NASA’s InSight Prepares to Take Mars’ Temperature

NASA’s InSight lander set its heat probe, called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), on the Martian surface on Feb. 12. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — NASA’s InSight lander has placed its second instrument on the Martian surface. New images confirm that the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, was successfully deployed on Feb. 12 about 3 feet (1 meter) from InSight’s seismometer, which the lander recently covered with a protective shield. HP3measures heat moving through Mars’ subsurface and can help scientists figure out how much energy it takes to build a rocky world.

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Collier Trophy Nominees Include Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, NASA MarsCO Project

The curvature of the Earth from SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON, DC (NAA PR)  – The National Aeronautic Association announced today that 11
aviation and space achievements will compete for the 2018 Robert J. Collier Trophy. For 107 years, the Collier Trophy has been the benchmark of aerospace achievement. Awarded annually “… for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America,” it has been bestowed upon some of the most important projects, programs, individuals, and accomplishments in history.

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SpaceX Protests NASA Contract Award to ULA

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has filed a protest over NASA’s decision to award an $148.3 million contract to rival United Launch Alliance for the launch of the Lucy asteroid mission.

“NASA has issued a stop work order on the agency’s Lucy mission after a protest of the contract award was filed with the Government Accountability Office,” agency spokesperson Tracy Young said Feb. 13. “NASA is always cognizant of its mission schedule, but we are not able to comment on pending litigation.”

SpaceX confirmed that the company was protesting the contract. “Since SpaceX has started launching missions for NASA, this is the first time the company has challenged one of the agency’s award decisions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount, so we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” the spokesperson added. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin….

A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

The Government Accountability Office has until May 22 to render a decision.

Taking a Look Back at Opportunity’s Record-Setting Mission

The tracks of Opportunity on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

In this image from 2010, Opportunity used its navigation camera for this northward view of tracks the rover left on a drive from one energy-favorable position on a sand ripple to another. The rover team called this strategy “hopping from lily pad to lily pad.”

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

The final transmission, sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California, ended a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate.

Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit’s mission ended in 2011.

From the day Opportunity landed, a team of mission engineers, rover drivers and scientists on Earth collaborated to overcome challenges and get the rover from one geologic site on Mars to the next. They plotted workable avenues over rugged terrain so that the 384-pound (174-kilogram) Martian explorer could maneuver around and, at times, over rocks and boulders, climb gravel-strewn slopes as steep as 32-degrees (an off-Earth record), probe crater floors, summit hills and traverse possible dry riverbeds. Its final venture brought it to the western limb of Perseverance Valley.

NASA’s Record-Setting Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

The dramatic image of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004) by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust stormblanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

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Virgin Galactic Pilots Join 80.46-Kilometer (50-Mile) Club

Richard Branson with the pilots of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who were awarded civilian astronaut wings last week, are among 18 pilots who have flown suborbital flights.

The two pilots flew SpaceShipTwo Unity to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.72 km) on Dec. 13, 2018. That accomplishment qualified them for civilian astronaut wings using an American definition that places the boundary of space at 50 miles (80.46 km).

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NASA Safety Panel: Commercial Crew Program Making Progress But Challenges Remain

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Even as SpaceX prepares to make its first Crew Dragon flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) next month, challenges remain for certifying the vehicle to carry NASA astronauts, according to a new safety report.

In its annual report released last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) identified two inter-related safety concerns with SpaceX’s system: the redesign of helium composite overwrap pressure vessels (COPVs) used in the Falcon 9 rocket, and the company’s desire to load astronauts aboard Crew Dragon before fueling the booster.

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Techstars, Starburst Announce Space-Focused Accelerator Program With U.S. Government And Corporate Consortium

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Unite to Disrupt Space Industry

LOS ANGELES and BOULDER, Colo. (Techstars/Starburst PR) – Techstars and Starburst announced today their joint effort to help entrepreneurs succeed in aerospace. The Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, a new Los Angeles-based program, will focus on the next generation of space technology companies and related frontier technologies. Matt Kozlov will be the managing director of the program. Matt previously led the Cedars Sinai Accelerator Powered by Techstars in Los Angeles and has invested in over 30 companies. Van Espahbodi, co-founder and managing director of Starburst, will be advising Kozlov and the broader program, applying his experience of accelerating over 300 aerospace startups.

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NASA Safety Panel Pushes Back Against Commercial Crew “Paperwork” Complaints

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In its annual report issued last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) pushed back against complaints that the space agency has bogged down the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) with unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork.

“It should be recognized by all parties, both internal and external to NASA, that the certification process is not merely a ‘paperwork’ process; it involves considerable detailed technical activity by both NASA and the partners,” ASAP said.

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NASA Safety Panel: Significant Challenges Remain for SLS & Orion Programs

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon continues to make steady progress but faces significant challenges in manufacturing, flight control, software and other key areas as a crucial test of an abort system looms this spring, according to a new report released on Friday.

A section of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s (ASAP) Annual Report examined progress with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion crew vehicle and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) programs. An uncrewed flight of SLS and Orion known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is scheduled for next year.

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Trump Nominates NASA Goddard Director to Head National Reconnaissance Office

Christopher Scolese

Presidential Nomination

Christopher Scolese of New York, to be the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

Mr. Scolese currently serves as the Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Previously, he served as the associate administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and as NASA’s chief engineer.

Mr. Scolese is the recipient of the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal, the Goddard Outstanding Leadership Medal, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) National Capital Section Young Engineer/Scientist of the Year award.

New Horizons’ Images Confirm Ultima Thule’s Highly Unusual, Flatter Shape

As more data of Ultima Thule were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken nearly 10 minutes after closest approach, a “new view” of the object’s shape emerged. Ultima more closely resembles a “pancake,” and Thule a “dented walnut.” (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — An evocative new image sequence from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft offers a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of its New Year’s 2019 flyby and the most distant world ever explored.

These aren’t the last Ultima Thule images New Horizons will send back to Earth – in fact, many more are to come — but they are the final views New Horizons captured of the KBO (officially named 2014 MU69) as it raced away at over 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 1. The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

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NASA Seeks US Partners to Develop Reusable Systems to Land Astronauts on Moon

Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA announced plans on Dec. 13 to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028.

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2018 Fourth Warmest Year in Continued Warming Trend, According to NASA, NOAA

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018’s temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.

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Partnerships Between NASA and Industry Can Support Lunar Exploration, Say Two New Reports

The space station formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) – Renewed interest in exploration of the moon has the potential to benefit lunar science greatly and could evolve into a program facilitated by partnerships between commercial companies and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), say companion reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Review of the Planetary Science Aspects of NASA SMD’s Lunar Science and Exploration Initiative and Review of the Commercial Aspects of NASA SMD’s Lunar Science and Exploration Initiative laud the rapid and effective steps the agency’s science directorate has taken in responding to a 2017 presidential directive to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners, beginning with a near-term focus on the moon.

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