CSExtra – Top Space News for Thursday, June 18, 2015

June 18th, 2015

Today’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. The first unpiloted flight test of NASA’s Orion crew exploration capsule confirms three design principles, according to Lockheed Martin’s program manager. A Russian official calls for an investigation into NASA’s Apollo moon program. NASA moves from concept to development with future mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Might Europe partner for a Europa lander?  Kepler detects Mars sized alien planet. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft poised to unveil Pluto.  Philae’s long silence at distant comet “67P” could be beneficial to Europe’s long running Rosetta mission. NASA lunar sensor finds moon host to dust cloud.  It’s not too late for the U.S. and China to forge ties in space, say experts. NASA’s Aquarius ocean salt and soil moisture sensor aboard Argentina’s SAC-D satellite falters.

Human Deep Space Exploration

Three Things Orion’s First Flight Taught Us

Space News (6/17):  Data gleaned from the Dec. 5 unpiloted test flight of the NASA/Lockheed Martin Orion crew exploration capsule is validating three key design factors, writes Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin’s Orion program manager, in an op-ed. Those include use of proven heritage space design, crew safety; reusability only where it makes sense.

Russian official wants to investigate whether U.S. moon landings actually happened

Washington Post (6/16): Angered by a U.S. launched investigation into FIFA soccer operations, a spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee has suggested an inquiry into NASA’s Apollo moon landings and allegations of missing lunar video and moon rocks.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

NASA Mission to Jupiter’s Watery Moon Europa Begins Development

NBC News (6/17): NASA announced Wednesday that plans for a robotic mission to the ice and ocean covered Jovian moon Europa, the Europa Clipper, is transitioning from the concept phase to development.  Europa’s ocean environment could be suitable for life, according to astrobiologists and supporters in the U.S. Congress. The work on science instruments for the mission kicked off in May, and the mission could be launched in the 2020s to determine if Europa might be habitable.

Europa Mission Moves into Formulation — Might ESA Provide a Lander? (6/17): NASA’s budget may preclude a lander for the Europa Clipper mission. The European Space Agency, however, could partner for the mission with a lander. ESA provided the Huygens lander for Saturn’s moon Titan as part of NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn.  Europe’s current Rosetta comet to the comet 67P/Churuymov-Gerasimenko includes the Philae lander as well.

Mars-sized exoplanet is smallest to have its mass measured

Science News (6/17): The alien planet discoveries by NASA’s Kepler space telescope now include one with the mass of Mars, mission scientists reported Wednesday. Kepler 138b is 200 light years away and the lightest extra solar planet discovered so far.

Pluto at last

Science News (6/27): NASA’s New Horizons mission spacecraft is now less than three weeks from the first ever flyby of distant Pluto. Are there icy volcanoes? Does Pluto have an atmosphere that drifts into space? The answers to those and other questions about Kuiper Belt Objects may be close. The flyby is July 14.

Scientists: Philae Landing Mishap Blessing in Disguise as Probe’s Life Extended 

Space News (6/17): After a long silence, the European Space Agency’s Philae comet lander radioed Earth last weekend.  Scientists once dismayed as Philae’s batteries weakened after touching down Nov. 12 on the distant comet 67P/Churuymov-Gerasimenko are now optimistic. Philae is likely to function through August as 67P makes its closest approach to the sun. Had the communication not ceased, Philae’s mission would have ended in March.

Towering clouds of dust envelop our moon: Here’s how they got there

Los Angeles Times (6/17): Scientists find the Earth’s moon surrounded by a dust cloud whose origins are comets. That gives the moon a special likeness to the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, according to a study published in the journal Nature. As a result, the foot prints left by the Apollo astronauts are gradually fading. The discovery was made with NASA’s now concluded Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission.

Low Earth Orbit

US-China Cooperation in Space: Is It Possible, and What’s in Store? (6/16): U.S. policy experts believe there could be a channel for cooperation with China in space despite a U.S. Congressional ban on bilateral ties. Currently planning to establish an independent space station, China has been denied a long sought a role in the 15 nation International Space Station. Europe could play the role of arbiter for some sort of low level exchange not unlike the sharing of space medical data between the U.S. and former Soviet Union during the Cold War, experts speculate.

International ocean research observatory fails in orbit

Spaceflightnow (6/17): A NASA instrument lodged aboard the Argentine satellite SAC-D for measurements of ocean salinity and soil moisture ended data gathering on June 8 due to attitude control and power issues, according to the report. The Aquarius sensor was active for 3 years, 9 months.