Archive for April, 2019

Credit: StartRocket

A Russian entrepreneurial group – StartRocket — has got its eyes on the sky – to create an in-orbit system that would allow advertisements, logos, special product offerings and messages to be constantly posted.

Making use of a cluster of cubesats, the orbital display can reach a potential audience of 7 billion – everyone on the planet. The display orbits at roughly 250 – 310 miles (400-500 kilometers) altitude and would deliver 3 to 4 messages/images a day.

Credit: StartRocket/Screengrab: Inside Outer Space

Vlad Sitnikov is project leader of this space startup, bringing to the table 20 years of advertising skills.

Credit: Start Rocket/Screengrab: Inside Outer Space

Sky branding

The dream, according to the group, is to follow artist Andy Warhol’s observation: “The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s. Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.”

The group’s website explains “Space has to be beautiful. With the best brands our sky will amaze us every night. No ugly place there after this.”

Start Rocket expects to collect $25 million for the first round of investment until October 1, 2019 with the goals: product  developing and design research (engineering and main tech solution developing), test main formation specifications, two first cubesats, control mission station, ground tests, fixing, airworthiness certificates, orbit technology demonstration, result and tests analysis.

Credit: StartRocket/Screengrab: Inside Outer Space

Cost of the orbital display operating time slot after the formation deploy is $200k for 8 hours.

Number of applications

According to the group’s website, there are a number of applications for display orbit:

  • Displaying complementary messages or images from the orbit during global events for entertaining purposes.
  • Bringing necessary information to the public on a broad-based perception level: from the simplest to the most complicated: such as logos and special product offers from brands.
  • When phones don’t work, during zero visibility, power cuts and catastrophical emergencies – government can use the display for urgent notifications for the population.

For more information on their plans, go to:

For updated information, go to this Jeff Foust story:

Pepsi Drops Plans to Use Orbital Billboard

Credit: CGTN

China is on the verge of selecting new crew members for its space station program.

To date, a total of 11 taikonauts or Chinese astronauts have gone into space.

Credit: CGTN

As reported by China Global Television Network (CGTN), Huang Weifen, who is in charge of training taikonauts, explains that China plans to select three individuals for its first crewed space station mission.

There are 16 active taikonauts in the current two groups. Only three will be selected to take part in the first piloted space station mission.

Credit: CGTN

Huang said as Chinese future space missions expand, they can even help train and cultivate other countries’ astronauts. She believes there will be more international cooperation on astronauts training and selection.

Credit: CGTN

China is planning to assemble its crewed space station next year. The orbital outpost is scheduled to become fully operational around 2022, according to the CGTN video. Since Chinese astronauts will spend at least three months on a space station mission, they are also expected to solve more emergencies.





To view the CGTN video on taikonaut training, go to:


Crash landing survivor? NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/MIT Laser Retro-reflector Array (LRA) for Lunar Landers.
Credit: SpaceIL/Courtesy Xiaoli Sun/GSFC

A NASA piggyback experiment may have survived the April 11 crash landing of Israel’s Moon lander, Beresheet. Overflight of the crash site by the U.S. space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) should provide imagery of the impact area.

Additionally, an LRO-carried Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) will attempt to detect a NASA-provided laser retro-reflector array in the Beresheet wreckage zone. Called the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/MIT Laser Retro-reflector Array (LRA) for Lunar Landers, the ball-shaped device was located on the top side of the Israeli lander.

NASA experiment after installation (the array is mounted on the top of the spacecraft, lower left, at about 7 o’clock position).
Credit: SpaceIL/Courtesy Xiaoli Sun/GSFC

Smaller than a computer mouse, LRA is composed of eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners that are set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. That array is lightweight, radiation-hardened and long-lived.

From the high-flying LRO, laser beams generated by LOLA would strike the device and then are backscattered from the lunar surface. For each laser beam, LOLA measures its time of flight, or range.

