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!

Courtesy:

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

NASA’s GOLD instrument captures its first image of the Earth

Shown here is the “first light” image of ultraviolet atomic oxygen emission (135.6 nm wavelength) from the Earth’s upper atmosphere captured by NASA’s GOLD instrument. It was taken at approximately 6 a.m. local time, near sunrise in eastern South America. The colors correspond to emission brightness, with the strongest shown in red and the weakest in blue. This emission is produced at altitudes around 160 km (note how it extends above the Earth’s surface on the horizon), when the Earth’s upper atmosphere absorbs high energy photons and particles. The aurora, at the top and bottom of the image, and daytime airglow, on the right hand side, are also visible. An ultraviolet star, 66 Ophiuchi (HD 164284), is visible above the western horizon of the Earth. Outlines of the continents and a latitude-longitude grid have been added for reference. (Courtesy LASP/GOLD science team)

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, instrument powered on and opened its cover to scan the Earth for the first time, resulting in a “first light” image of the Western Hemisphere in the ultraviolet. GOLD will provide unprecedented global-scale imaging of the temperature and composition at the dynamic boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

The instrument was launched from Kourou, French Guiana, on Jan. 25, 2018, onboard the SES-14 satellite and reached geostationary orbit in June 2018. After checkout of the satellite and communications payload, GOLD commissioning—the period during which the instrument performance is assessed—began on Sept. 4.

Team scientists conducted one day of observations on Sept. 11, during instrument checkout, enabling them to produce GOLD’s “first light” image shown here. Commissioning will run through early October, as the team continues to prepare the instrument for its planned two-year science mission.

Gold and the link to the ICON Mission, complete article

Illuminating First Light Data from Parker Solar Probe

The right side of this image — from WISPR’s (Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe) inner telescope — has a 40-degree field of view, with its right edge 58.5 degrees from the Sun’s center. The left side of the image is from WISPR’s outer telescope, which has a 58-degree field of view and extends to about 160 degrees from the Sun. There is a parallax of about 13 degrees in the apparent position of the Sun as viewed from Earth and from Parker Solar Probe. Credit: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe

Just over a month into its mission, Parker Solar Probe has returned first-light data from each of its four instrument suites. These early observations – while not yet examples of the key science observations Parker Solar Probe will take closer to the Sun – show that each of the instruments is working well. The instruments work in tandem to measure the Sun’s electric and magnetic fields, particles from the Sun and the solar wind, and capture images of the environment around the spacecraft.

“All instruments returned data that not only serves for calibration, but also captures glimpses of what we expect them to measure near the Sun to solve the mysteries of the solar atmosphere, the corona,” said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland.

The mission’s first close approach to the Sun will be in November 2018, but even now, the instruments are able to gather measurements of what’s happening in the solar wind closer to Earth. Let’s take a look at what they’ve seen so far.

The complete Article and Data.

ICON UPDATE: Launch Delay to Address Technical Issues

NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to delay the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, to allow time to address a quality issue with a vendor-supplied electrical connector on the launch vehicle. Northrop Grumman does not expect an extended delay and will work with the range to determine a new launch date. The ICON spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.