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Today’s Deep Space Extra

January 7th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA is likely to spend much of 2020 working on efforts to accelerate a return to the Moon with human explorers from 2028 to 2024. A launch date for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon abort test slips to no earlier than January 18. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission finds Earth sized planet in habitable zone of “neighboring” star.

Human Space Exploration

The challenges facing Artemis in 2020
The Space Review (1/6): As 2019 came to a close, the U.S. House, Senate and White House came together on a spending plan for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year, including $22.63 billion for NASA. However, the total included just $600 million of the $1 billion the agency is seeking to award contracts as soon as this month to develop commercial lunar landers for the Artemis initiative. Artemis is an accelerated effort to return to the surface of the Moon with human explorers by the end of 2024. A recent General Accountability Office (GAO) assessment also raised questions about efforts within NASA to speed up what was once a plan to return to the lunar surface with astronauts in 2028.

SpaceX in-flight abort test launch date update
NASA Commercial Crew Program (1/6): The planned launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Launch Abort test flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has moved from Saturday to no earlier than January 18. SpaceX and NASA announced the change late Monday, stating that more time was needed for spacecraft processing. The Eastern Range must approve the new date. The uncrewed flight test is a critical milestone in efforts by SpaceX to obtain NASA certification to begin the regular transport of astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

Space Science

NASA planet hunter finds Earth-size habitable-zone world
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1/6): NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April 2018 to seek out the presence of Earth sized planets in the habitable zones of sun like stars, has made its first discovery in the class, scientists announced Monday at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The meeting is underway this week in Honolulu, Hawaii. The find was confirmed with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Earlier discoveries of Earth like planets where water may exist as a liquid on the surface were made by NASA’s older Kepler Space Telescope and a ground-based observatory in Chile. The new planet’s host star, TOI 700, is a little more than 100 light years from Earth.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on track for March 2021 launch, NASA says
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman
Space.com (1/6): NASA managers attending the American Astronomical Society meeting in Hawaii this week report the NASA led James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is on track for a March 2021 launch. NASA’s designated successor to the Hubble Space Telescope has faced a challenging development campaign and still must clear pre-launch hurdles to ensure it can survive the launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana and undergo deployment. Development activities for the companion Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope and a launch in the 2020’s continues as well.

The Hubble Space Telescope turns 30 this year. Here’s how astronomers will celebrate
Space.com (1/6): This spring, NASA will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Earth orbiting observatory, despite showing its age, has contributed significantly to the study of star and galaxy formation as well as the discovery of extra solar planets and provided a wide audience with stunning images of deep space.

The surprising possibility that there are still active volcanoes on Venus
Universetoday.com (1/5): New research from the Lunar and Planetary Institute suggests neighboring Venus may be volcanically active. The finding was made with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Venus Express mission, supported with laboratory simulations on Earth. The spacecraft imaged the surface of Venus in the infrared spectrum at night in order to make the discovery. The research was published recently in the journal Science Advances.

NASA loses contact with tiny exoplanet-hunting satellite
Space.com (1/6): After flying far beyond its three month primary mission, the ASTERIA small satellite, a joint effort by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and MIT to develop a compact extra solar planet seeking spacecraft, has gone silent. The 6 U small sat was deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) on November 20, 2017 using a NanoRacks CubeSat deployer. After several mission extensions, communications were lost on December 5. Efforts to re-establish contact will continue into March as will analysis of the data to determine whether ASTERIA can claim the discovery of a planet circling another star.

Other News

SpaceX vaults Falcon 9 to orbit from Cape Canaveral with 60 more Starlink satellites
Florida Today (1/6): SpaceX’s successful launch of 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Monday at 9:19 p.m., EST, featured the first oversight by the newly established U.S. Space Force. The Falcon 9 launch vehicle’s first stage also returned to a safe landing on an offshore barge prior to the successful second stage satellite deployments. The latest wave of Starlink small satellites included one small spacecraft with a coating intended to reduce reflectivity, a concern expressed by professional and amateur astronomers who complain the growing fleet of communications satellites is interfering with night time observations.

After an amazing decade in space, these are humanity’s top achievements
Ars Technica (12/27): As New Year’s Day approached, Ars Technica looked back at the decade of the 2010’s to assess the greatest achievements in space. Reusable rockets and NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover rise to the top.

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