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Curiosity rover finds organic matter, unidentified methane source on Mars
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Jun 7, 2018
NASA’s Curiosity rover has found organic molecules in ancient sedimentary rock collected from Mars’ surface. The rover’s labs also confirmed seasonal fluctuations of methane in the Martian atmosphere.
Taken together, the discoveries suggest Mars once hosted ancient life.
“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”
The Martian climate is too dry and the atmosphere is too thin, leaving the surface exposed to significant amounts of radiation, for Mars to host life today. But many scientists believe the Red Planet could have hosted simple life forms several million years ago, when it was cooler, wetter and had a thicker atmospheric buffer.
Using their fleet of Martian rovers and satellites, scientists have been searching for geochemical signs of ancient life. The latest findings offer additional clues for where signs of ancient life might be hiding.
“Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper,” said Jen Eigenbrode, Curiosity scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Eigenbrode and her colleagues described the discovery of organic compounds in one of two new papers published Thursday in the journal Science. A second paper details the discovery of mercury fluctuations found in Mars’ atmosphere.
Through three years of testing, Curiosity’s lab analysis has revealed seasonal variations in the amount of methane in Martian air. The variations could be explained by interactions between water and rocks, but scientists say they can’t rule out a biological cause.
The organic molecules identified by Curiosity and NASA scientists were found in samples of mudstone collected from the ancient lakebed inside Gale Crater. The rover’s internal laboratory heated the powdered rock sample to 900 degrees Fahrenheit to release organic molecules.
The lab, nicknamed SAM, identified several fragments of larger organic molecules that don’t easily vaporize. SAM also measured traces of sulfur, which may have helped preserve the organic molecules.
Curiosity’s latest discoveries offer a blueprint for NASA’s future Martian landers — a map for where to look for more signs of ancient life.
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Bernese Mars camera CaSSIS sends first colour images from Mars
by Staff Writers
Bern, Switzerland (SPX) Apr 27, 2018
Image from the rim of Korolev crater (165.9 E, 73.3 N) at 5.08 m/px with a ground-track velocity of 2.90 km/s. The solar incidence angle was 76.6 deg at a local solar time of 07:14:11.
The Mars camera CaSSIS on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has returned its first colour images of the red planet. The camera system, which was developed at the University of Bern, is now ready for the start of its prime mission on April 28, 2018.
The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) has been designed by an international team under guidance of the University of Bern. The Mars camera is on board of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a European Space Agency/Roscosmos mission.
It has now returned its first colour images from the orbit at Mars. The camera system was switched on 20 March and has been undergoing tests in preparation for the start of its prime mission on April 28, 2018.
Replacing the software from afar
“We have had a couple of minor software issues in the initial test phase”, says Principal Investigator, Nicolas Thomas from the Center of Space and Habitability (CSH), University of Bern in Switzerland, “but the instrument is actually in good health and ready to work.”
The UniBern team transmitted a completely new software version to the instrument at the start of test phase. “It is amazing that you can totally change the software in an instrument flying around Mars more than 100 million kilometres away and that it works”, says Thomas.
Some of the first images have been spectacular. The example image is from the rim of an ice-filled crater called Korolev at high latitude in the northern hemisphere. The bright material is ice that can be seen on the rim of the crater (which is much larger than the image).
The picture has a resolution of just over 5 metres and outperforms the resolution of images from Hubble and other telescopes by far. In the future, CaSSIS should operate from slightly lower altitudes to give resolutions of less than 5 metres.
“We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions”, says Antoine Pommerol, a member of the CaSSIS science team at the CSH working on the calibration of the data. “It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of Mars’s carbon dioxide and water cycles.”
The image is a composite of three images in different colours that were taken almost simultaneously by CaSSIS on April 15, 2018. They were then assembled to produce this colour view.
“Our aim is to fully automate the image production process”, says Thomas. “Once we achieve this, we can distribute the data to the community quickly for analysis.”
Observing dynamics on Mars
CaSSIS is designed to complement the data acquired by the other payload on TGO and other Mars orbiters while also enhancing our knowledge of the surface of Mars. It is now known that Mars is more dynamic than previously thought.
Of particular interest to the 25-strong science team from 9 countries (incl. US and Russia) is the chance CaSSIS offers to study changes that occur over the day and over the Martian seasons. Further studies of recently discovered liquid water on the surface will be one of the main aims.
Related Links
Exomars at ESA
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more
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Controlled nuclear transition will make clocks hugely more precise than atomic ones by Staff Writers
Moscow, Russia (SPX) Apr 25, 2018
A Russian scientist from Skobelitsyn Research Institute of Nuclear Physics, MSU theoretically substantiated that the speed of transition of thorium-229 from ground to excited state may be managed depending on external conditions. The frequency of transitions may be increased or decreased by dozens of times. This effect will help create extremely precise clocks exceeding even the best atomic ones. The article was published in Physical Review Letters journal.
The most precise modern clocks are atomic ones in which time is registered on the basis of electron transition between energy levels. Recently scientists suggested switching from electron to nuclear transitions that may considerably increase the precision of clocks due to higher frequency.
However, in the majority of cases this frequency and corresponding energy are too high for the method to be applied. The main candidate to be used in such clocks is the nucleus of thorium-229.
Its low-energy transitions are unique and lead to the emanation of an UV-spectrum photon. The work with nuclei is complicated due to internal conversion that causes the energy released in the course of nuclear transition to be transferred to one of the electrones and not released as a photon.
The probability of an electron gaining energy instead of its transition to a photon in a thorium-229 atom is a billion times higher. However, if the atom is placed in a crystal with a wide band gap, the situation changes.
“My idea is that in a crystal electronic sheath may be completely rearranged, allowing us to observe nuclear radiation without conversion,” – explained the author of the work Evgeny Tkalya from RINP, MSU.
In his new work he theoretically reviewed the transitions of a thorium-229 nucleus in a crystal with the whole system covered with an isolator, a thin dielectric film, or metal.
The author concluded that spontaneous emission can be controlled if the nucleus is placed within such bodies. This phenomenon is well-known for optic electron transitions and is called Purcell effect. Analysis has shown that the cover, depending on its size and properties, may change the transition speed up to 50 times. This process is specifically interesting in clocks, as the emission line becomes narrower as well allowing the mechanisms to keep time more accurately.
“This may increase the precision by an order of magnitude compared to thorium-based clocks that do not take this effect into account,” – said the scientist. “Using these additional physical phenomena, we may reach relative precision over 10-20.”
The main issue that hinders the development of a nuclear clock prototype is the lack of knowledge about transition energy. Currently the inaccuracy of measurements for this value is tenths of electron-volt (eV), and to efficiently excite the nuclei with external radiation, the inaccuracy should be reduced to the level of the exciting laser line width (about 10-5 eV).
The scientist also shared the results of experiments carried out by a group of researchers at MEPhI showing that the radiation can be controlled and proving theoretical provisions of his work.
Research paper
Related Links
Lomonosov Moscow State University
Understanding Time and Space
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Air Force, ULA prepare to launch missile defense satellite SBIRS GEO 4
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Jan 16, 2018
The modernization of the United States’ missile monitoring and defense system is scheduled to meet another benchmark on Thursday with the launch of GEO-4, the fourth satellite in the Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS.
During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Tom McCormick, vice president for Lockheed Martin’s overhead persistent infrared systems mission area, said the fourth satellite will complete the original baseline constellation, allowing SBIRS to finally offer worldwide coverage.
Lockheed Martin was responsible for the design and construction of GEO-4 and the United Launch Alliance will execute the payload’s launch and deployment. The U.S. Air Force manages the missile defense system.
The newest SBIRS satellite is scheduled to launch at 7:52 p.m. ET on Thursday from Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The payload will be carried into space by ULA’s Atlas V rocket.
According to Todd McNamara, delta weather officer at Cape Canaveral, weather over the next two days should be relatively good.
“The probability of violating weather constraints is currently at 20 percent,” McNamara said. “The only concern we have are those cumulus clouds coming off the Atlantic and moving onshore on Thursday.”
The Atlas V rocket has been equipped with an extra strap-on booster to help it conduct a reentry burn and deorbit the Centaur, the rocket’s upper stage.
“It’s our goal to mitigate leaving any excess debris in orbit,” said Col. Christopher “Shane” Clark, launch mission director
 with the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in California.
Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of the remote sensing systems directorate
 at SMC, said the sensors on GEO-4 and the other SBIRS satellites are “leaps and bounds ahead” of the quality and capabilities of those used by the current monitoring system, the Defense Support Program.
The Air Force says the improved technology offered by SBIRS will help them identify dimmer targets — Bythewood said the U.S. must continually improve the system’s capabilities to detect missiles designed to have as small a heat signature as possible.
The constellation of satellites will collect data and relay it to an Air Force command center where it will be used to issue missile warnings and inform decisions related to missile defense systems, as well as improve battle space awareness and technical intelligence.
“The satellite is part of an integrated architecture to allow us to be a bell ringer for the world,” Bythewood said.
Atlas V and GEO-4 are scheduled to separate 42 minutes after launch. After separation, the satellite will begin to circularize it’s orbit. Once it has achieved a stable geostationary orbit, operators will deploy the satellite’s appendices and turn on its systems. The systems will be tested over several weeks before GEO-4 is fully integrated into the SBRIS constellation.
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Mars: Not as dry as it seems
by Staff Writers
Oxford UK (SPX) Dec 27, 2017
Artist image shows modern Mars (left) dry and barren, compared with the same scene over 3.5 billion years ago covered in water (right). The rocks of the surface were slowly reacting with the water, sequestering it into the Martian mantle leading to the dry, inhospitable scene shown on the left. Credit: Jon Wade
When searching for life, scientists first look for an element key to sustaining it: fresh water.
Although today’s Martian surface is barren, frozen and inhabitable, a trail of evidence points to a once warmer, wetter planet, where water flowed freely. The conundrum of what happened to this water is long standing and unsolved. However, new research published in Nature suggests that this water is now locked in the Martian rocks.
Scientists at Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, propose that the Martian surface reacted with the water and then absorbed it, increasing the rocks oxidation in the process, making the planet uninhabitable.
Previous research has suggested that the majority of the water was lost to space as a result of the collapse of the planet’s magnetic field, when it was either swept away by high intensity solar winds or locked up as sub-surface ice. However, these theories do not explain where all of the water has gone.
Convinced that the planet’s minerology held the answer to this puzzling question, a team led by Dr Jon Wade, NERC Research Fellow in Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, applied modelling methods used to understand the composition of Earth rocks to calculate how much water could be removed from the Martian surface through reactions with rock. The team assessed the role that rock temperature, sub-surface pressure and general Martian make-up, have on the planetary surfaces.
The results revealed that the basalt rocks on Mars can hold approximately 25 per cent more water than those on Earth, and as a result drew the water from the Martian surface into its interior.
Dr Wade said: ‘People have thought about this question for a long time, but never tested the theory of the water being absorbed as a result of simple rock reactions. There are pockets of evidence that together, leads us to believe that a different reaction is needed to oxidise the Martian mantle. For instance, Martian meteorites are chemically reduced compared to the surface rocks, and compositionally look very different. One reason for this, and why Mars lost all of its water, could be in its minerology.
‘The Earth’s current system of plate tectonics prevents drastic changes in surface water levels, with wet rocks efficiently dehydrating before they enter the Earth’s relatively dry mantle.
But neither early Earth nor Mars had this system of recycling water. On Mars, (water reacting with the freshly erupted lavas’ that form its basaltic crust, resulted in a sponge-like effect. The planet’s water then reacted with the rocks to form a variety of water bearing minerals. This water-rock reaction changed the rock mineralogy and caused the planetary surface to dry and become inhospitable to life.’
As to the question of why Earth has never experienced these changes, he said: ‘Mars is much smaller than Earth, with a different temperature profile and higher iron content of its silicate mantle. These are only subtle distinctions but they cause significant effects that, over time, add up.
They made the surface of Mars more prone to reaction with surface water and able to form minerals that contain water. Because of these factors the planet’s geological chemistry naturally drags water down into the mantle, whereas on early Earth hydrated rocks tended to float until they dehydrate.’
The overarching message of Dr Wade’s paper, that planetary composition sets the tone for future habitability, is echoed in new research also published in Nature, examining the Earth’s salt levels.
Co-written by Professor Chris Ballentine of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, the research reveals that for life to form and be sustainable, the Earth’s halogen levels (Chlorine, Bromine and Iodine) have to be just right. Too much or too little could cause sterilisation. Previous studies have suggested that halogen level estimates in meteorites were too high. Compared to samples of the meteorites that formed the Earth, the ratio of salt to Earth is just too high.
Many theories have been put forward to explain the mystery of how this variation occurred, however, the two studies combined elevate the evidence and support a case for further investigation. Dr Wade said ‘Broadly speaking the inner planets in the solar system have similar composition, but subtle differences can cause dramatic differences – for example, rock chemistry. The biggest difference being, that Mars has more iron in its mantle rocks, as the planet formed under marginally more oxidising conditions.’
We know that Mars once had water, and the potential to sustain life, but by comparison little is known about the other planets, and the team are keen to change that.
Dr Wade, said: ‘To build on this work we want to test the effects of other sensitivities across the planets – very little is known about Venus for example. Questions like: what if the Earth had more or less iron in the mantle, how would that change the environment? What if the Earth was bigger or smaller? These answers will help us to understand how much of a role rock chemistry determines a planet’s future fate.
When looking for life on other planets it is not just about having the right bulk chemistry, but also very subtle things like the way the planet is put together, which may have big effects on whether water stays on the surface. These effects and their implications for other planets have not really been explored.’
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Old Rivals India, China Nurture New Rivalry in Satellite Launch Business
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (Sputnik) Nov 20, 2017
An India heavy lift vehicle.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has said that it is working to bring down the cost of launching satellites to one-tenth of the current cost. The statement comes in the aftermath of the Chinese state-owned space agency, China Aerospace Science and Technological Corporation’s (CASC) claim that it was “ready to provide cheaper and faster low-earth orbit rocket launches” and “the price could be as low as $5,000 per kilogram and the pre-launch preparation would only need a week.” The comments came from CASC’s vice-president Yang Baohua during a conference in Beijing last week.
ISRO, which has recently made rapid strides in the cost-effective launching of satellites for other countries, including a record launch of 104 satellites at one go, is competing with the likes of CASC and others in creating a niche for itself on the global market.
“We are quite competitive. At this moment, India is quite competitive with regard to prevailing global launch costs. So far, India has launched 209 satellites of nano, micro, mini, and standard size for 28 countries. There is a global move to reduce the cost of access to space to the tune of one-tenth of the prevailing one. India is also working towards that.
“India is developing reusable launch vehicles. We have successfully tested a mission – RLV-TD and Scanjet -TD – in that direction, with TD standing for a technology demonstrator. Efforts are being made for the full-fledged development of such systems,” Deviprasad Karnik, spokesperson, ISRO was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
The size of the global space launch industry is estimated to be worth $336 billion, with all major players eyeing a share in the pie. In recent years, ISRO’s cost-effective pricing and its high success rate, particularly in launching small satellites, has helped it build a rapport with foreign clients. ISRO reportedly charged an average $3 million per satellite between 2013 and 2015.
Arianespace’s rocket costs about $100 million after subsidies, while SpaceX reportedly charges $60 million. The United Launch Alliance – a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing that provides services to the US government – reportedly charges between $14,000 a kilogram to $20,000 a kilogram. SpaceX, however, plans to bring down the costs to about $2,500 a kilogram with its partially reusable rockets.
So far, ISRO has done launches for 28 countries, including Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel. Experts say the cost-effectiveness of ISRO’s satellite launches has been appreciated across the globe.
“There is a high probability of overall costs coming down in the future with ISRO aiming to create an ecosystem where the bulk of supplies and parts will be provided by private players. Many of these technologies will be applied in other aspects and with the scale of production aimed at, better optimization of resources will happen.
“But, let’s be clear these will happen in other countries as well. So what is now working in ISRO’s favor currently is greater transparency and better communication with clients,” Group Captain Ajey Lele, (Retd.) and Senior Fellow, at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses told Sputnik.
While China’s space program is more advanced with six manned space missions, the country keeps tracking the commercial aspect of India’s space program.
“India’s successful launch of a record-breaking 104 satellites into orbit could serve as a wake-up call for China’s commercial space industry and there are a number of lessons for the country to learn,” China’s state-run Global Times wrote after ISRO broke the Russian record for launching the highest number of satellites at one go in February.
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NASA Opens $2 Million Third Phase of 3D-Printed Habitat Competition
by Staff Writers
Huntsville AL (SPX) Nov 08, 2017
The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is divided into phases. The Phase 1: Design Competition called on participants to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts and was completed in 2015. The Phase 2: Structural Member Competition focused on manufacturing structural components and was completed in August 2017.
Future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond will require innovative options to shelter our explorers, and we won’t be able to carry all of the materials with us from Earth. NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, a Centennial Challenges competition, seeks ways to create or develop the technologies needed to create such habitats on-site, and challenges citizen inventors to lead the way. Today, NASA and challenge partner Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, announce the opening of Phase 3 of the competition for team registration.
“The ideas and technologies this competition has already produced are encouraging, and we are excited to see what this next phase will bring,” said Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “The solutions we seek from our competitions are revolutionary, which by nature makes them extremely difficult. But this only fuels our teams to work harder to innovate and solve.”
The goal of the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is to foster the development of new technologies necessary to additively manufacture a habitat using local indigenous materials with, or without, recyclable materials. The vision is that autonomous machines will someday be deployed to the Moon, Mars or beyond to construct shelters for human habitation. On Earth, these same capabilities could be used to produce affordable housing wherever it is needed or where access to conventional building materials and skills are limited.
Bradley University President Gary Roberts said the school is honored to be the challenge partner once again. “Bradley prides itself on experiential learning and student engagement,” Roberts said. “This challenge isn’t something our students can learn about in a textbook or in a classroom.
This is a forward-thinking concept coming to life, and they have a chance to see it firsthand. They will meet the people making it happen and learn about the ideas that are fueling innovation. This could change the way they imagine the future and push their creative limits.”
The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is divided into phases. The Phase 1: Design Competition called on participants to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts and was completed in 2015. The Phase 2: Structural Member Competition focused on manufacturing structural components and was completed in August 2017.
The now-open Phase 3: On-Site Habitat Competition challenges competitors to fabricate sub-scale habitats using indigenous materials with or without mission-generated recyclables, and offers a $2 million total prize purse. Phase 3 has five levels of competition. Interested teams may register through Feb. 15, 2018. Full details, schedule and rules can be found here.
In addition to NASA, Bradley University has partnered with sponsors Caterpillar Inc., Bechtel and Brick and Mortar Ventures to run the competition.
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Thruster for Mars mission breaks records
by Staff Writers
Ann Arbor NI (SPX) Oct 26, 2017
A side shot of the X3 firing at 50 kilowatts. Image credit: NASA
An advanced space engine in the running to propel humans to Mars has broken the records for operating current, power and thrust for a device of its kind, known as a Hall thruster.
The development of the thruster was led by Alec Gallimore, University of Michigan professor of aerospace engineering and the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.
Hall thrusters offer exceptionally efficient plasma-based spacecraft propulsion by accelerating small amounts of propellant very quickly using electric and magnetic fields. They can achieve top speeds with a tiny fraction of the fuel required in a chemical rocket.
“Mars missions are just on the horizon, and we already know that Hall thrusters work well in space,” Gallimore said. “They can be optimized either for carrying equipment with minimal energy and propellant over the course of a year or so, or for speed-carrying the crew to Mars much more quickly.”
The challenge is to make them larger and more powerful. The X3, a Hall thruster designed by researchers at U-M, NASA and the U.S. Air Force, shattered the previous thrust record set by a Hall thruster, coming in at 5.4 newtons of force compared with 3.3 newtons. The improvement in thrust is especially important for crewed mission-it means faster acceleration and shorter travel times. The X3 also more than doubled the operating current record (250 amperes vs. 112 amperes) and ran at a slightly higher power (102 kilowatts vs. 98 kilowatts).
The X3 is one of three prototype “Mars engines” to be turned into a full propulsion system with funding from NASA. Scott Hall, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering at U-M, carried out the tests at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, along with Hani Kamhawi, a NASA Glenn research scientist who has been heavily involved in the development of the X3. The experiments were the culmination of more than five years of building, testing and improving the thruster.
NASA Glenn, which specializes in solar electric propulsion, is currently home to the only vacuum chamber in the U.S. that can handle the X3 thruster. The thruster produces so much exhaust that vacuum pumps at other chambers can’t keep up. Then, xenon that has been shot out the back of the engine can drift back into the plasma plume, muddying the results. But as of January 2018, an upgrade of the vacuum chamber in Gallimore’s lab will enable X3 testing right at U-M.
For now, the X3 team snagged a test window from late July through August this year, starting with four weeks to set up the thrust stand, mount the thruster and connect the thruster with xenon and electrical power supplies. Hall had built a custom thrust stand to bear the X3’s 500-pound weight and withstand its force, as existing stands would collapse under it. Throughout the process, Hall and Kamhawi were supported by NASA researchers, engineers and technicians.
“The big moment is when you close the door and pump down the chamber,” Hall said.
After the 20 hours of pumping to achieve a space-like vacuum, Hall and Kamhawi spent 12-hour days testing the X3.
Even small breakages feel like big problems when it takes days to gradually bring air back into the chamber, get in to make the repair and pump the air back out again. But in spite of the challenges, Hall and Kamhawi brought the X3 up to its record-breaking power, current and thrust over the 25 days of testing.
Looking ahead, the X3 will at last be integrated with the power supplies under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer and lead on the propulsion system grant from NASA. In spring 2018, Hall expects to be back at NASA Glenn running a 100-hour test of the X3 with Aerojet Rocketdyne’s power processing system.
The project is funded through NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnership, which supports not just propulsion systems but also habitat systems and in-space manufacturing.
Gallimore is also the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and a professor of applied physics. Kamhawi is also Hall’s NASA mentor as part of the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship. The $1 million upgrade of the test facility in Gallimore’s lab is funded in part by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, with additional support from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and U-M.
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Arianespace to launch Embratel Star One D2
by Staff Writers
Paris (SPX) Oct 31, 2017
Following the signature of the launch contract, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Stephane Israel said: “We are very proud to announce the signature of the 12th contract with our long-time Brazilian customer Embratel Star One, which comes less than one year after our successful launch of Star One D1 with an Ariane 5.
Brazilian operator Embratel Star One and U.S. satellite manufacturer SSL (Space Systems Loral) have chosen Arianespace to launch the Embratel Star One D2 satellite.
Arianespace reports the signature of a launch contract for the Embratel Star One D2 satellite for Brazilian operator Embratel Star One, a subsidiary of Embratel. It will be launched in 2019 by an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Embratel Star One D2 will be positioned in geostationary orbit at 70 deg. West. Equipped with Ku-, Ka-, C- and X-band transponders, the satellite will deliver telecommunications and direct-to-home TV broadcast services in South America and North America.
12th launch contract with Embratel Star One
Embratel Star One D2 marks the 12th time that an Embratel Star One satellite has been booked for an Ariane launch, following seven Brasilsat satellites as well as the Embratel Star One C1, C2, C3, C4 and Embratel Star One D1 spacecraft. Built by SSL in Palo Alto, California using an SSL 1300 platform, Embratel Star One D2 will weigh 6,200 kg. at launch.
Embratel Star One is the largest satellite operator for Brazil and Latin America.
This latest contract confirms Arianespace’s leadership in the Brazilian market and its position as the global benchmark in launch services. Eleven satellites already have been successfully launched for Embratel Star One. This 12th contract confirms the excellent relationship between Arianespace and Brazil.
Following the signature of the launch contract, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Stephane Israel said: “We are very proud to announce the signature of the 12th contract with our long-time Brazilian customer Embratel Star One, which comes less than one year after our successful launch of Star One D1 with an Ariane 5.
“The trust of Embratel Star One, for which we have launched all satellites since 1985, is felt as a profound recognition of the reliability and the excellency of Arianespace’s heavy-weight launch service solutions, today with Ariane 5, and tomorrow with Ariane 6.”
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Deep Space Communications via Faraway Photons
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Oct 20, 2017


In designing a simple, high-heritage spacecraft to do the exciting exploration of the metal world Psyche, “I find both the solar electric propulsion and the Deep Space Optical Communications to feel futuristic in the extreme. I’m proud of NASA and of our technical community for making this possible,” Elkins-Tanton concludes.

A spacecraft destined to explore a unique asteroid will also test new communication hardware that uses lasers instead of radio waves.

The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package aboard NASA’s Psyche mission utilizes photons – the fundamental particle of visible light – to transmit more data in a given amount of time. The DSOC goal is to increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means, all without increasing the mission burden in mass, volume, power and/or spectrum.

Tapping the advantages offered by laser communications is expected to revolutionize future space endeavors – a major objective of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

The DSOC project is developing key technologies that are being integrated into a deep space-worthy Flight Laser Transceiver (FLT), high-tech work that will advance this mode of communications to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6. Reaching a TRL 6 level equates to having technology that is a fully functional prototype or representational model.

As a “game changing” technology demonstration, DSOC is exactly that. NASA STMD’s Game Changing Development Program funded the technology development phase of DSOC. The flight demonstration is jointly funded by STMD, the Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM) Program and NASA/ HEOMD/Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN).

Work on the laser package is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Things are shaping up reasonably and we have a considerable amount of test activity going on,” says Abhijit Biswas, DSOC Project Technologist in Flight Communications Systems at JPL. Delivery of DSOC for integration within the Psyche mission is expected in 2021 with the spacecraft launch to occur in the summer of 2022, he explains.

“Think of the DSOC flight laser transceiver onboard Psyche as a telescope,” Biswas explains, able to receive and transmit laser light in precisely timed photon bursts.

DSOC architecture is based on transmitting a laser beacon from Earth to assist line of sight stabilization to make possible the pointing back of a downlink laser beam. The laser onboard the Psyche spacecraft, Biswas says, is based on a master-oscillator power amplifier that uses optical fibers.

The laser beacon to DSOC will be transmitted from JPL’s Table Mountain Facility located near the town of Wrightwood, California, in the Angeles National Forest. DSOC’s beaming of data from space will be received at a large aperture ground telescope at Palomar Mountain Observatory in California, near San Diego.

Biswas anticipates operating DSOC perhaps 60 days after launch, given checkout of the Psyche spacecraft post-liftoff. The test-runs of the laser equipment will occur over distances of 0.1 to 2.5 astronomical units (AU) on the outward-bound probe. One AU is approximately 150 million kilometers-or the distance between the Earth and Sun.

“I am very excited to be on the mission,” says Biswas, who has been working on the laser communications technology since the late 1990s. “It’s a unique privilege to be working on DSOC.”

The Psyche mission was selected for flight in early 2017 under NASA’s Discovery Program, a series of lower-cost, highly focused robotic space missions that are exploring the solar system.

The spacecraft will be launched in the summer of 2022 to 16 Psyche, a distinctive metal asteroid about three times farther away from the sun than Earth. The planned arrival of the probe at the main belt asteroid will take place in 2026.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton is Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University in Tempe. She is the principal investigator for the Psyche mission.

“I am thrilled that Psyche is getting to fly the Deep Space Optical Communications package,” Elkins-Tanton says. “First of all, the technology is mind-blowing and it brings out all my inner geek. Who doesn’t want to communicate using lasers, and multiply the amount of data we can send back and forth?”

Elkins-Tanton adds that bringing robotic and human spaceflight closer together is critical for humankind’s space future. “Having our robotic mission test technology that we hope will help us eventually communicate with people in deep space is excellent integration of NASA missions and all of our goals,” she says.

In designing a simple, high-heritage spacecraft to do the exciting exploration of the metal world Psyche, “I find both the solar electric propulsion and the Deep Space Optical Communications to feel futuristic in the extreme. I’m proud of NASA and of our technical community for making this possible,” Elkins-Tanton concludes.

Biswas explains that DSOC is a pathfinder experiment. The future is indeed bright for the technology, he suggests, such as setting up capable telecommunications infrastructure around Mars.

“Doing so would allow the support of astronauts going to and eventually landing on Mars,” Biswas said. “Laser communications will augment that capability tremendously. The ability to send back from Mars to Earth lots of information, including the streaming of high definition imagery, is going to be very enabling.”

As a “game changing” technology demonstration, DSOC is exactly that. NASA STMD’s Game Changing Development program funded the technology development phase of DSOC. The flight demonstration is jointly funded by STMD, the Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) program and NASA/ HEOMD/Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN). Work on the laser package is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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