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    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      Coby Asselin, from left, Adam Curry, and L. J. Hantsche set up the data acquisition systems used during testing of a senor to determine parachute canopy material strength at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The sensor tests seek to quantify the limits of the material to improve computer models and make more reliable supersonic parachutes.NASA/Genaro Vavuris Landing rovers and helicopters on Mars is a challenge. It’s an even bigger challenge when you don’t have enough information about how the parachutes are enduring strain during the descent to the surface. Researchers at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, are experimenting with readily available, highly elastic sensors that can be fixed to a parachute during testing to provide the missing data.
      Knowing how the canopy material stretches during deployment can enhance safety and performance by quantifying the limits of the fabric and improving existing computer models for more reliable parachutes for tasks such as landing astronauts on Earth or delivering scientific instruments and payloads to Mars. This is the work Enhancing Parachutes by Instrumenting the Canopy, or EPIC, seeks to advance the ability to measure the strain on a parachute.
      “We are aiming to prove which sensors will work for determining the strain on parachute canopy material without compromising it,” said L.J. Hantsche, project manager. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the team’s work through the Early Career Initiative project.
      Starting with 50 potential sensor candidates, the team narrowed down and tested 10 kinds of different sensors, including commercially available and developmental sensors. The team selected the three most promising sensors for continued testing. Those include a silicone-based sensor that works by measuring a change in storage of electrical charge as the sensor is stretched. It is also easy to attach to data recording systems, Hantsche explained. The second sensor is a small, stretchable braided sensor that measures the change in electrical storage. The third sensor is made by printing with a metallic ink onto a thin and pliable plastic.
      The test team prepares a test fixture with a nylon fabric sample at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The fabric in the test fixture forms a bubble when pressure is applied to the silicone bladder underneath. A similar test can be performed with a sensor on the fabric to verify the sensor will work when stretched in three dimensions.NASA/Genaro Vavuris Pressure is applied to a test fixture with a nylon fabric sample until it fails at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The fabric in the test fixture forms a bubble when pressure is applied to the silicone bladder underneath. In this frame, the silicone bladder is visible underneath the torn fabric after it was inflated to failure. A similar test can be performed with a sensor on the fabric to verify the sensor will work when stretched in three dimensions.NASA/Genaro Vavuris Determining methods to bond each of the sensors to super thin and slippery canopy material was hard, Hantsche said. Once the team figured out how to attach the sensors to the fabric, they were ready to begin testing.
      “We started with uniaxial testing, where each end of the parachute material is secured and then pulled to failure,” she said. “The test is important because the stretching of the sensor causes its electrical response. Determining the correlation of strain and the sensor response when it is on the fabric is one of our main measurement goals.”
      This stage of testing was accomplished in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A high-speed version of this test, which simulates the speed of the parachute deployment, was performed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
      The team used a bubble test for the sensors, which simulates testing of a 3D parachute. It consists of the fabric sample and a silicone membrane sandwiched between a four-inch-diameter ring and the test structure. When it is pressurized from the inside, the silicone membrane expands the fabric and sensor into a bubble shape. The test is used to validate the sensor’s performance as it bends and is compared to the other test results.
      Erick Rossi De La Fuente, from left, John Rudy, L. J. Hantsche, Adam Curry, Jeff Howell, Coby Asselin, Benjamin Mayeux, and Paul Bean pose with a test fixture, material, sensor, and data acquisition systems at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The sensor tests seek to quantify the limits of the material to improve computer models and make more reliable supersonic parachutes.NASA/Genaro Vavuris With the EPIC project nearing completion, follow-on work could include temperature tests, developing the data acquisition system for flight, determining if the sensor can be packed with a parachute without adverse effects, and operating the system in flight. The EPIC team is also working with researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to flight test their sensors later this year using the center’s drone test, which drops a capsule with a parachute.
      In addition, the EPIC team is partnering with the Entry Systems Modeling Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley to propose an all-encompassing parachute project aimed at better understanding parachutes through modeling and test flights. The collaborative NASA project may result in better parachutes that are safer and more dependable for the approaching era of exploration.
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      Last Updated Jun 27, 2024 Related Terms
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    • By NASA
      5 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      NASA’s Perseverance rover viewed these dust devils swirling across the surface of Mars on July 20, 2021. Scientists want to study the air trapped in samples being collected in metal tubes by Perseverance. Those air samples could help them better understand the Martian atmosphere.NASA/JPL-Caltech Tucked away with each rock and soil sample collected by the agency’s Perseverance rover is a potential boon for atmospheric scientists.
      Atmospheric scientists get a little more excited with every rock core NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover seals in its titanium sample tubes, which are being gathered for eventual delivery to Earth as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. Twenty-four have been taken so far.
      Most of those samples consist of rock cores or regolith (broken rock and dust) that might reveal important information about the history of the planet and whether microbial life was present billions of years ago. But some scientists are just as thrilled at the prospect of studying the “headspace,” or air in the extra room around the rocky material, in the tubes.
      This image shows a rock core about the size of a piece of chalk in a sample tube housed within the drill of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. Once the rover seals the tube, air will be trapped in the extra space in the tube — seen here in the small gap (called “headspace”) above the rock. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS A sealed tube containing a sample of the Martian surface collected by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is seen here, after being deposited with other tubes in a “sample depot.” Other filled sample tubes are stored within the rover.NASA/JPL-Caltech They want to learn more about the Martian atmosphere, which is composed mostly of carbon dioxide but could also include trace amounts of other gases that may have been around since the planet’s formation.
      “The air samples from Mars would tell us not just about the current climate and atmosphere, but how it’s changed over time,” said Brandi Carrier, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It will help us understand how climates different from our own evolve.”
      The Value of Headspace
      Among the samples that could be brought to Earth is one tube filled solely with gas deposited on the Martian surface as part of a sample depot. But far more of the gas in the rover’s collection is within the headspace of rock samples. These are unique because the gas will be interacting with rocky material inside the tubes for years before the samples can be opened and analyzed in laboratories on Earth. What scientists glean from them will lend insight into how much water vapor hovers near the Martian surface, one factor that determines why ice forms where it does on the planet and how Mars’ water cycle has evolved over time.
      Scientists also want a better understanding of trace gases in the air at Mars. Most scientifically tantalizing would be the detection of noble gases (such as neon, argon, and xenon), which are so nonreactive that they may have been around, unchanged in the atmosphere, since forming billions of years ago. If captured, those gases could reveal whether Mars started with an atmosphere. (Ancient Mars had a much thicker atmosphere than it does today, but scientists aren’t sure whether it was always there or whether it developed later). There are also big questions about how the planet’s ancient atmosphere compared with early Earth’s.
      The headspace would additionally provide a chance to assess the size and toxicity of dust particles — information that will help future astronauts on Mars.
      “The gas samples have a lot to offer Mars scientists,” said Justin Simon, a geochemist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, who is part of a group of over a dozen international experts that helps decide which samples the rover should collect. “Even scientists who don’t study Mars would be interested because it will shed light on how planets form and evolve.”
      Apollo’s Air Samples
      In 2021, a group of planetary researchers, including scientists from NASA, studied the air brought back from the Moon in a steel container by Apollo 17 astronauts some 50 years earlier.
      “People think of the Moon as airless, but it has a very tenuous atmosphere that interacts with the lunar surface rocks over time,” said Simon, who studies a variety of planetary samples at Johnson. “That includes noble gases leaking out of the Moon’s interior and collecting at the lunar surface.”
      The way Simon’s team extracted the gas for study is similar to what could be done with Perseverance’s air samples. First, they put the previously unopened container into an airtight enclosure. Then they pierced the steel with a needle to extract the gas into a cold trap — essentially a U-shaped pipe that extends into a liquid, like nitrogen, with a low freezing point. By changing the temperature of the liquid, scientists captured some of the gases with lower freezing points at the bottom of the cold trap.
      “There’s maybe 25 labs in the world that manipulate gas in this way,” Simon said. Besides being used to study the origin of planetary materials, this approach can be applied to gases from hot springs and those emitted from the walls of active volcanoes, he added.
      Of course, those sources provide much more gas than Perseverance has in its sample tubes. But if a single tube doesn’t carry enough gas for a particular experiment, Mars scientists could combine gases from multiple tubes to get a larger aggregate sample — one more way the headspace offers a bonus opportunity for science.
      More About the Mission
      A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is also characterizing the planet’s geology and past climate, which paves the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
      For more about Perseverance:
      mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
      News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      818-393-2433
      andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov
      Karen Fox / Charles Blue
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      202-285-1600 / 202-802-5345
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / charles.e.blue@nasa.gov
      2024-087
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      Last Updated Jun 20, 2024 Related Terms
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    • By SpaceX
      To Make Life Multiplanetary
    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Don’t Make Me Wait for April 8!
      Can’t wait to see the Moon block the Sun on April 8? Neither can we. But we have good news – if you want to see an incredible cosmic alignment, you can catch one right now! Exoplanets, asteroids, and other objects regularly pass in front of stars and block their light. Observing these events is easier than you might think – and it can be a fantastic way to contribute to NASA science.
      The Baily’s Beads – the bright spots of light on the lower left of the Moon – seen here are the last rays of sunlight that shone through the low spots or valleys on the Moon’s rugged surface as the Moon made its final move over the Sun during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, above Madras, Oregon. Baily’s Beads will appear on the opposite side of the Moon as it begins to move away from the Sun following totality. NASA/Aubrey Gemignani There are three main kinds of cosmic alignments that temporarily block our view of a star. Each one can help us pick out fine details about astronomical objects that can’t be observed any other way.
      Eclipse – when one object blocks another that’s apparently similar in size.
      Occultation – when a relatively big object completely blocks an apparently smaller object.
      Transit – when an apparently small object passes in front of a larger star, blocking some but not all of its light.
      You’ll notice that we use the word “apparently” in each of those definitions. That’s because what matters is how big the object looks from our perspective, not how big it actually is.
      Now let’s look at some science projects you can get involved in that observe these phenomena.
      Eclipses help scientists see faint objects next to bright objects. Just like you might raise your hand to block light from your car’s headlight while you search the ground for your keys, eclipses block the overpowering light from a star so objects around it can be viewed more easily. This is what the Eclipse Megamovie project, the Dynamic Eclipse Broadcast Initiative, and Citizen CATE 2024 are doing: taking advantage of the Moon blocking the fierce sunlight so they can see what’s happening right around the Sun. These projects invite you to help them use this method to study the Sun’s faint corona. Eclipses and occultations can also tell us about the relative sizes and shapes of objects. This is how Sunsketcher will harness the April 8 eclipse. With your help, they will use our precise knowledge of the size and topography of the Moon to vastly improve estimates of the shape of the Sun. At the very beginning and end of totality, viewers will see Baily’s Beads – bright spots of light around the Moon’s edge where rays of sunlight slip through the valleys between the mountains on the Moon’s surface just before and after totality. The SunSketcher app will capture images of these beads along with precise time and location data of each observation. Following the eclipse, the SunSketcher team will use the collected observations to calculate the shape of the Sun.
      When a planet passes directly between a star and its observer – what astronomers call a transit – the planet dims the star’s light by a measurable amount. The graph in the lower left shows a real time visualization of the strength of the light signal from the star.
      NASA When an object transits – or passes in front of – a star, the star’s light dims. Measuring changes in starlight to search for these transits has revealed thousands of exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) in recent years. You can join the search today! Three NASA citizen science projects are focused on investigating exoplanets using transits.
      Planet Hunters TESS invites everyone to look for traces of transiting planets in the changing light of distant stars. The most promising of these signals indicate “exoplanet candidates” to be confirmed through additional observations. This project, hosted on the Zooniverse platform, can be done on a smartphone or a computer. Exoplanet Watch is a community of people who use their own telescopes or a shared community robotic telescope to observe exoplanet candidates to better predict the next time the objects will transit. This project requires an internet-connected computer. UNITE, like Exoplanet Watch, is a community of folks using their telescopes to observe exoplanet candidates. This community uses Unistellar telescopes, which operate on a standard, user-friendly system. The UNITE and Exoplanet Watch teams often share data and collaborate! Whichever events you observe, or whichever projects you choose to contribute to, we’re sure you’ll find yourself marveling at our presence on this wonderful planet in this mysterious universe. You don’t have to wait until April 8!
      by Sarah Kirn and Marc J. Kuchner
      NASA Citizen Science
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      Last Updated Mar 28, 2024 Related Terms
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    • By NASA
      5 min read
      NASA to Launch Sounding Rockets into Moon’s Shadow During Solar Eclipse
      NASA will launch three sounding rockets during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, to study how Earth’s upper atmosphere is affected when sunlight momentarily dims over a portion of the planet.
      The Atmospheric Perturbations around Eclipse Path (APEP) sounding rockets will launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to study the disturbances in the ionosphere created when the Moon eclipses the Sun. The sounding rockets had been previously launched and successfully recovered from White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico, during the October 2023 annular solar eclipse. They have been refurbished with new instrumentation and will be relaunched in April 2024. The mission is led by Aroh Barjatya, a professor of engineering physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, where he directs the Space and Atmospheric Instrumentation Lab.
      This photo shows the three APEP sounding rockets and the support team after successful assembly. The team lead, Aroh Barjatya, is at the top center, standing next to the guardrails on the second floor. NASA/Berit Bland The sounding rockets will launch at three different times: 45 minutes before, during, and 45 minutes after the peak local eclipse. These intervals are important to collect data on how the Sun’s sudden disappearance affects the ionosphere, creating disturbances that have the potential to interfere with our communications.
      This conceptual animation is an example of what observers might expect to see during a total solar eclipse, like the one happening over the United States on April 8, 2024. NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. The ionosphere is a region of Earth’s atmosphere that is between 55 to 310 miles (90 to 500 kilometers) above the ground. “It’s an electrified region that reflects and refracts radio signals, and also impacts satellite communications as the signals pass through,” said Barjatya. “Understanding the ionosphere and developing models to help us predict disturbances is crucial to making sure our increasingly communication-dependent world operates smoothly.”
      The ionosphere forms the boundary between Earth’s lower atmosphere – where we live and breathe – and the vacuum of space. It is made up of a sea of particles that become ionized, or electrically charged, from the Sun’s energy, or solar radiation. When night falls, the ionosphere thins out as previously ionized particles relax and recombine back into neutral particles. However, Earth’s terrestrial weather and space weather can impact these particles, making it a dynamic region and difficult to know what the ionosphere will be like at a given time. 
      An animation depicts changes in the ionosphere over a 24-hour period. The red and yellow swaths represent high-density ionized particles during the day. The purple dots represent neutral, relaxed particles at night. NASA/Krystofer Kim It’s often difficult to study short-term changes in the ionosphere during an eclipse with satellites because they may not be at the right place or time to cross the eclipse path. Since the exact date and times of the total solar eclipse are known, NASA can launch targeted sounding rockets to study the effects of the eclipse at the right time and at all altitudes of the ionosphere.
      As the eclipse shadow races through the atmosphere, it creates a rapid, localized sunset that triggers large-scale atmospheric waves and small-scale disturbances, or perturbations. These perturbations affect different radio communication frequencies. Gathering the data on these perturbations will help scientists validate and improve current models that help predict potential disturbances to our communications, especially high frequency communication. 
      The animation depicts the waves created by ionized particles during the 2017 total solar eclipse. MIT Haystack Observatory/Shun-rong Zhang. Zhang, S.-R., Erickson, P. J., Goncharenko, L. P., Coster, A. J., Rideout, W. & Vierinen, J. (2017). Ionospheric Bow Waves and Perturbations Induced by the 21 August 2017 Solar Eclipse. Geophysical Research Letters, 44(24), 12,067-12,073. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GL076054. The APEP rockets are expected to reach a maximum altitude of 260 miles (420 kilometers). Each rocket will measure charged and neutral particle density and surrounding electric and magnetic fields. “Each rocket will eject four secondary instruments the size of a two-liter soda bottle that also measure the same data points, so it’s similar to results from fifteen rockets, while only launching three,” explained Barjatya. Three secondary instruments on each rocket were built by Embry-Riddle, and the fourth one was built at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
      In addition to the rockets, several teams across the U.S. will also be taking measurements of the ionosphere by various means. A team of students from Embry-Riddle will deploy a series of high-altitude balloons. Co-investigators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory in Massachusetts, and the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, will operate a variety of ground-based radars taking measurements. Using this data, a team of scientists from Embry-Riddle and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are refining existing models. Together, these various investigations will help provide the puzzle pieces needed to see the bigger picture of ionospheric dynamics.
      A sounding rocket is able to carry science instruments between 30 and 300 miles above Earth’s surface. These altitudes are typically too high for science balloons and too low for satellites to access safely, making sounding rockets the only platforms that can carry out direct measurements in these regions. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center When the APEP sounding rockets launched during the 2023 annular solar eclipse, scientists saw a sharp reduction in the density of charged particles as the annular eclipse shadow passed over the atmosphere. “We saw the perturbations capable of affecting radio communications in the second and third rockets, but not during the first rocket that was before peak local eclipse” said Barjatya. “We are super excited to relaunch them during the total eclipse, to see if the perturbations start at the same altitude and if their magnitude and scale remain the same.”
      The next total solar eclipse over the contiguous U.S. is not until 2044, so these experiments are a rare opportunity for scientists to collect crucial data.
      The APEP launches will be live streamed via NASA’s Wallops’ official YouTube page and featured in NASA’s official broadcast of the total solar eclipse. The public can also watch the launches in person from 1-4 p.m. at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center.
      By Desiree Apodaca
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
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      Last Updated Mar 25, 2024 Related Terms
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