Today’s Deep Space Extra

February 15th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The U.S. Senate and House found a bipartisan path to avoid another partial government shutdown, while funding agencies like NASA through September 30. Meanwhile, NASA brass met Thursday with commercial launch services providers to stress an urgency over returning to the Moon, first with science and tech payloads, then human explorers. Praise for the Opportunity rover’s long mission at Mars just keeps coming.


Congress approves FY 2019 appropriations to avoid another shutdown, now up to Trump (2/14): By late Thursday, the U.S. Senate and House agreed to a bipartisan $328 billion federal government spending measure for the remainder of the 2019 fiscal year, of thru September 30, which would avoid another partial government shutdown affecting a number of civilian agencies, including NASA and NOAA. The legislation moved on to President Trump, who indicated he will sign the measure before a midnight Friday deadline, though he’s not pleased with how lawmakers dealt with his immigration policy objectives, including the construction of a border wall. The President has vowed to declare a national emergency in order to extend a border wall. The current legislation includes $21.5 billion for NASA. The President’s request for NASA was $19.892 billion. House appropriators backed $21.546 billion in spending, while Senate appropriators agreed to $21.323 billion. Development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion as well as an Exploration Upper Stage and second Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) for the SLS continues as well as efforts to make a sustained human return to the Moon with commercial and international partners. So, too, with the Wide Field Space Infrared Telescope (WFIRST) and flyby and lander missions to Europa, the active ice and ocean covered moon of Jupiter. 

Back pay for contractors left out of shutdown deal, affecting hundreds of NASA workers

Orlando Sentinel (2/14): Government contract workers were left out of a post partial U.S. government shutdown agreement this week avoiding a second shutdown and assuring back pay to civil servants employed by agencies like NASA and NOAA who were furloughed or required to work throughout without pay. The December 22 to January 25 shutdown affected an estimated 800,000 civil servants and 1.2 million government contractors, according to the report. Several legislators are backing provisions that would include back pay for contractors not compensated for the December/January shutdown.


Human Space Exploration

NASA wants to get to the Moon ‘as fast as possible.’ But countries like China and India are racing there, too.

Washington Post (2/14): Thursday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine met with prospective aerospace company partners to express an urgency about working to place an American space craft on the lunar surface as soon as this year. Ultimately, NASA would like to return human explorers to the surface of the Moon as soon as 2028. First, though, it must develop the capabilities by landing science experiments and technology demonstrations. President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-1, issued in December 2017, calls on NASA to lead a sustained human return to the lunar environs through commercial and international partnerships. China, which succeeded in softly landing the first spacecraft on the Moon’s far side in early January, India and possibly even Russia are weighting lunar activities with some urgency. There appear to be resources, water ice, which could be converted to rocket propellants and He 3, an isotope of helium which could fuel a fusion reactor to generate electricity. Those and minerals in the lunar soil may serve as commercial incentives. 

NASA emphasizing “speed” in its return to the Moon

Ars Technica (2/14): NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hosted a meeting with potential commercial lunar launch services providers on Thursday to address a strategy for establishing a sustained human presence on the Moon. Key elements are a human tended, lunar orbiting Gateway as a staging site, as well as commercial descent and ascent vehicles. The transport of humans would follow the development of commercial capabilities for transporting experiments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface. A human return to the lunar surface is planned for no earlier than 2028, while uncrewed demonstrations would take place between 2024 and 2026.

Boeing starts final assembly for NASA’s first SLS Core Stage, work picks up for the second

Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (1/28): Elements of the first Space Launch System (SLS) core stage, whose prime contractor is the Boeing Co., have begun to come together at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, starting with the liquid oxygen tank and forward skirt. Construction of a second core stage is beginning as well. The SLS is a cornerstone of plans by NASA to lead a sustained human return to the Moon, and eventually embark with human explorers to Mars. The first core stage is assigned to Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), an uncrewed test flight of the SLS and Orion that will loop around the Moon and return to Earth for an ocean splashdown and recovery.


Space Science

Goodbye, Opportunity rover. Thank you for letting humanity see Mars with your eyes.

Washington Post (2/14): An editorial tribute recognizes the achievements and longevity of NASA’s Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover, whose mission was formally closed out on Wednesday, a solid 15 years into what was to be a 90 day mission. Now we know, thanks to Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, that Mars likely once hosted warm, wet habitable environments. Now, the experts can continue the search to determine if some form of life arose.

Mars rovers of the future: What comes after Opportunity (2/14): Unable to contact the Mars Opportunity rover since late June 2018, NASA on Wednesday called the mission to halt, more than 15 years into what was to be a 90 day mission. However, the agency’s Curiosity rover, which landed in August 2012, continues to explore Gale Crater, a now dry but nearly 100 mile wide impact basin once filled with water. And NASA is preparing for the mid-2020 launch of Mars 2020, a rover that is to collect samples of soil and rock from what appears to be a once habitable environment on the red planet for eventual return to Earth.

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