NASA Selects 5 Solar Sail R&D Projects for Funding

Illustration of NASA’s NEA Scout with the solar sail deployed as it flies by its asteroid destination. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected five research and development projects for funding that are focused on improving the performance of solar sails, which use solar photons (sunlight) to propel themselves.

NASA selected the five projects under the space agency’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, which partners companies with academia. Each Phase I award is worth up to $150,000.

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NASA TV to Air IXPE Prelaunch Activities, Launch

NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars. (Credits: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.

IXPE is scheduled to launch no earlier than 1 a.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 9, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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Ball Aerospace Delivers NASA’s X-Ray Observatory to Kennedy Space Center for Launch

IXPE satellite (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Ball Aerospace PR) — NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), built by Ball Aerospace, safely arrived Friday at Cape Canaveral in Fla. A collaboration between Ball, NASA, and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), IXPE is an astrophysics observatory set to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in December.

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How Scientists Are Using the International Space Station to Study Earth’s Climate

Taken by NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, this picture shows Earth’s limb, or horizon, from the International Space Station as it orbits above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — On Earth, we often look toward the sky longing to know what resides in the rest of the universe. Meanwhile, 250 miles above our planet, the  International Space Station is looking back.

Above us, multiple Earth-observing instruments are mounted on the exterior of several of the station’s modules, including a limb full of cameras, boxes, and tools that hangs off the edge of the station’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). Earth-observing CubeSats regularly deploy from the station’s airlock. Astronauts take photos of the planet from the orbiting lab’s windows. This outpost even conducts Earth science experiments. All of this work provides insight into the climate of our home and how we might prepare for coming changes.

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New Space Tech Research Institutes to Advance Electric Propulsion, Entry Systems

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Technology drives exploration, and as NASA eyes deep-space human exploration, technology is at the forefront of its plans. Preparing for these missions requires technology development within the agency and research by external experts in various fields.

As part of this effort, NASA will establish two new university-led Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs), which will join four already active institutes. The new STRIs will bring together researchers from different disciplines and organizations to tackle challenges associated with electric propulsion ground testing and atmospheric entry systems modeling. The new STRIs aim to advance these game-changing technologies for exploring the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

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UAE Hope Spacecraft Built in Colorado Enters Mars Orbit

The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Spacecraft prior to shipment to Dubai and the Tanegashima Launch site, with fully deployed solar panels and instruments visible (facing the floor) measuring nearly 5 meters across. (Credit: MBRSC/Ken Hutchison)

The United Arab Emirates is celebrating today as the nation’s first planetary spacecraft, Hope, has entered orbit around Mars as scheduled.

The UAE Space Agency tweeted:

Congratulations to our leadership, our nation and the Emirates Mars Mission’s heroes that have achieved the impossible! The #HopeProbe’s historic journey to the Red Planet doubles our joy as it adds to a year of celebrations in the country to mark the Golden Jubilee of the #UAE.

Launched on a Japanese H-IIA rocket last July, Hope will study Martian weather cycles and make other observations of the Red Planet. It will gather data on why the planet is losing hydrogen and oxygen into space.

Hope is the first planetary mission undertaken by an Arab nation and comes as the UAE is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. The project is seen as a major advance for the nation’s science, technology and engineering sectors.

While that is true, Hope was actually built in Colorado with the participation of engineers from three American universities with substantial expertise in space missions. The Hope page in Wikipedia has a succinct summary:

The mission design, development, and operations are led by the  Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). The spacecraft was developed by MBRSC and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, with support from Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of California, Berkeley….It was built by a joint Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)/Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) team at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Although UAE paid for the $200 million mission, it wouldn’t have been possible without substantial American assistance.

This is not to rain on anyone’s parade, but simply to give credit where credit is due. Under other circumstances, Hope would likely be labeled a joint UAE-American mission to Mars.

NASA Selects 14 Early Stage Innovations from US Universities for R&D

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Each year NASA selects and funds a number of university researchers to mature game-changing space technologies. The multi-year research and development projects could help develop super-cold space refrigerators and innovate ways to deal with hazardous lunar dust, among other objectives.

In late 2020, NASA selected 14 university-led research proposals to study early-stage technologies relevant to these topics. Each selection will receive up to $650,000 in grants from NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants program over up to three years, giving the university teams the time and resources to iterate multiple designs and solutions.

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2020 Arctic Sea Ice Minimum at Second Lowest on Record

In the Arctic Ocean, sea ice reached its minimum extent of 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometers) on Sept. 15 – the second-lowest extent since modern record keeping began. (Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio)

by Kate Ramsayer
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — This year’s Arctic sea ice cover shrank to the second-lowest extent since modern record keeping began in the late 1970s. An analysis of satellite data by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder shows that the 2020 minimum extent, which was likely reached on Sept. 15, measured 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometers).

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Blue Origin Schedules Next New Shepard Launch for Thursday

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 on May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Next New Shepard Launch Will Test Key Technologies with NASA for Returning to the Moon 

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-13) is currently targeting liftoff for Thursday, September 24, at 10:00 am CDT / 15:00 UTC. Current weather conditions are favorable. This will be the 13th New Shepard mission and the 7th consecutive flight for this particular vehicle (a record), demonstrating its operational reusability. 

You can watch the launch live at BlueOrigin.com. The pre-show begins at T-30 minutes and will provide mission details, including a special update from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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Emirates Launch First Mars Probe with Help from UC Berkeley

The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Spacecraft prior to shipment to Dubai and the Tanegashima Launch site, with fully deployed solar panels and instruments visible (facing the floor) measuring nearly 5 meters across. (Credit: MBRSC/Ken Hutchison)

by Robert Sanders
UC Berkeley

At 2:58 p.m. PDT today (Sunday, July 19), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully launched an interplanetary probe — the first by any country in the Arab world — thanks, in part, to science collaboration, training and instrument components provided by the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL).

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Launch of UAE Hope Mission to Mars Scheduled for Monday From Japan

The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Spacecraft prior to shipment to Dubai and the Tanegashima Launch site, with fully deployed solar panels and instruments visible (facing the floor) measuring nearly 5 meters across. (Credit: MBRSC/Ken Hutchison)

The launch of the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission to Mars aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket has been reset from Monday morning. Liftoff is scheduled for 6:58:14 a.m. JST (9:58:14 p.m. GMT/5:58:14 p.m. EDT) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

The Emirates Mars Mission was developed by the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in collaboration with a number of US research institutions, including the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The orbiter will use three instruments to study the martian atmosphere and weather.

Hope’s original launch date of July 15 was scrubbed due to weather.

Emirates Mars Mission Launching in Partnership with LASP at CU Boulder

The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Spacecraft prior to shipment to Dubai and the Tanegashima Launch site, with fully deployed solar panels and instruments visible (facing the floor) measuring nearly 5 meters across. (Credit: MBRSC/Ken Hutchison)

BOULDER, Colo. (LASP PR) — The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, is scheduled to launch this month on Mitsubishi H-IIA launch platform from Tanegashima, Japan and arrive at Mars in February 2021, coinciding with The Emirates’ 50th anniversary as a nation. 

The mission is being carried out by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in the UAE in collaboration with a number of US research institutions, including the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Front Range Biosciences Launches Hemp and Coffee Tissue Culture Samples to Space

LAFAYETTE, Colo., March 6, 2020 (Front Range Biosciences PR) — Front Range Biosciences® (FRB), an agricultural technology company focused on breeding and nursery production of new plant varieties and seeds for the hemp and coffee industries, today announced that its mission to transport plant cultures to space to examine the effects of zero gravity on plant gene expression is scheduled to launch this evening at the Kennedy Space Center.

In partnership with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder, FRB’s coffee and hemp cell cultures will be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight slated to depart today at 4:50 a.m. UTC, weather permitting.

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Janus Satellite to Explore Binary Asteroid

NASA rendering of a Janus satellite rendezvousing with a binary asteroid. (Credit: NASA)

Janus: Reconnaissance Missions to Binary Asteroids

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Falcon Heavy (secondary payload on Psyche mission)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Date: July 2022
NASA Program: Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx)

Description

Janus: Reconnaissance Missions to Binary Asteroids will study the formation and evolutionary implications for small “rubble pile” asteroids and build an accurate model of two binary asteroid bodies. A binary asteroid is a system of two asteroids orbiting their common center of mass.

The principal investigator is Daniel Scheeres at the University of Colorado. Lockheed Martin will provide project management.

SIMPLEx

Using small spacecraft – less than 400 pounds, or 180 kilograms, in mass – SIMPLEx selections will conduct stand-alone planetary science missions. Each will share their ride to space with either another NASA mission or a commercial launch opportunity.

Janus will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the Solar System Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.