What is that light on the mountain?

The green portion of the solar spectrum as it scans from red to violet.

During the last year or so we have been asked this question many times. We have been testing a special art installation called Sunstar, created by Liliane Lin and John Vallerga. It is on loan to Mount Wilson Observatory, and is now being presented as part of Pasadena’s AxS Festival: City as Wunderkammerer.

Sunstar, directable prism array.

10 days until the launch of ICON

The Ionospheric Connection Explorer! 🚀 ICON will study Earth’s dynamic interface to space. To get ready for the Oct. 26 launch, we’re counting down with 10 key things to know about the mission:

First up: 🔟-mile-per-hour sensitivity

Though ICON zooms around Earth at upwards of 14,000 miles per hour, its wind-measuring instrument MIGHTI can detect changes in wind speed smaller than 10 miles per hour. MIGHTI makes use of the Doppler effect — the same phenomenon that makes an ambulance siren change pitch as it passes you — and measures the tiny shifts in color caused by the motion of glowing gases in the upper atmosphere, which reveals their speed and direction.

Studying the Van Allen Belts 60 Years After America’s First Spacecraft

This early schematic of the Van Allen Belts’ structure was created after the first American satellite discovered their existence in 1958.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Historic image of Van Allen Belts courtesy of NASA’s Langley Research Center

Tick, tick, tick. The device — a Geiger counter strapped to a miniature tape recorder — was registering radiation levels a thousand times greater than anyone expected. As the instrument moved higher, more than 900 miles above the surface, the counts ceased. Scientists were baffled. It was early 1958, the United States had just launched its first spacecraft, and a new discipline of physics was about to be born.

Sixty years ago today, the United States launched its first satellite into space. Dubbed Explorer 1, the spacecraft followed just months after the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 and 2 spacecraft commenced the Space Age. Data captured by the Geiger counter aboard Explorer 1 heralded the emergence of space physics and ushered in a new era of technology and communications.

Far above Earth’s atmosphere, the radiation picked up by the instrument aboard Explorer 1 wasn’t of Earthly origin. In fact, it was from a region scientists previously considered largely void of particles. Prior to launch, scientists expected to measure cosmic rays — high-energy particles primarily originating beyond the solar system — which they had previously studied with ground- and balloon-based instruments. But what they found far outpaced the levels of radiation that would be expected from cosmic rays alone.

60 Years Studying the Van Allen Belts

Courtesy of By Mara Johnson-Groh
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems updates ICON launch status

Four months after standing down launch operations of the ICON mission on their Pegasus rocket, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is entering the home stretch for a realigned launch on 26 October 2018 at 04:05 EDT (0805 UTC) over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This week, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems managers for both ICON and Pegasus sat down with NASASpaceflight’s Chris Gebhardt to discuss what happened back in June as well as the current status of both vehicles in the final weeks before launch.

What happened in June:
In June, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) began the ferry flight of their Stargazer L-1011 aircraft – with the Pegasus rocket safely encapsulating ICON inside its payload fairing – across the Pacific Ocean from California to the Kwajalein Atoll, where the air-drop launch of ICON was set to occur.

During the first leg of this trip from California to Hawai’i, systems engineers aboard Stargazer noticed an off-nominal reading from one of Pegasus’ new Actuator Control Units.

“This is the first time that we’re using Northrop Grumman-designed Actuator Control Units,” stated Bryan Baldwin, Pegasus Program Manager, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, in an exclusive interview with NASASpaceflight.

The Mission Status

Written by Chris Gebhardt October 5, 2018 courtesy fo NASA SpaceFlight

Fall 2018 Milestones for Parker Solar Probe

An illustration of Parker Solar Probe passing Venus. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Oct. 3, 2018 (about 4:45 a.m. EDT) — Parker Solar Probe performs its first Venus gravity assist. This maneuver — to be repeated six more times over the lifetime of the mission — will change Parker Solar Probe’s trajectory to take the spacecraft closer to the Sun.

Oct. 29, 2018 — Parker Solar Probe is expected to come within 27 million miles of the Sun. This is the record currently held by Helios 2, set in 1976.

Oct. 30, 2018 — Parker Solar Probe is expected to surpass a heliocentric speed of 153,454 miles per hour. This is the record for fastest spacecraft measured relative to the Sun, set by Helios 2 in 1976.

These speed and distance estimates could change after Parker Solar Probe performs its Venus gravity assist on Oct. 3.

Oct. 31 – Nov. 11, 2018 — Parker Solar Probe performs its first solar encounter. Throughout this period, the spacecraft will gather valuable science data. It will not be in contact with Earth because of the Sun’s interference and the orientation needed to keep the spacecraft’s heat shield between it and the Sun. The spacecraft is expected to reach its closest approach on Nov. 6. Like the distance and speed records, this estimate could change after the Venus gravity assist.

December 2018 — Parker Solar Probe will downlink the science data gathered during its first solar encounter.

You can keep up with Parker Solar Probe’s real-time speed and position online, with updates every hour. More mission milestones are also available.

Article Courtesy of NASA Sun Science

NASA’s ICON launch now targeted for Oct. 26

NASA and Northrop Grumman are now targeting Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, for the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON. The spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is 90 minutes starting at 4 a.m. EDT and ICON will be launching off the coast of Daytona at 39,000 ft. at a heading of 105.0 degrees. The launch was postponed from Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, to allow time to address a quality issue with a vendor-supplied electrical connector on the launch vehicle, which has been resolved.
Photo Credit: NASA

MAVEN entered Mars orbit four years ago today

The MAVEN spacecraft entered orbit at Mars on September 21, 2014, and has been making unprecedented discoveries about the evolution of Mars’ climate and potential for habitability ever since.

Congratulations to the entire MAVEN team—with partners across the globe—on such a wonderfully successful mission.

Four more years! Four more years!


NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

NASA Goddard
Lockheed Martin
University of Colorado Boulder
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab