SOFIA ditched in NASA's Fiscal Budget

NASA

NASA’s 2021 budget released on February 10 has proposed canceling SOFIA among other terminations. Reports suggest that the mission has not delivered high-quality data products or science on par with other large science missions. The airborne observatory had received $85.2 million in 2020 appropriations bill, and $12 million now to mothball the program.

Crux of the Matter

What is SOFIA?
SOFIA or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is an 80/20 joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center to construct and maintain an airborne observatory. NASA awarded the contract for the development of the aircraft, operation of the observatory and management of the American part of the project to the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in 1996. It’s telescope saw first light on May 26, 2010.

It was developed in order to observe celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets, nebulae, and the galactic centre. It is based on a Boeing 747SP wide-body aircraft that has been modified to include a large door in the aft fuselage that can be opened in flight to allow a 2.5 m (8.2 ft) diameter reflecting telescope access to the sky. SOFIA’s flight capability allows it to rise above almost all of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks some infrared wavelengths from reaching the ground.

Axing the Project
In its budget documents, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said that SOFIA’s scientific productivity did not justify its expense and could not provide further recommendations on how to improve it’s efficiency. SOFIA is reportedly the second most expensive astrophysics mission at NASA after it received $88.3 million, behind the Hubble Space Telescope which was granted $98.3 million in 2019.

Replacement Planned
Even though astronomers are shocked at this sudden move, future projections seem promising. The James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2021, will provide data that partially mitigates the absence of SOFIA. Jim Jackson, associate director for research at the SOFIA Science Center said “We want to optimize the value proposition of the observatory.” at the town hall meeting. However it will still be more costly to operate, an estimated $172 million a year, once it enters service.

Curiopedia

The James Webb Space Telescope is a space telescope that is planned to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The JWST will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies. Other goals include understanding the formation of stars and planets, and direct imaging of exoplanets and novas. More Info

Lost Twin found: NASA's Voyager 2 fixed from 11.5 billion miles

Voyager 2

Mission operators reported that Voyager 2 spacecraft resumed its exploration of interstellar space earlier this week. The engineers fixed a potentially fatal glitch from 11.5 billion miles away. The health of the instruments is being further evaluated as Voyager 2 continues to be stable and is in contact with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Crux of the Matter

Voyager 2’s Purpose
It was built in motion to accompany its twin in transforming our understanding of our stellar neighbourhood, by revealing unprecedented information about the interstellar space, beyond the Sun’s sphere of influence. Multiple fault protection routines were programmed in both, in order to allow them to automatically take actions to protect themselves if potentially harmful circumstances arose.

What Had Happened?
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 both were the most distant human-made objects to be launched in the solar system. On Jan. 25 2020, Voyager 2 ran into trouble when it didn’t execute a scheduled manoeuvre in which the spacecraft rotates 360 degrees in order to calibrate its onboard magnetic field instrument. Analysis of the telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that an unexplained delay in the onboard execution had occurred. This caused the Voyager 2 to overdraw its available power supply.

Challenges Ahead
The Voyager’s power supply comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which turns heat from the decay of radioactive material into electricity to power the spacecraft. Thus the science team has to manage both the power supply and the temperature of certain systems on the spacecraft. Communications traveling at the speed of light take about 17 hours to reach the spacecraft, and it takes another 17 hours for a response from the spacecraft to return to Earth. As a result, mission engineers have to wait about 34 hours to find out if their commands have had the desired effect on the spacecraft.

Curiopedia

Voyager 2 is a space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977, to study the outer planets. Part of the Voyager program, it was launched 16 days before its twin, Voyager 1, on a trajectory that took longer to reach Jupiter and Saturn but enabled further encounters with Uranus and Neptune. It is the only spacecraft to have visited either of these two ice giant planets. Constructed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Voyager 2 includes 16 hydrazine thrusters, three-axis stabilization, gyroscopes and celestial referencing instruments (Sun sensor/Canopus Star Tracker) to maintain pointing of the high-gain antenna toward Earth. It is the fourth of five spacecraft to achieve the Solar escape velocity, which will allow it to leave the Solar System. Currently, it has begun to provide the first direct measurements of the density and temperature of the interstellar plasma. More Info

NASA's SLS beast completed, loaded for Transport

nasa

The first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage for NASA’s Artemis program finished the major build work at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It was loaded onto the agency’s Pegasus barge on Jan. 8 for delivery to Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The core stage for the SLS rocket was rolled out for Pegasus, in preparation for the Green Run test series, the final test campaign ahead of the agency’s first Artemis launch.

Crux of the Matter
  • Pegasus was modified to ferry SLS rocket hardware from Michoud to Stennis. This was for the core stage Green Run test series, that is a comprehensive test campaign of the stage.
  • NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard believes the Artemis program to be a national asset and says the SLS rocket was built to deliver American astronauts and maximum payloads to the Moon and deep space destinations.
  • The core stage, which will provide more than 2 million pounds of thrust to help power the first Artemis mission to the Moon, will be shipped to NASA’s Stennis Space Center.
  • The SLS rocket’s core stage is the largest stage NASA has ever built at its Louisiana factory including the Saturn V rocket stages for the agency’s first Moon missions.
  • With a design featuring some of the most sophisticated hardware ever built for spaceflight, the core stage is the powerhouse of the SLS rocket.
  • NASA is now working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. SLS, along with Orion and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, is NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. It is currently the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission.
Curiopedia

SLS or The Space Launch System is a US super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which has been under development since its announcement in 2011. It is the primary launch vehicle of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, including the planned crewed lunar flights of the Artemis program and a possible follow-on human mission to Mars. SLS replaces the Constellation program’s Ares V launch vehicle of 2005, which never left the development phase. The initial variant of SLS, Block 1, was required by the US Congress to lift a payload of 70 metric tons (150,000 lb)to low Earth orbit (LEO) but exceeded that requirement with a rated payload capacity of 95 metric tons (209,000 lb). As of December 22, 2019, this variant is planned to launch Artemis 1, 2, and 3. NASA plans to add an autonomous flight termination system to the SLS in-time for the flight of Artemis 3. The later Block 1B is intended to debut the Exploration Upper Stage and launch the notional Artemis 4 through Artemis 7. More Info

NASA's TESS 'unearths' the first Earth-size planet

TESS

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has stumbled upon two major discoveries of the Universe. One is a first Earth-size planet called TOI 700 d orbiting in the host star’s habitable zone and the other is the first circumbinary planet, that orbits two stars. The finds were confirmed with the Spitzer Space Telescope. Both revelations were discussed during the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu.

Crux of the Matter
  • By astronomical naming conventions, TOI 700 d is the fourth most distant planet from its star. The letters b and c are the planets closer to the star.It is about 100 light years away from Earth and orbits TOI 700, a M-dwarf (red dwarf) star in the constellation Dorado.
  • Planets are searched by monitoring large swaths of the sky for 27 days at a time.The drop in starlight is detected when an exoplanet passes between us and the star. Each time a planet passes in front of its star it’s called a transit. In this case, TESS caught the three planets in the TOI 700 system transiting multiple times.
  • In order to solidify the findings, a team of scientists led by Joseph Rodriguez, from the Center for Astrophysics – Harvard & Smithsonian, requested a follow-up and confirmed the observations subsequently with Spitzer.
  • This is a key discovery for TESS, since it was designed to ferret out Earth-size planets in other solar systems and to allow other telescopes to do follow-up observations.It is expected to observe hundreds of thousands of eclipsing binaries over the course of its two-year mission.
  • Emily Gilbert, one of the researchers at the University of Chicago, was quoted as saying “When we corrected the star’s parameters, the sizes of its planets dropped, and we realized the outermost one was about the size of Earth and in the habitable zone.”
Curiopedia

NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It was established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science.Since then, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. It is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space Launch System and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for no crew NASA launches. NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System. More Info

NASA’s Parker Probe sends new updates on sun's mysteries

solar

NASA’s Solar Probe which was launched to space in August 2018, is set to become the nearest spacecraft to the Sun. The first set of observations were published in the recent issue of a leading science journal Nature. They include the discovery of a new phenomenon: the bizarre ‘switchbacks’ in the solar wind that flows off the surface of the Sun. This further gives insights into the processes that drive solar wind and how it couples with solar rotation.

Crux of the Matter
  • During the switchbacks observed, the solar magnetic field swings back until it points directly back at the Sun, which scientists suggest can change our past theories of the corona and solar wind.
  • With cutting-edge scientific instruments, this NASA probe is designed to use Venus’s gravity using seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually inch closer to the Sun in order to study it up and close.
  • Reports say that this shall help the researchers predict the space weather around the Earth and can be crucial in protecting astronauts and technology in space.
  • As this news piece is being written, Parker is revolving the Sun from a distance of 126 million kilometres while completing its fourth orbit around it.
Curiopedia

NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration s an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), it is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space Launch System and Commercial Crew vehicles. It is also responsible for the Launch Services Program which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for uncrewed NASA launches. More Info