NASA News: NASA's Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer Completes Mission Operations


WASHINGTON -- After 16 years in space, NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing
Explorer (RXTE) has made its last observation. The satellite provided
unprecedented views into the extreme environments around white
dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.

RXTE sent data from its last science observation to the ground early
on Jan. 4. After performing engineering tests, controllers at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., successfully
decommissioned the satellite on Jan. 5.

RXTE far exceeded its original science goals and leaves astronomers
with a scientific bounty for years to come. Data from the mission
have resulted in more than 2,200 papers in refereed journals, 92
doctoral theses, and more than 1,000 rapid notifications alerting
astronomers around the globe to new astronomical activity.

"The spacecraft and its instruments had been showing their age, and in
the end RXTE had accomplished everything we put it up there to do,
and much more," said Tod Strohmayer, RXTE project scientist at Goddard.

The decision to decommission RXTE followed the recommendations of a
2010 review board tasked to evaluate and rank each of NASA's
operating astrophysics missions.

"After two days we listened to verify that none of the systems we
turned off had autonomously re-activated, and we've heard nothing,"
said Deborah Knapp, RXTE mission director at Goddard.

The 7,000-pound satellite is expected to re-enter the atmosphere
between 2014 and 2023, depending in large part on solar activity. To
celebrate the spacecraft's long and productive career, astronomers
will hold a special session on RXTE during the 219th meeting of the
American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Austin, Texas. The session is
scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 3 p.m. CST. A press conference on
new RXTE results will also be held at the meeting on Jan. 10 at 1:45
p.m. EST.

RXTE opened a new window into the workings of neutron stars and black
holes. Using its data, astronomers established the existence of
highly magnetized neutron stars (known as magnetars) and discovered
the first accreting millisecond pulsars, a previously unseen stage in
the formation of "recycled" millisecond radio pulsars that were first
glimpsed in the early 1980s. The observatory also provided the first
observational evidence of "frame-dragging" in the vicinity of a black
hole, an effect predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.

RXTE carried three instruments, the Proportional Counter Array (PCA)
and the High Energy X-ray Timing Experiment (HEXTE), which could be
directed to specific targets. The PCA was developed by Goddard to
cover the lower part of the energy range. HEXTE was built by the
University of California at San Diego for exploring the upper energy range.

The observatory's instruments measured variations in X-ray emission on
timescales as short as microseconds and as long as months across a
wide energy span, from 2,000 to 250,000 electron volts. For
comparison, the energy of a typical dental X-ray is around 60,000
electron volts.

A third instrument, called the All-Sky Monitor, was developed by the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. It scanned
about 80 percent of the sky every orbit, giving astronomers the
ability to monitor the variable and often unpredictable X-ray sky and
to record long-term histories of bright sources.

The astronomical community has recognized the importance of RXTE
research with five major awards. These include four Rossi Prizes
(1999, 2003, 2006 and 2009) from the High Energy Astrophysics
Division of the AAS and the 2004 NWO Spinoza prize, the highest Dutch
science award, from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

The mission was launched as XTE aboard a Delta II 7920 rocket on Dec.
30, 1995, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It was
renamed RXTE in early 1996 in honor of Bruno Rossi, an MIT astronomer
and a pioneer of X-ray astronomy and space plasma physics who died in
1993. RXTE was managed by Goddard.

For more information on RXTE, visit:



NASA Issues Call for Visionary Advanced Technology Concepts

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Space Technology Program is looking for far-out
ideas. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, or NIAC, program is
seeking proposals for revolutionary concepts with the potential to
transform future aerospace missions. Proposed concepts should enable
new capabilities or significantly alter current approaches to
launching, building and operating space systems.

NIAC projects are chosen for their innovative and visionary
characteristics, technical substance, and early development stage --
ten years or more from use on a mission. NIAC's current portfolio of
diverse and innovative ideas represents multiple technology areas,
including power, propulsion, structures and avionics.

"NIAC is a forward-looking program that captures what's great about
America's space program," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's
Space Technology Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
"NASA is looking for futuristic concepts that may enable leaps
forward in how we work in and explore the space frontier. Equally
important, we're asking for ideas from all sources: American
citizen-inventors or educators working out of their garage to the
visionary small business owners fueling our nation's economy."

This second call for proposals follows last summer's inaugural
selection of Phase I concepts, which are now under study. Due to the
tremendous response and large number of submissions received from
last year's NIAC call for proposals, this year's Phase I solicitation
will incorporate a two-step process.

NIAC will accept short proposals, limited to two pages in length,
until Feb. 9. After review, NASA will invite those whose concepts are
of interest to the agency to submit a full proposal of no more than
ten pages. Full proposals will be due April 16.

NASA expects to fund approximately 15 proposals in this year's Phase I
process. Those selected will receive up to $100,000 for one year to
advance the innovative space technology concept and help NASA meet
current operational and future mission requirements. Selection
announcements are expected this summer. The solicitation is open to
all U.S. citizens and researchers working in the United States,
including NASA civil servants.

The number of awards will depend on the strength of proposals and
availability of appropriated funds. The number of Phase I awards also
will be balanced with NASA's selection of Phase II awards. Phase II
awards will be selected from Phase I concepts submitted last year
that the agency decides to advance.

Past NIAC Phase I proposals have included a broad range of imaginative
and creative ideas, including: changing the course of dangerous
orbital debris; a spacesuit that uses flywheels to stabilize and
assist astronauts as they work in microgravity; the use of
3-dimensional printing to create a planetary outpost; microbial fuel
cell technology for powering tiny robot explorers; and other
innovative propulsion and power concepts needed for future space
mission operations.

NASA's early investment and partnership with creative scientists,
engineers and citizen inventors will pay huge technological dividends
and help maintain America's leadership in the global technology economy.

NIAC is part of NASA's Space Technology Program, managed by the Office
of the Chief Technologist. To view the NASA Research Announcement for
this NIAC Phase I solicitation, and for more information about NIAC
and NASA's Space Technology Program, visit:



NASA Helps Kick Off 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition

WASHINGTON -- An international robotics competition aimed at
developing a new generation of technology leaders kicks off at 10:30
a.m. EST Saturday, Jan. 7. NASA, the largest sponsor of the FIRST
Robotics Competition, and its centers across the nation will join
local technology firms to launch the event. The main competition
kickoff will take place at Southern New Hampshire University in
Manchester and will air live on NASA Television.

FIRST -- or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology
-- is a long-standing challenge to inspire curiosity and create
interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
among high school students. Encouraging students to pursue STEM
studies and careers is the focus of NASA's education programs.

"NASA's Science Mission Directorate is proud to have sponsored this
technology revolution for the past 19 years," said John Grunsfeld,
NASA's associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission
Directorate in Washington. "This program has given tens of thousands
of students a crucial mentoring experience if they choose to be a
part of future exploration endeavors in space. FIRST Robotics is fun
and exciting and will sustain an unprecedented positive educational
impact on our nation's youth."

The FIRST Robotics Competition gives students the opportunity to
design, build and test a robot that can perform specific functions.
The competition also gives students the opportunity to be mentored by
NASA professionals, who help them to explore potential solutions to
robotics problems and understand the real-world challenges faced by
engineers and researchers.

"FIRST Robotics has had a tremendous impact on students' interest in
robotics and invention since its inception," said Leland Melvin,
NASA's associate administrator for Education. "In fact, it was a
mutual interest in FIRST Robotics that led the agency to a recently
announced collaboration with entertainer will.i.am. We are excited to
work together to help inspire the next generation to pursue STEM and
robotics studies."

During the live broadcast of this year's competition kickoff, inventor
and FIRST founder Dean Kamen and designers of the annual challenge
will reveal this year's competition scenario. This kicks off a
six-week design and building frenzy for students and their
engineering mentors.

Each year, participating FIRST teams are presented with a new robotics
competition scenario with twists and nuances to challenge both rookie
and veteran teams. Each team receives a kit of parts and has six
weeks to design and build a robot based on the team's interpretation
of the game scenario. Other than dimension and weight restrictions,
the look and function of the robots is up to each team.

NASA plays a significant role by providing public access to robotics
programs to encourage young people to investigate careers in the
sciences and engineering. Through the NASA Robotics Alliance Project,
the agency provides grants to teams and sponsors four regional
student competitions. NASA engineers and scientists participate with
many of these teams as technical participants and mentors to the
students. Through these mentoring activities, NASA engineers are able
to directly share their expertise and experiences with the nation's
next generation of technical leaders.

This year, there will be regional competitions across the country, as
well as four additional international competitions in March and
April. The FIRST Championship competition will be held April 25-28 in
St. Louis.

The program was founded in 1989 by Kamen to inspire an appreciation of
science and technology in young people, their schools and
communities. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST is a non-profit
organization that designs accessible, innovative programs to build
self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young
people to pursue academic opportunities.

For more information about NASA's Robotics Alliance Project, visit:


For more information about the FIRST Robotics Competition and a
listing of competing teams, visit:


For NASA TV streaming video and downlink information, visit:


For additional information about NASA's education programs, visit:



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