Archive for May, 2021

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Astronauts on the upcoming Shenzhou-12 mission will engage in spacewalks outside the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station, a key figure in the nation’s manned space endeavor said.

China will launch a trio of astronauts on the upcoming Shenzhou XII mission in June to dock with the currently unoccupied Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.

The automated Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was launched last Saturday evening, docking with the Tianhe core module early on Sunday morning

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Three-month journey

Yang Liwei, the first Chinese in space and now deputy chief planner of the country’s manned space program, told China Central Television (CCTV) on Sunday that during their three-month journey with Tianhe, two of the three-member crew, whose names have yet to be disclosed, will exit from the core module to examine, maintain or repair equipment.

Crew members of the Shenzhou-12 and the next three crewed spaceflights-Shenzhou-13, 14, and 15 were selected from those in the first and second groups of astronauts, Yang said.

Yang added that the Shenzhou-12 crew is all male, but there will be a woman in each of the next three missions.

China’s space station is projected to be completed in late 2022.
Credit: CAST


Flights next year

All astronauts in the next four spaceflights are undergoing intensive training, Yang said.

Shenzhou-13 is slated to fly to Tianhe in October, carrying three astronauts for a six-month mission inside the core module. Shenzhou-14 and Shenzhou-15 are expected to take place in 2022, with each crew team staying in space for half a year.

The piloted missions will depart from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

Go to this CCTV video focused on preparations  in readying piloted Shenzhou missions at:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Details are emerging regarding the docking of China’s newly-launched cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-2 to the Tianhe space station module.

Tianzhou-2 is fully automatic and the spacecraft has a specialized smart cargo managing system to replenish the station, said experts, according to the China Central Television (CCTV).

The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was lofted Saturday (Beijing time) atop a Long March-7 Y3 rocket, blasting off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan Province.

The supply ship brought supplies, equipment and propellant to the in-orbit Tianhe space station core module.

“From the moment of launch to the rendezvous and docking, the ground personnel do not participate in the whole process and do not perform calculation simulations. The entire rendezvous and docking process is carried out directly through the spacecraft’s own computer system,” said Liu Zhihui, deputy chief commander of Tianzhou-2 project.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Later, we are going to do a tele-operation rendezvous and docking. Astronauts will be able to remotely control our cargo spacecraft to dock with the space station in the core model of the space station. The purpose of this design is that when we conduct flights in the future, our regular docking is automatic docking, but if there is a problem with the automatic system, we will switch to manual docking mode,” said Bai Mingsheng, chief designer of Tianzhou-2 told CCTV.

Supply ship specifics

The length of Tianzhou-2 is 10.6 meters, and its width can reach 14.9 meters after the solar panels are fully deployed. The entire cargo spacecraft is divided into two parts, the rear part is the propulsion cabin, which has a diameter of 2.8 meters, and the front part is its cargo cabin, which can reach 3.35 meters in diameter.

Tianzhou-2 has a total weight of 13.5 tons, and can carry 6.9 tons of payloads, making it currently the world’s most powerful cargo spacecraft. A total of 36 engines are installed on the cargo spacecraft, including 4 orbit-controlled engines. These 4 high-power engines are the guarantee for the process of raising and changing the orbit of the cargo spacecraft.

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

Intelligent cargo management

The 6.9-ton cargo list of the Tianzhou-2 includes not only the items for astronauts’ daily needs, but also some hardware equipment for experiments. In the past, due to the huge variety and quantity of cargo, astronauts had to deal with situations where they could not quickly find what they needed. To solve this problem, designer of Tianzhou-2 specially developed an intelligent cargo management system for their convenience.

China first used automatic space docking technology on the Shenzhou-8 unpiloted spacecraft in November 2011. In June 2012, the country used a remote-control system to dock a crewed Shenzhou-9 with Tiangong-1, China’s experimental space lab.

Go to these newly issued videos regarding the Tianzhou-2 mission at:


An impressive new site offers an eyeful to help you spot the SpaceX Starlink satellites.

Using this site, you can find out when the Starlink satellites are expected to be visible at your location.

There are some helpful tips on the site, such as this FAQ:

Why are there only a few satellites in this app? Doesn’t Starlink have hundreds of satellites?

“Yes, there are hundreds of them. Many are in groups of 30-40 satellites, and fly in a “chain” formation. So this app tracks only the first satellite in every “chain” of satellites. That way, when you see the first satellite in a chain, the rest will follow behind in that chain. Otherwise the results page will be very cluttered.”

Go to:

Credit: Lockheed Martin/GM

A next generation of lunar rovers is being blueprinted, with Lockheed Martin and  General Motors (GM) teaming up to extend the exploration range of astronauts performing science tasks on the Moon.

According to a May 26 announcement by the two organizations, not only will these vehicles be equipped to go the distance, they will also be driver optional.

Moon-style, autonomous, self-driving systems would enable the vehicle to operate with or without humans onboard.

A Lockheed Martin-GM rover would be able to preposition itself autonomously near a landing site prior to astronauts arrival, and crews would have the ability to task the rover from the Human Landing System or the orbiting lunar Gateway to conduct science operations without a driver.

Credit: Lockheed Martin/GM/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chauffeuring astronauts

GM brings to the table state-of-the-art battery-electric technologies and propulsion systems for the lunar rover. Lockheed Martin sees the Moon vehicle as affordable, given digital tools to rapidly fabricate the transportation system.

The Lockheed Martin-GM team envisions autonomously chauffeuring astronauts to the dark regions of the Moon.

Credit: NASA


Other scientific activities that surface mobility can enable include: field geology, sample collection and return, and deploying experiments.


Go to these videos that detail the Lockheed Martin-GM announcement at:

Credit: NASA









The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a new report: NASA Lunar Programs: Significant Work Remains, Underscoring Challenges to Achieving Moon Landing in 2024.

NASA’s planned pace to develop a Human Landing System, says the GAO report, is months faster than other spaceflight programs, and a Moon lander is inherently more complex because it supports human spaceflight.

The GAO study focused in on the Gateway—which NASA is developing to be an outpost orbiting the Moon—in that it relies on power and propulsion technology that has never before been used, and contractor efforts to develop the technology are behind schedule.

NASA’s Lunar Gateway.
Credit: NASA/JSC

Knowledge gaps

“NASA’s lunar programs face cost, schedule, and technical risks that highlight how difficult it will be for NASA to achieve the ambitious 2024 lunar landing goal,” the report explains. “Specifically, NASA will need to address potential requirements gaps, technology development knowledge gaps, and a pending Artemis III mission decision that affects multiple programs.”

NASA’s Artemis program.
Credit: NASA

“Achieving a lunar landing in 2024 is an ambitious goal, and little is known about the overall cost of NASA’s efforts to do so,” the GAO report adds. “With just over 3 years remaining, NASA lacks insight into the cost and schedules of some of its largest lunar programs in part because some of its programs are in the early stage of development and therefore have not yet established cost and schedule estimates or baselines.

To take a look at this new GAO report, go to:

A highlights document is available at:

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


China’s Zhurong Mars rover is scouting about on the Utopia Planitia region of the Red Planet, a site that may offer astrobiological potential.

“There could be fossils there,” explains James Head, professor of geological science at Brown University, adding that the robot could be on the floor of an ancient — billions of years old — ocean.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Zhurong offers the opportunity that fundamental scientific questions, like the origin of life, can be tackled, Head senses.

Onboard the Mars machinery that began its mission on May 22 is a ground penetrating radar that could detect a frozen ocean below its wheels.

Credit: CNSA


The rover can communicate with Earth for 10 minutes each day via the Tianwen-1 relay orbiter now circuiting Mars.

The 1.85-meter-tall robot is propelled by six wheels and powered by four solar panels. It can move at a slow-going 200 meters an hour on the Martian surface.

Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing, the major maker of Chinese spacecraft, Zhurong carries six scientific instruments including a multispectral camera, shallow subsurface radar and meteorological measurer.

Credit: CNSA

High geological interest…in the lowland

The Tianwen-1 landing site region in Utopia Planitia is in an “extremely interesting area” Head recently told Inside Outer Space.

“It lies within the area thought to be part of potential ancient northern lowland oceans that may have existed in the Noachian and Late Hesperian, and lies topographically below the proposed ‘shorelines’ for both of these candidate oceans,” Head said. The global-scale unit within which Tianwen-1 is targeted is the Vastitas Borealis Formation, Head added, a Late Hesperian-aged unit that is interpreted to be the sedimentary remnant of the ocean proposed to occupy the northern lowlands at that time.

Credit: CGTN

“Thus it not only has extremely high geological interest — do the surface units look sedimentary, is there evidence of wave and water activity, is there any remaining water frozen as ice, etc. — but is also of very obvious astrobiological interest given possible fossils or evidence of biological activity,” Head said.

For informative videos focused on China’s Mars rover, go to these newly issued videos:

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic completed on May 22 its third spaceflight and the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico.

VSS Unity spaceship completed the first-ever human spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico, with two pilots reaching apogee at 55.45 miles above ground. The flight is a meaningful step toward the opening of commercial space travel.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space before gliding  to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

On VSS Unity’s flight deck were CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, while Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci piloted VMS Eve.

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Test objectives

According to a Virgin Galactic press statement, the flight fulfilled a number of test objectives, including:

  • Carried revenue-generating scientific research experiments as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.
  • Collected data to be used for the final two verification reports that are required as part of the current FAA commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license.
  • Tested the spaceship’s upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls and validated Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) reductions.

Following the flight, Virgin Galactic will conduct a review of all test data gathered and thoroughly inspect the spaceship and mothership.  Once the team confirms the results, the company plans to proceed to the next flight test milestone.

Credit: Spaceport America


Important milestone

“Fifteen years ago, New Mexico embarked on a journey to create the world’s first commercial spaceport,’’ said Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder. ‘’Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico.”

To celebrate the first human spaceflight from New Mexico, the Zia Sun Symbol of New Mexico’s state flag was placed prominently on the exterior of the Spaceship.  In addition, we flew green chile seeds, which are synonymous with the state’s rich agricultural and culinary history.

To view a Virgin Galactic video spotlighting the flight, go to:

Credit: CNSA

China’s Zhurong Mars rover is now down and dirty on the Red Planet. The six-wheeled solar-powered rover has slowly trundled off a ramp on the lander to hit the red, sandy soil of Mars, starting its journey to explore the fourth planet from the sun.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has stated that according to the telemetry data, Zhurong set its wheels on Martian soil at 10:40 am (Beijing Time) on Saturday.

Artwork depicts China’s Zhurong Mars rover rolling off lander.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


The nearly 530-pound (240 kilogram) robot is now exploring the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars. The rover has an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days, equal to about three months on Earth.

China’s Mars rover. Credit: Zou Yongliao, et al.


Mobility on Mars

According to China’s Xinhua news service, compared to the country’s Moon rover design, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), Zhurong has a similar speed of about 200 meters per hour, but the height of the obstacles it can surmount increased from 20 centimeters to 30 centimeters. It can climb slopes up to 20 degrees. Zhurong’s six wheels are independently driven, according to its designers.

Relying on an active suspension system, the rover can move itself like an inchworm on the complicated Martian surface with both loose sandy soil and densely distributed rocks, said Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Tianwen 1 probe, from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). Zhurong can also walk sideways like a crab. Each of its six wheels can turn in any direction, which could be used for avoiding obstacles and climbing slopes.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Comprehensive coverage

According to a China Central Television (CCTV) video, part of the power generated by the solar panels during the daytime will be used for work, and the rest will be stored in batteries for night use. In addition, the designers installed heat collection windows on the rover, which could absorb solar energy in the daytime and release heat at night to help the rover survive the freezing temperatures which could plunge to over 100 degrees Celsius below zero before dawn.

Zhang Yuhua, deputy chief commander, Tianwen-1 probe, Eighth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation told CCTV: “The reason why we need eight days is that the rover needs to capture the clear images of the area where it will touch down. If the assessment came out to be no difficulties, risk-free and safe, we will decide which way to go for the guide rail on the lander, which can stretch to this direction or this direction.”

Credit: Weibo wlr2678

The real Mars-orbiting exploration starts only after the three-month relay communications completes, Zhang said. “We hope we could have a comprehensive covering of Martian topography, landform and environment, and the exploratory data of the radar detecting the Martian subsurface during one Martian year. By doing so, our country will have our own abundant and first-hand data about Martian resources.”

