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Home | Tag Archives: nasa

Tag Archives: nasa

Blue Origin Set to Launch NASA-Sponsored Payloads Tuesday

Monday morning, officials with Blue Origin, the regional spaceflight company with launch facilities located just north Van Horn, announced a new launch scheduled for Tuesday morning.

Blue Origin’s next New Shepard mission (NS-10) is currently targeting liftoff Tuesday, December 18 at 7:30 am.  This will be the 10th New Shepard mission and is dedicated to bringing nine NASA-sponsored research and technology payloads into space through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program is an essential program for researchers providing access to microgravity for technology development. Blue supports NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and its role in perfecting technology for a future human presence in space.

Founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin launches their missions from Van Horn, Texas, 120 miles east of El Paso.  Make sure to follow Blue Origin on Twitter for launch day updates and, to watch the launch live, log on to their website at BlueOrigin.com

The payloads flying with us on NS-10 include:

Carthage College Space Sciences Program: The Modal Propellant Gauging experiment led by Dr. Kevin Crosby is a joint effort with the NASA Kennedy Space Center Cryogenics Laboratory. It demonstrates a way to measure fuel levels in microgravity by using sound waves.

Controlled Dynamics Inc.: The Vibration Isolation Platform (VIP) aims to separate payloads from the normally occurring vibrations experienced during spaceflight. The payload led by Dr. Scott Green allows researchers to have a clear understanding of microgravity’s effects on their research results.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab: On its second flight with Blue, the EM Field experiment will observe and collect data on the naturally occurring electromagnetic fields both inside and outside New Shepard during the launch. Principal Investigator Dr. Todd Smith will use success of this experiment to determine how global measurements of the Earth’s electromagnetic field can be conducted in the future.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Cooling tightly-packed electronics onboard a spacecraft can be challenging, and many solutions have not been able to undergo robust testing. Principal Investigator Franklin Robinson will test one of these solutions in his Flow Boiling in Microgap Coolers experiment.

NASA Johnson Space Center: On its third flight on New Shepard, the Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2 (SFEM-2) led by Dr. Katy Hurlbert will analyze various aspects of the flight environment during New Shepard’s mission profile, measuring cabin pressure, temperature, CO2, acoustic conditions, acceleration and more. The data collected will help future researchers on New Shepard design the most effective experiments for the vehicle.

Purdue University: Dr. Steven Collicott’s payload looks at Zero-Gravity Green Propellant Management Technology, which aims to help advance the use of a safer and more environmentally friendly rocket propellant by better understanding the fuel’s behavior in microgravity.

University of Central Florida: Two teams led by Dr. Josh Colwell and Dr. Addie Dove both have planetary science payloads on NS-10. The Collisions Into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE) aims to understand how dust particles react after surface contact during exploration missions to places such as the Moon, Mars and asteroids. The Collection of Regolith Experiment (CORE) addresses the unique challenge of collecting and analyzing material samples in microgravity.

University of Florida: Dr. Rob Ferl and Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul are adapting technology designed for the ISS to suborbital uses with their experiment, Validating Telemetric Imaging Hardware for Crew-Assisted and Crew-Autonomous Biological Imaging in Suborbital Applications. By recalibrating the way data is collected, the experiment will enable more biological research on suborbital missions.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: NASA Confirms Voyager 2 Entered Interstellar Space

Back in 1977, Voyager 2 was launched 16 days before Voyager 1. Both spacecraft were designed to last five years in order to conduct up-close and personal studies of Jupiter and Saturn.

As the success and longevity of the missions continued, remote reprogramming was used to give the twins greater capabilities. This allowed the mission parameters to change from a two-planet to a four-planet flyby.

Knowing the spacecraft were never destined to return to Earth, each was loaded with a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures, and messages in multiple languages.

The Voyager story has inspired generations of scientists and engineers, as well as music, art, and films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

And while we’ve not found that either has yet been enhanced by alien tech, the spacecraft and their respective Golden Records could last billions of years. While the twins haven’t been out in space for quite that long, their five-year mission has stretched to 41 years, so far. This makes Voyager 2 the longest running mission of NASA.

Even though Voyager 1 was launched second, the twins were sent on different trajectories, allowing Voyager 1 to enter interstellar space back in 2012.

Interstellar space is the area that lies beyond the Heliosphere. For reference: the outflow of plasma from the sun, also known as solar wind, creates a bubble that envelopes all the planets in our solar system. It is this bubble that is known as the Heliosphere.

The space surrounding Voyager 2 was predominately filled with plasma flowing from the Sun, until recently.

