Archive for November, 2018

Eu:CROPIS satellite: “Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-food Production in Space.”
Credit: DLR (CC BY 3.0)

The Eu:CROPIS mission will be launched into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California November 19, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

Eu:CROPIS stands for “Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-food Production in Space.”

The unique investigation was designed and built by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Friedrich Alexander University (FAU) in Erlangen–Nuremberg.

The Eu:CROPIS satellite is roughly one cubic meter in size and weighs over 500 pounds (230 kilograms) with its biological payload.

Life support systems

Deployed from the SpaceX launcher at some 370 miles (600 kilometers) altitude the satellite carries two biological life support systems that carry greenhouses, dwarf tomato seeds, single-celled algae and synthetic urine.

The aim is for the seeds to germinate in space and continue to grow due to the successful conversion of urine into a fertilizer solution. The mission is intended to show how biological life support systems can be used to supply food on long-term missions.

Packing up the Eu:CROPIS satellite.
Credit: DLR

Rotation rates

During the mission, the satellite will rotate around its longitudinal axis. Depending on the rotation rate, this generates a specific level of altered gravity.

According to the DLR, during the first part of the experimental phase, gravitational conditions like those on the Moon will be created (0.16 times Earth’s gravitational pull), with 20 rotations per minute. This will last for around 23 weeks. The first greenhouse will be put into operation during this phase.

In the second research phase, the satellite will simulate gravity on Mars (0.38 times that of Earth) by rotating 32 times per minute. Experiments will now take place in the second life support system.

On-camera activities

The processes at play inside the greenhouses are to be recorded by cameras and transmitted down to Earth.

Cosmic tomatoes will grow in two greenhouses inside the Eu:CROPIS satellite.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

“This mission seeks to show that urine can be converted into nutrients even under lunar and Martian gravity conditions,” says Jens Hauslage of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne.

The DLR German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhohen will control the satellite.

Also on board the Eu:CROPIS satellite: two Radiation Measurement in Space devices and an on-board computer to process the images taken by the on-board cameras. NASA will also be running a PowerCell experiment relating to the production of useful substances in space using bacteria.

Space-Earth link

As explained by the DLR, fresh vegetables that thrive in space thanks to converted organic waste products are not only a prerequisite for long-term space travel, but the research findings from such projects can also be useful on Earth.

For example, if urine or manure can be recycled into fresh water and nutrients usable by plants, this could improve living conditions in overcrowded areas or in places that have an extreme shortage of drinking water, while providing relief for soil and groundwater – another of DLR’s areas of research.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right A photo taken on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2230 tasks.

Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, reports that the Mars machinery has been busy delving into the mineralogy of the latest drill hole sample.

Scientists are eager to get a Highfield drill sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite for analysis. To prepare for SAM, the plan called for a preconditioning activity to get the instrument ready to receive and analyze the sample.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 2227, November 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Inside the hole

While the SAM preconditioning activity takes up the bulk of Sol 2229’s power, Curiosity scientists were still able to plan about four hours’ worth of science activities, Kronyak adds.

The plan called for kicking off Sol 2229 with a hefty 2 hour-long science block. In it, four targets will be analyzed with the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam),  one down the inside of the Highfield drill hole, another along the drill tailings at the surface, a third on a nearby vein called “Fraser Castle,” and a fourth on bedrock target “Flanders Moss.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

After that, Mastcam images of each ChemCam target are to be taken, to confirm where the laser shots hit, Kronyak explains.

Laser shots viewed in this Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Change detection

“We’ll also image targets ‘Sand Loch’ and ‘Windyedge’ with Mastcam. This pair of images is important for change detection purposes, which we frequently perform when the rover is sitting in the same location for more than a few sols,” Kronyak points out. “For change detection, we take the same two images around the same time of day to help quantify how the martian wind is changing the landscape around us.”

The Sol 2229 plan also called for use of the robot’s Mastcam to acquire a few multispectral images – these images are taken using multiple camera filters.

“Experts on the science team use these images to help us interpret the composition of the local bedrock and surrounding areas,” Kronyak says. “We’ll take multispectral images of two targets to the side of the rover, ‘Loch Ba’ and ‘Slate Islands.’ To wrap up the science block, we’ll take some images with Navcam to look for dust devils. Later in the evening, we’ll perform our SAM preconditioning activity before going to sleep.”

Data products

Curiosity is to wake up on Sol 2230 for another loaded science block.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2227, November 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“This time, we’ll use ChemCam to perform a passive calibration activity, followed by another Navcam dust devil suite and repeat Mastcam change detection images. We’ll then use Mastcam to make additional atmospheric observations in the form of tau and crater rim extinction measurements. Later on in the late afternoon, we’ll take a final pair of Mastcam change detection images and perform a sunset tau measurement,” Kronyak reports.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right A photo taken on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech




“It was a busy day for the Mastcam team with all of our exciting change detection, multispectral imaging, and atmospheric measurements,” Kronyak concludes. “I’m very much looking forward to these data products, as well as updates later this week on the status of our Highfield drill sample!”

Credit: Autodesk

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Autodesk have engaged in a multi-year collaborative research project to investigate new approaches for building interplanetary landers.

The concept lander, perhaps the most complicated structure ever created using “generative design,” was unveiled today at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Credit: Autodesk

Design solutions

Generative design is a relatively new approach that uses machine intelligence and cloud computing to quickly generate a broad set of design solutions that fit within the specific constraints set by engineers. It enables design teams to explore a much wider design space while still being bound by manufacturing and performance requirements dictated by the team or environment, according to an Autodesk press statement.

A commercial form of generative design technology is available today in Fusion 360, Autodesk’s cloud-based product development platform.

Credit: Autodesk

Organic-looking shapes

Generative design is often associated with 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which is well-suited for the complex, organic-looking shapes that the software produces based on user specifications.

For the lander project, the JPL team explored the use of experimental generative design technology for multiple structural components, including the internal structure that holds the scientific instruments, and the external structure that connects the lander legs to the main payload box. The team has been able reduce the mass of the external structure by 35% compared with the baseline design that they started with.

New designs quickly

A key benefit of generative design is that it enabled the JPL team to iterate their designs rapidly.

Credit: Autodesk

“As a design matures and new performance or environmental data comes in, generative design can enable our customers to create new designs quickly,” says Karl Willis, Autodesk’s technology lead on the project. Most design teams typically take 2-4 months to turn around a revised design. Working with generative design, that process can take place in 2-4 weeks, he adds.

Three lunar samples were brought to Earth in 1970 by the Soviet Luna-16 Mission.
Credit: Sotheby’s


The sale of Moon rocks will headline Sotheby’s Space Exploration auction on November 29, offered with an estimate of $700,000–1,000,000.

The sale will mark just the second time that an actual piece of another world has ever been offered for public sale. The three lunar samples, which were brought to Earth in 1970 by the Soviet Luna-16 Mission, were previously sold at Sotheby’s in 1993.

Sotheby’s second annual Space Exploration sale is taking place just a month before the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the Moon.

Take a look at the impressive Sotheby’s Space Exploration catalog now available to view online. Go to:

Voice-recorder flown in space aboard Vostok-6 with Valentina Tereshkova, June 16-19, 1963.
Credit: Sotheby’s

Variety of space collectibles

Once again, there will be a wide variety of material from both the American & Soviet space programs — from lunar & space photography, original artwork by artists such as Chesley Bonestell and Alan Bean, flown mission artifacts and hardware, items from the personal collections of astronauts, autographed items, maps & charts, signed books, models, spacesuits, and much more, with material suited for both new and seasoned collectors.

Megaquartz watch given to astronaut Deke Slayton by Omega to commemorate his flight on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
Credit: Sotheby’s



Buzz Aldrin’s “Space Selfie”
Photographic canvas print, 19 by 24 inches, depicting a self-portrait by Buzz Aldrin during his 1966 Gemini 12 EVA.
Credit: Sotheby’s


Soviet LK-3 Lunar Lander Model
Lunar lander model, 21 ½ inches tall, 13 by 13 inch base, large scale model, metal and composite.
Credit: Sotheby’s








Credit: NASA/ESA



The European Space Agency (ESA) is pressing forward on European payloads that could be contributed to a possible Moon exploration campaign.

A just-released request for information (RFI) is one leg of a campaign to be implemented within the framework of the European Space Exploration Envelope Program, subject to decisions at the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial level planned for December 2019.

Credit: NASA

Moon missions

The campaign is focused on access to the Moon via missions as early as 2020, categorized as:

Missions of Opportunity: where European payloads respond to flight opportunities made available by the private sector or international partners.

Directed missions: where European payloads are contributed to missions that are defined and driven by ESA alone or with international partners, to achieve a predefined set of objectives.

Lunar base made with 3D printing
Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners


Another purpose of the RFI is establishment of a straw man payload for an ongoing ESA directed mission study, conducted with international partners, on a human lunar exploration precursor mission called HERACLES, mercifully short for Human-Enhanced Robotic Architecture and Capabilities for Lunar Exploration and Science.

Inside look at one idea the European Space Agency is exploring in its formulation of a “Moon Village” that incorporates 3D printing.
Credit: ESA/ Foster + Partners

The HERACLES mission study currently conceives of cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) , the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA with a launch not earlier than 2026; noting that the study is open to the inclusion of other agencies that may be interested to join the partnership.

An international team of lunar researchers has blueprinted an exploration scenario for humans and robots to investigate five sites on the Moon.
Credit: E.J. Allender et al./Advances in Space Research

Science topics

Payloads of interest for Missions of Opportunity include both scientific instrumentation and payloads for technology demonstration and testing.

Examples of scientific topics that could be addressed, but are not limited to:

  • The bombardment history of the inner solar system
  • The structure and composition of the lunar interior
  • The diversity of lunar crustal rocks
  • Volatiles at the lunar poles
  • Volcanism
  • Impact processes
  • Regolith processes
  • Atmospheric and dust environment
  • Life sciences and astrobiology
  • Fundamental physics
  • Astronomy
  • Space resource utilization

Technological topics

Areas of interest for technology demonstration payloads include, but are not limited to:

  • Precision landing
  • Hazard avoidance
  • Mobility
  • Autonomy
  • Robotics
  • Power generation and energy storage
  • Low temperature operations and survival
  • Dust mitigation
  • Space Resource Utilization
  • Communication/ navigation

Responses to this ESA-issued RFI are due December 15, 2018.

For more information, go to:

Opportunity views sunrise on Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL


NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has been silent, perhaps temporarily, following a dust-up with the Red Planet.

But researchers have created the soundtrack of the 5,000th Mars sunrise captured by Opportunity using “data sonification” techniques to create a two-minute piece of music.

Pixel by pixel

The piece of music was produced by scanning a picture from left to right, pixel by pixel, and looking at brightness and color information and combining them with terrain elevation. They used algorithms to assign each element a specific pitch and melody.

Tuning up to Mars, Domenico Vicinanza of Anglia Ruskin University.
Credit: Domenico Vicinanza

The maestros of Mars, Domenico Vicinanza of Anglia Ruskin University and Genevieve Williams of the University of Exeter will present the world premiere of the piece, entitled Mars Soundscapes in the NASA booth at the forthcoming Supercomputing SC18 Conference in Dallas next week.

The piece will be presented using both conventional speakers and vibrational transducers so the audience could feel the vibrations with their hands, thus enjoying a first-person experience of a sunrise on Mars.

Mars soundscapes.
Credit: Domenico Vicinanza

Flexible technique

In a press statement, Vicinanza, Director of the Sound and Game Engineering (SAGE) research group at Anglia Ruskin noted:

“Image sonification is a really flexible technique to explore science and it can be used in several domains, from studying certain characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres, to analyzing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions.”

In health science for example, Vicinanza says it can provide scientists with new methods to analyze the occurrence of certain shapes and colors, which is particularly useful in image diagnostics.

Give a listen to this:

Credit: National Geographic




National Geographic has officially launched Starstruck – a celebration of space across its global networks, magazines, books and more.

For starters, check out MARS: INSIDE SPACEX, premiering Monday, November 12, at 8 p.m. eastern, an unprecedented glimpse into SpaceX and Elon Musk’s plans to make Mars home.





For more information, go to:


Then stay tuned for the start of Season 2 of National Geographic’s TV docudrama MARS premiering on November 12 at 9 p.m. eastern.

MARS Season 2 trailer and Season 1 Recap –

MARS Season 1 that premiered in 2016 (six episodes) –

Credit: National Geographic

For U.S. and international viewers, look for my book that’s now in six languages and coming out in Chinese shortly: Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet is the companion volume to the National Geographic Channel MARS TV series Season 2, a six-part docudrama that begins on November 12th. The book takes a look at the promise, problems, and potential pitfalls as humans land on and learn to live on Mars.

“This big, welcoming book—brimming with mind-revving photographs and artists’ conceptions and written with verve and precision by David—provides the foundation on which the scientifically rigorous, speculatively imaginative series was built.” —Booklist

Go to these sites or wherever books or sold:

Credit: National Geographic




International outreach

Here are some links for our international readers to the book in these languages:










The book is also available in Greek and forthcoming in Chinese. We will post those direct links as they become available. If you want to read these international websites in English, your browser should have a clickable link to translate them for you.

Artist’s impression of the ExoMars 2020 rover and Russia’s stationary surface platform in background.
ESA/ATG medialab


Mars is going to be a busy place in 2021.

The U.S., China, and Europe will attempt robotic Mars landings, with the United Arab Emirates slated to send an orbiter towards the Red Planet.

ExoMars 2020 landing site candidates on elevation map.
Credit: NASA/JPL

The increasing pace of Mars exploration was shown last week by an ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group recommendation of Oxia Planum as the touchdown locale for the European Space Agency-Roscosmos rover and surface science platform that will launch to the Red Planet in 2020.

Clear winner

This proposed landing site will be reviewed internally by ESA and Roscosmos with an official confirmation expected mid-2019. Previously, Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis have both been under active study. Oxia Planum has been deemed “the clear winner” on both science and engineering constraints.

Sizes of key components of the ExoMars 2020 mission.
Credit: ESA

The ESA-led rover and Roscosmos-led surface science platform will launch in the July 25-August 13, 2020 launch window on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and cruise to Mars in a carrier module containing a single descent module, arriving at Mars March 19, 2021.

Mars underground

At the heart of the ExoMars program is the quest to determine if life has ever existed on Mars. The ExoMars rover will travel across the Martian surface and drill down 6 feet (2 meters) depth to determine if evidence of life is buried underground.

Oxia Planum lies at the boundary where many channels emptied into the vast lowland plains. Observations from orbit show that the region exhibits layers of clay-rich minerals that were formed in wet conditions some four billion years ago, likely in a large body of standing water.

Europe’s ExoMars 2020 rover.
Credit: ESA

Also, Oxia Planum offers a safety margin for entry, descent and landing, as well as terrain that the rover can easily navigate to sites of scientific interest.

The ExoMars landing ellipse has low elevation and contains very few topographic obstacles or challenging slopes.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2225, November 9, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mastcam Right image acquuired on Sol 2225, November 9, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2225, November 9, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image produced on Sol 2224, November 8, 2018. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Now in Sol 2226, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is performing post-drilling tasks – the 18th drill hole completed by the robot.

New imagery from Curiosity shows the new drill site and self-inspection.

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space


China’s new rockets, Long March-9, Long March-8 and Smart Dragon, were presented at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province.

Long March-9 (Chang Zheng-9) is a heavy-lift launch vehicle designed to carry a payload of 140 tonnes into low-Earth orbit and 50 tonnes into Earth-Moon transfer orbit.

China plans to launch Long March-9 around 2030.

Zhang Zhi, chief designer of Long March-9
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Long March-8 (Chang Zheng-8) is a medium-lift launch vehicle, expected to make its maiden flight in 2020.

Smart Dragon No.1 or Lightning Dragon No.1 is the first rocket in the Lightning Dragon series, developed by ChinaRocket under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

For this CCTV video, go to:

Griffith Observatory Event