Our unique technology presents a solution to the global environmental threat of space debris 1-10 cm
NASA Headline News (2013):
The name for the carbon-rich asteroid, designated in the scientific community as (101955) 1999 RQ36, is the winning entry in an international student contest. Nine-year-old Michael Puzio suggested the name because he imagined the Touch-and-Go Sample Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm and solar panels on OSIRIS-REx look like the neck and wings in drawings of Bennu, which Egyptians usually depicted as a gray heron. Puzio wrote the name suits the asteroid because it means “the ascending one,” or “to shine.”
A NASA sounding rocket supporting a study of ionosphere and its impact on radio transmissions was launched at 3:38 a.m. EDT, May 1 from Roi-Namur, Republic of the Marshall Islands. The Terrier-Orion rocket was the first of two to be launched as part of the Metal Oxide Space Cloud experiment (MOSC). MOSC released a Samarium vapor creating a red cloud of charged particles in the ionosphere. Researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory studied the cloud as it dispersed and its impact on radio transmissions sent from multiple locations.
NASA is inviting members of the public to submit their names and a personal message online for a DVD to be carried aboard a spacecraft that will study the Martian upper atmosphere. The DVD will carry every name submitted. The public also is encouraged to submit a message in the form of a three-line poem, or haiku. However, only three haikus will be selected. The deadline for all submissions is July 1. An online public vote to determine the top three messages to be placed on the DVD will begin July 15.
NASA’s newest scientific rover is set for testing May 3 through June 8 in the highest part of Greenland. The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, will roam the frigid landscape collecting measurements to help scientists better understand changes in the massive ice sheet. This autonomous, solar-powered robot carries a ground-penetrating radar to study how snow accumulates, adding layer upon layer to the ice sheet over time.
The first of six instruments that will fly on GOES-R, NOAA’s next-generation of geostationary operational environmental satellites, has been completed on schedule, seven months before its scheduled installation onto the spacecraft. The instrument, the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors, or EXIS, will give scientists a greater measure of the extreme solar energy output from the sun, which can severely disrupt telecommunications, air travel, and the performance of power grids. “Extreme solar activity has the potential to wreak havoc on the U.S. and global economy, so it’s critical that the GOES-R satellite will have this technology in place to monitor for it,” said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service in Silver Spring, Md.
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The crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been directed to take evasive action to avoid space debris no less than 14 times, spending precious fuel to nudge the course of their 450-ton home. They have had to pack themselves into their cramped Soyuz lifeboat an additional three times. When China destroyed the Fengyun 1C weather satellite with a ground-launched missile in 2007, the largest cloud of space debris in history was created. Over 3200 trackable objects from Fengyun 1C were cataloged by the US military, with more than 90% of that debris still in orbit — and that’s just a small sample of the debris that is making its way around the Earth clogging up orbital paths and making things unsafe for some very expensive equipment.
The Fengyun favor was returned, unintentionally, in 2009, when the American Iridium 33 communications satellite catastrophically collided with the defunct Russian Cosmos 2251 payload module 490 miles above Siberia. Scientists determined that the debris posed a direct threat to many of their sun-synchronous satellites — those whose orbits ascend or descend over a given Earth latitude at the same mean solar time.
The loss of an occasional satellite is far from a disaster, but if China, for example, were to roll out a space laser capable of de-orbiting satellites, more than a few eyebrows would be raised. The US Air Force and NASA funded a study in the 1990s, called Orion, to determine the feasibility of building such a laser. The “laser broom,” as it came to be called, would target pieces of debris between one and ten centimeters in diameter, and could significantly alter their velocity using a 100-kilowatt infrared laser. A test device was scheduled to fly on a 2003 Space Shuttle mission, however the Columbia disaster led to several postponements. Ultimately, numerous international agreements restricting lasers in orbit limited the laser to a measurement device.
Tracking of space debris has evolved from crude catalogs and databases into sophisticated models run with powerful simulation software. But even the best models need good data, or sensor tracks. A case in point is the calculations made by CelesTrak orbital element software, from Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), which indicated that the Iridium and Cosmos satellites would miss by at least 584 meters. AGI’s flagship product, the Satellite Tool Kit, is used worldwide in over 40,000 installations by aerospace, defense, and intelligence professionals.