Today’s Deep Space Extra, Monday, August 31, 2015

August 31st, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. A NASA research effort aims for more accurate Mars spacecraft landings. In Hawaii, six scientists initiate a year-long Mars spaceflight simulation. NASA’s New Horizons mission received a post-Pluto destination assignment on Friday. Readers like Europa as the focus of a future NASA planetary science mission. University of Arizona scientists identify a large region of subsurface ice on Mars. SETI: Look deep within the Milky Way for intelligent life. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden urges congressional support for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Space investments leap. Russia’s Proton returns to orbit with an Intelsat mobile communications satellite. Major space related activities scheduled for the next two weeks.

Human Deep Space Exploration

NASA tech aims for precise landings on Mars (8/28): NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Texas use Xombie test rockets as an Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered flight Testbed to develop a more accurate Mars landing system. ADAPT could be suited for moon and asteroid landings as well.

Scientists begin year-long stay in Hawaii dome to learn about space travel (8/29): A fourth simulated mission to Mars is underway on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, involving a half dozen scientists and lasting a year. The exercise is focused on assessing cohesion and performance factors. “The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel,” said Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation project. The long simulation is HI-SEAS’s fourth mission.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has next mission after Pluto
New York Times (8/28): NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft, renowned for its July 14 flyby of distant Pluto, could head for a second deep space flyby — if the mission team is granted an extension. The New Horizons team on Friday named MU69 as its desired next destination, another Kuiper Belt Object one billion miles beyond Pluto and within reach. A flyby would occur on Jan. 1, 2019.

NASA’s Next Horizon in space
New York Times (8/28): The newspaper asked readers to ponder the question of where NASA should head next with its space science missions. The responses, 1,600 of them, ranged from serious to whimsical. Top choices pointed to Jupiter’s ice and ocean covered moon Europa; Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan — they may have the ingredients for biological activity as well; and Mars.

Ice sheet bigger than Texas, California found on Mars
CBS News (8/28): Using imagery and data gathered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory identify a region of subsurface ice on the red planet with an area equal to California and Texas combined and a thickness of 130 feet. “This slab of ice right beneath the surface has been preserved for the last tens of millions of years and is a remnant from a past climate since water ice isn’t stable at the surface of Mars at this location today,” said Ali Bramson, a graduate student involved in the study. Snowfall best explains the size and depth of the ice formation, according to Bramson and her colleagues.

Where SETI should search for intelligent life
Science (8/28): Scientists suggest the inner reaches of the Milky Way may be the best place to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. The radiation levels are high but the ingredients for life are also plentiful.  Astrobiological processes could have started two billions years before they did on Earth, according to a report in the magazine Astrobiology.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Congress, don’t make us hitch rides with Russia. Love, NASA
Wired (8/28): In an op-ed, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden urges legislative support for NASA’s commercial crew program, a strategy to return a capability to launch astronauts from the United States in the aftermath of the shuttle program’s retirement in July 2011. “Space travel is complex, but this choice is simple: Do we invest in ourselves, in our businesses, our ingenuity, our people, or do we choose instead to send our tax-dollars to Russia?” Bolden writes.

NASA director to Congress: Funding NASA is an investment in American industry
Christian Science Monitor (8/28): A re-write of Wired’s op-ed from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in support of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, finds the administrator’s words in support of investing in U.S. space technology especially compelling. “Trucking astronauts and their food and supplies and so on is no longer the frontier,” writes Bolden. “NASA astronauts shouldn’t be truck drivers. That’s not what they’re for. They’re for being the first people on Mars, or on an asteroid.”

NASA focused on deep space exploration
NewTalkFlorida (8/28): Saturday, Aug. 29, marked 1500 days, or more than four years since the U.S. has flown its own astronauts to orbit aboard NASA’s shuttle. In the past five years, the U.S. Congress has cut NASA Commercial Crew Program, a program to transition human orbital space operations to the U.S. private sector, by $1 billion. In the meantime, the U.S. has spent more than $1 billion with Russia to launch astronauts. Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, assesses.

Report: $1.9 billion invested in space travel startups since 2014
Fast Company (8/28): CB Insights’ venture capital report Future of Frontier Tech, says SpaceX has dominated space startup funding, other players such as Google (through its purchase of satellite firm Skybox) and Planet Labs (through its acquisition of geospatial product RapidEye), as well as the $63.5 million IPO of Urthecast (which places publicly accessible cameras on the International Space Station), are responsible for much of the $1.9 billion figure.

Proton delivers Inmarsat Global Xpress satellite to GTO
Space News (8/29): Russia’s Proton rocket reaches orbit with the latest Global Xpress communications satellite, following a lift off Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch market the first for the Proton since a May failure with a Mexican communications satellite.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of August 31 – September 11, 2015 (8/30): Major activities this week include the AIAA 2015 Space Conference in Pasadena, Calif., and the scheduled launching early Wednesday of Russian, European and Kazakh cosmonauts and astronauts to the International Space Station. Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 8.

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