Monday, October 24, 2011

Neutron Generator of Instrument for Detecting Water-Bearing Minerals

A Russian-built, neutron-shooting instrument on the Curiosity rover of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will check for water-bearing minerals in the ground beneath the rover.

The instrument, named Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, or DAN, has two major components: the pulsed neutron generator on the starboard side of the rover (location indicated by red outline), and the detector and electronics module on the port side. The pulsed neutron generator will shoot high-energy neutrons into the ground. If there is hydrogen in the shallow subsurface, the injected neutrons will bounce off the hydrogen atoms with a characteristic decrease in energy. Two detection devices in the detector and electronics module measure the rate and delay time of the reflected neutrons, yielding information about the amount and depth of any hydrogen. At the mission's near-equatorial landing area and in the oxidizing environment near the Martian surface, most hydrogen is expected to be in the form of water molecules or water-derived hydroxyl ions bound to minerals.

The Russian Federal Space Agency contributed DAN for the Mars Science Laboratory mission as part of broad collaboration between the United States and Russia in the exploration of space.

DAN was developed by the Space Research Institute, Moscow, in close cooperation with the N. L. Dukhov All-Russia Research Institute of Automatics, Moscow, and the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research, Dubna.

NASA will launch the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft from Florida between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011. The rover will land on Mars in August, 2012. During a prime mission lasting one Mars year (nearly two Earth years), researchers will use the rover to investigate whether conditions in the Gale crater landing region have been favorable for microbial life and favorable for preserving evidence about whether life has existed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

MABEL flies her last science flight for Spring 2011

MABEL flew her final science mission of 2011 (4/5) over White Sands Missile Range. The weather over this area was clear when we flew it, however, weather rolled into the area just as the plane left our target.

White Sands was chosen as a MABEL target because we have been using the area as a ground-control site since ICESat was launched in 2003. Two ICESat tracks crossed in the center of the dune field; where they cross, ICESat researchers have recently planted reflectors that we hope to see in the MABEL data. These reflectors will help us validate MABEL’s elevation determination accuracy.

Also on this flight, we also attempted to collect data from deciduous trees in Arkansas. From Dryden Flight Research Center, to New Mexico, on to Arkansas, and then back to Dryden is a 9 hour mission.

However, between White Sands and Arkansas, MABEL’s laser stopped firing. This is not something that we were prepared to deal with in the field. So, given that we were already near the end of this mission, we decided we’d call this trip a success, given all that MABEL had already accomplished and given the science objectives that the instrument deployment had met:

1) Hit ground-control points set up at White Sands to validate MABEL
2) Collect tree data for ICESat-2 vegetation scientists
3) Collect snow data for ICESat-2 glaciologists
4) Collect data over the ocean and bright clouds for ICESat-2 instrument scientists

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Endeavour's Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver

At 5:15 a.m. EDT today, Endeavour began the nine-minute Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, or 'backflip,' on its last visit to the Inernational Space Station. With Commander Mark Kelly at the controls, Endeavour rotated 360 degrees backward to enable space station astronauts Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman to take high resolution pictures of the shuttle’s heat shield.

Kelly then flew the shuttle through a quarter circle to a position about 400 feet directly in front of the station. Docking occurred about an hour later at 6:14 a.m.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NASA Releases New Interactive Space Communications Game

NASA has released an interactive, educational video game called NetworKing that depicts how the Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) network operates. The release of the video game coincides with the close of World Space Week, Oct. 4-10.

Developed by the Information Technology Office at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., NetworKing gives players an insider's perspective into how astronauts, mission controllers and scientists communicate during space missions.

"For any young person who ever dreamed of one day contributing to space missions, NetworKing lets players develop a kingdom of multiple space communication networks working together to support space missions," said Barbara Adde, policy and strategic communications director for SCaN at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

To successfully construct fast and efficient communication networks, players must first establish command stations around the world and accept clients conducting space missions, such as satellites and space telescopes. Resources are earned throughout the game as players continue to acquire more clients. Players can strategically use accumulated resources to enhance and increase their networks' capabilities.

Players with the most integrated communications networks will have the ability to acquire more complex clients, such as the International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler mission.

For more information visit:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Carina Nebula

The Carina Nebula is a star-forming region in the Sagittarius-Carina arm of the Milky Way that is 7,500 light years from Earth and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory has detected more than 14,000 stars in the region.

Chandra's X-ray vision provides strong evidence that massive stars have self-destructed in this nearby star-forming region. Firstly, there is an observed deficit of bright X-ray sources in the area known as Trumpler 15, suggesting that some of the massive stars in this cluster were already destroyed in supernova explosions. Trumpler 15 is located in the northern part of the image and is one of ten star clusters in the Carina complex.

The detection of six possible neutron stars, the dense cores often left behind after stars explode in supernovas, provides additional evidence that supernova activity is increasing up in Carina. Previous observations had only detected one neutron star in Carina.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dryden F-104 Flight-Tested Shuttle TPS Materials

During the formative years of the space shuttle program, NASA Dryden F-15 and F-104 jets were used to flight-test various advanced Thermal Protection System (TPS) materials for the shuttles.

These tests included TPS materials from different locations on shuttle orbiters, and they were tested for everything from rain impact integrity, to air-loads strength and surface bonding.

During one such effort, NASA Dryden engineers conducted flight-testing of the orbiter’s advanced, flexible Felt Reusable Surface Insulation (FRSI) and Advanced Flexible Reusable Surface Insulation (AFRSI) TPS materials. These were the soft, sewn blanket-like materials that covered most of the upper surfaces of the orbiters, while black silicon tiles covered the underside, and reinforced carbon-carbon materials protected the nose and leading edges of the wings.

The objectives of the FRSI and AFRSI tests were to evaluate the performance of the materials at simulated shuttle launch aerodynamic loads, and also to provide a database for future advanced TPS flight tests.

These flights were flown mostly on Dryden’s F-104 test bed aircraft in the 1980s, with the TPS materials attached to a fin-like structure called the Flight Test Fixture (FTF) underneath the F-104.

Space Telescopes Reveal Secrets of Turbulent Black Hole

Distant active galaxy Markarian 509A fleet of spacecraft including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered unprecedented details in the surroundings of a supermassive black hole. Observations reveal huge bullets of gas being driven away from the gravitational monster and a corona of very hot gas hovering above the disk of matter that is falling into the black hole.

A team led by Jelle Kaastra of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research made use of data from ESA's XMM-Newton and INTEGRAL spacecraft (which study X-rays and gamma rays, respectively), the Hubble Space Telescope (for ultraviolet observations with the COS instrument), and NASA's Chandra (X-ray) Observatory and Swift (gamma-ray) satellites.The black hole that the team chose to study lies at the heart of the galaxy Markarian 509 (Mrk 509), nearly 500 million light-years away. This black hole is colossal, containing 300 million times the mass of the Sun, and is growing more massive every day as it continues to feed on surrounding matter, which glows brightly as it forms a rotating disk around the black hole. Mrk 509 was chosen because it is known to vary in brightness, which indicates that the flow of matter is turbulent.

The above image of Mrk 509 was taken in April 2007 with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. But using a large number of telescopes that are sensitive to different wavelengths of light gave astronomers unprecedented coverage running from the infrared, through the visible, ultraviolet, X-rays, and into the gamma-ray band.

Turbulent winds of gas swirl around a black hole

Monday, October 10, 2011

ESA To Collaborate with NASA on Solar Science Mission

Solar Orbiter Viewing the SunOn October 4, 2011, the European Space Agency announced it's two next science missions, including Solar Orbiter, a spacecraft geared to study the powerful influence of the sun. Solar Orbiter will be an ESA-led mission, with strong NASA contributions managed from Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Solar Orbiter will venture closer to the Sun than any previous mission. The spacecraft will also carry advanced instrumentation that will help untangle how activity on the sun sends out radiation, particles and magnetic fields that can affect Earth's magnetic environment, causing aurora, or potentially damaging satellites, interfering with GPS communications or even Earth's electrical power grids.

"Solar Orbiter will use multiple gravity assists from Venus to tilt its orbit until it can see the poles of the Sun, and that's never been done before," said Chris St. Cyr, NASA's project scientist for Solar Orbiter at Goddard. "A full view of the solar poles will help us understand how the sun's magnetic poles reverse direction every 11 years, causing giant eruptions and flares, called space weather, that can affect the rest of the solar system."

Being so close to the sun also means that the Solar Orbiter will stay over a given area of the solar surface for a longer time, allowing the instruments to track the evolution of sunspots, active regions, coronal holes and other solar activity far longer than has been done before.

For more information about the Solar Orbiter program, visit:

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Mars Science Laboratory Meets its Match in Florida

In preparation for launch later this year, the "back shell powered descent vehicle" configuration containing NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has been placed on the spacecraft's heat shield. The matchup was performed by technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The heat shield and the spacecraft's back shell form an aeroshell that encapsulates and protects the rover from the intense heat it will experience during the final leg of the trip to Mars-the friction-filled descent through the Martian atmosphere.

The mission is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the period from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18. Arrival at Gale Crater on Mars is expected in August 2012.

After arrival, the Curiosity rover will investigate whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information visit, and .

Thursday, October 06, 2011

X-48B Blended Wing Body

X-48B Blended Wing BodyBoeing Phantom Works has partnered with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory to study the structural, aerodynamic and operational advantages of the Blended Wing Body concept, a cross between a conventional plane and a flying wing design.

The Air Force has designated the prototype the X-48B based on its interest in the design's potential as a multi-role, long-range, high-capacity military transport aircraft. The 8.5 percent scale, remotely piloted X-48B is dynamically scaled to fly much like the full-size aircraft would fly.

Following completion of installation of test instrumentation, one of two X-48B Blended Wing Body technology demonstrators began flight tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in early 2007, and those tests are continuing into 2008. Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., tested the second X-48B prototype aircraft in Langley's historic full-scale wind tunnel in the spring of 2006, and the flight tests are intended in part to validate the results of those wind tunnel tests.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

NASA Mars Rovers Win Popular Mechanics 'Breakthrough' Award

NASA Mars RoversMore than seven years after completing their three-month prime missions on opposite sides of Mars, NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been selected for lifetime achievement award honors as part of the Breakthrough Awards presented by Popular Mechanics magazine.

The magazine today announced recipients of awards to be presented Oct. 10 in New York. The announcement cites the Mars rovers' engineers, as well as the robots themselves, "for overcoming great challenges in their dogged pursuit of new discoveries on the Red Planet."

Both rovers continued for years of bonus, extended missions after completing their prime missions in 2004. Both made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit, which drove 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers), ceased communications in 2010. Opportunity is still active, has driven more than 20.8 miles (33.5 kilometers), and is currently examining the rim of 14-mile-diameter (22-kilometer-diameter) Endeavour crater.

For more information, visit:

Monday, October 03, 2011

NASA Ames Tweetup Features SOFIA Airborne Observatory

SOFIA Airborne ObservatoryNASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field near San Jose, Calif., will host a Tweetup for 50 of NASA's Twitter followers Oct. 14, focusing on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which will be on site at Ames. In addition to a personal tour of the SOFIA flying observatory, Tweetup guests will have the chance to speak with NASA officials, managers and SOFIA scientists, and mingle with fellow Tweeps and the staff behind the tweets on @NASA, @NASAAmes and @SOFIATelescope. Tweetup registration opens at 7 a.m. PDT on Monday, Oct. 3, and closes at 2 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, Oct. 4, with 50 participants randomly selected from online registrations.