Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories. Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars. A solution common to both groups is to release carbon dioxide gas trapped in the Martian surface to thicken the atmosphere and act as a blanket to warm the planet.
However, Mars does not retain enough carbon dioxide that could practically be put back into the atmosphere to warm Mars, according to a NASA-sponsored study led by LASP Associate Director for Science Bruce Jakosky. Transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology well beyond today’s capabilities.
Researchers at CU Boulder will soon set their sights on the heliosphere, a massive bubble in space that surrounds our solar system and shields it from incoming radiation.
NASA’s recently announced Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission, which is slated to launch in 2024, will hover close to one million miles from Earth where it will observe the outermost edges of the solar system—the limits of our Sun’s influence on space.
LASP will play a major role in the nearly $500 million mission by leading IMAP’s scientific operations and designing an instrument that will fly on the spacecraft, detecting tiny particles of dust that flow through space.
New data collected from the Cassini spacecraft have revealed complex organic molecules originating from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening the idea that this ocean world hosts conditions suitable for life.
LASP research scientists Sascha Kempf and Sean Hsu co-authored a new study, published in Nature, based on the data.
Very little was known about Enceladus prior to 2005—the year when Cassini first flew by. Since then, it has become a continuous source of surprises, with secrets still being revealed even now, after the end of the mission.
LASP-led research has discovered microbes living in a toxic volcanic lake that may rank as one of the harshest environments on Earth. Their findings, published recently online, could guide scientists looking for signs of ancient life on Mars.
The team, led by LASP planetary scientist Brian Hynek, braved second-degree burns, sulfuric acid fumes, and the threat of eruptions to collect samples of water from the aptly-named Laguna Caliente. Nestled in Costa Rica’s Poás Volcano, this body of water is 10 million times more acidic than tap water and can reach near boiling temperatures. It also resembles the ancient hot springs that dotted the surface of early Mars, Hynek said.
The Costa Rican lake supports living organisms—but only one. Hynek and his colleagues found microbes belonging to just a single species of bacteria in the lake water, a rock-bottom level of diversity.
A NASA-funded CubeSat, built and operated at LASP, will study the inner radiation belt of Earth’s magnetosphere, providing new insight into the energetic particles that can disrupt satellites and threaten spacewalking astronauts.
The $4 million Cubesat: Inner Radiation Belt Experiment (CIRBE) mission, tentatively slated for a 2021 launch, will provide some of the first advanced resolution of one of Earth’s two Van Allen belts, a zone that traps energetic particles in the planet’s magnetic field. This powerful radiation, known to physicists since the late 1950s, poses a hazard to solar panels, electronic circuitry, and other hardware onboard spacecraft traveling at and beyond low-Earth orbit.
A LASP instrument package designed to help scientists better understand potentially damaging space weather launched successfully aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite on Thursday, March 1, 2018.
Built at LASP, the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the second of four identical packages that will fly on NOAA’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R). As part of the NOAA weather forecasting satellite series, EXIS measures energy output from the Sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation, and power grids on Earth.
UPDATE: SES-14 in good health and on track despite launch anomaly
NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) instrument, designed and built by LASP, launched today from Kourou, French Guiana aboard SES-14, a commercial communications satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space. GOLD will investigate the dynamic intermingling of space and Earth’s uppermost atmosphere—and is the first NASA science mission to fly an instrument as a commercially hosted payload.
Space is not completely empty: It’s teeming with fast-moving charged particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, the charged particles— called the ionosphere—co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere, called the thermosphere. The two commingle and influence one another constantly. This interplay—and the role terrestrial weather, space weather and Earth’s own magnetic field each have in it—is the focus of GOLD’s mission.
NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, instrument has successfully completed environmental testing at Airbus in Toulouse, France, in preparation for its groundbreaking mission to observe the nearest reaches of space. Scheduled for launch in late January 2018, GOLD will measure densities and temperatures in Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere.
GOLD is a NASA Mission of Opportunity that will fly an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph on the SES-14 geostationary commercial communications satellite, built by Airbus for SES. The two-channel imaging spectrograph—designed and built at LASP—will explore the boundary between Earth and space, a dynamic area of near-Earth space that responds both to space weather from above and to weather in the atmosphere from below.
A 60-year-old mystery regarding the source of some energetic and potentially damaging particles in Earth’s radiation belts is now solved using data from a shoebox-sized satellite built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students at LASP.
The results from the new study indicate energetic electrons in Earth’s inner radiation belt—primarily near its inner edge—are created by cosmic rays born from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, LASP scientist Xinlin Li. Earth’s radiation belts, known as the Van Allen belts, are layers of energetic particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic field.
How long might a rocky, Mars-like planet be habitable if it were orbiting a red dwarf star? It’s a complex question but one that NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission can help answer.
“The MAVEN mission tells us that Mars lost substantial amounts of its atmosphere over time, changing the planet’s habitability,” said David Brain, a MAVEN co-investigator at LASP. “We can use Mars, a planet that we know a lot about, as a laboratory for studying rocky planets outside our solar system, which we don’t know much about yet.”
At the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Dec. 13, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Brain, also a professor in the CU Boulder astrophysical and planetary sciences department, described how insights from the LASP-led MAVEN mission could be applied to the habitability of rocky planets orbiting other stars.
A solar instrument package designed and built by LASP to help monitor the planet’s climate is now set for launch Dec. 12 (no earlier than 11:20 AM MT) aboard a SpaceX rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The instrument suite is called the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) and was designed and built by LASP for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The contract value to LASP is $90 million and includes the instrument suite and an associated mission ground system in the LASP Space Technology Building on the CU Boulder East Campus Research Park.
We live on a solar-powered planet. As we wake up in the morning, the Sun peeks over the horizon to shed light on us, blanket us with warmth, and provide cues to start our day. At the same time, our Sun’s energy drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather, and climate. Without the Sun, life on Earth would not exist.
For nearly 40 years, NASA has been measuring how much sunshine powers our home planet. This December, NASA is launching a dual-instrument package to the International Space Station to continue monitoring the Sun’s energy input to the Earth system. The LASP-built Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will precisely measure total solar irradiance, a measurement required for establishing Earth’s total energy input. These data will give us a better understanding of Earth’s primary energy supply and help improve models simulating Earth’s climate.
The University of Colorado Boulder’s cross-campus Grand Challenge initiative this week announced the selection of three new additions to its portfolio starting this fall. The call for proposals, which was announced in June, funded one large research initiative at approximately $1 million per year and two smaller projects at $250,000 per year, each for at least three years. LASP will collaborate on the research initiative and on one of the two smaller projects.
The selections augment the current Grand Challenge portfolio, building on the accomplishments of Earth Lab, Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS), the university’s space minor, and the Center for the Study of Origins.
LASP planetary scientist Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA’s Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet’s faint F ring in 1979.
He followed that up with observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s rings from the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, which carried instruments designed and built at LASP. Now, as the principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, Esposito and his Cassini colleagues are feeling a bit somber as the mission nears its end. The spacecraft has run out of fuel and will disintegrate in Saturn’s dense atmosphere early on the morning of Sept. 15.
LASP has joined forces with universities and space agencies from around the world in an international effort to design and build small satellites as a way to train future scientists and engineers.
The project, known as the International Satellite Program in Research and Education (INSPIRE), so far involves seven nations—the U.S., France, Taiwan, Japan, India, Singapore and Oman—says Project Manager and LASP engineer Amal Chandran.
The aim of INSPIRE is to establish a long-term academic program for developing a constellation of small satellites and a global network of ground stations, Chandran explains.
Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, evolve into new stars and even planets. These floating interstellar reservoirs are the focus of the NASA-funded CHESS sounding rocket mission, which will check out the earliest stages of star formation.
CHESS—short for the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph—is a sounding rocket payload that will fly on a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket late in the night on June 26, 2017. CHESS measures light filtering through the interstellar medium to study the atoms and molecules within, which provides crucial information for understanding the lifecycle of stars.
NASA’s MAVEN mission to Mars led by LASP and the University of Colorado Boulder will hit a happy milestone on Saturday, June 17: 1,000 days of orbiting the Red Planet.
Since its launch in November 2013 and its orbit insertion in September 2014, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) has been exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars, said LASP associate director and CU Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the mission. MAVEN is bringing insight into how the sun stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, turning a planet once possibly habitable to microbial life into a barren desert world.
Humans have long been shaping Earth’s landscape, but now scientists know we can shape our near-space environment as well. A certain type of communications—very low frequency, or VLF, radio communications—have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting how and where they move. At times, these interactions can create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space. These results, part of a comprehensive paper on human-induced space weather, were recently published in Space Science Reviews.
“Our recent work with the LASP Van Allen Probes instruments has shown compelling evidence that the radiation belts are quite subject to human-made waves emanating from ground-based radio transmitters. Thus, humans have not only been affecting the oceans and atmosphere of Earth, but have also been affecting near-Earth space,” said Dan Baker, LASP director and co-author of the paper.
A LASP-built instrument that will provide unprecedented imaging of the Earth’s upper atmosphere has been successfully installed on the commercial satellite that will carry it into geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth.
The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) and built and operated by LASP, features a collaboration with satellite owner-operator SES Government Solutions (SES GS) to place an ultraviolet instrument as a hosted payload on a commercial satellite.
A NASA instrument that will study the upper atmosphere and the impact of space weather on Earth is a step closer on its journey into space.
The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, led by University of Central Florida (UCF) scientist Richard Eastes, is scheduled to launch in late 2017 from Florida. Earlier this month, the LASP-built instrument was shipped to Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France, for integration on the SES-14 communications satellite, on which it will be launched into space.
University of Colorado Boulder students and LASP professionals will operate an upcoming NASA mission that will investigate the mysterious aspects of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects like stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.
Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees, causing high-energy emissions in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarized, which causes it to vibrate in a particular direction.
The NASA Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing astronomers to answer fundamental questions about such turbulent environments.
A multimillion dollar CU-Boulder/LASP instrument package expected to help scientists better understand potentially damaging space weather is now slated to launch aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Designed and built at LASP, the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the first of four identical packages that will fly on four NOAA weather satellites in the coming decade. EXIS will measure energy output from the sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation and power grids on Earth as part of NOAA’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R).
Today, the LASP-led MAVEN mission has completed one Mars year of science observations. One Mars year is just under two Earth years.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft launched on Nov. 18, 2013, and went into orbit around Mars on Sept. 21, 2014. During its time at Mars, MAVEN has answered many questions about the Red Planet.
A bread loaf-sized satellite, designed and built by University of Colorado students, has been collecting data since its deployment from the International Space Station on May 16 and is providing observations of the sun at unprecedented wavelengths and resolution.
The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS)—a 30cm x 10cm x 10 cm, 3-unit satellite—is the first ever science CubeSat launched for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and has already met its minimum mission science criteria for data and observations.
Based on years of dedication to studying the sun and its effects on space-borne and Earth-based technological systems, and under strong leadership from LASP director Dan Baker, a team of LASP scientists and engineers is being recognized for research into this ever present threat to modern society. CO-LABS announced today four winners of their 2016 Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research, with the LASP team winning in the Earth Systems and Space Sciences category.
CO-LABS is a non-profit consortium of federal research labs, research universities, businesses, and economic development organizations with a mission to support and expand the positive impacts of Colorado’s science and technology resources. Since 2009, the Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research has honored Colorado scientists and engineers from the state’s federally funded research laboratories for outstanding achievements.
A group of LASP scientists and students are anxiously awaiting the arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter July 4, a mission expected to reveal the hidden interior of the gas giant as well as keys to how our solar system formed.
Launched in 2011, the spacecraft is slated to orbit Jupiter’s poles 37 times roughly 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) above its cloud tops to better understand the origin and evolution of the largest planet in the solar system. Scientists hope to determine if Jupiter has a solid core, measure the planet’s magnetic fields, hunt for water vapor and observe the polar auroras.
Three planetary scientists from LASP and five University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) students are part of the Juno mission.
A team of LASP scientists, led by University of Colorado physics professor Mihály Horányi, has conducted laboratory experiments that may bring closure to a long-standing issue of electrostatic dust transport, explaining a variety of unusual phenomena on the surfaces of airless planetary bodies, including observations from the Apollo era and the recent Rosetta mission to Comet 67P.
Satellites provide data daily on our own planet, our sun and the universe around us. The instruments on these spacecraft are constantly bombarded with solar particles and intense light, not to mention the normal wear and tear from operating in space.
If it were a car that’s a few years old, you would take it to the mechanic for a tune-up to make sure it continues running smoothly. However, with a spacecraft it’s not that easy. Thus, scientists may turn to calibration flights to make sure the instruments are kept up to snuff and providing validated data.
One such flight will be the Extreme UltraViolet (EUV) Variability Experiment, or EVE, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, to observe the sun from a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket at 3:02 p.m. EDT May 25 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Planetary scientists are a step closer to understanding changes in the puzzling jets of gas and dust grains observed shooting into space from cracks on the icy surface of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.
First observed in 2005 by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it orbited the ringed planet, the plume is coming from a subterranean, salty ocean beneath the moon’s surface. The latest observations with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft now at Saturn by a team including Larry Esposito, LASP planetary scientist and University of Colorado Boulder professor, indicate at least some of the narrow jets there blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from beyond our solar system. The research, led by a team that includes scientists at the University of Colorado and LASP, will be published in the journal Science on Friday, April 15, 2016.
Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, studying the giant planet, its rings, and its moons. The spacecraft has also sampled millions of ice-rich dust grains with its Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) instrument. LASP research scientists Sascha Kempf, Sean Hsu, and Eberhard Grün are all co-investigators for the Cassini CDA instrument and co-authors of the paper.
A LASP-led and University of Colorado Boulder student-built instrument riding on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft found only a handful of dust grains, the building blocks of planets, when it whipped by Pluto at 31,000 miles per hour last July.
Data downloaded and analyzed by the New Horizons team indicated the space environment around Pluto and its moons contained only about six dust particles per cubic mile, said LASP planetary scientist and CU-Boulder Professor Fran Bagenal, who leads the New Horizons Particles and Plasma Team.
“The bottom line is that space is mostly empty,” said Bagenal. “Any debris created when Pluto’s moons were captured or created during impacts has long since been removed by planetary processes.”
To the casual onlooker, the space between the stars is benign and inactive. However, this space, also called the interstellar medium, is very active and contains the raw materials for future solar systems.
On February 21, 2016, the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph (CHESS) will fly on a NASA suborbital sounding rocket on its second flight in two years to study the atoms and molecules in the interstellar medium.
LASP Director, Dan Baker, has been elected Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for its class of 2016. AIAA Fellows are elected based on their notable and valuable contributions to the arts, sciences or technology of aeronautics and astronautics.
In addition to his role as LASP director, Baker is a faculty member in the departments of Physics and Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Baker, who chaired the National Research Council’s 2012 Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics, is currently involved in a number of NASA missions, including the MAVEN mission to Mars, the Van Allen Probes mission, and the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission.
AIAA is the largest aerospace professional society in the world, serving a diverse range of more than 30,000 individual members from 88 countries, and 95 corporate members. The induction ceremony for the new Fellows will take place at the AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala on June 15, 2016 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.
Michael King and Cora Randall of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder, have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.
Scientists involved in NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which is being led by the LASP team at the University of Colorado Boulder, have identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.
MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.
LASP director Daniel Baker has received the 2015 Shen Kuo Award from the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA), the top award for interdisciplinary achievements given every four years by the organization.
Baker, a University of Colorado Boulder Distinguished Professor, was presented with the award at the 26th General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) held in Prague in the Czech Republic. IAGA is a constituent organization of IUGG and is dedicated to advancing, promoting and communicating knowledge of the Earth system, its space environment, and the dynamical processes causing change.
Mars turned cold and dry long ago, but LASP-led research at the University of Colorado Boulder has unveiled evidence of an ancient lake that likely represents some of the last potentially habitable surface water ever to exist on the Red Planet.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geology, examined an 18-square-mile chloride salt deposit (roughly the size of the city of Boulder) in the planet’s Meridiani region near the Mars Opportunity rover’s landing site. As seen on Earth in locations such as Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, large-scale salt deposits are considered to be evidence of evaporated bodies of water.
In recognition of his accomplishments and exceptional scientific contributions, LASP research associate W.K. (Bill) Peterson has been elected as a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Peterson is being recognized by his peers in the scientific community for his outstanding work in Earth and space sciences with an honor that is bestowed upon no more than 0.1% of the AGU membership annually.
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.
If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a “Mohawk” of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, “wears” a layer of metal particles high in its atmosphere, and lights up with aurora after being smacked by solar storms. MAVEN is also mapping out the escaping atmospheric particles. The early results are being discussed at a MAVEN-sponsored “new media” workshop held in Berkeley, California, on June 19-21.
The moon is engulfed in a permanent but lopsided dust cloud that increases in density when annual events like the Geminids spew shooting stars, according to a new study led by LASP scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The cloud is made up primarily of tiny dust grains kicked up from the moon’s surface by the impact of high-speed, interplanetary dust particles, said CU-Boulder physics Professor and LASP research associate Mihály Horányi. A single dust particle from a comet striking the moon’s surface lofts thousands of smaller dust specks into the airless environment, and the lunar cloud is maintained by regular impacts from such particles, said Horányi.
By Fran Bagenal, CU-Boulder Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and New Horizons co-investigator
I admit that I love giving presentations on New Horizons to public audiences. It’s the killer combination of Pluto and space exploration. Everyone digs it. The best are astronomy clubs—just bursting with enthusiasm. And my favorite group of all time is the Rocky Mountain Star Stare (RMSS). Based in Colorado Springs, RMSS meets every year on a piece of land close to the Colorado–New Mexico border that is far from city lights. The trek is worth it—the Milky Way blazes across the sky.And these guys have brought along the most amazing astro-geek equipment.
An instrument to be designed and built at LASP has been selected to fly on a NASA mission to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, which is believed to harbor a subsurface ocean that may provide conditions suitable for life.
The LASP instrument, known as the SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA), will be used to measure the composition of solid particles released from Europa’s surface due to meteoroid bombardment. The instrument also will be able to measure the properties of small, solid particles believed to be spewing from a hidden ocean within the moon, said University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor of Physics, Sascha Kempf, who will serve as principal investigator on the project.
A mission to study dynamic changes in the atmosphere of Mars over days and seasons led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) involves the University of Colorado Boulder as the leading U.S. scientific-academic partner.
Known as the Emirates Mars Mission, the project is being designed to observe weather phenomena like Martian clouds and dust storms as well as changes in temperature, water vapor and other and gases throughout the layers of the atmosphere. The CU-Boulder part of the mission will be undertaken at LASP.
The mission will be headquartered at and controlled from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, which is affiliated with the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology. According to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of Dubai, the new Mars probe will be named Hope.
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.
NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury, carrying an instrument designed and built at LASP, is slated to run out of fuel and crash into the planet in the coming days after a wildly successful, four-year orbiting mission chock-full of discoveries.
The mission began in 2004, when the MESSENGER spacecraft launched from Florida on a 7-year, 4.7 billion mile journey that involved 15 loops around the sun before the spacecraft settled into orbit around Mercury in March 2011. LASP provided the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS), which has been successfully making measurements of Mercury’s surface and its tenuous atmosphere, called the exosphere, since orbit insertion.
LASP Director and University of Colorado Boulder Distinguished Professor, Daniel Baker, was awarded the Vikram A. Sarabhai Professorship and Prize for 2015, which honors internationally distinguished scholars and is named for the founder of India’s space program.
As part of the award, Baker traveled to the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, in February to work with scientists and students and give seminars and lectures. His primary research interests include the study of physical and energetic particle phenomena in the plasma of planetary magnetospheres.
The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, part of the NASA Explorers Program, passed a rigorous examination on March 5th at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, enabling the mission to move into the final design and fabrication phase.
Following a successful launch at 8:44 p.m. MDT Thursday, NASA’s four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft are positioned in Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mission dedicated to the study of a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. This process is thought to be the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.
