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InSight mission on Mars begins to say goodbye to Earth – DW (English)

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The NASA InSight research mission has provided our first look at the red planet’s interior. Now, the lander is set to power down by December 2022, bringing the four-year-long scientific endeavor to a successful end.

The InSight lander touched down in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars in November 2018 with the goal of studying the planet’s deep interior for the first time.

“We know a lot about the surface of Mars, a lot about its atmosphere and ionosphere, but we don’t know much about what goes on below its surface,” said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt at the start of the mission.

InSight’s primary goal was to better understand how rocky planets are formed and evolved. Equipped with a suite of scientific instruments, it was designed to accomplish the mission’s goals in its first Mars year ― nearly two Earth years.

Now, after a long and successful mission, the InSight Lander will steadily power down, a process that will be complete by the end of 2022.

Mars is smaller than Venus and Earth, but bigger than Earth’s moon

Listening to Mars rock

The InSight lander had a number of scientific instruments on board to measure geological and meteorological features on Mars.

One of them is a highly sensitive seismometer, which recorded more than 1,300 Mars quakes. These ranged from tiny tremors, barely more than background noise, to a handful of quakes that were stronger than magnitude 4. And recently, InSight registered a magnitude 5 quake, the largest detected on Mars so far. 

Seismic waves pass through or reflect off of materials in Mars’ crust, mantle and core. Waves traveling through different materials inside a planet generate different speeds and shapes, which are detected by the seismometer.

“With those vibrations, scientists can take the information to reconstruct all the material that those Mars quakes traveled through, thereby seeing the interior of the planet,” said Elizabeth Barrett, InSight science and instrument operations lead.

Three studies published in Science in July 2021 gave humanity its first insights into the structure of Mars. They found Mars has a 24 to 72 kilometer (15 to 44.7 mile) thick crust, likely enriched in radioactive elements that produce heat.

Below the crust, the mantel consists of one rocky layer, rather than two like Earth has. Mars’ core is very large, roughly 1,830 kilometers in radius, and filled with an iron-nickel liquid.

“By measuring the detailed structure of the interior of Mars, we get a snapshot of what it looked like 4.5 billion years ago,” said Banerdt.

A graphic showing the internal structure of Mars

The InSight mission gave, well, insights into Mars’ structure

Weather reports on Mars

The team also set out to make a detailed record of the weather on Mars. The onboard weather station allowed meteorologists to study the weather at the landing site and relate that to the climate changes on Mars.

The InSight lander was going to measure the surface temperature with its onboard heat flow and physical properties probe. The probe was supposed to drill five meters (16.4 feet) below ground level and measure fluctuations in the surface temperature, however the probe failed to reach that depth.

Still, atmospheric temperatures, pressure, wind speeds and wind directions were successfully recorded with InSight’s weather station.

InSight sent its last weather report from western Elysium Planitia on October 25, 2020, recording a temperature high of -4.4 degrees Celsius (24 degrees Fahrenheit) and a low of -95.4 degrees Celsius (-140 degrees Fahrenheit).

The latest Mars weather updates come from NASA’s Curiosity rover, located about 600 kilometers (373 miles) north of InSight in the Gale crater.

The Curiosity rover on Mars

Mars rover Curiosity is active elsewhere on the red planet

Powering down the mission

After InSight met the goals of its two-year prime mission in late 2020, NASA extended the mission until December 2022.

However, due to dust accumulation on its solar panels, the InSight lander’s electrical power production is dropping. With decreasing power, the team will gradually shut down different instruments until InSight will eventually lose power entirely.

The team were able to buy more time this past summer with an innovative method to clean the solar panels ― using dirt. Using a remote control arm with a scoop attached, they dropped heavy dirt onto the panels, knocking some of the dust off.

A graph showing how much more power InSight's solar panels produced upon landing as compared to now

The power generating ability of InSight’s solar panels has decreased over the years

Currently, the seismometer is still in operation, but it will be turned off in late summer 2022 to preserve power. This is expected to be the end of the InSight lander’s science operations before the craft’s power levels are so low that it will simply stop responding by the end of 2022.

