Archive for June, 2016
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is busy at work during Sol 1386.
Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona reports the robot has been wheeled over 216 feet (66 meters) last Sol.
The Mars machinery is continuing on its path south between the “Baynes Mountains” and “Helgas Dune.”
The plan for Sol 1386 is to start off with Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) observations of the target “Trekkopje”, followed by a short science block.
Curiosity’s Mastcam is slated to start off the block with some atmospheric measurements, then Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) “is to join in the fun and analyze Trekkopje too,” Anderson adds.
Also on the schedule is for the rover to churn out a couple of small mosaics studying the rim of a nearby crater.
“Instead of driving, we will use MAHLI to do a check-up on our wheels in today’s plan,” Anderson notes.
A major U.S. launch provider has outlined a plan to enable a cislunar space economy based on their need for propellant and refueling in Earth orbit.
Dubbed the “Cislunar 1000 Vision,” the initiative foresees a self-sustaining economy that supports a 1,000 people living and working in space roughly 30 years from now.
A central element of the plan involves use of a souped-up Centaur rocket stage called ACES, standing for Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage. This liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen upper stage is designed to be reusable and can be refueled, perhaps by propellant made on Earth’s moon or extracted from asteroids.
The concept stems from an analysis and on-going technical work by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company to provide Atlas and Delta launch services.
A roadmap to attain the Cislunar 1000 Vision was recently detailed at the 7th joint meeting of the Space Resources Roundtable and the Planetary & Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium, held June 7-9, 2016 at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.
Go to my new Space.com story at:
Inside ULA’s Plan to Have 1,000 People Working in Space by 2045
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
June 29, 2016 02:55pm ET
Flinging spacecraft to Mars is a multi-nation affair – driven to a large degree by the on-going quest to probe the Red Planet for signs of life, either long-gone or still in attendance.
Over the decades, billions of dollars has been spent to pick away at the question: Is there life on Mars? In 2016, that query is arguably more alive than whatever life story the planet is prepared to cough up.
Now en route, for instance, is the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2016. It arrives at Mars this October, a mission consisting of a methane-sniffing Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) plus an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, known as Schiaparelli. TGO promises to churn out new data that can help unravel the biological standing of that faraway world.
Europe’s mission this year is a newbie in Mars research. But it’s a precursor of things to come as a robotic existence proof concerning Mars as an extraterrestrial address for life.
Take a look at my new story on Space.com at:
Target Mars: Red Planet in World’s Crosshairs
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
June 28, 2016 12:04pm ET
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1383 operations. Since landing in August 2012, the robot has snagged a total of 333,808 Images.
Last Sol, Curiosity was slated to take a Mastcam video of Phobos – a moon of Mars – crossing in front of the Sun, reports Ryan Anderson a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Also on tap was a multispectral observation of the brushed target “Koes”. The rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) was scheduled to analyze the targets “Koes,” “Kongola,” and “Rundu” and Mastcam was slated to document those observations. After that the robot was to drop off some of the “Oudam” sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite for analysis.
Studying changing textures
“On Sol 1383 the rover will drive and then collect the usual post-drive images, including an 8×1 mosaic along the side of the rover to study changing textures as we drive,” Anderson said. “We’ll also take some extra Navcam images of a crater in the distance.”
The plan calls for an early morning science block for Sol 1384 to collect some atmospheric observations with Navcam and Mastcam.
Sol 1384 activities also include the robot collecting some atmospheric observations with Navcam and Mastcam.
On the schedule is a drive for about 230 feet (70 meters) and then collect standard post-drive images.
“Since the drive is expected to put us in a location with a good view of the surrounding geology, we will also do a 360 degree Mastcam mosaic at the end of the sol,” Anderson adds.
Meanwhile, a new map has been issued showing the Curiosity rover’s location for Sol 1383.
The map shows the route driven by the Mars machinery through the 1383 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June, 27, 2016).
Numbering of the dots along the line in the map (click for larger image) indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.
From Sol 1378 to Sol 1383, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 100.29 feet (30.57 meters).
Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 8.13 miles (13.09 kilometers).
The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
To view the Chinese reentry module landing via a You Tube/CCTV video, go to:
Also, go to:
China’s maiden voyage of its Long March 7 booster yesterday is a prelude of things to come this year – focused on expanding and upgrading its human spaceflight program.
Rocketing from the country’s new Kennedy Space Center-like Wenchang coastal spaceport, Long March 7 carried mini-satellites, as well as a sub-scale test capsule for future piloted space missions in low Earth orbit and deep space.
Reports from Chinese news agencies say the 2.6 metric ton (2,600 kilograms) reentry module has parachuted to a landing in Badain Jaran Desert in north China.
Space lab next
Long March 7 is the booster assigned the duty of launching cargo resupply ships – dubbed Tianzhou – to China’s multi-modular space station to be orbiting in the early 2020s.
Later this year, China is to loft the Tiangong-2 space lab. Following that launch, a two-person Shenzhou-11 craft will link up with the space lab. Early next year, a Long March 7 will loft a Tianzhou supply ship to the Tiangong-2 space lab.
Also on tap this year is the maiden blastoff of China’s Long March 5. This booster is scripted to hurl into Earth orbit space station modules, as well as support robotic lunar sample return from the Moon, and hurl a rover to Mars in 2020.
UPDATE: Chinese media is reporting the successful launch of the Long-March-7. CCTV (China television) is broadcasting the liftoff of the vehicle, also showing staging of the booster as it roared toward space. Still to come, full technical details on the outcome of this premier mission.
China’s new generation booster is ready for launch between June 25 and 29 from Wenchang – a new launch location in south China’s Hainan Province.
While weather at the launch facility may play a factor, the Long March-7 rocket is expected to blastoff around 20:00 Beijing time (12:00 UTC) on Saturday, according to sources.
Among duties, the Long March-7 is designed to transport cargo for China’s planned space station in the 2020’s. The Long March-7 is a medium-sized rocket that can carry up to 13.5 tons to low Earth orbit.
This maiden voyage of the rocket also carries a subscale version of a new Chinese re-entry capsule for human spaceflight.
Meanwhile, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news service, China is planning to start using a huge carrier rocket powerful enough to support piloted lunar missions before 2031.
According to a statement issued on Friday by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of the country’s Long March rocket series, the country’s Moon rocket would measure over a hundred meters in length and nearly 10 meters in diameter under the current design.
It would have a maximum payload capacity more than five times as high as the current Long March series rockets, the CALT said.
At present, the Chinese rocket capable of lifting the most weight is the Long March-5, which is scheduled to debut in the latter half of this year, in the September-October time frame.
For a fascinating look at the Long March-7 launch preparations, go to these two You Tube videos:
Earlier this week, the White House Office of the Press Secretary released “100 Examples of President Obama’s Leadership in Science, Technology, and Innovation.”
This Impact Report is admittedly a self examination of Obama’s interest and investment in science and technology, a review that includes a section (#84-87) on “Reinvigorating America’s Space Program,” underscoring efforts and elaborating on such areas as:
- Fostering a burgeoning private space sector.
- Driving down the cost of space exploration, while increasing capabilities for NASA’s journey to Mars.
- Extending the life of the International Space Station (ISS).
- Expanding the capabilities of robotic space missions.
As noted by the Wilson Center: “Of course, only the passage of time will allow for anyone to definitively measure the impact of the Obama White House on science, technology, and innovation, and their impacts on our nation in turn, but, according to the Office of the Press Secretary, we have at least 100 things to be thankful for.”
Furthermore, as the Obama White House folds up shop and the nation decides on the next administration, how the President valued the space program will come under new scrutiny and review.
To read through this IMPACT REPORT: 100 Examples of President Obama’s Leadership in Science, Technology, and Innovation, go to:
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a new report on commercial space: Industry Developments and FAA Challenges.
GAO has taken a look at the U.S. commercial space launch industry noting it has changed considerably since the enactment of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is required to license or permit commercial space launches; however, to allow space tourism to develop, the act prohibited FAA from regulating crew and spaceflight participant safety before 2012 – a moratorium that was extended to 2023.
The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, enacted in November 2015, addressed other aspects of the commercial space launch industry.
GAO testimony and the new report summarizes and updates findings from GAO’s 2015 report, specifically industry developments and FAA challenges, including FAA’s launch licensing workload and budget.
For its 2015 report, GAO reviewed FAA’s guidance on its launch permit, licensing, and safety oversight activities; interviewed FAA officials, industry stakeholders, and experts who were selected on the basis of their knowledge of FAA’s oversight of the commercial space launch industry; and visited spaceports where two 2014 launch mishaps occurred.
To access GAO-16-765T, issued on June 22, go to:
Testimony on their report is available at:
Highlights of the review can be found at:
NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars is now in Sol 1380.
Over last weekend, the wheeled robot stopped after about 55 feet (17 meters) of a planned drive of 213 feet (65 meters) drive.
“The rover is fine, the drive just tripped one of the very conservative limits on how the rover’s suspension was expected to behave, causing Curiosity to stop and check in with Earth,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center at Flagstaff, Arizona.
Word is that rover drivers are trying to make up this week some of the lost distance from the weekend plan.
According to a Sol 1378 plan, the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) was to make observations bedrock at the target “Tombua” and a rock named “Ai Ais.”
Curiosity’s Mastcam was then slated to image the two ChemCam targets, as well as use on Sol 1376 the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) system.
The rover’s Mastcam will on tap to image some veins at a location called “Helgas.” After that, the plan called for driving and collecting some typical post-drive imaging.
On Sol 1379, the rover was to use its ChemCam, NavCam, and Mastcam gear to make atmospheric observations. Then in the afternoon, ChemCam had some calibration observations, followed by a few more Mastcam atmospheric observations.
Dust on the deck
Turning back the clock a bit to Sol 1377, the Left Mastcam acquired a mosaic of the rover deck, to serve as a baseline for comparison with future images taken after passing the sand dunes along the path ahead.
Reports Ken Herkenhoff, also of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, sand blown across the rover might remove some of the dust on the rover deck.
Meanwhile, NASA announced yesterday that scientists using Curiosity have discovered an unexpected mineral in a rock sample at Gale Crater on Mars.
Analyzing data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, scientists detected significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite.
Tridymite is generally associated with silicic volcanism.
The discovery of tridymite – led by scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston — might induce scientists to rethink the volcanic history of Mars, suggesting that the planet once had explosive volcanoes that led to the presence of the mineral.
A recently released map of the rover’s traverse indicates that from Sol 1376 to Sol 1378 Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 139.03 feet (42.38 meters).
Since touching down on the Red Planet in August 2012, Curiosity has wheeled itself over 8.10 miles (13.04 kilometers).
As always, 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.
A new alternative approach to a national security space strategy has been authored by two leading experts in the field.
Their report — Toward a New National Security Space Strategy: Time for a Strategic Rebalancing has been written by Theresa Hitchens and Joan Johnson-Freese.
The report notes that “the United States has the most to gain from a stable and secure space environment, and the most to lose if space becomes a battlefield.”
Grounded discussions for space
In this Atlantic Council Strategy Paper, the authors offer an approach they dub as “proactive prevention”, one that is based on goal achievement and viability.
The just-issued paper is intended to offer a catalyst and starting point for grounded discussions on space security policy for the next administration.
“As technologies further improve the world’s ability to access and operate in space, the new administration will need to rethink how the United States wants to act alongside its fellow nations…This Atlantic Council Strategy Paper does a great job initiating this important conversation at a very important time,” notes James E. Cartwright, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the foreword to the paper.
As detailed in the paper, a focus on “proactive prevention” would gain the United States several strategic advantages.
According to the authors, this approach would:
- Provide a chance to stop activities and actions that would degrade the space environment, and consequently impair the beneficial uses of space by all, through development of norms and rules that establish the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors;
- Create space to establish better dialogue, with Russia and China in particular, about U.S. “bright lines” in space, and mutual assurance measures that would reduce risks of misconception and conflict, as well as establish “breakers” to dangerous conflict escalation;
- Avoid the opportunity costs that an arms race in space would engender;
- Buy time (and resources, per avoiding opportunity costs) for private industry, which is in the middle of a renaissance, to develop low-cost solutions to space resiliency that can help the US national security space community get out of the situation of having space be a potential single-point failure in a conflict, as well as complicate an attacker’s abilities to degrade or defeat the advantages provided to the US military by space assets;
- Allow the US Air Force and intelligence community to figure out protection strategies and technologies for those space assets that will be more difficult to commercialize, otherwise disaggregate, or offload missions from; and,
- Allow the US government and industry the time and budgetary leeway to develop next-generation technologies that might keep a leading edge in space, both for commercial benefits and military hedging or advantage.
Theresa Hitchens is a Senior Research Scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM).
Joan Johnson-Freese is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
The views presented in this paper are those of the authors alone, and do not represent those of the US government, the Naval War College, or the University of Maryland.
The Atlantic Council, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonpartisan organization that promotes constructive US leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the central role of the Atlantic community in meeting today’s global challenges.
To read this informative, wide-ranging and thought provoking report, go to:
Issued by the Atlantic Council, a video detailing the report is available at: