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Science@Ames
 
Space ScienceSpace Science @ Ames features research in infrared astrophysics, laboratory astrophysics, extrasolar planets, planetary sciences, exobiology, and astrobiology.
 
 
Earth ScienceEarth Science @ Ames features basic and applied research in atmospheric and biospheric sciences, and conducts airborne science campaigns.
 
 
Biological ScienceBioSciences @ Ames features research in fundamental space biology, and provides engineering and payload development for the International Space Station.
 
 
AstrobiologyAstrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.
 
 
Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) addresses basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies.
 

 
Features
 
Kepler Wins National Air and Space Museum Trophy
March 27, 2015
 
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's highest group honor at a ceremony.
The team in charge of NASA's Kepler Mission, responsible for history's first detection of Earth-sized planets orbiting other suns in their temperate "habitable zone," received the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's highest group honor at a ceremony in Washington on March 25. Kepler received the 2015 Trophy for Current Achievement, which honors outstanding endeavors in the fields of aerospace science and technology.


Since its launch in March 2009, the Kepler mission has detected more than 4,000 candidate planets in orbit around other stars, or exoplanets for short. More than 1,000 of those exoplanet candidates have since been confirmed. These discoveries have revolutionized humanity's view of Earth's place in the universe by unveiling a whole new side of our Milky Way galaxy -- one that is teeming with planets.

As a result of Kepler's discoveries, scientists are confident that most stars have planets and that Earth's galaxy may host tens of billions of Earth-sized planets that reside in a distant star's "habitable zone," the region around a star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. The Kepler Mission also is establishing a foundation for future studies of exoplanet atmospheres that could eventually answer the question of whether or not we are alone in the universe.

The Kepler space telescope infers the existence of an exoplanet, by measuring the amount of starlight blocked when it passes or transits in front of its parent star. From these data, a planet's size in radius, orbital period in Earth years and the amount of heat energy received from the host star can be determined.

During its prime mission, Kepler simultaneously and continuously measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars for four years, looking for the telltale dimming that would indicate the presence of an orbiting planet. In May 2014, Kepler began a new mission, K2, to observe a series of fields along the ecliptic plane, the orbital path of the Earth about the sun, where the familiar constellations of the zodiac lie. This new mission provides scientists with an opportunity to search for even more exoplanets, as well as new opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae. The spacecraft continues to collect data in its new mission.

For a full listing of previous awardees, along with a video about Kepler's award, visit: http://airandspace.si.edu/events/trophy

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.


Kepler Video shown at award presentation:
https://youtu.be/2v_nj9Ww9bA

Jessica Culler
NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.


Image Credit: NASA Ames

 
SOFIA's Recent Research Findings, Progress and Results
March 25, 2015
 
SOFIA's Recent Research Findings, Progress and Results
I am pleased to report that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the largest flight project at the Center, is hitting its scientific stride. The most recent research finding, which led to stories in major newspapers, reports that supernovae are capable of producing a substantial amount of the material from which planets like Earth can form. Supernovae are the explosive end-states of massive stars, providing much of the dust and "heavy" elements that pervade the interstellar medium. It is these ingredients that provide the raw materials for future star and planet formation -- and the source of the 'stardust' that we have come to learn is part of all of us.

The new SOFIA results quantify the amount of dust produced by supernovae, and offer a tantalizing clue to the number of planets that could eventually form from the stellar debris. SOFIA observations in the mid-infrared were crucial in unraveling the mystery of how the dust could survive the shock wave generated when the first, outward-moving shock wave collides with surrounding interstellar gas and dust.

As SOFIA enters its first full year of science operations (following five months of aircraft maintenance in Germany last year), the program received a surprise in the President's FY16 budget request - language that directs SOFIA to undergo a bi-annual science review in early 2016. Given that the program has only recently started full-time science operations, this mandate represents a substantial challenge for the program, and for the two Centers responsible for operating SOFIA -- Armstrong and Ames. I am confident that both Centers will work diligently with our prime contractor, Universities Space Research Association, and with our international partners, the German Aerospace Center, to produce a compelling case for continuing long-term operations of this engineering marvel. Ames senior management will keep you informed on progress and results going forward.

For more information about SOFIA, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sofia.

S. Pete Worden, Center Director
NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.


Image Credit: NASA Ames

 
NASA's Airborne Science Mission Returns to the Skies for Final Flights
March 5, 2015
 

NASA's Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX) returned to the skies for its fifth and final year of science flights on March 4. The remotely piloted Global Hawk research aircraft took off from its base at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, to track the transport of water vapor into the upper atmosphere and help researchers understand how greenhouse gases affect Earth's climate.


This year, NASA ATTREX is collaborating with United Kingdom (UK) researchers to execute their Coordinated Airborne Studies in the Tropics (CAST) project, funded by their country's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The mission continues to focus on the transport and exchange of greenhouse gases, in particular water vapor, in the tropical tropopause region, the transition layer between the troposphere, the lowest part of the atmosphere, and the stratosphere, the layer above it. The suite of instruments onboard includes a subset of the ATTREX payload previously flown, with a focus on cloud and water vapor measurements. In addition, two new CAST instruments will be included: the Aerosol Ice Interface Transition Spectrometer (AIITS) and the GreenHouse gas Observations in the Stratosphere and Troposphere (GHOST).

"The combination of ATTREX and CAST instruments will provide new information about the formation of tropical tropopause layer cirrus and the shapes of the ice crystals that comprise them," said Eric Jensen, the ATTREX principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "The cirrus ice crystal sizes and shapes determine how fast they fall and remove water vapor from air rising into the stratosphere. The measurements made in this flight series will add to the extensive ATTREX dataset that is being used to improve our understanding of tropical tropopause layer transport and cloud processes. The science community is using this dataset to evaluate and improve global models used to predict future climate change."

Studies show that even slight changes in the amount of water vapor in the stratosphere can warm the surface temperature by absorbing thermal radiation rising from the surface.

Scientists consider the tropical tropopause to be the gateway for transport of water vapor, ozone and other gases into the stratosphere. For this mission, the Global Hawk will fly in the tropical tropopause layer (from altitudes of 45,000 to 60,000 feet) near the equator over the Pacific Ocean, providing measurements in this critical atmospheric layer.

AIITS was jointly developed by UK's Universities of Hertfordshire and Manchester. It will measure the scattering properties of aerosols and cirrus clouds, providing information about particle shapes and composition. Scientists expect these measurements, combined with those from the ATTREX Hawkeye, a cloud particle probe managed by Stratton Park Engineering (SPEC), Inc., Boulder, Colorado, and water vapor instruments, will provide valuable new information about the formation and impact of extensive, thin cirrus clouds in the tropical tropopause layer.

GHOST was jointly developed by the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh and the Universities of Edinburgh and Leicester. It will measure columns of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and water, below the aircraft's path. It is a novel, compact Short-Wave InfraRed (SWIR) spectrometer built on similar principles to the instrument aboard the NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 satellite launched in 2014, and will provide high spatial-resolution information about these gases as well as validation for the satellite instrument.

ATTREX will conduct three long-duration science flights totaling 66 hours. This year's flights bring the total hours flown in support of ATTREX to about 390 hours since 2011.

Jensen and Project Manager Dave Jordan of Ames have led the ATTREX mission. Investigators include four NASA facilities: Ames, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The team also includes investigators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Miami, Florida, the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and private industry. The project is managed by the NASA Ames Earth Science Project Office.

ATTREX is one of the first research missions of NASA's new Earth Venture project. These targeted science investigations complement NASA's research satellite missions. The Earth Venture missions are part of NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder Program managed by Langley.

TechEdSat-4 was developed, integrated and tested at Ames by student interns with the support of co-investigators Periklis Papadopoulos, from SJSU, and DavidAtkinson, from UI. TechEdSat-4 is funded by Ames. The total cost of the satellite was less than $50,000 because the team primarily used commercial off-the-shelf hardware that was rigorously tested and simplified the design and mission objectives.

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities in 2015, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow For more information about NASA Ames Earth Science Project Office, visit: http://nasa.gov/ames

Jessica Culler
NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Image Credit: NASA Ames

 
NASA Deploys Satellite Designed to Re-enter Atmosphere Using Revamped Drag Device
March 4, 2015
 

Graphic rendering of TechEdSat-4 with exo-brake deployed. Exo-brake is an aerodynamic specially-designed parachute-like device, that causes the satellite to de-orbit and re-enter Earth's atmosphere.


NASA mission controllers confirmed that a small satellite launched from the International Space Station at 5:30 p.m. PST on Tuesday, March 3, has successfully entered its orbit, setting the stage to test technology that could enable rapid return of payloads from space. Over the next four weeks, the TechEdSat-4 satellite will deploy a second-generation exo-brake, an aerodynamic drag device, to perform a maneuver that will cause the satellite to de-orbit and re-enter Earth's atmosphere.

"The exo-brake is a self-stabilizing exospheric deorbiting mechanism that will allow us to return a payload to Earth fairly rapidly from an orbital platform, like the International Space Station," said Marcus Murbach, the TechEdSat-4 principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "We were able to sendcommands and receive data to and from the satellite via the onboard modem using only a laptop and email account. This capability may greatly benefit the entire nanosatellite community."

About 30 minutes after the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer jettisoned it from the space station, the autonomous free-flying satellite powered on. At approximately 8 p.m., the spacecraft received a command via email and deployed its specially-designed parachute-like exo-brake, which operates as a passivedrag device at the extremely low pressures found at the top of the atmosphere. Engineers also confirmed the satellite has demonstrated new satellite-to-satellite communications technologies to provide precise information about the spacecraft's health and position. TechEdSat-4 arrived at the station aboard Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft July 16, 2014.

TechEdSat-4 is equipped with a short-burst data satellite modem combined with a GPS receiver to perform communications functions, including providing data about the spacecraft's health, space environment and location. Together, these technologies replace ground stations used for tracking, rapid data retrieval and uplink capability, and permit satellite control via secure email.

The ability to accurately re-enter Earth's atmosphere will eventually enable the safe return of scientific samples and valuable cargo from orbital platforms at a lower cost than larger cargo and transfer vehicles. In addition, Murbach and his team intend for this technology to help enable future small or nanosatellite missions to the surface of Mars and other planetary bodies in the solar system. "We've already developed a sample canister that during atmospheric re-entry could slip out the back of the satellite and safely be recovered on Earth," said Murbach. "This could also be adapted to future Mars satellites as a piggy-back or ride-along payload that could jettison independently and study the mid-latitude or other scientifically interesting regions of Mars. Currently, it is extremely challenging to access these sites."

TechEdSat-4 is the first NASA satellite to jettison from the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer and the fourth satellite in the TechEdSat series to successfully achieve orbit. The TechEdSat series, a technology education collaboration with San Jose State University (SJSU) in California and the University of Idaho (UI) in Moscow, Idaho, uses the standard CubeSat structure, which measures one unit (1U) as approximately four inches cubed (10 centimeters cubed). TechEdSat-4 is a 3U satellite measuring approximately 12-by-four-by-four inches (10-by-10-by-30 centimeters) and weighing approximately five pounds.

Previously, TechEdSat-1, a 1U CubeSat released from the Japanese Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (JSSOD) aboard the station in 2012, successfully demonstrated use of the basic communications subsystem and radiation-tolerant controller. It functioned in orbit for seven months until it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. It was followed by a successful satellite communication system flight test in April 2013 with TechEdSat-2, a 1U CubeSat. TechEdSat-3, a 3U CubeSat released from the JSSOD in 2013, was the first exo-brake to deploy and the first nanosatellite of its size to deploy from the station.

Ames currently is working on the next iteration in the series. The TechEdSat-5 satellite, scheduled for launch in 2015, will be very similar to the TechEdSat-4 design. It will introduce a modulating exo-brake capable of changing its surface area allowing the satellite to more precisely enter the atmosphere.

TechEdSat-4 was developed, integrated and tested at Ames by student interns with the support of co-investigators Periklis Papadopoulos, from SJSU, and DavidAtkinson, from UI. TechEdSat-4 is funded by Ames. The total cost of the satellite was less than $50,000 because the team primarily used commercial off-the-shelf hardware that was rigorously tested and simplified the design and mission objectives.

"One of the great things about this collaboration is the experience our university students and interns get at an early point in their careers," said Papadopoulos. "With this experience, many of our interns have started successful careers at NASA or in private industry - which is a great benefit that NASA uniquely provides."

For more information about the TechEdSat, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/
research/experiments/1027.html


Maria Alberty
NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Image Credit: NASA Ames

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