Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 23rd, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The coronavirus pandemic has prompted telework on or suspension of work on space projects, including the James Webb Space Telescope, and the postponement of conferences, including Tuesday’s planned meeting of the National Space Council. Retired astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent almost a year in space, shares tips on how to handle isolation. The launch of the next International Space Station (ISS) crew, a U.S. astronaut and two cosmonauts from Russia, remains on schedule for April 9 atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Human Space Exploration

How NASA is keeping coronavirus off the International Space Station (ISS) (3/17): Currently, the launch of the next International Space Station (ISS) crew, one NASA and two Russian cosmonauts, is set for April 9 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy and his cosmonaut colleagues are quarantining ahead of liftoff to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to space. It’s a precaution NASA astronauts have followed since 1971 and the Apollo 14 mission.

Space Science

Coronavirus suspends work on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman (3/20): In an update in NASA’s response to the coronavirus, agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine advised pre-launch testing and integration of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been suspended in response to the pandemic. The designated successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST observatory is currently at Northrop Grumman facilities in Redondo Beach, California, where its being prepared for a launch as soon as March 2021. The response to the pandemic is just the latest challenge for the telescope, which has faced technical and cost issues, that is designed for observations of the earliest stars and galaxy formation and the study of extra solar planets for signs of biomarkers.

China’s Chang’e 4 lander and rover awake once more on far side of the Moon (3/21): China’s Chang’e 4 lander and Yutu 2 rover were pronounced in a good operational status as they “awoke” to sunlight last week to begin robotic exploration at Von Karmen crater on the Moon’s south pole. The lander with rover touched down at the site on January 3, 2019. It was the first soft landing on the Moon’s far side.

Interstellar comet Borisov may be breaking up as it exits solar system
New Scientist (3/20): Comet Borisov, an interstellar visitor, is starting to brighten, perhaps in response to its close approach to the sun in December 2019. That suggests it may be breaking apart of shedding material after heating up. Borisov was first spotted last August.

Scientists trace famed 1987 supernova to weird blue supergiant star (3/22): In 1987, a stellar explosion in a galaxy not so far away, the Large Magellanic Cloud, caused quite a stir among the astronomy community. Follow-up studies suggest the star was a blue super giant that formed from a previous merger between a red super giant and main sequence star. The study also identifies a neutron star that may be the remnant.

The search for E.T. goes on hold, for now
New York Times (3/23): SETI’s seti@home screensaver for personal computers and a doorway into the search for intelligence beyond the Earth goes on hiatus on March 31 from sending out data on the long running initiative started in May 1999. “It allowed you to imagine that you might one day receive a spam call or e-mail from a real-estate agency on some asteroid, or a little green salesman trying to sell you black hole insurance” note science writer Dennis Overbye.

Op Eds

I spent a year in space, and I have tips on isolation to share
New York Times (3/21): Now retired, former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly lived and worked for 340 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015-16. In an op-ed, Kelly offers some advice to the growing numbers of people around the world embracing self-isolation in response to the coronavirus. Develop a schedule, pace your activities and find a way to stay in touch with nature and pursue a hobby, he advises.

Other News

National Space Council meeting postponed (3/21): Plans by the White House to hold the next meeting of the National Space Council on Tuesday in Washington have been postponed indefinitely. No specific reason was provided. Earlier, plans for the meeting were moved from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to Washington in response to coronavirus concerns.

DoD memo: Suppliers of critical products and services must stay on the job during pandemic (3/20): Contractors critical to aerospace, manufacturing and intelligence activities for U.S. national defense and security will keep working through the coronavirus pandemic, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord stated in a Mar. 20 memo. The “Defense Industrial Base” is one of the sectors identified by the Homeland Security Department on March 19 as critical infrastructure.

Fox news anchor dotes on dad, a Houston doctor working around the clock
Houston Chronicle (3/20): Dr. William Fisher, a NASA shuttle astronaut, flew in 1985 on one of the program’s most successful early missions. He returned to the practice of medicine in 1991. The father of Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher, the former astronaut is among those staffing Texas Medical Center hospitals in Houston and like many in the health care industry now risking his life.

Soyuz launches 34 OneWeb satellites (3/21): The launch Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan expanded by 34 to 74 the number of startup OneWebb’s constellation of small broadband communications satellites. Using electric propulsion, the new satellites are to raise their orbital altitudes to 1.200 kilometers. OneWebb envisions a 648 satellite network, including orbital spares.

SpaceX wins FCC license for up to a million Starlink satellite broadband data terminals (3/20): After a long wait, SpaceX has received approval from the FCC for up a million ground terminals to work with the company’s emerging StarLink global broadband internet network of small satellites. Three hundred sixty of the satellites have been launched so far.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of March 22 to April 4, 2020 (3/22): The U.S. House and Senate schedules are dynamic, focused at week’s start on emergency legislation dealing with the coronavirus threat. Within the space community, most in person gatherings have been cancelled for at least two weeks. Those of the Space Studies Board’s various committees will meet virtually, skipping plenaries and public lectures. Meanwhile, the Aerospace Corporation plans a 12 part series of one hour webinars on a range of policy themes, four of the events are planned over the next two weeks and airing between 1 and 2 p.m., EDT.

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