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[l] at 6/3/20 8:46am
Arianespace personnel are utilizing smart glasses during certain payload checkout activities for Flight VV16 at the Spaceport in French Guiana, enabling customers to remotely monitor operations performed on satellites that will be orbited this month by the Vega light-lift launcher. (Credit: Arianespace)

KOUROU, French Guiana (Arianespace PR) — The launch campaign has resumed for Arianespace’s next mission, which will be the proof-of-concept flight with the Vega launcher’s “ride-share” configuration – known as the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS).

Scheduled for the middle of this month from the Spaceport in French Guiana, it will loft 53 micro- and nanosatellites for the benefit of 21 customers, deploying these payloads into Sun-Synchronous orbit.

For the mission, designated Flight VV16 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system, Vega will carry seven microsatellites weighing from 15 kg. to 150 kg., along with 46 smaller CubeSats. These spacecraft are to serve various applications, including Earth observation, telecommunications, science, technology and education.

The maiden flight for Europe’s SSMS

The SSMS program, initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA) with the European Commission’s contribution, will boost Arianespace’s ability to offer ride-share solutions tailored for the flourishing small satellite market.

Avio, the Italian company that is production prime contractor for Vega launch vehicles, also developed the SSMS ride-share concept. Design authority for the multi-payload dispenser system is SAB Aerospace, an independent Italian SME (small/medium enterprise).

The SSMS dispenser is composed of modular components that are assembled as needed to serve as the interface with grouped payloads composed of microsatellites and CubeSats. Capable of accepting a full range of payload combinations, the SSMS configuration has been designed to be as responsive as possible in meeting the launch service market’s needs for both institutional and commercial customers.

Launch team members arrive from Europe

Assembly of Flight VV16’s light-lift Vega launcher was performed during February on the Spaceport’s SLV launch pad, but was followed in mid-March by an operations stand-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to fully implement sanitary protective measures.

Avio members of the launch team for Arianespace Flight VV16 were flown from Rome to Cayenne aboard a chartered jetliner.

With the decision to restart operational activities at the Spaceport, a team of some 70 people – led by engineers and technicians from Avio, and including personnel from other companies – was flown aboard a chartered jetliner from Europe to French Guiana.

After arriving at Félix Eboué Airport near the capital city of Cayenne, the team members underwent a quarantine period before being authorized to work at the launch site.

“We are delighted to have resumed operations,” said Thierry Wilmart, who heads the Missions & Customers Department at Arianespace. “Protective measures relating to COVID-19 have been taken throughout the launch site’s facilities, and mission personnel have received instructions on respecting the sanitary guidelines.”

Wilmart noted that among the first activities was an evaluation of using smart glasses during payload preparation activities with several of the spacecraft passengers on Flight VV16. “The results are very positive, and this efficient means of being connected enables customers to remotely monitor operations conducted by Arianespace personnel on their satellites.”

[Category: News, Arianespace, rideshare, Vega]

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[l] at 6/3/20 8:26am
Sixty Starlink satellites separate from a Falcon 9 second stage on April 22, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX website)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Wednesday June 3 at 9:25 p.m. EDT, 1:25 UTC on June 4, for its eighth launch of Starlink satellites. Falcon 9 will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A backup opportunity is available on Thursday, June 4 at 9:03 p.m. EDT, 1:03 UTC on June 5.

You can watch the launch webcast here, starting about 10 minutes before liftoff.

Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported the Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission in September 2018, the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019, and two separate Starlink missions in May 2019 and in January 2020.

Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Approximately 45 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX’s fairing recovery vessels, “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief,” will attempt to recover the two fairing halves.

The Starlink satellites will deploy in an elliptical orbit approximately 15 minutes after liftoff. Prior to orbit raise, SpaceX engineers will conduct data reviews to ensure all Starlink satellites are operating as intended.

Once the checkouts are complete, the satellites will then use their onboard ion thrusters to move into their operational altitude of 550 km. On this mission, SpaceX will launch the first Starlink satellite with a deployable visor to block sunlight from hitting the brightest spots of the spacecraft. Learn more about our work with leading astronomical groups to mitigate satellite reflectivity.

[Category: News, Falcon 9, satellite broadband, satellite Internet, SpaceX, Starlink]

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[l] at 6/3/20 7:00am
The first samples from the Moon were collected by two astronauts. The first samples collected for eventual return to Earth from Mars will take three robots aboard the Perseverance rover working as one. Together, they make up the mission’s Sample Caching System detailed in this video. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The samples Apollo 11 brought back to Earth from the Moon were humanity’s first from another celestial body. NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission will collect the first samples from another planet (the red one) for return to Earth by subsequent missions. In place of astronauts, the Perseverance rover will rely on the most complex, capable and cleanest mechanism ever to be sent into space, the Sample Caching System.

The final 39 of the 43 sample tubes at the heart of the sample system were loaded, along with the storage assembly that will hold them, aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on May 20 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (The other four tubes had already been loaded into different locations in the Sample Caching System.) The integration of the final tubes marks another key step in preparation for the opening of the rover’s launch period on July 17.

“While you cannot help but marvel at what was achieved back in the days of Apollo, they did have one thing going for them we don’t: boots on the ground,” said Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “For us to collect the first samples of Mars for return to Earth, in place of two astronauts we have three robots that have to work with the precision of a Swiss watch.”

While many people think of the Perseverance rover as one robot, it’s actually akin to a collection of robots working together. Located on the front of the Perseverance rover, the Sample Caching System itself is composed of three robots, the most visible being the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm. Bolted to the front of the rover’s chassis, the five-jointed arm carries a large turret that includes a rotary percussive drill to collect core samples of Mars rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

The second robot looks like a small flying saucer built into the front of the rover. Called the bit carousel, this appliance is the ultimate middleman for all Mars sample transactions: It will provide drill bits and empty sample tubes to the drill and will later move the sample-filled tubes into the rover chassis for assessment and processing.

Engineers and technicians working on the Mars 2020 Perseverance team insert 39 sample tubes into the belly of the rover. Each tube is sheathed in a gold-colored cylindrical enclosure to protect it from contamination. Perseverance rover will carry 43 sample tubes to Mars’ Jezero Crater. The image was taken at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 20, 2020. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The third robot in the Sample Caching System is the 1.6-foot-long (0.5 meter-long) sample handling arm (known by the team as the “T. rex arm”). Located in the belly of the rover, it picks up where the bit carousel leaves off, moving sample tubes between storage and documentation stations as well as the bit carousel.

Clocklike Precision

All of these robots need to run with clocklike precision. But where the typical Swiss chronometer has fewer than 400 parts, the Sample Caching System has more than 3,000.

“It sounds like a lot, but you begin to realize the need for complexity when you consider the Sample Caching System is tasked with autonomously drilling into Mars rock, pulling out intact core samples and then sealing them hermetically in hyper-sterile vessels that are essentially free of any Earth-originating organic material that could get in the way of future analysis,” said Steltzner. “In terms of technology, it is the most complicated, most sophisticated mechanism that we have ever built, tested and readied for spaceflight.”

The mission’s goal is to collect a dozen or more samples. So how does this three-robot, steamer-trunk-sized labyrinthine collection of motors, planetary gearboxes, encoders and other devices all meticulously work together to take them?

“Essentially, after our rotary percussive drill takes a core sample, it will turn around and dock with one of the four docking cones of the bit carousel,” said Steltzner. “Then the bit carousel rotates that Mars-filled drill bit and a sample tube down inside the rover to a location where our sample handling arm can grab it. That arm pulls the filled sample tube out of the drill bit and takes it to be imaged by a camera inside the Sample Caching System.”

After the sample tube is imaged, the small robotic arm moves it to the volume assessment station, where a ramrod pushes down into the sample to gauge its size. “Then we go back and take another image,” said Steltzner. “After that, we pick up a seal — a little plug — for the top of the sample tube and go back to take yet another image.”

Next, the Sample Caching System places the tube in the sealing station, where a mechanism hermetically seals the tube with the cap. “Then we take the tube out,” added Steltzner, “and we return it to storage from where it first began.”

Getting the system designed and manufactured, then integrated into Perseverance has been a seven-year endeavor. And the work isn’t done. As with everything else on the rover, there are two versions of the Sample Caching System: an engineering test model that will stay here on Earth and the flight model that will travel to Mars.

“The engineering model is identical in every way possible to the flight model, and it’s our job to try to break it,” said Kelly Palm, the Sample Caching System integration engineer and Mars 2020 test lead at JPL. “We do that because we would rather see things wear out or break on Earth than on Mars. So we put the engineering test model through its paces to inform our use of its flight twin on Mars.”

To that end, the team uses different rocks to simulate types of terrain. They drill them from various angles to anticipate any imaginable situation the rover could be in where the science team might want to gather a sample.

“Every once in a while, I have to take a minute and contemplate what we are doing,” said Palm. “Just a few years ago I was in college. Now I am working on the system that will be responsible for collecting the first samples from another planet for return to Earth. That is pretty awesome.”

About the Mission

Perseverance is a robotic scientist weighing about 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). The rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its July 17-Aug. 11 launch period, it will land at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

The two subsequent (follow-on) missions required to return the mission’s collected samples to Earth are currently being planned by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

For more about Perseverance:

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

https://nasa.gov/perseverance

[Category: News, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, Mars, Mars 2020, NASA, NASA JPL, NASA KSC, Perseverance Rover]

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[l] at 6/3/20 5:12am
Fritz Benedict is an emeritus Senior Research Scientist with The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory. (Credit: McDonald Observatory)

AUSTIN (McDonald Observatory PR) — Fritz Benedict has used data he took over two decades ago with Hubble Space Telescope to confirm the existence of another planet around the Sun’s nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, and to pin down the planet’s orbit and mass.

Benedict, an emeritus Senior Research Scientist with McDonald Observatory at The University of Texas at Austin, will present his findings today in a scientific session and then in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Proxima Centauri has been in the news frequently since 2016, when scientists including McDonald Observatory’s Michael Endl found its first planet, Proxima Centauri b. The discovery incited speculation on the types of in-depth studies that could done on an extrasolar planet so close to our own solar system.

Adding to the excitement, earlier this year a group led by Mario Damasso of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) announced they might have found another planet orbiting Proxima Centauri farther out.  This group used radial velocity observations, that is, measurements of the star’s motion on the sky toward and away from Earth, to deduce the possible planet (dubbed Proxima Centauri c) orbits the star every 1,907 days at distance of 1.5 AU (that is, 1.5 times the distance at which Earth orbits the Sun).

Still, the existence of planet c was far from certain. Thus Benedict decided to re-visit his studies of Proxima Centauri from the 1990s made with Hubble Space Telescope. For that study, he had used Hubble’s Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS).

Though their primary role is to ensure accurate pointing of the telescope, Benedict and others routinely used FGS for a type of research called astrometry: the precise measurement of the positions and motions of celestial bodies. In this case, he used FGS to search for Proxima Centauri’s motion on sky caused by tugging from its surrounding — and unseen — planets.

When Benedict and research partner Barbara MacArthur originally studied Proxima Centauri in the 1990s, he said, they only checked for planets with orbital periods of 1,000 Earth days or fewer. They found none. He now revisited that data to check for signs of a planet with a longer orbital period.

Indeed, Benedict found a planet with an orbital period of about 1,907 days buried in the 25-year-old Hubble data. This was an independent confirmation of the existence of Proxima Centauri c.

Shortly afterward, a team led by Raffaele Gratton of INAF published images of the planet at several points along its orbit that they had made with the SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Benedict then combined the findings of all three studies: his own Hubble astrometry, Damasso’s radial velocity studies, and Gratton’s images to greatly refine the mass of Proxima Centauri c. He found that the planet is about 7 times as massive as Earth.

This analysis shows the power of combining several independent methods of studying an exoplanet. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but together they serve to confirm the existence of Proxima Centauri c.

“Basically, this is a story of how old data can be very useful when you get new information,” Benedict said. “It’s also a story of how hard it is to retire if you’re an astronomer, because this is fun stuff to do!”

[Category: News, AAS, American Astronomical Society, exoplanets, Fritz Benedict, Hubble Space Telescope, INAF, National Institute of Astrophysics, Proxima Centauri, Proxima Centauri b, Proxima Centauri c, University of Texas at Austin, UT Austin]

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[l] at 6/3/20 3:06am
Laser Relay Data Demonstration project (Credit: Universities Space Research Association)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A NASA project to demonstrate advanced optical laser communications in space is running nearly $50 million over budget and 14 months behind schedule, according to a recent assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) project is designed to advance optical communication technology for use on near-Earth and deep space missions.

LCRD will use bi-directional laser communications between a satellite and ground stations. NASA plans to transfer the technology to industry once it is successfully demonstrated.

Program officials told the GAO that LCRD’s schedule has slipped, in part, due to continued integration and test delays with the spacecraft on which the instrument will be hosted.

LCRD will fly as part of the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program. The military service has contracted out the spacecraft.

Engineers have also experienced technical challenges with the laser communications instrument.

“For example, officials told us that during testing, they discovered that the capacitors on the flight modems and ground modems were reversed,” GAO said. “The project fixed the capacitor configuration, which in the case of the flight modems involved removing the modem boxes from the instrument and then reinstalling them.”

As a result of the difficulties, the project’s budget has risen from $262.7 million to $310.5 million, an increase of $47.8 million or 18 percent. The launch date has slipped from November 2019 to January 2021.

The GAO assessment of the LCRD project is below.

NASA: Assessments of Major Projects
Report to Congressional Committees

Government Accountability Office
April 2020

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration

LCRD is a technology demonstration mission with the goal of advancing optical communication technology for use in deep space and near-Earth systems. LCRD will demonstrate bidirectional laser communications between a satellite and ground stations, develop operational procedures, and transfer the technology to industry for future use on commercial and government satellites.

NASA anticipates using the technology as a next generation Earth relay as well as to support near-Earth and deep space science, such as the International Space Station and human spaceflight missions. The project is a mission partner with and will be a payload on a U.S. Air Force Space Test Program satellite.

Project Summary

The LCRD project rebaselined its cost and schedule due, in part, to continued delays with the spacecraft bus on which the LCRD instrument will be hosted. In November 2019, NASA set a new life-cycle cost of $310.5 million and a new launch readiness date of January 2021, but the project’s ability to meet the new schedule is already under pressure.

The LCRD project is scheduled to deliver the payload to the spacecraft contractor for integration in January 2020, but the spacecraft contactor continues to experience schedule delays and there are now only 2 months schedule reserve remaining to the revised January 2021 launch readiness date.

In addition to the spacecraft challenges, the project has experienced its own challenges with the instrument. For example, officials told us that during testing, they discovered that the capacitors on the flight modems and ground modems were reversed. The project fixed the capacitor configuration, which in the case of the flight modems involved removing the modem boxes from the instrument and then reinstalling them.

Schedule and Cost Status

In November 2019, NASA approved a rebaseline for the LCRD project reflecting both schedule delays and increasing costs, but the project’s ability to meet the revised schedule is already under pressure.

Credit: GAO

The project’s revised development costs are $128.6 million, or 40 percent, higher than the baseline and the new launch readiness date of January 2021 is 14 months later than the original committed launch readiness date of November 2019.

The LCRD project rebaselined its cost and schedule due, in part, to continued delays on the spacecraft for the Air Force Space Test Program on which the LCRD instrument will be hosted. According to officials, the spacecraft contractor, with whom the Air Force holds the contractual relationship, continues to experience integration and test delays.

LCRD project officials told us that the issues the Air Force project has experienced stem from multiple issues including design disconnects, configuration control, and workmanship. Officials noted that senior management from NASA, the Air Force, and the contractor have increased their attention to the prioritization of work at that facility.

The LCRD project is scheduled to deliver its payload to the spacecraft contractor in January 2020, but NASA continues to track deteriorating schedule performance with the spacecraft contractor. The project now holds about two months of schedule reserve to the new January 2021 launch readiness date based on a schedule the spacecraft contractor presented in November 2019.

According to officials, the project is meeting regularly with the Air Force and its contractor to gauge progress. In addition, officials noted that the contractor has made changes to its management team.

In addition, officials said that the Air Force has changed its contracting approach with the spacecraft contractor by shifting from a cost-plus-fixed-fee type contract to a firm fixed-price contract.

Given the significant work ahead, the project is tracking this change as a risk to LCRD because any changes to the sequence of the contractor’s integration and test activities or payload delivery schedules could result in increased costs to modify the fixed-price contract.

Integration and Test

In addition to issues with the spacecraft, the project has had to address technical and operational issues with the instrument. For example, officials told us that in the course of testing, the project noticed anomalies in the test data related to the instrument’s flight modems.

As a result, the project discovered that the capacitors on the flight modems were reversed, as were the capacitors on the ground modems. The project fixed the capacitor configuration, which in the case of the flight modems involved removing the modem boxes from the instrument and then reinstalling them.

In addition, the project is addressing how the instrument will operate with the ground stations with which it communicates. For example, officials said that data from the LCRD instrument have to travel between multiple sites and they have been working on the timing of the flow of information between them.

The project has also identified and accepted a risk that LCRD’s ability to aim precisely may degrade because of the spacecraft’s vibration on orbit. This risk could result in issues with LCRD connecting with relay stations on the ground as much as one-third of the time the spacecraft is in orbit. If this risk were realized, it would result in the mission not meeting its technology demonstration objectives.

To mitigate this risk, officials are negotiating changes to the spacecraft’s on-orbit maneuvers with the Air Force to perform laser communications at the most optimal times. Officials noted they will need to observe how the spacecraft performs on orbit to determine the best way to operate the spacecraft in light of this risk. Officials stated they will not make design changes to the LCRD instrument due to limitations on cost and schedule.

[Category: News, GAO, Government Accountability Office, laser communications, Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, LCRD, NASA, Space Test Program, U.S. Air Force]

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[l] at 6/2/20 5:40pm
The first samples from the Moon were collected by two astronauts. The first samples collected for eventual return to Earth from Mars will take three robots aboard the Perseverance rover working as one. Together, they make up the mission’s Sample Caching System detailed in this video. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The samples Apollo 11 brought back to Earth from the Moon were humanity’s first from another celestial body. NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission will collect the first samples from another planet (the red one) for return to Earth by subsequent missions. In place of astronauts, the Perseverance rover will rely on the most complex, capable and cleanest mechanism ever to be sent into space, the Sample Caching System.

The final 39 of the 43 sample tubes at the heart of the sample system were loaded, along with the storage assembly that will hold them, aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on May 20 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (The other four tubes had already been loaded into different locations in the Sample Caching System.) The integration of the final tubes marks another key step in preparation for the opening of the rover’s launch period on July 17.

“While you cannot help but marvel at what was achieved back in the days of Apollo, they did have one thing going for them we don’t: boots on the ground,” said Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “For us to collect the first samples of Mars for return to Earth, in place of two astronauts we have three robots that have to work with the precision of a Swiss watch.”

While many people think of the Perseverance rover as one robot, it’s actually akin to a collection of robots working together. Located on the front of the Perseverance rover, the Sample Caching System itself is composed of three robots, the most visible being the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm. Bolted to the front of the rover’s chassis, the five-jointed arm carries a large turret that includes a rotary percussive drill to collect core samples of Mars rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

The second robot looks like a small flying saucer built into the front of the rover. Called the bit carousel, this appliance is the ultimate middleman for all Mars sample transactions: It will provide drill bits and empty sample tubes to the drill and will later move the sample-filled tubes into the rover chassis for assessment and processing.

Engineers and technicians working on the Mars 2020 Perseverance team insert 39 sample tubes into the belly of the rover. Each tube is sheathed in a gold-colored cylindrical enclosure to protect it from contamination. Perseverance rover will carry 43 sample tubes to Mars’ Jezero Crater. The image was taken at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 20, 2020. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The third robot in the Sample Caching System is the 1.6-foot-long (0.5 meter-long) sample handling arm (known by the team as the “T. rex arm”). Located in the belly of the rover, it picks up where the bit carousel leaves off, moving sample tubes between storage and documentation stations as well as the bit carousel.

Clocklike Precision

All of these robots need to run with clocklike precision. But where the typical Swiss chronometer has fewer than 400 parts, the Sample Caching System has more than 3,000.

“It sounds like a lot, but you begin to realize the need for complexity when you consider the Sample Caching System is tasked with autonomously drilling into Mars rock, pulling out intact core samples and then sealing them hermetically in hyper-sterile vessels that are essentially free of any Earth-originating organic material that could get in the way of future analysis,” said Steltzner. “In terms of technology, it is the most complicated, most sophisticated mechanism that we have ever built, tested and readied for spaceflight.”

The mission’s goal is to collect a dozen or more samples. So how does this three-robot, steamer-trunk-sized labyrinthine collection of motors, planetary gearboxes, encoders and other devices all meticulously work together to take them?

“Essentially, after our rotary percussive drill takes a core sample, it will turn around and dock with one of the four docking cones of the bit carousel,” said Steltzner. “Then the bit carousel rotates that Mars-filled drill bit and a sample tube down inside the rover to a location where our sample handling arm can grab it. That arm pulls the filled sample tube out of the drill bit and takes it to be imaged by a camera inside the Sample Caching System.”

After the sample tube is imaged, the small robotic arm moves it to the volume assessment station, where a ramrod pushes down into the sample to gauge its size. “Then we go back and take another image,” said Steltzner. “After that, we pick up a seal — a little plug — for the top of the sample tube and go back to take yet another image.”

Next, the Sample Caching System places the tube in the sealing station, where a mechanism hermetically seals the tube with the cap. “Then we take the tube out,” added Steltzner, “and we return it to storage from where it first began.”

Getting the system designed and manufactured, then integrated into Perseverance has been a seven-year endeavor. And the work isn’t done. As with everything else on the rover, there are two versions of the Sample Caching System: an engineering test model that will stay here on Earth and the flight model that will travel to Mars.

“The engineering model is identical in every way possible to the flight model, and it’s our job to try to break it,” said Kelly Palm, the Sample Caching System integration engineer and Mars 2020 test lead at JPL. “We do that because we would rather see things wear out or break on Earth than on Mars. So we put the engineering test model through its paces to inform our use of its flight twin on Mars.”

To that end, the team uses different rocks to simulate types of terrain. They drill them from various angles to anticipate any imaginable situation the rover could be in where the science team might want to gather a sample.

“Every once in a while, I have to take a minute and contemplate what we are doing,” said Palm. “Just a few years ago I was in college. Now I am working on the system that will be responsible for collecting the first samples from another planet for return to Earth. That is pretty awesome.”

About the Mission

Perseverance is a robotic scientist weighing about 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). The rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its July 17-Aug. 11 launch period, it will land at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

The two subsequent (follow-on) missions required to return the mission’s collected samples to Earth are currently being planned by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

For more about Perseverance:

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

https://nasa.gov/perseverance

[Category: News, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, Mars, Mars 2020, NASA, NASA JPL, NASA KSC, Perseverance Rover]

[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 6/2/20 5:25pm
ASTERIA was deployed from the International Space Station on November 20, 2017. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

About the size of a briefcase, the CubeSat was built to test new technologies but exceeded expectations by spotting a planet outside our solar system.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Long before it was deployed into low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station in Nov. 2017, the tiny ASTERIA spacecraft had a big goal: to prove that a satellite roughly the size of a briefcase could perform some of the complex tasks much larger space observatories use to study exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. A new paper soon to be published in the Astronomical Journal describes how ASTERIA (short for Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics) didn’t just demonstrate it could perform those tasks but went above and beyond, detecting the known exoplanet 55 Cancri e.

Scorching hot and about twice the size of Earth, 55 Cancri e orbits extremely close to its Sun-like parent star. Scientists already knew the planet’s location; looking for it was a way to test ASTERIA’s capabilities. The tiny spacecraft wasn’t initially designed to perform science; rather, as a technology demonstration, the mission’s goal was to develop new capabilities for future missions. The team’s technological leap was to build a small spacecraft that could conduct fine pointing control – essentially the ability to stay very steadily focused on an object for long periods.

Left to right: Electrical Test Engineer Esha Murty and Integration and Test Lead Cody Colley prepare the ASTERIA spacecraft for mass-properties measurements in April 2017 prior to spacecraft delivery ahead of launch. ASTERIA was deployed from the International Space Station in November 2017. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the mission team engineered new instruments and hardware, pushing past existing technological barriers to create their payload. Then they had to test their prototype in space. Though its prime mission was only 90 days, ASTERIA received three mission extensions before the team lost contact with it last December.

The CubeSat used fine pointing control to detect 55 Cancri e via the transit method, in which scientists look for dips in the brightness of a star caused by a passing planet. When making exoplanet detections this way, a spacecraft’s own movements or vibrations can produce jiggles in the data that could be misinterpreted as changes in the star’s brightness. The spacecraft needs to stay steady and keep the star centered in its field of view. This allows scientists to accurately measure the star’s brightness and identify the tiny changes that indicate the planet has passed in front of it, blocking some of its light.

ASTERIA follows in the footsteps of a small satellite flown by the Canadian Space Agency called MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars), which in 2011 performed the first transit detection of 55 Cancri e. MOST was about six times the volume of ASTERIA – still incredibly small for an astrophysics satellite. Equipped with a 5.9-inch (15-centimeter) telescope, MOST was also capable of collecting six times as much light as ASTERIA, which carried 2.4-inch (6-centimeter) telescope. Because 55 Cancri e blocks out only 0.04% of its host star’s light, it was an especially challenging target for ASTERIA.

“Detecting this exoplanet is exciting, because it shows how these new technologies come together in a real application,” said Vanessa Bailey, the principal investigator for ASTERIA’s exoplanet science team at JPL. “The fact that ASTERIA lasted more than 20 months beyond its prime mission, giving us valuable extra time to do science, highlights the great engineering that was done at JPL and MIT.”

The super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, depicted with its star in this artist’s concept, likely has an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s, with ingredients that could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere, according to a 2017 study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Big Feat

The mission made what’s known as a marginal detection, meaning the data from the transit would not, on its own, have convinced scientists that the planet existed. (Faint signals that look similar to a planet transit can be caused by other phenomena, so scientists have a high standard for declaring a planet detection.) But by comparing the CubeSat’s data with previous observations of the planet, the team confirmed that they were indeed seeing 55 Cancri e. As a tech demo, ASTERIA also didn’t undergo the typical prelaunch preparations for a science mission, which meant the team had to do additional work to ensure the accuracy of their detection.

“We went after a hard target with a small telescope that was not even optimized to make science detections – and we got it, even if just barely,” said Mary Knapp, the ASTERIA project scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory and lead author of the study. “I think this paper validates the concept that motivated the ASTERIA mission: that small spacecraft can contribute something to astrophysics and astronomy.”

While it would be impossible to pack all the capabilities of a larger exoplanet-hunting spacecraft like NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into a CubeSat, the ASTERIA team envisions these petite packages playing a supporting role for them. Small satellites, with fewer demands on their time, could be used to monitor a star for long periods in hopes of detecting an undiscovered planet. Or, after a large observatory discovers a planet transiting its star, a small satellite could watch for subsequent transits, freeing up the larger telescope to do work smaller satellites can’t.

Astrophysicist Sara Seager, principal investigator for ASTERIA at MIT, was recently awarded a NASA Astrophysics Science SmallSat Studies grant to develop a mission concept for a follow-on to ASTERIA. The proposal describes a constellation of six satellites about twice as big as ASTERIA that would search for exoplanets similar in size to Earth around nearby Sun-like stars.

Thinking Small

To build the smallest planet-hunting satellite in history, the ASTERIA wasn’t simply shrinking hardware used on larger spacecraft. In many cases, they had to take a more innovative approach. For example, the MOST satellite used a camera with a charge-coupled device (CCD) detector, which is common for space satellites; ASTERIA, on the other hand, was equipped with a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) detector – a well-established technology typically used for making precision measurements of brightness in infrared light, not visible light. ASTERIA’s CMOS-based, visible-light camera provided multiple advantages over a CCD. One big one: It helped keep ASTERIA small because it operated at room temperature, eliminating the need for the large cooling system that a cold-operating CCD would require.

“This mission has mostly been about learning,” said Akshata Krishnamurthy, co-investigator and science data analysis co-lead for ASTERIA at JPL. “We’ve discovered so many things that future small satellites will be able to do better because we demonstrated the technology and capabilities first. I think we’ve opened doors.”

ASTERIA was developed under JPL’s Phaeton program, which provided early-career hires, under the guidance of experienced mentors, with the challenges of a flight project. ASTERIA is a collaboration with MIT in Cambridge; MIT’s Sara Seager is principal investigator on the project. Brice Demory of the University of Bern also contributed to the new study. The project’s extended missions were partially funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

[Category: News, 55 Cancri e, ASTERIA, Cubesats, exoplanets, International Space Station, ISS, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, NASA JPL, space station]

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[l] at 6/2/20 10:54am
Brian May (Credit: ESA)

NICE, France (ESA PR) — Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May has teamed up with asteroid researchers to investigate striking similarities and a puzzling difference between separate bodies explored by space probes. The research team ran a supercomputer-based ‘fight club’ involving simulated large asteroid collisions to probe the objects’ likely origins. Their work is reported in Nature Communications.  

Both the 525-m diameter Bennu asteroid visited by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx and 1-km diameter Ryugu asteroid reached by Japan’s Hayabusa2 possess the same distinct spinning-top shape and similar material densities. However the pair contain differing amounts of water, as revealed in spectral mapping of hydrated materials. Ryugu appears weakly hydrated compared to Bennu, despite being a comparative youth in asteroid terms, estimated at a mere 100 million years old.

“The shapes of asteroids and their hydration level can serve as real tracers of their origin and history,” says co-author Brian May.

Asteroids Bennu and Ryugu (Credit: ESA)

Spinning-top-shaped mystery

The study was led by Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France’s Côte d’Azur Observatory, also lead scientist of ESA’s Hera mission for planetary defence. He notes that this research also has relevance for Hera, which will explore the Didymos binary asteroid system following the orbital deflection of the smaller of the two bodies by NASA’s DART spacecraft.

“This spinning top shape of Bennu and Ryugu – including a pronounced equatorial bulge – is shared by many other asteroids, including the primary 780-m Didymos asteroid,” explains Patrick.

“A leading hypothesis has been that a high rate of spin leads to centrifugal force changing their shape over time, as material flows from the poles to the equator. Such a spin can be built up over time by the gradual warming of sunlight – known as the Yarkovsky–O’Keefe–Radzievskii–Paddack (YORP) effect, named after four different asteroid researchers.

Simulation snapshots of fragments at time steps 1 minute, 0.75 hours, 2 hours, and 5 hours after the asteroid collision. The first panel shows the immediate distribution of the particles that accrete to form the final spinning top aggregate demonstrated in the last panel. (Credit: Brian May and Claudia Manzoni)

“For Didymos, this might explain where Didymos A’s smaller moonlet came from – forming out of material that broke free of the fast-spinning equator. In the case of Bennu and Ryugu there is a problem however: close-up inspection by their respective spacecraft has revealed large cratering on their equatorial ridges, suggesting these features formed very early in the asteroids’ history.”

The findings posed a question, explains co-lead author Ron Ballouz of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona: “Are these properties – asteroid shape, density, more or less high hydration levels – the consequence of the evolutions of these objects, once formed, or the immediate outcome of their formation?”

Step back in time with supercomputer simulations

As a way of looking back in time, the researchers ran numerical simulations of 100-km class asteroids being disrupted by collisions, releasing plentiful fragments that gradually reformed into aggregate bodies – believed to be the way that most asteroids larger than 200 m have been formed.

Didymos and Didymoon (Credit: ESA – Science Office)

The simulations were run using the Bluecrab supercomputer cluster operated by the Maryland Advanced Research Computing Center, through the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland.

“The simulation runs were extremely computationally intense, and took several months to perform,” adds Patrick Michel. “The most challenging part was simulating the re-accumulation process, which included detailed coding for particle contact including rolling, sliding and shear friction. We also looked at the heating level of the post-impact fragments, determining their hydration level.

“What we found was, while the re-accumulation process led to a wide variety of shapes, there is a tendency towards a spinning-top because the aggregating material can be captured in a central disc and eventually forms a spinning top or at least a re-accumulated spheroid. This spheroid can then be spun up by the YORP effect to form an equatorial bulge in a rapid timescale in asteroid terms, of less than a million years, explaining what we see on Bennu and Ryugu.”

Stereo pairs made from numerical simulations of asteroid disruption, showing the first instance after the disruption before the fragments reaccumulate to form aggregates. Colors indicate the level of impact heating (from red to blue, from high to low), showing that some materials are more heated than others. To be visualized in 3D, two options are presented: « parallel view » and « cross-eyed view ». (Credit: Brian May and Claudia Manzoni)

The team’s other finding is that final hydration levels can vary markedly among the aggregates formed by the disruption of their parent body. Brian May worked with Claudia Manzoni of the London Stereoscopic Company to produce stereogram 3D images of the immediate aftermath of impacts, revealing individual fragments show a broad diversity in heating levels, and therefore hydration.

“During a collision, it is thus possible to form an aggregate like Bennu, that experienced little impact heating, and another with more heated material, such as Ryugu” explains Brian May.

Asteroid family trees

Patrick Michel adds: “The upshot is that Bennu and Ryugu might actually be part of the same asteroid family, originating from the same parent, despite their very different hydration levels now. We know they come from the same region of the Asteroid Belt, which makes this more likely, although we will only know for sure when we can analyse the asteroid samples due to be returned by Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx.”

Brian May’s involvement came out of his asteroid research activities, including working on the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx science teams and as a member of the Advisory Board of the Near-Earth Object Modelling and Payload for Protection (NEO-MAPP) project, funded by the H2020 program of the European Commission.

This month, ESA is celebrating the UN-recognised Asteroid Day, to inspire the world about asteroids and their role in the formation of our solar system, how we can use their resources, how asteroids can pave the way for future exploration and how we can protect our planet from asteroid impacts. More information, and a month of programming, via asteroidday.org

[Category: News, Asteroid Day, asteroids, Bennu, DART, Didymos, Didymos A, Didymos B, Double Asteroid Redirection Test, ESA, European Space Agency, Hayabusa2, HERA, Horizon 2020, JAXA, Johns Hopkins University, London Stereoscopic Company, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Maryland Advanced Research Computing Center, NASA, Near-Earth Object Modelling and Payload for Protection, NEO-MAPP, ORISIR-REx, Queen, Ryugu, supercomputers, University of Arizona, University of Maryland]

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[l] at 6/2/20 10:33am
NASA astronauts (from left) Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley and Chris Cassidy.

Video Caption: A historic bell ringing, 250 miles above Earth.

Today we recognized the achievements of our #LaunchAmerica mission with NASA Astronauts Chris Cassidy, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley who rung the captain’s bell onboard the International Space Station to open the day’s trading on June 2.

Behnken and Hurley arrived at the station on May 31, a day after becoming the first NASA astronauts to launch on a commercial rocket. The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft marked the return of human launches from U.S. soil to the space station for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011.

Learn more about the mission: https://www.nasa.gov/launchamerica/

NASA astronauts (from left) Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley and Chris Cassidy appear on Nasdaq’s large television screen above Times Square in New York on June 2, 2020. The three astronauts, part of the International Space Station’s Expedition 63 crew, rang the ship’s bell onboard the station to open the day’s trading. (Credit: Nasdaq/Rohini Shahriar)

[Category: News]

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[l] at 6/2/20 7:57am

Raytheon Intelligence & Space supports U.S. Space Force “Go Fast” program for 2025 launch

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., May 27, 2020 (Raytheon PR) – Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s competitive sensor payload design passed its Preliminary Design Review for the U.S. Space Force’s Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Block 0 GEO missile warning satellites being designed and built by spacecraft prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space.

“Detecting missile launches early starts in space,” said Wallis Laughrey, vice president of Space Systems for RI&S. “Each layer, or orbit, provides a necessary and unique view of the Earth to initially detect and then track a missile. Passing the Preliminary Design Review shows that our approach meets mission requirements, putting this ‘Go Fast’ program one step closer to launch.”

Following PDR, RI&S is focusing on manufacturing hardware and building and testing critical components to reduce risk ahead of the competitive program’s Critical Design Review in 2021. The team is building an engineering development unit that will go through a number of tests to ensure it functions as planned. Tests include environmental testing to simulate space’s harsh environment, such as the thermal vacuum chamber, which tests a system under extreme temperature conditions.

“What sets us apart is our deep technology bench,” said Laughrey. “Being able to pull or modify critical technology, like focal planes and electronics, from our other programs allows us to rapidly develop new designs for any orbit.”

Planned to succeed the Space Based Infrared System by providing improved, more resilient missile warning, Next Gen OPIR Block 0 was implemented by the U.S. Air Force as a “Go Fast” acquisition program. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space competitively selected Raytheon to design a potential payload for the program just 45 days after the program was initiated. The first geostationary orbiting satellite is targeted for delivery in just 60 months.

About Raytheon Intelligence & Space

Raytheon Intelligence & Space delivers the disruptive technologies our customers need to succeed in any domain, against any challenge. A developer of advanced sensors, training, and cyber and software solutions, Raytheon Intelligence & Space provides a decisive advantage to civil, military and commercial customers in more than 40 countries around the world. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the business generated $15 billion in pro forma annual revenue in 2019 and has 39,000 employees worldwide. Raytheon Intelligence & Space is one of four businesses that form Raytheon Technologies Corporation.

[Category: News, Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Block 0 GEO missile warning satellite, Raytheon, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, U.S. Space Force, USSF]

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[l] at 6/2/20 5:30am
Mars 500 crew in isolation.

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — As many around the world are staying at home in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, NASA is preparing for its next spaceflight simulation study and is seeking healthy participants to live together with a small crew in isolation for eight months in Moscow, Russia.

The analog mission is the next in a series that will help NASA learn about the physiological and psychological effects of isolation and confinement on humans in preparation for Artemis exploration missions to the Moon and future long-duration missions to Mars.

NASA is looking for highly motivated U.S. citizens who are 30-55 years old and are proficient in both Russian and English languages. Requirements are: M.S., PhD., M.D. or completion of military officer training. Participants with a Bachelor’s degree and other certain qualifications (e.g., relevant additional education, military, or professional experience) may be acceptable candidates as well.

Participants will experience environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars. A small international crew will live together in isolation for eight months conducting scientific research, using virtual reality and performing robotic operations among a number of other tasks during the lunar mission.

The research will be conducted to study the effects of isolation and confinement as participants work to successfully complete their simulated space mission. Results from ground-based missions like this help NASA prepare for the real-life challenges of space exploration and provide important scientific data to solve some of these problems and to develop countermeasures.

The upcoming study builds on a previous four-month  study conducted in 2019.

Compensation is available for participating in the mission. There are different levels of compensation depending upon whether or not you are associated with NASA or if you are a NASA employee or contractor.

If you seek a unique adventure and have a strong desire to contribute to space exploration, visit us at  https://www.nasa.gov/analogs/want-to-participate to learn how to participate.

NASA always works closely with its international partners to ensure the health and welfare of crew members and will continue to proactively monitor the coronavirus pandemic for any potential effects on the mission.

Just as crews heading to the International Space Station must stay in quarantine for two weeks prior to their launch to ensure they aren’t sick or incubating an illness, a comprehensive process called “health stabilization,” the crew of the Scientific International Research in a Unique terrestrial Station (SIRIUS)-20 study also will begin their mission with a quarantine.

 ###

NASA’s Human Research Program, or HRP, is dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. HRP enables space exploration by reducing the risks to astronaut health and performance using ground research facilities, the International Space Station and analog environments.

This leads to the development and delivery of an exploration biomedical program focused on: informing human health, performance, and habitability standards; developing countermeasures and risk-mitigation solutions; and advancing habitability and medical-support technologies.

HRP supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states.

[Category: News, Artemis, Human Research Program, International Space Station, ISS, NASA, Scientific International Research in a Unique terrestrial Station, Scientific International Research in a Unique terrestrial Station 20, SIRIUS-20]

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[l] at 6/2/20 4:33am
Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s $1 billion Restore-L mission to refuel the aging Landsat 7 satellite is running about $300 million over budget and almost three years behind schedule, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The project’s woes have included a shortage of both funding and skilled personnel as well as the addition of a new instrument with immature technology to the satellite servicing spacecraft.

In April 2017, NASA estimated Restore-L could be ready for launch between June and December 2020. The program is currently working toward a launch in December 2023.

“The reasons are twofold. First, the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) proposed budget for the past 2 years has not allowed the project to work to its original funding plan,” the assessment said.

SPIDER on the Restore-L satellite. (Credit: Maxar Technologies)

“Second, STMD directed the project to add a new payload—known as the SPace Infrastructure DExterous Robot (SPIDER)— in April 2019. The new payload intends to demonstrate on-orbit assembly and installation of an antenna,” the report added.

“The Restore-L project has six remaining technologies that it needs to mature. Prior to adding the SPIDER payload in 2019, the project had one remaining technology—the vision navigation system—that it needed to mature,” GAO said.

NASA’s original cost estimate for Restore-L was $626 to $753 million. The budget has since risen to $1.043 billion.

GAO’s assessment of the Restore-L mission follows.

NASA: Assessments of Major Projects
Report to Congressional Committees

Government Accountability Office
April 2020

The Restore-L project will demonstrate the capability to refuel on-orbit satellites for eventual use by commercial entities and on-orbit assembly and installation of an antenna. Specifically, Restore-L plans to autonomously rendezvous with, inspect, capture, refuel, adjust the orbit of, safely release, and depart from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat 7 satellite.

Landsat 7 can extend operations if successfully refueled, but it is planned for retirement if the technology demonstration is unsuccessful. NASA plans to incorporate elements of the core Restore-L technologies into its lunar exploration campaign, such as for refueling the Lunar Gateway.

Project Summary

The Restore-L project is no longer working to preliminary cost and schedule estimates that NASA approved when the project entered the preliminary design phase, largely due to issues related to funding and the late addition of a new payload.

NASA has not yet approved a cost and schedule baseline for the program, but the program is now working to a launch readiness date of December 2023. This is almost 3 years after the launch readiness date estimate at KDP-B.

The project expects its preliminary cost estimate of $1,043 million to increase once it establishes a cost baseline in order to reflect the extension in schedule. In addition, the project has experienced programmatic challenges, including not having sufficient cost reserves to address risks and workforce shortages that have led to delays in some of Restore-L’s subsystems.

Cost and Schedule Status

Credit: GAO

The Restore-L project is no longer working to preliminary cost and schedule estimates that NASA approved when the project entered the preliminary design phase.

The reasons are twofold. First, the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) proposed budget for the past 2 years has not allowed the project to work to its original funding plan.

In April 2017, NASA set a projected launch readiness date between June and December 2020. However, the funding profile STMD has proposed for the project does not allow the project to maintain this launch date.

Second, STMD directed the project to add a new payload—known as the SPace Infrastructure DExterous Robot (SPIDER)— in April 2019. The new payload intends to demonstrate on-orbit assembly and installation of an antenna.

As a result of the direction to add SPIDER and delays on Restore-L’s key subsystems, the project has replanned its launch readiness date to December 2023. This is about 3 years later than the project’s estimate at key decision point-B.

As of January 2020, the project reports that it is maintaining schedule reserves above guidelines based on this new launch readiness date. However, the project also reports that its current level of funding does not include sufficient cost reserves for fiscal year 2020. As a result, project officials do not anticipate having sufficient cost reserves to address risks and unforeseen technical challenges as they occur.

In addition, project officials stated that they anticipate that life-cycle costs will increase above the project’s prior estimate in order to support a later launch date. NASA has not yet approved a cost and schedule baseline for this project.

In addition, the project experienced workforce challenges in June 2019 that led to delays on its key subsystems and the use of about 4 months of schedule reserves.

The project has had a shortage of both government and contractor staff, and as a result has not had staff with the unique skills required to develop its robotics system, as well as in other key areas.

Project officials said that reasons for the workforce challenges include a loss of engineering support contactors after the Goddard Space Flight Center awarded a new support contract, uncertainty in funding, and the long timeline for hiring civil servants.

The project plans to mitigate these challenges by working with the center to obtain more skilled contractor support and hiring more civil
servants.

Technology

The Restore-L project has six remaining technologies that it needs to mature. Prior to adding the SPIDER payload in 2019, the project had one remaining technology—the vision navigation system—that it needed to mature.

The project did not mature this technology to a technology readiness level 6 by the project’s preliminary design review in November 2017 as recommended by best practices because the system was newly added by the project. The project has since reported that the vision navigation system has achieved a technology readiness level 6.

After adding the SPIDER payload in 2019, the project added six new critical technologies that are not yet mature. Project officials said that they aim to mature these technologies to technology readiness level 6 or above before Restore-L launches.

Project Office Comments

In commenting on a draft of this assessment, Restore-L project officials said that technology demonstration missions are not expected to achieve a technology readiness level 6 by preliminary design review, but will be mature later in the project’s lifecycle. Officials expected this progression of technology maturity based on the nature of the mission.

Officials also provided technical comments on a draft of this assessment, which were incorporated as appropriate.

[Category: News, GAO, goddard space flight center, Government Accountability Office, Landsat 7, Lunar Gateway, NASA, NASA Goddard, on-orbit assembly, remote sensing, Restore-L, satellite servicing, Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot, SPIDER, U.S. Geological Survey]

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[l] at 6/1/20 4:47pm
The Expedition 63 crew welcomes Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA / Bill Stafford)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday aboard the first commercially built and operated American spacecraft to carry humans to orbit, opening a new era in human spaceflight.

The pair of astronauts docked to the space station’s Harmony module at 10:16 a.m. EDT Sunday as the microgravity laboratory flew 262 miles above the border northern China and Mongolia.

