Wednesday, March 31, 2021

One Down, One to Go!

My vaccination record card after receiving dose #1 of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine...on March 31, 2021.

Earlier today, I received dose #1 of the COVID-19 vaccine! The vaccination hub that I went to only offered the Pfizer-BioNTech version, which is all good. As of right now, I'm not feeling any adverse side-effects from the vaccine...except a slight pain at the injection site on my upper right arm. This is the same sensation that I sometimes feel when I get a flu shot, so it's all good. Dose #2 will be on Wednesday, April 21. Can't wait! Regular (not necessarily 'normal') times will be here again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Photo of the Day: The Mars Helicopter Is Now in Its Full Flight Configuration...

With its four legs now placed in their full flight configuration, the Ingenuity helicopter is ready to be deployed from NASA's Perseverance rover onto the surface of of March 30, 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Just thought I'd share this latest photo taken by a camera on Perseverance's robotic arm showing all four legs of the Ingenuity helicopter now extended into their final flight configuration. The small aircraft should be released from the belly of NASA's latest Mars rover within the next few Ingenuity's historic first flight at Jezero Crater remains scheduled for Thursday, April 8. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Psyche Update: The Asteroid-bound Explorer Arrives at JPL to Complete Construction...

An artist's concept of NASA's Psyche spacecraft.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / ASU

NASA Begins Final Assembly of Spacecraft Destined for Asteroid Psyche (News Release)

Set to launch next year, the agency’s Psyche spacecraft will explore a metal-rich asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

A major component of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has been delivered to the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the phase known as assembly, test, and launch operations is now underway. Over the next year, the spacecraft will finish assembly and undergo rigorous checkout and testing before it’s shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for an August 2022 launch to the main asteroid belt.

The Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Chassis, crafted by Maxar Technologies’ team in Palo Alto, California, is the size of a van and represents more than 80% (by mass) of the hardware that will ultimately make up the Psyche spacecraft. The large, box-shaped structure made a dramatic entrance as it rolled into the white-walled clean room of JPL’s storied High Bay 1 of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility. Some of the chassis’ most visible features include the 6.5-foot-wide (2-meter-wide) high-gain antenna, the frame that will hold the science instruments, and bright red protective covers to safeguard delicate hardware.

“Seeing this big spacecraft chassis arrive at JPL from Maxar is among the most thrilling of the milestones we’ve experienced on what has already been a 10-year journey,” said Arizona State University’s Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who as principal investigator leads the Psyche mission. “Building this complex, precision piece of engineering during the year of COVID is absolutely a triumph of human determination and excellence.”

Psyche’s target is a metal-rich asteroid of the same name, which orbits the Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists think that Psyche is largely iron and nickel and could be the core of an early planet. Exploring the asteroid Psyche (about 140 miles, or 226 kilometers, wide) could lend valuable insight into how Earth and other planets formed.

Over the next 12 months, the project team will be working against the clock to meet deadlines in the runup to launch.

“It’s exciting watching it all come together, and it’s the part of the project life cycle that I love the most,” said Psyche Project Manager Henry Stone of JPL. “But it’s a really intense phase as well. It’s intricate choreography, and if one activity runs into a problem, it can impact the whole process. Staying on schedule at this phase of the mission is absolutely critical.”

The SEP Chassis comes to JPL with most of the engineering hardware systems already integrated. The Maxar team built the entire structure and integrated the hardware needed for the high-power electrical system, the propulsion systems, the thermal system, and the guidance and navigation system. The Psyche mission will take advantage of Maxar’s superefficient electric propulsion system to push Psyche through deep space. Maxar will also deliver the large, twin five-panel solar arrays that provide the power for the spacecraft systems.

Delivering the SEP Chassis to NASA’s JPL is an incredible accomplishment for us at Maxar,” said Steven Scott, Maxar’s Psyche program manager. “I am so proud of our team. We’ve managed to design and build an SEP spacecraft for a billion-mile journey through a low-power environment, all while prioritizing the health and safety of our team during a global pandemic. The collaboration between Maxar, Arizona State University, and NASA’s JPL is a model for success, and we’re honored to be part of the Psyche Mission.”

Building and Testing

The assembly, test, and launch operations phase kicked off March 16, when engineers gathered in High Bay 1 to begin checking out the JPL-supplied subsystems, the flight computer, the communications system, and the low-power distribution system to be sure they work together. Now that the chassis has arrived, JPL and Maxar engineers will begin installing the remaining hardware, testing as they go.

The mission’s three science instruments will arrive at JPL over the next few months. The magnetometer will investigate the asteroid’s potential magnetic field. The multispectral imager will capture images of its surface. And the spectrometer will analyze the neutrons and gamma rays coming from the surface to determine the elements that make up the asteroid. JPL is also providing a technology demonstration instrument that will test high data-rate laser communications that could be used by future NASA missions.

Once the full spacecraft is assembled, the orbiter will move from the Spacecraft Assembly Facility to JPL’s large thermal vacuum chamber – a massive undertaking in itself – to simulate the harsh environment of deep space. The chamber is where JPL engineers will begin the heavy-duty testing to ensure the entire machine can survive deep space, thrust with the electric propulsion system, take science measurements, and communicate with Earth.

By next spring, the fully assembled Psyche will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in advance of its August 2022 target launch date. The spacecraft will fly by Mars for a gravity assist in May 2023 and in early 2026, will go into orbit around the asteroid, where it will spend 21 months gathering science data.

Source: NASA.Gov


Engineers prepare to move the Solar Electric Propulsion Chassis for NASA's Psyche robotic probe inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, March of 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Photo of the Day: The Delta 2 Is Now Immortalized at the Rocket Garden in Florida...

A retired Delta 2 launch vehicle is now on display in the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in of March 23, 2021.
United Launch Alliance

Just thought I'd share this image of the Delta 2 rocket that is now on display in the 'Rocket Garden' at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida! This retired launch vehicle was officially unveiled to the public two days ago...and now joins space shuttle Atlantis on my list of historic vehicles that I want to see when I make another trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

I was planning to re-visit KSC this year to see the Space Launch System (SLS) stand tall at Launch Complex 39B, but 1.) The COVID-19 pandemic gave me second thoughts about flying to Florida—a Republican-run coronavirus hotspot—this year (even when I hopefully get vaccinated next month), 2.) The first launch of SLS on Artemis 1 will most likely be postponed to early 2022 after it took two attempts to conduct a successful Green Run hot fire test at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and 3.) I just put the finishing touches on paying off a major credit card debt using my $1,400 stimulus payment last week. (Thank you, President Biden!) But I might change my mind.

So why am I fond of the Delta 2, you ask? It was responsible for launching Mars Pathfinder, the Phoenix Mars lander, the Kepler telescope and the Dawn spacecraft to the cosmos over the past 25 years. Click on this page to know why these missions—among many, many more—mean so much to me! Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Intuitive Machines Will Work with Australia on NOVA-C's Lunar Mission Later This Year...

An artist's concept of Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lunar lander on the surface of the Moon.
Intuitive Machines

CSIRO's Dish to Support One of the First Commercial Moon Landings (Press Release)

The iconic Parkes radio telescope, owned and operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, will help businesses to literally reach for the Moon by providing ground station support for one of the first commercial lunar landings later this year.

CSIRO has signed a new five-year agreement with Houston-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines to support multiple lunar missions, including their first flight under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

The Parkes telescope, also known as Murriyang, is valuable for spacecraft tracking due to its large dish surface and advanced data acquisition systems, which are used primarily for astronomy research.

The 64-metre telescope will be the largest and most sensitive receiving ground station for Intuitive Machines’ upcoming missions, maximising the return of the scientific and engineering data for the lunar exploration program.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall said the partnership was an exciting new chapter for the iconic dish, with the partnership tapping into CSIRO’s expertise and proven track record supporting spacecraft programs.

“It was 50 years ago that Australia played a critical role in the original Moon mission, but innovation never sleeps, so we’re proud to support the latest innovations heading to the Moon’s surface,” Dr. Marshall said.

“Australia is growing a vibrant space industry, underpinned by our unique strengths in agriculture, mining, and materials, and because we know innovation thrives on collaboration, we’re supporting the entire international space community.”

CSIRO’s Acting Chief Scientist Dr. Sarah Pearce said CSIRO was proud to have its world-class scientific facilities be part of the global team that will help Intuitive Machines and NASA deliver science instruments to the Moon.

“Along with NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek station near Canberra, the Parkes radio telescope helped share the Apollo 11 Moon landing with more than 600 million people around the world. And now we are proud to support the first companies extending their reach to the Moon’s surface, advancing knowledge that can benefit life both on Earth and, one day, on the Moon,” Dr. Pearce said.

“Australia is growing a vibrant and respected space industry, underpinned by world-class national infrastructure and a long history in enabling space exploration. This is another example of Australian capability supporting the international space community.”

Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C Moon lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket towards the end of 2021, delivering commercial cargo and five NASA experiments to investigate the local geography and test technology required for future human exploration.

CLPS initiative companies are responsible for all aspects of delivering their cargo to the Moon, including spacecraft tracking and communication.

NASA urged CLPS providers to utilise ground station capabilities outside of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the ground station network supporting the Agency’s many interplanetary space missions.

Intuitive Machines Vice President for Control Centers Dr. Troy LeBlanc said being the first commercial company to land on the Moon is a huge communications challenge.

“We require the technical support and expertise of the team at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to provide mission tracking and data downlink services," Dr. LeBlanc said.

“CSIRO’s Parkes telescope adds significant data downlink capability to Intuitive Machines’ robust Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network.

“The successful use of the Network for these initial missions will underpin the return of humans to the Moon and ultimately sustainable presence under the Artemis program.”

Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Dr. Douglas Bock said the agreement with Intuitive Machines recognises CSIRO’s experience operating large, complex spacecraft tracking and radio astronomy infrastructure.

“Our Parkes radio telescope began supporting space missions in 1962, when it tracked the first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, as it flew by the planet Venus,” Dr. Bock said.

“Most recently, the telescope received data from Voyager 2 as it entered interstellar space, supporting the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – which we also manage for NASA.

“Operating as a ground station for space missions complements the astronomy research conducted with the telescope and helps to maintain its capabilities as a world-class research instrument.”


CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst. We solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology. Our collaborative research turns science into solutions for food security and quality; clean energy and resources; health and wellbeing; resilient and valuable environments; innovative industries; and a secure Australia and region.

About Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines is a premier provider and supplier of space products and services that enable sustained robotic and human exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond. We drive markets with competitive world-class offerings synonymous with innovation, high quality, and precision. Whether leveraging state-of-the-art engineering tools and practices or integrating research and advanced technologies, our solutions are insightful and have a positive impact on the world.

Source: CSIRO.Au


A snapshot of CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope with the Milky Way in the backdrop.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Perseverance Update: Aviation History Will Be Made on the Red Planet Early Next Month...

An illustration of the Ingenuity helicopter soaring in the Martian air while the Perseverance rover observes from the surface.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Prepares for First Flight (Press Release)

NASA is targeting no earlier than April 8 for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to make the first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. Before the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft can attempt its first flight, however, both it and its team must meet a series of daunting milestones.

Ingenuity remains attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars Feb. 18. On March 21, the rover deployed the guitar case-shaped graphite composite debris shield that protected Ingenuity during landing. The rover currently is in transit to the “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt to fly. Once deployed, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days, or sols, (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flight campaign.

“When NASA’s Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. “Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.”

Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. The Red Planet has significant gravity (about one-third that of Earth’s) but its atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth’s at the surface. During Martian daytime, the planet’s surface receives only about half the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth during its daytime, and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), which can freeze and crack unprotected electrical components.

To fit within the available accommodations provided by the Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter must be small. To fly in the Mars environment, it must be lightweight. To survive the frigid Martian nights, it must have enough energy to power internal heaters. The system – from the performance of its rotors in rarified air to its solar panels, electrical heaters, and other components – has been tested and retested in the vacuum chambers and test labs of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter chief engineer at JPL. “And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.”

Deploying the Helicopter

Before Ingenuity takes its first flight on Mars, it must be squarely in the middle of its airfield – a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) patch of Martian real estate chosen for its flatness and lack of obstructions. Once the helicopter and rover teams confirm that Perseverance is situated exactly where they want it to be inside the airfield, the elaborate process to deploy the helicopter on the surface of Mars begins.

“As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before,” said Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover. “Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn’t going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea what is going on.”

The helicopter deployment process will take about six sols (six days, four hours on Earth). On the first sol, the team on Earth will activate a bolt-breaking device, releasing a locking mechanism that helped hold the helicopter firmly against the rover’s belly during launch and Mars landing. The following sol, they will fire a cable-cutting pyrotechnic device, enabling the mechanized arm that holds Ingenuity to begin rotating the helicopter out of its horizontal position. This is also when the rotorcraft will extend two of its four landing legs.

During the third sol of the deployment sequence, a small electric motor will finish rotating Ingenuity until it latches, bringing the helicopter completely vertical. During the fourth sol, the final two landing legs will snap into position. On each of those four sols, the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager will take confirmation shots of Ingenuity as it incrementally unfolds into its flight configuration. In its final position, the helicopter will hang suspended at about 5 inches (13 centimeters) over the Martian surface. At that point, only a single bolt and a couple dozen tiny electrical contacts will connect the helicopter to Perseverance. On the fifth sol of deployment, the team will use the final opportunity to utilize Perseverance as a power source and charge Ingenuity’s six battery cells.

“Once we cut the cord with Perseverance and drop those final five inches to the surface, we want to have our big friend drive away as quickly as possible so we can get the Sun’s rays on our solar panel and begin recharging our batteries,” said Balaram.

On the sixth and final scheduled sol of this deployment phase, the team will need to confirm three things: that Ingenuity’s four legs are firmly on the surface of Jezero Crater, that the rover did, indeed, drive about 16 feet (about 5 meters) away, and that both helicopter and rover are communicating via their onboard radios. This milestone also initiates the 30-sol clock during which time all preflight checks and flight tests must take place.

“Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test – we want to see if we can fly at Mars,” said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. “There are no science instruments onboard and no goals to obtain scientific information. We are confident that all the engineering data we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and aloft can be done within this 30-sol window.”

As with deployment, the helicopter and rover teams will approach the upcoming flight test methodically. If the team misses or has questions about an important preflight milestone, they may take one or more sols to better understand the issue. If the helicopter survives the first night of the sequence period on the surface of Mars, however, the team will spend the next several sols doing everything possible to ensure a successful flight, including wiggling the rotor blades and verifying the performance of the inertial measurement unit, as well as testing the entire rotor system during a spin-up to 2,537 rpm (while Ingenuity’s landing gear remain firmly on the surface).

The First Flight Test on Mars

Once the team is ready to attempt the first flight, Perseverance will receive and relay to Ingenuity the final flight instructions from JPL mission controllers. Several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance. Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second), the helicopter will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.

Several hours after the first flight has occurred, Perseverance will downlink Ingenuity’s first set of engineering data and, possibly, images and video from the rover’s Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z. From the data downlinked that first evening after the flight, the Mars Helicopter team expect to be able to determine if their first attempt to fly at Mars was a success.

On the following sol, all the remaining engineering data collected during the flight, as well as some low-resolution black-and-white imagery from the helicopter’s own Navigation Camera, could be downlinked to JPL. The third sol of this phase, the two images taken by the helicopter’s high-resolution color camera should arrive. The Mars Helicopter team will use all information available to determine when and how to move forward with their next test.

“Mars is hard,” said Aung. “Our plan is to work whatever the Red Planet throws at us the very same way we handled every challenge we’ve faced over the past six years – together, with tenacity and a lot of hard work, and a little Ingenuity.”

A Piece of History

While Ingenuity will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, the first powered, controlled flight on Earth took place Dec. 17, 1903, on the windswept dunes of Kill Devil Hill, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur Wright covered 120 feet in 12 seconds during the first flight. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, each longer than the previous.

A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first flight is now aboard Ingenuity. An insulative tape was used to wrap the small swatch of fabric around a cable located underneath the helicopter’s solar panel. The Wrights used the same type of material – an unbleached muslin called “Pride of the West” – to cover their glider and aircraft wings beginning in 1901. The Apollo 11 crew flew a different piece of the material, along with a small splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer, to the Moon and back during their iconic mission in July 1969.


As seen from a camera on Perseverance's robotic arm, the debris shield protecting the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is released from the belly of the rover...on March 21, 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Friday, March 19, 2021

Photo of the Day: A Trojan Asteroid-bound Explorer Continues to Take Shape in Colorado...

With its high-gain antenna now installed, NASA's Lucy spacecraft is hoisted into the air at the Lockheed Martin facilty in Denver, late 2020.
Lockheed Martin

NASA's Lucy Spacecraft Gets a Lift (News Release - March 18)

Seen here in late 2020 nearly fully assembled, the 13-foot tall (about 4 meters) Lucy spacecraft is lifted back to its dolly as the Lockheed Martin team in Denver, Colorado, continues production. Since Lucy will be exploring deep space hundreds of millions of miles away, the 6.5-foot (about 2 meters) in diameter high-gain antenna will be critical for communications to and from Earth as the spacecraft visits seven different Trojan asteroids and one main belt asteroid. The spacecraft will complete its journey over the course of 12 years, and its many maneuvers will be fueled by the propulsion tanks seen here. Lucy will head to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station this summer for processing ahead of its launch window, which opens Oct. 16, 2021.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of NASA's Lucy spacecraft venturing past the Trojan asteroid Patroclus and its binary companion Menoetius near Jupiter's orbit.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Conceptual Image Lab / Adriana Gutierrez

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine...which my Dad received on March 8, 2021.

Congratulations to my Mom and Dad, who have both received the COVID-19 vaccine!

My Dad got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 8, while my Mom received her first dose of Moderna's version earlier today, respectively. Her second dose is scheduled for April 15. Can't wait to get mine soon!

Moderna's coronavirus vaccine...which my Mom took her first dose of on March 18, 2021.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Peregrine Update: Astrobotic's First Lunar Lander Now Has a Flight Logo...

The mission patch for Astrobotic's first Peregrine lunar lander mission.

Mission Patch Revealed for Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One (Press Release)

Set to launch later this year, the Peregrine team reveals a meaningful mission patch design for the world’s first commercial lunar landing

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One (PM1) is set to be the first US lander (and first commercial lunar lander) to touch down on the Moon since the Apollo missions more than 50 years ago. In anticipation of Peregrine’s launch into space later this year, Astrobotic has released a commemorative mission patch filled with some meaningful Easter (or more appropriately, peregrine) eggs.

The focal point of the patch is the peregrine falcon, majestically jetting towards its lunar destination. There are seven craters in the patch’s Moon design, representing the seven nations that are joining Astrobotic on its mission. The phase on the patch’s Moon graphic matches the real Moon's phase that people will see at the time of Peregrine's touchdown.

“We wanted to create a clean and modern design, but also reference previous historic missions. Utilizing our Peregrine bird imagery was a nod to NASA’s Apollo 11 patch – highlighting the historic significances and firsts that our mission accomplishes,” says Sarah Huth, Astrobotic’s graphic designer.

Peregrine’s namesake holds significance in a few different ways. The peregrine falcon is the most widely distributed bird of prey with a presence on every continent, minus Antarctica. Countless people and cultures from around the world are represented on Astrobtoic’s Peregrine lander. From the general public through the DHL MoonBox program, to space agencies like Agencia Espacial Mexicana and NASA, to companies like SpaceBit out of the UK, Peregrine will be carrying the dreams and aspirations of people all over the globe.

Peregrine falcons are also nimble and quick, clocking in at over 200mph and earning the title as fastest animal on the planet (yes, even faster than cheetahs). “Our Peregrine lander is aptly named to represent how Astrobotic has nimbly adapted to the many challenges and changing landscapes of the space sector,” says John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO.

“In terms of concept, we emphasized upwards movement, exploration, and the strength of our maiden voyage. Using the Astrobotic logo to lift the Peregrine towards the Moon captured the spirit of our team as we develop and prepare our own Peregrine lander for Mission 1,” says Huth. “Meaningful symbolism throughout the design tells our PM1 story every time it’s sewn onto a jacket or projected onto a screen.”

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One patch will be available to the general public in the coming months through Astrobotic’s new online store, anticipated to launch in early April 2021.

Source: Astrobotic


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

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Photo of the Day: Hope's Newest Glimpse of Mars...

Olympus Mons, our solar system's tallest volcano, is visible in this latest photo of Mars taken by the United Arab Emirates' Hope spacecraft...using its Emirates eXploration Imager.

Just thought I'd share this great image of Mars that was recently taken by the United Arab Emirates' Hope spacecraft. In this snapshot, Olympus Mons—our solar system's tallest volcano—is visible towards the right of the Red Planet. This photo, taken by Hope's Emirates eXploration Imager, was obtained from a distance of 13,007 kilometers (8,084 miles).

Hope should begin official science data-gathering operations in May. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Commemorating a Golden Anniversary...

My folks, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary today (March 7, 2021), play a game of Scrabble aboard the Norwegian Jade...on March 20, 2018.

Happy 50th Anniversary to my Mom and Dad! My parents reached this amazing milestone today. To mark this occasion, here's a photo of them playing Scrabble aboard our passenger ship Norwegian Jade during a cruise to Central America three years ago this month! Click here to see more photos from that trip.

Once again, congrats, Mom and Dad! My family celebrated by having Japanese food (my sister and her husband picked it up from the restaurant) for lunch at my parents' home. It was delicious!

Friday, March 05, 2021

America's Newest Robotic Rover Finally Goes for a Spin on the Red Planet...

An image of tracks created by Perseverance's wheels as the rover drove across the Martial soil for the first time...on March 4, 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance Drives on Mars’ Terrain for First Time (Press Release)

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover performed its first drive on Mars March 4, covering 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across the Martian landscape. The drive served as a mobility test that marks just one of many milestones as team members check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance. Once the rover begins pursuing its science goals, regular commutes extending 656 feet (200 meters) or more are expected.

“When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive,” said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly. We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years.”

The drive, which lasted about 33 minutes, propelled the rover forward 13 feet (4 meters), where it then turned in place 150 degrees to the left and backed up 8 feet (2.5 meters) into its new temporary parking space. To help better understand the dynamics of a retrorocket landing on the Red Planet, engineers used Perseverance’s Navigation and Hazard Avoidance Cameras to image the spot where Perseverance touched down, dispersing Martian dust with plumes from its engines.

More Than Roving

The rover’s mobility system is not the only thing getting a test drive during this period of initial checkouts. On Feb. 26 – Perseverance’s eighth Martian day, or sol, since landing – mission controllers completed a software update, replacing the computer program that helped land Perseverance with one they will rely on to investigate the planet.

More recently, the controllers checked out Perseverance’s Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) and Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instruments, and deployed the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument’s two wind sensors, which extend out from the rover’s mast. Another significant milestone occurred on March 2, or sol 12, when engineers unstowed the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.

“Tuesday’s first test of the robotic arm was a big moment for us,” said Robert Hogg, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover deputy mission manager. “That’s the main tool the science team will use to do close-up examination of the geologic features of Jezero Crater, and then we’ll drill and sample the ones they find the most interesting. When we got confirmation of the robotic arm flexing its muscles, including images of it working beautifully after its long trip to Mars – well, it made my day.”

Upcoming events and evaluations include more detailed testing and calibration of science instruments, sending the rover on longer drives, and jettisoning covers that shield both the adaptive caching assembly (part of the rover’s Sample Caching System) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during landing. The experimental flight test program for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will also take place during the rover’s commissioning.

Through it all, the rover is sending down images from the most advanced suite of cameras ever to travel to Mars. The mission’s cameras have already sent about 7,000 images. On Earth, Perseverance’s imagery flows through the powerful Deep Space Network (DSN), managed by NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. In space, several Mars orbiters play an equally important role.

“Orbiter support for downlink of data has been a real gamechanger,” said Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. “When you see a beautiful image from Jezero, consider that it took a whole team of Martians to get it to you. Every picture from Perseverance is relayed by either the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, or NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They are important partners in our explorations and our discoveries.”

The sheer volume of imagery and data already coming down on this mission has been a welcome bounty for Matt Wallace, who recalls waiting anxiously for the first images to trickle in during NASA’s first Mars rover mission, Sojourner, which explored Mars in 1997. On March 3, Wallace became the mission’s new project manager. He replaced John McNamee, who is stepping down as he intended, after helming the project for nearly a decade.

“John has provided unwavering support to me and every member of the project for over a decade,” said Wallace. “He has left his mark on this mission and team, and it has been my privilege to not only call him boss but also my friend.”

Touchdown Site Named

With Perseverance departing from its touchdown site, mission team scientists have memorialized the spot, informally naming it for the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The groundbreaking author and Pasadena, California, native was the first African American woman to win both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award, and she was the first science fiction writer honored with a MacArthur Fellowship. The location where Perseverance began its mission on Mars now bears the name “Octavia E. Butler Landing."

Official scientific names for places and objects throughout the solar system – including asteroids, comets, and locations on planets – are designated by the International Astronomical Union. Scientists working with NASA’s Mars rovers have traditionally given unofficial nicknames to various geological features, which they can use as references in scientific papers.

“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance. “Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields.”

“I can think of no better person to mark this historic landing site than Octavia E. Butler, who not only grew up next door to JPL in Pasadena, but she also inspired millions with her visions of a science-based future,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “Her guiding principle, ‘When using science, do so accurately,’ is what the science team at NASA is all about. Her work continues to inspire today’s scientists and engineers across the globe – all in the name of a bolder, more equitable future for all.”

Butler, who died in 2006, authored such notable works as Kindred, Bloodchild, Speech Sounds, Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and the Patternist series. Her writing explores themes of race, gender, equality, and humanity, and her works are as relevant today as they were when originally written and published.

More About the Mission

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.

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.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.


Thursday, March 04, 2021

NASA Continues to Move Along in Its Development of the Mars Sample Return Mission...

An artist's concept of the Mars Ascent Vehicle carrying rock and soil samples launching away from NASA's Sample Retrieval Lander.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Awards Mars Ascent Propulsion System Contract for Sample Return (Press Release)

NASA has awarded the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS) contract to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation of Elkton, Maryland, to provide propulsion support and products for spaceflight missions at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Coupled with the successful touchdown of the Mars Perseverance rover, this award moves NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) one step closer to realizing Mars Sample Return (MSR), a highly ambitious planetary exploration program that will build upon decades of science, knowledge, and experience of Mars exploration.

The cost-plus, fixed-fee contract has a potential mission services value of $60.2 million and a maximum potential value of $84.5 million. Work on MAPS begins immediately with a 14-month base period, followed by two option periods that may be exercised at NASA’s discretion.

In the next steps of the MSR campaign, NASA and ESA will provide components for a Sample Retrieval Lander mission and an Earth Return Orbiter mission. The Sample Retrieval Lander mission will deliver a Sample Fetch Rover and Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) to the surface of Mars. Marshall is responsible for the MSR Program’s MAV element, which is a two-stage vehicle that will be a critical element in supporting MSR to retrieve and return the samples that the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will collect for return to Earth. The Martian environment will be a significant factor in the design, development, manufacturing, testing, and qualification of two different solid rocket motors with multiple deliveries of each. Through the MAPS contract, Northrop Grumman will provide the propulsion systems for the MAV, as well as other supporting equipment and logistics services.

Bringing Mars samples back to Earth will allow scientists across the world to examine the specimens using sophisticated instruments too large and too complex to send to Mars, and will allow future generations to study them using technology not yet available. Curating the samples on Earth will allow the science community to test new theories and models as they are developed, much as the Apollo samples returned from the Moon have done for decades.


Monday, March 01, 2021

Hubble's Successor Remains On Schedule for Launch This Halloween...

A final full systems test is conducted on electrical components aboard NASA's James Webb Space the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Completes Final Functional Tests to Prepare for Launch (News Release)

February marked significant progress for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which completed its final functional performance tests at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. Testing teams successfully completed two important milestones that confirmed the observatory’s internal electronics are all functioning as intended, and that the spacecraft and its four scientific instruments can send and receive data properly through the same network they will use in space. These milestones move Webb closer to being ready to launch in October.

These tests are known as the comprehensive systems test, which took place at Northrop Grumman, and the ground segment test, which took place in collaboration with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Before the launch environment test, technicians ran a full scan known as a comprehensive systems test. This assessment established a baseline of electrical functional performance for the entire observatory, and all of the many components that work together to comprise the world’s premiere space science telescope. Once environmental testing concluded, technicians and engineers moved forward to run another comprehensive systems test and compared the data between the two. After thoroughly examining the data, the team confirmed that the observatory will both mechanically and electronically survive the rigors of launch.

Through the course of 17 consecutive days of systems testing, technicians powered on all of Webb’s various electrical components and cycled through their planned operations to ensure each was functioning and communicating with each other. All electrical boxes inside the telescope have an “A” and “B” side, which allows redundancy in flight and added flexibility. During the test all commands were input correctly, all telemetry received was correct and all electrical boxes, and each backup side functioned as designed.

“It’s been amazing to witness the level of expertise, commitment and collaboration across the team during this important milestone,” said Jennifer Love-Pruitt, Northrop Grumman’s electrical vehicle engineering lead on the Webb observatory. “It’s definitely a proud moment because we demonstrated Webb’s electrical readiness. The successful completion of this test also means we are ready to move forward toward launch and on-orbit operations.”

Webb’s recent systems scan confirms the observatory will withstand the launch environment.

Following the completion of Webb’s final comprehensive systems evaluation, technicians immediately began preparations for its next big milestone, known as a ground segment test. This test was designed to simulate the complete process from planning science observations to posting the scientific data to the community archive.

Webb’s final ground segment test began by first creating a simulated plan that each of its scientific instruments would follow. Commands to sequentially turn on, move, and operate each of four scientific instruments were then relayed from Webb’s Mission Operations Center (MOC) at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. During the test, the observatory is treated as if it were a million miles away in orbit. To do this, the Flight Operations Team connected the spacecraft to the Deep Space Network, an international array of giant radio antennas that NASA uses to communicate with many spacecraft. However, since Webb isn’t in space yet, special equipment was used to emulate the real radio link that will exist between Webb and the Deep Space Network when Webb is in orbit. Commands were then relayed through the Deep Space Network emulator to the observatory at Northrop Grumman.

One of the unique aspects of Webb’s final ground segment test occurred during a simulated flight environment when the team successfully practiced seamlessly switching over control from its primary MOC at STScI in Baltimore to the backup MOC at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This demonstrated a backup plan that isn’t anticipated to be needed but is necessary to practice and perfect prior to launch. Additionally, team members successfully sent multiple software patches to the observatory while it was performing its commanded operations.

“Working in a pandemic environment, of course, is a challenge, and our team has been doing an excellent job working through its nuances. That’s a real positive to highlight, and it’s not just for this test but all of the tests we’ve safely completed leading up to this one,” said Bonnie Seaton, deputy ground segment & operations manager at Goddard. “This recent success is attributable to many months of preparation, the maturity of our systems, procedures, and products and the proficiency of our team.”

When Webb is in space, commands will flow from STScI to one of the three Deep Space Network locations: Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; or Canberra, Australia. Signals will then be sent to the orbiting observatory nearly one million miles away. Additionally, NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite network – the Space Network in New Mexico, the European Space Agency’s Malindi station in Kenya, and European Space Operations Centre in Germany – will help keep a constant line of communication open with Webb.

Engineers and technicians continue to follow personal safety procedures in accordance with current CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance related to COVID-19, including mask wearing and social distancing. The team is now preparing for the next series of technical milestones, which will include the final folding of the sunshield and deployment of the mirror, prior to shipment to the launch site.

The next series of milestones for Webb include a final sunshield fold and a final mirror deployment.

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