Evidence of this comes from Voyager’s Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an onboard instrument that uses electrical current of the plasma to detect the temperature, density, speed, pressure, and flux of the solar wind. Since November 5th, Voyager 2 has observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles making it likely that it has exited the Heliosphere.

And, indeed, NASA confirmed today that Voyager 2 has also entered interstellar space.

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence, gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

Although the twins have left the heliosphere, they have no yet left the solar system. Far beyond the planets is an area known as the Oort Cloud. This is a collection of small objects that are still under the Sun’s gravitational influence. While the actual width of the Oort Cloud in not known, it is estimated to extend from roughly 1000 AU to about 100,000 AU (an astronomical unit, or AU, is the distance from the Earth to the Sun and is the standard measurement used when calculating distances within our solar system).

Given this estimation, it will likely be another 300 years before Voyager 2 reaches the inner edge of the Oort Cloud at its current speed. That means it could take 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s JPL. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Now, we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: NASA Announces New Moon to Mars Commercial Partnerships

NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine, announced today that nine US companies are eligible to bid on delivery services to the surface of the moon through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts.

The companies will be able to put up bids on delivering science and technology payloads, including integration and operations that will launch from Earth and land on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be just one of many customers that will use the commercial landing services.

Leading up to these selections, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for the proposals. Serving as the interface between NASA mission directorates, the scientific community, and other external stakeholders, the SMD is helping to develop a strategy to enable an integrated approach for both robotic and eventual human exploration in NASA’s Moon to Mars Exploration Campaign.

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts will have a combined maximum value of $2.6 billion during the next ten years. The agency will look at several factors when comparing the bids, including price, schedule, and technical feasibility.

Back in October of this year, NASA issued a call for potential instruments and technologies for studying the Moon. Those proposals are due in January 2019. This will make lunar payload flight launches possible as early as 2019, as well. If all goes well, these early missions could enable important technology demonstrations that will allow for the development of future landers as well as other explorations systems that are needed for humans to return to the lunar surface. Ultimately, this will help prepare the agency to send astronauts to Mars.

“Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay,” said Bridenstine. “The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”

NASA may offer additional companies the opportunity to join the Commercial Lunar Payload Services through a contract process called on-ramping. They will do this by periodically re-examining the private market for new and emerging lunar delivery capabilities.

For now, the companies that have been selected are:

Astrobotic Technology, Inc: Pittsburgh
Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Firefly Aerospace, Inc: Cedar Park, Texas
Intuitive Machines, LLC: Houston
Lockheed Martin Space: Littleton, Colorado
Masten Space Systems, Inc: Mojave, California
Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: NASA to Broadcast Russian Supply Mission to ISS

Back in early October, the Soyuz Spacecraft carrying Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and Astronaut Nick Hague was forced to abort its mission during launch due to separation failure of the first stage boosters.

Luckily for those aboard the ISS, there were still plenty of supplies to get the crew through the next few months of zero-G living.

Recently, NASA announced the Russian cargo vessel, Progress 71, is set to launch this Friday, November 16th from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:41pm EST.

Loaded with almost three tons of fuel, food, and supplies, the unmanned spacecraft will dock with the Zvezda Service Module on the

Photo courtesy NASA

Russian segment where it will remain for the next four months.

In March, the Progress 71 will depart for deorbit into Earth’s atmosphere.

For those interested in watching the launch live, you can see it on NASA Television Website. For those here in the Borderland, the live stream will begin at 11am local time.

Additionally, if you’d like to watch the live broadcast of the docking, tune in to NASA TV on Sunday, November 18th, at 11:45am MST.

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Soyuz Failure and the Future of Spaceflight

Last week, the Soyuz spacecraft had to suddenly abort its flight to the ISS, sending Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and Astronaut Nick Hague on a rapid decent to the Earth below.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Nick Hague gave his account of what it was like during the failed mission.

“We knew that if we wanted to be successful, we needed to stay calm and we needed to execute the procedures in from of us as smoothly and efficiently as we could. Any time you’re launching yourself into space and your booster has a problem when you’re going 1,800 meters per second, things are pretty dynamic, and they happen very fast.”

Warning lights gave the first indication of a problem just as the team was able to see the curve of the horizon as the atmosphere faded to black.

“I knew once I saw that light that we had an emergency with the booster, that at that point we weren’t going to make it to orbit that day—so the mission changed to getting back down on the ground as safely as we could. That’s the system that saved our lives, Alexey and I are standing because of that.”

Although many have been skeptical of future launches aboard Soyuz rockets, Hague reassures the public that there is little need to worry.
“[the abort system is] on every rocket, and for manned launches on the Soyuz, they haven’t had to use that system for 35 years, but it’s always been there. It’s always been ready, and we proved that last week. The Soyuz is an engineering marvel. That thing is reliable, and I’m just glad that there are so many people that have invested so many years of their life making that system as strong as it is.”

