JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Among the laboratory’s current major active projects are the Mars Science Laboratory mission (which includes the Curiosity rover), the Cassini–Huygens mission orbiting Saturn, the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Dawn mission to the dwarf planet Ceres and asteroid Vesta, the Juno spacecraft en route to Jupiter, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) X-ray telescope, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility and Twenty-Five-Foot Space Simulator are designated National Historic Landmarks.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) research articles from Innovation Toronto
- JPL CubeSat Clean Room: A Factory For Small Spacecraft – December 4, 2015
- New detector perfect for asteroid mining – November 24, 2015
- Smallest 3-D Camera Offers Brain Surgery Innovation – September 4, 2015
- ‘Hedgehog’ Robots Hop, Tumble in Microgravity – September 4, 2015
- Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning – April 13, 2015
- New NASA Space Cowboy Successfully Deploys Its ‘Lasso’ – March 6, 2015
- Technology Innovations Spin NASA’s SMAP into Space – January 3, 2015
- Gecko Grippers Get a Microgravity Test Flight – December 23, 2014
- Quantum teleportation breakthrough as researchers send photon of light 15.5 MILES – and it could mean UNBREAKABLE encryption for computer networks – December 12, 2014
- Printing the Metals of the Future – July 30, 2014
- Scientists say new computer model amounts to a lot more than a hill of beans | food productivity
- Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots
- Historic Demonstration Proves Laser Communication Possible
- NASA Wants An Open Competition for a Mars 2020 Rover
- Detecting Heartbeats in Rubble: DHS and NASA Team up to Save Victims of Disasters
- NASA Spacecraft Embarks on Historic Journey Into Interstellar Space
- Upgrade to Mars rovers could aid discovery on more distant worlds
- Space Laser To Prove Increased Broadband Possible
- Global Sea Level Rise Dampened by Australia Floods
- Station Astronauts Remotely Control Planetary Rover From Space
- NASA’s OPALS to Beam Data From Space Via Laser
- Billion-Pixel View of Mars Comes From Curiosity Rover
- Martian space flight: Red dreams
- NASA’s proposed asteroid-snaring mission would ride on Glenn ion engines
- NASA announces new CubeSat space mission candidates
- Electric Rocket Engines: Magnetic Shielding of Ion Beam Thruster Walls
- NASA Curiosity Rover Collects First Martian Bedrock Sample
- Controlling a Virtual Spacecraft by Thought Alone
- Stanford researchers develop acrobatic space rovers to explore moons and asteroids
- Armchair Science: Bag and Tag Glowing Galactic Clouds
- NASA examines hybrid solar-electric propulsion for manned space missions
- New NASA Mission to Take First Look Deep Inside Mars
- Sending messages from Mars: Interplanetary broadband
- Breakthrough technology enables 3D mapping of rainforests, tree by tree
- Autonomous Robots Made to Explore and Map Buildings
- Solar sails pick up speed
- Science of TRON: Getting Up to Speed with Teleportation and Quantum Computing
- Earth-Like Planets May Be Ready for Their Close-Up
- NASA Demonstrates Tsunami Prediction System
Ions subjected to buffer gas cooling never truly reach the same temperature as the surrounding gas
According to the basic laws of thermodynamics, if you leave a warm apple pie in a winter window eventually the pie would cool down to the same temperature as the surrounding air.
For chemists and physicists, cooling samples of charged particles, also called ions, makes them easier to control and study. So they use a similar approach — called buffer gas cooling — to lower the temperature of ions by trapping them and then immersing them in clouds of cold atoms. Collisions with the atoms cool the originally hot ions by transferring energy from the ions to the atoms — much the same way a warm pie is cooled next to the cold window, said Eric Hudson, associate professor of physics at UCLA.
But new research by Hudson and his team, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates that ions never truly cool to the temperature of the surrounding gas. Also, very surprisingly, they discovered that under certain conditions, two final temperatures exist, and the temperature that the ions choose depends on their starting temperature.
“This apparent departure from the familiar laws of thermodynamics is akin to our warm apple pie either cooling as expected or spontaneously bursting into flames, depending on the pie’s exact temperature when it is placed in the window,” said Hudson, the senior author of the study.
The UCLA researchers have, for the first time, placed fundamental limits on the use of buffer gas cooling in “ion traps.” To perform their experiment, the researchers prepared a microscopic sample of laser cooled ions of the chemical element barium and immersed them in clouds of roughly 3 million laser-cooled calcium atoms. The researchers make molecules extremely cold under highly controlled conditions to reveal the quantum mechanical properties that are normally hidden.
The ions were trapped in an apparatus that levitates charged particles by using electric fields that oscillate millions of times per second, confining the ions to a region smaller than the width of a human hair. Both the atomic and ionic samples were brought to ultra-cold temperatures —just one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero — via a technique in which the momentum of light in a laser is used to slow particle motion.
After allowing collisions between the atoms and ions to occur and the system to reach its final temperature, the physicists removed the calcium atoms and measured the temperature of the barium ions. The results, which show the existence of multiple final temperatures based on ion number and initial temperature, suggest that subtle non-equilibrium physics is at play.
The researchers trace these strange features to the heating and cooling rates which exist in the system — the peculiar temperature dependence of the interaction among multiple ions in an ion trap. Both simulation and theory support their experimental findings, and paint the buffer-gas cooling process as a fundamentally nuanced, non-equilibrium process rather than the straightforward equilibrium process it was originally understood to be.
Lead author Steven Schowalter, a graduate student researcher in Hudson’s laboratory and now a staff scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “Our results demonstrate that you can’t just throw any buffer gas into your device — no matter how cold it is — and expect it to work as an effective coolant.”
Buffer gas cooling is crucial in fields ranging from forensics to the production of antimatter. Hudson’s research group has discovered important nuances that revise the current understanding of the cooling process, explain the difficulties encountered in previous cooling experiments and show a new path forward for creating ultra-cold ion samples. With this framework the researchers showed how troublesome effects can be overcome and even exploited to study the mechanisms at play in molecular motors and single-atom heat engines in a precisely controlled manner.
“Of course, this work does not violate the laws of thermodynamics, but it does demonstrate there are still some interesting, potentially useful things to learn about buffer gas cooling,” said John Gillaspy, a physics division program director at the National Science Foundation, which funds the research. “This is the sort of fundamental research that can really guide a wide range of more applied research efforts, helping other scientists and engineers to avoid going down dead-end paths and illuminating more fruitful directions they might take instead.”
Following a key program review, NASA approved the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to proceed to the next phase of design and development for the mission’s robotic segment. ARM is a two-part mission that will integrate robotic and crewed spacecraft operations in the proving ground of deep space to demonstrate key capabilities needed for NASA’s journey to Mars.
The milestone, known as Key Decision Point-B, or KDP-B, was conducted in July and formally approved by agency management Aug. 15. It is one in a series of project lifecycle milestones that every spaceflight mission for the agency passes as it progresses toward launch. At KDP-B, NASA established the content, cost, and schedule commitments for Phase B activities.
Earlier this year, NASA updated the target launch date for the robotic mission to December 2021 in order to incorporate acquisition of the industry robotic spacecraft development into the project schedule. To reflect this new target date, the project’s cost cap was increased at KDP-B from $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion. This figure does not include the launch vehicle or the post-launch operations phase. The crewed segment, targeted for launch in 2026, remains in an early mission concept phase, or pre-formulation.
The robotic ARM will demonstrate advanced, high-power, high-throughput solar electric propulsion; advanced autonomous high-speed proximity operations at a low-gravity planetary body; controlled touchdown and liftoff with a multi-ton mass from a low-gravity planetary body, astronaut spacewalk activities for sample selection, extraction, containment and return; and mission operations of integrated robotic and crewed vehicle stack—all key components of future in-space operations for human missions to Mars.
During Phase B of the robotic mission, the program will develop a baseline mission design to meet requirements consistent with NASA’s direction on risk, cost and schedule, and will conduct an independent review of the baseline project design.
“This is an exciting milestone for the Asteroid Redirect Mission,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “Not only is ARM leveraging agency-wide capabilities, it will test a number of new technologies already in development.”
Completing KDP-B is a catalyst for increased external involvement in the robotic mission development, explained Michele Gates, program director for ARM at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“Since its early formulation, NASA has invited mission concept feedback and development ideas from the planetary science community, general public, U.S. and global industry, and international partners,” said Gates. “With KDP-B under our belt, ARM can now move forward to define partnerships and opportunities for long-term engagement.”
The robotic ARM project, led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, will issue a request for proposals for the spacecraft to a set of aerospace companies that previously worked with the ARM robotic design team on a six-month study of spacecraft concepts to meet mission requirements. KDP-B serves as authority for JPL to proceed with the next procurement phase.
NASA plans to issue a solicitation in September that will include a call for partner-provided payloads on the robotic flight system. This call for partner-provided payloads is in addition to potential cooperation under discussion with the Italian Space Agency. NASA will provide spacecraft integration, power, data storage and communication capabilities for selected payloads, which the agency will choose based on contributions to both partner goals and ARM objectives, with consideration for those that may support risk reduction for the mission.
This solicitation also will include a membership call for an ARM Investigation Team, which will be a multidisciplinary group of U.S. industry, academia, government, and international members. The Investigation Team will operate on an initial three-to-five year term, providing technical expertise to the ARM robotic and crewed project teams.
The team will conduct analyses of spacecraft and mission design, and investigate concepts to support robotic mission objectives, including overall science, planetary defense, asteroid resource use, and deep-space capability demonstrations. Led out of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the Investigation Team work will continue some of the research conducted by the ARM Formulation Assessment and Support Team, which helped define mission concepts and inform mission requirements and risks over a three-month period in 2015.
The robotic component of the ARM will demonstrate the world’s most advanced and most efficient solar electric propulsion system as it travels to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA). NEAs are asteroids that are fewer than 121 million miles (1.3 AU) from the sun at the closest point in their orbit. Although the target asteroid is not expected to be officially selected until 2020, NASA is using 2008 EV5 as the reference asteroid while the search continues for potential alternates.
A target asteroid such as 2008 EV5 is particularly appealing to the scientific, exploration, and industrial communities because it is a primitive, C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid, believed to be rich in volatiles, water, and organic compounds. The ability to extract core samples from the captured boulder will allow us to evaluate how its composition varies with depth and could unlock clues to the origins of our solar system. Astronaut sampling and potential commercial activities could indicate the value of C-type asteroids for commercial mining purposes, which in turn could have significant impacts on how deep space missions are designed in the future.
After collecting a multi-ton boulder from the asteroid, the robotic spacecraft will slowly redirect the boulder to an orbit around the moon, using the moon’s gravity for an assist, where NASA plans to conduct a series of proving ground missions in the 2020s. There, astronauts will be able to select, extract, collect, and return samples from the multi-ton asteroid mass, and conduct other human-robotic and spacecraft operations in the proving ground that will validate concepts for NASA’s journey to Mars.
Firefighters have only their wits and five senses to rely on inside a burning building. But research developed in part by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, may change that, introducing artificial intelligence (AI) that could collect data on temperatures, gases and other danger signals and guide a team of first responders safely through the flames.
AUDREY, the Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction, and sYnthesis, has received the Undersecretary’s Award for Collaboration from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in recognition of its joint development by JPL and DHS. It’s part of the Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) program, a DHS initiative to innovate new ways to keep firefighters, police, paramedics and other first responders safe in the field through increased awareness of their surroundings and communication abilities.
But the big picture is even more exciting: AUDREY can track an entire team of firefighters, sending relevant signals to individuals while helping to make recommendations for how they could work together.
“As a firefighter moves through an environment, AUDREY could send alerts through a mobile device or head-mounted display,” said Mark James of JPL, lead scientist for the AUDREY project.
AUDREY is designed to be integrated with the “Internet of Things” — the idea of numerous devices and sensors all wirelessly “talking” to one another. In the case of firefighters, wearable sensors in their clothes could pick up their GPS location, heat in other rooms, the presence of dangerous chemicals and gases, satellite imagery of a location and much more.
“When first responders are connected to all these sensors, the AUDREY agent becomes their guardian angel,” said Edward Chow, manager of JPL’s Civil Program Office and program manager for AUDREY. “Because of all this data the sensor sees, firefighters won’t run into the next room where the floor will collapse.”
John Merrill, NGFR program manager for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, said that technology is rapidly providing new strengths for first responders in the field.
“The proliferation of miniaturized sensors and Internet of Things devices can make a tremendous impact on first responder safety, connectivity, and situational awareness,” Merrill said. “The massive amount of data available to the first responder is incomprehensible in its raw state and must be synthesized into useable, actionable information.”
Guardian angel in the cloud
AUDREY is designed to keep watch from above. As a cloud-based piece of software, it can do more than send data to those in the field. As it watches an event, it can actually learn and start making predictions about what resources will be needed next.
James said the system is designed to recognize the specific roles of first responders in the field. This allows AUDREY to provide potentially lifesaving information customized to the various roles, which avoids overloading the users.
“Since AUDREY knows the roles of everyone who receives her data, she only supplies the relevant information that is appropriate for them,” James said.
In June, AUDREY was tested in a virtual demonstration at the Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Meeting held by the Department of Commerce in San Diego. It was fed data from a variety of sensors and asked to make safety recommendations, which it then sent to a mobile device. Within a year, Chow said, the plan is to test AUDREY in field demonstrations.
From machine to human-like thinking
Chow emphasized that artificial intelligence is only as effective as the data it’s working with. The more data it has, the higher the probability that it will make useful recommendations.
“Most A.I. projects are rule-based — if this, then that,” he said. “But what if you’re only getting part of the information? We use complex reasoning to simulate how humans think. That allows us to provide more useful info to firefighters than a traditional A.I. system.”
Learn more: A.I. Could Be a Firefighter’s ‘Guardian Angel’
The Internet contains a vast trove of information — sometimes called the “Deep Web” — that isn’t indexed by search engines
What you see when you do a basic Web search is only the tip of the iceberg. The Internet contains a vast trove of information — sometimes called the “Deep Web” — that isn’t indexed by search engines: information that would be useful for tracking criminals, terrorist activities, sex trafficking and the spread of diseases. Scientists could also use it to search for images and data from spacecraft.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been developing tools as part of its Memex program that access and catalog this mysterious online world. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have joined the Memex effort to harness the benefits of deep Web searching for science. Memex could, for example, help catalog the vast amounts of data NASA spacecraft deliver on a daily basis.
“We’re developing next-generation search technologies that understand people, places, things and the connections between them,” said Chris Mattmann, principal investigator for JPL’s work on Memex.