Space roundup Rebooting robots, lunar robot arms and a rocky path to Martian drilling joy. It's last week in Space.
While the world had its eyes on SpaceX’s new Dragon spacecraft, or was getting ready to light the candles on Apollo 9’s 50th birthday cake, Israel was casting a worried look at its Beresheet lander, as it continued its way toward the moon.
Restarting on the way the way the Moon
Beresheet, which sounds distressingly like a drunk attempting to pronounce "Brexit", had hitched a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 back on 22 Feb. The pocket-sized lunar lander fired its engine for the first time, some 69,400 km from the Earth a few days later but the next burn was cancelled after the onboard computer suffered an unexpected restart.
The spacecraft is not on a direct course to the Moon, but instead must execute a series of engine firings to extend the perigee of its orbit. The plan is for the lander to enter Lunar orbit on 4 April ahead of a potential landing on 11 April.
The glitch happened while Beresheet was out of contact with its mission control centre. As controllers unclenched their sphincters, the probe fired its engine again and on 28 February a relieved SpaceIL tweeted that the elliptical orbit now extended to 131,000 km.
As the spacecraft swung back to 37,600 km from Earth it snapped a picture of home. Or Australia at any rate.
At a distance of 37,600 km from Earth, #Beresheet’s selfie camera took a picture of #Earth. Australia can be clearly seen! This photo was taken during a slow spin of the #spacecraft & for the first time see the #Israeli flag 🇮🇱 & text, "am yisrael chai." #IsraelToTheMoon #SpaceIL pic.twitter.com/ELFZsaShXg— Israel To The Moon (@TeamSpaceIL) March 5, 2019
Canada is clambering aboard NASA's mission to the Moon. Or at least to a vantage point above the Lunar surface at any rate. Having provided the robotics for the Space Shuttle's arm and done the same for the altogether more complex beast attached to the International Space Station, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that Canada would be doing the same for NASA's Lunar Gateway.
In a disappointing lack of imagination, the Moon-bound robot arm is to be called "Canadarm3". Surely “Armstrong” was a gift for punsters, or maybe a rousing chorus of "I'm a Lunarjack, and I'm ok…"
NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine was cock-a-hoop with delight, saying "We are excited that Canada will be a vital ally in this lunar journey as they become the first international partner for the Gateway."
With luck, the first of many.
Bridenstine also reiterated the 2028 goal of returning humans to the Moon – a costly endeavour that will require further international partners as well as commercial contractors. Timewise, it should be doable as long as the cash flows. After all, NASA managed to land Apollo 11 on the Moon eight years after Alan Shepard’s flight, right?
Martian Driller Killer
Farther afield, NASA's InSight Lander started, then stopped, drilling into the Martian surface while the agency’s Curiosity Rover returned to science operations after a surprise reset.
The plutonium-powered trundle-bot tripped into a safe-mode on Friday 15 February as it booted up. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory team in California brought the rover back up on Tuesday 19 February after a weekend spent pondering what might have upset the machine.
The team then rebooted the robot over 30 times, but did not see a repeat of the problem. A crisp $5 to the trundle-bot driver who told managers "Well, it works ok on my Rover".
Having seen no further issues, the engineering team gave the green light for science stuff to continue last week, while keeping a close eye on operations.
So it isn’t just Windows 10 users on Earth who enjoy the odd surprise restart. It happens to Rovers on Mars too.
Elsewhere on Mars, NASA's InSight Lander kicked off the next phase of its exploration as it began to hammer its way into the surface.
I’m digging #Mars! My self-hammering mole has started burrowing in, and my team is poring over the data I’ve sent them. They estimate it may be around 35 cm (14 in) down. More hammering to come, as I investigate the inside of Mars.🌡— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) March 1, 2019
More from @DLR_en: https://t.co/FsmfN0WVpa pic.twitter.com/CRHFDp6ouK
Nicknamed the 'Mole' and provided by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the instrument is designed to measure the heat flow from the interior of Mars as it burrows into the planet. German boffins reckon the thing got between 18 and 50 cm down over a four hour period and 4,000 hammer blows.
The gang hope to get to somewhere between three and five metres before the experiment ends.
Things are proving challenging for the probe, as Tilman Spohn, Principal Investigator for the project observed: “the mole seems to have hit a stone, tilted about 15 degrees and pushed it aside or passed it”. The scientists reckon that the poor thing then hit another stone before the four hour operating time came to an end.
The penetrometer should be able to push aside smaller stones, but the process will be time consuming.
A second bout of hammering occurred on 2 March, but this time the mole failed to make any significant progress and, with data suggesting the probe is at that 15 degree angle, scientists have opted to hold off for a couple of weeks while they analyse the situation. As Spohn remarked in his latest logbook entry "Planetary exploration is not as easy as pie!" ®
Giving my robotic mole a rest for a bit, as it seems to have come up against one or more rocks. While my team works on how best to overcome this obstacle, I’ve got some eclipse science ahead as Mars’ moon Phobos passes in front of the Sun this week: https://t.co/weuioEkrpG— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) March 5, 2019