Archive for January, 2023

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

New Imagery: Flight 41 from Ingenuity Mars Helicopter: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired these images using its navigation camera mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed directly downward to track the ground during flight.

This select set of Images were acquired on Jan. 27, 2023:

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Pre-flight: 41 Stats via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Flight date: No earlier than 01/25/2023

Horizontal flight distance (nominal, w/ max divert): 587 feet (179 meters)

Flight time: 103.57 seconds

Flight altitude: 33 feet (10 meters)

Heading: Out to North West and return

Flight speed: 6.7 mph (3 meters per second)

Goal of flight: Scouting

 

 

 

Perseverance rover images show a gust of wind sweeping dust across the Martian plain beyond the rover’s tracks on June 18, 2021.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Serving as the exploration zone for NASA’s Perseverance rover is Jezero Crater. It turns out to be a site for swirls of dust…so much so that one device has been damaged on the rover by two passing dust devils.

The rover’s Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer is known as MEDA. It produces weather measurements such as wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity, and also gauges the amount and size of dust particles in the Martian atmosphere. The instrument suite was developed and provided by the Spanish Astrobiology Center at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, Spain.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust devils on Mars are whirlwinds of warm air with winds strong enough to lift dust, and they are abundant on Mars, where they are one of the elements that bring dust to the atmosphere.

Since its landing in February 2020, Perseverance has observed a plethora of dust devils via its MEDA instrument. Word is that a couple of dust devils damaged part of the hardware of the wind sensors of MEDA.

Wind Sensors (a) Image of WS2 on sol 339. (b) Detail of one of the boards of
WS1 on sol 339 showing the thin filament possibly damaged in the boards of WS2. (c) MEDA
data for the DD on sol 313. Wind data from WS2 was unavailable after the vortex produced its
peak pressure drop. Note the shift between pressure and RDS Top 7 data and the failure of WS2
at the time the dust content increases (d) MEDA data for the DD on sol 413. Yellow lines on (c)
and (d) indicate the moment when the failure in one of the WS boards occurred.
Image credit: Ricardo Hueso, et al.

A new paper – “Convective vortices and dust devils detected and characterized by Mars 2020” – details the wicked winds of Mars, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

High abundance of events

“Results for more than 400 Martian days from spring to autumn indicate a high abundance of events with small seasonal variability,” reports the paper, led by Ricardo Hueso of Física Aplicada, Escuela de Ingeniería de Bilbao, Universidad del País Vasco in Bilbao, Spain.

“Terrains with lower thermal inertia warming more efficiently at noon favor the appearance of dust devils. We also found an increased dust devil activity during a short dust storm that covered the region,” Hueso and colleagues note.

Large vortices with diameters of over 300 feet (100 meters) form frequently enough to dominate dust lifting at Jezero. Thanks to MEDA data, three dust devils that size were detected passing within less of 100 feet (30 meters) of the rover.

Intense vortices can put at risk surface hardware on Mars, as evidenced by the MEDA experience. The instrument has two booms. Two dust devils were responsible for damaging part of the hardware of the MEDA wind sensors. These sensors contain fragile elements such as sub-millimeter-wide conducting filaments exposed to the Martian atmosphere.

MEDA location. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Different seasons, different terrains

Since dust devils – DDs for short — are common features over most of the surface of Mars, new missions may have to take into account the risks of impacts by speedy sand particles or granules.

“Convective vortices in Jezero seem to be able to raise dust much more efficiently than in locations such as Elysium and Gale crater,” the research paper explains. That’s where NASA’s InSight Mars lander and the Curiosity rover have found no dust lifting activity (InSight), or very low dust lifting activity (Curiosity).

Image credit: NASA

The swirling dust lifting activity at Jezero is probably smaller than the dust lifting at Gusev crater observed by Spirit, but in most of these missions observations over different Martian Years have found strong differences.

“Thus, new observations by Perseverance over different seasons and terrains, exploring properties such as surface roughness and particle size and cohesion from surface images, will help to understand the characteristics that make Jezero so active in developing DDs within its rich population of convective vortices,” the paper concludes.

For access to “Convective vortices and dust devils detected and characterized by Mars 2020,” go to:

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1029/2022JE007516

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3724 duties.

Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University; Milton Keynes, U.K., reports that recent planning started with a discussion where the robot should drive next.

 

Triple junction

“We had spotted features in the distance, including a triple junction of rock layers, and are now aiming for those, and for a large, dark rock just before that,” Schwenzer explains. “Carefully surveying each image for features that look different allows us to spot the unknown, the new, and the change, and then put all our instruments to work to understand what we see.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Schwenzer adds that, piece by piece, the picture of the geology of Gale crater grows and with it our understanding of Mars as a planet. “The triple junction is especially important, as it is expected to allow us to see how the different rock layers are related to each other.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Dogs-eye view

Before the drive of Curiosity, Mars researchers will be busy at its current parking location with two Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) targets that will also be documented by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI): “El Descanso” and “Peters Mine.”

“MAHLI in addition performs a dogs-eye view to document sedimentary features on a target named ‘Semang Peak.’ All of those will add to the understanding of the chemistry and formation conditions of the differently textured rocks.”

Mastcam is to also document the various features around the rover and at a distance.

“There will be a mosaic to further look at the marker band feature,” Schwenzer notes. “Yes, that’s the rock that so far was too hard to drill, most recently as target Encanto.”

Laser strikes: Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

 

 

 

New parking lot location

Mastcam is also slated to document an area around target “Cacao” and “Telhiero,” as well as take single frame images of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) targets “Mapiripana” and “Potaro.”

ChemCam is to also perform a long distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) inspection of target “Amapa.

”Atmospheric observations include a dust devil survey and horizon movie. The Curiosity Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment is to take a passive measurement, allowing investigators to get a full set of data once more, including atmospheric measurements and water in the subsurface under the rover.

Meteorite? Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

“Then the rover will drive off to Cacao, the large rock spotted at a distance, and upon arrival take a [Mars Descent Imager] (MARDI) image and a set of Navcam and Mastcam images that will allow understanding the new parking location for the planning in two days’ time,” Schwenzer concludes.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3722 duties.

Despite giving it the “old college try,” Curiosity’s attempt to drill into the Marker Band at the “Encanto” site did not reach sampling depth, reports Sharon Wilson, a planetary geologist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“Because other rocks around the rover look similar to ‘Encanto’ and are likely also too hard to drill,” Wilson adds, “the Science Team decided to convert the plan to a ‘Touch and Go.’”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Up Mt. Sharp!

While the Science Team is disappointed to leave the Marker Band location without a sample, Curiosity will use the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) device to analyze the chemistry and texture of the shallow “Encanto” drill hole and tailings, targeting the intriguing light-toned material exposed in the wall of the drill hole, Wilson explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We may see another location in the Marker Band worth sampling in the near future, but even if we don’t,” Wilson notes, “there will certainly be many more exciting drilling opportunities to look forward to as Curiosity continues her climb up Mt. Sharp!”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Document the terrain

Wilson reports that, in addition to a drive of roughly 82 feet (25 meters) to the south on Sol 3721, Mastcam will take an image of the “Cacao” target to document the terrain in the direction that the rover is driving as well as a multispectral image of “Cana Dulce,” a dark-toned rock that is perched on the surface of the Marker Band.

Curiosity will round out the sol by observing the sky and looking for dust devils, Wilson concludes.

Coolant spraying instrument-assembly compartment of the Soyuz spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA

That human-rated Soyuz MS-23 that will fly uncrewed as a replacement craft for a compromised Soyuz now docked at the International Space Station has completed vacuum chamber testing.

The Soyuz MS-23 has also been tested for leaks and is now in a workplace for further pre-flight preparation, according to Russia’s Roscosmos in a Telegram posting.

Soyuz MS-23 in testing. Image credit: RSC Energia

 

Image credit: RSC Energia“In the coming days, specialists will check the functioning of the automatics of the combined propulsion system and the system of the descent executive bodies, will conduct control testing of the onboard digital computer complex and equipment of radio engineering systems, as well as refueling the lines of the ship’s thermal regime system with coolant,” the Roscosmos posting adds.

 

 

Coolant leak

It was a coolant leak in the Soyuz MS-22 last December that has created all the rush to checkout and fast track the launch of the Soyuz MS-23.

