Today’s Deep Space Extra

July 31st, 2018

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… New government audits challenge a NASA transition away from the International Space Station by 2025, while suggesting it may be too soon for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program to set initial launch dates for the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragon 2 with astronauts aboard. Mars dazzles, even shrouded by a global dust storm.

Human Space Exploration

NASA IG skeptical of NASA’s commercial space station timetable (7/31): In a report Monday, NASA’s inspector general cautioned that 2025 may be much too soon for the space agency to transition its control over the International Space Station to the U.S. private sector. IG Paul K. Martin said NASA needs the space station to research human health and space technology issues needed to underpin future missions of human deep space exploration. Martin also questioned whether there can be a “business case” that soon for commercial operations. On yet another front, the IG urged NASA to bolster plans to de-orbit the space station and to make certain the orbital science lab is adequately fueled to support an orderly but destructive descent over the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, there is bipartisan Congressional support for extending NASA and international partner station activities through 2028, or longer. However, the cost of ISS operations total about $3 billion to $4 billion annually for NASA.

Safety panel warns schedule for commercial crew test flights still uncertain

Coalition Member in the News – Boeing

Space News (7/30): Members of NASA’s independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel are cautioning that it may be too soon for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program to set dates for the test launches of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragon 2 with astronauts aboard. “We see both continued progress and a large volume of work ahead,” panel chairwoman Patricia Sanders noted at a July 26 gathering at NASA headquarters. This Friday, NASA plans to announce astronaut assignments for early missions of the two spacecraft, which still must undergo uncrewed test missions before astronauts board.

Former NASA expert warns about ‘magical thinking’ when sending crews into deep space

Hampton Roads Daily Press of Virginia (7/31): The International Space Station has afforded medical researchers opportunities to identify health challenges that humans must overcome over months of weightlessness, including bone and muscle loss, an immune system decline and vision issues. But there may be yet more that could arise as human explorers venture into deep space and exposure to cosmic and solar radiation increases, according to Jim Logan, a former NASA chief of flight medicine. Logan is to speak on the topic August 7 at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton, Virginia.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft successfully concludes ninth cargo supply mission to the International Space Station

Coalition Members in the News – Orbital ATK, Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman (7/30): Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems ninth NASA contracted re-supply mission to the International Space Station drew to a close Monday evening with a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. The mission launched May 21, before the final acquisition of Orbital ATK by Northrop Grumman, to deliver 7,400 pounds of supplies and research equipment to the orbiting science lab. It departed on July 15. The commercial spacecraft, named for NASA and Orbital ATK executive J.R. Thompson, achieved other important objectives as well, serving as a propulsion source to raise the altitude of the Space Station before it unberthed and as an independent platform for deployments of CubeSats.


Space Science

Mars is frigid, rusty and haunted. We can’t stop looking at it

New York Times (7/30): Why is Mars so fascinating? The red planet is currently about 36 million miles from the Earth, as close as the neighboring planets have been in 15 years. Perhaps, the fascination for humans to explore Mars is rooted in the possibility, life on Earth started there first and migrated aboard asteroid fragments ages ago.

Martian storm chasers: Spacecraft observe dust storm (7/30): No less than seven spacecraft in orbit around or on the surface of Mars are gathering valuable observations of a global dust storm, data that should help to prepare for future missions of human exploration. One of those spacecraft, NASA’s 14 year old Opportunity rover entered a “safe mode” weeks ago because the dust was so thick the mechanical geologist has been unable to recharge its batteries with sunlight.

With all these new planets found in the habitable zone, maybe it’s time to fine tune the habitable zone

Universe Today (7/30): A new study from the Tokyo Institute of Technology suggests scientists make a new effort to define the so called habitable zone around stars. The recommendation follows more than two decades of extra solar planet discovery and the recognition that even though Venus and Mars occupy the sun’s habitable zone neither seems capable of supporting life on the surface.

What’s up in space (7/30): As the solar minimum deepens, sunspots are in retreat and with that a pullback in solar activity. As a consequence, there is a rush of cosmic radiation advancing from sources outside the solar system.


Other News

GAO backs use of commercial satellites to host military payloads (7/30): The U.S. Government Accountability Office in an audit released Monday is urging the U.S. military to turn to the commercial space enterprise and its satellites to host national security sensors. One benefit could be an increase in the number of sensors, leaving the network of sensors less vulnerable to attack by an adversary, according to the GAO.

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