Archive for January, 2022

Artwork of Tianwen-1.
Credit: CNSA

 

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter has produced video selfies as it circles the Red Planet.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released the videos on Monday.

One shows a glimpse of the Martian north polar ice cap captured by the orbiter, also recording the process of the orbiter adjusting its solar panels.

Photo credit: CNSA/PEC/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

The second footage records the entire process of how the connecting bar between the orbiter body and the camera is unfolding. The selfie stick is over 5 feet (1.6 meters) long when unfolded. This ultra-light bar weighs only 0.8 kilograms and is made of shape memory composite that can unfold itself at a certain temperature.

Photo credit: CNSA/PEC/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

One-year anniversary

As noted by China Central Television (CCTV), the permanent caps at both Martian poles consist primarily of water ice. Frozen carbon dioxide accumulates as a comparatively thin layer about one meter thick on the north cap in the northern winter.

The Tianwen-1 Mars probe, as of Monday, has been working in space for 557 days. Its one-year anniversary is coming up; the craft reached Mars orbit on February 10, 2021.

Go to these videos at:

https://youtu.be/pWsAei_gFFo

https://youtu.be/LOd-ZfOFqmg

 

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

China has issued a sweeping and lengthy white paper that outlines the next five years of planned space activities.

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China published “China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective” on Friday.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Among highlights in the paper:

China will continue to improve the capacity and performance of its space transport system, and move faster to upgrade launch vehicles. It will further expand the launch vehicle family, send into space new-generation manned carrier rockets and high-thrust solid-fuel carrier rockets, and speed up the R&D of heavy-lift launch vehicles.

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

It will continue to strengthen research into key technologies for reusable space transport systems, and conduct test flights accordingly. In response to the growing need for regular launches, China will develop new rocket engines, combined cycle propulsion, and upper stage technologies to improve its capacity to enter and return from space, and make space entry and exit more efficient.

Human spaceflight

  • China will continue to implement its human spaceflight project. It plans to: launch the Wentian and Mengtian experimental modules, the Xuntian space telescope, the Shenzhou piloted spacecraft, and the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft.
  • Complete China’s space station and continue operations, build a space laboratory on board, and have astronauts on long-term assignments performing large-scale scientific experiments and maintenance.
  • Continue studies and research on the plan for a human lunar landing, develop new-generation manned spacecraft, and research key technologies to lay a foundation for exploring and developing cislunar space.

Photo taking during Chang’e-5 surface sampling.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Lunar and planetary exploration

In the next five years, China will continue with lunar and planetary exploration. It will:

  • Launch the Chang’e-6 lunar probe to collect and bring back samples from the polar regions of the Moon.
  • Launch the Chang’e-7 lunar probe to perform a precise landing in the Moon’s polar regions and a hopping detection in lunar shadowed area.
  • Complete R&D on the key technology of Chang’e-8, and work with other countries, international organizations and partners to build an international research station on the Moon.
  • Launch asteroid probes to sample near-earth asteroids and probe main-belt comets.
  • Complete key technological research on Mars sampling and return, exploration of the Jupiter system.
  • Study plans for boundary exploration of the solar system.

Artist’s view of China/Russia International Lunar Research Station to be completed by 2035. Credit: CNSA/Roscosmos

Lunar research station

The white paper also notes that China launched the international lunar research station project together with Russia, and initiated the Sino-Russian Joint Data Center for Lunar and Deep-space Exploration. It is working with Russia to coordinate Chang’e-7’s lunar polar exploration mission with Russia’s LUNA-Resource-1 orbiter mission.

Wu Yanhua, Deputy Director of the China National Space Administration
Credit: CNSA/CMG)/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Additionally, China will advance cooperation on the international lunar research station project. It welcomes international partners to participate in the research and construction of the station at any stage and level of the mission.

To read the full document (in English) — China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective — go to:

http://en.people.cn/n3/2022/0128/c90000-9950712.html

Go to this video detailing the document that includes music: “The New Order” by Aaron Kenny, along with Star Wars-like scroll of words!

Go to: https://youtu.be/6LTdQREvMBg

Credit: CNSA/CMG)/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab 

The lunar far side as imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter using its LROC Wide Angle Camera.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

 

NASA is monitoring the trajectory of a SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage, which supported the U.S. Air Force (now U.S. Space Force) launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission in 2015. That mission is a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Space Force.

After completing its flight, the second stage was put in its intended Earth-escape, heliocentric disposal orbit. On its current trajectory, the second stage is expected to impact the far side of the Moon on March 4, 2022.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA/GSFC

 

Assessing observations

“NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will not be in a position to observe the impact as it happens,” a NASA statement sent to Inside Outer Space explains.

“However, the mission team is assessing if observations can be made to any changes to the lunar environment associated with the impact and later identify the crater formed by the impact. This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity,” the NASA statement adds.

“Following the impact, the mission can use its [LRO] cameras to identify the impact site, comparing older images to images taken after the impact. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months.”

Wayward junk

It’s clear that the “Moon community” of researchers sees science in the making with the booster impact.

“First of all, huge cheers for the amateur astronomers who first noted where this wayward piece of space junk was headed,” said lunar researcher, Carle Pieters at Brown University. “We are fortunate that in March there are assets in lunar orbit that can document the effects of its demise on the lunar surface and provide detailed analyses.”

But let’s also be clear, said Pieters on the informative Lunar-L website, hosted by the University of Notre Dame: “Given the long-term interest in and activity at the Moon over the coming decades by the international community,” Pieters advised, “no space-faring entity should ever consider it ok to simply discard unwanted objects to impact the Moon without appropriate analyses of the effect. As activities on the Moon expand, such random human-initiated impacts would be irresponsible.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3368, January 26, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3369 tasks.

Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University Milton Keynes in the U.K., reports the rover tried to approach “The Prow.”

“But, well, sometimes Mars does not read the script. If you ever drove off-road (or in heavy snow, for that matter), you’ll know that the landscape always rules. There is no point trying to fight it, it will win,” Schwenzer adds.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3367, January 25, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3367, January 25, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3367, January 25, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Tricky terrain

“Our attempt to drive to the outcrop showed that the terrain is tricky, and that sand under the wheels caused slippage which meant we once again ended up with our left front wheel perched on a rock,” Schwenzer notes. “While we expected it, and factored it into the planning, approaching carefully, keeping the rover safe, hoping our six-wheel drive would give us the upper edge… it proved too difficult. Mars wins.”

To keep the robot safe, rover controllers decided to back off and look out for another place where scientists could find similar structures in the future, and onto which they can safely deploy the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Siblings in the future

“That said, we are not leaving empty handed, because our mast-mounted cameras, Mastcam and the ChemCam remote imager, will have imaged every important inch of the structure, and ChemCam will get chemistry too,” Schwenzer says. “Good bye to this section of ‘The Prow,’ but we’ll be looking out for your siblings in the future.”

Curiosity Mast Camera imagery taken on Sol 3367, January 25, 2022.

Before the rover’s move, there is a lot of science to be done.

Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) is to investigate the target ‘Sorowape’ in active mode and takes high-resolution mosaics of the targets ‘Kambaouk’ and ‘Chimanta’ near the rover and of the target ‘Mirador’ in the distance.

Mastcam will be busy doing documentation images of the ChemCam active target and do imaging on the targets ‘Toron’ and ‘East Cliffs’ as well as a multispectral investigation on ‘Kambaouk.’

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3368, January 26, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“After backing off and reaching a flat area, we will do our regular full MAHLI wheel imaging that we do to keep an eye on our hardware,” Schwenzer reports.

Clast survey image

There will be a Mastcam clast survey image and the post drive imaging from Navcam for planning on Friday.

A clast pertains to a rock or sediment composed principally of broken fragments that are derived from pre-existing rocks or minerals and that have been transported some distance from their places of origin. Also, a clast can be an individual constituent, grain, or fragment of a sediment or rock, produced by the mechanical weathering (disintegration) of a larger rock mass.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3368, January 26, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Diverse area

“Of course, we also have atmospheric monitoring in the plan and DAN [Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons] is measuring the water in the rocks beneath the rover, too.

Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) is to continue to take an image after the drive, documenting the rocks under the rover.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3368, January 26, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Curiosity will have a busy day at the office while we will very closely inspect all the images we have – and that we will get from this plan, too – to spot a sibling of ‘The Prow.’ It’s a very diverse area,” Schwenzer notes. “It’s a feast for geologists, and for anyone else who likes to admire the wonderful structures that sedimentology has to offer.”

That errant SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage due to hit the Moon in early March may provide some science potential.

The 4-ton stage will slam into the lunar landscape and officials for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) are planning to take advantage of the event.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

“The LRO project is assessing if the spacecraft will be in a position to observe the impact, similar to what we did with LCROSS and the GRAIL spacecraft,” explains Noah Petro, project scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Earlier crashes

NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was launched with the LRO to determine if water-ice exists in a permanently shadowed crater at the Moon’s south pole. As planned, LCROSS and its Centaur stage impacted the Moon on October 9, 2009.

Artist’s rendering of the LCROSS spacecraft and Centaur separation at the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

The twin spacecraft of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission impacted the Moon on December 17, 2012 marking the end of its successful endeavor to map the Moon’s gravity. The two washing-machine-sized spacecraft were named Ebb and Flow, plowing into the Moon’s North Pole.

NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) probes.
Credit: NASA

Post-impact

“The [upper stage] impact will occur on March 4, as we get closer to that date our confidence in the LRO spacecraft position at the time of impact will improve, and our understanding of the booster trajectory will change after it’s tracked in early February,” Petro explained on the informative Lunar-L website, hosted by the University of Notre Dame.

Petro added that LRO instrument teams are starting to plan what can be done to monitor changes to the Moon’s exosphere and spot the crater post-impact.

“LRO will pass over the predicted impact site on March 28 and then again roughly a month later,” Petro said. “LRO is ready to take this event and make the most of it!”

For more detailed information, go to these articles:

— “The Moon Had it Coming – After 7 years, a spent Falcon 9 rocket stage is on course to hit the Moon – The impact could offer scientists a peek at the selenology of the Moon” by Eric Berger of Ars Technica at: https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/01/an-old-falcon-9-rocket-may-strike-the-moon-within-weeks/

— SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage will slam into the moon on March 4 – The moon’s spacecraft graveyard will soon welcome another body” by Space.com‘s Mike Wall at:
https://www.space.com/spacex-falcon-9-rocket-hit-moon-march-2022

The maiden flight of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket will carry a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight payload.

This Celestis mission, known as the Enterprise Flight, will launch more than 150 flight capsules containing cremated remains (ashes), DNA samples, and messages of greetings from clients worldwide. Destination: interplanetary space.

“We’re very pleased to be fulfilling, with this mission, a promise I made to Majel Barrett Roddenberry in 1997 that one day we would fly her and husband Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry together on a deep space memorial spaceflight,” said Celestis CEO Charles Chafer.

“The mission is named Enterprise in tribute to them – and also fellow mission participant and beloved actor, James “Scotty” Doohan,” Chafer said in a statement, “as well as the many Star Trek fans who are joining them on this, the 20th Celestis Memorial Spaceflight. We look forward to launching this historic mission on a rocket named Vulcan.”

The Vulcan Centaur’s first flight – planned for later this year — will first put Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander on a trajectory for its touchdown on the Moon.

The Centaur upper stage will then continue on to deep space, entering a stable orbit around the sun, with Celestis’ Memorial Spaceflight Payload.

For more information on Celestis, go to:

https://www.celestis.com/

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3366, January 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3367 duties.

The rover has moved closer to one of the interesting, more resistant ledges that are exposed in the area (“The Prow”), as Curiosity continues her climb up Mount Sharp, reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“These resistant ledges have caught our attention because they reveal distinct textures. Being able to get close-up, high resolution imaging accompanied by compositional data, will help the science team better understand how they were formed,” Thompson adds.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

On/off the rocks

However, Curiosity ended up perched on a couple of rocks and at a tilt, such that researchers were not able to safely deploy the arm and use either its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) or Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

 

“This meant that the rover engineers had to figure out how to move Curiosity off the rocks, but keep the areas of interest within reach of the arm instruments,” Thompson explains.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Without the use of the arm in a recently scripted plan, the science team set about planning how to utilize the remaining instruments to continue characterizing this important area.

Finer grained

On tap was use of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to analyze a small area within the resistant ledge that appears to be finer grained (“La Ventana”), to see if it has the same composition as the surrounding, sand-size grains.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A Mastcam mosaic was also to acquire imagery of the La Ventana target and surrounding area.

Two other areas on the resistant ledge (“Caramambatai” and “Potaru”) will be imaged with the ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), “providing even more sedimentological and textural information. Mastcam will also image an area of nearby cliffs (“East Cliffs”) to look at shed blocks,” Thompson says.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3366, January 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New workspace

The environmental scientists planned several observations to continue monitoring changes in the atmospheric conditions. These included: Mastcam basic tau and stereo sky column observations, and Navcam 360 sky survey, large dust devil survey and line of sight observations.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3366, January 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“After our hopefully successful bump, we will execute a ChemCam AEGIS analysis to autonomously measure the chemistry of a rock target in the new workspace,” Thompson notes. AEGIS stands for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) – a software suite that permits the rover to autonomously detect and prioritize targets.

Curiosity Mars Descent Imager photo taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Also planned, the terrain beneath the rover wheels will be imaged with the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI). Standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) activities round out this plan.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3366, January 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

As the APXS strategic planner this week, Thompson is excited “to hopefully be able to place the APXS on this interesting outcrop in tomorrow’s plan and see what textures and information can be teased out with MAHLI close up imaging.”

Sand avalanches

As noted in a previous posting, it looks like the robot disturbed the exploration area around The Prowl. 

Explains Lauren Edgar, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona:

“Yes, I think it’s likely that these sand avalanches are the result of the rover disturbing and destabilizing the slope. We actually drove past this area on a previous sol and then returned on 3365, so I’d have to check to see if it was disturbed on the previous drive or this more recent one,” Edgar told Inside Outer Space. “We’ve commonly seen these dry granular flows in areas that the rover has disturbed. I guess the insights are that it’s loose sand, not cemented, and on a slope steep enough to allow for avalanching.”

Location of impact craters considered in this study (red dots): (a) the Earth: (b) the Moon: (c) Mars.
Credit: Lagain et al.

 

Researchers have analyzed more than 500 large craters on Mars finding issue with previous studies that suggested spikes in the frequency of asteroid collisions for the Earth, the Moon, as well as the Red Planet.

Western Australia’s New Curtin University scientists have confirmed the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed impact craters on Mars has been consistent over the past 600 million years.

Lead researcher for the study, Anthony Lagain, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, says the rate of impacts did not vary much at all for many millions of years.

Impact crater on Mars.
Courtesy: New Curtin University

Crater detection algorithm

Past studies had suggested that there was a spike in the timing and frequency of asteroid collisions due to the production of debris.

Crater counts on an ejecta blanket of a 40 kilometer impact crater. (a) Ejecta blanket mapping (outlined in blue) and automatically detected craters (in green). Red circles correspond to impact craters larger than 1 kilometer in diameter compiled in the manual crater database.
Credit: Lagain et al.

“When big bodies smash into each other, they break into pieces or debris, which is thought to have an effect on the creation of impact craters,” Lagain said in a university statement. “Our study shows it is unlikely that debris resulted in any changes to the formation of impact craters on planetary surfaces.”

The work and findings stem from a crater detection algorithm previously developed at Curtin, which automatically counts the visible impact craters from a high-resolution image.

Credit: ISS/NASA

Formation frequency

Co-author and leader of the team that created the algorithm, Gretchen Benedix, said the algorithm could also be adapted to work on other planetary surfaces, including the Moon.

 

“The formation of thousands of lunar craters can now be dated automatically, and their formation frequency analyzed at a higher resolution to investigate their evolution,” Benedix added.

 

The full paper – “Has the impact flux of small and large asteroids varied through time on Mars, the Earth and the Moon?” – published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, is available at:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X2100618X

Now performing Sol 3366 tasks, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover inspects “The Prow” and other sedimentary structures preserved in this region – perhaps creating shifting sands during the survey?

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3363. Distance driven 16.79 miles/27.03 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3365, January 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Right imagery collected on Sol 3364, January 22, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

China’s Long March-8 maiden flight.
Credit: CASC

 

Following a week of ocean transport, China’s new generation carrier rocket, the Long March-8 Y2, has arrived at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province.

The rocket was carried in pieces to the center by ship from Tianjin, a northern coastal municipality.

According to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the Long March-8 mission is to take off between late February and early March.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Rocket details

The Long March-8 is a two-stage medium-lift carrier rocket, with two side boosters. It is 50.3 meters long, with a takeoff weight of 356 tons. It uses liquid propellants with a 5-ton capacity for sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 kilometers, or hurling satellites weighing up to 2.8 tons to geostationary transfer orbit.

This booster is designed for both land and sea launches, and made its maiden flight on December 22, 2020 from the Wenchang coastal launch site. Long March 8 can also be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gobi Desert.

Long March-8 flyback booster.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Similar to SpaceX first stages, the Long March-8 is ultimately to make upright landings.

Backbone of launches

The Long March series is the backbone supporting China’s space launches. It has shouldered 92 percent of China’s launch missions since a Long March rocket placed the Dongfanghong-1 satellite in orbit 51 years ago. In the past half century and more, the series has sent over 700 spacecraft into space, with a success rate of 96 percent, reports China’s People’s Daily.

China carried out the most space launch missions in the world over 2021. Among the missions, 48 launches were made by the Long March series carrier rockets, all successful. It was the first time in history that the Long March series completed more than 40 launch missions within a year. The 400th launch of the series also came last year, notes the People’s Daily story.

For an earlier video dated December 22, 2020 that focuses on this booster, go to:

https://youtu.be/9RRdORRpw1Ma