Mars InSight’s ‘Mole’ Is Moving Again

DLR Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³) on the surface of Mars. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s InSight spacecraft has used its robotic arm to help its heat probe, known as “the mole,” dig nearly 2 centimeters (3/4 of an inch) over the past week. While modest, the movement is significant: Designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground to gauge the heat escaping from the planet’s interior, the mole has only managed to partially bury itself since it started hammering in February 2019.

(more…)

Raytheon Wins $150 Million Contract to Help JPL Develop, Test New Space Systems

DULLES, Va., Oct. 8, 2019 (Raytheon PR) — Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) will develop new space systems and flight software, and provide engineering, training and operations support for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed by Caltech, under a five-year, $150 million contract. The contract could potentially be worth $300 million over 10 years if all options are exercised.

“JPL’s pioneering spacecraft and rovers have led to groundbreaking discoveries of our solar system and beyond,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. “This is an incredible opportunity to continue enabling the future of space exploration.”

(more…)

NASA’s Push to Save the Mars InSight Lander’s Heat Probe

NASA’s InSight lander on Mars is trying to use its robotic arm to get the mission’s heat flow probe, or mole, digging again. InSight team engineer Ashitey Trebbi-Ollennu, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explains what has been attempted and the game plan for the coming weeks. The next tactic they’ll try will be “pinning” the mole against the hole it’s in. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s InSight lander, which is on a mission to explore the deep interior of Mars, positioned its robotic arm this past weekend to assist the spacecraft’s self-hammering heat probe. Known as “the mole,” the probe has been unable to dig more than about 14 inches (35 centimeters) since it began burying itself into the ground on Feb. 28, 2019.

The maneuver is in preparation for a tactic, to be tried over several weeks, called “pinning.”

(more…)

Highly Accurate GPS is Possible Thanks to NASA

GPS signals help drivers to navigate to their destinations. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Navigating to within three inches of your destination is made possible by algorithms and software developed by NASA. These power a NASA system that augments the raw navigation signals provided by the U.S. Air Force’s GPS satellites to support airplane navigation around the world, direct emergency responders and, soon, guide self-driving cars.

The Air Force began launching global positioning satellites in 1978, and it continues to operate and maintain the satellite network to this day. But over the decades, NASA has played a critical role in improving the system we rely on in our daily lives.

(more…)

Bobby Braun to Join JPL to Head Planetary Exploration Program

Bobby Braun (Credit: CU Boulder)

Former NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun will be re-joining the space agency in January as the leader of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) center’s planetary exploration program.

Braun, who serves as dean of the University of Colorado (UC) Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, will serve as a member of JPL’s leadership team.

In an internal memo, center Director Michael Watkins said Braun’s 30 years of experience with the JPL and NASA planetary missions, including the Mars Pathfinder lander, would be a great asset in implementing a planned overhaul of the lab’s Mars and planetary exploration programs.

(more…)

NASA’s InSight ‘Hears’ Peculiar Sounds on Mars

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Put an ear to the ground on Mars and you’ll be rewarded with a symphony of sounds. Granted, you’ll need superhuman hearing, but NASA’s InSight lander comes equipped with a very special “ear.”

The spacecraft’s exquisitely sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), can pick up vibrations as subtle as a breeze. The instrument was provided by the French space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), and its partners.

(more…)

NASA Designing Shapeshifting Robots for Saturn’s Moons

NASA 360 takes a look at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) known as Shapeshifter. Researched by a team of engineers at NASA JPL the Shapeshifter concept is a flying amphibious robot that could one day be used to explore the treacherous terrains of distant worlds.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Mini robots that can roll, fly, float and swim, then morph into a single machine? Together they form Shapeshifter, a developing concept for a transformational vehicle to explore treacherous, distant worlds.

(more…)

NASA Announces New Tipping Point Partnerships for Moon and Mars Technologies

Astrobotic is one of 14 companies selected for NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation. This illustration depicts CubeRover, an ultra-light, modular and scalable commercial rover.(Credit: Astrobotic/Carnegie Mellon University)

Astrobotic, Blue Origin, ExoTerra, Paragon and SpaceX among contract awardees for advanced technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 14 American companies as partners whose technologies will help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

The selections are based on NASA’s fourth competitive Tipping Point solicitation and have a combined total award value of about $43.2 million. This investment in the U.S. space industry, including small businesses across the country, will help bring the technologies to market and ready them for use by NASA.

(more…)

NASA Wins Two Emmy Awards for Interactive Mission Coverage

Crowd gathers to watch as NASA and SpaceX make history by launching the first commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to the International Space Station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off at 2:49 a.m. EST Saturday on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credits: NASA)

LOS ANGELES (NASA PR) — NASA’s efforts to engage a broader audience in exploration through the use of social media and online features was recognized with two Emmy Awards for interactive programming this weekend. During ceremonies held Sept. 14-15 at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences recognized NASA for its coverage of a Mars mission and the agency’s first test of a spacecraft that will help bring crewed launches to the International Space Station back to U.S. soil.

(more…)

DLR’s Mars Heat Probe Remains Stuck as Efforts Suspended

Illustration of HP3 mole instrument on NASA’s InSight Mars lander. (Credit: DLR)

DLR Mission Update

In his logbook, Instrument Lead Tilman Spohn who is back in Berlin since April and communicating with JPL via the web, gives us the latest updates regarding the InSight mission and our HP3 instrument – the ‘Mole’ – which will hammer into the Martian surface.

Logbook entry 27 August 2019

I hope you had – or are still having – a good summer!

Back in early July, I reported that we had safely removed the Support Structure Assembly (the SSA) to expose the mole. You may recall that the SSA’s function is to house the mole and the tethers before deployment and that it was sitting above the mole when the latter penetrated into the surface. The SSA was thus blocking the view of the mole. By removing it, we enabled us to view the mole up close, to eventually interact with it, and to work its immediate surroundings with the robotic arm. What we saw first showed us that our estimate of the length of the mole in the sand of 30-35 cm was pretty good (Figure 1).

(more…)

NASA Racks Up Two Emmy Nominations for Mission Coverage, Shares One with SpaceX

The Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA’s InSight lander, took this picture of the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018, the same day the spacecraft touched down on the Red Planet. The camera’s transparent dust cover is still on in this image, to prevent particulates kicked up during landing from settling on the camera’s lens. This image was relayed from InSight to Earth via NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft, currently orbiting Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

UPDATE: NASA has won an Emmy for interactive programming for its coverage of the SpaceX Demonstration Mission-1. Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted, “Congrats to all involved and those who help tell the @NASA story every day!”

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced July 16 two award nominations for NASA for its coverage of a Mars mission and the agency’s first test of a spacecraft that will help bring crewed launches to the International Space Station back to U.S. soil.

The nominations for the 71st Emmy Awards went to:

(more…)

Newly Discovered Comet Is Likely Interstellar Visitor

Comet C/2019 Q4 as imaged by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Big Island on Sept. 10, 2019. (Credits: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A newly discovered comet has excited the astronomical community this week because it appears to have originated from outside the solar system. The object — designated C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) — was discovered on Aug. 30, 2019, by Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea. The official confirmation that comet C/2019 Q4 is an interstellar comet has not yet been made, but if it is interstellar, it would be only the second such object detected. The first, ‘Oumuamua, was observed and confirmed in October 2017.

(more…)

NASA Invites Students to Name Mars 2020 Rover

This cartoon depicts NASA’s next Mars rover, which launches in 2020. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — Red rover, red rover, send a name for Mars 2020 right over! NASA is recruiting help from students nationwide to find a name for its next Mars rover mission.

Starting Tuesday, Aug. 27, K-12 students in U.S. public, private and home schools can enter the Mars 2020 Name the Rover essay contest. One grand prize winner will name the rover and be invited to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

(more…)

NASA’s Mars Helicopter Attached to Mars 2020 Rover

An engineer works on attaching NASA’s Mars Helicopter to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover – which has been flipped over for that purpose – on Aug. 27, 2019, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — Engineers attached NASA’s Mars Helicopter, which will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet, to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover today in the High Bay 1 clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

(more…)

NASA Activates Deep Space Atomic Clock

Technicians integrate NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock into the Orbital Test Bed Earth-orbiting satellite, which will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, in late June. (Credits: General Atomics)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — An atomic clock that could pave the way for autonomous deep space travel was successfully activated last week and is ready to begin its year-long tech demo, the mission team confirmed on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Launched in June, NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock is a critical step toward enabling spacecraft to safely navigate themselves in deep space rather than rely on the time-consuming process of receiving directions from Earth.

(more…)