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ExoMars landing platform arrives in Europe with a name

Paris (ESA)

Mar 22, 2019

The platform destined to land on the Red Planet as part of the next ExoMars mission has arrived in Europe for final assembly and testing – and been given a name.

An announcement was made by the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos of its new name: ‘Kazachok’.

The ExoMars program is a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos and comprises two missions. The Trace Gas Orbiter is already circling Mars examining the planet’s atmosphere, while the second mission – comprising a surface science platform and a rover – is foreseen for launch in 2020.

Last month, the rover was named ‘Rosalind Franklin’ after the prominent scientist behind the discovery of the structure of DNA. Now the surface platform also has a name. Kazachock literally means little Cossack, and it is a lively folk dance.

Once on the martian surface, Rosalind the rover will drive off the Kazachok platform to perform scientific investigations. Kazachok will remain stationary to investigate the climate, atmosphere, radiation and possible presence of subsurface water in the landing site.

Welcome to Europe

Kazachok left Russia after being carefully packed to meet planetary protection requirements, making sure to not bring terrestrial biological contamination to Mars. It was shipped to Turin, Italy, on an Antonov plane along with ground support equipment and other structural elements.

The Italian division of Thales Alenia Space will perform final assembly and testing of the mission in close cooperation with ESA.

There will be more components arriving to Italy throughout the year, including avionics equipment, the carrier and rover modules and thermal protection systems for the landing platform.

Several test campaigns with ExoMars models are running in parallel in preparation for launch and landing.

Recent shock tests in Russia have successfully proved the mechanical compatibility between the spacecraft and the adapter for the Proton-M rocket that will set ExoMars on its way to Mars.

The ExoMars teams have also just completed the egress and locomotion tests with a full-sized model of the rover in Zurich, Switzerland.

There the rover drove off ramps and through all the terrain conditions that it might encounter on Mars: different types of soil, various obstacle shapes and sizes and all kind of slopes.

“We have now a very challenging schedule of deliveries and tests both in Italy and France. The coordination between the Russian and European teams is key to timely reach the Baikonur cosmodrome in 2020,” says Francois Spoto, ESA’s ExoMars team leader.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/ExoMars_landing_platform_arrives_in_Europe_with_a_name_999.html.

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NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is put to the test

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Mar 20, 2019

In a little more than seven minutes in the early afternoon of Feb. 18, 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will execute about 27,000 actions and calculations as it speeds through the hazardous transition from the edge of space to Mars’ Jezero Crater. While that will be the first time the wheels of the 2,314-pound (1,050-kilogram) rover touch the Red Planet, the vehicle’s network of processors, sensors and transmitters will, by then, have successfully simulated touchdown at Jezero many times before.

“We first landed on Jezero Crater on Jan. 23rd,” said Heather Bottom, systems engineer for the Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “And the rover successfully landed again on Mars two days later.”

Bottom was the test lead for Systems Test 1, or ST1, the Mars 2020 engineering team’s first opportunity to take the major components of the Mars 2020 mission for a test drive. Over two weeks in January, Bottom and 71 other engineers and technicians assigned to the 2020 mission took over the High Bay 1 cleanroom in JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility to put the software and electrical systems aboard the mission’s cruise, entry capsule, descent stage and rover through their paces.

“ST1 was a massive undertaking,” said Bottom. “It was our first chance to exercise the flight software we will fly on 2020 with the actual spacecraft components that will be heading to Mars – and make sure they not only operate as expected, but also interact with each other as expected.”

The heritage for Mars 2020’s software goes back to the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and the Curiosity rover that has been exploring Mars’ Gale Crater since 2012. But 2020 is a different mission with a different rover, a different set of science instruments and a different destination on Mars. Its software has to be tailored accordingly.

Work began in earnest on the flight software in 2013. It was coded, recoded, analyzed and tested on computer workstations and laptops. Later, the flight software matriculated to spacecraft testbeds where it was exposed to computers, sensors and other electronic components customized to imitate the flight hardware that will launch with the mission in 2020.

“Virtual workstations and testbeds are an important part of the process,” said Bottom. “But the tens of thousands of individual components that make up the electronics of this mission are not all going to act, or react, exactly like a testbed. Seeing the flight software and the actual flight hardware working together is the best way to build confidence in our processes. Test like you fly.”

Making the Grade

On the day before ST1 began, the High Bay 1 cleanroom was hopping with “bunny suit”-clad engineers and technicians assembling, inspecting and testing the mission’s hardware. The next day, Wednesday, Jan. 16, the room was eerily quiet. The majority of workers had been replaced by two technicians there to monitor the flight test hardware.

Lines of electrical cabling – “umbilicals” – were added to provide data and power to the spacecraft’s cruise stage, back shell, descent stage and rover chassis, which have yet to be stacked together. The ground to in-flight spacecraft (and in-flight spacecraft to ground) communications were handled by X-band radio transmission, just like they would be during the trip to Mars.

ST1 began with commands to energize the spacecraft’s electrical components and set up thermal, power and telecom configurations. While all the spacecraft components remained in the cleanroom, Bottom and her team had them thinking they were sitting on top of an Atlas 541 rocket 190 feet (58 meters) above Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral on July 17, 2020, waiting to be shot into space.

Next, they focused on another part of cruise before testing the landing sequence. Then they did it all over again.

After a successful launch, they time jumped 40 days ahead to simulate deep space cruise. How would the software and hardware interact when they had to perform navigation fixes and trajectory correction maneuvers? And how would they work when simulated events didn’t go as planned? The team looked for answers on the operators’ computer screens in the test operations room beside the cleanroom.

“From the test operations room, you could look out the windows onto the cleanroom floor and clearly see the flight hardware,” said Bottom.

“Nothing was visibly moving, but underneath the outer structure, there were flight computers swapping sides, radios sending and receiving transmissions, fuel valves moving in and out, subsystems being energized and later turned off, and electrical signals being sent to nonexistent pyrotechnic devices. There was a lot going on in there.”

On Jan. 30, the Mars 2020 test team was able to close their 1,000-plus page book of procedures for ST1. They went two-for-two on Mars landings. They also launched four times, performed deep space navigation, executed several trajectory correction maneuvers and even tested a few in-flight off-nominal situations.

This first evaluation of flight hardware and software, over a year in the making, had been a thorough success, demonstrating where things excelled and where they could be improved. When these new changes have been investigated on both a virtual workstation and in the testbed, they will have their chance to “fly” in one of the many other systems tests planned for Mars 2020.

“One of the future scenario tests will place the rover inside a thermal chamber and simulate being on the surface. It will step through mission critical activities at some very low Mars surface temperatures,” said Bottom. “Both literally and figuratively it will be a very cool test.”

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL manages rover development for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/NASAs_Mars_2020_Rover_Is_Put_to_the_Test_999.html.

Opportunity’s parting shot was a beautiful panorama

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Mar 13, 2019

Over 29 days last spring, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity documented this 360-degree panorama from multiple images taken at what would become its final resting spot in Perseverance Valley. Located on the inner slope of the western rim of Endurance Crater, Perseverance Valley is a system of shallow troughs descending eastward about the length of two football fields from the crest of Endeavor’s rim to its floor.

“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“To the right of center you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance. Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers.”

The trailblazing mission ended after nearly 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars, but its legacy will live on. Opportunity’s scientific discoveries contributed to our unprecedented understanding of the planet’s geology and environment, laying the groundwork for future robotic and human missions to the Red Planet.

The panorama is composed of 354 individual images provided by the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, or sols (Martian days) 5,084 through 5,111. This view combines images taken through three different Pancam filters. The filters admit light centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet).

A few frames (bottom left) remain black and white, as the solar-powered rover did not have the time to record those locations using the green and violet filters before a severe Mars-wide dust storm swept in on June 2018.

The gallery includes the last images Opportunity obtained during its mission (black-and-white thumbnail images from the Pancam that were used to determine how opaque the sky was on its last day) and also the last piece of data the rover transmitted (a “noisy,” incomplete full-frame image of a darkened sky).

After eight months of effort and sending more than a thousand commands in an attempt to restore contact with the rover, NASA declared Opportunity’s mission complete on Feb. 13, 2019.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Opportunitys_Parting_Shot_Was_a_Beautiful_Panorama_999.html.

New surprises from Jupiter and Saturn

Washington DC (SPX)

Mar 11, 2019

The latest data sent back by the Juno and Cassini spacecraft from giant gas planets Jupiter and Saturn have challenged a lot of current theories about how planets in our solar system form and behave.

The detailed magnetic and gravity data have been “invaluable but also confounding,” said David Stevenson from Caltech, who will present an update of both missions this week at the 2019 American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston. He will also participate in a press conference describing the work. Information for logging on to watch and ask questions remotely is included at the end of this news release.

“Although there are puzzles yet to be explained, this is already clarifying some of our ideas about how planets form, how they make magnetic fields and how the winds blow,” Stevenson said.

Cassini orbited Saturn for 13 years before its dramatic final dive into the planet’s interior in 2017, while Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for two and a half years.

Juno’s success as a mission to Jupiter is a tribute to innovative design. Its instruments are powered by solar energy alone and protected so as to withstand the fierce radiation environment.

Stevenson says the inclusion of a microwave sensor on Juno was a good decision.

“Using microwaves to figure out the deep atmosphere was the right, but unconventional, choice,” he said. The microwave data have surprised the scientists, in particular by showing that the atmosphere is evenly mixed, something conventional theories did not predict.

“Any explanation for this has to be unorthodox,” Stevenson said.

Researchers are exploring weather events concentrating significant amounts of ice, liquids and gas in different parts of the atmosphere as possible explanations, but the matter is far from sealed.

Other instruments on board Juno, gravity and magnetic sensors, have also sent back perplexing data. The magnetic field has spots (regions of anomalously high or low magnetic field) and also a striking difference between the northern and southern hemispheres.

“It’s unlike anything we have seen before,” Stevenson said.

The gravity data have confirmed that in the midst of Jupiter, which is at least 90 percent hydrogen and helium by mass, there are heavier elements amounting to more than 10 times the mass of Earth. However, they are not concentrated in a core but are mixed in with the hydrogen above, most of which is in the form of a metallic liquid.

The data has provided rich information about the outer parts of both Jupiter and Saturn. The abundance of heavier elements in these regions is still uncertain, but the outer layers play a larger-than-expected role in the generation of the two planets’ magnetic fields. Experiments mimicking the gas planets’ pressures and temperatures are now needed to help the scientists understand the processes that are going on.

For Stevenson, who has studied gas giants for 40 years, the puzzles are the hallmark of a good mission.

“A successful mission is one that surprises us. Science would be boring if it merely confirmed what we previously thought,” he said.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/New_surprises_from_Jupiter_and_Saturn_999.html.

Touchdown: Japan probe Hayabusa2 lands on distant asteroid

By Kyoko Hasegawa

Tokyo (AFP)

Feb 22, 2019

A Japanese probe sent to collect samples from an asteroid 300 million kilometers away for clues about the origin of life and the solar system landed successfully on Friday, scientists said.

Hayabusa2 touched down briefly on the Ryugu asteroid, fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection and blasted back to its holding position, said officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of JAXA staff members nervously monitoring data ahead of the touchdown before exploding into applause after receiving a signal from Hayabusa2 that it had landed.

“We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet” into the Ryugu asteroid, Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, told reporters.

“We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions,” he said.

The complicated procedure took less time than expected and appeared to go without a hitch, said Hayabusa2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa.

“I’m really relieved now. It felt very long until the moment the touchdown happened,” he said.

He said the firing of the bullet — the first of three planned in this mission — “will lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science.”

The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born.

During a later mission, Hayabusa2 will eventually fire an “impactor” to blast out material from underneath Ryugu’s surface, allowing the collection of “fresh” materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation.

Scientists hope those samples may provide answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

Former Queen rocker and space fan Brian May tweeted: “Hurrah. Brilliant success in touchdown on Ryugu.”

– Spinning-top shape –

Communication with Hayabusa2 is cut off at times because its antennas are not always pointed towards Earth and it could take several more days to confirm the bullet was actually fired to allow the collection of samples.

The mission has not been completely plain sailing and the probe’s landing was originally scheduled for last year.

But it was pushed back after surveys found the asteroid’s surface was more rugged than initially thought, forcing JAXA to take more time to find a suitable landing site.

The Hayabusa2 mission, with a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million), was launched in December 2014 and is scheduled to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

Photos of Ryugu — which means “Dragon Palace” in Japanese and refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale — show an asteroid shaped a bit like a spinning top with a rough surface.

Hayabusa2 observes the surface of the asteroid with its camera and sensing equipment but has also dispatched two tiny MINERVA-II rover robots as well as the French-German robot MASCOT to help surface observation.

Scientists have already received data from these probes deployed on the surface of the asteroid.

At about the size of a large fridge, Hayabusa2 is equipped with solar panels and is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for falcon.

That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year Odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Touchdown_Japan_probe_Hayabusa2_lands_on_distant_asteroid_999.html.

Northwestern study of analog crews in isolation reveals weak spots for Mission to Mars

Evanston IL (SPX)

Feb 19, 2019

Northwestern University researchers are developing a predictive model to help NASA anticipate conflicts and communication breakdowns among crew members and head off problems that could make or break the Mission to Mars.

NASA has formalized plans to send a crewed spacecraft to Mars, a journey that could involve 250 million miles of travel. Among the worldwide teams of researchers toiling over the journey’s inherent physiological, engineering and social obstacles, Northwestern professors Noshir Contractor and Leslie DeChurch, and their collaborators, are charting a new course with a series of projects focused on the insights from the science of teams and networks.

In a multiphase study conducted in two analog environments – HERA in the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the SIRIUS mission in the NEK analog located in the Institute for Bio-Medical Problems (IBMP) in Russia – scientists are studying the behavior of analog astronaut crews on mock missions, complete with isolation, sleep deprivation, specially designed tasks and mission control, which mimics real space travel with delayed communication.

The goal is threefold: to establish the effects of isolation and confinement on team functioning, to identify methods to improve team performance, and to develop a predictive model that NASA could use to assemble the ideal team and identify potential issues with already composed teams before and during the mission.

Contractor and DeChurch discussed their latest findings and next steps at a 10 a.m. EST, Feb. 17 press briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“It’s like astronaut Scott Kelly says, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work,'” said Contractor, the Jane S. and William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering, School of Communication and the Kellogg School of Management.

Even for an astronaut, the psychological demands of this Mars journey will be exceptional. The spacecraft will be small, roughly the size of a studio apartment, and the round-trip journey will take almost three years.

“Astronauts are super humans. They are people who are incredibly physically fit and extremely smart,” said DeChurch, a professor of communication and psychology at Northwestern. “We’re taking an already state-of-the-art crew selection system and making it even better by finding the values, traits and other characteristics that will allow NASA to compose crews that will get along.”

Communication delays with worldwide mission controls will exceed the 20-minute mark. In that sense, the Mars mission will be like no mission that has come before.

“A lot of the past efforts to try to create models to simulate the future have run into criticism because people have said it’s not really grounded in good data,” Contractor said. “What we have here is unprecedented good data. We aren’t talking about intuition and expert views, this model is based on real data.”

The Northwestern researchers have been culling data from the Human Experimentation Research Analog (HERA) at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. HERA’s capsule simulator houses astronauts for up to 45 days; a mock mission control outside the capsule augments the realism with sound effects, vibrations and communication delays.

Those on the inside undergo sleep deprivation and try to perform tasks. The researchers collect moment-to-moment metrics about individual performance, moods, psychosocial adaptation and more.

The teams DeChurch and Contractor have studied experienced diminished abilities to think creatively and to solve problems, according to results from the first eight analog space crews, and are able to successfully complete tasks between 20 and 60 percent of the time.

“Creative thinking and problem solving are the very things that are really going to matter on a Mars mission,” DeChurch said. “We need the crew to be getting the right answer 100 percent of the time.”

The next phase of the research, just begun on Friday, Feb. 15, involves using the model to predict breakdowns and problems a new HERA crew will experience and making changes to “who works with whom, on what, when,” Contractor said. “We are going to run our model to see how we can nudge the team into a more positive path and make them more successful.”

The researchers are also expanding the experiment to the SIRIUS analog in Moscow, where, beginning on March 15, four Russians and two Americans, will undertake a 120-day fictional mission around the moon, and including a moon landing operation.

Contractor and DeChurch are in the midst of four NASA-funded projects exploring team dynamics and compatibility in preparation for the Mars journey.

Their NASA studies address different aspects of the crew’s challenges:

+ The likelihood that the crew and its support teams on Earth will have good chemistry and coping mechanisms; how to predict possible crew-compatibility outcomes

+ Work design; structuring the workflow so that astronauts can better manage transitions from solo to team tasks

+ Identifying and building shared mental models, whereby a team of varied specialists can find enough common ground to effectively accomplish their tasks but not so much that they engage in “group think” or form alliances.

Contractor, a leading expert in network analysis and computational social science, leads Northwestern’s Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) research group. DeChurch, a leading expert in teamwork and leadership who leads Northwestern’s Advancing Teams, Leaders, and Systems (ATLAS) lab, focuses on team performance; psychology, social interactions, and how multiteam systems best function.

“Our complementary strengths have been a winning combination for tackling the big interdisciplinary questions,” said DeChurch.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Northwestern_study_of_analog_crews_in_isolation_reveals_weak_spots_for_Mission_to_Mars_999.html.

NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP)

Feb 14, 2019

During 14 years of intrepid exploration across Mars, it advanced human knowledge by confirming that water once flowed on the red planet — but NASA’s Opportunity rover has analyzed its last soil sample.

The robot has been missing since the US space agency lost contact during a dust storm in June last year and was declared officially dead Wednesday, ending one of the most fruitful missions in the history of space exploration.

Unable to recharge its batteries, Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months, and NASA said it made its last attempt at contact Tuesday evening.

“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate told a news conference at mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.

The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.

“It is a hard day,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project.

“Even though it is a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s very hard and it’s very poignant.”

“Don’t be sad it’s over, be proud it taught us so much,” former president Barack Obama tweeted later on Thursday.

“Congrats to all the men and women of @NASA on a @MarsRovers mission that beat all expectations, inspired a new generation of Americans, and demands we keep investing in science that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”

The nostalgia extended across the generations of scientists who have handled the plucky little adventurer.

“Godspeed, Opportunity,” tweeted Keri Bean, who had the “privilege” of sending the final message to the robot.

“Hail to the Queen of Mars,” added Mike Seibert, Opportunity’s former flight director and rover driver in another tweet, while Frank Hartman, who piloted Oppy, told AFP he felt “greatly honored to have been a small part of it.”

“Engulfed by a giant planet-encircling dust storm: Is there a more fitting end for a mission as perfect and courageous from start to finish as Opportunity?” he said.

The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that US astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the internet.

– Human-like perspective –

“For the public, the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day,” Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.

“The fact that this rover was so mobile, it seemed like an animate creature,” she said. “Plus it has this perspective on the Martian surface that’s very human-like.”

“It really felt like an avatar for humanity traveling across the surface,” she added.

Opportunity landed on an immense plain and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.

During the second part of its life on Mars, Opportunity climbed to the edge of the crater Endeavor, taking spectacular panoramic images — and discovering veins of gypsum, additional proof that water once flowed among the Martian rocks.

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, landed three weeks ahead of it, and was active until it expired in 2010. The two far exceeded the goals of their creators: In theory, their missions were supposed to last 90 days.

Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012. It is powered not by the sun, but by a small nuclear reactor.

In 2021, the recently named Rosalind Franklin robot, part of the European-Russian ExoMars mission, is slated to land on a different part of the planet, raising the population of active rovers to two.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mission_complete_NASA_announces_demise_of_Opportunity_rover_999.html.

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