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Chandra Observatory By NASA Back in Action

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance

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NASA selects landing site for Mars 2020 Rover. Flcikr
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NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, observing the universe in high-energy light since 1999, is back in action after suffering a glitch due to the failure of the gyroscope and going into safe mode last week.

The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode, according to the US space agency.

“The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that, in turn, led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode,” NASA said in a statement late on Monday.

The team has completed plans to switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve.

Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by the end of this week, NASA said.

On October 10, Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of five years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October. Flickr

The US space agency said that it was also continuing to work towards resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope that on October 5, entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed.

Gyroscopes help spacecraft maintain proper orientation.

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Till that time, science operations with Hubble have been suspended.

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Besides Chandra and Hubble, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is also almost out of fuel. Kepler has found about 70 per cent of all known alien worlds to date.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October.

The space agency’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity too have faced issues of late. (IANS)

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A 3 Legged Geologist To Go To Mars From U.S.

The mission is designed to last one full Martian year, the equivalent of two Earth years.

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Mars
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. This view shows the underside of the spacecraft. VOA

Mars is about to get its first U.S. visitor in years: a three-legged, one-armed geologist to dig deep and listen for quakes.

NASA’s InSight makes its grand entrance through the rose-tinted Martian skies on Monday, after a six-month, 300 million-mile (480 million-kilometer) journey. It will be the first American spacecraft to land since the Curiosity rover in 2012 and the first dedicated to exploring underground.

NASA is going with a tried-and-true method to get this mechanical miner to the surface of the red planet. Engine firings will slow its final descent and the spacecraft will plop down on its rigid legs, mimicking the landings of earlier successful missions.

That’s where old school ends on this $1 billion U.S.-European effort.

Once flight controllers in California determine the coast is clear at the landing site — fairly flat and rock free — InSight’s 6-foot (1.8-meter) arm will remove the two main science experiments from the lander’s deck and place them directly on the Martian surface.

Mars
The next Mars close approach will be on October 6, 2020. Pixabay

No spacecraft has attempted anything like that before.

The firsts don’t stop there.

One experiment will attempt to penetrate 16 feet (5 meters) into Mars, using a self-hammering nail with heat sensors to gauge the planet’s internal temperature. That would shatter the out-of-this-world depth record of 8 feet (2 { meters) drilled by the Apollo moonwalkers nearly a half-century ago for lunar heat measurements.

The astronauts also left behind instruments to measure moonquakes. InSight carries the first seismometers to monitor for marsquakes — if they exist. Yet another experiment will calculate Mars’ wobble, providing clues about the planet’s core.

It won’t be looking for signs of life, past or present. No life detectors are on board.

The spacecraft is like a self-sufficient robot, said lead scientist Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Mars
Scientists found layers of ice on the surface of Mars. Wikimedia Commons

“It’s got its own brain. It’s got an arm that can manipulate things around. It can listen with its seismometer. It can feel things with the pressure sensors and the temperature sensors. It pulls its own power out of the sun,” he said.

By scoping out the insides of Mars, scientists could learn how our neighbor — and other rocky worlds, including the Earth and moon — formed and transformed over billions of years. Mars is much less geologically active than Earth, and so its interior is closer to being in its original state — a tantalizing time capsule.

InSight stands to “revolutionize the way we think about the inside of the planet,” said NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.

But first, the 800-pound (360-kilogram) vehicle needs to get safely to the Martian surface. This time, there won’t be a ball bouncing down with the spacecraft tucked inside, like there were for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers in 2004. And there won’t be a sky crane to lower the lander like there was for the six-wheeled Curiosity during its dramatic “seven minutes of terror.”

“That was crazy,” acknowledged InSight’s project manager, Tom Hoffman. But he noted, “Any time you’re trying to land on Mars, it’s crazy, frankly. I don’t think there’s a sane way to do it.”

Access Mars
Google collaborated with NASA to produce Access Mars that lets users wander the actual dunes and valleys explored by NASA’s Curiosity rover.. Wikimedia

No matter how it’s done, getting to Mars and landing there is hard — and unforgiving.

Earth’s success rate at Mars is a mere 40 percent. That includes planetary flybys dating back to the early 1960s, as well as orbiters and landers.

While it’s had its share of flops, the U.S. has by far the best track record. No one else has managed to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars. Two years ago, a European lander came in so fast, its descent system askew, that it carved out a crater on impact.

This time, NASA is borrowing a page from the 1976 twin Vikings and the 2008 Phoenix, which also were stationary and three-legged.

“But you never know what Mars is going to do,” Hoffman said. “Just because we’ve done it before doesn’t mean we’re not nervous and excited about doing it again.”

Wind gusts could send the spacecraft into a dangerous tumble during descent, or the parachute could get tangled. A dust storm like the one that enveloped Mars this past summer could hamper InSight’s ability to generate solar power. A leg could buckle. The arm could jam.

NASA, opportunity, Mars
The nearly 15-year-old rover is not out of the woods yet as it could take weeks, or even months, for the dust to start settling., Pixabay

The tensest time for flight controllers in Pasadena, California: the six minutes from the time the spacecraft hits Mars’ atmosphere and touchdown. They’ll have jars of peanuts on hand — a good-luck tradition dating back to 1964’s successful Ranger 7 moon mission.

InSight will enter Mars’ atmosphere at a supersonic 12,300 mph (19,800 kph), relying on its white nylon parachute and a series of engine firings to slow down enough for a soft upright landing on Mars’ Elysium Planitia, a sizable equatorial plain.

Hoffman hopes it’s “like a Walmart parking lot in Kansas.”

The flatter the better so the lander doesn’t tip over, ending the mission, and so the robotic arm can set the science instruments down.

InSight — short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — will rest close to the ground, its top deck barely a yard, or meter, above the surface. Once its twin circular solar panels open, the lander will occupy the space of a large car.

If NASA gets lucky, a pair of briefcase-size satellites trailing InSight since their joint May liftoff could provide near-live updates during the lander’s descent. There’s an eight-minute lag in communications between Earth and Mars.

NASA, opportunity, Mars
Mars fantasy landscape. Representational image. Pixabay.

The experimental CubeSats, dubbed WALL-E and EVE from the 2008 animated movie, will zoom past Mars and remain in perpetual orbit around the sun, their technology demonstration complete.

If WALL-E and EVE are mute, landing news will come from NASA orbiters at Mars, just not as quickly.

The first pictures of the landing site should start flowing shortly after touchdown. It will be at least 10 weeks before the science instruments are deployed. Add another several weeks for the heat probe to bury into Mars.

Also Read: NASA Delivers Supplies To The Space Station

The mission is designed to last one full Martian year, the equivalent of two Earth years.

With landing day so close to Thanksgiving, many of the flight controllers will be eating turkey at their desks on the holiday.

Hoffman expects his team will wait until Monday to give full and proper thanks. (VOA)