Archive for May, 2021

Credit: Weibo wlr2678

 

China is ready to take the Mars plunge. The country’s Tianwen-1 orbiter is set to dispatch the Zhurong rover for a fiery entry, descent and landing on the Red Planet – a deployment window that opens May 15 and stretches to May 19, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The targeted touchdown area is a large plain on Mars known as Utopia Planitia.

Plowing through the thin Martian atmosphere, the lander will enter a hovering stage several hundred feet above the surface as onboard sensors, including a camera system, search for a safe touchdown zone.

Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

Ancient fire god

Once down on Mars, the landing craft is to send out the nearly 530 pound (240 kilograms) Zhurong rover. It is named after an ancient fire god of Chinese mythology, built to wheel across the planet for at least 3 Martian months, roughly 92 days on Earth.

The Tianwen-1 mission is China’s first attempt at soft landing on Mars, aimed at achieving “orbiting, landing and roving” all in one mission. If successful, China’s lander/rover would join currently operating NASA Mars machinery, the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Landing site

Tianwen-1 was launched on July 23, 2020 and entered Mars orbit on February 10, 2021. The landing window at Utopia Planitia opens from early morning May 15 until May 19, Beijing time.

The Tianwen-1 landing site region, in Utopia Planitia, is in an “extremely interesting area” and complements previous exploration of the margins of the northern lowlands at the NASA Viking-1 and NASA Pathfinder sites, explains James Head, of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“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 told Inside Outer Space.

This rocky panoramic scene is the second picture of the Martian surface that was taken by Viking Lander 2 shortly after touchdown on Sept. 3, 1976.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Astrobiological interest

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.

“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 explained.

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

In September 1976, NASA’s Viking-2 landed in the Utopia basin, in the northern part of the basin, near Mie Crater. At that location, Head noted that the U.S. Mars stationary lander found a wide diversity of features and rocks, including ice contraction crack polygons, frosts and drifts of snow. 

“These results bode very well for the high scientific interest of the potential types of terrains that the Tianwen-1 mission will explore,” Head said. Most importantly, China will be able to go “over the horizon,” a very frustrating limitation of the stationary Viking-2 mission, he said.

Artist’s view of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in space, up and operating tackling a full agenda of space science conquests.
Credit: Northrop Grumman

 

The U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) issued today a new report:

“James Webb Space Telescope: Project Nearing Completion, but Work to Resolve Challenges Continues”

The GAO report notes that the cost of the telescope has nearly doubled—to $9.7 billion—since 2009. Its launch, now planned for October 2021, has been delayed over 7 years – and may be delayed again due to less than fully nominal separation of the fairing on two recent Ariane 5 launches, SpaceNews reports. Europe’s Ariane 5 is the booster that will hurl the telescope into space.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in the clean room at Northrop Grumman, Redondo Beach, California.
Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

Schedule reserves

“NASA is working to complete the telescope. Activities like strengthening the telescope’s sunshield took longer than expected, cutting into the project’s schedule reserves, i.e., the extra time NASA set aside to account for unforeseen problems. As a result, NASA has less reserve than planned to complete remaining activities,” the GAO report explains.

Credit: GAO/NASA

The James Web Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, deployable telescope – one of NASA’s most complex projects and top priorities. It is the scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is intended to help scientists better understand how galaxies and the universe have evolved and study planets in other solar systems.

Problems discovered during integration and testing caused multiple delays, the GAO report explains, that led NASA to replan the project in June 2018.

To read the newly issued GAO report, go to:

https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-21-406.pdf

A “highlights” fact sheet can be found here at:

https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-21-406-highlights.pdf

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3116, March 12, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale crater is now performing Sol 3117 tasks.

Kristen Bennett, a planetary geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, reports that the robot is finishing up at a stop designed to investigate “diagenetic” features. Those are features that formed after the sediment first was deposited—such as veins and color variations within the bedrock.

A newly scripted plan has the rover full of remote science and contact science before the Mars machinery drives away to continue traveling towards the sulfate unit.

Diagenetic features are visible in this image taken by the Curiosity’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) on Sol 3115.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LAN

White vein

“Veins are abundant in this workspace,” Bennett explains, and the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) was set to target a bright white vein near the rover that is called “Busserolles.”

The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument has a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) target on “Quinsac,” which APXS and MAHLI investigated earlier this week.

