Today’s Tidbits: July 5, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: July 5, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for July 5, 2019:  COMSTAC renewed, the solar eclipse from lunar orbit, new payloads for NASA’s CLPS robotic lunar program.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.


Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation.

As announced in today’s Federal Register, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao renewed the charter for the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) on June 26.

Ordinarily renewing the life of an agency advisory committee is a routine affair every two years.  COMSTAC’s charter was last renewed on June 28, 2017, so this is the right time for this action.  However, the Trump Administration recently announced that all agencies must reduce by one-third the number of their advisory committees that operate under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

COMSTAC advises the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), which is part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which in turn is one of the many parts of the Department of Transportation.  FAA alone has 15 such advisory committees. Whether Chao will cut one-third of those, or one-third of the larger number of all DOT FACA committees remains to be seen.  

NASA and NOAA also have to trim their FACA advisory committees. All the Executive Branch departments and agencies have until August 1 to tell the White House Office of Management and Budget which ones will be eliminated, but it looks like COMSTAC made the grade at least for now.  COMSTAC is chaired by Mike Gold, Vice President-Regulatory and Policy for Maxar Technologies, and had 26 members as of May 2019.

Solar Eclipse from Lunar Orbit

Many pictures of this week’s total solar eclipse are circulating, but there is one with a unique point of view that hasn’t been shared as widely.  It was taken by a microsatellite, DSLWP-B, orbiting the Moon and tweeted by Andrew Jones (@AL_FI) of  The part of the Earth under the eclipse is the black blob on the upper left.

DSLWP-B, also known as Longjiang-2, is a microsatellite that was launched along with, and is flying in formation with, China’s Queqiao communications relay satellite.   Queqiao is relaying data and images from China’s lunar farside lander, Chang’e-4, and rover, Yutu-2, back to Earth.   DSLWP-B/Longjiang-2 had a twin, DSLWP-A/Longjiang-1, but it failed to enter lunar orbit.

The microsatellites were developed by students at China’s Harbin Institute of Technology and carry amateur radio payloads.  Each three-axis stabilized satellite is 50x50x40 centimeters with a mass of 45 kilograms.  Amateur radio operators who want more detail can find it on the AMSAT-UK website [].

But hurry.  The microsatellite’s orbit is being intentionally lowered so it will impact the lunar surface rather than posing a hazard to other spacecraft. It is expected to crash into the Moon on July 31.  Visit Daniel Estévez’s blog [] or Emily Lakdawalla’s blog at The Planetary Society [] for more information.

Meanwhile, enjoy the solar eclipse image and others DSLWP-B has taken of Earth and posted at by Jones. []

New Payloads for NASA’s CLPS Robotic Lunar Program

NASA has a list of 12 new payloads that could be flown as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program where it is purchasing services from private sector companies to put NASA-sponsored science and technology experiments on the Moon’s surface.

Three companies were recently awarded task orders by NASA to send landers/rovers to the lunar surface in 2020 or 2021 carrying NASA payloads along with those for other customers:  Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond.  Six other companies are eligible for such contracts in the future.

In February, Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, released a list of 12 NASA-developed payloads that could be placed aboard the CLPS missions and promised an additional list of non-NASA payloads soon.  That list of experiments and their principal investigators (PIs) was announced on July 1.

  • MoonRanger is a small, fast-moving rover that has the capability to drive beyond communications range with a lander and then return to it. This will enable investigations within a 0.6-mile (1 kilometer) range from the lander. MoonRanger will aim to continually map the terrain it traverses, and transmit data for future system improvement. PI: Andrew Horchler of Astrobotic Technology, Inc., Pittsburgh.
  • Heimdall is a flexible camera system for conducting lunar science on commercial vehicles. This innovation includes a single digital video recorder and four cameras: a wide-angle descent imager, a narrow-angle regolith imager, and two wide-angle panoramic imagers. This camera system is intended to model the properties of the Moon’s regolith – the soil and other material that makes up the top later of the lunar surface – and characterize and map geologic features, as well characterize potential landing or trafficability hazards, among other goals. PI: R. Aileen Yingst of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.
  • Lunar Demonstration of a Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon’s lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface. PI: Brock LaMeres of Montana State University, Bozeman.
  • Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC) Payload will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon’s environment at different phases of flight. Components of this experiment are derived from a commercial payload facility called MISSE currently on the International Space Station. PI: Johnnie Engelhardt of Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, LLC, Houston.
  • The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the MAVENspacecraft, which is currently orbiting Mars. PI: Robert Grimm of the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.
  • The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment (LuSEE) will integrate flight-spare and repurposed hardware from the NASA Parker Solar Probe FIELDS experiment, the STEREO/Waves instrument, and the MAVEN mission to make comprehensive measurements of electromagnetic phenomena on the surface of the Moon. PI: Stuart Bale of University of California, Berkeley.
  • The Lunar Environment heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI) will capture images of the interaction of Earth’s magnetosphere with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, called the solar wind. PI: Brian Walsh of Boston University.
  • Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR) will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the Earth-Moon distance. They are designed to provide data that could be used to constrain various aspects of the lunar interior and address questions of fundamental physics. PI: Douglas Currie of University of Maryland, College Park.
  • The Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS) is targeted to deploy a radiometer, a device that measures infrared wavelengths of light, to explore the Moon’s surface composition, map its surface temperature distribution, and demonstrate the instrument’s feasibility for future lunar resource utilization activities. PI: Paul Hayne at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER) is an instrument designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon’s thermal properties at different depths. PI: Seiichi Nagihara of Texas Tech University, Lubbock.
  • PlanetVac is a technology for acquiring and transferring lunar regolith from the surface to other instruments that would analyze the material, or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth. PI: Kris Zacny of Honeybee Robotics, Ltd., Pasadena, California.
  • SAMPLR: Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith is another sample acquisition technology that will make use of a robotic arm that is a flight spare from the Mars Exploration Rover mission, which included the long-lived rovers Spirit and Opportunity. PI: Sean Dougherty of Maxar Technologies, Westminster, Colorado.

It is interesting that one of the experiments — MoonRanger — is being built by one of the CLPS contractors, Astrobotic.  It is getting $79.5 million from NASA to fly payloads to the Moon and now another $5.6 million to build one of those payloads.  The company says MoonRanger will provide 3D maps of the lunar surface in regions such as the Moon’s poles, which are of particular interest because water is thought to be trapped there.

Astrobotic proudly points out that NASA is just one of 15 domestic and international customers for its first mission, expected to launch in 2021.  Government agencies, companies or non-profits in Mexico, Japan, Hungary, and Canada are among the international customers.

MoonRanger is not on that manifest, but another Astrobotic payload is — a Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) sensor to enable pin-point landings.  That also is being developed through a NASA contract, a $10 million “tipping point” contract in conjunction with Johnson Space Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Moog.

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