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CSExtra – Top Space News for Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21st, 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 Appropriations Committee matches the White House’s $18.5 billion top line request for NASA in 2016, but not the administration’s priorities. NASA’s pursuit of competing commercial crew launch services could be delayed by the House appropriations measure. NASA’s Dawn mission get closer to Ceres’ mysterious bright spots but not closer to identifying their source. U.S. astronomer and aerospace engineer Alan Stern’s quarter century pursuit of Pluto as a spacecraft destination is about to come true. NASA nurtures CubeSats for new planetary exploration roles.  Some stars could be too severe weather prone for planets with alien life. Russia/Germany pursue new multi-spectral space observatory. Differing approaches to the regulation of U.S. commercial space activities advance in the House and Senate. Boeing exec sees no business case for domestic Russian RD-180 rocket engine alternative. U.S., European companies pursue high altitude balloon missions for tourists.

NASA’s 2016 Budget

House appropriators approve spending bill for NASA

Space News (5/20): The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved an $18.53 billion NASA budget measure for 2016 on Wednesday as part of a $51.4 billion spending package that included the National Science Foundation and the departments of Commerce and Justice. While granting the same overall amount sought for NASA by the Obama Administration after more than two hours of debate, the appropriations bill trims the amount sought by the White House for Earth science, space technology and commercial crew vehicle development in order to increase expenditures for planetary science and the Space Launch System heavy lift rocket, according to the report.

NASA: Spending bill would prolong dependence on Russia

USA Today (5/20): U.S. House appropriators cut the White House 2016 budget request for NASA’s commercial crew program from $1.25 billion to $1 billion, endangering the agency’s efforts to establish competing commercial transportation services for astronauts traveling to and from the International Space Station by the end of 2017. NASA’s partners are Boeing and SpaceX.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

Dawn probe gets closer look at Ceres’ white spots, but mystery endures

NBC News (5/20): The mystery over the white spots on the large asteroid Ceres endures in images gathered by NASA’s Dawn mission spacecraft on May 16. So does the leading hypothesis: the bright markings are ice.

One man’s lifelong pursuit of Pluto is about to get real

Smithsonian Magazine (5/20): Astronomer and aerospace engineer Alan Stern has spent a quarter century pursing distant Pluto as a destination for a U.S. spacecraft. On July 14, his quest as principal scientist for the New Horizons mission will come true. Launched nearly a decade ago, the camera equipped New Horizons spacecraft will pass within 6,000 miles of Pluto and its collection of small moons.

CubeSats set for new role as planetary explorers

SEN (5/20): NASA envision a role for CubeSats in deep space exploration. The space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center will test the suitability of CubeSats for missions that plunge through the atmospheres of planetary bodies.

Wild weather of distant stars may affect chances for alien life

Space.com (5/20): The space weather associated with plentiful M-dwarf stars may be too violent for life on the planets that orbit them, according to astronomers. M-dwarf stars are small but longer lived than sun like stars.

Russia to launch Spektr-RG astrophysics laboratory in 2016-17

Spaceflight Insider (5/21): The five telescope space observatory is a cooperative project between Russia and Germany. Spektr-RG was built to observe galaxies, black holes and planetary objects across much of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Low Earth Orbit

Air Force space plane takes off on secret mission

CBS News (5/20): The secretive U.S. Air Force X37B entered Earth orbit for the fourth time on Wednesday, propelled from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., by a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5.  The unpiloted reusable spaceplane will circle for several months. The launch vehicle included 10 CubeSat secondary payloads, including technology demonstrations for Hall thrusters, advance materials selected by NASA and the Planetary Society’s LightSail, an experimental deep space propulsion strategy. However, much of the Air Force mission activities are secret.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Commercial space legislation clears Senate committee, set for vote in House tomorrow

Spacepolicyonline.com (5/20): New commercial space legislation cleared the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, just ahead of a House bill addressing similar issues. One feature of the Senate bill extends U.S. operations aboard the International Space Station through 2024. Current legislation limiting FAA regulation of commercial space activities expires on Sept. 20. The Senate measure offers an extension to 2020, while the House version favors a 2025 extension.

Boeing doesn’t see business case yet for RD-180 replacement

Flightglobal.com (5/20):  A legislative push in the U.S. to develop an alternative to Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine for the launching of national security payloads atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket by 2019 is not materializing because it doesn’t close as a business case, according to Boeing’s president of network and space systems. The push came in response to Russia intervention in the Ukraine. ULA, in which Boeing is partnered with Lockheed Martin, and its competitors are already at work on new launch systems, Boeing’s Craig Cooning told a Los Angeles gathering.

Suborbital

See the world from 100,000 feet

Air and Space Museum Magazine (5/20): Tucson’s World View Experience and Spain’s Zero2infinity are moving closer to a new space tourism experience, luxury high altitude balloon missions that reach high enough into the Earth’s stratosphere to afford views of the stars and the curvature of the Earth. So far, testing of the equipment points to a 2017 introduction.

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