“ChemCam will also target the feature ‘Razac de Saussignac’ as a passive observation, Bennett adds. “Razac de Saussignac is a fresh rock face with interesting color variations that was broken by the wheel when Curiosity drove over it on the previous drive.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 3116, March 12, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Stability of rocks

The plan now in action also includes a Mastcam mosaic of “Belves” to investigate the stability of the rocks in the Mt. Mercou cliff face and a ChemCam long distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) to target potential bedding within the sulfate unit.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3116, March 12, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After the drive, the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), Bennett concludes, will take a twilight image and there will be several atmospheric observations including a dust devil survey and a cloud observation.

 

 

As always, dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Credit: Roscosmos

Russian space technicians are wrapping up testing of the long-delayed Nauka (Science) research module for the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

According to Roscosmos, ground pre-launch processing of Nauka is taking place at the assembly and testing facility of Site 254 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

This testing will be followed by the installation of the radiator panels and filling of the thermal control system circuits, as well as the final installation of the European robotic arm (ERA).

Credit: Roscosmos

Also slated is installation of solar array panels, stowage of deliverable cargos and weight check of the module, assembly of the ascent unit, loading the module tanks with propellant components, and final assembly of the integrated launch vehicle.

Cherry-picker crane

The European robotic arm will work with the new Russian airlock, to transfer small payloads directly from inside to outside the International Space Station. This will reduce the set-up time for astronauts on a spacewalk and allow ERA to work alongside astronauts.

Artist’s impression of Europe’s robotic arm, ERA.
Credit: ESA/D.Ducros

Another task for ERA is to transport astronauts like a cherry-picker crane to a position where they can work on the exterior of the ISS, or from one external location to another. This again saves time and effort during spacewalks.

The hardware is to be launched to ISS this summer,

Go to this Roscosmos Media video of Nauka testing at:

https://youtu.be/Zng21GL3RVs

Pioneering astronaut, Michael Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot.
Credits: NASA

Nearly 13,500 people have signed a petition to NASA to name the space agency’s Lunar Gateway the Collins Lunar Gateway – a legacy tribute to the late Apollo 11 astronaut, Michael Collins.

Posted on Change.org, the petition explains:

“The Lunar Gateway will be a space station in orbit around the Moon that will provide staging for all future lunar astronauts in the Artemis Program. Before they descend to the surface of the Moon, they will all pass through the Gateway.”

NASA’s Lunar Gateway.
Credit: NASA/JSC

While Apollo 11’s Michael Collins did not descend to the surface, the petition adds, he remained alone in lunar orbit for nearly 21 and a half hours while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin visited the Moon’s surface. “He watched as his fellow astronauts descended onto the surface, just as many astronauts will do from the Gateway in the future,” notes the petition.

Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974

Carry the fire

The Collins legacy should be honored by NASA and the space community. “Those who seek to follow his path will be able to honor the legacy he left by living and passing through the Collins Lunar Gateway on the way to blaze their own trails and carry the fire,” the petition concludes.

To view the petition created on April 29, go to:

https://www.change.org/p/nasa-change-the-lunar-gateway-name-to-the-collins-lunar-gateway

Credit: Nicholas Pilch/U.S. Air Force

Here on Earth, the air, land, and sea are zones of conflict, clashes and combat. There is a growing perception that next up is the ocean of space, transformed into an arena for warfare.

There is ongoing chatter regarding military use of space by various nations. The freshly established U.S. Space Force, for instance, is busily shaping how best to protect U.S. and allied interests in the domain of space, a sector that is increasingly becoming congested, contested and competitive.

Credit: India Defense Research & Development Organization

What conditions could lead to clashes in space? Is such a situation a given – or can they be short-circuited ahead of time? Could nations “slip into” off-planet muscle-flexing, quarreling and actual war-fighting in space that might ignite a fuse that sparks confrontation here on terra firma?

Space.com contacted several leading military space and security experts, asking for their opinions on the current status of the militarization of space.

Go to my new Space.com article here:

“Is war in space inevitable?” at:

https://www.space.com/is-space-war-inevitable-anti-satellite-technoloy

Credit: ISS/NASA

 

The Springer publishing group is offering an informative free video seminar on the lunar economy.

Stella Tkatchova – a project manager in the European space industry — presents the fundamentals of an emerging lunar economy, including the opportunities and challenges of in-situ resources utilization (ISRU).

Credit: Springer

The author looks into the near future of 2035 and discusses topics like habitation and research on board the Lunar Orbital Platform- Gateway station and in the Moon Village, the collaboration of space agencies with private companies setting the basis for the creation of an emerging lunar economy.

Tkatchova covers the involvement of NewSpace companies in the search for lunar resources, energy supply for habitats and rockets, a robotic space cargo infrastructure, a lunar construction industry and space tourism.

Credit: Moon Village Association/XTEND Design

NewSpace companies

The author argues that NewSpace companies will need to discover, identify and develop emerging lunar space markets and attract Customers, while space agencies will have to define the direct and indirect economic benefits from Lunar exploration to secure political, strategic and financial support. She further argues that ISRU/Lunar exploitation, lunar telecommunications and in-orbit satellite servicing are markets worth exploring and concludes that NewSpace companies will need to discover, identify and develop emerging lunar space markets and attract Customers.

This multi-part video seminar is targeted at space engineers, space economists, planers and politicians working at the vision of an emerging lunar economy.

Go to this Springer link at:

https://link.springer.com/video/10.1007/978-3-030-69134-9

 

Credit: Robert Christy/Used with permission

China’s Long March-5B big booster stage made a fiery reentry to Earth.

The U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California confirmed the rocket stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere on May 9 and fell into the Indian ocean north of the Maldives.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has issued this statement: “Coastguard Squadron is active after receiving reports of rocket debris fallen in the Maldivian waters.”

Remnants of the carrier rocket reentered the Earth’s atmosphere at 10:24 a.m. (0224 GMT) on Sunday, with most of the debris burning up, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office. After monitoring and analysis, the office said the landing area was located at longitude 72.47 degrees east, latitude 2.5 degrees north over the sea, the vast majority of debris was destroyed by the re-entry process of ablation.

Image courtesy of European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST)

Similarly, the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking group also confirmed that the rocket body reentered on 2021-05-09 at 02:32 UTC ±25 min.

 

 

 

 

For a summary of the booster’s fall to Earth, go to this Robert Christy’s Zarya.info link at:

https://www.zarya.info/Diaries/blog/tracks.php?event=CZ%205B%20Re-entry%20-%202021%20May%209

NASA statement

Meanwhile, newly sworn in NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson released the following statement Saturday regarding debris from the Chinese Long March 5B rocket:

Long March-5B Y-2 carrier rocket liftoff. Credit: CASC

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.

“It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Wang Wenbin (spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Informative videos

You may find these China Central Television (CCTV) videos of interest about the Long March-5B “one-and-half stage” rocket.

https://youtu.be/2JoD616EBss

Also, here’s another CCTV video of Wang Wenbin (spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), discussing the extremely low likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities of the Long March-5B Y2 deorbit.

https://youtu.be/r00pedENpno

Credit: CelesTrak

The folks at CelesTrak and Digital Arsenal are providing a live view of the evolving decay of China’s Long March-5B rocket body that launched the country’s Tianhe core space station module.

Using the latest data from the 18th Space Control Squadron (18 SPCS) of the U.S. Space Force, the projection shows the position of the rocket body and the corridors where that data shows it might reenter.

The colors are set to show the decaying altitude, starting at yellow below 93.2 miles (150 kilometers) and then red below 90.7 miles (146 kilometers). The current official 18 SPCS predicted reentry point is also shown.

The graphic shows how to switch to real time or where to change the projection from 3D to 2D.

Go to: https://mapshot.app/pkg/longmarch.html

China’s Long March-5 booster departs Wenchang launch site.
Credit: CASC

Debris from a Chinese carrier rocket in the coming days is very unlikely to cause damage, said Wang Wenbin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to a China Daily report.

Regarding the atmospheric reentry of the core stage of the country’s Long March5B heavy-lift booster, Wang said it is highly unlikely that the debris will cause any harm to aircraft activity or ground-based assets and personnel. “As far as I know, this type of rocket has unique designs (to make sure) that most of its parts will be burnt up during the reentry process,” he said.

Credit: Bob Christy/used with permission

Estimated window

Bob Christy at Zarya.info reports that the potential impact of China’s 18-ton CZ-5B rocket stage is causing concern.

The two recent CZ 5B stages are the most massive objects to re-enter uncontrollably since the 40 ton Salyut 7/Cosmos 1668 combination came in over South America 1991, Christy adds.

A new map is based on the most recent Trajectory Impact Prediction (TIP) message and shows the ground track during the estimated window for re-entry.

The yellow dot does not represent the impact zone, Christy told Inside Outer Space. Both Space-Track and Aerospace Corporation estimates over the past day have the rocket body most likely falling in the southern hemisphere.