Saturday, June 29, 2013

NASA launch will produce lithium gas clouds in clear skies

NASA hopes to launch two sounding rockets from Wallops Flight Facility, Va. on Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. EDT.

The rockets, a Black Brant V and a Terrier-Improved Orion, will launch 15-seconds apart in support of the Daytime Dynamo experiment, which is a joint project between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The project is designed to study a global electrical current called the dynamo, which sweeps through the ionosphere. The ionosphere stretches from about 30 to 600 miles above Earth and plays a crucial role in our day-to-day lives. For example, radio waves bounce off it as they travel from sender to receiver, and communications signals from satellites travel through it as well. A disruption in the ionosphere can disrupt these signals.

The first rocket scheduled for launch is a single-stage Black Brant V, which will collect data on the neutral and charged particles it travels through. The second rocket is a two-stage Terrier-Improved Orion. It will shoot out a long trail of lithium gas to track how the upper atmospheric wind varies with altitude. These winds are believed to be the drivers of the dynamo currents. Clear skies are required to view these trails using ground-based cameras.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Mission comes to an end for galaxy-hunting spacecraft

NASA has turned off its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after a decade of operations in which the venerable space telescope used its ultraviolet vision to study hundreds of millions of galaxies across 10 billion years of cosmic time.

Operators at Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., sent the signal to decommission GALEX at 3:09 p.m. EDT on Friday. The spacecraft will remain in orbit for at least 65 years, then fall to Earth and burn up upon re-entering the atmosphere. GALEX met its prime objectives and the mission was extended three times before being canceled.

Highlights from the mission's decade of sky scans include:
  • Discovering a gargantuan, comet-like tail behind a speeding star called Mira. 
  • Catching a black hole "red-handed" as it munched on a star.
  • Finding giant rings of new stars around old, dead galaxies.
  • Independently confirming the nature of dark energy.
  • Discovering a missing link in galaxy evolution -- the teenage galaxies transitioning from young to old.

In a first-of-a-kind move for NASA, the agency in May 2012 loaned GALEX to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which used private funds to continue operating the satellite while NASA retained ownership. Since then, investigators from around the world have used GALEX to study everything from stars in our own Milky Way galaxy to hundreds of thousands of galaxies 5 billion light-years away.

"In the last few years, GALEX studied objects we never thought we'd be able to observe, from the Magellanic Clouds to bright nebulae and supernova remnants in the galactic plane," said David Schiminovich of Columbia University, N.Y., N.Y, a longtime GALEX team member who led science operations over the past year.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. managed the GALEX mission and built the science instrument. The mission's principal investigator, Chris Martin, is at Caltech. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., developed the mission. Researchers sponsored by Yonsei University in South Korea and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales in France collaborated on the mission.

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NASA may partner with Space Florida to operate Shuttle Landing Facility

NASA has selected Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency for the state of Florida, for negotiations toward a partnership agreement to maintain and operate the historic Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF).

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the director of NASA's Kennedy SpaceCenter, Robert Cabana, announced the selection during a news conference Friday at Kennedy's Visitor Complex in Florida.

"This agreement will continue to expand Kennedy's viability as a multi-user spaceport and strengthen the economic opportunities for Florida and the nation," Bolden said. "It also continues to demonstrate NASA's commitment and progress in building a strong commercial space industry so that American companies are providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations."

NASA issued a Request For Information document in August 2012 to identify new and innovative ways to use the SLF for current and future commercial and government mission activities. Space Florida's proposal is aligned closely with Kennedy's vision for creating a multi-user spaceport.

The SLF opened for flights in 1976. The concrete runway is 15,000 feet long and 300 feet wide.

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L-1011 takes off from Vandenberg carrying Pegasus XL rocket

An Orbital Sciences L-1011 carrier aircraft takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on a mission to launch NASA's IRIS spacecraft into low-Earth orbit. IRIS, short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, was launched on Thursday aboard an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket released from the L-1011.

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind.

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Leasing company takes delivery of its first Boeing 787

The Boeing Company, International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC) and Norwegian celebrated several milestones Thursday during a delivery ceremony for a new 787 Dreamliner. It was the first 787 delivered to ILFC and its lessee, Norwegian, which will operate the airplane. The 787 also marked the 700th airplane Boeing delivered to ILFC.

"Norwegian gains a significant competitive advantage by opening its long-haul routes with this airplane,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner.

The delivery to ILFC builds on Boeing's 40-year relationship with the Los Angeles-based leasing company and largest 787 customer with 74 Dreamliners on order.

Norwegian Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Kjos said, "Both our many customers and we at Norwegian have been looking forward to this for several months.”

Norwegian currently has eight 787s on order through lease agreements and direct deliveries. The carrier will use the 787s to service its new long-haul routes from Oslo and Stockholm to New York and Bangkok. In November, the airline also will operate the 787 to Fort Lauderdale from Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

To date, the 787 has accumulated 930 orders from 58 customers worldwide.

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New solar research satellite embarks on two-year mission

Scientists will soon be able to observe the sun like never before, thanks to the successful launch of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft. IRIS was launched Thursday at 10:27 p.m. EDT aboard a Pegasus XL rocket on a mission to study the solar atmosphere.

"IRIS will help scientists understand the mysterious and energetic interface between the surface and corona of the sun,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington.

IRIS will observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind. The interface region also is where most of the sun's ultraviolet emission is generated. These emissions impact the near-Earth space environment and Earth's climate.

The Pegasus rocket, carrying IRIS, was dropped from a L-1011 aircraft over the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 39,000 feet, about 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The rocket placed IRIS into a sun-synchronous polar orbit that will allow it to make almost continuous solar observations during its two-year mission.

The L-1011 crew released Pegasus at 10:27 p.m. The first stage ignited five seconds later to carry IRIS into space. IRIS successfully separated from the third stage of the Pegasus rocket at 10:40 p.m. At 11:05 p.m., the IRIS team confirmed the spacecraft had successfully deployed its solar arrays, has power and has acquired the sun, indications that all systems are operating as expected.

"Now that IRIS is in orbit, we can begin our 30-day engineering checkout followed by a 30-day science checkout and calibration period,” said IRIS project manager Gary Kushner of the Lockheed Martin Solar andAtmospheric Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif. During this phase, the team will check image quality and perform calibrations and other tests to ensure a successful mission. Following the 60-day checkout period, IRIS will start science observations.

NASA's Explorer Program at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., provides overall management of the IRIS mission. The principal investigator institution is Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center. NASA's Ames Research Center will perform ground commanding and flight operations and receive science data and spacecraft telemetry.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory designed the IRIS telescope. The Norwegian Space Centre and NASA's Near Earth Network provide the ground stations using antennas at Svalbard, Norway; Fairbanks, Alaska; McMurdo, Antarctica; and Wallops Island, Va.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

One of the world’s most sophisticated communications satellites

Arianespace is keeping up the mission pace at its French Guiana spaceport with the acceptance of another heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, which now is being readied for the integration of a dual-satellite payload to be orbited on July 25.

Designated Flight VA214 (signifying the 214th liftoff of an Ariane-series vehicle), the mission will mark the 70th launch of an Ariane 5. The vehicle will carry the INSAT-3D meteorological satellite along with the Alphasat communications relay platform.


INSAT-3D was developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and carries weather forecasting payloads along with a search and rescue relay system. Its liftoff mass will be approximately 2,100 kilograms.

As part of the pre-launch checkout process, INSAT-3D underwent a test deployment of its solar panels in the spaceport’s clean room facilities – which is a typical checkout step performed by ISRO with its satellites once they are in French Guiana.


Riding as co-passenger on the upcoming Ariane 5 flight is Europe’s Alphasat, which is ranked as one of the world’s most sophisticated communications satellites. Alphasat carries a new-generation advanced mobile L-band communications payload along with four technological demonstration payloads for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Built by Astrium, Alphasat will have a mass of more than six metric tons at launch, and is to be operated under an agreement between the ESA and European commercial satellite operator Inmarsat.

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Video: Author's first children's book launched into space

L.A. native and middle school author/teacher Joseph Gutiz literally launched his first children's novel into space recently using a weather balloon, a GoPro camera and a GPS satellite-tracking device.

Gutiz wanted to do something different for the launching of his children's novel, The Adventures of Chubby Cheeks: The Pro Quest. His out of the box idea turned out to be a success as he was able to retrieve the video with all of its footage 80 miles into the Mojave Desert, from where it was launched.

The Adventures of Chubby Cheeks: The Pro Quest is a novel for ages 8-13, but can be a good read for adults as well. This urban novel brings awareness to the various common issues that plague today's youth. Diverse characters are featured in a well-plotted story that eventually leads to an inspirational Venice Beach skateboarding competition between his bullies and his group of friends.

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Join the hunt for potentially hazardous asteroids

The asteroid mining company Planetary Resources announced on Thursday that they have entered into a collaboration with Zooniverse that will empower the general public to aid in the search for dangerous near Earth asteroids (NEAs).

It's been 66 million years since scientists believe a 10-kilometer asteroid slammed into the Earth, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today, there are approximately 620,000 objects that are actively tracked in our Solar System, which represents merely one percent of the 60 million asteroids estimated to orbit the Sun.

Planetary Resources is in the final stretch of its Kickstarter campaign, ARKYD- the world's first crowdfunded space telescope for the public, which has generated nearly 15,000 supporters and $1.2 million in pledges. If pledges reach $1.7 million in the three remaining days of the campaign, Planetary Resources and Zooniverse will create Asteroid Zoo, a program to allow students, citizen scientists and space enthusiasts to find potentially hazardous asteroids.

Modeled after Zooniverse's popular Galaxy Zoo and other astronomy projects, Asteroid Zoo will allow the public to search through more than three-million images collected by Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) for undiscovered asteroids in a fun, game-like process from their personal computers. The public's findings will be used by scientists to develop advanced asteroid-searching technology for telescopes on Earth and in space, including the ARKYD. Of all the asteroids ever discovered, 93 percent were found in the last 15 years and nearly half of the near-Earth asteroids were discovered by CSS.

Chris Lintott, astronomer at the University of Oxford and Zooniverse principal investigator said, "Zooniverse volunteers have already inspected more than a million galaxies, discovered planets and kept an eye on solar storms. We're looking forward to working with Planetary Resources to make sure citizen scientists everywhere can make a real contribution to spotting asteroids too."

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First KC-46A tanker aircraft taking shape at Boeing

Boeing workers in Everett, Wash. on Wednesday loaded a wing spar for the first U.S. Air Force KC-46A aerial refueling tanker, starting production of that aircraft and achieving another milestone toward delivering 179 tankers during the next 14 years.

The KC-46A is based on Boeing's commercial 767-200ER, a proven airframe in service as an airliner, freighter and tanker. Boeing has delivered more than 1,050 767s worldwide.

The spar, the main structural component of the wing, is 82 feet 5 inches long. On the aircraft, it provides critical support for flight loads and the weight of the wings when the plane is not flying.

The program’s next major contractual milestone, the Air Force’s Critical Design Review, starts next month.

Boeing employees are also preparing the 767 production line for assembly of the next-generation tanker’s aft and forward body structures. The aircraft will be assembled in November and roll out of the factory in January.

Next June, Boeing will begin installation of military-unique systems on the aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle as well as testing. First flight for the fully provisioned tanker is scheduled for early 2015, with first delivery in 2016.

Boeing expects to build and deliver the first 18 KC-46As by 2017 and a total of 179 by 2027 if all options under the contract are exercised.

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Third UK F-35 arrives at Eglin Air Force Base

The third Lockheed Martin F-35B Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing (STOVL) Lightning II for the United Kingdom arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Tuesday where it will be used for pilot and maintainer training. U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Roger Hardy piloted the aircraft known as BK-3 (ZM137) on its 90-minute ferry flight from the Lockheed Martin F-35 production facility at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.

“In less than a year, we have taken ownership of our first three aircraft and begun both pilot and engineer training,” said Group Captain Harv Smyth, the U.K.'s Joint Strike Fighter National Deputy.

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, headquartered in the U.K. The U.S. Marine Corps plans to declare Initial Operational Capability with the STOVL in 2015.

The program's more than 500 British suppliers will build 15 percent of each F-35 produced. U.K. industry is responsible for numerous F-35 components including the aft fuselage, fuel system and crew escape system. Key F-35 suppliers in the U.K. include BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, SELEX, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce.

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NASA solar satellite will ride air-launched rocket into space

The launch of NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission is scheduled for 10:27 p.m. EDT Thursday over the Pacific Ocean.

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer Mission designed to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind.

IRIS will be launched aboard a Pegasus XL rocket that is dropped from a L-1011 aircraft in mid-flight. The drop of the air-launched Pegasus will occur over the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 39,000 feet, about 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The L-1011 will takeoff from Vandenberg.

Because of a significant power outage at Vandenberg earlier this week, certain Western Range facilities were not be ready to support the original Wednesday launch date. A Launch Readiness Review meeting for the IRIS mission on Wednesday concluded that all Pegasus and satellite systems are ready for flight.

The Western Range has been successful in restoring power to the range systems,” NASA said in a IRIS Status Update. “The range does not anticipate any issues in finishing the activation and at this time, the work is going smoothly.”

The launch team will begin preparing the L-1011 for departure at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. Departure is planned to occur at 9:27 p.m. and the drop of the Pegasus XL is targeted for 10:27 p.m.

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