Due to a possible meteoroid strike, the vehicle’s radiator pipeline discharged into free space its coolant, putting to question the overall integrity and safety of the craft to return crew members back to Earth.

The hurried launch of a Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle, topped by the unpiloted Soyuz MS-23, is slated for February 20, 2023.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In China’s Collaborative Design and Simulation Hall of the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory, lunar spacecraft specialists are conducting collaborative demonstration and design of plans for the Chang’e-6, Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8 Moon missions.

These lunar missions are to be carried out successively in the next 10 years.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

This fourth phase of lunar exploration has been detailed by Tang Yuhua, deputy chief designer of Chang’e-7 with the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of China.

Far side sampling

In a China Central Television (CCTV) interview, Tang said that the Chang’e-4 mission has been completed and the Chang’e-6 and the Chang’e-7 are currently under development.

“The Chang’e-6, which will be launched around 2024, will sample the far side of the Moon and return. The Chang’e-7 will be launched around 2026 and land on the Moon’s South Pole to carry out resource exploration,” Tang told CCTV.

China’s Chang’e-7 is to launch a mini-scout that will overfly a shadowed crater at the Moon’s south pole to look for possible traces of water or ice.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Tang added that the Chang’e-7 includes a lunar orbiter, a lander, a rover, a flying vehicle and a relay satellite. That flying vehicle will conduct the first “lunar flyby,” traveling to a shadowed crater at the Moon’s south pole to look for possible traces of water or ice.

 

Science research station

“The rover of the Chang’e-7 is slightly larger than that of the Chang’e-4 in scale. It is designed to carry different loads, and is of roughly the same structure. It’s more intelligent. The original rover had more ground intervention, and now the path planning will be more autonomous,” Tang said.

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

The rover, together with the orbiter, lander and other scientific instruments, will form the basic structure of the China’s south pole scientific research station with the Chang’e-8.

Moon relay services

China plans to launch the Queqiao-2 satellite in 2024 to provide relay communications services for its lunar missions.

Queqiao-2’s predecessor was launched on May 20, 2018 for the Chang’e-4 lunar mission, designed to function as a communications relay for the Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover now on the far side of the Moon.

“Yutu-2 rover is carrying out its patrol surveys on a rugged terrain at the far side of the Moon, and the entire mission is done through a relay satellite. This kind of mission mode can be a working mode applied in deep space exploration in the future,” said Tang.

Image of Moon’s far side surface.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to CCTV, as the designed life of China’s current relay satellite is set to expire, the country plans to launch the Queqiao-2 communications satellite which will serve as a public relay satellite platform for the phase-4 lunar probe missions.

Compared with Queqiao, the Queqiao-2 will be upgraded to a new level with improvements in its overall capabilities.

New imagery

China’s lunar rover Yutu-2, or the Jade Rabbit-2, has sent back new images captured from the far side of the Moon ahead of the Chinese Lunar Year of the Rabbit.

Consisting of a lander and the Yutu-2 rover, the Chang’e-4 lunar probe touched down on the Moon on January 3, 2019, marking the first-ever soft landing on the far side.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Four years on, the lunar rover Yutu-2 — named after the pet rabbit of the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e — has collected data on solar wind and cloddy soil research, gel-like rocks and craters on the Moon.

Extended life

“In order to map out the route for Yutu-2, we need to use its navigation camera to learn about the position of the rover before recovering and analyzing the terrain. The rover can climb 20-to-30-degree slopes. Since the soil on the Moon is relatively loose, we don’t want to risk it to walk through steep slopes for safety consideration so as to minimize the damage to Yutu-2,” said Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of the third phase of China’s lunar exploration project in a CCTV interview.

The service life of the rover was to be only three months, but it has now worked for a record four years on the Moon. Currently, the wheeled robot is located around 2,625 feet (800 meters) away in the west-north direction of the Chang’e-4 landing site and reportedly in good condition together with the scientific payloads.

Go to this newly-released CCTV video at:

https://youtu.be/l4cqQN2XND8

Image credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s space station plans were detailed by Roscosmos head, Yuri Borisov, noting they are open to international cooperation on the Russian Orbital Station (ROS).

