Space & Planetary Science: August 2013 Archives

Summary of Rules and Requirements, Google Lunar X Prize

"The competition's grand prize is worth $20 million. To provide an extra incentive for teams to work quickly, the grand prize value will change to $15 million whenever a government-funded mission successfully explores the lunar surface, currently projected to occur in 2013."

China sets course for lunar landing this year, CNN

"China set a bold new course in its ambitious space program Wednesday, when it announced plans to land its first probe on the moon by the end of the year."

- Google Lunar X Prize: Changing Rules - and Fewer Entrants?, earlier post
- Changes Coming to the Google Lunar X Prize, earlier post

Are We All Martians?

'We are all Martians': Chemist's otherworldly claim stirs debate, NBC

"Is Benner's story too kooky to believe? One thing's for sure: Benner is not a kook. He was one of the first chemists to voice skepticism about the claims for arsenic-based life, which stirred up such a fuss in 2010. ... This time, the wet-blanket role is filled by David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Grinspoon, who's spending a year doing research at the Library of Congress, says that he's a "huge fan" of Benner's, but that his extraordinary claim isn't sufficiently supported by the evidence."

New Research Supports Theory That Life Started on Mars, Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology

Curiosity Rover Debuts Autonomous Navigation

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars. Using autonomous navigation, or autonav, Curiosity can analyze images it takes during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This enables it to proceed safely even beyond the area that the human rover drivers on Earth can evaluate ahead of time."

More Evidence of Water on the Moon

"NASA-funded lunar research has yielded evidence of water locked in mineral grains on the surface of the moon from an unknown source deep beneath the surface. Using data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists remotely detected magmatic water, or water that originates from deep within the moon's interior, on the surface of the moon."

The Importance of Lunar Water, Dennis Wingo, SpaceRef

"The argument of the Mars advocates are all based upon the results of missions to the red planet over the past few decades, this lunar advocate just wonders how much more we would have learned about the Moon if a similar number of missions had flown there. Mars is a destination of romance, the moon of utility. At the end of the day, utility will triumph as without the utility of the riches in resources that the Moon brings, there will be no romance on Mars."

- New research shows water present across the moon's surface - It turns out the moon is a lot wetter than we ever thought, earlier post
- Water on the Moon: It's Been There All Along, earlier post
- Water on the Moon and Earth Came From The Same Primitive Meteorites, earlier post

How to Watch the Launch of LADEE (with lots of images), Orbital

" ... Although the views are shown in daylight, the LADEE launch is scheduled to occur at approximately 11:27 PM EST. The views below give an indication of the direction where you should look to see the launch, along with nearby features. In addition, weather and local lighting conditions can and will have a large effect on what a viewer will see."

Keith's note: Luckily for me, I can walk across the street from my house in Reston, VA and look at an opening in the trees to the east and see nearly all of the launch.

Keith's note: NASA has lots of Twitter accounts and websites - more than any other Federal agency - by far. But as NASA PAO AA David Weaver recently said at a NASA Advisory Council EPO Subcommittee (and I paraphrase) "clearly quantity does not always equal quality". Virtually every NASA project, program, center - and mission - has at least one (sometimes more) Twitter account and website. In the case of Mars Science Laboratory NASA pays to maintain 3 (or 4 depending on how you count) websites for MSL - and they do not seem to think this is wasteful.

But what about the New Horizons mission to Pluto?

LADEE - Back to the Moon

LADEE - Going Back to the Moon [Watch], NASA

"A model of the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is seen in the foreground during a LADEE mission briefing at NASA Headquarters, Thursday, August 22, 2013 in Washington."

Marc's note: While the debate continues on how many launches have taken place at Wallops, we do know that this is the first to the moon. And along with the adjacent Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and Orbital launches from there, the Virginia space profile is increasing. You can follow the happenings in Virginia through our Twitter account Space Virginia.

First Earthrise Photo Taken 47 Years Ago Today

"47 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit. While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics."

More information on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

NASA Releases New Imagery of Asteroid Mission [Watch], NASA

"NASA released Thursday new photos and video animations depicting the agency's planned mission to find, capture, redirect, and study a near-Earth asteroid. The images depict crew operations including the Orion spacecraft's trip to and rendezvous with the relocated asteroid, as well as astronauts maneuvering through a spacewalk to collect samples from the asteroid."

Marc's note: So while Congress refuses to fund the Asteroid Redirect Mission in the current budget process, NASA is pressing forward as if this mission is going to happen. You have to love their tenacity. However since Congress can't agree on a budget NASA is proceeding as it should under its existing mandate.

NASA Spacecraft Reactivated to Hunt for Asteroids, NASA

"A NASA spacecraft that discovered and characterized tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system before being placed in hibernation will return to service for three more years starting in September, assisting the agency in its effort to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, as well as those suitable for asteroid exploration missions.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will be revived next month with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs), space rocks that can be found orbiting within 45 million kilometers (28 million miles) from Earth's path around the sun. NASA anticipates WISE will use its 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope and infrared cameras to discover about 150 previously unknown NEOs and characterize the size, albedo and thermal properties of about 2,000 others -- including some of which could be candidates for the agency's recently announced asteroid initiative."

NASA Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop, NASA

"The purpose of this conference is to publicly examine and synthesize highly rated responses to the NASA's Asteroid Initiative RFI. Findings will be developed and provided as inputs to NASA's planning activities.

Dates: (12 p.m. CDT) Monday, September 30, 2013-(5 p.m. CDT) Wednesday October 2, 2013

Address: Lunar and Planetary Institute, 3600 Bay Area Boulevard, Houston, TX 77058."

Crater Wargo

NASA Asks International Astronomical Union to Name Lunar Crater After Mike Wargo

"NASA is asking the International Astronomical Union to name a crater on the moon in his honor "so his name will be forever enshrined in the heavens."

- NASA Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Statement on the Passing of Dr. Michael Wargo, earlier post
- Mike Wargo, earlier post

NASA's mission improbable, Washington Post

"It is really an elegant bringing together of our exciting human spaceflight plan, scientific interest, being able to protect our planet, and utilizing the technology we had invested in and were already investing in," said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. But the mission is viewed skeptically by many in the space community. At a July gathering of engineers and scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, veteran engineer Gentry Lee expressed doubt that the complicated elements of the mission could come together by 2021, and said the many uncertainties would boost the costs. "I'm trying very, very hard to look at the positive side of this, or what I would call the possible positive side," he said. "It's basically wishful thinking in a lot of ways - that there's a suitable target, that you can find it in time, that you can actually catch it if you go there and bring it back," said Al Harris, a retired NASA planetary scientist who specializes in asteroids. "Of course there's always luck. But how much money do you want to spend on a chance discovery that might have a very low probability?" said Mark Sykes, a planetary scientist who chairs a NASA advisory group on asteroids."

- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale (Revised), earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Full-Court Press Continues, earlier post

NASA Ends Attempts to Fully Recover Kepler Spacecraft

"Following months of analysis and testing, the Kepler Space Telescope team is ending its attempts to restore the spacecraft to full working order, and now is considering what new science research it can carry out in its current condition.

Two of Kepler's four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, have failed. The first was lost in July 2012, and the second in May. Engineers' efforts to restore at least one of the wheels have been unsuccessful.

Kepler completed its prime mission in November 2012 and began its four-year extended mission at that time. However, the spacecraft needs three functioning wheels to continue its search for Earth-sized exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, orbiting stars like our Sun in what's known as the habitable zone -- the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of a planet might be suitable for liquid water. As scientists analyze previously collected data, the Kepler team also is looking into whether the space telescope can conduct a different type of science program, including an exoplanet search, using the remaining two good reaction wheels and thrusters."

Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System, Says New Study, University of Maryland

"Voyager 1 appears to have at long last left our solar system and entered interstellar space, says a University of Maryland-led team of researchers. Carrying Earthly greetings on a gold plated phonograph record and still-operational scientific instruments - including the Low Energy Charged Particle detector designed, built and overseen, in part, by UMD's Space Physics Group - NASA's Voyager 1 has traveled farther from Earth than any other human-made object. And now, these researchers say, it has begun the first exploration of our galaxy beyond the Sun's influence."

NASA Statement on Competing Models to Explain Voyager 1 Data

"Other models envision the interstellar magnetic field draped around our solar bubble and predict that the direction of the interstellar magnetic field is different from the solar magnetic field inside. By that interpretation, Voyager 1 would still be inside our solar bubble. The fine-scale magnetic connection model will become part of the discussion among scientists as they try to reconcile what may be happening on a fine scale with what happens on a larger scale."

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Update: Swapping Motion-Sensing Units, NASA

"NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is switching from one motion-sensing device to a duplicate unit onboard.

... The spacecraft has two identical copies of this motion-sensing device, called IMU-1 and IMU-2. Either of them can be used with either of the spacecraft's redundant main computers. Each contains three gyroscopes and three accelerometers.

"The reason we're doing this is that one of the gyroscopes on IMU-1 is approaching its end of life, so we want to swap to our redundant unit early enough that we still have some useful life preserved in the first unit," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Manager Reid Thomas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif."

Marc's note: An apparent minor servicing for MRO which has been on-duty for seven years and appears to be still be going strong.

Suborbital Rocket Launches From NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, NASA

"A Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital rocket carrying experiments developed by university students nationwide in the RockSat-X program was successfully launched at 6 a.m. EDT, August 13, from NASA's launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia."

Easily Retrievable Objects among the NEO Population, arXiv.org

"Asteroids and comets are of strategic importance for science in an effort to understand the formation, evolution and composition of the Solar System. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are of particular interest because of their accessibility from Earth, but also because of their speculated wealth of material resources.

The exploitation of these resources has long been discussed as a means to lower the cost of future space endeavours. In this paper, we consider the currently known NEO population and define a family of so-called Easily Retrievable Objects (EROs), objects that can be transported from accessible heliocentric orbits into the Earth's neighbourhood at affordable costs.

... Despite the highly incomplete census of very small asteroids, the ERO catalogue can already be populated with 12 different objects retrievable with less than 500 m/s of {\Delta}v. Moreover, the approach proposed represents a robust search and ranking methodology for future retrieval candidates that can be automatically applied to the growing survey of NEOs."

NASA Notice of Intent to Release Mars 2020 Announcement of Opportunity

"NASA SMD intends to release an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) entitled Mars 2020 Investigations to solicit proposals for investigations for a space flight mission to Mars, to be launched in July/August 2020. The target date for release of the AO is no earlier than (NET) September 16, 2013. The SMD budget for Phases A-D is expected to be approximately $100 million in real year (RY) dollars. Investigations comprised of individual instruments or multiple instruments (suites) may respond to the overall Mars 2020 science objectives to explore and quantitatively assess Mars as a potential habitat for life, to search for signs of past life, and to collect carefully selected samples for possible future return to Earth. Proposals that address objectives for advancing knowledge or technologies for future robotic and/or human exploration of Mars will also be solicited."

- Mars Rover 2020 Science Definition Team Report, earlier post

Has CubeSats Time Come?

Can CubeSats do quality science? For one group, yes NewSpace Journal

"While interest in CubeSats--spacecraft as small as ten centimeters on a side and weighing one kilogram--has grown in recent years, one challenge facing the community of CubeSat developers is whether such spacecraft can perform useful missions, beyond education (many satellites are built by student groups) and technology development and demonstration. For one group at the University of Colorado, it appears that CubeSats can carry out research worthy of publication in scientific journals."

Europa Questions

If We Landed on Europa, What Would We Want to Know?, NASA

"Most of what scientists know of Jupiter's moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land on Europa's surface and conduct something along the lines of a more in-depth interview? What would scientists ask? A new study in the journal Astrobiology authored by a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out their consensus on the most important questions to address."

Soliciting Community Input: Alternate Science Investigations for Kepler

"The purpose of this call for white papers is to solicit community input for alternate science investigations that may be performed using Kepler and are consistent with its probable two-wheel performance. Herein, we provide initial information as to the preliminary assessment of the pointing ability of the Kepler spacecraft using only two reaction wheels. In addition, we provide baseline information on the Kepler focal plane imaging CCD array (Kepler's only instrument) and give estimates of the photometric performance that may be possible in two-wheel mode."

A Year of Curiosity on Mars [Watch], NASA

"Curiosity Rover team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., re-live the dramatic Aug. 6, 2012 landing and the mission's achievements to date in an event aired on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Marc's note: In case you missed JPL's Curiosity birthday special today, here it is.

Mike Wargo

Keith's note: According the NLSI Twitter: "NASA's chief exploration scientist, Mike Wargo, passed away unexpectedly yesterday. We will miss his leadership and friendship enormously." I'll post more information as I receive it. Very sad - Mike was such a nice person and believed in space exploration in a very personal way.

NASA Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Statement on the Passing of Dr. Michael Wargo

"The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) on behalf of the broader lunar community wishes to expresses its deep shock and sadness at the news that Dr. Mike Wargo passed away unexpectedly over the weekend of August 3-4, 2013. Mike was the Executive Secretary of LEAG and championed the Moon at NASA HQ."

Orbits of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, NASA

"This graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013.

These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth's orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers). But being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next hundred years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities."

Marc's note: On a lighter note, imagine Planetary Resources, DSI and others "cleaning" up near space by mining these.

Kepler Mission Manager Update: Pointing Test, NASA

"While both RW4 and RW2 have spun bi-directionally, friction levels remain higher than would be considered good for an operational wheel. However, it will be important to characterize the stability of the friction over time. A constant friction level may be correctable in the spacecraft's attitude control system, whereas a variable friction level will likely render the wheels unusable.

With the demonstration that both wheels will still move, and the measurement of their friction levels, the functional testing of the reaction wheels is now complete. The next step will be a system-level performance test to see if the wheels can adequately control spacecraft pointing.

... The team anticipates beginning the pointing performance testing on Thursday, August 8, 2013 and will continue into the following week if all goes well. A determination of whether Kepler can return to exoplanet data collection is expected a couple weeks after these pointing tests are complete."

NASA Curiosity Rover Approaches First Anniversary on Mars, NASA

"NASA's Curiosity rover will mark one year on Mars next week and has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life. The mobile laboratory also is guiding designs for future planetary missions.

... Curiosity team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.,will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the mission overall in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency's website from10:45 a.m. to noon EDT (7:45 to 9 a.m. PDT) on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Immediately following that program, from noon to 1:30 p.m., NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from August 2013.

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