course will be determined mainly by the Sun’s gravity, but engineers will need to occasionally make small course adjustments via engine burns.

“We need to do regular corrections to bring the trajectory increasingly closer to Earth’s atmosphere for the sample release, and to account for small errors that might have accumulated since the last burn,” said Peter Antreasian, OSIRIS-REx navigation lead at KinetX Aerospace, which is based in Simi Valley, California.

The team will perform course adjustments a few weeks prior to Earth re-entry in order to precisely target the location and angle for the sample capsule’s release into Earth’s atmosphere. Coming in too low could cause the capsule to bounce out of the atmosphere like a pebble skipping off a lake; too high and the capsule could burn up due to friction and heat from the atmosphere. If OSIRIS-REx fails to release the capsule, the team has a backup plan to divert it away from Earth and try again in 2025.

“There’s a lot of emotion within the team about departure,” Moreau said. “I think everyone has a great sense of accomplishment, because we faced all these daunting tasks and were able to accomplish all the objectives thrown at us. But there’s also some nostalgia and disappointment that this part of the mission is coming to an end.”

OSIRIS-REx exceeded many expectations. Most recently, in the midst of a global pandemic, the team flawlessly executed the mission’s most critical operation, collecting more than 2 ounces (60 grams) of soil from Bennu’s surface.

Leading up to sample collection, a number of surprises kept the team on its toes. For example, a week after the spacecraft entered its first orbit around Bennu, on Dec. 31, 2018, the team realized that the asteroid was releasing small pieces of rock into space.

“We had to scramble to verify that the small particles being ejected from the surface did not present a hazard to the spacecraft,” Moreau said.

Upon arrival at the asteroid, team members were also astonished to find that Bennu is littered with boulders.

“We really had this idea that we were arriving on an asteroid with open real estate,” said Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator, based at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The reality was a big shocker.”

To overcome the extreme and unexpected ruggedness of Bennu’s surface, engineers had to quickly develop a more accurate navigation technique to target smaller-than-expected sites for sample collection.

The OSIRIS-REx mission was instrumental in both confirming and refuting several scientific findings. Among those confirmed was a technique that used observations from Earth to predict that the minerals on the asteroid would be carbon-rich and show signs of ancient water. One finding that proved unsuccessful was that Bennu would have a smooth surface, which scientists predicted by measuring how much heat radiated off its surface.

Scientists will use the information gleaned from Bennu to refine theoretical models and improve future predictions.

“This mission emphasizes why we have to do science and exploration in multiple ways – both from Earth and from up-close in space – because assumptions and models are just that,” Enos said.

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

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Two images showing the collector head being placed inside the Sample Return Capsule aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft...on October 27, 2020.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

One last image that NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took of asteroid Bennu...on April 9, 2021.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona; Writer Daniel Stolte, University of Arizona

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Photos of the Day: Crops in the Backyard...

A snapshot of the corn that my Mom is growing in the backyard...on May 8, 2021.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone! In honor of this special occasion, here are pictures of corn that my Mom is growing in the backyard. I took these photos yesterday, in case you're wondering. The corn was planted a few weeks back, so apparently, it's gonna take a while before they are extracted and turned into a delicious snack that I can grub on while sitting at my computer typing informative Blog entries like this one. Hah! Anyways, I hope all of y'all have something special planned to celebrate the love, hard work and sacrifice that your mothers have made to give you the life that you enjoy today. Assuming, of course, that you're living a good life. Carry on!

A snapshot of the corn that my Mom is growing in the backyard...on May 8, 2021.

A snapshot of the corn that my Mom is growing in the backyard...on May 8, 2021.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Peregrine Update: Dogecoin Is LITERALLY Headin' to the Moon!

A gold-plated coin representing the popular cryptocurrency Dogecoin will fly aboard Astrobotic's Peregrine lander to the Moon's surface later this year.
Astrobotic

A few hours ago, Astrobotic tweeted the photo above showing a gold-plated coin that represents the popular cryptocurrency Dogecoin. It turns out that someone submitted this item six years ago to fly aboard the Peregrine lunar lander as part of Astrobotic's Moonbox program...which, in partnership with the global shipping company DHL, allows the general public to fly time capsules aboard Astrobotic's spacecraft to the Moon's surface (for a considerable price). The online posting of this image couldn't come at a better time! Dogecoin's value is steadily going up on the market as investors who purchased this altcoin are hoping that the Shiba Inu-inspired crypto jumps to $1 a coin after Doge's biggest endorser, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, hosts tomorrow's episode of Saturday Night Live.


Going back to the Peregrine lunar lander, I spent some considerable cash to fly aboard the spacecraft courtesy of various time capsules that were purchased through Moonbox. Not just personal photos, videos, artwork and my name placed on an engraved chip, but my DNA has been included as well! I'll speak more about this after Peregrine finally launches and hopefully touches down safely on the Moon's surface later this year.

Dogecoin to the Moon!

An artist's concept of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the Moon.
Astrobotic

Thursday, May 06, 2021

QueSST Update: NASA's Next X-Plane Is a Year Away from Flight...

