Archive for March, 2015
Here’s a profile I have written for SpaceNews newspaper, an interview with Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz Professor Emerita, University of Mississippi School of Law.
Government legal and regulatory regimes, which operate within the framework of the Outer Space Treaty, have yet to catch up in some areas, says renowned space law expert Joanne Gabrynowicz.
The evolution of space law is painstakingly slow, a reality that makes virtues out of patience and tolerance for ambiguity, Gabrynowicz explains.
New details have become available regarding China’s circumlunar return and reentry spacecraft. That vehicle was launched on October 24, 2014 (Beijing Time).
After nearly 196 hours of flight, the reentry capsule landed safely at Siziwangqi in Inner Mongolia of China on November 1st, recovered and delivered to Beijing on the same day.
That mission mimicked several conditions of China’s future Chang’e 5 moon mission, dedicated to returning samples of the lunar surface back to Earth. China is set to launch the robotic Chang’e 5 from South China’s Hainan province in 2017.
Last year’s circumlunar mission demonstrated hyper-speed semi-ballistic skip reentry technologies, including the circumlunar free return trajectory design, aerodynamic design and verification, thermal protection, guidance, navigation and control as well as a lightweight and minimized recovery system.
Lightweight thermal protection
A technical overview of the circumlunar mission has been published in Science China Technological Sciences. Lead author of the paper is MengFei Yang of the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing.
The aerodynamic design of China first small skip reentry capsule at hyper speed was verified by the successful reentry and landing, they report.
Seven new kinds of lightweight thermal protection material were developed for the capsule, promoting the development and use of composite material in China.
Free return trajectory
The total weight of the capsule was less than 740 pounds (335 kilograms), which required both limited power consumption and precise assembly.
The free return trajectory used lunar gravity to change the inclination of the capsule’s atmospheric entry, without any large orbit maneuver. This was the first time for China to apply such an orbit design.
“The complete success of this mission indicates that the key technologies of circumlunar return and reentry have been broken through in China,” the space experts write.
Future deep space missions
“The success of reentry and return flight indicates that the key technologies of deep space exploration are verified in China. The key technologies demonstrated in this mission can be directly applied to subsequent lunar sample and return mission, and lays foundation for manned lunar exploration in the future,” the space technology team writes.
“China will take further steps to Mars, Venus and comets in the future. The key technologies such as aerodynamics, GNC [guidance, navigation and control], thermal protection and miniaturization design will provide technical supports for planetary entry and earth reentry missions, and promotes the continuous development of Chinese deep space exploration with greater achievements,” the co-authors of paper conclude.
Landing on Mars in August 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues on its mission to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support life.
Indeed, the robot has gathered compelling information regarding the planet’s habitability for life.
New imagery of Curiosity’s wheels show the wear and tear of trekking across the rocky surface of the Red Planet.
Curiosity acquired these images using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
A series of observations from Mars orbit show how dark blast zones that were created during the August 2012 landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover have faded inconsistently.
Images were taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The observations were taken on multiple dates from Curiosity’s landing to last month.
After fading for about two years, the pace of change slowed and some of the scars may have even darkened again.
One purpose for repeated follow-up imaging of Curiosity’s landing area has been to check whether scientists could model the fading and predict how long it would take for the scars to disappear.
Meanwhile, Curiosity is in full-sleuthing mode, inspecting newly found features on the Red Planet.
A new story from me, up today on Space.com:
NASA Moon Orbiter, Mars Rover Face Budget Chopping Block
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
March 27, 2015 08:00am ET
NASA announced today more details in its plan for an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).
The decision has been made for an uncrewed solar electric-powered ARM spacecraft to rendezvous with a target asteroid, then deploy robotic arms to capture a boulder from the asteroid’s surface.
The ARM craft would then begin a multi-year journey to redirect the boulder into orbit around the Moon. It will take approximately six years for the ARM robotic spacecraft to move the asteroid mass into lunar orbit.
According to NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, that 4-meter boulder placed in a stable orbit around the Moon would eventually be explored by astronauts.
The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft.
NASA has identified three candidates for the mission so far: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5. The agency expects to identify one or two additional candidates each year leading up to the mission.
Planetary defense test
Before the piece of the asteroid is moved to lunar orbit, NASA will use the opportunity to test planetary defense techniques to help mitigate potential asteroid impact threats in the future. The experience and knowledge acquired through this operation will help NASA develop options to move an asteroid off an Earth-impacting course, if and when that becomes necessary.
In the mid-2020s, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will launch on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, carrying astronauts on a mission to rendezvous with and explore the asteroid mass. The current concept for the crewed mission component of ARM is a two-astronaut, 24-25 day mission.
According to NASA, working with the Moon’s gravity, the asteroid would be placed in a stable lunar orbit called a distant retrograde orbit. In terms of honing future in-space skills, this is a suitable staging point for astronauts to rendezvous with a deep space habitat that would carry them to Mars.
Cost of the ARM enterprise: $1.25 billion plus the cost of the launch vehicle.
For more information on NASA’s ARM effort, go to:
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the following report and testimony today, all worth a read:
NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects. GAO-15-320SP, March 24.
In 2015, five of NASA’s largest, most complex projects, several of which are at critical points in their development, are expected to consume 78 percent of the funds for NASA’s major projects.
Therefore, existing and new projects will be competing for remaining funds.
For the full report, go to:
Highlights are available here:
A special Podcast from GAO is here at:
Testimony: James Webb Space Telescope: Project Facing Increased Schedule Risk with Significant Work Remaining, by Cristina T. Chaplain, director, acquisition and sourcing management, before the Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
GAO reports that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project is now in the early stages of its extensive integration and testing period. Maintaining as much schedule reserve as possible during this phase is critical to resolve challenges that will likely surface and negatively impact the schedule.
JWST has begun integration and testing for only two of five elements and major subsystems.
While the project has been able to reorganize work when necessary to mitigate schedule slips thus far, the GAO reports that this flexibility “will diminish as work during integration and testing tends to be more serial, as initiating work is often dependent on the successful and timely completion of the prior work.”
GAO-15-483T, March 24 is available at:
Highlights of the document can be read at:
China rocket engineers are reporting completion of the second and final ground test of the power system of China’s next-generation carrier rocket – the Long March 5.
This booster is central – among duties – to expanding China’s three-pronged Moon exploration program – orbiting, landing upon, and returning to Earth lunar surface samples.
Long March 5 is slated to have a payload capacity of boosting 25 tons to low Earth orbits, or 14 tons to geostationary transfer orbit. The launcher is also to lift segments of China’s 60-ton space station in the future.
As reported March 23 by the state-run Xinhua news agency, Long March 5 uses non-toxic, non-polluting liquid propellant. The engines of Long March 5 were first test-fired on the ground in February. Maiden flight of the rocket is scheduled for next year.
Moon sample mission
Meanwhile, China’s Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission is undergoing intensive development.
According to Xinhua, that Moon mission would be launched with a Long March 5 booster departing China’s new spaceport in south China’s Hainan Province “around 2017,” said Xu Dazhe, head of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
Go to this CCTV video report on the booster at:
Think of it as a new form of “networking” – a method of snagging an uncontrolled, tumbling satellite.
Engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) are moving beyond powerpoint chatter and carrying out weightless net testing for derelict satellite capture. The use of deployable nets to snag discarded satellites as they tumble in space was explored recently in weightlessness.
To trial-run the technology in a condition of microgravity, a Falcon 20 aircraft was flown for two days earlier this year. The aircraft is flown in such a manner that for 20 seconds at a time it falls through the sky, effectively cancelling out gravity inside the aircraft.
“We shot nets out of a compressed air ejector at a scale-model satellite,” explains ESA engineer Kjetil Wormnes.
The behavior of the nets was appraised, with 20 nets fired at various speeds during 21 parabolas over the two days. Packed inside paper cartons, the nets were weighted at each corner, helping them to entangle the model satellite.
Control of debris levels
“Everything was recorded on four high-speed HD cameras,” Kjetil adds. “The aim is to check the simulation tool we have developed, so that we can use it to design the full-size nets for a debris removal mission.”
The work is geared to support ESA’s “e.Deorbit” in 2021, an initiative that will test the feasibility of removing a large item of debris — either a large, derelict spacecraft or rocket upper stage — to help control the debris levels in busy orbits.
It’s an element of ESA’s Clean Space initiative.
“The main advantage of the net option, whether for e.Deorbit or other debris removal missions in future,” Kjetil explains, “is that it can handle a wide range of target shapes and rotation rates.”
Take your own video look at the ESA orbital debris collection idea at:
THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Earth’s Moon is rife with huge lava tubes – tunnels formed from the lava flow of volcanic eruptions.
New theoretical work suggests that lunar lava tubes are large enough to house cities that may be structurally stable on the Moon.
These features could support future long-term human space exploration on the Moon, offering shelter from cosmic radiation, meteorite impacts and wild swings of lunar day and night temperatures.
The assessment made use of lunar gravity data from the NASA Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft, suggesting the possibility of lava tubes on the Moon with diameters in excess of one kilometer.
Study details by Purdue University researchers were presented during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held here March 16-20.
According to Jay Melosh, a Purdue University distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, the edges of the lava cool as it flows to form a pipe-like crust around the flowing river of lava.When the eruption ends and the lava flow stops, the pipe drains leave behind a hollow tunnel.“There has been some discussion of whether lava tubes might exist on the Moon,” Melosh noted in a Purdue press statement on the new research. “Some evidence, like the sinuous rilles observed on the surface, suggest that if lunar lava tubes exist they might be really big.”
The presence of sublunarean voids has recently been confirmed via the observation of “skylights” in several lunar maria.
David Blair, a graduate student in Purdue’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, led the study that examined whether empty lava tubes more than one kilometer wide could remain structurally stable on the Moon.
The Purdue team found that if lunar lava tubes existed with a strong arched shape like those on Earth, they would be stable at sizes up to 5,000 meters, or several miles wide, on the Moon.
“This wouldn’t be possible on Earth, but gravity is much lower on the Moon and lunar rock doesn’t have to withstand the same weathering and erosion,” Blair reported. “In theory, huge lava tubes — big enough to easily house a city — could be structurally sound on the Moon.”
Blair and his team found that a lava tube’s stability depended on the width, roof thickness and the stress state of the cooled lava. They modeled a range of these variables.
The researchers also modeled lava tubes with walls created by lava placed in one thick layer and with lava placed in many thin layers.
Moreover, the study findings about lunar rock and the Moon’s environment were applied to civil engineering technology used to design tunnels on Earth.
Future work, Blair advised, will provide a more accurate picture of the maximum possible size of lunar lava tubes.