NASA announced Monday that its Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has already discovered water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.
During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles from Bennu last week. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid.
NASA announced that data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx
Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) reveals that the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.
“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said OVIRS deputy instrument scientist Amy Simon at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”
Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.
One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).
Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.
Space exploration and rocket manufacturing and design are major Alabama industries. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville employs thousands of Alabamians.
Blue Origin opens rocket engine factory in Huntsville
Blue Origin has opened its sprawling factory in Huntsville, Alabama’s “Rocket City.”
The massive new factory will allow the spaceflight company to accelerate the production of its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine. The move creates hundreds of jobs.
The BE-4, which is under development, will power both Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, which is being produced at ULA’s factory in nearby Decatur.
Our facility will be home to the next generation of rocket engines, as well as the next generation of engine builders. Join our team, which is soon to be 300 strong. https://t.co/LxlJu7DBfp pic.twitter.com/xrkvvJU96M
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) February 17, 2020
Huntsville was an ideal location for the new factory, not only for its highly skilled workforce; but also for its proximity to ULA’s assembly pant and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center where the new Alabama-built engine will be tested. Marshall’s historic test stand 4670 is where the Saturn V moon rocket’s engines were tested.
Blue Origin is upgrading and refurbishing the test stand.
“This community is absolutely terrific to be a part of,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. “It has the kind of spirit that you want when developing this kind of technology and actually has the history that you can be feel proud about.”
“Enjoyed speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Blue Origin’s new rocket engine production facility in Cummings Research Park,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said. “This top-notch facility will be used to conduct production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. I joined Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, Congressman Robert Aderholt, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and several others this afternoon to discuss the impact Blue Origin is making in the Tennessee Valley!”
Alabama Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield was at the ceremony making the opening of the spaceflight company’s rocket engine factory.
Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “In addition to the economic boost resulting from hundreds of new jobs in north Alabama, the Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine production facility will allow the United States – the state of Alabama – to take astronauts once again into space without dependence on other nations. Methods of warfare have changed, and maintaining our dominance in the current space race is therefore a critical element in national security.”
Blue Origin was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Blue Origin’s 350,000-square-foot facility is located in Cummings Research Park and will employ more than 300 people. Smith said that around 200 jobs should be created over the next year.
The factory was a $200 million investment in the state and announced on June 2017, with construction beginning in Huntsville a little over a year ago.
Jones criticized for voting to limit Trump’s war powers authority
Thursday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted in favor of S.J.Res.68, a resolution which directs the removal of United States military from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress. Jones has been criticized by Republicans for voting to limit President Donald J. Trump’s war powers on Iran.
“Before a President can lead us into war, he or she must first earn the support of the American people and also fulfill their solemn constitutional obligation to seek approval from Congress,” Sen. Jones said in a statement. “While the President has the power to protect Americans in the case of an imminent attack, that authority does not extend to committing our service members to long-term hostilities unilaterally. This resolution sends a strong message that we will follow the Constitution and we will not send our troops into harm’s way without the serious consideration and consent of the Congress.”
Trump Victory National Finance Committee member Perry O. Hooper Jr. released a statement in response.
“Senator Jones once again turned his back on Alabama and voted as the leftwing Democrats commanded. He has no regard for the values, opinions or views of Alabamians,” Hooper said. “He sees us as deplorables just like the elites of the Democratic party who have funded 80 percent of his doomed campaign for re-election.:
Hooper stated, “I whole heartily support the President who stated ‘We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness… If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party.’”
“The Commander-in-chief must be free to work with his staff and his military leaders to conduct covert operations like the one that eliminated Iran’s terrorist-in-chief General Soleimani,” Hooper added. “You can’t micromanage the war on terrorism. The Democrats in Congress are so filled with Trump Derangement Syndrome that no matter how much it would benefit our country and the world; they would never give Trump a “victory”. If it came down to it, they would leak everything to the media no matter what the consequences.”
Senator Jones is a cosponsor of the legislation and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Eight moderate Republicans voted with the Democrats on the resolution.
Senator Jones has also been criticized by Republicans for his comments that he was “appalled” by Pres. Trump’s actions following his acquittal on both Articles of Impeachment.
“Newsflash for Senator Doug Jones: Most Alabamians have been appalled by his actions his entire time in office,” former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “It’s about time we send Doug home, and replace him with someone who understands our values. Alabamians deserve a Senator they can be proud of again.”
Sessions is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Jones’ Senate seat.
The Republican primary will be on March 3.
Brooks announces that Alabama rocket launches NASA Solar Orbiter
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, announced that an Alabama built Atlas V rocket has launched the Solar Orbiter.
“Big news! Last night, NASA’s Solar Orbiter was successfully launched atop United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket,” Rep. Brooks said. “The Atlas V is built at ULA’s Decatur manufacturing facility and last night’s launch was ULA’s 135th consecutive successful mission. This mission jumpstarted a decade-long expedition to study the sun that will deliver never-before-seen views of the sun and provide new information on space weather. Congratulations to NASA and ULA on a successful start to an important mission.”
The Solar Orbiter is a new collaborative mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA to study the Sun. It was launched at 10:03 p.m. CST Sunday on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Mission controllers at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany have received a signal from the spacecraft indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed.
In the first two days after launch, Solar Orbiter will deploy its instrument boom and several antennas that will communicate with Earth and gather scientific data. Solar Orbiter is on a unique trajectory that will allow its comprehensive set of instruments to provide humanity with the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles. This trajectory includes 22 close approaches to the Sun, bringing the spacecraft within the orbit of Mercury to study the Sun and its influence on space.
“As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the Sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm,” said ESA Science Director Günther Hasinger. “By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the Sun’s changing behavior and its influence on our home planet than ever before.”
Solar Orbiter combines two main modes of study. In-situ instruments will measure the environment around the spacecraft, detecting such things as electric and magnetic fields and passing particles and waves. The remote-sensing instruments will image the Sun from afar, along with its atmosphere and its outflow of material, collecting data that will help scientists understand the Sun’s inner workings.
“Solar Orbiter is going to do amazing things. Combined with the other recently launched NASA missions to study the Sun, we are gaining unprecedented new knowledge about our star,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen. “Together with our European partners, we’re entering a new era of heliophysics that will transform the study of the Sun and help make astronauts safer as they travel on Artemis program missions to the Moon.”
Congressman Mo Brooks is serving in his Fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks is an outspoken proponent of the space program. NASA and its contractors, including ULA, are major employers in North Alabama.
Brooks votes for NASA Authorization Act
Wednesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) voted in favor of the Space Subcommittee passage of H.R. 5666, the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020.”
The act includes an amendment authored by Brooks to ensure competition and flexibility for NASA’s choosing an integrated crewed Mars landing/assent system design.
“I thank my Space Subcommittee colleagues who supported my amendment to the NASA reauthorization that ensures competition and flexibility for NASA in choosing an integrated crewed Mars landing/assent system design,” Brooks explained. “The policy experts at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center analyzed the text of the bill and determined more than two designs would be best. I’m glad this win for Marshall passed and is included in the bill as it heads to full committee debate.”
Brooks is the number two in seniority Republican on the Space Subcommittee.
“NASA needs direction and support from Congress to achieve mission success,” Brooks said. “I’m pleased the Space Subcommittee today took an important step toward providing that direction and support by passing a bipartisan NASA reauthorization bill. This is not a perfect bill. There are good and bad parts. Nonetheless, I supported the bill with my vote today and look forward to improving this bill throughout the legislative process.”
“This NASA reauthorization bill enhances America’s space exploration programs by: embracing the Artemis Moon and Mars exploration program while setting a 2033 date for human orbit of Mars; strengthening the Space Launch System program, much of which is done at the Tennessee Valley’s Marshall Space Flight Center; recognizing the importance of heliophysics research to understanding space weather; continuing NASA’s thermonuclear propulsion development; and, commissioning an interagency assessment of China’s space exploration capabilities and threats posed by China to America’s space assets.”
Brooks amendment reads, “to the extent funding permits, the administrator shall maintain two competing integrated crewed Mars landing assent system design concepts through the critical design review milestone at which point the administrator shall make a selection of the system to be utilized in the first human Mars landing mission.”
“I believe that it is probably best to allow the administrator to have two or more and as such this amendment adds the phrasing “at least” in front of the word “two”, Brooks said. “I believe in competition, I believe in the diversity of ideas, and the more ideas, quite frankly that are presented to the administrator, the better the chance that we have a good one that will work.”
The bill passed the subcommittee by voice vote.
H.R. 5666 will next be marked-up by the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee before proceeding to House Floor consideration.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is in Huntsville. NASA and its contractors are major employers in the Fifth Congressional District. The Space Launch System will carry Artemis to the moon and on to Mars.
Mo Brooks is in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks is number two in seniority amongst Space Subcommittee Republicans.
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