Deep Space Extra for Monday, December 21, 2015

December 21st, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. The U.S. House, Senate and White House enacted an omnibus 2016 spending bill on Friday with increases for NASA and other federal space initiatives and effective through Sept. 30. Space Center Houston features NASA’s Journey to Mars hardware for the holidays. Star Wars: The Force Awakens sets an opening day box office record. The Lockheed Martin assembled Mars InSight lander reaches its California launch site for a March lift off. Silica distributions discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars suggest sustained habitable environments. Scientists test possible explanations for methane on Mars. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captures spectacular Earthrise views from the moon. The U.S./European Cassini spacecraft marked a final flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus over the weekend. U.S. astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra are to embark on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station early Monday to secure the Mobile Transporter, a rail car used to move the station’s robot arm. Russia launched a Progress re-supply mission to the space station early Monday. Russian RD-180 rocket engine purchases could ease U.S. national security concerns. NASA orders a second Boeing CST-100 Starliner launch to transport astronauts bound for the International Space Station. Optimism rises for a commercial solution to the Pentagon’s future satellite communications needs. A look at major space related events planned for the week ahead.

U.S. Budget

FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Clears Congress, Signed by President (12/18): The $1.1 trillion U.S. omnibus appropriations bill for 2016 was passed by the U.S. House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama on Friday. The measure includes $19.3 billion for NASA, including increases for human exploration program development and commercial crew. NOAA and the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation fared better than 2015 as well. With fact sheet detail.

Human Deep Space Exploration

Orion capsule exhibit previews ‘Journey to Mars’ at Space Center Houston
Collectspace (12/20): Space Center Houston, the official visitors’ center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, is featuring Orion capsule hardware as part a Journey to Mars exhibition The display includes a full scale engineering mockup of the Lockheed Martin developed spacecraft designed for future missions of human deep space exploration.

New ‘Star Wars’ destroys records with $238M weekend
USA Today (12/20): Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh episode in the Star Wars popular film saga, sets an opening weekend box office record with $238 million in ticket sales.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

Mars lander arrives at VAFB ahead of March launch
Lompoc Record, of California (12/18): NASA’s Lockheed Martin assembled Mars InSight spacecraft has reached its March launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Once settled on the Martian surface, InSight is to study the red planet’s interior processes. The mission is the first head for Mars that is to be launched from Vandenberg.

Curiosity findings puzzle Mars rover team
Physics World (12/18): Scientists are puzzled over rich deposits of silica at the base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater, the August 2012 landing site of the Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory rover. Silica chemistry is part of habitable environments on Earth and signals as much on Mars. Findings were presented last week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Mystery on Mars: Does Methane Really Indicate Life? (12/18): Scientists pursue possible explanations for a temporary spike in atmospheric methane noted in late 2013-early 2014 at the NASA’s Curiosity rover landing site on Mars. One explanation involves possible biological activity, the primary source of methane on Earth.

Another Enthralling `Earthrise’ View of the Home Planet
New York Times (12/18): NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captures the latest in a line of spectacular “Earthrise” photos.

Mapping Saturn’s Moons
New York Times (12/18): The long running Cassini orbiter mission at Saturn has studied 62 moons. Enceladus, among the most interesting of them and a candidate to possess a habitable environment, received its final flyby on Sunday.

Low Earth Orbit

Unscheduled spacewalk on tap Monday
CBS/ (12/20): U.S. astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra are scheduled to embark on a spacewalk early Monday to secure the NASA mobile transporter on a rail line attached to the space station’s long central truss. NASA flight controllers discovered the rail car jammed but unsecured last week during a re-location operation. Station mission managers want the transporter secured before a Russian Progress re-supply capsule attempts to dock to the space station early Wednesday.

Modernized Russian cargo ship heads for space station (12/21): A Russian Progress re-supply capsule lifted off for the International Space Station early Monday on a two day flight to the six person International Space Station. The 3:44 a.m., EST lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan should set up a docking early Wednesday.

Op-ed | National Security in Space: Cleaning up a Mess
Space News (12/18): Lifting U.S. restrictions on the import of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine to ensure the timely launching of national security payloads is crucial, writes Kent D. Johnson, retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former political-military adviser on the staff of the secretary of the Air Force (international affairs).

Commercial to Orbit 

NASA orders its second commercial crew flight from Boeing
The Verge (12/18): NASA on Friday ordered its second Boeing CST-100 Starliner launch with astronauts bound for the International Space Station.  Boeing is one of two U.S. companies participating in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is ordering launches two to three years ahead of the anticipated lift off to give the companies time to assemble spacecraft and procure launch vehicles.

DoD’s Pivot to Commercial Satcom: Reality or Wishful Thinking?
Space News (12/18): The U.S. Department of Defense appears ready in 2016 to turn to the commercial sector to meet its global communications needs in the face of growing national security concerns and constrained budgets.

The Week Ahead

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 21-31, 2015 (12/20): The coming week includes several dynamic activities, the launching and docking of Russia’s 62 Progress International Space Station re-supply mission. The launching Monday at 3:44 a.m., EST, is to conclude with a docking on Wednesday at 5:31 a.m., EST. NASA astronauts Mark Kelly and Tim Kopra were prepped for a spacewalk early Monday to secure the station’s Mobile Transporter ahead of the Progress docking. The transporter remained unlatched after remote operations last week.

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