Book iconFirst published Summer 2009, Crosslink® magazine

Hyperspectral Imager Detects Mineral Deposits

Dean Riley and Mike Martino (third and fourth from left) with the pilots of the Twin Otter aircraft in which the SEBASS instrument was installed. (Photo courtesy of Russ Hamilton)

Dean Riley and Mike Martino (third and fourth from left) with the pilots of the Twin Otter aircraft in which the SEBASS instrument was installed. (Photo courtesy of Russ Hamilton)

Aerospace recently completed its largest hyperspectral survey to date using the SEBASS (Spatially Enhanced Broadband Array Spectrograph System) airborne sensor. The Northern Quebec Survey Team, part of the Spectral Applications Center in Chantilly, Virginia, conducted an extensive survey in the fall of 2008 to look for precious metal deposits in an 860,000-acre area just south of the Arctic circle near Hudson Strait.

The survey was conducted for Goldbrook Ventures, a Canadian mining company that owns approximately half the acreage along the Raglan Belt, a mining district known for its nickel-sulfide deposits; some of the surface rocks in this region are more than 3 billion years old.

SEBASS is a pushbroom hyperspectral imager that is mounted aboard a Twin Otter airplane and flown over the region of interest. For the Northern Quebec survey, SEBASS data was merged with LIDAR data and shortwave hyperspectral sensor data. A schoolroom in a tiny Inuit village near the survey site was used as an ad hoc office to process the data.

“Northern Quebec is just one of many survey areas conducted through Aerospace’s close collaboration with our commercial-client, SpecTIR LLC in Reno, Nevada,”said Karen Jones of Civil and Commercial Operations. “SpecTIR and Aerospace have complementary sensors—our SEBASS captures mid- to long-wave infrared spectral measurements within the thermal emissive range, and SpecTIR’s ProspecTIR sensor captures the very near to shortwave infrared. Our combined sensors provide an unrivaled full spectral hyperspectral capability,”she said.

The survey revealed an extensive nickel deposit, which was subsequently confirmed by drilling on the ground. This deposit, known as the Mystery Prospect, is now in the early stages of development. Niel Schulenburg, associate principal director for Advanced Sensor Applications, noted, “The team covered more than 1700 square kilometers in the airborne SEBASS survey. To meet the customer coverage requirements, the team members had to significantly modify their mission planning tools and collection operations, and they were very successful. This effort gives us confidence in conducting these types of large-area surveys in remote locations for other commercial clients.”

Mission Assurance for Nuclear Security

The Aerospace Corporation has established a new Nuclear Operations Directorate to support the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and Air Force Space Command. Aerospace was brought in to assist these organizations after a number of high-profile lapses in nuclear security (by other organizations) came to light last year, including the flight of live warheads across the country and the shipment of nuclear fuses overseas.

“Initially, our focus was on identifying any issues not uncovered by the various commissions reviewing U.S. nuclear operations,”said David C. Evans, who heads the new directorate. “The emphasis has begun to shift toward establishing processes to prevent recurrence of the issues uncovered and development of metrics to measure the health of the weapon system.”

Aerospace has established a team—led by William Ballhaus, former Aerospace president and CEO—to conduct two mission assurance reviews annually. The first review, in August 2008, examined how the various organizations at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, support the Minuteman weapons system as well as the role and effectiveness of the government and contractor team. Results from that review played a role in the decision to stand up Air Force Global Strike Command, which will be responsible for both ICBMs and bombers with a nuclear mission. The second review, completed in May 2009, added the topic of nuclear surety (i.e., safety and security) and assessed the practices of the ICBM System Program Office, Air Force Space Command, and various organizations at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Evans suggests that many of the problems in nuclear operations have their roots in the same elements that caused the multitude of launch failures at the end of the last decade. “In ICBMs, like space, the weighting of the three program management elements went from technical, schedule, and then cost to cost, schedule, and then technical as budgets were cut. Decision makers seem to have overlooked the fact that nuclear operations have zero tolerance for error, and the performance standard is perfection,”he said.

Aerospace has a rich history of support to the nation’s ICBM arsenal, dating back to the corporation’s founding in 1960. But, says Evans, Aerospace was selected for this assignment based on its demonstrated expertise in mission assurance and the ability to find the root cause of problems. “Minuteman is not a very complex system, but it is extremely intricate due to the number of interfaces and the interrelationship of system components and processes,”he said. “That is what mission assurance is all about—understanding the interfaces and interdependencies.”

Evans hopes to see a return to the discipline that was the hallmark of the Strategic Air Command. “I’m not saying we need to go ‘back to SAC,’ but everyone—military and contractor—needs to regain the discipline to say ‘no’ if saying ‘yes’ would result in a performance standard of less than perfection,”he said.

