Today’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. A Florida editorial urges full funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in 2016 to end reliance on Russia for the launching of astronauts to the International Space Station. Prolonged debate in the U.S. over space destinations is turning young talent away from the space program, according to an op-ed. Six scientists emerge from an eight month Mars simulation in Hawaii. Texas gathers new space clout in Congress. NASA astronaut Nicole Stott retires, but stands in awe of opportunities awaiting her successors. Europe’s Philae comet lander ends months of silence. NASA outlines plans for the first interplanetary CubeSat mission; destination Mars. The Planetary Society overcomes LightSail-A software, battery issues. New European Space Agency chief urges the International Space Station partnership to welcome China and India. Europe’s launch industry looks to cost saving consolidations, development of reusable first stage rocket engines. NASA issues the call for new Venture Class of rocket launchers dedicated to CubeSats as primary payloads. A look at major space related activities planned for the week ahead.
NASA’s 2016 Budget
Orlando Sentinel (6/14): In an editorial, the Sentinel urges adequate funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in order to end U.S. dependence on Russia for the transportation of astronauts to and from the International Space Station. While the White House urges continued sanctions against Moscow for incursions into Ukraine, Congress is not supporting the administration’s $1.244 billion 2016 budget request to establish competing U.S. commercial alternatives by late 2017. The Senate’s current spending measure is $900 million, while the House favors $1 billion. Both are insufficient to achieve NASA’s 2017 goal. Underfunding has already forced a postponement of the original 2015 target. Russia charges more than $70 million for each astronaut NASA launches, the editorial notes.
Human Deep Space Exploration
Space.com (6/13): Proponents of U.S. human exploration are driving away the interest and enthusiasm of the nation’s youngest citizens with a prolonged debate over destinations, writes Hannah Rae Kerner, chair of Students for the Exploration of Deep Space. “I’d like to deliver a clear message on behalf of the next generation you seek to inspire: The only bad outcome in this debate over destinations is the decision to go nowhere,” she writes in Expert Voices. “Let’s just go out there and do the damn thing.”
Associate Press via Miami Herald (6/14): A half dozen scientists participated in the space isolation simulation on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. All were monitored by camera and motion trackers for eight months and unable to leave their shelter without a space suit. Researchers believe the study could reveal communications and depression issues faced by even stoic astronauts during a long journey to Mars.
Growing clout: Our officials in Congress should flex their muscles to put NASA on the proper course.
Houston Chronicle (6/12): The Texas Congressional delegation has shored up support for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the agency’s Mission Control Center, astronaut corps and design engineers of future human spacecraft. “I plan to be very active on space issues,” says Brian Babin, an East Texas congressman who recently became chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space. “We welcome Babin’s interest and enthusiasm,” the Chronicle’s editorial states. Babin joins U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and state Rep. John Culberson, who recently became the chairs of legislative panels that guide space policy and appropriate funding.
Orlando Sentinel (6/14): Floridian Nicole Stott retired recently from NASA after 27 years, 15 of them as an astronaut. Stott said she’s in awe of the opportunities for NASA’s future astronauts, including launches to Earth orbit aboard new U.S. commercial spacecraft and deep space missions that could reach Mars in the mid-2030s.
Unmanned Deep Space Exploration
Washington Post (6/14): The European Space Agency announced Sunday it is again in communications with the Philae lander, which bounded to a landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 12. Engineers theorized the small lander ended up in a shadow that prevented its solar arrays from charging on board batteries, silencing the spacecraft. Rosetta, which is close to the comet, and Philae are accompanying 67P around the sun. As the comet approaches the sun, sunlight may be now falling on the solar arrays.
CNN (6/15): The long dormancy of Europe’s comet lander Philae may have a benefit. After landing on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November, Philae went silent apparently because it bounced into a shaded area that covered its power generating solar arrays. At that point, scientists hoped the lander would explore into March. However, the shade could extend operations into August, the point at which the comet, Philae and the lander’s Rosetta mother ship orbiting just above the comet’s surface will make their closest approach to the sun.
America Space (6/13): NASA’s Mars InSight mission lander is scheduled for a March 2016 launching to study subterranean processes on the red planet. On Friday, NASA announced the mission will include a pair of CubeSats, the first of the new small class of spacecraft to undertake an interplanetary journey. The Marco CubeSat secondary payloads will report on InSight’s status after it lands.
SpaceflightInsider (6/14): Launched May 20, LightSail-A’s mission team overcame issues with software and battery power to deploy a prototype Mylar solar sail by June 7-8. The experiment has set the stage for LightSail-1, a 2016 mission that will test the ability of the sail to act as a propulsion source for a small satellite in an orbit above the drag of the Earth’s atmosphere. The sail could become a propulsion source for future interplanetary missions.
Low Earth Orbit
Reuters (6/13): Johann-Dietrich Woerner, soon to become director general of the European Space Agency, urges the 15 nation International Space Station program to open its doors to China and India. “We need to get away from the principal of being a closed club,” he said.
Commercial to Orbit
Spaceflightnow.com (6/11): The French government plans to sell its stake in Arianespace, the launch services competitor, in a move that will consolidate Europe’s launch industry under the supervision of a joint venture created by Airbus and Safran, the rocket engine manufacturer. The change is viewed as a cost cutting move.
Aviation Week & Space Technology (6/15): Europe’s Airbus enters the reusable rocket race with a plan to recover the first stage engines and avionics.
Orlando Sentinel (6/12): NASA on Friday formally called on proposals for a new Venture Class of launch services dedicated to the launching of CubeSat satellites. The space agency could contract with up to two companies able to launch CubeSats in 132 or 66 pound increments as primary rather than secondary payloads. The agency’s Launch Services Program is looking to one or two mission launches by April 15, 2018.
The Week Ahead
Spacepolicyonline (6/14): In Washington, the U.S. Senate is expected to continue the debate over continued importation of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for national security missions. Chicago hosts an astrobiology conference, and the Paris Air Show is underway.