NASA’s Lunar Flashlight ready to search for the Moon’s water ice

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This illustration shows NASA’s Lunar Flashlight over the Moon. The SmallSat mission will have a very elongated orbit, taking it within 9 miles (15 kilometers) above the lunar South Pole to search for water ice in the Moon’s darkest craters. Credit: NASA

It’s known that water ice exists below the lunar regolith (broken rock and dust), but scientists don’t yet understand whether surface ice frost covers the floors inside these cold craters. To find out, NASA is sending Lunar Flashlight, a small satellite (or SmallSat) no larger than a briefcase. Swooping low over the lunar South Pole, it will use lasers to shed light on these dark craters—much like a prospector looking for hidden treasure by shining a flashlight into a cave. The mission will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in mid-November.

“This launch will put the satellite on a trajectory that will take about three months to reach its science ,” said John Baker, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Then Lunar Flashlight will try to find on the surface of the Moon in places that nobody else has been able to look.”

Fuel-efficient orbits

After launch, mission navigators will guide the spacecraft way past the Moon. It will then be slowly pulled back by gravity from Earth and the Sun before it settles into a wide, looping, science-gathering orbit. This near-rectilinear halo orbit will take it 42,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) from the Moon at its most distant point and, at its , the satellite will graze the surface of the Moon, coming within 9 miles (15 kilometers) above the lunar South Pole.

SmallSats carry a limited amount of propellent, so fuel-intensive orbits aren’t possible. A near-rectilinear halo orbit requires far less fuel than traditional orbits, and Lunar Flashlight will be only the second NASA mission to use this type of trajectory. The first is NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission, which will arrive at its orbit on Nov. 13, making its closest pass over the Moon’s North Pole.

“The reason for this orbit is to be able to come in close enough that Lunar Flashlight can shine its lasers and get a good return from the surface, but to also have a stable orbit that consumes little fuel,” said Barbara Cohen, Lunar Flashlight principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

As a , Lunar Flashlight will be the first interplanetary spacecraft to use a new kind of “green” propellant that is safer to transport and store than the commonly used in-space propellants such as hydrazine. This new propellant, developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and tested on a previous NASA technology demonstration mission, burns via a catalyst, rather than requiring a separate oxidizer. That is why it’s called a monopropellant. The satellite’s propulsion system was developed and built by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with integration support from Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta.

Lunar Flashlight will also be the first mission to use a four-laser reflectometer to look for water ice on the Moon. The reflectometer works by using near-infrared wavelengths that are readily absorbed by water to identify ice on the surface. Should the lasers hit bare rock, their light will reflect back to the spacecraft, signaling a lack of ice. But if the light is absorbed, it would mean these dark pockets do indeed contain ice. The greater the absorption, the more ice may be at the surface.

Lunar water cycle

It’s thought that molecules of water come from comet and asteroid material impacting the , and from solar wind interactions with the . Over time, the molecules may have accumulated as a layer of ice inside “cold traps”.

“We are going to make definitive surface water ice measurements in permanently shadowed regions for the first time,” said Cohen. “We will be able to correlate Lunar Flashlight’s observations with other lunar missions to understand how extensive that water is and whether it could be used as a resource by future explorers.”

Cohen and her science team hope that the data Lunar Flashlight gathers can be used to understand how volatile molecules, like water, cycle from location to location and where they may accumulate, forming a layer of ice in these cold traps.

“This is an exciting time for lunar exploration. The launch of Lunar Flashlight, along with the many missions aboard Artemis I, may form the foundations for science discoveries as well as support future missions to the Moon’s ,” said Roger Hunter, Small Spacecraft Technology program manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.



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NASA’s Lunar Flashlight ready to search for the Moon’s water ice (2022, October 28)
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NASA’s Webb catches Tarantula Nebula

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Officially known as 30 Doradus, the region of space is characterized by its dusty filaments that resemble the legs of a hairy spider, and has long been a favorite for astronomers interested in star formation.

A stellar nursery nicknamed the Tarantula Nebula has been captured in crisp detail by NASA’s Webb telescope, revealing hitherto unseen features that deepen scientific understanding, the agency said Tuesday.

Officially known as 30 Doradus, the region of space is characterized by its dusty filaments that resemble the legs of a hairy spider, and has long been a favorite for astronomers interested in star formation.

Thousands of young stars, distant background galaxies, and the detailed structure of the nebula’s gas and dust structures were viewable for the first time thanks to Webb’s high resolution infrared instruments.

Webb operates primarily in the , because light from objects in the distant cosmos has been stretched into this wavelength over the course of the universe’s expansion.

The telescope’s primary imager, Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), found the cavity in the center of the nebula was hollowed out by radiation carried on stellar winds emanating from a cluster of massive young stars, which appear as pale blue dots.

Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), which analyzes light patterns to determine the composition of objects, caught one young star in the act of shedding a cloud of dust from around itself.

The region was also imaged using the Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI), which uses longer wavelengths of infrared to pierce through dust grains that absorb or scatter shorter wavelengths.

The same star was previously thought to be at a later stage of formation, already well on the way to clearing its dusty bubble.

The region was also imaged using the Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI), which uses longer wavelengths of infrared to pierce through dust grains that absorb or scatter shorter wavelengths.

This faded the hot stars and clarified the cooler regions, revealing never-before-seen points of light within the , which indicate protostars that are still gaining mass.

Astronomic interest in the Tarantula Nebula stems from its similar chemical composition to gigantic star-forming regions observed a few billion years after the Big Bang, a period called the “cosmic noon” when peaked.

At just 161,000 light-years away, Tarantula is a readily viewable example of this flourishing period of cosmic creation.

Webb should also provide scientists the opportunity to gaze at distant galaxies from the actual era of cosmic noon, and compare it to observations of Tarantula, to understand similarities and differences.

Operational since July, Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever built, with astronomers confident it will herald a new era of discovery.



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NASA’s Webb catches Tarantula Nebula (2022, September 10)
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To the Moon and beyond: NASA’s Artemis program

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NASA’s SLS rocket is seen August 26, 2022 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Artemis program is NASA’s plan to return humans to the Moon as a stepping stone for an eventual voyage to Mars.

Twelve men walked on the Moon between 1969 and 1972 and one of the goals of Artemis is to put the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface.

The first test flight of an uncrewed Artemis rocket is to take place on Monday.

The name Artemis was chosen to echo that of the Apollo program.

Artemis, in Greek mythology, was the twin sister of Apollo and a goddess associated with the Moon.

Here is an overview of the Artemis program:






Artemis 1: test flight

Artemis 1 is a of the 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket and the Orion crew capsule that sits on top.

Blastoff is scheduled for 8:33 am (1233 GMT) on Monday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Mannequins equipped with sensors will take the place of crew members on the flight, recording vibration, acceleration and .

Orion will orbit the Moon before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Artemis 2: first crew

Planned for 2024, Artemis 2 will be a crewed flight that will orbit the Moon but not land on the surface, similar to what Apollo 8 did.

The four members of the crew will be named before the end of the year. A Canadian is expected to be among them.

Artemis 3: Moon landing

The third Artemis mission will be the first to put astronauts on the Moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

NASA, for the first time, will land a crewed spacecraft on the southern pole of the Moon, where water in the form of ice has been detected.

Previous Moon landings took place near the equator.

Artemis 3 is scheduled for 2025 but may not take place until 2026 at the earliest, according to an independent audit of the program.

Starting with Artemis 3, NASA plans to launch crewed missions about once a year.

SpaceX Moon lander

NASA has selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build the Moon lander for Artemis 3.

SpaceX’s Starship, which is still under development, will serve as a shuttle from the Orion crew capsule to the lunar surface and back.

Gateway space station

The Artemis program also calls for the construction of a space station called Gateway that will orbit the Moon.

The launch of the first two elements—the living quarters module and power and propulsion system—is planned for late 2024 at the earliest by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Orion crews would be responsible for assembly of Gateway.

Astronauts would spend between 30 to 60 days in Gateway and would eventually have access to a lander that would allow them to travel to the Moon and back.

Gateway would also serve as a stopping point for any future trip to Mars.

Destination Mars

The ultimate objective of the Artemis program is what NASA calls the “next giant leap—human exploration of Mars.”

NASA will use knowledge gained from Artemis about next generation spacesuits, vehicles, propulsion, resupply and other areas to prepare for a trip to Mars.

