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Phobos sample return mission enters development for 2024 launch – Spaceflight Now

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Artist’s concept of the Japanese MMX spacecraft near Mars and Phobos. Credit: JAXA

Japan’s space agency has approved a robotic mission to retrieve a sample from the Martian moon Phobos for return to Earth to begin full development for a planned launch in 2024, officials said Thursday.

The Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX, spacecraft will attempt to return the first specimens from Phobos for analysis in laboratories on Earth, where scientists hope to trace the origins of the Martian moons to determine whether they were asteroids captured by Mars, or if they formed out of rocky debris generated from an ancient impact on Mars.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and other Japanese government officials officially approved the MMX project to proceed into development Wednesday, according to a post on JAXA’s website.

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JAXA began studying the feasibility of a sample return mission to Phobos in 2015, and Japanese officials received promises of contributions to the MMX mission from the United States and Europe.

The MMX mission’s transition from a “pre-project” phase to an official JAXA project Wednesday came after agency leaders considered the probe’s scientific goals, success criteria, implementation, financial plans, schedule, and risks and countermeasures, according to JAXA.

The MMX spacecraft is scheduled for launch in September 2024 aboard a Japanese H3 rocket. The robot explorer will arrive in orbit around Mars in August 2025 and land on Phobos, a moon with an average diameter of about 14 miles, or 22 kilometers.

The probe will land on Phobos and snare at least 10 grams, or about a third of an ounce, of material from the moon’s surface using a coring collection system before taking off again. MMX will also release a German-French rover to explore the terrain and chemical composition of Phobos for roughly three months.

MMX will perform several close flybys of Deimos, the smaller of Mars’s two moons, before departing the orbit of Mars in 2028 on a course back to Earth, where a sample return carrier will re-enter the atmosphere and land containing specimens gathered at Phobos.

The MMX spacecraft’s return to Earth in 2029 would complete the first round-trip voyage to Mars and back, JAXA said.

File photo from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft of Phobos backdropped by the limb of Mars. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

The MMX spacecraft will consist of three main elements: A propulsion module, a landing module with four legs and science instruments, and a sample carrier to return rocks from Phobos back to Earth.

The mission will carry a NASA-funded instrument — named MEGANE, meaning “eyeglasses” in Japanese — to measure the elemental composition of Phobos by detecting neutrons and gamma-rays emitted from the small moon.

French scientists committed to build an infrared camera and spectrometer named MacrOmega to fly on the MMX spacecraft. Like MEGANE, the French instrument will help scientists locate the best place to collect a sample.

In 2018, the German and French space agencies agreed with JAXA to provide a small rover for the MMX mission based on the MASCOT robot deployed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

The scientific objectives of the MMX mission are aimed at studying how water was transported between bodies in the early solar system, including to Earth. Scientists think the solar systems’s inner planets were too close to the hot sun during the solar system’s formation to have retained water on their surfaces.

Therefore, scientists theorize that water was delivered to planets like Earth by comets and asteroids. Mars is the outermost of the solar system’s rocky planets, and could have been a “gateway” for water arrival in the inner solar system, according to JAXA.

“Phobos and Deimos resemble asteroids and may have been captured by Mars’s gravity as they were scattered inwards from the asteroid belt,” JAXA wrote in a press release Thursday. “If so, the pair would be capsules for water transport through the Mars gateway to the terrestrial planets.

“Alternatively, the moons may have formed during a giant impact with Mars,” JAXA continued. “This would make the moons capsules of shards of the early Martian environment, revealing how water came and went on the Red Planet.

“A main mission goal for MMX is to decipher the origin of the moons by remote examination and returning a sample for compositional analysis,” JAXA said. “Both possible origins will provide clues as to how water is delivered to inner planets.”

MMX builds upon JAXA’s two previous asteroid sample return missions.

The Hayabusa spacecraft launched in 2003 and collected microscopic samples from asteroid Itokawa in 2005. The probe returned the material to Earth in 2010, overcoming multiple technical malfunctions that threatened to prematurely end the mission.

Hayabusa 2 launched in 2014 and collected samples from Ryugu — a carbon-rich asteroid — during two touch-and-go landings last year. The spacecraft has departed Ryugu and is on track to return the samples to Earth late this year.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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NASA Artemis I – Flight Day 22: Orion Spacecraft Continues Its Journey Back to Earth – SciTechDaily

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On flight day 20, Orion captured the crescent Earth in the distance as the spacecraft regained communications with the Deep Space Network following its return powered flyby on the far side of the Moon. The spacecraft will splash down on Sunday, December 11. Credit: <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

NASA
Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is &quot;To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.&quot; Its core values are &quot;safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.&quot;

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA

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On day 22 of the 25.5-day Artemis I mission, the Orion spacecraft continues its journey back to Earth. Flight controllers and engineers continue to test the spacecraft and its systems in preparation for future flights with a human crew aboard.

The second part of the propellant tank slosh development flight test was conducted by engineers. This propellant slosh test is specifically scheduled during quiescent, or less active, parts of the mission. Propellant motion, or slosh, in space is difficult to model on Earth because, due to the lack of gravity, liquid propellant moves differently in tanks in space than on Earth.


On flight day 20, Orion approached the Moon ahead of the return powered flyby burn that committed the spacecraft to splashdown on Sunday, December 11. Credit: NASA

For the test, flight controllers need to fire the reaction control system thrusters when propellant tanks are filled to different levels. The reaction control thrusters used are located on the sides of the service module and can be fired individually as needed to move the spacecraft in different directions or rotate it into any position. Each of these engines provides about 50 pounds of thrust. Engineers measure the effect the propellant sloshing has on spacecraft trajectory and orientation as Orion moves through space.

The test was first performed after the outbound flyby burn, and now again after the return flyby burn, to compare data at points in the mission with different levels of propellant onboard. Approximately 12,060 pounds of propellant has been used, which is 215 pounds less than estimated prelaunch, and leaves a margin of 2,185 pounds over what is planned for use, 275 pounds more than prelaunch expectations. The first prop slosh test objective was completed on day eight of the mission as Orion prepared to enter the distant retrograde orbit.


On flight day 20, Orion approached the Moon ahead of the return powered flyby burn that committed the spacecraft to splashdown on Sunday, December 11. Credit: NASA

A few key milestones for Orion remain, including the entry system checkouts and propulsion system leak checks on mission days 24 and 25, respectively.

Orion will travel at around 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h) while reentering Earth’s atmosphere, testing the world’s largest ablative heat shield by reaching temperatures up to 5,000 degrees <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Fahrenheit
The Fahrenheit scale is a temperature scale, named after the German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit and based on one he proposed in 1724. In the Fahrenheit temperature scale, the freezing point of water freezes is 32 °F and water boils at 212 °F, a 180 °F separation, as defined at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure.&nbsp;

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Celsius
The Celsius scale, also known as the centigrade scale, is a temperature scale named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius. In the Celsius scale, 0 °C is the freezing point of water and 100 °C is the boiling point of water at 1 atm pressure.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Celsius) – approximately half the temperature of the surface of the sun. The heat shield is located at the bottom of the Orion capsule, measuring 16.5 feet (5 meters) in diameter, and sheds intense heat away from the crew module as Orion returns to Earth. The outer surface of the heat shield is made of 186 billets, or blocks, of an ablative material called Avcoat, a reformulated version of the material used on the Apollo capsules. During descent, the Avcoat ablates, or burns off in a controlled fashion, transporting heat away from Orion. Learn more about Orion’s heat shield in the Artemis I reference guide.


Artemis All Access is your look at the latest in Artemis I, the people and technology behind the mission, and what is coming up next. This uncrewed flight test around the Moon will pave the way for a crewed flight test and future human lunar exploration as part of Artemis. Credit: NASA

On Thursday, December 8 at 5 p.m. EST, NASA will host a briefing to preview Orion’s return scheduled for Sunday, December 11 and to discuss how the recovery teams are preparing for entry and splashdown. The briefing will be live on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

Watch the latest episode of Artemis All Access (video embedded above) for a look back at recent mission accomplishments and a preview of splashdown, including parachute information.

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Discovery Of World's Oldest DNA Breaks Record By One Million Years – Forbes

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Microscopic fragments of DNA were found in Ice Age sediment in northern Greenland. Using cutting-edge technology, researchers discovered the fragments are one million years older than the previous record for DNA sampled from a Siberian mammoth bone.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists led by Professor Eske Willerslev and Professor Kurt H. Kjær. Professor Willerslev is a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and Director of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Center at the University of Copenhagen where Professor Kjær, a geology expert, is also based.

“A new chapter spanning one million extra years of history has finally been opened and for the first time we can look directly at the DNA of a past ecosystem that far back in time,” so Professor Willerslev commenting the discovery.

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“DNA can degrade quickly but we’ve shown that under the right circumstances, we can now go back further in time than anyone could have dared imagine.”

Professor Kjær adds that “the ancient DNA samples were found buried deep in sediment that had built-up over 20,000 years. The sediment was eventually preserved in ice or permafrost and, crucially, not disturbed by humans for two million years.”

The incomplete samples, a few millionths of a millimeter long DNA strings, were taken from the København Formation, a sediment formation almost 100 meters thick deposited in the shallow area of a fjord in Greenland’s northernmost point. The climate in Greenland at the time of sedimentation was between 10 to 17 degrees warmer than today, sustaining an ecosystem with no present-day equivalent, resembling a mix of temperate forest and mixed-grass prairie.

Detective work by 40 researchers from Denmark, the UK, France, Sweden, Norway, the U.S. and Germany, unlocked the secrets of the fragments of DNA. The process was painstaking – first they needed to establish whether there was DNA hidden in the sediment, and if there was, could they successfully detach the DNA from the mineral grains – like clay particles and quartz crystals – to examine it? The answer, eventually, was yes. The researchers compared every single DNA fragment with extensive libraries of DNA collected from present-day animals, plants and microorganisms.

The scientists discovered evidence of animals, plants and microorganisms including reindeer, hares, lemmings, birch and poplar trees. They even found that Mastodon, an Ice Age elephant, roamed as far as Greenland before later becoming extinct. Previously it was thought the range of the species did not extend from its known origins of North and Central America.

Some of the DNA fragments were easy to classify as predecessors to present-day species, others could only be linked at genus level, and some originated from species impossible to place in the DNA libraries of animals, plants and microorganisms still living today.

The findings have opened up a whole new period in DNA detection. Thanks to a new generation of extraction and sequencing equipment, researchers will be able to locate and identify extremely small and damaged fragments of genetic information in sediments considered previously unfit for DNA preservation.

“DNA generally survives best in cold, dry conditions such as those that prevailed during most of the period since the material was deposited at Kap København. Now that we have successfully extracted ancient DNA from clay and quartz, it may be possible that clay may have preserved ancient DNA in warm, humid environments in sites found in Africa,” Professor Willerslev concludes.

The paper “A 2-million-year-old ecosystem in Greenland uncovered by environmental DNA” is published in Nature. Material provided by the by University of Cambridge.

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NASA posts high-resolution images of Orion’s final lunar flyby

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Orion just made its final pass around the moon on its way to Earth, and NASA has released some of the spacecraft’s best photos so far. Taken by a high-resolution camera (actually a heavily modified GoPro Hero 4) mounted on the tip of Orion’s solar arrays, they show the spacecraft rounding the Moon then getting a closeup shot of the far side.

The photos Orion snapped on its first near pass to the Moon were rather grainy and blown out, likely because they were captured with Orion’s Optical Navigation Camera rather than the solar array-mounted GoPros. Other GoPro shots were a touch overexposed, but NASA appears to have nailed the settings with its latest series of shots.

Space photos were obviously not the primary goal of the Artemis I mission, but they’re important for public relations, as NASA learned many moons ago. It was a bit surprising that NASA didn’t show some high-resolution closeups of the Moon’s surface when it passed by the first time, but better late than never.

Orion’s performance so far has been “outstanding,” program manager Howard Hu told reporters last week. It launched on November 15th as part of the Artemis 1 mission atop NASA’s mighty Space Launch System. Days ago, the craft completed a three and a half minute engine burn (the longest on the trip so far) to set it on course for a splashdown on December 11th.

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The next mission, Artemis II, is scheduled in 2024 to carry astronauts on a similar path to Artemis I without landing on the moon. Then, humans will finally set foot on the lunar surface again with Artemis III, slated for launch in 2025.

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