Archive for December, 2015
Data gleaned by China’s Yutu rover on the Moon has identified a new type of lunar basalt, shedding insight on lunar volcanism.
As noted by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the new type of basaltic rock was discovered at a fresh crater named Zi Wei. The measurements were made by Yutu’s Active Particle-induced X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and its Visible and Near-infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS).
Measurements of the rock composition indicate that the basalt contains a high enrichment of titanium dioxide and olivine.
A team of scientists from China and the United States, led by Ling Zongcheng from China’s Shandong University, published the new findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Late-stage magma ocean
On December 14, 2013, the Chang’e -3 (CE-3) lander soft landed on the Moon in the northeast of the Mare Imbrium. The lander then deployed the instrument-loaded robot.
Though the robot suffered mechanical woes after wheeling about for some 375 feet (114 meters), it gathered images and scientific data about the Moon.
While presently unable to traverse the Moon, Yutu reportedly continues to gather data, send and receive signals, and record images and video.
The researchers said that the area surveyed by the Yutu rover was covered in a late-stage magma ocean during the Moon’s development around three billion years ago. Rock samples from the U.S. Apollo and the former Soviet Union’s Luna missions mainly date back from the early-stage magma oceans between three and four billion years ago.
Freshly excavated crater
In part, the scientific paper in Nature explains: “From a correlated analysis of the regolith derived from rocks at the CE-3 landing site, freshly excavated by Zi Wei crater, we recognize a new type of lunar basalt with a distinctive mineral assemblage compared with the samples from Apollo and Luna, and the lunar meteorites. The chemical and mineralogical information of the CE-3 landing site provides new ground truth for some of the youngest volcanism on the Moon.”
To view the entire scientific paper – “Correlated compositional and mineralogical investigations at the Chang’e-3 landing site” – go to:
A fact-packed treasure-trove of historical data – pictures, film and numerous documents – has been released by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) regarding the secretive Cold War U.S. Air Force project known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).
The MOL program ran from December 1963 until its cancellation in June 1969. In those nearly six years, according to some estimates, the MOL program spent $1.56 billion during the program’s life.
Even today, aspects of the MOL initiative remain secret.
For an inside look at this U.S. military space program, go to my new Space.com story:
Declassified: US Military’s Secret Cold War Space Project Revealed
Calling it a “comeback to the Moon,” European space planners envision a series of human missions to the lunar vicinity, starting in the early 2020s, coordinated and interacting with robotic systems on the ground.
Robots would land first, paving the way for human explorers that will set foot on the Moon.
For more details on Europe’s lunar plans, go to my new Space.com story:
Lunar Leap: Europe Is Reaching for a Moon Base by the 2030s
December 30, 2015 08:00 am ET
Things are looking up for researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia.
A team of investigators moved one step closer to sending small satellites into space via a reusable launch system.
It’s called the Austral Launch Vehicle (ALV).
On December 23, ALV underwent its first successful test, a craft designed to return to its base after lofting a satellite into space.
The UQ team envisions a combination of ALV and a scramjet for satellite launchings – making possible nearly 85 per cent of a satellite launch system becoming reusable.
Cutting launch costs
UQ Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion is Michael Smart said that current single-use launch systems for small satellites make it incredibly expensive to send satellites into orbit.
“Working in partnership with Brisbane-based start-up companies — Heliaq Advanced Engineering and Australian Droid and Robot — we’ve designed a rocket system that can be re-used,” Professor Smart said in a UQ press statement.
The launch of the ALV has the researchers eyeing the international market, one that is estimated to see a projected demand for 400 satellites in 2016.
Smart is bullish on the future and use of the ALV concept.
“I think there is real potential for Australia to become the ‘go-to’ country for small satellite launches, and I see this as playing a vital role in Australia’s innovation revolution,” Smart said.
For a Vimeo view of the flight, go to:
Think of it as nearly 20,000 points of light – and that’s not a good thing.
That is roughly the number of tracked pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth – there’s lots of smaller stuff!
A visual story of space debris since October 1957 — with the launch of the former Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1– has been captured by Stuart Grey, lecturer at University College London and part of the Space Geodesy and Navigation Laboratory.
Grey’s work involves precise orbit determination and force modeling of spacecraft and space debris.
His visualization, depicting the menacing build-up, was published on December 20, and tells the story of how all that clutter has accumulated over the decades.
Take a look at this video:
When the first footfalls on Mars takes place, any firm footing on that distant world means living off the land.
It is already known that Mars is a plentiful planet, one that has usable resources to sustain any onslaught of future expeditionary crews.
But hunkering down and living off the un-earthly scenery is easier said than done – a theme also termed as In-Situ Resource Utilization, or ISRU. There are many issues to tangle with – not only to survive on Mars, but also thrive there.
For more details, take a read of my new story on Space.com:
Digging in on Mars! How Astronauts Will Survive and Thrive on the Red Planet
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
December 28, 2015 08:05am ET
NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has entered Sol 1206.
New imagery from the robot includes added surveys of sand dunes.
The dunes close to Curiosity’s current location are part of “Bagnold Dunes,” a band along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater.
Thanks to observations of this dune field from orbit, analysis show that edges of individual dunes move as much as 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year.
Curiosity has been working on the Red Planet since its landing in early August 2012.
It reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the mountain.
The main mission of the robot is to examine higher layers of Mount Sharp.
By now the surprises under the tree have been unwrapped…but here’s a gift that is sure to keep on giving – the Solar System.
Comets and asteroids, the Moon and Mars and other distant destinations – all are rife with resources for the taking – or are they?
Back in November of this year, U.S. President Obama signed a law supporting entrepreneurs with aspirations of economic ventures beyond Earth orbit.
The Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 is part of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. It provides that U.S. companies engaging in commercial recovery of space resources are entitled to possess, own, transport, use and sell the space resources obtained.
The U.S.-passed new law makes it legal for American firms to own resources obtained in outer space. Will this lead to a “gold rush” by U.S. companies. If so, how does this square with the global state of space?
Reason and retorts
In the give and take, yin and yang of the Universe, there is rising interest in mining extraterrestrial resources for a variety of reason and retorts.
Enter the space law experts!
Since the dawn of the Space Age, space lawyers have been debating the weaponization of outer space…even where Earth’s air stops and space begins.
“Space law is an area of the law that encompasses national and international law governing activities in outer space,” explains the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), founded in 1960.
But now there’s a fast-growing debate in space law circles involving the who, what, when, where, and why delicacies of space resource mining.
Indeed, the IISL has just issued a position paper on that topic.
Open question, starting point
The paper concludes with a classic scale of justice adjudication – a well-oiled, balancing act of concrete conclusion:
“It is an open question whether this legal situation is satisfactory,” concludes the IISL document.
“Whether the United States’ interpretation of Art. II of the Outer Space Treaty is followed by other states will be central to the future understanding and development of the non-appropriation principle. It can be a starting point for the development of international rules to be evaluated by means of an international dialogue in order to coordinate the free exploration and use of outer space, including resource extraction, for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.”
Will the United States rule space resource mining?
That’s the question recently tackled by Tanja Masson-Zwaan and Bob Richards in their posting on the University of Leiden’s Leiden Law Blog from The Netherlands.
Tanja Masson-Zwaan is assistant professor and deputy director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University, The Netherlands.
Bob Richards is a founder of the International Space University, Singularity University, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, the Space Generation Foundation and the commercial lunar resources company Moon Express, where he serves as chief executive.
— Check out their article at:
— For the IISL Position Paper on Space Resource Mining, December 20, 2015, go to:
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover is busy at work inside “Marathon Valley” on the west rim of Endeavour Crater. The robot is now in Sol 4238 of its mission.
Opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003 as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program. The airbag-encapsulated robot came to full stop in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004.
According to a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) update, the Mars machinery is positioned on steep slopes for improved solar array energy production.
The near-term duty of Opportunity has been positioning itself to enable grinding away at a high-value surface target using its Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT). Scientists believe this target may hold some of the clues as to the origin of the clay spectral signature detected in Marathon Valley.
On Sol 4222, Dec. 9, 2015, Opportunity “bumped” back about 12 feet (3.65 meters) to set up for an approach to this target on a very steep slope.
On the next sol, the rover bumped forward about 28 inches (70 centimeters), but because of the steep slopes the drive stopped as wheel currents exceeded protective set points for this steep terrain.
A second attempt was made on the next sol to approach this same target. Again the steep terrain caused the drive to stop after only 3.6 feet (1.1 meters) of wheel motion.
Slips as high as 50 percent are not uncommon for this steep terrain, notes the JPL update.
In follow-on drives, Opportunity backed down slope about 10 feet (3 meters), collecting both pre-drive and post-drive imagery. That was followed by having the robot wheel roughly 14 feet (4.4 meters) to approach the target of interest from a more lateral direction. An approach bump followed that drive.
Since first movement on Mars, Opportunity’s total odometry reading is some 26.50 miles (42.65 kilometers).
The rover’s Sols past warranty now total 4148.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has entered Sol 1203, recovering from an issue with its robotic arm.
Engineers ran diagnostics to better understand what happened with the arm. It is very likely that the arm hardware is okay, but the diagnostics will allow rover operators to avoid the problem in the future.
Due to the arm issue, samples of “Greenhorn” were dumped and there was work done to get the arm in full swing. There were some concerns about analyzing the dumped sample before Martian wind blew the specimen away.
A four sol “holiday plan” covering Sol 1202-1205 was scripted, reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona and a member of the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) team on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project.
On Sol 1202, the plan called for a repeat of ChemCam RMI and Mastcam change detection images of the nearby dunes. Then the arm will finish its sample dumping and cleaning activities, and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) was slated take some images of the dump pile and the robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was to analyze that sample.
Today, Ryan notes, the schedule calls for repeating the Mastcam change detection observations of the dunes.
Mastcam is also slated to re-take some of the dune images from a recent 360 degree panorama with different exposure and focus settings.
ChemCam is scheduled to take two laser analyses of the targets “Aus” and “Aukas” and Mastcam is to take supporting images of that task.
“After that, we’ll take one more MAHLI image of the dump pile and then stow the arm,” Ryan adds.
On Sol 1204, ChemCam is on tap to collect some atmospheric observations, with the laser turned off, plus observations of the “Greenhorn” dump pile with the laser off and then with the laser on, Ryan reports.
The rover’s Mastcam will also observe the dump pile, using all of its different color filters. It will also measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere by looking at the sun, and will take some images of the rover’s deck to see any evidence of wind-blown sand possibly gathered there.
“Sol 1205 will be a light day,” explains Ryan. Curiosity is to take some measurements to update ground controllers regarding the robot’s tilt and orientation, and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) is set to collect atmospheric measurements.
Dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.