Archive for February, 2021

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Lunar samples brought back to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 Moon mission are on display at the National Museum in Beijing.

The exhibit is dubbed “Lunar Sample 001, Witnessing China’s Flying Dream,” featuring a hundred grams of soil.

Exhibit also features the Chang’e-5 sample-carrying capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Encased in crystal

According to China Central Television (CCTV) the sample is encased in a crystal container resembling a ritual Chinese wine vessel.

That display of Moon specimens stands 38.44 centimeters tall, a nod to the 384,400 kilometers that is the average distance between Earth and the Moon, and 22.89 centimeters wide for the 22.89 days that the Chang’e-5 lunar mission lasted, CCTV reports.

The inside of the container features a hollow sphere representing both the Moon and the Chang’e-5 return capsule that delivered a total of 1,731 grams of lunar samples to a safe touchdown on December 17, 2000. The sphere floats above a frosted dome symbolizing the Earth and a map of China.

Chinese President Xi met space scientists and engineers involved in the Chang’e-5 lunar mission at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Xi inspected specimens from the Moon brought back by the return sample mission.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Prior to public display of the lunar collectibles, Chinese President Xi Jinping met space scientists and engineers involved in the research and development of the Chang’e-5 lunar mission at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Xi inspected specimens from the Moon brought back by the return sample mission.


Lunar soil color

“The color of lunar soil is different from that of the Earth soil. It’s charcoal gray, or to be exact, it’s darker. And it also has a peculiar look,” explains Wu Hualiang, from the museum’s exhibit collection and appraisal department.

“Because of gravity, everything on Earth is pulled downward, but the particles of the lunar soil cling onto the side of the container like there is zero gravity. It gives people the feeling of being in outer space,” Wu told CCTV.

Chang’e-5 descent stage seen just before sunset on February 7, 2021.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Ocean of Storms

The Chang’e-5 mission to the Moon comprised an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner.

Launched on November 24, 2000, the spacecraft’s lander-ascender combination touched down December 1st on the north of Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the Moon.



Go to this CCTV video regarding the display of lunar samples at:

Taking in the view. Note the mini-helicopter.
Courtesy: Daniel Raymer


While the world waits for the unleashing of a mini-helicopter by the recently landed Perseverance Mars rover, a team of aeronautical and space experts are already blueprinting a piloted aircraft. The vehicle is tailor-made for exploration, research, cargo transport, photography, and to link multiple settlements on the Red Planet.

Credit: NASA

“If national governments and certain billionaires have their way, humans will reach Mars sometime in this century and set up permanent bases. Eventually they’ll need a way to get around,” explains Daniel Raymer, president of the design and consulting company, Conceptual Research Corporation in Playa del Rey, California.

Details of the Mars craft are outlined by Raymer and his co-authors in a paper for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Credit: Daniel Raymer, et al. (AIAA-2021-1187)

Crew of two

A two-man vehicle is foreseen developed on the lines similar to the capabilities of the classic “Jeep” of WWII fame. Namely, the aircraft can support a crew of two plus cargo to a total of 500 pounds, carried at least 260 nautical miles.

Flying the vehicle doesn’t require an off-Earth pilot’s license; the flight control system will be capable of fully autonomous operation. Vertical takeoff and landing of the craft is required, “due to the deplorable lack of paved runways on Mars,” the design team reports.

Credit: Daniel Raymer, et al. (AIAA-2021-1187)

When desired, the two-person flyers could “take the stick” and fly the craft using a simplified video game or touchpad controller. Commands can be entered, such as take-off, cruise (direction or destination), climb, descend, turn, altitude hold, or land at a designated spot.

The cabin is sized for a two-person crew and would offer a good field of view, to pick safe landing sites and allow for eye-catching photography.

Credit: Daniel Raymer, et al. (AIAA-2021-1187)

Do the math

“The air is a lot less dense on Mars. But the gravity is a lot lower,” Raymer points out.” Do the math…it turns out that if you can fly on Earth at about 100,000 feet, then you can fly on Mars.” That assumes, of course, that you can get there first, and that you have a motor that can run in an atmosphere with negligible oxygen, bitter cold, and dust storms, he adds.

While there are various modes of propulsion feasible for flight on Mars, it was assumed that electric motors with propellers would be used for wing-borne forward flight. Vertical rockets would be used for takeoff and landing. Use of horizontally installed rockets to assist in acceleration to forward flight speed may be attractive, the design team suggests.

As studied by Raymer and his associates, the Mars airplane design is a viable, “existence proof” concept. Consider the proposed vehicle as “food for thought,” not the final answer. Further work on the idea, they write, could likely lead to an even better design.

Advanced but feasible technologies

As it now stands, the present aircraft design for Mars resulted from an international effort with participants in Brazil, Germany, India, Israel, and Spain, facilitated by Internet meeting software.

Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

The overall operational concept for the Mars plane starts with the assumption of a permanent human presence on Mars, with one or more bases on Mars, readily-available electrical energy (solar or nuclear), and large pressurized buildings. “Permanent residents of Mars will need a “Jeep-like” mobility capability for getting around and for delivering cargo where needed,” the study team explains.

The design study results suggest that such a crew-carrying Mars airplane is possible, with the application of advanced but feasible technologies in the post-2030 time frame.

As noted in the AIAA paper, Robert Zubrin, head of the Mars Society, has offered the possibility of relaxing an onerous design requirement for the airplane. “I agree that the lack of paved runways on Mars is deplorable. I will see what I can do about correcting it.”

To read the AIAA paper – “The Raymer Manned Mars Airplane: A Conceptual Design and Feasibility Study” — go to:

August 8, 2020 photo shows a member of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 test team make final preparations prior to a captive-carry test flight of the prototype hypersonic weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Photo credit: Kyle Brasier, Air Force


Next week, look for a rapid prototyping program dubbed ARRW, short for the AGM-183A air-launched rapid response weapon, to take to the air.

This boost-glide based hypersonic weapon is moving the United States forward in developing hypersonic systems able to travel on extended flights within the upper atmosphere — 80,000 to 200,000 feet — at speeds near and above Mach 5.

Transition into production

Preparations are underway for the first booster flight test next week says Air Force Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, program executive officer for weapons and director of the armament directorate at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center in the Air Force Materiel Command.

“We’re also getting ready to transition into production within about a year on that program, so it will be the first air-launch hypersonic weapon that the Air Force has,” Collins notes.

The U.S. Defense Department has identified hypersonics as one of the highest priority modernization areas, as Russia and China develop their own capable systems.

The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin successfully flight tested the second AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) on the service’s B-52 Stratofortress out of Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Aug. 8, 2020.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Hypersonics modernization strategy

Mike White, principal director for hypersonics in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has told attendees of the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium that a hypersonics modernization strategy has been established that accelerates the development and delivery of transformational warfighting capabilities.

That strategy is being implemented in a highly coordinated set of programs across the military services and agencies, laboratories, as well as working collaboratively with allies, where appropriate.

“We will deliver strike capability to the warfighter in the early-mid 2020s and a layered hypersonic defense capability — first terminal and then glide phase — in the mid-late 2020s. For reusable systems, our goal is to deliver capability in the early to mid-2030s,” White explains.

James Weber, senior scientist for hypersonics at the Air Force Research Laboratory, says that over the last 25 years, DOD has invested some $1.7 billion in hypersonics.

An artist’s rendering depicts a hypersonic vehicle. NASA has been delving into hypersonics, eyeing future jets and lifting body–type space vehicles and reentry vehicles.
Credit: NASA’s Lewis Research Center


The Defense Sciences Office (DSO) at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has blueprinted a wanted and visionary wish list of new research to enable the fabrication of future space structures – including use of lunar resources to enable those structures.

“Specific technologies of interest include high performance feedstock materials, mass- and energy-efficient off-Earth manufacturing methods, high performance lunar resource utilization capabilities, and new design paradigms that will revolutionize the mass efficiency and precision achievable by future structures,” according to a DARPA/DSO statement.

Credit: DARPA/DSO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass-efficient Design (NOM4D), pronounced “NOMAD,” program was detailed today via a “Proposers Day.”

Why the effort?

First, here’s the issue.

As commercial space companies increase the cadence of successful rocket launches, access to space is becoming more routine for both government and commercial interests. But even with regular launches, modern rockets impose mass and volume limits on the payloads they deliver to orbit. This size constraint hinders developing and deploying large-scale, dynamic space systems that can adapt to changes in their environment or mission.

That’s according to William Carter, program manager for the DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. NOM4D is intended to flesh out ways that solar arrays, antennas or optics can be designed for the space or lunar environment.

William Carter, program manager for the DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office.
Credit: DARPA/DSO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Two technical areas

The NOM4D program comprises two technical areas, Carter explains.

“The first plans to develop and demonstrate foundational materials, manufacturing processes, and designs to enable the on-orbit and on-Moon fabrication of robust, resilient, and high-precision structures that will support future off-earth space systems,” Carter points out.

“The second technical area will investigate innovative designs that take advantage of the ability to manufacture in space, yet enable precise, mass-efficient future space structures that withstand maneuvers, eclipses, damage, and thermal cycles inherent to the space and lunar environments,” he adds. “The goal is to do so with mass efficiencies that transcend the limits of today’s stiffness-driven designs.”

Huge space structures

NOM4D is a three-phase, 54-month effort.

As spelled out in NOM4D documentation, the program will also explore opportunities to leverage existing materials on the Moon (e.g., regolith) as a resource for future lunar-derived materials and structures.

Manufacturing on-orbit using Earth- or lunar-derived materials has the potential to obviate many of the limitations associated with current deployment and assembly methods.

For example, huge structures that are greater than 328 feet (100 meters) in diameter require multiple launches that increase complexity as well as the time and cost of deployment.

Earth’s Moon, a dusty denizen of deep space and potential feedstock for the future.
Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams

Lunar feedstock

Past state-of-the-art lunar resource utilization approaches have focused on large infrastructural needs, such as buildings, structural housings, that require high compressive strength rather than high tensile strength/stiffness materials required for spacecraft and/or relaunch of Moon-derived materials structures back into orbit from the lunar surface.

Future inspace and lunar-derived manufacturing will require feedstock that is flexible — capable of being formed into many useful shapes – items that also exhibit high precision in the formed shape, and require minimal energy to convert from the lunar feedstock state into a final rigid mass-efficient part.

Building a precision structure while minimizing the required mass fraction brought from Earth will enable a spectrum of Department of Defense systems to be built using lunar-derived materials.

“For the purposes of understanding the hypothetical use case, proposers may consider fabrication of structures on-orbit or on the lunar surface for relaunch back into orbit as long as the proposed system is consistent with the Outer Space Treaty,” NOM4D documentation explains.

Credit: DAPRA/DSO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Space ecosphere

“People have been thinking about on-orbit manufacturing for some time, so we expect to demonstrate new materials and manufacturing technologies by the program’s end,” Carter says. “The lunar-surface focus area will be geared more towards trade studies and targeted demonstrations.”

Credit: Karl Strolleis/AFRL/Inside Outer Space screengrab

NOM4D assumes an established “space ecosphere by 2030.” Elements that shore up this vision includes rapid, frequent launch with regularly scheduled lunar visits; mature robotic manipulation tools for building structures in space and routine on-orbit refueling of robotic servicing spacecraft.


Information resources

For more information on the Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass-efficient Design (NOM4D) effort, go to:

Also, go to this NOM4D Presolicitation (Original) document at:,%20MATERIALS,%20AND%20MASS-EFFICIENT%20DESIGN%22&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1



Dmitry Rogozin (center), General Director of the State Corporation Roscosmos, visits JSC NPO Lavochkin Credit: JSC NPO Lavochkin

Dmitry Rogozin, General Director of the State Corporation Roscosmos, visited JSC NPO Lavochkin on February 26 to receive a work-in-progress briefing.

Credit: JSC NPO Lavochkin

Lavochkin, part of the Roscosmos State Corporation, is working on Russia’s next lunar mission, Luna-25, as well as ExoMars-2022. Lavochkin has an impressive and history-making past, producing an array of planetary exploration spacecraft.

Rogozin received an update on the progress of complex electrical tests of Luna-25, carried out in the finishing chamber of a control and measuring station. Also, shown to Rogozin was a test bench for ground testing of the onboard control complex of the Luna-25 spacecraft.

Luna-25’s main task is to develop basic technologies for soft landing within the south pole of the Moon. Liftoff of Luna 25 is scheduled for October 2021.

ExoMars-2022 mission is joint ESA/Roscosmos project. Shown is rover ready to depart Russia-provided landing module and science landing platform.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Master Image Programs

Little Cossack

The Roscosmos chief was briefed on the ExoMars-2022 spacecraft – a European/Russian project. Lavochkin is the main contractor and coordinator of the work on the Russian side, as well as the developer and manufacturer of the ExoMars landing module and science landing platform named Kazachok (“Little Cossack”).

The launch of ExoMars-2020 (delayed from the last Earth-to-Mars window due to parachute issues, other testing woes and coronavirus concerns) is September-October 2022.

Go to these Roscosmos videos on Luna-25 and ExoMars (in Russian)

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 3041, February 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3042 tasks.

Reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at University of Michigan: “Curiosity presses on to the east within Gale Crater, characterizing compositional variations within the underlying bedrock as we continue to march uphill and encounter sedimentary rocks that record the ancient geologic and environmental conditions within the crater.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3041, February 25, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Salvatore adds that, over the past 35 sols, Curiosity has covered more than 1,969 feet (600 meters) of lateral distance as the rover approaches unique compositional transitions observed from orbit.

Regional bedrock

“The science team is continuing to make detailed analyses of the regional bedrock to make sure that we understand these transitions from the ground as well,” Salvatore points out.

A cliff (“Mont Mercou”) is roughly 18 feet tall, Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 3040, February 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A recently scripted plan has the robot conducting a touch-and-go Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) chemistry analysis on the bedrock target “Manzac” located in front of the rover.

“She will also be acquiring high-resolution images of the path ahead to aid with future planning, making a suite of environmental observations, and collecting ChemCam [Chemistry and Camera] passive spectral data on another interesting bedrock unit in front of the rover named “Tranchecouyere.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3041, February 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Victim of recent drive

“One additional observation will be acquiring high-resolution color images of the target “Tourtoirac,” located behind the back-right wheel of Curiosity,” Salvatore adds. “This target was a victim to Curiosity’s recent drive, which resulted in this rather large rock tilting onto its side under the pressure of Curiosity’s wheels.”

Target “Tourtoirac” (center right) tilting onto its side under the pressure of Curiosity’s wheels.This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera on Sol 3040.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.




Salvatore explains that Tourtoirac now sticks up at approximately a 45° angle, which will allow scientists to get a good look at whether there are any well-preserved layers or morphologies that are present along the side of the rock.

“It’s a great bonus observation,” Salvatore concludes, “that might not have been possible had Curiosity driven a few inches in a different direction!”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


China’s Tianwen-1 probe on Wednesday entered a parking orbit around Mars after performing an orbital maneuver, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Launched on July 23, 2020, Tianwen-1 successfully has completed its third braking at Mars yesterday at 6:29 a.m. (Beijing time). The parking orbit’s farthest point from Mars is 36,660 miles (59,000 kilometers) and the nearest distance from the planet is 174 miles (280 kilometers).

It takes two Martian days for the probe to orbit Mars. While doing so, the multi-part probe (an orbiter, lander/rover) will undertake scientific exploration of Mars from orbit for three months. All of the seven mission payloads on the probe’s orbiter will be gradually activated. 

China’s Mars orbiter. All of the seven mission payloads on the probe’s orbiter are being gradually activated. Credit: Zou Yongliao, et al.

According to CNSA, onboard cameras and spectrometers will assess the pre-selected landing site and Martian weather to prepare for a May/June touchdown of the lander/rover.

Entry arc

If all goes according to plan, China’s Mars orbiter will be briefly placed in a deorbit and entry arc to release the landing capsule replete with a rover. The rover will egress from the lander onto the Martian surface a few days after touchdown, following an appraisal of the surrounding terrain.

Credit: Zou Yongliao, et al.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

For at least 92 Martian days, the rover is to make on-the-spot surveys of Mars. Chinese space engineers and scientists have selected candidate landing zones within the relatively flat region in the southern part of the Utopia Planitia.






Go to this informative video on the braking maneuver at:

Skylight opening on a huge lava tube in the Marius Hills region on the lunar near side.
Credit: NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC)/Science Operations Center, Arizona State University

Lunar lava tubes are receiving attention by the European Space Agency – considered an interesting option as long-term shelter for future human visitors to the Moon.

Credit: ESA

Through ESA’s Open Space Innovation Platform, a campaign was initiated calling for novel ideas to address detecting, mapping and exploring caves on the Moon. Also involved is the SysNova initiative, a technology assessment scheme using “technology challenges” and competition to survey a comparatively large number of alternative solutions.

Recently, teams behind two of the studies – one from the University of Würzburg and one from the University of Oviedo – were selected to take part in an ESA Concurrent Design Facility study.

Collapse of cavities

Why lava tubes on the Moon?

The presence of these features on the Moon has been well-documented with cameras on board several lunar orbiting missions. But relatively little is known about the presence and nature of subsurface cavities.

Planetary geologists have identified pits within volcanic areas of the lunar maria, perhaps related to the collapse of cavities such as lava tubes – where lava once flowed under the lunar surface.

Could they be utilized to shield astronauts from cosmic radiation and micrometeorites helping to sustain lunar expeditions? Also, do these features possibly provide access to icy water and other resources trapped underground?

Credit: University of Würzburg

Here are some exploration ideas under study:

— University of Würzburg: exploring the concept of lowering a probe using a tether to explore and characterize the entrance, walls and initial part of lunar lava tubes.

— University of Oviedo: investigated the deployment of a swarm of small robots inside a cave, as well as how to transmit data from the robots to a rover on the Moon’s surface.

Credit: University of Oviedo

Going underground

The bottom line for going underground on the Moon: Given that the Moon’s surface is covered by millions of craters, it also hosts hundreds of very steep-walled holes known as pits.

Like doorways to the underworld, photos of some pits clearly show a cavern beneath the Moon’s surface, suggesting that they are ‘skylights’ into extensive lava tubes that can be as wide as New York’s Central Park, and could extend for great distances under the lunar landscape.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3038, February 21, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Count ‘em: There’s now a fleet of Mars explorers busy at work in orbit and on the surface of the Red Planet, observes Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Real image shows Perseverance rover being lowered to the floor of Jezero Crater by the Skycrane. Rocket engines kicked up streaks of dust during the touchdown.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight’s first full selfie on Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

ESA Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

ESA’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

India’s MoM mission to Mars.
Credit: ISRO

China’s Tianwen-1.
Credit: CNSA

UAE’s Hope Mars orbiter.
Credit: Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center

Eleven — NASA’s Curiosity, Perseverance, InSight, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Europe’s Mars Express, the Trace Gas Orbiter, India’s Mars Orbiter mission, China’s Tianwen-1, and the UAE’s Hope — spacecraft are now concurrently exploring Mars from the surface and orbit.

“That incredible fleet produces synergistic science discoveries that would not be possible with any one spacecraft in isolation,” Guzewich notes.

Joint observations

Now in Sol 3040, the Curiosity Mars rover is engaged in one such joint observation with Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). TGO studies the chemical composition of the martian atmosphere as Curiosity does with its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) through a “passive sky” observation.

“In a passive sky observation, ChemCam looks at the sky at different angles and positions and we are able to learn about the properties of dust, water ice clouds, and measure abundances of atmospheric gases like oxygen,” Guzewich reports. “By combining our work with TGO, we can measure the abundance of such gases from the surface all the way up to the top of the atmosphere!”

Drive to cliff

Outside of this atmospheric observation, a recently scripted plan was a routine touch-and-go.

Scientists selected a representative piece of bedrock in the workspace (“Plazac”) for Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to study and then focused much of their remote sensing science on a fascinating cliff, “Mont Mercou,” that’s roughly 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall. The robot is driving toward this feature over the next several days of planning, Guzewich adds.

Both the robot’s Mastcam and ChemCam were slated to image Mont Mercou.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3039, February 22, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera view of “Mont Mercou” cliff that can be seen at the top left of this Navcam image. Taken on Sol 3038, February 21, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera system has spotted the Perseverance Rover on the surface of the Red Planet. Imagery also shows many parts of the descent system that got the safely down.

On the surface. Safe touchdown by Perseverance rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The rover itself sits at the center of a blast pattern created by the hovering skycrane (labeled as “descent stage”) that lowered it there. The skycrane flew off to crash as at a safe distance creating a V-shaped debris pattern that points back toward the rover it came from.

Earlier in the landing sequence, Perseverance jettisoned its heatshield and parachute which crashed in the separate locations.

Perseverance heat shield.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

These foreign objects on the surface of Mars are highly visible now but will become dustier with time and slowly fade into the background over years. HiRISE will continue to image the Perseverance landing site to track the progress of the rover and changes in the other pieces of hardware that accompanied it.

Information provided by Shane Byrne, Deputy Principal Investigator of HiRISE team.

Descent stage crash site.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Perseverance parachute spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona