Today’s Deep Space Extra

October 29th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Global enthusiasm for a NASA led return to the Moon with human explorers appears on the rise, though the issue financial support remains unresolved. NASA’s Mars InSight lander is again forced to suspend its digging activities.  

Human Space Exploration

Coming together to go to the Moon
Space Review (10/28): Last week’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) brought major players from the commercial as well as the global government sector together in Washington to ponder and discuss a role in a NASA led, accelerated human return to the surface of the Moon in 2024 and then sustained lunar exploration. The enthusiasm, much of it coming from participants in the International Space Station (ISS), was evident. Still uncertain are required budgetary investments from the global government sector, including the U.S. Congress.

Study underscores changes in brain structure, function in long-duration space missions (10/28): A recent study published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology reveals that changes in cognitive performance among astronauts are linked to changes in in-flight brain structure. The data were derived from seven space shuttle fliers and a dozen from International Space Station (ISS) missions. Neuroradiologist Dr. Donna R. Roberts, of the Department of Radiology and Radiological Science at the Medical University of South Carolina, is urging more studies to help assess how astronauts will perform after long missions to Mars.

Space Science

InSight heat flow probe suffers setback (10/27): After resuming its dig into the Martian subsurface during much of October, the NASA Mars InSight lander’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package experiment has again encountered a setback in its quest to characterize the red planet’s internal heat flow. InSight touched down in late November 2018 to gain a better understanding of Martian geophysics. The HP3’s probe, nicknamed “the mole” was to pound its way five meters into the surface. Shortly after starting the process in February, the digging was stopped with the probe about 30 centimeters below the surface and its progress blocked. Engineers came up with a plan to overcome what appears to be little understood Martian soil properties and resumed the digging again in early October. However, images sent back to Earth from InSight late Saturday showed the HP3’s subsurface probe had backed halfway out of the ground..

One scientist’s 15-year (and counting) quest to save Earth from asteroid impacts
Space Review (10/28): She’s Amy Mainzer, now of the University of Arizona, who has championed a Near Earth Object survey mission to identify and track many more of the asteroids that cross the Earth’s orbit path and pose collision threats. NASA is on board with a mission to launch an infrared observatory called NeoCam by 2025 to better assess the threat. In 2005, Congress directed NASA to identify 90 percent of the NEOs 140 meters and larger that pose a threat and reach the goal within 15 years. NASA can get there with NeoCam but not by the deadline.

Asteroid Hygiea may be the smallest dwarf planet in the solar system (10/28): Hygiea has been assessed as the fourth largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Now, Hygiea, 1/5th the diameter of Pluto, is under consideration for designation as a dwarf planet. Findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Close encounter with a gigantic jet (10/25): Pilot Chris Holmes shares an October 15 lightning surprise as he flew over the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan Peninsula. The spectacular visual suggests thunderstorms may pack a lot more electrical energy than previously thought.

Other News

Virgin Galactic soars and then levels off on first day as publicly traded space company (10/28): Virgin Galactic went public on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.  “Like the rocket plane it operates, Virgin Galactic’s stock price blasted off on its first day as a publicly traded company, and then glided to a somewhat lower altitude,” Geek Wire reports. Founder Richard Branson was present at the exchange for the opening.

Military enthusiastic about commercial LEO satcom but wants proof that vendors can deliver (10/28): The U.S. Army is enthusiastically evaluating the capabilities of low Earth orbit satellite constellations to deliver ultra-fast broadband at a lower cost, and lower latency, than the current connectivity from geosynchronous satellites. Key questions are quality of the hardware, launch timing, construction and support for terminals and who will provide the support.

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