Space

December 20, 2013

NASA’s asteroid hunter spacecraft returns first images after reactivation

nasa-asteroid
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, a spacecraft that made the most comprehensive survey to date of asteroids and comets, has returned its first set of test images in preparation for a renewed mission.

NEOWISE discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout the solar system during its prime mission in 2010 and early 2011. It was reactivated in September following 31 months in hibernation to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. NEOWISE also can assist in characterizing previously detected asteroids that could be considered potential targets for future exploration missions.

“NEOWISE not only gives us a better understanding of the asteroids and comets we study directly, but it will help us refine our concepts and mission operation plans for future, space-based near-Earth object cataloging missions,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The spacecraft is in excellent health, and the new images look just as good as they were before hibernation. Over the next weeks and months we will be gearing up our ground-based data processing and expect to get back into the asteroid hunting business, and acquire our first previously undiscovered space rock, in the next few months.”

Some of the deep space images taken by the spacecraft include a previously detected asteroid named (872) Holda. With a diameter of 26 miles, this asteroid orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter in a region astronomers call the asteroid belt. The images tell researchers the quality of the spacecraft’s observations is the same as during its primary mission.

The spacecraft uses a 16-inch telescope and infrared cameras to seek out and discover unknown NEOs and characterize their size, albedo or reflectivity, and thermal properties. Asteroids reflect, but do not emit visible light, so data collected with optical telescopes using visible light can be deceiving.

Infrared sensors, similar to the cameras on NEOWISE, are a powerful tool for discovering, cataloging and understanding the asteroid population. Some of the objects about which NEOWISE will be collecting data could become candidates for the agency’s announced asteroid initiative.

NASA’s initiative will be the first mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid. It represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities that will help protect our home planet. The asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA’s science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve President Obama’s goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025.

“It is important that we accumulate as much of this type of data as possible while the spacecraft remains a viable asset,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s NEOWISE program executive in Washington. “NEOWISE is an important element to enhance our ability to support the initiative.”

NEOWISE began as WISE. The prime mission, which was launched in December 2009, was to scan the entire celestial sky in infrared light. WISE captured more than 2.7 million images in multiple infrared wavelengths and cataloged more than 747 million objects in space, ranging from galaxies faraway to asteroids and comets much closer to Earth. NASA turned off most of WISE’s electronics when it completed its primary mission in February 2011.

Upon reactivation, the spacecraft was renamed NEOWISE with the goal of discovering and characterizing asteroids and comets whose orbits approach within 28 million miles from Earth’s path around the sun.

JPL manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Boeing concludes commercial crew space act agreement for CST-100/Atlas V

Boeing has successfully completed the final milestone of its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Space Act Agreement with NASA. The work and testing completed under the agreement resulted in significant maturation of Boeing’s crew transportation system, including the CST-100 spacecraft and Atlas V rocket. NASA in July approved the Critical Design Review Board milestone for Boeing’...
 
 

NASA partners with leading technology innovators to enable future exploration

Recognizing that technology drives exploration, NASA has selected four teams of agency technologists for participation in the Early Career Initiative pilot program. The program encourages creativity and innovation among early career NASA technologists by engaging them in hands-on technology development opportunities needed for future missions. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate c...
 
 

New commercial rocket descent data may help NASA with future Mars landings

NASA successfully captured thermal images of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on its descent after it launched in September from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The data from these thermal images may provide critical engineering information for future missions to the surface of Mars. “Because the technologies required to land large payloads on Mars...
 

 
Image courtesy of NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI

NASA’s Hubble finds extremely distant galaxy through cosmic magnifying glass

Image courtesy of NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI The mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is so massive that its powerful gravity bends the light from galaxies far behind it, making these otherwise unseen background objects appear larger a...
 
 
NASA photograph

NASA TV to air Russian spacewalk from International Space Station

NASA photograph Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev and Flight Engineer Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency will don Orlan spacesuits and step outside the International Space Station Oct. 22, to perform wor...
 
 
Ball Aerospace photograph

Ball Aerospace green propellant infusion mission to host three DOD space experiments

Ball Aerospace photograph The NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) will fly three Defense Department experimental hosted payloads when it launches in 2016. The NASA and Ball ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>