Archive for February, 2020

Credit: ESA – P.Carril

 

Research using an artificial neural network has shown that some asteroids that are now thought not dangerous can impact the Earth in the future.

Astronomers at Leiden University in The Netherlands have used a supercomputer, integrating the orbits of the Sun and its planets forward in time for 10,000 years. They then traced the orbits back in time while launching asteroids from the Earth’s surface.

Library of asteroids

During the backwards calculation, they included the asteroids in the simulations in order to study their orbital distributions at today’s date. The result: they acquired a database of hypothetical asteroids for which the researchers knew the space rocks would land on the Earth’s surface.

Credit: Hefele, John D., et al.

Astronomer and simulation expert Simon Portegies Zwart explains: “If you rewind the clock, you will see the well-known asteroids land again on Earth. This way, you can make a library of the orbits of asteroids that landed on Earth.”

The library of asteroids then served as training material for the neural network.

Hazardous objects

According to a Leiden University press statement, the first set of calculations was performed on the new Leiden super computer ALICE. The neural network runs on a simple laptop.

The researchers labeled their method Hazardous Object Identifier (HOI), which means ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ in Dutch.

The neural network can recognize well-known near-Earth objects. In addition, HOI also identifies a number of hazardous objects that were not previously classified as such. For example, HOI discovered eleven asteroids that, between the years 2131 and 2923, come closer than ten times the Earth-Moon distance and are larger than a hundred meters in diameter.

Credit: Hefele, John D., et al.

That these asteroids have not previously been identified as potentially dangerous is because the orbit of these asteroids is so chaotic, explains the press statement. “As a result, they are not noticed by the current software from space organizations, which is based on probability calculations that use expensive brute force simulations.”

The tricky part

The research is only a first exercise, Zwart notes. “We now know that our method works, but we would certainly like to delve deeper in the research with a better neural network and with more input. The tricky part is that small disruptions in the orbit calculations can lead to major changes in the conclusions.”

The research team says they hope in the future an artificial neural network can be used to detect potentially hazardous objects. Such a method is much faster than the traditional methods currently in use by space organizations. By noticing asteroid on a collision course earlier, the researchers say, organizations can sooner think of a strategy to prevent impact.

Earth has been on the receiving end of several incoming objects resulting in human injury.
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

 

 

Go to their paper — “Identifying Earth-impacting asteroids using an artificial neural network” — in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, Volume 634, February 2020, by going to:

https://www.aanda.org/articles/aa/full_html/2020/02/aa35983-19/aa35983-19.html

Farside photo from Yutu-2 rover.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

On the farside of the Moon, China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have resumed work for the 15th lunar after “sleeping” during the extremely cold night.

China’s Chang’e-4 lander as viewed by Yutu-2 rover.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

According to the Xinhua News Agency the lander woke up at 6:57 a.m. Tuesday (Beijing time), and the rover at 5:55 p.m. Monday.

Reportedly, both are in normal working order.

On a roll

The wheeled Yutu-2 or Jade Rabbit-2 rover has traveled a little over 1,204 feet (367.25) meters with a plan to drive northwest and then southwest to continue its scientific exploration.

The Chang’e-4 mission was launched on December 8, 2018, making the first-ever soft landing within the Von Kármán crater, a large lunar impact feature that is located in the southern hemisphere on the farside of the Moon.

Chang’e-5 lunar lander.
Credit CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Next up

China’s next Moon exploration mission is slated to be the Chang’e-5, a multi-staged effort to rocket lunar samples back to Earth later this year. According to Chinese news services, Chang’e-5 is comprised of four parts including the orbiter, ascender, lander, and Earth reentry module.

Chinese engineers are completing work on the Chang’e-5 lunar mission for a launch later this year. If successful, this robotic spacecraft would attempt the first lunar sample return to Earth in over 40 years.

Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 surveyed the Taurus-Littrow highlands and valley area.
Credit: NASA

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 samples from the Moon to reach Earth came via the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.

For a behind-the-scenes look at getting China’s Chang’e-5 ready for its lunar mission, go to this CCTV-Plus video:

Also, this video is informative:

http://cd-pv.news.cctvplus.com/2016/1231/8039831_Preview_1806.mp4

Credit: NASA

In the event you’re off-planet and haven’t caught the latest Earth-based bio-hazard news.

A new virus called the 2019 novel Coronavirus is the cause of the outbreak that started in China and is spreading worldwide. Relatively little is known about the virus so far, also called COVID-19.

