Today’s Deep Space Extra

January 16th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys appears close to resuming science operations. China’s Chang’e 4 lunar far side lander powers down for the lunar night. Protesters express support for ending the partial U.S. government shutdown, which has led workers at NASA, NOAA and other civilian agencies to go without pay.

Human Space Exploration

SLS liquid hydrogen tank test article loaded into test stand (1/15): The largest piece of structural test hardware for America’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), was loaded into Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama January 14, 2019. The liquid hydrogen tank is part of the rocket’s core stage that is more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.


Space Science

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to Resume Operations

NASA (1/15): The Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys is returning to normal operations, NASA reported on Tuesday. The 29-year-old space observatory’s primary camera faltered on January 8, when abnormal voltage levels were detected. Upon troubleshooting, it appears the difficulty was with the transmission of telemetry rather than a power issue. More diagnostic testing is underway, but the Wide Field Camera 3 could be back to normal operations by the end of the week.

Two daring spacecraft aim to bring asteroid dust back to Earth

New Scientist (1/15): The publication checks in on two asteroid sample return missions now underway, NASA’s Osiris Rex, which sent into orbit around its target, Bennu, on New Year’s Eve, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa 2, which arrived at its target, Ryugu, in mid-2018. The Japanese mission has found Ryugu more boulder strewn than anticipated, challenging plans to touchdown this year to gather surface and subsurface materials for return to Earth. Osiris Rex plans a lengthy surface reconnaissance of Bennu before touching down in mid-2020 to collect soil samples. Scientists hope the samples from both missions can further explain the role asteroids played in the delivery of water and organics to rocky planets and the rise of life.

Chang’e-4 spacecraft enter lunar nighttime, China planning future missions, cooperation (1/15): China’s Chang’e 4 lander/rover, the first mission to achieve a landing on the Moon’s far side, has entered a power down mode for its first exposure to the lengthy lunar night. The spacecraft touched down late Jan. 3. The spacecraft’s Russian-developed radioisotope thermoelectric generator is providing sufficient power during the break and the approaching science phase. China is prepared to discuss international cooperation for future lunar missions.

1st interstellar visitor ‘Oumuamua is actually not that special (1/15): Much was made in late 2017 when an extra solar object was discovered crossing the solar system. It was given an enticing name, “Oumuamua.”  Now, it seems this cigar shaped object, whether comet, asteroid or something entirely different, is likely not that unusual. Scientists offered explanations during last week’s American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Seattle.

A new technique to figure out how old stars are

Universe Today (1/15): At Embry Riddle University, scientists have proposed a new technique for gauging the age of stars. It’s based on assessing the characteristics of aging white dwarf rather than main sequence stars. Seems the older they are, the more stars reveal their age.


Other News

‘I feel … helpless:’ About 50 people protest government shutdown at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Houston Chronicle (1/15): A small group, about 50 people, gathered outside the main gates of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) on Tuesday to peacefully protest the partial U.S. government shutdown that began December 22 over differences between the White House and Congress over immigration reforms, including a call to construct a wall on the southern border. NASA is among those civilian agencies affected by the shutdown that prompted the furlough of an estimated 800,000 workers nationwide. Many are struggling to pay housing expenses and other bills.

NASA wanted to use China’s spacecraft to plan a new American moon mission, top Chinese scientist says

South China Morning Post (1/16): China’s first ever spacecraft lander mission to the Moon’s far side includes an orbiting communications relay satellite. Years before the lander/rover touched down earlier this month, NASA scientists inquired about the possibility of placing an American relay on the communications satellite, now known as Queqiao, to help plan a future American mission to the far side, according to a Chinese lunar program scientist.

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