Alexey Ovchinin spoke highly of Nick Hague’s response to the emergency, saying, “My partner, Nick, acted as a true expert and was completely coolheaded. I never saw even a hint of fear in his eyes. [he responded] immediately to all questions from the Earth. It was obvious that he was in total control of the situation.”

Hague recalls when they finally landed safely and were waiting for rescue, “You can imagine the scene.

We’re kind of hanging upside-down from our straps…and we looked at each other, big grins. He holds out a hand. I shake his hand. And then we start cracking a few jokes between us about how short our flight was.”

Now that the crew is home and in good health, Roscosmos has continued their investigation into what happened.

The Soyuz MS-series has a modular design. At launch, four first-stage boosters ignite. Each of these are fueled by kerosene RD-107A engines. Because these four boosters are radially arranged, once they finish their job, they are simultaneously jettisoned.

The Russian agency believes that it is likely that a collision between part of the first and second stage booster separation occurred when part of the first stage didn’t separate cleanly.

If that’s the case, the failed booster may have collided with the body of the rocket as it ejected minutes after launch.

This would have led to the automatic abort.

Though the investigation isn’t yet completed, the Russian agency is close to solving the mystery. In fact, Roscosmos is expected to release a full report around October 20th.

NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine shared his faith in continued work with Roscosmos in the near future. “I fully anticipate at this point that we will fly again on a Russian Soyuz rocket, and I have no reason to believe, at this point, that it won’t be on schedule.”

Bridenstine went on to say, “I look forward to a very bright future for both or these countries and for all of our international partners. The NASA family has to be so proud of all the people that worked so hard and prepared so well for this. We had the right people in the right place.”

Likewise, Dmitry Rogozin of Roscosmos states, “This rocket has a long history of failureless execution,” reaffirming his faith in the Soyuz program.

Both men are certain that Alexey Ovchinin and Nick Hague will be able to fly again aboard a Soyuz rocket this coming Spring.

This is all good news, but a Spring launch could still mean the ISS is in jeopardy. Though the crew has plenty of supplies, and can continue their experiments in orbit, they can’t stay up there forever. The ISS has a Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked, currently. It arrived last June and has a 200-day certification life.

This means that the craft must be cleared to fly prior to the end of that time. Failure to do so might mean the ISS is left without a crew on board. And with SpaceX and Boeing test launches still a way off for manned craft, it may be a while before a replacement crew can be sent to the ISS.

Without a crew to man the onboard systems, the ISS could potentially lose attitude control, which would send it tumbling. If this were to happen, the antennas would quickly lose signal lock and be unable to receive commands.

Without those commands, the solar arrays would no longer be pointed at the sun and the batteries would completely run out of power. Once this happens, no crew could dock with the station in order to regain control.

Though this would pose no immediate danger to those of us living on the ground, it would mean a substantial loss for all the countries that invested in, and still use the station for zero gravity experiments and training.

So, while shooting for the moon is a worthy venture, it seems we have more pressing concerns. And with NASA unable to fly without the help of commercial companies or international partnerships, perhaps our immediate focus should be on getting crews off the ground before we make plans to aim for our nearest cosmic neighbor.

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Video+Story: Amy’s Everyday Astronomy – Soyuz Crew Safe After Launch Failure

Early Thursday morning, the Russian Soyuz rocket failed during its launch while carrying a US-Russian crew to the International Space Station.

Luckily, the crew is safe despite the capsule falling back to Earth in a ballistic re-entry, according to NASA officials.

While NASA hasn’t provided many details about the failure, they did confirm that there was an issue when the booster failed to separate from the Soyuz.

NASA has also stated that Roscosmos has created a commission to investigate exactly what went wrong. NASA and Roscosmos worked closely to insure the safe retrieval of the crew of the Soyuz and both astronauts have been taken to Moscow to be medically evaluated.

NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine was on site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan during the launch. This was the first time he has attended a Russian launch since becoming the NASA Administrator.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague (lf) and Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin (rt)

In a statement following the launch failure, Bridenstine emphasized the importance of crew safety said “NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are in good condition following today’s aborted launch. I’m grateful that everyone is safe. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”

Obviously, this failure will cause ripples within the schedule of the ISS crew as well as planned spacewalks that were to take place on October 19th and 25th to replace batteries attached to the outside of the space station.

Those spacewalks had already been delayed after a Japanese cargo vehicle carrying the new batteries ran into launch issues back in September.

And while it’s too early to determine if this launch failure will affect the return of the ISS astronauts that is scheduled for December, the good news is that the ISS crew has plenty of supplies.

Another piece of good news is that SpaceX is planning to launch an unmanned test flight in January of its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Depending on NASA’s needs, SpaceX states the Crew Dragon could be ready to launch as early as December of this year. If all goes well with this launch, a manned flight of the Crew Dragon could occur as early as June of 2019.

On the heels of this news, Boeing has plans to launch an unmanned test flight of its Starliner space capsule in March of 2019 with a crewed flight to follow in August of 2019.

These prospects are exciting because it will mean that NASA will no longer be dependent on Russia’s Soyuz rockets to ferry astronauts back and forth to the ISS.

If you’d like to see the entire launch, you can check out the official NASA YouTube video above.

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: To the Moon and Beyond

Earlier this week, NASA Chief Bridenstine met with the Senate to assure them that Space Directive One, as laid out earlier this year by President Trump was well underway.

During this meeting, he explained that low Earth orbit needs to be driven by commercial enterprise. “And that’s underway right now.”

To accomplish this, NASA plans to use “Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLIPS).” This would give commercial companies the opportunity to land on the moon and NASA will become a paying customer of that. This falls in line with a recent announcement by SpaceX.

The company stated that should development and testing of the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) go smoothly, they have plans to launch the first orbital flights of the 100-passenger spaceship by 2020 or 2021 at the earliest.

NASA’s next plan will be heavier landers capable of heavier payloads as well as prospectors, “…things that can dig,” said Bridenstine. “We know from NASA’s achievements back from 2008 and 2009, we know that there are potentially hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the moon. Beyond that we need heavier landers that can take humans to the moon.”

Parallel to this plan, SpaceX also recently entered into a contract with iSpace. This Japanese start-up company is set to launch its lunar lander and mini-rovers aboard the Falcon 9 rockets in 2020 and 2021.

In time, iSpace hopes to set up a robotic lunar transportation service in order to use its rovers to help identify and exploit the potential resources available on the moon.

Further, NASA plans to use Tugs (commercial spacecraft like the Falcon 9) that go from low earth orbit to the Gateway, and from the gateway to the surface of the moon.

“These become a critical part of the infrastructure that can be used to capitalize on, with the commercial partners and international partners,” Bridenstine said. The potential of the Gateway is exciting because it gives more access to more parts of the solar system than ever before.

To help best utilize the new NASA budget for these initiatives, Bridenstine stated “Under the president’s budget request, the International Space Station will no longer receive direct support in the year 2025.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX has been planning a similar venture starting with a mission called #dearMoon that could lift off by 2023 on a week-long journey around the moon and back again. This first lunar flight would have the first paying passengers on board: Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa as well as six to eight artists.

The company is also planning to establish a base on the moon by 2028.

One of the ideas for a lunar base or permanent settlement being considered is the potential for something below the lunar surface. Staying below the surface could give the possible benefit of better protection from harmful solar radiation than anything man-made above ground.

To explore the viability of this, scientists have been practicing at Lava Beds National Monument in California. During their time in the lava tubes, three types of portable technologies are being evaluated: ground-penetrating radar, a magnetometer, and a gravimeter. Hopefully these evaluations will help future lunar settlers map lava tubes from the surface in order gauge the stability of each prior to entering.

Once we have mastered how to survive and build on the moon, we can begin moving on to other worlds like Mars. Especially since launching from the moon requires far less fuel to reach escape velocity.

And with both NASA and SpaceX aiming for the moon within the next decade, establishing a base on Mars seems more like more science fact than science fiction.

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To read Amy’s previous stories, click here.

Bel Air High School Selects NASA Manager As Honored Ex for Homecoming

On Wednesday, Bel Air High School officials announced Christopher Carson, Highlander Class of 1986, as the Brenda Sandoval Honored Ex for 2018.

Of Carson, Bel Air school officials said, “His life exemplifies all that Bel Air expects from its graduates: a call to service, independence and responsibility.”

Carson, a graduate of the class of 1986, served as an airman with the United States Air Force. While serving our country, both here and abroad, he earned his degree in Engineering from New Mexico State University. He went on to work in the private sector for Boeing and the Hughes Corporation before accepting a position at NASA.

Carson also received his Masters degree from NMSU. He has continued to give back to his community as a guest presenter at various student career days, even here at Ysleta ISD.

Carson currently holds the title of Flight Integration Manager with NASA, which means that if you want to put a satellite into space, you need to talk to him.

He is married to another Bel Air alum, Beth Bailey and they have 3 beautiful daughters.

Click here to see a list of Homecoming activities.

NASA Chief Plans to Send Astronauts Back to the Moon

On the heels of a press conference regarding the proposed Space Force held earlier this month by Vice President, Mike Pence, NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine announced his plan to send astronauts back to the moon…to stay.

Humans haven’t stepped foot on the moon since December 1972, and Bridenstine feels that’s far too long.

“If you go back to 2009, the United States, through NASA, made a critical discovery, which is the moon has hundreds of billions of tons of water ice. To me, that should have changed our direction immediately,” he said. “From 1969, when we first landed on the moon, up until 2009, a lot of people believed that the moon was bone-dry. So, the question is — during those 40 years, we missed that. What else have we missed?”

Water ice is exciting! Not just for the consumption of astronauts stationed on a future moon base, but as a possible fuel source. Because water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen can potentially be extracted and used as a propellant for spacecraft.

Bridenstine also said he sees the moon as a way forward to points farther out in the solar system, and he’s not wrong. With the lack of atmospheric drag and lower gravity of the moon, spacecraft would need far less fuel to escape the lunar surface. This makes it an ideal launching platform to venture out to other worlds, like Mars.

But there are other benefits to lunar bases, as well.

“I think a lot of people miss the fact that the moon represents an amazing proving ground for all of the technologies and the human-performance capabilities that are necessary to survive on another planet and the ability to develop in-situ utilization abilities,” Bridenstine said.

What, exactly, are the newly appointed NASA Chief’s plans?

According to Bridenstine, the key is in building “Gateways”— small platforms in lunar orbit that will serve as outposts or transport points.

“The [first] Gateway is going to be in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It is not optimum for getting to the surface of the moon, but it enables with a very low propulsion capability — we’re talking about solar electric propulsion — it enables us to stay in that orbit for a very, very long period of time,” Bridenstine said.

And that’s not all. Bridenstine sees potential for international use, both commercial and scientific, of these “Gateways.”

“What we want to do is enable more people to have access to the lunar surface than ever before and more people to have access to lunar orbit than ever before,” he said. “The interfaces we have on Gateway, whether it is power or docking, it is all going to be published on the internet.”

The NASA Chief made it clear, though, that the Gateway wouldn’t be another ISS. Rather, it would only be able to support humans for 30-60-day science missions, but not meant to house a permanent crew.

For more permanent settlements, like lunar bases, there is huge potential.

Recently, the European Space Agency announced their “lunar masonry” studies that are exploring the possibility of using dust from the moon’s surface as a building material for bases and other settlements on the surface.

Because the moon’s surface is made of basaltic material called silicates, ESA officials and researchers are analyzing volcanic material near Cologne, Germany that is a close match for lunar dust. And because lunar soil is made of 40% oxygen, researchers are also studying how to extract it for use by astronauts to extend their stays on the moon.

NASA has even been testing and improving on the powerful RS-25 engine designed 40 years ago to power the space shuttles.

When adding all these ideas and tests together the timing seems right for American’s to, once again, pioneer a new frontier.

Op-Ed: Space Force an Unlikely Idea Best Left in the Hangar

To some, the idea of a Space Force might seem exciting, especially being locked to Earth as America has become since the Shuttle program was retired on August 31, 2011.

Since that time, we have been hitching rides aboard rockets of other countries to continue working aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Recently, space has become an exciting adventure once again with several successful launches of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the beautiful return of its boosters to the landing pad.

So, it seems natural that the idea of a government funded Space Force would spark the imagination, until you read the fine print.

Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence held a press conference outlining the reasoning behind and the steps necessary to develop a Space Force as a new branch of the military.

His speech started off by talking of three new space policy directives signed by President Trump that “will reorient our space program toward exploration, unleash America’s burgeoning commercial space companies, and safeguard our vital space assets with a new space traffic management policy.”

For a brief minute, this might bring to light thoughts of the continued search for habitability on other worlds, alien life in any form, or even astro-mining for resources outside the confines of Earth. But then, Pence goes on to talk about the highest priority of the Space Force being the “safety and security of the American people” from “growing security threats emerging in space.”

Just after the second world war ended, the Air Force was created as its own branch of the military to ensure our dominance in the air. This is the reasoning behind the push for a Space Force, according to Pence. “Space is a warfighting domain just like land and air and sea,” he says.

Suddenly, the paranoia starts with some people wondering about what threats from space he could be talking about. Clips from movies like Independence Day start auto-playing in the mind.

According to the Trump Administration, the space environment has fundamentally changed from what was once peaceful and uncontested, to crowded and adversarial, with other countries seeking to disrupt our space base systems and challenge America’s supremacy in space as never before.

The Vice President talks of Russian missiles that can be launched mid-flight and China destroying one of its own satellites, and then proposes that these countries MAY target our satellites.

So, no attack from aliens looming on the horizon. Okay.   What exactly is the outline of the four-step plan?

First, the creation of a new combat and command for space, The United States Space Command, led by a four-star flag officer to insure integration across the military.

Second, an elite group of joint war fighters specializing in the domain of space, drawing men and women from across the military to support the Space Command by providing space expertise in times of crisis and conflict.

Third, the creation of the Space Development Agency that will ensure the men and women have the cutting-edge war fighting capabilities.

The fourth step calls for clear lines of responsibility and accountability by creating a single civilian position that reports to the Secretary of Defense to oversee the new branch of service as the New Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space.

Though no details on who is being considered to fill any of these roles for command or training of the personnel, it appears this four-step plan has more to do with militaristic maneuvers than pioneering a new frontier, as his speech initially led us to believe.

And with the looming and ever-increasing national deficit that seems to be causing cuts to other, perhaps more important programs, it appears unlikely that the creation of a Space Force will ever see fruition.

 

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Amy Cooley is an astronomy enthusiast with a passion for making astronomy and everything cosmos-related, accessible to everyone through her blog Everyday Astronomy With Amy.

 

NASA Camp Empowers UTEP Education Students

Samantha Martinez liked the concept of chemistry before she knew what it was. When visiting her grandmother as a youngster, she would head to the bathroom to mix different cleaning products with the hope that it would produce a chemical reaction.

That enthusiasm and curiosity only escalated as she matured. It got to the point where she wanted to share that love for science. The first-generation college student earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a biomedical concentration in 2015 from The University of Texas at El Paso and became a science/chemistry teacher at Socorro High School in El Paso’s Lower Valley.

Martinez, a Master of Arts in Education student at UTEP, said she found success in her 10thgrade classroom using hands-on activities to introduce concepts with real-world implications. One example was letting her students make pancakes so they could see the chemical reactions of the batter and after they pour the batter onto a hot skillet. Which ingredients provide structure? Which create fluffiness? How does the batter react to the heat? Instructive, yes, but the students mostly enjoy the taste testing.

“That’s the kind of thing that grabs their attention,” Martinez said. “That’s what makes them want to explore.”

The native El Pasoan went back to school this summer to find other ways to bring science to life for her students. She and two other UTEP peers – Chelsea Lucas, a Master of Arts in Education student, and Alejandra Campa, a senior interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in 4-8 bilingual generalist – spent an intensive week as part of the third annual NASA Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) Educators Institute at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The gathering, conducted June 4-8, 2018, is a professional development opportunity that gives science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators ideas on how to integrate hands-on, low-cost science concepts into the common core curricula. It involved about 50 individuals from higher education institutions in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. NASA conducts similar regional institutes at its centers throughout the country.

“The experience was amazing,” Martinez said. “It was so positive. I am grateful to have gone. I loved every part of it. I am so much more confident now. I think I can engage my students with some aluminum foil and paper cups.”

The week also included behind-the-scenes facility tours of mockups of the International Space Station to include one in a 60-foot deep indoor pool used to simulate weightlessness, and lectures by engineers involved with projects dating back to the Apollo moon missions in the early 1970s.

NASA, founded in 1958, has conducted manned and unmanned space missions through the years. Today, one of the agency’s deep space manned initiatives is Orion, which should start in 2030. One of the reasons NASA promotes science education is because many of the engineers, scientists, designers, mathematicians and more who will work on Orion are in middle school.

“Part of our jobs as STEM educators are to engage and encourage (PreK-12 students) to pursue degrees in STEM,” said Ruby Lynch-Arroyo, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of teacher education, who also attended the institute as a faculty sponsor and facilitator. “But we also learned about how many other fields are tied to spaceflight such as art, economics, political science and marine biology.”

Lynch-Arroyo, who has integrated cross-curricular connections as a teacher for many years, said she would include the strategic thinking and planning that she learned in Houston as part of a professional development training with STEM teachers in the Canutillo Independent School District in August before the fall 2018 semester begins.

The UTEP students were bright and engaging, said Steven C. Smith, a NASA EPDC (Educator Professional Development Collaborative) specialist. He added that he mistook one student for a faculty member because of her confidence and participation in discussions and activities.

Smith said the MUREP institute introduces participants to a repository of NASA educational resources and helps them envision how that STEM content can be relevant to students in ways that will excite and inspire them.

“We know that the feet that leave the first footprints on Mars are probably going to be sitting in a middle school classroom this year,” Smith said. “We are looking for the teachers that will find those feet in their classes, inspire them, and set them on the course that will lead them to us.”

NASA awards multiyear research grants to minority-serving institutions to involve their students in MUREP activities. The program provides internships, scholarships, fellowships, mentoring and tutoring for underserved and underrepresented learners in K-12, informal, and higher education settings. The hope is that participants will help build a diverse pool of future NASA employees.

Smith invited STEM educators to use the NASA resources for teachers and students. Click here to find downloadable posters, images, activities, art resources and more. Educators also may look there for internship and scholarship opportunities. Make sure to click the “NASA Audiences” tab.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

Contributions From UTEP’s cSETR Recognized by Aerospace Engineering Society

A paper produced by Luz Bugarin, engineering project manager for UTEP’s NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR), and Mariana Chaidez, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at UTEP, in collaboration with NASA researchers, has been named the 2017 Best Paper by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Liquid Propulsion Technical Committee.

The work, “Coil-On-Plug Ignition for Oxygen/Methane Liquid Rocket Engines in Thermal-Vacuum Environments,” was co-authored by John C. Melcher, Matthew J. Atwell, Robert L. Morehead and Eric A. Hurlbert, all of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

It outlines the development of a coil-on-plug ignition system that can operate under vacuum and thermal vacuum conditions.

“This recognition is a testament to the tremendous work conducted at cSETR and the caliber of students that we have on campus,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., cSETR director and chair of UTEP’s mechanical engineering department. “For UTEP to not only contribute to a meticulous technical paper, but also have a hand in producing an award-winning one, is a special feat.”

Bugarin and Chaidez worked at the Johnson Space Center for 19 weeks while preparing their portion of the paper.

“Seeing that the research work done at my internship was not only valuable to me but led to the AIAA 2017 Liquid Propulsion Best Paper Award is beyond words,” Bugarin said. “I believe this is an excellent example of the high-quality opportunities that cSETR brings to students at UTEP.”

Chaidez agreed.

“I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with the NASA team at Johnson Space Center and to be able to be part of the group receiving this award,” Chaidez said. “My internship was a rewarding experience and it gives me great satisfaction that the work I completed during my internship aided in further advancing NASA’s and the project’s mission.”

UTEP’s role will be formally recognized July 11 in Cincinnati during an awards luncheon at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum.

As part of their recognition, AAIA will designate the paper and the authors as award winners in its online library. The paper will also be listed in the November 2018 print issue of Aerospace America

NASA Grant Explores Extraction of Metals from Lunar Dust

UTEP’s Evgeny Shafirovich, Ph.D., professor in Department of Mechanical Engineering, recently was awarded $32,160 to start a joint research effort with Lynntech, Inc., for NASA.

“Lynntech invited us to participate because of our experience in the area of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), particularly our recent research with lunar and Martian regolith simulants, supported by NASA,” Shafirovich said.

Long-term occupation of space requires a supply of metal suitable for fabrication of various components and structures. If everything had to be delivered from Earth, the cost would be overwhelming. Fortunately, the Moon and other space bodies are rich in the desired metallic elements.

This project investigates development of a process for the extraction of metals in a form suitable for use in additive manufacturing.

“Lynntech’s process requires relatively low temperatures, recycles all the reagents, and produces oxygen as a byproduct,” he said.

The one-year Phase I will demonstrate the reduction, volatilization, and powder formation steps for metals using regolith simulant as the feedstock.

“Recovered metal powders will be thoroughly characterized for use in powder-based additive manufacturing processes,” he added.

The research project also has potential non-NASA commercial applications.

Riverside High Student Engineers Win NASA/University of Alabama Design Competition

Riverside High School engineering students competed and won their division in a nationwide design competition sponsored by the University of Alabama at Huntsville and NASA.

The students designed a payload for the exploration of Neptune. As part of the competition they also did community outreach events where they visited to schools in the district and presented on science concepts.

Also as part of the competition, the students created a video that was shown on the Chihuahua’s Jumbotron during a game.

Earlier this summer, selected students traveled to Washington D.C in an all-expense paid trip to present their poster at NASA headquarters.

There, students met with one of the senators from Alabama and presented for Dr. Jim Green, the Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. In addition to Dr. Jim Green, they presented for other NASA members during their poster presentation.

The students participated in a semester long competition where they designed a payload for space exploration. In addition, they submitted a proposal and poster for judging by NASA engineers and aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Engineering students that participated were: Seniors Guillermo Avitia, Daniel Holguin, Joshua Miranda, Michael Nava, Laura Parra, and Ricardo Soto. Also, juniors Bryan Amato, Stephanie Cisneros, and Rocio Ramirez.

Local Volcanic Crater is Test Bed for Future Space Exploration

Residents in West Texas and Southern New Mexico may not be aware of a massive volcanic crater in the area, but Kilbourne Hole is no secret to geologists and NASA researchers from around the nation. The National Natural Landmark is about 30 miles west of the Franklin Mountains and is known as a maar volcano.

“About 24,000 years ago, there was lava, magma that came up from deep within the Earth, and it hit shallow groundwater in the aquifer that was here,” explained Jose Hurtado, Ph.D., professor of geological sciences. “It was a lot wetter back then. That water turned to steam and that steam built up immense pressure, and that pressure was released in a massive explosion that produced Kilbourne Hole. The explosion also threw out pulverized material exposed in layers.”

Mother Nature’s unique imprint in the middle of the desert is what draws Hurtado and other researchers to the massive pit for exploration and research. The location has many rare minerals remaining, including olivine glass granules.

While he usually takes his students on the venture, Hurtado recently guided a group of NASA scientists and engineers, as well as a group of journalists, on a weeklong expedition.

The group is part of the RIS4E program – Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration (RIS4E) – and was in the area to explore different techniques for merging science and space exploration.

“This team brings together a diverse group of scientists and engineers to explore how portable instruments could be used by astronauts in the future,” said Jacob Bleacher, research scientist with the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. “The end goal is for us to find the problems with using the instruments here, in an environment where we can come back and test them again. We would like to make sure that the problems don’t come up on Mars or the moon when the astronauts are there.”

The fieldwork had been conducted on the big island of Hawaii, but for the next couple of years, it will be at Kilbourne Hole and nearby small shield volcano Aden Crater.

“This location is a very important place,” Bleacher said. “Analogs, or sites that are similar to what we expect to see on other planets, are a very fundamental part of these test runs for humans going somewhere else in the solar system. UTEP is ideally located near the Potrillo volcanic field, which is where Kilbourne Hole is located. This volcanic field as a whole is ideal to look at because most of the other places we are looking at exploring, like the moon and Mars, they’re very volcanic dominated … So understanding processes that can be studied firsthand here is very important to us.”

NASA Astronaut Barry “Butch” E. Wilmore, a U.S. Navy captain, knows firsthand how important research and testing are to space missions.

“You have to have procedures in place, systems in place, equipment in place ready to go do those things,” Wilmore said. “You can’t just fire that up at the last minute. Even during Apollo it was decades prior that they were doing preparations for what eventually took place on the moon in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and that’s exactly what we are doing now: getting prepared for what could happen decades from now.”

To date, Wilmore has logged 178 days in space and has completed four space walks. He completed his first flight as pilot on STS-129, the final space shuttle crew rotation flight to or from the space station; served as flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expedition 41 and then as commander of Expedition 42. He was on the ground for the research at Kilbourne Hole.

“I think the first time I saw it, I thought about landing and we picked a good spot, just from the visual of it,” Wilmore recalled about his first impression of the crater. “There are so many different layers. It’s very interesting to see places like this and then come in here and assess how it all got here.”

According to the Bureau of Land Management, Kilbourne Hole measures 1.7 miles long by well over a mile across, and is hundreds of feet deep. Wilmore and the team used various parts of the crater for testing and simulations. The astronaut said it is important to have a diverse group that includes students.

“You don’t have a small group of people do great things, it takes a nation,” he said. “Having these students and some journalists out here – it’s a training ground for them to do what they are passionate about. The thought of space travel has inspired us for generations and it does these young folks as well.”

Six of Hurtado’s students assisted with the NASA project. They helped guide members and observed and aided the geology expert with his assignment of flying a drone to collect data.

“I think this is a great opportunity for students to get involved in research like this, make connections and overall get inspired to be part of future exploration,” Hurtado said.

It was the fourth visit to Kilbourne Hole for UTEP doctoral candidate in forensic geology Valeria Martinez, but her first time working alongside NASA scientists and an astronaut.

“To see the similarities [with Mars and the moon], it’s what makes every scientist excited,” she said. “It’s not just a hole, it’s a crater and you can see the science behind it.”

While there is no question the quest was exciting, Martinez said fieldwork is critical for students.

“You can read about it, you can know it theoretically, but you have to be hands-on and see it for yourself,” she said. “You need the field geology in order for students to understand what they’re seeing, what they’re reading, so they can connect the dots.”

Professor Timothy Glotch, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University leads the RIS4E team with the assistance of Darby Dyer, Ph.D., from Mount Holyoke College. Multiple project collaborators involved come from across the nation with diverse backgrounds and strengths. The program is one of nine nodes of NASA’s Solar System Exploration and Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). Read more about SSERVI online.

Author: Lauren Macias-Cervantes – UTEP Communications

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