Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Navy’s Laser Weapon System.
Credit: John F. Williams


A recently released report forecasts the maturing nature of high energy laser weapons, high power microwave weapons and particle beam weaponry.

Apart from the U.S., China, Russia, Germany and India have stepped up efforts to design directed energy weapons, military hardware that can be used in the battlefield. These include high power radio frequency weapons, high energy lasers, and particle beam weapons, with effects ranging from satellite jamming to target damage.

The estimate is that the global directed energy weapons market will be valued at about $1.67 billion in 2017, growing to more than $4 billion in 2025.

Steadily and quietly matured

ASD Reports, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands explains: “Since the 1960s few weapons have held as much promise and have consistently failed to live up to that promise as Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). Over the past few years, however, even as most countries have scaled back their expectations and endowment from the highs of decades past, DEWs have steadily and quietly matured.”

Furthermore, while more moderate in power than the ambitious Airborne and Space-Based Laser programs of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, today’s DEWs have reached a point of operational maturity, ASD Reports points out.

Credit: ASD Reports

Major findings

According to a press statement from ASD Reports, their assessment points to:

  • The most significant benefit is fielding these nascent directed-energy capabilities is that they will start the crucial process of integrating a new technology into operations, with the attendant innovations required in organization, training, concepts of operation and doctrine.
  • New electrically powered, solid-state lasers (SSLs) may be the most promising alternatives for laser weapons that can be mounted on large mobile platforms such as surface naval vessels
  • Previous high-profile DE programs failed to deliver on promises of game changing capabilities. These failures have increased the military’s reluctance to adopt a new generation of DE weapons concepts that are based on significantly more mature technology.
  • DEWs will have to be proven in combat before militaries around the world grasps their full potential.

Full report

The full ASD Reports document examines, analyzes, and predicts the evolution of technologies, markets, and expenditures of Directed Energy Weapons from 2017 until 2025. The report examines each of these markets geographically, focusing on the top 95% of global markets, in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

For more information, go to:

Credit: National Geographic


National Geographic has issued an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip that follows the SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, and his team as they witness and celebrate the first launch of Falcon Heavy.

On February 6, SpaceX made history with the first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket—and National Geographic was there, right alongside SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

The Falcon Heavy booster flew on February 6 and National Geographic was there, right alongside Musk.

This film clip – with more to come — is in preparation for the second season of MARS, which is returning to National Geographic in Fall 2018.

To watch the video, go to:

Technicians huddle near NASA’s InSight Mars lander to give the go for testing of the craft’s solar arrays.
Credit: Barbara David



Littleton, Colorado – NASA’s next Mars lander is in the final “ship and shoot” phases from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base – the first interplanetary mission to rocket from that site.

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is undergoing last checkouts here at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company – builder of the Mars-bound vehicle.

As InSight’s solar arrays unfurl, test engineers carefully inspect their deployment.
Credit: Barbara David

If all stays on track, InSight is to be shipped to the California launch site on February 28.




For a detailed look at final Mars lander preparations, go to my new story:

Meet the Next Mars Lander: Getting Insight on NASA’s InSight

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1960, February 10, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun Sol 1961 operations and is to perform a weekend of activities at the same location it has been stationed at all week.

“While we’re ready and eager to see some new terrain, we had no shortage of interesting science targets to fill our plan,” reports Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Long science block

On the first sol of the weekend plan (Sol 1961), the robot is to carry out a long science block filled with a suite of Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations: Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) measurements on bedrock targets “Glenfinnan” and “Skara Brae,” a long-distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, and a passive measurement of “Bloodstone Hill.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 1960, February 9, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Change detection imagery

Curiosity is also scheduled to take a Mastcam image to document the LIBS targets and an additional Mastcam image for change detection.

“When we’re at a single location for an extended period of time, we like to take repeat Mastcam images of the same target area across multiple sols. This allows us to compare the images and look for any changes or movement in the field of view,” Kronyak explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) product from Sol 1960, February 10, 2018. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Also on tap, Curiosity will take a Navcam movie to look for dust devils.

Nighttime photos

In the evening, the rover will take Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) nighttime images of Glenfinnan and Skara Brae to take a closer look at some of the small-scale features within the rocks, with the additional benefit of some dust having been cleared by LIBS observations during the day.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) product from Sol 1960, February 10, 2018. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS





Kronyak notes that on the second sol, Sol 1962, the wheeled rover will drive to the next location at Vera Rubin Ridge, take some post-drive images, “and set ourselves up for an exciting week of contact and remote science!”


NASA Curiosity rover on the Red Planet prowl since August 2012 and assessing the habitability of Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Finding evidence for life on Mars has been a decades-long ambition of NASA. Billions of dollars has been spent with the Red Planet being wheeled over, poked, and probed as a result.

What are the limits of robot-performed “Curiosity science investigations” (CSI) on the Red Planet?

No doubt, Mars is holding its secrets tight – but in the event that the ongoing life detection work proves positive, what protocols are in place to confirm such a verdict?

Check out my new article that spotlights these and other issues.

Go to:

Life Detection on Mars: Are Red Planet Protocols in Place?


Credit: SpaceX


It is official. That SpaceX Falcon Heavy payload has been assigned an interplanetary ID: Tesla Roadster (AKA: Starman, 2018-017A). The trajectory name is tesla_s3.

The computations were done by the Solar System Dynamics Group, Horizons On-Line Ephemeris System located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The Horizons on-line tool can be used to generate ephemerides for solar-system bodies.

Dummy payload

In part, the Horizons site explains:

“Dummy payload from the first launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Consists of a standard Tesla Roadster automobile and a spacesuit-wearing mannequin nicknamed “Starman”. Also includes a Hot Wheels toy model Roadster on the car’s dash with a mini-Starman inside. A data storage device placed inside the car contains a copy of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” novels. A plaque on the attachment fitting between the Falcon Heavy upper stage and the Tesla is etched with the names of more than 6,000 SpaceX employees.”

Credit: SpaceX

“After orbiting the Earth for 6 hours, a third-stage burn-to-depletion was completed at approximately 02:30 UTC Feb 7, placing the dummy payload in a heliocentric orbit having a perihelion of 0.99 au and aphelion ~1.7 au.” The payload mass is roughly 2,756 pounds (1,250 kilograms), the site explains.

Boys and their toys

“I appreciate that the Tesla Roadster is a grand gesture which has certainly fulfilled the aim of raising awareness of space,” said Alice Gorman at the College of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University in Australia and an expert on space debris.

“The images of the car — and its spooky faceless driver — with the Earth as a backdrop are compelling. It’s a view we’ve never seen before – heading away from Earth on the ultimate road trip,” Gorman told Inside Outer Space.

Credit: SpaceX

Gorman said she is, however, uneasy with the symbolism.

“It feeds into a cult of personality which is at odds with the ‘space for all humanity’ narrative that we in the space world frequently use to justify space exploration,” Gorman said. “And let’s face it, there’s no getting away from the fact that a red sports car is all about boys and their toys. The car is a signifier of wealth and masculinity. We’ve been trying so hard to leave behind the era where the archetypal astronaut was an elite white male, and we’ve just stepped right back into it.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1957, February 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is just starting Sol 1959 operations.

Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist; for Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland, says expect “old site, new tricks.”

Turns out that recovering from a recent fault with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite “proved more challenging than expected, so our planned drive to the patch of pale tan bedrock in the image above did not take place,” Minitti explains.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1957, February 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New, less-common observations

Mars researchers took advantage of the fact that the robot has been parked at the same site for several sols to acquire both new and less-common types of observations.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1957, February 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) peppered Mt. Sharp with long distance mosaics, imaging a dramatically-layered unit pasted on the flank of Mt. Sharp above the rover, and various steep slopes to look for evidence of grain motion downhill.


Dawn’s early light

In a departure from the normal mid- or late-day imaging blocks available to the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Minitti says the science team planned an early morning arm backbone to get dawn’s early light on the target “Arnaboll.”

Before the MAHLI images of Arnaboll were to be taken, ChemCam will shoot it with a raster to clear off dust and measure chemistry. Also, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is slated to perform a long overnight integration to add to the chemistry data collected from the site.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1957, February 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Unusual depression

The robot’s Mastcam is set to acquire a mosaic of “Soay,” a small, unusual depression about 26 feet (8 meters) ahead of the rover, and a multispectral observation of two targets previously shot by ChemCam, “Cocksburnpath” and “Harra Ebb.”

“Both these targets have a purplish red color, and the goal is for the Mastcam spectral data to illuminate how (or if!) iron-bearing minerals contribute to those colors,” Minitti adds.

Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1957, February 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Atmospheric dust

“We were able to fit in multiple sets of environmental observations across both sols, with early morning and afternoon observations of dust in the atmosphere, and movies looking for clouds and dust devils,” Minitti reports.

Lastly, the rover’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment will passively probe the subsurface around Curiosity for over seven hours.

Image shows a virtual reality impression of a Moon rover test. Credit: Canadian Space Agency


Prototype Moon rover work is being spearheaded by the European Space Agency.

The work is being carried out under the ESA-led Human-Enhanced Robotic Architecture and Capabilities for Lunar Exploration and Science, or Heracles for short.

Heracles is underway as a cooperative effort with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Human-robot partnerships

This collaborative effort aims for the next steps in lunar exploration, studying the potential of human–robot partnerships for exploring the Solar System, beginning with the still-unexplored far side of the Moon.

A prototype rover is commanded to drive in and sample a quarry resembling a lunar site. Astronauts tele-operating such a rover from lunar orbit will help to select better, more pristine samples of the Moon for return to Earth.

Rover testing has been done at St. Alphons de Granby quarry in Quebec, Canada. The Earth site was slightly modified and chosen for its Moon-like landscape. To recreate the difficulty of long-distance communications, the rover has been operated by teams based in Saint-Hubert (Quebec) and Germany.

ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany and CSA took turns operating the vehicle.

Video view

Go to this impressive 360° video of a simulated lunar rover mission from the Canadian Space Agency

Credit: Derek Breit

Space watcher and astrophotographer, Derek Breit of Morgan Hill, California, snagged impressive video of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy engine burn, hurling a Tesla Roadster outward into deep space.

Breit has added the video to his notable gallery page, which contains pre-burn video too.

This is posted to:

Scroll down to bottom of resources available and view:

Falcon Heavy/Tesla from 02/07/18 UT 132MB

FULL Falcon Heavy/Tesla from 02/07/18 UT 256MB

Artist’s view of Tiangong space lab
Credit: CMSE

A new reentry time window forecast for the fall of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab has been provided by the Space Debris Office at the European Space Agency’s ESOC mission control centre, Darmstadt, Germany.

The current estimated window is now roughly March 25 to approximately April 17, with the caveat “this is highly variable.”

Credit: ESA

Reentry will take place anywhere between 43 degrees North and 43 degrees South (e.g. Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, etc.), according to the European Space Agency (ESA) Space Debris Office.

“Areas outside of these latitudes can be excluded. At no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible,” the update explains.

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

Credit: ESA

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.

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

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.


Griffith Observatory Event