20 Percent Budget Cut for NASA Planetary Science

Money for the Senate Launch System (SLS) has siphoned off funding for the things that NASA does best – Planetary Science Missions. Examples of these over the past three decades include:

  • Viking I and II Mars Landers looked for life in 1976
  • Galileo was launched in 1989 and plunged into Jupiter’s crushing atmosphere on September of 2003 to protect the possible ocean on the moon Europa.
  • The Ulysses Solar Polar Explorer was launched in 1990 and ceased operation in 2009
  • Mars Global Surveyor photographed Mars from 1997 through 2006.
  • MESSENGER was launched in 2004 and arrived in orbit around Mercury in March 0f 2011 after three flybys.
  • The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn arrived in 2004 to Study Saturn and the moon Titan. Exploration continues.
  • Phoenix Mars Lander explored the Martian Polar Region in 2008

The money has been saved for the SLS and building rockets, the things for which NASA is worst:

  • X-33 Venture Star – 1996 to 2001 – 1.2 Billion – Canceled
  • DC-X Delta Clipper – 1991 to 1995 – Transferred to NASA – 1996 -Canceled
  • Constellation and Ares I – 2005 to 2010 – 10 Billion – Canceled

Deep Impact Revisited

Before and after images of the target area for the Deep Impact Mission. The high resolution on the left shows the terrain of Tempel 1 taken by the Deep Impact spacecraft. The lower resolution image on the right, taken by StardustNExT, shows the impact crater. The outer circle annotated on the right-hand image shows the outer rim of the crater and the inner circle shows the crater floor. The crater is estimated to be 150 meters (500 feet) in diameter.

Other images from the fly-by are at the NASA Image Gallery.

Before and After
Tempel 1 Before and After Deep Impact
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Maryland/Cornell

Valentine’s Day 2011

Valentine from Space
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1
Comet 9P Tempel 1
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

The Stardust spacecraft is set to rendezvous with comet Tempel 1. It’s Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2011.

Previously, we discussed the StardustNExT mission.

We will follow the encounter with pictures and text as they arrive. Rendezvous with comet Tempel 1 will occur at approximately 9:37 PM Phoenix time (0437 UTC Tuesday morning).

Live coverage of the Tempel 1 encounter will begin at 9:30 PM Phoenix time on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The closest approach will be approximately 200 kilometers. In 2004, Stardust flew through the tail of comet Wild 2 and sent a capsule of material back to Earth.

The mission team expects to begin receiving images on the ground starting at around 1:00 AM Phoenix time (0800 UTC) on 15 February. A news conference previously planned for 11:00 AM Phoenix time will be held later in the day, to allow scientists more time to analyze the data and images. A new time will be announced later in the morning.

Tempel 1 from Stardust
Comet Tempel from Stardust NExT taken 18-19 January 2011
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The latest report is that the StardustNExT spacecraft has taken a hit, but the thrusters responded and reoriented the craft

The most recent report is that the closest approach was 181 kilometers. 10 percent after 12 years in space orbiting the solar system many times.

The spacecraft is now back in cruise mode. The images have been collected and we are now several hours form beginning to receive the 72 high resolution images.

The JPL Deep Space Network (DSN) is scheduled to download the data. The current receiver is the 70 meter dish in Australia and the download rate will be about 16K bits per second.

Tempel 1
Image of Tempel 1 42 hours before encounter.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

In about an hour, the DSN in Madrid will acquire the Stardust spacecraft and begin downloading the 72 images. It is now 10:30 PM Phoenix time.

We now have carrier only configuration of Stardust being received in Madrid. Time is 10:57 PM Phoenix time (0557 UTC 15 February).

In about 10 minutes, Stardust will begin downloading the images from the fly-by.

At the present time, we expect the images to begin downloading about 1:00 AM. The first images should be available about 1:45 AM.

Tempel 1
Tempel 1 was 2,200 kilometers from StardustNExT and Closest Encounter. Most Recently Released Image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

StardustNExT images are being posted at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/stardust/.

The following images are from closest approach.

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 35
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 35
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 40
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Valentine’s Day Comet Rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1

This is the story of two spacecraft, three comets and four rendezvous. So, keep your eye on the moving targets at all times.

Comet 81P Wild 2 (c#1) was visited (r#1) by the Stardust mission (s#1) in 2004 (it was launched in 1999), and sent its sample canister containing the comet bits back to Earth in 2006. The mission returned samples of the comet’s tail.

Comet 9P Tempel 1 (c#2) was impacted (r#2) on 4 July 2005 by NASA’s Deep Impact mission (s#2). Deep Impact was re-purposed for the 103P Hartley 2 (c#3) rendezvous (r#3), which took place on 4 November 2010.

Stardust NExT
Stardust NExT and Wild 2
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Now, the Stardust spacecraft (comet Wild 2) is set to rendezvous (r#4) with comet Tempel 1 (spacecraft Deep Impact) on Valentine’s Day 14 February 2011.

And that is how you do cometary science on the cheap and with low risk.

In 2005, Tempel 1 made its closest approach to the sun. This likely changed the surface of the comet. Now, scientists will get a chance to re-image the surface of the comet with Stardust and compare the images with those taken by Deep Impact five years ago.

A Snowstorm in Space – Hartley 2 and EPOXI

Following the initial images from the rendezvous of the EPOXI mission with comet Hartley 2, NASA has now released additional images of the extraordinary activity of this comet. A movie of the snow storm can be viewed here.

Below left, active vents spew icy particles into space. The diameters range from 3 to 30 centimeters (1 – 12 inches).

Below right, closeup of the snow storm swirling around comet Hartley 2. These images are from the left side of the dumbbell shaped comet, as seen from the Deep Impact spacecraft. The right side is much more active, as shown in the press release from Brown University.

Hartley 2 Snow
Active Vents Spewing Snow from Hartley 2.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD / Brown

Close up Image of Basketball sized Particles.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

The color image below shows the different sources for water vapor, dust, carbon dioxide and ice. The images are from data obtained by the High-Resolution Imager on 4 November 2010 on board Deep Impact.

Water vapor issues from a source in the middle of the dumbbell, whereas carbon dioxide (and ice and dust) comes predominately from the small end of the comet (right).

Dust is released from the active end and from the vents on the middle of the left end, while ice is spewed from various locations.

Infrared Scan of Hartley 2.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

The image below compares the activity of Hartley 2 with the comet Tempel 1, which was the previous target of the Deep Impact spacecraft. This encounter occurred on 4 July 2005, and images of the encounter with the comet and the impactor can be explored on the NASA website.

Tempel 1 is 4.7 kilometers on its long axis compared to 2.2 kilometers for Hartley 2. Active jets are clearly visible on Hartley 2, where extensive image processing is required to see them on Tempel 1.

Hartley 2 Activity vs Tempel 1.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 – 30 Days from Closest Approach

Rendezvous Hartley 2
EPOXI orbit and Rendezvous with Hartley 2
Image Credit:
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD / GSFC / Tony Farnham

Hartley 2
Comet 103P/Hartley 2 on 25 September 2010
Image Credit: Credit: NASA / JPL / UMD

The Deep Impact spacecraft, re-purposed as EPOXI for the encounter with comet Hartley 2, is now 30 days from its rendezvous on 4 November 2010.

The image above left shows the orbit of the Earth, EPOXI and comet Hartley 2 leading up to the rendezvous.

The image above right is the most recent image of Hartley 2 taken from the Deep Impact spacecraft.

Additional information on the mission can be found here.

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft captured this image of Hartley 2 in May of 2010.

Hartley 2 - WISE
Hartley 2 Imaged by WISE
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Hartley 2 – First Image from Deep Impact

Hartley 2
Hartley 2 Seen from Deep Impact
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / UM

NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, repurposed as EPOXI, has a rendezvous with Comet Hartley 2 on 4 November 2010.

From NASA’s press release:

EPOXI is an extended mission that utilizes the already “in flight” Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as “Deep Impact.”

Comet Hartley 2

Hartley 2 on 30 December 1997
Hartley 2 on 30 December 1997
Image Credit: Tony Farnham / Lowell Observatory

Hartley 2 Rendezvous.

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 will be the next comet to visit the night skies of Earth. Following Comet McNaught, Hartley 2 makes its closest approach to Earth this coming 20 October 2010 and its closest approach to the Sun eight days later on 28 October. Our most recent updates are here, here and here.

Hartley 2 was discovered by Malcolm Hartley in 1986. With a period of about 6.5 years, it returned in 1997 (image at left) and 2004. Following 2010, its next perihelion is expected to be 20 April 2017.

A very nice interactive visualization of the encounter between Hartley 2 and the Earth can be found at the JPL / NASA NEO site.

The comet will pass through the constellation Cygnus, reaching an apparent magnitude of 5. Viewing from a dark location with binoculars should allow you to easily find the comet.

The latest information on the nucleus of Hartley 2 can be found in the 11 May 2010 publication of Astronomy & Astrophysics (manuscript no. 14790tex c). The abstract is at arxiv, and the article can be downloaded as a pdf.

Hartley 2 is the target of the Deep Impact spacecraft, which will make it closest approach (about 700 km) on 4 November 2010. At that point, Hartley 2 will be about 20 million km from Earth, and will be found between the stars Betelgeuse and Procyon.

Deep Impact is famous for its “fireworks” on 4 July 2005 Tempel 1 when it sent a probe smashing into the surface of the Tempel 1 comet, explosively dislodging cometary material for analysis (Image Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD ). The two telescopes and the infrared spectrometer aboard Deep Impact made measurements of Tempel 1 before, during and after the collision.

The data on Tempel 1 was startlingly different from that obtained from comet missions like Deep Space 1 to comet Borrelly and Stardust, which retrieved material from Wild 2.

Deep Impact
The Deep Impact Space Craft
Image Credit: NASA / JPLCaltech

In December 2007, Deep Impact was re-purposed as EPOXI to take on two new tasks.

The first part took place during six months in early 2008. Named Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), the mission used the larger of the two telescopes on the Deep Impact spacecraft to search for Earth-sized planets around five stars selected as likely candidates for such planets.

The second part is the mission to Hartley 2 itself. The Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI) will observe the nucleus of comet Hartley 2, which belongs to a currently undefined class of comets. Interest is high as to whether features of Hartley 2 are similar to Tempel 1. When Deep Impact observed Tempel 1, it found that the comet had vents of water vapor all over its surface, but carbon dioxide vents were found only on one portion of the comet. This is very unusual. The chance to observe Hartley 2 (more active than Tempel 1) with the same instruments will help determine which cometary features represent primordial differences and which result from subsequent evolutionary processes.

On 27 June 2010 the Deep Impact spacecraft passed 18,890 miles above the South Atlantic with a relative speed of 12,750 mph. This was the last gravity assist for the spacecraft.

Water on the Moon

Three articles in Science Express were released yesterday, 24 September. They detail evidence for water from three different Lunar missions:

  • Deep Impact
  • Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) on Chandrayaan-1
  • Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on Cassini (1999)

These are summarized by A Lunar Waterworld by Paul G. Lucey at Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii, 1680 East West Road, POST 504, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA.

“Space-based spectroscopic measurements provide strong evidence for water on the surface of the Moon.”

The authors and abstracts are detailed below:

NASA Lunar Water Image

Credit: NASA Image

  • Temporal and Spatial Variability of Lunar Hydration as Observed by the Deep Impact Spacecraft by Jessica M. Sunshine (1*), Tony L. Farnham (1), Lori M. Feaga (1), Olivier Groussin (2), Frédéric Merlin (1), Ralph E. Milliken (3), Michael F. A’Hearn (1)

    1 University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.
    2 Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, Marseille, France.
    3 Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA.

    “The Moon is generally anhydrous, yet the Deep Impact spacecraft found the entire surface to be hydrated during some portions of the day. OH and H2O absorptions in the near infrared were strongest near the North Pole and are consistent with <0.5 wt% H2O. Hydration varied with temperature, rather than cumulative solar radiation, but no inherent absorptivity differences with composition were observed. However, comparisons between data collected one week (a quarter lunar day) apart show a dynamic process with diurnal changes in hydration that were greater for mare basalts (~70%) than for highlands (~50%). This hydration loss and return to steady state occurred entirely between local morning and evening, requiring a ready daytime source of water group ions, which is consistent with a solar wind origin.”
  • Character and Spatial Distribution of OH/H2O on the Surface of the Moon Seen by M3 on Chandrayaan-1
    C. M. Pieters 1*, J. N. Goswami 2, R. N. Clark 3, M. Annadurai 4, J. Boardman 5, B. Buratti 6, J.-P. Combe 7, M. D. Dyar 8, R. Green 6, J. W. Head 1, C. Hibbitts 9, M. Hicks 6, P. Isaacson 1, R. Klima 1, G. Kramer 7, S. Kumar 10, E. Livo 3, S. Lundeen 6, E. Malaret 11, T. McCord 7, J. Mustard 1, J. Nettles 1, N. Petro 12, C. Runyon 13, M. Staid 14, J. Sunshine 15, L. A. Taylor 16, S. Tompkins 17, P. Varanasi 6

    1 Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.
    2 Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India.; Indian Space Research Organization, Bangalore, India.
    3 U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO 80225, USA.
    4 Indian Space Research Organization, Bangalore, India.
    5 Analytical Imaging and Geophysics, Boulder, CO 80303, USA.
    6 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA.
    7 Bear Fight Center, Winthrop, WA 98862,USA.
    8 Mt. Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA 01075, USA.
    9 Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD 20723–6005, USA.
    10 National Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad, India.
    11 Applied Coherent Technology Corporation, Herndon, VA 22070, USA.
    12 NASA Goddard, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
    13 College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424, USA.
    14 Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ 85719–2395, USA.
    15 University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.
    16 University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996–1410, USA.
    17 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, VA 22203, USA.

    “The search for water on the surface of the anhydrous Moon remained an unfulfilled quest for 40 years. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) on Chandrayaan-1 has now detected absorption features near 2.8-3.0 µm on the surface of the Moon. For silicate bodies, such features are typically attributed to OH- and/or H2O-bearing materials. On the Moon, the feature is seen as a widely distributed absorption that appears strongest at cooler high latitudes and at several fresh feldspathic craters. The general lack of correlation of this feature in sunlit M3 data with neutron spectrometer H abundance data suggests that the formation and retention of OH and H2O is an ongoing surficial process. OH/H2O production processes may feed polar cold traps and make the lunar regolith a candidate source of volatiles for human exploration.”
  • Detection of Adsorbed Water and Hydroxyl on the Moon by Roger N. Clark from U.S. Geological Survey, MS 964, Box 25046 Federal Center, Denver, CO 80227, USA.

    “Data from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on Cassini during its fly-by of the Moon in 1999 show a broad absorption at 3µm due to adsorbed water and near 2.8µm attributed to hydroxyl in the sunlit surface on the Moon. The amounts of water indicated in the spectra depend on the type of mixing, and the grain sizes in the rocks and soils but could be 10 to 1,000 parts per million and locally higher. Water in the polar regions may be water that has migrated to the colder environments there. Trace hydroxyl is observed in the anorthositic highlands at lower latitudes.”