Archive for October, 2022

Credit: Terran Orbital Corporation

All remains well and stable for NASA’s CAPSTONE mission to the Moon.

The CAPSTONE mission team conducted a successful planned trajectory correction maneuver (TCM). TCM-4 took place at 12:25 PM EDT last Thursday.

This was the first TCM since a thruster valve anomaly after TCM-3 on Sept. 8th.

The craft remains on the orbit path to the near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) insertion maneuver (NIM) on Nov. 13th (14 days from today).

CAPSTONE team members install solar panels onto the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – at Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc. in Irvine, California.
Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart

Maneuver telemetry

For the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission, Colorado-based Advanced Space designed the mission orbits, oversaw the design and manufacture of the hardware, and is performing flight dynamics operations.

Maneuver telemetry shows that the spacecraft propulsion system fired for the nominal duration of approximately 220 seconds.

LRO link

CAPSTONE was launched on June 28th of last year.

CAPSTONE over the Moon’s North Pole. After arrival at its cis-lunar destination, CAPSTONE will begin its 6-month-long primary mission. The mission will validate a near rectilinear halo orbit’s characteristics by demonstrating how to enter into and operate in the orbit.
Illustration credit: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Recently, the Deep Space Network performed a test with the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit (LRO) now circling the Moon to confirm that it could receive and return the signal CAPSTONE will be using to interact with the spacecraft as part of its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS) software demonstrations once it slips into its NRHO.

The LRO test was successful.

Onboard camera

CAPSTONE also carries a camera that will be used to collect images for a variety of applications including planned optical navigation experiments, Advanced Space told Inside Outer Space.

Jeffrey Parker, chief technology officer of Advanced Space (left) explains the CAPSTONE mission to U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper over a full-size model of the spacecraft.
Credit: Advanced Space/Jason Johnson

“The mission operations team has a priority list of items to work which obviously focused on resolving the anomaly and achieving the NRHO in 13 days. Beyond the core flight operations, the team has been working to commission subsystem in a priority order that includes the dedicated flight computer for CAPS software demonstrations and the S-band radio for cross-link with LRO,” Advanced Space said. “Those commissioning activities are still ongoing (delayed by the anomaly resolution process) and once we finish the check-out of those systems, we will be scheduling time to commission the camera.”

For more information on CAPSTONE and Advanced Space, go to:

China’s Chang’e-5: Returned lunar samples are offering new insight into long-term human stays on the Moon’s surface.
Credit: CNSA

The lunar soil brought back by China’s Chang’e-5 sample return mission in December 2020 shows that this material can be used as a catalyst to drive the electrocatalytic carbon dioxide conversion for fuel and oxygen production.

A research team suggests that a robotic system planted on the Moon could operate the whole process from catalyst preparation to electrocatalytic system setup.

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

The joint research team – from the University of Science and Technology of China, Nanjing University and China Academy of Space Technology — reports on their work – “In situ resource utilization of lunar soil for highly efficient extraterrestrial fuel and oxygen supply” — in the international journal National Science Review.

This work may provide some hints at how China envisions building up a lunar settlement.

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

Extraterrestrial resources

There are limited fuel and oxygen supplies that restrict human survival on the Moon, the research paper notes.

What the team has demonstrated is on-the-spot (insitu) resource utilization (ISRU) of lunar soil for extraterrestrial fuel and oxygen production. “Our work represents an important strategy for sustainably supplying fuels and oxygen toward reaching the human settlement on the Moon,” the paper states.

(Left) Photograph of lunar soil and (Right) scanning electron microscope ( SEM) Image of the Cu/lunar soil.
Credit: Science China Press

“Given that the ultimate aim of the strategy reported in this work is to build up a large-scale unmanned electrocatalytic fuel and oxygen production system, the participation of the robotic system in the electrocatalytic CO2 conversion is highly desirable.

Highly efficient

What has been showcased is developing a process starting from catalyst preparation to electrocatalytic carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion, one that is so accessible that it can be operated without human involvement via a robotic system. The researchers used the Moon soil as a catalyst and directly loaded copper (Cu) on the lunar soil.

Specifically, the lunar soil is loaded with Cu species and employed for electrocatalytic CO2 conversion, demonstrating significant production of methane.

Credit: Yuan Zhong, et al.

“Such a highly efficient extraterrestrial fuel and oxygen production system is expected to push forward the development of mankind’s civilization toward reaching the extraterrestrial settlement,” the paper adds.

Robotic system

Lead author of the research paper is Yuan Zhong of the Hefei National Research Center for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, School of Chemistry and Materials Science, National Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, School of Information Science and Technology, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei.

Yuan and colleagues explains that the lunar soil used in this research was provided by the China National Space Administration which is the first lunar soil brought back to the Earth since the Soviet Union’s Luna-24 mission in 1976.

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

“In situ resource utilization of lunar soil to achieve extraterrestrial fuel and oxygen production is vital for the human to carry out Moon exploitation missions. Considering that there are limited human resources at extraterrestrial sites, we proposed to employ the robotic system to perform the whole electrocatalytic CO2 conversion system setup,” said Yujie Xiong, one of the lead authors of the study in a Science China Press statement.

To review the full paper — “In situ resource utilization of lunar soil for highly efficient extraterrestrial fuel and oxygen supply” – go to:

Credit: CNSA/GlobaLink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China lofted its Mengtian lab module atop a Long March-5B Y4 booster on Monday (Beijing Time) from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.

The 23.3-ton Mengtian is over 17 meters long, with a diameter of four meters – the heaviest payload China has ever launched to date.

In-orbit transposition

Following its rendezvous and docking with China’s Tianhe core module later today, and once completing its in-orbit transposition, Mengtian will form a T-shape together with its sister lab module Wentian and the core module to complete the in-orbit construction of China’s space station.

Credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The scientific equipment in the Mengtian module will be used for studying microgravity thanks to a bevy of fluid physics, materials science, combustion science and fundamental physics experiments.

Final construction

Launch success.
Credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

To be completed by year’s end, China’s Tiangong space station complex – given the new module’s addition, will be comprised of the Tianhe core module, along with the earlier-launched Wentian lab module, a Tianzhou-4 cargo vessel and the Shenzhou-14 crewed spaceship.

In-construction: China’s space station.
Credit: CMSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Now on orbit for a six month mission, the Shenzhou-14 astronauts — Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe – be on hand for Mengtian’s berthing and re-positioning, a soon-to-be-launched Tianzhou-5 cargo craft, and the three-person crew of Shenzhou-15.

For videos capturing the launch of the Mengtian module, go to:

Also, go to this Dongfang Hour Livestream replay of the Mengtian launch and a deep dive about the module. This video can be viewed at:

Credit: NASA


Need more elbow room?

According to Visual Capitalist, at some point in late 2022, planet Earth will embrace the eight billionth human inhabitant.

“In just 48 years, the world population has doubled in size, jumping from four to eight billion. Of course, humans are not equally spread throughout the planet, and countries take all shapes and sizes.”



For a visualization that spotlights how the eight billion people are distributed around the world, go to:


Credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is launching its Mengtian lab module, the final section of the country’s space station. All is in readiness at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in south China’s Hainan Province.

China is reportedly set to launch the Mengtian module on October 31 at 3:35 a.m. Eastern time. The lab module will be boosted skyward atop its carrier rocket, a Long March-5B Y4.

Next up! China’s Mengtian lab for the country’s space station.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Microgravity research

If successfully hurled spaceward, Mengtian (“dreams of heaven”) will join its sister module, the now attached Wentian module. The new addition will form the final section of the T-shape structure of China’s Tiangong space station.

Primarily, Mengtian contains scientific experiments focused on microgravity research in fluid physics, materials and combustion science, basic physics and aerospace technology.

The construction of China’s space station will be completed this year, followed by the formal application and development phase.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Pre-launch test

A just-completed pre-launch test assessed the functionality of the Mengtian and the coordination between different systems prior to liftoff. The Saturday test involved the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, the Wenchang Space Launch Site, the Xi’an Satellite Control Center in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, and all the monitoring stations and vessels related to the launch, according to the China Central Television (CCTV).

In-construction: China’s space station.
Credit: CMSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We continue to review equipment and facilities in all systems and take solid steps to ensure a ‘zero-time-window’ launch. Currently, the equipment and facilities are in good condition and the weather on the launch day meets the requirements. We have confidence and determination to ensure a safe, punctual and successful launch,” said Zhong Wen’an, chief engineer of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

Livestream launch

The currently onboard Shenzhou-14 crew consists of Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe. They were sent to the space station on June 5 for a six-month mission.

A Dongfang Hour Livestream of the Mengtian launch via CCTV and a deep dive about the module can be viewed at:

Also, go to these videos about the upcoming launch at:

Credit: NASA

A new NASA appraisal has identified seven major challenges to landing and operating at the Moon’s lunar South Pole.

The result is a set of policy recommendation to consider for Artemis landing and operations sites.

NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) has released “Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis.”

Credit: NASA

What if?

The document stems from NASA leadership asking OTPS to examine policy concerns rising up from the lunar dust, even before an Artemis astronauts sets foot on the Moon.

For example: What if another organization wants to land or operate right next to a NASA rover? What if that organization’s landings eject dangerous rocks and dust that could damage others’ assets on the Moon or in cislunar space? What if some agencies operations on the Moon endanger those of other agencies? Do some locations deserve special protections because of their unique scientific or historic value?

Ethics and equity

The assessment notes that within the next four years, at least 22 lunar surface missions are expected. Half of these missions will occur in the Moon’s south polar region.

Lunar south pole – future Moon base location?
Credit: NASA

“Due to this upcoming proliferation of actors and activities at or near the lunar south pole, and due to the potential close proximity of operations, NASA and other operators will face challenges never faced before,” the document explains.

Flagged in the report — particularly when future lunar activity involves commercial activities and the possibility of human habitation – are issues of ethics and equity.

“As with any new endeavor, there is a chance that our exploration will interact in complicated ways with human concerns, such as unequal access to resources, geopolitical power dynamics, cultural values, and more,” states the document. “Some of the recommendations contained in this report may have implications for these questions as well.”

The NASA Artemis program will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon.
Credit: NASA

Major challenges

As for major challenges ahead, the report identified seven of them: Challenges posed by landings; threats to and from surface operations; challenges to moving across the lunar surface;  the danger of Radio-Frequency Interference; threats to areas with special characteristics; the challenge of unexpected activities on the surface; and the need for human heritage protection.

This work can ultimately help support NASA’s vision for “sustainable and responsible exploration,” as robust and transparent ethical dialog helps enable long-term shared visions and public benefit, the report concludes.

To access the full report — “Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis” – go to:

Clutter in the cosmos.
Credit: Used with permission: Melrae Pictures/Space Junk 3D

There continues to be an onslaught of rhetoric about dealing with space debris. However, no answer fits the entire panorama of cosmic untidiness we find ourselves in.

Indeed, the state of affairs has already been characterized by orbital debris authorities as a “tragedy of the commons.”

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

There is the clutter of dead or dying spacecraft, tossed away booster stages, and myriad pieces of human-made leftovers, from effluents belched out from solid rocket motors, stray nuts and bolts, and paint chips to droplets bubbling out of spacecraft coolant systems – some of them radioactive. Toss in for good measure, shards of satellites created during anti-satellite tests.

In short, it’s a heavenly mess – with long-term consequences.





Go to my new story – “Getting space junk under control may require an attitude shift” – at:

Encapsulated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for United States Space Force-7 mission.
Credit: Boeing


The now orbiting X-37B space drone is winging its way toward 900 days in Earth orbit.

Back in July, this U.S. Space Force robotic craft zipped by the longest mission of the program: 780 days on orbit.

All is mum regarding how long this current 6th mission — X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6) – will remain in space. It was launched in May 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Mid next week, unless the craft makes a near-term landing, the vehicle stretches its wings and sails past the 900-day mark.

X-37B Air Force space plane.
Credit: Boeing/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Onboard experiments

This mission underway is the first X-37B vehicle to use a service module to host experiments. The service module is an attachment to the aft of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

While the entire manifest of what the space plane is carrying and what the vehicle is carrying out is classified, there are some details that have been made publicly available.

The mission deployed the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments on orbit.

Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has pioneered “sandwich” modules that are used in space solar power experiments.
Credit: NRL/Jamie Hartman

In addition, two NASA experiments are onboard the space plane to study the results of radiation and other space effects on a materials sample plate and seeds used to grow food.

Also, a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment is evaluating technology to transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy.

Overall, technologies being tested in the X-37B program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing.

Credit: Boeing

Flight roster

Here’s a listing of previous flights of the Boeing-built space plane:

OTV-1: launched on April 22, 2010 and landed on December 3, 2010, spending over 224 days on orbit.

OTV-2: launched on March 5, 2011 and landed on June 16, 2012, spending over 468 days on orbit.

OTV-3: launched on December 11, 2012 and landed on October 17, 2014, spending over 674 days on-orbit.

OTV-4: launched on May 20, 2015 and landed on May 7, 2015, spending nearly 718 days on-orbit.

OTV-5: launched on September 7, 2017 and landed on October 27, 2019, spending nearly 780 days on-orbit.

Post-landing of OTV-5 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
Courtesy Photo 45th Space Wing Public Affairs


As to when and where OTV-6 will return to a wheels-stopped landing is anybody’s guess.

OTV-1, OTV-2, and OTV-3 missions touched down at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, while the most recent flights — OTV-4 and OTV-5 — landed at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Perseverance rover deposits select rock and soil samples in sealed tubes on Mars’s surface for future missions to retrieve and bring back to Earth for detailed study.


NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is preparing to drop off an initial cache of samples as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign.

The site for drop-off of 10 sample-filled tubes is called Three Forks, a flat and free of obstacles locale.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/USGS

Since Perseverance landed at Jezero Crater in 2021, the rover has explored over 8 miles (13 kilometers) and collected 14 samples with rock cores and martian air. There are 43 sample tubes carried to Mars.

Potential helicopter pickup

The deployment of 10 tubes to the surface is for potential future helicopter pickup, said Ken Farley, project scientist for the Mars 2020 (Perseverance) mission, during an October 27th virtual meeting of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG).

Farley said that the Three Forks depot drop will start in roughly mid-November; an estimated 43 sols will be required to complete.

Newly revised Mars Sample Return campaign makes use of a set of machines, including use of helicopters, to collect Martian soil, rock and atmospheric specimens for return to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Creation of Three Forks Depot liberates Mars 2020 to continue to acquire the best possible cache for Mar Sample Return (MSR) in extended missions, Farley told the MEPAG gathering.

First cache of samples on the surface

The NASA/European Space Agency MSR effort calls for returning Mars samples to Earth in 2033. On October 19, the two space agencies endorsed the plan to deposit the first cache of samples on the surface.

The MSR project recently went through a reconfiguration of the campaign. It now includes two sample recovery helicopters instead of an additional “fetch” rover, along with its lander.

Credit: ESA – K. Lochtenberg

A recent assessment of Perseverance’s reliability and life expectancy increased confidence that the rover will be able to deliver samples to NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander in 2030.

In case Perseverance is not able to bring the sample tubes to the Mars Accent Vehicle (MAV) location, two small helicopters deployed by the lander will fetch them. MAV is built to rocket off bits, pieces, and atmosphere of the Red Planet into Mars orbit.

Those samples are then transferred to the European Earth Return Orbiter for hauling them homeward to our planet.

A Long March-5 booster departs Wenchang launch site.
Credit: CASC

China’s Mengtian Laboratory Module is on the launch pad, being readied for a reported liftoff on October 31st atop the powerful Long March-5B Y4 booster. That departure will take place from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site Hainan Province, China.

The lab will round out the basic on-orbit configuration of China’s Tiangong Space Station.

However, it appears that the booster’s takeoff may signal yet another round of duck-and-cover. That is, when and where the launcher’s core stage falls back to Earth in uncontrollable mode becomes a spin of the roulette wheel.

Guessing game

Once again, the guessing game of just where on the planet the core stage’s fiery re-entry will occur is sure to absorb extensive time of rocket body trackers…and for good reason.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

The CZ-5B core stage is projected to be around 21 metric tons. That’s about twice the mass of an average school bus or the empty mass of a Boeing 737. Estimates for objects like this are that 20-40% of the mass might survive reentry to the surface. But which surface? Ocean or land mass?

By design, the core stage of the LM-5B reaches orbit rather than falling away in the Earth’s atmosphere. Consequently, previous launches of the hefty rocket have resulted in uncontrolled re-entries as the core stage naturally falls out of orbit, risking catastrophic damage on the ground.

Reignited concern

Harry Boneham, Aerospace Analyst at the London-headquartered GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view regarding the upcoming launch:

“The move has obviously reignited concern regarding the possibility that debris from re-entering boosters could cause damage on the ground. The boosters can reach orbital velocity, and factors such as fluctuations in the density of the upper atmosphere and the rocket’s orientation can make atmospheric re-entry difficult to control and forecast,” Boneham told Inside Outer Space. “Whilst much of the booster will burn up during re-entry, significant — approximately 20-40% of the rocket’s dry mass — hardened sections such as engines will reach the ground,” he added.

Next up! China’s Mengtian lab for the country’s space station.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

International law

In 2020, some debris from a Long March-5B landed in Cote d’Ivoire, damaging several buildings. In 2022, some significant debris hit land in Indonesia and Malaysia, Boneham recalled.

“Under international law, specifically the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects which elaborates on Article VII of the Outer Space Treaty, China would be liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth. However, enforcement would be a difficult process,” said Boneham.

Looking forward, it is unlikely that China will move away from using the Long March-5B.

It is China’s most powerful rocket, and sole option for heavy-lift launches. There are only two more launches of the Long March-5B officially planned, including this Mengtian launch. China is also planning on launching a space telescope, Xuntian, in 2023 using the big booster.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)/China Manned Space Agency (CMSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Given China’s ambition to establish a leading presence in space, Boneham said that further launches would not be a surprise.

“China is developing the super-heavy lift Long March 9, but first flight is not expected until the end of the decade and low-Earth orbit launches would be inefficient except for extremely heavy payloads. Additionally, China is beginning to develop reusable rocket boosters, which would clearly remove the issue of uncontrolled booster reentry,” Boneham said. “However, development is at an early stage and only appears to be focused on the smaller Long March-2, probably for crew and cargo transfer. For the foreseeable future, for carrying heavy payloads to low-Earth orbit this decade, the Long March-5B is China’s main option,” he said.

Share details

Given China’s continued use of the Long March variant, Boneham said that there are actions which could be taken to limit the risk to life and property from reentering debris.

“For instance, during the last re-entry of a Long March-5B booster in July 2022, it was reported that Chinese authorities did not share details regarding specific trajectory information with the wider global community which would have allowed a degree of forewarning in areas at risk from debris, Boneham said. “Refusing to share this information does not ameliorate the reputation of the People’s Republic of China when it comes to conduct in space,” he concluded.

In-construction: China’s space station.
Credit: CMSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


In the meantime, Liu Bing, deputy director designer of the Long March-5B carrier rocket, recently told China Central Television, that “an elaborative evaluation” was carried out after rocket specialists “planned its orbit to enable a successful entry.”

It remains unclear as to what proactive steps, if any, China has taken to assure the safe plop down of core stage leftovers.

Come launch day, one group that’s planning to monitor the upcoming Long March 5B launch and any possible uncontrolled re-entry that may result is The Aerospace Corporation.

As with previous uncontrolled reentries, they will be posting updates on their Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) website, as well as through social media channels.

To keep an eye on CORDS, go to: