ASPIRE Mars 2020 Parachute Test a Success

A Black Brant IX sounding rockets lifts off from the Wallops Flight Facility with the ASPIRE experiment on board on Sept. 7, 2018. (Credit: NASA/Allison Stancil)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — On Friday, September 7, at 9:30 a.m., a parachute test for a future mission to Mars successfully launched on a NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket from Wallops Flight Facility. The rocket carried the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The payload is a bullet-nosed, cylindrical structure holding a supersonic parachute, the parachute’s deployment mechanism, and the test’s high-definition instrumentation, including cameras, to record data.

The payload descended by parachute and splashed-down in the Atlantic Ocean 28 miles from Wallops Island. The parachute was successfully recovered and returned to Wallops for data retrieval and inspection.

NASA Makes Progress Toward Science Priorities Outlined in 2013-2022 Planetary Decadal Survey

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) – Despite significant cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science Division budget early in this decade, the space agency has made impressive progress in meeting goals outlined in the 2013-2022 planetary decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies.

The report notes that the agency met or exceeded the decadal survey’s recommendations for funding research and analysis, and for technology programs. However, NASA has not achieved the recommended timeline for New Frontiers and Discovery missions for the decade. At least one more New Frontiers mission and three Discovery missions should be selected before the end of the decade in order to achieve the schedule recommended in Vision and Voyages.
(more…)

Mid-Year Global Launch Report: China & USA Continue to Battle for Lead

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.

There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)

Scientists Shrink Chemistry Lab to Seek Evidence of Life on Mars

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — An international team of scientists has created a tiny chemistry lab for a rover that will drill beneath the Martian surface looking for signs of past or present life. The toaster oven-sized lab, called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA, is a key instrument on the ExoMars Rover, a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA. It will be launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020.

(more…)

Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

(more…)

NASA Sending a Helicopter to Mars

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars.

The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

(more…)

GAO: Mars 2020 Mission on Track But Faces Technical, Schedule Problems

Artist’s concept of the Mars Science Laboratory entry into the Martian atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is facing a number of technical challenges, but space agency officials say it is on track for launch two years from now, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

“In commenting on a draft of this assessment, Mars 2020 project officials stated the project matured all its new technologies to the appropriate level by critical design review,” the report stated. “Further, officials stated the project had backup technologies but none were required. Officials also stated the project has accommodated schedule delays within available schedule reserves and continues to maintain robust schedule reserve along the critical path.”

(more…)

Engineers Find Fracture in Mars 2020 Heat Shield

Artist’s concept of the Mars Science Laboratory entry into the Martian atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A post-test inspection of the composite structure for a heat shield to be used on the Mars 2020 mission revealed that a fracture occurred during structural testing. The mission team is working to build a replacement heat shield structure. The situation will not affect the mission’s launch readiness date of July 17, 2020.

(more…)

ESA and NASA to Investigate Bringing Martian Soil to Earth

Martian soil (Credit: NASA)

BERLIN (ESA PR) — ESA and NASA signed a statement of intent today to explore concepts for missions to bring samples of martian soil to Earth.

Spacecraft in orbit and on Mars’s surface have made many exciting discoveries, transforming our understanding of the planet and unveiling clues to the formation of our Solar System, as well as helping us understand our home planet. The next step is to bring samples to Earth for detailed analysis in sophisticated laboratories where results can be verified independently and samples can be reanalysed as laboratory techniques continue to improve.
(more…)

First Quarter 2018 Launch Report: China & USA Battle for Lead

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.

China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.

(more…)

NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission Performs First Supersonic Parachute Test

A 58-foot-tall Black Brant IX sounding rocket launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Oct. 4. This was the first test of the Mars 2020 mission’s parachute-testing series, the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment, or ASPIRE. (Credit: NASA/Wallops)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — Landing on Mars is difficult and not always successful. Well-designed advance testing helps. An ambitious NASA Mars rover mission set to launch in 2020 will rely on a special parachute to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere at over 12,000 mph (5.4 kilometers per second). Preparations for this mission have provided, for the first time, dramatic video of the parachute opening at supersonic speed.

(more…)

Next Mars Rover Will Have 23 ‘Eyes’

A selection of the 23 cameras on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. Many are improved versions of the cameras on the Curiosity rover, with a few new additions as well. UPDATED AT 4:15 p.m. PDT to correct the number of EDL cameras shown in the image. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Mars Pathfinder touched down in 1997, it had five cameras: two on a mast that popped up from the lander, and three on NASA’s first rover, Sojourner.

Since then, camera technology has taken a quantum leap. Photo sensors that were improved by the space program have become commercially ubiquitous. Cameras have shrunk in size, increased in quality and are now carried in every cellphone and laptop.

(more…)

Sample Retrieval System Biggest Challenge for Mars 2020 Mission

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The biggest risk for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission meeting its launch window is the development of its soil and rock collecting system, according to a new audit from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

(more…)

Masten Tests Mars 2020 Lander Vision System for NASA

Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA tested new “eyes” for its next Mars rover mission on a rocket built by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, in 2014, thanks in part to NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, or FO program.

(more…)

NASA Selects ULA’s Reliable Atlas V Rocket to Launch Mars 2020 Mission

Atlas V liftoff (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V liftoff (Credit: ULA)

Centennial, Colo., Aug. 25, 2016 (ULA PR) – NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Atlas V vehicle to launch Mars 2020, its next robotic science rover. This award resulted from a competitive procurement under the NASA Launch Services contract.

(more…)