Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Proposed cis-lunar Gateway.
Credit: Lockheed Martin



Work is progressing on fleshing out designs and capabilities of a new habitable structure near the Moon, known as the Gateway.

International partners for the proposed cis-lunar Gateway.
Credit: ESA

Late last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) commissioned two consortia – one led by Airbus and the other by Thales Alenia Space – to undertake parallel studies into the design of a scientific airlock.

Similar to the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo on the International Space Station, this airlock will allow scientific experiments to be transferred from the Gateway to and from outer space.

A possible design for a scientific airlock that could form part of Europe’s ESPRIT module on the Gateway is lowered into a test pool by members of an Airbus-led consortium in Marseilles, France.
Credit: ESA



Underwater mockup

The scientific airlock forms one part of a European module called ESPRIT – a module that will also enable refuelling and provide telecommunications with the Moon and Earth.

Underwater testing of a concept for the scientific airlock which will form part of Europe’s ESPRIT module for the Gateway – a new habitable outpost near the Moon.
Credit: Arnauld Probst

Designed and constructed by French company Comex for Airbus, the mockup of ESPRIT’s interior was recently tested underwater to simulate the weightlessness of space. The underwater appraisal was meant to confirm a preliminary inner design and identify the best place to put handrails to ensure optimal stability of the crew as they carry out payload handling and airlock operations.

At this stage both companies will be asked to present their concepts and costings for consideration ahead of ESA’s next Ministerial Council in November.

The Lockheed Martin Habitat Ground Test Article (HGTA) Lunar habitat prototype is designed to accommodate a variety of missions around the Moon.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Prototype cislunar habitat

Meanwhile, under a public-private partnership as a part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Phase II study contract, Lockheed Martin has completed the initial ground prototype for a cislunar habitat.

The full-scale prototype, or Habitat Ground Test Article, is built inside of a repurposed shuttle-era cargo container, called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, at Kennedy Space Center.


Lockheed Martin will soon transition the prototype to the NASA NextSTEP team for assessment.

Inside look at prototype cis-lunar Gateway.
Credit: Lockheed Martin



Astronaut feedback

During the upcoming week of March 25, a team of NASA astronauts will live and work inside the prototype, evaluating the layout and providing feedback. The NASA test team will also validate the overall design and will be able to evaluate the standards and common interfaces, like the International Docking System Standard, and how to apply those systems for long-term missions based at the Lunar Gateway.

Once NASA testing has completed, Lockheed Martin will continue to optimize and study the prototype to prepare for other lunar efforts, according to a company press statement.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2355, March 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2356 science tasks.

Meanwhile, a new Curiosity traverse map has been issued by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showing the robot’s mobility through Sol 2354 (March 22).

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

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 2352 to Sol 2354, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 78.32 feet (23.87 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 12.62 miles (20.32 kilometers).

The rover landed on Mars in August 2012.

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

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2355, March 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2355, March 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2355, March 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image shows exceptionally bright meteor that exploded over the Bering Sea on Dec. 18, 2018. The shadow of the meteor’s trail through Earth’s atmosphere can be seen, imaged by an instrument on NASA’s Terra spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL-Caltech, MISR Team

A December 2018 fireball that zipped through the Earth’s atmosphere exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) high above the Bering Sea, unleashing an estimated 173 kilotons of energy. That’s a significant happening.

This incoming object was captured by a NASA satellite. Two NASA instruments aboard the multi-national Terra scientific research satellite spotted the fireball fly-in a few minutes after the event.

Cloud top trail

Images show the shadow of the meteor’s trail through Earth’s atmosphere, cast on the cloud tops and elongated by the low sun angle to the northwest. The orange-tinted cloud that the fireball left behind stems from super-heating the air as the meteor passed through.

According to NASA experts, the December 18 fireball was the most powerful meteor to be observed since 2013; however, given its altitude and the remote area over which it occurred, the object posed no threat to anyone on the ground.

Wake-up call: The 2013 incoming space rock over Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Credit: Alex Alishevskikh

City destruction

“Although the fireball was the second largest impact on Earth recorded in the last century, it still was too small to cause any significant damage, fortunately,” said Andrew Cheng of the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

The Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 that detonated over Russia was not much larger (about 20 meters) but damaged thousands of buildings and injured over 1,000 people.

“But an impactor only 100 meters across, if an asteroid that large were to hit a populated area, would be a disaster. Such an impact could destroy an entire city and its surrounding area,” Cheng told Inside Outer Space.

Artist concept of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft. DART, which is moving to preliminary design phase, would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense.

Kinetic impact

Cheng is working on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), and offers some planetary defense counsel.

“So these fireball events are wake-up calls, and NASA has responded. NASA has approved its first planetary defense mission, which is DART. This mission will demonstrate the kinetic impact technique for deflecting an asteroid, by hitting it with a spacecraft to change its orbit,” Cheng explains.

DART will perform the kinetic impact demonstration at the 525-feet (160-meters) moon of the binary asteroid Didymos in late September-early October, 2022.

NASA is imminently going to announce the launch vehicle selection for DART.

For more information on this event, go to my new Scientific American story at:

Huge Meteor Explosion a Wake-Up Call for Planetary Defense – Detonating over the Bering Sea

Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. Images of each other taken by the respective machinery.

The super-camera system on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) continues to monitor the whereabouts and wanderings of China’s Yutu-2 rover on the Moon’s farside.

The Chang’e 4 rover, Yutu-2, moved between February 1, 2019 and February 28, 2019. The upper left panel shows the landing site before Chang’e-4 set down and the image in upper right panel has the best resolution of the lander and rover taken so far. The lower left image was taken six hours later with a slew angle of 40°. The most recent view in the lower right shows that Yutu-2 traversed 150 feet (46 meters) to the west during the month of February.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Over the next few months, the Sun will rise higher and higher over the landing site when LRO is overhead, providing the opportunity to obtain images with no shadows, according to Mark Robinson, principal investigator of LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) system — three cameras mounted on the LRO that capture high resolution photos of the lunar surface.

Blast zone

Those upcoming images will be particularly useful for mapping differences in brightness (albedo), Robinson notes, and researchers should get the first real look at the “blast zone”- the region that was brightened around the Chang’e-4 lander as rocket exhaust interacted with the regolith, as seen around all other landing sites.

The tracks of the rover should also be visible in the coming months, allowing researchers to follow Yutu-2’s exact path along the floor of Von Kármán crater during its exploration of the lunar farside, Robinson explains.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA/Goddard Science Visualization Studio (SVS)


China’s Chang’e-4 mission landed in Von Kármán crater within the South Pole-Aitken Basin on January 3, 2019.

Westward progress

LRO passes over any given place on the Moon at least once every month (in the daylight), allowing the westward progress of the Yutu-2 rover to be seen.

Image of Mons Tai, a hill near “Statio Tianhe”, the landing site of China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe.
Credit: CNSA

Robinson explains that, at the end of February, Yutu-2 was 226 feet (69 meters) from its home base, the Chang’e-4 lander; LROC images show Yutu-2 made 150 feet (46 meters) of westward progress during the month of February.

Each month when LRO images the landing site, now called Statio Tianhe, the lighting changes, providing a different view of the surface.

During times near dawn or dusk, Robinson says, long shadows enhance topography and closer to noon differences in surface brightness are more apparent. In the latest image from February 28, the Sun is near the horizon and the lander and rover each cast long shadows.

Credit: ESA – P.Carril


THE WOODLANDS, Texas – The Earth was on the receiving end of a little-noticed intruder back in late 2018. A hefty space rock detonated over an isolated stretch of the Bering Sea, between Russia and Alaska.

The blast occurred at roughly 16 miles above the ocean, yielding an energetic, high-altitude punch judged to be 40 percent the energy release of the destructive February 2013 meteor blast over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

This late news bombshell was unveiled here by Kelly Fast, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations program manager, during a media briefing on NASA’s planetary defense programs prior to the start of this week’s 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

For more details, go to my new Scientific American story:

Huge Meteor Explosion a Wake-Up Call for Planetary Defense

Detonating over the Bering Sea, the blast was as powerful as a nuclear bomb


Credit: IBMP



Russia’s SIRIUS (Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station) experiment is now underway and simulating a flight to the Moon.

The SIRIUS crew headed for the Moon: From left to right: Reinhold Povilaitis (USA), Daria Zhidova (Russia), Commander Yevgeny Tarelkin (Russia), Anastasia Stepanova (Russia), Allen Mirkadyrov (USA)
and Stephania Fedeye (Russia). Credit: IBMP

Six members of the international SIRIUS crew started a 120-day experiment to simulate the flight to the Moon at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) on Tuesday.

Cosmonaut commander

The SIRIUS-19 experiment is being conducted under the command of 44-year-old Russian cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin, who has already carried out one space mission. Tarelkin crewmates are Reinhold Povilaitis, Allen Mirkadyrov (both U.S.), Daria Zhidova, Anastasia Stepanova and Stephania Fedeye (all Russian).

Credit: DLR



U.S. representatives

Two U.S. representatives are taking part in the experiment: Reinhold Povilaitis, an analyst of research and operations on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Allen Mirkadyrov in Telecommunication Networks and Technologies of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Christian Rogon is SIRIUS Project Manager at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Space Administration. DLR is participating in the SIRIUS-19 isolation study together with the French space agency (CNES) under the leadership of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and NASA.

Moon visit

Credit: DLR

In addition to the numerous experiments and the many everyday challenges, one very special highlight awaits the crew – a visit to the Moon.

“Exactly halfway through the SIRIUS isolation study, four ‘cosmonauts’ will land on the lunar surface in a small capsule,” DLR’s Rogon explains. “Once there, they will carry out several ‘Moon walks’ while wearing spacesuits, collect samples and prepare a ‘settlement’ on the Moon – a very special experience.”

Two ‘cosmonauts’ will stay behind in the orbital lunar station and monitor the excursion. After the return and successful docking of the lander with the station, the whole crew will orbit the Moon together for another 30 days. During this time, they will remotely control rovers on the lunar surface, dock more spaceships with the orbital station, and carry out numerous experiments before returning to Moscow, notes a DLR statement on SIRIUS-19.

NASA/IBMP collaboration

NASA and the State Research Center Institute for Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IBMP) have a long and successful history of collaborating on joint research related to human health and well-being in space.

NASA’s HRP (Human Research Program), and IBMP are conducting research to identify preventive measures and technologies to protect the health of astronauts and astronauts during space flight.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2353, March 20, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2353 duties.

Curiosity has made the drive to a rock called “Muir of Ord,” which has a cracked surface, reports Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California Davis in Davis, California. The network of cracks in this Martian rock slab called “Old Soaker” may have formed from the drying of a mud layer more than 3 billion years ago.

“Muir of Ord,” which has a cracked surface. Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



“The science team is particularly interested in imaging this rock up close because of the fracture patterns. Cracks like these can form from mud drying out when the original sediments were deposited or after exposure of the rock during weathering,” Sumner adds.

If the cracks on Muir of Ord formed when the sediment was first deposited, they tell Mars scientists something about the depositional environment. If they formed during weathering, that informs researchers about the processes on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 2351, March 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Planned observations by the rover should help determine which is more likely.

Elemental composition

A recent Curiosity science plan starts with contact science on the “Crieff” target, which is on the top surface of Muir of Ord. The rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was slated to perform a short analysis to determine its elemental composition, and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will image it at progressively higher magnifications. Doing so allows scientists to study the crack shapes in detail.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

MAHLI will then image the side of Muir of Ord at a target called “Crossroads” to see how the cracks cross the layering in the rock. Once the contact science is complete, the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will analyze Crieff with a 3×3 grid, and Mastcam will take a mosaic of Muir of Ord.

ChemCam was then set to analyze the targets “James,” “Kilmarnock,” and “Crail” with Mastcam providing context images. Finally, Curiosity will finish up the science at this spot with two more Mastcams of “Aldons Quarry” and “Small Isles.”

New rover drive

The next activity is a roughly 100 foot (30 meters) drive with sequential Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) images to document the large-scale fracture patterns in the outcrop. Once the drive is over, Curiosity’s to-do list includes taking typical post drive images, including both Navcam and Mastcam mosaics of the workspace and the future drive direction.

The second sol of a recently scripted plan includes lots of environmental measurements, Sumner adds. “The morning activities consist of Mastcam imaging of the sun to characterize dust in the atmosphere, a Navcam movie above the horizon to study atmospheric dynamics, and a Navcam movie looking for dust devils.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2352, March 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Afternoon activities include a zenith movie to image clouds and their motion, plus a second set of sun images. Geological activities include an Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS), that is, use of the novel autonomy software to analyze a rover-selected target as well as a Mastcam 360° panorama.

“We are looking forward to interpreting all this great new data,” Sumner concludes.

This trio of images acquired by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows a wide shot and two close-ups of a region in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere.

The wide-angle image (left), obtained by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera, shows a 590-foot (180-meter) wide area with many rocks, including some large boulders, and a “pond” of regolith that is mostly devoid of large rocks.

The two closer images, obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera, show details of areas in the MapCam image, specifically a 50-foot (15 meter) boulder (top) and the regolith pond (bottom). The PolyCam frames are 101 feet (31 meters) across and the boulder depicted is approximately the same size as a humpback whale.

The images were taken on February 25 while the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu, approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from the asteroid’s surface.

The observation plan for this day provided for one MapCam and two PolyCam images every 10 minutes, allowing for this combination of context and detail of Bennu’s surface.

Date Taken: Feb. 25, 2019

Instrument Used: OCAMS (MapCam and PolyCam)

Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Credit: Brown University/OrbitBeyond

The Woodlands, Texas – Moon exploration via an ultra-small rover about the size of a printer.

Planetary scientists at Brown University are collaborating with the New Jersey-based company, OrbitBeyond, to plan the scientific mission of a small-scale lunar rover.

The rover was originally designed to compete for the Google Lunar X PRIZE by a team of engineers (TeamIndus) based in India. Now OrbitBeyond plans to launch the rover in 2020.

Late last year, NASA announced nine U.S. companies are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts. OrbitBeyond is one of those nine firms.

The project is being presented here at Microsymposium 60, a meeting held here prior to the start of the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), March 18–22.

This year, an LPSC special focus is on private companies that are working on ways to send payloads — rovers and other cargo — to the Moon.

Credit: OrbitBeyond

Science from scratch

Brown University PhD candidates, Ashley Palumbo and Ariel Deutsch, led a team of students who mapped the tiny rover’s landing area, and set scientific goals for the mission.

“We were able to design specific scientific measurements that OrbitBeyond will be able to acquire with the payload that already existed on this tiny rover,” Palumbo said.

“Essentially what we got to do… is design the scientific aspect of this mission from scratch, which isn’t something that you ever get to do at the education level we’re at right now,” Palumbo said. Toward the end of the class, the students had the chance to present their design reference mission to members of OrbitBeyond.

Deutsch says there are increased opportunities for research, as commercial space exploration companies expand. “It’s allowing people to put more experiments on the Moon, and at the same time it’s also driving down the cost.”

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image of Moon’s Mare Imbrium region. Credit: Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

Young volcanic field

The plan calls for the OrbitBeyond rover to land in a relatively young volcanic field in the Moon’s Mare Imbrium region and will use high definition cameras to study the surrounding terrain. The small-scale rover has forward and backward facing cameras, which the team will use to study the lunar terrain.

“By visiting those lava flows from these recent volcanic events, we can learn so much about how volcanism has changed through time, on the Moon,” Palumbo explained.

Scientific output

The Brown University class, taught by Jim Head, a distinguished professor of geological science, combined lectures on lunar evolution with writing a design reference mission for the lunar rover.

The students in Head’s class were tasked with figuring out what science the rover would be capable of doing, given the competition’s constraints.

Head said that, in small groups, students were able to focus on different questions with the goal of optimizing the scientific output of the rover’s mission. Some students evaluated what data to collect, while others looked into the best landing sites from a scientific perspective. Another group, he said, researched how the rover could best navigate the Moon with only a single solar panel as an energy source.

Note: This article is partly based on Sofia Rudin’s The Public’s Radio show, aired here:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2347, March 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2349 tasks.

“Curiosity is back to work after another hiatus due to a computer reset,” reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

“These sorts of resets do happen from time to time for operating spacecraft and we’re able to enjoy the benefit of two computers to operate the rover by switching to the other one when needed.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2347, March 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As you’d expect, Guzewich adds, the view from the rover hasn’t changed much lately and the robot’s arm is still poised over the bedrock target “Fife.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2347, March 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ripple fields

A recent plan has Curiosity performing an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) integration on Fife before continuing to examine the nearby bedrock including a pebble called “Schiehallion.”

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will also both study some dune and ripple fields nearby called “Motherwell.”

“Our atmospheric monitoring is also behind schedule,” Guzewich notes, so the plan called for trying to make up for lost time with three measurements of atmospheric opacity in these next two sols, two searches for dust devils, and a Mastcam sky survey where scientists examine the properties of dust particles suspended in the air.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2347, March 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo obtained on Sol 2339, March 6, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Griffith Observatory Event