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Satellites are used for a large number of purposes. Common types include military (spy) and civilian Earth observation satellites, communication satellites, navigation satellites, weather satellites, and research satellites.

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NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline

The 33-year odyssey of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind. Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion...

Super-Earth Atmosphere

A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterizations of a super-Earth's atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope...

Kepler Discovers

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star...

Pulverized Planet

Tight double-star systems might not be the best places for life to spring up, according to a new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope....

Dark Asteroids

NASA is set to launch a sensitive new infrared telescope to seek out sneaky things in the night sky -- among them, dark asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth....

Archive for September 2010

NASA and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unveiled a photography show at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., where ticketed airline travelers can view space science discoveries and enjoy the beauty and majesty of our solar system.

A pedestrian passageway located between the new AeroTrain C-gates station and Concourse C. Approximately 10,000 to 13,000 passengers transit the area daily. The exhibit, on display until March 31, 2011, features 46 backlit photographic images displayed in light boxes.
Solar System Exhibition Arrives at Dulles Airport “This vista will not only allow NASA to share its science behavior with public in a unique venue, but it will also allow them to see our future possible travel destinations,” said James Green, director of the Planetary Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The images displayed include one of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which is a vast cyclonic storm system about two times the size of Earth, surrounded by other oval storms and banded clouds. Another shows Uranus with very faint rings, which may be made of countless fragments of water ice. There also are recent images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Cassini spacecraft.

An exhibit of similar images is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The images were rendered by photographic artist Michael Benson.

What will the Martian atmosphere be like when the next Mars rover descends through it for landing in August of 2012?

An instrument studying the Martian atmosphere from orbit has begun a four-week campaign to characterize daily atmosphere changes, one Mars year before the arrival of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. A Mars year equals 687 Earth days.
The planet's thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide is highly repeatable from year to year at the same time of day and seasonal date during northern spring and summer on Mars.
The Mars Climate Sounder instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter maps the distribution of temperature, dust, and water ice in the atmosphere. Temperature variations with height indicate how fast air density changes and thus the rates at which the incoming spacecraft slows down and heats up during its descent.

"It is currently one Mars year before the Mars Science Laboratory arrival season," said atmospheric scientist David Kass of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This campaign will provide a set of observations to support the Mars Science Laboratory engineering team and Mars atmospheric modelers. The information will constrain the expected climate at their landing season. It will also help define the range of possible weather conditions on landing day."

During the four years the Mars Climate Sounder has been studying the Martian atmosphere, its observations have seen conditions only at about three in the afternoon and three in the morning. For the new campaign, the instrument team is inaugurating a new observation mode, looking to both sides as well as forward. This provides views of the atmosphere earlier and later in the day by more than an hour, covering the range of possible times of day that the rover will pass through the atmosphere before landing.

For more about NASA's Mars exploration program, see .

NASA has awarded Computer Services Corporation of Falls Church, Va., a modification to exercise the first option year under its existing contract. This is a one-year option period for the continuation of financial management, human resources, and procurement and information technology support services to NASA.

The one-year option increases the existing NASA Shared Services Center support contract by more than $38 million and provides services through Sept. 30, 2011.

The center is a partnership among NASA, CSC, and the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. The center performs selected business activities for all 10 NASA centers.

NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT, on Wednesday, Sept. 29, to discuss new information about the boundary of our solar system obtained from the agency's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft.

The briefing participants are:
  • Arik Posner, IBEX program scientist, Heliophysics Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Nathan Schwadron, IBEX science operations lead and associate professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham
  • David McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio
  • Merav Opher, associate professor, George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4. Discovery has been moved to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. STS-133 is slated to launch Nov. 1.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft determination swing high over Saturn's moon Titan on Friday, September 24, taking a long, continued look at the hazy moon. At closest approach, Cassini will fly within 8,175 kilometers (5,080 miles) above the hazy moon's surface. This flyby is the first in a series of high-altitude Titan flybys for Cassini over the next year and a half.

Cassini's combined infrared spectrometer instrument will be probing Titan's stratosphere to study more about its vertical structure as the seasons change. Equinox, when the sun shone directly over the equator, occurred in Aug 2009, and the northern hemisphere is now in spring.

Visual instrument and infrared mapping spectrometer, will be mapping an equatorial region known as Belet at a resolution of 5 kilometers (3 miles) per pixel. This mosaic will complement the mosaics that were obtained in earlier Titan flybys in January and April. This spectrometer will also look for clouds at northern mid-latitudes and near the poles.

Cassini's visible-light imaging cameras will also be taking images of Titan's trailing hemisphere, or the side that faces backward as Titan orbits around Saturn. If Titan cooperates and has a cloudy day, scientists plan to analyze the images for cloud patterns.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a supportive project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., have selected 24high schools to participate in a new science, technology, engineering, and math education program. The teams will design software to program small satellites aboard the International Space Station.

The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, are three volley ball-sized spherical satellites that fly inside the space station’s cabin to test advanced maneuvers for spacecraft, like formation flying and autonomous rendezvous and docking. Each contains its own power, propulsion, computing, and navigation equipment.

The selections are part of the Zero-Robotics investigation, which is run by MIT and designed to inspire future scientists and engineers. Students write their own algorithms to solve a problem important to future missions. This year’s pilot program, "HelioSpheres," allows selected high schools to compete against each other and helps students build critical engineering skills, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and teamwork and presentation skills.

The competition was open to all accredited high schools in the United States and attracted 48 applications. The 24 high schools are from 19 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The northern hemisphere of Saturn's moon Titan is set for mainly fine spring weather, with polar skies clearing since the equinox in August last year. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been monitoring clouds on Titan regularly since the spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn in 2004. Now, a group led by Sebastian Rodriguez, a Cassini VIMS team collaborator based at University Paris Diderot, France, has analyzed more than 2,000 VIMS images to create the first long-term study of Titan's weather using observational data that also includes the equinox. Equinox, when the sun shone directly over the equator, occurred in August 2009.

Rodriguez is presenting the results and new images at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome on Sept. 22. Though Titan's surface is far colder and lacks liquid water, this moon is a kind of "sister world" to Earth because it has a surface covered with organic material and an atmosphere whose chemical composition harkens back to an early Earth. Titan has a hydrological cycle similar to Earth's, though Titan's cycle depends on methane and ethane rather than water.
A season on Titan lasts about seven Earth years. Rodriguez and colleagues observed significant atmospheric changes between July 2004 (early summer in Titan's southern hemisphere) and April 2010 (the very start of northern spring). The images showed that cloud activity has recently decreased near both of Titan's poles. These regions had been heavily overcast during the late southern summer until 2008, a few months before the equinox.

Over the past six years, the scientists found that clouds clustered in three distinct latitude regions of Titan: large clouds at the North Pole, patchy clouds at the South Pole and a narrow belt around 40 degrees south. "However, we are now seeing evidence of a seasonal circulation turnover on Titan – the clouds at the south pole completely disappeared just before the equinox and the clouds in the north are thinning out," Rodriguez said. "This agrees with predictions from models and we are expecting to see cloud activity reverse from one hemisphere to another in the coming decade as southern winter approaches."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Satellites are big. They cost a lot of money. At least that's the impression a couple of University of Maryland-College Park students had when they applied for an placement to help construct a satellite instrument with scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. As the pair quickly discovered, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Firefly satellite in orbit video from the animation.

To their astonishment, the satellite that Saman Kholdebarin and Lida Ramsey helped to develop was literally the size of a football. "I had no idea you could make these satellites so small," Kholdebarin said, recalling his surprise when his Goddard mentors explained the project to him. "I was astounded."

The small satellite, with a big mission, is appropriately named "Firefly." Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the pint-sized satellite will study the most powerful natural particle accelerator on Earth - lightning - when it launches from the Marshall Islands aboard an Air Force Falcon 1E rocket vehicle next year. In particular, Firefly will focus on Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes, a little understood phenomenon first discovered by NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory in the early 1990s.

Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko conducted Soyuz descent training in advance of their departure on September 23. Once they undock, Expedition 25 will begin its increment with Commander Doug Wheelock and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Mikhail Kornienko continuing their stay on the International Space Station.

All six crew members spent some time Friday discussing handover of responsibilities in the event of an emergency before crew departure. The ceremonial Change-of-Command from Skvortsov to Wheelock takes place Wednesday.

Three new station crew members prepared for their October launch with a news conference in Star City, Russia. They then traveled to Moscow for traditional pre-launch activities at the Kremlin Wall. Flight Engineers Scott Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka will join Expedition 25 when they dock in the new Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft.

Hurricane activity this week captured the crew’s attention as they videotaped storms in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Hurricane Julia was videotaped following Hurricane Igor in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Karl was videotaped in the Pacific Ocean as it reached the western coast of Mexico near Veracruz. The crew also performed eye exams, transferred cargo from the new ISS Progress 39 resupply ship and stowed gear from the MARES, or Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System.

NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and their partners today celebrate the first anniversary of the air quality initiative within SERVIR that delivers in-situ, satellite-based, and modeled air quality data to forecasters, researchers, broadcasters, and communities throughout Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.

The SERVIR initiative integrates satellite observations, ground-based data and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and to improve response to natural disasters. SERVIR enables scientists, educators, project managers and policy implementers to better respond to a range of issues including disaster management, agricultural development, biodiversity conservation and climate change.

Endorsed by governments of Central America and Africa and principally supported by NASA and the US Agency of International Development, a strong emphasis is placed on partnerships to fortify the availability of searchable and viewable earth observations, measurements, animations, and analysis. A SERVIR coordination office and rapid prototyping facility is located at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Regional SERVIR nodes are located at the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama and the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development based in Kenya.

Preparations are under way inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to move the space shuttle Discovery to Launch Pad 39A beginning September 20. Liftoff the STS-133 mission is targeted for November 1 at 4:40 p.m. on an 11-day flight to the International Space Station.
The crew is in the fixed-base simulator today at their training home at NASA's Johnson Space Center rehearse rendezvous and docking procedures and the installation of ELC-4 that will follow hatch opening on Flight Day 3 of the mission.‪

Herman Posada sits at the controls and flies his airplane. But he's not in the airplane! He's at a ground station miles away, using a joystick and video monitors to control the vehicle. Herman is a NASA research pilot who flies unmanned aerial vehicles. These remotely piloted, full-scale aircraft are used more and more for research into advanced aeronautics systems and for capturing images and data in dangerous conditions such as wildfires or hurricanes. On Thursday, September 23, you can ask Herman questions in both English and Spanish about what it's like to fly these unique, full-scale aircraft.

NASA's Ikhana, an unmanned Predator B modified for non-military missions, carries instruments for environmental Earth science studies and is used for advanced aircraft systems research and technology development. The Global Hawk unmanned aircraft has been very busy this hurricane season, flown by Herman and another pilot into and above hurricanes to collect data.

For more details:

In August 1960, NASA launched its first communications satellite, Echo 1. Fifty years later, NASA has achieved another first by placing the ARTEMIS-P1 spacecraft into a unique orbit behind the moon, but not actually orbiting the moon itself. This type of orbit, called an Earth-Moon libration orbit, relies on a precise balancing of the Sun, Earth, and Moon gravity so that a spacecraft can orbit about a virtual location rather than about a planet or moon. The diagrams below show the full ARTEMIS-P1 orbit as it flies in proximity to the moon.

ARTEMIS-P1 is the first spacecraft to navigate to and perform station keeping operations around the Earth-Moon L1 and L2 Lagrangian points. There are five Lagrangian points associated with the Earth-Moon system. The two points nearest the moon are of great interest for lunar exploration.
These points are called L1 (located between the Earth and Moon) and L2 (located on the far side of the Moon from Earth), each about 61,300 km (38,100 miles) above the lunar surface. It takes about 14 to 15 days to complete one revolution about either the L1 or L2 point. These distinctive kidney-shaped orbits are dynamically unstable and require weekly monitoring from ground personnel. Orbit corrections to maintain stability are regularly performed using onboard thrusters.

The ARTEMIS mission implementation and operation represents a joint effort between NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Calif., and the University of California, Berkeley, Space Sciences Laboratory.

For details:

Journalists are invited to cover space shuttle Discovery’s last move from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to Launch Pad 39A on Sept. 20 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Six astronauts are set to launch aboard the shuttle on Nov. 1. The

STS-133 mission to the International Space Station is the final scheduled flight for Discovery before it is retired.

Live coverage of Discovery's rollout will air on NASA Television beginning at 8 p.m. EDT. NASA TV’s Video File will broadcast highlights of the move.

Discovery's first motion out of the VAB to the pad is scheduled for 8 p.m. The shuttle's 3.4- mile journey atop a giant crawler-transporter is expected to take approximately six hours. Activities include an 8 p.m. photo opportunity of the move followed by an interview availability at 8:30 p.m. with Discovery Flow Director Stephanie Stilson. Media must arrive at Kennedy's news center by 7:30 p.m. for the rollout photo opportunity.

NASA has released its Strategic Sustainability and Performance Plan (SSPP) as part of a government-wide effort to achieve goals without compromising the planet's resources.

NASA's SSPP focuses on reducing greenhouse emissions, preventing pollution, increasing water use efficiency and constructing and maintaining high performance, sustainable buildings. The plan follows President Obama's executive order to increase federal effectiveness in pursuing these "green" goals and includes guidance for evaluating effectiveness and providing updates and review.

"NASA is committed to a policy of sustainability that will be part of the work practices and mindset of the entire agency," said Olga Dominguez, assistant administrator for the Office of Strategic Infrastructure at NASA Headquarters in Washington.NASA submitted its plan to the Council on Environmental Quality.

Amateur astronomers using backyard telescopes were the first to detect two small objects that burned up in Jupiter’s atmosphere on June 3 and Aug. 20.

Professional astronomers at NASA and other institutions followed up on the discovery and gathered detailed information on the objects, which produced bright spots on Jupiter. The object that caused the June 3 fireball was estimated to be 30 to 40 feet in diameter - comparable in size to asteroid 2010 RF12 that flew by Earth on Sept. 8.

The June 3 fireball released five to 10 times less energy than the 1908 Tunguska meteoroid, which exploded 4-6 miles above Earth’s surface with a powerful burst that knocked down millions of trees in a remote part of Russia. Scientists continue to analyze the Aug. 20 fireball, but think it was comparable to the June 3 object.

“Jupiter is a big gravitational vacuum cleaner,” said Glenn Orton, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and co-author of a paper that will appear online Thursday in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “It is clear now that relatively small objects that are remnants from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago still hit Jupiter frequently. Scientists are trying to figure out just how frequently.”

NASA completed a historic day for its hurricane research on Thursday as it put the Global Hawk over Earl, marking the first time the unmanned drone flew over a fully formed hurricane.

The Global Hawk also flew in concert with NASA’s DC-8 during the DC-8’s fourth and final research flight to Earl. Both planes are outfitted with a suite of highly advanced instruments that scientists hope will bring new insight into how hurricanes form and intensify.

Thursday marked the first day of the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment when two NASA aircraft involved were flying and studying a storm at the same time. The experiment was designed to take advantage of having multiple aircraft above a storm at once, in order to observe hurricanes and tropical storms in as many facets as possible.

As Earl changed over the course of the week, the hurricane turned into an almost ideal test bed for GRIP. The DC-8 flew to Earl four times, including twice from St. Croix in order to reach it when it was farther east. GRIP scientists designed the mission in order to capture a hurricane either as it was forming or as it was strengthening or fizzling. And the Earl flights delivered, allowing scientists to observe the storm rapidly intensifying earlier in the week and then collapsing to a degree later in the week.

A Sunday flight from St. Croix put the DC-8 over Earl as it intensified from a Category 1 to a Category 2. And Monday’s flight from Ft. Lauderdale allowed the DC-8’s instruments to observe what was happening as Earl went from a Category 3 to a Category 4. One of GRIP’s key goals is to help scientists understand why and how some hurricanes rapidly intensify. These flights collected important data toward that end, scientists said.

“That series of flights alone really helped us achieve a great goal, which is to observe rapid intensification,” said GRIP mission scientist Scott Braun from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Earl had surprised scientists earlier in the week when they saw that it was surrounded by dry air. Hurricanes often derive strength from moist air and weaken when dry air infiltrates the cyclone.

“What happened?” said GRIP mission scientist Ed Zipser of the University of Utah. “The storm continued to intensify in spite of that. And we need to know why.”

Then during Thursday’s flight, as Earl spun toward North Carolina but also lost strength, GRIP scientists made measurements from the storm as its eye wall collapsed and as it dropped from a Category 3 to a Category 2 hurricane. At first blush, it appeared that wind shear played a role in breaking up the storm.

Now that the Global Hawk has successfully flown over an Atlantic hurricane all the way from its base in southern California, the GRIP team is hoping for more opportunities to put the groundbreaking aircraft in the field. Because of the drone’s 30-hour flight range, it can remain directly over a storm to make high-quality measurements far longer than a manned plane or a satellite.

NASA's Research and Technology Studies, or Desert RATS, will make its 13th trip to the desert this fall to test rovers, habitats and robots that could be used in future exploration missions.

A media day for the tests will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 15, to allow reporters to observe the activities. Interested news media should contact Brandi Dean at 281-483-5111 by Thursday, Sept. 9. Access to the test site is restricted, so media must be pre-registered. NASA also requires a letter of assignment on company letterhead for credentials.

The desert tests offer a chance for a NASA-led team of engineers, astronauts and scientists from across the country to test concepts for future missions. The location offers a good test area for future destinations of exploration missions.

NASA will demonstrate a variety of hardware during this year's test, including:
  • Space Exploration Vehicles: two rovers astronauts could live in for seven days at a time.
  • Habitat Demonstration Unit/Pressurized Excursion Module: a simulated habitat where the rovers can dock to allow the crew room to perform experiments or deal with medical issues.
  • All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorers: two heavy-lift rover platforms that allow the habitat, or other large items, to go where the action is.
  • Portable Communications Terminal: a rapidly deployable communications station.
  • Centaur 2: a possible four-wheeled transportation method for NASA Robonaut 2.
  • Portable Utility Pallets: mobile charging stations for equipment.
  • A suite of new geology sample collection tools, including a self-contained GeoLab glove box for conducting in-field analysis of various collected rock samples.
The public was involved in test preparation by helping NASA decide what areas should be explored. NASA posted online several possibilities online and allowed members of the public to vote on the most promising. Several thousand ballots were cast and 67 percent favored a location that appeared to be home of several overlapping lava flows.

NASA has set media accreditation deadlines for the November space shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Shuttle Discovery and six astronauts are targeted to launch on the STS-133 mission on Nov. 1 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Deadlines also have been set for journalists who want to cover the shuttle's move from its processing facility to the launch pad and practice countdown. Reporters must apply for credentials to attend the launch or cover the mission from other NASA centers. To be accredited, reporters must work for verifiable news-gathering organizations. No substitutions of credentials are allowed at any NASA facility.

The 11-day mission will be the 35th flight to the station and the 39th and final scheduled flight for Discovery. The mission will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the Express Logistics Carrier 4, an external platform that holds large equipment, and critical spare components for the station. Discovery also will deliver Robonaut 2, or R2, to become a permanent resident of the station as the first human-like robot in space.

NASA's Office of Protective Services recently made changes to the policy for foreign national processing. All journalists who are lawful permanent residents, have dual or multiple U.S. citizenship, or are U.S. citizens representing international media outlets will have their credential applications processed in the same way as U.S. citizens who represent domestic media.

Additional time may be required to process accreditation requests by journalists from certain designated countries. Designated countries include those with which the United States has no diplomatic relations, countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, those under U.S. sanction or embargo, and countries associated with proliferation concerns.