Scientists explore the mysteries of the Aurora with a stunning light show.

Image for post
Image for post
Colorful clouds formed by the release of vapors from the two AZURE rockets allow scientists to measure auroral winds. (Photo Credit: NASA/Lee Wingfield)

It’s hard to tell, but behind the beautiful, glimmering greens and blues of the Northern Lights hides a world of violence. The colorful glow of the Auroras (also known as the aurora borealis or polar lights) is the result of particles from the sun releasing energy as they bombard Earth’s atmosphere. Most frequently seen in the skies of high-latitude regions around the Arctic and Antarctic, the auroras appear as a diffuse glow or as a luminous curtain-like shape, sometimes forming relatively static arcs or flowing, nebulous shapes known as “active aurora.” …


Engineers take to the skies to measure the environmental and atmospheric effects of wildfires and the smoke they generate.

Image for post
Image for post

As the world’s climate heats up, many states in the western United States are experiencing increasingly larger and more devastating wildfires, along with a corresponding increase in dangerous air quality from wildfire smoke. A team of engineers at The Aerospace Corporation recently took to the skies to capture valuable data related to the environmental and atmospheric effects of these wildfires and the smoke they generate.

Conducted in late September, the FIRESTORM 2020 mission involved the flight of a Twin Otter Aircraft at altitudes of 12,500–17,500 ft above the Creek Fire burning east of Fresno, Calif. now recognized as the largest fire in the state’s history. Aerospace’s renowned Mid-infrared Airborne Hyperspectral Imager (MAHI) and Mako sensors were on board the craft, providing infrared hyperspectral imaging capabilities to detect and identify gases resulting from widespread wildfires, and analyze the movement and effects of these gases on the environment. …


Experts are harnessing the peculiar features of quantum physics to establish secure communications with orbiting spacecraft.

Image for post
Image for post

Space-based technologies have rapidly transformed the modern world yet the systems themselves are surprisingly vulnerable. As more entrants to the space enterprise emerge, new threats and risks must be accounted for to ensure the infrastructure can respond to any potential threats.

A key aspect in outpacing the threat is the need to strengthen the cybersecurity of space assets to ensure the integrity of communication. …


The chamber will test the newer, high-powered thrusters needed for future space exploration.

Image for post
Image for post
An electrically powered spacecraft propulsion system uses electrical energy to change the velocity of a spacecraft. Photo courtesy NASA.

Deep inside a laboratory at The Aerospace Corporation’s El Segundo campus, scientists are recreating the vacuum of space here on Earth.

Aerospace’s electric propulsion lab specializes in testing electric thrusters in space-like conditions, and they recently installed a new vacuum chamber that will enable them to test the newer, high-powered thrusters needed for future space exploration.

“This chamber adds not just to Aerospace’s testing capability, but adds to the world’s testing capability,” said Rostislav Spektor, Laboratory Manager in Electric Propulsion and Plasma Science. “When it becomes operational, it will be the best electric propulsion testing facility in the world.”

Why Electric Propulsion?

Everyone is familiar with the sight of fire and smoke pouring out of the bottom of a rocket using chemical propulsion. …


Creating unique shapes for rocket motors with 3D printing could lead to less expensive and more efficient rocket propellants.

Image for post
Image for post

Solid, liquid, or gas? That might sound like a question on your high school physics test, but it’s an important consideration when powering a rocket into space.

A team from Aerospace successfully tested a new type of 3-D printed rocket motor that could potentially lead to less expensive and more efficient rocket propellants.

“The Aerospace Corporation created and has led the field of 3-D printed propellant from its beginning, but we’ve never flown any of the technologies we created in this area,” said Jerry Fuller, who came up with the idea. …


To teach satellites to interact and dock in space, engineers found a possible solution on Sunday Night Football.

Image for post
Image for post

How do you teach a satellite to park? As spacecraft transition from standalone vehicles to swarms of “self-driving” robots that interact and dock on their own in space, engineers need a way to test those maneuvers here on Earth. An Aerospace team found a possible solution on Sunday Night Football ™.

For this team, the action was not on the field, but in the sky, where a camera sailed through the air on a system of cables and pulleys, capturing the game from above. …


Unique nighttime imagery sensors help rescuers anticipate a fire’s evolution based on temperature and smoke plume movement.

Image for post
Image for post
NOAA-NASA’s Suomi NPP weather satellite, which is part of JPSS, was able to image this nighttime image of the California fires on Aug. 20, 2020. This image does not have the Visible Fire Product active showing the outline of the fires. City lights are scattered in this image by smoke. Fires are noted. [Credit: NOAA/NASA/William Straka U of W-Madison/CIMSS/SSEC]

A single spark in remote wilderness can ignite massive fires that devastate surrounding communities, destroying homes and taking lives. Emergency personnel and the public rely on satellites high above the Earth to detect these fires early and track their spread.

When a lightning storm set Northern California ablaze in August, first responders turned to data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), a satellite sensor operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of a collaborative program with NASA.

VIIRS instruments fly aboard two weather satellites, Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (SNPP) and NOAA-20, as part of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Each satellite captures new imagery of the entire Earth every 12 hours, allowing emergency workers to monitor fires day and night. …


To put astronauts on the moon and Mars, NASA needs a new EVA suit — the first in 40 years. Here’s what the suit needs to do and how it’s being designed.

Image for post
Image for post
Artemis Generation spacesuits: NASA’s advanced exploration extravehicular mobility unity or xEMU is designed to support lunar surface expeditions. (Image: NASA)

After years of robotic exploration, NASA is now ramping up plans to send humans to space again. This ambitious strategy includes more spacewalks, construction of a station in lunar orbit, and eventually planetary exploration including the moon and Mars.

To pull this off, U.S. astronauts will need an updated space suit. The current suit used for Extravehicular Activity (EVA) has been in service since 1981 with minimal updates and was not designed for the rigors of surface exploration including dust, radiation and other factors.

Two years ago, The Aerospace Corporation was brought on to support NASA’s EVA Project Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This includes assisting NASA with planning and executing spacewalks and advising on the development of a new EVA suit. …


When Hurricane Sally hit the Gulf Coast region of the United States, a pair of tiny AeroCubes shot the eye of the storm.

Image for post
Image for post

A pair of small satellites, known as Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSats, sent compelling imagery of Hurricane Sally to Earth via laser communications, demonstrating how small satellites can deliver large amounts of data for weather and other research.

More than 1 gigabyte of data was downloaded from the two CubeSats, a bandwidth improvement of 200 times that of a radio frequency downlink. Scientists claim the mission shows the benefits of investments made in laser communications for small satellites.

“The ability to transmit at high speeds of 200 Mbits per second optically with a spacecraft-body-steered laser transmitter continues to push the state of the art and has the potential to reduce cost while meeting valuable mission needs,” said Darren Rowen, Director of the xLab Small Satellite Department at The Aerospace Corporation. …


Engineers are rethinking the way satellites are designed to make them faster to build and easier to launch.

Image for post
Image for post

While the rest of our technology, from laptops to cellphones, becomes faster and cheaper to build, satellites are still a lot of work. Since the days of Explorer 1, marrying a satellite’s payloads to the bus that provides power, telemetry and communications has been a complex, time-intensive process unique to each particular mission.

But in a space environment where agility is increasingly prioritized, a team at Aerospace is working on a vision of the future where integrating the payload and bus of a satellite is almost as easy as plugging a USB drive into a computer.

“For most satellites, the payload and bus are designed and built together, each one’s timeline and resources dependent on the other,” said Brandie Rhodes, an engineering specialist at The Aerospace Corporation. “Right now, what we’ve been really focusing on is, ‘Can we decouple those processes in a way that is beneficial to everyone?” …

About

The Aerospace Corporation

We operate the only federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) committed exclusively to the space enterprise.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store