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Announcing the New Heliophysics Division Director
November 29, 2023
NASA has selected Dr. Joseph Westlake to fill the position of Heliophysics Division Director. Joe will join the Science Mission Directorate and assume his new role on Jan. 16, 2024.
I am pleased to have Joe take on the role as the Heliophysics Division Director. Joe has a strong background in heliophysics and planetary science and has already made significant contributions to our efforts by supporting several NASA missions including the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, the Van Allen Probes, Parker Solar Probe, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission, the Juno mission, Cassini and the European Space Agency’s Juice mission to Ganymede.
Joe brings with him more than 18 years of scientific, technical, management, and programmatic experience in heliophysics, astrophysics, and planetary science. He is coming to us from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) where he works as a researcher and project scientist for the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe mission and principal investigator for the Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding, or PIMS, instrument destined for Jupiter’s moon, Europa, onboard the Europa Clipper mission.
“I’m very excited to join NASA as the Division Director for Heliophysics,” said Westlake. “I look forward to diving in and working with the vibrant community of scientists and engineers that are uncovering the mysteries of our star.”
In 2024, the National Academies will release a new Decadal Survey that lays out a strategy to advance scientific understanding of the Sun, Sun-Earth connections and the origins of space weather, the Sun’s interactions with other bodies in the solar system, the interplanetary medium, and the interstellar medium; Joe’s experience across several scientific disciplines, as well as his leadership and technical experience, uniquely qualifies him for this critical leadership position in the Science Mission Directorate as we embark on an exciting new decade of solar and space physics.
I extend my sincere appreciation to Peg Luce who led the Division for nearly a year while the director position was vacant; she has done a stellar job. With nearly 10 years as the deputy director, Peg’s exceptional efforts have brought significant strides within Science Mission Directorate and the broader scientific community. I am thrilled she will continue serving as the Heliophysics Division Deputy Director and helping Joe usher the division into this new era.
“The Sun touches everything and the science of heliophysics is helping us unlock its mysteries,” said Peg Luce, deputy division director, Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Joe’s unique experience and insight will help guide the division as we usher in solar max, launch a host of new heliophysics missions, and flow through the Heliophysics Big Year.”
Please join me in welcoming Joe to Headquarters!
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A view of the Earth with Aurora Borealis and an orbital sunrise taken by the Expedition 35 crew aboard the International Space Station.NASA Two small businesses are benefitting from NASA’s expertise as they develop heat shield technologies, cargo delivery systems, and new protective materials for spacecraft and space stations in the growing commercial industry of low Earth orbit operations.
The two American companies – Canopy Aerospace Inc. of Littleton, Colorado and Outpost Technologies Corp. of Santa Monica, California – recently announced progress in the development of a new heat shield manufacturing capability and a new cargo transportation system for potential use on the International Space Station and future commercial space stations.
“These projects are a great example of how NASA is supporting a growing commercial space industry,” said Angela Hart, manager of NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “There is an entire ecosystem emerging where companies are working together and innovating to meet NASA’s needs and also positioning themselves to reach new customers, so that NASA can be just one of many customers in low Earth orbit.”
The companies work with NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program through SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) contracts funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Both contracts are part of an innovative pilot program known as SBIR Ignite, focused on small businesses with commercially viable technology ideas aligned with NASA mission needs that can help support the expanding aerospace ecosystem.
Improving heat shields, saving time
A piece of Thermal Protection System (TPS) material undergoes high temperature testing at Canopy Aerospace’s facility in Littleton, Colorado. Canopy Aerospace Canopy Aerospace Inc., a venture-funded startup, is collaborating with NASA to develop a new manufacturing system that can improve production of ceramic heat shields – otherwise referred to as thermal protection systems (TPS). In the vacuum of space, spacecraft and space station hardware must withstand extreme cold and heat environments. Upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, these craft in low Earth orbits are exposed to temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
To protect spacecraft and space stations during re-entry, engineered TPS are required. NASA developed the first TPS types under the Space Shuttle Program, and similar technologies are still used today to protect the Orion spacecraft as it returns to Earth from space. Canopy’s RHAM (Reusable Heatshields Additive Manufacturing) platform builds on the shuttle program’s heritage methods, but utilizes novel materials, new binding, and heat treatment processes to create a new type of ceramic heat shield and produce it at scale in the commercial sector.
As more companies enter the commercial space market, improved heat shield manufacturing methods are critical to driving down launch costs, shortening lead times, and enabling new mission capabilities for future spacecraft.
Transporting cargo, saving space
A concept infographic depicting the Cargo Ferry cargo transportation vehicle’s launch and return process. Outpost Technologies Outpost Technologies Corp. is collaborating with NASA to develop a new cargo transport vehicle, named Cargo Ferry. The reusable vehicle consists of a payload container for cargo, solar array wings to power the vehicle, a deployable heat shield to protect it on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, and a robotic paraglider system to deliver it safely to the ground with “landing pad” precision.
Cargo Ferry could transport non-human cargo including science and hardware from space stations back down to Earth more frequently, freeing up vital research and stowage space on board the station. Commercial space stations are expected to be smaller than the International Space Station, thus systems like Cargo Ferry could offer a more versatile and adaptable solution for cargo transportation.
NASA is supporting the design and development of multiple commercial space stations with three funded partners, as well as several other partners with unfunded agreements through NASA’s Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 project.
NASA’s commercial strategy for low Earth orbit will provide the government with reliable and safe services at a lower cost and enable the agency to focus on Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for Mars while also continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
For more information about NASA’s commercial space strategy, visit:
Johnson Space Center, Houston
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4 Min Read NASA’s Webb Reveals New Features in Heart of Milky Way
Sagitarius C (NIRCam) Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and S. Crowe (University of Virginia). The latest image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows a portion of the dense center of our galaxy in unprecedented detail, including never-before-seen features astronomers have yet to explain. The star-forming region, named Sagittarius C (Sgr C), is about 300 light-years from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*.
Image: Sagitarius C (NIRCam)
The NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s reveals a portion of the Milky Way’s dense core in a new light. An estimated 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C (Sgr C) region, along with some as-yet unidentified features. A large region of ionized hydrogen, shown in cyan, contains intriguing needle-like structures that lack any uniform orientation.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and S. Crowe (University of Virginia). “There’s never been any infrared data on this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity we get with Webb, so we are seeing lots of features here for the first time,” said the observation team’s principal investigator Samuel Crowe, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this sort of environment in a way that wasn’t possible previously.”
“The galactic center is the most extreme environment in our Milky Way galaxy, where current theories of star formation can be put to their most rigorous test,” added professor Jonathan Tan, one of Crowe’s advisors at the University of Virginia.
Amid the estimated 500,000 stars in the image is a cluster of protostars – stars that are still forming and gaining mass – producing outflows that glow like a bonfire in the midst of an infrared-dark cloud. At the heart of this young cluster is a previously known, massive protostar over 30 times the mass of our Sun. The cloud the protostars are emerging from is so dense that the light from stars behind it cannot reach Webb, making it appear less crowded when in fact it is one of the most densely packed areas of the image. Smaller infrared-dark clouds dot the image, looking like holes in the starfield. That’s where future stars are forming.
Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument also captured large-scale emission from ionized hydrogen surrounding the lower side of the dark cloud, shown cyan-colored in the image. Typically, Crowe says, this is the result of energetic photons being emitted by young massive stars, but the vast extent of the region shown by Webb is something of a surprise that bears further investigation. Another feature of the region that Crowe plans to examine further is the needle-like structures in the ionized hydrogen, which appear oriented chaotically in many directions.
“The galactic center is a crowded, tumultuous place. There are turbulent, magnetized gas clouds that are forming stars, which then impact the surrounding gas with their outflowing winds, jets, and radiation,” said Rubén Fedriani, a co-investigator of the project at the Instituto Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. “Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it.”
Image: Sagitarius C Features
Approximate outlines help to define the features in the Sagittarius C (Sgr C) region. Astronomers are studying data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to understand the relationship between these features, as well as other influences in the chaotic galaxy center.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Samuel Crowe (UVA) Around 25,000 light-years from Earth, the galactic center is close enough to study individual stars with the Webb telescope, allowing astronomers to gather unprecedented information on how stars form, and how this process may depend on the cosmic environment, especially compared to other regions of the galaxy. For example, are more massive stars formed in the center of the Milky Way, as opposed to the edges of its spiral arms?
“The image from Webb is stunning, and the science we will get from it is even better,” Crowe said. “Massive stars are factories that produce heavy elements in their nuclear cores, so understanding them better is like learning the origin story of much of the universe.”
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.
Laura Betz – email@example.com, Rob Gutro– firstname.lastname@example.org
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, , Greenbelt, Md.
Leah Ramsay email@example.com , Christine Pulliam firstname.lastname@example.org
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
Download full resolution images for this article from the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Piercing the Dark Birthplaces of Massive Stars with Webb
Our Milky Way
Webb Mission – https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/
Webb News – https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/latestnews/
Webb Images – https://science.nasa.gov/mission/webb/multimedia/images/
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Last Updated Nov 20, 2023 Editor Steve Sabia Contact Related Terms
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NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility supported the launch of two suborbital sounding rockets on Nov. 15, 2023, for Navy Strategic Systems Programs (SSP), and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), in coordination with Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) and the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Test Resource Management Center (TRMC) Multi-Service Advanced Capability Hypersonic Test Bed (MACH TB).
This subscale test was executed by Sandia National Laboratories. Data collected from this test will be used to inform the development of the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS), MDA’s hypersonic defensive capability, and to mature other hypersonic technologies.
A 3 stage sounding rocket was launched from Wallops Island Nov. 2023Courtesy Photo Share
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