Newscast Media HOUSTON—While most people would discard an old smartphone and replace it with a newer version, NASA used smartphone components to build and successfully launch satellites. Three smartphones destined to become low-cost satellites rode to space Sunday aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.
The trio of “PhoneSats” is operating in orbit, and may prove to be the lowest-cost satellites ever flown in space. The goal of NASA’s PhoneSat mission is to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable, yet very inexpensive, satellite. CONTINUE TO FULL STORY>>
Newscast Media WASHINGTON, D.C.—NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together to build a spacecraft that will take a human crew farther into space than ever before. The two agencies finalized an agreement for ESA to provide Orion, NASA’s spacecraft for human exploration, with a module performing critical functions such as propulsion, power generation and storage of crew supplies.
Officials from both agencies talked to reporters about the mission in a news conference January 16 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer said the mission will build on the cooperative multinational space activities that have taken place on the International Space Station.
“A lot of the same experts are working on both sides,” said Geyer. “We get to apply that to this great exploration mission.”
The Orion crew module, being built by NASA, is set for its first test flight in 2014. An uncrewed flight is planned beyond Earth orbit in 2017. The first crew is set to journey into space on Orion by 2021, according to the long-range plan prepared by the U.S. space agency.
Human space flight has not gone beyond low-Earth orbit since the end of the Apollo program, which put the first humans on the moon but ended in 1972. Thomas Reiter, ESA director of human spaceflight and operations, was also on the Houston panel. He said the collaboration between the two space agencies is no mere gesture of political convenience, but an opportunity “to exploit synergies that have been developed in the past and that can be beneficial for reaching common objectives.”
William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration, said the work ahead will be “difficult and complicated,” but also “inspiring.”
While engineers and technicians are working to build the hardware that will propel a crew into space and sustain it there, discussions are still under way about exactly where the crew may be going. Another visit to an unexplored part of the moon, a voyage to an asteroid and, eventually, a trip to Mars are all being considered. Gerstenmaier and the engineering staff are not troubled that the destination is still unclear.
“We’re building a system that will allow us to go explore [multiple destinations],” he said. “We want a system that can actually push human presence out into the solar system and allow us to go to these different destinations.”
From an engineering standpoint, Gerstenmaier said, scientists already know the demands that will be put on the Orion spacecraft and the capabilities that must be built into the craft: the load it can carry, the fuel it will need, and the supplies and resources that must be built into the mission to sustain a crew on a long-term mission.
As the NASA-ESA team works toward the 2017 flight deadline, progress is being made on a number of individual spacecraft components and systems. Geyer said several of these are set for completion in 2013 to be handed over to the team responsible for incorporating them into the launch vehicle.
Newscast Media HOUSTON, Texas — NASA scientists have confirmed their first planet in the “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.
“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”
NASA’s Kepler mission science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the spacecraft finds. The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.
Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet’s host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.
“The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us that we’re honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect: those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially habitable,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. “The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods.”
Source: NASA Ames Research Center
Newscast Media — NASA scientists recently discovered large amounts of water ice as the agency explored the moon using India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Scientists have detected ice deposits near the moon’s north pole. NASA’s Mini-SAR instrument, a lightweight, Synthetic Aperture Radar, found more than 40 small craters with water ice. The craters range in size from 1 to 9 miles (2 to15 km) in diameter. Although the total amount of ice depends on its thickness in each crater, it’s estimated there could be at least 1.3 trillion pounds (600 million metric tons) of water ice.
The Mini-SAR has imaged many of the permanently shadowed regions that exist at both poles of the Moons. These dark areas are extremely cold and it has been hypothesized that volatile material, including water ice, could be present in quantity here. The main science object of the Mini-SAR experiment is to map and characterize any deposits that exist.
The estimated amount of water ice potentially present is comparable to the quantity estimated solely from the previous mission of Lunar Prospector’s neutron data (several hundred million metric tons.) The variation in the estimates between Mini-SAR and the Lunar Prospector’s neutron spectrometer is due to the fact that it only measures to depths of about one-half meter, so it would underestimate the total quantity of water ice present. At least some of the polar ice is mixed with lunar soil and thus, invisible to our radar.
“The emerging picture from the multiple measurements and resulting data of the instruments on lunar missions indicates that water creation, migration, deposition and retention are occurring on the moon,” said Paul Spudis, principal investigator of the Mini-SAR experiment at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
“The new discoveries show the moon is an even more interesting and attractive scientific, exploration and operational destination than people had previously thought.”
“After analyzing the data, our science team determined a strong indication of water ice, a finding which will give future missions a new target to further explore and exploit,” said Jason Crusan, program executive for the Mini-RF Program for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate in Washington.