Archive for March, 2017

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA


It is the policy of the United States to support full and complete utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) through at least 2024.

But what happens to the ISS after that date? It’s an open question.

A recent hearing examined the range of choices facing America and the impacts of various options.

The hearing was held March 22 by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Space of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology titled:“The International Space Station After 2024: Options and and Impacts.”

Credit: NASA








For the prepared testimony of the witnesses:

  • William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA

  • Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

  • Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

  • Robert Ferl, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, University of Florida

To view the entire hearing, go to:

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right).
Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz


Being “well-suited” for Mars requires tackling an array of challenges to make a fashion statement. Thanks to university-based teamwork a novel approach has been taken to blueprint exploration attire for the Red Planet.

A collaboratory to design a spacesuit for Mars has been put in place at the University of California-Berkeley – a multidisciplinary, multi-university talent pool that includes NASA/industry partnerships.



Helmet to torso

What will a Mars spacesuit look like in the future? To maximize an explorer’s productivity on the Red Planet, different types of suits are needed from those used by Apollo moonwalkers, experts said.
Credit: NASA

The objective is to create a blue collar spacesuit, a top-to-bottom — helmet to torso – appraisal of protective clothing that allows expeditionary crews to more effectively work on Mars.



For more details, please go to my new story:

Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet


Moon’s far side captured by NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).
Credits: NASA/NOAA

Saudi Arabia will contribute to China’s Chang’e-4 mission to the far side of the Moon.

That’s the word from the SpaceWatch Middle East news site.

As part of a recent six week-long tour of Asian countries, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia has struck a deal between his Kingdom and China.

Moon MoU

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) for Saudi Arabia sets in motion collaboration and participation in the Chinese-led Chang’e-4 Moon mission, scheduled to be launched in 2018.

China’s Yutu lunar rover took this image of Change’3 lander. New lunar landers are being readied for China’s next step in Moon exploration – including a mission to the Moon’s far side.
Credit: NAOC/Chinese Academy of Sciences

The Chang’e-4 mission will consist of a Moon lander and rover, and will touch down on the far side the Moon, potentially near the Aitken Basin. That mission will also use a communications relay satellite to be placed at the Earth-Moon L2 position, a Lagrange Points between the Earth and Moon.

Private investments

Chang’e-4 is also the first Chinese space mission that uses private investments from individuals and organizations in order to accelerate the development and completion of the mission, as well as establishing ties between the Chinese government and the private sector.

SpaceWatch Middle East adds that, “at the time of reporting it is not known whether KACST is one of these private investors in Chang’e-4, or whether Saudi involvement will be technical and scientific in nature.”

China’s robotic circumlunar test flight snapped this image of the Moon with Earth in the distance.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences


The Chang’e-4 agreement between Saudi Arabia and China, SpaceWatch Middle East reports, “also broadens the number of major space powers seeking to cooperate with Middle East countries in space. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Israel, and Turkey are cooperating in one form or another with the space agencies and satellite companies from China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1638, March 16, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1639, continuing its dune campaign.

The robot has been at Stop 3, surveying “Southern Cove” for a couple of sols, prior to wheeling to another locale.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo shows laser shots in sand from the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Image acquired on Sol 1637, March 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Drill diagnostics continuing

Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona reports the plan for Sol 1639 has the rover retracting its robotic arm and performing drill diagnostics before taking Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photos of targets “Greenvale Cove” and “Holmes Hole.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1639, March 17, 2017, showing the rover’s drilling equipment.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“After that, we have a remote sensing science block with a Navcam movie to watch for clouds above the crater rim,” Anderson adds, followed by a Mastcam change detection observation of Holmes Hole and a ChemCam observation of the disturbed sand at Greenvale Cove.

Drill feed update

Inside Outer Space was provided a statement concerning the ongoing drill diagnostics issue and an update about the drill-feed mechanism.

Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager, Jim Erickson, said: “The project has done enough diagnostics to understand possibilities for why the brake does not release consistently. There is increased friction during one part of the motor-brake system rotation. This narrows the range of possible causes.”

“Now we are characterizing what it will take to make the drill feed reliable throughout a typical drilling activity. We expect to be able to solve this, but it will take some additional time,” Erickson added.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1639, March 17, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Onward to stop 4

Curiosity’s Mastcam is slated to also document Greenvale Cove. After the remote sensing is done, the Mars machinery is set to drive toward Stop 4 — dubbed “Ogunquit Beach” — and collect post-drive images.

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.


A look at U.S. President Trump’s Budget for NASA has been issued: America First: A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again.

The Budget increases cooperation with industry through the use of public-private partnerships, focuses the Nation’s efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research, and develops technologies that would help achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy.

Credit: GPO

The President’s 2018 Budget requests $19.1 billion for NASA, a 0.8 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized Continuing Resolution (CR) level, with targeted increases consistent with the President’s priorities.


Snapshot looks 

• Supports and expands public-private partnerships as the foundation of future U.S. civilian space efforts. The Budget creates new opportunities for collaboration with industry on space station operations, supports public-private partnerships for deep-space habitation and exploration systems, funds data buys from companies operating small satellite constellations, and supports work with industry to develop and commercialize new space technologies.

• Paves the way for eventual over-land commercial supersonic flights and safer, more efficient air travel with a strong program of aeronautics research. The Budget provides $624 million for aeronautics research and development.

Credit: ESA – P.Carril

• Reinvigorates robotic exploration of the Solar System by providing $1.9 billion for the Planetary Science program, including funding for a mission to repeatedly fly by Jupiter’s icy ocean moon Europa and a Mars rover that would launch in 2020. To preserve the balance of NASA’s science portfolio and maintain flexibility to conduct missions that were determined to be more important by the science community, the Budget provides no funding for a multi-billion-dollar mission to land on Europa. The Budget also supports initiatives that use smaller, less expensive satellites to advance science in a cost-effective manner.

• Provides $3.7 billion for continued development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System, and associated ground system, to send American astronauts on deep-space missions. To accommodate increasing development costs, the Budget cancels the multi-billion-dollar Asteroid Redirect Mission. NASA will investigate approaches for reducing the costs of exploration missions to enable a more expansive exploration program.


• Provides $1.8 billion for a focused, balanced Earth science portfolio that supports the priorities of the science and applications communities, a savings of $102 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget terminates four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduces funding for Earth science research grants.

• Eliminates the $115 million Office of Education, resulting in a more focused education effort through NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Office of Education has experienced significant challenges in implementing a NASA-wide education strategy and is performing functions that are duplicative of other parts of the agency.

• Restructures a duplicative robotic satellite refueling demonstration mission to reduce its cost and better position it to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry, resulting in a savings of $88 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.

• Strengthens NASA’s cybersecurity capabilities, safeguarding critical systems and data.

NASA statement

In a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 agency budget proposal:

“While more detailed budget information will be released in May, we have received a top line budget number for the agency as part of an overall government budget rollout of more than $19 billion. This is in line with our funding in recent years, and will enable us to effectively execute our core mission for the nation, even during these times of fiscal constraint.”

Lightfoot adds: “As with any budget, we have greater aspirations than we have means, but this blueprint provides us with considerable resources to carry out our mission, and I know we will make this nation proud.”

China’s medium-size space station for the 2020’s is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

China’s space station program is advancing steadily, an orbital facility that is targeted to be complete around 2022. In the meantime, Chinese astronauts are actively preparing mentally and physically for future long-term stays onboard the space station.

According to Zhang Yulin, deputy commander-in-chief of the program, China’s space station will consist of three 20-ton modules, namely one core module and two experimental modules.

New booster demand

In an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) Zhang said:

“Our work on the space station is two aspects…one is to launch it into the space. For this, our rockets like the Long March-2F we used in the past and Long March-7 we use now are not capable enough, so we need a new carrier rocket with a capacity of carrying over 20 tons to the space.”

To produce such a rocket, Zhang added that by using the technology of Long March-5 a Long March-5B is under development.

“Currently the work is going smoothly. We plan to make its maiden flight in 2019,” Zhang said.

Credit: CSIS

Self-developed station

“The other aspect of our work is to launch our key module for the space station, which is what we call the core module,” Zhang said.

China’s space station, though weighing only 60 tons, will be like the Mir Space Station and the International Space Station in that it is a combination of multi-modules, Zhang added.

Zhang emphasized that the country’s space station is independently developed, including the key technology in its construction. Drawing upon 20 years of human spaceflight, he said the self-developed space station “is completely different.”

Inside Tiangong-2 as crew members carry out experiments. Mission lasted 33-days.
Credit: CCTV

Astronaut training

According to Liu Yang, China’s first woman in space aboard Shenzhou-9 in 2012, the country’s astronauts are now undergoing training for long duration stays on the space station.

“In addition, we need to have some physical preparation for the long-term staying in space. And some routine trainings like rendezvous and docking as well as walking out of capsule and repairing. These will be the normal training for the astronauts,” Liu said in another CCTV interview.

For example, Liu added, the longest space trek to date of their last crew was 33 days. “But it will be extended to three months or half a year, or longer in the future,” she said.

Liu Yang, China’s first female space traveler.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Narrow and small space

“In addition, living and working in the narrow and small space…also has a higher requirement on astronauts mentally. The long-time team coordination and cooperation and coexistence in the small space require our astronauts to have better psychological quality,” Liu said.

