A Look at the Payloads in Falcon Heavy’s STP-2 Mission

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — The Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), is targeting launch on June 24, 2019, with the launch window opening at 11:30 p.m. ET. Lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this mission will deliver 24 satellites to space on the DoD’s first ever SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

The STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours. In addition, the U.S. Air Force plans to reuse side boosters from the Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy launch, recovered after a return to launch site landing, making it the first reused Falcon Heavy ever flown for the U.S. Air Force.
(more…)

NASA’s Psyche Mission Has a Metal World in Its Sights

This artist’s concept depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — Designed to explore a metal asteroid that could be the heart of a planet, the Psyche mission is readying for a 2022 launch. After extensive review, NASA Headquarters in Washington has approved the mission to begin the final design and fabrication phase, otherwise known as Phase C. This is when the Psyche team finalizes the system design, develops detailed plans and procedures for the spacecraft and science mission, and completes both assembly and testing of the spacecraft and its subsystems.

(more…)

Starshade Would Take Formation Flying to Extremes

This artist’s concept shows the geometry of a space telescope aligned with a starshade, a technology used to block starlight in order to reveal the presence of planets orbiting that star. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA-JPL-Caltech PR) — Anyone who’s ever seen aircraft engaged in formation flying can appreciate the feat of staying highly synchronized while airborne. In work sponsored by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP), engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are taking formation flying to a new extreme.

Their work marks an important milestone within a larger program to test the feasibility of a technology called a starshade. Although starshades have never flown in space, they hold the potential to enable groundbreaking observations of planets beyond our solar system, including pictures of planets as small as Earth.

(more…)

Five Things to Know About NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — NASA is sending a new technology to space in late June that will change the way we navigate our spacecraft — even how we send astronauts to Mars and beyond. Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Deep Space Atomic Clock is a technology demonstration that will help spacecraft navigate autonomously through deep space. No larger than a toaster oven, the instrument will be tested in Earth orbit for one year, with the goal of being ready for future missions to other worlds.

(more…)

Watch NASA Build Its Next Mars Rover

The “Seeing 2020” live video feed allows the public to watch engineers and technicians assemble and test NASA’s next Mars rover in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A newly installed webcam offers the public a live, bird’s-eye view of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover as it takes shape at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. You can watch as JPL engineers and technicians assemble and test the rover before it embarks next year on one of the most technologically challenging interplanetary missions ever designed.

(more…)

InSight’s Team Tries New Strategy to Help the ‘Mole’

Engineers in a Mars-like test area at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory try possible strategies to aid the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) on NASA’s InSight lander, using engineering models of the lander, robotic arm and instrument. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA-JPL/Caltech PR) — Scientists and engineers have a new plan for getting NASA InSight’s heat probe, also known as the “mole,” digging again on Mars. Part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the mole is a self-hammering spike designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface and record temperature.

(more…)

Common Questions about InSight’s ‘Mole’

Signs of the Heat Probe Shifting on Mars: The support structure of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument moved slightly during hammering, as indicated by the circular “footprints” around the instrument’s footpads. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — There’s a new plan to get InSight’s “mole” moving again. The following Q&As with two members of the team answer some of the most common questions about the burrowing device, part of a science instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).

(more…)

NASA IG Audit Finds Management and Schedule Issues with Europa Missions

The Clipper spacecraft flies over the surface of Europa in this artist’s rendering. NASA is currently studying this reduced-cost mission which would use at least 48 flybys to explore the moon instead of entering into orbit. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Michael Carroll)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite early-stage robust funding, NASA is facing serious management and schedule challenges in its ambitious Europa Clipper program that will send an orbiter and lander to Jupiter’s ice covered moon beginning in 2023.

“Specifically, NASA’s aggressive development schedule, a stringent conflict of interest process during instrument selection, and an insufficient evaluation of cost and schedule estimates has increased project integration challenges and led the Agency to accept instrument cost proposals subsequently found to be far too optimistic,” the audit found.

(more…)

Planet-Hunter CubeSat Images Los Angeles

This image of the greater Los Angeles area was taken on March 29, 2019 by ASTERIA, the Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics satellite. The Port of Long Beach is visible near the center of the image. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — A small satellite designed to hunt for new planets beyond the solar system recently looked down at Earth to capture an image of California’s “City of Stars.”

(more…)

NASA Invites Public to Submit Names to Fly Aboard Next Mars Rover

Members of the public who want to send their name to Mars on NASA’s next rover mission to the Red Planet (Mars 2020) can get a souvenir boarding pass and their names etched on microchips to be affixed to the rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Although it will be years before the first humans set foot on Mars, NASA is giving the public an opportunity to send their names — stenciled on chips — to the Red Planet with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which represents the initial leg of humanity’s first round trip to another planet. The rover is scheduled to launch as early as July 2020, with the spacecraft expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.

(more…)

OCO-3 Ready to Extend NASA’s Study of Carbon

OCO-3 sits on the large vibration table (known as the “shaker”) in the Environmental Test Lab at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Updated at 12:35 a.m. PDT (3:35 a.m. EDT) on May 10

NASA’s OCO-3 was removed from the Dragon spacecraft and robotically installed on the exterior of the space station’s Japanese Experiment Module-Exposed Facility as of approximately 9 p.m. PDT on May 9 (12 a.m. EDT on May 10). Over the next two days, a functional checkout will be performed and the OCO-3’s Pointing Mirror Assembly (PMA) will be deployed. The PMA and context cameras will then perform an initial survey of OCO-3’s surroundings to make sure nothing unexpected is interfering with its view of Earth.

Updated at 9:10 a.m./p.m. PDT (12:10 p.m. EDT) on May 4

SpaceX CRS-17 launched Friday, May 3, 11:48 p.m. PDT (Saturday, May 4, 2:48 a.m. EDT).

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — When the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, OCO-3, heads to the International Space Station, it will bring a new view — literally — to studies of Earth’s carbon cycle.

From its perch on the space station, OCO-3 will observe near-global measurements of carbon dioxide on land and sea, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. That makes it far more versatile and powerful than its predecessor, OCO-2.

(more…)

Apollo Fusion, Inc. Lands NASA JPL License and Manufacturing Contract

A complete ACE thruster unit being tested. (Credit: Apollo Fusion)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., May 7, 2019 — Today Apollo Fusion, Inc. is excited to announce it has been awarded an exclusive, worldwide commercial license to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) MaSMi (Magnetically Shielded Miniature) Hall thruster, the world’s first low-power (≤1.0 kW) magnetically shielded Hall thruster.

(more…)

Scientists Planning Now for Asteroid Flyby a Decade Away

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — On April 13, 2029, a speck of light will streak across the sky, getting brighter and faster. At one point it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper. But it won’t be a satellite or an airplane – it will be a 1,100-foot-wide (340-meter-wide) near-Earth asteroid called 99942 Apophis that will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) above the surface. That’s within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.

The international asteroid research community couldn’t be more excited.

(more…)

NIAC Award: Power Beaming for Long Life Venus Surface Missions

Power beaming for long life Venus surface missions (Credit: Erik Brandon)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months

Power Beaming for Long Life Venus Surface Missions
Erik Brandon
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A new approach to support long duration Venus surface missions will be investigated, which will address the difficult challenge of surface power generation in such an extreme environment. The key mission concept centers on the use of a dual vehicle architecture—one vehicle is a high altitude platform that provides power generation in the more forgiving upper atmosphere of Venus, the other vehicle being a lander that stores and uses the generated power to execute the mission. These two spacecraft (and spacecraft functions) are tied together via an innovative power beaming system.

(more…)

NIAC Award: Low-Cost SmallSats to Explore to Our Solar System’s Boundaries

Small satellites for exploring the Solar System’s boundaries. (Credit: Robert Staehle)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program
Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months

Low-Cost SmallSats to Explore to Our Solar System’s Boundaries
Robert Staehle
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Overview: New Horizons, Voyager 1 & 2, and Pioneer 10 & 11 are the only spacecraft to venture beyond Saturn’s orbit. Each weighed >250 kg (some >>250 kg), cost >FY19$300 M, and required operations teams with 10s of people. All required radioisotope power to operate at Jupiter and beyond. We propose a completely different approach for focused heliospheric science investigations to 125 AU, and potentially farther beyond the heliopause, without need for radioisotopes and their long, expensive launch approval process.

(more…)