Today’s Deep Space Extra

January 2nd, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Happy New Year!  Much transpired over the U.S. Christmas/New Year’s holiday, though parts of the federal government, including NASA and NOAA, were shut down because of a White House/congressional budget impasse. NASA’s first ever asteroid sample return mission spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, broke records when it entered orbit around its target destination, Bennu, on New Year’s Eve, becoming the first spacecraft ever to orbit such a small object. Soon after, NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft carried out a close flyby of Ultima Thule, a Kuiper Belt Object 4.1 billion miles from the sun and the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft. Meanwhile, China is preparing to set its Chang’e 4 lander/rover down on the Moon’s far side, marking another first.

Human Space Exploration

Reigniting the spirit of Earthrise

The Hill (12/26): The holidays brought a return of “Earthrise”, the powerful image from Apollo 8, the first human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit that took three NASA astronauts around the Moon on Christmas Eve of 1968. Ahead in the first seven months of 2019 are the 50th anniversaries of Apollo’s 9, 10 and in July, Apollo 11, the first human mission to the surface of another planetary body, the Moon. In an op-ed, Frank Slazer, of the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA), explains the many benefits of the bold move undertaken by the U.S. in the 1960’s, ranging from a greater awareness of the environment to an enthusiasm for science and engineering. “It’s a reminder that the biggest achievement of the Apollo program was not the demonstration of American capability or scientific strength. It was the ability to encourage the next generation to move beyond the troubles of today to create a more exciting tomorrow,” he notes.

Crewed Orion spacecraft passes critical design review

Coalition Member in the News – Lockheed Martin (12/28): In early December, NASA’s Orion program completed a critical design review focused on changes to the crew exploration capsule planned after the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) uncrewed test flight of Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) and prior to Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2). EM-2 is a second test flight that will include astronauts for the first time. Changes are planned to life support systems and cockpit displays. EM-2 is to take four astronauts around the moon and back to Earth in the second half of 2022.

Orion aces another test at NASA Plum Brook

Sandusky Register of Ohio (12/23): A NASA Orion test article has cleared a milestone acoustic test at the NASA Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook test facility. The test involved an evaluation of the capsule’s Universal Stage Adapter, which links it to the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket as it climbs to space.


Space Science

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is triumphant in encounter with the most distant object ever visited

New York Times (1/1): NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on New Year’s Day signaled a successful close flyby of the most distant planetary object ever, the Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule. Ultima is 4.1 billion miles from the sun and believed to be a well preserved remnant from the earliest days of the solar system, and potentially a bowling pin shaped object or two objects measuring 22 miles by 9 miles. New Horizons launched in January 2006 for a successful flyby of Pluto in July 2015. The data gathered during the Ultima flyby is expected to take 20 months to fully reach the Earth.

OSIRIS-REx probe goes into close orbit around asteroid Bennu and sets a record (12/31): NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission spacecraft successfully maneuvered into orbit around the near-Earth object Bennu on New Year’s Eve. Bennu is the smallest object and the altitude of the orbit is the least ever for any planetary mission spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is to map the surface for a suitable site to land briefly and collect up to 70 ounces of soil and rock in mid-2020. The material is to be returned to Earth on September 24, 2023. Scientist believe the findings will help to reveal the roles asteroids played in the distribution of water and organics, the building blocks of life, to Earth and the other rocky planets.

Chang’e-4 lowers orbit ready for first-ever landing on far side of the Moon

GB Times of Finland (12/30): China’s Chang’ 4 lunar mission lowered the altitude of its orbit around the Moon from 62 miles circular by 9.4 miles in preparation for a landing at the south pole Von Karmen crater in the early days of January. The lander/rover reached the lunar environs on December 12.

‘Mother of Hubble’ Nancy Grace Roman led the way for women in astronomy (1/1): At a time when men dominated the field of astronomy, Nancy Grace Roman stepped up to become “the mother of Hubble.” Roman was the first chief of astronomy in the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters and the first woman to hold an executive position at the space agency. In her role, she successfully managed a number of astronomy-based projects, including what would eventually become the Hubble Space Telescope.

A giant collision might explain why Uranus is the weirdest planet

Mashable (12/22): Scientists have long been puzzled by the outer planet Uranus and the large tilt in its rotation, something much different than the vertical tilt of its sibling planets. Now, researchers believe the tilt is due to a past collision with a small planetary object, perhaps 3 to 4 billion years ago.


Other News 

Shutdown: What’s open at NASA

Spaceflight Insider (12/29): As 2018 drew to a close with a December 22 government shutdown still in place for many federal agencies, including NASA and NOAA, only essential personnel remained in place. Many of those were assigned to oversight of the International Space Station (ISS), now staffed by three men and women. NASA support for upcoming Commercial Crew Program test flights came to an untimely temporary halt. However, NASA activated its TV and social media assets to support New Horizons historic flyby of Ultima Thule and the OSIRIS-REx entry into orbit around its sample return target, the asteroid Bennu.

Commercial space bill dies in the House (12/22): The Space Frontier Act, legislation calling on the Trump Administration to extend NASA support for the International Space Station (ISS) from 2024 to 2030 along with reforms in commercial space regulations, stalled in the U.S. House on December 21, two days after it cleared the Senate with unanimous consent. Many of the provisions, including the Space Station extension, are expected to be revisited by the new Congress.

NASA facility renamed to honor Katherine Johnson

Associated Press (12/24): Katherine Johnson, the African American female whose mathematics skills contributed to the success of early U.S. human spaceflight, has been honored as the namesake of the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility, a NASA test center in Fairmont, West Virginia.

SpaceX launches first GPS 3 satellite

Coalition Member in the News – Lockheed Martin (12/23): After several launch delays, the first U.S. Air Force third generation Global Positioning Satellite (GPS), developed by Lockheed Martin, rose atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early December 23 to an elliptical transfer orbit that has a 12,500 mile final altitude.

China is infiltrating US space industry with investments

The Hill (12/26): Alarm within the U.S. commercial space industry grows over Chinese intrusiveness. The Asian world power has invested in emerging technology, advanced on national security fronts in the sector and been implicated in a hacking campaign whose targets include NASA, other federal agencies and tech companies.

China sends secretive satellite towards geostationary orbit with 38th launch of 2018

GB Times of Finland (12/24): Using a Long March 3C, China place a communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit on December 24. The secretive communications relay satellite may also double as a missile early warning sentry, according to Chinese media reports.

China launches six Yunhai-2 satellites for atmospheric environment research

Xinhuanet of China (12/29): On Saturday, a Chinese Long March 2 D rocket placed seven satellites in orbit, six for atmospheric and space assessments and the seventh for communications tests.

Soyuz launches cluster of 28 satellites (12/27): Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome was the site for a Soyuz 2.1A launch late December 26 that placed more than two dozen international satellites into Earth orbit, including a pair of Russia Earth observation spacecraft.


Major Space Related Activities for the Week 

Major space related activities for the week of December 30, 2018 to January 12, 2019 (12/30): The U.S. Government remains in a partial shutdown, which began December 22. Those agencies and employees affected include NASA and NOAA. NASA was able to use its TV and social media accounts to provide news from its Osiris Rex and New Horizons missions to the asteroid Bennu and Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule. The members of Congress elected in early November are to be seated on January 3. Also, the space community is closely watching China’s Chang’e 4 mission, the first ever lander/rover mission developed to reach the Moon’s far side south pole.

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