Thursday June 20, 2019

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft begins 2-week search for enigmatic class of near-Earth objects known as Earth-Trojan asteroids

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Aerial View of NASA. Wikimedia

Washington, Feb 10, 2017: NASA said its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has started a two-week search for an enigmatic class of near-Earth objects known as Earth-Trojan asteroids.

The mission, currently on a two-year outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, will spend almost two weeks searching for evidence of these small bodies, the US space agency said on Thursday.

Although scientists have discovered thousands of Trojan asteroids accompanying other planets, only one Earth-Trojan has been identified to date, asteroid 2010 TK7.

Scientists predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit but they are difficult to detect from Earth as they appear near the sun on the Earth’s horizon.

“So this search gives us a unique opportunity to explore the primordial building blocks of Earth,” said principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Trojan asteroids are trapped in stable gravity wells, called Lagrange points, which precede or follow a planet.

Launched on September 8, 2016, OSIRIS-REx is currently travelling through Earth’s fourth Lagrange point, which is located 60 degrees ahead in Earth’s orbit around the sun, about 150 million km from Earth.

The mission team will use this opportunity to take multiple images of the area with the spacecraft’s MapCam camera in the hope of identifying Earth-Trojan asteroids in the region.

“Because the Earth’s fourth Lagrange point is relatively stable, it is possible that remnants of the material that built Earth are trapped within it,” Lauretta said.

The operations involved in searching for Earth-Trojan asteroids closely resemble those required to search for natural satellites and other potential hazards around Bennu when the spacecraft approaches its target in 2018, NASA said. (IANS)

Next Story

Costs Delays Mount for Boeing’s NASA Launch System, Finds Audit

Boeing’s space division restructured the SLS leadership team in 2018 and early 2019 to adjust to the program challenges

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Boeing, NASA, Audit
An AR-22 rocket engine is test fired at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Stennis, Miss., July 2, 2018. The AR-22 engine is designed to power an experimental spacecraft. VOA

NASA’s flagship space launch system being built by Boeing is taking years longer than expected with cost overruns of nearly $2 billion, an audit found Wednesday, raising questions about meeting a goal of returning humans to the moon by 2024.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) identified $1.8 billion in cost overruns, including $800 million that NASA obscured in previous reports on its Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket and capsule that will eventually take humans back to the moon.

The issues around the rocket’s development, led by Boeing Co, mean that the first launch of the SLS originally scheduled for late 2017 could be delayed until June 2021.

Boeing’s space division restructured the SLS leadership team in 2018 and early 2019 to adjust to the program challenges and simplified its manufacturing process, Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said.

Boeing, NASA, Audit
NASA’s flagship space launch system being built by Boeing is taking years longer than expected. Pixabay

“No one is building a rocket like this, and we’re creating a very in-depth database for all future rockets,” he said.

The Trump administration directed NASA in March to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024, part of a broader program called Artemis that will use the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.

The accelerated timeline, four years faster than originally planned, is likely to cost $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview with CNN last week.

Shifting costs

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The $1.8 billion cost overrun was nearly double what NASA reported to its inspector general in 2018 for SLS and the Orion capsule — the crew pod built by Lockheed Martin that will launch atop the rocket — the report said.

“NASA’s reporting of cost data for the SLS and Orion programs is not fully transparent,” it said.

NASA obscured the full cost growth of the SLS program by shifting roughly $800 million to future SLS missions to downplay the cost of the initial mission, the GAO report said.

Officials from NASA and Boeing also underestimated the manufacturing complexity of the “core stage” of four attached rocket engines, which could increase the cost and cause delays of two years or more, the report said.

 

Boeing, NASA, Audit
The General Accounting Office (GAO) identified $1.8 billion in cost overruns, including $800 million. Pixabay

Cost overruns, award fees

Despite the cost overruns, NASA has awarded Boeing at least $146 million and Lockheed $87 million in “award fees” to stay on schedule, but “the programs have not always achieved overall desired outcomes,” the report said. The space agency agreed to the report’s recommendation to re-evaluate its incentive system.

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NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight and operations, William Gerstenmaier, said in a response to the GAO’s report that the audit “does not acknowledge NASA is constructing some of the most sophisticated hardware ever built.” A NASA spokeswoman declined further comment. (VOA)