Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

NASA’s Artemis program.
Credit: NASA


The White House National Space Council has released a report on Deep Space Exploration and Development in consultation with the Council’s members and its Users’ Advisory Group. It describes the rationale and purpose for the Administration’s new direction in space.


Whole of government approach

“‘A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development’ represents a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to this Administration’s ambitious space exploration efforts, providing a vision for a sustained human presence on, and the robust commercial development of, the Moon and Mars,” said Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace.

Credit: NASA

“This report describes how and why the United States will proceed with deep space exploration,” Pace adds in a press statement, “delineating the strategic interests and specific programs that underpin America’s position as the world’s leader among spacefaring nation.”

Report highlights

The newly issued report delves into the commercialization of low-Earth orbit; returning to the Moon to stay; extending a human presence to Mars; the potential for deep space science; and education and the U.S. workforce.

The success of American space exploration and development in this new era, the report stresses, will require a whole-of-government approach.

Five primary government roles are crucial to executing the vision described in the report:

— Promote a secure and predictable space environment for the long-term sustainability of space activities;

— Support the development of commercial activity and industry in space;

— Support research and development of new space technologies;

— With commercial and international partners, create infrastructure needed for space exploration and development; and

— Support advanced space research by public and private sector U.S. research communities.

Credit: Blue Origin/Blue Moon

Commercial firms

The report explains that, “as soon as possible, and in accordance with the
Executive Order on “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources”, commercial firms should take over routine operations to provide consumables like water, hydrogen, oxygen, and utilities such as power and communications. The transition to private sector responsibilities will represent an important step beyond space exploration to development and industrialization.”

Credit: JAXA

International partners

“As the United States journeys into deep space again,” the report explains, “it will do so with commercial and international partners as they are willing to participate and capable of participating.”

“At the frontiers of exploration, the United States will continue to lead, as it has always done, in space. If humanity does have a future in space, it should be one in which space is the home of free people,” the report concludes.

For the full report, go to:

A Long March-5 Y4 rocket departs from the Wenchang spacecraft launch site on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Mars mission Tianwen-1 is now en route for a targeted landing in May 2021, reportedly within the southern part of the Utopia Planitia – a relatively flat area selected for a safe touchdown spot and for scientific payoff.

The Mars mission is an all-in-one attempt to orbit the Red Planet, dispatch a lander that will then release a six-wheel solar-powered rover.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Seven-month sojourn

A Long March-5 Y4 rocket, China’s largest launch vehicle, lofted the spacecraft with a mass of about 5 tons on July 23 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan at 12:41 p.m. (Beijing Time).

Outbound for Mars. Image of the release of China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

About 36 minutes later, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft was sent into the Earth-Mars transfer orbit, embarking on a nearly seven-month sojourn to the Red Planet, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The craft is expected to enter the orbit of Mars around February 2021. Afterwards, it will spend two to three months surveying select landing sites using a high-resolution camera to prepare for the landing in May.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Orbiter, rover

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that, after the landing, the rover will be released to conduct scientific exploration with an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth), and the orbiter, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific tasks.

Chinese space engineers and scientists have chosen a relatively flat region in the southern part of the Utopia Planitia, a large plain, as the potential landing zone. Earlier research suggests that this region may be an underground, water ice-rich zone. This possible site might be at the edge of an ancient ocean or lake in the early history of Mars.

“The reason we selected this place is that it has both the conditions for a safe landing and scientific research value. The place has not been investigated by other countries, so the scientific data can be shared with other countries to enrich the world’s understanding of Mars,” Geng Yan, an official at the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the CNSA, reports Xinhua.

In a post-launch press conference, Liu Tongjie, spotlighted the southern part of the Utopia Planitia as the Tianwen-1 landing zone.


Zhang Xueyu, commander of launching site headquarters of the Mars probe mission, declared the success of the launch mission. “As the information from the Aerospace Flight Control Center indicates, the Long March-5 Y4 rocket is flying normally. The Mars probe has accurately entered the orbit. Now I declare a complete success of the launch mission of China’s first Mars probe,” he said.

China’s CCTV noted the remarks of He Rongwei, chief commander of the Mars probe mission from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“The rocket performs very well and targets accurately, which has sent the Mars probe into the Earth-Mars transfer orbit precisely,” He said. “It should be said that our first Mars probe has a perfect start.”

Yuanwang-6 tracking ship.
Credit: PLAN


Tracking ships

Meanwhile, three space tracking ships of China’s Yuanwang fleet completed maritime monitoring of the country’s first Mars probe launch in the Pacific Ocean Thursday.

Xinhua reports that about six minutes after the liftoff, the Yuanwang-6 tracking ship detected and locked onto its targets, and carried out measuring of the rocket, and control and monitoring of the Mars spacecraft. The other two tracking ships, Yuanwang-5 and Yuanwang-7, then took turns to complete their missions.

The monitoring process lasted nearly 30 minutes.

As scheduled, Xinhua reports, the Yuanwang-5 and Yuanwang-7 tracking ships will return to China, while Yuanwang-6 will sail to its next mission area for satellite monitoring.

Go to these China Central Television (CCTV) videos that detail the launch and mission of Tianwen-1:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s first Mars exploration mission, known as “Tianwen-1” appears to have a targeted Thursday liftoff expected between just after midnight and 3 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, assuming the weather cooperates.

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head

Meanwhile, more details on China’s Mars rover have been reported.

The rover will work for over 90 days on Mars. The robot is equipped with a 2 foot (60 centimeters)-high mast that supports two panorama cameras on its top to avoid obstacles when moving forward, as well as a multispectral camera to identify minerals.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Tilting solar panels

China’s Mars rover also has four “wings” – solar panels to provide power. The rover can adjust the angles of its solar panels to receive more solar power, according to Liu Tongjie, deputy director of the Moon Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Liu Tongjie, deputy director of the Moon Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“As Mars receives less solar energy than the Earth and the Moon, the area [of its solar panels] is larger. It can angle its solar panels according to the direction of the sunlight. The more vertical the angle is, the more solar energy it will receive,” Liu told China Central Television (CCTV).

Other instruments onboard include a detection radar, magnetometer and meteorological instruments.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab



Subsurface studies

The Red Planet rover can detect the ingredients of soil 33 feet (10 meters) underneath the surface of Mars and of ice 328 feet (100 meters) below the surface.

The rover can move at a speed of 200 meters per hour on Mars’ surface.

Liu said the thin atmosphere of the Mars poses challenges to the rover and the landing platform during their landing process.

Credit: Wan, W.X., Wang, C., Li, C.L. et al.

Landing process

“The density of the Mars atmosphere is relatively low. It is equivalent to one percent of the Earth’s standard atmosphere. So we have to equip the landing platform with parachutes, which is more complex and difficult,” said Liu.

The landing process takes only seven to eight minutes. During this period, the landing platform can only rely on itself, Liu explained.

Why do humans want to explore Mars?

Go to this informative video at:

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2830 tasks.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Reports Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona: “Our weekend observations of the target Breamish showed some interesting chemistry results (which always make our scientists exclaim “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”)”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The plan on Sol 2829 was set to start off with some follow up observations: The robot’s Mastcam will take a multispectral image of Breamish, and its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will analyze it a second time.

“Mastcam will document the repeat observation of Breamish as well as the autonomously selected ChemCam targets from the weekend,” Anderson adds. Mastcam will also take a mosaic of an interesting cross-bedded block named “Mercat Cross.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Expected drill location

In the afternoon of Sol 2829, the plan called for a short drive or “bump” to an expected drill location called “Mozie Law.”

From that new location, the plan called for collecting the usual post drive images, including a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image of the ground beneath the rover and a Mastcam “clast survey” image of the ground nearby.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Calibration target

On Sol 2830, the plan tags Curiosity’s ChemCam to analyze two computer-selected rock targets and Navcam will take a look at the rover deck.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Mastcam will look at the Sun to measure the dust in the atmosphere, and the plan will wrap up with a late afternoon ChemCam measurement of the titanium calibration target on the rover to monitor temperature-related changes in the signal,” Anderson reports.

As always, 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.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI)photo taken on Sol 2829, July 21, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“Breamish” is the rock just above Curiosity’s name plate in this Left Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2824.

Long March fairing features logos of other space agencies involved in the Mars mission.
Credit: CNSA


Following the completion of multiple integrated rehearsals, China is ready for the launch of its first orbiter, lander, rover Mars exploration mission. Tianwen-1 is scheduled for liftoff in late July or early August, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Speculation is that the liftoff may occur July 23, the opening of the launch window.

Credit: CCTV

Last Friday, the fourth Long March-5 rocket — coded as Long March-5 Y4 — was vertically transported to the launching area at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province.

China’s bid to explore Mars is also one that involves several other nations for tracking, orbital relay of data, and science instrument support.

For details on other space agencies involved in China’s reach for the Red Planet, go to my new story:

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars rover mission gets a boost from international partners

Robotic arm investigation of “Breamish.” Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2826, July 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


“Curiosity has arrived near her next drill location and will spend the weekend analyzing a series of interesting targets in our workspace,” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2826, July 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The rover will also acquire a series of high-resolution color images, both to identify a suitable drill location in the near-field and to continue its characterization of other geologic units nearby and along the rover’s drive route. These imaging efforts will mostly take place on the first day of the three-day weekend plan,” Salvatore adds.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2825, July 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rock target

Overnight on the first night, the plan calls for Curiosity to make a series of Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) chemistry measurements on the target named “Breamish,” a platy rock target with some interesting color variations.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2825, July 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The second day will be dominated by Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite activities. As these activities are power-intensive, Curiosity will mostly be sleeping during its down time to recharge its batteries, Salvatore points out.

Chemical trends with depth

The third day’s science block will include a series of Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) laser ablation measurements of different rock targets, including the Breamish target, a slanted platy rock named “Harthope,” and an effort to acquire evidence for chemical trends with depth on the target named “Back Bay.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2825, July 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next morning, Curiosity will acquire some early morning environmental images to look for clouds and to measure the atmospheric dust content.

“That will conclude Curiosity’s science efforts for the weekend,” Salvatore concludes, “and will prepare us well for next week’s planned drilling activities!”

Shooting Star transport vehicle.
Credit: SNC


The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been awarded a contract by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to repurpose the company’s Shooting Star transport vehicle as an Unmanned Orbital Outpost – essentially a scalable, autonomous space station for experiments and logistics demonstrations.

DIU is a Department of Defense organization that contracts with commercial companies to solve national security problems.

“The current Shooting Star is already designed with significant capabilities for an orbital outpost and by adding only a few components we are able to meet Department of Defense (DoD) needs.” said former NASA space shuttle commander and retired USAF pilot Steve Lindsey, now senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area.

Shooting Star attached to Dream Chaser.
Credit: SNC

Core structure

SNC’s Shooting Star transport vehicle serves as the core structure for the proposed design.

Shooting Star is a 16-foot attachment to Dream Chaser developed for NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) missions to provide extra storage for payloads and to facilitate cargo disposal upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. However, the transport vehicle’s unique design also offers free-flyer and satellite capabilities for large payloads with high-power capacity. It can also support logistics services to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and cislunar destinations.

Shooting Star.
Credit: SNC




Future outposts

According to a SNC statement, the proposed orbital outpost will be initially established in low Earth orbit with guidance, navigation and control for sustained free-flight operations to host payloads and support space assembly, microgravity, experimentation, logistics, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation.

Future outposts may be based in a variety of orbits including, medium-Earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit, geosynchronous Earth orbits (GEO) to include GEO transfer orbits, and cislunar orbits.

For more information, go to this Breaking Defense story by Theresa Hitchens: “Sierra Nevada Wins DIU Contract For Experimental Space Station”

Update: In a SpaceNews story from Jeff Foust, he notes that three companies are studying “Orbital Outpost” space station concepts for the Defense Department.

Along with SNC, study monies were also awarded to Nanoracks and Arkisys.

Go to the SpaceNews complete story at:

Credit: CCTV


The fourth Long March-5 rocket, to be used to launch China’s first Mars exploration mission — the Tianwen-1 — was vertically transported to the launching area at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province on Friday.

A Long March-5 Y4 rocket was vertically transported to the launch area at Wenchang Space Launch Center in S China’s Hainan on Friday. Note the European (ESA), the French (CNES), Argentine (CONAE) and Austrian (FFG) space agency logos in addition to that of the China National Space Agency (CNSA).

Long March-5 Y4, is planned to be launched in late July or early August, according to the China National Space Administration. Speculation has it that liftoff is slated for July 23, the opening of the launch window.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports it took about two hours to vertically transport the large rocket to the launching area of the center Friday morning. Final examinations and tests will be conducted on the rocket before the launch.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

This is the first time the Long March-5 carrier rocket, currently China’s largest launch vehicle, will be put into “practical use” after three experimental launches, the Xinhua story adds. The rocket is expected to send the Tianwen-1 Mars probe into an Earth-Mars transfer orbit, which is also the first such mission to be carried out by China’s carrier rocket.

The Mars mission is indeed ambitious, aiming to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission, and to obtain scientific exploration data on the Red Planet.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab


According to Li Benqi, command member for the Long March-5 Y4 rocket launching mission, in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV): “Testing for all the technical items on the rocket, the Mars rover and the launching area has been completed so far,” Li explained. “While the rocket is at the launching area, our preparations are focused on filling fuel into the rocket and ensuring a good final state of the rocket and the rover. Then we’ll enter the launching procedures.”

Ge Xiaochun, chief engineer, China National Space Administration told CCTV: “The Mars probe is the first step of China’s planetary exploration project. The coming launching mission has been highly recognized and supported by the international community.”

Ge said that “the vertical transport of the rocket to the launching area has shown that we have made good preparations for the launching mission. We will stick to the strict and careful working attitude in the coming days.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Long Lehao, carrier rocket expert, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told CCTV: “The rocket will simultaneously carry the Mars orbiter, lander and rover into space. Such a comprehensive launching mission for Mars exploration will also be the first in the world, so we’re looking forward to it.”

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Candidate landing site: Utopia Planitia

In a just published Nature Astronomy paper — “China’s first mission to Mars” – details about the mission are outlined, among them:

The Tianwen-1 probe has a mass (including fuel) of about 5 tons.

China’s Mars orbiter.
Courtesy: James Head

The orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover, while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year. The orbit during the scientific observation stage is a polar elliptical orbit 165 miles x 746 miles (265 km × 12,000 kilometers).

The Tianwen-1 probe is expected to reach Mars around February 2021 and the scientific observation phase will start in April 2021.

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head

The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia. It is the Martian region where the NASA Viking 2 lander touched down on September 3, 1976.

Scientific instruments

The roughly 530 pound (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover is nearly twice the mass of China’s Yutu lunar rovers, and is expected to be in operation for about 90 Martian days.

There are 13 scientific payloads in the Tianwen-1 mission in total.

The seven instruments on board the orbiter comprise two cameras, the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Mineralogy Spectrometer, Mars Magnetometer, Mars Ion and Neutral Particle Analyzer, and Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer.

The six instruments installed on the rover comprise the Multispectral Camera, Terrain Camera, Mars-Rover Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Surface Composition Detector, Mars Magnetic Field Detector, and Mars Meteorology Monitor.

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Comprehensive mission

According to the paper’s authors, “Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough. Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution.”

To read the full Nature Astronomy paper — China’s first mission to Mars – go to:

Also, go to this CGTN video of the rocket roll out at:

Credit: NASA


NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released today a report: NASA’s Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program.

Among the findings, the OIG found that Orion has continued to experience cost increases and schedule delays.  Since the cost and schedule baseline was set in 2015, the program has experienced over $900 million in cost growth through 2019, a figure expected to rise to at least $1.4 billion through 2023.

Ambitious goal

Since 2006, NASA has been developing the Orion Multi‐Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion) to transport astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.  With the announcement of the Artemis Program in May 2019, NASA set the ambitious goal of using Orion to return humans to the Moon by 2024.  As of July 2020 Orion has flown three test flights but none with astronauts on board.

The OIG also found that NASA’s exclusion of more than $17 billion in Orion‐related costs has hindered the overall transparency of the vehicle’s complete costs.  Both federal law and NASA policy call for a Life Cycle Cost estimate for all major science and space programs costing more than $250 million, and for the Agency Baseline Commitment (ABC) to be based on all formulation and development costs. 

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


Tailored approach

The Orion Program received approval from the NASA Associate Administrator, the OIG reports notes, to deviate from those requirements, resulting in exclusion of $17.5 billion in Orion‐related costs from fiscal year (FY) 2006 to FY 2030 due to the Agency’s tailored approach to program management and cost reporting. 

Although these exclusions have been approved, the tailoring of these cost reporting requirements significantly limits visibility into the total amount spent on development and production efforts.

To read the full report — NASA’s Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program – go to:

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2824 tasks.

“Curiosity continues its cross-country trek today, looking for our next drill site,” reports Sean Czarnecki, a planetary geologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A recently drawn up plan includes a long drive that should put the rover within view of potential drill targets.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Clay-rich rocks

“It is hoped that the region we are driving to will be a good opportunity to sample the clay-rich rocks of Glen Torridon one last time,” Czarnecki adds. “Of course we are still filling in some science observations around the long drive.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Before driving, the plan calls for Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of targets “Tollcross” and “Sasainn” as well as a Mastcam image mosaic of target “Thirl Moor.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2823, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Clouds and dust devils

“After the long drive, we will have untargeted ChemCam observations of two additional targets,” Czarnecki notes, a Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) active measurement, and the robot’s Navcam will look for clouds and dust devils.

DAN, Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) will work overtime making environmental observations before, during, and after the drive, Czarnecki concludes.




















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










































New road map

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2822 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (July 15, 2020).

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 2820 to Sol 2822, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 7.26 feet (2.21 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 14.27 miles (22.96 kilometers).

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