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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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NASA Uses Two Worlds to Test Future Mars Helicopter Designs
This video combines two perspectives of the 59th flight of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Video on the left was captured by the Mastcam-Z on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover; the black-and-white video on the right was taken by Ingenuity’s downward-pointing Navcam. The flight occurred Sept 16. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS Engineers will go beyond the ends of the Earth to find more performance for future Mars helicopters.
For the first time in history, two planets have been home to testing future aircraft designs. On this world, a new rotor that could be used with next-generation Mars helicopters was recently tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, spinning at near-supersonic speeds (0.95 Mach). Meanwhile, the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has achieved new altitude and airspeed records on the Red Planet in the name of experimental flight testing.
“Our next-generation Mars helicopter testing has literally had the best of both worlds,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s project manager and manager for the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters. “Here on Earth, you have all the instrumentation and hands-on immediacy you could hope for while testing new aircraft components. On Mars, you have the real off-world conditions you could never truly re-create here on Earth.” That includes a whisper-thin atmosphere and significantly less gravity than on Earth.
The next-generation carbon fiber rotor blades being tested on Earth are almost 4 inches (more than 10 centimeters) longer than Ingenuity’s, with greater strength and a different design. NASA thinks these blades could enable bigger, more capable Mars helicopters. The challenge is, as the blade tips approach supersonic speeds, vibration-causing turbulence can quickly get out of hand.
To find a space big enough to create a Martian atmosphere on Earth, engineers looked to JPL’s 25-foot wide, 85-foot-tall (8-meter-by-26-meter) space simulator – a place where Surveyor, Voyager, and Cassini got their first taste of space-like environments. For three weeks in September, a team monitored sensors, meters, and cameras as the blades endured run after run at ever-higher speeds and greater pitch angles.
A dual rotor system for the next generation of Mars helicopters is tested in the 25-Foot Space Simulator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Sept.15. Longer and stronger than those used on the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, the carbon-fiber blades reached near-supersonic speeds during testing. NASA/JPL-Caltech “We spun our blades up to 3,500 rpm, which is 750 revolutions per minute faster than the Ingenuity blades have gone,” said Tyler Del Sesto, Sample Recovery Helicopter deputy test conductor at JPL. “These more efficient blades are now more than a hypothetical exercise. They are ready to fly.”
At around the same time, and about 100 million miles (161 million kilometers) away, Ingenuity was being commanded to try things the Mars Helicopter team never imagined they would get to do.
Fourth Rock Flight Testing
Ingenuity was originally slated to fly no more than five times. With its first flight entering the mission logbook more than two-and-a-half years ago, the helicopter has exceeded its planned 30-day mission by 32 times and has flown 66 times. Every time Ingenuity goes airborne, it covers new ground, offering a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. But lately, Team Ingenuity has been taking their solar-powered rotorcraft out for a spin like never before.
“Over the past nine months, we have doubled our max airspeed and altitude, increased our rate of vertical and horizontal acceleration, and even learned to land slower,” said Travis Brown, Ingenuity’s chief engineer at JPL. “The envelope expansion provides invaluable data that can be used by mission designers for future Mars helicopters.”
Limited by available energy and motor-temperature considerations, Ingenuity flights usually last around two to three minutes. Although the helicopter can cover more ground in a single flight by flying faster, flying too fast can confuse the onboard navigation system. The system uses a camera that recognizes rocks and other surface features as they move through its field of view. If those features whiz by too fast, the system can lose its way.
So, to achieve a higher maximum ground speed, the team sends commands for Ingenuity to fly at higher altitudes (instructions are sent to the helicopter before each flight), which keeps features in view longer. Flight 61 established a new altitude record of 78.7 feet (24 meters) as it checked out Martian wind patterns. With Flight 62 Ingenuity set a speed record of 22.3 mph (10 meters per second) – and scouted a location for the Perseverance rover’s science team.
The team has also been experimenting with Ingenuity’s landing speed. The helicopter was designed to contact the surface at a relatively brisk 2.2 mph (1 mps) so its onboard sensors could easily confirm touchdown and shut down the rotors before it could bounce back into the air. A helicopter that lands more slowly could be designed with lighter landing gear. So, on Flights 57, 58, and 59 they gave it a whirl, demonstrating Ingenuity could land at speeds 25% slower than the helicopter was originally designed to land at.
All this Martian Chuck Yeager-ing is not over. In December, after solar conjunction, Ingenuity is expected to perform two high-speed flights during which it will execute a special set of pitch-and-roll angles designed to measure its performance.
“The data will be extremely useful in fine-tuning our aero-mechanical models of how rotorcraft behave on Mars,” said Brown. “On Earth, such testing is usually performed in the first few flights. But that’s not where we’re flying. You have to be a little more careful when you’re operating that far away from the nearest repair shop, because you don’t get any do-overs.”
More About Ingenuity
Ingenuity began its life at Mars as a technology demonstration. It first flew on April 19, 2021, hovering 10 feet (3 meters) for 30 seconds. Four more flights in as many weeks added 499 seconds and saw the helicopter flying horizontally over the surface for 1,171 feet (357 meters). After proving flight was possible on Mars, Ingenuity entered an operations demonstration phase in May 2021 to show how aerial scouting could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.
At NASA Headquarters, Dave Lavery is the program executive for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
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Last Updated Nov 22, 2023 Related Terms
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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.
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Piercing the Dark Birthplaces of Massive Stars with Webb
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NASA’s Hubble Measures the Size of the Nearest Transiting Earth-Sized Planet
This is an artist’s concept of the nearby exoplanet LTT 1445Ac, which is the size of Earth. The planet orbits a red dwarf star. The star is in a triple system, with two closely orbiting red dwarfs seen at upper right. The black dot in front of the bright light-red sphere at image center is planet LTT 1445Ac transiting the face of the star. The planet has a surface temperature of roughly 500 degrees Fahrenheit. In the foreground at lower left is another planet in the system, LTT 1445Ab. The view is from 22 light-years away, looking back toward our Sun, which is the bright dot at lower right. Some of the background stars are part of the constellation Boötes. NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI) NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has measured the size of the nearest Earth-sized exoplanet that passes across the face of a neighboring star. This alignment, called a transit, opens the door to follow-on studies to see what kind of atmosphere, if any, the rocky world might have.
The diminutive planet, LTT 1445Ac, was first discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2022. But the geometry of the planet’s orbital plane relative to its star as seen from Earth was uncertain because TESS does not have the required optical resolution. This means the detection could have been a so-called grazing transit, where a planet only skims across a small portion of the parent star’s disk. This would yield an inaccurate lower limit of the planet’s diameter.
“There was a chance that this system has an unlucky geometry and if that’s the case, we wouldn’t measure the right size. But with Hubble’s capabilities we nailed its diameter,” said Emily Pass of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hubble observations show that the planet makes a normal transit fully across the star’s disk, yielding a true size of only 1.07 times Earth’s diameter. This means the planet is a rocky world, like Earth, with approximately the same surface gravity. But at a surface temperature of roughly 500 degrees Fahrenheit, it is too hot for life as we know it.
The planet orbits the star LTT 1445A, which is part of a triple system of three red dwarf stars that is 22 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. The star has two other reported planets that are larger than LTT 1445Ac. A tight pair of two other dwarf stars, LTT 1445B and C, lies about 3 billion miles away from LTT 1445A, also resolved by Hubble. The alignment of the three stars and the edge-on orbit of the BC pair suggests that everything in the system is co-planar, including the known planets.
“Transiting planets are exciting since we can characterize their atmospheres with spectroscopy, not only with Hubble but also with the James Webb Space Telescope. Our measurement is important because it tells us that this is likely a very nearby terrestrial planet. We are looking forward to follow-on observations that will allow us to better understand the diversity of planets around other stars,” said Pass.
This research has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.
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Last Updated Nov 16, 2023 Editor Andrea Gianopoulos Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
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