The spacecraft, positioned one on top of the other on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-421 rocket, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After reaching orbit, each spacecraft deployed from the rocket’s upper stage sequentially, in five-minute increments, beginning at 10:16 p.m., with the last separation occurring at 10:32 p.m. NASA scientists and engineers were able to confirm the health of all separated spacecraft at 10:40 p.m.
Comprised of four identical, octagonal spacecraft flying in a pyramid formation, the MMS mission is designed to better understand the physical processes of geomagnetic storms, solar flares, and other energetic phenomena throughout the universe.
Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission, led by LASP and University of Colorado postdoctoral researcher, Sean Hsu, have found that microscopic grains of rock detected near Saturn imply hydrothermal activity is taking place within the moon Enceladus.
This is the first clear indication of an icy moon having hydrothermal activity—in which seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust, emerging as a heated, mineral-laden solution. The finding adds to the tantalizing possibility that Enceladus, which displays remarkable geologic activity including geysers, could contain environments suitable for living organisms.
The results were published today in the journal Nature.
After a decade-long voyage through the solar system, NASA’s New Horizons mission is scheduled to fly by Pluto in July 2015, carrying with it the LASP-built Student Dust Counter (SDC). The New Horizons mission also involves LASP scientists and CU-Boulder students, who await data from the unprecedented approach and close encounter of the dwarf planet and its five known moons.
In preparation for the July encounter, LASP Office of Communications and Outreach staff recently traveled to two rural Colorado communities and delivered Pluto-related programming to students and their families. Accompanying them was Fran Bagenal, LASP planetary scientist, CU-Boulder professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences, and New Horizons mission co-investigator. Bagenal served as the New Horizons and Pluto science expert during the school visits and gave public presentations to both communities.
LASP will serve as the Science Operations Center for a NASA mission launching this month to better understand the physical processes of geomagnetic storms, solar flares and other energetic phenomena throughout the universe.
The $1.1 billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission will be comprised of four identical, octagonal spacecraft flying in a pyramid formation, each carrying 25 instruments. The goal is to study in detail magnetic reconnection, the primary process by which energy is transferred from the solar wind to Earth’s protective magnetic space environment known as the magnetosphere, said LASP Director Daniel Baker, Science Operations Center (SOC) lead scientist for MMS.
When NASA’s napping New Horizon’s spacecraft awakens later this week in preparation for its July 2015 encounter with Pluto, a University of Colorado Boulder student instrument onboard already will have been up for years.
The instrument, the Student Dust Counter (SDC), was designed and built to detect dust both on the interplanetary journey to Pluto and beyond, said CU-Boulder physics Professor and LASP research scientist Mihaly Horanyi, principal investigator on the effort. The SDC has been on for most of the mission—even as the other instruments primarily napped—measuring dust grains that are the building blocks of the solar system’s planets, he said.
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) Director, Dan Baker, was appointed a University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at a Board of Regents meeting on November 20th. Baker is one of six faculty members within the four university campuses to receive the award this year and takes a place among the 79 faculty members who have earned this distinction since its inception in 1977. Nominations for the award were made by a committee of current Distinguished Professors, reviewed by university president, Bruce Benson, and voted for approval by the Board of Regents.
Selection criteria are based on outstanding contributions of university faculty members to their academic disciplines, including creativity and research, teaching or supervision of student learning, and service to the university and affiliated institutions. Baker, director of LASP for two decades, was recognized for his leadership in the space science community and influence on space policy at the federal level. Baker was also lauded for enabling hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students to conduct authentic research at the lab.
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.
NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars and produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet, said LASP Associate Director for Science and University of Colorado Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, the mission’s principal investigator.
In addition, the new observations allowed scientists to make a comprehensive map of highly variable ozone in the Martian atmosphere underlying the coronas, he said. The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit Sept. 21 and is in the process of lowering its orbit and testing its instruments. The $671 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission, or MAVEN, was launched toward Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, to help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere.
NASA will host a news teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Oct. 14, to announce early science results from the LASP-led Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission.
Launched in November 2013, the spacecraft entered orbit around Mars on Sept. 21 completing an interplanetary journey of 10 months and 442 million miles (711 million kilometers). MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere to help scientists understand climate change over the Red Planet’s history.
NASA has awarded a team led by the University of Colorado Boulder, which includes LASP scientists, more than $7 million to study aspects of the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
The team, led by CU-Boulder Professor Alexis Templeton of the geological sciences department, will be researching what scientists call “rock-powered life.” Rocky planets store enormous amounts of chemical energy, that, when released through the interaction of rocks and water, have the ability to power living systems on Earth as well as on other planets like Mars, said Templeton, principal investigator on the effort.
In New Mexico on the morning of Aug. 18, a high-altitude balloon successfully carried the HyperSpectral Imager for Climate Science (HySICS) instrument to an altitude of 123,000 feet, above most of the Earth’s atmosphere, to reach space-like conditions and demonstrate new technologies for acquiring high-accuracy science measurements of the Earth.
Scientists use outgoing shortwave radiance, or the amount of sunlight scattered from Earth’s surface and atmosphere and reflected back toward space, as one of the key metrics for studying our planet’s dynamic climate. Watching these radiances over time helps researchers monitor and better understand the causes of environmental changes and global warming.
A NASA mission to Mars led by LASP is set to slide into orbit around the red planet on Sept. 21 to investigate how its climate has changed over the eons, completing a 10-month interplanetary journey of 442 million miles.
The orbit-insertion maneuver will begin with six thruster engines firing to shed some of the velocity from the spacecraft, known as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN mission. The thruster engines will ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the spacecraft, allowing it to be captured into an elliptical orbit around Mars.
The importance of Mars exploration and how the aerospace industry partners with university researchers to advance one of Colorado’s leading economic sectors will be featured at a free program Monday, Sept. 8, in south Denver.
Aerospace leaders will discuss the importance of Mars exploration and the role of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN mission, the involvement of Colorado companies in space exploration and the value of public/private partnerships involving university-based research. Speakers will include Jim Green, director of NASA planetary science; Nick Schneider, MAVEN co-investigator and professor in the CU-Boulder Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences; Guy Beutelschies, space exploration systems director, Lockheed Martin; Jim Sponnick, vice president of Atlas and Delta programs, United Launch Alliance; and Patrick Carr, vice president and general manager of command, control and communications systems, Exelis.
A NASA-funded miniature satellite built by University of Colorado Boulder students to scrutinize solar flares erupting from the sun’s surface is the latest example of the university’s commitment to advancing aerospace technology and space science through strong partnerships with industry and government.
The $1 million Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), led by CU-Boulder faculty in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, recently was selected by NASA for launch in January 2015 from the International Space Station.
Based on a recommendation from NASA’s 2014 Senior Review of its operating missions, the planet hunting Kepler space telescope has received a two-year extension to operate in a new two-wheel mode.
The approval allows the K2 mission to continue exoplanet discovery using two of its four original reaction wheels, and introduces new scientific observation opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae.
At the conclusion of a highly successful 130-day mission, the NASA Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is planned to impact the surface of the moon on April 21, 2014. LADEE carries the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), which is the latest in a series of dust detectors designed and built at LASP.
A new study led by LASP research scientist Stuart Robbins indicates that volunteer “citizen scientists” counted lunar craters at rates comparable to professional scientists. Using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, volunteers for CosmoQuest, which contributes real science data to NASA missions, analyzed the high-resolution photos of the Moon for impact craters. Robbins and his co-authors then compared the volunteers’ results to those of eight professional planetary crater-counters.
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.
NASA has approved a 28-day mission extension for the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). LASP provided the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) onboard the satellite, which launched on September 6, 2013 and is now expected to impact the surface of the moon in late April 2014.
Due to accurate and efficient propulsion and guidance over the course of the mission to date, the spacecraft has more fuel remaining than mission operators originally expected. The extra propellant will provide an opportunity for LADEE to gather an additional full lunar cycle worth of very low-altitude data to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the moon’s tenuous atmosphere and dust environment.
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 »
On Sept. 29, 2013, a scientific balloon launched from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, NM, flying an instrument that scientists hope will eventually establish a new long-term benchmark data set pertaining to climate change on the Earth.
The instrument, funded by a $4.7 million NASA Earth Science Technology Office Instrument Incubator Program contract, is intended to acquire extremely accurate radiometric measurements of Earth relative to the incident sunlight. Over time, such measurements can tell scientists about changes in land-use, vegetation, urban landscape use, and atmospheric conditions on our planet. Such long-term radiometric measurements from the HyperSpectral Imager for Climate Science (HySICS) instrument can then help scientists identify the drivers of climate change.
Haiku recognized in the LASP-led MAVEN message-to-Mars contest were announced today on the Going to Mars campaign website. Haiku authors from around the world—including Palestine, India, Australia, and Europe—entered the contest. The top five winners—all those whose haiku received 1,000 votes or more—include popular British blogger Benedict Smith and well-known American poet Vanna Bonta. Other entries receiving special recognition include MAVEN team selections in categories ranging from haiku specifically about MAVEN to humorous haiku.
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.
LASP director and research scientist Dan Baker is co-author of new research that indicates that a massive particle accelerator exists in the Van Allen radiation belts, a harsh band of super-energetic, charged particles surrounding our planet. The results were published in Science magazine today.
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 »
The winner of the LASP-run MAVEN student art contest turns out be the work of more than a single young person. The First Place entry, selected by online public vote, was the work of a Colorado-based Kindergarten Enrichment class.
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.
The LASP-operated NASA Kepler spacecraft has discovered two planetary systems that include three super-Earth-sized planets in the “habitable zone,” where the surface temperature of a planet may sustain liquid water.
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.
Members of the worldwide public are invited to participate in NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission through a new Education & Public Outreach (E/PO) effort called the Going to Mars campaign. MAVEN, which is the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere, has a robust E/PO program designed to engage a variety of audiences in the mission.
A group of Longmont middle school students successfully sent a scientific balloon carrying edible treats into the sky last Saturday as an atmospheric physics experiment. Guided by LASP scientists and education/outreach staff, the Trail Ridge Middle School eighth grade Earth Explorers class launched a balloon platform carrying a container of Jell-O and a marshmallow into… Read more »
NASA has extended the Kepler mission through fiscal year 2016, adding four years to Kepler’s search for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy and allowing LASP to continue our work operating the spacecraft. A team of 20 University of Colorado students and 16 LASP professionals control the Kepler spacecraft from the LASP Mission Operations… Read more »
The NASA Kepler Mission won the highest honor for space programs at the 2012 Aviation Week Laureate Awards on March 7 in Washington, D.C. Students and professionals in the LASP Mission Operations Center control the Kepler spacecraft, which is surveying our region of the Milky Way galaxy for Earth-like planets. The Laureate Awards recognize individuals… Read more »
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.
Using data from the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto, LASP scientists have made new measurements of interplanetary dust density. The data, collected from the CU-Boulder student-built Student Dust Counter (SDC) and the meteoroid detector on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, represent measurements of the micro-sized dust grains from the Earth out to the present position of the SDC, at approximately 20 Astronomical Units (AU). One AU is equal to the average distance from the Sun to the Earth, or approximately 93 million miles (149.5 million km).
New research led by LASP scientist Brian Toon uses a three-dimensional (3-D) model of Earth’s climate to assess the role of various factors in influencing historic global temperatures and resulting sea ice formation and change. Toon, along with doctoral student Eric Wolf, adapted the 3-D model to incorporate the complex and dynamic interactions between the atmosphere, cloud formation, energy radiation, land and ice cover, and the hydrological cycle to demonstrate how the Earth maintained a global mean temperature hospitable to life. The model attempts to solve the “faint young sun paradox” of the Archean Eon—from about 3.8 billion to 2.5 billion years ago—when the Sun was up to 30 percent less active, but geologic evidence points to a climate as warm or warmer than today.
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 Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission has achieved another significant milestone on its way towards launch in November 2013. Lockheed Martin has completed building the primary structure of the MAVEN spacecraft at its Space Systems Company facility near Denver.