NASA makes successful rover missions seem mundane. Spirit and Opportunity were wildly successful, and Curiosity and Perseverance would both be considered successes even if they stopped working today. But complex missions don’t succeed without rigorous testing.
The ESA takes that lesson to heart, and when it comes to their Mars rover, they’ve built a ‘rover playground’ to test it in.
In the early days of spaceflight, just getting a satellite into Earth’s orbit was an accomplishment. In our era, landing rovers on other planets and bringing samples home from asteroids is the cutting edge. But the next frontier is rapidly approaching, when astronauts will stay for long periods of time on the Moon and hopefully Mars.
But before we can send people to those dangerous environments, the Artemis partner space agencies have to know how to keep them safe. An important part of that is simulating the conditions on the Moon and Mars.
New images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) appear to show the crash site where the Japanese Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander impacted the surface of the Moon a month ago.
The refrigerator-sized HAKUTO-R was built by the startup company iSpace and was launched in December 2022 with the goal of becoming the first commercial lunar lander to touch down safely on the Moon. However, during landing operations on April 25, 2023, communications ceased just moments before touchdown should have occurred, and the lander was presumed lost.
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope served the astronomy community well for 16 years. From its launch in 2003 to the end of its operations in January 2020, its infrared observations fuelled scientific discoveries too numerous to list.
Infrared telescopes need to be kept cool to operate, and eventually, it ran out of coolant. But that wasn’t the end of the mission; it kept operating in ‘warm’ mode, where observations were limited. Its mission only ended when it drifted too far away from Earth to communicate effectively.
Now the US Space Force thinks they can reboot the telescope.
Most everyone is familiar with Olympus Mons, the largest volcano on Mars and also the largest in the Solar System. But there are several other enormous shield volcanoes on Mars. The second largest is Ascraeus Mons, and new images from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft reveal some interesting features on the side or flank of the mountain.
When there’s a permanent base on the Moon, astronauts will need a way to replenish their oxygen supply. Fortunately, there’s an almost infinite amount of oxygen in the surrounding regolith, locked up the rocks and soil. The key would be to figure out a cost-effective way to extract it.
Now, NASA has demonstrated that they can harvest oxygen from the lunar regolith, even in the vacuum conditions of space. They used a device called a carbothermal reactor to successfully extract oxygen from a simulated lunar regolith, while also simulating the heat that would be produced by a solar energy concentrator.
We’ve seen our share of photos of Mars from orbit and the surface, but what about its moons? The United Arab Emirates Hope orbital mission to Mars sent home new beautiful high-resolution images of the Red Planet’s moon Deimos when it flew within 100 km of the moon last month. This is the closest any spacecraft has been to Deimos in almost 50 years.
In the photos, the science team says that their images of Deimos help provide evidence that the moon wasn’t a captured asteroid but came from Mars itself during an impact in the ancient past, much like Earth’s Moon.
The Hakuto-R lunar lander, currently in orbit around the Moon, just captured a beautiful “Earthrise”-like image, and one with an interesting side note. The Mission 1 lander, from the Tokyo-based commercial company ispace, took the image during the time of the April 20 solar eclipse, where totality was visible in Australia; and so the photo includes a perfect view of the shadow of the Moon passing above the Land Down Under.
The spacecraft was approximately 100 km (60 miles) above the lunar surface when it took the photo.
On April 10th, ESA’s Solar Orbiter made its closest flyby of the Sun, coming to within just 29% of the distance from the Earth to the Sun. From this vantage point, the spacecraft is performing close-up studies of our Sun and inner heliosphere. This is basically uncharted territory, as we’ve never had a spacecraft this close to the Sun.
One of the goals of the mission is to figure out why the Sun’s corona — its outer atmosphere — is so hot. The corona can reach temperatures of 2 million degrees C, vastly hotter than its 5,500 C surface. A new paper based on Solar Orbiter data, may offer some clues.
Using data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), planetary scientists have created one of the most unique and detailed maps of Mars ever. But fair warning, the biggest version of this is a could overload your computer.
Global CTX Mosaic of Mars is the highest-resolution global image of the Red Planet ever created and it even allows you see Mars in 3D.