Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: NASA

U.S. President Donald J. Trump is encouraging international support for the recovery and use of space resources, signing an Executive Order that directs the Secretary of State to lead a U.S. Government effort to develop joint statements, bilateral agreements, and multilateral instruments with like-minded foreign states to “enable safe and sustainable operations for the commercial recovery and use of space resources, and to object to any attempt to treat the 1979 Moon Agreement as expressing customary international law.”

Moon base design.
Credit: ESA/P. Carril

Nevertheless, in seeking international support, the United States may draw on legal precedents and examples from other domains to promote the recovery and use of space resources.

According to a White House fact sheet, “American industry and the industries of like-minded countries will benefit from the establishment of stable international practices by which private citizens, companies and the economy will benefit from expanding the economic sphere of human activity beyond the Earth.”

Credit: NASA

Moon agreement

The April 6 Executive Order spotlights the “The Moon Agreement”:

“The United States is not a party to the Moon Agreement. Further, the United States does not consider the Moon Agreement to be an effective or necessary instrument to guide nation states regarding the promotion of commercial participation in the long-term exploration, scientific discovery, and use of the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies,” the Executive Order notes.

“Accordingly, the Secretary of State shall object to any attempt by any other state or international organization to treat the Moon Agreement as reflecting or otherwise expressing customary international law.”

For more information, go to:


Warning: Shameless Plug

For a detailed discussion regarding the 1972 Moon Treaty, pros and cons, please read my latest book – Moon Rush – The New Space Race, published last year by National Geographic. 

For copies, go to:

BepiColombo spacecraft is to conduct an Earth flyby in a few days.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

In a few days, the European Space Agency’s BepiColombo spacecraft is to conduct an Earth flyby before heading towards Venus – and in doing so the probe will scan the Moon using a unique instrument.

Earth’s Moon will be observed for the first time in the thermal infrared and examined for its mineralogical composition using the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer (MERTIS) instrument. New information on rock-forming minerals and temperatures on the lunar surface is expected.

As early as April 9, with its Earth-facing side illuminated by the Sun, the Moon will be observed by the MERTIS instrument, developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) – the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer (MERTIS) instrument combines an imaging spectrometer with a radiometer, which is used for determining irradiance.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

One-of-a-kind opportunity

“Observing the Moon with our MERTIS instrument on board BepiColombo is a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” says Jörn Helbert from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, who is a Co-Principal Investigator for MERTIS.

“We will examine the Earth-facing side of the Moon spectroscopically in the thermal infrared for the first time,” Helbert said in a DLR statement. “Without any absorption by Earth’s atmosphere, the view from space will provide a valuable new data set for lunar research. This is also an excellent opportunity to test how well our instrument works and to gain experience in preparation for operations in Mercury orbit.”

Intensive preparations

MERTIS has two uncooled radiation sensors. Its spectrometer covers a wavelength range from seven to 14 micrometers, and its radiometer to a wavelength range from seven to 40 micrometers. It will identify rock-forming minerals in the mid-infrared at a spatial resolution of 500 meters.

“I am anticipating many exciting results from the observations with MERTIS. After about 20 years of intensive preparations, the time will finally come on Thursday – our long wait will be over, and we will receive our first scientific data from space,” explains Harald Hiesinger from the University of Münster, Principal Investigator for the MERTIS experiment.

Schematic representation of BepiColombo’s Earth flyby on April 10, 2020.
Credit: DLR, based on an ESA model

Good planning

MERTIS will observe the Moon from distances of between 46,000 miles (740,000 kilometers) and 422,532 miles (680,000 kilometers) for four hours, explains Gisbert Peter, MERTIS Project Manager at the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems.

“Having the Moon in the spectrometer’s field of view before the flyby is partly an astronomical or geometric ‘coincidence’ and, above all, due to good planning,” Peter added.

Six year journey

The main purpose of the Earth flyby is to slow down BepiColombo somewhat without expending propellant, in order to bring the spacecraft onto a trajectory towards Venus.

With two subsequent close flybys of Venus (the first flyby will take place on October 16, 2020), BepiColombo will then be on a trajectory that will take it to the final destination of the six-year journey, an orbit around Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System.

BepiColombo was launched on 20 October 20, 2018 by an Ariane 5 launch vehicle.



A new parachute system was tested March 9 via a Long March-3B carrier rocket.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab



Chinese researchers are working on a new system designed to prevent rocket boosters from falling unpredictably in areas with human activity.

Credit: CCTV-Plus/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

China Central Television (CCTV) reports that the first accurate landing of a Long March 3B booster was made possible with a parachute control system.

The system was tested on March 9 when the 54th satellite of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System was sent into a geostationary orbit via a Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Credit: CCTV-Plus/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Credit: CGTN screenshot via CCTV


The parachute assisted landing system can adjust its direction and posture when en route to the ground, and finally lead it to a targeted point. This test verified the feasibility of the overall scheme of the parachute control system, and also laid the foundation for further improvement.

Parachute to parafoil

“The landing area of a booster was 90 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide in the past. The 2,700-square-kilometer landing area has been greatly scaled down as we now control the booster with parachutes and make it land in the designated area,” said Zhang Puzhuo, chief designer of the parachute control system with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

Zhang Puzhuo, chief designer of the parachute control system with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
Credit: CCTV-Plus/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

CCTV reports that more tests are expected this year.

Meanwhile, Chinese rocket engineers are moving forward with adopting a larger parafoil to achieve more accurate landing of spent boosters.

Go to this CCTV-Plus video at:

Also watch the March 9 launch of the Long March-3B carrier rocket at:


NASA has scripted a 21st Century plan for sustained human presence on the Moon.

In a report to the National Space Council, NASA’s Artemis program sets the stage for a sustained lunar surface presence. To do this, the report calls for development of an Artemis Base Camp at the South Pole of the Moon.

A South Pole landing site has not been determined, but this image shows sites of interest near permanently shadowed regions, which may contain mission enhancing volatiles. These sites may also offer long-duration access to sunlight, direct-to-Earth communication, surface slope and roughness that will be less challenging for landers and astronauts.

Sustainable foothold

“Artemis Base Camp will be our first sustainable foothold on the lunar frontier,” moving from one to two-month stays by astronauts.

In time, Artemis Base Camp, the report explains, might also include a hopper that could deliver science and technology payloads all over the Moon and which could be operated by crew at Artemis Base Camp and refueled using locally sourced propellant.

Credit: NASA

A lunar far-side radio telescope could also be remotely emplaced and operated from Artemis Base Camp.

First humans to Mars

Furthermore, the report explains that the Artemis program will use the Moon as a testbed for crewed exploration outward, beginning with Mars.

Orion approaches an evolved Gateway.
Credit: NASA

 America’s Moon to Mars space exploration approach is a proposed multi-month split-crew operation at the Gateway and on the lunar surface that would test the agency’s concept for a human mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

A Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) will be a human-rated, unpressurized (unenclosed) rover that will be used to help astronauts explore and conduct experiments at the lunar South Pole.
























To review NASA’s Plan for “Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development” go to:


Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo acquired on Sol 2720, April 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just started Sol 2722 operations.

Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada explains that the primary focus of a two-sol plan is to prepare the drill bit assembly to dump the remaining “Edinburgh” drilled sample (portion to exhaustion), so that it can be analyzed in the upcoming weekend plan with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instruments for chemistry and texture respectively.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2720, March 31, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Sample delivery

Sample has successfully been delivered to both Curiosity’s internal Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments, Thompson adds, and scientists are awaiting the results of the mineralogy and volatile/isotope chemistry, with the 3rd night of CheMin analysis in this plan.

Individual frame of one of the Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope photos to create long distance mosaics. Image acquired on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech





“The Edinburgh sample represents the blocky, dark grey sandstone, pediment-capping unit that overlies the Murray mudstone,” Thompson reports.  Science team members are interested to see how the mineralogy and chemistry might differ between these two rocks types, given that they were likely deposited in different environments.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRise image showing the “washboard” pattern (bottom, center) of the pediment-capping unit. This localization map also shows Curiosity’s current location (last yellow dot) and some of the traverse.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity reached the top of the slope March 6 (the 2,696th Martian day, or sol, of the mission). It took three drives to scale the hill, the second of which tilted the rover 31 degrees — the most the rover has ever tilted on Mars. This selfie was taken on Feb. 26, 2020 (Sol 2687). Since 2014, the robot has been rolling up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mountain at the center of Gale Crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun performing Sol 2721 duties.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2720, April 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Laser shots as seen in this Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2720, March 31, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The priority for the recent sol 2720 plan was to drop off and analyze a sample of the Edinburgh drill hole in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.

“But we’ve got plenty of remote sensing in the plan too, much of it building on our previous observations from this spot,” reports Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Changes in weathering behavior

“We start each morning with a Navcam dust devil survey,” Anderson adds.

In the Sol 2720 plan, the robot’s Mastcam was to take a stereo mosaic of a nearby hilltop, extending a previous mosaic to look for changes in the weathering behavior of the pediment cap rock. This was to be followed by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of two sandstone bedrock targets named “Tron Kirk” and “Dunedin” and extensions of two long-distance  Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope mosaics of the “washboard” surface of the pediment, Anderson explains.

Curiosity’s Mastcam was tasked to document the ChemCam targets, and then take some pictures of the SAM inlet before and after sample drop off.

Navcam also has an 8-frame movie toward the south to watch for atmospheric activity like clouds. The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) then has an overnight atmospheric observation, Anderson notes. “Yes, APXS can measure the atmosphere too!”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Down the drill hole

On the Sol 2721 plan, ChemCam was slated to make a vertical measurement inside the Edinburgh drill hole.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2720, April 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“After Mastcam documents that observation,” Anderson concludes, “it will add some frames to its own mosaic of the washboard pattern on the pediment. Navcam will then take a picture toward the north to study the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The rest of sol 2721 will be taken up by SAM’s analysis of the Edinburgh sample.”


Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR by Alexandra Sankova (in collaboration with the Moscow Design Museum), Phaidon; April 2020; Hardback; 240 pages, $39.95.

This book is a well-timed retro-fire into space history – and an absolute wonderful read.

The volume offers insight into the Soviet sociopolitical landscape, a behind-the-scenes view of how space played in the minds of space visionaries behind the Iron Curtain over the decades.

“Yuri Gagarin: Let’s Go!” illustration by S. Alimov.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

This is a book that offers a view of more than 250 covers and interior illustrations that depict first-time discoveries and scientific prowess, but laden with futuristic visions of where space exploration can take us.

Up front disclosure: I’m a relic from the impact of Cold War-era Russian space imagery. The space propaganda machine by the USSR was in full-throttle when I was much younger, as U.S. rockets and spacecraft seemed lost in space, missed their mark or crapped out on arrival.

Illustration by V. Viktorov depicting space dogs Belka and Strelka.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

Yes, America had its successes, but it was all high-drama and this book reflects the Space Race running full-steam. As this volume exemplifies, making use of the period’s hugely successful popular-science magazines, the imagery rocketed out of the Soviet Union were an essential tool for the endorsement of state ideology.

As explained in the book: “As the competition heated up, so did the response in the media. In the USSR, popular science magazines were a vital tool in the motivation and engagement of the general public, documenting in great detail and vivid color both the realities and fantasies of the state’s advancements on the West.”

Illustration by R. Avotin.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

This wonderful book features images from the surreal to the sublime, colored in communist sentiment. The magazine images portray the boldest of space exploration ideas – many of them alive and well even in the 21st century.

The volume is divided up into unique chapters, from Educate, Encourage, Dream to Cosmic Pioneers, Alternative Worlds and Future Visions. Lastly, there’s a very informative section on the magazines from which the book has drawn its captivating material.

Again, this is a unique and enjoyable read that deserves attention…not only for the reader to romp around in the past, but serves as a historic bookmark in pioneering the space frontier of today.












For more information on this book, go to:



SpaceX has released a Starship Users Guide.

Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.

This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

The Starship Program leverages SpaceX’s experience to introduce a next generation, super heavy-lift space transportation system capable of rapid and reliable reuse.

Starship crew (left) and uncrewed (right)
Credit: SpaceX



SpaceX’s Starship system represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to service Earth orbit needs as well as missions to the Moon and Mars.

Starship payload deployment sequence.
Credit: SpaceX

This two-stage vehicle—composed of the Super Heavy rocket (booster) and Starship (spacecraft) is powered by sub-cooled methane and oxygen. “Starship is designed to evolve rapidly to meet near term and future customer needs while maintaining the highest level of reliability,” notes the 6-page guide.





Private cabins

According to the guide, the Starship crew configuration can transport up to 100 people from Earth into low Earth orbit and on to the Moon and Mars. The crew configuration of  Starship includes private cabins, large common areas, centralized storage, solar storm shelters and a viewing gallery.

Delivery of cargo on the Moon.
Credit: SpaceX

Sprawling Moon base supported by SpaceX Starships.
Credit: SpaceX























The guide is available at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2720 tasks.

“Curiosity’s drill campaigns are like poetry in fixed verse,” says Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera image acquired on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

A predefined set of activities has to occur in a sequence: first Curiosity must assess an outcrop for drilling, then drill and extract a sample, then process and characterize the sample, then deliver the sample to the robot’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) instrument for analysis, then prepare the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, then deliver the sample to SAM for analysis, and finally dump the sample on the ground.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“All of this happens over a period of a couple weeks, and when we are planning the science observations for any given sol, we need to work within the scaffolding of the drill campaign sequence,” Rice notes. “But like poets crafting sonnets in iambic pentameter, we find freedom within the fixed structure to create something new.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Second analysis of drill sample

Such was the case for a plan that covers sols 2717-2719.

“As Curiosity proceeds with the Edinburgh drill campaign, we use free blocks of time here and there to explore the landscape,” Rice reports. The main structure of this three-sol plan includes a second analysis of the Edinburgh drill sample with CheMin and the preconditioning of the SAM instrument to prepare for an upcoming Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) observation.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Laser shots

As for the other Curiosity science observations, Rice points to:

Mastcam peers at the enigmatic outcrop with a panorama; ChemCam laser shoots three rocks: “Albany,” “Alloway,” and “Alexandria”; pediment surface revealed by the rover’s Remote Micro Imager (RMI); and Navcam movies seek to capture swirls of dust that sweep the horizon.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has issued a space threat assessment 2020 report.

This informative study notes that in the last year, more states are considering the development of offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities to protect space systems from attacks.

“Nations are moving to reorganize their national security space enterprise, as the United States did in 2019, to better address the growing uncertainty and threats in the space domain,” the report explains.

Credit: CSIS



Clear indication in fog of war

Things to watch within the United States are updates to space doctrine, strategy, and policy and investments in new space capabilities and missions.

“Developments in these areas would be a clear indication that the reorganization efforts put in place in 2019 are part of a fundamental shift in the U.S. military’s overall approach to making space more defendable,” the report adds.




To take a read of this report, go to: