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China successfully lands its Zhurong Mars rover
by Paul Hill
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has successfully landed its Zhurong rover on the Martian surface, according to a report from BBC News. During its 90 Sol mission at Utopia Planitia in the northern hemisphere, Zhurong will study Martian geology using a laser tool that can assess a rock’s chemistry and search for sub-surface water-ice.
While China and the United States may be squabbling over 5G, NASA had much more cordial words for China with regards to its landing. Thomas Zurbuchen, head of science at NASA, said:
According to Xinhua, the Zhurong rover touched down on the Martian surface on Saturday at 7:18 a.m. Beijing Time. The landing was all pre-programmed by CNSA due to the communication time lag between the Earth and Mars. To establish the success of the mission, the rover unfurled its solar panels and antenna and sent a signal back to Earth to indicate that it had survived the landing – this process took over an hour and included the Mars to Earth delay of 17 minutes.
With the successful landing, China becomes the second country in the world to land a rover on the Martian surface. Since the 1960s, only half of the 40 Mars missions have succeeded and this rate drops further when it comes to landing on the surface of the planet. The last few weeks have been very good for China’s space ambitions; a few weeks ago, it launched its space station which will eventually be manned by taikonauts.
NASA successfully flies Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
NASA/JPL-Caltech, Ingenuity's first black and white image during flight NASA has announced that it has successfully flown its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the Red Planet. The event is historical as it’s the first time that humans have performed a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The flight was controlled by the Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The aircraft first flew at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) but due to the data having to travel 178.9 million miles, the confirmation of the flight was not received until 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT).
Commenting on the news, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
According to NASA, the craft flew to a height of 3 meters, hovered for 30 seconds and then touched down on the surface with the total flight lasting just 39.1 seconds. While the agency has received some data already, it is still waiting for other portions to travel across the Deep Space Network. The Martian airfield from where Ingenuity took off has been named Wright Brothers Field by NASA tying today’s event to the Wright Brothers who flew the first aircraft here on Earth in 1903.
Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol (Martian day) of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window. NASA said it will continue to receive information on the test flight over the next three sols and then will decide how to conduct a second experimental test flight. It said that no more flights will be conducted before April 22 but it does hope to conduct several more over the craft’s lifetime.
SpaceX almost lands Starship successfully on the third attempt
by Paul Hill
SpaceX has gotten closer to landing Starship SN10 succesfuilly after two failures with SN8 and SN9 in December and January respectively. While the Starship did manage a landing this time, a fire broke out which spread to the propellant leading to a massive explosion destroying the rocket around 8 minutes after landing.
Today’s mission looked uncertain for a while, initially, it was due to take off several hours ago but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted out to say that the launch was aborted to adjust the thrust limit which he described as “slightly conservative”. After recycling the propellant, the rocket was set for another launch attempt which it carried out successfully.
Today’s mission brings SpaceX one step closer to getting humans to Mars. In the future, Starship with use two stages - the first is a booster stage called Super Heavy and the upper stage is called Starship. Super Heavy will be used to take off from Earth but when taking off from the Moon and Mars, only the upper stage will be needed. During the tests, Starship has been using three Raptor engines but it’s intended that six will be used in the future.
With Starship set to be used for human transportation in a couple of years, it will undergo more testing until the company can get the landing right. It will also have to be trialled using the six Raptor engines at some point and launching atop the Super Heavy booster.
If you missed the test, you can watch it in full above and If you want to know when SpaceX has an upcoming Starship launch, be sure to read This Week in Rocket Launches, a new weekly series posted each weekend detailing all the missions that are planned for the coming week.
Rocket Lab releases plans for reusable Neutron rocket
by Paul Hill
Rocket Lab, one of the many private space firms, has revealed plans for a new reusable rocket called Neutron. The firm said that the 8-ton payload launch vehicle will deploy satellite constellations, go to other planets and take humans into space.
If you’ve been following Neowin’s new This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL) series, you’ll know that Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket already delivers satellites into space. While Electron is limited to launching 300 kg satellites, the new rocket will be able to lift 8,000 kg to low-Earth orbit, 2,000 kg to the Moon, and 1,500 kg to Mars and Venus.
Speaking about the announcement, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said:
Much like SpaceX has been doing with its rockets, Neutron’s first of two stages will be designed to land on an ocean platform, this will allow the company to lower costs for customers and get more launches done. Rocket Lab expects to perform Neutron launches from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Launching from this facility will eliminate the need for Rocket Lab to build a new pad which will accelerate the time to launch.
The firm said it expects to begin launches of Neutron rockets from 2024 and is looking for sites across America to build a new factory that will support the manufacture of the Neutron rocket and create hundreds of jobs.
NASA unveils Perseverance landing footage and Mars audio
by Paul Hill
Just days after the successful landing of its Perseverance rover, NASA has released extraordinary footage of the landing sequence as well as audio from the surface of the planet where you can make out the sound of the wind blowing. High definition cameras that give a view above and below the rover, as well as the one looking from the vantage point of the sky crane, caught all the action beginning 11 kilometres from the surface to the rover’s landing.
Some of the highlights of the three-and-a-half-minute clip include seeing the Martian surface from a high altitude, seeing the dust on the surface come to life as the rover was close to landing, seeing the sky crane fly off after the rover had touched down and seeing the parachute unfurl. According to NASA, the parachute is also the most massive ever to be sent to another planet.
Commenting on the content, NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
To watch the descent, check out the embedded video below. To hear the audio from the rover, skip to 40:48 in this NASA event.
Since landing, NASA has been busy checking equipment on the rover to ensure there are no problems. Some of the instruments being checked this week include the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer to look at the weather in the area and the Mastcam-Z which can take panoramic shots of the Jezero crater. The crater used to be a lakebed and contains rocks and sediment which the rover plans to collect up so that it can be examined to find out whether life ever existed on Mars.
Aside from searching for evidence of ancient life, the rover is also carrying the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) which will try to produce oxygen. This part of the mission is key for future human-led missions to Mars where resources will be scarce and the ability to generate oxygen essential.