Europa Clipper’s Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Confirmed

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit; NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — An icy ocean world in our solar system that could tell us more about the potential for life on other worlds is coming into focus with confirmation of the EuropaClipper mission’s next phase. The decision allows the mission to progress to completion of final design, followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.  

“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”

The mission will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.  To develop this mission in the most cost-effective fashion, NASA is targeting to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023. The agency baseline commitment, however, supports a launch readiness date by 2025. 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California leads the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for the Science Mission Directorate. Europa Clipper is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

NASA Selects Flying Mission to Study Titan for Origins, Signs of Life

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

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.

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NASA Selects Johns Hopkins APL to Lead Mission to Saturn’s Exotic Moon Titan

Artist rendering of Dragonfly on Titan’s surface. (Credit: Johns Hopkins APL)

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.

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NASA’s New Horizons Team Publishes First Kuiper Belt Flyby Science Results

This composite image of the primordial contact binary Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) – featured on the cover of the May 17 issue of the journal Science – was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on Jan. 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-s-new-horizons-team-publishes-first-kuiper-belt-flyby-science-results

NASA’s New Horizons mission team has published the first profile of the farthest world ever explored, a planetary building block and Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69.

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NASA’s First Planetary Defense Technology Demonstration to Collide with Asteroid in 2022

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

by Justyna Surowiec
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – NASA’s first mission to demonstrate a planetary defense technique – will get one chance to hit its target, the small moonlet in the binary asteroid system Didymos. The asteroid poses no threat to Earth and is an ideal test target: measuring the change in how the smaller asteroid orbits about the larger asteroid in a binary system is much easier than observing the change in a single asteroid’s orbit around the Sun. Work is ramping up at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and other locations across the country, as the mission heads toward its summer 2021 launch – and attempts to pull off a feat so far seen only in science fiction films.

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SpaceX Wins NASA Launch Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission

DART mission profile (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, the first-ever mission to demonstrate the capability to deflect an asteroid by colliding a spacecraft with it at high speed – a technique known as a kinetic impactor.

The total cost for NASA to launch DART is approximately $69 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

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See Ultima Thule in 3D

Flicker: Just watch and enjoy! (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Cross your eyes and break out the 3D glasses! NASA’s New Horizons team has created new stereo views of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of the New Horizons spacecraft’s historic New Year’s 2019 flyby, four billion miles from Earth – and the images are as cool and captivating as they are scientifically valuable.

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New Horizons Spacecraft Returns Its Sharpest Views of Ultima Thule

The most detailed images of Ultima Thule — obtained just minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1 — have a resolution of about 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of higher spatial resolution and a favorable viewing geometry offer an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface of Ultima Thule, believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft. This processed, composite picture combines nine individual images taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, just 6 ½ minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69). The image was taken at 5:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 4,109 miles (6,628 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and the Sun – known as the “phase angle” – was 33 degrees. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — The mission team called it a “stretch goal” – just before closest approach, precisely pointing the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to snap the sharpest possible pictures of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, its New Year’s flyby targetand the farthest object ever explored.

Now that New Horizons has sent those stored flyby images back to Earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambitious goal was met.

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New Horizons’ Images Confirm Ultima Thule’s Highly Unusual, Flatter Shape

As more data of Ultima Thule were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken nearly 10 minutes after closest approach, a “new view” of the object’s shape emerged. Ultima more closely resembles a “pancake,” and Thule a “dented walnut.” (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — An evocative new image sequence from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft offers a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of its New Year’s 2019 flyby and the most distant world ever explored.

These aren’t the last Ultima Thule images New Horizons will send back to Earth – in fact, many more are to come — but they are the final views New Horizons captured of the KBO (officially named 2014 MU69) as it raced away at over 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 1. The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

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All Systems Go As Parker Solar Probe Begins Second Sun Orbit

Parker Solar Probe (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — On Jan. 19, 2019, just 161 days after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed its first orbit of the Sun, reaching the point in its orbit farthest from our star, called aphelion. The spacecraft has now begun the second of 24 planned orbits, on track for its second perihelion, or closest approach to the Sun, on April 4, 2019.

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NanoRacks Completes 15th CubeSat Mission on International Space Station

HOUSTON, January 31, 2019 (NanoRacks PR) — NanoRacks successfully completed the 15th CubeSat Deployment mission from the Company’s commercially developed platform on the International Space Station. Having released five CubeSats into low-Earth orbit, this mission marks NanoRacks’ 190th CubeSat released from the Space Station, and the 228th small satellite deployed by NanoRacks overall.

The CubeSats deployed were launched to the Space Station on the 16th contracted resupply mission for SpaceX from the Kennedy Space Center in December 2018.

NanoRacks offered an affordable launch opportunity, payload manifesting, full safety reviews with NASA, and managed on-orbit operations in order to provide an end-to-end solution that met all customer needs.

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New Horizons’ Newest and Best-Yet View of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL) — The wonders – and mysteries – of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 continue to multiply as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft beams home new images of its New Year’s Day 2019 flyby target.

This image, taken during the historic Jan. 1 flyby of what’s informally known as Ultima Thule, is the clearest view yet of this remarkable, ancient object in the far reaches of the solar system – and the first small “KBO” ever explored by a spacecraft.

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New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons


LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.

During this deep-space photo shoot – part of the farthest planetary flyby in history – New Horizons’ range to Ultima Thule decreased from 310,000 miles (500,000 kilometers, farther than the distance from the Earth to the Moon) to just 17,100 miles (28,000 kilometers), during which the images became steadily larger and more detailed. The team processed two different image sequences; the bottom sequence shows the images at their original relative sizes, while the top corrects for the changing distance, so that Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) appears at constant size but becomes more detailed as the approach progresses.


All the images have been sharpened using scientific techniques that enhance detail. The original image scale is 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) per pixel in the first frame, and 0.08 miles (0.14 kilometers) per pixel in the last frame. The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation. Among other things, the New Horizons science team will use these images to help determine the three-dimensional shape of Ultima Thule, in order to better understand its nature and origin.

The raw images included in the movie are available on the New Horizons LORRI website. New Horizons downlinked the two highest-resolution images in this movie immediately after the Jan. 1 flyby, but the more distant images were sent home on Jan. 12-14, after a week when New Horizons was too close to the Sun (from Earth’s point of view) for reliable communications. New Horizons will continue to transmit images – including its closest views of Ultima Thule – and data for the next many months.

Image credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory











Best Wishes from Around the World ‘Beamed’ Toward New Horizons in Kuiper Belt

In this animated GIF of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule made from two images taken 38 minutes apart, the “Thule” lobe is closest to the New Horizons spacecraft. As Ultima Thule is seen to rotate, hints of the topography can be perceived. The images were taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 4:23 and 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019 from respective ranges of 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) and 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with respective original scales of 1017 feet (310 meters) and 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by a small, distant world in the Kuiper Belt on New Year’s Day – the place, officially designated 2014 MU69 and nicknamed Ultima Thule, is 4 billion miles from Earth. No spacecraft has ever explored a world so far away.

Several weeks before that flyby the New Horizons team gave people around the world the opportunity to “beam” their name and a choice of messages, at the speed of light, toward New Horizons and Ultima Thule on flyby day – ¬and 30,547 people ultimately signed on. “Happy 2019!” was the top choice, selected by 8,100 participants, followed by “Keep on Exploring!” sent by 6,800 participants.
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New Horizons Successfully Flies By Ultima Thule

At left is a composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule’s size and shape so far. Preliminary measurements of this Kuiper Belt object suggest it is approximately 20 miles long by 10 miles wide (32 kilometers by 16 kilometers). An artist’s impression at right illustrates one possible appearance of Ultima Thule, based on the actual image at left. The direction of Ultima’s spin axis is indicated by the arrows. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; sketch courtesy of James Tuttle Keane)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Ultima Thule in the early hours of New Year’s Day, ushering in the era of exploration from the enigmatic Kuiper Belt, a region of primordial objects that holds keys to understanding the origins of the solar system.

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