Today’s Deep Space Extra

October 4th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… SpaceX presses closer to a NASA Commercial Crew Program milestone. Organic molecules have been detected in ice grains erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Cotton seeds sprout at the Moon.

Human Space Exploration

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon arrive at Cape Canaveral ahead of key test for crew flight
Tech Crunch (10/3): The SpaceX  Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule assigned to a launch abort test, a critical milestone in the company’s efforts to achieve certification under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program for the transportation of astronauts to and from the International Space Station, has reached Cape Canaveral, Florida, for pre-launch processing. A launch date has not been set.

Space Science

Astronomers find our second interstellar visitor looks like the locals
Scientific American (10/3): Last month, experts confirmed that a comet like object, 2I Borisov, originated from outside the solar system. It was only the second such discovery. Now, astronomers are watching closely as 2I Borisov approaches the sun, warms and begins to emit more and more material into space that can be studied with observatories for similarities to the chemistry of similar objects that originated within the solar system.

Organic compounds found in plumes of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus (10/3): Data from the long running NASA-led Cassini mission to Saturn points to the presence of nitrogen and oxygen organic molecules in the ice grains ejecting into space from the ocean covered moon Enceladus. The geyser like sprays point to the presence of underwater hydro thermal vents, perhaps similar to those on Earth. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and continued to orbit, exploring Saturn’s rings and moons as well as the giant planet until September 2017. The presence of organics, the building blocks of life, suggests Enceladus may host habitable environments. 

China’s lander successfully grew some cotton plants on the Moon. Fruit flies and potatoes didn’t fare so well
Universe Today (10/2): China’s Chang’4 lander made history in January when it became the first spacecraft to land softly on the Moon’s far side at the south pole. Also aboard was a mini biosphere called the Lunar Micro Ecosystem with a half dozen different life forms, cotton, potato and rape seeds, yeast, fruit fly eggs and arabidopsis thaliana. It was the cotton that managed to adapt and grow.

An Indian orbiter reached Mars five years ago, and it’s still ticking
Ars Technica (10/3): After five years in orbit around Mars, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan, is still going strong. With a small, relatively inexpensive spacecraft, India accomplished something only NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the former Soviet Union have accomplished in reaching the Red Planet with a spacecraft. Primarily a technology demonstrator, India’s orbiter is studying the Martian surface, assessing the presence of methane in the thin atmosphere and observing interactions between the atmosphere and solar wind.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe drops its last rover on asteroid Ryugu (10/3): Earlier this week, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 mission at the asteroid Ryugu descended to drop its final rover, MINERVA II-2, onto the surface. Twice previously this year, Hayabusa 2 has descended to the surface of Ryugu to collect samples for return to Earth. Three rovers were aimed at the surface after the probe arrived at Ryugu in June 2018. The long slow descent of MINERVA II-2 from its drop off at an altitude of 1 kilometer could help tell scientist more about Ryugu’s gravity field.

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