When NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars, the mission team had a particular destination in mind: Mount Sharp. Just over two years and about nine kilometers of driving later, Curiosity has arrived at Mount Sharp. It will now begin its ascent of the mountain (PDF), first analyzing basal rocks with a "paintbrush" texture, then moving further to observe hematite-bearing rocks further up the slope. It will then proceed into an area laden with clay-bearing rocks, and finally to the upper reaches of the foothills, which contain rocks with magnesium sulfate in them. The team has selected routes and driving modes that they hope will slow the steadily accumulating damage to the rover's wheels.
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First time accepted submitter kit_triforce writes Satellites have just detected a powerful X1.6-class solar flare. The source was active sunspot AR2158, which is directly facing Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash. Ionizing radiation from the flare could cause HF radio blackouts and other communications disturbances, especially on the day-lit side of Earth. In the next few hours, when coronagraph data from SOHO and STEREO become available, we will see if a coronal mass ejection (CME) emerges from the blast site. If so, the cloud would likely be aimed directly at Earth and could reach our planet in 2 to 3 days.
An anonymous reader writes: $3 billion in funding is on the line as private space companies duke it out for contracts to end U.S. reliance on Russian rockets for manned spaceflight. The two biggest contenders are SpaceX and Boeing, described as "the exciting choice" and "the safe choice," respectively. "NASA is charting a new direction 45 years after sending humans to the Moon, looking to private industry for missions near Earth, such as commuting to and from the space station. Commercial operators would develop space tourism while the space agency focuses on distant trips to Mars or asteroids." It's possible the contracts would be split, giving some tasks to each company. It's also possible that the much smaller Sierra Nevada Corp. could grab a bit of government funding as well for launches using its unique winged-shuttle design.
The Curiosity Rover that's been exploring the surface of Mars for more than two years now has a lot of fans (and quite a few headlines here on Slashdot), but not everyone feels positively toward the project. Tech Times reports that NASA revealed on Wednesday that it has renewed the funding of seven ongoing planetary exploration missions but of these, the space agency's Planetary Mission Senior Review panel, which reviewed and rated these planetary missions, was particularly critical of the Curiosity, which also happens to be the newest and the second costliest of the seven missions. The panel is disappointed that given the capabilities of the Curiosity rover, the team behind it only intends to take and analyze eight samples in two years, which translates to two samples from each of the four units it will visit during its extended mission. The Curiosity is the only NASA tool with the capabilities to detect carbon, do in situ age analysis, and measure ionizing particle flux.
After several weeks of delay, SpaceX has successfully launched from Cape Canaveral AsiaSat's communications satellite, AsiaSat 6. This launch was originally intended to occur on August 27. However, due to a failure of an experimental SpaceX rocket during a test flight, the launch was delayed. The experimental rocket apparently malfunctioned because of a sensor error. The company stated that the same error wasn’t likely to occur in its regular Falcon 9 rocket, but wanted to "triple-check" its systems to be certain. SpaceFlightInsider has a play-by-play on the launch process and more details on the communications satellites aboard. They note: [This] marked the fifth flight of the Falcon 9 in 2014. Since the company began using the booster, it had only been able to carry out about two launches annually of the rocket – until now. With the United States Air Force considering the rocket for use under the lucrative Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and NASA already utilizing it to deliver cargo (and potentially crew) to the International Space Station, the rocket has become a popular player in terms of launch services. The next mission that SpaceX should use the propulsive descent landing system on, is the launch of one of the firm’s Dragon spacecraft carrying out NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 4 (SpX-4) mission – currently scheduled to take place on Sept. 19.
An asteroid nicknamed "Pitbull" and detected by the University of Arizona observatory atop Mt. Lemmon on August 31st will make a close approach to Earth Sunday; it's predicted to pass at a distance of about 25,000 miles, and to pass over New Zealand. According to the article, The asteroid is a similar size to the rock which caused enormous damage to the city of Chelyabinsk in Siberia. Last year's explosion generated the equivalent energy of more than 20 atomic bombs detonating and left more than 1,000 people injured while damaging thousands of buildings. Astronomers at Nasa, who track the movements of the more than 11,000 near-Earth objects, are confident Pitbull will not strike the planet.
astroengine writes: Last night (Thursday), two more of Planet Lab's shoebox-sized Earth imaging satellites launched themselves from aboard the International Space Station, the latest in a series of technical mysteries involving a commercially owned CubeSat deployer located outside Japan's Kibo laboratory module. Station commander Steve Swanson was storing some blood samples in one of the station's freezers Friday morning when he noticed that the doors on NanoRack's cubesat deployer were open, said NASA mission commentator Pat Ryan. Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston determined that two CubeSats had been inadvertently released. "No crew members or ground controllers saw the deployment. They reviewed all the camera footage and there was no views of it there either," Ryan said.
theshowmecanuck writes: A newly found asteroid the size of a house will give earth a close flyby this weekend. It will pass just below satellites in geostationary orbit, and above New Zealand around 14:18 EDT / 18:18 GMT / 06:18 NZST this coming Sunday (Monday morning in NZ). "Asteroid 2014 RC was initially discovered on the night of August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, located on the summit of Haleakal on Maui, Hawaii," NASA officials said in a statement.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Once stashed in warehouses in Maryland and North Carolina, images and video captured from orbit by some of NASA's first environmental satellites in the mid-1960s are now yielding a trove of scientific data. The Nimbus satellites, originally intended to monitor Earth's clouds in visible and infrared wavelengths, also would have captured images of sea ice, researchers at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center realized when they heard about the long-lost film canisters in 2009. After acquiring the film—and then tracking down the proper equipment to read and digitize its 16-shades-of-gray images, which had been taken once every 90 seconds or so—the team set about scanning and then stitching the images together using sophisticated software. So far, more than 250,000 images have been made public, including the first image taken by Nimbus-1 on 31 August 1964, of an area near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Besides yielding a wealth of sea ice data, the data recovery project, which will end early next year, could also be used to extend satellite records of deforestation and sea surface temperatures."
An anonymous reader writes: A few days ago we talked over some of the difficulties faced by makers of autonomous car software, like dealing with weather, construction, and parking garages. Today, the NY Times has a similar article about delivery drones, examining the safety and regulatory problems that must be solved in addition to getting the basic technology ready. "[R]researchers at NASA are working on ways to manage that menagerie of low-flying aircraft. At NASA's Moffett Field, about four miles from Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., the agency has been developing a drone traffic management program that would in effect be a separate air traffic control system for things that fly low to the ground — around 400 to 500 feet for most drones. Much like the air traffic control system for conventional aircraft, the program would monitor the skies for weather and traffic. Wind is a particular hazard, because drones weigh so little compared with regular planes." Beyond that, the sheer scale of infrastructure necessary to get drone delivery up and running in cities across the U.S. is staggering. Commercial drones aren't going to have much range, particularly when carrying something heavy. They'll be noisy, and the products they're transporting will still need to be relatively close by. What other issues do Amazon, DHL, Google, and other need to solve?
KentuckyFC writes In 1980 and 1981, Voyager 1 and 2 flew past Saturn providing unprecedented images of its magnificent ring system. At that time, its most distant discrete ring, the F ring, was about 200 kilometres wide. But puzzlingly, images sent back by Cassini show that the ring is now 580 kilometres wide and twice as bright as it was thirty years ago. Now astronomers think they have finally solved the mystery of the expanding F ring. The ring is shepherded by a number of small moons, the most famous of which is Prometheus. These moons interact gravitationally with the ring creating structures such as braids and spokes. The new thinking is that the moons' orbits resonate with the F ring, pushing clouds of dust and ice further away from Saturn. This makes the ring wider. But beyond a certain radius the orbit of the dust becomes unstable and it begins to spiral back towards Saturn and collides with the rest of the ring. This causes a chain reaction of collisions that dramatically increases the number of particles in the ring and hence its brightness. This theory also leads to a prediction--the resonant process is currently at a maximum but should reduce sharply in the coming years, if the theory is correct. So by 2018, the F ring should be back to the same configuration the Voyagers saw in 80/81.
schwit1 writes: Check out this detailed and informative look at the unspoken competiton between NASA's SLS rocket and SpaceX's planned heavy lift rocket. It's being designed to be even more powerful than the Falcon Heavy. Key quote: "It is clear SpaceX envisions a rocket far more powerful than even the fully evolved Block 2 SLS – a NASA rocket that isn't set to be launched until the 2030s." The SpaceX rocket hinges on whether the company can successfully build its new Raptor engine. If they do, they will have their heavy lift rocket in the air and functioning far sooner than NASA, and for far less money.
An anonymous reader writes: We often decry the state of funding to NASA. Its limited scope has kept us from returning to the moon for over four decades, maintained only a minimal presence in low-Earth orbit, and failed to develop a capable asteroid defense system. But why is funding such a problem? Jason Callahan, who has worked on several of NASA's annual budgets, says it's not just NASA's small percentage of the federal budget that keeps those projects on the back burner, but also competition for funding between different parts of NASA as well. "[NASA's activities include] space science, including aeronautics research (the first A in NASA), technology development, education, center and agency management, construction, maintenance, and the entire human spaceflight program. The total space science budget has rarely exceeded $5 billion, and has averaged just over half that amount. Remember that space science is more than just planetary: astrophysics, heliophysics, and Earth science are all funded in this number. Despite this, space science accounts for an average of 17 percent of NASA's total budget, though it has significant fluctuations. In the 1980s, space science was a mere 11½ percent of NASA's budget, but in the 2000s, it made up 27 percent."
