Today’s Deep Space Extra

October 28th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The absence of a 2020 budget could jeopardize efforts by NASA to accelerate human return to the Moon by 2024. NASA will speak with Russia about the purchase of additional Soyuz transportation for astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as key Commercial Crew Program flight tests approach. China looks to lead a human lunar exploration effort.

Human Space Exploration

Stopgap funding bill could impair NASA’s lunar ambitions (10/26): The U.S. federal government’s 2021 fiscal year got underway on October 1, without a new budget approved by the House and Senate and signed by President Trump. Instead, the government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) with most activities spending at 2019 levels until November 21. Another CR through February or March could jepoardize NASA’s Artemis initiative to accelerate a human return to the surface of the Moon in 2024.

NASA likely to buy Soyuz seats, defer Japanese astronaut flight
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (10/25): NASA is looking to the first half of 2020 – perhaps the first quarter of next year – to certify and begin launching astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) using Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during last week’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC). However, to assure continued U.S. presence on the Space Station, NASA will speak with Russia about the purchase of one and possibly two seats on Soyuz rockets next year. The last Soyuz seat reserved for NASA launches in April. The purchases could mean that Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will have to delay his Station launch. 

SpaceX fires up a Crew Dragon abort engine ahead of critical tests (video)
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (10/27): SpaceX offers a look at last Thursday’s ground test of the Crew Dragon launch escape system engine via social media. Follow on testing of the Super Draco engine, including an in-flight abort test, is planned over the coming weeks. That is to move SpaceX closer to certification of the company’s Crew Dragon to begin regularly scheduled transportation of astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing as well as SpaceX to develop and certify new crew launch capabilities.

China to launch Chang’e-5 lunar probe in 2020
Xinhuanet of China (10/26): China’s Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission is planned for a 2020 launch atop a Long March-5 rocket, according to an opening day announcement at the first China Space Science Assembly on Saturday.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries mulls upgraded H3 rocket variants for lunar missions (10/25): In Japan, the launch vehicle manufacturer Mitsubishi is considering production of a new rocket, the H3, for lunar resupply missions as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) partners with NASA to return human explorers to the surface of the Moon and prepare for the human exploration of Mars. The H3 is expected to launch in 2020 with an upgraded variant of Japan’s HTV cargo vessel to the International Space Station (ISS).

Space Science

China to launch Chang’e-5 lunar probe in 2020
Xinhuanet of China (10/26): China’s Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission is planned for a 2020 launch atop a Long March-5 rocket, according to an opening day announcement at the first China Space Science Assembly on Saturday.

NASA to send VIPER rover to study ice on the Moon (10/25): During remarks Friday at the final session of the week-long International Astronautical Conference (IAC) in Washington, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine outlined plans for the 2022 launch of a rover mission to the south pole of the Moon caller VIPER. As it explores, VIPER will be equipped with sensors and a drill to quantify and sample reservoirs of water ice in permanently shaded regions. Water ice could offer a resource for life support needs, including oxygen and water, and serve as the raw material for the production of liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuels.

NASA Europa mission could potentially spot signs of alien life (10/25): Last Wednesday’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) gathering in Washington D.C. featured a science panel discussion on NASA’s pending 2023 mission to Europa, the ice and ocean covered moon of Jupiter, which may harbor habitable environments. The Europa Clipper flyby mission is intended to better assess the moon made famous by the science fiction classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. “We’re not a life-search mission,” said Robert Pappalardo, the mission’s NASA project scientist.  “But, if Europa’s interior happened to be rich in organic microbes pouring out of it, we would be able to tell from the mass spectra probably, possibly that we’re sensing life. That’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.”

Op Eds

Op-ed | NASA should shed lesser priorities to achieve a 2024 moon landing (10/27): In an op-ed, Doug Cooke, a previous NASA associate administrator of the former Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, questions the complexity of a lunar orbiting, human tended Gateway in achieving an accelerated return to the surface of the Moon with human explorers in 2024. He recommends a return with a crewed Orion/Space Launch System (SLS) mission coupled with the launch of a cargo version of the SLS and integrated lunar lander/ascent vehicle. The Gateway’s value lies in future preparations for missions to Mars, writes Cooke, who offered his perspective to a Congressional oversight panel in September.

Other News

Air Force X-37B secret spaceplane lands after 780 days in orbit (10/27): The U.S. Air Force X-37B uncrewed, reusable space plane touched down early Sunday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), ending a record 780 day, mostly classified orbital spaceflight. It was the fifth flight overall for the X-37B, the latest of which lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on September 7, 2017. A sixth flight is planned for 2020.

Japanese lunar lander company ispace on schedule for 2021 first mission
Coalition Member in the News – Astrobotic (10/24): Takeshi Hakamada, founder of Tokyo-based ispace, said the company is structurally testing the first of its Hakuto-R series of Moon landers, with plans to launch the initial mission in 2021. Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington D.C. this week, he described the first mission as a test flight, with the second launch to follow in 2023 with payloads that will include a rover.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of October 27 to November 2, 2019
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman (10/27): The U.S. House and Senate are in session. The NASA Advisory Council, its subcommittees and other space advisory panels are gathering this week. On the legislative front, the Senate resumes debate on NASA appropriations for the 2020 fiscal year, which began October 1. A 4-week meeting of the International Telecommunications Union/World Radio Conference begins to address spectrum issues, which underpin all telecommunications capabilities on Earth and in space. (Follow the ITU on Twitter @ITU). Northrop Grumman’s 12th NASA contracted cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is set to launch early Saturday from Wallops Island, Virginia.

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