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.