NASA Funds Research into Small Robots Designed to Explore Martian Caves

Illustration of ReachBot traversing a Martian cavern using microspine grippers across different types of treacherous terrain: (left) a vertically winding tunnel with a rocky and uneven floor, (center) an overhanging wall or ceiling, and (right) a sheer vertical wall in a large cavern or on a cliff. (Credits: Marco Pavone)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

ReachBot: Small Robot for Large Mobile Manipulation Tasks
in Martian Cave Environments
Marco Pavone
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Synopsis

The objective of this effort is to develop a mission architecture where a long-reach crawling and anchoring robot, which repurposes extendable booms for mobile manipulation, is deployed to explore and sample difficult terrains on planetary bodies, with a key focus on Mars exploration. To this end, the robot concept we present here, called ReachBot, uses rollable extendable booms as manipulator arms and as highly reconfigurable structural members.

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Testing Proves Its Worth With Successful Mars Parachute Deployment

Video obtained by camera aboard the Mars 2020 spacecraft during parachute deployment on Feb. 18, 2021. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The giant canopy that helped land Perseverance on Mars was tested here on Earth at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

WALLOPS, Va. (NASA PR) — Test. Test again. Test again.

Testing spacecraft components prior to flight is vital for a successful mission.

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NIAC Award: Building a Levitating Railroad on the Moon

Artist’s depiction of the FLOAT lunar railway system to provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. (Credits: Ethan Schaler)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

FLOAT: Flexible Levitation on a Track
Ethan Schaler
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030’s, as envisioned in NASA’s Moon to Mars plan and mission concepts like the Robotic Lunar Surface Operations 2 (RLSO2), to:

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Dynetics Completes Human Landing System’s Preliminary Design Review

Artist concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Dynetics)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Feb. 25, 2021 (Dynetics PR) — Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, has successfully completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the Dynetics Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA’s Artemis Program, marking another critical milestone in human spaceflight. This review provided NASA with insight into the design of the human lander that Dynetics hopes will carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon.

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NASA Celebrates ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary W. Jackson With Building Naming Ceremony

Bryan Jackson, grandson of Mary W. Jackson, left, and Raymond Lewis, son-in-law of Mary W. Jackson, right, unveil the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters sign during a ceremony officially naming the building, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. Mary W. Jackson, the first African American female engineer at NASA, began her career with the agency in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The mathematician and aerospace engineer went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. In 2019, she posthumously received the Congressional Gold Medal. (Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — On Friday, NASA celebrated the agency’s first African American female engineer, Mary W. Jackson, with a ceremony to formally name the agency’s headquarters building in Washington in her honor.

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Futuristic Space Technology Concepts Selected by NASA for Initial Study

This illustration shows a conceptual lunar railway system called FLOAT (Flexible Levitation on a Track) that has been selected for an early-stage feasibility study within the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Four advanced space concepts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been selected to receive grants for further research and development.

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NASA Awards Contract to Astra Space for 3 Launches

Astra’s Rocket 3.2 on the launch pad. (Credit: John Kraus)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Astra Space Inc. to provide a launch service for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission. The TROPICS mission consists of a constellation of six CubeSats and will increase the scientific community’s understanding of storm processes.

The launch service contract for the TROPICS mission is a firm fixed-price contract valued at $7.95 million. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the launch service.

The CubeSats, each the size of a shoebox, will provide rapid-refresh microwave measurements that can be used to determine temperature, pressure, and humidity inside hurricanes as they form and evolve. The TROPICS mission’s high-revisit imaging and sounding observations are enabled by microwave technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory. These observations will profoundly improve scientists’ understanding of processes driving high-impact storms.

Astra Space will launch the CubeSats on the company’s Rocket 3 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands with three separate launches over a 120-day period. The TROPICS mission is targeted for launch between Jan. 8 and July 31, 2022, under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license.

For more information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov

NASA Wants Your Help Designing a Venus Rover Concept

An illustration of a concept for a possible wind-powered Venus rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is running a public challenge to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for a possible future Venus rover. The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge is seeking the public’s designs for a sensor that could be incorporated into the design concept.

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Was There Life on Mars? UK Scientists Play Key Part in NASA Mission to Red Planet

Panorama of Perseverance Rover’s landing site on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — After a seven-month journey, NASA’s car-sized Mars Perseverance rover will make its final descent to the Red Planet to begin its search for traces of life.

The rover’s mission – backed by the UK government – is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars. Supported by over £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help to decide which samples are sent to Earth in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

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Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges as Company Delays Space Tourism Flights to 2022

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Shares of Virgin Galactic plunged sharply on Thursday as the company announced that it was postponing the start of commercial suborbital space tourism flights until 2022 due to additional delays in completing SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s test program.

Shares plunged in after hours trading to $36.69 after opening the day at $45.04. Most of the decline occurred in after hours trading following the release of Virgin Galactic quarterly and full year 2020 earning report.

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Green Run Update: NASA Investigating Valve Performance Before Second Hot Fire

The core stage for the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is seen in the B-2 Test Stand during a scheduled eight minute duration hot fire test, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The four RS-25 engines fired for a little more than one minute. The hot fire test is the final stage of the Green Run test series, a comprehensive assessment of the Space Launch System’s core stage prior to launching the Artemis I mission to the Moon. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (NASA PR) — NASA’s is reviewing the performance of a valve on the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket before proceeding with a second hot fire test at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

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Parker Solar Probe Offers Stunning View of Venus

When flying past Venus in July 2020, Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument, short for Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. Bright streaks in WISPR, such as the ones seen here, are typically caused by a combination of charged particles — called cosmic rays — sunlight reflected by grains of space dust, and particles of material expelled from the spacecraft’s structures after impact with those dust grains. The number of streaks varies along the orbit or when the spacecraft is traveling at different speeds, and scientists are still in discussion about the specific origins of the streaks here. The dark spot appearing on the lower portion of Venus is an artifact from the WISPR instrument. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher)

By Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

LAUREL, Md. — NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured stunning views of Venus during its close flyby of the planet in July 2020.

Though Parker Solar Probe’s focus is the Sun, Venus plays a critical role in the mission: The spacecraft whips by Venus a total of seven times over the course of its seven-year mission, using the planet’s gravity to bend the spacecraft’s orbit. These Venus gravity assists allow Parker Solar Probe to fly closer and closer to the Sun on its mission to study the dynamics of the solar wind close to its source.

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ClimaCell to Launch Constellation of Radar-Equipped Satellites into Space to Bring Critical Weather Radar Coverage to the Entire Globe

Credit: ClimaCell

BOSTON, Feb 24 2021 (ClimaCell PR) – ​Today ClimaCell, the world’s leading weather intelligence platform is excited to announce Operation Tomorrow Space. To improve global forecasting technology and capabilities, ClimaCell has designed proprietary radar-equipped satellites and will begin launching dozens into space over the coming years. Known for pioneering a number of weather technology advancements in recent years, ClimaCell’s radar-equipped small-satellite constellation represents a first in the history of the weather industry.

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NASA to Host Briefings, Interviews for Next Crew Rotation Mission with SpaceX

Members of the SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station participated in training in Hawthorne, California, on Jan. 11, 2021. Pictured from left are ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA will highlight the second crew rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station with a pair of news conferences beginning 12:30 p.m. EST Monday, March 1. The briefings, which will take place at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. The full astronaut crew flying on the mission also will be available for interviews.

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How Were the Trojan Asteroids Discovered and Named?

This is a view of the inner solar system in a Jupiter-rotating reference frame. The camera begins at viewpoint oblique to the ecliptic plane, then moves up to a top-down view. Clusters of Trojan asteroids appear behind and ahead of Jupiter in its orbit. (Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio)

By David Dezell Turner
Southwest Research Institute

BOULDER, Colo. — On Feb. 22, 1906, German astrophotographer Max Wolf helped reshape our understanding of the solar system. Again.

Born in 1863, Wolf had a habit of dramatically altering the astronomy landscape. Something of a prodigy, he discovered his first comet at only 21 years old. Then in 1890, he boldly declared that he planned to use wide-field photography in his quest to discover new asteroids, which would make him the first to do so. Two years later, Wolf had found 18 new asteroids. He later became the first person to use the “stereo comparator,” a View-Master-like device that showed two photographs of the sky at once so that moving asteroids appeared to pop out from the starry background.

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