Category Archives: JPL

Sneak Peek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Missions and Activities for 2018

Artist's concept of the twin GRACE-FO satellites
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Solar arrays on NASA's InSight lander
Artist’s concept of the twin GRACE-FO satellitesSolar arrays on NASA’s InSight lander Artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover exploring MarsDeep Space Atomic Clock The solar arrays on NASA’s InSight lander are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space, Denver. This configuration is how the spacecraft will look on the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Artist's concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
Deep Space Atomic Clock
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Mars

InSight

First Launch Opportunity: May 5, 2018

Date of Landing: Nov. 26, 2018

Summary:

  • Will study the deep interior of Mars using a lander to investigate seismic waves — energy flowing outward from the core — and the planet’s side-to-side movement as it rotates
  • Will be equipped with science instruments to give Mars a “check-up” by taking its temperature, monitoring its pulse and checking its reflexes

Objective:

  • Illuminate the earliest evolution of rocky planets, including Earth
  • Investigate the dynamics of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts

Mars 2020

Date of Launch: July/August 2020

Date of Landing: February 2021

Summary:

  • The rover will use a drill to collect the most promising samples of rocks and soils and store them on Mars’ surface — the first step toward potentially returning these samples to Earth.
  • Science instruments, rover wheels and many other components are being developed. In 2018, the rover’s “body” itself will begin to take shape.

Objective:

  • Seek signs of past microbial life
  • Collect and cache samples
  • Study Mars’ habitability
  • Prepare for future human-crew missions

Technology

Deep Space Atomic Clock

Date of Launch: Mid 2018

Summary:

  • A technology demonstration of a small, extremely stable atomic clock
  • Up to 50 times more accurate than today’s best navigation clocks

Objective:

  • Improve navigation of spacecraft to distant destinations like Mars or Jupiter’s moon Europa
  • Enable more precise data collection

Earth

Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO)

Date of Launch: Spring 2018

Summary:

  • Will continue the work of the original GRACE mission, which completed its science mission in October after more than 15 years in orbit
  • Consists of twin spacecraft that map variations in Earth’s gravity field
  • Will demonstrate a new laser-ranging technology to dramatically improve the precision of its measurement system, while continuing to track Earth’s water movement and changes caused by the addition of water to the ocean

Objective:

  • Provide a unique view of the Earth system, with far-reaching benefits to society

ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS)

Date of Launch: Summer 2018

Summary:

  • A high-resolution thermal infrared radiometer, which works like a giant thermometer from space, will measure the temperature of plants and the amount of heat radiating from Earth’s surface
  • Will monitor one of the most basic processes in living plants, the loss of water through the tiny pores in leaves, by measuring plant temperature

Objective:

  • Measure the temperature of plants and use that information to better understand how much water plants need and how they respond to stress

Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer (COWVR)

Date of Launch: 2018

Summary:

  • A next-generation passive microwave radiometer instrument, on a small satellite, to measure ocean winds
  • Developed by JPL for the U.S. Air Force

Objective:

  • Demonstrate a new, lower cost technology for measuring ocean winds, ultimately leading to more sensors in space and improved accuracy of U.S. military weather forecasts

Educational Events

National Science Bowl Regional Competition

Date: Jan. 27, 2018

Location: JPL

Summary:

  • Math and science competition among teams of high-school students
  • Fast-paced question-and-answer categories include astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry, math and current events in the scientific community, as well as computer, Earth and general sciences

National Ocean Sciences Bowl Competition

Date: Feb. 24, 2018

Location: JPL

Summary:

  • Student teams compete by answering questions about biology, chemistry, geology and physics of the oceans, as well as navigation, geography and related history and literature.

FIRST Robotics – Los Angeles Regional

Dates: March 15-17, 2018

Location: Fairplex, Pomona, California

Summary:

  • Students team up with engineers from businesses, universities and research institutions.
  • The program gives students a hands-on, inside look at the engineering profession as they design and build their own “champion robot.”

Explore JPL

Dates: June 9-10, 2018

Location: JPL

Summary: During this free event, pre-ticketed members of the public can visit JPL for a firsthand look at such highlights as mission control, a life-size model of the Mars rover Curiosity; and robots on display; and hear from people working on such future Mars missions as Insight and Mars 2020. Tickets for this popular event are limited. Details about how and when to request tickets will be posted.

 

Cassini’s Grand Finale orbits — the final orbits of its nearly 20-year mission — between the rings and the planet where no spacecraft has ventured before on September 15, 2017.

Pasadena, Calif. , NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CALtech - After almost 20 years in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft begins the final chapter of its remarkable story of exploration: its Grand Finale. In Cassini’s Grand Finale orbits — the final orbits of its nearly 20-year mission — the spacecraft travels in an elliptical path that sends it diving at tens of thousands of miles per hour through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) space between the rings and the planet where no spacecraft has ventured before.

Color illustration of Cassini diving between Saturn and its innermost ring.
In the still from the short film Cassini’s Grand Finale, the spacecraft is shown diving between Saturn and the planet’s innermost ring on April 7, 2017 Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech
Cassini’s current position image uses real spacecraft trajectories and is updated every five minutes. Distance and velocities are updated in real-time. For a full 3D, immersive experience download NASA’s free Eyes on the Solar System app. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Each of these last 22 orbits takes about six and a half days to complete. They begin April 22 and end Sept. 15. When Cassini is nearest to Saturn during each orbit, the spacecraft’s speed ranges between 75,000 and 78,000 miles per hour (121,000 and 126,000 kilometers per hour), depending on the orbit. The Grand Finale orbits are so named because they not only carry Cassini to its end, but because they are truly grand. The spacecraft flies through an unexplored region of the Saturnian system, producing unique images and attempting to solve longtime mysteries, such as the mass of Saturn’s rings and the planet’s rotation rate — the length of a Saturn day. And then during Cassini’s last five orbits, the spacecraft dips down to directly sample Saturn’s upper atmosphere.

Cassini gazes across the icy rings of Saturn toward the icy moon Tethys, whose night side is illuminated by Saturnshine, or sunlight reflected by the planet. › Full image and caption
Cassini gazes across the icy rings of Saturn toward the icy moon Tethys, whose night side is illuminated by Saturnshine, or sunlight reflected by the planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The summaries posted on this page for each Grand Finale orbit include only a few highlights of the many unparalleled science investigations that Cassini performs during these unprecedented orbits. Also, because Saturn is a gas giant, Cassini can’t be described as being a certain distance from the planet’s “surface.” So, to convey Cassini’s distance from Saturn, each summary also includes the spacecraft’s closest approach to Saturn’s 1-bar level for that orbit. A bar is the atmospheric pressure you experience on Earth at sea level.

A short, animated video describing Cassini’s Grand Finale. Download ›d

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org . Cassini’s Grand Finale orbits — the final orbits of its nearly 20-year mission — the spacecraft travels in an elliptical path that sends it diving at tens of thousands of miles per hour through  space between the rings and the planet where no spacecraft has ventured before on September 15, 2017.