Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 28th, 2022

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to deliver a “State of NASA” address on Monday as the White House budget proposal for 2023 is presented to Congress. Efforts to return samples of Mars gathered and cached by NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover will likely move dates.


Human Space Exploration

Jam-packed schedule pits Artemis test against private astronaut mission
Coalition Members in the News – Axiom Space, Boeing (3/26): Axiom Space’s first commercial private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a crew of four, AX-1, has cleared a Flight Readiness Review for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Pad 39A as soon as April 3. However, NASA’s Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) for the Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule is planned for the same day on neighboring Launch Pad 39B. The WDR would take precedence, assuming both remain on their current schedules, NASA announced on Friday. The soonest AX-1 could launch would be April 4 at 12:50 p.m. EDT. Management involved in the respective activities are to review scheduling Monday (March 28). The availability of nitrogen gas is one factor in the planning.  

Additional funding unlikely to accelerate commercial space station projects
Coalition Members in the News – Axiom Space, Northrop Grumman (3/25): Funding may not be the most critical factor in efforts by U.S. companies to pursue the timely development of the commercial space stations that could replace the International Space Station, according to representatives from companies designing private space stations and who participated in a panel on the topic at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium on Friday. “What more money does for you is allows you to take care of problems when they pop up,” said Marshall Smith, senior vice president at Nanoracks. Representatives from Axiom and Sierra Space elaborated. “We have a risk of a gap that we really have to pay attention to,” said Steve Lindsey, chief strategy officer of Sierra Space. “We’re going as fast as we can with the resources we have.” Bottom line: More funding could help with risk reduction but not necessarily hasten schedules. It’s NASA’s intent to continue ISS operations through 2030.

China’s Tianzhou-2 cargo craft leaves space station core module
Xinhuanet of China (3/27): Tianzhou-2, a cargo capsule launched to China’s Tiangong space station on May 29, 2021, departed the orbital outpost over the weekend and is set to make a controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. It delivered 6.8 metric tons of supplies. (Editor’s note: Xinhuanet is a Chinese government-owned news source).


Space Science

NASA to delay Mars Sample Return, switch to dual-lander approach (3/27): The strategy for and timing of a joint NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Sample Return mission are changing as planning unfolds, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, informed the National Academies’ Space Studies Board during a March 21 meeting. The return of samples of Martian rock and soil gathered by NASA’s Perseverance Rover would move from 2031 to 2033. The launch of an ESA Earth Return Orbiter would move from 2026 to 2027. The number of NASA landers would increase from one to two, one with a rover to gather the Perseverance samples and one with a Mars Ascent Vehicle to launch the samples from the Martian surface to ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter. Their launch from Earth would move to 2028. The still uncertain cost of the ambitious mission is estimated to be at least $7 billion. The sample return strategy is also likely to be impacted by ESA’s recent decision to withdraw from a partnership with the Russian space agency for the launch of the ExoMars lander and rover that was planned for September.

NASA’s Roman mission might tell us if the universe will tear itself apart in the future (3/25): Planned for launch in 2027, NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope could address a major mystery: Will our universe expand until it rips apart? A California Institute of Technology-led study addresses design features for the future space observatory that could help to address the mystery through studies of dark energy. The assessment of observatory requirements is published in the Astrophysical Journal. NASA hasn’t finalized the Roman Telescope’s mission design yet. There’s still room to tweak things, and this study is an effort to explore how they might tweak it for best results.


Other News

Ukraine plans to join the EU. Will the nation’s space prospects expand as a result? (3/26): In late February, Ukraine applied for membership in the European Union (EU). If successful, while Ukraine is under attack by Russia, the application could make Ukraine’s space startups and the country’s legacy of space infrastructure and technology eligible for grant funding. “European companies will be able to hire Ukrainian workers without bureaucratic obstacles and vice versa, and conduct joint training,” according to the report. Ukraine is also part of NASA’s Artemis Accords, a set of principles for a peaceful strategy for the exploration of the Moon.

French startup raises funding to develop solar sails (3/26): Paris-based Gama has raised $2.2 million from private and public investors to develop and demonstrate a solar sail propulsion system. The Gama Alpha spacecraft is scheduled to launch in October. Launched as a rideshare, the cubesat is set to demonstrate the deployment of a 73.3 square meter solar sail.


Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of March 27 – April 3, 2022
Coalition Member in the News – Axiom Space (3/27): The Biden Administration on Monday will present its federal budget request for the 2023 fiscal year to Congress. A specific time of day for the release had not been publicly identified as of early Monday. However, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is slated to present a “State of NASA” address from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 2 p.m. EDT, followed by a budget news media briefing at 4:30 p.m. NASA will televise and stream Nelson’s remarks on NASA TV and The budget telecon will be streamed on NASA TV. Early Wednesday, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is scheduled to return to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) with cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov. Their touchdown into Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-19 is scheduled for 7:28 a.m. EDT. On Thursday, NASA will host a pre-launch news briefing with the three NASA and one European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts assigned to the next Crew Dragon mission to the ISS, which is scheduled to launch in April. At the beginning of April, NASA plans to start the Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR), an elaborate countdown simulation for the first test flight of the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule around the Moon without astronauts.

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