Archive for June, 2023

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Photo from earlier sky skim by Mars helicopter, from flight 51.

After a prolonged hiatus, NASA’s Mars helicopter has made its 52nd flight.

The craft flew on April 26, but mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with Ingenuity as it descended for a landing.

“The Ingenuity team expected the communications dropout because a hill stood between the helicopter’s landing location and the Perseverance rover’s position, blocking communication between the two. The rover acts as a radio relay between the helicopter and mission controllers at JPL,” according to a JPL statement.

Artwork of Ingenuity Mars helicopter.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Ingenuity team had already developed re-contact plans for when the rover would drive back within range. That led to re-establishing contact on June 28 when NASA’s Perseverance rover crested the hill and was in communication line-up with Ingenuity again.

Flight 52 was a 1,191-foot (363-meter) and 139-second-long flight, taken to reposition the helicopter and snag images of the Martian surface for the rover’s science team.

Active gullies and gully stratigraphy on Mars. Image credit: University of Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE)/Dickson, et al.

A new study spotlights how gullies on the slopes of craters on Mars could have formed by on-and-off periods of meltwater from ice on and beneath the planet’s surface.

The results from the new study suggest that gully formation was driven by periods of melting ice and by carbon dioxide (CO2) frost evaporation in other parts of the year.

Additionally, the researchers report that this has likely occurred repeatedly over the past several million years on Mars with the most recent occurrence about 630,000 years ago.

Turn up the volume

“Our study shows that the global distribution of gullies is better explained by liquid water over the last million years,” said Jay Dickson, the study’s lead author and a former researcher at Brown University and now at California Institute of Technology.

Uppermost vertical extent of gullies on Mars.
Image credit: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX) global panchromatic mosaic overlain by MOLA topography of the Thaumasia highlands/
Dickson, et al.

“Water explains the elevation distribution of gullies in ways that CO2 cannot,” Dickson noted in a Brown University press statement. “This means that Mars has been able to create liquid water in enough volume to erode channels within the last million years, which is very recent on the scale of Mars geologic history.”

Bridge between warm and wet

The paper, published in Science magazine, raises anew the fundamental question of whether life could exist on Mars.

This is because life, as it’s known on Earth, goes hand in hand with the presence of liquid water. Mars will eventually tilt to 35 degrees again, the researchers said.

“Could there be a bridge, if you will, between the early warm and wet Mars and the Mars that we see today in terms of liquid water?” said James Head, a professor of geological sciences at Brown and a study co-author.

Life on ice

 “Everybody’s always looking for environments that could be conducive to not just the formation of life but the preservation and continuation of it,” Head noted in the Brown University statement.

Image credit: NASA

“Any microorganism that might have evolved in early Mars is going to be in places where they can be comfortable in ice and then also comfortable or prosperous in liquid water. In the frigid Antarctic environment, for example, the few organisms that exist often occur in stasis, waiting for water,” Head added.

This research underscores the importance of these gullies in terms of potential targets to visit by robotic or human means during future exploration missions on Mars.

Go to – “Gullies on Mars could have formed by melting of water ice during periods of high obliquity” — at:

Also go to this video, A time-lapse of gullies forming in the Upper Wright Valley of the Antarctic Dry Valleys. Video courtesy of Jim Head, Brown University at:

What equipment can work well while withstanding the tough lunar environment? Shown here is technology that has potential for fabricating structures on the Moon utilizing local materials for construction purposes.
Image credit: Contour Crafting and University of Southern California


While the Artemis return to the Moon effort is indeed one giant leap for the United States to regain a foothold there, much work is ahead to sustain living and work-a-day activities within the harsh and stark lunar environment.

A next step for getting hardware to run in tip-top shape on the Moon is establishing a pilot program to assess what technologies work best once down and dirty on the lunar terrain.

Leslie Gertsch, a space mining expert, sees the Moon as a resource-rich world.
Image credit: Barbara David

NASA is pressing forward on creating public private partnerships for companies – large and small – to ace out hardware bugs, not only here on Earth, but also in real-time on the Moon.

NASA senior technologist Rob Mueller talks with Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin about the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) that was developed at the Kennedy Space Center Swamp Works.
Image credit: NASA/John Smegelsky

Work is underway to identify technology gaps that could be bridged by innovative companies with fresh ideas.











For detailed information, go to my new Multimedia SpaceRef story — “Wanted: Lunar Proving Grounds – Testing Technologies for the Moon” – at:

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3871. Distance driven to date: 18.78 miles/30.22 kilometers.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale crater is now performing Sol 3873 duties.

A recent drive by the robot was successful, reports Alex Innanen, Atmospheric Scientist at York University; Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “This put us in a perfect position for our split touch-and-go plan – lots to see, and no need to worry that we might be on unsteady footing, like we were on Friday.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3872, June 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Nearby targets

Two nearby targets are bedrock blocks: the nodular bedrock ‘Lousoi,’ which researchers will be investigating up close (the ‘touching’ in the touch-and-go) with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), as well as the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) target, ‘Valvousi,’ which is on the face of another block.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3872, June 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Adjacent to Valvousi is a small trench, which Mastcam will take a look at. Mastcam and ChemCam will also be looking further afield,” Innanen notes. “Mastcam is taking a mosaic of the ridge to our south, and ChemCam is looking behind us towards the Gediz Vallis Ridge. After we finish up, we’re taking a late afternoon drive southeast along our alternate route.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3872, June 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Planned nap

After this busy sol, Sol 3871, Curiosity was slated to spend most of the second sol of the plan (Sol 3872) napping, but will wake up for a few observations around noon.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3872, June 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ChemCam will use AEGIS to autonomously look for a post-drive target. AEGIS stands for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) – a software suite that permits the rover to autonomously detect and prioritize targets.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3871, June 27, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars scientists on the environment team also has normal atmospheric monitoring activities, including a suprahorizon cloud movie, a tau observation to monitor dust, and a 360 degree dust devil survey, Innanen concludes.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3871, June 27, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3871, June 27, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA

There is a growing business in selling fake Moon dirt. It is labeled as “simulant,” customized concoctions of lunar topside that are celestial stand-ins for different areas on the Moon.

The airless body is pounded by solar wind, radiation and micrometeorites. The Moon is blanketed by grayish, sharp-edged particles and rocky debris termed the lunar regolith. At one-sixth the gravity of Earth, that world is a Disneyland of dust that can stick to space suits, gum up equipment and jam mechanical components.

Lunar simulant is used to test a rover at Michigan Tech’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab.
Image credit: Michigan Technological University

The knowhow to wrestle with the woes of operating on the Moon took center stage at the 23rd meeting of the Space Resources Roundtable, held in Golden, Colorado on June 6 through 9 at the Colorado School of Mines.

For more information, go to my new Multiverse Media SpaceRef story “Mimicking the Moon – Here’s the (Simulant) Dirt” – at:

MOXIE unit being installed into the Perseverance rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


GOLDEN, Colorado – Breathe easy. There’s good news from Mars. The first experiment to suck in the planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-laden air has achieved a major milestone in transforming that native resource into oxygen.

The toaster-sized device, if built to a larger scale, can be used not just for astronaut expeditions to Mars for breathing, but also for rocket fuel.

Artist’s illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tucked inside NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, the hardware is tagged MOXIE for Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment.

Master MOXIE technologist, MIT’s Michael Hecht.
Image credit: Barbara David

Researchers recently pushed MOXIE to a maximum production level – a factor of two higher than reached earlier.




For details on this milestone on Mars, go to my new story – “Mars rover Perseverance sets new record for making oxygen on Red Planet” – at:

Image credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is GO for launch.

Departing Spaceport America in New Mexico, the target data for the Galactic 01 scientific research mission is June 29.

Image credit: Virgin Galactic

The three-person crew from the Italian Air Force and National Research Council of Italy will be onboard VSS Unity for a 90-minute suborbital flight, carrying out a series of in-cabin science experiments.

An astronaut instructor will also be onboard to assess the research flight experience during the mission.

Piloting the VSS Unity: Mike Masucci (Commander) and Nicola Pecile (Pilot).

Flying the drop plane, VMS Eve: Kelly Latimer (Commander) and Jameel Janjua (Pilot).

Tune in on June 29 at 11:00 am EDT for the livestreamed launch at:


Image credit: Mars Guy


Five days without downlink from Mars – What’s going on?

Video commentator, Mars Guy, notes that NASA’s Perseverance rover rolling about at Jezero Crater sends back a daily stream of images from its many cameras.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Mars Guy



Those images are quickly posted to a NASA public website. 

But on June 16th, the stream dried up, fueling concerns with each passing day.


For a detailed video, go to:

Image credit: ISRO


India is readying its Chandrayaan-3 Moon lander, reportedly eyeing a launch in mid-July.

The lunar lander is equipped with scientific payloads and a small rover, geared to conduct studies of the lunar surface in the southern lunar hemisphere. This upcoming mission is similar to Chandrayaan-2 which failed in 2019 when the program’s Vikram lander crashed during an automated soft landing.

Image credit: ISRO

India’s launch vehicle, the Mark III (GSLV Mk III).
Credit: ISRO


ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization, is using the country’s GSLV Mark 3 heavy lift booster to lob Chandrayaan-3 moonward from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India. Reports have liftoff slated in a July 12-19 time period.

Target: south polar region

The probe’s propulsion module will place the lander/rover into a circular polar lunar orbit and separate.

Following separation of the lander module, the propulsion module is to run a Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) payload, an experiment that will study the Earth from lunar orbit. Also, the propulsion module, by remaining in orbit around the Moon, will serve as a communications relay satellite.



The lander/rover combination is targeted for a soft touchdown at the south polar region of the Moon, reportedly near 69.37 S, 32.35 E.

Image credit: ISRO

Lander/rover payloads

According to the ISRO, the lander payloads are:

Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) to measure the thermal conductivity and temperature;

Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) for measuring the seismicity around the landing site;

Langmuir Probe (LP) to estimate the plasma density and its variations.

A passive Laser Retroreflector Array from NASA is accommodated for lunar laser ranging studies.

Image credit: ISRO

Rover payloads are an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) for deriving the elemental composition of the lunar terrain in the vicinity of landing site.

The lander and rover are designed to operate for one lunar daylight period (about 14 Earth days).

Signing the Artemis Accords

In a related development, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and Indian Space Research Organization, Space Counsellor, Krunal Joshi, signed on June 21 the Artemis Accords, which establish a practical set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in NASA’s Artemis program. India is the 27th signatory.

Ceremony with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu, as India signs the Artemis Accords. U.S. Department of State, Deputy Assistant Secretary for India, Nancy Jackson, left, Space Counsellor, Krunal Joshi right, look on.
Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

According to the U.S. State Department, the Artemis Accords are grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and are a set of non-legally binding principles to guide sustainable civil space exploration. These principles, which include transparency, peaceful purposes, registering of space objects and release of scientific data, help make the space environment safer and more predictable, and allow all nations – even those without space programs – to benefit from the scientific data obtained in space.

The Artemis Accords signatories are now: Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Curiosity’s location on Sol 3867. Distance driven to date: 18.73 miles/30.14 kilometers
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale crater is now performing Sol 3867 duties.

In a fresh plan, the robot completed a drive taking it near, or just past the border of a new quad, reports Scott VanBommel, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3867, June 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


“A quad, or quadrangle, is an area outlined where the rover may explore,” VanBommel explains. Several quads were outlined within Gale crater before Curiosity landed, each roughly 1.3 kilometers across.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3867, June 23, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Each quad has a theme based on a significant geologic feature on Earth, and the quads themselves are named after small towns near those geologic features,” VanBommel adds. “The regions where the geologic features are found dictates the names given to targets and features explored by the rover in that quad. Many quads are never visited by the rover.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right B Navigation image taken on Sol 3866, June 22, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Target names

A recent plan had Curiosity drive far enough to find itself in the “Kalavryta Quad,” named after a town in Greece.

“And with that, we had a fresh set of new names to choose from, including target names such as ‘Kastria Spring,’ ‘Feneos, ‘Niamata,’ and ‘Kerpini.’”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3866, June 22, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In a scripted two-sol plan (Sols 3866-3867) Curiosity started by completing Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam activities, including analyses of Feneos.

A Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive analysis and environmental activities followed with the rover then brushing the Kastria Spring target before imaging with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and commencing a two-spot Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) analysis.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3866, June 22, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity also completed a MAHLI mosaic of the Feneos target.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3866, June 22, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Before and after analysis

“The second sol of the plan focused on additional imaging activities, with Mastcam images of Niamata, Kerpini, and Kastria Spring, the latter of which included images before and after analysis by the ChemCam laser,” VanBommel adds.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3866, June 22, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rover then completed yet another drive (with a planned distance of ~40 m) and acquired the necessary post-drive imaging before the decisional Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) pass which is to relay the data necessary before the next tactical day kicks off, VanBommel concludes.