Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2639 tasks.

When planning began for Sol 2639, the robot’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite was still marked sick, so the strategically planned bump from one place to another was replaced with targeted science.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That’s the word from Kenneth Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Re-planned bump

The robot’s Mastcam will extend the stereo mosaic of Western Butte and take a multispectral set of images of the “Ben Eighe” outcrop. After the re-planned bump to fix the rover’s recent wheelie, the special software is to be used to autonomously acquire Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of two targets in the new workspace, Navcam will search for dust devils, and Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) was to again acquire an image of the ground behind the left front wheel during twilight.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Late during tactical planning this afternoon, Herkenhoff adds, SAM was marked healthy, “so things are looking up for Sol 2640-2641 planning tomorrow.”

Science block

In an earlier report from Ryan Anderson, also a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, researchers found out over the weekend the planned “bump” to get the rover in position for contact science didn’t execute.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That meant researchers were greeted with the familiar view of the Curiosity workspace from last week.

“Although it was disappointing that we weren’t able to do contact science,” Anderson adds, “the bright side was that instead we got a massive 2 hour science block!”

Camera mosaics

The rover was in a great position to observe the Gediz Valles deposits (informally named “the claw”) on top of the Greenheugh Pediment, so the Sol 2638 plan had three more ChemCam Remote Micro-Imaging (RMI) camera mosaics in addition to the two collected over last weekend.

“The giant science block also allowed us to fit two ChemCam chemistry observations in. One was a follow up observation right next to the vein target Hascosay that was observed on sol 2636,” Anderson notes.

Curiosity Rear Left B Hazard Avoidance Camera photo acquired on Sol 2639, January 8, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Interesting chemistry

“Hascosay had some very interesting chemistry, so the new target ‘Northon’ will take another look just a few centimeters away,” Anderson adds. “The other ChemCam chemistry target is a small rock named ‘Bruntsfield’ that looked a bit different than some of the other rocks in the area. Mastcam will document the two chemistry targets and then will collect a 3×1 mosaic of a group of rocks named “Clachtoll” to study their textures.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2638, January 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Sol 2638 plan was rounded out with some atmospheric observations: a dust devil movie at the end of the long science block, and a couple of movies to watch for clouds early in the morning on Sol 2639.

Note: Dates of planned rover activities described are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) has issued its Annual Report for 2019 to the U.S. Congress and NASA.

The report is based on the Panel’s 2019 fact-finding and insight visits; quarterly public meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making; discussions with NASA management, employees, and contractors; and the Panel members’ past experiences.

Excitement and reasoned caution

In reviewing NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon, a transmittal letter in the report to NASA chief, Jim Bridenstine, ASAP’s chair, Patricia Sanders, explains that “this is a time for both excitement and reasoned caution.”

Credit: NASA

“NASA’s human space flight brand and reputation are driven by 60 years of operational excellence performing complex missions in extraordinarily difficult endeavors. Nevertheless, the dynamic environment of Lunar 2024, imposed on an Agency still involved in complex and hazardous operations in orbit, while simultaneously developing or sponsoring development of new rockets, spacecraft, and critical equipment, will challenge the NASA community,” Sanders explains.

Complexity and uncertainty

As NASA undertakes the most ambitious human foray beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) since 1972, the ASAP advises:

  • Regardless of how NASA addresses the technical challenges, the nation must avoid fluctuating policy goals, ambiguous objectives, budget inadequacies, and instability—including partial and full-year Continuing Resolutions—which add complexity and uncertainty to program management.
  • Acknowledging the value of setting challenging but realistic and achievable schedules, NASA must guard against undue schedule pressure that might lead to decisions adversely impacting safety and mission assurance.
  • NASA leadership must deliberately focus on communication and engagement with the workforce to preclude disconnects in risk assumptions across the organization and a culture of risk taking rather than one focused on deliberate risk management.
  • As NASA evolves its interactions with commercial providers, it must maintain focus on the core tenets of system development as the mission is ultimately still a NASA responsibility.

Orbital debris: a persistent concern

Among a number of ASAP observations, “another persistent concern” of the ASAP is the risk of damage to orbiting spacecraft due to micrometeoroids and orbital debris (MMOD).

Clutter in the cosmos.
Credit: Used with permission: Melrae Pictures/Space Junk 3D

The hazard from MMOD has been recognized as a major issue in every program, the report explains.  MMOD is the dominant contributor to the calculations of loss-of-crew (LOC) predictions for both commercial crew vehicles and Orion, and it is a factor in two of the top three safety risks for the International Space Station.