Behnken and Hurley, the first astronauts to fly to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the station, were welcomed as crew members of Expedition 63 by fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

“The whole world saw this mission, and we are so, so proud of everything you’ve done for our country and, in fact, to inspire the world,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the crew from the floor of Mission Control in Houston. “This represents a transition in how we do spaceflight from the United States of America. NASA is not going to purchase, own and operate rockets and capsules the way we used to; we’re going to partner with commercial industry. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks to Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken after their arrival to station. (Credits: NASA / Bill Stafford)

“This model is going to apply when we go to the Moon,” Bridenstine said. “ When we go to the Moon we’re going to land on the surface of the Moon with commercial landers.  All of this is leading up to an amazing day where we have humans living and working for long periods of time on the surface of the Moon, and doing it with a purpose. And that purpose, of course, is to go to Mars.”

The docking followed the first successful launch of Crew Dragon with astronauts on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. EDT Saturday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space in Florida, the same launch pad used for the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission.

After reaching orbit, Behnken and Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft “Endeavour” as a tribute to the first space shuttle each astronaut had flown aboard. Endeavour also flew the penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle Program, launching in May 2011 from the same pad.

The Expedition 63 crew has expanded to five members with the arrival of the SpaceX Crew Dragon. (From left) Anatoly Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner, Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. (Credit: NASA TV)

“Dragon was huffing and puffing all the way into orbit, and we were definitely driving or riding a Dragon all the way up,” Behnken said during the welcoming ceremony inside the space station’s Harmony module. “While we’re on-board the space station with a new spacecraft, we do hope to put her through her paces. So the good ship Endeavour is going to get a lot of checkout over the next week or two here, and hopefully we’ll be able to declare her operational.”

“It’s great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business and we’re just really glad to be onboard this magnificent complex. We’re just happy to be here, and Chris is going to put us work,” Hurley added. “We had a couple of opportunities to take it (Dragon) out for a spin so to speak, once after we got into orbit last night and today about 20 minutes before we docked. My compliments to the folks back at Hawthorne and SpaceX on how it flew. We couldn’t be happier about the performance of the vehicle.”

Cassidy, Hurley and Behnken will participate in a live NASA Television crew news conference from orbit on Monday, June 1, beginning at 11:15 a.m. on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

This flight, known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, is an end-to-end test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. This is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard, and will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  

The crew will remain busy as they continue to test and demonstrate the capabilities of Dragon Endeavour while it is docked to the space station. The Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, and the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

At the end of the mission, Behnken and Hurley will board the spacecraft, which will autonomously undock, depart the space station and returns to Earth through a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, where the SpaceX recovery ship crew will pick up the crew and return them to Cape Canaveral.

Hurley is the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and has completed two spaceflights. Hurley served as pilot and lead robotics operator for both STS‐127 in July 2009 and STS‐135, the final space shuttle mission, in July 2011.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with SpaceX and Boeing to design, build, test and operate safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation systems to low-Earth orbit. Both companies are focused on test missions, including abort system demonstrations and crew flight tests, ahead of regularly flying crew missions to the space station. Both companies’ crewed flights will be the first times in history NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies. 

View or listen to the SpaceX Dragon Demo-2 welcome ceremony at:

https://archive.org/details/05-31-20_SpaceX_DM-2_ISS_Welcome-Ceremony

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program at:

https://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

[Category: News, Anatoly Ivanishin, Bob Behnken, Chris Cassidy, Crew Dragon, Demo-2, Doug Hurley, Expedition 63, Falcon 9, International Space Station, ISS, Ivan Vagner, space station]

[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 6/1/20 1:20pm

Asteroid Day TV is on Air

Tune in to watch asteroid-themed programming from Discovery Science, TED, IMAX, BBC, CNN, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and other top content producers.

Click Here to Start Watching

Asteroid Day TV will stream through the month of June in addition to Asteroid Day LIVE on 30 June. All programming is produced in partnership with Broadcasting Center Europe (BCE) and SES satellites.

Thanks to the unparalleled reach of SES, Asteroid Day TV programming will reach millions of viewers. Click here for satellite access information.

Starting 22 June | ESA Asteroid Day Programmes

The European Space Agency’s 2020 Asteroid Day virtual programme series will feature scientists, astronomers, and astronauts reaching out to audiences everywhere. Each will be in a different language and broadcast on ADTV in the week leading to Asteroid Day. Dates to be announced soon.

30 June | Asteroid Day Live From Luxembourg

Asteroid Day LIVE is back! This year we come to you with experts calling in from around the world to discuss the latest missions, discoveries, opportunities and challenges that asteroids present. This year ADLIVE will premiere on Asteroid Day (30 June) – exact times, topics, and guest line-up to be announced soon.

[Category: News, Asteroid Day, Asteroid Day TV, asteroids, BBC, BCE, Broadcasting Center Europe, CNN, ESO, European Southern Observatory, European Space Agency, IMAX, SES, TED]

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[l] at 6/1/20 1:03pm
An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA selected 21 proposals to help answer questions about astronaut health and performance during future long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The proposals will investigate biological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations during spaceflight in support of NASA’s crewed Artemis  missions to the Moon and future human exploration of Mars.

The investigations will take place in research laboratories and ground-based analog facilities used to mimic various aspects of the spaceflight environment. Among the studies

  • Brian Crucian, Senior Scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, will examine how the immune system responds to lunar dust exposure;
  • Ana Diaz Artiles, Assistant Professor in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University, will use parabolic flight to investigate the impact of lower levels of gravity than experienced on Earth, on manual coordination tasks relevant for space exploration; and
  • Wayne Nicholson, Professor of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida, will evaluate the survival and potency of probiotics following exposure to simulated space radiation (galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events) that astronauts will encounter during missions to Mars.

The selected proposals are from 14 institutions in 10 states and will receive a total of approximately $4.3 million during a one- to two-year period. NASA selected the projects from 129 proposals received in response to the 2019 Human Exploration Research Opportunities Appendices A and B. Science and technology experts from academia, government, and industry reviewed the proposals.

The complete list of the selected proposals, principal investigators and organizations is:

  • Ana Diaz Artiles, Texas A&M University: “Effects of Altered-Gravity on Perception and Bi-manual Coordination: Impacts on Functional Performance”
  • Ana Diaz Artiles, Texas A&M University: “Predicting acute cardiovascular and ocular changes due to changes in the gravitational vector and effects of countermeasures”
  • Marjan Boerma, University of Arkansas, Little Rock: “Assessment of galactic cosmic ray dose rate effects on endothelial function”  
  • Daniel Buckland, Duke University: “Automated Vascular Access for Spaceflight”
  • Gilles Clement, NASA Johnson Space Center: “Functional Task Tests in Partial Gravity during Parabolic Flight”
  • Sylvain Costes, NASA Ames Research Center: “Mapping peripheral immune signatures of mouse and human responses to space radiation for biomarker identification”
  • Walter Cromer, Texas A&M University: “The Effect of Simulated Space Radiation on the Interaction of the Metabolome, Immune System and Lymphatic Anatomy of the Gastrointestinal Tract”
  • Brian Crucian, NASA Johnson Space Center: “Immunogenicity/Allergenicity of Lunar Dust”
  • Duane Hassane, Weill Medical College of Cornell University: “The impact of human spaceflight on clonal hematopoiesis”
  • Jessica Koehne, NASA Ames Research Center: “Printed Electrochemical Sensor Strip for Quantifying Bone Density Loss in Microgravity”
  • Karina Marshall-Goebel, NASA Johnson Space Center: “Characterization of Jugular Venous Blood Flow during Acute Fluid Shifts”
  • Anne McLaughlin, North Carolina State University: “Cognitive Aid Design Using Augmented Reality to Support Attention”
  • Wayne Nicholson, University of Florida: “Bacillus spore probiotics: evaluation of survival and efficacy after exposure to deep-space radiation simulating long-duration human exploration missions”
  • Donna Roberts, Medical University of South Carolina: “Gender Difference and the Reversibility of the Structural Brain Changes of Spaceflight Correlated with Cognitive/Behavioral Performance”
  • Mark Shelhamer, Johns Hopkins University: “Investigation of Partial-g Effects on Ocular Alignment”
  • Joel Stitzel, Wake Forest University: “Investigation of Occupant Injury Risk in the Soyuz Vehicle and Comparison to Commercial Crew Designs”
  • Gary Strangman, Massachusetts General Hospital: “Operational Performance Effects and Neurophysiology in Partial Gravity (OPEN-PG)”
  • Candice Tahimic, NASA Ames Research Center: “Cardiovascular responses to simulated spaceflight: molecular signatures and surrogate outputs to measure CVD risk”
  • Alireza Tavakkoli, University of Nevada, Reno: “A Non-intrusive Ocular Monitoring Framework to Model Ocular Structure and Functional Changes due to Long-term Spaceflight”
  • Francisco Valero-Cuevas, Neuromuscular Dynamics, LLC: “A simple and compact countermeasure for maintenance and enhancement of neuromuscular control during spaceflight”
  • Scott Wood, NASA Johnson Space Center: “Non-pharmaceutical motion sickness mitigation”

The selected projects are funded through NASA’s Human Research Program to address the practical problems of spaceflight that impact astronaut health, and its research may provide knowledge, technologies, and countermeasures that could improve human health and performance during space exploration. The organization’s goals are to help astronauts complete their challenging missions successfully and to preserve their long-term health. 

[Category: News, Artemis, Human Research Program, human spaceflight, Mars, moon, NASA, NASA Johnson]

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[l] at 6/1/20 12:56pm

This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Tuesday, May June 2, 2020, 7 PM PDT (9 PM CDT; 10 PM EDT) We welcome DR. DANA ANDREWS for his new book, “Chasing The Dream.” (see his bio on the website).

2. Wednesday, June 3, 2020; Hotel Mars TBA pre-recorded. See upcoming show menu on the home page for program details.

3. Thursday, June 4, 2020: 7-8:30 PM PDT (9-10:30 pm CDT; 10-11:30 PM EDT): No special show today.

4. Friday, June 5, 2020; 9:30-11 AM PDT; 11:30 AM-1 PM CDT; 12:30-2 PM EDT. We welcome CEO JAUME SANPERA of Sateliot, a 5G Spanish company.

5. Sunday, June 7, 2020 12-1:30 PM PDT, (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): Welcome to OPEN LINES. All calls welcome, first time callers welcome. Space, STEM, STEAM, science, policy. Join the discussion.

[Category: News]

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[l] at 6/1/20 12:38pm

While the United States was focused last week on its first domestic flight of astronauts to orbit in 9 years, China was busy with a pair of launches that placed four satellites into space.

A Long March 11 booster launched the Xinjishu Shiyan-G and Xinjishu Shiyan-H technology test satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Friday, May 29.

The Xinjishu Shiyan-G satellite was developed by the Shanghai Institute of Microsatellite Innovation, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The National University of Defence Technology developed the Xinjishu Shiyan-H satellite.

The satellites will test new Earth observation technology and inter-satellite communications.

On Sunday, a Long March 2D rocket launched the Gaofen-9 (02) remote sensing satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia.

The microwave spacecraft is the latest in a series of high-definition Earth observation satellites. Gaofen-9 (02) will be used for a variety of civilian purposes ranging from land use and urban planning to crop estimation and disaster prevention.

The Long March 2D booster carried the HEAD-4 technology and communications satellite as a secondary payload. The spacecraft is owned by HEAD Aerospace Tech Co. Ltd. of Beijing.

[Category: News, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Earth observation, Gaofen-9 (02), HEAD Aerospace Tech Co., HEAD-4, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Long March 11, Long March 2D, National University of Defence Technology, remote sensing, Shanghai Institute of Microsatellite Innovation, Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Xinjishu Shiyan-G, Xinjishu Shiyan-H]

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[l] at 6/1/20 10:54am
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On May 30, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station as part of SpaceX’s second demonstration mission under the Commercial Crew Program — the first mission to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to the station since the Space Shuttle Program.

The Crew Dragon ferried NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to join the Expedition 63  crew aboard the space station. NASA’s communications networks — overseen by NASA’s  Space Communications and Navigation  (SCaN) program office — supported this Commercial Crew Program milestone, just as they will support all Crew Dragon and Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner  missions.

“Our primary focus is robust and reliable communications with the crew,” said Neil Mallik, Human Space Flight network director at NASA’s  Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We have been improving the network across the board to provide enhanced communications services for crewed spacecraft to ensure astronauts have continuous contact with the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Mission Control Center at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. These improvements range from diverse and redundant terrestrial data paths, to enhanced relay satellite  pointing capabilities to actively respond to potential abort scenarios.”

Human Space Flight Communications and Tracking Network (HSF CTN) Director Neil Mallik supports the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch from the Networks Integration Center (NIC) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. From the NIC, HSF CTN personnel coordinate communications for many missions, including this historic flight. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Amber Jacobson)

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program works with U.S. aerospace companies developing launch and spacecraft systems capable of carrying crew to the space station. Safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation services to and from the station will expand use of the orbiting laboratory while enabling NASA to focus resources on deep space exploration missions like the Artemis missions to the Moon.

“It’s an exciting time to be in human spaceflight,” said Mallik. “Our teams are busier now than it has been in the past.”

For the Commercial Crew Program, the Space Network, which consists of ground stations and a collection of relay satellites in geosynchronous orbit, provides data and voice communications to and from the crew and the spacecraft for the entire mission lifecycle — from launch through rendezvous to the space station, from docking through undocking, and from reentry through splashdown or landing. The Human Space Flight Network also collaborates with the U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Range and 45th  Space Wing to provide independent ground-based orbit determination in the event of off-nominal operation conditions.

Human Space Flight Communications and Tracking Network (HSF CTN) Mission Manager Rosa Avalos-Warren supports the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch from Goddard’s NIC. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Amber Jacobson)

When in close proximity to the space station, the Crew Dragon uses a direct, S-band data link for exchanging audio, video and telemetry data through the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) system. C2V2 was designed to unify all communications from visiting spacecraft to the U.S. segment of the space station into a single system, streamlining operations.

Once docked, data from the Crew Dragon is routed to the space station’s onboard communications system through a hardline umbilical connection.

In addition to communications services, NASA’s Search and Rescue office has joined with the Human Space Flight network to provide the Commercial Crew Program with responsive location services through the international search and rescue network, Cospas-Sarsat. The Crew Dragon is equipped with an emergency beacon that can provide an accurate location anywhere in the world near-instantaneously upon activation. Each crew member also is equipped with a personal locator beacon to be used in the event they need to exit the capsule prior to normal planned recovery operations.

“We’ve harmoniously incorporated Goddard’s Search and Rescue office into our team,” said Mallik. “This further enhances the network capabilities and services we offer our commercial partners, improving astronaut safety.”


The Human Space Flight Communications and Tracking Network, which Goddard manages, has long supported commercial missions to the space station, facilitating berthing and docking of visiting cargo and logistics missions and, now, human-rated spacecraft. The office synthesizes the capabilities of NASA networks into comprehensive communications services for human exploration missions. They facilitate continuous communications for the space station through the Space Network, and will support the Artemis missions to the Moon through all three of NASA’s major networks: the  Near Earth Network, Space Network and Deep Space Network.

NASA’s SCaN program office, based at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., is responsible for the management and oversight of all three networks, as well as the development of advanced space communications and navigation technologies.

[Category: News, 45th Space Wing, Artemis, Bob Behnken, commercial crew program, Crew Dragon, Deep Space Network, Doug Hurley, Expedition 63, Falcon 9, goddard space flight center, Human Space Flight Communications and Tracking Network, International Space Station, ISS, Kennedy Space Center, KSC, moon, NASA, NASA Goddard, NASA KSC, Near Earth Network, Neil Mallik, orbital flights, Rosa Avalos-Warren, Space Network, space shuttle, space station, SpaceX]

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[l] at 6/1/20 9:33am
Pleiades’ rack-based architecture allows NASA to continually increase the system’s computing capability through hardware upgrades without needing to expand its physical footprint. The current configuration of Pleiades is nearly 15 times more powerful than it was when the system was originally installed in 2008. (Credits: NASA’s Ames Research Center)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA is flexing its supercomputing muscle to help crack some of the most pressing questions surrounding COVID-19, from basic science on how the virus interacts with cells in the human body to genetic risk factors to screening for potential therapeutic drugs.

In addition to its support of Earth, planetary, aerospace, heliophysics and astrophysics projects, the agency’s supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, also has an allocation of time on it reserved for national priorities.

NASA has joined a consortium of institutions that is pairing up supercomputing resources with proposals for using high-end computing power for COVID-19 studies. The effort was organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and includes industry partners IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Amazon, Microsoft and others, as well as the Department of Energy’s National Labs, the National Science Foundation, and many universities. The consortium is supporting 64 projects and is open to new proposals. To date, four projects have been matched to NASA.

“This is not NASA’s normal work, but we have the supercomputers and the expertise to help researchers working on COVID-19 get the most out the supercomputing power,” said Tsengdar Lee, program manager for NASA’s High End Computing Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Supercomputers are suited for processing large amounts of data. For NASA’s usual projects this means simulating the movements of air masses and water around the planet to study Earth’s climate, hunting for exoplanets, studying the behavior of black holes, or designing aeronautic or aerospace vehicles. Each piece of these very large puzzles is guided by certain physical and chemical laws in their interactions and relationships with other components. Zooming in to the atomic level to study the coronavirus is no different. Each molecule and cell moves and reacts based on physics and chemistry, which makes simulation a powerful tool for understanding the coronavirus.

“This is work we are pleased to support,” said Piyush Mehrotra, division chief of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division at Ames. “Our team will do whatever it takes to support the research projects so that we can understand and fight this disease as quickly as possible.”

Identifying Genetic Risk Factors for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Ames’ supercomputing power is being drafted to look at the genetic risk factors associated with COVID-19 patients developing Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or ARDS. ARDS is a complication of COVID-19 that occurs when the disease causes fluid to build up in the lungs, which often requires a ventilator to help patients breathe.

The same NASA researchers who apply their expertise to studying how biology changes in space are studying these genetic variations. They are partnering with health care provider, Northern California Kaiser Permanente, for their COVID-19 study.

Principal investigator Viktor Stolc and co-investigator David Loftus, both with Ames’ Space Biosciences Division, are leading a team to do genetic sequencing of patients at various stages of the COVID-19 disease who both do and do not develop ARDS.

“Not all patients are equally at risk of developing ARDS,” said Loftus. By comparing the groups and analyzing the relationships between genes and COVID-19 outcomes, the team hopes to identify genetic risk factors that make people predisposed to developing ARDS, he said. With these risk factors identified, clinicians can potentially identify patients at higher risk of complications before they become severe, and improve their care.

Processing 3D Molecular Geometry to Search for Possible Drug Therapies

A team led by Rafael Gomez-Bombarelli at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is harnessing the Ames supercomputer to train an algorithm to detect potential molecules that could inhibit the novel coronavirus from attacking cells. The machine learning algorithm will be taught with 300,000 molecules that laboratory experiments have shown to be active or not against SARS, the related coronavirus that had a deadly outbreak in 2003.

Because of the biological similarities between SARS and the novel coronavirus, “Once the algorithm is trained with the SARS data, it’s relatively easy to tweak the algorithm with very small modifications to see if the molecules would work against COVID,” said Gomez-Bombarelli.

The MIT software that will run on the supercomputer produces new 3D models of the molecules from their known chemical compositions. This allows the computer to represent the molecule more accurately, so that, when presented with a new molecule it hasn’t seen before, it can better predict whether it will bind with the novel coronavirus.

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (Credits: CDC)

The trained algorithm can then look at a catalogue of existing therapeutic drugs at the molecular level to find those that contain molecules that are likely to be biologically active against the novel coronavirus. Drugs that have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or similar agencies worldwide as safe for patients are the fastest route to finding drugs that can be used soonest in hospitals to treat the novel coronavirus.

Understanding the Novel Coronavirus’s Protein Shell

Understanding how the novel coronavirus uses its spiked proteins on its exterior to enter cells will better help researchers to determine what drugs or therapies may be most effective against it. Once in the cell, the novel coronavirus hijacks the cell’s functions to replicate itself, so more virus can spread through the body.

“It’s a fairly complex process, because the spike protein is in what’s called a pre-fusion state, the state before it fuses to specific receptor molecules on the cell membrane,” said principal investigator Michael Peters from Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. Like many viruses, it goes through a transformation process, and the team wants to understand in detail how the spike protein behaves, he said.

Peters and his colleagues are using the Ames supercomputing resources to simulate each complex molecule at the atomic level, that is, the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms that make up the molecules of the spike protein and its receptor. Following each atom’s movements in concert allows the study of conformational changes — changes in the overall molecule’s shape — that naturally take place with these complex molecules and their interactions.

The goal is to understand the fundamental processes the novel coronavirus spike protein uses to gain entry into cells. With this information, researchers will be able to narrow down the list of drug targets even faster to find effective treatments, Peters said.

Identifying COVID-19 Related Biomarkers

Once in the body, the novel coronavirus interacts with many variables and can potentially lead to vastly different outcomes, from relatively mild cases to severe lung conditions that require intensive care, or other organ failure. A team of researchers, called the COVID-19 International Research Team (COV-IRT), co-led by principal investigator Afshin Beheshti at Ames are analyzing the RNA sequences from patient nose swabs that include genetic material from the patient, the novel coronavirus and naturally occurring bacteria that live in the human body.

Their goal is to use the analytical power of the supercomputer to identify RNA sequences from the human and bacteria sources that interact with the RNA from the coronavirus and lead to severe disease outcomes.

Beheshti is particularly interested in the role of microRNAs—22-nucleotide fragments of RNA that can each control the expression of up to 500 genes.

“Viruses might hijack a microRNA to evade the immune system and replicate,” Beheshti said. “The idea is that the virus would take in these tiny fragments and trick the body into thinking that the virus is not a foreign object.”

In an earlier analysis on a public dataset from Wuhan, China, the team already identified a potential microRNA that’s activated by the novel coronavirus that they’ve passed on to colleagues to study with laboratory experiments.

To learn more about the NASA Ames Advanced Supercomputing Division, visit: https://www.nas.nasa.gov/

[Category: News, coronavirus, COVID-19, NASA, supercomputers]

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[l] at 6/1/20 8:01am
European Large Logistic Lander approaching Moon. (Credit: ESA/ATG-Medialab)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Development of Europe’s first ever lunar lander was agreed upon by ESA Member States in 2019 and now ESA is seeking your ideas for science and robotic missions on the Moon.

Set to launch on an Ariane 64 rocket later this decade and return to the Moon on a regular basis, the large lander will provide unprecedented opportunities for science and robotics on the lunar surface and your mission could be one of the first.

The call for ideas comes hot on the heels of ESA signing an agreement to start building the third European Service Module for NASA’s Artemis programme. This module will drive the spacecraft that ferries the next astronauts to the Moon.

Repeat trips to the Moon

The European-led large lunar lander programme provides autonomous access to the Moon, delivering 1.5 tonnes of material from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana – this is roughly the weight of a hippopotamus.

The programme, currently known as the European Large Logistics Lander or EL3 for short, is designed to incorporate different types of uncrewed missions, from supply runs for Artemis astronauts, to stand-alone robotic science and technology demonstration missions and even a lunar return mission to bring samples to laboratories on Earth.

“This European lander will be able to access locations all over the Moon from the equator to the poles, from the near side to the far side, opening up tremendous opportunities to deliver science, research technology and infrastructure,” says ESA’s Exploration science and research coordinator James Carpenter, “developing this capability is a hugely important strategic step for Europe. It will allow us to take a lead in future robotic missions and support international activities at the Moon’s surface.”Destination: Moon
Access the video

The best of all worlds

Now that ESA has defined the hardware, launch and operations side for this unique European programme, the agency is looking for outstanding mission ideas that could be delivered by the European Large Logistics Lander.

Examples of what could be proposed include robotic exploration of lunar caves, telescopes on the far side of the Moon, searching for water ice or producing useable products from resources on the Moon.

Unloading cargo from the European Large Logistic Lander. (Credit: ESA/ATG-Medialab)

“We are asking the best minds to submit ideas for this programme as we explore our Solar System in collaboration with scientists, engineers, industry, and companies,” James continues, “we really want to extend this call for ideas outside the realm of the usual space players, considering all aspects of lunar exploration.”

The lunar lander programme is not a one-shot mission but promises regular launches starting in the later part of this decade and continuing into the 2030s.

We are looking for ideas that align with ESA’s strategy for exploration to inspire, create new knowledge, grow international cooperation and create economic growth and industrial competitiveness.

Any company, organisation or person can submit their ideas for the EL3 programme. Details and information on how to apply are available here. The deadline for submissions is 3 July 2020.

[Category: News, Artemis, ESA, ESM, European Service Module, European Space Agency, moon, NASA]

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[l] at 6/1/20 6:45am
Some of the dozens of engineers involved in creating a ventilator prototype specially targeted to coronavirus disease patients at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — After receiving more than 100 applications, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California has selected eight U.S. manufacturers to make a new ventilator tailored for coronavirus (COVID-19) patients.

The prototype, which was created by JPL engineers in just 37 days, received an Emergency Use Authorization  from the Food and Drug Administration on April 30.

Called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), the high-pressure ventilator was designed to use one-seventh the parts of a traditional ventilator, relying on parts already available in supply chains. It offers a simpler, more affordable option for treating critical patients while freeing up traditional ventilators for those with the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. Its flexible design means it also can be modified for use in field hospitals.

The Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships at Caltech, which owns the patents and software for VITAL, is offering a free license for the device. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The U.S. companies selected for licenses are:

  • Vacumed, a division of Vacumetrics, Inc. in Ventura, California
  • Stark Industries, LLC in Columbus, Ohio
  • MVent, LLC, a division of Minnetronix Medical, in St. Paul, Minnesota
  • iButtonLink, LLC in Whitewater, Wisconsin
  • Evo Design, LLC in Watertown, Connecticut
  • DesignPlex Biomedical, LLC in Fort Worth, Texas
  • ATRON Group, LLC in Dallas
  • Pro-Dex, Inc. in Irvine, California

“The VITAL team is very excited to see their technology licensed,” said Leon Alkalai, manager of the JPL Office of Strategic Partnerships and a member of the VITAL leadership team. “Our hope is to have this technology reach across the world and provide an additional source of solutions to deal with the on-going COVID-19 crisis.”

JPL now is evaluating international manufacturers from countries as diverse as Brazil, Mexico, India and Malaysia. A full list of approved manufacturers is available here.

VITAL was developed with input from doctors and medical device manufacturers. A prototype of the JPL device was successfully tested by the Human Simulation Lab in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai on April 23.

A modified design, which uses compressed air and can be deployed by a greater range of hospitals, was recently tested at the UCLA Simulation Center in Los Angeles. A high-fidelity lung simulator tested almost 20 different ventilator settings, representing a number of scenarios that could be seen in critically ill patients in an intensive care unit.

“VITAL performed well in simulation testing with both precise and reproducible results,” said Dr. Tisha Wang, clinical chief of the UCLA Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. “In addition, the setup and operation of the ventilator was quick and user-friendly. The UCLA team commends JPL for actively contributing to the COVID-19 response and successfully addressing one of the key medical needs in the sickest group of patients.”

The compressed-air design also has been submitted to the FDA for a ventilator Emergency Use Authorization and is currently under review.

For more information about NASA’s work in fighting COVID-19, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/coronavirus

[Category: News, ATRON Group, Caltech, coronavirus, COVID-19, DesignPlex Biomedical, Evo Design, FDA, Food and Drug Administration, iButtonLink, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, JPL Office of Strategic Partnerships, Minnetronix Medical, Mount Sinai Hospital, MVent LLC, NASA, NASA JPL, Pro-Dex, Stark Industries, UCLA Simulation Center, Vacumed, Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally, VITAL]

As of 6/3/20 10:54am. Last new 6/3/20 9:17am.

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