Archive for September, 2019

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2541, September 29, 2019. Note laser hits on inside of hole.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now conducting Sol 2542 duties.

“Go, SAM, go!”

Those are the words from Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University in the UK. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite “is healthy and Curiosity will be spending most of her time of the coming three sols on the wet chemistry experiment activity.”

The planning team is very excited, Schwenzer adds, “and we keep all fingers crossed that we will find interesting data on Monday.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2541, September 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Power limited activities

With SAM featuring prominently in the plan, power is limited for other activities.

Thus, there are just three other observations in the recent three-sol weekend plan:

Mastcam was to continue their testing of Mt. Sharp imaging conditions on sol 2541 with an early morning mosaic of an area already imaged at different times of the day.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2541, September 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Closer to the target

Later in the same sol, the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) was slated to carry out an investigation of the “Glen Lyon” target.

“If that sounds familiar to you, then you’ve got a very good memory,” Schwenzer observes. “The target was investigated on sol 2533 when the rover was closer to the target, and is now re-measured to understand what influence – if any – distance to a target makes to the results.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2541, September 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2539, September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL





Drill hole

Finally, a ChemCam investigation of the “Glen Etive” drill hole wall will add more data to the first set of points, improving scientific statistics on this very important target.

“Mastcam will document the ChemCam activities,” Schwenzer concludes, “and then all that there is left to do is await the data from SAM!”

NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on September 29, 2019, Sol 298.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



That troubled heat probe on NASA’s InSight Mars lander continues to be a worrisome dilemma.

The instruments locomotion system, a self impelling nail nicknamed “the mole” was designed to hammer itself down into the surface of Mars. Labeled the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the German-provided mole hasn’t been able to dig deeper than about 12 inches (30 centimeters) below the Martian surface since Feb. 28, 2019.



The plan

Spacecraft engineers are back at it, continuing to interact with the device, working the mole’s immediate surroundings utilizing InSight’s robotic arm.

It was decided earlier to go ahead with the plan of loading the surface using InSight’s scoop to increase pressure and thus friction on the mole hull. However, the pit the device created would first have to be collapsed.

Bottom line: Will they succeed in covering up and filling in this hole in one?

Elon Musk rolls out his plan for the future.
Credit: SpaceX/Screengrab Inside Outer Space



Elon Musk’s/SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicle is a fully, rapidly reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and anywhere else in the solar system.

Credit: SpaceX/Screengrab Inside Outer Space


On Saturday, September 28 at the firm’s launch facility in Cameron County, Texas, SpaceX Chief Engineer and CEO Musk provided an illustrative update on the design and development of Starship.

SpaceX lunar ambitions.
Credit: SpaceX

Mars city.
Credit: SpaceX

Moon, Mars…and beyond.
Credit: SpaceX































You can watch the event using the link below:

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2539, September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun performing Sol 2540 science duties.

Reports Kristen Bennett, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, recently planned use of the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite did not fully complete.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2539, September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“There was an issue in the set of planned SAM activities that resulted in those activities not completing. While we diagnose the issue, we are taking a break from drill activities and filling the plan with lots of remote science,” Bennett notes.

Retaking observations

Part of the plan will include retaking observations that did not complete on sol 2537.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2539 September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This includes Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) observations of “Peeblesshire,” “Perthshire,” and the offset from the “Glen Etive 1” dump pile.

Peeblesshire and Perthshire are both pebbles near the drill site.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2539, September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Mt. Sharp mosaic

“Additionally, the plan includes a ChemCam LIBS observation and a corresponding Mastcam image of “Stove,” which is a target located between the two drill locations,” Bennett adds. “There will also be a Mastcam mosaic of Mt. Sharp that will be taken late in the day to test what the best time of day is for these observations.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2539, September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Stony Side” is a ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic that is pointed back towards Vera Rubin ridge to capture an outcrop that is along the edge of the ridge.

Ice crystals in the clouds

“There will also be a dust devil movie, a supra-horizon movie for cloud monitoring, a line-of-sight observation, and a cloud altitude observation,” Bennett explains.


“Several Mastcam observations are included to estimate the amount of dust in the atmosphere: a tau observation and a crater rim extinction observation. There will also be a phase function sky survey, which is used to measure the angular scattering of light by clouds. Observations such as this one help us to constrain the shape of the ice crystals in the clouds.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2539, September 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL




A recent Curiosity rover plan includes ChemCam RMI sky flats, Bennett points out. This is a routine observation to check for dust on the ChemCam optical window.

“Hopefully this will be a brief intermission and we will be back to drill analysis activities in the weekend plan,” Bennett concludes.

Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The lander, Vikram, was scheduled to touch down on Sept. 6 at 4:24 pm Eastern Daylight Time. This event was India’s first attempt at a soft landing on the Moon. The site was located about 600 kilometers (370 miles) from the south pole in a relatively ancient terrain (70.8°S latitude, 23.5°E longitude).

Vikram had a hard landing and the precise location of the spacecraft in the lunar highlands has yet to be determined.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) passed over the landing site on Sept. 17 and acquired a set of high resolution images of the area; so far the LROC team has not been able to locate or image the lander. It was dusk when the landing area was imaged and thus large shadows covered much of the terrain; it is possible that the Vikram lander is hiding in a shadow.

The lighting will be favorable when LRO passes over the site in October and once again attempts to locate and image the lander.

Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University


Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Near our home planet Earth we should be on the lookout for “Lurkers” – possible sites for extraterrestrial probes that may be quite ancient.

Scientist James Benford of Microwave Sciences in Lafayette, California is promulgating the view that an attractive location for extraterrestrial intelligence may well be anchoring a probe to observe Earth throughout our deep past are the co-orbital objects. It would be a new way to do the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Imaginative searches

“Co-orbital objects approach Earth very closely every year at distances much shorter than anything except the Moon,” writes Benford. “They have the same orbital period as Earth. These near-Earth objects provide an ideal way to watch our world from a secure natural object.”

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile’s Atacama desert.
Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (

Benford has pioneered imaginative searches for interstellar communication. His first work with other family members yielded the term “Benford Beacons” — short microwave bursts to attract attention, like lighthouses.

Later, Benford pointed out using powerful electromagnetic beams to send light spacecraft, “sails,” in interplanetary exploration. Now his Lurkers proposal moves on to actual relic alien spacecraft that may have been nearby for longer than humans have existed.

Spectral lines

“Alien astronomy at our present technical level may have detected our biosphere many millennia ago,” Benford explains. “Perhaps one or more such alien civilization was drawn in recently, by radio signals emanating from our world. Or maybe it has resided in our solar system for centuries, millennia or longer.”

If we give a Lurker a full-on look-see and find nothing there, Benford adds that this gives us a profound result: no one has come to look at the life of Earth, which has been evident in our atmosphere’s spectral lines over interstellar distances for over a billion years.

Credit: CNSA

Benford underscores that the most attractive target as a Lurker is 2016 HO3, the smallest, closest, and most stable (known) quasi-satellite of Earth. And to add a little space program nudge, China in April announced they are blueprinting a plan to send a probe to 2016 HO3, he notes.

Pete Worden of Breakthrough Initiatives.
Credit: ESO/M. Zamani

Reverse engineering

Breakthrough Starshot, a Breakthrough Initiatives project, aims to send a gram-sized spacecraft to a nearby star system at around 20% of the speed of light and shows our outbound thinking to reach out to other worlds.

In reverse, as Breakthrough Initiatives Chairman, Pete Worden explains, if intelligence arose elsewhere in our galaxy, it may well have sent out similar probes. “It’s intriguing to think that some of these may already have reached our own solar system.”

To access this thought provoking paper – “Looking for Lurkers: Objects Co-orbital with Earth as SETI Observables” — go to:

Photo credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

David Criswell, 1941–2019

I lost a great friend and true space visionary. David Criswell passed away on September 10. He was 78 years old.

Over the decades of my journalistic career, I discussed with Criswell an incredible sweep of his creative thoughts regarding the utilization of space – in particular use of extraterrestrial materials for commercial usage and space settlements.

For example, his article in The Industrial Physicist, “Solar Power via the Moon” (April/May 2002), was the continuation of many years of dedicated service to the development of space resources for developing Third World Countries, seeking to develop a source of safe, efficient, and cost-effective energy for future generations of Earth’s inhabitants.

Criswell was passionate about a potential lunar solar power system that was designed to beam clean, renewable energy to Earth.

A celebration of David Criswell’s life will be held on Monday, October 14, at 2:00 p.m. at Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church, 17503 El Camino Real in Houston, Texas.

Here’s an overview of Criswell and his professional career:

A watch and listen list includes:

Lunar Solar Power System – A video conversation with Dave Criswell

Published on Oct 21, 2013

Also, go to David Livingston’s The Space Show Archive for conversations with David Criswell:

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sol 2529
Mastcam image, showing both Glen Etive drill holes, surrounded by “tailings” produced by the drilling process
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 2533 mode.

Reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick: “Planning for this past week has centered on analyzing the high potassium drill sample, Glen Etive 2, using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.”

Portions of the drilled sample have been delivered to SAM and an evolved gas analysis (EGA) conducted.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo image acquired on Sol 2531, September 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Wet chemistry

“This involved heating the sample to very high temperatures and measuring the gases that bake out of the sample with each temperature increment,” O’Connell-Cooper points out. Following the successful completion of the EGA, the plan called for a SAM uplink to clean the SAM Gas Chromatograph (GC) Columns, before some sample is transferred internally for a special wet chemistry experiment in the upcoming week’s plan.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument will also do some preparation work in this plan, ahead of a planned sample drop-off to CheMin at the end of next week, O’Connell-Cooper notes.

“Although we wanted to dedicate most of Curiosity’s resources to the continuing Glen Etive analysis, the Geology theme group (GEO) managed to fit in some geology observations. ChemCam will analyze two targets, investigating soil and pebbles at ‘Kilpatrick’ and refining bedrock composition at ‘Glen Lyon.’

Curosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2531, September 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Sand and bedrock

In addition to imaging the ChemCam targets to support geological interpretation, Mastcam will revisit the sol 2491 “change detection” target “Dundee.”

“This target contains both sand and bedrock,” O’Connell-Cooper explains, “making it easier to track small-scale changes, such as sand moving over bedrock. Although change detection studies track small particle movements, they are of immense use, helping us understand the larger picture, such as sand dune movement and changing wind regimes.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2532, September 20, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Environmental Theme Group (ENV) will monitor large-scale surface changes, such as those due to strong winds and atmospheric vortices (dust devils), and look at broader environmental conditions (clouds, atmospheric dust) in Gale and beyond.

O’Connell-Cooper concludes that it has been a quiet week for APXS. “However, it is exciting to see SAM have a starring role this week, and we are eagerly anticipating the results from SAM and CheMin over the next few weeks!”

The lunar dust detector experiment. (a) Installation position of lunar dust detector, SQCM was fixed in a temperature-controlled cabinet (TCC) which was mounted on the front-left corner of the Chang’E-3 lander. Solar cell probe (SCP) was located externally on the top of the lander. The vertical heights of SQCM and SCP from the local lunar surface are 190 cm and 205 cm, respectively. (b) Schematic illustration of structure and assembly of SQCM. The field-of-view of SQCM sensor is a cone with a half angle of approximately 75 degrees. The CE-3 lander photograph was taken by panoramic camera onboard the Yutu-1 rover.
Credit: Detian Li, Et al.

China’s Chang’E‐3 lunar lander carried out an on-the-spot study of lunar dust at its landing site in the northern Mare Imbrium.

The lunar lander made a touchdown on December 14, 2013, later unleashing the Yutu-1 rover.

The lander was equipped with a temperature‐controlled sticky quartz crystal microbalance. Using this gear, the results showed that a total deposition mass at a height of 190 centimeters above the lunar surface during 12 lunar daytimes in the northern Mare Imbrium was about 0.0065 mg/cm2, corresponding to an annual deposition rate of ~21.4 μg/cm2 – which is comparable with that of Apollo’s result to some extent, the paper points out.

The research was led by Detian Li and Yi Wang of China’s Lanzhou Institute of Physics, detailed in the research paper – “In Situ Measurements of Lunar Dust at the Chang’E‐3 Landing Site in the Northern Mare Imbrium” – published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Environmental problem

“Lunar dust is regarded as the most crucial environmental problem on the Moon, and related research has crucially important scientific and technological interests,” the paper explains. This type of research is “strategically important for future human and robotic lunar expeditions, and can provide a valuable reference for the design of dust protection for onboard payloads long‐term exposure to the lunar environment.”

This work was unique as it was made on the lunar surface rather than in orbit.

Set of photographs taken during Chang’E-3 landing, taken by the landing camera at different heights before touchdown. (a) A peaceful lunar surface, in this case, the spacecraft was so high that the lunar surface could not be affected by the lander’s engine exhaust; (b, c and d) Display a disturbed lunar surface, especially for (d), where large amounts of lunar dust and debris were stirred up by the lander’s strong engine exhaust.
Credit: Detian Li, Et al.

Detrimental dust

In summary, the paper explains that Apollo astronauts pointed out that “dust is the number one environmental problem on the Moon” and “dust is the number one concern in returning to the Moon.”

“Dust on the lunar surface can be easily levitated and transported by several natural and anthropogenic causes, which can raise several detrimental problems for exploration activities,” Detian and his research colleagues note. “To date, however, the reports about in situ measurements of dust on the lunar near surface are comparatively few.”

To review the entire paper — “In Situ Measurements of Lunar Dust at the Chang’E‐3 Landing Site in the Northern Mare Imbrium” – go to:

Credit: ISRO

The attempted touchdown of India’s Vikram lunar lander near the Moon’s South Pole ended in failure on September 7th.

Credit: ISRO/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

In the meantime, how and why it failed has become the target of exploratory postings – some of which suggest the craft nose-dived into the lunar landscape at upwards of 180 miles per hour.

Loss of com

By way of its Chandrayaan-2 mission – an orbiter, lander/rover — India had hoped to become the 4th nation to make a soft landing on the Moon.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) noted on September 10th that the Vikram lander had been located by the camera-carrying orbiter of Chandrayaan-2, “but no communication with it yet. All possible efforts are being made to establish communication with lander.”

That Indian orbiter imagery has yet to be issued.

Credit: ISRO/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Orbiter update

In a September 19th posting, ISRO explained that the Chandrayaan2 orbiter “continues to perform scheduled science experiments to complete satisfaction.”

India’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter – up and operating.
Credit: ISRO

All payloads of the orbiter are powered. Initial trials for orbiter payloads have been successfully completed. Performance of all orbiter payloads is satisfactory. The orbiter continues to perform scheduled science experiments to complete satisfaction, ISRO explains.

Lastly, a National level committee consisting of academicians and ISRO experts are analyzing the cause of communication loss with the Vikram lander.

Credit: ISRO

Poor lighting conditions

Flying over the touchdown zone on September 17, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) did take new imagery in an attempt to spot the lander. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) is a system of three cameras mounted on the LRO that capture high resolution photos of the lunar landscape. However, due to poor lighting conditions, chances of locating the lander were unfavorable.

On the lookout for India’s Moon lander, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

LRO will next fly over the landing site on October 14th – enjoying a more favorable lighting situation.

Field of view

Inside Outer Space has been provided NASA’s approved statement regarding the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) with respect to looking for India’s Vikram lander.

“LRO flew over the area of the Vikram landing site on Sept. 17 when local lunar time was near dusk; large shadows covered much of the area. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) acquired images around the targeted landing site, but the exact location of the lander was not known so the lander may not be in the camera field of view,” the NASA statement explains.

Projected Vikram lunar landing site in the highland plain between the craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N. Simpelius N crater is about 6 miles (9 kilometers) across.
Source: LROC Quickmap
Credit: Jatan Mehta/Moon Monday


Continuing, the statement says: “The LROC team will analyze these new images and compare them to previous images to see if the lander is visible (it may be in shadow or outside the imaged area). LRO will next fly over the landing site on October 14 when lighting conditions will be more favorable.   NASA will make the results of the Sept. 17 flyover available as soon as possible after a necessary period of validation, analysis, and review.”



Speculative postings

Meanwhile, check out these postings:

How the Indian lunar lander was lost

What We Know About India’s Failed Lunar Landing

Based on the handful of public statements, and images from mission control it looks like braking from orbital velocity worked correctly, but the transition to fine control for descent may have resulted in a tumbling spacecraft which impacted the surface at about 100m/sec.