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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USRA and NASA Scientists Set Another Fire Inside the Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft

This edge view of Saffire’s flame shows it developing over a one-centimeter thick sample of a plexiglass type material found on spacecraft. The blue color is typical of microgravity flames and moves from left to right at 20 cm per second. (Credits: NASA)

COLUMBIA, MD (USRA PR) — NASA has been conducting a series of space fire experiments called Spacecraft Fire Safety (Saffire) Experiments that investigate how fires grow and spread in space, especially aboard future spacecraft bound for Moon and Mars. Recently, another set of experiments were conducted when Saffire IV lit longer and stronger flames inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Cargo spacecraft.

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A Steaming Cauldron Follows the Dinosaurs’ Demise

A three-dimensional cross-section of the hydrothermal system in the Chicxulub impact crater and its seafloor vents. The system has the potential for harboring microbial life. (Illustration by Victor O. Leshyk for the Lunar and Planetary Institute)

Houston, Texas and Columbia, MD (USRA/LPI PR) — A new study reveals the Chicxulub impact crater may have harbored a vast and long-lived hydrothermal system after the catastrophic impact event linked to the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

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SwRI Scientist Modeled Mars Climate to Understand Habitability

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to record this eastward horizon view on the 2,407th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Oct. 31, 2010). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, May 11, 2020 (SwRI PR) — A Southwest Research Institute scientist modeled the atmosphere of Mars to help determine that salty pockets of water present on the Red Planet are likely not habitable by life as we know it on Earth. A team that also included scientists from Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the University of Arkansas helped allay planetary protection concerns about contaminating potential Martian ecosystems. These results were published this month in Nature Astronomy.

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Universities Space Research Association to Lead a DARPA Project on Quantum Computing

Columbia, MD and Washington DC, March 26, 2020 (USRA PR) — Universities Space Research Association (USRA) today announced that DARPA has awarded the organization and its partners Rigetti Computing and the NASA Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) to work as a team to advance the state of art in quantum optimization. USRA, as the prime contractor of the award, will manage the collaboration.

The collaboration will focus on developing a superconducting quantum processor, hardware -aware software and custom algorithms that take direct advantage of the hardware advances to solve scheduling and asset allocation problems. In addition, the team will design methods for benchmarking the hardware against classical computers to determine quantum advantage.

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The LPI’s Lunar South Pole Atlas — A New Online Reference for Mission Planners

Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

HOUSTON and COLUMBIA, Md., May 17, 2019 (LPI/USRA PR) — The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), managed by Universities Space Research Association (USRA), has compiled and made available an atlas of the Moon’s south pole ( https://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/lunar-south-pole-atlas/). Given NASA’s recent direction to implement Space Policy Directive-1 landing astronauts at the south pole by 2024, the LPI has compiled a series of maps, images, and illustrations designed to provide context and reference for those interested in exploring this area.

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Scientists to Study How Fire Burns in Space

Saffire I experiment inside Cygnus. (Credit: NASA)

COLUMBIA, Md., June 2, 2017 (USRA PR) — Shortly after the Cygnus cargo vehicle (which launched in March 2017) undocks from the International Space Station on June 4, 2017, a team of researchers from NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) will conduct the Spacecraft Fire Experiment-III (SAFFIRE III).

SAFFIRE III is the third in a series of six flight experiments to better understand how flames spread in microgravity and increase understanding of how an accidental fire might behave in space. “The SAFFIRE portfolio of experiments is providing the best data yet on how large fires behave in the microgravity environment of space,” said Christopher Pestak, Director of USRA operations at NASA GRC.

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Lunar and Planetary Institute Joins NASA’s New Virtual Institute

NASA_SSERVI-LOGOHOUSTON (USRA PR) — The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is proud to announce NASA’s recent selection of scientists from USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Arecibo Observatory, and colleagues at six universities to be one of the nine initial teams in NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). SSERVI is a new organization that expands the scope of the NASA Lunar Science Institute to one that includes near-Earth asteroids and the moons of Mars.

The LPI/JSC team is led by Dr. David A. Kring, Senior Staff Scientist at the LPI and the founding Principal Investigator of the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration. Under the auspices of SSERVI, the team will continue to integrate science and exploration activities in a coordinated study of the Moon and the asteroids that bombard the Earth-Moon system. Those studies will include observations of existing near-Earth asteroids, studies of past collisional events in the Earth-Moon system, and the collisional evolution of the asteroid belt that delivers those objects to near-Earth space.

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USRA Scientists Complete Astronaut Researcher Training

USRA scientists in front of the centrifuge used for the suborbital flight simulations at The NASTAR Center. From left to right are Dr. Joanne Hill, Dr. Ramona Gaza, and Dr. Scott Wood.
USRA scientists in front of the centrifuge used for the suborbital flight simulations at The NASTAR Center. From left to right are Dr. Joanne Hill, Dr. Ramona Gaza, and Dr. Scott Wood.

USRA PRESS RELEASE

Three scientists with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) successfully underwent training this week to gain familiarization with human suborbital spaceflight. Dr. Joanne E. (Joe) Hill, an astrophysicist with USRA working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Dr. Scott J. Wood and Dr. Ramona Gaza, both with USRA’s Division of Space Life Sciences which carries out work for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, participated in the first such course being offered by the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center (The NASTAR Center). The two-day course ranged from altitude training and high-performance centrifuge training to learning about the industry and the opportunity to perform low-cost, hands-on projects in space. Research experiments that will take advantage of the coming era of commercial human spaceflight are already in development.

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Scientists Gather to Discuss Use of Space Tourism Vehicles for Research

Special Guest Blogger Amalie Sinclair submitted this report on a workshop that brought together researchers and commercial space companies in San Francisco:

On Monday, the Universities Space Research Association held the Human-Tended Suborbital Science Workshop in conjunction with NASA Ames Research Center and the Personal Spaceflight Federation.

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