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Today’s Deep Space Extra, Thursday, September 3, 2015

September 3rd, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. The soon to open feature film, The Martian, is as realistic as it gets, suggests a top NASA planetary scientist. Women scientists were a crucial part of NASA’s New Horizons mission success. Scientists suggest Mars turned cold and dry in response to rapid changes in the planet’s atmosphere. NASA studies the possibility of a planetary mission hitchhiking on a comet to reach destinations deep in the solar system. Sizing up the universe is no small task. NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft loses a key Earth observing radar instrument. The International Space Station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer encounters a cooling system issue. Two U.S. senators ask the U.S. General Accountability Office to probe NASA’s commercial re-supply program in support of International Space Station. Orbital ATK’s plans to resume launches of the re-engined Antares launch vehicle in March will likely wait for a second Orbital launch of supplies to the International Space Station using an Atlas 5 rocket.

Human Deep Space Exploration

How realistic is Hollywood’s “The Martian”?
CBS News (9/2): The soon to open feature film The Martian, based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, may present the most realistic view yet of the challenges humans will face in the exploration of Mars, says NASA’s Jim Green, director of planetary sciences.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

Op-ed: NASA’s New Horizons mission provides new horizons for women in science
U.S. News and World Report (9/2): NASA’s New Horizons mission is illustrating strides made by women in the science and engineering fields. The spacecraft was the first to fly by distant Pluto on July 14.

New study helps answer mystery of what happened to Mars’ early atmosphere
NASA Spaceflightnow.com (9/2): Mars current cold, dry environment may be explained by an early rapid loss of a carbon dioxide dominated atmosphere, say scientists. A report on the transition appears in the journal Geology.

NASA looking at ‘hitchhiking’ across solar system on speeding comets
CNET (9/2): The Comet Hitchhiker concept taking shape at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory would take advantage of comets speeding around the sun to hasten the journey of a space probe to the edge of the solar system, according to a presentation this week at the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics 2015 space conference in Pasadena, Calif. The mission concept involves a spacecraft, a harpoon and a long tether fashioned from carbon nanotubes.

Is the universe infinite or just very big?
New Scientist (9/2): While experts are able to size up the dimensions of the Earth, the solar system and Milky Way, calculating the size of the universe is much more challenging.

Low Earth Orbit

New NASA soil moisture satellite loses 1 science instrument
Associated Press via ABC News (9/2): Experts on Earth are unable to recover a radar instrument, one of two science instruments launched in January aboard NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite. However, the data collection continues aboard a spacecraft designed to determine moisture levels in the soil, thawed or frozen, on a global scale.

Space Station dark-matter experiment hits a glitch
Nature News (9/2): A cooling pump on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an observatory installed on the International Space Station in 2011, has experienced a cooling system problem. One of four cooling system pumps faltered in February 2014, a second, though, is showing signs of wear. Only one pump is needed at any given time. The AMS is studying cosmic rays and searching for signs of dark matter.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

Rocket crashes spur demands for review of NASA program
USA Today (9/2): The requests were made by U.S. Senators Cory Gardner, of Colorado, and David Vitter, of Louisiana. The two lawmakers asked the U.S. General Accountability Office to look into the basis for and future of NASA’s commercial cargo program, following two mishaps involving NASA contracted International Space Station resupply services providers, Orbital ATK, and SpaceX. A spokesman for the GAO said it may take a few weeks for the agency to reach a decision on how it will respond.

Space Station schedule may delay Antares return to flight 
Space News (9/2): Orbital ATK will be prepared to launch its first modified Antares launch vehicles on a resupply mission to the International Space Station in March 2016 but may have to wait. NASA contracted Antares resupply missions to the orbiting science lab were halted by an Oct. 28 explosion of the launch vehicle. Orbital has contracted with United Launch Alliance to meet its cargo delivery obligations using Atlas 5 launch vehicles in December and now March 2016, according to presentations at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, Calif. The Antares is being equipped with new rocket engines for future flights.

Wallops launch pad repairs ‘on schedule and on cost’
Salisbury Daily Times, of Maryland (9/3): Repairs to the launch pad operated by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore are nearly complete. The launch pad was damaged Oct. 28, when an Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded moments after lifting off on a NASA contracted re-supply mission to the International Space Station. The damage should be substantially repaired by the end of September, according to Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. Orbital ATK plans a “hot fire” test of a modified Antares at the site late this year or in early 2016. A resumption of Antares launches will follow.

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