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Scientists find NASA’s lost football-field-sized balloon from Antarctica

Scientists have found NASA's lost field-football-size balloon with a telescope in Antarctica after a year from its flight

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Aerial View of NASA. Wikimedia

New York, Feb 25, 2017: Scientists have recovered a lost football-field-sized balloon with a telescope hanging beneath it from Antarctica after a year of its flight.

According to the US space agency NASA, the balloon floated 39 kms above the Antarctic continent for 12 days in January 2016 until scientists sent the pre-planned command to cut the balloon.

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The telescope parachuted to the ground in the Queen Maud region of Antarctica where it remained on the ice for an entire year.

“The scientists did quickly recover the data vaults from the NASA-funded mission, called GRIPS (Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for Solar flares), but due to incoming winter weather they had to leave the remaining instruments on the ice and schedule a recovery effort for the following year,” NASAsaid in a statement on Saturday.

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The instruments were finally recovered in January this year when it was warm and safe enough for scientists to go there.

“Despite sitting on the ice for a year, no snow had made it into the electronics. The cryostat instrument, which houses the GRIPS detectors, seemed in great condition, and we’re hoping to use some of the instruments again,” said Hazel Bain, a solar physicist on the GRIPS team.

GRIPS is a helium balloon-borne telescope designed to study high-energy particles generated by solar flares and help scientists better understand what causes these giant eruptions on the sun, which can send energy toward our planet and shape the very nature of near-Earth space.

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GRIPS is a NASA-funded project largely designed, built and tested by the University of California-Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory. (IANS)

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NASA’s Launch System Taking Years Longer Than Expected, 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)