Tag: Spacecraft

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Is Headed To The Sun. So, What’s Next?

After decades of scientific brainstorming and years of construction, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is safely on its way to flying seven times closer to the sun than any mission has before.

Now that the spacecraft is finally off the ground, it won’t be long before scientists can start digging into its data — and that data will keep coming for seven years.

There’s definitely a coiled-spring feeling,” project scientist Nicola Fox, a solar scientist at Johns Hopkins University, told Space.com earlier this week, before the launch. “We’re just ready for her to leave this planet.

And now, the spacecraft has finally left Earth. Here’s where the journey will take it.

The $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe needed a ton of speed to escape Earth’s orbit, hence the total of three rocket stages that fired during the launch.

That will carry it to the neighborhood of Venus in just six weeks, arriving by late September.

On Sept. 28, the spacecraft will need to pull off a careful maneuver designed to gently slow it down and begin its calculated dance with the sun.




That maneuver, called a gravity assist, will pass a little of the spacecraft’s acceleration to the planet and edge the probe a little closer to the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe will then begin its first of 24 orbits around the sun, with its first close approach, or perihelion, coming on Nov. 1.

Each orbit will be petal-shaped, skimming over the sun closely and then flying out farther into space to close out the orbit.

The bulk of the probe’s science work will come when it is within a quarter of the distance between Earth and the sun — although the team is hoping that the instruments can be turned on for as much of the mission as possible.

The early orbits, while remaining farther away from the sun, will be special because the spacecraft will spend its time close to the sun in essentially the equivalent of geosynchronous orbit, hovering over the same region.

Not a lot of people appreciate how entertaining these periods are going to be,” Justin Kasper, a physicist at the University of Michigan and principal investigator for one of the probe’s instruments said.

During these periods, which scientists call fast radial scans, the spacecraft will swoop in at a speed that closely matches the sun’s speed of rotation, and then swoop out again.

While the spacecraft keeps pace with the sun’s rotation, it will be able to watch how the same region of the sun behaves over a period of about 10 days.

That means there’s plenty of science to look forward to years before the spacecraft completes its closest approach to the sun near the end of the mission.

It might take us five years to get to our closest orbit, but we should have some amazing insights into our sun just this winter,” Kasper said.

We’re going to have some amazing observations this November with that first perihelion.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe Mission To ‘Touch The Sun’

 

The first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun blast off on Saturday, on a mission to plunge into our star’s sizzling atmosphere and unlock the mysteries of the center of the solar system.

NASA’s car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a 65-minute launch window that opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT).

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind — we believe — will be accelerating,” said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

Where we see huge magnetic fields that are passing by us, as coronal mass ejections make their way out into the solar system.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.




But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of Michigan.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 11.43 centimetres thick.

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star, coming within 6.16 million kilometres of the Sun’s surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation on Earth.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute — some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA To Launch Car-Size Probe To Study The Sun In August

US space agency NASA is preparing to launch a probe in August to study the Sun closer than any human-made object ever has, revealing multiple mysteries behind the star.

The car-sized spacecraft called Parker Solar Probe is slated to lift off no earlier than August 6 on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, according to NASA, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Sun’s atmosphere constantly sends magnetized material outward, enveloping our solar system far beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Coils of magnetic energy can burst out with light and particle radiation that travel through space and create temporary disruptions in our atmosphere, sometimes garbling radio and communications signals near Earth.

Therefore, the key to understanding its origins lies in understanding the Sun itself and that’s where Parker Solar Probe comes in, according to the researchers at NASA.




The spacecraft carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and directly.

One science task is the mystery of the acceleration of the solar wind, the Sun’s constant outflow of material, and the other is the secret of the corona’s enormously high temperatures, according to NASA.

Also, Parker Solar Probe’s instruments might reveal the mechanisms at work behind the acceleration of solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds more than half as fast as the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun.

Such particles can interfere with satellite electronics, especially for satellites outside of Earth’s magnetic field. The biggest breakthrough for the spacecraft is its cutting-edge heat shield, according to NASA.

The Thermal Protection System (the heat shield) is one of the spacecraft’s mission-enabling technologies,” said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

“It allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature.

The heat shield is a sandwich of carbon-carbon composite surrounding nearly four and half inches of carbon foam, which is about 97 per cent air.

The Delta IV Heavy is one of the world’s most powerful rockets.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Hayabusa 2 Spacecraft Cozies Up To Gemstone-Shaped Asteroid

Asteroids come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve seen a die and a skull and now we can add a gemstone to the list.

JAXA, Japan’s space agency, posted images of the asteroid Ryugu as seen by its fast-approaching Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

Hayabusa 2 is the sequel to Japan’s original Hayabusa asteroid mission, which returned to Earth in 2010 after touching down on an asteroid named Itokawa.

The probe successfully gathered sample particles from the asteroid and brought them back to Earth. The current mission will also try to gather and return samples from Ryugu.




JAXA’s asteroid hunter launched in late 2014 and has since traveled about 2 billion miles (3.2 billion kilometers). It is now sending back our best-ever looks at the distant space object.

A photograph from June 24 shows the asteroid’s rough surface and diamond-like shape.

JAXA describes the shape as being similar to the mineral flourite, which is known as the “firefly stone” in Japanese. The space agency also suggests it looks a bit like an abacus bead.

The asteroid’s angular shape poses some challenges to Hayabasu 2’s plan to place a lander and three miniature rovers on its surface.

There is a peak in the vicinity of the equator and a number of large craters, which makes the selection of the landing points both interesting and difficult,” says JAXA.

Hayabusa2 will hang out at Ryugu for over a year and eventually return to Earth near the end of 2020.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA Will Launch A Probe To Study The Solar System’s Protective Bubble In 2024

NASA will launch a new mission in 2024 to help scientists better understand the bubble that surrounds the solar system, agency officials said.

This huge bubble, which known as the heliosphere, is created by the sun; it consists of charged solar particles and solar magnetic fields.

The heliosphere helps protect Earth and other solar system bodies from space radiation, blocking some highly energetic cosmic rays that originated in interstellar space.

But the heliosphere boundary is far from impenetrable. The new NASA mission, called the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), will collect and study fast-moving particles that manage to make it through.

This boundary is where our sun does a great deal to protect us. IMAP is critical to broadening our understanding of how this ‘cosmic filter’ works,” Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement Friday (June 1).




The implications of this research could reach well beyond the consideration of Earthly impacts as we look to send humans into deep space.

IMAP was chosen from a stable of candidate proposals submitted late last year, NASA officials said.

The probe will launch to the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable spot in space about 930,000 miles sunward from our planet.

IMAP will use 10 onboard science instruments to characterize the particles streaking through that neighborhood.

Such work should shed light on the interaction between the interstellar medium and the solar wind — the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun.

And help researchers better understand how cosmic rays are accelerated inside the heliosphere, among other things, NASA officials said.

The cost of the mission is capped at $492 million, not including the launch vehicle. IMAP’s principal investigator is David McComas of Princeton University, and the mission will be managed by The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

IMAP is the fifth mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program. The other four are the Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics mission (TIMED), which launched in December 2001.

Hinode, a collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that lifted off in September 2006.

The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), a joint mission with the European Space Agency that launched in October 2006; and the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which launched in March 2015.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Saturn Found To Have Noontime Auroras

An international team of researchers has found that Saturn’s fast rotation speed makes it possible for the planet to experience noontime auroras.

In their paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the group describes the factors that lead to creation of auroras and how Saturn’s appear to arise.

Auroras on Earth occur when magnetic reconnections (magnetic fields colliding) cause solar flares on the sun. When it happens, plasma carrying a magnetic field is shot out into space, some of which makes its way to Earth.

When it collides with our planet’s magnetic field, auroras occur. The same process has been observed on Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus.

In this new effort, the researchers were studying data sent back from the Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn for 13 years.




They were looking specifically at data that would provide more information regarding magnetic reconnections on the planet—prior research had shown that they occur on the dayside of the magnetopause (the point where the planet’s magnetic field meets the solar wind).

There was also evidence that they occur on the nightside of its magnetodisk, which is a plasma ring formed near the equator by water and other materials emitted from its moons.

But prior research had also suggested that there would be no reconnections on the dayside of the planet’s magnetodisk because the solar winds made the to too thick for them to occur.

But the researchers found evidence of reconnections in the magnetodisk at noontime anyway. The researchers suggest this apparent anomaly is likely due to Saturn’s high spin rate (a day is just 10 hours).

The high rate, they note, likely compresses the magnetodisk, making it thin enough for reconnections to occur. The team also suggests that the reconnections they measured appear to be strong enough to create auroras.

The researchers suggest that their findings indicate that unknown auroras might be happening on other planets as well, but have been overlooked because planet spin speed was not factored into calculations.

They further suggest that similar reconnections might also be behind some unexplained pulses seen from Jupiter.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

New Dive Into Old Data Finds Plumes Erupt From Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Spinnable maps of Jupiter and the Galilean moons.

Europa is an ice-encrusted moon of Jupiter with a global ocean flowing underneath its surface. NASA is planning a mission soon that will look for signs of possible life there.

Now, a new finding from old data makes that mission even more tantalizing.

In recent years, the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted what looks like plumes, likely of water vapor, reaching more than 100 miles above the surface.

The plumes, if they exist, could contain molecules that hint at whether Europa possesses the building blocks of life.

In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists are reporting a belated discovery that Galileo, an earlier NASA spacecraft that studied Jupiter, appears to have flown through one of the Europa plumes more than 20 years ago.

And that occurred close to one of four regions where Hubble has observed plumes.




That’s too many coincidences just to dismiss as ‘There’s nothing there’ or ‘We don’t understand the data,’” said Robert T. Pappalardo, the project scientist for NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission, which may launch as soon as 2022.

“It sure seems like there’s some phenomenon, and plumes seem consistent.”

Galileo, which launched in 1989, arrived at Jupiter in 1995 and spent almost eight years examining the planet and its moons until its mission ended with a swan dive into Jupiter in 2003.

During a flyby of Europa on Dec. 16, 1997, instruments on Galileo measured a swing in the magnetic field and a jump in the density of electrons. At the time, scientists noted the unusual readings, but they did not have an explanation.

An image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2010 showing Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which also shoots plumes of ice crystals into space.Credit

Then, in 2005, another spacecraft passing by another moon around another planet made a startling observation.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft — which completed its mission last September — found geysers of ice crystals erupting out of Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn. Enceladus, it turns out, also has an ocean of liquid water under its ice.

That spurred renewed curiosity about Europa and whether it too might burp bits of its ocean into space. The Hubble first recorded signs of possible plumes in 2012, then again in 2014 and 2016.

But at other times, Hubble has looked and seen nothing. That suggests the plumes are sporadic.

An image of Europa’s surface. Scientists hope the Europa Clipper mission, which may launch in 2022, can be tweaked to allow one of its 40 planned flybys to pass through a plume.

Last year, Melissa A. McGrath, a senior scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. who was not involved in the new study, took a look at some radio experiments conducted by Galileo which examined how signals bent as Europa passed between Earth and the spacecraft.

The experiments showed Europa possesses an atmosphere.

Astronomers will certainly be taking more looks at Europa with the Hubble, trying to better understand how often the plumes erupt.

Please like, share and tweet thi article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Mars InSight: NASA’s Journey Into The Red Planet’s Deepest Mysteries

As early as 4:05 a.m. PDT on May 5th, those on the West Coast of the United States will have the chance to witness an interplanetary launch for the first time.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will carry NASA’s InSight spacecraft into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, California.

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a lander bound for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’s Northern hemisphere.

There, it will gather data on the crust, mantle and core of Mars. It will also listen for tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

Though the launch represents the beginning of InSight’s expedition, in another way, it is the end of a long journey. NASA delayed the lander’s original launch in 2016 after discovering a problem with a key instrument.

This second chance at the mission gives planetary scientists another opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.




A Look Inside Mars

As the date of the launch approaches, planetary scientists are gearing up for a wealth of new information that will provide clues into how rocky planets form, show how Mars evolved over time, and provide one of the most complete records of regional weather on Mars that we’ve ever had.

These experiments could shed light on the history of the Earth and other rocky planets in the cosmos, as well as lay groundwork for future human exploration of the Red Planet.

Scientists are looking to gather information on the basic structure of Mars—for example, the thickness of its crust and the composition of its mantle and core.

These discoveries will give insight into the formation of rocky planets in general because, unlike Earth, the underlying crust of Mars appears to have been stable for the life of the planet, says Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator and a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While none of the material in the Earth’s core is more than 100 million years old, Banerdt explains that there is evidence that Mars hasn’t undergone a major reworking since 4.2 to 4.3 billion years ago.

The deep interior is relatively pristine,” he says.

Three Key Experiments

To look inside Mars, InSight will conduct three major experiments.

  • The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) is a seismometer that will monitor quakes and internal activity, allowing scientists to draw conclusions about the history and structure of the Red Planet.
  • The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) will measure how much heat is coming from the interior of the planet, how heat flows underground, and paint a picture of how heat has been driving geologic and internal processes under the surface. Banerdt says this gives scientists an idea of how the interior of Mars has evolved over time.
  • Finally, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) will use radio signals between the lander and Earth to detect “rotational wobbles,” which reveal properties of the core and the way the core interacts with the mantle.

Assuming clear weather, InSight’s launch will be visible in person from Santa Maria, California, to San Diego, California. NASA provides information on both official viewing sites and informal viewing sites on a launch page.

For those not on the West Coast, NASA will stream the launch online at NASA.gov/live, which will be mirrored directly below the day of the launch.

Video of the launch will be available on demand later at YouTube.com/NASAJPL/live and Ustream.tv/NASAJPL.

The launch window for InSight begins at 4:05 a.m. PDT on May 5th and runs through June 8th. Those who witness the rocket’s progress through the sky in the early morning hours can decide whether to wave goodbye or hello.

In either case, it will be a moment to watch.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

SpaceX Blasts Off NASA’s New Spacecraft On Quest To Find New Planets

NASA’s TESS spacecraft embarked Wednesday on a quest to find new worlds around neighboring stars that could support life.

TESS rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket through the evening sky, aiming for an orbit stretching all the way to the moon.

The satellite — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess — will scan almost the entire sky for at least two years, starting at the closest, brightest stars in an effort to find and identify any planets around them.

Hundreds of thousands of stars will be scrutinized, with the expectation that thousands of exoplanets — planets outside our own solar system — will be revealed right in our cosmic backyard.

Rocky and icy planets, hot gas giants and, possibly, water worlds. Super-Earths between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. Maybe even an Earth twin.

Discoveries by Tess and other missions, he noted, will bring us closer to answering questions that have lingered for thousands of years.




Does life exist beyond Earth? If so, is it microbial or more advanced? But Tess won’t look for life.

It’s not designed for that. Rather, it will scout for planets of all sorts, but especially those in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star: an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for life-nourishing water.

The most promising candidates will be studied by bigger, more powerful observatories of the future, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in another few years as the heir to Hubble.

These telescopes will scour the planets’ atmospheres for any of the ingredients of life: water vapor, oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide.

TESS is the successor to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, on its last legs after discovering a few thousand exoplanets over the past nine years.

Astronomers anticipate more than doubling Kepler’s confirmed planetary count of more than 2,600, once Tess’ four wide-view cameras begin scientific observations in early summer.

Unlike Tess, Kepler could only scour a sliver of the sky.

The total exoplanet census currently stands at more than 3,700 confirmed, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list. That’s a lot considering the first one popped up barely two decades ago.

Until about 25 years ago, the only known planets were in our own solar system, noted NASA’s director of astrophysics, Paul Hertz.

While Kepler has focused on stars thousands of light-years away, Tess will concentrate on our stellar neighbors, dozens or hundreds of light-years away.

Most of TESS’ targets will be cool, common red dwarf stars, thought to be rich breeding grounds for planets.

To find the planets, Tess will use the same transit method employed by Kepler, watching for regular, fleeting dips in stellar brightness that would indicate a planet passing in front of its star. That’s the best astronomers can do for now.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA’s Exoplanet-Hunter TESS Gets Prepped For Launch

Final preparations are underway here at Kennedy Space Center to get NASA’s next planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), ready for its planned April 16 launch.

The satellite, built by Orbital ATK, arrived here on Feb, 12 after a 17-hour drive down from Orbital’s facility in Dulles, Virginia, and was ushered inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) to be readied for launch.

However, before it hitches a ride to space atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, NASA invited members of the media to get a close-up look at TESS inside a specialized clean room.

The PHSF is one of the last stops a spacecraft makes before launch. Inside this unique facility, engineers conduct final tests and load hazardous fuels, such as hydrazine that will help propel the spacecraft.

Therefore, anyone who enters must follow a strict protocol, including wearing a special suit known as a bunny suit.




Before entering the clean room, a group of eager journalists were regaled with mission specifics by the TESS team, which included the mission’s principal investigator, George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

The TESS mission, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will spend at least two years studying more than 200,000 of the closest and brightest stars in our solar neighborhood.

TESS will scan the sky, looking for tiny dips in starlight. These dips in brightness — known as transits — could indicate that one or more planets is orbiting the star.

Ricker said that the team expects to discover several thousand planets during the spacecraft’s mission.

The Kepler Space Telescope, NASA’s planet-hunting powerhouse, has identified more than 2,000 confirmed exoplanets using the same “transit” technique as TESS.

However, TESS has a much larger field of view — nearly 20 times larger than Kepler — potentially allowing it to surpass Kepler in the number of exoplanet discoveries.

Thanks to Kepler, we now know that planets around other stars are very common. Kepler spent its primary mission staring at a narrow patch of sky to answer that very question.

Unfortunately, all of Kepler’s discoveries are too far away for follow-up study.

Scheduled to launch next year, Webb will scan the targets identified by TESS to look for water vapor, methane and other atmospheric gases. And, with a little luck, Webb might even spot signatures indicative of life beyond Earth.

TESS will launch into a high, elliptical orbit around Earth that is in a 2:1 resonance with the moon — it will orbit twice for every one time the moon goes all the way around.

This type of orbit has multiple benefits: it is very stable, meaning it won’t be affected by space debris, radiation, while allowing the spacecraft to easily communicate with the ground.

However, this type of orbit limits the number of launch opportunities, as it must be synchronized with the moon’s orbit around the Earth. After launch, it will take the spacecraft two months to reach its destination.

During our visit, engineers were prepping the spacecraft for final testing before launch. That testing included final checkouts of the solar arrays and is expected to be completed February 21.

Next, TESS will be mated to the launch vehicle.

Originally slated to launch on March 20, TESS is currently scheduled to lift off on April 16, following a one-month delay requested by the launch provider, SpaceX. However, TESS must launch by June per congressional mandate.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist