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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.
NASA successfully lands Perseverance rover on Mars
by Paul Hill
The American space agency, NASA, has confirmed that its Perseverance rover has successfully landed on the red planet, Mars. NASA announced the landing from its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 3:55 p.m. EST following a 203-day ride covering 472 million kilometres.
Commenting on the successful landing, NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
The car-sized rover will do several tests over the next couple of weeks before it begins its mission to investigate rocks and sediment in the Jezero crater, an ancient lakebed and river delta. One of the objectives of the mission, and probably the most exciting, is to search for signs of microbial life that may have once swum in the lake that used to occupy the region - if life is found, it’ll be the first time that we’ve conclusively found evidence of extraterrestrial life.
The samples that Perseverance collects will have to be transported back to Earth for examination with equipment that was too big for the rover to carry, these samples will return with a proposed Mars sample-return mission.
In addition to searching for signs of life, the mission will also carry out the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), a technology demonstration that will try to manufacture oxygen - this ability will be vital for any human missions to Mars.
The Perseverance rover is planned to operate on Mars for one Martian year or 687 Earth days. Despite the mission only being funded for around two years, the rover itself will likely last many more years if it has the same luck as the Curiosity rover which landed in 2012 and is still operational.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and Boeing are targeting March 25 for Starliner's second unmanned orbital flight test
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA Blogs Boeing and NASA have set March 25, 2021, as the date for Starliner's second unmanned flight test. Dubbed Orbital Flight Test- 2 (OFT-2), this will be the second major flight test for the spacecraft and a key developmental milestone for Boeing in its bid for the NASA Commercial Crew program. Previously, the two were targeting March 29, but the date was brought up due to multiple factors including the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, an opening on the Eastern Range, steady progress on hardware and software, and a docking opportunity on the International Space Station.
This announcement comes after Boeing completed the formal requalification of the Starliner's flight software for the upcoming mission. This test included a full software review to verify that Starliner’s software meets design specifications. A complete, end-to-end simulation of the OFT-2 test flight using flight hardware and software will be conducted prior to the test day as well.
Recently, Boeing also mated the Starliner's reusable crew module on its new service module inside. Engineers are now working to complete outfitting of the vehicle’s interior before loading cargo and conducting final spacecraft checkouts. A series of parachute balloon drop tests were completed last year in December, as well, to gather supplemental performance data on the spacecraft’s parachutes and landing systems before a manned test is conducted sometime in the future.
Image via NASA Blogs Starliner's last orbital flight test took place as far back as December 2019. But on that voyage, the spacecraft experienced a mission timing anomaly that caused it to burn too much fuel to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Consequently, it was put into a lower, stable orbit where the Starliner demonstrated effective key systems and capabilities before returning to Earth. When it touched down on December 22, it became the first American orbital space capsule to land on American soil rather than in an ocean.
Japan agrees to provide important Lunar Gateway components
by Paul Hill
NASA and the Government of Japan have come to an agreement over the Lunar Gateway that will see the east Asian nation provide capabilities for the Gateway’s International Habitation module (I-Hab). The I-Hab is a key component of the modular space station as it includes life support capabilities and additional space where astronauts can live and work during Artemis missions.
According to the American space agency, JAXA’s planned contributions include I-Hab’s environmental control and life support system, batteries, thermal control and imagery components. Once developed, these parts will be integrated into the I-Hab module by the European Space Agency (ESA) which shows just how much of an international effort this new space station is.
Under a previous agreement between JAXA and Northrop Grumman, Japan will supply the batteries that’ll be used in Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Output (HALO) – the area of the station where astronauts will go first once arriving at Gateway. Japan has also decided to take a look at its HTV-X cargo resupply craft to see whether it can adapt it for use in Gateway logistics resupply missions.
Commenting on today’s partnership, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Dan Hartman said:
The Lunar Gateway, which is set to orbit the Moon, will begin launching in January 2024. Initially, the Power and Propulsion Element and the HALO modules will be launched and eventually will be joined many other modules. The I-Hab, which Japan is developing components for under today’s agreement is set for launch in 2026.
By Ather Fawaz
China launches Chang'e-5 mission to extract and bring lunar rock samples to Earth
by Ather Fawaz
Image via National Geographic China successfully launched its Chang'e-5 mission on Monday whereby it is sending a spacecraft to the Moon to collect rock samples. If everything goes according to plan, the lander portion of the spacecraft will touch down on the lunar surface by the end of this week and will have approximately 14 days—or the length of a single day on the satellite—to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth.
The spacecraft took off from the Wenchang space site at Hainan Island in China on Monday. Unlike previous missions, China was open about live-streaming and consistently sharing information about the launch procedures. The entire event was live-streamed by Chinese state media without any delay, showing the growing confidence that the nation has in its space program.
The mission is being hailed as the most ambitious program in China's space history. Not only will it be the first attempt at collecting lunar rock samples in over forty years, but it also sets the nation on course to become only the third country to bring pieces of the moon back to Earth, joining the ranks of the U.S. and Soviet Russia who each completed this feat with the Apollo Missions and the Luna robotic landings, respectively.
China plans to land Chang'e-5 on the Mons Rümker, which is an isolated volcanic formation that is located in the northwest part of the Moon's near side. It's also much younger than the craters that the Apollo astronauts visited. Once there, the spacecraft is slated to retrieve more than four pounds of lunar samples. For contrast, the three successful Soviet Luna missions brought close to 0.625 pounds while NASA’s Apollo astronauts ferried 842 pounds of moon rock and soil back to the Earth.
From liftoff to touchdown back to Earth, the entire mission is scheduled to take less than a month. China hopes that the successful completion of Chang’e-5 will be a stepping stone towards establishing an international lunar research station before colonizing the moon by the next decade.
Source: The New York Times via Engadget