Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Engineers Conduct Low Light Test on New Technology for James Webb Space Telescope

Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn

NASA engineers have recently inspected a new piece of technology developed for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Micro-Shutter Array (MSA), with a low light test at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Developed at Goddard to allow Webb's Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to obtain spectra of more than 100 objects in the universe simultaneously, MSA uses thousands of tiny shutters to capture spectra from selected objects of interest in space and block out light from all other sources. The array is composed of four independent quadrants, each one housing a Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) array, made up of 365 x 171 shutters, whose dimensions are only 80 µm x 180 µm. There are more than 1000 electrical connections obtained with bump bonding and hair-thin wire bonding techniques between each array and its quadrant. Each quadrant also houses four electronic chip controls and monitors the functionality of the shutters.

The Analysis of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August from a distance of 285 km. The image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel.   Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a periodic comet in our solar system and was discovered by Klim Churyumov Ivanovic in 1969 at the Institute of Astrophysics of Alma-Ata, using a photo taken by Svetlana Ivanovna Gerasimenko that was subsequently analyzed. This celestial body has become an object of study for the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft, which was launched March 2, 2004 and came to the comet at a distance of only 100 km on August 6, 2014. With the use of the first images published by ESA and with the definition by the entity of the parameters of scale relative into the scene, it is possible to obtain useful information about the size and the brightness variation along the surface.

Alpbach Summer School Produces Venus Mission Concepts

Alpbach team green. Credit: 2014 MA Jakob / Summer School Alpbach FFG

Mission concepts to study why Earth and Venus are so similar yet so different have been chosen for further study by the European Space Agency. No big thing for a space agency you might think. But what’s special about these concepts is that they have been designed by teams of students, and newly qualified young scientists and engineers. Every year since 1975, selected students have gathered for the Summer School Alpbach, situated in the beautiful Austrian Tyrol. The event has become a fixture on the European science training calendar. The Summer School is organised by FFG and co-sponsored by the European Space Agency and the national space authorities of its member and cooperating states. The purpose of the Summer School Alpbach is to advance the training and working experience of European graduates, post-graduate students, young scientists and engineers. In this way, it prepares them for careers in science and other high-tech industry.

Dawn Spacecraft Will Get the Low-Down on the Dwarf Planet Ceres

This image illustrates Dawn’s spiral transfer from high altitude mapping orbit (HAMO) to low altitude mapping orbit (LAMO). The trajectory turns from blue to red as time progresses over two months. Red dashed sections are where ion thrusting is stopped so the spacecraft can point its main antenna toward Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft makes its journey to its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres, Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer, shared a monthly update on the mission’s progress. "The spacecraft is continuing to climb outward from the sun atop a blue-green beam of xenon ions from its uniquely efficient ion propulsion system. The constant, gentle thrust is reshaping its solar orbit so that by March 2015, it will arrive at the first dwarf planet ever discovered." Rayman wrote in a blog post. "Once in orbit, it will undertake an ambitious exploration of the exotic world of ice and rock that has been glimpsed only from afar for more than two centuries." Dawn has been cruising toward Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, since September 2012. That's when it departed from its first target, asteroid Vesta. The spacecraft is now 3.0 million miles (4.8 million kilometers) from Ceres and approaching it at less than 1500 mph (2400 kilometers per hour).

NASA Invites Public to Submit Messages for Asteroid Mission Time Capsule

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission launches Asteroid Time Capsule -- a mission to collect ideas from the public about space exploration 10 years from now. Image Credit: Heather Roper/University of Arizona/OSIRIS-REx

NASA is inviting the worldwide public to submit short messages and images on social media that could be placed in a time capsule aboard a spacecraft launching to an asteroid in 2016. Called the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), the spacecraft will rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in 2019, collect a sample and return the cache in a capsule to Earth in 2023 for detailed study. The robotic mission will spend more than two years at the 1,760-foot (500-meter)-wide asteroid and return a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of its surface material. Topics for submissions by the public should be about solar system exploration in 2014 and predictions for space exploration activities in 2023. The mission team will choose 50 tweets and 50 images to be placed in the capsule. Messages can be submitted Sept. 2 - 30.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Russian Foton-M4 Capsule Lands with Dead Sex Geckos

The Foton-M4 capsule after landing in Southern Russia on Sept. 1, 2014. Credit: Roscosmos

The Foton-M4 descent capsule with famed reptilian cosmonauts, known affectionately as the "sex geckos" (owing to the carnal nature of their space voyage), and also with drosophila fruit flies, seeds of plants, has landed in the Orenburg Region, an official in the press service of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) told ITAR-TASS on Monday. The touchdown of the Foton spacecraft took place at 09:18 UTC, Roscosmos announced around half an hour after the fact. After landing, the recovery team started rushing to the vehicle. Once reaching the landing site, a field lab was established to perform initial analysis of the scientific payloads at the landing site. Unfortunately, all the five geckos have died. "We can’t say yet at which stage of Foton’s space flight it happened,” a source at the Academy of Sciences told RIA Novosti on Monday. “At the same time, the fruit flies were in a perfect condition: they produced offspring.” The geckos had been on a two-month mission launched to facilitate research on the effects of zero-gravity on reproductive systems.

A Magnetar Close to Supernova Remnant

Magnetar discovered close to supernova remnant Kesteven 79. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/ Ping Zhou, Nanjing University, China

Massive stars end their life with a bang, exploding as supernovas and releasing massive amounts of energy and matter. What remains of the star is a small and extremely dense remnant: a neutron star or a black hole. Neutron stars come in several flavours, depending on properties such as their ages, the strength of the magnetic field concealed beneath their surface, or the presence of other stars nearby. Some of the energetic processes taking place around neutron stars can be explored with X-ray telescopes, like ESA's XMM-Newton. This image depicts two very different neutron stars that were observed in the same patch of the sky with XMM-Newton. The green and pink bubble dominating the image is Kesteven 79, the remnant of a supernova explosion located about 23,000 light-years away from us.

Japan Unveils Its New Asteroid Hunter

The new asteroid probe Hayabusa 2 on display in Sagamihara’s Chuo Ward in Kanagawa Prefecture on Aug. 31. Credit: Hikaru Uchida

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) unveiled on Sunday a new space probe that is expected to be launched later this year on a mission to an asteroid to help unravel the mystery of how life began in our solar system. Developed at a cost of about 28.9 billion yen ($280 million), the Hayabusa 2 will collect rock samples from 1999 JU3, a nearly spherical asteroid about 900 meters in diameter with an orbit that brings it close to the Earth and Mars. “(The Hayabusa 2 project) will be a touchstone mission in our endeavor to explore space,” said Hitoshi Kuninaka, a JAXA official handling the project.