Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

 

Moon from ISS.
Credit NASA/Jeff Williams

 

The absence of surface water doesn’t preclude the potential for life elsewhere on a rocky object, like deep in the subsurface biosphere – be it at Mars or Earth’s Moon.

New research analyzes the “thickness” of subsurface regions on those worlds, places where water and life might exist in principle and whether the high pressures within those areas could rule out life altogether.

In terms of searching for life subsurface on the Moon and Mars, however, the researchers note it won’t be easy, requiring search criteria and machinery not yet in use on either neighboring locales.

The research is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, led by scientists at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) at Harvard & Smithsonian and the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT).

Digging in…on Mars.
Credit: NASA Langley Advanced Concepts Lab/Analytical Mechanics Associates

Search ahead

Manasvi Lingam, assistant professor of astrobiology at FIT and CfA astronomer, and lead author of the work, explains:

“We examined whether conditions amenable to life could exist deep underneath the surface of rocky objects like the Moon or Mars at some point in their histories and how scientists might go about searching for traces of past subsurface life on these objects.”

The search ahead, while technically challenging, is not impossible, Lingam added in a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics statement.

Mars Express radar images of reflective regions that suggest the presence of liquid water.
Credit: European Space Agency

“Surface water requires an atmosphere to maintain a finite pressure, without which liquid water cannot exist,” Lingam stated.

“However, when one moves to deeper regions, the upper layers exert pressure and thus permit the existence of liquid water in principle,” said Lingam. “For instance, Mars does not currently have any longstanding bodies of water on its surface, but it is known to have subsurface lakes.”

Warmer, pressurized regions

Research co-author, Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard and CfA astronomer, said: “Both the Moon and Mars lack an atmosphere that would allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces, but the warmer and pressurized regions under the surface could allow the chemistry of life in liquid water.”

One can imagine robots and heavy machinery, Loeb said, that will drill deep under the lunar surface in search of life, “just as we do in searching for oil on Earth.”

But what’s the limit on the amount of biological material that might exist in deep subsurface environments?

The answer, although small, is surprising.

“We found that the biological material limit might be a few percent that of Earth’s subsurface biosphere, and a thousand times smaller than Earth’s global biomass,” said Loeb.

Moon base design. Can an assignment for future explorers be looking for lunar life?
Credit: ESA/P. Carril

Extremophilic organisms

Loeb noted that “cryophiles” — organisms that thrive in extremely cold environments — could not only potentially survive, but also multiply, on seemingly lifeless rocky bodies.

“Extremophilic organisms are capable of growth and reproduction at low subzero temperatures. They are found in places that are permanently cold on Earth, such as the polar regions and the deep sea, and might also exist on the Moon or Mars,” Loeb said.

There are many criteria involved in determining the most optimal locations to hunt for signs of life on the Moon and Mars.

“Some that we have taken into account for subsurface searches include drilling near to the equator where the subsurface biosphere is situated closer to the surface, and seeking geological hotspots with higher temperatures,” FIT’s Lingam said.

In their paper, Lingam and Loeb suggest: “The Moon was habitable shortly after its formation and it is not altogether inconceivable that some traces and markers of life might survive to this day.”

Because deep biospheres are situated underneath the surface, the researchers conclude, “detecting unambiguous signatures of biological activity is not readily feasible via remote sensing techniques. The most obvious solution is to carry out in situ studies of rocky objects in our backyard such as the Moon and Mars.”

To review the paper — Potential for Liquid Water Biochemistry Deep under the Surfaces of the Moon, Mars, and beyond – go to:

https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.08709

NASA Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery used to help pinpoint China’s Chang’e-4 lander.
Credit: NASA/Arizona State University

 

 

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and the well-wheeled rover have been switched to dormant mode within the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon.

Yutu-2 rover as imaged by Chang’e-4 lander earlier in the farside mission.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

The farside mission landed on January 3, 2019.

According to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration the lander and Yutu-2 rover have entered the 14-day lunar night cycle after working satisfactorily for a 22nd lunar day.

Chang’e-4 lander on the Moon’s farside as imaged by Yutu-2 rover.
Credit: CNAS/CLEP

 

The lander was switched to dormant mode at 7:30 am on Thursday as scheduled, and the rover, Yutu-2, at 11:18 pm on Wednesday.

As of Thursday, the mobile robot has traveled over 1,795 feet (547.17 meters).

Next up

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the departure of Chang’e-5, the next mission in China’s expanding lunar exploration initiative.

Yu Dengyun, deputy chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said last weekend that Chang’e-5 will be launched by a Long March-5 heavy-lift booster from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province by the end of 2020.

The 8.2-metric-ton robotic probe has four elements: an orbiter, lander, ascender and re-entry module.

China plans to launch the ambitious Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission later this year. (Image credit: Used with permission: Loren Roberts/The Planetary Society at https://www.planetary.org/)

After the probe reaches lunar orbit, the components will separate into two parts, with the orbiter and re-entry module remaining in orbit while the lander and ascender go down to the lunar surface.

The lander and ascender will make a soft landing and then get to work on tasks such as using a drill to collect underground rocks and a mechanical arm to gather lunar soil.

Chang’e-5 lunar lander.
Credit CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

After the surface operations are completed, the ascender’s rocket will lift it to lunar orbit to dock with the re-entry module. It will transfer lunar samples to the module, that then carries them back to Earth.

Collection and packing processes

Considering these highly sophisticated operations, Chang’e-5 will be more difficult and challenging than previous Chinese lunar expeditions, Yu said, according to China media outlets.

China’s Chang’e-5 robotic sample return mission.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

“First of all, its most important task will be collecting lunar samples. The environment on the lunar surface, like the gravity there, is very different from that on Earth. So we must ensure that our technologies are functional and reliable during the collection and packing processes,” Yu explained.

Lander launchpad

“The next challenge will be lifting the sample-carrying ascender from the Moon. All of our launches so far were made from Earth, but the coming launch will take place on lunar soil and use the Chang’e-5’s lander as the launchpad. Consequently, the challenge will be whether our equipment can handle the complicated operation as it was designed to do.”

Chang’e-5 mission is intended to return lunar specimens back to Earth.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

After the capsule containing lunar collectibles is sent into orbit, it will approach the re-entry module and dock with the latter, Yu said.

“Previous rendezvous and docking by our spaceships occurred in low-Earth orbit, but this time it will take place in a lunar orbit,” Yu said, adding that the last challenge will emerge during the Earth re-entry process. The entry capsule will descend through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 11.2 kilometers per second, much faster than previous re-entry speeds of Chinese spacecraft.

Map of Rümker region, target of Chang’E-5 sample return mission. Credit: Y. Qian, et al.

If successful, the mission will make China the third nation to haul back to Earth lunar samples – following the former Soviet Union’s robotic Moon program that ended in 1976, and the United States Apollo Moon landing program that concluded in 1972.

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission elements.
Credit: CNSA

 

 

 

Moon plans

China has also made plans for Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 missions.

Chang’e-6 is expected to land at the Moon’s south pole and haul back to Earth lunar regolith samples.

Chang’e-7 is set to conduct a thorough investigation of the lunar south pole.

Chang’e-8 will verify technologies that could be applied to future lunar expeditions, including a possible scientific outpost, according to the China National Space Administration.

Go to this video:

China to Launch Chang’e-5 Lunar Probe This Year

https://youtu.be/_raAMC8XnJI

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2891, September 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is presently performing Sol 2892 tasks.

Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University; Milton Keynes, U.K., reports that Mars researchers are continuing to finish recent drilling activities.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2890, September 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

They are taking a look at the instrument inlets on top of the rover deck to make sure no sample is remaining on the mesh or elsewhere that can be viewed.

 

 

New target

“We are already on the lookout for the nearby target ‘Ayton,’” notes Schwenzer. “We want to drill there too, to follow up the chemical changes we have observed in the area. Maybe Mars is going to tell us something really interesting here?”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2890, September 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

All the observed nodules must mean something, but just exactly what researchers cannot tell without full mineralogy.

“Geologists love images, but occasionally mineralogy is the other friend we want to see, too! One of the questions is in what ways the nodules are similar or different from nodules we have seen previously,” Schwenzer adds.


Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2890, September 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sharpening the digital pencil

With “Mary Anning” drill holes so close by, Mars scientists can also compare the two, which will further enhance science opportunities.

“As a geochemist and modeler,” Schwenzer remarks, “I am certainly very excited and have sharpened the (digital) pencil to get going on my modeling as soon as I can!”

A recently scripted Curiosity plan has the robot wrapping up some of the mosaic-observations started – and taking advantage of the fact that the rover stays in one place for a slice of time during a drill campaign.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 2891, September 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Morphology of the workspace

Curiosity’s Mastcam is adding two sets of stereo images to the tally at its current location to further investigate the morphology of the workspace and to fill a gap at an interesting spot for a full analysis of the structures in the workspace, Schwenzer reports. In addition, change detection observations are continuing at “Upper Ollach.”

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) is also used for imaging, doing a Remote Micro Imager (RMI) long distance observation to extend the mosaic.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2890, September 22, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

Happy dance

The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is looking forward and investigating a target near the new drill site at Ayton. The target’s name is “Underhoul” and APXS is accompanied by Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) investigations.

Environmental researchers still monitor the atmosphere closely, with observations of the dust and opacity.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera RMI photo taken on Sol 2891, September 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

 

 

“Lots of images,” Schwenzer concludes, “happy dance from all geologists!”

As always, 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.

Venus in ultraviolet taken by NASA’s Pioneer-Venus Orbiter in 1979 indicating that an unknown absorber is operating in the planet’s top cloud layer.
Credit: NASA

New space missions to hellish Venus have repeatedly gotten the cold shoulder over the years, but exploring that cloud-veiled globe now appears to be receiving a renewed lease on life, quite literally.

Artistic illustration depicts the Venusian surface and atmosphere, as well as phosphine molecules. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/L. Calçada

An international team of researchers, led by Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, announced September 14 the detection of a rare molecule – phosphine – lingering in the clouds of Venus. Here on Earth, this gas is only made industrially, or by microbes that flourish in oxygen-free environments.

But let’s float this key question: does the revealing of phosphine point to extraterrestrial “aerial” life on hostile Venus?

Go to my new Scientific American story for more about this new finding at Venus…and what next?

Is There Life on Venus? These Missions Could Find It – Following a tantalizing discovery, these spacecraft could be headed to Earth’s twisted twin in search of the truth

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-life-on-venus-these-missions-could-find-it/

Jeff Bezos accepting the first annual Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award in July 2017.
Credit: Chuck Davis

Amazon.com entrepreneur and space visionary, Jeff Bezos, is on the lookout for those interested in orbital habitats.

According to a Blue Origin’s posting, the private space firm wants to develop the company’s vision of millions of people living and working in space.

To do so, humanity will require places for them to live and work: space destination systems in which value-creating economic activity can occur.

“LEO (low Earth orbit) habitable stations, learning from but going beyond the ISS (International Space Station), are a first step. Such stations, supporting a robust LEO economy, will be fundamentally different from ‘exploration’ habitats designed for small, professionally trained crews in deep space,” the website explains.

International Space Station
Credit: Roscosmos

Task at hand

Here’s the task at hand, as defined in the careers section of the website:

“As Blue Origin’s Formulation Lead for the Orbital Habitat product line, you will lead development of technical concepts, product strategies, business cases, customer relationships, market-shaping outreach, industrial partnerships, implementation approaches, and supply chain.”

Kick ass boots of space businessman, Jeff Bezos.
Credit: Jeff Bezos/Twitter

In addition the lead will partner with business development professionals, and will develop a detailed understanding of NASA, other government, and commercial needs and guide the iterative development of product strategy.

Lastly, “you will be accountable for capturing external and internal sponsorship funding to establish viable LEO destination systems in the 2020s.”

Bottom line of the job description: “You will directly impact the history of human spaceflight.”

For more information, go to:

https://www.blueorigin.com/careers

Then scroll down to: “See Open Positions” and checkmark “Program/Project Management” and view R4688, “Orbital Habitat Formulation Lead.”

Good luck…and send me a message if you get the job, either from Earth or in Earth orbit on your inspection tour!

A newly issued report examines China’s perceptions of its space program and the U.S. space program. It concludes that the United States and China are in a long-term competition in space.

“Although advancing rapidly, China’s space program is viewed by Chinese officials and analysts as trailing the U.S. space program. Nevertheless, China’s space industry plans to surpass the United States in space by mid-century,” the report explains.

The report — CHINA’S SPACE NARRATIVE -EXAMINING THE PORTRAYAL OF THE US-CHINA SPACE RELATIONSHIP IN CHINESE SOURCES AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES – has been issued by the U.S. Air Force Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute.

“As the era of great power competition continues to evolve, we must understand the full breadth and depth of the competition, how they think, and how they are likely to act or react. This report lays the foundation to better understand the nature of the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] vision of space, and its role in comprehensive national power,” explains Brendan Mulvaney, director of the China Aerospace Studies Institute.

Up and operating – China’s Chang’e-4 lander.
Credit: CNAS/CLEP

Space resources

One area flagged in the report deals with a Chinese space resource extraction program.

That effort could lead to Chinese efforts “to shape international governance of the space environment in favor of Chinese interests or unilateral efforts to occupy favorable locations in space or on the Moon.”

The Outer Space Treaty, for example, which both the United States and China have signed, prohibits countries from claiming asteroids or other celestial bodies, but does not address private claims, the report points out. The Moon Treaty, on the other hand, does ban private claims, but neither the United States nor China has signed that document.

“The absence of an international governance system for space resource extraction could lead to space remaining a largely ungoverned commons subject to the unrestrained actions of individual countries prone to making the space equivalent of land grabs,” the report says.

This document is available at:

https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/CASI/Conference-2020/CASI%20Conference%20China%20Space%20Program%204%20ways%20of%20seeing.pdf?ver=xlOYpHjDyFghm750161yag%3D%3D

General John Raymond, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations.
Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melody Howley

A new memorandum of understanding (MOU) announced today by U.S. Space Force (USSF) Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spells out new relationships between the organizations.

Credit: DOD photo illustration

One area is in the deep space survey and tracking arena, using technologies to support extended Space Domain Awareness (SDA) and near Earth object (NEO) detection beyond geosynchronous orbit.

Credit: NASA/Space Force MOU

The MOU notes that despite years of effective use of all available assets, NASA has fallen short to meet a NEO survey deadline, “without leveraging future technical capabilities.

The Space Force’s “sphere of interest” now extends outward to 272,000 miles and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the entire NASA/Space Force MOU here at:

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/nasa_ussf_mou_21_sep_20.pdf

Also, go to this Department of Defense statement:

NASA, DOD Agree to Collaborate More Closely in Space

Go to:

https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2356511/nasa-dod-agree-to-collaborate-more-closely-in-space/source/GovDelivery/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to the full MOU at:

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/nasa_ussf_mou_21_sep_20.pdf

Credit: NRL

 

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is working on efforts to demonstrate how energy can be transmitted without wires, also known as power beaming.

One of NRL’s power beaming experiments is now aboard the U.S. military’s X-37 space plane.

LEctenna is a light-emitting rectifying antenna that converts a wireless network signal, similar to home networks, into electric power.

International Space Station astronaut Jessica Meir completed the first U.S. Naval Research Laboratory power-beaming demonstration in orbit February 12, 2020, using relatively simple components suitable for STEM activities.
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

LEctenna swag

NRL has formed the LEctenna challenge, requesting participants to improve the LEctenna…and get a prize! 

The challenge asks for individuals to send NRL a photo or short video on social media (#lectenna) or to lectenna@nrl.navy.mil and they’ll send you LEctenna swag!

Legal disclaimer: Kids under 13, please ask your parents first. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory will not use your submissions without your permission. However, we may reshare your social media posts if you choose to send your LEctenna info that way. Quantities are limited.

Check out this challenge video at:

https://youtu.be/8BpYhaTf2wg

Also, go to these informative videos regarding LEctenna.

https://youtu.be/3j7sAjWgySQ

and

https://youtu.be/zo7w0D6vz5g

 

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

En route to the Red Planet, China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1 has successfully carried out its second orbital correction on Sunday, using four of its 120N engines working for 20 seconds.

Tianwen-1, which means “Questions to Heaven,” has traveled about 60 days in orbit since liftoff on July 23.

All of the probe’s systems continue to be in good condition, said the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Minor correction

The minor orbital correction was carried out to ensure the probe is on a correct flight path to reach Mars in February of next year.

On August 2, Tianwen-1 carried out its first orbital correction.

According to the CNSA, next-up for the Mars spacecraft, a deep space maneuver in October; a larger orbital control action that will adjust the inclination and size of the probe’s orbit.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Given the probe’s current distance from Earth, China Central Television (CCTV) reports that one-way communication is delayed by about a minute. The probe will continue traveling away from Earth at roughly 186,411 miles (300,000 kilometers) per day, posing more challenges in communication.

China’s three-in-one mission: An orbiter, lander, and rover.
Credit: Wan, W.X., Wang, C., Li, C.L. et al.

Deep space maneuver

“During the probe’s flight along the Earth-Mars transfer orbit, it won’t directly enter the Mars’ orbit, but has to go through a deep space maneuver first. If the deep space maneuver is completed accurately, the probe can reach the Mars even without further orbital corrections,” Dong Jie, chief designer of the Tianwen-1 lander at the China Academy of Space Technology told CCTV.

“During our implementation procedures, we have confirmed the content of every order and the timing of sending them to the probe,” Dong added. “If anything goes wrong with the change of orbit, we have already made plans to resolve it.”

Tianwen-1 is designed to orbit the Red Planet for several months, then in May dispatch a lander that then deploys a rover. If successful, attempting all these parts of Mars exploration in a single mission would be a first.

Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

China’s growing interest in landing astronauts on the Moon includes developing a potent new launch vehicle.

Zhou Yanfei, deputy chief designer of China’s manned space program stated late last week that not only are the country’s existing boosters not powerful enough for the task, other technological skills are missing.

“The second problem is our survival ability under extraterrestrial circumstances,” Zhou told China Central Television (CCTV). “We do not have any experience in that yet. Neither do we have ground support capacity. So far our manned space exploration missions have been focused on tasks in low-Earth orbit. So for lunar scientific exploration and applications, we also need to establish a systematic lunar exploration and application system and propose original scientific exploration targets and methods.”

Space officials discuss China’s Moon exploration efforts at 2020 China Space Conference.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Shenzhou-series of piloted spacecraft are not suitable for lunar expeditions and China doesn’t yet have a lunar landing vehicle, Zhou said in a China Daily report. “Our ground support system was designed for operations in low-Earth orbit rather than on the lunar surface. Moreover, Chinese astronauts have no experience working on an extraterrestrial body.”

New wave of lunar exploration

Zhou’s comments were highlighted in his report to the 2020 China Space Conference, now underway until September 21 in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province.

2020 China Space Conference, now underway in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province until September 21.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

As reported by China Daily, China is resolute to land its astronauts on the Moon and establish a scientific station there, according to the project leader.

“A new wave of lunar exploration has been emerging in the world, with participants aiming to make sustainable missions to deepen knowledge of the Moon and exploit resources there,” Zhou said.

Long March 5 Y4 liftoff.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Moon booster

Zhou said researchers have initiated two approaches to building China’s Moon booster: making a new heavy-lift rocket capable of deploying more than 35 metric tons of payload in a lunar transfer orbit, or modifying the next-generation rocket designed to carry astronauts, which is under development.

The latter approach is being pursued, China Daily adds, because it would be easier to design and shortens the time the booster can become operational.

China’s Moon booster is being designed at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. Its main body will be 285 feet (87 meters tall), with a diameter of 16 feet (5 meters), making the launcher nearly twice as tall as the Long March 5, currently the largest of China’s family of boosters.

China Daily adds that the huge launcher would boast a liftoff weight of about 2,200 metric tons, nearly triple that of the Long March 5. The booster would enable hurling a 25-ton spacecraft onto a lunar trajectory.

China’s next lunar exploration phase: sample return from the Moon.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Return sample mission

In a related development, Yu Dengyun, deputy chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said at the gathering that preparations are progressing smoothly for this year’s liftoff of the Chang’e-5 probe to acquire samples of the Moon and bring them back to Earth.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-5 is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander. After reaching lunar orbit, the orbiter and returner will circle the Moon, while the lander and the ascender will land on the lunar surface. The lander will then collect around 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar samples into a vessel in the ascender. The vessel will be brought back to the Earth by the returner.

Moon sample container rendezvous with Earth return vehicle.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Our previous returners came back to the Earth at the first cosmic velocity, around 7.9 kilometers every second, while this time the returner is designed at the second cosmic velocity, around 11.2 kilometers every second. Therefore we face many challenges including the aerodynamic configuration, the adoption of thermal protection material and our control,” Yu told CCTV.

The 2020 China Space Conference began last Friday, jointly hosted by the Chinese Society of Astronautics and the China Space Foundation.

For a look at the 2020 China Space Conference, go to:

https://youtu.be/GcHFUOUwhX4

This new video spotlights the upcoming Chang’e-5 Moon mission at:

https://youtu.be/_raAMC8XnJI