Archive for May, 2018

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

NASA has published a map capturing a cultural perspective of locations in the solar system and points beyond.

The map was produced by Bryce Space and Technology under contract with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate for the Directorate’s Emerging Space Office.

Bold and broad

This map is unique in that it is not science or engineering-focused. The wall chart is bold in vision and broad in scope, designed to elicit discussion at the agency’s highest levels when it comes to thinking about our future in space.

The map’s emphasis is on three parts of human geography: strategic geography (control of, or access to, spatial areas that have an impact on the security and prosperity of nations), economic geography (patterns of trade and finance, infrastructure and facilities that contribute to the economy of a region), and social geography (interaction of social processes, cultural products and norms and their variations).

To take a look, go to:

Geologist Harrison Schmitt performs Moon tasks during Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
Credit: NASA

There are unopened treasures brought back by moonwalkers, lunar collectibles returned to Earth in 1971-72.

A new NASA program has been established – the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA).

The goal of the ANGSA program is to maximize the science derived from samples returned by the Apollo Program in preparation for future lunar missions anticipated in the 2020s and beyond.

Specially curated materials

To achieve this, ANGSA is asking the lunar research community what kind of work can be accomplished on specially curated materials from the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 sample collections.

Astronaut John W. Young, commander of the Apollo 16 mission, stands at the ALSEP deployment site during the first extravehicular activity (EVA-1) at the Descartes landing site.

The ANGSA program is considering only proposals that focus on the analysis of unopened vacuum-sealed Apollo samples; frozen Apollo Samples; and Apollo samples stored in Helium.

The Apollo missions collected 382 kg of rock, regolith (i.e., soil), and core samples from six locations on the nearside of the Moon. Today, just over 84% by mass of the Apollo collection remains in “pristine” condition within the curation facility at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texa

Astronaut David R. Scott, commander of Apollo 15, standing on the slope of Hadley Delta.
Credit: NASA

Wholly or largely unstudied

Although most Apollo samples have been well characterized over the years, there remain several types of samples that have remained wholly or largely unstudied since their return, and have been curated under special conditions.

Unopened vacuum-sealed Apollo samples: Nine “special samples” were collected in containers that had indium knife-edge seals to maintain a lunar-like vacuum, and three such containers remain sealed from Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

Frozen Apollo samples: Several Apollo 17 samples were initially processed under nominal laboratory conditions in a nitrogen cabinet at room temperature, but placed into cold storage (-20°C) within one month of return: six subsamples of Apollo 17 drill core, nine subsamples of permanently shadowed soils, a subsample of soil, and all of the lunar rock identified as 71036.

Apollo samples stored in Helium: Apollo 15 Special Environmental Sample Container (SESC) specimens were opened in a helium cabinet inside an organic clean room at the University of California, Berkeley. A total of 21 subsamples have been continuously stored in Helium since this initial processing.

Expected program budget for first year of new awards is roughly $3.5 million, with those wanting to take part in the ANGSA program required to send NASA a notice of intent (NOI), due June 22, 2018.



Credit: CNSA


China has successfully launched the Queqiao relay satellite, a first step in the country’s quest to land the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.

Queqiao is to be positioned in an Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point – a place in space where the spacecraft can relay communications between ground controllers and the far side lander/rover mission.

The Queqiao relay craft is essential to any far side landing attempt by Chang’e-4, to be launched moonward later this year.

Credit: CNSA

Radio astronomy

Queqiao is carrying a Dutch radio antenna, the Netherlands Chinese Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE).

With the instrument, made by engineers from the Radboud Radio Lab of Radboud University, ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo, and the Delft-based company ISIS, astronomers want


to measure radio waves originating from the period directly after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies were formed.






For a look at NCLE deploying one of its three antennas in a lab test, go to this video:


A pair of 104 pound (47 kilograms) microsatellites are also heading for the Moon.
Credit: Harbin Institute of Technology

Hitchhiking microsatellites

Also on board the relay satellite mission, a pair of hitchhiking microsatellites – unofficially called DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2 (DSLWP = Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder).

DSLWP is a lunar formation flying mission led by students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, designed for low frequency radio astronomy, amateur radio and education. They will eventually enter a lunar elliptical orbit. Onboard each satellite, there are two VHF/UHF SDR transceivers to provide beacon, telemetry, telecommand, digital image downlink and a repeater. Onboard transmitting power is about 2 watts.

The satellites will use the Moon to shield them from radio emissions from Earth for a series of long wavelength space-based interferometry experiments.

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Emotional time

NCLE project leader Marc Klein Wolt (managing director Radboud Radio Lab) was present at the launch together with colleagues and representatives from the Dutch embassy in China.

“Everything has been successful and our antenna is now on its way to the so-called second Lagrange point (L2) of the Earth-Moon system. That is about 65,000 kilometers behind the Moon,” Wolt said in a press statement.  “The team watched the launch at a distance of 2 km from the platform…I have never heard such an impressive sound. The rocket came over our heads at a height of 100 kilometers and we all got a bit emotional. We have been working hard on this mission for two years and now NCLE has to continue this journey on its own.”

“The launch was spectacular, clear sky with stars and Mars, unfortunately not the moon as backdrop,” Albert-Jan Boonstra, project leader at ASTRON, told Inside Outer Space.

For a view of the launch, go to:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2055, May 18, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Will Mars get the drill?

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 2056 implementing a step-wise drilling of the target “Duluth.”

The robot’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) has brushed a section of the target, prepping it for drilling.

According to JPL, engineers have been working for the past year to restore the rover’s full drilling capabilities, which were hampered in 2016 due to a mechanical problem.


Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2055, May 18, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Percussion technique

If all goes well, Curiosity controllers will be adding “percussion” to a new technique already in use on Mars.

“This new technique is called Feed Extended Drilling, or FED. It lets Curiosity drill more like the way a person would at home, using the force of its robotic arm to push its drill bit forward as it spins. The new version of FED adds a hammering force to the drill bit,” notes a JPL statement.

Why Duluth?

In the United States, Duluth, Minnesota has one of the coolest climates in the U.S. due to its proximity to the world’s largest and one of the deepest freshwater lakes.

“The drill target ‘Duluth’ on Mars was also once near the shore of a large freshwater lake. Its climate is also relatively cool, so the name is apropos,” explains Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The robot’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) has brushed a section of the target, prepping it for drilling. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) produced this image on Sol 2055, May 18, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



The name of the drill site was almost changed when it was realized that “Duluth” was already used for a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) target way back on Sol 292. “Normally we don’t use names more than once, but the team decided an exception was warranted,” Wiens adds.

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2054, May 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2055 science duties. Red Planet researchers are getting ready for re-starting drill activities on Mars. The drill target is “Duluth.”

Drill sequence

Reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Curiosity rover is commencing its drill sequence with a full suite of contact science characterizations. It will start with a touch of the target by the arm just off to the side of the planned drill site, documented earlier by Hazcam and Navcam.

Rover drill ready for action. Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2053, May 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Then an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) observation will be performed, followed by Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) observations of the Duluth target at 25 centimeters.

Up close on Duluth

“After that there will be a pre-load drill test,” Wiens notes, “which will be documented by the imagers. MAHLI will image the site at 35 centimeters along with imaging the location where the arm did its touch.”

The Dust Removal Tool (DRT) will brush the target, after which Mastcam will inspect the brush and the brushed surface, Wiens adds, and MAHLI will document the brushed target at 25, 5, and 1-2 centimeter distances. The 5 centimeter distance will support a stereo pair of images.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2054, May 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Uplink commands

Also on the plan, APXS will be placed for an overnight observation of the target. Navcam and Hazcam will document most of the arm instrument positions over the course of the day.

The robot’s Mastcam is slated to take a Phobos transit video near sunset. The rover is set to use its Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) to monitor the background environment. If all goes well, the uplink team will soon begin work on the drilling commands, Wiens reports.

Name is apropos

The name Duluth was selected by geologists on the mission to recognize the Duluth Complex, one of the largest intrusions of gabbro on Earth, along the north shore of Lake Superior. Gabbro is a coarse-grained and usually dark-colored igneous rock.

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2054, May 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Duluth has one of the coolest climates in the U.S. due to its proximity to the world’s largest and one of the deepest freshwater lakes. The drill target ‘Duluth’ on Mars was also once near the shore of a large freshwater lake. Its climate is also relatively cool, so the name is apropos,” Wiens explains.

Drilling issues

According to JPL, engineers have been working for the past year to restore the rover’s full drilling capabilities, which were hampered in 2016 due to a mechanical problem. If all goes well, this weekend, Curiosity controllers will be adding percussion to a new technique already in use on Mars.

“This new technique is called Feed Extended Drilling, or FED. It lets Curiosity drill more like the way a person would at home, using the force of its robotic arm to push its drill bit forward as it spins. The new version of FED adds a hammering force to the drill bit,” notes a JPL statement.

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

“America’s Human Presence in Low-Earth Orbit” is the hearing topic today for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

“The United States is committed to continuing its presence on and support for the International Space Station (ISS) to 2024. However, the Administration has stated its intention that direct Federal support for the ISS should end in 2025. This hearing will explore that choice, how we can determine the best policy outcome, and other essential questions about human spaceflight advanced by this discussion,” notes the Committee.

Go to video of hearing at:

Chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) made this opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“The International Space Station (ISS) is the crown jewel of America’ human spaceflight program.

As a representative for Johnson Space Center, I am proud of the leadership role Johnson has with the ISS and American human space exploration in general. I am keenly aware of the importance of the ISS to the hard-working professionals of Johnson Space Center. For them, the ISS is more than just a program of record, it is part of their being. This is why I take, with the utmost seriousness, the questions our committee must address on future of the ISS and America’s human spaceflight program.

The Trump administration is a strong advocate for human space exploration and I support the administration’s renewed focus. I agree, in broad terms, with the human exploration plans the administration has outlined. I appreciate the administration’s invitation to discuss and mature plans for our civil space exploration program, including the ISS. However, we, as a Congress, have a responsibility to think through the issues on our own and reach our own conclusions, which is why we are here today.

Two main objectives

I believe that doing exploration right means that anywhere we establish a human presence in space we must fulfill two main objectives. First, we must make that presence sustainable. Second, we must use that presence as a jumping off point to extend our reach even further.

This discussion, along with maintaining continuity of purpose, are key themes in the 2018 NASA Authorization Act, recently passed out of this committee on a bipartisan vote. Section 202 of the act, on the ISS transition, reflects a balance. It provides authority and guidance to the administration to carry out the initial steps of its ISS transition plan, but does so on a limited basis. It explicitly limits authorization to carry out the initial exploratory steps of the administration’s plan to FY19.

Four criteria

Section 202 of the 2018 NASA Authorization Act is good policy that provides a strong foundation for Congress and the nation as we take our next steps with the ISS and America’s future human presence in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Four criteria that we may consider for evaluating success of an ISS transition:

First, the United States must preserve its global leadership in space and this means preserving our international partnerships as we continue onwards.

Second, our presence in LEO should support our journey to the moon and beyond.

Third, staying in LEO should not preclude further human exploration for economic or other reasons.

Fourth, as necessary to meet our national interests, we should maintain a regular American human presence—and whether public or private, whether permanent or periodic—in LEO.

Lead and cooperate

I can tell you that “failure is not an option.” I can also tell you that there are not a lot of scenarios in which a few billion dollars per year can magically be added to NASA’s human spaceflight program. Therefore, we have only one option: we must figure out how to lead and cooperate with our private and international partners to make human presence in LEO sustainable. With commitment, we can successfully transition the ISS while maintaining American leadership in human spaceflight.

In closing, I am proud that America has led and will continue to lead the human exploration of the cosmos. I will do everything in my power as chairman of the subcommittee to support NASA and American leadership in human space exploration. I thank the witnesses for their attendance and look forward to their testimony.”

Long-term future

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, delivered the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“Our nation faces important questions about future space exploration. Will the International Space Station (ISS) stop receiving federal support in 2025? If so, under what conditions? What is the future of America’s human presence in low-Earth orbit? Beyond that, what is the future of human presence on the Moon and Mars?

The ISS has been authorized and funded to operate until 2024. Decisions about the long-term future of the ISS impact the future of America’s human space exploration program.

Unless NASA’s budget is significantly increased, there are not enough funds both to maintain direct federal support for the ISS and return American astronauts to the surface of the moon in the 2020s. And without a sharp increase in funding for NASA, we cannot ensure American leadership in human deep space exploration in the next decade and beyond.

ISS transition plan

NASA announced an ISS transition plan at the end of March. According to the proposal, the United States should not continue direct federal support for ISS operation beyond 2024. The private sector—commercial space—may well pick up where NASA leaves off.

In addition to the transition of the ISS, a related but important question is the future of America’s human presence in low-Earth orbit. After 2025, should Americans maintain some human presence in low-Earth orbit, even on a limited basis? But, having an “American human presence in low-Earth orbit” does not necessarily mean continuing to operate the ISS. Discussing continued human presence and continued operation of the ISS are related, but distinct subjects.

Existing law can help guide this discussion. The 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act reaffirms the principle of “continuity of purpose.” It also establishes that extending human presence throughout the solar system is a long-term goal for NASA. It directs NASA to follow a “stepping stone” approach to exploration.

This involves expanding human presence from low-Earth orbit to the moon, from the moon to Mars, and then from Mars to other bodies throughout the solar system. The 2018 NASA Authorization Act was approved by the Science Committee on a bipartisan vote and the act supports the administration’s transition plan in FY 2019.

It is my hope that this hearing will help us evaluate the transition of the ISS and continued American presence in low-Earth orbit.”

Credit: Screengrab





Witness testimony:

Mr. William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA

Dr. Bhavya Lal, Research Staff, Science and Technology Policy Institute for Defense Analysis

Dr. Elizabeth R. Cantwell, CEO, Arizona State University Research Enterprise (ASURE); Professor of Practice, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport & Energy, Arizona State University.

Credt: CCTV/Screengrab

China’s One Space successfully launched on May 17 its first private rocket at a launch base in the country’s northwestern region.

The suborbital rocket, OS-X Chongqing Liangjiang Star, traveled 273 kilometers at a speed five times faster than sound, flying along its preset trajectory for 306 seconds.

Bigger strides

“The success of today’s maiden flight actually marks our very first step, which means, for the first time we have launched a newly built rocket with just one blast,” Shu Chang, CEO and co-founder of One Space told China Central Television (CCTV). “Next time we will make bigger strides to take on the challenges such as how to produce 100 rockets at the same time.”

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab

OneSpace was founded in 2015. Shu told China Daily that the rocket company is striving for 10 missions in 2019. “I hope we can become one of the biggest small-satellite launchers in the world,” Shu said.

Added Zhang Jie, a One Space engineer: “I feel so thrilled and excited. My heart kept beating fast. I’m absolutely happy about it, after we have spent so much time, put so much energy into this.”

To view the launch, go to:

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2053, May 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is carrying out Sol 2054 science duties.

Reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California:

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 2052, May 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Our sol 2054 plan was limited by a small morning downlink. Occasionally, the flight paths of the Mars orbiters over Gale Crater don’t have favorable geometries for relays with Curiosity, and this means our data downlink passes are smaller than average. Today we received only 1.6 MB (Megabytes) of data at the start of our planning day. This was just enough to tell us the drive executed successfully and the rover was healthy, but not enough to include any new images from our current spot.”

Another small downlink several hours into planning, Fraeman adds, gave scientists the first view of a drill target “smack in the middle of our workspace”- a rock that has been dubbed “Duluth.”

Untargeted activities

The plan now calls for most of Sol 2054 completing “untargeted” activities.

Data from Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will be collected from the ChemCam calibration target. Also, the robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is slated to take photos of the sky. Mastcam will snag a photo of the rover deck. Additionally, the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) will be used on a target chosen autonomously by the rover using the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) software.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2053, May 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Phobos in focus

“We will also make observations to characterize our environment and the dust in the atmosphere, including a Mastcam tau observation and images of the crater rim, and Navcam images of the sky and horizon,” Fraeman explains. On Sol 2055, Phobos, one of the two moons of the Red Planet, will be imaged as it passed in front of the Sun. “These data help us better constrain the orbit of this small, potato shaped moon, she concludes.

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



Traverse map

A Curiosity traverse map through Sol 2051 has been issued.

The map shows the route driven by Curiosity through the 2051 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (May 16, 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 2047 to Sol 2051, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 1.94 feet (0.59 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.84 miles (19.06 kilometers).

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

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, convened a hearing titled “Examining the Future of the International Space Station: Administration Perspectives,” held May 16, 2018.

The first in a series of two hearings to examine the role of the International Space Station (ISS), these hearings will provide an opportunity to discuss the value of the ISS to our national space program and the future of human space exploration.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness.
Credit: Inside Outer Space Screengrab






Today’s witnesses and their written testimony:

William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations

Paul K. Martin, Inspector General, NASA

Common themes

As noted by Gerstenmaier, decisions about the future of the ISS will be discussed across the ISS international partnership. The partners agree on common themes for considering the future of ISS and exploration, including:

 Reducing operational costs;

 Offering frequent visible national astronaut opportunities;

 Continuation and continuity of research and technology development activities;

 Building synergies between LEO and exploration activities; and

 Support of commercial opportunities.

For a video look at the entire hearing, go to:

“Duluth” – perhaps the next drill target.
Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2052, May 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Now in Sol 2053, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is slated to Bump to “Duluth” – perhaps the next drill target.

Reports Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville: “A successful drive on Sol 2052 brought Curiosity within bumping distance of what will likely be our next intended drill target. The science team named this target ‘Duluth.’ Duluth is a beautifully exposed Murray formation block.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2052, May 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Nice vantage point

“From our current location,” Kronyak adds, “we have a really nice vantage point of both the top and sides of the Duluth block. Analyzing blocks that have this kind of 3-D expression gives us a great opportunity to assess the full architecture of the rock.”

A new plan for Sol 2053 includes a science block prior to the Curiosity bump. In the science block, researchers will acquire several Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) rasters on targets “Pine Mountain” and “Windigo,” both of which are located on the Duluth block.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 2051, May 14, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The plan also calls for the robot to take Mastcam images of Duluth to document the ChemCam observations and to provide some additional context on the vertically exposed sides of the block, Kronyak notes.

Drilling campaign

Curiosity environmental observations are in the plan as well, including Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) measurements and a dust devil survey with Navcam.

“After our bump, Kronyak adds, “we’ll take some post-drive images to set up for an exciting drilling campaign over the next several sols!”