Parker Solar Probe Offers Stunning View of Venus

When flying past Venus in July 2020, Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument, short for Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. Bright streaks in WISPR, such as the ones seen here, are typically caused by a combination of charged particles — called cosmic rays — sunlight reflected by grains of space dust, and particles of material expelled from the spacecraft’s structures after impact with those dust grains. The number of streaks varies along the orbit or when the spacecraft is traveling at different speeds, and scientists are still in discussion about the specific origins of the streaks here. The dark spot appearing on the lower portion of Venus is an artifact from the WISPR instrument. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher)

By Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

LAUREL, Md. — NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured stunning views of Venus during its close flyby of the planet in July 2020.

Though Parker Solar Probe’s focus is the Sun, Venus plays a critical role in the mission: The spacecraft whips by Venus a total of seven times over the course of its seven-year mission, using the planet’s gravity to bend the spacecraft’s orbit. These Venus gravity assists allow Parker Solar Probe to fly closer and closer to the Sun on its mission to study the dynamics of the solar wind close to its source.

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NASA’s First Mission to the Trojan Asteroids Installs its Final Scientific Instrument

Two engineers work on L’Ralph, the most complicated instrument that will fly on the Lucy mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. It is actually two instruments in one. The Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), will take visible light color images. The Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA), will collect infrared spectra. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Barbara Lambert/Desiree Stover)

LITTLETON, Colo. (NASA PR) — With less than a year to launch, NASA’s Lucy mission’s third and final scientific instrument has been integrated onto the spacecraft.

The spacecraft, which will be the first to explore the Trojan asteroids — a population of small bodies that share an orbit with Jupiter — is in the final stages of the assembly process. Just five months ago, at the beginning of the Assembly, Testing and Launch operations (ATLO) process, the components of the Lucy spacecraft were being built all over the country. Today, a nearly assembled spacecraft sits in the high bay in Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.

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NASA’s First Mission to the Trojan Asteroids Integrates its Second Scientific Instrument

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Lucy mission is one step closer to launch as L’TES, the Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer, has been successfully integrated on to the spacecraft.

“Having two of the three instruments integrated onto the spacecraft is an exciting milestone,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy project manager from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The L’TES team is to be commended for their true dedication and determination.”

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NASA Approves Heliophysics Missions to Explore Sun, Earth’s Aurora

From the International Space Station’s orbit 269 miles above the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia, this nighttime photograph captures the aurora australis, or “southern lights.” Russia’s Soyuz MS-12 crew ship is in the foreground and Progress 72 resupply ship in the background. (Credits: NASA)

ASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has approved two heliophysics missions to explore the Sun and the system that drives space weather near Earth. Together, NASA’s contribution to the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, or EUVST, and the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer, or EZIE, will help us understand the Sun and Earth as an interconnected system.

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NASA Administrator to Announce New Space Tech Public-Private Partnerships

The Moon as viewed by NASA’s Mariner 10 in 1973, well before research would find signs of rust on the airless surface. (Credits: NASA/JPL/Northwestern University)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will give a keynote address at the virtual fall Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium meeting at 11:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Oct. 14. The event, co-hosted by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and Arizona State University, will stream live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

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Testing Super Foods for Space and More on Blue Origin Suborbital Flight

The microgravity LilyPond growth chamber uses capillary action to provide a stable water surface on which duckweed (and potentially other veggies, like microgreens) can grow. LED panels provide an efficient light source, and a salad spinner-like sieve helps separate the water from the plants when ready to harvest. (Credits: Space Lab Technologies)

Duckweed: it’s what’s for dinner

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

EDWARDS, Calif. — It’s no surprise to most of us that regularly eating fresh produce is a great way to support a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables benefit astronauts on the International Space Station, too – and soon the Moon and beyond. Scientists are investigating sustainable ways to grow highly nutritious foods in microgravity, to give space explorers a readily available supply of daily greens.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Delivers DART Propulsion Systems Ahead of 2021 Asteroid Impact Mission

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

REDMOND, Wash., May 19, 2020 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) – The dual chemical and electric propulsion systems for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) were recently delivered by Aerojet Rocketdyne to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

The chemical propulsion system and the electric propulsion Xenon feed system have been undergoing assembly and integration onto the spacecraft structure at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in Redmond, Washington, since August 2019.

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The PI’s Perspective: Probing Farther in the Kuiper Belt with New Horizons

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)

New Horizons Mission Update
by Alan Stern
Principal Investigator

New Horizons is healthy and performing perfectly as it flies deeper and deeper into the Kuiper Belt! Recently we conducted an engineering review of the spacecraft to “trend” how it was working compared to when it was launched. The result was amazing: Every system and science instrument aboard New Horizons is working as well as it did when we lifted off, more than 14 years and almost 5 billion miles ago. As mission principal investigator I could not be prouder — the men and women who designed, built and tested New Horizons literally created a masterpiece of American workmanship that will likely be able to perform and explore for many more years and many more miles!

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Artemis I Launch Delayed to Mid- to Late 2021

SLS core stage installation (Credits: NASA/SSC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurcyk said on Friday that the first Artemis mission to the moon will not launch later this year but will hopefully fly in the mid- to late 2021 time frame.

It marks yet another delay in a program that is already running years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. The slip potentially makes the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon in 2024 more difficult to achieve.

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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. 

Pluto: The Other Red Planet

What color is Pluto? The answer, revealed in the first maps made from New Horizons data, turns out to be shades of reddish brown. Although this is reminiscent of Mars, the cause is almost certainly very different. On Mars the coloring agent is iron oxide, commonly known as rust. On the dwarf planet Pluto, the reddish color is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere and on its surface.

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Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab CubeSats Complete Lengthy Missions

Artist’s impression of an ORS Tech CubeSat in orbit. (Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)
Artist’s impression of an ORS Tech CubeSat in orbit. (Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

BALTIMORE, Md. (JHU APL PR) — After 18 months in orbit — months longer than typical for spacecraft in their class — the twin ORS Tech 1 and 2 CubeSats recently completed their final trip into Earth’s atmosphere.

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NASA Selects 18 Proposals for Asteroid Redirect Mission Studies

In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)
In this concept image, the robotic vehicle deploys an inflatable bag to envelop a free-flying small asteroid before redirecting it to a distant retrograde lunar orbit. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 18 proposals for studies under the Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).  These six-month studies will mature system concepts and key technologies and assess the feasibility of potential commercial partnerships to support the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, a key part of the agency’s stepping stone path to send humans to Mars.

The agency is working on two concepts for the mission. The first concept would fully capture a very small asteroid in free space and the other would retrieve a boulder off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would redirect an asteroid mass less than 10 meters in size to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) would rendezvous with the captured asteroid mass in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth.

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