Today’ Deep Space Extra

July 27th, 2020

In Today’ Deep Space Extra… A busy week is in store for the space community. There’s the launch Thursday of NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover. NASA Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley conclude their two month test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) late Saturday and Sunday. The U.S. House appears likely to addresses NASA’s 2021 budget on Wednesday.

Space Policy

Amendments to FY 2021 minibus seek $2.6 billion more for NASA, changes for other civil space offices (7/27): Potentially on Wednesday, the full U.S. House will address a collection of appropriations measures called a “minibus” which includes 2021 spending for NASA, which is part of the Commerce, Justice and Science spending bill. NASA emerged from the Appropriations Committee with $22.6 billion, the same as appropriated for 2020, but $2.6 billion less than requested by the White House. Hit hard was a request in 2021 for $3.37 billion for a Human Landing System (HLS) to shuttle astronauts between lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon. A bipartisan group of eight House members are backing an amendment to match the administration’s $25.2 billion 2021 request. The Senate has yet to consider the issue.

Human Space Exploration

NASA and SpaceX set timeframe for Crew Dragon’s first operational mission 
Florida Today (7/23): NASA is looking to a no earlier than late September launch date for the initial SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a crew of four U.S. and Japanese astronauts. The planning depends on a successful return to Earth of the NASA Commercial Crew Program/SpaceX Demo-2 test flight to the ISS with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. The duo launched and docked to the ISS on May 30/31. They are slated to undock late August 1 and descend to Earth for a parachute assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida on August 2.

Russian cosmonauts could be going to the Moon without a super-heavy launch vehicle
Sputnik News of Russia (7/25): Russian rocket manufacturer Energia has developed a proposed low cost strategy for transporting human explorers to the Moon without heavy lift. It uses reusable spacecraft and the International Space Station (ISS), or an alternate space station, as the departure and return point for cosmonauts bound for the Moon. [Editor’s Note: Sputnik News is a Russian state-controlled news outlet]

Space Science

3 great mysteries about life on Mars
New York Times (7/25): NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover is to launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Florida, the last of three spacecraft to head for the Red Planet during a favorable alignment with the Earth. India’s Hope orbiter, China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter, lander and rover and Perseverance seek to independently assess the past habitability of Mars, when and if that era came to a complete close and what caused a once warmer, wetter Martian environment to become cold and desert-like. Perseverance is scheduled to lift off Thursday between 7:50 a.m. and 9:50 a.m., EDT.

The real science behind SETI’s hunt for intelligent aliens
Ars Technica (7/25)): The search for signs of technically intelligent extraterrestrial life, a concept born of two Cornell University researchers in the late 1950s, appears to be undergoing a gradual revival after struggling for decades to obtain funding and establish a sustainable research community.

China launches global naming campaign for Mars rover
Xinhuanet of China (7/24): As did NASA, China is sponsoring a naming contest for the Mars rover launched last Thursday as part of the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter, lander and rover mission. The spacecraft is to reach and enter orbit around the Red Planet in February, with the lander descending with the rover in May. The deadline for submitting proposed names is August 12. NASA’s student naming contest produced Perseverance as the name for the Mars 2020 rover.

NASA Mars rover: Meteorite to head home to Red Planet
BBC (7/26): Preparing to launch as soon as Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover will be carrying with it a piece of Mars from a meteorite recovered from Oman in 1999 and preserved at London’s Natural Science Museum. Its well-studied mineral composition will serve as a calibration asset for the NASA rover’s Sherloc instrument, which is to look for signatures of past biological activity. Perseverance is to land at Jezero Crater, site of an ancient lake and stream delta, on Mars in February.

Ground system for NASA’s Roman Space Telescope completes major review
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (7/24): Originally known as the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), NASA’s Roman Space Telescope with its wide field of view is under development to address the mysteries of dark energy and to seek out biosignatures in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. The ground system, which completed its preliminary design review, will gather and make data from the observatory available to scientists and the public. A mid 2020’s launch is planned.

NASA Jupiter probe images huge moon Ganymede like never before (7/25): Jupiter’s Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system. Imagery from NASA’s Juno probe offers the closest views of the icy body yet.

Would humanity have been ready if Comet Neowise was hurtling toward Earth?
Houston Chronicle (7/23): Now fading from naked eye view as it moves away from Earth, comet Neowise was a popular topic among amateur as well as professional astronomers because of its rare temporary brightness. Discovered in late March by a NASA space observatory, the comet has the planetary defense community discussing what could have been done in such a short time had Neowise been on a course to collide with the Earth.

Op Eds

America must return to the Moon ‘as soon as possible’
Politico (7/24): “There is no acceptable choice for America’s future but to return to the Moon to stay, and to do so as soon as possible,” writes Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt. “The Apollo experience shows that human exploration of the solar system is one of those ideas that bring peoples together and harnesses the tremendous commercial resources of the U.S.”  Schmitt, a geologist, was the only scientist among those who walked on the Moon. He went on to serve in the U.S. Senate.

A broken world searches for life on Mars
Orlando Sentinel (7/26): NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover is nearing a July 30 launch on a mission largely focused on the past habitability of a Martian environment now cold and desert like. Chris Gibbons notes Perseverance is the most technically advanced and its science team the most diverse of three Mars missions getting underway this month. China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter, lander and rover and the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) Hope orbiter, launched last week. “Our divided country could learn a lot from this inspiring NASA team,” writes Gibbons.

Ligado is LightSquared fiasco 2.0
Aviation Week (7/27): The FCC has endangered a national treasure by allowing high-power terrestrial transmitters in the band of frequencies that includes GPS, write Admiral (ret) Thad Allen, Professor Brad Parkinson, and Captain Sully Sullenberger.

Other News

U.S., China jockey for advantage in space race
Coalition Member in the News – United Launch Alliance
The Hill (7/26): A 21st century space race is heating up this month as both China and the United States launch missions to Mars. China launched its Mars mission Thursday in a bid to become the second country to successfully land on the Red Planet behind only the United States. Exactly a week later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is scheduled to launch its own Mars rover. The timing is based on planetary orbits, and both missions have science, not defense, goals. But experts and those involved say the back-to-back launches show the great power competition between the United States and China is now playing out far above the earth’s atmosphere.

Space war: U.S. to meet with Russia; rolls out warfighting doctrine
Breaking Defense (7/24): On Tuesday in Vienna, representatives of the U.S. and Russia are to meet for a Space Security Exchange, a bilateral discussion on space security. The U.S. State Department seeks to establish norms of behavior while opening a communications channel to avoid misperceptions over on orbit activities. The session comes at a time when Russia and China are stepping up their weaponization of space. The U.S. national security community last week exposed an alleged anti-satellite activity by Russia earlier this month.

Long March 4B lofts latest Ziyuan-3 satellite (7/24): Using a Long March 4B rocket, China on Friday placed a civilian, high resolution remote sensing satellite into orbit. The Ziyuan satellite is to survey natural resources, help with natural disaster-reduction and prevention and provide data for farming, water conservation and urban planning between 84 degrees north and 84 degrees south latitude.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of July 26 – August 2, 2020 (7/26): An eventful week on space operations and policy looms. NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover is to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Thursday during a two hour window that opens at 7:50 a.m., EDT. On Saturday and Sunday, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program/SpaceX Demo-2 test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) is to undock with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley and splashdown off Florida’s East or West coast. Also, this week, the U.S. House is to consider the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriation bill that includes NASA funding for the fiscal year that begins October 1. On Thursday, the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group is to convene Thursday morning.

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