Today’s Deep Space Extra

July 30th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 launched this morning on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket for a seven month journey to the Red Planet. NASA and SpaceX also continued preparations for the weekend return to Earth of Demo-2. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, with a focus on tropical weather development near the splashdown sites off Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.  

Human Space Exploration

Possible tropical storm does not deter preps for Demo-2 landing (7/29): NASA and SpaceX joined for a Demo-2 Return Flight Readiness Review on Wednesday, emerging prepared to proceed with an undocking of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on Saturday at 7:34 p.m., EDT and a splashdown Sunday at 2:42 p.m., in the waters off the Florida peninsula. However, the mission team will monitor closely tropical storm development in the Caribbean that could prompt a delay. Behnken and Hurley lifted off and docked with the Space Station on May 30/31 for an extended stay. They were the first to launch to Earth orbit from the U.S. since the final shuttle mission in July 2011. With a successful splashdown, SpaceX could be quickly certified by NASA to resume regularly scheduled launches to the Space Station.

Space Science

NASA launches Mars Perseverance rover on mission to the Red Planet
Coalition Members in the News – Aerojet Rocketdyne, United Launch Alliance
CBS News (7/30): A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket carrying NASA’s nuclear-powered Perseverance Mars rover roared to life and lifted off from Cape Canaveral early Thursday, the first step in a decade-long program to search for signs of past microbial life and to collect rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth. It will take the $2.4 billion rover seven months to reach Mars. When it arrives in February, it will descend to the floor of a 28-mile-wide crater near the remnants of an ancient river delta and lakebed deposits where traces of past biological activity might be preserved.

NASA’s most complex, ambitious rover yet is on its way to Mars [Updated]
Coalition Member in the News – United Launch Alliance
Ars Technica (7/30): An Atlas V rocket successfully launched the Mars Perseverance mission into orbit Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket’s upper stage has made the first of its two firings. To achieve Earth-escape velocity, a second firing will end about 53 minutes after liftoff, after which the spacecraft will be released on its journey to Mars. It will arrive in February, at which time NASA will attempt to land its heaviest ever rover on the Red Planet.

NASA, ULA on the eve of launch of Perseverance Mars rover
Coalition Member in the News – United Launch Alliance (7/29): As Thursday’s launch of the NASA Perseverance Mars 2020 rover approached, those behind the mission celebrated the effort. In addition to collecting samples of Martian soil and rock for eventual return to Earth, the rover will introduce a first ever helicopter drone, test a technology for extracting oxygen from the thin carbon dioxide atmosphere and look for evidence of subsurface water ice. Perseverance also carries the names and essays of young student finalists who competed in a naming contest and a plaque recognizing the efforts of those in the health care community to address the coronavirus pandemic. Then there are the names of 11 million people from around the world that are stenciled on small computer chips.

NASA’s Mars rover will be powered by U.S. made plutonium (7/29): On Thursday, NASA is expected to launch its new Mars rover, Perseverance, on a mission to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. It’s the agency’s largest and most autonomous Martian explorer yet. It’s also the first to be powered entirely with American plutonium.

NASA and ESA outline cost of Mars sample return (7/29): As NASA prepared Thursday for the launch of the Perseverance Mars 2020 rover sample return mission to Mars, the U.S. and European space agencies provided a price tag for an unfolding strategy for a follow on mission to the red planet to gather the soil and rock samples collected and cached by Perseverance. The estimated $7 billion price tag includes several spacecraft designed to land, rove and collect the samples, liftoff with the samples and rendezvous in Mars orbit with a spacecraft to transport the materials back to Earth.

Thanks to cosmic radiation, there could be life on Mars, just a couple of meters under the surface
Universe Today (7/29): Recent research suggests that the Martian subsurface could provide an environment for microbial life. And that is thanks to galactic cosmic radiation, a source of energy that reaches the surface thanks to the absence of a global magnetic field and a thin atmosphere. The findings are based in part on orbital science missions that have found evidence of subsurface ice and brines. The findings were reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

Other News

Senate pandemic relief bill offers $1.5 billion for NASA (7/29): U.S. Senate legislation introduced this week to provide financial relief in response to the global coronavirus pandemic includes a proposed $1.5 billion for NASA. The measure introduced by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, of Alabama, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, totals $306 billion in supplemental funding overall as part of a Phase 4 relief package estimated to total more than $1 trillion. The measure permits payments to contractors who were restricted from working in response to the pandemic.

Report proposes actions to strengthen U.S. space industry and military capabilities (7/28): An 86 page report, “State of the Space Industrial Base 2020: A Time for Action to Sustain U.S. Economic & Military Leadership in Space,” summarizes the results of a May conference led by the Defense Innovation Unit, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Space Force and NewSpace New Mexico. The documents raise a concern that the U.S. is at risk of being displaced by China as the world’s leader in space exploration and use of space for economic development. As a countermeasure, it proposes that the U.S. attempt to meet the challenge with increased support for the commercial space industry and a bigger role for the military in protecting civilian and private sector space assets.

Donations needed to ‘Save Space Camp’ after pandemic shortfall (7/28): The Huntsville, Alabama, based  U.S. Space and Rocket Center, home to Space Camp for youngers, announced this week that its museum and astronaut training experience are in danger of permanent closure because of financial losses linked to the coronavirus pandemic. An emergency fund raising effort, the “Save Space Camp” campaign, is underway with a goal of raising $1.5 million to keep the U.S. Space and Rocket Center museum open past October and to reopen Space Camp in April.

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