Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1933, January 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now at the end of Sol 1933 operations, Curiosity has made it to “Region e” of the Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR) campaign, reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist from the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 1933, January 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“This location is a slight depression with exposed fractured bedrock that appears more ‘blue’ from orbit than the surrounding region,” Salvatore notes. In addition, the orbital evidence and observations from the ground suggest that this location is similar to ‘Region 10’ that was visited recently, “which was shown to have some pretty spectacular small-scale features that were of particular interest to many on the science team.

As a result, the team is very excited to reach “Region e” and begin a focused scientific investigation.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1932, January 12, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

MAVEN relay

During the first day of the current plan, Curiosity will focus on acquiring a large amount of high-resolution Mast Camera (Mastcam) color images of the area immediately in front of the rover, the “mid-range” region a few meters in front of the rover, and the entirety of Mt. Sharp.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1932, January 12, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

“This is an anomalous amount of data to collect at a given time, but we are able to do so thanks to the help of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft, which will be helping us to downlink those images over the course of the next week,” Salvatore adds.

With the exception of the Mt. Sharp images, Salvatore says, the other data are to characterize any small-scale geologic features present within “Region e,” and the plan was to have those images back to Earth at last week’s end.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) produced on Sol 1933, January 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dust off

In the afternoon of the first day, the plan called for Curiosity’s arm to characterize an unfractured piece of bedrock in front of the rover named “Unst.”

The robot’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) was slated to remove any surface dust, image the patch of bedrock with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument, and then place the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument on the target for an overnight integration to derive its bulk chemistry.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1933. January 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Knobby bedrock

On the second day of the scripted plan, Curiosity was set to utilize its Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) to remotely acquire chemistry data on two targets of interest.

The first will be “Canna,” a knobby piece of bedrock, and the second will be “Aberfoyle,” the flattest portion of this blocky region in front of the rover.

Aberfoyle will also be the target of an APXS measurement that evening.

Mastcam will be used to document these targets, in addition to the automated ChemCam observation that was obtained two days earlier.

Layered rock

“The ‘Aberfoyle’ ChemCam observation is beneficial for two reasons. First, we will be acquiring additional chemical measurements of this target that will be analyzed with APXS. Second, the laser blasts of ChemCam will help to remove any surface dust on the target, which will allow APXS to more confidently measure the bedrock composition with minimal input from the fine-grained dust,” Salvatore reports.

After this suite of measurements, the arm was scheduled to be moved into position to image the “Canna” target, the “Aberfoyle” target, and also a nearby layered rock named “Funzie.” After these images are acquired, the APXS instrument will be placed on “Aberfoyle” for an overnight integration.

Unique patterns

On the final day of the plan, Salvatore adds that ChemCam will analyze the chemistry of the “Unst” target (which was analyzed by APXS on the first evening of the plan), the “Funzie” target (to determine if there are any compositional variations associated with the observed layers), and a new target named “Morar,” which is a piece of bedrock that shows some unique patterns that might be due to fracturing, the presence of veins, and/or sculpting by the wind.

After the ChemCam observations, the plan calls for acquisition of Mastcam documentation images, and then make environmental observations with Mastcam and Navcam to hunt for dust devils and to assess the amount of dust in the air.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Traverse map

Meanwhile, a new Curiosity traverse map through Sol 1930 has been issued.

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1930 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (January 10, 2018).

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 1928 to Sol 1930, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 63.65 feet (19.40 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.19 miles (18.01 kilometers).

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

 

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1930, January 10, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is wrapping up Sol 1930 duties.

Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland reports:

“For the last several weeks, Curiosity has been hopping between areas of blue-ish toned rocks on the Vera Rubin Ridge and the results from these locations continue to become more compelling,”

Curosity Rear Hazcam Right B image acquires on Sol 1930, January 10, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Next stop

The robot’s next blue-toned destination, Guzewich says, has informally been called “Stop E” and the Curiosity science team “made a unanimous decision to get there as quickly as possible on the second sol of our plan, Sol 1930.”

That’s not to say, Guzewich adds, Curiosity scientists will be ignoring the current location en route!

Curosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1930, January 10, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Contact science

Guzewich says the plan called for contact science for Sol 1929 with the robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and use of Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

Those instruments were slated to study a bedrock target termed “Banff” as well as Curiosity performing associated Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) work and taking Mastcam images.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1928, January 8, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Also on the agenda, use of ChemCam and Mastcam on targets “Bass Rock” and “Barraclough.”

In addition to the drive on Sol 1930, environmental work by the rover is planned via three Mastcam tau observations during the day to help study how the amount of dust and clouds in the sky vary throughout the day, Guzewich concluded.

 

 

Luis Elizondo, the former intelligence officer who ran the secretive Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program speaks out on CNN interview.
Credit: CNN/screen grab

 

For believers in aliens visiting Earth’s friendly skies via Unidentified Flying Objects you couldn’t ask for more: A secretive government group backed by federal “black money,” a distressed and talkative former U.S. military intelligence official, fighter jet video of odd objects doing out-of-this-world maneuvers, and a space mogul purportedly housing leftovers of unidentified aerial craft.

All this has the feel of sliding open a top drawer in a new X-Files TV episode.

Check out my new SPACE.com story:

UFO Legacy: What Impact Will Revelation of Secret Government Program Have?

Go to:

https://www.space.com/39325-us-government-ufo-program-legacy.html

The craft is now at about 300 km altitude in an orbit that wThere is a chance that a small amount of Tiangong-1 debris may survive reentry and impact the ground. Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over. The map below shows the relative probabilities of debris landing within a given region. Yellow indicates locations that have a higher probability while green indicates areas of lower probability. Blue areas have zero probability of debris reentry since Tiangong-1 does not fly over these areas (north of 42.7° N latitude or south of 42.7° S latitude). These zero probability areas constitute about a third of the total Earth’s surface area.
Credit: The Aerospace Corporation’s CORDS

A leading Chinese space engineer has been reported to indicate that the country’s Tiangong-1 space lab is not out of control.

“We have been continuously monitoring Tiangong-1 and expect to allow it to fall within the first half of this year,” explains Zhu Congpeng, an engineer at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, notifying the state-run Science and Technology Daily newspaper.

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

“It will burn up on entering the atmosphere,” Zhu said, “and the remaining wreckage will fall into a designated area of the sea, without endangering the surface,” he said, remarks also relayed via a January 7 story by Reuters.

Plot predictions

Meanwhile, a January 3 plot by The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) notes that Tiangong-1 is predicted to reenter in mid-March 2018, plus or minus two weeks.

CORDS is sponsoring a “live on green event” guessing game. Entrants can compete for Aerospace swag with the closest estimate to the actual reentry date and time of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab.

Enter your information for a chance to win some Aerospace booty with the closest guess to the actual reentry date and time of China’s Tiangong-1.

Submit your guess by going to:

http://www.aerospace.org/cords/live-on-green/

Heavenly palace

Tiangong-1 is the first space station built and launched by China. It was designed to be a crewed lab as well as an experiment/demonstration for the larger, multiple-module space station.

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

Tiangong-1 (whose name means “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese) was rocketed into Earth orbit in late September 2011.

The first Chinese orbital docking occurred between Tiangong-1 and an unpiloted Shenzhou spacecraft on November 2, 2011. Two piloted missions were completed to visit Tiangong-1: Shenzhou 9 in June 2012 and Shenzhou 10 in June 2013.

International campaign

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

IADC comprises space debris and other experts from 13 space agencies/organizations, including NASA, ESA, European national space agencies, Japan’s JAXA, India’s ISRO, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Russia’s Roscosmos, as well as the China National Space Administration.

Owing to the Chinese station’s 18,740 pounds (8,500 kilograms) and construction materials, there is a distinct possibility that some portions of the Tiangong-1 will survive and reach the surface, according to a previous ESA statement.

The vessel will inevitably decay sometime between January and March 2018, when it will make an uncontrolled reentry,” the November 6, 2017 press statement explains.

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

Emergency preparedness plans

In a December 8 communiqué from the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations (Vienna), China has made note of the upcoming re-entry into the atmosphere of Tiangong-1.

“Currently, it [Tiangong-1] has maintained its structural integrity with stabilized attitude control,” notes the communiqué.

“China attaches great importance to the re-entry of Tiangong-1. For this purpose, China has set up a special working group, made relevant emergency preparedness plans and been working closely with its follow-up tracking, monitoring, forecasting and relevant analyzing,” the communiqué explains.

Confusion

“I think the confusion comes from the fact that control is limited to the attitude of the space lab – but not to the orbit,” explains Holger Krag, Head of the Space Debris Office for ESA in Darmstadt, Germany.

Attitude control has (hardly) no impact on the orbit, Krag said, “and a deorbit impact point cannot be achieved. Orbit control requires a meaningful propulsion function, which is not available/defunct,” he told Inside Outer Space.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander
Credit: Astrobotic

The Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic — spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2007 — is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has been working on developing a low-cost, lunar delivery service.

According to the group, it has nearly a dozen “deals” for their first mission and dozens of customer negotiations for upcoming missions.

Astrobotic is offering a lander service that is “poised to be central to America’s return to the Moon,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, and is calling for a “surge” of landers to dot the Moon.

Credit: NASA

Commercial cargo

One enabler for peppering the Moon with private-sector landers is NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program and the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative

NASA competitively selected three partners in 2014 to spur commercial cargo transportation capabilities to the surface of the Moon.

The no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreement partnerships are with Astrobotic, Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California, and Moon Express Inc., of Cape Canaveral, Florida, is designed to develop capabilities that could lead to a commercial robotic spacecraft landing on the Moon, but also potentially enable new science and exploration missions of interest to NASA and to broader scientific and academic communities.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander
Credit: Astrobotic

Robust American presence

Astrobotic has recommended to NASA that the space agency orchestrate a “Lunar Surge” of science, technology and robotic exploration missions. Doing so, the group adds, would rapidly expand a presence on the Moon with robotic landers starting in 2020 to ensure a robust American presence across key areas of the lunar surface, in advance of a human return.

Such a surge, contends the group, could be done within existing budget profile by taking advantage of privately-developed lunar landers, like Astrobotic’s Peregrine, without deviating resources from other critical development programs and exploration capabilities, like NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander
Credit: Astrobotic

Sustained surge

Additionally, such a rush forward “could demonstrate America’s unparalleled access to the Moon’s surface, and explore the Moon’s resource and shelter potential to enable the long-term presence of astronauts,” explains an Astrobotic press statement.

“With a sustained surge campaign of robotic precursor missions, America can prospect for water ice at the lunar poles, evaluate the habitability of lunar lava tubes (caves), test the peaks of persistent light as a power source, and get a firm grasp of how to make use of the Moon to propel exploration,” adds the press statement.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image acquired on Sol 1926, January 6, 2018. This product was created by merging two to eight images previously taken by the MAHLI, located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just concluded Sol 1926 science operations.

The robot is investigating “layers of fun!” That’s the word from Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Curiosity color imagery taken during Sols 1925-1926 shows in greater detail the numerous layers and color variations that kept the rover at this spot for another round of science observations within its workspace.

Curiosity MAHLI imagery from Sol 1926, January 5, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Staircase-like workspace

“Exploring more of the steps in our staircase-like workspace was the name of the game today,” Minitti reports. The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) mosaics acquired on Sol 1925 from the targets “Jura” and “Crinan,” near the bottom of the workspace, were intriguing enough to lead Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to analyze both of them with rasters that crossed over multiple layers exposed in these targets.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1925, January 5, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Also near the bottom of the workspace, the target “Craighead,” a gray rock cut by criss-crossing sulfate veins, was slated to be brushed by the Dust Removal Tool (DRT), and then imaged by MAHLI and analyzed by the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo from Sol 1926, January 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Chemical survey

In between the targets Crinan and “Assynt” (another Sol 1925 target), ChemCam will shoot the target “Brodick” to add to a chemical survey of the outcrop.

MAHLI will follow up on a ChemCam target from Sol 1925, “Barra,” taking advantage of the dust-removing capability of ChemCam’s laser to get a closer, cleaner look at this target near the top of the workspace.

“We took a few brief breaks from the rocks in front of us to image and analyze other objects of interest,” Minitti adds. ChemCam will shoot the sand target “Boreray” to compare its chemistry to those of sands Curiosity has encountered throughout the mission.

Clear viewing

ChemCam and Mastcam will both image the Peace Vallis fan, far north of the rover on the Gale crater rim, “as our vantage point on top of the ‘Vera Rubin Ridge’ gives us a clear view of it,” Minitti points out.

MAHLI is slated to image the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) ultraviolet sensor to monitor dust accumulation on the zenith-pointing sensor.

REMS itself along with the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) will make regular measurements of the environment, and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument will ping the ground below the rover both before and after a rover drive to seek signs of subsurface hydrogen.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1925, January 5, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

New drive to bedrock

Early morning Navcam and Mastcam observations were to be done of clouds and the amount of dust in the atmosphere to complement a similar suite of observations made mid-day on Sol 1925.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1926, January 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On the second sol of the plan, Curiosity was scheduled to drive away “to a new patch of bedrock that, at least from orbit, shares characteristics with the bedrock we have spent the past few sols investigating,” Minitti concludes. “By comparing what we find there to our recent measurements, we can continue to put together a story for how the Vera Rubin Ridge came to be.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo acquired on Sol 1923, January 2, 2018. Using an onboard focusing process, the robot created this product by merging two to eight images previously taken by the MAHLI, located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Have trace fossils been found on Mars?

In browsing the first new batch of 2018 Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photos snagged from Sols 1922 and 1923, researcher Barry DiGregorio speculates whether or not the Red Planet prowler has found trace fossils on Mars. DiGregorio is a research fellow for the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology in the United Kingdom and author of the nonfiction books “Mars: The Living Planet” and “The Microbes of Mars.”

“They look remarkably similar to Ordovician trace fossils I have studied and photographed here on Earth,” DiGregorio told Inside Outer Space. “If not trace fossils, what other geological explanations will NASA come up with?”

Ordovician trace fossils here on Earth.
Copyright Barry E. DiGregorio – used with permission

Tiny features

So I posed that question to Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He’s project scientist for the Curiosity Mars rover.

Vasavada reports that the eye-catching features are very small, probably on the order of a millimeter or two in width, with the longest of the features stretching to roughly 5 millimeters. “So they are tiny,” he advised Inside Outer Space.

Serendipitously, they were first spotted in black and white imagery. The features were compelling enough for the science team to roll back Curiosity to further examine them, Vasavada says, making use of the robot’s MAHLI – a focusable color camera mounted on the rover’s arm.

“These were unique enough, given the fact that we didn’t know they were there…we thought we should go back,” Vasavada explains.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Peculiar targets

Christopher Edwards, a planetary geologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Curiosity mission team member also made note of the plan to wheel Curiosity back to study the dark toned “stick-like” features.

“This site was so interesting that we backtracked to get to where the rover was parked for this plan,” Edwards explains in a January 3 mission update. “In the workspace in front of the rover, we have some very peculiar targets that warranted some additional interrogation.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo of novel features, taken on Sol 1921, December 31, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He’s project scientist for the Curiosity Mars rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Geological or biological processes?

As to the origin of these odd features – geological or biological processes – it’s in TBD limbo.

Regarding trace fossils on Mars, “we don’t rule it out,” Vasavada responds, “but we certainly won’t jump to that as our first interpretation.”

Rather, close-up looks at these features show them to be angular in multiple dimensions. That could mean that they are related to crystals in the rock, perhaps “crystal molds” that are also found here on Earth, Vasavada adds. Crystals in rock that are dissolved away leave crystal molds, he said.

Still, that’s just one of a few possibilities, Vasavada explains. “If we see more of them…then we begin to say that this is an important process that’s going on at Vera Rubin Ridge.”

 

Mission impossible

Curiosity scientists have been discussing the newly found and novel features, Vasavada says, attempting to discern just what they signify.

Self-portrait of Curiosity located at the foothill of Mount Sharp back on October 6, 2015.
Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In the end, however, can the Mars robot discern a crystallization process versus a biological process?

“That’s pretty challenging on Earth to distinguish those two things without being able to put these things into a lab to look for the presence of organics,” Vasavada points out. “We have a very limited capability overall to understand whether something is biological or not.”

Meanwhile, along with new MAHLI imagery, Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) are also inspecting the features for clues as to their nature.

Bioturbation?

“The Curiosity images really pique our curiosity,” explains Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist at the Mars Institute and SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Still, given the imagery, “it’s hard to tell what the wiggly sticks are,” he said, “and a strictly mineral origin is, of course, the most plausible.”

But as a field geologist, Lee said that on first view of the feature “the immediate thought that came to my mind is bioturbation.”

Bioturbation is the process through which organisms living in sediments can disturb the very structure of these sediments.

“A common example of bioturbation is the formation of worm burrows. The burrows, once refilled with sediments, fossilized, and then exposed by erosion, can end up looking like wiggly sticks,” Lee tells Inside Outer Space.

Picture of a sedimentary rock from the Ordovician/Silurian period from Devon Island, High Arctic, showing bioturbation.
Credit: HMP/Pascal Lee

Implications

Is any of this relevant to Mars?

“Well, bioturbation at the scale of the features seen in the Curiosity imagery would imply macroscopic multicellular organisms at work, so something that would have evolved far beyond unicellular life,” Lee responds. “To claim that we’re seeing bioturbation on Mars – which I did not say – would be an extraordinary claim.”

Lee adds that he’s reminded of what noted astronomer, Carl Sagan, would say: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

The upshot of the Curiosity observations is need for a lot more evidence to make any such claim, Lee said, including evidence that allows ruling out less extraordinary claims.

“But I have to say, the imagery is really intriguing, and I hope Curiosity spends more time in the area to get to the bottom of this,” Lee concludes. “This is exciting!”

Scoping out the scene. Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 1925, January 5, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Concretions?

Also finding the Mars rover images interesting is astrobiologist, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor at the Technical University Berlin, Germany, and an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and Washington State University. His latest book, co-authored with MIT researcher, William Bains, is The Cosmic Zoo: Complex Life on Many Worlds.

“Cool, looks like bioturbation and would likely be as such identified if the image would be from Earth,” Schulze-Makuch says. “But concretions can look quite similar and in case of Mars, it´s being more likely concretions.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1924, January 4, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now in Sol 1925, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is “off to the races,” explains Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Curiosity’s hard work over the holiday break paid off, giving the science team a rich collection of new data to assess and a new workspace to explore,” Minitti reports. “The science team certainly got the year off to a bang with a very full plan at our new parking spot!”

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B photo taken on Sol 1924, January 4, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Staircase science

Minitti explains that the layered rocks in the workspace extend away from the rover “like a staircase,” and rover observations are aimed at “walking” up the staircase to survey similarities and differences in the layers on its journey.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity started near the bottom of the workspace, acquiring Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) mosaics on layers in the targets “Jura” (a triangular-shaped target immediately in front of the rover) and “Crinan.”

“About halfway up the staircase, we stopped at the target “Assynt” for MAHLI imaging, Minitti adds, with chemistry measurements taken with the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

“A few more steps up brought us to the target ‘Barra,’ which we analyzed with ChemCam. Finally, at the farthest point where the arm could reach, we acquired MAHLI images and ChemCam data from the target “Elgin.”

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Bountiful workplace

The robot also acquired Mastcam multispectral observations, telling scientists something about the iron-bearing minerals in the rock, in a continuous swath from Crinan to Elgin, and tracked the layers from in front of the rover to the right of the robot using a 5×2 Mastcam stereo mosaic.

“While mostly busy looking at the rocks in front of us, we paused to take an afternoon glance skyward to look for clouds and dust devils, and measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere,” Minitti notes.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The bountiful workspace meant that we did not drive, so we will remain here to start our weekend plan,” allowing the science team to follow up on recent observations, Minitti concludes.

Working holiday

In another report, Christopher Edwards, a planetary geologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, detailed Curiosity’s “working holiday” on Sols 1913-1924.

“There’s no real rest for the rover. We planned sols 1921-1924 on December 22 and 29. Earlier, the team had planned a minimal set of activities for the rover to carry out over Sols 1913-1920, letting the science and engineering teams spend a bit of time away from work,” Edwards notes.

“However, this doesn’t mean Curiosity was sitting idle. There were still plenty of things to do on Mars,” Edwards adds, including use of Autonomous Exploration for Gathering of Increased Science (AEGIS) software to pick out targets of interest and measure their chemistry at the robot’s current parking spot.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Peculiar targets

On New Year’s Eve, the rover started carrying out a four-sol activity plan that was scripted Dec. 29.

“This site was so interesting that we backtracked to get to where the rover was parked for this plan. In the workspace in front of the rover, we have some very peculiar targets that warranted some additional interrogation,” Edwards explains.

From orbit, this rover location has a very interesting appearance, with bluer hues being observed in High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera data onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Stick-like features

On the ground, scientists made APXS measurements on two targets, Haroldswick (the dark toned “stick-like” features observed in this Mastcam image from sol 1905) and the Raasay target.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo from Sol 1923, January 2, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

“We are using these observations to help characterize the interesting compositional variability observed at this location even further,” Edwards says. “We also planned several ChemCam activities to aid in understanding this ever-evolving compositional story Curiosity is unraveling.”

In all, Edwards concludes, “while the science and engineering teams took some time off over the holiday season, Curiosity was hard at work on Mars.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo acquired on Sol 1923, January 2, 2018. Using an onboard focusing process, the robot created this product by merging two to eight images previously taken by the MAHLI, located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has moved into 2018 science operations. The robot is busy at work in Sol 1924 on Vera Rubin Ridge, relaying back to Earth new sets of images.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

 

 

 

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B photo taken on Sol 1923, January 2, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech  

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1923, January 3, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

 

 

 

Credit: United Nations

There are a number of challenges related to registration of space objects and transparency of global space activities – and the United Nations’ Register of Space Objects is in need of an overhaul suggests an international team of researchers.

The paper – “Critical issues related to registration of space objects and transparency of space activities” – appears in the journal Acta Astronautica sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics.

Since 1962, the United Nations has maintained a Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Following multi-year discussion among States, the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space entered into force in 1976.

In setting up the UN’s Register of Space Objects, the belief was that a mandatory registration system would assist in the identification of space objects hurled into outer space. “However, the furnished information is often so general that it may not be as helpful in creating transparency” as had been hoped, the paper explains.

Non-compliance

The paper provides data about the registration and non-registration of satellites and the States that have and have not complied with their legal obligations.

Furthermore, the paper focuses on the specific requirements of the Convention, the reasons for non-registration, new challenges posed by the registration of small satellites and the on-orbit transfer of satellites. Finally, the paper provides some recommendations on how to enhance the registration of space objects, on the monitoring of the implementation of the Registration Convention and consequently how to achieve maximum transparency in space activities

Open sources of information

One interesting idea advanced is the prospect of using some civilian meteorological satellites with infrared sensors to detect launches of missiles and satellites.

“It is worth examining the types of sensors on board civil meteorological satellites and see whether they can be used for the early warning and detection of launches of spacecraft and missile applications,” the paper suggests.

North Korean missile launch observed.
Credit: Digital Globe

Codes of conduct

It is proposed that Multi-lateral Technical Means (MTM) of verification should now be recognized as a viable and measure to detect and oversee space-related activities. It has also been proposed that an International Data Center (IDC) is established in support of the MTM.

“With the level of technical capabilities of most space faring nations, an MTM is now possible. Thus, MTM and IDC should be recognized not only in all the existing space-related treaties, conventions and Codes of Conduct but also in any other future measures for enhancing global space governance,” the researchers conclude.

The informative paper is authored by Ram Jakhu of McGill University’s Institute of Air & Space Law in Canada, Bhupendra Jasani from King’s College in London, and Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

It can be accessed here at:

http://planet4589.org/space/papers/JJM2018/JJM_published.pdf

 

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