Friday, August 29, 2014

Galileo Launch Injection Anomaly: Solar Arrays Deployed, Software Errors Likely the Cause of Failure

Artist's view of the fifth and sixth Galileo satellites on their Fregat upper stage separating from the Soyuz upper stage, some 9 minutes and 23 seconds after launch. The Fregat flew them the rest of the way up to medium-Earth orbit. Credit: ESA–J. Huart

Operations continue smoothly for Galileo Sat 5-6. Both satellites now have both sets of their solar arrays fully deployed and generating power. The satellites are safely under control, despite having been released on a lower and elliptical orbit instead of the expected circular orbit on 22 August. That failure was likely caused by software errors in the Fregat-MT rocket’s upper-stage, Russian newspaper Izvestia reported Thursday. “The nonstandard operation of the integrated management system was likely caused by an error in the embedded software. As a result, the upper stage received an incorrect flight assignment, and, operating in full accordance with the embedded software, it has delivered the units to the wrong destination,” an unnamed source from Russian space Agency Roscosmos was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Researchers Use NASA and Other Data to Look Into the Heart of a Solar Storm

Twelve spacecraft in Earth’s magnetosphere – in addition to other missions -- helped scientists better observe and understand an unusual January 2005 solar storm. The four Cluster spacecraft were in the solar wind, directly upstream of Earth. Picture not to scale. Image Credit: ESA

A space weather storm from the sun engulfed our planet on Jan. 21, 2005. The event got its start on Jan. 20, when a cloud of solar material, a coronal mass ejection or CME, burst off the sun and headed toward Earth. When it arrived at our planet, the ring current and radiation belts surrounding Earth swelled with extra particles, while the aurora persisted for six hours. Both of these are usually signs of a very large storm – indeed, this was one of the largest outpouring of solar protons ever monitored from the sun. But the storm barely affected the magnetic fields around Earth – disturbances in these fields can affect power grids on the ground, a potential space weather effect keenly watched for by a society so dependent on electricity.

ESA Celebrates 50 Years at the European Space Operations Centre

VIPs celebrate 50 years of European space cooperation at ESOC. Credit: ESA/J. Mai

In the presence of media, invited dignitaries, former astronauts, ESA’s Director General and colleagues past and present, the workforce at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, celebrated 50 years of European cooperation in space on Thursday. In 1964, the Conventions of ELDO (launchers) and ESRO (science and later applications) entered into force. A decade later, a single European Space Agency was established, taking over from these two organisations. For 50 years, ESA and its precursor organisations together with partners in the 20 Member States, space industry and the scientific community have served European cooperation and innovation in space based on competence, cooperation, continuity and integration. At ESOC Thursday, the Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, Thomas Reiter, welcomed ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain to a gala programme celebrating ESA past, present and future.

Arizona State University Partners with NASA to Engage Citizens in Space Exploration

Credit: NASA

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids – large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we, or should we, try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts? How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? What do we do if we find an asteroid that threatens Earth? How should we balance costs, risks and benefits of human exploration in space? Sounds like questions for rocket scientists. But how would you like to be part of this discussion? An innovative project between NASA and a group led by Arizona State University called ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) is planning to do just that: give ordinary citizens a voice in the future of space exploration.

Do We Live in a 2-D Hologram? New Fermilab Experiment Will Test the Nature of the Universe

Fermilab scientist Aaron Chou, left, project manager for the Holometer experiment, and Vanderbilt University graduate student Brittany Kamai peer into the device that will test whether the universe is a 2-D hologram. Credit: Fermilab.

A unique experiment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory called the Holometer has started collecting data that will answer some mind-bending questions about our universe – including whether we live in a hologram. Much like characters on a television show would not know that their seemingly 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen, we could be clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion. The information about everything in our universe could actually be encoded in tiny packets in two dimensions. Get close enough to your TV screen and you’ll see pixels, small points of data that make a seamless image if you stand back. Scientists think that the universe’s information may be contained in the same way and that the natural “pixel size” of space is roughly 10 trillion trillion times smaller than an atom, a distance that physicists refer to as the Planck scale.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Spitzer Telescope Witnesses Asteroid Smashup

This artist’s concept shows the immediate aftermath of a large asteroid impact around NGC 2547-ID8, a 35-million-year-old sun-like star. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope witnessed a giant surge in dust around the star, likely the result of two asteroids colliding. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the formation of planets. Scientists had been regularly tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, when it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013. "We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star," said lead author and graduate student Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson. While dusty aftermaths of suspected asteroid collisions have been observed by Spitzer before, this is the first time scientists have collected data before and after a planetary system smashup. The viewing offers a glimpse into the violent process of making rocky planets like ours.

NASA Says Goodbye to Historic Landmark

Evening light begins to fade at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later redesignated Armstrong Flight Research Center), Edwards, Calif., as technicians begin the task of mounting the Space Shuttle Atlantis atop NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for the ferry flight back to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., following its STS-44 flight Nov. 24 through Dec. 1, 1991. After 38 years, the grey-colored space shuttle Mate-Demate Device (MDD) at Edwards Air Force Base is being dismantled and demolished as a part of the final chapter in the U.S. space shuttle program. Credit: NASA

A structure synonymous with NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center for the past 38 years, the grey-colored space shuttle Mate-Demate Device (MDD) at Edwards Air Force Base is being dismantled and demolished as a part of the final chapter in the U.S. space shuttle program. The decision comes three years after the shuttle program ended and six years since it last supported turnaround operations after the last shuttle landing at Edwards. "People at this base know that the MDD has definitely become a part of the landscape. When you drive onto base, it's one of the landmarks you see, and it will leave a hole in your heart when it's gone, but this process is part of the nature of the programs we work out here. When the equipment is no longer needed, it's in the best interest of the taxpayer to not continue to maintain and upkeep unused structures," said David McBride, NASA Armstrong Center director.

Scientist Uncovers Red Planet's Climate History in Unique Meteorite

A piece of the NWA 7533 meterorite found in northwest Africa. Credit: LUC LABENNE/WWW.METEORITES.TV

Was Mars — now a cold, dry place — once a warm, wet planet that sustained life? And if so, how long has it been cold and dry? Research underway at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory may one day answer those questions — and perhaps even help pave the way for future colonization of the Red Planet. By analyzing the chemical clues locked inside an ancient Martian meteorite known as Black Beauty, Florida State University Professor Munir Humayun and an international research team are revealing the story of Mars’ ancient, and sometimes startling, climate history. The team’s most recent finding of a dramatic climate change appeared in Nature Geoscience, in the paper “Record of the ancient Martian hydrosphere and atmosphere preserved in zircon from a Martian meteorite.”