Category: mission

Counting Down to ICON’s Launch

In October 2018, we’re launching the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, to study Earth’s dynamic interface to space.

image

The region of Earth’s atmosphere on the edge of space plays a crucial role in our technology and exploration. This is where many of our satellites — including the International Space Station — orbit, and changing conditions in this region can cause problems for those satellites and disrupt communications signals.

This part of the atmosphere is shaped by a complicated set of factors. From below, regular weather on Earth can propagate upwards and influence this region. From above, electric and magnetic fields and charged particles in space — collectively called space weather — can also trigger changes. ICON’s goal is to better understand this region and how it’s shaped by these outside influences.  

10-mile-per-hour sensitivity

Though the ICON spacecraft zooms around Earth at upwards of 14,000 miles per hour, its wind-measuring instrument, named MIGHTI, can detect changes in wind speed smaller than 10 miles per hour. MIGHTI measures the tiny shifts in color caused by the motion of glowing gases in the upper atmosphere. Then, by making use of the Doppler effect — the same phenomenon that makes an ambulance siren change pitch as it passes you — scientists can figure out the gases’ speed and direction.

image

97-minute orbital period

ICON circles Earth in just over an hour and a half, completing nearly 15 orbits per day. Its orbit is inclined by 27 degrees, so over time, its measurements will completely cover the latitudes scientists are most interested in, near the equator.

image

8 1/3-foot solar panel

ICON doesn’t carry any onboard fuel. Instead, its single solar panel — measuring about 100 inches long and 33 inches wide, a little bit bigger than a standard door — produces power for the spacecraft. In science mode, ICON draws about 209-265 Watts of power.

7 years of teamwork

Now getting ready for launch, the ICON team has been hard at work ever since the idea for the mission was selected for further study in 2011.  

634 pounds

How much does good science weigh? In ICON’s case, about as much as vending machine. The observatory weighs 634 pounds altogether.

5 snapshots per minute from FUV

Because ICON travels so fast, its Far Ultraviolet instrument takes eight snapshots per second of passing structures. This avoids blurring the images and captures the fine detail scientists need. But available bandwidth only allows FUV to send 5 images per minute, so the instrument uses a de-blurring technique called time-delay integration to combine 12 seconds’ worth of data into a single image.

image

Image credit: Mark Belan

4 types of instruments collecting data in tandem

ICON carries four distinct instruments to study Earth’s boundary to space.

  • 2 MIGHTIs (Michelson Interferometer for Global High-resolution Thermospheric Imaging): Built by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., to observe the temperature and speed of the neutral atmosphere. There are two identical MIGHTI instruments onboard ICON.
  • 2 IVMs (Ion Velocity Meter): Built by the University of Texas at Dallas to observe the speed of the charged particle motions, in response to the push of the high-altitude winds and the electric fields they generate. ICON carries two, and they are the mission’s only in situ instruments.  
  • EUV (Extreme Ultra-Violet instrument): Built by the University of California, Berkeley to capture images of oxygen glowing in the upper atmosphere, in order to measure the height and density of the daytime ionosphere.
  • FUV (Far Ultra-Violet instrument): Built by UC Berkeley to capture images of the upper atmosphere in the far ultraviolet light range. At night, FUV measures the density of the ionosphere, tracking how it responds to weather in the lower atmosphere. During the day, FUV measures changes in the chemistry of the upper atmosphere — the source for the charged gases found higher up in space.

360 miles above Earth

ICON orbits about 360 miles above Earth, near the upper reaches of the ionosphere — the region of Earth’s atmosphere populated by electrically charged particles. From this vantage point, ICON combines remote measurements looking down along with direct measurements of the material flowing around it to connect changes throughout this region.

2 missions working together

NASA’s GOLD mission — short for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk — launched aboard a commercial communications satellite on Jan. 25, 2018. From its vantage point in geostationary orbit over Brazil, GOLD gets a full-disk view of the same region of space that ICON studies, helping scientists connect the big picture with the details.

1 gigabit of data per day

Together, ICON’s instruments produce and downlink about 1 gigabit of data per day — about 125 megabytes. This adds up to about 1 gigabyte per week. ICON produces 10 different data products, ranging from measurements of wind speeds and ionospheric density to more complex models, that will help scientists shed new light on this ever-changing region.

ICON’s launch is scheduled for 4 a.m. EDT on Oct. 26, and NASA TV coverage begins at 3:45 a.m. Stay tuned on Twitter and Facebook for the latest on ICON. 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Meet Parker Solar Probe, Our Mission to Touch …

In just a few weeks, we’re launching a spacecraft to get closer to the Sun than any human-made object has ever gone.

The mission, called Parker Solar Probe, is outfitted with a lineup of instruments to measure the Sun’s particles, magnetic and electric fields, solar wind and more – all to help us better understand our star, and, by extension, stars everywhere in the universe.

image

Parker Solar Probe is about the size of a small car, and after launch – scheduled for no earlier than Aug. 6, 2018 – it will swing by Venus on its way to the Sun, using a maneuver called a gravity assist to draw its orbit closer to our star. Just three months after launch, Parker Solar Probe will make its first close approach to the Sun – the first of 24 throughout its seven-year mission.

image

Though Parker Solar Probe will get closer and closer to the Sun with each orbit, the first approach will already place the spacecraft as the closest-ever human-made object to the Sun, swinging by at 15 million miles from its surface. This distance places it well within the corona, a region of the Sun’s outer atmosphere that scientists think holds clues to some of the Sun’s fundamental physics.

For comparison, Mercury orbits at about 36 million miles from the Sun, and the previous record holder – Helios 2, in 1976 – came within 27 million miles of the solar surface. 

image

Humanity has studied the Sun for thousands of years, and our modern understanding of the Sun was revolutionized some 60 years ago with the start of the Space Age. We’ve come to understand that the Sun affects Earth in more ways than just providing heat and light – it’s an active and dynamic star that releases solar storms that influence Earth and other worlds throughout the solar system. The Sun’s activity can trigger the aurora, cause satellite and communications disruptions, and even – in extreme cases – lead to power outages.

Much of the Sun’s influence on us is embedded in the solar wind, the Sun’s constant outflow of magnetized material that can interact with Earth’s magnetic field. One of the earliest papers theorizing the solar wind was written by Dr. Gene Parker, after whom the mission is named.

image

Though we understand the Sun better than we ever have before, there are still big questions left to be answered, and that’s where scientists hope Parker Solar Probe will help.  

First, there’s the coronal heating problem. This refers to the counterintuitive truth that the Sun’s atmosphere – the corona – is much, much hotter than its surface, even though the surface is millions of miles closer to the Sun’s energy source at its core. Scientists hope Parker Solar Probe’s in situ and remote measurements will help uncover the mechanism that carries so much energy up into the upper atmosphere.

image

Second, scientists hope to better understand the solar wind. At some point on its journey from the Sun out into space, the solar wind is accelerated to supersonic speeds and heated to extraordinary temperatures. Right now, we measure solar wind primarily with a group of satellites clustered around Lagrange point 1, a spot in space between the Sun and Earth some 1 million miles from us. 

By the time the solar wind reaches these satellites, it has traveled about 92 million miles already, blending together the signatures that could shed light on the acceleration process. Parker Solar Probe, on the other hand, will make similar measurements less than 4 million miles from the solar surface – much closer to the solar wind’s origin point and the regions of interest.

image

Scientists also hope that Parker Solar
Probe will uncover the mechanisms at work behind the acceleration of solar
energetic particles, which can reach speeds more than half as fast as the speed
of light as they rocket away from the Sun! Such particles can interfere with
satellite electronics, especially for satellites outside of Earth’s magnetic
field.

Parker
Solar Probe will launch from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air
Force Station, adjacent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Because of the enormous speed required to
achieve its solar orbit, the spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets in the
world.

image

Stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn more about Parker Solar Probe’s science and follow along with its journey to launch. We’ll be posting updates here on Tumblr, on Twitter and Facebook, and at nasa.gov/solarprobe.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Solar System 10 Things: Two Years of Juno at J…

Our Juno mission arrived at the King of Planets in July 2016. The intrepid robotic explorer has been revealing Jupiter’s secrets ever since. 

Here are 10 historic Juno mission highlights:

image

1. Arrival at a Colossus

After an odyssey of almost five years and 1.7 billion miles (2.7 billion kilometers), our Juno spacecraft fired its main engine to enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno, with its suite of nine science instruments, was the first spacecraft to orbit the giant planet since the Galileo mission in the 1990s. It would be the first mission to make repeated excursions close to the cloud tops, deep inside the planet’s powerful radiation belts.

image

2. Science, Meet Art

Juno carries a color camera called JunoCam. In a remarkable first for a deep space mission, the Juno team reached out to the general public not only to help plan which pictures JunoCam would take, but also to process and enhance the resulting visual data. The results include some of the most beautiful images in the history of space exploration.

image

3. A Whole New Jupiter

It didn’t take long for Juno—and the science teams who hungrily consumed the data it sent home—to turn theories about how Jupiter works inside out. Among the early findings: Jupiter’s poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together. Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones were surprising, with the belt near the equator penetrating far beneath the clouds, and the belts and zones at other latitudes seeming to evolve to other structures below the surface.

4. The Ultimate Classroom

The Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) project, a collaboration among NASA, JPL and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, lets students do real science with a large radio telescope. GAVRT data includes Jupiter observations relevant to Juno, and Juno scientists collaborate with the students and their teachers.

image

5. Spotting the Spot

Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) in width (as of April 3, 2017) Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking. In July 2017, Juno passed directly over the spot, and JunoCam images revealed a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval.

“For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”

image

6. Beauty Runs Deep

Data collected by the Juno spacecraft during its first pass over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in July 2017 indicate that this iconic feature penetrates well below the clouds. The solar system’s most famous storm appears to have roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet’s atmosphere.

image

7. Powerful Auroras, Powerful Mysteries

Scientists on the Juno mission observed massive amounts of energy swirling over Jupiter’s polar regions that contribute to the giant planet’s powerful auroras – only not in ways the researchers expected. Examining data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments aboard Juno, scientists observed signatures of powerful electric potentials, aligned with Jupiter’s magnetic field, that accelerate electrons toward the Jovian atmosphere at energies up to 400,000 electron volts. This is 10 to 30 times higher than the largest such auroral potentials observed at Earth. 

Jupiter has the most powerful auroras in the solar system, so the team was not surprised that electric potentials play a role in their generation. What puzzled the researchers is that despite the magnitudes of these potentials at Jupiter, they are observed only sometimes and are not the source of the most intense auroras, as they are at Earth.

8. Heat from Within

Juno scientists shared a 3D infrared movie depicting densely packed cyclones and anticyclones that permeate the planet’s polar regions, and the first detailed view of a dynamo, or engine, powering the magnetic field for any planet beyond Earth (video above). Juno mission scientists took data collected by the spacecraft’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument and generated a 3D fly-around of the Jovian world’s north pole. 

Imaging in the infrared part of the spectrum, JIRAM captures light emerging from deep inside Jupiter equally well, night or day. The instrument probes the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter’s cloud tops.

image

9. A Highly Charged Atmosphere

Powerful bolts of lightning light up Jupiter’s clouds. In some ways its lightning is just like what we’re used to on Earth. In other ways,it’s very different. For example, most of Earth’s lightning strikes near the equator; on Jupiter, it’s mostly around the poles.

image

10. Extra Innings

In June, we approved an update to Juno’s science operations until July 2021. This provides for an additional 41 months in orbit around. Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system. This longer orbit means that it will take more time to collect the needed science data, but an independent panel of experts confirmed that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results. The spacecraft and all its instruments are healthy and operating nominally. ​

Read the full web version of this week’s ‘Solar System: 10 Things to Know’ article HERE

For regular updates, follow NASA Solar System on Twitter and Facebook

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Welcome Home HERA Mission XVII!

With the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) habitat, we
complete studies to prepare us for exploration to asteroids, Mars, and the Moon…
here on Earth! The studies are called analogs, and
they simulate space missions to study how different aspects of deep space
affect humans. During a HERA mission, the crew (i.e., the research participants)
live and work very much as astronauts do, with minimal contact with anyone
other than Mission Control for 45 days.

The most recent study, Mission XVII, just “returned
to Earth” on June 18
. (i.e., the participants egressed, or exited the
habitat at our Johnson Space Center in Houston after their 45-day study.) We
talked with the crew, Ellie, Will, Chi, and Michael, about the experience. Here
are some highlights!

Why did you decide to participate in
HERA Mission XVII?

image

HERA
Mission VXII participants (from left to right) Ellie, Will, Chi, and Michael.

“My master’s is in human factors,” said Chi, who studies the
interaction between humans and other systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University. “I figured this would be a cool way to study the other side of the
table and actually participate in an analog.” For Michael, who holds a PhD in
aerospace engineering and researches immunology and radio biology, it was an
opportunity to experience life as an astronaut doing science in space. “I’ve
flown [experiments] on the space station and shuttle,” he said. “Now I wanted
to see the other side.” For Will, a geosciences PhD, it provided an opportunity
to contribute to space exploration and neuroscience, which he considers two of
the biggest fields with the most potential in science. “Here, we have this
project that is the perfect intersection of those two things,” he said. And
Ellie, a pilot in the Air Force, learned about HERA while working on her
master’s thesis on Earth and space analogs and how to improve them for deep-space
studies. “A lot of my interests are similar to Chi’s,” she said. “Human factors
and physiological aspects are things that I find very fascinating.”

NASA missions all have patches, and
HERA Mission XVII is no different. Did you get to design your patch?

HERA
Mission VXII patch, which reads “May the Force be with you” in Latin and features
Star Wars iconography. It’s a reference to the mission’s start date, May 4th
aka Star Wars Day!

“We did!” They said …with a little the help from Michael’s brother, who is a designer. He drew
several different designs based on the crew’s ideas. They picked one and worked
together on tweaks. “We knew we were going [inside the habitat] on May Fourth,”
Michael said. “We knew it would be Star Wars Day. So we did a Star Wars theme.”
The patch had to come together fairly quickly though, since a Star Wars Day “launch”
wasn’t the initial plan. “We were supposed to start two weeks earlier,” Ellie
said. “It just so happened the new start date was May the Fourth!” Along with
the Star Wars imagery, the patch includes a hurricane symbol, to pay tribute to
hurricane Harvey which caused a previous crew to end their mission early, and
an image of the HERA habitat. Will joked that designing the patch
was “our first team task.”

How much free time did you have and
what did you do with it?

image

HERA
Mission XVII crew looking down the ladders inside the habitat.

“It was a decent amount,” Michael said. “I could have used
more on the harder days, but in a way it’s good we didn’t have more because
it’s harder to stay awake when you have nothing to do.” (The mission included a
sleep reduction study, which meant the crew only got five hours of sleep a
night five days a week.) “With the time I did have, I read a lot,” he said. He
also drew, kept a journal, and “wrote bad haikus.” Because of the sleep study, Ellie
didn’t read as much. “For me, had I tried to read or sit and do anything not
interactive, I would have fallen asleep,” she said.

image

The
crew’s art gallery, where they hung drawing and haikus they wrote.

Journaling and drawing were popular ways to pass the time. “We
developed a crew art gallery on one of the walls,” Will said. They also played
board games—in particular a game where you score points by making words with
lettered tiles on a 15×15 grid. (Yes that
one!) “Playing [that game] with two scientists wasn’t always fun though,” Ellie
joked, referencing some of the more obscure vocabulary words Will and Michael
had at the ready. “I was like, ‘What does that word mean?’ ‘Well that word
means lava flow,” she said laughing.
(The rest of the crew assured us she fared just fine.)

Chi tried reading, but found it difficult due to the dimmed
lights that were part of an onboard light study. She took on a side project
instead: 1000 paper cranes. “There is a story in Japan—I’m half Japanese—that
if you make a 1000 cranes, it’s supposed to grant you a wish,” she said. She
gave hers to her grandmother.

image

The
whole crew having dinner together on “Sophisticated Saturdays!” From left to
right: Will, Ellie, Chi, and Michael. They’re wearing their Saturday best,
which includes the usual research equipment.

On weekends, the crew got eight hours of sleep, which they
celebrated with “Sophisticated Saturdays!” “Coming in, we all brought an outfit
that was a little fancy,” Ellie said. (Like a tie, a vest, an athletic
dress—that kind of thing.) “We would only put it on Saturday evenings, and we’d
have dinner on the first level at the one and only table we could all sit at
and face each other,” she said. “We would pretend it was a different fancy
restaurant every week.”

image

The
table set for a “civilized” Saturday dinner. Once the crew’s hydroponics grew,
they were able to add some greenery to the table.

“It was a way to feel more civilized,” Will said, who then
offered another great use of their free time: establishing good habits. “I
would use the free time to journal, for example. I’d just keep it up every day.
That and stretching. Hydrating. Flossing.”

Like real astronauts, you were in
contact with Mission Control and further monitored by HERA personnel. Was it
weird being on camera all the time?

image

HERA
personnel and the monitors they use for a typical HERA mission.

“I was always aware of it,” Michael said, “but I don’t think
it changed my behavior. It’s not like I forgot about it. It was always there. I
just wasn’t willing to live paranoid for 45 days.” Ellie agreed. “It was always
in the back of my mind,” she said, further adding that they wore microphones
and various other sensors. “We were wired all the time,” she said.

After the study, the crew met up with the people
facilitating the experiments, sometimes for the first time. “It was really fun
to meet Mission Control afterwards,” Will said. “They had just been this voice
coming from the little boxes. It was great getting to meet them and put faces
to the voices,” he said. “Of course, they knew us well. Very well.”

For more information on HERA, visit our analogs homepage.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Exploring an Asteroid Without Leaving Earth

This 45 day mission – which began May 5, 2018 and ends today, June 18 – will help our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. This study at our Johnson Space Center prepares us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.

The Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) that the crew members will be living in is one compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 45 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. So no checking social media, kids!

The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.

The HERA XVII crew is made up of 2 men and 2 women, selected from the Johnson Space Center Test Subject Screening (TSS) pool. The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including criteria similar to what is used for astronaut selection. The four would-be astronauts are:

  • William Daniels
  • Chiemi Heil
  • Eleanor Morgan
  • Michael Pecaut

What will they be doing?

The crew are going on a simulated journey to an asteroid, a 715-day journey that we compress into 45 days. They will fly their simulated exploration vehicle around the asteroid once they arrive, conducting several site surveys before 2 of the crew members will participate in a series of virtual reality spacewalks.

They will also be participating in a suite of research investigations and will also engage in a wide range of operational and science activities, such as growing and analyzing plants and brine shrimp, maintaining and “operating” an important life support system, exercising on a stationary bicycle or using free weights, and sharpening their skills with a robotic arm simulation.

During the whole mission, they will consume food produced by the Johnson Space Center Food Lab – the same food that the astronauts enjoy on the International Space Station – which means that it needs to be rehydrated or warmed in a warming oven.

This simulation means that even when communicating with mission control, there will be a delay on all communications ranging from 1 to 5 minutes each way.

A few other details:

  • The crew follows a timeline that is similar to one used for the space station crew.
  • They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercise.
  • Mission: May 5 – June 18, 2018

But beware! While we do all we can to avoid crises during missions, crews need to be able to respond in the event of an emergency. The HERA crew will conduct a couple of emergency scenario simulations, including one that will require them to respond to a decrease in cabin pressure, potentially finding and repairing a leak in their spacecraft.

Throughout the mission, researchers will gather information about living in confinement, teamwork, team cohesion, mood, performance and overall well-being. The crew members will be tracked by numerous devices that each capture different types of data.

Learn more about the HERA mission HERE.

Explore the HERA habitat via 360-degree videos HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

With unearthly jet-streams, many massive swirl…

With unearthly jet-streams, many massive swirling cyclones and winds running deep into its atmosphere — new data from our Juno Mission to Jupiter unveils discoveries and clues about the gas-giant planet. 

This composite image, derived from data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard our Juno spacecraft, shows the central cyclone at the planet’s north pole and the eight cyclones that encircle it.

However, as tightly spaced as the cyclones are, they have remained distinct, with individual morphologies over the seven months of observations. The question is, why do they not merge? We are beginning to realize that not all gas giants are created equal.

Read more about these discoveries HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.   

Exploring an Asteroid Without Leaving Earth

This 45 day mission – which begins Feb. 1, 2018 – will help our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. This study at our Johnson Space Center prepares us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.

image

The Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) that the crew members will be living in is one compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 45 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. So no checking social media, kids!

The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.

image

The HERA XVI crew is made up of 2 men and 2 women, selected from the Johnson Space Center Test Subject Screening (TSS) pool. The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including criteria similar to what is used for astronaut selection. The four would-be astronauts are:

  • Kent Kalogera
  • Jennifer Yen
  • Erin Hayward
  • Gregory Sachs

What will they be doing?

The crew are going on a simulated journey to an asteroid, a 715-day journey that we compress into 45 days. They will fly their simulated exploration vehicle around the asteroid once they arrive, conducting several site surveys before 2 of the crew members will participate in a series of virtual reality spacewalks.

image

They will also be participating in a suite of research investigations and will also engage in a wide range of operational and science activities, such as growing and analyzing plants and brine shrimp, maintaining and “operating” an important life support system, exercising on a stationary bicycle or using free weights, and sharpening their skills with a robotic arm simulation. 

image

During the whole mission, they will consume food produced by the Johnson Space Center Food Lab – the same food that the astronauts enjoy on the International Space Station – which means that it needs to be rehydrated or warmed in a warming oven.

This simulation means that even when communicating with mission control, there will be a delay on all communications ranging from 1 to 5 minutes each way.

A few other details:

  • The crew follows a timeline that is similar to one used for the space station crew.
  • They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercise.
  • Mission: February 1, 2018 – March 19, 2018
image

But beware! While we do all we can to avoid crises during missions, crews need to be able to respond in the event of an emergency. The HERA crew will conduct a couple of emergency scenario simulations, including one that will require them to respond to a decrease in cabin pressure, potentially finding and repairing a leak in their spacecraft.

Throughout the mission, researchers will gather information about living in confinement, teamwork, team cohesion, mood, performance and overall well-being. The crew members will be tracked by numerous devices that each capture different types of data.

Learn more about the HERA mission HERE

Explore the HERA habitat via 360-degree videos HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

10 Things to Know About Explorer 1, America’s …

Sixty years ago, the hopes of Cold War America soared into the night sky as a rocket lofted skyward above Cape Canaveral, a soon-to-be-famous barrier island off the Florida coast.

1. The Original Science Robot

image

Sixty years ago this week, the United States sent its first satellite into space on Jan. 31, 1958. The spacecraft, small enough to be held triumphantly overhead, orbited Earth from as far as 1,594 miles (2,565 km) above and made the first scientific discovery in space. It was called, appropriately, Explorer 1.

2. Why It’s Important

image

The world had changed three months before Explorer 1’s launch, when the Soviet Union lofted Sputnik into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957. That satellite was followed a month later by a second Sputnik spacecraft. All of the missions were inspired when an international council of scientists called for satellites to be placed in Earth orbit in the pursuit of science. The Space Age was on.

3. It…Wasn’t Easy

image

When Explorer 1 launched, we (NASA) didn’t yet exist. It was a project of the U.S. Army and was built by Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. After the Sputnik launch, the Army, Navy and Air Force were tasked by President Eisenhower with getting a satellite into orbit within 90 days. The Navy’s Vanguard Rocket, the first choice, exploded on the launch pad Dec. 6, 1957.

4. The People Behind Explorer 1

image

University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen, whose proposal was chosen for the Vanguard satellite, had made sure his scientific instrument—a cosmic ray detector—would fit either launch vehicle. Wernher von Braun, working with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Alabama, directed the design of the Redstone Jupiter-C launch rocket, while JPL Director William Pickering oversaw the design of Explorer 1 and other upper stages of the rocket. JPL was also responsible for sending and receiving communications from the spacecraft.

5. All About the Science

image

Explorer 1’s science payload took up 37.25 inches (95 cm) of the satellite’s total 80.75 inches (2.05 meters). The main instruments were a cosmic-ray detector; internal, external and nose-cone temperature sensors; a micrometeorite impact microphone; a ring of micrometeorite erosion gauges; and two transmitters. There were two antennas in the body of the satellite and its four flexible whips formed a turnstile antenna that extended with the rotation of the satellite. Electrical power was provided by batteries that made up 40 percent of the total payload weight.

6. At the Center of a Space Doughnut

image

The first scientific discovery in space came from Explorer 1. Earth is surrounded by radiation belts of electrons and charged particles, some of them moving at nearly the speed of light, about 186,000 miles (299,000 km) per second. The two belts are shaped like giant doughnuts with Earth at the center. Data from Explorer 1 and Explorer 3 (launched March 26, 1958) led to the discovery of the inner radiation belt, while Pioneer 3 (Dec. 6, 1958) and Explorer IV (July 26, 1958) provided additional data, leading to the discovery of the outer radiation belt. The radiation belts can be hazardous for spacecraft, but they also protect the planet from harmful particles and energy from the Sun.

7. 58,376 Orbits

image

Explorer 1’s last transmission was received May 21, 1958. The spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on March 31, 1970, after 58,376 orbits. From 1958 on, more than 100 spacecraft would fall under the Explorer designation.

8. Find Out More!

image

Want to know more about Explorer 1? Check out the website and download the poster celebrating 60 years of space science. go.nasa.gov/Explorer1

9. Hold the Spacecraft In Your Hands

image

Create your own iconic Explorer 1 photo (or re-create the original), with our Spacecraft 3D app. Follow @NASAEarth this week to see how we #ExploreAsOne. https://go.nasa.gov/2BmSCWi

10. What’s Next?

image

All of our missions can trace a lineage to Explorer 1. This year alone, we’re going to expand the study of our home planet from space with the launch of two new satellite missions (GRACE-FO and ICESat-2); we’re going back to Mars with InSight; and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will search for planets outside our solar system by monitoring 200,000 bright, nearby stars. Meanwhile, the Parker Solar Probe will build on the work of James Van Allen when it flies closer to the Sun than any mission before.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Get Ready to Watch Us Go for GOLD

The boundary where Earth’s atmosphere gives way to outer space is a complex place: Atmospheric waves driven by weather on Earth compete with electric and magnetic fields that push charged particles, all while our signals and satellites whiz by.

image

On Jan. 25, we’re launching the GOLD instrument (short for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk) to get an exciting new birds-eye view of this region, Earth’s interface to space.

image

High above the ozone layer, the Sun’s intense radiation cooks some of the particles in the upper atmosphere into an electrically charged soup, where negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions flow freely. This is the ionosphere. The ionosphere is co-mingled with the highest reaches of our planet’s neutral upper atmosphere, called the thermosphere.

Spanning from just a few dozen to several hundred miles above Earth’s surface, the ionosphere is increasingly part of the human domain. Not only do our satellites, including the International Space Station, fly through this region, but so do the signals that are part of our communications and navigation systems, including GPS. Changes in this region can interfere with satellites and signals alike.  

image

Conditions in the upper atmosphere are difficult to predict, though. Intense weather, like hurricanes, can cause atmospheric waves to propagate all the way up to this region, creating winds that change its very makeup.

image

Because it’s made up of electrically charged particles, the upper atmosphere also responds to space weather. Space weather – which is usually driven by activity on the Sun – often results in electric and magnetic fields that push and pull on the ionosphere’s charged particles, changing the region’s makeup. On top of that, space weather can also mean incoming showers of high-energy particles that can affect satellites or endanger astronauts, and, in extreme cases, even cause power outages on Earth.

image

That’s where GOLD comes in. GOLD takes advantage of its host satellite’s geostationary orbit over the Western Hemisphere to maintain a constant view of the upper atmosphere, day and night. By scanning across, GOLD builds up a complete picture of Earth’s disk every half hour.

image

GOLD is an imaging spectrograph, a type of instrument that breaks light down into its component wavelengths. Studying light in this way lets scientists track the movement and temperatures of different chemical species and build up a picture of how the upper atmosphere changes over time. Capturing these measurements several times a day means that, for the first time, scientists will be able to record the short-term changes in the region – our first look at its day-to-day ‘weather.’

image

GOLD is our first-ever mission to fly as a hosted payload on a commercial satellite. A hosted payload flies aboard an otherwise unrelated satellite, hitching a ride to space. GOLD studies the upper atmosphere, while its host satellite supports commercial communications.

Later this year, we’re launching another mission to study the ionosphere: ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer. Like GOLD, ICON studies Earth’s interface to space, but with a few important distinctions. ICON employs a suite of different instruments to study the ionosphere both remotely and in situ. The direct in situ measurements are possible because ICON flies in low-Earth orbit, giving us a detailed view to complement GOLD’s global perspective of the regions that both missions study.  

image

How to watch the launch on Jan. 25

Arianespace, a commerical aerospace company, is launching GOLD’s host commercial communications satellite, SES-14, for SES from Kourou, French Guiana.

Watch liftoff live on NASA Television nasa.gov/live
Launch Coverage starts at 5 p.m. EST 
(2 p.m. PST, 7 p.m. Kourou local time)

We’ll be streaming the launch live on NASA TV! You can also follow along on Twitter (@NASA and @NASASun), Facebook (NASA and NASA Sun Science), Instagram, and on our Snapchat (NASA). 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Going for GOLD

On Jan. 25, we’re going for GOLD!

We’re launching an instrument called Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, GOLD for short. It’s a new mission that will study a complicated — and not yet fully understood — region of near-Earth space, called the ionosphere.

image

Space is not completely empty: It’s teeming with fast-moving energized particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, these particles and fields — the ionosphere — co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere.

image

That makes this a complicated place. Big events in the lower atmosphere, like hurricanes or tsunamis, can create waves that travel all the way up to that interface to space, changing the wind patterns and causing disruptions.

image

It’s also affected by space weather. The Sun is a dynamic star, and it releases spurts of energized particles and blasts of solar material carrying electric and magnetic fields that travel out through the solar system. Depending on their direction, these bursts have the potential to disrupt space near Earth.

image

This combination of factors makes it hard to predict changes in the ionosphere — and that can have a big impact. Communications signals, like radio waves and signals that make our GPS systems work, travel through this region, and sudden changes can distort them or even cut them off completely.

image

Low-Earth orbiting satellites — including the International Space Station — also fly through the ionosphere, so understanding how it fluctuates is important for protecting these satellites and astronauts.  

image

GOLD is a spectrograph, an instrument that breaks light down into its component wavelengths, measuring their intensities. Breaking light up like this helps scientists see the behavior of individual chemical elements — for instance, separating the amount of oxygen versus nitrogen. GOLD sees in far ultraviolet light, a type of light that’s invisible to our eyes.

image

GOLD is a hosted payload. The instrument is hitching a ride aboard SES-14, a commercial communications satellite built by Airbus for SES Government Solutions, which owns and operates the satellite.

Also launching this year is the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, which will also study the ionosphere and neutral upper atmosphere. But while GOLD will fly in geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles above the Western Hemisphere, ICON will fly just 350 miles above Earth, able to gather close up images of this region.

image

Together, these missions give us an unprecedented look at the ionosphere and upper atmosphere, helping us understand the very nature of how our planet interacts with space.

To learn more about this region of space and the GOLD mission, visit: nasa.gov/gold.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.