Today’s Deep Space Extra

May 14th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The Human Exploration and Operations Committee of the independent NASA Advisory Council entered a two day discussion Wednesday on an evolving strategy to return human explorers to the surface of the Moon in 2024. Complexity and safety as well as success are among the concerns. 

Human Space Exploration

NASA advisors worry agency is spinning its wheels on Artemis (5/14): On Wednesday, the first day of a two day meeting between the independent NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee produced an updated glimpse at the agency’s evolving strategy to achieve a challenging accelerated return to the surface of the Moon with human explorers in 2024. One evolving element is the Gateway, a lunar orbiting, human tended way point for the astronauts arriving from Earth and shuttling to the lunar surface and back. Currently, NASA plans to launch the first two elements of the Gateway, power and propulsion and habitat and logistics elements together in 2023. Another concern is the Human Landing System (HLS), which like Gateway may face changing requirements. Some committee members questioned the complexity and safety of a strategy that seems schedule challenged.

NASA refines plans for launching Gateway and other Artemis elements (5/14): As part of their briefing Wednesday to the independent NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, NASA planners said the second test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew capsule may include a rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) demonstration. Designated Artemis 2, it will be the first test flight of the large rocket and crew capsule with astronauts on board. The target for RPO activities could be the SLS rocket’s second stage, known as the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or a co-manifested satellite. Artemis 2 is to follow an uncrewed test flight of the large rocket and Orion capsule and ahead of Artemis 3, the mission featuring the return of human explorers to the lunar surface in 2024.

Astronauts enter a routine quarantine for historic SpaceX Crew Dragon launch (5/13): In preparation for their scheduled May 27 launch on the NASA Commercial Crew Program/SpaceX Demo-2 test flight to the ISS, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley entered a medical quarantine at their Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site on Wednesday. They will be the first to liftoff from the U.S. since NASA’s shuttle fleet was retired in July 2011. They will greeted at the ISS by a three person U.S. and Russian crew for a mission that could extend up to four months.

Space Science

Finally! InSight’s Mole is making slow and steady progress
Universe Today (5/13): NASA and its partners at the German Aerospace Center report a measure of progress in efforts to pound the Mars InSight Lander’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) into the Martian subsurface in order to measure how much thermal energy rises from the core through the mantle and crust, clues to how physically active the Red Planet is. Insight touched down in late November 2018 and soon ran into difficulties attempting with a robot arm to hammer the HP3 sensor, also known as the “mole,” into the crust because of unanticipated adhesive soil properties.

How NASA’s future rovers might escape alien sand traps
New York Times (5/13): Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have a rover design that can roll, walk and swim, capabilities that may be needed to deal with a Martian terrain that includes sand traps. Such a trap derailed NASA’s Spirit rover on Mars in May 2009. Two years later after failed efforts to recover, managers were forced to declare an end to Spirit’s mission.

NASA data reveals what’s behind Pluto’s blue haze
USA Today (5/13): The latest data on distant Pluto’s thin atmosphere and blue haze came from the NASA led Sofia aircraft observatory, which followed up on close up observations made by the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft as it made the first close flyby of Pluto in July 2015. The haze is a product of small particles that found a home in the dwarf planet’s thin atmosphere and reflect light. 

Op Eds

What the government should or should not do to help space industry (5/13): The nation’s new space sector has suffered lasting implications from the coronavirus pandemic. The startups must be helped to respond by the government with clear communications on addressing the highest priorities along with the funding to achieve them, writes Mikhail Grinberg, a principal at Renaissance Strategic Advisors. The nation’s adversaries are busy pursing their own space objectives and developing space architectures, he writes. Launch services companies and developers of small satellites are among those expected to experience the worst, he adds.

Other News

Intelsat files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
Reuters (5/14): Satellite operator Intelsat SA said late on Wednesday that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, making it the latest casualty of severe business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company listed assets and liabilities in the range of $10 billion to $50 billion, according to a filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Intelsat also said it had received $1 billion in debtor-in-possession financing.

Space Force vice commander: China can’t be allowed to buy bankrupt U.S. space companies (5/13): As OneWeb confronts bankruptcy due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company’s space internet connectivity assets could be up for purchase. Without specifying a specific company, however, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the U.S. Space Force, offered assurances that U.S. commercial assets essential to national security will not be available for purchase by Chinese investors, a possibility reported by British news outlets.

Coronavirus not slowing Russian, Chinese space activities, U.S. General says
Defense One (5/12): Speaking Tuesday before the Mitchell Institute, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, the U.S. Space Force vice commander, said China and Russia are continuing their military space pursuits despite the Covid-19 pandemic, some of them especially aggressively.

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