Archive for February, 2019

Recent impacts on the Red Planet, detected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s high-flying Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has imaged a recent impact event in Noachis Terra in the southern mid-latitudes of Mars.

The impact was initially discovered in a 2016 MRO Context Camera image, and was not seen in a 2009 picture. “This implies that the impact may be only two years old, but certainly no more than nine years,” according to a statement from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) Operations Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

On patrol – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Credit: NASA/JPL

Multiple impacts

“Rather than a single impact crater, we see multiple impacts like a shotgun blast. This suggests that the impactor broke up in the atmosphere on entry. Although the atmosphere of Mars is thinner than Earth’s, it still has the capacity to break up small impactors, especially ones comprised of weaker materials, like a stony meteoroid versus a iron-nickel one.”

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

MRO imagery shows 21 distinctive craters ranging in size from 1 to 7 meters in diameter. They are distributed over an area that spans about 1,000 feet (305 meters).

“Most observed recent impacts expose darker-toned materials underlying bright dusty surfaces,” researchers Matthew Bourassa, Shannon Hibbard, Eric Pilles and Livio Tornabene report. “However, this impact does the opposite, showing us lighter-toned materials that lie beneath a darker colored surface.”

Credit: NEON/CNN


In IMAX for one week only starting March 1, everywhere March 8, from director Todd Douglas Miller comes a NEON/CNN cinematic event fifty years in the making.

Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, Apollo 11 takes us straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission—the one that first put men on the Moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names.

Immersed in the perspectives of the astronauts, the team in Mission Control, and the millions of spectators on the ground, this vivid experience spotlights those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.

Hayabusa2 image captured near the touchdown site roughly a minute after touchdown. The photograph was taken at roughly 80 feet (25 meters) with the Optical Navigation Camera – Wide angle (ONC-W1) on February 22, 2019 (JST).
The color of the region beneath the spacecraft’s shadow differs from the surroundings and has been discolored by the touchdown. At the moment, the reason for the discoloration is unknown but it may be due to the grit that was blown upwards by the spacecraft thrusters or by the bullet (projectile) shot from Hayabusa2 in the sampling process.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST

Japan’s Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on asteroid Ryugu on February 22 (JST). It turns out that the gentle cosmic kiss between spacecraft and space rock wasn’t without incident.

Hayabusa2 touchdown region overlapped with the planned touchdown site. The touchdown spot sits at the center of the discolored area. Hayabusa2 researchers explain that an accurate touchdown point will be examined during a more detailed analysis in the future. Also shown is the white target marker, which is shining in the reflected sunlight.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST

In a posted update from the team: “It was a long week for the team members! Until just before the start of the descent, we examined every aspect of landing plan to remove all doubts and increase our level of confidence. We polished the landing sequence to perfection! The team’s all-out battle was rewarded in the best possible way. We are all looking forward to the report of the results.”

Ingenuity after touchdown

“We had to use a little ingenuity for the motion of Hayabusa2 after touchdown,” the team posting adds.

“The spacecraft rose obliquely after touchdown due to the angle of the ground. This meant that in order to return to the home position, it was necessary to exert a force in a direction difficult to achieve due to the orientation of the spacecraft thrusters.”

Position of the planned touchdown site and target marker. The size of the circle at the planned site is 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter. The X indicates the position of the target marker that was dropped at a later date.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST

Perfect somersault

“We therefore added a twist in the spacecraft attitude by performing a 1/20 turn about the Y-axis and 1/6 turn about the Z-axis before firing the thrusters, and then reversing this twist to return to the original position. This change in attitude allowed the thrusters to fire efficiently,” the posting explains.



“Hayabusa2 achieved a perfect somersault over Ryugu –like a ‘lunar somersault’— and then returned to the home position in a dignified manner. It was an ingenious performance to the end.”

Now the Hayabusa2 project team has turned to evaluating the technical score of the touchdown operation.

Credit: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre



The United Arab Emirates announced on Monday that one of two UAE astronauts will fly to the International Space Station later this year. That person will be the first Arab astronaut to travel to the orbiting outpost, said officials from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.



