Archive for August, 2020

Credit: Shanmuga Subramanian via Twitter


A recent claim that India’s Pragyan Rover may have survived the crash of the Vikram Moon lander in September 2019 appears not to be the case.

Shanmuga Subramanian, an IT developer, suggested that the rover may have moved at least a few meters away from the Vikram lander after the failed landing.

India’s lunar lander impact point is near center of image and stands out due to the dark rays and bright outer halo. Note the dark streak and debris about 100 meters to the south, south east of the impact point. Diagonal straight lines are uncorrected background artifacts.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

To his credit, the eagle-eyed Subramanian received bonus points by NASA and others for first spotting the Vikram lander debris on the Moon.

Pre-launch photo shows India’s Pragyan rover mounted on the ramp projecting from out of the sides of Vikram lunar lander.
These Chandrayaan-2 vehicles crashed near the Moon’s south polar region.
Credit: ISRO

In a recent tweet, Subramanian displayed an image (seemingly using wrongly pointed arrows to indicate this prospect) that he thought might show the rover and its tracks across the lunar landscape.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team has reviewed recent imagery of the Chandrayaan-2 lander site.



Their determination, in a message to Inside Outer Space: “There has been no new movement in objects identified as debris from the lander,” reports Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for the NASA LROC at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The small, dark nodules embedded in the “Ayton” rock shown in the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI). This image was taken on Sol 2837.
Credits NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2849 tasks.

“Mary Anning drill target.” Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2849, August 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The most important activity for Curiosity on sol 2849 is an analysis of the “Mary Anning” drill sample with SAM’s gas chromatograph (GC) and quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS),” reports Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

“The operation of these instruments together, in what we call GCMS mode, is how we can identify the organic compounds that may be preserved in this clay-bearing outcrop. This is a big day for the Mary Anning drill campaign, and the results of the GCMS will help determine how we will continue our investigation of this site,” Rice adds.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2848, August 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Luxury looks

During extensive drill campaigns, while Curiosity parked in one location for several weeks, the science team has ample time to scrutinize the rocks, pebbles and sands in the immediate vicinity of the rover.

“This is a luxury,” Rice notes, “because when Curiosity is driving, we usually get just a quick glimpse of the terrain in front of the rover before leaving it behind forever.”

Often, an instrument such as the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will measure the chemistry of a rock, and by the time Mars researchers have received and analyzed that chemistry data, Rice points out, that rock is just a speck in the rearview mirror.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera RMI acquired on Sol 2847, August 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“But during a drill campaign, when ChemCam reveals something interesting about a nearby target, we have the chance to follow up with more measurements,” Rice points out.

So that’s exactly what ChemCam is doing in the current plan: a double take on a rock called “Ayton.”

ChemCam’s first laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) measurement of Ayton on sol 2837 targeted the small, dark nodules embedded in the rock.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera RMI photo acquired on Sol 2849, August 11, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


Look back

On sol 2849, ChemCam is slated to look back at Ayton for a second LIBS observation to investigate why the chemistry is so different from its surroundings.

“Although Ayton is adjacent to the Mary Anning drill target, it looks completely unrelated, as Mary Anning does not have any of those dark speckles at all,” Rice says. “It is amazing how much variability there is over such small spatial scales here – and it sure is nice to have some time to peer around and take it in!”

Cutaway view of LIFE Habitat – inflates on-orbit.
Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

A candidate for NASA’s future deep space habitation applications is the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Large Inflatable Fabric Environment, or LIFE™ Habitat.

Under Phase 3 of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix A habitat program, design concepts could be used on the lunar surface or as a Mars transportation habitat to test at the Gateway.

Inflatable structure

The LIFE Habitat inflates on-orbit to a large structure that is three stories tall and 27 feet in diameter.

It can comfortably sleep four astronauts, with additional room for science experiments, exercise equipment, a medical center and SNC’s Astro Garden® system, which the company is developing as an option to grow fresh produce for astronauts on long-duration space missions.

SNC’s full scale LIFE habitat prototype was delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in May 2019 where it underwent crew evaluation.

Phase 3 work, which includes risk reduction and maturing the concept to System Definition Review (SDR) maturity will continue through the end of 2020. 


Credit: ESA/A. Romeo

Researchers diving into lava tubes here on Earth believe that Martian and lunar tubes are one to three orders of magnitude more voluminous than on our home planet.

Credit: ESA/A. Romeo

The upshot of a new underground data base reveals Mars and Moon lava tubes are respectively 100 and 1,000 times wider than those on Earth, which typically have a diameter of 33 feet to nearly 100 feet (10 to 30 meters).

Credit: ESA/A. Romeo

Lower gravity on those celestial bodies, and its effect on volcanism, explain these dimensions (with total volumes exceeding 1 billion of cubic meters on the Moon).

These findings suggest a game changer for the future of space exploration, for those aiming at reaching the underground of both Mars and the Moon.

The work appears in the international journal Earth-Science Reviews titled “Lava tubes on Earth, Moon and Mars: A review on their size and morphology revealed by comparative planetology.”

This study involved the Universities of Bologna and Padua in Italy. The work was led by Francesco Sauro, a speleologist and head of the European Space Agency programs, CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behavior and performance Skills) and Pangaea. He is also a professor at the Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bologna.

Riccardo Pozzobon is a planetary geologist at the Department of Geosciences of the University of Padua.

Surface expression

Lead authors of the new paper, Sauro and Pozzobon, note that, “although it is still impossible to gather direct information on the interior of Martian and lunar lava tube candidates, scientists have the possibility to investigate their surface expression through the analysis of collapses and skylight morphology, morphometry and their arrangement, and compare these findings with terrestrial analogues.”

The Marius Hills Hole. Extensive lava tubes exist under Marius Hills and may be large enough to house cities.
Credit: NASA, Lunar Orbiter 2; Inset: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

On Earth lava tubes are well known thanks to speleological exploration and mapping in several shield volcanoes. Speleologists have thoroughly studied lava tubes on Earth in Hawaii, the Canary Islands, Australia and Iceland, for example.

On the Moon subsurface cavities have been inferred from several skylights in Maria smooth plains and corroborated using gravimetry (the measurement of weight, a gravitational field, or density) and radar sounder data. On Mars, several deep skylights have been identified on lava flows with striking similarities with terrestrial cases, Sauro and Pozzobon explain.

Potential settlement

Their analysis shows that aside of collapses triggered by impacts/tectonics, most of the lunar tubes could be intact, making the Moon “an extraordinary target for subsurface exploration and potential settlement in the wide protected and stable environments of lava tubes.”

One prospect for intact lunar lava tubes is the collapse chains in Marius Hills, perhaps allowing future crews access to huge underground cavities.

For more information, go to “Lava tubes on Earth, Moon and Mars: A review on their size and morphology revealed by comparative planetology,” at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera photo taken on Sol 2845, August 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now engaged in the start of Sol 2846 duties.

There has been confirmation that the planned Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite specimen bake was successful, reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2844, August 6, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A Sol 2846-2848 plan has been scripted.

Supplementary analysis

“This weekend we will therefore continue with activities to further analyze the “Mary Anning” drilled sample,” Fraeman notes. “On the first sol of the plan we will prepare SAM for analyzing the sample in a slightly different way, and we are planning to do this supplementary analysis early next week.”

The Chemical and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin for short, performs chemical analysis of powdered rock samples to identify the types and amounts of different minerals that are present.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The second sol of the plan contains Chemistry and Camera analyses of two targets named “Clamshell Cove” and “Musselburgh.”

Mars researchers will also analyze the portion of the Mary Anning sample that was already delivered to the robot’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) for a second night.

The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer is called APXS for short. When it is placed right next to a rock or soil surface, it uses two kinds of radiation to measure the amounts and types of chemical elements that are present.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Argon on the atmosphere

On the third sol of the plan, Fraeman adds, Curiosity will measure the amount of argon in the atmosphere with its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), collect more information about the walls of the drill hole with ChemCam, and image a small trough near Curiosity named “Upper Ollach.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2845, August 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2843, August 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2845, August 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2845, August 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech







“Today was a very smooth planning day overall,” Fraeman concludes, “which is always a nice thing to be able to say when you’re operating a science laboratory on another planet from your couch!”

Credit: Roscosmos


Four Indian astronauts continue to undergo training at Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow. They are prospective space travelers for India’s Gaganyaan project.

Credit: Roscosmos

According to Russia’s Roscosmos, the foursome “are doing well and are determined to continue training further.”

The completion of their training at the center is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.

The contract for the Indian candidates’ training for a spaceflight was signed between Glavkosmos, JSC — a subsidiary of the State Space Corporation Roscosmos — and the Human Spaceflight Centre of the Indian Space Research Organization on June 27, 2019. 

India space program officials are all thumbs up. Behind them, full scale model of the Gaganyaan crew module.
Credit: ISRO


Training of the Indian astronauts began back in February of this year.

Crew actions

To date, the Indian astronauts have completed training on crew actions in the event of an abnormal descent module landing: in wooded and marshy areas in winter (completed in February 2020), on the water surface (completed in June 2020), in the steppe in summer (completed in July 2020).

Credit: ISRO

In June 2020, all Indian astronauts-elect passed training in short-term weightlessness mode aboard the IL-76MDK special laboratory aircraft, and in July, they were trained to be air-lifted aboard a helicopter while evacuating from the descent module landing point.

Centrifuge, pressure chamber

The training program for Indian astronauts will also include spinups in a centrifuge and stints in a pressure chamber, with the individuals experiencing G-force, hypoxia and pressure drops.

Booster for India’s human spaceflight program.
Credit: ISRO

India has been pressing forward with its human spaceflight program – although the pandemic has taken its toll on schedule.

When the Gaganyaan spacecraft flies with crew, up to three astronauts are expected to take part in a 7-day mission.

For more information on India’s growing human space plans, go to:

India’s Human Spaceflight Program Moves Forward

Also, go to:

India Puts in Motion Human Spaceflight Plan: Make way for “Vyomnauts”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image of “Mary Anning” taken on Sol 2844, August 6, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2844 duties.

The Sample Analysis at Mars tool is called SAM. SAM is made up of three different instruments that search for and measure organic chemicals and light elements that are important ingredients potentially associated with life.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Reports Sean Czarnecki, a planetary geologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, a recent plan called for Curiosity to drop off some of its newly acquired “Mary Anning” drill sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite for Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA).

“During EGA, SAM bakes the powdered rock sample at up to 900°C (1652°F),” Czarnecki reports. “This releases, or ‘evolves,’ volatile compounds which are then measured.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2843, August 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Surrounding countryside

In addition, Navcam will image the area in front of the rover and look for dust devils, Mastcam will take two stereo mosaics of the surrounding countryside, and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will continue to monitor the environment at this site.

Czarnecki adds that Curiosity is celebrating 8 years on Mars, landing on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012. “Since Curiosity is turning 8, we expect that celebrations in Gale Crater will include games like “Pin the Mast on the Rover” and “Red Rover” (“Red rover, red rover, send Perseverance on over!”) while enjoying treats from SAM’s bakery!”

Since its touchdown, the robot has driven slightly over 14 miles.

Strata at Base of Mount Sharp: This image, taken back when NASA’s Curiosity rover was at the base of Mount Sharp on March 24, 2014, indicates the rover’s approximate location as of July 30, 2020 – about 3 1/2 miles away (about 5 1/2 kilometers).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Postcards from Mars

 Back on Earth, the MSL team is also celebrating with a retrospective in the form of 8 Martian postcards, such as a dust storm selfie, a descriptive tour of Gale Crater, a Martian cloud movie, and much more! You can see this striking selection of images from the past 8 years here:


“Thank you for following Curiosity’s journey for the last 8 years,” Czarnecki concludes. “We look forward to a ninth year and more of exciting exploration and discovery!”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2843, August 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Awaiting first results

In an earlier report from Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, a recent plan also saw some drill sample delivered to the robot’s Chemical and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument, with Mars researchers eagerly awaiting the first results of that analysis.

“Today we planned a Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) preconditioning activity to get ready for sample drop off to SAM and analysis later in the week, O’Connell-Cooper explains, “which will catalogue the composition and check for traces of organic molecules in these rocks.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2843, August 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Power-hungry instrument

Because SAM is a very power-hungry instrument, scientists are budgeting most of their energy across this week around the SAM activities.

As the “precon” activity takes up most of our available energy today, the geology theme group (GEO) limited itself to re-imaging the drill hole using the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), Mastcam and Navcam, O’Connell-Cooper adds.

This will allow Mars researchers to refine targeting of the drill hole by ChemCam, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) in future plans, when power is not as constrained as it is right now!

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2843, August 5, 2020



“We squeezed every last bit of power available for today’s planning, so that the environmental theme group (ENV) were able to get in some monitoring activities, looking for dust devils and dust in the atmosphere, as well as standard REMS (weather) and DAN activities,” O’Connell-Cooper concludes.

Best space and sci-fi books for 2020

By Staff

Luna 25 Moon lander. Credit: Roscosmos

Progress is being reported on readying Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft.

Last month, flight units of Russian scientific instruments were delivered from the Space Research Institute to NPO Lavochkin – part of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. Russian space industry specialists have started installing them on the Luna-25 spacecraft.

The Russian lunar landing vehicle includes nine instruments: eight Russian and one developed by the European Space Agency.

ESA’s contribution to Luna 25 includes PILOT-D, a demonstrator terrain relative navigation system.

Credit: ESA

South pole exploration

The Russian instruments are meant to research the composition, structure and physico-mechanical properties of lunar polar regolith, dust and plasma exosphere around the Moon’s south pole. To date, no spacecraft have been to this region, eyed by many nations as a site for future Moon bases.

Luna-25 is expected to launch in October 2021.

The project is being implemented at the request of the Russian Academy of Sciences — part of the Federal Space Program of 2016-2025 — and is financed by Roscosmos.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter used its powerful LROC system to image Luna 24 sitting near the edge of a large crater.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Return to flight

Luna-25 is the opening moonshot of a reactivated Russian lunar program that includes an orbiter and lobbing lunar materials back to Earth.

ESA has been developing the Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation (PROSPECT) – a lunar drilling and sample analysis package to be installed on Russia’s Luna 27 mission.

The last of the Luna series of spacecraft was the mission of the Luna 24 probe in 1976. It was the third Soviet mission to retrieve and rocket back to Earth lunar surface samples. The first two were returned by Luna 16 in 1970 and Luna 20 in 1972.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2842, August 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2842 tasks.

The robot is carrying on with its drill campaign at the “Mary Anning” site, reports Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Chemical and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin for short, performs chemical analysis of powdered rock samples to identify the types and amounts of different minerals that are present.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The meat of a recently scripted plan focuses on dropping off a powdered drill sample to the rover’s onboard Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin). This device is used to tell scientists all about the mineralogical composition of the latest drill hole.

In addition, the plan calls for about an hour’s worth of remote science activities to help document the rover’s surroundings.

This image of “Maybole” target was taken by Left Navigation Camera on July 16, 2020, Sol 2824.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2842, August 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2842, August 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2841 August 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Stereo mosaic

“To kick off the science block, Mastcam will take a meaty 53-frame stereo mosaic pointed at the fractured intermediate unit to the southeast,” Kronyak notes. “This mosaic will document a large portion of our surroundings and will also help the science team plan our drive path once we finish up our drilling activities at Mary Anning.”

Also on the plan, the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) will shoot its laser at the target “Bishop’s Palace,” which exposes some nice small-scale layering and possible diagenetic features – the physical and chemical changes occurring in sediments between the times of deposition and solidification.

Layered outcrop

ChemCam will also use its Remote Micro Imager (RMI) to take a long-distance mosaic of the “Maybole” target.

Maybole is a partially exposed, layered outcrop at the top of a nearby hill, Kronyak points out. “In fact, we purposely planned for a few frames to overlap between the long-distance RMI and Mastcam mosaics so that the lighting conditions between the two mosaics match up. This overlap will allow for nice comparisons between the two mosaics to be made.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2841, August 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Atmospheric monitoring

Towards the end of the science block, Curiosity’s Mastcam will take a documentation image of the ChemCam target Bishop’s Palace.

Also planned are several atmospheric monitoring activities with Navcam. Later in the sol, a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image is set to continue a change detection campaign at the robot’s current location, Kronyak concludes.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 2842, August 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech