MAVEN Trajectory and Cruise Phase to Mars Orbit Insertion

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Satellite Missions destined for Mars – MAVEN, Mars Science Lab and Mars Rovers, launch only about every two years. The reason being the proximity of the Earth to Mars at mission launch so that the satellite catches up to the red planet in the shortest time possible.

This animation, courtesy of Dave Folta/GSFC, shows the cruise trajectory of the MAVEN spacecraft, which was launched on Nov. 18, 2013. It will arrive at Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. The range and speed of MAVEN with respect to Earth, Mars and the Sun, both in metric (kilometers) and Imperial (miles) units, is displayed along with a date and the number of days until arrival at Mars.

The Sun-centered trajectory of MAVEN, shown in blue, takes 308 days to transit from Earth’s orbit in green, to Mars’ orbit in red. The animation updates at a rate of twice per day and shows the MAVEN spacecraft, Earth and Mars locations.

Scientists say destructive solar blasts narrowly missed Earth in 2012

STEREO CME 2012Photo Courtesy of Reuters: NASA, GSFC, SDO, Handout

Fierce solar blasts that could have badly damaged electrical grids and disabled satellites in space narrowly missed Earth in 2012, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

The event, detected by NASA’s STEREO A spacecraft, is the focus of a paper that was released in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday by Luhmann, China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather professor Ying Liu and their colleagues.

The full story was reported today, March 19 by Reuters, Laila Kearney

Scientists Discover “Zebra Stripes” in Inner Radiation Belt

VAPScientists at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab have discovered a new, persistent structure in Earth’s inner radiation belt using data from the twin NASA Van Allen Probes spacecraft. Most surprisingly, this structure is produced by the slow rotation of Earth, previously considered incapable of affecting the motion of radiation belt particles, which have velocities approaching speed of light.

Deep Space Network Tracks MAVEN Spacecraft

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Photo Courtesy of JPL Deep Space Network

A new visualization product out of the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, JPL, allows users to monitor the real time status of communications with our deep space explorers, including MAVEN.

MAVEN (displayed as “MVN”) is communicating to ground operators via various antenna’s depending on the earth’s rotation, from DSS-43, the Deep Space Network’s 70-meter antenna in Canberra, Australia or DSS-65 in Madrid Spain. According to the “Deep Space Network Now” visualization, MAVEN is approaching a distance of 25 million km from Earth. Others explorer craft with SSL associations are, SOHO, STEREO – STA or STB. Click on the antenna to bring up the spacecraft and its specifics.

Find out where MAVEN and other National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA robotic emissaries are at any given moment with the latest NASA Eyes tool

GREECE Launches into the Aurora

Greece Launch

Image Credit: NASA/Christopher Perry

On March 3, 2014, at 6:09 a.m. EST, a NASA-funded sounding rocket launched straight into an aurora over Venetie, Alaska. The Ground-to-Rocket Electrodynamics – Electron Correlative Experiment (GREECE) sounding rocket mission, which launched from Poker Flat Research Range in Poker Flat, Alaska, will study classic curls in the aurora in the night sky.

The GREECE mission seeks to understand what combination of events sets up these auroral curls as they’re called, in the charged, heated gas – or plasma – where aurorae form. This is a piece of information, which in turn, helps paint a picture of the sun-Earth connection and how energy and particles from the sun interact with Earth’s own magnetic system, the magnetosphere.

“The conditions were optimal,” said Marilia Samara, principal investigator for the mission at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “We can’t wait to dig into the data.” Other Co-I’s, were Robert Michell and Keiichi Ogasawara for Particles and Imaging and our own John Bonnell for Fields. Dr. Bonnell notes that this flight was a successful re-entry of SSL into the auroral sounding rocket business and bodes well for future efforts along the same lines.

MAVEN’s Particles & Fields Package: Studying the Solar Wind

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To planetary scientists, the Martian atmosphere presents an intriguing mystery: today it’s a thin, cold wisp of carbon dioxide with just one percent the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, but long ago it was thick and warm enough to support lakes and rivers on the Martian surface. How did Mars lose so much of its early atmosphere? Scientists think that the solar wind may be responsible, and the MAVEN spacecraft is designed to find out.

The instruments of MAVEN’s Particles & Fields package will study the interaction of the solar wind with Mars’s upper atmosphere, helping scientists to better understand hoMars became the freeze-dried planet that we see today.

In this video, produced by NASA Goddard, Robert Lin, the late director of the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, discusses how MAVEN will study the interaction of the Martian atmosphere with the solar wind.

(Video credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA/GSFC)

NuSTAR – The Progression of a Supernova Blast

NuSTAR was launched on June 13, 2012 from the south pacific atoll of Kwajalein on a Pegasus rocket. New observations from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, are filling in the missing pieces in the puzzle of how massive stars explode.

Supernova Blast

Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech

     The illustrations above show the progression of a supernova blast. A massive star (left), which has created elements as heavy as iron in its interior, blows up in a tremendous explosion (middle), scattering its outer layers in a structure called a supernova remnant (right). The supernova explosion itself also creates many elements, including those heavier than iron, such as gold.

     In addition new data from NuSTAR suggests that exploding stars slosh around before detonating and this Caltech simulation shows how scientist are rethinking pre launch models of what happens when a star explode.

THEMIS – 7 Years Later

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photos courtesy of NASA

On February 17th 2007, a Delta II Rocket lifted off of launch pad 17B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Atop the rocket were a cluster of five identical satellites destined for a 2-year mission to study the violent colorful eruptions of Auroras.

The missions aim was to try and resolve one of the oldest mysteries in space physics, namely to determine what physical process in near-Earth space initiates the violent eruptions of the aurora that occur during substorms in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

After finishing their primary science mission, two of the THEMIS satellites were renamed and retasked. Their journey to the moon started on July 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing. The UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab MOC or mission operations center, maneuvered the spacecraft, on a long and complex transfer trajectory out of earth orbit and transitioned the pair of satellites into a lunar orbit. By mid 2011 the two ARTEMIS satellites had been inserted into lunar orbit and had begun making observations to study how solar wind electrifies, alters and erodes the moon’s surface.