“InSight has been fantastically successful. We’ve gotten more science than we had ever dreamed we would get. We’ve rewritten the encyclopedia chapter on the interior of Mars,” said Banerdt.

The mission has generated enough data for scientists to analyze for decades to come. Answering questions on Mars’ structure will help shed light on how all rocky planets and satellites form, including Earth and its moon.

But for now, it’s over to NASA’s Curiosity Rover to continue the mission on Mars.

This article has been translated from German

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NASA will launch the CAPSTONE mission on Monday, June 27 – electriccitymagazine.ca

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Rocket Lab's Electron rocket sits atop the launch pad at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for a rehearsal before the CAPSTONE launch.

A small satellite is preparing to pave the way for something much greater: a fully grown lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch on Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit on the Pathfinder mission Artemis programwhich seeks to return humans to the moon later this decade.

capstone He rides aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which will take off from the private company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May using a helicopter to catch a falling booster missile. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch at 6 AM ET on June 27 with live coverage starting an hour earlier. You can watch the event in the agency website or ApplicationOr, you can watch it on the live stream below.

NASA Live: The official broadcast of NASA TV

About a week after the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s flight will be available through NASA Eyes on the solar system Interactive 3D visualization of data in real time.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will send a microwave-sized satellite into near corona orbit (NRHO) around the moon. The satellite will be the first to sail its way around this unique lunar orbit, testing it for the planned date Moon Gatea small space station intended to allow a permanent human presence on the moon.

NRHO is special in that it is where the gravitational force of the Moon and Earth interact. This orbit would theoretically keep the spacecraft in a “beautiful gravitational spot” in a near-stable orbit around the Moon, according to to NASA. Therefore NRHO is ideal because it will require less fuel than conventional orbits and will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a stable line of communication with Earth. But before NASA builds its gateway into this highly elliptical orbit, the space agency will use CAPSTONE — which is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space — to test its orbital models.

Artist’s concept of CAPSTONE.
GIF: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Six days after launch from Earth, the upper stage of the Electron rocket will launch the CAPSTONE satellite on its journey to the Moon. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cube vehicle will perform the rest of the four-month solo journey. Once on the moon, CAPSTONE will test the orbital dynamics of its orbit for about six months. The satellite will also be used to test spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and unidirectional range capabilities that could eventually reduce the need for future spacecraft to communicate with mission controllers on Earth and wait for signals from other spacecraft to relay.

NASA is systematically putting together the pieces for the agency’s planned return to the Moon. The The fourth and final rehearsal for the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) went wellpaving the way for a possible launch in late August.

more: This small satellite linked to the moon can make a path to the lunar space station

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Astronaut view of New Zealand's North Island – Earth.com

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Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the North Island of New Zealand. The photo was captured as the International Space Station (ISS) approached the southernmost extent of its prograde 51.6 degree orbit. 

From this vantage point – and with the perfect weather conditions – astronauts can get a clear view of the North Island of New Zealand, according  to ESA.

“Looking towards the northwest, the astronaut photographer captured the mottled-green island that separates the Tasman Sea from the South Pacific Ocean. On the other side of Cook Strait, South Island peeks out from beneath the cloud cover,” reports ESA.

“Seven bays surround the North Island and define its distinctive shape. The inland landscape includes grasslands (lighter green areas), forests (darker green areas), volcanic plateaus, and mountain ranges formed from sedimentary rocks.”

Lake Taupō, located in the center of the North Island, is a crater lake inside a caldera formed by a supervolcanic eruption. The lake borders the active volcano Mount Ruapehu, which has the highest peak in New Zealand. 

“The volcanic nature of the island arises from its location on the tectonic plate boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates,” says ESA. “This plate boundary is part of the vast Pacific Ring of Fire, and leads to significant geothermal activity and earthquakes in the region. Additional volcanoes, including Egmont Volcano (Mount Taranaki), also dot the North Island landscape.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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Artemis 1 moon mission could launch as soon as late August – Space.com

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NASA officials have declared the Artemis 1 moon rocket’s most recent “wet dress rehearsal” a success and are hopeful the mission can get off the ground as soon as late August.

The Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped by an Orion capsule — is scheduled to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on July 1, where the massive vehicle will undergo repairs and preparations for its coming launch. 

Artemis 1, the first launch for the SLS, will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long mission around the moon. The mission has experienced several delays, and most recently the rocket’s certification to fly has been held up by incomplete fueling tests — a key part of the wet dress rehearsal, a three-day series of trials designed to gauge a new vehicle’s readiness for flight. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos 

The Artemis 1 stack first rolled from the VAB to KSC’s Pad 39B in mid-March, to prep for a wet dress rehearsal that began on April 1. But three separate attempts to fill the SLS with cryogenic propellants during that effort failed, sending the stack back to the VAB for repairs on April 25. The most recent wet dress try, which wrapped up on Monday (June 20), didn’t go perfectly, but NASA has deemed it good enough to proceed with preparations for launch.

Operators were able to fully fuel SLS for the first time, bringing the launch simulation much further along than any of the attempts in April. A leak from the core stage’s engine cooling system “umbilical” line was detected during Monday’s fueling test, but mission managers determined that the deviation didn’t pose a safety risk and continued with the simulation’s terminal count. That ended up being the right decision, Artemis 1 team members said.  

Mission operators were able to run a “mask” for the leak in the ground launch sequencer software, which permitted computers in mission control to acknowledge the malfunction without flagging it as a reason to halt the countdown, according to Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager at KSC. Weber joined other agency officials on a press call Friday (June 24) to discuss the plans for Artemis 1 now that the wet dress is in the rear view mirror.

The software mask allowed the count to continue through to the handoff from the mission control computers to the automated launch sequencer (ALS) aboard the SLS at T-33 seconds, which ultimately terminated the count at T-29 seconds. 

“[ALS] was really the prize for us for the day,” Weber said during Friday’s call. “We expected … it was going to break us out [of the countdown] because the ALS looks for that same measurement, and we don’t have the capability to mask it onboard.” 

It was unclear immediately following the recent wet dress if another one would be required, but mission team members later put that question to rest.

“At this point, we’ve determined that we have successfully completed the evaluations and required work we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters, said on Friday’s call. He added that NASA teams now have the “go ahead to proceed” with preparations for Artemis 1’s launch.

Before it can be rolled back to the VAB, however, the stack will undergo further maintenance at Pad 39B, including repairs to the quick-disconnect component on the aft SLS umbilical, which was responsible for Monday’s hydrogen leak. 

There’s also one more test technicians need to perform at the pad. Hot-firing the hydraulic power units (HBUs), part of the SLS’ solid rocket boosters, was originally part of the wet dress countdown but was omitted when the countdown was aborted. Those tests will be completed by Saturday (June 25), according to Lanham. Following the hot-fire tests, operators will then spend the weekend offloading the HBUs’ hydrazine fuel.

Once back in the VAB, NASA officials estimate it’ll take six to eight weeks of work to get Artemis 1 ready to roll back to Pad 39B for an actual liftoff. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager at KSC, outlined some of the planned maintenance on Friday’s call. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration

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Among other tasks, technicians will perform standard vehicle inspections, hydrogen leak repairs, “late-stow” for the payloads flying on Orion, and software loads to the SLS core stage and upper stage. They will also install flight batteries.

“Ultimately, we want to get to our flight termination system testing,” Lanham said. “Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to perform our final inspections in all the volumes of the vehicle and do our closeouts.”

After that work is complete, the Artemis 1 stack will roll out from the VAB once again, making the eight to 11-hour crawl back to Pad 39B on July 1. Whitmeyer said on Friday that the late-August launch window for Artemis 1, which opens on Aug. 23 and lasts for one week, is “still on the table.”

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