Today’s Deep Space Extra

October 3rd, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Russia’s Soyuz MS-12 landed safely Thursday morning, safely returning three crew members to Earth.  Astrobotic’s cubeover program is awarded $2 million NASA contract. NASA testing a shape-shifting robot that could explore Saturn’s moon.

Human Space Exploration

Three-man crew, including first UAE astronaut, landed today (10/3): Russia’s Soyuz MS-12 landed safely early today in central Kazakhstan after departing the International Space Station (ISS) with a three person crew. They included United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) first astronaut, Hazza Ali Almansoori, NASA’s Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Touchdown of the capsule under parachute occurred at 6:49 a.m., EDT. The return ended a 203 day mission for Hague and Ovchinin and an eight day roundtrip for Almansoori, who flew under an agreement with the Russian space agency.

This is China’s new spacecraft to take astronauts to the Moon (photos) (10/2): Though yet to be named, China is developing a spacecraft for humans that will support missions to the Moon and other deep space destinations. It could fly next year, an indication China is looking beyond the Earth orbiting space station it plans to assemble as well. The crew and service modules are about 30 feet in length and weighs about 22 tons. The design is modular and partially reusable and able to support up to six astronauts.

An astronaut who built paths to space for other women
New York Times (10/2): Earlier this week, Janet Kavandi retired from NASA, as director of the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and a three time shuttle astronaut. After her astronaut career at NASA drew to a close, Kavandi moved into management at NASA and is credited with establishing more fairness in the selection of women astronauts. She’s moving on to Sierra Nevada Corp’s space systems division, where she plans to help lay the ground work for future human exploration.

NASA hands Elon Musk a reality check
The Atlantic (10/1): NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says he was inspired and enthused by presentations made by SpaceX founder Elon Musk in south Texas last weekend regarding plans for the company’s Star Ship and Super Heavy rockets to undertake future human missions to the Moon and Mars. But Bridenstine urged that same effort for the Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s spacecraft under development with NASA for the transportation of astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The effort has been stalled by funding and technical issues and safety concerns. A final schedule of test flights to achieve NASA certification remains in the making.

Space Science

Astrobotic’s cuberover program awarded $2 million contract by NASA
Coalition Member in the News – Astrobotic
Astrobotic (10/2): The $2 million NASA “tipping point” contract with Astrobotic will further development of a shoe box sized rover for planetary surface exploration. The small rovers will carry science instruments or team with larger rovers or landers to carry out daunting exploration tasks.

InSight has already detected 21 Marsquakes
Universe Today (10/1): Earlier this week, scientists associated with NASA’s Mars InSight mission offered a sample of the sounds logged by NASA’s InSight lander, which touched down in late November to study the Martian interior. Since April, InSight’s French seismometer has detected 21 Marsquakes.

NASA is testing a shape-shifting robot that could explore Saturn’s moon Titan
MIT Technology Review (9/27): At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), engineers are testing a robot that can take multiple configurations to explore challenging planetary surface environments, working independently or in teams. While Saturn’s moon Titan might be an intriguing first destination, Shapeshifter is still a long ways from first flight.

Other News

Italy signs an agreement to fly on VSS Unity for research missions
Ars Technica (10/2): As early as next year, the Italian Air Force could begin to support suborbital missions for personnel and experiments aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity.  An agreement was signed Wednesday, an indication Virgin is moving closer to the start of commercial passenger flights.

Blue Origin will ‘probably not’ launch crewed space mission in 2019, CEO says
Fortune (10/2): Blue Origin is “tapping the brakes” CEO Bob Smith informed the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. Blue Origin will likely not attempt to launch passengers in 2019. Before reaching the passenger milestone, Blue Origin intends to launch two more unpiloted test flights in order to add confidence in the spacecraft’s safety. A final schedule of test flights to achieve NASA certification remains in the making.

New Chinese commercial rocket firms move toward maiden launches (10/1): Estimates are that at least 20 Chinese private firms are now developing or manufacturing launch vehicles, rocket engines or related components for suborbital as well as orbital commercial missions. In June, China issued rules and regulations in the field to guide them forward.

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