Today’s Deep Space Extra

December 17th, 2018

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA advances a flight plan for its first test flight of the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule with astronauts on board. SLS hydrogen propellant tank hardware moves to the Marshall Space Flight Center for ground tests. Russia plans to reduce the travel time to the International Space Station (ISS) to three hours over the next 18 months.

Human Space Exploration

“Plan D for outer space” NASA updates EM-2 mission baseline (12/14): A new update from NASA explains changes in the flight profile of NASA’s Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), the first combined test flight of the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule with astronauts aboard. The mission will launch into Earth orbit, then fly around the Moon and return for an ocean splashdown and recovery. The changes can be attributed to a decision to launch the mission with the Block 1 version of the SLS, rather than waiting until a more powerful upper stage version is available. The first test flight, EM-1, will follow a similar course but without a crew on board.

NASA moves liquid hydrogen tank to Huntsville for testing

Associated Press via New York Times (12/14): The test version of a liquid hydrogen tank for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket, a centerpiece of U.S. efforts to resume human deep space exploration, departed the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans on Friday for the Marshall Space Flight Center, where it is to undergo testing under flight like conditions. The 50 ton tank’s structure will be stressed until it cracks. In flight, liquid hydrogen and oxygen provide propellants for the powerful SLS.

Super-fast 3-hour manned flights to ISS to begin in 18 months

Sputnik International of Russia (12/10): Russia plans to reduce the launch to docking time of Soyuz missions to the International Space Station (ISS) with cosmonauts and astronauts to three hours over two orbits of the Earth, possibly within a year and a half. Currently, the launch to docking transits have spanned two days and more recently six hours over four orbits of the Earth. Russia is using its Progress cargo missions to the Space Station to test the three hour travel time.


Space Science

Tour Jezero Crater! Fly over the landing site of NASA’s next Mars rover (video) (12/16): Last month, NASA selected Jezero Crater, an ancient impact site on Mars, as the landing site for the Mars2020 rover, a mobile mechanical geologist that is to gather and cache soil and rock samples for eventual return to Earth. NASA has compiled a video overview of the site with some of its Mars orbiting satellites. Once filled by water, Jezero appears a promising site to seek evidence of possible past life.

Meet OWL and HIBOU! Japan’s asteroid hoppers get new names (12/15): In September, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission deployed the first ever hopper/landers onto the surface of an asteroid, Ryugu, where the mother ship is to touchdown to gather samples from the boulder strewn surface for return to Earth. Their mission now complete, the landers have been named Hibou and Owl.

NASA’s Hubble telescope discovered an ‘evaporating’ planet, study says

USA Today (12/14): Swiss astronomers have studied a large Neptune sized planet, GJ3470b, so close to its star that its atmosphere is evaporating quickly. The Hubble Space Telescope observations may help to explain if and how rocky planets larger than Earth may form around distant stars.

Ceres’ surface found to contain building blocks for life (12/14): NASA’s recently concluded Dawn mission at the main belt asteroid Ceres has detected the presence of organic materials, the building blocks of life, on the surface, according to a study led by experts at the Southwest Research Institute and published in the journal Nature Astronomy. Launched in 2007, Dawn explored the large asteroids Vesta then Ceres, also designated a minor planet, beginning in early 2015. The spacecraft exhausted its fuel supply on November 1.


Other News

Virgin Galactic flight wins praise from government and industry (12/14): Virgin Galactic on Friday earned praise from NASA and the U.S. Department of Commerce for its SpaceShipTwo test flight on Thursday that sent two pilots into the fringes of space for those that see 80 kilometers, or 50 miles altitude as the demarcation between the atmosphere and space. The launch from Mojave, California, was licensed by the FAA.

Gridlock in the sky

Washington Post (12/12): A rising U.S. commercial space industry, an established airline industry and government regulators are working to resolve air space conflicts as the numbers of domestic rocket launches increase.

Rocket Lab launches cubesats for NASA (12/16): Launched from New Zealand, Rocket Lab’s latest small satellite Electron rocket launch early Sunday boosted a flock of 13 NASA CubeSats into orbit. Each of the satellites was developed by a NASA center or an academic institution under the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative and Educational Launch of Nanosatellites program, or ELaNa.

Warriors’ Stephen Curry chats with retired astronaut, apologizes for Moon joke

San Francisco Chronicle (12/15): NBA superstar Stephen Curry recently caused a stir when he challenged the authenticity of NASA’s Apollo Moon lander missions. On Saturday, he spoke by Instagram with retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who holds the U.S. record for the longest single spaceflight, about space exploration. The Golden State Warrior star apologized, expressing surprise at how far and fast his expression of doubt spread earlier in the week.


Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of December 16-31, 2018 (12/16): Looming on Friday at midnight is a possible U.S. government shutdown over the absence of a 2019 fiscal year budget. Among agencies vulnerable to a shutdown are civil agencies that include NASA and NOAA. Congress and President Trump could agree to extend the current budget continuing resolution, allowing a new Congress to address the budget anew in January. At mid-week, NASA astronaut Serena Aunon Chancellor, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev are to descent to Earth after a 6 1/2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Their Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was the source of a small air leak discovered and repaired in late August. As the new year nears, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is to pass close to the Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule and the Osiris Rex asteroid sample return mission probe is to enter orbit around the near Earth object Bennu.

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