The start of deployment of the ROS is in 2027.

Borisov spoke at the plenary session of the Royal Readings – 2023, adding that Russia will support the work of the International Space Station “exactly as long as it is necessary, based on the technical condition. At the same time, it is impossible to interrupt the Russian manned program and lose competencies,” according to a Roscosmos Telegram posting.

Image credit: Roscosmos

“Although the new station is called Russian, we are open for cooperation and invite colleagues from friendly countries to participate in this ambitious project,” Borisov said.

The competitive advantage of ROS is a modular architecture with a reconfiguration option, extended service life, advanced capabilities for scientific research and orbital production. The station must become efficient and rational, notes the Roscosmos posting.

Artist’s view of two Artemis astronauts at work on the lunar surface.
Image credit: NASA

The “rebooting of the Moon” by human explorers is pegged for NASA’s Artemis III mission with the crew footing their way around the lunar south pole. The lunar south pole is located on the rim of Shackleton crater, a 13 mile (21 kilometer) diameter feature.

Moreover, the Moon’s south pole is surrounded by summits with high illumination that can provide access to solar power in a region that also contains permanently shadowed regions (PSRs). These sun-shy areas may harbor volatile elements that can be processed for crew consumables, radiation shielding, and propellant.

Image credit: NASA GSFC Arizona State University

A new study has identified areas of particular interest within the Artemis III candidate landing sites, where multiple samples of boulders and rock exposures can be collected by astronauts during a future mission.

Connecting ridge

An international team has analyzed imagery snapped by NASA’s powerful Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera system. These images allow identification of features such as boulders and rocky craters and terrain around the south polar region including the “Connecting Ridge,” one of the Artemis III candidate landing sites.

Location of the south pole and Shackleton crater. White stars show the location of the south pole, site 001 (222.69°E, 89.45°S) and site 004 (204.27°E, 89.78°S). Pink square shows the location of the Artemis III candidate landing site, “Connecting Ridge”. Also shown as (a)–(c) is the lunar south pole and the points of interest of sites 001 and 004 in relation to Shackleton crater.
Image credit: ESA/Boazman, et al.

 

In geological terms, recently-formed craters that have boulders surrounding the crater are being eyed for sampling to better understand the geology of the area. The Artemis III candidate landing sites have a goodly number of boulders and rock exposures that can be investigated by astronauts during the future mission.

The new research paper – “The Distribution and Accessibility of Geologic Targets near the Lunar South Pole and Candidate Artemis Landing Sites” – has been published in the The Planetary Science Journal. Sarah Boazman, based at the European Space Agency’s ESTEC in The Netherlands, is lead author of the work.

 

Boulders, craters, rock exposures

According to the paper, boulders can be identified as bright, high contrast features with a shadow observed behind these features. Craters were identified as bowl-shaped depressions often seen as a dark circle as light cannot always reach the crater floor and rock exposures were identified as bright high contrast features often larger than boulders but casting little to no shadow.

Image credit: ESA/Boazman, et al.

“Transformative lunar science will be driven by the accessibility, recovery, and return to Earth of geological specimens,” the research paper explains. “Isolated boulders, rock exposures, and rocky craters at the lunar south pole all provide opportunities for geologic characterization and sampling of the lunar crust.”

What has been found is that boulder abundance decreases with increasing distance from the rim of Shackleton crater. “From that correlation, we infer that most of the boulders and rock exposures near Shackleton were deposited as ejecta by the Shackleton impact, and by later the reworking of that material during smaller impact events,” Boazman and colleagues explain in the paper.

Boulders were observed across the mapping area, the paper notes, with the highest densities concentrated along the rim of Shackleton crater and the Connecting Ridge between Shackleton and Henson craters.

Shown here is a rendering of 13 candidate landing regions for NASA’s Artemis III mission. Each region is approximately 9.3 by 9.3 miles (15 by 15 kilometers). A landing site is a location within those regions with an approximate 328-foot (100-meter) radius.
Image credit: NASA

Reachable areas

“Overall, there is a greater number of boulders, rock exposures, and rocky craters near the rim of Shackleton crater and the frequency of each of these features decreases with distance from Shackleton crater rim,” the paper points out. “As a result, there is greater opportunity to collect crystalline material along the Shackleton rim or the “Connecting Ridge” during a future mission to this region, as compared with more distant locations in the Shackleton ejecta deposit.”

