Archive for July, 2018

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


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2127 dutes.

Meanwhile, a new Curiosity Mars rover traverse map through Sol 2126 has been issued.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2126 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (July 30, 2018).

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 2120 to Sol 2126, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 225.30 feet (68.67 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 12.14 miles (19.54 kilometers).

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

Mars imagery

Several new images have documented the robot’s latest actions:

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2126, July 30, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2127, July 31, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA


NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a report that assesses NASA’s progress in maximizing utilization of the International Space Station to accomplish its human exploration objectives and examines the challenges associated with transitioning the Station to commercial operations and its eventual retirement.

The report, NASA’s Management and Utilization of the International Space Station, questions whether a sufficient business case exists under which private companies will be able to develop a self-sustaining and profit-making business independent of significant Federal funding within the next 6 years.

International Space Station
Credit: NASA

Annual dollars

The OIG reports points out that any extension of the ISS past 2024 would require continued funding in the neighborhood of $3-$4 billion annually to operate and maintain the Station – a significant portion of which could otherwise be redirected to develop systems needed for NASA’s cislunar or deep space ambitions.

In addition, the OIG explains that extending the Station’s life would challenge NASA to manage the risks associated with continued operation of the Station’s aging systems and infrastructure. Furthermore, any extension will require the support of NASA’s international partners, whose continued participation hinges on issues ranging from geopolitics to differing space exploration goals.

NASA currently does not have the capability to ensure the ISS will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and land in a targeted location in the South Pacific Ocean.
Credit: NASA


ISS deorbit

Lastly, at some future date NASA will need to decommission and deorbit the ISS either in response to an emergency or at the end of its useful life. However, the Agency currently does not have the capability to ensure the ISS will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and land in a targeted location in the South Pacific Ocean.

For a copy of the OIG report, NASA’s Management and Utilization of the International Space Station, go to:

Pluto framed by New Horizons’ historic flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker

A heady group of space scientists are ringing a bell concerning how to define the word “planet.”

The reminder has been targeted at The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the group that in 2006 voted to demote Pluto from planet status.

Titled, “On the Insensitive Use of the Term “Planet 9” for Objects Beyond Pluto,” the reminder is posted in the July 29th issue of the Planetary Exploration Newsletter.

Far from universally accepted

“We the undersigned wish to remind our colleagues that the IAU planet definition adopted in 2006 has been controversial and is far from universally accepted. Given this, and given the incredible accomplishment of the discovery of Pluto, the harbinger of the solar system’s third zone – the Kuiper Belt – by planetary astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930, we the undersigned believe the use of the term “Planet 9” for objects beyond Pluto is insensitive to Professor Tombaugh’s legacy.”

Clyde W. Tombaugh at the door of the Pluto discovery telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
Credit: Lowell
Observatory Archives

“We further believe the use of this term should be discontinued in favor of culturally and taxonomically neutral terms for such planets, such as Planet X, Planet Next, or Giant Planet Five.”

Signed by:

Paul Abell

Michael Allison

Nadine Barlow

James Bauer

Gordon Bjoraker

Paul Byrne

Eric Christiansen

Rajani Dhingra

Timothy Dowling

David Dunham

Tony L. Farnham

Harold Geller

Alvero Gonzalez

David Grinspoon

Will Grundy

George Hindman

Kampalayya M. Hiremath

Brian Holler

Stephanie Jarmak

Martin Knapmeyer

Rosaly Lopes

Amy Lovell

Ralph McNutt

Phil Metzger

Sripada Murty

Michael Paul

Kirby Runyon

Ray Russell

John Stansberry

Alan Stern

Mike Summers

Henry Throop

Hal Weaver

Larry Wasserman

Sloane Wiktorowicz

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo of drill hole taken on Sol 2123, July 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Now performing Sol 2124 duties, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has been stymied once again by partially drilling into hard rock.

“Our attempt at drilling the target ‘Ailsa Craig’ was partly successful,” reports Ryan Anderson, planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona. “The drill behaved exactly as it was supposed to, but unfortunately we weren’t able to drill very deep. The rock here is just too hard!”

Moving on

Anderson adds that since the robot didn’t get a nice deep drill hole, the plan for the weekend is to do some final observations at this location and then move on another location to try again.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2123, July 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The science block on Sol 2124 starts with a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) passive observation of the pulverized rock tailings from the newer shallow drill hole.

That will be followed by an “active” (laser zapping) observation of the vein target “LamLash Bay” accompanied by Mastcam multispectral images.

Dust level monitoring

Later in the afternoon, the plan calls for use of the rover’s Mastcam and Navcam to do atmospheric observations to monitor the dust levels as the planet-encircling storm gradually dies down. The day is to be wrapped up with Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) observations on and off of the drill hole.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2123, July 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In the morning of Sol 2125, the plan involves Navcam and Mastcam taking atmospheric observations. “Later in the afternoon, ChemCam will also analyze the chemistry of the drill hole and tailings and Mastcam and Navcam will do some more atmospheric measurements, including watching for dust devils,” Anderson explains.

Next drill locale

On Sol 2126, Curiosity is slated to drive toward a next potential drill location.

“We’ll collect the usual post-drive images to help us choose targets on Monday, as well as some more dust monitoring with Navcam,” Anderson concludes.

Credit: NASA

Maintaining U.S. leadership in the face of global competition warrants a reevaluation of the U.S. political and legal landscape governing space.

On July 24, the Hudson Institute was joined by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, and House Science, Space, & Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith to discuss the Department of Commerce’s evolving role in the space sector.

Updating needed

The web of national, regional and international institutions—organized to guide and serve an industry undergoing dramatic transformation—needs to be updated.

Rising to meet this challenge, Congress and the Executive Branch have been working together to reshape the legal environment for the commercial use of outer space.

Keynote addresses by Secretary Ross and Congressman Smith were followed by a panel with senior government officials responsible for executing the reform agenda laid out by the Trump Administration.

Credit: Hudson Institute/Screengrab

Reform agenda

Speakers at the Hudson Institute gathering:

Hon. Wilbur Ross Speaker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce

Hon. Lamar Smith (R-TX) Speaker, Chairman, Committee on Science, Technology & Space, U.S. House of Representatives

Earl Comstock Speaker, Director, Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, U.S. Department of Commerce

Hon. Ian Steff Speaker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Acting Assistant Secretary for Global Markets and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service

Dr. Steve Volz Speaker, Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

James Uthmeier Speaker, Senior Advisor & Regulatory Reform Officer, Office of the Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce

Brandt Pasco Speaker, Adjunct Fellow, Hudson Institute

Kevin O’Connell Speaker, Director, Office of Space Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce

Dr. Joe Pelton Speaker, Director, Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute, George Washington University

Go to these videos at:



U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the Space Policy Directive – 1 after signing it, directing NASA to return to the Moon, alongside members of the Senate, Congress, NASA, and commercial space companies in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


The U.S. administration is planning to significantly enlarge the space portfolio of the U.S. Department of Commerce to help expand the nation’s commercial space sector and accelerate its evolution.

Remaking U.S. Regulation of Space Commerce is a newly released issue brief prepared by Dr. James Vedda of The Aerospace Corporation senior policy analyst in The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy.

Deep space architecture.
Credit: NASA


Adequate resources

Vedda notes that the reinvigoration of what traditionally has been a small office can start with providing adequate resources to carry out a space commerce strategic plan that has been in place for more than a decade.

Additionally, the office is expected to regulate and facilitate an array of space activities that are emerging in the private sector.

Range of responsibilities

A range of responsibilities will include far more than just regulatory reform and space traffic management, the two topics that dominate current planning.

Axiom space station.
Credit: Axiom



Among other topics are private-sector space stations; the exploitation of extraterrestrial resources; and utilities in cislunar space.



To view this informative issue brief, go to:

Credit: Galactic Getaways/ Slot Planet

A new interactive guide re-imagines the nine planets in our solar system as holiday resorts.

Now your imagination can run wild with Galactic Getaways, an off-Earth holiday guide.

From diamond rain and toasty temperatures of 464 degrees, to photo opportunities including the tallest mountain in the solar system and bright blue clouds, there’s a lot to select from in terms of where to take your intergalactic holiday.

Credit: Galactic Getaways/Slot Planet

Taking the nine planets (including Pluto!) in our Solar System, the guide accounts for all of the factors that are considered when planning a holiday, from weather and average temperatures, to sports and activities included within your travel itinerary.

Destination factors include: Travel time from Earth; average temperature; length of a day; moons; weather; along with photo opportunities and potential sports.

Go to:

Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo and collaborators

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 has provided new imagery of asteroid Ryugu from an altitude of 4 miles (6 kilometers) distance.

Hayabusa2 arrived at asteroid Ryugu on June 27. The innovative spacecraft remained at a distance of about 12 miles (20 kilometers), dubbed the “Home Position” to continue to observe the asteroid.

During this time, the spacecraft maintained a hovering altitude above the asteroid surface.

Lower altitude

In the week of July 16, operations were begun to lower this hovering altitude, eventually bringing the spacecraft closer to the asteroid surface.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 is pulling up to Ryugu – a C-type asteroid – for detailed study.
Artwork: Akihiro Ikeshita

Imagery was captured with the Hayabusa2’s Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic (ONC-T).

The resolution of new imagery is about 3.4 times higher than the images taken from the Home Position.

Crater, boulders

The largest crater on the surface of Ryugu is situated near the center of the image

Revealed in the imagery is that the surface of Ryugu is covered with a large number of boulders. Imagery taken by Hayabusa2 will provide important information as JAXA scientists select a landing site.

Artist’s view of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in space, up and operating tackling a full agenda of space science conquests.
Credit: Northrop Grumman

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee finished a two-part hearing today on delays and cost increases for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), affectingly also known in some circles as the Just Wait Space Telescope.

Launch goal

“It is truly staggering to behold how this space telescope’s cost and schedule projections went from costing the same as a Space Shuttle mission—around half a billion dollars with an original launch goal in 2007—to now becoming an expenditure exceeding $9 billion with a new launch goal in March 2021,” said Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. “That is nineteen times the original cost and a delay of fourteen years. It’s hard to get much worse than that.”

Independent Review Board (IRB) was chaired by Tom Young, a board that identified systemic problems in the management and execution of JWST. Credit: House Science, Space, and Technology Committee/Screengrab

Hurting other missions

Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin pointed out that the additional costs for JWST are hurting other missions.

“The $803 million needed to fund the JWST cost breach could fund nearly every one of NASA’s science funding shortfalls from FY13 to FY16. These projects include Earth science and education projects greatly promoted by our Democratic colleagues on the committee.”

Babin said that “decisions made now can have long lasting implications on future missions. We need to know that there is not a systemic or fundamental management problem with how NASA plans and executes these larger strategic missions.”

Independent review

The hearing came shortly after an Independent Review Board (IRB), chaired by Tom Young, identified systemic problems in the management and execution of JWST.

That report identified five fundamental issues that contributed to the delay: human errors, embedded problems, lack of experience in areas such as the sunshield, excessive optimism, and system complexity.

“Our report contains 32 recommendations,” Young said at the hearing. “We believe the implementation of all 32 recommendations is required to maximize the probability of JWST success,” he told the Committee.

Lessons learned

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine provided testimony on the first panel and assured the Committee that NASA will be implementing the Independent Review Board recommendations.

“NASA also recognizes that the lessons learned here have similarities to other issues we are seeing around NASA’s development programs for large, complex space systems and it is imperative for NASA to not only internalize these messages to lasting effect on Webb, but also across all of NASA’s programs,” Bridenstine said.

On the hearing hot seat. Wesley Bush, CEO of Northrup Grumman, the primary contractor on JWST.
Credit: House Science, Space, and Technology Committee/Screengrab

Grumbles about Grumman

Wesley Bush, CEO of Northrup Grumman, the primary contractor on JWST, testified on the second panel and acknowledged that, “Northrup Grumman recognizes that we have contributed to some of the program’s challenges.”

Chairman Smith pressed the issue, saying that “the U.S. aerospace industry has the highest skilled workforce in the world. Their scientists, engineers, and technicians have built incredibly challenging and complex aerospace systems. So the workplace errors and lack of discipline, auditing, and quality control described by the IRB could lead us to believe that the real issue is with Northrop Grumman.”

Cost overruns

In questioning, Smith asked whether Northrup Grumman had taken responsibility for the problems listed in the Independent Review Board report.

“In Mr. Young’s report there were several instances of preventable human error that were pinpointed that led to millions of dollars in cost overruns. I’m wondering if those employees are still employed by Northrup Grumman,” Smith asked.  Bush could not confirm that anyone had been fired as a result of the human errors that have delayed JWST.

JWST’s combined science instruments and optical element recently completed 100 days of thermal vacuum testing inside NASA Johnson Space Center’s Chamber A. Engineers are seen by the hardware shortly after it emerged from the huge test facility on December 1, 2017.
Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn



Smith asked if Northrup Grumman was planning to pay the $800 million in above-cap expenses, and the answer was also no.

“I wish that Northrup Grumman would take responsibility and show a little bit more good faith both for the taxpayer and for the cost overruns,” Smith said.





The JWST hearing panels are available to watch at:

And also:

Note: This story based largely on House Science, Space, and Technology Committee press statement.

New altitude record.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

From Virgin Galactic today:

Virgin Galactic test pilots broke Mach 2 this morning, as VSS Unity performed its third rocket-powered supersonic outing in less than four months.

After a clean release from carrier aircraft VMS Eve at 46,500 ft, pilots Dave Mackay and Mike “Sooch” Masucci lit the spaceship’s rocket motor, before pulling up into a near vertical climb and powering towards the black sky at 2.47 times the speed of sound.

White Knight carrier craft carries SpaceShipTwo aloft for high-altitude release.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

Into the ignorosphere

The planned 42 seconds rocket burn took pilots and spaceship through the Stratosphere and, at an apogee of 170,800 ft, into the Mesosphere for the first time.

This region — often referred to by scientists as the “Ignorosphere” — is an under-studied atmospheric layer because it is above the range of balloon flight and not accessible via circling satellites.

New record

Notes a Virgin Galactic statement: After a safe landing back at Mojave Air and Space Port, Chief Pilot Dave Mackay summed up the experience: “It was a thrill from start to finish. Unity’s rocket motor performed magnificently again and Sooch pulled off a smooth landing. This was a new altitude record for both of us in the cockpit, not to mention our mannequin in the back, and the views of Earth from the black sky were magnificent.”

Feathered SpaceShipTwo heads toward Earth.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

Sooch added: “Having been a U2 pilot and done a lot of high altitude work, or what I thought was high altitude work, the view from 170,000 ft was just totally amazing. The flight was exciting and frankly beautiful. We were able to complete a large number of test points which will give us good insight as we progress to our goal of commercial service.”

Cabin analysis

Every time VSS Unity is tested on the ground, or in the skies, Virgin Galactic reports that they gain invaluable experience and fresh data. This continuously improves our modeling and helps us optimize objectives and test points as we progressively expand the flight envelope. Today’s test, among other things, gathered more data on supersonic aerodynamics as well as thermal dynamics, according to a press statement.

As it has been on previous flights, Unity’s cabin was equipped to gather data vital to the future safety and experience of future astronaut customers.

Tarmac touchdown for third powered flight of SpaceShipTwo, Unity.
Credit: Virgin Galactic

These cabin analysis systems record a host of parameters that are designed to help us further understand the environment inside the cabin during powered flight – temperatures, pressures, humidity, acoustics, thermal response, vibration, acceleration and even radiation.

The carrier aircraft that let loose of SpaceShipTwo at altitude, VMS Eve, was piloted today by Todd Ericson and Kelly Latimer.

Go to this video of the flight at: