Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: U.S. Mint


Next July’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 — a venture that cost U.S. taxpayers $25 billion in then-year dollars — is now a four-coin program: a curved $5 gold coin, a curved $1 silver coin, a curved half-dollar clad coin, and a curved 5 ounce $1 silver proof coin.

That’s the word from the U.S. Mint.

As required by the Public Law, the Mint invited American artists to design a common front of the coin image that is emblematic of the United States Space Program leading up to the first manned Moon landing. The Secretary of the Treasury selected the design from a juried competition.

Steps to the moon

Gary Cooper of Belfast, Maine created the winning design in the Apollo 11 Commemorative Coin Design Competition. The “obverse” design was selected from entries in a juried competition as required by the authorizing legislation, Public Law 114-282.

The winning design by features the inscriptions “MERCURY,” “GEMINI,” and “APOLLO”— separated by phases of the Moon—and a footprint on the lunar surface. The design represents the efforts of the United States space program leading up to the first manned Moon landing.

Iconic reflection

The “reverse” design is by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill. It features a representation of a close-up of the iconic ‘Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’ photograph taken July 20, 1969, showing just the visor and part of the helmet of astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The reflection in Aldrin’s helmet includes astronaut Neil Armstrong, the United States flag, and the lunar lander.

Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill
Credit: U.S. Mint

Prices for the coins include surcharges of $35 for each gold coin, $10 for each silver coin, $5 for each half dollar clad coin and $50 for each five ounce proof silver dollar coin, which the law authorizes to be paid as follows: one-half to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s “Destination Moon” exhibit, one-quarter to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and one-quarter to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

For more information, go to:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A image taken on Sol 2199, October 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Following almost a month of not relaying imagery, NASA’s Curiosity rover is back on line, delivering a limited number of photos from Vera Rubin Ridge.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right A photo acquired on Sol 2199, October 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Navcam Right A image acquired on Sol 2199, October 13, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot is now in Sol 2200. Due to a rover glitch no imagery had been relayed back to Earth since Sol 2172 on September 15th.

As of this posting, Curiosity’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam), Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Mast Camera (Mastcam) have not, as yet, produced imagery.

From RAND report: The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996–2017.

Space war games are being played out by the Air Force Space Command by way of the 12th Schriever Wargame at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Initiated on October 11, 2018, the Schriever Wargame scenario, set in the year 2028, will explore critical space issues and investigate the integration activities of multiple agencies associated with space systems and services.

The Schriever Wargame 2018 (SW 18) will include international partners from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

What’s up in space and what is that spacecraft doing?
Credit: Lockheed Martin


The objectives of the Wargame are centered on:

1) Examining how international partner capabilities can deter an adversary from extending or escalating a conflict into space;

2) Gaining insight into resiliency, deterrence, and warfighting through international partner synchronization of space and cyberspace operations;

3) Exploring various combined command and control (C2) frameworks to employ and defend air, space and cyberspace capabilities in support of global and geographic / regional operations;

4) Identifying the strategic and operational contributions of space and cyberspace in a multi-domain conflict; and

5) Exploring partnerships framed by a whole of governments approach (International, Civil, Commercial) to combined space and cyberspace operations.

Credit: U.S. Air Force


According to an Air Force statement, the 18 scenario Schriever Wargame depicts a notional peer space and cyberspace competitor seeking to achieve strategic goals by exploiting those domains.

It will include a global scenario with the focus of effort towards the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) Area of Responsibility. The scenario will also include a full spectrum of threats across diverse operating environments to challenge civilian and military leaders, planners and space system operators, as well as the capabilities they employ.

U.S/international partners

The Schriever Wargame Team to carry out the gamming learning is done on behalf of Air Force Space Command, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Roughly 350 military and civilian experts from more than 27 commands and agencies around the country, as well as seven international partners, will participate in the Wargame.

U.S. commands and agencies participating in Schriever Wargame 2018 include: Air Force Space Command, Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Naval Fleet Cyber Command, the National Reconnaissance Office, Executive Agent for Space Staff, Air Combat Command, Office of the Secretary of Defense, USINDOPACOM, U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Northern Command, the Intelligence Community, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Department of State and Department of Commerce.

Air Force space plane in Earth orbit for over 400 days.
Credit: Boeing

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.
Credit: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo


The hush-hush mission of a U.S. Air Force X-37B mini-space plane has winged past 400 days of flight.

This mission – tagged as Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) — was rocketed into Earth orbit on September 7, 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The robotic winged drone is carrying out secretive duties during the program’s fifth flight.

Flight duration

Each X-37B/OTV mission has set a new flight-duration record for the program:

OTV-1 began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit.

OTV-2 began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.

OTV-3 chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit before finally coming down on Oct. 17, 2014.

OTV-4 conducted on-orbit experiments for 718 days during its mission, extending the total number of days spent in space for the OTV program at that point to 2,085 days.

Asets-II payload logo.
Credit: AFRL

What’s up?

On this latest clandestine mission of the space plane, all that’s known according to Air Force officials is that one payload flying on OTV-5 is the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-II.

Developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this cargo is testing experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes for long duration stints in the space environment. According to AFRL, the three primary science objectives are to measure the initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long duration thermal performance, and to assess any lifetime degradation.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.
Credit: USAF

Landing site

When the space plane will land is unknown. The last Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017 – a first for the program. All prior missions had ended with a tarmac touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Several website postings say that the sixth mission, X-37B OTV-6, is planned for 2019 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas-5(501) rocket. Launch would be from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41.

Credit: Illustration by Giuseppe De Chiara


Reusable vehicles

The classified X-37B program “fleet” consists of two known reusable vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was built at several Boeing locations in Southern California, including Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and El Segundo. The program transitioned to the U.S. Air Force in 2004 after earlier funded research efforts by Boeing, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Looking like a miniature version of NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter, the military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 m). The X-37B space plane has a payload bay of 7 feet (2.1 meters) by 4 feet (1.2 meters), a bay that can be outfitted with a robotic arm. X-37B has a launch weight of 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit by gallium-arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.

Back to hangar for another flight day. U.S. Air Force X-37B/OTV-4 is rolled into facility after its May 7 landing at Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Michael Martin/SAF

On-orbit duties

The missions of the X-37B space planes are carried out under the auspices of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and mission control for OTV flights are handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. This squadron oversees operations of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

This Schriever Air Force Base unit is billed as the Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing, gathering information on objects high above Earth and carrying out other intelligence-gathering duties.

And that may be a signal as to what the robotic craft is doing — both looking down at Earth and upward.

Repeating ground tracks

Ted Molczan, a Toronto-based satellite analyst, told Inside Outer Space that OTV 5’s orbit at the start of August was about 197 miles (317 kilometers) high, inclined 54.5 deg to the equator. Its ground track repeated nearly every five days, after 78 revolutions.

“Maneuvers on August 18 and 21 raised its orbit by 45 miles (74 kilometers) which caused its ground track to exactly repeat every three days, after 46 revolutions. It was still in that orbit when last observed, on September 8, by Alberto Rango, from Rome, Italy,” Molczan added.

“Repeating ground tracks are very common,” Molczan said, “especially for spacecraft that observe the Earth. I do not know why OTV has repeating ground tracks,” he concluded.


Numerous boulders, many rocks, no dust – that’s the report from operators of the MASCOT lander deployed from its mother probe, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission to the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.

MASCOT is space shorthand for Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout.

Never before in the history of space has a body of the Solar System been explored in this way.

Ryugu is a C-type asteroid – a carbon-rich representative of the oldest bodies of the four-and-a-half-billion year-old Solar System.

Gentle impact

On October 3, after six minutes of free fall, a gentle impact on the asteroid and then 11 minutes of rebounding until coming to rest – that’s the journey of MASCOT.

Some 17 hours of scientific exploration followed this first ‘stroll’ on the space rock.

The lander was commanded and controlled from the MASCOT Control Centre at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) site in Cologne in the presence of scientific teams from Germany, France and Japan.

The German-French lander MASCOT on board Hayabusa2 was developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and built in close cooperation with the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales).

Photo (right) taken after first contact with asteroid.
Credit: JAXA/U Tokyo/Kochi U/Rikkyo U/Nagoya U/Chiba Inst Tech/Jeiji U/U Aizu/AIST (links); MASCOT/DLR/JAXA (rechts).

Pathway charted

It has now been possible to precisely trace MASCOT’s path on Ryugu’s surface on the basis of image data from the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe and the lander’s images and data.

On the surface, MASCOT moved through the activation of a tungsten swing arm accelerated and decelerated by a motor. This made it possible for MASCOT to be repositioned to the ‘correct’ side or even perform hops across the asteroid’s surface.

During the mission, the team named MASCOT’s landing site (MA-9) ‘Alice’s Wonderland’, after the book by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).

Jump and Mini-move

After the first impact, MASCOT smoothly bounced off a large block, touched the ground about eight times, and then found itself in a resting position unfavorable for taking on-the-spot measurements.

The MASCOT battery powered up after four years on standby during its trip from Earth to the asteroid.
Credit: Saft

After commanding and executing a specially prepared correction maneuver, MASCOT came to a second halt. The exact location of this second position is still being determined.

There, the lander completed detailed measurements during one asteroid day and night. This was followed by a small ‘mini-move’ to provide the MicrOmega spectrometer with even better conditions for measuring the composition of the asteroid material.

Finally, MASCOT was set in motion one last time for a bigger jump. At the last location it carried out some more measurements before the third night on the asteroid began, and contact with Hayabusa2 was lost as the spaceship had moved out of line of sight. Its onboard battery depleted, MASCOT’s 17 hours and 7 minutes on Ryugu was over.

Note: Story based on DLR press statement.


Originally, the first uncrewed mission of the combined Space Launch System (SLS)/Orion system known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) had a launch readiness date of December 2017,

The first crewed mission of the system known as Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) was projected to launch in mid-2021.

Launch slips

However, a new NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report has found, due to continued production delays with the SLS Core Stage and upcoming critical testing and integration activities, current NASA schedules indicate launch dates of mid-2020 and mid-2022, respectively.

With $5.3 billion expended as of August 2018 out of $6.2 billion allocated for the Boeing Stages contract, NASA expects Boeing to reach the contract’s value by early 2019—nearly 3 years before the contract is supposed to end—without final delivery of a single Core Stage or EUS.

Wanted: increase in funding

As a result, the OIG report explains that the SLS Program will require a major increase in funding and renegotiation of the Boeing Stages contract to meet current launch readiness dates for the two Core Stages and EUS.

The OIG report concludes that, in support of NASA’s goal of manned space flight beyond low Earth orbit, the Agency has been working since 2010 to develop a heavy-lift rocket. “As of August 2018, NASA has spent $11.9 billion on the SLS, but will require significant additional funding to complete the first Core Stage—more than 3 years later than initially planned and at double the anticipated cost.”

Credit: NASA OIG

Boeing: poor performance

“In addition to Boeing’s poor performance, we found a number of unacceptable procurement practices by NASA officials at Marshall that added to contract cost and schedule issues. These practices included not tracking the costs of specific deliverables for each Core Stage and EUS, contracting officers exceeding their warrants, paying significant award fees despite contractor poor performance, and the lack of an approved plan for future Core Stage production. We question nearly $64 million in award fees provided to Boeing since 2012 for the “very good” and “excellent” performance ratings it received while the SLS Program was experiencing substantial cost increases, technical issues, and schedule delays. Without significant corrective action, NASA’s efforts to build its first two Core Stages and the EUS will cost significantly more and take considerably longer than anticipated.”

This artist’s rendering shows a NASA concept of a Europa lander mission.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Carroll



Europa mission jeopardized

Given that NASA officials estimate needing 52 months of lead time from issuing a contract to delivery, the OIG reports that “the earliest a third Core Stage can be produced is 2023, jeopardizing planned launch dates for future missions that require the rocket, including EM-2 and potentially a science mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, in 2022.”



Go to this October 10, 2018 report – “NASA’s Management of the Space Launch System Stages Contract” – at:

Illustration of the seven planets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 ultra-cool low mass star. Planets e, f, and g orbit in the suspected habitable zone (green) based on the spectral type and modeling of the system. Note: the size of the planets is greatly exaggerated compared to their orbital
radii and that the radial dimension of the TRAPPIST-1 system has been enlarged by a factor of 25. In
other words, the entire TRAPPIST-1 system would fit well inside the orbit of Mercury.

A new report issued today has recommended that NASA should support research on a broader range of biosignatures and environments, and incorporate the field of astrobiology into all stages of future exploratory missions.

“An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe” is a Congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Europan environments that may harbor life or preserve biosignature. A variety of geologic and geophysical processes, including ocean currents governed by tides, rotation, and heat exchange, are required to drive water from the subsurface to the surface and govern how any exchange operates.
SOURCE: Kevin Hand, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “On the Habitability of Ocean Worlds,” presentation
to the Workshop on Searching for Life across Space and Time, December 5, 2016.



Novel biosignatures

The blue-ribbon committee found that the lines of evidence now used to look for current and past life on Earth and beyond, called biosignatures, needs expansion.

Also, recommended is investigating novel “agnostic” biosignatures – signs of life that are not tied to a particular metabolism or molecular “blueprint,” or other characteristics of life as we currently know it.

Chemical evidence consistent with serpentinization and water-rock interactions on Enceladus and known hydrothermal activity make Enceladus a key target for astrobiology exploration.
Sampling the moon’s plumes would help to establish if life exists there now.
Southwest Research Institute


Diversity of life

The report explains that NASA should focus on research and exploration of possible life below the surface of a planet in light of recent advances that have demonstrated the breadth and diversity of life below Earth’s surface, the nature of fluids beneath the surface of Mars, and the likelihood of life-sustaining geological processes in planets and moons with subsurface oceans.

A renewed focus on how to seek signs of subsurface life will inform astrobiology investigations of other rocky planets or moons, ocean or icy worlds, and beyond to exoplanets.

Life detection technologies

The report emphasizes the need for NASA to ramp up efforts in developing mission-ready life detection technologies to advance the search for life. Highlighted is implementing technologies in near-term ground- and space-based direct imaging missions that can suppress the light from stars.

Flagged in the NASA-sponsored report is, so far, planning, implementation, and operations of planetary exploration missions with astrobiological objectives have tended to be more strongly defined by geological perspectives than by astrobiology-focused strategies.

Artist rendition of CubeSats at Europa. These twin CubeSats are currently in a feasibility
study to be included with the NASA Europa Clipper mission.

Private-sector space missions

Within its nearly 200 pages, the report notes that the burgeoning space economy and possibility of private-sector robotic and human missions to Mars pose challenges to compliance with articles VI and IX of the Outer Space Treaty.

“These challenges are complicated by the absence of a regulatory body in the U.S. with authority to authorize and supervise private-sector activities beyond low-Earth orbit,” the report states.

Planetary protection issues

The recent transfer of NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection (OPP) from the Science Mission Directorate to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance is generally regarded as a positive change, the report adds.

“However, the move has had some negative consequences,” the report observes. The disestablishment of the Planetary Protection Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council has deprived the OPP of its primary internal source of independent scientific and technical advice. “Further, the long-term future of the Planetary Protection research and analysis program, long underfunded and offered only intermittently in recent years, remains unclear.”

The report — “An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe” – is available at:

Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on November 15, 2014, Sol 809.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity rover is now in Sol 2196. Due to a rover glitch – still being worked on by engineers – no images have been relayed back to Earth since Sol 2172 on September 15th – nearly a month.

“As Curiosity continues to mend, I’ve been looking forward to our next drill sample of gray rock,” Fraeman reports. “Some interesting features we’ve seen on Vera Rubin Ridge are small ‘swallowtail crystals’ often associated with the boundary between gray and red rocks on the ridge top.”

Geologic clues

Fraeman has been thinking about these features, and reflecting on past results from Curiosity when the robot was just beginning to explore Mt. Sharp at the Pahrump Hills region. Back on sol 809, after the robot brushed away the dust on target “Mojave,” the team was surprised and excited to discover hundreds of millimeter-sized, rice-shaped crystals on its face.

“These crystals are geologic clues to what happened in the past,” Fraeman points out. “What were these unique features made of? How and when did they form?”

Swallowtail crystals close to drill attempt at “Inverness.” This image was taken by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2163, September 6, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL








New paper

Curiosity scientist Linda Kah and colleagues address these questions in a new paper available in the journal Terra Nova titled “Syndepositional precipitation of calcium sulfate in Gale Crater, Mars.”

That paper can be found here at:

Sizes, shapes, orientations

For this study, Kah and colleagues carefully studied the sizes, shapes, and orientations of the unusual crystals at Mojave and several nearby targets. They integrated these findings with the geologic setting, chemistry, and mineralogy of the Pahrump Hills area to infer the presence of shallow, salty, and sometimes ephemeral waters during this period in Gale’s history.

Kah and co-authors explain that the crystal shapes are distinctive of gypsum salts that precipitate in lake, playa, and near-shore ocean environments.

“Interestingly, Curiosity did not detect any large differences in the composition of rocks containing crystals versus nearby, non-crystal-containing rocks,” Fraeman notes. “This result suggests the calcium sulfate that originally formed the crystals had either been dissolved at a later time and/or that the crystals had incorporated a lot of the original rocks around within them when they formed.”

The shapes, sizes, and orientation of crystals give clues to how they grow.

Curiosity Mars rover – on the prowl since August 2012.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Swallowtail crystals

Kah and co-authors showed the crystals at Pahrump were randomly oriented and occurred between and within cemented layers.

“Combined with the crystals’ elongated shapes, this suggests that they grew at the interface between loose, water-logged sediment and either shallow water or air,” Fraeman says. “Interestingly, small amounts of organic (carbon-bearing) material can cause crystals to have shapes similar to those observed at Mojave, which is consistent with Curiosity findings of organic material in the Mojave drill sample.”

In conclusion, Fraeman says that the swallowtail crystals on Vera Rubin Ridge are also known shapes of gypsum crystals. “Why are these crystals so different in form from what we saw back at Mojave? What does this all tell us about ancient environments at Gale Crater?”

Credit: NASEM

Just how lonely are we in the universe…or how crowded is it?

Astrobiology, the study of the origins of life in the universe and the search for life on other worlds, is a highly interdisciplinary quest.

Narrow jets of gas and icy particles erupt from the south polar region of Enceladus, contributing to the moon’s giant plume. A cycle of activity in these small-scale jets may be periodically lofting extra particles into space, causing the overall plume to brighten dramatically.
Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

It’s a rapidly changing field at the intersection of biology, chemistry, geology, planetary science, and physics.

Recent scientific advances have opened new doors for astrobiological inquiry and at the request of NASA and Congress, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) appointed a committee to develop a future research strategy for the field of astrobiology.

Jupiter’s Europa could be site for water…and life?
Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

Briefing event

Wed, October 10, 2018

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EDT




To join in on this public briefing event and webcast in which committee chair Barbara Sherwood Lollar and committee member Alan Boss will discuss the report’s recommendations and take questions from the audience.

The strategy will outline scientific questions, challenges, and opportunities in the search for signs of extraterrestrial life both within and outside the Solar System. This new strategy updates a previous strategy released in 2015.

Combined with the Exoplanet Science Strategy the National Academies released last month, the astrobiology strategy will inform the upcoming astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey and, ultimately, the planning of future NASA science missions.

Go to:

Credit: National Geographic




The hardest thing about living on Mars… is us.

National Geographic’s Mars (Season 2) starts on November 12th.

Go to this new video trailer at:

Griffith Observatory Event