Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 14th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… U.S. and Russian astronauts are set to launch from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station (ISS) late Thursday. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine weighs options to keep Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) on schedule for a June 2020 launch, the first joining Orion and the SLS rocket for an uncrewed multi week test flight around the Moon. Alternatives include turning to a commercial launch alternative.

Human Space Exploration

Soyuz crew set to try again, 5 months after frightening launch abort (3/13): NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch readied to join cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin Thursday aboard the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for their planned launch at 3:14 p.m., EDT, to the International Space Station (ISS). Their six hour sprint to the orbiting science lab is to return the ISS to six person crew operations. Hague and Ovchinin survived a dramatic October 11 launch and abort of the Soyuz MS-10.  Hague, Koch and Ovchinin, the Soyuz commander, are to dock with the Space Station at 9:07 p.m., EDT.

NASA considering flying Orion on commercial launch vehicles

Coalition Member in the News – United Launch Alliance (3/13): NASA is assessing commercial alternatives to the Space Launch System (SLS) for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), a multi-week test flight that currently is to join Orion and the SLS together for the first time for a flight around the Moon and back to Earth for an ocean splashdown and recovery, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a U.S Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday. The SLS appears unlikely to be ready for the planned mid-2020 launch. NASA would continue to prepare the SLS for EM-2, the first flight of Orion with astronauts, which would also track around the Moon. A commercial launch alternative to the SLS for EM-1 would likely require two launches, one for Orion and its European Space Agency (ESA) service module and a second launch for a booster rocket. The Orion elements and the booster would have to be docked in Earth orbit, another agency challenge. Orion was launched into an uncrewed Earth orbit test flight in December 2014 using a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV.

The White House is in such a hurry to get to the Moon that NASA is considering sidelining its major rocket to make it happen

Coalition Member in the News – Boeing

Washington Post (3/13): In his U.S. Senate Commerce Committee testimony Wednesday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency will not abandon the Space Launch System (SLS), whose core stage is manufactured by Boeing, if it turns to commercial launch services in order to meet a June 2020 launch date for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), a test flight that is to take an uncrewed Orion capsule around the Moon and back to Earth for recovery.

Coalition for Deep Space Exploration statement following Senate Commerce hearing with the NASA administrator

Coalition For Deep Space Exploration (3/13): The Coalition commented Wednesday on testimony presented Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on NASA’s intent to re-assess how best to launch Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first joint test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion rocket as planned by June 2020. Changes under consideration could shift the uncrewed Orion launch to a commercially provided rocket.

Rehearsing for the Mars landings in Hawaii and Idaho (3/13): Rugged landscapes in both Hawaii and Idaho are proving useful in preparing for the future human exploration of Mars. Astronauts will need to know how to read the terrain as they seek out limited numbers of rock samples for return to Earth and deal with lengthy delays in communications with experts and support personnel back on Earth.

NASA head says first person on Mars is ‘likely to be a woman’

CNN (3/12): The prediction comes from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who explained that women are at the forefront of many of the agency’s plans. July will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step to the surface of another planetary body. NASA plans to make a sustained return to the lunar surface by the late 2020s and prepare for the future human exploration of Mars. 


Space Science

The asteroid Bennu keeps spinning faster and scientists aren’t sure why (3/13): NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Bennu in December and is preparing to touchdown briefly in 2020 to retrieve a sample of the surface material for return to Earth in September 2023. The asteroid’s very slowly increasing rotation rate was noted by ground based observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope.

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