The historic collection of a sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Tuesday was almost too successful.
Some of the sample is leaking into space, according to Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson during a NASA press conference Friday.
"The big concern now is that particles are escaping because we're almost a victim of our own success," he said. "Large particles left the flap open. Particles are diffusing out into space. They aren't moving fast, but nonetheless, it's valuable scientific material."
The mission team analyzed images Thursday taken of the collector head of the spacecraft that showed that a substantial sample was collected -- but there is so much material in the head that the flap designed to keep the sample inside is jammed.
This is allowing particles to escape into space. The mission team is changing the course of the events planned for the spacecraft this weekend and planning to stow the sample as quickly as possible so little material is lost. The researchers estimated that it's continually losing between 5 to 10 grams of material. This flaky material floats in what resembles a cloud of particles around the head.
But the team isn't sure of the exact loss rate because it's not steady.
The mission was required to collect at least 2 ounces, or 60 grams, of the asteroid's surface material. Based on the images they analyzed, the researchers are confident that the collector head on the end of the spacecraft's robotic arm actually captured 400 grams of material. And that's only what's visible to them through the perspective of the camera.
But particles are escaping through small gaps where a Mylar flap, or lid, is being held open by at least a centimeter by large rocks. And the activities planned for the spacecraft this weekend could cause more sample loss due to movement.
Previously, OSIRIS-Rex was expected to conduct a braking burn on Friday and a measurement of the sample's mass on Saturday. Although this means the team won't know the true mass of the sample until it returns to Earth in 2023, the mission team is confident that it will have a sufficient sample.
"We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible," Lauretta said. "The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I'm strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible."
The team will go through another evaluation process this weekend to ensure that the sample head could be stowed in the sample return capsule by Tuesday to protect loose material and keep the precious cargo safe so it can return to Earth.
The sample head is so full because of how the collection event unexpectedly played out on Tuesday.
The collector head made direct contact during the event Tuesday -- and then some. Over the course of the six seconds when the head touched down, it sank 5 centimeters into the asteroid's surface. When the pressurized nitrogen gas bottle fired, designed to lift up material from the surface, the head sank an additional 24 to 48 centimeters into the surface material.
There is no way to shut the flap, Lauretta said. While the team is not sure of the force of the rocks holding it open, it must be strong and at the size limit for what could pass into the collection head, he said.
This is not something the team encountered in their test campaign ahead of the mission's launch -- which did include large rocks and the sample collection head being buried by the asteroid's surface material. But the researchers didn't test the sample head at the depth they suspect it actually reached on the asteroid.
"Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the science mission directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
"Although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it's not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment."
Regardless of when the sample is stowed over the next week, the spacecraft won't begin its journey back to Earth until March 2021, when the asteroid that is currently 200 million miles from Earth is in alignment with our planet for a more efficient trip home.
The spacecraft "remains in good health" to return to Earth, according to the team.
This exoskeleton is thought to be one of the toughest structures known to exist in the animal kingdom.
The key to making stronger buildings and planes could lie in the anatomy of a crush-resistant insect that can survive being run over by a car, scientists have found.
To understand the secret behind the impressive strength of the inch-long diabolical ironclad beetle, researchers tested how much squishing it could take - and discovered it could handle about 39,000 times its own weight.
The study, led by engineers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and Purdue University, found the insect has two armour-like elytron that meet at a line, called a suture, which runs through the abdomen.
This unusual structure is layered and pieced together like a jigsaw, said Purdue civil engineer Pablo Zavattieri, who was part of a group of researchers that used CT scans to inspect the insect and run it over with a car.
He explained that when compressed, it fractured slowly instead of snapping.
"When you pull them apart, it doesn't break catastrophically. It just deforms a little bit," he said.
"This beetle is really tough"
The exoskeleton is thought to be one of the toughest structures known to exist in the animal kingdom.
Another lead researcher and engineering professor David Kisailus told Sky News the findings could inspire stronger structures and vehicles that are made with materials such as steel, plastic and plaster.
"For instance, current aircrafts are moving towards composite materials and... if it is 50% composite then the other components are other materials," he said.
"So how do you join those together? Firstly, if you can make your aircraft more lightweight it's using less fuel and less CO2 emissions, but secondly you allow more safety protocols because the beetle structure provides about 105% more toughness, so there'll be less failure of materials."
The potential shift from using strong, brittle materials to ones that can be both strong and tough by dissolving energy as they break could also make buildings safer, he explained.
That's because engineers currently rely on pins, bolts, welding and adhesives to hold everything together - techniques vulnerable to degrading.
"Any structural material that is going to be joined - indeed if you had connections in bridges where you need to have slight expansion and contraction - currently they don't have the same micro-layered structures as the beetle, so this could enhance reliability and avoid catastrophic failure," Professor Kisailus said.
Diabolical ironclad beetles are commonly found in Southern California's woodlands and can withstand pressure such as bird pecks and animal stomps.
Other local beetles were crushed by a third of the weight it could hold, previous research had found.
The study, published in Nature, is part of an $8m project funded by the US Air Force to explore how the biology of creatures such as mantis shrimp and bighorn sheep could help develop impact-resistant materials.
Brown University evolutionary biologist Colin Donihue, who was not involved in the study, said it was the latest effort to solve human problems with secrets from the natural world.
Velcro, for example, was inspired by the hook-like structure of plant burrs, while artificial adhesives took a page from super-clingy gecko feet.
Professor Donihue said endless other traits found in nature, or "adaptions which have evolved over millenia," could offer scientific insight.
This 2016 photo provided by the University of California, Irvine, shows a diabolical ironclad beetle, which can withstand being crushed by forces almost 40,000 times its body weight and are native to desert habitats in Southern California. Scientists say the armor of the seemingly indestructible beetle could offer clues for designing stronger planes and buildings. In a study published Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in the journal Nature, a group of scientists explains why the beetle is so squash-resistant. (Jesus Rivera, Kisailus Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab, University of California Irvine via AP)
In this 2016 photo provided by the University of California, Irvine, a cross section of the medial suture, where two halves of the diabolical ironclad beetle’s elytra meet, shows the puzzle piece configuration that’s among the keys to the insect’s incredible durability. Scientists say the armor of the seemingly indestructible beetle could offer clues for designing stronger planes and buildings. In a study published Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in the journal Nature, a group of scientists explains why the beetle is so squash-resistant. (Jesus Rivera, Kisailus Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab, University of California Irvine via AP)
NASA's OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will "TAG" asteroid Bennu Tuesday (Oct. 20) and collect a sample for return to Earth.
OSIRIS-REx is NASA's first asteroid-sampling spacecraft. The "touch-and-go" (TAG) sample collection attempt involves a series of maneuvers that will bring the spacecraft down to the asteroid's surface. The location selected for touchdown is called Nightingale, which is a rocky area measuring 52 feet (16 meters) in diameter and located in Bennu's northern hemisphere, according to NASA.
"We have never done this before," Nayi Castro, a mission operations manager for the OSIRIS-REx mission, said in a video from NASA. "We are actually going to collect a sample and bring it back down to Earth for further examination by scientists.
To achieve this, the spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu since 2018 and studying the asteroid in great detail, searching for the optimal landing spot — a location that is large enough, relatively flat and covered in fine-grained material.
However, finding this type of area was challenging, resulting in a number of additional close flybys and observations to select an appropriate sample site. The OSIRIS-REx team considered other potential locations such as Osprey, Kingfisher and Sandpiper before choosing Nightingale, which has the greatest amount of unobstructed fine-grained material, according to NASA.
How TAG will workNASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will perform three separate maneuvers to reach the asteroid's surface. The first step is called a checkpoint burn, during which the spacecraft will fire its thrusters to adjust its position relative to the Nightingale sample site. When OSIRIS-REx reaches an approximate altitude of 177 feet (54 m), another maneuver called a matchpoint burn will slow the spacecraft's descent and target a path to match the asteroid's rotation at the time of contact, according to NASA.
The spacecraft's robotic sampling arm, called the touch-and-go sample acquisition mechanism (TAGSAM), will then make contact with Bennu's surface for less than 16 seconds before heading back up to orbit. Upon contact with the asteroid, one of three pressurized nitrogen canisters will fire, stirring up a sample of dust and small rocks that can then be caught in the arm's collector head and stored for return to Earth.
The descent to the surface of Bennu will take roughly four hours. The spacecraft will use natural feature tracking (NFT) to recognize landmarks during its descent and update its position, if needed, to navigate around large boulders and ensure a safe landing on a relatively clear space, David Lorenz, TAG campaign lead, explained in the video.
"There are several things that could go wrong, and we also have to be prepared that we won't be successful on our first try at Nightingale," Mike Moreau, deputy project manager for OSIRIS-REx, said in the video."
In the event that the first TAG attempt is not successful, the spacecraft is equipped with backup pressurized nitrogen canisters, which will allow for additional sample collection attempts. The team hopes to collect 2 oz. (60 grams) of fine-grained material from the asteroid's surface, which will be the largest sample return from space since the Apollo program, according to NASA.
The OSIRIS-REx team has also studied Nightingale to identify areas within the sample site that could potentially harm the spacecraft. A hazard map of the site was developed and programmed into the spacecraft's navigation system, so that if the NFT system detects a dangerous landmark, the spacecraft will autonomously back away from the asteroid. This will allow the mission to reattempt sample collection at a future date, according to the video.
After collecting its sample, OSIRIS-REx will fire its thrusters to back away from Bennu. If all goes according to plan during collection, the team will verify the sample by taking a picture of the TAGSAM head to see if it contains surface material. A spin maneuver will also be performed on Saturday (Oct. 24) to measure the mass of the sample and ensure at least 2 oz. (60 grams) of material was collected and can be stored for return to Earth in 2023. However, if a sufficient sample was not collected, the spacecraft will be able to make two more attempts, according to the video.
"It is really exciting to know that we are finally going to be able to touch the surface of the asteroid and collect a sample to return back to Earth," Castro said.
© ASSOCIATED PRESS This Aug. 11, 2020 photo shows the sampling arm of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a rehearsal for an approach to the "Nightingale" sample site on the surface of the asteroid Bennu. After almost two years circling the ancient asteroid, OSIRIS-REx will attempt to descend to the treacherous, boulder-packed surface and snatch a handful of rubble on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona via AP)
KESTER, Belgium (AP) — To a few of the locals, the top-secret, fenced-off installation on the hill is known as “the radar station.” Some folks claim to have seen mysterious Russians in the area. Over the years, rumors have swirled that it might be a base for U.S. nuclear warheads.
It’s easy to see how the rumors start. The site is visually striking. Four huge white Kevlar balls sit like giant spherical spacecraft in a compound in the middle of open farm country 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of Belgium's capital, Brussels.
But the Kester Satellite Ground Station is both safer and more sophisticated than local lore might suggest. It’s central to space communications at NATO — the biggest and most modern of four such stations the military alliance runs.
Around 2,000 satellites orbit the earth, over half operated by NATO countries, ensuring everything from mobile phone and banking services to weather forecasts. NATO commanders in places like Afghanistan or Kosovo rely on some of them to navigate, communicate, share intelligence and detect missile launches.
This week, the site at Kester is set to fall under a new orbit, when NATO announces that it is creating a space center to help manage satellite communications and key parts of its military operations around the world.
In December, NATO leaders declared space to be the alliance’s “fifth domain” of operations, after land, sea, air and cyberspace. Over two days of talks starting Thursday, NATO defense ministers will greenlight a new space center at the alliance’s Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.
“This will be a focal point for ensuring space support to NATO operations, sharing information and coordinating our activities,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before the meeting.
It’s part of the alliance’s efforts to keep ahead in a fast moving and hi-tech sector, particularly amid concern about what member countries say is increasingly aggressive behavior in space by China and Russia.
Around 80 countries have satellites and private companies are moving in too. In the 1980s, just a fraction of NATO’s communications was via satellite. Today, it’s at least 40%. During the Cold War, NATO had more than 20 stations, but new technologies mean the world’s biggest security organization can double its coverage with a fifth of that number.
At Kester, behind a double security fence, massive steel gates and bulletproof glass in a facility that can withstand a terror attack or any attempt to jam communications, four satellite dishes ensconced in Kevlar domes connect NATO’s civilian and military headquarters in Belgium to their operations around the world.
From their elevated position, the dishes — two of them 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter — beam information and imagery down across Europe and over Africa into space above the equator where satellites owned by allies like the United States, Britain, France and Italy orbit. NATO itself doesn't own any satellites.
Around the globe, commanders in ships, aircraft and mobile or static headquarters decrypt the data to gather orders, pictures and intelligence, prepare missions, or move troops and military equipment. From Kester, new lines of communication can be set up for NATO within a half-hour.
Much of the facility is encased in thick steel plates, including the ducts where cables run, to withstand any attack by electromagnetic pulses — high bursts of energy that can knock out electrical power grids or destroy electronic circuit boards and components.
But NATO allies are increasingly concerned about other kinds of attacks using anti-satellite weapons miles above the earth which could wreak havoc below and leave dangerous debris adrift in space.
“Some nations – including Russia and China – are developing anti-satellite systems which could blind, disable or shoot down satellites and create dangerous debris in orbit. We must increase our understanding of the challenges in space and our ability to address them,” Stoltenberg said.
For the moment, the military alliance insists that its “approach will remain defensive and fully in line with international law.” And despite the strides being made in the “fifth domain,” Stoltenberg has repeatedly said over the last year that “NATO has no intention to put weapons in space.”
Source: Dayton Daily News
© Lorne Cook A Kevlar dome at the Kester Satellite Ground Station in Kester, Belgium, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. This week, the site at Kester, which has been in use for decades but was totally overhauled in 2014, is set to fall under a new orbit, when NATO announces that it is creating a space center to help manage satellite communications and key parts of its military operations around the world. (AP Photo/Lorne Cook)
© Lorne Cook Satellite dishes inside Kevlar domes line a field at the Kester Satellite Ground Station in Kester, Belgium, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. This week, the site at Kester, which has been in use for decades but was totally overhauled in 2014, is set to fall under a new orbit, when NATO announces that it is creating a space center to help manage satellite communications and key parts of its military operations around the world. (AP Photo/Lorne Cook)
NASA has chosen Nokia to build a 4G network on the moon as part of the space agency's Artemis programme, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence there.
The Finnish company will build the technology which will be integrated into NASA's lunar landers and used for remote control, as well as streaming high-definition videos.
The Artemis programme, named after the mythological sister of Apollo, the first moon mission's namesake, aims to take the first woman and the next man taken to the lunar surface by 2024.
SpaceX and Blue Origin have been given the nod to develop the new lunar landers which will take the astronauts to the surface of the moon from orbit.
The private spaceflight companies, owned by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, will develop competing systems in parallel, alongside a third company called Dynetics, but NASA will eventually choose one.
NASA intends to establish a "Lunar Gateway" outpost which will be orbiting the moon by the mid 2020s, and then lunar landers to deliver cargo to the surface by the late 2020s.
Nokia said its technology would be used to provide connectivity for "any activity that astronauts need to carry out", from "voice and video communications capabilities" through to the "deployment and control of robotic and sensor payloads".
The company's chief technology officer, Marcus Weldon, said: "We are now building the first ever cellular communications network on the moon.
"Reliable, resilient and high-capacity communications networks will be key to supporting sustainable human presence on the lunar surface," Mr Weldon added.
Nokia's lunar network is a little different from what it uses on Earth, primarily because the kit itself needs to be able to "withstand the harsh conditions of the launch and lunar landing, and to operate in the extreme conditions of space".
But, other than that, it will be normal 4G, including a base station, radio antennas, and user equipment - although it isn't clear how different this equipment is going to be from normal smartphones.