Archive for September, 2022

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3608, September 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3608 duties.

“Whenever working on Mars throws up a complication, Curiosity’s team has to make a pivot,” reports Alex Innanen, an atmospheric scientist at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Curiosity has found itself in a bit of a precarious spot, and can’t do any direct contact science or drill. “The small drive in the last plan didn’t quite get us where we wanted to go, so we’re still not able to drill,” Innanen adds

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3608, September 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team quickly pivoted into other science looking at some nearby and more distant targets.

Distant marker band

On the first sol of the plan (Sol 3607-3608) the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) was slated to do Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) work on a nearby block, ‘Sophia Point,’ along with Mastcam.

Mastcam and ChemCam are also continuing to document the distant marker band.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3608, September 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Later in the sol, Innanen notes, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) was to get up close with two bedrock targets – “Esperito Santo” and the dusty “El Pao de la Fortuna.”

Dusty season

“The next sol has a ChemCam LIBS on ‘Juventina’, which we possible scuffed while driving, followed up by Mastcam. ChemCam and Mastcam are also imaging the slightly more distant ‘Kabrito Island,’ a dark, nodular block. After all this we’re going to do a small bump to try to get into a location where we can hopefully drill and do contact science, Innanen explains, finishing up the sol with a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) twilight image.

“Even through changes to the plan, the environment is always there around us to check up on. We’re still well in the dusty season in Gale,” Innanen reports, with environmental team members keeping an eye on the changing atmosphere.

Curiosity Left Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3606, September 28, 2022.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Stuff in the atmosphere

“One of these observations is called a tau, which is a measurement of optical depth, or how ‘thick’ the atmosphere is with aerosols such as dust. Another way we look at the amount of ‘stuff’ in the atmosphere is with the line of sight, which shows us how far we see towards the crater rim,” adds Innanen. “Unfortunately, our view of it can get obscured by the big hills we’ve been driving through. Luckily for us, there’s a small gap between two hills where we can see a sliver of crater rim!”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3607, September 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Argon changes

Also planned were two dust devil observations: a survey and a movie.

“The survey looks all the way around the rover to see where we might spot dust devils, which can help us decide where to point for the movie,” Innanen points out.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3607, September 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rounding out the environmental observations is a suprahorizon cloud movie.

“Even though it’s not the cloudy season,” concludes Innanen, Mars researchers still like to “keep an eye on the sky for occasional clouds drifting past.” An Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) atmospheric is also planned, to look at seasonal argon changes.

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

China completed an in-orbit key step on Friday, Beijing Time – the transposition of the in-construction space station’s Wentian lab module.

The hour-long operation was carried out between astronauts inside the Tiangong orbital facility — Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe — and ground controllers.

“After the Wentian lab module completed the transposition, the same techniques can be directly applied to Mengtian,” said Luo Chao, deputy chief designer of the Wentian lab module. “We describe the transposition as the most important part in the entire space station assembly and construction process, a hurdle that must be overcome,” he told China Central Television (CCTV).

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

“In-orbit assembly and construction are like block building. Through docking and transposition technology, the block grows bigger and bigger, and whatever shape you want is possible,” added Yuan Huiling, chief designer of the sub-system of docking and transposition.

Ready for Mengtian module

The Wentian segment was launched in late July from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province and then connected with the Tianhe core module.

Wentian is 23-tons in weight and 59-feet (17.9-meters) in length. This module is presently the largest and heaviest spacecraft China has ever built and also the world’s heaviest self-propelled spaceship in service, according to CCTV.

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

Next up is launch next month of the Mengtian module, Tiangong’s second lab component. Once Mengtian is connected to Tiangong, the station will be T-shaped and astronauts will have as much as 110 cubic meters of usable space.

Docking mechanism

Yuan also noted that completing the rendezvous and docking in space is like the collision of two large vehicles of dozens of tons. The greater the mass, the greater the kinetic energy generated. The kinetic energy can only be eliminated by the docking mechanism. The new generation of docking mechanism can quickly absorb and consume the released energy, he told CCTV.

“Capture requires high speed. If I want to catch you, I must increase the speed. But I can’t bump against you…I just wish the speed was as low as possible. The lower the speed, the lower the energy, which means it is easier to absorb. This is contradictory,” Yuan added. “Therefore, we put a lot of emphasis on the design of our docking mechanism. The docking mechanism is considered to be the most complex mechanism product in space. The sparrow may be small, fully-equipped.”

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

The transposition mission was divided into three steps: the separation of Wentian from the core module, the translation of Wentian, as well as its docking with the core module’s flank and permanent berthing here.


To ensure that the hour-long operation went smoothly, astronauts inside the Tiangong space station and ground controllers in China made sure the space station assembly was lined up perpendicular to the Earth’s surface, with the craft’s solar panels being used throughout to ensure the module remained steady.

Station complete is set for year’s end.
Credit: CNSA/CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab


After the operation, the Tiangong station is now L-shaped and will remain in that shape until docking with the Mengtian lab module in October.

If all goes according to plan, the entire space station is to be completed by year’s end.


Go to these CCTV videos of the transposition maneuver of the module at:



The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has assessed technologies and approaches to evaluate and mitigate the following potential effects:

Increase in orbital debris. Debris in space can damage or destroy satellites, affecting commercial services, scientific observation, and national security.

Better characterizing debris, increasing adherence to operational guidelines, and removing debris are among possible mitigation steps. But achieving these steps is a challenge.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) makes use of powerful solid rocket motors.
Credit: NASA



Emissions into the upper atmosphere. Rocket launches and satellite reentries produce particles and gases that can affect atmospheric temperatures and deplete the ozone layer. Limiting use of rocket engines that produce certain harmful emissions could mitigate the effects. However, the size and significance of these effects are poorly understood due to a lack of observational data, and it is not yet clear if mitigation is warranted.

Starlink constellation pass overhead near Carson National Forest, New Mexico, photographed soon after launch.  
SpaceX Starlink Satellites over Carson National Forest, New Mexico, photographed soon after launch.
Credit: Mike Lewinsky/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Disruption of astronomy. Satellites can reflect sunlight and transmit radio signals that obstruct observations of natural phenomena. Satellite operators and astronomers are beginning to explore ways of mitigating these effects with technologies to darken satellites, and with tools to help astronomers avoid or filter out light reflections or radio transmissions.

However, the efficacy of these techniques remains in question, and astronomers need more data about the satellites to improve mitigations.

To access the full GAO report — Large Constellations of Satellites – Mitigating Environmental and Other Effects, go to:

NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Saturn’s exotic moon, Titan, captured in this artistic rendering.

A target touchdown spot on Titan – a moon of Saturn. New research is helping to converge on a smooth landing location for NASA’s 990-pound Dragonfly rotorcraft in 2034.

“Dragonfly will land in an equatorial, dry region of Titan – a frigid, thick-atmosphere, hydrocarbon world,” said Cornell’s Léa Bonnefoy.

“It rains liquid methane sometimes, but it is more like a desert on Earth – where you have dunes, some little mountains and an impact crater. We’re looking closely at the landing site, its structure and surface. To do that, we’re examining radar images from the Cassini-Huygens mission, looking at how radar signal changes from different viewing angles,” Bonnefoy said in a Cornell University press statement.

Natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Selk crater region is the mission’s target for touchdown of the craft.

Radar reflectivity

Bonnefoy and her colleagues have characterized the equatorial, hummocky, knoll-like landscape on Titan by combining and analyzing all of the radar images of the area acquired by the Cassini spacecraft during its historic 13 year exploration of the Saturn system. They used radar reflectivity and angled shadows to determine the properties of the surface.

In point of fact, it’s a terrain composed of sand dunes and broken-up icy ground.

The radar work of the Selk crater region, where the Dragonfly mission is expected to land, has been mapped into six units, and the dunes and interdune regions were separated within dune fields.

Radar reflection assists in surveying landing site on Titan;
Credit: Léa Bonnefoy, et al.

Solid foundation

The new research, “Composition, Roughness, and Topography from Radar Backscatter at Selk Crater, the Dragonfly Landing Site,” was published in a recent edition of the Planetary Science Journal.

“Over the next several years, we are going to see a lot of attention paid to the Selk crater region,” said Cornell’s Alex Hayes, associate professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Lea’s work provides a solid foundation upon which to start building models and making predictions for Dragonfly to test when it explores the area in the mid-2030s.”

NASA’s Dragonfly mission is scheduled to launch in 2027 and arrive at Titan in 2034 for a three-year mission.

To read the full research paper — “Composition, Roughness, and Topography from Radar Backscatter at Selk Crater, the Dragonfly Landing Site” – go to:

Missions to Mars – A New Era of Rover and Spacecraft Discovery on the Red Planet by Larry Crumpler; HarperCollins; (2021) 336 pages; Hardcover: $35.00.

There is nothing like reading a first-rate book on Mars expertly written by a person that’s moved across the Martian landscape – that is, through the eyes of a robotic surrogate.

This book is an enthralling read. It is beautifully packed with photos and engaging text, telling the story of how to think of Mars as “Coyote Mars,” as the author coins it, an eternal “trickster” that’s both a wise figure but mischievous in coughing up its truths.

Larry Crumpler was one of the long-term planning leads for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project, the effort that landed Spirit and Opportunity on the Red Planet. He helped control the daily communications between the space agency and the dual mini-rovers that roamed the planet to draw together key scientific data.

“There are probably just a few of moments in human history when a small group of humans stood on the margins of a vast new world, and it is no stretch of the romantic imagination that the arrival of two rovers on the surface of another planet was surely one of them,” Crumpler explains.

Divided into three parts – Knowing the Unknown; Roving a New World; and Becoming Martians – Crumpler has written 12 chapters that sweep across a plethora of subjects, concluding with “Future Mars: Mars Exploration Next.”

Crumpler notes that the question of life on Mars, past and possibly there now, has the planet “stringing humans along and doing the bait-and-switch.”

Credit: NASA

The reader will find a rich, wonderful and vibrant narrative about Mars pre-machinery to “wheels on the ground,” what has been discovered so far, as well as the ups, downs and demands of life as a scientist taking part in opening up the frontier of Mars for exploration and discovery.

As the author notes, taking the cue from the author, playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde: “An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be.”

One cleaver aspect of this volume is how best to do geology on that faraway world. Crumpler contrasts the geologist in the field…and a rover on Mars. He details the “time-honored way that geologists go about understanding the history of a place.”

Mars is currently a world of telepresence, a planet inhabited solely by robots. The book spotlights both the NASA Curiosity and Perseverance activities, as well as the Ingenuity helicopter’s first powered flight on another planet.

Taking on the when and why humans will set boot on Mars, Crumpler points to the difficult tasks ahead in planting a human presence on the Red Planet.

“Mars is a difficult place to get to and to explore,” Crumpler adds. “One thing that we can probably be assured of, given the complete and utter fascination that Mars has held for humanity over the course of civilization, is that we will get there. When finally we do arrive, the humans will begin the long and no doubt exciting journey of leaving tracks on the red planet on foot.”

For more information about Missions to Mars – A New Era of Rover and Spacecraft Discovery on the Red Planet, go to:

Allen Telescope Array dedicated to astronomical observations and a simultaneous search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
Image credit: Seth Shostak/SETI Institute

What are the ripple effects from declaring we have found extraterrestrial life beyond Earth…or perhaps here on Earth?

There’s a steady drumbeat of Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) organizations and specialists calling for “Full Disclosure” that alien contact has occurred in the past, and indeed is underway now given reports of Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon – UAP for short.

Meanwhile, new astronomical eyes like the James Webb Space Telescope crank out stirring deep space data – all of which may help clarify that we are not only alone, but providing evidence of just how crowded is it with other star folk?

Arrival movie poster.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Still to be weighed is the impact upon and willingness of the general public to accept extraterrestrial intelligence contact scenarios.

For more information, go to my new story — “Contact with ET: How would humanity react? – It’s unclear what the effects would be” – at:

Lander and Zhurong Mars rover.
Credit: CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Zhurong Mars rover has been radar-scanning the subsurface of the Red Planet.

Those scans reveal a multi-layered geological make-up below the ground of Mars, which was found to be far more complex than previously thought, according to Ling Chen, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She is a co-author of new research just published in the journal, Nature.

The Zhurong rover of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission touched down on the southern Utopia Planitia – a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars, in May last year and started to make ground-based detections.

Credit: CNSA

In-depth analyses

“The observation showed Mars has a layered subsurface. Such mission is the first of its kind. In the newest finding, radar detection disclosed the structure of layers up to [roughly 260-feet] 80 meters underground,” Ling told China Central Television (CCTV).

Chinese scientists have carried out in-depth analyses of the low-frequency radar data obtained by the rover within the first 113 Martian days it spent on Mars last year, during which it traveled a distance of 1,171 meters.

In doing so, researchers acquired high-resolution structural stratification images and stratum physical property information of Mars at a depth of 80 meters.

Ling Chen, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Meters thick

They found that there are two sedimentary strata with an upward-thinning pattern beneath the meters-thick Martian soil layer, indicating that there could have been water-driven Martian surface modifications made from between 3.2 to 3.5 billion years ago, according to CCTV.

But the low-frequency radar imaging results also showed that there was no water-rich layer down to the 80-meter depth range along the route that Zhurong rover had traveled during the study period.

“Mars is actually quite complex and each part is undergoing different changes at the time, which provides a new direction for our future research. That is to say, we have to consider the spatial and temporal variations of Mars in order to obtain a better understanding of the planet’s evolution and structure,” Ling said.

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

Layer upon layer

As detailed in the research paper, the first layer, no thicker than 33-feet (10 meters), is interpreted as the Martian regolith.

The second layer, from 10 to 30 meters in depth, contains rocky blocks. These presumably have taken shape in roughly the past 1.6 billion years, and their clast sizes increase with depth. A clast is a fragment of rock or mineral.

China’s Zhurong rover.
Credit: CNSA


The third layer, in the 30 to 80 meters depth range, is composed of larger rocky blocks, representing an older, probably more substantial geological event happening as early as 3.5 to 3.2 billion years ago, according to the study.





To access the research paper – “Layered subsurface in Utopia Basin of Mars revealed by Zhurong rover radar” – go to:


Credit: APL

After 10 months flying in space, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the world’s first planetary defense technology demonstration, successfully impacted its asteroid target on Monday — the agency’s first attempt to move an asteroid in space.

Mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, announced the successful impact at 7:14 p.m. EDT.

Impact imagery:

Asteroid Didymos (bottom right) and its moonlet, Dimorphos, about 2.5 minutes before the impact of NASA’s DART spacecraft. The image was taken by the onboard DRACO imager from a distance of 570 miles (920 kilometers). This image was the last to contain a complete view of both asteroids. Didymos is roughly 2,500 feet (780 meters) in diameter; Dimorphos is about 525 feet (160 meters) in length. Didymos’ and Dimorphos’ north is toward the top of the image.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

The last complete image of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, taken by the DRACO imager on NASA’s DART mission from ~7 miles (12 kilometers) from the asteroid and 2 seconds before impact. The image shows a patch of the asteroid that is 100 feet (31 meters) across. Dimorphos’ north is toward the top of the image.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

This image was the last to contain all of Dimorphos in the field of view. Dimorphos is roughly 525 feet (160 meters) in length. Dimorphos’ north is toward the top of the image.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Back here on Earth, ground observatories monitored the collision.

For example, video by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) shows the DART spacecraft impact at Didymos.

ATLAS is an asteroid impact early warning system developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA. It consists of four telescopes (Hawaii ×2, Chile, South Africa), which automatically scan the whole sky several times every night looking for moving objects. 

Credit: ATLAS

Credit: ATLAS

Credit: ATLAS

Credit: ATLAS


































































































For video, go to:

Credit: APL

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is to test and validate today a method to protect Earth in case of an asteroid impact threat.

DART is NASA’s first mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by a kinetic impactor, one that aims to shift an asteroid’s orbit by smashing a spacecraft into the smaller member of the binary asteroid system Didymos.

Credit: APL

The countdown to DART’s Impact is underway, set for 7:14 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Earth will receive news of DART’s impact roughly 38 seconds after it occurs.

DART’s development was led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. APL is the builder and manager of the DART spacecraft for NASA.

Robert Braun is APL head of the Space Exploration Sector, a division that involves both civilian space exploration as well as national security related space programs.

“Basically, the DART spacecraft is a bullet hitting another bullet. And in this case, a number of air and missile defense experts here at APL joined forces with our space folks to create this mission – the first test of planetary defense mission ever, for the benefit of humanity,” Braun told Inside Outer Space. “This is a huge deal. It’s going to be quite the occasion. One day this could be a game-saver for all of humanity,” he said.

LICACube deployment.
Credit Argotec via Xavier Bellanca

Ringside seat

To monitor DART’s impact, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI)-supplied LICIACube was deployed from the DART spacecraft on September 11. This Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids is to capture images of the event and its effects, such as the resulting ejecta cloud. LICIACube will potentially a catch a glimpse of the impact crater on the surface of Dimorphos.

LISACube’s mission control in Italy.
Credit: Argotec via Xavier Bellanca

The design of the LICIACube spacecraft is based on a 6U CubeSat platform developed by the aerospace company Argotec in Turin, Italy. LICIACube will be the first Italian object to go so far in the space, 14 million kilometers from the Earth.

“We do believe that the DART mission represents a turning point for the history of humanity, and we can’t wait to share unique insights with the rest of the world,” said Raffaella Rossi, an Argotec communications officer.

Confidence builder

Looking forward to the test is planetary defense expert, Bill Ailor of The Aerospace Corporation.

“It is a good test. It’s something that we can demonstrate that we can actually hit one of these objects…and also measure the effect on the object that we hit,” Ailor told Inside Outer Space.

Ailor sees DART as a confidence builder by showcasing this ability.

Credit: IAA

However, as a kinetic impact approach, it is limited in its utility, Ailor said. “You are going to use it for smaller objects, generally speaking. We also have nuclear explosives. People generally think that, if you’re going after something of any size, you are going to have to use those. A recommendation to test some of those [nuclear devices] against an asteroid…that’s going to be harder row to hoe,” he added.

Ailor is a key leader in organizing the 8th IAA Planetary Defense Conference to be held in Vienna April 3-7, 2023. The meeting is hosted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the host country, Austria.

While DART will go out with a bang, the need to maintain an international dialogue on planetary defense continues.

For more information and to watch the action, go to:

Credit: Andreas Treuer via ESA


The European Space Agency is proposing a research and development program to further explore the concept and critical technologies to make feasible Space-Based Solar Power.

The effort is called SOLARIS – a step in pursuit of detailing the potential of Space-Based Solar Power – providing Earth with clean energy from space.

Credit: ESA

The SOLARIS initiative would tackle the needed technical advancements in areas such as in-space manufacturing and robotic assembly, high-efficiency photovoltaics, high power electronics and radio frequency beam forming.

Further research to confirm benign effects of low-power microwaves on human and animal health and compatibility with aircraft and satellites would also be undertaken, according to an ESA statement.

Credit: ESA


Global interest

As a program proposal, SOLARIS comes at a point when global interest in Space-Based Solar Power is at its highest for decades, with in-orbit demonstrations being prepared in the US, China and Japan.

Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has pioneered “sandwich” modules that are far more efficient for space solar power.
Credit: NRL/Jamie Hartman

To this point, an experiment is already flying aboard the U.S. Space Force X-37B robotic space plane. That investigation — the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module Flight Experiment (PRAM-FX) – is a Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) investigation into transforming solar power into radio frequency microwave energy.

Meanwhile, SOLARIS is being proposed for approval at ESA’s Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in November.

For more details on SOLARIS, go to: