Today’s Deep Space Extra

April 27th, 2022

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… A new crew of four U.S. and European astronauts launched to the International Space Station early Wednesday. NASA remains optimistic it can reach an agreement with Roscosmos on Station crew swaps. As the finding of exoplanets reaches 5,000, the Hubble Space Telescope has contributed to the discovery of a puzzling large protoplanet exceptionally far from its star.


Human Space Exploration

Another crew heads to ISS (4/27): NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 Dragon mission successfully launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Wednesday at 3:52 a.m. EDT. The “Freedom” spacecraft with NASA’s Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Samantha Cristoforetti, was on course to dock with the ISS’s U.S. segment Harmony module at 8:15 p.m. EDT. Five days into Crew-4’s tour of duty, the Crew-3 Dragon astronauts will depart the ISS for Earth. Their Crew-3 Dragon Endeavour spacecraft launched on November 10. The newcomers have trained to participate in and oversee more than 250 science experiments and technology development efforts as well as spacewalks to upgrade the U.S. solar power system and activate the ESA robotic arm that became part of the ISS’s Russian segment in July 2021. The day’s activities are being streamed over

NASA expects decisions on ISS crew swaps by June (4/26): During a Tuesday Crew-4 pre-launch news briefing, NASA leadership continued to express optimism that NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, can come to a seat swap agreement by this fall for cosmonauts and astronauts launching to the International Space Station (ISS). Under the pact, a cosmonaut would launch on each NASA contracted mission to the ISS and one NASA astronaut would launch on each Russian Soyuz mission to the orbital lab. The seat swap exchange is meant to make sure that at least one U.S. and Russian flier are always aboard the ISS to ensure reliable operations.


Space Science

Hubble discovers exoplanet unconventionally forming at an extreme distance, NASA confirms 5,000 discovered exoplanets (4/26): Recent studies and announcements have raised the number of exoplanet discoveries to 5,000 since the first in 1992. Interestingly, one of the recent discoveries is AB Aurigae b, a massive gas protoplanet within the protoplanetary disc of its star some 531 light years from Earth. The protoplanet is forming at a distance twice that of Pluto from the sun. Its size, nine times that of Jupiter, makes it unique among the exoplanet population. Additionally, the formation is not following the typical core accretion process, but rather one that unfolds more rapidly, known as disc instability, that leads to assembly from large fragments rather than the lengthy accretion of dust and gas. The now 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope has contributed key observations. Findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy. Currently, NASA is in the process of commissioning the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and at work on the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which is planned for launch in 2027. Both are expected to contribute to future exoplanet discovery.

Shallow pockets of water under the ice on Europa could bring life close to its surface (4/26): Jupiter’s ice and ocean covered moon Europa has intrigued astrobiologists for decades. Europa’s ocean volume is estimated to far exceed that of the Earth’s and possess hydrothermal energy, making the distant moon a candidate for extraterrestrial life. The icy surface, however, makes investigating the prospect a challenge. New Sanford University-led research suggests the ice layer may contain pockets of water not unlike those in Greenland that could be accessible to a lander. NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, planned for launch in 2024, intends to probe the Jovian moon. The findings could help to select promising landing sites for a future Europa lander to investigate ice pockets.

All of the bases in DNA and RNA have now been found in meteorites (4/26): New research suggests that meteorites that reached the Earth may have delivered each of the primary building chemical blocks for DNA and RNA. The Japanese-led research effort was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Solar power is better than nuclear for astronauts on Mars, study suggests (4/27): Solar power would be the superior option over nuclear for crewed Martian missions near the planet’s equator, a new study says. Researchers found that a six-person Red Planet mission could be sufficiently powered by photovoltaic systems, adding on to decades of research on the benefits of solar power as used by robotic NASA Mars explorers such as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and the InSight lander. And humans could clean the solar panels on site, the study authors noted, preventing the problem of dust buildup that have plagued Mars spacecraft over the years.


Other News

Planetary decadal embraces planetary defense, endorses NEO Surveyor (4/26): The new National Academies Decadal Survey for planetary science weighs in on NASA’s planetary defense program for the first time, fully endorsing it. In particular, it strongly supports the NEO Surveyor mission to accelerate the search for potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEO) to comply with congressional direction to locate and catalog NEOs 140-meters or more in diameter. However, NASA’s FY2023 budget request proposes a two-year delay.

U.S., South Korea agree to cooperate on space situational awareness for military purposes (4/26): The U.S. and South Korea have struck an agreement to cooperate on space situational awareness for military purposes as part of a broader space security agreement reached during Tuesday’s session of the Space Cooperation Working Group in Washington. Under the agreement, the two nations will “share intelligence about outer space, nurture space experts through training and exercises, and enhance interoperability for combined space operations,” according to

China to build a lunar communications and navigation constellation (4/27): China plans to set up a constellation around the Moon to provide communication and navigation services for future operations on the lunar surface. China will demonstrate a small, lunar relay communication and navigation system, Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), told Chinese media on April 24. The first launch for the small constellation could take place in 2023 or 2024, according to Wu, who added that countries around the world are welcome to jointly build it. The most immediate use of the communications relay and navigation services would be to support the Chang’e-6 sample return mission and Chang’e-7, which includes an orbiter, lander, rover, and a small hopping spacecraft for investigating shadowed craters for water-ice.

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