Flying on Mars Is Getting Harder and Harder

Mars Helicopter Sol 193 – Navigation Camera: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image using its navigation camera during its 13th flight on Sep. 5, 2021 (Sol 193 of the Perseverance rover mission) at the local mean solar time of 12:06:30. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Written by Håvard Grip
Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In the months since we flew for the first time, we have learned a great deal about operating a helicopter on Mars. We have explored Ingenuity’s strengths and limitations in detail, leveraging the former and working around the latter to operationalize it as a highly capable reconnaissance platform.

With the benefit of the knowledge acquired, conducting flights on Mars has in most ways become easier than it was at the outset. But in one important way it is actually getting more difficult every day: I’m talking about the atmospheric density, which was already extremely low and is now dropping further due to seasonal variations on Mars.

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This Week in Elon: Musk Mocks Biden Amid Cooler Political Climate, Federal Investigation of Tesla

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It seems that Elon Musk is a bit peeved that President Joe Biden didn’t congratulate SpaceX on completing the privately-funded Inspiration4 crewed mission last week and helping to raise $210 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“He’s still sleeping,” Musk wrote in response to a question from a Twitter follower about Biden’s silence. It was a clear reference to ex-President Donald Trump’s description of him as “sleepy Joe” during the campaign.

The remark set off the usual battle on social media. Musk’s legion of defenders called the omission unforgivable. Musk’s critics noted his willingness to amply praise authoritarian China where Musk’s Tesla Motors has a manufacturing plant even as he called U.S. officials “fascists” for their efforts to contain the deadly COVID-19 virus.

For his part, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who funded and commanded the Inspiration4 flight, says Biden’s silence is no big deal.

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NASA Empowers Workforce to Advance Deep Space Technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 proposals led by early-career employees across the agency for two-year projects that will support the development of new capabilities for deep space human exploration.

These proposals were selected under Project Polaris, a new initiative to support the NASA workforce in efforts to meet the challenges of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. Project Polaris seeks to fill high-priority capability gaps on deep space missions like those planned under Artemis and introduce new technologies into human exploration flight programs. The project also aims to create opportunities for early-career employees across NASA centers to gain experience building and testing flight hardware while developing technologies and reducing risk for future human exploration missions.

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Abyss Solutions Awarded Moon to Mars Grant for its Space Project

HOMEBUSH, NSW (Abyss PR) — Australian and Houston-based AI and robotics leader Abyss Solutions has just received a Demonstrator Feasibility grant under the federal government and Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Initiative. The company that builds AI solutions to drive autonomous robotics applications for the offshore oil and gas industries will now apply those next-gen technologies to Mars and space.

Abyss received the grant to conduct feasibility testing and transform their space borne robotic inspection and intervention project into a next-gen technology that can be used in future NASA missions to the Moon and beyond.

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Visionary Tech Concepts Could Pioneer the Future in Space

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA missions make it seem like the future is now – rovers exploring Mars with cutting-edge gadgets, a spacecraft venturing home with an asteroid sample, and a complex space telescope peering at the early universe. So, what’s the next big thing? What might space missions in 2050 and beyond set out to discover? 

One small NASA program aims to see what could be possible. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, funds early-stage research into sci-fi sounding, futuristic technology concepts. The goal is to find what might work,  what might not, and what exciting new ideas researchers may come up with along the way

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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Collects Puzzle Pieces of Mars’ History

Two holes are visible in the rock, nicknamed “Rochette,” from which NASA’s Perseverance rover obtained its first core samples. The rover drilled the hole on the left, called “Montagnac,” Sept. 7, and the hole on the right, known as “Montdenier,” Sept. 1. Below it is a round spot the rover abraded. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover successfully collected its first pair of rock samples, and scientists already are gaining new insights into the region. After collecting its first sample, named “Montdenier,” Sept. 6, the team collected a second, “Montagnac,” from the same rock Sept. 8.

Analysis of the rocks from which the Montdenier and Montagnac samples were taken and from the rover’s previous sampling attempt may help the science team piece together the timeline of the area’s past, which was marked by volcanic activity and periods of persistent water.

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Rocket Lab Provides First Half 2021 Financial Results

Electron launches with OHB satellite. (Credit: Rocket Lab webcast)
  • Revenue of $29.5M, representing 237% Year-on-Year revenue growth, accompanied by an expansion in gross margins from negative 67% to a positive 13%.
  • Increasing diversity in revenue, with Space Systems contributing 18% of total revenue in the period, compared to 3% in the prior year, accompanied with gross margins of 65%.
  • Backlog grew 136% Year-on-Year to $141.4 million as of June 30, 2021 as compared to backlog of $59.9 million as of June 30, 2020.

LONG BEACH, Calif., September 08, 2021 (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a global leader in launch services and space systems, today reviewed financial results for the six months ended June 30, 2021, which were previously released in its 8-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on August 31, 2021.

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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Collects First Mars Rock Sample

This sealed titanium sample tube contains Perseverance’s first cored sample of Mars rock. The rover’s Sampling and Caching System Camera (known as CacheCam) captured this image. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Perseverance rover today completed the collection of the first sample of Martian rock, a core from Jezero Crater slightly thicker than a pencil. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California received data that confirmed the historic milestone.

The core is now enclosed in an airtight titanium sample tube, making it available for retrieval in the future. Through the Mars Sample Return campaign, NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are planning a series of future missions to return the rover’s sample tubes to Earth for closer study. These samples would be the first set of scientifically identified and selected materials returned to our planet from another.  

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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Successfully Cores Its First Rock

This Mastcam-Z image shows a sample of Mars rock inside the sample tube on Sept. 1, 2021 (the 190th sol, or Martian day, of the mission), shortly after the coring operation. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Perseverance will obtain additional imagery of the sample tube before potentially completing the process of collecting its first scientifically-selected Mars sample.

Data received late Sept. 1 from NASA’s Perseverance rover indicate the team has achieved its goal of successfully coring a Mars rock. The initial images downlinked after the historic event show an intact sample present in the tube after coring. However, additional images taken after the arm completed sample acquisition were inconclusive due to poor sunlight conditions. Another round of images with better lighting will be taken before the sample processing continues.

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Chinese Zhurong Rover Marks 100 Days of Exploring Mars

Zhurong rover and its lander on the surface of Mars. (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — Zhurong, rover of China’s first interplanetary probe mission Tianwen-1, has worked on Mars surface for 100 days as of Monday, and has driven 1,064 meters south from its landing point.

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NASA Awards $750,000 in Competition to Convert Carbon Dioxide into Sugar

Team Air Company prepares materials for judging. (Credits: NASA/Amanda Adams)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — On Earth, plants and ocean microbes use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide, or CO2, into sugars for energy. Humans don’t have that ability, at least not yet.

On Mars, there aren’t plants and oceans, but there is an abundance of CO2. NASA’s CO2 Conversion Challenge invited the public to come up with ways to convert this principle component of the Martian atmosphere into sugar, which astronauts could use to make useful products – anything from plastics, adhesives, and fuels to food and medicine.

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NASA’s Perseverance Plans Next Sample Attempt

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will abrade the rock at the center of this image, allowing scientists and engineers to assess whether it would hold up to the rover’s more powerful sampling drill. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The rover will abrade a rock this week, allowing scientists and engineers to decide whether that target would withstand its powerful drill.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — In its search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover is once again preparing to collect the first of many rock core samples that could eventually be brought to Earth for further study.

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Rocket Lab Spacecraft Confirmed for Mars as NASA Greenlights ESCAPADE Small Satellite Interplanetary Mission

The twin EscaPADE satellites will fly to Mars and circle the planet in complementary orbits to sample the hot ionized plasma (cross section in yellow and green) and magnetic fields (blue lines) to understand how Mars’ atmosphere escapes into space. (Credit: UC Berkeley/Robert Lillis)

The ESCAPADE mission – led by the University of California Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory to study Mars’ magnetosphere – with two Rocket Lab Photon spacecraft has received NASA approval to move toward launch.

LONG BEACH, Calif., 23 August, 2021 (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab, a global leader in dedicated launch and space systems, today announced it will begin final mission design and commence manufacturing two interplanetary Photon spacecraft for a science mission to Mars, delivering Decadal-class science at a fraction of the cost of typical planetary missions.

 The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission will orbit two Rocket Lab-built Photon spacecraft around Mars to understand the structure, composition, variability, and dynamics of Mars’ unique hybrid magnetosphere. The mission will also support crewed exploration programs like Artemis through improved solar storm prediction.

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The Next Steps for Sampling on Perseverance

This Mastcam-Z image of a portion of the Artuby ridgeline shows large (meter-scale) boulders similar to those Perseverance is expected to encounter at Citadelle. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

Written by Jennifer Trosper
Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

I will always remember the moments around our first sampling attempt. Longtime friend (and Sampling System Chief Engineer) Louise Jandura and I were in the operations area awaiting the next data downlink. It was “so far, so good” with our earlier morning results showing we had achieved a full-depth borehole. Other members of the team began to filter in as images of the sealed sample tube came up on the ops room monitors. We were all starting to get that feeling you can get in this business when a big milestone comes together because, at first look, it appeared to be our first cored sample. But within minutes, the team noted that the volume probe indicated no sample was in the tube, and we quickly switched to problem-solving mode – once again trying to solve another problem tossed our way from the surface of Mars.

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China’s Zhurong Mars Rover Continues Past 3 Month Nominal Mission

Zhurong rover and its lander on the surface of Mars. (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (China National Space Administration PR) — China’s Mars rover Zhurong has outlived its three-month life expectancy with all of its predetermined tasks completed, according to the China National Space Administration.

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