Archive for March, 2020


Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR by Alexandra Sankova (in collaboration with the Moscow Design Museum), Phaidon; April 2020; Hardback; 240 pages, $39.95.

This book is a well-timed retro-fire into space history – and an absolute wonderful read.

The volume offers insight into the Soviet sociopolitical landscape, a behind-the-scenes view of how space played in the minds of space visionaries behind the Iron Curtain over the decades.

“Yuri Gagarin: Let’s Go!” illustration by S. Alimov.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

This is a book that offers a view of more than 250 covers and interior illustrations that depict first-time discoveries and scientific prowess, but laden with futuristic visions of where space exploration can take us.

Up front disclosure: I’m a relic from the impact of Cold War-era Russian space imagery. The space propaganda machine by the USSR was in full-throttle when I was much younger, as U.S. rockets and spacecraft seemed lost in space, missed their mark or crapped out on arrival.

Illustration by V. Viktorov depicting space dogs Belka and Strelka.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

Yes, America had its successes, but it was all high-drama and this book reflects the Space Race running full-steam. As this volume exemplifies, making use of the period’s hugely successful popular-science magazines, the imagery rocketed out of the Soviet Union were an essential tool for the endorsement of state ideology.

As explained in the book: “As the competition heated up, so did the response in the media. In the USSR, popular science magazines were a vital tool in the motivation and engagement of the general public, documenting in great detail and vivid color both the realities and fantasies of the state’s advancements on the West.”

Illustration by R. Avotin.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

This wonderful book features images from the surreal to the sublime, colored in communist sentiment. The magazine images portray the boldest of space exploration ideas – many of them alive and well even in the 21st century.

The volume is divided up into unique chapters, from Educate, Encourage, Dream to Cosmic Pioneers, Alternative Worlds and Future Visions. Lastly, there’s a very informative section on the magazines from which the book has drawn its captivating material.

Again, this is a unique and enjoyable read that deserves attention…not only for the reader to romp around in the past, but serves as a historic bookmark in pioneering the space frontier of today.












For more information on this book, go to:



SpaceX has released a Starship Users Guide.

Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.

This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

The Starship Program leverages SpaceX’s experience to introduce a next generation, super heavy-lift space transportation system capable of rapid and reliable reuse.

Starship crew (left) and uncrewed (right)
Credit: SpaceX



SpaceX’s Starship system represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to service Earth orbit needs as well as missions to the Moon and Mars.

Starship payload deployment sequence.
Credit: SpaceX

This two-stage vehicle—composed of the Super Heavy rocket (booster) and Starship (spacecraft) is powered by sub-cooled methane and oxygen. “Starship is designed to evolve rapidly to meet near term and future customer needs while maintaining the highest level of reliability,” notes the 6-page guide.





Private cabins

According to the guide, the Starship crew configuration can transport up to 100 people from Earth into low Earth orbit and on to the Moon and Mars. The crew configuration of  Starship includes private cabins, large common areas, centralized storage, solar storm shelters and a viewing gallery.

Delivery of cargo on the Moon.
Credit: SpaceX

Sprawling Moon base supported by SpaceX Starships.
Credit: SpaceX























The guide is available at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2720 tasks.

“Curiosity’s drill campaigns are like poetry in fixed verse,” says Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera image acquired on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

A predefined set of activities has to occur in a sequence: first Curiosity must assess an outcrop for drilling, then drill and extract a sample, then process and characterize the sample, then deliver the sample to the robot’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) instrument for analysis, then prepare the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, then deliver the sample to SAM for analysis, and finally dump the sample on the ground.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“All of this happens over a period of a couple weeks, and when we are planning the science observations for any given sol, we need to work within the scaffolding of the drill campaign sequence,” Rice notes. “But like poets crafting sonnets in iambic pentameter, we find freedom within the fixed structure to create something new.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Second analysis of drill sample

Such was the case for a plan that covers sols 2717-2719.

“As Curiosity proceeds with the Edinburgh drill campaign, we use free blocks of time here and there to explore the landscape,” Rice reports. The main structure of this three-sol plan includes a second analysis of the Edinburgh drill sample with CheMin and the preconditioning of the SAM instrument to prepare for an upcoming Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) observation.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Laser shots

As for the other Curiosity science observations, Rice points to:

Mastcam peers at the enigmatic outcrop with a panorama; ChemCam laser shoots three rocks: “Albany,” “Alloway,” and “Alexandria”; pediment surface revealed by the rover’s Remote Micro Imager (RMI); and Navcam movies seek to capture swirls of dust that sweep the horizon.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has issued a space threat assessment 2020 report.

This informative study notes that in the last year, more states are considering the development of offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities to protect space systems from attacks.

“Nations are moving to reorganize their national security space enterprise, as the United States did in 2019, to better address the growing uncertainty and threats in the space domain,” the report explains.

Credit: CSIS



Clear indication in fog of war

Things to watch within the United States are updates to space doctrine, strategy, and policy and investments in new space capabilities and missions.

“Developments in these areas would be a clear indication that the reorganization efforts put in place in 2019 are part of a fundamental shift in the U.S. military’s overall approach to making space more defendable,” the report adds.




To take a read of this report, go to:


Credit: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch has rolled out new information regarding use of its humongous carrier craft to advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles.

Credit: Stratolaunch

Humongous carrier craft on a roll.
Credit: Stratolaunch

This air-launch approach to hypersonic testing features use of Talon-A, a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle.

Credit: Stratolaunch

Inside look of Talon-A.
Credit: Stratolaunch

Talon-A is 28 feet (8.5 m) in length, has a wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg).

The Talon-A will conduct over 1-minute of hypersonic flight testing, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. The vehicle will also be capable of autonomous take-off, under its own power, via a conventional runway, according to the company.

Currently in development is Talon-Z.





Reusable space plane

Black Ice, a fully reusable space plane.
Credit: Stratolaunch

Another craft that’s part of the Stratolaunch fleet is Black Ice, a fully reusable space plane that enables advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return. Initial designs of the vehicle are optimized for cargo launch, with a follow-on variant capable of transporting crew.

“Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia,” says Jean Floyd, Chief Executive Officer of Stratolaunch.

Home for the Stratolaunch manufacturing facilities is Mojave Air and Space Port, California. The company headquarters is Seattle, Washington.

















For more information, go to:

Researchers compared results of asteroid deflection simulations to experimental data.
Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

Thwarting an incoming asteroid that has Earth in its crosshairs will mean deflecting or disrupting the hazardous object.

Already on the books is the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in 2021 – the first-ever kinetic impact deflection demonstration on a near-Earth asteroid.  

“We’re preparing for something that has a very low probability of happening in our lifetimes, but a very high consequence if it were to occur,” says Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) physicist Tané Remington. “Time will be the enemy if we see something headed our way one day. We may have a limited window to deflect it, and we will want to be certain that we know how to avert disaster.”

DART mission schematic shows the impact on the moonlet of asteroid (65803) Didymos. Post-impact observations from Earth-based optical telescopes and planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body.
Also shown is planned ride-along CubeSat, the Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroid (LICIACube).
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

DART mission

The findings of a new study by Remington and colleagues is titled “Numerical Simulations of Laboratory‐Scale, Hypervelocity‐Impact Experiments for Asteroid‐Deflection Code Validation.” The work identified sensitivities in the code parameters that can help researchers working to design a modeling plan for the DART mission.

The DART mission is being developed and led for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is the lead for planetary defense activities and is sponsoring the DART mission.

Illustration of the DART spacecraft with the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) extended.
Credit: NASA

The DART spacecraft will launch in late July of 2021. The target is a binary (two asteroids orbiting each other) near-Earth asteroid named Didymos that is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before impact.

The DART spacecraft will deliberately crash into the smaller moonlet in the binary asteroid – dubbed Didymoon – in September of 2022 at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s.

The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth.

Code confidence

But understanding how multiple variables might affect a kinetic deflection attempt relies upon large-scale hydrodynamic simulations thoroughly vetted against relevant laboratory‐scale experiments.

However, do we know our codes are correct?

The new study investigated the accuracy of the codes by comparing simulation results to the data from a 1991 laboratory experiment conducted at Kyoto University in Japan where a hypervelocity projectile impacted a basalt sphere target.

“In an effort to gain confidence in our codes, this work compares our simulation results to data from a well‐known laboratory‐scale experiment to assess the accuracy of our models,” the LLNL planetary defense research team explains. “We find that our code can produce results that closely resemble the experimental findings, giving assurance to the planetary defense community that our code can correctly simulate asteroid or comet mitigation.”

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Momentum transfer

“This study suggests that the DART mission will impart a smaller momentum transfer than previously calculated,” said Mike Owen, LLNL physicist, coauthor on the paper and developer of the “Spheral” code – an adaptive smoothed-particle hydrodynamics code.

“If there were an Earthbound asteroid, underestimating momentum transfer could mean the difference between a successful deflection mission and an impact. It’s critical we get the right answer. Having real world data to compare to is like having the answer in the back of the book,” Owen says in a LLNL statement.

To read the full paper – “Numerical Simulations of Laboratory‐Scale, Hypervelocity‐Impact Experiments for Asteroid‐Deflection Code Validation” – slated for publication in the April issue of the American Geophysical Union journal Earth and Space Science, go to:

Credit: NASA

Bye-bye, miss american pie: The U.S. Congress and President Trump have sealed a $2 trillion+ stimulus deal stimulated by the on-going COVID-19 crisis that’s impacted all aspects of the U.S. economy, including America’s civil space program.

Let’s layer those transmissible woes on top of projected NASA intentions to shape a human return to the Moon by 2024 – and shoving off to Mars as a future objective.

That’s the background for reaching out to two key space policy gurus in Washington, D.C.

NASA’s Artemis return humans to the Moon by 2024 program.
Credit: NASA

What now?

“Setting the end of 2024 for getting back to the Moon was always arbitrary,” explains John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at the Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“With the current health crisis situation and the stand down of the Artemis team, it makes absolutely no sense to continue to push for that date,” Logsdon told Inside Outer Space.

A much more fundamental issue, Logsdon added, “is whether the White House, the Congress, and indeed the U.S. public will continue, as we emerge from this trauma, to support human space exploration in the face of unprecedented demands on the government budget.”

U.S. President Trump signing brings back the National Space Council and  puts America on a return to the Moon path.
Credit: White House

The big ask

Requesting $71 billion over the next five years to go back to the Moon by 2024, a politically-inspired date, on top of everything else NASA does, was a big ask to begin with, says Marcia Smith, founder and editor of

“In the current climate, with trillions – that’s with a t – being spent to keep the country afloat economically, I think it will be a bridge too far,” Smith told Inside Outer Space.

“Generally speaking, Congress loves NASA, and space exploration, so I don’t think the goal will change, but almost certainly the timeline,” Smith said.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is currently performing Sol 2717 tasks.

At last report, the Edinburgh drill campaign continues.

A sampling of new images from the Red Planet robot:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2716, March 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera remote micro-imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Prominent crossbedding is shown in this Curiosity Chemistry & Camera remote micro-imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

China’s new-generation piloted spaceship being readied for test flight next month.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

China’s prototype of a new-generation piloted spaceship is scheduled to launch with no crew in mid to late April on the maiden flight of the Long March-5B carrier rocket, a variant of the Long March-5.

The spacecraft is being readied for launch at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, Hainan Province.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab


The spacecraft is being developed for the operation of China’s space station and future human space exploration missions. It will be larger than China’s current Shenzhou piloted spaceship and is reusable.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab


With a length of 29 feet (8.8 meters) and a takeoff weight of 21.6 tons, the spaceship will be able to carry six astronauts. It is designed for safety and reliability, and can adapt to multiple tasks, such as carrying a cargo payload over 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) with a crew of three.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

Parachutes and airbags

According to China’s Xinhua news agency, the new spacecraft comprises a service capsule and a return capsule. The return capsule is reusable and is expected to be reused around 10 times.

China has developed the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft for its space station, but it cannot return to Earth. The new spacecraft could return with cargoes such as scientific experiments samples and products made in space.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab



An aspect of the upcoming mission is testing the spacecraft’s landing process that utilizes multiple parachutes and airbags.


Take a look at this China Central Television (CCTV) video showing China’s new generation spacecraft at:

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2716 duties.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Reports Fred Calef, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

As the Edinburgh drill campaign continues, and the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) instrument awaits the first taste of the bedrock in front of the rover, the science team is focused on filling out Greenheugh pediment observations as well as responding to early results they’ve already received.

“Having multiple observations of the same rocks and expanding datasets to cover more area helps put high value results from the drill campaign in context,” Calef adds. “We don’t get to do this too often, except when we stop for a few sols.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope image acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Interesting chemistry

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope image acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Also, it makes sense, Calef continues, to keep the other instruments busy and get the most science we can while we wait for instruments like the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite and CheMin to process data, which usually takes a few days (it’s complicated!).

“On sol 2715, after finding some interesting chemistry on target “Eaglesham,” it would’ve been a shame if we didn’t take another look!,” Calef notes.

A Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observation called “Eaglesham2” takes a vertical sample over the crossbedding (rock layers that intersect by angle) in that rock.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope image acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

There will also be ChemCam shots into the drill hole to sample ever so slightly below the surface, including an Remote Micro Imager (RMI) Z-stack (makes a very clear image).

Washboard-like pattern

“Mastcam will takes some images of these targets too. There’s great interest to document the washboard-like pattern we see from orbit on the Greenheugh pediment as well as the prominent ridge on top of it, since we have such a unique and amazing view,” Calef points out.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s ChemCam will take more long distance Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope images of the washboard pattern and the interface between the ridge and the washboard, which is called “Skelkirkshire.”

“Skelkirkshire shows layers of boulders and probable light-toned sandstones, which tells us something about how the ridge formed,” Calef reports.

Deimos imaging

CheMin is slated to get its first Edinburgh sample portion.

The robot’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) are making observations too.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2714, March 25, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“On Sol 2716, we get a chance to image Mars’ dreadful moon Deimos with Mastcam and extend previously taken mosaics across the Greenheugh pediment ridge and surrounding bedrock in front of us,” Calef concludes. “Atmospheric observations include Mastcam tau (measures dust in the martian air), crater rim extinction, Navcam super horizon cloud search, and REMS observations for temperatures, winds, and pressure. Just like our rover instruments, stay safe and healthy!”