Today’s Deep Space Extra

December 23rd, 2021

Deep Space Extra will be on hiatus for the holidays. We will return on Monday, January 3, 2022. 

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The James Webb Space Telescope remains on schedule to launch on December 25. The world’s space agencies have big plans for space science missions in 2022.


Human Space Exploration

NASA is tracking two explorers across Antarctica to prepare humans for Mars (12/22): NASA is following along as a pair of British explorers carry out a 2,300-mile trek across Antarctica. As of Wednesday, the two men marked the 32nd day of their planned 80-day hike. The “Chasing the Light” mission is intended to provide global space agencies a better understanding of the mental and physical challenges of exploring planetary bodies. In addition to freezing temperatures, the explorers are braving winds that have reached up to 200 miles per hour. Justin Packshaw and Jamie Facer Childs are wearing smart devices that collect the data for NASA, as well as the European Space Agency (ESA) and Stanford University.


Space Science

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launch: Live updates (12/22): The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is confirmed for no sooner than December 25 at 7:20 a.m. EST atop an Ariane 5 rocket. is offering updates on the launch plans and post-launch milestones. In addition, NASA live launch coverage is scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. EST, over NASATV and stream over www.nasa.govnasalive and various social media platforms. Those details are available from NASA at

JWST launch marks only the start of a risky deployment process (12/23): While launch is typically the riskiest part of a mission, in the case of the Webb telescope liftoff will be the “easy” part in comparison to what the observatory will experience after. Webb will have to complete a series of first-of-its-kind complex deployments and maneuvers once it separates from the upper stage. The first deployment takes place 33 minutes after launch, when it releases its solar panel. That will be followed by its first midcourse correction burn. Deployment of the telescope mirror begins 10 days after liftoff. A maneuver 29 days after launch will place JWST into its final halo orbit around the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange point, nearly one million miles from Earth.

2022 will be a big year for space exploration (12/22): Eager to overcome Covid-19 workplace constraints, the world’s space agencies have big plans for 2022. Those include the NASA partnered production of a 3-D printed habitat to simulate life on Mars and a European/Russian collaboration to send the Rosalind Franklin rover and Kazachok Russian lander to Mars. NASA’s JUICE mission is to launch to Jupiter to assess the potential for the moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa to host life. In late 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) Euclid infrared space telescope is to launch to study dark matter and dark energy.

Two spacecraft view comet Leonard
Universe Today (12/22): Now visible in the night sky near planet Venus, the comet Leonard has been imaged by a pair of spacecraft, NASA’ STEREO-A spacecraft and the NASA/ESA Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager.


Other News

Crypto entrepreneur to go to space on New Shepard (12/23): Justin Sun, a controversial Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur, revealed he was the person who submitted the winning bid of $28 million for a seat on Blue Origin’s first crewed suborbital launch earlier this year that took founder Jeff Bezos and three others to space. Sun did not go on that July 21 flight, citing scheduling issues, and his place was taken by another customer, Oliver Daemen. After missing that trip, Sun is buying a dedicated New Shepard flight in 2022.

GAO raises more questions about DoD’s capabilities to monitor threats in space (12/22): A U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) audit released on Wednesday questioned efforts by the U.S. Space Force to develop software tools needed to track objects and the threats they could pose in outer space. The Space command and control initiative was previously managed by the U.S. Air Force. The software is intended to help operators identify and monitor threats to U.S. and allied space assets, as well as communicate and share information. The effort costs about $150 million annually.

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