NASA Opens the Lid on OSIRIS-REx's Sample Capsule

OSIRIS REx Asteroid Sample Return lid opening at Building 31 Astromaterials Curation Facility at the Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

On Sunday, September 23rd, the Sample Retrieval Capsule (SRC) from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission landed in the Utah desert. Shortly thereafter, recovery teams arrived in helicopters, inspected and secured the samples, and flew them to the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). On Monday, the sample canister was transferred to the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate (ARES) in Houston, Texas. Yesterday, on Tuesday, September 26th, NASA announced that the process of unsealing and removing the samples from the canister had begun with the removal of the initial lid.

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NASA’s New Horizons Mission Still Threatened

Artist view of the New Horizons spacecraft against a sea of stars. Credit: Serge Brunier/Marc Postman/Dan Durda
Artist view of the New Horizons spacecraft against a sea of stars. Credit: Serge Brunier/Marc Postman/Dan Durda

The New Horizons spacecraft that studied Pluto and Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth continues its pioneering exploration of the Kuiper Belt. However, that might soon end if NASA doesn’t change course. The New Horizons science team has been told by NASA that the mission as they know it is slated to end September 30, 2024.

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NASA is Helping to Develop a Mach 4 Passenger Jet

Concept illustration of a Boeing high-supersonic commercial passenger aircraft. Credit: Boeing

The concept of supersonic transport (SST) has been a part of the commercial flight and aerospace sector since the 1970s. But as the Concorde demonstrated, the technology’s commercial viability has always been hampered by various challenges. For starters, supersonic planes must limit their speed to about 965 km/h (600 mph) over land to prevent damage caused by their sonic booms. Given the potential for flying from New York City to London in about 3.5 hours, which otherwise takes about 8 hours on average, aerospace engineers hope to overcome this problem.

Since 2006, the NASA Commercial Supersonic Technology Project (CSTP) has been researching SST as part of its QueSST mission and the X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft to reduce sonic booms, thus removing a crucial barrier to commercial development. Recently, NASA investigated whether commercial supersonic jets could theoretically travel from one major city to another at speeds between Mach 2 and 4 – 2,470 to 4,940 km/h (1,535 to 3,045 mph) at sea level. These studies concluded that there are potential passenger markets along 50 established routes, which could revolutionize air travel.

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Universe Today Interviews Author, Engineer & Technologist Les Johnson About the 8th Interstellar Symposium

The 8th Interstellar Symposium was held from July 10th to 13th at McGill University. Credit: Interstellar Research Group (IRG)

This summer, experts in fields ranging from astronomy and astrophysics to astrobiology, astrogeology, and cosmology all convened at the University of McGill for the 8th Interstellar Symposium: In Light of Other Suns. In partnership with McGill, this event was hosted by the Interstellar Research Group (IRG), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and Breakthrough Initiatives. Between July 10th and 13th, students, press, and space enthusiasts attended presentations and outreach events that addressed the big questions on interstellar spaceflight exploration.

To learn more, Universe Today sat down with NASA technologist, author, and engineer Les Johnson who attended the event and hosted many of its panel discussions. This included the public outreach event “Interstellar Travel: Are We Ready?” where he and a panel of experts (including Alan Stern, AJ Link, Prof. Philip Lubin, Erika Nesvold, and Trevor Kjorlien) discussed the technological, social, and ethical dimensions of traveling nearby stars. He was also a featured guest for the Science Fiction Author Panel, where he was joined by fellow SF authors Karl Schroeder, Eric Choi, and Sylvain Neuvel.

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Juno Shares Stunning New Images of Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon Io

Io, in all of its volcanic glory! Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Thomas Thomopoulos ©

The Galilean Moons, named in honor of Galileo Galileo, who first observed them in 1610, are a fascinating collection of satellites. For decades, scientists have been immensely fascinated by the three icy companions – Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – which have oceans in their interiors that possibly support life. But Io has also been a focal point of interest lately, owing to the volcanic activity on its surface and lava plumes reaching 300 to 500 km (186 to 310 mi) into space. Since 2016, NASA’s Juno probe has provided stunning images of Io as it continues to orbit its main science objective, Jupiter.

The latest was acquired by the Juno probe’s main camera (JunoCam) on July 31st, 2023, at 05:03 AM UTC (01:03 AM EDT; July 30th, 10:03 PM PDT) and showed Prometheus spewing out lava. This active volcano is located within a 28-km (17-mi) -wide volcanic pit named Prometheus Patera on the hemisphere facing away from Jupiter. Prometheus is known for its regular eruptions, hence its nickname in the astrogeological community, “Old Faithful of Io.” A processed image of the eruption was shared by the NASA Planetary Science Division via Twitter (see below).

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Watch the Mars Sample Return Mission Test the Rocket That’ll Leap off the Surface of Mars

The Mars Sample Return (MSR) has been going through a rough patch lately. We recently reported on reports coming out about Congress restricting its budget and potential cost overruns. However, like any good government program, progress continues toward the goal of bringing samples until there is a clear order to stop or the money drives up. That wasn’t the case back in March and April when NASA successfully tested two engines that will be used in the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).

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NASA is Working on Technology to 3D Print Circuits in Space

Image of a 3D-printed circuit on display during the Goddard Field Day event that launched on the Suborbital Technology Experiment Carrier-9 (SubTEC-9) technology test flight from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in April 2023. (Credit: NASA/Karl B. Hille)

A collaboration of engineers from NASA and academia recently tested hybrid printed electronic circuits near the edge of space, also known as the Kármán line. The space-readiness test was demonstrated on the Suborbital Technology Experiment Carrier-9, or (SubTEC-9), sounding rocket mission, which was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on April 25 and reached an altitude of approximately 174 kilometers (108 miles), which lasted only a few minutes before the rocket descended to the ground via parachute.

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NASA and DARPA Award Contract for a Nuclear Engine to Lockheed Martin

Artist's concept of a Lockheed design for a DRACO nuclear-powered demonstration spacecraft. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars in the coming decade. This presents many challenges, not the least of which is the distance involved and the resulting health risks. To this end, they are investigating and investing in many technologies, ranging from life support and radiation protection to nuclear power and propulsion elements. A particularly promising technology is Nuclear-Thermal Propulsion (NTP), which has the potential to reduce transit times to Mars significantly. Instead of the usual one-way transit period of six to nine months, a working NTP system could reduce the travel time to between 100 and 45 days!

In January of this year, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that they were launching an interagency agreement to develop a nuclear-thermal propulsion (NTP) system – known as the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO). Just yesterday, DARPA announced that it had finalized an agreement with Lockheed Martin to design and build a prototype NTR system – the Experimental NTR Vehicle (X-NTRV) – that will be sent to space for testing by 2027.

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There Could be Trillions of Rogue Planets Wandering the Milky Way

Artist's rendition of an ice-encrusted, Earth-mass rogue planet free-floating through space. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

A pair of new studies set to be published in The Astronomical Journal examine new discoveries in the field of rogue planets, which are free-floating exoplanets that drift through space unbound by the gravitational tug of a star. They can form within their own solar system and get ejected, or they can form independently, as well. The first study examines only the second discovery of an Earth-mass rogue planet—the first being discovered in September 2020—while the second study examines the potential number of rogue planets that could exist in our Milky Way Galaxy.

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NASA Astronauts Get a New Ride at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s new custom-designed, fully electric, environmentally friendly crew transportation vehicles for the upcoming Artemis missions, which were delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 11, 2023. These new vehicles will ferry Artemis astronauts to Launch Complex 39B for their missions beginning with Artemis II, and were delivered by the manufacturer, Canoo Technologies Inc. (Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson)

In its continued support for the Artemis missions, a three fully-electric, environmentally friendly, and specially designed vehicles were recently delivered to NASA for the purpose of ferrying future Artemis astronauts from their crew quarters to historic Launch Pad 39B before their journey to the Moon. The vehicles were built and delivered by Canoo Technologies Inc. based in Torrance, California, and comes just over a year after NASA awarded Canoo the contract to provide the new vehicles, and almost two years since NASA put out a call for proposals.

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