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Astronomy & Space

Mars 2020 rover able to rock (hunt) and roll – Astronomy Now

June 22, 2019 • By

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover now has the six wheels it must rove concerning the purple planet. On 13 June, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., put in the rover’s port and starboard “mobility suspension,” the wheels and rocker bogies that may enable the robotic to trundle throughout the floor and drive over small rocks and obstructions. Mentioned David Gruel, the Mars 2020 meeting, check and launch operations supervisor at JPL: “Now that’s a Mars rover. With the suspension on, not only does it look like a rover, but we have almost all our big-ticket items for integration in our rearview mirror. If our rover had one.” Over the subsequent few weeks engineers plan to put in the rover’s robotic arm, the SuperCam instrument and a 17-motor mechanism for caching rock and soil samples.

The rover’s wheels, every powered by its personal motor, are fabricated from aluminium and measure 52.5 centimetres (20.7 inches) in diameter. Each options 48 cleats to enhance traction on rock or sand. The entrance and rear wheels are also outfitted with steering motors that may enable the rover to show a full 360 levels in place. Launch is focused for July 2020 with touchdown in Jezero Crater on Mars on 18 February 2021.

The rover’s starboard, or right-side, wheels and suspension are moved into place for set up.The rover is seen to the proper. Picture: NASA

Astronomy & Space

Mars Helicopter reveals it has ‘right stuff’ for crimson planet – Astronomy Now

April 1, 2019 • By

Because the Wright brothers first took to the skies of Kill Satan Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903, first flights have been vital milestones within the lifetime of any car designed for air journey. In spite of everything, it’s one factor to design an plane and make it fly on paper – or laptop. It’s fairly one other to place all of the items collectively and watch them get off the bottom.

In late January 2019, all of the items making up the flight mannequin (precise car going to the Crimson Planet) of NASA’s Mars Helicopter had been put to the check.

Weighing in at not more than four kilos (1.eight kilograms), the helicopter is a know-how demonstration undertaking at present going by the rigorous verification course of certifying it for Mars.

Nearly all of the testing the flight mannequin goes by needed to do with demonstrating the way it can function on Mars, together with the way it performs at Mars-like temperatures. Can the helicopter survive – and performance – in chilly temperatures, together with nights with temperatures as little as minus 130 levels Fahrenheit (minus 90 levels Celsius)?

All this testing is geared in direction of February 2021, when the helicopter will attain the floor of the Crimson Planet, firmly nestled underneath the stomach of the Mars 2020 rover. A couple of months later, will probably be deployed and check flights (as much as 90 seconds lengthy) will start – the primary from the floor of one other world.

“Gearing up for that first flight on Mars, we have logged over 75 minutes of flying time with an engineering model, which was a close approximation of our helicopter,” stated MiMi Aung, undertaking supervisor for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But this recent test of the flight model was the real deal. This is our helicopter bound for Mars. We needed to see that it worked as advertised.”

Whereas flying helicopters is commonplace right here on Earth, flying lots of of tens of millions of miles (kilometres) away within the skinny Martian ambiance is one thing else solely. And creating the proper circumstances for testing right here on Earth presents its personal set of challenges.

NASA engineers examined the Mars Helicopter in a big vacuum chamber that simulated the martian surroundings. Picture: Picture: NASA

“The Martian atmosphere is only about one percent the density of Earth’s,” stated Aung. “Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth – if you put your airfield 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) up. So you can’t go somewhere and find that. You have to make it.”

Aung and her Mars Helicopter crew did simply that in JPL’s House Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber. First, the crew created a vacuum that sucks out all of the nitrogen, oxygen and different gases from the air contained in the mammoth cylinder. Of their place the crew injected carbon dioxide, the chief ingredient of Mars’ ambiance.

“Getting our helicopter into an extremely thin atmosphere is only part of the challenge,” stated Teddy Tzanetos, check conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL. “To truly simulate flying on Mars we have to take away two-thirds of Earth’s gravity, because Mars’ gravity is that much weaker.”

The crew completed this with a gravity offload system – a motorised lanyard connected to the highest of the helicopter to supply an uninterrupted tug equal to two-thirds of Earth’s gravity. Whereas the crew was understandably involved with how the helicopter would fare on its first flight, they had been equally involved with how the gravity offload system would carry out.

“The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter,” stated Tzanetos. “We only required a 2-inch (5-centimetre) hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher. It was a heck of a first flight.”

The Mars Helicopter’s first flight was adopted up by a second within the vacuum chamber the next day. Logging a grand complete of 1 minute of flight time at an altitude of two inches (5 centimetres), greater than 1,500 particular person items of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminium, silicon, copper, foil and foam have confirmed that they will work collectively as a cohesive unit.

“The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” stated Aung. “Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn’t help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past. The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.”

Astronomy & Space

Mars “mole” struggles to hammer its well past obstacles

March 10, 2019 • By
A probe contained in the German Aerospace Heart’s Warmth and Bodily Properties Bundle, or HP3 (decrease proper), is trying to hammer its means under the floor of Mars. This picture additionally reveals the InSight lander’s robotic arm, used to decrease HP3 to the floor. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A German instrument deployed by the InSight Mars lander, designed to measure the circulation of warmth from the pink planet’s inside, is struggling to hammer its means into the soil close to the spacecraft, working right into a subsurface rock or gravel mattress shortly after starting its concussive descent.

The probe, generally known as the “mole,” was supplied by the German Aerospace Heart. It’s designed to dig its strategy to a depth of 5 meters (16 toes) trailing temperature sensors on a cable main again to the lander. After InSight’s robotic arm positioned the Warmth and Bodily Properties Bundle – HP3 – on the martian floor, an inside motor and spring-driven hammer-like gadget started pounding into the soil under the instrument’s housing on 28 February.

However the 40-centimetre-long (16-inch) probe solely made it about three quarters of the way in which out of its housing earlier than working into an impediment of some type. The probe was designed to push its well past small obstructions, however no further progress was seen after a second spherical of hammering on 2 March. Knowledge point out the probe is now tilted at a 15-degree angle.

“The team has therefore decided to pause the hammering for about two weeks to allow the situation to be analysed more closely and jointly come up with strategies for overcoming the obstacle,” Tilman Spohn, principal investigator of the HP3 experiment, wrote on his InSight mission weblog.

Knowledge from the probe present its sensors and electronics are working as designed, capable of measure how briskly the warmth generated by the hammering course of dissipates within the martian soil because the probe cools down. As soon as on the deliberate depth, the sensors will extra precisely measure the thermal conductivity of the soil to characterise the circulation of warmth from the inside.

InSight’s different main science instrument, an ultra-sensitive seismometer supplied by the French house company, is working usually.

Astronomy & Space

How’s the climate on Mars? Chilly, with an opportunity of mud devils – Astronomy Now

February 20, 2019 • By
Climate information from sensors aboard the inSight Mars lander is now posted each day. Picture: NASA

In case you’re questioning how chilly it is likely to be on Mars right this moment, surprise no extra. Simply drop by the Mars Climate web site for a each day report from Elysium Planitia the place the InSight lander touched down late final 12 months.

Sensors making up the lander’s Auxiliary Payload Subsystem are measuring temperature, air stress and winds to assist mission scientists higher perceive components that would affect the Mission’s ultra-sensitive seismometer and temperature readings.

“It gives you the sense of visiting an alien place,” stated Don Banfield of Cornell College, chief of InSight’s climate science crew. “Mars has familiar atmospheric phenomena that are still quite different than those on Earth.”

A typical day for InSight may function a daytime excessive of -17 levels Celsius (2 levels Fahrenheit), an in a single day low of minus 95 C (-138 F) with winds gusting to 16.9 meters per second (38 miles per hour) out of the southwest.

Whereas the climate information is attention-grabbing in its personal proper, it’s important for scientists gathering information from InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Inside Construction – SEIS – and the lander’s warmth movement probe. Each are affected by excessive temperature swings and the SEIS instrument is delicate to adjustments in air stress and wind.

This artist’s impression of NASA’s InSight Mars lander reveals the situation of temperature, wind and air stress sensors on the spacecraft’s higher deck. Picture: NASA

“APSS will help us filter out environmental noise in the seismic data and know when we’re seeing a marsquake and when we aren’t,” Banfield stated. “By operating continuously, we’ll also see a more detailed view of the weather than most surface missions, which usually collect data only intermittently throughout a sol.”

The sensors additionally will assist scientists higher perceive how a lot mud and sand swirl across the lander and supply perception into frequent low-pressure whirlwinds often known as mud devils. InSight’s air stress sensor is 10 instances extra delicate than earlier devices, permitting scientists to detect mud devils dozens of metres away.

“Our data has already shown there are a lot of dust devils at our location,” Banfield stated. “Having such a sensitive pressure sensor lets us see more of them passing by.”

Astronomy & Space

MAVEN’s orbit lowered to help Mars 2020 knowledge relay – Astronomy Now

February 18, 2019 • By
NASA is utilizing aerobraking to decrease the orbit of the company’s MAVEN Mars orbiter to help knowledge relay operations with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover. Picture: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kel Elkins and Dan Gallagher

NASA’s long-lived Alternative Mars rover could have given up the ghost, however the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover continues to be plugging away and NASA is urgent forward with plans to launch a twin rover, with a unique suite of devices, in 2020.

To assist deliver knowledge down from the Mars 2020 rover, NASA’s MAVEN satellite tv for pc is repeatedly dipping into the crimson planet’s higher ambiance, utilizing a method referred to as aerobraking to decrease the high-side of its elliptical orbit with out consuming treasured propellant.

Going into the aerobraking marketing campaign, MAVEN’s orbit had a excessive level of 6,200 kilometres, a low-point of 150 kilometres (3,850 miles by 78 miles) and an orbital interval of 4.5 hours. When the orbital adjustment is full in Might, the low level will stay the identical however the excessive level will probably be diminished to about 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles), leading to a 3.5-hour interval.

“The MAVEN spacecraft has done a phenomenal job teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other important scientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate,” Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, stated in a NASA assertion. “Now we’re recruiting it to help NASA communicate with our forthcoming Mars rover and its successors.”

An artist’s impression of NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in orbit round Mars. Picture: NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle

The brand new orbit will allow extra frequent and environment friendly knowledge relay from NASA’s 2020 Mars rover, permitting the satellite tv for pc to finish 6.eight orbits per Earth day as an alternative of 5.3.

“It’s like using your cell phone,” stated Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator. “The closer you are to a cell tower, the stronger the signal.”

Outfitted with devices to check the martian ambiance, MAVEN was launched in 2013 and arrived at Mars in September 2014. It was designed for a two-year mission, however the spacecraft stays in good well being and has sufficient propellant left to function for one more 10 years. It’s outfitted with an ultra-high-frequency radio that permits it to relay knowledge from rovers or landers again to Earth.

Whereas the brand new orbit will facilitate knowledge relay operations, Jakosky stated MAVEN will proceed finding out the construction and composition of the higher ambiance.

“We’re planning a vigorous science mission far into the future,” he stated.

Astronomy & Space

See Mars, Uranus and the Moon get shut on 10 February – Astronomy Now

February 8, 2019 • By
As night falls throughout the UK on 10 February, clients of wide-angle binoculars like 7×50s should look to the southeast to see the waxing 5-day-old crescent Moon, Mars and distant planet Uranus all within the an identical space of view. For scale, this simulated view is 15 ranges broad, or about one-and-a-half spans of a fist held at arm’s dimension. Uranus is magnitude +5.8 (in regards to the faintest one can see with the naked-eye on a darkish, moonless night) and lies merely over the constellation border into Aries. Fainter space stars are confirmed to magnitude +7. AN graphic by Ade Ashford.

Have you ever ever ever seen planet Uranus? If not, benefit from any clear UK skies throughout the early evening of Sunday, 10 February 2019 when this distant ‘ice giant’ lies rigorously within the an identical line of sight as comparatively shut by Mars and our private Moon, every showing as useful celestial tricks to their distant planetary sibling.

With a diameter four events that of the Earth, Uranus is the third largest planet throughout the picture voltaic system. It orbits the Photo voltaic as quickly as every 84 years at a indicate distance of two,875 million kilometres, or 19 events further away from the Photo voltaic than the Earth. Like its further distant sibling Neptune, Uranus is taken into consideration an ice large because of, whereas it is largely composed of hydrogen and helium gas like its larger kin Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus moreover includes methane gas plus water and ammonia inside the kind of ice.

On the UK evening of 10 February, Uranus lies barely under two ranges (1° 51′, to be actual) to the east of the Crimson Planet. On this night Mars shines at magnitude and sports activities actions a tiny gibbous disc merely 5.8 arcseconds all through owing to its distance of 241 million kilometres from Earth. Uranus is form of 7½ events the diameter of Mars, nonetheless lies 3,024 million kilometres from us on 10 February. The Moon – on our doorstep as in contrast – is solely 392,380 kilometres away this night. Put one different technique, Mars is in further of 600 events farther away than the Moon, whereas Uranus is 12½ events farther away than Mars!

Mars passes a shade under one diploma (58½ arcminutes, to be actual) north of Uranus spherical 05:40 UT on Wednesday, 13 February. Every planets are throughout the constellation of Aries on the time, the Crimson Planet being in further of 80 events the brighter of the pair.

Astronomy & Space

Gravity measurements shock Mars researchers – Astronomy Now

February 6, 2019 • By
The Mars Curiosity Rover on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Using the accelerometers and gyroscopes on board the Curiosity Mars rover, researchers have measured delicate changes inside the tug of martian gravity as a result of the robotic has climbed the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, displaying the underlying rocks making up the 5.5-kilometre-tall (18,000 foot) mound of layered terrain are far more porous than initially thought.

Mount Sharp is the central attribute of Gale Crater, Curiosity’s landing web site, a towering mound rising 5.5 kilometres (18,000 ft) above the crater floor. The model new findings elevate modern questions on how the mound was common, indicating the crater won’t have been totally stuffed before now as beforehand thought.

“This study represents the first gravity traverse and measurement of rock density on Mars,” Nicholas Schmerr, a geologist on the School of Maryland, talked about in a launch describing the measurements. “The low density of rocks in Gale Crater implies that they did not bear deep burial.

“This could mean that Mount Sharp was not excavated by erosion, but rather was constructed by wind deposition and other processes. Either way, it seems that Mars has had the capability to lay down significant amounts of low-density sedimentary rocks that record a complex environmental history.”

The researchers have been able to attain that conclusion after analysing 5 years of data from Curiosity’s ultra-sensitive accelerometers, normally used to help resolve the rover’s orientation. When the rover is stationary, the accelerometers can even detect the slight tug on them attributable to the downward pull of Mars’ gravity.

A view of Gale Crater combining data from three Mars orbiters. The crater is 154 kilometres all through (94 miles) and features a towering mound of layered sediment at its center typically generally known as Mount Sharp. Curiosity landed inside the oval “footprint” to correct of center. The rover is now exploring the lower slopes of the Mount Sharp. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

Higher than 700 archived accelerometer measurements recorded between October 2012 and June 2017 have been calibrated to take away the outcomes of temperature and Curiosity’s tilt and in distinction in opposition to fashions of the martian gravity topic. The outcomes moreover have been as compared with data collected by one different instrument that characterises crystalline minerals in quite a lot of rock samples to help resolve porosity.

“The lower levels of Mount Sharp are surprisingly porous,” talked about Kevin Lewis, a researcher at Johns Hopkins School and lead creator of the look at. “We know the bottom layers of the mountain were buried over time. That compacts them, making them denser. But this finding suggests they weren’t buried by as much material as we thought.”

The findings advocate Mount Sharp’s lower slopes have been compacted by decrease than 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) of overlying supplies as compared with 5 kilometres (three miles) if Gale Crater had been totally stuffed inside the distant earlier.

“There are still many questions about how Mount Sharp developed, but this paper adds an important piece to the puzzle,” talked about Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity mission scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I’m thrilled that creative scientists and engineers are still finding innovative ways to make new scientific discoveries with the rover.”

Astronomy & Space

InSight Mars lander deploys seismometer defend – Astronomy Now

February 6, 2019 • By

The robotic arm aboard NASA’s InSight Mars lander has completed deployment of the Seismic Experiment for Inside Building, or SEIS, instrument by lowering a defending enclosure over the ultra-sensitive machine. Provided by the French Space Firm CNES, SEIS is designed to measure Mars quakes, meteoroid impacts and another disturbances that managed to shake the pink planet, allowing researchers to assemble up a three-dimensional map of the martian inside.

A dome-like wind and thermal defend now encloses an ulta-sensitive French-built seismometer positioned on the ground of Mars by NASA’s InSight lander. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The seismometer was lifted from InSight’s greater deck and positioned on the ground 19 December. The dome-like wind and thermal defend seen proper right here was lowered over SEIS instrument on 2 February. Because of the instrument measures vibrations on the order of half the radius of a hydrogen atom, it should be protected towards exterior forces identical to the martian wind and the implications of temperature extremes.

A view of the SEIS instrument sooner than the wind and thermal defend was lowered into place. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With SEIS now in place, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will give consideration to deploying InSight’s completely different foremost instrument, the Heat Transfer and Bodily Properties Bundle, designed to hammer itself into the soil near the spacecraft to measure sub-surface temperatures. The instrument was supplied by the German Space Firm.