A chorus of scientists wants NASA to add small robotic spacecraft to its Mars Exploration Program in a shift from today’s near-total focus on multibillion-dollar rover missions and preparations with Europe to return samples of Martian soil and rocks to Earth. Will these scientists get their way? Leonard David looks at the odds.
Every do-it-yourselfer knows how hard it can be to declare a project complete. Will another turn of the bolt or brushstroke make things better or worse? That was roughly the choice NASA faced a year before the Dec. 25 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Would more testing close more technical risks in the nearly $10 billion project or create new ones? In the end, NASA decided against more testing. NASA’s Jesse Leitner and Tupper Hyde describe the assessment they performed.
The long-awaited start of the James Webb Space Telescope draws close, with the promise of detecting the cosmic dawn and perhaps even signs of extraterrestrial life. Adam Hadhazy explores the key science motivations and goals for what will be, if all goes as planned in December, the largest telescope yet to reach space.
On Earth, explorers centuries ago were probably confident about the range of bad weather they’d encounter along their journeys. Future Mars explorers cannot yet say the equivalent. That’s why NASA and others have adopted a strategy of sending weather sensors ahead of the humans. Anni Torri, a senior scientist at Vaisala, the Helsinki-based measurement company, explains what it takes to make a weather sensor space-proof.
X-rays emitted by black holes, quasars and other features in deep space have a story to tell, but astronomers have yet to fully tune in by examining the polarization of the beams. Amanda Miller tells the story of a space observatory that could do just that after its launch later this year.
The United States and Europe are taking their first steps in a yearslong campaign to deliver rocks and soil from the red planet to terrestrial labs for unparalleled examination. Adam Hadhazy takes us step-by-step through the complex, yet in some ways conservative, mission.
The U.S. Global Positioning System has changed how we operate spacecraft in low-Earth orbit. Now GPS is starting to do the equivalent for spacecraft flying beyond the GPS constellation, and someday possibly all the way to the moon, where positioning contributions from other nations could add up to stunning accuracy. Adam Hadhazy tells the story.
UPDATE: Dragonfly wins. See News story – NASA has limited dollars for exploring the solar system with robotic spacecraft, and it can take a decade to get such a probe to its destination. Careers are made or stalled when NASA selects a proposed mission, which is why the agency’s latest New Frontiers competition is such a high-stakes affair. Adam Hadhazy spoke to the finalists vying for the prize.
Every square meter of Mars has been photographed from orbit; its dirt has been scooped up and heated to reveal its constituent chemicals; rovers have driven for kilometers. The surface of Mars, though, has never been dug so deep. That is set to change. Cracking the surface of Mars could deliver readings that will upend tenets about planetary evolution.
Scientists are detecting exoplanets daily by the slight decrease in light from a host star as a planet transits in front of it. Photos of such a planet could tell us whether or not we are alone in the universe. Louis D. Friedman and Slava G. Turyshev think they have a solution for delivering this photographic evidence, one that will require a 900 trillion-kilometer journey and applying a phenomenon discovered by Einstein.
Precise navigation will be a necessity for safe human exploration of Mars and other celestial bodies in deep space. A pair of experiments about to get underway could change the way this navigation is done, and for the better.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, now on its way toward the sun, must survive the searing temperatures in the solar corona to unlock the processes driving the solar wind and coronal mass ejections that can harm satellites and electronics on Earth. We spoke to the scientists and engineers behind Parker’s thermal protection strategy.
The BepiColombo mission to Mercury, getting underway in October, could answer vexing questions about the innermost planet’s core and its Earth-like magnetic field. And the answers could shed light on planetary matters far beyond our solar system.
NASA’s announcement that it will add a tiny helicopter to its planned Mars 2020 rover came after a series of test flights inside a vacuum chamber proved the feasibility of adapting consumer drone technologies into a craft capable of flying in an atmosphere just 1 percent as dense as Earth’s.