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NASA Announces Partners to Advance 'Tipping Point' Technologies for the Moon, Mars – Stockhouse

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WASHINGTON , Oct. 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — NASA has selected 14 American companies, including several small businesses, as partners to develop a range of technologies that will help forge a path to sustainable Artemis operations on the Moon by the end of the decade.

U.S. industry submitted the proposals to NASA’s fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation , and the selections have an expected combined award value of more than $370 million . NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate will negotiate with the companies to issue milestone-based firm fixed-price contracts lasting for up to five years.

“NASA’s significant investment in innovative technology demonstrations, led by small and large U.S. businesses across nine states, will expand what is possible in space and on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine . “Together, NASA and industry are building up an array of mission-ready capabilities to support a sustainable presence on the Moon and future human missions to Mars.”

Bridenstine announced the selections Oct. 14 during a keynote address at the virtual fall Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium meeting.

The selections and approximate award values across the three solicitation topic areas of cryogenic fluid management, lunar surface, and closed-loop descent and landing capability demonstrations, are:

  • Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance of Houston , $22.1 million
  • Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh , $5.8 million
  • Eta Space of Merritt Island, Florida , $27 million
  • Intuitive Machines of Houston , $41.6 million
  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado , $89.7 million
  • Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California , $10 million , $2.8 million
  • Nokia of America Corporation of Sunnyvale, California , $14.1 million
  • pH Matter of Columbus, Ohio , $3.4 million
  • Precision Combustion Inc. of North Haven, Connecticut , $2.4 million
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin , $2.4 million
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California , $53.2 million
  • SSL Robotics of Pasadena, California , $8.7 million
  • Teledyne Energy Systems of Hunt Valley, Maryland , $2.8 million
  • United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Centennial, Colorado , $86.2 million

“This is the most Tipping Point proposals NASA has selected at once and by far the largest collective award value,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Technology Jim Reuter. “We are excited to see our investments and collaborative partnerships bring about new technologies for the Moon and beyond while also benefiting the commercial sector.”

The majority of the funding will help mature cryogenic fluid management technologies via in-space demonstrations led by small business Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and ULA. Each approach is unique, ranging from small- to large-scale and short- to long-term tests. Future missions could use frozen water located at the Moon’s poles to make propellant by separating the hydrogen and oxygen. The ability to store these super-cold liquids, whether they are launched from Earth or produced in space, for an extended period and transfer propellant from one tank to another, is crucial for establishing sustainable operations on the Moon and enabling human missions to Mars.

Ten of the selections will support the development and demonstration of technologies for the lunar surface in the areas of in-situ resource utilization , surface power generation and energy storage, communications, and more.

Intuitive Machines will develop a small, deployable hopper lander capable of carrying a 2.2-pound payload more than 1.5 miles. This hopping robot could access lunar craters and enable high-resolution surveying of the lunar surface over a short distance.

The small business Alpha Space will create a lunar evaluation facility that could eventually be mounted on a lander, giving small experiments access to the lunar environment. Researchers would use the platform to learn what materials and electronics fare well on the Moon, regardless of radiation, temperature, and other environmental factors.

NASA also selected two proposals submitted by Masten Space Systems. The larger of the two awards will demonstrate precision landing and hazard avoidance testing capabilities across relevant lunar trajectories. For this selection, the company will adapt its Xogdor vehicle to provide researchers from government, academia, and industry with a new platform for testing space technologies.

Each company must contribute a minimum percent, based on its size, of the total project cost. Combining NASA resources with industry contributions shepherds the development of critical space technologies while also saving the agency, and American taxpayers, money.

As part of its Artemis program, NASA plans to send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 and establish a sustainable presence there by the end of the decade. The agency will use the Moon to prepare for its next giant leap – human exploration of Mars .

For more information about NASA’s 2020 Tipping Point selections, visit:

https://go.nasa.gov/3jWLKpA

For more information about NASA space tech public-private partnership opportunities, visit:

https://go.nasa.gov/36NebCx

Cision View original content to download multimedia: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nasa-announces-partners-to-advance-tipping-point-technologies-for-the-moon-mars-301152590.html

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Starlink's BITS licence approved, still needs spectrum to operate in Canada – Cartt.ca

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Service launch not coming soon… GATINEAU — The CRTC has approved an application by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) for a Basic International Telecommunications Services (BITS) licence to provide telecom services via SpaceX’s Starlink low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellite constellation. The Commission said in a letter dated October 15 and addressed to SpaceX’s chief financial officer, Bret Johnsen, it received 2,585 interventions regarding the licence application, and after considering the submitted comments, it is approving the application and issuing a BITS licence to SpaceX. Getting a BITS licence is not exactly the highest hurdle there is to clear (most are approved…

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NASA mission will touch down on asteroid Bennu today – CTV News

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After orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to reach out its robotic arm and collect a sample from the asteroid’s surface on Tuesday. That sample will be returned to Earth in 2023.

A van-size spacecraft has to briefly touch down its arm in a landing site called Nightingale. The site is the width of a few parking spaces. The arm will collect a sample between 2 ounces and 2 kilograms before backing away to safety.

The site itself is nestled within a crater the size of a tennis court and ringed in building-size boulders.

Located more than 320 million kilometres from Earth, Bennu is a boulder-studded asteroid shaped like a spinning top and as tall as the Empire State Building. It’s a “rubble pile” asteroid, which is a grouping of rocks held together by gravity rather than a single object.

The mission — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — launched in September 2016.

Since arriving at Bennu, the spacecraft and its cameras have been collecting and sending back data and images to help the team learn more about the asteroid’s composition and map the best potential landing sites to collect samples.

The main event of the mission, called the Touch-and-Go sample collection event, or TAG, is scheduled for October 20 beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

Bennu has an orbit that brings it close to Earth, which is why it’s considered to be a near-Earth asteroid. One of its future approaches could bring it perilously close to Earth sometime in the next century; it has a one in 2,700 chance of impacting our planet.

The samples from Bennu could help scientists understand not only more about asteroids that could impact Earth but also about how planets formed and life began.

“It’s a historic first mission for NASA, returning an asteroid sample, and it’s hard,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, during a Monday press conference.

“Bennu is almost a Rosetta Stone out there, and it tells the history of our Earth and solar system during the last billions of years. Bennu has presented a lot of challenges, but the ingenuity of the team has enabled us to get where we are.”

WHAT TO EXPECT

Rather than the so-called “seven minutes of terror” of trying to land the Perseverance rover on Mars next year, the OSIRIS-REx team is anticipating “4.5 hours of mild anxiousness,” according to Beth Buck, the mission’s operations program manager at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.

During this time, the spacecraft will descend from its orbit around the asteroid and eventually come close enough to touch it.

The asteroid and spacecraft are currently about 207 million miles from Earth, which will cause a communication delay of about 18.5 minutes.

The team at NASA will livestream an animation depicting what is occurring based on the commands that have already been sent to OSIRIS-REx hours ahead for the sample collection sequence.

The spacecraft will perform the entire sequence of approaching the asteroid and collecting the sample autonomously since live commands from Earth won’t be possible.

TOUCHING DOWN ON AN ASTEROID

The event will take about 4.5 hours to unfold and the spacecraft will execute three maneuvers to collect the sample.

The spacecraft will first fire thrusters to leave its safe orbit around the asteroid, which is about 762 metres away from the surface, and travel for four hours before reaching just 125 metres away. Then, the spacecraft will adjust for position and speed to continue descending.

Next, OSIRIS-REx will slow its descent to target a path so it matches the asteroid’s rotation during contact. Its solar panels will fold into a Y-wing configuration above the spacecraft to protect them.

At last, OSIRIS-REx will touch down for less than 16 seconds. The spacecraft will fire a pressurized nitrogen bottle into the asteroid, using the gas as a way to lift material off Bennu’s surface.

The spacecraft’s collector head will capture the stirred up material. This head, located on the 3-metre-long robotic sampling arm, is the only part of the spacecraft that will touch Bennu. The team compares it to an air filter in an older model car, perfect for collecting fine material.

Small discs, which can collect dust like sticky pads, are also located on the head in case part of the sampling maneuver doesn’t go according to plan.

AfFTER THE EVENT

A camera on the spacecraft will take footage of the collection event.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will have to detect hazards and delay its own mission if any obstacles get in the way of the sample collection. Based on its simulations, the team estimates there is less than a 6% chance the spacecraft will abort the mission.

By Tuesday night, the team should be able to confirm if the touchdown occurred successfully. Imagery will be returned by the spacecraft on Wednesday, which will provide more details of the sample collection and how the spacecraft is faring.

The team estimates that they will have a mass measurement of the sample on Saturday. By October 30, NASA will confirm if the spacecraft collected enough of a sample or if it needs to make another sample collection attempt in January at another landing site called Osprey.

But if everything runs smoothly, the spacecraft and its prized sample will begin the long journey back to Earth next year and land the sample on Earth in 2023.

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OSIRIS-REx mission to collect asteroid sample to return to Earth thanks to Canadian technology – CBC.ca

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On Tuesday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will make history as it attempts its first collection of material from an asteroid to be returned to Earth in 2023.

The spacecraft — which arrived at the asteroid Bennu in 2018 — will conduct a touch-and-go manoeuvre, also referred to as TAG. This crucial part of the mission was made possible in part by Canadian technology, specifically the Canadian Space Agency’s OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), which mapped the surface of Bennu in 3D. The asteroid lies roughly 332 million kilometres from Earth.

That mapping turned out to be extremely important. Scientists and engineers had anticipated the asteroid to be mostly smooth and dusty. But that wasn’t the case.

“When we arrived we realized very, very quickly that there wasn’t a single area on the entire asteroid that was 50 metres across that had no obstacles,” said Tim Haltigin, senior mission scientist of Planetary Exploration at the Canadian Space Agency. 

“And so we really had to rethink our planning of how we were going to select a sample site and where we could safely deliver the spacecraft. And I think that’s one of the reasons why the OLA instrument became even more crucial in terms of understanding the roughness, the topography, the slopes of the surfaces … to really be able to pick a site where we knew that we could get the spacecraft down safely to collect a sample.” 

Mike Daly, OLA’S lead instrument scientist, said that he’s very pleased with the amount of detail and precision it was able to provide. 

“When I was thinking about what this instrument had to do and what it was — how it would perform — we had a much smoother Bennu, a much more boring Bennu in mind,” said Daly, who is also a professor at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering in Toronto. “So when you see the detail that came out of this instrument, it’s just unbelievable. It blew us all away, honestly.

“So, we’re pretty proud of it.”

WATCH | A rendered rotation movie of Bennu taken by the Canadian OLA instrument:

The Canadian Space Agency’s OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter was crucial in mapping the asteroid Bennu ahead of its “touch-and-go” mission to collect samples that will be returned to Earth in 2023. Credit: Mike Daly, et. al 0:51

Daly has been working on the instrument for 12 years, while Haltigin has been working on it for seven years. Both men said that it’s become a part of their lives.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” Daly said.

The great part about the sample-return mission is that, because Canada is a partner, it gets some of the material. It’s something that Haltigin is extremely excited about.

“It’s going to be owned by Canada, and so we’re going to be able to make these samples available for generations and generations of Canadian scientists,” he said. “So, we’re basically enabling the next 50 to 100 years of discoveries based on these samples.”

‘Kissing the surface’

Rather than landing on the asteroid’s surface, a set of manoeuvres will be conducted in order to collect material.

“Due to the low gravity, we can’t actually land on the surface of Bennu. So we’ll only be kissing the surface with a short touch and go, measured in just seconds,” Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations program manager for Lockheed Martin Space, said in a teleconference on Monday.

Compressed nitrogen gas will be pumped out onto the surface, which will stir up particles that will then be collected by a sampler.

The collection will take place at 6:12 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on NASA TV. It can also be watched on CBC.ca beginning at 5 p.m. 

A Canadian laser made a 3D map of Bennu, helping find the best sample site for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. (Canadian Space Agency)

It will take roughly 18.2 minutes for a signal to be received from the spacecraft. However, while NASA expects to get confirmation that the manoeuvre took place on Tuesday, it won’t know for certain until Wednesday if material was successfully collected.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has gone through a couple of rehearsals of the manoeuvre, one in April and another in August, so NASA hopes it will be successful. However, it does have two more opportunities to collect material should this be unsuccessful.

It’s not the first time material has been collected from an asteroid. The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, is currently awaiting the return of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft with a sample from the asteroid Ryugu, scheduled to return in December. 

Think of asteroids as time capsules

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 and arrived at Bennu in December 2018. Since then, it has been in orbit around the asteroid.

Bennu is about 492 metres in diameter and orbits the sun once every 1.2 years. It wasn’t discovered until 1999 and wasn’t given an official name — chosen by a Grade 3 student from North Carolina — until 2012 (the name refers to an Egyptian mythological bird).

The asteroid is believed to be roughly 4.5 billion years old, as old as the solar system itself. And that’s key: astronomers hope that Bennu can shed some light on how the solar system formed and how ultimately life may have arisen on Earth.

“Collecting a sample from an asteroid is the equivalent of going back in time by over four billion years to understand what the early solar system was made of,” said Haltigin.”So, you can think of asteroids almost as time capsules that have preserved the materials from the very formation of the solar system.” 

There is also a very small chance that Bennu will collide with Earth. But there’s no need to panic: there’s only a one in 2,700 chance that will happen between the years 2175 and 2199, according to NASA.

For now, scientists and engineers will be on the edge of their seats, awaiting confirmation that the mission was successful. And the asteroid is bound to have some surprises.

“What excites me the most, I’ll be perfectly honest, is we’re going to find out something that nobody expected, and I don’t know exactly what that is,” Haltigin said. “But I do know that we are going to be shocked and surprised and amazed once we figure it out.”

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