Archive for May, 2020

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2775, May 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2775 tasks.

Curiosity is finishing up at “Glasgow,” having spent almost exactly one month here,” reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

A decision will be made shortly, Wiens adds, whether to do another drill hole nearby, or possibly back at “Glen Etive,” or forego another drill operation.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2775, May 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The drill material would be used for a wet chemistry experiment by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite before Curiosity leaves the clay-bearing unit.

“Once all the drilling is finished, Curiosity is scheduled to hit the road (in this case only figuratively, since no roads exist on Mars) toward the sulfate unit,” Wiens explains.

Dust storm prospects

Meanwhile, it’s that time of the Mars year (southern spring) when Mars researchers expect more dust storm activity.

Image taken by Mast Camera onboard Curiosity on Sol 2772. This horizon view shows decreased visibility inside the crater due to increased dust levels.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

“The last Mars global dust storm started almost exactly two Earth years ago, and knocked out the plucky Opportunity rover. The reduction of sunlight during that dust storm, which grew to become global, was too much for that solar-powered rover. Fortunately, Curiosity had no issues, thanks to its nuclear power pack,” Wiens says.

Even so, global storms – which only occur in about one in three Mars years – are fascinating events to study, as scientists still don’t fully understand how they begin or how they grow to become global.

“So the team has been watching for signs of another global storm by making more frequent measurements of ‘tau’ (the opacity of the dust column above the rover) and other indicators of local dust activity, and also by checking the shape of the daily pressure cycle, which is very sensitive to the planet-wide dust distribution,” Wiens adds.

Dump pile on Mars. Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2773, May 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Over last weekend, tau rose slightly, but this sort of variability is typical of the past few months. “It’s still within normal seasonal values and does not indicate a major dust storm is beginning,” Wiens notes.

Last activities at Glasgow

“Never daunted by a little dust, Curiosity is busy packing in the last activities at ‘Glasgow.’ We are planning three sols of activity, and every single instrument gets in on the act,” Wiens reports.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2774, May 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will do an evening analysis of the dump pile, and an overnight observation of the drill tailings, with follow-up Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images.

Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will do observations of “Hiort” and “Fishnish.” ChemCam will take a Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic of “Ptarmigan,” which is another view of the top of “Tower Butte.”

Mastcam will take a Sun tau measurement, and will take a multispectral image of the “Glasgow” dump pile. It will also image “Salmons Burn,” a possible meteorite, Wiens reports.

Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will take an image of the ground below the rover, and Navcam will take dust-devil movies.

Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and SAM both have activities supporting their experiments.

The rovers Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will also take data.

Credit: CGTN

China’s first Mars exploration mission, named Tianwen-1, is on schedule for a July liftoff, joining NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Mars orbiter during the Mars launch window this July.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In a People’s Daily Online report, Tianwen-1 aims to orbit, land and rove in one go to conduct a global and comprehensive exploration of Mars and carry out detailed surveys of key areas of the Martian surface, said Zhao Xiaojin, Party chief of the China Academy of Space Technology.

China’s Mars Orbiter, Lander, Rover effort.
Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

No country has completed such an undertaking in its exploration of the red planet, Zhao noted, adding that this means the Chinese mission faces unprecedented challenges.

Zhao added that Tianwen-1 along with the combined Mars orbiter and lander is expected to be launched by a Long March 5 Y4 carrier rocket.

China is exploring a new path for Mars exploration rather than repeating what other countries have already done, Zhao said in the new report, which demonstrates the country’s technological development and great confidence in its aerospace sector.

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Close the gap

If the mission is successful, it will close the gap in deep space exploration technology between China and other aerospace powers such as the U.S. and Russia, said Bao Weimin, head of science and technology at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

According to Bao, the mission has laid out five scientific objectives, mainly related to the study of Mars’ space environment, its physical features and its surface structure.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

The biggest challenge is the “seven minutes of terror”, a phrase describing the entry, descent, and landing process. During this period, the landing segment for the rover is required to reduce its speed from 20,000 kilometers per hour to zero.

China also plans to conduct a Mars sample return mission by around 2030, as well as a Jovian System probe mission, said Bao.

In a related story, Xinhua news agency reports that Wan Weixing died of illness in Beijing at the age of 62. Wan was the lead scientist of China’s Mars exploration mission.


What will the space industry look like in 2030? Read the perspectives of 30 space industry leaders.

30 Voices on 2030 – The future of space brings together the different perspectives of 30 senior leaders from the space industry around the world – from heads of agency, engineers, and lawyers to entrepreneurs and politicians – who paint a vision of what we can expect.

This report explores the potential of space to open up to new businesses and customers, create new products and services and speak to our sense of curiosity and desire to understand the world beyond our planet. Organizations across different industries – and not just traditional space industry players – that lack adaptability and imagination will be left behind.

Pivotal point

With the world at a “pivotal point for space”, the global space industry is expected to be worth U.S. $600 billion by 2030.

A central international governing body will also need to be established to manage space data, which will increase in volume and value. Much of the data collected will be analyzed by leading edge analytics in-orbit to reduce the volume of data that needs to be transmitted to Earth and stored. AI will also be used in deep space missions to overcome communications delays due to distance and help pre-empt and correct problems.

Credit: James Vaughan (Used with permission)


Partnerships: public and private sectors

By 2030, the report predicts, manufacturing in space will be real and viable and there will be assets such as mines operated remotely on the Moon. Rather than space programs being purely government-led, there will be more and more partnerships between the public and private sectors, with Government as a customer of civil space business.

While people won’t be living on the Moon quite like the Jetsons, with space travel remaining costly, there will be an increased human presence in space. This will enable more research, such as medical research in zero gravity.

The report also predicts that the human genome may be altered to further support humanity’s sustained exploration of space.

Credit: CORDS

Challenges ahead

At the same time there will be challenges in terms of sustainability: a moratorium on space debris and recognition of the importance of the ecology of space for future generations.

“Today’s ‘small space startups’ will be the sector leaders in 2030,” says Mike Kalms, Partner-in-Charge, Space & Defence Industry, KPMG Australia.

“Already many multi-national businesses are investing in the space sector and understanding how it can add value to their business on Earth,” Kalms notes in a KPMG press statement. “By 2030 we expect many businesses across all industries to have dedicated space teams and resources. The majority of space companies will be valued in the billions of dollars and operate across multiple countries. Global levels of cooperation will help enhance economic and political ties between nation states.”

Clutter in the cosmos.
Credit: Used with permission: Melrae Pictures/Space Junk 3D

Kalms explains that businesses are already putting sustainability at the forefront of what they do on Earth.

“We anticipate the same will be applied to space activities in the years ahead,” Kalms adds. “Debris in space has long been an area of concern, which will only escalate. We will need international agreements, and ways to recover and recycle decommissioned satellites. Legislation and treaties will need to evolve as space becomes its own legal jurisdiction.”

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station. A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows.
Credit: NASA


In summary form from the report, here are 30 predictions for 2030.

Humans will live, work and holiday in space

— Space travel will be a collaborative multinational venture
— Living in space will be easier but not easy
— Zero gravity – new medical conditions and new treatments will be created
— Many will experience space – but not all will go
— You will know an astronaut
— The human genome will change to support human deep space exploration

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

Deep space exploration

— We’ll successfully mine the Moon for water by 2030
— We may finally discover evidence of life in space
— We’ll operate assets remotely on the Moon like mines in the Pilbara
— Growing and eating food in space will be commonplace
— Virtual companions will assist with the mental health challenges of long space travel
— We will look back in time more than 4 billion years

Space business models

— Every business will be a space business
— The leading space businesses of 2030 are start-ups today
— Long-established terrestrial industries will build a presence in space
— Government will be a customer of civil space businesses
— Multinational co-operation, while challenging, will drive the peace dividend
— Manufacturing in space will be real and viable

Credit: ISECG


Sustainability in space

— Sustainability in space will benefit sustainability on Earth
— There will be a ‘CFC moment’ in space which will trigger a moratorium on space debris
— Space ecology will be imperative for our millennial generation
— Space will get its own legal jurisdiction
— Space will be forced to accelerate quickly as an operational domain for armed forces
— A Masters of Space Ecology will be offered at universities

Space data comes back to Earth

— Space data will become completely commoditised
— An international regulatory body for space data will be established– AI will be commonplace in space
— Data will not be owned – rather shared
— Governments will conduct their census from space
— Personal privacy will be challenged

For the full report – 30 Voices on 2030: The future of space – Communal, commercial, contested – go to:

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2773, May 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2774 tasks.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2773, May 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: “Drilling on Mars is an exciting business…those first images of a successful drill hole are always thrilling, even after 26 successful drill holes. Once the drilling is done though, each planning day becomes a battle to cram activities in, aiming to glean as much information as possible from the drill target, as efficiently as possible.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2774, May 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s geology theme group (GEO) planned a large four-sol (Sols 2771-2774) plan (the U.S. holiday Memorial Day on Monday is not a planning day), and Mars scientists had to work hard to fit in everything they wanted.


The wishlist of activities included continuing analysis of cached drill sample with the rover’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), and then dumping the remaining sample (“drill fines”) and investigating it with Mastcam, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2772, May 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


“We also wanted to continue our analysis of the bedrock and surroundings with ChemCam and Mastcam,” O’Connell-Cooper, adds, which will investigate the targets “Stony Breck,” “Melodious Cave,” “Haymarket,” and redo an earlier target, “Rob Roy Way.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2773, May 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On top of these GEO activities, O’Connell-Cooper says, the environment theme group (ENV) planned observations to monitor environmental conditions (dust, wind, temperature).

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2773, May 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Incredibly, we managed to fit everything in without having to sacrifice any of our coveted science activities,” O’Connell-Cooper concludes, “so Curiosity will be hard at work across this Memorial Day weekend!”

Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt
Credit: NASA

The sixth installment of Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt’s saga, Apollo 17: Diary of the 12th Man has been published on his website.

This new chapter of the diary – “Contact!” — is now online and recounts the events of the 6th day of the Apollo 17 mission, America’s last deep space manned mission of the 20th century.

At 200 feet altitude, a clear view of both the Challenger shadow with landing struts deployed.
Credit: NASA

“It includes wakeup activities; my entry into [Lunar Module (LM)] Challenger to begin the Challenger’s activation; a complete activation of Challenger’s systems; Descent Orbit Insertion-1 (DOI-1) while still docked with the CSM; preparation for undocking from America; undocking; preparation and implementation of DOI-2 by Challenger; and, of course, Powered Descent on to the lunar surface in the valley of Taurus-Littrow,” Schmitt explains in his author’s note.

The switches for the LM rendezvous radar settings.
(Base photo NASA/ALSJ/Paul Fjeld)

Complex flying machine

“The reader is taken through the real checkout procedures activating the LM in lunar orbit, and riding with the astronauts down to the lunar surface,” explains Ronald Wells, editor-in-chief of the revealing and instructive website.

The ground track of the flight trajectory of Challenger into the valley of Taurus-Littrow coming from the right.
(Base photo NASA AS17-M-0595)

It has been illustrated with photos of the actual LM instrument panels that Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan operated in flight, “so the reader hopefully will get a very good idea of how complex flying the LM actually was by seeing all the switches that they had to operate,” Wells told Inside Outer Space. “This very important chapter, of course,” he adds, “is a must read for the Artemis astronauts in training to return to the Moon!”










To view “Contact!” by Apollo 17’s Harrison H. Schmitt, a fascinating read with excellent endnotes, go to:

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2771 duties.

Here are a few recent images taken by the Red Planet robot:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 2770, May 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2770, May 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2770, May 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2769, May 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2769, May 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


How best to gauge the value and use of space-based capabilities and our reliance on space, sector by sector?

A new study released by The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS) delves into uses of more than 2,200 active satellites that support earthly infrastructure, economies, and national security systems.

The study explains that, with the help of space-based services, utility companies synchronize energy flows across the grid, stock market exchanges record transactions, oceanographers track endangered whales, while scientists monitor the climate and farmers increase crop yields.

Use of satellite services for agricultural applications.

Communications satellites let air traffic controllers manage planes in crowded airspace, remote-sensing satellites reveal what is happening on Earth’s surface in near real-time, and weather satellites give us a better chance of having an umbrella when we need it.

Frenzy of technological change

“In this frenzy of technological change and policy debate,” the study explains, “it is important to remember the immense value that space provides.”

Use of GPS for product shipping and delivery.


“Space-based communications, navigation, weather, and remote sensing services make our daily lives better, and contribute to saving Space-based services have become fundamental to daily life, but there’s more going on in space than you may realize,” the volume explains. “How does our modern world rely on space?”


On the horizon

As for new space-based services…there is more to come.

“Just as it was difficult to foresee the myriad uses of GPS in the late 1980s, it’s hard to imagine how this fresh flood of commercial space data will affect the economy, the military, and daily life,” the study points out.

To access this informative report — The Value of Space – go to:

NASA has orchestrated the Artemis Accords that sets the stage for America returning to the Moon.
Credit: NASA


NASA is trumpeting a set of principles tagged as the “Artemis Accords” – a set of ideals for a “safe, peaceful, and prosperous future” that the agency envisions to return to and utilize the moon while inviting other nations to sign up if they want to partner with the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the Space Policy Directive – 1 after signing it, directing NASA to return to the Moon, alongside members of the Senate, Congress, NASA, and commercial space companies in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


The Accords stem from NASA’s Artemis program, catapulted into being by U.S. President Donald Trump’s White House and a National Space Council edict to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. Artemis involves activities in cislunar space — between the Earth and the Moon — in orbit around Earth’s moon, as well as smack dab on the lunar landscape.

For a detailed look at the Accords by lawyers, policy makers, a space military expert and a moonwalker, go to my new Scientific American story:

NASA Proposes New Rules for Moon-Focused Space Race

The Artemis Accords could ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for lunar exploration—if everyone agrees to them

By Leonard David on May 21, 2020

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) in southwest China’s Guizhou Province.
(Image: © NAO/FAST)


Researchers using China’s new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) telescope — the largest single-dish telescope in the world — are piecing together a technological strategy to carry out a major and sweeping search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is an international, collaborative affair. SETI scientist Dan Werthimer of the University of California, Berkeley, co-authored a recent paper on China’s SETI program with the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST). He is shown here with other FAST SETI collaborators, including the paper’s lead author, Zhi-Song Zhang, to his left. (Image credit: Dan Werthimer)


What are the consequences of China first claiming they have found other star folk and how would such a Chinese claim be verified? Might there be an unofficial race between nations to declare a signal breakthrough?



For more details, go to my newly posted story:

Ready, SETI, go: Is there a race to contact E.T.?

This image is a view of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) inlet before dropping off the “Glasgow” drill sample.
Photo taken by Curiosity Mast Camera Left on Sol 2765, May 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2769 tasks.

Curiosity is still busy at “Glasgow” with the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite analyzing the drill sample in an upcoming plan, reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, Milton Keynes, in the U.K.

This image shows the ChemCam target “Gutcher” and was taken by Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imaging (RMI) camera on Sol 2768 May 20, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“This takes a lot of the rover’s power, thus other activities have to wait just a little,” Schwenzer explains. “But we are all looking forward to what SAM will find, so patience isn’t a problem at all!”

Mineralogy questions

Questions those SAM analysis can answer, from a mineralogist point of view are: “How much water does this sample release when heated?” and “How much sulphur does this sample release?” – both of which are very important additions to the information we get for mineralogy from the robot’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and for chemistry from ChemCam and APXS.

Despite the power going mostly to SAM, there are two ChemCam activities planned.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imaging (RMI) camera photo taken on Sol 2768 May 20, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Target “Glenapp” will be used for ChemCam pointing test. “Since the instrument is looking at tiny, tiny things on Mars, the team is going to use this activity to even better understand the accuracy with which the laser hits its target,” Schwenzer notes.

The second target, “Bowhill,” is a float rock that could come from the pediment, at least that’s how it looks to today’s planning team.

“ChemCam will investigate it, so we can be sure by comparing the chemistry of the pediment rocks and this one,” Schwenzer reports.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2768, May 20, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s Mastcam is slated to document ChemCam targets, looking at “Glowhill,” “Gutcher,” “Thistle Street,” “Lochbuie,” and “Glasgow.”

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo taken on Sol 2768, May 20, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sand patch

The robot’s Mastcam will also investigate a sand patch near the rover to add to the science on modern sediments that the team has been doing throughout the mission.

And then Mars researchers start to “stare into the distance,” Schwenzer says.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2767, May 19, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2768, May 20, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On the schedule is a Navcam line of sight, and Navcam suprahorizon and zenith movies, and then a look for dust devils, too, Schwenzer concludes. All this will allow the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) team to assess the status of the atmosphere and its dust load.