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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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2 min read
NASA Selects Awardees for New Aviation Maintenance Challenge
NASA is addressing a key challenge for sustaining the future of aviation – the skills that will be needed by aviation maintenance technicians working on new kinds of aircraft with new technologies. NASA / Lillian Gipson / Getty Images NASA has selected three university-led teams for the first round of a new technical challenge pursuing innovative aviation maintenance practices.
These university teams will receive funding from NASA for a two-year research term exploring aviation maintenance challenges related to NASA’s strategic vision for aeronautics.
The awardees will research new maintenance techniques and procedures, as well as how aviation maintenance technical schools could amend or expand their activities to educate students on these new practices.
Their work will culminate in a final report outlining potential solutions for future aviation maintenance including new educational curricula, new standards and technologies, and other anticipated challenges associated with new types of aircraft such as drones, air taxis, or ultra-efficient airliners.
In the spirit of similar NASA awards, the university teams will engage students from multiple levels and include them in meaningful work and research. Not only will graduate and undergraduate students be included, but also students at aviation maintenance technical schools.
Each awardee must also collaborate with industry partners to best understand the needs of the aviation industry and maintenance ecosystem, as well as work with real-world technology.
“This new award expands NASA’s university research partnerships,” said Koushik Datta, manager for the University Innovation project overseeing the awards. “Now even more students, including those from aviation maintenance schools, can participate in NASA’s aeronautics research.”
The three teams and their topics are:
“Revolutionizing the Future of Aviation Maintenance: A Workforce Development Plan to Navigate the Complexities of a New Aviation Maintenance Ecosystem”
University of California, Davis
“Future Aviation Maintenance Technical Challenges for Electric and Hybrid-Powered Fixed Wing and Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing Aircraft”
Wichita State University
“Adoption of Transformative Technologies and Workforce Development for Maintenance and Repair of Advanced Air Mobility Airframe Structures”
Complete details on this award and other solicitations, such as what to include in a proposal and how to submit it, can be found on the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate solicitations page.
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