Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 24th, 2022

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA unveils revised strategy to acquire more commercial human lunar landers. Astronauts upgraded the International Space Station’s thermal control system during Wednesday’s spacewalk. Future space telescopes could look for technosignatures.

Human Space Exploration

NASA lays out revised approach for future Human Lunar Landing systems
Coalition Members in the News – Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman (3/23): NASA on Wednesday laid out a strategy to contract with more commercial human lunar lander providers for the exploration of the Moon with proposals submitted under a new Sustaining Lunar Development contract initiative. Dynetics, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman have expressed interest in pursuing development through a new round of proposals. In April 2021, NASA selected SpaceX over teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics after failing to receive from Congress the money sought by the agency to pursue more than one provider. SpaceX, under a NextSTEP Appendix H Option A contract, will develop an uncrewed Human Landing System (HLS) demonstrator followed by the lander for Artemis III, the first mission to return humans to the lunar surface. Under the Sustaining Lunar Development contract, NASA will seek landers able to carry more crew members and more mass. NASA will release a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) this month for the Sustaining Lunar Development program, and a final RFP will be issued in the summer. The solicitation, “NextSTEP Appendix P,” open to all companies except SpaceX, will be to build an uncrewed demonstration lander and a crewed lander for launch in 2026 or 2027. NASA is negotiating a separate contract with SpaceX under Appendix H Option B. That work will proceed in parallel with the Sustaining Lunar Development winner.

Astronauts complete spacewalk for space station maintenance and upgrades (3/23): NASA astronaut Raja Chari joined with European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer on Wednesday for a seven-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) that recovered a thermal control system loss that occurred in 2017 with the installation of repaired ammonia coolant circulation hoses. As the excursion drew to a close, it was discovered that Maurer experienced some water intrusion into the helmet of his NASA space suit. An investigation into the incident is underway. Maurer, who did not report the moisture’s presence during the spacewalk, was not in danger, according to NASA.

‘Space lettuce’ could help astronauts avoid bone loss (3/23): A University of California, Davis-led research effort suggests that an experimental strain of lettuce grown in space could provide astronauts with a natural nutrient able to preserve bone health. Currently, astronauts aboard the International Space Station spend about two hours exercising each day in order to preserve bone and muscle tissue subject to loss in the absence of gravity.


Space Science

Next generation telescopes could search for intelligent civilizations directly (3/23): Efforts to seek out evidence for biosignatures in the atmospheres of exoplanets are gaining scientific momentum. However, the latest push seeks evidence of technosignatures, which are the effects of technology on an environment. Industrial pollution, for example, represents a class of atmospheric constituents on Earth that could conceivably be technosignatures if observed in the spectra of an exoplanet. One example is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which has large sources on Earth from combustion that are greater than non-anthropogenic sources.


Other News

Vulcan Centaur on schedule for first launch in 2022 as New Glenn slips
Coalition Members in the News – Aerojet Rocketdyne, United Launch Alliance (3/23): United Launch Alliance (ULA) is expressing confidence the first launch of the company’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket will take place by year’s end. Meanwhile, Blue Origin, which is the provider of the new first stage engine, the BE-4, is seeking a relaxed schedule for the initial launch of the company’s New Glenn orbital launch vehicle with the BE-4. The initial New Glenn launch will likely not take place before the end of this year. The prognosis emerged during a panel discussion this week at the Satellite 2022 conference. 

Ukraine crisis bolsters case for keeping Space Command in Colorado, lawmakers tell Biden (3/23): Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation urged President Biden to keep the U.S. Space Command headquartered in Colorado Springs rather than transitioning to Huntsville, Alabama, as directed by former president Trump, in a letter to the White House on Tuesday. “At a time when threats in space are rapidly increasing, particularly from Russia and China, USSPACECOM cannot afford any operational interruptions and must achieve Full Operational Capability (FOC) as quickly as possible,” the delegation that includes three Republicans and six Democrats wrote. The directive to move to Huntsville is currently under review by the Pentagon’s inspector General (IG) and the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO). Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base will remain the Space Command’s home until at least 2026.

COSPAR president says all space scientists, including Russians, welcome at July meeting (3/22): Len Fisk, president of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), reaffirmed today that all space scientists, including from Russia, are welcome at the organization’s meeting in Athens this summer despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some international organizations are limiting or suspending participation by Russians, but COSPAR argues that “science is platform for dialogue even in times of profound geopolitical conflict.” However, joint projects with Russia will not be encouraged as they would have been in the past.

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