Earth observation

Earth Observation is a global endeavour. It is the process of making measurements of the entire planet using satellites.

These measurements enable us to monitor changes to the environment and patterns of land use and can influence environmental policy. Within two years of satellite monitoring showing a hole in the ozone layer, for example, Europe and 24 non-European countries had signed up to The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

This protocol protects the ozone layer by controlling the production and consumption of harmful chemicals. More than 160 countries have now formally approved the protocol.

Co-ordinating space missions

The UK recognises the importance of Earth Observation satellites and is involved in the following activities and strategies:

BNSC funds GIFTSS (Government Information From The Space Sector). GIFTSS develops partnerships between UK Government departments and agencies. The aim is to investigate and develop the use of satellite-based data to address challenges such as intelligent transport, long-term landuse monitoring and humanitarian aid distribution.

GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is a European Union led initiative in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). GMES will build a co-ordinated system for Earth observation and monitoring and has a particular emphasis on climate change. With GMES, Europe's politicians will have access to independent environmental data to form and support their policy decisions.

CEOS (Committee on Earth Observation Satellites) provides an international forum in which to discuss international Earth Observation issues. The CEOS ensures that countries work together to get the most from international civil space missions that observe and study planet Earth.

CEOS consists of 23 members (most of which are space agencies) and 21 associates (associated national and international organisations). It is recognised as the major international forum for the co-ordination of Earth observation satellite programs and users of satellite data worldwide.


Envisat is the world's largest and most complex environmental satellite. Launched in 2002, it is the size of an articulated lorry and takes many different measurements of the Earth's land, oceans, atmosphere and ice caps at the same time. This is so we can discover how one factor affects the other.

Envisat has already exceeded its original lifetime and remains in good health. The mission is now extended until 2010.

Data from the Envisat mission will build on information obtained from ERS (European Remote Sensing Satellite) 1 and 2. The ERS satellites have been watching over the Earth for more than 16 years, providing scientists with plenty of data about our planet. Already there is enough satellite information to show long-term trends in sea level rise and reduced ice cover in the Arctic.

Examples in the rest of this section show how scientists use satellites to help tackle climate change, pollution and improve land monitoring.

Successful Launch of NOAA-N

NOAA-N is the latest Space polar-orbiting satellite developed by NASA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA-N will collect information about Earth's atmosphere and environment to improve weather prediction and climate research across the globe.

NOAA-N is the 15th in a series of polar-orbiting satellites dating back to 1978. NOAA uses two satellites, a morning and afternoon satellite, to ensure every part of the Earth is observed at least twice every 12 hours.

Severe weather is monitored and reported to the National Weather Service which broadcasts the findings to the global community. With the early warning, effects of catastrophic weather events can be minimized.

NOAA-N also has instruments to support an international search-and-rescue program. The Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COPAS-SARSAT, transmits to ground stations the location of emergency beacons from ships, aircraft and people in distress around the world. The program, in place since 1982, has saved about 18,000 lives.

NOAA-N is the first in a series of polar-orbiting satellites to be part of a joint cooperation project with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMESTAT).

Deal struck on UK-ESA Research Centre and GMES

A European Space Agency (ESA) research centre will be established in the UK following an agreement made by Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson today.

Lord Drayson and ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain signed an agreement in principle to secure an ESA research centre in the UK at the ESA Ministerial taking place this week at The Hague. The research centre, which will be based at the Harwell science and innovation campus in Oxfordshire, could be up and running within a year.

Once established, ESA money will be directed to fund new work on climate change modelling that uses space data and the development of technologies for a new era of planetary exploration, including robotics and novel power sources.

Announcing the agreement, Lord Drayson said:

"I'm delighted to have struck this deal today. Laying the foundations for a possible centre was one of my aspirations at this meeting, but to come away with a signed agreement on a facility is great news for the UK and ESA.

"This centre represents a first for the UK. It will direct more ESA business and funding to our shores, which of course is very important for our economy - but also the establishment of a new ESA centre is extremely encouraging for British scientists working in space science as they will have closer involvement in international space station programmes."

During the two-day ministerial meeting, which concludes today, Lord Drayson also committed to invest £82 million in the ESA's flagship Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programmes in a package of UK subscriptions totalling over £300 million.

Announcing the GMES commitment Lord Drayson said:

"The greatest challenge facing our generation is climate change. Despite the global economic downturn, it is vital that we increase the pace of research in this area.

"The GMES programme offers a crucial tool to aid our understanding and monitoring of climate change variables.

"I am pleased to have announced the UK's commitment to the second segment of the programme at the Ministerial today. Participation in GMES, alongside the other significant projects that the UK has committed to support at this meeting, will ensure the UK remains a key player in using space science to monitor climate change."

Other programmes backed by the UK include those that will search for life on Mars and develop telecommunications technology - which will strengthen the UK's role in the global space industry.

Lord Drayson added:

"It is the Government's priority, particularly in the current economic climate, to ensure the most out of every pound we invest in ESA. This is why we have selected the areas and programmes where the UK can compete and grow most effectively.

"Historically, the UK has made smart investments in robotics and microsatellites and this has enabled us to develop world-class leads in these areas.

"The UK is the fourth highest contributor to the European Space Agency's programmes, and I'm determined that we remain a significant player in European space."

The UK made contributions to seven optional ESA programmes, including:

  1. Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES). This programme will make the most of the UK's reputation and expertise in satellite communications technology, where the UK has a vibrant and growing business.

  2. Aurora Enhanced Exo Mars Mission Component and Exploration Programme. ExoMars will search for evidence of life on Mars. It is expected to launch Jan 2016 and will consist of a rover vehicle and stationary lander. The UK is the second largest contributor to the programme in terms of funding and the UK company Astrium has the contract to construct the Mars Rover.

  3. Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) segment two. GMES will provide essential observations to monitor climate change. The programme includes a key satellite mission to measure the chemicals in the atmosphere. It is expected that the high-tech UK space industry will play a leading role in developing the satellites for this programme.

The UK also agreed investments in the ESA's mandatory programmes over the next three years; The Science Programme, funded by Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC, pays for the design, build and launch of a series of science missions in astronomy, solar physics and planetary science. The UK's investment will be €234.5 million.

The General Budget, funded by STFC and the Natural Environment Research Council, pays for the basic infrastructure and overheads of the ESA programme. The UK's investment will be €110 million.

The ESA Ministerial is a meeting of 18 Ministers from across the Agency's Member States. Held every three years, the meeting's objective is to agree levels of investment to all ESA programmes.

Notes to editors

For interviews with the Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson, please contact:

Clare Kingston
Tel: +44 (0)7827 282 030

For interviews with Daniel Sacotte, ESA Director Advice to Director General, please contact:

Franco Bonacina
Tel: +31 6 0874 6109

The confirmed UK subscriptions to the ESA Optional Programme are:

  1. GMES Programmes: Total € 102.5 million, comprising of:-
    • European Earth Watch Programme - global monitoring of essential climate change variables - € 15 million
    • Global Monitoring for Environment and Security segment two - € 87.5 million

  2. European Space Exploration Programme - Aurora - Enhanced Exo Mars Mission Component - an increased subscription to € 165 million

  3. European Space Exploration Programme - Aurora - Mars Robotic Exploration Preparation Programme Component - € 6.5 million

  4. Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES) - total subscription to seven elements of this programme - € 121million

  5. Space Situational Awareness - € 1 million

  6. General Support Technologies Programme - total subscription of €3million across the four programme elements

The British National Space Centre (BNSC) coordinates civil space policy across UK Government. A voluntary partnership of 11 Government departments and research councils, BNSC represents the UK at the European Space Agency.

The European Space Agency (ESA) represents 18 Member States. The Agency's projects are designed to find out more about the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe, as well as to develop satellite-based technology and services, and to promote the competitiveness of European industry.

For more information, contact the DIUS press office on 0203 300 8105.

NASA TV to Broadcast Space Station Cargo Ship Arrival

The residents of the International Space Station will receive a new shipment of fuel, food, supplies and holiday gifts on Sunday, Nov. 30. Docking of the cargo delivery spacecraft, known as ISS Progress 31, is set for 6:23 a.m. CST. NASA Television will begin coverage of the event at 5:45 a.m.

The unpiloted Russian resupply craft is carrying more than two tons of supplies for the station's crew, Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineers Yury Lonchakov and Sandy Magnus. The ISS Progress 31 launched at 6:38 a.m. Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

NASA TV's broadcast will include commentary and available downlink television of the final hours of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission. Endeavour is scheduled to land Sunday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For NASA TV downlink, schedules and streaming video information, visit:

For more about the crew's activities and station sighting opportunities, visit:

NASA Uses iTunes to Share Development Progress of Ares Rocket

Video updates reporting progress made on NASA's newest family of exploration vehicles -- the Ares I crew launch vehicle and Ares V heavy cargo launch vehicle -- are now featured on iTunes.

The Ares Projects quarterly progress reports offer viewers a rare glimpse at the on-going development work of the next-generation launch vehicles that will take explorers to the moon and beyond in coming decades. Beginning in 2015, the Ares I rocket will launch the Orion crew capsule, carrying astronauts and payloads to the International Space Station.

iTunes is the place to get an up-close look at the Ares rockets and learn more about key engine, hardware and system milestones as the rockets proceed through the design, review and development processes that will take them -- and their future crews -- to launch.

The video progress reports, which have been produced quarterly beginning in August 2006, have been used to visually share progress with the NASA team at all levels and to record the historical work being completed on America's newest fleet of spacecraft for future generations. Now, in an effort to share the Ares development with a broader audience, NASA is posting the full library of reports on iTunes. The programs range in length from 5-15 minutes.

The 10 quarterly reports produced to date spotlight the detailed evolution of the Ares vehicles, from earliest conception through various design phases and the most recent testing. The latest report in the series -- Ares quarterly progress report number 10 -- includes video segments about:

- Wind tunnel testing of scale models of the Ares I test vehicle, known as Ares I-X, and the Ares V rocket. The testing aids engineers in designing aerodynamic vehicles.

