Today’s Deep Space Extra for Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 16th, 2017

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, in a headline-making proposal, directs the agency to consider assigning astronauts to Exploration Mission-1, the first launch of the Space Launch System heavy lift rocket and Orion crew capsule.

Human Deep Space Exploration

NASA to study launching astronauts on first SLS mission

Space News (2/15): In a Washington speech on Wednesday, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said the agency will study the possibility of placing astronauts aboard Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first launch of the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule. Currently planned as a late 2018 unpiloted test flight, a change to a crewed mission could introduce delays and possibly “other complications,” according to the report. The EM-1 launch is to send Orion around the moon and back to Earth for an ocean splashdown and recovery. The upper stage rocket currently assigned to EM-1 has not been human rated. The original plan was to include astronauts on EM-2, which was to lift-off in the 2021-23 timeframe with a human rated upper stage. Lightfoot made these comments when addressing an SLS, Orion supplier’s conference.

Lawmakers call for first NASA SLS rocket to be named for last man on moon (2/16): Legislation filed in the U.S. House on Wednesday would name NASA’s first Space Launch System heavy lift rocket for Eugene Cernan, commander of NASA’s Apollo 17, the last human moon landing mission. Cernan, who died January 16, was a vocal proponent for returning human explorers to the moon. The first SLS mission, Exploration Mission-1, would carry astronauts around the moon in NASA’s new Orion capsule, under an option NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot unveiled in Washington on Wednesday. The call to name the rocket for Cernan came from John Culberson and Robert Aderholt, congressmen from Texas and Alabama.

NASA to study adding crew to first SLS/Orion mission while GAO worries about challenges of flying without a crew (2/15): An announcement Wednesday that NASA will assess the possibility of launching astronauts on the previously unmanned Exploration Mission-1 debut of the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule coincided with the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment of the government’s riskiest programs. The GAO questioned the readiness of EM-1 without astronauts due to ambitious internal deadlines and limited financial reserves among other factors.

NASA looks to speed timetable for putting astronauts in deep space

New York Times (2/15): The possibility of adding astronauts to the first joint test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule may be the first public inkling of the new Trump administration’s human space exploration aspirations, according to the Times. For context, NASA’s Apollo missions began with unmanned test flights. New spacecraft in development under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and a crewed version of SpaceX’s Dragon, will fly first without astronauts. However, the successful first flight of the space shuttle included two astronauts.

The UAE has a plan to colonize Mars in the next 100 years, and the oil money to finance it

Quartz (2/15): United Arab Emirates (UAE) Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has called for a “mini-city” on Mars through an international effort called Mars 2117. The initiative, financed with oil proceeds, would help to expend UAE’s industrial base.

Space Science

Dream Chaser spacecraft may be used for Hubble repair mission

Universe Today (2/15): Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, which was initially developed to transport up to seven astronauts to low Earth orbit destinations like the International Space Station, could be assigned an upgraded mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The observatory was last serviced by space shuttle astronauts in the spring of 2009. Though functioning, a replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, is undergoing ground tests for a launch in late 2018. A Dream Chaser rendezvous with Hubble in orbit would serve as an insurance policy for astronomers should there be a problem with the James Webb Space Telescope.

Luxembourgian minister unwilling to let ESA asteroid mission die without a fight 

Space News (2/15): Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, is vowing to fight for the European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), which was recently cancelled for lack of financial support. AIM is the European share of a joint activity with NASA called the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission, a planetary defense demonstration. Luxemborg considers AIDA, including asteroid reconnaissance aspects, important for future economic growth as well as planetary defenses.

Comet breaks in two may be close to disintegration (2/15): Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann is barreling toward its closest approach to the sun on March 16. It was caught on camera breaking in two early this week, raising doubts about whether this comet can loop around the sun again for a future return.

NASA’s Kepler mission could detect exo-moons formed by giant impacts (2/15): A team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has turned to NASA’s Kepler space telescope to search for potentially habitable moons on planets beyond the solar system. So far, no luck. The natural satellites would have to be quite large. The team is not giving up.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

SpaceX delays next Iridium launch two months

Space News (2/15): The Iridium Communications satellite launch delay from mid-April to mid-June will permit SpaceX to work off a launch manifest backlog, due in part to SpaceX’s recovery from a September 1 Falcon 9 rocket launch pad fire and explosion. Iridium announced the delay. The Iridium launch is planned for Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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