Archive for July, 2020

Long March fairing features logos of other space agencies involved in the Mars mission.
Credit: CNSA

 

Following the completion of multiple integrated rehearsals, China is ready for the launch of its first orbiter, lander, rover Mars exploration mission. Tianwen-1 is scheduled for liftoff in late July or early August, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Speculation is that the liftoff may occur July 23, the opening of the launch window.

Credit: CCTV

Last Friday, the fourth Long March-5 rocket — coded as Long March-5 Y4 — was vertically transported to the launching area at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province.

China’s bid to explore Mars is also one that involves several other nations for tracking, orbital relay of data, and science instrument support.

For details on other space agencies involved in China’s reach for the Red Planet, go to my new Space.com story:

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars rover mission gets a boost from international partners

https://www.space.com/china-mars-mission-tianwen-1-international-partners.html

Robotic arm investigation of “Breamish.” Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2826, July 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

“Curiosity has arrived near her next drill location and will spend the weekend analyzing a series of interesting targets in our workspace,” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2826, July 18, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The rover will also acquire a series of high-resolution color images, both to identify a suitable drill location in the near-field and to continue its characterization of other geologic units nearby and along the rover’s drive route. These imaging efforts will mostly take place on the first day of the three-day weekend plan,” Salvatore adds.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2825, July 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rock target

Overnight on the first night, the plan calls for Curiosity to make a series of Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) chemistry measurements on the target named “Breamish,” a platy rock target with some interesting color variations.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2825, July 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The second day will be dominated by Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite activities. As these activities are power-intensive, Curiosity will mostly be sleeping during its down time to recharge its batteries, Salvatore points out.

Chemical trends with depth

The third day’s science block will include a series of Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) laser ablation measurements of different rock targets, including the Breamish target, a slanted platy rock named “Harthope,” and an effort to acquire evidence for chemical trends with depth on the target named “Back Bay.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2825, July 17, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next morning, Curiosity will acquire some early morning environmental images to look for clouds and to measure the atmospheric dust content.

“That will conclude Curiosity’s science efforts for the weekend,” Salvatore concludes, “and will prepare us well for next week’s planned drilling activities!”

Shooting Star transport vehicle.
Credit: SNC

 

The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been awarded a contract by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to repurpose the company’s Shooting Star transport vehicle as an Unmanned Orbital Outpost – essentially a scalable, autonomous space station for experiments and logistics demonstrations.

DIU is a Department of Defense organization that contracts with commercial companies to solve national security problems.

“The current Shooting Star is already designed with significant capabilities for an orbital outpost and by adding only a few components we are able to meet Department of Defense (DoD) needs.” said former NASA space shuttle commander and retired USAF pilot Steve Lindsey, now senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area.

Shooting Star attached to Dream Chaser.
Credit: SNC

Core structure

SNC’s Shooting Star transport vehicle serves as the core structure for the proposed design.

Shooting Star is a 16-foot attachment to Dream Chaser developed for NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) missions to provide extra storage for payloads and to facilitate cargo disposal upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. However, the transport vehicle’s unique design also offers free-flyer and satellite capabilities for large payloads with high-power capacity. It can also support logistics services to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and cislunar destinations.

Shooting Star.
Credit: SNC

 

 

 

Future outposts

According to a SNC statement, the proposed orbital outpost will be initially established in low Earth orbit with guidance, navigation and control for sustained free-flight operations to host payloads and support space assembly, microgravity, experimentation, logistics, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation.

Future outposts may be based in a variety of orbits including, medium-Earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit, geosynchronous Earth orbits (GEO) to include GEO transfer orbits, and cislunar orbits.

For more information, go to this Breaking Defense story by Theresa Hitchens: “Sierra Nevada Wins DIU Contract For Experimental Space Station”

https://breakingdefense.com/2020/07/sierra-nevada-wins-diu-contract-for-experimental-space-station/

Update: In a SpaceNews story from Jeff Foust, he notes that three companies are studying “Orbital Outpost” space station concepts for the Defense Department.

Along with SNC, study monies were also awarded to Nanoracks and Arkisys.

Go to the SpaceNews complete story at:
https://spacenews.com/three-companies-studying-orbital-outpost-space-station-concepts-for-defense-department/

Credit: CCTV

 

The fourth Long March-5 rocket, to be used to launch China’s first Mars exploration mission — the Tianwen-1 — was vertically transported to the launching area at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province on Friday.

A Long March-5 Y4 rocket was vertically transported to the launch area at Wenchang Space Launch Center in S China’s Hainan on Friday. Note the European (ESA), the French (CNES), Argentine (CONAE) and Austrian (FFG) space agency logos in addition to that of the China National Space Agency (CNSA).

Long March-5 Y4, is planned to be launched in late July or early August, according to the China National Space Administration. Speculation has it that liftoff is slated for July 23, the opening of the launch window.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports it took about two hours to vertically transport the large rocket to the launching area of the center Friday morning. Final examinations and tests will be conducted on the rocket before the launch.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

This is the first time the Long March-5 carrier rocket, currently China’s largest launch vehicle, will be put into “practical use” after three experimental launches, the Xinhua story adds. The rocket is expected to send the Tianwen-1 Mars probe into an Earth-Mars transfer orbit, which is also the first such mission to be carried out by China’s carrier rocket.

The Mars mission is indeed ambitious, aiming to complete orbiting, landing and roving in one mission, and to obtain scientific exploration data on the Red Planet.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

 

According to Li Benqi, command member for the Long March-5 Y4 rocket launching mission, in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV): “Testing for all the technical items on the rocket, the Mars rover and the launching area has been completed so far,” Li explained. “While the rocket is at the launching area, our preparations are focused on filling fuel into the rocket and ensuring a good final state of the rocket and the rover. Then we’ll enter the launching procedures.”

Ge Xiaochun, chief engineer, China National Space Administration told CCTV: “The Mars probe is the first step of China’s planetary exploration project. The coming launching mission has been highly recognized and supported by the international community.”

Ge said that “the vertical transport of the rocket to the launching area has shown that we have made good preparations for the launching mission. We will stick to the strict and careful working attitude in the coming days.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Long Lehao, carrier rocket expert, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told CCTV: “The rocket will simultaneously carry the Mars orbiter, lander and rover into space. Such a comprehensive launching mission for Mars exploration will also be the first in the world, so we’re looking forward to it.”

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Candidate landing site: Utopia Planitia

In a just published Nature Astronomy paper — “China’s first mission to Mars” – details about the mission are outlined, among them:

The Tianwen-1 probe has a mass (including fuel) of about 5 tons.

China’s Mars orbiter.
Courtesy: James Head

The orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover, while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year. The orbit during the scientific observation stage is a polar elliptical orbit 165 miles x 746 miles (265 km × 12,000 kilometers).

The Tianwen-1 probe is expected to reach Mars around February 2021 and the scientific observation phase will start in April 2021.

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head

The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia. It is the Martian region where the NASA Viking 2 lander touched down on September 3, 1976.

Scientific instruments

The roughly 530 pound (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover is nearly twice the mass of China’s Yutu lunar rovers, and is expected to be in operation for about 90 Martian days.

There are 13 scientific payloads in the Tianwen-1 mission in total.

The seven instruments on board the orbiter comprise two cameras, the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Mineralogy Spectrometer, Mars Magnetometer, Mars Ion and Neutral Particle Analyzer, and Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer.

The six instruments installed on the rover comprise the Multispectral Camera, Terrain Camera, Mars-Rover Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Surface Composition Detector, Mars Magnetic Field Detector, and Mars Meteorology Monitor.

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Comprehensive mission

According to the paper’s authors, “Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough. Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution.”

To read the full Nature Astronomy paper — China’s first mission to Mars – go to:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1148-6

Also, go to this CGTN video of the rocket roll out at:

Credit: NASA

 

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released today a report: NASA’s Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program.

Among the findings, the OIG found that Orion has continued to experience cost increases and schedule delays.  Since the cost and schedule baseline was set in 2015, the program has experienced over $900 million in cost growth through 2019, a figure expected to rise to at least $1.4 billion through 2023.

Ambitious goal

Since 2006, NASA has been developing the Orion Multi‐Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion) to transport astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.  With the announcement of the Artemis Program in May 2019, NASA set the ambitious goal of using Orion to return humans to the Moon by 2024.  As of July 2020 Orion has flown three test flights but none with astronauts on board.

The OIG also found that NASA’s exclusion of more than $17 billion in Orion‐related costs has hindered the overall transparency of the vehicle’s complete costs.  Both federal law and NASA policy call for a Life Cycle Cost estimate for all major science and space programs costing more than $250 million, and for the Agency Baseline Commitment (ABC) to be based on all formulation and development costs. 

Artist rendering of Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft in deep space.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

 

Tailored approach

The Orion Program received approval from the NASA Associate Administrator, the OIG reports notes, to deviate from those requirements, resulting in exclusion of $17.5 billion in Orion‐related costs from fiscal year (FY) 2006 to FY 2030 due to the Agency’s tailored approach to program management and cost reporting. 

Although these exclusions have been approved, the tailoring of these cost reporting requirements significantly limits visibility into the total amount spent on development and production efforts.

To read the full report — NASA’s Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program – go to:

https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/IG-20-018.pdf

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2824 tasks.

“Curiosity continues its cross-country trek today, looking for our next drill site,” reports Sean Czarnecki, a planetary geologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A recently drawn up plan includes a long drive that should put the rover within view of potential drill targets.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Clay-rich rocks

“It is hoped that the region we are driving to will be a good opportunity to sample the clay-rich rocks of Glen Torridon one last time,” Czarnecki adds. “Of course we are still filling in some science observations around the long drive.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Before driving, the plan calls for Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of targets “Tollcross” and “Sasainn” as well as a Mastcam image mosaic of target “Thirl Moor.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2823, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2823, July 15, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Clouds and dust devils

“After the long drive, we will have untargeted ChemCam observations of two additional targets,” Czarnecki notes, a Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) active measurement, and the robot’s Navcam will look for clouds and dust devils.

DAN, Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) will work overtime making environmental observations before, during, and after the drive, Czarnecki concludes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New road map

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2822 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (July 15, 2020).

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).

From Sol 2820 to Sol 2822, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 7.26 feet (2.21 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 14.27 miles (22.96 kilometers).

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

Credit: ISEC

A just-released study underscores the promising outcome from establishing a “Galactic Harbour” anchored in developing space elevator technology.

The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has issued “Space Elevators are the Transportation Story of the 21st Century – A Primer for Progress in Space Elevator Development.”

Credit: ISEC

New paradigm

The study suggests that a new paradigm has emerged, reinforced by some key viewpoints:

— Space elevators can be accomplished because we now have a material

— Space elevators enable interplanetary missions

— Fast transit to Mars (as short as 61 days)

— Space elevators can move massive amounts of cargo (180,000 MTs/year to GEO-beyond)

— Space Elevators are Earth friendly; no rocket exhaust to contribute to global warming and no additional space debris

Credit: Obayashi Corporation of Tokyo, Japan

Appropriate architecture

“Two of our messages are pretty straightforward,” explains Peter Swan, President of ISEC. “The Space Elevator will change the way we do interplanetary (and GEO for missions such as Space Solar Power). The future needs an appropriate architecture for space access, containing two major components – Space Elevator permanent transportation infrastructure and rocket portals.”

Some conclusions  from the ISEC appraisal are stimulating.

Courtesy: Sky Line

For one, the Space Elevator is closer than you think, reports the ISEC. Galactic Harbours will enable robust missions to Moon and Mars. Also, only Space Elevators can deliver the requirements of logistics equipment and supplies to the Moon and Mars. Indeed, Colonization on Mars cannot happen without the logistics support of Space Elevators, the group explains.

For more information on the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) and its reports, go to:

https://www.isec.org/studies/#TransportStory

These reports are available at no cost. Hardcopy versions are available for purchase at Lulu.com.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo taken on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now conducting Sol 2822 duties.

The rover continues to drive towards a next potential drill location, the first planned pit stop on its summer road trip, reports Mariah Baker, a planetary geologist at the Center for Earth & Planetary Studies, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

By the time Curiosity arrives at the designated drill area, the robot will have travelled over 14 miles (23 kilometers) since landing on Mars in August 2012.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo taken on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Jagged rocks

“But driving across the rocky Martian surface isn’t always easy; sharp obstacles and jagged rocks have caused some minor damage to the rover’s wheels over the years,” notes Baker.

In order to check on the condition of the wheels and track their degradation over time, the team periodically images them with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera. “As it happens, we are due for a new set of wheel images, so today’s “drive” is a bit unique: the rover will only travel a little over a meter, just enough to image one full rotation of the wheels.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo taken on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Bedrock targets

Before this unusually short drive, Curiosity is slated to acquire data on the local geology; bedrock targets “Cateran Trail” and “Cowal Way” will be targeted with the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument and imaged with Mastcam for documentation purposes.

Mastcam will also capture stereo mosaics of nearby features of interest named “Fife Coastal Path” (a rock fracture) and “Glenfinnan Viaduct” (tilted rocks).

Baker adds that the robot’s Navcam will also be used to image sediment that has accumulated on the rover deck.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo taken on Sol 2822, July 14, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 Strategic path

After the wheel imaging, standard post-drive images will be acquired with Hazcam, Navcam, and Mastcam. There will also be two ChemCam Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) observations and two larger Mastcam mosaics, one of the rover’s target drill area and one of a more distant geologic contact.

Lastly, three observations (two with Navcam and one with Mastcam) will be used to monitor dust activity in Gale crater.

“Although our wheels have suffered some damage over the years, they’re still very capable of taking us where we need to go and we continue to make good progress on our strategic path,” Baker concludes. “We expect to arrive at our designated drill location by the weekend, and we will be back on the road once our drill is complete!”

Credit: Wan, W.X., Wang, C., Li, C.L. et al.

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars spacecraft appears slated for a July 23 launch date (the opening of the launch window).

The Mars probe has been transported to Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. It is set to be launched atop a Long March 5 carrier rocket in the coming days, with arrival at Mars seven months later.

The mission will study the Red Planet with a combination of orbiter and lander/rover.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Candidate landing site: Utopia Planitia

In a just published Nature Astronomy paper — “China’s first mission to Mars” – details about the mission are outlined, among them:

The Tianwen-1 probe has a mass (including fuel) of about 5 tons.

China’s Mars orbiter, lander, rover effort.
Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

 

 

The orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover, while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year. The orbit during the scientific observation stage is a polar elliptical orbit 165 miles x 746 miles (265 km × 12,000 kilometers).

The Tianwen-1 probe is expected to reach Mars around February 2021 and the scientific observation phase will start in April 2021.

Viking 2 Image of Mars Utopian Plain.
Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia. It is the Martian region where the NASA Viking 2 lander touched down on September 3, 1976.

Scientific instruments

The roughly 530 pound (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover is nearly twice the mass of China’s Yutu lunar rovers, and is expected to be in operation for about 90 Martian days.

China’s Mars orbiter.
Courtesy: James Head

There are 13 scientific payloads in the Tianwen-1 mission in total.

The seven instruments on board the orbiter comprise two cameras, the Mars-Orbiting Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Mineralogy Spectrometer, Mars Magnetometer, Mars Ion and Neutral Particle Analyzer, and Mars Energetic Particle Analyzer.

China’s Mars rover.
Courtesy: James Head

 

The six instruments installed on the rover comprise the Multispectral Camera, Terrain Camera, Mars-Rover Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Surface Composition Detector, Mars Magnetic Field Detector, and Mars Meteorology Monitor.

Comprehensive mission

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to the paper’s authors, “Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way. If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough. Scientifically, Tianwen-1 is the most comprehensive mission to investigate the Martian morphology, geology, mineralogy, space environment, and soil and water-ice distribution.”

To read the full Nature Astronomy paper — China’s first mission to Mars – go to:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1148-6

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2822 duties.

Here are some newly relayed images from the robot:

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2821, July 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2821, July 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2821, July 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo acquired on Sol 2821, July 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 2821, July 13, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2820, July 12, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road map

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2816 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (July 8, 2020).

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).

From Sol 2813 to Sol 2816, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 139.21 feet (42.43 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 14.18 miles (22.83 kilometers).

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