“We were encouraged that Space Policy Directive-3 focused on this risk, but it remains essential that meaningful implementation actions be taken to address what is a burgeoning safety hazard,” the report notes. “Given the increasing congestion in orbit and industry-wide plans to launch many mega-constellations in LEO, consisting of hundreds or even thousands of satellites, this issue needs immediate attention.”

To read the entire ASAP report for 2019, go to:


Credit: Danielle Futselaar,

Where do short, dramatic bursts of radio light seen across the universe originate from? Labeled as fast radio bursts (FRBs), these are mysterious extragalactic events.

Although FRBs last for only a thousandth of a second, there are now hundreds of records of these enigmatic sources.

New news is that telescopes in the European VLBI Network (EVN) have observed a “repeating” fast radio burst (FRB) in a spiral galaxy similar to our own.

This FRB is the closest to Earth ever localized and was found in a radically different environment to previous studies.

Puzzle piece

“This discovery represented the first piece of the puzzle but it also raised more questions than it solved, such as whether there was a fundamental difference between repeating and non-repeating FRBs,” says Benito Marcote from the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC.

“Now, we have localized a second repeating FRB, which challenges our previous ideas on what the source of these bursts could be,” Marcote notes in a Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIVE) in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands.

Zoo of locations

“The found repeating FRB, but also different from all previously studied FRBs,” explains Kenzie Nimmo, PhD student at the University of Amsterdam.

“The differences between repeating and non-repeating fast radio bursts are thus less clear and we think that these events may not be linked to a particular type of galaxy or environment,” Nimmo says. “It may be that FRBs are produced in a large zoo of locations across the Universe and just require some specific conditions to be visible.”

“We hope that continued studies will unveil the conditions that result in the production of these mysterious flashes. Our aim is to precisely localize more FRBs and, ultimately, understand their origin,” adds Jason Hessels, corresponding author on the study, from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and the University of Amsterdam.

Image of the host galaxy of FRB 180916 (center) acquired with the 8-meter Gemini-North telescop on Hawaii’s Maunakea.
Credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF’s Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA

Radio and optical observatories

Observations were conducted with the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (EVN). The EVN is the most sensitive very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) array in the world, which allows researchers to conduct unique, high-resolution, radio astronomical observations of cosmic radio sources.

Data from the EVN is processed at the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIVE) — an international research infrastructure based in the Netherlands, which also provides support, conducts leading research and forwards technical development in the field of radio astronomy.

Follow up optical observations were conducted using 8.1m Gemini North, National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory and Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (USA).

Go to this informative video on fast radio burst (FRB) research at:

Also, go to this research paper – “A repeating fast radio burst source localized to a nearby spiral galaxy” — in Nature:

Starlink satellites.
Credit: flycamDFW/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Astronomy Confronts Satellite Constellations is the title of a briefing from the 235th AAS meeting in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

That briefing will be held on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, starting at 2:15 pm Hawaii Standard Time (HST).

Those taking part in the panel discussion:

— “Starlink & the Astronomers” by Jeffrey C. Hall (Lowell Observatory)

— “Mega-Constellations of Satellites & Optical Astronomy” by Patrick Seitzer (University of Michigan)

— “Satellite Constellations’ Impact on the General Public” by Ruskin Hartley (International Dark Sky Association)

— “Radio Astronomy in a New Era of Radio Communication” by Harvey Liszt (National Radio Astronomy Observatory)

To view the discussion tomorrow, go to:

Meanwhile, video from flycamDFW of Starlink 2 (3rd group), a visible pass over North Texas, 9 hours after launch.

Go to video at:

Dust devil survey image looking across the crater trench toward the northern rim on sol 2632. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2637 duties.

Claire Newman, an atmospheric scientist at Aeolis in Pasadena, California reports that telemetry recently showed one of Curiosity’s middle wheels was lifted, roughly 6 inches (15 centimeters) off the ground following a previous drive.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2636, January 5 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“This meant we needed to do a short ‘bump’ to adjust the rover’s position ready for Monday’s planning and had to postpone the contact science we want to do while the rover sits at its highest point on Western Butte,” Newman explains. “Instead, we focused on doing all the remote surface science needed here and catching up on atmospheric monitoring observations after the holidays.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2636, January 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Western Butte mosaics

Recent remote sensing observations by the robot included Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam)  rasters and Mastcam images of dark float blocks (“Shiskine” and “Lauderdale”) and a vein complex (“Hascosay”), Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope mosaics on Gediz Valles mound materials (“Craw Tap” and “Gowrie”), Mastcam multispectral observations of Lauderdale, and Mastcam mosaics of the Western Butte top and the Greenheugh Pediment.

Also taken was a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image to monitor surface changes underneath the rover.

Atmospheric science activities included regular Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) atmospheric monitoring, Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) monitoring, and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive and active measurements of the subsurface.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2636, January 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust devil survey

“In the first sol, we also planned a Dust Devil Survey to look for dust-filled convective vortices around local noon, when convection is strong. This was followed by late afternoon activities in the first sol and early morning activities in the third sol, all of which involved making measurements of aerosols (dust or water ice),” Newman adds.

The two timings were chosen partly so scientists have some idea how aerosols change with time of sol, but also because imaging early or late in the day is often the best time to find clouds, because relative humidity increases when temperatures cool (provided the amount of water vapor stays the same).

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2635, January 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“In the late afternoon on the first sol, we planned Mastcam measurements of the atmospheric aerosol opacity in the column above us and Mastcam and Navcam measurements of the visibility across the crater,” Newman points out. “We also planned three cloud observations with Navcam: a Phase Function Sky Survey – a set of images that we use to infer the properties of cloud particles; a Cloud Altitude Observation – movies of clouds and their shadows on Mt. Sharp that, in combination, allow us to infer both the height and speed of the clouds; and a Supra-Horizon movie that looks for clouds over the rim of the crater.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2636, January 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Measuring methane

Lastly, Newman notes that early in the third sol, scientists again measured the column and across-crater opacity with Mastcam, then took Navcam Zenith and Supra-Horizon movies to look for clouds above Mt. Sharp and the crater rim, respectively.

Also, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite team decided to repeat an atmospheric observation to measure the methane abundance, and this was performed in the third sol of the plan.

“Having ‘un-wheelied’ in this plan,” Newman concludes, “we’ll be doing the contact science we missed over the weekend, then heading down the Western Butte again and toward the Greenheugh pediment.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2636, January 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Credit: Twitter posting/Astro Noel

It is a credo expressed within the astronomy community: “Wishing you clear skies.”

Same goes for those on the countdown clock ready to launch a rocket…and time is ticking away as SpaceX is set to hurl into Earth orbit another group of their Starlink satellites.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given SpaceX the thumbs up to loft and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites in the coming years.

Today’s liftoff of 60 Starlink spacecraft brings the number of the broadband Internet network satellites to 180.

An image of the NGC 5353/4 galaxy group made with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA on the night of Saturday 25 May 2019. The diagonal lines running across the image are trails of reflected light left by more than 25 of the 60 recently launched Starlink satellites as they passed through the telescope’s field of view. Although this image serves as an illustration of the impact of reflections from satellite constellations, please note that the density of these satellites is significantly higher in the days after launch (as seen here) and also that the satellites will diminish in brightness as they reach their final orbital altitude.
Credit: Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory

However, the Starlink “train” of Earth-circling spacecraft has upset astronomers and their viewing of the Universe at large. SpaceX has reacted to the complaints and reportedly one Starlink onboard today’s launch features a less-reflective coating in a test to minimize its brightness.

Keeping space clean

“Starlink is on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation, meeting or exceeding all regulatory and industry standards,” explains the Starlink website.

“At end of life, the satellites will utilize their on-board propulsion system to deorbit over the course of a few months. In the unlikely event the propulsion system becomes inoperable, the satellites will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere within 1-5 years, significantly less than the hundreds or thousands of years required at higher altitudes,” the website states.

That said, Starlink is a forerunner of things to come as other companies are readying their own satellite constellations, such as Amazon. They are working on Project Kuiper, placing over 3,000 satellites into orbit to provide a high-speed global internet service.

Credit: SpaceX/Starlink

Starlink stink

Meanwhile, researchers attending this week’s 235th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii are taking up the issue, holding a panel discussion “Astronomy Confronts Satellite Constellations.” The panel will take a hard look at mega-constellations of satellites and optical astronomy as well as their impact on radio astronomy.

Starlink satellites.
Credit: SpaceX

Low Earth orbiting constellations are increasingly attractive commercially due to lower launch costs and more advanced technology, observes Peter Ward, author of the new book The Consequential Frontier – Challenging the Privatization of Space (Melville House Publishing). “But once again we’re rushing into new territory with no regard for the consequences further down the line,” he told Inside Outer Space.

“The problem with this situation and many others in space is there won’t ever be robust enough regulation until it’s too late. And regulations are not likely to be made tougher any time soon as country’s look to attract commercial space companies to launch and operate from their territory,” Ward says. “The principle of maintaining a clutter-free, collision-free lower Earth orbit is sadly insignificant if there are dollars to be made.”

Space traffic management

Adding his voice to these issues is George Nield. He served as the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 2008-2018.

Nield told Inside Outer Space that he is very concerned about the apparent lack of interest in space debris, space situational awareness, and space traffic management by the U.S. government.

“Those topics had already reached the ‘crisis’ stage; the launch of Starlink and similar systems greatly magnifies the urgent need to respond,” Nield says.

U.S. President Trump signs Space Directive-3.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Inaction on action

In 2018, the National Space Council took up the issue of space traffic management, Nield points out, and their work led to the issuance of Space Policy Directive-3.

“A key component of that policy was the recommendation that the Department of Commerce (DOC) take responsibility for implementing a Civil Space Traffic Management framework. Unfortunately, here we are, more than 18 months later, and Congress has not yet acted on that recommendation,” Nield explains.

Specifically, DOC has not been provided with the authority, immunity, and resources necessary for them to move forward, Nield adds, nor has any other organization, such as the FAA or Department of Transportation (DOT).

Moving forward

“My understanding is that some in Congress believe that the FAA (or DOT) should be given the new responsibilities rather than Commerce,” Nield says. “One would hope that a compromise could be reached so that we can start moving forward; however, that does not appear to be happening.”

Given the importance of space to America’s national security, technological leadership, and international competitiveness, Nield says “it is vital that the United States act now to ensure the safety of space operations and preservation of the space environment. Failure to take action on these issues will likely result in the U.S. losing an opportunity for international leadership in the space arena, since other nations are already stepping forward to define the problems and propose solutions,” he concludes.


For more information on this topic, go to:

‘This Is Not Cool!’ – Astronomers Despair As SpaceX Starlink Train Ruins Observation of Nearby Galaxies by Jonathan O’Callaghan in Forbes.

Also, “This Is How Elon Musk Can Fix The Damage His Starlink Satellites Are Causing To Astronomy” by Ethan Siegel in Forbes.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2635 tasks.

Here’s a sampling of new imagery from the robot:

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2634, January 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2634, January 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2634, January 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2634, January 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2634, January 3, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Doctor’s long-distance call. Stephan Moll and a team of NASA doctors prescribed blood clot treatment.
Credit: UNC School of Medicine

An unidentified astronaut aboard the International Space Station had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – or blood clot – in the jugular vein of their neck.

The astronaut’s identity is being kept anonymous for privacy reasons, so identifying information such as when this event happened is being omitted from the case study. The astronaut was two months into a six-month mission on the ISS when the DVT was discovered.

This was the first time a blood clot had been found in an astronaut in space, so there was no established method of treatment for DVT in zero gravity.

Blood clot expert

One of the experts brought in by NASA to treat the situation was blood clot expert Stephan Moll, MD, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill. Moll was the only non-NASA physician NASA consulted.

Moll and a team of NASA doctors decided blood thinners would be the best course of treatment for the astronaut. They were limited in their pharmaceutical options, however.

The ISS keeps only a small supply of various medicines on board, and there was a limited amount of the blood thinner Enoxaparin (Lovenox®) available. Moll advised NASA on what dosage of Enoxaparin would effectively treat the DVT while also lasting long enough, until NASA could get a new shipment of drugs – which Moll helped select – to the ISS.

Treatment process

The course of treatment with Enoxaparin – a drug delivered by an injection into the skin – lasted for around 40 days. On day 43 of the astronaut’s treatment, a supply of Apixaban (Eliquis®) – a pill taken orally– was delivered to the ISS by a supply spacecraft.

Throughout the treatment process, which lasted more than 90 days, the astronaut performed ultrasounds on their own neck with guidance from a radiology team on Earth in order to monitor the blood clot. Moll was also able to speak to the astronaut during this period through email and phone calls.

Credit: NASA

The astronaut landed safely on Earth and the blood clot required no further treatment.

More research needed

Somewhat ironically, the DVT was discovered when the astronaut was taking ultrasounds of their neck for a research study on how body fluid is redistributed in zero gravity. If it wasn’t for the study, there’s no telling what the outcome could have been. Moll says there’s a need for more research of how blood and blood clots behave in space.

“Is this something that is more common in space?” posed Moll in a UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine press statement.

Credit: NASA

“How do you minimize risk for DVT? Should there be more medications for it kept on the ISS? All of these questions need answering, especially with the plan that astronauts will embark on longer missions to the Moon and Mars,” Moll points out.

Credit: NASA





Moll co-wrote a case study on the successful treatment that has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. That case study – “Venous Thrombosis during Spaceflight” — can be found here:

Video Note: You could call it the ultimate telemedicine. A UNC expert enlisted by NASA to help treat an astronaut during a mission on the International Space Station. Hear about the experience from Dr. Stephan Moll in his own words.

Go to:

China’s champion – long duration Yutu-2 rover.

China’s farside lander and lunar rover, Yutu-2, have ended their work for the 13th lunar day on Thursday (Beijing time). The lunar twosome switched to dormant mode for the lunar night, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).


The country’s Chang’e-4 probe was launched on December 8, 2018, making the first-ever soft landing on the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon on January 3, 2019.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the lunar landing of the Chang’e-4 probe.

China’s Chang’e-4 lander as viewed by Yutu-2 rover.

Longest-working lunar rover

China’s Xinhua news agency notes that the rover has driven 1,173 feet (357.695 meters) on the farside of the Moon to conduct scientific exploration of the territory. Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, has worked much longer than its three-month design life, becoming the longest-working lunar rover.

Yutu-2 rover as imaged by Chang’e-4 lander earlier in the farside mission.

“The scientific instruments on the lander and rover worked as planned. The rover conducted explorations of several sites and photographed and conducted an infrared detection of a stone on the lunar surface, said the center,” explains the Xinhua story.

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

The landing site of the probe has been named “Statio Tianhe.” “Tianhe” is the Chinese word for the Milky Way and “Statio” is Latin for base.

Using data obtained by the visible and near-infrared spectrometer installed on Yutu-2, Chinese scientists found that the lunar soil in the landing area of the Chang’e-4 probe contains olivine and pyroxene which came from the lunar mantle deep inside the Moon.

Slow but steady

“Due to the complicated geological environment and the rugged and heavily cratered terrain on the farside of the Moon, the rover drives slowly but steadily and is expected to continue traveling on the Moon and make more scientific discoveries,” Xinhua notes.

Credit: CNSA

In order to provide a communication link between the farside of the Moon and the ground control, China sent the relay satellite Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, into the halo orbit around the second Lagrangian point of the earth-moon system, nearly 500,000 kilometers from the Earth.

Relay satellite cooperation

Zhang Lihua, chief designer of the Queqiao, said the satellite has been working well and is able to continue its operation for another 10 years.

“We will let the Queqiao work as long as possible. It could also provide communication for probes from other countries if they intend to explore the Moon’s farside within the lifetime of the satellite,” Ye Peijian, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a senior space expert, said earlier.

Drawing of Chang’e-5 lunar sample return craft.
Credit: CNSA

Scientific tasks

The scientific tasks of the Chang’e-4 mission include conducting low-frequency radio astronomical observations, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms.

The Chang’e-4 mission also involves four payloads developed by the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

China’s next step in its lunar exploration program is the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, weighing roughly 8.2 tons. That mission is expected to be launched in 2020 and is designed to haul back to Earth lunar samples weighing 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms).

Curiosity’s workspace at the top of Western Butte for the next few sols. Note the dark, angular blocks resting on the paler, in-place bedrock and the more resistant rock layer capping the slope in the background, behind Western Butte.
Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2634 tasks.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at Canada’s University of New Brunswick, reports that two recent Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) passes that should have downlinked the data from Curiosity’s New Year activities, to enable planning, were delayed during processing on the ground.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image taken on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We did not get the images of our workspace until just prior to when we were supposed to deliver our plan,” Thompson added. The Tactical Uplink Lead for the day gave permission to delay delivery, and the team efficiently managed to add two targeted Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) analyses of bedrock (“Ben Eighe” and “Braid Hills”), with accompanying Mastcam documentation imaging.

Environmental observations

The rest of the plan was filled with untargeted environmental observations, Thompson explains, including ChemCam passive sky, a Navcam dust devil survey and cloud movie observations, as well as the standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) activities.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite scrubber clean and transfer data were also included, following on from SAM atmospheric measurements over the holiday period.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thompson reports that a Navcam 3×1 mosaic was planned, which should facilitate targeting with Mastcam and the ChemCam Remote Micro-imager in upcoming plans.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Stunning view

“The planned drive from the previous sol executed flawlessly, resulting in a stunning view of the top of Western Butte, and a workspace strewn with dark angular float rocks (not in place), on top of the paler, in-place bedrock,” Thompson points out.

“The previous workspace had also included intact bedrock with dark, angular float rocks. We received closer up images and compositional data for some of these float rocks over the holidays, revealing some interesting similarities to rocks

encountered a lot earlier in the mission,” Thompson adds.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The geologists are trying to figure out the relationship of the dark, angular blocks to the in-place bedrock, and intact darker, resistant, capping rock observed at the top of slopes immediately behind Western Butte,” Thompson concludes. “Everyone is excited to be able to continue to investigate the bedrock and float rock at this location, as well as to document the view afforded to Curiosity from this vantage point near the top of Western Butte.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2633, January 2, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech