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2009 is a Big Year for NASA’s Goddar Space Flight Center

July 2, 2008

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, has the lead on many exciting space missions launching in the next year.

These missions include a final repair trip to upgrade the famous Hubble Space Telescope and spacecraft to study powerful gamma-rays, the moon, the Sun, and Earth’s weather and pollution. “This is one of the busiest periods in the history of Goddard,” said Rick Obenschain, acting director of Goddard.

The mission that kicked off the series of launches was CINDI.

– The Coupled Ion-Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) was successfully launched on April 16, 2008, into orbit using the Pegasus launch system. CINDI is exploring the role of ion-neutral interactions in the generation of small and large-scale electric fields in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

– The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST). GLAST launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. on June 11. This novel mission is a marriage of astronomy and particle physics teaming NASA with the U.S. Department of Energy and international partners. GLAST is a powerful new tool to explore the most extreme environments in the universe, where nature harnesses energies far beyond anything possible on Earth. GLAST is also the first imaging gamma-ray observatory to survey the entire sky every day and with high sensitivity. It will detect thousands of gamma-ray sources, most of which will be super-massive black holes in the cores of distant galaxies. And it will give scientists a unique opportunity to learn about the ever-changing universe at extreme energies.

– Next on the manifest is the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), scheduled for launch in October on a Pegasus XL rocket. The Pegasus vehicle is carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet beneath the wing of an L1011 aircraft where it is dropped and ignites a rocket engine to boost the spacecraft to orbit.

IBEX will make the first global observations of the region beyond the termination shock, an invisible shock formed as the solar wind piles up against the gas in interstellar space. The termination shock marks the beginning of our solar system’s final frontier, a vast expanse of turbulent gas and twisting magnetic fields. This region is critical because it blocks the vast majority of the deadly cosmic rays that would otherwise permeate the space around Earth and other planets. By making the first images of the interstellar boundaries neighboring our solar system, IBEX will provide a first step toward exploring the galactic frontier.

– NASA is scheduled to launch shuttle Atlantis, STS-125 October 8 to keep the Hubble Space Telescope operating at an incredible rate of scientific productivity.

With more than 17 years of historic and trailblazing science already accomplished, Hubble will again be reborn with Servicing Mission Four, during which astronauts will conduct five spacewalks; install two new cutting-edge science instruments — the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph — to enhance Hubble’s capabilities by large factors; refurbish a number of Hubble’s subsystems including the Fine Guidance Sensor to maintain a robust ability to point the telescope; and install gyros, batteries and thermal blankets to ensure Hubble functions efficiently for a minimum of five years after servicing. Astronauts will also attempt the first ever on-orbit repair of two existing instruments: the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Advanced Cameras for Surveys.

The TacSat-3 satellite, managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, is part of the effort to develop and demonstrate the technology to furnish real-time data to the combatant commander. A NASA Ames Research Center microsat called Pharmasat and two cubesats, one sponsored by Ames and one by Wallops, also will fly on the mission using an Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket. Launch is planned for October.

Have you always wanted to see a rocket launch but don’t have the time to take a trip to Florida’s Space Coast? Then take the short three-hour drive to Virginia’s Eastern Shore where three space missions are planned from Goddard’s Wallops Flight Facility: TacSat-3, the Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition (HyBoLT), and the Max Launch Abort System.

– A Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES), GOES-O is scheduled for launch in December. GOES is a joint effort of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that helps meteorologists better observe and predict local weather events, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, flash floods, hurricanes and other severe weather. GOES-O carries a Solar X-Ray Imager and Space Environment Monitoring instrument for monitoring space weather important for astronaut safety.

– On November 24, NASA plans to return to the Moon with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). LRO will create the most accurate and comprehensive topographic maps of the lunar surface to date, vital for pinpointing landing sites for future manned missions.

LRO will carry a suite of six instruments and will scan for resources and create accurate temperature maps necessary for designing structures that can endure the extreme temperature swings caused by the lunar day/night cycle. The moon offers radio-quiet sites that do not look through a thick ionosphere, allowing the use of low-frequency radio astronomy to access a new window into the early universe. It also allows the closest location where we can begin to learn how to extract, process, and use extra-terrestrial materials, significant to sustain a human presence in space.

– The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will provide detailed forecasts of solar activity, necessary to protect satellites orbiting Earth, and astronauts traveling to the moon and Mars. SDO’s images will be ten times better resolution than HDTV.

Slated for a December launch, SDO will look inside the Sun where solar activity begins, and also provide a better understanding of the flows of plasma inside the Sun, which is a key to predicting solar storms and activity cycles. SDO’s “X-ray vision” could revolutionize the forecasting of solar storms. SDO will also measure the Sun’s ever-changing extreme ultraviolet brightness, as well as help solve the mystery of what magnetic structures in the Sun may lead to violent space weather activity like flares and Coronal Mass Ejections. It will provide images of the Sun in eight soft X-ray wavelengths every 10 seconds, instead of once every 45 seconds as satellites do now.

– The Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition (HyBoLT) experiment is a payload for NASA’s Hypersonic project for NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program. This effort is focused on developing fundamental knowledge of flight at all speeds and translating that knowledge into flight vehicle design tools and capabilities. In hypersonic flight, the state of the boundary layer (laminar, transitional, or turbulent) is critical to the amount of heating caused by the flow of air over the surface of a flight vehicle. The Hy-BoLT flight experiment will help unravel basic knowledge of boundary layer heating, and use this knowledge to improve our design tools. The mission on an ATK ALV-X1 rocket is currently scheduled for the summer.

– The Max Launch Abort System (M-LAS) test will provide data to the NASA Engineering and Safety Center which is charged with evaluating a potential alternate design for the launch abort system of NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle. The name “Max” is in honor of Maxime Faget, the original designer of the Project Mercury capsule and holder of the patent for the “Aerial Capsule Emergency Separation Device” (escape tower). M-LAS incorporates a sleek, bullet-shaped composite fairing that completely encapsulates the Orion crew and service modules. The M-LAS concept will be validated by conducting an unmanned pad-abort test at Wallops in the fall.

NOAA-N Prime is planned for launch in February 2009 and is the last of a fleet of polar-orbiting environmental satellites (POES), which have served the nation and the world since 1978. NOAA-N Prime will carry a suite of instruments that will provide critical global information for numerical weather and climate predictions. GOES and POES satellites collect and relay search and rescue distress signals, and data collection system inputs from buoys and other platforms. Goddard has more than 40 years of experience managing the development of GOES and POES satellites for NOAA operations.

The Glory mission, set for launch in June 2009, will help scientists determine why Earth’s climate is changing and how much of that change is due to human activity.

The Earth’s energy balance, and its effect on climate, requires measuring black carbon soot and other aerosols, as well as the total solar irradiance. Glory is designed to collect data on the composition, properties, and distribution of natural and man-made aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere and climate system. Glory’s data will help NASA scientists understand the climate-relevant chemical, microphysical, and optical properties, and spatial and temporal distributions of human-caused and naturally occurring aerosols. In addition, Glory will continue the measurement of the total solar irradiance to determine the Sun’s direct and indirect effect on Earth’s climate. These data are essential to predicting future climate change and to making sound, scientifically based economic and policy decisions related to environmental change.

The TWINS (Two Wide-angle Imaging Neutral-atom Spectrometers) mission in 2009 will provide a new capability for stereoscopically imaging the magnetosphere.




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