Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, offers a compelling alternative to more traditional manufacturing approaches at NASA, where the need for highly customized spacecraft and instrument components is quite high. The agency has recently launched a number of formal programs to prototype new 3-D printed components, including rocket engine injectors, and 3-D printers for use in space.
Since the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster, business professor Peter Madsen at Brigham Young Univ. has examined how NASA recognizes “near-misses”, where narrowly averted failures result in successful outcomes. A new study of NASA’s safety climate finds that recognition of those near-misses goes up when the significance of a project is emphasized, and when organizational leaders emphasize safety relative to other goals, such as efficiency.
When a high-altitude aircraft flew over the icy Arctic Ocean and the snow-covered terrain of Greenland in April 2012, it was the first polar test of a new laser-based technology to measure the height of Earth from space. Aboard that aircraft flew the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar, or MABEL, which can resolve elevation change to as little as the width of a pencil.
On Thursday, Jan. 23, Sierra Nevada Corp. will publicly discuss expansion plans for its Dream Chaser Space System Program. The press conference, to be held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will detail the company’s efforts to build a winged, lifting-body spacecraft that provides a flexible, credible, affordable solution for ISS crew transportation.
An international team of astronomers, using NASA's Fermi observatory, has made the first-ever gamma ray measurements of a gravitational lens, a kind of natural telescope formed when a rare cosmic alignment allows the gravity of a massive object to bend and amplify light from a more distant source. This accomplishment opens new avenues for research, including a novel way to probe emission regions near supermassive black holes.
The completion of the 30-day Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) mission has helped confirm laser communication capabilities from a distance of almost 250,000 miles. In addition to demonstrating record-breaking data download and upload speeds to the moon at 622 and 20 Mbps, respectively, LLCD also showed that it could operate as well as any NASA radio system.
Although researchers have determined the ages of rocks from other planetary bodies, the actual experiments have been done on Earth. Now, for the first time, researchers have successfully determined the age of a Martian rock with experiments performed on Mars. The work could not only help in understanding the geologic history of Mars but also aid in the search for evidence of ancient life on the planet.
In the first 300 days of the Mars Science Laboratory surface mission, the Curiosity rover collected soil samples in Gale Crater while the onboard Radiation Assessment Detector made detailed measurements of the radiation environment on the surface of Mars. Southwest Research Institute scientists have published the results of these studies, comparing them to typically doses received on Earth.
The ChemCam laser instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover fired its 100,000th shot recently, chronicling its adventures on Mars with a coffee-table-book’s worth of spectral data that might rival snapshots gathered during a long and satisfying family vacation here on Earth. ChemCam zaps rocks with a high-powered laser to determine their composition and carries a camera that can survey the Martian landscape.
A research team has discovered a natural particle accelerator of interstellar scale. By analyzing data from NASA’s Van Allen probes, physicists have been able to measure and identify the “smoking gun” of a planetary scale process that accelerates particles to speeds close to the speed of light within the Van Allen radiation belt.
Using the powerful eye of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets. The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.
Orbiting telescopes got the fireworks show of a lifetime last spring when they spotted what is known as a gamma ray burst in a far-off galaxy. It’s not an unusual occurrence, but this one set records. Had it been closer, Earth would have been toast. But because this blast was 3.7 billion light-years away, mankind was spared.
A pioneering technology called an atom interferometer promises to detect tiny perturbations in the curvature of space-time. With its potential picometer-level sensitivity, the instrument may one day detect what so far has remained imperceptible: gravitational waves or ripples in spacetime caused when massive celestial objects move and disrupt the space around them.
A rare, recently discovered microbe that survives on very little to eat has been found in two places on Earth: spacecraft clean rooms in Florida and South America. Some other microbes have been discovered in a spacecraft clean room and found nowhere else, but none previously had been found in two different clean rooms and nowhere else.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622Mbps. That download rate is more than six times faster than previous state-of-the-art radio systems flown to the moon.
The National Science Foundation, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture and NASA, has announced new investments totaling approximately $38 million for the development and use of robots that cooperatively work with people to enhance individual human capabilities, performance and safety.
For NASA, data pour in every day like rushing rivers. Spacecraft monitor everything from our home planet to faraway galaxies, beaming back images and information to Earth. All those digital records need to be stored, indexed and processed so that researchers can use the data to understand Earth and the universe beyond. Now, software engineers are coming up with new strategies for managing such large and complex data streams.
Earth’s most eminent emissary to Mars has just proven that those rare Martian visitors that sometimes drop in on Earth really are from the Red Planet. A key new measurement of Mars’ atmosphere by NASA’s Curiosity rover provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origins of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origins of other meteorites.
NASA's Jupiter-bound spacecraft hit a snag last week after it flew past Earth to increase its speed to barrel beyond the asteroid belt to Jupiter. The Southwest Research Institute, which leads the mission's science operations, now reports that Juno is out of "safe mode."
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with partners at NASA, have developed a new concept for a microscope that would use neutrons instead of beams of light or electrons to create high-resolution images. Among other features, neutron-based instruments have the ability to probe inside metal objects to learn details of their internal structure.
Within its first three months on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover saw a surprising diversity of soils and sediments along a half-kilometer route that tell a complex story about the gradual desiccation of the Red Planet. Perhaps most notable among findings from the ChemCam team is that all of the dust and fine soil contains small amounts of water.
Imagine the distance between the sun and the star nearest to it—a star called Alpha Centauri. That’s a distance of about 4 light years. Now, imagine as many as 10,000 of our suns crammed into that relatively small space. That is about the density of a galaxy that was recently discovered by an international team of astronomers led by a Michigan State Univ. faculty member.
Like the wind adjusting course in the middle of a storm, scientists have discovered that the particles streaming into the solar system from interstellar space have most likely changed direction over the last 40 years. Such information can help us map out our place within the galaxy surrounding us, and help us understand our place in space.
In May 2009, the Mars rover Spirit cracked through a crusty layer of Martian topsoil, sinking into softer underlying sand. The unexpected sand trap permanently mired the vehicle. The mission mishap may have been prevented by a better understanding of terramechanics, which describes the interaction between vehicles and deformable terrain.
When NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) begins operation aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), it will attempt to show two-way laser communication beyond Earth is possible, expanding the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data. This new ability could one day allow for 3-D high-definition video transmissions in deep space to become routine.