NASA’s TESS Discovers New Worlds in a River of Young Stars

This illustration sketches out the main features of TOI 451, a triple-planet system located 400 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, 

GREENBELT, Md. — Using observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team of astronomers has discovered a trio of hot worlds larger than Earth orbiting a much younger version of our Sun called TOI 451. The system resides in the recently discovered Pisces-Eridanus stream, a collection of stars less than 3% the age of our solar system that stretches across one-third of the sky.

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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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Goddard’s Core Flight Software Chosen for NASA’s Lunar Gateway

An Orion spacecraft approaches the lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA)

By Katherine Schauer and Karl Hille
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA is improving a flight software system to help create and certify essential software for the lunar Gateway.

As part of the Artemis program, NASA will send astronauts to the Moon and establish a sustained lunar presence by the end of the decade. The Gateway will provide a waypoint for lunar exploration and allow astronauts to live and work in lunar orbit as well as host science instruments and experiments.

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NASA’s Artemis Base Camp on the Moon Will Need Light, Water, Elevation

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

By Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — American astronauts in 2024 will take their first steps near the Moon’s South Pole: the land of extreme light, extreme darkness, and frozen water that could fuel NASA’s Artemis lunar base and the agency’s leap into deep space.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Plans for May Asteroid Departure

Captured by the spacecraft’s SamCam camera on Oct. 22, 2020, this series of three images shows that the sampler head on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu. They show also that some of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. Analysis by the OSIRIS-REx team suggests that bits of material are passing through small gaps where the head’s mylar flap is slightly wedged open. The mylar flap (the black bulge on the left inside the ring) is designed to keep the collected material locked inside, and these unsealed areas appear to be caused by larger rocks that didn’t fully pass through the flap. Based on available imagery, the team suspects there is plentiful sample inside the head, and is on a path to stow the sample as quickly as possible. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On May 10, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will say farewell to asteroid Bennu and begin its journey back to Earth. During its Oct. 20, 2020, sample collection event, the spacecraft collected a substantial amount of material from Bennu’s surface, likely exceeding the mission’s requirement of 2 ounces (60 grams). The spacecraft is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023.

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NASA Advancing Global Navigation Satellite System Capabilities

Deployment of Bobcat-1 from the International Space Station. (Credit: Nanoracks)

by Danny Baird
​NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office

NASA is developing capabilities that will allow missions at high altitudes to take advantage of signals from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations — like GPS commonly used in the U.S. These signals — used on Earth for navigation and critical timing applications — could provide NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon with reliable timing and navigation data. NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program is developing the technologies that will support this goal.

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2020 Tied for Warmest Year on Record, NASA Analysis Shows

Globally, 2020 was the hottest year on record, effectively tying 2016, the previous record. Overall, Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s. Temperatures are increasing due to human activities, specifically emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane. (Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Lori Perkins/Kathryn Mersmann)

NEW YORK (NASA PR) — Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record, according to an analysis by NASA.

Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, the year’s globally averaged temperature was 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit (1.02 degrees Celsius) warmer than the baseline 1951-1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. 2020 edged out 2016 by a very small amount, within the margin of error of the analysis, making the years effectively tied for the warmest year on record.

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NASA Selects 4 Concepts for Small Missions to Study Universe’s Secrets

As neutron stars collide, some of the debris blasts away in particle jets moving at nearly the speed of light, producing a brief burst of gamma rays. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has chosen four small-scale astrophysics missions for further concept development in a new program called Pioneers. Through small satellites and scientific balloons, these selections enable new platforms for exploring cosmic phenomena such as galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star mergers.

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Space Dynamics Lab Achieves Critical Milestone for NASA Space Weather Mission

NORTH LOGAN, UTAH, January 6, 2021 (Space Dynamics Laboratory PR) – Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory announced that it has successfully completed the Key Decision Point (KDP) C for NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE). KDP-C provides NASA approval for the project to begin final design and fabrication, known as Phase C, and establishes baselines for its official schedule and budget.

Planned to be ready for launch to the International Space Station in 2022, AWE will study atmospheric gravity waves in Earth’s atmosphere to gain deeper knowledge of the connections caused by climate systems through our atmosphere and between the atmosphere and space. The AWE mission is part of NASA’s Explorers Program under the Goddard Space Flight Center Explorers and Heliophysics Projects Division and is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Michael J. Taylor at Utah State University. The Space Dynamics Laboratory will build the AWE instrument and is also providing project management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission operations.

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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 Explores Upper Limits of Global Navigation Systems for Artemis

An Orion spacecraft approaches the lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA)

By Danny Baird
​NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office

The Artemis generation of lunar explorers will establish a sustained human presence on the Moon, prospecting for resources, making revolutionary discoveries, and proving technologies key to future deep space exploration.

To support these ambitions, NASA navigation engineers from the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program are developing a navigation architecture that will provide accurate and robust Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services for the Artemis missions. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals will be one component of that architecture. GNSS use in high-Earth orbit and in lunar space will improve timing, enable precise and responsive maneuvers, reduce costs, and even allow for autonomous, onboard orbit and trajectory determination.

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Audit Criticizes NASA’s Management of Hazardous Materials

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA needs to do a better job of storing and managing hazardous materials at its field centers to prevent accident and injuries, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

“We found that hazardous materials are not managed uniformly across the Agency, the Centers we visited did not consistently implement adequate controls, and employees and contractors at times circumvented existing controls to acquire hazardous materials,” the audit said.

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Northrop Grumman and NASA Complete Final Sunshield Deployment Test on the James Webb Space Telescope

For the last time on Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshield was deployed and tensioned by testing teams at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California where final deployment tests were completed. Webb’s sunshield is designed to protect the telescope from light and heat emitted from the sun, Earth, and moon, and the observatory itself. (Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

REDONDO BEACH, Calif., Dec. 18, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) and NASA have successfully completed the final sunshield deployment test on the James Webb Space Telescope in preparation for its 2021 launch.

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NASA Awards Prizes to Six Startup Companies in Entrepreneur’s Challenge

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has awarded prize funding of $100,000 each to six entrepreneurial startup companies under its pilot Entrepreneur’s Challenge  program for concepts ranging from machine learning to enable exploration and other technologies to new ways to build instruments to study the universe.

NASA partnered with Starburst, the global aerospace hub, to jointly launch a pilot program to engage entrepreneurs.

The challenge’s purpose is to invite fresh ideas for development of new instruments and technologies to advance the agency’s science exploration goals and increase participation by entrepreneurial companies in the agency’s technology portfolio.

For the inaugural Entrepreneur’s Challenge, the technical focus areas were:

  • Advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence for autonomous spacecraft and surface rovers, and for Earth observation and disaster management
  • Advanced mass spectrometry for detection of the elements necessary for life and other science applications by using instrumentation beyond what is currently available in terms of low-power and low-mass and using cutting edge materials or components to innovate in sampling technology and processes
  • Quantum sensors that enable high-precision assessments of gravity, magnetic fields, dark energy and other measurements to support NASA scientific discoveries

The competition was conducted in three rounds. In the first round, nearly 80 submissions were sent in from companies nationwide and a judging panel selected 15 ideas to advance. The next round was a virtual event held July 29, 2020, where selectees presented their ideas to a judging panel of NASA program managers. The judges selected 10 companies for awards of $20,000 each.

In the final round, the participants worked to refine their concepts and gave their final presentations Oct. 22 as part of the Innovation and Opportunity Conference held by NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program. Six of the companies received an additional $80,000 in prize funding as determined by the same panel of judges from the previous round.

“This is a program that provides companies opportunities to showcase innovative technology and inject new and creative solutions of interest to NASA and its mission,” said Paul Mahaffy, one of the challenge judges and the director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “As technologies for the mass spectrometers mature for flight, these could be game changing.”

The following companies were selected as winners of the Entrepreneur’s Challenge:

  • Cognitive Space, Houston
  • Evermore Intelligence, Philadelphia
  • MOBILion, Chadds Fords, Pennsylvania
  • Trace Matters Scientific, Somerville, Massachusetts
  • Guardion Technologies, Burlington, Massachusetts
  • Cold Quanta, Boulder, Colorado

To learn more about the Entrepreneur’s Challenge, and to receive notifications regarding future events, go to:

https://nasa-science-challenge.com

For more information about NASA’s science technology activities, visit:

https://science.nasa.gov/

Asteroid Ryugu Dust Delivered to Earth; NASA Astrobiologists Prepare to Probe It

Artist’s concept of a NASA spacecraft speeding toward a rendezvous with an asteroid. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

By Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — On Dec. 6 local time (Dec. 5 in the United States), Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 dropped a capsule to the ground of the Australian Outback from about 120 miles (or 200 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. Inside that capsule is some of the most precious cargo in the solar system: dust that the spacecraft collected earlier this year from the surface of asteroid Ryugu.  

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