The new year in space.From the launch of a long-awaited, follow-up mission to MArs to explorations charting the health of planet Earth, NASA's flight schedule for 1992 boasts an assortment of projects, including several new series of missions: microgravity mi·cro·grav·i·ty
1. An environment in which there is very little net gravitational force, as of a free-falling object, an orbit, or interstellar space.
2. laboratories and payloads devoted to materials research and the life sciences; the first mission to deploy as tethered satellite in space; and a group of flights to explore Earth's atmosphere. With 11 research flights slated for lift-off, this year's schedule is the msot ambitious since NASA's halcyon hal·cy·on
1. A kingfisher, especially one of the genus Halcyon.
2. A fabled bird, identified with the kingfisher, that was supposed to have had the power to calm the wind and the waves while it nested on the sea years of the 1960's and early '70s.
Mechanical and operational delays are sure to alter the flight schedules as the year progresses; just last month, in fact, a mission slated for December '92 was bumped to '93. Nonetheless, NASA NASA: see National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
in full National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Independent U.S. hopes to stick reasonably close to the following calendar.
January: NASA plans to kick off its 1992 scheduel next week by launching the first in a series of shuttle-borne microgravity investigations. This seven-day mission, known as International Microgravity Laboratory-I, will study the effects of weightlessness weightlessness, the absence of any observable effects of gravitation. This condition is experienced by an observer when he and his immediate surroundings are allowed to move freely in the local gravitational field. in several types of biological and materials science experiments housed in a reusable, multipurpose science workshop known as Spacelab.
An internationl flight crew will double as laboratory technicians. Floating into Spacelab through a tunnel from the middeck of the shuttle Discovery, these researchers will set up experiments designed by more than 200 scientists from 13 countries. Among their tasks: growing colonies of cultured cells within tiny incubators, monitoring the growth of crystals after placing them in a special furnace, and exposing developing oat oat
member of the plant genus Avena in the family Poaceae.
seed of Avena sativa, and as 'oats' the favored grain for the feeding of horses. plants to various gravitational fields. In addition, the crew members themselves will become study subjects, undergoing biomedical tests that will record eye, inner-ear and nervous-system changes associated with the low-gravity environment of the orbiting craft.
The mission is scheduled for lift-off on Jan. 22. NASA has scheduled a second international microgravity mission for late 1994 and intends to launch future missions in this series every 18 to 24 months.
February: The Ulysses spacecraft, launched in 1990, picks up a gravitational grav·i·ta·tion
a. The natural phenomenon of attraction between physical objects with mass or energy.
b. The act or process of moving under the influence of this attraction.
2. kick from Jupiter as it swings by the giant planet. The boost will enalbe Ulysses to leave the ecliptic ecliptic (ēklĭp`tĭk, ĭ–), the great circle on the celestial sphere that lies in the plane of the earth's orbit (called the plane of the ecliptic). plane (in which planets orbit the sun) in order to map the sun's polar regions in 1994 and 1995.
May: Carrying four telescopes, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer: see ultraviolet astronomy. (EUVE EUVE Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer ) will head into space to record the intensity and location of celestial emissions in a rarely studied portion of the electromagnetic spectrum electromagnetic spectrum
Total range of frequencies or wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. The spectrum ranges from waves of long wavelength (low frequency) to those of short wavelength (high frequency); it comprises, in order of increasing frequency (or decreasing : wavelengths shorter than most ultraviolet light but longer than X-rays. Mapping the intensity of extreme ultraviolet radiation throughout the sky should prove particularly useful for studying stars that have evolved into smaller objects called white dwarfs. EUVE will also measure the opacity Refers to being "opaque," which means to prevent light from shining through. For example, in an image editing program, the opacity level for some function might range from completely transparent (0) to completely opaque (100). of the gaseous material between stars.
Engineers designed the EUVE so that shuttle astronauts can transform it into another orbiting research instrument when its original mission ends -- about two years from now. The refurbished lab will help scientists search for neutron stars and black holes by measuring fluctuations in the brightness of intense X-ray sources.
Also in May, the shuttle Atlantis will orbit the Earth for seven to 10 days, carrying the first of nine missions devoted to studying our planet's atmosphere. The missions, collectively known as the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS), will use the shuttle-borne Spacelab to monitor the health of Earth's atmosphere every year or two throughout an entire 11-year cycle of solar activity. Successive measurements taken during future missions will provide a highly accurate, long-term record of the depletion of Earth's stratospheric ozone layer -- a fragile blanket of gas that helps protect plants and animals Plants and Animals are a Canadian indie-rock band from Montreal, comprised of guitarist-vocalists Warren Spicer and Nic Basque, and drummer-vocalist Matthew Woodley. They are signed to Secret City Records. from the sun's ultraviolet emissions.
ATLAS-I will rely on a suite of 11 instruments -- some used during previous Spacelab missions -- to probe Earth's middle and upper atmosphere, measure the solar enery output and study how magnetic and electric fields in the atmosphere link Earth with the sun. During the shuttle flight, ATLAS-I's orientation in relation to Earth will change frequently, allowing spectrometers and other research tools to switch their focus to the Earth, the sun or space. One experiment, the millimeter-wave atmospheric sounder, will simultaneously record ozone concentrations, temperatures in the middle atmosphere and the amounts of trace molecules involved in the destruction and creation of ozone. In an effort to learn more about the life cycles of stars, other ATLAS-I instruments will measure ultraviolet radiation sources in the Milky Way and other galaxies.
June: The Solar Anomalous Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX SAMPEX Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer
SAMPEX Solar, Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (NASA) ), one of NASA's fleet of small-scale science missions, will carry four detectors to probe the energy and ionization ionization: see ion.
Process by which electrically neutral atoms or molecules are converted to electrically charged atoms or molecules (ions) by the removal or addition of negatively charged electrons. state of streams of charged particles moving in Earth's magnetic field Earth's magnetic field (and the surface magnetic field) is approximately a magnetic dipole, with one pole near the north pole (see Magnetic North Pole) and the other near the geographic south pole (see Magnetic South Pole). . During the three-year study, the detectors will measure the composition of anomalous cosmic rays, charged particles thought to originate in the gas between stars. If this origin theory is correct, the particles would have started out as neutral atoms and would have lost one electron sometime
after entering solar system.
SAMPEX will give scientists their first opportunity to directly measure the charge associated with these particles. The Earth-orbiting craft will also measure the energy and composition of charged particles emanating from the sun, cosmic rays from distant reaches of our galaxy and high-speed electrons that plunge into our atmosphere -- all with unprecedented sensitivity.
June also marks the scheduled launch of the first U.S. Microgravity Laboratory, a continuing project designed to boost U.S. efforts at processing materials in the low-gravity environment of the space shuttle. The first mission will last 13 days. Future missions in this series will fly about every 2 1/2 years in order for researchers to build upon the results of previous missions. NASA expects these studies to help lay the foundation for technologies needed to develop the planned space station.
July: NASA focuses solely on planet Earth this month, with one mission devoted to examining the oceans and another dedicated to probing the outer reaches of Earth's magnetic field.
An Arine-IV rocket will lift a U.S.-French satellite into space from the Guyana Space Center in Kourou, French Guyana. Called Topex/Poseidon, the Earth-orbiting craft will periodically aim radar beams at specific parts of the sea surface during its three- to five-year mission. An on-board altimeter altimeter (ăltĭm`ĭtər, ăl`tĭmē'tər), device for measuring altitude. The most common type is an aneroid barometer calibrated to show the drop in atmospheric pressure in terms of linear elevation as an airplane, will measure the distance between the ocean and the satellite by recording the intensity of radio waves bouncing back from the sea surface. Combining these data with precision-tracking of the satellite's position in relation to Earth's center, researchers will chart sea-level changes as small as 13 centimeters.
Such measurements can reveal the magnitude of eddies and currents that not only create hills and valleys in the ocean surface, but also shape global ocean dynamics. To detect periodic fluctuations in ocean height, Topex/Poseidon will take radar measurements of the same patches of the sea every 10 days.
Also in July, a Delta-II rocket will launch Geotail, a Japanese-built spacecraft designed to probe Earth's magnetic field. During its first year of operation, the craft will explore distant segments, including the elongated e·lon·gate
tr. & intr.v. e·lon·gat·ed, e·lon·gat·ing, e·lon·gates
To make or grow longer.
adj. or elongated
1. Made longer; extended.
2. Having more length than width; slender. , comet-shaped field known as the magnetotail mag·ne·to·tail
The long, trailing limb of the earth's magnetosphere on the side facing away from the sun.
[magneto(sphere) + tail1. . To study the magnetotail's farthest reaches, Geotail will periodically swing by the moon to get the gravitational kick it needs to maintain a highly elliptical orbit Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) is an elliptic orbit characterized by a relatively low-altitude perigee and an extremely high-altitude apogee. These extremely elongated orbits can have the advantage of long dwell times at a point in the sky during the approach to and descent from , which will take the craft about 1.6 million kilometers away from Earth. Later in its three-year mission, Geotail will reduce its orbit by 80 percent to make magnetic measurements closer to home. Eight particle detectors -- built in a collaboration between NASA and Japan's Institute for Space and Astronautical Science -- will measure the energies of charged particles throughout the mission.
September: A trio of intriguing missions should keep NASA personnel busy. The clear standout: the launch of Mars Observer, the first U.S. mission to the red planet since the two Viking craft reached there in 1976. A Titan-III rocket will help send the craft on its 11-month journey. As the MArs Observer nears its destination in September 1993, on-board thrusters will move the instrument into a highly elliptical orbit around the planet for some 20 days. Further firings of the thrusters will then manipulate the craft into a nearly circular, 400-kilometer polar orbit around Mars.
From this vantage point, it will begin a two-year mapping of the entire planet with several visible-light cameras and infrared and radio-wave detectors. The craft will relay data to Earth daily; reserachers hope to use the information to construct a detailed portrait of Martian geology, climate and weather.
In another landmark event slated for September, a space shuttle will reel out a tiny satellite connected by only a thin umbilical cord -- a 20-meter tether tether
to tie an animal up by the head or neck so that it can graze but not move away. See also barton tether. . For 36 hours, the spherical satellite, just 1.6 meters in diameter, will float above the shuttle, guided by its own miniature supply of nitrogen propellant pro·pel·lant also pro·pel·lent
1. Something, such as an explosive charge or a rocket fuel, that propels or provides thrust.
2. . Instruments housed inside the craft will enable Earth-based researchers to analyze forces (such as friction) acting on the satellite, as well as the electromagnetic interactions among shuttle, the tether and the surrounding space plasma. The Tethered Satellite System, a joint undertaking of NASA and the Italian Space Agency The Italian Space Agency (Italian: Agenzia Spaziale Italiana; ASI) was founded in 1988 to promote, coordinate, and conduct space activities in Italy. Operating under the Ministry of the Universities and Scientific and Technological Research, the Agency cooperates , will likely pave the way for other experiments-on-a-leash.
Also in September, a space shuttle will ferry a special seven-day cargo: Spacelab-J, a joint project of NASA and Japan's National Space Development Agency, involving more than 30 investigations in life sciences and materials processing.
November: NASA inaugurates the first of what it hopes will be yearly shuttle flights to investigate the direct effects of the space environment on a variety of materials, such as liquid helium near the temperature at which it becomes a superfluid su·per·flu·id
A fluid, such as a liquid form of helium, exhibiting a frictionless flow at temperatures close to absolute zero.
su . The cargo, mounted on carriers open to space rather than housed in a pressurized pres·sur·ize
tr.v. pres·sur·ized, pres·sur·iz·ing, pres·sur·iz·es
1. To maintain normal air pressure in (an enclosure, as an aircraft or submarine).
2. laboratory such as Spacelab, will be limited to experiments that crew members can conduct via remote control. Each suite of experiments -- formally known as the United States Microgravity Payload -- includes a sensitive measuring system that will detect small jolts to the microgravity system.
December: The Galileo spacecraft swings past Earth for its second and final gravitational sendoff send·off
1. A demonstration of affection and good wishes for the beginning of a new undertaking.
2. A farewell: gave our guests a hearty sendoff at the airport. toward a 1955 rendezvous with Jupiter. If the craft's main antenna -- a key communications link with Earth -- remains jammed, Galileo may be restricted to relaying only a fraction of the data it acqures during its exploration of the giant planet.
Even so, NASA hopes to beam down high-resolution images this spring of the asteroid Gaspra, which Galileo photographed last Oct. 29. These images, now stored on an on-board tape recorder, are several times sharper than the Gaspra photos retrieved last fall (SN: 11/23/91, p.326).