The three-module makeup of China’s space station, including one core module, requires the country’s astronauts to study for those technical changes, Liu said. Furthermore, carrying out experiments onboard the facility is yet another demand on the station occupants, she said.

“In addition, they must grasp the skills of the technology like rendezvous and docking and walking out of capsule and repairing. This will be a routine task,” said Liu.

Check out these CCTV-Plus videos regarding China’s space station work:

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1636, March 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has wheeled into Sol 1636, taking in views of the Bagnold dunes and Murray Buttes.

Last weekend’s plan was successful, “and put us close to the third stop of the current campaign to study the Bagnold Dunes,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Pioneering astrophysicist, Vera Rubin, discovered evidence of dark matter and died in December 2016 at the age of 88. Rubin is seen here at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1965.
Credit: Carnegie Institution

Ridge observation

The Sol 1636 plan is scheduled to start off with a Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) passive observation of Vera Rubin Ridge, with a supporting Mastcam mosaic.

ChemCam will also analyze the bedrock targets “Buck Cove Mountain” and “Smyrna Mills,” Anderson adds.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1636, March 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“After that, we will do a short ‘bump’ to Stop 3 of the dune campaign, with post-drive imaging. In the afternoon after the drive,” Anderson notes, “ChemCam will do an automated AEGIS observation (likely to hit sand) and Navcam has a few atmospheric observations.”

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1635, March 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

AEGIS is specialized software and stands for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science.

On the schedule is unstowing Curiosity’s robotic arm to prepare for contact science activities today.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on March 12, 2017, Sol 1635. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Balloon-launched rocket as step toward orbiting smallsats.
Credit: Zero 2 Infinity


Talk about get up and go!

Zero 2 Infinity of Barcelona, Spain has successfully launched its first rocket from the edge of space.

“This milestone opens the door for safer and more efficient space access for small satellites,” the group explains in a press statement.

Controlled ignition

The March 1st flight began a few miles off the Spanish coast with launch of the rocket-carrying balloon.

After the balloon soared to 16 miles (25 kilometers) altitude — more than twice the cruising altitude of commercial airplanes – the controlled ignition of the first Bloostar prototype took place, initiated from the facilities of the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) in El Arenosillo (Huelva, Spain).

Mission goals

According to the group, the goals of the mission were:

  • validation of the telemetry systems in space conditions
  • controlled ignition
  • stabilization of the rocket
  • monitoring of the launch sequence
  • parachute deployment
  • sea recovery

All these goals, Zero 2 Infinity notes, were achieved in full.

Credit: Zero 2 Infinity

Smallsat launcher

The mission carried out this month is part of the development of Bloostar – a small satellite launcher that makes use a stratospheric balloon as a first stage.

By initiating the rocket ignition from above airspace, the targeted orbit can be reached “with expediency and efficiency,” the group claims.

“This patented technique is less risky than any systems used until now. The rocket-powered phase starts already from above 95% of the mass of the atmosphere, getting there with no polluting emissions. Besides the environmental angle, this new method lets Zero 2 Infinity launch satellites with more flexibility (2 weeks notice), at a drastically lower cost and more often than ever before,” explains the organization’s press statement.

Credit: Zero 2 Infinity



Zero 2 Infinity adds that they have already gathered Letters of Intent for future launches.

At the moment, the group is working on sending small satellites into orbit through its project Bloostar and has mid-term plans to send people to near space for science and leisure, an effort tagged project Bloon.

Check out this video, published on March 13, 2017, of the Zero 2 Infinity launch of its first rocket, a Bloostar prototype, from near space:

Tianzhou-1 supply ship is being readied for April launch.
Credit: CCTV-Plus


The pace in China is quickening as the country’s first cargo spacecraft — Tianzhou-1 – moves toward its April launch.

In recent video reports via CCTV-Plus, details of the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft show it to be 35 feet (10.6 meters) tall with its largest diameter at 11 feet (3.35 meters) and a weight of 13 tons. The upper part with the bigger diameter is designated as a warehouse while the lower part with smaller diameter will propel the spacecraft.

Payload ratio

As China’s largest and heaviest spacecraft, the Tianzhou-1 can send 6.5 tons of cargo into the space.

“The carrying capacity of Tianzhou-1 is designed according to the scale of the space station, aiming to achieve the highest carrying capacity with the lowest structural weight,” explains Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of Tianzhou-1 at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

There is an index for the spacecraft’s carrying capacity, or payload ratio as it is called. The payload ratio of Tianzhou-1 reaches 0.48, which ranks fairly high in the world, adds Bai.

China’s cargo ship will dock with the now-orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab and refuel that facility.
Credit: CMSE

Space lab link-up

The role of Tianzhou-1 is to provide propellant for the now-orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab. This fuel can help the lab maintain its proper orbiting height.

The Tianzhou-1 supply craft, if successfully launched, is expected to dock with the Earth circling space lab three times. During the docking, a new experiment of independent quick docking will be conducted, which requires that the two spacecraft dock with each other within six hours.

“This is a new experiment. If we can succeed, then the docking of manned spacecraft and cargo spacecraft will all use this technology. If the docking time could be cut short, our astronauts will be more comfortable, so there is a big point in doing so,” said Bai.

Vital mission

For Chinese space program officials, the Tianzhou-1 mission wraps up a second phase of China’s piloted space agenda and is a vital milestone for the country to establish a larger space station around 2022.

Tianzhou-1 supply ship.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

The Tianzhou-1 is scheduled to liftoff from the Wenchang space complex atop a Long March-7 Yao-2. That booster has been transported to the site in Wenchang City of south China’s Hainan Province on Saturday for pre-launch testing, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

A Long March-7 completed its maiden flight mission on June 25, 2016 from the launch site in Wenchang. The Long March-7 Yao-2 type launcher has been optimized for lofting the Tianzhou-1.

Long March-7 maiden flight in June 2016.
Credit: New China

Launch preparations

At the launch area, the booster will undergo components testing, vertical assembly, and then placement of Tianzhou-1 on the rocket. Once these steps are completed, the rocket is to undergo four general checks and then transported to the pad for fueling.

“The rocket will be launched in April when the time is right,” explains Che Zhuming, a senior engineer at the launch center.

For video looks at preparations to launch Tianzhou-1, go to these CCTV-Plus posted items:

Courtesy: Explore Mars, Inc.

Last week, Congress passed S. 442: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017.

The bill originally introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

In the House, the chairmen with committees of jurisdiction for the bill are U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chairman of the House Space Subcommittee.

Serious commitment

In a March 10 message from key champion of the bill, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas):

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

“The legislation provides stability for NASA to sustain and build upon existing national space investments designed to advance space exploration and science with an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017.”

“This legislation makes a serious commitment to the manned exploration of space and ensures that the Johnson Space Center remains the crown jewel of NASA’s human spaceflight missions,” Cruz points out.

“I look forward to the President signing this legislation,” Cruz adds, “which lays the groundwork for the mission to Mars and enables commercial space ventures to flourish, which will foster extraordinary economic growth and job creation throughout Texas.”

Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to Mars.
Credit: NASA


Highlights of S. 442, The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017:

Sustaining National Space Commitments and Utilizing the International Space Station

  • Support for Continuity – Affirms Congress’ support for sustained space investments across presidential administrations to advance recent achievements in space exploration and space science. This includes the development of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and the Orion crew vehicle for deep space exploration, maximizing utilization of the International Space Station (ISS), the James Webb Space Telescope, and continued commitment to a national, government-led space program.
  • International Space Station – Supports full and complete utilization of the ISS through at least 2024, and the use of private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments. Also facilitates the development of vehicles to transport astronauts from U.S. soil to end our reliance on Russian launches for crew transport.
  • Facilitating Commercialization and Economic Development of Low-Earth Orbit – Requires NASA to submit a report to Congress outlining a plan to facilitate a transformation of operations in low-earth orbit from a model largely reliant on government support to one reflecting a more commercially viable future.

    International Space Station.
    Credit: NASA

Advancing Human Deep Space Exploration

  • Journey to Mars – Amends current law by adding human exploration of Mars as one of the goals and objectives of NASA and directs NASA to manage human space flight programs to enable humans to explore Mars and other destinations. Requires NASA to develop and submit a plan to Congress on a strategic framework and critical decision plan based on current technologies to achieve the exploration goals and objectives.
  • Development of Deep Space Capabilities – Directs NASA to continue the development of the Space Launch System and Orion for a broad deep space mission set, with specific milestones for an uncrewed exploration mission by 2018 and a crewed exploration mission by 2021.

During his nearly one-year space mission, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took a selfie with the Bahamas from 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station.
Credit: Scott Kelly/NASA

Medical Monitoring of Astronauts

  • Medical Effects of Space – Authorizes NASA to provide for the medical monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of astronauts, including scientific and medical tests for psychological and medical conditions deemed by NASA to be associated with human space flight.
  • Recognizing Impact of Scott Kelly’s 340 Days in Space –Gives recognition that the 340-day space mission of Scott Kelly aboard the ISS generated new insight into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation, and the stress of long-duration space flight and will help support the physical and mental well-being of astronauts during longer space exploration missions in the future.

To read the full bill, go to: