Tag Archives: Moon

A young lunar impact crater

Lunar crater

Cool image time! The science team from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) today released a new image, taken on November 3, 2018, of a relatively young small crater not easily seen from Earth.

The unnamed crater, just 1.8 kilometers across, is too small to see from Earth with unaided eyes. It is in the Moon’s wild west, just past Oceanus Procellarum and close to the line dividing the nearside from the farside, so it would be hard to glimpse in any case. If you stood on the crater rim, you would see the Earth forever slowly bobbing up, down, and sideways close to the eastern horizon.

The image above is a cropped and reduced-in-resolution section of the released image. If you click on it you can see this section at full resolution.

What I find fascinating about this crater are the black streaks that appear to only run down the outside slopes of the eastern rim, but nowhere else. At first glance it looks like prevailing winds, blowing from the west, caused this, but of course that’s wrong because the Moon has no atmosphere. The website explains:
» Read more

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NASA to hire private lunar probes for future missions

Capitalism in space: Rather than build its own future lunar landers and rovers, NASA is now planning to hire these services from private companies, with missions flying as soon as 2021.

Under a program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), NASA would buy space aboard a couple of launches a year, starting in 2021. The effort is similar to an agency program that paid private space companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). “This a new way of doing business,” says Sarah Noble, a planetary scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., who is leading the science side of NASA’s lunar plans.

Scientists are lining up for a ride. “It really feels like the future of lunar exploration,” says Erica Jawin, a planetary scientist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. She and other attendees at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group in Columbia, Maryland, last week were eager to show NASA why their small experiments would be worthy hitchhikers on the landers.

Several companies, including Astrobotic, Moon Express, and iSpace, are vying to establish a commercial moon market. Buying rides to the moon from launch providers like Rocket Lab, each firm hopes to become the go-to carrier for other companies seeking to prospect the moon for rocket fuel ingredients, or to gather rocks to sell for study. But a contract with NASA is the real prize. Moon Express, for example, has designed the MX-1, a lander roughly the size and shape of Star Wars’s R2-D2. But, “We won’t pull the trigger until we know we have a CLPS award,” says Moon Express CEO Robert Richards in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The companies selected for CLPS must deliver at least 10 kilograms of payload by the end of 2021, NASA says. It is scrambling to find instruments that are ready to fly. “What do you have sitting on shelf now that you can throw onto the mission immediately?” Noble says. “We’re looking for flight spares, engineering models, student-built projects. It’s a little bit of a weird call for us.” The agency is planning to pay up to $36 million to adapt eight to 12 existing scientific instruments to the initial small landers; by the middle of next decade it aims to build a pipeline of instruments for bigger landers that might also carry rovers.

These are going to small missions with limited lifespans and limited abilities. They will however be cheap, fast, and many. In the end I am certain NASA (and the taxpayer) will get far more bang for the buck.

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The fractured floor of Komarov Crater

Fractured floor of Komarov Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) oblique image on the right, reduced significantly from the original to post here, shows the deeply fractured floor of Komarov Crater on the Moon’s far side. As noted at the image link,

The spectacular fractures that cut across the floor of Komarov crater [about 85 kilometers or 50 miles diameter] were formed when magma rose from the mantle, uplifting and fracturing the crater in the process. In this case the magma did not erupt to the surface, thus the fractures remain visible.

The Komarov fractures are quite large, the major left-to-right fracture that cuts across the center of the scene is over 500 meters deep [1,600 feet] and 2500 meters wide [1.5 miles]. When did they form? The large number of craters superimposed on the floor and fractures testifies to their ancient ages. Likely they are of the same vintage (>2.6 billion years) as the Mare Moscoviense lava plains just to the north

An overview of Komarov Crater as well as other LRO images of it can be found here.

The question that comes to my mind is the relative rarity of craters with such large fractures on their floors. I have noted this for Mars as well. It is expected that there is melt on the floor of all large impact craters. Why do a few produce such pronounced fractures, while most do not? This website posits one explanation, but its complexity leaves me unsatisfied. It also doesn’t explain why it happens only rarely.

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Another private lunar rover unveiled

Capitalism in space: The private start-up company Lunar Outpost today unveiled its tiny 10 kilogram (22 pound) rover, designed to map lunar resources.

The first Prospector was demonstrated driving and drilling in Lunar regolith simulant at the Colorado School of Mines’ new Lunar testbed facility in the Earth Mechanics Institute overseen by the Center for Space Resources. This event marks the first commercial Lunar Prospector publicly tested in the United States.

Evidence of valuable resources on the Lunar surface, such as water, precious metals, and helium-3 have been established by remote sensing on flyby missions around the Moon. This scientific data has been used to create general resource models of the Lunar surface, which now require ground-truthing to establish optimal landing sites and plan future resource extraction operations. Groups of Lunar Outpost Prospectors will map the surface and subsurface resources of the Moon, while autonomously navigating along waypoints and avoiding hazards such as large rocks and craters. These Prospectors can also be teleoperated if needed and can utilize NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway concept as a center of operations.

This is a tiny inexpensive rover, essentially an upgraded drone. Very smart, and efficent. Below the fold is the company’s video of this demo test. The drilling capability is especially impressive.

Their website does not say how much they will charge for this rover, but they also note that it has 5 kilograms of cargo capacity, meaning that they can also offer this to customers.
» Read more

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India completes test landing for its Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander

The new colonial movement: Using a scaled-down prototype to compensate for the Earth’s heavier gravity, India’s space agency ISRO has successfully completed a soft landing test of Chandrayaan-2’s lunar lander, dubbed Vikram.

Chandrayaan-2 is scheduled for a January launch, and besides the orbiter and Vikram lander, it will also carry a rover.

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An update on China’s Chang’e-4 lunar lander

Link here. Chang’e-4 is set to land on the far side of the Moon, sometime in December. The article provides some additional details, including information about the likely landing site in Von Kármán crater. It also notes that there are three launches planned at the spaceport prior to the December launch, and that any issue on any of those launches could delay Chang’e-4’s lift-off. .

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The central peaks of Copernicus crater

Central peaks of Copernicus Crater

Cool image time! Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter science team has released a new image of the central peaks of Copernicus Crater, shown on the right cropped and reduced in resolution.

Copernicus (9.62°N, 339.92°E), which is easily seen with a moderately powerful backyard telescope, is one of the best-known craters on the Moon. Despite its age (around 860 million years), it is well preserved with over 4000 meters of relief from floor to rim, and the tallest of its central peaks rises approximately 1300 meters above the crater floor. This image, centered on the central peaks, was captured just after dawn (86° incidence angle) as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter slewed west to a 67°angle.

The image is similar to one taken back in 2012, but has a higher resolution because it was shot from 50 miles elevation instead of 75.

This crater was also the subject of one of the first breath-taking images ever taken of the Moon from lunar orbit, by Lunar Orbiter in November 1966.

The wider view taken by LRO gives some context for the image above. The peaks shown in closeup here are part of the lower right grouping. If you go to the first link above you can zoom in and explore all parts of the full image, and see some quite amazing details, including the large boulders scatter throughout the hollows between the peaks.

Copernicus Crater

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NASA signs agreement to work with SpaceIL’s privately built lunar rover

Capitalism in space: NASA, the Israeli space agency, and the private Israeli space company SpaceIL have signed a cooperative agreement to work together when SpaceIL’s privately built lunar rover is launched to the Moon in December.

NASA will contribute a laser retroreflector array to aid with ground tracking and Deep Space Network support to aid in mission communication. ISA and SpaceIL will share data with NASA from the SpaceIL lunar magnetometer installed aboard the spacecraft. The instrument, which was developed in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science, will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site. The data will be made publicly available through NASA’s Planetary Data System. In addition, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to take scientific measurements of the SpaceIL lander as it lands on the Moon.

This agreement is the first step in the transition from having the government build planetary probes to it becoming a customer, buying these probes from private companies that build them for profit.

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Celebrate Earthrise Day!

In only a little less than three months we will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the December 1968 flight of Apollo 8 — first manned mission to another world. During that mission three humans spent 20 hours in orbit around the Moon, during which they read the first twelve verses of the Old Testament on Christmas Eve and became the first humans to witness an Earthrise and to photograph it.

To celebrate that achievement, a new website has been created, dubbed Celebrate Earthrise Day.

The website provides some great background material. You can listen to the astronaut’s Christmas telecast as well as see a recreation of the moment when the astronauts saw that Earthrise and Bill Anders took his famous color photo. The site also includes many photos from before, during, and after the mission, with many pictures coming from the personal family pictures of the astronauts. There is also audio of an 1988 Bill Anders’ interview, as well as a video of a fascinating presentation made by Bill and Valerie Anders, describing their life journey leading up to Apollo 8 and afterward.

Finally, and I think of most interest to my readers here, the site includes the audio of my introduction from the new audio edition of my book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8.

The site also includes the audio of one of the best radio interviews I have ever done, broadcast in 1998, on the subject of Apollo 8, our American culture, and the importance of each person choosing their path in life wisely. You can find that audio at the bottom of this webpage.

Check it all out. I think you will find it worth your while.

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Mountains on the Moon

Mountains on the Moon

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced slightly to post here, shows several high mountains on the far side of the Moon. If you click on the image you can see it at full resolution.

The summit of the unnamed peak in the foreground (50.2° S, 236.6° E) has an elevation of 6710 meters, about 7000 meters (about 23,000 feet) of relief relative to the low point at the bottom of the image. The two peaks on the horizon, 200 kilometers in the distance (about 125 miles), have summit elevations of 4320 meters (14,200 feet) and 4680 meters (15,350), respectively and both rise more than 6000 meters (almost 20,000 feet) above their surroundings.

In the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team release in June, they noted that the high peak here is actually taller than Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest peak within the U.S. And it has no name. They also note that the peak is likely 4 billion years old, and has experienced extensive erosion in that time, meaning that it is also likely shorter than it once was.

I don’t have anything to add, other than this would be an amazing place to put up a resort, with trails taking you to the top of the mountains. In the lighter gravity, the hike would actually be somewhat easy, even wearing a spacesuit. And you wouldn’t have to worry about a thinning atmosphere as you climbed higher, as you do on Earth. You’d be carrying it with you.

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SpaceX to name on Monday its first customer for BFR flight around Moon

Capitalism in space: In a tweet SpaceX announced that it will name on Monday its first customer for flight around Moon, using its Big Falcon Rocket rather than the Falcon Heavy as previously announced.

There will be a lot of speculation over the next few days, but we must remember that the BFR is years away from launch, so nothing here is either set in concrete, nor even likely to happen.

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Oblique view of lunar crater

Wallach Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team this week released an image showing Wallach Crater as seen from the side. The image on the right is a section of that image and has been reduced to show here. The full image of 3.5-mile-wide crater and its surrounding terrain can be explored at the link. From the link:

Wallach crater (4.89°N, 32.27°E) formed within a thin layer of black basaltic lava flows that overlie much brighter anorthositic material. Think of a white cake with chocolate icing. When the asteroid (or comet) impacted this “iced cake”, ejecta from deeper portions (white cake, or rather brighter anorthosite) was thrown out onto the icing (darker basalt) resulting in intermediate tones where the two materials mixed.

The dark streaks seen inside the crater are blocks of the icing (basalt) breaking off and creeping down slope. The fact that the deepest material lands on top of the shallowest material (known as inverted stratigraphy) was first described by Gene Shoemaker from his pioneering observations at Meteor Crater, Arizona. This effect simplifies sampling the local geology in three dimensions. As an astronaut traverses towards the rim of a crater, the rocks underfoot come from deeper and deeper within the crater. The rocks at the rim are from the deepest portions of the crater!

It is especially interesting to use the viewer at the link to see the surrounding terrain, which includes two other craters that are far less distinct.

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Lunar scientist Paul Spudis had passed away

R.I.P.: Paul Spudis, lunar scientist and strong advocate for the human exploration of space, passed away yesterday at the age of 66.

Spudis was one of the best lunar scientists we have had. He also saw past petty budget battles and his personal planetary research to recognize the need for human exploration and settlement on the Moon and elsewhere. This is a premature loss for us all.

Leonard David at Space News has written a fine obituary, which gives only a hint at how important Spudis was to the recent resurgence of the U.S. in the exploration of space.

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Swooping over a lunar cold spot

cold spot crater

Cool image time! The oblique image on the right, reduced and cropped to show here, was taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) of an unnamed crater on the Moon’s far side. (Click on the image to see the full picture.) What makes the crater of particular interest is that it during the long 14-day-long lunar night the area around this young crater quickly cools to a temperature about 10 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the surrounding terrain.

Einthoven cold spot crater, the subject of today’s Featured Image, is 1143 m wide, or about the size of Meteor Crater in Arizona. So far, it has no official name — we call it Einthoven cold spot crater because it is just south of Einthoven crater, which is old, degraded, and, at 69 kilometers in diameter, the largest crater in the neighborhood.

Though craters associated with cold spot anomalies are small, the cold spots themselves are often large. The Einthoven cold spot crater anomaly takes in 2070 square kilometers of terrain and extends up to 50 kilometers from the crater. That’s much too large an area for ejecta from the crater to cover, which eliminates the most obvious cold spot formation hypothesis: that material blasted from the crater during its formation could create the cold spot.

So, how to explain the cold spot anomalies? Some researchers invoke a cascading series of tiny secondary impacts traveling outward from the crater-forming asteroid impact, while others believe that gas produced by the impact flows through the top layer of lunar surface material. Either process might “fluff up” the surface, changing the way heat affects it. Few researchers, however, find these explanations to be 100% convincing.

Though the abstract of one science paper proposes using these cold spots as an easy way to quickly identify young lunar craters, the actual cold area of this particular crater does not correspond perfectly to the crater itself. The temperature map at the link shows that the colder region is not even centered on the crater, and has a very irregular shape. Using these mysteriously cold regions on the Moon to identify young impacts I think will be difficult and will have a very large margin of error.

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New analysis strengthens evidence of water in lunar polar craters

ice signatures in lunar south pole craters

The uncertainty of science: Scientists using data from India’s Chandrayaan-1lunar orbiter today claimed that they have confirmed water in the Moon’s polar craters.

A team of scientists, led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University and including Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signatures that definitively prove there is water ice at the surface of the Moon.

M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization, was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice.

Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

The image on the right shows the craters surrounding the south pole with water ice signatures, according to this new analysis.

This press release has some puzzling aspects. First, it is almost a decade since this data was gathered. Why is this suddenly reported now, just prior to the launch of Chandrayaan-2? I suspect this release has come out now to garner some PR for that new mission.

Also, there is nothing in this release that explains why these results should be considered more certain than previous results. In fact, previous data from different lunar orbits has been somewhat contradictory, suggesting a lot of uncertainty about the presence of water-ice at the lunar poles that this story does not address or alleviate in any way.

Nonetheless, this new analysis and data adds more weight to the possibility of water near the lunar poles, making that real estate a prime target for future bases. Too bad it is China that is aiming to grab this territory, while NASA wants us to circle the Moon in LOP-G, going nowhere.

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China unveils next lunar rover

The new colonial movement: In unveiling its next lunar rover, China today also announced they will hold a contest to name it.

Images displayed at Wednesday’s press conference showed the rover was a rectangular box with two foldable solar panels and six wheels. It is 1.5 meters long, 1 meter wide and 1.1 meters high.

Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s lunar probe program, said the Chang’e-4 rover largely kept the shape and conditions of its predecessor, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), China’s first lunar rover for the Chang’e-3 lunar probe in 2013. However, it also has adaptable parts and an adjustable payload configuration to deal with the complex terrain on the far side of the moon, the demand of relay communication, and the actual needs of the scientific objectives, according to space scientists.

Like Yutu, the rover will be equipped with four scientific payloads, including a panoramic camera, infrared imaging spectrometer and radar measurement devices, to obtain images of moon’s surface and detect lunar soil and structure.

The Chang’e-4 lunar probe will land on the Aitken Basin of the lunar south pole region on the far side of the moon, which is a hot spot for scientific and space exploration. Direct communication with the far side of the moon, however, is not possible, which is one of the many challenges for the Chang’e-4 lunar probe mission. China launched a relay satellite, named Queqiao, in May, to set up a communication link between the Earth and Chang’e-4 lunar probe.

I am not sure what they mean by “adaptable parts and an adjustable payload configuration.” That sounds like they upgraded this rover’s design to allow them to use it to build many similar rovers for use elsewhere, not just on the Moon. This sounds good, but the conditions on other planets are so different I’m not sure a direct transfer of the rover will work very well.

Chang’e-4’s launch is presently scheduled for December.

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Aristarchus Crater on the Moon

Aristarchus Crater

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, shows Aristarchus Crater, one of the more geological intriguing locations on the Moon. This oblique image was taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), still operating in lunar orbit. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution image.

Aristarchus crater is 40 kilometers (25 miles) in diameter and 2700 meters (1.7 miles) deep, with a central peak that rises 300 meters (almost a thousand feet) above the crater floor. When LRO pointed back towards the Sun, LROC was able to capture this magnificent view highlighting subtle differences in albedo (brightness). Some of the albedo contrast is due to maturity (young material is generally brighter than older material) and some reveal true differences in rock type. The central peak shows the complexity of what lies beneath the now hardened impact melt sea that filled the bottom of the crater.

The best part however is the close-up they provided of the crater’s central peaks, posted below.
» Read more

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Chandrayaan-2 delayed again, until January 2019

The new colonial movement: ISRO, India’s space agency, has revealed that the launch of its lunar rover/lander Chandrayaan-2 has been delayed from October to Janaury 2019.

Dr M Annadurai, Director of U R Rao Satellite Centre confirmed to NDTV that the launch date for Chandryaan-2 “is slipping to 2019” from the initially planned launch in October this year.

Dr Annadurai said that India’s moon mission now aims to land in February and the rocket launch will take place in January next year.

Moreover, since the weight of the Chandrayaan-2 satellite has increased, Dr Annadurai said that now instead of GSLV MK-II, GSLV MK-III will be used. Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle MK-III (GSLV MK-III), also called the ‘The Bahubali’, is India’s heaviest rocket that weighs nearly 640 tons and will be used to hoist the Chandrayaan-2 satellite from India’s rocket port at Sriharikota.

It appears that in building the spacecraft they have not been able to keep its weight low enough, and have been forced to switch launch vehicles, with this switch causing the delay.

The article also provides a tidbit of information about the GLSV MK-III rocket, that they have an real name for it, Bahubali. If so, they should use it. It sells much better than GLSV MK-III.

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Chinese officials quite rightly dismiss LOP-G

At a science workshop in Europe this week Chinese space officials made it clear that they found the concept of NASA Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) to be unimpressive and uninteresting.

Moreover, they said that while it appears we will be delaying our landings on the Moon for at least a decade because of LOP-G, they will be focused on getting and building a research station on the surface, right off the bat.

Overall, Pei does not appear to be a fan of NASA’s plan to build a deep space gateway, formally known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, at a near-rectilinear halo orbit. Whereas NASA will focus its activities on this gateway away from the Moon, Pei said China will focus on a “lunar scientific research station.”

Another slide from Pei offered some thoughts on the gateway concept, which NASA intends to build out during the 2020s, delaying a human landing on the Moon until the end of the decade at the earliest. Pei does not appear to be certain about the scientific objectives of such a station, and the deputy director concludes that, from a cost-benefit standpoint, the gateway would have “lost cost-effectiveness.”

The Chinese are right of course. LOP-G is merely a fake project to justify SLS and Orion, designed not to explore space but to provide Congress a jobs program on Earth. It will hand the Moon to China, while we dither in lunar orbit.

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A weird lunar lava field

Weird terrain at Ina on the Moon

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced and rotated 180 degrees to post here, comes from a recent release for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). It shows a flow of lava that partly covers an older terrain.

Some scientists propose that Ina formed as very young (less than 100 million years) volcanic eruptions because only a few larger impact craters (>20 m) have formed on its surface. Others believe it is quite ancient (3.5 billion years), possessing highly unusual physical properties that stifle the formation of normal impact craters. At least everybody agrees it was formed as basalt was erupted to the surface! But how and when Ina formed remains open.

Ina’s morphology is so unusual that it is easy to see inverted topography – that is, craters appear as bubbles rather than bowls! Think of Ina as a cast iron frying pan with freshly poured pancake batter; the wiggly textured material is the frying pan and the bulbous smoother mounds are the batter.

The image to the right has been rotated 180 degrees so that my mind at least can see it with the craters as bowls and the uplifted smooth lava as uplifted. If this doesn’t work for you, click on the link and look at the original image.

While some scientists think the lava flows are recent, no one knows at present the origins of the rougher terrain that the lava has partly obscured.

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Israel’s former Google Lunar X-Prize contestant to launch in 2018

Capitalism in space: Despite a failure of all contestants to to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, Israel’s competitor announced today that they still plan to launch, and will do so in December of this year.

The SpaceIL spacecraft will be launched from the United States on a Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle, built by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX. At a press conference on Tuesday, SpaceIL representatives announced that the unmanned lunar landing craft will be transferred to the US in November, with a launch date in December.

According to SpaceIL, the unmanned space vessel will reach the moon and complete the lunar landing on February 13th next year.

They say the lander will plant an Israeli flag on the Moon, but the images at the link, as well as the announcement, suggests that the lander will no longer have the ability to rove, as required for the X-Prize. It appears to me that they have simplified the mission in order to fly it quickly and gain the public relations such a flight will give them.

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Chang’e-4 launch set for December

China has now scheduled the launch of its Chang’e-4 lunar rover/lander, aimed for the first landing on the Moon’s far side, for sometime this coming December.

They will use China’s Long March 3B rocket, not the bigger Long March 5. As is usual for China, many details about the mission remain secret. The exact landing area has not been announced, other than somewhere in the very large South Pole/Aitken Basin area. The exact date has not been announced, other than sometime in December.

Their planned sample return mission, Chang’e-5, is now set for launch in 2019, “should the Long March 5 rocket be proven ready for flight later this year.”

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Chinese cubesat using Saudi Arabian camera sends back first pictures

A Chinese cubesat, launched as a secondary payload with China’s lunar communications satellite for its upcoming Chang’e-4 mission, used a Saudi Arabian camera to successfully send back its first images this week.

Two of the three images show the Earth rising above the lunar horizon. The third looks down at the Moon’s cratered surface.

These images I think are the first interplanetary images ever taken and successfully transmitted to Earth by a interplantary cubesat mission. Both China and Saudi Arabia should be lauded for the success. It proves that cubesats have the potential to do everything that fullsize satellites do, at much lower cost, and therefore marks the beginning of a revolution in unmanned planetary spacecraft design.

In related news, that lunar communications satellite has now officially reached its Lagrande point.

The satellite, named Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) and launched on May 21, entered the Halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, about 65,000 km from the Moon, at 11:06 a.m. Thursday after a journey of more than 20 days. “The satellite is the world’s first communication satellite operating in that orbit, and will lay the foundation for the Chang’e-4, which is expected to become the world’s first soft-landing, roving probe on the far side of the Moon,” said Zhang Hongtai, president of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

The concept of the Halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 point was first put forward by international space experts in 1950s.

While in orbit, the relay satellite can see both the Earth and the far side of the Moon. The satellite can stay in the Halo orbit for a long time due to its relatively low use of fuel, since the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity balances the orbital motion of the satellite.

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Woman sues NASA to keep possession of moon dust

A Tennessee woman is proactively suing NASA in order to guarantee the agency will not try to steal a vial of moon dust that Neil Armstrong gave to her in the early 1970s.

Murray Cicco received the small glass vial full of gray moon dust in the early 1970s. The vial came with a note: “To Laura Ann Murray — Best of luck — Neil Armstron Apollo 11.” …Armstrong’s note and signature have been verified and testing has confirmed the contents in the vial he gifted her do include dust from the moon.

Decades after receiving the glass vial of moon dust, Murray Cicco is moving forward with her federal court case in Wichita, even though she lives in Tennessee. The reason for filing the case in Kansas goes back to a previous case in 2016 where a U.S. District Court judge in Wichita ruled in favor of a collector who bought a bag containing moon dust that was mistakenly placed in an online government auction. In that case, the bag was then sold at auction last year for $1.8 million.

While NASA hasn’t demanded Murray Cicco give up the vial of moon dust, Murray Cicco’s attorney has requested a jury trial in Wichita to stay ahead. “There is no law against private persons owning lunar material. Lunar material is not contraband. It is not illegal to own or possess,” the court document detailing the case says. “Therefore, she requests judgment declaring her the rightful and legal owner of the vial and its contents, and vesting title in her name.”

This is a very wise move on her part. NASA has for years made it clear that it thinks it owns all moon material brought back by the Apollo missions, and has had the arrogant policy of demanding the return of any moon dust or rocks that it discovered was in the possession of any private citizen, no matter how small, or how well documented the ownership. This court case acts to block such actions, before NASA can even think of them.

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China loses contact with one of two lunar cubesats

China has lost contact with one of the two test cubesats that were launched to the moon with their Queqiao Chang’e-4 communications satellite.

Though they continue to receive telemetry from one cubesat, without the second they will be unable to do the radio astronomy and interferometry experiments planned.

The interferometry experiments would have seen the observations made simultaneously by the DSLWP/Longjiang microsatellites to be combined. The test would be verification of technology for a constellation of small, low-frequency radio astronomy satellites that would emulate a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the satellites.

The Chang’e-4 mission could however see some interferometry tests carried out, with Queqiao carrying the Netherlands-China Low-frequency Explorer (NCLE) astronomy instrument, and a Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS) on the Chang’e-4 lander, which is expected to launch in November or December, following testing of Queqiao.

All is not lost. The cubesat that still functions has a camera, built in Saudi Arabia, and if it takes and successfully transmits any pictures this will be a cubesat landmark, the first interplanetary images ever taken by a cubesat.

Meanwhile, Queqiao Change’-4 is working as expected, laying the ground work for the launch of the Chang’e-4 lander later this year.

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China’s lunar communications satellite eases into position

China’s lunar communications satellite Queqiao Chang’e-4 successfully fired its engines during a lunar fly-by yesterday.

The maneuver sends the spacecraft into position in one of the Lagrange points beyond the Moon, where it can relay data from the yet-to-be launched Chang’e-4 lander.

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China, the Moon, and the Outer Space Treaty

Link here. The article speaks to the problems of sovereignty, ownership, and political borders created by the language of Outer Space Treaty, specifically illustrated now by China’s newest effort to put a lander on the far side of the Moon.

[This] pioneering space travel has raised concern that China is also interested in the tiny spots on the moon that never go dark, the polar peaks of eternal light. Those peaks are vanishingly small, occupying one-one hundred billionth of the lunar surface − roughly equivalent to three sheets of NHL ice on Earth. But their near-ceaseless sunshine gives them great value as a source of solar energy, to power everything from scientific experiments to mining operations.

Their small size could also, scientists have argued, allow one country to take sole occupancy of this unique real estate without falling afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. That agreement stipulates that no state can exert sovereignty in outer space. But it also calls on countries “to avoid interference” with equipment installed by others.

That provides a loophole of sorts, researchers say. The installation of very sensitive equipment on the peaks of eternal light, such as a radio telescope − a 100-metre long uncovered wire used to study transmissions from the sun, and deeper corners of the universe − could use up much of the available space while also providing a rationale to bar others from the area on the grounds that the telescope is too sensitive to be disturbed.

“Effectively a single wire could co-opt one of the most valuable pieces of territory on the moon into something approaching real estate, giving the occupant a good deal of leverage even if their primary objective was not scientific inquiry,” researchers from Harvard University, King’s College London and Georg-August Universitat Gottingen wrote in a 2015 paper.

Because the Outer Space Treaty outlaws any nation from claiming territory, it provides no method for any nation, or private company, to establish its borders or property rights. To protect what they own nations are therefore will be forced to create their own rules, willy-nilly, such as the one speculated above. And when they disagree, only the use of force will be available to either defend or defy these arbitrary rules.

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China launches two test cubesats to the Moon

The launch this week of a Chinese communications relay satellite to be used for its Chang’e-4 lunar lander also included the launch of two test cubesats designed to test such satellites in interplanetary space.

One of the two Longjiang (‘dragon river’) microsatellites that launched with Queqiao but set to operate together in lunar orbit, carries an optical microcamera (Arabic) developed by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) of Saudi Arabia.

The instrument weighs around 630 g and is capable providing images of the Moon with a resolution of 38 m per pixel at a perilune of 300 km and 88 m per pixel at the expected apolune of 9, 000 km away the lunar surface.

The Longjiang-1 and -2 satellites, developed by Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in Northeast China, will test low-frequency astronomy and space-based interferometry in lunar orbit. However, they also carry amateur radio payloads, meaning amateurs can send commands to take and download an image of the Moon using the KACST camera.

It seems that China is trying to compete with the U.S. in the development of interplanetary cubesats. The inclusion of an instrument developed in Saudi Arabia is also another indication that the new colonial movement in space continues to pick up steam.

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China launches communications relay satellite for upcoming lunar mission

China successfully launched a satellite in the early hours this morning designed to relay communications between the Earth and an upcoming lunar lander aimed for the Moon’s far side.

The landing site for this mission is expected to be the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. If successful, this will be the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the Moon.

As such, a communication relay will be required to communicate with Earth. Queqiao [the communication satellite’s name] will provide that role. Launched to an eventual L2 Halo Orbit (Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange Point), the satellite will have a lifetime of five years, covering both this and potentially another Chang’e mission.

The spacecraft is based on the CAST100 small satellite platform, with commonality to the often used DFHSat system that finds its way on to a number of Chinese spacecraft. It has a mass of 425kg and uses a hydrazine propulsion system. It will transmit telemetry back to Earth via its S-band antenna, while X-band data will provide the communication path between the lander and rover.

This Chinese lander could also be the first to confirm the existence of water ice on the lunar surface.

With this launch China once again ties the U.S. in launches for 2018. The leaders:

15 China
9 SpaceX
5 Russia
5 ULA

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