Building Future Air Taxis to See Through the Fog

The frame of an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, is installed at the end of a 180-foot-long chamber filled with fog at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico. NASA researchers used this facility to test the ability of sensors such as visual and infrared cameras and lidar scanners to perceive objects through fog. Sensors like these will need to replace a human pilot’s eyes on future unpiloted air vehicles such as air taxis. (Credits: Sandia National Labs)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (NASA PR) — While the sun beat down on the New Mexico desert, inside, a dense fog hung in the air. In a special facility outside Albuquerque, a team of NASA researchers was working with the kind of fog that’s so thick you can’t see three feet in front of you.

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2021 in Review: Highlights from NASA in Silicon Valley

Ingenuity Mars helicopter flies on the Red Planet. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Join us as we look back at the highlights of 2021 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

1) NASA’s water-hunting Moon rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, made great strides this year. The VIPER team successfully completed practice runs of the full-scale assembly of the Artemis program’s lunar rover in VIPER’s new clean room. Two rounds of egress testing let rover drivers practice exiting the lander and rolling onto the rocky surface of the Moon. NASA also announced the landing site selected for the robotic rover, which will be delivered to the Nobile region of the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023 as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. NASA also chose eight new VIPER science team members and their proposals to expand and complement VIPER’s already existing science team and planned investigations. This year’s progress contributed to VIPER’s completion of its Critical Design Review, turning the mission’s focus toward construction of the rover beginning in late 2022.

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NASA’s Webb Telescope Reaches Major Milestone as Mirror Unfolds

Shown fully stowed, the James Webb Space Telescope’s Deployable Tower Assembly that connects the upper and lower sections of the spacecraft will extend 48 inches (1.2 meters) after launch. (Credits: Northrop Grumman)

BALTIMORE (NASA PR) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope team fully deployed its 21-foot, gold-coated primary mirror, successfully completing the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments to prepare for science operations.

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Sunshield Successfully Deploys on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope’s final sunshield deployment and tensioning tests were completed in December 2020. (Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The James Webb Space Telescope team has fully deployed the spacecraft’s 70-foot sunshield, a key milestone in preparing it for science operations.

The sunshield – about the size of a tennis court at full size – was folded to fit inside the payload area of an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket’s nose cone prior to launch. The Webb team began remotely deploying the sunshield Dec. 28, 2021, three days after launch.

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NASA Selects New Members for Artemis Rover Science Team

VIPER rover on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, explores and samples the soils at the Moon’s South Pole, scientists anticipate it will reveal answers to some of the Moon’s enduring mysteries. Where is the water and how much is there? Where did the Moon’s water come from? What other resources are there?

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CLICK Team Tests Optical Communications Technology Ahead of Small Spacecraft Swarm Demonstration

Graduate students build the test assembly of the CubeSat Laser Infrared CrosslinK, or CLICK, B/C engineering development unit in a clean room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. (Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (NASA PR) — Teams from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville are currently testing components of NASA’s CubeSat Laser Infrared CrosslinK (CLICK) B/C demonstration, aiming to validate that the technology can be packaged into a CubeSat and work as expected. CLICK B/C is the second of two sequential missions designed to advance optical communications capabilities for autonomous fleets of CubeSats.

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NASA’s Webb Telescope Launches to See First Galaxies, Distant Worlds

The James Webb Space Telescope after separation from its Ariane 5 booster. (Credit; NASA)

KOUROU, French Guiana, December 25, 2021 (NASA PR) — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launched at 7:20 a.m. EST Saturday on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, South America.

A joint effort with ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, the Webb observatory is NASA’s revolutionary flagship mission to seek the light from the first galaxies in the early universe and to explore our own solar system, as well as planets orbiting other stars, called exoplanets. 

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NASA Selects Nine Space Technologies for Commercial Suborbital Flight Tests

Carthage College student Nicolas Welker prepares to start a zero-gravity transfer of propellant simulant during a flight on Zero Gravity Corporation’s G-FORCE ONE on Nov. 16, 2021. The flight enabled testing of technology designed to gauge propellant levels during on-orbit refueling and transfer operations. (Credits: Zero Gravity Corporation/Steve Boxall)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected nine space technologies under the agency’s 2021 TechFlights solicitation for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems.

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Reaches a Total of 30 Minutes Aloft

Ingenuity sits on a slightly inclined surface with about 6-degree tilt at the center of the frame, just north of the southern ridge of “Séíitah” geologic unit. The Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument took this image on Dec. 1, 2021, when the rotorcraft was about 970 feet (295 meters) away. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

With its recent 17th flight, the Red Planet rotorcraft reaches an airborne milestone the team never considered achievable. Its 18th flight is scheduled for no earlier than today.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The 17th flight of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on Dec. 5 pushed the total flight time past the 30-minute mark. The 117-second sortie brought history’s first aircraft to operate from the surface of another world closer to its original airfield, “Wright Brothers Field,” where it will await the arrival of the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover, currently exploring “South Séítah” region of Mars’ Jezero Crater.

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New Deep Learning Method Adds 301 Planets to Kepler’s Total Count

This artist’s illustration shows the planetary system K2-138, which was discovered by citizen scientists in 2017 using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope. [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)]

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Scientists recently added a whopping 301 newly validated exoplanets to the total exoplanet tally. The throng of planets is the latest to join the 4,569  already validated planets orbiting a multitude of distant stars. How did scientists discover such a huge number of planets, seemingly all at once? The answer lies with a new deep neural network called ExoMiner.

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MDA Awarded Initial Design Phase Contract for Lunar Rover

Engages expert pan-Canadian team of small businesses, scientists and academics

BRAMPTON, Ont. (MDA PR) — MDA Ltd. (TSX:MDA), a leading provider of advanced technology and services to the rapidly-expanding global space industry, today announced that it has been awarded a contract by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to undertake a Phase A initial design study for a Canadian Lunar Rover mission to the Moon.

As part of the CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), the Lunar Rover will advance eight key technologies that are foundational building blocks for planetary rovers, including mobility, communications, operations, thermal control for lunar night survival, power generation and storage, and semi-autonomous plus autonomous operations.

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Suborbital Testing Puts Moon-Bound Computing System Through its Paces

With a float duration of about four hours, a 2019 high-altitude balloon flight with World View Enterprises enabled the MSU team to evaluate RadPC’s tolerance to radiation over a longer period of time. (Credits: World View Enterprises)

By Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

EDWARDS, Calif. — As you read this article, you don’t need to worry that cosmic radiation might destroy the computer displaying it. That’s because the Earth’s atmosphere provides protection against such radiation. However, for astronauts relying on computing systems in space, cosmic radiation is a real concern. This is why NASA is supporting tests of radiation-tolerant computing systems on suborbital vehicles – and eventually on the Moon.

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Action! Filming a Simulated Lunar Landing From the Dusty Desert Floor

Zandef Deksit’s ExoCam in its metal cage rests on the desert surface of Mojave, California. Masten Space Systems’s Xodiac VTVL vehicle can be seen in the ExoCam’s viewfinder and in the distance. (Credits: Jason Achilles Mezilis/Zandef Deksit, Inc.)

By Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

MOJAVE, Calif. — Video capture during future lunar landings could play an important role in contributing to researchers’ understanding of disturbances in lunar surface materials – called regolith – caused by the lander’s rocket plume. With support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, on Oct. 14, 2021, researchers from Los Angeles-based Zandef Deksit put a high-tech video capture and regolith sensor payload called ExoCam to the test. The desert environment of Mojave, California, provided a stand-in for the surface of the Moon, and the Xodiac vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) platform from Masten Space Systems was the test vehicle.

Simulating the movement of a lunar lander, the VTVL vehicle enabled researchers from Zandef Deksit and co-investigators from Honeybee Robotics to test an ejection mechanism to jettison the ExoCam onto the desert surface at specific altitudes just before landing. Along with calculations to account for lunar gravity, this helped the team understand the limit of how far from a planetary surface they would need to eject the payload in order for it to survive landing and function properly.

Once on the ground, the payload’s camera captured video footage from the unique vantage point of the desert surface. The ExoCam also utilized a regolith sensor developed by co-investigators at Arizona State University to capture data about the quantity of regolith particles picked up by the vehicle’s rocket plume, as well as the speed at which they were propelled as the lander descended onto the surface.

About Flight Opportunities

Flight Opportunities rapidly demonstrates promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce through suborbital testing with industry flight providers. The program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington, and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

NASA Selects Three Winners in Inaugural TechLeap Prize Challenge

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA seeks to improve a variety of Earth and space-based capabilities, including detecting and tracking wildfires, identifying plumes of gas venting into Earth’s atmosphere, and precision tracking of small spacecraft positions in orbit. The NASA TechLeap Prize is helping to advance these types of technologies for space exploration and Earth observation.

The agency has named three winners in the first TechLeap Prize competition, Autonomous Observation Challenge No. 1. The proposed solutions will help rapidly advance small spacecraft technologies for autonomous observation of events on Earth and beyond, as well as improve communications and computing power in small spacecraft applications. The winning teams will each receive an initial $200,000 prize they can use to begin building their payloads for a later suborbital flight test.

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Blue Canyon Technologies Delivers First of Four CubeSats to NASA’s Ames for Starling Technology Demo

LAFAYETTE, Colo., October 20, 2021 (Blue Canyon PR) — Small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies LLC (“BCT” or “Blue Canyon”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, delivered the first of four 6U CubeSats to NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The CubeSats will support a technology demonstration called Starling. NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the demonstration. Under the current contract agreement, in addition to designing and manufacturing the spacecraft buses, BCT will also provide engineering and support to Starling mission operations for the four flight-qualified 6U CubeSats.

“The delivery of CubeSats will allow Ames to continue with payload integration and testing of the integrated flight unit,” said Stephanee Borck, senior program manager at Blue Canyon Technologies. “A lot of hard work from both teams has gone into making it thus far in the project. We look forward to delivering the next three CubeSats and seeing what the technology demonstration can do on-orbit.”

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