In 1930, an object smaller than our moon was discovered, labeled the ninth planet from the sun, and named Pluto at the suggestion of 11-year-old British girl Venetia Burney. The name was adopted because it was thought to be fitting as Pluto is the Roman God of the Underworld who is able to make himself invisible.
Invisible no longer.
After a nine-year journey of 3 billion miles, a piano-sized, power-packed NASA spacecraft has an upcoming date with history that some University of Colorado Boulder students, faculty and alumni wouldn’t miss for the world.
The University of Colorado announced today that it has awarded a five-year contract to SES Government Solutions (SES GS), of Reston, Va., to host a NASA-funded science instrument on board SES-14, a communications satellite to be stationed over the Americas.
The Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, a NASA Explorers mission led from the University of Central Florida and built and operated at the University of Colorado (CU-Boulder), will collaborate with SES GS to place a science instrument on a commercial satellite as a hosted payload. This is the first time a university and a commercial spacecraft operator have teamed to host a NASA science mission. At a cost of roughly 10% of a traditional science satellite, working with a communications satellite represents the most cost-effective way to reach geostationary orbit.
Two NASA and one European spacecraft, including NASA’s MAVEN mission—led by LASP—have gathered new information about the basic properties of a wayward comet that buzzed by Mars Oct. 19, directly detecting its effects on the Martian atmosphere.
Data from observations carried out by MAVEN, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft revealed that debris from the comet, known officially as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, caused an intense meteor shower and added a new layer of ions, or charged particles, to the ionosphere. The ionosphere is an electrically charged region in the atmosphere that reaches from about 75 miles (120 kilometers) to several hundred miles above the Martian surface.
Using the observations, scientists were able to make a direct connection between the input of debris from the meteor shower to the subsequent formation of the transient layer of ions—the first time such an event has been observed on any planet, including Earth, said the MAVEN research team.
The MAVEN spacecraft and all of its science instruments have completed their initial checkout, and all of them are working as expected. This means that MAVEN is on track to carry out its full science mission as originally planned.
The mission is designed to explore Mars’ upper atmosphere. It will determine the role that escape of gas from the atmosphere to space has played in changing the climate throughout the planet’s history. MAVEN was launched on November 18, 2013, and will go into orbit around Mars on the evening of Sept. 21, 2014 (10 p.m. EDT).
After a 5-week commissioning phase in orbit, during which it will get into its science-mapping orbit, deploy its booms, and do a final checkout of the science instruments, it will carry out a one-Earth-year mission. It will observe the structure and composition of the upper atmosphere, determine the rate of escape of gas to space today and the processes controlling it, and make measurements that will allow it to determine the total amount of gas lost to space over time.
As 2013 draws to a close, it is amazing to reflect on all of LASP’s accomplishments in its 65th year! The last four months of the year were punctuated by launches to the moon, and Earth and Mars orbits for the LDEX, TCTE, and MAVEN instruments that LASP designed, built, and now operates.
A LASP-led mission that will investigate how Mars lost its atmosphere and abundant liquid water launched into space on November 18 at 11:28 a.m. MST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft separated from an Atlas V Centaur rocket’s second stage 53 minutes after launch. The solar arrays deployed approximately one hour after launch and currently power the spacecraft. MAVEN now is embarking on a 10-month interplanetary cruise before arriving at Mars next September.
MAVEN is set to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket Nov. 18. The two-hour launch window extends from 1:28 to 3:28 p.m. EST. Liftoff will occur from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41.
Launch commentary coverage, as well as prelaunch media briefings, will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
The following is a list of MAVEN launch-related briefings, events, and activities.
LASP kicks off a special year-long Public Lecture series to honor our 65th anniversary on October 11, 2013. Please join us! Speaker: Dr. Sam Durrance Date: Friday, October 11, 2013 Time: 6:00 PM; doors open for a reception at 5:15 PM Location: LSTB-A200 (map) Abstract: Riding a rocket into space, the exhilaration of zero-g, the… Read more »
The LASP-led Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for launch this November. The spacecraft was shipped from Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colo., to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday.
The LASP-led MAVEN Going to Mars campaign has opened public voting on submissions to the message to Mars contest. Messages are in the form of three-line poems called haiku. The public will select the top three haiku via open voting on an online interface. Winning haiku will be announced on the MAVEN website on August… Read more »
A new study by LASP research scientist Brian Toon and doctoral student Eric Wolf indicates that explaining Earth’s early conditions, which were warm enough to support life despite a 20-percent dimmer Sun, may be simpler than believed. The study, published in the July issue of Astrobiology, indicates that the Archean eon, 2.8 billion years ago,… Read more »
A multimillion dollar LASP instrument package to study space weather has passed its pre-installation testing and is ready to be incorporated onto a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite for a 2015 launch.
The MAVEN mission is inviting people from all over the world to submit their names and a unique message online. Participants’ names and the top-voted messages will be burned to a specially-designed DVD and sent to the Red Planet aboard the MAVEN spacecraft, scheduled to launch in November, 2013.
NASA has announced that LASP will collaborate on a $55 million project to build and launch an instrument to provide unprecedented imaging of the Earth’s upper atmosphere from a geostationary orbit.
The kind of information the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission will collect will have a direct impact on man’s understanding of space weather and its impact on communication and navigation satellites.
CU-Boulder students, working under the guidance of LASP scientists and engineers, have finished building a satellite to study space weather and have sent it to California Polytechnic Institute to begin integration with launch vehicle systems. More than 50 graduate and undergraduate students have contributed to designing and building the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE), an $840,000 CubeSat mission funded by the National Science Foundation. The satellite is scheduled to launch into low-Earth polar orbit in early August 2012 as a secondary payload under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.
In recognition of their accomplishments and exceptional scientific contributions, two LASP scientists have been elected as fellows of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Bruce Jakosky and Cora Randall have been recognized by their peers for their outstanding work in Earth and space sciences with an honor that is bestowed upon not more than 0.1% of the AGU membership annually.
In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, Elvis died, Virginia park ranger Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning a record seventh time and two NASA space probes destined to turn planetary science on its head launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The identical spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched in the summer and programmed to pass by Jupiter and Saturn on different paths. Voyager 2 went on to visit Uranus and Neptune, completing the “Grand Tour of the Solar System,” perhaps the most exciting interplanetary mission ever flown. University of Colorado Boulder scientists, who designed and built identical instruments for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were as stunned as anyone when the spacecraft began sending back data to Earth.
Using data from the NASA Cassini mission, a team of scientists led by LASP researcher Sean Hsu, has successfully modeled dust streams being expelled from Saturn at speeds of more than 62 miles (100 km) per second. The data, taken from the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) and the magnetometer on board Cassini, provide new information about the sources of the dust, as well as interactions within the mix of subatomic particles in which the charged dust is immersed, called dusty plasma.
As part of the upcoming American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, LASP director, Dan Baker, will serve as a panelist for a workshop on space weather. The workshop, titled, “Getting Ready for Solar Max: Separating Space Weather Fact from Fiction,” will be held on Tuesday, December 6, at 10 a.m. PT. Baker will begin the workshop with an overview of our current understanding of the Sun-Earth system, including solar variability and its interaction with Earth’s magnetosphere.
LASP Science Division personnel are moving to a new location on the CU Research Campus beginning October 14. According to LASP Director, Dan Baker, the benefits of the move are two-fold. Baker said, “LASP is a growing presence on campus. We are excited by the opportunity to expand our physical space to better address our current needs, while consolidating our science staff for more fluid collaboration.”
LASP scientist and CU-Boulder Department of Geological Sciences Assistant Professor, Brian Hynek, led a recent study detailing the earliest history of the development of the Tharsis volcanoes on Mars. The Tharsis region, one of the most prominent features on Mars, covers one quarter of the planet, rises 10 km above the surrounding flatlands, and has had near-continuous volcanic activity for roughly 4 billion years.
In recognition of his accomplishments and groundbreaking insights in the field of atmospheric science, LASP scientist and CU-Boulder Professor Peter Pilewskie has been named a recipient of the prestigious Humboldt Research Award. Pilewskie has been at LASP since 2004, where he performs research on the effects of clouds and aerosols on solar energy in the Earth’s atmosphere. He is also a professor in the Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences and serves as the director of the collaborative LASP/NASA Goddard Sun-Climate Research Center.
CU-Boulder has announced its selection as the upcoming host for the National Solar Observatory headquarters. A team led by Russell Moore, CU-Boulder Provost, and including LASP researchers, submitted the bid to serve as the NSO’s new headquarters location.
NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), launched in September 1991 and deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-48), is re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and will complete its decent on Friday, September 23. LASP designed and built the Solar Stellar Irradiance Comparison Experiment (SOLSTICE) on board UARS and operated the instrument after launch. Throughout 14 years of successful operations, SOLSTICE made precise measurements of the Sun’s ultraviolet and far ultraviolet spectral irradiance.
September 2011 marks a significant milestone for LASP, as our Mission Operations and Data Systems (MODS) team celebrates 15 years of continuous spacecraft operations. From long-standing science missions, such as ICESat, which have brought in important data over years—to newer missions, such as Kepler’s exciting search for Earth-like planets—LASP MODS has offered reliable spacecraft operations to agencies including NASA.
In recognition of his innovative work on the effects of aerosols on clouds and climate, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has awarded LASP scientist Brian Toon the 2011 Revelle Medal. Toon has been at LASP since 1997, where his research is focused on radiative transfer, cloud physics, and atmospheric chemistry as well as the search for parallels between the Earth and the terrestrial planets.
Several LASP scientists are involved in NASA’s upcoming Juno mission to Jupiter. Scheduled to launch on August 5, 2011, the mission will improve understanding of our solar system origins by revealing details about the formation and evolution of the gas giant. The spacecraft will embark on a five-year, 400-million-mile voyage to Jupiter, where it will orbit the planet 33 times, collecting data for more than one Earth year.
The CU/LASP-led mission to Mars, devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere, reached a major milestone last week when it successfully completed its Mission Critical Design Review (CDR) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. An independent review board, comprised of reviewers from NASA and several external organizations, met from July 11-15 to validate the system design of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission.
A study published in the journal Nature and co-authored by LASP scientist Sascha Kempf indicates that samples of water vapor and ice particles coming from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus demonstrate evidence for a large, subterranean salt-water reservoir. The Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) on board the NASA Cassini spacecraft measured the composition of plumes—emanating from fractures called tiger stripes—and found that ice grains close to the moon are salt rich, unlike those that make up the planet’s E Ring.
At Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, engineers are preparing the next Earth-observing NASA mission, Glory, which is slated to launch in late February. Glory carries the LASP-built Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) instrument, which will be directed towards the sun and will measure the intensity of solar radiation that enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
LASP graduate student Andrew Poppe was recognized for his outstanding contributions to the Student Dust Counter instrument on board the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
New research led by CU-Boulder/LASP scientist Greg Kopp will advance scientists’ understanding of the contribution of natural versus anthropogenic causes of climate change. The research improves the accuracy of the continuous, 32-year record of the sun’s energy output, which scientists call total solar irradiance (TSI). Energy from the sun is the primary energy input driving… Read more »
According to Cora Randall, CU professor and LASP research associate, the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) Cloud Imaging and Particle Size (CIPS) instrument saw this season’s first polar mesospheric clouds on May 28. Polar mesospheric clouds, also called noctilucent or “night shining” clouds, form at about 50 miles above Earth’s surface and can be seen when they reflect light after sunset. The Northern Hemisphere cloud season generally begins in late May and lasts until late August; in the Southern Hemisphere, the season goes from late November to late February.