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CSExtra – Top Space News for Thursday, June 4, 2015

June 4th, 2015

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Today’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. The U.S. House on Wednesday matched the administration’s $18.5 billion 2016 budget request for NASA, though not each of its priorities. The House budget measure would increase spending on NASA’s Space Launch System exploration rocket but fall short of Commercial Crew Program and Earth science requests; Senate passage is unclear. NASA looks to Thursday for the second flight test of the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, a technology that could place heavier payloads on the Martians surface for human exploration. The 50th anniversary of the first U.S. spacewalk provides some unusual facts. Pluto’s moons prove unpredictable and may be the product of celestial collisions.  Canada joins Russia and the U.S. in favoring a 2020-2024 extension for International Space Station operations. The Pentagon seeks an easing of sanctions against the import of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine. Is Russia’s space program in crisis?  Russia looks to June for a decision on future launches of the troubled Proton rocket.

NASA’s 2016 Budget

House approves $18.5 billion for NASA

USA Today (6/3): The U.S. House early Wednesday approved an $18.53 billion, 2016 NASA appropriations measure. The total matches the White House request and represents $519 million more than the space agency received in 2015. However, House lawmakers cut Earth science spending in order to increase budgets for human exploration systems development, including the Space Launch System exploration rocket, its ground systems, and planetary science. The House bill failed to match the White House request for the Commercial Crew Program, falling $244 million short of the 2016 administration request. The measure also keeps the James Webb Space Telescope on a course towards at late 2018 launching. The measure must be reconciled with a U.S. Senate version.

U.S. House gives funding boost to SLS rocket

Huntsville Times, of Alabama (6/4): The U.S. House 2016 NASA appropriations measured passed Wednesday includes $1.85 billion for Space Launch System exploration rocket development, a $150 increase over 2015. The total includes $50 million for work on the SLS Enhanced Upper Stage. The measure also designates the SLS as the launch vehicle for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2022, a robotic venture that would investigate the habitability of the ice and ocean covered outer solar system body.

Human Deep Space Exploration

All systems go for NASA’s flying saucer: Watch the launch online

NBC News (6/4): After waiting two days for Pacific waters to calm, NASA’s clears its Low Density Supersonic Decelerator for a second test flight on Thursday from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai. The balloon launch that starts the long test is planned for no earlier than 1:30 p.m., EDT. The test is intended to support technologies that greatly increase the mass that could be landed on Mars for future human exploration. The first test flight unfolded at the same facility in 2014.

Five floating facts for the 50th anniversary of the first American spacewalk

Collectspace.com (6/3): NASA marked the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. spacewalk on Wednesday. The 23 minute walk by Gemini 4 astronaut Ed White helped to demonstrate that human explorers could walk on the moon during the Apollo program. There are some lessor known facts about White’s spacewalk, according to the report.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

Pluto’s moons dance to a random beat

National Geographic (6/3): As NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft races toward an unprecedented July 14 flyby of distant Pluto, scientists describe the erratic nature of Pluto’s smallest moons. Worst case, the erratic behavior of those and possibly other undiscovered moon or debris around them could pose a collision threat to the New Horizons probe. The discovery was made using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Pluto’s perplexing moons

Sky and Telescope (6/3): Studies of distant Pluto and its collection of small moons suggest all of them were created in a collision between two larger objects, according to studies conducted with the Hubble Space Telescope and published in the June 4 issue of the journal Nature.

Low Earth Orbit

Canada backs ISS extension to 2024, gains two crew slots

Spaceflightnow.com (6/3): Canada joins Russia in backing a U.S. proposal to extend operations of the six person International Space Station from 2020 to 2024. President Obama called for the extension in early 2014. The U.S. awaits decisions from the European and Japanese space agencies.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Pentagon seeks easing of ban on Russian rockets for U.S. space missions

New York Times (6/3):  In the U.S., the Pentagon seeks an easing of a ban on imports of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine for the launching of national security payloads aboard the Atlas 5 rocket. The ban was meant to punish Russia for its intrusions into Ukraine. Developing a U.S. replacement, however, is proving time consuming, expensive and politically challenging.

Russia’s space program in crisis?

CNN (6/3): Russian space prestige is slipping in response to a succession of recent difficulties, including the failed May 16 commercial Proton launch of a Mexican communications satellite;  the April 28 loss of Progress 59, a re-supply mission to the International Space Station; and scandal surrounding the construction of the $6 billion Vostochny Cosmodrome, according to the CNN report. The troubles may prompt Russia’s best and brightest youth to turn to other professional pursuits, some worry.

Decision to launch next proton carrier rocket to be made in June

Sputnik International, of Russia (6/3): Russian aerospace interests look to June for a decision on the next launch of the country’s troubled Proton rocket. The mid May failure of a Proton third stage led to the destruction of a Mexican communications satellite and increased the number of satellite customers awaiting lift off.

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