Video resources

China’s Tianwen-1 mission — consisting of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover — was launched on July 23, 2020. The lander carrying the rover touched down on May 15. The orbiter, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific agenda.

Go to this CCTV video at:

Also, go to New China TV and GLOBALink videos at:


Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Russia’s robotic return to the Moon is being readied under the framework of the Luna-Glob project. The last in the row of the former Soviet Union’s lunar missions was Luna 24 – a sample return mission in 1976.

The Luna-25 spacecraft is a small demonstration landing station for testing basic soft landing technologies in the circumpolar region and conducting contact studies of the Moon’s South Pole.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

When Luna-25 lands on the Moon, it will image the terrain with a European Space Agency (ESA) Pilot-D camera built specifically for landing. The data collected by this camera will be used to prepare for ESA’s next challenge: landing on the Moon with high-precision and avoiding hazards using European technology.

NPO Lavochkin is fully engaged in preparing Luna-25 for launch in the October-November 2021 time frame. Lobbing the craft moonward will be a Soyuz-2/1b booster with a Fregat upper stage.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Main tasks

The main tasks of Luna-25 is to develop soft landing technology; study the internal structure and exploration of natural resources, including water, in the circumpolar region of the Moon; and investigate the effects of cosmic rays and electromagnetic radiation on the lunar surface.

But there’s another set of results Russia’s reintroduction of lunar exploration:

  • Luna-Glob project seeks to confirm the technological status of Russia as a state with the capability to deliver payloads to the Moon;
  • To create a technological groundwork for the implementation of subsequent lunar missions;
  • To provide guaranteed access for Russia to the lunar surface;
  • Start exploring the moon with a new quality;
  • For the first time in the world, start researching the lunar soil in the South Pole area.

Credit: Roscosmos/Inside Outer Space screengrab

As noted by the Institute of Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI RAS), there are follow-on Russian Moon missions on the books: Luna-26 (or Luna-Resurs-Orbiter), an orbital mission to study Moon from low polar orbit. Luna-27 would be a landing mission (or Luna-Resurs-Lander), designed to study lunar regolith on-the-spot. ESA is working on a drill and a sampling device for this spacecraft.

Russia’s Luna-26 orbiter.
Credit: IKI

Once on the surface of the Moon, Luna-27 will deploy the European Prospect drill that will search for water ice and other chemicals under the surface, together with another Russian instrument. Operating at temperatures of –150 °C and drilling over one meter down, Prospect first needs to penetrate the frozen surface.

The next step after the first three missions is flying a Lunar Polar Sample Return craft (LPSR, or Luna-Grunt) to study polar samples in laboratories here on Earth. Several technological issues are to be solved, such as cryogenic delivery of the Moon’s permafrost from the poles.

A recently issued Roscosmos video (in Russian) shows the testing and preparations underway for Luna-25.

Go to:

Artwork depicts China’s Zhurong Mars rover rolling off lander.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Zhurong Mars rover is ready to roll off the Tianwen-1 lander that touched down May 15 on the Red Planet.

Meanwhile, the first images from the designated landing spot at the southern part of Utopia Planitia on Mars were released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Also issued was a video taken by a camera on the Tianwen-1 orbiter, showing the cocooned lander/rover being deployed from the orbiter for entry, descent, and landing.

Credit: CNSA

Image details

The first photograph, a black and white image, was taken by an obstacle avoidance camera installed in front of the Mars rover. The image shows that a ramp on the lander has been extended to the surface of Mars. The terrain of the rover’s forward direction is clearly visible in the image, and the horizon of Mars appears curved due to the wide-angle lens.

Credit: CNSA

A second image, in color, was taken by the navigation camera. The rover’s solar panels and antenna are seen unfolded, and the red soil and rocks on the Martian surface are clearly visible in the image.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

On patrol

“Later on, our Mars rover will carry out the mission of patrolling and exploring the Mars surface,” said Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s Mars exploration mission during a China Central Television (CCTV) interview. “The rover will come down from the lander, check its status and plan the path. Then it will conduct scientific exploration in accordance with our set goals,” Zhang said.

Launched on July 23, 2020, the Tianwen-1 mission consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

Go to these newly released videos by CCTV detailing the Tianwen-1 mission and unleashing the 6-wheeled rover at: