Archive for May, 2018

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2067, May 30, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity rover is now carrying out Sol 2068 duties.

Reports Claire Newman, an atmospheric scientist at Aeolis Research in Pasadena, California: “We’re looking forward to analyzing some great drill samples from the ‘Duluth’ rock target in Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, CheMin. However, previous tests on Mars and the first delivery attempt to CheMin raised a concern that less material than expected may be making it in.”

To increase the chances of a successful CheMin analysis this time around, adds Newman, three portions will be delivered in Sol 2068 instead of the usual single portion, and from a smaller height than before.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 2065, May 28, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Exposed bedrock

In addition to the CheMin triple delivery, the geology theme group has planned some passive imaging of target “Bassett” by the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.

“This is exposed Murray formation bedrock, so the purpose is to compare its chemical composition with other Murray targets and get a sense of their variability,” Newman adds.

Also included in the plan were Mastcam stereo images of targets “Anderson Lake,” “Bob Lake,” “Toohey Lake,” and “Bass Lake” to better understand the bedding geometry.

Opacity of atmosphere

The geology theme group also included more Mastcam change detection images of the Duluth drill tailings and “Noodle Lake” target, to monitor how rapidly and in what direction the Martian wind is moving loose material on the surface.

The Martian air can be pretty dusty, reducing visibility, even when no storms are raging, as shown in this Mastcam crater rim image. Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2065, May 28, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Also, Newman notes, the environmental theme group planned two early morning Navcam cloud movies on Sol 2069 less than an hour after sunrise.

“The cooler early morning is now the best time to see clouds, as we move well past the ‘cloudy’ season and into the warmer half of the year,” Newman explains. These movies were to be followed by Mastcam images of the sky and crater rim, which respectively allow Mars researchers to measure the opacity of the atmospheric column above the rover and the line-of-sight extinction across the crater horizontally.

“The air can be pretty dusty inside the crater, reducing visibility, even when no storms are raging,” Newman points out.

Dust devil devotees

Meanwhile, the environmental theme group has taken another long Navcam dust devil movie, this time looking more to the northeast, as well as a shorter movie looking to the northwest and another Navcam dust devil survey, with the two movies covered nicely by two hours of extended Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) meteorological measurements.

“Such overlap is ideal, because rapid pressure drops measured with REMS – which indicate a convective vortex (dusty or not!) passing nearby – can then be correlated with any dust devils we spot in the movies,” Newman explains. “This tells us something about how intense vortex activity has to be to raise dust and make vortices visible as dust devils. And on the rare occasions when we can connect a REMS pressure drop to a specific dust devil, we can use this to learn more about the dust devil’s size and speed,”

Credit: Project RegoLight

Progress is being made in fabricating building elements on the Moon.

In one effort, 3D printing technologies and methodologies for lunar buildings makes use of the Sun as a source of energy to “sinter” and “shape” lunar regolith, the loose layer of dust, soil and broken rocks on the Moon’s surface.

Architects, engineers, systems designers, and scientists teamed to create project RegoLight. Team work was coordinated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR)-Cologne, bringing together the talents of the Belgium-based Space Applications Services, Comex of Marseille, France, LIQUIFER Systems Group in Austria, and Bollinger Grohmann Engineers in Austria.

Credit: Project RegoLight

Range of geometries

A range of geometries were developed to serve as interlocking building elements for the construction of a lunar base, elements that could provide radiation shielding for inhabited and pressurized modules, as well as non-pressurized shelters as dust and micro-meteoroid protection for machinery. Also studied was a launch pad apron, and terrain modeling for a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon.

RegoLight was carried out as a 2-year project under the European Union‘s Horizon 2020 Program. The project started November 2015 and concluded late last year.

Blast shields up…for incoming and outgoing lunar landers.
Credit: Project RegoLight

Additive layer manufacturing

In a related development, OHB System AG, a subsidiary of the Bremen-based space and technology group OHB SE, signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for a study “Conceiving a Lunar Base Using 3D Printing Technologies.”

OHB is leading a team with three more partners (Comex, LIQUIFER, and Sonaca of Berlin, Germany). This team is evaluating the feasibility and implementation effort of using Additive Layer Manufacturing in the construction, operations and maintenance of a lunar base.

Two parallel studies

The study involves two parallel surveys:

  • Mapping the required hardware for a continuously human tended lunar base. From permanent infrastructures to “on demand” items, a wide range of elements of different scales will be investigated for their potential to be 3D printed.
  • The other survey is an analysis of available additive layer manufacturing technologies and their potential capabilities in a lunar environment. The assessment includes the state of the art of 3D printing related to several materials such as metals, polymers, ceramics, concrete, food ingredients, and living tissues.

For video concerning the innovative work done under Project RegoLight, go to:

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2060. May 23, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now in Sol 2067, the Curiosity Mars rover faces “tis the season to be dusty,” explains Claire Newman, an environmental science theme lead from Ashima Research in Pasadena, California.

The previous rover plan included some tests of the sample delivery system, including delivery of a single portion to the closed cover of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite inlet. “The imaging showed a small amount made it, but not as much as we’d hoped,” Newman explains.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2064, May 27, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

So the team decided to postpone the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) for later, “leaving us even more time for science activities in today’s single sol plan for Sol 2067,” Newman notes.

Seize the opportunity

The environmental theme group seized the opportunity to take a long “dust devil search” movie pointed roughly to the northwest, where the robot has a view back down the slope of Aeolis Mons toward the Bagnold Dunes, and all the way across Gale Crater’s floor to the northwest rim.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2065, May 28, 2018.

“We’ve just moved past southern spring equinox, which means we’re now in the half of the Mars year when global dust storms are observed to begin,” Newman points out. “However, the increased surface heating as we head for the warmest time of year should also produce a peak in convective activity and hence in dust-filled vortices known as dust devils. We’ve already seen a lot this Mars year in our location higher up the slope, so we’re hoping for a bumper crop in spring and summer!”

Meanwhile, the environmental theme group added a long 360° dust devil survey and cloud movie as well as the usual Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) activities.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 2064. May 27, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Change detection

Newman also reports that, on the geology side, following the robot’s haul of change detection images over the weekend, Mars researchers continued to look for surface changes on the Duluth drill tailings and on target “Noodle Lake” that has loose material sitting on the bedrock.

“The purpose of these experiments is to help us figure out the wind direction and its relative strength at this location, which may help to explain some of the sampling issues,” Newman adds, “that is, if the sample is being blown away as it drops.”

Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) also made measurements on “Sawtooth Bluff,” a gray, thin alteration layer raised above the bedrock surface, repeating measurements made previously on the nearby “Grand Marais” target, and on “Gary,” a raised ridge feature, as well as taking two long-distance Remote micro-imager (RMI) images of the “Red Cliff” target as part of an engineering test.


Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future by Carolyn Collins Petersen, Amberley Publishing/UK, December 2017; Hardcover: 360 pages, List price is $26.95.

Carolyn Collins Petersen has written a superb book, taking the reader on a step by step journey into deep space, reminding us of the historical roots of early visionary pioneers.

As the author notes in the book’s introduction: “My aim here is to give a taste of this grand, glorious enterprise we call space exploration. This book is just the start. Think of it as an executive summary, a taster to whet your appetite.”

In the following 10 chapters, the author covers in well-researched detail — from kites and balloon flights in ancient China, early thrusts of moving into the “space age,” then human steps into space and the global uprising of multiple nations engaging in outer space activities. She doesn’t skimp on the evolving commercial use of space as well as space mining, space law, robotic exploration, and the high-octane competition between old space versus new space.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Next Steps: Where Do we Go from Here?” That’s a complex and perplexing question, one that the author concludes it’s up to the interested countries of the world to answer. Still, given the heritage of space exploration carried out by multiple nations, this book offers some tantalizing glimpses of what could be.

Carolyn Collins Petersen is an accomplished writer. Take for example her well-received book Astronomy 101: From the Sun and Moon to Wormholes and Warp Drive, Key Theories, Discoveries, and Facts about the Universe. She also co-authored Hubble Vision and Visions of the Cosmos and also served as co-editor on The New Solar System, published jointly by Sky Publishing Corporation and Cambridge University Press.

This latest work, Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future is also a grand read and, indeed underscores the history-making and magnificent venture we call space exploration.

For more information on this volume, go to:

It has links to all the U.S. sellers for both retail and wholesale to buy at a discount for resale.

Also, go to:

This is a resale partners link that lists all the online and other sources for books.

Credit: JPL/Exoplanet Travel Bureau

Are you considering an “exotic” destination to visit this summer?

How about a virtual voyage to an Earth-size planet beyond our solar system with NASA’s interactive Exoplanet Travel Bureau?

Best yet…no off-planet passports required!

Data archives

The Exoplanet Travel Bureau was developed by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program communications team and program chief scientists.

Based at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which is a division of Caltech, the program is NASA’s search for habitable planets and life beyond our solar system. The program develops technology and mission concepts, maintains exoplanet data archives and conducts ground-based exoplanet science for NASA missions.

Credit: JPL/Exoplanet Travel Bureau

Interactive visualizations

Via this creative website, you can explore an imagined surface of an alien world through 360-degree, interactive visualizations. All the 360-degree visualizations are viewable on desktop and mobile devices, or in virtual reality headsets that work with smartphones.

Credit: JPL/Exoplanet Travel Bureau


You can also peruse travel posters of distant worlds.

Go to Explore: Exoplanet Travel Bureau at:

Credit: Virgin Galactic

From Virgin Galactic:

Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams this morning, on the Mojave Air and Space Port flight line, to witness VSS Unity’s second successful, supersonic, rocket powered test flight.

“It was great to see our beautiful spaceship back in the air and to share the moment with the talented team who are taking us, step by step, to space” Branson said. “Seeing Unity soar upwards at supersonic speeds is inspiring and absolutely breathtaking. We are getting ever closer to realizing our goals. Congratulations to the whole team!”

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Center of gravity

The focus of today’s flight was to expand our understanding of the spaceship’s supersonic handling characteristics and control system’s performance with vehicle parameters that were closer to the ultimate commercial configuration. This involved shifting the vehicle’s center of gravity rearward via the addition of passenger seats and related equipment. The rocket motor burned for the planned 31 seconds and propelled Unity to a speed of Mach 1.9 and an altitude of 114,500 ft. As will be the case for future commercial flights, Unity’s unique re-entry feathering system was deployed for the initial descent before the final glide home to a smooth runway landing.

Vision: a little closer

Once in commercial service, Virgin Galactic’s spaceships are designed to be turned around and flown at a higher frequency than has traditionally been the case for human spaceflight. The flight today brought that vision a little closer, coming less than two months after Unity’s first rocket powered flight. Great credit goes to the engineering and maintenance teams for working through the first flight’s data diligently and efficiently before preparing Unity again for flight.

Richard Branson was on the runway tarmac to greet this flight’s VSS Unity pilots Dave Mackay and Mark “Forger” Stucky. In addition to the pilots of VSS Unity, Branson recognized CJ Sturckow and Nicola Pecile, the pilots of the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve.

Flight data review

“Today we saw VSS Unity in her natural environment, flying fast under rocket power and with a nose pointing firmly towards the black sky of space” Branson said. “The pathway that Unity is forging is one that many thousands of us will take over time, and will help share a perspective that is crucial to solving some of humanity’s toughest challenges on planet Earth.”

The teams will now conduct flight data review for this flight and continue planning preparations for the next flight.

While in Mojave, Richard Branson also toured the facilities of The Spaceship Company (TSC), Virgin’s Galactic sister company. TSC is focused on manufacturing next generation aerospace vehicles, with a primary focus on new spaceships for Virgin Galactic’s future fleet. Branson viewed the next two spaceships on the TSC’s manufacturing line, as well as the production facilities for TSC’s spaceship rocket motors.

Credit: China Manned Space Agency

As the United States debates the future of the International Space Station, China is orchestrating a campaign to spotlight its own space station – and open its airlocks to other nations for experimental purposes.

A version 1.0 handbook on the China Space Station (CSS) and its resources for international cooperation was issued May 28 by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and China Manned Space Agency.

In many ways, China’s approach to space station operations mirror’s the fundamentals of the International Space Station – with some exceptions.

Mission statement

The 28-page document explains that the mission of the CSS project is:

  • To develop technology for long-term manned space flight and study related medical issues to find long-term solutions for the healthy living and efficient work of astronauts and lay the foundations for future exploration in long-term manned space flight;
  • To build a national space laboratory of an internationally advanced level for large-scale science and technology experiments, educative purposes and promote international/regional cooperation to study and uncover significant scientific results and benefits;
  • To establish a complete manned spacecraft operation and its corresponding operation and management systems, and to train a high-quality engineering and management team to lay the foundations for the future development of manned space exploration.

Inclination, altitude, weight

Other areas of the handbook call attention to some key facts:

Credit: CMSA

The CSS is designed to operate in low-Earth orbit about 400km above the Earth’s surface, with an inclination of approximately 41°~43°.

The station’s three main module components are horizontally symmetrical and T-shaped. The total mass is approximately 66 tons, and may reach roughly 100 tons when docked with several manned spaceships and cargo vehicles.

In-orbit life span (after the assembly of the three modules) is in the range of 10 years. Number of crew members 3 (rated) or 6 astronauts (at most).

Optical Module System

Along with station, a main section of an Optical Module System would be launched into orbit separately and flies along the same orbit as the CSS. It can support multi-color photometry, seamless spectrum survey and Earth observation with multi-function optical capabilities. If necessary, it can dock with the CSS for refueling, equipment maintenance, payload equipment upgrade and other maintenance activities.

Experiment racks

A number of scientific experiment racks in the pressurized modules of the Space Station include a Human System Research Rack; Medical Sample Analysis Rack;

Ecological life Experiment Rack; Biotechnology Experiment Rack; Fluid Physics Experiment Rack; Two-Phase System Experiment Rack; High Temperature Materials Science Experiment Rack; Combustion Science Experiment Rack; and a Container-Free Materials Science Experiment Rack.

Life span extension

The in-orbit assembly of the basic configuration of the three modules of the China Space Station is planned to be completed around 2022 when the station is operational and able to carry out large-scale space science research.

Carrier rocket system for China Space Station.
Credit: CMSA

The life span of the Station can be further extended by maintenance, replacement, upgrading and expansion to enable longer term space science research. Primarily, extensible interfaces are reserved on the Space Station.

Extra modules

After completion of the basic configuration of the three modules, the inboard and outboard utilization support capabilities can be enhanced further by adding extra modules.

Secondly, outside the modules of the Space Station, many large-scale payload mounting points and extensible experiment platform interfaces are reserved, through which more payload support capability can be provided.

In addition, based on the need of space science research and international cooperation, the Space Station can meet the needs of evolving space science research through the maintenance, replacement and extension of payloads.

A United Nations/China Cooperation on Utilization of the China Space Station Application Form is available at:

To read the entire handbook, go to:

Credit: CMSE


China is working with the United Nations to seek countries interested in performing experiments onboard that country’s space station.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and China’s Manned Space Agency have invited applications from United Nations Member States to conduct experiments on China’s Space Station.

Operational space station

In 2016, the two signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to develop the space capabilities of United Nations Member States via opportunities to use China’s space station, which is expected to be operational from 2022.

Credit: CSIS

The Announcement of Opportunity for this initiative, as well as application instructions, were released at a ceremony hosted by the UN Outer Space Affairs office and the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Vienna on May 28.

Promote and provide

The UNOOSA-CMSA initiative aims to:

  • promote international cooperation in human space flight and activities related to space exploration;
  • provide flight experiment and space application opportunities on-board the CSS for United Nations Member States;
  • promote capacity-building activities by making use of human space flight technologies, including facilities and resources from China’s human spaceflight program; and
  • promote increased awareness among United Nations Member States of the benefits of utilizing human space technology and its applications.

Space diplomacy

“This is space diplomacy in action. I appreciate China’s partnership and support on this exciting initiative, and look forward to seeing a number of interesting applications from United Nations Member States,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

China’s medium-size space station for the 2020’s is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

“The China Space Station belongs not only to China, but also to the world. Just as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 proclaimed, the exploration and use of outer space shall be a common province for humankind. Outer space should become a new domain for promoting the common interests of everyone, rather than a new battlefield for competition and confrontation,” said Ambassador Shi Zhongjun, representative of China to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna.

Orbital experiments

There are three possibilities for orbital experiments in the first round of opportunities, according to a UN press statement.

  • Conducting experiments inside the Chinese space station by utilizing experiment payloads developed by selected applicants.
  • Conducting experiments inside the Chinese space station by utilizing experiment facilities provided by China.
  • Conducting experiments outside China’s space station by utilizing payloads developed by selected applicants.

Lastly, public and private organizations including institutes, academies, universities and private enterprises with a scientific orientation are invited to apply for the opportunity by August 31, 2018. Institutions from developing countries are particularly encouraged to apply.

For more information, go to these key documents as posted by the UN:

Credit: CMSE


Chinese astronauts have completed desert survival training – part of exercises devoted to building China’s space station in the 2020’s.

Fifteen Chinese astronauts took part in desert training within Badain Jaran Desert near Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

Wilderness training

The readiness effort was organized by the Astronaut Center of China (ACC),  designed to prepare astronauts with the capacity to survive in the wilderness in the event their re-entry capsule lands off target, according to a Xinhua news report.

Credit: CMSE

China’s wilderness survival training has China’s space mission candidates stranded at sea, in deserts, in jungles or on glaciers.

European astronauts

Last year, Chinese astronauts underwent survival training with two European astronauts in waters off the coast of Yantai in east China’s Shandong Province.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer joined Chinese colleagues in Yantai, China in August 2017 to take part in their sea survival training.
Returning from space in a Chinese capsule, astronauts need to be prepared for any eventuality – including landing in the sea. Water survival is a staple of all astronaut training but this is the first time non-Chinese astronauts have taken part.
Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2017

In the latest training program, reports Xinhua, each team, all wearing spacesuits, simulated an emergency landing scenario in which they needed to exit the capsule themselves, report their location and survive in the desert until rescue arrived 48 hours later. The desert survival training tested the allocation of emergency supplies so their design can be improved in the future, said Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer at the ACC.

ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer jumping from a Chinese Shenzou capsule during sea survival training in August 2017. ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias joined Chinese colleagues in Yantai, China.
An ESA astronaut to fly on China’s space station is in play.
Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2017

The training programs are in tune with China’s intent to start assembling its space station in space in 2020. It is scheduled to become fully operational around 2022.








Go to this New China TV video that details the training of Chinese astronauts at:


A pair of 104 pound (47 kilograms) microsatellites hitchhiked a ride on China’s Moon relay launch.
Credit: Harbin Institute of Technology


Two microsatellites DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2 carrying amateur radio payloads were launched with China’s Chang’e-4 relay satellite. The pair of hitchhiking microsatellites are unofficially called DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2 (DSLWP = Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder). The twosome are also known as Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2.

However, help has been requested to monitor for signals from one of the lunar microsats.

Several amateurs received telemetry from the satellites. But now DSLWP-A1 reportedly appears to have encountered problems.

Credit: Harbin Institute of Technology

Contact lost

Quoting Wei BG2BHC: “Can you help to find amateurs in the U.S. to help to monitor DSLWP-A on 435.425 and 436.425 now?  We lost the contact of satellite A on S band after an orbit adjustment.  We just tried to switch on UHF, but we don’t know if it works or not. If operating, 435.425 MHz should be 500bps GMSK and JT4 alternately. 436.425 MHz should be 250 bps GMSK.  Both transmit once in 5 minutes. LONGJIANG 1 – NORAD CAT ID 43471 LONGJIANG 2 – NORAD CAT ID 43472.”

Developed by students at the Harbin Institute of Technology the amateur radio are designed to evaluate lunar formation flying for low frequency radio astronomy, amateur radio and education.

Hopefully, dedicated amateur radio specialists will recover the microsatellite.

Credit: CNSA

Vital step

Meanwhile, China’s relay satellite – Queqiao — braked near the Moon last Friday, completing a vital step before entering a desired orbit, according to the China National Space Administration.

The relay satellite has entered a transfer orbit from the Moon to the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system.

“There was only a short window for the braking,” said Zhang Lihua, project manager of the mission in an Xinhua news story. “And Queqiao had only one chance due to limited fuel.”

Once in its halo orbit, the relay satellite will provide a communications link between Earth and the planned Chang’e-4 lunar probe that will attempt the first landing on the Moon’s far side.