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NASA’s Jason-2 Satellite to help improve Maps of Earth’s Sea Floor

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A venerable U.S./European oceanography satellite mission with NASA participation that has expanded our knowledge of global sea level change, ocean currents and climate phenomena like El Niño and La Niña will take on an additional role next month: improving maps of Earth’s sea floor.

The Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, a partnership among NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the French Space Agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), marked its ninth year in orbit on June 20th.

Illustration of the U.S./European Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite in orbit. OSTM/Jason-2 will soon take on an additional role to help improve maps of Earth's sea floor. (NASA-JPL/Caltech)

Illustration of the U.S./European Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite in orbit. OSTM/Jason-2 will soon take on an additional role to help improve maps of Earth’s sea floor. (NASA-JPL/Caltech)

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NASA’s Juno Spacecraft to take close up look at Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

 

Written by DC Agle / Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Just days after celebrating its first anniversary in Jupiter orbit, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will fly directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the gas giant’s iconic, 10,000-mile-wide (16,000-kilometer-wide) storm. This will be humanity’s first up-close and personal view of the gigantic feature — a storm monitored since 1830 and possibly existing for more than 350 years.

“Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “This monumental storm has raged on the solar system’s biggest planet for centuries. Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special.”

This true color mosaic of Jupiter was constructed from images taken by the narrow angle camera onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft on December 29, 2000, during its closest approach to the giant planet at a distance of approximately 10 million kilometers (6.2 million miles). (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

This true color mosaic of Jupiter was constructed from images taken by the narrow angle camera onboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on December 29, 2000, during its closest approach to the giant planet at a distance of approximately 10 million kilometers (6.2 million miles). (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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Earth’s most powerful telescopes enhance NASA’s Juno Spacecraft’s Jupiter Flyby

 

Written by Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Telescopes in Hawaii have obtained new images of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, which will assist the first-ever close-up study of the Great Red Spot, planned for July 10th. On that date, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will fly directly over the giant planet’s most famous feature at an altitude of only about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers).

Throughout the Juno mission, numerous observations of Jupiter by Earth-based telescopes have been acquired in coordination with the mission, to help Juno investigate the giant planet’s atmosphere.

This composite, false-color infrared image of Jupiter reveals haze particles over a range of altitudes, as seen in reflected sunlight. It was taken using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii on May 18, 2017, in collaboration with observations of Jupiter by NASA's Juno mission.

This composite, false-color infrared image of Jupiter reveals haze particles over a range of altitudes, as seen in reflected sunlight. It was taken using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii on May 18, 2017, in collaboration with observations of Jupiter by NASA’s Juno mission.

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NASA uses Algorithm to protect Wheels on Mars Curiosity Rover

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – There are no mechanics on Mars, so the next best thing for NASA’s Curiosity rover is careful driving.

A new algorithm is helping the rover do just that. The software, referred to as traction control, adjusts the speed of Curiosity’s wheels depending on the rocks it’s climbing. After 18 months of testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the software was uploaded to the rover on Mars in March. Mars Science Laboratory’s mission management approved it for use on June 8th, after extensive testing at JPL and multiple tests on Mars.

Even before 2013, when the wheels began to show signs of wear, JPL engineers had been studying how to reduce the effects of the rugged Martian surface.

A "scarecrow" rover at NASA's JPL drives over a sensor while testing a new driving algorithm. Engineers created the algorithm to reduce wheel wear on the Mars Curiosity rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A “scarecrow” rover at NASA’s JPL drives over a sensor while testing a new driving algorithm. Engineers created the algorithm to reduce wheel wear on the Mars Curiosity rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft’s 20 Year Mission to come to a close

 

Written by Steven Siceloff
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationFlorida – As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spends its last few weeks in orbit around Saturn before making a controlled impact with the planet in what NASA dubbed Cassini’s “Grand Finale,” some of those who helped launch the mission 20 years ago are thrilled with the success of the massive probe they helped dispatch to one of the solar system’s most intriguing worlds.

“There’s just a real sense of fulfillment associated with being part of a launch team, particularly something as big as Cassini and as complicated as Cassini is and the whole makeup of the whole Cassini team,” said Ray Lugo, launch director for Cassini. “It was a big community of folks and everybody had to do their part to make sure that mission got off right.”

The planet Saturn as seen from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)

The planet Saturn as seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)

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NASA monitors for Bacteria and Microorganisms on International Space Station

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Wherever you find people, you also find bacteria and other microorganisms. The International Space Station is no exception.

That generally is not a problem. For one thing, the space station is kept cleaner than many environments on Earth. Routine cleaning activities are included on astronaut task schedules.

Cargo sent to the station, and the vehicles that carry it, undergo a rigorous cleaning process and monitoring for microorganisms before launch. Crew members assigned to the space station spend 10 days in pre-flight quarantine.

The International Space Station, as seen from space shuttle Atlantis in 2011. (NASA)

The International Space Station, as seen from space shuttle Atlantis in 2011. (NASA)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover uses A.I. Laser Targeting for studying Mars

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Artificial intelligence is changing how we study Mars.

A.I. software on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft. This same software has proven useful enough that it’s already scheduled for NASA’s upcoming mission, Mars 2020.

A new paper in Science: Robotics looks at how the software has performed since rolling out to Curiosity’s science team in May 2016. The AEGIS software, or Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, has been used to direct Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument 54 times since then. It’s used on almost every drive when the power resources are available for it, according to the paper’s authors.

This is how AEGIS sees the Martian surface. All targets found by the A.I. program are outlined: blue targets are rejected, while red are retained. The top-ranked target is shaded green; if there's a second-ranked target, it's shaded orange. These NavCam images have been contrast-balanced. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This is how AEGIS sees the Martian surface. All targets found by the A.I. program are outlined: blue targets are rejected, while red are retained. The top-ranked target is shaded green; if there’s a second-ranked target, it’s shaded orange. These NavCam images have been contrast-balanced. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover cruises near rim of Endeavour Crater

 

Written by Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is examining rocks at the edge of Endeavour Crater for signs that they may have been either transported by a flood or eroded in place by wind.

Those scenarios are among the possible explanations rover-team scientists are considering for features seen just outside the crater rim’s crest above “Perseverance Valley,” which is carved into the inner slope of the rim.

The team plans to drive Opportunity down Perseverance Valley after completing a “walkabout” survey of the area above it.

The Pancam on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity took the component images of this enhanced-color scene during the mission's "walkabout" survey of an area just above the top of "Perseverance Valley," in preparation for driving down the valley. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

The Pancam on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity took the component images of this enhanced-color scene during the mission’s “walkabout” survey of an area just above the top of “Perseverance Valley,” in preparation for driving down the valley. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

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NASA studies Artificial Intelligence for Future Robotic Space Missions

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – How do you get a robot to recognize a surprise?

That’s a question artificial intelligence researchers are mulling, especially as A.I. begins to change space research.

A new article in the journal Science: Robotics offers an overview of how A.I. has been used to make discoveries on space missions. The article, co-authored by Steve Chien and Kiri Wagstaff of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, suggests that autonomy will be a key technology for the future exploration of our solar system, where robotic spacecraft will often be out of communication with their human controllers.

In a sense, space scientists are doing field research virtually, with the help of robotic spacecraft.

Artificial intelligence is poised to change the way NASA studies space. A.I. onboard a NASA Earth science satellite detected the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 2010, helping to produce this colorful image. (NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies)

Artificial intelligence is poised to change the way NASA studies space. A.I. onboard a NASA Earth science satellite detected the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 2010, helping to produce this colorful image. (NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies)

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NASA studies possible missions to Uranus and Neptune

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A NASA-led and NASA-sponsored study of potential future missions to the mysterious “ice giant” planets Uranus and Neptune has been released — the first in a series of mission studies NASA will conduct in support of the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

The results of this and future studies will be used as the Decadal Survey deliberates on NASA’s planetary science priorities from 2022-2032. The study identifies the scientific questions an ice giant mission should address, and discusses various instruments, spacecraft, flight-paths and technologies that could be used.

Left: Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet's cloud features from view. Right: This image of Neptune was produced from Voyager 2 and shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge. (Left: NASA/JPL-Caltech - Right: NASA)

Left: Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet’s cloud features from view. Right: This image of Neptune was produced from Voyager 2 and shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge. (Left: NASA/JPL-Caltech – Right: NASA)

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