Saturday, December 31, 2011

NASA Conducts Orion Parachute Testing for Orbital Test Flight

NASA successfully conducted a drop test of the Orion crew vehicle's parachutes high above the Arizona desert Tuesday, Dec. 20, in preparation for its orbital flight test in 2014. Orion will carry astronauts deeper into space than ever before, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure a safe re-entry and landing.

A C-130 plane dropped the Orion test article from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds. Orion's drogue chutes were deployed between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, followed by the pilot parachutes, which then deployed two main landing parachutes. This particular drop test examined how Orion would land under two possible failure scenarios.

Orion's parachutes are designed to open in stages, which is called reefing, to manage the stresses on the parachutes after they are deployed. The reefing stages allow the parachutes to sequentially open, first at 54 percent of the parachutes' full diameter, and then at 73 percent. This test examined how the parachutes would perform if the second part of the sequence was skipped.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NASA gives update on mission to moon

NASA announced Monday that it is entering a new stage of a mission intended to place a pair of probes around Earth’s nearest neighbor and only satellite.

NASA officials said Monday mission controllers are preparing for the twin spaceships, named Grail-A and Grail-B, to enter the moon’s orbit on New Year’s Eve. The pair of probes are tasked with measuring the uneven gravity field of the moon and determine what lies beneath — straight down to the core.

NASA’s twin lunar Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) probes were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on September 10, 2011. GRAIL-A is scheduled to arrive in lunar orbit beginning on Saturday, December 31, and GRAIL-B on Sunday, January 1. On New Year’s Eve, the pair of probes will fire their engine to slow down so that it could be captured into orbit. This move will be repeated by the other the following day.

Once in orbit, the pair will spend two months following each other around the moon. Scientists back on Earth will measure the varying distance between the pair of spaceships to calculate the lunar gravity field.

Speaking Monday, the team expressed confidence that the mission will continue to perform flawlessly, adding that they expect to gather an unprecedented amount of data from the mission.

“Both spacecraft have performed essentially flawlessly since launch, but one can never take anything for granted in this business,” said mission chief scientist Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Engineers said the chances of the probes overshooting are slim since their trajectories have been precise. Getting struck by a cosmic ray may prevent the completion of the engine burn and they won’t get boosted into the right orbit.

The straight-line distance from Earth to the moon is about 250,000 miles. It took NASA’s Apollo moon crews about three days to cover that distance. Each of the GRAIL twins is taking about 30 times that long and covering more than 2.5 million miles to get there. This low-energy, high-cruise time trajectory is beneficial for mission planners and controllers, as it allows more time for spacecraft checkout. NASA said the path would allow the program to save money and increase the chances of a successful mission.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NASA to announce latest alien planets discovery on Tuesday

NASA says it will hold a press conference on Tuesday to announce the latest discoveries of its Kepler spacecraft, an observatory launched into orbit in March 2009. The announcement will be based exclusively on the discoveries of the Kepler mission.
The announcement follows discovery earlier this month of the first potentially habitable alien planet located about 600 light-years from Earth. According to Digital Journal, NASA scientists say the planet orbits its star in the habitable zone where conditions are right for liquid water to exist on the planet and therefore, possibly life. The discovery of the planet Kepler-22b was announced on December 5.
IB Times reports that at the press conference on Tuesday, NASA will give official details about the newly discovered planet Kepler-22b. NASA will also be giving details about other newly discovered planets in habitable zones.
William Borucki, principal investigator with the Kepler mission, said they have found about 50 possible planets in the habitable zone since the 2009 Kepler launch. The Kepler mission has found about 2,326 bodies that are potentially planets in the first 16 months of operation and 28 of them have been confirmed as planets.
The total number of planets confirmed so far by Kepler mission and other planet search missions is more the 700.
NASA reports that Tuesday's press conference will begin at 1 p.m. EST. There will be a webcast of the press conference on NASA's website. Speakers will include: Nick Gautier, Kepler project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; Francois Fressin, the lead scientist on the new discovery, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.; David Charbonneau, professor of astronomy at Harvard University; Linda Elkins-Tanton, director of the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

NASA,Industry Leaders Discuss New Booster Development for Space Launch System

On Dec. 15, more than 120 aerospace industry leaders from more than 70 companies attended the Space Launch System's Advanced Booster Industry Day held at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The event focused on a NASA Research Announcement for the Space Launch System's (SLS) advanced booster.

Marshall is leading the design and development of the SLS on behalf of the agency. The new heavy-lift launch vehicle will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.

For explorations beyond the first two test flights, the SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with a significant increase in thrust over existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters.

"As we are forging ahead with Space Launch System development, we are pleased to have such a strong response from industry and look forward to their ideas and hardware demonstrations for advance boosters concepts," said Todd May, SLS program manager. "Together, our expertise will enable an entirely new U.S. booster capability -- the largest and highest performing booster system ever produced -- to begin the journey to deep space safely and affordably."

