In celebration of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary, hear NASA and International Astronauts recount their experiences of Earth during their time working and living on the International Space Station as it turns 20 years old this year. #SpaceStation20th#EarthDay50th If you missed an episode of “Down to Earth”, watch other Astronauts describe their experiences in previous episodes of the series here. https://go.nasa.gov/2tkHsDf
** Expedition 63 ABC Earth Day with Chris Cassidy – April 22, 2020
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA discussed the view of Earth from orbit and other issues related to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day during a downlink conversation April 22 with ABC News. Cassidy also took the opportunity to answer questions about Earth Day for NASA social media sites during the in-flight event. Cassidy arrived at the station April 9 for a six-and-a-half month mission.
** Commercial Crew Program: What’s It All About?
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX on launches to and from the International Space Station. Join NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Mike Hopkins as they explore the ins and outs of the Commercial Crew Program. This video will guide you through NASA’s partnerships with commercial companies and how these rockets will return American astronauts to launching from American soil for the first time since 2011. Learn about what will happen as the rocket heads toward the space station and how the crew capsule will safely return astronauts home. Be sure to visit https://www.nasa.gov/stem/ccp for more STEM educational resources to build on the excitement of the Commercial Crew launches with your students. Commercial Crew Next Gen STEM through NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement offers a way for K-12 students to learn more about this exciting moment in American history through engineering design challenges, coding activity, digital badging, virtual reality and more.
** #NASAatHome: Spaceport Series Episode 8: The future of plants in space. Matt Romeyn and Ralph Fritsche talked
about the Advanced Plant Habitat and the future of space crop production. Find out why one of the new crops slated to grow in space is Hatch Chile Pepper, and we’ll check in on the popcorn challenge.
What do NFL quarterbacks do in the offseason? Well, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Joshua Dobbs spent part of his time away from the football field at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Dobbs, who played his college football for the University of Tennessee Volunteers before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, recently completed an internship as an aerospace engineer at Kennedy.
Rick Tumlinson, Founding Partner, SpaceFund Venture Capital: As the space industry experiences a revolution in technology, new, high growth startups are discovering visionary ways to tackle the challenges faced in the market. Listen to Rick Tumlison, the Founding Partner of SpaceFund Venture Capital and a space activist, describe his fund’s investment philosophy and his advice to start-ups in the industry. Some of the exciting topics we will cover in this episode of Constellations are settlements in space and creating commercial opportunities at the Russian Mir space station and at the international space station. Learn about pioneers in the industry and how they influenced and shaped the way we approach the space industry today. Find out how space transport is the first step in building an ecosystem of sustainable companies that work in space and help the planet as a whole, including the importance of terrestrial revenue streams and how they are influencing this new frontier.
This week’s Space Café WebTalk took place on 21 April 2020, featuring Dr. Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning for Secure World Foundation in conversation with Torsten Kriening, co-publisher of SpaceWatch.Global and COO of ThorGroup GmbH. Dr. Brian Weeden gave a briefing about key elements from the newly released 2020 Global Counterspace Threat Report, published by the Secure World Foundation. Following his remarks, the online audience had the opportunity to ask Dr. Weeden questions.
** Space Force Gets Down to Business presented by Lockheed Martin – Space News webinar panel discussion.
Since its creation just four months ago, the U.S. Space Force has been working to define its priorities, capabilities and culture. As planning continues to stand up new organizations and recruit talent, one key effort has been the development of an acquisition strategy to build the next generation of military space systems.
Questions explored in this free webinar: – What are the Space Force’s next steps in its organization? – What has been the impact of COVID-19 on Space Force planning and operations? – What are the Space Force’s proposals to change the acquisition system? – What personnel, resource and budget challenges does the Space Force face going forward? – With growing threats in space, what does the Space Force have to do to build more resilient and defendable space systems?
Nanosatellite manufacturer and mission integrator NanoAvionics, together with the Mexican Space Agency (AEM) and students from the Polytechnic University of Atlacomulco will develop the first nanosatellite for the State of Mexico, (one of most important states of the country), the AtlaCom-1. Building the nanosatellite is part of a pilot project to establish a nanosatellite infrastructure for future space missions designed and built by Mexico’s youth.
The project, starting in September 2020, is a testimony to the importance of space applications enabled by nanosatellites, which are rapidly becoming essential to national economies. Together, the Mexican Space Agency, led by Dr. Salvador Landeros, appointed director general of AEM in 2019, and NanoAvionics are fostering the advanced skills that Mexican youth will need to bring the country’s space industry forward.
