Archive for August, 2023

Image shows the night side of Venus glowing in thermal infrared, captured by Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft.
Credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic


Hellish Venus is hot, not only temperature-wise but the planet is a hot topic for exploration. That cloud-veiled world might be a haven for high-altitude life.

Such a prospect is fostering the first-ever private interplanetary mission to Venus to search for signs of life in the clouds by detecting organic chemistry. The mission is planned for launch in January 2025 aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, an entrepreneurial launch vehicle provider.

Venus cloud encounter – a private sector investigation.
Credit: Rocket Lab



Even prior to that liftoff, researchers are scoping out a set of missions to gather information regarding the Venusian clouds as a possible extraterrestrial home address for life.

Image credit: Morning Star Missions to Venus/MIT





For more information, go to my new Multiverse Media SpaceRef story – “Coming Soon – Missions Hunting for Life in the Cloudy Skies of Venus” at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image take on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity is wrapping up its mini-campaign of science collection at the upper Gediz Vallis Ridge reports Emma Harris, a graduate student at the Natural History Museum in London.

“Before we leave however, we want to collect as much data as we can! Next, Curiosity will be driving back to the nominal Mount Sharp Ascent Route (MSAR). We diverted from the MSAR back in June in order to navigate some tricky terrain, and then again briefly here at the uGVR [Gediz Vallis Ridge].”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jam-packed plan

According to a recent plan, there’s a jam-packed two sols [Sols 3930-3931] in wrapping up at the ridge, Harris explains.

On tap is documenting five float rocks in the rover’s workspace that the robot “bumped” to in driving roughly 23 feet (7 meters) previously.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over the next 2 sols, the rocks “Styx,” “Knossos,” and “Stravia” will be documented by Mastcam multispectral analysis.


ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) observations will be undertaken on Styx and on another float rock named “Elafonisos.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo acquired on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Elafonisos also receives complimentary Mastcam documentation,” Harris adds. “The terrain around here has been tricky to navigate, making it precarious to unstow Curiosity’s arm if we are perched on unstable rocks, but tosol was successful!”


Further afield

The arm was to be unstowed for Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) documentation of Knossos and the fifth and final float rock documented in this plan named “Meteora.”

“Aside from the immediate workspace, we also had time in the plan to look further afield,” Harris notes.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo acquired on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A Mastcam mosaic of the Mount Sharp Ascent Route and future drive direction will be taken, as well as two Mastcam mosaics of blocks and float rocks higher up within the Gediz Vallis Ridge, Harris reports.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Back to ascent route

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument is to take the lead for making two Long Distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo shoots of a block named “Argos” in the Gediz Vallis Ridge, and a second long distance RMI of the yardang unit higher up on Mount Sharp, Harris adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



“Finally, the plan is rounded off with a Navcam dust devil survey and some morning atmospheric observations. Whilst I’m sure there are many folks that wish we could hang out at the uGVR [Gediz Vallis Ridge] for a while longer, Mount Sharp won’t climb itself, and it’s time to get back to the Mount Sharp Ascent Route,” Harris concludes. “Thanks Gediz Vallis Ridge!”






As always, dates/details of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3931, August 28, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

Just in case you didn’t notice.

The U.S. State Department is embracing the concept of an “International Lunar Year” – coordinating programs around a one-to-two-year celebration of the study and exploration of the Moon later in the decade.

“As multiple nations and commercial entities plan a near-term return to the Moon on an unprecedented scale, now is the right time to consider planning an International Lunar Year,” a State Department website adds.

Earth’s Moon is a destination point for renewed human exploration.  Image credit: NASA

“A sustained program might combine elements of public outreach and scientific collaboration to fashion a vibrant interdisciplinary and multilateral effort, demonstrating how lunar exploration can be responsible, peaceful, and sustainable, as we begin to establish an enduring presence at the Moon.”

Indeed, such a celebration was put forth in a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy released in 2022.

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

Sample swaps

One avenue to explore is activating Moon sample swaps.

For instance, China has now opened access to the Chang’e-5 returned lunar samples to the international scientific community.  That “get up and go” set of samples was rocketed to Earth back in mid-December 2020.

The haul from the Moon added up to roughly 61 ounces of lunar collectibles, including a core sample.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-5 was the first lunar sample-return mission since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976, making China the third country to return lunar samples after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The Moon looms large in China’s space exploration plans over the next several years, and shooting to our home planet additional lunar samples is on their agenda.

Meanwhile, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has outlined opportunities and set the rules for future management of international cooperation in lunar samples and scientific data. Proposals will be reviewed every six months.

For full details, go to the CNSA website at:

Moonwalking geologist, Apollo 17’s Jack Schmitt.
Credit: NASA

Diplomatic gestures

In retro-reflective mode, understanding the Moon has been revolutionized through the study of samples collected between 1969 and 1976 by the six Apollo human landing missions, along with three Luna missions carried out by the former Soviet Union.

“The legacy of the bilateral exchange of lunar samples as diplomatic gestures of goodwill transcends generations of lunar scientists,” explains a paper presented at a Lunar Exploration Analysis Group gathering back in 2021.

“As we enter this new golden era of lunar exploration, the U.S. and other nations must recognize the lasting legacy and benefit of the Apollo-Luna sample exchange program of the 1970s and explore new opportunities to share returned samples in the future,” the paper explains, led by planetary scientist, Jessica Barnes at the University of Arizona.

Image credit: NASA

Current restrictions

So what next?

A recent gathering of the Extraterrestrial Materials Analysis Group (ExMAG) made note of access to China’s Chang’e lunar samples.

ExMAG is a community-based, interdisciplinary group that offers a forum for discussion and analysis of matters concerning the collection, curation, and analysis of extraterrestrial samples, including planning future sample return missions

A member gathering of ExMAG earlier this month noted that China has now opened access to the Chang’e-5 returned lunar samples to the international scientific community.

“ExMAG appreciates NASA’s efforts to pursue avenues of sample sharing with China and their Chang’E samples, though we recognize this is not possible under current restrictions,” an ExMAG finding explains.

Image credit: NASA

Bilateral exchange

“ExMAG understands that sample loans made via this mechanism are considered bilateral agreements, which are prohibited for U.S. Government-funded researchers,” with the group recommending that U.S. Government-funded researchers who are interested in working on Chang’e-5 sample “form or join research teams with researchers in other nations who can request the samples for joint work.”

Credit: White House

Bottom line: Given the White House/U.S. State Department moves on an International Lunar Year perhaps there’s a window opening to find avenues for U.S.-China Moon sample cooperation?

Perhaps it’s time to provide some new Moonwalking legs to build upon the legacy of bilateral exchange?

Your views are welcomed!

For more information on this topic, go to these resources:

U.S. State Department Plans “International Lunar Year”

White House Report: Cislunar Strategy

Earth’s Moon is a destination point for renewed human exploration. To sustain lunar crews, a wide number of technologies are needed to assure safe living and working conditions. Image credit: NASA


Before hurling to the Moon the mandatory hardware for astronauts to survive, thrive, and work in the ruthless lunar environment, how do you certify critical technology ahead of time?

Moon crews will be on their own, far from any repair shops or prompt 911 emergency response actions from Earth. What does it take to have, in a sense, “UL-approved” equipment – that is, Unified Luna machinery?

Technician at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) engages in remote construction experiment for utilizing water resources on the Moon.
Image credit: JAXA/Sagamihara Campus


Recently, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) brought together strategists and technologists to identify what’s needed to establish a Lunar Proving Grounds capability.

Lunar astronauts will need to count on fully-tested equipment to safely carry out a range of tasks, from deep drilling to utilizing the rich bounty of materials found on the Moon. Significant testing of technologies and techniques here on Earth prior to placement on the Moon is necessary.
Image credit: NASA














For more information, go to my new SpaceRef story – “Trial Runs on Earth — Getting Ready for the Moon” – at:

Image credit: ISRO



India’s Chandrayaan-3 Moon lander/rover continues to successfully operate.

Image credit: ISRO

According to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), on August 27 the mission’s rover came across a 13-feet (4-meter) diameter crater positioned roughly 10-feet (3 meters) ahead of its location.

Image credit: ISRO













The Rover was commanded to retrace the path and it’s now safely heading on a new path, ISRO reports.

Newly posted imagery also shows the Chandrayaan-3’s position on the Moon, taken by the Moon-circling Chandrayaan-2 orbiter’s camera system.

Image credit: ISRO

Image credit: JAXA

Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is set for liftoff, co-riding with the country’s X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) – a new X-ray astronomical satellite carrying new generation of X-ray imaging spectroscopy technologies to resolve mysteries regarding the formation of the universe.

An H-IIA launch vehicle carrying the payloads will depart the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Tanegashima Space Center.

The launch is slated for Sunday, August 27, 8:26 pm Eastern Time (9:26:22 a.m. Japan Standard Time (JST); 0:26:22 a.m. (UTC) on August 28, 2023).

Image credit: JAXA/ISAS

Landing objective

SLIM is to arrive in lunar orbit three to four months after launch, circuit the Moon for a month, then attempt a landing four to six months after launch.

The landing objective is to be within roughly 330 feet (100 meters) of the target point, the ejecta blanket of Shioli crater.

Image credit: NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/GSFC/ASU

Image credit: NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/GSFC/ASU

The feature is a small lunar impact crater located within the much larger Cyrillus crater on the near side of the Moon. It is a young crater with a prominent ray system.

The SLIM project aims to demonstrate pinpoint landing and obstacle detection techniques for touching down on the Moon.

Image processing

SLIM researchers are eager to convert conventional exploration of “descending where it is easy to land’” to “descending where you want to land.”

Image credit: JAXA/SLIM Project

The SLIM project is led by members of the JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), and researchers from universities and other institutions across the country are working together to advance examination and development.

