Posts tagged LASP
CU-Boulder to receive $36 million
The University of Colorado Boulder will receive roughly $36 million from NASA to build and operate a space instrument for a mission led by the University of Central Florida that will study Earth’s upper atmosphere to learn more about the disruptive effects of space weather.
The mission, known as the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, involves imaging Earth’s upper atmosphere from a geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles above the planet. The mission is expected to have a direct impact on the understanding of space weather like geomagnetic storms that alter the temperature and composition of Earth’s atmosphere, which can disrupt communication and navigation satellites, affecting everything from automobile GPS and cell phone coverage to television programming.
The GOLD mission, which is being led by research scientist Richard Eastes of the University of Central Florida, will launch aboard a commercial communications satellite as a “hosted” payload. Such payloads, which are secondary to the satellite’s main objective, represent the most cost-effective way to reach geostationary orbit, said CU-Boulder aerospace engineer Mark Lankton of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the GOLD project manager.
“LASP is extremely pleased to be working on this mission with Richard Eastes at the University of Central Florida, who we have been collaborating with for seven years,” said Lankton. “This mission is one of the first to involve a science instrument being launched on a communication satellite, which is a terrific idea and exactly the right way to run a quality mission on a smaller budget.”
The LASP instrument, known as an imaging spectrograph, weighs roughly 60 pounds and is about 2 feet long and about 1 foot tall and 1 foot wide – roughly the size of a microwave oven. It will launch aboard a commercial satellite built by SES Government Solutions in McLean, Va. The LASP instrument will be gathering data on Earth’s upper atmosphere in the far ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“GOLD’s imaging represents a new paradigm for observing the boundary between Earth and space,” said Bill McClintock, the deputy principal investigator on the CU-Boulder spectrograph and a senior research scientist at LASP. “It will revolutionize our understanding of how the sun and the space environment affect our upper atmosphere.”
A geosynchronous orbit is an orbit that completes one revolution in the same amount of time it takes for the Earth to rotate once on its polar axis. “We will be able to view almost a complete hemisphere of the Earth, almost all the time, with this orbit,” said Lankton.
The mission scientists will be looking for the effects of space weather on the upper atmosphere — the ionosphere and thermosphere located roughly 50 miles to 350 miles above Earth – caused by the sun and Earth’s lower atmosphere, said Lankton. “The giant driver is the sun, including geomagnetic storms that can cause bright auroras and the disruption of satellite communications,” he said.
Lankton said the science team also will investigate the effects that atmospheric waves and tides from Earth’s lower atmosphere have on the thermosphere-ionosphere system. The mission will make use of other instruments gathering data on the sun, including LASP’s $42 million Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment flying on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Roughly 40 LASP researchers will be working on the GOLD mission when it is at full strength, including five to 10 students, split about evenly between undergraduates and graduates, said Lankton. Other participants in the GOLD mission include the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, the University of California, Berkeley, Computational Physics Inc. of Springfield, Va., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The GOLD mission is part of NASA’s new Heliospheric Explorer Program designed to provide space observations to study Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere. The mission is slated for launch in 2017. NASA Explorer missions of opportunity, such as GOLD, are capped at $55 million each.
by CU media relations
When a sun-gazing NASA satellite designed and built by the University of Colorado Boulder launched into space on Jan. 25, 2003, solar storms were raging.
A decade later, the four instruments onboard the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, or SORCE, have given scientists an unprecedented look at some of the most intense solar eruptions ever witnessed — including the notorious Halloween storms in October and November 2003 — as well as the anomalously quiet solar minimum that hushed the sun’s surface beginning in 2008 and, now, a new solar maximum that appears to be the least active in a century.
“We were there to see it transform from a fairly normal solar cycle to a very low-activity solar cycle,” said Tom Woods, associate director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, known as LASP, and principal investigator for SORCE. “Of course we couldn’t predict or know that, but it’s very exciting.”
The data generated by SORCE’s instruments, which were originally designed to operate for just five years, are downloaded twice a day with the help of CU-Boulder undergraduates working at LASP mission control. Scientists are now using that data to better understand how energy from the sun affects Earth’s climate. While human-produced greenhouse gases have been the dominant driver of climate change over the last several decades, the activity of the sun can either enhance or offset the resulting global warming.
“About 10 to 15 percent of the climate warming since 1970 is due to the sun,” Woods said. “That’s going to change now. Now that solar activity is low, the global warming trend could slow down some, but not nearly enough to offset the anthropogenic effects on global warming.”
The current, lackluster solar maximum is being compared to periods when astronomers observed very few sunspots in the early 19th century known as the Dalton Minimum and in the last half of the 17th century known as the Maunder Minimum. During the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with an era known as the Little Ice Age, temperatures in Europe were especially cool, with rivers and canals freezing during the winter across the continent and rapidly advancing glaciers destroying villages in the Swiss Alps.
The SORCE mission is also a critical contributor to the long-term record of total solar irradiance — the magnitude of the sun’s energy when it reaches the top of the Earth’s atmosphere — which stretches back to 1978, when the Nimbus-7 satellite was launched. The Total Irradiance Monitor, or TIM, instrument onboard SORCE is taking the most accurate and most precise measurements of total solar irradiance ever collected.
“The total solar irradiance provides nearly all the energy powering the Earth’s climate system, exceeding all other energy sources combined by 2,500 times,” said Greg Kopp, LASP senior research scientist and co-investigator responsible for the TIM instrument. “Any change in total irradiance can thus have large effects on our climate.”