NanoAvionics’ engineers will share their space mission experience and help the students and faculty at the Polytechnic University of Atlacomulco to develop the ATLA-1. The company’s multi-purpose nanosatellite buses are pre-configured and pre-qualified, allowing mission teams to focus on their payloads. As a result, technology development missions can produce results quicker and satellite constellations can enter commercial service much faster. The project is further supported by the Mayor of Atlacomulco, Roberto Téllez-Monroy, an engineer with a passion for space technology.
** AzTechSat-1 was the first Mexican university student built CubeSat to reach orbit. See the posting here from last December about the project and a February post about the deployment of the satellite from the ISS.
The AzTechSat-1 mission is led by the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, or UPAEP, in Puebla, Mexico. It is providing students and professors an opportunity to lead and participate in their first spaceflight mission. The multidisciplinary team of students at UPAEP was mentored by engineers and project managers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. They learned to use NASA methodologies for spaceflight project management and systems engineering. The students designed, built, tested and delivered a flight-certified CubeSat.
Communications were establish with AzTechSat-1 after its deployment. The primary mission for the satellite is to demonstrate satellite-to-satellite communications by contacting a GlobalStar satellite.
Why are CubeSats / Cube Satellites so expensive? Entry level 1U satellites for basic science missions often cost at least $10 or $20K, and I figure that they shouldn’t, given how cheap consumer electronics are. 2U / 3U and above satellites are even more expensive, not to mention the much much larger launch cost. Is the high cost justified by the unique operating environment and market demand for CubeSats?
With 13 weeks to go before the launch period of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover opens, final preparations of the spacecraft continue at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On April 8, the assembly, test and launch operations team completed a crucial mass properties test of the rover.
Precision mass properties measurements are essential to a safe landing on Mars because they help ensure that the spacecraft travels accurately throughout its trip to the Red Planet – from launch through its entry, descent and landing.
On April 6, the meticulous three-day process began with Perseverance being lifted onto the rover turnover fixture. The team then slowly rotated the rover around its x-axis – an imaginary line that extends through the rover from its tail to its front – to determine its center of gravity (the point at which weight is evenly dispersed on all sides) relative to that axis.
If all goes smoothly this summer, three new spacecraft will launch toward the Red Planet, including the Arab world’s first interplanetary probe, dubbed Hope Mars Mission.
Construction on that spacecraft wrapped up earlier this year in the United Arab Emirates in preparation for its July launch. The launch will come less than a year after another major milestone for the country: In September 2019 its first spaceflyer, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket and spent a week living and working on the International Space Station.
“The Hope Probe project carries the hopes and ambitions of the Emirati nation and the aspirations of the Arab and Islamic people for a brighter future,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, said in a statement. “We seek to send a message of peace and hope to the world, and envision a glorious future in which knowledge and scientific expertise are freely shared between nations.”
… the overall paucity of sunspots over the last year has continued, with March having only two sunspots, as indicated by the SILSO graph to the right. Both spots had magnetic polarities linking them to upcoming solar maximum, not the older now fading cycle.
Since June 2019 the Sun has averaged between one or two sunspots per month, with the number of spots linked to the new cycle steadily increasing over time. Though the numbers remain tiny, far lower than seen during the last solar minimum — considered the deepest and longest in a century — the new cycle sunspots strongly suggest we will have a solar maximum in the next five years, rather than experience a grand minimum with no sunspots for decades.
The new NOAA graph also makes it very easy to compare today’s minimum with all past minimums. A quick scan shows that we had similar blank stretches during the 1810, 1823, and 1912 minimums. In both centuries we saw two consecutive weak maximums linked to these deep minimums. All this suggests to me that the next maximum will be weak too. Some scientists agree, with some not discounting the possibility of a grand minimum.
The lander and rover of the Chang’e-4 probe have resumed work for the 17th lunar day on the far side of the moon after “sleeping” during the extremely cold night.
The lander woke up at 1:24 p.m. Friday (Beijing time), and the rover awoke at 8:57 p.m. Thursday. Both are in normal working order, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.
The Chang’e-4 probe, launched on Dec. 8, 2018, made the first-ever soft landing on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3, 2019.
A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length. The Chang’e-4 probe, switching to dormant mode during the lunar night due to the lack of solar power, has survived about 470 Earth days on the moon.
The rover Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, has worked much longer than its three-month design life, becoming the longest-working lunar rover on the moon.
China’s Chang’e 5 robotic moon mission is scheduled to launch later this year. That venture represents the third phase of China’s Chang’e lunar exploration program: returning samples from the moon.
The reported candidate landing region for Chang’e 5 is the Rümker region, located in the northern Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”). The area is geologically complex and known for its volcanic activity.
The Chang’e 5 mission has four main parts: an orbiter, ascender, lander and Earth reentry module, which will contain up to 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms) of lunar surface and subsurface samples.
** Impactor made a hole-in-one on the Moon when it hit on top another crater:
Messier A crater, located in Mare Fecunditatis, presents an interesting puzzle. The main crater is beautifully preserved, with a solidified pond of impact melt resting in its floor. But there is another impact crater beneath and just to the west of Messier A. This more subdued and degraded impact crater clearly formed first.
** BepiColombo made a return fly-by of Earth on April 10th to boost its trip to Mercury. The European/Japanese spacecraft sent images it made of Earth during the return.
Launched in 2018, BepiColombo is on a seven-year journey to the smallest and innermost planet orbiting the Sun, which holds important clues about the formation and evolution of the entire Solar System.
Today’s operation is the first of nine flybys which, together with the onboard solar propulsion system, will help the spacecraft reach its target orbit around Mercury. The next two flybys will take place at Venus and further six at Mercury itself.
While the manoeuvre took advantage of Earth’s gravity to adjust the path of the spacecraft and did not require any active operations, such as firing thrusters, it included 34 critical minutes shortly after BepiColombo’s closest approach to our planet, when the spacecraft flew across the shadow of Earth.
…NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed the first practice run of its sample collection sequence, reaching an approximate altitude of 246 feet (75 meters) over site Nightingale before executing a back-away burn from the asteroid. Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site, is located within a crater in Bennu’s northern hemisphere.
The four-hour Checkpoint rehearsal took the spacecraft through the first two of the sampling sequence’s four maneuvers: the orbit departure burn and the Checkpoint burn. Checkpoint is so named because it is the location where the spacecraft autonomously checks its position and velocity before adjusting its trajectory down toward the location of the event’s third maneuver.
Four hours after departing its 0.6-mile (1-km) safe-home orbit, the spacecraft performed the Checkpoint maneuver at an approximate altitude of 410 feet (125 meters) above Bennu’s surface. From there, the spacecraft continued to descend for another nine minutes on a trajectory toward – but not reaching – the location of the sampling event’s third maneuver, the “Matchpoint” burn. Upon reaching an altitude of approximately 246 ft (75 m) – the closest the spacecraft has ever been to Bennu – OSIRIS-REx performed a back-away burn to complete the rehearsal.
During the rehearsal, the spacecraft successfully deployed its sampling arm, the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), from its folded, parked position out to the sample collection configuration. Additionally, some of the spacecraft’s instruments collected science and navigation images and made spectrometry observations of the sample site, as will occur during the sample collection event.
** A high-res global map of Bennu using images taken by OSIRIS-REx was released in February:
** Avoiding an asteroid impact catastrophe: A presentation to a general audience by researchers at Lawrence Livermore Lab on Planetary Defense: Avoiding a Cosmic Catastrophe
Our planet has been continually bombarded by asteroids since its formation, 4.5 billion years ago. While the frequency of large impacts has decreased, many potential Near-Earth Object threats remain undiscovered, so if or when they will impact Earth remains unknown. Fortunately, if an Earth-threatening asteroid is discovered in time, there are ways to mitigate or even prevent a disaster. Scientists at LLNL provide computer simulations in preparation these scenarios so if the time comes where an asteroid is headed our way, we will be prepared.
** Hopes for Comet Atlas to be visible to the naked eye were dashed when it began to break up:
Senior Planetary Astronomer Franck Marchis takes a closer look at Comet Atlas. Discovered by the Atlas Survey in December 2019 it has recently been observed exhibiting unusual behavior. What is happening?
A team of transatlantic scientists, using reanalyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star’s habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water.
Scientists discovered this planet, called Kepler-1649c, when looking through old observations from Kepler, which the agency retired in 2018. While previous searches with a computer algorithm misidentified it, researchers reviewing Kepler data took a second look at the signature and recognized it as a planet. Out of all the exoplanets found by Kepler, this distant world – located 300 light-years from Earth – is most similar to Earth in size and estimated temperature.
This newly revealed world is only 1.06 times larger than our own planet. Also, the amount of starlight it receives from its host star is 75% of the amount of light Earth receives from our Sun – meaning the exoplanet’s temperature may be similar to our planet’s as well. But unlike Earth, it orbits a red dwarf. Though none have been observed in this system, this type of star is known for stellar flare-ups that may make a planet’s environment challenging for any potential life.
“This intriguing, distant world gives us even greater hope that a second Earth lies among the stars, waiting to be found,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The data gathered by missions like Kepler and our Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite [TESS] will continue to yield amazing discoveries as the science community refines its abilities to look for promising planets year after year.”
A discussion at the SETI Institute about Kepler 1649c: