Federal Government Releases National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Plan

Portal origin URL: Federal Government Releases National Near-Earth Object Preparedness PlanPortal origin nid: 426563Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - 12:19Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: A new multiagency report outlines how the U.S. could become better prepared for near-Earth objects—asteroids and comets whose orbits come within 30 million miles of Earth—otherwise known as NEOs.Portal image: EarthScience Categories: Earth

NASA to Host Media Teleconference on National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Report

Portal origin URL: NASA to Host Media Teleconference on National Near-Earth Object Preparedness ReportPortal origin nid: 426521Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 15:32Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday, June 20, to discuss a new report detailing U.S. plans for near-Earth objects (NEOs) that could pose a hazard to Earth.Portal image: Earth from NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), aboard NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraftScience Categories: Solar System

NASA, NSF Plunge Into Ocean ‘Twilight Zone’ to Explore Ecosystem Carbon Flow

Portal origin URL: NASA, NSF Plunge Into Ocean ‘Twilight Zone’ to Explore Ecosystem Carbon FlowPortal origin nid: 426459Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 - 13:08Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: A large multidisciplinary team of scientists, equipped with advanced underwater robotics and an array of analytical instrumentation, will set sail for the northeastern Pacific Ocean this August.Portal image: Image from MODIS instrument on NASA Aqua satellite showing phytoplankton along the U.S. West CoastScience Categories: Earth

High-Precision Pointing on a CubeSat Enables New Science

This blog post originated in the 2016 Science Mission Directorate Technology Highlights Report (20 MB PDF).

Technology Infusion

A team led by University of Colorado (CU) researchers has successfully developed the first science CubeSat mission for NASA’s Heliophysics Division. The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer-1 (MinXSS-1) is a 3-Unit CubeSat measuring the energy distribution of soft X-rays from the sun.

The BCT XACT pointing system (top dark grey box, 0.5 Unit) integrated onto MinXSS-1 (3 Units). Photo credit: CU/LASP.

The satellite was deployed from the International Space Station on May 16, 2016 and has been operating for over nine months, as of March 1, 2017. To take measurements, MinXSS-1 must stably point its primary science instrument, an Amptek X123 X-ray spectrometer, towards the sun. This precise pointing is made possible by the new Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) XACT attitude determination and control system (ADCS), which experienced its first flight on MinXSS-1. The XACT can continuously point MinXSS-1 to within 0.002° of the sun, which is akin to pointing at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC from Los Angeles, Ca. This new, high level of pointing precision is now commercially available for CubeSat missions and enables scientific measurements that simply were not possible before. Other innovations in the MinXSS-1 mission include measuring the solar X-ray spectrum with unprecedented energy resolution using a Silicon Drift Detector (SDD) in the Amptek X123; technology demonstration of a low-noise, low-power electrometer for photodiodes that was developed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series; and deployable, high-efficiency solar panels designed and built by CU graduate students.


MinXSS-1 was the first science CubeSat launched for SMD. The pointing performance of XACT has already been employed with the solar X-ray measurements obtained by MinXSS-1. The energy resolution of the X123 is about 400 times higher than the resolution the GOES X-Ray Sensor (XRS) has provided for decades. XRS measurements are the standard by which solar flares are classified. Using simultaneous measurements from MinXSS-1 and GOES XRS, researchers have developed a new calibration method for the XRS data that yields a more accurate value for the sun’s soft X-ray emission brightness and the temperature of the solar corona. Future studies of solar flares and many space weather applications will benefit greatly from this new method.

MinXSS-1 data are also being used to study the material flowing upward from the sun’s surface into the corona during solar flares to learn how the corona can be about 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, while the solar surface (photosphere) is only about 10 thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and to determine how magnetic energy on the sun is driving the intense activity of solar X-rays.

NASA is already one of the biggest consumers of BCT pointing systems. The Agency also flew one on the Earth Science RAVAN mission (see page 6) and plans to fly them on the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission to Mars as part of the InSight mission, the Compact Radiation Belt Explorer (CeREs) CubeSat to study Earth’s radiation belt, and numerous other missions. The challenge of precision pointing on a CubeSat science mission has now been solved with the BCT ADCS; therefore, NASA and other institutions planning CubeSat missions can now focus on developing compact instruments to advance the science results from future CubeSat missions.

Status and Future Plans

In 2016, the BCT XACT system was proven to be a robust ADCS that is providing amazing 0.002° pointing precision for the MinXSS-1 CubeSat. The MinXSS team at the University of Colorado will continue operating MinXSS-1 until its expected re-entry in May 2017. The team has also developed the MinXSS-2 CubeSat, which is ready for launch in 2017 to a higher-altitude sun-synchronous orbit, where it will operate for five years.

Deployment of NASA MinXSS-1 (lower left CubeSat) and National Science Foundation/ University of Michigan CubeSat investigating Atmospheric Density Response to Extreme driving (CADRE) (upper right) from the International Space Station on 2016 May 16. (Credit: Tim Peake, ESA/NASA) Sponsoring Organization

Technology development for MinXSS-1 was funded by the SMD Heliophysics Division H-TIDeS program. The PI is Dr. Thomas N. Woods at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and the MinXSS team includes scientists and engineers from University of Colorado, NASA GSFC, Southwest Research Institute, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

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Revised Launch Date Targeted for Parker Solar Probe

Portal origin URL: Revised Launch Date Targeted for Parker Solar ProbePortal origin nid: 426317Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 - 15:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are now targeting launch of the agency’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft no earlier than Aug. 4, 2018, to accommodate further software testing of spacecraft systems.Portal image: illustration of Parker Solar ProbeScience Categories: Sun

Sounding Rocket Takes a Second Look at the Sun

Portal origin URL: Sounding Rocket Takes a Second Look at the SunPortal origin nid: 426295Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 - 12:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: In the harsh space environment, scientific instruments can degrade quickly. With the help of the EVE sounding rocket, scientists can still recover quality data from them.Portal image: EVE sounding rocket launchScience Categories: Sun

Ramp-Up in Antarctic Ice Loss Speeds Sea Level Rise

Portal origin URL: Ramp-Up in Antarctic Ice Loss Speeds Sea Level RisePortal origin nid: 426154Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - 12:52Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, increasing global sea levels by 0.12 inch (3 millimeters) in that timeframe alone, according to a major new international climate assessment funded by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).Portal image: Although the mountains are plastered in snow and ice, measurements tell us that this region is losing ice at an increasing rate.Science Categories: Earth

Smartphone App Simplifies Invasive Species Mapping in Kenya's North Rangelands

For many years, pastoralists in Northern Kenya have been affected by Opuntia stricta, an invasive cactus native to the Caribbean region and commonly referred to as prickly pear. This invasive species not only has overtaken the landscape and shrunken the forage space for both wildlife and livestock, but it also produces purple-reddish fruits that are highly toxic to animals.

A bull salivating, with thorns and wounds in his mouth, after eating the spiny fruit of a prickly pear cactus. Image credit: RCMRD

While there are many tales about how and when this invasive cactus was introduced in Kenya, it was most likely brought in by ranchers in the 1950s as a live fence to demarcate land boundaries. Mr. Sepeika, a livestock farmer in Laikipia, Kenya, says the plant has invaded large tracts of his grazing land and even thrives during dry spells. He adds that domestic and wild animals suffer either sickness or death as none are spared by the wild fruit.

“The cactus has small spines on the surface of its fruits that can lodge in the throat, stomach or intestines of any animal that eats it, oftentimes causing a slow death.” For Sepeika and his fellow pastoralists, livestock is everything because it provides food, income, as well as status. Thus, the invasive prickly pear threatens the livelihoods and way of life for pastoralists in the region.

As with many invasive plant species, large-scale eradication of prickly pear is expensive and time-consuming. It requires a combination of herbicides, manual cutting, burning, and even the introduction of a specific sap-sucking bug that heavily infests the prickly pear leaves, gradually destroying the plant until it finally dies. Peter Hetz of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum has firsthand knowledge of the difficulties in battling this nuisance over the years. “We have even tried removing the plant manually by clearing the bushes, but have combated these invasive cacti without much success.” Adding to this challenge is the lack of accurate mapping of the areas with the highest concentrations of this plant, which is necessary to effectively mobilize limited resources in eradication plans.

Seeking to address these shortcomings, SERVIR - Eastern and Southern Africa at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) developed the Invasive Species Mapper – a smartphone application that facilitates the collection of data on the current distribution of prickly pear and other invasive species in Kenya. Using satellite data and geospatial technologies, this app was designed to accurately map invasive species hotspots where particular plants are concentrated, which is important in prioritizing and planning both financial and human resources to eradicate invasive plant species.

Using the Invasive Species App in the field. Image credit: RCMRD

This app can be downloaded onto any Android phone and is customized with a comprehensive list of local invasive plants to aid in identification. Livestock farmers and local community leaders can now easily mark the precise location prickly pear clusters by taking a photo with their smartphone, which is uploaded with GPS coordinates and transmitted directly to RCMRD’s database for processing. This app can also work offline when there is limited internet connectivity. Once data collected in the field are sent to RCMRD for analysis, a predictive model is applied to produce maps of current and future distributions of the invasive species under different climate scenarios. SERVIR has offered multiple training workshops to build the capacities of various RCMRD partners in using the application to collect data. John Letai, Deputy Director, Environment and Natural Resources of the Laikipia County Government, welcomed the new mapping tool saying the county had estimated they require $2 million (USD) to eradicate prickly pear in Laikipia alone. He added the plant spreads remarkably fast, especially when baboons and elephants move across the landscape.

“The negative impact to our lands from the prickly pear is undeniable. We are looking at additional ways to reduce the effects of the plant on our grasslands, our livestock, and our livelihoods. It is for this reason that additional solutions such as this Invasive Species Mapper must be implemented to increase the rate at which the plant is destroyed.”

Uploaded data can be viewed and downloaded through:

Written by Dorah Nesoba of SERVIR-E&SA/RCMRD.

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NASA to Hold Media Teleconference on Martian Dust Storm, Mars Opportunity Rover

Portal origin URL: NASA to Hold Media Teleconference on Martian Dust Storm, Mars Opportunity RoverPortal origin nid: 426083Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 16:06Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: NASA will host a media teleconference at 1:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, June 13, to discuss a massive Martian dust storm affecting operations of the agency’s Opportunity rover and what scientists can learn from the various missions studying this unprecedented event.Portal image: MarsScience Categories: Solar System

As Solar Wind Blows, Our Heliosphere Balloons

Portal origin URL: As Solar Wind Blows, Our Heliosphere BalloonsPortal origin nid: 425679Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2018 - 11:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: What happens when the solar wind suddenly starts to blow significantly harder? According to two recent studies, the boundaries of our entire solar system balloon outward — and an analysis of particles rebounding off of its edges will reveal its new shape.Portal image: illustration depicting the layers of the heliosphereScience Categories: Sun

NASA’s Hi-C Launches to Study Sun’s Corona

Portal origin URL: NASA’s Hi-C Launches to Study Sun’s CoronaPortal origin nid: 425490Published: Friday, June 1, 2018 - 15:02Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: NASA and its partners launched a rocket-borne camera to the edge of space at 2:54 p.m. EST May 29, 2018, on its third flight to study the Sun. The clarity of images returned is unprecedented and their analysis will provide scientists around the world with clues to one of the biggest questions in heliophysics.Portal image: The High Resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-CScience Categories: Sun

SOFIA to Study Southern Skies in New Zealand

Portal origin URL: SOFIA to Study Southern Skies in New ZealandPortal origin nid: 425444Published: Friday, June 1, 2018 - 03:42Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, is heading to Christchurch, New Zealand, to study the skies over the Southern Hemisphere.Portal image: SOFIA takes off from Christchurch International Airport.Science Categories: Universe

NASA Previews Mission to Study Frontier of Space

Portal origin URL: NASA Previews Mission to Study Frontier of SpacePortal origin nid: 425283Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - 16:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: NASA will host a media briefing at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, June 4, on the agency’s mission to explore Earth’s ionosphere and the processes there that impact life on Earth’s surface. The event will air live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and Facebook Live.Portal image: Processes in Earth’s ionosphere create bright swaths of color in the sky, known as airglow, as seen here in an image.Science Categories: Sun

The Case of the Relativistic Particles Solved with NASA Missions

Portal origin URL: The Case of the Relativistic Particles Solved with NASA Missions Portal origin nid: 425247Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - 10:15Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Establishing the main cause of the radiation belt enhancements provides key information for models that forecast space weather — and thus protect our technology in space.Portal image: Particles traveling through space can be affected by electromagnetic waves.Science Categories: Sun