Thursday, May 3, 2018

All systems are go for NASA's next launch to the Red Planet

The early-morning liftoff on Saturday of the Mars InSight lander will mark the first time in history an interplanetary launch will originate from the West Coast. InSight will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex 3E in California.

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. InSight will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its Moon. The lander's instruments include a seismometer to detect marsquakes, and a probe that will monitor the flow of heat from the planet's interior.

The Atlas V rocket will carry the spacecraft over the Channel Islands just off the California Coast and continue climbing out over the Pacific. The rocket will reach orbit about 13 minutes after launch, when the rocket is about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) northwest of Isabella Island, Ecuador.

Getting a Mars mission flying requires a great many milestones. Among those still to come are the official start of the countdown to launch -- which comes on Saturday at 1:14 a.m. EDT. A little over an hour later, at about 2:30 a.m. EDT, the 260-foot-tall (80-meter) Mobile Service Tower -- a structure that has been protecting the Atlas V launch vehicle and its InSight payload during their vertical assembly -- will begin a 20-minute long, 250-foot (about 80-meter) roll away from the Atlas.

InSight's landing on Mars is planned for Nov. 26, around 3 p.m. EST.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The InSight spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colo. NASA's Launch Services Program at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida provides launch management. United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colo., is NASA's launch service provider of the Atlas V rocket. A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'√Čtudes Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. In particular, CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar Systems Research. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument.

Video: First interplanetary mission launch from West Coast

Insight, NASA's next Mars explorer, has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The spacecraft is called InSight - short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - and it's being tested, fueled and encapsulated for launch aboard the powerful United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The upcoming liftoff will mark the first time an interplanetary mission has launched from the West Coast.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Air Canada launches the only non-stop flights linking Alberta to the Bay Area

Air Canada inaugurated non-stop daily flights between Edmonton and San Francisco on Tuesday, one of 25 new routes being inaugurated this summer.

Air Canada's Edmonton-San Francisco daily non-stop, year-round flights are operated onboard Bombardier CRJ 900 jets offering a choice of 12 Business Class seats and 64 Economy Class seats, wi-fi, and features Air Canada's in-flight entertainment on personal touch-screens at every seat.

Flights have been timed to connect conveniently with Air Canada's regional flight network in Edmonton and with Star Alliance partner United Airlines in San Francisco.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Video: Building NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

“Into the Unknown” tells the story of the building of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope – a revolutionary observatory, 100 times more powerful and the scientific successor to the Hubble Telescope. Webb will reveal a universe we have never seen before and is poised to answer questions that have intrigued us for thousands of years. “Into the Unknown” offers an in-depth look at one of the most daring scientific missions ever attempted.

Keeping an eye on Earth's water cycle, ice sheets and crust from space

A pair of spacecraft that will observe our planet's ever-changing water cycle, ice sheets and crust are in final preparations for launch from California no earlier than May 19. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences, will take over where the first GRACE mission left off when it completed its 15-year mission in 2017.

GRACE-FO will continue monitoring monthly changes in the distribution of mass within and among Earth's atmosphere, oceans, land and ice sheets, as well as within the solid Earth itself. These data will provide unique insights into Earth's changing climate, Earth system processes and even the impacts of some human activities, and will have far-reaching benefits to society, such as improving water resource management.

"Water is critical to every aspect of life on Earth -- for health, for agriculture, for maintaining our way of living," said Michael Watkins, GRACE-FO science lead and director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "You can't manage it well until you can measure it. GRACE-FO provides a unique way to measure water in many of its phases, allowing us to manage water resources more effectively."

Like GRACE, the first mission, GRACE-FO will use an innovative technique to observe something that can't be seen directly from space. It uses the weight of water to measure its movement -- even water hidden far below Earth's surface. GRACE-FO will do this by very precisely measuring the changes in the shape of Earth's gravity field caused by the movement of massive amounts of water, ice and solid Earth.

"When water is underground, it's impossible to directly observe from space. There's no picture you can take or radar you can bounce off the surface to measure changes in that deep water," said Watkins. "But it has mass, and GRACE-FO is almost the only way we have of observing it on large scales. Similarly, tracking changes in the total mass of the polar ice sheets is also very difficult, but GRACE-FO essentially puts a 'scale' under them to track their changes over time."

Like its predecessors, the two identical GRACE-FO satellites will function as a single instrument. The satellites will orbit Earth about 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart, at an initial altitude of about 305 miles (490 kilometers). Each satellite continually sends microwave signals to the other to accurately measure changes in the distance between them. As they fly over a massive Earth feature, such as a mountain range or underground aquifer, the gravitational pull of that feature tugs on the satellites, changing the distance separating them. By tracking changes in their separation distance with incredible accuracy -- to less than the thickness of a human hair -- the satellites are able to map these regional gravity changes.

GRACE-FO will be launched into orbit with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites on a commercially procured SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Video: Satellite imagery highlights changes in US forests

Annual maps of the lower-48 United States produced from satellite data illustrate dynamic changes in U.S. forests from 1986-2010. Logging and hurricanes play a significant role in the Southeast, and fires and insect invasion damage forest canopy in the West.

Trees are one of the world's best absorbers of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Understanding how trees and forests change through time is one of the first steps to understanding how active they are in pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which is of profound interest to scientists monitoring climate change.

Developed for the North American Forest Dynamics study, scientists combined 25 years of satellite data from the joint U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat satellite program with information from the U.S. Forest Service to highlight where forest canopy was disturbed.