February, 2014Archive for

Mission Updates: NASA in 2014

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

NASA has been granted approximately $17.7 Billion dollars for the 2014 fiscal year. Among many of the day to day operations, such as the ISS, Curiosity Rover, and educational outreach, there are a couple important missions that will be making significant strides in 2014.

Artist Rendering of the Orion Module

Orion

Orion is a multi-purpose spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into deep space. Development for the Orion began in 2005 during the now-cancelled Constellation program, and is currently being carried out by Lockheed Martin. Orion can carry up to six astronauts, and will eventually use the Space Launch System (SLS) to get it into space.

The first test flight of Orion is set to take place in 2014, called the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1). Since the SLS development is not yet completed, the Orion will be placed into orbit by a Delta IV Heavy rocket. The Orion will make a series of unmanned test flights over the next 5 years, to ensure its safety and reliability. Actual manned missions in the Orion are expected to take place after 2020.

Orion’s primary purpose is for manned spaceflight to the Moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars.

Artist rendering of the Space Launch System (SLS) carrying the Orion Spacecraft

This is the first time since the Apollo missions of the 60’s and early 70’s that a manned spacecraft is specifically designed to leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

 

James Webb Space Telescope

The James Web Space Telescope is a telescope currently being built by NASA, ESA (European Space agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), with construction contributions from Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace. As opposed to the Hubble Space Telescope which utilizes primarily visible light, the JWST will observe in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared light is light that has a wavelength shorter than the human eye can see.

One of the James Webb Space Telescope’s primary goals is to see further (and thus earlier) into the universe than we ever have before. It is also intended to assist in answering questions about the formations of stars and planets, including those which existed very early in the universe.

The JWST is a reflective telescope with a hexagonal mirror made up of reflective panels that stretch a total of 21ft (6.5m) across. It also includes a large sunshield to block light from the sun, providing more accurate measurements from the telescope.

Program Progress

The JWST began in planning in 1996, with a budget of $500,000 and target launch of 2007. As the years passed, both the budget increased, and the launch date was pushed back. Currently the launch date is 2018, with a budget of about $8.8 billion.

Location

The JWST will be located in space at a distance significantly further out from the Hubble space telescope – or any satellite for that matter. IT will be located at the second Lagrange point (referred to as L2), which is a special gravitational point in space that utilizes both the gravity from the Sun as well as the gravity from Earth to hold an object in a stable orbit around the system. The second Lagrange point is located approximately 930,000 mi (1,500,000 km) from Earth’s surface, or about for 4 times further than the moon.

Because of the significant distance to L2, sending spacecraft to it for maintenance is nearly impossible. Thus the telescope will have to be self-serviceable, and built with the idea in mind that it will not be accessible once deployed.