Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, topped by the Cygnus spacecraft — S.S. Gene Cernan — launched from Pad-0A today, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Credit: NASA

This supply ship is headed for the International Space Station, set to deliver approximately 7,400 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Link-up with the ISS is scheduled for Tuesday.

Laser communications

For example, onboard the cargo ship: two innovative 1.5-unit CubeSats designed and built by The Aerospace Corporation.

The Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) project uses a pair of CubeSats to explore data transmission to the ground via ultra-small lasers, and is also tasked to maneuver the diminutive spacecraft to up-close proximity.
Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

Both CubeSats were developed for NASA Ames Research Center’s Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) mission. This effort focuses on two significant capabilities of value for future small spacecraft missions: high-speed optical transmission of data and proximity operations between two small satellites–both capabilities not previously demonstrated in spacecraft of this size.

A pioneering propulsion system on OCSD uses water as a propellant, which is exhausted as steam.

Novel antenna array

Another innovative mission on the Orbital ATK CRS-8 (OA-8) supply ship is the Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) spacecraft.

JPL’s ISARA will showcase a unique ability to increase downlink data rates for CubeSats thanks to a novel antenna array design that utilizes printed circuit board patches.

The Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) mission. It will showcase a pioneering ability to increase downlink data rates for CubeSats thanks to a novel antenna array design that utilizes printed circuit board patches.
Credit: NASA/JPL

NanoRacks deployer

This supply mission to the ISS also totes a full NanoRacks External Cygnus Deployer (ENRCSD), a virtual reality camera, and educational research.

The NanoRacks ENRCSD is installed on the exterior of the Cygnus service module with the capability to deploy satellites after Cygnus’ completion of its primary ISS resupply mission.

On this ENRCSD mission, NanoRacks has 14 satellites ready to be deployed with customers including the NRO Office of Space Launch, Asgardia, Spire, Tyvak, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Included in this External Cygnus manifest are also The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube B/C satellites, water-based propulsion CubeSats.

One strange rock

This mission is enabling a unique virtual reality opportunity with National Geographic’s VUZE camera.

Integrated and launched via NanoRacks, VUZE will allow for the recording of the new National Geographic series “One Strange Rock,” in which the astronaut crew will record a series of virtual reality pieces for incorporation into a larger documentary about natural history and the solar system.

NASA’s Gerstenmaier and AIAA’s Sandra Magnus at recent hearing.
Credit: Inside Outer Space/Screen Grab

A House Space Subcommittee hearing was held November 9, dedicated to examining the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion Crew Vehicle and the associated ground systems.

The hearing, titled “An Update on NASA Exploration Systems Development,” heard from William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, NASA and Sandra Magnus, the outgoing Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Delay and disappointment

A key upshot of the hearing is that NASA is sliding the first SLS launch to no earlier than December 2019 – a delay of at least one year for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first flight of SLS with an uncrewed Orion. Delays with the delivery of the European Service Module could push this into 2020.

NASA’s Space Launch System.
Credit: NASA

In his opening statement, Full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, in part:

“After all these years, after billions of dollars spent, we are facing more delays and cost overruns,” Smith said. “Recent hurricanes and tornadoes have damaged some facilities and slowed localized progress but many of the problems are self-inflicted.”

Smith said it is very disappointing to hear about delays caused by poor execution when the U.S. taxpayer has invested so much in these programs.

“Congress needs to have confidence in NASA and the Exploration Systems contractors,” Smith concluded, “which I don’t believe we have now. That confidence is ebbing. If it slips much further, NASA and the contractors will have a hard time regaining their credibility.”

Smith’s full opening statement can be found here at:

Artist rendering of Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft in deep space.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Not out of woods yet

In an opening statement from Subcommittee Chairman, Brian Babin (R-Texas), he commented: “We aren’t out of the woods yet on this program, but we can see the edge of the forest. Significant progress has been made. We are bending metal, writing software code and integrating hardware. Given a program of this magnitude, this is no small feat — particularly given the challenges the program faced under the last administration.”

Babin’s full statement can be found here at:


The written testimony of NASA’s William Gerstenmaier is available at:

AIAA’s Sandra Magnus is available at:

Hearing video

To video view the entire hearing, go to:

Inspector General report

Also, take note of “NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges.”

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its annual report identifying what it views as the top management and performance challenges facing the space agency.

OIG report available at:

An OIG video is can be viewed at:



Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1869, November 8, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now in Sol 1870, NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has wheeled itself into a new position along the Vera Rubin Ridge.

Reports Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, in looking at recent images from the robot: “I can’t help but think that Curiosity is giving us a ‘high-five’ for another stellar drive!”

High-five! Curiosity Navcam Right B photo showing Curiosity’s location after a successful drive on Sol 1869. The shadows show the Robotic Arm and turret on the left, and the Remote Sensing Mast to the lower right.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jam-packed agenda

Earth control teams have planned a “jam-packed” agenda for two sols of remote and contact science as the journey along the Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR) continues.

That plan calls for, on Sol 1870, use of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observation on the bedrock target “Waboomberg.”

This will be followed by Mastcam imaging of nearby VRR features, including exposed rock layers and light-colored bedrock, Kronyak explains.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1869, November 8, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Brush off

On tap is use of the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to brush the surface on target “Platberg,” which is to be followed by Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imaging and an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) analysis. Additional APXS and MAHLI observations are slated on Waboomberg.

On the Sol 1871 to do list, Kronyak adds that there’s a continuation of Curiosity science observations by using ChemCam and Mastcam multispectral to target Platberg.

Curiosity Navcam: Left B image taken on Sol 1869, November 8, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bedrock features

“It’s quite common that we use multiple instruments on a single target – this is to corroborate datasets and give us a more complete, thorough analysis. We’ll take an additional Mastcam image of ‘St. Lucia’ to look at some interesting bedrock features by Curiosity’s wheel,” Kronyak reports.

Lastly, the plan calls for a suite of environmental monitoring activities, which will include use of the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instruments, a Mastcam look at dust in the atmosphere, and a Mastcam line-of-sight extinction image.

Weekend science

“To wrap up the plan,” concludes Kronyak, “we’ll drive to our next VRR stop, take some standard post-drive images, and set ourselves up for an exciting weekend of science on Mars!”




Why should we imagine solar flares taking down the International Space Station?

That’s the subject of a Future Tense seminar hosted by New America, Slate, and Arizona State University.

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

So what happens when a catastrophic solar flare paralyzes global space agencies and throws the world order into chaos? This very scenario drives the plot of Deji Olukotun’s book, After the Flare. The result is an introspective look at timely questions of technology and international ambition.






Future Tense is bringing together Olukotun, an internet rights advocate and author, and Lucianne Walkowicz, astrophysicist and multimedia artist, to discuss the science behind solar flares and what we can learn about global tech policy through science fiction. Walkowicz is also the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress.

This event is being held today — November 8, 2017 from 6:00-7:15 pm ET – and will be livestreamed.

To view the event, go to:



On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first human-made object to orbit the Earth. Precisely 60 years later, space-faring nations face a much different space environment; one that’s more diverse, disruptive, disordered, and dangerous. Today’s space domain presents a number of asymmetries that differ from other domains, creating a specific deterrence environment with unique policy implications.

Escalation and Deterrence in the Second Space Age is a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Aerospace Security Project.

The report discusses the evolution of space as a contested domain, the changing threats to U.S. space systems, deterrence theory and its applications to the space domain, and findings from a space crisis exercise administered by CSIS last year.


The report, Escalation and Deterrence in the Second Space Age, written by Todd Harrison, Zack Cooper, Kaitlyn Johnson, and Thomas G. Roberts is available at:

A CSIS video provides a good overview of the report, and can be viewed at:

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1867, November 6, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Back in the saddle again,” reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

On Sol 1864, Curiosity successfully got a move on from the robot’s inadvertent layover stop.

The result is that the science team has a new workspace, and a new view of the structures exposed in the “Vera Rubin Ridge.”

New real estate

“The team grabbed as many observations of this new piece of real estate as they could fit in the plan,” Minitti says, not only because they were happy with the change of scenery, but because the plan had the rover drive once again.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1867, November 6, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Both the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) were slated to look at the targets “Barberton” and “Campbellrand” using somewhat unusual techniques.

