Archive for September, 2018

Image captured by Rover-1A on September 21 at around 13:08 JST. This is a color image taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft. Hayabusa2 is at the top and the surface of Ryugu is bottom. The image is blurred because the shot was taken while the rover was rotating. Although the image is blurred due to the rover rotating, you can clearly see the body of Hayabusa2 and the paddle of the solar cells. The solar paddle appears blue.
Credit: JAXA

On September 21, the small compact MINERVA-II1 rovers separated from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

The MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-1B.

“We have confirmed both rovers landed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data. Analysis of this information confirmed that at least one of the rovers is moving on the asteroid surface,” explained a posting by the Hayabusa2 project.

Image captured by Rover-1B on September 21 at around 13:07 JST. This color image was taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft. The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right. The colored blur in the top left is due to the reflection of sunlight when the image was taken.
Credit: JAXA


MINERVA-II1 is the world’s first rover (mobile exploration robot) to land on the surface of an asteroid. This is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture on an asteroid surface.

“MINERVA-II1 is therefore ‘the world’s first man-made object to explore movement on an asteroid surface.’ We are also delighted that the two rovers both achieved this operation at the same time,” a Hayabusa2 project statement added. “Operation of MINERVA-II1 will continue from now on. We are planning to acquire more data for analysis.”

Image captured by Rover-1A on September 22 at around 11:44 JST. Color image captured while moving (during a hop) on the surface of Ryugu. The left-half of the image is the asteroid surface. The bright white region is due to sunlight.
Credit: JAXA

Comments from project members

■ Tetsuo Yoshimitsu, Responsible for the Hayabusa2 Project MINERVA-II1.

Although I was disappointed with the blurred image that first came from the rover, it was good to be able to capture this shot as it was recorded by the rover as the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is shown. Moreover, with the image taken during the hop on the asteroid surface, I was able to confirm the effectiveness of this movement mechanism on the small celestial body and see the result of many years of research.

■ Takashi Kubota, Spokesperson for the Hayabusa2 Project (also responsible for the MINERVA-II1)

The good news made me so happy. From the surface of Ryugu, MINERVA-II1 sent a radio signal to the Earth via Hayabusa2 S/C. The image taken by MINERVA-II1 during a hop allowed me to relax as a dream of many years came true. I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan. This is just a real charm of deep space exploration.

Hayabusa2 project members.
Credit: JAXA

■ Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 Project Project Manager

I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid. I am proud that Hayabusa2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies.

■ Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa2 Project Mission Manager

I was so moved to see these small rovers successfully explore an asteroid surface because we could not achieve this at the time of Hayabusa, 13 years ago. I was particularly impressed with the images taken from close range on the asteroid surface.

Photo captured by Rover-1A on September 22. It was taken on Ryugu’s surface during a hop. The left-half is the surface of Ryugu, while the white region on the right is due to sunlight.
Credit: Hayabusa2 Project


It is the world’s first human-made object to explore movement on an asteroid’s surface.

That’s the word from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) scientists.

On September 21, the small compact MINERVA-II1 rovers separated from JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

Artist’s view of MINERVA-II1 rovers.
Credit: JAXA

In good condition

The MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-1B. Ground controllers have confirmed both rovers landed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data. JAXA also confirmed they both are moving on Ryugu’s surface.

MINERVA-II1 is the world’s first rover (mobile exploration robot) design to land on the surface of an asteroid. This is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture on an asteroid’s surface.

Space X’s Elon Musk gives boost to Moon-bound Yusaku Maezawa.
Credit: SpaceX

A message from #dearMoon Project Host Curator, Yusaku Maezawa:

I choose to go to the Moon, with artists.

If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn?

If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written?

If they had gone to space, how would the world have looked today?

People are creative and have a great imagination.

We all have the ability to dream dreams that have never been dreamt, to sing songs that have never been sung, to paint that which has never been seen before.

I hope that this project will inspire the dreamer within each of us.

Credit: #dearMoon Project/Screengrab



Together with Earth’s top artists, I will be heading to the moon… just a little earlier than everyone else.

I am truly blessed by this opportunity to become Host Curator of “#dearMoon”.

Credit: #dearMoon Project/Screengrab



I would like to thank Elon Musk and SpaceX for creating the opportunity to go around the moon in their BFR. I would also like to thank all those who have continuously supported me.

I vouch to make this project a success. Stay tuned!

— Yusaku Maezawa


For more information, go to:


Studio Samira Boon has created woven self supported origami structures from a single sheet of fabric and woven self supportive arc.
Credit: Studio Samira Boon

High-performance textiles and the flexible nature of origami are transforming architecture plans for smart human habitats and research stations on the Moon and Mars.

MoonMars is a collaboration between the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG), ESA-ESTEC, research institutions and textile architect studio Samira Boon.

Digital weaving

The MoonMars team has incorporated origami structure into digital weaving processes to sculpt complex forms that are compact to transport and easy to deploy through inflatable, pop-up or robotic mechanisms in extraterrestrial environments.

The angled facets of origami structures mean that incoming micrometeorites are less likely hit surfaces at 90 degrees, dissipating the energy of potential impacts and the risks of penetration, thus protecting astronauts inside habitats.

A woven self supported origami dome from a single sheet of fabric and woven self supportive arc.
Credit: Studio Samira Boon

Solar panels embedded in shape-shifting textiles can follow the Sun to gather more energy through the day. Transparent and opaque facets can change direction to alter internal lighting and climate conditions.

Field testing

The results from initial field tests of the MoonMars project’s origami prototype have been presented at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2018, held this week in Berlin.

“Origami structures made of textiles can be unfolded into a myriad of different shapes. They are lightweight. They can be easily deployed and re-used in different configurations and sizes for flexible spatial usage. Structures remain functional in changing circumstances, thereby extending their useable life-span,” explains Anna Sitnikova, leader of the MoonMars project on behalf of the ILEWG.

The prototype was deployed and tested to extreme conditions on the April 20 during the EuroMoonMars2018 simulation at ESA – ESTEC. The origami structure was designed as a gateway and sub-system between the exo-habitat, airlock system and exo-laboratory.
Credit: Anna Sitnikova


The MoonMars team is now planning an ambitious series of trials for 2019. In June, the IGLUNA project, led by the Swiss Space Center, will include tests of an origami habitat in the glacier above Zermatt in Switzerland. In September 2019 the team will travel to Iceland to participate in a campaign inside a lava-tube cave system.

Deployed micro-satellite monitored the combined Tiangong-2/Shenzhou-11 vehicles.
Credit: CCTV

China’s Tiangong-2 space laboratory continues to circle the Earth in uncrewed mode. It was launched back in September 2016.

The China Manned Space Agency recently noted that the spacecraft remains in orbit and is still “unswervingly carrying out its missions.”

Inside Tiangong-2 as crew members carry out experiments. Mission lasted for about a month.
Credit: CCTV

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong entered the space lab in October 2016 after their Shenzhou-11 spacecraft docked with the Tiangong-2, and stayed inside the craft for 30 days.

Precursor demonstrations

From April to September 2017, Tiangong-2 and the Tianzhou I cargo spacecraft fulfilled several docking and in-orbit refueling operations, precursor demonstrations to sharpen skills for future space station operations.

China’s ECNS [China News Service] quotes Pang Zhihao, a space industry observer in Beijing that “Tiangong-2 is now like a large scientific satellite.” Despite the spacecraft’s 24-month designed life span having been reached, it seems to be in good condition and is still carrying out work.

China’s cargo ship right approaches Tiangong-2 space lab in artist’s view.
Credit: CMSE

“In addition to scientific applications, the spacecraft can also perform orbit transfer experiments,” Pang said. “Such experiments can help to explore methods of avoiding space debris for our future space station, and also can allow Tiangong-2’s cameras to take high-definition pictures of Earth.”

Artist view of China’s space station. Credit: CMSE

Future plans

According to ECNS, Pang added that researchers can use the presently orbiting space lab to repeat some tests and experiments on equipment or technologies that will be used on the country’s future space station, further verifying the reliability of the equipment and relevant technologies.

The 8.6 ton Tiangong-2 has helped to pave the way for China’s plans for a manned space station, the agency said. According to the China Academy of Space Technology, assembly of the larger complex is to start around 2020. The space station is expected to be fully operational around 2022 and is set to operate for about 15 years.


The U.S. National Academies of Sciences (NAS), Engineering, and Medicine via an ad hoc committee is wrapping up a review and assessment of recent research on whether martian life might exist on the surfaces of the martian moons, Phobos and Deimos.

These two moons may have been ejected from the surface of Mars following a major impact.

Credit: ESA

Sample collection

Japan’s Martian Moon eXploration (MMX) mission is aiming for an early 2020s probe launch and would enter the quasi satellite orbit of the Martian moons and then observe them and collect samples.

Investigations are being made into the possible scenario of returning the probe to the Earth with its samples once the probe has completed its observations and collection.

Credit: JAXA

Rerestricted or unrestricted?

The NAS ad hoc committee has outlined some tasks to consider:

— Review, in the context of current understanding of conditions relevant to inactivation of carbon-based life, recent theoretical, experimental, and modeling research on the environments and physical conditions encountered by Mars ejecta during the following processes: a) excavation from the martian surface via crater-forming events; b) while in transit through cismartian space; c) during deposition on Phobos or Deimos; and d) after deposition on Phobos or Deimos.

— Recommend whether missions returning samples from Phobos and/or Deimos should be classified as “restricted” or “unrestricted” Earth return in the framework of the planetary protection policy

— Suggest any other refinements in planetary protection requirements that might be required to accommodate spacecraft missions to and sample returned from Phobos and/or Deimos.

Credit: Surrey Space Centre (SSC)

A concept for space debris reduction has successfully been tested – in space!

RemoveDEBRIS, led by the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) at the University of Surrey, was launched into orbit in June from the International Space Station (ISS).

Credit: Surrey Space Centre (SSC)

The RemoveDEBRIS experiment will demonstrate a range of innovative technologies to clean up space debris.

RemoveDEBRIS net, pre-deploy photo.
Credit: Airbus

Net, harpoon, drag sail

The spacecraft features three Airbus technologies to perform Active Debris Removal (ADR): a net and a harpoon to capture debris, and also a Vision Based Navigation (VBN) system to develop rendezvous techniques in orbit with space debris.

Credit: Airbus

The spacecraft itself was designed and built by Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and also includes a drag sail to speed up deorbiting of the whole mission.











The first video of the Net experiment successfully capturing a deployed cubesat can be found here:


The candy-pink Laguna de Peña Hueca derives its colour from the red cells of the salt-loving algae Dunaliella salina EP-1.
Credit: Europlanet/F Gómez/R Thombre

A candy-pink lagoon here on Earth has implications for the search for life on Mars.

A microorganism has been discovered that provides new evidence for how life could survive on a “high-salt” diet on Mars and perhaps beneath Europa’s icy façade.

Dunaliella salina EP-1 is one of the most salt-tolerant extremophiles that has been found. The microorganism has implications for how algae might be used to terraform Mars.

Findings from a study of microorganisms found in Laguna de Peña Hueca, part of the Lake Tirez system in La Mancha, Spain, is being presented this week at the European Planetary Science Congress 2018 in Berlin.

Credit: Europlanet/F Gómez/R Thombre

Lagoon water

Presenting their research: Rebecca Thombre of the Department of Biotechnology, at the Modern College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Shivajinagar, Pune, India, and Felipe Gómez of the Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain.

The research team collected samples of lagoon water and studied the physical characteristics and genetic sequence of the isolated microorganisms. They found that the lagoon’s pink color derives from the red cells of a sub-genus of the salt-loving algae Dunaliella.

The lagoon has very high concentrations of salt and sulphur and is a good analogue for chloride deposits found in the southern highlands of Mars and briny water beneath Europa’s icy crust.

This extremophilic algal strain from Laguna de Peña Hueca has been named Dunaliella salina EP-1 after the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure.
Credit: Europlanet/F Gomez/R Thombre

Industrial applications

The cells of Dunaliella algae are used in many countries for the industrial production of carotenoids, ß-carotene, glycerol, bioactives, biofuel and antioxidants, so the strain EP-1 may have applications for a range of biotechnologies.

“Considering the commercial and economic significance of this organism, future studies are warranted to gain a complete picture of its physiology, ecology and biotechnological potential,” Thombre said in a press statement.

The resilience of extremophiles to the conditions of Mars analogues on Earth demonstrate their potential to thrive in martian soils, Gómez added. “This has implications for planetary protection, as well as how algae might be used to terraform Mars.”

The abstract for the meeting — Extremophiles from Tirez and Peña Hueca: Implications for exploring habitability of Mars and Europa — is here:

NASA Curiosity rover on the Red Planet prowl since August 2012 and assessing the habitability of Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Issues have cropped up with NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover – something akin to robotic Alzheimer’s disease.

“Over the past few days, engineers here at JPL have been working to address an issue on Curiosity that is preventing it from sending much of the science and engineering data stored in its memory,” reports Ashwin Vasavada, the Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California.

Meanwhile, the rover remains in its normal mode and is otherwise healthy and responsive. Vasavada adds.

Diagnose the problem

The issue first appeared Saturday night while Curiosity was running through the weekend plan.

Besides transmitting data recorded in its memory, the rover can transmit “real-time” data when it links to a relay orbiter or Deep Space Network antenna. These real-time data are transmitting normally, and include various details about the rover’s status, Vasavada adds. “Engineers are expanding the details the rover transmits in these real-time data to better diagnose the issue. Because the amount of data coming down is limited, it might take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken back on Sol 2172, September 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Backup computer

Vasavada adds that on Monday and Tuesday, engineers discussed which real-time details would be the most useful to have. “They also commanded the rover to turn off science instruments that were still on, since their data are not being stored. They’re also preparing to use the rover’s backup computer in case they need to use it to diagnose the primary computer. That backup computer was the rover’s primary one until Sol 200, when it experienced both a hardware failure and software issue that have since been addressed.”

Another drill attempt

While engineers work to understand the problem, Vasavada points out that Curiosity’s science team is using the time to pore over data gathered on Vera Rubin Ridge “and come up with the best location for another drilling attempt.”

“We’re looking at any clues that tell us the rocks are weaker and better for drilling. As the JPL-based project scientist, I really enjoy watching our scientists from all over the world take on these challenges,” Vasavada says. “And, I also get to witness the brainpower that JPL brings to bear when the rover has a technical issue. We’re rooting for the engineering team 100%!”

Meanwhile, just a touch of the dire: “This blog may be less frequent until science operations resume,” Vasavada concludes.

No new imagery has come in from Curiosity since Sol 2172. The rover is now in Sol 2176.

Meanwhile, not a peep from the only other active rover on Mars, NASA’s Opportunity robot.

China Mars lander
Credit: CCTV America


China is shaping a deep space exploration plan, including launch of two Mars missions, one in 2020 and a return sample mission in 2028.

According to the China News Service, the country will launch its first Mars probe in 2020. After ten months of flight, the probe will orbit, land and deposit a rover on the Red Planet in 2021.

NASA Mars 2020 rover is designed to collect samples, store the specimens in tubes, then deposit the tubes on the surface for later pick-up.
Credit: NASA/ESA

If successful, that mission will join NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, as well as the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2020 rover.

China’s second Mars probe is scheduled for 2028 to bring samples back to Earth.

In addition, China’s deep space to do list includes asteroid exploration and undertaking a mission to the Jupiter system around 2030.

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

In December of this year, China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe is to launch, headed for a landing in Aitken Basin of the lunar south pole region on the far side of the Moon.