Mars 2020 Rover Instruments revealed

Today NASA announced the seven instruments that will be flown on the Mars 2020 Rover.  The rover uses the same design as Curiosity that is currently operating on the surface of Mars today.  The final requirements for the whole rover will be complete about a year from now.  A landing site has not yet been selected for the rover.

2014-07-31_120841The instruments were chosen because they complemented each other, as well as providing data that will benefit eventual manned missions to the planet.  The rover will also include a cache which will be used to store samples that will eventually returned to Earth for analysis, a rock abrasion tool which Curiosity doesn’t have and will also take core samples from rocks that will be preserved in the cache.

There will be two instruments on the rover mast, two on the arm and three on the main body of the rover.

2014-07-31_120929Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. The principal investigator is James Bell, Arizona State University in Phoenix.

2014-07-31_121013SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Plane’tologie (CNES/IRAP) France.

2014-07-31_121408 2014-07-31_121416Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. PIXL will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. 


2014-07-31_121454Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload. The principal investigator is Luther Beegle, JPL.

2014-07-31_121148The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

2014-07-31_121233Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. The principal investigator is Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.

2014-07-31_121318The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran, Forsvarets Forskning Institute, Norway.


Last ATV begins journey to the station

va219_320469This evening the second of three planned launches this week lifted off carrying the final European Automated Transfer Vehicle to orbit.

The Ariane 5 rocket lifted off at 7:47:38 p.m. EDT from French Guiana carrying the ATV spacecraft, 64 minutes after liftoff the vehicle is scheduled to separate from the upper stage to begin it’s two week journey to the space station.

The ATV which is named Georges Lemaître after the Belgian astronomer is carrying over 8 tonnes of supplies to the ISS, including a record of 2695 kg dry cargo.  In addition to being the final ATV it is also the heaviest payload that Ariane 5 has ever launched at 20,300 kg. The ATV vehicle employ’s an automated docking system allowing it to autonomously arrive at the station and connect to the Russian section of the station like the Progress and Soyuz spacecraft do.

Once the spacecraft has completed it’s mission at the station it will be filled with trash and will then burn up in the atmosphere. During the fiery re-entry the spacecraft camera’s will be transmitting live video of the re-entry.

Below are screen captures of the launch from NASA TV.

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The Little Rover that could

270px-Nasa_mer_daffyThis week the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity broke the off-world driving record previously held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover. Opportunity which has been operating on the surface of Mars for 10 years, 6 months has now traveled more than 25.01 miles.

Opportunity and it’s twin Spirit were originally expected to last 90 sol’s (Martian days), and while Spirit is no longer operating both far exceeded that goal.  Spirit eventually stopped communicating after 2623 sols having traveled 4.8 miles.

123624main_dust_devil_mars_webBoth rovers are solar powered and have benefited multiple times by dust devils on the surface of Mars which have cleaned off the solar panels from the Martian dust that accumulates on them.  The image to the right show one of the dust devils captured by the rover as it passed nearby.

At this point we don’t know how long Opportunity will last, however each day it does brings us more scientific knowledge of Mars and also shows just how robust well designed robot’s can be.

Detailed maps of where the rovers have been during their time on Mars can be found here.

For more on Opportunity and to see the latest status report check out the mission page here.


Delta 4 launches on 5th Attempt

Following one delay due to a technical issue and three due to bad weather a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket finally lifted off this evening carrying Twin inspector spacecraft and a micro-satellite test-bed.  The launch was delayed several times this evening also due to weather but finally a window opened and they were able to get off the ground.

Due to the nature of the mission the live stream ended before the payloads were deployed, check back here later to determine the status of the mission.

Below are some images captured from the live stream.

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Launch of Progress M-24M (56P)

The first of two launches scheduled for today was completed successfully when the Soyuz rocket placed the Progress M-24M spacecraft in orbit to begin it’s six hour journey to the International Space Station.

Once in orbit the spacecraft deployed it’s solar arrays and antenna’s before firing its engines to being travelling to the station.

Update 7/24/2014 – Six hours after liftoff the Progress spacecraft arrived at the station and successfully docked, additional images of the docking have been added below.

Images of the launch are below

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The SpaceX EELV debate

There has been quite a heated debate about the whole SpaceX Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle issue recently on twitter and in the press. This article discusses this debate and our views on the situation.

As you may remember SpaceX filed suit last month Elon Musk announced that SpaceX were filing a suit against the US Air Force (USAF) protesting the United Launch Alliance (ULA) block purchase which had been award without any competition.

Since this happened the debate seems to be firmly split into two camps, those who fully support SpaceX’s actions and those who don’t. Having viewed both sides of the debate we can see valid points from both camps.

Should SpaceX have the chance to compete? Yes regardless of whether they have proven to date that they can reliably launch payloads they should have the chance to compete against ULA.

What if they lose anyway? As Elon Musk stated when they filed the suit they just want the chance to compete, if the USAF decide that ULA is still the better option then they would have to accept that and move on. If they were to compete today we believe they would absolutely lose because they just don’t have the track record yet.

What happens if a launch fails? As with any launch provider if they lose a payload due to a launch failure then they would have to investigate to determine what went wrong and then prove that they have addressed the issue before having the chance to launch again.  The bigger question is can they survive a launch failure?  That is really an unknown at this point, it would really depend on what caused the failure and what would be involved in resolving it.

They don’t have the same launch capacities as ULA so can’t compete? That is correct as of today they can only compete for the smaller payloads, however once the Falcon Heavy rocket is complete and has been flown a few times SpaceX will have the ability to launch larger payloads than any of the ULA rocket combinations currently available.

Why did they sue USAF? To highlight the fact that a large order had been placed without any competition.

What about all the delays? SpaceX are still a young company compared with ULA or any of the other launch providers and therefore have a lot more to lose if something goes wrong as I said before here.

So what is next for SpaceX? This debate is not going to go away anytime soon, personally we believe that SpaceX should just knuckle down and get back on track with the launches they have on the books already.  The more flights they complete over the next 18 months and if they can reduce the number of delays we believe they will be in a much better position to compete for the USAF contracts.

SpaceX Launches Six Orbcomm Satellites

Fourth time is a charm for SpaceX as they finally launch six Orbcomm OG2 satellites to orbit.  This morning’s launch which was delayed slightly to resolve a ground system issue lifted off at 11:15 am EDT when the nine Merlin 1D engine’s on the first stage roared to life.  Ten minutes later the second stage completed it’s planned burn leaving the craft in it’s intended orbit.

SpaceX webcast the launch up to the point where the second stage finished firing, separation of the satellites will occur later once the spacecraft reaches the desired drop off locations.

Update 12:04 pm EDT – Marc Eisenberg CEO of Orbcomm tweeted that all six satellites were successfully deployed.


Update 1:27 pm EDT – Elon Musk tweeted updates on re-entry of first stage

2014-07-14_132953 2014-07-14_133011

Below are some screen captures of the launch.

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The SpaceX Delays

As most of us have seen SpaceX have suffered a number of delays recently, one of these was due to a customer concern, another due to a range failure. However the majority have been due to problems internal to SpaceX.

I have seen many posts complaining about these delays and the lack of information from SpaceX. If I am totally honest I have been one of those complaining.

However when I put my business hat on I can understand these delays and this article tries to explain them from an outsiders perspective.

First SpaceX is a private business and while Space Launches are exciting for the fans they are the revenue stream for SpaceX. SpaceX cannot afford to have a launch fail and any indication that something is not right on the vehicle could lead to that failure, therefore it makes sense to me that they would rather delay a little while investigating so they can be confident that the launch will be as successful as possible.

Second SpaceX is looking to expand into the lucrative Government contract business and while they have passed initial Certification requirements for Falcon 9 any failure could impact the changes of being award these regardless of the cost difference.

Third any failure would give fuel to all the detractors of SpaceX, and there are plenty of them still despite how successful SpaceX have been so far.

Fourth SpaceX are currently competing to launch crews on the same Falcon 9 rocket that is used today, any failure could impact the changes on this continuing.

So while it is frustrating for all of us who support SpaceX and the vision Elon Musk has for the future of cargo and manned spaceflight we also have to understand that there is far too much riding on each launch for them to ignore any concerns.

Recently SpaceX said they would not be Live Streaming the launches because they had become routine, however this isn’t the case as these delays have proven.

Antares launches Cygnus for Orb2 mission

This afternoon an Orbital Sciences Antares Rocket launched the SS Janice Voss Cygnus spacecraft to orbit to begin it’s mission to the International Space Station.  

The launch, which had been delayed several times due to investigations into a failure of one of the AJ26 engines used by Antares during it’s testing cycle and due to weather issues during rollout, went very smoothly lifting off on time and ten minutes later reaching orbit.  Once in orbit the Solar Array’s where deployed and the spacecraft began it’s journey to the station.

Cygnus is carrying 1,656kg of cargo to ISS including food, hardware, science equipment & 29 CubeSats. Overview

The spacecraft is expected to arrive at the station on Wednesday. 

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