Additionally, the researchers highlight areas that are accessible and show the distribution of features within these reachable areas.

Artistic depiction of Artemis astronauts at the lunar south pole carrying out early work to establish an Artemis Base Camp.
Image credit: NASA

“Investigations of the lunar south polar region should continue to assess the accessibility of features of interest, including isolated boulders, rock exposures, rocky craters, and PSRs, in preparation for upcoming missions to the area. Such investigations will provide crucial context for any future endeavors set to explore the south pole of the Moon,” the research paper concludes.

To access “The Distribution and Accessibility of Geologic Targets near the Lunar South Pole and Candidate Artemis Landing Sites” go to:

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/PSJ/aca590/pdf

Chang’e-4 far side mission – lander and Yutu-2 rover.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

China’s robotic Moon explorer, Yutu-2, or the Jade Rabbit-2, continues to send back images from the lunar far side.

The Chang’e-4 Moon mission lander and rover touched down on the Moon on January 3, 2019.

Four years on, the lunar rover Yutu-2, named after the pet rabbit of the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e, has collected valuable data on solar wind and cloddy soil research, gel-like rocks and craters on the Moon, according to a China Central Television (CCTV) report.

Credit: CNSA/CLEP (early mission photo)

Safety consideration

“In order to map out the route for Yutu-2, we need to use its navigation camera to learn about the position of the rover before recovering and analyzing the terrain. The rover can climb 20-to-30-degree slopes,” said Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of the third phase of China’s lunar exploration project.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Since the soil on the Moon is relatively loose, we don’t want to risk it to walk through steep slopes for safety consideration so as to minimize the damage to Yutu-2,” said Li told CCTV.

In fact, the designated service life of the rover was said to be only three months, but it has now worked for a record four years on the Moon.

Chang’e-4 landing site.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

 

Good condition

Currently, the wheeled robot is located around 2,625 feet (800 meters) away from its landing site, in the west-north direction and is in good condition together with its scientific payloads.

“We expect the jade rabbit can achieve further progress in its palace of the Moon as we will continue to contribute in lunar exploration,” said Ouyang Ziyuan, first chief scientist of China’s lunar exploration project and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China’s powerful Long March 5 booster – but planting taikonaut boots on the Moon requires a bigger, more powerful booster.
Image credit: CASC

 

New details regarding China’s Long March 9 booster have been discussed by a leading rocket designer from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

According to China Daily, the overall, baseline structural design for the nation’s super-heavy carrier rocket is a large, three-stage rocket about 360 feet (110 meters) tall.

Long March 9’s liftoff weight will be about 4,000 metric tons and generate a thrust power of nearly 6,000 tons. The diameter of its core stage will be about 33 feet (10 meters), according to Gu Mingkun, deputy chief of the Overall Design Department with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

Image credit: China Global Television Network (CGTN)

The launcher’s carrying capacity will be more than five times that of Long March 5, at present China’s most powerful booster.

Gu made his remarks at a recent news conference in Beijing held by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The event took place to unveil the Blue Book of China Aerospace Science and Technology Activities in 2022 and explain the company’s research and development plans for the future.

Image credit: China Global Television Network (CGTN)

Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Moon, Mars duties

According to Gu, the rocket will be tasked to transport spaceships weighing up to 50 tons to an Earth-Moon transfer trajectory for lunar missions, such as the construction of a large-scale science outpost or mining operation on the Moon. It will also be able to hurl spacecraft on deep-space missions, including placing Chinese astronauts on Mars.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In addition to the baseline model, a second version is to have two stages, capable of deploying spacecraft with a combined weight of 150 tons to a low-Earth orbit, Gu added, according to China Daily.

The rockets’ first stage will be reusable on both models and extensively reduce operational costs, Gu said.

 

Designing and manufacturing the Long March 9 “will inject momentum into a number of engineering fields including advanced high-performance materials and key electronic components,” Gu noted.

Go to this informative CGTN video at: