March 27, 2016
  • NASA had hoped its next Mars probe would have launched by now. Instead, the agency is mulling whether to spend an extra $150 million to NASA had hoped its next Mars probe would have launched by now. Instead, the agency is mulling whether to spend an extra $150 million to

    March 09, 2016
  • NASA had hoped its next Mars probe would have launched by now. Instead, the agency is mulling whether to spend an extra $150 million to fix a problem with the spacecraft and re-target liftoff for May 2018, the next time Earth and Mars favorably align for flight.

    "The fact that I'm standing here talking to you, instead of gloating on the phone (from the Mission Control Center) is a clue that things haven't gone as well as one may have hoped," project scientist Bruce Banerdt told a Mars exploration planning group last week.

    NEWS: NASA's Next Mars Mission Has Been Grounded

    Launch of InSight, which is designed to study the deep interior of Mars, had been targeted for Friday, March 4. But preparations came to a sudden halt in late December after a nagging technical problem with the spacecraft resurfaced for a fourth time. By then, it was too late to finish another round of repairs before the 2016 launch window closed.

    "Everything was ready to go, but then we kind of went off the rails," Banerdt said.

    Last week, the InSight team presented NASA managers with a proposal to fix the spacecraft and an estimate of the cost.

    The extra $150 million would bust the project's current cost cap of $675 million and likely delay other projects. NASA already had spent about $525 million on InSight when work was suspended.

    "Overall, I think we got a positive response," Banerdt said.

    ANALYSIS: The Dust Devils of Mars Could Pack a Seismic Punch

    A decision on whether NASA will proceed with the mission is expected as early as this week, he added.

    The problem with InSight involves a nine-inch diameter spherical chamber that holds sensors needed to make seismic measurements. The chamber has to be able to maintain a near-perfect vacuum so the instruments can detect motions equivalent to the width of a hydrogen atom.

    With that data, scientists hope to learn about Mars' core and mantle, information that is key to understanding how the planet formed and evolved.

    The chamber has an infinitesimal leak — so tiny, says Banerdt, that if a car tire leaked at that rate it wouldn’t need any air added for three centuries. But the leak is too high for the seismometer to operate properly.

    "We figured out what the problem was and it's not going to happen again," Banerdt said.

    ANALYSIS: Mars Mission Will Drill Deep for Inside Information

    Although a subcontractor in France manufactured the faulty instrument, Banerdt says there should have been a management system in place to catch the error.

    "I don't place the blame on any particular agency or any particular organization. It really was kind of a systemic problem … We share in the responsibility and we're going to be sharing in the cost to fix it," he said.

    The French space agency CNES would foot the bill for its extra labor costs, Banerdt added.

    If approved, the revamped InSight spacecraft would launch on May 5, 2018, and land itself on Mars on Nov. 26, 2018, for a two-year mission.

    Originally published on Discovery News.

    March 10, 2016
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    March 13, 2016
  • Geutebruck provides high security for the European Space Centre in French Guiana

    Source: Geutebruck | Date: 11/14/2011

    Related tags: Geutebrucksurveillancespaceport

    The ‘Centre Spatial Guyanais' (CSG) otherwise known as the Guiana Space Centre near Kourou in French Guiana is the spaceport which France shares with the European Space Agency (ESA).  Besides being the launch site for the Ariane rockets which are designed and built by partners in 12 European countries, Kourou also provides launch facilities for the ESA, the French space agency CNES, and Russian Soyuz rockets too. — The first Soyuz launch from the site having taken place on 21st October 2011 when the first pair of satellites for Europe's Galileo global navigation system were put into orbit.

    Geutebruck France has been involved in providing a high security environment for the centre since 2006 when a new multi-phase security design was drawn up and the initial contracts awarded.  The first complete Geutebruck video security system was handed over in April 2009, with the second large four-year project completed in partnership with the Italian company Telematic Solutions (Milan) in December of the following year.  At the moment Geutebruck have three other security projects in hand: the CSG harbour in Kourou; the new launch complex for the Russian Soyuz rockets; and the whole of the new Vega launch site. — The Vega is a new smaller European rocket which is scheduled to make its debut in late 2011. — Once these projects have been completed almost all the spaceport will be protected with Geutebruck systems.

    The space centre's extensive site covers 850 square kilometres.  Besides its launch facilities are various satellite and rocket assembly buildings and a plant for producing solid rocket propellant. Geographically speaking the space centre is situated in a very favourable location.  On the one hand, being near the coast means that there is only a short journey for valuable payloads which arrive by ship, and on the other, that rockets are launched over water rather than over populated areas.  Its position close to the equator ensures that rockets get maximum assistance from the earth's rotation and makes it simpler and less costly to manoeuvre satellites into geosynchronous orbit. 

    However, favourable though the location may be in some respects, its hot sticky equatorial climate is a considerable challenge for electronic hardware.  Environmental problems including mould, small animals, insects, high humidity, salt water and strong sunlight mean that preventative measures are required against corrosion, condensation, the gradual loosening of electrical connections, galvanic coupling and the risk of dirt causing bad contacts, and so on.  Consequently Geutebruck has had to ensure that there cannot be any condensation inside its cabinets or devices; that there is no possible ingress for insects; that all moving parts are sealed off from the external climate; and that PVC materials are selected for their resistance to moisture and mould.

    The space centre uses Geutebruck video systems for typical security tasks  - for example surveillance of the 35 kilometer-long perimeter fence - and also for monitoring processes and procedures.  Currently the equipment in service includes around 43 19” racks, 80 GeViScope high end video system platforms, 42 GeViRAID systems, 10 evaluation stations and 10 viewer stations combined with monitor walls which are made to meet specific technical requirements.  There are 670 cameras, 1200 Helios floodlights and a140 Terabyte database. 

    The space centre is a multi-national, multi-cultural environment where staff from many different companies work together but which has to be organised with military precision.  As the host agency CNES is responsible for the design and quality assurance of the facilities.  Both its project managers and the CSG end-users have expressed their satisfaction with Geutebruck's professional co-operation and with the performance of its video systems, and this sentiment is clearly reflected in Geutebruck's current order book.

    March 13, 2016
  • El Niño 2015 From Space: Satellites And A Supercomputer Will Be Quite Busy This Winter

    El Nino 2015

    According to predictions, the 2015 El Niño may be as strong as the 1997 event. NASA will use its many Earth-observing satellites to track changes across the globe. This image depicts anomalies in sea surface height in millimeters in the Pacific Ocean from 1997 and 2015.PHOTO: NASA'S JET PROPULSION LABORATORY

    A strong El Niño is predicted for this winter, but the weather phenomenon affects a lot more than temperatures. El Niño can influence precipitation, forest fires across continents and fishing industries around the seas. Luckily, NASA is up to the task of tracking El Niño with a slew of Earth-observing satellites. 

    El Niño 2015 is expected to rival the mighty 1997 event that led to severe flooding, tornadoes and other extreme weather across the U.S.  The 2015 event may be among the strongest on record, but NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are busy monitoring El Niño using a fleet of satellites. The Ocean Surface Topography Mission on the Jason-2 satellite will be one of the workhorses the space agency relies on this winter.

    Jason-2, launched in 2008, has the formidable task of monitoring Earth's oceans. The satellite measures changes in sea surface height, which can be used to track events like El Niño. Jason-2's ability to measure how oceans store heat is also important in tracking El Niño. Other satellites, like the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission and the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, can monitor precipitation and surface-level moisture.


    "El Niño is a fascinating phenomenon because it has such far-reaching and diverse impacts. The fact that fires in Indonesia are linked with circulation patterns that influence rainfall over the United States shows how complex and interconnected the Earth system is,” Lesley Ott, research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

    This year's event will be closely monitored for potential drought relief in California. Wetter-than-average predictions may somewhat relieve the worst drought in centuries, but there is concern about flash floods and landslides caused by the extra rain.


    NASA will crunch all the data collected by satellites with a supercomputer to create modeling systems to analyze El Niño. The new insights could help researchers better understand global weather systems and future events like El Niño and La Niña.

    March 27, 2016
  • A rocket has been launched into space by the US military - but details of what it is being used for are top secret.

    The unmanned shuttle was sent into orbit yesterday as part of a secretive military research programme.

    The US Air Force won't reveal how long the mission with last or where it will end, but said it was the fourth flight sent into space for the programme.

    The last X-37B mission returned in 2014 after 674 days in space while the first three flights spanned 1,367 days.

    The research programme was initiated by NASA but was handed to the military seven years later, prompting concerns over the militarization of space.




    Some have speculated that it is a drone spy ship used to monitor Chinese satellites, meanwhile Iran believes it is a space warplane carrying weapons - which the Air Force denied.

    Another theory is the plane will be used as a surveillance plane for sensitive regions like the Middle East.

    While the US military won't say anything about the purpose of the mission, it has revealed a number of experiments that are on board.

    It is using the aircraft to test the reaction of almost 100 materials to space exposure, radiation and temperature swings

    April 06, 2016
  • The International Space Station (ISS) is the most complex international scientific and engineering project in history and the largest structure humans have ever put into space. This high-flying satellite is a laboratory for new technologies and an observation platform for astronomical, environmental and geological research. As a permanently occupied outpost in outer space, it serves as a stepping-stone for further space exploration. This includes Mars, which NASA is now stating is its goal for human space exploration.

    The space station flies at an average altitude of 248 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth. It circles the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of about 17,500 mph (28,000 kph). In one day, the station travels about the distance it would take to go from Earth to the moon and back. The space station can rival the brilliant planet Venus in brightness and appears as a bright moving light across the night sky. It can be seen from Earth without the use of a telescope by night sky observers who know when and where to look. You can use our Satellite Tracker page powered by to find out when to see the space station. 

    - See more at:

    April 19, 2016
  • Nathalia Holt is a science writer and author of NY Times bestseller "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars" (Little, Brown and Co., 2016) and "Cured: The People who Defeated HIV" (Plume 2015). Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science, and Time. Holt contributed this article to's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

    The black-and-white image is surprisingly crisp despite its advanced age. When I first saw the photograph, taken in 1955, two things struck me: The sheer number of women, intent on their work, and then, puzzlingly, the abbreviated caption. Although 14 women are depicted in the photograph, the archives at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, could identify only three of its former employees and had no contact information for them. As the women in the photograph gripped their pencils, their images remained frozen in time, their names and stories seemingly lost to history. Sadly, our pioneering scientists are frequently forgotten, and it is the contributions of women that are most often overlooked. ['Rise of the Rocket Girls' (US 2016): Book Excerpt']

    I started making phone calls to track down the early women pioneers of NASA and soon found myself swamped in a sea of Barbaras, Helens and Virginias. I contacted 43 Barbara Paulsons in five states before I found the right one, in Iowa. Our first phone call, however, took my breath away.

    - See more at:

    April 30, 2016
  • A black-and-white map of Pluto's surface — that includes all available and resolved images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecarft — is the most comprehensive view yet of the icy world.  

    Prior to 2015, the dwarf planet Pluto looked like little more than a fuzzy speck of light hovering at the edge of the solar system. That all changed when NASA's New Horizons space probe made its close flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015. Since then, the agency has released a flood of beautiful, detailed and scientifically surprising photos of the icy world.

    The new map brings together all the images that NASA has been slowly releasing, into a single global overview of the solar system's largest known dwarf planet.



    The New Horizons probe did not orbit Pluto, but instead made a quick flyby of the dwarf planet before heading further out into the Kuiper Belt, the band of icy, rocky bodies that loop around the sun beyond the orbit of Neptune. The probe is expected to make a flyby of another body in that region in 2019.

    An image of Pluto, taken by NASA's New Horizons space probe, features the smooth "heart" of the dwarf planet. This region is unofficially known as Sputnik Planum.




    Because New Horizons did not orbit Pluto, the resolution of the map is much higher on one side of the dwarf planet — the side facing away from its largest moon, Charon. The map has "pixel resolutions ranging from 18 miles (30 kilometers) on the Charon-facing hemisphere (left and right edges of the map) to 770 feet (235 meters) on the hemisphere facing New Horizons during the spacecraft’s closest approach on July 14, 2015 (map center)," according to a statement from NASA.

    The map includes images sent back to Earth "as recently as April 25," according to the agency.  Because New Horizons acquired a massive amount of data during its Pluto encounter, and because it has a relatively slow download speed, it will take the spacecraft more than a year to send all of its Pluto data back to Earth.

    "The team will continue to add photos [to the map] as the spacecraft transmits the rest of its stored Pluto encounter data," NASA said. "All encounter imagery is expected on Earth by early fall. The team is also working on improved color maps."

    The New Horizons mission revealed many amazing new details about Pluto, including that the icy world has experienced relatively recent geologic activity. While much of Pluto's surface is covered in craters, a region unofficially known as Sputnik Planum (also known as Pluto's "heart"), is cons