Archive for the ‘Wait a Minute!’ Category

Wait-a-Minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

 

There’s some interesting “wait a minute” fallout from the upcoming nose dive to Earth of the European Remote Sensing satellite, ERS-2.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the spent ERS-2 satellite weighing 2.3 tons is predicted to slip into Earth’s atmosphere on February 19 – with a current uncertainty of +/- 2.8 days.

“No intervention can be made from the ground, so ERS-2 will return entirely naturally – now a common occurrence as on average one spacecraft reenters Earth’s atmosphere per month,” an ESA statement explains.

The bit about “return entirely naturally” is an interesting, user-friendly substitute for “uncontrolled.”

Artwork of incoming ERS-2. Image credit: ESA

 

End of life

Following its launch in April 1995, ERS-2 ran for nearly 16 years of observing the Earth.

In 2011, ESA took the decision to bring the mission to an end.

That was followed by ground-activated de-orbit maneuvers. Those lowered the satellite’s average altitude and mitigated the risk of collision with other satellites or space debris, ESA notes.

The spacecraft was also “passivated” to reduce the risk of fragmentation. Passivated is getting rid of internally stored energy, like unused propellant, even de-charging batteries.

Wake-up call

All that said there are those that see the fall of ERS-2 as a calling card from space that doubles as a wake-up call – and on several fronts.

Netting of orbital debris has been studied, with ERS-2 as the catchable bait in a mix of junk-snatching ideas.
Image credit: ESA/D.Ducros

“While the ESA should be lauded for its efforts to de-orbit the ERS-2, it should be unsurprising that a 2.3-ton satellite launched into Earth orbit without any enforceable orbital debris regulation will then return to Earth’s atmosphere as orbital debris in an explosive uncontrolled reentry,” said Michael Runnels, an assistant professor of business law at California State University, Los Angeles.

“Indeed, these events highlight the continuing need for enforceable orbital debris regulation to support the sustainable exploration and scientific investigation of outer space,” Runnels told Inside Outer Space.

Someone someday

Ewan Wright is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia and Junior Fellow of the Outer Space Institute. He is actively focused on the sustainability of the outer space environment.

ERS-2 is a three decade old Earth Observation satellite with a mass about that of a Ford F-150, Wright said. “ERS-2 won’t burn up entirely when it reenters the atmosphere, so there is a chance that debris will hit someone on the ground, or disrupt air traffic.”

ERS-2 artwork.
Image credit: ESA

Wright told Inside Outer Space that, fortunately, the probability of someone getting hit is small. “But if we keep doing this again and again, someone someday will get hurt.”

Random reentries

Last year, 30 satellites larger than 500 kilograms uncontrollably reentered the atmosphere.

In total, in 2023, about 55 tons of satellite reentered randomly, Wright stated. ESA was responsible in lowering ERS-2’s orbit to make sure it didn’t become permanent space debris, he said.

“But in the future, all large satellites should do controlled reentries. Operators should control them to reenter over the oceans, away from people, aircraft and ships,” Wright concluded.

Minimize risk

The incoming ERS-2 is something that happens quite regularly with defunct satellites, said Leonard Schulz, a researcher at the Technische Universität Braunschweig’s Institute of Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics in Braunschweig, Germany.

Such falls will only increase in the future, Schulz added, due to the growing number of objects brought into low Earth orbit.

Image credit: NOAA

 

 

“I think the mass of the object stands out, probably some parts of the satellite will survive reentry,” Schulz told Inside Outer Space. “And this is the reason why people try to make satellites burn up completely in the atmosphere, to minimize the risk to people on ground.”

 

 

 

Atmospheric effects

Schulz said that there’s need to consider the effects on the atmosphere from spacecraft re-entry, a hot topic that ESA is evaluating.

“Today, we are lacking information on many aspects when it comes to materials released and subsequent effects on the atmosphere,” Schulz pointed out.

Satellite reentries are a good opportunity to gather observational data with measurement campaigns, Schulz advised. However, such uncontrolled reentries as with ERS-2 are extremely difficult to observe, he said, as the uncertainty of where the satellite reenters is so high.

“But controlled reentries provide great measurement opportunities,” Schulz concluded, “which should be a focus in the future!”

Taking the fall. Space hardware dives into Earth’s atmosphere with some fragments making their way to the ground.
Image credit: ESA/D.Ducros

Wait-a-Minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s Annual Report for 2023 is just out and about for your reading critique.

ASAP was established by Congress in 1968 to provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA Administrator, as well as Congress, on safety matters.

There are some fascinating “wait-a-minute” takeaways to ponder.

“Make, manage, or buy?”

One of those eye-catchers is that NASA should try to figure out how it implements “make, manage, or buy” decisions on future programs or projects.

