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NASA’s New Horizons Detects Dusty Hints of Extended Kuiper Belt

Tue, 02/20/2024 - 11:28am

4 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

New observations from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft hint that the Kuiper Belt – the vast, distant outer zone of our solar system populated by hundreds of thousands of icy, rocky planetary building blocks – might stretch much farther out than we thought.

Artist’s concept of a collision between two objects in the distant Kuiper Belt. Such collisions are a major source of dust in the belt, along with particles kicked up from Kuiper Belt objects being peppered by microscopic dust impactors from outside of the solar system.Credit: Dan Durda, FIAAA

Speeding through the outer edges of the Kuiper Belt, almost 60 times farther from the Sun than Earth, the New Horizons Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (SDC) instrument is detecting higher than expected levels of dust – the tiny frozen remnants of collisions between larger Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and particles kicked up from KBOs being peppered by microscopic dust impactors from outside of the solar system.

The readings defy scientific models that the KBO population and density of dust should start to decline a billion miles inside that distance and contribute to a growing body of evidence that suggests the outer edge of the main Kuiper Belt could extend billions of miles farther than current estimates – or that there could even be a second belt beyond the one we already know.

The results appear in the Feb. 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“New Horizons is making the first direct measurements of interplanetary dust far beyond Neptune and Pluto, so every observation could lead to a discovery,” said Alex Doner, lead author of the paper and a physics graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder who serves as SDC lead. “The idea that we might have detected an extended Kuiper Belt — with a whole new population of objects colliding and producing more dust – offers another clue in solving the mysteries of the solar system’s most distant regions.”

Designed and built by students at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder under the guidance of professional engineers, SDC has detected microscopic dust grains produced by collisions among asteroids, comets and Kuiper Belt objects all along New Horizons’ 5-billion-mile, 18-year journey across our solar system – which after launch in 2006 included historic flybys of Pluto in 2015 and the KBO Arrokoth in 2019. The first science instrument on a NASA planetary mission to be designed, built and “flown” by students, the SDC counts and measures the sizes of dust particles, producing information on the collision rates of such bodies in the outer solar system.

The latest, surprising results were compiled over three years as New Horizons traveled from 45 to 55 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun – with one AU being the distance between Earth and Sun, about 93 million miles or 140 million kilometers.

These readings come as New Horizons scientists, using observatories like the Japanese Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, have also discovered a number KBOs far beyond the traditional outer edge of the Kuiper Belt. This outer edge (where the density of objects starts to decline) was thought to be at about 50 AU, but new evidence suggests the belt may extend to 80 AU, or farther. 

As telescope observations continue, Doner said, scientists are looking at other possible reasons for the high SDC dust readings. One possibility, perhaps less likely, is radiation pressure and other factors pushing dust created in the inner Kuiper Belt out past 50 AU. New Horizons could also have encountered shorter-lived ice particles that cannot reach the inner parts of the solar system and were not yet accounted for in the current models of the Kuiper Belt.

“These new scientific results from New Horizons may be the first time that any spacecraft has discovered a new population of bodies in our solar system,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder. “I can’t wait to see how much farther out these elevated Kuiper Belt dust levels go.”

Now into its second extended mission, New Horizons is expected to have sufficient propellant and power to operate through the 2040s, at distances beyond 100 AU from the Sun. That far out, mission scientists say, the SDC could potentially even record the spacecraft’s transition into a region where interstellar particles dominate the dust environment. With complementary telescopic observations of the Kuiper Belt from Earth, New Horizons, as the only spacecraft operating in and collecting new information about the Kuiper Belt, has a unique opportunity to learn more about KBOs, dust sources and expanse of the belt, and interstellar dust and the dust disks around other stars.

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio and Boulder, Colorado, directs the mission via Principal Investigator Alan Stern and leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Artemis II Mission Manager Matthew Ramsey

Tue, 02/20/2024 - 10:24am
Credit: NASA/Brandon Hancock

Matthew Ramsey is keenly aware of the responsibility he shoulders to ensure the agency’s missions to the Moon are safe and successful. As the mission manager for Artemis II, NASA’s first crewed mission under Artemis, Ramsey is charged with helping to define the requirements and priorities for the missions and certifying that the hardware and operations needed to support flight are ready.

“For me, it’s all about the crew and ensuring their safety as they venture to the Moon and come home,” said Ramsey. “Sending people thousands of miles from home and doing it in a way that sets the stage for long-term exploration and scientific discovery is an incredibly complex task.”

During the leadup to Artemis II, Ramsey is responsible for oversight of the daily preparations as NASA prepares to launch and fly the agency’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket with a crew of four inside the Orion spacecraft. He will adjudicate issues that arise in the weeks and months ahead of the flight test and serve as deputy of the Mission Management Team — a tiger team that forms two days before launch to accept the risks associated with the mission and make decisions during the flight to address any changes or concerns.

A native of Hernando, Mississippi, Ramsey pitched for the Mississippi State University baseball team before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from the school.

“There are a lot of similarities between mission management and pitching,” he said. “You control many aspects of the tempo, and there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders.”

Ramsey began his career in the intelligence and defense sectors before joining the space agency in 2002 to work on guidance, navigation, and control for the X-37 Approach and Landing Test Vehicle. Later, he worked on the design of the Ares I and V rockets as part of NASA’s Constellation Program before transitioning in 2010 to the SLS Program in support of the chief engineer at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

During the Artemis I launch, Ramsey was the SLS Engineering Support Center manager at Marshall, coordinating across engineering teams to provide data and solutions to issues encountered during the multiple launch attempts. He then supported the Mission Management Team during Artemis I in an observational role, preparing for his position as Artemis II mission manager.

While NASA and its partners are preparing for Artemis II, work toward other Artemis missions is also underway. Ramsey also will serve as the mission manager for Artemis IV, the first Gateway assembly mission that also will include a lunar landing.

“With Artemis II on the horizon, most of my time is focused on making sure we’re ready to fly Reid, Victor, Christina, and Jeremy around the Moon and bring them safely home,” Ramsey said. “For Artemis IV, we’re in the mission concept-planning phase, establishing mission priorities and objectives and defining how we’ll transfer crew between all the hardware elements involved.”

As Artemis II nears, Ramsey is blending his operational experience and expertise in design, development, testing, and evaluation so that NASA is primed for what lies ahead: sending humans back to the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years and laying the foundation for future missions that will ultimately enable human exploration of Mars.

Categories: NASA

Discovery Alert: Glowing Cloud Points to a Cosmic Collision

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 7:55pm

3 min read

Discovery Alert: Glowing Cloud Points to a Cosmic Collision This illustration depicts the aftermath of a collision between two giant exoplanets. What remains is a hot, molten planetary core and a swirling, glowing cloud of dust and debris. Mark A. Garlick The Discovery: 

A glowing cosmic cloud has revealed a cataclysmic collision.

Key Facts:

Even within our own solar system, scientists have seen evidence of giant, planetary collisions from long ago. Remaining clues like Uranus’ tilt and the existence of Earth’s moon point to times in our distant history when the planets in our stellar neighborhood slammed together, forever changing their shape and place in orbit. Scientists looking outside our solar system to far off exoplanets can spot similar evidence that, across the universe, planets sometimes crash. In this new study, the evidence of such an impact comes from a cloud of dust and gas with a strange, fluctuating luminosity. 


Scientists were observing a young (300-million-year-old) Sun-like star when they noticed something odd: the star suddenly and significantly dipped in brightness. A team of researchers looked a little closer and they found that, just before this dip, the star displayed a sudden spike in infrared luminosity. 

In studying the star, the team found that this luminosity lasted for 1,000 days. But 2.5 years into this bright event, the star was unexpectedly eclipsed by something, causing the sudden dip in brightness. This eclipse endured for 500 days. 

The team investigated further and found that the culprit behind both the spike in luminosity and the eclipse was a giant, glowing cloud of gas and dust. And the most likely reason for the sudden, eclipse-causing cloud? A cosmic collision between two exoplanets, one of which likely contained ice, the researchers think.

In a new study detailing these events, scientists suggest that two giant exoplanets anywhere from several to tens of Earth masses crashed into one another, creating both the infrared spike and the cloud. A crash like this would completely liquify the two planets, leaving behind a single molten core surrounded by a cloud of gas, hot rock, and dust.

After the crash, this cloud, still holding the hot, glowing remnant of the collision, continued to orbit the star, eventually moving in front of and eclipsing the star.

Fun Facts: 

This study was conducted using archival data from NASA’s now-retired WISE mission – the spacecraft continues to operate under the name NEOWISE. This star was first detected in 2021 by the ground-based robotic survey ASAS-SN (All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae). 

While this data revealed remnants of this planetary collision, the glow of this crash should still be visible to telescopes like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. In fact, the research team behind this study is already putting together proposals to observe the system with Webb. 


The study, “A planetary collision afterglow and transit of the resultant debris cloud,” was published Oct. 11, 2023, in Nature by lead author Matthew Kenworthy alongside 21 co-authors. 



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Feb 16, 2024

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30 Years Ago: Clementine Changes Our View of the Moon

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 4:34pm

In 1994, a joint NASA and Department of Defense (DOD) mission called Clementine dramatically changed our view of the Moon. As the first U.S. mission to the Moon in more than two decades, Clementine’s primary objectives involved technology demonstrations to test lightweight component and sensor performance. The lightweight sensors aboard the spacecraft returned 1.6 million digital images, providing the first global multispectral and topographic maps of the Moon. Data from a radar instrument indicated that large quantities of water ice may lie in permanently shadowed craters at lunar south pole, while other polar regions may remain in near permanent sunlight. Although a technical problem prevented a planned flyby of an asteroid, Clementine’s study of the Moon proved that a technology demonstration mission can accomplish significant science.

Left: The Clementine engineering model on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C. Image credit: courtesy NASM. Right: Schematic illustration showing Clementine’s major components and sensors.

The DOD’s Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in 1993, directed the Clementine project, formally called the Deep Space Program Science Experiment. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., managed the mission design, spacecraft manufacture and test, launch vehicle integration, ground support, and flight operations. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California, provided the nine science instruments, including lightweight imaging cameras and ranging sensors. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Beltsville, Maryland, provided trajectory and mission planning support for the lunar phase, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provided trajectory and mission planning for the asteroid encounter and deep space communications and tracking through the Deep Space Network. Clementine’s primary planned mission involved the testing of new lightweight satellite technologies in the harsh deep space environment. As a secondary mission, Clementine would observe the Moon for two months using its multiple sensors, then leave lunar orbit and travel to 1620 Geographos, a 1.6-mile-long, elongated, stony asteroid. At a distance of 5.3 million miles from Earth, Clementine would fly within 62 miles of the near-Earth asteroid, returning images and data using its suite of sensors.

Left: Technicians prepare Clementine for a test in an anechoic chamber prior to shipping to the launch site. Middle: Workers lower the payload shroud over Clementine already mounted on its Titan IIG launch vehicle. Right: Liftoff of Clementine from Vandenberg Air Force, now Space Force, Base in California.

The initial idea behind a joint NASA/DOD technology demonstration mission began in 1990, with funding approved in March 1992 to NRL and LLNL to start design of Clementine and its sensors, respectively. In an incredibly short 22 months, the spacecraft completed design, build, and testing to prepare it for flight. Clementine launched on Jan. 25, 1994, from Space Launch Complex 4-West at Vandenberg Air Force, now Space Force, Base in California atop a Titan IIG rocket.

Trajectory of Clementine from launch to lunar orbit insertion. Image credit: courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The spacecraft spent the next eight days in low Earth orbit checking out its systems. On Feb. 3, a solid rocket motor fired to place it on a lunar phasing loop trajectory that included two Earth flybys to gain enough energy to reach the Moon. During the first orbit, the spacecraft jettisoned the Interstage Adapter Subsystem that remained in a highly elliptical Earth orbit for three months collecting radiation data as it passed repeatedly through the Van Allen radiation belts. On Feb. 19, Clementine fired its own engine to place the spacecraft into a highly elliptical polar lunar orbit with an 8-hour period. A second burn two days later placed Clementine into its 5-hour mapping orbit. The first mapping cycle began on Feb. 26, lasting one month, and the second cycle ended on April 21, followed by special observations.

Left: Composite image of the Moon’s south polar region. Middle left: Image of Crater Tycho. Middle right: Image of Crater Rydberg. Right: Composite image of the Moon’s north polar region.

During the first month of mapping, the low point of Clementine’s orbit was over the southern hemisphere to enable higher resolution imagery and laser altimetry over the south polar regions. Clementine adjusted its orbit to place the low point over the northern hemisphere for the second month of mapping to image the north polar region at higher resolution. Clementine spent the final two weeks in orbit filling in any gaps and performing extra studies looking for ice in the north polar region. For 71 days and 297 lunar orbits, Clementine imaged the Moon, returning 1.6 million digital images, many at a resolution of 330 feet. It mapped the Moon’s entire surface including the polar regions at wavelengths from near ultraviolet through visible to far infrared. The laser altimetry provided the first global topographic map of the Moon. Similar data from Apollo missions only mapped the equatorial regions of the Moon that lay under the spacecraft’s orbital path. Radio tracking of the spacecraft refined our knowledge of the Moon’s gravity field. A finding with significant application to future exploration missions, Clementine found areas near the polar regions where significant amounts of water ice may exist in permanently shadowed crater floors. Conversely, Clementine found other regions near the poles that may remain in near perpetual sunlight, providing an abundant energy source for future explorers. The Dec. 16, 1994, issue of Science, Vol. 266, No. 5192, published early results from Clementine. The Clementine project team assembled a series of lessons learned from the mission to aid future spacecraft development and operations.

Left: A global map of the Moon created from Clementine images. Right: A global topographic map of the Moon based on Clementine data.

Left: Composite image of Earth taken by Clementine from lunar orbit. Middle left: Colorized image of the full Earth over the lunar north pole. Middle right: Color enhanced view of the Moon lit by Earth shine, the solar corona, and the planet Venus. Right: Color enhanced image of the Earthlit Moon, the solar corona, and the planets Saturn, Mars, and Mercury.

