Archive for December, 2016

Full Moon…full of lava tubes?
Credit: NASA/JPL

There is “mounting evidence” from a number of lunar probes that suggest the presence of vacant lava tubes under the surface of the Moon.

“Such large sub-lunarean structures would be of great benefit to future human exploration of the Moon, providing shelter from the harsh environment at the surface,” reports a Purdue University research team.

Indeed, some of those Moon tubes may be more than a kilometer in width.

Sub-surface stability

The team, led by David Blair of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue, have reported on “The structural stability of lunar lava tubes,” reporting their findings in the scientific journal, Icarus.

Blair and his colleagues also tackled whether or not empty lava tubes of this size are stable under lunar conditions? Furthermore, what is the largest size at which they could remain structurally sound?

The Purdue team addressed these questions by creating “elasto-plastic finite element models” of lava tubes using the Abaqus modeling software and examining where there is local material failure in the tube’s roof.

The city of Philadelphia is shown inside a theoretical lunar lava tube. A Purdue University team of researchers explored whether lava tubes more than one kilometer wide could remain structurally stable on the moon.
Credit: Purdue University/courtesy of David Blair

Roof thickness

Team results show that the stability of a lava tube depends on its width, its roof thickness, and whether the rock comprising the structure begins in a lithostatic or Poisson stress state.

Taking that into account, with a roof of some seven feet (2-meters) thick, lava tubes a kilometer or more in width can remain stable, they report.

The theoretical maximum size of a lunar lava tube depends on a variety of factors, the study group says, but given sufficient burial depth of 1,640 feet (500 meters) and an initial lithostatic stress state, their results show that lava tubes up to three miles (5 kilometers) wide may be able to remain structurally stable.

Artist concept of GRAIL mission.
The twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission of 2012 flew spacecraft in tandem orbits around the Moon to measure its gravity field in unprecedented detail.
Credit: NASA/JPL

 

 

Multi-country probing

This research made use of Japan’s SELenological and ENgineering Explorer “KAGUYA” (SELENE), the country’s first large lunar explorer, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and especially data gleaned by the two NASA Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft.

 

 

For further information, go to:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0019103516303566

Also, check out this Inside Outer Space story on an early statement from the science team:

Tunnel Vision: Underground Cities on the Moon

http://www.leonarddavid.com/tunnel-vision-underground-cities-on-the-moon/

Orbital ATK ‏Stargazer airplane carrying Pegasus rocket loaded with Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) spacecraft.
Credit: Orbital ATK

 

Skywatcher Paul Maley captured the entire train of 8 satellites from the December 15th Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) launch, a video showing the spacecraft passing over his house in Carefree, Arizona.

Artist’s view of Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS).
Credit: NASA

The spacecraft bus precedes this entourage by 2 minutes. The 8 CYGNSS satellites can be viewed over a 2 minute interval (altitude 328 miles) on December 18 at 12:47-12:50UT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For video, go to:

http://www.asteroidoccultation.com/observations/NA/MaleyCYGNSS.mp4

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1552, December 17, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity rover on the Red Planet is now in Sol 1553, with the robot’s engineering team still at work diagnosing drill issues.

“But in the meantime we are still getting good science done,” adds Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Target shooting

A Sol 1552 plan was scripted, starting off with Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of the targets “Hall Quarry” and “Long Porcupine.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1552, December 17, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot’s Mastcam is slated to document those targets and then do a multispectral observation of “Western Head,” Anderson says.

The rover’s Mastcam is also to image the rover deck and Curiosity’s Navcam is slated to watch for dust devils.

Drive on tap

“There will also be some drill diagnostics on Sol 1552,” Anderson points out. “After sitting in the same spot for so long, it will be nice on Sol 1553 when we retract the arm and drive to an interesting area about 10 meters [33 feet] away.”


Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1550, December 15, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After the drive the plan calls for post-drive imaging and a taking a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image of the ground under the rover.

 

 

Sol 1554 is an untargeted sol, with Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric observations, Anderson concludes.

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.

Credit: ispace, Inc.

 

Innovative Moon robots geared to work in lunar environments — such as the depths of icy craters and inside lunar caves – is a pursuit of ispace, inc. of Tokyo, Japan.

As a private lunar robotic exploration company, ispace has announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to jointly create a roadmap for lunar resource development.

That roadmap stretches from 2017 to 2030, according to the ispace website.

Mining, delivery and utilization

Under this agreement, both parties will utilize their knowledge and network to develop plans and frameworks for creating an industry around lunar resource mining, delivery and utilization.

“We are developing micro-robotic technology,” the company explains, “to provide a low-cost and frequent transportation service to and on the Moon, conduct lunar surface exploration to map, process and deliver resources to our customers in cislunar space.”

Swarm robotics for Moon exploration.
Credit: ispace, Inc.

2017 HAKUTO rover

The group currently manages the Google Lunar XPRIZE team, HAKUTO. Next year the company intends to send that rover to the Moon to demonstrate its micro-robotic technology for lunar exploration in an attempt to win a $20 million purse.

Credit: ispace, Inc.

In the next decade, ispace plans to establish a high-frequency transportation service to the Moon and conduct exploration missions to map lunar resources. In the long term, the company plans to deliver extracted and processed resources to customers on and around the Moon.

 

Three-step roadmap

In a press statement, Takeshi Hakamada, the founder and CEO of ispace, explained: “We think it is important to actively participate in the rule-making and commercialization while we are technologically competitive globally with our HAKUTO project.”

Google Lunar XPRIZE team, HAKUTO moon rover plans for 2017.
Credit: ispace/HAKUTO team

In the newly-signed agreement, ispace and JAXA will consider the following three points in creating a lunar resource development industry:

— A comprehensive plan for the space resource industry including necessary technologies and industrial value chains involving lunar resource mapping (including positions, compositions, characteristics), mining, storage, delivery, sales and utilization in space.

— Role allocation between public and private sectors for R&D activities and public procurement, as well as building of a national and an international framework needed for industry creation.

— Considerations for other necessary actions, including the expansion of relevant consortiums.

 

 

 

 

For more information on ispace, go to this informative video at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cMEJTnPq-I

For a video on HAKUTO, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZjL5l4ji0Q

For an ispace “site visit,” go to: http://ispace-inc.com/

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1548, December 13, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Now in Sol 1550, Curiosity rover operators have yet to solve issues with the robot’s drill.

“Use of the arm and driving remain off limits while the drill continues to be diagnosed,” reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

A two sol plan has been scripted that makes use of  Curiosity’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Right Mastcam observations of bright vein targets dubbed “Bear Brook” and “Canon Brook.”

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1549, December 14, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

Twilight looks

The plan also calls for use of the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) to acquire images during both morning and evening twilight to look for changes due to winds.

Also scripted are remote sensing duties on Sol 1551 that include ChemCam, Navcam and Mastcam observations of the sky and Sun at a couple times of day, and a set of ChemCam calibration activities, Herkenhoff adds.

Four volunteers are back on Earth after completing a 180-day space simulation.
Credit: CNS

Chinese researchers have completed a 180-day “survival experiment” that simulated a deep space human trek.

Since June 17, four Chinese volunteers — three men and one woman — lived inside a sealed space capsule situated in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong Province. They emerged from their off-world mock-up mission on December 14, local time.

The six-month experiment involved volunteers Tang Yongkang, Luo Jie, Wu Shiyun and Tong Feizhou.

An objective of the space simulation was to test technologies that could support China’s deep-space exploration projects. The effort is evaluating how food, water, and oxygen can be used and recycled under controlled conditions.

More than a dozen Chinese and overseas institutions are involved in the experiment, including the Astronaut Center of China, Harvard University and the German Aerospace Center.

Sealed capsule

The 1,340-cubic-meter sealed capsule has a floor space of 370 square meters, and is divided into eight compartments, including passenger compartments, resource compartments and greenhouse compartments.

Credit: CCTV-Plus

According to CCTV-Plus, the volunteers cultivated about 25 different kinds of plants in the capsule, including wheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybeans, peanuts, lettuce, edible amaranth and Chinese cabbage. The plants are part of a large ecological treatment system that helps recycle and regenerate oxygen and water that will reduce the dependency on outside supplies.

Researchers engaged in the simulation have been monitoring and observing how a hermetic environment affects physiological changes, biological rhythms, sleep patterns and emotional well-being.

Tai Chi

In a CCTV-interview, volunteer Tang said that as time sped by, the psychological pressure of being in the confined capsule gradually built up.

Chinese researchers developed a series of Tai Chi moves specifically for use by the volunteers.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

“I think (the pressure has risen) during the middle and later stages of the experiment, around three quarters of the way through. But maybe everyone differs. During this period, the pressure on emotions and other areas might be comparatively higher,” said Tang prior to departing the facility.

To deal with stress, Chinese researchers developed a series of Tai Chi moves specifically for use by the volunteers.

“According to those of us inside the capsule, it did help in soothing our emotions. But further detailed statistical analysis is needed before we reach a specific conclusion,” said volunteer Tong.

New homes off-planet

Li Yinghui, head of the 180-day survival experiment in the sealed module, explained to CCTV-Plus:

“To develop new homes [on other planets], the first problem to be solved is how to survive there, including an environment for living, air for breathing, food, and then health security. So design of this experiment was aimed at such exploration targets.”

For a video look at the sealed space capsule and the volunteers, go to:

http://cd-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1214/8038612_Preview_8010.mp4

http://pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1212/8038424_Preview_1481546069993.mp4

http://l3-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/0615/8024222_Preview_1465991623125.mp4

Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the universe at the SETI Institute.
Credit: SETI Institute

 

Are there ways in which biology and its environment co-evolve? The answer could give essential insight into how we might search for extraterrestrial life.

Today, December 14th, Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the universe at the SETI Institute, will give the prestigious Sagan Lecture at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.

Life elsewhere

“On Earth, as soon as life gained a foothold, it began to modify the planet’s environment. Subsequent generations inherited changed surroundings, and introduced their own environmental modifications,” says Cabrol.

“Understanding how this process might have worked on a world with environmental conditions other than Earth’s,” Cabrol adds, “could help in our exploration for life elsewhere.”

Extraterrestrial interplay

The interplay of environment and life is a central theme of astrobiology, and Cabrol will describe how studying its workings can help in the search for ancient or extant biology on Mars.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1521, November 15, 2016.

In its early days, the environments of Mars and Earth were similar, although they eventually diverged dramatically. So understanding the succession of physical and environmental processes in Mars’ first 700 million years is essential to envision what adaptation strategies life would have had to make to survive on the Red Planet, and which biosignatures could be preserved and possibly found.

Tune in resources

The Sagan Lecture is webcast and made available as an archived presentation on the AGU website.

Session: B32D Sagan Lecture

Program: Biogeosciences

Day: Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Time: 10:25 – 11:15 AM PST

Location: Moscone West, San Francisco

For more information, go to:

http://www.seti.org/seti-institute/news/dec-14-nathalie-cabrol-presents-sagan-lecture-agu-2016

To view the event, go to:

AGU on Demand: http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2016/virtual-options/

Credit: NASA

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover continues to investigate higher and younger strata on the central mountain of Gale Crater, adding information about water-rich ancient environments in this part of Mars.

Since reaching the base of the mountain two years ago, the rover has examined more than half the vertical extent of a 180-meter-thick geological formation that provides a record of long-lived lake and groundwater environments.

 

Factors favorable for life

Analysis of rock composition at multiple sites is providing new evidence about how the environmental conditions evolved over time, including factors favorable for life, if it ever was present. Some ingredients may foreshadow what the mission will find at planned destinations farther up the mountain.

YouTube Video published on Dec 13, 2016 from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting this week.

Participants:

  • Joy Crisp, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, U.S.A.;
  • Thomas Bristow, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, U.S.A.;
  • Patrick Gasda, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, U.S.A.;
  • John Grotzinger, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, U.S.A.

Go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v23iBjFaPmw

Credit: CCTV-Plus

A 180-day “survival experiment” is near its end mid-week.

Four Chinese volunteers — three men and one woman — have been living inside a sealed space capsule in south China’s Shenzhen City.

An objective of the space simulation is to test technologies that could support China’s deep-space exploration projects. The effort is evaluating how food, water, and oxygen can be used and recycled under controlled conditions.

More than a dozen Chinese and overseas institutions are involved in the experiment, including the Astronaut Center of China, Harvard University and the German Aerospace Center.

Sealed capsule

The 1,340-cubic-meter sealed capsule has a floor space of 370 square meters, and is divided into eight compartments, including passenger compartments, resource compartments and greenhouse compartments.

Credit: CCTV-Plus

According to CCTV-Plus, the volunteers cultivated about 25 different kinds of plants in the capsule, including wheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybeans, peanuts, lettuce, edible amaranth and Chinese cabbage. The plants are part of a large ecological treatment system that helps recycle and regenerate oxygen and water that will reduce the dependency on outside supplies.

Researchers engaged in the simulation have been monitoring and observing how a hermetic environment affects physiological changes, biological rhythms, sleep patterns and emotional well-being.

New homes off-planet

Li Yinghui, head of the 180-day survival experiment in the sealed module, explained to CCTV-Plus:

“To develop new homes [on other planets], the first problem to be solved is how to survive there, including an environment for living, air for breathing, food, and then health security. So design of this experiment was aimed at such exploration targets.”

For a video look at the sealed space capsule and the volunteers, go to:

http://pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1212/8038424_Preview_1481546069993.mp4

http://l3-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/0615/8024222_Preview_1465991623125.mp4

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1544, December 9, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An update from Ryan Anderson of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center: “Unfortunately, one of the drill diagnostics early in the plan indicated a problem, which prevented most of the other activities for the weekend (including the arm motion and drive) from happening.”

So the upshot is that Curiosity remains sitting at “Precipice” for Sol 1548-1549.

More drill diagnostics are being called for.

Presently, the robot is in Sol 1548 as of this posting.

Now in Sol 1547, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover’s troubled arm-mounted drill is back using standard commands.

“This is great news, and the anomaly response team has cleared the rover for use of the arm and driving, but not yet drilling,” reports Lauren Edgar, a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Fracture patterns

A recent plan had the rover wrap up work at the “Precipice” location and drive to a nearby site to investigate interesting fracture patterns.

A three-sol weekend plan was to start with another Mastcam tau and crater rim extinction observation to monitor dust in the atmosphere, Edgar notes. This was to be followed by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) observations of “The Anvil” and “Blue Hill” to investigate variations in chemistry in the Murray bedrock.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1545, December 10, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dataset

Curiosity was also slated to take a Mastcam mosaic to provide additional context for the “Precipice” site.  Following that activity, the script called for Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imaging of “Echo Lake,” “Beachcroft,” and “The Anvil,” with a short Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) integration on “Beachcroft” and an overnight integration on “Echo Lake.”

“This should return a great dataset to understand the chemistry and sedimentary structures here,” Edgar explains.

Unusual color variation

On the second sol, Curiosity was scheduled to acquire a ChemCam observation of “Western Head,” an area that showed some unusual color variation.

“We’ll also extend the Mastcam mosaic of “Squid Cove” and take a couple of Navcam movies to monitor the atmosphere.  Throughout the plan we’ll take several front and rear Hazcam images for additional change detection observations,” Edgar adds.


Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 1546, December 11, 2016.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

 

There was also slated to be an overnight Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite activity using the Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) that makes use of the residual derivatization vapor in the sample manipulation system.

Curiosity was set for third sol work, driving toward the region with fractures, and take post-drive imaging to prepare for possible contact science this week.

Griffith Observatory Event