Archive for October, 2020

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2925 tasks.

The rover’s short drive – also called a “bump” – on Sol 2924 went well, reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. The robot is now on a relatively steep slope right next to the “Maybole” outcrop.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Every time we prepare to deploy [Curiosity’s] arm, the risk of the wheels slipping due to the change in the vehicle’s center of gravity must be assessed,” Herkenhoff explains. A recent assessment was more difficult than usual, he adds, because of the roughly 26-degree rover tilt and the proximity of the outcrop, making it a challenging day for the tactical team.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“But ultimately we got the ‘go’ from the experts assessing the slip risk, and we did not have to remove any arm activities from the plan,” Herkenhoff points out.

Brief nap

Before the arm will be deployed on Sol 2925, Navcam will search for dust devils and Mastcam and Navcam will measure the opacity of dust in the atmosphere.

Then Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will measure the elemental chemistry of targets dubbed “Bister” and “Fittie” and the Right Mastcam will take documentary images of both ChemCam targets.

Mastcam will then acquire a 3 x 1 stereo mosaic of a small crater named “Crubba” before the rover takes a brief nap.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Drill sample measurements

Later in the afternoon, a new plan calls for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to acquire a full suite of images of the outcrop target “Bablin” before the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is placed near that target for a short evening integration.

APXS will then be placed directly on the Bablin target for a long, overnight integration, during which the rover’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) will return data from its most recent measurement of the “Groken” drill sample, Herkenhoff concludes.

NASA’s Curiosity rover took 21 images in Gale Crater using its mast-mounted Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) to create this mosaic.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2924 tasks.

Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, reports that the rover – after a weekend drive – is looking at new scenery – after sitting in one parking spot for the last three months.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot’s drive executed as planned, placing Curiosity roughly 10-13 feet (3-4 meters) from the “Maybole” outcrop.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Unusual ledges

“The geologists have been interested in getting closer to this rock exposure for some time, as it represents one of a series of unusual ledges present in this area,” Thompson explains. “Do these ledges represent a slightly different rock type to the more typical low relief terrain? Are they more cemented and harder than surrounding rocks? Might they provide clues as to what is happening as we get closer to the sulfate unit, that we are on route to?”

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To better observe the textures such as bedding, laminations, any cross laminations, veins or resistant features, Thompson adds that the team planned a large Mastcam stereo mosaic of Maybole. And to get a head start on what the chemistry of these rocks is, the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will shoot the target “Hollandstoun” on the right front face of the outcrop “in an area that we hope to target with our contact science instruments in the next plan.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2923, October 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Balancing science objectives

Thompson points out that much of the discussion during planning revolved around trying to pick the best area on the Maybole outcrop to drive to in order to examine the rocks with Curiosity’s contact science instruments on the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2924, October 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

There is need to balance science objectives with what can be achieved by the rover with respect to driving close to the rock face, safely unstowing the arm, and being able to place the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) close to, or on the rock face.

“Luckily, the area that the team is most interested in from a scientific perspective appears to be reachable by the rover,” Thompson adds.

Prime position

A newly planned drive should place the robot in a prime position to interrogate the Maybole rocks for fine-scale textures with MAHLI, and chemistry with APXS, in the next plan.

To provide another hint at the chemistry of the Maybole rocks prior to placing APXS, a post-drive ChemCam Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) observation will be acquired.

A planned post-drive Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image should also give scientists a sense of what the ground beneath the rover’s wheels looks like.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2923, October 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Geochemical secrets

The environmental group has also been busy planning observations of the atmosphere. These will include a ChemCam passive sky observation and a Navcam dust devil survey and line of sight observation.

Standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive and active measurements were also planned.

I am excited at the prospect of putting the APXS down on these interesting rocks at Maybole,” Thompson concludes, “and seeing what geochemical secrets they yield!”

Credit: NASA/Washington Heritage Register

 

 

The Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has unanimously approved the designation of Apollo Lunar Rover Vehicles (LRVs) built by Boeing in Kent, Washington as Washington state historic landmarks.

Apollo 16 exploration site.
Credit: NASA/Washington Heritage Register

The city of Kent and the Kent Downtown Partnership applied to receive historic landmark designation for the LRVs used in Apollo Mission 15 in 1971, and Apollo 16, Apollo 17 in 1972.

At the Boeing Space Center in the 1970s, building 18-23 is where LRV fabrication, manufacturing, and assembly occurred. Building 18-24 is where LRVs were tested.

Apollo 15 rover.
Credit: NASA/Washington Heritage Register

 

Gone untouched

In documentation supporting the preservation request, it is noted that “the three rovers used in Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 remain on the lunar surface and have gone untouched since they were last used during their respective assignments.”

LRV fabrication and testing. Credit: City of Kent/Boeing

Furthermore, the document adds: “It should be noted that City of Kent Landmarks Commission designated the three extant Lunar Roving Vehicles as Community Landmarks on July 25, 2019. This Washington Heritage Register application builds on that effort and on the precedent set by California and New Mexico, the first two states to include lunar objects and structures in their state historic registers. Those efforts involved the Apollo 11 Tranquility Base, where more than 100 objects and structures remain from the first human exploration of the lunar surface. In 2010, the California State Historical Resources Commission and the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee voted unanimously to add the many features at Tranquility Base to their respective state registers.”

To view the Washington Heritage Register application – chock full of LRV details – go to:

https://dahp.wa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/nominations/WHR_application_Kent_LRVs_FINAL.pdf

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is shown airborne with the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open.
Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

 

Today’s gush of water-on-the-Moon stories is heartening.

But I would be remiss not to underscore a recent NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on NASA’s management of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), from which the new lunar observations are predicated:

From the September 14, 2020 OIG report:

“Although responsible for several first-of-its-kind discoveries, SOFIA’s 13-year development delay reduced the Program’s ability to produce impactful science in a cost-effective manner, particularly when compared to the cost of and science produced by other infrared observatories that launched in the interim. Further, SOFIA has not fully utilized its unique capabilities to serve as an instrument test bed due to high instrument development costs, or to fly anytime anywhere because of a lack of instrument scheduling flexibility, the amount of time necessary to switch out instruments, and the prioritization of observations with greater scientific significance.”

In late August 2018, using the high-flying SOFIA and its Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope, observations were made of the lunar surface. Reconnoitered within a 10-minute period was a region at high southern latitudes near Clavius crater. Image taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) wide-angle camera image of Clavius crater.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Again, just sayin’ – or what am I sayin’? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the NASA IG report, go to:

https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/IG-20-022.pdf

Credit: Lunark Habitat mission

Fresh from a Kickstarter campaign, the Lunark Habitat mission is now underway.

Crew members, Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan, are deep into their three-month journey in the Arctic, Greenland.

Their home-away-from-home design for a lunar dwelling combines the ancient Japanese art of paper folding with the method of biomimicry. The result is a lightweight and strong foldable structure.

“The hab is working well keeping us warm and safe,” reports the twosome. “On average it’s a cozy 22 degrees inside. We feel healthy. Our bodies are adapting to this tiny way of living.”

An earlier communiqué reports: “Went on a long spacewalk up a nearby mountain. Our surroundings are so beautiful. But also barren and vast. It made us feel happy and small.”

 Radically different Moon habitat

The project is dubbed “Lunark,” developed by SAGA Space Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Credit: Lunark Habitat mission

Previous research shows that lack of stimuli, isolation, and confinement will become major challenges for the long-term voyages of the future.

This experiment, the architects contend, will develop and test a radically different Moon habitat where architecture helps to counteract monotony, claustrophobia and psychological stress.

For more details on SAGA Space Architects and its Lunark initiative, go to:

https://lunark.space/

Also, go to this informative video at:

https://vimeo.com/353525132

Lastly, go to this earlier Inside Outer Space posting on the project at:

http://www.leonarddavid.com/moon-home-to-be-tested-in-greenland/

Thanks to a satellite connection, the castaways send home daily updates that you can follow at:

https://lunark.space/messages/

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is shown airborne with the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open.
Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

Until recently the Moon was thought to be bone dry and a waterless world. Little by little there seems to be a drip by drip of news that our celestial neighbor sports a wet look.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) wide-angle camera image of Clavius crater.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Two research papers published in Nature Astronomy have turned on the tap a bit more to the prospect of molecular water on the moon.

The timing seemingly appears good for those keen on scuffing up the lunar topside once again and setting up off-Earth, long-term habitation. After all, where there is water there is life – even if that life needs to be well-suited and helmeted.

Astronauts explore lunar south pole crater. A water ice-rich resource ready for processing awaits?
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information regarding the results of new research, go to my Scientific American story at:

Water Found in Sunlight and Shadow on the Moon

Observations by NASA’s SOFIA telescope and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal signs of water in sun-baked lunar soil, as well as in small, dark craters – go to:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/water-found-in-sunlight-and-shadow-on-the-moon/

From Planetary Science Institute:


These three images of the lunar surface show shadows at all scales, from several kilometers to less than a centimeter. (A) Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter oblique view over the rim of the Cabeus crater near the Moon’s south pole (NASA/GSFC/ASU). (B) Chang’e-3 close-up surface image taken by the Yutu rover some distance from the landing site (CNSA/CLEP). (C) Apollo 14 close-up camera image of undisturbed regolith. Some of these shadows are permanent and could remain cold enough to harbor ice (NASA).

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2923 tasks.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars scientists are in the homestretch of having Curiosity complete work at the “Mary Anning” and “Groken” drill sites, reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

A recent plan checks off final important work boxes at the site before the robot heads back uphill, Minitti explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Discarded sample

With a recently acquired sample delivered to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, the plan calls for clearing the remaining sample out of the drill and have a look at the discarded sample with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The chemistry of the Groken drill sample from APXS will be combined with the mineralogy determined by the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and the volatile contents determined by SAM Minitti explains, “to build a comprehensive picture of the origin and history of this part of Gale Crater.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Clean looks

MAHLI will also look at the Groken drill hole tailings, which have been somewhat scattered by the wind since created on Sol 2910, Minitti adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We will also look around and beyond the drill target with our remote sensing instruments,” Minitti notes.

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will acquire chemistry from the target “Vord,” a clean, broken surface exposed during the drill activity. “We do not often get such new, dust-free surfaces on Mars so we like to take advantage of clean looks at their chemistry and texture,” Minitti says.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wonderland of geology

ChemCam will add to the extensive and spectacular collection of Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) images of the “Housedon Hill” area east of the rover, which reveal a real wonderland of geology within Mount Sharp.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot’s Mastcam and Navcam will combine forces to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and look for dust devils and clouds. The steady gazes of the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) “remain fixed on the skies above us and subsurface below us as the other instruments do their work, continuing to build their records of the environment in Gale crater,” Minitti concludes.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2922, October 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s space station plans are pressing ahead.

The recent selection of a new group of 18 reserve astronauts — including one female –were chosen from 2,500 candidates.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

This new cadre consists of seven spacecraft pilots, seven space flight engineers and four payload experts.

According to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), the flight engineers and payload experts have been selected for the first time as reserve astronauts to meet China’s space station construction needs.

Prototype of the Tianhe core module. China’s space station is expected to be operational around 2022.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

China’s Xinhua news service reports that the astronauts will shoulder multiple responsibilities in the construction of the space station. They will conduct complex extravehicular tasks, and work with mechanical arms to complete the installation, testing, adjustment and upgrading of payloads in orbit.

One astronaut can operate the mechanical arm inside the capsule while another works outside. The space station will have two kinds of mechanical arms, and the coordination between astronauts and mechanical arms will enable the construction and maintenance of the station.

The Tianhe core module for China’s Space Station undergoes ground testing.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab

10-year-plus lifetime

Hao Chun, director general of the CMSA, at a space forum in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, said last week that China will pay attention to material supply, application payloads, micro-satellites release, in-orbit maintenance, space tourism, and gradually establish proper models for other parties to participate.

Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s space station is expected to be completed around 2022.

Operating in low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 211 miles (340 kilometers) to 280 miles (450 kilometers) for more than 10 years, according to China space officials, the facility is intended to support large-scale scientific, technological and application experiments.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Key elements

Upcoming is launch of the station core module and two lab capsules. Four piloted mission and four cargo craft will also be launched, according to the CMSA.

The core module of the station, named Tianhe, is currently the largest spacecraft developed by China. The first lab capsule, named Wentian, will be mainly used for scientific and technological experiments, as well as working and living space and shelter in an emergency.

The second lab capsule, named Mengtian, offers similar functions.

An optical telescope with a diameter of 6.5 feet (2-meter) will fly in the same orbit as the space station. The telescope capsule, named Xuntian (“Heavenly Cruiser”), is expected to provide observation data for astronomical and physical studies. It can dock with China’s space station for maintenance and refueling. In telescopic terms, NASA’s Hubble space telescope features a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) mirror.

 

Von Kármán crater as viewed by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

 

 

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have been switched to dormant mode, readied to experience another long stint of 14 days of brutal cold.

Prior to their celestial slumber, the farside explorers worked stably for a 23rd lunar day, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration. The twosome has spent 660 Earth days on the Moon as of Saturday.

 

China’s champion – long duration Yutu-2 rover.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

The lander was switched to dormant mode at 9:40 p.m. Friday (Beijing Time) as scheduled, and the rover, Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2), at 12 noon Friday, said the center.

Yutu-2 has wheeled a little over 1,853 feet (565.9 meters).

View of the Chang’e-4 lander with the location of the Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry (LND) experiment sensor head indicated by red arrow. LND features a reclosable door that protects the experiment from the cold lunar nights but is open during lunar daytime.
Credit: Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) and National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC)

Radiation measurements

According to China’s Xinhua news agency, during the 23rd lunar day, Yutu-2 went northwest, traveling toward an area with basalt and an impact crater area with high reflectivity. En route to the destination, the near-infrared spectrometer on the rover was used to detect a rock about 30 centimeters in diameter. The research team is analyzing the transmitted data. The rover Yutu-2 has exceeded its three-month design lifespan, becoming the longest-working lunar rover on the Moon.

Scientists carried out the first systematically documented measurements of radiation on the Moon with data acquired by the neutron radiation detector onboard.

According to the study published in the journal Science Advances, the radiation environment of the lunar surface is roughly two to three times the International Space Station, five to ten times of a civilian aircraft flight, and 300 times that of the Earth’s surface. The study provides a reference for the estimation of the lunar surface radiation hazards and the design of radiation protection for future lunar astronauts.

Luna-25 on the factory floor. Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

There is a multi-country Moon rush in progress.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

While NASA is orchestrating the Artemis program of robotic and human lunar exploration, there’s China, preparing this year to hurl a go-getting return sample mission to the Moon.

 

A new and successful Chinese spacecraft lunar landing joins still-active Chinese lander/rover machinery on the Moon.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Toss in the mix other nations, such as Japan and India, as well as private firms, that have cross-hairs on future lunar exploration.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Russian re-entry

Now, enter a new “old-timer” that’s joining the celestial fray.

Russia is rebuilding a multi-pronged return to the Moon program, one that kick-starts a 21st century round of outreach to Earth’s extraterrestrial neighbor.

Russian space industry specialists are busy at work on the Luna-25 spacecraft expected to be Soyuz-boosted moonward next year, in October 2021.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

 

Luna-25 will be a continuation of the series of Soviet Union Moon probes of the same name. But unlike past launches, this spacecraft is targeted to land in the vicinity of the Moon’s south pole.

 

 

For an inside look at Luna-25 preparations, view this newly-issued video (in Russian) by correspondent Nikolay Vdovin of RK Media at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOrYqfiKJi0

Also, go to my recent Scientific American story on Russia’s re-entry into Moon exploration:

Luna-25 Lander Renews Russian Moon Rush The former front-runner in the lunar space race aims to rekindle its exploration after nearly half a century.

Go to:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/luna-25-lander-renews-russian-moon-rush/