Today’s Deep Space Extra

December 20th, 2019

CDSExtra will be on Holiday hiatus starting Monday, December 23, returning Monday, January 6.  Happy Holidays and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all!


In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Congress wraps up work on a 2020 budget for NASA. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner lifted off early Friday for an orbital test flight to the International Space Station (ISS).  The vehicle experienced a problem with the orbital insertion burn and is now in a stable orbit. 

Human Space Exploration

FY2020 appropriations bills clear last legislative hurdle
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (12/20): The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a pair of fiscal year 2020 appropriations measures, House Resolution 1158 and H. R. 1865, the first of which provides NASA with $22.6 billion through the fiscal year that concludes on Sept. 30, 2020. The House passed the bills on Tuesday. The legislation awaits signature by President Trump on Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown at midnight, when the current budget resolution expires. Though the total matches the overall NASA request in March and a supplement in May, the appropriation assigned to NASA’s human lunar lander initiative falls well below the amount the agency requested to achieve an accelerated human return to the lunar surface in 2024, or $600 million vs. $1.4 billion. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has pledged to pursue the 2024 goal with the 2021 NASA budget request and by looking to development alternatives through the agency’s existing Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program and NextSTEP initiative. Also, H.R. 1865 includes a provision that extends a waiver of the Iran-North Korea-Nonproliferation Act from December 31, 2020 until December 31, 2025, permitting NASA to purchase additional seats on Russian Soyuz rockets bound for the Space Station. The Soyuz seats are to ensure that NASA astronauts can staff the Station continuously, while Boeing and SpaceX pursue certifications of their CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft to regularly transport NASA astronauts to and from the space station. The last Soyuz with a NASA seat is set for launch in April.

Coalition for Deep Space Exploration applauds FY2020 NASA appropriations bill
The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (Coalition) applauds Congress for its passage of the FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act with strong funding levels for NASA’s exploration and space science programs. The bill increases funding for NASA by more than $1.29 billion (B) above the appropriated FY 2019 levels, with a $200 million (M) increase to space science missions and nearly $900M increase for human exploration.

Starliner suffers “off-nominal” orbital insertion after launch
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (12/20): Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle launched early Dec. 20 on a critical uncrewed test flight, but appeared to suffer thruster problems after reaching space. The Starliner spacecraft separated from the Centaur nearly 15 minutes after liftoff, having been placed into a suborbital trajectory designed to permit safe aborts for the Starliner during ascent. Four orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters on the Starliner were scheduled to fire 31 minutes after liftoff to put the spacecraft into an initial orbit. However, that burn did not take place as planned. Initial indications are that there was a timing mismatch between the actual Mission Elapsed Time and timekeeping of the onboard system controlling the insertion burn. “Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is not in its planned orbit. The spacecraft currently is in a stable configuration while flight controllers are troubleshooting,” NASA said in a brief statement. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that a thruster burn did not take place but that the spacecraft was in a stable orbit.

Editor’s Note:  For more on the logic of flight testing and insight into how such problems are worked, see CDSE President and CEO (and former Flight Operations Manager) Mary Lynne Dittmar’s Twitter thread:

Astronauts can’t wait to watch Boeing’s 1st Starliner capsule launch into space
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (12/19): NASA astronaut Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke were among those gathered at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida early Friday for the milestone test launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station (ISS). The eight day test mission is to set the stage for a crewed test flight with Mann, Fincke and Boeing’s Chris Ferguson in 2020. Successful flights could lead to the certification of regular Starliner missions to transport astronauts to and from the ISS. NASA has relied on Russia’s Soyuz for crew transportation since NASA’s shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

Space Science

‘Cotton candy’ planet mysteries unravel in new Hubble observations
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (12/19): Still going strong after more than 29 years in Earth orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope offers something new about planet formation around a sun-like star, the Kepler 51 system. The system, which was discovered in 2021 by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, features planets more like puffy than solid.

NOAA to complete transition to next-generation GOES weather satellites (12/19): Two advanced NOAA weather satellites, GOES 16 and 17, launched in 2016 and 2017 as the first in the agency’s GOES R series are ready to shoulder weather observations for a range of North American forecasters from their West and East geostationary orbital positions. Predecessors GOES 14 and 15 will be powered down and placed in “orbital storage” status by the end of January, NOAA announced on Wednesday.

Op Eds

To colonize space or not to colonize: That is the question (for all of us)
Forbes (12/18): The answer, if yes, will require a broad consensus across the commercial, civil, defense and international elements of the space community in order to understand the magnitude and complexity of leaving the Earth for the rest of a life and potentially those of family members and descendants. Colonizing is more than exploring, which already enjoys wide support, writes Fred Kennedy, in an op-ed.

Other News

Georgia spaceport decision delayed (12/18): Georgia’s Camden County board of commissioners has requested that the FAA place an application for a spaceport license on hold while it reviews the options for launch activities it wishes to pursue. Initially, the application was focused on a dozen medium large rocket launches annually, followed by first stage landings. Camden now anticipates small launch vehicle launches without recoveries.

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