Tag: Spacecraft

A NASA Spacecraft Just Broke the Record for Closest Approach to Sun

A NASA sun-studying spacecraft just entered the record books.

In April of 1976, the German-American Helios 2 probe made spaceflight’s closest-ever solar approach, cruising within 26.55 million miles (42.73 million kilometers) of the sun.

But NASA’s Parker Solar Probe zoomed inside that distance today (Oct. 29), crossing the threshold at about 1:04 p.m. EDT (1704 GMT), agency officials said.

Helios 2 also set the mark back then for fastest speed relative to the sun, at 153,454 mph (246,960 km/h).

The Parker Solar Probe is expected to best that today as well, reaching higher speeds at about 10:54 p.m. EDT (0254 GMT on Oct. 30), NASA officials said.

These records will fall again and again over the course of the Parker Solar Probe’s $1.5 billion mission, which began Aug. 12 with a liftoff from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.




The spacecraft will study the sun during 24 close flybys over the next seven years, getting closer and closer to our star with each encounter.

The Parker Solar Probe’s final flyby, in 2025, will bring the craft within a mere 3.83 million miles (6.16 million km) of the sun’s surface.

And the sun’s powerful gravity will eventually accelerate the probe to a top speed of around 430,000 mph (690,000 km/h), NASA officials have said.

The first of these two dozen close encounters is just around the corner: It officially begins Wednesday (Oct. 31), with perihelion (closest solar approach) coming on the night of Nov. 5.

It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history,” mission project manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said in a statement.

It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31.

The spacecraft sports a special carbon-composite shield to protect itself and its instruments from intense heat and radiation during its close flybys.

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Watch SpaceX Announce Its First Passenger To The Moon

Tonight will be a big night for space tourism.

SpaceX, the private spaceflight company spearheaded by Elon Musk, will reveal the identity of the mystery passenger who booked a trip around the moon on the company’s massive BFR rocket.

The announcement is being broadcast from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, but you can watch the highly anticipated event live, courtesy of SpaceX.

The event—which kicks off at 9 pm EDT and is expected to last an hour—will feature Musk unveiling not only the name of the first BFR (aka the Big Falcon Rocket) passenger, but the person’s reasons for going.

The big reveal comes a few days after SpaceX’s initial surprise tweet announcement last Thursday that it signed its first passenger to fly around the moon on the company’s next-generation rocket, the BFR.

Leading up to today, Musk has stoked speculation by dropped tantalizing previews of the BFR’s new rocket design as well as subtle clues to the mystery passenger’s identity on Twitter.

Shortly after the announcement, Musk tweeted a Japanese flag emoji, which could be a hint as to the nationality of the BFR passenger.

It’s probably safe to assume that the mystery person is extremely wealthy.




With Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic preparing to take tourists to suborbital space for a couple hundred thousand dollars a ticket, and trips to the International Space Station carrying a hefty price tag of $35 million (or more) for space tourists, SpaceX’s moon shot will likely be significantly higher.

This customer will be the first private astronaut to go to the moon, assuming no one beats SpaceX to it in the meantime.

Only 24 humans have been to the Moon in history. No one has visited since the last Apollo mission in 1972,” SpaceX tweeted following its initial announcement.

The company has dubbed this flight the “BFR Lunar Mission.” But it’s not the first time that SpaceX has announced it would be ferrying tourists to lunar space.

In 2017, Musk said that the company would take not one, but two astronauts on a trip around the moon. Those two people, however, would be riding on the Falcon Heavy, not the BFR.

Scant details emerged about those individuals or their proposed flight. Musk revealed only that they had both put down a “significant deposit” for the trip.

But during the Falcon Heavy’s inaugural flight last February, Musk admitted that the Falcon Heavy moon trip was not going to happen; instead the company would focus on putting people on the BFR.

Musk did confirm that the design of the BFR has changed slightly since it was first announced in 2016.

Last night, he tweeted new images showing a few changes to the vehicle’s design, which included three huge fins, seven engines, and a black heat shield, mounted on the underside of the spacecraft.

Musk also indicated that there will be a deployable “forward moving wing” near its nose.

It’s unclear whether this new customer is one of the two passengers who planned to fly on the Falcon Heavy. We also don’t know any specific details about the mission other than the destination.

Will this person be alone, or will they be accompanied by official astronauts? If this person is one of the passengers who signed up to fly on the Falcon Heavy, what happened to the other one?

If this person is a third individual entirely, does that make two purported customers who are now unaccounted for? And the money question that we’re all asking: how much is this ride going to cost?

One thing, at least, is clear: The BFR is far from ready to send a passenger around the moon. SpaceX recently leased property near the Port of Los Angeles to build the massive new rocket. Exactly when that will happen remains to be seen.

We’ll be looking for answers to these questions and more during tonight’s event. Check back in at 9pm ET / 6pm PT to watch the livestream with us.

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Voyager Spacecraft Sail On, 41 Years After Launch

Science is primary object of Voyager mission. A science boom deploys in one direction, a magnetometer boom in another; 12-foot parabolic antenna rests on 10-sided basic bus. Nuclear generator will provide power.

Nearly 41 years after lifting off, NASA’s historic Voyager mission is still exploring the cosmos.

The twin spacecraft launched several weeks apart in 1977 — Voyager 2 last Aug. 20 and Voyager 1 last Sept. 5 — with an initial goal to explore the outer solar system.

Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter and Saturn, while its twin took advantage of an unusual planetary alignment to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

And then the spacecraft kept on flying, for billions and billions of miles. Both remain active today, beaming data home from previously unexplored realms.

Indeed, in August 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made object ever to reach interstellar space.

The mission’s legacy reached into film, art and music with the inclusion of a “Golden Record” of Earth messages, sounds and pictures designed to give any prospective alien who encountered it an idea of what humanity and our home planet are like.

This time capsule is expected to last billions of years.

The spacecraft are now flying through space far away from any planet or star; their next close encounter with a cosmic object isn’t expected to occur for 40,000 years.




Their observations, however, are giving scientists more insight into where the sun’s influence diminishes in our solar system, and where interstellar space begins.

Voyager 1 is nearly 13 billion miles (21 billion kilometers) from Earth and has spent five years in interstellar space.

This zone is not completely empty; it contains material left over from stars that exploded as supernovas millions of years ago.

The “interstellar medium” (as the space in this region is called) is not a threat to Voyager 1. Rather, it’s an interesting environment that the spacecraft is studying.

Voyager 2 is nearly 11 billion miles (18 billion km) from Earth and will likely enter interstellar space in a few years, NASA officials have said.

Uranus’ icy moon Miranda is seen in this image captured by Voyager 2 on Jan. 24, 1986.

Its observations from the edge of the solar system help scientists make comparisons between interstellar space and the heliosphere.

When Voyager 2 crosses the boundary, the two spacecraft can sample the interstellar medium from two different locations at the same time.

Mission designers made the spacecraft robust to make sure they could survive the harsh radiation environment at Jupiter.

This included so-called redundant systems — meaning the spacecraft can switch to backup systems if needed — and power supplies that have lasted well beyond the spacecraft’s primary mission.

Each of the spacecraft is powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which convert the heat produced by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 into electricity.

An artist’s rendering of a Voyager spacecraft flying past Jupiter, Saturn, and their respective moons

The power available to each Voyager, however, decreases by about 4 watts per year.

This requires engineers to dig into 1970s documentation (or to speak with former Voyager personnel) to operate the spacecraft as its power diminishes.

Even with an eye to efficiency, the last science instrument will have to be shut off around 2030, mission team members have said.

But even after that, the Voyagers will continue their journey (albeit without gathering data), flying at more than 30,000 mph (48,280 km/h) and orbiting the Milky Way every 225 million years.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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