Space & Planetary Science: February 2018 Archives

James Webb Space Telescope Integration and Test Challenges Have Delayed Launch and Threaten to Push Costs Over Cap, GAO

"Extending the launch window provided the project up to 4 months of schedule reserve. However, shortly after requesting the new launch window in September 2017, the project determined that several months of schedule reserve would be needed to address lessons learned from the initial folding and deployment of the observatory's sunshield. Given remaining integration and test work ahead--the phase in development where problems are most likely to be found and schedules tend to slip--coupled with only 1.5 months of schedule reserves remaining to the end of the launch window, additional launch delays are likely. The project's Standing Review Board will conduct an independent review of JWST's schedule status in early 2018 to determine if the June 2019 launch window can be met. JWST will also have limited cost reserves to address future challenges, such as further launch delays, and is at risk of breaching its $8 billion cost cap for formulation and development set by Congress in 2011. For several years, the prime contractor has overestimated workforce reductions, and technical challenges have prevented these planned reductions, necessitating the use of cost reserves. Program officials said that existing program resources will accommodate the new launch window--provided remaining integration and testing proceeds as planned without any long delays. However, JWST is still resolving technical challenges and work continues to take longer than planned to complete. As a result, the project is at risk of exceeding its $8 billion formulation and development cost cap."

Keith's 1 March update: NASA PAO just sent me this statement to post: "After the successful test performance of the James Webb Space Telescope science payload last year, and the delivery of that payload to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, NASA looks forward to the mission's final integration and test phase now that the two major observatory elements (science payload and spacecraft with sunshield) are together under one roof for the first time. As we enter this critical and challenging period, the Webb project is carefully reviewing its plans for the remaining tasks. The mission's Standing Review Board will begin an independent assessment of the project plans in mid-March with an expected report out in early April."

New Day for Longest-Working Mars Rover

"NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded the dawn of the rover's 4,999th Martian day, or sol, with its Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on Feb. 15, 2018, yielding this processed, approximately true-color scene."

5,000 Days on Mars For Mars Rover Opportunity

"The Sun will rise on NASA's solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity for the 5,000th time on Saturday, sending rays of energy to a golf-cart-size robotic field geologist that continues to provide revelations about the Red Planet."

Mars Rover Opportunity Keeps Finding Surprises

"One possible explanation of these stripes is that they are relics from a time of greater obliquity when snow packs on the rim seasonally melted enough to moisten the soil, and then freeze-thaw cycles organized the small rocks into stripes," Arvidson said."

Keith's note: I asked former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to look back at Opportunity's exploration of Mars:

"This is a stunning achievement for a capability we thought would survive long enough for a sprint and instead, it's completed a marathon and still going! Opportunity was designed, built, flown and landed with materials and processes we had available. The limited planetary alignment opportunity forced the project team to make due with what they had. The performance since 2004 had surpassed anything anyone thought imaginable. If back in 2004 NASA had dared to declare what Opportunity has achieved as the mission objective, the legion of critics would have told us the cost, schedule and mission were unrealistic. Maybe that would be worth a hearing!"

Alas, the Trump Administration is not interested in supporting Opportunity after FY 2019. This is not the first time that the White House has tried to kill funding for Opportunity (the Obama folks tried too). Congress will likely step in and halt this as they have in the past. That said, maybe its time for someone to start a crowd funding effort. This White House wants NASA to do the public private partnership things, so why not take them up on that offer?

Source: NASA FY 2018 Budget Estimates page PS 69


http://images.spaceref.com/news/2018/oppybudget.jpg


An Interesting Picture From Mars

"NASA recently posted an image taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. A reader from Australia contacted me to point out some curious structures within the rock featured in that image. I get a lot of emails like this. Normally these emails include something that the reader has totally distorted using Photoshop or contains some blurry shape on Mars that reminds them of a household appliance or cute little animal. I am a biologist and used to work at NASA's life science division and have done some fossil collecting in the field. So I've looked at things before that look like they are fossils only to determine that they are the result of non-biological processes. I noticed something curious about this image right away. ... I have sent an inquiry to NASA. Let's see what they say. I'll include their response in a revised version of this posting."

Keith's update: My original source in Australia heard from someone@nasa to the effect that these markings are the result of the laser used to analyze rocks but that the markings look different this time. I am still awaiting an official response directly from NASA. Today's lesson: when looking for life on another world it is important to remember what is happening on both sides of the microscope.


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from February 2018.

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