China’s First Mars Lander Performs Successful Hover Test

HEBEI HUAILAI, China (CNSA PR) — On November 14, 2019, the China National Space Administration invited some foreign embassies and international organizations to go to Hebei Huailai to observe China’s first Mars exploration mission lander hovering obstacle avoidance test and visit relevant test facilities. 

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NASA’s Mars 2020 Will Hunt for Microscopic Fossils

Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/ESA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Scientists with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover have discovered what may be one of the best places to look for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater, where the rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021.

A paper published today in the journal Icarus identifies distinct deposits of minerals called carbonates along the inner rim of Jezero, the site of a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. On Earth, carbonates help form structures that are hardy enough to survive in fossil form for billions of years, including seashells, coral and some stromatolites — rocks formed on this planet by ancient microbial life along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water were plentiful.

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NASA Gains Broad International Support for Artemis Program at IAC

Astronauts explore a crater at the lunar south pole. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — When NASA sends the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program, it won’t be going alone. The agency will be leveraging support from commercial partners and the international community as it establishes a sustainable presence on the lunar surface by 2028, paving the way for human missions to Mars.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), held in Washington Oct. 21-25, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine reaffirmed America’s commitment to working with international partners on NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

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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.

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Senators Introduce NASA Authorization Bill That Extends Space Station Operations to 2030

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON (Senate Commerce Committee PR) – Today, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, along with ranking member Kyrsten  Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the NASA Authorization Act of 2019.

This bill expands and improves upon the bipartisan legislation Sen. Cruz introduced in December 2018 and provides the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the clear direction needed to advance our nation’s space initiatives and investments and assert the United States’ global leadership in the final frontier.

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Cygnus Resupply Ship Launches to Space Station

Antares launches a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket blasted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Saturday with a Cygnus spacecraft that will deliver 8,200 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Cygnus separated from the second stage as planned after what appeared to be a nominal flight. This is Northrop Grumman’s 12th contracted cargo resupply mission to ISS under NASA contract.

The space agency will provide live coverage on Monday of the resupply ship’s capture and berthing with the station on NASA Television and its  website.

  • 2:45 a.m. – Coverage of Cygnus capture with the space station’s robotic arm
  • 6:30 a.m. – Cygnus installation operations coverage

Expedition 61 NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will grapple the spacecraft using the station’s robotic arm. She will be backed up by NASA astronaut Christina Koch. After Cygnus capture, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install Cygnus on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

The Cygnus spacecraft, dubbed the SS Alan Bean, is named after the late Apollo and Skylab astronaut who died on May 26, 2018, at the age of 86. This Cygnus will launch 50 years to the month after Bean, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon flew to the Moon on NASA’s Apollo 12 mission, during which Bean became the fourth human to walk on the lunar surface. Bean was the lunar module pilot aboard Intrepid with mission commander Conrad when they landed on Moon at the Ocean of Storms on Nov. 19, 1969.

You can more about the research the Cygnus is carrying here.

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.)

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JAXA Developing New Water Recovery System to Create Drinking Water from Urine

New water recovery system. A key feature is that it does not require maintenance by the astronauts. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — Right now, work is underway on a construction plan for a moon-orbiting space station called Gateway. The goal is to be able to use Gateway as a base for conducting manned explorations to the moon, Mars and other planets lying further beyond.

However, in order to expand the areas in which human beings can venture into, we need to minimize the amount of supplies such as water, food, and research materials that must be transported from Earth to the target destination. This new water recovery system announced in July 2019 will make a significant contribution toward achieving this.

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Updated NASA TV Coverage of Cygnus Resupply Mission to Space Station

Cygnus departs the International Space Station. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Editor’s note: This advisory was updated on Oct. 29 to update the time of NASA TV’s coverage of the Cygnus capture on Nov. 4.

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA commercial cargo provider Northrop Grumman is scheduled to launch its next resupply mission to the International Space Station at 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. NASA’s prelaunch coverage will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning Friday, Nov. 1. 

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Luna Innovations Selected as NASA Partner for Moon & Mars Technologies

ROANOKE, Va., (Luna Innovations PR)–Luna Innovations Incorporated (NASDAQ:LUNA), a global leader in advanced fiber optic-based technology, today shared that it has been selected as one of only 14 companies to partner with NASA in the agency’s “Moon to Mars” exploration studies. With a $2 million award from NASA’s fourth competitive “Tipping Point solicitation,” Luna’s fiber optic sensors will be embedded within inflatable space habitats to monitor their structural health and safety.

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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.

Mars InSight’s ‘Mole’ Is Moving Again

DLR Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³) on the surface of Mars. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s InSight spacecraft has used its robotic arm to help its heat probe, known as “the mole,” dig nearly 2 centimeters (3/4 of an inch) over the past week. While modest, the movement is significant: Designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground to gauge the heat escaping from the planet’s interior, the mole has only managed to partially bury itself since it started hammering in February 2019.

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NASA’s Planetary Protection Review Addresses Changing Reality of Space Exploration

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to record this eastward horizon view on the 2,407th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Oct. 31, 2010). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA released a report Friday with recommendations from the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB) the agency established in response to a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and a recommendation from the NASA Advisory Council.

With NASA, international, and commercial entities planning bold missions to explore our solar system and return samples to Earth, the context for planetary protection is rapidly changing. NASA established the PPIRB to conduct a thorough review of the agency’s policies. 

Planetary protection establishes guidelines for missions to other solar system bodies so they are not harmfully contaminated for scientific purposes by Earth biology and Earth, in turn, is protected from harmful contamination from space. 

The board’s report assesses a rapidly changing environment where more samples from other solar system bodies will be returned to Earth, commercial and international entities are discussing new kinds of solar system missions, and NASA’s Artemis program is planning human missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

The report discusses 34 findings, and 43 recommendations from the PPIRB, which was chaired by planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute to address future NASA missions and proposed missions by other nations and the private sector that include Mars sample return, robotic missions to other bodies, eventual human missions to Mars, and the exploration of ocean worlds in the outer solar system. 

“The landscape for planetary protection is moving very fast. It’s exciting now that for the first time, many different players are able to contemplate missions of both commercial and scientific interest to bodies in our solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We want to be prepared in this new environment with thoughtful and practical policies that enable scientific discoveries and preserve the integrity of our planet and the places we’re visiting.”

The PPIRB, comprised of a high-level team of 12 experts and stakeholders from science, engineering and industry, examined how to update planetary protection policies and procedures in light of current capabilities. Such guidelines have periodically been updated and inform exploration by spacefaring nations that have signed the Outer Space Treaty since the 1960s.

“Planetary science and planetary protection techniques have both changed rapidly in recent years, and both will likely continue to evolve rapidly,” Stern said. “Planetary protection guidelines and practices need to be updated to reflect our new knowledge and new technologies, and the emergence of new entities planning missions across the solar system. There is global interest in this topic, and we also need to address how new players, for example in the commercial sector, can be integrated into planetary protection.”

NASA plans to begin a dialogue about the PPIRB report’s recommendations with stakeholders, and international and commercial partners to help build a new chapter for conducting planetary missions, and planetary protection policies and procedures. 

For more information about Planetary Protection, visit:

https://sma.nasa.gov/sma-disciplines/planetary-protection

To read the full report of the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/reports