Thursday, December 26, 2013

NASA and JAXA Announce Launch Date for Global Precipitation Satellite

December 17, 2013
Artist concept of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite.
Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
RELEASE 13-376

Environmental research and weather forecasting are about to get a significant technology boost as NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) prepare to launch a new satellite in February.

NASA and JAXA selected 1:07 p.m. to 3:07 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 27 (3:07 a.m. to 5:07 a.m. JST Friday, Feb. 28) as the launch date and launch window for a Japanese H-IIA rocket carrying the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center.

GPM is an international satellite mission that will provide advanced observations of rain and snowfall worldwide, several times a day to enhance our understanding of the water and energy cycles that drive Earth’s climate. The data provided by the Core Observatory will be used to calibrate precipitation measurements made by an international network of partner satellites to quantify when, where, and how much it rains or snows around the world.

“Launching this core observatory and establishing the Global Precipitation Measurement mission is vitally important for environmental research and weather forecasting,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. “Knowing rain and snow amounts accurately over the whole globe is critical to understanding how weather and climate impact agriculture, fresh water availability, and responses to natural disasters.”

With the addition of the new Core Observatory, the satellites in the GPM constellation will include the NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership mission, launched in 2012; the NASA-JAXA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), launched in 1997; and several other satellites managed by JAXA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the Centre National D’Etudies Spatiales of France and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

“We will use data from the GPM mission not only for Earth science research but to improve weather forecasting and respond to meteorological disasters,” said Shizuo Yamamoto, executive director of JAXA. “We would also like to aid other countries in the Asian region suffering from flood disasters by providing data for flood alert systems. Our dual-frequency precipitation radar, developed with unique Japanese technologies, plays a central role in the GPM mission.”

The GPM Core Observatory builds on the sensor technology developed for the TRMM mission, with two innovative new instruments. The GPM Microwave Imager, built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo., will observe rainfall and snowfall at 13 different frequencies. The Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar, developed by JAXA with the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Tokyo, transmits radar frequencies that will detect ice and light rain, as well as heavier rainfall. It also will be able to measure the size and distribution of raindrops, snowflakes and ice particles.

(Learn More at Ask Kuiper)

For more information on the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, visit:


Monday, December 16, 2013

The death of the universe - Renée Hlozek

Published on Dec 12, 2013

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The shape, contents and future of the universe are all intricately related. We know that it's mostly flat; we know that it's made up of baryonic matter (like stars and planets), but mostly dark matter and dark energy; and we know that it's expanding constantly, so that all stars will eventually burn out into a cold nothingness. Renée Hlozek expands on the beauty of this dark ending.

Lesson by Renée Hlozek, animation by Giant Animation Studios.

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Light waves, visible and invisible - Lucianne Walkowicz

Published on Sep 19, 2013

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Each kind of light has a unique wavelength, but human eyes can only perceive a tiny slice of the full spectrum -- the very narrow range from red to violet. Microwaves, radio waves, x-rays and more are hiding, invisible, just beyond our perception. Lucianne Walkowicz shows us the waves we can't see.

Lesson by Lucianne Walkowicz, animation by Pew36 Animation Studios.

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Why extremophiles bode well for life beyond Earth - Louisa Preston

Published on Oct 7, 2013

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Life on Earth requires three things: liquid water, a source of energy within a habitable range from the sun and organic carbon-based material. But life is surprisingly resilient, and organisms called extremophiles can be found in hostile living conditions (think extreme temperatures and little access to oxygen). Louisa Preston argues why extremophiles give astrobiologists hope for life in the universe.

Lesson by Louisa Preston, animation by Emanuel Friberg.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Imagine Taking a Vacation to the Moon by 2043

By Dave Gilbert, CNN
December 9, 2013

England (CNN) -- Imagine the delight at unwrapping your Christmas present in 2043 and discovering you've been gifted a trip around the Moon.

It may seem a little far-fetched right now but it could become a reality if space companies like Virgin Galactic realize their aspirations over the next 30 years or so.

