Mars 2020 Rover Closer to Getting Name

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 PR) — NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is one step closer to having its own name after 155 students across the U.S. were chosen as semifinalists in the “Name the Rover” essay contest. Just one will be selected to win the grand prize — the exciting honor of naming the rover and an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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NASA Selects First Mode and ASU to Develop Marathon Moon Rover, Intrepid

A preliminary CAD model of Intrepid, a novel Lunar Rover being developed in support of the NASA Planetary Mission Concept Study program. (Credit: First Mode)

SEATTLE (First Mode PR) — First Mode, a system design and engineering firm, has been selected by NASA to develop a pioneering lunar mission concept with Arizona State University (ASU). The effort will be funded through NASA’s Planetary Mission Concept Study program.

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The Return to Venus and What It Means for Earth

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA’s JPL is designing mission concepts to survive the planet’s extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Sue Smrekar really wants to go back to Venus. In her office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the planetary scientist displays a 30-year-old image of Venus’ surface taken by the Magellan spacecraft, a reminder of how much time has passed since an American mission orbited the planet. The image reveals a hellish landscape: a young surface with more volcanoes than any other body in the solar system, gigantic rifts, towering mountain belts and temperatures hot enough to melt lead.

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Media Meet NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover and Builders

During their only opportunity to see NASA’s next Mars rover from inside JPL’s clean room prior to its shipment to Cape Canaveral, members of the media interview the builders of the Mars 2020 mission. The image was taken inside the clean room on Dec. 27, 2019. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Members of the media walked the clean-room floor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 27 to glimpse the agency’s Mars 2020 rover and speak with experts working on the mission. It was the media’s only opportunity to see the rover from inside the clean room prior to its shipment to Cape Canaveral in February.

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ESA Reports Promising Progress for ExoMars Parachutes

A series of clips from different angles and at different speeds showing parachute extraction tests using a NASA/JPL test rig powered by compressed air.  The lid of the parachute assembly is pulled along a suspended cable at high speed while the end of the assembly is fixed to a wall. When the release mechanism is activated, the parachute bag is pulled away from the parachute at the target speed, mimicking the extraction as it will be on Mars. At the highest speeds, the tests enable the extraction to take place at more than 200 km/h.

PARIS (ESA PR) — A series of ground-based tests designed to check the extraction of the ExoMars 2020 mission’s parachutes from their bags have started successfully with promising results to keep the mission on track for next year’s launch.

Landing on Mars is a high-risk endeavour with no room for error. In just six minutes, a descent module with its precious cargo cocooned inside has to slow from around 21 000 km/h at the top of the planet’s atmosphere, to a soft landing at the surface controlled by the lander’s propulsion system.

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A Warm Space Station Welcome for Cool New Hardware

Astronaut Christina Koch unloads new hardware for the Cold Atom Lab aboard the International Space Station the week of Dec. 9, 2020. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Astronaut Christina Koch recently gave a warm welcome to a very cool arrival to the International Space Station: a new piece of hardware for the Cold Atom Lab, an experimental physics facility that chills atoms to almost absolute zero, or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 273 degrees Celsius). That’s colder than any known place in the universe.

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University of Arizona Looks Toward Work on NASA’s Potential Asteroid-Hunting Space Telescope

Bi-static radar images of the binary asteroid 2017 YE5 from the Arecibo Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory on June 25. The observations show that the asteroid consists of two separate objects in orbit around each other. (Credit: Arecibo/GBO/NSF/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

TUCSON, Ariz. (University of Arizona PR) — The University of Arizona is spearheading work that would begin efforts to construct a space-based infrared telescope that could provide the capabilities NASA needs to search for asteroids and comets that pose impact hazards to Earth, called near-Earth objects, or NEOs.

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NASA Struggles with Shortage of Skilled Workers

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is already hampered by a shortfall of skilled workers, a problem that will be exacerbated as the space agency gears up to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 in the Artemis program.

That is the conclusion of a new report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The review identified attracting and retaining a highly-skilled workforce as one of the space agency’s seven biggest management and performance challenges. [Full Report]

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NASA’s Mars 2020 Will Hunt for Microscopic Fossils

Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/ESA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Scientists with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover have discovered what may be one of the best places to look for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater, where the rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021.

A paper published today in the journal Icarus identifies distinct deposits of minerals called carbonates along the inner rim of Jezero, the site of a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. On Earth, carbonates help form structures that are hardy enough to survive in fossil form for billions of years, including seashells, coral and some stromatolites — rocks formed on this planet by ancient microbial life along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water were plentiful.

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NASA’s Small Investments in Small Businesses Pay Big Dividends

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Sustainable Bioproducts, a previous recipient and NASA STTR funding, uses extremophile organisms from volcanic springs to create edible proteins. (Credits: Jim Peaco/National Park Service)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — In 2013, a startup company had an idea for using extremophile organisms from volcanic springs to create edible proteins that would serve as an environmentally conscious alternative to meat-based proteins.

Following a handful of small investments from government agencies, including a $124,000 Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract from NASA, Sustainable Bioproducts announced in early 2019 it received $33 million in venture capital financing, including backing from two of the world’s biggest food and agriculture companies.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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