Archive for February, 2023

Wait a Minute!

Wait a minute!

A number of Moon exploration missions by numbers of nations are planned for the next decade. The target areas of the Moon being eyed are likely to be a handful of small sites of interest, to carry out science investigations as well as process lunar materials to churn out construction materials, rocket fuel, oxygen and water, etc.

Image credit: NASA

Is there potential for creating risks of crowding and interference at these special lunar locales?


A research paper explores that prospect.

“Concentrated lunar resources: imminent implications for governance and justice,” has been made available by The Royal Society in the United Kingdom. The paper appeared in a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transaction A, published in 2020.

Image credit: JAXA/NHK/Paul Spudis

Small regions

“Many of the useful and valuable resources on the Moon are concentrated into a modest number (tens) of quite small regions (in the order of a few kilometers),” the research paper notes.

Locations of interest include the Peaks of Eternal Light, the coldest of the cold traps on the Moon and smooth areas on the lunar far side.

“Over the next decade, forms of interference and related disputes and conflicts over these concentrated resources may arise, as many actors, sovereign, philanthropic and commercial, descend onto just a handful of small, high-value sites on the lunar surface,” the research paper suggests.

Image credit: NASA

Lead author is astrophysicist Martin Elvis of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Need for action

“The need for action is perhaps most acutely felt by the astronomy community,” the paper explains. “If astronomers do not take the initiative to identify and raise awareness of the scientific and public interest in protecting unique lunar features now, they may find themselves unable to do so once these features are under threat from interference and crowding.”

Concept art credit: Volodymyr Vustyansky


Astronomers will find common cause with other scientists, such as astrobiologists, and other researchers for whom planetary protection measures are crucial. “The scientific community today faces both an opportunity and a responsibility to help guard precious lunar sites from the irreversible damage threatened by crowding and interference,” the paper observes.

Extraterrestrial commons

When is the appropriate time to begin developing a governance framework? Now says Elvis and colleagues, suggesting that a study of commons on Earth can provide lessons applicable to efforts at governing lunar sites of interest.

Lessons from the management and mismanagement of terrestrial commons, the paper adds, suggest that “action should be taken now rather than later, or at least now as well as later, to develop the governance structures needed to prevent (and later on contain) avoidable and undesirable problems of crowding and interference.”

Image credit: For All Moonkind

Diverse actors

How to responsibly coordinate diverse actors’ activities on the Moon requires recognizing and accommodating their distinct interests and purposes.

“Any proposed governance arrangement may have to contend with irreducible practical and conceptual tensions between different actors’ designs: scientific, commercial and human-exploration activities may often be incompatible with each other,” the paper explains. “Moreover, it is likely that these varied actors’ plans are best served by different governance arrangements.”

To read the full paper – “Concentrated lunar resources: imminent implications for governance and justice” – go to:

Image credit: ispace


The ispace Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander is now on a trajectory to the Moon with a scheduled landing for the end of April – the first privately-led Japanese mission to attempt to land on the lunar landscape.

This Moon-bound probe was launched in December of last year via a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and has now become “the farthest commercial operating spacecraft to travel into deep space, according to the organization.

In a statement released today, the ispace flight team is expecting to complete all deep space orbital maneuvers before lunar orbit insertion around mid-March.

Transformable lunar robot (left: before transformation, right: after transformation)
Image credit: JAXA/TOMY Company/Sony/Doshisha University


Toted by the M1 lander is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) transforming robot ball, as well as a Rashid lunar rover from the United Arab Emirates.

UAE’s Rashid rover.
Image credit: Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC)




Follow-on missions

The company has offices in Japan, Luxembourg, and the United States and is also working on Mission 2 and Mission 3 of their lunar exploration program.

Mission 2, a lander/rover, is planned for 2024 and Mission 3 is targeted for 2025.

ispace has also launched a lunar data business concept to support new customers as a gateway to conduct commerce on the Moon. Part of the ispace business model is to provide reliable lunar transportation and data services, based on lessons learned from Mission 1.




For an up-close look at the ispace series 1 lunar lander, go to:

Also, go to this ispace 2040 “vision movie” at:

Image credit: ESA

The European Space Agency has invited private space companies in Europe and Canada “to create a shared commercial telecommunication and navigation service for lunar missions by putting a constellation of satellites around the Moon.

According to a European Space Agency (ESA) statement, ESA “will either lead or be an international partner in many of these lunar missions – robotic and crewed – including those that envisage a permanent lunar presence. Creating a shared telecommunications and navigation service for these missions would reduce design complexity and make them lighter and more cost efficient.”

Image credit: ESA

Moonlight program

ESA is inviting space companies to create lunar services under its Moonlight program.

“By acting as an anchor customer, ESA is enabling space companies involved in Moonlight to create a telecommunication and navigation service for the agency, while being free to sell lunar services and solutions to other agencies and commercial ventures,” the ESA statement adds.

Artist’s impression of the European Large Logistics Lander, known as EL3, on the Moon.
Image credit: ESA

For more information, ESA has issued an invitation to tender for the work that closes May 26, 2023 and can accessed at:


Also, go to this informative ESA video on their Moonlight work at:

This exceptional work is divided into three parts to embrace seven solid chapters that range from the dawn of the global space age, applied witchcraft and technical wizardry to spacepower at war and war on the cosmic coastline

Bleddyn E. Bowen is an associate professor of international relations at the University of Leicester, specializing in space policy and military uses of outer space.

The reader will benefit from Bowen’s meticulous research skills, well-documenting the book’s premise that “space technology’s original sin goes much further than missile and nuclear technology.”

As the book concludes, whatever form political changes may take, “they cannot come about without studying astropolitics as it is today and accepting the original sin of space technology.”

I’m not prying out of the book any specifics on what connotes the “original sin,” but a reader will find that nomenclature justified in detail.

“The twists and turns of the maturation of space technologies as they met the needs of warfare was not a clear-cut path of technological ‘progress’ nor merely a story of rational policy making,” says Bowen.

I particularly appreciated the writer’s analogy of Earth orbit as a “coastal or littoral zone” and analyzing the common drumbeat metaphor that Earth orbit is the “ultimate high ground.”

The book concludes by detailing the anarchy that’s resident in the Global Space Age.

There’s an excellent notes section and a very helpful bibliography to propel the reader forward to ponder other writings on this rich – at times terrifying – look into the ever-evolving militarization of outer space.

For more information on this book, go to:

Image credit: CGTN


Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of the China Manned Space Program (CMS), has outlined plans for growth of the country’s space station.

China’s space station, so far, is outfitted with 14 experimental cabinets that have been installed, with the country eyeing the encouragement of international cooperation.

“We have been doing things in this sector. For example, together with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, we collected a group of experiment projects from around the world and we will begin to set them in orbit soon,” Zhou told China Global Television Network (CGTN) reporter, Zheng Yibing.

China’s Xuntian space telescope.
Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“In science experiments, we have close cooperation with other countries, for example, the Xuntian space telescope which involves the international participation and an international evaluation panel,” Zhou added.

“We are preparing the science applications of the telescope and organized four science centers,” Zhou explained.

Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Station expansion

The China Space Station was completed by the end of 2022 with a configuration of three modules: the Tianhe core module and the Wentian and the Mengtian lab modules.

Zhou spotlighted robot arm technology and bioregenerative life support system hardware as key station developments.

Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to Zhou, CMS has outlined the future mode of station expansion.

“We could develop it to a six-module configuration with a total weight of about 180 tons,” he said. Furthermore, the chief designer said that the designed life of the station is ten years, but could be expanded to 15, 20 or even 30 years. “This is a big challenge, not just expansion, but technology upgrades as well,” Zhou said.

Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In the foreseeable future, Zhou said, “we will send the Chinese to step on the Moon. We will explore how human beings can use the resources on the Moon and how to live on the moon for a long period and get ready for manned deep space exploration,” he said.


To view the CGTN exclusive interview with Zhou Jianping and an embedded video (wait for full upload), go to:

Credit: CCTV

China has finished recruiting a total of six astronauts for spaceflight missions in 2023.

Chinese astronauts will be on regular duty at the country’s space station in the future. Each batch of astronauts will support a mission duration of six months. There will be two batches of six astronauts in total to conduct spaceflight missions this year.

The update on the new astronauts comes from China’s first space traveler, Yang Liwei, also deputy chief designer of China’s manned space program.

“Before the start of the spaceflight mission, we will select the astronauts one or one and a half years in advance, including the astronauts who will perform the mission and the backup crew,” Yang said in a recent interview with the China Media Group.

Diverse backgrounds

“Now we’ve basically conducted astronaut selection for two missions together, and will select a backup crew. This is conducive to the connection between the regular training and that of the backup astronauts. Therefore, you can also imagine that we must have selected the next space station crew and the backup crew for this year’s missions, which is conducive to the execution of our entire mission,” Yang said.

Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s first batch of astronauts were initially pilots from the air force, “and now our astronauts come from colleges, universities, research institutions, engineering departments, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences,” Yang said.

Training rules and regulations

The selection of China’s fourth batch of astronauts will also be open to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR).

“From this point of view, there are many different changes in the source of astronauts. In terms of occupations, drivers, engineers, and payload specialists all have the chance to be astronauts. So far, our standards and training rules and regulations have become mature and entered the application stage, as of course, we are now moving into the operational phase of the space station,” Yang said.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3751, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3752 duties.

Is Tap Caparo drillable?

That’s the question facing Mars researchers, reports Natalie Moore, a mission operations specialist at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, California.

Curiosity MAHLI photo produced on Sol 3750 of Tapo Caparo post-preload test.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Perhaps this drilling target is too hard like the robot’s last Marker Band drill attempts at Amapari, Encanto, and Dinira, Moore adds.

Scratches and a divot

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) imagery of the post-preload test of Tap Caparo has revealed something rover scientists hadn’t seen for a while: Dust Removal Tool (DRT) scratches and a divot from the pre-load test!

Curiosity Mast Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3750. February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“This was a good sign; this block wasn’t as hard as our last few drill targets (which did not get deep enough to collect sample),” Moore notes. By midday the geochemistry data from the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) came down “and both teams went to work analyzing Tapo Caparo’s chemistry to determine if the mineralogy was distinct enough to warrant gathering sample.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3750, February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3750, February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3750, February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3750, February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3750, February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover team decided wholeheartedly to proceed with Drill Sol 2 and finally (hopefully) will be able to sample depth before leaving the Marker Band area for good, Moore explains.

Drill plans

“Our modeling tools work extra hard on Drill Sol 2 plans so there’s an incentive to keep things moving early in the day. But since we’ve planned Drill Sol 2 four other times in the past ~three months, our team knew exactly what to do to make planning go as smooth as possible,” Moore reports.

Drilling takes a lot of rover energy and pre-drill planning is kept to a minimum. So, the plan calls for using sol 3752 for a full drill including lots of documentation imaging during and after.

Moore notes that the only non-drill activities on that sol will be some Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) atmospheric measurements and a Navcam twilight cloud survey since Curiosity is still in Mars cloud season.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3750, February 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Remote science

Sol 3753 will be filled with remote science: Mastcam taking the lead for data volume with >60 full images taken midsol, ChemCam following close behind with 21 Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) frames, some afternoon Mastcam images showing the atmospheric opacity near the sun, and lastly a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) photo to hopefully get better exposure on what’s under the rover than what was taken on sol 3749.

In the middle of all this remote science, an early-afternoon arm block contains sample drop-off activities to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, “assuming the drill succeeds and sample is collected,” Moore adds.

Earth and Mars: in-sync

On the last sol (3754) planned, more time is dedicated to remote science with lots more Mastcam images, ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and RMI, and Navcam’s usual long-distance movies to maybe catch dust devils and other atmospheric occurrences.

“We had a sholiday (soliday + holiday) last weekend,” Moore says, “so Earth and Mars are pretty in-sync right now with timing. That means our drill data should come down roughly 11am Saturday morning, whatever the outcome!”

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

A Beijing exhibition is serving as backdrop for spotlighting China’s human space program – one that will focus on two major missions in the near future: the application and development of the space station, as well as human lunar exploration.

The China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) is taking part in the exhibition, kicked off Friday at the National Museum.

Ji Qiming, assistant to director of the CMSEO, told China Central Television (CCTV) that their plan for the human space program requires a series of maintenance and upgrading of space station equipment. There are two crew rotations and cargo spacecraft resupply missions that will be carried out once or twice a year.

Ji Qiming, assistant to director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO).
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Resuable rockets, spacecraft

“We will also develop a new generation of Earth-space transportation system, that is, to develop a new generation of manned carrier rockets and spacecraft, which can upgrade our Earth-space transportation system and reduce the operating costs,” Ji said. “Both rockets and spacecraft can be reused.”

Ji noted that their plan for the missions also includes expanding the scale of China’s space station.

“At the same time, we will launch the expansion module of the space station at an appropriate time to further expand the size of the space station and enhance its capacity, which is the main task planning at the space station application and development stage,” Ji said.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Moon plans outlined

China’s human Moon exploration project has entered a new phase, Ji said.

“We have made breakthroughs in key technologies for the new-generation manned carrier rocket, the new-generation manned spacecraft, the lunar lander and the spacesuit for landing on moon,” said Ji.

“An implementation plan for the lunar landing stage with Chinese characteristics has taken shape. This year, we will fully implement our research and construction tasks for the lunar landing phase as scheduled. At the same time, we will also carry out a series of preliminary studies on the long-term stay of astronauts on the lunar surface, and the development and utilization of lunar resources, so as to lay a technical foundation for future lunar exploration missions of the Chinese people,” Ji said.

New scenery shots from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale crater.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) Left imagery taken on Sol 3749, February 22, 2023.

There’s sky-soaring fear and drama in ballooning as evidenced by recent jet fighter shoot downs of airborne objects over Alaska, Canada, and Lake Huron.

Then there’s that earlier Chinese mega-balloon puncturing event, described by top U.S. policy wonks and lawmakers as a spy surveillance system, one that violated American sovereignty and sullied international law. More than 40 countries, those officials say, have also been on the receiving end of similar trespassing technology lofted by China over the years.

From China with Love: Chinese “spy balloon” is observed from above in this full resolution image reportedly taken by a U-2 aircraft. Image credit/Twitter via StratoCat; Chris Pocock/Dragon Lady Today


Pico balloon?

It is possible that one object blasted out of the sky over the Yukon might have been what’s called a “pico balloon.”

Popular pico balloon is launched.
Image credit: Jim Langsted/EOSS

Pico balloon is launched toting mini-payload..
Image credit: Jim Langsted/EOSS

In the do-it-yourself pico-ballooning world, Mylar balloons are typically used to tote to altitude a small amateur radio beacon payload for multi-day flights, even on global circumnavigations. Customized for hobbyist atmospheric exploration, pico balloons can reach heights of 30,000 to 50,000 feet.
























Go to my new Scientific American story – “Did the Pentagon Shoot Down a Harmless Ham-Radio Balloon? – Surging numbers of small research balloons increase the odds of airborne mistaken identity—and harsher regulations” – at: