The Mars Mole and the Challenging Ground of the Red Planet

DLR ‘Mole’ after having moved backward. (Credit NASA/JPL)

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — NASA’s InSight mission landed on Mars in November 2018. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is involved in the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) experiment. In addition to a radiometer for measuring the surface temperature, the core component of the experiment is the Mars ‘Mole’ – a 40-centimetre-long penetrometer designed to measure the heat flow from the Martian interior at a depth of several metres.

In February 2019, the Mole began hammering. It got stuck at first, but with the help of InSight’s robotic arm it was able to penetrate almost completely into the Martian surface in October 2019. Without the additional support from the arm’s scoop, it then began a sudden retreat which has led to almost half of the Mole protruding from the Martian regolith.

(more…)

Update on InSight’s Mars Mole

InSight Mars mole partially backed out from its hole. (Credit:: NASA)

BERLIN (DLR PR) — In his logbook, Instrument Lead Tilman Spohn who is back in Berlin since April and communicating with JPL via the web, gives us the latest updates regarding the InSight mission and our HP3 instrument – the ‘Mole’ – which will hammer into the Martian surface.

Logbook entry 28 October 2019

More surprises on Mars! Unfortunately, we saw that the Mole had backed-out of the Martian soil instead of going deeper as we had expected. How could that happen? After all, this Mole does not have a reverse gear as the Mole that DLR built for the ill-fated European Beagle II lander had. (That probe was designed as a sampling device that would go down and then come up again with a sample.)

(more…)

Mars InSight’s Mole Has Partially Backed Out of Its Hole

InSight Mars mole partially backed out from its hole. (Credit NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — After making progress over the past several weeks digging into the surface of Mars, InSight’s mole has backed about halfway out of its hole this past weekend. Preliminary assessments point to unusual soil conditions on the Red Planet. The international mission team is developing the next steps to get it buried again.

A scoop on the end of the arm has been used in recent weeks to “pin” the mole against the wall of its hole, providing friction it needs to dig. The next step is determining how safe it is to move InSight’s robotic arm away from the mole to better assess the situation. The team continues to look at the data and will formulate a plan in the next few days.

Meantime, the lander’s seismometer — the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or, SEIS — continues to collect data on marsquakes in order to provide a better understanding of the Mars interior and why Earth and the Red Planet are so different today after sharing similarities billions of years ago. The French space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and its partners provided the SEIS instrument to NASA.

DLR, Swedish Space Corp to Cooperate on Rocket Engine Tests

WASHINGTON (DLR PR) — A new test stand for the next generation of sounding rockets, microlaunchers and reusable launchers will be constructed at the Swedish Esrange Space Center.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop this test stand at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) on 22 October 2019.

Further topics of the cooperation will be the exchange of expertise and intensified collaboration in the field of engine and launcher stage testing. Among other things, the collaboration will increase the availability of engine test stands and thus make these available to more space companies.

“In SSC, we have found the right partner for the joint planning and implementation of a test stand for hybrid and liquid-fuel engines at Esrange Space Center (ESC),” says Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of the DLR Institute of Space Propulsion. “DLR Lampoldshausen is contributing its unique expertise as a European testing and development location for all liquid chemical space engines to the development of the next generation of engines,” emphasises Schlechtriem, adding: “This collaboration will enable us to bring together the expertise of our institutions.”

With the intensified cooperation between SSC and DLR, the two partners will provide the infrastructure in Europe for the entire range of engine tests, including tests at an early stage of development, thus increasing the portfolio of testing opportunities in Europe.

“There has been a shortage of suitable test sites for early stage and short preparatory tests for the next generation of sounding rockets, microlaunchers and reusable rockets. By combining our testing capabilities with DLR, we can provide Europe with more testing capacity, thus strengthening the development of European space programmes,” says Stefan Gardefjord, President and CEO of SSC.

FAA, DLR to Cooperate on Integrating Commercial Spaceflight into Air Traffic Control System

WASHINGTON (DLR PR) — The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are seeking to identify the data that may need to be exchanged between United States and European Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) prior to, during and after a space launch or re-entry operation that is initiated in one country and traverses the airspace of another country.

This data exchange should facilitate improved situational awareness, allowing US and European ANSPs to respond as necessary in the event of a vehicle failure. To this end, the FAA and DLR intend to bring together their unique capabilities using FAA’s Commercial Space Integration Lab and DLR’s Air Traffic Validation Center, located in the USA and Germany respectively.

In order to be able to cooperate and exchange data in the future, a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) in the development of commercial space transportation was signed by Pascale Ehrenreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, and Wayne R. Monteith, Associate Administrator, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, on 24 October 2019. The signatory ceremony was held at DLR’s stand at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington, DC.

The MoC reflects the excellent collaboration that FAA and DLR have developed since the first Research and Development Cooperative Agreement of both establishments, which was signed in 2010.

Luxembourg, Germany to Deepen Cooperation in Space

  • German Aerospace Center, abbreviated DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt), and Luxembourg Space Agency, abbreviated LSA, to cooperate in the exploration and use of space
  • The signing ceremony took place at the 70th International Aeronautical Congress in Washington DC, the US capital

WASHINGTON, DC (LSA PR) — Representatives of DLR and LSA have signed a Letter of Intent to co-operate on space research activities with particular focus on areas such as navigation, satellite communications, space exploration and space resources, including robotics and in-orbit services.

LSA is interested in DLR to cooperate in establishing in Luxembourg an interdisciplinary research center within the SpaceResources.lu initiative aiming at developing a sustainable commercial space resources utilization industry.

The Letter of Intent was signed for the DLR by Prof. Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the Executive Board and Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Dittus, Member of the Executive Board for Space Research and Technology.

Marc Serres, CEO of the Luxembourg Space Agency signed for the LSA. The signing ceremony took place on October 22, 2019 at the 70th International Aeronautical Congress held in Washington DC, the US capital.

Marc Serres, CEO of Luxembourg Space Agency said: “I am very pleased that with the letter of intent we further formalize and enhance the cooperation on space activities between the DLR and the LSA. The German Aerospace Center has already been a long-standing partner. Together with the DLR and other partners, we want to further develop research activities in areas such as the utilization of space resources for the benefit of humankind.”

NASA’s InSight ‘Hears’ Peculiar Sounds on Mars

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Put an ear to the ground on Mars and you’ll be rewarded with a symphony of sounds. Granted, you’ll need superhuman hearing, but NASA’s InSight lander comes equipped with a very special “ear.”

The spacecraft’s exquisitely sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), can pick up vibrations as subtle as a breeze. The instrument was provided by the French space agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), and its partners.

(more…)

Ariane 6’s Core Engine Completes Qualification Tests

Artist’s view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters (A64) (Credit: ESA – D. Ducros)

LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (ESA PR) — Ariane 6, Europe’s next-generation launch vehicle, has passed another key development milestone. Its Vulcain 2.1 liquid-fuelled engine has now completed its qualification testing, which means combined tests can now begin.

The main stage Vulcain 2.1 engine will deliver 135 t of thrust to propel Ariane 6 in the first eight minutes of flight up to an altitude of 200 km.

(more…)

Comet’s Collapsing Cliffs and Bouncing Boulders

An example of a boulder having moved across the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface, captured in Rosetta’s OSIRIS imagery. [Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)]

PARIS (ESA PR) — Scientists analysing the treasure trove of images taken by ESA’s Rosetta mission have turned up more evidence for curious bouncing boulders and dramatic cliff collapses.

Rosetta operated at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between August 2014 and September 2016, collecting data on the comet’s dust, gas and plasma environment, its surface characteristics and its interior structure.

(more…)

DLR’s Mars Heat Probe Remains Stuck as Efforts Suspended

Illustration of HP3 mole instrument on NASA’s InSight Mars lander. (Credit: DLR)

DLR Mission Update

In his logbook, Instrument Lead Tilman Spohn who is back in Berlin since April and communicating with JPL via the web, gives us the latest updates regarding the InSight mission and our HP3 instrument – the ‘Mole’ – which will hammer into the Martian surface.

Logbook entry 27 August 2019

I hope you had – or are still having – a good summer!

Back in early July, I reported that we had safely removed the Support Structure Assembly (the SSA) to expose the mole. You may recall that the SSA’s function is to house the mole and the tethers before deployment and that it was sitting above the mole when the latter penetrated into the surface. The SSA was thus blocking the view of the mole. By removing it, we enabled us to view the mole up close, to eventually interact with it, and to work its immediate surroundings with the robotic arm. What we saw first showed us that our estimate of the length of the mole in the sand of 30-35 cm was pretty good (Figure 1).

(more…)

EDEN ISS Project Presents Results of New Greenhouse Concept for Future Space Missions

The EDEN ISS greenhouse concept is designed to be launched on a Falcon 9 booster. It would have 30 square meters of cultivate space to provide food for astronauts on the moon or Mars. (Credit: LIQUIFER Systems Group)
  • 268 kilograms of food produced in an area of only 12.5 square metres over 9.5 months.
  • Power consumption less than half as much as previously assumed for greenhouses in space.
  • Concept – a deployable greenhouse suitable for launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.
  • Project in Antarctica continues.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — Future food production in deserts and cold regions, as well as under the inhospitable conditions of future space missions to the Moon and Mars, is providing the stimulus for research in the Antarctic greenhouse project EDEN ISS, which is led by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).

(more…)

Background Information on CIMON Mobile Astronaut Assistant

the CIMON mobile astronaut assistant is tested at the European Astronaut Centre’s Columbus training module. (Credit: DLR)

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — Developed and built in Germany, CIMON is a technology experiment to support astronauts and increase the efficiency of their work. CIMON is able to show and explain information, instructions for scientific experiments and repairs. Voice-controlled access to documents and media is an advantage, as the astronauts can keep both hands free.

(more…)

CIMON Mobile Astronaut Assistant Back on Earth After 14 Months on ISS

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst interacts with the CIMON mobile astronaut assistant aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA)
  • On 27 August 2019, the robotic astronaut assistant CIMON, which was developed and built in Germany, returned from the International Space Station on board the SpaceX CRS-18 spacecraft
  • A successor model of the technology experiment with extended functionality is currently being built and tested by Airbus on behalf of the DLR Space Administration; the ‘second’ CIMON also uses IBM ‘Watson’ artificial intelligence technology and he scientific aspects of the assistance system were co-developed and supervised by a team at Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — The Crew Interactive Mobile CompaniON (CIMON) mobile astronaut assistant, which is equipped with artificial intelligence (AI), returned to Earth on 27 August 2019. The SpaceX CRS-18 Dragon spacecraft carrying CIMON was undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 16:59 CEST; the capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean approximately 480 kilometres southwest of Los Angeles and was recovered at 22:21 CEST.

(more…)

The Near-Earth Asteroid Ryugu – a Fragile Cosmic ‘Rubble Pile’

(Credit: MSCOT/DLR/JAXA)
  • The asteroid is similar to carbonaceous, 4.5 billion year old meteorites found in collections on Earth.
  • Ryugu has numerous cavities.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — In the summer of 2018, the asteroid Ryugu, which measures only approximately 850 metres across, was visited by the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft. On board was the 10-kilogram German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) – a lander no bigger than a microwave oven and equipped with four instruments.

(more…)