In one of the spacecraft operations centers inside LASP’s Space Technology Building, a woman’s calm voice pipes in over a speaker:
“Loss of signal, MMS-4,” the voice reports.
The room looks like a smaller version of the NASA flight control centers that show up in every space movie. The announcement is a routine cue that one of the four spacecraft that make up the Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission has finished its latest round of transmitting data back to Earth.
Often the first person to hear such alerts isn’t a grizzled mission control veteran, but rather a CU Boulder student. That’s because LASP employs student “command controllers” to help operate the space missions under its supervision.
Has NASA’s famed planet-hunting spacecraft met its end? Not so fast, say LASP researchers.
NASA recently announced that the Kepler Space Telescope, which searched for planets orbiting stars far away from Earth, had run out of fuel and would finish its nine-year mission. In response, many news outlets reported that Kepler was dead
But Lee Reedy, flight director for Kepler at LASP, said that the mission’s legacy is far from over. To date, Kepler has found a confirmed 2,662 planets beyond our solar system.
After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets—more planets even than stars—NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.
Kepler, which was operated from LASP since its launch in March 2009, has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. The most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries concludes that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars. That means they’re located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water—a vital ingredient to life as we know it—might pool on the planet surface.
The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn’t exist in our solar system—a world between the size of Earth and Neptune—and we have much to learn about these planets. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison.
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.
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.
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 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 »
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.”
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.
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star.
The transit signatures of two distinct planets were seen in the data for the sun-like star designated Kepler-9. The planets were named Kepler-9b and 9c. The discovery incorporates seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system. The findings will be published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science.
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.
Event Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 Join Us at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) for the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which includes the LASP-built instrument Extreme ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE). SDO is NASA’s first satellite in the Living With a Star program. 7:30 am — Doors open 7:45 am… Read more »
Gliding over the battered surface of Mercury for the second time this year, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has revealed even more previously unseen real estate on the innermost planet, sending home hundreds of photos and measurements of its surface, atmosphere, and magnetic field. The probe flew by Mercury shortly after 4:40 a.m. EDT on October 6,… Read more »
The University of Colorado at Boulder took an unusual step today by returning nearly $3 million in cost savings to NASA for an award-winning satellite mission designed, built and controlled by the university to study how the sun’s variation influences Earth’s climate and atmosphere. Known as the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, or SORCE, the… Read more »
A $34 million solar instrument package to be built by the University of Colorado at Boulder, considered a crucial tool to help monitor global climate change, has been restored to a U.S. government satellite mission slated for launch in 2013. The package will be built by CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics for the… Read more »
Press Release for 2007 DPS Meeting Saturn’s rings may be more massive than previously thought. Both Cassini observations and theoretical simulations of Saturn’s rings point towards extensive particle clumping in Saturn’s rings. Our simulations of the rings show that the surface density of particles can be substantially larger than one would infer from a uniform… Read more »