Archive for April, 2021


Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project (SSPIDR) is a series of Integrated Demonstrations and Technology Maturation efforts at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate to address space-based power collection and transmission capabilities.

Space solar power beaming is not a new concept; yet until recently, the technology did not have a clear path forward.

In conjunction with primary industry partner Northrop Grumman, AFRL established the SSPIDR project to mature technology critical to building an operational solar power transmission system for providing reliable and logistically agile power to expeditionary forces.

Go to video at:


Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3092, April 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3093 tasks.

Curiosity is ready to begin the drilling campaign on the “Bardou” drill target on top of “Mont Mercou” reports Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan.

Dust Removal Tool preps new drill site. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3092, April 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The first day of the weekend plan (Sols 3092-3093) was slated to consist of acquiring passive spectra on this new drill target as well as additional context imaging for future targeting efforts, Salvatore adds.

Curiosity was scheduled to deploy its robotic arm to maneuver the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) into position for imaging.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3092, April 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Environmental imaging

On the following sol, Curiosity was set to continue imaging her surroundings as well as a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) calibration target, followed by several rounds of environmental imaging using both the rover’s Navcam and Mastcam instruments.

These environmental observations were to occur midday, in the evening, and in the early morning hours of the following sol before handing the plan over to the next planning phase.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3092, April 18, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Stay tuned for some additional breathtaking images from this beautiful vantage point,” Salvatore concludes, “as well as data from the next drill target on Mars!”

Perseverance rover photo of Ingenuity micro-helicopter taken by Left Mastcam-Z Camera. Image acquired on April 18, 2021 (Sol 57).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU


Up, up, and away! The Ingenuity mini-helicopter is set to make the first attempt at powered flight on another planet on Monday, April 19.

The location where NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will observe the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s attempt at powered controlled flight at Mars is called “Van Zyl Overlook.” Photo credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Operations by the helicopter team in mission control starts at 6:15 a.m. EDT (10:15 a.m. UTC) as they receive the data and find out if Ingenuity has successfully flown.

Right Mastcam-Z Camera photo acquired on April 15, 2021 (Sol 54).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASUMeanwhile, NASA’s Perseverance rover is soaking up the scenery, relaying imagery of its landing locale, Jezero Crater.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Perseverance rover is soaking up the scenery, relaying imagery of its landing locale, Jezero Crater.

Right Mastcam-Z Camera photo acquired on April 16, 2021 (Sol 55).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Right Mastcam-Z Camera image acquired on April 15, 2021 (Sol 54).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

“We are still in the process of characterizing our surroundings in both the near and far field,” says Jim Rice, a Mastcam-Z science team member at Arizona State University.

“As for the kinds of rocks we are seeing we have multiple working hypotheses of both volcanic and sedimentary rock types at this time,” Rice tells Inside Outer Space. “Jezero Crater has provided us a marvelous landscape to explore and with our team and science payload we are looking forward to unraveling the details of all the geologic events that occurred here.”

To watch the helicopter flight attempt, go to:

The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has blueprinted what they term “the modern day space elevator – 2021.”

According to ISEC’s president, Pete Swan, the space elevator idea is ready to begin engineering development. “It is the Green Road to space,” he explains, part of a dual space access architecture which includes advanced rockets. Furthermore, the space elevator is part of a permanent transportation infrastructure for the movement of massive cargo to GEO and beyond and enabling new enterprises along the way.

Galactic Harbors will unify transportation and enterprise.
Credit: ISEC

Video presentations

Highlighting current thinking about the space elevator, a series of ten video presentations are available demonstrating that the engineering development of the space elevator is ready to begin. The videos were part of Blue Marble Week, an event run by the Space division of Foundation for the Future and co-sponsored by ISEC. 

Global momentum

Additionally, ISEC is soon releasing the anticipated report: Space Elevators: The Green Road to Space. The essence of the report is that space elevators 1) are green in that they raise the payloads to the Apex Anchor with electricity — no burning rocket fuels, and 2) they enable green missions that are not really doable with even advanced rockets launching 1,000 times a year — the limit of 20 tons to GEO per launch is very restrictive when looking to deliver 5,000,000 tons for Space Solar Power or 1,000,000 tons to Mars for SpaceX and Elon Musk’s Red Planet-placed colony.

“There is currently a large global momentum for humanity’s movement off planet,” ISEC’s Swan says, “and the space elevator provides the infrastructure for that movement.”

To review the new videos, go to:

To learn more about ISEC and its upcoming report — Space Elevators: The Green Road to Space – go to:


The Wilson Center has made available 20 declassified documents that provide an extraordinary peek into the preparations and implementation of the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut, who flew into space in his Vostok spaceship on April 12, 1961.

Credit: Roscosmos



Compiled by Asif Siddiqi, a professor in the Department of History at Fordham University, the documents come from a variety of archives including the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF) and the archive of the Energiya Rocket-Space Corporation.



The translated Soviet documents, selected, curated, and annotated by Siddiqi in a digital archive is available here at:

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3089, April 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3090 tasks.

The robot’s drive on Sol 3088 went well, “and there is lots of bedrock in the arm workspace,” reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 3089, April 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The strategic plan included full contact science to support selection of the next drill target, but unfortunately the Sol 3088 Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) activities did not complete as expected, so no MAHLI imaging was included in a recent plan while the team evaluates MAHLI telemetry.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3089, April 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“But we’re still planning to brush a bedrock target named ‘Bardou’ and observe the brushed spot and a nearby unbrushed spot with [the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer] APXS, to help understand the compositions of the bedrock, dust, and sand in the area,” Herkenhoff adds.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3089, April 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Distant targets

Before deploying the rover’s arm, a passive Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observation of Bardou is planned, along with Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaics of distant targets on the flank of “Mt. Sharp” and what appears to be a windblown drift deposit near the top of “Mont Mercou.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3089, April 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Later in the afternoon of Sol 3090, the Left Mastcam will acquire a full 360-degree mosaic, which is likely to provide a spectacular view,” Herkenhoff explains.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3089, April 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“After the arm is moved out of the way late in the morning of Sol 3091,” Herkenhoff reports, “Navcam and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust suspended in the atmosphere, then Mastcam will acquire a multispectral observation of the brushed spot and stereo mosaics of “Mini Mont Mercou” and a ridge in the distance toward the southwest. Finally, the Left Mastcam will survey the sky for clouds during twilight.”

Orbital debris hit.
Credit: NASA



Tag it as a tragedy of the commons. Decades of detritus build-up in the form of Earth-circling, high-speed clutter – from spent rocket stages, paint chips, dead or dying satellites to leftover remains from anti-satellite testing.

The amount of human-made objects in low-Earth orbit has been steadily mushrooming over the past 50 years.

Clutter in the cosmos.
Credit: Used with permission: Melrae Pictures/Space Junk 3D





And there’s a messy message growing too, one of close-calls between orbiting assets, even side-swiping collisions that generate menacing refuge that worsens an already bad situation.


Take a read about this situation by going to my new Scientific American story:

“Space Junk Removal Is Not Going Smoothly – Despite promising technology demonstrations, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the growing problem of taking out the orbital trash” at:

Credit: Roscosmos

During an April 12 meeting on long-term priorities of space exploration, pilot-cosmonaut of the USSR and State Duma Deputy Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman to orbit Earth aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963) asked Russian President Vladimir Putin a lifestyle question regarding cosmonauts.

Valentina Tereshkova: On this important date, when 60 years ago our compatriot Yury Gagarin opened a space page in the history of humanity, I would like to speak about his successors, Russian cosmonauts. It is common knowledge that this profession is always very risky. This is why it is very important to provide a decent lifestyle for the cosmonauts and their family members. I would like to hear in this context what will be done in this regard.

Credit: Wiki/

Vladimir Putin: Ms Tereshkova, I have discussed this issue with my colleagues. Indeed, this seems to be a current issue but it is still no less important for those who work in this industry. Up to this day, they have not just done all they can to achieve the desired common result but even put their health and lives at risk. Therefore, I suggest a 50 percent increase in the salaries of those who have already been to space and are important members of the cosmonauts’ team. The salaries of those who have not yet been to space but are getting ready for this will go up by 70 percent. These increases will also be reflected in premium payments and so I think that in all, our cosmonauts will receive handsome remuneration.

The top of “Mont Mercou” in front of the Curiosity rover is visible in this image taken by the Left Navigation Camera on Sol 3083. Mount Sharp is the white hill in the distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3087 tasks.

Last week, Curiosity circled the base of “Mont Mercou” and has 3-D profiled the large outcrop, reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. The robot began climbing up the side of the nearly 20-feet (6-meters) high outcrop.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 3086, April 11, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We found ourselves almost at the top, with a beautiful expanse of bedrock in our workspace and stunning views of the top of ‘Mount Sharp’ off in the distance,” O’Connell-Cooper adds.

Dust Removal Tool apparently in action, shown by circular patch. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3086, April 11, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Paired drill sites

The plan calls for drilling at that spot, a companion drill to the “Nontron” drill at the base of the outcrop.

“These paired drill sites, and resulting mineralogical data, combined with the extensive imagery acquired by Mastcam, will go a long way to help us understand the evolution of this outcrop,” O’Connell-Cooper points out.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3086, April 11, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As part of any drill campaign, researchers carefully investigate an area, sometimes finding the most “representative” drill site to reflect the bulk composition of the outcrop.

Choosing a drill target

“For some of our previous drill locales, bedrock was homogeneous, with little evidence of veining for example, which makes choosing a drill target much easier,” O’Connell-Cooper notes. “Here at Mont Mercou, this is definitely not the case! Bedrock in today’s workspace varied from nodule-rich — small circular or lenticular features — to nodule-poor and contained both white veins (typically calcium sulphate) and more unusual dark toned resistant “fins” of vein material – lots happening here, geologically speaking!”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo acquired on Sol 3086, April 11, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Curiosity target last Wednesday labeled “Puymangou” may be the remnant of the same type of dark veins scientists see in the rover’s


current workspace. New targets are being appraised to aid the next drilling session, but are also safe for the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument.

“Those dark veins look really interesting but the fin-like morphology means that they can pose a danger to APXS if, for example, a pointed edge went up into the sensor,” O’Connell-Cooper says. “Eventually, we decided on a flat bedrock ‘Peyrignac’ which we can brush with our DRT [Dust Removal Tool] centered on the nodule-poor bedrock, to analyze with APXS and MAHLI [Mars Hand Lens Imager].

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3086, April 11, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Nodule-rich bedrock

“Typically, DRT targets also have an offset APXS and MAHLI target, 18 mm from the center of the main target. Conveniently, the Peyrignac offset target should end up centered on nodule-rich bedrock, so this will give us a more complete idea of the composition here,” reports O’Connell-Cooper.

The plan calls for driving further onto the top of Mont Mercou on the second sol of the plan (Sols 3085-3087) “and then Mastcam will image our terrain, with the aim of refining our drill target selection in the next plan, on Monday,” O’Connell-Cooper concludes. “With luck, we might even be drilling again by this time next week!”

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


The China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) said on Monday that a Long March-7 Y3 rocket, slated to loft a supply ship to China’s still-to-be-built space station, has arrived at its launch site in southern China’s Hainan Province.

The rocket, alongside the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft, has been transported to the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site where it will be assembled and tested. CMSEO also said the facilities and equipment at the launch site are in good condition and preparations are being carried out as scheduled.

The uncrewed Tianzhou-2 is one element of a go-getting schedule to construct China’s space station.

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

China’s has completely transferred its human spaceflight agenda to the construction stage of its space station. A number of missions — including launching the core module of the space station, cargo replenishment, and crewed space flights — will be implemented this year.

The space station’s Tianhe core module and its booster, a Long March-5B Y2 are also at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site. Liftoff of that central element is scheduled to be implemented in the first half of this year.

China’s space station to be operating in the 2020’s. Credit: CCTV

Development strategy

Space program officials in China see building the country’s orbiting outpost as the third step of its “three-step development strategy” for a crewed space program.

In May 2020, the successful launch of a Long March-5B kicked off the “third step” of the development strategy.

As reported by the China Central Television (CCTV) network, the spacefaring country has launched 11 manned spacecraft, one cargo spacecraft, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space labs, sending 11 astronauts into space, completing the first two steps of the three-step manned space program.

Shenzhou-11 crew onboard the Tiangong-2 space lab. Mission lasted 33 days.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

CCTV adds that the space station will be completed around 2022, and a national space laboratory with stable operation in orbit will be built up within that time period.

Working with the United Nations, China has completed selection of a first batch of space science experiments to be implemented onboard the Chinese crewed space station.

Foundational element

The upcoming launch of the Tianhe 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 Liwei, the country’s first astronaut, 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.

China’s space station agenda also includes lofting an optical module that carries a space telescope, touted as having a better field angle than the NASA Hubble space telescope.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“For Experiment Modules I and II that we will launch next year,” Yang said, “they both need to be docked with the core module, which is of significant and symbolic meaning to the whole space station program of China. Only after we launch the space station to outer space, will we truly enter the phase of verification and building of the space station.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Astronauts selected

A total of 12 Chinese astronauts will enter space in 11 missions launched under China’s manned space program over the next two years, said Yang.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

This year and next, while China’s space station is being assembled, Yang said four crewed spaceflight missions will be carried out. “We have chosen the astronauts for the four crews, and are now training them for each of the missions. There will be experienced and new astronauts assigned to each crew, and you will see many familiar faces among them,” he told CCTV.


In total, China’s astronaut corps consists of 34 individuals.