The goal is to learn how to maintain a in deep space for a long period.

Creating a “base camp” on the Moon is part of the plan with astronauts staying on the for up to two months.

While a trip to the Moon takes just a few days, a voyage to Mars would take a minimum of several months.



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NASA’s moon-observing CubeSat is ready for Artemis launch

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Illustration of NASA’s Lunar IceCube mission investigating lunar ice. Credit: Morehead State University

NASA’s water-scouting CubeSat is now poised to hitch a ride to lunar orbit. Not much bigger than a shoe box, Lunar IceCube’s data will have an outsized impact on lunar science.

The satellite is integrated into the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and ready to journey to the moon as part of the uncrewed Artemis I mission, launching this year.

Orbiting the moon, Lunar IceCube will use a spectrometer to investigate lunar ice. Earlier missions revealed ice on the moon, but Lunar IceCube will further NASA’s knowledge about lunar ice dynamics.






NASA’s Lunar IceCube mission will journey to the Moon as a secondary payload on the Artemis I mission. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists are interested in the absorption and release of water from the —the moon’s rocky and dusty surface. With Lunar IceCube investigating this process, NASA can map these changes as they occur on the moon.

Lunar IceCube will also study the —the very thin atmosphere-like volume surrounding the moon. By understanding the dynamics of water and other substances on the moon, scientists will be able to predict seasonal changes for lunar ice that could impact its use as a resource in the future.

This will all be achieved from an efficient and cost-effective CubeSat that only weighs 31 pounds. Lunar IceCube is one of several CubeSats catching a ride to the moon aboard Artemis I. These small satellites, along with future Artemis missions, will increase our knowledge for living and working on the and eventually Mars.



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NASA’s InSight still hunting marsquakes as power levels diminish

InSight captured this image of one of its dust-covered solar panels on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dusty solar panels and darker skies are expected to bring the Mars lander mission to a close around the end of this year.

NASA’s InSight Mars lander is gradually losing power and is anticipated to end science operations later this summer. By December, InSight’s team expects the lander to have become inoperative, concluding a mission that has thus far detected more than 1,300 marsquakes—most recently, a magnitude 5 that occurred on May 4—and located quake-prone regions of the Red Planet.

The information gathered from those quakes has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. Additionally, InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has recorded invaluable weather data and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.

“InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “We can apply what we’ve learned about Mars’ inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”

InSight landed on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. Equipped with a pair of solar panels that each measures about 7 feet (2.2 meters) wide, it was designed to accomplish the mission’s primary science goals in its first Mars year (nearly two Earth years). Having achieved them, the spacecraft is now into an extended mission, and its solar panels have been producing less power as they continue to accumulate dust.

Because of the reduced power, the team will soon put the lander’s robotic arm in its resting position (called the “retirement pose”) for the last time later this month. Originally intended to deploy the seismometer and the lander’s heat probe, the arm has played an unexpected role in the mission: Along with using it to help bury the heat probe after sticky Martian soil presented the probe with challenges, the team used the arm in an innovative way to remove dust from the solar panels. As a result, the seismometer was able to operate more often than it would have otherwise, leading to new discoveries.






NASA’s InSight Mars lander team speak about the mission’s science and the innovative ways they took on engineering challenges. During its time on Mars, InSight has achieved all its primary science goals and continues to hunt for quakes. Its mission is expected to conclude around the end of 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When InSight landed, the produced around 5,000 watt-hours each Martian day, or sol—enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. Now, they’re producing roughly 500 watt-hours per sol—enough to power the same electric oven for just 10 minutes.

Additionally, seasonal changes are beginning in Elysium Planitia, InSight’s location on Mars. Over the next few months, there will be more dust in the air, reducing sunlight—and the lander’s energy. While past efforts removed some dust, the mission would need a more powerful dust-cleaning event, such as a “dust devil” (a passing whirlwind), to reverse the current trend.

“We’ve been hoping for a cleaning like we saw happen several times to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “That’s still possible, but energy is low enough that our focus is making the most of the science we can still collect.”

If just 25% of InSight’s panels were swept clean by the wind, the lander would gain about 1,000 watt-hours per sol—enough to continue collecting science. However, at the current rate power is declining, InSight’s non-seismic instruments will rarely be turned on after the end of May.

Energy is being prioritized for the lander’s seismometer, which will operate at select times of day, such as at night, when winds are low and marsquakes are easier for the seismometer to “hear.” The seismometer itself is expected to be off by the end of summer, concluding the science phase of the .

At that point, the lander will still have enough power to operate, taking the occasional picture and communicating with Earth. But the team expects that around December, will be low enough that one day InSight will simply stop responding.



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NASA’s InSight still hunting marsquakes as power levels diminish (2022, May 17)
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NASA’s ECOSTRESS detects ‘heat islands’ in extreme Indian heat wave

NASA’s ECOSTRESS instrument made this image of ground temperatures near Delhi (lower right), around midnight on May 5. The urban “heat islands” of Delhi and smaller villages peaked at 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) while nearby fields were about 40 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A relentless heat wave has blanketed India and Pakistan since mid-March, causing dozens of deaths, fires, increased air pollution, and reduced crop yields. Weather forecasts show no prospect of relief any time soon. NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station instrument (ECOSTRESS) has been measuring these temperatures from space, at the highest spatial resolution of any satellite instrument.

This image, taken shortly before local midnight on May 5, shows and northwest of Delhi (the large red area in the lower right) that are home to about 28 million people. The image covers about 4,800 square miles (12,350 square kilometers).

Cities are usually markedly warmer than the surrounding countryside due to human activities and the materials used in the built environment. The image clearly delineates these urban “heat islands.” Nighttime temperatures in Delhi and several smaller villages were above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), peaking at about 102 degrees F (39 degrees C), while the rural fields nearby had cooled to around 60 degrees F (15 degrees C). This data suggests that are experiencing considerably higher temperatures than the average temperatures reported for their regions.

ECOSTRESS measures the temperature of the ground itself, which is very similar to air temperature at night (though the ground may be warmer than the air in daylight hours). The instrument launched to the in 2018. Its primary mission is to identify plants’ thresholds for water use and water stress, giving insight into their ability to adapt to a warming climate. However, ECOSTRESS also records other heat-related phenomena, like this heat wave. With a pixel size of about 225 feet (70 meters) by 125 feet (38 meters), its high-resolution images serve as a powerful tool for understanding aspects of the weather event that might be overlooked by traditional observation networks.



More information:
ECOSTRESS

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NASA’s ECOSTRESS detects ‘heat islands’ in extreme Indian heat wave (2022, May 12)
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NASA’s Lucy mission is a ‘go’ for solar array deployment attempt

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

On April 18, NASA decided to move forward with plans to complete the deployment of the Lucy spacecraft’s stalled, unlatched solar array. The spacecraft is powered by two large arrays of solar cells that were designed to unfold and latch into place after launch. One of the fan-like arrays opened as planned, but the other stopped just short of completing this operation.

Through a combination of rigorous in-flight solar array characterization and ground testing, Lucy engineers determined the unlatched solar array is nearly fully open, positioned at approximately 345 out of the full 360 degrees, and is producing ample energy for the . Nonetheless, the team is concerned about potential damage to the array if the spacecraft conducts a main engine burn in its present configuration.

After launch, the arrays were opened by a small motor that reels in a lanyard attached to both ends of the folded solar array. The team estimates that 20 to 40 inches of this lanyard (out of approximately 290 inches total) remains to be retracted for the open array to latch.

The solar array was designed with both a primary and a backup motor winding to give an added layer of reliability for the mission-critical solar array deployment. Lucy engineers will take advantage of this redundancy by using both motors simultaneously to generate higher torque than was used on the day of launch. Ground tests show that this added torque may be enough to pull the snarled lanyard the remaining distance needed to latch.

The team is now preparing to complete the solar array deployment in two steps. The first step, tentatively scheduled for the week of May 9, is intended to pull in most of the remaining lanyard and verify that flight results are consistent with ground testing. This step will also strengthen the array by bringing it closer to a fully tensioned state. Because this step is designed to be limited in duration, the array is not likely to latch at that point.

If this step goes as planned, the second step will continue the array deployment with the intent to fully latch. Information gleaned from the first part will help fine-tune the second. The second step is currently planned for a month after the initial one, giving engineers enough time to analyze the data seen in the first attempt.



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NASA’s Lucy mission is a ‘go’ for solar array deployment attempt (2022, April 21)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA’s NICER telescope sees hot spots merge on a magnetar

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Scientists think SGR 1830’s hot spots likely resembled the bases of coronal loops frequently seen on the Sun. In this extreme ultraviolet view from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, loops of ionized gas trace magnetic fields emerging from the solar surface. Credit: NASA/SDO

For the first time, NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) has observed the merging of multimillion-degree X-ray spots on the surface of a magnetar, a supermagnetized stellar core no larger than a city.

“NICER tracked how three bright, X-ray-emitting hot spots slowly wandered across the object’s surface while also decreasing in size, providing the best look yet at this phenomenon,” said George Younes, a researcher at George Washington University in Washington and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The largest spot eventually coalesced with a smaller one, which is something we haven’t seen before.”

This unique set of observations, described in a paper led by Younes and published Jan. 13 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, will help guide scientists to a more complete understanding of the interplay between the crust and magnetic field of these extreme objects.

A is a type of isolated neutron star, the crushed core left behind when a massive star explodes. Compressing more mass than the Sun’s into a ball about 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, a neutron star is made of matter so dense that a teaspoonful would weigh as much as a mountain on Earth.

What sets magnetars apart is that they sport the strongest magnetic fields known, up to 10 trillion times more intense than a refrigerator magnet’s and a thousand times stronger than a typical neutron star’s. The magnetic field represents an enormous storehouse of energy that, when disturbed, can power an outburst of enhanced X-ray activity lasting from months to years.







This plot tracks 37 days of change in SGR 1830’s peak X-ray emission as seen by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER). In this graph, the star’s rotational phase advances from left to right, with the measured energy shown vertically. The green, yellow, and red areas indicate regions producing the greatest numbers of X-rays and are thought to represent the magnetar’s hot spots. They change in intensity and in their positions relative to one another as time goes on. For the first time, astronomers recorded two such spots merging. Credit: NASA/NICER/G. Younes et al. 2022

On Oct. 10, 2020, NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory discovered just such an outburst from a new magnetar, called SGR 1830-0645 (SGR 1830 for short). It’s located in the constellation Scutum, and while its distance is not precisely known, astronomers estimate that the object lies about 13,000 light-years away. Swift turned its X-Ray Telescope to the source, detecting repeated pulses that revealed the object was rotating every 10.4 seconds.

NICER measurements from the same day show that the X-ray emission exhibited three close peaks with every rotation. They were caused when three individual surface regions much hotter than their surroundings spun into and out of our view.

NICER observed SGR 1830 almost daily from its discovery to Nov. 17, after which the Sun was too close to the field of view for safe observation. Over this period, the emission peaks gradually shifted, occurring at slightly different times in the magnetar’s rotation. The results favor a model where the spots form and move as a result of crustal motion, in much the same way as the motion of tectonic plates on Earth drives seismic activity.

“The crust of a neutron star is immensely strong, but a magnetar’s intense magnetic field can strain it beyond its limits,” said Sam Lander, an astrophysicist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, and a co-author of the paper. “Understanding this process is a major challenge for theorists, and now NICER and SGR 1830 have brought us a much more direct look at how the crust behaves under extreme stress.”






The team thinks these observations reveal a single active region where the crust has become partially molten, slowly deforming under magnetic stress. The three moving hot spots likely represent locations where —similar to the bright, glowing arcs of plasma seen on the Sun—connect to the surface. The interplay between the loops and crustal motion drives the drifting and merging behavior.

“Changes in pulse shape, including decreasing numbers of peaks, previously have been seen only in a few ‘snapshot’ observations widely separated in time, so there was no way to track their evolution,” said Zaven Arzoumanian, the NICER science lead at Goddard. “Such changes could have occurred suddenly, which would be more consistent with a lurching magnetic field than wandering .”

NICER is an Astrophysics Mission of Opportunity within NASA’s Explorers Program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined, and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and science areas. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate supports the SEXTANT component of the mission, demonstrating pulsar-based spacecraft navigation.



More information:
George Younes et al, Pulse Peak Migration during the Outburst Decay of the Magnetar SGR 1830-0645: Crustal Motion and Magnetospheric Untwisting, The Astrophysical Journal Letters (2022). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac4700

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NASA’s NICER telescope sees hot spots merge on a magnetar (2022, March 8)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA’s HERMES mission passes key milestone, moves toward launch

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Illustration of the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) and Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) of Gateway, with HERMES indicated by a red arrow. This older view shows HERMES in a different placement than its current planned location, which would be rotated 90 degrees on the HALO module and would not be visible from this vantage point. Credit: NASA

NASA’s HERMES mission—a four-instrument suite to be mounted outside NASA’s Moon-orbiting Gateway—has passed a critical mission review on Jan. 27, 2022.

The review, Key Decision Point C, evaluated the mission’s preliminary design and program plan to achieve launch by its target launch readiness date no earlier than November 2024. With the successful review, HERMES now moves into Phase C, which includes the final design of the mission.

“HERMES will be a critical part of the Artemis mission and NASA’s goals to create a permanent presence on the Moon,” said Jamie Favors, HERMES program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We’re very excited to pass this critical milestone and move closer to launch.”

HERMES, short for Heliophysics Environmental and Radiation Measurement Experiment Suite, will be mounted outside the Habitation and Logistics Outpost module of NASA’s Gateway outpost. Gateway will be where Artemis astronauts live and work as they orbit the Moon, supporting scientific experiments and technology development applicable for both lunar and future deep .

“The Gateway Program is proud to be collaborating with SMD on the HERMES payload,” said Tim Horvath, Gateway payload integration lead. “This close partnership will enable HERMES to successfully achieve groundbreaking science objectives from the unique cislunar viewing location of the Gateway spacecraft.”

HERMES will monitor , the fluctuating conditions in space driven by the Sun. Space weather includes the continuous stream of particles and magnetic fields, known as the solar wind; blasts of billion-ton gas clouds known as coronal mass ejections; flashes of ultra-bright light from solar flares; and the disturbances each of these create in the near-Earth environment. Some of these events pose dangers to astronauts and robotic missions—but all of them are exciting scientific opportunities to understand our Sun and the space around us.

HERMES will study space weather in an especially variable environment. As the Moon orbits Earth each month, it spends about one week inside Earth’s long magnetotail, the portion of our blown back from the Sun like a windsock. When inside the magnetotail, HERMES will be flooded by particles and magnetic fields that have interacted with Earth. The remaining three weeks, the Moon confronts the unfiltered Sun, measuring the and space weather in conditions closer to pristine interplanetary space.

“It’s been an exciting challenge to make HERMES as compact yet flexible as it needs to be,” said Kristen Brown, HERMES deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’ve had to package all the instruments into an extremely small volume without interfering with each other and while making sure the payload meets the Gateway interface requirements.”

“HERMES is the first space weather monitoring platform on a crewed spacecraft to venture outside Earth’s protective magnetic field,” said Jim Spann, HERMES program scientist at NASA Headquarters. “What we learn from HERMES will be critical to protecting astronauts as we venture forth with the Artemis mission.”

HERMES will contribute to a number of joint observations campaigns with other spacecraft. The European Radiation Sensors Array or ERSA provided by the European Space Agency will be mounted nearby on the Gateway Power and Propulsion Element, or PPE, where it will measure higher-energy particles in the solar wind. Together they provide Artemis astronauts with a fuller picture of the space weather conditions they are flying through. HERMES will also collaborate with the two THEMIS/ARTEMIS spacecraft already in orbit around the Moon, adding another data point to help measure smaller scale structures in the solar wind and magnetotail. Finally, as a new asset in NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, it contributes to an ever-growing fleet of spacecraft monitoring space weather conditions throughout the solar system.

“This is a great opportunity to be part of historic human spaceflight missions while expanding the possibilities for new science with international partners,” said Bill Paterson, HERMES project scientist at Goddard.

HERMES is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. HERMES includes four specialized instruments: NEMISIS, or the Noise Eliminating Magnetometer Instrument in a Small Integrated System, which measures the magnetic fields around Gateway; the Miniaturized Electron pRoton Telescope, or MERiT, which measures ions and electrons; the Electron Electrostatic Analyzer, or EEA, which measures the lower energy electrons that make up most of the solar wind; and the Solar Probe Analyzer for Ions, or SPAN-I, which measures protons and ions including oxygen. Goddard is providing the NEMISIS, MERiT and EEA instruments. SPAN-I is provided by the University of California, Berkeley.



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NASA’s HERMES mission passes key milestone, moves toward launch (2022, January 28)
retrieved 28 January 2022
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Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA’s Perseverance captures challenging flight by Mars helicopter

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The flight model of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Video footage from NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s 13th flight on Sept. 4 provides the most detailed look yet of the rotorcraft in action.

Ingenuity is currently prepping for its 16th flight, scheduled to take place no earlier than Saturday, Nov. 20, but the 160.5-second Flight 13 stands out as one of Ingenuity’s most complicated. It involved flying into varied terrain within the “Séítah” geological feature and taking images of an outcrop from multiple angles for the rover team. Acquired from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters), the images complement those collected during Flight 12, providing valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers.

Captured by the ‘s two-camera Mastcam-Z, one video clip of Flight 13 shows a majority of the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft’s flight profile. The other provides a closeup of takeoff and landing, which was acquired as part of a science observation intended to measure the dust plumes generated by the helicopter.

“The value of Mastcam-Z really shines through with these video clips,” said Justin Maki, deputy principal investigator for the Mastcam-Z instrument at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Even at 300 meters [328 yards] away, we get a magnificent closeup of takeoff and landing through Mastcam-Z’s ‘right eye.” And while the helicopter is little more than a speck in the wide view taken through the ‘left eye,” it gives viewers a good feel for the size of the environment that Ingenuity is exploring.”






Video footage from the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover provides a big-picture perspective of the 13th flight of the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, on Sept. 4, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

During takeoff, Ingenuity kicks up a small plume of dust that the right camera, or “eye,” captures moving to the right of the helicopter during ascent. After its initial climb to planned maximum altitude of 26 feet (8 meters), the helicopter performs a small pirouette to line up its color camera for scouting. Then Ingenuity pitches over, allowing the rotors’ thrust to begin moving it horizontally through the thin Martian air before moving offscreen. Later, the rotorcraft returns and lands in the vicinity of where it took off. The team targeted a different landing spot—about 39 feet (12 meters) from takeoff—to avoid a ripple of sand it landed on at the completion of Flight 12.

Though the view from Mastcam-Z’s left eye shows less of the helicopter and more of Mars than the right, the wide angle provides a glimpse of the unique way that the Ingenuity team programmed the flight to ensure success.

“We took off from the floor and flew over an elevated ridgeline before dipping into Séítah,” said Ingenuity Chief Pilot Håvard Grip of JPL. “Since the helicopter’s navigation filter prefers flat terrain, we programmed in a waypoint near the ridgeline, where the helicopter slows down and hovers for a moment. Our flight simulations indicated that this little ‘breather’ would help the helicopter keep track of its heading in spite of the significant terrain variations. It does the same on the way back. It’s awesome to actually get to see this occur, and it reinforces the accuracy of our modeling and our understanding of how to best operate Ingenuity.”






Video from the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captures a closeup view of the 13th flight of the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, on Sept. 4, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The wide-angle view also shows how Ingenuity maintains altitude during the flight. After an initial ascent to 26 feet (8 meters) altitude, the helicopter’s notes a change in elevation of the below as it heads northeast toward the ridgeline. Ingenuity automatically adjusts, climbing slightly as it approaches the ridge and then descending to remain 26 feet (8 meters) above the undulating surface. Once it flies to the right, out of view, Ingenuity collects 10 images of the rocky outcrop with its color camera before heading back into frame and returning to land in the targeted location.

After Flight 13, Ingenuity went quiet in October, along with NASA’s other Mars spacecraft during Mars solar conjunction, when the Red Planet and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, precluding most communications. Following conjunction, Ingenuity performed a short experimental flight test before undertaking Flight 15, which began the multi- journey back to the vicinity of “Wright Brothers Field,” its starting point back in April.



Citation:
NASA’s Perseverance captures challenging flight by Mars helicopter (2021, November 18)
retrieved 18 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-nasa-perseverance-captures-flight-mars.html

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part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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