Emirati astronauts Sultan al-Neyadi and Hazza al-Mansoori remain in training, preparing for a September 25 sendoff aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

While one will make the trek the other astronaut will continue training for future missions.

Credit: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

Selection process

“We are preparing the first Emirati and Arab astronaut to join scientists at the International Space Station. Our objective is to show the world that we are able to contribute to humanity through quality knowledge and scientific discoveries,” explains His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The process of picking the two UAE astronauts emerged from 4,022 applications that were received with 95 shortlisted for medical assessment. An initial interview stage whittled that number down to 39, with 18 entering the final interview stage. Nine of those people were assessed by Russia’s Roscosmos, leading to the final selection of Sultan al-Neyadi and Hazza al-Mansoori.

Credit: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre




Hazza al-Mansoori, 35, has a Bachelor of Aviation Science from Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College. Al Mansoori has a 14 year experience in military aviation.

Sultan al-Neyadi, 37, holds a PhD in information technology and Master’s Degree in Information and Network Security from Griffith University in Australia.





Go to this Gulf News Report video of the press event at:

For more information on the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and the UAE astronauts, go to:

Credit: Image: © Alamy)

Here is another head’s up warning about incoming space hardware – but this saga has a bit of an interplanetary tale to tell.

Peel back space history to the 1970’s, a time of Cold War space race histrionics between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Soviet Union’s Cosmos 482 was launched on March 31, 1972 and was an attempted Venus probe that subsequently messed up its outward bound, rocket-powered escape to that cloud-veiled world.

Credit: © Ralph Vandenbergh

Now, some 47 years later, leftovers from Cosmos 482 are en route to an Earth reentry.

For more on this story, go to my new article at:

Failed 1970s Venus Probe Could Crash to Earth This Year

By Leonard David Space Insider Columnist


InSight on Sol 87 used the robotic arm-mounted Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) showing placement of HP3. Image acquired on February 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight on Mars Update: The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) is ready for action on Monday.
Like a mole with a sensitive tail, HP3 pulls a ribbon-shaped cable behind it that’s jam-packed full of temperature sensors.
“The mole is now free of its fixation that was protecting it until now from any unwanted movements,” reports Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research. “It is now ready to go!”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Spohn, the HP3 principal investigator, adds that there will be a formal review by the operations team on Monday and then the command for the mole to start hammering will be included into the list of commands that will be sent to the lander later in the day.
Hammering operations will then commence at 10 am Local Mars Time which will be Tuesday shortly before 7 pm pacific time. A confirmation of the successful hammering is expected to be at 8:45 am PST.

Putting in place China’s space station will offer many new challenges.
Credit: CCTV/screengrab

Over a dozen experiment proposals from scientists around the world have been shortlisted for possible flight onboard China’s future space station.

China Daily has reported that 18 ideas are being assessed, with the final result to be detailed in June.

According to government plans, China will start piecing together the country’s space station around 2020.

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the nation’s manned space program in April, explained that the multi-module space station, named Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, will comprise three main parts: a core module attached to two space labs, combining for a weight of 66 metric tons.

The Tianhe core module for China’s Space Station undergoes ground testing.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab

Call for partnership

Last May, the China Manned Space Agency, in collaboration with the United Nation’s Office for Outer Space Affairs issued the call for partnership opportunities on the station for scientists around the world.

By October, 42 applications from 27 countries had been submitted, with proposals extending across nine areas, including space medicine, space life science, and fundamental physics, the China Daily story explains.

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

An expert panel was formed by the UN office and China’s space agency to evaluate the candidates and pick the 18 to be shortlisted. Application teams are now working out a project implementation plan with China’s technical support.

Core module

China’s space station build-up will first see use of a Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket to orbit the outpost’s core module. About four crewed spaceflights will then be made sending astronauts to assemble the station.

The space station is expected to be fully operational around 2022 and is to operate for at least 10 years.

The China Daily also notes that, in 2024 the country’s orbiting complex may become the world’s only space station if the U.S. International Space Station is retired as planned.

Credit: CMSA


A version 1.0 handbook on the China Space Station (CSS) and its resources for international cooperation was issued May 28 of last year by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and China Manned Space Agency.

In many ways, China’s approach to space station operations mirror’s the fundamentals of the International Space Station – with some exceptions.

The 28-page document explains that the mission of the CSS project is:

To develop technology for long-term manned space flight and study related medical issues to find long-term solutions for the healthy living and efficient work of astronauts and lay the foundations for future exploration in long-term manned space flight;

To build a national space laboratory of an internationally advanced level for large-scale science and technology experiments, educative purposes and promote international/regional cooperation to study and uncover significant scientific results and benefits;

To establish a complete manned spacecraft operation and its corresponding operation and management systems, and to train a high-quality engineering and management team to lay the foundations for the future development of manned space exploration.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer joined Chinese colleagues in Yantai, China in August 2017 to take part in their sea survival training.
Returning from space in a Chinese capsule, astronauts need to be prepared for any eventuality – including landing in the sea. Water survival is a staple of all astronaut training but this is the first time non-Chinese astronauts have taken part.
Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2017

Inclination, altitude, weight

Other areas of the handbook call attention to some key facts:

The CSS is designed to operate in low-Earth orbit about 400km above the Earth’s surface, with an inclination of approximately 41°~43°.

The station’s three main module components are horizontally symmetrical and T-shaped. The total mass is approximately 66 tons, and may reach roughly 100 tons when docked with several manned spaceships and cargo vehicles.

In-orbit life span (after the assembly of the three modules) is in the range of 10 years. Number of crew members 3 (rated) or 6 astronauts (at most).

Optical Module System

Along with station, a main section of an Optical Module System would be launched into orbit separately and flies along the same orbit as the CSS.

This system can support multi-color photometry, seamless spectrum survey and Earth observation with multi-function optical capabilities.

If necessary, it can dock with the CSS for refueling, equipment maintenance, payload equipment upgrade and other maintenance activities.

Robot arm under development for use in China’s station effort.
Credit: CGTN/screengrab

Experiment racks

A number of scientific experiment racks in the pressurized modules of the Space Station include a Human System Research Rack; Medical Sample Analysis Rack;

Ecological life Experiment Rack; Biotechnology Experiment Rack; Fluid Physics Experiment Rack; Two-Phase System Experiment Rack; High Temperature Materials Science Experiment Rack; Combustion Science Experiment Rack; and a Container-Free Materials Science Experiment Rack.

Life span extension

The in-orbit assembly of the basic configuration of the three modules of the China Space Station is planned to be completed around 2022 when the station is operational and able to carry out large-scale space science research.

The life span of the Station can be further extended by maintenance, replacement, upgrading and expansion to enable longer term space science research. Primarily, extensible interfaces are reserved on the Space Station.

Credit: CMSE

Extra modules

After completion of the basic configuration of the three modules, the inboard and outboard utilization support capabilities can be enhanced further by adding extra modules.

Secondly, outside the modules of the Space Station, many large-scale payload mounting points and extensible experiment platform interfaces are reserved, through which more payload support capability can be provided.

In addition, based on the need of space science research and international cooperation, the Space Station can meet the needs of evolving space science research through the maintenance, replacement and extension of payloads.

NOTE: The original United Nations/China Cooperation on Utilization of the China Space Station Application Form is available at:

To read the entire handbook, go to:

Space cowboys? International lawyers are trying to agree on what legislation will be needed to control the exploration of mineral resources in space to avoid a new ‘Wild West’.
Credit: James Vaughan



It is the combination of commercial activity and use of space resources that creates perception of tension.

Artist’s illustration of astronauts at an asteroid as well as other mining and transportation vehicles operating in space.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation & Anthony Longman

Some groups have expressed concern over a perceived gap in the law that creates uncertainty.

Others have expressed concern that use of space resources might be conducted to benefit only a few companies and spacefaring nations.

Then there are those who argue that the activity is illegal until a binding international regime is put into place to oversee it.








Go to this new paper published in Issues of Science and Technology — New Policies Needed to Advance Space Mining — VOL. XXXV, NO. 2, WINTER 2019 PERSPECTIVES.

Go to:

Also, go to this news story on the paper by Ailbhe Goodbody, published in Mining Magazine: “New space mining policy needed, says Colorado School of Mines,” at:

Hayabusa2 Image taken shortly after touchdown, from altitude of 98 feet (30 meters) or less.
Credit: JAXA, Tokyo University, Kochi Univ., Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu Univ., AIST

Hayabusa2 sampler arm operations.
Credit: JAXA/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Hayabusa2 team celebrates successful asteroid touchdown.

The Israeli lunar spacecraft weighs only 1,322 pounds, or 600 kilograms.
Credit: Eliran Avital

Up and outward bound. SpaceX booster hurls Nusantara Satu satellite, Israeli lunar lander, and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 experimental small spacecraft.
Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceIL


Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer successfully and safely touched down upon Ryugu on February 21st.

Data relayed from the spacecraft confirmed the touchdown, including projectile firing into the space rock for sample collection.

Hayabusa2 then executed a maneuver to place it some distance from Ryugu.




























In the beginning

Back here on Earth, SpaceX successfully hurled SpaceIL’s lunar spacecraft Beresheet (Hebrew for “in the beginning”), on a two-month trek to the Moon.

Israel’s Beresheet is en route to a near-side landing on the Moon in mid-April. If successful, the craft’s landing would be the first non-government lunar touchdown. It was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), along with financial contributions from private donors.

Now outward bound, it’s the smallest spacecraft to ever attempt to land on the Moon, at only 1,322 lbs, or 600 kilograms. Its mission is to transmit photos and video of its new home and conduct scientific measurements.

First orbit around Earth

As of Friday morning, the spacecraft was 69,400 km above Earth, and is starting its way back to begin its first orbit around Earth.

In a statement released today, engineers at the SpaceIL and IAI control room have been conducting many in-orbit tests, and have identified high sensitivity to blinding by the sun’s rays in the star trackers, though this issue is being checked.

On Sunday the spacecraft is expected to conduct its first maneuver around Earth.

NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image on February 20, 2019, Sol 83, using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



The NASA InSight Mars landing site is a busy place.

The German-supplied Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) is at the end of its deployment phase. A camera on InSight’s robotic arm has been inspecting the placement of HP3 and its engineering tether – the cable running to the lander.

Upcoming is the firing of the frangibolts that will release the“mole” It weighs a little over 6.5 pounds (about 3 kilograms) and will hammer itself under the surface of Mars.

Components of the HP3 heat flow probe. Top left: the radiometer (RAD), which is used to measure the radiation temperature (roughly equivalent to the ground temperature) of the surface. Right: the casing with the mole penetrometer, the temperature measuring cable (TEM-P) and the data cable (ET) connected to the lander. In addition, the casing contains an optical length meter for determining the length of the temperature measuring cable that has been pulled from the casing. The mole contains the TEM-A active thermal conductivity sensor and the STATIL tiltmeter. Bottom left: the electronic control unit, known as the back end electronics (BEE), which remains on the lander and is connected to the probe via the ET.
Credit: DLR.

Mole command

If successfully released, the mole will be commanded to begin hammering next Tuesday, reports principal investigator Tilman Spohn from the German Aerospace Center’s  (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin.

“This will be the moment we all look forward to, the first 70 centimeter depth on Mars for the mole! Although we have tested the mole extensively and diligently, there remains an uncertainty,” Spohn adds. This has never been done before on Mars or on another terrestrial planet.

“Sure, the Apollo astronauts have drilled to about 3 meters on the Moon. But theirs was not a robotic mission,”Spohn says.

Credit: NASA/JPL

Taking the temperature

HP3 is designed to burrow down beneath the Red Planet’s topside — with its tether embedded with heat sensors — to a depth of 16 feet (five meters). The HP3 is slated to plow deeper than any previous arms, scoops, drills or probes before it.

InSight Sol 85 image taken by robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). Image shows HP3 and its tether, acquired on February 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

HP3 can take Mars’ temperature to reveal how much heat is still flowing out of the interior of the planet.

The DLR HP3 heat flow probe has the mole pulling a ribbon cable equipped with 14 temperature sensors behind it. Once the probe has reached its target depth, the temperature will be measured by all of the sensors every 15 minutes for several months.

HP³ is now in a stable position approximately 5 feet (1.5 meters) from the lander and the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and HP³ are roughly 3 feet (one meter) apart.