Construction continues on NASA's X-59 QueSST aircraft at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California.
Lockheed Martin

X-59 Team Installs Quiet Supersonic Technologies (News Release - May 5)

NASA is targeting 2022 for the first flight of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) research aircraft. Its mission – fly over communities to collect data that could cut passenger travel time in half without disturbing people on the ground.

NASA’s X-59 is equipped with supersonic technologies that aid in lowering the sound of the sonic boom. In this picture, the black rectangle panels are the air intakes for the environmental control system (ECS) that regulates the temperature, cabin pressure, and air distribution. The silver grate located at the rear of one of the ECS panels is the exhaust — both of these sections are traditionally housed on the underside of the plane. By placing these features on top of the X-59 wing, the wing blocks and prevents the ECS exhaust from interacting with the shock waves on the bottom of the aircraft. This unique design approach to re-shaping the shock wave pattern substantially reduces the sonic boom to more of a sonic “thump” when it reaches the ground.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Peregrine Update: The General Public Will Get to See This Amazing Lunar Lander and Other Spacecraft Get Made in Person...

A composite image showing the Moonshot Museum inside Astrobotic's headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Astrobotic

Moonshot Space Museum Coming to Pittsburgh (Press Release)

Astrobotic announces the Moonshot Museum, where visitors will experience real spacecraft being built and be immersed in hands-on lunar exploration activities.

Astrobotic, a space robotics company located in Pittsburgh’s Northside, announced its plans to launch the Moonshot Museum, Pennsylvania’s first museum dedicated exclusively to space. The new museum, currently under construction and set to open in the summer of 2022, will be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization co-located in a gifted facility inside Astrobotic's headquarters.

The Museum’s feature attraction will be a large clean room window through which visitors can watch real lunar landers and rovers being built and readied to fly to the Moon. Museum visitors will experience the thrill of spaceflight up close and learn about possible career paths in the $425 billion thriving space industry through interactive exhibits, educational programs, and curated experiences.

“Space is more than just rocket science. We want to provide the ‘spark’ – that moment when an individual is inspired to pursue a space or tech career who may not have otherwise done so. For Astrobotic, success is as much about execution of its other-worldly missions and business as it is about engaging with and serving the communities it is a part of,” said John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO and Chair of the Moonshot Museum’s Board of Directors. “When you mention space, people think of different things. Whether it’s stars, planets, astronauts, or engineers, a common theme is the persistence of curiosity. Curiosity is a spark that can either catch fire or fizzle out – and we want it to catch!” said Sam Moore, Executive Director of the Moonshot Museum. “Fostering confidence for those traditionally under-represented in STEAM is of vital importance,” added Moore.

The Moonshot Museum’s mission is to make space more accessible by inspiring a diverse audience to write the future of space commerce, science, exploration, and settlement. Both digital and on-site educational workshops will simulate real space missions and foster tech career awareness and readiness in the Pittsburgh region and around the world. The programs will aim to propel individuals of all backgrounds to pursue space careers across a variety of disciplines ranging from science and engineering to medicine, business, law, policy, and the humanities and arts.

“It's about creating STEAM opportunities that will change a child's life,” said Bill Peduto, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh. “Looking in through that clean room window, they’ll be able to see something that will leave this planet, and they’ll be changed forever. It's about bringing the Moon to Pittsburgh.”

The Moonshot Museum is supported by numerous partners, and the Museum’s facilities and utilities have been gifted by Astrobotic. Seed funding and startup operations for the Moonshot Museum are made possible with the support of the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

“The Foundation made this lead gift to enable people to see first-hand Pittsburgh’s leadership role in the future of lunar travel, and to inspire young people to imagine their own futures in this exciting and growing industry,” said Sam Reiman, Director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The museum is currently seeking donations through its website, and welcomes space, science, and education enthusiasts to volunteer to help run future museum programs. For more information, please visit moonshotmuseum.org.

Source: Astrobotic

****

The full-scale Structural Test Model for Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander...which is set to head to the Moon aboard United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

May the 4th Be with You!

I now have a 5G internet connection at home!

Just as an FYI, I'm fully vaccinated and I now have a 5G internet connection at home... Take that, MAGA and QAnon conspiracy theorists!

PS: Happy Star Wars Day!

Grogu has the case of the munchies on Star Wars Day.

Monday, May 03, 2021

The INTERSTELLAR PROBE: An Exciting New Mission to the Cosmos is in the Works...

An artist's concept of the proposed Interstellar Probe.

So for much of today, I've been reading online articles—like this one—about an intriguing deep space mission that's been under study by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) for quite some time now. Known as the Interstellar Probe, this spacecraft would launch in the early 2030s, possibly pass by the distant dwarf planets Quaoar or Gonggong during its voyage, and reach our solar system's heliosphere boundary just 15 years after lift-off. By comparison, it took the twin Voyager robotic probes 35 years to reach the same location. And once all is said and done, the Interstellar Probe will have traveled as far as 1,000 astronomical units (the Earth is 1 astronomical unit, or 93 million miles, from the Sun) by the time its planned 50-year mission comes to an end.

It's only fitting that JHUAPL would be the organization that's doing a study on this fascinating project. It was, after all, this laboratory that built a spacecraft which gave us our first close-up glimpse of Pluto (New Horizons) and constructed another probe that traveled to the opposite end of our solar system...literally towards the Sun (the Parker Solar Probe). Scientists say that NASA's powerful Space Launch System rocket (which will soon be prepped for its maiden flight to the Moon as we speak) will make this cosmic sojourn possible. The SLS will not be launching the Europa Clipper to Jupiter's icy moon Europa as originally intended, but this launch vehicle will have been operational for about a decade by the time it's ready to hurl the Interstellar Probe to the edge of our solar system and beyond. We'll overlook the fact that SpaceX fanboys will be foaming at the mouth to get this trailblazing explorer to depart Earth on a Starship rocket instead. I prefer SLS.

JHUAPL should complete its study of the Interstellar Probe within a year...and then submit it to NASA for consideration soon afterward. Let's cross our fingers that this project gets greenlit! Happy Monday.

The Space Launch System's core stage booster for Artemis 1 now sits inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on April 29, 2021.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Photos of the Day: Pooches Behind My Backyard...

A White Shepherd, Lhasa Apso and American Bulldog milling about in my neighbor's backyard...on April 30, 2021.

Just thought I'd share these pics of these three canines milling about in my neighbor's backyard. In the beginning (which would be earlier this year, as the houses behind my home just recently completed construction in Pomona, CA), my neighbor only had one dog: the large White Shepherd. But over the past week, the two other pooches—the American Bulldog and small Lhasa Apso (or it might be a Shih Tzu; I'll just assume that it's a Lhasa Apso)—suddenly showed up to give the White Shepherd company. [Even though the White Shepherd seemingly doesn't care that he (I think my neighbor named him Kobe) has new companions who now shared the backyard with him.] Is my neighbor dogsitting for a friend or something? Hm.

As you can see, I definitely need dogs of my own. Well, that—and a new smartphone with a better camera. Happy Sunday!

The White Shepherd staring towards my camera...on January 25, 2021.

The American Bulldog stands near the Lhasa Apso as it stares toward my camera...on April 30, 2021.

The American Bulldog and Lhasa Apso milling about in my neighbor's backyard...on April 30, 2021.

The White Shepherd and American Bulldog milling about in my neighbor's backyard...on April 30, 2021.

The White Shepherd, Lhasa Apso and American Bulldog milling about in my neighbor's backyard...on April 30, 2021.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

On This Day in 2011: The World's Most Wanted Fugitive Is Neutralized by U.S. Navy SEALs...

A screenshot from the 2012 film ZERO DARK THIRTY...which dramatized the U.S. military operation that killed Osama bin Laden, on May 2, 2011 (Pakistan Time).

At this moment a decade ago, two stealth helicopters carrying the members of SEAL Team Six flew in to Abbottabad, Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden. With the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 approaching in a little over four months, it was only proper to commemorate the military operation that would ensure that the world's most wanted fugitive was wiped off the face of the Earth. Granted, Al-Qaeda continues to remain a threat today...but the death of bin Laden was a major blow to the terrorist network. There have been no major Al-Qaeda attacks on America since its leader was shot and killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011—even though this was unfortunately made up for with the rise of the Islamic State and its atrocities in the Middle East a few years later.

Nevertheless, the death of Osama bin Laden was a high point in the war on terror...and one that allowed President Biden to recently announce that the United States and its allies will begin a full withdrawal of their military forces from Afghanistan by September 11. America's longest war will soon come to an end, and this is thanks to the victory that a group of elite Special Forces soldiers attained at a two-story fortified compound in Pakistan 10 years ago. Happy First Day of May (unless you live in Pakistan, where it's May 2)! Carry on.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Ingenuity Update: The Mars Helicopter Is Ready to Broaden Its Horizon...

Using a camera on its robotic arm, the Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter next to it...on April 6, 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to Begin New Demonstration Phase (Press Release)

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission. Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.

This new phase will begin after the helicopter completes its next two flights. The decision to add an operations demonstration is a result of the Perseverance rover being ahead of schedule with the thorough checkout of all vehicle systems since its February 18 landing, and its science team choosing a nearby patch of crater bed for its first detailed explorations. With the Mars Helicopter’s energy, telecommunications, and in-flight navigation systems performing beyond expectation, an opportunity arose to allow the helicopter to continue exploring its capabilities with an operations demonstration, without significantly impacting rover scheduling.

“The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team’s near-term science goals.”

The operations demonstration will begin in about two weeks with the helicopter’s sixth flight. Until then, Ingenuity will be in a transitional phase that includes its fourth and fifth forays into Mars’ crimson skies. Flight four will send the rotorcraft about 436 feet (133 meters) south to collect aerial imagery of a potential new landing zone before returning to land at Wright Brothers Field, the name for the Martian airfield on which Ingenuity’s first flight took place. This 873-foot (266-meter) roundtrip effort would surpass the range, speed, and duration marks achieved on the third flight. Ingenuity was programmed to execute a fourth flight Friday, with a takeoff to take place at 10:46 a.m. EDT (7:46 a.m. PDT, 12:30 p.m. local Mars time) and first data to be returned at 1:39 p.m. EDT (10:39 a.m. PDT). The fifth flight would send Ingenuity on a one-way mission, landing at the new site. If Ingenuity remains healthy after those flights, the next phase can begin.

Change of Course

Ingenuity’s transition from conducting a technology demonstration to an operations demonstration brings with it a new flight envelope. Along with those one-way flights, there will be more precision maneuvering, greater use of its aerial-observation capabilities, and more risk overall.

The change also means Ingenuity will require less support from the Perseverance rover team, which is looking ahead for targets to take rock and sediment samples in search of ancient microscopic life. On April 26 – the mission’s 66th sol, or Martian day – Perseverance drove 33 feet (10 meters) with the goal to identify targets.

“With the short drive, we have already begun our move south toward a location the science team believes is worthy of investigation and our first sampling,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for the Perseverance rover from Caltech in Pasadena, California. “We’ll spend the next couple of hundred sols executing our first science campaign looking for interesting rock outcrop along this 2-kilometer (1.24-mile) patch of crater floor before likely heading north and then west toward Jezero Crater’s fossil river delta.”

With short drives expected for Perseverance in the near term, Ingenuity may execute flights that land near the rover’s current location or its next anticipated parking spot. The helicopter can use these opportunities to perform aerial observations of rover science targets, potential rover routes, and inaccessible features while also capturing stereo images for digital elevation maps. The lessons learned from these efforts will provide significant benefit to future mission planners. These scouting flights are a bonus and not a requirement for Perseverance to complete its science mission.

The cadence of flights during Ingenuity’s operations demonstration phase will slow from once every few days to about once every two or three weeks, and the forays will be scheduled to avoid interfering with Perseverance’s science operations. The team will assess flight operations after 30 sols and will complete flight operations no later than the end of August. That timing will allow the rover team time to wrap up its planned science activities and prepare for solar conjunction – the period in mid-October when Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, blocking communications.

“We have so appreciated the support provided by the Perseverance rover team during our technology demonstration phase,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “Now we have a chance to pay it forward, demonstrating for future robotic and even crewed missions the benefits of having a partner nearby that can provide a different perspective – one from the sky. We are going to take this opportunity and run with it – and fly with it.”

****

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

ONLY 3 DAYS REMAIN for You to Send Your Name to the Moon by Supporting the Iris Lunar Rover!

An artist's concept of the Iris Rover on the surface of the Moon.
Carnegie Mellon University

Just thought I'd re-share this cool crowdfunding campaign where you can send your name to the Moon by donating a generous contribution to the Iris lunar mission! This miniature, student-built rover is set to fly later this year aboard Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander...which is hitching a NASA-sponsored ride on the United Launch Alliance's newest rocket, the Vulcan Centaur. The students at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)—which constructed Iris—are looking to gain extra funding to cover the final cost of this mission (which includes paying for vital pre-launch tests of flight components, as well as funding the operational cost of the project's Mission Control itself)...and they're looking to the general public for help in doing so. Their campaign goal is to reach at least $50,000 (they're currently at $39,411), and they have until SATURDAY, MAY 1 to achieve it. It will be up to CMU to decide whether or not the Iris Team can keep the money already donated if they fail to reach their goal.

So here is the link where you can make the dreams of many aspiring college students, who are clearly passionate about space exploration, a reality:

https://crowdfunding.cmu.edu/campaigns/moonshot#/

For your awesome donation—which can be as little as $50your name will be included with those of other benefactors (like me) on the flash memory aboard the Iris Rover! Ad lunam.

The Iris Rover undergoes testing inside a sandbox at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Carnegie Mellon University

An artist's concept of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the Moon.
Astrobotic

The full-scale Structural Test Model for Astrobotic's Peregrine lander...which is set to head to the Moon aboard United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year.

A screenshot from an animated video depicting the Vulcan Centaur rocket--which will launch the Peregrine lander to the Moon later this year--soaring into space.
United Launch Alliance

The Vulcan Centaur's Pathfinder Tanking Test booster is about to be installed atop its mobile launcher platform inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida...on February 15, 2021.
United Launch Alliance

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Perseverance Update: One Day After Ingenuity's Momentous Flight on Mars, the Rover Makes History of Its Own...

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, the MOXIE instrument is about to be installed inside the chassis of the Perseverance Mars rover.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Extracts First Oxygen from Red Planet (Press Release - April 21)

The growing list of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.

While the technology demonstration is just getting started, it could pave the way for science fiction to become science fact – isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to help power rockets that could lift astronauts off the planet’s surface. Such devices also might one day provide breathable air for astronauts themselves. MOXIE is an exploration technology investigation – as is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) weather station – and is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for STMD. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”

For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is key, said MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory.

To burn its fuel, a rocket must have more oxygen by weight. Getting four astronauts off the Martian surface on a future mission would require approximately 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen. In contrast, astronauts living and working on Mars would require far less oxygen to breathe. “The astronauts who spend a year on the surface will maybe use one metric ton between them,” Hecht said.

Hauling 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars would be an arduous task. Transporting a one-ton oxygen converter – a larger, more powerful descendant of MOXIE that could produce those 25 tons – would be far more economical and practical.

Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.

The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant materials. These include 3D-printed nickel alloy parts, which heat and cool the gases flowing through it, and a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat. A thin gold coating on the outside of MOXIE reflects infrared heat, keeping it from radiating outward and potentially damaging other parts of Perseverance.

In this first operation, MOXIE’s oxygen production was quite modest – about 5 grams, equivalent to about 10 minutes worth of breathable oxygen for an astronaut. MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.

This technology demonstration was designed to ensure the instrument survived the launch from Earth, a nearly seven-month journey through deep space, and touchdown with Perseverance on Feb. 18. MOXIE is expected to extract oxygen at least nine more times over the course of a Martian year (nearly two years on Earth).

These oxygen-production runs will come in three phases. The first phase will check out and characterize the instrument’s function, while the second phase will run the instrument in varying atmospheric conditions, such as different times of day and seasons. In the third phase, Hecht said, “we’ll push the envelope” – trying new operating modes, or introducing “new wrinkles, such as a run where we compare operations at three or more different temperatures.”

“MOXIE isn’t just the first instrument to produce oxygen on another world,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations within STMD. It’s the first technology of its kind that will help future missions “live off the land,” using elements of another world’s environment, also known as in-situ resource utilization.

“It’s taking regolith, the substance you find on the ground, and putting it through a processing plant, making it into a large structure, or taking carbon dioxide – the bulk of the atmosphere – and converting it into oxygen,” she said. “This process allows us to convert these abundant materials into useable things: propellant, breathable air, or, combined with hydrogen, water.”

More About Perseverance

A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

****

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Photos of the Day: I'm FULLY VACCINATED!

Posing with my COVID-19 vaccination record card after I got my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine...on April 21, 2021.

Happy Hump Day, everyone! Just thought I'd share these pics that I took after I got my second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine at Cal Poly Pomona earlier today. This comes exactly three weeks after I got my first dose...and just like the first time around, I celebrated this milestone by going to Krispy Kreme to feast on another Original Glazed Doughnut afterwards! (Oh, and I then bought lunch at Chick-fil-A.) If it's anything like the first time around, I'll only wake up with a slight pain at the injection site on my upper right arm the next morning. Knock on wood.

As a reminder, folks 16 years of age and older are now eligible to get vaccinated in the United States! Don't wait! Get your shot and let's end the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all! Overlooking the fact that we'll all need to receive a third dose within the next 12 months—and most likely be vaccinated annually just like what's done with the seasonal flu... Carry on!

Posing with my COVID-19 vaccination record card after I got my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine...on April 21, 2021.

About to enjoy this Original Glazed Doughnut that I got for free from Krispy Kreme...courtesy of my COVID-19 vaccination record card on April 21, 2021.

Monday, April 19, 2021

INGENUITY HAS MADE AVIATION AND INTERPLANETARY HISTORY!

A camera underneath Ingenuity's fuselage took this photo of the helicopter's shadow as the vehicle made its historic first flight on Mars...on April 19, 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Succeeds in Historic First Flight (Press Release)

Monday, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. The Ingenuity team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT).

“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit.”

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.

Ingenuity’s initial flight demonstration was autonomous – piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick, and its flight was not observable from Earth in real time.

NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen announced the name for the Martian airfield on which the flight took place.

“Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” Zurbuchen said. “While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked. As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration.”

Ingenuity’s chief pilot, Håvard Grip, announced that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the United Nations’ civil aviation agency – presented NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration with official ICAO designator IGY, call-sign INGENUITY.

These details will be included officially in the next edition of ICAO’s publication Designators for Aircraft Operating Agencies, Aeronautical Authorities and Services. The location of the flight has also been given the ceremonial location designation JZRO for Jezero Crater.

As one of NASA’s technology demonstration projects, the 19.3-inch-tall (49-centimeter-tall) Ingenuity Mars Helicopter contains no science instruments inside its tissue-box-size fuselage. Instead, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) rotorcraft is intended to demonstrate whether future exploration of the Red Planet could include an aerial perspective.

This first flight was full of unknowns. The Red Planet has a significantly lower gravity – one-third that of Earth’s – and an extremely thin atmosphere with only 1% the pressure at the surface compared to our planet. This means there are relatively few air molecules with which Ingenuity’s two 4-foot-wide (1.2-meter-wide) rotor blades can interact to achieve flight. The helicopter contains unique components, as well as off-the-shelf-commercial parts – many from the smartphone industry – that were tested in deep space for the first time with this mission.

“The Mars Helicopter project has gone from ‘blue sky’ feasibility study to workable engineering concept to achieving the first flight on another world in a little over six years,” said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. “That this project has achieved such a historic first is testimony to the innovation and doggedness of our team here at JPL, as well as at NASA’s Langley and Ames Research Centers, and our industry partners. It’s a shining example of the kind of technology push that thrives at JPL and fits well with NASA’s exploration goals.”

Parked about 211 feet (64.3 meters) away at Van Zyl Overlook during Ingenuity’s historic first flight, the Perseverance rover not only acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth, but also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras. The pictures from the rover’s Mastcam-Z and Navcam imagers will provide additional data on the helicopter’s flight.

“We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. “We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work – to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft – and so will we.”

Perseverance touched down with Ingenuity attached to its belly on Feb. 18. Deployed to the surface of Jezero Crater on April 3, Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol, or Martian day, of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window. Over the next three sols, the helicopter team will receive and analyze all data and imagery from the test and formulate a plan for the second experimental test flight, scheduled for no earlier than April 22. If the helicopter survives the second flight test, the Ingenuity team will consider how best to expand the flight profile.

More About Ingenuity

JPL, which built Ingenuity, also manages the technology demonstration project for NASA. It is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautics, and Space Technology mission directorates. The agency’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development.

Dave Lavery is the program executive for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, MiMi Aung is the project manager, and Bob Balaram is chief engineer.

****

Friday, April 16, 2021

ONLY 14 DAYS REMAIN: Send Your Name to the Moon by Supporting the Iris Lunar Rover!

An artist's concept of the Iris Rover on the surface of the Moon.
Carnegie Mellon University

Just thought I'd share this cool crowdfunding campaign where you can send your name to the Moon by donating a generous contribution to the Iris lunar mission! This miniature, student-built rover is set to fly later this year aboard Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander...which is hitching a NASA-sponsored ride on the United Launch Alliance's newest rocket, the Vulcan Centaur. The students at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)—which constructed Iris—are looking to gain extra funding to cover the final cost of this mission (which includes paying for vital pre-launch tests of flight components, as well as funding the operational cost of the project's Mission Control itself)...and they're looking to the general public for help in doing so. Their campaign goal is to reach at least $50,000 (they're currently at $23,332), and they have until SATURDAY, MAY 1 to achieve it. It will be up to CMU to decide whether or not the Iris Team can keep the money already donated if they fail to reach their goal.

So here is the link where you can make the dreams of many aspiring college students, who are clearly passionate about space exploration, a reality:

https://crowdfunding.cmu.edu/campaigns/moonshot#/

For your awesome donation, your name will be included with those of other benefactors (like me) on the flash memory aboard the Iris Rover! Ad lunam.

(And FYI, I went to college at California State University, Long Beach! Class of 2004, baby... Our new mascot is Elbee the Shark.)

The full-scale Structural Test Model for Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander...which is set to head to the Moon aboard United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year.

An artist's concept of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the Moon.
Astrobotic

The Vulcan Centaur's Pathfinder Tanking Test booster is about to be installed atop its mobile launcher platform inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida...on February 15, 2021.
United Launch Alliance

Thursday, April 15, 2021

New Horizons Update: The Intrepid Robotic Explorer Is About to Achieve Another Distant Accomplishment Two Days from Now...

From its vantage point in the Kuiper Belt, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft took this image in the direction of the distant Voyager 1 robotic probe (whose location is marked with the yellow circle)...on December 25, 2020.
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Southwest Research Institute

NASA’s New Horizons Reaches a Rare Space Milestone (News Release)

Now 50 times as far from the Sun as Earth, History-Making Pluto Explorer Photographs Voyager 1’s Location from the Kuiper Belt

In the weeks following its launch in early 2006, when NASA’s New Horizons was still close to home, it took just minutes to transmit a command to the spacecraft, and hear back that the onboard computer received and was ready to carry out the instructions.

As New Horizons crossed the solar system, and its distance from Earth jumped from millions to billions of miles, that time between contacts grew from a few minutes to several hours. And on April 18 at 12:42 UTC (or April 17 at 8:42 p.m. EDT), New Horizons will reach a rare deep-space milepost -- 50 astronomical units from the Sun, or 50 times farther from the Sun than Earth is.

New Horizons is just the fifth spacecraft to reach this great distance, following the legendary Voyagers 1 and 2 and their predecessors, Pioneers 10 and 11. It’s almost 5 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away; a remote region where one of those radioed commands, even traveling at the speed of light, needs seven hours to reach the far-flung spacecraft. Then add seven more hours before its control team on Earth finds out if the message was received.

“It’s hard to imagine something so far away,” said Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “One thing that makes this distance tangible is how long it takes for us on Earth to confirm that the spacecraft received our instructions. This went from almost instantaneous to now being on the order of 14 hours. It makes the extreme distance real.”

To mark the occasion, New Horizons recently photographed the star field where one of its long-distance cousins, Voyager 1, appears from New Horizons’ unique perch in the Kuiper Belt. Never before has a spacecraft in the Kuiper Belt photographed the location of an even more distant spacecraft, now in interstellar space. Although Voyager 1 is far too faint to be seen directly in the image, its location is known precisely due to NASA’s radio tracking.

“That’s a hauntingly-beautiful image to me,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

“Looking back at the flight of New Horizons from Earth to 50 AU almost seems in some way like a dream,” he continued. “Flying a spacecraft across our entire solar system to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt had never been done before New Horizons. Most of us on the team have been a part of this mission since it was just an idea, and during that time our kids have grown up, and our parents, and we ourselves, have grown older. But most importantly, we made many scientific discoveries, inspired countless STEM careers, and even made a little history.”

New Horizons was practically designed to make history. Dispatched at 36,400 miles per hour (58,500 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons was and is still the fastest human-made object ever launched from Earth. Its gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter in February 2007 not only shaved about three years from its voyage to Pluto, but allowed it to make the best views ever of Jupiter’s faint ring, and capture the first movie of a volcano erupting anywhere in the solar system except Earth.

New Horizons successfully pulled off the first exploration of the Pluto system in July 2015, followed by the farthest flyby in history – and first close-up look at a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) -- with its flight past Arrokoth on New Year’s Day 2019. From its unique perch in the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is making observations that can’t be made from anywhere else; even the stars look different from the spacecraft’s point of view.

New Horizons team members use giant telescopes like the Japanese Subaru observatory to scan the skies for another potential (and long-shot) KBO flyby target. New Horizons itself remains healthy, collecting data on the solar wind and space environment in the Kuiper Belt, other Kuiper Belt objects, and distant planets like Uranus and Neptune. This summer, the mission team will transmit a software upgrade to boost New Horizons’ scientific capabilities. For future exploration, the spacecraft’s nuclear battery should provide enough power to keep New Horizons operating until the late-2030s.

Source: New Horizons Website

****

The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 10:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on April 15, 2021. It is 4.6 billion miles, or 49.8 Astronomical Units, from Earth.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 10:00 PM,
Pacific Daylight Time, on April 15, 2021. It is 4.6 billion miles, or 49.8 Astronomical Units (AU),
from Earth. Click
here to view the official webpage showing where New Horizons is in space.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

VIPER Update: NASA's Lunar Rover and Its Astrobotic Lander Have Just Been Given a Launch Vehicle...

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

Astrobotic Selects SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket for Griffin-VIPER Moon Mission (Press Release)

Astrobotic announced today its selection of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Griffin lunar lander to the Moon in late 2023. Griffin will be carrying NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER).

“Getting to the Moon isn’t just about building a spacecraft, but having a complete mission solution. SpaceX's Falcon Heavy completes our Griffin Mission 1 (GM1) solution by providing a proven launch vehicle to carry us on our trajectory to the Moon. SpaceX has the team, vehicle, and facilities to make this happen,” says Daniel Gillies, GM1 Director for Astrobotic.

Astrobotic was awarded a task order in 2020 from NASA to deliver VIPER to the south pole of the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. After Falcon Heavy launches Griffin on a trajectory to the Moon, Griffin will land on the surface and VIPER will disembark from Griffin’s ramps to survey the surface and subsurface for water ice. These surveys could be the first step toward utilizing resources in the space environment – rather than carting them all from Earth – to enable more affordable and sustainable space exploration. Griffin’s delivery of VIPER will be Astrobotic’s second CLPS delivery, following the company’s Peregrine lander delivery later this year.

“Having previously sat on the other side of the table as a former SpaceX Mission Manager, I am fully aware of SpaceX’s capabilities and processes and am excited to be working with SpaceX on a mission once again. My first exposure to Falcon Heavy was as a SpaceX Mission Integrator on the STP-2 mission and I’m proud to be utilizing that same launch vehicle for Griffin,” says Gillies.

“Gaining a better learning of resources on the Moon is critical to advancing humanity’s reach beyond Earth, and we are honored to support this exciting mission and NASA’s CLPS program,” said SpaceX Senior Director of Commercial Sales Stephanie Bednarek.

Griffin Mission One is targeted to launch in 2023 from SpaceX’s facilities at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the same launch site employed for the NASA Space Shuttle program, Commercial Crew Program, and Apollo missions. Work on the Griffin lunar lander is ongoing with qualification testing planned to be completed towards the end of this year.

Source: Astrobotic

****

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

A full-scale mock-up of the Griffin lander and a structural test article for the Peregrine lander...on display at Astrobotic's facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Astrobotic

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Some People Just Have All the Luck!

A Tesla Model X...which one of my old high school friends now owns.
Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

Found out from one of my old high school friends yesterday that she wrote a book! Congrats to her! It's a children's publication that she apparently worked on during the COVID-19 pandemic. My friend also owns a Tesla Model X, while her husband now works at Facebook in Palo Alto [though I'd say that this is actually a downgrade from him working at Google (also in Silicon Valley) before that, heh]. They also have three adorable kids.

What— Me ENVIOUS? Naaaaw!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Photo of the Day: The Los Doyers Got Their Rings!

The Los Angeles Dodgers pose with their 2020 World Series championship rings prior to defeating the Washington Nationals, 1-0, at Dodgers Stadium...on April 9, 2021.

Just thought I'd share this pic of the Los Angeles Dodgers posing with their 2020 World Series championship rings prior to playing against the Washington Nationals in front of 15,000 fans at Dodgers Stadium yesterday. The Dodgers won, 1-0, on Friday night...while they defeated Washington, 9-5, on the Dodgers' home field again about 20 minutes ago. Nice.

As for the L.A. Lakers, they're currently in the 5th spot of the NBA's Western Conference after beating the Brooklyn Nets, 126-101, in New York tonight. Not bad considering the fact that LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both still injured, are weeks away from returning and bringing the Lake Show back to championship form. Anyways, back to the Dodgers...

Friday, April 09, 2021

Remembering DMX (1970-2021)...

Rest In Peace, Earl Simmons...a.k.a. DMX.

Rest In Peace, Earl Simmons. The rapper famously known as DMX sadly passed away today after suffering a heart attack at his New York home one week ago. He was 50 years-old. I'll always remember DMX for his memorable jam "Party Up"...which is one of my all-time favorite hip-hop songs that I'll never get tired of listening to on my laptop computer and portable MP3 player. Another great jam by DMX is 2003's "X Gon' Give It to Ya"...a song from the action film Cradle 2 the Grave, which starred DMX and was released in theaters that same year.

Party Up began playing on the radio in 1999 but brings back fond memories of 2000—when it was regularly played on the loudspeakers at STAPLES Center during the Los Angeles Lakers' championship run in the spring of that year. My condolences to DMX's family and friends.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hubble's Successor Continues to Prepare for Its Summer Trip to Its South American Launch Site...

At the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California, technicians begin stowing the sunshield on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope...in preparation for its trip to its South American launch site this summer.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s Webb Telescope Packs Its Sunshield for a Million-Mile Trip (News Release)

Engineers working on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have successfully folded and packed its sunshield for its upcoming million-mile (roughly 1.5 million kilometer) journey, which begins later this year.

The sunshield — a five-layer, diamond-shaped structure the size of a tennis court — was specially engineered to fold up around the two sides of the telescope and fit within the confines of its launch vehicle, the Ariane 5 rocket. Now that folding has been completed at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, the sunshield will remain in this compact form through launch and the first few days the observatory will spend in space.

Designed to protect the telescope’s optics from any heat sources that could interfere with its sight, the sunshield is one of Webb’s most critical and complex components. Because Webb is an infrared telescope, its mirrors and sensors need to be kept at extremely cold temperatures to detect faint heat signals from distant objects in the universe.

In space, one side of the sunshield will always reflect light and background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon. Thermal models show that the maximum temperature of the outermost layer is 383 Kelvin, or about 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, the other side of the sunshield will always face deep space, with the coldest layer having a modeled minimum temperature of 36 Kelvin, or about minus 394 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fully deployed, the telescope’s sunshield measures almost 70 feet by 47 feet (21 meters by 14 meters). When stowed inside the rocket for launch, the folded sunshield will be packaged in a very confined area in between other structures of the observatory to accommodate the limited space inside the 18-foot (5.4-meter) diameter rocket fairing.

“There is nothing really analogous to what we are trying to achieve with the folding up of a tennis court-sized sunshield, but it is similar to packing a parachute,” said Jeff Cheezum, a lead sunshield design engineer at Northrop Grumman. “Just like a skydiver needs their parachute packed correctly in order to open perfectly and to successfully get back to Earth, Webb needs its sunshield to be perfectly stowed to ensure that it also opens up perfectly and maintains its shape, in order to successfully keep the telescope at its required operating temperature.”

The month-long process of folding the sunshield began with laying the five layers as flat as possible. In its deployed state, the sunshield resembles a multilayered silver ship, so its inherently curved surfaces added a degree of complexity to this step. Afterwards, the layers were lifted vertically and propped onto special support equipment so that they could be properly restrained for folding. A team of technicians then carefully folded each layer in a zigzag pattern to create accordion-like stacks of membranes on either side of the telescope.

The first layer of the sunshield is two-thousandths of an inch (0.005 centimeters) thick, while the other four layers are only one-thousandth of an inch thick. For the team, a built-in challenge was the delicacy of folding such thin layers. The folding process also had to account for components such as the sunshield’s 90 different tensioning cables, which must be stowed in a specific manner to ensure the sunshield deploys smoothly.

With the successful completion of sunshield folding, the engineering team has prepared the sunshield for its complex deployment in space. The sunshield will unfold at the end of the telescope’s first week in space after launch, stretching out to its full size and then separating and tensioning each of its five layers. Testing for this unfolding and tensioning procedure was completed for the final time on Earth in December 2020.

“Think of it backwards; we want the deployed sunshield to achieve a specific shape so we get the performance we need. The whole folding process was designed with that in mind. We have to fold cleanly and carefully the same way each time, to ensure the unfolding occurs exactly the way we want it,” said James Cooper, lead sunshield engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

For instance, one of the most intricate aspects of the folding process involved aligning the membrane stacks. Each of the sunshield’s layers has hundreds of intentional holes, which are deliberately arranged to avoid light and heat from passing to the optical elements of the telescope when the sunshield is fully deployed. These holes must be lined up during folding so that Webb technicians can insert “pins” through the holes in each membrane stack. The 107 “pins,” or membrane release devices, will help restrain the layers for launch, but release to unfold the sunshield once the telescope is in space.

“It’s a very methodical process that we use to make sure everything is aligned correctly,” said Marc Roth, mechanical engineering lead at Northrop Grumman. “Our team has been through multiple training cycles, and we’ve implemented many lessons learned from the previous times we’ve done this process, all culminating in this last sunshield fold.”

Over the next three months, engineers and technicians will finish stowing and securing the packed sunshield. This process will involve installing the membrane release devices, rigging and securing all of the sunshield cables, and stowing covers for the sunshield membranes. It will also include stowing the two “arms” of the sunshield — the Mid-Boom Assemblies — which will horizontally extend the sunshield outwards during deployment, as well as stowing the two pallet structures that hold the sunshield in place.

The observatory will additionally undergo a final mirror deployment before it is shipped to its launch site in French Guiana, South America.

The Webb engineering team continues to follow personal safety procedures in accordance with current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance related to COVID-19, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb 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 program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Technicians watch as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope unfurls its sunshield during a final pre-launch test at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California last year.
NASA / Chris Gunn