Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Popping a wheelie

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

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

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

 

Bedrock, wind tails

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


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

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

 

 

Downhill drive

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

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

Credit: Ray Arvidson and the Athena Science Team

 

 

Lily pad to lily pad

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

 

 

 

Multiple hypotheses

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

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

Credit: Ray Arvidson and the Athena Science Team

Unique settings

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

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

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

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1863, November 2, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 1864 duties.

The research plan calls for the robot to return to wheeling about at Vera Rubin Ridge.

“Curiosity will finally be back on the move. The rover made an unexpected stop of nearly two weeks in the current location due to several things ranging from failed uplinks to insufficient arm heating and a camera glitch,” reports geochemist, Roger Wiens, the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 1863, November 2, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“It reminds us that everything must work just right to successfully operate a robot on Mars,” Wiens adds. In addition to thorough remote and contact analyses of this stop, Curiosity had several other notable accomplishments, including placing the drill down on the ground for a test, and dropping off a sample of “Ogunquit Beach” dune soil to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite for evolved gas analysis, he explains.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1863, November 2, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Hop and stop

The rover team is planning two sols of operation. Curiosity had a drive of roughly 82 feet (25 meters) planned for Thursday, hoping to stop between two sandy areas.

Before the drive, Curiosity is doing ChemCam observations on “Gravelotte,” “Sibasa,” and “Brooklands.”

Additionally, the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is to observe “Sibasa” and make an overnight integration on “Gamka,” both after use of a Dust Removal Tool (DRT) brushing.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image acquired on Sol 1863, November 2, 2017. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is slated to make observations of the two targets as well as of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) ultraviolet sensor.

The robot’s Mastcam was slated to follow up on all of the Mars surface targets.

Ultraviolet Sensor (UVS) as imaged on Sol 1863, November 2, 2017 by Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Passive observations

On the second night, Curiosity’s ChemCam was scheduled to take two passive observations to test its detector noise levels at two different temperatures. Observations also include Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), as well as Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive integrations.

Curiosity is to perform post-drive imaging to set up for weekend operations, Wiens concludes.

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine

On November 1, there was a “contentious” nomination hearing for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be NASA Administrator, split along partisan lines.

Bridenstine answered questions for most of the two-and-a-half hour hearing.

Democratic Senators questioned his credentials and viewpoints about climate change, sexual harassment and other issues that could affect how he runs the agency and its personnel. Republicans defended him and chafed at the tenor of the hearing. The committee will vote on the nomination on November 8.

That’s part of the appraisal by Marcia Smith, editor of SpacePolicyOnline.com.

Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
Credit: Hearing screen capture/Inside Outer Space

Technical qualifications

In Smith’s posting, she explains:

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), has made no secret of his disapproval from the beginning. The Senator laid out his case that Bridenstine is not the person for the job, questions Bridenstine’s technical qualifications to run the agency and be the final arbiter on safety decisions regarding the three new human spacecraft that will debut in the next two years. Nelson also thinks that it is inappropriate for a politician to run an agency that should be apolitical.

Change of climate

Two of the more substantive issues were Bridenstine’s views on climate change considering that NASA spends almost $2 billion a year on earth science research and whether he has the technical qualifications to lead the agency at a time when three new vehicles — the commercial crew systems Crew Dragon and Starliner plus NASA’s own Orion — will be making their maiden flights.

DSCOVR spacecraft view of the entire sunlit side of Earth.
Credit: NASA

 

“In the past, Bridenstine had indicated that he did not accept the scientific consensus that the climate is changing because of human activity,” Smith notes. At the nomination hearing, he said that he accepts that humans are a cause of climate change, but would not go as far as to say that it is the primary cause. He went on to say that NASA is the only agency in the world that can do the kind of science needed to answer questions like that, Smith reports.

 

 

 

 

Bridenstine views

On other issues, Smith posts a number of Bridenstine opening statements or in answer to questions, such as:

— NASA needs a consensus-driven agenda based on the national interest;

— If confirmed, he will build on the work accomplished by NASA under the previous administration, and follow the NASA Transition Authorization Act, appropriations bills, and the Decadal Surveys produced by the National Academies;

— He agrees with the Trump Administration’s goal of sending humans to Mars with the Moon as a proving ground;

Credit: ESA/NASA

— He will work to promote a NASA culture where safety, transparency, and independent oversight are celebrated;

— He wants to drive the commercial space economy further out beyond Earth;

— He will lead a space technology program to develop solar electric propulsion, in-space robotic assembly, and closed-loop environmental control and life support systems to form the foundation of a future expansion of economic activity in low Earth orbit and beyond;

— Bridenstine wants to leverage everything the United States and its international partners have to offer so NASA can carry out not only exploration missions back to the Moon and on to Mars, but Earth Science, Planetary Science, Heliophysics, Astrophysics and Aeronautics Research;

— He supports the Orion program 100%; and

— His “highest ambition is for NASA to remain apolitical.”

The committee announced that it would mark up Bridenstine’s nomination next week, on November 8, at 9:45 am ET.

To read Marcia Smith’s full posting on the nomination hearing, go to:

Contentious Bridenstine Nomination Hearing Splits Along Party Lines – UPDATE

For more detail on the hearing’s give and take, check out SpacePolicyOnline live tweets (@SpcPlcyOnline).

CASSIOPeiA power-beaming satellite.
Credit: Ian Cash/Chris Moore

 

A new Solar Power Satellite (SPS) concept has been advocated and dubbed CASSIOPeiA, short for Constant Aperture, Solid-State, Integrated, Orbital Phased Array).

This SPS design has no rotating (or otherwise moving) parts, yet maintains a constant solar collecting area directly facing the Sun while its retrodirective microwave beam is steered to an Earth-based rectifying antenna.

CASSIOPeiA power-beaming satellite.
Credit: Ian Cash/Chris Moore

 

Establishing a market

Ian Cash of SICA Design Ltd, presented the new SPS concept during a Space Solar Power Workshop held last month in Montreal, Canada.

Cash reported that the simplicities and mass-savings inherent in a solid state SPS design “will enable a single payload, self-deploying SPS to pay back the energy costs over the first few months of operation, retiring the technical and financial risks before progress is made towards multi-terrawatt levels of power delivery from geosynchronous orbit.”

CASSIOPeiA offers a means to initiate beamed solar power from near-space “in the next few years, establishing a market for the reusable launch vehicles to follow,” Cash suggested.

The concept was aired at the 5th Annual IEEE International Conference on Wireless for Space and Extreme Environments (WISEE 2017), held on October 10 to 12, 2017 at Concordia University, Montréal, QC, Canada.

 

For a copy of his paper, go to:

http://www.mtu.edu/ece/department/faculty/full-time/zekavat/pdfs/ssp-2017/ssp2017-cassiopeia-sica-design-presentation.pdf

A video of Cash explaining the CASSIOPeiA is available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvueIEvsPZo

 

Next year promises to be a milestone-making period of time in space exploration.

In 2018, just under a 100 missions are expected to take off, leaving in their wake a number of questions, such as, with private companies getting increasingly involved in the space race, who will be rocketing to success? Will NASA lead the way or be overtaken by the likes of SpaceX?

An interesting and thoughtful infographic has been prepared by the UK’s RS Components.

Busy year

Among next year’s space activities, take note:

  • NASA’s InSight seismology probe is expected to land on Mars.
  • China is to continue its robotic exploration of the Moon.
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) will be lofting their first mission to Mercury, with BepiColombo, set to reach its destination in 2025.
  • Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will arrive at its target – asteroid Ryugu, then return a sample to Earth in December 2020.

    James Webb Space Telescope.
    Credit: RS Components.

  • India is slated to launch the Chandrayaan-2 to the Moon, an orbiter, lander and a rover.
  • NASA’s long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope is set to head for the heavens.

 

 

 

 

To view this new graphic by RS Components, go to:

http://uk.rs-online.com/web/generalDisplay.html?id=2018-space-race

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1861, October 31, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

“We are starting to suspect that Vera Rubin Ridge might be cursed,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“After the challenges we faced last week, we were hoping for a successful weekend plan but alas, it was not to be. Over the weekend Curiosity’s arm didn’t heat up as much as it was supposed to, so the arm activity failed and most of the weekend plan was lost,” Anderson adds.

Keep trying

The game plan now is to try, try again.

NASA’s Curiosity rover is now in Sol 1861.

The Sol 1861-1862 plan is to see another attempt at dropping off the “Ogunquit Beach” sample in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suit, followed by SAM Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) of the sample. SAM will heat the sample and measure what gases are produced.

Remote sensing recovery

On sol 1862, the plan calls for a science block where scientists will try to recover some of the remote sensing that was planned for the past weekend. This will begin with a Mastcam mosaic that builds upon some previous Mastcam images of “Region 7”, followed by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam observations of the bedrock targets “Schmidtsdrif” and “Estecourt” as well as the soil target “Lisbon.”

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 1861, October 31, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Anderson notes that the science block will end the way it began, with another Mastcam mosaic building upon a different previous mosaic of an area currently called “Region 6.”

Drive ahead

Navcam is slated to also watch for clouds overhead and Mastcam will do a routine observation of the rocks and soil near the rover to check for any changes.

“Hopefully we have seen the worst of Vera Rubin Ridge’s ‘curse,’” Anderson concludes, “and we’ll be able to finish this SAM analysis and start driving again shortly!”

Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

A new attitude poll of more than 600 Americans regarding business in space has been conducted by the Brodeur Partners’ Space Group.

Is space still relevant? Survey says yes, but only if it’s personal.

According to the group, the new survey found that Americans:

  • See national security as the top space activity;
  • Support private sector activity in space, however, they want some degree of government regulation, especially privacy protection;
  • Expect space development to directly benefit Earth;
  • Believe that the U.S. is a leader, if not the leader, in space technology.

Credit: Brodeur Partners’ Space Group.

Private Sector Role

While historically space has been a government activity, Americans today actually prefer private over government investment in space-based activities. According to the survey, a majority of Americans actually support government financial incentives for those private space companies.

Earthly Benefits

At the same time, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that government investments should be in those space programs that have an immediate benefit to life on Earth.

The survey also found that space tourism needs to make the case that it will benefit the majority of the population: three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans agree that space travel will only benefit a few wealthy people. Support is also tepid for government investment in deep space exploration: less than a majority (46 percent) of Americans support spending government money to send a mission to Mars.

Virgin Spaceship Unity (VSS Unity) touches down after flying freely for the first time after being released from Virgin Mothership Eve (VMS Eve) on December 3, 2016 in the Mojave Desert.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

Privacy Paramount

Everyone expects the skies to soon be filled with small satellites capturing increasingly detailed data about activities on Earth. Americans are wary of the privacy implications: strong majorities believe there should be privacy limitations on satellite companies capturing this data (72 percent), and government should have a regulatory role regarding private companies engaged in space enterprises (61 percent).

National Security

Space-based systems operators promise to improve life on Earth in a variety of ways, including communications, climate, navigation and crop monitoring. None is more important to our respondents than defense, the clear priority among seven services mentioned. At the same time, the survey suggests that people may not realize the important role that space commerce plays in everyday activity like GPS and navigation systems.

Global Leadership

A solid majority of Americans believe the U.S. is a leader in space technology, with over one third of Americans saying we are “the clear global leader.” Fewer consider us the clear leader in medical technology, energy, automotive and environmental technology.

Credit: US Air Force

Beyond planet opportunities

The Boston-based Brodeur Space Group was launched in September 2017 to help clients seize opportunities beyond this planet. Emerging companies are developing satellites, organizing tours of space, planning to mine asteroids, and imagining cities on Mars.

For more information on the survey and the Brodeur Space Group, go to:

http://www.brodeur.com

Credit: Axiom Space

Axiom Space of Houston, Texas is promoting its skills in building the world’s first privately-owned International Commercial Space Station.

The goal of Axiom’s international commercial space station is to stimulate growth of the low Earth orbit (LEO) user community. To do so, the group sees itself as providing additional and expanded services at the International Space Station (ISS) and allowing a seamless transition to the Axiom station when ISS is retired.

The Axiom Space strategy is to allow NASA to realize their mandate to transition the multibillion-dollar LEO market to the private sector.

Credit: Axiom Space

Space market

Axiom is underscoring several points:

  • The space market exceeds $330 billion today and some estimates show that number growing to over $2.7 trillion by 2030. Human spaceflight is one of the sectors within the space market positioned for greatest growth.
  • There are two main forces pushing the growth of human spaceflight. The first is the many countries who want to join the family of space-faring nations. The second is the burgeoning area of in-space manufacturing that serves industries across the globe.
  • There are big opportunities ahead for investors as the governments who own the International Space Station prepare to turn the space station business over to the private sector.

Investor insights

Axiom has issued an interesting document: Investor Insights: The Promise of Human Spaceflight.

To view the document, go to:

https://www.axiomspace.com/single-post/2017/10/20/INVESTOR-INSIGHTS-THE-PRIVATIZATION-OF-HUMAN-SPACEFLIGHT

Also, go to this informative video:

https://vimeo.com/222581329

Laser propulsion
Credit: Q. Zhang

 

Experts in interstellar travel have picked future candidates to make the first extrasolar trek.

Their names: Caenorhabditis elegans and Tardigrades, otherwise known as water bears.

“These are real interstellar passengers” says Philip Lubin, head of the Starlight program at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“We are developing the capability to test whether terrestrial life, as we know it, can exist in interstellar space by preparing small life forms…C. elegans and radiation resistant Tardigrades…which are ideal candidates to be our first interstellar travelers,” Lubin explains.

Caenorhabditis elegans – ubiquitous species of nematode.
Courtesy: J. Rothman

Directed energy

Lubin spoke last month and updated his research findings supported by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

At the university, Lubin, his students and research colleagues have established the Starlight program, known as DEEP-IN (Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration) and DEIS (Directed Energy Interstellar Studies), the NASA-supported work to use large scale directed energy to propel small spacecraft to relativistic speeds to enable humanity’s first interstellar missions.

Water-dwelling micro-animals called Tardigrades.
Courtesy: J. Rothman

The bottom line for interstellar travel: “It will not be easy,” Lubin says. “There are many difficult technical issues. It will not be cheap. But it is possible.”

Laser focused

Humanity’s first interstellar missions will ride a beam of laser light. Indeed, the work of Breakthrough Initiatives in San Francisco – via its Breakthrough Starshot effort — is spurring a revolution in spacecraft miniaturization that can contribute to the development of “StarChips” that are centimeter- and gram-scale. Lubin is a project leadership member.

Shrinking spaceships.
Credit: P. Lubin

The Starchip wafer work is progressing, Lubin advises, and is “boldly going where no chip has gone before.”

In his “Directed Energy for Relativistic Flight” report to NIAC, Lubin cited collaboration with the lab of Joel Rothman in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Developmental Biology at UCSB Santa Barbara.

The upshot, Lubin noted, is that Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans for short, a ubiquitous species of nematode found in soil samples world-wide, and the water-dwelling micro-animals called Tardigrades, are perfect candidates to be “our first interstellar travelers.”

Rothman told Inside Outer Space that much of the  Caenorhabditis elegan literature calls them soil nematodes, but they are generally found in mulch piles with rotting fruits world-wide.”

Star trek traits

Lubin’s team explains that, before we ever have the technology to send humans to other stars, a plan is to send tiny animals that have been shown to tolerate extreme environments of cold, heat, the vacuum of space, extreme dehydration, high accelerations (tens of thousands of g’s), and high doses of radiation – and survive unscathed.

These minuscule creatures have already been propelled into space. They’ve travelled into low Earth orbit during the Space Shuttle program and have also flown on the International Space Station.

C. elegans and tardigrades have a number of traits that make them model passengers for long interstellar voyages, reports Lubin and his study group.

“Besides being microscopic, and thus conveniently fitting on our first interstellar wafer craft, they can be frozen and put into a state of anhydrobiosis, meaning they can be dehydrated and put into suspended animation. When they are re-hydrated, they wake up as good as new!”

UCSB’s Rothman advises via e-mail: “We can do one or the other (or both) but anyhydrobiosis doesn’t require freezing and vice-versa.”

A revolution in spacecraft miniaturization is underway.Credit: P. Lubin

Wake-up calls

Scientists in the UCSB Rothman Lab are studying the behavior of these tiny subjects to better understand their behavior and needs before sending them into space.

Scientists in the Lubin Lab, in the Starlight Program, are figuring out what kind of tiny chambers to design for them, where to place them on “wafersats,” and how to wake them up at various points in the journey and remotely observe their behavior.

Key questions to ponder: Will they survive? Could they take root on another planet with water? And then there’s the question – how did they get to Earth in the first place? Could they have come here from some other solar system?

Rich broth…seed source?

Rothman advises Inside Outer Space: “There is no reasonable doubt that worms and tardigrades arose on this planet from the earliest terrestrial organisms. The question really is how did life get to the Earth in the first place? Did it spontaneously arise in the rich broth of the early seas of the young planet or was it seeded from another distant source?”

Furthermore, Rothman notes that although it’s reasonable to wonder whether the simplest life forms (bacteria) might have come to Earth from another solar system, “it is virtually certain that all complex life forms, including animals arose on this planet during the long process of biological evolution that began about 4 billion years ago, shortly after the planet could even conceivably sustain life. That conclusion is based in part on the universality of the genetic code, metabolic pathways, and the structure of many universally proteins, as well the evolutionary relationships throughout the tree of life that can be inferred from the analysis of extant genomes.”

Interstellar mandate

In his NIAC-sponsored work, Lubin underscored the major challenges ahead for directed energy interstellar flight.

“Clearly there are many technical challenges. This is a long-term humanity changing program,” Lubin says. The biggest challenge is that NASA, the U.S. government does not plan 30-50 years ahead in space. Perhaps a public/private alliance is needed. Similarly, what may be required is a new division of NASA or new agency whose mandate is interstellar flight.

 

Shooting for the stars! UCSB team.
Credit: P. Lubin

 

 

 

How do we maintain the drive towards this goal? Interstellar travel necessitates a dedicated program over a long period, and the U.S. should lead in this transformation, Lubin concludes.

 

 

 

For more information on Starlight – Directed Energy for Relativistic Interstellar Missions work, go to:

http://www.deepspace.ucsb.edu/projects/starlight

 

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1858, October 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1858, busily engaged in performing a “working weekend,” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

“Following a series of setbacks this week, Curiosity is on track to have a productive, albeit stationary, weekend,” Salvatore explains.

Series of headaches

Last week’s communication issue and possible difficulties in delivering the “Ogunquit Beach” sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, Salvatore adds, “have given the science team a series of headaches as we try to make progress along Vera Rubin Ridge.”

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1857, October 27, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Regarding the sample, the NASA robot’s Mastcam images last week showed that the sample may not have made it into the SAM instrument, reported Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville last week. As a precautionary measure, it was decided to forego the analysis due to a chance that the SAM sample cup is empty.

In addition, the team discovered an error with the left Mastcam data transfer that has marked the instrument temporarily “sick” and is preventing researchers from acquiring new data from it until after the weekend plan. “Nonetheless, the team is optimistic moving into the weekend, and has planned a really nice suite of observations,” Salvatore notes.

One more time

Curiosity is slated to try one more time to deliver the Ogunquit Beach sample to the SAM instrument, and SAM will hopefully perform an evolved gas analysis (EGA) on the sample overnight on the first evening of the weekend plan.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1858, October 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is to spend the majority of Saturday sleeping and recharging, as the EGA analyses requires significant power to perform.

Toward the end of Saturday, Curiosity will image and brush a patch of flat bedrock in front of the rover named “Sibasa” and will analyze this patch of bedrock with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument to accurately characterize the chemistry of this region. This will be an overnight measurement.

Local surroundings

On Sunday, Curiosity will spend two hours investigating the local surroundings with Mastcam images as well as ChemCam laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) measurements, Salvatore reports.

ChemCam is slated to analyze four separate targets: “Schmidtsdrif,” “Sibasa,” “Lisbon,” and “Estecourt.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager image acquired on Sol 1856, October 26, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Salvatore points out that Schmidtsdrif is a potentially hematite-rich target that is similar to iron-rich targets identified earlier by Curiosity. Sibasa is the brushed and imaged target that was also analyzed using the APXS instrument. Lisbon is a patch of dark soil near the rover. Estecourt is a raised block of material that is also similar to a previous sol’s target, and these analyses will hopefully allow for comparisons between targets.

“Mastcam imaging will not only document these ChemCam targets, but will also be used to acquire additional images further away from the rover to inspect the nature of the Vera Rubin Ridge from this location, and to help us plan for future traverses,” Salvatore notes. As the left Mastcam instrument is currently unavailable, all imaging will be done with Mastcam’s right “eye.”

Science ahead

With all of the headaches that arose last week, “the science team and rover planners have managed to again arrange for some wonderful science to be done with the resources that are currently available,” Salvatore says.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 1856, October 26, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On Monday, rover researchers may have accomplished a successful EGA analysis on Ogunquit Beach, will have used the APXS instrument to characterize Sibasa, and will have a plethora of new Mastcam and ChemCam observations to understand this section of the Vera Rubin Ridge.

“Hopefully all of your weekends,” Salvatore concludes, “will be more relaxing than Curiosity’s!”

Griffith Observatory Event