SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NASA’s TESS Spacecraft

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on Wednesday evening. The spacecraft successfully separated from the booster’s second stage about 50 minutes after it was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

TESS will use four cameras to search 85 percent of the sky for exoplanets orbiting other stars. The mission is a follow-on to the Kepler Space Telescope, which is completing a 9-year mission to survey the other 15 percent of the sky.

The on time launch occurred at 6:51 p.m. EDT. NASA reports the spacecraft’s solar arrays deployed on schedule, providing the satellite with power.

Falcon 9’s first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Scrubs, Pence Announces Stuff

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX has scrubbed the launch of NASA’s TESS exo-planet hunting satellite, which had been planned for Monday evening.

“Standing down today to conduct additional GNC analysis, and teams are now working towards a targeted launch of on Wednesday, April 18,” the company tweeted.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs earlier today. He made the following announcements:

  • Ret. Adm. Jim Ellis has been named to lead the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group; and,
  • The space council has come up with a set of guidelines on space traffic management that will be signed by President Donald Trump and implemented by the Commerce Department.  A key goal of the new guidelines is to deal with the threat of orbital debris.

That’s all, folks!

NIAC Phase II Awards Focused on Astronomy

Kilometer Space Telescope. A single pixel from a galaxy in the Fornax Cluster (left) could appear more like a HST image of the Large Megallanic Cloud (right). (Credit: Devon Crowe)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at the following two Phase II awards focused on space astronomy.

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission
Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Kilometer Space Telescope (KST)
Devon Crowe
Raytheon

Each award is worth up to $500,000 for a two-year study. Descriptions of the awards are below.

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NASA Prepares to Launch Next Mission to Search Sky for New Worlds

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is undergoing final preparations in Florida for its April 16 launch to find undiscovered worlds around nearby stars, providing targets where future studies will assess their capacity to harbor life.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

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UK Team to Lead European Mission to Study New Planets

ARIEL spacecraft (Credit: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office)

SWINDON, England (UKSA PR) — A multi-million pound European mission to study newly discovered planets will be led by University College London, supported by investment from the UK Space Agency.

The ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) mission was selected today as the next European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, putting UK leadership at the heart of research into planets that lie outside our solar system – exoplanets.

Thousands of exoplanets have now been discovered with a huge diversity of masses, sizes and orbits, but very little is known about their chemical composition, formation, or their evolutionary links to their host stars.

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ESA’s Next Science Mission to Focus on Nature of Exoplanets

Hot exoplanet (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO )

PARIS (ESA PR) — The nature of planets orbiting stars in other systems will be the focus for ESA’s fourth medium-class science mission, to be launched in mid 2028.

Ariel, the Atmospheric Remote‐sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large‐survey mission, was selected by ESA today as part of its Cosmic Vision plan.
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NASA to Discuss New Planet Hunting Spacecraft

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — Join NASA at 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday, March 28, as astrophysics experts discuss the upcoming launch of NASA’s next planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Reporters can attend the event in person at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington or participate by phone.

The briefing will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

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Updated Global Launch Schedule Through April

Expedition 55 crew members Ricky Arnold, Drew Feustel and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev. (Credit: NASA)

Below is the updated launch schedule through the end of April. The 17 scheduled launches include:

  • 7 USA (6 Falcon 9, 1 Atlas V)
  • 4 Russia (1 Soyuz, 1 Soyuz-2.1, 1 Proton, 1 Rockot)
  • 3 India (2 GSLV Mk.2, 1 PSLV)
  • 2 China (2 Long March 3B)
  • 1 Europe (1 Ariane 5).

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NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Nearing the End as Fuel Runs Low

This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Trailing Earth’s orbit at 94 million miles away, the Kepler space telescope has survived many potential knock-outs during its nine years in flight, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays. At this rate, the hardy spacecraft may reach its finish line in a manner we will consider a wonderful success. With nary a gas station to be found in deep space, the spacecraft is going to run out of fuel. We expect to reach that moment within several months.

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NASA KSC Director Looks Ahead to 2018 Milestones

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to employees at the Florida spaceport about plans for the coming year. (Credits: NASA/Frank Michaux)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana recently spoke to spaceport employees about plans for 2018. The coming year will be highlighted by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners preparing to launch test flights for crewed missions to the International Space Station.

“This is going to be an awesome year for us,” Cabana said speaking to center employees on Jan. 11, in the Lunar Theater of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo Saturn V Center. “The number one priority this year is we’ve got to get commercial crew flying to the International Space Station.”

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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NIAC Phase I Award: Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of Exoplanets

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission. (Credit: Slava Turyshev)

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission

Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

We propose to study a mission to the deep regions outside the solar system that will exploit the remarkable optical properties of the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) focus to effectively build an astronomical telescope capable of direct megapixel high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy of a potentially habitable exoplanet. Although theoretically it seems feasible, the engineering aspects of building such an astronomical telescope on the large scales involved were not addressed before; we propose to do that.

Our main question for this study is not “how to get there?” (although it will also be addressed), but rather “what does it take to operate a spacecraft at such enormous distances with the needed precision?”

Specifically, we propose to study I) how a space mission to the focal region of the SGL may be used to obtain high-resolution direct imaging and spectroscopy of an exoplanet by detecting, tracking, and studying the Einstein’s ring around the Sun, and II) how such information could be used to unambiguously detect and study life on another planet.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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NIAC Phase II Award: Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets

The Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets Concept. (Credit: Chris Mann)

Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets

Chris Mann
Nanohmics, Inc.
Austin, Texas

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

All stars exhibit intensity fluctuations over several time scales, from nanoseconds to days; these intensity fluctuations echo off planetary bodies in the star system and provide an opportunity to detect and possibly image exoplanets using modern computational imaging techniques.

A mission utilizing stellar echo detectors could provide continent-level imaging of exoplanets more readily than interferometric techniques, as high temporal resolution detection is less technically challenging and more cost effective than multikilometer-baseline fringe-tracking, particularly in a photon-starved regime.

The concept is also viable for survey missions for detecting exoplanets at more diverse orbital inclinations than is possible with transit or radial velocity techniques.

Under a Phase I NIAC program, we evaluated the feasibility of the stellar echo technique and, while several practical constraints have been identified, we have not identified any fundamental limitations.

We determined that the foundational technology already exists and has high TRL in space missions. Furthermore, the measurements required to demonstrate the feasibility of stellar echo detection are complementary to asteroseismology measurements, so a demonstration mission would provide high-value scientific information to other active astrophysics programs.

Under the Phase II program, we will continue to advance the theoretical understanding of stellar echo imaging, improve on the computational methods developed in Phase I, evaluate specific hardware implementations, and ultimately produce a roadmap for the demonstration of stellar echo detection and imaging of exoplanets.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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