Mission Archive

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NASA Mission Takes Stock of Earth’s Melting Land Ice

RELEASE : 12-048 NASA of Earth’s Land Ice WASHINGTON — In the first comprehensive study of its kind, a University of Colorado at Boulder-led team used NASA data to calculate how much Earth’s melting land ice is adding to global sea level rise.

Using satellite measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the researchers measured ice loss in all of Earth’s land ice between 2003 and 2010, with particular emphasis on glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth’s glaciers and ice caps during the study period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) to global sea level. That’s enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) deep.

“Earth is losing a huge amount of ice to the ocean annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change,” said University of Colorado Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study. “The strength of GRACE is it sees all the mass in the system, even though its resolution is not high enough to allow us to determine separate contributions from each individual glacier.”

About a quarter of the average annual ice loss came from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica (roughly 148 billion tons, or 39 cubic miles). Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica and their peripheral ice caps and glaciers averaged 385 billion tons (100 cubic miles) a year. Results of the study will be published online Feb. 8 in the journal Nature.

Traditional estimates of Earth’s ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all the world’s unmonitored glaciers were doing. Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for longer than a decade.

One unexpected study result from GRACE was the estimated ice loss from high Asian mountain ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually. Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in these high Asian mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually.

“The GRACE results in this region really were a surprise,” said Wahr, who also is a fellow at the University of Colorado-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “One possible explanation is that previous estimates were based on measurements taken primarily from some of the lower, more accessible glaciers in Asia and extrapolated to infer the behavior of higher glaciers. But unlike the lower glaciers, most of the high glaciers are located in very cold environments and require greater amounts of atmospheric warming before local temperatures rise enough to cause significant melting. This makes it difficult to use low-elevation, ground-based measurements to estimate results from the entire system.”

“This study that the world’s small glaciers and ice caps in places like Alaska, South America and the Himalayas contribute about .02 inches per year to sea level rise,” said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While this is lower than previous estimates, it confirms that ice is being lost from around the globe, with just a few areas in precarious balance. The results sharpen our view of land ice melting, which poses the biggest, most threatening factor in future sea level rise.”

The twin GRACE satellites track changes in Earth’s gravity field by noting minute changes in gravitational pull caused by regional variations in Earth’s mass, which for periods of months to years is typically because of movements of water on Earth’s surface. It does this by measuring changes in the distance between its two identical spacecraft to one-hundredth the width of a human hair.

The GRACE spacecraft, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and launched in 2002, are in the same orbit approximately 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart.

For more on GRACE, visit:

http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace http://grace.jpl.nasa.gov
For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov – end – text-only version of this release

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NASA Awards Safety And Mission Assurance Contract Extension

Joshua Buck
Headquarters,Washington                                   
202-358-1100
jbuck@nasa.gov

Kyle Herring
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111
kyle.j.herring@nasa.gov

RELEASE : C12-002 NASA And Contract HOUSTON — NASA has exercised two six-month options to the agency’s Safety and Mission Assurance Support Services Contract with Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) of San Diego for the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The options are worth $32.9 million.

Exercise of the options provides continuity of support services in safety, reliability and quality assurance, engineering products and technical services for Johnson’s Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate for the International Space Station Program, Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and Extravehicular Activity Office. The options also include all new Johnson programs and projects.

The options begin May 1 and end April 30, 2013. They will bring the total contract value to $365.1 million. The original contract, awarded in 2006, was for years, with two one-year options ending April 30, 2011. In April 2011, the contract was extended to add an additional base year and two six-month options ending April 2013.

Work under the contract will be performed at Johnson; NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida; White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M.; and SAIC’s facilities in Houston.

For information about NASA and agency program,visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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NASA Renames Earth-Observing Mission in Honor of Satellite Pioneer

RELEASE : 12-026 NASA Earth-Observing in of WASHINGTON — NASA has renamed its newest Earth-observing satellite in of the late Verner E. Suomi, a meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin who is recognized widely as “the father of satellite meteorology.” The announcement was made Jan. 24 at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans.

NASA launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, on Oct. 28, 2011, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NPP was renamed Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi NPP. The satellite is the first designed to collect critical data to improve short-term weather forecasts and increase understanding of long-term climate change.

“Verner Suomi’s many scientific and engineering contributions were fundamental to our current ability to learn about Earth’s weather and climate from space,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.” Suomi NPP not only will extend more than four decades of NASA satellite observations of our planet, it also will usher in a new era of climate change discovery and weather forecasting.”

The Suomi NPP mission is a bridge between NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites to the next-generation Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program. JPSS is the civilian component of the former National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which was reorganized by the Obama Administration in 2010.

“The new name now accurately describes the mission,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Suomi NPP will advance our scientific knowledge of Earth and improve the lives of Americans by enabling more accurate forecasts of weather, ocean conditions and the terrestrial biosphere. The mission is the product of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, the Department of Defense, the private sector and academic researchers.”

Verner Suomi pioneered remote sensing of Earth from satellites in polar orbits a few hundred miles above the surface with 7 in 1959, and geostationary orbits thousands of miles high with ATS-1 in 1966. He was best known for his invention of the “spin-scan” camera which enabled geostationary weather satellites to continuously image Earth, yielding the satellite pictures commonly used on television weather broadcasts. He also was involved in planning interplanetary spacecraft missions to Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Suomi spent nearly his entire career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where in 1965 he founded the university’s Space Science and Engineering Center with funding from NASA. The center is known for Earth-observing satellite research and development. In 1964, Suomi served as chief scientist of the U.S. Weather Bureau for one year. He received the National Medal of Science in 1977. He died in 1995 at the age of 79.

“It is fitting that such an important and innovative partnership pays tribute to a pioneer like Verner Suomi,” said Mary Kicza, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “Suomi NPP is an extremely important mission for NOAA. Its advanced instruments will improve our weather forecasts and understanding of the climate and pave the way for JPSS, our next generation of weather satellites.”

Suomi NPP currently is in its initial checkout phase before starting regular observations with all of its five instruments. Commissioning activities are expected to be completed by March. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Suomi NPP mission for the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The JPSS program provides the satellite ground system and NOAA provides operational support.

For more information about Verner Suomi’s career, visit:

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Suomi/

For more information about the Suomi NPP mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/npp
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Media Invited to Simulation of Asteroid Mission

ADVISORY : M12-009 to of HOUSTON – An astronaut and geologist will camp out in a prototype Space Exploration Vehicle this week to simulate an asteroid at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronaut Al Drew and geologist Jose M. Hurtado of the University of Texas in El Paso will spend days and two nights living inside the Space Exploration Vehicle, or SEV’s, cabin.

Media representatives interested in seeing part of the simulation at 2:30 p.m. CST Thursday, Jan. 19, must contact Brandi Dean at brandi.k.dean@nasa.gov by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

The public is invited to ask the crew questions via Twitter @Desert_RATS for a Twitterview the crew will participate in at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20. Questions should be marked #SEV. RATS stands for Research and Technology Studies.

The SEV will be placed on an air-bearing floor to allow it to virtually float, much the way a hockey puck floats on an air hockey table. This will allow the crew to see how the SEV would handle in a microgravity environment and evaluate the view from the vehicle’s windows.

During the media opportunity, one crew member will be conducting a simulated spacewalk in the virtual reality laboratory as the other assists from inside the SEV. Journalists also will be able to see the rover moving on the air-bearing floor as the crew simulates driving it in microgravity.

For information about the RATS tests, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/desertrats

For more information about the SEV, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/home/SEV.html

Follow the RATS via Twitter at:

http://www.twitter.com/Desert_RATS– end – text-only version of this release

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NASA’s Kepler Mission Finds Three Smallest Exoplanets

RELEASE : 12-013 NASA’s WASHINGTON — Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler mission have discovered the three smallest planets yet detected orbiting a star beyond our sun. The planets orbit a single star, called KOI-961, and are 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth. The smallest is about the size of Mars.

All three planets are thought to be rocky like Earth, but orbit close to their star. That makes them too hot to be in the habitable zone, which is the region where liquid water could exist. Of the more than 700 planets confirmed to orbit other stars — called exoplanets — only a handful are known to be rocky.

“Astronomers are just beginning to confirm thousands of planet candidates uncovered by Kepler so far,” said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Finding one as small as Mars is amazing, and hints that there may be a bounty of rocky planets all around us.”

Kepler searches for planets by continuously monitoring more than 150,000 stars, looking for telltale dips in their brightness caused by crossing, or transiting, planets. At least three transits are required to verify a signal as a planet. Follow-up observations from ground-based telescopes also are needed to confirm the discoveries.

The latest discovery comes from a team led by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The team used data publicly released by the Kepler mission, along with follow-up observations from the Palomar Observatory, near San Diego, and the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Their measurements dramatically revised the sizes of the planets from what originally was estimated.

The three planets are very close to their star, taking less than two days to orbit around it. The KOI-961 star is a red dwarf with a diameter one-sixth that of our sun, making it just 70 percent bigger than Jupiter.

“This is the tiniest solar system found so far,” said John Johnson, the principal investigator of the research from NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “It’s actually more similar to Jupiter and its moons in scale than any other planetary system. The discovery is further proof of the diversity of planetary systems in our galaxy.”

Red dwarfs are the most common kind of star in our Milky Way galaxy. The discovery of three rocky planets around one red dwarf suggests that the galaxy could be teeming with similar rocky planets.

“These types of systems could be ubiquitous in the universe,” said Phil Muirhead, lead author of the new study from Caltech. “This is a really exciting time for planet hunters.”

The discovery follows a string of recent milestones for the Kepler mission. In December 2011, scientists announced the mission’s first confirmed planet in the habitable zone of a sun-like star: a planet 2.4 times the size of Earth called Kepler-22b. Later in the month, the team announced the discovery of the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f.

For the latest discovery, the team obtained the sizes of the three planets called KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02 and KOI-961.03 with the help of a well-studied twin star to KOI-961, or Barnard’s Star. By better understanding the KOI-961 star, they then could determine how big the planets must be to have caused the observed dips in starlight. In addition to the Kepler observations and ground-based telescope measurements, the team used modeling techniques to confirm the planet discoveries.

Prior to these confirmed planets, only six other planets had been confirmed using the Kepler public data.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission’s development.

For information about the Kepler Mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/kepler – end – text-only version of this release

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NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer Completes Mission Operations

RELEASE : 12-005 NASA’s Rossi X-Ray WASHINGTON — After 16 years in space, NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) has made its last observation. The provided unprecedented views into the extreme environments around white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.

RXTE sent data from its last science observation to the ground early on Jan. 4. After performing engineering tests, controllers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., successfully decommissioned the satellite on Jan. 5.

RXTE far exceeded its original science goals and leaves astronomers with a scientific bounty for years to come. Data from the mission have resulted in more than 2,200 papers in refereed journals, 92 doctoral theses, and more than 1,000 rapid notifications alerting astronomers around the globe to new astronomical activity.

“The spacecraft and its instruments had been showing their age, and in the end RXTE had accomplished everything we put it up there to do, and much more,” said Tod Strohmayer, RXTE project scientist at Goddard.

The decision to decommission RXTE followed the recommendations of a 2010 review board tasked to evaluate and rank each of NASA’s operating astrophysics missions.

“After two days we listened to verify that none of the systems we turned off had autonomously re-activated, and we’ve heard nothing,” said Deborah Knapp, RXTE mission director at Goddard.

The 7,000-pound satellite is expected to re-enter the atmosphere between 2014 and 2023, depending in large part on solar activity. To celebrate the spacecraft’s long and productive career, astronomers will hold a special session on RXTE during the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Austin, Texas. The session is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 3 p.m. CST. A press conference on new RXTE results will also be held at the meeting on Jan. 10 at 1:45 p.m. EST.

RXTE opened a new window into the workings of neutron stars and black holes. Using its data, astronomers established the existence of highly magnetized neutron stars (known as magnetars) and discovered the first accreting millisecond pulsars, a previously unseen stage in the formation of “recycled” millisecond radio pulsars that were first glimpsed in the early 1980s. The observatory also provided the first observational evidence of “frame-dragging” in the vicinity of a black hole, an effect predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

RXTE carried instruments, the Proportional Counter Array (PCA) and the High Energy X-ray Timing Experiment (HEXTE), which could be directed to specific targets. The PCA was developed by Goddard to cover the lower part of the energy range. HEXTE was built by the University of California at San Diego for exploring the upper energy range.

The observatory’s instruments measured variations in X-ray emission on timescales as short as microseconds and as long as months across a wide energy span, from 2,000 to 250,000 electron volts. For comparison, the energy of a typical dental X-ray is around 60,000 electron volts.

A third instrument, called the All-Sky Monitor, was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. It scanned about 80 percent of the sky every orbit, giving astronomers the ability to monitor the variable and often unpredictable X-ray sky and to record long-term histories of bright sources.

The astronomical community has recognized the importance of RXTE research with five major . These include four Rossi Prizes (1999, 2003, 2006 and 2009) from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the AAS and the 2004 NWO Spinoza prize, the highest Dutch science award, from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

The mission was launched as XTE aboard a Delta II 7920 rocket on Dec. 30, 1995, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It was renamed RXTE in early 1996 in of Bruno Rossi, an MIT astronomer and a of X-ray astronomy and space plasma physics who died in 1993. RXTE was managed by Goddard.

For more information on RXTE, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/missions/rxte.html– end – text-only version of this release

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