Deep Space Extra for Friday, December 18, 2015

December 18th, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. U.S. House leadership pressed Thursday for passage of a $1.1 trillion 2016 omnibus appropriations measure, which includes increases for NASA’s human exploration initiatives. NASA’s next Mars lander, the Lockheed Martin developed InSight, has reached Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for a March lift off. NASA and the European Space Agency agree to a contract for an Ariane 5 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in late 2018. NASA’s Curiosity rover finds more evidence for possible habitable environments on ancient Mars. A new Chinese satellite begins a search for evidence of dark matter. A spare NASA atmospheric carbon sensor is in line to receive funding for a perch on the International Space Station. Aerojet Rocketdyne reaches a design milestone in the development of the AR1 rocket engine, a domestic alternative to controversial imports of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine. The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority wraps up repairs to a launch pad damaged in a 2014 Orbital ATK Antares launch vehicle explosion. Russian President Vladimir Putin envisions an early 2016 opening for the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Europe launches a pair of Galileo global navigation satellites on Thursday.

U.S. Budget

Congress Passes Another CR as Votes Await on Full Year Omnibus Bill – UPDATE
The Hill (12/17): U.S. House leaders pressed members Thursday to approve a controversial $1.1 billion omnibus appropriations bill that funds the federal government through the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year. The measure, which funds NASA at $19.3 billion with increases for its human exploration and commercial crew program initiatives, must pass the House and Senate and receive the president’s signature. The latest budget continuing resolution expires Dec. 23.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

Next Stop: Mars – Lockheed Martin Delivers NASA’s InSight Spacecraft to Launch Site
Yahoo Finance (12/17): Contractor Lockheed Martin shipped the InSight spacecraft, NASA’s next Mars lander, to its California launch site this week. InSight will undergo final processing for a March launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Expected at Mars in late September, InSight was developed to monitor the planet’s internal geological processes for the first time with a combination of U.S., French and German science instruments.

James Webb space telescope to be launched by Arianespace
Orlando Sentinel (12/17): The European Space Agency announced a contract agreement with NASA on Thursday for the launching of the multinational James Webb Space Telescope. As partner in the telescope project, ESA agreed to provide the launch, which is planned for late 2018. The JWST is the designated successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into Earth orbit in 1990.

Mars Rover Finds Changing Rocks, Surprising Scientists
New York Times (12/17): More than three years into its mission at Gale Crater on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover has detected changes in the soil mineralogy that reflect a changing environment during an early period on the red planet. While still elusive, the changes suggest that water remained influential after early lakes and streams in the crater disappeared.

Low Earth Orbit

China sends dark matter probe into orbit (12/17): China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer, launched Thursday, will search for evidence of dark matter as the satellite orbits the Earth.

NASA Reviving Effort To Put Spare Orbiting Carbon Observatory Sensor on ISS
Space News (12/17): A NASA instrument left over from the development of a satellite sensor designed to track carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere could have new life observing from the International Space Station. It may be launched in 2018 thanks to an NASA Earth Science funding increase just worked out by the U.S. Congress.

Commercial to Orbit

Aerojet Rocketdyne Finishes Design Review on Proposed RD-180 Replacement
Space News (12/17):  Aerojet Rocketdyne’s proposed domestic alternative to imports of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine has cleared a major design review.

After it was charred by a rocket explosion, NASA has a new launch pad
Washington Post (12/17): $15 million in launch blast damage to a launch pad complex operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore are now repaired. Orbital ATK, which experienced the setback on Oct. 14, 2014 as its third NASA contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station lifted off, is scheduled to return in March for ground test firings. Launches are to resume in May with a modified version of Orbital’s Antares launch vehicle.

Putin hopes launches from Russia’s new space center will be conducted in early 2016
TASS, of Russia (12/17): Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope Thursday the country’s new Vostochny space center will begin to host rocket launches in the first quarter of 2016, after overcoming months of previous delays. Construction began in 2012 as part of an effort to end reliance on Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome for Russian space launches.

Soyuz launches two more Galileo satellites (12/17): Two more of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system spacecraft reached orbit early Thursday, following their launch from French Guiana aboard a Soyuz rocket. They were the 11th and 12th of a satellite navigation network that will eventually include 30 spacecraft.

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