Airbus to Bring First Mars Samples to Earth: ESA Contract Award

ERO will reach Mars orbit, capture orbiting samples launched from the Red Planet and bring them back to Earth. (Credit: Airbus)
  • A new decade of European exploration – to the Moon and Mars
  • Airbus to design and build the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) for Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign
  • ERO will reach Mars orbit, capture orbiting samples launched from the Red Planet and bring them back to Earth

TOULOUSE, 14 October 2020 (Airbus PR) – Airbus has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor for the Mars Sample Return’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) – the first ever spacecraft to bring samples back to Earth from Mars. Mars Sample Return (MSR) is a joint ESA-NASA campaign and the next step in the exploration of Mars. ERO and the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) are the two main European elements of MSR, both are set to be designed and built by Airbus.

A manipulating arm, referred to as the Sample Transfer Arm (STA), that will transfer the samples from the SFR to the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), is the third European contribution to the MSR program. The value of the ERO contract is €491 million [$574.8 million].

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A “Flight” Over Jupiter

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — This video uses images from NASA’s Juno mission to recreate what it might have looked like to ride along with the Juno spacecraft as it performed its 27th close flyby of Jupiter on June 2, 2020.

During the closest approach of this pass, the Juno spacecraft came within approximately 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops. At that point, Jupiter’s powerful gravity accelerated the spacecraft to tremendous speed – about 130,000 mph (209,000 kilometers per hour) relative to the planet.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created the video using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam instrument. The sequence combines 41 JunoCam still images digitally projected onto a sphere, with a virtual “camera” providing views of Jupiter from different angles as the spacecraft speeds by.

The original JunoCam images were taken on June 2, 2020, between 2:47 a.m. PDT (5:47 a.m. EDT) and 4:25 a.m. PDT (7:25 a.m. EDT).

JunoCam’s raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at https://missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing. More information about NASA citizen science can be found at  https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience and https://www.nasa.gov/solve/opportunities/citizenscience.

More information about Juno is at https://www.nasa.gov/juno and  https://missionjuno.swri.edu.

Image credit: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
Image processing by Kevin M. Gill © CC BY
Music by Vangelis

IG Audit: NASA Planetary Program Faces Major Financial, Managerial Challenges

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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New Gears Can Withstand Impact, Freezing Temperatures During Lunar Missions

Andrew Kennett (left) watches as Dominic Aldi (right) uses liquid nitrogen to cool a motor integrated bulk metallic glass gearbox prior to shock testing it. The motor and gearbox are inside the frosty metal “bucket” that contains the liquid nitrogen. The tooling, including the “bucket” is designed to be mounted both vertically (shown) and horizontally on the cube for testing the motor and gearbox in three orientations. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Many exploration destinations in our solar system are frigid and require hardware that can withstand the extreme cold. During NASA’s Artemis missions, temperatures at the Moon’s South Pole will drop drastically during the lunar night. Farther into the solar system, on Jupiter’s moon Europa, temperatures never rise above -260 degrees Fahrenheit (-162 degrees Celsius) at the equator.

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Are Planets with Oceans Common in the Galaxy? It’s Likely, NASA Scientists Find

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes on Enceladus in October 2015. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. (NASA PR) — Several years ago, planetary scientist Lynnae Quick began to wonder whether any of the more than 4,000 known exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.

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Department of Energy Looks to Support Space Exploration

by Paul M. Dabbar
Under Secretary for Science
Department of Energy

America is on the verge of a new era of space exploration, and America’s leadership in the space domain will be due to its courage to go and its conviction to stay.  DOE, by many measures the “Department of Exploration,” is proud to be playing an essential part in rising to these challenges.

NASA and SpaceX recently launched American astronauts aboard an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011, and America is actively planning to return to the Moon … and then go even further.

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Europa Clipper Faces Delay Due to SLS Booster Decision

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Europa Clipper orbiter could be placed in storage for two years awaiting a ride to Jupiter’s icy moon at a cost of $250 million due to Congress’ insistence that it be flown aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), according to a new review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The cost estimate assumes that the Europa orbiter will be ready for launch in July 2023. It would be placed in storage until launch aboard a SLS in September 2025.

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Newly Reprocessed Images of Europa Show ‘Chaos Terrain’ in Crisp Detail

In this gallery of three newly reprocessed Europa images, details are visible in the variety of features on the moon’s icy surface. This image of an area called Chaos Transition shows blocks that have moved and ridges possibly related to how the crust fractures from the force of Jupiter’s gravity. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa features a widely varied landscape, including ridges, bands, small rounded domes and disrupted spaces that geologists call “chaos terrain.” Three newly reprocessed images, taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s, reveal details in diverse surface features on Europa.

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NIAC Award: Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

Graphic depiction of the SPEAR Probe concept. (Credits: Troy Howe)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

SPEAR Probe – An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

Troy Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) systems have the potential to provide a very effective transit mechanism to celestial bodies outside of the realm of solar power, yet the heavy power source and massive radiators required to justify a reactor core often push NEP spacecraft towards very large masses and major missions.

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NASA Selects Four Possible Solar System Missions

Artist concept of the solar system. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they’re not official missions yet and some ultimately may not be chosen to move forward, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year.

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Scientists Find Additional Asteroid for Lucy Spacecraft to Visit

Conceptual image of the Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids. (Credits: NASA/SwRI)

SAN ANTONIO, January 9, 2020 (SwRI PR) — Less than two years before launch, scientists associated with NASA’s Lucy mission, led by Southwest Research Institute, have discovered an additional small asteroid that will be visited by the Lucy spacecraft. Set to launch in 2021, its 12-year journey of almost 4 billion miles will explore the Trojan asteroids, a population of ancient small bodies that share an orbit with Jupiter.

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NASA Scientists Confirm Water Vapor on Europa

On the left is a view of Europa taken from 2.9 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) away on March 2, 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Next is a color image of Europa taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft during its close encounter on July 9, 1979. On the right is a view of Europa made from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (Credits: NASA/JPL)

By Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft snapped the first closeup images of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons. These revealed brownish cracks slicing the moon’s icy surface, which give Europa the look of a veiny eyeball. Missions to the outer solar system in the decades since have amassed enough additional information about Europa to make it a high-priority target of investigation in NASA’s search for life.

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NASA Instrument to Probe Planet Clouds on European Mission

This artist’s concept shows the European Space Agency’s ARIEL spacecraft on its way to Lagrange Point 2 (L2) — a gravitationally stable, Sun-centric orbit — where it will be shielded from the Sun and have a clear view of the sky. NASA’s JPL will manage the mission’s CASE instrument. (Credits: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will contribute an instrument to a European space mission that will explore the atmospheres of hundreds of planets orbiting stars beyond our Sun, or exoplanets, for the first time.

The instrument, called the Contribution to ARIEL Spectroscopy of Exoplanets, or CASE, adds scientific capabilities to ESA’s (the European Space Agency’s) Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, or ARIEL, mission.

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White House Wants Congress to Provide More Money for Artemis, Dump SLS as Europa Mission Launcher

The core stage test team recently completed structural testing confirming the stage’s liquid hydrogen tank structural design is good for conditions that will be experienced in the rocket’s initial configuration, called Block 1, during the Artemis I launch. (Credits: NASA/Tyler Martin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The White House wants Congress to provide more money for the Artemis moon landing program, and to save about $1.5 billion by dropping the requirement that NASA launch the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s icy moon on the Space Launch System (SLS).

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