‘A City on Mars’ is Elon Musk’s Ultimate Goal Enabled by Rocket Reuse Technology

Long exposure of launch, re-entry, and landing burns of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dec. 21, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk’s dream and ultimate goal of establishing a permanent human presence on the Red Planet in the form of “A City on Mars” took a gigantic step forward with the game changing rocket landing and recovery technology vividly demonstrated by his firm’s Falcon 9 booster this past Monday, Dec. 21 – following a successful blastoff from the Florida space coast just minutes earlier on the first SpaceX launch since a catastrophic mid-air calamity six months ago.

“I think this was a critical step along the way towards being able to establish a city on Mars,” said SpaceX billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk at a media telecom shortly after Monday night’s (Dec. 21) launch and upright landing of the Falcon 9 rockets first stage on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

“[The landing] and reusability dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible. That’s what all this is about.”

Although the primary goal of the Dec. 21 ‘Return to Flight’ launch was carrying a constellation of 11 ORBCOMM OG2 commercial communications satellites to low Earth orbit, the secondary goal of safely soft landing the Falcon 9 rocket vertically and recovering the first stage for eventual reuse is what made headlines worldwide and sparks belief in enabling Musk’s vision concerning sending people to Mars in the not too distant future.

“I think this bodes very well for the future,” Musk stated with respect to one day colonizing Mars with human “cities.”

“This is really amazing for SpaceX and the future of launch. As far as we can see right now the mission was absolutely perfect.”

https://youtu.be/ouXseJbRW4M

Video caption: Compilation of 4 Mobius camera videos from the Falcon 9 Orbcomm-2 launch on December 21, 2015. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Musk’s vision of radically slashing the costs of launching people and payloads to space by recovering and reflying rockets – built individually at great expense – rather than completely discarding them after a single use, marked a history making achievement when the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 landed upright and intact barely 10 minutes after it departed Earth on Dec 21.

“I think quite vital to that goal is reusability of an orbit class rocket. It’s really fundamental to that goal, without which it would be unaffordable.”

See the dramatic landing in this SpaceX video taken from a nearby helicopter:

https://youtu.be/ZCBE8ocOkAQ

How much money can be saved by recovering and reusing orbit class rockets?

“It would be the difference between something costing less than one percent of what it would be otherwise,” Musk elaborated at the media telecon.

“It makes all the difference in the world. It’s absolutely fundamental,” Musk noted.

“And I think it really quite dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible.

“You know, that’s what all this is about.”

The vertical landing of the fully intact Falcon 9 first stage is a historic first step that turns a page on the road to rocket reusability and sending people to the Red Planet more affordably.

It also counts as one of the best Christmas presents ever for space enthusiasts worldwide, longing for decades to send people on voyages to deep space destinations.

“I do think it’s a revolutionary moment,” Musk added. “No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”

The Falcon 9 first stage stands 156 feet tall. About 3 minutes into the flight it separated from the upper stage that continued to orbit with the 11 Orbcomm satellites, reignited a Merlin 1D engine and repulsively landed successfully on the ground about 10 minutes later at the SpaceX Landing Zone 1 complex at the Cape, some six miles south from the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40).

“This is something that was actually a useful mission. It delivered 11 satellites to orbit, and then came back and landed. I think that’s perhaps the thing that’s really significant. We achieved the recovery of the rocket in a mission that actually deployed 11 satellites. This is a fundamental step change in technology compared to any other rocket that has ever flown.”

The Falcon 9 is equipped with four landing legs and four grid fins to enable the propulsive landing back on the ground at the Cape, once the first stage separates and relights a Merlin 1D engine.

Two prior attempts to land on a barge came very close with pinpoint approaches to the vessel in the Atlantic Ocean. But the rocket tipped over in the final moments and was destroyed.

The launch and first stage landing, vertically at night, was apparently perfect and came off without a hitch.

“From everything we’ve seen thus far, the mission appears to be perfect,” said Musk.

“The satellites were deployed right on target. And the Falcon 9 booster came back and landed, it looks like, almost dead center in the landing pad. And then the upper stage did a coast and then restarted to prove out the coast and restart capability.”

