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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#174 - Space News Week

This week we talk about Jack Lousma, Katherine Johnson, Heather Couper and some news about SpaceX, Franklin Rover, Mars Insight results, and why a mole is like a tent peg

"Astronauts don't cry wolf. When they said they had a problem, I realized they had one. ... Nobody panicked. No one put their head on the desk and cried. No one threw a fit. Everything was done very professionally."

Jack Lousma

Astronaut of the week

Jack Lousma, will finally celebrate his 21st birthday on Saturday.


  • Having his Apollo Flight to the moon Cancelled

  • Missed out but trained for Apollo-Soyuz

  • Piloting Skylab with Alan Bean and Owen Garriott

  • Being the other Jack in the conversation “Houston, we have a problem!” as Capcom

  • "Houston, we've had a problem here." According to the NASA transcript

  • Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert Jr

  • trained combat pilot.

  • Has four Kids

  • Commander of STS-3 a Columbia test flight the only shuttle to land at White Sands due to Flooding at Edwards, the first flight with an orange looking tank.

  • 1619 hours in Space

  • He narrowly missed out becoming a republican senator when he let slip a member of his family had a Toyota while chatting with the Japanese.

  • He’ll have travelled around the sun 84 times.

  • What had you achieved at 21?


Space News Catchup

We have been a bit physicsy recently so let’s have a good old space news catch up.

Space Oath

7 Lawton, Oklahoma students were sworn into the military by U.S. Army Colonel Andrew Morgan while aboard the International Space Station

101 is a big number

Katherine Johnson, famous as one of the Hidden figures in NASA’s Apollo and Mercury missions has died at 101

one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist

1952 a relative mentioned that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was hiring mathematicians

Johnson accepted a job offer from the agency in June 1953. From 1953 to 1958, Johnson worked as a computer, in an office labelled "Colored Computers"

“ I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston ... but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, "Katherine should finish the report, she's done most of the work anyway." So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.”
  • She calculated the trajectory for the May 5, 1961 space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space

  • NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn's orbit around Earth, Johnson was asked to verify the computer's numbers as John Glenn refused to fly unless Johnson verified the calculations

  • She also helped to calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon

  • Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and planning for missions to Mars

  • Stem ambassador extraordinaire

  • Johnson co-authored 26 scientific papers

  • President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • 101 is 5 in binary ….Coincidence?


70 is too small a number.

Like many in the UK, we grew up watching Heather Couper CBE on the telly talking about Space, including presenting The Planets for Ch4 and The Stars. Heather passed away on 19th Feb at the age of 70 after a short illness.

Couper joined Cambridge Observatory as a research assistant in 1969, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1970, Couper graduated from the University of Leicester in 1973 with a BSc in Astronomy and Physics and researched later at Oxford

From 1977 to 1983, Couper was Senior Lecturer at the Caird Planetarium of the Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich

In 1984, she was elected President of the British Astronomical Association

Couper was appointed Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College in 1993 – the first female professor in the 400-year history of the college – and held the position until 1996

Couper wrote over 40 popular-level books on astronomy and space and many articles for Sky at Night and The independent etc.



Space X has announced a partnership with Space Adventures that could mean we see Space Tourists next year going on a 5 day trip, 2 to 3 x higher than the space station!!

  • Up to 4 Seats

  • Only 7 private astronauts so far

  • Multi-Million dollar ticket so much more expensive than Branson, but it will be a proper space

  • The passengers to undergo a few weeks training in the United States,

  • Mission likely would be autonomous

  • Price expected to get lower

  • Falcon Heavey certification and moon trips?

  • In the mean time shares in Virgin Galatic SPCE, have been booming since it listed on the NY stock exchange. Commercial Space Tourism is getting very REAL!

  • Branson has stated he will be on the first flight

  • DM-2 looks like it will be extended to b a longer mission

Starship Building

Musk has been tweeting a lot about Orbital flights happening THIS YEAR.

Iterations of SN1 and it’s build are easy to see on twitter as it’s quickly thrown together, perhaps for a 20km hop later in the spring.

A static fire of the SN1 vehicle's three Raptor engines could then occur in early March

No Launch permit yet

SN3, 4, or 5 will attempt the orbital test

SpaceX also received permission to start building in Port of LA

But to make it useful they now need to build “Super Heavy” to actually carry stuff into space, rather than just itself.

Falcon not quite a 50th

SpaceX looked like they were going for a 50th landing of a rocket, but the booster landed softly but not on of course I still love you, but in the ocean nearby

Maybe it was the very fast (72 day) turnaround that caused the failure?

Probably will happen on march 7th CRS-20 (delayed by a few days)

During standard preflight inspections, SpaceX identified a faulty valve motor on the second stage engine, and determined the safest and most expedient path to launch is to utilize the next second stage in line that was already at the Cape and ready for flight,

The U.S. Air Force, SpaceX (SPACE) and the newly created U.S. Space Force are teaming up for a "massive" live-fire exercise in April that will conduct war games to practice intercepting an enemy missile and a drone, The test will also include submarines, battleships, and space-based weapons


ESA delays

Rumblings that the slated Ariane 6 launch by the end of the year is probably not going to happen, but it all looks to be going pretty well at the construction site. Probably a knock-on from the Vega hiccup

Ariane 5 did have a good second flight on feb18th, 10 tonnes of JCSAT-17 for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation and GEO-KOMPSAT-2B for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

Ariane Flight 252 in figures:

  • 108th launch of an Ariane 5

  • 252 Launch for Ariane

  • 83rd consecutive nominal ignition of the Vulcain® 2 engine

  • 108th consecutive nominal ignition of the EAP solid-propellant boosters

  • 148th consecutive nominal ignition of the HM7B engine

  • Nine more Ariane 5 launches are scheduled up to 2023

March the 12th may be crunch time for Franklin

Jan Worner and Dmitry Rogozin were given reports on 3rd Feb regarding progress and will meet on March 12th to agree on next steps

There are at least two major issues with Franklin, tell me about it.,

  1. Parachutes; The 15meter parachute has to deploy at supersonic speeds, albeit in the super-thin martian atmosphere. And the larger parachute (35 meters) across, weighs almost 200 lbs. (90 kilograms) and is equipped with 3 miles (5 kilometres) of cords. it takes five working days to prepare and fold the parachute into its correct configuration. Curiosity’s parachute was only 16m across ...half the size!!! And was the biggest space parachute ever. ATK tested the 1 tonne 45-metre parachutes for ares 1 booster return. Two failed tests in May and August 2019, due to the bags and now a delay to the third test due to American schedules, Nasa agreed to help so we mustn’t grumble.

  2. Also there is something wrong with the glue used on the hinge of the solar panels, which has gone wrong on both the test model and the real thing.

I’ve also been having problems with my British built rover, as it will no longer go into reverse gear, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

It’s becoming more and more likely that this is going to get delayed by a further 2 years. Meaning we won’t have a first European second of Terror until 2023!!!!


The MEV-1 Mission

MEV-1 has rendezvoused with Intelsat 901 36,000km above the Earth in the hopes to extend its operational life by five years through in-orbit station-keeping.

Back on 9th October a Proton with a Briz-m took up an orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman) MEV-1 spacecraft. They were joined in graveyard orbit testing all the systems for a few weeks before they drop back down to carry on with the mission in geo.

This is not refuelling which would require you to open up, fill and drain valves, put in fuel — which is very volatile — and then seal up all the interfaces and separate from the spacecraft. significantly more operational complexity. MEV’s approach is to go and attach to your client’s spacecraft and that’s it. Then MEV takes care of station keeping and attitude control. It’s a much simpler concept. MEV‑1 has the ability to dock and undock several times during its 15-year design life, allowing it to service multiple customers

Mike DeMarco, executive vice president and chief services officer at Intelsat.

"We're proud to make history with SpaceLogistics LLC and Northrop Grumman on this groundbreaking space milestone."

Second Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-2, maybe later this year.

Northrop; first step toward establishing a fleet of satellite servicing vehicles

extending the life of satellites and also inclination changes and spacecraft inspections and in-orbit repair and assembly.

Mars News

Six Papers published on Nature by Nasa on Mars, via their Insight lander, reveals “a planet alive with quakes, dust devils and strange magnetic pulses”.

InSight (shown as a star) landed on an ancient volcanic plain south of Elysium Mons and north of the Martian hemispheric dichotomy. The locations of the Curiosity and Spirit rovers, and the Viking 2 lander, along with major geologic features are shown on a topographic map



InSight is measuring Mars’s atmosphere with unprecedented continuity, accuracy and sampling frequency, sensitive to large-scale and regional weather it has obtained detailed in situ coverage of a regional dust storm on Mars. Images have enabled high-altitude wind speeds to be measured and revealed airglow—faint emissions produced by photochemical reactions—in the middle atmosphere,

  • Despite having the largest recorded Martian vortex activity and dust-devil tracks close to the lander, no visible dust devils have been seen. But SEIS can feel these whirlwinds pulling on the surface. “Whirlwinds are perfect for subsurface seismic exploration,” said Philippe Lognonné of Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), principal investigator of SEIS.

  • Meteorological measurements have produced a catalogue of atmospheric gravity waves and discovered Martian infrasound and unexpected similarities between atmospheric turbulence on Earth and Mars

a–e, The first 200 sols of pressure data reveal seasonal processes (a, for example, polar cap CO2 condensation/sublimation indicated by light blue arrows and a dust storm starting on sol 40), daily variations (b, baroclinic waves delineated by the red dots, indicating the variability of diurnal mean), diurnal variability (b, thermal tides denoted by round green arrows), mesoscale phenomena (c, gravity waves and bores, indicated by the violet arrows), turbulence (d, dust-devil-like convective vortices indicated by the pink arrows) and infrasound (e, short-period oscillations within the pressure drop).

Magnetic Planet

satellites at Mars have measured crustal magnetic fields indicating an ancient dynamo. interacting with the solar wind they generate transient fields and electric currents in Mars’s upper atmosphere. measurements of magnetic field strength and direction at the InSight landing site add to this story.

the field is ten times stronger than predicted by satellite-based models

“This magnetism must be coming from ancient rocks underground,” Catherine Johnson, planetary scientist with the University of British Columbia
  • The Papers infer magnetized rocks beneath the surface, within ~150 km of the landing site, consistent with a past dynamo with Earth-like strength

  • Geological mapping and InSight seismic data suggest that much or all of the magnetization sources are carried in basement rocks, which are at least 3.9 billion years old and are overlain by between 200 m and ~10 km of lava flows

  • Daily variations in the magnetic field indicate contributions from ionospheric currents at 120 km to 180 km altitude.

  • Higher-frequency variations are also observed; their origin is unknown, but they probably propagate from even higher altitudes to the surface

  • time-varying fields may be used to investigate the electrical conductivity structure of the martian interior


Vital to determine the interior structure, composition and thermal state of Mars, as well as constrain present-day seismicity and impact cratering rates

  • As of 30 September 2019, 174 seismic events have been recorded by the lander’s seismometer, including over 20 events of moment magnitude Mw = 3–4.

  • The detections thus far are consistent with tectonic origins, with no impact-induced seismicity yet observed, and indicate a seismically active planet

  • frequency of global seismic events below approximately Mw = 3 is similar to that of terrestrial intraplate seismic activity,

  • Nothing stronger than a magntude 4 quake

  • Mars trembles more often – but also more mildly – than expected.

  • The origin of two quakes; Cerberus Fossae roughly 1,000 miles to the east of the InSight landing site. Images acquired by satellites show faults and channels in the Cerberus Fossae region, evidence of lava flows and running water. Some of which occurred in the last 10 million years, due to the lack of fresh impact craters in the region, it is reckoned.

“It’s just about the youngest tectonic feature on the planet,” said Matt Golombek, a planetary geologist at JPL. “The fact that we’re seeing evidence of shaking in this region isn’t a surprise, but it’s very cool.”

The core: still to come

InSight has two radios. One is for regularly sending and receiving data. The other radio, which is more powerful, is designed to measure the “wobble” of Mars as it spins. This X-band radio, also known as the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), can eventually reveal whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid. A solid core would cause Mars to wobble less than a liquid one would.

Continuing to bother

The German-built MOLE or the HP-3, was supposed to burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) into the Martian crust but got stuck on its first day. It appears to be bouncing ack against a type of soil not encountered before called duricrust, ie not fine and grainer but a bit more clumpy.. They have tried using the scope arm to press down on the side of the little fella, but it’s still popping back up. Now they are going to press down from the top, taking it easy, to push it down which people have likened to the game wack-a-mole

It’s really similar to hammering in tent pegs, sometimes you pick a spot and its game over for that peg, and sometimes it just wacks right in.

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