Richard Branson and his children are due to fly in his company's spaceship on its first commercial flight currently slated for 2014. But speaking to CNN outside a space conference in the UK last week, the company's CEO George Whitesides said their ambitions extended beyond sub-orbital flights for those first customers.

"If we can make significant progress on the challenge of reusable space access then I think that opens up all kinds of opportunities in the future," he said.

"One of the directions that might open up is high-speed point-to-point travel on Earth -- so that you could go from London to Singapore in an hour or go from London to Los Angeles in a couple of hours.

"We may be able to open up the opportunity for habitats in low Earth orbit, we could make it more affordable to do longer term flights -- even trips around the Moon. I think he [Branson] has high aspirations for a lot of these different activities."

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Goddard Planetary Instruments Score a Hat Trick

Dec. 5, 2013
Three mass spectrometers built at Goddard were operating on the same day at the moon, on Mars and en route to Mars.
Image Credit: NASA

Planetary instruments from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., hit the trifecta on Dec. 4, running three experiments of the same kind at different places in space.

The instruments, all flying on NASA missions, are mass spectrometers, designed to take in atmospheric, rock or soil samples and identify particular molecules in them. The investigations lined up because of the operating schedules for the three, which must take turns with other instruments on their respective spacecraft.

“At the moon and Mars and part way in between, we had three mass spectrometers happily operating in their other-worldly environments or being checked out for the first time in space on the same day,” said Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator for the instruments.

Goddard’s Planetary Environments Lab, headed by Mahaffy, built all three instruments. The mass spectrometers identify gases in atmospheric samples or gases that get released from rock or soil samples as they are processed. To pick out individual components in a sample, an electron beam is used to break the large molecules into smaller fragments. Then high-frequency electric fields are applied to the resulting mixture to sort the fragments by mass and electric charge, producing a fingerprint of the molecules present.

Stationed at the moon was NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, which entered an equatorial orbit on Nov. 20 and began science operations the following day. On Dec. 4, the mission’s Neutral Mass Spectrometer was checking out the moon’s thin atmosphere. The instrument will continue to collect samples over multiple orbits with the moon in different space environments.

En route to Mars was NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission. Launched on Nov. 18, the spacecraft is in the early cruise phase and is scheduled to arrive at the Red Planet in September 2014. The mission’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer was turned on for the first time on Dec. 4 and measured calibration gases in the instrument.

Upon the spacecraft’s arrival at Mars, the instrument will study the planet’s fragile upper atmosphere, examining its composition and determining how quickly some of the gases are escaping into space over time. This information will help scientists understand what the Martian atmosphere looked like billions of years ago and how most of it has been lost since then.

On the surface of Mars was NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which carries the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. SAM has been analyzing multiple samples of the atmosphere and soils and rocks to help scientists understand how habitable Mars was in the past.

“With these studies, mass spectrometry is helping us piece together the histories of the moon and Mars and offers a vision of their futures,” said Mahaffy. “It’s a perfect example of how invaluable these instruments are for space science.”

MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. Goddard manages the MAVEN mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., built the Curiosity rover and manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project. NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California manages the LADEE mission.

By Elizabeth Zubritsky, NASA


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Laser communication mission targets 2017 launch

December 3, 2013

This is an artist rendering of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration hosted aboard a Space Systems Loral commercial communications satellite.
Credit: Space Systems/Loral
NASA's next laser communication mission recently passed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), another major milestone towards the launch of the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) scheduled for 2017.

The PDR is a major agency evaluation milestone of the engineering plan to execute the build and launch of LCRD onboard a Space Systems Loral commercial satellite. "The board concluded that the LCRD review was a resounding success," said Tupper Hyde, chairperson of the PDR. "They met all review success criteria and the LCRD team is ready to proceed with mission plans to conduct this ground-breaking demonstration."

The LCRD project is NASA's first long duration optical communications mission. This demonstration will build from NASA's highly successful Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) mission. LCRD will conduct a two-year demonstration of optical relay services to determine how well the system operates and collect long-term performance data. The Goddard team leads the project with significant support from MIT Lincoln Laboratory, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Space Systems/Loral (SSL).

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