Press Release, NASA
NASA welcomed a new administrator,Jim Bridenstine, deputy administrator,Jim Morhard, and chief financial officer,Jeff DeWit, in 2018. Their focus is on firmly establishing the groundwork to send Americans back to the Moon sustainably, with plans to use the agency’s lunar experience to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.
“Our agency’s accomplishments in 2018 are breathtaking. We’ve inspired the world and created incredible new capabilities for our nation,” Bridenstine said. “This year, we landed on Mars for the seventh time, and America remains the only country to have landed on Mars successfully. We created new U.S.commercial partnerships to land back on the Moon. We made breakthroughs in our quest to send humans farther into space than ever before. And, we contributed to remarkable advancements in aviation. I want to thank the entire NASA team for a fantastic year of American leadership in space, and I am confident we will build on our 2018 successes in 2019.”
In 2018, NASA celebrated six decades of exploration, discoveries and cutting-edge technology development for the agency’s60th anniversaryon Oct. 1. Bridenstine said, “President Eisenhower launched our nation into the Space Age and President Kennedy gave us the charge to reach the Moon. Over six incredible decades, we have brought the world an amazing number of bold missions in science, aviation and human exploration. NASA and its workforce have never failed to raise the bar of human potential and blaze a trail to the future. We celebrate our legacy today with great promise and a strong direction from the President to return to the Moon and go on to Mars.”
The Office of the Chief Financial Officer received a successful clean audit in 2018 – the eighth consecutive clean financial audit opinion for the agency. In addition, DeWit led his Strategic Investments Division in working with the Government Accounting Office to pass an official Corrective Action Plan for only the second time in NASA’s history, which will increase accountability and transparency into the costs of large programs and proactively improve NASA’s program and project management activities.
On Dec. 11, NASA recently marked the one-year anniversary of Space Policy Directive-1 (SPD-1), which provided a directive for NASA to return humans to the surface of the moon for long-term exploration and utilization and pursue human exploration of Mars and the broader solar system. Two additional space policy directives were enacted this year by the White House, withSPD-2in February helping ease the regulatory environment so entrepreneurs can thrive in space, andSPD-3in June helping ensure the U.S. is a leader in providing a safe and secure environment as commercial and civil space traffic increases.
Moon to Mars
America’s return to the Moon will begin with U.S. commercial delivery services of small scientific instruments, followed by development of an infrastructure in orbit around the Moon to support human missions to the lunar surface, Mars and destinations beyond, for decades to come. Highlights from 2018 include:
- In October, NASA issued acallfor lunar surface instruments and technology payloads that will fly to the Moon on commercial lunar landers as early as next year.On Nov. 29, the agency announced nine U.S. companies are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface throughCommercial Lunar Payload Services(CLPS) contracts.
- After receiving more than 190 scientific abstracts from the research community, NASA hosted aconferencein February for scientists across a variety of disciplines to discuss future exploration and research using theGateway, a spacecraft that will orbit the Moon and support human and robotic missions.
- In an effort to lay the foundation for partnerships with U.S. industry in several aspects of Gateway development and operation, NASA issued in 2018 several requests for information and ideas from U.S. companies about the Gateway’suseandsupply, as well aslunar payload transportation capabilities, and construction of itspower and propulsion element.
- NASA continued to refine requirements for a U.S. habitat module for the Gateway and technology touse and process space-based resourcesthrough the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2).
The transportation system that will carry astronauts from Earth to the Gateway, and help build the structure in orbit, continued to take shape in 2018 with more flight hardware coming together around the country for the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket andOrionspacecraft.
- NASAdeliveredthe second piece of SLS flight hardware to its Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this year. The Orion stage adapter will connect the spacecraft to SLS and will be loaded with13 small satelliteson the first mission.
- Engineers are completing final outfitting and assembly of thefivemajor structural pieces of the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
- Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, are putting the finishing touches on the 30-foot-talllaunch vehicle stage adapter, which will connect SLS’ core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage delivered to Kennedy last year.
- Engineers at KennedyinstalledOrion’s reentry heat shield
- ESA (European Space Agency)deliveredto Kennedy the service module that will propel, power and cool Orion during the first integrated flight test with SLS –Exploration Mission 1.
- Workers at Kennedy also completed constructionon themain flame deflectoratLaunch Pad 39B, and engineers installed thefinal umbilicalon themobile launcherbefore rolling themassivetower onCrawler-Transporter 2to the pad.
It was a great year for robotic exploration of Mars, as well:
- NASA’sCuriosityrover identifiedfragments of complex organic moleculesin the shallow surface of Mars, giving us further evidence that the Red Planet could have hosted life at one point.
- NASA launched and landed the first spacecraft to set down on the Red Planet since Curiosity arrived in 2012 – the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). InSight touched down on Martian soil inNovemberto study the planet’s interior and, just 10 days after landing, provided the first ever “sounds” of winds on Mars.
- NASA also announced thelanding sitefor its next Red Planet rover,Mars 2020, which will continue the agency’s efforts to search for evidence of life and prepare for human arrival.
Other highlights in the agency’s progress this year in supporting the new Moon to Mars exploration approach include:
- More than 4,300 hours of testing completed onSolar Electric Propulsion(SEP) Hall thrusters.
- Orionpressure vesselfor first crewed flightshippedto Kennedy.
- Final test of Orion’sparachute system.
- Preparation fortestof Orion’s launch abort system.
- Several parts of SLS in production, or completed, for second mission.
- New seriesof SLS RS-25 engine test firings included nine tests of3D-printed parts.
- First combination3D printer and recyclerlaunched to International Space Station to demonstrate new in-space manufacturing technology.
- NASA solicited new ways tomanage trashon deep space missions.
- Ten companies chosen to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect and usespace-based resources.
- 3D-Printed Habitat Challengeprogressed as participating teams created digital models of Martian habitats and constructed and tested foundation prototypes.
Solar System and Beyond
In 2018, NASA bid farewell to two veteran science spacecraft, launched a record-breaking mission to the Sun, and continued to make discoveries with current missions and progress on future missions. Highlights from the year include:
- NASA’sParker Solar Probelaunched on the first-ever mission to “touch the Sun.” The missionbroke recordsfor fastest human-made object and closest approach to the Sun, and sent home its first light images – including a picture of Earth – in late October. Its first flight through the Sun’s outer atmosphere was on Nov. 7.
- After a two-year journey, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) missionarrivedat its destination, the asteroid Bennu, on Dec. 3. One of the first observations from NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission revealedwater locked insidethe clays that make up Bennu.This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2, 2018, by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km).Credits: NASA/University of Arizona
- For only the second time in history, a human-made object reached the space between the stars. In December, NASA announced itsVoyager 2probe hasexited the heliosphere– the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.
- Using NASA’sHubble Space Telescopeand ground-based observatories, astronomers found in June that Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to travel through our solar system, had anunexpected speed boostand a change in trajectory. Scientists believe the object is a new type of comet.
- After nine years of searching for planets outside our solar system, NASA’sKeplerspace telescoperan out of fuel, but not before scientists were able to use it, and Hubble, to find hints of what could be a moon orbiting another planet outside our solar system. If confirmed, this would be thefirst exomoon ever detected.
- NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April, continues the search for planets outside our solar system. The spacecraft, whichbegan science operationsin July, will survey the entire sky over the course of two years, searching for nearby exoplanets.Illustration of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) observing an M dwarf star with orbiting planets.Credits: NASA
- NASA’sDawnmission, which launched in 2007, alsoran out of fuelthis year, but not before becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two separate bodies in the solar system – the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. Among its many findings, Dawn helped scientists discover organics on Ceres and evidence that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history – and may still.
- The Independent Review Board established by NASA to assess progress on itsJames Webb Space Telescopeunanimously recommended this year that development on the world’s premier science observatory should continue. NASA established a new 2021 launch date for Webb, and completed several critical tests and milestones in 2018, including vibration and acoustic tests and asimulation of the telescope’s complex communications. The two halves of Webb – the spacecraft and the telescope – were connected temporarily for a communications test during which they successfully“spoke” to each other.
- Newly analyzed data from NASA’sGalileospacecraft, collected two decades ago, indicate the magnetic field around the moonGanymedemakes it unlike any other in the solar system.
Humans in Space
In 2018, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Scott Tingle, Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Anne McClain participated in their first spaceflight missions to theInternational Space Station, benefitting from the experience of three veteran astronauts Joe Acaba, Ricky Arnold, and Drew Feustel, who also completed missions aboard the space station this year. Here are ways humans in space were leading discovery and improving life on Earth in 2018:
- Crew members of Expeditions 54-58 supported more than 100 new U.S. science investigations, which use the unique orbiting laboratory to prepare for future missions to the Moon and Mars and improve life on Earth through research sponsored by theU.S. National Laboratory. In February, astronauts set a new record-setting week of research thatsurpassed 100 hours.
- Research conducted on station in 2018 included experiments to understandplants on Earthas well asplants growing in space, and new facilities that may help us to understand thematerialsneeded for exploring the universe, thephysiology of life in spaceand thebasic elementsof the universe itself.
- A testbed for technology, the space station now hosts the first combination3D printer and recyclerto demonstrate a new in-space manufacturing capability, Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) to helpidentify microbesaboard the space station, and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
- Nine U.S.astronauts were assignedto Commercial Crew Program missions aboard the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. Both companies have begun final testing of their spacecraft and associated systems, and thefirst test flightsare expected in 2019.The first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, wave after being announced, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, from left to right: Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Suni Williams. The agency assigned the nine astronauts to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon.Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
- Expedition 56 astronautsinstalled new camerason the station in June to provide enhanced views of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as they approach and dock to the station.
- NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, who were forced toaborttheir planned mission to the orbital laboratory, were reassigned to theExpedition 59mission, targeted to launch Feb. 28, 2019.
- Successfulcommercial partnershipswith Northrop Grumman and SpaceX for cargo resupply resulted in five missions delivering more than 32,000 pounds of critical supplies to the International Space Station, while the SpaceX Dragon capsule also returned more than 7,800 pounds of investigations and equipment to researchers on Earth.
- NASA began operating a newspace communications satelliteto support more than 40 NASA missions in low-Earth orbitas well as astronauts living in space on the orbital laboratory, enabling it to continue communications support well into the next decade.
- NASA continued to update thespace communication and navigationnetworks that support 83 missions, returning data from the solar system, and beyond, back to Earth. This includesupgrading emergency communications ground stationsthat support the space station and refurbishing itsBermuda Tracking Station,which supports launches from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, and will support launches of commercial crew to the space station and Orion/SLS missions to the Moon from Florida. The agency also issued acall for studiesto explore designs that incorporate commercial elements into future space relay services.
- NASA selected 13 companiesto study the future of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit, including long-range opportunities for the International Space Station.
- NASA and its space station partners marked the20th anniversaryof the launch and construction of the first elements of the International Space Station.
NASA’s aeronautics team reached several major milestones in 2018 in its efforts to enable commercial supersonic air travel over land.
- In April, the agency awarded Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company a contract to build theQuiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST)aircraft, designated theX-59, which will demonstrate quiet supersonic flight over land. In July, NASA signed an agreement with its French counterpart to collaborate onresearchpredicting where sonic boomswill be heard as supersonic aircraft fly overhead.Acoustics experts at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland recently used the center’s Aero-Acoustic Propulsion Laboratory (AAPL) to complete an evaluation on a small-scale model of a Learjet engine exhaust, or nozzle, system.Credits: NASA
- In October, an X-59 model was tested in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginiato collect dataabout the aircraft’s flight controls.
- In November, the X-59 project completed a rigorousreviewand the agency committed to the project’s funding and development timeline.
- Methods for measuring public perception of supersonic noise from the X-59 weretested over Galveston, Texas, using a NASA F/A-18 research jet.
Another major aeronautics focus was NASA’s ongoing work inUrban Air Mobility(UAM) – a safe and efficient system for passenger and cargo air transportation in and around urban areas.
- In May, NASA partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry to demonstrate newUnmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM)concepts that help maintain safe spacing between drones beyond visual line-of-sight.
- In June, NASA’s remotely-pilotedIkhana aircraft successfully flew in the National Airspace Systemwithout a safety chase aircraft, relying on NASA-developed technology and moving the United States one step closer to normalizing unmanned aircraft operations in the national airspace.
- In November, the agency announced plans for aUAM Grand Challenge.
Throughout the year, NASA continued several other avenues of research to advance aerial vehicle technology:
- Engineers used a test stand calledAirVoltto test thecruise motorsthat will power NASA’s first fully electric X-plane, theX-57.
- The agency looked into howicing affects jet enginesat high altitudes.
- NASA completed a series ofAcoustic Research Measurementflights that combined several technologies to achieve a greater than 70 percent reduction in airframe noise.
- Researchers furthered the ability to fly safely with newly configured, highly flexible wings by flying theX-56 to collect dataon wing flutter models and ways to suppress it.
- NASA’s work in 2018 to help modernize and improve the nation’s air traffic management system was highlighted by the transfer to the FAA ofNASA technologydeveloped so aircraft arriving at busy airports can be managed more efficiently.
Technology drives exploration and, in 2018, NASA’s investments in space technology continued to advance our capabilities for future exploration missions. New technology tests, demonstrations and partnerships helped solve complex challenges needed to land, live and explore the Moon and Mars.
- NASA and the Department of Energy demonstratedanew nuclear reactor power systemthat could provide surface power on the Moon and Mars.Artist concept of new fission power system on the lunar surface.Credits: NASA
- A team of NASA engineers demonstrated atechnology first: fully autonomousX-ray navigationin space, which could revolutionize NASA’s ability to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.
- NASA announced 10 new lunar focusedTipping Point partnershipswith six U.S. companies.
- TheRobotic Refueling Mission 3launched to the space station aboard a SpaceX rocket. The technology demonstration will store and transfer super-cold cryogenic fluid in space, helping mature capabilities for robotic satellite servicing and refueling.
- TheIntegrated Solar Array and Reflectarray AntennaCubeSat mission advanced high-speed data downlink from space, a communications technology also used by two small satellites to relayInSight’s Mars landing databack to Earth.
- A small satellite achieved space-to-ground laser communications for the first time. TheOptical Communication and Sensor Demonstrationmission transmitted at a data rate of 100 megabits per second – 50 times greater than standard communications systems for spacecraft this size.
- NASA advancedadditive manufacturing for rocket propulsionand successfullyhot-fire testeda combustion chamber made using new 3D printing techniques.
- A team of engineers completed ground demonstrations of the autonomous capture portion of theRestore-Lsatellite servicing project.
- NASA’s threeIn-space Robotic Manufacturing and Assemblypartners completed ground demonstrations ofrobotic arms, vision systems, additive techniques and other cutting-edge technologies to assemble structures in space.
- NASA’sFlightOpportunities programfunded more than 40 payloadflight demonstrations, providing opportunities for researchers to test new technologies and helping mature the suborbital flight industry.
- In September, the innovative heat shield technology,Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technologyconducted aflight test.
- NASA awarded more than 550 small business contracts, totaling more than $180 million.
In 2018, NASA continued to use its global perspective of Earth from space to improve lives and revolutionize our understanding of how our planet works and is changing. By bringing together technology, science, and unique global observations, NASA provides societal benefits and strengthens our nation.
- In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists using an array of NASA satellite observations have mapped locations around the world where theavailability of freshwateris changing. The study found that Earth’s wet land areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier.An image of the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, on Nov. 8, 2018, from the Landsat 8 satellite.Credits: USGS/NASA/Joshua Stevens
- For the first time ever, measurements from NASA satellites are being used to help combat a potential outbreak of life-threateningcholera. Humanitarian teams in Yemen are targeting areas identified by a NASA-supported project that precisely forecasts high-risk regions based on environmental conditions observed from space.
- In November, NASA scientists and satellite data analysts worked daily to produce maps and damage assessments for disaster managers battling majorwildfiresnear Los Angeles and in Northern California.
- Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years, according to a major internationalclimate assessmentfunded by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency.)
- NASA launched the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD), its first mission to provideunprecedented measurementsof the temperature and composition of Earth’s upper atmosphere.
This past year, NASA celebrated aYear of Education on Station, during which teachers-turned-astronautsJoe AcabaandRicky Arnoldinspired thousands of students and educators throughlive eventsandvideo lessonsfrom space.
NASA continues to offer educators and nonprofits low-cost opportunities to conduct research in space through itsCubeSat Launch Initiative, including kicking off its 10th annualcall for submissions, while NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation are engaging K-12 students with a series ofFuture Engineers challenges.
As part of NASA’s 60th anniversary, NASA honored the legacy of thespace shuttleChallengercrew by conductingChrista McAuliffe’slesson plan on the space station.
By engaging in public events, including a National Symphony Orchestra Pops concert; “Space, the Next Frontier”concert celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; “Spirit of Apollo” tribute from Washington National Cathedral; First Man press junket and red-carpet screening; Space Symposium; USA Science & Engineering Festival; International Balloon Fiesta; International Observe the Moon Night; Awesome Con; and EAA AirVenture, more than five million people had the chance to interact with representatives of America’s space agency.
NASA’s digital communications team was honored with another Webby Award and four People’s Voice awards in 2018.NASA.gov, the agency’s primary website, received its third consecutive, and 10thoverall, People’s Voice Award in the Government & Civil Innovation category. Web visitors continue to come to NASA not just for information on agency programs, but to learn about space in general. The site’s busiest day in 2018 was the Mars InSight landing in November, and the second-busiest was the Super Blue Blood Moon eclipse in January.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory received anEmmy Award in 2018 for Outstanding Original Interactive Program for its coverage of the Cassini mission’s Grand Finale at Saturn in September 2017.
NASA’s social media presence continued to grow in 2018, with more than 186.9 million total followers across all accounts and platforms. The agency has the most followers ofany agency or department in the federal government on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Google+.The agency also hosted 25 NASA Socials this year, bringing together more than 880 followers who engage with NASA via social media for unique in-person experiences of exploration and discovery.