Archive for September, 2016

SpaceX Dragon makes use of Supersonic Retro-Propulsion (SRP) to land on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon makes use of Supersonic Retro-Propulsion (SRP) to land on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk and his SpaceX rocketeers are blueprinting a plan to land humans on Mars in 2025 and to land payloads onto the Red Planet’s surface at each 26 month opportunity starting in 2018. A similar timeline may be pursued by other players.

That as a given, a specially convened “ePanel” of Mars experts recently tackled a specific question:

“If humans do land on Mars in 2025 what do we absolutely need to know from the surface of Mars before that time and specifically what measurements and demonstrations need to be done with the 2018 and later precursor landers to make that possible?”

SpaceX Red Dragon on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Red Dragon on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

Clear and pressing issues

The report, now in draft form, is called Essential Precursor Activities for a Near-Term Human Mars Mission. It is the output from an independent virtual panel of researchers sponsored by Ceres Robotics of Montara, California.

The exercise had neither encouragement nor approval from SpaceX nor NASA. The initiative was led by Michael Sims, leader of Ceres Robotics and a Mars Exploration Rover co-investigator.

In its pages, the draft report underscores the fact that there are a number of “clear and pressing issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.”

Tight timelines

The ePanelists for this inquiry were:

Christopher McKay (NASA Ames); Carol Stoker (NASA Ames); Margaret Race (SETI Institute); Andrew Schuerger (University of Florida); Penelope Boston (NASA Astrobiology Institute); Pascal Lee (NASA Ames; SETI Institute; Mars Institute); Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh); and Michael Sims (moderator) from Ceres Robotics; Mars Institute.

“There is a great deal that needs to be tested and evaluated on the Mars surface on very tight timelines to be properly prepared for a near-term Mars mission. Clearly a mission within a decade can be considered near-term although even a considerably later mission will require expedience and a focused effort,” the report notes.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Primary concerns

In the view of the ePanel experts, primary concerns are:

– Crew safety

– Dangers to crew from exposure to surface materials and toxic chemistry

– Dangers to crew from possible pathogens

– Contamination of Mars surface by crew transported organisms from Earth

– Danger to Earth from return of (unlikely but possible) pathogens that are damaging to Earth’s biological balance

– Availability of resources useful for human activities including life sustaining materials.

Search for life

In terms of the search for life on the Red Planet, the report explains that it will not be possible to fully demonstrate the absence of life on all of Mars in any near-term basis “unless we find overwhelming evidence of its existence.”

Credit: Bob Sauls – XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

Credit: Bob Sauls – XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

Furthermore, scouring the planet widely in this search is likely to be a slow process, the report adds. “This is probably the highest scientific goal for Mars exploration in the long term and it is reasonable for this science exploration be concurrently with the expansion of human presence on Mars. However, unlike the Moon, Mars does theoretically have many possible niches for life and hence as we continue the exploration of Mars we must also continue the search for extant Mars life far into the future.”

Initial gauntlet of views

As identified in the report, the ePanel experts made a number of suggestions, an “initial gauntlet” of views for further in-depth discussion. These are:

  • If possible, land all future precursor missions to the single site of human landing. In addition to the value to future explorers of landed resources at this site, this also gives the best chance of evaluation of the local toxicities and a search for any extant Mars organisms at that site.
  • There are no tricorders for life – even on Earth, but especially for life that might have a distinct genesis. We need to exercise a number of different instruments on the Mars surface to look for indications of extant life at the landing site. Those instruments need to be applied at a number of areas (niches) around any landing site. Confidence will grow in our outcome as the number of tests and sites increase.
  • Although after 40 years we now believe we understand the Viking life on Mars experiment results, we need to be prepared for future surprises and uncertainties to come with our experiments. This leads to a preferred strategy to treat these life-detection instruments as an ongoing development (across precursor and human missions) of more refined instrumentation in search of indicators of extant life.
  • Until we understand the extent of extant life on Mars (if it exists at all) then one reasonable approach is to exercising a zoned approach to planetary protection.
  • We need to characterize the chemistry and especially toxicity of the surface and near subsurface materials at the landing site. We also need to demonstrate techniques for mitigation of those toxicities that are compatible with human crew use and safety.
  • Resource needs for the crew and minimizing the burden of keeping a crew safe are parameters to be evaluated in the base site selection. If the case can be closed on pumping water and oxygen and other trace gases out of the atmosphere then that approach has the advantage of ease of crewed operations and relative location independence of the base landing site.

    Scene from “Mars,” a National Geographic Channel miniseries due to air in November. Credit: National Geographic, Imagine, RadicalMedia, Robert Viglasky

    Scene from “Mars,” a National Geographic Channel miniseries due to air in November.
    Credit: National Geographic, Imagine, RadicalMedia, Robert Viglasky

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1464 September 18, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1464 September 18, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

Now in Sol 1466, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover accomplished a successful second attempt to drill into Quela – but there was a timing issue during sample manipulation with the Collection and Handling for Interior Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA).

That timing issue resulted in premature halting of the Sol 1465 sequence.

Image from Curiosity's ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager, taken on Sol 1466, September 20, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Image from Curiosity’s ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager, taken on Sol 1466, September 20, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Sieve new sample

The plan for Sol 1466 is to pick up where Curiosity stopped and sieve the new sample, dump the un-sieved fraction, and drop some of the sieved sample into the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin).

But first, the Chemistry & Camera instrument (ChemCam) is set to acquire passive spectra of the Quela drill tailings and use its laser to measure the chemistry of the wall of the new drill hole and of bedrock targets “Camaxilo” and “Okakarara.”

Dirty deed! Drilling into Mars. Image of the working end of drill taken by Curiosity's Mastcam Left imager, taken on Sol 1464, September 18, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dirty deed! Drilling into Mars. Image of the working end of drill taken by Curiosity’s Mastcam Left imager, taken on Sol 1464, September 18, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Right Mastcam images of these targets are also planned, reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

 

 

 

Drill hole angles

Herkenhoff adds that, after sunset, the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will use its LEDs to take images of the drill hole from various angles and of the CheMin inlet to confirm that the sample was successfully delivered.

Lastly, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will be placed over the drill tailings for an overnight integration, Herkenhoff reports.

 

Credit: Bob Sauls - XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

Credit: Bob Sauls – XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

 

 

Humans to Mars: Why, How, and When?

That’s the front-and-center issue to be addressed today in a Congressional Briefing Panel, sponsored by Explore Mars, Inc.

This webcast is set for today, Tuesday, September 20, 2016 starting at 10:00 am Eastern Daylight Time (New York, GMT-04:00).

 

Panelists

Courtesy: Explore Mars, Inc.

Courtesy: Explore Mars, Inc.

John Grunsfeld- Moderator (Former NASA Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate/Former Astronaut)

Darby Cooper (Boeing: Launch Vehicle Architect)

Rob Chambers (Lockheed Martin: Orion Production Strategy Lead)

Kent Rominger (Orbital ATK: Vice President of Strategy and Business Development, Propulsion Systems Division)

Joe Cassady (Aerojet Rocketdyne: Executive Director, Space)

“It is important to show Congress and policymakers that Mars is a realistic and attainable goal,” said Explore Mars CEO Chris Carberry. “As we approach the start of a new administration and Congress, the United States must continue to push forward with our plans for Mars.”

Webcast meeting link

https://comptia-mc.webex.com/mw3100/mywebex/default.do?service=1&siteurl=comptia-mc&nomenu=true&main_url=/mc3100/e.do%3Fsiteurl%3Dcomptia-mc%26AT%3DMI%26EventID%3D496832362%26UID%3D0%26Host%3DQUhTSwAAAAJ-QdrVF8-2g_A8Tglfh6Yx4LOTE8KfvuN20o3aescKqpVA2rEPmhUppg99T-JDv4X6eaeZiF5VP8FyeC5d9qzk0%26FrameSet%3D2%26MTID%3Dm315ac1582fa5d3f180097113f54edd81

Meeting number (access code): 803 343 048

Meeting password: Explore2016!

1-650-479-3208 Call-in toll number (US/Canada)

Credit: IAC

Credit: IAC

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

The upcoming International Astronautical Congress (IAC) — to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico September 26-30 — has announced that, for the first time in IAC history, all Plenary Events are to be live broadcasted.

For those eagerly awaiting the talk by SpaceX’s Elon Musk, his one-hour talk “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species” will air on Tuesday, September 27th at 13:30 – 14:30 (local time in Guadalajara).

Architectures for colonizing Mars

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.

SpaceX Red Dragon on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Red Dragon on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Webcast resources

To tune in on the Musk presentation and other key Plenary Event discussions, go to:

http://livestream.com/accounts/4426843/events/6315496/player?width=640&height=360&enableInfoAndActivity=true&autoPlay=true&mute=false

Also, for a listing of all upcoming Plenary Event topics go to:

http://www.iafastro.org/events/iac/iac2016/plenary-programme/

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, took this image on September 19, 2016, Sol 1465. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, took this image on September 19, 2016, Sol 1465.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

Now in Sol 1465, Curiosity’s Mars survey work is ongoing, with new imagery showing success for the robot’s drilling activities.

The drill target is “Quela.”

Incoming Curiosity imagery also points to what appears to be assembly of yet another “selfie” – a Mars mosaic that shows the current whereabouts of Curiosity and its surrounding terrain.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1465, September 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1465, September 19, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1464 September 18, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1464 September 18, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, took this image on September 18, 2016, Sol 1464. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, took this image on September 18, 2016, Sol 1464.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1463, September 17, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1463, September 17, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) taken on September 17, 2016, Sol 1463. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) taken on September 17, 2016, Sol 1463.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Now in Sol 1464, Curiosity’s Mars roving continues, although late last week the robot’s drilling activities did not complete as expected. The intended drill target is “Quela.”

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on September 17, 2016, Sol 1463. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on September 17, 2016, Sol 1463.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Given the drill issues, the plan focused on trying to understand and troubleshoot the problem while also doing remote sensing, reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

 

Nearby butte

The plan as scripted called for starting off with Mastcam multispectral observations of the target “Ekunha” on the nearby butte.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1462, September 16, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1462, September 16, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) work was slated to analyze the targets “Cuasa” and “Cuimba”, and then Mastcam was to document those targets and take an 8×3 mosaic of the butte, along with a change detection observation at “Goantagab.”

 

Also on tap, the robot’s Mastcam was to create a mosaic of the target “Karasburg” to help with planning contact science, and then in the morning of Sol 1463 Mastcam was producing another mosaic of the nearby butte, under different lighting, and Navcam was to acquire an atmospheric measurement.

Sunlight scattering

“Throughout the whole plan, there are also a number of joint Navcam and Mastcam photometry observations of the same location at different times of day to help understand how sunlight scatters off the surface,” Anderson reports.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1463, September 17, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1463, September 17, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

A quick survey of incoming Curiosity imagery points to assembly of yet another “selfie” that shows the current whereabouts of the Mars machinery and its surrounding terrain.

Credit: CSU

Credit: CSU

China’s second space lab Tiangong-2 has blasted off at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

Wu Ping, deputy director of China Manned Space Engineering Office, explains:

“The main purpose of launching Tiangong-2 space lab is to receive the visit of the Shenzhou 11 manned spacecraft and to accomplish a medium-term stay of the astronauts. It will test relevant technologies on the astronauts’ long-term living, health and work conditions,” Wu said.

Tiangong-2 satellite deployer. Credit: CSU

Tiangong-2 satellite deployer.
Credit: CSU

The Tiangong-2 space lab will receive the visit of the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship and examine and verify the technology of in-orbit propellant replenishing. While carrying out the space medical and treatment research, space science experiments and application of space technology, the Tiangong-2 space lab will also help test and verify the in-orbit maintenance and the technology of space station, Wu said.

Critical phase

The launch of the space lab is deemed as the critical phase of China’s manned space flight, with the space lab serving as a prototype module of the future space station of the country.

Credit: CCTV

Credit: CCTV

China’s space laboratory accommodates more than 50 scientific instruments to conduct more than ten projects in-orbit, explains the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization (CSU).

On behalf of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), CSU has participated China’s Manned Space Program (CMSP), acting as an organizer, coordinator and integrator of the Space Utilization System of CMSP. Institutes and universities inside and outside CAS have been involved in the Space Utilization System.

Credit: CCTV America

Credit: CCTV America

Experiment list

As noted by the CSU, among the experiments on the Tiangong-2 Space Lab:

  • Space Cold Atom Clock
  • Multiple Materials Experiment
  • Interferometric Imaging Radar Altimeter
  • Gamma-Ray Burst Polarimeter
  • Higher Plant Flowering and Seed-setting in Space
  • Multi-angle Polarization and Wide Band Spectral Imager
  • Space-to-Earth Quantum Key Distribution
  • Multiband Limb Imaging Ultra-Violet Spectrometer System

Tiangong-2 also carries a system to deploy a small satellite in orbit to evaluate technologies for “concomitant flying.”

Credit: CSU

Credit: CSU

The new space lab is viewed as a stepping stone to a larger Chinese space station that will be built around 2020, and will support larger scale space utilization with human-tending on a long-term basis.

Unveiling of "the Mars rock" at 1996 NASA press conference. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Unveiling of “the Mars rock” at 1996 NASA press conference.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

 

Back in 1996, I had the inside scoop about a rock from outer space.

The claim of biogenic evidence for the rock star that is meteorite ALH84001 – possible indication of long-gone, fossil bacteria and chemical traces that might have come from bacteria on Mars.

 

For a reflective view on this saga, go to my new SpaceNews article describing the event:

http://www.spacenewsmag.com/feature/remembering-a-big-scoop-%E2%80%A8about-a-small-rock/

Meteoritic Mother of Invention: The Mars rock, ALH84001. Credit: NASA

Meteoritic Mother of Invention: The Mars rock, ALH84001.
Credit: NASA

Over the years, the speculative view that the Mars meteorite was a carrier of possible Martian fossils is still under dispute.

Electron microscope studies revealed chain structures in meteorite fragment ALH84001. Credit: NASA

Electron microscope studies revealed chain structures in meteorite fragment ALH84001.
Credit: NASA

 

China's soon-to-be-lofted space lab module - Tiangong-2. Credit: CCTV

China’s soon-to-be-lofted space lab module – Tiangong-2.
Credit: CCTV

Preparations are in full swing in China for the soon-to-launch second space lab, Tiangong-2, atop its carrier booster – the CZ-2F.

A joint drill has just been completed at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

Xu Peng, head of command and control station at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center explains that “today’s joint drill mainly aims to make sure all systems match, coordinate and stay accurate and compatibly.”

Launch complex embraces Tiangong-2, atop its carrier booster – the CZ-2F. Credit: CCTV-Plus

Launch complex embraces Tiangong-2, atop its carrier booster – the CZ-2F.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

Simulated flight

As reported by CCTV-Plus, the drill lasted three and a half hours. The launch exercise featured a simulated flight of the carrier rocket. All six systems including the control room, the experiment system and the rocket system, participated in the drill procedures. The simulated flight went through various procedures that will be conducted in 580 seconds before the launch.

Chinese space officials have said that the Tiangong-2 will be put into space between September 15 – 20th. Before launch day, more tests will be carried out at the center.

Day or nighttime takeoff?

“We are performing functional test of the system, which aims to check whether products on the rocket and all functions of the cable system are working normally after the rocket was transferred from the technical area to the launch pad,” adds Tan Hongyi, director of the CZ-2F carrier rocket system.

Launch crews complete a mock-run of the launch of China's second space lab. Credit: CCTV-Plus

Launch crews complete a mock-run of the launch of China’s second space lab.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

Whether the launch will occur in the daytime or at night has not been decided, but ground technicians are ensuring the proper functioning of a lighting system at the launch complex.

Space station technologies

Tiangong-2 serves as a lab in space for testing systems and processes for mid-term space stays and refueling. It will also be involved in experiments on aerospace medicine, space sciences, in-orbit maintenance and space station technologies.

Artist's concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit. A Tiangong-2 is being readied for liftoff between September 15-20. Credit: CMSA

Artist’s concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit. A Tiangong-2 is being readied for liftoff between September 15-20.
Credit: CMSA

After the successful orbiting of Tiangong-2, a two-person Shenzhou 11 crew will link up with the space lab in October for an expected month in Earth orbit. The all-male crew has not yet been named.

China’s first space lab, the still-orbiting Tiangong-1, was launched in September 2011 and ended its data service earlier this year. It was visited by Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft.

For video showing the just-concluded simulation of launching Tiangong-2, go to:

http://pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/0911/8031873_Preview_1473599765994.mp4

http://pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/0911/8031865_Preview_1473588907911.mp4

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1457, September 11, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1457, September 11, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is at work on Sol 1457 today.

According to Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, Curiosity is now parked at the next drill site, called “Quela”. This site is right at the base of one of the Murray Buttes.

The Sol 1456 plan, as scripted, was to start with a Mastcam atmospheric observation, followed by use of the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam of “Quela” along with a Mastcam mosaic of the workspace.

After that, samples of “Marimba” were to be dropped off in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite for analysis.

Image taken by Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) -- located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm -- on Sol 1457, September 11, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image taken by Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) — located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm — on Sol 1457, September 11, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Big brush off

On Sol 1457, Curiosity’s Mastcam has another atmospheric opacity (tau) observation, and then the rover dumps out the remaining Marimba sample, taking images of the sample.

Curiosity has brushed off the dust on the Quela target, with Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images snapped before and after. The rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) slated to conduct and an overnight analysis.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1455, September 9, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1455, September 9, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

 

Fallen rocks

In the morning on Sol 1458, the plan calls for use of Navcam, Mastcam, and ChemCam to take a series of atmospheric observations. These will be followed by Mastcam multispectral observations of the Marimba dump pile, and another ChemCam passive sky and Mastcam tau.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1454, September 8, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

ChemCam is also slated to analyze a block of Stimson material called “Uutapi.”

 

 

 

Mastcam is also on tap to document Uutapi and take a mosaic of some other blocks of rock that have fallen off the butte, collectively called “Cuimba,” Anderson reports.

Griffith Observatory Event