Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Dana Vaisler of StemRad wearing AstroRad vest prototype in front of Orion Capsule at Johnson Space Center. Note vest contours which correspond to enhanced protection around sensitive organs – bone marrow, colon, stomach, ovaries and breast tissue. Credit: StemRad.

NASA and the Israel Space Agency have signed an agreement for use of the AstroRad radiation protection vest on NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 flight.

AstroRad is the second product developed by StemRad, following the success of its first product, called StemRad 360 Gamma – the world’s first wearable shield that provides meaningful protection from harmful gamma radiation.

StemRad collaborated with NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft, Lockheed Martin, to adapt its technology for use in space. StemRad is an Israeli-American company headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel.

When venturing into lengthy, piloted deep space missions, the threat of radiation exposure is significantly higher, posing as one of the most significant dangers facing crew members.

An artist rendering of the Matroshka Radiation Phantoms – one protected with the AstroRad vest and one unprotected. Credit: StemRad

Trial test

Called the “Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment”, or MARE for short, an EM-1 test will be comprised of two Matroshka test dummies – one naked and one wearing AstroRad. The Matroshkas, containing thousands of radiation detectors, will be supplied by the German Aerospace Center.

While EM-1 will not likely encounter a solar storm, the mission will pass through the Van Allen radiation belt – a zone of energetic charged particles that emanate from solar winds – providing an opportunity to test AstroRad in conditions similar to those found during a solar storm.

Ergonomically correct

When passing through the belt, the radiation sensors on the dummies will be on and will record readings during the passage. Should the trial be successful, AstroRad will be used on crewed missions to deep space.

Additionally, AstroRad is expected to be used aboard the International Space Station beginning in 2019 for advanced ergonomic studies in microgravity.

For more information on StemRad, go to:

Go to: 54:30

Credit: CSIS






Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) sponsored Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Aerospace Security Project’s “Space Threat Assessment 2018” which aggregates the open-source information on counterspace capabilities for policymakers and the general public.

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Credit: AIA

Also, AIA is launching “SKYFAIL: What Happens When America’s Satellites Go Down” highlighting American dependence on space capabilities and possible impacts of losing satellite connectivity.

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Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2023, April 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity rover is now performing Sol 2024 science duties.

Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist; at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona reports that the rover completed a Sol 2020 drive, “placing the vehicle in a good position for contact science on the ‘Waternish’ conglomerate.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2023, April 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To sample the diversity of clasts in Waternish, the Sol 2022 plan included brushing two spots, a 5-point Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) raster, and lots of Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imaging. But first on tap was use of the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to laser shoot Waternish and the cobble behind it, named “Arrochar.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image of rover brushes, taken on Sol 2022, April 14, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Complex arm activities

After Curiosity’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) is finished brushing, MAHLI will acquire full suites of images of one of the brushed spots and of Arrochar, as well as a mosaic of images from 5 centimeters above the APXS raster spots and context images from 25 centimeters.

“Then APXS will go to work on Waternish, followed by placement on Arrochar for an overnight integration. This complex set of arm activities took longer than usual to plan, but should provide a rich dataset,” Herkenhoff notes.

Sandy ripple

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2023, April 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On Sol 2023, the plan called for the rover’s Mastcam to take a full multispectral set of images of Waternish and a 3×3 mosaic of both Waternish and Arrochar.

ChemCam was to observe two more spots on Waternish, and the Right Mastcam will take an image of the ChemCam target selected by the robot’s exploration software on Sol 2021.

“Then the rover will drive backwards to a nearby sandy ripple, un-stow its arm, and acquire the images needed to plan close-up observations of the ripple. Overnight, APXS will again measure the amount of argon in the atmosphere,” Herkenhoff explains.

Dust and dust devils

On Sol 2024, the plan has the robot’s ChemCam gathering calibration data. Mastcam will measure the opacity of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will search for dust devils.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image produced on Sol 2023, April 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS




Lastly, APXS will perform a short thermal test and Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) is to take another twilight image, Herkenhoff concludes. “Another busy weekend for our intrepid explorer!”





Traverse map

A recently released Curiosity traverse map through Sol 2020 shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2020 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (April 13, 2018).

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 2017 to Sol 2020, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 34.85 feet (10.62 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.61 miles (18.69 kilometers).

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

Artistic view of VividX2 in Earth orbit.
Credit: Earth-i

Earth-i has released its first full-color video of Earth taken from space by its commercial satellite — VividX2 — launched in January.

The VividX2 makes use of an Ultra High Definition camera that captures high-resolution images for any location on Earth – and also films up to two minutes of video at a time as it passes over each target location.

The just released clips show videos of numerous different locations across the globe, and some of the intriguing new insights that can be quickly derived from the video.

Credit: Earth-i

Commercial color

In a company statement Richard Blain, CEO of Earth-i, explains: “Commercial color video from space represents a major breakthrough for our industry and a world first. This initial footage shows what is now possible – with more videos being acquired every day. The depth and quality of data we can now acquire takes Earth Observation-based big data analytics to a new level. The way we capture video allows for a broader range of contextual insights to be derived than is possible with traditional still imagery.”

VividX2 weighs all of 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and measures roughly 1 cubic meter.

Scene from video.
Credit: Earth-i

4th dimension: motion and time

Earth-i’s range of capabilities include

o   The provision of high definition images and color video with resolutions better than one meter for any location on Earth.

o   The ability to capture and analyze moving objects such as vehicles, vessels and aircraft in Ultra High Definition color video.

o   Revisiting the same location multiple times per day with agile satellites that can be pointed to image specific areas of interest and acquire high-frame rate imagery.

Credit: Earth-i

o   Rapid tasking of satellites to take images or video, and fast data download within minutes of acquisition. Delivering additional contextual depth of information from motion and time – the 4th dimension.


The current VividX2 mission is the product of a collaboration between Earth-i, the Ministry of Defense, Defense Science and Technology Laboratories (DSTL) and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), all of the UK.


Take a look at this impressive video at:

Also, go to Earth-i’s website:


Credit: Boeing


The word from a global network of satellite watchers is that the secretive Air Force X-37B space plane on its Orbital Test Vehicle-5 (OTV-5) mission has been spotted.

OTV-5 ‘s flight began September 7, 2017, when the robotic spacecraft launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Chance sighting

Skywatcher Cees Bassa from The Netherlands reported a chance sighting of a bright satellite of unknown identity, observed early on April 11. He estimated a circular orbit of about 54.5 deg inclination and 220 miles (355 kilometers) altitude.

Bassa alerted the satellite observing network and others that this could be OTV-5.

The object seen had been observed last October by another satellite spotter, Russell Eberst in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, who had reported a satellite of similar brightness and similar orbit.

Credit: Boeing/screengrab

Close correlation

“I produced rough search elements, that proved too rough to recover the object,” said Ted Molczan, a Toronto-based satellite analyst. “I found, with very slight tweaks, the preliminary orbit that Cees had posted could be made to fit both his and Russell’s observations,” he told Inside Outer Space.

Bassa noted the close correlation of the orbit with the launch of OTV-5.

Meanwhile, another satellite tracker, Marco Langbroek, also in The Netherlands, made note that the U.S. Air Force had earlier announced that the inclination of OTV-5 would be the highest of the series to-date.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope,” explained the Air Force in a pre-launch statement.

This orbit also passes very close, within 2 degrees longitude from Cape Canaveral, at the time of the OTV-5 launch. “Looks like a pretty probable identification,” Langbroek reports.

Ground track

“Cees recovered the object, which can now be identified beyond reasonable doubt as OTV-5,” Molczan said. “As Cees cautions, further tracking may reveal a bit more eccentric orbit, but the mean altitude is about 355 kilometers, and the inclination is close to 54.5 degrees.”

“I estimate that the ground track nearly repeats at intervals of about 31 revolutions, or about two days,” Molczan explains. “Similar behavior has been seen during portions of all previous OTV missions. If it carries an imaging payload, then the orbit affords frequent revisit of targets, but it could serve some other operational purpose that I cannot guess.”

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.
Credit: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

Rapid space access

When OTV-5 will return to Earth is anybody’s guess. The X-37B program completed its fourth mission on May 7, 2017, landing after 718 days in orbit and extending the program’s total number of days spent in orbit to 2,085.

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is running the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle program.

“The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads,” explained the Air Force in its pre-launch statement. “This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies.”

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s robotic reusable space plane landed at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.
Credit: USAF

Many firsts

The current mission is hosting the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment.

“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community,” prior to the space plane’s liftoff.

For more details on this current mission, go to my earlier story:

Secretive X-37B Military Space Plane Wings Past 200 Days in Orbit

April 6, 2018 05:17pm ET

Also, Boeing, the maker of the robotic Air Force X-37B space plane, issued this video as prelude to the program’s Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) mission.

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Credit: EDF/TED Talks

The Environmental Defense Fund is eyeing its own satellite – MethaneSAT — to collect data from around the world about methane pollution and make it publicly available. Doing so would allow companies, governments, investors, and concerned citizens to target pollution control efforts where they’re most needed.

According to the EDF, cutting methane emissions is the fastest, cheapest thing that can be done to slow the rate of warming today, even as we continue to attack carbon dioxide emissions.

A 45% reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2025 would deliver the same 20-year climate benefit as closing one-third of the world’s coal-fired power plants, notes the EDF.

Single-purpose platform

“Our new MethaneSAT will help empower this generation of environmental advocates by providing global high-resolution coverage of methane emissions,” according to EDF. “As a single-purpose platform, it will be quicker and less expensive to launch than the complex multifunction satellites built by government space agencies, so we can get data sooner.”

To make MethaneSAT turn into reality, Tom Ingersoll, a leading satellite entrepreneur with three decades of experience, has been hired to manage the project. Also, they have partnered with Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to get the science right.

MethaneSAT, shown in an artist’s rendering, aims to use new technology to map and measure human-made emissions globally, to help reduce methane pollution.
Credit: EDF

Why focus on methane?

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Human-made methane emissions account for a quarter of today’s global warming. Also, one of the leading sources of those emissions is the oil and gas industry.

To fully understand the problem – and drive the solutions – more and better data is required about: How large methane emissions are; Where they’re coming from; The biggest potential reductions; Progress of those reductions over time.

MethaneSAT will provide global high-resolution coverage, exceeding anything in orbit or on the drawing board today.

EDF President Fred Krupp announced this new initiative in a recent TED Talk that can be viewed here:

Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and CEO, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, speak during the POLITICO Space Launch Event.


Last year, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reviving the National Space Council to help fuel a new space economy and harness government and private investments to return humans to the moon and on to Mars.

POLITICO staged on April 12 a deep-dive conversation about what the National Space Council has accomplished so far – and how Congress and the Administration can work together with industry – to ensure U.S. supremacy in the new space race.

Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council.
Credit: POLITICO/Screengrab

Expert panels

The event began with a conversation with Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council. Another panel featured Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and Mary Lynne Dittmar, president and CEO, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration.

Also featured during the event was a conversation between Dennis Muilenburg, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Boeing Company and Robert Allbritton, Publisher and Executive Chairman of POLITICO to discuss strategic priorities of the aerospace industry.



Weekly briefing

This gathering marked the launch of POLITICO Space, the weekly briefing on the policies, programs, and personalities shaping the second Space Age in Washington, D.C. and beyond.

To view the event, go to:

POLITICO Live is an extension of POLITICO’s journalism. We convene global thought- leaders and influential experts to discuss key issues, big ideas and trends playing out at the intersection of local, national and international policy and politics.

For more details on POLITICO Live, go to:



Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2020,April 12, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2021 tasks.

Reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona, a top science priority for researchers working the rover is to acquire all of the data needed to adequately characterize the rocks at the current location before the robot drives away.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2020,April 12, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Recently discussed are priorities of various proposed observations, including a Right Mastcam mosaic of the arm workspace and surrounding area. Also on tap is use of the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser-induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) targets, and a mosaic of the mid-field terrain toward the south.

Desired observations

“Fortunately, power modeling indicated that the pre-drive science block could be lengthened to 2 hours, which made it much easier to fit all of the desired observations into the plan,” Herkenhoff explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2019, April 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

First, ChemCam will measure the elemental chemistry of four nearby rock targets: “Ledmore 2,” “Minginish,” “Askival 3,” and “Tyndrum 3.”

Minginish has already been examined by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Variety of rocks

Then the Right Mastcam will take images of Askival 3 and Ledmore 2, as well as a 9×1 mosaic of “Lorne Plateau” (the area to the south), a large mosaic to provide complete coverage of the area in front of the rover, named “Bressay,” and a 3×3 mosaic of the “Jedburgh” area closer the rover toward the south.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2020, April 12, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“All these data will give the science team plenty to think about as we try to better understand the variety of rocks at Bressay,” Herkenhoff notes. “We are transitioning into restricted planning again, so the drive away from Bressay is planned on Sol 2020.”

The drive target is a conglomerate rock named “Waternish.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2019. April 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Post-drive duties

After the drive, early on Sol 2021, Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and Navcam will search for clouds. Later that sol, Navcam will search for dust devils and Mastcam will measure dust opacity again.

This is to be followed by ChemCam acquiring calibration data and will use special software to autonomously select and acquire LIBS data on a target in the new arm workspace.

Finally, Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will take an image of the ground under the rover during twilight, to sample the terrain once again, Herkenhoff concludes.

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.

China is readying its Chang’e-4 lunar probe for liftoff later this year.

While attempting the first landing on the Moon’s far side – it’s got a “seedy side” too.

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the probe will carry a tin containing seeds of potato and arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. It may also tote along silkworm eggs to conduct the first biological experiment on the Moon.


This “lunar mini biosphere” experiment was designed by 28 Chinese universities, led by southwest China’s Chongqing University, The cylindrical tin, made from special aluminum alloy materials, weighs roughly 7 pounds (3 kilograms).

The tin also contains water, a nutrient solution, and air. A tiny camera and data transmission system allows researchers to keep an eye on the seeds and see if they blossom on the Moon.

Von Karman Crater as viewed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Long-term lunar residence

“We have to keep the temperature in the ‘mini biosphere’ within a range from 1 degree to 30 degrees, and properly control the humidity and nutrition. We will use a tube to direct the natural light on the surface of Moon into the tin to make the plants grow,” said Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, in the Xinhua story.

Added Liu Hanlong, chief director of the experiment and vice president of Chongqing University: “Our experiment might help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the Moon.”

The Moon-bound mini biosphere experiment was selected from more than 200 submissions, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The Von Karman Crater in the Moon’s Aitken Basin is the anticipated landing site for Chang’e-4.

Griffith Observatory Event