Organizations – Space Agencies

A Martian Roundtrip: NASA’s Perseverance Rover Sample Tubes

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A technician working on the Mars 2020 mission takes a sample from the surface of sample tube 241 – to test for contamination. The image was taken in a clean room facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the tubes were developed and assembled. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Grey Hautaluoma / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington


Marvels of engineering, the rover’s sample tubes must be tough enough to safely bring Red Planet samples on the long journey back to Earth in immaculate condition.


The tubes carried in the belly of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover are destined to carry the first samples in history from another planet back to Earth. Future scientists will use these carefully selected representatives of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) to look for evidence of potential microbial life present in Mars’ ancient past and to answer other key questions about Mars and its history. Perseverance will land at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

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NASA, US, European Partner Satellite Returns First Sea Level Measurements

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The data in this graphic are the first sea surface height measurements from the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich (S6MF) satellite, which launched Nov. 21, 2020. They show the ocean off the southern tip of Africa, with red colors indicating higher sea level relative to blue areas, which are lower. Credits: EUMETSAT

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, a joint U.S.-European satellite built to measure global sea surface height, has sent back its first measurements of sea level. The data provide information on sea surface height, wave height, and wind speed off the southern tip of Africa.

“We’re excited for Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich to begin its critical work studying sea level and helping us understand the many aspects of our planet’s global ocean,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “I know Mike would be thrilled that the satellite bearing his name has begun operating, but he’d also be looking forward to studying the data from this important mission, as we all are.”

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Goes for Early Stow of Asteroid Sample

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Grey Hautaluoma / Alana Johnson
Headquarters, Washington

Nancy Neal Jones
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Erin Morton
University of Arizona, Tucson

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stowing the sample it collected from asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20, 2020. The spacecraft will use its Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm to place the TAGSAM collector head into the Sample Return Capsule (SRC).
Credits: NASA/University of Arizona, Tucson

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is ready to perform an early stow on Tuesday, Oct. 27, of the large sample it collected last week from the surface of the asteroid Bennu to protect and return as much of the sample as possible.

On Oct. 22, the OSIRIS-REx mission team received images that showed the spacecraft’s collector head overflowing with material collected from Bennu’s surface – well over the two-ounce (60-gram) mission requirement – and that some of these particles appeared to be slowly escaping from the collection head, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Successfully Touches Asteroid

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

 

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023. 

This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.

 

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NASA’s InSight ‘Hears’ Peculiar Sounds on Mars

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Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

 

 

Clouds drift over the dome-covered seismometer
NASA’s InSight used its Instrument Context Camera (ICC) beneath the lander’s deck to image these drifting clouds at sunset. This series of images was taken on April 25, 2019, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, starting at around 6:30 p.m. Mars local time. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Put an ear to the ground on Mars and you’ll be rewarded with a symphony of sounds. Granted, you’ll need superhuman hearing, but NASA’s InSight lander comes equipped with a very special “ear.”

The spacecraft’s exquisitely sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), can pick up vibrations as subtle as a breeze. The instrument was provided by the French space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), and its partners.

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Mar’s Solar Conjuction — What Is It & What It Means

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Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

 

 

This animation illustrates Mars solar conjunction, a period when Mars is on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. During this time, the Sun can interrupt radio transmissions to spacecraft on and around the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The daily chatter between antennas here on Earth and those on NASA spacecraft at Mars is about to get much quieter for a few weeks. 

That’s because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers. 

 

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How NASA’s Spitzer Has Stayed Alive for So Long

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Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov 

 

Members of the Spitzer engineering team pose in the mission support area. Front row (left to right): Natalie Martinez-Vlashoff, Jose Macias, Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Amanda Kniepkamp, Bolinda Kahr, Mariah Woody, Socorro Rangel, May Tran. Middle: Pedro Diaz-Rubin, Joseph Hunt, John Ibanez, Laura Su, Nari Hwangpo. Back row: Michael Diaz, Adam Harbison, Richard Springer, Joe Stuesser, Ken Stowers, Dave Bliss. Not pictured: Bob Lineaweaver, Jason Hitz and Walt Hoffman.

 

After nearly 16 years of exploring the cosmos in infrared light, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope will be switched off permanently on Jan. 30, 2020. By then, the spacecraft will have operated for more than 11 years beyond its prime mission, thanks to the Spitzer engineering team’s ability to address unique challenges as the telescope slips farther and farther from Earth. 

Managed and operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Spitzer is a small but transformational observatory. It captures infrared light, which is often emitted by “warm” objects that aren’t quite hot enough to radiate visible light. Spitzer has lifted the veil on hidden objects in nearly every corner of the universe, from a new ring around Saturn to observations of some of the most distant galaxies known. It has spied stars in every stage of lifemapped our home galaxy, captured gorgeous images of nebulas and probed newly discovered planets orbiting distant stars. 

 

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Study Finds New Wrinkles on Earth’s Moon

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Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

 

New surface features of the Moon have been discovered in a region called Mare Frigoris, outlined here in teal. This image is a mosaic composed of many images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).Credit: NASA

 

Billions of years ago, Earth’s Moon formed vast basins called “mare” (pronounced MAR-ay). Scientists have long assumed these basins were dead, still places where the last geologic activity occurred long before dinosaurs roamed Earth.

But a survey of more than 12,000 images reveals that at least one lunar mare has been cracking and shifting as much as other parts of the Moon – and may even be doing so today. The study adds to a growing understanding that the Moon is an actively changing world.

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NASA Awards $106 Million to US Small Businesses for Technology Development

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Clare Skelly
Headquarters, Washington
clare.a.skelly@nasa.gov

 

This illustration depicts how important precision landing is to a successful lunar mission. The identification of level ground near scientifically important and hazardous sites is essential for the success of long-term missions. Credits: NASA


Managing pilotless aircraft and solar panels that could help humans live on the Moon and Mars are among the technologies NASA is looking to develop with small business awards totaling $106 million. In all, NASA has selected 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses from 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive Phase II contracts as part the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

“Small businesses play an important role in our science and exploration endeavors,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. 

 

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New Clues About How Ancient Galaxies Lit up the Universe

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Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov 

 

This deep-field view of the sky (center) taken by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes is dominated by galaxies – including some very faint, very distant ones – circled in red. The bottom right inset shows the light collected from one of those galaxies during a long-duration observation.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Spitzer/P. Oesch/S. De Barros/I.Labbe

 

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed that some of the universe’s earliest galaxies were brighter than expected. The excess light is a byproduct of the galaxies releasing incredibly high amounts of ionizing radiation. The finding offers clues to the cause of the Epoch of Reionization, a major cosmic event that transformed the universe from being mostly opaque to the brilliant starscape seen today. 

In a new study (Royal Astronomical Society), researchers report on observations of some of the first galaxies to form in the universe, less than 1 billion years after the big bang (or a little more than 13 billion years ago). The data show that in a few specific wavelengths of infrared light, the galaxies are considerably brighter than scientists anticipated. The study is the first to confirm this phenomenon for a large sampling of galaxies from this period, showing that these were not special cases of excessive brightness, but that even average galaxies present at that time were much brighter in these wavelengths than galaxies we see today. 

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