Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category


Credit: BSO


Bigelow Aerospace has launched Bigelow Space Operations (BSO), a new commercial space company that is the sales, operational and customer service company that manages and operates space stations developed by Bigelow Aerospace.

In a press statement, BSO notes that the two launches of B330-1 and B330-2 space facilities are expected in 2021.

“These single structures that house humans on a permanent basis will be the largest, most complex structures ever known as stations for human use in space,” notes BSO

Diverse set of customers

The customers that B330 will seek to accommodate will be very diverse.

One Spacecraft Serving Many Missions:
An entire space station and human space program in a single launch. Two B330’s ready for launch in 2021. Dimensions: 6.7 meters width; 16.8 meters length; mass of 50,000 pounds; six crew capacity.
Credit: BSO

BSO has a mission to market and operate these and other space stations including future generations developed by Bigelow Aerospace “that are so capable, so diverse and so large that they can accommodate virtually unlimited use almost anywhere,” explains the press statement.

BSO’s plan for this year is to quantify in detail the global, national and corporate commercial space market for orbiting stations. “This subject has had ambiguity for many years. BSO will be spending millions of dollars this year to establish concrete answers,” the company statement explains.

As a new company, Bigelow Space Operations is preparing to do the following:

— Conduct diverse space operations for multiple stations in LEO and beyond
— Reliably and safely service customers requirements to encourage successful results
— Provide a centralized service at the lowest possible cost for all space operations needs

Pressurized volume

Over time, Bigelow Aerospace will manufacture a single station, launched on a single rocket that will contain over 2.4 times the pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station, “and we intend for BSO to market and operate these also.”

Alpha Station: A commercially operated platform with 660 cubic meters of total volume.
Credit: BSO




A new manufacturing facility for these giant stations would have to be built in Florida, Alabama or some other suitable location, explains the newly formed group.




For more information on Bigelow Space Operations visit:

China’s medium-size space station for the 2020’s is depicted in this artwork.
Credit: CNSA

Worth a read: Written Remarks before the National Space Council on February 21, 2018 by Jeffrey Manber. CEO, NanoRacks:

For 30 years, I have worked to make space ‘just another place to do business.’ I was inspired, Secretary Ross, by one of your predecessors, Ronald Reagan’s Commerce Secretary Malcom Baldridge.He passionately believed, as do I, that we can, and we should, unleash the imagination of the American private sector as part of our national space exploration efforts. This vision of American-style business in space has motivated me throughout a career thathas focused on commercial use of space stations.

I started my company, NanoRacks, 8 years ago. We were the first company to own and market our own research hardware on the International Space Station. The first to sell space station services. The first to commercially deploy small satellites. As of today, we have launched over 600 payloads to ISS, with over 200 satellites deployed, from customers in over 30 countries. Our customers range from NASA and the US Government, to a new generation of small satellite operators to hundreds of schools from all across America, Israel, Germany, China, and many more. We deployed the first Lithuanian satellites from the ISS, which catalyzed the students behind this project to start their own company, now backed by ESA funding. We keep Spire’s constellation of global ship tracking CubeSats replenished in orbit. We’ve launched over 300 student experiments with our educational partner, DreamUp – and, Mr. Vice President, we’re proud to have launched four high school experiments from Crown Point and Highland, Indiana.

All of our customers are commercial. From schools doing bake sales to the USG procuring our services, we’re a normal business, which justhappens to be onboard the International Space Station.

NanoRacks Chief Executive Officer, Jeffrey Manber (right) signs contract to fly Chinese experiment onboard the International Space Station.
Credit: BIT


Now, please allow me several observations:

  • First, kudos to the Administration for beginning the debate today on the transition from ISS to the era of private space stations. The debate has been skewed in headlines, but I believe you are raising the correct questions: How can NASA most effectively leverage the taxpayer investment in ISS? Can commercial industry safely and cost-effectively operate the ISS and other commercial platforms? It’s not a black and white end to US government support of ISS, it’s about the role of direct and indirect NASA support and how the government will no longer serve as a landlord, but instead as a tenant.
  • Next, NASA today is supportive of commercial space companies and private initiatives, but there are ways we can improve. Above all else, imaginative non-solicited ideas from the private sector to NASA should not have to be competed! That defeats the motivation, does it not? However, more and more NASA’s key personnel are leading the transition to a more commercial way of doing business. Two of the key leaders are Jason Crusan with NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Directorate – leading the NextSTEPs program, and Marybeth Edeen, one of our strongest advocates for greater private sector involvement in the public-private partnerships, out of the International Space Station Program Office.
  • Third, commercial space must be, and is more than, simply taking government seed-money. NASA, the Department of Defense and the Air Force in particular, should begin a serious analysisfor better leveraging the innovative, fast-paced, and cost-friendly private sector capabilities.
  • Fourth, and very importantly, as we look overseas, others are emulating America’s drive to a space-based marketplace in low-earth orbit. Others, including China. The United States cannot simply ignore China’s commercial space ambitions. China is quietly developing a robust commercial space industry. I say quietly because Americans are blinded by our own regulations from participation. So we barely see what is happening.


Mary Murphy, NanoRacks senior Internal Payloads Manager (and the manager of the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) project) with Chinese space research team. The BIT NanoLab was officially checked out and handed over for launch at the Space Life Science Lab (SLSL) in Cape Canaveral Florida. This handover occurred on the morning of May 31, 2017, prior to the June 3 SpaceX CRS-11 Dragon supply ship launch.
Credit: NanoRacks



Large Chinese companies are creating entrepreneurial launch efforts, while young Chinese engineers are raising funds all the way from Silicon Valley to Hong Kong. On a governmental level, the European Space Agency has astronauts training to visit the planned Chinese space station. But the United States is barred. There are so many regulations, not to mention our mindset, barring business in space with Chinese companies and for cooperating between our civil space programs. NanoRacks and others are limited what we can sell in this marketplace.

Avoiding this emerging marketplace, albeit due to justified concerns over technology transfer and other legitimate challenges, is not the American global leadership that we strive to achieve.

For two years I worked to bring a Chinese university experiment to the space station as a customer of NanoRacks. Why? I want us “in the room” of this new commercial marketplace. With Administration and Congressional concurrence, I was able to enter into a commercial contract with the Beijing Institute of Technology for a fascinating DNA mutation experiment. The project met the concerns of many in Congress opposed to working with China in space. We ensured no technology transfer, that the results would be published in Western journals, and that there was no direct connection to the People’s Liberation Army. It was a commercial program, and my company was paid.

Now, while my time today is brief, I want to emphasize the need for reforms allowing American companies to be leaders in this billion dollar market. Let’s start fresh, negotiate a stern but fair agreement with China, and allow U.S. businesses to do what we do best: innovate and compete better than anyone else.

Mr. Vice President, and the entire Space Council, I am thrilled that the Administration is turning a focus on commercial space and American leadership. We’re at the tipping point of figuring out just how NASA will transition low-Earth orbit into commercial hands, and I, along with NanoRacks, look forward to being a leader in this seamless handover. We will continue to inspire the next generation of space explorers, so that one day soon, those students in Crown Point, Indiana will be presenting to the nextSpace Council discussing how the United States commercial lunar base is just another place to do business.

  • Jeffrey Manber

Vice President Pence Leads the Second Meeting of the National Space Council, “Moon, Mars, & Worlds Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier”
Credit: Inside Outer Space/Screen Grab



The National Space Council held its second meeting today, orchestrated at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

To view the full video of the event, go to:

Vice President Pence Leads the Second Meeting of the National Space Council, “Moon, Mars, & Worlds Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier”


Policy recommendations

The White House released today policy recommendations from the National Space Council to President Trump to streamline the regulatory environment for commercial space companies.

At the second National Space Council Meeting, the council agreed on the following four recommendations to reform the commercial space regulatory frameworks at the Departments of Transportation and Commerce:

RECOMMENDATION 1: The Secretary of Transportation should work to transform the launch and re-entry licensing regime.

The Department of Transportation would require a single license for all types of launch and re-entry vehicle operations and transform the launch and re-entry regulatory process from one of prescriptive requirements to a performance based licensing regime.

Revision of the licensing regime would be in coordination with members of the National Space Council.

This action should be completed no later than March 1, 2019.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The Secretary of Commerce should consolidate its space commerce responsibilities, other than launch and reentry, in the Office of the Secretary of Commerce.

The Department of Commerce should develop a legislative proposal to create an Under Secretary of Space Commerce, who would be responsible for all commercial space regulatory functions.

The Secretary of Commerce would also coordinate with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and as appropriate the Federal Communications Commission and the NASA Administrator to streamline the existing commercial remote sensing operation licensing regime, and address new issues such as radio frequency spectrum surveys, rendezvous and proximity operations and docking maneuvers.

The Secretary would propose legislative changes that would further enable the rapid, efficient, and predictable permitting of commercial remote sensing activities.

This legislation proposal would be completed no later than July 1, 2018.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The National Telecommunication and Information Administration should coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the protection and stewardship of radio frequency spectrum necessary for commercial space activities.

The protection of radio frequency spectrum necessary for commercial space activity should not adversely affect national security or public safety.

The Department of Commerce would take an active role in working with U.S. Industry and members of the National Space Council to develop and advocate, and to the extent possible, implement spectrum management policies that make U.S. space-related industries more competitive globally.

RECOMMENDATION 4: The Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, in coordination with members of the National Space Council, should initiate a policy review of the current export licensing regulations affecting commercial space activity.

The recommendations of the policy review should be completed and presented to the National Space Council by January 1, 2019.

Users advisory group

Lastly, the White House has issued a list of selectees for the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group. They are:

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Astronaut

Tory Bruno, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance

Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman

Dean Cheng, Scholar at the Heritage Foundation

Eileen Collins, 4-time Shuttle astronaut, first female shuttle commander

Steve Crisafulli, Former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives

Mary Lynne Dittmar, President and CEO of The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

Adm. Jim Ellis, Retired 4-star Admiral, former head of STRATCOM, and member of the Space Foundation Board of Directors

Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity Space

Newt Gingrich, Author, former Speaker of the House

Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation

Homer Hickam, Author of the book “Rocket Boys” and former NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center engineer

Governor Kay Ivey, Governor of Alabama

Fred Klipsch, Founder and Chairman of Hoosiers for Quality Education

Les Lyles, Retired 4-star Air Force General and member of the NASA Advisory Council

Pam Melroy, 3-time Shuttle astronaut and former Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of the Boeing Company

Fatih Ozmen, CEO of the Sierra Nevada Corporation

G.P. Bud Peterson, President of the Georgia Institute of Technology

Jack Schmitt, Apollo 17 Astronaut and former Senator

Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX

Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin

Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

David Thompson, Founder and CEO of Orbital ATK

Pamela Vaughan, Board Certified Science Teacher

Mandy Vaughn, President of VOX Launch Company

Stu Witt, Founder of Mojave Air and Spaceport, former Navy pilot, former Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

David Wolf, 4-time Shuttle astronaut and physician

Pete Worden, Former Air Force General and NASA Ames Center Director

For the White House release on this advisory group, go to:

For the prepared statement by Vice President Pence in opening the second meeting of the National Space Council, go to:



The Red Planet as seen by Europe’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/D. O’Donnell – CC BY-SA IGO

A virtual meeting of The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) was held today, detailing a number of exploration issues, including a projected effort to robotically return samples from the Red Planet.

MEPAG meetings involve the planetary exploration community, particularly those scientists, engineers, project and program personnel, theoreticians and experimentalists, instrument scientists, and modelers who are interested in Mars exploration.

MEPAG’s overall mission is to determine if Mars ever supported life; understand the processes and history of climate on Mars; understand the origin and evolution of Mars as a geological system; and to prepare for human exploration.

In a whirl – Mars helicopter decision

The MEPAG briefing provided an overview of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover situation, characterized as doing very well. Key pieces of hardware for the mega-rover vehicle have been completed, now undergoing testing.

No fly zone? Mars helicopter may/may not be on NASA Mars 2020 rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Still to be determined, however, is inclusion of a Mars helicopter – hardware that has been tested successfully here on Earth, but may/may not be sent to the planet as payload on the 2020 rover as a technology demonstrator. It’s a possibility…not a certainty at this point, said Jim Watzin, Director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA.

Return samples

One big ticket MEPAG item is hauling back to Earth select samples of the Red Planet.

Given success of a Mars 2020 rover landing, that machinery would collect samples of the Red Planet, leaving them in cached condition for later pickup. A follow-on return sample lander mission would gather up the samples, blast them off the planet into Mars orbit for eventual delivery directly to Earth, or by way of the projected astronaut-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Chad Edwards

Chad Edwards of the Program Formulation Office at JPL’s Mars Exploration Program Office told MEPAG that extensive Mars ascent vehicle studies have been done, coming to the conclusion that a hybrid propulsion, single-stage-to-Mars-orbit is the best choice. Key Mars sample return technologies are on track to support a sample retrieval lander/sample return orbiter launch as early as 2026, he said.

Credit: SpaceX/Paul Wooster


SpaceX Mars plans

Also taking part in the MEPAG meeting was Paul Wooster, a lead in the technical development of SpaceX’s Mars architecture and vehicles.

Wooster outlined SpaceX Mars planning that is focused on the development of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). He detailed use of at least two BFR cargo missions to Mars in 2022 that would confirm water resources on Mars and identify hazards.  Those cargo missions would place power, mining, and the support infrastructure for future flights, he advised. The 2024 time period would involve both cargo landers and crewed missions, setting up a propellant production plant, as well as build up a Mars base designed for expansion.

Credit: SpaceX/Paul Wooster

The SpaceX goal is earliest possible establishment of a permanent Mars surface outpost, Wooster explained.

Artist’s view of Tiangong space lab
Credit: CMSE

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency and the International Astronomical Center (IAC) have announced the organization of a joint campaign to monitor China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory as it falls back to Earth. China orbited Tiangong-1 in late September 2011.

The nose dive of the 8.5 ton craft is expected to take place as early as next month in areas between 43 degrees north and south latitude, a track that includes most of the Arab region.

Credit: UAE Space Agency

“The UAE is well equipped and experienced with monitoring and determining the coordinates of space objects, meteors and meteorites,” said H.E. Dr. Eng. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency. Many of those capabilities are resident within the UAE Meteor Monitoring and Filming Network, which was launched two years ago to support scientific research. Today, that network successfully provides reports and studies on meteor traffic over the UAE.

Sky-pointed cameras

The network consists of three different stations across the country to record astronomical events within UAE skies. Each Station consists of sky-pointed astronomical cameras located at several locations in the United Arab Emirates.

Credit: IAC

Each station has astronomical cameras directed towards the sky that automatically start recording once a meteor or a piece of space debris is detected.

Three years ago, the IAC set up an international program involving space enthusiasts from around the world to monitor the fall of satellites.

Four experts, including the IAC Director, a specialist from NASA on behalf of the United States, and two other specialist experts from Canada, supervise the program.

In a press statement, the UAE Space Agency said the “uncontrolled fall” will pose no danger to Earth and will not impact any of the populated areas. “Although there is a chance some debris may reach the ground, it will be falling into the sea and will not impact lives or human activities.”

Test campaign

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) will serve as host and administrator of a test campaign regarding the reentry of China’s Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

The UAE Space Agency/International Astronomical Center are not part of the IADC.

IADC comprises space debris and other experts from 13 space agencies/organizations, including NASA, ESA, European national space agencies, Japan’s JAXA, India’s ISRO, Korea’s KARI, Russia’s Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration.

Main Control Room at ESA’s European Space Operations Center, Darmstadt, Germany.
Credit: ESA/P. Shlyaev, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Cross-verify, cross-analyze

IADC members will use the fall of Tiangong-1 to conduct their annual reentry test campaign, during which participants will pool their predictions of the time window, as well as their respective tracking datasets obtained from radar and other sources. The aim is to cross-verify, cross-analyze and improve the prediction accuracy for all members.

According to reentry experts at The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS), China’s Tiangong-1 is predicted to reenter in early April 2018, plus or minus 1.5 weeks, assuming an uncontrolled reentry (no thrusting).

This prediction was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on February 14.

Credit: Ben Pearson


Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman?

Surely having a window full of speeding tickets by now, that SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy Tesla Roadster on February 6 is apparently tumbling, but in cruise control – outward bound from Earth.

Thanks to a creative website by Ben Pearson, founder of Old Ham Media, viewers can keep up with the speeding speedster.

“I came to realize that people really were interested in the tracking of these objects,” Pearson explains. “I started thinking about how I could manage to get this information, and then I came to realize that I could provide the tracking for it myself!”

Credit: SpaceX

TLE car tags

Pearson registered this domain name, and began assembling the best of tracking data available. The current data that he is using comes from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Horizons website, allowing him to track the Tesla roadster “to the best of human understanding, for some time to come.”

This information will eventually expire, no longer being useful, Pearson points out. “I’m not sure exactly when that will be, but I suspect in a few years. Certainly it will be difficult to see when it next comes close to the Earth, which won’t be for a long time.”

BTW, Pearson concludes: “I do not own a Tesla, but I am in the reservation queue for a Tesla Model 3.”

Credit: SpaceX

Where is the vehicle now?

The Tesla travelogue has the car’s current location at 2,400,187 miles (3,862,728 km, 0.026 AU) from Earth, moving away from Earth at a speed of 6,722 miles/hour (10,817 km/hour, 3.00 km/s).

At present, the roadster is 136,601,793 miles (219,839,344 km, 1.470 AU) from Mars, moving toward the planet at a speed of 42,880 miles/hour (69,009 km/hour, 19.17 km/s).

Don’t panic! Tesla Roadster en route and outbound.
Credit: SpaceX/Screen Grab.

Upcoming milestones

According to Pearson’s website, circle the calendar for these events:

Close Approach of Mars on June 8, 2018 at a distance of 0.740 AU.

Far point from Sun on October 10, 2018 at a distance of 1.655 AU.

Far point from Earth on February 21, 2019 at a distance of 2.446 AU.

Close Approach of Sun on August 9, 2019 at a distance of 0.983 AU.

Close Approach of Mars on September 16, 2019 at a distance of 0.649 AU.

Far point from Earth on January 15, 2020 at a distance of 2.336 AU.

Far point from Sun on April 20, 2020 at a distance of 1.656 AU.

Close Approach of Mars on October 6, 2020 at a distance of 0.049 AU.

StickerLoaf decal
Credit: StickerLoaf











To go to the “Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman?” website, park yourself at:

Also, check out this cool video at:

Big ideas in small packages – what’s your payload of preference?
Credit: Lockheed Martin Space


For the first time, aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, is making technical documents for its satellite buses openly available to the public.

Typically, that data is closely held, shared with others via a non-disclosure agreement in place.

The company’s initiative is dubbed “Open Space.” The goal is to help more companies and innovators tackle pressing challenges – to take cutting-edge technologies from concept to orbit, doing so in a quick cost-effective manner.

Groundbreaking technologies

“We’re ready to help new companies integrate their groundbreaking technologies with powerful satellite platforms,” explains Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. “We believe there’s significant untapped potential out there waiting to be unleashed.”

The call of Open Space starts with a window of opportunity: From now through May 11 concepts can be submitted. A senior panel of technical and business experts will then review each idea to see if the company can match up with a customer and launch opportunity. “For now, please keep your concept non-proprietary. If we think there’s an opportunity to collaborate, we’ll follow up to get into the details,” Ambrose adds.

Credit: Lockheed Martin Space

Downloadable information

A website provides downloadable payload information for Lockheed Martin’s flagship satellite, the LM 2100, a reconfigurable small satellite; the LM 400, and the company’s new nanosatellite, the LM 50.

“We’re inviting industry, academia and individual innovators to bring us their payload concepts or solutions for technology that could take advantage of these payload capabilities and solve hard problems here on Earth,” Ambrose explains. “We’re looking to help solve those challenges that will connect, protect and inspire the world.”

For example, how best to study the Earth’s environment with greater accuracy, help first responders address crises faster, create ultra-high capacity communications links, or what approaches can be taken to adapt low-cost commercial technology to the punishing environments of space?

For more information on Open Space and submitting your idea, go to:

Schematic of the DART mission shows the impact on the moonlet of asteroid (65803) Didymos. Post-impact observations from Earth-based optical telescopes and planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body.
Credit: NASA

The Trump administration’s recently issued proposed NASA budget includes support for a new Planetary Defense program for near-Earth object detection and mitigation under the agency’s Planetary Science Division.

Part of the program is to bankroll the formulation of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission at $90 million in its first year. DART would collide with a double asteroid system as it passes near Earth, allowing observations of the impact’s effects on the motion of the system. Target of the kinetic impact is the smaller asteroid of Didymos, called Didymos B.

Overview of the DART spacecraft with the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) extended. With the ROSA arrays fully deployed, DART measures 12.5 meters (494 inches) by 2.4 meters (98.1 inches).
Credit: NASA

Change in momentum

DART would intercept Didymos’ moonlet in early October 2022, when the Didymos system is within 11 million kilometers of Earth, enabling observations by ground-based telescopes and planetary radar to measure the change in momentum imparted to the moonlet.

Brought up on Space X’s eleventh Dragon flight (CRS-11) to ISS, the ROSA array was tested on Expedition 52 on board the International Space Station (ISS) in June 2017. This was the first in-space test of ROSA. This image shows the ROSA fully extended.
Credit: NASA

DART would be the first demonstration of the kinetic impact technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space.  Crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6 kilometers per second, DART would utilize an onboard camera and sophisticated autonomous navigation software to enable the celestial collision.

Launch window

The DART mission is in Phase B, led by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland and managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

The launch window for NASA’s DART spacecraft’s begins in late December 2020 and runs through May 2021.  It will intercept Didymos’ moonlet in early October 2022.

The DART spacecraft would make use of Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA). For in-space propulsion, DART taps the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C) solar electric propulsion system.

Artist’s view of China’s Tiangong-1 space station in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

A new forecast on the reentry of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab has been issued by The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS).

Tiangong-1 is predicted to reenter in early April 2018, plus or minus 1.5 weeks.

This prediction was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on February 14 and assumes an uncontrolled reentry (no thrusting).

According to CORDS, the orbit of Tiangong-1 as of February 14: Apogee (highest point in the orbit) equals 173 miles (279 kilometers); Perigee (lowest point in the orbit) is 157 miles (252 kilometers).

For reference, the International Space Station is in a 249 mile (400 kilometer) circular orbit.

Tiangong-1 is the first space station built by China and lofted in late September 2011. The first Chinese orbital docking occurred between Tiangong-1 and an unpiloted Shenzhou spacecraft on November 2, 2011. Two piloted missions were completed to visit Tiangong-1: Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10.

Surviving debris

At launch, this Chinese space lab weighed 18,740 pounds (8,500 kilograms).

As explained by CORDS, there is a chance that a small amount of Tiangong-1 debris may survive reentry and impact the Earth.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation (CORDS)

Should this happen, any surviving debris would fall within a region that is a few hundred kilometers in size and centered along a point on the Earth that the station passes over.

A map depicts the relative probabilities of debris landing within a given region.

Yellow indicates locations that have a higher probability while green indicates areas of lower probability. Blue areas have zero probability of debris reentry since Tiangong-1 does not fly over these areas (north of 42.7° N latitude or south of 42.7° S latitude).

These zero probability areas constitute about a third of the total Earth’s surface area.

DSS Antsy image showing Tiangong-1 acquired January 15, 2018
Credit: 2018 Deimos Sky Survey



High-tech observation

Meanwhile, a recent European Space Agency blog post comes courtesy of the team at the Deimos Sky Survey (DeSS).

They use a high-tech automated observatory located on top of Puerto de Niefla, in Valle de Alcudia and Sierra Madrona Natural Park, in central Spain, south of Madrid.

The posting shows Tiangong-1 speeding through space and can be viewed here:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1967, February 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Closing out Sol 1967 duties, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has accomplished several newsworthy tasks.

“We got lots of good news this morning,” reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Firstly, the rover’s Dust Removal Tool brushed off a potential drill target successfully. Also done, Herkenhoff adds, was the analysis by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite of the Ogunquit Beach sample, “and the rover is healthy and ready for more!”

Potential drilling site.
Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) acquired this photo on Sol 1966, February 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Testing new drilling technique

Curiosity’s weekend plan is focused on dumping the last of the Ogunquit Beach sand out of the robot’s Collection and Handling for Interior Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. That is necessary before researchers can test the new feed-extended drilling technique.

Brush off on Mars. Curiosity Mastcam Right photo taken on Sol 1966, February 16, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

But first, on Sol 1968, Navcam will perform a sky survey and search for clouds, as this is the cloudy season on Mars, Herkenhoff notes. Then the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Right Mastcam will observe bedrock targets “Smoo Cave” and “St. Andrews” to sample the nearby chemical diversity.

Sieved, un-sieved samples

Sol 1969 will be a busy day for Curiosity, starting with more ChemCam and Right Mastcam bedrock observations, this time of “Yesnaby” and “Dingwall.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1965, February 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

On the plan, the rover’s robotic arm will get to work, taking Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of the locations where the samples will be dumped, followed by dumping of sieved and un-sieved samples in those two locations, Herkenhoff explains.

CHIMRA will be cleaned out, with MAHLI then tasked to take images of each dump pile from 25 and 5 centimeters above them.

Finally, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will be placed over the pile of sieved material for an overnight integration.

Dump piles

The next morning, on Sol 1970, APXS will be retracted so that MAHLI can take another image of sieved material, to see whether and where APXS touched it.

Following this task, the rover’s arm will be moved out of the way for Mastcam and ChemCam passive spectral observations of the dump piles, and taking ChemCam Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) measurements (with Right Mastcam documentation) of red clasts named “Fladda.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1965. February 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Holiday weekend

Just after sunrise on Sol 1971, Mastcam and Navcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will search for clouds and perform another sky survey.

“This plan will get Curiosity through the holiday weekend, and tactical planning will resume Tuesday morning,” Herkenhoff concludes.

Griffith Observatory Event