The ASAP reports notes that NASA is no longer the sole driver or customer for human space flight capabilities and related technology, nor is it the sole organization creating demand.

Image credit: ASAP

“NASA, however, still has a critical role and responsibility in the space sector, and the Agency’s decisions, opinions, and direction have weight and merit in the industry and across the globe,” the report adds.

Therefore, NASA must anticipate risks that otherwise might go unknown or unforeseen.

Image credit: NASA

Top down, bottoms-up

The space agency’s major human spaceflight endeavor, the aspiring Artemis “reboot the Moon” program was also eyed by the ASAP.

“NASA should manage Artemis as an integrated program with top-down alignment, and designate a Program Manager endowed with authority, responsibility, and accountability, along with a robust bottoms-up, collaborative feedback process for both Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) and risk management.”

Deorbiting the beast

Another flagged concern regards the deorbit plans for dumping the big beast of a Earth orbiting megatonnage, the International Space Station (ISS).

Image credit: Roscosmos

While discussions about ISS are ongoing between NASA and the Russian Space Agency to make the controlled deorbit plan more robust, “the ASAP reiterates its concern first stated in 2012, about the lack of a well-defined, fully funded controlled reentry and deorbit plan for the ISS that is available on a timeline that supports the planned ISS retirement. Furthermore, the Panel recognizes that the ISS partners are operating at risk, today, without the capability to deal with a contingency situation that would lead to a deorbit.

Risk to public safety

“The risk to public safety and space sustainability,” the report points out, “is increasing every year as the orbital altitudes in and around the ISS continue to become more densely populated by satellites, increasing the likelihood that an unplanned emergency ISS deorbit would also impact other resident space objects.”

NASA should define an executable and appropriately budgeted deorbit plan, the report adds, “that includes implementation on a timeline to deliver a controlled reentry capability to the ISS as soon as practicable — to be in place for the need of a controlled deorbit in event of an emergency as well as in place before the retirement of the ISS — to ensure that the station is able to be deorbited safely.”

Image credit: Roscosmos

NASA response

In a response to the ASAP by NASA leadership, the space agency has made progress toward solicitation of a U.S. Deorbit Vehicle to serve as the nominal ISS deorbit capability to be used in conjunction with Russian thrusters.

NASA is still coordinating with Russia’s Roscosmos on sustaining ISS operations until nominal deorbit and providing contingency deorbit capability with existing Progress and Service Module thrusters.

For a full look at the report — NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s Annual Report for 2023 – go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/asap-2023-annual-report-tagged.pdf

Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

Update: No reports of interference of Santa Claus by China’s space plane.

 

About that robotic China space plane now circling Earth!

I woke up this morning worried about possible consequences of this winged warrior of an experimental vehicle fouling up the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD’s) ability to track Santa Claus.

One satellite tracker reportedly has the Chinese craft belching out communiqués to a ground station or boat near British Columbia, Canada.

Indeed, for the last several days, media outlets have cast dire warnings, just as Santa is prepared to make his Christmas droppings around the planet.

Image credit: NORAD

 

 

For example, here are a couple of headline-catching eye-grabbers:

Top secret Chinese spaceplane is releasing strong signals over North America – months after US shot down China’s spy balloon that collected intelligence from military sites.”

China’s space plane deployed 6 mysterious ‘wingmen,’ and no one knows what they are


Possible design of China’s space plane.
Source: Homem do Espaco/Twitter

Spirit dragon

So China’s top-secret spaceship is spewing out signals over North America. All in all, shades of that spy balloon from China that was eventually downed via a jet-launched Sidewinder missile.

Making matters more worrisome, according to media outlets, the clandestine craft – dubbed Shenlong after a spirit dragon from Chinese mythology – tossed out six mysterious objects after its launch on December 15.

The objects are being tracked by the US Space Force, but they are scant of publicly releasing specific details as to what they are or what purpose they serve. Maybe the craft is testing U.S. surveillance skills?

But all this gives rise to the fact that tonight Santa Claus is making his annual trip from the North Pole to deliver presents to children all over the world.

No wonder I’m not sleeping well.

China’s tracking facility at the Santiago Satellite Station in Chili.
Image credit: Marco Langbroek 

Mystery ship

But wait a minute!

According to satellite watcher, Robert Christy at his Orbital Focus website, these kinds of stories and bait-click titles are nonsense.

The four (not six) objects are parts cast off by China’s CZ 2F launch vehicle that put the space plane into Earth orbit, Christy notes.

“There is no ‘mystery ship’ moored off Canada,” Christy reports. “The radio transmissions described emanate from the spaceplane making its first daily orbital pass over China.”

Technical connection

Similarly, satellite tracker Marco Langbroek of the Netherlands, calls into question anything nefarious going on.

In his assessment, he told Inside Outer Space that China’s space plane passes do go more or less directly over China’s tracking facility at the Santiago Satellite Station in Chili, where China is leasing tracking capacity.

Uncrewed military space plane featuring the United States Space Force logo for the first time.
Image credit: U.S. Space Force/Courtesy Photo

“So rather than there being some unacknowledged tracking station on a ship on the ocean near North America,” he suspects  that the space plane might only broadcast within say half an orbit from passing over their ground station in Chili.

All that said, master satellite watcher, Scott Tilley is doing deep dives into sorting out signals associated with the Chinese space plane and its “wingman” objects. There may be a technical connection with the space plane operations and China’s secretive Yaogan satellite constellation, a set of military reconnaissance spacecraft, he speculates.

Counter-punch

Meanwhile, all this tracking talk of the Chinese vehicle leads to a U.S. Space Force “counter-punch” – the projected launch of America’s own classified robotic space plane – the X-37B. It’s due for liftoff no earlier than December 28, riding atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster, headed for the heights on its classified undertaking.

U.S. Space Force-52 will be the seventh flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-7) built by Boeing and this flight is a program first making use of a Falcon Heavy booster.

Here’s the bad news.

That X-37B has been delayed in its send-off…now too late to counter China’s space plane outing and any provocative anti-jamming of the true whereabouts of Santa Claus, his sleigh, reindeer entourage, and all those packages!

Meanwhile, happy holidays to all and keep an eye on the sky.

To double-check on Santa’s route, tap into this NORAD site at:

https://www.noradsanta.org/en/map

Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

I have just finished digesting a post-Thanksgiving helping of Kennedy Assassination investigation output – including film director Rob Reiner’s new podcast, “Who Killed JFK,” a new deep dive into the history of what they call “America’s greatest murder mystery.”

Image credit: iHeartPodcasts

For myself, I went through that experience on November 22, 1963 in high school. I later visited and strolled up the grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza, a suspected spot tied to the slaying of President Kennedy. I was sure I’d stumble across the proverbial “smoking gun” but left the site empty handed, but with a mind filled with more questions.

Here we are 60 years later and I still await some undisclosed closure of some kind. There has been a long and protracted struggle to get documents released.

And six decades later I’m struck by some common threads to where we are in the current UFO/UAP melee.

Image credit: SCU

Cultural enigma

The term Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) has morphed into Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP). But whatever nomenclature you use, “unidentified” remains an up-front declaration of this weird and perplexing cultural enigma.

There’s the prospect of government cover-up, public belief that there are conspiratorial factors afoot, but also a sense we’ll never get the “truth” out and about. Once again, there has been a lengthy struggle to get documents publicly released.

For good measure, mix in a worrisome factor: Maybe we aren’t ready for reality and the attached sociological repercussions from revealing the truth?

Image credit: RAND

But perhaps there a purposeful, drip-by-drip doling out of evidence in preparation of “full disclosure,” be it what the JFK assassination facts are or what’s the bottom line on UFO/UAP?

Conspiracy theories

“The government’s persistent hiding and actions related to the UFO/UAP topic does nothing but fuel conspiracy theories,” says Robert Powell, an executive board member of the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies.

“Whatever the truth may be, we can be certain that it will be a long time before the public is made aware of the truth,” Powell adds. “Unfortunately, we cannot depend upon our government to tell us the truth,” he told Inside Outer Space.

Image credit: Yannick Peings, Marik von Rennenkampff/AIAA

Amen amendment

So what is the legitimacy of rumors that our government has extraterrestrial craft in its possession?

For Powell, the biggest persuader is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Mike Rounds-led amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2024. That amendment, the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Disclosure Act of 2023, talks specifically about the government and the concealment of non-human intelligence.

“Why would Schumer have associated his name with such an amendment? One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that government politicians don’t risk their careers on some lark of a story. And a powerful senator is going to be extra careful with what they endorse,” Powell senses. “Senator Schumer knows something that makes him confident that he is not risking his career with that amendment.”

Image credit: Congressional Record/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Bombshells and whistleblowers

“The American public, and humanity as a whole, deserve to know what the U.S. government has secretly learned about the UFO/UAP phenomenon, if indeed there have been such clandestine studies,” says Mark Rodeghier, president and scientific director of the Center for UFO Studies.

“I have faith in our collective ability to handle such information, even if initially disconcerting,” Rodeghier told Inside Outer Space.

So it’s a world of smoking guns, grassy knolls, newly-released old documents, X-files mysteriously misfiled, here-say “evidence” and “I’ve been told” tattle-telling, along with alien corpses, “bombshell allegations” from whistleblowers that can’t carry a tune but will sing like a bird after they are in an Orwellian-sounding “sensitive compartmented information facility” – a SCIF.

No telling where all this is headed.

What’s your view?

For your own deep-diving into this topic, go to:

Also, here is Schumer’s amendment, the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Disclosure Act of 2023 at:

https://www.democrats.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/uap_amendment.pdf

Wait a Minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month, I wrote a story for Space.com that focused on the issue of finding evidence of life on Mars…but would we recognize it?

Go to: https://www.space.com/perseverance-rover-search-for-life-on-mars-is-difficult

Indeed, NASA’s Perseverance rover is on-duty, scurrying around on the Red Planet, wheeling and dealing with Jezero Crater.

Jezero Crater definitely has a story to tell. And that’s why the rover landed there in the first place.

Ancient Jezero Crater is depicted in this artistic view, replete with shoreline of a lake that dried up billions of years ago.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

Microbial life could have lived in that area during a wetter period of time in its past. If so, signs of their remains might be found in the ancient lakebed or shoreline sediments that formed billions of years ago.

Eye-catching features

That said, the robot recently came across some eye-catching circular rock structures. They are attention-grabbers because they resemble ones formed by microbial communities in some lakes on Earth.

Those rover observations became the focus of an informative “Mars Guy” episode that called attention to Perseverance finding features resembling reef-like structures.

Image credit: Mars Guy

 

 

“In the very place it might be reasonable to expect, Perseverance discovered circular rock structures resembling ones formed by microbial communities in some lakes on Earth. This exciting possibility called for a closer look,” Mars Guy explained at:

https://youtu.be/7lwarWtXABA?si=wdNKRd8ESLPIke2e

Mother Nature on Mars

The finding also underscores, perhaps, how Mother Nature on the Red Planet can make it difficult to conclude what might or might not constitute evidence for life on that world.

What’s up with that rover finding? I asked Ken Farley, a professor of geochemistry in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology. He is the project scientist for Mars 2020, the Perseverance sleuthing of Jezero Crater.

On the prowl at Jezero Crater, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is loaded with scientific equipment.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We investigated that rock with our remote sensing instruments, and we acquired two abrasion patches and two sample cores from similar rocks in close proximity,” Farley told Inside Outer Space. “We also recognized the very peculiar and suggestive concentric-domelike morphology.”

Currently favored hypothesis

Farley said as an alternative to a biological origin – for example, a stromatolite – Mars scientists on the rover mission also considered the hypothesis that these features are simply spheroidal weathering.

That’s a very common phenomenon on Earth, Farley pointed out, and one seen elsewhere in Jezero, in both igneous and sedimentary rocks.

“Although we are still interpreting the data, the latter hypothesis is far less extraordinary, and at least partly for this reason, currently favored,” Farley said.

NASA Mars 2020 rover is collecting samples, storing the specimens in tubes, then depositing the tubes on the surface for later pick-up.
Credit: NASA/ESA

Plausible manifestations

As to the general question, Farley added, if ancient life were present, would Perseverance recognize it?

“My answer is ‘maybe.’ Based on ancient terrestrial analogs there are plausible manifestations we could detect with our instrument suite, but many plausible manifestations too subtle for us to confidently identify,” Farley explained.

“This is of course a key motivation for sample return,” Farley added. “As an example, compared to the organic molecule detection capabilities on Perseverance, those in terrestrial laboratories are at least a factor of 10,000 more sensitive.”

Wait a Minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

There has been a long research trail in deciphering what happens when Earth’s atmosphere is intruded by incoming, human-made space debris.

Much of this past research involved modeling and squeaking out potential and early warning sign findings.

Enter new rarefied research.

Unnatural dust

The just-issued results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), an investigation led by Dan Murphy, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is welcomed and cautionary news.

Image credit: NOAA

This investigative team of experts detected more than 20 elements in ratios that mirror those used in spacecraft alloys. They found that the mass of lithium, aluminum, copper and lead from spacecraft reentry far exceeded those metals found in “natural” cosmic dust.

Their appraisal flagged the fact that nearly 10% of large sulfuric acid particles — the particles that help protect and buffer the ozone layer — contained aluminum and other spacecraft metals.

Atmospherics

As part of NASA’s Airborne Science Program, NOAA’s Murphy and his group flew a WB-57 airplane to sample the atmosphere 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) above the ground in Alaska, where circumpolar clouds tend to form.

Purdue University’s Daniel Cziczo, professor and department head of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, is a member of that research group and subsequent report.

Chemical Science Laboratory’s Mike Lawler installs the PALMS (Particle Analysis by Laser Mass Spectrometry) instrument into the nose of the WB-57. Photo: Chelsea Thompson, NOAA

Atmospheric measurements were also made by Cziczo and his group from an ER-2 aircraft over the continental United States. By flying those instruments only the freshest, most undisturbed air is sampled.

“We are finding this human-made material in what we consider a pristine area of the atmosphere,” said Cziczo in a Purdue statement. “And if something is changing in the stratosphere — this stable region of the atmosphere — that deserves a closer look.”

Meteorite smoke

Over the years, one response to early thinking about human-made clutter “burning up” in the Earth’s atmosphere was flagging the load of meteoritic material already saturating our biosphere.

“Shooting stars streak through the atmosphere,” Cziczo said. “Often, the meteor burns up in the atmosphere and doesn’t even become a meteorite and reach the planet. So the material it was made from stays in the atmosphere in the form of ions. They form very hot gas, which starts to cool and condense as molecules and fall into the stratosphere. The molecules find each other and knit together and form what we call meteorite smoke.”

Falcon 9 booster topped with sixty Starlink satellites.
Credit: SpaceX

 

Chemical fingerprint

Purdue’s Cziczo adds, however, that scientists recently started noticing that the chemical fingerprint of these meteoritic particles was starting to change.

That prompted researchers to ask: ‘Well, what changed?’ because meteorite composition hasn’t changed. But the number of spacecraft has, Cziczo responds.

According to the published paper: “The space industry has entered an era of rapid growth. With tens of thousands of small satellites planned for low Earth orbit, that increased mass will be divided into many more reentry events. Given that 10% of stratospheric particles now contain enhanced aluminum, with many more reentry events, it is likely that in the next few decades, the percentage of stratospheric sulfuric acid particles that contain aluminum and other metals from satellite reentry will be comparable to the roughly 50% that now contain meteoric metals.”

 

What next?

As pointed out in the Purdue statement, there’s an estimate floating about that as many as 50,000 more satellites may reach orbit by 2030.

Space debris plunges to Earth, burning its way through the atmosphere.
Image credit: The Aerospace Corporation

The NOAA research team calculates that in the next few decades, up to half of stratospheric sulfuric acid particles would contain metals from reentry.

But what impact that could have on the atmosphere, the ozone layer and life on Earth is yet to be evaluated.

“Changes to the atmosphere can be difficult to study and complex to understand,” Cziczo said. “But what this research shows us is that the impact of human occupation and human spaceflight on the planet may be significant — perhaps more significant than we have yet imagined. Understanding our planet is one of the most urgent research priorities there is.”

This newly published research in PNAS – found at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2313374120 — was supported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate funding and NOAA’s Earth’s Radiation Budget Initiative and NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory. This work also involved NASA grant money, as well as grant money from the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

Bottom line – more work to be done. What next? And how best to perform those studies?

Bottom line (2) – watch this space.

Taking the fall. Space hardware dives into Earth’s atmosphere with some fragments making their way to the ground.
Image credit: ESA/D.Ducros

Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

 

Utah Test and Training Range – Exciting times here as I watched the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule make its safe and sound touchdown at this remote military outpost.

Taking nothing away from this huge step in asteroid research, there are a couple of items of note to keep an eye on.

In-space images show that the OSIRIS-REx mission successfully placed the spacecraft’s sample collector head into its Sample Return Capsule.
Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule is seen shortly after touching down in the desert, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

Keeping samples safe

With the prospect of an October 1st government shutdown still looming, there is concern about the impact on NASA’s handling of the just-returned freight from Bennu and the scientific integrity of the samples.

“We want to make sure that these samples are safe,” said Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division.

“These are incredibly valuable samples and we’re working through our normal processes for how we make sure that we achieve that,” Glaze told Inside Outer Space.  “NASA will make sure they are kept safe,” she emphasized.

Pre-launch image shows parachute installation in the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin

 

 

Technical hiccups?

There may have been some technical hiccups in the capsule’s speedy and red-hot descent through Earth’s atmosphere, said Tim Priser, Lockheed Martin’s chief engineer for deep space exploration.

The aerospace firm is builder of not only the novel air filter-like Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), but the return capsule and the spacecraft itself.

Specifically, the capsule’s drogue chute deployment may have been an issue prior to a far-higher and earlier-than-expected main parachute unfurling.

Sequence of events

“Some things in our sequence may or may not have behaved itself exactly the way we expected it to but the subsequent things in the sequence made up for the fact,” Priser said in a post-landing press event.

Not-to-plan parachute sequence.
Image credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

“At the end of the day when that main chute deployed it basically corrected any of the sins that may have happened ahead of it,” Priser said.

Engineers will reconstruct the sequence of events that occurred during the return capsule’s dive through Earth’s atmosphere to its full-stop, “soft as a dove,” touchdown in Utah, said Priser.

One of the advantages of landing at the Utah Test and Training Range, Priser added, is the ground and aerial imagery capability used to monitor the capsule’s sky-rocketing re-entry.

“You have your data. You have your models. You have your observations and you’ve got to put all those pieces together so you reconstruct what happened,” Priser told Inside Outer Space.

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona holds a mock up of the asteroid collection device.
Image credit: Barbara David

 

Image credit: Barbara David

 

NOTE: Late Thursday NASA re-released a UAP press release, sharing the name of the NASA UAP Director.

According to the statement: “While NASA still is evaluating the report and assessing the independent study team’s findings and recommendations, the agency is committed to contributing to the federal government’s unified UAP effort by appointing Mark McInerney director of UAP research.”

McInerney previously served as NASA’s liaison to the Department of Defense covering limited UAP activities for the agency.

Per NASA, in the director role, McInerney will centralize communications, resources, and data analytical capabilities to establish a robust database for the evaluation of future UAP.

McInerney will also leverage NASA’s expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and space-based observation tools to support and enhance the broader government initiative on UAP.

Since 1996, McInerney served various positions at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the National Hurricane Center.

Transparency

Of all the revelations today from a NASA-released study of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) by an “independent” study group was keeping the identity of its new UAP Research Director under wraps.

“We will not give his name out,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate.

Meanwhile, NASA leader, Bill Nelson said the NASA UAP Research Director would work on the implementation of the agency’s vision for UAP research, like using NASA’s expertise to work with other agencies to analyze UAP, making use of artificial intelligence and machine learning “to search the skies for anomalies.”

Nelson repeatedly opined that NASA will do its UAP work “transparently” and evoked the mantra of “scientific process.”

I guess you need to bring your own Windex when you spot-clean those windows of transparency?

 

 

For more information, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-shares-unidentified-anomalous-phenomena-independent-study-report

Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

Just in case you didn’t notice.

The U.S. State Department is embracing the concept of an “International Lunar Year” – coordinating programs around a one-to-two-year celebration of the study and exploration of the Moon later in the decade.

“As multiple nations and commercial entities plan a near-term return to the Moon on an unprecedented scale, now is the right time to consider planning an International Lunar Year,” a State Department website adds.

Earth’s Moon is a destination point for renewed human exploration.  Image credit: NASA

“A sustained program might combine elements of public outreach and scientific collaboration to fashion a vibrant interdisciplinary and multilateral effort, demonstrating how lunar exploration can be responsible, peaceful, and sustainable, as we begin to establish an enduring presence at the Moon.”

Indeed, such a celebration was put forth in a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy released in 2022.

Photo taking during Chang’e-5 surface sampling.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Sample swaps

One avenue to explore is activating Moon sample swaps.

For instance, China has now opened access to the Chang’e-5 returned lunar samples to the international scientific community.  That “get up and go” set of samples was rocketed to Earth back in mid-December 2020.

The haul from the Moon added up to roughly 61 ounces of lunar collectibles, including a core sample.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-5 was the first lunar sample-return mission since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976, making China the third country to return lunar samples after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The Moon looms large in China’s space exploration plans over the next several years, and shooting to our home planet additional lunar samples is on their agenda.

Meanwhile, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has outlined opportunities and set the rules for future management of international cooperation in lunar samples and scientific data. Proposals will be reviewed every six months.

For full details, go to the CNSA website at:

https://www.cnsa.gov.cn/english/n6465652/n6465653/c10086003/content.html

Moonwalking geologist, Apollo 17’s Jack Schmitt.
Credit: NASA

Diplomatic gestures

In retro-reflective mode, understanding the Moon has been revolutionized through the study of samples collected between 1969 and 1976 by the six Apollo human landing missions, along with three Luna missions carried out by the former Soviet Union.

“The legacy of the bilateral exchange of lunar samples as diplomatic gestures of goodwill transcends generations of lunar scientists,” explains a paper presented at a Lunar Exploration Analysis Group gathering back in 2021.

“As we enter this new golden era of lunar exploration, the U.S. and other nations must recognize the lasting legacy and benefit of the Apollo-Luna sample exchange program of the 1970s and explore new opportunities to share returned samples in the future,” the paper explains, led by planetary scientist, Jessica Barnes at the University of Arizona.

Image credit: NASA

Current restrictions

So what next?

A recent gathering of the Extraterrestrial Materials Analysis Group (ExMAG) made note of access to China’s Chang’e lunar samples.

ExMAG is a community-based, interdisciplinary group that offers a forum for discussion and analysis of matters concerning the collection, curation, and analysis of extraterrestrial samples, including planning future sample return missions

A member gathering of ExMAG earlier this month noted that China has now opened access to the Chang’e-5 returned lunar samples to the international scientific community.

“ExMAG appreciates NASA’s efforts to pursue avenues of sample sharing with China and their Chang’E samples, though we recognize this is not possible under current restrictions,” an ExMAG finding explains.

Image credit: NASA

Bilateral exchange

“ExMAG understands that sample loans made via this mechanism are considered bilateral agreements, which are prohibited for U.S. Government-funded researchers,” with the group recommending that U.S. Government-funded researchers who are interested in working on Chang’e-5 sample “form or join research teams with researchers in other nations who can request the samples for joint work.”

Credit: White House

Bottom line: Given the White House/U.S. State Department moves on an International Lunar Year perhaps there’s a window opening to find avenues for U.S.-China Moon sample cooperation?

Perhaps it’s time to provide some new Moonwalking legs to build upon the legacy of bilateral exchange?

Your views are welcomed!

For more information on this topic, go to these resources:

U.S. State Department Plans “International Lunar Year”

https://www.leonarddavid.com/u-s-state-department-plans-international-lunar-year/

White House Report: Cislunar Strategy

https://www.leonarddavid.com/white-house-report-cislunar-strategy/

Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David

The European Space Agency performed an assisted/semi-controlled descent of its retired Aeolus, a wind profiling spacecraft lofted into Earth orbit in 2018.

Mission scientists and engineers took on the tricky task of targeting a remote stretch of the Atlantic Ocean for the plunge to Earth of Aeolus. A key aspect of assisted reentry is that for any spacecraft leftovers believed to survive the plunge, those bits and pieces would fall into a remote area.

Image credit: ESA

ESA confirmed that Aeolus reentered Earth’s atmosphere on July 28 above Antarctica, also verified by the U.S. Space Command.

The “adios to Aeolus” action underscores a novel approach for the safe return of active satellites that were never designed for controlled reentry.

Image credit: ESA

 

Windage

But “above Antarctica” versus the Atlantic Ocean caught my eye. Sounds like something didn’t go as planned?

“In an assisted re-entry you have to accept inaccuracies along the desired target coordinates and we required that it was maximum +\- half orbit centered in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” responded Tommaso Parrinello, ESA Aeolus mission manager, a target zone that was called a corridor.

Aeolus reentered over Antarctica on July 28. ESA’s Space Debris Office, based on U.S. Space Command tracking and ESA’s own data acquired during Aeolus’s last orbits, this map has been produced showing the assessed location of Aeolus’s disintegration in the atmosphere and where any surviving fragments may have fallen. Image credit: ESA

“We re-entered within less than a quarter of an orbit. Better than expected,” Parrinello told Inside Outer Space. It took almost a year to develop the assisted re-entry or semi-controlled concept, he said, designing the best corridor of re-entry, changing the satellite configuration, and designing the timeline, along with check and more checks via simulation.

Assisted living and reentry for Aeolus spacecraft. Image credit: ESA/J. Mai

As for the price tag of the Aeolus assisted re-entry, “the funds were within the foreseen operation costs…there is not a figure to give,” Parrinello said.

Minimize risk

“With the growing number of objects being launched into space, we certainly expect that many will re-enter over time, so I think ESA’s efforts to develop and test an assisted controlled re-entry is important to minimize the risk to human life on or near the surface,” said T.S. Kelso of CelesTrak, an analytical group that keeps a sharp eye on Earth-circling objects.

Similar in view is Darren McKnight, a senior technical fellow for LeoLabs.

“This is significant for several reasons,” McKnight said. “First, it is critical for everyone to note that sometimes the act of reducing orbital collision risk comes at the cost of risk to aviation and ground impacts. The U.S. has a self-imposed threshold of 1/10,000 chance of ground casualty from a reentry but that is not accepted worldwide.”

Taking the fall. Space hardware dives into Earth’s atmosphere with some fragments making their way to the ground.
Image credit: ESA/D.Ducros

McKnight said that it is laudable to see others minimizing this re-entry risk. He added that this spacecraft was not designed to do these maneuvers yet performed them admirably.

Continual innovation

“Much of the positive space safety behavior over the last few years has been by systems not designed to perform that way. The continual innovation by many has been impressive,” McKnight told Inside Outer Space.

Lastly, McKnight said that “active debris removal is a complex, but greatly needed operation to improve the state of the debris environment in low Earth orbit and it requires several steps: identify, rendezvous, grapple, de-tumble, and de-orbit safely. This exercise builds confidence in the ability to do the last critical stage of safe de-orbiting of large spacecraft.”

Tech. Sgt. Ronald Dunn, 729th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, guides a Mongolian driver in August 2011. Dunn was part of a crew from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., who were assigned to a mission to retrieve space debris that fell to Earth. The parts were identified as expended rocket parts from an Air Force rocket launched into space nearly a decade prior. Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Linda Welz

Responsible behavior

Aeolus had a dry mass of 2,425 pounds (1,100 kilograms) and the most critical removal sequences, McKnight said, will be performed on objects over 1,000 kilograms.

“It should be noted that any spacecraft above 500 to 800 kilograms in mass is likely to have sufficient debris survive re-entry as to warrant controlled reentry to meet the 1/10,000 threshold for ground casualty,” said McKnight. There are currently nearly 800 rocket bodies and over 300 non-operational payloads in low Earth orbit with a mass over 1,000 kg, he pointed out.

“This demonstration showed how individual responsible behavior can contribute to the growing space safety expertise highlighting that space safety does not have to be debilitating for space operators,” McKnight concluded.

Detrimental effects

On the other hand, there remains the issue of rubbish from spacecraft falling out of orbit having harmful effects on global atmospheric chemistry.

The atmospheric layers from the ground up to the boundary with space, showing natural phenomena, human inputs and resultant impacts. These human inputs impact the troposphere (by enhancing climate change), the stratosphere (through ozone loss from multiple causes), the mesosphere (by influencing metal chemistry and accumulation and increasing noctilucent clouds), and the thermosphere (by likely causing contraction which will impact orbiting satellites).
Image credit: Jamie D. Shutler, et al.

Some experts are concerned that the growing scale and pace of space activities may lead to new unforeseen impacts on the environment and climate. Furthermore, what appears required is improved monitoring of the situation, as well as regulation to create an environmentally sustainable space industry.

These are observations from recent research on atmospheric impacts of the space industry led by Jamie Shutler, associate professor of Earth observation in the Center for Geography and Environmental Science, College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter, Cornwall.

Full impact, not known

As for the outcome from assisted re-entry, like that done with ESA’s Aeolus satellite, it’s a tough call, Shutler told Inside Outer Space.

“It’s good that agencies are now starting to consider the environmental aspects of these technologies and how previous standard approaches are not sustainable,” Shutler said, such as shifting satellites to a graveyard orbit or just leaving the satellite in its original orbit to slowly de-orbit.

“But equally, de-orbiting for burn-up in the atmosphere and with roughly 20 percent of the satellite landing in the ocean is not sustainable or environmentally good,” Shutler said. “The satellite components don’t just vanish, they instead get re-distributed throughout the atmosphere and the full impacts are not known.”

Ozone loss

For example, Shutler added, satellites are mainly made up of aluminum and we know that aluminum in the upper atmosphere can promote ozone loss. “Whilst being claimed to be ‘harmlessly falling in the ocean’, it’s still littering in the ocean on which we rely for food, and for regulating our weather and climate.”

Earth orbit is a junkyard of human-made space clutter.
Credit: Space Junk 3D, LLC. Melrae Pictures

Shutler said the ESA effort is a step in the right direction, “but only if this is the start of greater efforts by all agencies and private organizations to question and reduce the environmental impact of space activities.”

Sustainable space?

In Shutler’s view, greater efforts need to be made, for example, in controlling the overall quantity of satellites in orbit, like sharing resources efficiently, rather than large scale duplication, as we see now with commercial activities. Also needed is reducing the quantity of aluminum within those satellites, “and showing greater consideration for the atmosphere, the ocean and whole of Earth’s environment, instead of just protecting the land, whilst simultaneously considering everywhere else as being acceptable for littering.”

Shutler’s bottom line: “Overall I would hope that the approach of simply de-orbiting all satellites is not the future. Much more needs to be done to address the problem, and recognizing this wider issue, as it seems is being done by ESA…a good first step. But despite the social media tagging, we have a long way to go before we have anything close to ‘sustainable space.’”

A main propellant tank of the second stage of a Delta 2 launch vehicle landed near Georgetown, Texas in January 1997.
Image credit: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

Re-entry regime

Also noting the Aeolus outcome is Aaron Boley, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

“It is positive to see the ESA using available spacecraft capabilities to reduce the risks of lethal re-entry debris, instead of leaving the re-entry outcome entirely to chance,” said 

For large satellites in orbit that were never designed to conduct controlled re-entries, assisted/semi-controlled re-entries are a step in the right direction, Boley told Inside Outer Space.

“It should nonetheless be recognized, while things went well in this case, that such maneuvers are not a controlled re-entry and still carry substantial re-entry time uncertainties. Not all large spacecraft in orbit will be capable of such a semi-controlled re-entry, either,” Boley pointed out.

Image credit: Johan Swanepoel/Adobe Stock via RAND

Moving forward, Boley said that states and operators need to work together to develop a controlled re-entry regime for new satellites and launch vehicles in an effort to limit the risks of re-entry debris to people on the ground, at sea, and in airplanes in flight.

“Such a regime would include requirements for controlled re-entries, and in circumstances where a controlled re-entry is not feasible, the requirements would include risk reduction measures as part of the satellite design,” said Boley.