Thursday, January 29, 2015

B. Ray Hawke, lunar geologist

Dr. B. Ray Hawke on the rim of Kilauea Caldera, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, 1984 [Paul Spudis].
Paul D. Spudis
Daily Planet
Smithsonian Air & Space


I was saddened this weekend by the not totally unexpected news that lunar scientist and good friend B. Ray Hawke of the University of Hawaii has passed away.  Colleague and collaborator, I knew B. Ray as long as almost anyone in the business.  We were graduate students together, early co-workers and good friends.

Bernard Ray Hawke hailed from Upton, Kentucky, about 60 miles north of my birthplace, Bowling Green, Kentucky. We first met in 1976 as graduate students at Brown University. A returning Vietnam veteran who’d served as an Airborne Ranger, B. Ray was a kindred spirit who helped me deal with the cultural shock as an Arizona State University student who’d exchanged the grand vistas of my adopted Arizona for the claustrophobic confines of Ivy League New England.  We became good friends, spending hours at his preferred office – the local coffee shop (the IHOP, which advertised a “bottomless” coffee pot, a descriptor that B. Ray took literally).

During our graduate years, we took to using ironically the honorific “Doctor” when speaking to each other (we were all pre-doctoral candidates), not only between ourselves but also when in the presence of others, a private joke that we continued throughout the years.  This led to some amusing situations later, as our students expressed confusion when I would refer to B. Ray – a colleague but also a long-time personal friend – with the formal title of “Dr. Hawke” and he would address me as “Dr. Spudis.”

B. Ray’s scientific work focused very specifically on the Moon.  As a Masters student at the University of Kentucky, he analyzed lunar regolith chemistry and used something called a “mixing model” to determine its geological affinities.  In this technique, the composition of a soil is determined and that composition is modeled as a mixture of known components.  Although seemingly an academic exercise, this approach could be a very powerful technique to decipher the geological history of the Apollo landing sites.  Later, B. Ray and I would apply this same technique to chemical data returned by the orbiting Apollo spacecraft, giving us our first look at regional and global compositions.  Combined with information about the geological setting of regions covered from orbit (such as the basin ejecta), such study would help us reconstruct the composition and makeup of the crust of the Moon.

B. Ray’s early work dealt with integrating lunar sample information with images and geological mapping, my own field of specialization.  He and I spent many hours discussing some of the problems of this effort, and also the issue of overcoming considerable community skepticism about the approach.  We worked to convince our colleagues that the future of lunar science lay in the melding of the broad disciplines of sample science and remote sensing – taking results from the study of samples, using it to inform the interpretation of remote sensing data, and then concocting a geological model that explains and encompasses all known facts.  Although this approach is now a recognized way to conduct lunar science, careful reading of the early literature will show that most early post-Apollo work was highly sequestered by discipline, with little cross-fertilization of results and insights.

Because B. Ray and I found ourselves working on many of the same scientific problems after graduate school, we formed a partnership that lasted 40 years.  One of our earliest efforts was an attempt to use impact basins as large-scale probes of the lunar crust.  An early paper (1984) on the Orientale basin was the first to discover that massive blocks of pure anorthosite, an indigenous rock composed almost completely of plagioclase feldspar, make up the inner ring of that basin.  In addition, we measured the composition of material thrown out from Orientale using chemical maps based on data from the orbiting Apollo spacecraft.  These results indicated that the Orientale basin excavated only the upper portions of the lunar crust; new data from subsequent missions have confirmed these early results.

The study of telescopic spectra, involving very precise measurements of color at high resolution of very small spots on the Moon, became B. Ray’s specialty.  These spectra would be taken of many carefully selected geological targets, a great improvement over the previous approach of targeting mostly by geographic region.  He spent many hours at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Observatory, diligently working to make certain that data for the correct spot on the Moon was being acquired.  His spectra were collected to address many scientific problems, including basin rings, dark halo craters, lunar “red spots” (spectrally anomalous regions), impact melt deposits and the ejecta of large craters and basins.  B. Ray brought to these studies his extensive background in image analysis and interpretation.  He had made geological maps of portions of the Moon, which for the first time could be interpreted in terms of mineral and chemical content.  These studies are critical to our understanding of the complex and protracted geological evolution of the lunar crust.

During his 35 year association with the University of Hawaii, B. Ray mentored and befriended many students and visiting scientists. I made an extended stay at UH early in 1980, and worked closely with B. Ray on using spectral interpretation to map the Apollo 16 landing site. B. Ray’s work habits were unorthodox to say the least, almost 180 degrees out of phase with normal working hours (I had to adjust to starting work at 9:00 pm and working until after breakfast). But for all that, I never saw anyone work so long and so hard when there was a problem to be solved. B. Ray was a great collaborator who very carefully reviewed each word in a paper, assuring that many errors and mistakes were corrected long before submittal. I could always count on a detailed and insightful review from him, even for papers for which he was not an author.

As he passes into the annals of history, the world of lunar science is a bit poorer without B. Ray Hawke. He was a productive scientist, a hard worker, a tireless advocate for lunar activities and a good and faithful friend. His legacy leaves us with a new way of looking at the Moon – an integrated approach involving studies of samples, remote sensing data, and images. His contributions to lunar science include work on impact melts, Apollo 14 site geology, dark halo craters and the extent of ancient volcanism, lunar non-mare volcanism (KREEP and red spots), and geochemical anomalies of the lunar crust – an extensive and impressive amount of work.

Thank you and rest easy, Dr. Hawke.

Published a short time ago at Smithsonian Air & Space, Daily Planet - Dr. Spudis is a senior staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. The opinions expressed are those of the author but are better informed than average.

India wants Chandrayaan-2 first at the lunar south pole

Early-hashed out configuration of ISRO lander and rover components of India's long-in-development Chandrayaan-2 mission. Having parted ways with Roscosmos what will India come up with for its own lunar lander design? [LP].
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is out to be first in the unofficial competition to soft-land near the Moon's south pole when Chandrayaan-2 eventually flies, according to Anil Bhardwaj, director of the space physics laboratory at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Trivandrum.

Bhardwaj made the claim when presenting the P.R. Pisharody Memorial Lecture at the Kerala Science Congress in Alappuzha, the three day science conference adjourning Thursday. 

India's national space agency was already first to crash-land a vehicle designed for that purpose near the Moon's south pole.

On November 14, 2008 the Moon Impact Probe (MIP), after launch in tandem with Chandrayaan-1 aboard the indigenously-developed PSLV rocket and insertion into polar orbit around the Moon, was deliberately impacted into the permanently shadowed interior of Shackleton crater, while capturing photographs and directly detecting sublimating water before impacting near 89°S, 330°E.

The 18 month mission of Lunar Prospector was similarly concluded as an afterthought in 1999, within the permanently dark interior of a crater close to the Moon's south pole, a crater eventually named for the American astrophysicist who came up with the idea.

It was Gene Shoemaker (1928-1997), a director of the Surveyor lunar lander program ahead of the Apollo era who suggested using the mission-ending impact of Lunar Prospector in a long-shot attempt to toss up and remotely detect volatile compounds, including water, that were thought trapped in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon's poles after the Clementine mission in 1994.

Finer data on neutron suppression at the lunar surface collected over the first few months of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission lead NASA to select Cabeus crater for the deliberately targeted dual impacts of LCROSS and it's trailing Shepherding vehicle, October 9, 2009.

Bhardwaj said success with Mangalyaan, the on-going Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), has confirmed ISRO refinements in India's ambitious space infrastructure has made a long-planned Chandrayaan-2 mission more cost-effective.

Chandrayaan-2 has suffered a number of troubling delays, inspiring concern among ISRO fans throughout the world and push backs from an original target date in 2013.

The ultimate success of the indigenously developed GSLV-Mark III rocket booster added a 1000 kg capacity to the Chandrayaan-2; more than enough to make thoughtful redesigns worth initial delays.

Russia originally partnered with ISRO in the Chandrayaan-2 mission, to build a lander as ISRO designed and built orbiter and rover components for the project.

In August 2013, however, as a direct result of the 2011 failure of the Russian-led Fobos-Grunt sample-return mission to Phobos, Roscosmos added weight to their Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander design and effectively threw off balance plans already developed involving the GSLV and the other  mission components.

Though Roscosmos offered India contingent space on-board Soyuz launches in 2015 and 2017, ISRO determined added risk together with added restrictions on the rover's design were more problematic than building their own lander.

Related:
ISRO Chandrayaan will go without Roscosmos (August 17, 2013)
Rogozin presses Russian lunar base, Chandrayaan-2 delayed
by Proton and Phobos-Grunt investigations
(September 13, 2012)
Chandrayaan-2: ISRO Annual Report (April 26, 2012)
Chandrayaan-2 may miss 2013 launch date (February 21, 2012)
Luna-Resource and Chandrayaan-2 in 2013 (August 4, 2010)
A new lunar globe as seen by Chandrayaan M3 (April 7, 2010)

Boeing and SpaceX to launch crews to ISS in 2017

Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 will orbit manned spacecraft and rendezvous and supply the International Space Station starting in 2017, NASA announced Monday [NASA].
Ken Kremer
Universe Today

After a hiatus of six long years, US astronauts will finally launch to space in a revolutionary new pair of private crew capsules under development by Boeing and SpaceX, starting in 2017, that will end our sole source reliance on the Russians for launching our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Two years from now, crews will start flying to space aboard the first US commercial spaceships, launching atop US rockets from US soil, said officials from Boeing, SpaceX and NASA at a joint news conference on Monday, Jan. 26. The human rated spaceships – also known as ‘space taxis’ – are being designed and manufactured under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

A two person mixed crew of NASA astronauts and company test pilots will fly on the first test flights going to the space station in 2017.

Read the full report, HERE.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Back to the Moon (for good)


Narrated by Tim Allen, a new premier video from Google Lunar X Prize, "a complete behind-the-scenes feature on the $30 million competition, the largest incentivized prize in history.

