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(24 July 2020 – STScI) When it launches in the mid-2020s, NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will create enormous space panoramas of unprecedented detail.

The mission’s wide field of view will enable scientists to conduct sweeping cosmic surveys, yielding a wealth of information about celestial realms from our solar system to the edge of the observable universe.

Roman has just successfully completed a preliminary design review of the mission’s ground systems, including the Science Operations Center that will be hosted by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. This means the plan for science operations has met all of the design, schedule, and budget requirements. The mission will now proceed to the next phase: building the newly designed systems that will enable planning and scheduling of Roman observations and managing the resulting data.

(courtesy: NASA)

“We’re excited to complete this latest milestone in the Roman Space Telescope mission,” said Kenneth Sembach, director of STScI. “We expect the flood of data that Roman will produce to revolutionize our understanding of many different areas of astrophysics. Roman will also change the way we perform scientific analyses. We’ll need to develop new tools and analysis methods to extract scientific insights from such a huge volume of data.”

In its role as Science Operations Center, STScI will plan, schedule, and carry out observations, process and archive mission datasets, and engage and inform the astronomical community and the public. STScI will collaborate closely with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the mission; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is developing the Coronagraphic Instrument; and IPAC/Caltech, which provides science support for the Coronagraphic Instrument and elements of the Wide Field Instrument as the observatory’s Science Support Center.

Big Data

Roman will survey the sky in infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. It will have the same resolution in near-infrared wavelengths as NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, but will capture a field of view about 100 times larger. As a result, scientists expect the telescope to collect more data than any of NASA’s other astrophysics missions.

Hubble has gathered 172 terabytes of data since its launch in 1990. Roman will gather data about 500 times faster than Hubble, adding up to 20,000 terabytes (20 petabytes) over the course of its five-year primary mission. At that rate, if Roman’s data were printed out and the pages were piled up, the stack would tower 330 miles (530 kilometers) high after a single day. By the end of Roman’s primary mission, the stack would reach 2.5 times farther than the Moon.

Data Accessibility

Such a vast volume of information will require new processing and archival techniques. Scientists will access and analyze Roman’s data using cloud-based remote services and more sophisticated tools than those used by previous missions.

“We’re bringing software to the data rather than bringing the data to your software on your laptop,” explained Karoline Gilbert, mission scientist for the Roman Science Operations Center at STScI.

All of the data collected by the Roman Space Telescope will be held in the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) at STScI. Those data will be publicly available within days of the observations – a first for a NASA astrophysics flagship mission. This is significant because Roman’s colossal images will often contain far more than just the primary target of observation.

Since scientists everywhere will have rapid access to the data, they will be able to quickly discover short-lived phenomena, such as supernovae explosions. Prompt notification will allow other telescopes to perform follow-up observations.

The Science of the Roman Space Telescope

Roman will contribute to advances across the field of astrophysics. It will investigate new dwarf planets, comets, and asteroids in our solar system. It will image stars throughout our own galaxy, measuring its structure, and finding telltale signs of smaller galaxies torn apart by interactions with the Milky Way. Roman will also survey the birthplaces of stars, giant nurseries of gas and dust which Roman’s large field of view will be able to fully image at high resolution for the first time.

Roman’s remarkable speed at gathering data will also yield new insights into galaxies throughout the universe. By staring deeply at wide swaths of apparently blank sections of sky, Roman will image an unprecedented number of galaxies with high resolution. Roman will image large clusters of galaxies, characterize the dark matter around them, and discover thousands of galaxies at very high redshifts, which will provide the tools to study how galaxies change over cosmic time.

Roman’s surveys will deliver new insights into the history and structure of the universe, including the mysterious “dark energy” that is making space itself expand faster and faster. This powerful new observatory will also build on the broad foundation of work begun with Hubble and other observatories on planets outside our solar system. It will discover thousands of exoplanets using its wide-field camera and study the atmospheres of giant gaseous planets orbiting other stars with a sophisticated technology demonstration coronagraph.

“With its incredibly fast survey speeds, Roman will observe planets by the thousands, galaxies by the millions, and stars by the billions,” said Gilbert. “These vast datasets will allow us to resolve cosmic mysteries that hint at new fundamental physics.”

The Space Telescope Science Institute is expanding the frontiers of space astronomy by hosting the science operations center of the Hubble Space Telescope, the science and operations center for the James Webb Space Telescope, and the science operations center for the future Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. STScI also houses the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) which is a NASA-funded project to support and provide to the astronomical community a variety of astronomical data archives, and is the data repository for the Hubble, Webb, Kepler, K2, TESS missions, and more.

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SpaceBridge rolls out Integrasys Satmotion facilitating the deployment of customer networks across Greece

SpaceBridge rolls out Integrasys Satmotion facilitating the deployment of customer

(21 September 2020 – Integrasys) SpaceBridge has successfully rolled out an ASAT-II Redundant Hub and over 100 sites across Hellas SAT.

To facilitate the deployment of the network and minimize staff time and efforts on-site, SpaceBridge selected Satmotion Pocket, Integrasys’s industry-leading Auto Commissioning tool. Satmotion Pocket is a VSAT auto-commissioning system that minimizes deployment time and effort while ensuring the highest quality and interference-free installation for optimal performance. It is a software-based solution that simplifies and guides installers by providing feedback on important key performance indicators (KPI) such as Copol, Xpol and Adjacent Satellite Interference, verifying that the antenna and receive/transmit chain of the solutions are optimally installed and allowing sites to generate revenue earlier.

(courtesy: Integrasys)

David Gelerman, President and CEO of Spacebridge; “Our goal at SpaceBridge is to ensure our customers can rapidly monetize upon the offering of their value-added services. The Satmotion Pocket by Integrasys proved very effective in that it allowed our partners to provide high-quality installations efficiently resulting in much faster deployment, saving time and resources, and delivering revenue sooner. Based on this roll-out, we envision a bright future of collaboration between our two companies.”

Alvaro Sanchez; “For us partnering with SpaceBridge has been a great pleasure, it opens the door to new customers who can tangibly benefit from our technology for simplifying the access while generating additional revenue and faster time to market, and commissioning. SpaceBridge is a great company to work with a great leader & engineer as CEO; they have great technology for connecting new networks, ASAT is a fantastic product.”

Satmotion Pocket developed by Integrasys for ASAT System with its accurate performance enabled SpaceBridge customers to deploy the VSAT network rapidly, easily, and at low cost. Satmotion Pocket is supported on the smartphone, thanks to its user-friendly interface, it does not require VSAT experts to carry out the installation. The time and cost savings are remarkable, as the field technician does not need to call the NOC/Hub, carry a satellite phone, or spectrum analyzer, in a few minutes the VSAT is up and running providing revenue to Space Bridge customers.

About Integrasys

Founded in 1990 by Hewlett Packard engineers, Integrasys specializes in providing satellite spectrum monitoring systems for the satellite, telecommunication, and broadcast markets. Its solutions enable fast and efficient installation and monitoring, helping reduce both errors and costs.

Integrasys is a fast-growing company which it has been awarded with the most innovative technology award in 2018 at the Satellite show by WTA; it has increased 30% in revenue each year during the last three years, and last year it has tripled its profit.

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NASA’s new Mars rover will use X-rays to hunt fossils

NASAs new Mars rover will use X rays to hunt fossils

(22 September 2020 – JPL) NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has a challenging road ahead: After having to make it through the harrowing entry, descent, and landing phase of the mission on Feb. 18, 2021, it will begin searching for traces of microscopic life from billions of years back.

That’s why it’s packing PIXL, a precision X-ray device powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Short for Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, PIXL is a lunchbox-size instrument located on the end of Perseverance’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm. The rover’s most important samples will be collected by a coring drill on the end of the arm, then stashed in metal tubes that Perseverance will deposit on the surface for return to Earth by a future mission.

In this illustration, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover uses the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL). Located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, the X-ray spectrometer will help search for signs of ancient microbial life in rocks. (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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PIXL requires pictures of its rock targets to autonomously position itself. Light diodes encircle its opening and take pictures of rock targets when the instrument is working at night. Using artificial intelligence, PIXL relies on the images to determine how far away it is from a target to be scanned. (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Nearly every mission that has successfully landed on Mars, from the Viking landers to the Curiosity rover, has included an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer of some kind. One major way PIXL differs from its predecessors is in its ability to scan rock using a powerful, finely-focused X-ray beam to discover where – and in what quantity – chemicals are distributed across the surface.

“PIXL’s X-ray beam is so narrow that it can pinpoint features as small as a grain of salt. That allows us to very accurately tie chemicals we detect to specific textures in a rock,” said Abigail Allwood, PIXL’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Rock textures will be an essential clue when deciding which samples are worth returning to Earth. On our planet, distinctively warped rocks called stromatolites were made from ancient layers of bacteria, and they are just one example of fossilized ancient life that scientists will be looking for.

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A device with six mechanical legs, the hexapod is a critical part of the PIXL instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. The hexapod allows PIXL to make slow, precise movements to get closer to and point at specific parts of a rock’s surface. This GIF has been considerably sped up to show how the hexapod moves. (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An AI-Powered Night Owl

To help find the best targets, PIXL relies on more than a precision X-ray beam alone. It also needs a hexapod – a device featuring six mechanical legs connecting PIXL to the robotic arm and guided by artificial intelligence to get the most accurate aim. After the rover’s arm is placed close to an interesting rock, PIXL uses a camera and laser to calculate its distance. Then those legs make tiny movements – on the order of just 100 microns, or about twice the width of a human hair – so the device can scan the target, mapping the chemicals found within a postage stamp-size area.

“The hexapod figures out on its own how to point and extend its legs even closer to a rock target,” Allwood said. “It’s kind of like a little robot who has made itself at home on the end of the rover’s arm.”

Then PIXL measures X-rays in 10-second bursts from a single point on a rock before the instrument tilts 100 microns and takes another measurement. To produce one of those postage stamp-size chemical maps, it may need to do this thousands of times over the course of as many as eight or nine hours.

That timeframe is partly what makes PIXL’s microscopic adjustments so critical: The temperature on Mars changes by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) over the course of a day, causing the metal on Perseverance’s robotic arm to expand and contract by as much as a half-inch (13 millimeters). To minimize the thermal contractions PIXL has to contend with, the instrument will conduct its science after the Sun sets.

“PIXL is a night owl,” Allwood said. “The temperature is more stable at night, and that also lets us work at a time when there’s less activity on the rover.”

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PIXL opens its dust cover during testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. One of seven instruments on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, PIXL is located on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

X-rays for Art and Science

Long before X-ray fluorescence got to Mars, it was used by geologists and metallurgists to identify materials. It eventually became a standard museum technique for discovering the origins of paintings or detecting counterfeits.

“If you know that an artist typically used a certain titanium white with a unique chemical signature of heavy metals, this evidence might help authenticate a painting,” said Chris Heirwegh, an X-ray fluorescence expert on the PIXL team at JPL. “Or you can determine if a particular kind of paint originated in Italy rather than France, linking it to a specific artistic group from the time period.”

For astrobiologists, X-ray fluorescence is a way to read stories left by the ancient past. Allwood used it to determine that stromatolite rocks found in her native country of Australia are some of the oldest microbial fossils on Earth, dating back 3.5 billion years. Mapping out the chemistry in rock textures with PIXL will offer scientists clues to interpret whether a sample could be a fossilized microbe.

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers.

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NRAO joins space mission to the far side of the Moon to explore the early universe

NRAO joins space mission to the far side of the

(22 September 2020 – NRAO) The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has joined a new NASA space mission to the far side of the Moon to investigate when the first stars began to form in the early universe.

Artist illustration of the Dark Ages Polarimetry Pathfinder (DAPPER), which will look for faint radio signals from the early universe while operating in a low lunar orbit. Its specialized radio receiver and high-frequency antenna are currently being developed by NRAO. (courtesy: NRAO/AUI/NSF, Sophia Dagnello)

The universe was dark and foggy during its “dark ages,” just 380 thousand years after the Big Bang. There were no light-producing structures yet like stars and galaxies, only large clouds of hydrogen gas. As the universe expanded and started to cool down, gravity drove the formation of the stars and black holes, which ended the dark ages and initiated the “cosmic dawn,” tens of millions of years later.

To learn more about that dark period of the cosmos and understand how and when the first stars began to form, astronomers are trying to catch energy produced by these hydrogen clouds in the form of radio waves, via the so-called 21-centimeter line.

But picking up signals from the early universe is extremely challenging. They are mostly blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere, or drowned out by human-generated radio transmissions. That’s why a team of scientists and engineers have decided to send a small spacecraft to lunar orbit and measure this signal while traversing the far side of the Moon, which is radio-quiet.

The spacecraft, called the Dark Ages Polarimetry Pathfinder (DAPPER), will be designed to look for faint radio signals from the early universe while operating in a low lunar orbit. Its specialized radio receiver and high-frequency antenna are currently being developed by a team at the NRAO’s Central Development Laboratory (CDL) in Charlottesville, Virginia, led by senior research engineer Richard Bradley.

“No radio telescope on Earth is currently able to definitively measure and confirm the very faint neutral hydrogen signal from the early universe, because there are so many other signals that are much brighter,” said Bradley. “At CDL we are developing specialized techniques that enhance the measurement process used by DAPPER to help us separate the faint signal from all the noise.” This project builds upon the work of Marian Pospieszalski who developed flight-ready low noise amplifiers at the CDL in the 1990s for the highly-successful Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a spacecraft that gave the most precise figure yet for the age of the universe.

DAPPER will be part of the NASA Artemis program with the goal of landing “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024. It will likely be launched from the vicinity of the Lunar Gateway, the planned space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a communication hub and science laboratory. Because it is able to piggy-back off of the surging interest in sending humans to lunar soil, DAPPER will be much cheaper to build and more compact than a full-scale NASA mission.

NRAO will spend the coming two years designing and developing a prototype for the DAPPER receiver, after which it will go to the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley for space environmental testing.

“NRAO is very pleased to be working on this important initiative,” said Tony Beasley, director of the NRAO and Associated Universities Inc. vice president for Radio Astronomy Operations. “DAPPER’s contributions to the success of NASA’s ARTEMIS mission will build on the rapid growth of space-based radio astronomy research we’ve seen over the past decade. As the leading radio astronomy organization in the world, NRAO always looks for new horizons, and DAPPER is the start of an exciting field.”

DAPPER is a collaboration between the universities of Colorado-Boulder and California-Berkeley, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Bradford Space Inc., and the NASA Ames Research Center. Jack Burns of the University of Colorado Boulder is Principal Investigator and Science Team Chair. Project website for DAPPER.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

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