Archive for April, 2018

Earth-Moon L2 relay link.
Credit: CNSA


The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has announced the name of the relay satellite to be used in the country’s Chang’e-4 far side Moon lander project.

Enter drum roll: “Queqiao” – bridge of magpies.

As explained by China’s Xinhua news agency: In a Chinese folktale, magpies form a bridge with their wings on the seventh night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar to enable Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, to cross and meet her beloved husband, separated from her by the Milky Way.

Together with the relay satellite, two microsatellites, developed by the Harbin Institute of Technology, will also be sent into orbit to conduct scientific research. The names of those two satellites were also announced: “Longjiang-1” and “Longjiang-2.”

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.

Late May launch

Slated for launch in late May by a Long March-4 rocket, the relay satellite is to be placed into a halo orbit of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2. The relay satellite and rocket are both at the launch center in Xichang, southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Six months later, the Chang’e-4 far side lander and rover will be sent to the Moon. Chang’e-4 also will tote payloads for Germany, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Sweden.

Aitken crater, located at 17 S, 173 E, anchors the northern rim of the South Pole-Aitken basin.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


Gravitational equilibrium

As reported by Xinhua, Bao Weimin, director of the Science and Technology Commission of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said: “We designed an orbit at the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2 about 450,000 kilometers from the Earth, where a gravitational equilibrium can be maintained, and the relay satellite will be able to ‘see’ both the Earth and the far side of the Moon.”

Bao added that the whole mission “is very complex and challenging. We feel great pressure, but we are confident.”

The relay and microsatellite names were announced on China’s “Space Day.” April 24 marks the day when China’s first satellite was sent into space in 1970, and has been celebrated as the country’s Space Day since 2016.

Credit: New China/Screengrab


Sample return next year

In a related Xinhua news agency story, CNSA’s Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center said the launch of Chang’e-5 lunar probe is planned for next year.

That mission is designed to bring lunar samples back to the Earth. Chang’e-5 was delayed from last year due to a Long March-5 booster failure and subsequent investigation of the mishap. That heavy-lifter rocket is needed to hurl the return sample craft moonward.

Credit: New China/Screengrab

Complex undertaking

Pei said that the Chang’e-5 lunar probe will be very complex, containing four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander.

The Moon lander will grab and stash lunar samples in the ascender. Rocketing off the lunar surface, the ascender is to rendezvous and dock with the orbiter, then transfers the collection into the returner, Pei said.

Credit: New China/Screengrab

The orbiter and returner would head back to the Earth, Pei said, separating from each other when they are several thousands of kilometers from the Earth. Finally, the returner will make its way back to the Earth.

In the Xhinua reporting, Tian Yulong, secretary general of CNSA, said after fulfilling the three steps of China’s lunar probe program — orbiting, landing and returning – the country will conduct further lunar exploration, including landing and probing the polar regions of the Moon.

For a behind-the-scenes look at China’s Chang’e-5 mission preparations, go to this CCTV-Plus video:


Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on April 22, 2018, Sol 2030.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, reports that the robot drove a little over 52 feet (16 meters) to the east over last weekend.


“The rover is currently skirting around the southern edge of a small, blocky impact crater on its way north off the Vera Rubin Ridge,” Fraeman explains. The rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) was used to take images of the rover wheels.

Tracking damage

“We do this activity, dubbed Full MAHLI Wheel Imaging (or FMWI in NASA acronym speak), every few hundred meters to track damage to Curiosity’s wheels caused by the terrain. It’s important for us to take this observation in order to estimate how much farther the rover will be able to drive before the wheels become inoperable, and also to understand if the sharp edges of the broken wheels risk damaging the nearby cables,” Fraeman explains. “So far, we estimate we’re in pretty great shape for our plans to drive a lot farther up Mt. Sharp!”

Fraeman added that the last few years, the robot has been actively working to mitigate wheel damage in several ways.

“JPL engineers developed some smart driving algorithms called ‘traction control’ that reduce forces on Curiosity’s wheels as the rover climbs over rocks. Geologists like myself also help by planning drive paths over terrain that is safer for the wheels.”

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on April 22, 2018, Sol 2030.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


The robot’s driving is determined on a sol-to-sol basis in tactically staffed roles known as Surface Properties Scientist (SPS).

“Strategically, we also work with the orbital datasets to predict what the terrain ahead will look like, and we use these predictions to choose long-term paths that will be easiest on the wheels without sacrificing science,” Fraeman points out.

Sharp edges

Curiosity’s path from the last few sols have been dictated by driving along terrain that looks darker and bluer compared to the nearby bright, tan rocks.

“This path corresponds to terrain that is filled with pebbles and hard-packed sand, and we think it’s a little nicer for the wheels than the bright bedrock, which can sometimes have sharp edges. The geologic term for these sharp edged rocks is ventifacts, and they are formed by wind erosion over millions of years. While they probably won’t hurt the wheels too much, we’d prefer to avoid them when possible,” Fraeman concludes.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2030, April 23, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Now in Sol 2031, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has relayed new imagery, including self-inspection photos of wheel wear and tear:

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2030, April 23, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2029, April 21, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2030, April 22, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2030, April 22, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Credit: Archway Publishing

The Outsider’s Guide to UFOs by James T. Abbott, Archway Publishing, Bloomington, Indiana; December 2017; 370 pages, Softcover(B/W), $22.99.

Author James Abbott has taken an impartial look at the baffling and bewildering phenomenon – Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). The volume is a good read with the author taking on core questions that surround and cloud the UFO field. Are they hoaxes, figments of the imagination, or real?

Abbott is an experienced researcher who has spent years studying this timeless debate as an outsider. “UFOs may or may not be of this Earth and time,” he explains, “but the huge job of trying to nail them down is incredibly fascinating.”

Through 19 informative chapters, Abbott notes early UFO sightings, government investigations, mass sightings, and also outlines what skeptics say and points to possible explanations for UFOs. The volume outlines 40 of the most significant UFO cases, as well as over a dozen strange UFO characteristics.

Courtesy: James T. Abbott

I found the book’s last chapter – “The Way Forward” – particularly compelling. As Abbott concludes, the UFO field is full of theories and conjectures. “Are they unknown atmospheric and electromagnetic phenomena, little-understood social or psychological forces, extraterrestrial visitors, interdimensional tourists, fantastic mental projections? Who knows…yet?”

For those of us that have followed the case for UFOs, or lack of a case, believer or non-believer, the reader will find this book a fruitful, thought provoking read.

For more information on this book, also available as a casebound hardcover or E-Book. go to:

The Earth straddling the limb of the Moon, as seen from above Compton crater.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab has established an EarthTime website. It enables users to interact with visualizations of the Earth’s transformation over time.

Combining huge data sets with images captured by NASA satellites between 1984 and 2016, EarthTime brings to life patterns of natural change and human impact.

Rapid urbanization

For example, city growth can be studied with land imagery and lights visible from space at night. An EarthTime user can compare how cities across the world accommodate for rapid urbanization by growing both outward and upward.

Users of EarthTime can view compelling animations accompanied by fact-based narratives from international experts.

Drawing upon EarthTime’s vast data library, the stories are curated in honor of Earth Day 2018. Explore stories to learn more about our collective impact on the planet.

“EarthTime is a means to tell stories. The impact of humanity can be seen globally and in individual communities. You really can’t understand climate change, migration or major social and political trends without examining their connections across time, across space and between each other. EarthTime enables you to do that,” explains Illah Nourbakhsh, Director – CREATE Lab.

To make use of EarthTime, go to:

Credit: CSPS


Aerospace’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS) released a new policy paper that explores future opportunities in cislunar space—essentially, the space inside the moon’s orbit and the orbital area around the moon.

The policy document — Cislunar Development: What to Build— and Why –discusses the possible applications for cislunar space—for example, outposts on the moon, extraterrestrial mining operations, interplanetary waystations—and determines the infrastructure that will be needed to realize those ambitious goals.

Underdeveloped resource

Author James Vedda, senior policy analyst with CSPS, says that the cislunar region remains a largely underdeveloped resource, and any coherent, long-term strategy for space commerce and exploration will need to make better use of it.

Credit: NASA

“An enduring, multi-purpose space infrastructure means more than just rockets and spacecraft,” explains Vedda. “It needs a wide range of capabilities, such as inter-orbital transportation, on-orbit servicing, standardization, fuel storage, energy distribution, communication and navigation services, resource extraction, and materials processing.”

The Center is part of The Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit that provides objective advice to the government on complex space enterprise and systems engineering problems.

To access the policy paper, go to:

Official SpaceX OTV-5 mission patch.
Credit: SpaceX






The classified U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane program is now flying its Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) mission. Skywatchers are reporting the craft recently made an orbital altitude change.

OTV-5’s space jaunt began on September 7, 2017. To date, the orbiting craft has chalked up some 225 days of flight.

Here’s a view of OTV-5 on April 19, 2018 taken by Tristan Cools of the Belgian Working Group Satellites at:

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.
Credit: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo










Also, the OTV-5 craft passing in front of the Moon was acquired by Kevin Fetter, an amateur Canadian satellite spotter in Brockville, Ontario and can be viewed at:


Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 2027, April 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover in carrying out Sol 2028 science duties.

Reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland: “This was a week of transition for Curiosity’s environmental science team. The cloudy season on Mars has ended as we’ve seen a marked decrease in water ice cloud activity in our Navcam sky movies over the last several weeks and we’re moving quickly into the dusty season on Mars.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 2027, April 19, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Guzewich adds that the Mars science team will now be drastically reducing the frequency in which they search for clouds and instead focus their attention on dust devils and storms.

Dustier atmosphere

“The atmosphere is beginning to get dustier, as seen by the hazy look of the northern rim in Gale Crater,” Guzewich adds. “Indeed, we began preplanning our annual campaign to study a potential global dust storm, if and when such a storm develops this year. The dusty season on Mars, roughly the second half of the martian year, runs from the end of May until February next year, and we’ll be monitoring closely for the signs that a global dust storm (the last of which occurred way back in 2008!) is developing,” he points out.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2027, April 19, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Southern spring equinox

On Mars, routine business continued as the science team performed a “touch-and-go” plan with Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of rock targets “Hawick”, “Kemnay”, and “Buchan”, before driving toward the robot’s next destination.

The plan calls for Curiosity to take two movies to look for dust devils and two more Mastcam image sequences to monitor the (increasing) amount of dust in the atmosphere as the rover moves toward southern spring equinox, Guzewich concludes.

New map

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A new Curiosity traverse map shows the rover’s whereabouts through Sol 2027.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2027 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (April 20, 2018).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 2023 to Sol 2027, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 279.70 feet (85.25 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.68 miles (18.79 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Earth-Moon L2 relay link.
Credit: CNSA


China is set to announce the name for its relay satellite associated with the country’s far side lander – Chang’e-4.

According to the China state news agency, Xinhua, together with the relay satellite, two microsatellites, developed by the Harbin Institute of Technology, will also be sent into orbit to conduct scientific research. The names of the two microsatellites will also be announced on April 24.

China’s Space Day on April 24 marks the day the country’s first satellite was sent into space in 1970.

Target: Aitken Basin

The Moon’s far side is the target for the Chang’e-4 lander/rover spacecraft. However, landing and roving on the far side, not visible from Earth, requires a relay satellite to transmit signals to the landed hardware.

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.

The Xinhua news story notes that China plans to send the relay satellite to the halo orbit of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2 in late May or early June 2018. The Chang’e-4 lunar lander and rover is to touch down within the Aitken Basin of the south pole region of the Moon about half a year later.

Dana Vaisler of StemRad wearing AstroRad vest prototype in front of Orion Capsule at Johnson Space Center. Note vest contours which correspond to enhanced protection around sensitive organs – bone marrow, colon, stomach, ovaries and breast tissue. Credit: StemRad.

NASA and the Israel Space Agency have signed an agreement for use of the AstroRad radiation protection vest on NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 flight.

AstroRad is the second product developed by StemRad, following the success of its first product, called StemRad 360 Gamma – the world’s first wearable shield that provides meaningful protection from harmful gamma radiation.

StemRad collaborated with NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft, Lockheed Martin, to adapt its technology for use in space. StemRad is an Israeli-American company headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel.

When venturing into lengthy, piloted deep space missions, the threat of radiation exposure is significantly higher, posing as one of the most significant dangers facing crew members.

An artist rendering of the Matroshka Radiation Phantoms – one protected with the AstroRad vest and one unprotected. Credit: StemRad

Trial test

Called the “Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment”, or MARE for short, an EM-1 test will be comprised of two Matroshka test dummies – one naked and one wearing AstroRad. The Matroshkas, containing thousands of radiation detectors, will be supplied by the German Aerospace Center.

While EM-1 will not likely encounter a solar storm, the mission will pass through the Van Allen radiation belt – a zone of energetic charged particles that emanate from solar winds – providing an opportunity to test AstroRad in conditions similar to those found during a solar storm.

Ergonomically correct

When passing through the belt, the radiation sensors on the dummies will be on and will record readings during the passage. Should the trial be successful, AstroRad will be used on crewed missions to deep space.

Additionally, AstroRad is expected to be used aboard the International Space Station beginning in 2019 for advanced ergonomic studies in microgravity.

For more information on StemRad, go to: