MAVEN will begin first “deep” campaign on February 10th

Periapsis Path

MAVEN’s primary mission includes five 5-day “deep-dip” campaigns, in which the periapsis (lowest point in the orbit) is lowered from about 93 miles (150 km) to about 77 miles (125 km). The first “deep dip” maneuver will begin on Tuesday, February 10, 2015, with a two-day “walk down” into the target density corridor of 2.0 – 3.5 kg/km3. The density of Mars’ atmosphere in the current science-mapping orbit is about 0.12 kg/km3.

At altitude of 77 miles (125 km), Mars’ atmosphere is around 30 times more dense than it is at MAVEN’s nominal science mapping periapsis of 93 miles (150 km). To accommodate for the increase in atmospheric density, the spacecraft’s solar panels are bent at a 20° angle, which shifts the center of air pressure away from the center of gravity, providing self-stabilization.

The “deep dip” campaigns will provide data from the boundary where Mars’ upper and lower atmospheres meet—also referred to as the “homopause”—enabling the spacecraft to sample the entire upper atmosphere of Mars for the first time.

Thanks to NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

SSL Instruments

MAVEN’s Suite of Instruments to study the Atmosphere of Mars, photos courtesy of NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

Mars Atmosphere

MAVEN’s path as it dips through the Atmosphere of Mars as part of the Deep Dip Campaign. Photo courtesy of NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

MAVEN SWIA instrument lead Jasper Halekas on Iowa Public Radio

SWIA Science

The Solar Wind and its Interaction with Mars’ Ionosphere Illustration (not to scale) showing the ability of the upstream bow shock and the magnetic field induced in the ionosphere to push the solar wind around the planet. As a result, the solar wind should not hit the ionosphere directly or penetrate deeply into the upper atmosphere. MAVEN’s orbit early in the mission is shown schematically. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC)

The MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) is a part of the spacecraft’s Particles and Fields Package. SWIA measures the solar wind and magnetosheath proton flow around ‪#‎Mars‬ and constrains the nature of solar wind interactions with the upper atmosphere.

Jasper Halekas, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa, talks with Iowa Public Radio’s Ben Kieffer about the instrument and how it measures the constant stream of energy from the sun as it bombards Mars’ upper atmosphere.

To listen to the full interview, (Jasper’s segment covers about the first 15 minutes of the interview).

Learn more about the SWIA instrument.

Iowa Public Radio


The SWIA instrument measures the solar wind and ion density and velocity in the magnetosheath of Mars. (Courtesy UCB/SSL – Greg Dalton) 

NASA’s ICON Mission a Go for 2017


When NASA’s Pegasus rocket lifts off in June 2017, it will carry scientific equipment and technology that might help researchers better understand space variations that contribute to disruptions in communications equipment, radar and Global Positioning Systems here on Earth.

NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission will study what happens in Earth’s upper atmosphere and the connections to environmental conditions on the planet, says Thomas Immel, ICON mission lead with the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory.

Read more at SIGNAL Online

SSL now accepting applications for summer research programs

ASSURE 2015 flier. Application is open at   Deadline is February 15th, 2015

Apply today for SSL’s 2015 summer research experience for undergraduates program.


The Space Sciences Laboratory is currently taking applications for it’s 2015 summer research experiences for undergraduates program – Advancing Space Sciences through Undergraduate Research Experiences (ASSURE). 
The ASSURE program partners undergraduate students from community colleges and universities around California with leading space science and engineering researchers based at the Space Sciences Laboratory. This program is dedicated to providing opportunities for enthusiastic and dedicated first generation and minority students, or other students for whom a research opportunity may be a challenge. The funded program starts June 8th and runs for 10 weeks. If you have any questions about the program, please email The deadline for 2015 summer program is February 15th 2015. Click here to learn about last years participants and their projects.

NuSTAR – Will the real monster black hole please stand up?

NuSTAR 2 galaxies

The real monster black hole is revealed in this new image from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array of colliding galaxies Arp 299. In the center panel, the NuSTAR high-energy X-ray data appear in various colors overlaid on a visible-light image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

Will the real monster black hole please stand up? A new high-energy X-ray image from Our NuSTAR Satellite has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp 299, located 134 million light-years away. Each of the galaxies has a supermassive black hole at its heart. More Details


MAVEN’s STATIC instrument measures escape of particles from Mars’ upper atmosphere


Photo Credit – NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars and Jim McFadden/UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab. The STATIC instrument can be seen on the right side of the MAVEN APP, Articulated Payload Platform

‪#‎MAVEN‬’s Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument is measuring the composition and energy of ions as the spacecraft passes through various layers of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

The series of graphs presented here shows the composition and energy of ions as the MAVEN spacecraft moved from low (~250 km) to higher (~500 km) altitudes. At the higher altitudes, the ions have been accelerated, as indicated by their higher energy. We are seeing the acceleration from low-energy to higher energy as the ions are driven to escape speeds.

For all the latest released results from the #MAVEN mission.


Image credit: Jim McFadden/UC Berkeley-Space Sciences Laboratory


Engineer James Van Allen, RBSP Namesake, leads NACA in Rocket Propulsion development

NASA Engineers

Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director William Pickering (left), Dr. James Van Allen (middle), and Dr. Wernher von Braun (right) hold up a model of Explorer 1, which successfully launched on January 31, 1958. Image Credit: NASA

Engineers from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), who joined NASA after its creation, tested, developed, and recommended one of the most vital technologies that the United States needed in order to successfully launch the Saturn rockets in the 1960s. These engineers had become experts in the field of high-energy propellants, particularly liquid hydrogen, and believed it should be used to power the upper stages of the Saturn rocket.

In 1959, these engineers made that critical recommendation to Wernher von Braun. The liquid hydrogen recommendation was not one that von Braun accepted at first. Von Braun and his team had more faith in the kerosene and liquid oxygen rocket propellants, with which they had more experience. He later acknowledged that the recommendation contributed immensely to NASA’s successful attempt to land the first human beings on the surface of the Moon in 1969.

So how did the NACA get involved in rocket research?

Read More