Archive for March, 2022

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3427, March 28, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3428 duties.

“Unfortunately, our weekend drive stalled, so this morning we found ourselves still at Friday’s workspace,” reports Catherine O’Connell-Cooper, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

“Fortunately, it was an understood issue… and this was a good place to spend some extra time and fill our science glass with amazing data! This workspace (“Hartle Loup”) has examples of different textures, bands of “vuggy” (little holes or pits), material and smoother material.

Mastcam image taken on Sol 3419 showing different textures at “Hartle Loup.”
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Hard choices

Last Friday, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) had to make some hard choices between all the desired targets, and scientists opted to characterize some “vuggy” targets but were unable to also get the “smooth” targets.

“So, in a sense, the drive stall worked in our favor,” O’Connell-Cooper adds, allowing scientists to get three “smooth” targets. APXS and MAHLI was scheduled to investigate “Broadfell” and a brushed target “Venlaw,” whilst the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) will use Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) to target “Cleveland.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3425, March 26, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mastcam was slated to take multispectral imagery (a further tool to help understand composition, often used for brushed targets) of Venlaw and researchers were able to add a bonus multispectral image of the weekend Dust Removal Tool (DRT) target (“Donkey Trail”) which researchers didn’t have time for on Friday.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image taken on Sol 3427, March 28, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Overlapping images

MAHLI took the opportunity to slip in a six image mosaic (series of overlapping images) looking at the interaction between the two textures. ChemCam will also examine “Bowder Stone,” a bedrock target that was broken up by the rover’s wheels last week, O’Connell-Cooper reports.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 3427, March 28, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Mastcam has, as always, a very busy plan,” O’Connell-Cooper notes. It will document the ChemCam targets from the scripted plan, recover an image from the weekend on “Burn Mouth” which didn’t complete and get some more images of the pediment landscape.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) Sol 3426 March 27, 2022
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL



Drive path

“Mastcam will also aid the environmental group in monitoring dust concentrations in the air, obtaining a crater rim extinction observation and a basic ‘tau’ measurement, both of which are used to determine how much dust is the atmosphere,” O’Connell-Cooper points out.

“Once we finish getting all this lovely bonus science at Hartle Loup, we will continue on our way, following the same drive path as we had planned to take over the weekend,” says O’Connell-Cooper.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3424, March 25, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Vuggy rock

In an earlier report, Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, pointed out that vuggy rock in the “Hartle Loup” outcrop seemed particularly unique relative to the other rocks on the Greenheugh Pediment that scientists have seen to-date.

In addition to the contact science, Curiosity continued the effort to image as much of the Greenheugh Pediment and Gediz Vallis Ridge as possible from the rover’s location with Mastcam and the ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI).

“We will likely never have this perspective on this portion of those features, so we’re being very thorough with our imaging,” Guzewich adds.

Credit: ESA/Mlabspace

The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover is confirmed technically ready for launch, and a fast-track study is under way to determine options for bringing the mission to Mars.

The ESA-led Rosalind Franklin rover’s 2022 launch window is no longer possible following the suspension of cooperation with Roscosmos due to Russia’s war with Ukraine.

ExoMars 2022 mission was a joint ESA/Roscosmos project. Shown is rover ready to depart Russia-provided landing module and science landing platform.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Master Image Programmes

In an ESA statement, “due to the suspension of the 2022 launch, the Exomars elements are now being prepared for storage at a Thales Alenia Space site in Italy awaiting further instruction.”

Industrial study

A fast-track industrial study will now start to better define the available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission in a future launch.

“I hope that our Member States will decide that this is not the end of ExoMars, but rather a rebirth of the mission, perhaps serving as a trigger to develop more European autonomy,” adds David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA.

Launch of the ExoMars 2022 mission had been slated for September 20 (the opening of a 12-day launch window); lifting off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan atop a Proton booster.

That mission involved the ESA-led rover and a Roscosmos-led surface landing/science platform named “Kazachok.”

Credit: Roscosmos

Russian and Chinese scientists have blueprinted the concept of an astrophysical telescope to be deployed at a future International Lunar Scientific Station (ILRS).

The equipment is planned for Moon landing as part of the ILRS-5 mission in 2035.

The concepts were developed by specialists from the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the National Observatory of China, the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Kavli Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University.

Credit: Shugarov, A.S., et al./Vestnik

Three approaches

The advantages of an astrophysical telescope on the Moon and a number of modern scientific tasks are discussed in the quarterly scientific and technical journal Vestnik, distributed by NPO Lavochkin.

Three approaches are detailed:

  • A small ultraviolet telescope with an aperture of 15-30 cm and its own guidance system;
  • A large multi-purpose telescope with an aperture of 60 cm, operating in the ultraviolet, optical and infrared ranges;
  • A multi-aperture telescope for simultaneous shooting of the sky in the ultraviolet range.

Memorandum of Understanding

The ILRS is a complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in orbit of the Moon. It is designed to conduct multidisciplinary and multi-purpose scientific research, including the exploration and use of the Moon, lunar observations, fundamental research experiments and technology testing with the possibility of long-term autonomous operation and with the prospect of a human presence on the Moon.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Russia and China on cooperation in the field of creating the ILRS was signed on March 9, 2021. The project is open to all interested countries and international partners.

Quarterly scientific and technical journal Vestnik, distributed by NPO Lavochkin.


NASA Missions to Mars: A Visual History of Our Quest to Explore the Red Planet by Piers Bizony; The Quarto Group/Motorbooks (April 2022); 198 Pages; Hardcover: $50.00

This large-format book is strikingly illustrated and offers the reader a wonderful resource in detailing NASA’s exploration of the Red Planet.

Space historian Piers Bizony has put together an extraordinary volume of humankind’s outreach to and fascination with Mars. “This book is a family-friendly, nonacademic, almost purely visual celebration of what we have achieved in terms of Martian exploration and what we might yet achieve in years to come,” the author explains.

The book is divided into four sweeping and eye-catching sections: Red Planet Visions – Aliens, empires and invasions; First Contact – Discovering Mars as it really is; Robot Explorers – Searching for life, past or present; and Human Martians – Strategies to settle a new world.

In a foreword to the book, Andrew Chaikin contributes a special essay underscoring his passion for the Red Planet; he served as an “interplanetary intern” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1976 and took part in the first successful mission to land on Mars – NASA’s Project Viking.

The reader will find mission histories, and achievements of the early rovers Sojourner, Opportunity, and Spirit, as well as excellent updates on the Curiosity and Perseverance machines, both now busily wheeling about on Mars.

This book is a treasure trove of imagery from NASA archives, including photos that document the testing phases in readying hardware for launch to the faraway world. There’s also coverage of spacecraft dispatched to Mars by other nations, such as China’s successful landing of its Zhurong rover.

The striking images of Mars from orbit and surface photos serve as prelude to the book’s final section that offers a look at future plans for human exploration and habitation of the planet.

For more information about the book, go to:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Chinese scientists accurately determined the content of chemical elements in lunar soil samples brought back to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 Moon sample return mission with nuclear technologies.

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



Moon rock and regolith brought back to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample mission suggests that the samples are a new type of lunar basalt, different from those collected during previous U.S. Apollo and former Soviet Union robotic Luna missions.

China’s Chang’e-5 probe returned to Earth on December 17, 2020, parachuting back a total of around 1.73 kilograms of lunar samples.

Go to this informative video at:

Chang’e-5 return capsule holding lunar specimens.
Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

During an interview with the China Radio International (CRI), Russian Space Chief Dmitry Rogozin said the current situation has made it impossible for Roscosmos to continue cooperation with its European counterparts.

“In fact, Roscosmos has around 10 carrier rockets that were originally scheduled for launching European spacecrafts. But considering the ESA [European Space Agency] and the European Union’s unscrupulous stance on Russia’s special military operation and its sanctions against Roscosmos, we think it impossible to continue cooperation with them. Thus, these rockets will be used to launch spacecrafts from private companies or to meet the demands of our friends in partner countries who need our launch capability,” Rogozin said.


Rogozin said the counterparts in Europe have been excessively politicizing space cooperation in order to play up to their leaders’ “Russophobia.”

“The space cooperation between Russia and Europe no longer depends on Russia, but depends on the attitude of the European side. They should carefully analyze everything they built and destroyed with their own hands. Only after such an analysis and candid talks with Russia can cooperation be possible to resume in a certain form,” Rogozin said.

“In short, I want to say that Roscosmos is very disappointed at our European counterparts. They have been excessively politicizing [space cooperation] in order to play up to their state leaders’ Russophobia while putting the whole international space cooperation at risk,” said Rogozin.

The Western sanctions against Russia are not limited in economy, but also involve culture and other areas.

Stupid and irresponsible

Rogozin pointed out that one American organization recently renamed an event that was originally named for cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human that orbited the Earth.

Rogozin said such an attempt to erase Gagarin, the Soviet Union or Russia from the history of human spacecraft is stupid and irresponsible.

“The history of human spacecraft is written by the space explorers with their blood and sweat, not by schemers who attempt to rewrite the history. So we must be proud of our history. Gagarin not only belongs to Russia or the Soviet Union in the past, but also belongs to the whole world, which has nothing to do with politics,” Rogozin said.

BTW: There are several Yuri’s Night activities still holding onto that name, such as this Seattle Museum of Flight event:

Go to:

To view the interview, go to: 

Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intends to issue the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy project on April 29, 2022.

The previous target date was March 28, 2022.

The FAA is currently reviewing the Final PEA and completing consultation and coordination with agencies at the local, State, and Federal level.

Important note: “The completion of the environmental review will not guarantee that the FAA will issue a license to SpaceX to launch its Starship / Super Heavy vehicle. SpaceX’s license application must also meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements,” the FAA adds.

SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas.
Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX

Public review and comment

On September 17, 2021, the FAA published the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas, doing so for public review and comment.

The FAA intended to release the Final PEA on March 28, 2022. The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on April 29, 2022 “to account for further comment review and ongoing interagency consultations. A notice will be sent to individuals and organizations on the project distribution list when the Final PEA is available.”

Credit: FAA

Operator license

SpaceX proposes to conduct Starship/Super Heavy launch operations from the Boca Chica Launch Site. SpaceX must apply for and obtain an experimental permit(s) and/or a vehicle operator license from the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation to operate the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle.

The FAA’s evaluation of a permit or license application includes a review of 1) public safety issues (such as overflight of populated areas and payload contents); 2) national security or foreign policy concerns; 3) insurance requirements for the launch operator; and 4) potential environmental impact.

Petition posted

Meanwhile, a petition has been posted on by writer and space advocate Howard Bloom titled “The West Must Own Space.”

Credit: SpaceX

China plans to own space by 2035, the petition reads, “but America is still in the lead in the new space race.  If only the FAA will move faster on approval of a major launch hub in Texas.  America leads the world with the development of a gamechanger, SpaceX’s Starship, a space ship that will carry 100 passengers at a time to the Moon or Mars.” 

“The Starship could have its first orbital launch in May, IF the FAA will grant approval on the SpaceX launch facility in Boca Chica Texas. We urge the FAA to approve the SpaceX launch site ASAP.  We must stay ahead of the Chinese,” the petition states.

For additional information from the FAA on their engagement with the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy project, go to:

The petition – “The West Must Own Space” – can be found here:

Dust storm on Mars.
Credit: CNSA

China’s Mars orbiter – Tianwen-1- has taken imagery of dust storms on the Red Planet, of the country’s Zhurong rover, as well as NASA’s Perseverance rover.

Released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Thursday, the new pictures with a resolution of 0.5 meters were captured by a camera on the probe, which has been operating in orbit for 609 days.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter has monitored dust activities in the northern hemisphere of Mars since late January and sent back pictures of regional dust storms in February. The Mars mission was launched on July 23, 2020.

Photo taken by the Tianwen-1 orbiter shows NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance and blast marks from Sky Crane. Credit: CNSA

Dusty weather

Reports China’s Xinhua news agency, while the Martian northern hemisphere is entering the autumn season, during which there will be frequent dust storms, no obvious dusty weather has been observed in the Zhurong rover’s inspection area, citing the CNSA.

China on Thursday also unveiled a picture taken by the Tianwen-1 orbiter on March 7, showing NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance while imaging the Jezero Crater, about 656 feet (200 meters) southeast of the probe’s landing site.

In addition, the Zhurong rover snapped selfies on January 22 that show a layer of dust on the Mars machinery, a build-up that is in contrast to images taken shortly after it first wheeled onto the planet.

Credit: CNSA

Credit: CNSA

On a roll

Dust can reduce rovers’ power supply, but Chinese technologists have specially designed the rover’s solar wing to offset the efficiency decline caused by dust coverage. CNSA reports that the rover now has sufficient energy to continue its exploration on Mars.

The Zhurong rover has been working on the surface of Mars for 306 Martian days, traveling a total of a little over 1 mile (1,784 meters). A lander, carrying the rover, performed a successful soft-landing on Mars on May 14, 2021.


Credit via Twitter: WLR2678@TheElegant05 High-res version available at:

For video showing the newly issued Tianwen-1 imagery and photos from the Zhurong rover, go to:

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3423, March 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is performing Sol 3424 tasks.

From up close, you can admire the nature of those rocks: broken up with sharp edges, reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom.

“The eagle-eyed geologists amongst you might think they look like ventifacts.” Ventifacts are rocks, shaped by wind coming from the same direction(s) for a very long time,” Schwenzer adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3423, March 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The wind carries fine particles that cause the abrasion to shape those rocks. But, as we all know, looks can always deceive at first glance,” Schwenzer says. “So, to get behind what actually happened here, and especially why it happened in some ridges that give the gator-back impression, Curiosity is taking many more images today and of course adding some chemistry to the mix, too!”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo acquired on Sol 3423, March 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech




The next robot drive is short to an area Mars researchers have seen more rock textures, and where they hope to find out a lot more about this interesting area.

“Stand by for more images of sharp, pointy, laminated, and otherwise interesting rocks,” Schwenzer concludes.

Credit: DARPA


Fresh ways of designing and manufacturing large structures on orbit has been bolstered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Eight teams have been selected under DARPA’s Novel Orbital Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass Efficient Design (NOM4D) program.

“Current space systems are all designed, built, and tested on Earth before being launched into a stable orbit and deployed to their final operational configuration,” said Bill Carter NOM4D program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office.

Carter said that such constraints are particularly acute for large structures such as solar arrays, antennas and optical systems, where size is critical to performance.

Watch this space! Credit: ESA/Matthias Maurer

“NOM4D aims to enable a new paradigm where future structures that support DoD space systems are built off-Earth using designs optimized for the space environment, shedding launch constraints. This would enable enhanced capability, improved robustness, operation in higher orbits, and future cislunar applications,” Carter said in a DARPA statement.

Variety of challenges

The selected eight industry and university research teams are to tackle a variety of challenges focused on two areas.

For in-space materials and manufacturing, the teams are:

HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California, will be developing new die-less fabrication processes to make orbital mechanical elements and bonded structures on-orbit.

University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, will develop predictive material and correlative process models to enable on-orbit use of laser forming.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, is working to develop a high precision in-space composite forming process utilizing self-energized frontal polymerization.

Lunar regolith-derived, glass-ceramic mechanical structures for use in large-scale orbital applications.
Credit: NASA

Physical Sciences, Inc., Andover, Massachusetts, will develop continuous fabrication of regolith-derived, glass-ceramic mechanical structures for use in large-scale orbital applications.

Teledyne Scientific Company, LLC, Thousand Oaks, California, will build a comprehensive materials properties database of additive-modified regolith for use in controlled thermal expansion precision orbital structures.

For mass-efficient designs for in-space manufacturing, the teams are:

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, will explore new design approaches to mass-efficient, high- precision, stable and resilient space structures based on metamaterial and metadamping concepts.

Opterus Research and Development, Inc., Loveland, Colorado, will develop designs for extreme mass efficient large-scale structures optimized for resiliency and mobility.

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, will design novel tension and bending hybrid architectures and structural components with highly anisotropic mechanical response.

Credit: ISS/NASA

Follow-on efforts

For NOM4D, the selected teams won’t be launching raw materials into space, collecting lunar samples or building structures on orbit. Any orbital experimentation would happen in potential follow-on efforts.

DARPA’s Carter said that, “assuming current space technology trends continue, in 10-20 years we expect to see advances that will enable DoD to take full advantage of the NOM4D-developed technologies and capabilities.”

This includes robotic manipulation sufficient to enable assembly of large structures from NOM4D-manufactured components, enhanced on-orbit mobility, and routine re-fueling of on-orbit assets.

“We also anticipate several other advantages, including more affordable space access and launch costs in LEO [low-earth orbit], GEO [geosynchronous orbit], cislunar space, and beyond,” Carter said.