by Lonnie Shekhtman NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Md. — NASA scientists identified a molecule in Titan’s atmosphere that has never been detected in any other atmosphere. In fact, many chemists have probably barely heard of it or know how to pronounce it: cyclopropenylidene, or C3H2. Scientists say that this simple carbon-based molecule may be a precursor to more complex compounds that could form or feed possible life on Titan.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Dragonfly is a NASA mission that delivers a rotorcraft to Saturn’s moon Titan to advance our search for the building blocks of life. While Dragonfly was originally scheduled to launch in 2026, NASA has requested the Dragonfly team pursue their alternative launch readiness date in 2027. No changes will be needed to the mission architecture to accommodate this new date, and launching at a later date will not affect Dragonfly’s science return or capabilities once at Titan.
NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).
by Lonnie Shekhtman NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Md. (NASA PR) — Several years ago, planetary scientist Lynnae Quick began to wonder whether any of the more than 4,000 known exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.
Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest assessment of NASA’s major projects at the end of April. It found that NASA’s performance on its major projects continued to deteriorate on cost and schedule. (Full Report)
Below are key excerpts from the report that provide an overview of where NASA stands on its major projects. Although GAO did not analyze the Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon, the watchdog warned the Trump Administration’s decision to move the landing date up from 2028 to 2024 will put more pressure on the space agency.
“Looking ahead, NASA will continue to face significant cost and schedule risks as it undertakes complex efforts to return to the moon under an aggressive time frame,” the report stated.
On January 14, 2005, a spacecraft about 9 feet wide, with a mass of about 700 pounds entered the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Over the next two and a half hours, the Huygens probe, as the spacecraft was known, would report data from its descent through the thick atmosphere of Titan to the orbiting Cassini spacecraft above, and back to Earth. It also returned an image and data from the surface.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.
LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — It sounds like science fiction: fly a robotic rotorcraft over the dunes of an alien moon. But NASA is giving a team led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, the opportunity to turn this idea into space exploration reality.
WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has selected two finalist concepts for a robotic mission planned to launch in the mid-2020s: a comet sample return mission and a drone-like rotorcraft that would explore potential landing sites on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
The agency announced the concepts Wednesday, following an extensive and competitive peer review process. The concepts were chosen from 12 proposals submitted in April under a New Frontiers program announcement of opportunity.
PALO ALTO, CA, Sept. 11, 2017 (SSL PR) – SSL, a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, today announced that NASA has awarded the next phase of funding for its ground-breaking Dragonfly on-orbit satellite assembly program. The contract modification to move forward with the detailed design of a semi-autonomous robotic system for in-space satellite assembly confirms NASA’s confidence in SSL and the success of this “Tipping Point” public private partnership, which is enabling the development of new technology that benefits both government and commercial space endeavors.
UPDATE: The launch has been shifted to Wednesday morning.
UPDATE: SpaceX successfully conducted a static fire of the Falcon 9 engines on Friday.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is set to soar again from Cape Canaveral early Tuesday morning with the AsiaSat 6 satellite. The launch window is set from 12:50-4:05 a.m. EDT (0450-0805 GMT).
SpaceX is set to conduct a static fire of the Falcon 9’s engine today.
Meanwhile, the FAA has issued its final environmental assessment for flights of SpaceX’s experimental DragonFly vehicle at the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas.
“After reviewing and analyzing currently available data and information on existing conditions and the potential impacts of the Proposed Action as compared with the No Action Alternative, the FAA has determined that the Proposed Action would not significantly impact the quality of the human environment. Therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required, and the FAA is issuing this FONSI [Finding of No Significant Impact],” the environmental assessment reads.
SpaceX would test a propulsive landing system for its Dragon spacecraft at its test site in McGregor, Texas, under an experimental permit the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed granting the company.
The agency has issued a draft environmental assessment for testing the DragonFly reusable launch vehicle (RLV) at the Texas site where SpaceX tests its Merlin D engines.
Under the proposed experimental permit, the company would conduct up to 30 tests of the RLV to develop techniques that will allow a Dragon spacecraft to touch down on land rather than splashing down in the ocean as they do currently.
The DragonFly RLV consists of a Dragon capsule with a integrated trunk that is 17 feet high and 13 feet across at the base. The vehicle would use a maximum of 400 gallons of propellant, which would consist of nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) and monomethylhydrazine (MMH).
The table below shows SpaceX’s plan for flight testing the DragonFly RLV.
Proposed Annual Operations of DragonFly RLV
Drop the RLV from a helicopter from up to 10,000 ft, deploy parachutes and land with SuperDraco engines; engines would five for 5 seconds
Full Propulsive Landing
Drop the RLV from a helicopter from up to 10,000 ft and land only with SuperDraco engines (no parachute); engines would five for 5 seconds
Propulsive Assist Hopping
RLV takes off from launch pad and lands with parachutes; engines would fire for 25 seconds
Full Propulsive Hopping
RLV takes off from launch pad, hovers, and lands propulsive (no parachute); engines would fire for 25 seconds