This Powerful Ion Engine Will Be Flying on NASA’s DART Mission to Try and Redirect an Asteroid

Despite humanity’s current struggle against the novel coronavirus, and despite it taking up most of our attention, other threats still exist. The very real threat of a possible asteroid strike on Earth in the future is taking a backseat for now, but it’s still there.

Though an asteroid strike seems kind of ephemeral right now, it’s a real threat, and one that—unlike a coronavirus—has the potential to end humanity. Agencies like NASA and the ESA are still working on their plans to protect us from that threat.

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NASA Chooses 4 New Astronomy Space Missions for Additional Study

Since 1958, the NASA Explorer Program has conducted low-cost missions that were deemed relevant to the goals of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), particularly where the study of our Sun and the deeper cosmic mysteries are concerned. Recently, the Explorer Program selected four missions that they considered to be well-suited to these goals, two of which will be selected for launch in the coming years.

Consisting of two astrophysics Small Explorer (SMEX) and two Missions of Opportunity (MO) proposals, these missions are designed to study cosmic explosions and the debris they leave behind, as well as monitor how nearby stellar flares may affect the atmospheres of orbiting planets. After detailed evaluations, two of these missions will be selected next year and will take to space sometime in 2025.

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The Lunar Gateway is No Longer a Required Part of the Artemis Mission to Return to the Moon by 2024

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act, which charged NASA with developing all the necessary technologies and components to allow for a crewed mission to Mars. Key to this was the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft, and an orbiting lunar habitat (aka. the Lunar Gateway).

However, in recent years, these plans have been altered considerably to prioritize “returning to the Moon.” Formally named Project Artemis, VP Pence emphasized in March of 2019 that NASA must return to the Moon by 2024, even if it meant some shakeups were needed. In the latest news, NASA has indicated that the Lunar Gateway is no longer a priority, as part of a plan to “de-risk” the mandatory tasks associated with Artemis.

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These are the Boulders OSIRIS-REx is Going to Use to Navigate Down to the Surface of Bennu

Meet OSIRIS-REx’s “Guide Boulders.”

When the NASA spacecraft first arrived at asteroid Bennu over a year ago, the surface of the asteroid was much different than expected. Instead of a surface with large, smooth areas, nearly the entire surface is covered in boulders. That meant that NASA had to do a re-think of the sampling procedure.

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Asteroid Bennu is Getting Some Official Names for its Surface Features

Late last summer, NASA and the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (a.k.a WGPSN) approved the naming convention for features on Bennu, the asteroid currently being orbited and studied by the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft. The naming theme chosen was “birds and bird-like creatures in mythology.”

The first twelve features thusly named have now been announced. But more importantly, some of these features will be instrumental in helping to guide OSIRIS-REx to the surface of the asteroid later this year.

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NASA is Planning to Build a Lunar Rover With a 1-Meter Drill to Search for Water Ice

Meet VIPER, NASA’s new lunar rover, equipped with a drill to probe the Moon’s surface and look for water ice. VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, will carry a one-meter drill and will use it to map out water resources at the Moon’s south pole. It’s scheduled to be on the lunar surface by December 2023, one year later than it’s initial date.

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The Pale Blue Dot: Now New and Improved

Thirty years have now passed since the Voyager 1 spacecraft snapped one of the most iconic and memorable pictures in spaceflight history. Known as the “Pale Blue Dot,” the heart-rending view shows planet Earth as a single, bright blue pixel in the vastness of space, as seen from the outer reaches of the solar system.

Now, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have provided a new and improved version, using state of the art image-processing software and techniques to reprocess the thirty-year-old image. JPL software engineer and image processor Kevin Gill, whose images we feature often on Universe Today, led the effort.

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Record-Setting Space Travelers Return to Earth

A trio of space travelers returned to Earth this morning from the International Space Station, including NASA astronaut Christina Koch, who set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, at 326 straight days. Also coming home was ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, who has now spent a total of 367 days in space (in two missions), more days than any ESA astronaut in history.

The crew of Expedition 61 also included Russian cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov, who completed his third mission for a total of 546 days in space, placing him 15th on the all-time time-in-space list.

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Voyager 2 Went Into Fault Protection Mode, But Engineers Brought it Back Online

Voyager 2. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft went into fault protection mode on Tuesday January 28th. The fault protection routines automatically protect the spacecraft in harmful conditions. Both Voyagers have these routines programmed into their systems.

After it happened, NASA engineers were still in communication with the spacecraft and receiving telemetry.

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