Archive for February, 2016
China is set to launch its second space laboratory – Tiangong-2 – in the third quarter of this year. That launch is to be followed by the liftoff of the piloted Shenzhou-11 spacecraft.
The state-run Xinhua news agency has reported that the fourth quarter launch of Shenzhou-11 will carry two crew members that will dock with the Tiangong-2.
Also on tap is first use of a cargo ship – Tianzhou-1 – in the first half of 2017, also headed for a link up with Tiangong-2.
The automated Tianzhou-1 ferry ship is to be rocketed into Earth orbit via a Long March-7 booster – a first test of which is slated in June, departing from China’s new Wenchang satellite launch center in south China’s Hainan Province.
Space station progress
Meanwhile, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is now engaged in final tests of the Long March 5 booster, also to undergo a maiden flight this year from Wenchang.
Chinese space planners have stated a core module of its space station will be orbited in 2018 to test related technologies and to research engineering issues. The station would become fully operational in about 2022, according to government sources.
China’s still operating Tiangong -1, launched in September 2011, was visited by a single uncrewed Shenzhou and two piloted Shenzhou missions between 2011 and 2013.
According to the China Radio International’s English Service, the yet-to-be launched Tiangong-2 was developed on the basis of its predecessor. However, Deputy Director of the Manned Space Program Office, Wu Ping, says the 2nd space lab will perform different tasks.
“The Tiangong-2 space lab will carry out various scientific experiments and space application experiments. Astronauts will stay in Tiangong-2 for a longer period of time, performing these experiments with key technologies involved,” CRI English.com reports.
Wu is reported as saying that the astronauts will stay in space for 30 days, doubling China’s previous record of the longest manned space mission.
Chief Engineer of Tiangong-2, Zhu Zongpeng, says the space lab was specifically designed for longer stays in space.
“A 30-day stay in space is an internationally recognized medium-range threshold for manned missions. We will complete the mission with the support of a manned spacecraft, so Tiangong-2 must be able to offer more storage space for daily supplies. Secondly, we have designed it to provide a more comfortable living and working environment for the astronauts.”
According to CRI English.com the chief engineer adds that Tiangong 2 will also test technologies that will eventually be applied to China’s first space station.
“The still to-be-tested technologies will focus on the maintenance of the space station. We have also built a mechanical arm, which will provide automatic maintenance services. We all know that astronauts face challenges and risks when they leave the space station to perform external maintenance. We can solve that problem if we use machines to do that.”
Over a dozen tasks and experiments are slated to take place on Tiangong 2 covering areas such as microgravity, fundamental physics, space material science and space life science, CRI English.com reports.
Moon lander still working
In other related matters, the Xinhua news agency noted on February 20 that China’s moon lander, Chang’e-3 entered its 28th lunar day. Chang’e-3 soft landed on the Moon in December 2013, later dispatching the Yutu rover.
China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said the robust lander has exceeded its design life by 14 months. The stationary lander’s astronomical telescope and other surveying devices it is carrying still work well, SASTIND reports.
Lastly, SASTIND points out that preparation for the country’s next lunar probe mission, Chang’e-5, is under way, and it is expected to be launched around 2017.
The weekend warrior, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, is now carrying out Sol 1266 duties – a plan that “has a nice mix of science and driving,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff Arizona.
The rover is slated to have started off on Sol 1266 with Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) observations of the targets “Ugab”, “Rooibank” and “Stockdale.”
“We will zap the Rooibank target using two different laser energies to see if that helps us figure out the amount of hydrogen in the target. Afterwards, Mastcam has some documentation images of the ChemCam targets, and then we will do some contact science,” Anderson adds.
Also on tap is use of the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to take some images of “Waterburg”, then the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) is to brush the dust off of “Stockdale” and MAHLI will take some pictures of that target too.
Anderson explains that, after the DRT, Mastcam will observe the Stockdale target with all of its science filters, and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is scheduled to do an overnight observation on the brushed location.
On Sol 1267, the plan calls for the Mastcam to take a big mosaic of the edge of the Naukluft plateau, “which will give us a nice view of the geology there and help us decide what to do as we get closer,” Anderson notes. “After that, the rover will continue driving toward the plateau and do the usual post-drive imaging, plus some additional Mastcam [picture taking] off to the right hand side of the rover.”
Next day, Sol 1268, the rover is to make untargeted observations. ChemCam has a passive sky observation, and Mastcam will observe its calibration targets so the filter observations of Stockdale can be calibrated, Anderson advises. To wrap up the plan, Navcam will do its usual atmospheric monitoring observations, he concludes.
Rover activities over the next several Sols are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
The U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on February 25, focusing on The Space Leadership Preservation Act and the need for stability at NASA despite changing presidential administrations.
Those testifying took on the key challenges facing NASA today, as well as what organizational changes might be made to ensure more stability for America’s civil space program.
Consistency in goals, constancy of purpose
In the past there have been suggestions of changing the management structure of NASA, perhaps modeling it after other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation. Doing so would perhaps provide more consistency in goals and constancy of purpose.
The hearing featured input from former astronaut and first female Space Shuttle pilot and commander, Eileen Collins, former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, and Rep. John Culberson, author of the Space Leadership Preservation Act.
$20 billion+ of waste
Congressman Culberson pointed out that over the last three decades, “NASA programs have been cancelled due to cost-overruns, mismanagement or abrupt program changes at the start of each new administration. In the past 20 years alone, 27 programs have been cancelled resulting in over $20 billion wasted on uncompleted programs. That is unacceptable. Our space program is too important to continue on this path.”
A background/hearing charter is available at:
Prepared testimony is available by going to:
— Michael Griffin, Former Administrator, NASA
— Eileen Collins, USAF (Retired); NASA Astronaut, Commander, STS-93 and 114; NASA Astronaut, Pilot, STS-63 and 94
— Cristina Chaplain, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)
To view the entire hearing, go to:
What’s up on the International Space Station (ISS)?
There’s a new quarterly magazine on the ISS National Lab that promises to fill you in and up with new data.
This publication comes courtesy of the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and NASA.
Called “Upward” this new publication promises to delve into the latest research experiments and findings onboard and stemming from the orbiting outpost.
There are a myriad of current and future users of the ISS National Lab.
Upward is dedicated to becoming a “go-to” resource to learn from the diverse ISS research community – including both new-to-space investigators and “frequent flyers” who have been exploring the possibilities of science in space for more than a decade.
For years, the International Space Station has been a human spaceflight’s destination, with crew members conducting science from around the globe.
The 2005 NASA Authorization Act designated the U.S segment of the ISS as a national laboratory, giving an open invitation to researchers to utilize the ISS environment for their work.
With a new generation of U.S. commercial spacecraft and rockets supplying cargo, and soon astronauts, to the space station, the expectation is that a wide range of industries can benefit from space-based research.
For further information, go to this informative video “Benefits for Humanity: Space is Our Business” at:
The Upward magazine is available in both print and electronic formats.
To request a print copy of Upward Magazine, please email:
Tired of hearing about all those “other moons” – like Europa,Titan, Ganymede, Phobos and Deimos?
A “Name the Moon” campaign is underway, dedicated to respectfully petition the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to give Earth’s Moon a unique name.
To do so the campaign has launched an animated series that teaches people about our solar system; and entertaining, educating and engaging the public.
The group’s e-petition drive and naming contest is set to end on Summer Solstice 2016. The Name the Moon e-petition will then be sent to the IAU.
Up to you
Those that sign on the dotted line, the petition reads:
“We, the undersigned people of planet Earth believe that our satellite, the Moon, should be given its own unique name. At this point in history the Moon is the only major celestial object whose name is also its category. We believe it is time for that to change and the Moon be given a new name.”
The hope is to find broad public consensus. “But we need lots of support! If you agree, please sign the e-petition. It’s up to you,” their campaign site explains.
For more information, go to:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is on the prowl during Sol 1262, driving toward Naukluft Plateau.
“We’re gearing up for a nice long drive toward the “Naukluft Plateau,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center.
Anderson explains that the sol 1262 plan is to start off with Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) studies of the bedrock targets: “Gemsboktal” and “Ghaub.”
The rover’s Mastcam is to be used to document those bedrock targets, also to be used to take a picture of the interesting wind-blown ripples of the target “Hoachanas.”
After that activity, Anderson adds that the plan calls for the rover to drive some 230 feet (70 meters) or so to the northwest, stopping on a small ridge. “After the drive, the rover will do standard post-drive imaging of our new surroundings.”
The plan also calls for Curiosity’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) to be used overnight to analyze a sample from Scoop #5 on the target “Gobabeb.”
The Sol 1263 schedule includes untargeted observations.
Dust and sand build-up
Mastcam will observe the rover’s deck to assess how much dust and sand are on the rover, and ChemCam has two long distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaics of the stratigraphy of the Peace Vallis alluvial fan. “These can be untargeted because they’re so far away that the camera pointing doesn’t really change much when we drive,” points out Anderson.
As always, planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
Space planners are scoping out an outpost for humans to work in cis-lunar space – the space around Earth’s moon.
The work is expected to help plot out other deep-space destinations, perhaps to an asteroid, but also provide a leg-up on the larger leap to distant Mars.
Under NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Projects, how best to utilize the Orion spacecraft and future habitats to set up a cis-lunar outpost is being fleshed out.
NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is the agency’s first spacecraft designed for long-duration, human-rated deep space exploration.
For detailed information, go to my new Space.com story at:
Plans Being Devised for Human Outpost Near the Moon
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
February 23, 2016 08:00am ET
The passenger-carrying VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo was unveiled last week in the FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the Mojave, California-based home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic’s human space flight program.
That VSS Unity name was given to the suborbital spaceship by noted astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking.
During the February 19th rollout festivities, Hawking said that he once confessed that his ultimate ambition was to fly into space, “but I thought no one would take me.”
Richard Branson offered Hawking a seat on a suborbital SpaceShipTwo, a proposition that the scientist responded to by an immediate yes.
“Since that day, I have never changed my mind. If I am able to go – and if Richard will still take me, I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship,” Hawking said via a pre-recorded video at the Mojave ceremonies.
“The first private astronauts will be pioneers. The first flights are expensive. But over time, I hope that space flight will become within the reach of far more of the Earth’s population,” Hawking said.
Branson added in the unveiling of the new SpaceShipTwo that the “Galactic Girl” on the side of Spaceship Unity now carries a banner using an image of Hawking’s eye.
“This watching eye remind us not only of his part in our journey but of the unique human experience that space provides,” Branson said.
700 reserved seats
Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline. Founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, Virgin Galactic has signed up 700 men and women from over 50 countries—greater than the total number of humans who have ever been to space—that have reserved places to fly on Virgin Galactic’s reusable space launch system, consisting of carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.
SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo are manufactured and tested in Mojave, California by its manufacturing wing, The Spaceship Company. Spaceflight operations will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.
NOTE: To view the Hawking message, published on February 20, 2016, go to:
One of the many surprises at last week’s rollout of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was a video featuring Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai.
Yousafzai’s 2014 Nobel Peace Prize win was motivated by her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.
From eleven years of age Yousafzai fought for girls’ right to education. After having suffered an attack on her life by Taliban gunmen in 2012, she has continued her struggle and become a leading advocate of girls’ rights.
At the rollout of the SpaceShipTwo, a recorded message from Yousafzai discussed the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and the role of women in science and engineering. She shared words about the importance of space to science and technical education.
That video, published on February 19th, is available here:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1260.
Reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on the Mars Science Laboratory: “The rover is fine, gradually working its way around the north end of a large dune.”
A few days ago, on Sol 1256, rover work included taking long distance Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) telescopic remote micro-imager (RMI) images of a location on Mt. Sharp. That was followed on the next Sol by Curiosity’s Navcam making atmospheric observations to look for clouds and measure wind direction above the robot.
In the second science block on Sol 1258, ChemCam repeated the passive sky observation, and Mastcam repeated the observation of the crater rim and the Sun. “These Mastcam observations were repeated one more time later in the day to see whether the amount of dust changes with time of day,” Anderson adds.
The over the weekend plan for the rover was performing contact science duties.
Slated were Sol 1259 ChemCam observations of the targets “Gross Aub”, “Groot Aub”, “Gorob”, and “Grosskopf.” A later in the day move was brushing the dust off of the target “Gorob”, with MAHLI images to be taken before and after.
The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was to measure the composition of “Groot Aub” and then do an overnight measurement of “Gorob”.
Driving on tap
On Sol 1260, the plan called for driving Curiosity a few meters, then snag pictures of the rover’s wheels with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). That was to be followed by driving the robot for another hour or so, followed by post-drive imaging.
Finally, on Sol 1261, ChemCam will do some calibration target observations, and Navcam has a few more atmospheric observations, Anderson concludes.
Planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.