Its Moon observation time over, Clementine left lunar orbit on May 5, heading for Geographos via two more Earth gravity-assist flybys. Unfortunately, two days later a computer glitch caused one of the spacecraft’s attitude control thrusters to misfire for 11 minutes, expending precious fuel and sending Clementine into an 80-rotations-per-minute spin. The problem would have significantly reduced data return from the asteroid flyby planned for August and managers decided to keep the spacecraft in an elliptical geocentric orbit. A power supply failure in June rendered Clementine’s telemetry unintelligible. On July 20, lunar gravity propelled the spacecraft into solar orbit and the mission officially ended on Aug. 8. Ground controllers briefly regained contact between Feb. 20 and May 10, 1995, but Clementine transmitted no useful data.

Despite the loss of the Geographos flyby, Clementine left a lasting legacy. The mission demonstrated that a flight primarily designed as a technology demonstration can accomplished significant science. The data Clementine returned revolutionized our knowledge of lunar history and evolution. The discovery of the unique environments at the lunar poles, including the probability of large quantities of water ice in permanently shadowed regions there, changed the outlook for future scientific missions and human exploration. Subsequent science missions, such as NASA’s Lunar Prospector and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, China’s Chang’e spacecraft, and India’s Chandrayaan spacecraft, all built on the knowledge that Clementine first obtained. Current uncrewed missions target the lunar polar regions to add ground truth to the orbital observations, and NASA’s Artemis program intends to land the first woman and the first person of color in that region as a step toward sustainable lunar exploration.

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NASA Administrator to Discuss Science with Crew Aboard Space Station

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 4:21pm
The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly around of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Nov. 8, 2021.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will discuss recent science research and technology demonstrations aboard the International Space Station at 10:35 a.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 21, with astronauts living and working aboard the microgravity laboratory.

During the Earth-to-space call, leadership and the crew will discuss a tech experiment demonstrating the performance of a small robot remotely controlled from our home planet to perform surgical procedures in space. They also will highlight a study focused on bone loss in space that may improve our understanding of the mechanisms behind age-related bone loss on Earth, and more ground-breaking research conducted on the microgravity laboratory.

Event coverage will be available on NASA+, NASA Television, and the agency’s website. Learn how to stream NASA TV through a variety of platforms including social media.

Additional participants include:

  • Dr. Lisa Carnell, director, NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division
  • Jasmin Moghbeli, NASA astronaut
  • Andreas Mogensen, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut
  • Satoshi Furukawa, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut

Members of the media also are invited to ask questions to the participants during the 30-minute news conference.

Media interested in participating must RSVP no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, to the newsroom at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at 281-483-5111 or Reporters must dial into the news conference no later than 10:20 a.m. Feb. 21 to ask a question. Questions also may be submitted on social media using #AskNASA.

Read about some of the recent investigations flown to the space station.

The International Space Station is a hub for scientific research and technology demonstration. NASA and its partners continue to maximize use of the space station, where astronauts have lived and worked continuously for more than 23 years testing technologies, performing research, and developing the skills needed to operate future commercial destinations in low Earth orbit, and explore farther from Earth. Research conducted aboard the space station provides benefits for people on Earth and paves the way for future long-duration trips to the Moon and beyond through NASA’s Artemis missions.

Learn more about current science missions and the International Space Station at:


Faith McKie / Joshua Finch
Headquarters, Washington
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Chelsey Ballarte
Johnson Space Center, Houston

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Signing Our Names

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 2:16pm
The Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis II mission received its latest makeover. Teams adhered the agency’s iconic “worm” logo and ESA (European Space Agency) insignia on the spacecraft’s crew module adapter on Sunday, Jan. 28, inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.NASA/Rad Sinyak

NASA’s iconic “worm” logo and ESA’s (European Space Agency) insignia are painted on the Orion spacecraft’s crew module adapter in this image from Feb. 1, 2024. The adapter houses electronic equipment for communications, power, and control, and includes an umbilical connector that bridges the electrical, data, and fluid systems between the main modules.

In October 2023, technicians joined the crew and service modules together. The crew module will house the four Artemis II astronauts as they journey around the Moon and back to Earth on an approximately 10-day trip. The spacecraft’s service module, provided by ESA, will supply the vehicle with electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air, and water in space.

See photos of the crew module adapter and the SLS (Space Launch System) solid rocket boosters, which were also recently adorned with the “worm” logo.

Image Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

Categories: NASA

Rocket Propellant Tanks for NASA’s Artemis III Mission Take Shape

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 2:07pm
All the major structures that will form the core stage for NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket for the agency’s Artemis III mission are structurally complete. Technicians finished welding the 51-foot liquid oxygen tank structure, left, inside the Vertical Assembly Building at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Jan. 8. The liquid hydrogen tank, right, completed internal cleaning Nov. 14. NASA/Michael DeMocker

As NASA works to develop all the systems needed to return astronauts to the Moon under its Artemis campaign for the benefit of all, the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket will be responsible for launching astronauts on their journey. With the liquid oxygen tank now fully welded, all of the major structures that will form the core stage for the SLS rocket for the agency’s Artemis III mission are ready for additional outfitting. The hardware will be a part of the rocket used for the first of the Artemis missions planning to land astronauts on the Moon’s surface near the lunar South Pole. Technicians finished welding the 51-foot liquid oxygen tank structure inside the Vertical Assembly Building at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Jan. 8.

The mega rocket’s other giant propellant tank – the liquid hydrogen tank – is already one fully welded structure. NASA and Boeing, the SLS core stage lead contractor, are currently priming the tank  in another cell within the Vertical Assembly Building area called the Building 131 cryogenic tank thermal protection system and primer application complex. It completed internal cleaning Nov. 14.

Manufacturing hardware is a multi-step process that includes welding, washing, and, later, outfitting hardware.The internal cleaning process is similar to a shower to ensure contaminants do not find their way into the stage’s complex propulsion and engine systems prior to priming. Once internal cleaning is complete, primer is applied to the external portions of the tank’s barrel section and domes by an automated robotic tool. Following primer, technicians apply a foam-based thermal protection system to shield it from the extreme temperatures it will face during launch and flight while also regulating the super-chilled propellant within.

“NASA and its partners are processing major hardware elements at Michoud for several SLS rockets in parallel to support the agency’s Artemis campaign,” said Chad Bryant, acting manager of the Stages Office for NASA’s SLS Program. “With the Artemis II core stage nearing completion, the major structural elements of the SLS core stage for Artemis III will advance through production on the factory floor.”

The two massive propellant tanks for the rocket collectively hold more than 733,000 gallons of super-chilled propellant. The propellant powers the four RS-25 engines and must stay extremely cold to remain liquid.

The core stage, along with the RS-25 engines, will produce two million pounds of thrust to help launch NASA’s Orion spacecraft, astronauts, and supplies beyond Earth’s orbit and to the lunar surface for Artemis III. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single launch.

Through Artemis, NASA will send astronauts—including the first woman, first person of color, and first international partner astronaut—to explore the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and to build the foundation for crewed mission to Mars. SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with the Orion spacecraft, exploration ground systems, advanced spacesuits and rovers, Gateway, and human landing systems.

For more on SLS, visit:

News Media Contact

Corinne Beckinger
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

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NASA Stennis Celebrates Milestone for Historic Autonomous Systems Mission

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 2:00pm

2 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

NASA’s Stennis Space Center and Sidus Space, Inc., marked another milestone February 15 for the Center’s first-ever in-flight autonomous systems software mission as a payload rider on the Sidus Space LizzieSatTM small satellite.

“Each step brings us a step closer to deployment of ASTRA (Autonomous Satellite Technology for Resilient Applications) in space,” said Chris Carmichael, NASA Stennis Autonomous Systems Laboratory (ASL) Branch Chief. “We are excited with the progress as we continue to collaborate with Sidus Space on this truly historic mission for the Center.”

The ASTRA mission involves an autonomous systems hardware/software payload developed at NASA Stennis as a technology demonstrator in space aboard the Sidus Space premier satellite, LizzieSat TM -1 (LS-1). Sidus Space is responsible for the launch, deployment, and mission operation of the LS-1 satellite.

At some stage during the overall satellite mission that could last as long as two years, the NASA Stennis team will send commands to the Sidus Space flight computer to autonomously conduct targeted mission objectives with the ASTRA system. 

In preparation for the scheduled launch of the LS-1 mission this spring, officials at the Sidus Space integration facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, reported it has completed integration testing of the ASTRA flight unit with the LS-1 satellite.

Sidus Space worked with members of the NASA Stennis ASL team to complete extensive integration and communications testing of the flight unit. The testing verified unit functionality, as well as the ability of the ASL team to upload software to the flight unit.

The latest achievement comes on the heels of a December milestone in which the ASL team completed a Flight Readiness Review of the baseline ASTRA flight software. Sidus Space is scheduled to launch the LS-1 satellite on the SpaceX Transporter 10, Falcon 9 rocket, this spring. LS-1 will be among dozens of small satellites launched on the SpaceX rocket. The LS-1 satellite is carrying six payloads to space, one of which is ASTRA.

The ASTRA project began as a proposal by early career employees at NASA Stennis and continues as a partnership project between the Center and Sidus Space. It marks the first time NASA Stennis ever has flown hardware/software into space.

For information about NASA’s Stennis Space Center, visit:

Stennis Space Center – NASA


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La NASA recibe al ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Uruguay para la firma de los Acuerdos de Artemis

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 11:07am
De izquierda a derecha, el embajador de Uruguay en Estados Unidos, Andrés Augusto Durán Hareau, el subsecretario adjunto del Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos, Kevin Sullivan, el administrador de la NASA, Bill Nelson, y el ministro de Relaciones Exteriores uruguayo, Omar Paganini, posan para una foto durante la ceremonia de firma de los Acuerdos de Artemis, el jueves 15 de febrero de 2024, en el edificio Mary W. Jackson de la sede de la NASA en Washington. Uruguay es el 36.º país en firmar los Acuerdos de Artemis, que establecen un conjunto práctico de principios para guiar la cooperación en la exploración espacial entre las naciones que participan en el programa Artemis de la NASA. Créditos: NASA/Keegan Barber

Read this release in English here.

En una ceremonia celebrada el jueves 15 de febrero en la sede de la NASA en Washington, Uruguay se convirtió en el trigésimo sexto país en firmar los Acuerdos de Artemis. El administrador de la NASA, Bill Nelson, participó en la ceremonia de firma por parte de la agencia, y el ministro de Relaciones Exteriores, Omar Paganini, firmó estos acuerdos en nombre de Uruguay.

Los Acuerdos de Artemis establecen un conjunto práctico de principios para guiar la cooperación en materia de exploración espacial entre naciones.

También participaron en el evento:

• Pam Melroy, administradora adjunta de la NASA

• Karen Feldstein, administradora asociada de la Oficina de Relaciones Internacionales e Interinstitucionales de la NASA

• Kevin Sullivan, subsecretario adjunto del Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos

• Andrés Augusto Durán Hareau, embajador de Uruguay en Estados Unidos

• Heide Fulton, embajadora de Estados Unidos en Uruguay

“La NASA da la bienvenida a Uruguay como el miembro más reciente de la familia de los Acuerdos de Artemis”, dijo Nelson. “Estados Unidos y Uruguay comparten un compromiso con la democracia y la paz y, ahora, extendimos estos principios hacia el cosmos para comprometernos con la exploración del espacio de forma segura y transparente”.

Los Acuerdos de Artemis fueron establecidos en 2020 por Estados Unidos junto con otros siete países fundadores. Desde entonces, los signatarios de estos acuerdos han mantenido debates centrados en la mejor manera de poner en práctica los principios de los Acuerdos de Artemis.

“Nos sentimos honrados de tener la oportunidad de presentar la cooperación espacial como un nuevo capítulo en la sólida agenda bilateral entre Uruguay y Estados Unidos”, dijo Paganini. “Estamos seguros de que esta ceremonia de firma no es un fin en sí misma, sino el comienzo de una nueva vía bilateral basada en actividades intensivas en conocimiento y de nuevas oportunidades para nuestro pueblo”.

Los Acuerdos de Artemis fortalecen e implementan obligaciones clave del Tratado sobre el Espacio Ultraterrestre de 1967. También fortalecen el compromiso de Estados Unidos y las naciones signatarias con el Convenio de Registro y el Acuerdo de Rescate y Devolución, así como las mejores prácticas que tienen el respaldo de la NASA y sus socios, incluyendo la divulgación pública de datos científicos

Se espera que en los próximos meses y años más países firmen estos acuerdos, los cuales fomentan actividades seguras, pacíficas y prósperas en el espacio. Aprende más acerca de los Acuerdos de Artemis en el siguiente sitio web en inglés:


Faith McKie / Roxana Bardan
Sede, Washington
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María José Viñas
Sede, Washington

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Martians Wanted: NASA Opens Call for Simulated Yearlong Mars Mission

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 10:44am
The CHAPEA mission 1 crew (from left: Nathan Jones, Ross Brockwell, Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu) exit a prototype of a pressurized rover and make their way to the CHAPEA facility ahead of their entry into the habitat on June 25, 2023. Credit: NASA/Josh Valcarcel

NASA is seeking applicants to participate in its next simulated one-year Mars surface mission to help inform the agency’s plans for human exploration of the Red Planet. The second of three planned ground-based missions called CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) is scheduled to kick off in spring 2025.

Each CHAPEA mission involves a four-person volunteer crew living and working inside a 1,700-square-foot, 3D-printed habitat based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The habitat, called the Mars Dune Alpha, simulates the challenges of a mission on Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failures, communication delays, and other environmental stressors. Crew tasks include simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, exercise, and crop growth.

NASA is looking for healthy, motivated U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are non-smokers, 30-55 years old, and proficient in English for effective communication between crewmates and mission control. Applicants should have a strong desire for unique, rewarding adventures and interest in contributing to NASA’s work to prepare for the first human journey to Mars.

The deadline for applicants is Tuesday, April 2.

Crew selection will follow additional standard NASA criteria for astronaut candidate applicants. A master’s degree in a STEM field such as engineering, mathematics, or biological, physical or computer science from an accredited institution with at least two years of professional STEM experience or a minimum of one thousand hours piloting an aircraft is required. Candidates who have completed two years of work toward a doctoral program in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, completed a medical degree, or a test pilot program will also be considered. With four years of professional experience, applicants who have completed military officer training or a bachelor of science degree in a STEM field may be considered.

Compensation for participating in the mission is available. More information will be provided during the candidate screening process.

As NASA works to establish a long-term presence for scientific discovery and exploration on the Moon through the Artemis campaign, CHAPEA missions provide important scientific data to validate systems and develop solutions for future missions to the Red Planet. With the first CHAPEA crew more than halfway through their yearlong mission, NASA is using research gained through the simulated missions to help inform crew health and performance support during Mars expeditions.

Under NASA’s Artemis campaign, the agency will establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon, land the first woman, first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the lunar surface, and prepare for human expeditions to Mars for the benefit of all.

For more about CHAPEA, visit:


Rachel Kraft
Headquarters, Washington

Anna Schneider/Laura Sorto
Johnson Space Center, Houston

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NASA Goddard’s Beginnings in Project Vanguard

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 10:00am

3 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

In the dawn of the Space Age, a group of scientists and engineers from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) had their eye on a new frontier: the uncharted expanse of space. Project Vanguard, initiated in 1955, aimed to launch the first American satellite into Earth orbit as part of the International Geophysical Year (July 1957 to December 1958). Led by NRL, it envisioned a three-stage rocket design and emphasized scientific instrumentation over military application while showcasing American ingenuity. Despite its ambitious goals, Project Vanguard encountered difficulties. The first five Vanguard launch attempts suffered critical failures, earning it the nickname “Flopnik” in the press. The public, eager for American success in space following the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1, was disappointed in Vanguard’s performance. However, Vanguard’s legacy extends beyond its initial setbacks. On March 17, 1958, Vanguard TV-4, also known as Vanguard I, achieved orbit to become America’s second satellite and the world’s fourth artificial satellite in space. This success marked a major milestone and instilled renewed confidence in the project. Today, Vanguard I remains in space as the oldest satellite orbiting the Earth.

The Vanguard II satellite is prepared for launch on the Vanguard SLV-4 rocket in early 1959. NASA Goddard Archives The sphere-shaped Vanguard II satellite reflects the scene in this 1959 photo from the preparations for its launch.NASA Goddard Archives

A few months after the launch of Vanguard I in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and on May 1, 1959, NASA Administrator Dr. T. Keith Glennan announced that the Beltsville Space Center would become Goddard Space Flight Center. The center would be under the overall guidance of Dr. Abe Silverstein, then Director of Space Flight Development at NASA Headquarters.

Recognizing the expertise and dedication of the NRL team, NASA transferred many employees from Project Vanguard to form the nucleus of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The migration of NRL scientists and engineers to Goddard wasn’t merely a paperwork shuffle, it was the transfer of their vital knowledge and experience.

Their impact was immediate. While initially tasked with completing Vanguard’s mission, the Goddard center quickly expanded its scope, encompassing Earth science, astrophysics, and space exploration. Early Goddard employees formed the core of several projects, including the Explorer series of satellites and the Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS) Program. They tackled the challenges of satellite communication, laying the groundwork for technologies that would be used for years.

Goddard’s dedication ceremony took place on March 16, 1961, but its employees were hard at work well before that day. According to one employee’s account, the Applied Mathematics Branch moved from an office in Anacostia to the Greenbelt site on May 9, 1960. Other employees from a Massachusetts Avenue office building in Washington, DC, arrived around the same time. Those early days at Goddard were not easy. Parking lots had not been paved and signs at the center directed employees to park their cars under a large grove of oak trees. Some buildings did not yet have running water and portable toilets were available outside.

The parking area outside Building 1 at Goddard Space Flight Center circa 1960 left room for improvement. NASA Goddard Archives Portable toilets were also parked outside Building 1 circa 1960 when running water at the site was still unavailable.NASA Goddard Archives

In celebration of Vanguard II’s sixtieth anniversary in 2019, the Goddard Archives installed newly preserved flight spares of Vanguard II and Vanguard III. Vanguard II hangs in the atrium of Building 33 and Vanguard III hangs in the visitor’s center. The Goddard Archives also hosted an event to highlight Goddard’s roots in Project Vanguard. In attendance were NRL historian Angelina Callahan, who gave a short talk about NRL and Project Vanguard, and five employees who worked at Goddard when it was first established. The legacy of the early work at NASA Goddard endures, not just in its scientific achievements, but also in its inspiring work exploring the frontiers of our universe.

Five of the original employees at Goddard Space Flight Center participated in a celebration of Vanguard II’s sixtieth anniversary in 2019. From left to right they are Andy Anderson, Ed Habib, Bill Hocking, Ron Muller, and Pete Serbu.NASA/GSFC Read Vanguard: A History (SP-4202) More History of Goddard Space Flight Center About the AuthorChristine StevensNASA Chief Archivist

Share Details Last Updated Feb 15, 2024 LocationGoddard Space Flight Center Related Terms Explore More 2 min read Launch of TIROS 1, World’s 1st Weather Satellite — This Week in Goddard History: March 31–April 6 Article 5 years ago 2 min read 60 Years Ago: Vanguard Fails to Reach Orbit Article 6 years ago 6 min read 65 Years Ago: Sputnik Ushers in the Space Age Article 1 year ago Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA

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Atmospheric Science Branch Chief Dr. Charles Gatebe

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 9:59am

“I was born and raised in Kenya and come from a very humble background. I’m one of nine kids and the third born, meaning that I started responsibilities very early because we had to help our mother. Almost every two to three years, she had a baby, so you can imagine she was a very, very strong woman and powerful, too. When I think about that past, she is the person, and my father as well, who taught us that we can overcome any obstacle. It doesn’t matter what it is.

“I remember going to school without fees, and they would send me home. One time, when I was complaining about being sent home because of my lack of school fees, [my mother] could see I was affected by all this. She told me, ‘Those kids you see out there that look like they come from higher, well-off families came to this world the same way you came. So, you are no different than them. Don’t look at the material wealth and think you are less than them.’ 

“That’s the background that shaped me. It instilled a sense of believing in yourself. Anyone you see on the streets, their color or background doesn’t matter; we all come into this world the same way. You’re equipped with skills, so find your passion and go for it. 

“When I look at that background, it’s the one that has helped me come this far.”

– Dr. Charles Gatebe, Chief of Atmospheric Science Branch, NASA’s Ames Research Center

Image Credit: NASA / Brandon Torres
Interviewer: NASA / Tahira Allen

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NASA Welcomes Uruguay Foreign Minister for Artemis Accords Signing

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 6:02pm
From left to right, Uruguayan Ambassador to the United States Andrés Augusto Durán Hareau, U.S. Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary Kevin Sullivan, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and Uruguayan Foreign Minister Omar Paganini pose for a photo during an Artemis Accords signing ceremony, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington. Uruguay is the 36th country to sign the Artemis Accords, which establish a practical set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in NASA’s Artemis program. Credits: NASA/Keegan Barber

During a ceremony at NASA Headquarters in Washington Thursday, Uruguay became the 36th country to sign the Artemis Accords. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson participated in the signing ceremony for the agency, and Omar Paganini, foreign minister, signed the Artemis Accords on behalf of Uruguay.

The accords establish a practical set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations.

Also participating in the event were:

  • NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy
  • Karen Feldstein, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations
  • Kevin Sullivan, U.S. Department of State deputy assistant secretary
  • Andrés Augusto Durán Hareau, Uruguayan ambassador to the U.S.
  • Heide Fulton, U.S. ambassador to Uruguay

“NASA welcomes Uruguay as the newest member of the Artemis Accords family,” said Nelson. “The United States and Uruguay share a commitment to democracy and peace, and now, we expand these principles in the cosmos to commit to the safe and transparent exploration of space.”

The Artemis Accords were established in 2020 by the United States together with seven other original signatories. Since then, the Accords signatories have held focused discussions on how best to implement the Artemis Accords principles.

“We are honored to have the opportunity to introduce space cooperation as a new chapter in the robust bilateral agenda between Uruguay and the U.S.,” said Paganini. “We are sure that this signing ceremony is not an end in itself, but the beginning of a new bilateral track based on knowledge-intensive activities and new opportunities for our people.”

The Artemis Accords reinforce and implement key obligations in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. They also strengthen the commitment by the United States and signatory nations to the Registration Convention, the Rescue and Return Agreement, as well as best practices NASA and its partners support, including the public release of scientific data.

More countries are expected to sign the accords in the months and years ahead, which are advancing safe, peaceful, and prosperous activities in space. Learn more about the Artemis Accords at:


Faith McKie / Roxana Bardan
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1600 /

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Intuitive Machines Launches to the Moon

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 2:54pm
NASA/Kim Shiflett

At 1:05 a.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander, named Odysseus, lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative and Artemis campaign, Intuitive Machines’ first lunar mission will carry NASA science to the Moon to study plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies.

Odysseus is scheduled to land on the Moon’s South Pole region near the lunar feature known as Malapert A on Thursday, Feb. 22. This relatively flat and safe region is within the otherwise heavily cratered southern highlands on the side of the Moon visible from Earth. Landing near Malapert A will also help mission planners understand how to communicate and send data back to Earth from a location where Earth is low on the lunar horizon.

Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Categories: NASA

NASA Joins Group to Advance Wildfire Coordination, Capabilities

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 2:29pm
The Camp Fire, which erupted 90 miles (140 kilometers) north of Sacramento, California, as seen from the Landsat 8 spacecraft, which was launched by NASA and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey, and MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.

NASA is now an associate member of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, giving the agency new opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and other partners to better understand wildland fires and leverage technology and innovation to prevent and manage them for the benefit of humanity.

The interagency group provides national leadership to enable interoperable wildland fire operations among federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners. The group works to support the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy’s goals of restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes, creating fire-adapted communities, and responding to wildfires safely and effectively.

“As wildfires become larger and more frequent, NASA is working to apply our scientific and technological knowledge toward this national challenge, and integral to our approach is forging collaborative partnerships,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “Harnessing our Earth observation capabilities and cutting-edge technology in safe air operations, we are poised to make new connections that will bolster wildfire fighting efforts across the government.”

NASA’s inclusion in the coordination group is a step toward enhancing interagency collaboration. As a member, NASA will have opportunities to develop solutions with wildland fire management agencies as partners to share its research and technologies to aid in the development of standards for wildland fire management. NASA has a rich history of research, development, and technology transfer in the areas of Earth science, space technologies, and aeronautics that will support the group’s mission. 

To support the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, NASA will leverage the combined contributions of research and development, data gathering and distribution, and technology transfer from three NASA mission directorates in the areas of earth science, space technologies, and aeronautics. The interagency group membership will help augment NASA’s Wildland Fire Management Initiative, which supports the development, demonstration, and commercialization of wildland fire technology through awards to small businesses, research institutions, and other technology innovators.

“A crucial aspect of the National Wildfire Coordination Group’s role is developing standards for the wildland fire community to enable interoperability,” said Aitor Bidaburu, executive board chair for the group. “With NASA, it will significantly enhance the common operating framework for the interagency wildland fire community.”

NASA’s inclusion also directly supports recommendations the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology made in their 2023 report Modernizing Wildland Firefighting to Protect our Firefighters. Specifically, it recommends agencies:

  • Immediately assess, adapt, and field currently available technologies
  • Strengthen the full operational sequence of wildland firefighting
  • Accelerate improvement of predictive wildfire modeling tools
  • Encourage development and field demonstration of prototype systems to expand the nation’s wildfire response capacity

Primary members of the coordination group include the Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Association of State Foresters, U.S. Fire Administration, Intertribal Timber Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Defense Department. Associate members include the Commerce Department’s National Weather Service, and the Department of the Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire.


Rob Margetta
Headquarters, Washington

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ROSES-24 is live and OTPS has funding opportunities in sustainability!

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 2:05pm

3 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater) A computer generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Credits: NASA ODPO

NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy & Strategy is soliciting research and analysis related to the social, economic and policy aspects of space sustainability. This topic area is further refined into two separate elements: orbital space sustainability and lunar surface sustainability. OTPS will provide up to $300K (orbital) and $200K (lunar surface) for between 1-3 proposals in each element. Key questions are featured below. 

Orbital Space Sustainability: Economic, Social and Policy Research and Analyses

Proposals should be responsive to one of the following questions:

  • What are current policy, regulatory or legal gaps to improve space sustainability in various orbital regimes (LEO, MEO, GEO, Cislunar, and/or Lunar) and what specific measures should be taken to address them? Proposers may address one or several orbital regimes. 
  • Considering various scenarios for the space environment in the 2040 timeframe, what policies, regulations or other support are forecasted to be needed? Research should take into consideration that potential policies for space sustainability may be incentivized or rendered unnecessary by advancements in technological capabilities and differing assumptions about the future operational environment; therefore, the research should assess the robustness of various policy proposals under realistic assumptions.
  • What are the costs to spacecraft operators from interacting with debris in GEO and Cislunar space? What are the benefits of potential risk-reducing actions?
  • How effective are various policy tools and mechanisms (for example, performance bonds, incentives to improve PMD compliance/fees for bad behavior, global minimum tax, and environmental liability insurance)? How might such interventions impact the business of satellite owners and operators or government owners and operators?
Lunar Surface Sustainability: Economic, Social and Policy Research and Analyses

The sustainable development of the lunar surface acknowledges that current operations may impact our ability to conduct future operations (indeed current operations may also impact other current operations. Whether we seek to protect critical areas for scientific investigation (e.g., Permanently Shadowed Regions), preserve lunar heritage areas (e.g., Apollo sites) or incorporate other technical, economic, or cultural considerations may all factor into our mission planning, policy and potential regulatory approaches. Analyses may help disentangle and characterize the goals of sustainability, develop frameworks for evaluating the sustainability of operations, or compare and contrast the different definitions of sustainability. Proposals should consider both human and robotic missions.

All proposals must be submitted to one of the ROSES calls (F.21 or F.17) by May 17, 2024. Proposers can submit different proposals to each element. However, duplicate proposals submitted to both elements will only be considered for a single element (NASA will make most appropriate determination).

To submit proposals, visit:

Orbital Sustainability!{63F3CFBC-9BC2-7518-9DD5-D1B4887109E5}&path=open

Lunar Surface Sustainability!{48D6B21B-0171-D79D-E111-BCDFCC02E0F0}&path=open

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NASA Selects Texas A&M as First Approved Exploration Park Facility

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 1:40pm

Feb. 15, 2024

RELEASE: J24-003

NASA and the Texas A&M University System sign an agreement for a 240-acre Exploration Park on underutilized land at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. From left: Texas State Rep. Greg Bonnen, NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, and Texas A&M University President Mark Welsh III. The announcement of the new lease agreement will allow the A&M System and others to use NASA Johnson land to create facilities for a collaborative environment that increases commercial access and enhances the United States’ commercial competitiveness in the space and aerospace industries. The announcement took place at the AIAA-hosted Ascend Texas (ASCENDxTexas) Conference at South Shore Harbour Conference Center.

NASA Selects Texas A&M as First Approved Exploration Park Facility

NASA and the Texas A&M University System announced an agreement Thursday, Feb. 15, to lease underutilized land in Exploration Park, a 240-acre development at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The A&M System will develop a facility to enable human spaceflight research and development that enables the commercial space economy.   

The lease agreement will allow the A&M System and others to use NASA Johnson land to create facilities for a collaborative development environment that increases commercial access and enhances the United States’ commercial competitiveness in the space and aerospace industries. 

NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, and Texas A&M University President Mark Welsh III announced the new collaboration at the AIAA-hosted Ascend Texas (ASCENDxTexas) Conference at South Shore Harbour Conference Center.

“For more than 60 years, NASA Johnson has been the hub of human spaceflight,” Wyche said. “Exploration Park will be the next spoke in the larger wheel of a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only exploration of the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth.”

As the home of Mission Control Center for the agency’s human space missions, astronaut training, human health and space medicine, and leadership of premiere human spaceflight programs and missions, NASA Johnson leads the way for human space exploration. Leveraging this unique role and location, Exploration Park will play a key role in helping the human spaceflight community attain U.S. goals for the commercialization and development of a robust space economy by creating an infrastructure that fosters a multi-use environment where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate with NASA and solve space exploration’s greatest challenges.

“The Texas A&M University System has a long history of supporting space-related research, and Texas A&M University has been a space grant university since 1989,” Sharp said. “This new agreement and planned facility will allow us to build on our space tradition and help us to be a major part of the commercial space economy.” NASA issued an announcement for proposals for use of the undeveloped and underutilized land near Saturn Lane on June 9, 2023, and has just completed negotiations with the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents to formalize the lease agreement. The parcel is outside of Johnson’s controlled access area and adjacent to its main campus. NASA will lease the land to the A&M System for an initial period of 20 years, with two additional 20-year options, for a potential total of 60 years.

“For the last 35 years, Texas A&M University has honored its space-grant mission by becoming a powerhouse in human and robotic space exploration,” Welsh said. “This agreement enables us to leverage faculty expertise, establish strategic partnerships and develop resources to foster new discoveries, technological innovations and a future workforce that will benefit Texas and the nation. We are grateful to NASA, the Board of Regents and the State of Texas for their vision and support of Texas A&M’s work in space exploration.”

In the coming years, NASA and its academic, commercial, and international partners will see the completion of the International Space Station Program, the commercial development of low Earth orbit, and the first human Artemis campaign missions establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars.

Johnson already is leading the commercialization of space with the commercial cargo and crew programs and private astronaut missions to the space station. The center also is supporting the development of commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, and lunar-capable commercial spacesuits and lunar landers that will be provided as services to both NASA and the private sector to accelerate human access to space. Through the development of Exploration Park, the center will broaden the scope of the human spaceflight community that is tackling the many difficult challenges ahead.


Kelly Humphries

Johnson Space Center, Houston

Categories: NASA

NASA Experiment Sheds Light on Highly Charged Moon Dust

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 10:00am
The New Shepard crew capsule descends under parachutes during its launch Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.Photo Credit: Blue Origin

Researchers are studying data from a recent suborbital flight test to better understand lunar regolith, or Moon dust, and its potentially damaging effects as NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the lunar surface under the Artemis campaign. The experiment, developed jointly by NASA and the University of Central Florida, sheds light on how these abrasive dust grains interact with astronauts, their spacesuits, and other equipment on the Moon. 

The Electrostatic Regolith Interaction Experiment (ERIE) was one of 14 NASA-supported payloads launched on Dec. 19 aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard uncrewed rocket from Launch Site One in West Texas. During the flight test, ERIE collected data to help researchers at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida study tribocharging, or friction-induced charges, in microgravity.  

The Moon is highly charged by phenomena such as solar wind and ultraviolet light from the Sun. Under those conditions, regolith grains are attracted to lunar explorers and their equipment – think of it as similar to the static created by rubbing a balloon on a person’s head. Enough regolith can cause instruments to overheat or not function as intended.  

“For example, if you get dust on an astronaut suit and bring it back into the habitat, that dust could unstick and fly around the cabin,” said Krystal Acosta, a researcher for NASA’s triboelectric sensor board component inside the ERIE payload. “One of the major problems is that there’s no way to electrically ground anything on the Moon. So even a lander, rover, or really any object on the Moon will have polarity to it. There’s no good solution to the dust charging problem right now.” 

A Kennedy team designed and built the triboelectric sensor board inside the ERIE payload, which reached an altitude of 351,248 feet aboard New Shepard. In the microgravity phase of this flight, dust grains simulating regolith particles brushed up against eight insulators within ERIE, creating a tribocharge. The electrometer measured the negative and positive charge of the simulated regolith as it traveled through an electric field applied during microgravity. 

“We want to know what causes the dust to charge, how it moves around, and where it ultimately settles. The dust has rough edges that can scratch surfaces and block thermal radiators,” said Jay Phillips, lead of Electrostatics Environments and Spacecraft Charging at NASA Kennedy. 

University of Central Florida (UCF) and NASA physicists who worked on the ERIE payload pose with Blue Origin booster after launch Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. From left to right, Addie Dove, UCF PI for ERIE, Krystal Acosta, NASA researcher, and Jay Phillips, NASA researcher.

The ERIE payload spent approximately three minutes in microgravity during the New Shepard capsule’s suborbital flight, which lasted about 10 minutes before landing safely back on Earth in the Texas desert. A camera recorded the interactions, and Philips and his team are reviewing the data.  

The results will inform applications for future missions destined for the lunar surface. For example, by using triboelectric sensors on a rover’s wheels, astronauts can measure the positive and negative charges between the vehicle and regolith on the lunar surface. The end goal is to develop technologies that will help keep it from sticking to and damaging astronaut suits and electronics during missions. 

The flight was supported by the Flight Opportunities program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which rapidly demonstrates space technologies with industry flight providers. 

Categories: NASA

NASA Artemis Science, First Intuitive Machines Flight Head to Moon

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 9:24am
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:05 a.m. EST on Feb. 15, 2024. As part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative and Artemis campaign, Intuitive Machines’ first lunar mission will carry NASA science and commercial payloads to the Moon to study plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies.

A suite of NASA science instruments and technology demonstrations is on the way to our nearest celestial neighbor for the benefit of humanity. Through this flight to the Moon, they will provide insights into the lunar surface environment and test technologies for future landers and Artemis astronauts.

At 1:05 a.m. EST on Thursday, Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At approximately 1:53 a.m., the lander deployed from the Falcon 9 second stage. Teams confirmed it made communications contact with the company’s mission operations center in Houston. The spacecraft is stable and receiving solar power.

These deliveries are part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative and Artemis campaign, which includes new solar system science to better understand planetary processes and evolution, search for evidence of water and other resources, and support long-term human exploration.

“NASA scientific instruments are on their way to the Moon – a giant leap for humanity as we prepare to return to the lunar surface for the first time in more than half a century,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “These daring Moon deliveries will not only conduct new science at the Moon, but they are supporting a growing commercial space economy while showing the strength of American technology and innovation. We have so much to learn through CLPS flights that will help us shape the future of human exploration for the Artemis Generation.” 

While enroute to the Moon, NASA instruments will measure the quantity of cryogenic engine fuel as it is used, and during descent toward the lunar surface, they will collect data on plume-surface interactions and test precision landing technologies.

Once on the Moon, NASA instruments will focus on investigating space weather/lunar surface interactions and radio astronomy. The Nova-C lander also will carry retroreflectors contributing to a network of location markers on the Moon for communication and navigation for future autonomous navigation technologies.

NASA science aboard the lander includes:

  • Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator: A small, CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation that could be used by future landers, surface infrastructure, and astronauts, digitally confirming their positions on the Moon relative to other spacecraft, ground stations, or rovers on the move.
  • Laser Retroreflector Array: A collection of eight retroreflectors that enable precision laser ranging, which is a measurement of the distance between the orbiting or landing spacecraft to the reflector on the lander. The array is a passive optical instrument and will function as a permanent location marker on the Moon for decades to come.   
  • Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing: A Lidar-based (Light Detection and Ranging) guidance system for descent and landing. This instrument operates on the same principles of radar but uses pulses from a laser emitted through three optical telescopes. It will measure speed, direction, and altitude with high precision during descent and touchdown.   
  • Radio Frequency Mass Gauge: A technology demonstration that measures the amount of propellant in spacecraft tanks in a low-gravity space environment. Using sensor technology, the gauge will measure the amount of cryogenic propellant in Nova-C’s fuel and oxidizer tanks, providing data that could help predict fuel usage on future missions.   
  • Radio-wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the Photoelectron Sheath: The instrument will observe the Moon’s surface environment in radio frequencies, to determine how natural and human-generated activity near the surface interacts with and could interfere with science conducted there.
  • Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies: A suite of four tiny cameras to capture imagery showing how the Moon’s surface changes from interactions with the spacecraft’s engine plume during and after descent.

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C-class lunar lander, named Odysseus, is scheduled to land on the Moon’s South Pole region near the lunar feature known as Malapert A on Thursday, Feb. 22. This relatively flat and safe region is within the otherwise heavily cratered southern highlands on the side of the Moon visible from Earth. Landing near Malapert A will also help mission planners understand how to communicate and send data back to Earth from a location where Earth is low on the lunar horizon.

The NASA science aboard will spend approximately seven days gathering valuable scientific data about Earth’s nearest neighbor, helping pave the way for the first woman and first person of color to explore the Moon under Artemis.

Learn more about NASA’s CLPS initiative at:


Karen Fox / Alise Fisher
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1600 / 202-358-2546 /  

Nilufar Ramji
Johnson Space Center, Houston

Antonia Jaramillo
Kennedy Space Center, Florida

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Spot the King of Planets: Observe Jupiter

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 6:00am
4 Min Read Spot the King of Planets: Observe Jupiter

NASA’s Juno spacecraft

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran

Jupiter is our solar system’s undisputed king of the planets! Jupiter is bright and easy to spot from our vantage point on Earth, helped by its massive size and banded, reflective cloud tops. Jupiter even possesses moons the size of planets: Ganymede, its largest, is bigger than the planet Mercury. What’s more, you can easily observe Jupiter and its moons with a modest instrument, just like Galileo did over 400 years ago.

Jupiter’s position as our solar system’s largest planet is truly earned; you could fit 11 Earths along Jupiter’s diameter, and in case you were looking to fill up Jupiter with some Earth-size marbles, you would need over 1300 Earths to fill it up – and that would still not be quite enough! However, despite its awesome size, Jupiter’s true rule over the outer solar system comes from its enormous mass. If you took all the planets in our solar system and put them together, they would still only be half as massive as Jupiter all by itself. Jupiter’s mighty mass has shaped the orbits of countless comets and asteroids. Its gravity can fling these tiny objects towards our inner solar system and also draw them into itself, as famously observed in 1994 when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, drawn towards Jupiter in previous orbits, smashed into the gas giant’s atmosphere. Its multiple fragments slammed into Jupiter’s cloud tops with such violence that the fireballs and dark impact spots were not only seen by NASA’s orbiting Galileo probe, but also observers back on Earth! 

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is close to the size of Earth. Credit: NASA

Jupiter is easy to observe at night with our unaided eyes, as well-documented by the ancient astronomers who carefully recorded its slow movements from night to night. It can be one of the brightest objects in our nighttime skies, bested only by the Moon, Venus, and occasionally Mars, when the red planet is at opposition. That’s impressive for a planet that, at its closest to Earth, is still over 365 million miles (587 million km) away. It’s even more impressive that the giant world remains very bright to Earthbound observers at its furthest distance: 600 million miles (968 million km)! While the King of Planets has a coterie of 95 known moons, only the four large moons that Galileo originally observed in 1610 – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto – can be easily observed by Earth-based observers with very modest equipment.

These are called, appropriately enough, the Galilean moons. Most telescopes will show the moons as faint star-like objects neatly lined up close to bright Jupiter. Most binoculars will show at least one or two moons orbiting the planet. Small telescopes will show all four of the Galilean moons if they are all visible, but sometimes they can pass behind or in front of Jupiter, or even each other. Telescopes will also show details like Jupiter’s cloud bands and, if powerful enough, large storms like its famous Great Red Spot, and the shadows of the Galilean moons passing between the Sun and Jupiter. Sketching the positions of Jupiter’s moons during the course of an evening – and night to night – can be a rewarding project!  You can download an activity guide from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific at

NASA’s Juno mission currently orbits Jupiter, one of just nine spacecraft to have visited this awesome world. Juno entered Jupiter’s orbit in 2016 to begin its initial mission to study this giant world’s mysterious interior. The years have proven Juno’s mission a success, with data from the probe revolutionizing our understanding of this gassy world’s guts. Juno’s mission has since been extended to include the study of its large moons, and since 2021 the plucky probe, increasingly battered by Jupiter’s powerful radiation belts, has made close flybys of the icy moons Ganymede and Europa, along with volcanic Io.

In Fall 2024 NASA will launch the Europa Clipper mission to study this world and its potential to host life inside its deep subsurface oceans in much more detail. Visit to learn about the latest discoveries from Juno and NASA’s missions involving Jupiter!

Originally posted by Dave Prosper: February 2023

Last Updated by Kat Troche: February 2024

Categories: NASA