Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: NRL


The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is working on efforts to demonstrate how energy can be transmitted without wires, also known as power beaming.

One of NRL’s power beaming experiments is now aboard the U.S. military’s X-37 space plane.

LEctenna is a light-emitting rectifying antenna that converts a wireless network signal, similar to home networks, into electric power.

International Space Station astronaut Jessica Meir completed the first U.S. Naval Research Laboratory power-beaming demonstration in orbit February 12, 2020, using relatively simple components suitable for STEM activities.
Credit: NASA




LEctenna swag

NRL has formed the LEctenna challenge, requesting participants to improve the LEctenna…and get a prize! 

The challenge asks for individuals to send NRL a photo or short video on social media (#lectenna) or to and they’ll send you LEctenna swag!

Legal disclaimer: Kids under 13, please ask your parents first. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory will not use your submissions without your permission. However, we may reshare your social media posts if you choose to send your LEctenna info that way. Quantities are limited.

Check out this challenge video at:

Also, go to these informative videos regarding LEctenna.



Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

En route to the Red Planet, China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1 has successfully carried out its second orbital correction on Sunday, using four of its 120N engines working for 20 seconds.

Tianwen-1, which means “Questions to Heaven,” has traveled about 60 days in orbit since liftoff on July 23.

All of the probe’s systems continue to be in good condition, said the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Minor correction

The minor orbital correction was carried out to ensure the probe is on a correct flight path to reach Mars in February of next year.

On August 2, Tianwen-1 carried out its first orbital correction.

According to the CNSA, next-up for the Mars spacecraft, a deep space maneuver in October; a larger orbital control action that will adjust the inclination and size of the probe’s orbit.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Given the probe’s current distance from Earth, China Central Television (CCTV) reports that one-way communication is delayed by about a minute. The probe will continue traveling away from Earth at roughly 186,411 miles (300,000 kilometers) per day, posing more challenges in communication.

China’s three-in-one mission: An orbiter, lander, and rover.
Credit: Wan, W.X., Wang, C., Li, C.L. et al.

Deep space maneuver

“During the probe’s flight along the Earth-Mars transfer orbit, it won’t directly enter the Mars’ orbit, but has to go through a deep space maneuver first. If the deep space maneuver is completed accurately, the probe can reach the Mars even without further orbital corrections,” Dong Jie, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 lander at the China Academy of Space Technology told CCTV.

“During our implementation procedures, we have confirmed the content of every order and the timing of sending them to the probe,” Dong added. “If anything goes wrong with the change of orbit, we have already made plans to resolve it.”

Tianwen-1 is designed to orbit the Red Planet for several months, then in May dispatch a lander that then deploys a rover. If successful, attempting all these parts of Mars exploration in a single mission would be a first.

Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

China’s growing interest in landing astronauts on the Moon includes developing a potent new launch vehicle.

Zhou Yanfei, deputy chief designer of China’s manned space program stated late last week that not only are the country’s existing boosters not powerful enough for the task, other technological skills are missing.

“The second problem is our survival ability under extraterrestrial circumstances,” Zhou told China Central Television (CCTV). “We do not have any experience in that yet. Neither do we have ground support capacity. So far our manned space exploration missions have been focused on tasks in low-Earth orbit. So for lunar scientific exploration and applications, we also need to establish a systematic lunar exploration and application system and propose original scientific exploration targets and methods.”

Space officials discuss China’s Moon exploration efforts at 2020 China Space Conference.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Shenzhou-series of piloted spacecraft are not suitable for lunar expeditions and China doesn’t yet have a lunar landing vehicle, Zhou said in a China Daily report. “Our ground support system was designed for operations in low-Earth orbit rather than on the lunar surface. Moreover, Chinese astronauts have no experience working on an extraterrestrial body.”

New wave of lunar exploration

Zhou’s comments were highlighted in his report to the 2020 China Space Conference, now underway until September 21 in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province.

2020 China Space Conference, now underway in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province until September 21.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

As reported by China Daily, China is resolute to land its astronauts on the Moon and establish a scientific station there, according to the project leader.

“A new wave of lunar exploration has been emerging in the world, with participants aiming to make sustainable missions to deepen knowledge of the Moon and exploit resources there,” Zhou said.

Long March 5 Y4 liftoff.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Moon booster

Zhou said researchers have initiated two approaches to building China’s Moon booster: making a new heavy-lift rocket capable of deploying more than 35 metric tons of payload in a lunar transfer orbit, or modifying the next-generation rocket designed to carry astronauts, which is under development.

The latter approach is being pursued, China Daily adds, because it would be easier to design and shortens the time the booster can become operational.

China’s Moon booster is being designed at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. Its main body will be 285 feet (87 meters tall), with a diameter of 16 feet (5 meters), making the launcher nearly twice as tall as the Long March 5, currently the largest of China’s family of boosters.

China Daily adds that the huge launcher would boast a liftoff weight of about 2,200 metric tons, nearly triple that of the Long March 5. The booster would enable hurling a 25-ton spacecraft onto a lunar trajectory.

China’s next lunar exploration phase: sample return from the Moon.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Return sample mission

In a related development, Yu Dengyun, deputy chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said at the gathering that preparations are progressing smoothly for this year’s liftoff of the Chang’e-5 probe to acquire samples of the Moon and bring them back to Earth.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-5 is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander. After reaching lunar orbit, the orbiter and returner will circle the Moon, while the lander and the ascender will land on the lunar surface. The lander will then collect around 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar samples into a vessel in the ascender. The vessel will be brought back to the Earth by the returner.

Moon sample container rendezvous with Earth return vehicle.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Our previous returners came back to the Earth at the first cosmic velocity, around 7.9 kilometers every second, while this time the returner is designed at the second cosmic velocity, around 11.2 kilometers every second. Therefore we face many challenges including the aerodynamic configuration, the adoption of thermal protection material and our control,” Yu told CCTV.

The 2020 China Space Conference began last Friday, jointly hosted by the Chinese Society of Astronautics and the China Space Foundation.

For a look at the 2020 China Space Conference, go to:

This new video spotlights the upcoming Chang’e-5 Moon mission at:

China’s space plane launch on September 4th via a Long March-2F booster.
Image courtesy LaunchStuff via

It is officially tagged by the North America Aerospace Defense Command as 46395, 2020-063G, an object that was released into Earth orbit by China’s experimental space plane.

That space plane circuited Earth for roughly two days, touching down on September 6, 2020, apparently landing on a lengthy airstrip in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, near Lake Lop Nor.

But before landing, an object separated from China’s experimental space plane.

Signal strength. Russian radio amateur, R4UAB, has tweeted that the object is transmitting.
Credit: R4UAB


Puzzling object

A global network of amateur satellite watchers is keeping an eye on this Earth-circling space drifter, sharing their observations. They’ve already discerned some characteristics of the puzzling object.

For example, Russian radio amateur, R4UAB, has tweeted that the object is transmitting on 2280MHz. That frequency is used by the Chinese manned space program, specifically Shenzhou, Tiangong, and Tianzhou space missions, notes satellite tracker, Scott Tilley.

Tilley and others have confirmed the emissions are coming from this object via Doppler and radio tracking via a narrow beam width dish antenna.

The emissions where 4MHz wide and unlike telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) signals that Tilley has seen from other Chinese missions to date. “The emission appears to be present for entire orbit based on other reports,” he adds.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/Xinhua News Agency/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/screengrab Inside Outer Space


Alive and tumbling

At the moment, according to satellite observer, Bob Christy of, all that the radio trackers can say is that it’s “alive” and is tumbling – but no-one has yet indicated the object’s rate of tumble. “Fading is caused by the transmitting aerials either pointing the wrong way or getting blocked as it rotates,” he told Inside Outer Space.

Deployed micro-satellite monitored the combined Tiangong-2/Shenzhou-11 vehicles.
Credit: CCTV

Christy is taking a hard re-look at tracking data about the space plane-deployed object. “One interpretation is that the new object separated as soon as the space plane reached orbit,” he said.

Speculation has it that the object might be a Banxing inspector satellite, “probably used to inspect the main vehicle while on orbit and may also carry a science/technology payload,” Christy thinks. Similar satellites were deployed from China’s Shenzhou-7 and Tiangong-2 space lab.

The new object’s first orbit data was published September 6, showing it in the orbit originally occupied by the space plane, Christy notes. “If it is flashing/tumbling, that would indicate its mission is probably completed. Continued radio transmissions suggest it has solar cells,” he concludes.

Credit: Marco Langbroek/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Caught on video

In a new development, satellite sleuth Marco Langbroek of Leiden, Netherlands has posted his September 20 observation of the mysterious “Object A” (2020-063G), left in orbit by China’s experimental space plane.

Langbroek notes that the object does not appear to be just a piece of debris – e.g. some discarded cover. “Radio observers discovered that it sends a signal in the L-band near 2280 MHz, something debris doesn’t do. So, this appears to be an interesting object that had or has some function, including a radio data signal downlink.”

The object does not appear to have maneuvered so far, Langbroek adds. “I initially thought that it might be a cubesat, but it appears to be rather large for that.”

In reviewing his video, Langbroek says the mysterious object showed slow but marked brightness variations, confirming reports by radio observers of periodic fading in its transmitting signal. “So if this is due to a tumble, it is a slow tumble,” he concludes.

To view his video of the object, go to:


Curiosity Mars rover’s ChemCam instrument has targeted two cobbles, “Quoy” and “Skor,” which are similar to the larger rock fragments seen in the above image, to compare their chemistries to that of the coherent bedrock slabs in this area.
This image acquired using the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on August 26, 2020, Sol 2864.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2886 tasks.

Reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland: Based on the initial results from the recent Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) wet chemistry experiment, the SAM team elected to complement it with a second wet chemistry experiment on the “Mary Anning 3” drill sample.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2886, September 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2886, September 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL



































The first experiment was run with the reagent tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH), and the second will be run with the reagent N-methyl-N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)trifluoroacetamide (MTBSTFA).

Fuller picture

“These are called wet chemistry experiments because SAM adds a liquid reagent to the sample before they analyze it,” Minitti explains. “Each reagent reacts differently with the sample, so each experiment shines a slightly different light on what carbon-bearing compounds lie within the sample. Together, we get a fuller picture of the chemistry of the Mary Anning sample.”

The SAM experiment is involved enough that it requires a dedicated sol in the plan, Minitti continues, but the second sol of the plan [2885-2886] was available for other observations.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2886, September 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image of Mary Anning drill spots taken on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Coherent bedrock

The robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) targeted two cobbles, “Quoy” and “Skor,” which are similar to larger rock fragments, to compare their chemistries to that of the coherent bedrock slabs in this area.

“ChemCam also targeted a white patch, “Lealt,” which resembles the white vein materials we have encountered in so much of our exploration of Gale crater,” Minitti adds.

Gray bulbous materials

Mars scientists have once again targeted “Le Ceasnachadh” for a ChemCam passive observation. The gray bulbous materials that dot the top of this target are hard to hit when researchers are aiming from more than 16 feet (5 meters) away, so they hope to land a few more points on these features in this effort.

Minitti also notes that Curiosity’s Navcam is slated to scan the skies above for clouds and dust devils, and will measure the dust load in the atmosphere.

Lastly, the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) keep their regular watch on the environment around and below the rover throughout the recently formulated plan, Minitti concludes.

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

Earth’s Moon and cis-lunar space are new destinations for numbers of nations. To what extent is that presence demand or promote a military presence?
Credit: Inside Outer Space

U.S. military space policy officials have increasingly flagged a new role in guarding American assets and interests in cis-lunar space. This evolving doctrine extends to the Moon’s surface too, given NASA’s Artemis and private operator projects to set up mining activities.

What do space experts say about extending military tactics to a new “high ground” domain off Earth?

Framework for In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) of lunar water and asteroids.
Credit: Aiden O’Leary/Jason Aspiotis/Booz Allen Hamilton

Authorities offer their opinion vis-à-vis an evolving military doctrine that builds on air, land, and sea warfare strategies – and now headed for the ocean of deep space.




Here’s my new story:

Is Earth-moon space the US military’s new high ground? The competition arena now extends beyond Earth orbit.

Go to:

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL





NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2885 tasks.



Reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: Mars scientists are busy starting their analysis of data from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument that used a special chemical called tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) to help identify organic (carbon-bearing) molecules in the sample.

“However, we are also keeping Curiosity busy,” O’Connell-Cooper adds.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Bedrock survey

Although contact science using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is precluded at this stage in the drill campaign (while samples are in the drill stem), O’Connell-Cooper explains that the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam teams are both working diligently on a “bedrock survey” of the workspace.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Conducting the TMAH experiment on top of our standard Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and SAM analyses “required a greater amount of sample than we could collect from a single drill hole, so having a geochemically homogenous block was important in allowing us to collect samples with similar compositions from two different drills holes,” O’Connell-Cooper points out.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2883. The “Mary Anning” drill holes are on the block in the center of the image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2884, September 16, 2020.


Subtle variations

“Beyond this block, targets are a little more heterogenous and show subtle variations in the concentrations of major element geochemistry,” says O’Connell-Cooper.

While the ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument can analyze targets up to 23 feet (7 meters) from the rover, it is being used very intensively to document trends across the workspace, and Mastcam is taking supporting images of each ChemCam target.

A newly scripted plan includes ChemCam and Mastcam on a further two bedrock targets “Prestonpans” and “Clivocast,” as Mars researchers try to fill in gaps in the survey.

Long distance images

Additionally, Mastcam will take three change detection images, one centered around the sandy target “Upper Ollach,” a second image across the rover deck and another of the Mary Anning drill holes themselves.

O’Connell-Cooper reports that ChemCam will also take some Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) long distance images of the “Housedon Hill” target, a raised feature to the east of the rover.

“Based on initial images taken on sol 2880,” O’Connell-Cooper adds, ChemCam is refining and targeting more specific areas so that we can investigate the relationship between apparent bedding planes and the surface of the feature, all from a distance of [1,312 feet] 400 meters!

Lastly, the environmental theme group (ENV) segment of a newly scripted plan includes some Navcam dust devil movies, Mastcam “tau” measurements to determine the concentration of dust in the atmosphere, in addition to the standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) activities which are always peppered throughout a given plan, concludes O’Connell-Cooper.

China’s space plane launch on September 4th via a Long March-2F booster.
Image courtesy LaunchStuff via


Satellite tracker Bob Christy reports on his website and the Seesat-l website that China’s space plane deployed a payload before landing on Earth.

“The object may have separated from the space plane earlier than suggested,” Christy says. “The two may have been orbiting close together for some time, with the second object getting a separate identity only when it was sufficiently separated from the space plane to be detected in its own right.”

Image snagged by the Banxing-2 microsatellite that was deployed from the Tiangong-2 shows Shenzhou-11 (above) and Tiangong-2 docked in orbit on October 23, 2016.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Inspector satellite?

Christy adds that, before descent to Earth on September 6, China’s space plane lowered its orbit by about one kilometer.

The new object was later cataloged in the space plane’s original orbit. Its first element set was issued around three hours after the space plane landed but the first reliable set appeared around seven hours after that.

Speculation has it that the object is a Banxing inspector satellite, “probably used to inspect the main vehicle while on orbit and may also carry a science/technology payload,” Christy adds. Similar satellites were deployed from China’s Shenzhou-7 and Tiangong-2 space lab.

Source: NASA.
Note: The following four prospective missions are not reflected above: LunaH-Map (Implementation), Europa Lander (Pre-Formulation), Mars
Sample Return (Pre-Formulation), Janus (Formulation), Lunar Trailblazer (Formulation), and Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (Formulation).

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) is responsible for a portfolio of spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, rovers, and probes.

A just-released audit, performed from June 2019 through August 2020 by NASA’s Office of Audits within the space agency’s Office of Inspector General, has assessed NASA’s management of its planetary science portfolio and examined whether PSD is meeting established goals and priorities.

Life-cycle costs increasing

The audit notes that as NASA’s planetary science missions become more complex, the life-cycle costs within each of PSD’s three mission classes are increasing due to project management challenges and mission complexity.

For example, Dragonfly, the next New Frontiers mission that will explore Titan, has an estimated $2 billion life-cycle cost. Comparatively, prior New Frontiers missions such as Juno and the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) had life-cycle costs of roughly $1 billion each.

Dragonfly mission concept of entry, descent, landing, surface operations, and flight at Titan.
Credit: NASA

“These increasing costs, if not addressed, may result in a reduced cadence of future missions given budget limitations that will mean fewer opportunities to demonstrate new technologies,” the audit explains.

Higher risk than necessary

Also pointed out is that NASA’s Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) is accepting “higher risk than necessary” in the Commercial Launch Provider Services (CLPS) project, which provides contracts to U.S. commercial entities to develop landers to deliver NASA science instruments and other payloads to the Moon’s surface.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander will carry payloads to the Moon for NASA through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
Credit: Astrobotics

“Specifically, LDEP has not established a common interface to integrate lunar payloads with the landers from selected CLPS contractors, as advised by the National Academies,” the audit found.

In another area spotlighted in the audit, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program resources “remain insufficient” to meet the program’s congressional mandate of cataloging near-Earth objects.

To view the entire report — NASA’s Planetary Science Portfolio — go to:

A composite image of the planet Venus as seen by the Japanese probe Akatsuki. The clouds of Venus could have environmental conditions conducive to microbial life.
Credit: JAXA


A global team of astronomers today announced the discovery of a rare molecule – phosphine – in the clouds of Venus.

Artistic illustration depicts the Venusian surface and atmosphere, as well as phosphine molecules. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/L. Calçada

Here on Earth, this gas is only made industrially, or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. So does the detection of phosphine point to extra-terrestrial “aerial” life on Venus?

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope located near the summit of Maunakea on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.
Source: Joint Astronomy Centre

A few of the antenna of the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Chajnantor Plateau of Chile. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

This new finding used data collected by the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the ALMA observatory in Chile. 


































Venusian viewing – resources

Go to this Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) press event that details the intriguing new findings at:

Also, view this European Southern Observatory (ESO) video at:

Go to this paper:

Here’s the news from Cardiff University on the announcement:

Check out this older Inside Outer Space story at:

Lastly, from Rocket Lab: “Well hello there Venus. Congrats to the teams behind this exciting research! Rocket Lab is planning a private mission to Venus in 2023, using Electron to launch a Photon satellite to the planet’s atmosphere in the hopes of providing more data in the search for life.”

Take a look at this Rocket Lab clip discussing a private astrobiology Venus mission in 2023: