Archive for November, 2019

Self-knowing satellites make up the Blackjack constellation.
Credit: DARPA

Pit Boss is an autonomous mission management system for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Blackjack satellite constellation.

DARPA’s Blackjack constellation is designed to operate in low Earth orbit. It will network sensors together with a goal to provide persistent global coverage for many applications, including missile warning.

Raytheon is designing Pit Boss that connects the brains of each Blackjack satellite to establish an exceptionally smart, networked system.

AI, machine learning

According to Raytheon, Pit Boss aims to use an advanced architecture, processors and encryption to autonomously collect and process data from the entire Blackjack constellation. It is also envisioned to be able to incorporate future advanced algorithms, including artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Pit Boss is the data collection and processing data hub. By fusing the sensor data together, decision-making speeds up, transitioning from what is known as operator-in-the-loop to operator-on-the-loop methodology.

Rather than sending data down to a ground station for processing, which takes time, Pit Boss will send data from space straight to the right operator at the right time.


“Self-knowing satellites are the next step in autonomous space-based mission planning,” said Mike Rokaw, director for Raytheon Space Systems. “And, this isn’t limited to missile warning and defense. Future constellation management systems will migrate to this type of methodology.”

Given Blackjack’s success, the plan is for the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to transition the architecture to a program tagged Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations – or CASINO for short.

For more information, go to this DARPA info at:


Curiosity now has another butte in view: “Western butte”
Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover is now performing Sol 2589 tasks.

Reports Roger Wiens, noted geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory:

“After the ‘butte-iful’ location and view of sols 2585-2586, Curiosity descended back down from its perch on ‘Central butte’ and skirted its steep side,” Wiens explains.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot now has another butte in view, “Western butte.”

“Little by little, Curiosity is climbing higher, toward the edge of ‘Greenheugh pediment,’”Wiens adds.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New location

The drive of Curiosity was 131 feet (40 meters) toward the southwest. At the new location, Curiosity will observe two targets, “Blawhorn” and “Gorgie,” with Mastcam, Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Mastcam will also take images of “Yella Moor,” “Dalchork,” “Glen Lui,” and “Craigmillar,” as well as making a tau measurement and a crater rim extinction observation, Wiens points out.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sky survey

MAHLI will take an image of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) UV sensor. Navcam will take dust-devil movies, suprahorizon movies, and a 360 sky survey.

REMS, Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), and the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) will also take data.

On the final day of the weekend plan, Curiosity was to advance 66 feet (20 meters), after which it will take Navcam images of its new surroundings. The rover will then compute a ChemCam target, using the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering of Increased Science (AEGIS) software, which will then direct the instrument to shoot a 3×3 raster on it.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

“Finally, Mastcam will take a sunset tau observation, and the rover will radio home with a large bundle of new data,” Wiens concludes.

New road map

Meanwhile, a new map has been issued showing Curiosity’s location for Sol 2589.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2589 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (November 18, 2019).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.

From Sol 2586 to Sol 2589, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 23.85 feet (7.27 meters). Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 13.27 miles (21.36 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2587, November 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2588, November 17, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


See You In Orbit? – Our Dream Of Spaceflight by Alan Ladwig, To Orbit Productions, LLC, October 2019; paperback, 500 pages, $18.00.

Public space travel is soon getting a boost from Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and the efforts of the Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin. Plunking down cash to skyrocket into near-space heights and escape velocity vacationing in Earth orbit is in the offing. Or is it?

Strap in, place your table trays into locked position and enjoy a highly revealing read from author Alan Ladwig, a former manager of both the Shuttle Student Involvement Program and the Spaceflight Participant Program, which included the Teacher in Space and Journalist in Space competitions.

See You in Orbit? is a superb, fact-filled account of the on-going promise of commercial space tourism, and pulls no punches about why it has been such a long, drawn-out countdown to reality.

Ladwig at the outset of the volume admits the book has been “a crime of passion for over three decades.” The reader will be consumed by that zeal contained within 13 chapters that begins with the dreams of yesterday and concludes with wagons ho and way beyond Earth’s boundaries. Within that sweep of reading, I myself was drawn to the author’s behind-the-scenes account of the loss of Challenger and its crew that included teacher-in-space, Christa McAuliffe – subtitled “The Dream Turns into Heartbreak.”

Footloose and fancy-free, author Alan Ladwig.
Credit: To Orbit Productions

Ladwig has an engaging, witty, and often poignant writing manner that adds to the reader’s page-turning experience. The author is no stranger to zero-gravity, having experienced hundreds of parabolas on ZERO-G’s G-Force 1 and NASA’s KC-135. That said, he confesses that the thought of being confined in a small capsule gives him the willies. “Trust me, you wouldn’t want me sitting in the middle seat next to you,” he writes.

The book includes an extensive chapter-by-chapter notes section, clearly demonstrating the author’s exhaustive research in writing this enlightening and instructive volume.

Be it “The Scent of Musk” or “Space Cycler Built for Two” or “How Many Billionaires Does It Take to Get Us to Space?”…these and other quips guide the reader to a wisdom-filled smooth touchdown.

For more information on this book, go to:


Remarks by Vice President Pence to NASA’s Ames Research Center Employees and Guests | Moffett Field, CA

Issued on: November 14, 2019

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Vice President Mike Pence (right) gets a look at an engineering test unit for VIPER – short for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover – a lunar rover capable of seeking out water ice in the Moon’s soil, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley on Nov. 14, 2019. VIPER project scientist Anthony Colaprete (left) and VIPER project manager and Ames’ director of engineering Daniel Andrews (center) explained how the prospecting rover, launching in 2022, will map out the location and concentration of water ice at the Moon’s south pole, ahead of the first Artemis astronauts’ arrival in 2024.
Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

During his visit to Ames, the vice president took a tour of the center that featured highlights of facilities and projects critical to the Artemis program. These included the Vertical Motion Simulator, the world’s largest flight simulator, which could also help prepare the next astronauts to land on the Moon; the Arc Jet Complex, NASA’s high-energy wind tunnel for testing materials and designs that protect spacecraft from intense heating when entering an atmosphere; and the VIPER lunar rover mission.

Vice President Mike Pence (left) and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (right) in the Vertical Motion Simulator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
Credits: Photo by official White House photographer Myles Cullen


Curiosity Navigation Left B Camera image acquired on Sol 2586, November 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now closing out Sol 2586 science duties.

Reports Claire Newman, an atmospheric scientist at Aeolis Research, Curiosity is again at the “Hunda” facies, high up on Central Butte.

Curiosity Navigation Left B Camera image acquired on Sol 2586, November 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“At this location, we’re finding a lot of decimeter-scale laminations – sequences of fine layers – near to and underneath the rover,” Newman explains.

Curiosity Navigation Left B Camera image acquired on Sol 2586, November 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Float rock

In these layers, target “Kirkcudbrightshire” was chosen as the location for first Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) then Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) analysis, the idea being that ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) would remove any dust covering the target before the APXS contact science overnight.

A second APXS target “Foggy Moss” was chosen to sample the float rock found here, which was already analyzed using ChemCam in a prior sol.

“Here ‘float’ refers to the piece of rock having been transported from its original outcrop, and this one might represent the cap rock of the entire butte,” Newman adds.

Curiosity Navigation Camera Left B photo taken on Sol 2585, November 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Edge of rock ledge

More ChemCam LIBS analyses were planned on targets “Kincardineshire,” which may sample the edge of the rock ledge, “Grogsport,” another bedrock target higher in the section (to test how chemistry, especially sulfate content, changes with position), and “Hog Burn,” another float rock which might also represent the capping unit and can be compared with Foggy Moss, Newman points out.

Mastcam mosaics and ChemCam documentation images, Newman continues, were used to place all of these measurements in context, and the geology side of the plan finished with Mastcam stereo of layers in the outcrop (“Bonny Braes”), as well as a Mastcam context mosaic of additional outcrop, allowing the various mosaics from this location to be linked together (“Bonnie View”).

Dog’s eye mosaic

Also planned are Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of Kirkcudbrightshire and Foggy Moss, and a MAHLI ‘dog’s eye’ mosaic of target “Sourhope”; the latter means that the arm will be positioned so MAHLI looks sideways (rather than down) at the target, Newman notes, to get a better view of the laminations within the rocks.

On the environmental side of the plan, Mars rover scientists included the usual Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) monitoring of atmospheric and surface temperature, surface pressure, humidity, and UV radiation, plus Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive and active monitoring of the subsurface composition, and the ongoing continuous Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) monitoring of energetic particle radiation.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2583, November 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Cloud altitude, dust devils

“We’re in the cloudy season right now, so we added in a Navcam Cloud Altitude Observation which uses observations of clouds and their shadows, plus geometry, to work out cloud heights,” Newman reports. “This is a valuable piece of information for inferring the vertical structure of the crater’s atmosphere, as cloud height is related to both water abundance and the thermal profile.”

Also added to planning is a Navcam Dust Devil Survey at about 4:20pm local true solar time. “This is a few hours later than we expect most dust devils to occur, especially in winter, based on both theory and past observations,” Newman observes.

“However, we’ve observed dust devils this late in the day in other seasons, and it’s important to repeat these surveys at a range of times in every season each year, rather than assuming nothing will change as we move up the slope! Finally, we measured the amount of dust above us and the visibility across the crater at two times of sol using Mastcam, and measured the across-crater visibility at one time of sol with Navcam also,” Newman concludes.

Lt. General Thomas P. Stafford and Mr. A. Thomas Young
Credit: Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics/Screengrab Inside Outer Space



TIME: 02:00 PM



Chair Kendra Horn (D-OK) of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

— Lt. General Thomas P. Stafford, USAF (Ret.); Member, National Academy of Engineering; Chairman, NASA ISS Advisory Committee; Pilot, Gemini 6, Commander, Gemini 9; Cdr. Apollo 10, Cdr. Apollo/Apollo-Soyuz Test Program; Former USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition

— Mr. A. Thomas Young, Former Director of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Former President and Chief Operating Officer Martin Marietta Corp

To view the hearing, go to this video at:

LRO imagery shows impact site for China’s mini-satellite.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

China’s Longjiang-2 spacecraft (also known as DSLWP-B) crashed onto the lunar farside on July 31, 2019 after completing its orbital mission. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has spotted the apparent impact site.

China’s micro lunar orbiter — Longjiang-2 (also known as DSLWP-B).
Credit: Harbin Institute of Technology 

The Longjiang-2 satellite was launched to the Moon along with the Queqiao relay communications satellite on May 20, 2018 by the China National Space Agency (CNSA). The small spacecraft – weighing nearly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) — was designed to work with its twin (Longjiang-1) to validate technologies for low-frequency radio astronomy observations.

Impact result

According to Mark Robinson, leader of the LRO Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) at Arizona State University, a new lunar crater has been identified and most likely the result of that impact.

In a posting, Robinson saluted the team led by amateur radio operator, Daniel Estévez of Tres Cantos, Spain, that estimated the small spacecraft impacted somewhere within Van Gent crater (16.69°N, 159.52°E).

Careful comparison

The LROC team used these coordinates to image the area on October 5, 2019. Through a careful comparison of pre-existing LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) images, the LROC team was able to locate a new impact crater (16.6956°N, 159.5170°E, ±10 meters), a distance of only 328 meters from the estimated site!

The new impact crater is located on a steep slope, greater than 20°, measured from an LROC NAC Digital Terrain Model.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The crater is 13 feet (4 meters) by 16 feet (5 meters) in diameter, with the long axis oriented southwest to northeast.

Based on proximity to the estimated crash coordinates and the crater size, “we are fairly confident that this new crater formed as a result of the Longjiang-2 impact,” Robinson notes.

Credit: CGTN

China has unveiled a simulated Mars landing facility, making use of a tower nearly 460 feet (140 meter) in height, a testing structure situated at Huailai County, Hebei Province, north China. The six pylon tower facility included a servo system and a Martian surface simulation area.

The highly touted test is prelude to China launching the country’s Mars probe in 2020, aiming to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission, according to the China National Space Administration.

Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

The experiment simulated the gravity of Mars, about one-third of the gravity on Earth, to test the design of the lander, according to China Central Television (CCTV).

Ambassadors and diplomats from 19 countries including France, Italy and Brazil, as well as representatives from the European Union, the African Union and the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization were invited to watch the experiment, said CCTV.

Credit: CGTN

Landing procedure

In a Xinhua news agency story, Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s first Mars exploration mission, said in order to simulate the landing procedure under the gravitational acceleration of Mars demanded construction of the facility.

A red platform in the middle of the pylons is fixed by 36 steel cables. Through precise control, Xinhua reports, the platform is able to simulate the Martian gravitational environment.

On the ground underneath the pylon tower, engineers created slopes and craters to mimic the environment of the Martian surface.

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Obstacle-avoiding mode

According to Xinhua, Thursday’s test verified the procedures including the lander’s separation with the main body of the spacecraft from a 70-meter altitude, and then hovering at 67 meters above the surface, searching for a safe landing spot, and then descending to 20 meters above the surface in an obstacle-avoiding mode.

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Zhang Kejian, administrator of the CNSA, said since the official kick-off in 2016, China’s Mars exploration program has progressed well. The hovering and obstacle avoidance test for the Mars lander is a crucial step of the project, Xinhua reports.

For a look at the test, go to this embedded CGTN video at:

Also, go to this CNSA video at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 2584, November 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2585 tasks.

A newly released map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2582 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (November 11, 2019).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

From Sol 2577 to Sol 2582, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 13.02 feet (3.97 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 13.24 miles (21.31 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) RMI photo taken on Sol 2585, November 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2584, November 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA

Worth a read: A new NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) 2019 Report on NASA’s Top Management and Performance Challenges.

Among items discussed:

Landing Humans on the Moon by 2024

Sustaining a Human Presence in Low Earth Orbit

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