Archive for November, 2018

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is now carrying out Sol 2246 duties.

Shown here are just-in images from the Mars machinery:

“Little Colonsay,” a potential meteorite. Photo taken by Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager, acquired on Sol 2245 November 29, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A photo taken on Sol 2245, November 30, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left A image acquired on Sol 2245, November 30, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left A image acquired on Sol 2245, November 30, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity dump site of the Highfield sample. Photo taken by Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), acquired on Sol 2245, November 29, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Credit: NASA



Nine U.S. companies are now eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts, as one of the first steps toward long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars.







And the NASA selected private Moon winners today are (drumroll):

Astrobotic Technology, Inc.: Pittsburgh
Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Firefly Aerospace, Inc.: Cedar Park, Texas
Intuitive Machines, LLC: Houston
Lockheed Martin Space: Littleton, Colorado
Masten Space Systems, Inc.: Mojave, California
Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey

Early company comments

Draper returns to the Moon, enables the future of exploration; Draper team awarded up to $2.6B Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Nov. 29, 2018 – The first time NASA wanted to send humans to the moon it turned to Draper to develop the guidance, navigation and control system that made that possible. As NASA prepares to embark for the moon once more, it has selected a team led by Draper to once again support its mission needs. The Draper team was awarded an Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract vehicle, today to support NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) initiative.

“Navigating humans to the moon and back nearly 50 years ago was an incredibly proud moment for the engineers and scientists at Draper,” said Draper President and CEO Kaigham J. Gabriel. “And that legacy continues as we return to the moon and beyond with CLPS.”

The Draper team’s uncrewed lander—dubbed Artemis-7—will complete sample collection and return, demonstrate the use of in-space resources and reduce risk for the production of human landers. These missions pave the way for a human return to the moon, as well as enable human exploration of Mars and beyond.

Draper’s Artemis-7
Credit: Draper

“The Artemis-7 design will fly multiple times before its first CLPS mission,” explained Seamus Tuohy, principal director of space systems, Draper. “Our lander design has secured substantial private funding. When you combine those investments with the extensible capability of the team and our history of delivering humans to the moon and bringing them back, we’re positioned well to meet NASA’s mission needs.”

The Draper-led team includes General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems; ispace, inc.; and Spaceflight Industries. Draper will provide payload operations, the flight computer, and the guidance, navigation and control systems for the lunar lander, as well as overall management and coordination of the team; General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems will carry out the lunar lander manufacturing, assembly integration and testing in the United States; ispace will act as the design agent for the lunar lander and mission operations, as well as provide high-frequency rideshare opportunities; and Spaceflight Industries Inc. will orchestrate launch services, including integration, mission management, launch and range documentation and pre- and post-operations.

The Artemis-7 derives its name from the Greek goddess of the moon and twin sister of Apollo. The 7 signifies Draper’s seventh lunar landing.

McCandless lunar lander

Lockheed Martin will apply its expertise in interplanetary spacecraft to a new program designed to deliver commercial payloads to the surface of the Moon. NASA announced today they have selected Lockheed Martin’s McCandless Lunar Lander to provide payload delivery services as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract.

McCandless Lunar Lander
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin’s lander design builds on four decades of experience engineering deep space missions, including Mars landers. The McCandless Lunar Lander is based on the proven design of the InSight lander – which just touched down on the Martian surface on Monday, Nov. 26 – and the Phoenix lander – which successfully arrived at Mars in May 2008.

“We are excited to leverage our interplanetary lander designs and experience to help NASA build a new economy on and around the Moon, and beyond,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager for Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin. “Lockheed Martin has built more interplanetary spacecraft than all other U.S. companies combined, including four successful Mars landers. With our expertise on Orion and the NextSTEP lunar habitat, we can maximize the value of CLPS for lunar science operations as well as the path forward to tomorrow’s reusable human lander.”

The McCandless Lunar Lander is capable of transporting large payloads weighing hundreds of kilograms – including stationary scientific instruments, deployable rovers, or even sample return vehicles – to the surface of the Moon. The lander uses a proven propulsive landing approach that relies upon on-board radars and a set of rocket thrusters firing 10 times a second to slow to just five mph before touching down. Once on the lunar surface, the lander can provide power, communications and thermal management for sophisticated payloads.

“We’re no stranger to commercial space business models, having built more than 100 commercial satellites and launched numerous Atlas and Titan commercial payloads,” said Callahan. “On our last 10 interplanetary missions for NASA, we delivered on or ahead of schedule, and on budget. We want to assure payload customers who select Lockheed Martin can be confident that we’ll deliver on-time and on-budget.”

Credit: NASA

The McCandless Lunar Lander is named in honor of the late Bruce McCandless, a NASA astronaut and longtime Lockheed Martin employee who was a pioneer in space exploration. McCandless is best known for conducting the first ever untethered spacewalk using the Lockheed Martin-built Manned Maneuvering Unit during a flight on the space shuttle. He originally joined the astronaut corps during the Apollo program and served as the voice of mission control for Neil Armstrong’s famous moonwalk. After retiring from NASA he was instrumental in the design of exploration technology and training the next generation of planetary explorers during his tenure at Lockheed Martin.

Poised to serve

Astrobotic has been competitively selected to be a delivery provider of NASA payloads to the Moon on the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. Through CLPS, Astrobotic will be a 10-year provider of delivery services for NASA payloads to the Moon. The selection was announced today by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander will carry payloads to the Moon for NASA through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
Credit: Astrobotics

As part of NASA’s plan to return to the Moon, CLPS is leveraging existing private sector services like Astrobotic to deliver their cargo shipments to the Moon.  CLPS will enable the first NASA payloads to be soft-landed on the lunar surface since the Apollo Program, and open a new era in science and exploration with regular commercial deliveries of uncrewed payload to the lunar surface.

“We are humbled by this selection to return America to the Moon.  Astrobotic has steadily developed our lunar delivery service with a methodical, technically sound lander program validated by world-class company partners like ULA, Dynetics, and Airbus DS.  Our focus on delivering for the payload market has enabled our world-leading position with 12-signed deals to date.  It is gratifying to now receive this validation from the most accomplished space agency in the world.” said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.  “We are eager to add NASA to our existing manifest of commercial customers, and get America back on the surface as soon as possible.”

Under the CLPS program, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is poised to serve as America’s workhorse robotic lander, delivering up to 265 kilograms of payload on each mission.  With Peregrine’s robust delivery capacity, the lunar surface is open to NASA and the commercial market for resource prospecting, planetary science investigations, technology maturation, and other activities.  Robotic CLPS payload deliveries on Peregrine will be a vital bridge to a future human return to the Moon, and an important capability in NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration campaign.  By working in concert with NASA’s Gateway, Orion, and Space Launch System, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander will help enable a dynamic public-private future on the Moon.

“This is a pivotal moment for our company and most importantly, our country.  Astrobotic was built for this opportunity, and we stand ready to lead America back to the Moon.” said Thornton.

Firefly: Order award

Firefly Aerospace Beta Launch Vehicle and Lunar Lander: With this initial CLPS competitive procurement, NASA has made multiple awards of Firm-Fixed Price (FFP) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts with the ability to issue Firm-Fixed Price (FFP) task orders.

Firefly Aerospace Beta Launch Vehicle and Lunar Lander
Credit: Firefly

The contracts will have an effective ordering period of 10 years from the contract’s effective date of January 2, 2019 or sooner. The maximum cumulative value of all CLPS task order awards is $2.6 billion over the life of the contract. The multiple CLPS contract award winners are now eligible to compete for specific task order awards including the first commercially provided NASA science payload delivery mission to the Moon. The start of the competition for the first CLPS full lunar mission task order award is expected to be announced by NASA in the near future.

“This contract award recognizes Firefly’s viable technical approach to deliver NASA science payloads and other commercial cargo to the lunar surface, along with the viability of its business plan and financial resources to develop Firefly’s CLPS system,” said Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic. “In conjunction with our Beta launch vehicle and our partnership with Intuitive Machines, Firefly will provide an integrated lunar services offering, from the launch pad to the surface of the Moon. We are honored to partner with NASA in an extraordinary effort that will broaden humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos and inspire a new generation of space entrepreneurs.”


Perseverance Valley descends the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Opportunity Mars rover remains silent – a causality of a mega-dust storm that encircled the planet that was first detected May 30 and lead to a halt of the rover’s operations at Perseverance Valley.

Pre-launch photo of Opportunity at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Credit: NASA

“Still holding onto a sliver of hope that an almost 15 year old rover living under extreme conditions for a very long time will wake up and talk to us,” said Ray Arvidson, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator of Washington University in St. Louis.

“We will continue to actively try and communicate with Opportunity at least through January,” Arvidson told Inside Outer Space.

Textured rows on the ground in this portion of “Perseverance Valley” were under investigation by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which used its Navigation Camera to take the component images of this downhill-looking scene.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Extended mission

In the meantime, Arvidson has started drafting an Extended Mission-12 proposal on what Opportunity would do if the rover did get back into operations. The plan is due to NASA in mid-February.

“We don’t want to be caught off guard with no proposal and a revitalized rover coming back on line, say in late January,” Arvidson said. “The windy season is just beginning so it may happen.”

Winds could increase in the next few months at Opportunity’s location on Mars, resulting in dust being blown off the rover’s solar panels.

Front Hazcam Left A image acquired on Sol 2244, November 28, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2245 duties.

Reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at the Open University, Milton Keynes, in the United Kingdom: “Curiosity woke up to Mr. Rogers ‘Please would you be my neighbor’ this morning to welcome InSight…and then got very busy at the Highfield drill site.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right A photo taken on Sol 2244, November 28, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Every plan has its personality, and the upcoming one is that of a gymnast – at least as far as the arm is concerned,” Schwenzer reports.

Arm action

That plan calls for Curiosity to dump the Highfield sample, which requires several Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) looks and use of the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS). But the plan also requires swinging the arm out of the way so other instruments can have their unobscured look at the dump pile, Schwenzer adds.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 2243, November 27, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Of course, the main activity is to look at the Highfield dump pile with all instruments available,” Schwenzer notes. “APXS will get the chemistry, and Navcam, Mastcam and MAHLI will have a close look.”

In addition, a Mastcam multispectral and a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) passive observation will add to the information collected from the dump pile.

Meteorite? Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2242, November 26, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Shiny meteorite?

“Not only the arm, but also ChemCam is very busy these two sols, as in addition to the dump pile activities, it will look at four samples, two of which are re-targeted,” Schwenzer explains.

“One of the samples that we try to get a better look at is ‘Little Colonsay.’ The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny. But looks can deceive, and proof will only come from the chemistry,” Schwenzer points out.

“Unfortunately, the small target was missed in the previous attempt, and with the information from that, Curiosity will try again,” Schwenzer says.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2242, November 26, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Confirm its nature

Another very small target is the target “Flanders Moss,” which shows an interesting, dark colored coating, for which chemistry is required to confirm its nature. Two additional targets, “Forres” and “Eildon,” are to add to the database of the grey Jura bedrock before the robot leaves the Highfield site next week.


“Beyond ChemCam, Curiosity will document the workspace with a Mastcam M34 mosaic, and of course document all ChemCam targets, Schwenzer adds. “Finally, the environmental observations continue with a crater rim extinction, Mastcam Tau and dust devil monitoring. …a busy two sols on Mars!”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2242, November 26, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft obtained this image of the asteroid Bennu on November 16, 2018, from a distance of 85 miles (136 km). The image, which was taken by the PolyCam camera, shows Bennu at 300 pixels and has been stretched to increase contrast between highlights and shadows.
Date Taken: November 16, 2018
Instrument Used: OCAMS (PolyCam)
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Launched in September 2016, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is scheduled to rendezvous with its targeted asteroid, Bennu, on Monday, Dec. 3 at approximately noon EST.

NASA will air a live event from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. EST to highlight the arrival of the agency’s first asteroid sample return mission.

The program will originate from OSIRIS-REx’s mission control at the Lockheed Martin Space facility in Littleton, Colorado, and will air on NASA Television, Facebook Live, Ustream, YouTube and the agency’s website.

NASA TV also will air an arrival preview program starting at 11:15 a.m. EST.

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 and has been slowly approaching Bennu.

Credit: University of Arizona

Year-long survey

The spacecraft will spend almost a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect a sample of the space rock.

OSIRIS-REx will return that specimen to Earth in September 2023.

For more information about OSIRIS-REx, visit:

SSTL’s Demonstration of Technology-4 lunar communications satellite.
Credit: SSTL

To change the economics of space around the Moon – that’s the plan from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL).

A leading smallsat developer, SSTL is designing a low cost, roughly 80 pound (35 kilograms) lunar communications satellite mission called Demonstration of Technology-4, or DoT-4 for space shorthand.

SSTL’s Demonstration of Technology-4 satellite.
Credit: SSTL

Targeted for a 2021 launch, DoT-4 will be the pre-cursor mission for a larger lunar communications satellite to follow in the 2023 timeframe. That spacecraft would carry a more robust payload and also have the potential for navigation services.

Credit: Goonhilly Deep Space Network

Deep space network

According to a SSTL statement, DoT-4 will provide the communications relay back to Earth using the Goonhilly Deep Space Network in Cornwall, South West England, and will link up with a rover on the surface of the Moon.

Goonhilly is developing the capability to support the exploration of Lunar and Deep Space for institutions and private enterprise. The Goonhilly Earth Station endeavor is focused on becoming the world’s first commercial deep-space communications station, capable of tracking future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Small step

DoT-4 will prove technologies in the lunar environment and enable testing of radio communications with landers and rovers on the Moon’s surface.

“During the test phase, we will assess the compatibility of our proximity communications with the surface assets and we will verify the Earth communication link with several ground stations,” says Gary Lay, SSTL’s Director of Navigation and Exploration. “This small step will establish an infrastructure around the Moon to enable others to explore beyond Earth’s orbit.”

SSTL explains that they are currently in discussions with a number of parties for the lunar mission, and expects to disclose further information on mission partners and funding early in 2019.

Credit: Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS).

Mega-constellations consisting of tens, hundreds and even thousands of satellites in non-geostationary orbits are now being proposed to bring affordable broadband and other services to the world.

However, investors in and operators of such constellations must clear multiple hurdles before getting their hardware off the ground, including rounds of technical reviews, securing financing and gaining regulatory approvals.

Even after receiving orbital and spectrum licenses, these proposed mega constellations risk significant delays because they must be deployed within a defined period and failure to do so has onerous consequences.

A new policy paper — Launch Uncertainty: Implications for Large Constellations – has been issued by the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS).

Mitigate potential delays

Once regulatory approvals have been met, the paper notes, constellation operators may still face a shortfall of launch vehicles, satellites and ground systems or launch site processing issues, cancellations and flight anomalies.

Credit: Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS).

The paper offers ideas for better understanding prospects for delays, such as analysis of historical delay data coupled with event simulation, which can help operators and investors understand, plan for, and ideally mitigate these potential delays.

Schedule margin

Delay risk can be mitigated by actions, the policy document suggests, such as adding launch processing infrastructure, increasing workforces, using overtime judiciously, and having ample schedule margin, as well as potentially policy and rule changes to facilitate government relief for those actors not directly responsible for delays.

To view a copy of Launch Uncertainty: Implications for Large Constellations, go to:

Credit: ESA

The walking and hopping quadruped robot is currently being tested in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Yard.

“Legged robots can traverse unstructured terrain and could be used to explore areas of interest, such as craters, which rovers are unable to reach,” explains team member Patrick Barton. “As they are very versatile, they can change gait to adapt to different terrain.”

SpaceBok has been designed by a Swiss student team from ETH Zurich and ZHAW Zurich, under the supervision of Professor Marco Hutter and PhD student Hendrik Kolvenbach.

Built for hopping

SpaceBok is primarily built for hopping and on the Moon the robot could reach a height of four meters off the lunar terrain. “This would allow for a fast and efficient way of moving forward,” says team member Elias Hampp in an ESA press statement.

In low gravity environments hopping proves to be energetically more efficient than walking.

The aim of the research effort is to build a jumping robot capable of overcoming large obstacles and thus increase the operation range of mobile robots for data collection.

To see SpaceBok in action, go to this video:


Credit: Trailer – The Wandering Earth/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Forget about shooting off interstellar probes, chips, plaques and records, or keepsake mementos…whatever.

How about launching the Earth outward?

China’s “The Wandering Earth,” is set to hit Chinese movie screens on February 5 of next year – Chinese New Year in Chinese theaters.

The film is adapted from a same name short story novel in 2000 by Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin.

The movie stars Guangjie Li, Chuxiao Qu, Man Tat Ng, Jinmai Zhao, Jing Wu.

Credit: Trailer – The Wandering Earth/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Centuries-long journey

Liu’s “Wandering Earth” depicts how humans, endangered by a dying and swelling Sun, erect gigantic engines to hurl the planet out of the solar system, setting it on a centuries-long journey in search of a new sun.

Gong Geer, the producer of the film, told Xinhua news agency: “We hope the plot, characters and scenes in the film can impress our audience as being Chinese, as this is a very Chinese story.”

“Westerners may be surprised by the idea of humans leaving with the Earth instead of fleeing in spacecraft,” Gong told Xinhua.”What they may see in this film is the Chineses’ dedication to the land, as nurtured in the country’s long agricultural history.”

Credit: Trailer – The Wandering Earth/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space




The official trailers have been released, offering a look at various scenes, including a frozen “2044 Shanghai Olympic Mansion” and a massive “Earth Engine” towering over the Great Wall.

Take a look at these videos at:

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The entry of the InSight Mars lander may be caught by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).


“The parachute image will be a distant view and probably smeared, so not a good looking image but still useful for engineering evaluation,” explains Alfred McEwen, the Principal Investigator of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) for the MRO.

McEwen said that after InSight is on the Red Planet, a first post-landing image attempt is 3 days afterward, and most likely HiRISE will miss it on that first attempt, he told Inside Outer Space.