- Disassembly and inspection of part of the J-2X engine -- known as the powerpack -- that will produce the thrust needed to power the Ares I rocket to orbit. The powerpack pushes liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the engine's main combustion chamber. This test series helped address early design risks. Engineers are now evaluating hardware used as part of the recent testing.

- The first tests to weld together pieces of the rockets being developed. NASA recently tested a new robotic friction stir welding facility by fusing space shuttle fuel tank panels. Friction stir welding is an innovative technique invented in 1991 that uses forging pressure and frictional heating to produce high-strength bonds virtually free of defects.

- A test of a parachute for the Ares I rocket. The parachute will slow the rapid descent of the rocket's reusable first-stage motor as it falls back to Earth after detaching from the rocket during its climb to space. The parachute permits recovery of the motor for use on future Ares I flights.

The Ares Projects team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the development of the Ares rockets. NASA's Johnson Space Mission Center in Houston manages the Constellation Program, which includes the Ares I and Ares V rockets, the Orion crew module and the Altair lunar lander.

To view the Ares quarterly progress reports on iTunes, visit:

To learn more about the Ares rockets and view the Ares quarterly progress reports on NASA's Ares web site, visit:

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

For additional interactive features and podcasts about NASA, visit:

NASA Conducts Pilot Cognition Studies

NASA is investigating the best methods for monitoring brain activity as part of a study designed to help airplane pilots realize when they are operating under dangerous levels of stress, fatigue and distraction.

Studies under way at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are employing functional near infrared spectroscopy, also know as fNIRS, and other imaging technology to measure blood flow in the brain's cortex and the concentration of oxygen in the blood. This emerging technology offers a non-invasive, safe, portable and inexpensive method for monitoring indicators of neural activity.

Through the studies, researchers hope to find ways to improve the interaction between the increasingly sophisticated automation being used in aircraft and the humans who operate those aircraft. The goal is to aid pilot decision-making to improve aviation safety.

Angela Harrivel, a NASA biomedical engineer who leads the research, and research associates are working on fNIRS at Glenn with 15 test subjects.

"No matter how much training pilots have, conditions could occur when too much is going on in the cockpit," said Harrivel. "What we hope to achieve by this study is a way to sensitively -- and, ultimately, unobtrusively -- determine when pilots become mentally overloaded."

Harrivel and the project are working with the test subjects, who don headgear fitted with optical or electrical sensors and sit in a moving cockpit simulator that creates the sensation of flying. The tests measure electrical activity in the brain to validate spectroscopic data obtained through the fNIRS sensors.

The volunteers perform basic functional tasks and participate in more complex flight simulations. Future tests will challenge the subjects with stress-inducing conditions as they use a joystick and flight instruments to try to stay "airborne" in the simulator.

"Flying an aircraft involves multitasking that potentially can push the limits of human performance," Harrivel said. "When we increase stress and difficulty we can see how the subject reacts, measuring brain activity during overload."

The Aviation Safety Program of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington sponsored the research. It is overseen by the program's Integrated Intelligent Flight Deck Project.

Video of the testing will air on NASA Television's Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

For information about NASA's Integrated Intelligent Flight Deck Project visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

NASA Calls for Comment on Draft Ares V Request for Proposals

NASA has released a draft request for proposals, or RFP, regarding Phase I of its Ares V launch vehicle. The rocket will perform heavy lift and cargo functions as part of the next generation of spacecraft that will return humans to the moon. Phase I will define operational concepts, develop requirements, and refine design concepts for the Ares V.

This document is a draft of the final version of the RFP for Phase I, expected in January 2009. By responding to this draft RFP, potential offerors can provide input on the requirements, small business goals and contract structure. The industry input received will be combined with NASA's expertise for potential inclusion in the final version of the RFP for Phase I, which will ask for bids on five Ares V work packages.

A pre-solicitation conference is scheduled for Dec. 3, 2008, at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The conference is designed for information sharing about the Ares V Phase I for potential offerors.

For a copy of the draft RFP for Phase I, designated NNM09274026R, and more information about the conference, visit:

For more information about the Ares program, visit:

Shuttle and Station Astronauts Send Special Greetings to Military

The combined crews of space shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station have sent a special greeting to members of the American military in time for the upcoming holiday season.

From orbit 220 miles above Earth, Commander Chris Ferguson (captain, U.S. Navy), Pilot Eric Boe (colonel, U.S. Air Force), Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke (colonel, U.S. Air Force), Mission Specialist Shane Kimbrough (lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army), Mission Specialist Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper (captain, U.S. Navy) and Mission Specialist Steve Bowen (captain, U.S. Navy) sent greetings to the soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines around the world who are away from their families this holiday season. The crew thanked the service members for their commitment and dedication and wished them well.

The combined crews will be celebrating Thanksgiving aboard the International Space Station. During the mission, the astronauts have been working to service the space station's solar arrays and deliver and install cargo and equipment necessary to expand the crew size from three to six people next year. Endeavour is scheduled to return home Sunday, Nov. 30.

The special message to members of the military will be available during Tuesday's video file on NASA Television. The video file will air at 9:00 a.m. CST on the standard-definition channel and also will be available on the NASA TV high-definition channel 105. The high-definition highlights will air at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. For more information about how to receive NASA TV, visit:

For the latest information about Endeavour's mission to the International Space Station, visit:

NASA Awards Project Management Support Contract for Kennedy

NASA has selected Science Applications International Corporation of Houston to provide project management support services at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The contract begins on Feb. 1, 2009, with a two-year base period and three one-year options to extend performance. The contract has a maximum potential value of approximately $69.3 million.

The contract is a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract and has a total potential core value of $59.3 million if all options are exercised. An additional indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract line item is included with a possible ceiling of $10 million.

Science Applications International Corporation will provide engineering and technical services, project and business management and administrative support to Kennedy's Ground Operations Project Office in support of NASA's Constellation Program.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

NASA Prepares for New Juno Mission to Jupiter

NASA is officially moving forward on a mission to conduct an unprecedented, in-depth study of Jupiter.

Called Juno, the mission will be the first in which a spacecraft is placed in a highly elliptical polar orbit around the giant planet to understand its formation, evolution and structure. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our early solar system.

"Jupiter is the archetype of giant planets in our solar system and formed very early, capturing most of the material left after the sun formed," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "Unlike Earth, Jupiter's giant mass allowed it to hold onto its original composition, providing us with a way of tracing our solar system's history."

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch aboard an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in August 2011, reaching Jupiter in 2016. The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter 32 times, skimming about 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) over the planet's cloud tops for approximately one year. The mission will be the first solar powered spacecraft designed to operate despite the great distance from the sun.

"Jupiter is more than 644 million kilometers (400 million miles) from the sun or five times further than Earth," Bolton said. "Juno is engineered to be extremely energy efficient."

The spacecraft will use a camera and nine science instruments to study the hidden world beneath Jupiter's colorful clouds. The suite of science instruments will investigate the existence of an ice-rock core, Jupiter's intense magnetic field, water and ammonia clouds in the deep atmosphere, and explore the planet's aurora borealis.

"In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter's wife Juno peered through Jupiter's veil of clouds to watch over her husband's mischief," said Professor Toby Owen, co-investigator at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. "Our Juno looks through Jupiter's clouds to see what the planet is up to, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but searching for whispers of water, the ultimate essence of life."

Understanding the formation of Jupiter is essential to understanding the processes that led to the development of the rest of our solar system and what the conditions were that led to Earth and humankind. Similar to the sun, Jupiter is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. A small percentage of the planet is composed of heavier elements. However, Jupiter has a larger percentage of these heavier elements than the sun.

"Juno's extraordinarily accurate determination of the gravity and magnetic fields of Jupiter will enable us to understand what is going on deep down in the planet," said Professor Dave Stevenson, co-investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "These and other measurements will inform us about how Jupiter's constituents are distributed, how Jupiter formed and how it evolved, which is a central part of our growing understanding of the nature of our solar system."

Deep in Jupiter's atmosphere, under great pressure, hydrogen gas is squeezed into a fluid known as metallic hydrogen. At these great depths, the hydrogen acts like an electrically conducting metal which is believed to be the source of the planet's intense magnetic field. Jupiter also may have a rocky solid core at the center.

"Juno gives us a fantastic opportunity to get a picture of the structure of Jupiter in a way never before possible," said James Green, director of NASA's Planetary Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It will allow us to take a giant step forward in our understanding on how giant planets form and the role that plays in putting the rest of the solar system together. "

The Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, launched in January 2006 and scheduled to reach Pluto's moon Charon in 2015. The program provides opportunities to carry out several medium-class missions identified as top priority objectives in the Decadal Solar System Exploration Survey, conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in Washington.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission. Lockheed Martin of Denver is building the spacecraft. The Italian Space Agency is contributing an infrared spectrometer instrument and a portion of the radio science experiment.

For more information about the Juno mission, visit:

Space Exploration

Space exploration is our human response to curiosity about Earth, the moon, the planets, the sun and other stars, and the galaxies. Piloted and unpiloted space vehicles venture far beyond the boundaries of Earth to collect valuable information about the universe. Human beings have visited the moon and have lived in space stations for long periods. Space exploration helps us see Earth in its true relation with the rest of the universe. Such space exploration could reveal how the sun, the planets, and the stars were formed and whether life exists beyond our own world.

The space age began on Oct. 4, 1957. On that day, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik (later referred to as Sputnik 1), the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. The first piloted space flight was made on April 12, 1961, when Yuri A. Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, orbited Earth in the spaceship Vostok (later called Vostok 1).

Unpiloted vehicles called space probes have vastly expanded our knowledge of outer space, the planets, and the stars. In 1959, one Soviet probe passed close to the moon and another hit the moon. A United States probe flew past Venus in 1962. In 1974 and 1976, the United States launched two German probes that passed inside the orbit of Mercury, close to the sun. Two other U.S. probes landed on Mars in 1976. In addition to studying every planet except Pluto, space probes have investigated comets and asteroids.

The first piloted voyage to the moon began on Dec. 21, 1968, when the United States launched the Apollo 8 spacecraft. It orbited the moon 10 times and returned safely to Earth. On July 20, 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their Apollo 11 lunar module on the moon. Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. United States astronauts made five more landings on the moon before the Apollo lunar program ended in 1972.

During the 1970's, astronauts and cosmonauts developed skills for living in space aboard the Skylab and Salyut space stations. In 1987 and 1988, two Soviet cosmonauts spent 366 consecutive days in orbit.

On April 12, 1981, the United States space shuttle Columbia blasted off. The shuttle was the first reusable spaceship and the first spacecraft able to land at an ordinary airfield. On Jan. 28, 1986, a tragic accident occurred. The U.S. space shuttle Challenger tore apart in midair, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The shuttle was redesigned, and flights resumed in 1988. A second tragedy struck the shuttle fleet on Feb. 1, 2003. The Columbia broke apart as it reentered Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven of its crew members.

In the early years of the space age, success in space became a measure of a country's leadership in science, engineering, and national defense. The United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in an intense rivalry called the Cold War. As a result, the two nations competed with each other in developing space programs. In the 1960's and 1970's, this "space race" drove both nations to tremendous exploratory efforts. The space race had faded by the end of the 1970's, when the two countries began to pursue independent goals in space.

A major dispute in the development of space programs has been the proper balance of piloted and unpiloted exploration. Some experts favor unpiloted probes because they may be cheaper, safer, and faster than piloted vehicles. They note that probes can make trips that would be too risky for human beings to attempt. On the other hand, probes generally cannot react to unexpected occurrences. Today, most space planners favor a combined, balanced strategy of unpiloted probes and piloted expeditions. Probes can visit uncharted regions of space or patrol familiar regions where the data to be gathered fall within expected limits. But in some cases, people must follow the probes and use human ingenuity, flexibility, and courage to explore the mysteries of the universe.

NASA Team to Investigate Launch Failure

An Alliant Techsystems suborbital rocket carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments was destroyed shortly after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Friday, Aug. 22. No injuries or property damage were immediately reported.

The exact launch time was 5:10 a.m. EDT. The anomaly that caused the failure occurred approximately 27 seconds into flight and is not known.

Most debris from the rocket is thought to have fallen in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are conflicting reports of debris being sighted on land. This debris could be hazardous. People who think they may have encountered rocket debris are advised not to touch it and to report it to the Wallops Emergency Operations Center at 757-824-1300.

NASA is very disappointed in this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public safety and conducting a comprehensive investigation to identify the root cause. NASA is assembling a multidiscipline team, along with the rocket's maker Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, of Minneapolis, to begin the investigation promptly.

Astronauts Transfer Cargo, Fourth Spacewalk Monday

Cargo transfers aboard the shuttle and station complex are more than 76 percent complete. More troubleshooting took place on a Urine Processor Assembly inside the station's Water Recovery System after it shut down several times during testing. Shuttle astronauts Steve Bowen and Shane Kimbrough prepare for the fourth STS-126 spacewalk Monday at 1:45 p.m. EST.

NASA to Brief Media about Test of Orion Launch Abort System Motor

NASA, ATK, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin representatives will hold a teleconference at 2:30 p.m. MST today, Thursday, Nov. 20, to discuss the results of the first full-scale test fire of the motor for a new launch abort system.

Reporters should dial 888-469-1980 or 517-308-9161 and give the passcode "motor test" to participate in the call.

The launch abort system will sit atop the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The abort motor is designed to pull the crew module away from the Ares I launch vehicle in an emergency situation on the launch pad or during the first 300,000 feet after launch.

The test takes place today at 1 p.m. at the ATK Launch Systems facility in Promontory, Utah. This is the first time such a test has been conducted since the Apollo Program tested its launch escape system in the 1960s. The demonstration is the culmination of a series of motor and component tests conducted earlier this year in preparation for a test with a mock-up of the Orion crew capsule scheduled for the spring of 2009.

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., manages the Orion launch abort system. Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, is responsible for the launch abort motor under contract to Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va. Orbital is building the entire launch abort system for the Orion crew exploration vehicle. Lockheed Martin Corporation of Denver is the prime contractor for Orion.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

For more information about the Orion crew capsule and the Constellation Program, visit:

Racers Get Ready! NASA's Great Moonbuggy Registration Begins

Registration is open for NASA's 16th annual Great Moonbuggy Race, taking place April 3-4, 2009, in Huntsville, Ala.

Each year, NASA challenges high schools and colleges across the country and the world to design and build lightweight, human-powered moonbuggies. Innovative students put their own spin on the historic lunar rovers that carried Americans across the surface of the moon during the Apollo era. Builders with "the right stuff" then converge on Huntsville to test their engineering savvy - and their endurance.

The race was founded at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville in 1994. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center hosts the two-day event. The nationally renowned space museum and tourist attraction constructs a punishing course - a half-mile of hills and craters simulating the lunar surface - on the looping sidewalks and paths around its grounds.

Participating institutions may register up to two moonbuggies and teams each year. Registration for the 2009 race closes Feb. 1. For complete rules, moonbuggy design parameters and registration, visit:

High school teams will compete April 3. College teams will take the course April 4. Prizes are awarded to the three teams in each division that finish with the fastest race times. NASA and industry sponsors present additional awards for innovative buggy design, team spirit, best newcomer and other achievements.

Participation in the race has increased annually from just eight college teams in 1994 to 46 high school and college teams in 2008, with hundreds of students coming from 17 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, India and Germany to participate.

NASA, ATK Successfully Test First Orion Launch Abort Motor

Flames shot more than 100 feet high in a successful 5.5-second ground test firing Thursday, Nov. 20, of a launch abort motor for NASA's next generation spacecraft, the Orion crew exploration vehicle. NASA and the Orion industry team conducted the firing at the Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, facility in Promontory, Utah.

The abort motor will provide a half-million pounds of thrust to lift the crew module off the Ares I rocket, pulling the crew away safely in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the first 300,000 feet of the rocket's climb to orbit. Thursday's firing was the first time a motor with reverse flow propulsion technology at this scale has been tested. It also is the first test of its kind since the beginning of the Apollo Program.

"This milestone brings the Constellation Program one step closer to completion of the Orion vehicle that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station in 2015 and return humans to the moon by 2020," said Mark Geyer, Orion project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "The launch abort system must be ready to operate in many different environmental conditions, and tests such as this one are critical to assure this safety feature will protect our astronauts."

Thursday's test firing was the culmination of a series of motor and component tests conducted this year in preparation for the next major milestone, a test scheduled for the spring of 2009 with a full-size mock-up of the Orion crew capsule.

The abort motor stands more than 17 feet tall and is three feet in diameter. During Thursday's ground firing, the motor was fixed in a vertical test stand with its four exhaust nozzles pointing skyward at ATK's facility.

On ignition, the abort motor fired for 5.5 seconds. The high impulse motor was developed to expend the majority of its propellant in the first three seconds, delivering the half million pounds of thrust needed to pull the capsule away from its launch vehicle in an emergency abort.

While similar to the Apollo Program's launch abort motor, Orion's abort motor incorporates today's technology into a more robust design. The launch abort motor uses a composite case and an exhaust turn-flow technology instead of a tower, which results in weight savings, improved performance and improved success in crew survival during an abort. Instead of the rocket plume exiting a rear nozzle, the manifold is placed at the forward end of the motor. The rocket thrust enters the manifold and is turned 155 degrees and forced out the four nozzles, creating a forward-pulling force.

To prove this new technology, a series of tests were performed leading up to the full-scale demonstration. Earlier tests included five subscale test firings incorporating reverse flow propulsion; full-scale structural integrity testing on the composite case, igniter bottle and manifold; and surveillance testing during casting to ensure the propellant chemistry met abort motor requirements.

ATK is the subcontractor responsible for the launch abort motor within NASA's Orion Project. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va., is responsible for integrating the launch abort system motor into the vehicle for Lockheed Martin Corporation of Denver, the prime contractor for Orion. The Orion Project Office is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and receives management and technical support for the Launch Abort System from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

For images and video of the test firing and more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

NASA Spacecraft Detects Buried Glaciers on Mars

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed vast Martian glaciers of water ice under protective blankets of rocky debris at much lower latitudes than any ice previously identified on the Red Planet.

Scientists analyzed data from the spacecraft's ground-penetrating radar and report in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Science that buried glaciers extend for dozens of miles from edges of mountains or cliffs. A layer of rocky debris blanketing the ice may have preserved the underground glaciers as remnants from an ice sheet that covered middle latitudes during a past ice age. This discovery is similar to massive ice glaciers that have been detected under rocky coverings in Antarctica.

"Altogether, these glaciers almost certainly represent the largest reservoir of water ice on Mars that is not in the polar caps," said John W. Holt of the University of Texas at Austin, who is lead author of the report. "Just one of the features we examined is three times larger than the city of Los Angeles and up to one-half-mile thick. And there are many more. In addition to their scientific value, they could be a source of water to support future exploration of Mars."

Scientists have been puzzled by what are known as aprons - gently sloping areas containing rocky deposits at the bases of taller geographical features - since NASA's Viking orbiters first observed them on the Martian surface in the 1970s. One theory has been that the aprons are flows of rocky debris lubricated by a small amount of ice. Now, the shallow radar instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided scientists an answer to this Martian puzzle.

"These results are the smoking gun pointing to the presence of large amounts of water ice at these latitudes,” said Ali Safaeinili, a shallow-radar instruments team member with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Radar echoes received by the spacecraft indicated radio waves pass through the aprons and reflect off a deeper surface below without significant loss in strength. That is expected if the apron areas are composed of thick ice under a relatively thin covering. The radar does not detect reflections from the interior of these deposits as would occur if they contained significant rock debris. The apparent velocity of radio waves passing through the apron is consistent with a composition of water ice.

Scientists developed the shallow radar instrument for the orbiter to examine these mid-latitude geographical features and layered deposits at the Martian poles. The Italian Space Agency provided the instrument.

"We developed the instrument so it could operate on this kind of terrain," said Roberto Seu, leader of the instrument science team at the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy. "It is now a priority to observe other examples of these aprons to determine whether they are also ice."

Holt and 11 co-authors report the buried glaciers lie in the Hellas Basin region of Mars' southern hemisphere. The radar also has detected similar-appearing aprons extending from cliffs in the northern hemisphere.

"There's an even larger volume of water ice in the northern deposits,” said JPL geologist Jeffrey J. Plaut, who will be publishing results about these deposits in the American Geophysical Union's Geophysical Research Letters. "The fact these features are in the same latitude bands, about 35 to 60 degrees in both hemispheres, points to a climate-driven mechanism for explaining how they got there."

The rocky debris blanket topping the glaciers apparently has protected the ice from vaporizing, which would happen if it were exposed to the atmosphere at these latitudes.

"A key question is, how did the ice get there in the first place?” said James W. Head of Brown University, Providence, R.I. "The tilt of Mars' spin axis sometimes gets much greater than it is now. Climate modeling tells us ice sheets could cover mid-latitude regions of Mars during those high-tilt periods. The buried glaciers make sense as preserved fragments from an ice age millions of years ago. On Earth, such buried glacial ice in Antarctica preserves the record of traces of ancient organisms and past climate history."

JPL manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit:

NASA Plans Test of 'Electronic Nose' on International Space Station

NASA astronauts on space shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission will install an instrument on the International Space Station that can "smell" dangerous chemicals in the air. Designed to help protect crew members' health and safety, the experimental "ENose" will monitor the space station's environment for harmful chemicals such as ammonia, mercury, methanol and formaldehyde.

The ENose fills the long-standing gap between onboard alarms and complex analytical instruments. Air-quality problems have occurred before on the International Space Station, space shuttle and Russian Space Station Mir. In most cases, the chemicals were identified only after the crew had been exposed to them, if at all. The ENose, which will run continuously and autonomously, is the first instrument on the station that will detect and quantify chemical leaks or spills as they happen.

"The ENose is a 'first-responder' that will alert crew members of possible contaminants in the air and also analyze and quantify targeted changes in the cabin environment," said Margaret A. Ryan, the principal investigator of the ENose project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, in Pasadena, Calif. JPL built and manages the device.

Station crew members will unpack the ENose on Dec. 9 to begin the instrument's six-month demonstration in the crew cabin. If the experiment is successful, the ENose might be used in future space missions as part of an automated system to monitor and control astronauts' in-space environments.

"This ENose is a very capable instrument that will increase crew awareness of the state of their air quality," said Carl Walz, an astronaut and director of NASA's Advanced Capabilities Division, part of the Exploration System Mission Directorate, which funds the ENose. "Having experienced an air-quality issue during my Expedition 4 mission on the space station, I wish I had the information that this ENose will provide future crews. This technology demonstration will provide important information for environmental control and life-support system designers for the future lunar outpost."

Specifically, the shoebox-sized ENose contains an array of 32 sensors that can identify and quantify several organic and inorganic chemicals, including organic solvents and marker chemicals that signal the start of electrical fires. The ENose sensors are polymer films that change their electrical conductivity in response to different chemicals. The pattern of the sensor array's response depends on the particular chemical types present in the air.

The instrument can analyze volatile aerosols and vapors, help monitor cleanup of chemical spills or leaks, and enable more intensive chemical analysis by collecting raw data and streaming it to a computer at JPL's ENose laboratory. The instrument has a wide range of chemical sensitivity, from fractional parts per million to 10,000 parts per million. For all of its capabilities, the ENose weighs less than nine pounds and requires only 20 watts of power.

The ENose is now in its third generation. The first ENose was tested during a six-day demonstration on the STS-95 shuttle mission in 1998. That prototype could detect 10 compounds, but could not analyze data immediately. The second-generation ENose could detect, identify and quantify 21 different chemicals. It was extensively ground-tested. The third-generation ENose includes data-analysis software to identify and quantify the release of chemicals within 40 minutes of detection. While it will look for 10 chemical types in this six-month experiment, the new ENose can be trained to detect many others.

For more information about the ENose and the Advanced Environmental Monitoring and Control Project, visit:

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For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

Endeavour, Space Station News Conference Set for Friday

The 10 crew members aboard space shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station will hold a news conference at 2:05 p.m. CST on Friday, Nov. 21.

Reporters may ask questions in person only from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA Headquarters in Washington.

To participate in the news conference, U.S. journalists must call the public affairs office at their preferred NASA center by 1 p.m. Friday. Media will need to be in place at participating locations at least 20 minutes prior to the start of the news conference.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the 40-minute news conference. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

During Endeavour's STS-126 mission, astronauts are preparing the station to house six crew members for long-duration missions and conducting four spacewalks to service the station's two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints.

For more information about the STS-126 mission and its crew, visit:

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NASA's QuikSCAT Ocean-Observing Satellite Mission Honored

An Earth-observing satellite that has provided early detection of ocean storms and advanced the scientific exploration of global ocean wind patterns has been recognized for helping scientists better understand our home planet. NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior Tuesday presented William T. Pecora Awards to NASA's Quick Scatterometer, or QuikSCAT, mission team and Samuel N. Goward of the University of Maryland, College Park.

The two agencies present individual and group Pecora Awards annually to honor outstanding contributions in the field of remote sensing and its application to understanding Earth. The award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of William T. Pecora, former director of the U.S. Geological Survey and under secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Bob Doyle, deputy director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and Margaret Luce, acting deputy director of NASA's Earth Science Division, presented this year's awards in Denver at the 17th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium.

Since 1999, the QuikSCAT team has advanced Earth science research and contributed to improved environmental predictions using measurements of global radar backscatter of wind speed and direction over the ice-free oceans. The QuikSCAT mission was conceived, developed and launched less than two years after the unexpected loss of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Advanced Earth Observing Satellite-1 spacecraft, which carried the NASA scatterometer.

Goward, professor of geography at the University of Maryland, was recognized for his "outstanding and sustained scientific leadership in advancing remote-sensing science and especially the continuation of the Landsat Program." Goward played a key role on the Landsat 7 science team in planning the acquisition of the most robust, cloud-free global archive of Landsat imagery ever assembled.

QuikSCAT measurements have had enormous impact on marine forecasts by enabling early detection of the location, direction, structure and strength of ocean storms. Data from the satellite are made available within two hours of acquisition to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other international weather forecasting centers to enhance marine watches and warnings, and to improve the quality of global and regional weather forecasts. QuickSCAT data also help monitor changes in Arctic sea ice and icebergs, as well as snow and soil moisture changes on land.

"We at NASA are very proud of the accomplishment of QuikSCAT," NASA Associate Administrator Christopher Scolese said. "The mission has improved our understanding of Earth, proved valuable to the research and operational communities, and demonstrated great cooperation among NASA centers, industry, and academia. It also has developed some of the best leaders in NASA and aerospace."

The QuikSCAT mission team includes personnel from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp. of Boulder, Colo.; the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder; and numerous principal investigators funded by NASA's Ocean Vector Winds science team.

Goward's career has been dedicated to advancing geographic education and Earth observation science. He currently leads an interagency research team to quantify the recent history of forest disturbance for the North American Carbon Program. Because of his many contributions to remote-sensing education, science and programs, Goward also has been awarded the U.S. Geological Survey John Wesley Powell Award and the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Estes Memorial Award.

For more information about the William T. Pecora Award, visit:

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NASA Tests First Deep-Space Internet

NASA has successfully tested the first deep space communications network modeled on the Internet.

Working as part of a NASA-wide team, engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used software called Disruption-Tolerant Networking, or DTN, to transmit dozens of space images to and from a NASA science spacecraft located about more than 32 million kilometers (20 million miles) from Earth.

"This is the first step in creating a totally new space communications capability, an interplanetary Internet," said Adrian Hooke, team lead and manager of space-networking architecture, technology and standards at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA and Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google, Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., partnered 10 years ago to develop this software protocol. The DTN sends information using a method that differs from the normal Internet's Transmission-Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP communication suite, which Cerf co-designed.

The Interplanetary Internet must be robust enough to withstand delays, disruptions and disconnections in space. Glitches can happen when a spacecraft moves behind a planet, or when solar storms and long communication delays occur. The delay in sending or receiving data from Mars takes between three-and-a-half to 20 minutes at the speed of light.

Unlike TCP/IP on Earth, the DTN does not assume a continuous end-to-end connection. In its design, if a destination path can't be found, the data packets are not discarded. Instead, each network node keeps custody of the information as long as necessary until it can safely communicate with another node. This store-and-forward method, similar to basketball players safely passing the ball to the player nearest the basket, means that information does not get lost when no immediate path to the destination exists. Eventually, the information is delivered to the end user.

"In space today, an operations team has to manually schedule each link and generate all the commands to specify which data to send, when to send it, and where to send it," said Leigh Torgerson, manager of the DTN Experiment Operations Center at JPL. "With standardized DTN, this can all be done automatically."

Engineers began a month-long series of DTN demonstrations in October. Data were transmitted using NASA's Deep Space Network in demonstrations occurring twice a week. Engineers use NASA's Epoxi spacecraft as a Mars data-relay orbiter. Epoxi is on a mission to encounter Comet Hartley 2 in two years.

"There are 10 nodes on this early interplanetary network," said Scott Burleigh of JPL, lead software-engineer for the demonstrations. "One is the Epoxi spacecraft itself and the other nine, which are on the ground at JPL, simulate Mars landers, orbiters and ground mission-operations centers."

This month-long experiment is the first in a series of planned demonstrations to qualify the technology for use on a variety of upcoming space missions, said Jay Wyatt, manager of the Space Networking and Mission Automation Program Office at JPL. In the next round of testing, a NASA-wide demonstration using new DTN software loaded on board the International Space Station is scheduled to begin next summer.

In the next few years, the Interplanetary Internet could enable many new types of space missions. Complex missions involving multiple landed, mobile and orbiting spacecraft will be far easier to support through the use of the Interplanetary Internet. It could also ensure reliable communications for astronauts on the surface of the moon.

The Deep Impact Networking Experiment is sponsored by the Space Communications and Navigation Office in NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA's Science Mission Directorate and Discovery Program in Washington provided experimental access to the Epoxi spacecraft. The Epoxi mission team provided critical support throughout development and operations.