NASA opens doors on disruptive technologies

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NASA is offering Australian businesses insights into its investments into bold, disruptive technologies needed for exploration of the moon, Mars and ­beyond.

Speaking to The Australian ahead of his keynote speech, Dennis Andrucyk, acting chief technologist and deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said the influx of data each day to NASA from around Earth and from space was so massive it couldn’t be accumulated in one place.

NASA accumulated data from four science discipline areas: there is the study of the Sun and its interaction with the Earth; there’s Earth science, which measures the solid earth, oceans and atmospheres; astrophysics, which looks at distant galaxies, stars and the planets around them; and planetary organisation, which studies all the planets in our solar system minus Earth.

Overall, the agency stores more than 15 petabytes (15,000 terabytes) of data.

Mr Andrucyk is keynote speaker at the three-day CeBIT Australia business technology fair that opens at the new Sydney’s International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour today.

Mr Andrucyk said NASA could no longer store its data in a single archive.

“It’s difficult to process in any one system because there is so much of it so we have Distributed Archive Active Centres (DACS),” he said. “We’re generating over 9000 data products that the earth science community is currently using and integrating into different models.”

NASA is also building algorithms that help it develop projections as to what the future might look like in 10 years.

All of NASA’s earth science data is available publicly such as on the shrinking of the polar ice caps.

“Those are data sets that are publicly available as we speak and there’s a lot of interest in that,” Mr Andrucyk said.

“With the (global) temperature rising, we have data sets on that and it’s open for public scrutiny.”

The data offers insight into ocean currents, into predicting El Nino and La Nina events, sea surface temperature changes, soil moisture measurement using ­microwave-sensitive instruments and how that moisture affects weather systems.

It’s partnering with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Geological Survey for weather data. “We build the instruments for those groups. We build the spacecraft for them and it’s from those data sets that we get the ­weather.com channel,” Mr ­Andrucyk said.

Other data came from Mars and deep space. “We’re looking at moisture on Mars, trying to find signs where there is the possibility of life, and we’re looking for where life might have been sustained in the past. The Mars Curiosity Rover has travelled 16km and is doing a great job in helping us understand Mars.”

Finding Exoplanets around a sun called Trappist, about 40 light years away, was one of the agency’s greatest discoveries. The discovery was announced in February. “When a planet transits between the telescope and that star we can measure very precisely the decreasing light from that planet. We have discovered a total of seven planets in a 25-day observation period. The closest planet is orbiting that star every day and a half. It’s amazing

“We haven’t actually imaged those planets yet but when the James Webb Space Telescope launches we will be to be able to do spectroscopy of those planets, perhaps we’ll see what those atmospheres are made of.”

He said three of the seven planets were in the habitable zone, where liquid water might be.

Whereas the Hubble telescope could look to within 500 million years after the Big Bang, the James Webb telescope used a different wavelength, more into the infra-red spectrum, and would be able to see within 200 million years of the big bang event.

At CeBIT he will share NASA’s space technology investment plans and how new technologies create the knowledge and capabilities needed for future exploration. “It is imperative NASA and our international partners continue to invest in new, advanced space technologies to achieve our exploration goals,” he said.

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