Through this research announcement, NASA is seeking proposals for engineering demonstrations and/or risk reduction strategies for advanced booster concepts. The aim is to reducing risks while enhancing affordability, improving reliability and meeting our performance goals during an initial 30-month phase prior to the full and open Design Development Test and Evaluation (DDTE) competition. The total award value for the research announcement is $200 million with multiple awards anticipated.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 11 December 2011

All ISS systems continue to function nominally, except those noted previously or below. Sunday - Crew off day. Ahead: Week 4 of Increment 30 (three-person crew).

After wakeup, FE-1 Shkaplerov performed the routine inspection of the SM (Service Module) PSS Caution & Warning panel as part of regular Daily Morning Inspection.

CDR Burbank completed the visual T+2 Days (44 +/- 4h) microbial (bacterial & fungal) analysis of PWD (Potable Water Dispenser) water samples collected by him on 12/9, using the WMK MCD (Water Microbiology Kit / Microbial Capture Devices) for microbial traces, and the CDB (Coliform Detection Bag) for inflight coliform indications (Magenta for Positive, Yellow for Negative).

FE-2 Ivanishin conducted the routine daily servicing of the SOZh system (Environment Control & Life Support System, ECLSS) in the SM. This included the weekly collection of the toilet flush (SP) counter and water supply (SVO) readings for calldown to TsUP-Moscow, as well as the weekly checkup on the Russian POTOK-150MK (150 micron) air filter unit of the SM's & FGB's SOGS air revitalization subsystem, gathering weekly data on total operating time & "On" durations for calldown. [SOZh servicing includes checking the ASU toilet facilities, replacement of the KTO & KBO solid waste containers and replacement of EDV-SV waste water and EDV-U urine containers].

At ~7:15am EST, Anton Shkaplerov & Anatoly Ivanishin engaged in a PAO phone interview via S-band with Ekaterina Beloglazova, Editor of Rossiyskiy Kosmos (Russian Space) Magazine and an old friend of ISS cosmonauts. ["Hello, Anton and Anatoly, first of all, could you share with us your first impressions of the Soyuz flight and station docking?- What kind of welcome did you get from the crew? Did they wine and dine you and let you go to sleep? How did your first day go?- What or who did you dream about on your first night at the new place?- Tell us how you were feeling initially and now. How does it feel to be at zero gravity?- I'm sure you've looked up all modules. Tell us about them and about the station in general, what does it look like in reality?- You had a very short handover but you've learned certain things on the ground. Was it easy and practical? What was Sergei Volkov able to accomplish in the way of introducing you to the ISS?- Did you hit the ground running or you needed some time for adaptation? What experiments do you like the most and what have you been able to do over (almost) a month?- What does the Earth look like from orbit, do you recognize some places now, and what impressed you the most?-Tell us about your next month's activities.- Thank you and see you soon! Ekaterina."]

At ~3:40pm, Dan Burbank is scheduled for his weekly PFC (Private Family Conference), via S-band/audio and Ku-band/MS-NetMeeting application (which displays the uplinked ground video on an SSC laptop).

At ~4:15pm, Dan also has a CDE (Crew Discretionary Event) on his schedule.

The crew worked out with their regular 2-hr physical exercise protocol on the CEVIS cycle ergometer with vibration isolation (CDR), TVIS treadmill with vibration isolation & stabilization (FE-1, FE-2), ARED advanced resistive exerciser (CDR), and VELO ergometer bike with load trainer (FE-1, FE-2).

Tasks listed for Shkaplerov & Ivanishin on the Russian discretionary "time permitting" job for today were -
* A ~30-min. run of the GFI-8 "Uragan" (hurricane) earth-imaging program with the NIKON D3X digital camera with Sigma AF 300-800mm telelens, aiming for Hudson Volcano, Chile, the glaciers of Patagonia and Volcano Cordon-Kaul,
* A 10-min. photography session for the DZZ-13 "Seiner" ocean observation program, obtaining HDV (Z1) camcorder footage of color bloom patterns in the waters of the South-Eastern Pacific, then copying the images to the RSK-1 laptop,
* A video recording of New Year Greetings to be used in a joint project of Roskosmos TV Studio with Carousel TV Channel for children ages 8 to 12 years, the "It's Time to go to space!" program, which has a segment where Russian cosmonauts are discussing their work &, answer viewers' questions (currently they are working on a New Year episode). The footage was then to be downlinked to TsUP-Moscow.
* Taking documentary photographs through SM windows of the removable cassettes S #9-S and SKK #2-DC1, installed on the cylindrical portion of the SM propulsion compartment between planes I and IV, and on the DC1 Docking Compartment, and
* Another ~30-min. session for Russia's EKON Environmental Safety Agency, making observations and taking KPT-3 aerial photography of environmental conditions on Earth using the NIKON D3X camera with the RSK-1 laptop.

WRM Update: A new WRM (Water Recovery Management) "cue card" was uplinked to the crew for their reference, updated with their latest CWC (Contingency Water Container) water audit. [The new card (29-0008B) lists 32 CWCs (490.7 L total) for the five types of water identified on board: 1. Silver technical water (6 CWCs with 199.5 L, for Elektron electrolysis, all containing Wautersia bacteria; 2. Condensate water (3 CWCs with 19.1 L), 7 empty bags; 3. Iodinated water (11 CWCs with 186.4 L; also 3 expired bags with 59.1 L); 4. Waste water (1 bag with 6.4 L EMU waste water); and 5. Special fluid (1 CWC with 20.2 L, hose/pump flush). Other CWCs are stowed behind racks and are currently not being tracked due to unchanging contents. Wautersia bacteria are typical water-borne microorganisms that have been seen previously in ISS water sources. These isolates pose no threat to human health.]

GHF Checkout: On 12/1, JAXA ground controllers continued the extensive checkout of the GHF (Gradient Heating Furnace) payload on the Kobairo Rack in the Kibo JPM (JEM Pressurized Module) which began on 12/1 and is continuing for about 14 days.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

FOUND! Another earth and sun

A ‘habitable’ earth-like planet, which is orbiting around a sun-like star 600 light years away, has been discovered in our galaxy for the first time, researchers say. A team of researchers from NASA’s Kepler Mission has discovered what could be a large, rocky planet with a surface temperature of
about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, comparable to a comfortable spring day on Earth.

The discovery team, led by William Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center, used photometric data from the NASA Kepler space telescope, which monitors the brightness of 155,000 stars.

Earth-size planets whose orbital planes are aligned such that they periodically pass in front of their stars result in tiny dimmings of their host star’s light dimmings that can only be measured by a highly specialized space telescope like Kepler.

The host star lies about 600 light-years away from us toward the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus.

The star, a G5 star, has a mass and a radius only slightly smaller than that of our Sun, a G2 star. As a result, the host star is about 25 percent less luminous than the Sun.

The planet orbits the G5 star with an orbital period of 290 days, compared to 365 days for the Earth, at a distance about 15 percent closer to its star than the Earth from the Sun. This results in the planet’s balmy temperature. It orbits in the middle of the star’s habitable zone, where liquid water is expected to be able to exist on the surface of the planet.

Liquid water is necessary for life as we know it, and this new planet might well be not only habitable, perhaps even inhabited.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

What's Next For NASA?

NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars. We will build the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the design for the Orion capsule, with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions.

NASA is also moving forward with the development of the Space Launch System -- an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit. The SLS rocket will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include shuttle engines for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage.

We are developing the technologies we will need for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.

International Space Station
The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The ISS is fully staffed with a crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there in space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Part of the U.S. portion of the station has been designated as a national laboratory, and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for scientific research.

The ISS is a test bed for exploration technologies such as autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfaces. Commercial companies are well on their way to providing cargo and crew flights to the ISS, allowing NASA to focus its attention on the next steps into our solar system.

NASA is researching ways to design and build aircraft that are safer, more fuel-efficient, quieter, and environmentally responsible. We are also working to create traffic management systems that are safer, more efficient and more flexible. We are developing technologies that improve routing during flights and enable aircraft to climb to and descend from their cruising altitude without interruption.

We believe it is possible to build an aircraft that uses less fuel, gives off fewer emissions, and is quieter, and we are working on the technologies to create that aircraft. NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025. We will continue to validate new, complex aircraft and air traffic control systems to ensure that they meet extremely high safety levels.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

NASA's Hubble Confirms That Galaxies Are the Ultimate Recyclers

New observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are expanding astronomers' understanding of the ways in which galaxies continuously recycle immense volumes of hydrogen gas and heavy elements. This process allows galaxies to build successive generations of stars stretching over billions of years.

This ongoing recycling keeps some galaxies from emptying their "fuel tanks" and stretches their star-forming epoch to over 10 billion years.

This conclusion is based on a series of Hubble Space Telescope observations that flexed the special capabilities of its Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) to detect gas in the halo of our Milky Way and more than 40 other galaxies. Data from large ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona and Chile also contributed to the studies by measuring the properties of the galaxies.

Astronomers believe that the color and shape of a galaxy is largely controlled by gas flowing through an extended halo around it. The three studies investigated different aspects of the gas-recycling phenomenon.

The results are being published in three papers in the November 18 issue of Science magazine. The leaders of the three studies are Nicolas Lehner of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.; Jason Tumlinson of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.; and Todd Tripp of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The COS observations of distant stars demonstrate that a large mass of clouds is falling through the giant halo of our Milky Way, fueling its ongoing star formation. These clouds of hot hydrogen reside within 20,000 light-years of the Milky Way disk and contain enough material to make 100 million suns. Some of this gas is recycled material that is continually being replenished by star formation and the explosive energy of novae and supernovae, which kicks chemically enriched gas back into the halo.

The COS observations also show halos of hot gas surrounding vigorous star-forming galaxies. These halos, rich in heavy elements, extend as much as 450,000 light-years beyond the visible portions of their galactic disks. The amount of heavy-element mass discovered far outside a galaxy came as a surprise. COS measured 10 million solar masses of oxygen in a galaxy's halo, which corresponds to about one billion solar masses of gas -- as much as in the entire space between stars in a galaxy’s disk.

Researchers also found that this gas is nearly absent from galaxies that have stopped forming stars. In these galaxies, the “recycling” process ignites a rapid firestorm of star birth which can blow away the remaining fuel, essentially turning off further star-birth activity.

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