Members Can Post Anonymously On This Site
5 min read
NASA’s Webb Telescope Improves Simulation Software
The James Webb Space Telescope captures a tightly bound pair of actively forming stars, known as Herbig-Haro 46/47, in high-resolution near-infrared light. The James Webb Space Telescope truly explores the unknown, displaying stunning images of previously unseen corners of the universe only possible because of the telescope’s 21-foot segmented mirror that unfurled and assembled itself in space.
Decades of testing went into the materials, design, and processes needed to develop the largest telescope in space. However, the whole project was too complex to test on the ground, at scale, at minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and in other space-like conditions.
Instead, engineers relied on software simulations to understand how the telescope would behave under different in-space conditions, and that work has helped advance the whole field of integrated computer modeling.
The Ansys Zemax OpticStudio software package, pictured here in a demo of James Webb Space Telescope mirror modeling, was equipped with new capabilities and features as a result of being used in the observatory’s development. Ansys Inc. “We pushed everything, all the simulation, just as hard as it would go,” said Erin Elliott, an optical engineer at Ansys, Inc., which makes Ansys Zemax OpticStudio, one of the design software suites used to develop hardware and software for the Webb telescope.
Simulation technology has improved dramatically over the last two decades because of increases in computing power and new ways of accessing offsite computing power as a cloud service. But additional improvements trace back directly to Webb’s development.
Elliott used OpticStudio to support the Webb telescope while working for other NASA contractors, beginning in the early 2000s, before starting work in 2015 for Zemax ¬– which later became Ansys Zemax ¬– headquartered in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
In the early days, Elliott said, Zemax tweaked its software for the Webb telescope effort. “They made some specific changes for us at the time having to do with handling the coordinate systems of the segments,” she said, referring to the 18 hexagonal segments that make up the telescope’s primary mirror.
Elliott also recalled talking to Zemax leadership numerous times about the need for the software to communicate better with other Microsoft Windows programs. The company introduced an API, or application programming interface, for OpticStudio, which enables the suite to work with other programs and allows for further customization. There were plenty of reasons to add that technology but Webb demands were likely significant among them, Elliott said.
An engineer examines the Webb telescope primary mirror Engineering Design Unit segment in the clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA Joseph Howard, an optical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where Webb and its science instrument module were assembled, noted that using several modeling packages helped drive innovation in the field. “It’s important to have multiple software companies out there that can help you not only for cross-checking the modeling, but because they make each other better through competition,” he said.
In addition to improvements made to OpticStudio during Webb telescope development, Ansys Zemax in 2021 introduced the Structural, Thermal, Analysis, and Results (STAR) module, which benefited from the knowledge Elliott gained working on the NASA project.
The first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.NASA When a mirror or lens changes shape due to temperature swings, the optics move. Much of the OpticStudio modeling was completed in smaller pieces — engineers would run a thermal simulation independently and add that data to the next optical model, generating more data for the next run.
The STAR module incorporates analyses from other simulation software directly into OpticStudio optical models — an efficiency applicable to telescope and aerospace designs. This feature is also increasingly important for autonomous vehicles, cell phone lenses, and other optics working in tough environments.
Future telescopes and other spacecraft are likely to involve elements of the Webb design. More will travel in segments that must self-assemble in space, and the development of the increasingly complicated robotics and optics will rely on improved modeling software.
“When we built Webb, we knew we couldn’t fully test it on the ground prior to flight, so we depended a whole lot upon modeling and doing analysis to get ready for flight,” Howard said. “The next great observatory will be even more dependent on modeling software.”
Meanwhile, designers of more earthly technologies are already seeing the benefits of an improved OpticStudio, using it to design precision endoscopes, a thermal imager to detect COVID-19 exposures in a crowd, augmented reality displays and headsets, a laser thruster technology for nanosatellites, and, of course, more telescopes.
Elliott also noted that the Webb telescope project trained the next cohort of telescope and optical device builders – those designing and using the telescope’s technological spinoffs.
“The people who built the Hubble Space Telescope were leading the Webb Telescope,” she said. “And now the younger engineers who cut our teeth on this project and learned from it are becoming the group of people who will build the next structures.”
Elliott maintains that the project “was worth it alone for training this huge cohort of young engineers and releasing them into high-tech fields.”
NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication profiles NASA technologies that have transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the broader benefits of America’s investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).
For more information on how NASA brings space technology down to Earth, visit:
Facebook logo @NASATechnology @NASA_Technology Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA
Space Technology Mission Directorate
Technology Transfer & Spinoffs
James Webb Space Telescope
This placeholder has been created to fill a slot in the Topic Cards block on pages imported for the Hubble…
Goddard Space Flight Center
Last Updated Oct 31, 2023 Editor Loura Hall Contact Ann M. Harkeyann.firstname.lastname@example.org Related Terms
Space Technology Mission Directorate Technology Technology Transfer & Spinoffs View the full article
3 Min Read New Software Enables Atmospheric Modeling with Greater Resolution
Randall Martin / Washington University PROJECT
High Performance GEOS-Chem
An ESTO investment in software optimization helps researchers and citizen scientists model air quality and greenhouse gases with greater resolution, allowing them to better understand how global atmospheric trends impact local areas.
A data visualization describing atmospheric NO2 concentrations, produced using High Performance GEOS-Chem Image credit: Randall Martin / Washington University Next-generation software is making it easier for researchers, policy makers, and citizen scientists to model air quality and greenhouse gases using NASA meteorological data.
This novel software, “High Performance GEOS-Chem,” uses equations representing the Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and boundary conditions from NASA’s Goddard Earth Observation System (GEOS) to represent global atmospheric chemistry across three dimensions at a horizontal spatial resolution of 12 kilometers by 12 kilometers per pixel—an area about one-fifth the size of New York City.
For comparison, the original GEOS-Chem model that was developed in 2001 only produced global simulations at a spatial resolution of about 200 by 250 square kilometers – an area about twice as large as the entire state of New Jersey.
With this improved resolution, researchers interested in air quality and atmospheric chemistry in specific communities can use models, simulations, and visualizations built with NASA data to better understand how global atmospheric trends impact local areas.
GEOS-Chem is an open-source model freely accessible here. More information about High Performance Geos-Chem – including manuals and tutorials – can be found here.
“This new generation of High Performance GEOS-Chem offers major advancements for ease of use, computational performance, versatility, resolution, and accuracy,” said Randall Martin, a professor at Washington University’s McKelvey School of Engineering and Primary Investigator for the High Performance GEOS-Chem project.
In a recent technical demonstration of their improved GEOS-Chem software, Martin and his team showed two images mapping tropospheric nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant typically produced by burning fossil fuels.
The image produced with High Performance GEOS-Chem featured 200 million more grid cells than the image produced with the original GEOS-Chem software. In other words, High Performance GEOS-Chem creates images more resolute by a factor of about 200.
“We’re really excited. Many features can be examined that aren’t resolved at all at the coarser resolution,” said Martin.
For researchers interested in global air quality and atmospheric composition with local resolution, this new generation of the High Performance GEOS-Chem marks the beginning of a new era for creating descriptive models.
Two visualizations using the same data generated by High Performance GEOS-Chem (top) and the original GEOS-Chem software (bottom). High Performance GEOS-Chem created an image more resolute than the original GEOS-Chem software by a factor of 200. (Image credit: Randall Martin / Washington University) Martin and his team added a number of technological innovations to High Performance GEOS-Chem. In particular, they incorporated a cubed-sphere computation grid into their GEOS-Chem software, reducing noise at the poles and allowing for higher resolution.
High Performance GEOS-Chem also includes a cloud computing capability. This spreads the resource-intensive computation work of generating detailed atmospheric models across dispersed computing nodes, such as Amazon Web Services.
Martin and his team pride themselves on ensuring GEOS-Chem remains an open and accessible tool for anyone interested in simulating atmospheric composition. Their website includes a full suite of tutorial videos, manuals, and guides for using GEOS-Chem effectively.
“NASA enabled us to develop this new generation of GEOS-Chem that has both the additional technical performance and offers the ease of use that this large community requires,” said Martin.
Future iterations of GEOS-Chem could feature further improvements. Developing a better user interface and increasing the modularity of GEOS-Chem are just a few objectives Martin and his team have in mind.
NASA’s Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST), a part of NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), funded this program.
Randall Martin, Washington University in St. Louis
Earth Science Division’s Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) Program
View the full article
NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is depicted in this artist’s concept traveling through interstellar space, or the space between stars, which it entered in 2012. Traveling on a different trajectory, its twin, Voyager 2, entered interstellar space in 2018.NASA/JPL-Caltech The efforts should help extend the lifetimes of the agency’s interstellar explorers.
Engineers for NASA’s Voyager mission are taking steps to help make sure both spacecraft, launched in 1977, continue to explore interstellar space for years to come.
One effort addresses fuel residue that seems to be accumulating inside narrow tubes in some of the thrusters on the spacecraft. The thrusters are used to keep each spacecraft’s antenna pointed at Earth. This type of buildup has been observed in a handful of other spacecraft.
The team is also uploading a software patch to prevent the recurrence of a glitch that arose on Voyager 1 last year. Engineers resolved the glitch, and the patch is intended to prevent the issue from occurring again in Voyager 1 or arising in its twin, Voyager 2.
The thrusters on Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are primarily used to keep the spacecraft antennas pointed at Earth in order to communicate. Spacecraft can rotate in three directions – up and down, to the left and right, and around the central axis, like a wheel. As they do this, the thrusters automatically fire and reorient the spacecraft to keep their antennas pointed at Earth.
Propellant flows to the thrusters via fuel lines and then passes through smaller lines inside the thrusters called propellant inlet tubes that are 25 times narrower than the external fuel lines. Each thruster firing adds tiny amounts of propellant residue, leading to gradual buildup of material over decades. In some of the propellant inlet tubes, the buildup is becoming significant. To slow that buildup, the mission has begun letting the two spacecraft rotate slightly farther in each direction before firing the thrusters. This will reduce the frequency of thruster firings.
The adjustments to the thruster rotation range were made by commands sent in September and October, and they allow the spacecraft to move almost 1 degree farther in each direction than in the past. The mission is also performing fewer, longer firings, which will further reduce the total number of firings done on each spacecraft.
The adjustments have been carefully devised to ensure minimal impact on the mission. While more rotating by the spacecraft could mean bits of science data are occasionally lost – akin to being on a phone call where the person on the other end cuts out occasionally – the team concluded the plan will enable the Voyagers to return more data over time.
Engineers can’t know for sure when the thruster propellant inlet tubes will become completely clogged, but they expect that with these precautions, that won’t happen for at least five more years, possibly much longer. The team can take additional steps in the coming years to extend the lifetime of the thrusters even more.
“This far into the mission, the engineering team is being faced with a lot of challenges for which we just don’t have a playbook,” said Linda Spilker, project scientist for the mission as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “But they continue to come up with creative solutions.”
Patching Things Up
In 2022, the onboard computer that orients the Voyager 1 spacecraft with Earth began to send back garbled status reports, despite otherwise continuing to operate normally. It took mission engineers months to pinpoint the issue. The attitude articulation and control system (AACS) was misdirecting commands, writing them into the computer memory instead of carrying them out. One of those missed commands wound up garbling the AACS status report before it could reach engineers on the ground.
The team determined the AACS had entered into an incorrect mode; however, they couldn’t determine the cause and thus aren’t sure if the issue could arise again. The software patch should prevent that.
“This patch is like an insurance policy that will protect us in the future and help us keep these probes going as long as possible,” said JPL’s Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager. “These are the only spacecraft to ever operate in interstellar space, so the data they’re sending back is uniquely valuable to our understanding of our local universe.”
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have traveled more than 15 billion and 12 billion miles from Earth, respectively. At those distances, the patch instructions will take over 18 hours to travel to the spacecraft. Because of the spacecraft’s age and the communication lag time, there’s some risk the patch could overwrite essential code or have other unintended effects on the spacecraft. To reduce those risks, the team has spent months writing, reviewing, and checking the code. As an added safety precaution, Voyager 2 will receive the patch first and serve as a testbed for its twin. Voyager 1 is farther from Earth than any other spacecraft, making its data more valuable.
The team will upload the patch and do a readout of the AACS memory to make sure it’s in the right place on Friday, Oct. 20. If no immediate issues arise, the team will issue a command on Saturday, Oct. 28, to see if the patch is operating as it should.
More About the Mission
The Voyager mission was originally scheduled to last only four years, sending both probes past Saturn and Jupiter. NASA extended the mission so that Voyager 2 could visit Uranus and Neptune; it is still the only spacecraft ever to have encountered the ice giants. In 1990, NASA extended the mission again, this time with the goal of sending the probes outside the heliosphere, a protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun. Voyager 1 reached the boundary in 2012, while Voyager 2 (traveling slower and in a different direction than its twin) reached it in 2018.
A division of Caltech in Pasadena, JPL built and operates the Voyager spacecraft. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:
News Media Contact
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Last Updated Oct 20, 2023 Related Terms
Jet Propulsion Laboratory The Solar System Voyager 1 Voyager 2 Voyager Program Explore More
5 min read NASA’s Webb Discovers New Feature in Jupiter’s Atmosphere
Article 1 day ago 8 min read Mercury’s Strange Hollows
Enigmatic depressions on the surface have puzzled scientists since the 1970s NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft discovered…
Article 3 days ago 4 min read Trick or Treat: Sidewalk Astronomy!
Find events in your area and see what neighboring clubs are up to by checking…
Article 3 days ago View the full article
2 min read
NASA Concludes Significant Technical Challenge: In-Time Terminal Area Risk Management
NASA’s System-Wide Safety project is working towards achieving NASA’s vision for safe, efficient skies.Busakorn Pongparnit Operations within the National Airspace System continue to grow in scale and complexity. As a result, causal factors of risks and hazards are increasingly complex and drive the need to transform the way we conduct risk management and safety assurance.
NASA’s System-Wide Safety (SWS) project recently commemorated the completion of a major step towards that transformation with an engaging hybrid event reflecting on the completion of its Technical Challenge 1 (TC-1): In-Time Terminal Area Risk Management.
The event highlighted key takeaways, provided technology demonstrations, and engaged stakeholders and partners in conversations around the myriad of capabilities and opportunities made possible by the tools, techniques, and processes developed under the technical challenge.
Speakers from NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines, and the aviation industry at large discussed how to best leverage TC-1 capabilities as the safety foundation of this new era of commercial aviation.
New technologies developed in TC-1 identify emerging risks and monitor safety margins before an accident occurs – not after. Powered by prognostic and predictive risk assessment algorithms and human factors research, TC-1 work will both improve today’s safety management systems and help us shape future operational systems.
Nikunj Oza, subproject manager for TC-1, speaks at the closeout event.NASA Through TC-1, NASA and its partners have developed and demonstrated:
Methods to improve risk management and safety assurance processes by proactively identifying risks and causal factors before an accident/incident occurs. Integrated risk assessment capabilities to monitor and assess terminal area operations based on advanced data analytics methods and predictive model development. Machine Learning Analytics Tools, in collaboration with our partners, that identify and characterize operational risks, monitor, and integrate data, evaluate risk mitigation strategies, and determine causal and contributing factors. TC-1’s findings are the bedrock of the rest of the SWS technical challenges. They pave the way for a new technical challenge (TC-6) that seeks to expand on the work completed thus far and address the call to action set forth by the FAA to address safety challenges facing the transforming aviation industry.
SWS extends sincere appreciation to TC-1’s subproject managers, Nikunj Oza and Chad Stephens, and to Abigail Glenn-Chase for coordinating such an impactful event.
A recording of the event is available below.
Facebook logo @NASA@NASAaero@NASA_es @NASA@NASAaero@NASA_es Instagram logo @NASA@NASAaero@NASA_es Linkedin logo @NASA Explore More
3 min read Meet System-Wide Safety’s Hannah Walsh
Hannah Walsh, Computer Engineer
Article 5 months ago 4 min read From the Streets to the Skies: Terry Morris Using NASA’s Vision to Transform Humanity Towards the Future
Abused. Neglected. Abandoned. Terry Morris was dealt a horrible set of cards in life, but…
Article 8 months ago 1 min read System-Wide Safety Hosts Panel at Crosscutting Meeting
Article 8 months ago Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA
Humans In Space
Solar System Exploration
Overview Since 1998, NASA’s Solar System Exploration hub has served as a real-time, living encyclopedia of the scientific exploration of…
Explore NASA’s History
Last Updated Oct 06, 2023 Editor Lillian Gipson Contact Jim Bankejim.email@example.com Related Terms
System-Wide Safety View the full article
Department of Defense Releases Actions to Transform Climate and Enhance Prevention of Harmful Behaviors at Military Service AcademiesBy Space Force
Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directed multiple actions to transform climate and enhance prevention of harmful behaviors at the Military Service Academies (MSAs).
View the full article
Check out these Videos