Archive for May, 2023

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying through the Red Planet’s skies. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Has something happened to NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter?

The Internet’s Mars Guy looks into recent challenges communicating with Ingenuity. But why the mini-chopper hasn’t flown in more than a month. Is it a communication issue or something worse?


For that Mars Guy episode, go to:

Long range plan

In response to these questions, Mars Guy received a recent communiqué from space engineer Bob Balaram — a person with knowledge regarding the Mars helicopter effort. He offered these insights:

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is busy at work, on a roll to find evidence of past microbial life on the Red Planet. This rover’s selfie also captures Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Priority is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance. Flying deliberately into radio shadowed regions is therefore considered acceptable to Ingenuity’s operations team. Eventually the rover will complete its current science activities and, as part of its long range plan, move to locations favorable for communication,” Balaram said.

Distance, intervening terrain

Ingenuity’s automated landing site algorithm typically deflects the planned landing location by only a few meters, Balaram added, “so that does not significantly change the overall communication situation. A major factor is that the Ingenuity base station antenna is not in the most favorable location on the rover. As the helicopter was a late addition, that was the best that could be had.”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Balaram concludes by noting: “The metallic clutter on the rover then becomes a big factor at this location and makes the radio signal strength highly dependent on rover heading, which in turn varies a lot depending on the science operations underway. Distance and intervening terrain also reduce signal strength. The helicopter flight planning process uses a sophisticated radio propagation model that gives a very good estimate of the expected signal strength at any planned landing site for a given rover location and heading. This is used in conjunction with airfield selection tools, navigation performance models to estimate flight path delivery errors, and consultation with rover planners to plan each flight.”

Image credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Shenzhou-16 crewed spaceship successfully docked with the Tiangong space station on Tuesday.

Following launch, the mission conducted a fast (6.5 hours) automated rendezvous and docked with the radial port of the space station core module Tianhe, forming a combination with three modules and three spacecraft.

Riding atop a Long March 2F Y16 carrier rocket, the taikonaut trio blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China.

New Shenzhou-16 crew onboard with Shenzhou-15 astronauts.
Image credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Five month stay

The crew — Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao – are expected to stay in space for five months, during which they will witness the dockings of the Tianzhou-5 cargo craft and the Shenzhou-17 crew spaceship, as well as the departures of the Shenzhou-15 piloted spaceship and Tianzhou-5.

Shenzhou-16 astronauts joined the already orbiting Shenzhou-15 crew: Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu.

Depiction of Shenzhou-16 spacecraft approaching docking port.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

They will hand over tons of supplies including maintenance and operation tools, food, clothing, and test samples for application systems stocked up in the three-module configuration consisting of the core module Tianhe and two lab modules respectively named Wentian and Mengtian.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“They will stay in orbit for five months and go through two times of rotation and work handover. They will swap places with the Shenzhou-15 crew and welcome the Shenzhou-17 crew,” said Huang Weifen, chief designer of the astronaut system.

Huang added that the new crew will also carry out a spacewalk, carry out long-term maintenance, perform a large number of space science experiments and tests, and deliver space lectures. “So, their workload is quite heavy.”

High-level research

The just-arrived crew are expected to under take high-level scientific research in the study of novel quantum phenomena, high-precision space time-frequency systems, the verification of general relativity, and the origins of life.

Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Shenzhou-16 mission is the first piloted flight after China’s space station entered a stage of application and development.

The mission represents China’s 11th crewed mission with the Shenzhou spacecraft series, now completing 15 flight missions, including 10 crewed spaceflights, since the Shenzhou-1 launched in 1999.

Given the Shenzhou-16 mission, there are now 17 people from 5 nations in low Earth orbit: onboard China’s station (6) and onboard the International Space Station (11). 

For videos focused on the Shenzhou-16 launch, rendezvous and docking, go to:




Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space

China plans to send astronauts to the Moon before 2030.

That’s the word from an official with the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) on Monday, just prior to the country lofting a new crew to their space station.

The statement by Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, came during a media briefing on China’s next piloted space mission, Shenzhou-16.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Independent Moon exploration capability

Lin said that China has recently initiated the “landing phase” of its human lunar exploration program, putting in motion the relevant research and development steps, including the construction of a new launch site, a crew-carrying booster, developing a lunar lander and also requisite Moon-walking suits.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Recently, the Moon-landing phase of China’s manned lunar exploration program has been started,” Lin told reporters. “The main goal is to send Chinese astronauts to land on the Moon for the first time by 2030. The goal also includes carrying out lunar scientific exploration and related technological experiments, mastering key technologies such as Earth-Moon manned round-trip, lunar surface short-term stay, and human-robot joint exploration as well as completing multiple missions such as landing, roving, sampling, researching and returning, so as to form an independent manned lunar exploration capability,” said Lin in a China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Long March-10

Relevant preparations have been in full swing, according to Lin.

“Focusing on this goal, the CMSA has started planning, research and construction work on the basis of previous key technical breakthroughs and solution verifications. This includes the development of a next-generation manned carrier rocket, namely the Long March-10 carrier rocket, a next-gen manned spacecraft, a lunar lander, a moon suit and other spaceflight products. The construction of a new launch site and tests on related launch facilities are also underway,” Lin added.

International Lunar Research Station. Image credit: China National Space Administration

Lin concluded by noting that, in the future, China intends to strengthen scientific management, selections based on competition, and open up cooperation “while steadily advancing various research and development work to achieve China’s goal for lunar landing as scheduled,” he said.


For a CCTV video focused on China’s Moon exploration plans, go to:

UAE mission to main belt asteroids promises to deliver science discoveries.
Image credit: UAE Space Agency



The first multiple-asteroid tour and landing mission to the main belt of space rocks beyond Mars is being blueprinted by the United Arab Emirates.

Image credit: UAE Space Agency






This impressive task is called the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt, EMA for short. That spacecraft will take a seven-year sojourn to the main asteroid belt and then dutifully perform a series of close flybys to make unique observations of seven — count ‘em seven — main belt asteroids.

Image credit: UAE Space Agency

The mission is named the MBR Explorer, underscoring the creation and growth of the expanding UAE space program played by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Image credit: UAE Space Agency






For more information on this notable mission, go to my new Multiverse Media SpaceRef story — “Touring Through the Asteroid Belt: United Arab Emirates Unveils Bold Mission” – at:



A RAND report flags a lack of transparency that makes it impossible to independently evaluate and analyze whether policymakers, spaceflight participants, industry, or the public have enough information to make informed decisions about the safety of commercial spaceflight.

Suborbital passengers on Unity 25 flight. Image credit: Virgin Galactic/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Individuals who choose to go to space, and the general public, may not have sufficient information to reasonably assess the safety of commercial spaceflight. It’s time to allow the moratorium on regulation to expire and allow the development of safety standards, led by the FAA,” report’s two of the study authors.






Go to RAND report — Assessing the Readiness for Human Commercial Spaceflight Safety Regulations – Charting a Trajectory from Revolutionary to Routine Travel – at:

Also, go to:

And while you’re at it, go to this Virgin Galactic video at:

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

NOTE: China has announced the Shenzhou-16 crew:

Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu, and Gui Haichao will stay in orbit on China’s station for five months.

According to the China Global Television Network (CGTN), 56-year-old Jing Haipeng will be the first Chinese astronaut to fly 4 times in space: on the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008; commanded the Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012 and Shenzhou-11 mission in 2016.

Left to right: Gui Haichao, Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu. Image credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

36-year-old, Zhu Yangzhu is the flight engineer of the Shenzhou-16 crew. He is a member of China’s People’s Liberation Army Astronaut Corps.

36-year-old Gui Haichao is a professor of Spacecraft Dynamics and Control at Beihang University. He is also the first payload expert to visit the space station. He’s tasked with carrying out scientific experiments during his stay.

Projected liftoff

China’s next trio of astronauts are preparing for a projected May 30 liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

The Shenzhou-16 Taikonaut threesome with technicians completed on Sunday the final site-wide rehearsal for the imminent launch of the crewed spaceship, with all systems reportedly in good condition and ready for the mission.

Empty seats awaiting the three Shenzhou-16 crew.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Systematic joint test

“Through today’s site-wide comprehensive rehearsal, we conducted systematic joint test on the control center and its affiliated tracking and control stations to verify the status of software. The state of equipment under test is stable and the personnel are well-prepared. Everyone is ready for the launch of Shenzhou-16 crewed spaceship,” Dai Xiangjun, the senior engineer at Xi’an Satellite Control Center told China Central Television (CCTV) in an interview.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The now orbiting Shenzhou-15 crew – Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming, and Zhang Lu – will turn over the operating keys of the Tiangong space station to the Shenzhou-16 crew, then return to Earth ending their six-month stay on the orbital outpost.

Shenzhou-15 embarked on its space voyage on Nov 29, 2021. It was the tenth crewed mission in Chinese spaceflight history.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Safe and smooth

“To conduct the first manned mission after China’s space station entered a phase of application and development, all departments at our launch center have been carefully prepared for, organized, and implemented our tasks. The staff member in each position has followed the requirements of avoiding mistakes to make the mission a great success, and are trying their best to send the astronauts into space safely and smoothly,” Liu Huibin, the secretary-general of Safety Department at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center told CCTV.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to Huang Weifen, the chief designer of the astronaut system of China’s human spaceflight program, three Chinese astronauts for the Shenzhou-16 mission have arrived at the launch site.

“We have also helped the astronauts to review the manual rendezvous and docking operation, and dress and undress space suits, Huang added. “We want to make sure that the crew [is] fully ready for the mission physically, psychologically and technically.”

According to China Daily, the Shenzhou-16 crew may comprise members of the third generation of the Chinese astronaut corps, civilians recruited from researchers and engineers. There are 17 men and one woman in this generation in three groups: seven spacecraft pilots, another seven as spaceflight engineers and the last four as payload specialists.

To view a CCTV video on Shenzhou-16 mission preparations, go to:

Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky


NASA’s Office of Inspector General has issued the report: NASA’s Management of the Space Launch System Booster and Engine Contracts.

In December 2022, Artemis I—an uncrewed Orion capsule powered by the SLS rocket—successfully completed a 25-day mission that included an elliptical orbit of the Moon.

“The mission came after launch delays of nearly 4 years and significant cost increases in developing the SLS,” the OIG report observes. “Specifically, NASA’s total Artemis campaign costs are projected to reach $93 billion through fiscal year 2025 with SLS Program costs representing $23.8 billion, or 26 percent, of that overall Artemis investment.”

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I mission is the first integrated flight test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems. SLS and Orion launched at 1:47am ET from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Heritage hardware assumptions

The OIG report notes: “To facilitate its lunar ambitions, NASA is adapting heritage hardware from the Space Shuttle era, including solid rocket boosters and RS-25 rocket engines, to power the Artemis campaign’s Space Launch System (SLS) that will launch the Orion crew capsule to the Moon.”

However, the NASA OIG report explains: “NASA continues to experience significant scope growth, cost increases, and schedule delays on its booster and RS-25 engine contracts, resulting in approximately $6 billion in cost increases and over 6 years in schedule delays above NASA’s original projections.”

Image credit: NASA OIG presentation of NASA information.

Interrelated issues

Furthermore, the OIG report stresses that these increases are caused by long-standing, interrelated issues such as assumptions that the use of heritage technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs were expected to result in significant cost and schedule savings compared to developing new systems for the SLS.

But the OIG report states that the complexity of developing, updating, and integrating new systems along with heritage components “proved to be much greater than anticipated,” resulting in the completion of only 5 of 16 engines under the Adaptation contract and added scope and cost increases to the Boosters contract.

“While NASA requirements and best practices emphasize that technology development and design work should be completed before the start of production activities, the Agency is concurrently developing and producing both its engines and boosters, increasing the risk of additional cost and schedule increases,” the OIG document notes.

Space Launch System (SLS) Credit: NASA/MSFC

$L$: making it more affordable

Faced with continuing cost and schedule increases, the OIG report adds, “NASA is undertaking efforts to make the SLS more affordable. Under the RS-25 Restart and Production contract, NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne are projecting manufacturing cost savings of 30 percent per engine starting with production of the seventh of 24 new engines.”

However, those savings do not capture overhead and other costs, the OIG report points out, expenses that are currently estimated at $2.3 billion.

“Moreover, NASA currently cannot track per-engine costs to assess whether they are meeting these projected saving targets.”

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) topped by the Orion spacecraft at Launch Pad 39B, Friday, Nov. 11th at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Post-hurricane teams have begun walkdowns and inspections at the pad to assess the status of the rocket and spacecraft after the passage of Nicole. Launch of the uncrewed flight test is targeted for no earlier than Nov. 16 at 1:04 a.m. EST.
Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Additionally, the OIG report says that NASA Marshall Space Flight Center procurement officials who oversee several key program contracts “are challenged by inadequate staff, their lack of experience, and limited opportunities to review contract documentation.”

NASA, OIG disappointment

In response to the draft of this report, NASA leadership “was disappointed to find that few of the clarifications offered by the Agency’s subject matter experts were incorporated herein” and thus “the directorate and the program do not concur with, nor endorse, the facts as presented in the body of the report.”

In response, the NASA OIG responded by taking issue with this NASA summary characterization and states it is disappointed that in its formal response, the space agency “failed to specify the facts in the report with which it disagrees.”

Image credit: NASA


The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducts audits, reviews, and investigations of NASA programs and operations to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement and to assist NASA management in promoting economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The OIG consists of auditors, analysts, specialists, investigators, attorneys, and support staff at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and NASA Centers throughout the United States.

Image credit: NASA OIG

To access the report — NASA’s Management of the Space Launch System Booster and Engine Contracts — go to:

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is ready to launch its piloted Shenzhou-16 spacecraft to the Tiangong space station.

All appears going smoothly at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

Rocket launch teams conducted a full-system drill on Friday to test its preparedness in the Shenzhou-16 countdown to launch in the coming days.

Image credit: CMSA

The drill included astronauts, yet to be named, in completing the joint test with ground operation personnel.

Reliability and safety tests

“After the combination of the spacecraft and the rocket was transferred to the launch area, we proceeded to check its coordination performance. We completed the status connection and setting of the rocket on the ground, and checked the functions of the rocket,” said He Pengju, senior engineer with the Test and Launch Department of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Image credit: Shujianyang Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

“Meanwhile, we completed the electric test of the spacecraft in the launching area. We also tested the reliability and safety of each system in the launch process through the launch drill,” He said in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

Crew return next month

Currently, the Shenzhou-15 crew, comprising Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, are in good condition and are making preparations for their return to the Earth next month, wrapping up their six-month mission in Earth orbit.

Shenzhou-15 crew.
Image credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The landing site has also carried out search and rescue drills in preparation for the return of the Shenzhou-15 crew.

The soon-to-launch Senzhou-16 was originally designated as a backup spacecraft for the Shenzhou-15 mission. The trio of new crew members will conduct spacewalks and scientific experiments, and verify various technologies.

Tiangong is a T-shaped structure, already accommodated four groups of taikonauts.

Following the Shenzhou-16 liftoff, the next crewed mission, Shenzhou-17, is targeted for an October takeoff.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3838, May 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale crater is now performing Sol 3839 tasks.

This month has been busy for the robot reports Scott VanBommel, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Our rover has been hard at work since arriving at its current location around the first of the month. In the three weeks since, Curiosity has thoroughly characterized the area around ‘Ubajara’ and completed another successful drill campaign, its 38th such accomplishment,” VanBommel explains.  

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3838, May 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On the road again

Curiosity will soon hit the road.

“While we do not anticipate any travel congestion (we’d have quite the drive before we encounter another vehicle on Mars), we remain on the lookout for fascinating stops along the way,” VanBommel explains, “particularly those that may provide us with further clues as to the ancient history of Gale crater.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3838, May 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In a recently scripted two-sol plan (Sols 3839-3840) Curiosity’s robotic arm was extended, first thing in the morning, and cleared an oblate area (roughly the size of a sticky note) of dust using the Dust Removal Tool (DRT).

This exposed the rock target ‘Zipaquira’ for Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) analysis early in the plan, permitting Mars researchers to take advantage of the favorable cool morning temperatures as Gale crater approaches winter solstice.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3838, May 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Targets in the plan

After the quick, roughly 30 minute APXS activity was completed, Curiosity moved the arm, took Mastcam images of the DRT’d Zipaquira location, and left the arm out of the way for further Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam activities.

Dust buster on Mars. Curiosity Mast Camera Right image acquired on Sol 3837, May 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


“ChemCam investigated the target ‘Karipuna’ before Mastcam documented both the APXS and ChemCam targets in the plan, ahead of additional imaging of the ‘Boa Hora’ target,” VanBommel reports.

Weekend plan

As lighting became more favorable around the middle of the day for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Curiosity moved the arm back to Zipaquira and acquired four MAHLI images at various resolutions.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3837, May 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“With these images saved on board, activities at Ubajara were completed. Curiosity then commenced the next leg of its journey,” VanBommel says, a planned drive of over 120 feet (37 meters).

“At the end of the drive Curiosity acquired the requisite imaging to ensure that Friday’s planning team has everything they need for a comprehensive four-sol long weekend plan,” VanBommel concluded.

From Virgin Galactic: “Today’s Unity 25 spaceflight is the last step in our flight test program. Up next:

– Our team will complete inspections of the vehicles & review data in the coming weeks.

– We’ll begin commercial service with the ‘Galactic 01’ mission.”

Go to flight video at:

Video credit: Virgin Galactic

Image credit: Virgin Galactic

Image credit: Virgin Galactic

Image credit: Virgin Galactic