Archive for November, 2018

Credit: Spaceflight

Update: From 30th Space Wing (Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.)

SpaceX Falcon 9 SSO-A launch delayed

SpaceX is standing down from Monday’s launch attempt of Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express to conduct additional pre-flight inspections.

A red flag continues to be raised by orbital debris specialists regarding the upcoming launch of SSO-A, currently scheduled for a SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 19.

Targeted for sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), the mission is dubbed SSO-A: SmallSat Express.

Rideshare mission

The bragging rights about the SmallSat Express involve the largest rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle, with 25 percent of the customers launching for the first time.

Mission management provider, Spaceflight, has contracted with more than 70 spacecraft from approximately 35 different organizations, all to be propelled skyward by a SpaceX Falcon 9. Spaceflight is a service offering of Spaceflight Industries, based in Seattle, Washington.

The satellites are to be dispersed by SHERPA platforms, free-flying secondary payload dispensers.

Credit: Spaceflight

Space debris on release

“What they [Spaceflight] haven’t shared is how these 70+ satellites are going to be deployed,” says T.S. Kelso of CelesTrak, an analytical group that keeps an eye on Earth-orbiting objects. “I checked with one of the operators—trying to get a head start on how we’re going to ID all of these—and learned that the two SHERPA platforms are going to be released from the Falcon 9 with no attitude control or attitude determination.”

Kelso’s bottom line: “I think this is not only irresponsible from a safety of flight perspective, but it jeopardizes the time and resources of many of the small operators who may never even hear from their satellites,” he told Inside Outer Space.  His guess is that about a third of the satellites to be deployed will basically be space debris on release and there will be difficulties in sorting out this kind of mess.

Credit: Spaceflight

Be prepared for chaos

Kelso spoke extensively with the 18 Space Control Squadron team at last week’s Space Situational Awareness Operators’ Workshop in Denver, tweeting:

“They have next to nothing useful from Spaceflight for the SSO-A launch on Monday. This is totally irresponsible. Be prepared for chaos.”

In reaching out to Spaceflight for comment on my previous article — “Cluttering Space: Upcoming Launch Red Flagged” at:

Christine Melby, a PR spokesperson for Spaceflight, in an email response said: “Thank you for reaching out. At this time we do not have a comment on this article.”

Credit: 18th Space Control Squadron

Space squadron

Meanwhile, a tweet from the 18 Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg that detects, tracks, and identifies all artificial objects in Earth orbit states:

“Check out the SSO-A launch on Monday at #Vandenberg AFB w/ 64+ spacecraft! We’re working closely with all O/Os [owner/operators] to track & catalog the objects ASAP. Thanks to all O/Os for their cooperation, transparency & support for #spaceflightsafety.”

The Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) has developed a set of recommendations for optimal CubeSat operations, including launch deployment and identifications. But it appears that the recommendations were not taken seriously by the SSA-O developers.

Those recommendations were based on the proliferation of CubeSats and associated technology that pose unique tracking and identification challenges.

To review the August 2015 document — JSpOC Recommendations for Optimal

CubeSat Operations — go to:

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2231, November 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2233 duties.

“It’s the windy season on Mars, and Curiosity’s activities this weekend include taking oodles of images at different times throughout the day to catch how the wind moves sand and dust around,” reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California.

Possible meteorite? “Little Todday.” Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2232, November 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


Sand movement

On the plan is taking 15 separate Mastcam images of both the “Sand Loch” and “Windyedge” areas throughout the weekend, as well as several Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) photos to monitor changes on the ground underneath the vehicle.

“A similar campaign we did back at the Bagnold Dunes helped refine models of regional-scale wind patterns at Gale and provided important insights into the physics of how sand moves under the modern day Martian atmosphere,” Fraeman adds.

Front Hazcam Right A photo taken on Sol 2232, November 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Weekend work plan

This weekend’s plan calls for performing a second night of Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) analysis on the Highfield drill sample and fill a couple mornings with Mastcam and Navcam observations to monitor the atmosphere.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2232, November 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

On tap is a longer remote sensing science block on sol 2233 that includes Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam observations of targets “Dun Carloway,” “St. Abbs Head,” and “Echt.”

A second long remote sensing science block on sol 2235, Fraeman concludes, will contain ChemCam and Mastcam observations of “Blair Atholl” and “Rhinns of Islay,” as well as a Mastcam multispectral observation of Echt.

Over four decades ago, radio message shot to the stars is celebrated event. Credit: Google Doodles

Forty-four years ago today, a three-minute radio message broadcast from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was aimed at a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away from Earth.

The message itself was devised by a team of researchers from Cornell University led by Frank Drake, astronomer and astrophysicist responsible for the Drake Equation – a way to estimate the number of planets hosting extraterrestrial life within the Milky Way galaxy.

Frank Drake with cosmic equation to gauge the presence of intelligent life in the cosmos. The Drake Equation identifies specific factors believed to play a role in the development of civilizations in our galaxy.
Credit: SETI Institute

Beamed outward from Arecibo, that communiqué to the cosmos – destination, the 300,000 stars in the constellation Hercules known as M13 – has now traveled 259 trillion miles, just a small fraction of the 146,965,638,531,210,240 or so miles to reach the final destination.

Whether or not aliens at the other end are all ears (or antennae) is arguable. What isn’t arguable is that, over the intervening decades, exoplanet detection is on the upswing, heightening expectations that a civilization “out there” may be on the listening end.

Credit: Arecibo Observatory, an NSF funded facility

New message

National Science Foundation-funded Arecibo Observatory organizers are seeking innovative ideas from global collaborative efforts … to inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts and define a New Arecibo Message.

The Arecibo Observatory is launching an online competition today on the 44th anniversary of the original Arecibo message. Organizers are seeking innovative ideas from global collaborative efforts of inter-generation, diverse and international teams of students to inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts and define the New Arecibo Message.

Online clues

But this will be no simple task.

In order to get started, teams of up to 10 students in grades kindergarten through college must decode various clues that will be released online.

Like a Chinese puzzle box, teams must learn about space science, break coded messages and solve brain-puzzles to qualify, get instructions, register and then submit their entries.

Arecibo is posting the first puzzle on its website and social media channels this December 16th.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA



Raising awareness

The main goal of this activity is to educate the youth on radio astronomy techniques and exoplanetary cutting-edge science, presenting the uniqueness of the Arecibo Observatory capability and raising the awareness of the possible risks involved on messaging unknown earthlings (through social medias) or extraterrestrial civilizations (through radio waves).

The Arecibo Observatory is operated by the University of Central Florida (UCF) in partnership with Sistema Ana G. Mendez Universidad Metropolitana and Yang Enterprises Inc. UCF and its partners took over management of the facility in April 2018.

For more information, go to:

Credit: Zero G Kitchen



The first appliance to freshly prepare small food items, such as rolls, cookies, patties, pockets and other basic foods for longer duration space travel has been designed.

Zero G Kitchen LLC, in partnership with NanoRacks have specifications and timing of the first appliance of its planned ‘kitchen in space,’ an open platform for food development in space and the zero gravity environment.

Credit: Zero G Kitchen

First in a series

The oven is the first in a series of space-adapted appliances built and operated under the direction of Zero G Kitchen.

Following the oven, Zero G Kitchen plans to develop space-adapted versions of common household appliances, such as a refrigerator, blender, slow cooker and more. To achieve its goal of building a kitchen in space, Zero G Kitchen will work with a wide array of food companies, educators, researchers, appliance engineers and aerospace organizations.

(left) Jeffrey Manber, CEO, founder of NanoRacks and known cookie monster with Zero G Kitchen staff.
Credit: Zero G Kitchen

Build, test, eat

Zero G Kitchen expects to build and test the space oven before the end of 2018 with a targeted launch to the International Space Station in early 2019. Recently, Zero G Kitchen signed the first user of the space oven, and an announcement is expected in early 2019.

Based in New York City, Zero G Kitchen has been whipped up by Ian and Jordana Fichtenbaum, co-founders and co-chefs. “Bound together by their love of space and cooking, they determined to build a kitchen in space to pursue their mutual passions together,” according to the organization.

For more information on Zero G Kitchen, visit

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2230, November 14, 2018
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 2232.

Reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the rover is on tap to use its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.

The plan called for delivery of a sample to SAM of the ground up rock from the Highfield drill hole.

Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite shown in this Curiosity Mastcam Left image, taken on Sol 2227, November 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Trickle down

“The rover will open one of its SAM inlet covers and the arm will be moved over to the top of it and then the drill bit will be reversed in a way that will trickle some finely-ground rock powder down into SAM,” Guzewich says.

“Then SAM will heat that rock to very high temperatures and measure the chemical compounds that make up Highfield. This is key to understanding what the Vera Rubin Ridge is made of and its formation history,” Guzewich adds.

Possible meteorite

While SAM activities are power intensive, scientists have planned additional work including Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) targeting the Highfield drill hole’s internal edges, some nearby bedrock (“Fraser Castle” and “Bridge of Don”), as well as a possible meteorite, “Little Todday.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018

“We are also conducting numerous change detection images with Mastcam and [Mars Descent Imager] (MARDI) to monitor the motion of the nearby sand and dust on the surface,” Guzewich notes. Also on tap, the environmental science group has plans for two movies to monitor the increasing dust devil activity following this year’s global dust storm as well as atmospheric opacity above and within Gale Crater.

Eu:CROPIS satellite: “Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-food Production in Space.”
Credit: DLR (CC BY 3.0)

The Eu:CROPIS mission will be launched into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California November 19, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

Eu:CROPIS stands for “Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-food Production in Space.”

The unique investigation was designed and built by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Friedrich Alexander University (FAU) in Erlangen–Nuremberg.

The Eu:CROPIS satellite is roughly one cubic meter in size and weighs over 500 pounds (230 kilograms) with its biological payload.

Life support systems

Deployed from the SpaceX launcher at some 370 miles (600 kilometers) altitude the satellite carries two biological life support systems that carry greenhouses, dwarf tomato seeds, single-celled algae and synthetic urine.

The aim is for the seeds to germinate in space and continue to grow due to the successful conversion of urine into a fertilizer solution. The mission is intended to show how biological life support systems can be used to supply food on long-term missions.

Packing up the Eu:CROPIS satellite.
Credit: DLR

Rotation rates

During the mission, the satellite will rotate around its longitudinal axis. Depending on the rotation rate, this generates a specific level of altered gravity.

According to the DLR, during the first part of the experimental phase, gravitational conditions like those on the Moon will be created (0.16 times Earth’s gravitational pull), with 20 rotations per minute. This will last for around 23 weeks. The first greenhouse will be put into operation during this phase.

In the second research phase, the satellite will simulate gravity on Mars (0.38 times that of Earth) by rotating 32 times per minute. Experiments will now take place in the second life support system.

On-camera activities

The processes at play inside the greenhouses are to be recorded by cameras and transmitted down to Earth.

Cosmic tomatoes will grow in two greenhouses inside the Eu:CROPIS satellite.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

“This mission seeks to show that urine can be converted into nutrients even under lunar and Martian gravity conditions,” says Jens Hauslage of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne.

The DLR German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhohen will control the satellite.

Also on board the Eu:CROPIS satellite: two Radiation Measurement in Space devices and an on-board computer to process the images taken by the on-board cameras. NASA will also be running a PowerCell experiment relating to the production of useful substances in space using bacteria.

Space-Earth link

As explained by the DLR, fresh vegetables that thrive in space thanks to converted organic waste products are not only a prerequisite for long-term space travel, but the research findings from such projects can also be useful on Earth.

For example, if urine or manure can be recycled into fresh water and nutrients usable by plants, this could improve living conditions in overcrowded areas or in places that have an extreme shortage of drinking water, while providing relief for soil and groundwater – another of DLR’s areas of research.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right A photo taken on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2230 tasks.

Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, reports that the Mars machinery has been busy delving into the mineralogy of the latest drill hole sample.

Scientists are eager to get a Highfield drill sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite for analysis. To prepare for SAM, the plan called for a preconditioning activity to get the instrument ready to receive and analyze the sample.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 2227, November 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Inside the hole

While the SAM preconditioning activity takes up the bulk of Sol 2229’s power, Curiosity scientists were still able to plan about four hours’ worth of science activities, Kronyak adds.

The plan called for kicking off Sol 2229 with a hefty 2 hour-long science block. In it, four targets will be analyzed with the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam),  one down the inside of the Highfield drill hole, another along the drill tailings at the surface, a third on a nearby vein called “Fraser Castle,” and a fourth on bedrock target “Flanders Moss.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

After that, Mastcam images of each ChemCam target are to be taken, to confirm where the laser shots hit, Kronyak explains.

Laser shots viewed in this Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Change detection

“We’ll also image targets ‘Sand Loch’ and ‘Windyedge’ with Mastcam. This pair of images is important for change detection purposes, which we frequently perform when the rover is sitting in the same location for more than a few sols,” Kronyak points out. “For change detection, we take the same two images around the same time of day to help quantify how the martian wind is changing the landscape around us.”

The Sol 2229 plan also called for use of the robot’s Mastcam to acquire a few multispectral images – these images are taken using multiple camera filters.

“Experts on the science team use these images to help us interpret the composition of the local bedrock and surrounding areas,” Kronyak says. “We’ll take multispectral images of two targets to the side of the rover, ‘Loch Ba’ and ‘Slate Islands.’ To wrap up the science block, we’ll take some images with Navcam to look for dust devils. Later in the evening, we’ll perform our SAM preconditioning activity before going to sleep.”

Data products

Curiosity is to wake up on Sol 2230 for another loaded science block.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2227, November 11, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“This time, we’ll use ChemCam to perform a passive calibration activity, followed by another Navcam dust devil suite and repeat Mastcam change detection images. We’ll then use Mastcam to make additional atmospheric observations in the form of tau and crater rim extinction measurements. Later on in the late afternoon, we’ll take a final pair of Mastcam change detection images and perform a sunset tau measurement,” Kronyak reports.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right A photo taken on Sol 2229, November 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech




“It was a busy day for the Mastcam team with all of our exciting change detection, multispectral imaging, and atmospheric measurements,” Kronyak concludes. “I’m very much looking forward to these data products, as well as updates later this week on the status of our Highfield drill sample!”

Credit: Autodesk

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Autodesk have engaged in a multi-year collaborative research project to investigate new approaches for building interplanetary landers.

The concept lander, perhaps the most complicated structure ever created using “generative design,” was unveiled today at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Credit: Autodesk

Design solutions

Generative design is a relatively new approach that uses machine intelligence and cloud computing to quickly generate a broad set of design solutions that fit within the specific constraints set by engineers. It enables design teams to explore a much wider design space while still being bound by manufacturing and performance requirements dictated by the team or environment, according to an Autodesk press statement.

A commercial form of generative design technology is available today in Fusion 360, Autodesk’s cloud-based product development platform.

Credit: Autodesk

Organic-looking shapes

Generative design is often associated with 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which is well-suited for the complex, organic-looking shapes that the software produces based on user specifications.

For the lander project, the JPL team explored the use of experimental generative design technology for multiple structural components, including the internal structure that holds the scientific instruments, and the external structure that connects the lander legs to the main payload box. The team has been able reduce the mass of the external structure by 35% compared with the baseline design that they started with.

New designs quickly

A key benefit of generative design is that it enabled the JPL team to iterate their designs rapidly.

Credit: Autodesk

“As a design matures and new performance or environmental data comes in, generative design can enable our customers to create new designs quickly,” says Karl Willis, Autodesk’s technology lead on the project. Most design teams typically take 2-4 months to turn around a revised design. Working with generative design, that process can take place in 2-4 weeks, he adds.

Three lunar samples were brought to Earth in 1970 by the Soviet Luna-16 Mission.
Credit: Sotheby’s


The sale of Moon rocks will headline Sotheby’s Space Exploration auction on November 29, offered with an estimate of $700,000–1,000,000.

The sale will mark just the second time that an actual piece of another world has ever been offered for public sale. The three lunar samples, which were brought to Earth in 1970 by the Soviet Luna-16 Mission, were previously sold at Sotheby’s in 1993.

Sotheby’s second annual Space Exploration sale is taking place just a month before the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the Moon.

Take a look at the impressive Sotheby’s Space Exploration catalog now available to view online. Go to:

Voice-recorder flown in space aboard Vostok-6 with Valentina Tereshkova, June 16-19, 1963.
Credit: Sotheby’s

Variety of space collectibles

Once again, there will be a wide variety of material from both the American & Soviet space programs — from lunar & space photography, original artwork by artists such as Chesley Bonestell and Alan Bean, flown mission artifacts and hardware, items from the personal collections of astronauts, autographed items, maps & charts, signed books, models, spacesuits, and much more, with material suited for both new and seasoned collectors.

Megaquartz watch given to astronaut Deke Slayton by Omega to commemorate his flight on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
Credit: Sotheby’s



Buzz Aldrin’s “Space Selfie”
Photographic canvas print, 19 by 24 inches, depicting a self-portrait by Buzz Aldrin during his 1966 Gemini 12 EVA.
Credit: Sotheby’s


Soviet LK-3 Lunar Lander Model
Lunar lander model, 21 ½ inches tall, 13 by 13 inch base, large scale model, metal and composite.
Credit: Sotheby’s








Credit: NASA/ESA



The European Space Agency (ESA) is pressing forward on European payloads that could be contributed to a possible Moon exploration campaign.

A just-released request for information (RFI) is one leg of a campaign to be implemented within the framework of the European Space Exploration Envelope Program, subject to decisions at the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial level planned for December 2019.

Credit: NASA

Moon missions

The campaign is focused on access to the Moon via missions as early as 2020, categorized as:

Missions of Opportunity: where European payloads respond to flight opportunities made available by the private sector or international partners.

Directed missions: where European payloads are contributed to missions that are defined and driven by ESA alone or with international partners, to achieve a predefined set of objectives.

Lunar base made with 3D printing
Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners


Another purpose of the RFI is establishment of a straw man payload for an ongoing ESA directed mission study, conducted with international partners, on a human lunar exploration precursor mission called HERACLES, mercifully short for Human-Enhanced Robotic Architecture and Capabilities for Lunar Exploration and Science.

Inside look at one idea the European Space Agency is exploring in its formulation of a “Moon Village” that incorporates 3D printing.
Credit: ESA/ Foster + Partners

The HERACLES mission study currently conceives of cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) , the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA with a launch not earlier than 2026; noting that the study is open to the inclusion of other agencies that may be interested to join the partnership.

An international team of lunar researchers has blueprinted an exploration scenario for humans and robots to investigate five sites on the Moon.
Credit: E.J. Allender et al./Advances in Space Research

Science topics

Payloads of interest for Missions of Opportunity include both scientific instrumentation and payloads for technology demonstration and testing.

Examples of scientific topics that could be addressed, but are not limited to:

  • The bombardment history of the inner solar system
  • The structure and composition of the lunar interior
  • The diversity of lunar crustal rocks
  • Volatiles at the lunar poles
  • Volcanism
  • Impact processes
  • Regolith processes
  • Atmospheric and dust environment
  • Life sciences and astrobiology
  • Fundamental physics
  • Astronomy
  • Space resource utilization

Technological topics

Areas of interest for technology demonstration payloads include, but are not limited to:

  • Precision landing
  • Hazard avoidance
  • Mobility
  • Autonomy
  • Robotics
  • Power generation and energy storage
  • Low temperature operations and survival
  • Dust mitigation
  • Space Resource Utilization
  • Communication/ navigation

Responses to this ESA-issued RFI are due December 15, 2018.

For more information, go to: