NASA selects SwRI Pluto proposal
NASA has selected a proposal by SwRI to examine the feasibility of a mission to Pluto, the last unexplored planet in the solar system.
SwRI's proposal is one of two NASA determined to have the best science value among five submitted. The two finalists, proposals by SwRI and the University of Colorado at Boulder, are vying for funding for the development of complete missions, including science payload, spacecraft and launch vehicle.
"This mission is exploration at its greatest," said Dr. Alan Stern, principal investigator in the Space Studies Department of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "We couldn't be more excited about showing how feasible, affordable and scientifically significant a Pluto mission can be."
Stern, of SwRI's Boulder office, will lead SwRI's proposed mission, "New Horizons: Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds," in cooperation with Ball Aerospace Corp., Stanford University, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and an array of planetary scientists. Principal Investigator Stern is an expert in the study of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
NASA also selected the "Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer (POSSE)" mission proposal with Dr. Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado, Boulder, as principal investigator. The proposal team includes JPL, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., Ball Aerospace Corp. and the University of California, Berkeley.
Each team will receive $450,000 to conduct a three-month concept study, after which NASA will thoroughly evaluate the program content and technical schedule and cost feasibilities of both proposals. Both teams will work with the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters to finalize the design of the spacecraft and its accommodation of the instrument sets.
NASA selected the two proposals despite a fiscal year 2002 budget that lacks development funding for such a mission. Even so, Congress has asked NASA not to preclude development of a Pluto-Kuiper Belt (PKB) mission until lawmakers could consider it in the context of the 2002 budget.
The proposals include a remote sensing package containing imaging instruments, a radio science investigation and other experiments to characterize the global geology and morphology of Pluto and its giant moon Charon, to map their surface composition and to characterize Pluto's neutral atmosphere and the atmospheric escape rate. The proposed spacecraft would then fly on to examine an even more distant target in the Kuiper Belt.
Pluto is the most distant planet known and the largest member of the Kuiper Belt. Kuiper Belt Objects - a class of objects composed of material left over after the formation of the other planets - have never been exposed to the higher temperatures and solar radiation levels of the inner solar system.
Should NASA select one of these PKB missions for development, launch would be expected sometime between 2004 and 2006, with the spacecraft arriving at Pluto before 2020.
A new deep water ocean simulator, capable of simulating depths of more than 13,000 feet, is now available for testing services at SwRI.
Measuring 24 feet in length with a 50-inch inner diameter and a wall thickness of 5 inches, the simulator is crafted of high-strength steel. The simulator is housed in a test pit, also constructed at the Institute. The simulator is rated to an equivalent depth of 13,280 feet. The Institute's previous simulators were capable of simulating depths of up to 9,000 feet.
"We built the new simulator to enhance the many test services we already offer to the offshore oil and gas industry," said Jessie Ramon, manager of Test and Evaluation in SwRI's Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division. "This new capability allows us to help our clients in a growing industry address the challenges of operating in a deeper environment."
The simulator can be used to test a variety of offshore components, including subsea valves, production control pods, tubular goods, pressure-resistant housings and flotation materials. SwRI has nearly 50 years of experience in offshore and marine technologies.
"The new facility gives us an expanded capability for services to the U.S. Navy and marine industries as well as our traditional offshore oil and gas clients," Ramon said.
SwRI has successfully delivered the ALICE ultraviolet (UV) spectrometer to the European Space Agency (ESA) for integration aboard the ESA/NASA Rosetta comet orbiter spacecraft.
Scheduled for launch in January 2003, Rosetta will use remote-sensing instruments to map and examine the surface of Comet Wirtanen in one of the most thorough investigations of a comet ever attempted. As it travels toward the comet, Rosetta will make flybys of the Earth-moon system, Mars and two asteroids.
ALICE is the first in a new generation of UV spectrometers that weigh less and require far less power than previous instruments of their kind. Its development was triggered in the mid-1990s by NASA's push to miniaturize scientific instruments for future planetary missions. The shoebox-sized ALICE is one-third to one-half the mass of comparable UV spectrometers. After advanced laboratory development in support of Pluto mission concept studies, ALICE was proposed and selected for development on Rosetta by NASA and ESA in 1996. A more sophisticated version of ALICE has been proposed for NASA's hoped-for Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission.
"ALICE is a revolutionary instrument," says Dr. S. Alan Stern, director of the SwRI Space Studies Department in Boulder, Colo. "It will reveal new insights into the origin, composition and workings of comets - insights that cannot be obtained by either ground-based or Earth-orbital observations." Stern serves as principal investigator of the ALICE instrument and its scientific investigation.
Developed at SwRI facilities in San Antonio, ALICE is one of the first instruments to be delivered for installation on Rosetta. The ALICE science team includes prominent cometary scientists from France, the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. Alenia Aerospace is assembling Rosetta - an ESA Cornerstone space science mission - in Turin, Italy.
ALICE is scheduled to be the first UV spectrometer to study a comet up close. "Although UV spectrometers in Earth orbit have studied comets for many years, ALICE will offer both unprecedented spatial resolution and unrivaled spectral sensitivity," Stern said.
The instrument features an advanced "micro-channel plate" detector, sophisticated optics and a miniaturized 6,000-volt power supply, and operateson just 3 watts. "The Rosetta mission has to operate out to 5 AU (astronomical units), where the sun is only 4 percent as bright as it is here on Earth. That means that each instrument must do their part to be very efficient," said ALICE Project Manager John Scherrer, also of SwRI.
"Although ALICE is the first interplanetary UV spectrometer developed at SwRI, its development went smoothly, and its performance meets and even exceeds its original design specifications. It's going to be very exciting to see it returning data in flight," said Dr. James Burch, vice president of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division.
Contact Stern at (303) 546-9670 or email@example.com.
SwRI's Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division has earned ISO 9002 certification, which signifies international recognition of its quality systems.
ISO 9002 is a set of international standards used to certify such a system for the development of products, from initial design through production and servicing.
The NSF International Strategic Registration, Ltd., audited the division and issued the certification last April. The NSF-ISR, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., has more than 50 years of auditing and certification experience.
All four departments in the division, Analytical and Environmental Chemistry; Environmental and Demilitarization Technology; Microcapsules, Coatings and Polymers; and Fire Technology, are ISO certified. Each area tailored its quality assurance procedures to meet the required ISO certification elements.
"It is a great accomplishment for us to have all four of our departments meet the requirements for ISO certification," said Dr. Michael MacNaughton, vice president of the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. "With this certification, clients will be assured that we are following an internationally, widely accepted quality assurance program."
The division began working to meet ISO 9002 standards about two years ago. The division formed a quality assurance committee with representatives from each department who met on a weekly basis. Each section and department in the division developed written standard operating procedures, test and analytical procedures and quality project plans.
"The ISO program allows us to take a number of different quality systems and link them under one program," said Jo Ann Boyd, manager of Quality Assurance in the division. "We already had several quality systems in place, but they were all different. ISO gives us one overall quality plan to implement."
Contact McNaughton at (210) 555-5162 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Glenn M. Light, director of the Nondestructive Evaluation Science and Technology Department in the Applied Physics Division at SwRI, has been elected a Fellow of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT).
ASNT recognized Light for his distinguished contributions to research, development and application of nondestructive evaluation (NDE) testing technologies in a wide range of methodologies.
Since coming to SwRI in 1978, Light has specialized in developing sensors, systems and new techniques for NDE of materials and structures. He has applied these efforts to metals, composites and ceramics.
Light successfully applied NDE methods in the field for nuclear-plant fuel pins, pressure-vessel studs and bolts, pump shafts and turbine disks.
For the U.S. Air Force, he played a major role in developing the first retirement-for-cause NDE system designed to inspect advanced jet engine components using ultrasonic inspection and eddy current technology. He also developed NDE technology for evaluating the bond quality of adhesively bonded joints and was involved with developing sensor systems for characterizing nuclear waste and nuclear-waste storage tanks.
His expertise includes ultrasonic inspection technology and transducer design, eddy current probe design, digital radiography, computed tomography, infrared thermography, and shearography. He holds an ASNT Level III certification in ultrasonics and radiography and serves as the secretary to the Research Council of ASNT.
Light has been awarded nine patents and has three pending patents in NDE-related technologies. He holds a doctorate in atomic and nuclear physics from the University of North Texas.
Contact Light at (210) 522-2218 or email@example.com.
The U.S. Army has awarded SwRI and Teledyne Brown Engineering (TBE) a 21-month contract worth up to $6 million to upgrade the CH-47 "Chinook" helicopter fleet.
The Chinook, a medium-lift helicopter, hauls ammunition and artillery, petroleum, troops and other cargo for the U.S. Army. Since its fielding in 1962, numerous major systems and subsystems, such as the engines and avionics, have been modernized aboard the craft. To avoid increasing reliability problems that could ground the Chinook fleet and to improve the airworthiness of the CH-47, the team will evaluate other systems, subsystems and components as part of this program.
SwRI and TBE will examine components and small systems that may not have had a technological upgrade to date, such as transmissions, shafts, nonrotating parts, hydraulics and auxiliary power units. Following an engineering analysis, the team will recommend changes in materials, manufacturing or maintenance of the components and systems to improve airworthiness and extend service life.
"We will combine data on prior system failures with our knowledge of the design, construction, and maintenance of components and systems to help improve reliability of the helicopter," said Roger Bessey, manager of Structural Dynamics and Acoustics in the SwRI Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division. "Our primary focus is to increase the reliability of the Chinook fleet and reduce its downtime, which should ultimately produce a significant operating and maintenance cost savings for the Army and increase the mission availability of these aircraft."
While SwRI leads the engineering efforts, TBE is collecting and analyzing data, coordinating logistics and overseeing other support services.
Contact Roger Bessey at (210) 522-2345 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the Summer 2001 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Maria Martinez.