NASA COMPLETES KEY REVIEW OF WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL ROCKET IN SUPPORT OF JOURNEY TO MARS
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton August 27 2014 NASA Gov. Missions
Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC
NASA officials Wednesday announced they have completed a rigorous review of the Space Launch System (SLS) — the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars — and approved the program’s progression from formulation to development, something no other exploration class vehicle has achieved since the agency built the space shuttle.
“We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “And we are firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey.”
For its first flight test, SLS will be configured for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit. In its most powerful configuration, SLS will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons), which will enable missions even farther into our solar system, including such destinations as an asteroid and Mars.
This artist concept shows NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, rolling to a launchpad at Kennedy Space Center at night. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in history, and the flexible, evolvable design of this advanced, heavy-lift launch vehicle will meet a variety of crew and cargo mission needs. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC
This decision comes after a thorough review known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), which provides a development cost baseline for the 70-metric ton version of the SLS of $7.021 billion from February 2014 through the first launch and a launch readiness schedule based on an initial SLS flight no later than November 2018.
Conservative cost and schedule commitments outlined in the KDP-C align the SLS program with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the program’s control.
“Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right,” said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who oversaw the review process.
“After rigorous review, we are committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we are going to stand behind that commitment.”
“The Space Launch System Program has done exemplary work during the past three years to get us to this point,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“We will keep the teams working toward a more ambitious readiness date, but will be ready no later than November 2018.”
The SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs each conduct a design review prior to each program’s respective KDP-C, and each program will establish cost and schedule commitments that account for its individual technical requirements.
“We are keeping each part of the program — the rocket, ground systems, and Orion — moving at its best possible speed toward the first integrated test launch,” said Bill Hill, director Exploration Systems Development at NASA.
“We are on a solid path toward an integrated mission and making progress in all three programs every day.”
“Engineers have made significant technical progress on the rocket and have produced hardware for all elements of the SLS program,” said SLS program manager Todd May.
“The team members deserve an enormous amount of credit for their dedication to building this national asset.”
The program delivered in April the first piece of flight hardware for Orion’s maiden flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 targeted for December. This stage adapter is of the same design that will be used on SLS’s first flight, Exploration Mission-1.
Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has all major tools installed and is producing hardware, including the first pieces of flight hardware for SLS. Sixteen RS-25 engines, enough for four flights, currently are in inventory at Stennis Space Center, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where an engine is already installed and ready for testing this fall. NASA contractor ATK has conducted successful test firings of the five-segment solid rocket boosters and is preparing for the first qualification motor test.
SLS will be the world’s most capable rocket. In addition to opening new frontiers for explorers traveling aboard the Orion capsule, the SLS may also offer benefits for science missions that require it’s use and cannot be flown on commercial rockets.
The next phase of development for SLS is the Critical Design Review, a programmatic gate that reaffirms the agency’s confidence in the program planning and technical risk posture.
NASA TELESCOPES UNCOVER EARLY CONSTRUCTION OF GIANT GALAXY
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Posted August 27, 2014. NASA GOV.
Artist impression of a firestorm of star birth deep inside core of young, growing elliptical galaxy. Image Credit: NASA, Z. Levay, G. Bacon (STScI)
Astronomers have for the first time caught a glimpse of the earliest stages of massive galaxy construction. The building site, dubbed “Sparky,” is a dense galactic core blazing with the light of millions of newborn stars that are forming at a ferocious rate.
The discovery was made possible through combined observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory, in which NASA plays an important role.
A fully developed elliptical galaxy is a gas-deficient gathering of ancient stars theorized to develop from the inside out, with a compact core marking its beginnings. Because the galactic core is so far away, the light of the forming galaxy that is observable from Earth was actually created 11 billion years ago, just 3 billion years after the Big Bang.
Although only a fraction of the size of the Milky Way, the tiny powerhouse galactic core already contains about twice as many stars as our own galaxy, all crammed into a region only 6,000 light-years across. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across.
“We really had not seen a formation process that could create things that are this dense,” explained Erica Nelson of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, lead author of the study.
“We suspect that this core-formation process is a phenomenon unique to the early universe because the early universe, as a whole, was more compact. Today, the universe is so diffuse that it cannot create such objects anymore.”
In addition to determining the galaxy’s size from the Hubble images, the team dug into archival far-infrared images from Spitzer and Herschel. This allowed them to see how fast the galaxy core is creating stars. Sparky produced roughly 300 stars per year, compared to the 10 stars per year produced by our Milky Way.
“They are very extreme environments,” Nelson said. “It is like a medieval cauldron forging stars. There is a lot of turbulence, and it is bubbling. If you were in there, the night sky would be bright with young stars, and there would be a lot of dust, gas, and remnants of exploding stars. To actually see this happening is fascinating.”
Astronomers theorize that this frenzied star birth was sparked by a torrent of gas flowing into the galaxy’s core while it formed deep inside a gravitational well of dark matter, invisible cosmic material that acts as the scaffolding of the universe for galaxy construction.
Observations indicate that the galaxy had been furiously making stars for more than a billion years. It is likely that this frenzy eventually will slow to a stop, and that over the next 10 billion years other smaller galaxies may merge with Sparky, causing it to expand and become a mammoth, sedate elliptical galaxy.
“I think our discovery settles the question of whether this mode of building galaxies actually happened or not,” said team-member Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University.
“The question now is, how often did this occur? We suspect there are other galaxies like this that are even fainter in near-infrared wavelengths. We think they will be brighter at longer wavelengths, and so it will really be up to future infrared telescopes such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to find more of these objects.”
The paper appears in the Aug. 27 issue of the journal Nature.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
ETA CARINAE: OUR NEIGHBORING SUPERSTARS
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton NASA GOV.Chandra X-Ray Observatory
The Eta Carinae star system does not lack for superlatives. Not only does it contain one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy, weighing at least 90 times the mass of the sun, it is also extremely volatile and is expected to have at least one supernova explosion in the future.
As one of the first objects observed by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory after it’s launch some 15 years ago, this double star system continues to reveal new clues about its nature through the X-rays it generates.
Astronomers reported extremely volatile behavior from Eta Carinae in the 19th century, when it became very bright for two decades, outshining nearly every star in the entire sky. This event became known as the “Great Eruption.”
Data from modern telescopes reveal that Eta Carinae threw off about ten times the sun’s mass during that time. Surprisingly, the star survived this tumultuous expulsion of material, adding “extremely hardy” to its list of attributes.
Today, astronomers are trying to learn more about the two stars in the Eta Carinae system and how they interact with each other. The heavier of the two stars is quickly losing mass through wind streaming away from its surface at over a million miles per hour. While not the giant purge of the Great Eruption, this star is still losing mass at a very high rate that will add up to the sun’s mass in about a millennium.
Though smaller than its partner, the companion star in Eta Carinae is also massive, weighing in at about 30 times the mass of the sun. It is losing matter at a rate that is about a hundred times lower than its partner, but still a prodigious weight loss compared to most other stars. The companion star beats the bigger star in wind speed, with its wind clocking in almost ten times faster.
When these two speedy and powerful winds collide, they form a bow shock – similar to the sonic boom from a supersonic airplane – that then heats the gas between the stars. The temperature of the gas reaches about ten million degrees, producing X-rays that Chandra detects.
The Chandra image of Eta Carinae shows low energy X-rays in red, medium energy X-rays in green, and high energy X-rays in blue. Most of the emission comes from low and high energy X-rays. The blue point source is generated by the colliding winds, and the diffuse blue emission is produced when the material that was purged during the Great Eruption reflects these X-rays. The low energy X-rays further out show where the winds from the two stars, or perhaps material from the Great Eruption, are striking surrounding material. This surrounding material might consist of gas that was ejected before the Great Eruption.
An interesting feature of the Eta Carinae system is that the two stars travel around each other along highly elliptical paths during their five-and-a-half-year long orbit. Depending on where each star is on its oval-shaped trajectory, the distance between the two stars changes by a factor of twenty. These oval-shaped trajectories give astronomers a chance to study what happens to the winds from these stars when they collide at different distances from one another.
Throughout most of the system’s orbit, the X-rays are stronger at the apex, the region where the winds collide head-on. However, when the two stars are at their closest during their orbit (a point that astronomers call “periastron”), the X-ray emission dips unexpectedly.
To understand the cause of this dip, astronomers observed Eta Carinae with Chandra at periastron in early 2009. The results provided the first detailed picture of X-ray emission from the colliding winds in Eta Carinae. The study suggests that part of the reason for the dip at periastron is that X-rays from the apex are blocked by the dense wind from the more massive star in Eta Carinae, or perhaps by the surface of the star itself.
Another factor responsible for the X-ray dip is that the shock wave appears to be disrupted near periastron, possibly because of faster cooling of the gas due to increased density, and/or a decrease in the strength of the companion star’s wind because of extra ultraviolet radiation from the massive star reaching it. Researchers are hoping that Chandra observations of the latest periastron in August 2014 will help them determine the true explanation.
These results were published in the April 1, 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal and are available online. The first author of the paper is Kenji Hamaguchi of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and his co-authors are Michael Corcoran of Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC); Christopher Russell of University of Delaware in Newark, DE; A. Pollock from the European Space Agency in Madrid, Spain; Theodore Gull, Mairan Teodoro, and Thomas I. Madura from GSFC; Augusto Damineli from Universidade de Sao Paulo in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Julian Pittard from the University of Leeds in the UK.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.
Hope you enjoy today’s pictures now I have mastered that. I am however, seriously considering moving all of the space information to an additional blog which I will update regularly except when I am on holiday in the sun in the not too distant future. I will advise when I go AWOL. I am receiving more information than I can publish and this is allegedly a FMS (Fibromyalgia) Global News site. Sadly I am very conscious those readers are missing out and I am quite likely to get ticked off. If there is a big enough following for space articles I will move. Please send me your comments before I make the decision as obviously it is more work. Back tomorrow Jeanne