Tag Archives: Moon

New LRO pictures showing Beresheet impact site

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team yesterday released an image showing the impact site where the privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet crashed onto the surface of the Moon on April 11, 2019.

“The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact,” said NASA. “The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.”

The image released does not see the spacecraft but the surface evidence that an impact took place. Higher resolution images will be required to spot any surface wreckage.

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Trump seeks $1.6 billion more for NASA, cuts money to Gateway

The Trump administration, in order to support its desire to accomplish a lunar landing by 2024, is requesting a $1.6 billion increase in NASA’s budget for fiscal year 2020. The key detail however is this:

NASA shortly thereafter published a summary of its budget amendment, which calls for nearly $1.9 billion in new funding for developing lunar landers and accelerating work on the Space Launch System and Orion. It would also go towards exploration technology development and additional science missions to the moon. That increase would be offset by cutting funding for the lunar Gateway by $321 million, reflecting the agency’s plan for only a “minimal” Gateway needed to support a 2024 landing.

In other words, in total Trump wants $1.6 billion more. The good news: He is de-emphasizing Gateway in his future plans. This might even lead to its cancellation as a project.

The bad news? He is pumping more money into SLS/Orion. However, this might not be that bad, when one considers how our bankrupt Washington government functions. Trump doesn’t have the political backing to cut SLS/Orion outright. Instead this proposal is that project’s Hail Mary pass for a touchdown. While private efforts continue to mature to develop cheaper rockets and manned capsules, SLS/Orion will have this one last chance to finally prove itself. If it finds it can’t get it done, and those private options show that they can, then Trump might finally be able to harness the political will in our dumb Congress to dump SLS/Orion.

And if SLS/Orion does succeed? The victory will likely still be a Pyrrhic one. SLS/Orion will still be too expensive and too slow to do much else but a single lunar landing, a stunt much like Apollo, with far less long term possibilities. Meanwhile, those private efforts will continue to develop. By 2024 a switch by NASA to private enterprise and competition will still make sense anyway, even if SLS/Orion gives the nation a spectacular lunar landing.

This action indicates that the Trump administration is paying attention to these matters. They are creating a situation that will put them in a strong negotiating position to get what they want, for the nation. One way or the other, we will be heading back to the Moon.

One minor detail: NASA has chosen “Artemis” as the name for its project to land on the Moon by 2020.

Bridenstine also … announce[d] that this 2024 lunar landing mission will be named Artemis, after the sister of Apollo and the Greek goddess of the moon. “I think it is very beautiful that, 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man and the first woman to the moon.”

No one should be fooled by this. Apollo was a full program, with a well-thought slate of missions designed to get us to the Moon quickly. This SLS/Orion project is still an off the cuff mishmash, with only two or three flights at most, and without much of a plan behind those flights. It has been and continues to be an improvised mess.

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Yutu-2 travels more than 600 feet during its fifth lunar day on the Moon

The Chinese press today revealed that during its fifth lunar day on the Moon’s far side China’s lunar rover Yutu-2 traveled about 623 feet.

Where exactly it went, and what it learned, they did not reveal. We will have to wait for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images to learn the rover’s route.

They have now put both Yutu-2 and the lander Chang’e-4 into sleep mode for the long lunar night.

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India sets Chandrayaan-2 launch and lunar landing dates

India’s space agency ISRO has announced that the launch of Chandrayaan-2 will take place in a window from July 9 to July 16, and the landing of its Vikram rover will occur on September 6.

The delay in the landing is probably to allow Chandrayaan-2 to get to the Moon, then review the landing site to make sure it is acceptable.

This is not the first time they have announced a launch schedule for Chandrayaan-2 and then delayed it. This time however I think the dates are firm.

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The battle over Trump’s Moon effort exposes Washington’s power-hungry bureaucracy

This analysis by Eric Berger at Ars Technica of the political situation surrounding SLS, Orion, Gateway, and the Trump administration’s desire to quickly get back to the Moon is quite cogent and worth reading in full. It suggests that it will be very difficult for Trump to get his lunar landing, for several reasons. First, the Democrats in the House will likely not fund it. Second, because to get it done by 2024 will likely require switching to private rockets, and that action will be opposed by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). And third because there are factions in the NASA bureaucracy that are in love with SLS and Gateway and will work to save it.

This quote is most telling:

At NASA headquarters, [human spaceflight chief Bill] Gerstenmaier and this team that plays a central role in developing policy for the space agency are likely content to play a waiting game. Without an increased budget he can continue to spend money on developing the SLS rocket for some future launch date and begin procuring elements of the Lunar Gateway. He can make some small investments in a lunar lander but doesn’t have to commit to its development before the end of next year, which may bring a new president and new priorities.

In other words, Bill Gerstenmaier, an unelected bureaucrat at NASA, has more power to determine U.S. space policy than elected lawmakers.

I ask, how does Gerstenmaier have the right to “develop policy for the space agency?” What legislative authority gives him the right to “play a waiting game” while continuing to “spend money on developing the SLS rocket… and procuring elements of Lunar Gateway?” These are policy decisions that belong solely to Congress and the President, not some hired government bureaucrat.

In a sense this story is only another reflection of the entire Russian collusion scandal. Hired government officials with no legal authority decide that they really know best, and this hubris allows them to supplant the decisions of lawmakers, and even attempt to overthrow them if necessary.

I reluctantly predicted this behavior back in June 2016 when I visited Washington and wrote this essay: The think tank culture of Washington:

What will this elite community do should Trump win the presidency and start demanding that they do things differently? Will they recognize that we are a democracy and work with him, the elected choice of the American people, or will they resist because he isn’t the politician they wanted and wants to institute policies they disagree with?

…I fear that the culture of Washington is becoming increasingly hostile to and insulated against the choices of the American electorate. I fear that they will one day soon decide to team up with the politicians they like to use the concentrated power we have given them in Washington to reject those choices, even to the extent of tossing out the Constitution and the democratic legal system that made the United States once the freest and wealthiest nation in the history of the human race.

I hope I am wrong. I pray that I am wrong. I think we might very well find out in the coming year.

Sadly, what we have learned in the past three years is that this Washington think tank culture is quite willing to overthrow the Constitution and the law, to get what they want. The situation at NASA only gives us another example of this terrible reality.

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Lunar eclipse meteorite hit the Moon at almost 38,000 mph

By analyzing the data obtained of the meteorite impact that hit the Moon during the January 21 lunar eclipse, astronomers now estimate it crashed into the surface at almost 38,000 miles per hour and would have produced a crater about 50 feet across.

They also estimate that the meteorite itself had a mass of about 100 pounds with a diameter of between one to two feet.

The new crater itself has not yet been spotted, and probably can only be photographed with the high resolution camera on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). I expect the LRO science team has already scheduled observations for this location. It will be interesting to see if the actual crater corresponds to the estimates of these astronomers.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awaken for fifth lunar day

The new colonial movement: China’s lunar lander Chang’e-4 and rover Yutu-2 have been awakened to begin work for their fifth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

According to the report from this official Chinese government news source, Yutu-2 has now traveled just under 600 feet from the lander. We know from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images taken during the rover’s second lunar day of travel that it had moved to the west, but we don’t really know much else beyond that. LRO has not released any new images, and the Chinese have not told us.

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Settlement reached in lawsuit about private lunar mission

A lawsuit filed in 2017 by a man who had paid Space Adventures a $7 million deposit for a ticket to fly on a Soyuz rocket around the Moon has now been settled

McPike, an Austrian businessman and adventurer who lives in the Bahamas, filed the original suit in May 2017, seeking the return of a $7 million deposit he paid to Space Adventures for a $150 million seat on a Soyuz mission that would go around the moon, and additional damages. The defendants in the suit included Space Adventures; Tom Shelley, the company’s president; and Eric Anderson, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

According to McPike’s suit, he contacted Space Adventures in July 2012 about the possibility of flying on a mission around the moon that the company had been promoting for several years. In March 2013, he signed an agreement committing to participate in such a mission, and paid an initial deposit of $7 million towards the $150 million total price with the expectation that the mission would take place within six years.

McPike was scheduled to make a second deposit of $8 million one year after contract signing, but he postponed that because of concerns he had regarding the limited progress on developing the mission, including lack of information from the Russian companies and agencies that would carry out it. Space Adventures terminated the agreement in March 2015 after McPike failed to make that payment and retained his $7 million deposit.

According to his suit, McPike later contacted the Russian space agency Roscosmos directly, and was informed that, contrary to the contract he signed, there was no formal relationship between the agency and Space Adventures for a circumlunar mission, that that the proposed mission was only in the “preliminary planning phase” along with several other future projects.

The details of the settlement were not released.

The article also provides near the end a nice summary of all recent private attempts to fly humans around the Moon, including SpaceX’s now ongoing plan to fly a Japanese businessman in 2023 using its Starship upper stage.

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ISRO delays Chandrayaan-2 to July

An unnamed official at India’s space agency ISRO has revealed that they have decided to further delay its lunar lander/rover Chandrayaan-2 until July following the landing failure of SpaceIL’s Beresheet on the Moon.

“We saw Israel’s example and we don’t want to take any risk. Despite Israel being such a technologically advanced country, the mission failed. We want the mission to be a success,” he said.

The launch of India’s Moon mission was scheduled in April but it was postponed after Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft crashed during moon landing early this month. The ambitious mission was a first for a private effort.

“Landing on the Moon is a very complex mission and all the exigencies have to be factored in,” the official added.

No reason was given for the delay, other than a desire to be cautious. While caution is often a wise thing in experimental engineering, too much caution can be a fatal flaw. Chandrayaan-2 was originally scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2018. It has now been delayed repeatedly since then, with the only hint of a reason being an unconfirmed story suggesting it was damaged during ground tests.

If this damage is the reason, then ISRO should tell us. Otherwise, the agency is beginning to look like it is afraid to fly.

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International payloads will fly on China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China today announced that it is reserving space on its Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission for international experiments.

The orbiter and lander of the Chang’e-6 mission will each reserve 10 kg for payloads, which will be selected from both domestic colleges, universities, private enterprises and foreign scientific research institutions, said Liu Jizhong, director of the China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the CNSA, at a press conference.

I suspect that the majority of these experiments will be Chinese, but I am also sure that China will get at least one international partner.

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U.S. experiment on Beresheet might have survived crash

Scientists for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have revealed that the small U.S. experiment on Beresheet might have survived the spacecraft’s crash onto the lunar surface.

The NASA payload, known as the Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA), is a technology demonstration composed of eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners that are set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. These mirrors are intended to serve as markers for other spacecraft, which can use them to orient themselves for precision landings. The entire instrument is smaller than a computer mouse and lightweight. But it’s tough, radiation-hardened and designed to be long-lived, so the LRA may not have been destroyed by Beresheet’s hard landing.

“Yes, we believe the laser reflector array would have survived the crash, although it may have separated from the main spacecraft body,” said David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, principal investigator of the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft.

“Of course, we do not know the orientation of the array,” Smith, who’s also an emeritus researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told Inside Outer Space. “It could be upside down, but it has a 120-degree angle of reception, and we only need 1 of the 0.5-inch cubes for detection. But it has certainly not made it any easier.”

They are going to use LOLA to try to find LRA. If they get a reflection, that experiment will essentially be a success, despite Beresheet’s failure.

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SpaceIL to try again to land on Moon

Capitalism in space: The head of the private Israeli company SpaceIL has announced that he has found funding to build a second Beresheet lunar lander, and that they will try again.

How much funding he has gotten is not clear, but I suspect that the success his company had in getting to lunar orbit and almost landing will encourage investment capital.

Hat tip reader Andi.

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SpaceIL wins $1 million from X-Prize

Despite the failure of its Beresheet lunar lander to land softly on the Moon yesterday, the private company SpaceIL has been awarded a one million dollar prize by the X-Prize for its success in getting into lunar orbit and coming as close as it did to successfully landing.

“As a testament to the team’s passion and persistence, we are presenting this one million dollar Moonshot Award to the SpaceIL team at our annual Visioneering Summit in October 2019, with the hope that they will use these funds as seed money towards their education outreach or Beresheet 2.0, a second attempt to fulfill the mission,” said XPRIZE CEO Anousheh Ansari.

The article also outlines some details about the failure. The main engine cut off during descent, and though they were able to get it restarted, the spacecraft was now too close to the surface and traveling too fast to slow it down. They are now assessing their data to figure out why the engine cut off as it did.

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Rover update: April 11, 2019

Summary: Curiosity successfully drills into the clay unit. Yutu-2 continues its exploration on the far side of the Moon.

For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.

Curiosity drill hole in clay unit on slopes of Mount Sharp

Curiosity

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

The news this week from Curiosity is that the rover has successfully drilled into the ground in the clay unit valley the rover is presently exploring betweent Vera Rubin Ridge and Mount Sharp’s higher slopes.

The image to the right shows is a close-up of that drill hole.

The rover’s drill chewed easily through the rock, unlike some of the tougher targets it faced nearby on Vera Rubin Ridge. It was so soft, in fact, that the drill didn’t need to use its percussive technique, which is helpful for snagging samples from harder rock. This was the mission’s first sample obtained using only rotation of the drill bit.

Since my last rover update on February 20, 2019, they have been traveling for several weeks to get to a spot where they can do this drilling. The clay unit seems very soft, and almost mudlike, which made finding a good surface to drill somewhat challenging. Most of the terrain seemed too soft to drill into. It almost would be better to have a scoop, as the Viking landers had. Curiosity doesn’t really have this however. It needs to use its drill, which really is a more efficient way to get down deeper into the ground anyway.

The map below shows their recent travels.
» Read more

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Beresheet landing telecast live streaming now

They have begun the live stream of Beresheet’s landing on the moon, with the arrival of Benjamin Netanyahu in the viewer’s gallery. It is in Hebrew, and will likely mostly involve watching people sitting at computer consoles, and then standing and cheering when the spacecraft lands.

However, I have embedded it below the fold for your viewing pleasure.

UPDATE: They are including English commentary.
» Read more

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The central peaks of Compton Crater

Central peaks of Compton Crater

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team today released a beautiful oblique image looking of the central peaks of Compton Crater, a far side crater with a floor that is fractured and is one of about 200 hundred such craters.

Today’s Featured Image highlights an floor-fractured crater (FFC) that could tell us much about the lunar crust. An asteroid or comet impact is thought to have excavated 146.6-kilometer-wide Compton crater about 3.85 billion years ago. Igneous intrusion or viscous relaxation — or perhaps both processes — subsequently produced branching fractures and small basalt plains within Compton crater. The latter are darker than their surroundings.

Unlike Copernicus Crater, the surface appears smooth. Go to the link and zoom in to see what I mean. All the fractures appear very large and filled in. Of course, that could be because of the image’s resolution, and that other images might show more details and pits.

I find the central peaks more intriguing, however. It appears that, following their formation they were hit by several bolides, one of which carved a gigantic deep hole into those peaks.

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Beresheet lowers orbit in preparation for lunar landing on April 11

The new colonial movement: The privately built lunar lander Beresheet has lowered its orbit in preparation for its planned lunar landing on April 11, now set for between 3 and 4 pm (Eastern).

It fired its engines on April 8 for 36 seconds, lowering its orbital low point to 131 miles.

The landing will be live streamed here.

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Chandrayaan-2 likely delayed to July

The new colonial movement: The launch of India’s first lunar lander/rover, Chandrayaan-2, will likely be delayed again, from May until July.

This further delay is not confirmed by ISRO, India’s space agency. Nor is any clear reason given in the article above to explain this additional delay.

It would not surprise me however. The head of ISRO, K. Sivan, is a trained engineer. He has shown himself to be very willing to impose delays if he has any doubts about the success of the mission.

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Beresheet’s first pictures of the Moon

Beresheet looks at the Moon

The new colonial movement: The privately built Israeli planetary probe Beresheet, now in lunar orbit, has released its first pictures of the Moon.

The image on the right is one of those images, cropped to post here, and was taken from about 300 miles altitude. The link has a second image showing the Moon with the Earth in the distance. The resolution of both images is quite impressive.

The landing is scheduled for April 11. Stay tuned!

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Chandrayaan-2’s new delay is due to damage during test

The new colonial movement: It appears the reason for the new delay in the launch of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander is that the spacecraft suffered minor damage during a landing test.

A source in the know, said: “The rover and orbiter are in good health and tests met all the parameters. However, after the ‘Lander Drop Test’, we found that Vikram (the lander) needed to be strengthened in its legs. Prima facie, it appears that not all parameters were set correctly before the test, it could also be that the additional mass—a result of the new configuration—caused the problem.”

They still seem determined to launch in May, though I suspect this is not realistic. It depends on exactly when this test occurred. The article does not say, and if it occurred several months ago then the May date might make sense. Otherwise, expect further delays.

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Beresheet enters lunar orbit

The privately-built lunar lander Beresheet today successfully entered lunar orbit.

They achieved this by completing an engine burn that changed their Earth orbit to an elliptical lunar one.

At 5:18 p.m. Israel time on April 4, the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course. In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km. from the moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening Israel time, April 11.

You can see a video of their mission control at the completion of this burn here.

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Beresheet makes course adjustment just prior to entering lunar orbit

Earth as seen by Beresheet

The Israeli privately-funded lunar lander Beresheet yesterday completed a one-minute engine burn to adjust its course slightly in preparation for entering lunar orbit on April 4.

This morning’s 72-second-long burn helped make some “final adjustments” ahead of capture into lunar orbit, mission team members said in an update this morning. It’s unclear if any further such tweaks will be needed. “The teams are assessing the results to determine if another alignment will be required before Beresheet enters the lunar orbit this Thursday,” project team members said.

The image to the right was taken by Beresheet of the Earth during its last close approach on March 31. It appropriately shows the Middle East, with the Arabian peninsula visible just below center.

The landing is still scheduled for April 11.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 awake for fourth lunar day

The Chinese rover Yutu-2 and lander Chang’e-4 were awakened on March 30, 2019 to begin work for their fourth lunar day on the surface of the Moon’s far side.

The rover was designed to last for three lunar days, but much like NASA missions that regularly outlive their initial mandates, Yutu 2’s mission may stretch on longer, the Chinese space agency hopes. (The current rover’s predecessor, Yutu, lost its roving ability on its second day on the moon.)

The China Lunar Exploration Program, which heads up the mission, has not provided any details about its scientific plans for the fourth day of Chang’e 4, which is focused on exploring the far side of the moon and how it differs from the near side.

Based on the images taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it appears they will be heading west, following the smoothest route away from Chang’e-4. This will place Yutu-2 in an area of small craters.

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Yutu-2 heads west!

LRO images of Yutu-2 on the Moon
Click for full image.

A new image from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) shows the path taken by the Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 during its second lunar day of travel on the Moon. The LRO images on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, compares the rovers position at the start and end of February. The white arrow indicates the rover, with its Chang’e-4 lander visible between the three craters to the east. As noted by the LRO science team:

LRO passes over any given place on the Moon at least once every month (in the daylight), allowing the westward progress of the Yutu-2 rover to be seen. At the end of February, Yutu-2 was 69 meters from it’s home base, the Chang’e 4 lander; LROC images show Yutu-2 made 46 meters of westward progress during the month of February.

It appears from these orbital images that they are taking the smoothest route, with the fewest obstacles, away from the lander.

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China’s future lunar exploration plans

In a poster presented on Tuesday at this week’s 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, China outlined its future plans for lunar exploration.

Systematically considering the major scientific issues of the Moon and the lunar in-situ utilization resources, Chinese scientists and technical experts have proposed a vision to preliminarily build a research station on the Moon’s South Pole by implementing 3-4 missions before 2035.

The first mission will carry out a comprehensive exploration in the South Pole of the Moon, including the topography, elemental composition and volatile contents of the Moon, and the information on the structure of the South Pole from shallow to deep levels. Water (ice) in the permanent shadow area was detected in-situ to reveal the content, distribution and source of water and volatiles on the surface of the Moon. After that, a sampling return mission will be arranged to collect samples from the South Pole of the Moon and return them to the Earth. In addition to the scientific exploration of the Moon, the utilization of lunar resources should also be taken into consideration. In later missions, lunar platforms will be used to make astronomical or earth observations and to consider the use of lunar resources. [emphasis mine]

China clearly intends to put its footprints on the Moon. It is not fiddling around with an orbital lunar station, as it looks like we are with NASA’s Gateway project. While China explores the surface, we will be stuck in orbit (maybe).

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Test drone maps ice cave in Iceland

Engineers have tested a prototype lidar-equipped drone by flying it through a lava tube in Iceland and using it to automatically map the tube.

While a cave-exploring drone on Earth may use propellers, free-flying spacecraft exploring caves on the Moon, where there is practically no atmosphere, or in the thin air of high altitude lava tubes on Mars’ giant volcanoes, would have to use small thrusters. The mission of the terrestrial drone deployed at the Lofthellir Ice Cave focused on validating the idea of using a drone-equipped LiDAR to safely navigate and accurately map rock and ice inside a dark lava tube in the absence of GPS or any prior map.

Under a research contract with NASA, Astrobotic has developed a custom navigation software product, known as AstroNav, to give drones and small free-flying spacecraft the ability to autonomously explore and map subterranean environments. AstroNav employs both stereo vision and LiDAR, works without GPS or previously stored maps, and can operate in real-time while a novel environment is explored at a high rate of speed.

…”The Astrobotic drone and LiDAR performed exactly as we had hoped, and was able to help us map the Lofthellir Lava Tube in 3D within minutes” says Lee. “We now have a highly accurate model of the shape and dimensions of the cave, and of the configuration of its many rocky and icy features, such as rock falls, ice columns, and micro-glaciers.”

The concept is an excellent one, especially for exploring the caves and pits of Mars. This test however only checked out the lidar. A drone that could do this on either Mars or the Moon does not yet exist.

I have posted their video of the flight below the fold.

Note: Thanks to reader Eddie Willers for noting that I mistakenly located this research in Greenland, not Iceland. Post now corrected.
» Read more

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Chinese lunar rover and lander enter their third lunar night

The Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 and its lander Chang’e-4 have gone into hibernation as they enter their third lunar night on the far side of the Moon.

According to Chinese news reports, both spacecraft have now exceeded their nominal lifespan.

With all systems and payloads operating well, the Yutu-2 team will continue roving and science data collection on lunar day 4 of the Chang’e-4 mission, according to a [Chinese] announcement.

Yutu-2 added 43 meters to its overall drive distance in its third day of activities, continuing a path to the northwest of the landing site, which was recently named ‘Statio Tianhe’ by the International Astronomical Union. The rover just covered seven meters between waking for lunar day 3 on Feb. 28 and Mar. 3, during which time it navigated carefully toward a 20 centimeter diameter rock in order to analyze the specimen with an infrared and visible light spectrometer to determine its origin.

I am struck by how tentative the Chinese and their rover appear. The first Russian lunar rover, Luna 17, traveled 6.5 miles in eleven months. The second, Luna 21, traveled 23 miles in four months. At the pace Yutu-2 is setting, it will not come close to these mileages. Moreover, my impression of Chinese space technology in the past decade has been that it is quite robust. This tentativeness thus surprises me. Maybe because this is a government project they are simply covering their butts should something go wrong, and thus making believe the rover is more delicate than it really is.

As Scotty on Star Trek once said, “Always under predict, then over perform.” We might be seeing that pattern here.

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The travels of Moon’s scarce surface water

An analysis of data from one of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) instruments have allowed scientists to map the movements of the scarce water on the lunar surface.

Up until the last decade or so, scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the poles. More recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

…Water molecules remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon. Then, molecules thermally desorb and can bounce to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to stick or populate the Moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere, or “exosphere”, until temperatures drop and the molecules return to the surface.

The quantities we are talking about here are very tiny. This will not be the water that future settlers will depend on. Instead, it will be those pockets of ice in the permanently shaded craters.

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Beresheet sends back first pictures

The privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet has sent back its first pictures, taken on its way to the moon.

The picture, taken 37,600 km from Earth, shows the Israeli flag and the inscription with “Am Yisrael Hai” (the People of Israel Live) in Hebrew and the inscription “Small Country, Big Dreams” in English. The spacecraft was snapped as it passed over Australia, and the photograph was taken during a very slow rotation by Beresheet. The Israeli spacecraft, built in an IAI factory, is in an elliptical orbit around Earth – its greatest distance from Earth (the apogee) at this stage is some 131,000 kilometers.

While the press wants to trivialize this image by calling it a selfie, it was taken for very important engineering reasons. It demonstrates that the camera and the spacecraft’s pointing systems are working, exactly as planned.

Beresheet will continue to raise the apogee of its orbit until it enters the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, when it will then shift into lunar orbit.

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