General Atomics Awarded NASA Contract for TSIS-2 Spacecraft

SAN DIEGO, CA, July 22, 2020 (General Atomics PR) — General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) has been awarded a contract by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) to build the Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor-2 (TSIS-2) spacecraft which will provide measurements of solar irradiance and high-quality data for the long term climate record. GA-EMS will leverage its proven Orbital Test Bed (OTB) platform architecture to design and develop the satellite for TSIS-2, which is scheduled to launch in early 2023.

“We are extremely pleased to expand our relationship with NASA and to continue supporting their research goals with our flexible, modular OTB platforms,” stated Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS. “This contract is another exciting opportunity that demonstrates GA-EMS’ ability to deliver satellites on an aggressive schedule. The OTB platform will allow us to quickly and affordably integrate the TSIS-2 payload suite onto a free-flying spacecraft that will operate in a sun-synchronous orbit and allow NASA continuous solar monitoring capabilities throughout its mission lifecycle.”

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NASA’s Next Laser Communications Demo Installed, Integrated on Spacecraft

Northrop Grumman technicians in front of the LCRD payload fully installed and integrated on the Space Test Program Satellite (STPSat-6). (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On July 16, 2020, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) payload was installed and integrated on the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program Satellite 6 (STPSat-6) in preparation for a 2021 launch.

As an experimental payload, LCRD will demonstrate the robust capabilities of laser communications, which can provide significant benefits to missions, including bandwidth increases of 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems.

Prior to spacecraft integration, the LCRD payload went through several tests and blanket installations at Northrop Grumman’s integration and test facility in Dulles, Virginia. While LCRD underwent testing, Northrop Grumman technicians also prepared the spacecraft for LCRD’s integration.

Now that the two components have been fully integrated, they will undergo environmental testing and end-to-end compatibility testing to ensure the spacecraft and payload can properly communicate with one another.

LCRD will be NASA’s first two-way optical relay, sending and receiving data from missions in space to mission control on Earth. LCRD is paving the way for future optical communications missions, which could use LCRD to relay their data to the ground.

In 2022, the Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T), hosted on the International Space Station, will be the first LCRD demonstration from low-Earth orbit.

LCRD was built by Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, before being shipped to the Northrop Grumman facility in January 2020. LCRD is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and managed by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program office.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Completes Comprehensive Systems Test

Shown with its primary mirror fully deployed, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is the largest and most technically complex space science telescope NASA has ever built. (Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

By Thaddeus Cesari
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — Now that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been assembled into its final form, testing teams seized the unique opportunity to perform a critical software and electrical analysis on the entire observatory as a single, fully connected vehicle.

Known as a Comprehensive Systems Test or CST, this was the first full systems evaluation that has ever been run on the assembled  observatory, and one of the final first-time activities the team will perform.

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Spies Newly-Discovered Comet NEOWISE

An unprocessed image from the WISPR instrument on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020, shortly after its closest approach to the Sun. The Sun is out of frame to the left. The faint grid pattern near the center of the image is an artifact of the way the image is created. The small black structure near the lower left of the image is caused by a grain of dust resting on the imager’s lens. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher)

by Sarah Frazier
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was at the right place at the right time to capture a unique view of comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020. Parker Solar Probe’s position in space gave the spacecraft an unmatched view of the comet’s twin tails when it was particularly active just after its closest approach to the Sun, called perihelion.

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Radar Points to Moon Being More Metallic Than Researchers Thought

The Moon seen from the International Space Station. The image was taken by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli during his second mission to ‘MagISStra’ on 20 March 2011. Paolo commented on the image: “Supermoon was spectacular from here!” (Credit: ESA/NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — What started out as a hunt for ice lurking in polar lunar craters turned into an unexpected finding that could help clear some muddy history about the Moon’s formation.

Team members of the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft found new evidence that the Moon’s subsurface might be richer in metals, like iron and titanium, than researchers thought. That finding, published July 1 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, could aid in drawing a clearer connection between Earth and the Moon.

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NASA Awards Space Weather Follow On Instrument Contract to SwRI

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA has awarded the Space Weather Follow On-Lagrange 1 (SWFO-L1) Solar Wind Plasma Sensor (SWiPS) contract to South West Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

This is a cost plus fixed-fee contract with a total value of $15,579,930. The performance period begins on July 1 and runs for 76 months. The work will be performed at SwRI’s facility in San Antonio, Texas.

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NASA’s TESS Delivers New Insights Into an Ultrahot World

This illustration shows how planet KELT-9 b sees its host star. Over the course of a single orbit, the planet twice experiences cycles of heating and cooling caused by the star’s unusual pattern of surface temperatures. Between the star’s hot poles and cool equator, temperatures vary by about 1,500 F (800 C). This produces a “summer” when the planet faces a pole and a “winter” when it faces the cooler midsection. So every 36 hours, KELT-9 b experiences two summers and two winters. [Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA)]

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. — Measurements from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) have enabled astronomers to greatly improve their understanding of the bizarre environment of KELT-9 b, one of the hottest planets known.

“The weirdness factor is high with KELT-9 b,” said John Ahlers, an astronomer at Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Maryland, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s a giant planet in a very close, nearly polar orbit around a rapidly rotating star, and these features complicate our ability to understand the star and its effects on the planet.”

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Ball Aerospace Awarded $96.9 Million Contract for Space Weather Satellite

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — On behalf of NOAA, NASA has awarded a delivery order under the Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition III (Rapid III) contract to Ball Aerospace & Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, for the Space Weather Follow On-Lagrange 1 (SWFO-L1) spacecraft.

This is a firm fixed-price delivery order in the amount of $96.9M issued under the Rapid III Spacecraft Catalog. The period of performance runs now through March 31, 2025.

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NASA’s TESS, Spitzer Missions Discover a World Orbiting a Unique Young Star

This illustration depicts one interpretation of the planet AU Mic b and its young red dwarf host star. The system lies about 32 light-years away in the southern constellation Microsopium. [Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA).]

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — For more than a decade, astronomers have searched for planets orbiting AU Microscopii, a nearby star still surrounded by a disk of debris left over from its formation. Now scientists using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope report the discovery of a planet about as large as Neptune that circles the young star in just over a week.

The system, known as AU Mic for short, provides a one-of-a-kind laboratory for studying how planets and their atmospheres form, evolve and interact with their stars.

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Future Space Travelers May Follow Cosmic Lighthouses

An image of NICER on the exterior of the space station with one of the station’s solar panels in the background. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — For centuries, lighthouses helped sailors navigate safely into harbor. Their lights swept across the water, cutting through fog and darkness, guiding mariners around dangerous obstacles and keeping them on the right path. In the future, space explorers may receive similar guidance from the steady signals created by pulsars.

Scientists and engineers are using the International Space Station to develop pulsar-based navigation using these cosmic lighthouses to assist with wayfinding on trips to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis  program and on future human missions to Mars.

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Are Planets with Oceans Common in the Galaxy? It’s Likely, NASA Scientists Find

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes on Enceladus in October 2015. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Finds Heat, Cold Fracturing Rocks on Asteroid Bennu

Exfoliation features on a cliff face (a) and on boulders (b-f) with varying size and location. The bright dome on the horizon of panel (a) is a boulder behind the exfoliating cliff. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

TUCSON (Planetary Science Institute PR) — Close-up observations of asteroid Bennu by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft contain the first evidence of thermal fracturing of rocks on an airless body, a Nature Communications paper by Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist Jamie Molaro says. 

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Tower Extension Test a Success for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Technicians inspect a critical part of the James Webb Space Telescope known as the Deployable Tower Assembly after fully extending it in the same maneuver it will perform in once in space. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — To test the James Webb Space Telescope’s readiness for its journey in space, technicians successfully commanded it to deploy and extend a critical part of the observatory known as the Deployable Tower Assembly. 

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Meet 8 Teams Sending Payloads to the Moon on Masten’s Lander

Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022. (Credits: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Masten Space Systems PR) — Imagine having the opportunity to send your payload to the lunar surface. Not next decade, but in 2022!

Well, that’s the incredible opportunity that the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project — and Masten Space Systems — has presented for 8 visionary teams and their instruments. Each and every one is cool in their own way and we couldn’t be prouder to be the lunar lander company that will set them down safely on the surface of the Moon. 

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