Detection attempts

“Yes, we believe the laser reflector array would have survived the crash although it may have separated from the main spacecraft body,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s David Smith, the principal investigator for LOLA and an emeritus researcher at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland. LOLA will begin planning observations early next week, he said.

“Of course we do not know the orientation of the array, it could be upside down, but it has a 120 degree angle of reception and we only need 1 of the 1/2″ cubes for detection, but it has certainly not made it any easier,” he told Inside Outer Space.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA/Goddard Science Visualization Studio (SVS)

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project is proceeding with attempting to image the crash site with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera system, LROC for short, Smith said. Also, the LRO-carried laser altimeter will be making attempts to get a return from the array as originally planned, he said.

NASA is interested in dotting the Moon with many such retro-reflectors in the future. These would serve as permanent “fiducial markers” on the Moon, meaning future craft could use them as points of reference to make precision landings.

The Israeli lunar spacecraft weighed only 1,322 pounds, or 600 kilograms.
Credit: Eliran Avital

Chain of events

Preliminary data supplied by the engineering teams of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) suggests a technical glitch in one of Beresheet’s components triggered the chain of events on April 11 that caused the main engine of the spacecraft to malfunction.

Without the main engine working properly, it was impossible to stop Beresheet’s velocity. The Moon lander overcame the issue by restarting the engine. However, by that time, its velocity was too high to slow down and the landing could not be completed as planned.

Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander imagery taken before crash landing on April 11.
Credit: SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)

According to SpaceIL and IAI, preliminary technical information collected shows that the first technical issue occurred at 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) above the moon. At 492 feet (150 meters) from the lunar terrain, connection with the spacecraft was lost completely. At that time, Beresheet was moving vertically at 310 miles per hour (500 kilometers per hour), headed for an inevitable collision with the lunar surface.

The Beresheet spacecraft, whose name means “genesis” or “in the beginning” in Hebrew, was launched on February 21.

Meanwhile, the dream goes on! Morris Kahn, SpaceIL Chairman, the non-profit company that built Beresheet, announced today the launching of a follow-on lunar lander: Beresheet 2.0.

Go to video at:

Click on image to produce before/after drilling. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover is now performing Sol 2376 science duties.

The Mars robot continues the sequence of drill activities at “Aberlady” reports Vivian Sun, a planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California,

Mars researchers will be collecting Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) data of the dump pile with two offset observations “to better understand any compositional variations, which are hinted at by the color variations observed in the drill fines,” Sun adds.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2376, April 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Also planned is performing another Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) integration to further refine the mineralogic analyses for Aberlady.

Mastcam Right Sol 2374 image acquired on April 11, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dump pile photos

Images will be taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of the dump pile and the drill hole.

“Discussions of whether we should drill again near our current workspace or drive away and drill elsewhere are still ongoing,” Sun explains, “but to cover our bases we planned an APXS and MAHLI observation of “Seil” for reconnaissance on potentially drillable bedrock.”

Many of the robot’s remote sensing activities were designed to characterize the compositional variability of the bedrock in this region.

Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2376, April 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Possible meteorite fragment

On the plan is producing a series of ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) rasters on “Glen Water,” “Ben Vane,” “John O Groats,” and “Kirkcaldy,” as well as their corresponding Mastcam documentation images.

“We also planned a ChemCam target on a possible meteorite fragment called ‘Lumphanan.’ This observation is unusual because ChemCam targets are usually limited to within approximately [23 feet] 7 meters distance of the rover mast, as data quality decreases at longer distances. Lumphanan is more than [30 feet] 9 meters from the rover mast, but we decided to use this measurement as a long distance calibration activity,” Sun notes.

Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2376, April 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2376, April 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust devil survey

Other observations in the weekend plan include a suite of atmospheric monitoring activities, Sun reports, including a Navcam dust devil survey.

Scientists are also taking advantage of Curiosity’s stationary location by continuing the change detection campaign with Mastcams of “Claymore” and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) observations. Lastly, also planned is a Mastcam mosaic of the sulfate unit to aid in targeting a ChemCam long-distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) observation of the sulfate unit, Sun concludes.

Possible meteorite fragment? Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2365, April 2, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Meteorite? Photo taken by Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager on Sol 2376, April 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Credit: NASA/Apollo 11 photo


China’s stepping stone space agenda is likely to include a piloted Moon mission to be launched by the mid-2030s.

That finding is presented in a new report — China’s Pursuit of Space Power Status and Implications for the United States – has been issued by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

This paper is the product of professional research performed by staff of the Commission, and was prepared at the request of the Commission to support its deliberations.

Source: Defense Intelligence Agency, Challenges to Security in Space, February 11, 2019

Legitimacy and international prestige

A set of executive summary findings:

  • China seeks to become a peer in technology and status of the United States in space. Although China still lags behind the United States in some areas, given the fact that in at least one key area it is likely to accomplish in 20 years what took the United States 40 years to complete, it will likely achieve other important milestones more quickly than the United States did in the past.
  • China’s successful deployment of a lander to the Moon’s farside, the first in history, clearly demonstrates Beijing’s ability and desire to achieve increasingly sophisticated milestones in space. It is likely a Chinese crewed lunar mission will launch by the mid-2030s.
  • China’s deliberate and comprehensive approach to its space program, backed by high levels of funding and political support, has allowed it to attain domestic legitimacy and international prestige. China will probably launch, assemble, and operate a long-term space station before 2025 and has invited international partners to participate in its use.

Credit: CMSA











To read the entire document, go to:

Sol 128 image taken April 7 by the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) shows the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3). There remains uncertainty as to why the “mole” — the nickname for the self-hammering spike that is part of HP3 — is not performing as expected.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Engineers on the NASA InSight Mars lander mission are still trouble-shooting the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3). There remains uncertainty as to why the “mole” — the nickname for the self-hammering spike that is part of HP3 — is not performing as expected.

“The discussion about the reasons of the mole not penetrating further have settled to three hypotheses of similar credibility but differing likelihood of occurring,” reports Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin.

Components of the HP3 heat flow probe. Top left: the radiometer (RAD), which is used to measure the radiation temperature (roughly equivalent to the ground temperature) of the surface. Right: the casing with the mole penetrometer, the temperature measuring cable (TEM-P) and the data cable (ET) connected to the lander. In addition, the casing contains an optical length meter for determining the length of the temperature measuring cable that has been pulled from the casing. The mole contains the TEM-A active thermal conductivity sensor and the STATIL tiltmeter. Bottom left: the electronic control unit, known as the back end electronics (BEE), which remains on the lander and is connected to the probe via the ET.
Credit: DLR

  • The mole or the tether that it is trailing behind may be snagged in the Support Structure. While this hypothesis is credible it so far lacks a clear mechanism of how this may have happened. Tests at the DLR Institute of Space Systems have shown, that the tether may get snagged but only in very special circumstances.
  • The mole may have encountered a sufficiently large rock or stone at 30cm depth. The size of the rock would have to be 10cm or larger for the mole not being likely to push it aside or to go around it. This explanation is so simple that everybody would be ready to believe it. But, the likelihood of such a stone blocking the moles’ way is only a few percent judging from the well-established (surface) rock-size-frequency distribution for the landing site.
  • The mole may not have enough friction on the hull to balance the recoil. Geologists have seen that the topmost centimeters on Mars is formed by what is called a “duricrust”. Here, chemical reactions between grains of sand have made them stick together, providing cohesion in that layer. The duricrust is usually thin and not a problem. But at the InSight landing site, it seems to be 20 or so centimeters thick! If the mole is sitting in the duricrust, its hull may very well have lost friction and upon time, the mole may have widened the hole in the duricust as is suggested by the data from our accelerometer and by our thermal data.

InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) acquired this image showing the HP3 experiment and SEIS seismometer (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structures) on Sol 99, March 8, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


“At the moment it seems that the discussion is leaning towards hypothesis #3, not the least as we have seen such a behavior in tests on Earth in cohesive sand and low atmosphere pressure,” Spohn says. “But we have not settled yet on this explanation.”

In any case, if hypothesis #3 were found to be the best explanation, Spohn adds, “it may also offer the simplest remedy. All we would need to do is help the mole to balance the recoil.”

InSight’s robotic arm may be of help here but that needs to be assessed further by engineers.

“Otherwise, the mole is entirely healthy,” Spohn concludes. “Stay tuned.”

Credit: NASA

Hack the Moon celebrates the engineers behind the Apollo program.

A digital trove of Apollo artifacts debuts on a special website established by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There’s a treasure trove of newly released photos, videos and stories about the unsung heroes of Apollo.

Credit: Draper

Hack extras

Hack the Moon is free and open to the public. Visitors to the site will find more than 2,000 images, 200 pieces of original content and 150 videos that tell the story of the Apollo missions.

The site features a handy search engine, a mobile-friendly design and special sections on the people, the technology and the missions.

A section called “Hack Extras” takes visitors to podcasts, resources, upcoming events, trivia quizzes and more. “In Their Own Words” presents the personal stories of many of the engineers of Apollo as they encounter and overcome challenges and make some surprising discoveries.

Credit: Draper

Personal accounts

Visitors can read personal accounts from Apollo astronauts such as Jim Lovell’s recollection of seeing the Moon for the first time, and Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt’s story about his scientific discovery on the Moon.

Credit: Draper

Among the many video stories, Draper engineer Don Eyles recounts his experience averting disaster during Apollo 14, and Margaret Hamilton remembers the happy accident in the lab that led her to develop Apollo’s error detection recovery code.








To access Draper’s new website — Hack the Moon – go to:

Credit: SpaceIL/IAI/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Israel’s Beresheet Moon lander is nearing the moment of truth, projected to land on the Moon at about 11 p.m. Israel time on April 11.

That time may change due to final maneuvers, but in achieving a controlled landing on the Moon, Israel moves into the lunar elite column of capable countries that have plopped surviving hardware down on the Moon. Israel would follow the Soviet Union, the United States, and China.

The Moon lander is on an “excellent” track, according to controllers.

Now awaiting its fate, Beresheet is circling the Moon. SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will conduct a series of intense spacecraft maneuvers in preparation for the landing.

Beresheet on Monday morning, April 8, performed a maneuver as it entered ever-tighter orbits around the Moon. Over the next three days, additional maneuvers will turn the spacecraft’s current elliptic orbit into a circular orbit 125 miles (200 kilometers) (125 miles) away from the lunar surface.

Projected landing area on Moon by Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft. Credit: Aharonson, et al.

Projected landing site

SpaceIL’s spacecraft will land on a site within Mare Serenitatis, on the northern hemisphere of the Moon. This site has magnetic anomalies to be explored by a magnetometer device taking measurements as part of the lander’s scientific experiments.

According to Oded Aharonson of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, in addition to a suite of cameras, the mission has integrated a scientific payload consisting of a small Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA) provided by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Also on Beresheet, a magnetometer provided by the University of California, Los Angeles.

Integrated on Israeli lunar lander, a NASA scientific payload consisting of a small Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA).
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Science mission

In a paper presented at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) last month – The Science Mission of the SpaceIL Lunar Lander – lead author, Aharonson spotlighted Beresheet’s science mission: detailed characterization of the landing site, measuring the crustal magnetic anomalies to constrain their possible origin and longevity of the lunar dynamo, and localization of the lander using ranging via the NASA-provided LRA.

Beresheet’s targeted landing site is located in the northeastern part of Mare Serenitatis and West of the main Posidonius crater – the area of the three optional landing sites, a primary site and two backups.

Credit: SpaceIL/Israel Aerospace Industries

“We plan to use these data to associate the anomalies with geologic features on the surface, and thus probe the genesis of the remnant magnetization,” the LPSC paper explains. “A relation between magnetization and local wrinkle ridges would be consistent with the hypothesis that the Serenitatis mare are uniformly magnetized with an intensity higher than typical Apollo mare basalts but only producing surface fields at physical breaks where the field lines can emerge due to edge effects.”

Also onboard the lunar lander is an experiment — smaller than a computer mouse — that could enable spot-on touch downs of future robotic and human-carrying landers, the Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA).

For more information on the NASA LRA, visit my recent story at:

NASA’s Piggyback Experiment on Israeli Moon Lander Could Aid Future Lunar Touchdowns

Mars 2020 rover.

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is coming together, headed for its launch window: July 17 – Aug. 5, 2020. If all goes well, the mega-machine will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021.

Once firmly planted on Mars, one onboard experiment promises to help prepare for human exploration of that faraway world.

MOXIE stands for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, demonstrating a way that future explorers might produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellant and for breathing.

Breathe easy! MOXIE is carefully placed within chassis of Mars 2020 rover.


Last month, members of NASA’s Mars 2020 project installed the car-battery-sized MOXIE into the chassis of the rover.

MOXIE will collect carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Martian atmosphere and electrochemically split the carbon dioxide molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide molecules. The oxygen is then analyzed for purity before being vented back out to the Martian atmosphere along with the carbon monoxide and other exhaust products.


Suck it up

The atmosphere of Mars is mostly CO2. Demonstration of the capability for extracting oxygen from it, under Martian environmental conditions, will be a critical step toward how humans on Mars will use the Red Planet’s natural resources. Oxygen can be used in the rocket propulsion to launch homeward from Mars, as well as for breathing.

Approximately two hours of oxygen (O2) production per experiment will be scheduled intermittently over the duration of the Mars 2020 rover mission. MOXIE’s oxygen production rate will be about 10 grams per hour – about 0.022 pounds per hour.

Mars ship.
Credit: National Geographic TV

Future oxygen generators that support human missions on Mars must be about 100 times larger than MOXIE. Indeed, to launch off of Mars, human explorers need about 33 to 50 tons (30 to 45 metric tons) of fuel.

“When we send humans to Mars, we will want them to return safely, and to do that they need a rocket to lift off the planet. Liquid oxygen propellant is something we could make there and not have to bring with us. One idea would be to bring an empty oxygen tank and fill it up on Mars,” says Michael Hecht, Principal Investigator of the experiment from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2368, April 5, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2369 duties.

Friday marked the conclusion of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Science Team Meeting, held at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 2368, April 5, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“These meetings are where scientists and engineers can come together to discuss the ongoing activities associated with the Curiosity rover. They’re always productive opportunities to discuss strategies for analyzing previously collected data as well as strategies for investigating the terrain ahead of the rover,” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist from the University of Michigan in Dearborn, Michigan.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2368, April 5, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Target selected

After significant discussion among the science team as well as analysis of the compositional data that came down recently from both the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instruments, the team has decided to proceed with drilling the “Aberlady” target.

“The additional compositional analyses confirmed that the composition of this target looks comparable to other targets within the clay-bearing unit,” Salvatore notes. “So, with the team coming to this consensus, today marks the planning of Day 1 of our typical drill cadence, complete with a pre-load drill test to monitor and examine the drill’s performance prior to actual drilling into the target.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 2367, April 4, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Atmospheric argon

These activities are preceded by a 1.5 hour science block, which will focus primarily on additional ChemCam compositional analyses and Mastcam color and multispectral imaging of the workspace, Salvatore adds.

Laser dots seen by Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2369, April 6, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The plan calls for the rover’s APXS to begin a series of two integrations.

“However, instead of placing the sensor head on the martian surface to investigate the compositions of rocks and sediments, APXS will turn her sensor skywards to measure seasonal changes in atmospheric argon,” Salvatore points out. “These activities will set us up nicely to continue with the drill campaign, hopefully resulting in a full drill effort sometime this weekend.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image produced on Sol 2368, April 5, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS