Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo acquired on Sol 2720, April 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just started Sol 2722 operations.

Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada explains that the primary focus of a two-sol plan is to prepare the drill bit assembly to dump the remaining “Edinburgh” drilled sample (portion to exhaustion), so that it can be analyzed in the upcoming weekend plan with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instruments for chemistry and texture respectively.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2720, March 31, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Sample delivery

Sample has successfully been delivered to both Curiosity’s internal Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments, Thompson adds, and scientists are awaiting the results of the mineralogy and volatile/isotope chemistry, with the 3rd night of CheMin analysis in this plan.

Individual frame of one of the Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope photos to create long distance mosaics. Image acquired on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech





“The Edinburgh sample represents the blocky, dark grey sandstone, pediment-capping unit that overlies the Murray mudstone,” Thompson reports.  Science team members are interested to see how the mineralogy and chemistry might differ between these two rocks types, given that they were likely deposited in different environments.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRise image showing the “washboard” pattern (bottom, center) of the pediment-capping unit. This localization map also shows Curiosity’s current location (last yellow dot) and some of the traverse.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity reached the top of the slope March 6 (the 2,696th Martian day, or sol, of the mission). It took three drives to scale the hill, the second of which tilted the rover 31 degrees — the most the rover has ever tilted on Mars. This selfie was taken on Feb. 26, 2020 (Sol 2687). Since 2014, the robot has been rolling up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mountain at the center of Gale Crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun performing Sol 2721 duties.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2720, April 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Laser shots as seen in this Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 2720, March 31, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The priority for the recent sol 2720 plan was to drop off and analyze a sample of the Edinburgh drill hole in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.

“But we’ve got plenty of remote sensing in the plan too, much of it building on our previous observations from this spot,” reports Ryan Anderson, Planetary Geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Changes in weathering behavior

“We start each morning with a Navcam dust devil survey,” Anderson adds.

In the Sol 2720 plan, the robot’s Mastcam was to take a stereo mosaic of a nearby hilltop, extending a previous mosaic to look for changes in the weathering behavior of the pediment cap rock. This was to be followed by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of two sandstone bedrock targets named “Tron Kirk” and “Dunedin” and extensions of two long-distance  Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope mosaics of the “washboard” surface of the pediment, Anderson explains.

Curiosity’s Mastcam was tasked to document the ChemCam targets, and then take some pictures of the SAM inlet before and after sample drop off.

Navcam also has an 8-frame movie toward the south to watch for atmospheric activity like clouds. The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) then has an overnight atmospheric observation, Anderson notes. “Yes, APXS can measure the atmosphere too!”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Down the drill hole

On the Sol 2721 plan, ChemCam was slated to make a vertical measurement inside the Edinburgh drill hole.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2720, April 1, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“After Mastcam documents that observation,” Anderson concludes, “it will add some frames to its own mosaic of the washboard pattern on the pediment. Navcam will then take a picture toward the north to study the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The rest of sol 2721 will be taken up by SAM’s analysis of the Edinburgh sample.”


Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR by Alexandra Sankova (in collaboration with the Moscow Design Museum), Phaidon; April 2020; Hardback; 240 pages, $39.95.

This book is a well-timed retro-fire into space history – and an absolute wonderful read.

The volume offers insight into the Soviet sociopolitical landscape, a behind-the-scenes view of how space played in the minds of space visionaries behind the Iron Curtain over the decades.

“Yuri Gagarin: Let’s Go!” illustration by S. Alimov.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

This is a book that offers a view of more than 250 covers and interior illustrations that depict first-time discoveries and scientific prowess, but laden with futuristic visions of where space exploration can take us.

Up front disclosure: I’m a relic from the impact of Cold War-era Russian space imagery. The space propaganda machine by the USSR was in full-throttle when I was much younger, as U.S. rockets and spacecraft seemed lost in space, missed their mark or crapped out on arrival.

Illustration by V. Viktorov depicting space dogs Belka and Strelka.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

Yes, America had its successes, but it was all high-drama and this book reflects the Space Race running full-steam. As this volume exemplifies, making use of the period’s hugely successful popular-science magazines, the imagery rocketed out of the Soviet Union were an essential tool for the endorsement of state ideology.

As explained in the book: “As the competition heated up, so did the response in the media. In the USSR, popular science magazines were a vital tool in the motivation and engagement of the general public, documenting in great detail and vivid color both the realities and fantasies of the state’s advancements on the West.”

Illustration by R. Avotin.
Credit: The Moscow Design Museum

This wonderful book features images from the surreal to the sublime, colored in communist sentiment. The magazine images portray the boldest of space exploration ideas – many of them alive and well even in the 21st century.

The volume is divided up into unique chapters, from Educate, Encourage, Dream to Cosmic Pioneers, Alternative Worlds and Future Visions. Lastly, there’s a very informative section on the magazines from which the book has drawn its captivating material.

Again, this is a unique and enjoyable read that deserves attention…not only for the reader to romp around in the past, but serves as a historic bookmark in pioneering the space frontier of today.












For more information on this book, go to:



SpaceX has released a Starship Users Guide.

Potential Starship customers can use this guide as a resource for preliminary payload accommodations information.

This is the initial release of the Starship Users Guide and it will be updated frequently in response to customer feedback.

The Starship Program leverages SpaceX’s experience to introduce a next generation, super heavy-lift space transportation system capable of rapid and reliable reuse.

Starship crew (left) and uncrewed (right)
Credit: SpaceX



SpaceX’s Starship system represents a fully reusable transportation system designed to service Earth orbit needs as well as missions to the Moon and Mars.

Starship payload deployment sequence.
Credit: SpaceX

This two-stage vehicle—composed of the Super Heavy rocket (booster) and Starship (spacecraft) is powered by sub-cooled methane and oxygen. “Starship is designed to evolve rapidly to meet near term and future customer needs while maintaining the highest level of reliability,” notes the 6-page guide.





Private cabins

According to the guide, the Starship crew configuration can transport up to 100 people from Earth into low Earth orbit and on to the Moon and Mars. The crew configuration of  Starship includes private cabins, large common areas, centralized storage, solar storm shelters and a viewing gallery.

Delivery of cargo on the Moon.
Credit: SpaceX

Sprawling Moon base supported by SpaceX Starships.
Credit: SpaceX























The guide is available at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2720 tasks.

“Curiosity’s drill campaigns are like poetry in fixed verse,” says Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera image acquired on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

A predefined set of activities has to occur in a sequence: first Curiosity must assess an outcrop for drilling, then drill and extract a sample, then process and characterize the sample, then deliver the sample to the robot’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) instrument for analysis, then prepare the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, then deliver the sample to SAM for analysis, and finally dump the sample on the ground.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“All of this happens over a period of a couple weeks, and when we are planning the science observations for any given sol, we need to work within the scaffolding of the drill campaign sequence,” Rice notes. “But like poets crafting sonnets in iambic pentameter, we find freedom within the fixed structure to create something new.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Second analysis of drill sample

Such was the case for a plan that covers sols 2717-2719.

“As Curiosity proceeds with the Edinburgh drill campaign, we use free blocks of time here and there to explore the landscape,” Rice reports. The main structure of this three-sol plan includes a second analysis of the Edinburgh drill sample with CheMin and the preconditioning of the SAM instrument to prepare for an upcoming Evolved Gas Analysis (EGA) observation.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2717, March 28, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Laser shots

As for the other Curiosity science observations, Rice points to:

Mastcam peers at the enigmatic outcrop with a panorama; ChemCam laser shoots three rocks: “Albany,” “Alloway,” and “Alexandria”; pediment surface revealed by the rover’s Remote Micro Imager (RMI); and Navcam movies seek to capture swirls of dust that sweep the horizon.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2719, March 30, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has issued a space threat assessment 2020 report.

This informative study notes that in the last year, more states are considering the development of offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities to protect space systems from attacks.

“Nations are moving to reorganize their national security space enterprise, as the United States did in 2019, to better address the growing uncertainty and threats in the space domain,” the report explains.

Credit: CSIS



Clear indication in fog of war

Things to watch within the United States are updates to space doctrine, strategy, and policy and investments in new space capabilities and missions.

“Developments in these areas would be a clear indication that the reorganization efforts put in place in 2019 are part of a fundamental shift in the U.S. military’s overall approach to making space more defendable,” the report adds.




To take a read of this report, go to:


Credit: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch has rolled out new information regarding use of its humongous carrier craft to advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles.

Credit: Stratolaunch

Humongous carrier craft on a roll.
Credit: Stratolaunch

This air-launch approach to hypersonic testing features use of Talon-A, a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle.

Credit: Stratolaunch

Inside look of Talon-A.
Credit: Stratolaunch

Talon-A is 28 feet (8.5 m) in length, has a wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg).

The Talon-A will conduct over 1-minute of hypersonic flight testing, and glide back for an autonomous, horizontal landing on a conventional runway. The vehicle will also be capable of autonomous take-off, under its own power, via a conventional runway, according to the company.

Currently in development is Talon-Z.





Reusable space plane

Black Ice, a fully reusable space plane.
Credit: Stratolaunch

Another craft that’s part of the Stratolaunch fleet is Black Ice, a fully reusable space plane that enables advanced on-orbit capabilities and cargo return. Initial designs of the vehicle are optimized for cargo launch, with a follow-on variant capable of transporting crew.

“Our hypersonic testbeds will serve as a catalyst in sparking a renaissance in hypersonic technologies for our government, the commercial sector, and academia,” says Jean Floyd, Chief Executive Officer of Stratolaunch.

Home for the Stratolaunch manufacturing facilities is Mojave Air and Space Port, California. The company headquarters is Seattle, Washington.

















For more information, go to:

Researchers compared results of asteroid deflection simulations to experimental data.
Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

Thwarting an incoming asteroid that has Earth in its crosshairs will mean deflecting or disrupting the hazardous object.

Already on the books is the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in 2021 – the first-ever kinetic impact deflection demonstration on a near-Earth asteroid.  

“We’re preparing for something that has a very low probability of happening in our lifetimes, but a very high consequence if it were to occur,” says Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) physicist Tané Remington. “Time will be the enemy if we see something headed our way one day. We may have a limited window to deflect it, and we will want to be certain that we know how to avert disaster.”

DART mission schematic 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.
Also shown is planned ride-along CubeSat, the Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroid (LICIACube).
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

DART mission

The findings of a new study by Remington and colleagues is titled “Numerical Simulations of Laboratory‐Scale, Hypervelocity‐Impact Experiments for Asteroid‐Deflection Code Validation.” The work identified sensitivities in the code parameters that can help researchers working to design a modeling plan for the DART mission.

The DART mission is being developed and led for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is the lead for planetary defense activities and is sponsoring the DART mission.

Illustration of the DART spacecraft with the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) extended.
Credit: NASA

The DART spacecraft will launch in late July of 2021. The target is a binary (two asteroids orbiting each other) near-Earth asteroid named Didymos that is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before impact.

The DART spacecraft will deliberately crash into the smaller moonlet in the binary asteroid – dubbed Didymoon – in September of 2022 at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s.

The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth.

Code confidence

But understanding how multiple variables might affect a kinetic deflection attempt relies upon large-scale hydrodynamic simulations thoroughly vetted against relevant laboratory‐scale experiments.

However, do we know our codes are correct?

The new study investigated the accuracy of the codes by comparing simulation results to the data from a 1991 laboratory experiment conducted at Kyoto University in Japan where a hypervelocity projectile impacted a basalt sphere target.

“In an effort to gain confidence in our codes, this work compares our simulation results to data from a well‐known laboratory‐scale experiment to assess the accuracy of our models,” the LLNL planetary defense research team explains. “We find that our code can produce results that closely resemble the experimental findings, giving assurance to the planetary defense community that our code can correctly simulate asteroid or comet mitigation.”

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Momentum transfer

“This study suggests that the DART mission will impart a smaller momentum transfer than previously calculated,” said Mike Owen, LLNL physicist, coauthor on the paper and developer of the “Spheral” code – an adaptive smoothed-particle hydrodynamics code.

“If there were an Earthbound asteroid, underestimating momentum transfer could mean the difference between a successful deflection mission and an impact. It’s critical we get the right answer. Having real world data to compare to is like having the answer in the back of the book,” Owen says in a LLNL statement.

To read the full paper – “Numerical Simulations of Laboratory‐Scale, Hypervelocity‐Impact Experiments for Asteroid‐Deflection Code Validation” – slated for publication in the April issue of the American Geophysical Union journal Earth and Space Science, go to:

Credit: NASA

Bye-bye, miss american pie: The U.S. Congress and President Trump have sealed a $2 trillion+ stimulus deal stimulated by the on-going COVID-19 crisis that’s impacted all aspects of the U.S. economy, including America’s civil space program.

Let’s layer those transmissible woes on top of projected NASA intentions to shape a human return to the Moon by 2024 – and shoving off to Mars as a future objective.

That’s the background for reaching out to two key space policy gurus in Washington, D.C.

NASA’s Artemis return humans to the Moon by 2024 program.
Credit: NASA

What now?

“Setting the end of 2024 for getting back to the Moon was always arbitrary,” explains John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at the Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“With the current health crisis situation and the stand down of the Artemis team, it makes absolutely no sense to continue to push for that date,” Logsdon told Inside Outer Space.

A much more fundamental issue, Logsdon added, “is whether the White House, the Congress, and indeed the U.S. public will continue, as we emerge from this trauma, to support human space exploration in the face of unprecedented demands on the government budget.”

U.S. President Trump signing brings back the National Space Council and  puts America on a return to the Moon path.
Credit: White House

The big ask

Requesting $71 billion over the next five years to go back to the Moon by 2024, a politically-inspired date, on top of everything else NASA does, was a big ask to begin with, says Marcia Smith, founder and editor of

“In the current climate, with trillions – that’s with a t – being spent to keep the country afloat economically, I think it will be a bridge too far,” Smith told Inside Outer Space.

“Generally speaking, Congress loves NASA, and space exploration, so I don’t think the goal will change, but almost certainly the timeline,” Smith said.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is currently performing Sol 2717 tasks.

At last report, the Edinburgh drill campaign continues.

A sampling of new images from the Red Planet robot:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2716, March 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera remote micro-imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo acquired on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Prominent crossbedding is shown in this Curiosity Chemistry & Camera remote micro-imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2715, March 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL