Flying on Mars Is Getting Harder and Harder

Mars Helicopter Sol 193 – Navigation Camera: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image using its navigation camera during its 13th flight on Sep. 5, 2021 (Sol 193 of the Perseverance rover mission) at the local mean solar time of 12:06:30. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Written by Håvard Grip
Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In the months since we flew for the first time, we have learned a great deal about operating a helicopter on Mars. We have explored Ingenuity’s strengths and limitations in detail, leveraging the former and working around the latter to operationalize it as a highly capable reconnaissance platform.

With the benefit of the knowledge acquired, conducting flights on Mars has in most ways become easier than it was at the outset. But in one important way it is actually getting more difficult every day: I’m talking about the atmospheric density, which was already extremely low and is now dropping further due to seasonal variations on Mars.

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Release and Retract Test Marks Artemis I Mission Milestone

A close-up view of the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket inside High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 20, 2021. All 10 levels of work platforms have been retracted from around the rocket as part of the umbilical release and retract test. (Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs successfully completed the Umbilical Release and Retract Test on Sept. 19 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in preparation for the Artemis I mission.

The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant, and fuel to the rocket and the Orion spacecraft while at the launch pad until they disconnect and retract at ignition and liftoff.

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Rebel Space Technologies Wins NASA Autonomous Space Mission Networking Contract

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rebel Space Technologies PR) — Rebel Space Technologies has been awarded a NASA Phase II SBIR for their proposal Space Weaver: A Collaborative Smart Network for Space Communications. The proposal leverages Rebel Space’s proprietary Rebel Cognitive Communications & Control software (Rebel-C3) for autonomous network management, in addition to their partner Prewitt Ridge’s VerifAI.

In SpaceWeaver, the Rebel-C3 software creates a distributed cognitive space communications network for lunar operations that increases mission science data return and improves network resource efficiencies for NASA missions. The software uses artificial intelligence enhanced distributed sensing and optimized data routing to ensure efficient, resilient operations in an unpredictable space environment. The ultimate goal is to coordinate the transfer and relay of mission data across the lunar architecture based on data priority, content, schedule, and environmental conditions, a necessity for future lunar missions.

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ULA to Launch Landsat 9 Satellite on Monday from Vandenberg

Landsat 9 (Credit: NASA)

VANDERBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (ULA Mission Update) — Everything is progressing toward the ULA Atlas V launch carrying the Landsat 9 mission for NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The mission is planned to lift off on Mon., Sept. 27 at 11:11 a.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. 

Live broadcast coverage of launch will begin at 10:30 a.m. PDT on Sept. 27 and will broadcast live on NASA TV. Live launch updates and webcast available at: www.ulalaunch.com

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Lucy Is Going to Space to Study Trojan Asteroids

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Time capsules from the birth of our Solar System more than 4 billion years ago, the swarms of Trojan asteroids associated with Jupiter are thought to be remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets. The Trojans orbit the Sun in two loose groups, with one group leading ahead of Jupiter in its path, the other trailing behind.

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Nine Ways We Use AR and VR on the International Space Station

Credit: NASA

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Even the most highly trained and experienced person sometimes needs a hand. For astronauts aboard the International Space Station, that helping hand comes from other crew members, experts on the ground, and increasingly, in the form of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

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Psyche’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detection Instrument Arrives in California for Spacecraft Installation

By Jeremy Rehm
JHU APL

After five years of developing and testing a complex particle detection instrument for NASA’s Psyche mission, the world’s first mission to study a potentially metal-rich asteroid, the Psyche team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, can finally take a breather.

The team’s instrument — a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, or GRNS — safely arrived at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Aug. 2. There, it will be integrated with the Psyche spacecraft and prepped for launch next year.

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NASA Robots Compete in DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge Final

Team CoSTAR, led by NASA’s JPL, will use autonomous robots with diverse methods of movement to compete in the complex underground environments of the SubT Challenge Final. One of the robots, NeBula-Spot, walks on four legs to explore hard-to-access locations. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Led by NASA JPL, Team CoSTAR will participate in the SubT final this week to demonstrate multi-robot autonomy in a series of tests in extreme environments.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Eight teams featuring dozens of robots from more than 30 institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, will converge in a former Kentucky limestone mine from Sept. 21 to 24 to participate in a series of complex underground scenarios. The goal: to demonstrate cutting-edge robotic autonomy capabilities and compete for the chance to win $2 million.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Awarded NASA Contract for Orion Spacecraft Main Engine

Artist’s impression of Orion over Earth. (Credit: NASA/ESA/ATG Medialab)

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 21, 2021 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — NASA has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne to build the Orion Main Engine (OME), the primary propulsion element for NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will be used to explore deep space. Under the contract, which runs through 2032, Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver up to 20 new OME engines for use on future Artemis missions beginning with Artemis VII, or to support other NASA-sponsored, deep space exploration missions.

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Spaceflight Inc.’s New Launch Contracts Bolster Growth of Space Infrastructure

New OTV missions seed infrastructure for situational awareness, IoT communications and fuel depots throughout LEO, GEO and cislunar

SEATTLE, Sept. 21, 2021 (Spaceflight Inc. PR) — Spaceflight Inc., the global launch services provider, announced it has recently signed several new launch agreements with a wide range of organizations that are expanding space infrastructure. The satellite constellations provide communications networks, device connectivity, weather forecasts, Earth observation, analytics networks, spacecraft collision avoidance, propellant depots, and more. Spaceflight is actively planning several Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) missions to support these efforts in low Earth orbit (LEO), Geosynchronous Equatorial orbit (GEO) and other cislunar destinations.

Notably, Spaceflight has signed new launch deals with Astrocast, Canon Electronics, Capella Space, GeoJump, HawkEye 360, Orbit Fab, Loft Orbital, NASA, NearSpace Launch Inc. / Inter-Modal Holding LLC, Portland State Aerospace Society, Space Products and Innovation (SPiN), Spacemanic, University of Toronto Aerospace Team, Xona Space Systems, and several undisclosed U.S. government organizations.

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NASA Creates Two New Mission Directorates for Human Spaceflight

Kathryn Lueders

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Tuesday the agency is creating two new mission directorates that will best position the agency for the next 20 years.

The move separates the agency’s current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into the new Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate.

NASA is making the changes because of increasing space operations in low-Earth orbit and development programs well underway for deep space exploration, including Artemis missions.

Leadership will discuss the change and the future of NASA during an employee town hall broadcast live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website at noon EDT today.

Media are invited to a follow-on teleconference at 2:30 p.m., with audio streaming live online.

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NASA’s Artemis Rover to Land Near Nobile Region of Moon’s South Pole

A data visualization showing the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater and the smaller craters that litter its rim at the lunar South Pole. The region features areas permanently covered in shadow as well as areas that are bathed in sunlight most of the time. The terrain in the Nobile region is most suitable for the VIPER rover to navigate, communicate, and characterize potential water and other resources. (Credits: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — In 2023, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will land near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the Moon’s South Pole to map and explore the region’s surface and subsurface for water and other resources. Part of Artemis, VIPER will launch on a SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket for delivery to the Moon by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

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NASA TV to Air Landsat 9 Launch, Prelaunch Activities

Landsat 9 (Credit: NASA)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the Landsat 9 satellite, a joint NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission that will continue the legacy of monitoring Earth’s land and coastal regions that began with the first Landsat satellite in 1972.

Landsat 9 is scheduled to launch at 2:11 p.m. EDT (11:11 a.m. PDT) Monday, Sept. 27, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

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NASA Empowers Workforce to Advance Deep Space Technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 proposals led by early-career employees across the agency for two-year projects that will support the development of new capabilities for deep space human exploration.

These proposals were selected under Project Polaris, a new initiative to support the NASA workforce in efforts to meet the challenges of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. Project Polaris seeks to fill high-priority capability gaps on deep space missions like those planned under Artemis and introduce new technologies into human exploration flight programs. The project also aims to create opportunities for early-career employees across NASA centers to gain experience building and testing flight hardware while developing technologies and reducing risk for future human exploration missions.

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