MAHLI will image both Barberton (a patch of bedrock with a rough, nodular texture) and Campbellrand, a smooth patch of Vera Rubin Ridge bedrock at night using her white light LEDs to illuminate the target.

“The choice of night imaging was driven by the poor workspace illumination expected at the more-typical daytime imaging times,” Minitti notes. When Curiosity is parked facing eastern headings, the rover arm and body cast shadows on the workspace in front of the rover.

“Shadows across MAHLI images make it more challenging to see the color and texture of the targets. MAHLI’s white light LEDs are not quite bright enough to use during the day to fill in these shadows, but in the dark of night, they illuminate targets brightly, giving the team an unfettered look at their rocks of interest,” Minitti explains.

Different chemistries

APXS was on tap to analyze Barberton using a raster technique. In a raster, APXS is placed at multiple spots, each slightly offset from one another, over a target that is hypothesized to have at least two different chemical components.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1866, November 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“In the case of Barberton, these two different components are the background bedrock and the material producing the nodular texture. The slightly different spots measured by APXS yield slightly different chemistries,” Minitti points out. “By using the MAHLI images that accompany each APXS analysis to determine how much of each component is within each spot, the chemistry of the components can be separated from one another.”

Mastcam had many new features and structures to look at even just over 80 feet (25 meters) away from Curiosity’s last stop. “

South and east of Curiosity were two prime mosaic targets: bedrock exposures identified from orbit, which proved even more interesting on the ground. Stereo imaging of both these areas will allow the team to measure the bedding orientations in this part of the Vera Rubin Ridge, perhaps gaining more clues to its origin,” Minitti reports.

The rover’s Mastcam was scheduled to turn its filters on one of these bedrock areas to probe its iron mineralogy. Smaller, closer targets of interest for Mastcam were also available including “Belingwe” (a vertical exposure of nodular bedrock) and “Bergersdorp” (a resistant bedrock layer).

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 1866, November 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dust load

“The environment-minded members of the science team planned a suite of observations – movies looking for clouds and dust devils, and images assessing the dust load in the atmosphere – at three different times of day throughout the weekend,” Minitti says. “Taking measurements at multiple times of day helps the team understand how the Martian atmosphere behaves throughout the course of a sol in Gale.”

Curiosity’s drive of roughly 70 feet (22 meters) is intended to wheel the robot further up the ridge toward another bedrock exposure of interest.

Minitti concludes: “Here’s hoping the new vistas keep coming!”

Recent pass of China’s Tiangong-1as recorded by sky watching satellite tracker.
Credit: Thomas Dorman

Sky watchers are on the lookout for China’s Tiangong-1 space lab – and the seeing is good.

Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace”) was hurled into Earth orbit in late September 2011. It was used for six successive rendezvous and dockings with spacecraft, Shenzhou-8 (uncrewed), Shenzhou-9 (piloted) and Shenzhou-10 (piloted) as part of China’s human space exploration activities.

Reentry prediction

At launch, the vehicle weighed 18,740 pounds (8,500 kilograms).

But in March of 2016, the space lab ceased functioning.

Docking of China’s Shenzhou 10 spacecraft with the Tiangong-1 space station June 13, 2013.
Credit: CCTV

Tiangong-1 is now predicted to reenter in late January 2018 ± 1 month.

This forecast was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on October 31 of this year. “It is unlikely that this is a controlled reentry. Although not declared officially, it is suspected that control of Tiangong-1 was lost and will not be regained before reentry,” according to The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS).

Based on Tiangong-1’s inclination, the lab will reenter somewhere between 43° North and 43° South latitudes.

Credit: Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS).

Slow roll

Ground viewing of the Chinese space lab, along with an analysis of images, suggests that the vehicle shows no sign of tumbling, but is apparently in a slow roll.

By not tumbling before nose-diving into the atmosphere, it’s possible that the multi-ton facility might not break up as much during the fiery fall. If that’s the case, it potentially increases the number of fragments that could reach Earth’s surface.



As for leftovers, the CORDS website states that “it is highly unlikely that debris from this reentry will strike any person or significantly damage any property,” adding: “potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive reentry. For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit.”

The Aerospace Corporation adds that it will perform a person and property risk calculation for the Tiangong-1 reentry a few weeks prior to the event.

International campaign

Experts at the European Space Agency will host an international campaign to monitor the reentry of the Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

Artist’s concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

IADC comprises space debris and other experts from 13 space agencies/organizations, including NASA, ESA, European national space agencies, JAXA, ISRO, KARI, Roscosmos, as well as the China National Space Administration.

IADC members intend to use the fall of Tiangong-1 to conduct their annual reentry test campaign, during which participants will pool their predictions of the time window, as well as their respective tracking datasets obtained from radar and other sources.

The Main Control Room at ESA’s European Space Operations Center, Darmstadt, Germany.
Credit: ESA/P. Shlyaev, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The aim is to cross-verify, cross-analyze and improve the prediction accuracy for all members.

ESA will serve as host and administrator for the campaign, as it has done for the twenty previous IADC test campaigns since 1998.

Geographic footprint

Holger Krag, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, explains that China’s space lab reentry corridor already excludes the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43ºN or further south than 43ºS.

“This means that reentry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example,” Krag says.

Artist’s view of China’s Tiangong-1 space station in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSE

“The date, time and geographic footprint of the reentry can only be predicted with large uncertainties,” Krag adds. “Even shortly before reentry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”

Owing to the station’s mass and construction materials, there is a possibility that some portions of Tiangong-1 will survive and reach the surface, according to an ESA statement.

For more information, go to my earlier story:

China’s Fall Guy: Tiangong-1 Space Lab to Crash in Early 2018

Space cowboys? International lawyers are trying to agree on what legislation will be needed to control the exploration of mineral resources in space to avoid a new ‘Wild West’.
Credit: James Vaughan

A new report, Commercial Space Mining: Economic and Legal Implications, is a scholarly assessment of commercial space mining activities in the broader context of the emerging space economy.

The paper finds that entrepreneurs are increasingly looking at outer space for providing terrestrial solutions, and Western entrepreneurs in particular are working towards setting up basic infrastructure enabling a new industrial age based in outer space.

Commercial space mining is part of this vision, which also has the added advantage of reducing dependency on terrestrial resources and thus limiting environmental degradation.


The paper also identifies specific NewSpace companies working on affordable, frequent access to outer space, as well as space manufacturing technologies. Together, these activities form the backbone of the space economy.

“However, the future of this vision is uncertain, as existing international space law has not evolved beyond Cold War concerns,” observes Vidya Sagar Reddy Avuthu, a Junior Fellow with India’s Observer Research Foundation within the group’s Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative.

Business plan for asteroid mining.
Credit: Joel Sercel/ICS Associates Inc. and TransAstra

International norms

The ORF analyst reports that existing international norms and space law has not evolved to support this commercial space mining vision. The Outer Space Treaty that established basic international space law was a response to Cold War concerns and did not take into consideration the prospect of commercial space mining.

“The space mining companies could conduct a preliminary mining expedition on an asteroid and sell those resources on earth, thus leading to the establishment of a new set of international norms. This could propel states to draft a comprehensive law to govern space mining, and thus enabling the space

This ORF Occasional Paper #122 is available at:

Taking to the air on Mars.
Copyright Mars City Design, used with permission.



Transforming the exotic environment of the Red Planet demands talented technologists, scientists, and architects.

Enter the Mars City Design group, bridging the gap between leading educators, scientists and engineers, with a splash of artistic vocations within entertainment, media and other professions.




Project exhibition

Last month, winners of Mars City Design Challenges 2017 celebrated their victories in a gala held in Los Angeles, California.

Vera Mulyani, visionary lead for Mars City Design.
Credit: Mars City Design

The event included exhibition of 30 projects that are ready to be developed for creating the blueprints to advance the mission for Mars. Several selected architectural projects showcased their projects in virtual reality.

Redwood Forest – Trees of Our Past and Future. Credit: Valentina Sumini MIT Redwood Forest Team


Human destiny

Mars City Design is the brainchild of Vera Mulyani, a passionate visionary keen on becoming an architect of Mars. Founded in Silicon Beach, Los Angeles, California, Mars City Design is dedicated to making Mars the second home for humans.

“Survivability is no longer enough,” Mulyani explains. “If the human destiny is to become ‘a multi-planetary species’ and the technology is making it possible, it becomes urgent to responsibly design the destinations that are out of this world, sustainable and contributive to the present Earth,” she believes.


And the winners are…

Architecture category:

1st Winner: Redwood Forest, by M.I.T Team lead by Valentina Sumini

2nd Winner: Color Wheel, by Diane Turnshek and Matt Finlay & Carnegie Mellon University Team

Urban Design category:

Winner: Marscapes, by Romarie Gonzales and Arturo Hernandez

Copyright Mars City Design, used with permission.

Sustainable Energy category:

1st Winner: Tree of Life by Samer El Sayary

2nd Winner: Helios by l’X École Polytechnique Team lead by Pierrot Arsène and Louis Quilley

3rd Winner: Ætheras by l’X École Polytechnique Team lead by Sebastien Roebben

Transportation category:

Winner: Around Mars in 80 Days by l’X École Polytechnique Team lead by Zoé Ghiron

Robotic/Artificial Intelligence category:

Winner: Telepathy 2.0 by Amina Jambo, USC

Copyright Mars City Design, used with permission.


Development stage

From the winning projects, Mars City Design brought some of the concepts forward to continue into the next development stage.

Mars City Design has launched a new competition for 2018, and this year’s goal is to focus on the second stage of some selected projects and to promote some of the selected teams to participate in a JPL/NASA Program in January 2018.

For more information on Mars City Design, go to this informative website at:

Opportunity Front Hazcam image taken on Sol 4895.
Credit: NASA/JPL



NASA’s stalwart Opportunity Mars rover is a busy planetary prowler since it landed in Meridiani Planum back on January 25, 2004.

The robot has now chalked up roughly 28 miles (45.04 kilometers) of travel.

Opportunity is continuing winter exploration of “Perseverance Valley” on the west rim of the Noachian-aged Endeavour Crater.

Opportunity Panoramic Camera image taken on Sol 4896.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Popping a wheelie

The rover is investigating a site where there is evidence of scouring, by wind or otherwise. Back on October 26, on Sol 4890, the Mars machinery bumped uphill about 13 feet (4 meters) to reach some targets of interest to the science team.

Because of the steep terrain, the left rear wheel popped up as a wheelie. Before another further motion or robotic arm use on the rover, the wheelie had to be relaxed to reacquire solid footing.

Opportunity Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 4890.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Bedrock, wind tails

Inside Outer Space asked Ray Arvidson of Washington University in Saint Louis, deputy principal investigator of the rover mission for an update on the exploration robot.

Opportunity Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 4891.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“Opportunity is currently over the northern side of a set of outcrops called La Bajada, where Pancam images show what appears to be highly etched bedrock, with candidate wind tails pointing uphill,” Arvidson says.



Downhill drive

The rover is finishing up Microscopic Imager and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) outcrop measurements and likely drive downhill to its next science station early next week.

“The new location will be governed by the presence of a ‘lily pad’ with requisite north facing slopes,” Arvidson adds, “so that Opportunity has sufficient power to do science, together with the scientific importance of the location.”

Credit: Ray Arvidson and the Athena Science Team



Lily pad to lily pad

Opportunity will be driving from “lily pad” to “lily pad” for the next several months, Arvidson points out, and will be acquiring ground-truth data to help understand how Perseverance Valley formed.




Multiple hypotheses

Arvidson recently presented an overview of orbital imagery and Opportunity’s on-going ground work at the Geological Society of America Meeting in Seattle. At that gathering he showcased multiple hypotheses that scientists are trying to test regarding Perseverance Valley.

At Perseverance Valley, Opportunity field work is underway and “much remains to be done” as the rover’s power increases after an October 31 winter minimum.

Credit: Ray Arvidson and the Athena Science Team

Unique settings

Perseverance Valley offers unique topographic and morphologic settings, Arvidson reported. The site exhibits considerable diffusive smoothing and regolith deposits. Wind has shaped outcrops at centimeter to 10’s of centimeter scales, he said.

Speculating, Arvidson added that the valley indicates previous climate snowpack accumulation, some melting with fluvial and debris flow activity, drying out, letting diffusive smoothing and wind action dominate.

That said, “let us finish the field work and analyze all the data before we come to final conclusion,” Arvidson said.

Griffith Observatory Event