Today’s Deep Space Extra

June 22nd, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Changes in leadership of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations continue to unfold. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) is moving ahead with preparations for the Artemis 1 test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and an uncrewed Orion capsule. NASA looks to assign astronauts to U.S. commercial suborbital launches. NASA and Virgin Galactic reach a Space Act Agreement for organizing private astronaut transportation to the International Space Station (ISS).

Human Space Exploration

EGS begins Artemis 1 launch processing of SLS Booster hardware
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman (6/19): With the delivery of twin solid rocket booster segments provided by Northrop Grumman for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew capsule around the Moon, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) is stepping deeper into its new role of preparing the launch vehicles for liftoff on missions of human exploration to the Moon and Mars. Future preparations are centered around the arrival of the SLS Core Stage, which is now at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where it is to undergo a “green run” test firing of the main engines later this year. [Ed note: EGS ground processing is carried out by Coalition member Jacobs]

Boeing names new Space Station chief in latest change affecting program
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing
Reuters via Fox News (6/19): John Mulholland, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program manager has been named to lead Boeing’s Space Station operations under NASA contract. Current manager Mark Mulqueen is retiring in July

Virgin Galactic will organize private passenger trips to the Space Station for NASA

The Verge (6/22): NASA and Virgin Galactic have entered into a Space Act Agreement in which Virgin will act as a sort of travel agent for finding the transportation necessary for launching private astronauts as well as academic and government researchers to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Virgin will also develop a training program for those who launch in an effort to make greater commercial use of the orbiting science laboratory.

NASA planning mysterious test with ISS-docked Crew Dragon
Futurism (6/19): SpaceX’s NASA Demo-2 mission, which launched and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) May 30/31 with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley is now planned to remain at the orbital science lab until early August, long enough to simulate a possible crew escape.

China reveals details of next-gen crew spacecraft’s 1st test flight (6/19): Chinese space officials say their May 5-8 uncrewed test flight of a prototype 6 to 7 person spaceflight capsule sent well. The yet to be named spacecraft launched on a Long March 5B rocket and is expected to support China’s planned space station.

Space Science

Airbus wins next study contract for Martian Sample Fetch Rover (6/20): NASA is looking to July 20 for the launch of the Perseverance Mars 2020 rover. Upon landing in February 2021, Perseverance’s two year mission includes the collection of up to 43 rock and soil samples for a future return to Earth for analysis. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are discussing a collaboration on the complex follow on sample return mission that could be launched as soon as 2026. Airbus Defence and Space has received a study contract from ESA for the return mission’s Fetch Rover, which would collect the samples gathered by Perseverance and cached.

Scientists are searching the universe for signs of alien civilizations: ‘Now we know where to look’
USA Today (6/20): Harvard University scientists are among recipients of a $287,000, two year NASA grant to look for evidence of techno signatures associated with extra-solar planets. Efforts by NASA to identify Earth-like planets around distant stars or planets orbiting their stars in a habitable zone have identified more than 4,000 of the objects thanks to NASA’s Kepler and TESS space telescope missions.

‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse of 2020 dazzles skywatchers across Africa and Asia (6/21): A solar eclipse and the ring of fire it produced early Sunday were not visible in the U.S., however, those who could view them from Central Africa and the Middle East to India and northern Australia have shared images of the spectacular view.

Op Eds

‘Use NASA as a never-ending Lewis and Clark expedition’
Politico (6/19): In an op-ed, Michael Smith, assistant professor of strategic space studies at the Air Command and Staff College, writes that the U.S. could avoid economic containment by China by expanding the American economy into space. “It is far past time to use NASA as a never-ending Lewis and Clark expedition, to explore space expressly for the purpose of economic development and settlement,” says Smith. “At the same time, Americans must fall in love with manufacturing again. We must restore our means of production and raise a new generation of skilled craftsmen and tradesmen as well as dreamers and inventors with a passion for building the future.”

Other News

NASA: Breach of ethical protocols led to executive’s resignation
Coalition Members in the News – Boeing, Dynetics, United Launch Alliance
The Guardian (6/21): Doug Loverro’s decision to stand down after fewer than seven months as the U.S. space agency’s head of human spaceflight raised eyebrows, but ultimately had no impact on the resumption of crewed flights after a nine-year hiatus, via a SpaceX launch. Now, the consequence of the “mistake” Loverro admitted at the time, which led to his resignation but which he did not describe, has been revealed. The respected former Pentagon official breached ethical and procedural protocols by conducting private discussions with Boeing while the beleaguered aerospace giant was bidding for a lucrative NASA contract to build spacecraft capable of returning humans to the Moon.

NASA gets set to put astronauts on Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic suborbital flights (6/16): NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has signaled the agency will not leave out future commercial suborbital space transportation providers like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin when it comes to carrying out the agency’s mission objectives. “Whether it’s suborbital, orbital or deep space, NASA will utilize our nation’s innovative commercial capabilities,” he pledged through social media.

NRO to award multiple imagery contracts by year’s end
Coalition Member in the News – Maxar Technologies (6/21): The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has been assessing the capabilities of an expanding commercial satellite industry since 2018. “We’re looking to buy where we can from commercial providers and, only where sources aren’t available, build systems to meet our unique tailored needs,” said Pete Muend, director of NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office. “We’re very excited to begin to leverage all the capabilities that our U.S. domestic commercial industry base can provide.”

Using a giant balloon, startup wants to ‘launch’ space tourists from Kennedy Space Center
Florida Today (6/20): Next Year, Space Perspective intends to begin airborne tests of its Spaceship Neptune, a pilot and eight passenger compartment fitted to a high altitude balloon for ascent to altitudes of about 100,000 feet. Operations are planned from the former Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Florida’s space coast. The six hour passenger trips will conclude with a splashdown.

Texas congressmen pitch Houston for U.S. Space Command headquarters (6/18): U.S. Reps Pete Olson and Brian Babin, both representatives from the Houston area, are leading an effort to persuade U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett to consider Houston’s Ellington Airport as a home for the U.S. Space Command, which is currently headquartered in Colorado Springs. Though both are Republicans, the effort by Olson and Babin has bipartisan support among Houston area elected officials. A decision by the Pentagon is expected early next year.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of June 21-27, 2020 (6/21): Not much is anticipated this week from the U.S. House and Senate on civil space policy and appropriations. Thanks to the NASA sponsored SpaceX Demo-2 test flight to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Bob Behnken is slated to join ISS commander Chris Cassidy, also of NASA, on Friday for the first of at least two spacewalks to replace solar power storage batteries outside the orbiting science laboratory. Virtual advisory panel sessions are planned on topics that include the FAA and commercial space transportation; NOAA and commercial remote sensing; and NASA and astrophysics. On Wednesday, Space News will host a webinar accessible through registration on its website on future Mars exploration, “Blueprint for the Red Planet,” at 3:30 p.m., EDT.

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