Data from the SORCE mission have also begun a new record for measurements of visible and near-infrared light emitted from the sun. The solar spectral irradiance measurements are being made for the first time by the Spectral Irradiance Monitor, or SIM. Combined with other instruments onboard SORCE, scientists can now see all the wavelengths, including those in the ultraviolet range, emitted by the sun at once. This new way of seeing the sun has led to interesting discoveries, including that the energy emitted in some wavelengths of light vary out of phase with the sun’s overall activity, actually increasing as the number of sunspots decreases.
Now that SORCE has doubled its original life expectancy, LASP scientists are building new instruments to take over when SORCE gives out. A new TIM built at LASP launched on NASA’s Glory mission in 2011, but the satellite failed to make orbit. After the loss of Glory, CU-Boulder scientists, determined to avoid a gap in the record of total solar irradiance measurements, came up with a creative solution, repurposing a ground-based TIM to quickly make it space-worthy and then integrating it onto a U.S. Air Force satellite built by Ball Aerospace that is set to launch in August of this year.
“It’s important to have continuous measurements of solar irradiance since we’re looking for small changes in the sun’s output over decades and even centuries,” said Kopp. “Detecting such small changes using measurements disconnected in time would make this even more difficult.”
A new SIM instrument, also built at LASP, is scheduled to launch in 2016 on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite. But while SORCE is expected to continue functioning for at least another year, allowing for overlapping measurements with the TIM instrument launching in August, it’s uncertain if SORCE’s SIM instrument will still be running when its successor makes it to space in 2016.
“We’re definitely hoping and planning that SORCE lasts through this year,” Woods said. “But 2016 — I don’t think SORCE’s battery is going to last that long.”
During SORCE’s 10-year foray in space, the satellite also witnessed two rare transits of the planet Venus in front of the sun and another two less-infrequent transits by Mercury. When Venus, the larger of the two planets and the closer to Earth, blocked out part of the sun’s light, SORCE’s TIM instrument measured a corresponding drop in the amount of total solar irradiance. The measurements are now useful reference tools for astronomers hoping to discover planets around other stars by measuring a dip in a star’s light from a planetary transit.
In all, CU-Boulder has received about $120 million from NASA for the construction and operation of SORCE. But in 2008, LASP took the unusual step of returning $3 million in cost savings from the SORCE mission to NASA that resulted from the program’s efficient operations.
Researchers at LASP are planning to celebrate SORCE’s 10th birthday with cake, a science seminar and a write-up of the satellite’s top-10 accomplishments in NASA’s The Earth Observer magazine.
But while the decade mark is typically an important milestone for celebration here on Earth, the more appropriate milestone for SORCE may come in 2014 at the 11-year mark, the average length of a complete solar cycle
“Eleven years is special to us,” Woods said. “Instead of having a big science conference this year, we’re planning it for next January.”
For more information, visit LASP’s SORCE website at http://lasp.colorado.edu/sorce/index.htm.
A video of CU-Boulder researchers discussing the SORCE mission is available at http://www.colorado.edu/news/multimedia/cu-boulders-sun-gazing-satellite-turns-10-0.
A $20 million remote sensing instrument package built by the University of Colorado Boulder, which is leading a 2013 NASA mission to understand how Mars might have lost its atmosphere, has been delivered to Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colo., for spacecraft integration.
The remote sensing package designed and built by CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics consists of the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph, or IUVS, as well as its electronic control box, the Remote Sensing Data Processing Unit, or RSDPU, both under contract to NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Known as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, the $670 million NASA mission set for launch in November 2013 is being led by CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky. The mission is designed to explore and understand how the loss of atmospheric gas has changed the climate of Mars over the eons, said Jakosky, also associate director of LASP.
“With the delivery of this package, we are shifting from assembling the basic spacecraft to focusing on getting the science instruments onto the spacecraft,” said Jakosky, also a professor in the geological sciences department. “This is a major step toward getting us to launch and then getting the science return from the mission.”
According to David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager from NASA Goddard, “The remote sensing package team built a system that meets all technical requirements and delivered it on schedule and on budget. I look forward to the instrument’s next level of integration onto the spacecraft and ultimately the science it will provide.”
The IUVS collects UV light and spreads it out on a spectra that is recorded using imaging detectors, said Mitchell. As the “brains” of the instrument package, RSDPU receives and executes commands telling the IUVS when and where to point.
“As the ‘eyes’ of the remote sensing package, the IUVS allows us to study Mars and its atmosphere at a distance by looking at the light it emits,” said Nick Schneider, a LASP research associate and lead IUVS scientist for MAVEN. “Ultraviolet light is especially diagnostic of the state of the atmosphere, so our instrument provides the global context of the whole atmosphere for the local measurements made by the rest of the payload,” said Schneider, also a faculty member in the APS department.
The CU-Boulder remote sensing package will be turned on for its initial checkout 21 days after launch, said NASA officials. Later, in the “cruise phase” of the mission from Earth to Mars, the package will be powered on twice more for “state-of-health checks” and in-flight calibration.
MAVEN will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian atmosphere, with a goal of determining the history of the loss of atmospheric gases to space through time, providing answers about Mars climate evolution. By measuring the current rate of gas escaping to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes, scientists should be able to infer how the planet’s atmosphere evolved over time.
The MAVEN spacecraft will carry two other instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California Berkeley Space Science Laboratory with support from LASP and NASA Goddard, contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, provided by NASA Goddard, will measure the composition and isotopes of neutral ions.
“Three of the big milestones in an instrument builder’s life are the day you get selected to fly on a mission, the day you deliver the instrument to the spacecraft to get ready for launch, and the day that it gets where it’s going and data starts flowing back from space,” said Mark Lankton, the remote sensing package program manager at LASP. “The remote sensing team is really happy to have gotten to the second milestone, and we can hardly wait to reach the third.”
CU-Boulder also will provide science operations and lead the education and public outreach efforts. NASA Goddard manages the project and is building two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin is building the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, the Deep Space Network, the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.
“Our CU-Boulder IUVS instrument will be the most capable ultraviolet spectrometer ever sent to another planet,” said LASP instrument scientist William McClintock. “Data from the IUVS will help planetary scientists rewrite the textbooks about the upper atmosphere of Mars, and we are fortunate to have a top-flight engineering team here at LASP that allowed us to design and develop such a sophisticated instrument.”
Clues on the Martian surface, including features resembling dry lakes and riverbeds as well as minerals that form only in the presence of water, suggest that Mars once had a denser atmosphere that supported liquid water on the surface, Jakosky said. CU-Boulder’s participation in Mars exploration missions goes back to 1969 when NASA’s Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 missions launched.
MAVEN is slated to slide into orbit around Mars in September 2014, and, after a one-month checkout period, will make measurements from orbit for one Earth year. The MAVEN science team includes three LASP scientists from CU-Boulder heading instrument teams — Schneider, Frank Eparvier and Robert Ergun — as well as a large supporting team of scientists, engineers and mission operations specialists.
MAVEN also will include participation by a number of CU-Boulder graduate and undergraduate students in the coming years. Currently there are more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students working on research projects at LASP, which provides hands-on training for future careers as engineers and scientists, said Jakosky.
A University of Colorado Boulder-led mission to explore and understand how the loss of atmospheric gas has changed the climate of Mars over the eons has been authorized by NASA to proceed to system delivery, spacecraft integration, testing and launch, which is slated for November 2013.
The mission, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere And Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, passed the critical agency milestone known as Key Decision Point-D, or KDP-D on Monday, said NASA officials. The key decision meeting moving MAVEN forward was held at NASA Headquarters in Washington and was chaired by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“The spacecraft and instruments are all coming together at this point,” said CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, the MAVEN principal investigator and associate director for science at the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP. “Although we’re focused on getting everything ready for launch right now, we aren’t losing sight of our ultimate objective — getting to Mars and making the science measurements.”
NASA’s $670 million MAVEN mission will be the first devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Clues on the Martian surface, including features resembling dry lakes and riverbeds as well as minerals that form only in the presence of water, suggest that Mars once had a denser atmosphere that supported liquid water on the surface, Jakosky said.
“I’m incredibly proud of how this team continues to meet every major milestone on schedule on its journey to Mars,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Being ready for the start of system level integration and test is critically important to ultimately being ready for launch on November 18, 2013.”
KDP-D occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews that cover not only technical health of the project but also programmatic health, including schedule and cost. KDP-D represents the official transition from the Phase C development stage to Phase D in the mission life cycle. During Phase D, the spacecraft bus is completed, the science instruments are integrated into the spacecraft, spacecraft testing occurs and the MAVEN mission launches late in 2013.
The huge amount of public interest in NASA’s Curiosity Rover, which landed on Mars Aug. 6 and is currently being driven remotely around the planet, is no surprise to Jakosky. “Mars has a lot of similarities to Earth,” he said. “It’s the closest planet, it has similar day lengths, and it has an atmosphere, weather and geologic processes similar to those on our own planet.
“But the real kicker is the potential for life,” said Jakosky, who also directs the Center for Astrobiology at the University of Colorado. “Because of that, I think Mars has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of the public.”
Jakosky, also a professor in CU-Boulder’s geological sciences department, cautioned that there is much more work to be done before launch. “This decision by NASA marks the start of integration of all of the instruments on the spacecraft. It’s cool to see the spacecraft coming together, but there is a lot of work still to go and a lot of challenges to solve between now and when the spacecraft is ready for launch.”
The next major review for the MAVEN team is the Mission Operations Review in November 2012. This review assesses the project’s operational readiness and its progress towards launch. The project will continue to work with partners to deliver all instruments in the next four months.
“CU-Boulder’s participation in Mars exploration missions goes back decades, beginning with NASA’s Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 missions launched in 1969,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Stein Sture. “LASP is a proven training ground for students seeking hands-on experience in building, testing and flying space hardware and is the only institute in the world to have designed and built instruments that have been launched to every planet in the solar system.”
The MAVEN spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California at Berkeley with some instrument elements from CU’s LASP and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet.
The Remote Sensing Package built by LASP will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, while The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, provided by NASA Goddard, will measure the composition and isotopes of neutrals and ions.
MAVEN will launch during a 20-day period in November-December 2013. It will go into orbit around Mars in September 2014, and, after a one-month checkout period, will make measurements from orbit for one Earth year.
In addition to leading the mission and providing instrumentation, CU-Boulder will provide science operations and direct education and public outreach efforts. NASA’s Goddard manages the project. Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colo., is building the spacecraft and will perform mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena provides program management via the Mars Program Office, as well as navigation support, the Deep Space Network and the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.
The MAVEN science team includes three LASP scientists from CU-Boulder heading instrument teams — Nick Schneider, Frank Eparvier and Robert Ergun — as well as a large supporting team of scientists, engineers and mission operations specialists.
MAVEN will include participation by a number of CU-Boulder graduate and undergraduate students in the coming years. Currently there are more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students working on research projects at LASP, which provides hands-on training for future careers as engineers and scientists, said Jakosky.
Dec. 13, 2011
AS VOYAGER 1 NEARS EDGE OF SOLAR
SYSTEM, CU SCIENTISTS LOOK BACK
In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, Elvis died, Virginia park ranger Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning a record seventh time and two NASA space probes destined to turn planetary science on its head launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The identical spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched in the summer and programmed to pass by Jupiter and Saturn on different paths. Voyager 2 went on to visit Uranus and Neptune, completing the “Grand Tour of the Solar System,” perhaps the most exciting interplanetary mission ever flown. University of Colorado Boulder scientists, who designed and built identical instruments for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were as stunned as anyone when the spacecraft began sending back data to Earth.
The discoveries by Voyager started piling up: Twenty-three new planetary moons at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon, Io; Jupiter’s ring system; organic smog shrouding Saturn’s moon, Titan; the braided, intertwined structure of Saturn’s rings; the solar system’s fastest winds (on Neptune, about 1,200 miles per hour); and nitrogen geysers spewing from Neptune’s moon, Triton.
Amazingly, both spacecraft have kept on chugging (if one can call 35,000 miles per hour chugging). NASA announced last week that Voyager 1 — about 11 billion miles from Earth — has now sailed to the edge of the solar system and is expected to punch its way into interstellar space in a time span ranging from a few months to a few years. Voyager 2 is not far behind, but on a different trajectory. -
Charlie Hord, a former planetary scientist at CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, remembers the salad days of the Voyager program, which was managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Hord, the principal investigator for a time on the LASP instrument known as a photopolarimeter built for Voyager, still shakes his head in wonder as he recalls some of the discoveries.
“All of the scientists were dazzled by the pictures of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn coming back,” recalled Hord, 74, who still lives in Boulder. “To finally look at them up close was the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Since the early Voyager days were pre-Internet, “We used to send people over to the JPL newsroom to steal press kits so we could look at the pictures taken by the imaging team,” he laughs.
The LASP photopolarimeter, a small telescope that measured the intensity and polarization of light at different wavelengths, was used for a variety of observations during the mission. The instrument helped scientists distinguish between rock, dust, frost, ice and meteor material. And it helped scientists determine the structure of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which Hord called “a giant hurricane that has blown for 200 years,” as well as the properties of the clouds and atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn Uranus and Neptune, and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
The CU-Boulder instrument also was used to learn more about the makeup of the Io torus, a doughnut-shaped ring around Jupiter formed by volcanic eruptions from its moon, Io, as well as determining the distribution of ring material orbiting Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and the surface compositions of the outer planet moons.
One of the finest mission moments for Hord was analyzing the data returned from the photopolarimeter when it was locked on the star Delta Scorpii as it emerged from behind Saturn and passed behind the elegant rings in a “stellar occultation” when the light from a star is blocked by an intervening object. The processed photopolarimeter data showed each ring was made up of numerous smaller ringlets. “They were beautiful – they looked just like the grooves on a phonograph record,” he said.
On the off chance either spacecraft is encountered by an alien civilization, each are carrying what are known as “Golden Records” — gold-plated copper, audiovisual phonograph records with greetings in 54 languages, photos of people and places on Earth, the sounds of surf, wind, thunder, birds and whales, diagrams of DNA and snippets of music ranging from Bach and Beethoven to guitarist Chuck Berry’s classic rock-and-roll song, Johnny B. Goode. The spacecraft even carries a stylus set up in the correct position so that aliens could immediately play the record, named “Murmurs from Earth” by Carl Sagan, who conceived the Golden Record effort.
“I thought adding the Golden Record to the mission was a neat thing to do,” said Hord. A guitar player himself who performs jazz and Big Band music with a trio that visits Boulder retirement homes, Hord recalled that JPL threw the Voyager team a party to celebrate the end of Voyager 2’s Grand Tour as it passed by Neptune in 1989 (Pluto was in a distant part of its orbit at the time). “We even had Chuck Berry playing his guitar on the steps of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” he said. “It was really something.”
In 1990, Voyager 1 turned around one last time and took a portrait of the solar system – a sequence of photos that revealed six of the nine planets in an orbital dance. From nearly 4 billion miles away, Earth took up only a single pixel.
“To me, Voyager was the most fun and interesting planetary mission ever,” said Hord, who enlisted the help of then-graduate students Carol Stoker (now a NASA planetary scientist) and Wayne Pryor (now a professor at Central Arizona University) to analyze data from the mission. Over its lifetime, the CU-Boulder photopolarimeter science team also included LASP Professor Larry Esposito, Senior Research Associate Ian Stewart, retired faculty members Karen Simmons, Charles Barth and Robert West, as well as tireless work by many undergraduate and graduate students.
Esposito, who is still at LASP and is the principal investigator on a $12 million CU-Boulder instrument package aboard NASA’s Cassini Mission to Saturn, said his biggest thrill of the Voyager mission was the Neptune fly-by in 1989 when the gas giant “went from being a small blurry dot to a planet with bright clouds and numerous moons and rings. “Triton erupted before our eyes, and Neptune’s partial rings were punctuated and variable like a type of sausage that the French make.”
Then-CU President Gordon Gee was so impressed with the blue image the LASP team made of Neptune’s ring system that he used it on his Christmas cards, said Esposito, a professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department.
Esposito believes the biggest discovery by CU-Boulder’s Voyager photopolarimeter team was the intricate structure of Saturn’s F ring — a ring he discovered in 1979 using data from NASA’s Pioneer 11 mission. The CU-Boulder team determined the faint F ring was made up of three separate ringlets that appeared to be braided together, and that the inner and outer limits of the ring were controlled by two small “shepherd satellites.”
In addition, Esposito said that density waves — ripple-like features in the rings caused by the influence of Saturn’s moons — allowed the team to estimate the weight and age of Saturn’s rings.
As for Hord, the Casper, Wyo., native went on to be the principal investigator for two spectrometers designed for NASA’s Galileo Mission to Jupiter that launched in 1989 to tour the Jovian system, including its bizarre moons. Hord officially retired in 1997, but returns to campus for occasional visits with his colleagues.
In 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will float within 9.3 trillion miles of the star AC+793888 in the constellation Camelopardalis. In 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will pass within 25 trillion miles of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Perhaps on the way, the spacecraft will encounter some musically inclined aliens up for a little Bach, Beethoven or Berry.
Several University of Colorado Boulder faculty and students are participating in NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter, now slated for launch Aug. 5 from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center and which is expected to help steer scientists toward the right recipe for planet-making.
The primary goal of the mission is to understand the origin and evolution of the massive gas planet, said CU-Boulder Professor Fran Bagenal of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, a mission co-investigator. The data should reveal not only the conditions of the early solar system, but also help scientists to better understand the hundreds of planetary systems recently discovered around other stars, she said.
After the sun formed, Jupiter got the majority of the “leftovers,” said Juno Mission principal investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Since Jupiter has a larger mass than all of the other planets in the solar system combined, scientists believe it holds the keys to understanding how the planets formed and why some are rocky and others are gas giants, Bagenal said.
Once Juno reaches Jupiter orbit in 2016 after a 400-million-mile trip, the spacecraft will orbit the planet’s poles 33 times, skimming roughly 3,000 miles above the cloud tops in a region below Jupiter’s powerful radiation belts. While the spacecraft itself is about the size of a Volkswagen and encased in a protective radiation vault, its three solar panels that will unfurl in space will make the spinning spacecraft more than 65 feet in diameter.
Bagenal said scientists were continually surprised by the data beamed back from NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter, which arrived at the planet in 1995 and carried 16 instruments, including two developed by CU-Boulder’s LASP. Among other discoveries, Galileo scientists identified the global structure and dynamics of the planet’s magnetic activity, confirmed the presence of ammonia clouds in its atmosphere and discovered that one of its moons, Europa, has a global ocean beneath a thick crust of ice.
“One of the biggest questions left after the Galileo mission was how much water there is in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” said Bagenal. “The amount of water is key, because water played a huge role in the formation of the solar system.” Bagenal also is a professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department.
“Most of us know that water absorbs microwaves, because that is what happens when you put a cup of tea in your microwave oven,” said Bagenal. “We are going to be using a microwave detector and fly just over the clouds of Jupiter, looking down at different cloud depths to measure the amounts of water below. It’s a bit like doing a CT scan of Jupiter’s dense clouds.”
Bagenal’s role in the mission is to coordinate observations of Jupiter’s magnetosphere –the area of space around the planet that is controlled by its magnetic field. She and her collaborators are especially interested in understanding the processes that control auroral activity at the planet’s poles — its northern and southern lights — and assess the roles of the planet’s strong magnetic field on its surroundings.
In addition to collaborating closely with the Juno science team, Bagenal is working with CU-Boulder Professor Robert Ergun of LASP, who has extensively studied Earth’s magnetosphere and associated polar auroras. Ergun will use his expertise in auroral physics as part of the mission to compare the physical processes at Jupiter with those seen on Earth.
“This will be the first time anyone has flown over the poles of Jupiter to look directly down on the aurora,” said Bagenal. “We will be flying the spacecraft through regions where charged particles are accelerated to the point of bombarding the atmosphere of Jupiter hard enough to make it glow at the poles.”
Bagenal also is working with LASP Research Associate Peter Delomere on the Jovian magnetosphere studies and with physics department graduate student Mariel Desroche, who is modeling the outer region of Jupiter’s magnetosphere as part of the Juno effort.
CU-Boulder senior Dinesh Costlow of the astrophysical and planetary sciences department also is collaborating with Bagenal and the Juno science team by using computer models to simulate the trajectory of the spacecraft through all 33 individual orbits as it passes through Jupiter’s magnetosphere. “We are interested in finding the optimal places in orbit to point the spacecraft for our data collection,” he said.
Costlow, who is from Auburn, Maine, said he knew CU-Boulder had a good astronomy program before he ever set foot on campus. “Everything fell into place, and I feel very lucky to have an opportunity to work on this mission,” Costlow said. “I think graduate school may be my next step, and after that maybe I can make a career out of this kind of planetary research.”
By mapping Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields, mission scientists should be able to see the planet’s interior structure and determine if it has a rocky iron core — a core that some scientists believe could be 15 or 20 times the size of Earth. But because of the immense pressure in the Jovian atmosphere, any spacecraft seeking the core would be crushed long before it neared the middle of the planet, much as the Galileo spacecraft was crushed after it was crashed into the planet’s clouds after the mission concluded in 2003.
“My biggest hope is that all of our predictions about Jupiter are wrong, and that we find something completely different than what we expect,” said Bagenal. “When our preconceived notions are off, it shows us we can never become complacent. New data from the solar system’s planets keeps us excited enough to re-visit them to learn more about the history and fate of our solar system.”
The Juno spacecraft is carrying 11 experiments to probe the planet’s mass, magnetic field, charged particles, auroras, plasma, radio waves, thermal and ultraviolet emissions, and includes a camera to provide images of the colorful Jovian cloud tops. The Juno Mission is being managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Denver built the spacecraft, which will be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
July 22, 2011
A $670 million NASA orbiting mission to probe the past climate of Mars led by the University of Colorado Boulder reached a major milestone last week when it successfully completed its Mission Critical Design Review by the space agency.
Known as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, the mission underwent Critical Design Review at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., July 11-15. The independent review board was comprised of members from NASA and several external organizations who met to validate the system design.
Critical Design Reviews, or CDRs, are one-time programmatic events that bridge the design and manufacturing stages of a project. A successful review means the design is validated and will meet its requirements, is backed up with solid analysis and documentation and has been proven to be safe, according to NASA officials. MAVEN’s successful review grants permission to the mission team to begin manufacturing hardware.
“The Critical Design Review is a real benchmark for the MAVEN team as we progress toward launch,” said CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for the mission. “We are on schedule and on track, which is good news and a tribute to the hard work by all of the MAVEN team members.” Jakosky also is associate director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
“This team continues to nail every major milestone like clockwork, as laid out three years ago when the mission was proposed,” said Dave Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “CDR success is very important because it validates that the team is ready for fabrication, assembly and test of all mission elements. It also enables us to stay on plan for launch in November 2013.”
MAVEN will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and by gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time.
“Understanding how and why the atmosphere changed through time is an important scientific objective for Mars,” said Jakosky. “MAVEN will make the right measurements to allow us to answer this question. We’re in the middle of the hard work right now — building the instruments and spacecraft — and we’re incredibly excited about the science results we’re going to get from the mission,” he said.
The spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California, Berkeley with support from CU-Boulder and NASA Goddard, contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet.
The Remote Sensing Package built by CU-Boulder will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer provided by NASA Goddard will measure the composition and isotopes of neutral ions.
CU-Boulder will provide science operations, build instruments and lead education and public outreach efforts. NASA Goddard will manage the project. Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colo., will build the spacecraft.
The Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley also will build instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will provide navigation support, the Deep Space Network, and the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.
“This is good news for the University of Colorado Boulder that the MAVEN mission has reached this milestone,” said CU-Boulder Vice Chancellor for Research Stein Sture. “Our Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics has partnered with NASA on successful missions to Mars dating back more than 40 years, and we are confident the MAVEN mission will return some of the most exciting data yet.”
The MAVEN science team includes three LASP scientists from CU-Boulder heading instrument teams — Nick Schneider, Frank Eparvier and Robert Ergun — as well as a large supporting team of scientists, engineers and mission operations specialists.
MAVEN will include participation by a number of CU-Boulder graduate and undergraduate students in the coming years. Currently there are more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students working on research projects at LASP, which provides hands-on training for future careers as engineers and scientists, said Jakosky.
For more information about MAVEN go to http://www.nasa.gov/maven.
When NASA’s 30-year-old space shuttle program is shuttered following the Atlantis mission in July, the University of Colorado Boulder will look back at a rich relationship filled with triumph and tragedy and look ahead to an evolving international program of government and private efforts that will send humans and cargo into orbit.
Of the 19 astronaut-affiliates from CU — 18 from CU-Boulder and one from University of Colorado Colorado Springs — 16 flew on a total of 40 NASA space shuttle missions. The two who flew the most shuttle missions were Jim Voss, (M.S. aerospace engineering, 1974) a current scholar in residence at CU-Boulder who flew five missions, as did CU alumna Marsha Ivins (B.S. aerospace engineering, 1973).
Vance Brand, a Longmont native with two CU-Boulder degrees (B.A. business 1953, B.S. aerospace, 1960), began his astronaut career with the Apollo program — he flew on the historic Apollo-Soyuz mission that brought together astronauts and cosmonauts in space in 1981 — and went on to command three space shuttle flights.
Two CU-Boulder astronaut-alumni died aboard space shuttles. In 1986, Ellison Onizuka (B.S., M.S. aerospace engineering, 1969), was killed when Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, an event witnessed by millions around the world. In 2003, Kalpana Chawla (Ph.D. aerospace engineering, 1988) perished when Columbia disintegrated over Texas during Earth re-entry.
CU-Boulder’s Air Force ROTC honors the two fallen astronauts annually on campus with a color guard and wreath-laying ceremony.
A celebrated university reunion in space occurred on Dec. 2, 1990, when Columbia blasted off with three CU astronaut-alums. Brand, the Columbia space shuttle commander, was joined by mission specialist John “Mike” Lounge (M.S. astrogeophysics, 1970) and payload specialist Sam Durrance (Ph.D., astrogeophysics 1980) as part of the seven-man crew on the ASTRO-1 mission. Toting four telescopes in the cargo bay, the shuttle mission was the first ever dedicated to astronomy.
In addition to its prominent role in the astronaut program, CU-Boulder has flown dozens of science payloads on NASA’s 135 space shuttle missions. BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA-funded center in the aerospace engineering sciences department, has launched experiments onboard space shuttles 39 times since 1991, using the low-gravity of Earth orbit as a testing ground for a variety of agricultural, biomedical and educational payloads.
BioServe has worked with industrial and academic partners on experiments ranging from bone loss mitigation and the development of new antibiotics to K-12 educational payloads involving butterflies and spiders that drew the participation of more than a million students around the world. BioServe personnel have trained dozens of astronauts to operate their experimental hardware in space, both on the shuttle and the International Space Station.
NASA space shuttles also toted two key instruments developed by teams led by CU-Boulder faculty for the Hubble Space Telescope. The launch of Hubble aboard Atlantis in 1990 included a high-resolution spectrograph designed and built by a team led by CU-Boulder retired Professor John “Jack” Brandt of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The instrument broke down wavelengths of light emanating from distant celestial objects to determine their compositions, motions and temperatures to help astronomers understand the conditions of the early universe.
Fittingly, the final Hubble repair mission launched in 2009 included a $70 million instrument designed by a CU-Boulder team and constructed with the help of Boulder’s Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., which also built the high resolution spectrograph launched on Hubble in 1990. Known as the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, the CU instrument is being used to probe the fossil record of gases in the early universe for clues to the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars and planets, according to principal investigator and CU-Boulder Professor James Green of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy.
In 1989, the space shuttle Atlantis carried NASA’s Galileo spacecraft into orbit, the first leg of a six-year journey to Jupiter and its moons. The science instruments included two CU-Boulder ultraviolet spectrographs designed and built by LASP at a cost of $3.5 million under the direction of retired Professor Charles Hord and which were used for research ranging from analyzing complex organic molecules in the Jovian system to documenting the activity of volcanoes on one of Jupiter’s moons, Io.
In 1991, Discovery launched the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite carrying seven instruments, including an $8 million instrument called the Solar Stellar Irradiance Comparison Experiment, or SOLSTICE, designed and built by LASP. The satellite went on to make accurate measurements of the sun in the ultraviolet and far UV light for a full 11-year solar cycle, allowing scientists to better understand the effects of solar radiation on Earth’s atmosphere and climate, said SOLSTICE Mission Manager Tom Sparn.
CU-Boulder’s LASP also built and flew two space shuttle payloads — one in 1998 aboard Columbia and a second in 2001 on Endeavour — that allowed scientists and students to explore the gentle collisions of particles of dust in space. The experiment provided new insights into the fundamental processes thought to have helped form planetary rings and perhaps played a role in the earliest stages of planet formation.
In addition, a small satellite designed and built by a LASP team that was to be deployed from the Challenger space shuttle in 1986 to orbit Earth and observe Halley’s comet was lost during the tragic explosion.
CU also flew experiments targeting the mechanics of granular material three times on space shuttles — in 1996, 1997 and 2003. Led by civil, environmental and architectural engineering Professor Stein Sture, now CU-Boulder’s vice chancellor for research, and managed by LASP, the tests allowed scientists to observe the behavior and cohesiveness of granular materials in microgravity and have led to a better understanding of how Earth’s surface responds during earthquakes and landslides. The 2003 mission successfully returned data from the in-flight experiments, but the seven astronauts and experimental hardware were lost when Columbia disintegrated during re-entry.
CU-Boulder’s involvement with the space shuttle program also included three payloads designed, built and flown by students, primarily undergraduates, from the Colorado Space Grant Consortium headquartered in aerospace engineering sciences. The first payload, dubbed ESCAPE, and which flew on Discovery in 1993, measured the sun’s effects on Earth’s atmosphere using a spectrometer to record extreme UV solar radiation and a camera to photograph the sun. The effort included the participation of nearly 100 students, primarily undergraduates, over a two-year span.
ESCAPE-2, flown on Atlantis in 1994, was a follow-on version of the Escape 1 payload that probed how solar radiation affected Earth’s thermosphere, a portion of Earth’s upper atmosphere. The payload involved about 75 students, mostly undergraduates, said Colorado Space Grant Consortium Director Chris Koehler.
A third CU-Boulder student-built space shuttle payload known as DATA-CHASER, was a two-part experiment launched aboard Discovery in 1997. The payload included hardware to test advanced remote technologies, as well as instruments to measure the sun in far UV wavelengths. DATA-CHASER was designed and built and tested by dozens of CU-Boulder students, primarily undergraduates, over a three-year span.
So what’s on deck at CU-Boulder following the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, in terms of both manned and unmanned flight vehicles? Hardware and experiments developed by BioServe already are manifested on various international resupply vehicles traveling to the International Space Station as well as on U.S. spacecraft now under development, said BioServe Director Louis Stodieck.
In August 2010 CU-Boulder was one of nine institutions selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to participate in a newly formed Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. The center focuses on four major research areas: space launch operations and traffic management; launch vehicle systems; commercial human space flight; and space commerce, including law, insurance, policy and regulation. All are aimed at ensuring safe and efficient private human space flight for non-NASA missions, said aerospace engineering Professor Dave Klaus, who directs the new CU-Boulder center.
CU-Boulder also is involved in a research partnership with Sierra Nevada Corp. of Louisville, Colo., which is designing and building a manned spacecraft called the Dream Chaser intended to replace the space shuttle for transporting humans and cargo into low-Earth orbit. Sierra Nevada has received about $200 million in NASA contracts to design and build the vehicle, which will be launched vertically and can land on conventional runways.
As part of its collaboration, Sierra Nevada is funding a CU team led by Klaus to develop methods for evaluating safety and operational aspects of the spacecraft. Klaus’ lab has a mock-up cockpit section of the Dream Chaser being used to test the ergonomic layout for instrument displays and controls. The students on the project are being advised by CU-Boulder’s Voss — who also is a vice president at Sierra Nevada Corp. — and his colleague Joe Tanner, both of whom joined the CU-Boulder faculty after retiring as NASA astronauts.
CU-Boulder currently is housing a full-scale mock-up of the Dream Chaser based on an earlier design of the spacecraft, as well as a 15 percent scale model that was successfully flight tested by a team including Sierra Nevada engineers and CU aerospace engineering faculty and students in December 2010. The hope of Sierra Nevada and CU-Boulder is that the Dream Chaser will provide routine crew transportation to and from the International Space Station as NASA turns its focus to deep space exploration missions.
In December 1990, when the space shuttle Columbia launched, Commander Vance Brand took with him a 10,000-year-old Paleo-Indian spear point that had been discovered on Colorado’s eastern plains. One wonders what the thundering liftoff of a NASA space shuttle might have looked like through the eyes of the earliest Americans, and what the next 10,000 years holds for human exploration of space in the solar system and beyond.
For more information visit the “CU in Space” website at http://www.colorado.edu/news/reports/space/.
Samples of icy spray shooting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus collected during Cassini spacecraft flybys show the strongest evidence yet for the existence of a large-scale, subterranean saltwater ocean, says a new international study led by the University of Heidelberg and involving the University of Colorado Boulder.
The new discovery was made during the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, a collaboration of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Launched in 1997, the mission spacecraft arrived at the Saturn system in 2004 and has been touring the giant ringed planet and its vast moon system ever since.
The plumes shooting water vapor and tiny grains of ice into space were originally discovered emanating from Enceladus — one of 19 known moons of Saturn — by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005. The plumes were originating from the so-called “tiger stripe” surface fractures at the moon’s south pole and apparently have created the material for the faint E Ring that traces the orbit of Enceladus around Saturn.
During three of Cassini’s passes through the plume in 2008 and 2009, the Cosmic Dust Analyser, or CDA, on board measured the composition of freshly ejected plume grains. The icy particles hit the detector’s target at speeds of up to 11 miles per second, instantly vaporizing them. The CDA separated the constituents of the resulting vapor clouds, allowing scientists to analyze them.
The study shows the ice grains found further out from Enceladus are relatively small and mostly ice-poor, closely matching the composition of the E Ring. Closer to the moon, however, the Cassini observations indicate that relatively large, salt-rich grains dominate.
“There currently is no plausible way to produce a steady outflow of salt-rich grains from solid ice across all the tiger stripes other than the salt water under Enceladus’ icy surface,” said Frank Postberg of the University of Germany, lead author of a study being published in Nature on June 23. Other co-authors include Jürgen Schmidt from the University of Potsdam, Jonathan Hillier from Open University headquartered in Milton Keynes, England, and Ralf Srama from the University of Stuttgart.
“The study indicates that ‘salt-poor’ particles are being ejected from the underground ocean through cracks in the moon at a much higher speed than the larger, salt-rich particles,” said CU-Boulder faculty member and study co-author Sascha Kempf of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
“The E Ring is made up predominately of such salt-poor grains, although we discovered that 99 percent of the mass of the particles ejected by the plumes was made up of salt-rich grains, which was an unexpected finding,” said Kempf. “Since the salt-rich particles were ejected at a lower speed than the salt-poor particles, they fell back onto the moon’s icy surface rather than making it to the E Ring.”
According to the researchers, the salt-rich particles have an “ocean-like” composition that indicates most, if not all, of the expelled ice comes from the evaporation of liquid salt water rather than from the icy surface of the moon. When salt water freezes slowly the salt is “squeezed out,” leaving pure water ice behind. If the plumes were coming from the surface ice, there should be very little salt in them, which was not the case, according to the research team.
The researchers believe that perhaps 50 miles beneath the surface crust of Enceladus a layer of water exists between the rocky core and the icy mantle that is kept in a liquid state by gravitationally driven tidal forces created by Saturn and several neighboring moons, as well as by heat generated by radioactive decay.
According to the scientists, roughly 440 pounds of water vapor is lost every second from the plumes, along with smaller amounts of ice grains. Calculations show the liquid ocean must have a sizable evaporating surface or it would easily freeze over, halting the formation of the plumes. “This study implies that nearly all of the matter in the Enceladus plumes originates from a saltwater ocean that has a very large evaporating surface,” said Kempf.
Salt in the rock dissolves into the water, which accumulates in a liquid ocean beneath the icy crust, according to the Nature authors. When the outermost layer of the Enceladus crust cracks open, the reservoir is exposed to space. The drop in pressure causes the liquid to evaporate into a vapor, with some of it “flash-freezing” into salty ice grains, which subsequently creates the plumes, the science team believes.
“Enceladus is a tiny, icy moon located in a region of the outer Solar System where no liquid water was expected to exist because of its large distance from the sun,” said Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s project scientist for the Cassini-Huygens mission. “This finding is therefore a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life may be sustainable on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets.”
The Huygens probe was released from the main spacecraft and parachuted through the atmosphere to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in 2005.
The Cassini spacecraft is carrying 12 science instruments, including a $12.5 million CU-Boulder ultraviolet imaging spectrograph designed and built by a LASP team led by Professor Larry Esposito.
A University of Colorado Boulder team will be part of a mission selected yesterday by NASA to launch a spacecraft to an asteroid and pluck samples from its surface to better understand the formation of the solar system and perhaps even the first inklings of life.
The mission, called the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, is being led by the University of Arizona and is slated to approach, map and collect samples from a primitive asteroid for return to Earth. Professor Daniel Scheeres of CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department is the radio science team leader on the OSIRIS-REx mission, which is expected to bring more than $3 million in research funding to CU-Boulder over the mission lifetime.
The NASA selection of the asteroid mission as part of the New Frontiers Program was a disappointment for CU-Boulder scientists at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics led by Professor Larry Esposito, science team leader on a proposed, unmanned mission to land on Venus as part of the program. In 2009 the LASP-led SAGE mission to Venus was named one of three finalists along with OSIRIS-REx and a proposed effort led by Washington University in St. Louis to sample and return material from the far side of the moon.
As the leader of the OSIRIS-REx radio science team, Scheeres and his colleagues will characterize the asteroid’s mass and gravity field as a way to better understand its internal structure. “We essentially will be weighing the asteroid to see how the mass is distributed across it,” he said. “We need to know the mass and gravity field of the asteroid before the spacecraft comes in contact with it.”
Scheeres said that at least one CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher and additional graduate students will be involved in the mission operations, software development and research.
Slated to launch in 2016, the spacecraft will fly to within three miles of the asteroid — dubbed “1999 RQ36 — in 2020 and begin a six-month, comprehensive mapping project, said Scheeres. The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will subsequently conduct a “touch-and-go” on the asteroid, spending about 10 seconds on its surface as a robotic arm collects several ounces of asteroid material for return to Earth, he said.
The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, is expected to cost about $800 million, according to NASA officials.
The mission is in line with objectives outlined by President Barack Obama to reach beyond low-Earth orbit to explore deep space, according to NASA officials, evolving from robotic missions like OSIRIS-REx to future manned missions to asteroids and beyond.
A 2010, study by Scheeres and his colleagues showed that asteroids were not just giant rocks lumbering about in orbit, they are instead constantly changing little “worlds” than can give birth to smaller asteroids that split off to start their own lives as they circle the sun.
For more information about OSIRIS-REx visit http://www.nasa.gov