MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer Will Look at Key Player in Mars Atmosphere Loss


SWIA Assembled on Clean Room Flow Bench


SWIA Mounted on a corner of the MAVEN Spacecraft

This past November, NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched MAVEN in the hope of understanding how and why Mars has been losing its atmosphere over billions of years.

One instrument aboard the spacecraft will study a special component of the Martian atmosphere to help solve this mystery. By studying ions, or small electrically charged particles, in and above the Red Planet’s tenuous atmosphere, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer will help answer why Mars has gradually lost much of its atmosphere, developing into a frozen, barren planet.

Once the MAVEN spacecraft is orbiting Mars, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA)—which was designed and built at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL)—will spend much of its time measuring the ions in the solar wind. Released continuously from the sun’s atmosphere, the solar wind travels toward Mars at speeds around a million miles per hour, carrying with it a magnetic field that originates inside the sun. It is composed of charged particles that interact with neutral gas particles in Mars’ upper atmosphere, giving them the ability to escape from Mars’ gravitational pull.

Scientists think the interactions between solar wind ions and Mars’ atmospheric particles are a key factor allowing the particles to escape, a process that gradually strips the planet of its atmosphere and has done so for billions of years.

Read the full NASA feature article, here:

SWIA instrument lead, Jasper Halekas from UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab, was featured in a June 2012 MAVEN team blog entry

COS – Cosmic Origins Spectrograph – Five Years Post Launch


STS 125 and Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Lift Off from Pad 39A


The COS Instrument in its Orbiter Payload Bay Transport Container

On May 11, 2009 the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS 125, Lifted off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Spaceflight Center for the fifth and final Hubble Space Telescope Servicing mission.

In the payload bay of the Atlantis Orbiter was a box about the size of a phone booth and inside was an instrument called COS or the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. This instrument was proposed and designed by Dr. James Green, a former SSL graduate student. The Space Sciences Lab was contracted by University of Colorado’s CASA or Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, to build a detector and electronics package.

Almost ten years after work started and several setbacks Atlantis was launched on May 11th, 2009. Our wonderful crew and mission specialists captured the Hubble Space Space Telescope and performed a bevy of spacewalks to swap out instruments and installing new ones including Wide Field Camera 3 and of course COS.

This final Hubble Servicing Mission has been a success with amazing discoveries and a look deep into our universe, at stars, planets and galaxies never before imagined.

Van Allen Probes Achieve Mission Success


MAVEN Launch

On March 26, 2014, NASA declared the Van Allen Probes mission—designed to explore and unlock the mysteries of Earth’s radiation belts—an official success. “Not only has the Van Allen Probes mission met its requirements for mission success, it has exceeded them,” said NASA’s Mona Kessel, but “there is much more data to gather, analysis to be done, understanding to be gained, and mysteries to be solved.”

MAVEN Trajectory and Cruise Phase to Mars Orbit Insertion


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


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.