Weekly Space News Recap: NASA CAPSTONE, Martian ‘Enchanted Lake’ & More

On June 28, NASA successfully launched the CAPSTONE project, which is the first step forward in paving the way for the Artemis missions that will bring astronauts back to the moon after a 50-year hiatus. But that’s just one development that happened last week. Here’s some of the most exciting space news that’s happened to you over the past week, in case you missed it.

NASA launched CAPSTONE to clear the way for the moon

A small spacecraft launched on June 28 from New Zealand as part of the CAPSTONE mission† It contained a microwave-sized CubeSat satellite. The goal is to reduce the risk to future spacecraft by testing innovative navigation technologies and a new halo-shaped orbit that could be used by a space station orbiting the moon in the future.

The mission has a special flight computer and payload radio that will perform calculations to determine if the CubeSat is in its intended orbital orbit. It will use NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) as a reference point. The idea here is that it will communicate directly with LRO and use the data obtained from this crosslink to measure how far it is from LRO and how fast the distance between the two changes so that it can determine its position in space. determine.

The CAPSTONE mission will test a new orbit. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA will use this to evaluate CAPSTONE’s autonomous navigation software, Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS). After successful tests, the software may allow future spacecraft to determine their location without relying solely on tracking on Earth.

The orbit it’s testing, called a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), is very elongated and sits at a precise equilibrium point between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravitational forces. This orbit could provide stability for long-term missions such as Gateway, a planned space station that will orbit the moon and require minimal energy to maintain. Once deployed, Gateway will serve as an ideal launching position for missions to the moon and beyond.

An unusual impact site on the moon of an unknown rocket

NASA’s LRO had saw an unusual “double crater” on the moon: an eastern crater with a diameter of 18 meters and a western crater with a diameter of 16 meters. The unexpected double crater formation indicates that the rocket that caused it had a large mass at each end, which is unusual because the mass of spent rockets is usually concentrated at the motor end and the rest of the rocket stage consists of an empty fuel tank.

To the best of NASA scientists’ knowledge, no other rocket impacts on the Moon have created double craters. The four craters created by the third stage of Saturn’s rockets (from Apollo 13, 14, 15, and 17) were irregular in shape and significantly larger, most of which exceeded 35 meters in diameter.

The unexpected double crater formation indicates that the rocket body had large masses at each end, which is unusual. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Space Domain Awareness lab at the Lunar and Planetary Observatory believe the twin crater was caused by a Chinese booster from a rocket launch in 2014. But NASA still refers to the impact crater created by a ” mystery rocket”.

Using Curiosity rover data to measure key life ingredient on Mars

Using data from NASA’s Curiosity rover, scientists measure total organic carbon in Martian rocks for the first time ever. There is some evidence that the red planet’s climate was similar to Earth’s billions of years ago; with a thicker atmosphere and liquid water flowing into rivers and seas. If life ever existed on Mars, scientists believe the locations of these ancient bodies of water would be the best place to look for signs. Organic carbon is an important part of life molecules.

The Curiosity rover went to the Yellowknife Bay Formation in Gale Crater on Mars, the site of an ancient lake on Mars, and drilled samples from 3.5 billion-year-old mudstone rocks. Curiosity then delivered the sample to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, in which a furnace heated powdered rock to increasingly higher temperatures. It used oxygen and heat to convert organic carbon into carbon dioxide.

A view of the Yellowknife Bay formation from Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover collected samples for analysis. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

It then measured the amount of carbon dioxide so that scientists could later use this data to measure the amount of organic carbon in the rock. This experiment was actually conducted in 2014, but it took the scientists years of analysis to understand the data and put the results in the context of the mission’s other discoveries in Gale Crater. The resource-intensive experiment was conducted just once during the Curiosity rover’s 10 years on Mars. Also, the presence of organic carbon does not necessarily indicate extraterrestrial life, as there are many non-biological processes that can create it.

NASA Wants Public Help Spotting Mars Clouds

The space agency has a project called “Cloudspotting on Mars” which uses its citizen science platform Zooniverse. NASA scientists are inviting the public to identify clouds on the red planet as part of the project, hoping it will help solve a basic mystery about Mars’ atmosphere.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying the red planet since 2006, and the Mars Climate Sounder instrument has studied the planet’s atmosphere in infrared light. NASA teams turn to the public for marking “arcs” in 16 years of infrared data. Clouds appear as arcs in the data and are said to be easier for human eyes to spot than algorithms. Of course, NASA plans to use the crowd-sourced project to train better algorithms that can do this job in the future.

‘Enchanted Lake’ on Mars could be the best place to look for life on Mars

NASA had shared images of an “enchanted lake” on Mars, where scientists believe the persistence rover could find the first evidence of alien life. The Enchanted Lake is a rock where scientists believe water existed in the past. The image was captured on April 30 of this year by the rover’s Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams).

The image was taken near the base of the Jezero Crater Delta and provided scientists with the first close-up view of sedimentary rock on Mars. These rocks are usually formed when fine particles carried by water or air are deposited in layers that turn into rocks over time. Scientists believe that water existed in the Enchanted Lake in the past and that there is a chance it could have harbored life when it did.


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