Today’s Deep Space Extra

December 13th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The U.S. House is progressing with the Senate on a new NASA authorization measure that would extend oversight of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2030. NASA and Boeing set a December 20 launch date for an uncrewed test flight of the company’s CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA and its Osiris Rex science team select primary and backup touch down sites on the asteroid Bennu for collection of material to return to Earth.

Human Space Exploration

House preparing to introduce new NASA authorization bill (12/12): The U.S. House Space Subcommittee is close to ending development of a 2020 NASA authorization measure, the first for the agency since 2017. According to chair U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, the measure is in harmony with a Senate version passed by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee in November that would extend NASA leadership of the International Space Station from 2024 to 2030. The Senate version also calls for a stepping stone approach to human deep space exploration without specifically endorsing a human return to the lunar surface in 2024. In remarks before a space law conference in Washington this week, Horn said the House measure seeks to protect NASA’s deep space agency from the stops and starts that have accompanied past changes in administration.

NASA approves December 20 Starliner test flight
Coalition Members in the News – Boeing, United Launch Alliance (12/12): NASA on Thursday conducted a flight readiness review for the upcoming launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The review concluded with a December 20 target launch date for the Starliner atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The mission is to dock with the Space Station a day after launch for a check over several days prior to descending to a landing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico early on December 28.

Boeing, NASA clash over push for Congress to fund new stage for Moon rocket
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing
Washington Post (12/11): At a ceremony this week at NASA’s New Orleans assembly plant where Boeing is assembling what will be the most powerful rocket ever to fly, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine cheered the “beautiful, beautiful” progress its prime contractor had made on the challenging and often maligned project. He declared the troubles that have long plagued the development of the rocket’s 212 foot long main section to be in the past. What he did not mention was the fight brewing behind the scenes over Boeing’s effort to force NASA to fast-track the company’s next offering: a new, enhanced second stage that would give the Space Launch System rocket dramatically more lift than even the mighty Saturn V that sent astronauts to the moon during the Apollo era. 

Space Science

NASA’s Osiris-Rex selects target asteroid landing site
New York Times (12/13): After nearly a year conducting a close up reconnaissance of the surface of the asteroid Bennu, NASA announced on Thursday the selection of primary and backup touchdown sites on the primitive object’s very rocky surface for the collection of surface materials to return to Earth. Nightingale, the primary site, lies in the northern hemisphere. Backup Osprey is quite close to the equator. Following a brief touchdown to collect surface material as soon as mid-2020, Osiris-Rex could depart Bennu in March 2021 and return to Earth to deliver a sample canister in September 2023. The materials may help to explain the role primitive asteroids played in the planet forming process, including the distribution of water ice and organics, the building blocks of life.

How NASA’s next Mars rover will hunt for alien life (12/11): When it launches for Jezero Crater on Mars in July 2020, NASA’s 2020 Mars rover will be scientifically equipped to analyze the texture and the composition of rocks in fine detail to seek evidence of biomarkers, or evidence of past life, on the red planet. The rover will also collect and cache soil/rock samples for eventual return to Earth and further assessment.

Op Eds

One small step toward the $2 billion Moon prize
Newsweek (12/12): A handful of space advocates with legislative experience and expertise in civil and national security space urge support for a commercially deployed Power Tower Lunar Precursor mission developed by the NASA Ames Research Center’s space portal team. The concept would deploy power towers on the lunar surface to ensure solar power distribution during the long lunar night, communications across the moon and global positioning signals for navigation. The advocates, which include former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, believe the infrastructure would help to temper efforts by China to lay claim to lunar assets, including water ice at the poles, a resource for human explorers and a feed stock for the production of liquid hydrogen and oxygen rocket propellants.

Other News

This was the decade the commercial spaceflight industry leapt forward
The Verge (12/11): The about to end decade has been marked by a significant rise in the role commercial space will play in future exploration and economic development. As the shuttle era and other initiatives in which civil and military government agencies contracted out rocket development came to an end, companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, and others emerged offering innovation and space operations at lower costs. However, the change may have unintended consequences, an over enthusiasm for filling low Earth orbit with small satellites and a perhaps unquestioned faith in SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s deep space ambitions.

Exclusive DoD, Commerce wrangle new commercial remote sensing regulations
Breaking Defense (12/4): The U.S. Commerce Department and Pentagon are attempting to resolve differences over the commercial sales of high resolution Earth imagery. Opponents of changes in regulations that are intended to encourage more sales are concerned about national security risks. Proponents claim that commercial interests emerging in Russia, China, India and South Korea are already moving toward higher resolution data products.

Rocket Lab’s Virginia launch pad opens for business, with Air Force as first customer (12/12): Startup and California based Rocket Lab announced Thursday that its Electron rocket will launch for the first time from its new launch site, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island on Virginia’s eastern shore, during the first half of 2020. The small satellite launch service’s first launch from Wallops will be an experimental micro satellite for the U.S. Air Force. Rocket Lab has been launching from New Zealand.

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