After reaching the sky above the landing site, the SLIM is to descend almost vertically while detecting the altitude with a landing radar. During this vertical descent phase, obstacle detection is performed at less than 985 feet (300 meters) above the lunar terrain.

SLIM is designed to process images captured by pointing a camera toward the lunar surface, recognizes craters, and compares them with the map of the lunar surface pre-loaded in memory to accurately measure its own position. SLIM engineers have developed a dedicated image processing algorithm with high computational efficiency to achieve both accuracy and processing time.

palm-sized Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2.
Image credit: JAXA/ISAS

Sloping area

For showcasing landing technologies, the SLIM team has selected a target site neighboring the Shioli crater near the “Sea of Nectar.” The area has a relatively constant slope of 15 degrees or less, according to a SLIM press kit. “Therefore, the method of landing safely on such a slope becomes important.”

Landing on such sloping area will be increasingly required in the future.

Image credit: Takara Tomy/JAXA/ISAS

In the case of SLIM, the main landing gear first touches the ground and then rotates forward to stabilize. This technique has shown excellent reliable landing results through simulation, the press kits states.

Image credit: Takara Tomy


SLIM is to deploy a palm-sized Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2) jointly developed with toy manufacturer, Takara Tomy, along with the Sony Group Corporation and Doshisha University.

The ball-shaped vehicle — SORA-Q — is equipped with two cameras and can transform its shape to traverse the lunar surface.

The wheels that move freely left and right can run in two types of running modes, “butterfly running” and “crawling running” because the rotating shaft is eccentric, according to the Takara Tomy company.

The popular toy manufacturer is scheduled to release SORA-Q for public purchase in early September 2023. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: 27,500 yen (tax included).







Go to this Takara Tomy video at:

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3928. Distance driven to date: 19.09 miles/30.72 kilometers.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now at the end of performing Sol 3929 duties.

Following a drive at Gediz Vallis ridge of roughly 6.5 feet (2 meters), the robot has been transmitting new imagery from its surroundings, including these photos:

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3929, August 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 3928, August 25, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image captured on Sol 3929, August 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: Roscosmos


Working meetings are underway at NPO Lavochkin to begin sorting out issues that led to the August 19 crash of Russia’s Luna-25 Moon lander.

The Lavochkin group led the development, design, building and testing of the Luna-25.


Roscosmos chief, Yuri Borisov, met with the Luna-25 development team.

Image credit: Roscosmos/IKI/NPO Lavochkin

“He discussed with the enterprise team and Russian scientists the possible reasons for the unfinished Luna-25 mission, as well as the future prospects of the Russian lunar program. Before the meeting, he toured the booth, which had been set up specifically to test the mission’s software,” according to a Roscosmos telegram posting.

Image credit: Roscosmos

Unfinished mission

“Yuri Borisov emphasized that the unfinished mission of Luna-25 does not put the prospects of lunar exploration on hold,” the communiqué noted. “There is no need to make a tragedy out of this, we need to draw conclusions and continue working in this direction,” adding that Russian designers and scientists are “burning with the idea of ​​continuing the lunar project.”

According to the Roscosmos posting, “one of the options for continuing the program may be the possibility of repeating the mission to land on the south pole of the Moon in 2025-2026.”

Pre-launch checkout of India’s lunar rover.
Image credit: ISRO


India’s Chandrayaan-3 Moon lander-deployed rover departed its ramp and has begun exploring the lunar surface. The plan calls for the wheeled rover to carry out investigation of the south pole region touchdown area for over 14 days. 


From ISRO: “All activities are on schedule. All systems are normal.”

“All planned rover movements have been verified. The rover has successfully traversed a distance of about [26 feet] 8 meters.”

A number of lander payloads have been turned on and rover mobility operations have commenced, ISRO has announced.

Image credit: ISRO/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Also, onboard the Chandrayaan-3 mission’s Propulsion Module, orbiting the Moon, the SHAPE payload is in operating mode, ISRO said.

SHAPE stands for the Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) experiment.

“Future discoveries of smaller planets in reflected light would allow us to probe into variety of exo-planets which would qualify for habitability (or for presence of life),” ISRO explains.

The SHAPE payload carried on the Moon-circuiting Propulsion Module is to perform spectroscopic study of the Earth’s atmosphere and also measure the variations in polarization from the clouds on Earth.

Video of the Chandrayaan-3 rover rolling onto the lunar surface is available at:

Image credit: ISRO



Image credit: ISRO



Image credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is pressing forward on the next orbital attempt for the company’s Starship project.

“SpaceX has submitted its final mishap investigation report to the FAA for review. That review is ongoing,” said the FAA in a statement provided to Inside Outer Space.

“When a final mishap report is approved, it will identify the corrective actions SpaceX must make. Separately, SpaceX must modify its license to incorporate those actions before receiving authorization to launch again,” the FAA statement explains.

Image credit: SpaceX