AeroCube-3 Takes Flight

Aerocube-3The Aerospace Corporation’s third CubeSat, AeroCube-3, was launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, on May 19, 2009, as a secondary payload on the TacSat-3 mission. The picosatellite measures 10 by 10 by 10 centimeters and weighs about 1 kilogram, in keeping with the CubeSat specification. It is more complex than its two predecessors and has several improvements; most notable is the new solar power subsystem that replaced the one that failed on AeroCube-2. AeroCube-3 also has a two-axis sun sensor and an Earth sensor, as well as a deorbit device that includes an inflatable balloon that doubles as a tracking aid.

During the first phase of its mission, AeroCube-3 remained attached to the upper stage of the Minotaur launch vehicle by means of a 200-foot long tether, snapping photos of the upper stage with a wide-angle Video Graphics Array (VGA) camera to simulate an orbital inspection mission. In the second phase, AeroCube-3 cut its tether to become a free-flying spacecraft. At that point, magnets mounted on the satellite helped align it with Earth’s magnetic field, enabling various attitude control experiments to be performed.

Aerospace Serves Panel Reviewing Human Spaceflight

Aerospace President and CEO Wanda Austin served as one of 10 panel members charged with reviewing NASA’s Constellation human spaceflight program. The Human Space Flight Review Committee conducted an independent review of U.S. human spaceflight plans and programs, including available alternatives. The goal was to identify and characterize a range of options for continuing U.S. human space activities beyond the retirement of the space shuttle.

The committee assessed ways of expediting U.S. capability to transport equipment and personnel to the International Space Station, examined ways to support missions to the moon and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit, and considered ways of stimulating commercial spaceflight. It also made recommendations on how these goals can best be achieved within NASA’s projected budget.

The committee, whose charter was signed June 1, summarized its findings in a final report presented Aug. 31. Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine chaired the committee. Sally Ride, a member of the Aerospace board of trustees and a former astronaut, also served on the panel. “I am pleased to have had the opportunity to assist in planning the future U.S. human spaceflight program at this critical juncture,”Austin said. Aerospace provided much of the analysis to the committee.

Astronauts Repair Hubble Space Telescope

STS-125 astronauts navigate the exterior of the Hubble Space Telescope on the end of the remote manipulator system arm, controlled from inside Atlantis' crew cabin. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

STS-125 astronauts navigate the exterior of the Hubble Space Telescope on the end of the remote manipulator system arm, controlled from inside Atlantis’ crew cabin. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

The Atlantis space shuttle with seven astronauts aboard launched into space on a mission to repair the 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope on May 11, 2009. The STS-125 mission was destined for a 14-day trip in which astronauts replaced or fixed everything from cameras to gyros to insulation on the ailing telescope.

Astronauts conducted five spacewalks, totaling nearly 37 hours. They installed a science instrument command and data handling unit, replaced the wide-field camera 2, installed six new gyros, and replaced three of the telescope’s six nickel-hydrogen batteries. They also installed a “soft capture”mechanism designed to help with the future disposal of Hubble by a crewed or robotic mission.

Astronauts also installed a cosmic origins spectrograph, which will allow scientists to better study the universe and how planets formed and evolved. This new tool is designed to examine dark matter, which may provide insights into how the universe began.

Hubble’s Advanced Camera Survey was also revitalized when outfitted with four new circuit boards and a new power supply. The camera is credited with sending back some of Hubble’s most stunning imagery. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph was also repaired; it was installed during a 1997 servicing mission but stopped working in August 2004 because of a power supply failure.

Lastly, the astronauts installed a new thermal material. It will protect Hubble’s external blankets, preventing further degradation of the insulation, and will help maintain normal operating temperature of electronic equipment. With all of the new additions and repairs, Hubble is expected to last through 2014, when the James Webb Telescope is scheduled to take its place.

During the initial ascent phase of this mission, a piece of foam was liberated and struck some tile forward of the starboard wing of the Atlantis orbiter. Aerospace had previously developed an analytical tool for NASA that evaluates foam debris risk. This tool was built to predict foam debris risk as part of the return-to-flight effort following the failure of the Columbia orbiter caused by thermal protection system damage from a foam debris strike. Randy Williams, senior project leader, Space Launch Projects, said, “Aerospace determined the velocity and angle of impact for the STS-125 debris strike, which allowed the debris assessment team to conclude the tile damage had minimal depth and precluded the need for a more detailed inspection that would likely have reduced the timeframe for the astronauts to conduct their primary mission objectives.”The astronauts returned to Earth, landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 24, 2009.

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