An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Opportunity rover has been rolling around the surface of Mars for over 10 years. It's still performing scientific observations, but the mission team has been dealing with a problem: the rover keeps rebooting. It's happened a dozen times this month, and the process is a bit more involved than rebooting a typical computer. It takes a day or two to get back into operation every time. To try and fix this, the Opportunity team is planning a tricky operation: reformatting the flash memory from 125 million miles away. "Preparations include downloading to Earth all useful data remaining in the flash memory and switching the rover to an operating mode that does not use flash memory. Also, the team is restructuring the rover's communication sessions to use a slower data rate, which may add resilience in case of a reset during these preparations." The team suspects some of the flash memory cells are simply wearing out. The reformat operation is scheduled for some time in September.
littlesparkvt (2707383) writes "Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, ESA's Herschel Space Observatory, and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The growing galaxy core is blazing with the light of millions of newborn stars that are forming at a ferocious rate. The paper appears in the journal Nature on 27 August." (Here's the NASA press release.)
SternisheFan sends this report from Universe Today: How does microgravity affect your health? One of the chief concerns of NASA astronauts these days is changes to eyesight. Some people come back from long-duration stays in space with what appears to be permanent changes, such as requiring glasses when previously they did not. And the numbers are interesting. A few months after NASA [said] 20% of astronauts may face this problem, a new study points out that 21 U.S. astronauts that have flown on the International Space Station for long flights (which tend to be five to six months) face visual problems. These include "hyperopic shift, scotoma and choroidal folds to cotton wool spots, optic nerve sheath distension, globe flattening and edema of the optic nerve," states the University of Houston, which is collaborating with NASA on a long-term study of astronauts while they're in orbit.
schwit1 writes: Using restored images taken by Voyager 2 when it flew past Neptune's moon Triton 25 years ago, scientists have produced a new map and flyby movie of the moon. "The new Triton map has a resolution of 1,970 feet (600 meters) per pixel. The colors have been enhanced to bring out contrast but are a close approximation to Triton's natural colors. Voyager's "eyes" saw in colors slightly different from human eyes, and this map was produced using orange, green and blue filter images. ... Although Triton is a moon of a planet and Pluto is a dwarf planet, Triton serves as a preview of sorts for the upcoming Pluto encounter. Although both bodies originated in the outer solar system, Triton was captured by Neptune and has undergone a radically different thermal history than Pluto. Tidal heating has likely melted the interior of Triton, producing the volcanoes, fractures and other geological features that Voyager saw on that bitterly cold, icy surface. Pluto is unlikely to be a copy of Triton, but some of the same types of features may be present." Dr. Paul Schenk provides provides further information on his blog, and the movie can be viewed here.
schwit1 writes: Managers of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) are searching for a mission that they can propose and convince Congress to fund. "Once SLS is into the 2020s, the launch rate should see the rocket launching at least once per year, ramping up to a projected three times per year for the eventual Mars missions. However, the latter won’t be until the 2030s. With no missions manifested past the EM-2 flight, the undesirable question of just how 'slow' a launch rate would be viable for SLS and her workforce has now been asked." Meanwhile, two more Russian rocket engines were delivered yesterday, the first time that's happened since a Russian official threatened to cut off the supply. Another shipment of three engines is expected later this year. In Europe, Arianespace and the European Space Agency signed a contract today for the Ariane 5 rocket to launch 12 more of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites on three launches. This situation really reminds me of the U.S. launch market in the 1990s, when Boeing and Lockheed Martin decided that, rather than compete with Russia and ESA for the launch market, they instead decided to rely entirely on U.S. government contracts, since those contracts didn’t really demand that they reduce their costs significantly to compete.
schwit1 writes: Scientists have found that, despite a complete ban since 2007, ozone-depleting chemicals are still being pumped into the atmosphere from some unknown source. "Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), which was once used in applications such as dry cleaning and as a fire-extinguishing agent, was regulated in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol along with other chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone and contribute to the ozone hole over Antarctica. Parties to the Montreal Protocol reported zero new CCl4 emissions between 2007-2012. However, the new research shows worldwide emissions of CCl4 average 39 kilotons (about 43,000 U.S. tons) per year, approximately 30 percent of peak emissions prior to the international treaty going into effect. "We are not supposed to be seeing this at all," said Qing Liang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study published online in the Aug. 18 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. "It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources."
An anonymous reader writes: The folks in charge of the Mars rover Curiosity have been trying to solve an increasingly urgent problem: what to do about unexpected wheel damage. The team knew from the start that wear and tear on the wheels would slowly accumulate, but they've been surprised at how quickly the wheels have degraded over the past year. Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society blog has posted a detailed report on the team's conclusions as to what's causing the damage and how they can mitigate it going forward. Quoting: "The tears result from fatigue. You know how if you bend a metal paper clip back and forth repeatedly, it eventually snaps? Well, when the wheels are driving over a very hard rock surface — one with no sand — the thin skin of the wheels repeatedly bends. The wheels were designed to bend quite a lot, and return to their original shape. But the repeated bending and straightening is fatiguing the skin, causing it to fracture in a brittle way. The bending doesn't happen (or doesn't happen as much) if the ground gives way under the rover's weight, as it does if it's got the slightest coating of sand on top of rock. It only happens when the ground is utterly impervious to the rover's weight — hard bedrock. The stresses from metal fatigue are highest near the tips of the chevron features, and indeed a lot of tears seem to initiate close to the chevron features."