NASA’s Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft is a Discovery Machine

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its third year of survey data, with the spacecraft discovering 97 previously unknown celestial objects in the last year. Of those, 28 were near-Earth objects, 64 were main belt asteroids and five were comets.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of Exoplanets

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission. (Credit: Slava Turyshev)

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission

Slava Turyshev
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

We propose to study a mission to the deep regions outside the solar system that will exploit the remarkable optical properties of the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) focus to effectively build an astronomical telescope capable of direct megapixel high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy of a potentially habitable exoplanet. Although theoretically it seems feasible, the engineering aspects of building such an astronomical telescope on the large scales involved were not addressed before; we propose to do that.

Our main question for this study is not “how to get there?” (although it will also be addressed), but rather “what does it take to operate a spacecraft at such enormous distances with the needed precision?”

Specifically, we propose to study I) how a space mission to the focal region of the SGL may be used to obtain high-resolution direct imaging and spectroscopy of an exoplanet by detecting, tracking, and studying the Einstein’s ring around the Sun, and II) how such information could be used to unambiguously detect and study life on another planet.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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NIAC Phase I Award: Direct Dark Energy Probe

Direct probe of dark energy interactions with a solar system laboratory. (Credit: Nan Yu)

A Direct Probe of Dark Energy Interactions with a Solar System Laboratory

Nan Yu
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

We propose a mission concept for direct detection of dark energy interactions with normal matter in a Solar System laboratory. Dark energy is the leading proposal to answer the question of the accelerated expansion of the Universe. This interaction must be highly suppressed to be consistent with the gravity measurements and observations we have so far, but can be probed with specifically designed experiments.

By flying unscreened atomic particles through special gravitational field regions in the Solar System and conducting double differential measurements to isolate possible dark energy interaction with the atoms, we will stand a chance to achieve a direction detection of dark energy, akin to direct detection of dark matter and gravitational waves. This could lead to a fundamental shift in our understanding of fundamental physics and our universe, stimulating a wide variety of foundational research in cosmology and particle physics.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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NIAC Phase II Award: Automaton Rover for Extreme Environment

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (Credit: Jonathan Sauder)

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE)

Jonathan Sauder
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

Extreme environments abound in the solar system and include the radiation around Jupiter, high surface temperatures on Mercury and Venus, and hot, high pressure environments occurring deep beneath any active planet’s surface.

Generally, the most environmentally sensitive components of a rover or spacecraft are the electronics, which will fail in heat, stop operating in extreme cold, or experience upsets when bombarded with radiation.

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NIAC Funds Advanced Propulsion Projects

Mach Effects for In Space Propulsion: Interstellar Mission. (Credit: Heidi Fearn)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently funded six proposals focused on futuristic propulsion systems for missions to Pluto, Venus and other solar systems.

There were four Phase I proposals that are worth approximately $125,000 apiece over nine months. NIAC also funded two Phase II proposals that are worth $500,000 each for two-year investigations.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Venus Interior Probe Using In-situ Power and Propulsion

Venus Interior Probe Using In-situ Power and Propulsion (Credit: Ratnakumar Bugga)

Venus Interior Probe Using In-situ Power and Propulsion (VIP-INSPR)

Ratnakumar Bugga
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

Venus, despite being our closest neighboring planet, is under-explored due to its hostile environment. The atmosphere is composed primarily of CO2, with a 92 bar pressure and 467°C temperature at the surface. The temperature decreases at higher altitudes, approaching conditions similar to that of Earth’s surface at 65km.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Breakthrough Propulsion for Interstellar Precursor Missions

Breakthrough Propulsion Architecture for Interstellar Precursor Missions (Credit: John Brophy)

A Breakthrough Propulsion Architecture for Interstellar Precursor Missions

John Brophy
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

We propose a new power/propulsion architecture to enable missions such as a 12-yr flight time to 500 AU—the distance at which solar gravity lensing can be used to image exoplanets—with a conventional (i.e., New Horizons sized) spacecraft.

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NASA Missions Provide New Insights into ‘Ocean Worlds’ in Our Solar System

This graphic illustrates how Cassini scientists think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other “ocean worlds” in our solar system and beyond. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope.

In the papers, Cassini scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. ”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

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NASA to Announce New Discoveries About Ocean Worlds on Thursday

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency’s Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope during a news briefing 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 13. The event, to be held at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington, will include remote participation from experts across the country.

The briefing will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

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Origami-inspired Robot Can Hitch a Ride with a Rover

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The next rovers to explore another planet might bring along a scout.

The Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was inspired by origami. Its lightweight design is capable of flattening itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places rovers can’t fit.

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Futuristic Atomic Clock Prepared for Space

Tom Cwik, the head of JPL’s Space Technology Program (left) and Allen Farrington, JPL Deep Space Atomic Clock Project Manager, view the recently integrated Atomic Clock Payload on Surrey Satellite US’s Orbital Test Bed Spacecraft. (Credit: Surrey Satellite Technology)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (NASA PR) — No one keeps time quite like NASA.

Last month, the space agency’s next-generation atomic clock was joined to the spacecraft that will take it into orbit in late 2017.

That instrument, the Deep Space Atomic Clock was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. On Feb. 17, JPL engineers monitored integration of the clock on to the Surrey Orbital Test Bed spacecraft at Surrey Satellite Technology in Englewood, Colorado.

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NASA Mission Named ‘Europa Clipper’

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

PASADENA, Cailf. (NASA PR) — NASA’s upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.

The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.

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Sample Retrieval System Biggest Challenge for Mars 2020 Mission

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The biggest risk for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission meeting its launch window is the development of its soil and rock collecting system, according to a new audit from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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ASU to Lead NASA Space Exploration Mission for 1st Time

Artist rendition of the asteroid Psyche. (Credit: Peter Rubin/ASU
Artist rendition of the asteroid Psyche. (Credit: Peter Rubin/ASU

Metal asteroid Psyche to offer unique look into violent collisions that created Earth, terrestrial planets

by Karin Valentine
Media Relations & Marketing manager,
ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration

Arizona State University’s Psyche Mission, a journey to a metal asteroid, has been selected for flight, marking the first time the school will lead a NASA space exploration mission and the first time scientists will be able to see what is believed to be a planetary core.

The mission’s spacecraft is expected to launch in 2023, arriving at the asteroid in 2030, where it will spend 20 months in orbit, mapping it and studying its properties.

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