Today’s Deep Space Extra

July 31st, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA will be watching Tropical Storm Isaias as it prepares to bring Demo-2 test flight astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley safely back to Earth. Meanwhile, the agency’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover is off and running on its seven month journey to Mars. The global space economy continues to impress.  

Space Policy/Budget

Trump’s 2024 Moon goal faces ‘challenge’ in Senate, GOP chair predicts
Politico (7/31): It will be a “challenge” to provide NASA the money it needs to follow through on President Donald Trump’s goal of returning astronauts on the Moon in 2024, given competing priorities for the space agency, the top Senate appropriator for NASA says. Sen. Jerry Moran, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, is a staunch supporter of the administration’s effort to return to the Moon four years ahead of the previous schedule.

Senate pandemic relief bill offers $1.5 billion for NASA (7/29): A coronavirus pandemic spending package introduced in the Senate this week would provide $1.5 billion in supplemental funding for NASA, although agency leadership says the exact amount of money the agency needs to cover its costs remains to be determined. The bill, introduced July 27 by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, provides $306 billion in supplemental funding overall, and is part of a broader “Phase 4” relief package estimated to cost at least $1 trillion. Shelby’s bill, formally known as the “Coronavirus Response Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020,” is intended to cover costs incurred by various government agencies in response to the pandemic.

Human Space Exploration

Key connection for Artemis arrives at Kennedy (7/30): The second to last piece of hardware for the Artemis I test flight around the Moon has arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA) connects the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the upper stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. The cone-shaped connector also helps protect the RL10 engine housed in the upper stage, which will provide the power necessary to leave Earth’s orbit and send the Orion spacecraft on its journey to the Moon.

Weather could postpone Crew Dragon return (7/30): NASA is preparing for the two month long Demo-2 test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to end with an undocking from the International Space Station (ISS) with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on Saturday to set up a splashdown in the waters off the Florida peninsula on Sunday. However, Tropical Storm Isaias is stirring in the Caribbean and moving toward Florida, perhaps delaying the descent to Earth. NASA and SpaceX have seven landing site options and the ability to postpone the return until the storm moves away to the northeast.

Space food for thought: Challenges and considerations for food and nutrition on exploration missions 
The Journal of Nutrition (7/11): Nutrition has proven an essential part of past exploration and will be equally important for human explorers prepared for months to year’s long missions to deep space destinations. Food must be safe and stable for storage as well as tasty. There’s more. The space menu must be nutritious, reasonably easy to store and prepare and come in a variety of types and flavors. Storage and food preparation systems must function reliably in the different gravitational, pressure and temperature environments.

Space Science

Atlas 5 launches Mars 2020 mission
Coalition Member in the News – United Launch Alliance (7/30): United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V performed as advertised Thursday, lofting NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 rover as scheduled at 7:50 a.m., EDT, on the first leg of a mission to Mars’ Jezero Crater, where it is to spend about two years assessing the crater basin and an ancient steam basin for past habitability for microbial life. Once it lands in February 2021, Perseverance will gather samples of soil and rock to be cached by the rover so they can be returned to Earth for analysis in 2031.

How space missions snatch pieces of other worlds and bring them back to Earth
Nature (7/27): A look at the history of solar system planetary sample return missions — in the aftermath of Thursday’s successful NASA Perseverance Mars 2020 rover launch. Samples of the Moon, an asteroid, the solar wind and a comet have been and are being returned, each offering some surprises. Japan’s Hayabusa 2 sample return mission to the asteroid Ryugu should return to Earth in December. NASA’s Osiris-Rex is to collect samples from the asteroid Bennu in October and return to Earth in September 2023. NASA is teaming with the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring samples of Mars gathered by Perseverance back to Earth in 2031.

Mysterious Mars cloud reappears to haunt a volcano on the Red Planet
CNET (7/29): The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around Mars has been observing an odd thin cloud of water ice material that appears periodically over an ancient volcano, Arsia Mons, which peaks at 12 miles altitude. It’s believed Arsia Mons has not erupted for many millions of years, however.  

Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” IV: What is the rare earth hypothesis?
Universe Today (7/29): Each attempt to assess the probability of life elsewhere in the universe seems to find its way to an uncertain conclusion. Though part of its universe’s latest chapter, we know of only one example, Earth, though the evidence suggests it could exist in a range of environments and chemical conditions.

Other News

The space economy has grown to over $420 billion and is ‘weathering’ the current crisis, report says
CNBC (7/30): An update from the Space Foundation places the value of the global space economy at $432.8 billion for 2019, up 70 percent since 2010. The surge has been challenged this year by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the workplace. “Our industry has experienced some of a downturn, but I think as a whole we are weathering COVID-19 pretty darn well,”” Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor told CNBC. In the U.S., the space industry employs an estimated 183,000 workers.

DARPA has no plans for another space launch prize competition (7/30): The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will not sponsor another space launch prize competition after the last one ended without a winner. “We don’t need to do that at this moment,” DARPA acting director Peter Highnam said July 30 during a video chat with reporters. DARPA in 2018 kicked off a “Launch Challenge” offering $12 million in prize money to companies that could deploy small satellites to orbit twice within a two-week period. The agency wanted to incentivize commercial launch companies to show what they could do in support of national security space missions.

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