NASA News – NASA’S GRAIL Lunar Impact Site Named For Astronaut Sally Ride

From NASA News: RELEASE: 12-438 – 17 December 2012

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA has named the site where twin agency spacecraft impacted the moon Monday in honor of the late astronaut, Sally K. Ride, who was America’s first woman in space and a member of the probes’ mission team.

Last Friday, Ebb and Flow, the two spacecraft comprising NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, were commanded to descend into a lower orbit that would result in an impact Monday on a mountain near the moon’s north pole. The formation-flying duo hit the lunar surface as planned at 2:28:51 p.m. PST (5:28:51 p.m. EST) and 2:29:21 p.m. PST (5:29:21 p.m. EST) at a speed of 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second). The location of the Sally K. Ride Impact Site is on the southern face of an approximately 1.5 mile- (2.5 -kilometer) tall mountain near a crater named Goldschmidt.

“Sally was all about getting the job done, whether it be in exploring space, inspiring the next generation, or helping make the GRAIL mission the resounding success it is today,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “As we complete our lunar mission, we are proud we can honor Sally Ride’s contributions by naming this corner of the moon after her.”

The impact marked a successful end to the GRAIL mission, which was NASA’s first planetary mission to carry cameras fully dedicated to education and public outreach. Ride, who died in July after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, led GRAIL’s MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students) Program through her company, Sally Ride Science, in San Diego.

Along with its primary science instrument, each spacecraft carried a MoonKAM camera that took more than 115,000 total images of the lunar surface. Imaging targets were proposed by middle school students from across the country and the resulting images returned for them to study. The names of the spacecraft were selected by Ride and the mission team from student submissions in a nationwide contest.

“Sally Ride worked tirelessly throughout her life to remind all of us, especially girls, to keep questioning and learning,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. “Today her passion for making students part of NASA’s science is honored by naming the impact site for her.”

Fifty minutes prior to impact, the spacecraft fired their engines until the propellant was depleted. The maneuver was designed to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in the tanks. This will help NASA engineers validate computer models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.

“Ebb fired its engines for 4 minutes, 3 seconds and Flow fired its for 5 minutes, 7 seconds,” said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “It was one final important set of data from a mission that was filled with great science and engineering data.”

The mission team deduced that much of the material aboard each spacecraft was broken up in the energy released during the impacts. Most of what remained probably is buried in shallow craters. The craters’ size may be determined when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returns images of the area in several weeks.

Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow had been orbiting the moon since Jan. 1, 2012. The probes intentionally were sent into the lunar surface because they did not have sufficient altitude or fuel to continue science operations. Their successful prime and extended science missions generated the highest resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

“We will miss our lunar twins, but the scientists tell me it will take years to analyze all the great data they got, and that is why we came to the moon in the first place,” Lehman said. “So long, Ebb and Flow, and we thank you.”

JPL manages the GRAIL mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. GRAIL is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

For more information about GRAIL, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/grail

NASA News – NASA’S Next-Generation Communications Satellite Arrives At Kennedy

From NASA News: RELEASE: 12-439 – 18 December 2012

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s newest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, known as TDRS-K, arrived Tuesday at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for a Jan. 29 launch. TDRS-K arrived aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 from the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems assembly facility in El Segundo, Calif.

For almost 30 years, the TDRS spacecraft have provided a reliable communications network for NASA, serving numerous national and international space missions. The TDRS fleet is a space-based communication system used to provide tracking, telemetry, command, and high bandwidth data return services. The satellites provide in-flight communications with spacecraft operating in low-Earth orbit. It has been 10 years since NASA’s last TDRS launch.

“This launch will provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA’s scientific discoveries,” says Jeffrey Gramling, project manager for TDRS at NASA’s Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

TDRS-K will launch to geostationary orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket. The spacecraft is the first of three next-generation satellites designed to ensure vital operational continuity for NASA by expanding the lifespan of the fleet. The launch of TDRS-L is scheduled for 2014 and TDRS-M in 2015.

Each of the new satellites has a higher performance solar panel design to provide more spacecraft power. This upgrade will return signal processing for the S-Band multiple access service to the ground — the same as the first-generation TDRS spacecraft. Ground-based processing allows TDRS to service more customers with different and evolving communication requirements.

The TDRS fleet began operating during the space shuttle era and provides critical communication support from several locations in geostationary orbit to NASA’s human spaceflight endeavors, including the International Space Station. The fleet also provides communications support to an array of science missions, as well as various types of launch vehicles. Of the nine TDRS satellites launched, seven are still operational, although four are already beyond their design life. Two have been retired. The second TDRS was lost in 1986 during the space shuttle Challenger accident.

NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation Program, part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington, is responsible for the TDRS network. NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy is responsible for launch management. United Launch Alliance provides the Atlas V rocket launch service.

To join the online conversation about TDRS on Twitter, follow the hashtag #TDRS. To learn more about all the ways to connect and collaborate with NASA, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/connect

For more information about TDRS, visit:

http://tdrs.gsfc.nasa.gov/