Archive for September, 2018

Last image from Opportunity. Panoramic Camera photo taken on Sol 5111, June 10, 2018.

Due to a massive dust storm on the Red Planet, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has remained silent for well over three months.

No signal from the robot has been heard since Sol 5111 on June 10, 2018.

It is expected that solar powered Opportunity experienced a low-power fault. Perhaps, a mission clock fault and an up-loss timer fault, as well. The dust storm on Mars continues to subside. The science team has been listening for the rover over a broad range of times using the Deep Space Network (DSN) Radio Science Receiver. In addition, commanding “sweep and beeps” throughout the daily DSN pass is another avenue to address a possible complexity with certain conditions within the mission clock fault.

Memory issue

Meanwhile, now over two weeks ago, NASA’s nuclear powered Curiosity Mars rover also experienced a problem. Its last images were transmitted back on September 15, 2018.

One of last images from Curiosity Mars rover, taken by Front Hazcam Right B on September 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In this case a memory storage issue preventing the robot from sending science and engineering data, although the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has stated that the rover remains in its normal mode and is otherwise healthy and responsive.

Engineers continue to better analyze the issue. Because the amount of data coming down to Earth from Curiosity is limited, it may take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem.

Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout is set for deployment from Japan’s Hayabusa2.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 asteroid probe is set to deploy on October 3 the MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout). MASCOT will join two previously deployed devices; the MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, 1A and 1B.

MASCOT is a mobile box-shaped landing device measuring 30 x 30 x 20 centimeters and weighing approximately 22 pounds (10 kilograms). The lander was built by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt; DLR) in collaboration with the French space agency, CNES.

The lander accommodates four scientific instruments designed to study the surface of the asteroid Ryugu in detail.


Christian Grimm of DLR’s Institute of Space Systems in the Department of Exploration Systems works with colleagues on MASCOT.
Credit: DLR

MASCOT includes a mechanism that enables movement on the asteroid surface – a swing-arm, made out of tungsten, which is accelerated and decelerated by a motor. That action causes the whole system to swing, so that MASCOT can move by ‘jumping’ and thus maneuver itself into the position required to conduct experiments.

MASCOT’s battery is sufficient for 16 hours of operating time. However, the actual operating time depends on the temperature and actual power consumption on site. During this time, Ryugu will go through about two full asteroid day-and-night cycles.

Pre-launch photo of MASCOT being placed on Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid probe.
Credit: DLR


MASCOT will be let loose by Hayabusa2, pushed out of its holding device by means of a spring mechanism behind a push-off plate.

The lander will free-fall from a height of roughly 200 feet (60 meters), at the falling speed of a sheet of paper, touching down on Ryugu after approximately 15 minutes. The hardware is expected to bounce at least once or several times over the surface. The final landing site and orientation are therefore uncertain.

In order to carry out the experiments, an ‘upright’ position is required: In order for MASCOT to be able to work, the on-board computer is informed of the orientation data by means of position sensors. The swing arm is then activated, making MASCOT change position if necessary, ensuring that it is in the correct position.

As Japan’s Hayabusa2 descended towards Ryugu to deploy the MINERVA-II1 rovers, a camera onboard the asteroid explorer snapped the highest resolution image yet of the space rock’s surface!
Credit: JAXA

Due to long signal propagation times to Earth, intervention from the ground station is not possible, meaning that all actions are autonomously carried out by MASCOT.

Go to this informative DLR video for more information on MASCOT:

Credit: Euroconsult

Government funding in space exploration is expected to surpass $20 billion by 2027. In future years, there will be a boost in public and private initiatives in space exploration with a converging global interest in Moon exploration.

Those findings and others can be drawn from a new report by Euroconsult a global consulting firm specialized in high technology industries, with expertise in world space activities.

Israel’s lunar lander.
Credit: SpaceIL

Global investment

The report — Prospects for Space Exploration – explains that global government investment in space exploration totaled $14.6 billion in 2017, a 6% increase compared to 2016.

Fifteen leading space programs worldwide are estimated to contribute to this global investment with the U.S. accounting for 74% of the total. Global expenditures have grown in the past five years driven by programs in leading countries and new countries investing in space exploration.

In a still constrained budgetary environment, global space budgets for space exploration are expected to grow to over $20 billion by 2027.

Realistic and pragmatic investment

Natalia Larrea Brito, Senior Consultant at Euroconsult and editor of the report observes: “Future funding for space exploration is expected to grow to support the ambitious plans of the next decade.”

Brito however adds, “nonetheless, national investments will remain constrained by their public finance environments that should dictate realistic and pragmatic investment strategies. Space exploration is attracting not only the interest of an increasing number of governments but also the private sector; start-ups to large companies seek to exploit the commercial potential of exploration activities.”

Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster takes flight.
Credit: Blue Origin

“Space agencies are increasingly seeking to leverage partnerships with the private sector to achieve their goals more cost-effectively while fostering sustainable space exploration,” Brito concludes.

Moon exploration

Key findings of the report include:

— At $7.7 billion in 2017, transportation is the largest expenditure area; it is forecasted to reach nearly $9 billion in 2027 supported by significant investments from multiple countries and particularly in the U.S. and China to support the development of next generation crew and/or cargo vehicles for low Earth orbit (LEO) and beyond-LEO activities.

  • Orbital infrastructure is the second-largest application with $3.5 billion in 2017, an investment which has been stable over the past five years. Funding should continue to grow, driven by investments in the ISS program and increasing funding for the development of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway by ISS partners as well as China’s investment in it space station.

    Credit: NASA/ESA

  • Moon exploration, which has received modest investment in the past five years, should experience sustained growth, reaching $2.8 billion by 2027 to support ambitious government missions and commercial partnership programs as Moon exploration becomes a central item in the exploration strategy of most agencies moving forward.
  • Mars exploration budgets grew to $1.5 billion in 2017; investment is expected to peak in 2018 as four missions are set for launch in 2020. After a cyclical downturn, new investment cycles to support planned missions might increase funding again to reach $1.3 billion in 2027.
  • Other deep space exploration programs reached $1.4 billion in 2017; global funding should reach $1.8 billion by 2021 to support the development of multiple planned missions in the middle and end of the decade.
  • Over the past ten years, 19 planetary exploration missions were launched by six countries/agencies (the U.S., ESA, Russia, Japan, China and India). Over the next decade nearly 80 missions are expected to be launched, of which 63% will correspond to government missions.
  • The next decade will also see the rise of commercial exploration initiatives, with close to 30 commercial missions forecasted by 2027, primarily driven by lunar initiatives.
  • In terms of applications, Moon exploration is expected to account for the majority of missions (64% of the total) to be launched by 2027, as lunar exploration becomes the focus in the strategy of private and public stakeholders. A total of 18 missions are anticipated to be launched for other deep space exploration, while the remaining missions will be dedicated to Mars exploration.

    New planetary prowler – the NASA Mars 2020 rover – scouring the Red Planet for select samples for eventual return to Earth.
    Credit: NASA/JPL

Economic/strategic assessment

The report is an economic and strategic assessment of the space exploration sector, including an analysis and benchmark of government and commercial space exploration programs worldwide.

The report identifies existing and upcoming new entrants in space exploration, global trends related to space exploration, and analyzes collaborative undertakings for exploration, including both international space agency partnerships as well as public-private partnerships.

For more information on the report — Prospects for Space Exploration – go to:

Credit: Subcommittee on Space, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology/Screengrab



How does 60 years of NASA leadership in human space exploration, past, present, and future stack up?

This House hearing featured William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. He detailed NASA’s current Moon, Mars, Lunar Gateway, extending the International Space Station, commercial space alliances and other issues.

Subcommittee on Space, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology/Screengrab





This Subcommittee on Space, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing was held Wednesday, September 26, 2018 and can be viewed here:

In addition to Gerstenmaier, also testifying:

Mark Geyer, Director, Johnson Space Center, NASA

Jody Singer, Director, Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA

Robert Cabana, Director, John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA

Gerstenmaier’s written testimony is available at:


Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


Global space race

Another hearing on September 26 was held by the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness was titled Global Space Race: Ensuring the United States Remains the Leader in Space.

NASA’s James Bridenstine, Administrator, was the sole witness at this third in a series of hearings leading up to a potential NASA authorization. This hearing examined the challenges NASA faces in undertaking human and robotic exploratory missions, its research in aeronautics and space technology, and how the agency’s current and planned initiatives will affect its future mission goals.

The hearing can be viewed here at:

September 23, 2018: image captured immediately before hop of Rover-1B. 2018-9-23 09:46 (JST).
(Image credit: JAXA)

September 23, 2018 at 10:10 JST: surface image from Rover-1B after landing
(Image credit: JAXA)

Rover-1A snapped a photograph of its own antenna and pin! Image taken on September 23, 2018.
Credit: JAXA

September 23, 2018 at 09:43 JST: surface image taken from Rover-1A
(Image credit: JAXA)



Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid probe released the MINERVA-II1 rovers on September 21 to explore the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

New photos and video taken by one of the rovers shows the Sun moving across the sky as seen from the surface of Ryugu. Please take a moment to enjoy “standing” on this new world.








































Go to video at:







Earth’s Moon and cis-lunar space are new destinations for numbers of nations. To what extent is that presence demand or promote a military presence?
Credit: Inside Outer Space



Leading military space strategy experts are pondering the role of cis-lunar space in the context of U.S. President Trump’s go-ahead to establish a U.S. Space Force.

Just how valuable is that property far from Earth, lying between the Earth and the moon’s orbit? Might this celestial real estate become hot property as an extension of military arenas in low Earth orbit, Medium Earth orbit, and geosynchronous orbit?

Presently, the military use of space is focused on geosynchronous Earth orbit inward, an arena of critical, multi-faceted spacecraft. Could cis-lunar space and the Moon itself become part of the military equation?
Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Corey Hook




Given forecasts of 21st century Moon and cis-lunar activities by both private and government entities, could this be an economic area of development that needs protection in future years, decades?

For more information, go to my new story at:

Will the US Military Space Force’s Reach Extend to the Moon?

September 27, 2018 06:46am ET

Study area that shows location of the Apollo basin (white dashed line) near the rim of
the South Pole‐Aitken (SPA) basin and large impact craters for reference.
Credit: Ivanov, et al.

Lunar researchers have conducted a geological analysis of the northern portion of the South Pole‐Aitken (SPA) basin.

The SPA is the largest recognized and likely the oldest impact structure on the Moon.

Impact, volcanic events

Results of the team’s mapping efforts permitted the unraveling of the major sequence of impact and volcanic events that have shaped the basin throughout its evolution, the researchers note, and resulted in the discovery of the oldest materials related to the basin formation.

“Analysis of the distribution and concentrations of iron and titanium in the materials of different age within the SPA basin allows the characterization of the structure of the ancient lunar crust and mantle. These results introduce important constraints on the current models of the early evolution of the Moon,” the lunar authorities report.

Regional topography of the study area with black dashed line indicating the Apollo basin. Solid lines show position of topographic profiles. The hypsogram for the study area shows two principal topographic domains, the SPA floor and rim that were formed after the SPA event. Lastly, a topographic profile across the floor and the rim of the SPA is depicted.
Credit: Ivanov, et al.

Russian, U.S., German team

One of the major issues regarding the history and evolution of the SPA region is the age and extent of volcanic activity within the basin.

The mapping work – “Geologic history of the northern portion of the South Pole-Aitken basin on the Moon” – has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets.

Mikhail A. Ivanov of the V.I. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, in Moscow is lead author of the research paper, along with a U.S. lunar specialist and German experts.

For more information on this work, go to:


Proposed Lunar Meteoroid Impacts Observer.
Credit: LUMIO project

A CubeSat orbiting in the Earth–Moon region has been evaluated to provide data on flashes produced by impacts of meteoroids with the Moon’s surface.

Called the Lunar Meteoroid Impacts Observer, or LUMIO, the space mission concept would contribute to “Lunar Situational Awareness.”

LUMIO is an awarded winner of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) SysNova Competition “Lunar CubeSats for Exploration,” and as such it is now under consideration for future implementation by ESA.

Credit: LUMIO project

Flash-spotting camera

In a paper led by Ana Cipriano, Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands, LUMIO is described as a 12U CubeSat, placed at Earth–Moon L2 point. It is equipped with an optical instrument,

the LUMIO-Cam, which is able to spot the flashes produced by impacts of meteoroids with the lunar surface.

Joining Cipriano in detailing LUMIO is Diogene Dei Tos and Francesco Topputo of the Department of Aerospace Science and Technology, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy. The research work — Orbit Design for LUMIO: The Lunar Meteoroid Impacts Observer – has been published in the journal, Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Far side monitoring

LUMIO would monitor the lunar far side, complementing Earth-based observations of the lunar near side.

Credit: LUMIO project

To date, lunar meteoroid impact estimates of the larger than 1-kilogram meteoroid flux at the Moon varies across the scientific literature. Some estimates peg it at 1,290 impacts per year, to perhaps 23,000 impacts per year.

Cipriano and her colleagues explain that, in part, the discrepancies across the literature are due to the current lack of knowledge regarding meteoroid impact physics, such as the luminous efficiency of an impactor and a non-uniformity on how lunar meteoroid impacts data is processed, “As such, more experimental data on lunar meteoroid impacts is still required,” they add.

Viable tool

“The mission implements a novel orbit design and latest CubeSat technologies to serve as a pioneer in demonstrating how CubeSats can become a viable tool for deep space science and exploration,” the paper explains.

The LUMIO mission is conceived to address the following issues:

  • Science Question – What are the spatial and temporal characteristics of meteoroids impacting the lunar surface?
  • Science Goal – Advance the understanding of how meteoroids evolve in the cislunar space by observing the flashes produced by their impacts with the lunar surface.
  • Science Objective – Characterize the flux of meteoroids impacting the lunar surface.

Halo orbits

For LUMIO, a number of potential orbit families were considered. As a result, L2 halo orbits have been selected.

Credit: LUMIO project

A duty of LUMIO is to investigate the characteristics of meteoroids and improve the meteoroid models of the solar system. “This might lead to a further study of the sources of these meteoroids, such as asteroids in the near-Earth environment and comets,” the research team concludes.

For more information, go to the paper — Orbit Design for LUMIO: The Lunar Meteoroid Impacts Observer—published September 19th at:

Also, go to this informative video at:

Credit: NASA/ESA

NASA has issued a new document – “the National Space Exploration Campaign Report.”

NASA sent Congress the human exploration roadmap required by the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act.

The 5 sections of the report are: Forward to the Moon, Mars and Beyond; Americans in Lunar Orbit and on the Lunar Surface; Living in Space Prepared Us for this Moment; Vistas of Opportunity and Discovery – Mars and Beyond; and Corporate Reform – Enabling Initiatives.

Strategic goals

“The National Space Exploration Campaign strategy is ready. It includes direction from the White House and Congress, with input from industry, academia, and most importantly, the American public,” the document explains. “It is not a repeat of efforts of the past 50 years. The National Space Exploration Campaign does not assume or require significant funding increases.”

Credit: NASA

The National Space Exploration Campaign has five strategic goals:

  • Transition U.S. human spaceflight in LEO to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging commercial economy.
  • Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
  • Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
  • Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and utilization.
  • Demonstrate on the Moon the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

To read the full document, go to:

Note: Special thanks to Marcia Smith at for flagging this key document.


How to Live in Space – Everything You Need to Know for the Not-So-Distant Future, by Colin Stuart, Smithsonian Books, September 2018; $17.95, 192 pages.

Stuart has written a witty and insightful book that spotlights life on the outside – of our own planet. This is a fun read, particularly if you’re in line, ticket in hand, for space tourism companies to make your dream vacation come true.

This book is a breezy encounter with the many sides of space, providing some needed information on training for space travel, living in space when you get there, and what the future holds. Dozens of well-illustrated short chapters make this book a pleasurable read, no matter what section you land on.

Stuart is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and takes the reader on a voyage of possibilities, from checking in to space hotels, building a base on the Moon, to escalating yourself on a space elevator or breakthroughs necessary to attain interstellar flight. There’s even a slice of time travel ticking away for you to read. I skipped over the exercise section.

In this book, you’ll be encountering what the future of human space exploration offers. Count me in!

Still, Stuart does caution: “There’s no way it is going to be perfect. Progress is always a meandering path rather than a straight line.” That said, space is up and those that have the passion to break boundaries will find this volume a solid, delightful, fact-filled and astute guide to the possible.

Preparing for personal space travel doesn’t come easy. But Stuart has culled it all down to astronaut selection criteria, underwater training, as well as dealing with bouts of space sickness.  Again, all nicely written tutorials for the taking.

How to Live in Space is an instructive, illustrated guide to life beyond our own planet that covers everything from training for and living in space to the future of space travel and tourism. For those on the go, securely helmeted and ready for liftoff, this book is a pre-launch requirement.

For more information on this book, go to: