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NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover undergoes diagnostic tests on Drill Arm

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is studying its surroundings and monitoring the environment, rather than driving or using its arm for science, while the rover team diagnoses an issue with a motor that moves the rover’s drill.

Curiosity is at a site on lower Mount Sharp selected for what would be the mission’s seventh sample-collection drilling of 2016. The rover team learned December 1st that Curiosity did not complete the commands for drilling. The rover detected a fault in an early step in which the “drill feed” mechanism did not extend the drill to touch the rock target with the bit.

This Dec. 2, 2016, view from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on the mast of NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows rocky ground within view while the rover was working at an intended drilling site called "Precipice" on lower Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This Dec. 2, 2016, view from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on the mast of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows rocky ground within view while the rover was working at an intended drilling site called “Precipice” on lower Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft takes first look at Saturn’s Atmosphere

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn’s atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn’s northern hemisphere, including the planet’s intriguing hexagon-shaped jet stream.

Cassini began its new mission phase, called its Ring-Grazing Orbits, on November 30th. Each of these weeklong orbits — 20 in all — carries the spacecraft high above Saturn’s northern hemisphere before sending it skimming past the outer edges of the planet’s main rings.

This view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft was obtained about half a day before its first close pass by the outer edges of Saturn's main rings during its penultimate mission phase. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

This view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was obtained about half a day before its first close pass by the outer edges of Saturn’s main rings during its penultimate mission phase. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft completes first dive into outer edges of Saturn’s Rings

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft has made its first close dive past the outer edges of Saturn’s rings since beginning its penultimate mission phase on November 30th.

Cassini crossed through the plane of Saturn’s rings on December 4th at 5:09am PST (8:09am EST) at a distance of approximately 57,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops. This is the approximate location of a faint, dusty ring produced by the planet’s small moons Janus and Epimetheus, and just 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) from the center of Saturn’s F ring.

This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini's final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray (at left); Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft's Sept. 2017 final plunge into Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini’s final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray (at left); Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft’s Sept. 2017 final plunge into Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Radio on Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter completes first test

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Data from each of the two rovers active on Mars reached Earth last week in the successful first relay test of a NASA radio aboard Europe’s new Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

The transmissions from NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, received by one of the twin Electra radios on the orbiter on November 22nd, mark a strengthening of the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration. The orbiter’s main radio for communications with Earth subsequently relayed onward to Earth the data received by Electra.

A NASA radio on Europe's Trace Gas Orbiter, which reached Mars in October 2016, has succeeded in its first test of receiving data from NASA Mars rovers, both Opportunity and Curiosity. This graphic depicts the geometry of the relay from Opportunity to the orbiter, which then sent the data to Earth.

A NASA radio on Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter, which reached Mars in October 2016, has succeeded in its first test of receiving data from NASA Mars rovers, both Opportunity and Curiosity. This graphic depicts the geometry of the relay from Opportunity to the orbiter, which then sent the data to Earth.

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NASA Researchers develop Artificial Intelligence for Submersibles

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – If you think operating a robot in space is hard, try doing it in the ocean.

Saltwater can corrode your robot and block its radio signals.

Kelp forests can tangle it up, and you might not get it back.

Sharks will even try to take bites out of its wings.

The ocean is basically a big obstacle course of robot death. Despite this, robotic submersibles have become critical tools for ocean research. While satellites can study the ocean surface, their signals can’t penetrate the water. A better way to study what’s below is to look beneath yourself — or send a robot in your place.

JPL's Steve Chien with several of the underwater drones used in a research project earlier this year. Chien, along with his research collaborators, are developing artificial intelligence for these drones. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

JPL’s Steve Chien with several of the underwater drones used in a research project earlier this year. Chien, along with his research collaborators, are developing artificial intelligence for these drones. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA Techs work to make Bulk Metallic Glass Gears for Robots

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Throw a baseball, and you might say it’s all in the wrist.

For robots, it’s all in the gears.

Gears are essential for precision robotics. They allow limbs to turn smoothly and stop on command; low-quality gears cause limbs to jerk or shake. If you’re designing a robot to scoop samples or grip a ledge, the kind of gears you’ll need won’t come from a hardware store.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, technologist Douglas Hofmann and his collaborators are building a better gear.

Bulk metallic glass, a metal alloy, doesn't get brittle in extreme cold. That makes the material perfect for robotics operated in space or on icy planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Bulk metallic glass, a metal alloy, doesn’t get brittle in extreme cold. That makes the material perfect for robotics operated in space or on icy planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s International Space Station Rapid Scatterometer instrument ends operations

 

Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s International Space Station Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat) Earth science instrument has ended operations following a successful two-year mission aboard the space station. The mission launched September 21st, 2014, and had recently passed its original decommissioning date.

ISS-RapidScat used the unique vantage point of the space station to provide near-real-time monitoring of ocean winds, which are critical in determining regional weather patterns. Its measurements of wind speed and direction over the ocean surface have been used by agencies worldwide for weather and marine forecasting and tropical cyclone monitoring.

Artist's rendering of NASA's ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center)

Artist’s rendering of NASA’s ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center)

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NASA picks SpaceX to Launch Surface Water and Ocean Topography Satellite

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission. Launch is targeted for April 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The total cost for NASA to launch SWOT is approximately $112 million, which includes the launch service; spacecraft processing; payload integration; and tracking, data and telemetry support.

Artist's rendering of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s rendering of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA reports new study sheds light on slowdown of Global Warming

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A new multi-institutional study of the temporary slowdown in the global average surface temperature warming trend observed between 1998 and 2013 concludes the phenomenon represented a redistribution of energy within the Earth system, with Earth’s ocean absorbing the extra heat.

The phenomenon was referred to by some as the “global warming hiatus.” Global average surface temperature, measured by satellites and direct observations, is considered a key indicator of climate change.

A new multi-institutional study of the latest research into the temporary slowdown in the global average surface temperature increase seen between 1998 and 2013 concludes it represented a redistribution of heat/energy within the oceans. (Flickr user Brian Richardson, CC by 2.0)

A new multi-institutional study of the latest research into the temporary slowdown in the global average surface temperature increase seen between 1998 and 2013 concludes it represented a redistribution of heat/energy within the oceans. (Flickr user Brian Richardson, CC by 2.0)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft to begin first phase of it’s end mission

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A thrilling ride is about to begin for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Engineers have been pumping up the spacecraft’s orbit around Saturn this year to increase its tilt with respect to the planet’s equator and rings. And on November 30th, following a gravitational nudge from Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini will enter the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame.

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons. During its journey, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean within Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.

This is an artists concept of the Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn Orbit. (NASA/JPL)

This is an artists concept of the Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn Orbit. (NASA/JPL)

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