Friday, May 27, 2011

NASA to Launch New Science Mission to Asteroid in 2016

NASA will launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016 and use a robotic arm to pluck samples that could better explain our solar system’s formation and how life began. The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth.

“This is a critical step in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama to extend our reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore into deep space,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations.”

NASA selected OSIRIS-REx after reviewing three concept study reports for new scientific missions, which also included a sample return mission from the far side of the Moon and a mission to the surface of Venus.

Asteroids are leftovers formed from the cloud of gas and dust — the solar nebula — that collapsed to form our sun and the planets about 4.5 billion years ago. As such, they contain the original material from the solar nebula, which can tell us about the conditions of our solar system’s birth.

After traveling four years, OSIRIS-REx will approach the primitive, near Earth asteroid designated 1999 RQ36 in 2020. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping. The science team then will pick a location from where the spacecraft’s arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect more than two ounces of material for return to Earth in 2023. The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, is expected to cost approximately $800 million.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NASA Announces Key Decision For Next Deep Space Transportation System

Michael Braukus/J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

Josh Byerly
Johnson Space Center, Houston

May 24, 2011

RELEASE : 11-164

NASA Announces Key Decision For Next Deep Space Transportation System

WASHINGTON — NASA has reached an important milestone for the next U.S. transportation system that will carry humans into deep space. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced today that the system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Those plans now will be used to develop a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

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NASA’s Spirit Rover Completes Mission on Mars

NASA’s Spirit Rover Completes Mission on Mars

NASA has ended operational planning activities for the Mars rover Spirit and transitioned the Mars Exploration Rover Project to a single-rover operation focused on Spirit’s still-active twin, Opportunity.

This marks the completion of one of the most successful missions of interplanetary exploration ever launched.

Spirit last communicated on March 22, 2010, as Martian winter approached and the rover’s solar-energy supply declined. The rover operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission. NASA checked frequently in recent months for possible reawakening of Spirit as solar energy available to the rover increased during Martian spring. A series of additional re-contact attempts ended today, designed for various possible combinations of recoverable conditions.

“Our job was to wear these rovers out exploring, to leave no unutilized capability on the surface of Mars, and for Spirit, we have done that,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

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NASA Concludes Attempts to Contact Mars Rover Spirit

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA is ending attempts to regain contact with the long-lived Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, which last communicated on March 22, 2010.

A transmission that will end on Wednesday, May 25, will be the last in a series of attempts. Extensive communications activities during the past 10 months also have explored the possibility that Spirit might reawaken as the solar energy available to it increased after a stressful Martian winter without much sunlight. With inadequate energy to run its survival heaters, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold.

Engineers’ assessments in recent months have shown a very low probability for recovering communications with Spirit. Communications assets that have been used by the Spirit mission in the past, including NASA’s Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth, plus two NASA Mars orbiters that can relay communications, now are needed to prepare for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. MSL is scheduled to launch later this year.

“We’re now transitioning assets to support the November launch of our next generation Mars rover, Curiosity,” said Dave Lavery, NASA’s program executive for solar system exploration. “However, while we no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit, the Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits.”

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Moon satellites arrive in Florida for September launch

Posted: May 23, 2011

Two small spacecraft flew to the Kennedy Space Center in the belly of an Air Force cargo plane Friday, ready to start final preparations for launch to the moon in September.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission is scheduled to blast off Sept. 8 on a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

GRAIL’s two nearly identical spacecraft flew on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane from Lockheed Martin Corp. in Denver to Kennedy Space Center’s space shuttle landing strip Friday, then the probes were moved to a nearby clean room facility.

Workers will complete assembly of the GRAIL probes, fuel the spacecraft and place the satellites on top of the Delta 2 launch vehicle over the next three months.

Each GRAIL spacecraft is about the size of a washing machine and will weigh about 440 pounds at liftoff.

The mission’s Delta 2 rocket is fully stacked on Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket will fly in the 7920-Heavy configuration with nine 46-inch-diameter solid rocket boosters.

Liftoff is expected Sept. 8 at 8:37 a.m. EDT (1237 GMT). After receiving a boost into space, the GRAIL spacecraft will be on a low-energy trajectory to the L1 Lagrange point, the location in deep space where gravity from the sun and Earth exert equal influence.

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