Archive for June, 2015
Europe’s ExoMars spacecraft is almost complete for launch next year. ExoMars 2016 is nearing construction in its clean room at Thales Alenia Space in France.
The Mars-bound mission is a joint effort between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos. That sojourn consists of a Trace Gas Orbiter plus an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) called Schiaparelli.
ExoMars 2016 launch window is January 7-27 with the Orbiter and EDM hurled Marsward on a Russian Proton rocket. The two elements will fly to the Red Planet in a mated configuration.
Search for methane
The main objectives of this mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes.
In addition, ExoMars 2016 will evaluate key technologies in preparation for ESA’s contribution to subsequent missions to Mars.
The orbiter itself will circle Mars to image surface features and study the composition of the atmosphere. The Trace Gas Orbiter will also serve as a data relay asset for the 2018 rover mission of the ExoMars program and until the end of 2022.
Prelude to Mars rover
ExoMars 2016 will send back information about the Martian atmosphere and the lander’s findings.
This information will inform the follow-on second part of the mission in 2018.
In that time period, a landed European rover will drill into the Martian surface, down some six feet (two meters) deep.
The rover will be trying to detect traces of organic molecules that indicate the presence of past or present life on Mars.
NOTE: ESA has issued an informative video on the upcoming 2016 mission and the 2018 rover, available here:
A new, cost-constrained U.S. strategy to send humans on Mars has been blueprinted.
The study team believes placing a crew on the Red Planet could be achieved within projected NASA budgets by minimizing new developments and relying mainly on already available or planned NASA assets.
This important study has been published in New Space, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.
“A Minimal Architecture for Human Journeys to Mars,” has been authored by a trio of experts from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.
They propose a long-term, stepwise series of missions to Mars that would begin with a crew landing on Mars’s moon Phobos in 2033, and followed by a short-stay mission in 2039 and a year-long landing in 2043.
In addition, the study is augmented by an informative editorial, “We Can Send Humans to Mars Safely and Affordably,” authored by New Space editor-in-chief, G. Scott Hubbard of Stanford University.
“With all of these previous technical and fiscal issues addressed, we can again believe that the dream of sending people to Mars is alive,” Hubbard writes. “The next step is to build a broad consensus around the goal and strategy for a long term, humans to Mars program.”
The hope is that the ideas and principles introduced — in whole or in part — can be a useful input to the process of structuring an implementable human journey to Mars in our lifetime.
NOTE: Both the editorial and the detailed paper are available free on the New Space website until July 29, 2015.
Word from ground controllers is that the Opportunity Mars rover is in good health after communication blackout.
The Earth-Mars Solar Conjunction command moratorium and communication blackout has ended. Telemetry is again being received from Opportunity. Normal tactical planning has resumed with the Sol 4059 (June 25, 2015) plan.
Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavour Crater at the “Spirit of St. Louis” crater near the entrance of “Marathon Valley.”
The robot landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (evening of Jan. 24, 2004, PST).
Since landing, the veteran rover has chalked up over 26 miles (42 kilometers) of exploration driving.
ALE CO. Ltd. is a Japan-based space technology company that wants to provide artificial shooting stars “any time, any place as you like.”
According to Lena Okajima, head of ALE in Tokyo, her group is working with experts in various Japanese universities to develop a spacecraft that can toss out tiny balls from Earth orbit to create on-demand shooting stars.
“A particle will be released from the platform of our artificial satellite that is circulating the globe in a circular orbit utilizing a mass driver to penetrate the atmosphere,” notes the ALE website.
Want to make a wish upon a shooting star? You can be a paying customer for this on-demand planetary pyrotechnic sky service.
The released ball would plow through the Earth’s atmosphere at high-speed, blazing to brilliance and observable from the ground.
In fact, depending on your pre-disposed idea of how colorful you want your shooting stars, you can have ingredients introduced that alter the tint of the incoming object or objects.
For more information on this kinetic killer of an app, go to:
“Mars has passed through solar conjunction, and reliable communication with the spacecraft at Mars is possible again,” explains Ken Herkenhoff, a member of the Curiosity Mars rover team.
As the team starts implementing the Sol 1027 plan, the NASA Curiosity rover’s Mastcam observations of several targets that were imaged just before solar conjunction are being reviewed – a look is underway to spot changes caused by winds or maybe Marsquakes, Herkenhoff notes.
Ground controllers were waiting for more data to be relayed by Mars orbiters to confirm that Curiosity is ready to resume science planning. But ground controllers have proceeded with tactical planning so that they would be ready when the data arrived.
Herkenhoff of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, said the rover’s Mastcam is slated to look at the Sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere.
Also, Curiosity’s Navcam will search for dust devils, and ChemCam/Mastcam will observe nearby targets “Piegan” and “Wallace.”
On Sol 1028, the camera-carrying Curiosity robot arm will be used to take up-close images of the rocks and soil in front of the rover from various vantage points, to measure changes in their reflectance.
After dusk, rover instruments will measure three spots on a rock called “Big Arm” that was imaged during the day before solar conjunction.
Lastly, nighttime images, using LEDs for illumination, should “nicely complement” the daytime images of the rock, Herkenhoff said.
Back in action
Finishing off the weekend plan, on Sol 1029 the rover’s ChemCam instrument will acquire some calibration data and Mastcam will take a stereo mosaic of the outcrops to the east of the rover.
Overall, the word from the Curiosity downlink team is that the data acquired during conjunction show that the rover is in good health, and that the rover team is “go” for planning.
Bottom line from Herkenhoff: Curiosity “is back in action!”
The seventh round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was held June 22-24, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
The two sides held in-depth discussions on major bilateral, regional, and global issues, including a number of space agenda items.
“The depth and breadth of our discussion at this year’s Strategic & Economic Dialogue has been significant,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, “and I think it is fair to say from my perspective, certainly – this is my third dialogue – that this has been perhaps one of the more constructive and productive in terms of the seriousness of the discussion that we’ve had on a very long, comprehensive agenda, with a host of important bilateral, regional, and global issues.
Under the banner of “Cooperation on Science, Technology, and Agriculture” several space-related items have been flagged, including space security, satellite collision avoidance, weather monitoring, climate research, and establishing regular civil space cooperation consultations.
Specifically, these are:
Space: The United States and China decided to establish regular bilateral government-to-government consultations on civil space cooperation. The first U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue is to take place in China before the end of October Separate from the Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue, the two sides also decided to have exchanges on space security matters under the framework of the U.S.-China Security Dialogue before the next meeting of the Security Dialogue.
Satellite Collision Avoidance: The United States and China reaffirmed that orbital collision avoidance serves the common interest of the two sides in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The two sides noted that the process for safely resolving an orbital close approach requires further consultation, with a view to building upon existing cooperation between the two sides in order to ensure timely resolution to reduce the probability of accidental collisions. The two sides further decided to continue bilateral government-to-government consultations on satellite collision avoidance and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities as part of the U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue.
Joint Research on Severe Weather Monitoring: The United States and China decided to enhance data and information exchange and cooperation on joint research and development of monitoring, warning, and risk assessment technologies for severe weather and climate, such as hurricanes (typhoons), strong convective weather events, droughts, high temperatures, and heat waves. These efforts are intended to jointly improve the two sides’ ability to respond to severe weather and climate events.NOAA-CMA Joint Research and Greenhouse Gas Monitoring: The United States and China decided to strengthen joint research between the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the China-U.S. Science and Technology Agreement. These efforts are intended to improve the continuity of networks and enhance capabilities for observing and understanding the behavior of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Climate Science and Climate Services: The United States and China enhanced cooperation and research in the areas of climate science and climate services, including extended-range forecasts, drought monitoring outlooks, El Nino-Southern Oscillation monitoring, outlooks of tropical atmosphere Madden-Julian Oscillation and monsoon monitoring. The two sides decided to enhance bilateral cooperation in climate services under the Global Framework for Climate Services.
Operational Forecast and Service of Space Weather: The United States and China enhanced cooperation and exchange in space weather monitoring programs, forecasts and services.
In remarks signaling the end of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang noted: “With two days of intensive and orderly work, the seventh round of China-U.S. economic dialogue has achieved a full success. The two sides conducted candid and in-depth exchange of views on issues of overarching, long-term and strategic importance to the two economies and the world economy and reached over 70 important outcomes.”
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi observed: “The two sides agreed to enhance exchanges and cooperation on counterterrorism, nonproliferation, law enforcement, and anti-corruption; space, science, and technology; customs, health, agriculture, forestry, transport, and local exchanges with a view to bring more tangible benefits to the people of our two countries.”
TBD: Where’s NASA?
Regarding the China and U.S. space agenda items, Marcia Smith, space policy analyst at SpacePolicyOnline.com commented:
“NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have been prohibited by law from dealing with China on space cooperation on a bilateral basis for several years,” Smith noted.
The prohibition was originally inserted in the appropriations bills that fund NASA by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chaired the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee before retiring last year, Smith explained.
The final law that he put in place (P.L. 113-235, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015), which is in effect today, Smith added, states that no funds may be spent by NASA or OSTP to “develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by law after the date of enactment of this Act.”
The new House CJS chairman, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), agrees with Wolf’s position and the prohibition is continued in the House-passed version of the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill (H.R. 2578), Smith said.
“The agreement signed by Kerry reflects State Department activities with China, which are not prohibited by law,” Smith posted on her website.
“The State Department has a Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs — often referred to as Oceans, Environment and Science (OES) — that oversees international civil space cooperation and presumably will be the official host of these [future U.S. – China space] meetings. If and how NASA will be involved apparently is yet to be determined,” Smith concluded.
NASA is moving forward on planting bootprints on the Red Planet.
The “First Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars” will be held this October at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas.
The purpose of this workshop to be held October 27-30 is to identify and discuss candidate locations where humans could land, live, and work on the Martian surface.
Zoning in on Mars
This gathering will focus on “exploration zone” layout considerations. That is, identifying Regions of Interest (ROIs) that are located within approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) of a centralized landing site.
ROIs are further defined as areas that are relevant for scientific investigation and honing the capabilities and resources necessary for a sustainable human presence
An exploration zone, or EZ, on Mars also contains a landing site and a habitation site that will be used by multiple human crews during missions to explore and utilize the ROIs within a selected zone.
Stemming from the meeting, candidate EZs will be used by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and Science Mission Directorate (SMD) as part of the multi-year process of determining where and how NASA would like to explore Mars with humans.
In the near term this process includes:
— Identifying locations that would maximize the potential science return from future human exploration missions
— Identifying locations with the potential for resources required to support humans
— Developing concepts and engineering systems needed by future human crews to conduct operations within an EZ
— Identifying key characteristics of the proposed candidate EZs that cannot be evaluated using existing data sets, thus helping to define precursor measurements needed in advance of human missions.
Existing and future robotic spacecraft will be tasked to gather data from specific Mars surface sites within the representative EZs to support these HEOMD and SMD activities.
This first meeting is likely to kick-start teams of scientists and engineers to flesh out exploration zones that emerge from the initial workshop.
Colorado’s aerospace industry is growing and outperforming national economic trends.
Eight of the country’s major space contractors have a significant presence in Colorado and the state continually outperforms national averages in employment, salary, and education.
In 2014, Colorado ranked first in private aerospace employment in the U.S. and direct and indirect aerospace employment exceeded 160,000 workers in high wage jobs, with a payroll of close to $3.2 billion.
Given those factoids, the Colorado Space Business Roundtable held on Thursday, June 25 a media-centric Aerospace Exchange and Media panel discussion. The event took place at The Denver Press Club.
This reporter was honored to take part in the conversation.
Panel members focused on how best aerospace firms can build relationships with journalists across Colorado, the challenges facing media in the evolving digital landscape, and understanding what journalists find most interesting to cover.
Special thanks to Edgar Johansson, President of the Colorado Space Business Roundtable; Citizens for Space Exploration; Aerospace Exchange Sponsor, Braxton Science & Technology Group; and Event Chair, Krystal Scordo, Marketing Services Manager for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems.
For more information on the Colorado Space Business Roundtable, go to:
A design concept for future Mars missions has led to a system commercially suitable for Earthly water applications for non-potable use.
The “Shower of the Future” offered by Orbital Systems, a Swedish clean tech start-up, shares the same water purification technology that NASA uses in space.
This technology was spurred by a cooperative effort of the Habitation and Exploration Missions and Systems Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), together with the School of Industrial Design at Lund University in Sweden.
The Space Foundation’s international Space Certification program announced today that it has “space certified” the new technology.
“Products and services that display the Space Certification seal are guaranteed to have stemmed from, or been dramatically improved by, technologies originally developed for space exploration or to have significant impact in teaching people about the value of space utilization,” according to The Space Foundation, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
This technology — setting a higher standard for domestic water consumption — began as an academic joint project between Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, Orbital Systems’ CEO and Founder, and NASA JSC in Houston.
The team is supported by an advisory board that includes Larry Toups, a NASA systems engineer, as well as designer and professor Claus-Christian Eckhardt and Skype founder Niklas Zennström, who is also an investor in the company.
“It’s Rocket Science,” explains the company’s website. “Inspired by an academic collaboration project with NASA, our technology applies the same principles you live by in space; that Earthly resources are precious and must be used in the most efficient way possible.”
According to Orbital Systems: “We are facing a very interesting future as our technology is breaking grounds and changing the way we humans relate to domestic water consumption. We aim to replace the inefficient and costly structures of today, with a cleaner, cheaper and more sustainable solution. Domestic water consumption, whether it’s drinkable water to secure living conditions or heated water for hygienic purposes, is a key factor for our future well-being.”
The company has assembled a “Frequently Asked Questions” list, starting off with: “What happens if I urinate in the Shower of the Future?”
To find out the answer and learn more about the “Shower of the Future,” go to:
They are mean and malicious – and could mess up your day here on Earth.
That said about asteroids, an upcoming “global day of awareness and education” is incoming on June 30 – the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska impact in Siberia, the largest asteroid hit on Earth in recently recorded history.
The Tunguska incident shattered roughly 800 square miles of forest, the approximate size of a major metropolitan city today.
Tunguska is the only natural disaster that we know how to prevent through early detection, yet less than one percent of asteroids of this size have been detected.
Ready, AIM, fire!
Over the years, many ideas have been “floated” on how best to deal with a menacing asteroi8d that has Earth’s name on it.
For example, engineers recently began the preliminary design of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) concept.
That mission could involve some four different spacecraft. AIM is tasked to encounter and chart the Didymos double asteroid — the binary asteroid system of Didymos and its moon — and then witness it being struck by another spacecraft, returning data to help guide planetary defense strategies.
AIM workers are now busy at work sketching out details. The chosen concept will be presented to ESA’s Council of Ministers in November 2016 for possible approval.
If approved, the mission concept would then become an actual ESA mission. From there, it’s translating artwork and computer-aided design drawings into reality.
AIM must be in position before late 2022 when NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is planned to crash into the asteroid’s moon for detailed before-and-after impact monitoring.
These observations will help determine how far the DART kinetic impactor has moved the rocky world.
The two missions together are components of an international collaboration on an asteroid-deflection demonstration mission called the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA).
“We are delighted that ESA has completed their AIM Pre-Phase-A study, and decided to officially move on to Phase-A concept definition,” says Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Executive.
“Our own DART mission is scheduled to initiate its Phase-A study in a few months,” Johnson adds.
The bottom line is that such a combined mission of AIM and DART would make the joint AIDA mission “the world’s first attempt to demonstrate that international space agencies working together could protect the Earth from an asteroid impact,” ESA points out.
While policy, technology and international cooperation work their respective ways, tune into Asteroid Day at the California Academy of Sciences.
To be held on June 30, the event includes asteroid experts and astronauts speaking at the event, as well as individuals signing the 100X Declaration showing their support for increased public education and early detection of asteroids.
It will be Webcast at: www.asteroidday.org
The hosts are the B612 Foundation and California Academy of Sciences.
Also highlighted on Asteroid Day are additional videos from more than 50 worldwide events.
Follow Asteroid Day on Twitter: #AsteroidDay @AsteroidDay and Facebook: