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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory completes spin-up procedure

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have commanded the 20-foot (6-meter) reflector antenna on NASA’s new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory to begin spinning for the first time. The partial spin-up is a key step in commissioning the satellite in preparation for science operations.

Last week, mission controllers sent commands to release the locking mechanism that prevented the observatory’s spun instrument assembly — the part that spins — from rotating during launch and deployment of the reflector. The spun instrument assembly includes the spin control electronics, radiometer instrument and reflector antenna.

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will produce high-resolution global maps of soil moisture to track water availability around our planet and guide policy decisions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will produce high-resolution global maps of soil moisture to track water availability around our planet and guide policy decisions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity celebrates surpassing Marathon Distance on March 24th, 2015

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – There was no tape draped across a finish line, but NASA is celebrating a win. The agency’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity completed its first Red Planet marathon Tuesday — 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) – with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A first time happens only once.”

Cumulative driving by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, as the rover neared a destination called "Marathon Valley," which is middle ground of this dramatic view from early March. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cumulative driving by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, as the rover neared a destination called “Marathon Valley,” which is middle ground of this dramatic view from early March. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA reformats Mars Rover Opportunity’s onboard Flash Memory

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – After avoiding use of the rover’s flash memory for three months, the team operating NASA’s 11-year-old Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reformatted the vehicle’s flash memory banks and resumed storing some data overnight for transmitting later.

The team received confirmation from Mars on March 20th that the reformatting completed successfully. The rover switched to updated software earlier this month that will avoid using one of the seven banks of onboard flash memory.

This view from NASA's Opportunity Mars rover shows part of "Marathon Valley" as seen from an overlook north of the valley. It was taken by the rover's Pancam on March 13, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

This view from NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover shows part of “Marathon Valley” as seen from an overlook north of the valley. It was taken by the rover’s Pancam on March 13, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

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NASA successfully tests new Mars Landing Technology

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – It’s tricky to get a spacecraft to land exactly where you want. That’s why the area where the Mars rover Curiosity team had targeted to land was an ellipse that may seem large, measuring 12 miles by 4 miles (20 by 7 kilometers).

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have been developing cutting-edge technologies that would enable spacecraft to land at a specific location on Mars — or any other planetary body — with more precision than ever before.

On December 9th, 2014, the Xombie rocket carrying the ADAPT system reached a maximum altitude of 1,066 feet (325 meters) before beginning its descent. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

On December 9th, 2014, the Xombie rocket carrying the ADAPT system reached a maximum altitude of 1,066 feet (325 meters) before beginning its descent. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

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NASA reports Space Based Radar Helps Track Underground Water Pollution Risk

 

Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – The next time you’re digging for buried treasure, stop when you hit water. That underground resource is more valuable than all legendary hoards combined.

Ninety percent of Earth’s available fresh water is beneath the surface at any particular time. We drink it, we grow our food with it, and we power industries with it. We also pollute it.

Urban growth in Milan, Italy. In this region, urbanization has increased the potential for groundwater contamination. Image (Wikimedia Commons)

Urban growth in Milan, Italy. In this region, urbanization has increased the potential for groundwater contamination. Image (Wikimedia Commons)

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NASA and University of Texas researchers find two seafloor troughs that could threaten East Antarctica Glacier

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, NASA and other research organizations have discovered two seafloor troughs that could allow warm ocean water to reach the base of Totten Glacier, East Antarctica’s largest and most rapidly thinning glacier.

The discovery likely explains the glacier’s extreme thinning and raises concern about its impact on sea level rise.

This is the East Antarctic coastline. Icebergs are highlighted by the sunlight, and the open ocean appears black. (NASA)

This is the East Antarctic coastline. Icebergs are highlighted by the sunlight, and the open ocean appears black. (NASA)

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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) gets ready to monitor soil’s freeze, thaw cycles

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Those who feel as though they’ve been living in the never-ending winter of the movie “Frozen” this year may be glad to hear that the spring thaw is now typically arriving up to two weeks earlier in the Northern Hemisphere than it did 20 to 30 years ago.

But the changing date of the spring thaw has consequences far beyond reducing the number of mornings when you have to scrape off your windshield.

One ecosystem where scientists would most like to understand the effects of changing freeze/thaw cycles is boreal forests, the great ring of green covering the land nearest the North Pole.

SMAP will monitor the frozen or thawed state of the global landscape north of 45 degrees north latitude. (UCAR/Carlye Calvin)

SMAP will monitor the frozen or thawed state of the global landscape north of 45 degrees north latitude. (UCAR/Carlye Calvin)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover uses arm to move sample rock powder to analyzing instrument

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its robotic arm Wednesday, March 11th, to sieve and deliver a rock-powder sample to an onboard instrument. The sample was collected last month before the team temporarily suspended rover arm movement pending analysis of a short circuit.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) analytical instrument inside the rover received the sample powder. This sample comes from a rock target called “Telegraph Peak,” the third target drilled during about six months of investigating the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop on Mount Sharp. With this delivery completed, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity away from Pahrump Hills in coming days.

This area at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars includes a pale outcrop, called "Pahrump Hills," that NASA's Curiosity Mars rover investigated from September 2014 to March 2015, and the "Artist's Drive" route toward higher layers of the mountain. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

This area at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars includes a pale outcrop, called “Pahrump Hills,” that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover investigated from September 2014 to March 2015, and the “Artist’s Drive” route toward higher layers of the mountain. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveals Ocean on Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have Hydrothermal Activity

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.

“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe.”

This cutaway view of Saturn's moon Enceladus is an artist's rendering that depicts possible hydrothermal activity that may be taking place on and under the seafloor of the moon's subsurface ocean, based on recently published results from NASA's Cassini mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This cutaway view of Saturn’s moon Enceladus is an artist’s rendering that depicts possible hydrothermal activity that may be taking place on and under the seafloor of the moon’s subsurface ocean, based on recently published results from NASA’s Cassini mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory completes instruments test

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Fresh off the recent successful deployment of its 20-foot (6-meter) reflector antenna and associated boom arm, NASA’s new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory has successfully completed a two-day test of its science instruments.

The observatory’s radar and radiometer instruments were successfully operated for the first time with SMAP’s antenna in a non-spinning mode on February 27th and 28th.

The test was a key step in preparation for the planned spin-up of SMAP’s antenna to approximately 15 revolutions per minute in late March.

First image from a test of the radar instrument on NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite Feb. 27-28, 2015. The test was performed with SMAP's antenna in a non-spinning mode, which limits measurement swath widths to 25 miles (40 kilometers). (NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

First image from a test of the radar instrument on NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite Feb. 27-28, 2015. The test was performed with SMAP’s antenna in a non-spinning mode, which limits measurement swath widths to 25 miles (40 kilometers). (NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

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