Archive for April, 2021

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

With China launching the core module of its space station, the country’s space program officials are detailing plans for its use when fully constructed by the end of 2022.

As of now, 17 nations have confirmed their participation in nine scientific tasks on the station, with China signing agreements with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs on space station cooperation, said Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Agency. “We will continue working with the UN’s outer space office to solicit proposals for future scientific collaborations,” he told China Daily.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Hao also stated that there will be foreign astronauts on the Chinese station.

“A lot of foreign space organizations have told us that they hoped we could open our station to their astronauts. Some foreign astronauts have begun to learn Chinese. We will start selecting foreign participants and preparing for joint flights in due course according to the conditions on the station,” Hao said.

Credit: CGTN/Li Yueyun, Du Chenxin

T-shaped complex

The just-launched Tianhe core module is the largest spacecraft developed by China, with a total length of 16.6 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a take-off mass of 22.5 tons.

Credit: CGTN/Li Yueyun, Du Chenxin

When China’s space station construction is completed, the orbiting complex will be T-shaped, with the core module at the center and a lab capsule on each side. The three-module station will offer astronauts more than 100 cubic meters of room for living and working.







Meanwhile, a variety of videos have been issued by various outlets that spotlight China’s space station endeavors. Go to:


Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s core space station module is now circling Earth, lofted April 29 by a Long March-5B Y2 carrier rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the northeastern coast of south China’s Hainan Province.

Tianhe is the foundational module for China’s first low-Earth orbital space station named Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace” in Chinese. The module is 16.6 meters long with a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a takeoff mass of 22.5 tons – billed as the largest spacecraft China has ever developed.

China’s core module now in Earth orbit.

Fast-paced launch schedule

The launch is to be followed by a fast-paced series of cargo and crew launches aimed at completing the construction of the station by the end of 2022. The space-based construction effort requires 11 launches in 2021-2022, including Thursday’s successful launch of the core module, two more module launches, four manned missions and four cargo vessel flights, as reported by China Global Television Network (CGTN).

Three types of Long March carrier rockets will jointly conduct the remaining 10 launch missions.

When completed, China’s orbiting outpost will form a T-shape with Tianhe at the center and two lab capsules, Wentian and Mengtian, on each side, according to Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program. 

Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of the space station at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said that the station could support at most six astronauts at the same time. Regular launches of crewed and cargo spaceships will secure a long-term human presence in Earth orbit to carry out research and services.

Credit: CMS

Crew and cargo

Shortly after the core module’s launch, Li Shangfu, chief commander, flight missions for space station phase of China’s manned space program reported the Long March-5B Y2 rocket had accurately sent Tianhe into a preset orbit, and that the solar panels were working well after unfolding. “Now I announce that the launch mission of the core module Tianhe is a complete success!”

Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, told China Central Television (CCTV): “Next, we will launch Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft in May and the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft in June. Three astronauts will stay in orbit for three months on the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft.”

Hao said in September and October, the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft and Shenzhou-13 crewed spaceship will also be launched to dock with Tianhe, and another three astronauts will then begin their six-month stay in orbit.

After the five launch missions this year, China plans six missions, including the launch of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, two cargo spacecraft and two manned spaceships, in 2022 to complete the manufacturing of the space station.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“It contains two space station modules, the launch mission of Wentian and Mengtian, two cargo spacecraft and two manned spacecraft. The two manned spacecraft, also composed of three astronauts respectively, will stay in orbit for about six months. This is the general arrangement of our missions,” Hao stated.

China’s space station is to operate in low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 211 miles (340 kilometers) to 280 miles (450 kilometers). It has a designed lifespan of 10 years, although it could last more than 15 years with appropriate maintenance and repairs, reports CCTV.

To view videos of the launch and an overview of China’s space station plans, go to:

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Credit: New China TV/China Manned Space Agency

Credit: CCTV

Core module of China’s space station.
Credit: CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is set to loft a key module of the country’s space station on April 29 (Beijing Time) – around 03:00 UTC.

The critical “Tianhe-1” core module will be lofted by a Long March-5B Y2 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan province. If successful, China will later dispatch a Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft to rendezvous and dock with the core module, followed by a three-person crew onboard a Shenzhou-12 spacecraft.

China plans to launch the core module of its space station from Wenchang on April 29 using a Long March-5B Y2 rocket.
A Navigation warning, active from 03:00 – 04:00 UTC, has been issued for two areas to the west of the Philippines. Tracking forward from the launch site shows that the planned orbital inclination is 42°. The initial orbital height will be near 124 miles (200 kilometers). 
Credit: Robert Christy (used with permission)

The Long March-7 Y3 launch vehicle is already at Wenchang to launch the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft. Additionally, a Long March-2F launch vehicle and the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft have arrived at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, China.

Robert Christy at has noted that navigation warnings indicate the inclination of the core module will be 42 degrees.

Must succeed

In a recent China Central Television (CCTV) interview, Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut and director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said that orbiting the core module is critical and must succeed. “The launch of the core module will be a milestone indeed,” Yang added.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Yang said China is set to send a cadre of 12 astronauts into space in 2021 and 2022 to build China’s orbiting outpost. Crew members for the four crewed flights necessary to piece together and operate the space station have been chosen and are undergoing mission training.

Go to these China Central Television (CCTV) videos about the country’s space station plans:


A NASA Office of Inspector General report has taken a look at the space agency’s Artemis program, noting that the effort faces significant challenges.

The NASA OIG report explains that current plans to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 are “highly unlikely.”

NASA’s current plans for the first three missions of its Artemis program include exploration missions in 2021 (uncrewed), placing the Orion spacecraft in a lunar distant retrograde orbit, where it will travel 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, or a total of roughly 280,000 miles from Earth before returning home,  and 2023 (crewed) using the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, culminating in a mission landing astronauts on the surface of the Moon in late 2024.


Significant progress

OIG’s Artemis Status Update reports that NASA has made significant progress with the Artemis missions including stacking the SLS solid rocket boosters onto the mobile launcher, delivering Orion to Kennedy for final integration, and stabilizing future launch manifests.

Space Launch System (SLS) Credit: NASA/MSFC


Additionally, the OIG report points to the March 2021 second hot fire test of the SLS core stage outfitted with four RS-25 engines. In April 2021, NASA completed its analysis of over 8 minutes’ worth of data and found all primary test objectives were met. The SLS core stage is now being prepared for transport to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Biden my time

“Although the new [Biden] Administration has publicly expressed support for the Artemis missions, it has not weighed in on the Agency’s current plans for a lunar landing by the end of 2024,” the OIG report points out.

Credit: NASA

“Nonetheless, achieving any date close to this ambitious goal—and reaching Mars in the 2030s—will require strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the President, Congress, and NASA, as well as stable and timely funding,” the OIG report adds.

Total costs

“With total costs for Artemis missions through fiscal year (FY) 2025 projected to reach $86 billion,” the OIG report underscores the fact that “NASA’s development of a deep-space human exploration capability to reach the Moon as a precursor to Mars is the Agency’s most ambitious and costliest ongoing activity.”

Credit: NASA











To read the full OIG report – Artemis Status Update – go to:

Image of the Bardou drill hole and powdered material taken by Curiosity Mast Camera on Sol 3094, April 20, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Curiosity rover at Gale Crater is parked on top of Mont Mercou providing a spectacular vantage point to survey both the terrain the robot has driven over and future areas of interest.

Reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: “Based on orbital signatures, we are expecting to encounter a transition from relatively clay-rich to sulfate-rich rocks as Curiosity continues to climb Mount Sharp. This may signify an environmental change on Mars, and imaging will help us to monitor this transition and provide context for future exploration.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 3099, April 25, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Imaging activities

On the planning schedule, the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) was to acquire a long distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic pointed towards “Chavagnac,” within the sulfate-bearing unit behind the rover, to the south.

Along with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite evolved gas analysis (EGA) analysis of the Bardou sample, a weekend plan was full of imaging activities utilizing both the ChemCam RMI and Mastcam cameras.

Mastcam was set to acquire mosaics to document a number of sand-filled cracks on top of Mont Mercou (“Villamblard,” “Queyssac” and “Sabouret”), as well as an image of the Bardou drill hole and surrounding powder, Thompson adds.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3098, April 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Another of these sand-filled cracks (“Cherval”) will be imaged with the ChemCam RMI.

Look for dust

Environmental monitoring will include a Mastcam tau pointed towards the sun at different times of day, Mastcam crater rim extinction imaging to look for dust and Mastcam documentation of the edge of the Mont Mercou cliff.

Curiosity’s Navcam will also acquire images to monitor dust activity in the atmosphere and to investigate dust devil activity. Standard Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) activities were also planned.

“We are excited to analyze the chemistry of the Bardou drilled sample in upcoming plans, before driving away,” Thompson concludes.

Credit: Mars Guy

Another installment of “Mars Guy” takes the viewer to the Perseverance rover at Jezero Crater.

Mars Guy is Arizona State University associate research professor Steve Ruff, a Mars geologist with decades of experience exploring the Red Planet.

Credit: Mars Guy/NASA/JPL-Caltech

This new video details the rover’s Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals instrument – mercifully shortened to SHERLOC.

Suit material

Mars Guy points out that the Perseverance rover carried pieces of NASA space suit material to the surface of Mars for long-term exposure testing in the harsh environment. The first extremely high resolution images have now been sent back.

Credit: Mars Guy/NASA/JPL-Caltech


Also onboard is a piece of the Martian meteorite Sayh Al Uhamer 008 (SaU008) – a meteorite found in Oman in 1999. It is the first Mars sample return, Mars Guy explains, a piece of Mars that landed on Earth to be returned to Mars via the Perseverance rover.


To view the new video, go to:

Credit: via Roscosmos

China and Russia are developing a road map to establish an international station on the Moon.

An invitation to all interested countries, international organizations and partners to cooperate in the project was made last Friday by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos.

The announcement was made at a conference focused on the international Moon station in Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu province.

In March, China and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding on jointly building an international scientific research station on the Moon.

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

Extensive cooperation

The CNSA and Roscosmos will promote extensive cooperation in the lunar station for the development of human space science and technology and socio-economic progress, said CNSA deputy director Wu Yanhua, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

Wu said the station will be another important contribution by China and Russia “to promote the long-term and sustainable development of United Nations outer space activities,” the Xinhua story adds.

Chinese scientists have unveiled design of a crew Moon rover.
Credit: New China TV/GlobalLink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Joint declaration

The joint declaration by the two countries released on Friday underscored the co-operated construction of the International Scientific Lunar Station (ISLS), emphasizing that the ISLS is open to all countries, international organizations and partners interested in cooperation in the planning, justification, design, development, implementation and operation of the ISLS.

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


Both “material and non-material contribution of international partners to cooperation in the field of the creation of the ISLS in any aspect of the mission at every stage” is welcomed, explains the document, and be “mutually beneficial for all participants.”

The statement by Roscosmos and KNKA (CNSA) on the creation of the lunar station also reiterated coordination of the Russian mission with the Luna-Resurs-1 orbital spacecraft and the Chinese research mission the polar region of the Moon “Chang’e-7.” That agreement also states Roscosmos and CNSA will work together on the creation of a joint Data Center for the exploration of the Moon and deep space.

The statement can be found here at:



Credit: NASA

Much of the subsurface of Mars may well be a nice niche for microbial life.

That’s a finding from a new study published in the journal Astrobiology that looked at the chemical composition of Martian meteorites tossed off the Red Planet that eventually landed here on Earth.

New research determined that those Mars-spawned rocks — if in consistent contact with water — would generate the chemical energy needed to support microbial communities on the faraway world, similar to those that endure in the unlit depths of the Earth. Because these meteorites may be representative of vast swaths of the Martian crust, the findings suggest that much of the Mars subsurface could be habitable.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover image from Right Mastcam-Z Camera. Photo acquired on April 15, 2021 (Sol 54).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Ample energy

“We don’t know whether life ever got started beneath the surface of Mars, but if it did, we think there would be ample energy there to sustain it right up to today,” says Jesse Tarnas, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who led the study while completing his Ph.D. at Brown University.

“The big implication here for subsurface exploration science is that wherever you have groundwater on Mars, there’s a good chance that you have enough chemical energy to support subsurface microbial life,” Tarnas adds in a Brown University press statement.

Underground systems

In places like Canada’s Kidd Creek Mine, “sulfate-reducing” microbes have been found living more than a mile underground, in water that hasn’t seen the light of day in more than a billion years.

Jesse Tarnas, a Brown University graduate and postdoctoral research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, work in Canada’s Kidd Creek Mine. Mars has right ingredients for present-day microbial life beneath its surface a new study finds.
Credit: Jesse Tarnas/ University of Toronto Stable Isotope Laboratory

According to the study paper, “radiolysis” by itself could produce sufficient redox energy to sustain a habitable environment in the subsurface of present-day Mars, one in which Earth-like microorganisms could survive wherever groundwater exists.

The ingredients for radiolysis: radioactive elements like thorium, uranium and potassium; sulfide minerals that could be converted to sulfate; and rock units with adequate pore space to trap water.

Tarnas has been working with a team co-led by Brown University professor Jack Mustard and Professor Barbara Sherwood Lollar of the University of Toronto to better understand these underground systems with an eye toward looking for similar habitats on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system. The project, called Earth 4-D: Subsurface Science and Exploration, is supported by the Canadian Institute for Advances Research.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image at Jezero Crater using its Left Mastcam-Z camera on April 23, 2021 (Sol 62).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Concentration zones

The surface of Mars is an extremely unfriendly environment, the study paper explains, a topside characterized by freezing temperatures, desiccating conditions, high levels of ionizing radiation, oxidizing chemicals, low pressures, “and a lack of liquid water that preclude any Earth-like organisms from surviving without adaptation that is unprecedented on Earth.”

“Our results demonstrate that martian subsurface groundwaters, where present, would largely be habitable for sulfate-reducing bacteria from a redox energy perspective via radiolysis alone,” Tarnas and colleagues explain in the study paper. “We present evidence for crustal regions that could support especially high cell densities, including zones with high sulfide concentrations, which could be targeted by future subsurface exploration missions.”

Digging in…on Mars.
Credit: NASA Langley Advanced Concepts Lab/Analytical Mechanics Associates

Drilling to depth

Tarnas and Mustard say in the Brown University press release, that while there are surely technical challenges involved in subsurface exploration, those challenges are not show-stoppers.

A drilling operation on Mars wouldn’t require “a Texas-sized oil rig,” Mustard says, and recent advances in small drill probes could soon put the Martian depths within reach.

“The subsurface is one of the frontiers in Mars exploration,” Mustard said. And about the prospect of finding present-day life on the Red Planet, “the subsurface is absolutely going to be where the action is.”

To access the Astrobiology journal paper – “Earth-like Habitable Environments in the Subsurface of Mars” – go to:

Core module of China’s space station.
Credit: CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is expected to launch next week the critical core module of the country’s space station from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan province.

The “Tianhe-1” core module is to be lofted by a Long March-5B Y2 rocket, reportedly ready for rollout to the launch site.

China’s space station expected to be completed around 2022.
CMS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Earlier this week, the space-tracking ship Yuanwang-5 departed from a port in east China’s Jiangsu Province for a “maritime monitoring mission” in the Pacific Ocean, according to the Xinhua news agency. That vessel, China’s third-generation space-tracking ship, has completed 73 missions at sea, including maritime tracking of the Shenzhou spacecraft, the Chang’e lunar probe and BeiDou satellites.

Cargo spacecraft

The Long March-7 Y3 launch vehicle arrived at the Wenchang Space Launch Center to launch the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft, already at the launch site, to the station.

Additionally, a Long March-2F launch vehicle and the Shenzhou-12 crew spacecraft have arrived at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, China.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Final preparations

At both launch sites, final preparation are underway to launch the Tianhe core module, then the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft, followed by the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft with a crew of three astronauts.

According to Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is set to send a cadre of 12 astronauts into space in 2021 and 2022 to build China’s orbiting outpost.

Crew members for the four crewed flights necessary to piece together and operate the space station have been chosen and are undergoing mission training.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The upcoming launch of the core module is a foundational element of the Chinese orbiting complex.

“After we launch the core module, we will send a cargo spacecraft to dock with it. And then we will launch the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft,” said Yang in a recent CCTV interview. “That’s why I say it is critical this year, as all the flight missions rely on our core module and it must succeed. The launch of the core module will be a milestone indeed,” Yang added.

Go to these China Central Television (CCTV) videos about the country’s space station plans:


A fascinating look at exploration of Jezero Crater is now available for your viewing pleasure.

Who is in that martian attire?

It is “Mars Guy,” none other than Arizona State University associate research professor Dr. Steve Ruff. He’s a Mars geologist with decades of experience exploring the Red Planet. 

“I’ve launched a new project oriented toward public engagement that takes advantage of my expertise and experience,” Ruff tells Inside Outer Space.

Novel in-person experience

The fresh set of videos follows the exploration of Jezero crater by the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, presenting science, engineering, and the search for life on Mars using a novel in-person experience.

These unique videos are being developed in part with collaboration from the NASA Infiniscope project.

Two newly posted videos are “Mars Guy meets the Mars helicopter” and “Mars helicopter first flight play-by-play.”

They are available at: