Archive for November, 2020

Chang’e-5 lander departs orbiter. Credit: CCTV

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission — the country’s first attempt to retrieve samples automatically from an extraterrestrial body – is ready for a landing.

Credit: CCTV

The Chang’e-5 probe’s lander and ascender separated from its orbiter and returner at 4:40 a.m. Beijing time on Monday, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on the same day.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Sealed deal

Getting down and dirty on the lunar surface, then collect Moon samples for return to Earth, is a complex affair.

Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We have never done a whole process of taking and sealing samples,” said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-5 probe system of China Academy of Space Technology, also a scientist with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission will attempt to haul back to Earth samples of the Moon.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Peng told China Central Television (CCTV) this aspect of the work mainly depends on several complicated structures including drilling, robotically scooping up rocks and regolith on the lunar surface, and then place specimens in a high vacuum sealing device.

Ascender departs the Moon with lunar collectibles.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“If the air enters the sealed device during this process or during the samples’ transportation, it might pollute the samples,” Peng said.

Lunar liftoff

Another tricky part of the Chang’e-5 mission is the liftoff from the Moon of the ascender.

Ascender liftoff from lunar surface.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The main difficulty is that when we first land on the Moon, we would not know how the lander performs beforehand. Besides, the most crucial part during the launch is the fact that the targeted direction needs to be really precise. Only when we have especially designed such a direction and the ascender has entered the target orbit, can it be able to rendezvous with the orbiter-returner combination and conduct further flying processes,” Peng said.

Autonomous rendezvous and docking between ascender and orbiter.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Autonomous operations

The ascender will autonomously dock with the orbiter-returner combination and poses another tough challenge.

Bringing the lunar goods back to Earth.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We need to precisely anticipate the location and speed of the two spacecraft flying at the lunar orbit. Because the probes don’t match in size, our ascender weighs just around 300 to 400 kilograms during docking, while the combination weighs nearly 2,000 kilograms. Any error could knock off the smaller spacecraft, and that would make the docking job much more difficult than before,” Peng said. He added that the docking has a rather high requirement on accuracy, with an error range less than five centimeters.

If all goes according to plan, a successful Chang’e-5 mission would parachute back to Earth roughly 4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar collectibles, landing in Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia, north China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to this CCTV video detailing the Chang’e-5 mission at:

https://youtu.be/0iMY8SVXmBQ

 

Overlooks into a lunar pit are to be risky, but guardedly careful stops.
Credit: William Whittaker/PitRanger team

 

 

Dotting the moon’s harsh landscape are steep-walled holes known as pits. Also tagged as “skylights,” these features may lead to far-reaching, sub-surface lava tubes that were shaped billions of years ago by a then geologically lively moon.

Skylight opening on a huge lava tube in the Marius Hills region on the moon’s near side.
Credit: NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera/Science Operations Center

 

New technologies are being harnessed that can allow exploration of skylights, lava tubes and caverns on the moon. Underground caves on the moon could double as comfortable domiciles for future expeditionary crews.

Artwork depicts scenario of multiple micro-rover maneuvers to profile a lunar pit.
Credit: William Whittaker/PitRanger team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to my new Space.com story at:

Moon pit diver: This tiny rover could explore the lunar underworld

https://www.space.com/tiny-moon-rover-pitranger-explore-lunar-underworld

Curiosity’s Location as of Sol 2951. Distance driven 14.59 miles (23.49 kilometers).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2956 tasks.

New imagery from the robot shows its surroundings and ongoing duties.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2955, November 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2955, November 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2955, November 28, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2955, November 28, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2955, November 28, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left imagery taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission has braked itself into Moon orbit on Saturday, one small robotic step to land, collect, and then deliver back to Earth lunar samples.

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission will attempt to haul back to Earth samples of the Moon.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) after the Moon probe had flown about 112 hours from Earth, an engine on the probe ignited when it was 400 kilometers away from the surface of the Moon and shut down after a burn of 17 minutes.

The orbit period of the craft – comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender, and a returner — is roughly eight hours.

After orbiting the Moon three times, which takes about one day, the Chang’e-5 will start braking a second time to enter lunar orbit with a perilune (low point above the Moon) of 200 kilometers, explained Meng Zhanfeng, design director of the Chang’e-5 probe in an interview with China’s China Central Television (CCTV).

Credit: New China/Screengrab

Busy time

Afterward, the Chang’e-5 will face its busiest time.

At a designated time, Chang’e-5’s lander-ascender combination will separate from the orbiter-returner combination. Some China space insiders are suggesting a possible landing time of 4:30 AM, November 30 (Beijing Time).

While the orbiter-returner combination continues traveling along the orbit and prepares for a later docking, the lander-ascender combination will implement a soft landing on the near side of the Moon and carry out automatic sampling as planned.

Ascender departs lunar surface with samples. Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Important tasks

“The sampling and preparation for take-off will be carried out within 48 hours after landing on the Moon,” said Liu Jiangang, chief dispatcher of the Chang’e-5 mission Beijing base.

“After taking off, the lander-ascender combination will conduct four remote-control operations to reach a position for docking, then it will dock with the orbiter-returner to transfer the samples. There will be dozens of important tasks that need to be done within a week,” Liu told CCTV.

Credit: NASA

 

The growing interest in extractable resources on the Moon may have a problem: there ain’t enough to go around.

Toss in for good measure the lack of international policies or agreements to decide “who gets what from where.”

A team of researchers believe tensions, overcrowding, and quick exhaustion of resources to be one possible future for lunar mining projects.

These views are fleshed out in a paper recently published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Room for conflict

“A lot of people think of space as a place of peace and harmony between nations. The problem is there’s no law to regulate who gets to use the resources, and there are a significant number of space agencies and others in the private sector that aim to land on the Moon within the next five years,” said Martin Elvis, astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and the lead author on the paper, “Concentrated lunar resources: imminent implications for governance and justice.”

The South Pole-Aitken Basin on the lunar farside.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

“We looked at all the maps of the Moon we could find and found that not very many places had resources of interest, and those that did were very small. That creates a lot of room for conflict over certain resources,” Elvis adds in a Center for Astrophysics press statement.

 

Robust protection?

On one hand, while treaties do exist — like the 1967 Outer Space Treaty—prohibiting national appropriation—and the 2020 Artemis Accords—reaffirming the duty to coordinate and notify — neither is meant for robust protection, the researchers contend.

Tony Milligan, a Senior Researcher with the Cosmological Visionaries project at King’s College London, and a co-author on the paper said the biggest problem is that everyone is targeting the same sites and resources: states, private companies, everyone. “But they are limited sites and resources. We don’t have a second moon to move on to. This is all we have to work with,” he adds.

Dusty denizen of deep space.
Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams

Local measures

Alanna Krolikowski, assistant professor of science and technology policy at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is also a co-author on the paper. In her view a framework for success already exists and, paired with good old-fashioned business sense, may set policy on the right path.

“While a comprehensive international legal regime to manage space resources remains a distant prospect, important conceptual foundations already exist and we can start implementing, or at least deliberating, concrete, local measures to address anticipated problems at specific sites today,” Krolikowski said.

Image of Erlanger crater near the Moon’s north pole was captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Only the upper rims of the crater, which measures about 10 kilometers wide, ever receive sunlight. Perhaps lurking deep within the crater are quantities of water ice – but how much? Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

 

Scant resource locations

The researchers make the case that there is a risk that resource locations on the Moon will turn out to be more scant than currently believed.

“We need to go back and map resource hot spots in better resolution. Right now, we only have a few miles at best. If the resources are all contained in a smaller area, the problem will only get worse,” said Elvis. “If we can map the smallest spaces, that will inform policymaking, allow for info-sharing and help everyone to play nice together so we can avoid conflict.”

To access the paper – “Concentrated lunar resources: imminent implications for governance and justice,” (One contribution of 16 to a discussion meeting issue “Astronomy from the Moon: the next decades”) go to:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2019.0563

Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

China’s Chang’e-5 mission remains on track for dispatching its lunar lander/ascender to descend within the northwest region of Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms. The craft is to land near Mons Rümker, a volcanic complex in the northern region of Oceanus Procellarum. 

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission will attempt to haul back to Earth samples of the Moon.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Within 48 hours, a robotic arm of the lander-ascender will be extended to scoop up rocks and regolith on the Moon’s surface and a drill will bore into the ground.

Credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We plan to sample 15 times and collect a total of two kilograms of lunar soil,” said Liu Jiangang, chief dispatcher of Chang’e-5 mission Beijing base in a recent interview with

China Central Television (CCTV).

Ascender departs lunar surface with samples. Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“In fact, the entire stay on the lunar surface, including sampling, scientific explorations, image formation and the preparation for the take-off, is only 48 hours. The time planned for the sampling alone will be about 20 hours,” Liu said.

Orbiter and ascender rendezvous and dock above the Moon. Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Back to Earth

The ascender will depart the lunar surface with its specimens then dock with the orbiter-returner for transfer of the samples. This will be followed by the returner heading back to Earth when the geometric relationship between Earth and the Moon is suitable.

Reentry capsule heads for Earth landing.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The returner, with the samples on board, will then reenter the atmosphere and land at Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in mid-December.

Fiery reentry for capsule carrying lunar samples.
Credit: CCTV/Inside

“In the process of returning, we will make six landing forecasts at different times to grasp the returning situation in real time to ensure the smooth recovery,” said Liu.

Map of Rümker region, target of Chang’E-5 sample return mission. Credit: Y. Qian, et al.

Uncertainties

Chang’e-5’s sampling duties are full of uncertainties, according to Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-5 probe from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

“We are not sure whether the landing site is made of hard rock or loose soil, so we have developed sampling instruments for different scenarios,” Peng said in a Xinhua news agency story. “We developed two sampling methods, including drilling underground and collecting samples from the lunar surface, to increase the chance of acquiring more diverse samples.”

Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
Onboard China’s Chang’e-5 probe used to encapsulate lunar soil samples. Source: China Aerospace Tourism

The packaging and sealing of the lunar collectibles also required an elaborate design to prevent leakage and contamination. Special care has been taken to avoid contaminating the lunar samples and limiting their scientific value.

Furthermore, the takeoff from the Moon of the ascender will also be a difficult task. Peng said the lander will act as the “launching pad” of the ascender. But the lander might not be horizontal and stable, possibly landing on a slope or complex terrain. “The spacecraft needs to conduct autonomous positioning and attitude determination during takeoff,” Peng told Xinhua.

The PolyU-developed Surface Sampling and Packing System involves two samplers for collecting samples of lunar regolith in loose and sticky form. Device shown is for collecting sticky lunar sample.
Credit: PolyU

Sampling system

China’s Chang’e-5 mission carries a Surface Sampling and Packing System developed by researchers at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

The PolyU-developed Surface Sampling and Packing System can collect samples of lunar regolith in loose and sticky form. The device shown is for collecting loose lunar samples.

The packaging and sealing system designed and made by PolyU researchers is for sealing the samples in a container.
Credit: PolyU

The system includes two samplers that can withstand 200 °C for collecting samples of lunar regolith in loose and sticky form, two heat-resistant near-field cameras for vision guidance during sample acquisition, and a packaging and sealing system for sealing the samples in a container, according to a PolyU statement.

Following lunar sample acquisition, a robot arm will, through vision guidance, lift the PolyU designed and made container and place it into the Chang’e-5 ascender. The ascender then heads off into lunar orbit, docks with the orbiter and transfers the sample container to the return vehicle for its journey back to Earth. During the rendezvous and docking, there is only a five-centimeter margin of error when controlling the two spacecraft.

The PolyU Surface Sampling and Packing System team is under the leadership of Yung Kai-leung. Readying the hardware was an effort that took from 2011-2017.

Professor Yung said: “The return of samples from the Moon is technically complex. It takes more than six prototype productions through various stages of space qualification procedures in order to complete the project, not to mention the pre-production research, system design, discussions and meetings in collaboration with the China Academy of Space Technology.”

In addition to the PolyU-provided system itself, a high-precision high-resolution 3D mapping and geomorphologic capability was developed by Professor Bo Wu from PolyU’s Department of Land Surveying and Geo-Informatics. Characterization of the Chang’e-5 mission’s touchdown terrain will be vital in selecting the final landing site.

PolyU researchers have an enviable track record, also developing a “Camera Pointing System” for Chang’e-3 in 2013 and for Chang’e-4’s farside landing in 2019. In addition, they developed a Mars Camera for the now en route Tianwen-1 in 2020. The “Surface Sampling and Packing System” will be used for the Chang’e-6 mission as well.

For a newly-released overview, go to this CCTV video at:

https://youtu.be/eITH7IwH4IE

Wu Weiren, general designer of China’s lunar exploration program.
Credit: SCIO

Wu Weiren, the chief design engineer of China’s lunar project, said his country plans to build a prototype for a lunar scientific research station.

The prototype, which will consist of multiple detectors operating in lunar orbit and on the lunar surface, would carry out scientific and technological research on the Moon, as well as verify technologies for lunar resource exploration and utilization.

Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Speaking at the Wenchang International Aviation & Aerospace Forum, Wu said that, with the planned prototype, Chinese scientists will seek cooperative counterparts to build an international lunar scientific research station. “It will be likely located on the southern end of the Moon,” he said, according to China’s Xinhua news service and China Global Television Network (CGTN) reports posted today.

Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Space maneuvers

Meanwhile, the en route Chang’e-5 lunar probe successfully carried out its second orbital correction at 22:06 on Wednesday, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA). The spacecraft made its first trajectory correction maneuver on Tuesday.

During the latest maneuver, the probe’s two 150 Newton engines worked for six seconds.

Reportedly, all systems of the probe are in good condition.

 

Chang’e-5 was sent moonward atop a Long March-5 Y5 carrier rocket, blasting off early on Tuesday morning, November 24, from the Wenchang Space Launch Center located in South China’s Hainan Province.

Apollo 15 image captures landing locale of China’s Chang’e-5 Moon lander – the Mons Rümker region in the northern part of Oceanus Procellarum.
Credit: NASA

 

 

Chang’e-5’s lander/ascender is targeted for a touchdown in a large lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms” – a region in the Moon’s northwest corner and visible to the naked eye from Earth. During its 2-day “layover” on the Moon, the plan calls for collecting roughly 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar specimens for return to Earth.

Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

With its lunar collectibles onboard, the ascender will take off and dock with the orbiter-returner in lunar orbit. Following transfer of the samples to the returner, the ascender will separate from the orbiter-returner.

Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The sample-carrying capsule will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and use a speed-reducing skip maneuver, then land under parachute at the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to New China TV video at:

https://youtu.be/cg3JcgVL_MM

Also go to this CGTN video at:

https://youtu.be/vSdPX8EIT3A

Credit: Big Ear Radio Telescope

 

In search for extraterrestrial intelligence circles, the famous “Wow!” signal appears to be a still-standing indication of detecting other starfolk.

Reports Alberto Caballero, an amateur astronomer and one of the founders of The Exoplanets Channel: “As of October 2020, the WOW! Signal remains the strongest candidate SETI signal.”

The Wow! signal was a strong narrowband radio signal received on August 15, 1977 by Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope.

Astronomer Jerry Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later while reviewing the recorded data – writing on the computer printout “Wow!” He also circled the string 6EQUJ5 representing the signal’s intensity variation over time. The entire signal sequence lasted for the full 72-second window during which Big Ear was able to pick the signal up.

The Big Ear Observatory
Courtesy of North American Astrophysical Observatory

Candidate source

In Caballero’s paper – “An approximation to determine the source of the WOW! Signal” – he reports on his analysis of the thousands of stars in the WOW! Signal region that could have the highest chance of being the real source of the signal, providing that it came from a star system similar to ours.

A candidate source, Caballero surmises, is named 2MASS 19281982-2640123, “an ideal target to conduct observations in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets.”

In red, the two regions where the Wow! signal could have originated.
Source: Alberto Caballero/Pan-STARRS/DR1

Wanted: more information

However, Caballero points out that more information is needed in order to determine that 2MASS 19281982-2640123 is indeed a Sun-like star, he adds.

“Moreover, another 14 potential Sun-like stars in the WOW! Signal region were found in the Gaia Archive, but the estimations on their luminosity were unknown,” Caballero explains.

“In any case, since all these stars are located in the same part of the sky, it is ideal to search for exoplanets in the whole region where the WOW! Signal could have come from,” he concludes.

To read the Caballero paper — “An approximation to determine the source of the WOW! Signal” — go to:

https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2011/2011.06090.pdf

Also, take a read of: “The Big Ear Wow! Signal – What We Know and Don’t Know About It After 20 Years,” written by Dr. Jerry R. Ehman (Last Revision: February 3, 1998)

Go to: http://www.bigear.org/wow20th.htm

Just for you “SETI whisperers” out there: In late 1997, after almost 40 years of operation, the Big Ear radio ceased operation. The telescope was destroyed in early 1998. An adjacent 9-hole golf course was expanded into 18 holes and about 400 homes were planned for construction on the nearby land owned by those developers.

 

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2952 duties.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Location: Sol 2951. Distance Driven 14.59 miles (23.49 kilometers). Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curiosity rolled up a particularly steep (roughly 20 degrees) slope. Image taken by rover’s Left Navigation Camera on Sol 2950 November 23, 2020
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2952 tasks.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Our weekend drive stopped a bit shorter than planned when Curiosity played it safe rolling up a particularly steep (~20 degrees) slope,” reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland. But even with the rover parked at a tilt, we could still accomplish all our desired science at this stage of our drive back up Mount Sharp.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Texture and chemistry

A recent plan calls for making another observation of rock texture and chemistry with the robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), respectively, of “Saughieside Hill,” part of the bedrock making up the arcuate benches the rover has been traversing over the last couple of weeks.

The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will measure the chemistry of another nearby bedrock target, “Gathersnow Hill,” which sits at the edge of the lip that halted Curiosity’s drive, Minitti explains.

Mastcam is set to image the layered structure of Gathersnow Hill in stereo, and more broadly, will acquire mosaics that capture the structures of the bedrock both behind and ahead of the rover.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2951, November 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Minitti adds that ChemCam gets in on the imaging action, taking a small Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic of stratigraphic features in the target “Hamar.”

Drive ahead

“After a roughly 30 meters drive [98 feet], Curiosity will image the area around her with Navcam and Mastcam in preparation for activities over the upcoming American Thanksgiving long weekend,” Minitti says, “as well as the sky with a late day Mastcam image to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere and a Navcam movie looking for clouds.”

“On Sol 2952, we will acquire an autonomously-targeted ChemCam analysis of the bedrock near the rover at our new post-drive location, a midday Navcam measurement of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and a Navcam movie looking for clouds,” Minitti reports.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image taken on Sol 2950, November 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Monitoring extravaganza

On the final sol of the 2951-2953 plan, Mars researchers are slated to have an environmental monitoring extravaganza with a ChemCam passive observation of the sky, Navcam and Mastcam measurements of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, Navcam images and movies to look for dust devils, and an APXS measurement of atmospheric argon,” Minitti adds.

Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) measurements run regularly across the three sols of the plan.

“All told, Curiosity will stay as busy as a shopper hitting those early Black Friday deals,” Minitti concludes.