Archive for September, 2016
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft today made a controlled descent onto comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko surface, bringing its mission to a close.
The spacecraft was launched in 2004.
Rosetta studied the comet’s nucleus and environment as it was moving around the Sun.
In late 2014, Rosetta deployed the lander Philae to the surface of 67P.
Huge amount of data
Communications with the orbiter ceased as it reached the comet’s surface. However, the huge amount of data the spacecraft has sent to Earth since 2014 will likely lead to new scientific findings for many years following the end of the Rosetta mission.
Mysteries to solve
Confirmation of the end of the mission arrived at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany at 11:19 GMT (13:19 CEST) with the loss of Rosetta’s signal upon impact.
“Inevitably, we now have new mysteries to solve. The comet hasn’t given up all of its secrets yet, and there are sure to be many surprises hidden in this incredible archive. So don’t go anywhere yet – we’re only just beginning,” said project scientist Matt Taylor in an ESA press statement.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is busily at work, carrying out Sol 1475 duties.
“The science team had a lot of good ideas for new observations, so it was a challenge to fit them all into the plan, but in the end all went well,” reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
On Sol 1475, the rover’s robotic arm is to be moved out of the way to allow Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam multispectral observations of the “Jwaneng” brush spot and an outcrop target named “Munhango.”
The Right Mastcam is slated to acquire mosaics of targets dubbed “Luremo,” “Nata,” and “Maun” before the rover drives away, Herkenhoff adds.
“In addition to the usual post-drive imaging, ChemCam will autonomously acquire chemical data on a target selected by the AEGIS software,” Herkenhoff notes. AEGIS software stands for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science.
Furthermore, the rover’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) is set to analyze the latest drill sample overnight.
Clouds, dust, sky observations
While the new data are being read out the next morning, Mastcam will measure the dust in the atmosphere. Additionally, Navcam will search for clouds, and ChemCam will acquire passive spectra of the sky.
“These atmospheric observations will be repeated at noon to look for short-term changes,” Herkenhoff explains. “Finally, the rover will get some sleep in preparation for what will likely be a busy weekend.”
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.
The Mars Curiosity Mars rover is just sliding into Sol 1475.
Word is that the roughly 53-feet (16-meter) drive on Sol 1473 was completed perfectly.
Curiosity is now in position for contact science on an outcrop of cross-bedded Murray bedrock.
The primary goal for Sol 1474 was to characterize the cross-bedding and measure grain sizes using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) amongst a number of good observations.
Prior to the robot’s arm deployment, the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument will measure the chemical composition of the “Kopong” bedrock target. Mastcam is to acquire mosaics of the Kopong outcrop and a couple of blocks behind it. And the rover’s Navcam will search for clouds, explains Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“The arm activities start with a full suite of MAHLI images of Kopong and a MAHLI mosaic of the left side of the outcrop, dubbed “Utuseb,” Herkenhoff adds.
Follow on activities scripted was the brush off of the “Jwaneng” target, with MAHLI images taken before and after the brushing.
Also on the duty list is for the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument to be placed 0.5 centimeter from the center of the brushed spot for a short evening integration.
APXS will then be moved to the center of the brushed spot for an overnight integration.
“Finding good contact science targets that could be safely brushed and imaged was a challenge,” but the tactical team did a great job added Herkenhoff.
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta comet orbiter is ready to take the fall – smack on top of the surface of Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Rosetta is set to complete its historic mission in a controlled descent to the surface of the comet on September 30, with the end of mission confirmation predicted to be within 20 minutes of 11:20 GMT (13:20 CEST).
Rosetta will conclude its mission in the Ma’at region – also located on the head of the ‘duck-shaped’ comet. “This is a particularly active area, with cavities that spew gas and dust into space,” explains Stephan Ulamec from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).
Ulamec is the Philae project manager. The Philae landing craft touched down on the comet November 12, 2014. It was recently found after the probe made a series of three bounces – wedging itself in a grim and dark environment. The last contact with Philae took place on July 9, 2015.
Last picture show
Once Rosetta impacts on the comet, it will no longer have any means of communicating with Earth. Before that happens, however, scientists intend to descend toward the comet’s surface as slowly as possible in order to complete last measurements and acquire the last images.
Rosetta’s comet set down will mark the end of a mission that ventured into space on March 2, 2004.
Watch live: death of Rosetta
Details of how, when and where to follow the key moments online, starting with a review of the mission’s impressive haul of science highlights can be found below:
On September 29th: 12:30–15:30 GMT / 14:30–17:30 CEST, science highlights can be viewed by tuning into the livestream viewer at:
Check out this pre-crash video at:
In a major address today, SpaceX chief rocketeer, Elon Musk, blueprinted his vision for colonizing Mars.
In his talk, SpaceX founder, CEO, and Lead Designer, Elon Musk unveiled his humans to Mars plan at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), now underway in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The reviews of Musk’s presentation are coming in.
First in to Inside Outer Space is reaction from Robert Zubrin, noted Red Planet visionary and leader of the Mars Society.
“In his talk today, Musk presented a number of interesting and very useful ideas. I don’t think they are practical in the form he presented them. But with a little modification, they could be made practical and very powerful,” Zubrin told Inside Outer Space.
“He’s right on the mark about using methane/oxygen propellant, which can be made on Mars; about making the spacecraft reusable and refillable on orbit.
The key thing I would change is his plan to send the whole trans-Mars propulsion system all the way to Mars and back,” Zubrin said.
Delivery capacity critique
Doing so means it can only be used once every four years. Instead he should stage off of it just short of Earth escape. Then it would loop around back to aerobrake into Earth orbit in a week, while the payload habitat craft with just a very small propulsion system for landing would fly on to Mars, Zubrin added.
“Used this way, the big Earth escape propulsion system could be used five times every launch window, instead of once every other launch window, effectively increasing its delivery capacity by a factor of 10,” Zubrin said. Alternatively, it could deliver the same payload with a system one tenth the size, which is what I would do.”
Real possibility for our time
Zubrin also said that instead of needing a 500 ton launch capability, the Musk Mars plan could send the same number of people to Mars every opportunity with a 50 ton launcher, which is what Falcon heavy will be able to do.
“The small landing propulsion unit could be refilled and flown back to low Earth orbit, used on Mars for long distance travel, or scrapped and turned into useful parts on Mars using a 3D printer,” Zubrin said.
Done in this manner, “such a transportation system could be implemented much sooner,” Zubrin concluded, “possibly before the next decade is out, making settlement of Mars a real possibility for our time.”
To watch the entire Musk Mars talk, go to:
Today the U.S. Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled: “Are We Losing the Space Race to China?”
The hearing purpose was to examine the achievements, capabilities, and future direction of China’s space program, as well as the impact to U.S. leadership in space.
To view the video of the hearing, go to:
In his prepared opening statement, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said that the Obama administration’s cuts to exploration and disruption of exploration planning “has eliminated our opportunities to return to the Moon. And the administration has no real plan for landing people on Mars.”
Meanwhile, China continues to make progress, Smith said. “We cannot resign ourselves to the remembrance of past achievements. It is time for the United States to reassert its leadership.”
- Dennis C. Shea, Chairman, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
- Mark Stokes, Executive Director, Project 2049 Institute
- Dean Cheng, Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation
- James Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director, Strategic Technologies Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies
The statement of Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is here:
The statement of Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas) is here:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has rolled into Sol 1473 – in search mode for a contact science locale.
Over last weekend, Curiosity drove over 140 feet (43 meters) to the south, in search of a good place for contact science.
“Unfortunately, our present location is in a small valley, and we don’t have many good rock targets in the workspace,” points out Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Local bedrock and soil
“After evaluating the Mastcam drive direction imaging, we decided to drive further to the southwest. This should put us in front of a small exposure of cross-bedding for contact science,” Edgar explains.
The rover’s to-do list includes several Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations to characterize the composition of the local bedrock and soil.
Extended mission duties
“We also planned a number of Mastcam mosaics to document some potentially coarser-grained rocks, sedimentary structures in the rocks in our workspace, and a linear feature that we can compare with observations from orbit,” Edgar adds.
Then the plan calls for a Curiosity drive toward an intended contact science target, and take post-drive imaging to prepare for future activities.
The robot has accomplished its first day of duties in its second extended mission, Edgar notes, “so it’s exciting to think about what we’ll accomplish in this next chapter!”
Elon Musk, chief rocketeer at SpaceX, has tweeted a new technological success update – the firm just achieved the first firing of the Raptor interplanetary transport engine.
A key SpaceX propulsion development for Mars is the Raptor, a liquid oxygen/methane engine.
Mars plans revealed
SpaceX founder, CEO, and Lead Designer Elon Musk is unveiling his humans to Mars plan at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), now underway in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In the past, Musk has detailed his intention to use a Red Dragon spacecraft to fly in un-crewed mode to Mars in the 2018 time period. Later flights of the craft would transport humans to the planet.
Using Supersonic Retro Propulsion to touch down on the Red Planet, the Red Dragon may well deploy scientific devices, particularly hardware that could demonstrate made-on-Mars propellant.
The engine test comes as a propulsive prelude to Musk’s unveiling of his Mars plan at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC).
Now taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico, the IAC has announced that, for the first time in its history, all Plenary Events are to be live broadcasted.
Musk is set to deliver his one-hour talk “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species” – a presentation that will air on Tuesday, September 27th at 13:30 – 14:30 (local time in Guadalajara).
Musk will discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars. The technical presentation will focus on potential architectures for colonizing the Red Planet that industry, government and the scientific community can collaborate on in the years ahead.
To tune in on the Musk presentation and other key Plenary Event discussions, go to:
Also, for a listing of all upcoming Plenary Event topics go to:
The world space meeting runs from September 26-30.
Construction of China’s “big ear” is formally completed – the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST in short-speak.
The colossal FAST lies at a karst valley in Pingtang County of southwest China’s Guizhou Province. FAST is made up of more than 4,000 individual panels.
Scientists have described it as a super-sensitive “ear,” capable of detecting very weak signals from space – including star chatter from extraterrestrial intelligence.
Independently designed and built by China, FAST’s concept was initiated in 1994 and the construction took more than five years.
Now FAST is ready to open its “wide eyes” to observe the universe.
Feed sources from space
According to CCTV-Plus, the observatory building — which acts as the “brain” of the world’s largest radio telescope — will start operation today. The building houses the headquarters that issues instructions to the operation of FAST and monitor its performance.
The feed cabin of FAST was scheduled to have its first move test on Saturday afternoon before conducting its first mission today. The receivers within the cabin will help collect feed sources from space.
Construction of FAST started in March 2011, with an investment of 1.2 billion yuan. The telescope will be used to detect and collect signals and data from the universe.
According to FAST project manager Qian Yiquan, tourist facilities are being built to observe operations.
Due to the need for radio silence in a five-kilometer radius, the observation deck is to be positioned at the top of a mountain nearby.
The deck, parking lots, and a road wending its way to the remote location will be finished by September, Qian said in an interview with China’s Xinhua news service.
Set your eyes on China’s big ear by viewing this video here:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1470 as researchers set in place a change of plans.
A recent drive of the robot “went nicely,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. “We are already about halfway to our next drill site!”
An original plan to head toward an outcrop called “Karasburg” had to be changed because it turned out to be covered in sand and not very steep, making it a less-desirable science target, Anderson adds. “So instead we are heading toward a location where — we hope — the stratigraphy will be better-exposed.”
As scripted the weekend plan begins on Sol 1470 with a Navcam dust devil search and atmospheric observation, plus Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of the targets “Chiagne,” “Chibemba,” and “Chibanda.”
Curiosity’s Mastcam will document those three targets, as well as the location of the automated ChemCam observation that was collected after a recent rover drive.
Mastcam is slated to produce three mosaics: a 6×3 of the Karasburg outcrop, a 4×1 of a location called “Longojo” and a 5×2 extension of the drive direction mosaic.
On the to-do list is a Sol 1471 wheel checkup with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and then drive, Anderson adds, followed by the usual post-drive imaging.
Beyond the buttes
On Sol 1472, on tap is another Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) automated ChemCam observation, a couple of Mastcam atmospheric observations, and ChemCam calibration targets.
Points out Ken Herkenhoff, also a USGS Astrogeology Science Center Mars researcher: “While the Murray Buttes were spectacular and interesting, it’s good to be back on the road again, as there is much more of Mt. Sharp to explore!”
A new map has been issued that shows the route driven by Curiosity through the 1469 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars.
Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.
From Sol 1468 to Sol 1469, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 114.36 feet (34.86 meters).
Since touching down in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 8.88 miles (14.29 kilometers).