Today’s Deep Space Extra

June 26th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA completes final testing on the liquid oxygen tank of the Space Launch System.  NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken embarked on the first of a half-dozen possible spacewalks through July outside the International Space Station (ISS) early today. NASA expects to cover the delayed launch of the James Webb Space Telescope with program reserves.

Human Space Exploration

Watch NASA engineers deliberately explode a rocket tank for science
CNET (6/25): On Wednesday, NASA’s engineering team completed their tests on the liquid oxygen tank of Space Launch System (SLS), the next-generation rocket designed to take astronauts to the moon in 2024. The 70-foot-tall (21 meter) test tank was encased in a steel ring at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama that applied millions of pounds of force down the tank’s length. Eventually, it failed — just as the engineers expected.

Head of NASA International Space Station program to retire
Coalition Member in the News – Lockheed Martin
Houston Chronicle (6/25): Kirk Shireman, who retires Friday as NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) program manager and after 35 years as a member of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) staff, will join Lockheed Martin’s Lunar Architecture Program in Houston. NASA announced the retirement on June 16. Joel Montalbano will succeed Shireman as program manager. “NASA is going to do great,” said Shireman. “The ISS Program is going to do fantastic.”

NASA using Demo-2 commercial crew astronauts to support ISS spacewalks
SpaceNews (6/25): The first of up to six NASA spacewalks planned through July was underway aboard the International Space Station (ISS) early Friday, thanks to the May 30-31 launch and docking of the Demo-2 mission with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Behnken joined station commander Chris Cassidy, also of NASA, for a planned near 7-hour spacewalk to continue an upgrade of the solar power system batteries outside the orbiting science lab. Six new higher efficiency lithium ion batteries arrived in May aboard a Japanese cargo mission. They are to replace 12 aging nickel hydrogen batteries on the right side of the solar power truss. Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner joined Hurley in preparing the two astronauts for their spacewalk and operating the station’s robot arm, which is to assist with the work.
NASA seeks crowdsourced help designing a better moon toilet
TechCrunch (6/25): NASA has joined with HeroX, the crowdsourcer, to sponsor a competition for ideas on how to develop a toilet for a new generation of human explorers as they head to the Moon and traverse the surface. The competition will offer $35,000 to first, second and third place finishers who submit ideas for low mass, volume and power toilets that can function for women and men in the absence of gravity during spaceflight as well as on the surface of the Moon. The contest will span eight weeks and includes an adult, 18 and over, competition as well as a junior competition. It’s open to proposals from residents of any country not on a list of those sanctioned by the federal government.

Space Science

NASA expects to cover JWST launch slip with budget reserves
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman
SpaceNews (6/25):  A NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program official said an update to the planned March 2021 launch date is under assessment. A new launch date will be determined in response to a slowdown in pre-launch testing and integration activities underway at Northrop Grumman facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., due to precautionary measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A new launch date should emerge in July, Eric Smith, the program scientist, told NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee during a virtual meeting earlier this week. The program has some budgetary reserves to meet possible cost increases, he told the committee.

Perseverance mission scientist outlines rover’s instruments, mission
Coalition Member in the News – United Launch Alliance (6/23): As the launch of NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover nears, science team member Roger Wiens, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, discussed the rover’s science objectives during a Lunar and Planetary Institute sponsored webinar. The launch is currently planned for July 22 from Florida’s Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5. Upon landing at Jezero Crater on Mars in February of 2021, the rover is to gather samples of rock and soil for return to Earth by a follow on mission now in the planning stages by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). 

Space agencies unveil site showing lockdown changes to Earth
Associated Press via New York Times (6/25): NASA has joined with the European and Japanese space agencies to offer a dashboard that tracks the consequences of public health measures implemented in response to the global coronavirus pandemic and in hopes of slowing the spread. Those measures include border closings and social distancing strategies. Using Earth observations from at least 17 satellites, the partnership is able to depict declines in air pollution due to less driving as many now work from home and other consequences.

Mars mission would put China among space leaders
Science Magazine (6/25): China intends to join the exploration of Mars as well in July as it launches Tianwen-1, or the “Quest for Heavenly Truth” mission. The Chinese mission consists of an orbiter, lander and golf cart sized rover. The journey will take seven months and the orbiter will retain the lander/rover pair for several months before attempting the difficult landing phase. Like NASA’s Perseverance rover, China’s smaller rover carries a ground penetrating radar instrument. The Chinese orbiter will study the Martian magnetic field and atmosphere.  “A successful landing would put China among elite company,” says Mason Peck, an aerospace engineer at Cornell University.   

Why is the far side of the moon so weird? Scientists may have solved a lunar mystery (6/25): The phases of the Moon’s near side are visible from Earth, but not the far side phases. However, the near and far sides of the Moon vary from one another, and a group of international scientists believe they may have an explanation. The presence of certain radioactive elements on the near side whose decay produces heat that melts some materials. The Moon is believed to have formed as the result of a long ago collision between the Earth and another planetary body. The latest research and modeling may help to explain conditions on the early Earth as well.

Others News

SpaceShipTwo makes second glide flight at Spaceport America
SpaceNews (6/25): With two pilots aboard, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo completed a second glide test operating from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico on Thursday. The first glide test occurred May 1. Now, Virgin is prepared to resume powered flight tests of the future suborbital passenger rocket. The most recent powered test flight was carried out in February 2019 from Mojave, Calif., with three employees aboard and who reached an altitude of 80 kilometers, or the boundary of space. Virgin has not yet announced when it might begin commercial flight operations.

Space Adventures signs contract for Soyuz flight with spacewalk option
SpaceNews (6/25): Space Adventures, of Vienna, Va., and RSC Energia, of Russia, are marketing a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station that will accommodate two tourists and a professional cosmonaut for a trip that could last up to 14 days and include a spacewalk for one of the tourists. The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said the flight could take place as soon as 2023.

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