Archive for January, 2020

European Space Agency research fellow Alexandre Meurisse and Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow producing oxygen and metal out of simulated moondust inside ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory.
Credit: ESA–A. Conigili

 

A prototype oxygen plant for the Moon has been set up in the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of the European Space Research and Technology Center, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

“Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel,” explains Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow.

The facility’s focus is on oxygen production, extracted from lunar stimulant.

Artist impression of activities in a Moon Base.
Power generation from solar cells, food production in greenhouses and construction using mobile 3D printer-rovers.
Credit: ESA – P. Carril

Oxygen extraction method

According to a European Space Agency statement: “ESTEC’s oxygen extraction is taking place using a method called molten salt electrolysis, involving placing regolith in a metal basket with molten calcium chloride salt to serve as an electrolyte, heated to 950°C. At this temperature the regolith remains solid. But passing a current through it causes the oxygen to be extracted from the regolith and migrate across the salt to be collected at an anode. As a bonus this process also converts the regolith into usable metal alloys.”

The molten salt electrolysis method was developed by UK company, Metalysis, for commercial metal and alloy production.

The ultimate aim of the research is designing a “pilot plant” that could operate sustainably on the Moon, with the first technology demonstration targeted for the mid-2020s. 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2648 duties.

Recent imagery by the robot includes photos of a strange trough while descending from Western Butte. Curiosity drove downhill and parked at the top of the trough, which has been named “Balgy.”

From the ground, Balgy looks like a shallow ditch filled with dark sand. Researchers don’t know what created this feature, or why it happens to be in this location.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2645, January 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2645, January 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2647, January 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2646, January 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2647, January 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2647, January 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2646, January 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

 

Development of the world’s first kinetic launch system by SpinLaunch has received new investment.

The launch system utilizes a large mass accelerator to provide on demand launches of small satellites in virtually any weather at an order of magnitude lower cost and higher frequency than any existing or proposed launch system, according to the group that’s headquartered in Long Beach, California.

SpinLaunch Headquarters, Long Beach, California, USA.
Courtesy: SpinLaunch

SpinLaunch also has a flight test facility at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

Mass accelerator

Jonathan Yaney, Founder and CEO of  SpinLaunch, Inc. stated in a press statement: “Later this year, we aim to change the history of space launch with the completion of our first flight test mass accelerator at Spaceport America.”

Credit: New Mexico Economic Development Department

The company has received an additional investment of $35 million for continued development of the concept, bringing total investment to date to $80 million.

Investors include Airbus Ventures, GV, KPCB, Catapult Ventures, Lauder Partners, John Doerr and Byers Family.

Credit: New Mexico Economic Development Department/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Reimagining space launch

The funds from this investment will be used to scale the SpinLaunch team and technology, and continue to build out SpinLaunch’s new corporate headquarters in Long Beach, California, and complete the flight test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

In January 2019, SpinLaunch relocated to a new 140,000 square foot facility in Long Beach, California.

Groundbreaking for SpinLaunch facility at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
Credit: Credit: New Mexico Economic Development Department/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

According to the company’s just-issued statement: “SpinLaunch is reimagining space launch by revisiting fundamental physics and leveraging proven industrial technologies to create a system that accelerates the launch vehicle to hypersonic speeds using ground-based electricity. Applying the initial performance boost from a terrestrial-based launch platform will enable the company to provide a substantially lower cost launch to orbit, multiple times per day.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2643, January 12, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2645 duties.

“While descending from Western Butte, Curiosity has stopped to investigate a strange trough along the way,” reports Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2644, January 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“In the images from orbit, it looks like someone drew a thick straight line with a dark felt marker on the southeastern side of the butte. From the ground, it looks like a shallow ditch filled with dark sand,” Rice adds. “We don’t know what created this feature, or why it happens to be right here, so it’s worth stopping for a closer look.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo acquired on Sol 2644, January 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Downhill driving

Over the weekend, Curiosity drove downhill and parked at the top of the trough, which we named “Balgy.”

The rover is slated to take a large Mastcam stereo mosaic covering both sides of Balgy Trough. Mars scientists are also taking a smaller Mastcam stereo mosaic of laminated rocks nearby called “Baljaffray,” and grab a quick set of Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) observations on the bedrock target “Kennedys Pass.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2644, January 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“After that, Curiosity will finish descending from Western Butte and will head south,” Rice concludes.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2644, January 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts training in terrestrial lava tubes located on Spain’s Canary Island of Lanzarote.
Credit: L. Ricci/ESA

The use of lava tubes on Mars as emergency shelters and storage has been advanced by researchers at the Antarctic Institute of Canada.

Lava tubes are formed from fast moving lava which later cools and forms roomy caves that might serve various functions for future human expeditions to the Red Planet.

Svetozar Zirnov, Daniel Polo, and Austin Mardon of the institute floated the idea at this week’s Seventh International Conference on Mars Polar Science and Exploration being held in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Levels of radiation

“There are many issues that astronauts may face while on a space exploration mission to Mars, which include but are not limited to fatal levels of radiation, exposure to rapidly changing extreme temperatures, as well as falling micrometeorites,” the research team explains.

While on Mars’ surface, radiation levels are much higher than those on Earth, they add, and exposure to such fatal levels of radiation is both harmful to the human body, and even deadly.

High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express captured this image of Pavonis Mons, the central volcano of the three ‘shield’ volcanoes that comprise Tharsis Montes. Researchers believe these are lava tubes, channels originally formed by hot, flowing lava that forms a crust as the surface cools.
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

“Radiation comes in many ways on Mars’ surface such as solar flares which are constituted similarly to the solar wind, but the individual particles hold higher energies, and galactic cosmic rays which are composed of very high energy particles, mostly protons and electrons. Lava tubes may help to protect astronauts from such levels of radiation, while on a space mission,” they report.

Credit: NASA

 

Temperature swings

In their paper, Zirnov and colleagues note that exposure to extreme temperatures on Mars must also be taken into account.

They point out that the average daytime temperature on Mars in the winter season is about -80 degrees Fahrenheit, or -60 degrees Celsius in the daytime, while about -195degrees Fahrenheit, or -125 degrees Celsius at night.

In the summer time, the average daytime temperature heats up to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 20 degrees Celsius.

Apollo 15 image captures landing locale of China’s Chang’e-5 Moon lander – the Mons Rümker region in the northern part of Oceanus Procellarum, away from previous sampling sites. 
Credit: NASA

 

Later this year, China is slated to attempt the first Moon-sample return to Earth mission in over four decades.

The candidate landing region for China’s Chang’e‐5 lunar sample return mission is the Rümker region, located in the northern Oceanus Procellarum. The area is geologically complex and known for its volcanic activity.

There’s great science to be had according to a new research paper, led by Chikondi Chisenga of the State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing at Wuhan University in Wuhan, China.

Locations of proposed landing sites (marked by red stars) from new study.
Chisenga, et al.

 

Chikondi and colleagues (including experts from the U.S. and Sweden) report the Mons Rümker region on the Moon features evidence for multiple volcanic episodes, including some of the youngest lunar mare basalts known to date.

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

 

Underground bodies

Chinese lunar researchers have analyzed gravity data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. Also used were geophysical tools to study both shallow and deep subsurface structures. The assessment also utilized data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) and Japan’s Terrain Camera that flew on the Kaguya Moon orbiter.

China’s Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission.
Via China Space website

Credit: New China/Screengrab

 

“Our results suggest that the Mons Rümker region features multiple small and large high‐density underground bodies, some of which breach the surface,” the research team reports. In particular, there could be a large magmatic body at a depth of roughly 3.7-11.2 miles (6–18 kilometers) that fed the surface volcanoes. Their analyses also revealed another circular feature at roughly 4.3-10.5 miles (7‐ 17 kilometers depth with high‐density values.

 

Maximum scientific return

As China prepares to send the Chang’e‐5 mission to collect drill‐hole samples, the research team combined the results from their study with remote sensing and geological analyses to propose four candidate landing sites that “satisfy the geological and geophysical criteria for maximum scientific return.”

The Chang’e-5 mission will retrieve and return to Earth up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar surface and subsurface samples. Chang’e-5 is comprised of four parts including the orbiter, ascender, lander, and Earth reentry module containing the lunar specimens.

Following a circumlunar voyage in 2014, a return capsule parachuted to Earth. This test was a prelude to China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission being readied for its return sample mission now scheduled for 2020.
Courtesy: China Space

The former Soviet Union successfully executed three robotic sample return missions: Luna 16 returned a small sample (101 grams) from Mare Fecunditatis in September of 1970; February 1972, Luna 20 returned 55 grams of soil from the Apollonius highlands region; Luna 24 retrieved 170.1 grams of lunar samples from the Moon’s Mare Crisium (Sea of Crisis) for return to Earth in August 1976.

The last Apollo mission to bring back to Earth lunar collectibles was the Apollo 17 expedition in 1972.

Go to this China Central Television (CCTV) video that spotlights the Chang’e-5 mission at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJrmmWnU8HE

To view the paper — “Geology and Scientific Significance of the Rümker Region in Northern Oceanus Procellarum: China’s Chang’e-5 Landing Region” — go to the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets at:

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1029/2019JE005978

 

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image taken on Sol 2642, January 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has entered Sol 2643 and is performing planned science tasks.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera photo acquired on Sol 2642, January 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Curiosity is still on the shoulder of Western Butte at a location that provides a good vantage point, exposes changes in stratigraphy, and reveals some interesting float blocks in our workspace,” reports Lauren Edgar, a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2640, January 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dust Removal Tool activity seen in this Curiosity Mast Camera Right image acquired on Sol 2641, January 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Fresh surface

Last Wednesday (planning Sols 2640-2641) researchers were able to conduct contact science on a bedrock target named “Buchan Haven,” a target where the rover’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) cleared away a fresh surface.

A recent plan kicked off with several Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations to assess the chemistry of a nodule target “Strathy Point,” a vein target “Abernethy,” and bedrock target “Glen Clunie,” along with Mastcam documentation of these rocks.

Then the robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was slated to characterize the grain size, sedimentary structures, and chemistry of “Lomond Hills” (a dark float block that might represent the butte capping unit), and “Abernethy” (an interesting vein).

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2642, January 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Light-toned vein

Edgar adds that the second sol included additional remote sensing, with several long distance Remote Micro-Imaging (RMI) camera mosaics to assess the stratigraphy of the pediment and Gediz Vallis ridge, and a Mastcam multispectral observation of a light-toned vein at “Hascosay.”

The Environmental theme group planned a number of atmospheric monitoring observations, including a Mastcam tau, crater rim extinction, Navcam line of sight, and dust devil and suprahorizon movies.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image acquired on Sol 2641, January 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Methane observation slated

Then Curiosity was scheduled to drive roughly 148 feet (45 meters) to the northeast, down the eastern slope of the butte.  After the drive the rover was set to acquire imaging to help with context and targeting for next week.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image acquired on Sol 2641, January 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2642, January 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2642, January 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On the morning of Sol 2644, Curiosity will acquire additional environmental monitoring observations, Edgar notes, and then run a Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite atmospheric methane observation.

 

 

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Credit: New China TV/XinhuaVideo/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

China’s Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) has officially reached operational status.

The world’s largest single-dish radio telescope is located in a naturally deep and round depression in southwestern China’s Guizhou Province. It is about 2.5 times more sensitive than the second-largest telescope in the world.

Pulsars, fast radio bursts

In a China Global Television Network (CGTN) report, the “China Sky Eye” has passed its national acceptance test, authorities said on Saturday.

Using FAST, 102 pulsars have been discovered, more than the total number of pulsars discovered by research teams in Europe and the United States during the same period of over two years, CGTN explains.

Credit: New China TV/XinhuaVideo/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Additionally, Chinese astronomers have detected repeated fast radio bursts (FRB), according to researchers at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

From late August to the beginning of September in 2019, more than 100 bursts were detected from FRB 121102, one of the known sources of such phenomena. This is the highest number of bursts ever detected, CGTN reports.

Go to this informative video regarding China’s FAST at:

https://youtu.be/_zLbpufkKDQ

Curiosity Left B Navigation-Camera image taken on Sol 2640, January 9, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2641 tasks.

“The Curiosity rover is still at the highest point it will reach on ‘Western Butte,’ having done a short bump to allow it to do contact science,” reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Exploration to understand the composition, morphology, and ultimately, the origin of the capping unit of this butte. An image of this capping unit is shown above, taken by the Mastcam M100 camera on Sol 2635.

The rover team would like to understand the composition, morphology, and ultimately, the origin of the capping unit of this butte.

Too steep to drive

“The rocks look really interesting and unusual, but the butte is too steep to drive to the top to sample them. Fortunately, nature is kind to us, and somewhat like humans drop scraps to their pet dog under the table, nature has rolled some samples down to where the rover is,” Wiens points out.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imaging (RMI) camera photo taken on Sol 2640, January 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

A recent planning session charted two action-packed sols.

“This plan is a big opportunity for contact science, as the rover is on stable ground after being for several days with a wheel perched on a rock,” Wiens explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2640, January 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Many targets

Targets “Buchan Haven” (overnight) and “Heinrich Waenke” will be observed by Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Dust Removal tool action as seen in this Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2640, January 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Dust Removal Tool (DRT) is to be used. The robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will take images of “Abernethy,” “Lochmond Hills,” “Buchan Haven,” and “Heinrich Waenke” (as close as one centimeter standoff distance).

 

Additionally, there are Mastcam images of “Hangingstone Hill” (a dark float rock, potentially from the capping unit), “Strathy Point” (a nodule), “White Rashes” (local bedrock), and a 15×8 “Glen Torridon Mount Sharp Ascent Route” mosaic with the M100 camera – (Right Eye (Mastcam-100).

Mastcam will also observe “Buchan Haven,” “Crianlarich Hills” (two images), and will take an image of the calibration target.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2640, January 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will do a combination of long-distance imaging and compositional analyses of targets near the rover, Wiens adds. The latter are “Hangingstone Hill,” “Strathy Point,” and “White Rashes.”

Long-distance mosaics

The long-distance mosaics are “Glen Docherty” and “LD Sulfate 2640a.” Navcam will take a dust-devil movie.

There is also a Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) active observation, a Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite scrubber activity, a Mastcam full tau, and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) get-data activities.

Wiens explains that the contact-science target “Heinrich Waenke” honors a late German scientist of that name (1928-2015) who was instrumental in the development of the APXS instrument, which was originally on NASA’s Sojourner rover, then was used on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program, and is now on Curiosity.

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

Road map

A new map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2639 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (January 8, 2020).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. From Sol 2633 to Sol 2639, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 0.37 feet (0.11 meters).

Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 13.47 miles (21.68 kilometers).

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

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2639 tasks.

When planning began for Sol 2639, the robot’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite was still marked sick, so the strategically planned bump from one place to another was replaced with targeted science.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That’s the word from Kenneth Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Re-planned bump

The robot’s Mastcam will extend the stereo mosaic of Western Butte and take a multispectral set of images of the “Ben Eighe” outcrop. After the re-planned bump to fix the rover’s recent wheelie, the special software is to be used to autonomously acquire Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of two targets in the new workspace, Navcam will search for dust devils, and Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) was to again acquire an image of the ground behind the left front wheel during twilight.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Late during tactical planning this afternoon, Herkenhoff adds, SAM was marked healthy, “so things are looking up for Sol 2640-2641 planning tomorrow.”

Science block

In an earlier report from Ryan Anderson, also a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, researchers found out over the weekend the planned “bump” to get the rover in position for contact science didn’t execute.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That meant researchers were greeted with the familiar view of the Curiosity workspace from last week.

“Although it was disappointing that we weren’t able to do contact science,” Anderson adds, “the bright side was that instead we got a massive 2 hour science block!”

Camera mosaics

The rover was in a great position to observe the Gediz Valles deposits (informally named “the claw”) on top of the Greenheugh Pediment, so the Sol 2638 plan had three more ChemCam Remote Micro-Imaging (RMI) camera mosaics in addition to the two collected over last weekend.

“The giant science block also allowed us to fit two ChemCam chemistry observations in. One was a follow up observation right next to the vein target Hascosay that was observed on sol 2636,” Anderson notes.

Curiosity Rear Left B Hazard Avoidance Camera photo acquired on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Interesting chemistry

“Hascosay had some very interesting chemistry, so the new target ‘Northon’ will take another look just a few centimeters away,” Anderson adds. “The other ChemCam chemistry target is a small rock named ‘Bruntsfield’ that looked a bit different than some of the other rocks in the area. Mastcam will document the two chemistry targets and then will collect a 3×1 mosaic of a group of rocks named “Clachtoll” to study their textures.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2638, January 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Sol 2638 plan was rounded out with some atmospheric observations: a dust devil movie at the end of the long science block, and a couple of movies to watch for clouds early in the morning on Sol 2639.

Note: Dates of planned rover activities described are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.