Friday, September 30, 2011

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is leading a project designed to help integrate unmanned air vehicles into the world around us. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project, or UAS in the NAS, will contribute capabilities designed to reduce technical barriers related to safety and operational challenges associated with enabling routine UAS access to the NAS.

Global Hawk in Flight

Unmanned aircraft systems such as NASA's Global Hawks (above) and Predator B named Ikhana (below), along with numerous other unmanned aircraft systems large and small, are the prime focus of the UAS in the NAS effort to integrate them into the national airspace. (NASA photos)

ikahana in flight

The project falls under the Integrated Systems Research Program office managed at NASA Headquarters by the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. NASA’s four aeronautics research centers – Dryden, Ames Research Center, Langley Research Center, and Glenn Research Center – are part of the technology development project.

With the use and diversity of unmanned aircraft growing rapidly, new uses for these vehicles are constantly being considered. Unmanned aircraft promise new ways of increasing efficiency, reducing costs, enhancing safety and saving lives.

The UAS in the NAS project envisions performance-based routine access to all segments of the national airspace for all unmanned aircraft system classes, once all safety-related and technical barriers are overcome.

Noctilucent cloud cover on the Southern Pole

Noctilucent cloud cover above the Southern Pole on December 31, 2009
High up in the sky near the poles some 50 miles above the ground, silvery blue clouds sometimes appear, shining brightly in the night. First noticed in 1885, these clouds are known as noctilucent, or "night shining," clouds. Their discovery spawned over a century of research into what conditions causes them to form and vary – questions that still tantalize scientists to this day. Since 2007, a NASA mission called Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) has shown that the cloud formation is changing year to year, a process they believe is intimately tied to the weather and climate of the whole globe.

"The formation of the clouds requires both water and incredibly low temperatures," says Charles Jackman, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is NASA's project scientist for AIM. "The temperatures turn out to be one of the prime driving factors for when the clouds appear."

So the appearance of the noctilucent clouds, also known as polar mesospheric clouds or PMCs since they occur in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere, can provide information about the temperature and other characteristics of the atmosphere. This in turn, helps researchers understand more about Earth's low altitude weather systems, and they've discovered that events in one hemisphere can have a sizable effect in another.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Flight Tests CV-990 on Solved Shuttle Tire Failure

Flight Tests CV-990Space shuttle Discovery touched down on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 19, 1985 at the conclusion of mission STS-23 (51D), the 16th shuttle flight. Although the touchdown was uneventful, what happened at the end of the rollout was anything but.

This was the fifth time an orbiter had landed at Kennedy on the new runway built especially for space shuttle landings. At touchdown, Discovery weighed just over 198,000 lbs, one of the lowest weights of a returning orbiter to that point. At very nearly the end of the roll out, the unexpected happened - the inside tire on right main landing gear blew.

"The whole orbiter shook-I thought one of the fuel tanks had blown up," recalls Jeffrey Hoffman, a mission specialist on the flight. While engineers found high tire wear on previous landings, the tire failure on 51D's landing shocked everyone.

There were several contributing factors to the blown tire, the only time a shuttle tire failed during a mission. The crosswind was not an obvious factor, particularly since it did not exceed the maximum allowable crosswind for a shuttle landing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NASA Updates on Asteroid Search Findings

Asteroid Search Findings
NASA will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. EDT (10 a.m. PDT) on Thurs., Sept. 29, to reveal near-Earth asteroid findings and implications for future research. The briefing will take place at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, launched in December 2009, captured millions of images of galaxies and objects in space. During the news conference, panelists will discuss results from an enhancement of WISE called Near-Earth Object WISE (NEOWISE) that hunted for asteroids.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NASA's Space Shuttle Bus for Satellites

Three satellites stand out for their role in Earth science: the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, and the Laser Geodynamic Satellite 2.

Earth Radiation Budget Satellite

Launched from Challenger in October 1984 (top image), the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite was designed to investigate how energy from the Sun is absorbed and re-radiated by the planet, also known as the energy budget. The mission lasted 21 years, collecting key data on weather and climate, atmospheric ozone depletion, and the effects of fossil fuel burning.

The seven-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) (middle photo) was carried into space by shuttle Discovery in September 1991. UARS housed ten instruments to collect data on a variety of chemicals-including carbon dioxide, ozone, chlorine, methane, nitrogen oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)-and the processes that create, destroy, and mix them in the stratosphere, a region scarcely studied before the launch.

Laser Geodynamic Satellite 2

October 1992 brought the launch of the Laser Geodynamic Satellite 2 (LAGEOS) from a spinning solid fuel rocket (bottom image). Follow-on to LAGEOS 1, launched in 1979, the golf-ball shaped satellite was a simple aluminum sphere covered in tiny reflectors. Scientists could flash a pulse of laser light from the ground to the satellite to measure the geoid, or the shape of the Earth, and the movement of the planet’s tectonic plates.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Six CMEs in 24 Hours

six coronal mass ejectionsThe sun let loose with at least six coronal mass ejections (CMEs) -- solar phenomena that can send solar particles into space and affect electronic systems in satellites -- from 7 PM ET on September 18, 2011 until 1 PM on September 19. The ejections appear to come from points scattered over the surface of the sun. Two CME's dissipated quickly, but four continue to spread outward from the sun. NASA models suggest that the leading edge of one CME will pass by Earth at around 5 PM ET on Sep 21, at which point sky watchers should be on the lookout for auroras.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Columbia Tank Found on Lakebed

Columbia Tank Found on LakebedA newly discovered aluminum tank from space shuttle Columbia's STS-107 mission will be recovered from the shoreline of Lake Nacogdoches in east Texas and eventually will likely be made available to researchers as are other parts of the Columbia debris, NASA's project manager for the recovery said.

"It's very important for us to bring all of Columbia home and we've done that since the accident in 2003," said Mike Ciannilli, the project manager for Columbia's recovery.

The sphere was one of 18 cryogenic tanks Columbia carried during its 16-day mission. It had been underwater for the past eight and half years, having landed there Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle broke up over east Texas during re-entry. It was uncovered recently when the lake's water level diminished by about 11 feet during an ongoing drought.

"Recently we got a call from the local authorities in Nacogdoches about a metal sphere and we asked the authorities to take a picture for us and send it to us," Ciannilli said. "We analyzed that with our teams here at the Cape and determined it to be a piece of space shuttle Columbia."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Last Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour

 Space Shuttle Endeavour

Two days ago, powerful yet controlled explosions rocketed the Space Shuttle Endeavour on its final trip into Earth orbit. The above image was taken seconds after liftoff as the massive orbiter and six astronauts began a climb to a height where the atmosphere is so thin it is unbreathable. The shuttle, on mission STS-134, is expected to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) today.

The Endeavour will deliver to the ISS, among other things, an ambitious detector called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 (AMS), a detector that over the next few years could detect a significant abundance of specific types of dark matter, charged antimatter, and even a strangely possible variation of familiar matter called strangelets. The very last trip for any space shuttle is currently planned for mid-July when Atlantis will also visit the space station.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cassini Present Saturn Moon Quintet

A quintet of Saturn's moonsWith the artistry of a magazine cover shoot, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this portrait of five of Saturn's moons poised along the planet's rings.
From left to right are Janus, Pandora, Enceladus, Mimas and finally Rhea, bisected by the right side of the frame. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 684,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Rhea and 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) from Enceladus.
The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 29, 2011. Image scale is about 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel on Rhea and 7 miles (11 kilometers) per pixel on Enceladus.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery

Discovery (OV-103), the third of NASA's fleet of reusable, winged spaceships, arrived at Kennedy Space Center in November 1983. It was launched on its first mission, flight 41-D, on August 30, 1984. It carried aloft three communications satellites for deployment by its astronaut crew.

Other Discovery milestones include the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope on mission STS-31 in April 1990, the launching of the Ulysses spacecraft to explore the sun's polar regions on mission STS-41 in October of that year and the deployment of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in September 1991.

Discovery is named for two famous sailing ships; one sailed by Henry Hudson in 1610-11 to search for a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the other by James Cook on a voyage during which he discovered the Hawaiian Islands.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Space Shuttle Launch and Landing

Space Shuttle launch and landing
Beginning with space shuttle Columbia's 1979 delivery to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the center has been home to each of the five flown shuttle orbiters for the duration of the Space Shuttle Program. Space shuttle Atlantis completed the program on July 21, 2011, wrapping up the STS-135 mission with a predawn touchdown on the same runway where Columbia first arrived more than 30 years earlier.

NASA's shuttle fleet -- Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour -- flew a total of 135 missions. Each one began at Kennedy's Launch Complex 39. Of those missions, 78 ended with a Kennedy landing; 54 concluded with a touchdown on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base in California; and one landed at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

Each mission began with a thundering liftoff as the shuttle's twin solid rocket boosters ignited, pushing the vehicle with its crew and cargo beyond the bounds of gravity and into the hostile environment of space. Missions typically lasted one to two weeks, concluding with an hourlong reentry descent through Earth's atmosphere and a precision landing. Because a returning shuttle orbiter was essentially an unpowered glider, there were no second chances -- every touchdown had to be perfect.

The shuttle then was towed to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, where it was joined to its tank and boosters. Finally, the completed launch vehicle and its mobile launcher platform rolled out to the launch pad atop a sturdy, slow-moving crawler-transporter. A spectacular liftoff was the reward for each processing flow, and upon landing, the sequence began once again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NASA Launches Mission to Study Moon From Crust to Core

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's twin lunar Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:08 a.m. EDT (6:08 a.m. PDT) Saturday, Sept. 10, to study the moon in unprecedented detail.

GRAIL-A is scheduled to reach the moon on New Year's Eve 2011, while GRAIL-B will arrive New Year's Day 2012. The two solar-powered spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon to measure its gravity field. GRAIL will answer longstanding questions about the moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

"If there was ever any doubt that Florida's Space Coast would continue to be open for business, that thought was drowned out by the roar of today's GRAIL launch," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "GRAIL and many other exciting upcoming missions make clear that NASA is taking its next big leap into deep space exploration, and the space industry continues to provide the jobs and workers needed to support this critical effort."

The spacecraft were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. GRAIL mission controllers acquired a signal from GRAIL-A at 10:29 a.m. EDT (7:29 a.m. PDT). GRAIL-B's signal was received eight minutes later. The telemetry downlinked from both spacecraft indicates they have deployed their solar panels and are operating as expected.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Atlantis (OV-104) was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in April 1985. It lifted off on its maiden voyage on Oct. 3, 1985, on mission 51-J, the second dedicated Department of Defense flight. Later missions included the launch of the Galileo interplanetary probe to Jupiter on STS-34 in October 1989, and STS-37, with the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) as its primary payload, in April 1991.

Atlantis is named after a two-masted sailing ship that was operated for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute from 1930 to 1966.

Space Shuttle AtlantisAtlantis also served as the on-orbit launch site for many noteworthy spacecraft, including planetary probes Magellan and Galileo, as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. An impressive array of onboard science experiments took place during most missions to further enhance space research in low Earth orbit.

Starting with STS-71, Atlantis pioneered the Shuttle-Mir missions, flying the first seven missions to dock with the Russian space station. When linked, Atlantis and Mir together formed the largest spacecraft in orbit at the time. The missions to Mir included the first on-orbit U.S. crew exchanges, now a common occurrence on the International Space Station. On STS-79, the fourth docking mission, Atlantis ferried astronaut Shannon Lucid back to Earth after her record-setting 188 days in orbit aboard Mir.

In recent years, Atlantis has delivered several vital components to the International Space Station, including the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny, as well as the Joint Airlock Quest and multiple sections of the Integrated Truss structure that makes up the Station's backbone. As NASA seeks to fulfill the Vision for Space Exploration, beginning with the completion of the Station, Atlantis will be called upon for many missions to come.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

NASA's 747 SCAs--Birds of a Feather Flock Together

NASA’s Shuttle carrier aircraft905 and 911

For the first time ever, NASA's two highly modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft briefly flew in formation over the Edwards Air Force Base test range Aug. 2. Both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air on the same day, NASA 911 (foreground) on a flight crew proficiency flight, NASA 905 (rear) on a functional check flight following maintenance operations.

NASA’s Shuttle carrier aircraft905 and 911Since both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air at the same time, SCA pilot Jeff Moultrie of Johnson Space Center's Aircraft Operations Directorate took the opportunity to have both SCA's fly in formation for about 20 minutes while NASA photographer Carla Thomas captured still and video imagery from a NASA Dryden F/A-18.

In addition to Moultrie, NASA 905's check flight crew included pilot Arthur "Ace" Beall and flight engineer Henry Taylor while NASA 911 was flown by Larry LaRose, Steve Malarchick and Bob Zimmerman from NASA Johnson and Frank Batteas and Bill Brockett from NASA Dryden.

NASA Orbiter Fleet - Columbia

First Orbiter Fleet,ColumbiaColumbia (OV-102), the first of NASA's orbiter fleet, was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in March 1979. Columbia initiated the Space Shuttle flight program when it lifted off Pad A in the Launch Complex 39 area at KSC on April 12, 1981. It proved the operational concept of a winged, reusable spaceship by successfully completing the Orbital Flight Test Program - missions STS-1 through STS-4.

Other, achievements for Columbia included the recovery of the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite from orbit during mission STS-32 in January 1990, and the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences mission in June 1991 - the first manned Spacelab mission totally dedicated to human medical research.

Columbia was destroyed over east Texas on its landing descent to Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1, 2003, at 8:59 a.m. EST at the conclusion of a microgravity research mission, STS-107.

Columbia was named after a small sailing vessel that operated out of Boston in 1792 and explored the mouth of the Columbia River. One of the first ships of the U.S. Navy to circumnavigate the globe was named Columbia. The command module for the Apollo 11 lunar mission was also named Columbia.