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On Feb. 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander captures a wide field of view image of Schomberger crater on the Moon approximately 125 miles (200 km) uprange from the intended landing site, at approximately 6 miles (10 km) altitude. Credit: Intuitive Machines NASA and Intuitive Machines will co-host a televised news conference at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 28, from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to highlight the company’s first mission, known as IM-1.
The lander, called Odysseus, carried six NASA science instruments to the South Pole region of the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, and Artemis campaign. The IM-1 mission is the first U.S. soft landing on the Moon in more than 50 years, successfully landing on Feb. 22.
The news conference will air on NASA+, NASA Television, and the agency’s website
Learn how to stream NASA TV on a variety of platforms, including social media.
Participants in the news conference include:
Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator, Exploration, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters in Washington Sue Lederer, CLPS project scientist, NASA Johnson Steve Altemus, chief executive officer and co-founder, Intuitive Machines Tim Crain, chief technology officer and co-founder, Intuitive Machines Media interested in participating in person must RSVP no later than 11 a.m. on Feb. 28. To participate by telephone, media must RSVP no later than one hour before the start of the news conference. Submit either request to the NASA Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 or email@example.com. The agency’s media accreditation policy is online.
For more information about the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, visit:
Cheryl Warner / Karen Fox
Nilufar Ramji / Laura Sorto
Johnson Space Center, Houston
Intuitive Machines, Houston
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5 Min Read The CUTE Mission: Innovative Design EnablesObservations of Extreme Exoplanets from a SmallPackage
Fig 1: Artist’s concept of the CUTE mission on-orbit. CUTE has been operating in a 560 km sun-synchronous orbit since September 2021. Credits:
NASA Of the approximately 5,500 exoplanets discovered to date, many have been found to orbit very close to their parent stars. These close-in planets provide a unique opportunity to observe in detail the phenomena critical to the development and evolution of our own solar system, including atmospheric mass loss and interactions with the host star. NASA’s Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE) mission, launched in September 2021, employed a new design that enabled exploration of these processes using a small spacecraft for the first time. CUTE provides unique spectral diagnostics that trace the escaping atmospheres of close-in, ultra-hot, giant planets. In addition, CUTE’s dedicated mission architecture enables the survey duration required to characterize atmospheric structure and variability on these worlds.
Atmospheric escape is a fundamental process that affects the structure, composition, and evolution of many planets. It has operated on all of the terrestrial planets in our solar system and likely drives the demographics of the short-period planet population characterized by NASA’s Kepler mission. In fact, atmospheric escape ultimately may be the determining factor when predicting the habitability of temperate, terrestrial exoplanets. Escaping exoplanet atmospheres were first observed in the hydrogen Lyman-alpha line (121nm) in 2003. However, contamination by neutral hydrogen in both the intervening interstellar medium and Earth’s upper atmosphere makes obtaining high-quality Lyman-alpha transit measurements for most exoplanets very challenging. By contrast, a host star’s near-ultraviolet (NUV; 250 – 350 nm) flux is two to three orders of magnitude higher than Lyman-alpha, and transit light curves can be measured against a smoother stellar surface intensity distribution.
This knowledge motivated a team led by Dr. Kevin France at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics to design the CUTE mission (Fig 1). The team proposed the CUTE concept to NASA through the ROSES/Astrophysics Research and Analysis (APRA) Program in February 2016 and NASA funded the project in July 2017. The CUTE instrument pioneered use of two technologies on a small space mission: a novel, rectangular Cassegrain telescope (20cm × 8cm primary mirror) and a miniature, low-resolution spectrograph operating from approximately 250 – 330 nm. The rectangular telescope was fabricated to accommodate the unique instrument volume of the 6U CubeSat form factor, an adaptation that delivers approximately three times the collecting area of a traditional, circular aperture telescope. The compact spectrograph meets the spectral resolution requirements of the mission while using scaled down component technology adapted from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Fig 2 – Image of the CUTE science instrument, including rectangular telescope and miniaturized spectrograph, mounted to the spacecraft bus. Credit: CUTE Team, University of Colorado This novel instrument design enables CUTE to measure NUV with similar precision as larger missions even in the more challenging thermal and pointing environment experienced by a CubeSat. In addition, the CUTE instrument’s NUV bandpass enables it to measure iron and magnesium ions from highly extended atmospheric layers that ground-based instruments cannot access. The CUTE science instrument is incorporated into a 6U Blue Canyon Technologies spacecraft bus that provides power, command and data handling, attitude control, and communications. This CubeSat platform enables CUTE to observe numerous transits of a given planet. The spectrogram from the CUTE instrument is recorded on a UV-optimized commercial off-the-shelf charge-coupled device (CCD), onboard data processing is performed, and data products are relayed to a ground station at the University of Colorado.
Fig 3 –Graduate student Arika Egan (center) and electrical engineer Nicholas DeCicco (left) install CUTE into the LANDSAT-9 secondary payload dispenser at Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: CUTE Team, University of Colorado CUTE was launched as a secondary payload on NASA’s LANDSAT-9 mission on September 27, 2021 into a Sun-synchronous orbit with a 560 km apogee. CUTE deployed from the payload dispenser (Fig 2) approximately two hours after launch and then deployed its solar arrays. Spacecraft beacon signals were identified by the amateur radio community on the first orbit and communications were established with the ground station at the University of Colorado the following day. On-orbit commissioning of the spacecraft and instrument concluded in February 2022 and the mission has been conducting science operations since that time.
As of February 2024, CUTE is actively acquiring science and calibration data (Fig 3), and has observed between 6 and 11 transits of seven different exoplanetary systems. Data downlink efficiency is the primary factor limiting the number of targets observed over the course of the mission. CUTE light curves and transit spectroscopy are revealing extended NUV atmospheres on some planets (Fig 4) and potential time variability in the atmospheric transmission spectra of others. For example, observations of the ultra-hot exoplanet, Jupiter WASP-189b, indicate a highly extended atmosphere. Magnesium ions are observed to be gravitationally unbound from the planet, which is evidence for active escape of heavy elements in this system. CUTE data are being archived by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI).
Fig 4 – Flight data from CUTE showing raw CCD observations (top) and calibrated one-dimensional spectra (bottom). Image credit: France et al (2023) Fig 5 – CUTE NUV transit light curve of the ultra-hot exoplanet, Jupiter WASP-189b. This light curve was created from three separate transit visits to the planet. Image credit: Sreejith, et al (2023) CUTE successfully demonstrated the use of a non-circular telescope and miniature spectrograph design for small space missions, an approach that has been subsequently adopted by several NASA and international mission designs, including NASA’s new Monitoring Activity from Nearby sTars with uv Imaging and Spectroscopy (MANTIS) mission. CUTE’s demonstration of sub-1% NUV precision has shown that the precision achieved by large UV astronomy missions can also be achieved by a CubeSat. In addition, student training and early-career mentorship have been key ingredients to CUTE’s mission success. So far, over 20 early career students and professionals have trained and participated in CUTE activities—ranging from science to engineering to operations.
Professor Kevin France, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics/University of Colorado
Astrophysics Division Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program
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The International Space Station is a microgravity research lab hosting groundbreaking technology demonstrations and scientific investigations. More than 3,700 investigations conducted to date have generated roughly 500 research articles published in scientific journals. In 2023, the orbiting lab hosted more than 500 investigations.
See more space station research achievements and findings in the Annual Highlights of Results publication, and read highlights of results published between October 2022 and October 2023 below:
A New Spin on Pulsars
A view of NICER, attached to the space station’s exterior multipurpose payload shelving unit.NASA Neutron stars, ultra-dense matter left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas, are also called pulsars because they spin and emit X-ray radiation in beams that sweep the sky like lighthouses. The Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) collects this radiation to study the structure, dynamics, and energetics of pulsars. Researchers used NICER data to calculate rotations of six pulsars and update mathematical models of their spin properties. Precise measurements enhance the understanding of pulsars, including their production of gravitational waves, and help address fundamental questions about matter and gravity.
Learning from Lightning
The space station’s robotic arm maneuvers the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, seen at the top of the image, for light testing. NASA Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) studies how upper-atmospheric electrical discharges generated by severe thunderstorms affect Earth’s atmosphere and climate. These events occur well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds. Using ASIM data, researchers reported the first detailed observations of development of a of negative leader, or initiation of a flash, from in-cloud lightning. Understanding how thunderstorms disturb the high-altitude atmosphere could improve atmospheric models and climate and weather predictions.
Regenerating Tissue in Space
Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect (Rodent Research-4 (CASIS)), sponsored by the ISS National Lab, examined wound healing mechanisms in microgravity. Researchers found that microgravity affected the fibrous and cellular components of skin tissue. Fibrous structures in connective tissue provide structure and protection for the body’s organs. This finding is an initial step to use connective tissue regeneration to treat disease and injuries for future space explorers.
Mighty Muscles in Microgravity
Installation of the Mouse Habitat Unit (MHU) in the station’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility. NASA/JAXA JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) developed the Multiple Artificial-gravity Research System (MARS), which generates artificial gravity in space. Three JAXA investigations, MHU-1, MHU-4, and MHU-5, used the artificial-gravity system to examine the effect on skeletal muscles from different gravitation loads – microgravity, lunar gravity (1/6 g), and Earth gravity (1 g). Results show that lunar gravity protects against loss of some muscle fibers but not others. Different gravitational levels may be needed to support muscle adaptation on future missions.
Better Ultrasound Images
JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide uses the station’s ultrasound device to image the femoral artery in his right leg. NASA Vascular Echo, an investigation from CSA (Canadian Space Agency), examined changes in blood vessels and the heart during and after spaceflight using ultrasound and other measures. Researchers compared 2D ultrasound technology with a motorized 3D ultrasound and found that 3D is more accurate. Better measurements could help maintain crew health in space and quality of life for people on Earth.
This is Your Brain in Space
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet with a preflight scan of his brain for the Brain-DTI investigation. ESA/NASA The Brain-DTI investigation from ESA (European Space Agency) tested whether the brain adapts to weightlessness by using previously untapped connections between neurons. MRI scans of crew members before and after spaceflight demonstrate functional changes in specific brain regions, confirming the adaptability and plasticity of the brain under extreme conditions. This insight supports the development of ways to monitor brain adaptations and countermeasures to promote healthy brain function in space and for those with brain-related disorders on Earth.
Improving Solar Materials
The MISSE-FF platform is used to test how exposure to space affects materials, including those used for solar power in space.NASA Metal halide perovskite (MHP) materials convert sunlight into electrical energy and show promise for use in thin-film solar cells in space due to low cost, high performance, suitability for in-space manufacturing, and defect and radiation tolerance. For Materials International Space Station Experiment-13-NASA (MISSE-13-NASA), which continues a series investigating how space affects various materials, researchers exposed perovskite thin films to space for ten months. Results confirmed their durability and stability in this environment. This finding could lead to improvements in MHP materials and devices for space applications such as solar panels.
Understanding Bubbles in Foams
A sample cell for the FOAM investigation on the space station.NASA Wet foams are dispersions of gas bubbles in a liquid matrix. An ESA investigation, FSL Soft Matter Dynamics or FOAM, examines coarsening, a thermodynamic process where large bubbles grow at the expense of smaller ones. Researchers determined the coarsening rates for various types of foams and found close agreement with theoretical predictions. A better understanding of foam properties could help scientists improve these substances for a variety of uses, including firefighting and water treatment in space and making detergents, food, and medicine on Earth.
Answering Burning Questions
A sample of composite cotton and fiberglass fabric burns during Saffire-IV.NASA Fire is a constant concern in space. The Saffire series of experiments studies flame conditions in microgravity using empty Cygnus resupply spacecraft that have undocked from the space station. Saffire-IV examined fire growth with different materials and conditions and showed that a technique called color pyrometry can determine the temperature of a spreading flame. The finding helps validate numerical models of flame properties in microgravity and provides insight into fire safety on future missions.
The Robot Hop
An Astrobee robot performs a self-tossing maneuver on the space station.NASA Astrobatics tests robotic movement using hopping or self-toss maneuvers by the station’s Astrobee robots. In low gravity, robots could move faster, use less fuel, and cover otherwise impassable terrain with these maneuvers, expanding their orbital and planetary capabilities. Results verified the viability of the locomotion method and showed that it provides a greater range of distance. The work is a step toward autonomous robotic helpers in space and on other celestial bodies, potentially reducing the need to expose astronauts to risky environments.
International Space Station Program Research Office
Johnson Space Center
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