Archive for January, 2022

The targeted landing zone for Ingenuity’s Flight 19 can be seen in this Return-To-Earth (RTE) camera image from Flight 9. The targeted landing spot is in the center of the image, just below the rover tracks.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Ingenuity rotorcraft is slated to take place no earlier than today, Friday, January 7.

Martin Cacan, Ingenuity Pilot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reports the scout vehicle will fly out of the South Séítah basin, across the dividing ridge, and up onto the main plateau.

The precise landing target for Flight 19 is near the landing site of Flight 8.


Fault protection parameters

“While short, the flight has a challenging start due to featureless sandy terrain that the helicopter currently sits on,” Cacan explains. “Initially chosen for the lack of rocks to land safely, the area is actually so devoid of rock that warnings were reported during Flight 18 landing due to insufficient features to track in the vision navigation. As a result, fault protection parameters will be updated to mitigate the risk of a premature landing mid-ascent.”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This 19th flight is set to last about 100 seconds at a groundspeed of 2.2 mph (1 meter per second) and altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) while taking 9 new, high-resolution Return-To-Earth (RTE) images.

“The final act of the flight is to turn nearly 180 degrees to flip the RTE camera to a forward-facing orientation for future flights toward the river delta,” Cacan adds.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China has tested a key step in completing its space station by the end of this year.

A mechanical arm of China’s Tianhe core module shifted the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft, then re-docked and locked the hardware to the core cabin.

The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said early Thursday morning that the experiment will be applied in the subsequent assembly and construction of the space station in orbit.

The process took about 47 minutes and was the first time that China has used the space station robotic arm to operate a large spacecraft in orbit for a “transposition” test. It is the first such maneuver of the robotic arm that measures 33-feet (10-meters) long and that’s able to lift objects weighing up to 20 tons.

Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Breakthrough technology

After being unlocked and separated from the Tianhe core module, the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was dragged by the mechanical arm, taking the sphere center of the core module’s node cabin as the center of the circle for plane transposition.

Then, a reverse operation was performed until the cargo spacecraft re-docked and locked with the core cabin, reports China Central Television (CCTV). The robotic arm is installed on the Tianhe core module.

The precursor evaluation will be utilized when China launches two lab modules – the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules — to the station construction site later this year.

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

“If transposition fails or is unavailable, the whole scale will probably be limited. This is a technology in which we must make breakthrough in the course of building the entire space station,” Shi Jixin, deputy chief designer of the space station at the Fifth Academy under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) told CCTV. “The entire space station can be built on schedule only when we make the technological breakthrough,” Shi said.

First, the robotic arm crawled to its berth port near the node cabin of the core module two days ahead of schedule in preparation for the transposition test. After that, the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was grabbed by the robotic arm.

“I use a robotic arm to push the cargo spacecraft to unlock, and then reverse it and make it return to re-dock, and finally complete the lock,” said Shi.

Trial testing

Shi said that during the transposition test, one end of the robotic arm was connected to the core module and the other end to the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft, which is unstable and might cause damage to the robotic arm just like a pole carrying two elephants. Therefore, technical researchers have carried out a dedicated design for the transposition test.

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

“First, I set it upright, and then reverse it at a 90-degree angle, so that the windward side is the smallest and the operation in orbit has a minimal aerodynamic disturbance. It stands up like a pendulum, and the module is actually gradient-stable, which means that no matter which way I flip it, it will stay on its vertical axis,” Shi told CCTV.

Xu Xiaoping, deputy chief designer of the cargo spacecraft system of the Fifth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) added: “Before carrying out the test in space, we had conducted trial tests on the ground to simulate the space test.”

Xu noted that he mechanical arm of the space station has assisted astronauts in four extravehicular activities. The test conducted Thursday was a test of the mechanical arm’s capability of transposition of the cargo spacecraft.

Large load

“The mechanical arm has never carried such a large load. In the past, an astronaut out of the spacecraft plus the space suit carried by a mechanical arm usually weighed about 300 kilograms. This time the load weighs nearly nine tons. Such a heavy load is also a test to the mechanical arm,” said Shi.

Shi said that the space station system is in good condition, and the maneuver will also prepare Tianhe to dock the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“It is a joint validation of multiple systems,” Shi explained. “First, in the process of docking, the speed of the mechanical arm in fact is not high enough. Thus, the GNC [guidance, navigation and control] subsystem is needed to accelerate the speed, so that docking could be successfully completed. After docking, the cargo spacecraft needs to be re-docked and captured, and then the mechanical arm will withdraw after the locking [is] completed. Therefore, multiple systems involved in this process will be verified in the test.”

Two modes

“Astronauts control the cargo spacecraft in the core module, and carry out manual remote operation to conduct withdrawal and docking tests. At present, there are two modes of cargo spaceship rendezvous and docking. The automatic rendezvous and docking would be carried out if everything goes well. If any abnormality occurs, we also have the backup means of manual remote operation. So this operation in fact is mainly for the in-orbit verification of the backup means,” said Yang Sheng, general chief of the cargo-freighter system, Fifth Academy of CASC.

After completing all missions, Tianzhou-2 will separate from the space station core module, taking away stored waste and human excrement before eventually departing from orbit and burning up upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This is also one of the key technologies of the space station construction.

Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Depending on its overall consumption and lifespan, Tianzhou-2 will choose the proper time to separate from the space station core module and burn up the waste upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. So, Tianzhou-2 is entrusted with the most and hardest tasks, and thus will stay relatively longer in orbit,” said Yang.

China sent the cargo craft Tianzhou-2 into space on May 29 last year from the southern island province of Hainan, to deliver life support supplies for astronauts, spacesuits for extra-vehicular activities, and space-science equipment among other supplies, and also to replenish Tianhe’s propellant.

On September 18 of last year, the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft separated from the rear docking port of Tianhe and docked with its front docking port.

The space station core module Tianhe was launched on April 29, 2021.

Shenzhou-13 crew members.
Credit: CNS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Busy year

Upon its completion at the end of this year, Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) will consist of three main components; a core module attached to two space labs, and will have a combined weight of nearly 70 tons.

China’s station is scheduled to operate for 15 years in a low-Earth orbit about 250-miles (400-kilometers) above the planet.

Six launches this year involve Shenzhou-14 and Shenzhou-15 crewed missions to the Tiangong orbiting outpost, the Tianzhou-4 and 5 robotic cargo spaceships and the two large space labs that will be docked to the facility.

China Daily reports that the first of the six to be launched will be Tianzhou-4, which will be followed by the Shenzhou-14 piloted spacecraft. Then the two space labs — Wentian (Quest for the Heavens) and Mengtian (Dreaming of the Heavens) — will be launched to complete the station. The fifth launch will be Tianzhou-5 and the final will be the Shenzhou-15 crew.

To watch newly released videos of this testing phase of China’s space station construction and life onboard the facility, go to:


An alliance of experts in space, sports and the entertainment industry are designing and developing original games exclusively for zero or micro-gravity playing fields.

The group has already singled out a number of prospective game concepts, from guiding a magnetic ball through hoops in space to space dodge ball between opposing teams, as well as racing the clock to tie an increasingly-complicated series of knots while tethered to a teammate.

Visionary artist, Pat Rawlings, sees the moon’s one sixth gravity as an excellent environment for athletic competitions that are hampered by Earth’s stifling and ever-tugging gravity.
Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

Watch this space! The International Space Station has prompted an array of “sporting ideas” for fun and relaxation.
Credit: NASA




















For more information, go to my new story — “Let the space games begin! Ideas for off-Earth sports move to center court – Space dodge ball would be pretty fun,” at

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3345. Distance driven 16.71 miles/26.89 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater has just entered Sol 3348.

Curiosity has entered a new mapping quadrant, Roraima, viewing flat-topped hills and some steep slopes.

“As we head southward, we will likely be parking near some of these tall hills and cliffs in order to get close-up images,” reports Ashley Stroupe, a mission operations engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Parking near such tall terrain can sometimes block our view of the orbiters if they are low in the sky, impacting the amount of data we may receive,” Stroupe adds. “We saw this kind of an effect when we parked near the tall steep cliff of Maria Gordon notch, where there was a significant reduction of data on one of our communication passes with the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). We will take this into account to make sure we will still get down the data we need for planning.”

Looking back, Curiosity can see all the way to the Torridon quadrant and see Mars’ “Scottish highlands” with the attached beautiful view of the Maria Gordon notch; you can also see the rim of Gale crater in the distance.
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera on Sol 3345.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.



A recent plan had the robot perform a “touch-and-go” which includes some contact science, targeted science, and a drive.

“Our contact science target, “Verde,” is a small piece of bedrock with nodules in it, similar to many of the other rocks we have investigated recently,” Stroupe points out. “The science team will be able to compare its composition with those prior targets to continue to build up a picture of the changing geology and chemistry preserved in the region. The rover planners will then leave the arm stowed again in preparation for driving and to leave a clear view of the target for the cameras.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The targeted science in the plan also investigates the nodules by looking at “Maurak,” another nearby target, with Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and its Mastcam.

Distant butte

ChemCam was also to take Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) images of a distant butte named “Mirador,” both its top and its face, which has an interesting and significant textural transition, Stroupe points out.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Once ready to drive away, Curiosity will head nearly 50 feet (roughly 15 meters) southward.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Due to some significant rocks and the uphill climb ahead of us, this is only as far as the rover planners can see. Even if that distance, the rover is going to need to wind around to skirt some more significant rocks so that we don’t add damage to the wheels,” Stroupe reports. “The drive should leave us parked where we have a better view of the road ahead, as well as leave bedrock within the rover’s workspace for the next plan.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3347, January 5, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Engineering maintenance

After the drive, Curiosity will do some evening environmental observations, Navcam suprahorizon and zenith movies, to look at the atmosphere. Overnight, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite will be doing an engineering maintenance activity to check out the optics on the tunable laser spectrometer (TLS).

On the second sol of the plan, Sol 3348, after the drive, Curiosity will do some untargeted science using AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) – a software suite that permits the rover to autonomously detect and prioritize targets.

Also on tap is a long Navcam dust devil movie, Stroupe concludes.

Just-issued images show NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter observations on Sol 292, acquired on December 15, 2021.

This was the date of Ingenuity’s 18th flight. Imagery from the aerial machine was taken using its high-resolution color camera.

This camera is mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed approximately 22 degrees below the horizon.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Solar System Exploration  illustration.
Credit: NASA/Jenny Mottar


50 Years of Solar System Exploration: Historical Perspectives has been issued by NASA Office of Communications/NASA History Division.

Divided into 12 chapters, this free volume is expertly edited by Linda Billings, a consultant to NASA’s Astrobiology Program and Planetary Defense Coordination Office in the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

“What  readers will find in this volume is a collection of interesting stories about money, politics, human resources, commitment, competition and cooperation, and the ‘faster, better, cheaper’ era of solar system exploration,” explains Billings.

The volume features a diverse array of scholars that address the science, technology, policy, and politics of planetary exploration. This volume offers a collection of in-depth studies of important projects, decisions, and milestones of this era.

This volume is based on a symposium — “Solar System Exploration @ 50” — held in Washington, D.C. on October 25-26, 2012. The purpose of this symposium was to consider, over the more-than-50-year history of the Space Age, what we have learned about the other bodies of the solar system and the processes by which we have gained new knowledge.

The symposium commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first successful planetary mission, Mariner 2 sent to Venus in 1962, organized by the NASA History Program Office, the Division of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For information on accessing this free publication, go to:

NASA webcast the entire symposium, archived here:

Pioneering Inspiration4 mission crew member Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and pediatric cancer survivor, circuited Earth for nearly three days in September 2021. (Image credit: Inspiration4/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)



A new study sponsored by NASA investigates the feasibility of sending people with disabilities safely into space and returning them back to Earth. 

The appraisal — Parastronaut Feasibility Foundational Research Study — has made a number of recommendations, including revising medical standards for astronaut selection. Also, the study recommends utilizing parabolic flights to demonstrate parastronaut proof-of-principle.

In 2007, wheelchair-bound theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking floated freely during a zero-gravity airplane flight. Hawking said of the experience: “For me, this was true freedom. People who know me well say that my smile was the biggest they’d ever seen. I was Superman for those few minutes.” (Image credit: Steve Boxall/ZERO-G Corporation via AstroAccess)

“Parastronauts” is defined in the new study as individuals with certain physical disabilities, such as lower leg deficiencies, short stature, leg length differences, among other physical impairments. The report’s intent is to make progress toward increased inclusion for human spaceflight.

For more information, go to my newly posted story — Equal access to space: New study investigates how to get more ‘parastronauts’ aloft – The report may lay the groundwork for more inclusive human spaceflight in the future – at:

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


Caught on Camera!

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

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) published on Saturday a set of images taken by a free-floating camera dispatched from the country’s Tianwen-1 Mars circling spacecraft, including the first full photo of the mission orbiter.

According to the CNSA, in-orbit photos were taken by a detachable sensor equipped with two wide-angle lenses on the outer wall of the probe, under control from Earth.

Also released – a sweeping panorama taken by China’s Zhurong Mars rover.

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

The Tianwen-1 orbiter was captured in orbit around Mars by a camera released from the orbiter.

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

The on-the-surface panorama is composed from three images recently obtained by the Zhurong rover using the Navigation and Terrain Camera (NaTeCam).

The Tianwen-1 mission was launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on July 23, 2020. The spacecraft entered Martian orbit in February 2021. In May 2021, after release of a lander from the orbiter, the Zhurong rover drove onto the Martian surface from its landing platform.

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





















For video detailing the images, go to: