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NASA Continues to Try and Rescue Failing Hubble – Universe Today

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Things are not looking very good for the Hubble Space Telescope right now. On Sunday, June 13th, the telescope’s payload computer suddenly stopped working, prompting the main computer to put the telescope into safe mode. While the telescope itself and its science instruments remain in working order, science operations have been suspended until the operations team can figure out how to get the payload computer back online.

While attempting to restart the computer, the operations team has also tried to trace the issue to specific components in the payload computer and switch to their backup modules. As of June 30th, the team began looking into the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) and the Power Control Unit (PCU). Meanwhile, NASA is busy preparing and testing procedures to switch to backup hardware if either of these components are the culprit.

The payload computer is part of the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit, where it is responsible for controlling and coordinating the scientific instruments aboard the spacecraft. The current issues began when the main computer stopped receiving the “keep-alive” signal from the payload computer – which lets the main computer know that everything is working.

The Hubble Space Telescope being released from the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. Credit: NASA

That’s when the operations team began investigating different pieces of hardware on the SI C&DH as the possible source. Based on the available data, the team initially thought that the problem was due to a degrading memory module and tried to switch to one of the module’s multiple backups – but met with failure. On the evening of Thursday, June 17th, another attempt was made to bring both modules back online, but these attempts also led to failure.

At that point, they began looking into other possibles sources of the shutdown, like the Standard Interface (STINT) hardware. This component is responsible for bridging communications between the computer’s Central Processing Module (CPM), which they began investigating as well. Now, the team is investigating the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) and a power regulator within the Power Control Unit (PCU).

Whereas the CU/SDF sends and formats commands and data while the PCU is designed to ensure a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware. If either of these systems is responsible for the shutdown, then the team must once again go through an operations procedure to switch to the backup units. This time, however, the procedure is more complex and risky than the ones the team executed last time.

Mainly, switching to the backup CU/SDF or backup power regulator requires that several other hardware boxes need to be switched to their backups because of the way they are connected to the SI C&DH unit. The last time the operations team performed this task was back in 2008, which was the last time the CU/SDF module failed. This is what prompted the final servicing mission in 2009, which replaced the entire SI C&DH unit.

Astronaut Mike Good working to repair the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) during the final Hubble servicing mission in May 2009. Credit: NASA

Given the complexity of switching multiple systems over to their backups, the operations team is currently reviewing and updating all of Hubble‘s operations procedures, commands, and all other items relating to switching to backup hardware. When they are finished (expected for next week) the team will run a high-fidelity simulator to test their plan of execution and see if they can pull it off.

Since Hubble first launched in 1990, it has taken over 1.5 million images, and more than 600,000 of those were taken since its last servicing mission in 2009. These images are some of the most breathtaking views of the Universe ever taken and have led to substantial discoveries about the nature of our Universe. Here at home, it has deepened our understanding of the Kuiper Belt and Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) like Pluto and Eris.

In 2014, it also observed the farthest object to ever be visited by a spacecraft – the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) Arrokoth, which the New Horizons mission made a close pass with on Jan. 1st, 2019. It also observed aurora in the atmospheres of Jupiter, and Saturn, as well as Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. Hubble is also responsible for providing the data that led astronomers to conclude that Ganymede likely contains a large saltwater ocean in its interior.

Beyond the Solar System, Hubble has aided in the first atmospheric studies of exoplanets, helped constrain the size and mass of the Milky Way, the evolution of galaxies over time, revealed the accelerating expansion of the Universe (leading to the theory of Dark Energy), and aided in the study of Dark Matter. These and other accomplishments are all part of Hubble‘s legacy as it celebrates being in space for 31 years, 2 months, and either days.

I think I speak for everyone when I wish Hubble a speedy recovery and hope it has a few more years left in her!

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Further Reading: NASA

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Facial Recognition—Now for Seals – Hakai Magazine

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Have you ever looked at a seal and thought, Is that the same seal I saw yesterday? Well, there could soon be an app for that based on new seal facial recognition technology. Known as SealNet, this seal face-finding system was developed by a team of undergraduate students from Colgate University in New York.

Taking inspiration from other technology adapted for recognizing primates and bears, Krista Ingram, a biologist at Colgate University, led the students in developing software that uses deep learning and a convolutional neural network to tell one seal face from another. SealNet is tailored to identify the harbor seal, a species with a penchant for posing on coasts in haulouts.

The team had to train their software to identify seal faces. “I give it a photograph, it finds the face, [and] clips it to a standard size,” says Ingram. But then she and her students would manually identify the nose, the mouth, and the center of the eyes.

For the project, team members snapped more than 2,000 pictures of seals around Casco Bay, Maine, during a two-year period. They tested the software using 406 different seals and found that SealNet could correctly identify the seals’ faces 85 percent of the time. The team has since expanded its database to include around 1,500 seal faces. As the number of seals logged in the database goes up, so too should the accuracy of the identification, Ingram says.

The developers of SealNet trained a neural network to tell harbor seals apart using photos of 406 different seals. Photo courtesy of Birenbaum et al.

As with all tech, however, SealNet is not infallible. The software saw seal faces in other body parts, vegetation, and even rocks. In one case, Ingram and her students did a double take at the uncanny resemblance between a rock and a seal face. “[The rock] did look like a seal face,” Ingram says. “The darker parts were about the same distance as the eyes … so you can understand why the software found a face.” Consequently, she says it’s always best to manually check that seal faces identified by the software belong to a real seal.

Like a weary seal hauling itself onto a beach for an involuntary photo shoot, the question of why this is all necessary raises itself. Ingram believes SealNet could be a useful, noninvasive tool for researchers.

Of the world’s pinnipeds—a group that includes seals, walruses, and sea lions—harbor seals are considered the most widely dispersed. Yet knowledge gaps do exist. Other techniques to track seals, such as tagging and aerial monitoring, have their limitations and can be highly invasive or expensive.

Ingram points to site fidelity as an aspect of seal behavior that SealNet could shed more light on. The team’s trials indicated that some harbor seals return to the same haulout sites year after year. Other seals, however, such as two animals the team nicknamed Clove and Petal, appeared at two different sites together. Increasing scientists’ understanding of how seals move around could strengthen arguments for protecting specific areas, says Anders Galatius, an ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark who was not involved in the project.

Galatius, who is responsible for monitoring Denmark’s seal populations, says the software “shows a lot of promise.” If the identification rates are improved, it could be paired with another photo identification method that identifies seals by distinctive markings on their pelage, he says.

In the future, after further testing, Ingram hopes to develop an app based on SealNet. The app, she says, could possibly allow citizen scientists to contribute to logging seal faces. The program could also be adapted for other pinnipeds and possibly even for cetaceans.

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NASA launches nanosatellite in preparation for lunar 'Gateway' station – Yahoo News Canada

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The rocket carrying the Capstone satellite lifts off. (NASA)

Nasa has launched a tiny CubeSat this week to test and orbit which will soon be used by Gateway, a lunar space station.

It’s all part of the space agency’s plan to put a woman on the moon by 2025.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Capstone) mission launched from New Zealand on Tuesday.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said: “Capstone is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for Nasa’s ambitious plans to explore the moon and beyond.

“We’re thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what Capstone will do once it arrives at the Moon.”

Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

The satellite is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.

Capstone is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send it on its way to deep space.

Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a trajectory to the moon.

Capstone will then use its own propulsion and the sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon.

The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.

Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

Bradley Cheetham, principal investigator for CAPSTONE and chief executive officer of Advanced Space, “Our team is now preparing for separation and initial acquisition for the spacecraft in six days.

“We have already learned a tremendous amount getting to this point, and we are passionate about the importance of returning humans to the Moon, this time to stay!”

At the moon, Capstone will enter an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.

Once in the NRHO, Capstone will fly within 1,000 miles of the moon’s north pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the south pole at its farthest.

It will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.

“Capstone is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for Capstone at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“Capstone is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”

Nasa estimates the cost of the whole Artemis mission at $28bn.

It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.

Just 12 people have walked on the moon – all men.

Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.

The mission will use Nasa’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft.

Watch: NASA launch paves way for moon orbit station

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The year’s biggest and brightest supermoon will appear in July & here’s when you’ll … – Curiocity

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Summer is here and with it? Sunshine – and some serious moonshine (of the visible variety, of course). This upcoming month, look up in anticipation of the biggest and brightest event of the year, the July Buck supermoon – which will hover over North America on July 13th.

Appearing 7% larger and lower in the sky, this particular event will be one well worth keeping an eye on when it rises above the horizon.

This will be the closest we’ll get to our celestial neighbour in 2022 (357,418 km) and while North America won’t get to see it when it reaches peak illumination at 2:38 pm ETC., it’ll still look pretty dang impressive after the sunsets.

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Not sure when the moon rises in your area? Here’s the earliest that you’ll be able to see the moon in various cities across the continent according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

  • Seattle, Washington  – 9:50 pm PDT
  • Vancouver, British Columbia – 10:02 pm PDT
  • Calgary, Alberta – 10:35 pm MST
  • Edmonton, Alberta – 10:49 pm MST
  • Toronto, Ontario – 9:34 pm MST
  • Montreal, Quebec – 9:18 pm MST

Until then, cross your fingers for a clear sky, friends! It’s going to be incredible.

Happy viewing.

JULY BUCK SUPERMOON 

When: Wednesday, July 13th

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