"Adapted from an award-winning digital planetarium show, the 24-minute movie chronicles 18 teams from around the world looking to make history by landing a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the Moon. This global competition is designed to spark imagination and inspire a renewed commitment to space exploration, not by governments or countries – but by the citizens of the world."

Learn more, HERE.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Chang'e-3 mission to the Moon - a special issue

View from Yutu rover's hazard avoidance camera on the floor of Mare Imbrium [CAS/CNSA/CLEP].
Simon Buckmaster
Publisher
Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics

In 2013, Chang'e-3's lander became the first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon since 1976. The Chang'e lander and rover carried numerous instruments including ground penetrating radar, an Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) camera, a lunar-based ultraviolet telescope, and an alpha particle x-ray spectrometer.

Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics (RAA) has published a special issue on the Chang'e-3 lunar mission and we invite you to browse this important collection, which is currently free to access.


The issue provides a collection of key information on the instrumental designs, calibration methods and data processing procedures used by these experiments; and analysis of initial scientific data collected.

IOP Science
Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics
Volume 14, Number 12, December 2014

Grissom, White and Chaffee


GLXP Milestone Prizes to five teams


Google has announced a list of Milestone prizes in the Google Lunar X Prize competition. Five teams have won prizes, thus far totaling $5.25 million for demonstrated proficiency in Landing, Mobility, and Imaging.

Awards in Imaging and Mobility were announced in December. On Monday, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic of Carnegie Mellon University tops this latest list adding up $1.75 million in prize money across all categories.

Astrobotic, Team Indus and Moon Express were each previously awarded $1 million in the Landing column, adding to $500,000 for Mobility also awarded Astrobotic last month, together with Japan's Team Hakuto and Germany's Part-Time Scientists and $250,000 for Imaging each to Astrobotic, and Part-Time Scientists and Moon Express.

Astrobotic Technology's Red Rover concept, ultimately selected by Popular Science as one of the 100 Best Innovations of 2011, part of their design system in the heating-up contest to win the Google Lunar X-Prize [Astrobotic Technology, Inc.].

Monday, January 26, 2015

B. Ray Hawke

Elemental abundances (plotted by 5° square, and additionally in higher definitions for H and Fe respectively) in data gleaned from the 570 day mission of Lunar Prospector (1998-1999) [NASA].
Sadly, we receive news of the passing of B. Ray Hawke, whose contribution to a vast body of work can be sampled only by a glance at merely at a partial list of the 322 papers, authored and co-authored, and presented to the annual Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference, HERE

Requiescat in pace

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Space Week lifts off in Israel

Google Lunar X Prize Team SpaceIL takes center stage as Israel kicks off Space Week, January 25, 2015 [lp].
David Shamah
Times of Israel

Israelis are looking to the stars once again, as Space Week begins Sunday, with exhibits, lectures, contests, demonstrations and more showing off Israel’s prowess in space tech. The event is perhaps more relevant this year than ever, according to Dr. Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency (ISA), because this year the core tech that will bring Israel to the moon needs to be finished.

2015 was set to be the “year of space” for Israel as well as for many other countries that have teams competing for a $20 million prize in the Google Lunar X Prize space race contest. The mission for the moon-bound spaceships: to take high-definition video and beam it back to earth, and explore the surface of the moon by moving, or sending out a vehicle, that will move 500 meters along the moon’s surface.

Thirty-three teams entered the contest when it was first announced in 2007; today, 18 remain, but only five, including Israel’s team, are thought by industry experts to be making significant progress on their projects.

The original end-of-2015 deadline has been pushed back to December 31, 2016, but the core technology for the Israeli craft being built by SpaceIL, the organization that intends to win the prize on Israel’s behalf, needs to be completed soon.

Read the full article, HERE.

On the beach with GLXP Team Hakuto

GLXP Team Hakuto lunar rover and backup under go deployment and rugged hazard and slope avoidance testing, on the beach in Hamamatsu  [Tim Stevens/c|net].
Tim Stevens

Before you blast off to the moon in search of $30 million offered as part of the Google Lunar X Prize -- or the juicy $20 million grand prize for being the first to get to the moon -- you must make sure all your systems are ready for the harsh realities that exist outside our atmosphere.

Testing in lunar-like conditions while still here on Earth is a complicated thing. Just finding a place remotely like the lunar surface is difficult. However, if you're in Japan, one place reigns supreme: the sand dunes outside Hamamatsu. This is where we found Team Hakuto, lone Japanese team competing for the GLXP, and one of five teams in the running for $6 million in interim, milestone prizes.

Many of Team Hakuto's members made the trip to Hamamatsu from Tohoku University, located far to the north in Sendai. While they escaped a blizzard, they arrived only to find winds well in excess of 30mph and temperatures hovering right around freezing. These were not ideal conditions for wandering up the beach -- nor for driving rovers across it.

Still, Team Hakuto went to work prepping not one, but two rovers: MoonRaker and Tetris. The first, the bigger of the two, is named not after the James Bond novel and movie of the same name, but rather some legendary English smugglers in the 18th century.

Hakuto's sub-rover Tetris, designed to explore the interior of one of the Moon's newly discovered mare pit craters [Tim Stevens / c|net].
According to the tale, on one clear evening two men were using rakes to scour the bottom of a lake in which some barrels of brandy had been hidden to avoid customs. Officers of the law wandered by and asked what they were up to, to which they replied they were attempting to rake some cheese in from the moon. The officers laughed and continued on their way, leaving the smugglers free to recover their stash of booze.

The mare pit crater in the Sea of Tranquility (8.337°N, 33.219°E) has been surveyed from LRO (by the LROC team that discovered it) at different angles and altitudes, enough to build an improving picture of its underground scope and potential as shelter from cosmic rays, micrometeors and the extreme temperature swings on the surface [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Team Hakuto, is in search of neither dairy products nor spirits, instead hoping to rake in $20 million for being the first commercial team to land on the moon and cover 500 meters while beaming back high-definition footage. However, the team also hopes to check out some lunar real estate, which is where the second rover, Tetris, comes in.

Read Tim Steven's full article HERE.
View his accompanying Hamamatsu gallery
HERE.
Catch up on extensive GLXP team coverage by c|net HERE.

Palazzo to push lunar surface expeditions

U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo's district includes NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center [Rollcall].
Deborah Barfield Berry and Ledyard King
Hattiesburg American

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) plans to use his chairmanship of a House panel on space this year to again promote a return-to-the-moon mission and lobby against President Obama's plan to use an asteroid as a stepping-stone to remote sensing Mars from martian orbit.

Palazzo also chaired the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space in the last Congress, but this year he sees a possible boost for his priorities in the GOP's takeover of the Senate.

"With the expanded majorities, we're going to continue to put an emphasis on America remaining the leader in space," Palazzo said in a recent interview. "America's leadership in space is no longer just a matter of national pride, it's become a matter of national security."

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), new chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space and Competitiveness, outlined plans to "focus NASA on its core mission, exploring Space and more of it," on January 14 [AP].
One pressing issue this year, he said, will be helping NASA craft a "road map."

"Right now, they say, 'We're going to Mars,'" Palazzo said of NASA officials. "Well, that's great, but they haven't said how we're going to get there. So no one knows what to build, how to build it, when to build it or how to pay for it."

He said the moon, which the U.S. last visited in 1972, is a more logical route to the Red Planet than an asteroid.

Orion and Altair: architecture envisioned within NASA in 2007, before Congress, acting on the recommendation the Obama administration, eliminated research and development for surface expeditions on the Moon and on Mars. Along with operations in Cislunar space or retrieving an asteroid NASA's leadership today proposes robotic exploration of the martian surface and of Phobos controlled from Mars orbit [NASA/Frassinito & Associates].
"I think most people agree, just because we've done it doesn't mean we can't do it again," Palazzo said.

Palazzo's district is home to Stennis Space Center, a rocket testing site that Palazzo said employs more than 4,000 workers.

But with limited funding for NASA, it will be harder for Palazzo and other supporters of a lunar mission to win support, said Stephen Rozman, a political scientist at Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

"They're going to have to show a real reason for rebuilding or taking the program to the next level right now," he said.

Read the entire article HERE.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Al Worden: 'NASA took a giant step backwards'

Brief walk in Deep Space: Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden leaves the confines of Endeavour for the first time in ten days, to retrieve film and data from the SIMS bay of the service module. The 39 minute spacewalk, August 5, 1971, took place as spacecraft, crew and cargo (including 77 kg of lunar samples) were steadily accelerating toward high-speed reentry and splashdown 30 hours later [NASA/JSC].
Apollo 15 command module pilot
Al Worden, with one of the controversial
souvenir flags flown with 1971 mission.
Cornelia Borrmann
Deutsche Welle

DW: What comes to mind when you see the moon at night?

Alfred M. Worden: Well, it's been more than 43 years since I was there. And I think if you go anywhere, 43 years later those memories are pretty dim in your mind, and it's pretty hard to recapture that. But I will tell you - if the moon is right, and particularly if I have some young people with me, I use it as a training tool to get them excited about astronomy. So I do use the moon, but don't just look at the moon and philosophize about what I did.

You witnessed magic moments of manned space flight - the Apollo era. How was it?

Every single person who worked on the program had one goal in mind: Get the guys on the moon and bring them back safely. There was no bureaucracy. If we had a problem, we sat around a table, we discussed it, and we decided then what to do. We listened to everybody. And then we gave an opinion. And we got through a lot of technical issues very quickly and came to the right conclusions, because everybody came together at the work level.

Nobody was trying to improve their position or ensure that their position did not go away. We did not have any managers that were jockeying for position to go higher. Everybody tried to do what was right to go to moon.

Read the full Berlin interview, HERE.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moon Express strains at its Kennedy tether

Google Lunar X-Prize competitor Moon Express test article MTV-1X takes its maiden tethered flight and new facilities recently opened at Kennedy Space Center's historic Space Launch Complex 36, where the early Atlas ICBM was developed and Surveyor was launched a half century ago. The 80 acre site, procured with the aid of Space Florida, includes a vintage concrete blockhouse the team has christened "Moon Mountain" [CBS News/C|NET].
"Latest in a series of reports by CNET Editor at Large Tim Stevens, traveling the world to track the progress of teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

"If all goes according to plan.. the Mountain View, California-based Moon Express team's.. lander will make a soft, controlled landing on the moon, look around in high-definition, then lift off again. The lander will touch down a second time at a location at least 500 meters away from the first...

"To see whether Moon Express can pull it off, Stevens traveled to Florida's Kennedy Space Center where Moon Express is testing its MTV-1X -- that is, its "Moon Express Test Vehicle 1 - XPrize Version." Or, more colloquially, the "flying donut," thanks to its toroidal shape. This is effectively a prototype for the final landing vehicle, the MX-1. The MX-1 will be launched into orbit atop a rather large rocket, fly itself across the approximately 240,000 miles to the moon and then orbit there a few times before touching down.

"Moon Mountain." the blockhouse trench and bunker of KSC SLC 36, focus of 80 acre proving ground in site of the iconic VAB at Cape Canaveral [CBS News/C|NET].
Sources:
Moon Express' unorthodox approach to the prize
- CBS News
Private moon firm to sign deal for test flights at Cape
- WTSP/ Tampa Bay, Sarasota
Moon Express to develop SLC-36 for MX-1 lunar lander
- Spaceflight Insider
Blasting off with Moon Express at KSC
- C|NET

Marshall plans eleven cubesats on 2018 SLS debut

The MSA with cubesats tucked away [NASA/MSFC].
Josh Barrett
SpaceAlabama.com

Exploration Flight Test-1, which launched on December 5, 2014 tested the Orion spacecraft.  The capsule that would take people to Mars went to space for the first time, and it was one of NASA's biggest accomplishments in 2014.  In 2018, the next flight of Orion will be on the Space Launch System (SLS), and it will again be an unmanned test flight.  But this time around, there's going to be some extra things sent to space.

The Marshall Space Flight Center is working on getting the most out of the SLS's tremendous lift capability.  NASA had the novel idea of tucking away eleven different scientific missions on Exploration Mission-1, which would provide otherwise costly access to deep space.

"What we're really excited about is the fact that we're able to take this test flight and actually get science out of it, and we're expanding the capability," said Joseph Pelfry, a deputy project manager at Marshall, who was instrumental in this idea.  "SLS is designed for a lot more payload capability, but we're trying to take advantage of every bit of capability the vehicle has."

Three of the eleven missions have already been selected.  The science payloads must fit in to six-unit cubesats, which are efficient and versatile.  They will be hidden in the multi-vehicle stage adapter (MSA), which is the ring that connects Orion's service module to the top stage of SLS.  Once Orion and the service module disconnect and continue on to orbit the moon, compartments in the MSA will launch the science missions at certain times depending on particular mission.

"Flying these secondary payloads is something we're going to do for missions to come and really provide the science community an opportunity that they haven't had before," Pelfrey said.  "That's what the SLS enables beyond the journey to Mars."

Two missions are being designed at Marshall.  The Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout and Lunar Flashlight are already approved.  Both will make use of solar sail technology - which uses energy from photons emitted by the sun to create a highly efficient, propulsionless way to explore the solar system. 

Read the full post at SpaceAlabama.com, HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The eye of Ceres

Processed animation (JPL PIA19167). The Dawn spacecraft observed Ceres for an hour on January 13, 2015, from 383,000 kilometers. Ceres is comparable in size with the minor axis of Texas. A bit more than half its surface was observed at a resolution of 27 pixels [NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI].
The hour-long animation of 1 Ceres, using 20 images from the Framing Camera on-board Dawn and released by JPL a few days ago was greatly appreciated, anxious as we are to see both Ceres and, Pluto in the weeks ahead. 

And though it's very rare for the Pioneers to drift focus away from Earth's Moon, we were asked to "steady" the animation, and for convenience sake we decided to proceed with publishing it here.

The "white spot," tracking across the 27 pixel-wide disk, continues to intrigue.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Destination: Moon


New ESA video, an excellent, if not quite comprehensive, overview on the history of lunar exploration capped off by the Agency's present vision of its future.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Chang'e-5 T1 service module tightens its lunar orbit

The Chang'e-5 T1 service module (with profile of the Xiaofei "Little Flyer" reentry test vehicle that hitched a ride to the Moon in late October, in profile) has been inserted successfully in a 200 x 200 km polar lunar orbit. (Xiaofei returned to Earth November 1, eight days after launch onboard a Long March 3C booster).
Perhaps they just should have called it Chang'e-4.  But Beijing instead waited nearly until the October 24 launch of the Long March 3C rocket carrying Chang'e-5 T1 to the Moon before putting an official name to the engineering test. 

Part of this mission is still underway, though many who are interested outside China's official circles believed the awkwardly named composite mission came to an end when the Xiaofei ("Little Flyer") sample return and high-speed reentry test article arrived back on Earth, November 1.

Xiaofei is recovered after its eight day
journey around the Moon
[Xinhua].
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) reports the service module of China's "unmanned test lunar orbiter entered a 127-minute orbit on Tuesday, after three orbital transfers since Sunday."

Using backup equipment from the Chang'e-3 together with test articles ahead of the Chang'e-5 sample return mission scheduled for 2017, the CNSA announced it had skipped over the "Chang'e-4" designation, originally a name for a back-up mission if Chang'e-3 had failed, and named the present intermediate test "Chang'e-5 T1." 

Based on released schematics and photographs of both Chang'e-3 and Chang'e-5 T1 vehicles while each was being prepared for launch, the "T1" service module now in lunar orbit does not resemble the earlier orbital science platforms Chang'e-1 or 2. It more likely resembles the now-familiar profile of the Chang'e-3 lander, without the legs.

"To decelerate the craft enough for entering its target orbit," CNSA reported, "the service module conducted three braking maneuvers on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

"After the circular orbit stabilizes," the T1 service module will continue in polar orbit, at an altitude of 200 km, "for tests to validate key technologies for the next lunar probe mission, Chang'e-5."

"The spacecraft has enough power remaining and is in sound condition," according to CNSA. 

"Technicians on Earth have exercised timely and stable control, with the tasks of tracing the service module and system tests progressing well."

Chang'e-5 T1 was launched on October 24, 2014, and "the service module was separated from the orbiter's Xiaofei return capsule, with the capsule returning to Earth after circling behind the moon during an eight-day mission.

"The service module reached the Earth-Moon second Lagrange Point (L2) in late November and left L2 point January 4, after completing all preset scientific tasks," CNSA reports.

"The orbiter is a test run for the final chapter of China's three step lunar program -- orbiting, landing and returning," CNSA announced. "The obtained data and validated re-entry technology will be used for the development of Chang'e-5, which is slated for launch around 2017.

Related Posts:
It's not bragging if you do it (December 9, 2013)
China's Long March to the Moon (January 14, 2012)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Windmill's Moon (APOD)

Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)
Explanation: APOD, January 10, 2015: Seen from the Canary Island of Fuerteventura, this bright Full Moon rose at sunset. Reaching its full phase on the night of January 4/5, it was the first Full Moon of the new year and the first to follow December's solstice. Of course, in North America the first Full Moon of January has been known as the Wolf's Moon. But this Full Moon, posed in the twilight above an island of strong winds and traditional windmills, suggests another name. The telephoto image, taken at a distance from the foreground windmill, creates the dramatic comparison in apparent size for windmill and Full Moon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Moon and Earth by Col. Virts on ISS

Full moon setting
Hardly news, though - from whatever perspective - our inconstant Moon levels all who can see. Some are gifted with better "sky" than others. This moment from the folio of Col. Terry W. Virts, who has been onboard the International Space Station since November 23.
Described as a "moonset," my first, admittedly earthbound, impression is it was almost certainly a "moonrise." Or is that simply my inner nerd coming out?

Related:
Awakening the Sleeping Satellite, Koichi Wakata
From ISS, "the Moon ushers in the dawn," Chris Hadfield
Fly me to the Moon - JSC
ISS: Earth's Moon - Expedition 28

From Crew Earth Observations Video -

Moon Glow over the North Pacific - Expedition 38 (January 30, 2014)
Moonset across South America - Expedition 34 (December 29, 2012)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The mystery of lunar layers

Close-up of Silver Spur (bottom) shows linear “bedding” coincident with topography, suggesting it is real. Its stratigraphic significance is still unknown. From panorama of photographs taken during the initial "Stand-Up" EVA, a 360° survey of the Hadley Rille Delta Apollo 15 landing site from the top hatch of the lunar module Falcon just after midnight (UT), July 31, 1971. Dave Scott's panorama included the layered component atop Mons Hadley Delta, whose slopes 5 km east he and Jim Irwin would later sample and explore [NASA/JSC].
Paul D. Spudis
The Daily Planet
Smithsonian Air & Space

In northern Arizona, a spectacular region of exposed, layered rocks over 6,000 feet thick was carved by the Colorado River. Aptly called the Grand Canyon, it represents over a billion years of Earth’s history. Geologists are able to study the history of past ages in exquisite detail by reading the historical record found in that well-known natural landform. No matter the planet, geologists are always searching for layered rocks. The study of rock layers (stratigraphy, from strata, meaning rock layers) allows scientists to reconstruct the geological history of a region and over time, an entire planet.

The nature of the Moon does not lend itself well to the display of rock layers, yet considerable effort has been expended searching for outcrops. Most layered rocks on the Earth are created from water-laid or wind-blown sediments, and neither of those processes occurs on the Moon. Still, the lunar surface has been built up piecemeal by the sequential deposition of blankets of ejecta—the ground-up rock thrown out radially from the center of impact craters and basins during formation. The overlap relationship of these ejecta deposits allows scientists to reconstruct the history of the Moon, i.e., younger impact craters overlie older ones. This simple methodology has allowed us to decipher the stratigraphy of the Moon.

Exposed layering in an outcrop from the rim of the west wall of Rima Hadley (Hadley Rille). A newly inter-laced Apollo 15 image from a panorama of 500 mm black and white photographs at a range of 1400 meters away, on the opposite rim, at Science Station 9a. Dave Scott, August 2, 1971. Features in this view were successfully compared with LROC NAC observations of the area from low lunar orbit [NASA/JSC].
Parallel bedrock outcrops 50 km southwest of the Apollo 15 landing site, from LRO in orbit 38 years later. (From "Layers near Apollo 15 landing site,") The orbital view shows distinct outcrops occurring at different topographic levels within the rille, strongly suggesting the presence of rock layers. The image of the western rille wall by Dave Scott (above) clearly shows a layered outcrop, about 15 meters thick. Several lines of evidence suggest these lavas are the oldest in the region, about 3.84 billion years old. LROC NAC observation M113941548LE, LRO orbit 1925, November 27, 2009; incidence 59.35° at 50 cm resolution, from 46.04 km over 24.65°N, 2.42°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Given that geologic history, one might expect that some evidence of rock layering was found in the abundant data returned from the Moon, but such evidence is limited and ambiguous. One of the most startling finds during the Apollo missions was a breathtaking view of Mt. Hadley, a lunar mountain north of the Apollo 15 landing site. Astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin were startled to see evenly spaced, sub-horizontal lines in the mountain, similar in appearance to fine-scale layering present in some terrestrial strata. It looked as though the mountain was a single, gigantic crustal block, uplifted and overturned by the impact that created the nearby Imbrium basin. The layering described by the astronauts greatly intrigued the mission scientists, who were unable to clearly see it in real time in the TV pictures sent to Earth.

When the crew returned to Earth, images taken on the surface dramatically showed this layering (above, below). But this presented scientists with a puzzle. Because large impacts are highly energetic, chaotic events, how could they generate evenly spaced, regular layering? Some team members began to suspect that something else was going on. Ed Wolfe and Red Bailey of the U.S. Geological Survey made scale models of the mountain and dusted it with cement powder. They then photographed it under low, oblique illumination, similar to the lighting conditions of the landing site during the mission. Surprisingly, fine-scale linear features were evident in the laboratory “mountain” (above, right), suggesting that the “layering” seen by the astronauts on the Moon may have been an illusion, caused by the low-angle illumination of a particulate, granular surface.

Stratified outcrops steadily shed house-sized boulders from the central peak of Hausen crater (163.24km; 65.111°S, 271.509°E) the formation of which may have excavated among the Moon deeper vertical columns (29 km), in part because of its location on the rim of South Pole-Aitken impact basin. The deepest materials brought to the surface here might include examples of the Moon's mantle, the original material between the Moon's crust and core; time capsules of the Moon's history before the formation of Hadley and the nearside basins. LROC NAC Commissioning observation M105100555LR, orbit 643, August 16, 2009; incidence 72.47° at 48 cm resolution, from 41.38 km over 64.94°S, 271.84°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Full-width mosaic from LROC NAC M105100555LR shows a roughly 1100 meter deep drop from the heights of Hausen's central peak to an intermediate slope of talus in a field of view 2.5 km across [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Other layered deposits at the Apollo 15 site were less amenable to explanation as an artifact of lighting. A ridge southeast of the landing site named Silver Spur displayed a set of topographic “benches” associated with its apparent layering (below). On Earth, the formation of a bench indicates differential erosion, with hard rocks making up the cliff-forming units and softer rocks being expressed as more gently sloping units. However, such an erosive pattern on the airless, waterless Moon is difficult to envision. To this day, we do not have a good explanation for the origin of Silver Spur. As an example of layering in the highlands, it remains problematical.

Clear and unequivocal layering was observed in the walls of Hadley Rille, a lava channel located near the landing site. In this case, it is easier to accept that we are looking at real layering—the rille cuts into a series of lava flows that cover the landing site (below). Lava flows make up layered deposits on Earth and there is no reason to assume that they wouldn’t do likewise on the Moon. In fact, the layering observed in the walls of Hadley Rille could be significant for another reason, one that may hold great scientific promise for future explorers.

The morphology of the "Aratus CA" collapse pit (24.55°N, 11.78°E) in Mare Serenitatis is unclear, but portions of its southwest rim include layered outcrop, perhaps including a long history of an early intermediate pre-Imbrium period and successive clues to the nature and timing of the catastrophes in our star system's early history called "the Grand Bombardment. 1.74 meter-wide field of view from LROC NAC Commissioning phase observations M104447576LR, LRO orbit 552, August 9, 2009; incidence 57.87° at 1.45 meters resolution, from 145.46 km over 25.15°N, 11.17°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
A roughly 11 km-wide field of view from LROC NAC M104447576LR shows the outcrop in context with the larger Aratus CA feature in west central Mare Serenitatis, formed at early period and laid bare by relatively recent events that overburdened the Serenitatis interior [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
After a lava flow is extruded on the Moon, it remains exposed to space. There, over millions of years, the impact bombardment of micrometeorites grinds the once solid lava into a powdery soil called regolith. Because the Moon has no atmosphere, this exposed soil layer contains a record of information about the Sun (gases called the solar wind implant atoms of hydrogen and other light elements in the dust grains) and the galaxy (from high-energy cosmic rays). When a layer is formed and then exposed to space for hundreds of millions of years and subsequently buried (like a time capsule) by another, younger lava flow, that earlier ancient regolith would contain information about the Sun and galaxy not as it is now, but as it was billions of years ago. The idea of an ancient, buried regolith (called a “paleo-regolith”) captured scientists’ imaginations—such a deposit would hold information from an interval of known position and duration in the past (determined by isotopically dating the lavas above and below the ancient regolith).

It appears that such an ancient, buried regolith exists in the walls of Hadley Rille. The lowest layers consist of ancient, relatively aluminous lavas called KREEP basalts. From the dating of Apollo 15 samples, we know that these rocks formed 3.84 billion years ago. Over this layered unit is a covered interval about 10-20 meters thick (a friable, slope-forming unit, like regolith). Above this slope-former are two massive rock layers, a thick massive unit and a thin, finely layered unit. These upper two units probably consist of mare basalt lavas of the two types found at the Apollo 15 site, both of which date to around 3.3 billion years. Thus, the regolith lying between these lava flows may hold the record of more than 500 million years of solar and galactic history, an interval from the distant early portion of Solar System evolution.

The now-notable original oblique view of the Tranquillitatis pit crater (8.34°N, 33.22°E), revealing, layer by layer the invaluable history of an area in the universe occupied by Earth. LROC NAC observation M144395745LE, LRO orbit 6413, November 14, 2010; spacecraft and camera slewed 50.46° from orbital nadir, incidence 47.91° at 81 cm resolution, from 44.23 km over 8.75°N, 35.02°E  [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
In addition to the history of the Sun, this paleo-regolith would also contain fragments of impact-melted rocks and glasses from a distinct, bounded interval of lunar history. Such a sample would allow us to assess whether the impact flux on the Moon in this time period was comparable to or different from the current rate. Such information is relevant to understanding the impact history of the Earth, a factor that we know from lunar science to strongly influence the rate of evolutionary change. Astronauts descending into the rille could sample all of these units in turn, allowing scientists to reconstruct this ancient history in detail. In this sense, Hadley Rille would be analogous to Earth’s Grand Canyon—a slice into the deep time history of the Moon.

New high-resolution images of the Moon from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that layered deposits, such as those seen in Hadley Rille, are common in the walls of rilles and impact craters occurring in the maria, where layered lava flows are expected. Finding layering in the highlands is more problematic, although some large ejecta blocks appear to consist of layered rocks, quarried out of the crust during impact. We seek such rock layering on the Moon for the same reasons that geologists look for them on the Earth—as time capsules to be carefully opened and read, giving us new insights into the complex history of the Moon.

Originally published as his Smithsonian Air & Space Daily Planet column, Dr. Spudis is a senior staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. The opinions expressed are those of the author but are better informed than average.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chang'e-3 lander still operational on 1st year anniversary

LROC NAC oblique mosaic M1145007448LR, LRO orbit 20773, January 14, 2014; slew 54° from orbital nadir, incidence 63.54° incidence angle, resolution 2.78 meters from 148.73 km over 45.65°N, 329.82°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
ECNS - The Chang'e-3 lander continues to perform following 13 full lunar days, the solar powered spacecraft began its 14th hibernation, beginning its most lunar night since its soft landing one year ago, this past weekend. 

The People's Daily reported on Monday, the Chang'e-3 lander "will continue to carry out additional tasks."

During its year on the moon's surface, which included 13 full dormancies on lunar nights and awakenings on lunar days, the Chang'e-3 lunar probe endured the extreme cold environment and carried out more than 30 radio surveys, says Cui Yan, chief designer of the Chang'e-3 lunar program at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC).

"The Chang'e-3 lander has accomplished all its scheduled tasks, but given its good condition, we plan to conduct further experiments to accumulate more technical experience for China's deep space exploration," says Cui.

The Chang'e-3 lunar probe was launched at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 1:30 am on Dec 2, 2013, and soft landed on the moon's surface at 12:14 pm on Dec 14 that year. China is the third country to soft land a spacecraft on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

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LRO: Finding Chang'e-3 (December 15, 2013)
It's not bragging if you do it (December 9, 2013)
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Helping China to the MoonESA (November 29, 2013)
China's Long March to the Moon (January 14, 2012)