Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category


I can see clearly now…there’s dust on Mars!

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Comparative images from NASA’s InSight Mars lander from Sol 10 to Sol 578 show that the spacecraft is quite dusty.

Robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) images taken on December 7, 2018, Sol 10 and recent July 12, 2020, Sol 578 photos reveal the coating of Mars dust.

InSight landed on the Red Planet on November 26, 2018.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Power decrease

“They do look dusty, don’t they! It was a little jolting to see the new images, although I shouldn’t really have been surprised,” said Bruce Banerdt, Principal Investigator for the InSight Mission to Mars at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We have been monitoring the output from the arrays continuously since the beginning of the mission, and the power decrease has been pretty consistent with our model predictions,” Banerdt told Inside Outer Space.”

InSight’s first full selfie on Mars comprised of 11 photos stitched together to make this mosaic, created on December 6, 2018 (Sol 10).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cleaning event?

Banerdt said the InSight team is always hoping for a cleaning event, as was the experience on numerous occasions by earlier Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, but so far InSight has not experienced one.

“Even so, we have a pretty hefty energy survival margin with the current array conditions,” Banerdt added.

“Our models of dust accumulation predict that we can easily last through our prime mission, and should be able to last through at least an additional Mars year under a normal range of weather conditions, although we have tighter and tighter energy margins as the arrays get less efficient due to dust coverage,” Banerdt said.

Yuanwang-6 tracking ship.
Credit: PLAN

China’s space tracking ship Yuanwang-6 has set sail on multiple spacecraft monitoring missions.

The Xinhua news agency reports that Yuanwang-6 will carry out missions in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean – the first time for a Yuanwang ship to perform missions in the three oceans during a single voyage.

The ship has completed an overhaul, maritime calibration tests, equipment precision appraisals and two satellite maritime monitoring missions this year.

China’s Mars orbiter, lander, rover effort.
Credit: China Aerospace Technology Corporation

Mars mission

It is likely this ship will be in position for duties associated with China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission that constitutes an orbiter, lander, and rover.

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China plans to launch its first Mars probe between July 20 and 25, according to the China Global Television Network (CGTN).


To reach Mars in 2021, the spacecraft will be lofted by a Long March 5 Y4 carrier rocket.

China’s Mars landing regions.
Courtesy: James Head

Regarding the selection of China’s robotic Mars landing site, two regions have been identified that represent a wide array of scientific sleuthing, including appraising possible habitats of life.

The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia.

Space is Open for Business – The Industry That Can Transform Humanity by Robert C. Jacobson; Self-published, Release Date: July 2020; Available by pre-order.

The space industry is experiencing a renaissance, led by private companies who have pushed the boundaries and continue innovating at a rapid pace, explains space investor and entrepreneur, Robert C. Jacobson.

The author underscores the fact that we are “in the middle of a critical turning point: the NewSpace revolution needs public interest, increased investment, improved government policy, and widespread collaboration to propel forward and reach its full potential.”

Divided into seven parts, the reader will enjoy Jacobson’s thoughtful guide to the evolving space industry, such as “Investing in the Cosmos,” “Joining the Movement,” and “The Blueprint of Evolution.” The book offers insightful looks at many of the space entrepreneurs of today that are indeed shaping NewSpace.

“Space is, in fact, a culmination of many disciplines, and it works in tandem with various industries,” the author explains. “The sector’s growth depends on merging different fields with cutting-edge technologies, fantastical ideas with logical applications.”

I found this volume an uplifting read. In addition, Jacobson offers a “non-exhaustive list” of the immediate, necessary changes needed to propel NewSpace forward and achieve its unlimited potential. Culled together are a series of key steps to do so.

“Smart policy, technology and innovation adoption, increased space-entrepreneurship, and timing will all affect the industry’s trajectory,” writes Jacobson.

Space is the unlimited business plan, the author believes. Space can transform the world in ways not possible by the bounds of terrestrial business endeavors. If you can dream it, it may be possible in this space-future.

The book concludes with a comprehensive set of references that adds to this book’s unique contribution to the evolving and expansive world of NewSpace.

For more information on Space is Open for Business – The Industry That Can Transform Humanity go to:

Curiosity Left Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2817, July 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2819 tasks.

Last Wednesday, Curiosity successfully drove a whopping 336 feet (102.5 meters) over 159 minutes, reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera image taken on Sol 2818, July 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“This isn’t the longest drive Curiosity’s ever completed (the record is 142.5 meters on sol 665), but it did set a record for the longest drive ever planned from our quarantined dining room tables and couches,” Fraeman adds.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2817, July 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Great progress

“We’re making great progress on our summer road trip towards the sulfate unit, and are getting very close to our first ‘rest stop.’ While I have fond memories of pulling over at the Delaware House during my many trips up and down the east coast of the U.S. as a child, Curiosity’s rest stop will be a location in the clay unit that we might decide to drill in order to collect one last clay-rich sample we leave the area,” Fraeman explains.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2818, July 10, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new plan calls for the robot to drive another roughly 105 feet (32 meters) on the second sol of the weekend’s plan.

Pebbly workspace

Before that, Curiosity will collect Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations on targets named “Reivers Route,” “Moray Coastal Trail,” and “West Highland Way,” and take some Mastcam mosaics.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2817, July 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Also on the plan is use of the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) data from a target named “Kintyre Way,” which is one of the larger rocks in the pebbly workspace in front of the rover.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2817, July 9, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Lastly, Curiosity will collect the usual suite of observations to measure the environmental conditions, Fraeman concludes, and image the ChemCam calibration targets after the drive on the third sol of the weekend plan, Sols 2819-2821.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Advanced digital technologies, such as AR (augmented reality) VR (virtual reality), are being used in spacecraft design, development and manufacturing at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), Beijing, China.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

For example, about 90 percent of the cables on China’s new crewed spacecraft prototype were put in with the help of AR technology.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“In the past, it might have taken an engineer half a day to lay a cable, now we can do the job in half an hour,” explains Yi Wangmin, chief engineer, CASC.













Video: China Central Television (CCTV)

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After more than a year in a clay-rich region, Curiosity is making a mile-long journey around some deep sand so that it can explore higher up Mount Sharp.
Stitched together from 28 images, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured this view from “Greenheugh Pediment” on April 9, 2020, the 2,729th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the foreground is the pediment’s sandstone cap. At center is the “clay-bearing unit”; the floor of Gale Crater is in the distance.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mast Camera image on Sol 2813 shows the view looking downhill across the clay unit, with Vera Rubin ridge” (VRR) in the background.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2817 duties.

“Curiosity is going downhill,” reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Not in the figurative sense—Curiosity’s 10 instruments all still work well, its six wheels are all doing well, and the drill has been working great for the last two years as well as earlier in the mission.”

Wiens adds that the rover’s power output is somewhat lower than when it started but, all in all, Curiosity is doing great.

Lower elevation

“No, Curiosity is just heading to a slightly lower elevation, to look for a location to potentially drill at least one more sample in the clay unit,” Wiens says. “Clay beds tend to signal habitable environments where water was present for a long time and they also tend to be good at preserving organic materials.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2815, July 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The drive is part of the robot’s “summer road trip” towards the sulfate unit, and will allow the team to potentially get another sample of the clay-rich region while Curiosity still has the opportunity.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Downhill drives

“Because Curiosity’s route has generally ascended Mt. Sharp, downhill drives of this magnitude have been rare,” Wiens explains. A little over two years ago Curiosity drove back down the front (north) side of “Vera Rubin ridge” (VRR) to pick up a drill sample of the “Blunts Point” member of the “Murray formation.”

“Early in 2019, Curiosity drove down the back (south) side of VRR into the clay unit, which is a slight depression in the side of Mt. Sharp,” Wiens adds. “And more recently, Curiosity has driven down from some buttes and down from a short excursion on “Greenheugh Pediment.” Other than that, Curiosity has been climbing most of the time.”

In the last several sols, the rover has already descended over 50 feet (16 meters) in elevation from its earlier perch on “Bloodstone Hill.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Uplinked plan

In a recent uplink plan Curiosity will do several observations at its current location, then do a relatively long drive on the second sol, followed by additional observation activities, Wiens points out.

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will make observations of bedrock targets “Caldback” (rubbly textured) and “Portencross” (smooth).

Mastcam will also take stereo images of pebbles and of “Windy Gyle,” an outcrop to the east.

Terrain imaging

Curiosity will then take its drive — hoping to go a distance of over 328 feet (100 meters) — combining an initial drive on terrain scientists can see with autonomous driving in the later part on terrain that has not yet been imaged.

The drive will be followed by a Sun tau observation by Mastcam and by post-drive image documentation. The rover’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will take an image of the ground at twilight.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Suprahorizon movie

On the second sol, Wiens reports, ChemCam is slated to make a passive observation of the sky to measure its dust and water-vapor content, and will make an observation of a bedrock target selected autonomously by the rover.

Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will continue taking data.

Also scheduled is use of Navcam to take a suprahorizon movie, and Mastcam will take another Sun tau measurement to check atmospheric dust, Wiens concludes.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo taken on Sol 2815, July 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun performing Sol 2816 functions.

The rover has taken a turn…to the north, reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 2815, July 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We returned to nominal planning…after successfully upgrading Curiosity’s flight software,” Thompson explains.

Recent drive

A just completed drive should take Curiosity a little to the north and east, towards its first planned stop on a summer road-trip to the sulfate-bearing unit.

“In order to preserve as much drive time and distance as possible, we kept the science activities relatively short and sweet,” Thompson adds.

Prior to the drive, Curiosity was slated to acquire a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) compositional analysis of the typical bedrock exposure in the workspace (“Bow Fiddle”), as well as two Mastcam mosaics of the eastern-most exposures of the Greenheugh Pediment, which Mars researchers plan to visit later in the mission.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Capture the chemistry

“Following the drive, the ChemCam instrument will capture the chemistry of the rocks in the new workspace, using its autonomous targeting capabilities,” Thompson explains. “The remaining post-drive science activities will be devoted primarily to environment and atmospheric monitoring, which are particularly important during Mars’ current dusty season. These will include a large Navcam dust devil survey, a Navcam deck survey, Mastcam full tau imaging towards the Sun and a Mastcam sky survey.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Maximize driving

A post-drive Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) science block is to monitor the ground beneath Curiosity’s wheels, as well as standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) activities would round out a return to nominal planning.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

As the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) strategic planner, Thompson says, the plan calls for maximizing driving for distance on the robot’s summer road-trip.

“However, I am looking forward to Curiosity being able to stretch her arm over the weekend, to touch the rocks, and hopefully document the chemistry and textures with the contact science instruments (APXS and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).”

Dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Credit: MBRSC/UAE Space Agency


The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, today confirmed the launch of its Mars Hope Probe in 7 days – on July 15, 2020 at 5:51 a.m. (JST)/July 14, 2020 at 4:51 a.m. (EST) from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on a Mitsubishi MH-IIA rocket.

The launch will be live streamed at

The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) will send the Mars Hope probe to reach and orbit the Red Planet in February 2021.

Credit: MBRSC/UAE Space Agency

The Mars Hope Probe will reach Mars orbit in 2021, the 50th anniversary of The Emirates, which became an independent nation on December 2, 1971.

Climate watching

Hope aims to build the first full picture of Mars’ climate throughout the Martian year.

EMM will study the Martian atmosphere, the relationship between the upper layer and lower layer, and for the first time, scientists based in over 200 universities and institutes globally will have access to a holistic view of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day, through different seasons.

Credit: MBRSC/UAE Space Agency

Mars Hope is a fully autonomous spacecraft, carrying three instruments to measure Mars’ atmosphere.

Academic partners

Weighing roughly 2,976 pounds (1,350 kilograms), and approximately the size of a small SUV, the spacecraft was designed and developed by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) engineers working with academic partners, including the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

MBRSC was founded in 2006 and is home to the UAE National Space Program.

Credit: ACT

The European Space Agency’s Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) has a new issue of Acta Futura in the works, the latest dedicated to research on interstellar exploration.

Artist rendering of the Directed Energy Interstellar Study.
Credits: P. Lubin

“We hoped to create a snapshot as of 2020 of established results, visions, concepts, designs and technologies related to such a wonderful, albeit far-fetched endeavor. We hope, in doing so, to serve those future studies that will take the burden to further the interstellar exploration idea,” notes an ACT posting.

Article listing

Now available through Acta Future are these single articles.

The Path to Interstellar Flight

Project Icarus: Designing a Fusion Powered Interstellar Probe

Radiation Conditions in Relativistic Interstellar Flight

World Ships: Feasibility and Rationale

Artificial Gravity in Interstellar Travel

Language Development During Interstellar Travel

Considerations on Life Support Systems for Interstellar Travel: a Regenerative Story

Growing Plants in Human Space Exploration Enterprises

Credit: ACT

Long-term planning

The Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) is part of the ESA’s Directorate of Technical and Quality Management (TEC-SF).

The team is essentially a channel for the study of technologies and ideas that are of strategic importance in the long-term planning of ESA. It serves the function of a think tank providing decision makers the support of a highly multidisciplinary research group.

Based at the European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC), ACT carries out research work on advanced topics and emerging technologies and perform highly skilled analysis on a wide range of topics.

Go to:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2809, July 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now conducting Sol 2810 activities.

No holidays on Mars! To give the (American) Earthlings a holiday on Friday, Mars researchers have planned 5 sols of activities for Curiosity, reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2809, July 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mix of activities

“But our rover will certainly not be taking any days off, with a mix of science and engineering activities over the long weekend,” Guzewich adds. “We are continuing to update the rover computer’s flight software, which will preclude nearly all science activities during the first and last sols of those 5 sols. In between is a fairly normal 3-sol weekend plan.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2809, July 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Guzewich notes that the robot had adjusted its position from a previous sol and the front left wheel moved downward onto the surface. This uncertainty in its position precluded contact science at this location, but still scheduled is a full list of remote sensing science with the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam before the rover drives away over the weekend.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2804, June 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Dusty season

“Mars is in the middle of the dusty season currently (southern hemisphere spring) and the amount of dust in the atmosphere has been increasing over the last 2 weeks, although it is still within typical values for the season above Gale Crater,” Guzewich report.

For the long weekend, additional activity for Curiosity is to monitor atmospheric dust devils so researchers are aware if any storms develop, Guzewich concludes.