Thanks for your advise and support. Thanks for that info too, had a quick read but I'll read in detail later.
Last night I did something else (before your post). When it was booting to raspbian, got this in dmesg:
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[ 3.360798] usb 1-1.4: new full-speed USB device number 6 using dwc_otg
[ 3.470788] usb 1-1.4: device descriptor read/64, error -32
[ 3.700786] usb 1-1.4: device descriptor read/64, error -32
[ 3.930795] usb 1-1.4: new full-speed USB device number 7 using dwc_otg
[ 4.040791] usb 1-1.4: device descriptor read/64, error -32
[ 4.270786] usb 1-1.4: device descriptor read/64, error -32
[ 4.500795] usb 1-1.4: new full-speed USB device number 8 using dwc_otg
[ 4.950785] usb 1-1.4: device not accepting address 8, error -32
[ 5.060790] usb 1-1.4: new full-speed USB device number 9 using dwc_otg
[ 5.510793] usb 1-1.4: device not accepting address 9, error -32
[ 5.527358] usb 1-1-port4: unable to enumerate USB device
[ 15.624261] random: crng init done
I uplugged and replugged the mSATA and then it loaded!!!
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[ 16.410796] usb 1-1.4: new high-speed USB device number 10 using dwc_otg
[ 16.552626] usb 1-1.4: New USB device found, idVendor=05e3, idProduct=0718
[ 16.570230] usb 1-1.4: New USB device strings: Mfr=0, Product=1, SerialNumber=2
[ 16.588265] usb 1-1.4: Product: USB Storage
[ 16.602994] usb 1-1.4: SerialNumber: 000000000033
[ 16.619372] usb-storage 1-1.4:1.0: USB Mass Storage device detected
[ 16.636749] scsi host0: usb-storage 1-1.4:1.0
[ 17.685102] scsi 0:0:0:0: Direct-Access LITEONIT LMT-128M6M mSAT 0016 PQ: 0 ANSI: 4
everything went ok after that... took this dump of dmesg
This morning I was going to get the requested files as suggested but instead of running an SD card, I was going to do the same thing I did last night (unplug/replug). Lo and behold, it booted normaly into raspbian on the first go.
extracted the files as requested and attached to this post.
(note: I run raspbian from the mSATA and run the commands as recommended, then copied the files (winscp) to my windows machine and posted here. not sure if that changes anything?)
Not sure what's going on... sometimes I think maybe power to the drive? but even wih my power supply @5.1V, 2A, using a power meter it's not drawing more than 1A at all, even powering both from one source.
This last run was done with the mSATA "card" disconnected from the pi, connected via a usb cable only (the card sits on top of the GPIO pins). Powered both the pi and mSATA separately as per last 2-3 tests (which allows me to power off and abck on only the drive and not the pi).
I also noticed that when going back into PINN recovery mode, most of the time the mSATA drive is not recognised. Power cycle fixes it, I'm able to select an OS but the "power cycle" of the OS then fails because it doesn't recognise the drive again....
any more ideas?