Archive for March, 2021

GIMBAL/“Tic Tac”
Credit: DOD/U.S. Navy/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Those Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAPs) are “difficult to explain” says former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, discussing the matter on a Fox News interview late last week.

“Frankly, there are a lot more sightings than have been made public. Some of those have been declassified,” Ratcliffe said. “When we talk about sightings, we’re talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots or have been picked up by satellite imagery that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain.”

Keep an eye on the prospect that a government-assembled task force on UAPs is to issue their report perhaps in early June.

Meanwhile, go to my earlier story at:

“Unidentified Aerial Phenomena: Experts Weigh in on New Government Task Force”

Also, go to this Newsweek story, “More ‘Difficult to Explain’ UFO Sightings to Be Declassified, Says Former Trump Intel Chief” at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 3063, March 19, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3063 tasks.

Reports Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, it’s all about getting the right lighting for accentuating the small-scale textures of “Mont Mercou.”

The Curiosity team is planning to photograph the cliff face right before sunset on sol 3063, Rice notes, when the Sun is at its lowest point in the sky. “We hope this new Mastcam mosaic will bring out even more detail.”

Inspection of cliff structure. Mast Camera image taken on Sol 3061, March 17, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Rice explains that geology photographers want to see all of the bumps, lines, divots and wrinkles, as those features tell the story of how a rock was formed and altered.

The evening photoshoot using the robot’s Mastcan is one part of a two-sol plan (Sols 3062-3063).

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 3062, March 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


The main event is the second analysis of the ‘Nontron’ drill sample by Curiosity’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), “to refine what we’re learning about the mineralogy of the rocks at the base of Mont Mercou,” Rice adds. “We’ll look some more at Mont Mercou and other regions earlier in the day with Mastcam, and will watch for clouds in the sky at twilight.”

Planning also called for using the robot’s Chemistry and Camera’s (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), Rice points out, to image a butte called “mini-Mercou” to the east, which is a re-shoot of some previous images that were slightly out of focus.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right images taken on Sol 3062 March 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Nontron drill hole taken by Curiosity Mast Camera Right on Sol 3056, March 12, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Nontron drill sample

What happens next weekend and beyond depends on what the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite data reveal about the Nontron drill sample, “and whether the team decides to perform more analyses with SAM before getting ready to drive onwards and upwards into the sulfate-bearing units of Mt. Sharp,” Rice reports.

In an earlier report, Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, wondered whether there is nontronite in the Nontron drill hole?

Nontronite is the iron (III) rich member of the smectite group of clay minerals.

“If there is, there will be water released from the sample in characteristic patterns – and with that I mean at specific temperatures while the sample is being heated gradually from its ambient temperature to about 900°C,” Schwenzer stated.

Credit: CASC

The orbiter of China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission has been maneuvered into a halo orbit around the Sun-Earth Lagrangian point 1 (L1). It has become China’s first spacecraft in that orbit with an orbital cycle taking about six months.

Chang’e-5’s orbiter/returner craft, following delivery to Earth of return sample capsule, is on extended mission.
Credit: CNSA

Guided into place by the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), the L1 point lies between the Sun and Earth. At this point, the force of gravity is roughly equal in all directions, so it’s easier for spacecraft to maintain a relatively stable operating state with less fuel required, explains China Central Television (CCTV).

The Chang’e-5 orbiter separated from the lunar sample returner craft on December 17, 2020. It then entered a long-term management stage on December 21.

It carried out two orbital maneuvers and two midway corrections under BACC control before reaching the L1 point.

SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch vehicle.
Credit: SpaceX

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a “Scoping Summary Report” focused on an environmental assessment for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch vehicle.

SpaceX proposes to conduct Starship/Super Heavy launch operations from the Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas. SpaceX is currently developing the new rocket, with the goal of traveling to Mars.

Mars settlement.
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX must apply for and obtain an experimental permit(s) and/or a vehicle operator license from the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation to operate the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle. The FAA’s evaluation of a permit or license application includes a review of 1) public safety issues (such as overflight of populated areas and payload contents); 2) national security or foreign policy concerns; 3) insurance requirements for the launch operator; and 4) potential environmental impact.

Starship test flight.
Credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab


SpaceX currently holds a license for testing Starship prototypes at the launch site. This involves static fire engine tests and a series of suborbital launches (“hops”) from just a few inches to up to 18 miles off the ground.



To read the report, go to:

Credit: NASA

Billions of years ago, the Red Planet was far more blue, reports a UCLA press statement.
According to evidence still found on the surface, abundant water flowed across Mars and forming pools, lakes, and deep oceans. The question, then, is where did all that water go?

The answer: nowhere. According to new research from Caltech and JPL, a significant portion of Mars’s water—between 30 and 99 percent—is trapped within minerals in the planet’s crust. The research challenges the current theory that the Red Planet’s water escaped into space.


Credit: Astroscale


Core technologies for a space debris removal scenario are to be showcased by the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale (ELSA) program.

The ELSA-d mission, licensed by the UK Space Agency, is ready for liftoff from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, March 20, at 6:07 am (UTC). It will launch on a Soyuz rocket operated by GK Launch Services.


Servicer and Client

ELSA-d is comprised of two satellites: the “Servicer” and the “Client.”

Credit: Astroscale

The ‘Servicer’ is equipped with optical sensing instruments and a capture mechanism which will attach to a docking plate on the ‘Client’ satellite. The Servicer and Client will then de-orbit together, burning up as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

Credit: Astroscale

“This is an incredible moment, not only for our team, but for the entire satellite servicing industry, as we work towards maturing the debris removal market and ensuring the responsible use of our orbits,” said Nobu Okada, Astroscale Founder and CEO in a press statement.



Go to this informative press kit on the mission at:

Also, take a look at this video detailing the upcoming mission at:

Credit: S.A. Lavochkin

At Russia’s S.A. Lavochkin, a media briefing featured updates on two main planetary projects now underway at the company: The Luna-25 lunar lander mission and the ExoMars-2022 project.

On March 17, 2021, Dmitry Rogozin, General Director of the Roscosmos State Corporation, held a meeting with journalists at S.A. Lavochkin.

Credit: S.A. Lavochkin

The Luna-25 space project is developing basic soft landing technologies in the circumpolar region and conduct contact studies of the Moon’s South Pole. The launch of Luna 25 is scheduled for this year, October 2021.

Russian-provided landing platform, “Kazachok” – translates as “Little Cossack.”
Credit: ESA

Mars landing platform

Meanwhile, work on Russia’s key contributions for the ExoMars-2022 mission continues.

It is a large joint project of the Roscosmos State Corporation and the European Space Agency.

JSC “NPO Lavochkina” is the main contractor and coordinator of the work on the Russian side, as well as the developer and manufacturer of the landing module and landing platform “Kazachok”.


The launch of the mission to the Red Planet is scheduled for the Earth-Mars window in September-October 2022.

Curiosity’s Location as of Sol 3049. Distance driven 15.46 miles/24.88 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater has just started Sol 3061 assignments.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image acquired on Sol 3060, March 16, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover is continuing its drill campaign at “Nontron” and preparing the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite to study a new specimen later this week reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3060, March 16, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While that’s ongoing, Guzewich adds, the robot’s Mastcam will take a sure-to-be-spectacular 360° mosaic and the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will study the Mont Mercou cliff in front of the rover, including a target called “Font de Gaume.”

“Font de Gaume cave in France is home to stunning paleolithic cave art of bison, reindeer, and other Ice Age wildlife painted 19-27,000 years ago,” Guzewich explains. “Even that length of time, at least 15,000 years before the pyramids were built in Egypt, is barely 0.0005% of the time back to when Gale Crater formed on Mars.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3059, March 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Eons of time

The mind of humans don’t easily comprehend the vast eons of time that separate us from the places we explore in space with robots like Curiosity, Guzewich writes. “Our minds are designed to think in terms of hours, days, seasons, and years, extending up to a duration of our lifetime and perhaps those a few generations before us,” he adds.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 3060, March 16, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL



“When we explore Mars, we’re roving over rocks that formed billions of years ago and many of which have been exposed on the surface for at least tens or hundreds of millions of years. It’s a gap of time that we can understand numerically, but there’s no way to have an innate feel for the incredible ancientness of the planet and Gale Crater,” Guzewich concludes.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3060, March 16, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA


One of the major messages from Project Apollo is that lunar dust was a significant challenge for moonwalkers due to its strong adhesive and abrasive nature.

New research into the issue may give lunar dust the boot – that is, a new design called Sole Morphing Astronaut Boots (SMABs).

Cleat of foot

A research paper presented this week at the virtual 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2021 notes that the boot design strives for two goals:

Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawing of sole morphing astronaut overboot.
Credit: S. Lanctot, et al.


— The first is to minimize surface area contact with the Moon’s surface by elevating the astronaut on an extended cleat-like design to reduce the amount of dust kicked off the ground.

— The second goal will focus on improving the stability and enhancing the sense of foot feel for the astronauts.

Lead author of The Sole Morphing Astronaut Boots paper is Sara Lanctot, a mechanical and aerospace engineering student at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico.

Clingy and cloggy 

The Apollo moonwalking boot had its fair share of issues in the lunar dust, Lanctot and her colleagues explain.

“The dust is clingy and clogged up the treads of the boots. Astronauts commented on how slippery the boots would get, especially on the ladder. Furthermore, the abrasive nature of lunar regolith acting on a standard soled shoe was able to wear through the sole within a single day’s worth of activity on the lunar surface.”

Apollo 17 helmets and dusty spacesuits stuffed inside lunar lander following the last human treks on the Moon in December 1972.
Credit: NASA

The multi-layered Sole Morphing Astronaut Boots (SMAB) incorporate an adaptive design with replaceable studs to allow for maintenance and to reduce the general problem of “gouging” out dust from the lunar surface.

Spring in your step

The sole of the shoe will contain thirteen studs located where the foot holds the most weight: the heel and balls of the feet.

Each stud has what’s called a shock-absorption mechanism (SAM), similar to a shock absorber found in an automobile. This mechanism is intended to make the studs both shock absorbent and surface conforming.

View of stud CAD modeling and components. Credit: S. Lanctot, et al.

By literally putting a spring into your step via SMABs, the result is reducing dust clouds and aiding astronauts with their lunar treks. Secondly, Moon strutting crews wearing SMABs will receive firm and stabilizing footing as they walk over the uneven lunar surface, littered with rocks and small craters, the research team reports.

Haptic sock

The insole of the SMAB are outfitted with four piezoelectric ceramic disks that are placed strategically in the posterior metatarsal, heel (hind foot), great ball and little ball of the foot – these are common pressure points of the human foot.

The right shows the placement of the stubs on
the foot. The left foot indicates the corresponding placements of the piezoelectric ceramic sensors.
Credit: S. Lanctot, et al.

A “haptic sock” consists of about six vibrational motors each housed in a memory foam padding. Haptic relates to or is based on the sense of touch. Aluminum pins, when vibrated by the motors, provide the wearer with simulated tactile sensory information.

Lanctot and her colleagues have put together a test program to evaluate the effectiveness of the SMAB prototype in comparison to previous lunar mission boots both in regards to dust kick-up and overall traction.

“A large part of our proposed verification testing will be the development of the piezoelectric-haptic-system. While the haptic system is already being researched for use in gloves of EVA suits of astronauts aboard the ISS, this concept has not yet been transferred to the boots of the astronauts to improve gait and balance,” Lanctot and associates explain in their LPSC paper 

Credit: ISS/NASA

The Moon’s south pole is increasingly seen as the “go to” locale by multiple nations.

This week, experts virtually attending the 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) 2021 are providing new detailed looks of that southern polar region, a setting with concentrations of hydrogen in the lunar topside and the likely presence of ground ice lurking within Sun-shy craters. Toss in for good measure areas that receive copious solar energy and are visible from Earth.

Using local resources on the Moon can help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable.
Credit: RegoLight, visualization: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

This convergence of favorable factors bodes well for extending and sustaining a human presence on the Moon.

But as more data about the lunar south pole is collected — tightly focused on the “best of” Moon spots — will there be a concentration and crowding for prime real estate?

Credit: via Roscosmos

China’s agenda

The Moon’s south pole is increasingly becoming a place of high interest for both robotic and human missions.

Last week, for instance, China rolled out a Moon exploration program that includes the retrieval of lunar samples from the south pole by a future Chang’e-6, a detailed survey of the Moon’s south pole resources by Chang’e-7, and the testing of key technologies in preparation for the construction of a lunar research station by Chang’e-8. Indeed, a recent memorandum of understanding signed between China and Russia is designed to formulate a roadmap for the construction of an international lunar research station.

Credit: Roscosmos

Unique landing spot

Additionally, the European Space Agency and Russia are working together on a Russian-led Luna-27 mission targeting the south polar region of the Moon.

In development by ESA to be toted by Luna-27 is the Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation – mercifully shortened to PROSPECT.

Meanwhile, NASA is pressing forward on its Artemis initiative to return humans to the Moon.

NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover.
Credit: NASA

Future robotic and crewed landings on the Moon – like NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER in 2023, followed by Artemis III astronauts – could be headed for the Shackleton-de Gerlache ridge at the lunar South Pole.

Credit: JAXA/NHK/Paul Spudis

According to an LPSC paper by Hannes Bernhardt and Mark Robinson of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, the Shackleton-de Gerlache ridge has been identified as a potential landing site due to the unique proximity of permanently shadowed regions and peaks of extended (greater than 70 percent between 2024 and 2026) Sun and Earth visibilities.

Crowding and interference?

Does all this multi-nation Moon machinery plopping down at the Moon’s south pole mean concentration and crowding for lunar sites?

Signing of the Outer Space Treaty. Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin,
UK Ambassador Sir Patrick Dean, US Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg, US President
Lyndon B. Johnson and others observe as US Secretary of State Dean Rusk signs the
Outer Space Treaty on January 27, 1967 in Washington, DC
Source: UNOOSA.

“The large number of lunar missions planned for the next decade are likely to target a relatively limited number of small sites with concentrated resources on the Moon’s surface, creating risks of crowding and interference at these locations,” explains Martin Elvis, a Harvard University astrophysicist, and lead author of an LPSC paper.

“Real situations, where significant resources are at stake, will require adjudication to resolve disputes,” Elvis and colleagues write. “Unlike the Antarctic Treaty on which it was based, the Outer Space Treaty has no mechanism for adjudicating disputes.”

In the LPSC paper, Elvis and his co-authors urge that now is an appropriate time to begin developing a “governance framework” guided by lessons drawn from Earth. “Efforts at managing forthcoming disputes are most likely to succeed if they are undertaken before vested interests gain too firm a foothold,” they conclude.