Archive for February, 2018


The Red Planet as seen by Europe’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/D. O’Donnell – CC BY-SA IGO

A virtual meeting of The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) was held today, detailing a number of exploration issues, including a projected effort to robotically return samples from the Red Planet.

MEPAG meetings involve the planetary exploration community, particularly those scientists, engineers, project and program personnel, theoreticians and experimentalists, instrument scientists, and modelers who are interested in Mars exploration.

MEPAG’s overall mission is to determine if Mars ever supported life; understand the processes and history of climate on Mars; understand the origin and evolution of Mars as a geological system; and to prepare for human exploration.

In a whirl – Mars helicopter decision

The MEPAG briefing provided an overview of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover situation, characterized as doing very well. Key pieces of hardware for the mega-rover vehicle have been completed, now undergoing testing.

No fly zone? Mars helicopter may/may not be on NASA Mars 2020 rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Still to be determined, however, is inclusion of a Mars helicopter – hardware that has been tested successfully here on Earth, but may/may not be sent to the planet as payload on the 2020 rover as a technology demonstrator. It’s a possibility…not a certainty at this point, said Jim Watzin, Director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA.

Return samples

One big ticket MEPAG item is hauling back to Earth select samples of the Red Planet.

Given success of a Mars 2020 rover landing, that machinery would collect samples of the Red Planet, leaving them in cached condition for later pickup. A follow-on return sample lander mission would gather up the samples, blast them off the planet into Mars orbit for eventual delivery directly to Earth, or by way of the projected astronaut-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Chad Edwards

Chad Edwards of the Program Formulation Office at JPL’s Mars Exploration Program Office told MEPAG that extensive Mars ascent vehicle studies have been done, coming to the conclusion that a hybrid propulsion, single-stage-to-Mars-orbit is the best choice. Key Mars sample return technologies are on track to support a sample retrieval lander/sample return orbiter launch as early as 2026, he said.

Credit: SpaceX/Paul Wooster


SpaceX Mars plans

Also taking part in the MEPAG meeting was Paul Wooster, a lead in the technical development of SpaceX’s Mars architecture and vehicles.

Wooster outlined SpaceX Mars planning that is focused on the development of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). He detailed use of at least two BFR cargo missions to Mars in 2022 that would confirm water resources on Mars and identify hazards.  Those cargo missions would place power, mining, and the support infrastructure for future flights, he advised. The 2024 time period would involve both cargo landers and crewed missions, setting up a propellant production plant, as well as build up a Mars base designed for expansion.

Credit: SpaceX/Paul Wooster

The SpaceX goal is earliest possible establishment of a permanent Mars surface outpost, Wooster explained.

Artist’s view of Tiangong space lab
Credit: CMSE

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency and the International Astronomical Center (IAC) have announced the organization of a joint campaign to monitor China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory as it falls back to Earth. China orbited Tiangong-1 in late September 2011.

The nose dive of the 8.5 ton craft is expected to take place as early as next month in areas between 43 degrees north and south latitude, a track that includes most of the Arab region.

Credit: UAE Space Agency

“The UAE is well equipped and experienced with monitoring and determining the coordinates of space objects, meteors and meteorites,” said H.E. Dr. Eng. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency. Many of those capabilities are resident within the UAE Meteor Monitoring and Filming Network, which was launched two years ago to support scientific research. Today, that network successfully provides reports and studies on meteor traffic over the UAE.

Sky-pointed cameras

The network consists of three different stations across the country to record astronomical events within UAE skies. Each Station consists of sky-pointed astronomical cameras located at several locations in the United Arab Emirates.

Credit: IAC

Each station has astronomical cameras directed towards the sky that automatically start recording once a meteor or a piece of space debris is detected.

Three years ago, the IAC set up an international program involving space enthusiasts from around the world to monitor the fall of satellites.

Four experts, including the IAC Director, a specialist from NASA on behalf of the United States, and two other specialist experts from Canada, supervise the program.

In a press statement, the UAE Space Agency said the “uncontrolled fall” will pose no danger to Earth and will not impact any of the populated areas. “Although there is a chance some debris may reach the ground, it will be falling into the sea and will not impact lives or human activities.”

Test campaign

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) will serve as host and administrator of a test campaign regarding the reentry of China’s Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

The UAE Space Agency/International Astronomical Center are not part of the IADC.

IADC comprises space debris and other experts from 13 space agencies/organizations, including NASA, ESA, European national space agencies, Japan’s JAXA, India’s ISRO, Korea’s KARI, Russia’s Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration.

Main Control Room at ESA’s European Space Operations Center, Darmstadt, Germany.
Credit: ESA/P. Shlyaev, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Cross-verify, cross-analyze

IADC members will use the fall of Tiangong-1 to conduct their annual reentry test campaign, during which participants will pool their predictions of the time window, as well as their respective tracking datasets obtained from radar and other sources. The aim is to cross-verify, cross-analyze and improve the prediction accuracy for all members.

According to reentry experts at The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS), China’s Tiangong-1 is predicted to reenter in early April 2018, plus or minus 1.5 weeks, assuming an uncontrolled reentry (no thrusting).

This prediction was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on February 14.

Credit: Ben Pearson


Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman?

Surely having a window full of speeding tickets by now, that SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy Tesla Roadster on February 6 is apparently tumbling, but in cruise control – outward bound from Earth.

Thanks to a creative website by Ben Pearson, founder of Old Ham Media, viewers can keep up with the speeding speedster.

“I came to realize that people really were interested in the tracking of these objects,” Pearson explains. “I started thinking about how I could manage to get this information, and then I came to realize that I could provide the tracking for it myself!”

Credit: SpaceX

TLE car tags

Pearson registered this domain name, and began assembling the best of tracking data available. The current data that he is using comes from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Horizons website, allowing him to track the Tesla roadster “to the best of human understanding, for some time to come.”

This information will eventually expire, no longer being useful, Pearson points out. “I’m not sure exactly when that will be, but I suspect in a few years. Certainly it will be difficult to see when it next comes close to the Earth, which won’t be for a long time.”

BTW, Pearson concludes: “I do not own a Tesla, but I am in the reservation queue for a Tesla Model 3.”

Credit: SpaceX

Where is the vehicle now?

The Tesla travelogue has the car’s current location at 2,400,187 miles (3,862,728 km, 0.026 AU) from Earth, moving away from Earth at a speed of 6,722 miles/hour (10,817 km/hour, 3.00 km/s).

At present, the roadster is 136,601,793 miles (219,839,344 km, 1.470 AU) from Mars, moving toward the planet at a speed of 42,880 miles/hour (69,009 km/hour, 19.17 km/s).

Don’t panic! Tesla Roadster en route and outbound.
Credit: SpaceX/Screen Grab.

Upcoming milestones

According to Pearson’s website, circle the calendar for these events:

Close Approach of Mars on June 8, 2018 at a distance of 0.740 AU.

Far point from Sun on October 10, 2018 at a distance of 1.655 AU.

Far point from Earth on February 21, 2019 at a distance of 2.446 AU.

Close Approach of Sun on August 9, 2019 at a distance of 0.983 AU.

Close Approach of Mars on September 16, 2019 at a distance of 0.649 AU.

Far point from Earth on January 15, 2020 at a distance of 2.336 AU.

Far point from Sun on April 20, 2020 at a distance of 1.656 AU.

Close Approach of Mars on October 6, 2020 at a distance of 0.049 AU.

StickerLoaf decal
Credit: StickerLoaf











To go to the “Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman?” website, park yourself at:

Also, check out this cool video at:

Big ideas in small packages – what’s your payload of preference?
Credit: Lockheed Martin Space


For the first time, aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, is making technical documents for its satellite buses openly available to the public.

Typically, that data is closely held, shared with others via a non-disclosure agreement in place.

The company’s initiative is dubbed “Open Space.” The goal is to help more companies and innovators tackle pressing challenges – to take cutting-edge technologies from concept to orbit, doing so in a quick cost-effective manner.

Groundbreaking technologies

“We’re ready to help new companies integrate their groundbreaking technologies with powerful satellite platforms,” explains Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. “We believe there’s significant untapped potential out there waiting to be unleashed.”

The call of Open Space starts with a window of opportunity: From now through May 11 concepts can be submitted. A senior panel of technical and business experts will then review each idea to see if the company can match up with a customer and launch opportunity. “For now, please keep your concept non-proprietary. If we think there’s an opportunity to collaborate, we’ll follow up to get into the details,” Ambrose adds.

Credit: Lockheed Martin Space

Downloadable information

A website provides downloadable payload information for Lockheed Martin’s flagship satellite, the LM 2100, a reconfigurable small satellite; the LM 400, and the company’s new nanosatellite, the LM 50.

“We’re inviting industry, academia and individual innovators to bring us their payload concepts or solutions for technology that could take advantage of these payload capabilities and solve hard problems here on Earth,” Ambrose explains. “We’re looking to help solve those challenges that will connect, protect and inspire the world.”

For example, how best to study the Earth’s environment with greater accuracy, help first responders address crises faster, create ultra-high capacity communications links, or what approaches can be taken to adapt low-cost commercial technology to the punishing environments of space?

For more information on Open Space and submitting your idea, go to:

Schematic of the DART mission shows the impact on the moonlet of asteroid (65803) Didymos. Post-impact observations from Earth-based optical telescopes and planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body.
Credit: NASA

The Trump administration’s recently issued proposed NASA budget includes support for a new Planetary Defense program for near-Earth object detection and mitigation under the agency’s Planetary Science Division.

Part of the program is to bankroll the formulation of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission at $90 million in its first year. DART would collide with a double asteroid system as it passes near Earth, allowing observations of the impact’s effects on the motion of the system. Target of the kinetic impact is the smaller asteroid of Didymos, called Didymos B.

Overview of the DART spacecraft with the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) extended. With the ROSA arrays fully deployed, DART measures 12.5 meters (494 inches) by 2.4 meters (98.1 inches).
Credit: NASA

Change in momentum

DART would intercept Didymos’ moonlet in early October 2022, when the Didymos system is within 11 million kilometers of Earth, enabling observations by ground-based telescopes and planetary radar to measure the change in momentum imparted to the moonlet.

Brought up on Space X’s eleventh Dragon flight (CRS-11) to ISS, the ROSA array was tested on Expedition 52 on board the International Space Station (ISS) in June 2017. This was the first in-space test of ROSA. This image shows the ROSA fully extended.
Credit: NASA

DART would be the first demonstration of the kinetic impact technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space.  Crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6 kilometers per second, DART would utilize an onboard camera and sophisticated autonomous navigation software to enable the celestial collision.

Launch window

The DART mission is in Phase B, led by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland and managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

The launch window for NASA’s DART spacecraft’s begins in late December 2020 and runs through May 2021.  It will intercept Didymos’ moonlet in early October 2022.

The DART spacecraft would make use of Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA). For in-space propulsion, DART taps the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C) solar electric propulsion system.

Artist’s concept of the soon to fall Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

A new forecast on the reentry of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab has been issued by The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS).

Tiangong-1 is predicted to reenter in early April 2018, plus or minus 1.5 weeks.

This prediction was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on February 14 and assumes an uncontrolled reentry (no thrusting).

According to CORDS, the orbit of Tiangong-1 as of February 14: Apogee (highest point in the orbit) equals 173 miles (279 kilometers); Perigee (lowest point in the orbit) is 157 miles (252 kilometers).

For reference, the International Space Station is in a 249 mile (400 kilometer) circular orbit.

Tiangong-1 is the first space station built by China and lofted in late September 2011. The first Chinese orbital docking occurred between Tiangong-1 and an unpiloted Shenzhou spacecraft on November 2, 2011. Two piloted missions were completed to visit Tiangong-1: Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10.

Surviving debris

At launch, this Chinese space lab weighed 18,740 pounds (8,500 kilograms).

As explained by CORDS, there is a chance that a small amount of Tiangong-1 debris may survive reentry and impact the Earth.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation (CORDS)

Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over.

A map depicts the relative probabilities of debris landing within a given region.

Yellow indicates locations that have a higher probability while green indicates areas of lower probability. Blue areas have zero probability of debris reentry since Tiangong-1 does not fly over these areas (north of 42.7° N latitude or south of 42.7° S latitude).

These zero probability areas constitute about a third of the total Earth’s surface area.

DSS Antsy image showing Tiangong-1 acquired January 15, 2018
Credit: 2018 Deimos Sky Survey



High-tech observation

Meanwhile, a recent European Space Agency blog post comes courtesy of the team at the Deimos Sky Survey (DeSS).

They use a high-tech automated observatory located on top of Puerto de Niefla, in Valle de Alcudia and Sierra Madrona Natural Park, in central Spain, south of Madrid.

The posting shows Tiangong-1 speeding through space and can be viewed here:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1967, February 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Closing out Sol 1967 duties, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has accomplished several newsworthy tasks.

“We got lots of good news this morning,” reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Firstly, the rover’s Dust Removal Tool brushed off a potential drill target successfully. Also done, Herkenhoff adds, was the analysis by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite of the Ogunquit Beach sample, “and the rover is healthy and ready for more!”

Potential drilling site.
Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) acquired this photo on Sol 1966, February 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Testing new drilling technique

Curiosity’s weekend plan is focused on dumping the last of the Ogunquit Beach sand out of the robot’s Collection and Handling for Interior Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. That is necessary before researchers can test the new feed-extended drilling technique.

Brush off on Mars. Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 1966, February 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

But first, on Sol 1968, Navcam will perform a sky survey and search for clouds, as this is the cloudy season on Mars, Herkenhoff notes. Then the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock targets “Smoo Cave” and “St. Andrews” to sample the nearby chemical diversity.

Sieved, un-sieved samples

Sol 1969 will be a busy day for Curiosity, starting with more ChemCam and Right Mastcam bedrock observations, this time of “Yesnaby” and “Dingwall.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1965, February 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

On the plan, the rover’s robotic arm will get to work, taking Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of the locations where the samples will be dumped, followed by dumping of sieved and un-sieved samples in those two locations, Herkenhoff explains.

CHIMRA will be cleaned out, with MAHLI then tasked to take images of each dump pile from 25 and 5 centimeters above them.

Finally, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will be placed over the pile of sieved material for an overnight integration.

Dump piles

The next morning, on Sol 1970, APXS will be retracted so that MAHLI can take another image of sieved material, to see whether and where APXS touched it.

Following this task, the rover’s arm will be moved out of the way for Mastcam and ChemCam passive spectral observations of the dump piles, and taking ChemCam Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) measurements (with Right Mastcam documentation) of red clasts named “Fladda.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1965. February 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Holiday weekend

Just after sunrise on Sol 1971, Mastcam and Navcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will search for clouds and perform another sky survey.

“This plan will get Curiosity through the holiday weekend, and tactical planning will resume Tuesday morning,” Herkenhoff concludes.

Recently flown suborbital Blue Origin crew capsule 2.0 features large windows that measure 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall.
Credit: Blue Origin


Passenger flight on rocket-for-hire flings to the edge of space is near at hand.

One big draw that adds to the bragging rights for space travelers is the view from high above. Rubbernecking tourists will have face time with space, snagging perspective and images to travelogue their voyages.



Life-changing views

One major ticket-for-sale vendor set to give rocket riders a suborbital space cruise is Jeff Bezos of fame and fortune, along with his team at Blue Origin, based in Seattle, Washington.

“Our New Shepard capsule features the largest windows in spaceflight history. These windows make up a third of the capsule, immersing you in the vastness of space and life-changing views of our blue planet,” explains the firm.

Alan Shepard prepares to board his Freedom 7 suborbital capsule complete with portholes for viewing, later changed to a trapezoid-shaped window. For spacecraft builders, putting in windows was once viewed as offensive to an engineer’s sense of structural integrity and design elegance.
Credit: NASA

Porthole vision

As suborbital spacecraft go, Blue Origin’s windows are clearly a far cry from America’s first human suborbital traveler, Alan Shepard and his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule flight in May 1961. He was provided two six-inch circular portholes.

ISS024-E-014263 (11 Sept. 2010) — NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station. A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows.

Then there’s the International Space Station’s Cupola that provides crew members a 360° view around the orbiting complex through six trapezoid-shaped windows and one large circular viewing port.















For more information on windows in space, go to my new story at:



Window Wars in Space: Quest for the ‘Big View’ High Above Earth

February 16, 2018 06:43am ET

Credit: HP Mars Home Planet

The ultimate goal: Have one million people from Earth, living, working and moving around on Mars.

Join Hewlett-Packard’s Mars Home Planet for a chance to win prizes, collaborate with the world’s leading visionaries, and earn a chance to have your design included in the ultimate Mars VR Experience.

Transportation, infrastructure

In short, call it the “Urbanization” of the Red Planet. Specifically, how best to create transportation and infrastructure solutions for Mars?

How to avoid planning and implementation issues on this future home for humanity? What could be done differently if we could start from scratch?

Powered by HP ZBook Workstations and NVIDIA® Quadro® graphics, entrants can imagine, create and experience the environment for a sophisticated civilization on Mars.

Credit: HP Mars Home Planet

Bring it to life

Think about a cool or innovative design in your area of interest or expertise, and bring it to life with your favorite Autodesk 3D software and HP Z Workstations. Autodesk software and HP Z Workstations are recommended but not required to enter.

NOTE: Deadline date – February 26!

For detailed information on this innovative and expansive activity, go to:



Earlier this week, Daniel Coats, Director of National Intelligence, presented the United States Intelligence Community’s 2018 assessment of threats to US national security.

In the Coats statement for the record, that unclassified worldwide threat assessment included a section on “Space and Counterspace.”

Here is that section of the report:

Antisatellite efforts

Continued global space industry expansion will further extend space-enabled capabilities and space situational awareness to nation-state, nonstate, and commercial space actors in the coming years, enabled by the increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, and growing international partnerships for shared production and operation. All actors will increasingly have access to space-derived information services, such as imagery, weather, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes. Foreign countries—particularly China and Russia—will continue to expand their space-based reconnaissance, communications, and navigation systems in terms of the numbers of satellites, the breadth of their capability, and the applications for use.

Operational forces

Both Russia and China continue to pursue antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness. Russia and China aim to have nondestructive and destructive counterspace weapons available for use during a potential future conflict. We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against US and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems. Military reforms in both countries in the past few years indicate an increased focus on establishing operational forces designed to integrate attacks against space systems and services with military operations in other domains.

Anti-satellite painting by William K. Hartmann

Directed-energy weapons

Russian and Chinese destructive ASAT weapons probably will reach initial operational capability in the next few years. China’s PLA has formed military units and begun initial operational training with counterspace capabilities that it has been developing, such as ground-launched ASAT missiles. Russia probably has a similar class of system in development. Both countries are also advancing directed-energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT weapons that could blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors, such as those used for remote sensing or missile defense.

“Experimental” satellites

Of particular concern, Russia and China continue to launch “experimental” satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities, at least some of which are intended to advance counterspace capabilities. Some technologies with peaceful applications—such as satellite inspection, refueling, and repair—can also be used against adversary spacecraft.

Russia and China continue to publicly and diplomatically promote international agreements on the nonweaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in space. However, many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining that space must be a peaceful domain.

Go to the full assessment at:—Unclassified-SSCI.pdf