mercredi 7 décembre 2022

Spacesuit Work and Emergency Training Aboard Station Today


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Dec 7, 2022

The Expedition 68 crew took a break from its intense space research activities and focused on spacesuits, biomedical tests, and lab maintenance on Wednesday. Four International Space Station flight engineers also reviewed the procedures necessary to depart the orbiting lab in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Flight Engineers Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann spent some time during the afternoon studying instructions to replace life support components inside Extravehicular Mobility Units, or the spacesuits that astronauts wear during spacewalks. Cassada gathered tools at the beginning of the day to support the spacesuit maintenance work. Mann then took a few minutes shaking research bags containing particle-filled fluids for a study to understand the formation of asteroids and planets and possibly inform advanced manufacturing techniques on Earth.

Image above: The Moon is pictured above Earth’s horizon from the space station. The Orion vehicle on the Artemis I mission was almost 24,000 miles away from the Moon and approximately 222,200 miles from Earth at the time of this photograph. Image Credit: NASA.

Cassada also had time after lunch to join Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for vein scans using the Ultrasound 2 device. Cassada performed the medical duties scanning Wakata’s leg, neck, and shoulder veins with remote guidance from a flight surgeon on the ground. Earlier, Wakata took a robotics test for a behavioral study that measures crew performance. At the end of the day, he photographed sutured biological samples to investigate wound healing in space.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio spent the day working in the Combustion Integrated Rack relieving pressure, replacing components, and checking cable connections inside the device that enables safe research into flames, fuel, and soot in microgravity.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Mann, Cassada, Wakata, and Roscosmos Flight Engineer Anna Kikina, who rode aboard the SpaceX Dragon Endurance crew ship to the station on Oct. 6, gathered together for an emergency procedures review on Wednesday afternoon. The quartet studied together on a computer the steps necessary to board Endurance and quickly evacuate the station during an unlikely emergency event such as a depressurization or a fire.

Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin spent all day Wednesday continuing work on Orlan spacesuit maintenance. The duo serviced and replaced life support components inside the suits they will wear on an upcoming spacewalk to relocate a radiator from the Rassvet module to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. Kikina started her day working on electronics and computer hardware before wrapping up her shift studying how to pilot robots or spacecraft on future planetary missions.

Related links:

Expedition 68:

Particle-filled fluids:

Ultrasound 2:

Behavioral study:

Sutured biological samples:

Combustion Integrated Rack:

Rassvet module:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

50 Years Ago: Apollo 17 Lights Up the Night Sky on its Way to the Moon


NASA - Apollo 17 Mission patch.

Dec 7, 2022

The sixth and final Apollo Moon landing mission began with the Dec. 7, 1972, launch of Apollo 17. In the first night launch of the American human spaceflight program, the giant Saturn V rocket lifted off from Launch Pad 39A and lit up the sky at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Commander Eugene A. Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald E. Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt, the first trained geologist to travel to the Moon, rode the pillar of flame into a parking orbit around the Earth. The rocket’s third stage reignited to send them on their way to the Moon. Following an uneventful three-day coast to the Moon, Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt arrived in lunar orbit on Dec. 10 to prepare for the landing at the Taurus-Littrow site and to conduct scientific observations from lunar orbit.

Above: The Apollo 17 crew of Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt, left, Ronald E. Evans, and Eugene A. Cernan, seated, pose in a Lunar Roving Vehicle in front of their Saturn V rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Below: The Apollo 17 crew patch.

Engineers in Firing Room 1 of KSC’s Launch Control Center (LCC) monitored all aspects of the countdown, begun on Dec. 5, including the final fueling of the Saturn V rocket. Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt ate their traditional prelaunch breakfast before putting on their spacesuits and taking the Astrovan to Launch Pad 39A, where they boarded their spacecraft, the Command Module (CM) America. Cernan took the left-hand seat, Schmitt the right, and finally Evans settled in the middle. Thousands of spectators assembled along the beaches near KSC to view the launch. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew arrived in the firing room’s viewing gallery to watch the launch with senior NASA managers. The terminal countdown for Apollo 17’s launch proceeded without any significant issues until 30 seconds before the planned launch time of 9:53 p.m. EST on Dec. 6.

Above: The Saturn V on the morning of launch. Middle: At the traditional prelaunch breakfast, Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt, left, Eugene A. Cernan, and Ronald E. Evans are joined by backup and support astronauts and managers. Below: Apollo 17 astronauts Cernan, left, Evans, and Schmitt suit up prior to their launch.

Above: Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, right, awaits fellow crew members Ronald E. Evans, left, and Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt as they say goodbye to their families before boarding the Astrovan for the ride out to Launch Pad 39A. Below: In the White Room at Launch Pad 39A, the closeout team greet Cernan before helping him to board the Command Module America.

At that moment, the Ground Launch Sequencer computer that controlled the countdown called a halt when it detected that the computer had failed to send a command two minutes earlier to pressurize the liquid oxygen tank in the rocket’s S-IVB third stage. Although an engineer had caught the error and sent the command in the computer’s place and the tank had pressurized as expected, the software only recognized the failure to send the signal. After identifying the problem, ground controllers recycled the countdown to T-22 minutes, and then held it again at T-8 minutes as they continued to resolve the issue. The count eventually resumed and reached T-0, 2 hours and 40 minutes late.

Above: The Apollo 17 Saturn V launch vehicle during the countdown hold. Middle: Managers in the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during the countdown hold. Below: Flight Directors Neil A. Hutchinson, left, Eugene F. Kranz, and Gerald D. Griffin during the countdown hold, in the Mission Control Center at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Above: The Apollo 17 Saturn V rocket at the moment of ignition. Middle: Liftoff of Apollo 17. Below: View of liftoff from the Launch Umbilical Tower.

At 33 minutes past midnight EST on Dec. 7, the five F-1 first stage engines ignited, essentially turning night into day at KSC. The Saturn V rocket rose slowly from the pad, clearing the launch umbilical tower a few seconds later. At this point, control of the flight shifted from KSC’s LCC to the Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz led his White Team of controllers, including capsule communicator (capcom) astronaut Robert F. Overmyer.

Apollo 17 lights up the night sky!

Above: Apollo 17 continues its ascent. Middle: Controllers in Firing Room 1 of the Launch Control Center (LCC) cheer as Apollo 17 continues its climb into space. Below: NASA managers listen as Vice President Spiro T. Agnew congratulates the LCC team.

After burning for 2 minutes and 41 seconds and lifting the rocket to an altitude of 40 miles, the S-IC first stage engines shut off and the stage jettisoned. The S-II second stage ignited and continued to power the ascent until 9 minutes 20 seconds, taking the spacecraft nearly to orbit, at which time it too was jettisoned, and the S-IVB third stage took over. It burned for a little more than two and a half minutes to place Apollo 17 into a circular 104-mile-high parking orbit around the Earth. The astronauts were now weightless, and Cernan reported enthusiastically, “… that was quite a booster ride!” For the next three hours, Apollo 17, still attached to the Saturn V’s third stage, orbited the Earth. Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt removed their helmets and gloves but for now kept their spacesuits on. Together with Mission Control, they determined that all onboard systems were working nominally, and that they could proceed with Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI), the second burn of the Saturn V’s S-IVB third stage to send them out of Earth orbit and toward the Moon. Three hours and 12 minutes after liftoff, the engine ignited and fired for 5 minutes and 52 seconds, increasing Apollo 17’s velocity to 24,242 miles per hour to begin the three-day coast to the Moon. The burn took place as the spacecraft passed into an orbital sunrise.

Above: One of the Spacecraft Lunar Module (LM) Adapter panels flies away following separation of the Command and Service Module from the Saturn V’s S-IVB stage. Middle: A cloud of ice and paint particles surround the LM Challenger, still attached to the S-IVB during the Transposition and Docking maneuver. Below: The spent S-IVB stage.

Thirty minutes after the completion of the TLI burn, the astronauts separated the Command and Service Modules (CSM) from the third stage. The four Spacecraft LM Adapter panels jettisoned to reveal the LM Challenger still attached to the S-IVB. Evans maneuvered the CSM a short distance away from the S-IVB, turned the spacecraft around and then began a slow approach to the LM, successfully completing the docking. With an indication that at least one of the 12 latches didn’t activate properly, the astronauts pressurized the tunnel between the two spacecraft, removed the hatch on the CM side, and, realizing that  three latches hadn’t activated, manually set them. They replaced the hatch and then separated the LM, now docked to the front of the CSM, from the S-IVB. They had already reached a distance of 15,000 miles from the Earth. As the astronauts watched, the S-IVB stage maneuvered into an attitude to fire its engine to send it on a course to crash on the Moon in three days to trigger the seismometers left on the surface by the Apollo 12, 14, 15, and 16 crews.

The Apollo 17 astronauts’ photographs of the receding Earth from 18,300 miles, left, from the Blue Marble series, 103,000 miles, 180,000 miles, and 236,000 miles.

Shortly after the S-IVB departed, Evans took four photographs showing the full disk of the Earth, with Africa in the center and Antarctica at the bottom. One of this series, known as the Blue Marble photographs, has the reputation as the most reproduced photograph of all time. Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt finally removed the spacesuits they had been wearing since several hours before launch and ate their first meal since the prelaunch breakfast.

In Mission Control, Kranz’s White Team handed over to Flight Director M.P. “Pete” Frank and his Orange Team of controllers, with astronaut Robert A. Parker replacing Overmyer as capcom. The flight control team decided that because of the accuracy of the TLI burn, the astronauts would not need to perform the planned first midcourse correction. The astronauts placed their spacecraft into the passive thermal control (PTC) or barbecue mode, in which the vehicle slowly rotated along its longitudinal axis three times per hour to evenly distribute temperatures. They then settled down for their first night’s sleep in space, already more than 50,000 miles from Earth.

The Apollo 17 astronauts during the trans-lunar coast: Eugene A. Cernan, left, Ronald E. Evans – testing out a beverage container planned for the Skylab program, – and Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt.

While the crew slept aboard their spacecraft America, in Mission Control, Flight Director Gerald D. “Gerry” Griffin and his Gold Team of controllers took over the consoles from Frank’s Orange Team, with Parker remaining at the capcom position until he placed the wake-up call to the crew. At that point, Apollo 17 had reached a distance of 77,500 miles from Earth. Astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton took over the capcom console for the crew’s morning activities, assisted by astronaut Stuart A. Roosa, and Kranz’s White Team came in to relieve Griffin’s Gold Team. The astronauts spent much of the day, shortened to synchronize the crew’s day with Houston time, completing housekeeping and navigation tasks aboard their spacecraft, and provided to the ground their impressions of the previous day’s launch and TLI. Schmitt spent much of the day providing commentary on his views of the Earth. Before going to sleep, the astronauts re-established the PTC mode, while in Mission Control, Flight Director Frank’s Orange Team resumed their console positions, with Overmyer returning as capcom. When Cernan said good night on the crew’s behalf, Apollo 17 had reached a distance of 115,000 miles from Earth.

Above: Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, left, and Ronald E. Evans during the trans-lunar coast. Below: The Heat Flow and Convection demonstration experiment.

While the crew slept, Apollo 17 reached the halfway point with respect to distance between the Earth and the Moon, an equidistant 132,123 miles. In Mission Control, Parker returned as capcom, and Flight Director Griffin’s Gold Team resumed their console positions. When Parker called to awaken the crew, Apollo 17 had traveled more than 140,000 miles from Earth. With that task completed, he handed over capcom duties to Fullerton. One of the first tasks of the day involved a midcourse correction, a two-second burn of the Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine that adjusted their trajectory to take them within 60 miles of the Moon for the Lunar Orbit Insertion burn. The crew moved on to the next major task of the day, opening the hatches to enter the LM Challenger for the first time. During this initial inspection, Cernan and Schmitt transferred some items from the CM America and arranged stowage inside the LM. As Cernan and Schmitt completed their activities in Challenger and returned to America, in Mission Control Overmyer replaced Fullerton as capcom, and new Flight Director Charles R. “Chuck” Lewis took over, leading the Orange Team, until Flight Director Kranz’s team once again took their consoles. Evans conducted the heat flow and convection experiment, a demonstration designed to provide data on the behavior of fluids in the microgravity environment. By the time the crew retired, they had begun closing in on the Moon, now only 88,000 miles away.

Above and middle: Two views of the Command Module America taken from the overhead window of the Lunar Module Challenger. Below: Evans conducting a session of the Apollo Light Flash Moving Emulsion Detector (ALFMED) experiment.

While the crew slept, in Mission Control, new Flight Director Neil A. Hutchinson and his team took over from Kranz’s team, with Fullerton once again acting as capcom. Mission Control awakened the crew with the University of Kansas Jayhawk Fight Song, in honor of Evans’ alma mater. Apollo 17 had traveled 196,400 miles from Earth, closing in on the Moon, 72,000 miles away. Cernan and Schmitt reentered the LM Challenger for a more thorough activation and checkout, and Evans also briefly transferred over to take some photographs of the CM from the LM’s overhead window. At 65 hours into the flight, Mission Control adjusted all the clocks ahead by 2 hours and 40 minutes to account for the launch delay, ensuring that the flight plan would not require any adjustments once the spacecraft entered lunar orbit the next day. Evans conducted the Apollo Light Flash Moving Emulsion Detector (ALFMED) experiment, while Cernan and Schmitt wore eyeshades, to monitor light flashes caused by cosmic rays passing through their retinas. They caught sight of the S-IVB in the distance, flashing periodically as it tumbled on its way to impact the Moon. At 73 hours and 17 minutes into the flight and still 38, 900 miles from the Moon, Apollo 17 transitioned from the Earth’s gravity sphere of influence to the Moon’s and began to accelerate. Shortly thereafter, the crew began their sleep period.

Capcom Parker awakened the crew for its fourth day in space. He informed the astronauts that since their trajectory continued to be very accurate, they would not have to execute a midcourse correction maneuver planned for the day. They maneuvered their spacecraft into the proper attitude and jettisoned the panel the covered the Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) bay of the Service Module, exposing the cameras and instruments that Evans will use once in lunar orbit. For the first time during the flight, the astronauts caught sight of the Moon, appearing as a very thin crescent, with most of its surface in darkness and the bright Sun appearing to hang on the Moon’s horizon. Shortly before disappearing behind the Moon, Cernan congratulated the Mission Control team regarding the accuracy of their trajectory, “If you guys could get an idea down there of the needle you're threading when you shoot for 50 miles at a quarter of [a] million [miles], you'd be mighty proud of yourselves, I'll tell you, we are.” Evans maneuvered the spacecraft into the proper attitude for the Lunar Orbit Insertion burn, and precisely 88 hours and 43 minutes after leaving Earth Apollo 17 disappeared behind the leading edge of the Moon, all communications with Mission Control stopping as expected. While behind the Moon, Apollo 17 fired its SPS engine for 6 minutes and 33 seconds to enter an initial elliptical lunar orbit.

To be continued…

Related links:


Apollo 17:

NASA History:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Kelli Mars/JSC/John Uri.


NASA's Mars Helicopter Flies High, Sets Altitude Record


NASA - Ingenuity Mars Helicopter logo.

Dec 7, 2022

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a freakin' helicopter on Mars making history.

Image above: NASA's experimental Ingenuity helicopter poses on Mars in 2021. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

Here's a reminder of something amazing: there's a tiny helicopter flying around on Mars. It arrived in early 2021 and was only designed to last a short while. NASA's Ingenuity rotorcraft is not only still soaring, it just set an altitude record during its 35th flight on Saturday.

NASA JPL trumpeted the plucky helicopter's "all-time high" in a tweet on Tuesday. Ingenuity reached 46 feet (14 meters) above the dusty Martian ground.

JPL on Twitter (screen capture, video below)

Ingenuity altitude flight record of 39 feet (12 meters)

For perspective, Ingenuity just flew to about the height of the letters on the Hollywood sign, or more than twice the height of an adult male giraffe. That might not seem crazy, but please remember this is in the thin atmosphere on Mars. The helicopter handily eclipsed its previous altitude record of 39 feet (12 meters), which it achieved on several previous flights.

Flight 35 lasted 52 seconds. Ingenuity covered 49 feet (15 meters) of ground. The goal was to reposition the helicopter. Ingenuity needs to stay in touch with its companion, the Perseverance rover, which acts as a communications conduit between the rotorcraft and its team back on Earth. Some of its flights are designed to keep up with the rover's travel, some are about scouting the landscape and some are to test out hardware or software.

Image above: Ingenuity at Airfield D: This image of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument of the Perseverance rover on June 15, 2021, the 114th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The location, "Airfield D" (the fourth airfield), is just east of the "Séítah" geologic unit. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

Ingenuity has seen some things in its short but exciting life. It's surveyed the Mars surface, flown with weird debris on its leg, and survived technical issues, dust, freezing temperatures and low power. A recent software update has prepared it to handle more challenging terrain and to keep on working as a scout for the rover.

All in all, Ingenuity has just as much perseverance as Perseverance. NASA sent it to Mars as a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration, and it has blown past all expectations. Here's to more flights to come.

More About Ingenuity

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

At NASA Headquarters, Dave Lavery is the program executive for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

For more information about Ingenuity:

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Perseverance Rover & Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance: and

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (JPL), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/CNET/Amanda Kooser.


NASA’s Perseverance Rover Gets the Dirt on Mars


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Dec 7, 2022

The mission’s first two samples of regolith – broken rock and dust – could help scientists better understand the Red Planet and engineers prepare for future missions there.

Image above: Two holes are left in the Martian surface after NASA’s Perseverance rover used a specialized drill bit to collect the mission’s first samples of regolith – broken rock and dust – on Dec. 2 and 6. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Perseverance rover snagged two new samples from the Martian surface on Dec. 2 and 6. But unlike the 15 rock cores collected to date, these newest samples came from a pile of wind-blown sand and dust similar to but smaller than a dune. Now contained in special metal collection tubes, one of these two samples will be considered for deposit on the Martian surface sometime this month as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign.

Scientists want to study Martian samples with powerful lab equipment on Earth to search for signs of ancient microbial life and to better understand the processes that have shaped the surface of Mars. Most of the samples will be rock; however, researchers also want to examine regolith – broken rock and dust – not only because of what it can teach us about geological processes and the environment on Mars, but also to mitigate some of the challenges astronauts will face on the Red Planet. Regolith can affect everything from spacesuits to solar panels, so it’s just as interesting to engineers as it is to scientists.

As with rock cores, these latest samples were collected using a drill on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. But for the regolith samples, Perseverance used a drill bit that looks like a spike with small holes on one end to gather loose material.

Image above: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this image of regolith – broken rock and dust – on Dec. 2, 2022. This regolith, contained inside a metal tube, is one of two samples that will be considered for deposit on the Martian surface as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Engineers designed the special drill bit after extensive testing with simulated regolith developed by JPL. Called Mojave Mars Simulant, it’s made of volcanic rock crushed into a variety of particle sizes, from fine dust to coarse pebbles, based on images of regolith and data collected by previous Mars missions.

“Everything we learn about the size, shape, and chemistry of regolith grains helps us design and test better tools for future missions,” said Iona Tirona of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the Perseverance mission. Tirona was the activity lead for operations to collect the recent regolith sample. “The more data we have, the more realistic our simulants can be.”

Image above: Optimism, a full-scale replica of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, tests a model of Perseverance’s regolith bit in a pile of simulated regolith – broken rock and dust – at JPL. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The Challenge of Dust

Studying regolith up close could help engineers design future Mars missions – as well as the equipment used by future Martian astronauts. Dust and regolith can damage spacecraft and science instruments alike. Regolith can jam sensitive parts and slow down rovers on the surface. The grains could also pose unique challenges to astronauts: Lunar regolith was discovered to be sharp enough to tear microscopic holes in spacesuits during the Apollo missions to the Moon.

Regolith could be helpful if packed against a habitat to shield astronauts from radiation, but it also contains risks: The Martian surface contains perchlorate, a toxic chemical that could threaten the health of astronauts if large amounts were accidentally inhaled or ingested.

“If we have a more permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how the dust and regolith will interact with our spacecraft and habitats,” said Perseverance team member Erin Gibbons, a McGill University doctoral candidate who uses Mars regolith simulants as part of her work with the rover’s rock-vaporizing laser, called SuperCam.

“Some of those dust grains could be as fine as cigarette smoke, and could get into an astronaut’s breathing apparatus,” added Gibbons, who was previously part of a NASA program studying human-robot exploration of Mars. “We want a fuller picture of which materials would be harmful to our explorers, whether they’re human or robotic.”

Image above: The drill bits used by NASA’s Perseverance rover are seen before being installed prior to launch. From left, the regolith bit, six bits used for drilling rock cores, and two abrasion bits used to remove the dust-covered outer layer of a rock so that the rover can take accurate data of its composition. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Besides answering questions about health and safety hazards, a tube of Martian regolith could inspire scientific wonder. Looking at it under a microscope would reveal a kaleidoscope of grains in different shapes and colors. Each one would be like a jigsaw puzzle piece, all of them joined together by wind and water over billions of years.

“There are so many different materials mixed into Martian regolith,” said Libby Hausrath of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, one of Perseverance’s sample return scientists. “Each sample represents an integrated history of the planet’s surface.”

As an expert on Earth’s soils, Hausrath is most interested in finding signs of interaction between water and rock. On Earth, life is found practically everywhere there’s water. The same could have been true for Mars billions of years ago, when the planet’s climate was much more like Earth’s.

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.

Best regards,

ESA plasma sampler headed to the Moon and ISS


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

Dec 7, 2022

An innovative ESA-backed instrument to sample the space weather environment in-situ is set to join the International Space Station. Norway’s multi-Needle Langmuir Probe, m-NLP, due to be fitted to the European-made Bartolomeo platform on the ISS, a ‘front porch’ open to space, will map the ionospheric plasma surrounding the Station in unprecedented high resolution, performing almost 10 000 measurements per second continuously along its orbit.

Look at the Moon

Having passed its ESA acceptance review, the instrument has been passed to Altec in Italy to be prepared for launch to the ISS next March.

Meanwhile, another m-NLP is about to set off to the Moon aboard the United Arab Emirates’ Rashid lunar rover, scheduled to launch soon aboard Japan’s Hakuto-R lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Multi-Needle Langmuir probe

This m-NLP will survey the plasma environment immediately above the lunar surface, as the regolith interacts with sunlight, in the same way as the other will track the Station’s exterior plasma.

Plasma is sometimes called ‘the fourth state of matter’. Here on Earth it occurs only under special circumstances, for example in the form of lightning, polar auroras, or ‘sprites’ in the high atmosphere. Out in the wider Universe, however, the vast majority of matter takes the form of plasma, including our Sun and other stars, and the solar wind that streams from the Sun to interact with Earth, giving rise to ‘space weather’.

Rashid rover

Numerous Langmuir probes have flown in space, used to measure plasma properties, and their design has scarcely changed since they were first invented back in 1924: a series of voltages is applied to the probe, and the collected currents are used to identify properties of the plasma, such as electron and ion density, as well as temperature.

“A standard Langmuir probe performs a voltage sweep from negative to positive to gather plasma parameters,” explains Tore André Bekkeng of Norway’s Eidsvoll Electronics. “But it takes time to perform such a sweep, typically from a half to two seconds. Operating at orbital velocities of around 7 km per second means you are limited to at most one sample per 3.5 km of space – which is far too coarse to capture those small ionospheric structures that are disturbing, among other things, satellite navigation signals and cause what is known as ‘signal scintillations’.”


He adds that the multi-needle Langmuir Probe (m-NLP) instead extends a quartet of miniature cylinders, each set to a different, but fixed, voltage, producing a much narrower spatial resolution – down to less than two metres.

“The idea dates back to the University of Oslo in the late 2000s, and was tested for the first time on a sounding rocket in 2008, flying up to the top of the atmosphere and down again to gain just around 10 minutes flight time,” Tore continues. “We continued on several sounding rockets, then progressed to flying MicroSats and CubeSats – Norway’s NorSat-1 and the Netherlands’ BRIK-II, whose operations continue to this day – although these versions of the m-NLP are performing 1000 and 4000 samples per second respectively, compared to the almost 10 000 per second achieved with our current design.”


The University of Oslo and Eidsvoll Electronics continued to work together on the m-NLP concept, and received shared funding to develop an ISS-ready version, through ESA Directorate of Science’s PRODEX programme supporting work on mission payloads and ESA’s Directorate of Technology’s General Support Technology Programme, preparing promising concepts for spaceflight and the open market.

In parallel the teams also worked on a rad-hard m-NLP version capable of operating at higher orbits, potentially as part of a space weather constellation currently under study. Eidsvoll Electronics designed and built the electronics, while the University took the boom system designed for NorSat-1 and enhanced it for improved performance.

Stormy ionosphere

Lasse Clausen from the University of Oslo explains: “Here in Norway – like other Arctic countries – we have always been fascinated by the auroras and their connection to space, and we are also operating a lot of aircraft and marine vessels in the northern regions.

“Accordingly, we are heavily reliant on Global Navigation Satellite Systems like GPS and Galileo. It turns out that aurora and other space weather phenomena cause significant ionospheric plasma variability which can seriously disrupt GNSS signals. So if it were possible to measure the ionospheric plasma state with multiple m-NLP instruments on board a fleet of satellites, we could develop a space weather forecast that predicts GNSS signal problems. Such a service would be highly valuable for society.”

Team testing m-NLP

Tore André Bekkeng adds: “PRODEX and GSTP support has been highly instrumental in developing both m-NLP versions, including allowing us to receive advice from ESA experts and make use of Agency Labs. And Eidsvoll Electronics has through the development of the m-NLP payload for the ISS acquired extensive system-level experience, and hired new project managers, system engineers, experts in electronics and software developers. The company is also in the procurement phase for a thermal vacuum facility capable of accomodating up to 16-unit CubeSats.

m-NLP during ESTEC testing

“Accordingly, this contract has significantly strengthened our position for future Norwegian and ESA-led payloads and missions.”

Related links:


United Arab Emirates’ Rashid lunar rover:

Eidsvoll Electronics:

University of Oslo:




Space Engineering & Technology:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/NSC/Airbus/Eidsvoll Electronics/Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre/University of Bath.