Today’s Deep Space Extra

April 13th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Life on Earth as well as in space has its challenges, challenges worth confronting, according to those that have been there. Pre-launch preps equip NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover with a small helicopter. Russia stops Soyuz rocket production in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Human Space Exploration

NASA astronauts are returning from space to a changed world due to coronavirus
Florida Today (4/10): In a news briefing on Friday, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan acknowledged they will be returning to an Earth that’s changed because of the coronavirus pandemic since they launched to the International Space Station (ISS). Meir launched on September 25, 2019 and Morgan on July 20, 2019. They are scheduled to end their Space Station stays this Friday as they descend to Earth with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka. “It certainly will be very difficult for me to not be able to give some hugs to my family and friends,” said Meir.

Space Science

NASA satellite ends 17-year mission measuring the sun’s impact on climate
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman (4/10): NASA’s Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, or SOURCE mission, ended quietly on February 25 after 17 years of studying how radiation from the sun interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere to influence weather, climate and life. Constructed by Orbital Sciences Corp, now Northrop Grumman, SOURCE had a five year design life.

NASA satellite sees air pollution drop over northeastern U.S. amid coronavirus outbreak (4/11): Major urban areas in the U.S. northeast appear to be undergoing a decline in air pollution according to observations with the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite. Scientists attribute the clearing to a reduction in travel as American limit their movements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mars Helicopter attached to NASA’s Perseverance rover
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (4/10): With the July 17 – August 5 launch window for NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover nearing, workers have installed the Mars Helicopter, the focus of an attempt at power controlled flight within the atmosphere of another planet. The rover mission’s sky crane descent stage has also been fueled. After a February 2021 landing, the rover’s primary mission is to assess Mars habitability and gather and cache samples of soil and rock for eventual return to Earth.

Op Eds

Apollo 13 reminds us of hard things worth doing
The Wall Street Journal (4/10): In an op-ed, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine joined with Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell to recall the challenge NASA confronted 50 years ago this week in turning disaster into victory. As it neared the Moon, the three man Apollo 13 crew experienced an oxygen tank explosion. Working with the three astronauts, NASA’s Mission Control devised a rescue strategy.  Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise splashed down safely on April 17, 1970.

Other News

Senators ask GAO to review FCC oversight of satellite constellations (4/10): U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the audit arm of Congress, to investigate why the FCC is not conducting environmental reviews of small satellite constellations for internet connectivity, like SpaceX’s Starlink. The concern is for the reflectivity of the growing satellite constellations and their impact on the astronomy community.

Space Acquisition Council to consider new actions to help aerospace industry cope with pandemic (4/10): The council, created by Congress to pace space procurements by the Pentagon, is to meet on an emergency basis to discuss measures intended to assist the aerospace industry in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Russia suspends Soyuz rocket production amid coronavirus (4/10): Production of the Soyuz-2 rocket family used to launch crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as satellites has been suspended by Russia in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The OneWebb bankruptcy filing may also be a factor. The move comes with a stockpile of 52 of the rockets, 40 in storage, 12 at spaceports.

Virgin Orbit conducts cryogenic flight test with fueled LauncherOne booster
Parabolic Arc (4/12): Launcher One, Virgin Orbit’s large air launch aircraft, took to the skies from Mojave, California, on Sunday for a test flight with a rocket carrying RP-1 propellant and cryogenic nitrogen that featured a rehearsal of pre-launch maneuvers.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the weeks of April 12-25, 2020 (4/12): Friday is the scheduled return to Earth of NASA’s Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan, following 205 and 272 day missions to the International Space Station (ISS). They will descend aboard a Russian Soyuz into Kazakhstan with cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, who launched with Meir. The U.S. House and Senate remain in recess. This week includes notable anniversaries in space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space 59 years ago Sunday. NASA’s space shuttle launched for the first time 39 years ago Sunday with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen. Apollo 13, a near disaster played out this week as well, concluding with a safe return for Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise 50 years ago on Friday. Many previously scheduled activities on the policy front have been forced to change plans because of the coronavirus epidemic.

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