“So as far as we can see right now the mission was absolutely perfect. We could not have asked for a better mission or a better day.”

The Dec 21 rocket recovery is a stepping stone on the path to economical rocket reusability.

How often will SpaceX recover the rocket?

“I think that we’re going to get quite a few rockets back, so I imagine we’re going to have a whole fleet of booster rockets accumulating quite rapidly because we’re building them right now at about one every three weeks,” Musk stated.

“Over time we expect to get back over 99% of the rockets. So we will figure out how to make the reuse as easy as possible. So that really no work is required between reuses, apart from refilling the propellant tanks.”

“So it will take us a few years to iron all that out and make sure it all works well.”

How much does it cost to build the Falcon 9?

“The Falcon rocket costs about $60 million to build,” Musk said. “It’s kind of like a big jet, but the cost of the propellant, which is mostly oxygen and the gases, is only about $200,000. So that means that the potential cost reduction over the long term is probably in excess of a factor of a hundred.”

https://youtu.be/l2s9CtJdRAE

Musk and SpaceX are already well along their long desired path to launch people to space – via a NASA contract to build a crewed version of their cargo Dragon. The crew Dragon is slated to blast off on its first orbital test flight in 2017 and transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is also developing the triple barreled Falcon Heavy rocket, a heavy lift booster that can launch much more massive payloads to Earth orbit and beyond.

Mars beckons!

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post ‘A City on Mars’ is Elon Musk’s Ultimate Goal Enabled by Rocket Reuse Technology appeared first on Universe Today.

Curiosity Celebrates Christmas at Red Planet Paradise at Namib Dune with 1st Mastcam Self-portrait

Curiosity explores Red Planet paradise at Namib Dune during Christmas 2015 - backdropped by Mount Sharp.  Curiosity took first ever self-portrait with Mastcam color camera after arriving at the lee face of Namib Dune.  This photo mosaic shows a portion of the full self portrait and is stitched from Mastcam color camera raw images taken on Sol 1197, Dec. 19, 2015.  Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Just in time for the holidays, NASA’s Curiosity rover is celebrating Christmas 2015 at a Red Planet Paradise – spectacular “Namib Dune.” And she marked the occasion by snapping her first ever color self-portrait with the mast mounted high resolution Mastcam 34 mm camera.

Heretofore Curiosity has taken color self portraits with the MAHLI camera mounted at the end of the 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm, and black and white self portraits with the mast mounted navcam camera.

The new Mastcam color self portrait was taken just days ago on December 19, and includes the first ever color images of the rover deck. Previously, Curiosity has used the Mastcam color camera to take tens of thousands of exquisite high resolution panoramic images of the magnificent looking Martian terrain, but not the rover deck which includes the inlet ports for the pair of chemistry labs in the robots belly.

Curiosity arrived at the outskirts of Namib Dune in mid-December. And as the images show Namib Dune is humongous and unlike anything encountered before by Curiosity. See out photo mosaics above and below.

Why snap a Mastcam self portrait now? Because there’s unique science to be gained from the Red Planets swirling winds whipping up dust and sand particles with the rover now at the edge of the giant dune field at the foothills of Mount Sharp, and to check for buildup of particles on the rover deck.

“The plan includes a Mastcam image of the rover deck to monitor the movement of particles,” wrote MSL science team member Lauren Edgar, Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, in a mission update.

Namib Dune is part of a massive field of spectacular rippled dark sand dunes, known as the “Bagnold Dunes” – located at the base of Mount Sharp and range up to two stories tall.

The six wheeled rover was dispatched to the dunes to conduct humanity’s first up-close investigation of currently active sand dunes anywhere beyond Earth.

“Namib is an Aeolian paradise,” wrote Edgar.

“The view at Namib Dune is pretty spectacular. We’ve received a lot of beautiful Mastcam and Navcam images.”

This past week, the science and engineering team commanded the car sized rover to drive closer and around Namib to investigate the dune from various angles with her state of the art science instrument suite.

Curiosity arrived at the lee face of Namib Dune on December 19, or Sol 1197.

“The latest Navcam images reveal many beautiful aeolian features on the slipface and interdune deposits.”

“It’s hard to curb your imaging appetite when the views are so spectacular!”

The dark dunes skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp and lie on the alien road of Curiosity’s daring trek up the lower portion of the layered Martian mountain.

Beside dunes, the local terrain is also replete with a bonanza of outcrops of bedrock and mineral veins for targeted science observations.

“Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam observations of targets to characterize some of the local bedrock and veins,” Edgar elaborated. “We’ll also take a Mastcam stereo mosaic of “Namib Dune” to better understand the morphology of the ripples and grain flow.”

“We’ll use ChemCam to assess the composition and grain size of a ripple. Then we’ll use Mastcam to image the brink of the dune and its slipface to characterize the dune morphology. We’ll also use Mastcam to document an outcrop with an unusual purple hue.”

Initial imaging results are already promising and much more is upcoming.

“The Mastcam images that we took earlier this week are coming down now, and they reveal a lot of great details about the dune morphology,” says Edgar.

“Mastcam will do a mosaic of the slip face of Namib dune, and a stereo observation of the target “Nadas” to study the shape of the alcoves on the very crest of the dune,” MSL team member Ryan Anderson added.

“Mastcam will also watch for changes in a patch of nearby sand, as well as a couple of locations on the dune slip face.”

While Earthlings and their families are gathering together and engrossed in the Christmas holiday cheer, there will be little rest for ‘The Martian’ Curiosity. The science team has planned out and uploaded more than a week of science observations to run through the New Year’s holiday.

“We’re in a great location to study “Namib Dune” so there is plenty of good science to be done,” says Anderson.

In addition, Curiosity is dumping the recently acquired rock drill sample from “Greenhorn” onto the surface to analyze the residue further, “before the martian wind blows it away.”

As of today, Sol 1203, December 25, 2015, Curiosity has driven over 6.9 miles (11.1 kilometers) kilometers and taken over 291,700 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Curiosity Celebrates Christmas at Red Planet Paradise at Namib Dune with 1st Mastcam Self-portrait appeared first on Universe Today.

Curiosity Celebrates Christmas at Red Planet Paradise at Namib Dune with 1st Mastcam Self-portrait

Curiosity explores Red Planet paradise at Namib Dune during Christmas 2015 - backdropped by Mount Sharp.  Curiosity took first ever self-portrait with Mastcam color camera after arriving at the lee face of Namib Dune.  This photo mosaic shows a portion of the full self portrait and is stitched from Mastcam color camera raw images taken on Sol 1197, Dec. 19, 2015.  Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Just in time for the holidays, NASA’s Curiosity rover is celebrating Christmas 2015 at a Red Planet Paradise – spectacular “Namib Dune.” And she marked the occasion by snapping her first ever color self-portrait with the mast mounted high resolution Mastcam 34 mm camera.

Heretofore Curiosity has taken color self portraits with the MAHLI camera mounted at the end of the 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm, and black and white self portraits with the mast mounted navcam camera.

The new Mastcam color self portrait was taken just days ago on December 19, and includes the first ever color images of the rover deck. Previously, Curiosity has used the Mastcam color camera to take tens of thousands of exquisite high resolution panoramic images of the magnificent looking Martian terrain, but not the rover deck which includes the inlet ports for the pair of chemistry labs in the robots belly.

Curiosity arrived at the outskirts of Namib Dune in mid-December. And as the images show Namib Dune is humongous and unlike anything encountered before by Curiosity. See out photo mosaics above and below.

Why snap a Mastcam self portrait now? Because there’s unique science to be gained from the Red Planets swirling winds whipping up dust and sand particles with the rover now at the edge of the giant dune field at the foothills of Mount Sharp, and to check for buildup of particles on the rover deck.

“The plan includes a Mastcam image of the rover deck to monitor the movement of particles,” wrote MSL science team member Lauren Edgar, Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, in a mission update.

Namib Dune is part of a massive field of spectacular rippled dark sand dunes, known as the “Bagnold Dunes” – located at the base of Mount Sharp and range up to two stories tall.

The six wheeled rover was dispatched to the dunes to conduct humanity’s first up-close investigation of currently active sand dunes anywhere beyond Earth.

“Namib is an Aeolian paradise,” wrote Edgar.

“The view at Namib Dune is pretty spectacular. We’ve received a lot of beautiful Mastcam and Navcam images.”

This past week, the science and engineering team commanded the car sized rover to drive closer and around Namib to investigate the dune from various angles with her state of the art science instrument suite.

Curiosity arrived at the lee face of Namib Dune on December 19, or Sol 1197.

“The latest Navcam images reveal many beautiful aeolian features on the slipface and interdune deposits.”

“It’s hard to curb your imaging appetite when the views are so spectacular!”

The dark dunes skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp and lie on the alien road of Curiosity’s daring trek up the lower portion of the layered Martian mountain.

Beside dunes, the local terrain is also replete with a bonanza of outcrops of bedrock and mineral veins for targeted science observations.

“Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam observations of targets to characterize some of the local bedrock and veins,” Edgar elaborated. “We’ll also take a Mastcam stereo mosaic of “Namib Dune” to better understand the morphology of the ripples and grain flow.”

“We’ll use ChemCam to assess the composition and grain size of a ripple. Then we’ll use Mastcam to image the brink of the dune and its slipface to characterize the dune morphology. We’ll also use Mastcam to document an outcrop with an unusual purple hue.”

Initial imaging results are already promising and much more is upcoming.

“The Mastcam images that we took earlier this week are coming down now, and they reveal a lot of great details about the dune morphology,” says Edgar.

“Mastcam will do a mosaic of the slip face of Namib dune, and a stereo observation of the target “Nadas” to study the shape of the alcoves on the very crest of the dune,” MSL team member Ryan Anderson added.

“Mastcam will also watch for changes in a patch of nearby sand, as well as a couple of locations on the dune slip face.”

While Earthlings and their families are gathering together and engrossed in the Christmas holiday cheer, there will be little rest for ‘The Martian’ Curiosity. The science team has planned out and uploaded more than a week of science observations to run through the New Year’s holiday.

“We’re in a great location to study “Namib Dune” so there is plenty of good science to be done,” says Anderson.

In addition, Curiosity is dumping the recently acquired rock drill sample from “Greenhorn” onto the surface to analyze the residue further, “before the martian wind blows it away.”

As of today, Sol 1203, December 25, 2015, Curiosity has driven over 6.9 miles (11.1 kilometers) kilometers and taken over 291,700 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Curiosity Celebrates Christmas at Red Planet Paradise at Namib Dune with 1st Mastcam Self-portrait appeared first on Universe Today.

Curiosity Celebrates Christmas at Red Planet Paradise at Namib Dune with 1st Mastcam Self-portrait

Curiosity explores Red Planet paradise at Namib Dune during Christmas 2015 - backdropped by Mount Sharp.  Curiosity took first ever self-portrait with Mastcam color camera after arriving at the lee face of Namib Dune.  This photo mosaic shows a portion of the full self portrait and is stitched from Mastcam color camera raw images taken on Sol 1197, Dec. 19, 2015.  Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Just in time for the holidays, NASA’s Curiosity rover is celebrating Christmas 2015 at a Red Planet Paradise – spectacular “Namib Dune.” And she marked the occasion by snapping her first ever color self-portrait with the mast mounted high resolution Mastcam 34 mm camera.

Heretofore Curiosity has taken color self portraits with the MAHLI camera mounted at the end of the 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm, and black and white self portraits with the mast mounted navcam camera.

The new Mastcam color self portrait was taken just days ago on December 19, and includes the first ever color images of the rover deck. Previously, Curiosity has used the Mastcam color camera to take tens of thousands of exquisite high resolution panoramic images of the magnificent looking Martian terrain, but not the rover deck which includes the inlet ports for the pair of chemistry labs in the robots belly.

Curiosity arrived at the outskirts of Namib Dune in mid-December. And as the images show Namib Dune is humongous and unlike anything encountered before by Curiosity. See out photo mosaics above and below.

Why snap a Mastcam self portrait now? Because there’s unique science to be gained from the Red Planets swirling winds whipping up dust and sand particles with the rover now at the edge of the giant dune field at the foothills of Mount Sharp, and to check for buildup of particles on the rover deck.

“The plan includes a Mastcam image of the rover deck to monitor the movement of particles,” wrote MSL science team member Lauren Edgar, Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, in a mission update.

Namib Dune is part of a massive field of spectacular rippled dark sand dunes, known as the “Bagnold Dunes” – located at the base of Mount Sharp and range up to two stories tall.

The six wheeled rover was dispatched to the dunes to conduct humanity’s first up-close investigation of currently active sand dunes anywhere beyond Earth.

“Namib is an Aeolian paradise,” wrote Edgar.

“The view at Namib Dune is pretty spectacular. We’ve received a lot of beautiful Mastcam and Navcam images.”

This past week, the science and engineering team commanded the car sized rover to drive closer and around Namib to investigate the dune from various angles with her state of the art science instrument suite.

Curiosity arrived at the lee face of Namib Dune on December 19, or Sol 1197.

“The latest Navcam images reveal many beautiful aeolian features on the slipface and interdune deposits.”

“It’s hard to curb your imaging appetite when the views are so spectacular!”

The dark dunes skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp and lie on the alien road of Curiosity’s daring trek up the lower portion of the layered Martian mountain.

Beside dunes, the local terrain is also replete with a bonanza of outcrops of bedrock and mineral veins for targeted science observations.

“Curiosity will acquire ChemCam and Mastcam observations of targets to characterize some of the local bedrock and veins,” Edgar elaborated. “We’ll also take a Mastcam stereo mosaic of “Namib Dune” to better understand the morphology of the ripples and grain flow.”

“We’ll use ChemCam to assess the composition and grain size of a ripple. Then we’ll use Mastcam to image the brink of the dune and its slipface to characterize the dune morphology. We’ll also use Mastcam to document an outcrop with an unusual purple hue.”

Initial imaging results are already promising and much more is upcoming.

“The Mastcam images that we took earlier this week are coming down now, and they reveal a lot of great details about the dune morphology,” says Edgar.

“Mastcam will do a mosaic of the slip face of Namib dune, and a stereo observation of the target “Nadas” to study the shape of the alcoves on the very crest of the dune,” MSL team member Ryan Anderson added.

“Mastcam will also watch for changes in a patch of nearby sand, as well as a couple of locations on the dune slip face.”

While Earthlings and their families are gathering together and engrossed in the Christmas holiday cheer, there will be little rest for ‘The Martian’ Curiosity. The science team has planned out and uploaded more than a week of science observations to run through the New Year’s holiday.

“We’re in a great location to study “Namib Dune” so there is plenty of good science to be done,” says Anderson.

In addition, Curiosity is dumping the recently acquired rock drill sample from “Greenhorn” onto the surface to analyze the residue further, “before the martian wind blows it away.”

As of today, Sol 1203, December 25, 2015, Curiosity has driven over 6.9 miles (11.1 kilometers) kilometers and taken over 291,700 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Curiosity Celebrates Christmas at Red Planet Paradise at Namib Dune with 1st Mastcam Self-portrait appeared first on Universe Today.

2016 Launch of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Postponed Due to Instrument Vacuum Leak

Artist's concept of NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. NASA has suspended the launch of the mission which had been planned for March 2016 until at least 2018 due to a vacuum leak in the seismometer instrument provided by France’s Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES).  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA managers have just made the difficult but unavoidable decision to scrub the planned March 2016 launch of the InSight lander, the agency’s next mission to Mars, by at least two years because of a vacuum leak that was just detected in the probes flawed seismometer instrument which cannot be fixed in time.

The leak, if uncorrected, would render the probes useless to carry out the unprecedented scientific research foreseen to measure the planets seismic activity and sense for “Marsquakes” to determine the nature of the Red Planets deep interior.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, announced the decision to suspend the InSight launch at a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, Dec. 23.

“We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window,” said Grunsfeld.

Grunsfeld explained that there is simply insufficient time to locate and reliably repair the seismometer instrument leak in the short time span of barely over two months remaining until the opening of the Atlas rockets launch window to the Red Planet on March 4. The window only extends to March 30.

“We just haven’t had time to work through that because our focus was on getting ready to launch.”

The seismometer instrument is named Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and was provided by the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency equivalent to NASA. SEIS is one of the two primary science instruments aboard InSight. The other instrument measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The leak in the seismometer was initially discovered earlier this year. After several unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of instrument, engineers thought they had solved the problem until a new test was conducted on Monday, Dec. 21 and revealed another leak due to a faulty weld somewhere.

“A leak earlier this year that previously had prevented the seismometer from retaining vacuum conditions was repaired, and the mission team was hopeful the most recent fix also would be successful,” said NASA.

“However, during testing on Monday in extreme cold temperature (-49 degrees Fahrenheit/-45 degrees Celsius) the instrument again failed to hold a vacuum.”

It was at that point that NASA and CNES managers decided that the hoped for 2016 launch would have to be postponed.

“As of yesterday, we were still planning to go,” Grunsfeld elaborated during the briefing.

SEIS must hold a vacuum of least one tenth of a millibar in order for the instrument to operate satiffactorily and conduct its research into the Red Planet’s seismic actitivty.

InSight is NASA’s next mission to Mars. It is a stationary lander based on the proven design of NASA’s Phoenix lander which touched down on the Red Planet in 2008.

InSight would have joined NASA’s pair of mobile rovers on Mars, Curiosity and Opportunity, to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet

The earliest opportunity to possibly launch Insight is now deferred to mid-2018, since launch windows to Mars only occur approximately every 26 months due to the positions of Earth and Mars in their orbits and the unavoidable physics of celestial mechanics.

However, due to the elusive nature of fixing the leak and unavoidable and unbudgeted costs to store the probe, it is not clear whether InSight will even be launched in 2018.
The decision on when and whether to launch InSight will not be conclusively decided for at least several months while NASA and CNES further investigate the nature if the leak.
“A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months, but one thing is clear: NASA remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars,” Grunsfeld noted.

SEIS is designed to “measure ground movements as small as the diameter of an atom and requires a vacuum seal around its three main sensors to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment.”

The SEIS instrument measures about 9 inches wide. It was to be picked up from the lander deck and deployed to the surface using a robotic arm.

“It’s the first time ever that such a sensitive instrument has been built. We were very close to succeeding, but an anomaly has occurred, which requires further investigation. Our teams will find a solution to fix it, but it won’t be solved in time for a launch in 2016,” said Marc Pircher, Director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre.

“InSight’s investigation of the Red Planet’s interior is designed to increase understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California.

“Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets’ early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks. Gaining information about the core, mantle and crust of Mars is a high priority for planetary science, and InSight was built to accomplish this.”

Until Monday, the teams had all been confident that the SEIS leak had been repaired. Indeed the probe just arrived at the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for blastoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

InSight will most likely be shipped back to prime contractor Lockheed Martin in Denver for long term storage until a final decision on the future outcome is decided.

The total budgeted cost of the mission was cost capped at $675 million and about $525 million has already been spent, said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, at the briefing.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post 2016 Launch of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Postponed Due to Instrument Vacuum Leak appeared first on Universe Today.

Curiosity Reaches Massive Field of Spectacularly Rippled Active Martian Sand Dunes

Curiosity explores Namib Dunes at base of Mount Sharp, for first in-place study of an active sand dune anywhere other than Earth.  See Gale Crater rim in the distance.This colorized photo mosaic is stitched from navcam camera raw images taken on Sol 1192, Dec. 13, 2015.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

[caption id="attachment_123906" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Curiosity explores Namib Dunes at base of Mount Sharp, for first in-place study of an active sand dune anywhere other than Earth.  See Gale Crater rim in the distance.This colorized photo mosaic is stitched from navcam camera raw images taken on Sol 1192, Dec. 13, 2015.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo Curiosity’s View of Mars Today
Curiosity explores Namib Dunes at base of Mount Sharp, for first in-place study of an active sand dune anywhere other than Earth. See Gale Crater rim in the distance.This colorized photo mosaic is stitched from navcam camera raw images taken on Sol 1192, Dec. 13, 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo[/caption]

After many months of painstaking driving, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has reached the edge of a massive field of spectacular rippled sand dunes located at the base of Mount Sharp that range up to two stories tall. And she has now begun humanity’s first up-close investigation of currently active sand dunes anywhere beyond Earth.

The dark dunes, named the “Bagnold Dunes,” skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp and lie on the alien road of Curiosity’s daring trek up the lower portion of the layered Martian mountain.

Today, Dec 14, Curiosity is exploring a spectacular spot dubbed the “Namib Dune” shown in our new photo mosaic above.

Ascending and diligently exploring the sedimentary lower layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rovers long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.

The car sized rover initially arrived a few sols ago at a spot of the rippled surface that’s been informally named “High Dune” by the team of scientists and engineers leading Curiosity’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Mission on Mars.

“The science and engineering team are excited about the opportunity to study active dunes on another planet,” wrote MSL science team member Lauren Edger, Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, in a mission update.

The dunes are indeed rather active and have been determined to migrate up to about one yard or meter per year, based on orbital observations gathered by NASA’s Red Planet orbiter fleet – including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The magnificent looking “Bagnold Dunes” have been quite noticeable in numerous striking images taken from Mars orbit by MRO and during the vehicles nail biting ‘7 Minutes of Terror’ descent from orbit – as well as in thousands upon thousands of images taken by Curiosity herself as the robot edged ever closer during her over three year long traverse across the floor of the Gale Crater landing site.

Curiosity must safely cross the expansive dune field before even attempting to climbing Mount Sharp.

Although multiple NASA rovers, including Curiosity, have studied much smaller Martian sand ripples or drifts, none has ever visited and investigated up close these types of large dunes that measure in size as tall as a two story building or more and are as wide as a football field or more.

Before crossing the dune field, the team is conducting mobility tests by carefully driving Curiosity just “a few meters into the dark sand in front of the rover, then back up enough to allow study of the rover tracks using the arm instruments,” said Ken Herkenhoff, Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and an MSL science team member.

The mobility tests at ‘High Dune’ have gone well.

“We drove a little ways into a sand patch and then backed out, leaving trenches where the wheels were. Yes, we’re disturbing some of the very photogenic sand ripples that we have been seeing, but it’s for a good cause: it teaches us more about how well we can drive in that sand, and by using the wheels to make trenches like this, we can get a better idea of the internal structure of the sand ripples,” says MSL team member Ryan Anderson.

The team is using the six wheel rovers mast mounted cameras and spectrometer and instruments mounted on the robotic arm, such as the MAHLI camera and APXS spectrometer, for contact science studies of the soil and rocks at ‘High Dune’ and the new wheel tracks.

The science ops are also progress extremely well.

“We’ve accomplished a lot of reconnaissance imaging of the dunes, and we’re looking ahead to monitoring the dune slipface and sampling the chemistry and mineralogy of an active dune. We’ve also acquired some beautiful close-up images of the sand grains, as seen MAHLI images that just came down,” noted Edger.

The dark dunes are informally named after British military engineer Ralph Bagnold (1896-1990), who conducted pioneering studies of the effect of wind on motion of individual particles in dunes on Earth. Curiosity will carry out “the first in-place study of dune activity on a planet with lower gravity and less atmosphere.”

“These dunes have a different texture from dunes on Earth,” said team member Nathan Bridges, of the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland.

“The ripples on them are much larger than ripples on top of dunes on Earth, and we don’t know why. We have models based on the lower air pressure. It takes a higher wind speed to get a particle moving. But now we’ll have the first opportunity to make detailed observations.”

After completing work at ‘High Dune’ the team directed Curiosity to another dune location named ‘Namib Dune.’

“The view is pretty spectacular,” says Edger.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Ken Kremer

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