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Japan's Upcoming Mission Will Use a Vacuum to Get its Sample From Phobos – Universe Today



JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, is carving out a niche for itself in sample-return missions. Their Hayabusa mission was the first mission to sample an asteroid when it brought dust from the asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Then its successor, Hayabusa 2, brought back a sample from asteroid Ryugu in 2020.

Now JAXA has the Martian moon Phobos in its sights and will send a spacecraft to sample it as soon as 2024. The mission is called Martian Moons eXploration (MMX), and it’ll use a pneumatic vacuum device to collect its samples.

Why go to Phobos and sample it? Because it’s an unusual moon and understanding it better could answer questions about it and our Solar System. And we always want more answers.

Phobos is the larger of Mars’ two moons, the other being Deimos. Both moons are irregularly shaped and look kind of like potatoes, especially Phobos. Phobos has a mean radius of only 11 km (7 mi). It’s closer to Mars than Deimos and orbits only 6,000 km (3,700 mi) from the planet’s surface. It moves rapidly, taking only 7 hours and 39 minutes to complete one orbit and completes three orbits each day.

Much of Phobos' surface is covered with strange linear grooves. New research bolsters the idea that boulders blasted free from Stickney crater (the large depression on the right) carved those iconic grooves. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Much of Phobos’ surface is covered with strange linear grooves. New research bolsters the idea that those iconic grooves were carved by boulders blasted free from Stickney crater (the large depression on the right). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Phobos is probably a captured rubble-pile asteroid, although astronomers still debate its nature. It has a lot in common with carbonaceous asteroids and is one of the least reflective objects in the Solar System.

The tiny moon is getting closer and closer to Mars. Every year it gets about 2 cm closer and will eventually be destroyed. In about 30 million to 50 million years, it will either smash into the surface of Mars and be utterly destroyed or be torn apart by tidal forces and form a debris ring around the planet. In fact, one hypothesis says that Mars’ moons were formed from dust created by a giant impact on Mars. Dust to dust, as they say.

An illustration of Mars with a debris ring. Image Credit: SETI
An illustration of Mars with a debris ring. Image Credit: SETI

Japan leads the MMX mission, but NASA, the CNES (France), and the DLR (Germany) are also contributing. It has two broad goals: (1) determining the origin of the Martian moons and (2) observing processes in the circumplanetary environment of Mars, based on remote sensing, in situ observations, and laboratory analyses of returned samples of Phobos regolith. Scientists think that a better understanding of the Mars-Phobos-Deimos system will shed light on the planetary formation process in the Solar System.

Getting a sample from Phobos faces several obstacles. The moon is not massive enough for a spacecraft to enter orbit around it in the usual way. Instead, MMX will enter orbit around Mars and then perform quasi-satellite orbits. Those orbits become unstable over time but should allow for several months of operation near Phobos. This maneuver also enables the MMX lander to reach Phobos’ surface.

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JAXA designed the MMX mission with three components: a propulsion module, an exploration module, and the return module. The French CNES space agency suggested that the mission should also deploy a tiny rover about the size of a microwave to the surface, built by France and Germany.

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But the highlight of the MMX mission will be the sample return. We’ve made enormous progress in sending instruments on spacecraft, landers, and rovers to examine Solar System bodies. When it comes to Mars, the in-situ study of the planet has unleashed a flood of new evidence and insights. But the holy grail in space missions is still sample return. No matter how advanced the instruments we send on missions are, lab analysis back on Earth will always outstrip them.

MMX will gather samples in two ways. One is the Coring Sampler (C-SMP) developed by JAXA. The other is the Pneumatic Sampler (P-SMP), contributed by NASA and developed by Honeybee Robotics.

The pair of samplers will complement each other and partially account for the fact that we don’t know what the surface is like. The Coring Sampler will be positioned on the lander’s robotic arm. It will use a special shape memory alloy to gather a 10-gram sample from deeper than 2 cm under the regolith.

P-SMP can capture regolith even if the surface is covered by gravel size material. (Image Credit: Honeybee Robotics)
P-SMP can capture regolith even if the surface is covered by gravel size material. (Image Credit: Honeybee Robotics)

The Pneumatic Sampler will be positioned near the footpad on one of the lander’s legs. It’ll use pressurized nitrogen gas to gather the samples, and mission operators can manipulate the gas flow depending on requirements. It can be either continuous or pulsed.

This is a schematic view of the P-SMP with 1. Sampling Head, 2. N2 Gas and Sample Return Tubes, and 3. Control Box with a Sample Container. (Image Credit: Honeybee Robotics)
This is a schematic view of the P-SMP with 1. Sampling Head, 2. N2 Gas and Sample Return Tubes, and 3. Control Box with a Sample Container. (Image Credit: Honeybee Robotics)

The P-SMP has three sets of nozzles to perform the procedure. Two excavation nozzles point downward, two retro thrust nozzles point upward, and two transport nozzles point toward the sampling tube. The three pairs of nozzles fire simultaneously.

The excavation nozzles fire at the surface of Phobos and stir up material from the regolith. The transport nozzles direct material into the sampling head. The retro thrust nozzles fire to counteract the thrust on the spacecraft, so its position is stable during sampling.

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Honeybee Robotics has tested its P-SMP extensively and is confident that it can handle any surprises on Phobos’ surface. The company says its system can still gather a sample even if gravel covers the surface.

MMX won’t be the only mission to use Honeybee’s vacuum system. NASA plans to use it on the Moon to capture lunar regolith in Mare Crisium in 2023. The system is also being considered for a Europa Lander mission and several other missions still in the concept and design phase.

It’s easy to see why.

“The purpose of this technology is to allow simple and inexpensive capture of planetary materials from largely unknown surfaces,” said Honeybee project lead Kris Zacny. “Vacuum cleaners are designed to capture ‘dirt,’ hence a vacuum cleaner-like approach is ideal for working with planetary ‘dirt.’”


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Facial Recognition—Now for Seals – Hakai Magazine



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Have you ever looked at a seal and thought, Is that the same seal I saw yesterday? Well, there could soon be an app for that based on new seal facial recognition technology. Known as SealNet, this seal face-finding system was developed by a team of undergraduate students from Colgate University in New York.

Taking inspiration from other technology adapted for recognizing primates and bears, Krista Ingram, a biologist at Colgate University, led the students in developing software that uses deep learning and a convolutional neural network to tell one seal face from another. SealNet is tailored to identify the harbor seal, a species with a penchant for posing on coasts in haulouts.

The team had to train their software to identify seal faces. “I give it a photograph, it finds the face, [and] clips it to a standard size,” says Ingram. But then she and her students would manually identify the nose, the mouth, and the center of the eyes.

For the project, team members snapped more than 2,000 pictures of seals around Casco Bay, Maine, during a two-year period. They tested the software using 406 different seals and found that SealNet could correctly identify the seals’ faces 85 percent of the time. The team has since expanded its database to include around 1,500 seal faces. As the number of seals logged in the database goes up, so too should the accuracy of the identification, Ingram says.

The developers of SealNet trained a neural network to tell harbor seals apart using photos of 406 different seals. Photo courtesy of Birenbaum et al.

As with all tech, however, SealNet is not infallible. The software saw seal faces in other body parts, vegetation, and even rocks. In one case, Ingram and her students did a double take at the uncanny resemblance between a rock and a seal face. “[The rock] did look like a seal face,” Ingram says. “The darker parts were about the same distance as the eyes … so you can understand why the software found a face.” Consequently, she says it’s always best to manually check that seal faces identified by the software belong to a real seal.

Like a weary seal hauling itself onto a beach for an involuntary photo shoot, the question of why this is all necessary raises itself. Ingram believes SealNet could be a useful, noninvasive tool for researchers.

Of the world’s pinnipeds—a group that includes seals, walruses, and sea lions—harbor seals are considered the most widely dispersed. Yet knowledge gaps do exist. Other techniques to track seals, such as tagging and aerial monitoring, have their limitations and can be highly invasive or expensive.

Ingram points to site fidelity as an aspect of seal behavior that SealNet could shed more light on. The team’s trials indicated that some harbor seals return to the same haulout sites year after year. Other seals, however, such as two animals the team nicknamed Clove and Petal, appeared at two different sites together. Increasing scientists’ understanding of how seals move around could strengthen arguments for protecting specific areas, says Anders Galatius, an ecologist at Aarhus University in Denmark who was not involved in the project.

Galatius, who is responsible for monitoring Denmark’s seal populations, says the software “shows a lot of promise.” If the identification rates are improved, it could be paired with another photo identification method that identifies seals by distinctive markings on their pelage, he says.

In the future, after further testing, Ingram hopes to develop an app based on SealNet. The app, she says, could possibly allow citizen scientists to contribute to logging seal faces. The program could also be adapted for other pinnipeds and possibly even for cetaceans.

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NASA launches nanosatellite in preparation for lunar 'Gateway' station – Yahoo News Canada



The rocket carrying the Capstone satellite lifts off. (NASA)

Nasa has launched a tiny CubeSat this week to test and orbit which will soon be used by Gateway, a lunar space station.

It’s all part of the space agency’s plan to put a woman on the moon by 2025.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (Capstone) mission launched from New Zealand on Tuesday.

Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, said: “Capstone is an example of how working with commercial partners is key for Nasa’s ambitious plans to explore the moon and beyond.

“We’re thrilled with a successful start to the mission and looking forward to what Capstone will do once it arrives at the Moon.”

Read more: Astronomers find closest black hole to Earth

The satellite is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.

Capstone is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send it on its way to deep space.

Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a trajectory to the moon.

Capstone will then use its own propulsion and the sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon.

The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.

Read more: There might once have been life on the moon

Bradley Cheetham, principal investigator for CAPSTONE and chief executive officer of Advanced Space, “Our team is now preparing for separation and initial acquisition for the spacecraft in six days.

“We have already learned a tremendous amount getting to this point, and we are passionate about the importance of returning humans to the Moon, this time to stay!”

At the moon, Capstone will enter an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.

Once in the NRHO, Capstone will fly within 1,000 miles of the moon’s north pole on its near pass and 43,500 miles from the south pole at its farthest.

It will repeat the cycle every six-and-a-half days and maintain this orbit for at least six months to study dynamics.

“Capstone is a pathfinder in many ways, and it will demonstrate several technology capabilities during its mission timeframe while navigating a never-before-flown orbit around the Moon,” said Elwood Agasid, project manager for Capstone at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“Capstone is laying a foundation for Artemis, Gateway, and commercial support for future lunar operations.”

Nasa estimates the cost of the whole Artemis mission at $28bn.

It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.

Just 12 people have walked on the moon – all men.

Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.

The mission will use Nasa’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft.

Watch: NASA launch paves way for moon orbit station

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The year’s biggest and brightest supermoon will appear in July & here’s when you’ll … – Curiocity



Summer is here and with it? Sunshine – and some serious moonshine (of the visible variety, of course). This upcoming month, look up in anticipation of the biggest and brightest event of the year, the July Buck supermoon – which will hover over North America on July 13th.

Appearing 7% larger and lower in the sky, this particular event will be one well worth keeping an eye on when it rises above the horizon.

This will be the closest we’ll get to our celestial neighbour in 2022 (357,418 km) and while North America won’t get to see it when it reaches peak illumination at 2:38 pm ETC., it’ll still look pretty dang impressive after the sunsets.

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Not sure when the moon rises in your area? Here’s the earliest that you’ll be able to see the moon in various cities across the continent according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

  • Seattle, Washington  – 9:50 pm PDT
  • Vancouver, British Columbia – 10:02 pm PDT
  • Calgary, Alberta – 10:35 pm MST
  • Edmonton, Alberta – 10:49 pm MST
  • Toronto, Ontario – 9:34 pm MST
  • Montreal, Quebec – 9:18 pm MST

Until then, cross your fingers for a clear sky, friends! It’s going to be incredible.

Happy viewing.


When: Wednesday, July 13th

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