Archive for October, 2019

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2558 tasks.

The rover has made a wheel scuff at “Culbin Sands,” reports Fred Calef, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity purposely ran over a megaripple (fine grained sandy ripple with a coarser pebble coating), Calef notes, to create a “scuff” which churned up and bisected the feature to observe any layering or material within.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2558, October 17, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Ripple inspection

The rover science team chose to inspect the interior of the wheel track scuff and the original undisturbed ripple surface.

Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) targeted “Sandwood Bay,” the fine-grained, disturbed scuff wall and “Glensanda,” the coarser grained ripple flank, along with documentation Mastcam color imaging.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Signature of the sand

Calef adds that rover plans call for it to exercise its arm and explore the chemical signature of the sand with an APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer) measurement over the ripple crest called “High Plains.”

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera B image acquired on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera B image acquired on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera B image taken on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To investigate the grain size and angularity, MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) photography is planned, at various heights, to cover High Plains as well as “Burrowgate” in the scuff and “Corsewall,” along the scuff wall.



Lastly, Calef concludes, a Mastcam mosaic will cover this ripply area, dubbed “Culbin Sands,” in color imaging.

The two Glen Etive Drill holes. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2557.

Reports Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the rover is taking its last views of the Glen Etive 2 drill sample. A recent plan had the robot cleaning out the remaining sample within the drill and doing contact science analysis on the dumped sample.

Image of possible meteorite.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Both the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will be taking a look at “Penicuik,” a pebble target, and “Monach Isles,” a potential small meteorite. Also planned is a standard environmental observation suite: a Mastcam crater rim extinction and tau, and a Navcam supra-horizon movie.

Dumped sample

After the targeted observations, rover planners are to dump out the drill sample, and then take MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) photos of the dumped sample, the drill hole and tailings, and the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) Inlet 1.

Using proximity mode to avoid touching the surface, the robot will perform Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) integrations on two positions over the dump pile, Stroupe explains.

New road map

Newly released map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2556 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (October 15, 2019).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.

From Sol 2555 to Sol 2556, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 6.03 feet (1.84 meters).

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera image taken on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 13.13 miles (21.14 kilometers).

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

Scuff marks

Fred Calef, Planetary Geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes that the rover drive purposely ran over a megaripple (fine grained sandy ripple with a coarser pebble coating) to create a “scuff” which churned up and bisected the feature to observe any layering or material within. The rover science team chose to inspect the interior of the wheel track scuff and the original undisturbed ripple surface.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera image acquired on Sol 2557, October 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Contrast between smaller Dream Chaser and now scuttled Space Shuttle orbiter.
Credit: SNC

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in Louisville, Colorado has received the largest piece of technology to make up Dream Chaser.

It’s the most advanced high-temperature composite space frame ever built, according to SNC.

The primary structure is a pressurized composite structure.
Credit: SNC

Reports Eren Ozmen, chairwoman and president of SNC: “Our team has been looking forward to this day for a long time so that we can fully assemble America’s spaceplane in preparation for its first mission for NASA.”

Primary structure

The primary structure is a pressurized composite structure that will contain pressurized payloads heading to the International Space Station.

The structure was manufactured by subcontractor Lockheed Martin and recently shipped from their Fort Worth, Texas facility to Louisville, Colorado, where Dream Chaser is being built and integrated by SNC.

Credit: NASA

Building block

“As the first building block of the spacecraft, it represents the first critical path hardware to be received in Colorado and launch of the assembly, integration and test (AI&T) phase of the program,” said former NASA space shuttle commander, astronaut and retired USAF pilot Steve Lindsey, now senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area. 

Dream Chaser is scheduled to launch starting in late 2021 for at least six cargo resupply and return services to the International Space Station for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract. 

Credit: SNC

The Dream Chaser Cargo System can carry up to 12,000 pounds of supplies and other cargo, and can return science experiments to Earth with a mild, wheels-down, runway landing. 

“Planned new rocket carries hope for China’s manned lunar landing program,” is the headline on a China Global Television Network (CGTN) story.

The Xinhua news agency-sourced story notes that Chinese space engineers have taken a key step in designing a new generation launch vehicle that could help start China’s manned lunar exploration program, citing the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

A pre-study for the carrier rocket, conducted by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) under the CASC, has passed a review by the China Manned Space Agency.

The mega-booster is to be about 285 feet (87 meters) long, having a liftoff weight of roughly 2,200 tons. It could carry payloads of more than 25 tons to the lunar transfer orbit and would have a new escape system to improve astronaut safety, the Xinhua story explains. “China is pushing forward the pre-study of a manned lunar landing program,” the posting notes.

Long March-5 booster’s first liftoff occurred in early November 2016. Mishap on launcher’s second flight in July 2017. Progress for a return-to-flight Long March-5 mission appears to be underway for possible flight late this year.
Credit: CASC

Grand road map

In a similar story, China Daily reports today that the new booster is almost twice as tall as the Long March 5, currently the largest of China’s booster series.

“China is making a grand road map for its manned lunar programs,” the China Daily story explains, citing China Space News, the flagship newspaper in the country’s space industry.

“However, the maximum carrying capacity of any existing Chinese rocket on a lunar transfer trajectory – the gateway for spacecraft to the Moon – is only 8 tons, which is just enough for robotic missions. To fulfill manned missions, Chinese scientists have to develop a mightier rocket to transport the country’s new-generation manned spacecraft,” the newspaper explained.

Credit: CNSA/China News Service Screengrab

According to China Daily, Hu Xiaojun, a rocket researcher at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said earlier that over the long term the new rocket will be used in conjunction with the Long March 9 – a rocket that is also under development at his academy and that will be China’s most powerful rocket – to transport construction materials to the Moon for a permanent base.

Shown here is a skylight in the Moon’s Marius Hills.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Earth’s Moon is peppered with potential ready and waiting subsurface habitats in the form of lava tubes.

These features are good candidates for permanent human shelters. Moreover, these underground niches could reduce hazards to crews from lunar temperature swings, radiation, seismic activity, and meteorite impacts.

Evidence for their existence under the surface of the Moon has been provided by NASA’s GRAIL mission, Japan’s SELENE spacecraft, and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Data from GRAIL suggests that lava tubes can be more than 3,000 feet to over 6,500 feet (1–2 kilometers) in width.

NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) probes.
Credit: NASA

Stability and safety

Still, the safety and resilience of those habitats are main concerns.

The size and geometry configurations under which the lava tubes are stable are not well-defined and there are no well-established criteria for their steadiness. A cave in would mean a bad day for Moon underground crews.

New research provides analytical and numerical solutions to estimate the size and stability of lunar lava tubes.

Deep diving into the Moon’s underground lava tubes. Entrances or “skylights” to lava tubes might provide future explorers a comfy safe haven.
Credit: Pascal Lee/Mars Institute/SETI Institute

Roof work

In work led by Audai Theinat of the Lyles School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University, a research team has used the flow characteristics of molten lava and the limit equilibrium analysis of the collapsed pits to estimate the size of the lunar lava tubes. Different sizes were considered, from 985 feet (300 meters) up to 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) in width.

According to the investigation by Theinat and team, the results show that the key parameters for the stability of the tubes are the roof thicknesses and the strength of the lava, in particular, its tensile strength. As the lava tube gets wider, a larger tensile strength and roof thicknesses are needed for the tube to remain stable, they report in the online journal, Icarus.

High Sun view of the Mare Tranquillitatis pit crater revealing boulders on an otherwise smooth floor.
NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The study indicates that 1 kilometer wide lava tubes are likely to exist and remain stable. For larger widths, however, minimum roof thicknesses of few hundred meters might be necessary to preserve their stability.


Meanwhile, how best to “ground truth” lunar lava tubes earned the attention of NASA’s Innovation Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Recently receiving a NIAC Phase III award is robotic pioneer, William “Red” Whittaker, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute.

Skylight is a fast, autonomous micro-roving mission concept to explore and model these features that might be gateways to caves on the Moon.

Skylights on the Moon are collapses that come about over subsurface voids. Here on Earth, skylights occur in many lava tubes, providing access to underground caves.

Skylight is a fast, autonomous micro-roving mission concept to explore and model these features that might be gateways to caves on the Moon.
Credit: William Whittaker

Smart and speedy robots

Whittaker’s NIAC-supported work is evaluating use of one or more “smart and speedy” robots to inspect and quickly generate on-the-spot, computer-generated models of craters on the Moon.

These craters, up to now only spotted by Moon-orbiting spacecraft, may be sites of caves that could offer future explorers underground shelter, as well as access to minerals, ice and other resources.

It is essential to develop small autonomous robots, Whittaker says, self-thinking machinery that’s fast and can achieve lunar crater investigations in just a week. After that period of time, he points out that the solar-energized equipment would be exposed to the ultra-chilly lunar night that would permanently disable them.

Rim reasoning

“The idea here is that a rover coming onto a pit is akin to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time,” Whittaker suggests. “The robot will be constantly reasoning to occupy the vantage points at the pit’s rim, then game the risk. Acquiring thousands of images, the robot would generate high-fidelity scientific models that are the purpose of this exploration.”

“The game is on,” underscores Whittaker in terms of renewed human exploration of the Moon.

For more information on the research paper – “Lunar lava tubes: Morphology to structural stability” – go to:

Additional information on NIAC and the Whittaker work can be found at:

Shackleton Crater, the floor of which is permanently shadowed from the Sun, appears to be home to deposits of water ice. A new study sheds light on how old these and other deposits on the Moon’s south pole might be.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University




A new study sheds light on how old deposits of water ice at the Moon’s south pole might be.

Observations are mounting regarding ice deposits in craters scattered across the Moon’s south pole, also dubbed as “cold traps.” However, when or how that ice got there remains puzzling.

Credit: NASA

A new study published in the journal Icarus suggests that while a majority of those deposits are likely billions of years old, some may be much more recent.

Ice as a resource

Ariel Deutsch, a graduate student in Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and the study’s lead author, says that constraining the ages of the deposits is important both for basic science and for future lunar explorers who might process that ice for oxygen, water, rocket fuel, and other purposes.

For the study, Deutsch worked with Jim Head, a professor at Brown, and Gregory Neumann from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

“When we think about sending humans back to the Moon for long-term exploration, we need to know what resources are there that we can count on, and we currently don’t know,” Head said. “Studies like this one help us make predictions about where we need to go to answer those questions,” he said in a Brown University statement.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flies over Shackleton crater near the lunar south pole in this computer rendering.
Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

Orbiter data

“For exploration purposes,” Deutsch adds in the university statement, “we need to understand the lateral and vertical distributions of these deposits to figure out how best to access them. These distributions evolve with time, so having an idea of the age is important.”

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) — which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009 — large craters were assessed in which evidence for south pole ice deposits was found.

To age-date the craters, the number of smaller craters were counted that have accrued inside the larger ones. Scientists have an approximate idea of the pace of impacts over time, so counting craters can help establish the ages of terrains.

Lunar South Pole, 4 peaks are identified which are illuminated more than 80% of the time.
Credit: JAXA

Aging the ice

The majority of the reported ice deposits are found within large craters formed about 3.1 billion years or longer ago, the study found. Since the ice can’t be any older than the crater, that puts an upper bound on the age of the ice. Just because the crater is old doesn’t mean that the ice within it is also that old too, but in this case there’s reason to believe the ice is indeed old.

The deposits have a patchy distribution across crater floors. This suggests that the ice has been battered by micrometeorite impacts and other debris over a long period of time.

Newly developed extraction technique for the Moon, thermal mining, makes use of mirrors to exploit sun-shy, water ice-laden polar craters.
Credit: School of Mines/Dreyer, Williams, Sowers


Significant implications

If those reported ice deposits are indeed ancient, that could have significant implications in terms of exploration and potential resource utilization.

“There have been models of bombardment through time showing that ice starts to concentrate with depth,” Deutsch said. “So if you have a surface layer that’s old, you’d expect more underneath.”

While the majority of ice was in the ancient craters, the researchers also found evidence for ice in smaller craters that, judging by their sharp, well-defined features, appear to be quite fresh. That suggests that some of the deposits on the south pole got there relatively recently.

“That was a surprise,” Deutsch said. “There hadn’t really been any observations of ice in younger cold traps before.”

If there are indeed deposits of different ages, the researchers say, that suggests they may also have different sources.

Exploration of south pole crater. Water ice-rich resource ready for processing?
Credit: NASA

Different sources

Older ice could have been sourced from water-bearing comets and asteroids impacting the surface, or through volcanic activity that drew water from deep within the Moon.

But there aren’t many big water-bearing impactors around in recent times, and volcanism is thought to have ceased on the Moon over a billion years ago. So more recent ice deposits would require different sources — perhaps bombardment from pea-sized micrometeorites or implantation by solar wind.

NASA’s Artemis program – back to the Moon by female/male astronaut crew in 2024.
Credit: NASA

Next steps

The best way to find out for sure, the researchers say, is to send spacecraft there to get some samples.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to put humans on the Moon by 2024, and plans to fly numerous precursor missions with robotic spacecraft in the meantime.

Head says studies like this recently completed work will help to shape those future missions.

The new research in Icarus – “Analyzing the ages of south polar craters on the Moon: Implications for the sources and evolution of surface water ice” – is available here:




NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2554 duties.

A set of scenic images shows the robot’s current surroundings.

A number of close-up images of the rover taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) appear to indicate a new selfie may be in production.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2553, October 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2553, October 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2553, October 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2553, October 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) image shows laser hits on the target. Photo taken on Sol 2554, October 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera B image acquired on Sol 2552, October 11, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Block II prototype Apollo Guidance Computer.
Credit: RR Auction/Don Eyles Collection


RR Auction is offering the Don Eyles Collection in its Fall Space Exploration sale with online bidding running October 11- October 17.

As a 27-year-old MIT computer expert, Don Eyles worked at Draper Labs, the place commissioned by NASA to write the computer code that would take us to the Moon.

Highlights from the collection include; an extremely rare Apollo Guidance Computer prototype—the brain behind the lunar landing.

Electric brain

The Apollo Guidance Computer was in the era of room-sized computers, NASA allocated one cubic foot on their spacecraft for the electric brain that would be responsible for guiding humans to the lunar surface and safely returning them home.

Rather than using the large vacuum tubes or big discrete transistors typical in computers of the time, MIT engineers pioneered the application of integrated circuits—microchips—to accomplish the same task in a diminutive package.

Among additional highlights from the Don Eyles Collection; various mission-used manuals, along with unique computer program printouts.

Book of Mormon carried to the Moon on Apollo 16 by Commander John Young.
Credit: RR Auction/M. Edward Thomas Collection

Book of Mormon

Additional items in the space exploration sale include an extraordinary “Book of Mormon” carried to the Moon on Apollo 16 by Commander John Young, part of the M. Edward Thomas Collection. It was presented to NASA photographer M. Edward Thomas following the mission, signed and flight-certified.

In his capacity as NASA’s astronaut photographer, Marion Edward Thomas (known as “Ed”) worked with John Young in 1972. He was inspired to ask if the Apollo 16 commander planned to take a bible to the Moon with him. Young agreed that having the Lord’s book with him on the momentous occasion was a good idea, and Ed promised to provide him with one.

But fearing that the family’s heirloom bible may not return if tragedy struck, his wife — a devout member of the LDS Church — lent her personal, purse-sized Book of Mormon for the task.

The Space & Aviation Auction from RR Auction began on October 11 and will conclude on October 17. 

For more information, go to:

Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

The first picture of China’s Mars explorer has been unveiled, a spacecraft set to be lobbed toward Mars next year.

In a China Global Television Network (CGTV) story, Ye Jianpei, chief scientist of Space Science and Deep-space Exploration with the Chinese Space Technology Academy, said: “The mission is going smoothly. If no surprise, the Mars explorer is going to be launched in 2020, and land before 2021.”

Credit: CCTV America/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

The image of an encapsulated spacecraft within its cocoon-like aeroshell was issued by the China Aerospace Technology Corporation. Earlier stories by Chinese space officials said the mission includes an orbiter, lander, and a rover.

Credit: CCTV America

Triple tasks, one mission

The mission is designed to examine the Red Planet’s atmosphere, landscape, geological and magnetic characteristics, which could provide clues to the origin and evolution of Mars and the solar system, Ye said.

“Mars exploration is very innovative. If it proves to be a success, it will be the world’s first time a country completes the three tasks in one mission,” Ye added.

Credit: CGTN Infographic



To reach Mars, the spacecraft will be sent into geosynchronous orbit via the heavy-lift Long March 5 liquid carrier rocket – a booster that is up for reflight to certify it is ready to carry Moon/Mars payloads.

Following that phase, the Mars probe will have a seven-month flight to the Red Planet.

Credit: CGTV Infographic

In an August 2016 video, China’s upcoming Mars mission was said to feature an orbiter, lander and a rover.

Multiple Mars launches

China’s Mars explorer will have company.

The favorable Mars opposition launch window in 2020 is the target for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars lander mission (now facing parachute test issues); NASA’s Mars 2020 mega-rover; as well as the UAE’s Hope Mars orbiter.

Go to this video for a preview of China’s mission to Mars:

Credit: SatRevolution/Virgin Orbit/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

A new consortium has been established to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars.

Nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, Virgin Orbit, to carry out the task.

Credit: SatRevolution/Virgin Orbit/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

First of up to three

The parties established the consortium this week at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland. The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.

According to a statement, preliminary work conducted by the consortium has shown that spacecraft as small as 110 pounds (50 kilogram) or less can be used for a broad range of opportunities for scientific study, such as collecting imagery of Mars and its moon Phobos, analyzing the Martian atmosphere, or even such an ambitious endeavor as looking for underground reservoirs of water.

Credit: SatRevolution/Virgin Orbit

Go-to country

SatRevolution is headquartered in Wroclaw, Poland. The group will be primarily responsible for the design and manufacturing of the small satellite, providing its basic subsystems.

In April 2019, SatRevolution sent its Światowid spacecraft into Earth orbit, Poland’s first commercial nanosatellite. “We want Poland to be ‘the go-to’ country for small interplanetary spacecraft,” said Grzegorz Zwoliński, SatRevolution president.