Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 25th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA will work with SpaceX to investigate an engine anomaly on the Falcon 9.  Meanwhile, a drop test of the Dragon 2 parachute system goes awry prior to the system test. Both issues must be resolved prior to Demo 2, a planned test flight to the ISS with crew. Mercury may have hosted subsurface water and other ingredients for life.

Human Space Exploration

NASA to participate in SpaceX engine anomaly investigation (3/24): NASA Commercial Crew Program representatives will participate in an investigation into a Falcon 9 engine anomaly during a March 18 Falcon 9 launch of 60 Starlink satellites. Although the launch succeeded, one of nine first stage engines shutdown prematurely. NASA will participate as part of its contract with SpaceX for development of the Dragon 2/Falcon 9 for the regularly scheduled transportation of astronauts to and from the ISS. The incident could affect launch plans by SpaceX for Demo-2, a crewed flight test of the Dragon 2 capsule to the ISS anticipated for no earlier than May.

Another hiccup for SpaceX on the road to Demo-2 (3/24): SpaceX notified NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Tuesday following a difficulty during a helicopter borne parachute drop test earlier in the day. The test article associated with the drop test was lost when it became unstable. The parachute system that is part of the crew Dragon re-entry and landing strategy had not been activated prior to the release. The test is a crucial step in efforts by the company and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify the Dragon 2 and Falcon 9 rocket for the regularly scheduled transportation of astronauts to and from the ISS.

Russian scientists to study if space suits can bring microbes into ISS from exterior
Sputnik News (3/23): Russia’s Institute for Biological and Medical Issues plans a pair of experiments to assess to what extent the space suits worn by cosmonauts and astronauts outside the International Space Station might introduce microorganisms to the orbiting lab’s interior.

Chinese new-generation spacecraft mission proceeding despite coronavirus, Long March 7A failure (3/23): China is moving ahead with plans for a test launch of a Long March 5B heavy lift rocket with a prototype human deep space capable spacecraft. The current schedule calls for a mid to late April liftoff from the Wenchang spaceport. The 21.6 ton, two-module prototype is equipped with a propulsion source to raise its orbit to a high point of around 8,000 kilometers, or 5,000 miles, to set up a high speed re-entry to evaluate the heat shield. The rocket will also be evaluated for its ability to support the assembly of a Chinese space station with a dozen launches.

Space Science

NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars just climbed its steepest slope yet (and snapped a selfie) (3/24): Share the view with NASA’s Curiosity rover at Greenheugh Pediment on the slopes of Mount Sharp, which juts from the nearly 100 mile wide impact crater in which Curiosity landed in August 2012. The steepness of the slope was a challenge for the rover, which is seeking evidence of past, maybe present habitable environments on the Red Planet.

Mercury’s messy surface may have once had crucial ingredients for life
Smithsonian Magazine (3/24): Despite its close proximity to the sun and a legacy of asteroid impacts, planet Mercury appears to have had the ingredients for life, including water, in its subsurface, according to studies based on observations by NASA’s Messenger orbiter between 2011 and 2015.

The Thirty Meter Telescope: How a volcano in Hawaii became a battleground for astronomy (3/24): The Maunakea volcano rises from the midst of Hawaii’s Big Island, offering a key site for powerful space telescopes, like the Thirty Meter Telescope now under construction. However, because of the site’s ties to the island’s sacred past a conflict with natives to the region has the construction at a stalemate. 

Other News

SpaceX encounters first launch delay due to coronavirus
Tech Crunch (3/24): Planned for March 30 from Vandenberg Air Force Base using a Falcon 9 rocket, the launch of an Earth observation satellite has been postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus concerns.

China launches new remote sensing satellites
Xinhuanet (3/24): A Long March 2C rocket successfully placed a group of remote sensing satellites into orbit on Tuesday.

Lindsey Stirling Performs Artemis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
Artemis: the twin sister of Apollo and the name of NASA program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. In honor of Women’s History Month, musician Lindsey Stirling performed her song, Artemis, on top of the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This video features facts about some out-of-this-world women at NASA and information about NASA’s Artemis program. The Artemis program will send the first woman and next man to walk on the surface of the Moon and build a sustainable base to prepare for missions to Mars and beyond.

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