Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: Virgin Galactic

 

Virgin Galactic has introduced two new pilots into its “Pilot Corps” as the company moves ahead on commercial suborbital flight services from Spaceport America, New Mexico.

Jameel Janjua and Patrick Moran are joining the team, bringing the total number of rocket ship pilots to eight.

Both will embark on an extensive training program before flying SpaceShipTwo.

White Knight carrier craft carries SpaceShipTwo aloft for high-altitude release. Commercial suborbital flight operations are expected soon.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

Pilot qualifications, assignments

According to a posting from Virgin, in addition to the spaceship, the pilots will also train to fly the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.

VMS Eve serves as both a launch platform and allows the pilots to fly simulated parts of the SpaceShipTwo flight trajectory.

Other assignments for the pilots include flying other company support aircraft, working mission control, flight planning, and embedding into various detailed engineering and project roles across the company, the Virgin statement explains.

Tarmac touchdown for third powered flight of SpaceShipTwo, Unity.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

To become a Virgin Galactic pilot, both Janjua and Moran has flown for the U.S. military in training and operational roles as well as a number of commercial roles, accumulating thousands of hours each in different aircraft.

The new pilot picks follow a recent and successful hotfire test earlier this month at Virgin Galactic’s rocket motor testing facility.

According to the Virgin statement, the next time the team ignite a rocket motor, it will be to power SpaceShipTwo Unity to space in the skies above Spaceport America.

To view the recent hotfire test, go to:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1319378082868899842

Credit: BAFTA/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

A new film to hit theaters in April 2021 celebrates the 20th launch anniversary of the first International Space Station (ISS) crew.

Directed by Clare Lewins, “The Wonderful – Stories from the Space Station” is produced by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and Emmy nominee George Chignell, and is presented by the Universal Pictures Content Group headquartered in London.

Credit: BAFTA/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

The film features astronauts Scott Kelly, Tim Peake, Bill Shepherd, Frank Culbertson, Peggy Whitson, Cady Coleman, Koichi Wakata, and Samantha Cristoforetti.

Political, cultural differences

In a synopsis of the film provided by the Universal Pictures Content Group:

“Over twenty years ago rival nations put aside political and cultural differences and came together in a demonstration of international co-operation to create something unique – The International Space Station.”

The film draws together personal stories and testimonials from men and women from around the world who have been a part of the ISS endeavor, providing insights into human nature and our relationship with planet Earth. Featured is archival film and interviews shot with astronauts, cosmonauts, family members and colleagues.

Credit: BAFTA/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

“The film revels in the remarkable achievement of technology, international collaboration, scientific endeavor and human bravery that the ISS has encapsulated during its time in space, and provides an insight into the beauty and majesty of witnessing Earth from above. Caught under a giant magnifying glass, teams of scientists from different nations all work together towards a common scientific goal in extraordinary conditions. Cocooned in their revolving laboratory they are isolated from the world – family and friends – and can merely watch from a distance as life on Earth continues beneath them, and without them,” the synopsis explains.

View a sneak peek of the new feature documentary at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKzh84xsM0I&feature=youtu.be

Credit: BAFTA

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.