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NASA - Ames Agency Alignment
December 4, 2012

About NASA's missions

[image-62]NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of science missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe. Most people know about NASA's past human spaceflight missions, the current International Space Station and Mars rovers. However, NASA's mission portfolio covers hundreds of science-based missions studying everything from our home planet to the vast reaches of space.

View a list of NASA's current missions

Ames' role

NASA Ames Research Center designs and builds unique spacecraft and manages a diverse series of advanced projects. The focus of our work is on technologies, subsystems methodologies and concepts for advanced space missions which lower the overall cost of scientific exploration and reduce risk. We have expertise in reducing the time from commitment to flight and in providing test beds for advanced technologies. We have flight heritage for new spacecraft, launch systems, instruments and components.

Ames also manages the Agency’s portfolio of airborne earth science projects. These scientific campaigns allow scientists to effectively collect and share their scientific data and results. Additionally, the projects result in the development of new technologies, sensing instruments and methods for scientific data collection.

In the 1990’s, Ames began exploring new concepts for inexpensive space missions using very small satellites, called Nanosats or Cubesats, as platforms for collecting low-cost, high impact science. Ames has shown that “NASA quality” scientific research can be enabled using Nanosats to inexpensively gather key engineering and scientific data. We continue to lead the Agency in developing and flying Nanosatellites.

View a list of NASA Ames' missions

Featured example: Kepler - The search for potentially habitable worlds

How are we discovering hundreds of planets while trying to determine the frequency of rocky and Earth-like planets in our Milky Way Galaxy?

[image-67]Kepler uses transit photometry to measure tiny and periodic dips in the light received from other stars as unseen planets pass in front of their host star. Sensitive to light dips much smaller than one percent, Kepler will have discovered thousands of new worlds by the end of its mission. It will produce the first estimate of the number of terrestrial, or rocky Earth-like, planets in our galaxy.

The Kepler concept was formulated and refined at Ames, and the center is responsible for managing the mission, and for science operations and data analysis. Now in an extended mission phase, Ames is committed to making the Kepler data available to the worldwide community as soon as it is downlinked from the spacecraft and calibrated.

Featured example: Kepler - LADEE - NASA's next lunar mission

What is NASA's next lunar mission looking for and how is Ames doing it cheaper and faster?

[image-83]The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), is a small, low-cost spacecraft which will be launched into orbit around the moon in 2013. LADEE is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon and gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

This mission, designed and developed at Ames, which has a history of successfully managed lunar missions, uses an advanced composite structure and many commercial and off-the-shelf components to enable an interplanetary orbiter at a fraction of the cost of a traditional lunar orbit spacecraft.

Featured example: SOFIA - Infrared astronomy from an aircraft

What can we learn with a telescope in the sky?

[image-99]SOFIA is the world’s largest airborne observatory, featuring a 2.5-meter diameter infrared telescope provided by the German space agency. Flying above 40,000 feet, SOFIA gets above most of the atmospheric water vapor that otherwise impedes infrared radiation from the cosmos. Flying out of California’s Mojave desert, the airplane is capable of flying up to 160 nights annually, with scientists and educators on board.

One huge advantage of SOFIA is that it returns each morning, allowing researchers to change science instruments and to update them with state-of-the-art sensors. Planning for mission and science operations is conducted at the SOFIA Science Center, operated by Universities Space Research Association, at Ames.
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LCROSS investigated the possible presence of water ice on the moon.
LCROSS investigated the possible presence of water ice on the moon.
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Light Curve of a Planet Transiting Its Star
Transit data are rich with information. By measuring the depth of the dip in brightness and knowing the size of the star, scientists can determine the size or radius of the planet. The orbital period of the planet can be determined by measuring the elapsed time between transits.
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An artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft seen orbiting near the surface of the moon.
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SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion
SOFIA's mid-infrared image of Messier 42 (right) with comparison images of the same region made at other wavelengths by the Hubble Space Telescope (left) and European Southern Observatory (middle).
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Page Last Updated: May 20th, 2014
Page Editor: Jerry Colen