Archive for November, 2021

Decades of near-Earth space exploration and utilization have resulted in an increasingly congested environment. Indeed, pieces of space debris are a growing threat to space assets, human spaceflight and future access to outer space.

A just-issued report — Policy Options to Address Collision Risk from Space Debris – takes a hard look at the issue, offering recommendations to create improved response strategies.

The report comes from the International Risk Governance Center ( IRGC), a neutral interdisciplinary center based at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Credit: CORDS

Limited shared resource

Called for is a “greater and more committed political involvement at the national and international levels,” deemed as instrumental to reducing collision risk from space debris and enabling sustainable space activities. Furthermore, there’s need to recognize that near-Earth space is a limited shared resource.

The report is divided into four chapters: Risk assessment and evaluation; Technology development and implementation; Regulatory requirements and compliance; and Multilevel governance of collision risk.

To read the full report — Buchs, R. (2021)/Policy options to address collision risk from space debris/Lausanne: EPFL International Risk Governance Center – go to:

With an expected launch and return from the ISS in early Summer 2022, Dianna Rae Jewelry is flying a limited number of natural and lab-grown diamonds.

Available for sale to the public, each diamond will be numbered, laser engraved and documented by the American Gem Society Laboratory.

The Diamonds in Space Program are in a pre-sell mode, with the gems that are heading to space made available as loose gems or set into a mounting of your choice.

Cupola and shooting stars

Dianna Rae Jewelry, located in Lafayette Louisiana, is also offering a new line of space jewelry, taking design inspiration from the Space Station cupola, shooting stars and angels.

Prices range from $745 up to $2,000,000. “Natural colored diamonds are also being offered for those who want the rarest diamonds of all, from Earth or space,” according to a press statement. “Every step of the way, you will get to track your diamond’s 10 million mile journey as it makes its way to orbit and back to Earth.”

Credit: Dianna Rae Jewelry


What happens if there is a catastrophic incident?

“We are talking about a rocket explosion, a re-entry failure, something big that makes it impossible to deliver your diamond to you. You will be entitled to a full refund of your purchase price. We have flight insurance on the entire cargo. Typically you would see a refund in 60-90 days pending insurance settlements,” states a company FAQ.


For more information on the Diamonds in Space Program, go to:

Also go to this informative video at:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona


A pit crater, created by an empty lava tube, has been studied in Mars’ Arsia Mons region.

Using imagery captured in August 2020 by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers appraise the pit at being about 150 feet (50 meters) across.

On patrol – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


That measurement suggests it’s likely that the underground tube is also at least this big – much bigger than similar caves on Earth.

The use of lava tubes on Mars as emergency shelters and storage has been advanced in the past. Lava tubes are formed from fast moving lava which later cools and forms roomy caves that might serve various functions for future human expeditions to the Red Planet.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts training in terrestrial lava tubes located on Spain’s Canary Island of Lanzarote.
Credit: L. Ricci/ESA


Detailed measurements

Meanwhile, data gleaned by a Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater has found a reduction in radiation when the rover was parked next to a butte on the Red Planet.

From B. Ehresmann, D. M. Hassler, et al. “Natural Radiation Shielding on Mars Measured With the MSL/RAD Instrument”

Designed by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, RAD has been yielding detailed measurements of the radiation environment on the surface of Mars since Curiosity landed in August 2012.

“We will send astronauts to Mars, and when we do, protecting them from the environment is part of NASA’s responsibility,” said Don Hassler, RAD principal investigator and science program director at SwRI, as reported by the Boulder Daily Camera.

Hassler adds that fully understanding the radiation profile of Mars also raises the potential of fabricating astronaut shelters in lava tubes.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

Radiation Assessment Detector is also known as RAD.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI























For more information on the new RAD findings, go to “Natural Radiation Shielding on Mars Measured With the MSL/RAD Instrument” led by B. Ehresmann at:

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater has just begun Sol 3311 operations.

Newly issued imagery shows the current scenery viewed by the robot:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3309, November 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image acquired on Sol 3309, November 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3309, November 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3309, November 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3309, November 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3309, November 26, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Starship and Super Heavy Stack.
Credit: SpaceX


If you are hungry for a fundamental change in the paradigm for NASA science, technology development and testing, along with the human exploration of space, look no further than the SpaceX Starship system.

That’s a leading conclusion from a paper jointly authored by NASA, university and industry researchers, led by Jennifer Heldmann, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

“Starships flown to the Moon and Mars will provide opportunities to deliver massive cargos and large numbers of people to enable sustained and self-reliant human off-world presence,” the paper suggests, submitted to the National Academies’ next Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.

Credit: SpaceX

Impending Starship flights

The return of many tons of samples from the Moon and Mars to Earth for scientific analysis will be enabled via the Starship system. The types of payloads conjured up by NASA divisions “could be much different than those designed for traditional NASA flight opportunities with their stringent mass and volume constraints,” the paper explains.

SpaceX Starship human lander design to carry NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program.
Credit: SpaceX

Also, the paper points out that, in order to take advantage of the impending Starship flights to the surface of the Moon and Mars, “NASA will need to develop a new funding program consistent with the mission timelines for rapid flights planned by SpaceX.”

Prepare payloads now

Heldmann and nearly 25 other specialists add: “To be most effective, planning should begin immediately to prepare for payloads on the first uncrewed Starship flights, likely first to the Moon and then for Mars.”

Starships locked and loaded on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

Starship missions to the lunar surface can be an “important stepping stone for reaching Mars” both technically and programmatically, the paper points out. Indeed, Earth’s Moon can serve as a testbed and demonstration platform for utilizing on-the-spot resource technologies as well as for Starship operations.






To view the entire paper – “Accelerating Martian and Lunar Science through SpaceX Starship Missions” – go to:

Artist concept of the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft.
Credit: CMSE

China’s resupply spacecraft – the Tianzhou series – will open its cargo hatches in the future and carry investigations by government organizations, research institutions, educational institutions, enterprises and industry groups.

The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced that post-completion of the country’s space station — headed for the end of 2022 — two Tianzhou spacecraft are to be launched on average each year.

CMSA explained that any project group pushing the sci-tech frontier, meets the requirement of national development strategy and sci-tech development trend, or is forward-looking, innovative or has industrial development value can submit an application on or before January 15, 2022.

Rollout of Long March-7 Y4 and the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Application experiments

This is the first time for China’s manned space mission to open its cargo craft payloads to the public, said the CMSA.

Earlier, the CMSA cooperated with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs on the application of China’s space station to provide opportunities to carry out application experiments. There have been nine projects from 17 countries selected, which are in the fields of space life science and biotechnology, space astronomy, and microgravity fluids and combustion.

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



Tianzhou-3 and Tianzhou-2 were launched on September 20 and May 29 respectively this year. Each transported supplies and materials for the construction of China’s orbiting outpost.

China’s Wang Yaping onboard in-construction Tiangong space station.
Credit: CMSA/Zhai Zhigang/Ye Guangfu


The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) has released imagery and videos showcasing life onboard the country’s in-construction Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) space station.

Credit: CMSA/Zhai Zhigang/Ye Guangfu

China launched the Shenzhou-13 piloted spaceship on October 16 by a Long March 2F carrier rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite


Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert.

Credit: CMSA/Zhai Zhigang/Ye Guangfu

The booster hurled three astronauts — Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu – to the orbiting facility to undertake a six-month mission – the nation’s longest crewed space mission so far.













Videos are available here:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 3306, November 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3307 duties.

“As we head into a long weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., Curiosity will take advantage of some extra time at the Zechstein drill location to conduct even more science,” reports Lauren Edgar, a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The rover team has been busy the past two days planning 6 sols (plus a soliday) on Mars, which will give the robot plenty of work to do while the team takes a break from planning later this week.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Edgar adds that, while most of the research team would shy away from leftovers from three years ago, Curiosity is diving into a sample from the “Rock Hall” drill target which the Mars machinery been carrying since its time on Vera Rubin ridge (Sol 2261).

Power hungry

It turns out that the multisol plans this week are a great opportunity to do some power hungry Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite and Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) analyses.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“SAM will conduct an experiment with the “Rock Hall” sample to test how organics are preserved in the presence of mixed iron oxides and clays on Mars,” Edgar notes.

Speaking of leftovers, CheMin will take advantage of the “Zechstein” sample (only from three weeks ago…) which hasn’t been dumped yet.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We will analyze it again to measure if it changed while it sat in the warmer temperatures within CheMin,” Edgar says.

Generous helpings

The rest of the plan includes generous helpings of Mastcam and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to document the nearby stratigraphy and analyze the composition of bedrock, diagenetic features, and float blocks that have tumbled down from higher up on these slopes.


“In addition to all of the geology observations, Curiosity will also be busy with a lot of environmental monitoring to assess the dust content in the atmosphere and search for dust devils and clouds,” Edgar points out.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bonus science

In an earlier report, Kristen Bennett, a planetary geologist also at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, notes that a recent plan did not fully execute over last weekend, so Curiosity remains at the Zechstein drill location.

“There are always more observations to take, so this extra time at Zechstein means bonus science. Our current location has great views of the pediment and several rocks that look like they tumbled down from either the pediment capping unit (known as the Stimson formation) or the layer that is directly beneath the Stimson,” Bennett says.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rock targets

“We already obtained observations of a few of these rocks, but with the extra time the team decided to target more of these blocks to see if they are similar or different than the previous targets,” Bennett adds.

“Cairngorm Stone” is a dark rock thought to be from the Stimson formation that was documented with a ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) observation and a Mastcam stereo mosaic in a recent plan.

The “Carmyllie” target is a block that may be from the base of the pediment and it was documented with a Mastcam mosaic, Bennett reports. Other observations include ChemCam LIBS targets at “Hessilhead” on bedrock that appears to have been diagenetically altered, and at “Cullaloe” on more standard bedrock.  Diagenesis is the process that describes physical and chemical changes in sediments.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3306, November 23, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The primary activity in a Sols 3306-3308 plan was the first part of the SAM derivatization experiment of the Rock Hall sample.

“This sample has been in a doggy bag for 3 years, so it will be exciting to learn what it can tell us about the Vera Rubin ridge where it was taken,” Bennett explains. “Data from this experiment will be used to better understand organic preservation in the presence of mixed iron oxides and clays.”

In-orbit explosions can be related to the mixing of residual fuel that remain in tanks or fuel lines once a rocket stage or satellite is discarded in Earth orbit. The resulting explosion can destroy the object and spread its mass across numerous fragments with a wide spectrum of masses and imparted speeds.
Credit: ESA

What to do about orbital debris is now a day-to-day topic of conversation and concern. Lots of “debris cleaning” ideas are being literally floated. However, at the end of the day, is it all too little too late?

Then there’s the Kessler syndrome of debris making debris by on-orbit slamming between space leftovers that is already taking place.

Break-ups in Earth orbit of spacecraft have been recorded since 1961. Most were explosions of satellites and upper stages rather that accidental and intentional collisions.
Credit: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Was the result from the recent Russian anti-satellite (ASAT) test the scenario, the alarming wake-up call that serves as a tipping point to get everyone onboard to deal with space waste? contacted leading experts to weigh in on the worrisome situation of orbital debris.

Go my new story:

“Space debris: More storm clouds ahead in orbit, experts say – The problem isn’t going away anytime soon” at:

Upper left to right: Lane Bess, Cameron Bess, Evan Dick
Lower left to right: Dylan Taylor, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan

The next space tourism flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship has been detailed.

This 19th mission, set for liftoff on December 9, will be the first to carry a full manifest of six astronauts to space – two honorary guests and four paying customers.

Guests include Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, who was the first American to fly to space.

The four customers include space industry executive and philanthropist Dylan Taylor, investor Evan Dick, Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess, and Cameron Bess.

Lane and Cameron Bess will become the first parent-child pair to fly in space. 

Credit: Blue Origin

Karman line

“I am super excited to share with you that I will be going to space on NS-19 and becoming the 600th human to cross the Karman line,” said space traveler Dylan Taylor in an email.

Taylor has posted Part 1 of his adventure, explaining his “Journey to the Dream,” writing: “On December 9th, 2021, myself and a crew of five other commercial astronauts, will launch to low Earth orbit aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. It’s an experience that will mark another historic day as Blue Origin launches its third human-crewed rocket into space. Of course, it will also become a deeply personal milestone for me, and truly a dream come true.”

Credit: Dylan Taylor









To keep posted on Taylor’s march into space, go to:

Live launch coverage begins on at T-90 minutes. Liftoff is currently targeted for 9:00 am CST / 15:00 UTC from Launch Site One in West Texas. To watch the launch, go to: