Archive for January, 2014

Ok, not quite “space” related, but if they can do this on Mars and flying around Olympus Mons!
Check out these videos: A team of German pilots from the Mountain Wave Project (MWP) and researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches… Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have achieved a groundbreaking feat around the highest mountain on Earth.
For the first time, they flew to the summit of Mount Everest, 8848 meters above sea level, in a motorized glider – taking with them a special 3D camera.

ladee_serendipityThumb ladee_corrected_4x_nn ladee_annotated_serendipityThumb

Teamwork! That’s what it took…

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a glimpse of the space agency’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) required extremely precise timing, worked out by the LADEE, LROC, and LRO operations teams.

LADEE is in an equatorial orbit (east-to-west) while LRO is in a polar orbit (south-to-north).

“By happenstance the two spacecraft are occasionally very close. On January 15 the two came within 9 km of each other,” said LROC leader, Mark Robinson at Arizona State University.


Air Force’s Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Passes 400 Days in Orbit  

by Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist

January 29, 2014 06:45am ET


A planetary system around our nearest star — beyond our Sun — is emerging.

That’s the stellar forecast that suggests scientists are getting closer to discovering Earth-like planets close to Earth.

Word is that “superhabitable” worlds must be considered for future follow-up observations of signs of extraterrestrial life. These worlds offer more benign environments to life than Earth does.

This view is being championed by Rene´ Heller of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and John Armstrong, Department of Physics, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.

Ideal target

Writing in a new issue of Astrobiology, they center on Alpha Centauri B — a member of the closest stellar system to the Sun – a locale that is supposed to host an Earth-mass planet.

That makes it an ideal target for searches for a superhabitable world, Heller and Armstrong suggest.

“Though our considerations are anticipatory, they still rely on the assumption that life needs liquid water,” Heller and Armstrong write.

Principle of mediocracy

The scientists note that the “principle of mediocracy” cannot be used to logically explain why Earth should be a particularly habitable planet or why other inhabited worlds should be Earth-like.

In their hypothesis article in Astrobiology, Heller and Armstrong illustrate how tidal heating can render terrestrial or icy worlds habitable beyond the stellar habitable zone.

“Eventually, just as the Solar System turned out to be everything but typical for planetary systems, Earth could turn out to be everything but typical for a habitable or, ultimately, an inhabited world,” they conclude.
“In our view, a variety of processes exist that can make environmental conditions on a planet or moon more benign to life than is the case on Earth.”

An upshot of their work is possible good news for interstellar travel fans. That is, a delicious destination – a mere 4.3 light years away — may not be all that far away for adventurous stellar sailors.

For more details, go to:

Concerned technicians work on an ailing Yutu Moon rover.
Philip Stooke, an associate professor in physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada has a take on the rover’s problem.
Yutu’s camera mast, also carrying the hi…gh gain antenna, is supposed to fold down into a box on the rover body, and then be covered by one of the panels. That enclosed space is kept warm by a radioactive heat source. The second solar panel is tilted down and oriented to catch the rays of the rising sun. Stooke said that it appears that the first panel would not close. The expectation is that the cameras will be damaged by the cold and maybe other things too.
Stooke said that there’s a chance the rover will be okay, perhaps, and a chance it will live, but be very limited in what it can do, and a chance it will die altogether. There isn’t enough information to gauge those chances.
Overall, Stooke said that his impression is that the situation is not good.
According to the Xinhua news agency, tens of thousands of Chinese “netizens” have posted their blessings to Yutu after it wound up in trouble, such as: “Come on little rabbit, you must hang on in there to see the Spring Festival fireworks.”
Also, check out my new story: China Moon Rover Hits Snag in Big Lunar Science Mission
By Leonard David


Looks like China’s lunar rover, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), may have stubbed its lucky foot.

China’s Xinhua news agency said the Moon rover “has experienced a mechanical control abnormality, and scientists are organizing repairs.”

Not clear how serious the abnormality, but the news agency said it happened due to “complicated lunar surface environment,” citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).

The issue with the mobile robot emerged as it entered its second dormancy at dawn on Saturday as the lunar night fell, according to SASTIND.

The Chang’e 3 lander also went into scheduled hibernation, but earlier on Friday.

By Leonard David

dream chaser landing

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announces that it has confirmed that the first orbital flight of its Dream Chaser Space System will occur on November 1, 2016. 

Dream Chaser will be brought to orbit on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that is being built in Decatur, Alabama and will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  

Today, during SNC’s press event at the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which was carried live on NASA TV, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems also unveiled the plans for Dream Chaser flight operations and vehicle processing in Florida through a detailed multi-part presentation.

Great example 

Sirangelo started the announcement by saying, “SNC is thrilled to be the first company to confirm a launch date for our country’s return to orbital human spaceflight and the restart of human spaceflight operations from Florida’s Space Coast. We could not have done this without the spirit and engagement from our national and state governments, the best aerospace companies in the industry, and several major universities, which all hail from over 30 states. Together these passionate people will return our astronauts to space on American spacecraft and rockets launched from America’s space coast right here in Florida.”

“This is a great example of commercial companies working together to further America’s leadership in space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Not only are NASA and the state of Florida forging new partnerships with the U.S. aerospace industry, we have created an environment where these companies can create partnerships with each other.”  

“We have been diligent in our efforts, and I consider this a strong vote of confidence from a company that expects to be a major force in the future of human spaceflight,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy center director. “Sierra Nevada Corporation will find in our workforce and facilities the same dynamic and professional people that have made successful missions from here for more than 50 years.” Cabana said SNC’s involvement with the Florida spaceport shows the conversion to a 21st Century spaceport is succeeding, although work remains to keep the transformation on space. 

By Leonard David


Mini-satellites may become “space cops” to help control traffic in space. If so, the idea could help avoid collisions in space of satellites and the creation of space debris.

The work is underway by a team of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) experts. The Calif.-based scientists used a series of six images over a 60-hour period taken from ground-based gear to prove that it is possible to refine the orbit of another satellite in low Earth orbit.

Using the ground-based equipment, the Livermore team refined the orbit of a discarded SL-16 rocket booster of the former Soviet Union’s Zenit family in a 992 km by 1,014 kilometer orbit. It has been up there since late 2001. The Russian Zenit-2 2nd stage is cataloged as NORAD 27006.

Four observations were made of the spent stage within the initial 24 hours, and the LLNL team predicted NORAD’s trajectory to within less than 50 meters over the following 36 hours.

The team believes they will be able to use that information to refine the orbit of a satellite in space and prevent a collision.

False alarms

Today, the Space Surveillance Network must repeatedly observe the set of nearly 20,000 objects it tracks; however, positional uncertainty of an object is about 1 kilometer.

This lack of precision leads to approximately 10,000 false alarms per expected collision. With these large uncertainties and high false alarm rates, satellite operators are rarely motivated to move their assets after a collision warning is issued.

The Livermore scientists are focused in on the Space-Based Telescopes for Actionable Refinement of Ephemeris (STARE) mission.

The tools and analysis used to capture the images of NORAD 27006 and refine its orbit are the same ones that would be used during the STARE mission.


STARE would consist of a constellation of nano-satellites in low Earth orbit to refine orbits of satellites and space debris to less than 100 meters.

The STARE mission aims to reduce the 1 kilometer uncertainty down to 100 meters or smaller, which will in turn reduce the number of false alarms by roughly two orders of magnitude.

Lance Simms is lead author of a paper on STARE that will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Small Satellites.

STARE is an ongoing LLNL project led by Wim de Vries, with Vincent Riot as lead engineer.

Other Livermore researchers include Don Phillon, Brian Bauman and Darrell Carter. The work is funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program.

By Leonard David


It’s called Project Moon Dust – intended to inspire and educate the next generation of space travel hopefuls.

Behind the effort is Zybek Advanced Products, founded in Boulder, Colorado in 1996. The group has established a project funding effort for a Lunar Simulant Educational package. 

If the project is successfully funded on Kickstarter, 25% of the funding will be used to design and purchase the packaging and printed material that will be included in the educational package. 

The remainder of the funding will be used to create five educational videos.

Zybek will produce and package the actual lunar simulants at their facility located in Boulder Colorado.

Project Moon Dust prototypes involve a “Hobbyist Package” and an “Educational Package.”

Knowledge and inspiration

Zybek has invented (and patented) a machine that will reproduce the lunar regolith and other celestial materials here on Earth, explains Mike Weinstein. “Our patented Remotely Coupled Transferred Arc Plasma System for 20,000 Kelvin (35,000°F) is able to simulate conditions similar to meteorite and micrometeorite impacts on the Moon.”

Zybek’s Weinstein notes that Project Moon Dust was designed to combine a tangible element of outer space with the knowledge and inspiration to motivate society to once again believe in the unbelievable and rejuvenate the passion for space exploration.

NOTE: This venture will only be funded if at least $40,000 is pledged by Friday March 7 at 9:37am EST.

Mantra for the project

Being Project Moon dust, a special mantra is being followed:

Knowledge is power,

Seeing is believing,

Testing is essential,

Space Travel is our Future.

For details on Project Moon dust, go to:

By Leonard David


mars rice 1mars rice 2

It’s a bit of a detective story. NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover imagery shows a rock materializing in a spot where it wasn’t seen in earlier imagery.

How’d it get there?

Mars Exploration Rover (MER) scientists have dubbed the object “Pinnacle Island.”

One view is that the robot kicked up the object during its wheeling around the area. Another thought is that it was tossed there by a nearby impact event. Maybe it’s a windblown rock…or is it an ugly looking Mars turtle?

Now James Rice, science team member of the Mars Exploration Rover Project and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, has piped in on the mystery.

“By now you must have heard about the very unusual rock (Pinnacle Island) which just appeared before us at Cook Haven. There were many articles out with images showing a before and after from Sols 3528 and 3540 (12 sols),” Rice says.

“However, my new analysis shows that the appearance of Pinnacle Island can be further refined to have occurred between Sols 3536 and 3540 (only 4 sols),” Rice told this reporter.

Rice said that most likely the rover did it on Sol 3540 when it did a turn-in-place and bump. “We popped it out. But we are still trying to figure this out along with where it originally was located (I have a candidate divot) and then the bigger question: what is this rock?”

Pinnacle Island has a very unusual composition, Rice said, like nothing the MER scientists have ever seen before.

By Leonard David