For now, there isn’t much known about this new virus. Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the state of affairs. Bottom line: The severity of the new Coronavirus symptoms can range from very mild to severe, even death. It remains unclear exactly how contagious the new Coronavirus is or how it spreads.

The Andromeda Strain – the 1971 movie, but how real for a 21st century return to Earth of Mars samples?
Credit: Universal Pictures

Me being me, I have long been cognizant of Andromeda Strain connections with shooting back to Earth collectibles from Mars, that is, possible Martian organisms that might be injurious to Earth’s fragile biosphere…and that’s me and you too!

Meanwhile, NASA’s proposed 2021 budget supports the development of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, a robotic ability to haul back the goods from the Red Planet.

Are there some Mars-oriented lessons-to-be-learned in countering the Coronavirus?  

Credit: Carl Sagan Institute

Martian pathogens

In 1973, Carl Sagan published The Cosmic Connection – An Extraterrestrial Perspective, offering this view of Martian pathogens:

“Precisely because Mars is an environment of great potential biological interest, it is possible that on Mars there are pathogens, organisms which, if transported to the terrestrial environment, might do enormous biological damage – a Martian plague, the twist in the plot of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but in reverse. This is an extremely grave point. On the one hand, we can argue that Martian organisms cannot cause any serious problems to terrestrial organisms, because there has been no biological contact for 4.5 billion years between Martian and terrestrial organisms. On the other hand, we can argue equally well that terrestrial organisms have evolved no defenses against potential Martian pathogens, precisely because there has been no such contact for 4.5 billion years. The chance of such an infection may be very small, but the hazards, if it occurs, are certainly very high.”

Now, let’s move this issue to the present, taking into account what next for Mars exploration, concerns about life on the Red Planet, future exploration initiatives, forward and back contamination, what the worries are, and who cares.

Loaded to the brim with samples, a robotic Mars Ascent Vehicle rockets off the planet under the watchful eye of an accompanying mini-rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Climate of concern…face of ignorance

“I think that it might be instructive to consider the climate of concern that accompanies the current situation with Coronavirus,” said John Rummel, a senior scientist for the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. He also served as NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer in 1986-1993 and 1997-2006.

“Despite the fact that they have a good test for exposure, etc., there is still a difficulty in mounting an effective quarantine because the symptoms are not immediately presented,” Rummel points out.

There is a hope, Rummel said, that the spread of Coronavirus will be affected by the change of seasons, as it might if this were a European or North American problem, exclusively, but it isn’t.

“I think that the challenge for a Mars Sample Return activity is to be open about precautions taken in the face of ignorance,” Rummel said, “which is what we have to assume when we discuss life on Mars.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on the prowl and geared to collect and cache samples for future return to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Schools of thought

Rummel said there are various schools of thought in terms of hauling Mars samples back to our planet, but that the planned, precautionary approach based on strict containment and biohazard/life testing is compatible with the potential to discover life in a sample, or elsewhere on Mars by other means, as it would still allow for a sample to be returned.

“If one finds life in the sample, one has a good chance of being able to study it in containment. The downside of this approach is that it is more expensive, up-front, than ignoring life on Mars,” Rummel notes.

As was pointed out in the report of the recent Planetary Protection Independent Review Board chaired by Alan Stern, this approach requires up front development of a sample-handling facility, dedicated to the analysis and testing of a Mars sample.

Rummel said that, if something like the Coronavirus situation — or the anthrax situation in 2001 — pops up, then any other containment facility may not be available in a timely way, and may not be able to meet the cleanliness requirements that will ensure that any organisms discovered in the sample came from Mars, and not from Earth after the sample arrives.

Moon base design.
Credit: ESA/P. Carril

Biosphere safety

“There have always been incidences of human epidemics on the Earth from invasive species. However, an infection from Mars may affect the entire biosphere – not just humans. Of course, little is being discussed or done by spacefaring agencies like NASA or the European Space Agency about dire scenarios like this,” said Barry DiGregorio, an astrobiologist who spent 10 years as a research associate for the Cardiff Centre of Astrobiology at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom.

Mars sample return involves the safety of our biosphere, DiGregorio said, so it needs to be approached with the “utmost caution.”

DiGregorio said that he hopes that NASA and the European Space Agency would have to file an Environmental Impact Statement before obtaining a launch license for the Mars sample return effort, listing any negative effects from rocketing those samples back to Earth. 

Moon: sample return examination facility?

DiGregorio is author of a new e-book, Discovery on Vera Rubin Ridge: Trace Fossils on Mars? In its pages, he makes the case for guarding against back contamination from Mars by using the Moon as a sample return examination facility to qualify samples for eventual return to Earth. “A well planned lunar quarantine laboratory as part of a larger lunar base would be perceived by the public and scientific community as another legitimate reason to reinvest in a return to the Moon,” he explains in the book.

“An examination facility in orbit around the Moon or on the lunar surface would guarantee the Earth would be protected during the time it takes to analyze returned samples not only from Mars but also the moons of Jupiter and Saturn,” DiGregorio told Inside Outer Space.

Precautionary steps

Is the emergence of a new epidemic here on our planet a cue about taking precautionary steps beyond Earth in terms of planetary protection?

Confirmation of the existence and extent of life on Mars, whether ancient or current, will benefit human exploration. Here an exobiologist examines what appears to be a porous relic of a hot spring that has fallen from the canyon wall.
Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

Catharine Conley was NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer from 2006 into November 2017. “As with historical infectious disease epidemics, the Coronavirus that’s spreading currently is another example of why it’s so important to understand the consequences of interacting with environments humans rarely contact, and then distributing widely whatever was picked up,” she said.

In this age of frequent travel, Conley said, when humans in rural areas interact with wildlife, it exposes the global population to novel diseases – or diseases, like Coronavirus, that can cross with versions we’ve already got and make them more virulent.

“In the case of Mars exploration, it’s most likely that Earth organisms transported to Mars could cause problems for future inhabitants. If Mars life exists and is brought to Earth, it’s more likely to cause effects on the environment, like the algae recently found to be warming the ice in Greenland, than that it would be a virulent human pathogen,” Conley said.

However, if Mars life is related to Earth life, Conley said, “that makes it much harder to distinguish from Earth contamination — and also, just like diseases that jump species, more likely to affect us, too.”

An update on that troubled Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) experiment deployed by NASA’s InSight lander on Mars.

The “mole” is part of the HP3 and has only managed to partially bury itself since it started hammering in February 2019.

“Mars (and the mole) continue to make our lives…how should I say…interesting,” explains Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin via a February 17, 2020 newsletter.


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

“You may recall that by Christmas we were almost back in after the mishap of the mole backing-out in October. There were a few (2-3) centimeters still to go before we would have called “pinning” off. At that depth of burial with only a couple of centimeters of the mole sticking out of the ground, the mole would have not provided enough surface area for the scoop to safely press against the mole hull,” Spohn explains.

“We had planned and commanded a final pinning and hammering for the first week of operation in the New Year to bring us to that point. But because we had seen a decrease in the rate of downward motion before Christmas, we decided that we would readjust the pinning before we started the hammering. To save time, we took a different approach to readjusting the pinning than we had used before: Rather than removing the scoop from the mole entirely and then re-pin, we loosened the push and then retightened it,” Spohn observes.

Backed out

When team members studied the images returned from Mars on Sunday, January 12th it was seen that the mole had backed out again.

The detailed images showed that it had penetrated through the first 20 strokes by about 1.5 centimeters and then had reversed motion and had backed-out by 3.5 centimeters for the remaining 110 strokes.

The self-hammering mole, part of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) on NASA’s InSight lander, was only partially buried in the soil of Mars as of early June 2019, as shown in this illustration.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR

“This is only half of the length it had backed-out during sol 325, late October, but still unwelcome and puzzling,” Spohn says. “It had to be concluded that our retightening of the pinning had not been successful! But why did the mole first move forward before it then reversed motion?”

Spohn senses that a possible explanation starts with observing that the rebound force (the force that the pinning is supposed to balance) depends on the resistance of the soil that the mole is penetrating. The more resistant the soil, the larger the rebound force. 

“In any case, after considering the options, we decided not to use the pinning technique again but rather press the scoop against the backcap of the mole,” Spohn notes.

Engineers in a Mars-like test area at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory try possible strategies to aid the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) on NASA’s InSight lander, using engineering models of the lander, robotic arm and instrument.
Credit: Spohn/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Collapsed duricrust

“This week the scoop has been positioned above the backcap and pushing will start soon…however, only after carefully checking the placement of the scoop,” Spohn adds.

Before the positioning, InSight’s scoop performed two experiments in preparation of a possible filling of the pit.

“First, it was successfully demonstrated that the wall of the pit could be collapsed by pressing against it with the tip of the scoop. The collapsed duricrust fell into the pit and partly filled it,” Spohn notes.

“Second, it was shown that the scoop could be used to scrape loose sand on the surface together and move it towards the pit,” Spohn says.

Both techniques may eventually be used to fill the pit and then…to press on the surface of the filled hole to provide friction to the mole underneath.

“Stay tuned,” Spohn concludes.

Drilling on Mars!

It’s so super cool

SAM bakes up our sample

Using many a joule

Image taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2668 February 7, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2677 tasks.

The Curiosity science team is currently analyzing our most recent drill powder from “Hutton,” reports Dawn Sumner, Planetary Geologist at University of California Davis.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2674, February 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The first analysis of its mineralogy with the rover’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) was successful, and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite team decided to proceed with an evolved gas analysis (EGA) analysis.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2674, February 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“This analysis consists of heating the sample powder in an oven and sending the gases that are released into the mass spectrometer,” Sumner explains. “These gases include things like water vapor, carbon dioxide, molecular oxygen, sulfur compounds, and more. Their concentrations and when they arrive in the mass spectrometer give us lots of interesting information about the composition of the sample.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2674, February 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Four sols of activity

Recently, the team put together a 4 sol activity plan that covers the long holiday weekend.

“We start by delivering part of our Hutton sample powder to the SAM instrument,” Sumner notes, “which will heat it and analyze it overnight.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2674, February 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The second sol consists of monitoring the environment and recharging the batteries since heating the sample takes a lot of energy.

“On the third sol, CheMin takes its turn, performing another analysis to better understand the mineralogy of the Hutton sample. In the early morning of the fourth sol, we are characterizing the atmosphere with a suite of images and movies, and we are adding to a very large mosaic of the slopes around Curiosity,” Sumner explains.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2671, February 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Later on the fourth sol, the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will image “Craigielaw Point,” which is near the top of the slope to the south. ChemCam will shoot its laser at the bedrock at “Troup Head,” which is close to the Hutton drill site, to analyze its chemistry.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2674, February 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sumner concludes: “It was great to spend the morning of Valentine’s day with the rover I love the most!”

A cheerful patch of heart-shaped sunlight reminds us of how we love learning about Mars! Curiosity took this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on December 16, 2012, or Sol 129 of her mission.
Most MAHLI images, such as this one, use the sun as an illumination source. However, MAHLI can also use white light LEDs and longwave ultraviolet (UV) LEDs to illuminate targets.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Credit: TEDxColumbus/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

An expert on international relations has taken on the taboo in modern society of taking UFOs seriously and calls for systematic science to try to determine what they are.

Alexander Wendt is the Ralph D. Mershon Professor of International Security and professor of political science at The Ohio State University.
Credit: Ohio State University

 

Alexander Wendt is the Ralph D. Mershon Professor of International Security and professor of political science at The Ohio State University. Before coming to Ohio State in 2004, he taught at Yale University, Dartmouth College, and University of Chicago.

Wendt is also a board member of the UFODATA Project dedicated to UFO detection and tracking.

Elusive phenomena

In a February 4, 2020 posted TEDxColumbus presentation, Wendt argues that the UFO taboo is incoherent and unjustified, and proposes a crowd-funded science of UFOs as a way of beginning to learn more about these elusive phenomena.

UFOs – Heads in the sand taking on the taboo.
Courtesy: Alexander Wendt/Inside Outer Space screengrab

As a somewhat controversial sidebar to the posted talk, in a “NOTE FROM TED” the lead organization flagged this talk, which was filmed at a TEDx event, because it appears to “fall outside TEDx’s content guidelines.”

 

 

 

Furthermore, TED also noted that claims made in this talk “only represent the speaker’s personal understanding of UFOs which are not corroborated by scientific evidence.”

That said, view at your own mental risk by going to:

https://youtu.be/u_RquOChJuE

For more information on the UFODATA Project, go to:

http://www.ufodata.net/

Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO)

Since China’s newly-developed Long March-5B arrived at its launch site on February 5, preparations are in full swing for its inaugural April liftoff.

The booster will be topped by the prototype of China’s new manned spaceship. It will be unpiloted.

New crewed spacecraft. Credit: CCTV

The Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China is the busy site for tests and rehearsals before the official launch.

Maiden flight

“The preparation has been underway since the Long March-5B carrier rocket arrived at the site on Feb 5. With effective prevention and control measures to ensure safety, we have already completed the restoration of ground equipment and finished the procedure of rocket transfer. We are confident that we will carry out rehearsals and the maiden flight successfully,” said Su Lei, chief designer of the Long March-5B rocket in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

China’s space station to be operating in the 2020’s. Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Long March-5B rocket is developed on the basis of the Long March-5 rocket. It will mainly be used for launching different cabins of China’s space station which is scheduled to be completed in 2022. It can boost more than 22 tons into low-Earth orbit – the largest carrying capacity for low-Earth orbit among all Chinese rockets.

 

 

 

Go to this China Central Television (CCTV) video at:

https://youtu.be/ZKd6kjg7CXk?list=PLpGTA7wMEDFjz0Zx93ifOsi92FwylSAS3

Credit: NASA

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is moving forward on a project to measure the economic contributions of both commercial and government ventures in space.

This new BEA appraisal involves a new set of statistics that will measure the contributions of space-related industries (and possibly activities) to the overall U.S. economy.

Commercial space segment

BEA has launched this research project to measure the multibillion-dollar U.S. space economy, such as satellites, rocket launches, and benefits like GPS navigation here on Earth.

Atlas V liftoff.
Credit: ULA

“The goal is to create a prototype set of statistics showing the space sector’s impact on the national economy,” explains the BEA. “We are researching how to measure both public programs and private endeavors, with emphasis on capturing the value of the expanding commercial space segment.

The intent of the effort is to provide business leaders and policymakers a new tool to analyze the space economy and inform investment decisions.

Starlink satellites.
Credit: SpaceX

Core economic measures

The new statistics on the space sector’s size, growth, and employment would be consistent with BEA’s core economic measures, such as industry data and the nation’s gross domestic product, or GDP. That means they could be used to compare the space sector to other U.S. industries and the economy overall.

 

Prototype estimates of the space economy’s GDP, gross output, employment, and compensation by industry are expected to be released in late 2020, pursuant to available resources. Following this, BEA will explore options for further work and extensions to the space statistics.

Up and outward bound.
Credit: SpaceX

Satellite account

The proposed “Space Economy Satellite Account (SESA)” would resemble other BEA satellite accounts, which supplement the organization’s core statistics with more-detailed economic data on, for example, health care or outdoor recreation.

“Of course, this satellite account would be about actual satellites – as well as other space-related goods and services and research, development, and exploration,” explains the BEA. Determining the exact definitions to use for the “space economy” and “commercial space” is the first, critical step, they add.

The BEA is developing this account as a joint effort with the Office of Space Commerce within the United States Department of Commerce (DOC).

Alpha Station:
A commercially operated platform.
Credit: Bigelow Space Operations

 

Wanted: feedback

The BEA is asking for feedback from data users and interested stakeholders regarding the definitions and industries used in the SESA, plus any other comments users think may be relevant to the development of these statistics.

 

 

To make contact with the BEA, email: SpaceEconomy@bea.gov

Also, go to “Measuring the Value of the U.S. Space Economy” by Tina Highfill, Patrick Georgi, and Dominique Dubria at:

https://apps.bea.gov/scb/2019/12-december/pdf/1219-commercial-space.pdf

Post-landing of OTV-5 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
Courtesy Photo 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

Last October, that hush-hush U.S. Air Force X-37B robotic space plane program chalked up a long duration milestone. During the Orbital Test Vehicle-5 (OTV-5) space trek, the winged mini-shuttle may have released a trio of satellites.

That’s the word from Bob Christy, founder and editor of the informative website, Zarya.info.

X-37B Air Force space plane.
Credit: Boeing/Inside Outer Space Screen Grab

There are no details available as to what duties the satellites perform or their orbits. They are now catalogued as:

USA 295 – 45169/2017-052C

USA 296 – 45170/2017-052D

USA 297 – 45171/2017-052E

Under the radar

“The news was slipped-out under the radar,” Christy told Inside Outer Space. “They simply appeared in the SpaceTrack catalogue without any fanfare and with no orbit data and no indication whether they are still in orbit.”

Post-landing technicians tend OTV-5 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
Courtesy Photo 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

“I think their (slightly illegal under international obligations) omission in the first place is something the powers that be would rather not mention,” Christy says. “Obviously the satellites couldn’t be named in the proper sequence because subsequent USA numbers had already been taken up.”

Christy thinks, but others disagree he admits, that they were more likely to have been released from the Falcon 9 booster that rocketed the X-37B into Earth orbit on September 7, 2017.

OTV-5 circled Earth for 780 days after launch, coming to a tarmac touchdown at Kennedy Space Center on October 27, 2019, breaking the program’s own record by being in orbit for more than two years.

Mission objectives

In a post-landing statement, Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director said that the X37B/OTV program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle. The OTV-5 mission “successfully completed all mission objectives,” he said, “as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

Christy says that, unfortunately the “…providing a ride for small satellites…” in the post-landing USAF press statement is ambiguous.

“Why take up space inside OTV that would then go unused for two years when a meaningful bit of science or technology could have been fitted in there? Especially true when Falcon 9 has the capacity to do the job and small satellite carriers are available for it,” Christy adds.

Inclinations

“Something else I picked up on and can’t find any contemporary mention of is that the final orbit of the Falcon 9 was significantly different from OTV. There are pointers to fact that OTV was released at launch into the 54°.5 inclination orbit in which it was eventually discovered,” Christy notes.

Skywatcher and satellite tracker, Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands, has released a new image of an over flight of the U.S. Air Force secretive X-37B space plane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle – 5.
Credit: Ralf Vandebergh

A notice to airmen (NOTAM) for the Falcon 9 re-entry above the Indian Ocean about 5 hours after shows that it descended from an orbit at 63° inclination, Christy points out. “There’s not enough data to work out exactly what maneuver(s) got it there. I suspect it was a SpaceX test rather than a USAF mission requirement.”

The three satellites could be orbiting at either inclination, Christy says. “If released from Falcon 9 then they were in separate orbits within three hours. If released from OTV, it would probably be a bit longer. I would have thought time would have been taken to check out the space plane systems and settle it into orbit first.”

When OTV-5 was launched, the Air Force noted that the mission was launched into, and would be landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.

Cargo test experiment

On the most recent clandestine mission of the space plane, all that’s known according to Air Force officials is that one payload flying on OTV-5 was the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-II.

Developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this cargo was to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes for long duration stints in the space environment.

According to AFRL, the payload’s three primary science objectives of ASETS-II were to measure the initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long duration thermal performance, and to assess any lifetime degradation.

Credit: Boeing

Drives them nuts

It is always touch and go regarding what can/cannot be said about the X-37B spaceplane program.

However, former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson laid out some basic details of the X-37B’s mission during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in 2019.

“The Air Force has acknowledged that we own a space plane, the X-37 – looks like a small version of the shuttle, but it’s unmanned. One of the things that’s fascinating about that space plane is that it can do an orbit that looks like an egg, and when it’s close to the Earth it is close enough to the atmosphere to turn where it is, which means our adversaries don’t know – and that happens on the far side of the Earth from our adversaries – they don’t know where it’s going to come up next, and we know that drives them nuts,” Wilson said.

Following OTV-5’s landing, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, said: “The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force.”

Resources:

Go to this video clip of former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson at the 2019 Aspen Security Forum. X-37B discussed at roughly 17:38:

https://youtu.be/h83dqfStzCM

Credit: Piplsay

Piplsay, a global platform for getting people’s opinions at scale, has taken a look at public views regarding UFOs.

According to the group, aliens have long been a fixture in American pop culture, which is why the United Kingdom’s government’s decision to declassify its UFO files is likely to create a lot of buzz in America.

Credit: Piplsay

Piplsay conducted a nationwide study to dig deep into the topic, finding:

— 50% of Americans are excited about UK’s UFO reports.

— 63% of Millennials & Gen Xers want the US government to release their UFO files as well.

— 58% of Americans think the government still investigates extra-terrestrial life.

— 39% of Americans think the government carries out secret alien missions in Nevada’s Area 51.

The Piplsay survey (powered by Market Cube) was conducted nationwide in the U.S. and the U.K. in the month of February 2020. They received 30,741 and 4,161 online responses from individuals aged 18 years and older.

Go to the survey here:

https://www.piplsay.com/ufos-are-back-what-do-american-enthusiasts-want/?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Text&utm_campaign=UFO

Check out this video about the Piplsay survey on UFOs at:

https://youtu.be/TowXVaQe9ks

Also, go to this informative Space.com story by Mindy Weisberger:

British ‘X-Files’ of UFO sightings is going public

https://www.space.com/uk-ufo-reports-soon-released.html